Ecclesiastes — Lesson 9
Time As a Source of Vanity
I. Solomon’s View of Time
A. Solomon saw time as a source of the vanity that he found.
1. We have considered the five experiments that Solomon undertook in his search for happiness and meaning apart from God. As we know the end result of each experiment was vanity.
2. We are now looking at the sources of that vanity.
a) We have considered the indifference of the universe and death.
b) Today we will consider time as a source of vanity.
3. We will consider three questions:
a) What is it about time that was a source of the vanity that Solomon found?
b) What is time? Did God create time or is time something that is just there?
c) What does the Bible say about time? Is time a source of vanity for a Christian?
B. The Text
1. Ecclesiastes 1:4-11
a) One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever. 5 The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, And hastens to the place where it arose. 6 The wind goes toward the south, And turns around to the north; The wind whirls about continually, And comes again on its circuit. 7 All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again. 8 All things are full of labor; Man cannot express it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, Nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 That which has been is what will be, That which is done is what will be done, And there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.
2. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
a) To everything there is a season, 1 A time for every purpose under heaven: 2 A time to be born, And a time to die; A time to plant, And a time to pluck what is planted; 3 A time to kill, And a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; 4 A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance; 5 A time to cast away stones, And a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, And a time to refrain from embracing; 6 A time to gain, And a time to lose; A time to keep, And a time to throw away; 7 A time to tear, And a time to sew; A time to keep silence, And a time to speak; 8 A time to love, And a time to hate; A time of war, And a time of peace.
3. Ecclesiastes 6:6
a) Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
4. Ecclesiastes 6:12
a) For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?
5. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
a) I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
C. Time as a Source of Vanity
1. Time and Chance Happen to All
a) Ecclesiastes 9:11 is perhaps the key verse in Ecclesiastes.
b) Man is unhappy because man is not in control, and the reason why man is not control is because of time and chance.
c) Under the sun, it appears that despite our best efforts we are controlled by the inevitable and the random. How can we be in control when faced with time and chance?
2. Solomon saw time as something that happened to man.
a) To Solomon, time was active rather than passive.
b) We don’t kill time – it kills us!
(1) Time is a source of vanity because time is just another name for death.
(2) Job recognized this aspect of time in Job 7:6.
(a) “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, And are spent without hope.”
(3) Is time, which is our natural environment, also our enemy?
c) Have you ever wished you could just freeze a moment in time when you had everything just the way you wanted it?
(1) You felt you had everything under control and wanted to freeze time. Why? Because time was the greatest enemy to your perceived control!
(2) We can’t freeze time. It flows on despite our efforts to stop it or reverse it.
(3) Time takes out everything in its path. Nothing survives the onslaught of time. As one author noted, “time ravages the very stars!”
3. Solomon also saw time as something that came in cycles. He identified these cycles as a source of the vanity that he found.
a) When viewed under the sun it does appears that everything occurs in endless cycles.
b) The generations of man appear to be just like waves rolling up on the shore – and they appear to last just about as long and have just about as much impact.
c) There is a time for every activity – and nothing that man finds to do is new.
(1) All has been done before.
(2) Ultimately there is no progress. We are just on a big roller coaster that goes up – but then always comes back down.
(3) To everything there is a season. It occurs, and then it occurs again as time marches on.
d) Does history really just repeat itself?
(1) Some would say no – historians just repeat each other!
(2) The details may appear new, but Solomon recognized that the history of man viewed overall operates in cycles.
(3) And it does – under the sun – but not when we look beyond the sun. Jesus died once for all – and that had not occurred before and will not occur again.
(4) But under the sun there is nothing new. At least nothing new that will bring the happiness and meaning that Solomon was seeking.
(5) If man believes that the happiness he seeks (although not available now) will be available some day in the future under the sun – he will be disappointed. There is nothing new under the sun.
e) Solomon is not alone in viewing the cycles of time as a major source of vanity.
(1) Most scientists tell us that the universe started with a Godless Big Bang. What happened before that Big Bang? They aren’t sure.
(a) One theory (less popular today than it once was) is that our Big Bang was just a part of a whole string of Big Bangs. Universes come into existence, they expand, they collapse, and it starts all over again.
(b) But isn’t that what Solomon was talking about – perhaps just on a grander scale? We think we find meaning, we think we make progress – but some day it will all disappear and then start over again with no remembrance of what occurred before.
(c) Ecclesiastes 1:10-11
(i) Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, Nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come By those who will come after.
(2) This idea that the universe will one day return back to its initial state (which was originally postulated by a French physicist log before anyone ever thought of a Big Bang) is what led Nietzsche to conclude that human life had no ultimate purpose.
(a) He wrote that the senselessness of endless cycles rendered the universe absurd because all progress (whether human or cosmic) would eventually be reversed.
(b) That conclusion provoked Nietzsche’s most famous aphorism – “God is dead!”
(c) As we have discussed in earlier lessons, it was Nietzsche’s nihilism that led to many of the atrocities that occurred in the last century.
