In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia finishes looking at the foundational teaching of Solomon in the beginning of Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes 2:12-26, Solomon gives his final reflections on his personal experiments with wisdom and joy. More specifically, Solomon presents three truths about our coming deaths that should cause us to stop living for vapor and instead enjoy God’s good.
1. Death will frustrate wisdom’s gain
2. Death will frustrate work’s gain
3. Death directs us to God instead
Well, life is always full of many ironies. One of the great ironies of our present-day is an irony concerning death. In 21st century America, we are simultaneously, probably more aware of the reality of death than ever. But at the same time, we are less aware of the reality of our own deaths. Maybe more than ever. Consider the news. What is the news, if not in large part, a chronicling of death and the fear of death? This many died this past week from Coronavirus, we hear. Or this person, or this woman, was shot and killed. Or these two nations are about to go to war, and we face the prospect of mass death. Somehow, though, even though we keep hearing about death, this ticker tape of death, doesn’t make us more aware of our mortality but, somehow, less.
We become numb to the idea of death. Death is dulled to us. Death seems somewhere out there, far away. Something that happens to other people. The very old. The careless. We feel like, still, that we will live forever. Especially if we’re young. And we, therefore, turn from the grim news reports to various work and leisure pursuits. Oh, time to mow the lawn. Or, yep, got to start my new job and hopefully, I can get that bigger house. Or did you see that hilarious, new video on TikTok?
As we turn to the Word of God this morning, God’s Spirit, speaking to us through King Solomon in our Scriptures, God’s Spirit wants us to face the reality of our impending deaths. My friends, you must grapple with the frustration that is death. You’re going to die and it’s going to happen sooner than you think. But this truth is not really meant to depress you or to siphon the joy out of your life. Rather, we’ll see from our text today, we’ll see from the Lord’s Word, that it is facing the frustration of death that actually allows you to enjoy life. And really, it gives you the only proper way to face life.
Take your bibles if you haven’t yet and open to Ecclesiastes 2. Ecclesiastes 2, we’ll be starting in verse 12. The title of today’s message is Solomon’s Epic Fail, Part 3. King Solomon, who is the gathering one, the assembling one, the preacher in this book, which is where the title of Ecclesiastes comes from. He opens this message in Ecclesiastes 1:2 by arguing that everything in life is vapor. Hebel, in Hebrew, translated vanity. Life is innately frustrating because everything in it is ultimately ungraspable, like smoke or breath.
He presents this thesis and then in Ecclesiastes 1:3-11 he directs us to just look around at the world and mankind to see how life is indeed vaporous. In the earth and in mankind, nothing fundamentally changes or advances, even though there is a lot of activity, a lot of recycling of people over and over on the earth. No matter how much activity there is, though, there is no real gain, or profit, or satisfaction in the end.
And starting in Ecclesiastes 1:12, Solomon begins to tell us about his own grand experiments. His own testing of this as the great king in the Middle East at that time, if he could find lasting gain for himself, some profit in this fallen world. Solomon began an epic quest for wisdom and knowledge in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, but he did not find any liberating secrets there. He just found a lot of frustration and pain. And then Solomon conducted an epic quest for joy in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, and that’s what we looked at together last time we were in Ecclesiastes. He went after life’s pleasures and pursuits, but this experiment also ended in failure. Because Solomon only found emptiness in merrymaking and he found no lasting profit, in even the grandest royal accomplishments.
And for these experiments, Solomon was, as I sought to emphasize to you, the consummate wisdom-seeker and joy-seeker. Par excellence. The greatest. So, whatever he discovered for himself in these experiments, it applies to the rest of us. None of us can surpass Solomon in these experiments. We’re not going to find anything different than he did. Now our text this morning is Ecclesiastes 2:12-26. It represents Solomon’s final reflections on his grand experiments. And though Solomon did not find any fundamental or life-transforming gain in wisdom or in joy, he wants to circle back to see if there’s still something he can recommend to mankind based on his experience. Solomon also now wants to finally explain what it is that ruins any attempt to find gain in this world. And that’s what we’ll see.
