The Meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:3 Explained

Ecclesiastes 1:3

KJV: What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

YLT: What advantage is to man by all his labour that he laboureth at under the sun?

Darby: What profit hath man of all his labour wherewith he laboureth under the sun?

ASV: What profit hath man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?

What does Ecclesiastes 1:3 Mean?

Verse Meaning

Rather than saying, "All work is vanity," Solomon made the same point by asking this rhetorical question that expects a negative response. He used this literary device often throughout the book (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:2; Ecclesiastes 3:9; Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 6:11-12; et al.).
"Advantage" (Heb. yitron) refers to what remains in the sense of a net profit (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:13; Ecclesiastes 3:9; Ecclesiastes 5:9; Ecclesiastes 5:16; Ecclesiastes 7:12; Ecclesiastes 10:10-11). This Hebrew word occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. Solomon was not saying there is nothing good about work or that it is worse than being unemployed. He only meant that all the work that a person may engage in does not yield permanent profit-even though it may yield short-term profit, including financial security (cf. Mark 8:36). [1]
"Under the sun," used29 times in Ecclesiastes and nowhere else in the Old Testament, simply means "on the earth," that Isaiah , in terms of human existence ( Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:17-20; Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 4:7; Ecclesiastes 4:15; Ecclesiastes 5:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 6:1; Ecclesiastes 6:5; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 8:9; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 9:13; Ecclesiastes 10:5; cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 3:1). The phrase shows that the writer"s perspective was universal, not limited to his own people and land. [2] And it shows that Solomon was looking at life from the perspective of man on the earth without the aid of special revelation from God.
"The phrase "under the sun" ( Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 1:9) describes life and reality as perceived by mere human observation. It is a world-view devoid of special revelation." [3]
"It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven"s point of view." [4]
"This man [5] had been living through all these experiences under the sun, concerned with nothing above the sun, on the modern level of experience in the realm of the material, until there came a moment in which he had seen the whole of life. And there was something over the sun. It is only as a man takes account of that which is over the sun as well as that which is under the sun that things under the sun are seen in their true light." [6]
"Of course, looked at only "under the sun," a person"s daily work might seem to be futile and burdensome, but the Christian believer can always claim 1 Corinthians 15:58 and labor gladly in the will of God, knowing his labor is "not in vain in the Lord."" [7]

Context Summary

Ecclesiastes 1:1-18 - The Testimony Of An Unsatisfied Soul
All is vanity! This cry finds an echo in human hearts of every age and clime. Clod meant man to be happy. "These things," said our Lord, "I have spoken to you, that your joy may be full." "The fruit of the Spirit is joy." Yet the air is laden with complaint and bitterness. Men are asking constantly, "Is life worth living?" The present age is full of unrest and weariness, of war and strife, of unsatisfied yearnings and desires. The mistake is that men seek to solve the mystery of life and to find their happiness apart from God, who has made us for Himself.
This book was written and incorporated in the Bible to show that man's quest for happiness is vain, so long as it is apart from God. Solomon had unbounded opportunities for pursuing his quest. Youth, wealth, wisdom, royalty, human love were his, but when all were mixed in the golden cup of his life, he turned from the draught unsatisfied and sad. Listen to the sigh of the sated voluptuary: Vanity of vanities! Let us turn from these bitter experiences to 1 John 2:15-17. [source]

Chapter Summary: Ecclesiastes 1

1  the preacher shows that all human courses are vain
4  because the creatures are restless in their courses
9  they bring forth nothing new, and all old things are forgotten
12  and because he has found it so in the studies of wisdom

What do the individual words in Ecclesiastes 1:3 mean?

What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun
מַה־ יִּתְר֖וֹן לָֽאָדָ֑ם בְּכָל־ עֲמָל֔וֹ שֶֽׁיַּעֲמֹ֖ל תַּ֥חַת ؟ הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ

יִּתְר֖וֹן  profit 
Parse: Noun, masculine singular
Root: יִתְרֹון  
Sense: advantage, profit, excellency.
לָֽאָדָ֑ם  has  a  man 
Parse: Preposition-l, Article, Noun, masculine singular
Root: אָדָם 
Sense: man, mankind.
בְּכָל־  from  all 
Parse: Preposition-b, Noun, masculine singular construct
Root: כֹּל  
Sense: all, the whole.
עֲמָל֔וֹ  his  labor 
Parse: Noun, masculine singular construct, third person masculine singular
Root: עָמָל  
Sense: .
שֶֽׁיַּעֲמֹ֖ל  in  which  he  toils 
Parse: Pronoun, relative, Verb, Qal, Imperfect, third person masculine singular
Root: עָמַל  
Sense: to labour, toil.
תַּ֥חַת  under 
Parse: Preposition
Root: מִתְחָה 
Sense: the under part, beneath, instead of, as, for, for the sake of, flat, unto, where, whereas.
؟ הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ  the  sun 
Parse: Article, Noun, common singular
Root: שֶׁמֶשׁ  
Sense: sun.