4. Does time really mean that everything is ultimately vain?
a) If so, then life is vain, for all of life is temporal – at least it is when viewed under the sun.
b) Time is the fundamental and unavoidable feature of all of our experiences under the sun.
(1) As Solomon said, time is something that happens to man. Indeed, it happens to ALL men.
(2) Napoleon: “There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at and who steals what is most precious to men: time.”
c) If time is vanity, how can we escape?
(1) Popular Song: “Doesn’t anyone really know what time it is? Does anyone really care? If so, I can’t imagine why. We all have time enough to die.”
(2) Is this what Solomon was saying in Ecclesiastes 3:2 – A time to be born and a time to die – with a few other appointments thrown in between.
(3) Are we just living in bondage to this thing called time? If so, is there any escape from this bondage?
II. Man’s View of Time
A. What is Time?
1. Some have said that time is simply nature’s way of keeping everything from happening all at once.
2. St. Augustine of Hippo said “If no one asks me, I know; but if any person should require me to tell him, I cannot.”
3. Benjamin Franklin said that time is the stuff life is made of.
4. Psychologists define the “self” as the preservation of personal identity through time.
5. David prayed that God would “teach us to number our days.” (Psalm 90:12)
B. The Modern View of Time
1. Within the past 100 years, there has been a total revolution in man’s understanding of time.
a) In Job 38:19, God asked Job if he knew “Where is the way to the dwelling of light?”
b) Job didn’t know. He probably didn’t even know that light could have a dwelling. Science may have finally gotten around to considering God’s question.
2. Let’s start with another question: Did God create time? Or perhaps is time a part of God’s eternal existence in the same way that time is part of our existence here. Are there clocks in Heaven?
a) The song “Amazing Grace” includes a line about what Heaven will be like when we’ve been there 10,000 years.
b) Will we have calendars in Heaven to mark off the days in which we sing God’s praise?
3. To answer this question we need a little physics!
a) Why study physics? Isn’t this is a class about the Bible? God reveals himself to man today in two ways: through his word and through his world.
(1) Romans 1:20 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
(2) Psalms 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”
b) By learning new things about God’s creation we are able to learn new things about the attributes of God!
c) If we ignore God’s creation then we may be ignoring a great deal that God wants us to know about his eternal power and Godhead. The heavens declare his glory – let’s listen!
4. There are two major figures in the history of man’s understanding of time: Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.
a) Isaac Newton said time is absolute, true, and mathematical and that it flows from its own nature without relation to anything external.
(1) Newton’s physics dealt only with force and motion.
(2) Time was separate from matter and not subject to the physical laws that governed matter.
b) Einstein was unable to answer some questions using Newton’s methods, so he discarded all of man’s common sense notions about time.
(1) He disagreed with Newton and said instead that space and time are physical things and are subject to physical laws just like matter is.
(2) His special theory of relativity was published in 1905. The general theory was published in 1916.
c) Newton said that space and time were unconnected and that time could not be affected by anything external.
d) Einstein said that space, time, and matter were inseparably linked.
(1) Time is not above the physical universe – it is a part of the physical universe.
(2) Time does not move at a universally fixed rate. It can speed up or slow down. An event that lasts a few seconds from my perspective may last a billion years from you perspective.
5. Well, it’s just a theory, isn’t it?
a) Wrong. Evolution (which Carl Sagan called a fact) is a theory. But the relativity of time (which we usually still call a theory) is a fact.
(1) The relativity of time is a proven, empirically observed fact. The theory of relativity is really the law of relativity.
b) Special relativity predicts that time slows down as speed increases. General relativity predicts that time slows down as gravity increases.
(1) This is something we should be able to check out. Do clocks at lower altitude(and therefore higher gravity) really tick more slowly than clocks at higher altitude (and therefore lower gravity)? Yes!
(2) The atomic clock at the Royal Observatory in England ticks 5 micro seconds per year slower than the identical clock at the National Bureau of Standards in Boulder, Colorado – exactly the amount predicted by Einstein’s equations!
(3) The relativity of time is a proven scientific fact in the same way that it is a proven fact that an apple falls to the ground when dropped.
c) Albert Einstein was voted Time Magazine’s man of the century – and they were right (at least when viewed under the sun).
(1) He was certainly a genius – but he should be credited more for his audacity than his genius!
6. How did Einstein change man’s view of the universe?
a) Before Einstein, most scientists subscribed to a steady state view of the universe.
(1) Under that view, there was no beginning to the universe – it has just always been here.
(2) As late as 1959, two thirds of the scientists responding to a poll in Scientific American said that the universe had no beginning. Today virtually 100% would respond that the universe did have a beginning – as Bible believers have known all along.
(3) Scientists now agree with Genesis 1:1 that there was a beginning. Genesis 1:1 tells us that God caused that beginning. And science? It has no answer for what caused the beginning. But Einstein forced science to confront issue.
b) Evolutionists loved the steady-state view because it gave them lots of time.
