“Older” readers no doubt remember the Rolling Stones and most “younger” readers probably have heard their best known song I Can’t Get No Satisfaction (1965). I’ve been reading the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes and could not help but think of the their first number one hit in the US and what is considered by many the greatest song they ever recorded. The writer of Ecclesiastes relates how he did not find satisfaction in work, pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or power.
Ecclesiastes comes right after the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and both are in the category of wisdom literature. When I read the book of Proverbs I am challenged and encouraged, but when I read the book of Ecclesiastes, if I am not careful, I am confused and almost depressed. Parts of it seem to contradict not only the book of Proverbs, but a lot of the rest of the Bible as well.
The second verse of chapter one declares, “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” The Teacher not only can’t get any satisfaction, he thinks everything is futile and pointless. Most of us have felt the same at times in our lives. But this is the Bible; you can see why I am confused and almost depressed! In their book How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth authors Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart affirm “There is good reason for the reader to be puzzled, because Ecclesiastes is a very difficult book to read.”
Even with the unsettling parts, there are numerous notes of wisdom throughout the book. We just have to read it carefully and with discernment. For example, 3:1 tells us “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” There follows a list of 14 pairs of opposites beginning with “a time to be born and a time to die” and ending with “a time for war and time for peace.”
I appreciate the insight of 4:9 that “two are better than one” and the examples of why that is true that follow: “they have a good return for their labor,” “if either of them falls down, one can help the other up,” “if two lie down together, they will keep warm,” and “two can defend themselves.”
The Teacher’s observation on money and wealth in 5:10 gets my attention: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” The wisdom of 7:5 gives us something to consider: “It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools.”
In reading the Teacher’s honest assessment of things it’s helpful to keep in mind he is talking about life “under the sun.” Chuck Swindoll notes that life “under the sun” is life without the Lord. The writer of Ecclesiastes doesn’t use the phrase, but Swindoll suggests that to find happiness and meaning in life “we must get above the sun”—by including God and faith in our lives.
Philip Yancey sums up the book, “Ecclesiastes endures as a work of great literature and a book of great truth because it presents both sides of life on this planet: the promise of pleasures so alluring that we may devote our lives to their pursuit, and then the haunting realization that these pleasures ultimately do not satisfy.”
The conclusion of the book provides perspective, a warning, and a challenge: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (12:13 and 14).
It all reminds me of a question Jesus asked, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Mark 8:36). We might ask ourselves where we are looking for satisfaction and where we can find it.
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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/24400573@N03/14254608206″>The Rolling Stones – Telenor Arena 2014</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>