What Does Ecclesiastes 1:9 Mean by ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’?

sun shining on person writing in journal, nothing new under the sun

Unprecedented. Unique. Unusual. There is no doubt that 2020 has been all of the above, and these are words we have all heard (and used) to describe it. The entire globe has adapted to situations many of us have never thought about before.

We have learned to wear masks, to practice social distancing, to quarantine ourselves, to ‘slow the spread’, and so forth. Yet, we have to ask whether all of this is new, or if it is simply new to us. In the midst of chaotic times such as these, it can be easy to think that what we are experiencing is different than what others have ever experienced. Yet a look at the bigger picture reveals that what we consider unique is not quite as unique as we think and that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

What Does ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’ Mean in Ecclesiastes?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Most of us have heard this phrase used somewhere, but what does it mean exactly, and why is it written in Scripture? The phrase from Ecclesiastes appears in what can truly be a rather unsettling chapter. We read in Ecclesiastes 1:2, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’”. In so many places the Bible gives us meaning, and reasons for encouragement and purpose, but here it seems to be doing just the opposite! What the passage is actually accomplishing is to give us perspective on the stark difference between a life of faith and a life in futility.

When we choose to live life outside of faith in God, we have to admit that everything does indeed seem meaningless. Everything we do outside of Christ, no matter how important, is only temporary. This thought is echoed by Peter when he writes, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25).

What Does This Verse Mean for the History and Future of This World?

As we consider the true implication of nothing new under the sun, it can completely change how we view and respond to current events and how we think of our future. How often have we heard that the world has just gone crazy, or people are just crazy these days? We say this as if it is a new thing, that people have made bad decisions and acted irrationally for the first time. We say this as if our society is somehow getting worse, and things were better in the much longed for, ‘good old days’.

Are things really ‘crazy’ now compared to years past? Of course not. Society is not getting worse; society is generally what it always has been. All of culture, and humanity in general, is striving against God due to our sinful nature, and that is manifest in our actions. We may hear about it more now than years ago, we may see political leaders taking official policy stances that are illogical, ungodly, and unsettling, but none of it is truly new.

-Consider ancient Egypt, where God’s people were held in slavery.

-Consider Sodom and Gomorrah, where God wiped out both cities as a consequence of their rejection of Him.

-Consider Noah and the society that had grown so corrupt God sent the flood.

-Consider the Garden of Eden, where sin first brought separation between God and humanity.

-Finally, consider the cross; where the one person who never committed wrong, the one person who never spoke a lie, was sentenced to death for speaking truth that was hard to bear.

No, the world isn’t changing, there is nothing new under the sun. Yet, it is in the midst of knowing that the world is what it always has been that we clearly see that God’s grace is all that will give us hope and purpose.

Should Christians Be Surprised by Anything?

The truth of the matter is that nothing should take us by surprise!

But…the world is facing a pandemic! It has before.

But…living a life of faith will bring persecution! It always has.

But…people these days tend to sin and react in hate! Outside of Christ, we all are doomed to that and always have been.

Overall, the book of Ecclesiastes offers what may appear to be a sad outlook on life: nothing really matters, everything is meaningless, life is short, and we are all stuck in an endless cycle of the same things happening over and over again.

This is not really encouraging stuff, but this is the truth of life outside of Christ. This is all there is for a life not grounded in faith, all there is for a life missing out on the eternal Kingdom of God of which we are all invited to be citizens. We all have the choice to live as those who are defeated with no hope or to live as more than conquerors.

This concept is summarized well by Christianity.com: “In the end, the only point to anything is God: giving Him glory and honor, obeying His commands, and accepting that His way is supreme and humans are limited creatures with finite power, capacity, and capability. Therefore, we can feel free to enjoy life’s good times, understand hardship happens to us all, and know that there is no meaning to be found in life apart from the Lord, who reigns supreme over all. It ends with the instruction to “Fear God and keep his commandments” (12:13).”

Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing we face that God isn’t aware of, nothing we face that is new to humanity overall. It reminds us that any attempt to do things ‘on our own’ is a worn-out approach to life that has been tried before, and it has never, ever worked out.

Ecclesiastes reminds us that our life on earth is not all that there is but just a glimpse of what can be when we view all of life through a gospel perspective when we see life focused on eternity and not just ‘right now.’ As we remember that there is nothing new under the sun, let us remember that our purpose and meaning is not in the temporary but in the eternal.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/bingokid

Jason Soroski is a homeschool dad and author of A Journey to Bethlehem: Inspiring Thoughts for Christmas and Hope for the New Year. Connect on TwitterInstagram, or at JasonSoroski.net.

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