A short paper on Ecclesiastes
|Life Is a Gift
Ecclesiastes is King Solomon’s reflection on the human existence. At the time he wrote (is credited for) this book, He has begun seeing his life from this point of view: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun” (New Oxford Annotated Bible, Eccles. 1.9). Solomon has both achieved much and acquired much by this point. This success has prompted him to question what all of his work has been for. He has begun to study both his righteous works as well as his follies in an attempt to find meaning for his life. Solomon’s use of the phrase “nothing new under the sun” puts forth his thought that no one is original in their actions, and that we humans are born into a cycle: birth, toil and pleasure, death. Solomon has begun to wonder if that we humans, due to our vane and narrow point of view of existence, are trapped in this cycle. In his musings, he discovered that life is a gift God has given us to enjoy responsibly.
Many of Solomon’s thoughts reflected on the darker parts of the human existence. Solomon tells us of vanity. In this vanity he includes lust, greed, covetess, as well as arrogance. Solomon begins with showing us his arrogance, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil and this was my reward for all my toil” (Eccles. 2.9-10). The passage illustrates the human “I deserve this” attitude. Solomon says “I toiled” and “my reward” showing us that though he was a wise king, Solomon was not above the trappings of worldly satisfaction. He enjoyed wealth, power, lust, and love because he earned it. He looks at his own acquisitions and how they do not fulfill him. Solomon also comments on how God gives those who only seek material gain for themselves, the less they are able to enjoy their acquisitions, “With many dreams come vanities and a multitude of words; but fear God” (Eccles. 5.7). We currently demonstrate this attitude with our own thoughts and actions. We work for worldly satisfaction daily, whether we are rewarded with school grades, money, sexual gratification, or professional recognition. The more of these rewards we gain, the more likely they will be empty. We do not fear God in these pursuits for they are viewed through our vanity; we do not toil for His recognition. We continue to move around in this circle, fulfilling Solomon’s “nothing new under the sun”.
Solomon gives us the way to break the cycle of vanity. He says, “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom He enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment of their toil—this is the gift from God” (Eccles. 18-19). Life under the sun is short. God enables us to enjoy what we work for, if we seek His recognition. We can enjoy earthly property, experience love, monetary rewards, etc. if we accept the gift of our existence is by His hand. A gift given with only one string attached—to show Him reverence. Once we accept this truth, we will no longer be “nothing new”. We will demonstrate that our actions, our toil, will give us enjoyment on Earth and acceptance into Heaven.
Solomon’s analysis of human existence is a realization that our actions do have meaning in both the Heavenly and Earthly settings. He sums up everything by saying, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone” (Eccles. 12:13). In this realization, Solomon sees that that this short life that we experience, is a gift from God; it is a gift that comes with responsibilities. We are all accountable for our actions and thoughts. God knows the end from the beginning and knows where the road our choices lead us. This does not mean our fate is sealed. We must continue to make wise decisions that reflect God’s faith in us. Solomon realized this and laid down a simple guideline. We have been charged with a duty and must not allow our vanity to obscure this simple duty. Show him reverence and obey His rules in all we do for we do not know the end. Work for His glory not for yours.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Ed. Bruce M. Metzger.
New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print. 841-852