The Expository Files

 “There Is Nothing New Under The Sun”

 Ecclesiastes  1:4-11

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.

The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.

All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.

There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.

Reading and navigating Ecclesiastes can be confusing and perplexing, if we neglect this simple working premise: Solomon is dramatically describing life here on earth, and the folly of that existence when God is left out. No matter how exciting life may seem to be “under the sun,” ultimately, it has no value without God.

In the above section, there is really a simple thought reported by the writer: When life here on earth is lived without God, it is really soon to become very boring. This is a poetic expression that says, for all of man’s efforts against the reality of God, he gains nothing; earthly activities are repetitive and unfulfilling.

“A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.” There is a transience about human existence on earth, that really fails to bring us in touch with something that is absolutely new. If, therefore, we root our hope in the next generation or time, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. It will simply not be that different. Nothing ever really changes except for the faces, the names, the methods and perhaps the social/political dynamics. In fact, history repeats itself and no great thing emerges from “under the sun” that changes the essence of our existence here. We are born. We live and die. Others are born, etc. The world is a very repetitive place. Nothing ever changes. So, any search for real meaning and lasting profit cannot come from under the sun.

Examples are given from nature (sun, wind and water). In the natural world, there is a cycle that is simply repeated over and over, taking the objective observer to the conclusion, “there is nothing new under the sun.” {This text, “The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hasten to the place where it rises,” verse 5 – was the inspiration for the Earnest Hemingway title, “The Sun Also Rises,” (1926).}

It is a weary and hopeless existence, to wait for the earth or the human race to come up with something perfectly revolutionary. Solomon wants us to know, “that ain’t happenin!” Tremper Longman III wrote: “After all, the sun seems to be constantly moving around the earth, but the pattern is the same each and every day. Even if one observes changes in the sun’s course over a year, it always stays within the same limits.” And, “The second illustration from nature is the wind. Once again, the idea of sameness within apparent change is illustrated: the wind gives the appearance of great commotion, but, when analyzed closely, is just going in circles. Nothing is changing at all. It is just more of the same,” {THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES, by Tremper Longman III, p.#68,69, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament.]

“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” People here “under the sun” are always looking and listening, attempting to be satisfied, but always want more! We never seem to find what other generations missed.

“This is especially true now in the information age. Every day we see an endless procession of visual images: Comcast, YouTube, BlackBerry, Netflix. We can also listen to an endless stream of sounds: iPod, iPhone, iTunes, TVs, CDs, and mp3s. Yet, even after all our looking and listening, our eyes and our ears are not satisfied. We still want to see and hear more. Soon we are back to take in more of the endless procession of sounds and images. We can never get enough. There is always one more show to watch, one more game to play, one more song to which to listen. So we keep text-messaging, webcasting, Facebooking, Twittering, and Flickring. But what have we gained? What have we accomplished? Is there any profit?” {ECCLESIASTES, Preaching The Word, Philip Graham Ryken, Crossway}.

What does all this mean? “Under the sun” there is no answer, no ultimate fulfillment, no meaning. Most people are trying to get what they really need from “under the sun” instead of from the Maker of the Sun!

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.

Solomon doesn’t intend to merely express gloom. He wants us to learn from his book (as early as possible) what he finally learned late in life. If we are waiting for some new thing to excite our interests or fill our lives, it is futile. Life is far more boring than modern man admits. Political empires arise and fall. There are periods of war, followed by periods of peace, then other wars follow. The famous American philosopher Yogi Berra may have said it well: “déjà vu all over again!”

What really changes? Communication or just the methods and speed? Illness, or just the diagnostics and treatment protocals? (Do we envision that someday there will be no need for doctors and hospitals here on earth?) Does money really change, or just the form, the use and the systems of exchange? Relationships, Politics, Sin? Do not confuse methods with essence. The essence of our existence here on earth doesn’t really change. It is what it is. Whatever seems to be new “has been already in the ages before us.”

Conclusion: there is nothing new under the sun! Here, at ground level, everything is pretty much the same generation after generation. But, there is a God in heaven who rules over the sun! Meaning can be found in relation to Him, thus making life here tolerable, even delightful, and making ultimate perfect existence possible, through Jesus Christ. All those things that make life here so weary and boring can have new meaning, when you understand who God is, what Christ did and you connect yourself to the genuineness of being a child of God. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” (Eccl. 12:13).

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 19.8; August 2012