May 17, 2020
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? 4 A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. 6 The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7 All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. 8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
When writing Hear Me, All You People Hear—Psalm 49 back in the summer of last year, I made an off-hand comment to Mirandi and Elizabeth that, because the music was so dark, we could probably only ever use it in Lent— unless we had a sermon series on something really unusual, something like … Ecclesiastes. Well, providentially, that series is happening now! The most striking moment in the piece is the dissonant harmony that sounds at the end of each phrase, which coincides with some of the darkest moments in the psalm: “hidden wisdom” (vs. 4), “the evil day” (vs. 5), death “within his fold will keep” (vs. 14). Twice in the text (vs. 12, 20), the psalmist laments that “man in his pomp is like the beasts that perish.” I wanted to mimic this structure in the musical setting, so there is a coda following the third verse which repeats the line “they are like the beast that dies.” But unlike every other time, the phrase hangs in the air longer, transitioning to the hopeful conclusion, “God will raise me from the grave.” Here at the very end, the dissonant chord is finally removed in favor of a peaceful resolution to an open fifth. This relaxed harmony attempts to reflect the psalmist’s confidence that he does not fear in times of trouble or trust in worldly wealth—and perhaps reminds us of the preacher of Ecclesiastes as well. —Henry C. Haffner
Key Words: Forever, Hastens, Full, Weariness,
Keystone Verse: There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)