On Ecclesiastes

On Ecclesiastes.jpg

Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible. This might seem odd to you, and that’s definitely a fair response. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the most encouraging book. But, you could perhaps at least concede that even if it isn’t very uplifting, it is at least honest. Yet, I would argue that it is incredibly encouraging. In fact, I could expand my initial statement and say that Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books of the Bible because it is so full of hope.

If you have read Ecclesiastes, you likely remember certain phrases of it. Basically, the entire book looks at various aspects of life–work and celebration, wisdom and foolishness, riches and poverty–and declares them all vanity, all meaningless. According to the author, Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun, as all has been done before. And, he says that everything will be forgotten in time, just as what has previously been done has been mostly forgotten by us today. All people die the same–regardless or wealth, status, or wisdom. Thus, while Solomon states that though it is assuredly better to be wise than foolish, both are, ultimately, vanity. So, with all this in mind, how do I see Ecclesiastes as a book that is full of hope?

Ecclesiastes looks at life with full honesty. And, it determines that all of these aspects of life–work, wisdom, wealth, pleasure, having fun, etc.– are all, in fact, meaningless. But Ecclesiastes does not state that life is, itself meaningless. Yes, we all die in the end–but, that death is different for those of us who follow Christ. What Ecclesiastes is doing, is stripping away all of the meaningless activities that often distort our vision here on Earth and cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture. Having fun is, in fact, meaningless in the bigger picture. Wealth is, in fact, the same. Even our work on this Earth is ultimately meaningless, because it too will pass away. All of the things of the Earth are fleeting and vanity.

But–(there is a big BUT that perpetuates the text of Ecclesiastes)–there is something that is of value, something that is not meaningless. This something is what I see as the point of this entire book. According to Ecclesiastes, the best things one can do are to 1. be joyful, 2. do good, and 3. take pleasure in our work.

This theme comes up again and again throughout the book:

“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil–this is God’s gift to man.

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3:12-14a

Why should we be joyful, do good, and take pleasure in our work? Because everything God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. Everything we do is, thus, vanity–for we cannot add to what God has already done.

But this is so freeing! We do not have to strive. We are not meant to. There is no need for us to strive for greatness, or wealth, or status, or social acclaim–because it is all vanity. Nothing can be added to what God has already done. And what has He done? He has redeemed the world. He has died for us, and saved us. He has forgiven us despite the fact that we deserve nothing. He calls us His children, and He has prepared a place for us with Him in Heaven! Thus, there is truly nothing else. Wealth is meaningless. Wisdom is meaningless. Pleasure is meaningless. There is nothing better than to be joyful–(because why wouldn’t we be, when we know the ending of our story?)–and do good, for Christ’s sake. To spread the Gospel, so that others might also be saved. To take pleasure in our work, to count it as worship towards God, the One who has done everything for us.

But this isn’t all Ecclesiastes has to say. Again, it mentions joy:

“In the day of prosperity, be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other.” ~ Ecclesiastes 7:14a

Joy is not only the only wise response in time of prosperity–it is also the only wise response in times of adversity. When sorrow comes upon us, we can still remember the Truth of the Gospel. We still know what is coming, and so what other response can we have than joy? Again, Solomon says:

“And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.” ~ Ecclesiastes 8:15

God has given us all of our days. Each one is a gift! The sacrifice of Jesus for the redemption of our sins is also a gift. And so, joy is commendable. There is nothing better than to go about our lives with joy and with thanksgiving–remembering His promises to us, remembering that He is coming soon, and remembering that He has called us here for a purpose. Through our toil, we can thus have a broader perspective. We can work with joy in our toil, with the purpose of displaying His love to the people around us, spreading the Truth of the Gospel, and worshiping Him until He returns.

There are further examples of Solomon bringing the discussion back towards joy. Every time he discusses all the vanities of life and what is meaningless, he summarizes it by demonstrating what does matter, and how we should live our lives with that in mind. In the final line of the book, he summarizes it all up with this:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” ~ Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

After understanding that the ways of the world are meaningless, and understanding that there is nothing better than to be joyful due to our hope in Christ, we should respond in this way. “Fear God and keep his commandments.” And what is the greatest commandment? Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second: love your neighbor as yourself. These two greatest commandments, summations of the entire law, are what is meaningful.

Thus, this is why I see Ecclesiastes as such a hopeful book. It strips away what doesn’t matter, so that we can more clearly see what does. It shows us that we can have freedom, because Christ has already done everything for us. It shows us that joy is the wisest, most commendable way we can live. And it shows us that our final response to the vanities of the world and the beauty of God should be love. Because  while all of the things of this world–wisdom, riches, toil, celebration, etc.– will pass away:

Love never ends.

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