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1 I said in mine lev [heart], Come now, I will test thee with simchah [mirth], therefore enjoy tov [pleasure]; and, hinei [behold], this also is hevel [vanity].
2 I said of laughter, It is mad; and of simchah [mirth] , What doeth it accomplish?
3 I searched in mine lev [heart] to draw my basar on with yayin [to give myself unto wine], my mind guiding me with chochmah [wisdom] ; and to lay hold on sichlut (folly), till I might see what was tov for bnei haAdam [the sons of men], which they should do under Shomayim [the heaven] all the few days of their life.
Is pleasure the answer? He said: "I will try everything - every excess of sensation, indulgence, and excitement."
What did he find? It was madness and folly. It mocked him with empty disillusionment. There was no real happiness, no satisfaction. *
9 So I was great, and increased [excelled] more than all that were before me in Jerusalem [Yerushalayim]: also my wisdom [chochmah] remained with me.
All was done in a purposeful, calculated effort to find the true meaning and value of life. But all was vanity.
12 And I turned myself to behold [consider] wisdom [chochmah], and madness [holelot], and folly [sichlut]: for what can the man [adam] do that cometh after the king [HaMelech]? Even that which hath been already done.
13 Then I saw that wisdom [chochmah] excelleth folly [sichlut], as far as light [ohr] excelleth darkness [choshech].
If wisdom is sorrow, is it better to be just stupid and contented like the cattle of the field, without the capacity to wonder about life's meaning?
No. That, too, is not the answer. He could clearly see, throughout it all *
16 For there is no remembrance [zichron] of the wise [chacham] more than of the fool [no less the kesil remains] for ever [l'olam]; seeing that which now is in the days to come [that in hayamim haba'im (the days to come)] shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man [chacham]? as the fool [just like the kesil?].
All end up the same, the wise and the fool both come to the same final end in the grave. *
17 Therefore I hated life [HaChayyim]; because the work [ma'aseh] that is wrought under the sun [shemesh] is grievous unto me: for all is vanity [hevel] and vexation of spirit [chasing after ruach].
What good is there in anything? *
22 For what hath man [adam] of [for] all his labour [amal], and of the vexation [striving] of his heart [lev], wherein he hath laboured under the sun [shemesh]?
Answers to Correspondents
Suffering as well as Death.-(H. M.). -It is true that death is the penalty of sin, but it is not the only penalty. Suffering is part of the penalty. You may see this when you consider:
1. That the world is not only a dying world, but a suffering world;
2. That the Edenic sentence not only imposed death, but a curse on the ground: "sorrow" to Adam, while he "ate of it all the days of his life;"
3. That the curse of the law on Israel was not only death but the dreadful calamities detailed so numerously in Deut. xxviii.
Lastly, in the final redemption, the proclamation is not only "no more death," but "no more curse, no more pain."
Consequently, the inconsistency which strikes you in there being "many or few stripes" of suffering before death is inflicted at the judgment seat, is an inconsistency that does not belong to the subject, but to a momentary misapprehension on the part of the reader.
The Christadelphian, Oct 1896
23 For all his days [yamim] are sorrows [machovim], and his travail [ ka'as] grief; yea, his heart [lev] taketh not rest in the night [balailah]. This is also vanity [hevel].
Verses 17-23 are the expression of a complete revulsion against life itself. Nothing is worthwhile at all. It is better never to have been born.
Every aspect of natural human life from the highest and most noble and most worthy right down to the lowest and most abused is alike vanity and mockery when analysed through to its final end.
Have we not seen how the highest accomplishments and labour of one generation are abused and abased by the next?
Think of the wonderful inventions of the past one hundred years. Have they made man better? Is he using them for worldwide good, or for evil, selfish ends?
Every development of the past one hundred years -- which could have made the whole earth a practical paradise -- is rather being prostituted to the superhuman effort to build up colossal means of domination and mass destruction...
