Summary: 6th in a series from Ecclesiastes. when viewed from God’s perpsective, even the simple gifts in life can give us joy.
I can still remember when we had a birthday party for Pam. Mary and I had bought her a small plastic slide, which we just knew that she and all her friends were going to love. So imagine our surprise when after we had taken the slide out of the box, all the kids had more fun playing with the empty box than they did using the slide. It was then that I learned the very same lesson that Qoheleth had learned thousands of years earlier – the value of finding joy in the simple gifts of life. Let’s read our passage for this morning.
17 Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. 18 Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. 20 Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. 24 Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:17-26 (NKJV)
This morning, we’ll wrap up a section of discourse that began all the way back at the beginning of chapter 1 when Qoheleth asked this question:
What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?
Ecclesiastes 1:3 (NKJV)
Qoheleth has explored the answer to that question for two chapters now. He begins by answering that question implicitly by describing the cycles of the sun, the wind and water that God has put into effect in His creation and pointing out man’s folly in thinking that he can somehow impact or change those cycles through his own efforts. And then he answers the question more explicitly as he explores the pursuit of wisdom and the pursuit of pleasure apart from God.
As a result of all his searching, Qoheleth comes to the conclusion, quite correctly that the answer to his question is “nothing”. There is no profit, or advantage, or surplus that man can create by his labor “under the sun”. So it’s no wonder that he begins the last part of this section by proclaiming in verse 17 that he hated life when viewed from his perspective “under the sun.”
For the last four weeks, much of what we have studied here in Ecclesiastes is quite negative and if it is not viewed correctly could be quite depressing. But that is exactly the point of the book. When life is viewed from “under the sun”, from our vantage point here on earth, it is merely a vapor or breath that often appears to have no meaning or purpose. And that is frustrating and depressing. But fortunately, Qoheleth pauses occasionally and gives us a different perspective that allows us to experience hope and joy in the midst of all this negativity. Verses 24-26 are one of those occasions and that’s where I want to focus most of my time this morning. But first, let me briefly address the rest of this passage because it will provide us with some needed background as well as some practical guidance for how we can avoid falling into the kind of despair that Qoheleth experienced.
WHY QOHELETH DESPAIRED:
1. He viewed life from his own perspective
When you read through the first portion of this passage, you can’t help but notice Qoheleth’s focus on himself. In verses 17-20, he uses the words “I”, “me”, “my” and “myself” 14 times. He also uses the phrase “under the sun” 5 times in this passage. So it is quite obvious that all despair that we observe in the first part of this passage begins with Qoheleth’s perspective. Rather than attempting to see things from God’s point of view, he is focused only on himself and what he can get for himself out of his work.