After we get to know people, there are often certain things which come to mind as we think about them. It might be the man’s job – Joe is a carpenter, John is a doctor, and we think of them in their vocations. Or it could be that person’s hobby – she has a green thumb, she is crafty, he loves baseball. You might know some people by their general philosophy toward life – He is happy, she is grumpy.
If I had to pick some subject as the theme of for Solomon, it wouldn’t be that he was a king. Even though he was king of Israel, I picture him principally in other ways. Sometimes I remind myself that God gave him wisdom beyond the reach of most men. I don’t picture him as a soldier or warrior the way that some kings have been – like David. He might have been an innovator, but I don’t automatically think of him as an inventor or architect. Solomon doesn’t come across to me as a great servant of God, even though he was and still is one of God’s children. And if I had to describe his philosophy, I’d have to say that he looked hard for the enjoyment of life. Sometimes that involved God, but it often reached into other areas – and sometime they were sinful areas – for which he suffered the consequences.
Solomon sought for the enjoyment of life – and he often spoke about it. And even though there is still much of the Book of Ecclesiastes to come, we can look at the larger half of chapter 5 as one of his first conclusions. After his study of worship in the first seven verses, he makes some diverse observations. The first few verses which we read this evening don’t sound much like enjoyment, but he pulls things together before the chapter ends.
Obviously, in many of life’s realities there is no joy.
There is such a thing as the oppression of the poor and the weak. And there is perversion of judgment and justice in society. Christians can get caught up in a ideological tug-of-war when it comes to social issues. There are various kinds of discrimination and injustices in our world. And we may be vocal about some of them. But some have become the cause of humanists, unbelievers and liberals masquerading as Christians. Quite often genuine Christians hold their tongues from speaking out on these problems because they don’t want to be identified with the liberals. Solomon wasn’t worried about any problems like that.
In a round about way, he says that the profits of the earth should belong to everyone. Kings, presidents, company presidents all eat the same basic food – from the field and from the Lord. So why does the rich or powerful man think he deserves to live or eat better than the man who serves him? And if two men are doing the same job, they should reap the same reward no matter who their parents are or from where their parents came. A love of silver should never be used as an excuse to bend or break the rules of Biblical morality. But the man with more than the average bank balance often wants an even bigger balance – at the expense of his neighbor. “The abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep” because he fears that it might be stolen, or perhaps his guilty heart gives him no rest.
“There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.” Doesn’t it appear that Solomon is familiar with what may be the first book of the Bible – Job? In chapter 1 while suffering great loss, Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Solomon, pointing to a man and his self-centered child – someone thinking himself to be entitled to great things – Ecclesiasticus reminds us, “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.” And even a good man may work hard all his life, striving to provide his son with good things upon his death, but it is as though he labored for nothing but the wind. “All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.”
I wonder if any of our direct ancestors – did any of our great-grandfathers or any generation before that actually start or declare a great war? Both my mother and father fought in World War two, and my father’s father fought in both world wars. There has been Oldfield blood shed in war – battles which no one in my family started. Perhaps your forefathers lost blood or property during the War between the States, or even earlier European wars. Like millions of others my grandparents suffered through the depression, living on very little. It was through no fault of their own. How many of our ancestors were struck down by diseases, by poverty, by accidents. Life can be cruel in a thousand different ways. “And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?”
Did Solomon ever remove his royal attire and put on the drab clothing of a peasant man? Did he sneak out the back door of his fabulous palace and pull a scarf over his face to protect his skin from the sun and sand – and from identification? Did he walk about the streets of Jerusalem and learn first hand about the struggles of his people? How did he know about the oppression of the poor and the violent perversion of powerful mid-level government officials? Whatever the source of his information – official reports, personal observation or divine revelation, Solomon knew there were many in his realm who were not enjoying their lives.
But enjoyment is available, even in the midst of poverty and problems.
And it begins with a realization and faith that there is a King who reigns even over kings. “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.” Solomon doesn’t suggest that it will be easy, or that it will ease our pain to know that the wicked will some day stand before the Great Judge. He doesn’t provide a little pill to put under our tongue when the pain in our heart gets too painful. But it is a fact nevertheless that there is a Judge before whom the earth’s most corrupt judges will stand. It might appear to some that there is no justice in this world, but their eye-sight is myopic – too short.
Furthermore remember – the king, the judge and the head of the crime family must eat from the same field. Their wealth may mean some imported food, but when the Lord wants the gravy train to be derailed, it will come to a screeching halt. And again, “as he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of hi labour, which he may carry away in his hand.” In one instance that might be a curse, but in another it should be a blessing.
Verse 18 provides some blessed instruction to one man but a warning to another. “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.” Where can we find enjoyment of life? In the realization that we possess the gifts of God whether they have been given to us in abundance or less than abundance. And the moment we start comparing what we possess to that which another has is the moment we will lose the joy of the moment.
“Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” About how many people is Solomon talking? Everyone who has ears to hear. “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth.” And is he talking about the size of the man’s retirement fund? No. He says, “Every man … to whom God.. and hath given … power to eat thereof.” Is he talking about the man of luxury and leisure; the man who retired early because he had made his millions? No. “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.”
Did your parents say very much to you about how things were during the last world war? Did you ever get to sit down and talk to your grandparents or great grandparents about the Depression of the 30’s? Of course it isn’t universally true, but many of our grandparents suffered through poverty, disease and loss during the days of the Dust Bowl and the Depression. But despite their final weaknesses and illnesses, as they approached death, they didn’t talk about those days. How many of our elderly ancestors, passed away under the blessings of verse 20 even if they weren’t Christians? “For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.”
You might be thinking that what I am describing is in another universe from you or your ancestors. And that may be true. But here is the point – it doesn’t have to be the same with you. No matter what you have experienced in the past, and no matter what may be on God’s calendar under your name for the future, if you possess the joy of the Lord, at the time when in matters most, you “shall not much remember the days of your life” spent in sin, lack and loss. As we read in Nehemiah, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The joy of the Lord is extremely powerful and can overcome any and all of the problems with which Solomon prefaces this part of the chapter. “He shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.”