Let’s read our text, Ecclesiastes 2:12-26:
So I turned to consider wisdom, insanity, and foolishness; for what will the man do who will come after the king, except what has already been done? Then I saw that wisdom surpasses foolishness as light surpasses darkness. The wise person’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one and the same fate happens to both of them. Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also happen to me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is futility.” For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise, along with the fool, since in the coming days everything will soon be forgotten. And how the wise and the fool alike die! So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was unhappy to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
So I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is futility. Therefore I completely despaired over all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil. For what does a person get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his activity is painful and irritating; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is futility.
There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink, and show himself some good in his trouble. This too I have seen, that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is futility and striving after wind.
According to Solomon, what is that great ruiner of gain? A fly in the ointment. The buzzkill of life. It’s death. It’s your coming death. Death frustrates every effort to find lasting profit in this world. But still, though Solomon clarifies that death is truly a terrible reality, there is a way of approaching life, in light of death, that is both wise and joy-filled. Indeed, it is the only way.
Solomon’s main message in this passage and this is the main message of God to you and me today, it is that you must face the frustration of your coming death so that you will stop living for vapor, and instead, enjoy God’s good during your brief sojourn. This teaching from Solomon unfolds in our passage in three main sections of reflection and that is going to form our outline today. Three truths that you must embrace about your coming death so that you stop living for vapor, and instead, enjoy God’s good. Here are the points. 1) Death will frustrate wisdom’s gain. 2) Death will frustrate work’s gain. 3) Death directs you to God instead.
Let’s start with the first truth. The first reflection from Solomon in vs.12-17. 1) Death will frustrate wisdom’s gain. Look at verse 12:
So I turned to consider wisdom, insanity, and foolishness; for what will the man do who will come after the king,except what has already been done?
In verse 11, Solomon just finished telling us about his experiments with wisdom and joy and how they definitely yielded no lasting profit. But now Solomon wants to consider what choice will be left to those who come after Solomon. Not only his own son as the royal successor but the next generation. Solomon knows that no one is going to be able to do anything differently, really, than what Solomon has already done, and which proved to be a failure. And that’s why Solomon asks the rhetorical question here that he does. So, the issue he wants to consider is, which path will be better for mankind going forward? Wisdom or insane folly? Notice Solomon’s answer in verse 13 and the beginning of verse 14. He says:
Then I saw that wisdom surpasses foolishness as light surpasses darkness. The wise person’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.
To Solomon, there’s no contest between the paths of wisdom and folly. Wisdom is clearly better. Solomon says the difference is like light and darkness. And he explains what he means in verse 14. Walking in the path of true knowledge about the world and about God, it’s like walking around in the light. You can see where you’re going. You can avoid the pitfalls and the stumbling blocks of life. You can understand to some extent what is happening to you and why. But walking in folly, walking in ignorance. Walking in what only feels good, or even what is even evil, that’s like walking in darkness. You can not see where you’re going. You’re constantly surprised by the consequences of your actions and the pitfalls of life. And you do not understand what is going on or why you’re suffering.
Clearly, the way of wisdom is better and thus the Bible, especially Proverbs, it keeps commending us to seek wisdom. Now, intriguingly, the Hebrew of this verse here in Ecclesiastes 2:13, it reads, literally:
Then I saw that wisdom surpasses foolishness as light surpasses darkness.
Why is that significant? Because that’s the words Solomon has been thinking about this entire time: What profit is there for man as he lives and works under the sun? And up to this point, what has Solomon’s answer been? None! Now he says there is profit in wisdom, way more than in folly. Wait a second, Solomon, are you contradicting yourself? Well now let’s read the end of verse 14, Solomon adds:
And yet I know that one and the same fate happens to both of them.
