Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 17 2019 - Ecclesiastes 2 – Pleasures and work

The writer of this fascinating book puts himself into the shoes of Solomon, the richest of Israel's kings and noted for his wisdom, to try to understand what human life is all about.

As part of this experiment he devotes himself to seeking out pleasurable experiences to see if they will satisfy his longing for meaning. He tries out laughter and alcohol, as many do today, but he came to the conclusion that laughter is madness (v. 2). Like alcohol, it may provide a temporary escape from the hard realities of life but it does so only for a moment and leaves the pain undiminished – the laughter of the clown frequently masks their tears.

Next he contemplates great building projects, seeking to leave his mark upon the world (vv. 4-6). He imagines himself as rich as king Solomon with gold and silver, male and female servants and everything else the heart could desire, including a reputation for greatness (vv. 7-10). Yet, when he considered it all, "everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun" (v. 11).

He gained no satisfaction and sense of lasting purpose from what he accomplished because, in the end, death will rob him of everything he has. What's the point in cultivating wisdom and seeking understanding if the wise man and the fool share the same fate? He admits that, "wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness" (v. 13), in that it enables the wise person to live well, but death comes alike to all and empties the best of lives of significance. As the generations roll on, the wise man and his achievements will soon be forgotten along with the folly of the fool (vv. 15-16).

And what of all the things one has worked so hard to possess – the fancy car, the fine house with all its attractive furnishings, works of art, accumulated investments …? You can't take it with you; it all has to be left to others who may not value them at all (vv. 17-19). That seems to make all the effort that has gone into accumulating them meaningless; a chasing after the wind. Such thoughts lead our author to despair (v. 20): "What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless" (vv. 22-23). All you get from days of anxious toil is sleepless nights!

So the Teacher concludes that the best thing is to enjoy all that God gives, even the work God has given you to do with all the wisdom, knowledge and happiness that may be enjoyed while life lasts (vv. 24-26) – even though in the end it is meaningless.

The Teacher's verdict on life is echoed by many writers down the centuries, including contemporary writers, who consider that human life ends at death. For Instance, Richard Dawkins has written,

In a universe of blind physical forces … some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

Praise God that we have a better hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. His resurrection from the dead gives meaning to human life and to everything we do. We take to heart the words of the apostle Paul at the end of his wonderful chapter on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ when he concludes, "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Corinthians 15:58). Note his words "not in vain"!

Father God, we thank you for the Lord Jesus who has "destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." May your Holy Spirit fill us with joy and peace in believing. And may he bless the work of our hands so that generations to come will also rejoice in your saving goodness. 

Peter Misselbrook