Summary: 12th in a series from Ecclesiastes. Our souls can only be satisfied when we live life in community with God and others.
At age 45, Howard Hughes was one of the most glamorous men in America. He dated actresses, piloted exotic test aircraft, and worked on top-secret CIA contracts. He owned a string of hotels around the world, and even an airline—TWA—to carry him on global jaunts. Twenty years later, at age 65, Howard Hughes still had plenty of money—$2.3 billion to be exact. But the world’s richest man had become one of its most pathetic. He lived in small dark rooms atop his hotels, without sun and without joy. He was unkempt: a scraggly beard had grown waist-length, his hair fell down his back, and his fingernails were two inches long. His once powerful 6’4” frame had shrunk to about 100 pounds. This famous man spent most of his time watching movies over and over, with the same movie showing as many as 150 times. He lay naked in bed, deathly afraid of germs. Life held no meaning for him. Finally, wasting away and hooked on drugs, he died at age 67 for lack of a medical device his own company had helped to develop.
Perhaps Hughes could have been spared from much of that misery had he only read and heeded the words that we’ll look at this morning from the 6th chapter of Ecclesiastes:
1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2 A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction. 3 If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he - 4 for it comes in vanity and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness. 5 Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man, 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice - but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place? 7 All the labor of man is for his mouth, And yet the soul is not satisfied. 8 For what more has the wise man than the fool? What does the poor man have, Who knows how to walk before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. 10 Whatever one is, he has been named already, For it is known that he is man; And he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he. 11 Since there are many things that increase vanity, How is man the better? 12 For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 (NKJV)
Before we begin to examine this passage, I wanted to take a moment to clear up one issue that might be a bit confusing to some of you who haven’t been with us since the beginning of our journey through Ecclesiastes. Since we can’t be certain about the authorship of this book, I’ve chosen to refer to the author by the Hebrew name with which he identifies himself at the beginning of the book – Qoheleth. While most of our Bibles translate that word as Preacher or Teacher, the word literally means “one who assembles”. It is probably referring to one who gathered together an assembly in order to listen to a particular teaching, thus the reference to a preacher or teacher. But it is also possible that it could be a person who assembled all these various teachings into one book. So since we can’t be sure about many of these things I’ve chosen to just refer to the author as Qoheleth.
In this passage, Qoheleth continues with his thoughts about contentment that we looked at last week at the end of chapter 5. And, although what he writes here is certainly consistent with that passage, he expands his thoughts here and gives us some further insight into how to live a life of contentment.
Although this is another one of those passages that appears at first glance to contain a bunch of unrelated thoughts, Qoheleth repeats one phrase that is the glue that holds this passage together. We find that phrase in both verse 3 and verse 7:
…his soul is not satisfied… (v. 3)