Ecclesiastes 1-4 The Message Bible

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All Is Vanity

1 1  These are the words of the Quester, David's son and king in Jerusalem: 2  Smoke, nothing but smoke. [That's what the Quester says.] There's nothing to anything - it's all smoke. 3  What's there to show for a lifetime of work, a lifetime of working your fingers to the bone?

4  One generation goes its way, the next one arrives, but nothing changes - it's business as usual for old planet earth. 5  The sun comes up and the sun goes down, then does it again, and again - the same old round. 6  The wind blows south, the wind blows north. Around and around and around it blows, blowing this way, then that - the whirling, erratic wind. 7  All the rivers flow into the sea, but the sea never fills up. The rivers keep flowing to the same old place, and then start all over and do it again. 8  Everything's boring, utterly boring - no one can find any meaning in it. Boring to the eye, boring to the ear.

9  What was will be again, what happened will happen again. There's nothing new on this earth. Year after year it's the same old thing. 10  Does someone call out, "Hey, this is new"? Don't get excited - it's the same old story. 11  Nobody remembers what happened yesterday. And the things that will happen tomorrow? Nobody'll remember them either. Don't count on being remembered.

The Experience of the Preacher

12  Call me "the Quester." I've been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13  I looked most carefully into everything, searched out all that is done on this earth. And let me tell you, there's not much to write home about. God hasn't made it easy for us. 14  I've seen it all and it's nothing but smoke - smoke, and spitting into the wind. 15  Life's a corkscrew that can't be straightened, A minus that won't add up. 16  I said to myself, "I know more and I'm wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I've stockpiled wisdom and knowledge." 17  What I've finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless - nothing but spitting into the wind. 18  Much learning earns you much trouble. The more you know, the more you hurt.

2 1  I said to myself, "Let's go for it - experiment with pleasure, have a good time!" But there was nothing to it, nothing but smoke. 2  What do I think of the fun-filled life? Insane! Inane! My verdict on the pursuit of happiness? Who needs it? 3  With the help of a bottle of wine and all the wisdom I could muster, I tried my level best to penetrate the absurdity of life. I wanted to get a handle on anything useful we mortals might do during the years we spend on this earth. I Never Said No to Myself 4  Oh, I did great things: built houses, planted vineyards, 5  designed gardens and parks and planted a variety of fruit trees in them, 6  made pools of water to irrigate the groves of trees. 7  I bought slaves, male and female, who had children, giving me even more slaves; then I acquired large herds and flocks, larger than any before me in Jerusalem. 8  I piled up silver and gold, loot from kings and kingdoms. I gathered a chorus of singers to entertain me with song, and - most exquisite of all pleasures - voluptuous maidens for my bed. 9  Oh, how I prospered! I left all my predecessors in Jerusalem far behind, left them behind in the dust. What's more, I kept a clear head through it all. 10  Everything I wanted I took - I never said no to myself. I gave in to every impulse, held back nothing. I sucked the marrow of pleasure out of every task - my reward to myself for a hard day's work! 11  Then I took a good look at everything I'd done, looked at all the sweat and hard work. But when I looked, I saw nothing but smoke. Smoke and spitting into the wind. There was nothing to any of it. Nothing.

12  And then I took a hard look at what's smart and what's stupid. What's left to do after you've been king? That's a hard act to follow. You just do what you can, and that's it. 13  But I did see that it's better to be smart than stupid, just as light is better than darkness. 14  Even so, though the smart ones see where they're going and the stupid ones grope in the dark, they're all the same in the end. One fate for all - and that's it. 15  When I realized that my fate's the same as the fool's, I had to ask myself, "So why bother being wise?" It's all smoke, nothing but smoke. 16  The smart and the stupid both disappear out of sight. In a day or two they're both forgotten. Yes, both the smart and the stupid die, and that's it.

17  I hate life. As far as I can see, what happens on earth is a bad business. It's smoke - and spitting into the wind. 18  And I hated everything I'd accomplished and accumulated on this earth. I can't take it with me - no, I have to leave it to whoever comes after me. 19  Whether they're worthy or worthless - and who's to tell? - they'll take over the earthly results of my intense thinking and hard work. Smoke. 20  That's when I called it quits, gave up on anything that could be hoped for on this earth. 21  What's the point of working your fingers to the bone if you hand over what you worked for to someone who never lifted a finger for it? Smoke, that's what it is. A bad business from start to finish. 22  So what do you get from a life of hard labor? 23  Pain and grief from dawn to dusk. Never a decent night's rest. Nothing but smoke. 24  The best you can do with your life is have a good time and get by the best you can. The way I see it, that's it - divine fate. 25  Whether we feast or fast, it's up to God. 26  God may give wisdom and knowledge and joy to his favorites, but sinners are assigned a life of hard labor, and end up turning their wages over to God's favorites. Nothing but smoke - and spitting into the wind.

A Time for Everything

3 1  There's an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: 2  A right time for birth and another for death, A right time to plant and another to reap, 3  A right time to kill and another to heal, A right time to destroy and another to construct, 4  A right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer, 5  A right time to make love and another to abstain, A right time to embrace and another to part, 6  A right time to search and another to count your losses, A right time to hold on and another to let go, 7  A right time to rip out and another to mend, A right time to shut up and another to speak up, 8  A right time to love and another to hate, A right time to wage war and another to make peace. 9  But in the end, does it really make a difference what anyone does? 10  I've had a good look at what God has given us to do - busywork, mostly.

11  True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time - but he's left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he's coming or going. 12  I've decided that there's nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. 13  That's it - eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It's God's gift. 14  I've also concluded that whatever God does, that's the way it's going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God's done it and that's it. That's so we'll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear. 15  Whatever was, is. Whatever will be, is. That's how it always is with God.

The Injustice of Life

16  I took another good look at what's going on: The very place of judgment - corrupt! 17  The place of righteousness - corrupt! I said to myself, "God will judge righteous and wicked." There's a right time for every thing, every deed - and there's no getting around it. 18  I said to myself regarding the human race, "God's testing the lot of us, showing us up as nothing but animals." 19  Humans and animals come to the same end - humans die, animals die. We all breathe the same air. So there's really no advantage in being human. None. Everything's smoke. 20  We all end up in the same place - we all came from dust, we all end up as dust. 21  Nobody knows for sure that the human spirit rises to heaven or that the animal spirit sinks into the earth. 22  So I made up my mind that there's nothing better for us men and women than to have a good time in whatever we do - that's our lot. Who knows if there's anything else to life?

4 1  Next I turned my attention to all the outrageous violence that takes place on this planet - the tears of the victims, no one to comfort them; the iron grip of oppressors, no one to rescue the victims from them. 2  So I congratulated the dead who are already dead instead of the living who are still alive. 3  But luckier than the dead or the living is the person who has never even been, who has never seen the bad business that takes place on this earth.

4  Then I observed all the work and ambition motivated by envy. What a waste! Smoke. And spitting into the wind. 5  The fool sits back and takes it easy, His sloth is slow suicide. 6  One handful of peaceful repose Is better than two fistfuls of worried work - More spitting into the wind.

7  I turned my head and saw yet another wisp of smoke on its way to nothingness: 8  a solitary person, completely alone - no children, no family, no friends - yet working obsessively late into the night, compulsively greedy for more and more, never bothering to ask, "Why am I working like a dog, never having any fun? And who cares?" More smoke. A bad business. 9  It's better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. 10  And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there's no one to help, tough! 11  Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. 12  By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped.

13  A poor youngster with some wisdom is better off than an old but foolish king who doesn't know which end is up. 14  I saw a youth just like this start with nothing and go from rags to riches, 15  and I saw everyone rally to the rule of this young successor to the king. 16  Even so, the excitement died quickly, the throngs of people soon lost interest. Can't you see it's only smoke? And spitting into the wind?

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