Read verses 10-12
Observation: The English words in this section rendered as “man” are from the Hebrew word “adam” (Strong’s #120), and at times may allude to the original person known by the proper name of the same Hebrew word “Adam”.
Q: To the ancient eyes who originally wrote and read this text, why might v.10 immediately remind them of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of man?
A: Because in Genesis 2-3 Adam was called upon to name things (“whatever exists has already been named”), and the encounter with the tree of knowledge of good and evil brought about his present spiritual state (“it is known what man is”). His encounter with the serpent shows “he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is”.
Point: An entire sermon could be derived from this summary of man’s spiritual condition that there is nothing new, man is fallen, and he is unable to resist.
Q: How is the original Adam mirrored in the life of the Preacher as exposited in Ecclesiastes?
A: Like Adam, he sought an encyclopedic mastery of knowledge (Ecc. 1:13) and even experimented firsthand in good and evil (Ecc. 1:17), only to discover his own mortality and weakness before God.
Q: What does v.11 mean?
A: It is an idiomatic expression of the useless attempt to add to man’s knowledge—“many words”, which cannot alter the fundamental issues.
Point: In other words, technological innovation does not contribute to addressing the core spiritual issues each person of every generation is faced with. This is why even today, the most poverty-stricken person in the Third World has the exact, same spiritual issues as the most wealthy and technology rich Westerner.
Q: How might v.12 again reprise the story of Adam to ancient readers?
A: The question, “who knows what is good for ‘adam’” reminds of the time prior to the Fall when so much was characterized as appearing good, but turned out otherwise. And though Adam is recorded as having lived nearly a thousand years, they were still spent “like a shadow” for which no one could tell him that which would follow.
Point: Previously many things which seemed good have been presented such as health, wealth and family, which turned out to be equally capable of being misused for the worst possible results or for no benefit at all. A lesson is being provided that what Adam experienced was not unique to him alone, but emblematic of what every person subsequently experiences.
Application: Every generation’s journey toward self-discovery has been the very same since the very beginning. There is truly nothing new under the sun.