Bible Question:

Ecclesiastes 1:4 reads as follows, “Generations come, and generations go, but the earth remains eternal.” What place does the world's eternity in Ecclesiastes 1:4 have weighed against the immortal soul? Does the planet outlast mankind and will the final judgment occur before we ruin it? Through self-destruction by pollution, homicide, genocide, suicide, etc., are we going to bring on our own extinction before we are judged by God?

Bible Answer:

In order to discover the meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:4, we need to first understand some important facts about the book of Ecclesiastes. First, the book was written by the wisest man who has ever lived. He was King Solomon (v. 1). Most likely the book was written at the end of his life. This becomes obvious as we read for we soon discover that he makes profound statements that only an older man would understand.

What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:4?

What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:4?

Verses 2 of Ecclesiastes sets the theme of the book.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NASB)

The Hebrew for vanity, hebel, means “empty” or “vapor.” The message is that life is like a soap bubble that eventually pops. Anyone who is familiar with a soap bubble knows that it does not last long and when it pops there is nothing left. That is, there is nothing of lasting value in this empty life that we live. So, we should not be surprised that verse 3 asks the question,

What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:3 (NASB)

Solomon’s life experience has revealed that there is no advantage or value to all of the hard work that we experience in this life. Since he was the wealthiest man of his day, he could have whatever he desired. Just read Ecclesiastes 2.

Then in verse 4 we read,

A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.
Ecclesiastes 1:4 (NASB)

King Solomon tells us that he has noticed that a “generation goes and a generation comes.” That is, people are born into this world and eventually die. Anyone who has lost a friend to death knows that they were first born, but eventually they died. So, Solomon says we come and eventually we go. This is true.

Then King Solomon contrasts the length of our life upon this earth to how long the sun will exist. He says that the sun will last forever. But the Hebrew word that is translated as “forever” is holam. The root meaning of the word points “to what is hidden in the distant future or in the distant past.”1 In this verse, it refers to the distant future. So, the earth will remain into the distant future, but we will not remain into the distant future. The message of verse 4 is that we do not exist very long upon this earth. Psalm 90:9-10 says it like this,

For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
Psalm 90:9-10 (NASB)

The message of Ecclesiastes is that life is like a soap bubble. It comes and goes. So, there is no purpose to life. We take nothing with us. When we die, the next event is judgment. So, we will stand before God and He will judge us. Those who have believed in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins in this life will spend eternity with God. Those who did not do that will spend eternity in punishment. The place is called the lake of fire.

We would encourage you to listen to a message called “Empty of Empties.” The message explains the meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:1-11.



1. Harris, Archer, and Waltke. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.Moody Press., Chicago. Vol. 2, p. 672.

Suggested Links:

Searching For God
Empty of Empties
Did the people who crucified Christ go to hell or the Lake of Fire?