Thesis: Meaning that accomplishes nothing and fades away is meaningless. This is why, without the gospel, all is vanity. And all means all. Work is vanity (1:2) “Progress” and turning of time are vanity (1:4) Days are vanity (1:5) Fame is vanity (1:11) Acquiring wisdom is vanity (1:16-18, 2:14-15) Pleasure and laughter are vanity (2:1-2) Riches, getting everything you want and accomplishment are vanity (2:4-11) Toil to pass wealth on to the next generation is vanity(2:18-21, 26) Working hard is vanity (2:22-23) Wisdom, knowledge and joy are vanity (2:26) Seeking gain—that is, changing what God has set in place—is vanity (3:9-11, 14-15) The fact that people appear no different than animals. Both die. This is vanity (3:18-20) Hard work done simply in envy of what your neighbor has is vanity (4:4) Endless work and dissatisfaction with riches is vanity (4:7-8) Success is vanity (4:15-16) The increase of dreams and words is vanity (5:7) ... It is all meaningless, because it does not last. Look again at our text. Vs 2: We work to accomplish, and there is always more work to do. Vs 3: A new and “brighter” generation emerges, but the problems of the world persist. Vs 5: Have you ever noticed how the sun never gets anywhere? It always look like its making progress, starting in the East and traveling all the way across the skies. But sure enough, in the morning it is still in the East! Vs 6-7: The wind too, and the rivers. Like they are running on a treadmill, they never get anywhere! It is impossible to express how tiresome and wearisome and pointless and painfully meaningless it all is. Keep looking around and keep learning all you can from this world—it only gets worse. We all live in “Groundhog's Day.” The whole world is “Live. Die. Repeat.” Death—that is the linch pin of it all and the deadly equation goes like this. The certainty of death (both of wise and foolish, good and evil, etc) + The undiscoverability of what comes after death = Vanity Any honest philosopher will acknowledge as much. We are left utterly without hope and meaning unless God speaks. That is where these verses lead us. That is the purpose of the refrain: “All is vanity.” That we would turn to God and listen, because there is nothing else to do. And he has spoken. He has promised grace. And he has fulfilled it. The word of God has dwelt among us. Our certain death is no more—for all who live and believe in Jesus never really die. And what follows the final breath of our physical bodies is no longer hidden behind a veil. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord! And the question of resurrection is a question no longer. Jesus has been raised, and so too we shall be raised with glorious bodies like his. Death will be swallowed up in victory—and gone forever! And so too the undiscoverable, when we live forever to see God face-to-face. If all you have is meaninglessness, then come to Jesus! If you already have, then let us live this hope!! Let it chase away any sense of vanity in the mundane and day-to-day. All is vanity... no more in Christ!
Main point summary
Everything in this world is meaningless. For man can never get anywhere and thus everything “important” we do is soon forgotten.
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities!
[All I see is] the utmost of vanities, says the one addressing the crowd
All is vanity.
meaning , everything is pointless.
What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
For there is no progress, advancement or gain for all the work we do in this world!
A generation goes,
For old people finish a long life
and a generation comes,
and then young people grow up and take the lead
but the earth remains forever.
yet the world still works as it always has.
The sun rises,
Take these examples: (1) the sun comes up in the morning
and the sun goes down,
then it sets in the evening
and hastens to the place where it rises.
then it hurries to go back to where it can come up again.
The wind blows to the south
(2) The wind blows southward
and goes around to the north;
and then it blows around and comes back to the north
around and around goes the wind,
that is , it goes in a circle
and on its circuits the wind returns.
meaning that it has this track that it just keeps running around!
All streams run to the sea,
(3) Though the rivers all run into the sea (and seemingly are getting somewhere)
but the sea is not full;
yet the sea never fills up!
to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
Rather the same destination that the rivers always flow toward is where they keep going!
All things are full of weariness;
Therefore everything just wears me out (as if we are pushing against a brick wall or walking on a treadmill)!
a man cannot utter it;
I would explain better, but it is beyond my words,
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
it is beyond what I can observe with my eyes,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
and it is beyond what I could learn if you taught me about it endlessly!
What has been is what will be,
For the past just repeats itself!
and what has been done is what will be done,
Again , whatever was done before will be done again.
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Simply put , there is nothing new in this world.
Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?
That is , there is not a single thing you can point to as genuinely new
It has been already in the ages before us.
since it already was around, even in the far past.
There is no remembrance of former things,
And therefore (since there is nothing new in this world) what seemed important at the time has been since forgotten
nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
and the "new" and "important" things tomorrow will soon be completely forgotten by the generations which follow.
The irony in this progression and the others is that at the end of the progressions you are only back at where you started from! This in fact is the point being made.