Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises. The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. Ecclesiastes 1, verses 4-7.
When was the last time you considered the majesty of nature? And do you think nature lasts forever?
This will come as no surprise but I don’t believe in the story of evolution. I won’t go into all the reasons; let’s just leave it at there are too many holes in the idea for me to swallow it whole. I find it difficult to believe that the splendor of nature is billions of years old, that the holistic, interdependent, intricate ecosystems we see today descended from a mass of undefinable primordial goo. I don’t see how you can cherry-pick bits and pieces out of Scripture, believing some things and discarding others. In my view, you either accept it or you don’t. Thus, I reject the idea of seven days equaling seven long periods of time or seven eons. They were either seven days or they weren’t. Either things were created as it says or they weren’t.
And yet…and yet King Solomon said that ‘the earth remains forever.’ On the surface, that would seem to be an endorsement of an eons-old nature. Um, not quite. Do we need to say neither Solomon nor the people of his time had ever heard of Charles Darwin (because he was thankfully centuries away from being born), that they simply accepted that everything they knew had been created at some point in time? So why did Solomon say the earth remains forever? My uneducated read of the verse is that it is poetic, a rhetorical device, perhaps a metaphor. I think it’s common, even today. How many times have you heard someone say “this is taking forever” or “I haven’t seen you in forever?” I think ‘forever’ in this verse means “a very long time.” As far as a post-Bronze Age king would have understood (even the wisest one ever), forever would be an extremely long, unknowable time.
When someone of Solomon’s day would consider nature, I believe they would have accepted that it simply was, that it was God-given, not the end product of a billions-year-old process of random chance. And I think, in that simplistic view of the world, there was (and is) a marvelous acceptance of a marvelous miracle. The verses see nature as a magnificent amalgamation of interrelated things. The sun rises and the sun sets. The concept of orbital revolution wasn’t discerned for several thousand years more, but that didn’t stop Solomon from seeing the rising and setting sun for the miracle that it was. It could mark time, illuminate the world in a predictable manner, and return light and life to darkness. The winds would come and the winds would go, and the people of ancient Israel wouldn’t have known how sunshine created and affected them. They would have, however, understood the cyclical nature of winds from the west and the difference between them when they blew from the south versus the north.
And then there’s the sea. I don’t know much about it, but I’m thinking that the Israel of 3000 years ago wasn’t as fertile as the Israel of today. Modern farming and extensive irrigation have brought life to desert and made 2012 Israel practically self-sufficient in its food supply. That wouldn’t have been the case in Solomon’s time, where farming would have been on a smaller scale and there simply wouldn’t have been the ability to mass irrigate in the ways that can be done today. Israel was defined, then, by the seas, by the Sea of Galilee on the north, the Dead Sea to the east, and the vast Mediterranean to the west. To someone who didn’t know that there were seven continents on the planet – all of them surrounded by much larger oceans – the seas would have seemed endless, timeless and limitless. Because his nation could only farm and raise food on a comparatively small scale, that vast sea would also have been a ready source of food and life. Even today, the nations (like Israel) around the Mediterranean are sea-focused. They still derive their culture, much of their food and economy, and much of their national definition from the body of water at their border. So it is now, so it would have been with Solomon.
So what’s the point? In the context of King Solomon expressing the meaninglessness of all things without God, I read that, compared to the wonders of nature, the power of the sun and winds, and the vast expanse of the seas, man’s condition is meager. If, without God, all things are meaningless, then man’s condition is especially meaningless. If God can make this powerful natural world that seems unending on its own, then man, who He also made, is powerless and puny. It’s almost an expression of logic, wise Solomon contrasting the intimidating power of nature with the insignificant ability of man alone.
And yet it’s only a rhetorical vehicle. There are verses up ahead that spell out the second half of the contrast. Like a good attorney, Solomon makes his case based in fact but using emotion. He lays out his proof that our condition without God is hopeless before defining the real hope to be found in his Savior. I like to think, then, of the Hebrew king recording these thoughts, then gazing out over a Judean sunset from the splendor of his palace. He would have felt awe-struck and thankfully humble. All around him were the signs of prosperity, gifts from a God who had blessed him and provided for him without end. I believe King Solomon would have seen the majesty of nature, considered his and his subjects’ place in it, and then considered how it is God who brings all things together for His glory and limitless love. That’s not some evolving speculation. It’s something that is.