It is providential to have this lesson this weekend. Labor Day is a holiday, officially recognized in 1894, to honor the American worker. Toward the end of the 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks just to eke out a basic living. In some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled away in mines and in horrible working conditions without sufficient fresh air, sanitary facilities, and breaks. The holiday does more than mark the end of summer. It honors work and workers.
It would do us well to discern a doctrine of work from Scripture. Work was what God did for six days in creating the world (Genesis 2:2). Work was part of the perfect world of Eden (2:15). When creation experienced the fall (Genesis 3), work became laborious. Sabbath was put in place by God to take some of the sting out of the work from the “six days you shall labor” imperative (Exodus 20:9). If we use the Creation, Fall, Redemption arc of interpretation and apply it to work, we find that work was meant by God to bring us joy. But when sin entered the picture, work brought angst. Our redemption in Christ puts work back into the meaningful categories of bringing glory to God and helping people (Colossians 3:23, 24; Ephesians 4:28). Solomon noted that work was an indication of the hand of God and was a gift from God.
The Hand of God Enables Us to Work
This section of Ecclesiastes followed the experiment of attempts at meaningfulness. Solomon tried “wine, women, and song” to gain deep joy. But all attempts under the sun proved futile. The partial resolution of this dilemma was to find some level of satisfaction in work that was given from the hand of God. Hand was a metonymy for strength or power. It is nothing less than God’s power that enables us to enjoy our lives—even in this “not yet” redeemed world.
Eating, drinking, and finding satisfaction in the toils of this life (something mentioned twice in our lesson texts today) are not bad. In fact, the word satisfaction is actually the word for soul (Hebrew, nephesh, or our livingness). Our souls experience an extra skip in our steps when we realize that God’s hand has enabled us to work and thereby find pleasure.
Solomon added another idea to this providence from God. He went on to say that if we please (do good to) God, he in turn will provide wisdom (prudence), knowledge (perception), and happiness (gaiety or joy). By contrast, the sinner (this is the normal noun for one who transgresses God’s law) will not find the soul refreshed. Instead the sinner will have to hand wealth over to one who pleases God. Working outside of the hand of God garners the repeated phrase in Ecclesiastes, “This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”
The Gift of God Rewards Us for Our Work
This section of our lesson comes immediately following Solomon’s discourse on time. Everything has its time. God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has placed time (and time unending) in our hearts. Out of eternity God carved time. Imagine trying to organize your days without the advantage of time. While we fight the constraints of time, it is a gift from God to help us mark our days of labor.
At the end of the day, and to cut our losses, the best we can hope for in a time-bound and fallen world, is to be happy (glad and rejoicing) and to do good (take pleasure) while we live. It may seem like a cheap consolation prize, but actually it is a sane way to live.
Once again Solomon called upon his people to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their work. He called that a gift (reward) of God. Verse 14 is repeated from the first lesson in this series to remind us that God’s work endures forever. Rejoicing in this gift of work will help us have the proper fear (respect or reverence) for God.
This teaching finds parallels in other texts. Moses’ psalm, that dealt with time, ends by pleading that God would establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17b). Proverbs 12:14b says that “the work of a man’s hand comes back to him” (English Standard Version). Paul told the Ephesian elders that he had worked hard with his hands (Acts 20:34, 35), and then he told the Ephesian church that they should do honest work with their hands (Ephesians 4:28). In fact, if a person will not work, he should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.