Our text for today comes from Ecclesiastes 2:10. These are the words of God:
10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. 11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.
22 What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night, his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. 24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
We ought to think of Ecclesiastes 2 as a series of highly sophisticated and calculated experiments. Solomon begins with the words, “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you…” Solomon wants to find meaning in life and he’s going about his quest in a thoughtful manner.
First, Solomon wonders whether pleasure is the purpose of life. Notice that his experiment isn’t a haphazard freshman-year bender at Corpus Cristi. This is not an experiment in debauchery.
Solomon had written in Proverbs that laughter is a medicine (Prov. 17:22), but he knows there are times nothing is funny. (v. 2) Having enjoyed the best wine, he built better vineyards, new houses, gardens, and parks. But neither wine within, nor the beauty of nature without could stave off the vanity of life. (v. 3-5)
What about the pleasure of possessions? We aren’t sure how much livestock Solomon had, but we are told that on a single occasion, he sacrificed 144,000 oxen and sheep to the Lord. (2 Sam. 7:5) Solomon’s rule represented the high-water mark of economic trade for Israel. (1 Kings 4:20-21)
Surrounded by gold, livestock, and servants, Solomon enjoyed the security and luxury of being the King. (v. 7-8) Yet all of this was sand falling through his hands in vanity. (v. 9-11)
Maybe meaning in life is wisdom rather than pleasure. Solomon was given great wisdom by God. (1 Kings 3:5; 9-12) Because Solomon was wiser than any man, the fact that his wisdom could not save him from the frustrations of life in a fallen world, caused him to hate life. Brains can’t save anyone. Certainly, wisdom comes with distinct advantages. Wisdom can see which road to take and which alleys to avoid. But both the wise and the fool end in the same place. The only difference is the fool has a few extra knots on his head. (v. 12-16) Experiment 2 failed.
Don’t miss the fact that these two experiments weren’t taken on a whim. Solomon gave years and even decades of his life testing his theories. Yet he declares all of it vanity. Those who are wise die right alongside fools. The wealthy die and leave their inheritance to morons. (v. 18-23)
What then ought we to do? Eat and drink, and find enjoyment in your work, because it comes from God. (v. 24-25) God allows his children experience joy now, even while seeing the silliness of it all. And if you don’t know God, what are you doing? You are accumulating piles of things that only the Godly can truly enjoy to the depths.
WHY ALL THE VANITY?
Making our way through Ecclesiastes, one question you ought to be asking is, “Why all the vanity?” Where did it come from? As Biblical Christians, we know where headwaters of the river vanity are found. (Gen. 3:16-19)
The human race is not on an upward trend out of the primordial goo, improving through natural selection and technological breakthroughs. We are image bearers living under the curse of God upon human sin.
And this explains why we are all fighting tooth and nail against the futility. From weeds in the garden to errors in the accounting office, from childhood diseases to death in old age—why do we rage against the dying of the light? Because it’s not the way the world is supposed to be.
THE THINKING REED
Though we are cursed, and all the universe with us, notice that, unlike the animal world, we are able to understand our situation.
2 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you
No beaver has ever shouted to the heavens, “Why do the logs in my dam keep rotting?” (Matt. 6:26-28) Yet human beings fill museums full of paintings and catalogs with songs all trying to make sense of the frustrations of life.
We expend great effort chasing the wind—yet if we were given the choice instead to be turned into an animal, we’d reject it outright. We know, instinctively that it’s better to be a dissatisfied human than a satisfied pig.
Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him: a vapor, a drop of water is enough to kill him. but even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his slayer, because he knows that he is dying and the advantage the universe has over him. The universe knows none of this.
Even the futility of life is an argument for the faithful Creator.
THE CHASE FOR MEANING
As said last week, those who know God experience the futility and frustrations of life just like those who don’t. Weeds grow in both gardens.
And yet, to those who seek God, he grants gifts.
26 For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy
God is the one who gives life, breath, and work. He gives houses, grapes, and vineyards. He gives the changing seasons, crackling autumn fires, and even the marshmallows for our smores.
To all these gifts, he adds three more: wisdom, knowledge, and joy. When we recognize the centrality and the supremacy of God as the ultimate giver we are struck with the utter beauty and glory even of the vanity of life.
You are not here by accident. You are not a mistake. Yes, the world is broken by the curse of sin, yet in the same instant—it is all being redeemed by Christ who became the curse for us. This is the true joy that God gives.
If you don’t know the redemption of God in Christ, you’re running to catch up with the Sun but it’s sinking. It races around to come up behind you again. But if you know Christ, the fever of this life becomes a wild ride towards kingdom come.