Yes friends, wisdom, even God’s wisdom, can help you a lot in life. But there’s one that no amount of knowledge or wisdom can do for you, and that is prevent you from suffering the common faith of mankind – death. No matter how wise you become, you, like the most wretched fool, can not escape death. And notice how this realization so deeply disturbs Solomon in verse 15. It reads:
Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also happen to me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is futility.”
Solomon the great king, full of astounding wisdom, abundant in majesty, he knows that he still will suffer the same fate as the most ignorant and lazy bum. Both of them, Solomon and the fool, they will die. They’ll have their bodies placed into the ground and they’ll be eaten by worms. Really, every category of person is on an equal road to death. Even us, here. Christian and non-Christian, righteous and wicked, rich and poor, man and woman, black and white, liberal and conservative, educated and ignorant, strong and weak, all encounter the same fate sooner or later.
Why? Why should death equalize all this way? The good and the bad. The wise and the foolish. Yet it does. And we hear Solomon’s frustrated cry: why then have I been extremely, or we can translate it, excessively wise? What was the point of wisely avoiding all the pitfalls of life if I just die in the end like any fool? So, Solomon concludes bitterly to himself, this too is vanity. Or this too is vapor.
Here is another frustrating aspect of life that you just cannot grasp, wisdom’s gain is only temporary, and it can’t stop death. But someone might say, yes Solomon, it’s true, you will die but your great wisdom will cause your name to live on. Others will learn from you. By wisdom, you gain an immortal legacy. Such platitudes are no comfort to Solomon as we see him continue in verse 16:
For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise, along with the fool, since in the coming days everything will soon be forgotten.
A wise man cannot take comfort in a potential legacy. As Solomon has already pointed out for us in Ecclesiastes 1:11, people, generally, do not remember the past or those who came before. And even what they do remember does not affect them in any truly helpful way. Wise people are eventually forgotten just like fools are forgotten. It’s not enough that both the foolish and the wise die, but they are equally forgotten. How’s that fair? Especially when one works so hard to learn and pass on wisdom. Think about this for yourselves.
Friends, no matter how much wisdom you have acquired in your life, or you seek to acquire, even godly wisdom, you will generally be forgotten. Your legacy will eventually fade, just like the fools. Your friends and your children might briefly remember you for a little while after you’re gone, but within a few generations, probably no one will remember your name or my name. Much less, the professional skills you amassed. The know-how you gained for living life. Even your knowledge about God. No one will know about it. No one will remember you. You’ll be just as forgotten as the young profligate who dies from a drug overdose.
Does your heart cry out that there is something not right about this? It should. This is futility. This is a terribly frustrating element to life. That’s why Solomon exclaims in verse 16:
And how the wise and the fool alike die!
That’s not a question. That’s a cry of exasperation. Why should both the wise man and the fool equally die and equally be forgotten? We can understand why Solomon’s heart goes where it does at the end of his first reflection in verse 17. Where he says:
So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was unhappy to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.
The word translated grievous here can be translated more basically bad, wrong, even evil. Life ought not to be this way. This is not right. This is wrong. How is it fair that those who strove to learn and act with wisdom so much would have so little to show for it in the end? Solomon says that he hated life, he could not stand the vapor-like nature of existence in the face of death. Death, Solomon says, make wisdom, work, everything futility and striving after wind. We won’t investigate those phrases again. We’ve seen these bleak descriptions of vain effort before in Ecclesiastes. He says that’s what it is. That’s what life is.
When it comes to wisdom, think of all the wisdom that you’re working to amass or you have amassed in your life. You know what’s going to happen to it? It’s going to disappear like smoke. Poof. Death doesn’t just frustrate our anticipated gain by wisdom. Look now, the second important truth. The second reflection from Solomon in vs. 18-13. 2) Death will frustrate works gain, as well. Let’s start in verse 18:
So I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me.
