18I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, 19and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. 20So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, 21because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? 23For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
(Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 ESV)
In the book of Ecclesiastes King Solomon looks back upon his life as an old man and dishes out his findings. He had tried to live for the things of this world – things “under the sun” including knowledge, pleasure, and wisdom. As he has explained, he found no meaning in any of those things.
As a result he hated all his toil because all he worked for was ultimately for nothing. Everything we work for we must leave to the ones who will come after us. And, who knows, perhaps that person will be a fool and will squander all for which we worked so hard.
This is exactly what happened with King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, who acted foolishly and lost all that Solomon had built and acquired [1 Kings 12:1-19, 14:25-28]. Perhaps Solomon looked at his son and knew that would be the case. It makes one despair to realize that all our accomplishments on earth are really a vapor (vanity).
We work so hard with wisdom and knowledge and skill but hardly have time to enjoy the fruits of our labor ourselves. It always takes more time and effort to acquire than remains to enjoy. Not only is this vanity but is also a great evil. That is, it isn’t fair.
Human labor costs more than its worth. It creates more sorrow and vexation than pleasure. It creates in us a heart that does not rest because the more we have the more we want. And the more we see other people have the more we want. Our senses are never satisfied [Ecclesiastes 1:8].
Like Solomon, we work hard because we want to achieve something during this life. But the things that we achieve belong to this world. We either outlast the things of this earth or they outlast us and we must leave them behind.
The Egyptians would bury a king’s possessions with him so he would have them in the next life. But we know that doesn’t happen. We can’t take anything with us when we leave this earth. You never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul.
We come into the world with nothing and we leave with nothing. Ultimately, we gain nothing as a result of living. In the end we come full circle, just like the wind and rain [Ecclesiastes 1:5-7].
We must keep in mind that those who lived under the Old Testament did not have complete revelation about eternity. Many, like Solomon, believed in God but they didn’t understand that life went on after they died. For them, life on earth was all there was.
And if that was the case, Solomon wonders, what was the point of it all since death renders all our accomplishments meaningless. He’ll give us an answer to that tomorrow.
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