Ecclesiastes: the Quest for Contentment – Pastor's Corner
I’d like to begin a short series on the Book of Ecclesiastes that I trust will help us live victorious lives. First, let’s get a bit of background.
Ecclesiastes is considered one of the three main Wisdom Books of the Bible. The other two are Job and Proverbs. Some people include Psalms and Song of Solomon into the category of Wisdom Books because they also deal with important daily aspects of human life. While all of God’s Word is full of wisdom, these books together give us divine insight into some of life’s toughest questions.
I am one of those who believe Solomon wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes for a number of reasons. He must have written this book in his middle or later years of life given the reflective tone and amount of work that he had completed prior to being inspired to pen these words.
Ecclesiastes is a powerful book that doesn’t shy away from the darker parts of the road of life. It is not intended to be one of those books that make you shout the victory per se like Ephesians or Psalms might. It is intended to change our thinking from ordinary human perspectives of life to God’s divine perspective. It’s intended give you a very blunt and practical picture of your relationship to God.
While some might consider Ecclesiastes depressing, if you look at it as part of God’s inspired Word that has been preserved for your welfare, you will discover practical truth that will help you live a good life. When I say a good life, I don’t mean a trouble-free life. I mean a God-honoring life that you can feel has been well-spent at the end of it all.
As we explore these sacred pages chapter by chapter, may the Spirit of God help you apply these truths to your own circumstances.
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
Most people have trouble defining life. What is life? Cells? An ongoing search for purpose that lasts until death?
God answers that question in one word: meaningless.
Now, at first glance, that might sound rather depressing. Life is meaningless? Not exactly. You see, life is God’s greatest gift. But it is how we spend our lives that is often meaningless. Everything we do—our daily tasks, our jobs, our pursuit of relationships—in the grand scheme of eternity, is all temporal and will pass away.
For example, let me ask you a question: who was the wife of the Roman Emperor Augustus? Unless you are a lover of history, you probably don’t know he was married to Empress Livia and two other women. Augustus once ruled the civilized world. He was one of the most important men in world history and his wife (Livia) was a powerful force in her time. But today, they are unknown to most of the global population.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how much you achieve in this life for death swallows up even the memory of the powerful. If the world were to last 100 more years, Jeff Bezos will be nothing more than a dim memory. Today, many may envy his success. But tomorrow? He may be a statue in a museum, lost among many others.
It is all meaningless and God wants you to know that. Why? So you don’t fall into the Laodicean trap of focusing on how many things you can acquire or how many hours you can put into the job.
A good life isn’t defined by the number of your natural “accomplishments”— it is defined by the depth of your spiritual walk with Christ.
How beautifully this coincides with the Lord Jesus’s words:
And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29).
Let’s look deeper.
The popular notion is that you are successful if you clock in 50+ hours at the job each week—while juggling a few side-gigs and kids. If you’re really successful, you get to add the pressures of a social position on top of that. And if you’re absolutely heroic, you can add on a few houses that you’ll stuff with things you will only use a few times in your life.
You know that’s true. Now, I’m not preaching minimalism although I am, to a some extent, a minimalist at heart. I am stating that our idea of “a good life” is totally contrary to what God intended and science is coming around to realizing what the Bible has been saying for more than 3,000 years.
In May 2021, the World Health Organization released an article which stated that,
Long working hours led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000…World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization
Clearly, man’s idea of productivity is not God’s idea of a good life.
Knowing this age would come, He teaches us from the very first words of this chapter are here to turn our eyes away from this near-sighted view of incessant productivity.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your best at your job or have high aspirations for your life—you should!
But, to lead a good life, you must keep everything in balance and always remember that whatever you’re striving for will ultimately no longer make you happy.
What is happiness?
God designs life in a way that happiness would be elusive. He made contentment something you must learn so that His children will continue to seek Him. God knows that, if work , relationships or the things of this world were all satisfying then we would never come to Him.
Think about it: what drove you to Christ in the first place? Wasn’t it a dissatisfaction with what you had? We all came from different places and have had different journeys to the Cross. But none of us were happy with the kind of lives we were leading or else we would have remained in that condition. As Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews:
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.Hebrews 11:14-16
By God’s order, we who are pilgrims turn our attention away from the meaningless attractions of the modern world in order to find true satisfaction in Him.
