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  • Writer's pictureMaria Whittaker

E C C L E S I A S T E S 3

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

Recap: Last post, we talked about the cyclical nature of things and the futility of work, concluding that life is a little bit like a cosmic gym where the work done is not accomplishing anything on the environment but rather creating lasting changes in us.

We went up to about vs. 14-15 in ch. 1 of Ecclesiastes.

In Ch. 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon hasn't quite come to the same conclusions as us yet. He is still stuck on the cyclical nature of reality and the futility of his work. So he gives up on all that and turns to something else. Pleasure.

2:1 I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity.

In the following verses in Ch. 2, Solomon sets out to combine work and pleasure. He builds works that will lead to the greatest height of enjoyment known to man.

2:4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born into my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of men.

In the following section are outlined 3 things I want us to notice about this passage:

The Utilitarian Aspect of Solomon's Search

Solomon's journey to find meaning is showing up as very utilitarian. He seems to be turning from one thing to the next (work, pleasure, wisdom, etc.) and examining its value in the light of how useful it is.

Ultimately, Solomon's analysis of the world he lives in hinges on this one question "What does it accomplish?"

If nothing, he discards it and concludes it is "vanity, a striving after the wind."

After trying it out, Solomon concludes that pleasure falls unequivocally into this category. Quite simply, Solomon finds that there is no "use" for it. Pleasure, too, does not accomplish anything, or advance you in any way. In vs. 2, he says "I said of laughter, 'It is mad,' and of pleasure, 'What use is it?'"

And he's right. One of my favorite quips from C. S. Lewis is from the book The Silver Chair. Due to her own foolishness, protagonist Jill makes her friend Eustace fall off of a cliff, leaving her alone in a strange land. She is overwhelmed with guilt, fear and sadness and begins to cry. C. S. Lewis states "Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.” Jill cries her heart out but she must at one point stop and still deal with the situation of her own creating.

I know it is kind of a far-fetched example, after all, crying definitely has nothing to do with pleasure. But I think it is a good illustration of something that both has and has not a use. Crying could be said to be useful because it accomplishes something. It gives release to an overwhelming amount of emotion built up inside. Like work, it accomplishes a work "on" or "in" us. But as far as getting a situation resolved, it is powerless. Completely useless. You may cry and cry but you still have to stop at some point and deal with the situation.

Solomon discovers that pleasure is characteristically similar. Pleasure has utility, or a purpose, in creating some sort of relief or distraction from the pain and difficulty of the reality we face. It has an inward utility. But it by no means has utility outward. "What use is it?" Solomon asks. In vs. 11, Solomon surveys the work of his hands. "Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." I believe Solomon felt a little bit like an Olympic medalist might feel after winning the gold medal, something she has put an inordinate amount of work and sacrifice into accomplishingll the while enjoying the sport of her choice. I imagine holding that gold medal and mixed in with all the pride and pleasure, feeling the cold, empty thought of "So what?" and "What next?" and "I still feel empty" creeping in and dissolving into my other emotions.

The Loftiness of the Position God Gave

The second thing that I think is important for us to notice is that both Solomon's life and his search for meaning is one of extremities. Solomon is not wise, he is the wisest man on earth. He is not rich. He is the richest man on earth. In keeping with this pattern, when Solomon sets out to explore a certain area of life, he takes it as far as it can be taken. When he decides to analyze the world, he uses the most wisdom available to man. When he decides to test "pleasure," Scripture, in Solomon's own words, tells us that he "became great and surpassed all who were before...[him] in Jerusalem." Solomon takes this "pleasure experiment" to its highest point. There almost seems to be a fear that if he doesn't, he won't be able to come to a fair conclusion. Solomon wants to really take pleasure for all that it is worth and then make a judgement about it. It's kind of like a binge-night with limitless unhealthy but delicious food, limitless entertainment options (dancers, singers, gardens, pets, and yes, thousands of concubines), etc.