How much more true and forceful are the Preacher's words in the present generation than they have ever been before!
He has reached the climax of his analysis of all that is human and natural. *
26 For elohim giveth to a man [the adam] that is good in his sight wisdom [chochmah], and knowledge [da'as], and joy [simchah]: but to the sinner [choteh] he giveth travail, to gather and to heap [storing] up, that he may give to him that is good before [that pleases] elohim. This also is vanity [hevel] and vexation of spirit [chasing after ruach].
A new theme. He brings God into the picture, and from here on we start to see meaning in the picture. We stand farther back for a broader view, and what has seemed to be but an endless, hopeless, meaningless repetition of futility, begins to manifest form, and order, and purpose, and development.
"There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.
"This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God."
We must try to get the basic meaning of this, for he repeats this theme many times throughout the book. It is the underlying message -- to rejoice in what God has provided, and to rejoice in one's labour for God.
Paul, from his dark prison cell, emphasizes this deep, basic theme of godly living throughout his message of comfort to the brethren at Philippi (4:4):
"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoicel"
The expression "to eat and drink" is sometimes used of thoughtless indulgence in the present, as:
"Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
But it has a better and deeper meaning, which we believe is the meaning here. That meaning is a contentment and rejoicing in God for the basic simplicities of life, contrasted to pride and seeking great things.
This is illustrated very clearly in God's words through Jeremiah to Jehoiakim, the wicked son of the good king Josiah (22:15):
"Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? Did not thy father EAT AND DRINK, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him... but THINE eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness."
The words of Nehemiah, too, help us to perceive the meaning of "eating and drinking" as related to contentment and rejoicing in God's goodness. He says (Neh. 8:9-10):
"Mourn not, nor weep. . . eat the fat, and drink the sweet ... for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry, for the JOY OF THE LORD is your strength."
This is the meaning of the first half of Ecclesiastes' simple, two-fold creed of life -- contentment and rejoicing in God, because rejoicing is a mighty power for good -- a mighty power for the purifying and softening and sweetening of the character.
As soon as we allow the pressures and problems of the present to dislodge us from this haven of strength, we begin to flounder and sink.
"THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH."
An essential part of this same picture, and built upon this literal aspect of rejoicing in the basic provisions of God's goodness, is the figure of the eating and drinking of the marvelous feast of God's revealed Word and thus growing in spiritual grace and knowledge, which Job says he considered more important than his necessary food.
The second half of this creed of life is equally important:
"That he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour."
Labour is not in itself the curse. The curse was the sorrow and hardship and handicap under which man was condemned to labour because of sin. Labour itself is good. Labour is the purpose of life. Jesus said:
"My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (Jn. 5:17). Paul exhorted the brethren to (Phil. 2:12). "Work out your salvation." To be: "Always abounding in the work of the Lord."
"Workmen that need not to be ashamed." "Workers together with God."
But the Preacher's principal point is rejoicing in labour, enjoying it, thankful of the opportunity and ability of doing it.
It is only the cheerful giver that God loves (2 Cor. 9:7). Anything done or given grudgingly or self-pityingly lacks the pure oil of rejoicing that was required to make a sacrifice acceptable to God.
The manna in the wilderness -- the spiritual food -- had the taste of fresh oil (Num. 11:8), because God's mercies are "new every morning" (Lam. 3:23). A joyful recognition of God's goodness must be the spirit with which we greet each new day.
The Preacher does not define the labour, because he is just giving the general principle here, but it includes every activity of the well-ordered life, for everything that is done should be done with rejoicing as unto the Lord (Eph. 6:5-8; Col. 3:23).
"For God giveth to a man that is good in His sight wisdom and knowledge and joy" (v. 26).
All good is of God. The introduction of God changes the picture from futility to rejoicing. Man can accumulate wisdom and knowledge in the natural sense of which the Preacher has spoken earlier, but only God can give it life and meaning with the great gift of joy.
This Is The Whole Man - Brother Growcott