And now another exciting episode from the book of Ecclesiastes. “Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
Here we find Solomon, as cheerful as ever, saying that he “hated life” and all the work that he had done. Not only does it not bring lasting satisfaction but anything that lasts beyond our life will likely end up going to some schmuck who does not deserve it, has not earned it, and will not appreciate it. A great misfortune indeed!
Verses 22-23 are kind of an “ah-ha” moments though. He uses the phrase “anxious striving” and states that “all his days” there is “pain and grief” and at night “his mind does not rest.” Solomon is talking about the drive that pushes many of us. It is a drive to provide a “better” life, to have more, to do more, and to never be … satisfied. This drive causes anxiety, pain, and grief. What does it get us though? We are never satisfied because we are never where we want to be and we never will be. Not here in this world at least. It frustrates our days and disrupts our nights. Think about it. When you set a goal, where you want to be or accomplish in a year, what happens once you have met that goal? You set another goal! “A chasing after the wind.”
Now Solomon is not condemning ambition or general goal setting. As a matter of fact he says in verses 24-25, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” He goes on to say that the godly will be granted wisdom, knowledge and happiness. To the sinner… a consolation prize of fruitless labor! He will not have satisfaction in his work and may not even see the fruits of his labor. We see examples of this type of judgment throughout Scripture as well as in and around our lives. This is a temporal judgment though, in the here and now. A giving and taking away of that which will ultimately perish.
Then Solomon says “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” He says activity for a reason and it is because an activity is something deliberate. It is a willful act and so for every willful act there is a time, a point in time, and a season, a duration. This opening line gives way to a poem on fourteen opposites, each of which happens in its own time. He illustrates this in a multiple of seven, which is the number signifying completeness. Additionally, he utilized polar opposites in a poetic form known as merism that suggests totality. In this way Solomon affirms that all activities, both constructive and destructive, and all responses to all things happen in their time. Too deep? Then let me break it down.
The poem begins with life and death, the beginning and end of life. Two events over which we have little to no control over. He continues with deliberate acts of one who begins and ends plant life, takes and saves human life, and constructs and destroys buildings. All concepts of life and death. From these thoughts he writes of our responses to such events: weeping and morning and their opposites, laughing and dancing and all of the joy found in them. He then switches from life and death to man’s interest in things and his affections towards people. This is followed with a period of mourning and the completion of the mourning, when one would begin again to move forward in life. Of course it all ends with concepts that are as significant as the ones he began the poem with. They are two of life’s basic emotions with war and peace being the most poignant expression of each one.
Truly, the burden laid upon us is that we have knowledge and understanding. We see this great big world around us and realize its satisfactions are too small for us. He has placed within us knowledge of eternity but we cannot fully grasp it yet. We know that we likely play a role in God’s plan but do not fully understand what God’s plan is for our lives. Despite this we can trust that He will “make everything beautiful in its time.” This is the burden God has laid upon us.
For those who do not know God, they may see Him as arbitrary but Solomon described the nature of God’s plan and what the appropriate response of men should be. He has seen it all from beginning to end. He knows the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. And to all will come His righteous judgment. For the wicked and the righteous, for the just and unjust, a time will come.
“But he says that we are like animals? That we have no advantage over them?”
We were all dust and have received life from God. To the dust we will all return so in that he is correct. We are like animals with no advantage. Verse 21 however shows us a difference. The fact that we are capable of contemplating what happens to our spirit is an advantage. This awareness is an advantage. To wonder at the awesome power of God and to be inquisitive enough to seek after Him. Again though, it is an advantage that is also our burden. To ask why we are here? What is our purpose in His plan?
The answers to all of this will come … in its time.
To be continued …