Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
In contrast with Ecclesiastes 5:8-17, which illustrates the harm which wrong attitudes to wealth can cause, today's passage sets out a better way: to enjoy what lies near to hand; to be content with your ″lot″ (see also 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22). There is an obvious contrast between the frustrated, lonely figure eating ″in darkness″ in 5:17 and those in 5:18-20 who find satisfaction in their toil and enjoy eating and drinking (presumably in the company of others) as one of the fruits of their toil.
Of course, not all do in fact enjoy such happiness. This is clear from the qualifications in 5:19: ″when God gives someone wealth . . . and the ability to enjoy them″. The next section (6:1-6) will underscore this point. Then there is the issue of injustice (4:1-3; 5:8-9): many are robbed of the fruits of their toil.
But positively, how does the situation described in 5:18-20 come about? Perhaps the answer lies in three phrases in 5:18: ″under the sun″; ″the days of life God has given them″ (not necessarily ″few days″ as translated in NIV); ″this is their lot.″ These phrases emphasise the conditions of our human existence: we should accept our limitations as created beings, and not let our enjoyment of what God gives us be spoilt by a desire for what lies beyond our grasp. This is not a negative kind of existence. ″Be content with your lot″ does not mean ″be boring″ or ″be timid and unimaginative″. You can live an interesting, creative, and bold life without transgressing the bounds God has set. Note, too, that wealth can be enjoyed as God's gift (Ecclesiastes 5:19). It is only the love of wealth which is wrong (1 Timothy 6:10). In short, today's passage is not a recipe for life in the slow lane.
So Ecclesiastes 5:18-19 tells us: If God enables you to enjoy life, be content with that. The next verse builds on this (Ecclesiastes 5:20): enjoying the good things of life can, by God's grace, prevent us from dwelling excessively on the darker aspects of life (its brevity; the presence of injustice). Such enjoyment is not the final answer to these darker aspects (a point that 9:7-10 will also make). It also brings with it certain dangers: for example, that pleasures like eating, drinking, and enjoyable labour may become so central to our lives that if they are taken away from us, our faith collapses; or that in the midst of our enjoyment we may ignore the sufferings of others; or again, that we may treat others unjustly in our desire to secure the things that bring us pleasure (see 4:1-3). But in themselves these things are good, a gift of God for which we can and should give thanks. As a friend of mine once put it, if God's children cannot enjoy God's gifts, who can?
″Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God has done!″ Do you celebrate God's goodness to you and give thanks for it?
Today's study suggests that enjoying the good things of life can, by God's grace, prevent us from dwelling excessively on the darker aspects of life. Is this fundamentally a good thing, or do you see potential problems here?