Solomon, here, is still thinking about death and about legacies. Now he’s switching from wisdom to thinking about work. Solomon declares that he found himself hating even all his work because of death. Notice the phrase he uses the fruit of my labor. Literally, in Hebrew, it’s my toil. And this is a word we’ve encountered already in Ecclesiastes. Toil is a word for work that includes the notions of pain and trouble.
We’ve all experienced toil, it’s part of life. But as the word is used here and as the New American Standard translators are bringing out for us, toil doesn’t just refer to the process of work, the labor itself, but also the results and the fruit of that labor. Sometimes the process of toil can be completely unpleasant. Actually, I’d say probably all the time. But the fruits of it can be kind of nice. Oh, you know, this was grueling work but I’m glad it’s over because look what I get as a result.
Fruits of toil can be refreshing. What does Solomon say here? He says that he hated both. I hated the process, and I hated the results. I hated the parks, the palaces, the parties, the slaves, the musicians, the harem, the kingdom, everything. Wait, why Solomon, why’d you hate it all? Because I know I can’t keep any of it. I’m going to have to give it all away.
Friends, do you realize the same is true for you? Think of all that your hard work has acquired for you thus far in your life. Maybe various treasures. Your job, your money, your cars, your house, or your houses. Your clothes, your jewelry, your collections of whatever you fancy. You may have worked painful days and nights to obtain these treasures. When you die, you’ll have to give them all up. They can’t protect you from death. And you can’t take them with you. So, why’d you strive so hard for them? Why were you so devoted to them? Why were you and are you so anxious about them?
Now for Solomon, it’s not simply the fact that he has to give up his treasures that bothers him. It’s that he must give them to another person, even a family member. That might confuse us. You might say, but Solomon aren’t you glad that you can pass on these hard-earned treasures to your family? You know, your son, the successor. But such a process brings its own agony to Solomon and he tells us about it in verse 19. Look there:
And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is futility.
What bothers Solomon about passing on his work is his anxiety over whether the next person is going to ruin it. Have you ever had someone misuse something of yours that was valuable and hard-earned? Maybe it was your phone or your laptop. You let someone borrow it, give it back to you damaged. Maybe it’s something much more important. Maybe it was money for college that you gave to your son or your daughter that was totally wasted. They just lived a party lifestyle and they flunked out. Or maybe it’s your child that you entrusted to a particular relative and that relative, instead, abused your child or taught them in wickedness.
The heart suffers so much in seeing something so precious handled foolishly and sinfully. And consider how this might happen, [so] would the results of all the toil of your life. When you die, it may be that everything you worked so hard to obtain and pass on is totally squandered. You might protest, but no, no, I know where it’s going. I know who is going to get it. I know I can trust that person to handle the things I’m passing on and do a good job with it. Do you really?
Even the wisest people can make terrible mistakes. And people we thought were wise turn out to be wicked fools. Or consider this, maybe the one you hope to be your successor, to handle your legacy, turns out not to be. Turns out to be someone else. I mean, this happens so many times historically when it comes to kingdoms and empires. There’ll be a particular person groomed to be the heir and that heir suddenly dies before obtaining the kingdom. Or dies, suddenly, after obtaining the kingdom. Well, what do you know? The kingdom goes to somebody else. What happened to all those plans?
The point, friends, is that you and I ultimately have no control over the legacy that we pass on. There is the possibility that all our painful work will be foolishly wasted. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to pass on a godly legacy. No, we have a stewardship entrusted to us from God. But you can never be certain how it’s going to turn out. And you can never make sure enough that it will turn out well. Thus death, again, frustrates the gain that we might otherwise have hoped for in our work.
And is that not indeed grievous, as Solomon says? All that hard work wasted. I don’t know. I have to keep thinking about it. What’s he going to do with it? I don’t know. We can echo Solomon saying this whole legacy mess, it too is frustrating vapor. You just can’t get a hold of it. But there’s a further aggravation that Solomon brings up about passing on a legacy. We see it in vs.20-21. Look there:
Therefore I completely despaired over all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. When there is a person who has labored with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then gives his legacy to one who has not labored for it; this too is futility and a great evil.