And not just anyone could do this, mind you. Who would have the resources to take pleasure to its limit but Solomon, the wealthiest man on earth? I believe that God was intentional in providing Solomon with all the resources he could possibly ever need and putting him at the pinnacle of human existence to show all of us something.

Solomon decided to use his incredible resources to test this pleasure thing out, once and for all, for all of us.

Solomon, was, in a sense, both the test subject and the scientist gathering data to support a conclusion.

2:3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine--my heart still guiding me with wisdom--and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for hte children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

2:10a And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure....

The one thing that I think we can take away from this is that we can trust Solomon's conclusion. No one can say "Well, he didn't take it far enough" or "If you only go higher, pleasure becomes meaningful." No. Solomon took it as far as it can go, he had the resources to, and his conclusion is trustworthy. Pleasure is "vanity" and has no "use" on the long-scale, outward aspect of life.

The Dual Nature of Pleasure

The third thing that I would like us to notice is that Solomon actually combined work and pleasure in his "pleasure experiment." Solomon says that to enjoy pleasure, he set to work. He built houses, planted vineyards, amassed wealth, you've read the list. And I'm sure that once he had set things up the way he wanted to, he also rested and enjoyed the pleasure derived from the things he had worked for.

There are two kinds of pleasure here, and Solomon was wise enough to discern that: the pleasure derived from working and the pleasure derived from a completed work.

Work is toilsome and cursed in that we cannot perform it without blood, sweat and tears, per the Genesis 3:17-19 curse. However, work precedes the Fall -- it was through God's work that the earth was created and through man's work that Eden, the garden of pleasures and perfection, was upkept. In Genesis 2:15, the Bible says that "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it."

As it is today, work was an integral part of the perfect universe God created. Work was a pleasure and a delight, and it is in one way what we are created to do. Even post-Fall, cursed work retains its original divine quality alongside its toilsomeness. There is real pleasure in working and completing a project, as anyone who is in a career of their actual passion will profess. Solomon realized this and so he first of all tested out the pleasure associated with accomplishing great works.

The second type of pleasure is that actually derived from a good thing. Usually something that we have worked for. To illustrate this, think of buying a new house. It is pleasurable to sand, paint, clean, design, redecorate, fill the house with valuable material things in the sense that it is a project and a challenge. However, a second kind of pleasure comes when you have finished your work and you sit down in a gorgeous, clean living room with a fresh cup of coffee, put your feet up, close your eyes, and inhale the fragrance of the lit desert driftwood candle and the faint smell of organic cleaning solution sifting through your home.

Solomon's "pleasure experiment" actually mirrors one of the goals of organized society. Every single job or career that contributes to our society really serves to make it possible for us to go to a beautiful, comfortable home, eat good food, rest, and be with our families in perfect safety. Enjoy the pleasurable things in life, in other words. But to have that pleasure that comes after work, we must do work. And, as I hinted before, if we are in a career of our passion, that work is often both toilsome and enjoyable. Because of that, we can once again take Solomon's conclusion as our own -- one that applies to our daily lives in a very practical way.

Solomon's Conclusion

At the completion of Solomon's "pleasure experiment," he comes out with this statement:

2:9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Solomon's conclusion is two-fold. First of all, he indicates that of the two pleasures, the "pleasure-from-work" was actually somewhat worthwhile and rewarding. The pleasure from working came as a sort of reward for the work. This is important and I am emphasizing it because Ecclesiastes returns to this "pleasure-from-work" concept later on.

Secondly, Solomon pulls back and becomes fully the scientist. He gathers all his data and devises his overall conclusion: It is still all vanity. In the utilitarian sense, sure, you may enjoy your work but when you sit back and look at that thing you've built, what's the point? It has in no way advanced the real cause of mankind, in no way allayed the real suffering of mankind, in no way built anything that will actually be eternal or prove of any lasting value. Pleasure is nixed as a solution for the human problem of insufferable, vain existence and lack of meaning, with Solomon's own stamp of approval.


