The Literary Lamp-October 2016
Reflections on the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes
In Ecclesiastes chapter two, and, indeed, all throughout this book, the Preacher is searching for happiness and the meaning of life. His conclusion, that “all is vanity,” seems morbid, and has, unfortunately, repelled many Christian from a proper study of Ecclesiastes.
As it turns out, a proper study of Ecclesiastes reveals the Preacher’s ultimate conclusion, which is considerably brighter. Observe some key phrases in Eccl. 2, as the Preacher “tests his heart with pleasure” and seeks to “gratify his flesh”—one predominant phrase is “I made myself…” and various forms thereof. The result of these “tests” is summarized in verses 10-11:
“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.” (NKJV.)
We can infer, from these verses, that his heart was temporarily satisfied, but a deeper contemplation revealed the vanity of it all. He continues with many morbid musings over wisdom and folly, the meaning of life, etc.—continually making reference to the “labor of his heart,” when, rather abruptly, in verse 24, he says this:
“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.” (See also Eccl. 6:3, 7.)I am inclined to believe that the sudden reference to the soul rather than the heart is of great importance in this context. In short, the Preacher spends a tremendous amount of time and energy testing his heart and flesh with every form of pleasure imaginable, and acquires a vast assortment of material possessions, and, for a moment, his heart rejoices, but then it succumbs to despair once more as he contemplates the futility of it all—that he must die, as all others, and leave his wealth to another, and his wisdom will be forgotten. Therefore, what profit has he? What advantage, when his life is over? But in verse 24, he contemplates that which is from the hand of God: the enjoyment of the soul, and the wisdom, knowledge, and joy which He gives to those who are good in His sight. And who is good in His sight? Only those who have delivered their souls to Him to be washed in the blood of the Lamb! And these do not seek the gratification of their heart and flesh, which is futile, but the gratification of their spirit, which is sanctified by and joined to God. They live, now, not for self, but for God, who is eternal. In this there is profit and purpose! In this there is joy! Cast aside the pleasures and temptations of the flesh, which are temporary and lead only to destruction, and pursue the joy of serving the Lord, who has secured your soul for an eternity with Him!