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With Age Comes Wisdom? Not Necessarily: Day 2

What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils at under the sun? Ecclesiastes 1:9

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for man than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15

There are some important code words/phrases that Solomon uses over and over in his last book. “Under the sun” is one of them. It refers to all we can see, touch, and experience in the world around us. There is a modern school of philosophy called existentialism that maintains under the sun is all there is; but Solomon doesn’t believe that. What he does warn us about is living like that is all there is, becoming practical idolators, with the throne-room of our heart occupied by people and outcomes and God relegated to a supporting role.

There is a weary tone in Solomon’s writing that suits a man who has seen and done it all. As a matter of fact, he had. He began so well spiritually, but as with many, he couldn’t handle his blessings. Chapter 2 records all his life experiments: intellectual inquiry, sensual pleasure, accumulation of great wealth, construction of impressive monuments and beautiful gardens. He kids himself that he has control of the situation (Ec. 2:9), that wisdom is firmly in the driver’s seat, but he reaches the end of his life with many regrets and few joys.

This book has some ironically humorous moments. At the end of Chapter 2, it begins to dawn on Solomon what the end of things will be. In his own words:  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun… (v.19) These sentiments are familiar to any parent who has given away a child in marriage!

For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest (Ec. 2:21-23). 
I think Solomon looked back over a life of projects, deadlines, insomnia and grand openings, and searched for a few moments of real joy in all of it. And I think he realized that he had missed the boat. (If it is appropriate or helpful, you might share Solomon’s insights with your favorite workaholic.)

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:25).

Nancy Shirah

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