Notice here that Solomon is starting to despair. To lose any sense of confidence or hope regarding passing on his hard-earned toil. And the reason is a further thought has occurred to him. Someone might end up with all my hard-earned goods who totally doesn’t deserve it. In verse 21 Solomon broadens this consideration beyond himself. He’s thinking almost proverbial about situations in life, in general, and he’s referring to a situation where a successful man might give his legacy to one who has not earned or been successful.
And the Hebrew term behind this translated term one is ‘adam, literally, a man. Just any old man. This is not the term we would expect for a chosen dynastic successor. And this probably points to a situation that sounds like the worst possible outcome Solomon can think of. And that is, not only is it an undeserving son that is going to get all my goods, but it’s actually a stranger. It could be a stranger. It could be someone outside the family who doesn’t deserve it. Actually, isn’t this what people complain about all the time when it comes to government, taxes, or socialism? Why should I work, and my money and my goods go to somebody who hasn’t earned it? Somebody I don’t even know. People get upset about this. This doesn’t just happen with taxes.
According to Solomon, because of death, it happens to entire legacies. If you intend for a certain hard-working son to take control of the family assets, but after the legal tussle when you pass, it ends up being a different relative who has control. Someone you never wanted it to be. Or even worse, maybe it’s an enemy. Maybe it’s a con man. Maybe it’s some unscrupulous government official. And he manages, or she manages, to steal or swindle the inheritance away from the one that you had intended.
You wanted your money and your goods to support your grandchildren’s education, or Gospel ministry and mission work. It may be, I’m sorry to say, it may be that your hard-earned goods go to fund sinful living, criminal activity, and religious and political causes that you hate. Who knows? Who really knows what will end up, or who will end up with the fruit of your hard-earned toil? It may be someone who totally doesn’t deserve it because you have no ultimate control. Death takes that away from you.
Can we say with Solomon, or can we not say with Solomon, that all this is frustrating vapor and a great evil? Interesting that the NAS translates the term evil here rather than grievous, as above. It’s the same Hebrew term. But certainly, the situation, this situation he’s just described is extremely aggravating. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel fair at all. Life ought not to be this way. But the terrible reality of death has brought it about. But as if all this weren’t enough, Solomon mentions one other frustrating aspect of death or work in light of death. Look at vs.22-23:
For what does a person get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his activity is painful and irritating; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is futility.
What’s the last frustration Solomon points out? That to secure this future, to secure the fruits of toil that are meant to benefits oneself and benefits one’s descendants, which actually turns out to be entirely uncertain, a person ends up enduring a miserable existence. For something that’s not even certain. That won’t even bring gain. He endures a miserable life. Notice in verse 22, this is a rhetorical question expecting a negative answer:
For what does a person get in all his labor and in his striving
Nothing. Nothing. Meanwhile, day and night are filled with endless pain and anxiety. Even when he tries to sleep, his mind literally can not lie down. Brothers and sisters, can’t we too become caught up in striving to provide for the future? We forgot what Solomon is pointing to us here. That all our toilsome efforts and their results, they are uncertain. They can not stop the leveler of death. They can not guarantee a good legacy to those who we would like to pass it on to. And they only cause us unhappiness all our lives. Solomon justly says, this too is vanity and all this, we’re just grasping again at vapor. And it’s just slipping right out.
Is not death a terribly frustrating reality in our world? It takes away the gain we might have otherwise hoped for in wisdom. It takes away the gain we might have otherwise hoped for in our work. It leaves us with nothing. So how should we, then, live? Should we just curse God and die as Job’s wife once counseled? No. Not at all. Rather, discovering the futility of life in the face of death is a necessary part of preparing you to take a better way.
