| 24 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? 26 For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is mere breath and an attempt to try to herd the wind.
So far Qohelet seems to be a pretty gloomy guy. Is there anything in life that pleases him?
As it turns out, there is—eating, drinking and hard, satisfying work. If you can be satisfied with what you have to eat and drink, and with the labor you perform to earn your daily bread, you are indeed a happy person, he says.
There is a story of a Buddhist monk who was walking along a mountain path. Down the path came a hungry tiger, and when he saw the monk, he came running toward him. The monk slipped over the edge of the path, and started to climb down a vine that was hanging there. As he descended, he saw a bear at the bottom, waiting for him. Above him the tiger was looking down, and below him the bear was looking up. He looked over and saw that ants were beginning to chew on the vine. To his left he saw a strawberry, and reached over to pluck it. He ate it.
It was delicious.
This is an extreme example of what Qohelet teaches, but it underscores his point. We cannot control the many factors that make up our lives, but if we can be satisfied with the food and drink we have, as well as the way we have to earn it, then we are blessed.
Previously, Qohelet has said that making pleasure (including food and drink) one of our main goals in life is pointless (mere breath), but here he is affirming that we have to eat, drink, and work, so we might has well find some kind of satisfaction in that.
Qohelet has a warning here. For the first time he affirms that people who please God receive “wisdom and knowledge and joy,” but those who sin end up “gathering and heaping” only to have the righteous enjoy the fruits of their labor. This is one of the few times where Qohelet says that God rewards the just and punishes the unjust. In most other places he frets because it seems that too often the just and the unjust receive the same from God.
However he seems to be making a different point. If you attempt to hoard things, if you think you can find pleasure from gathering about you a wealth of material resources, one day you will die, and all that is valuable to you will parsed out to others. All your hard work is for nothing in the end. But if you are satisfied with what you have in this life, and do not attempt to hoard, you will die happy and satisfied, and if anybody gets what you did manage to accumulate, that will not bother you in the least, because your possessions did not own you.
Thoughts and Questions
- Qohelet ends this passage with his usual, “This also is mere breath and an attempt to try to herd the wind.” Perhaps he is saying that after all is said and done, and you are in your grave, it does not matter what you did in this life. Richard Pryor said, “You never saw a Brink’s truck following a hearse.” What good is our accumulated wealth?
- What do you feel is the measure of a Good Life? Looking back on your own life, what were your happiest days? What were the most frustrating days? How can you maximize the reminder of your days?
- Qohelet says that taking pleasure in eating and drinking comes “from the hand of God.” Perhaps that is why we should give thanks at every meal we eat. How well do you appreciate or enjoy the food you eat on a regular basis? The next meal you have, take time to enjoy it. Eat slowly. Thank God for every bite. Enjoy the drink you have. These are gifts from God.