The constant refrain of “meaningless!” gives Ecclesiastes a reputation as a particularly dismal book of the Bible. As I read it today, I hear the Teacher offering a particularly contemporary counsel: Be grateful. Enjoy today. Celebrate every good thing you can see.
Ecclesiastes is typically attributed to Solomon, the wealthiest and wisest of Israel’s rulers in the Old Testament. He’s a man who has seen it all, done it all, owned it all — and then been obliged to record it all in volume after volume of the chronicles of his rule. He can, perhaps, be forgiven for feeling a bit worn and cranky in his old age.
But cranky isn’t enough to drive his paradoxical assessment that everything we try to achieve in this world is “Meaningless and a striving after wind!” while everything we possess or experience in this world is to be enjoyed.
Solomon had tons and tons of gold and silver in his treasury and required, at one point in his rule, many tons of flour each day to feed his household. Still, he counted all he had achieved as Israel’s greatest ruler to date as “meaningless.”
What’s “meaningless” to the author of Ecclesiastes is everything that distracts us from celebrating what God has given us now. It is meaningless to:
- Work so hard at gaining wealth that we fail to enjoy what God has given (Eccl. 6:1-9)
- Be so determined to provide for a particular person that we despair when the fruit of our labor goes to another (Eccl. 2:17-26)
- Strive after pleasure (Eccl. 2:1-11)
- Seek after wisdom, imagining that full understanding is within our compass (Eccl. 1:12-18)
- Seek fame that will outlive you, when humans lack power to guarantee any future
- Work hard to leave an inheritance that you can’t guarantee will survive you (Eccl. 5:14)
- Seek to get what your good work deserves, resenting the success of wicked people (Eccl. 8:14-15)
Even the “good” advice often seems dark:
“However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.” (Eccl. 11:8)
Since rewards in this life are unreliable:
“… I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat, drink, and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in all their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15)
Ecclesiastes won’t turn up soon on Oprah’s book club list, but the guidance is surprisingly in line with our 21st century teachings: Be grateful. Enjoy what you have. Eat and drink good things. Dress to express happiness. Enjoy marital relations. Work hard at whatever work you have. (Eccl. 9:7-10)
In other words: Blessings are. Pay attention. Value them (and the God who gives them).
So this July 4, I will eat hotdogs, celebrate my friends, and enjoy fireworks. Because in this world, I know no greater blessings than friends and sparklers. (Well, there’s chocolate. But that’s another story).
Eat, drink and shoot fireworks! “Then joy will accompany you in all your toil all the days of the life God has given you under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15)
Happy 4th of July.
This post started on its own but actually fits this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt “Blessing.”