Food, wine, work and love: Ecclesiastes and life

This post comes from a discussion in my Wisdom Literature class.

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” — Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12:8

The writer of Ecclesiastes makes clear his outlook on life with these verses he chose to bookend his writing. The book of Ecclesiastes is about man’s futility in light of an Almighty God. Ultimately, very little in life is fulfilling, particularly those things done apart from the Lord. The author’s prescription for contentment lies in aspects of existence connected directly to God: food, wine (2:24, both from Creation), work (2:24, man’s lot in life from the curse in Genesis 3:17 after the Fall) and the relationship with one’s spouse (9:9, human created by God). These are the things the Lord has given us all, and we should enjoy them in our fleeting time on Earth. Food, wine, work and love are universal to the human experience, both in the ancient world and now. Why not take contentment from the Creation God has afforded us? This is honoring to Him.

Many struggle with Ecclesiastes because they sense a brooding negativity from the author and in some way believe he is merely advocating for the pursuit of simple pleasures. But the author himself declares the pursuit of pleasure futile in verse 2:1. The outlook is not about the actual things (food, wine, work and love) in and of themselves, but rather the perspective of gratitude for what God has provided. In light of the futility of enjoying life on our terms and through our own creations, the author prescribes in instead the only appropriate response: fear the Lord (3:14). Only through the proper reverence and worship of God can find any meaning or satisfaction in this plane of existence. Similar to Job, the author has seen that nobody is like God. Nobody can advise Him or even comprehend Him. Doing so is vanity. So, the only appropriate human response is that of worship and rejoicing in His gifts.

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