In chapter 2, Solomon launches into what he had learned about his works of building material things like houses and gardens and seeking even greater wealth. His conclusion? All of these material achievements were nothing but vanity, a grasping after wind.
He finds no real, sustained profit in them, nothing that truly added to his quality of life, no lasting fulfillment. He does not mean they resulted in no sense of achievement or passing pleasure, but that their fruit never truly fulfilled God's purpose for man. Therefore, those things are poor substitutes for a sustained sense of well-being. He then proceeds into an exploration of wine and entertainment. These are simply another form of materialism, ways of pleasing the flesh. He concludes that they, too, are folly, a mad pursuit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment
In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus informs us what our primary focus regarding work should be:
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
Undoubtedly, earning a living is important to life. However, we can easily drift into over-emphasizing the day-to-day, wage-earning job above Christian responsibilities. At the same time, the Kingdom of God can easily suffer from the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome. To guard against this happening, we must consciously put God's Word and work as our highest priorities. This is not to say that Christian works should be given the greater time but that we must have a higher regard for them. We must consider it an absolute necessity not to neglect them.
Work is defined as “the physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of a project one has either been assigned or undertaken on his own volition.” God, in whose image we are being created, is our overall Model. The first image God gives mankind of Himself is of Him working.
Genesis 1:26 establishes the early time-setting when work was shown as an assigned responsibility of mankind:
Then God said, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Most of the Bible's first two chapters are comprised of showing God working. In our culture, people generally think that as one rises in importance, he is relieved of most work, a flawed concept to say the least. In His culture, nobody is higher than God, and in John 5:17, Jesus states that God works continually. Genesis 1 and 2 provide as clear an example of His activity as is found in Scripture.
Hebrews 1:3 further clarifies the Creator's continuous work:
. . . who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the majesty.
His “upholding” indicates continuous, purposeful, and energetic movement toward carrying out a purpose.
Genesis 2:15 adds to our understanding of God as our Model of work and of work being an assigned responsibility: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.” If we follow the orderly, step-by-step sequence of events as God creates, He did not create Adam and Eve until everything physically necessary for living was in place and operational. The narrative shows that He led them to the Garden, and His first command to mankind, represented by them, lets them know that they had to work to guard the Garden from deteriorating and to make it productive.
Note three significant things from this opening revelation about work:
1) God gives no indication to man that he is entitled to something for nothing.
2) The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin, so we must understand that work is not a penalty for sin. Genesis 3:17-19, God's pronouncement of Adam's curse, makes this point plain:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat of it': Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
The curses for their sin definitely made work more difficult, but the responsibility to work continued otherwise unchanged.
3) Therefore, Ecclesiastes 2:24 highlights God's original command regarding work: “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God.” Thus, work is a blessing, a valuable gift from God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Two): Works
Here, the book of Ecclesiastes takes an encouraging turn. Solomon begins to lose his sense of hopelessness, and we see the first positive reference to God in the book. In chapter 1, God appeared but not in a very good sense. The positive turn continues throughout the book.
Solomon does not completely stop writing despairing things. However, they are despairing thoughts on individual, specific areas of life, not his overall conclusion. In this verse, there is a positive conclusion.
Before this, he says that all of his labor was nothing but frustration, but now he sings a different tune. So far, he has painted a dismal picture of life, but now a change begins as he has presented the worse part of his treatise.
God intends that we receive enjoyment, fulfillment, good education—positive things—from the work that we do. Solomon rightly concludes that this is from the hand of God. Certainly, God intends that we receive good things, but remember, Solomon makes his judgments based upon things that are "under the sun," that is, apart from God.
He is beginning to argue that life begins to flesh out, have meaning, fulfillment, the right kind of pleasure, and balance when a person is connected to God. In other words, what Solomon did earlier—all of the works he entered into, his seeking after pleasure, his observations of the natural cycles of the earth, his search for wisdom—are described from the perspective of a person disconnected from God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 2)
While concluding the thoughts of chapter 2, these verses also provide a smooth bridge to the instruction in chapter 3. They are the first positive, solid instructions that Solomon has given about both God and life. They pave the way for accepting truly thrilling instruction about God in relation to time and a Christian's life of faith.
Solomon, to this point, describes life as a waste of time and energy, seemingly meaningless, monotonous, repetitious, and unendurable. This occurs even though one's life may be busy, just as Solomon's was. To those who have little or no relationship with God, and therefore have no clear knowledge of His purpose, what Solomon has written to this point is a realistic assessment. Recently, while in a supermarket, I saw a young woman wearing a shirt that proclaimed, “Life is divided between miserable and horrible.” To many, it seems as though life has no object except to bring difficulty and pain.
Ecclesiastes, however, provides a message directly from our Creator about what our attitude must be if we are going to make the best use of the awesome opportunity He has given us—and especially of the instruction in chapter 3.
In the first two chapters, Solomon's approach to life is completely “under the sun.” “Under the sun” implies that his teaching has not positively considered God; it is an entirely earthy view, thoroughly self-centered and carnal. God is mentioned only in Ecclesiastes 1:13, where Solomon calls life “a burdensome task God has given the sons of man.” His assessment closely parallels the words on the woman's T-shirt in the supermarket.
In the final verses of Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon takes a sudden, sharp turn to an “above the sun” approach, advising that we should enjoy good in our labor because it is from God. His statement, “This also, I saw, was from the hand of God,” is important. Our attitude toward labor, he counsels, should be that it is a gracious gift from our Creator. Laboring is a God-designed and -assigned responsibility of man.
Apart from angels, we are the only created beings who can labor like this. We can work using creativity, objectivity, and purpose, but no animal can. We need to give thanks for such ability because it places mankind in a category that no animal can ever enter. We are still less than God but so far above animals that there is no adequate comparison.
Is there a reason such a disparity exists? He adds two verses later that God gives gifts like wisdom and knowledge to those who are good in His sight, another positive reason for a person to approach life in a different attitude. Can an animal by reason appreciate life? Does a beast have the knowledge and wisdom to add value to its life?
Our attitudes and demeanors, however, are often highly variable. Overall, without directly using the terms, Solomon is saying our attitude should be thankful and contented. Why? Foremost, for the very fact that we even have life. Directly tied to this is that we have been given a mind that can think about God, that can look forward to the future on a basis of truth within His purpose, that can realize that we are the called of God, that can think spatially, and that can read and understand. We should be thankful that we can be given even more gifts because of these factors.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Three): Time
Solomon, knowing the human condition was a result of God's purpose, reveals that men can receive something good from his toilsome lot. Verse 26 lists three virtues we can derive from our labors: "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God."
A person who combines his work with a relationship with God will receive growth in character! On the other hand, a sinner, cut off from God, must endure the drudgery of the struggle, and the rewards of his work would eventually benefit the righteous, not himself!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Three)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ecclesiastes 2:24: