Ecclesiastes is a book that teaches an aspect of wisdom that is important for God’s people to understand. It helps us to see the emptiness of life lived apart from God. It shows us that all the pleasures and accomplishments of this life, no matter how much we labour to achieve them, are unable to satisfy and fulfil us. They are all empty (‘vanity’) and frustrating (‘vexation’).
Chapters one and two start out quite depressing, saying that there is basically no point (‘profit) to all the things we do on this earth (‘labour…under the sun’) (v.3). Just as the various generations of people pass away and are forgotten (v.4), and the sun, wind and rivers continue on in endless cycles, so we are simply caught in an endless cycle of life that has no lasting meaning (v.5-11).
The reason ‘the Preacher’ (the author – probably Solomon – see v.1:1) has this perspective was because he tried to find meaning and fulfilment in this life and all it offers. He tried:
- Learning and knowledge (1:17-18) – The ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’ talked about here are probably referring to the world’s knowledge, not necessarily God’s wisdom.
- Entertainment (2:1-3) – mirth, pleasure, laughter
- Building great works (2:4-6) – houses, vineyards, gardens, orchards, pools
- Material possessions and sexual pleasure (2:7-8) – servants to wait on him, great flocks of animals, silver and gold, singers, as well as ‘the delights of the sons of men’ which most people think is referring to all of Solomon’s 700 concubines (see 1 Kings 11:3)
Though all of these things have a place in life and are not necessarily bad things in and of themselves, they were never meant to completely satisfy or become a god in our life. Those who try to find meaning in this world’s wisdom, this world’s pleasures or this world’s stuff will never be happy. Even if we could, like Solomon, literally have anything we wanted, it would still not make us happy. Just read Ecclesiastes 2:10-11:
“And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
If you hope to find fulfilment in anything or anyone other than God, you will, like Solomon, end up disillusioned, hating life, despairing, vexed, burdened, empty, and unable to rest (2:12-23). If you are unhappy with your current lot in life, more will not satisfy. If you can’t find satisfaction in God and His plans for your life today, you will not find satisfaction tomorrow no matter how much you get or how much things change for you.
So, the lesson is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 2:24–26 which essentially says:
‘Go about your life. Eat, drink, work, and enjoy it – make the most of it. But do so in that knowledge that there is a God, that all you have and are is a gift from God, and that each of us will give account to Him one day. Those who foolishly and sinfully try to heap up as much as they can in this life will find that it is was all empty when God takes everything they have away.’