Our vantage point has returned to the life of people apart from God where it will remain from 4:1 – 6:9. Our adventure in chapter 4 is a most excellent one, for we will see earthly life as it really is, which is to say that we will see things on display that most of us never consider. Happiness in this world we live in depends largely on external circumstances. For instance, we assume that more money means more happiness, but is that really true? We look forward to achievement, fame and amassing possessions as a means to happiness. Some have a strong desire to assert power and influence as a means to happiness; who wouldn’t like to be the one that the president or prime minister calls upon to save the day?
The Teacher sees things a little differently.
So there you are, puttering right along in life, paying the bills, buying nice things; everything is hunky dory and then change comes along. A new administration, a new regime and overnight you are an outcast for who you are. Oppression begins in the land, discrimination, inequality, and all the rest, and you are on the wrong side of it. Happy now?
This is the theme developed in verses 1-3. Everything under the sun is vanity, is meaningless, and is futile because at any moment outside forces can clean you out of everything. Think it can’t happen? Come now, it happens all the time…
Verses 4-6 speak of a different situation under the sun, a situation in which you might have put together a substantial portfolio; what now? Can you sit back and relax? No way! Now you need to worry about protecting what you have. Now you must keep on top of the tax laws, new regulations, market fluctuations, scheming competitors, identity theft and frivolous lawsuits, to name just a few perils; you might even need to worry about your physical safety! This substantial portfolio can become a millstone around your neck, and the source of many sleepless nights; is it worth the cost?
The Teacher says it’s just chasing the wind…
In verses 7-12 we see another side of wealth, a lonely side. When people come into quick fortunes, they usually find that they have many new relatives and friends; what do these new associates seem to have in common? You know the answer to that; they want some money. Most people don’t realize just how isolating great wealth can be, and if it involves fame, the isolation is even greater. What does the Teacher say about it? Vanity, a miserable business, and don’t you suppose that Solomon, the richest man ever, might be in a position to know what he’s talking about?
The Teacher moves on to speak of the powerful in the remaining verses of chapter 4. In these verses is a little twist, that political scientists call “fatigue”. As time goes on, a leader’s popularity tends to fade as the public becomes fatigued with the administration. Often, this results from the fact that the leader in question is more and more isolated from everyday life in the country. They may also become quite impressed with their own greatness, no longer listening to advisors who better understand life on the street than the leader does, with the result that the performance of their government seems to fall short of people’s expectations. The result is that someone else rises to power either by death and inheritance as with a royal succession, or if perhaps there is a coup. In our day, there might be a new election… and then the cycle begins anew, always with the same result.
With this in mind, would you like to be president or prime minister?
Be careful what you wish for; unless you enjoy sleepless nights, high stress, and looking over your shoulder while you chase the wind!
As I look at this passage one more time before moving on to chapter five, I’m struck with a thought…
We’ve just run through several scenarios relating to our lives under the sun; in this world of ours. Can you see a pattern beyond the obvious “all is vanity”? Well there is one, for it would seem that nothing under the sun is really what it appeared to be at first.
Now, our most excellent adventure will move into an area that we haven’t ventured into before, an area that may cut a little closer to home for some of us.