Ecclesiastes is a journey. Like I said last week, the book of Ecclesiastes mimics life itself – full of twists and turns and loops.
The premise of the book is that everything is Hebel, lit. vapor, breath, wind, mist. Hebel is that which is here for but a moment and then vanishes away. Even the conclusions reached in Ecclesiastes seem to be hebel. One moment, the Teacher tells us that pleasure is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. He says toil is pointless because you don’t get to keep that for which you have labored. Everything is hebel, meaningless, futile, a chasing after the wind.
So what’s the big conclusion? Enjoy the pleasures of life and find satisfaction in your work.
Teacher, I’m confused! So are we supposed to enjoy the pleasures of this life or aren’t we? Is life meaningless or isn’t it? Is hebel a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t get it.
The Teacher realized what all lottery winners learn the hard way – more money, more problems.
He understood the frustration of the academics in the world – more wisdom, more sorrow.
Death is the great equalizer. Wise man and fool, rich man and poor, go-getter and lazy bum all face the same fate. So what is there to gain?
Jesus said some similar things in his sermon on the mount.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:19-21, 31-34)
I think the Teacher reaches the same conclusion as Jesus. At the end of this journey, a pursuit of pleasure, wisdom, and success on the world’s terms apart from God, the Teacher concludes:
A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)
Find fulfillment on God’s terms. Enjoy the blessings from God, not the ones you strive after. To the one who pleases God, he will give wisdom knowledge and happiness. This sounds very similar to Jesus’ conclusion, to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. If you are seeking God above all, then all these things will take care of themselves. You will store up for yourself treasures in heaven, there for you to enjoy after you leave this earth.
So often our lives end up looking like the Teacher’s life. It’s like we’re stuck in a pinball game, bouncing around from one thing to another with no real goal other than to rack up as many points as possible before the ball falls through the gap. It’s chaotic, it’s stressful, and it’s not how we were intended to live.
Rather, our lives should look more like golf. Our focus should be on the one goal, trying to get there in as few strokes as possible. If we keep our focus and aim for the hole, then it is a relief when the ball drops – not a disappointment as in pinball. For by keeping our focus on God, his kingdom and his righteousness, then we know that something better awaits us when this life is over, after the ball drops.