Verse 24 is perhaps the first positive outlook presented in this book. The author has been so consumed with the declaration of vanity over nearly everything up until this point. As I said in an earlier post, he has wiped the slate clean and when you have read the book from beginning to 2:23, you are left wondering where the purpose in anything is. In fact, the first time I read verse 24, I assumed that this positive thought was about to be destroyed in the next couple of sentences. Here is what it says:
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.
Typically, the author’s “this too” language points to vanity, but in this case, it is from the hand of God. Finally, an observance that is good and not something that is meaningless. And what is striking about this is the plainness in what he declares as good. Three simple things: eat, drink, labor well. Eating and drinking are straight-forward and are required to live, and something we all already enjoy. The laboring is more interesting here.
Working is part of God’s design for man. We see this in Genesis 2:5 and 2:15, where labor is closely tied to the creation of man:
Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
The creation of man and the idea of labor goes all the way back to creation. Man was meant to work, and I believe this design is for our good (which of course is a huge and interesting theological concept that this post will not go into). But for the sake of these verses in Ecclesiastes, labor is to be seen as good, and is to be seen as being from God.
In verse 25, the author supplies some reasoning for his statement in 24 as a rhetorical question:
For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?
The question implies the answer of “nobody can.” An argument could be suggested that there must be at least one atheist in the world who is able to eat and enjoy things. This is common grace. Remove God, and all life and sources of food cease to exist, believer and non-believer alike. And, as we will see in verse 26, the eating and the enjoyment that the atheist is experiencing is ultimately part of God using them for the helping of the ones who are good in God’s sight:
For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to the one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.
There is a lot going on here that is worth looking into, so let’s start with the idea that God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to people who are good in His sight. How do we know who is good in God’s sight? We do know, from the New Testament, that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, believers have been justified through faith. When God looks at believers, he sees that Jesus has made them clean, and this to God is a good sight.
Also on this idea, we see here that wisdom and knowledge are listed along with joy. How can this be, especially when looking back to 1:18 which says that “in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain”? I’m not entirely sure, as the topic of wisdom and knowledge is very interesting in the Bible, but one observation is the difference in the source of each. In 1:17, the author says “And I set my mind to know wisdom…” The source of this seems to be himself, whereas 2:26 states that it is given by God.
Moving on to the next part, the author states that even sinners have a God-given task, which is to labor so they can give to the one who is good in God’s sight. I’m not entirely sure how this works or looks practically, but it is interesting to see purpose in the lives of those who are not God’s people. Yet the meaningfulness of this seems to apply only to God’s people and ultimately does nothing for the sinners, even though they are accomplishing a God-given task, as he states “this too is vanity and striving after wind.”
I did have to contemplate what the “this” is specifically referring to when he says “this too is vanity and striving after wind.” Up until now, this language has been used to dub all of the preceding statements as meaningless. However, my take on this particular section is that the “this” is referring only to the task of the sinner. I am hoping this will be clarified as we read further into the book.