Previous article in this series: September 1, 2014, p. 465.
Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
A profound contrast is introduced in this text: all is not darkness; rather, the light of grace shines upon the life of a child of God. The rich fool seeking uncertain riches, the “wind,” has nothing in his hand. He is man by nature, in the darkness of sin and death, walking in the folly of unbelief. “And all his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness” (). This we see in the world around us, though by faith through the Word. Solomon now addresses us, “Behold that which I have seen…” ( ). He has in view another man, another portion, a work of grace, a gift of God, which is truly blessed. This too is seen under the sun, but with the eye of faith in the light of the Word of God.
Riches may be there. “Every man to whom God hath given riches and wealth…” (). Solomon may have himself in view, but the blessedness is not dependent on material riches; his true treasure is the fear of God. The laboring man (for the idea is that of a child of God who may be small in the eyes of the world) possesses it also, for his sleep is sweet (Eccl. 5:12). This is the thing that is seen: “…it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion” (Eccl. 5:18).
That it is “good and comely” sets the matter before us as a principle of life under the sun. What is fitting, given the very transitory character of life, is that one enjoy the fruit of his labor in its temporary character, not as a matter of self-indulgence, but as that which is fit and right according to God’s design for man’s earthly life. What is in harmony with man’s nature as a creature of the dust, of flesh and blood, is that he eat and drink the fruit of his labor with enjoyment, which, by implication, is with thanksgiving. It is his portion for the day, his daily bread. That is the purpose and design of food and drink, of the things of this life, of material wealth and well-being. It serves a transitory goal and passing purpose.
It is exactly the point that this the covetous man cannot do. Not satisfied with silver and gold (), he is given over to fretful care over earthly riches, keeping and hoarding that which is transitory, “the wind.” He eats in darkness. That which is the good, fitting for his station and character of life escapes him “all his days.” The issue is the spiritual attitude of one who enters into the true blessings of life under God’s care. The rich man would be in charge of his own portion. He would determine its boundaries, have it under his power and in his own hand. He would keep and hold, and yet an “evil travail” comes upon him and it is taken from him, so that he dwells in bitterness and darkness of soul. Unbelievers sense this when they talk about simplifying life, but they are unable to do so because, being in bondage to covetousness, they can only live for the life of this world as an end in itself.
The description is not only of one or two occasions of contentment, but of a whole pattern of life: “…to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life” (Eccl. 5:18), that is, not one day, but “all the days of his life.” It is to work and labor in the vanity of this life. It is to toil at one’s calling from the Lord in the sweat of one’s face, with toil that is wearisome, repetitive, and in itself vain, for it passes away. It is to work, eat, sleep, and go to work again, whether in business or in cleaning the supper dishes. But in the midst of it, the believer is content, possessing an enjoyment of life that is not dependent on material circumstances and things. It is that which is good and comely, that is beautiful: to be blessed with the proper enjoyment of life that is fitting for man’s nature. Such labor and toil, yea, even the repetitive labor that is transitory, is that “…which God giveth him…” (Eccl. 5:18). Why? “…for it is his portion!”
Now God gives to each one his labor, calling, and vocation. The measure of our days is in God’s hands. Also the wicked receive their place in this life, their talents and gifts, their circumstances and opportunities, so-called. But the text is describing something more. The idea of blessing, we might say, is of one who walks in that will of God, who walks by faith in the fear of God and His design for human life, also after the fall, where he must labor in the sweat of his face as a creature of the dust who returns to the dust. To that believer is given the grace of contentment. The bitter, unbelieving, rich man whose treasure is here below does not possess this portion, for it is not only food and drink but the enjoyment of it in contentment “all the days of his life” here below.
To whom is this given? To the unbelieving rich fool? Not at all. To all men by some common grace? Such a notion would be to fail to understand the text entirely. God gives to him that is good in His sight (), that is, to His justified, believing children, this blessing. Do we possess it by nature or of any merit? No. Have we attained unto it perfectly? No, but it is a matter of constant prayer, for both the portion for the day and the grace of contentment. But this portion is given to them that fear God, and it is for them alone. “This is the gift of God.” God works it by His providence and by His grace in their hearts. It is a blessing of salvation that delivers from bondage to covetousness. Only one whose treasure is in heaven can so eat and drink with such joy because he tastes the blessedness of a portion from the hand of his heavenly Father, his portion for the day. Understand well, this also is a blessing that is in Christ, who has delivered us from the darkness of sin and death, the bondage of corruption, also the bondage of covetousness, and brought us in Christ into the light of life, which is eternal.
This is really Solomon’s confession in the next verse: “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 5:19). Such was Solomon himself, not only as one to whom God gave riches and wealth, but one also to whom He gave the power to eat thereof; for as he will point out, to some He gives such gifts but no power to eat of them (). These earthly blessings, which pass away and belong to this present vanity as a portion under the sun, are also a “gift of God.” This gift, in contrast to the rich fool’s darkness and bitterness, is very really a gift of God, even though these earthly blessings are only a portion for this present passing life. It is a profound wonder to stand in this present life, to eat and drink of that portion with thanksgiving in contentment of heart and rejoice in that portion. The world does not possess this blessing. It is by grace, as a gift of God in Christ. Its foundation, which ultimately rests in the cross of Christ, is given us of God as a gift and portion for the day, by which we receive every creature of God with thanksgiving ( ). The world of darkness lying in covetousness does not know it. Even in food and drink and the eating and drinking thereof, God’s grace is particular!
“For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart” (). Thus does Solomon draw out the reason for this blessing. The years of life pass in the transitory vanity of this present life. They fade away. Fretful care, worries over uncertain riches, fruitless toils for what is only an earthly end that is vain, characterize the life of wicked men. God gives to His people a different blessing. The passing of the years, yes, also with their trials and sorrows in the things of this life, are passing years that are not remembered. Why? Because riches lost or gained are not our treasure. God is the source of the real joy of heart in daily life under the sun. God answers the prayers for our provision and for the grace of contentment and makes what are the passing moments of life, which are temporary, blessed in Him. God does this! He is the author also of this true joy, though it be but the passing enjoyment of life in the vanity of this world. To have peace with God and live under His Almighty Fatherly care makes all the difference. The result is the opposite of a worldly man’s bitter regrets and remembrance that brings no joy. “For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.” It is God’s doing. He is the author of this blessing of peace and contentment even to old age, “…because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.”