The Old Testament lesson for this Sunday is from Solomon’s writing of Ecclesiastes. The text is Ecclesiastes 5:10-20 and continues with the overall theme of this interesting book. The Hebrew name for this writing is, “The Preacher” and the overall address is famous for the line, “…vanity of vanity, all is vanity.” The text focuses more specifically on the vanity of riches/wealth; both the pursuit of and the living with. Indeed, Solomon seems to tell us that it is far better to be poor, or to have limited resources, then it is to be rich. Obviously, this is fascinating coming from the richest man noted in Scripture and was written much later in his life. Thus, we should pay close attention because Solomon is one who speaks with a great deal of practical experience—this is not an academic commentary on money and wealth.
A verse that I find interesting is verse 17 where Solomon is encouraging the reader to, “eat, drink and be merry.” At first we might be tempted to finish this verse with the fatalistic words of our unbelieving world: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!” This is not Solomon’s message. He writes this more as an encouragement to the child of God to rejoice in and enjoy the first article gifts of God. Perhaps it would be better to finish the verse as: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we live forever!” This would be more in keeping with Solomon’s tone and the message he is trying to convey.
We all know that Solomon was blessed with wisdom and understanding by God. We also know that he did not always use the wisdom God granted him. Too many wives and concubines along with too many foreign temples and marriage alliances clouded over his wisdom. However, the writing of Ecclesiastes has often been considered Solomon’s confession of sin and faith. All the wonders and benefits of money and wealth, wisdom and understanding are nothing but vanity—a distraction—apart from being in proper relationship with God.
I would like to recognize the work of James Bollhagen in his Ecclesiastes Commentary in the Concordia Commentary Series. It proved to be a great advantage in the preparation of this text study.
5:9 (English vs 10)
אֹהֵב root: אהב Qal participle “the one who loves (silver; money)”
יִשְׂבַּע root: שׂבע “to be full; to be satisfied; to eat one’s fill”. Usually means to be full of food, but in this context along with the negation in translated as “will not be satisfied with silver”
בֶּהָמוֹן from: המוֹן “abundance; wealth”
תְבוּאָה. “profit; income; revenue”
הָבֶל “vanity; worthless; breath”
בִּרְבוֹת root: רבה Qal infinitive. רַבּוּ root: רבב Qal perfect. Both verbs mean “to be”
The Qere/Kethib (spoken/written) notation in the text can be taken either way without any change of meaning: “look at; observe.” Basically, “the more stuff you have the more people who will be there to consume it and all you do is watch it come in and go out.”
מְתוּקָה from: מתוֹק “sweet; pleasant” שְׁנַת. “sleep”
הָעֹבֵד Qal participle: “the worker; the one who works”
הַרְבֵּה Hiphil infinitive used as an adverb: “abundantly; exceedingly; a lot”
מַנִּיחַ root: נוּח Hiphil participle: “to rest”
לִישׁוֹן root: ישׁן Qal infinitive construct: “to sleep; go to sleep; be asleep”
חוֹלָה root: חלה Qal participle: “to be sick; to fall sick; to be ill” Literally, “a sick evil”
וְהוֹלִיד root: הלד Hiphil masculine perfect: “to father; cause (his wife) to give birth”
וְאֵין בְּיָדוֹ מְאוּמָה “There was not in his hand anything”
מִבֶּטֶן from: בטן “womb”
עָרוֹם “”naked” The birth being referenced is not the son, but rather that of the father.
בַעֲמָלוֹ from עמל “care; anxiety; toil; labor” Even though the one with much wealth toiled and labored and worried all his life he will return/die with the same as everyone else—
יִּתְרוֹן “result; advantage”
שֶׁיַּעֲמֹל root: עמל “to exert oneself; labor; toil” This is most likely a poetic form which has affixed the relative pronoun אשׁר to the verb with the shortened form v, This occur 70 times in Ecclesiastes.
וְכָעַס root: כעס “to be vexed; be indignant”
הַרְבֵּה Hiphil infinitive absolute used as an adverb: “greatly; exceedingly”
וְחָלְיוֹ “sickness; disease”
וָקָצֶף “anger; ill-humor; wrath; frustration”
This portion of the pericope defines the problem—the law—for our preaching purposes. These verses illustrates man’s attempts at control of his life through wealth/riches, as an attempt to control his own life and/or self. Of course these attempts also seek to take control away from God. The results are not at all what man desires or expects. Too much stuff makes you miserable if you are relying upon the stuff to give you control over your own life and circumstances. Naked you come into the world and naked you will return to the earth… where is the meaning of life in all of this? In the words of Bollhagen, “Financially speaking, both the rich and the poor break even. Theologically speaking, the only place where people can hang any lasting hopes is with God himself…”
Now to the point (the Gospel)…
יָפֶה “beautiful; fair”
לֶאֱכוֹל-וְלִשְׁתּוֹת וְלִרְאוֹת, These three Qal infinitive constructs define what is good and fitting; “to eat, to drink and to see(good)” “to eat, drink and enjoy oneself” This appears to reference those who toil and labor as workers/slaves because the next verse details the same for those who have been blessed by God with wealth and possessions. Again, wealth and possessions do not change anything in the eyes of God and in the true blessings of man.
וְהִשְׁלִיטוֹ root: שׁלט Hiphil and the “causer” is God: “God gives the power/ability”
וְלָשֵׂאת> root: נשׂא Infinitive construct “to accept (his lot)”
וְלִשְׂמֹחַ “and to rejoice” The ability to rejoice is a gift from God. Thus, as the children of God we rejoice in His good and gracious gifts and we can do this because the ability to rejoice is also a gift from God.
מַעֲנֶה root: ענה Hiphil participle: “to cause to keep busy; to keep occupied”
בְּשִׂמְחַת. from: שִׂמְחה “joy”
As noted by Bollhagen, these last three verses detail the point of the book of Ecclesiastes. Everything is a gift from God. These gifts are given by God to man in order that they may be enjoyed and rejoiced over. And, even more astounding, the ability to rejoice is a gift from God as well.
This pericope is not meant to be depressing, although many may read it as such. The text tells us that all is gift and that all may be enjoyed and rejoiced over. A little or a lot, great is the joy of the child of God for the meaning of life is not defined by stuff, but rather by the cross. The children of God rejoice in their relationship with God and in His good and gracious gifts because the cross of Jesus has made it so.
Concordia Theology-Multiple Sermons and Translation helps on Ecclesiastes 5:10-20.
Dr. Reed Lessing-A brief introduction on how to approach the book of Ecclesiastes.
Ecclesiastes-Joy for Workaholics- Dr. John Kleinig of Australian Luther College teaches on the joy God grants to workaholics from the pages of Ecclesiastes.
“Enjoying the Righteousness of Faith in Ecclesiastes” by Walter R Steele