Eat, Drink and get to Work

By Paul Koch

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.

Ecclesiastes 2:24

This statement by Solomon is fundamentally offensive to the Christian. This is because it attacks our fundamental desire for glory. We desperately want our comings and goings, our eating and drinking, our daily toil to mean more, count for more than what we fill our time with. We want it to have ramifications on the world, impact in the grand narrative of God’s redemptive work.

But as Solomon works through what a man is given to do, what his portion or lot is in this age, the answer isn’t very flattering. It’s not much. Your life, your effort, your great deeds aren’t much compared to the work of the Creator. In fact, your work and the work of God will often be diametrically opposed, though on the surface it won’t look like it.

Consider the words of Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation,

  1. The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him.
  2. Much less can human works, which are done over and over again with the aid of natural precepts, so to speak, lead to that end.
  3. Although the works of man always seem attractive and good, they are nevertheless likely to be mortal sins.
  4. Although the works of God are always unattractive and appear evil, they are nevertheless really eternal merits.

The eternal merits are found only in the toil of our God. As Solomon says, “I perceive that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him” (3:14).

You work is important, just not as important as you would like it to be. If you lift your head to look beyond your neighbor, beyond the impact of those around you when you work, then you are missing the beauty and joy of this life. You are missing the freedom of your toil. The eternal merits, the works that sway the population of heaven and hell are the works of God alone. You work, your toil impacts a much smaller circle and even that falls under the work and plan of God.

This ought to be good news!

It means you are free to get to work, and it is okay to enjoy it even if you screw it up (which you will). Go ahead and eat and drink and enjoy your toil, for this is your lot and surprisingly enough it pleases your God.

2 thoughts on “Eat, Drink and get to Work

  1. Although Solomon said many wise things, we must recall that by the end of his life he did not live up to his own advice. He married about 900 women. That was his first mistake. It is hard enough to have even just two Queens in the kitchen at the same time, so one can imagine all of the drama in Solomon’s household. He also set up altars for his pagan wives to worship their false gods. One can imagine how this offended religious Jews and created public disdain. Solomon sacked the treasury like a drunken sailor, and taxed his subjects with abandon. He enjoyed the good life in a worldly way indeed, and openly admitted it didn’t really bring him much happiness. Ecclesiastes 2:24 is a verse which needs to have a caveat; and the caveat is to do things in moderation.

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    1. Thank you for the caveat.
      Indeed, Solomon’s excesses (polygamy, toleration of polytheism, reckless spending) might be seen as precisely the points wherein he departed from his “toil” or apointed role (in this case, responsible kingship) and sought glory. Perhaps it was too tempting, with the resplendant Temple standing proud, not to expand that limited role into a mandate to bring God’s glory down to earth in the court, making a sort of false incarnation out of the kingship. Certainly absolutist monarchs of many times and places have tried the same. In any case, it is clear we alone must not be the ones to define the scope of our “work” — perhaps the caveat should be worded not so much “toil in moderation” as “toil in submission”?

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