Our experience of evil (Ecc.1:13) includes the discovery
that nothing on earth is permanent. "All the deeds that are done under the
sun,... behold, the whole is vanity and a grazing on wind" (1:14). All our
efforts and all our gains of good are transitory. We toil and strive with
our hands, concentrate and examine with our minds, seeking for our wants
and needs, but the pleasures and satisfactions do not last. The figure of
speech used here is appropriate; it is like "grazing on wind."
Yet this is given to us by God. It is from His
hand (Ecc. 1:13; 2:24-26).
GIVEN BY GOD
None of us are rulers in Jerusalem, of the line of David,
and few have the means and opportunity to apply our minds and hands as the
Assembler could do. But his endeavors and investigations were given to him
by God, and our toil and learning have also been given to us by God. We do
learn from his reports here in Ecclesiastes, but we verify the truth of
what he says by our own experiences. The important lesson for us in this
book is to recognize, as the Assembler recognized, that whatever
experiences we have and whatever lessons we learn from them are from God's
It is true that we make decisions and do things with our
hands. But if we trace our experiences only to ourselves and do not
recognize the hand of God behind them all, then we must despair. The
Assembler faced all his deeds that his hands had done
(2:11). But in the end he associated the experience and the lessons
learned with the hand of Elohim (2:24).
EXPERIENCE AND LEARNING
The Assembler applied his heart, or as we would say
today, his mind, "to know wisdom" and such opposites of wisdom as "raving
and frivolity" (1:17). This brought him a great deal of vexation
and pain (1:18). He sought mirth (2:2) and frivolity associated
with wine (2:3). He accumulated houses, vineyards, gardens, parks,
reservoirs of water, servants, cattle and flocks, silver and gold, music
and rich delights (2:4-8).
Most of us cannot accumulate such riches, though, to be
honest, we do struggle for things that appeal. But wisdom acknowledges in
truth, they do not give us lasting pleasure or real contentment anymore
than his accumulations gave lasting pleasure to the Assembler.
To be sure, the Assembler found that this wisdom of
knowing the vanity of frivolity was far better than the frivolity
(Ecc.2:13). But this only temporized the frustration, for "the destiny of
the stupid man is also mine, and it shall befall me. To what advantage
then have I been wise?" (2:14,15).
This led the Assembler to exclaim, "Then I hated life and
I hated all the fruit of my toil for which I was toiling under the sun,
that I would leave to the man who shall come after me" (2:17,18).
All advantages are temporary and relative. Wisdom is
better than frivolity, but in the end the wise toiler dies and the stupid,
frivolous person dies. If they have gained some good, it is left to
someone else. "This too is vanity" (2:19); "this too is vanity and a great
evil" (2:21). Not only this, but even while alive, those who toil
diligently with pain and vexation are troubled with unrest even in the
night, and "this too, it is vanity" (2:23).
As a whole, the best that can be said is that the
enjoyment of good is better than stupidity, even though both are
transitory. "There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and
drink and cause his soul to see good from his toil" (2:24).
Having said this, the Assembler changes his refrain from
observing "This too is vanity," to "This too is from the hand of Elohim."
The good of enjoying the fruit of one's labor is fleeting, and so it
certainly is vanity, like everything else. But it is good, nevertheless,
and the Assembler seizes the point, adding to it that vital recognition of
God that gives Ecclesiastes its special place and value among human
assessments of human experience.
The new observation, "This too is from the hand of
Elohim," is like the old observation, "This too is vanity," in one respect
at least. Both assessments include the little word "too." All these human
experiences are vanity, or transitory. But they also are all from the hand
It is Elohim Who gives the relative goodness of "wisdom
and knowledge and rejoicing" to the one who "is well pleasing before Him"
(2:26a). It is also Elohim Who gives the experience of gathering
possessions which ultimately must be given to others (2:26b). He gives the
fleeting goodness to some, and He gives the fleeting-ness of gathering and
collecting to all, for all are sinners.
In this, as we have insisted, lies the value of the
Assembler's wisdom. Compared with the revelations given to Paul, for
example, the book of Ecclesiastes takes us only a small step forward in
appreciation of God. But the recognition of God as the One Who gives human
experience is essential to our appreciation of the glory of God in the
face of Jesus Christ. The death of Christ on the cross tells us nothing
great or glorious about God unless it is from the hand of God. The
salvation of sinners tells us nothing of God's power and love unless it is
from the hand of God. Our calling and expectation reveals nothing about
God's grace and purpose unless they are from His hand.
We live in a world where the recognition of God is
denigrated. The traditional, religious presentation of God as an arbitrary
tyrant full of eternal wrath against bad people and favoritism toward
others for uncertain purposes, is much to blame for this. There are other
powerful influences involved, indeed, but whatever the reasons, the fact
remains that agnosticism is growing in the minds of modern humanity.
In anger, even in mild annoyance, God is cursed in
every-day speech apart from much confidence in His existence, let alone a
recognition of Him as the Source of all things. The language is intended
to tell more about the speaker than anything whatever about God.
God is also sometimes spoken of more favorably, even
prayed to, in formal, ritualistic, pious ways apart from any deep
conviction that He is there. This also is done more to bring attention to
the human being than the One Who gives us all, and upon Whom we rely for
breath and life and meaning for existence.
Consequently, the book of Ecclesiastes is a most valuable
portion of God's Word for mankind today. It faces the issues and problems
of human experience honestly and forcefully. But more than this, it does
so, clearly tracing these experiences to the hand of God, from which all
experiences truly come.
Dean H. Hough