I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives. (Ecclesiastes 2:3, NKJV)
As we continue our study in the book of Ecclesiastes, the Preacher begins his explanation of what he concluded in the first chapter. Why are all things vain?
He tells us in the verse quoted above that he set himself to understand what men should do with their lives. This book of Scripture is about the purpose and duty of man. What is it that we are to do with the time God has given us? What is it that we search for? Where do we find our joy?
We see the Preacher giving us the results of an experiment he has done. He has tried to find his purpose and his pleasure in the following ways, which he calls “folly”:
Wine and Revelry (v. 3, 8b)
Wealth and Materialism (v.7-8a)
Status and Reputation (4-6)
After doing all of these works, the Preacher concludes as he will time and again in this book:
Why? He tells us: There is no profit in these things (v. 11). Ultimately, all the works and labors of man will pass away and give no profit to him.
From there, the Preacher concludes that folly does nothing for men, so he sought after wisdom (v.12). Now, he did not seek God, who is the giver of wisdom but rather wisdom as an end in itself. He sought wisdom for his own vain puffing, to be better than a fool. He did not seek it in obedience to God.
Yet, he concludes about human, carnal wisdom the same as he concludes about folly:
That the same event happens to them all (v.14)
He finds that wisdom in and of itself does not improve one’s lot in life. He finds that, in the end, both the fool and the wise will die. “As it happens to the fool, It also happens to me, And why was I then more wise? (v. 15). As we learned last time this is all vanity.
Vanity. Breath. Vapor.
It has no abiding worth.
The Preacher concludes this experiment with the following results:
Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind. (2:24-26, NKJV)
He recognizes that all we have is a gift from God. All that guides us, all that sustains, all that we are given, comes down from Heaven from the Father of Lights (James 1:17). Thus, our purpose is not to find fulfillment in and of itself but rather to seek God first.
Ask yourself: What are you seeking? Are you seeking God in prayer, in the Word, in the means of grace? Or are you seeking God in vain striving, folly, puffed up knowledge, and pleasures? Should we not seek God as he has fashioned us? To reflect his image, his glory, and enjoyment in him? Indeed we should, as the Shorter Catechism question teaches us.
The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.