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For who can eat, or who can find enjoyment

outside of, or apart from [Him]?

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For the only way to satisfy our needs, and the only way to find enjoyment in life, is to do things God’s way, not to attempt to make ourselves great.


1: “apart from Him”

Here the Hebrew text uses two words back to back which have as their most basic meaning the idea of “separation,” but then it leaves out who or what the separation is from, requiring the reader to make an assumption. Such assumptions were common in ancient Hebrew. Some translations render this phrase “more than I,” but that is not the most natural way to translate it. One of those words can mean “more,” but that is not its fundamental meaning, and since it is tied to another word that also points to separation; that is the preferred direction to take it.

Solomon's Conclusion Regarding Work and Happiness

Solomon’s conclusion seems to be that we should each focus on enjoying this present moment, for the past is no longer accessible to us and we have been given no promises about the future except that we will all suffer death. This does not mean to enjoy the present by totally abandoning God’s directions, rather we should seek enjoyment in the present moment with full consciousness about God’s provision of it. He is our creator and we cannot ignore His words if we seek to be happy. The point is to learn to be content in your present situation. The Apostle Paul would later say: I have learned to be content in whatever situation I find myself. I know what it means to be brought low, and I also know what it means to excel; I have learned the secret to being content in each situation, yes in all situations, whether full or hungry, whether having surplus or left wanting. I am capable of all things in the one who strengthens me (Phil 4:11-13). This is a key truth that Solomon had learned through his own hard knocks and was sharing with others in this troubling, unhappy little book.

The people that are the happiest, the most contented, are often the ones that have the least by way of earthly possessions. The more stuff people gain the more worries they have; they are concerned about having their stuff stolen, so various measures are taken to keep it safe. Then there is the issue of maintenance. Have you ever noticed that having stuff requires keeping it in good, functioning order? That usually takes time, effort and money. That’s what I mean when I say that the more stuff you have the more worries you have. The less people have, the more grateful they are for each small gift they enjoy in the present. The people with almost nothing are constantly aware that they are blessed simply by being alive; every breath, every morsel of food, any amount of shelter from the elements, is a gift from God for which they should be thankful. Solomon may have learned this from his favorite wife, the one he called the Shulammite, because she was raised in a difficult situation. That does not mean is it easy to live right on the edge of survival. When a family member gets sick there is no way to pay for medical attention; there is no extra in their budget because everything they have, every day goes toward staying alive. What I am saying is that people with very little are more grateful for what they do have than people who have grown accustomed to having much and expect that such surplus will continue.

A vapor is used to describe both the past and the future. The past is like a vapor because it does not stick around and we cannot capture it. Past accomplishments are like a vapor because they have proven to be very temporary. A vapor resembles the future in that both are unpredictable. Vapors do not submit themselves easily to be studied or observed because they do not stick around and they are easily influenced by their surroundings. There is nothing solid about a vapor just like there is nothing solid about the future. The only thing sure about a vapor is that it will come and go quickly. The only thing certain about the future is that it is unpredictable.

Work and toil are vapor-like, thus they are frustrating if one is focused on building something for the future. However, work and toil, and the food and drink they provide, may be all we have in the present moment, so we should enjoy them and be grateful. This moment, with its provisions, is a gift from God so we should enjoy it. It requires wisdom, in many cases wisdom gained from the hard knocks of life, to discern the difference between the good kind of labor and the vapor-like kind of labor. The latter is focused on what we can build and produce for our future, the former is thankful to God for what He has given to us for this moment.

God will bring the increase; God will decide what has lasting impact on others and what will crumble. He has already told us that being humble is better than being proud and self-centered. The more we seek grand accomplishments the more self-centered we become and the smaller our impact will be on this world, despite the grandeur of our accomplishments from a human perspective. So follow God’s way with humility and gratitude, not man’s way of self-centeredness.