As I always feel the need to say, there is more to this -- simply because there is far more to the book of Ecclesiastes and Solomon's search for meaning. However, at this point, here are 2 things we can take away:

1. Work is good.

Find a work that you are passionate about. If God has given you the liberty to choose your work, choose something that you feel you have a God-given drive to do. Something that makes you sometimes forget that you are working because you are so caught up in the pleasure of doing it. Something that you may even forget the need to eat or drink because you are wrapped up in your work.

For some of us that's easy. Writing, teaching, creating does that for me and I am very thankful that God has given me the clarity to know that. For some of us, it may be hard to find that thing. I suggest prayer as a means to discerning God's will and true faith that you were designed strategically. God created you as a moving piece with a specific purpose in mind and He can and will place you where you need to be to do work that is enjoyable to you. Not wishing to promote self and worldly "self-love" in the least, I say that the world needs YOU, with YOUR talents, passions, and giftings. That is God's good design, Who creates and designs at maximum efficiency with NO extra or unnecessary pieces.

If you are not at liberty to choose your work and feel that God has thrust a work upon you that you do not enjoy, called you to something that was not what you would have chosen for yourself, I humbly submit that perhaps you need to go before God in prayer and ask Him to search your heart and open it in joy to His will. If you truly are where God wants you to be, I believe He has given you the capability to enjoy your work and thrive in it. However, that state may not be accessible to you because it is being suffocated by feelings of resentment, resistance, a desire to control, bitterness at lack of control.

God's will is good and pleasant. There have been many times -- most of my life, truthfully -- where God and God's will for me has seemed simply torturous. I have felt that He is intentionally torturing me by the situations He has placed me in or work He has asked me to do. A verse has convicted me lately, whenever my heart rises with the "torturous!" complaint:

With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless man You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You show Yourself pure; and with the crooked You make Yourself seem torturous.

P S A L M 18 : 2 6

When my good God's way seems torturous to me, I must beware that I am living out of the flesh -- out of the crooked, dark place of my dead heart that needs to be left to rot while I step out of it, merciful, blameless, and pure, loving the will of my good God.

2. Do good work.

Regardless of the work we are doing, whether we enjoy its goodness or not, there is a danger that we can fall into. I have mentioned it more extensively in previous posts and I want to mention it again. Your work must have the right motivation. This is dangerous especially because -- get this, work done for God and work done for whatever other reason WILL OFTEN LOOK EXACTLY THE SAME. Christ says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

J O H N 1 5 : 5

I learned this unforgettable truth from Watchman Nee: this verse does not mean that we physically can't do anything without Christ. In fact, we can do many things. We can plant churches, and evangelize the lost and preach sermons. We can grow our business, teach our students, and heal our patients. We can do all that, and we do it daily. What the verse is trying to tell us is that if it is done apart from Christ, it amounts to nothing. It equals zero. It is vanity, a chasing after the wind. It will dissipate along with our passing life.

Do your work, whatever it is, but do it for Christ. Dedicate it in your heart to Christ. Resource your strength, your energy, your passion, from the Spirit. A practical thing we can do every morning is to ask Jesus to do our work for us, instead of we ourselves doing it. Asking Him to do it in us and through us to advance His kingdom. Every morning, we should be aligning our heart and defining our goals.

You can pray: Lord, I'm getting up and going to work and doing my thing but whatever I do, somehow, make it advance Your kingdom. I'm glad it helps me earn a paycheck and I'm glad I enjoy it but my ultimate goal is Your glory and Your kingdom.

God isn't looking for us to understand how He is using banking or real-estate to advance His kingdom. Let Him worry about that. You worry about your personal drive for the things you do.

I want to wrap up this post with this powerful passage about the work we do while on earth. Guys, these aren't just words. God's Word is true, so this really will happen and we really do need to make sure we are prepared! <3

For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

1 C O R I N T H I A N S 3 : 11 - 1 5

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