So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labour under the sun. For a person may labour with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.(Eccl. 2:17-26 NIV)
The result of the teacher’s research leads to his conclusion that he hated life. All his work gave him grief. Everything was hebel, striving to catch the wind which is impossible. Anything he acquired would be left to someone else. Death would rob him of all his possessions, and he would not be able to control what was done with them. Someone could squander everything, or they could build on them. Some people have attempted to control what would happen after their death. A well- known theologian left instructions in his will that his unpublished work be published over periods during the 100 years after his death. Some critics believe that he wanted to ensure that people would still be reading his work long after his death.
The teacher repeats the question that he originally asked in 1:3.
What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun?(Eccl. 2:22 NIV)
The answer to that question is they get grief and pain and even at night their minds are restless. This is hebel.
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, or without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?(Eccl. 2:24-25 NIV)
Verses 24 and 25 seem to contradict everything that the teacher has said. But we need to slow down and read carefully. Previously eating, drinking and working were seen as an end in themselves. Eating and drinking was part of the quest for pleasure. Working was part of the quest for significance and meaning. Up to now the focus has been upon man’s striving to obtain. But now the teacher is telling us that God has given us food and drink and work to do. We can enjoy the gifts that God has given and find satisfaction. God is the giver of satisfaction. When we see everything as a gift from God, we can enjoy them. We thank God for our food because it is His gift to us. We can be thankful for what we drink. We can be satisfied with our work. What has changed is the perspective we have on things. Eating and drinking and working are no longer seen as stepping stones for getting pleasure or joy but they are gifts of God and we eat, drink and work and find joy in doing that. We don’t set joy as the goal, but joy becomes the bi-product of using the gifts that God has given us.
God is the giver of wisdom, joy and happiness. God gives these gifts to the one who pleases Him. This is the first ray of light in the book. There is more to come. The teacher is committed to a way of being in the world, under the sun, living in a right relationship with God and our neighbour.
No time to stand and stare
Lord thank You for the gift of the food that I had for breakfast this morning. Thank You for the cup of tea that is a refreshing drink. Thank You for the enjoyment that comes from preparing food and sharing that with friends and family. Thank You for the work that You have given us to do whether that work is paid or unpaid. Help us Lord when we eat, when we drink, or when we work to do all for Your glory because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.