Regarding Scripture: Ecclesiastes 2.3, 2.8; 3.10, 3.18, 3.19; 8.11; 9.12
You may recall from the [the previous Ecclesiastes article] that the question was posed, “is life really a vexation of spirit summarized in the phrase vanity of vanities?” Recall, also, that in this particular issue it was stated that Solomon seemed “to be reflecting on and reviewing his life”.
Remembering the past issue, the most interesting thing happened while studying Ecclesiastes this month. I began with the thought that I have been taught all my life that Ecclesiastes is pessimistic. But as I studied, I became convinced that the pessimism found in Ecclesiastes is only toward “the sons of men”1 not “the righteous, and the wise”2 because it is the latter group that has hope.3 Which means all of Ecclesiastes is not pessimistic.
The opening chapter of Ecclesiastes has an important connection to the idea of hope. In Ecclesiastes 1.12-13, the preacher says, “I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith [emp mine].” In the Old Testament, the phrase sons of man is found twice5 and the singular noun counterpart son of man is found 108 times.6
It seems that these two phrases refer to the temporal state of the human flesh, because Numbers 23.19 contrasts God’s eternal being against the “son of man.” So when we are reading Ecclesiastes 1.13, God has given the Preacher the blessings of wisdom4 and it is with this bountiful blessing that the Preacher seeks to answer the curse (the sore travail) which was placed on all humans in Genesis 3.19.
The writings of Ecclesiastes are an intense search for meaning of life – contrasting the sons of men and what I will call the sons of God.
What is common to both groups is the travail of life, mentioned earlier. But there is something much different that awaits both.
I remember being taught that the conclusion of Ecclesiastes is 12.13-14. However, the conclusion does not begin there, it begins with Ecclesiastes 9.1.
It is with this verse that the Preacher begins drawing the major contrast between the groups.
Chapter 9 is where the Preacher clearly states that life is vain, for both groups. However it is the sons of God that find enjoyment in life.
The sons of God are joined to the living and have hope.3 The hope is that, although the sons of God are a dog while on the earth, as compared to the sons of men who are considered a lion, it is the dog that has hope.
So what does the preacher find in his search of the travail of the mortal human? The answer: Ecclesiastes 9.7-10. Enjoy life, but realize that life is not going to fulfill. Therefore this particular problem of vanity of life is solved by fearing God and keeping His commandments. In doing so, everyone can expect the vanity of life to be worth the travail.
1 Ecclesiastes 3.10
2 Ecclesiastes 9.1
3 Ecclesiastes 9.4
4 II Chronicles 1.12
5 Proverbs 8.4; Ecclesiastes 1.13
6 Count of 108, from e-Sword phrase search “son of man”
7 Ecclesiastes 2.3, 2.8; 3.10, 3.18, 3.19; 8.11; 9.12