Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
As I write these words, my wife and I are planning to go out for a meal with friends. We are looking forward to sharing God's gifts of food and drink together.
Today's passage contrasts strongly with what has gone before. The words ″toil″, ″wisdom″, ″knowledge″, and ″pleasure″, featured in Ecclesiastes 2:1-23, are also featured in today's verses (″happiness″in 2:26 translates the same Hebrew word as ″pleasure″ in 2:2, 10). They are, however, set in a very different context-viewed not as many sources of frustration or bafflement, but as the gifts of a God who is seen as both generous Creator and Judge of humankind.
In 2:3 the Teacher wanted to explore ″what was good for people to do″. By 2:24 he appears to have found an answer: ″A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil.″
The grandiose schemes of 2:1-23 are set aside; the Teacher focuses on simpler pleasures. He no longer worries about what will happen to his projects after his death. Instead he enjoys what lies near at hand: food, drink, and satisfying toil-for toil can bring pleasure, when it is enjoyed for its own sake, and not seen as the source of ultimate meaning in life (which was the problem in 2:1-11).
The Teacher seems to find the world a simpler place in 2:24-26: those who please God are rewarded with ″wisdom, knowledge and happiness″, whereas ″sinners″ find their schemes frustrated (v. 26; see also Proverbs 28:8). This is the first reference to God's judgment in Ecclesiastes, and a significant moment in the book. No longer does the Teacher focus on what he finds baffling or hateful in life.
And yet, as the beginning of 2:24 makes clear (″this too . . . is from the hand of God″), things are not so simple: ″this too″ implies that all the frustrations, misguided projects, and disappointments described earlier in Ecclesiastes also come from God's hand, at least in the sense that it is possible for humans living in God's world to go astray, to pursue mistaken goals and end up frustrated and disappointed. So how to make sense of a world in which such different outcomes are possible? Perhaps it is the difficulty of reconciling the perspectives of 2:1-23 and 2:24-26 that leads the Teacher to restate his motto (″This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind″) in 2:26: all this is very hard to grasp; full understanding eludes us. In a sense, then, to enjoy the uncomplicated pleasures of food, drink, and toil is an act of faith. We enjoy such pleasures as gifts from God's hand (and not, say, due to an arbitrary twist of fate), taking them as tokens of God's goodness and trusting that, though we do not understand everything that happens in God's world, God knows what He is doing. Surely this is wisdom compared to the frustrated striving of 2:1-23.
For Jesus, eating and drinking in the company of His friends was an important part of life, something to give thanks to God for. In today's fast-food culture, do you make time to enjoy food, drink, and the company of others-as a part of your Christian discipleship?
What do you think may be the difference between the satisfying toil described at Ecclesiastes 2:24 and the unsatisfying toil described at greater length in the earlier sections of chapter 2?