1 ¶ There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease. 3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. 4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. 5 Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. 6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
Solomon goes on to show how useless it is for a man to pursue wealth his whole life and never enjoy the fruits of his labor. Though he have abundant offspring and live to be a ripe old age a miscarried infant is better off than he is because he did not enjoy what God had given him. His birth is pointless and he leaves the earth just as vainly. Better off, Solomon says again, is one that has never been born. All men die so who is more unhappy, the one who has struggled all of his life to get more and never enjoyed it or the one who never experienced that frustration and waste of time.
In America our national ethos revolves around always pursuing more. We are never to be satisfied with what we have. There must always be something else. But, that is not Biblical.
In the context of employment, Paul tells Christians;
1Timothy 6:1 ¶ Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. 2 And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. 3 If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; 4 He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, 5 Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
6 ¶ But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. 8 And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. 9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 11 But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
Though this man who struggles his whole life to create wealth for himself and his children were to live thousands of years his life will have been a misery and he will go to the same place, the grave, as anyone else. The Christian has two priorities when it comes to money. One is to take care of his own family, which is his first mission field, his first church, and his first gift from God.
1Timothy 5:8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
The second is to help others in need.
Ephesians 4:28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
As modern American Christians have surrendered the care of their poor and aged to the civil government the conservative Christians have reduced that calling to witnessing to lost people only and filling the pews. A great opportunity is lost this way to, as some would say, put skin on their profession of faith and make it real. I was not converted, in a temporal sense, by gospel tracts and fine speeches. I, personally, was converted by seeing a real, living faith in simple Christians who practiced what they preached in front of me, not by drive-by evangelism where someone pressed a tract into my hand as I was entering a bar. Handing out tracts is a great thing, don’t get me wrong. It is planting a seed in someone’s mind but if your life is about grasping greedily for the next rung of the social ladder as you quote Bible verses to strangers you will not impress many with the truth of the gospel.
Solomon here says that the evil he sees is common, that men work their whole lives for wealth and their lives are defined by it, and yet they are, in the end, worse off than a stillborn, for that life that God gave to them is wasted on the pursuit of gold.
I personally have known people like this. Their every moment must be in doing something to provide for their purse. A moment’s idleness is no better than a moment’s drunkenness to them. They cannot relax or enjoy anything because they are always looking ahead to the next thing. Every spare moment must be filled. Their capacity for reflection on their blessings or gratitude is limited. They are always about something and nothing. No night can be free. No weekend can be relaxing. No situation arises that is not an opportunity for fretting about what might happen if they don’t act. They are always busy and are the center of their own universe. They keep it all together and if they stop working, thinking, planning, worrying, or experiencing that gnawing fear and hunger for a second then it will all fall apart. This is no life that God has planned for us. It is not a life of faith and dependence upon God. It is a nightmare of our own making.
Prophecy enthusiasts make much of verse 6 being a reference to the last two thousand years, the time between Christ and the present, but literally, it is a part of Solomon’s argument about a man’s life although you may find some significance to prophecy, which you cannot prove until history is finished.
7 ¶ All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. 8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
In the first three chapters of Genesis there are over a dozen references to food and eating. Here, Solomon says that a man works hard to fill his belly and that appetite is never sated. We, in an age of plenty, and very little starvation, at least in industrialized countries, have little knowledge of how desperate life has been for humanity throughout the ages when it came to food. Starving was always just around the corner for most of our ancestors and each harvest was a miracle and a blessing you did not take for granted. In America the average person throws away more food than people in less advantaged places eat. We are typically not very grateful.
The word, lust, is used first and foremost in the Bible in places like Numbers, chapter 11, and Deuteronomy, chapter 12, to describe man’s passion for eating.
Solomon said elsewhere;
Proverbs 16:26 ¶ He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.
When you have enough food to live on, more food will do you little good. The poor health of Americans in general with regards to obesity shows us what an abundance of food can do to you. Better it is to be content with what you have than discontent with your mind’s wanderings about what you want. What we will have has been ordained by God who sees the future and controls the present. We are in no way able to argue with Him over what He has given us. The Book of Job discusses God’s sovereignty in great detail.
11 ¶ Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? 12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
No man on earth is promised one more day of life or even one more moment of it. We live in a constant dependence upon God’s mercy and providence. No man who plans for his future on earth, whether through education or savings or meeting people who can do him good has a certainty that his efforts will produce the effects he desires, regardless of any positive can-do attitude he possesses. The world of men is full of people who got an education, saved their money, and deliberately rubbed elbows with the crowd they thought would help them. Many of these people are jobless or underemployed with a high academic degree, have lost all of their money in market downturns, by fraud, or by poor choices, or have been held in contempt by their “betters” whose favor they sought.
Until we, as Christians, divorce our thinking from the world’s, we will never understand what God has said to us in His Bible, nor will we have peace, true prosperity, or joy. We must realize that we are called to do right and obey God and all consequences of our actions are in God’s hands. Our lives are fragile and apart from God are meaningless and insignificant. We have neither absolute control or knowledge of what will come after us on earth once we have departed this mortal frame.
One point of the Book of Job was that bad things happen to people and they may never know why in this life. We are just to trust God in knowing He has everything under control. One point in the Book of Ecclesiastes is that as all of our efforts will never make us content or guarantee success we must do right and obey God, and trust Him alone for life’s necessities, seeking no more than we need and trusting Him each day.
Philippians 4:19 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
While ambition, hard work, education, savings, insurance policies, eating right, exercise, medical care, etc. etc. are all good and prudent and wise things Christians must never expect that any, or all, of those things guarantee them anything that God has not ordained for their lives. We must never engage in that idolatry that mistakes the hammer with which we build our house to be our Saviour or the money which we put to use for our benefit to be our benefactor. It is one day at a time, all by God’s providence, all from His hand.
Matthew 6:11 Give us this day our daily bread.