Ecclesiastes is a book in the Old Testament belonging to the genre – Wisdom Literature. It is believed to be written by King Solomon in his old age. At first glance, this book seems to take a pessimistic-fatalistic perspective on life and living. In Eccl. 1, it says:
1 The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:
2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
3 What do people gain from all their labors
at which they toil under the sun?
Meaningless or vanity… the quality of being worthless, useless, pointless. Why so? Everything is for nothing? The ultimate question asked is what do I gain at the end of life for all the toil I do.
After reading it many times, I have come to realise that the author is wise in his observations about the realities of life. It is an account of the lessons he learned as he lived through the experiences of life – as a king with wealth and power.
Perhaps this book came from the inner convictions of the author as a rich man while looking around him to the people who are not rich. For me, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes teaches us about life and living through the dual lens of both the rich and the poor, the wise and the fool.
The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes lists down truths about life from his observations living life – a common sense that is not common because we do not pause to think and reflect about it. Here are some of his observations:
Vanity no. 1 – It is never enough.
10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
Greed is the heart of all human search for wealth. The human heart is a bottomless pit. The grass is often greener on the other side of the fence. It is vanity – useless and pointless to accumulate wealth and yet never find satisfaction in riches because it is never enough.
11 As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
A simple point for comparison to illustrate v.11: Buffet meals! At ‘Heat”, a restaurant in Shangrila hotel, there’s ‘Lobster Madness’ on Fridays and ‘Mad for Wagyu’ on Saturdays. Even as the food on the buffet table increases, so do the people who flock to these places to indulge. At the end of it all, when one has reached the brimming point, when he feels like vomiting, what else is there to do except to feast his eyes on them? At some point, even the sight of food can be revolting! Isn’t this vanity?
Vanity no. 2 – Money cannot buy everything.
12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
Money can buy a big bed, comfortable beddings, warm blankets but money cannot buy sleep. Each time I see homeless people sleeping soundly on sidewalks under the hot sun in the noise of the traffic, I am reminded of the ironies of life. I know of wealthy people having trouble sleeping – popping pills to help them sleep, on their computers in the middle of the night looking up stock markets and keeping track of their investments. How ironical that sleep often eludes me when I have time and I feel so sleepy when I need to get up!
Lesson to learn?
Vanity no. 3 – Every one dies – the rich and the poor. In death, everyone is equal.
15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
16 This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?
17 All their days they eat in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.
But there is good news. The wise teacher has one good observation to share:
19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.
Being rich is not a bad thing. It is good to enjoy wealth and riches, whatever material possessions that God gives. It is fitting that man reap that fruits of his labor – to enjoy their work, to enjoy the rewards of hard work. Even the ability to enjoy good things comes from God. Children of God are called to receive blessings and gifts from God with gratitude and gladness of heart – to be happy and accept with open hands and an open heart.
The dual lens of living a good life is to know that we take nothing with us when we die and to enjoy with gladness and gratitude the good things God gives us – the rewards of our labor while we live.
When life is hard, take comfort that it ends somewhere. When life is good, be grateful knowing that is it a gift from God, enjoy with gladness of heart.