God’s Gifts (Eccl 5: 10-19)

Publié le 4 octobre 2020 dans Non classé

Eccl 5: 10-19 

10  He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; 

 nor he who loves abundance with increase. 

 This also is vanity. 

11  When there is an increase of good things, 

 then there is an increase of those who devour them. 

And what profit have the owners 

 except to see them with their eyes? 

12  Sweet is the sleep of a laboring man, 

 whether he eats a little or much; 

but the abundance of the rich 

 will not let him sleep. 

13 There is a grave misery that I have seen under the sun: 

when riches were kept by an owner to his hurt, 

14  and those riches were lost in a misfortunate business deal; 

and although he has a son, 

 there is nothing at all to put in his hand. 

15  As he came from his mother’s womb, 

 naked shall he return, to go as he came; 

he shall take nothing from his labor 

 which he may carry away in his hands. 

16 This also is a grievous evil: 

Just as he came, 

 so shall he go. 

 And what profit is there to him who toils for the wind? 

17  Moreover, in all his days he eats in darkness, 

 while he is greatly irritated in sickness and anger. 

18 This is what I have seen to be good: It is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life, which God has given to him; for this is his reward. 19 And also everyone to whom God has given wealth and possessions, and given him power to enjoy them, and to receive his reward and to rejoice in his labor—this is the gift of God. 

Introduction 

We all run after happiness. All of our choices are determined by the relentless pursuit of happiness. And we seek to multiply and constantly renew what gives us some joy and satisfaction, often by means of money and goods, to satisfy our quest in our lives affected by frustration, sorrow, suffering and bitterness. And as we seek happiness in these things, we are always disappointed. Yet, we keep running after them. 

There’s a constant tension, which emerges in our text, between the vanity of wealth and the fleeting joy it gives us.

Everyone knows that money does not buy happiness; however, the lack of money does not buy it either. Coluche, a French comic actor, renowned for his often acid-tipped humor, once said: « Money does not buy happiness, but it helps with shopping. » 

Money is a good servant but a bad master (according to God). 

1) Wealth does not keep its promises of happiness. Those who spend their lives chasing money never find the happiness they expect. v.10 “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” and 6.7 “All the labor of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.” A reporter once asked John D. Rockefeller, at one point the world’s richest man, « How much money is enough? » Rockfeller replied, » Just a little bit more. » 

2) Wealth attracts parasites v.11, a crowd of interested friends who will let you down when you have nothing left. 

3) Wealth causes insomnia and fear v.12. The fable, “The cobbler and the financier” published by French poet Jean de La Fontaine in 1678, illustrates how a cobbler’s rest is troubled after having accepted a gift of money from a banker. The cobbler eventually brings the money back and asks for the return of his sleep. 

4) Wealth is ultimately lost either in bad business v.14 or in death v.15. there is no trailer behind the hearses. We take nothing. 

5) Wealth is hard-won v.17 

v. 18-19 the Teacher states that it is fitting for a man to find enjoyment in these little pleasures. It is a truth that he has already underlined in Ecclesiastes 2.24, 3.12-13, and 22. Let us recognize that there is a paradox here: money is a trap but it is also a gift from God. 

God wants us to look at what we have, whether a little or a lot, from the right perspective: our wealth is not the source of our joy, but this gives us a reason to rejoice because everything comes from God. 

God gives these things for our enjoyment 

Let’s think for a moment about it. For what purpose did God create food? It’s not only to provide for our needs, but also for our enjoyment. God made good things for our enjoyment. We don’t just eat to top up with vitamins, minerals, proteins and other carbohydrates. Otherwise, God would have created SlimFast, a drink with all the daily nutrient requirements, deliciously simple to prepare, but definitely tasteless to drink. And every day, we would go to the pump to drink our fuel with a straw. But instead God provided a wide variety of foods that excite our taste buds; when we cook them, the smell already rejoices us. Then we sit at the table with our families and friends, and we enjoy ourselves. I forgot to say that we open a bottle of wine and our hearts are filled with joy. Look at chapter 9 v.7, “Go and eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a pleasant heart; for God is already pleased with your deeds.” God himself takes delight in doing us good. And not only at the table 3 times a day, but also with clothes, body care, and perfume, chapter 9 v.8, “At all times may your clothing be white, and let not oil ever lack on your head.” God does not only want to meet our need for clothing, but for our well-being as well. He is not only looking for the useful and the necessary, but also for the beautiful and the pleasant for our pleasure.

What to say about chapter 9 v.9? Marriage and sexual relations are not only given for the survival of the human species, but also for our pleasure. The organs that induce pleasure are given by God for our enjoyment. 

He still mentions the activity (cf 3.22, “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his labor, for that is his reward…” and 9.10, “Whatever your hands find to do, do with your strength…” 

God is not a kill-joy, but quite the contrary, he is the blessed and joyful God, « in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Ps 16.11). In France, because of the Catholic influence, and of how Jesus is represented on the cross, his face disfigured by suffering, we have a conception of a sad, vanquished God. But Christ is risen, he is victorious, glorified, and joyful. 

So let’s enjoy the good things, the good times that God gives us by giving him thanks and by recognizing that it is his hand that pours out all these favors on us. It is he who also allows us to enjoy it. 

By being joyful before God, we say how much we find our satisfaction in him. 

But in our personal experience, we are torn between the observation of vanity and the invitation to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. The Teacher seeks to avoid the two extremes into which we can easily fall. 

