All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Eccl. 1:8 (KJV)
The beginning and the end of the verse seem to follow the same message and reasoning that we’ve been following since verse 3. What’s interesting is the addition of human reason, or the lack thereof. The phrase, ‘a man cannot utter it,’ seem to signal this. The word ‘utter’ is derived from dāḇar דָּבַר which (in its proper sense) means to arrange, to subdue. (H1696) The word ‘cannot’ is derived from yāḵōl יָכֹל which carry both a literal and a moral meaning; i.e., something literally impossible to do or morally impossible. (H3201)
It’s an interesting contrast to put man opposite to his own situation. It invokes a speculative urge to ask as to why man won’t see/understand the futility of his life and labour. Is it a willful ignorance? Or pure incapability? Scripture seems to indicate the latter. Labour as we speak of, was part of the original curse in Genesis 3. And prior to this, man had authority over the created world. He could utter it – subdue, as God’s steward on earth. Post fall, he is tied to futile labour; one he can’t understand, utter. This becomes his natural state. Verse 8 seems to be a reflection of the biblical reality of man; tied to a laborious life, one can’t undo, one can’t understand, one he can’t escape from.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. Eccl. 1:5 (KJV)
‘Hasteth’ shâ’aph שָׁאַף means to gasp, pant… (H7602). It’s an interesting imagery to put the servitude of the created world in accordance to its creator. They ceaselessly obey Him. “(The) Hebrew… may mean either “to pant” or “to stomp.” The latter meaning is attested in Amos 2:7; 8:4; Ezek 36:3; Pss 56:2, 3; 57:4 and in Postbiblical Hebrew. The idea is that the sun is struggling as it presses on to its place; both meanings of… puffing and stomping – are relevant. The word conveys vigorous activity, but also tiredness.” (Seow, 107)
The tiredness of the world seems to run parallel with the tiredness of – human preoccupation to mean something. Similar to the way, the creation pants across its directed course just to begin again every day, human labour to immortalise themselves is lost to obscurity – generation after generation. “By this instance is exemplified the succession of the generations of men one after another, as the rising and setting of the sun continually follows each other; and also sets forth the restless state of things in the world, which, like the sun, are never at a stand, but always moving, and swiftly taking their course; and likewise the changeable state of man, who, like the rising sun, and when at noon day, is in flourishing circumstances, and in the height of prosperity, but as this declines and sets, so he has his declining times and days of adversity. Moreover, like the rising sun, he comes into this world and appears for a while, and then, like the setting sun, he dies; only with this difference, in which the sun has the preference to him, as the earth before had; the sun hastens and comes to its place from whence it arose, but man lies down and rises not again till the heavens be no more, and never returns to his place in this world, that knows him no more, Job 7:10.” (Gill) Given the nature of things, we return to Qôheleth’s central thesis – that the labour under the sun is of no gain. As Provan writes, “There is no reason to assume that individuals should ‘gain’ from their toil when creation as a whole does not.” (61)
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. Eccl. 1:4 (KJV)
The word ‘abideth’ comes from ‛âmad עָמַד; and it means to ‘stand.’ Other versions of the Bible translate this last phrase as ‘but the earth remains forever.’ (ESV, NIV, NASB). Between the two, the meanings might make different implication. The simpler translation gives an impression of earth being, in somewhat, a superior position to man; which might not be the whole truth that this verse makes claim. This is clearer when we take into account the way ‘abideth’ is used in the scripture.
From other rules of usage, (say Gen 18:22, 19:27, 41:46, 43:15, Exo 9:10, et cetera) it could mean, ‘to be presented to a figure of authority.’ Or in other words, it could also mean ‘to obey.’ But this is not to say the word does not have a generic meaning, where it simply means to stay. There is. There are examples of it being used in its generic meaning. But the former seems to be appropriate in this particular verse. As Qôheleth seems to be moving towards reasoning why man cannot have any profit under the sun; (Gill) which is the central claim he makes in verses 2 and 3.
We’ll read this verse as to say, man cannot have any profit under the sun because the things he relies on (i.e., the creation) obeys a pattern of divine law quite different from the law man was meant to obey. One may speak of the differences as one being natural, and the other moral. In effect, the point here seems to be that the earth ‘remains’ because it still abides by the law of its Creator, unlike man; and hence, it passes away.
There seems to be two reasons as to why man cannot have any profit under the sun: (1) the world is subject to a series of constant change and renewal. Meaning, the creation cannot offer more than what it has always offered. “The earth is where it was; the sun, and winds, and rivers, keep the same course that ever they did; and therefore, if they have never yet been sufficient to make a happiness for man, they are never likely to be so, for they can but yield the same comfort that they have yielded. We must therefore look above the sun for satisfaction, and for a new world.” (Matthew) And, (2) humanity as a whole may under go the same series of change as that of the created world, humans in particular do not. For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; Yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant. But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not.” Job: 14:7-12 (KJV) Humans are never renewed; we either burn in hell or raise with Christ. The created world has no stake in our future. Man moves on, the earth stays.