The thread of imperfection
The Persians were (and still are) known for their gorgeous rugs. But the weavers would deliberately make a mistake or weave in a thread that was out of place because they believed that only God could be perfect. As such, nothing man creates should be perfect.
I believe God Himself applies this principle to our lives, creating scenarios that leave us a little empty or dissatisfied. Sometimes this is with our family, our children, or with events in our life that we couldn’t control.
We sometimes think that we’d be happy if we could only achieve a certain milestone. But, after you achieve it, you realize that after a while that you need something more.
So, God teaches us that in order to have a good life, we must first realize that the things we fight so hard to gain are simply meaningless.
When you come to terms with this reality then you’re in a position to really understand the true, meaningful beauty that life offers.
An age of contradictions
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
Here the Scripture shows us that, not only are we temporary but so is our impact on the world around us. Nature runs in a circuit with no permanent resting place. In like manner, none of us can have any truly change the world on a permanent basis. This is why we continue to have global crises in, what I call, an Age of Contradictions.
Think about it:
We live in a world where technology allows us to connect with ease yet people have never been so disconnected and without empathy. Everywhere, people talk about love yet our streets and grocery stores are filled with senseless acts of violence. Mass production and technology allows much of the Western world to live in comfort yet so many in America are homeless, and are without to running water. Obesity is a disease in North America while around the world billions live in starvation. Americans have tech-saturated classrooms yet 21 percent of Americans cannot read.
These problems and more persist despite the efforts of global organizations, church groups, aid societies and countless hours of volunteering.
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
Nothing we do is truly lasting or can satisfy. But does that mean we should we stop our efforts to do good in the world?
Absolutely not. We should brighten the corner where we are and do all we can with what we have.
Let us realize that while we cannot permanently affect society as a whole, we can make a lasting impact on the lives of other temporary mortals around us. A good life draws meaning from serving others in Christ’s stead.This is what gives meaning to an otherwise meaningless life.
Let’s pause for a moment and recap what we’ve touched on in this chapter before moving forward. So far we’ve learned:
- Our actions in daily life are meaningless
- True meaning comes from focusing on the spiritual instead of the natural
- God uses dissatisfaction to make us seek Him more
- We cannot permanently alter the world but we can deeply impact others for good or evil
Why does the world have so many problems?
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
10 Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.
I’d like to touch on three things in this segment: brevity, the heart of man, and the coming Kingdom of Christ.
First: God shows us that we are only here for a brief moment. Our lives are, as David said, “a handbreadth” (Ps. 39:5). We must therefore give urgent heed to God’s call for our life and not delay to fulfill whatever He has commissioned us to do.
A good life revolves around the understanding that we only have this moment and are not guaranteed the next. How you spend that moment will depend upon the condition of your heart. Which brings me to my next point: the heart of man.
Second: the heart of man. People often wonder why there are still so many problems in the world. The answer is simply that humanity has never changed its collective heart. We still have the same core issues as our ancestors did since the Fall. Our languages and cultures may be different than that of the early peoples but we still have hate, lust, greed and slander. In short, “there is nothing new under the sun” because we keep repeating a vicious cycle of destruction, renewal, corruption and destruction— a cycle that is propelled by the love of money (1 Timothy 6:10).
On a global scale, the hardness of the human heart led to the Great Flood (see Romans 1:18-32). He is the One that brought the world from chaos and can send it back to chaos anytime He chooses.
Spiritually, remember that just as it took a Creator to set these laws of sun, wind and water in motion, so will it take a Creator to bring order to a chaotic world. This is why the world is descending more into chaos—since the Flood, humanity has run back toward a world that refuses to let Christ (the Creator of Order) have any control. Which brings me to my final point: the coming Kingdom.
Third: the Kingdom of Christ. The Bible tells us that the disorder of this world must happen to allow for the perfect rule of Jesus Christ. Now, think for a moment how many times humanity has gone through this cycle of rebirth and destruction as I outlined it above. City after city and empire after empire have followed this pattern. As Hebrews 13:14 testifies, “For here we have no abiding city, but we seek that which is to come.”
We are so privileged to be living at the end of the world because the final change of rulership, from Man’s Day to God’s Day, is about to take place. This will end the cycle and bring about something that is new—Christ dwelling in flesh among all His redeemed children.
Let’s wrap up our study today with Solomon’s efforts to discover the meaning of life. Remember, these men of the Bible went through these profound—and often traumatic situations—for your benefit.
