Our last reading for this week is from Ecclesiastes 2:17-26
v17: Therefore: Because of death
- I hated life: Death is such a killjoy! If life could just go on and on maybe things wouldn’t feel so meaningless? But Solomon keeps coming back to the reality of death. It brings an abrupt end to anything we might have been learning or pursuing.
- Grievous: The original Hebrew word here is רַ֤ע which means “evil”or “bad”. In many places it means the opposite of G-d’s will, but here Solomon is simply saying that his work was bad as it didn’t produce or accomplish his desired results. Therefore, it was not satisfying or good to him.
- Vanity…grasping for the wind: There’s no point to it. It cannot be pinned down. No matter what we do, no matter what we pursue, there’s no lasting effect to it.
v18: Everything Solomon has toiled for (knowledge, possessions, wealth), because of death, is going to be given to another. Once he is dead, he cannot stop anyone from getting it. Therefore, nothing in this world has lasting value for him.
v19: A wise man or a fool: We don’t know if those who are coming after us are going to be wise or foolish with all we have worked hard to acquire in our lives and, by default (through death), have given to them.
- Vanity: Futile, of no lasting effect.
v20: Up to this point Solomon has not submitted to Biblical truth. He believes that he is the one who sets out and achieves things based upon his own wisdom and knowledge. Although this wisdom and knowledge is actually from G-d, Solomon is not acknowledging G-d in his life.
- Turned my heart: He was not just disappointed but was in despair, emotionally bankrupt, discouraged. He is dejected that he’s not experiencing what he’s longing for.
v21: Solomon accomplished all that he did with great wisdom, understanding and talent. However, in the end, it was going to go to someone who had not toiled for it.
- Great evil: Solomon is finding all of this grossly unfair.
Note: The problem is that Solomon was approaching life from his own vantage point or perspective. This is a very foolish thing to do. We should be people who are praying for and seeking G-d’s perspective/wisdom in any given situation, so that we can respond according to His wisdom and not according to ours. Our lives are a vapour. If we’re not building upon an eternal foundation, then futility will also overtake us and leave us discouraged in heart.
v22: All his labour: What he has done
- The striving of his heart: What he has thought or learned – his ideas, imaginings etc. The end result of all our strivings, ideas etc are that they are going to be judged, put through the fire so to speak (1 Cor 3:10-15). Even for the believer, what we spend the vast majority of our time on is going to be destroyed by the judgment of G-d (“Only what’s built for Christ will last” CT Studd).
v23: Sorrowful: From a human perspective all our days are painful, full of anguish.
- His heart takes no rest: Solomon is probably talking here about not having spiritual peace. His inner desires are never at rest because they remain unsatisfied.
v24: Eat and drink: In the Bible ‘eating and drinking’ should be understood as “fellowship”. We need to find pleasure in people and in relationships.
- Soul should enjoy good in his labour: We need to find satisfaction in the work that we do – not only in what the work produces (finances etc) but in doing the work itself. If we are wise we should invest ourselves in an occupation that we enjoy for the simple love of the work itself, with the payments and benefits being an added bonus.
- The hand of G-d: This is one of the few times that Solomon mentions G-d in his discussion. He knows that G-d is there, but he isn’t about pursuing G-dliness – he’s pursuing joy, satisfaction, contentment. He is looking for something that has an eternal consequence in THIS world, but there’s nothing eternal about this world. Satisfaction, joy and contentment are not going to be experienced by pursuing the things of this world.
v25: Who can eat…or have enjoyment more than I?: More than anyone, Solomon had the ability to choose what he wanted to do and how he spent his time. He had the resources to enjoy people. No one has been in a better position than Solomon to do exactly what he wanted to do.
v26: G-d gives wisdom, and knowledge and joy: This is a big statement. It is a conclusion that we need to utilize by applying it to our lives – if we want wisdom, knowledge and gladness, it comes from G-d! It does not come from what we can acquire in this world.
- A man who is good in His sight: Meaning, one who is faithful to the will of G-d. G-d sees how we live. He provides wisdom, knowledge and gladness to those who are pleasing to Him.
- To the sinner: In this verse we see that there are only two types of people: Those who are good (meaning, they do G-d’s will) or those who violate G-d’s Word and will (ie the sinner). Those who obey the Word of G-d are going to receive wisdom, knowledge and gladness. Those who defy G-d with their lives, reject His will or push it aside, suffer the consequences.
- Gathering and collecting: The sinner acquires things and stores them away. G-d is going to take these things from the sinner and give them to the righteous – to those who are “good” before Him – those who live according to His standards of right and wrong, good and evil (Prov 13:22). A lot of believers get excited about this verse. Let’s, however, look at this from an eternal perspective: when G-d gives us the possessions, achievements, wealth etc of other people, in this lifetime, do they really satisfy us, change us or make us different people? Receiving these possessions and enjoying them doesn’t have any eternal consequence. In the end, what we receive will be simply used up or given to another. They do not last. As believers we should not pursue these things (the wealth of the sinners), as they’re going to leave us totally and utterly dissatisfied (Matt 6:33).