Ecclesiastes 1:9 is the origin of what has become a common proverb, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” The verse reads like this: “What has been will be again, / what has been done will be done again; / there is nothing new under the sun.” As a modern idiom, “there’s nothing new under the sun” is often used as a world-weary complaint against life’s monotony. When Solomon wrote the statement, he was emphasizing the cyclic nature of human life on earth and the emptiness of living only for the “rat race.”
The phrase “under the sun” is used 29 times in Ecclesiastes and nowhere else in Scripture. The intended meaning in Ecclesiastes is that what happens “under the sun” in a life separated from God is universal—the point of view in Ecclesiastes is an earth-bound perspective.
To say there is nothing new under the sun means there is nothing really new on the earth. All the activity of a man during his lifetime is lost in the grander scheme of things and will soon be forgotten (Ecclesiastes 1:11).
To say there is nothing new under the sun does not ignore inventions or advances in technology; rather, these innovations do not amount to any basic change in the world. In Solomon’s time, many advances took place in society, but, from the larger perspective of life, human nature has remained and always will remain the same.
The context of Ecclesiastes 1 discusses how the earth operates. The sun (verse 5), wind (verse 6), and water (verse 7) continue to function as they have in the past. Despite human efforts (verse 2), the world continues unchanged. Part of the writer’s frustration from this observation is that “no one remembers the former generations, / and even those yet to come / will not be remembered / by those who follow them” (verse 11). People tend to forget the past, repeating its mistakes as a result.
Does the fact that there is nothing new under the sun mean that people should not try to improve themselves, the lives of others, or the world around them? The entire book of Ecclesiastes should be read before jumping to any conclusion. In the end, Solomon writes this: “Now all has been heard; / here is the conclusion of the matter: / Fear God and keep his commandments, / for this is the duty of all mankind. / For God will bring every deed into judgment, / including every hidden thing, / whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14).
In other words, life involves more than what happens “under the sun.” Living for God and His glory is the goal of life. Those who do not seek this goal will be judged. Even our good deeds that have gone unnoticed in this life are seen by God and will be rewarded in the future. This knowledge should result in a life lived for God, with a deep love for others and desire to make a difference.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” The Great Commission also gives a specific mission for the Christian life: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). The Christian life is not meaningless. There may be nothing new under the sun, but Jesus promises, some day, to make all things new (Revelation 21:5).