Here are the words of the Teacher, the king of Jerusalem, David's son.
Everything passes—it's so temporary! It's all so hard to understand!” says the Teacher.* What benefit do you get for slaving away in this life? People come, and people go, but the earth lasts forever! The sun comes up, and the sun goes down, and then rushes to its place to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns to the north. Round and round it spins, finally coming full circle. Streams all flow into the sea, but the sea never becomes full. The streams return to the place from where they came. Everything just keeps on going. You can't say all there is to say. You can't see all there is to see. You can't hear all there is to hear.§
Everything that was will continue to be; everything that has been done will be done again. Nothing new ever happens here.* 10 There's nothing anyone can point to and say, “Look! Here's something new.” In fact it's been around for ages, long before our time. 11 The problem is we don't remember people from the past, and people in the future won't remember those who came before them.
12 I am the Teacher, and I was king over Israel, reigning from Jerusalem. 13 I decided to focus my mind to explore, using wisdom, everything that happens here on earth. This is a tough assignment that God has given people to keep them busy! 14 I examined everything people do here on earth, and discovered that it's all so temporary—trying to understand it is like trying to pin down the wind!
15 You can't straighten what is twisted, and you can't count what isn't there.§
16 I thought to myself, “I've become very wise, wiser than all the kings of Jerusalem before me. My mind has gained a great deal of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 So I decided to use my mind to learn everything about wisdom, and madness and foolishness as well. But I found out that this is as hard as trying to catch hold of the wind. 18 For with great wisdom comes great frustration. The greater the knowledge, the greater the pain.
* 1:2 The word used here five times! (and frequently repeated in the book) does not really mean “meaningless” as is so often translated. Its basic meaning is “vapor” or “breath,” and is associated with all that is transitory and fleeting. “Transient” or “ephemeral” would also reflect the meaning—it's not that there is no value, but that everything passes so quickly. Nothing lasts! It is the brevity of life that “makes no sense” and causes frustrating uncertainty. The shortness and unsubstantial nature of existence is what the Teacher finds hard to understand. It's “elusive.” 1:3 Here is another word that is used in a special sense in Ecclesiastes. Its primary meaning is “gain” or “profit” in a business sense, but here it is being used more in the sense of “life benefit”—in other words, what advantage is gained in the sense of “the meaning of life” and any future reward? 1:3 Literally, “under the sun.” § 1:8 Literally, “man is not able to utter, the eye is not satisfied to see, the ear is not filled with hearing.” * 1:9 “Here”: literally, “under the sun.” 1:11 “The problem is”: implied. 1:14 “Wind.” There is a problem in translation since the same word is used in this book for “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” So the proverbial “chasing after the wind” could indeed mean “chasing after breath/spirit,” which could be interpreted as seeking the meaning of life (breath/spirit). This is why the KJV translates the phrase as “vexation of spirit.” § 1:15 These were probably everyday proverbs of the time. They really are saying that things have to be accepted as they are.