Wise Words: Under the Sun


Charles Billingsley

 When people reach the top and don’t find fulfillment, it causes a great amount of distress, discouragement, and despair.


This has happened in the lives of so many millions.  The illustrations are available by the thousands.  Take just a few celebrity stories that all ended in premature deaths of suicide or drug overdose.  Consider the desperate lives of:


Michael Jackson

Whitney Houston

Robin Williams


the list goes on and on….almost all of them at the height of their careers…and yet there’s still an emptiness…a longing inside.


And the list of lottery winners…same way.


As we dive in the first thing I notice in reading this book is how many songs have been written from Ecclesiastes.  It’s because this book asks the questions:


Why am I here?

What is the meaning of life?

Why do certain things happen in our lives?


There is one word and one phrase that you need to understand in Ecclesiastes in order to fully grasp this book. But if you learn this one word and one phrase, this book will mean so much more to you.


Hebrew Word:  Hevel  – used 38 times in this book.


1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.


Hevel means – “Vanity” or “Meaningless” or “Futile” which is what you probably see in your Bible translation.   But the most accurate meaning is ‘smoke or vapor, or breath’


We first see this word in Genesis 4:2.

Genesis 4:2 And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel (Hevel) was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.

It means  – passing, short-lived.  Like a breath.  A vapor.  smoke.


And the repetition of the word here in this passage is the Hebrew expression of driving home the point with emphasis.  That’s why I love The Message translation of this:



  1. 2 Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That’s what the Quester says.]

There’s nothing to anything—it’s all smoke.


It is important to understand that the word hevel does not suggest the absence of meaning. Solomon is not saying that everything in our lives is meaningless.  Rather, he is saying that there is a distortion or a mysterious obstruction of meaning to our lives under the sun. Life, therefore, is an enigma…a bewilderment that we won’t always understand.  And it’s like a vapor in that it is here today and gone tomorrow.


James 4:14 – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.


Our human nature compels us to discover a meaning for our lives.  We are born with this emptiness in our hearts.  Yet the instant we think we have grasped it, it disintegrates like smoke in our hands.  It is because of this that so many find themselves void of any hope.


1:1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,

vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil

at which he toils under the sun?


Phrase:  Under the sun  – Hebraism – A Hebrew figure of speech.  But before we dive into the meaning of this phrase, let’s look at where it came from.


Genesis 2:5

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground

then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

In the first days, mankind was living hundreds of years because of the absence of disease AND because there were no harmful rays of the sun.  The earth was in a constant greenhouse effect – and a mist was watering the whole face of the ground.  It didn’t rain for 1656 years!


Then, because of man’s sin, God determines to destroy the earth with a flood.  And he does this by opening the heavens to rain.


Then the flood – Gen. 7:11 “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.”

– God opened up the heavens and God determined at that time that mankind would live 120 years or less.


The phrase under the sun refers all the way back to when mankind began to work under the harmful rays of the sun – from the re-beginning of mankind at the time of Noah and the end of the flood.  Mankind became much more vulnerable and frail after the flood.


When Solomon writes this phrase “ under the sun”  he is referring to everything that happens in this life as mortal, finite beings. It is life from a totally humanistic viewpoint…void of God or an eternal perspective.   – used 28 times in this book


Solomon goes on three searches to understand the point of man’s existence on this earth.


  1. The intellectual search –  The cultivation of the mind. (1:12-18)

He tries education…and finds it doesn’t give his life the meaning he craves.

“I’ll find purpose through greater understanding.”

12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.


18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases in sorrow.


Education is good…but one thing I’ve learned is that the more i know and understand…the less I realize I really know and understand.  And even from the wisest man who ever lived…Solomon…he comes to the conclusion that even though education is a good thing…it is not the end all. You can be the smartest man alive and still be empty.   Something was still missing…..


  1. The hedonistic search – The pleasure of the body. (2:1-3)


“I’ll find meaning by doing what feels good.”


He’s going to Party!!!! Whatever he can do that brings pleasure…

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

And when all the partying is over, when he sobered up, or when he came down from the high, or after another night with one of his many women…he found there was still something missing….

  1. The personal works search – an exploration of the soul.

I’ll find meaning in what I accomplish.”

If education won’t do it, and pleasure won’t do it, then I’m going to put all my energy into my work.


Ecclesiastes 2:4-11


I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.

11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

So he tries everything…to learn all he can, the experience all he can, and to accomplish all he can…and he still comes up empty.


Solomon then reaches three conclusions at the end of these searches.

Conclusion #1 – We all die


 You’ll find it in Eccl. 2:12-17


  1. The same fate in this life awaits everyone, wise and fool alike.  We’re all going to die.  And shortly after, life moves on.  We are mortal beings.  We don’t know what each day will bring forth.  But one thing is for sure…100% of all people who live….will end up dying.

Hebrews 9:27 – It is appointed unto man once to die….and then the judgement.


16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.


Conclusion #2 – Someone gets your stuff


You’ll find it in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23

The benefits of this life’s works are inherited by those who never had to work for them.

18 I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19 and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21 because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.


Conclusion #3 – But it’s all in God’s hands


24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?


New Living Translation 

24 So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?


So there is a time for all of this….

Ecclesiastes 3:1

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:


Reminds me of a song – by the Byrds…with the same lyrics…

3:11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

God has placed an emptiness in our souls on purpose.  That longing you feel in your spirit…is not for more money or pleasure…it’s for God.  He put it there.  And He has intentionally trapped us in this dimension of time and space for the sole purpose of your soul’s fulfillment.  He made you with this hole in your…and it can only be filled by Him.

We are all born with this void in our soul.

And we are tempted to try anything to fill it.


And we begin to ask ourselves Is that all there is?


There are two things that last forever…the soul of mankind, and the word of God.


You are going to last forever.  But it’s a matter of where your soul will go.


When you go to the eye doctor, they have you look at an eye chart. And in order to determine what prescription you need for your glasses, they will have you look through a series of lenses until you are able to see clearly.


When we look through the lens of our own wisdom, our own perspective and our own motives, life remains blurry…


It’s only when we see through the lens of God’s perspective that we obtain the right focus or prescription to our lives in light of eternity.   And the reason for our existence becomes more clear.


(bring screens into focus here)


And we begin to see that it’s not about what we do under the sun…but instead what the Son of God has done for us.


But when you live your life in the son….this life is just the beginning of a glorious eternity.


This life is the short one!  But it’s incredibly important that we answer the issue of eternity now…because what we do with God in this life will determine where our souls spend eternity in the next life.


12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”


Solomon’s great conclusion

12:13 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

It’s that simple.  To fear – means a healthy respect for…to honor God.

(Col. 3:1-3)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.



Can i give you one more song lyric?


I stand amazed in the presence

Of Jesus the Nazarene,

And wonder how he could love me,

A sinner, condemned, unclean.


He took my sins and my sorrows,

He made them his very own;

He bore the burden to Calvary,

And suffered and died alone.


How marvelous! How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

How marvelous! How wonderful

Is my Savior’s love for me!


When with the ransomed in glory

His face I at last shall see,

‘Twill be my joy through the ages

To sing of his love for me.


How marvelous! How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

How marvelous! How wonderful

Is my Savior’s love for me!