“I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14
My homework for our ladies Bible study had me in Genesis 2 and 3 this morning. I’ll take Genesis any day over Ecclesiastes. I never know what to do with Ecclesiastes. Genesis is just so PURPOSEFUL. Every single element of creation intentionally placed to play its part in the great drama of redemption. Types and shadows of the coming Messiah, the last Adam and the bride He purchases for Himself, the Sabbath rest that is to come, the New Heavens and Earth where we, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, will dwell securely— these just seem to jump from the page at me.
So it was a reluctant leap for me this afternoon from the loftiness of Genesis into the murky waters of Ecclesiastes. But when I dove in, I found Eden all over again.
Solomon’s descriptions of life under the sun, read like a dirge of lament over what was lost in the garden. The purposefulness of creation carries now an air of purposelessness, or vanity, as the Preacher calls it. Here sits the king in Jerusalem, another imperfect ruler like Eden’s first, in the imperfect shadow of the City of God, and all he can see is how nothing on earth can ever be made right again as long as sin and death reign.
“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” He asks. Generations come and go. The sun keeps on rising and setting and there is nothing new under it (Eccl. 1:3-9). You work. And then you die. “All are from the dust, and to dust all return (Eccl. 2:20). Is he not echoing the very words of God to Adam in Genesis 3:19?
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Welcome to the curse.
Was the curse intended to make us happy and contented with our lot? No! Solomon’s depression over the situation in which we all find ourselves makes perfect sense. What wouldn’t make sense is for one to revel in the vanity of life and somehow find fulfillment therein. He even tests this approach to see if it would work. And in doing so only ends up repeating all of Eve’s first foibles.
When the serpent challenges God’s authority by twisting His command thusly, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” Eve should have rebuked his error but instead she falls prey to it and adds her own twist to God’s command not to eat the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Neither shall you touch it,” she adds.
In the same way, Solomon twists the creation mandate by adding to it. He doesn’t just stop with the God-given task of building houses and planting vineyards, gardens, parks, and fruit trees and making pools of water to irrigate it all. Instead of being content to work and tend his gardens, he acquires slaves to do the work for him. And instead of cleaving to one wife he collects concubines. And just as Adam is led astray by his wife, Solomon’s many wives and concubines turn his heart away from the one true God as well.
Like Eve, Solomon’s choices are governed by his appetites. Eve “saw that the tree was good for food.” He searched his heart how to cheer his body with wine (Eccl. 2:3.) Eve saw that the tree was “a delight to the eyes.” Whatever Solomon’s eyes desired he did not keep from them (Eccl. 2:10). Eve saw that the tree “was desired to make one wise.” Solomon, too applied himself to know wisdom, with an infamous fervor, only to discover that “in much wisdom is much vexation and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow (Eccl. 1:18).”
Tragically, Eve discovered the same thing. “She took of its fruit and ate and gave some to her husband.” Just as the serpent foretold, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened to both good and evil and they immediately saw their own nakedness. Solomon reached for wisdom and his eyes too were opened to all the vanity and evil and oppression and vexation under the sun. “I applied my heart to know wisdom” but this also he perceived to be “a striving after the wind (Eccl. 1:17).”
Adam and Eve commenced their striving after the wind right away.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen. 3:7).”
Oh the vanity! As if that would cover their disgrace! And then vanity of vanities, as soon as they become aware of God’s presence in the garden, they hide!
Two truly remarkable things happen next. The first is, God calls Adam’s name. Think of the power behind that summons! “Samuel! (1Sam.3),” “Lazarus! (John 11),” “Saul! (Acts 9).” One has to assume that had God not come calling for them, Adam and Eve would have tried hiding forever. But when God calls, you come out, you wake up, you rise from the dead, you fall to the ground in repentance.
Adam’s response is also noteworthy. He claims to have been hiding due to their nakedness, except that was AFTER they had sown themselves the leafy loincloths. But amid the soul- penetrating sound of the voice of God, all our pretenses fall away, don’t they? Our own vain attempts at self-righteousness are exposed for what they are, filthy rags.
And so God stoops to clothe his pathetic, naked, rebellious creatures. He slays an animal and makes them skins and in so doing Adam and Eve are given a glimpse of what their disobedience will some day result in —the brutal death of God’s own Son, who will willingly lay down His life so that we might be clothed in His own righteousness, creating a way for us cowering creatures to once again come boldly into God’s presence without shame.
THIS, my friends, is the righteousness Jesus was encouraging us to seek after in Matthew 6:28-32.
“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
Solomon’s royal robes were no more impressive to God than Adam and Eve’s leafy loincloths. We, all of us, are as helpless in covering our own nakedness as the grass of the field. God, Himself must do the covering. And He does it gloriously.
Just think! Those words in Matthew were the very words of the one wise “Shepherd” referenced at the end of Ecclesiastes. “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” Solomon concludes, which is exactly what Adam and Eve failed so miserably in doing. And it’s where we all fall short as well. That’s why we need the ‘Shepherd’s’ righteous covering. That’s why we need His wisdom and not our own! 1 Corinthians 1: 21-24 says,
“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, BUT TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED, both Jews and Greeks, CHRIST THE POWER OF GOD AND THE WISDOM OF GOD.”
And what does Christ, the very wisdom of God, command us to do? Take of Him and eat!
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever (John 6:58).”
Is God calling your name? Come out and be clothed in the righteousness of His Son, Jesus Christ! Reach for Him, the Living Bread, the Beauty and the Wisdom of God! Take of Him and eat and live forever!