These verses seem to go on in a familiar refrain; everything is meaningless. Things happen under the sun that shouldn’t, people conjure up their schemes, and people die; what’s the point? The Teacher has been saying these things for over 7 chapters… and then it happens.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.
The most wise Solomon, the man who sought wisdom and received it, the great Teacher who has examined everything that goes on under the sun, using his great wisdom in a quest for understanding, has failed; his conclusion is that this simply cannot be understood.
With this sad admission, the first major section of Ecclesiastes comes to its conclusion, but before we rush on to the next section, let’s just have a look at one little thing in this text; we find it at the beginning of verse 17, a small little clue we might pass right over: “then I saw all that God has done”.
Wait a second: Hasn’t he been talking about what man has done?
Yes, he has been talking about what man has done! So why is that little clause in the sentence?
Has Solomon given us an additional riddle that has no solution, or is he trying to tell us something more concrete?
Oh my, there are more questions being raised than answers given, and this is always what happens under the sun, when men become philosophical, for philosophy seldom provides real answers to things, just questions. But there is an answer to this one.
The works of Man have been ordained by God in all of their futility.
Think about it: All of that labor under the sun; all of those sleepless nights. All of that wickedness, all of those schemes, all of the justice on earth, and all of the injustice; sin, rebellion against God, and godliness and righteousness: All of this was ordained by God when He created Mankind with free will. That is not to suggest that God is the source of sin, nor is it to say that God makes men do bad things, but God gave Man free will and was prepared to deal with the consequences. Why did God do it that way?
Ah, that is what the Teacher could not discover, in spite of all of the neatly packaged Sunday school answers; no one actually knows for sure why God set things up this way, but He did. This leads us that which our wise Teacher did succeed in discovering: We must live with this situation under the sun, which is to say that we must submit to it, for there is nothing else that we can do.
With all of that said, we now have some information that was not available to the Teacher, for in the many centuries that have passed since his time, God’s plan of redemption has been fully revealed, and as a result of that plan, we have the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit that the Teacher did not have. That gift makes our jobs much easier than Solomon’s was!
I am pleased to be able to tell you, that this is about to become a lot more interesting, for the Teacher will reveal the next big conclusion he has come to in his quest, and our adventure will be a most excellent one when he does so in the next chapter…