Brothers and sisters, none of us can change the vaporous nature of life. None of us can escape death. But we can change our perspective and we can change what we’re looking for and living for. And thereby, discover the simple wisdom and the happiness that comes from God. But this is what God meant for us to discover all along. Yes, even by facing death. And this is what Solomon discovered and wants us to see too. Let’s consider Solomon’s final reflection in vs. 24-26. 3) Death directs you to God instead.
Look at verse 24:
There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink, and show himself some good in his trouble. This too I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.
The declaration of verse 24 probably catches us off guard, at first. Because up to this point in Ecclesiastes, Solomon has been describing his griefs and making depressing observations about life. But now Solomon switches and he is giving advice in how to live in light of death. Now, what’s the advice? Enjoy life. Enjoy life as you experience the good of God. Yes, Solomon says, frustrations of life are still there, and they will irk you. But there is no better way to approach life than to accept the situation that is, and to just enjoy the simple joys that God gives you.
Notice what these joys are, or at least, the ones that Solomon highlights. First in verse 25, eating and drinking. He says you should enjoy it. Friends, you’re going to have to eat and drink, Solomon is telling us. You’re going to have to eat and drink as you go through life. This difficult life in an uncertain world. So why not make sure you enjoy it? Why be like the miser who says, no I’m only going to eat this crusty bread and drink this water because I’ve got all this work to do and I’m piling it up for my successor. Solomon says, what are you doing that for? Yes, be a good steward but enjoy your food and your drink. God gave you these as gifts, so partake.
Solomon also brings up labor. Our translation says a person should tell themselves labor is good. A more literal rendering of the Hebrew is: a person should cause one’s soul to see good in all his toil. What does that mean? I think the ESV captures it best. A person should find enjoyment in his toil. In both the process and the results. Again, Solomon is telling us, yes, work can’t do everything you want it to do. But God has given you your work to enjoy. Yes, you exercising that skill. You tackling those problems. You, even enduring some of the pain of it. He says there is joy in that. And there’s joy in the outcome.
Yes, the outcome is fleeting but you can enjoy that too. You can enjoy the results of your toil. Don’t wait. Don’t wait ‘til some future that never arrives. Or don’t wait just so that uncertain successors will enjoy it. Don’t miss. Don’t miss this opportunity that God has given you. Enjoy your toil. Even enjoy the fruit of your toil.
Now, yes, be a good steward. We’re going to hear more about that as we go through Ecclesiastes. Make sure you don’t miss out on enjoying this gift from God. This actually was something that Solomon noted in his own experience. Remember back in Ecclesiastes 2:10, I pointed it out to you briefly, that Solomon is recounting all his labors and his joy-seeking? And he says, I found pleasure, or I found joy in my toil and it was my reward. He has really come back to that idea now.
Now, he did say in the end I hated it all because it didn’t do what I wanted. But in the middle of it, I enjoyed it. He says you know what, you should learn from that. You should do the same thing. That’s actually what God intends for you to do. And notice the way Solomon actually mentions how God is involved. Very surprising at the end of verse 24. He says, this also. Up to this point in Ecclesiastes, every time we see this also or this also is has been followed by a certain phrase. This also is vanity. Vapor. Chapter 2:1,15,19,21,23 – five times he’s used that phrase. This also is vanity. What does he say here?
This too I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.
It’s different. Yes, as a result of sin and God’s necessary judgment for sin, which began with Adam, the curse on the world, God subjected the world to death and futility. That came from God. And, as has even been mentioned in Ecclesiastes, God has given man certain tasks to be afflicted with. Ecclesiastes 1:13, studying about the world. Ecclesiastes 3:10, all the work that man does. God has given these tasks that afflict mankind. But God has also given something else. That’s what Solomon is drawing our attention to.