(1) The first extreme would be to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the pleasures of life like eating, drinking, and working. Because all is vanity. We find this idea in asceticism, in people who go without food or drink, which should make them more spiritual. On the contrary, the Bible encourages us to take advantage of what God gives us while thanking him. 

(2) But another extreme awaits us: the strong desire to find our absolute happiness in these little pleasures. The Teacher says, Nothing on this earth can make us truly happy,. Deep down, we know it. If we seek happiness in what we have, our illusion flies away very quickly. As soon as we have what we want, we want something else. 

God gives these things to think 

But it is obvious that life is not a long quiet river. We can experience bad business, sickness, suffering, mourning and a lot of grief. Chapter 7/13-14 Man cannot change what God gives v.13, “Consider the work of God: Who is able to make straight / what He has made crooked?” (It is not a choice of happiness or misfortune, we take what God gives us). God made one like the other, God gives us happy days to be happy and unhappy days to reflect and learn v.14, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of distress consider: God has made the one as well as the other. For this reason man will not be able to understand anything that comes after him.” 

Before discussing what we should think about, let me point out that God is always good, and that he constantly does good to his children. He does not do good to them occasionally, but perpetually, and he will never stop doing good to them. When things go wrong, it does not mean that the Lord no longer does good to us, but rather that he changes the situation so that

he can do more if we continue to love and follow him. This is what the book of Job showcases. 

But our good Lord gives us difficult days as well. Wisdom accepts what God gives, which is Job’s attitude. After having lost everything (children, servants, flocks, house, etc.) for no visible reason, after having lost his health (the only thing left), after his wife has told him, « Curse God and die! » (Job 2/9), and after she has left him, Job replies “Will we indeed accept the good from God but not accept the adversity?” (Job 2/10). 

When things don’t turn out the way I want them to. God knows what is good for me better than I do. The Christian hymn, “Behold our God” (from Isaiah 40) reads: “Who has given counsel to the Lord? Who can question any of his words? Who can teach, the one who knows all things? Who can fathom all his wondrous deeds?” 

No-one can. We can’t understand everything God does. Eccl 3/11 reads, « so that no one comes to know the work that God has done from the beginning to the end » 

When things are not going well or when God does not allow us to enjoy life, then there’s something that happens inside: key issues emerge, and we start to think. 

1) Why so much suffering? The Teacher unveils some elements of answer in chapter 7/20-22. There’s something wrong deep down inside that prompts us to do what’s wrong, v.29 “but they have sought out many schemes,” and the detours lead to many conflicts, abuses, deceptions, and lies generating in turn so much suffering and bitterness. 

2) The uncertainty of the future 6.12b. We definitely don’t control anything, we are entirely dependent on God: “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4/15). We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we can get to know He who holds tomorrow in his hands. 

3) The certainty of death, 9/2-3, and our ignorance of its time 9/12 “For man does not know his time” to get ready for it. 

God gives these things for the future 

We all yearn for something more. THE one thing that would make us really happy, for real, for good. We know it has to exist, because we all yearn to it. But all these fleeting things are not what we’re looking for. As Narnia’s author, C.S Lewis, once said: “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”  

There’s something within us that longs for a celebration that will never cease, a place where we really feel at home, a relationship that will never be disappointing. In chapter 3 v.11, the Teacher points to that, “He has made everything beautiful in its appropriate time”. If we yearn for more, it’s because we were created for more. Deep down, we know that there’s more than « eating, drinking and working, » and that life on earth, under the sun, can’t really give us what we need.

In Jewish celebrations, the joy, meant to animate the Israelites’ hearts, is often mentioned. The people had to rejoice… there, in the sanctuary, symbol of God’s presence: Deuteronomy 12/7, 12, 18 and 14/26. Joy was closely associated with being before God. The little joys we can experience on earth echo the eternal joy of being in his presence. 

During the Passover, each Jewish family was to eat a fire-roasted lamb after having killed it and applied its blood to the doorposts of their houses. Today, we still eat lamb at Easter. It’s a delight that reminds us of a greater and more perfect lamb, that is Jesus the Lamb of God offered for our sins. The meal and the joy it gives us echoes an even greater gift, with Christ crucified for us, who offers us forgiveness and eternal life. 

The abundance, the food, and the wine echo the happiness that we’ll forever know if we are reconciled to God through Jesus. 

When the Prodigal Son returns home repentant, his father wants to celebrate: “Bring here the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and be merry. For this son of mine was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ So they began to be merry.” (Luke 15.23-24). Our family meals are a faint echo of the joy of eternal reunion: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. It was granted her to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white.” Fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” (Rev 19/7-9). 

Conclusion 

God calls us to rejoice in him, and to benefit from all that he gives us, in his grace. 

This is what theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) said so well: “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”  

All that gives us happy here is only a glimpse of our true joy. If we go upstream, we find the source of true joy: God and what he wants to give us above all: “The marvelous gift, Lord, that Your hands sow, It’s Your forgiveness, it’s Your peace. The greatest treasure, Lord, that You bestow Is the completeness of Your grace.” (You who made) 

Two applications 

If you are going through a difficult time right now, it is a gift from God to mull over it and learn from it. God loves you; he showed it by giving his son for you on the cross. He wants to give you more, everlasting goods and greater conformity to Christ. 

When you experience days of joy, rejoice with others and give thanks to God who gives them to you, but remember the joys are fleeting, and are also the echo of a greater and more perfect joy, that of being with God.