Solomon on Vocation

Solomon on Vocation August 25, 2021

I’ve been teaching our church’s Bible class, looking at the three books penned by Solomon.  The Song of Solomon, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes are extremely interesting and rewarding, though they are difficult to the point that some people ask, “why is this in the Bible?”

The answer, of course, is that God’s Word has a breadth, depth, and complexity that can very well include the erotic love poetry of the Song of Solomon and the abject despair of Ecclesiastes.  The former is full of gospel, as the rapturous love between the king and the Shulamite reveals how Christ sees His bride, the Church.  And the latter is full of law, with the old apostate king looking back on his life to realize that his wisdom, wealth, accomplishments, pursuit of pleasure (with his 700 wives and 300 concubines), leading to nothing more than emptiness,  meaninglessness, and “vanity.”  But it also shows the gospel, as the king realizes that, while everything “under the sun”–that is, this immediate world that we can see–appears meaningless, knowing God (who is beyond the sun) transfigures life, and we see Solomon’s return to faith.

Furthermore, Ecclesiastes has much to say about vocation.  Toil and relationships can be frustrating, miserable, and meaningless.  But, when we bring God into them, we can experience them in a different way.  Solomon thus shows another dimension to life “under the sun.”

Here are some of the texts from Ecclesiastes that address vocation:

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?  (2:24-25)

Yes, our toil can be meaningless.  So can our pursuit of pleasure in eating and drinking (2:1-11).  But we can also experience enjoyment in our work.  And that enjoyment “is from the hand of God”!   The same is true of the enjoyment we receive from eating and drinking.  This too “is from the hand of God”!
Solomon develops that theme later, in piercing words (my bolds):

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.  (3: 9-13)

God “has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Think about that.  This world under the sun may be filled with vanity and meaninglessness, but there is great beauty here too.  That “everything” was made beautiful, and in its time is or has been beautiful is a striking insight.  Yes, your toil may seem like drudgery right now, but remember the time when it was beautiful to you–when you first got that job or when you were finding such satisfaction in it–appreciate that.

“He has put eternity into man’s heart.”  Here is the famous “God-shaped vacuum” that only Christ can fill, attributed variously to Pascal and Augustine, both of whom said something similar but not the same.  Here, though, Scripture itself teaches that we all have “eternity” in our hearts, making too the important additional point that we cannot from our own resources find that eternity, apart from God’s revelation.  We measure everything by eternity, so of course it fails to satisfy us and seems meaningless.  But when we find eternity, we can find joy even in this brief and frustrating life.  Be joyful and do good.  That’s the secret.  Eat and drink and take pleasure in our toil, which would include not only what we do to make a living but also the work of all of our vocations, including what we do in our families, our church, and our communities.

Solomon says as much in this other quotation (my bolds):

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. . . .

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.  (9:7, 9-10)

Enjoy your food.  Enjoy your wine.  Indeed, “drink your wine with a merry heart.”  Note the gospel:  “for God has already approved what you do.”  That is to say, God has justified us.  We now have His approval.  This frees us to enjoy life, despite all of its frustrations!

Then Solomon brings in marriage:  “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love.”  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines from many nations, but when he built for them temples to their pagan gods, they turned his heart away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8).  When you read Ecclesiastes in light of Solomon’s biography, that line calls to mind the subject of Song of Solomon.  If I had only been content with the Shulamite, the devout Israelite woman who was, amidst all the others, “the only” one I loved (6:8-9)!  But, for the rest of us, this is priceless advice. Yes, “all the days of your vain life” may be full of trouble, but living them with a spouse whom you live, can fill them with with enjoyment as well.

Our toil and our relationships are our “portion in life”; that is, they are our vocations.  And what God gives us to do, we should do it with all our might!  If we throw ourselves into our work or our marriage, giving them our best, our lives even in this meaningless world “under the sun” will have meaning after all, as coming from the hand of God.

 

Illustration:  Icon of King Solomon, in Greek Catholic Cathedral of Hajdúdorog, Hungary (18th century) via Jojojoe, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


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