Previous article in this series: February 1, 2015, p. 200.
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place? All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
We have seen that God gives to the man who is good in His sight, to His people, to eat and drink in contentment with their portion under the sun. This gift of God is not yet perfected in them, because of sin and the infirmity of the flesh, but it is, nevertheless, a work of grace. To the wicked, held in the bondage of covetousness in various ways, this gift is denied, in God’s judgment. Solomon has spoken of the man who has many things in this life but, “his soul [is] not filled with good” ().
He now turns to that same man, to whom is given long life, for this was mentioned before and is considered desirable in the world. The example Solomon uses is that of one who lives twice the length of life given Methuselah and more: “Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told…” (Eccl. 6:8)—a long life indeed. But in the bondage of covetousness, it is a long life characterized by the statement, “yet hath he seen no good” (Eccl. 6:8). Not only is his soul not filled with good, internally, but the good is really withheld from him altogether so that he sees it not. It never comes into his view.
He may seek what seems good in his own eyes. He may heap and gather. He may seek after abundance and earthly riches, but his work is driven by a covetousness that finds its treasure below and seeks its satisfaction in earthly things. Such earthly treasures can never satisfy, to fill the soul with good. There is never enough, so that he has an abiding joy and peace. We may be inclined to say, how can this be? The answer lies in the nature of covetousness, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase” (). To such a man, in his bondage, enough is never enough. He is enslaved to heaping and gathering. Long life does not change this.
Not only so, but we also read, “do not all go to one place?” (). The covetous man shall still die. He still comes in the darkness of sin and departs in darkness. He lives for this world and its vanity, without seeing the good, which can only be known in God, and death at length carries him away. He goes to the grave and his portion under the sun is taken from him. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” says Proverbs 16:31, but when it is found in the way of sin, of worldly-mindedness and covetousness, it is not a glory but a horror to behold. The old, unbelieving fool is one whose long life actually profited him nothing in this life. But he then also goes to the grave in shame and has nothing that he carries away with him. The stillborn, mentioned in the preceding verses, has more rest than he.
Solomon directs us to a reason for this, bound up with the essential vanity of this world under the curse: “All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet his appetite is not filled.” His appetite, literally his “soul” in the original, is not filled. The figure of the mouth, and thus the appetite, or the hunger of the body, reflects the reality of man’s life and its vanity. Man works to eat that he may work again to eat again. Never does he, nor can he, lift himself above that cycle to some abiding good that satisfies. He is never truly filled such that the need and desire are quenched. This is the reality of man’s life under the sun. If then he knows not the grace of contentment, he is most miserable.
Now, this reality of the very empty vanity of earthly life, this need of life driven by the mouth, touches the child of God also. Under the sun, we too must labor to eat and then labor again. Solomon raises this point also, “For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?” (Eccl. 6:8). The one who is wise is, after all, one who fears God, for that alone is the beginning of wisdom. The poor in the text, who “knows to walk,” is one who holds God’s Word, walking by faith in the light of that knowledge. He knows how to walk. He may be poor in the things of this world, but he is first of all poor in spirit. Yet he also must live in this world and labor for the needs of the body; he is held in the same circumstances of human life under the sun. Outwardly his life under the sun is bound by the same limits of the vanity of this present life as the fool.
Does that mean that there is no difference? In earthly and material terms, the organic reality of human life is the same for both the wise and the fool. Spiritually, however, there is a profound difference. The fool labors all his life for the bread that perishes and, in the end, he himself perishes. The spiritual state of the covetous soul, held in the lusts of the flesh, is that it is never satisfied even as his mouth never has enough and the appetite—the lust of his soul—is never satisfied. Since the cravings of his mouth and that of his soul are one and the same, the covetous man is held in bondage to the flesh.
In God’s grace there is a better portion given unto the children of God. It is not measured by earthly things or circumstances. It is to have the bread of eternal life and to drink of the fountain of the water of life in Jesus Christ by faith. Our Savior, who by His Spirit gave also this word in Ecclesiastes, refers to the idea of it on more than one occasion. The text asks a rhetorical question: “For what hath the wise more than the fool?” The answer, which the text itself later gives, is this: he has the knowledge of God, the Creator, the covenant God (; ). He has the fear of God and keeps His commandments by faith walking a pathway that is by grace. He has Christ, the end of the law, for righteousness ( ).
Jesus takes up this point of Ecclesiastes and directs us to Himself as Immanuel, God with us: “Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (). Jesus makes the same point under the figure of water when He speaks to the Samaritan woman: “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” ( ).
To the one who is fed by that living Bread by faith in Jesus Christ and who drinks of that Water of life the answer to the question, “What hath this more than another?” is, in fact, much in every way. Though known only by faith and not founded on the things of this present life, its blessing extends even to the things of this present life. For, though a child of God labors for the needs of the body, it is given him, in a measure, to eat and drink with contentment of heart. Because he has been given “the meat which endureth” and “the well springing up into everlasting life,” it is also given him in earthly things, “power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God” (). It is such a gift of grace because it serves a life that seeks the things above. It is a gift in this present life to one who has eternal life.