Turning from our calling to labor under God’s providence in the preceding verses, the text turns to a similar subject but from a more subjective viewpoint. We are to sow our seed and labor, not knowing what shall prosper in God’s providence. We labor under the sun in a transitory world. Our works and labors, as has been shown over the course of the book, do not abide. God gives us in our labor seasons of light and joy in this present life when our works prosper. Hence, the point is raised:
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun (Eccl. 11:7).
The Word of God draws on our natural response to a bright and beautiful day. It is a delight; we feel energized. The tasks of the day do not seem burdensome. Going forth to sow in the morning, the light of the day seems to charge the day with promise and our hands are ready to work. As the text says, “Truly the light is sweet.” We, as it were, drink in the sweetness of the light.
God created it to be so. When God saw all that He had made, it was very good in the beginning and the mark of that goodness as a work of God is still impressed upon the creation.
“…and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.”
The light brings a certain joy to the eyes; it dispels the dark of the night, the gray and the gloom. It warms the earth and the beauty of the creation unfolds before our eyes.
Yet in the figure is more than the sensation of light, for the text has a figurative idea underlying the idea of the light. The description is not just for the moment, leading not only to a day, a month, or a year, but also to “many years” in the next verse. There are phases of life when things go well, when the sun shines upon our labor and activity, when life is rich and fruitful. This is especially the case when we are young and the possibilities of life stand unfolding before us. For Solomon would turn our attention in the following verses particularly to the time of youth in contrast with the time of old age.
Beholding the sun and enjoying the privilege of living under the sun, particularly when our strength is full and the power and activity of life given us is strong within us, is, after all, a good gift of God. For a child of God, that is indeed a blessing when he walks in the way of the fear of God and remembers his Creator in his youth.
The fool, however, takes such times in his days under the sun as if they were his due, holding on to them as if he owned them, or as if they were under his power. God is not in all his thoughts. To the fool these good gifts of God work his condemnation. For he receives them in the service of sin and folly and is unthankful for them.
Therefore, setting that figure before us the text continues:
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity (Eccl. 11:8).
The text moves from the light of the day to the years of life. The portion of each one is not the same in this life, but to some are given many years, and the text envisions one who seemingly rejoices in them all. Whether he be a believer or a fool is not on the foreground directly, rather it is what he considers and holds in mind. The question is what he keeps in remembrance in his life in the passing of the years, what he holds in the light of the sun, and on what is his rejoicing is founded.
How so? The purpose is not to introduce a despondent or morbid note, to be a gloomy voice in the light of the day. Rather, it calls us to a certain spiritual sobriety and discernment. The fool will not listen, for when dark days come he is bitter; his joy in himself is marred. His life is of the earth and tied to this world. Its pleasures and treasures are his only possession. He strives with the hand of God when the sun is veiled.
We need a spiritual sobriety that puts the pleasant time in perspective. That spiritual sobriety consists in a true understanding brought about exactly in the way of remembering the days of darkness. The days of darkness belong to the trials and troubles of this life. They are the days when the good in life seems to depart and we have trial and sorrow, when it seems as if all is dark and the way full of burdens that are heavy to bear. To them belong also times of weakness and care.
These things too come from the hand of God and under His providence. The Word of God repeatedly addresses our heavenly Father’s purpose in them for our comfort in chastening, trial, and affliction. Here what is on the foreground is the fact that it is God who sends them as days of darkness in our life. And their purpose is to work a sober assessment of the meaning of our life under the sun. The remembrance of them is to give us to see the days of light and rejoicing under the sun as good gifts of God and work a thankfulness for them.
But they also serve to draw us away from this present life under the sun. They lead us to set our priorities aright. For this present life is not where our hope lies nor where our abiding treasure is to be found. That treasure belongs to the things that are above, to our eternal salvation and communion with God. To learn daily to seek the things that are above, to labor in the joy of this present life, yet with an eye to its eternal end and where our true hope is to be found, is the purpose of this remembrance. Then we can also rejoice in the midst of affliction and trial, for we have a light that is beyond the sun of this world and earthly days. It is a light that does not fade away.
That remembrance leads us to the conclusion set before us more than once in Ecclesiastes and found here again: “all that cometh is vanity.” Both days of light and days of darkness, days of rejoicing and days when, in an earthly sense, rejoicing is difficult, “all that cometh is vanity.” They are passing things of this life under the sun; they do not abide. The very transitory character of the days of our life makes it vanity, it gives to life under the sun a certain emptiness. That emptiness lies in a world subjected to vanity because of sin. The days pass, the years flee away. If our hope is only in this life, we have nothing that endures, and we ourselves pass away.
For one who walks as a sojourner in this life, seeking his life out of himself in God, there is a meaning and joy in this present life. This is true when the sun shines, but also in the days of darkness the believer finds there is consolation and light from above in the presence of God’s sustaining care. All that cometh under the sun is indeed vanity. But what God has wrought in His saving work in Christ alone answers that reality of the present vanity under the sun. The light of the sun points to it. The days of darkness press upon us the need for that light of God’s Son and His salvation.
In the midst of the truth that “all that cometh is vanity,” we have hope. But it is not of this world under the sun but from God who is above and works all things for the glory of His own name.