(1) Here is what Dr. George Wald of Harvard wrote in a 1954 article about evolution:
(a) However improbable we regard this event [the accidental origin of life], or any of the steps which it involves, given enough time it will almost certainly happen … Time is in fact the hero of the plot … Given so much time, the ‘impossible’ becomes possible, the possible becomes probable, and the probable virtually certain. One has only to wait: time itself performs the miracles.
c) Einstein changed all of this. The steady state view of the universe is dead.
(1) Scientists now agree with us about the first three words in the Bible – “In the beginning!” We have some more work to do to convince many of them about the fourth word – “God.”
d) Relativity tells us that time itself had a beginning and that time could have an end!
(1) When God created the universe, he also created time!
(2) Scientists who don’t believe in God need another answer for when time began, and they found one – the Big Bang. But what caused the Big Bang? Why is there something rather than nothing? They have no answer.
e) Einstein also tells us that there is no universal clock. Time is relative and people at different speeds and in different locations may have very different clocks.
(1) Einstein forever tied time to the observer – that is, time is relative rather than objective. Again, that is fact – not a theory.
(2) Truth is not relative – but time is.
7. What (if anything) does all of this tell us about God and does this help us in any way to deal with the vanity that Solomon found in time?
a) God is apart from time in the same way that he is apart from space and matter.
(1) When Christ entered this world, he entered our time just as he entered into our space – and when he ascended he left both time and space behind.
(2) God is not constrained by time the way that man is. God can experience time at any rate he chooses!
b) This view of God from our study of his world is confirmed by his other revelation – the word.
(1) God is the great I AM (Exodus 3:13-14)
(a) Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”
(2) Jesus has the same title (John 8:57-58)
(a) Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” 58Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
(3) God does not experience time like man does
(a) II Peter 3:8
(i) But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
(b) Psalm 90:4
(i) For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night.
(4) Jesus is not subject to time. (Hebrews 13:8)
(a) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
(5) God was working on our behalf before time began. (II Timothy 1:9)
(a) who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began
(6) There was a beginning and God caused it. (Genesis 1:1)
(a) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
(7) Time began at creation. (Genesis 1:5)
(a) God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.
III. God’s View of Time
A. Is time a source of vanity for a Christian?
1. We have looked at what Solomon said about time.
2. We have also looked at how man’s understanding of time has undergone a tremendous transformation and what that transformation tells us about God.
3. What about time for a Christian? Is it a source of vanity?
B. God views time as a valuable resource that must not be wasted.
1. Colossians 4:5
a) Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.
2. Ephesians 5:15-16
a) See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
3. What does it mean to redeem the time?
a) The word in Ephesians 5:16 rendered “redeeming” means “to purchase.”
(1) It means to buy up from the possession of another and then set free.
(2) Barclay – “The times in which they are living are evil; they must rescue as much time as they can from the evil uses of the world.”
(3) Like our money, time is a gift from God that must be used to glorify God.
b) God is telling Christians to seize the day!
(1) But we must not seize it for ourselves but for God.
(2) If we are wasting time, it is his time that we are wasting – not ours.
c) Unlike other resources (like money), time is an irretrievable resource.
(1) When we waste it, it is gone forever and we can’t get it back.
C. God also warns us that time is a limited resource.
1. God reminded Job that Job was just a newcomer! (Job 38:21)
a) Do you know it, because you were born then, or because the number of your days is great?
2. Psalm 39:5
a) Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my age is as nothing before You; Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.
3. James 4:14
a) For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.
4. We may think we have all the time in the world, but we do not. Time need not be a source of vanity – but it will be if we spend all of our time focused on things under the sun.
5. What Solomon said about time was absolutely true – under the sun. If we want to escape the vanity of time we must look beyond the sun!
D. One day time will end, but we will not. We will leave time behind just as we will leave the rest of this physical universe behind. One day time will be destroyed!
1. Genesis 1:1
a) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2. II Peter 3:10
a) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
3. That which God made for man to inhabit will be destroyed when man is no longer here to inhabit it.
4. Time is part of that universe that God made for man to inhabit and one day time will come to an end.
E. We live in time, but we long for timelessness. Why?
1. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11.
a) He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
2. We experience only time, yet we desire timelessness. Why? Where did we get that idea? Even Solomon operating under the sun recognized that man was different than animals. God put eternity in our hearts.
a) Do fish long for waterlessness? No, but man longs for timelessness – and man swims in time the way that fish swim in water.
b) We have been given a divine discontent.
(1) Time is a limit that God imposed on man, and man doesn’t like it.
(2) Which of God’s creation fights time like man does? God has placed eternity in our heart.
F. There are two reasons why time is not a source of vanity for a Christian.
1. Time is powerless against the truth.
a) “Time, whose tooth gnaws away everything else, is powerless against truth.” (T.H. Huxley)
b) Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”
2. We know that we will outlast time.
a) When Christ overcame the world, he overcame death – and he overcame time.
b) And one day, the trumpet of the Lord will sound – and time will be no more.
c) But we will live on in a timeless eternity with God. What will that be like?
(1) We can no more comprehend timelessness than a fish can comprehend waterlessness.
(2) Timelessness is something totally beyond our understanding, but it awaits those who trust and obey God.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)