In grace, God has given man enjoyment. He has given man enjoyment that a person may bear the burden of living in an uncertain and frustrating world. Food and drink and work, they’re just representative of the God that man intends for man to enjoy. Any good that you experience from God is to be accepted gratefully, as a gift. And it comes from his kind hand. You know, it’s interesting this phrase, from the hand of God, usually that appears in the Old Testament in association with God’s kindness. Before, it said God gave man a task to be afflicted. But here it says, this comes from the hand of God. This is God’s kind, compassionate hand that’s extended to each one of you. Yes, there is a curse here in this world but here is a gift for you.
Now note, in Solomon’s advice here, he is not, get this clear, he is not advocating hedonism. He is not advising us to just live for pleasure or to just find our joy in material pursuits. Because he already tried that, remember? He has already exposed that way in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. And as long as we have that perspective that Solomon did we’re going to be so frustrated. As long as we think, oh, there’s some more. there’s some gain out there that I have to claw for, grasp for, strive after. I have to keep seeking it, keep seeking it. I have to serve it as an idol.
You know what the outcome of that is because Solomon has already tested it. There is no profit. It’s striving after wind. You won’t find what you’re looking for. But if you stop grasping. Stop seeking so desperately for the more. You content yourself with the lot that God has given you. Something surprising happens. You know what happens? God gives you joy. God gives you even the satisfaction you’ve been looking for all along. Really, in another kind of irony in life, those who fear God and refuse to live for the vaporous things of the world, they are the ones most able to enjoy life and its simple gifts. Even though those gifts are vaporous. Because they see it comes from the hand of God. And Solomon goes on to explain further in vs. 25-26:
For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is futility and striving after wind.
Now, it’s true that even unbelieving and foolish persons are at some level able to experience the good of God and enjoy parts of life. Nevertheless, it is also true that joy is a gift that God has specifically portioned to those who are good in his sight. What does that mean? These are people who follow after God. These are people who love God, who have faith in God, who are seeking to follow and serve God. Or what the bible calls righteous, saints, holy ones. To such a one, Solomon says in verse 26, God grants wisdom. God grants knowledge. God grants joy. For the righteous follower of God, the God-fearer, he’s able to walk wisely in life without expecting too much out of life itself. By the sufficient wisdom God has given him, by God’s Word, he’s able to successfully navigate the different issues of life. And this righteous one is also able to find joy and true contentment in God.
And that’s the key. It’s not the things of the world, it’s ultimately in God. And that is why I’ve been appealing to you. That’s why I again appeal to you on behalf of Solomon, on behalf of God, that you stop living for the vaporous things of the world and instead find your gain in God. This is a matter of repentance. Changing your mind leading to a change of action.
There is still going to be a judgment. Solomon hasn’t mentioned it yet, but it is coming. Judgment is coming and also Solomon’s mention of it is coming. In Ecclesiastes 3:17, Solomon says, Hey, there’s a lot of things I don’t understand about life, but one thing I do know, it will go well for the righteous in the end when God judges. And your choice of what you’re going to pursue in life is going to come under God’s judgment. He is greatly angry about you living for vapor. Because you’re supposed to live for Him. He’s your creator. He’s a good God. He’s the one who is providing you with all these gifts. You’re supposed to be serving Him, not these things.
And the fact that you love and worship these things more than Him, it’s blaspheming God. Consider the way Jeremiah speaks about it in Jeremiah 2:13, speaking of Israel, Jeremiah says, or rather God through Jeremiah:
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have abandoned Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To carve out for themselves cisterns,
That do not hold water.”
They say I think this is good, that smells so good. Don’t you see how offensive that is to God? That’s what we do when we will live for vapor. When we live for things of the world. God says, you must repent of that or I’m going to judge you. It’s not only that. Solomon has not even brought up the judgment of God yet here because the emphasis he wants to take is, it’s about joy. Do you want to be joyful in this life? Do you want to walk truly wisely and happily? Then stop living for vapor. Live for God and then you can enjoy all the gifts of God in this life, in their proper way. And not only that, but another reason to make this change in your mind is because of what’s coming. Notice at the end of verse 26, the very interesting phrasing Solomon uses in describing this sinner:
For to a person who is good in His sight, He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy,
But gives something to the sinner to and you know what that is? Solomon tells us:
while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight.