12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith.
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
I want you to realize that when Solomon was given the “spirit of wisdom,” he was actually given what we call prophetic discernment. Like the Lord Jesus (who he foreshadowed), Solomon told the people the secrets of their hearts. For example, when the Queen of Sheba came to him, the Queen didn’t need to ask Solomon her questions—he told her what she came to ask him.
And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.1 Kings 10:3
This shouldn’t be surprising. We who believe this End-Time Message know that God did the same through Brother Branham about 50 years ago. God is simply showing us time and again that He doesn’t change and He, the Word, is still a “discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” In 1 Corinthians 12:8, Paul also referred to this gift as wisdom and knowledge.
So, Solomon, this man with such a tremendous gift led Israel to a time of prosperity and dominion like they had never known before. It is therefore no exaggeration to say that he saw “everything that was done under the sun. ” So, what can we draw from these verses?
15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting (or lacking) cannot be numbered.
Right away we see the need for the new birth. We were all born fallen, or crooked, and can therefore cannot lead a “good life” without God setting us straight no matter how hard we try. Since we were born crooked, we cannot be made straight. Reformation and rehab can only go so far. Since we were born lacking godliness or any good virtue, we cannot therefore count anything good from our lives—unless we are reborn.
In Solomon’s time the New Birth was not a reality so the poor prophet could only have “vexation of spirit” as he looked across humanity. What a blessing it is to know that now God has a way of dealing with the situation. He doesn’t straighten out the crooked nature—He destroys it altogether and gives us a divine nature called the Holy Ghost that leads us straight to Heaven.
But that blessed outpouring would only strike the Earth about 1,000 years after Solomon’s death. So he tried to find meaningful living in the same futile manner that many do today—by doing whatever makes them happy.
16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.
With all respect to which he is due, Solomon became what we would call an epicurean—someone who tries to find meaning in life by indulging in whatever he or she wants. The sad reality is, he never found it and neither will you.
Imagine you’re King Solomon for a year. In one year, the Bible tells us, Solomon received 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14) besides what the craftsmen and traders brought in. Most biblical scholars place a talent as weighing between 75-100 pounds by our modern weight. To be conservative, let’s go with 75 pounds. If you are King Solomon, each year you would receive 49,950 pounds of gold besides what the businessmen paid in tribute. At the time I am writing this article, the price of gold is $1,877.64 (US) per troy ounce. Assuming the rate remained constant, if you were King Solomon, your revenue from gold investment would be almost 94 million USD per year. With an estimated net worth of $2 trillion, Solomon was in a great position to be happy—or so we would think. By contrast Bill Gates in 2021 would be a pauper with a net worth of 126.8 billion USD at the time of this writing.
There’s a popular myth that makes people think that getting whatever you want makes you feel good. No, that only makes you more dissatisfied.
Now, remember, God let this man follow this road to nowhere so that you would not do the same. Christ’s whole intention is to stamp out all humanistic thinking from our lives by the power of His Word so that we might find true, lasting satisfaction in Him.
To live a good life, you must get used to not giving yourself what you want when you want. Frankly, Jesus commands us to live a life of self-denial if we want to be His disciples (Luke 9:23).
Solomon showed us that meaning doesn’t come from gaining or enjoying this world’s goods. He taught us that it is all a meaningless illusion that only one thing can fix—a deep abiding relationship with Christ in which He opens more of Himself to you each and every day.
We talked about a lot of things in this first chapter, so let’s recap. And I encourage you to go through this again and read the scriptures that I’ve referenced while considering how you can apply them to your own life.
Mental recap #2
- We are only here for a moment but our influence can impact others for their lifetime and hopefully beyond.
- Because the heart of humanity doesn’t change neither will our core problems
- We are blessed to live when the Kingdom of Christ is about to come into existence. He will bring something new to this fallen world.
- The New Birth is the only way of straightening out a crooked creation. Reformation will only go so far.
- Solomon was in a position to have whatever he wanted, yet he still was plagued by dissatisfaction.
- Getting what we want doesn’t lead to a good life. Deepening our relationship with Christ will lead to a good life.
Next week we want to look at Ecclesiastes chapter 2 while focusing on the following questions: What does the Bible teach about the work-life balance? Should we, the Bride, consider the fact that we may have to face death? Should my job define my life or my level of happiness?
God bless you.