FUTILITY AND FUN
Thank the Lord for all that he has done for you this year. Try to be specific.
Read Ecclesiastes 2:1–16
Pleasures Are Meaningless
2 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.
15 Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
a Ecclesiastes 2:8 The meaning of the Hebrew for this phrase is uncertain.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
ReflectWhat was the most rewarding part about your year?
Having determined that both work and wisdom are meaningless, the Teacher now turns to attempts at fun. He experiments with every imaginable human pleasure in an attempt to drown out the feelings of futility. He tries everything from alcohol (3) and sex (8) to wealth (7,8) and power (9). Pleased with his own achievements, he has rewarded himself with all the pleasures the world can offer (10).
The phrase that stands out in verses 4 to 8 is “for myself.” Most of us are not in a position to build houses, plant vineyards and collect silver and gold. But how much of our time, energy and money is poured into creating for ourselves a life that is comfortable and pleasurable? Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). You might have experienced that on a small scale this Christmas!
There can be so much joy and fulfillment in giving pleasure to others. The writer of Ecclesiastes discovers the same truth by doing the opposite: striving to create pleasure for oneself only leads to feelings of emptiness and futility. Nevertheless, this is how society teaches us to behave. We have worked hard, so we deserve some fun. But this only leads to disappointment.
Take time before the Lord to evaluate the year that is ending. What has brought the most joy and fulfillment? What now seems futile? What changes would you make for the year to come?
All-knowing God, guide and direct me through the coming year.