What Solomon is revealing here is eventually all that gathering and collecting, which due to the hebel nature of life, ends up in uncertain hands. One day it’s going to be very certain whose hands it’s going to end up in. It’s going to end up in those who are good in God’s sight. Those who are true lovers of God. They are actually going to, bringing in other Scriptures, inherit the world. Because you have God, and to be clarifying from the New Testament, because you have God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as your perfect substitute, as your Lord, as your Savior, then you get what God has. And what does God have? Everything. Jesus says this explicitly, I’m coming. I’m bringing a kingdom, and you know what? My followers, my disciples, my slaves, you will rule and reign with me. Which is why Paul is able to say in the book of Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 3:22:
all things belong to you
Hey Corinthians, why are you fighting, and why are you being so divided? Don’t you know all things belong to you. They are yours in Christ. And consider the contrast. You can live for vapor in this world, gather and collect, and really miss out on the joy of life. You’re like what Solomon described earlier. The person who is just afflicting himself day and night. Never able to really enjoy it. You can do that and then lose it all in the end. You’re just gathering up so that God can give it to the ones He wants to give it to. Do you want that? Or do you want, basically, the whole world? The kingdom of God that is coming. You can have that, God says, if you’ll stop living for the vapors of the world and instead live for Him.
Isn’t it a no-brainer? Isn’t it such good counsel from God? He’s speaking to you. He’s speaking to each one of you, whether you’re in Christ or not. I know that even as believers we can start living for the vapors of the world. We can start becoming devoted and then anxious about those things. We forget what Solomon is telling us here. What God is telling us here. So, God counsels you, it’s time to lay that down. It’s time to stop living for vapor and turn to Me. Then you can enjoy life. Then you can avoid the judgment. And then you can have life in the world to come. Even abundant life. If you know Christ, repent, and do that. If you don’t know Christ, repent, and do that. Don’t suffer the judgment. Don’t miss out on the joy that could be yours, even now. And don’t miss out on the life to come.
It’s sobering what Solomon says to conclude verse 26. He says:
This too is futility and striving after wind.
I believe what Solomon is referring to there is the life of the one that stubbornly refuses to go God’s way. They experience, in full, the futility of life. Striving, chasing after wind which you never catch, and even if you could, you’d have nothing. Is that what you want for yourself? Who would want that for anybody? Therefore, listen to the good counsel of the Lord. He really is showing us the wise and happy way. Face the frustration for your coming death so that you’ll stop living for vapor and instead experience God’s good, both now and in the world to come.
Now this concludes the foundational section of Solomon’s teaching in Ecclesiastes, but he has much more to tell us. This is a good starting point, but he wants to come back and specifically talk to us about topics such as work, and companionship, and getting old, and wealth, and other things. So, I look forward to going over those with you. But let’s not miss the message of God today. Let’s listen to His good counsel. Let’s believe it and put it into practice.
God, I thank You for this wise word. It may be not what we expected. Not even what we wanted to hear. Oh God, it’s so easy to start thinking that we will live forever, and all our pursuits will bring us the gain we’re hoping for, expecting, but Solomon pulls back the veil that has been placed over our eyes. And He says, “See. See your own death”. Lord, we’re grieved that the world is this way but we’re glad that it won’t always be this way. You are bringing in a kingdom. You will create a new heaven and a new earth where there isn’t futility, there isn’t pain, there isn’t death. But that’s for Your righteous ones. That’s for the ones who embrace Your wisdom which Solomon only painfully found in the end. Lord, I pray that we will not take so long to find it and to embrace it. Lord, by your Spirit, please work in the hearts of those who have heard Your word today. To, indeed, just as I said, hear it, believe it, and put it into practice. We know we’ll get the joy of it in the end and life. So please do this. In Jesus’ name. Amen.