“I continually sing praises to joy of which there is nothing better for man under the sun because if one eats and drinks and is joyful it will go with him during his anxiety during the days of his life which has been given to him by God under the sun.”
Like so many passages is this book, a surface reading of the text, or a reading that is taken in isolation of the rest of the book, will lead you astray. Here is not Solomon’s commercial for a hedonistic life — eat, drink, and be merry because that will balance out all of the terrible things that accompany life in this fallen world. While some have read the text in this way, it is a profound misunderstanding of what Solomon is saying.
First of all, we need to remind ourselves of the nature of joy as in the Hebrew there are a number of words that we would translate as such into English. In this case, the word שִׂמְחָה (simchah) is most commonly used in the context of the joy of God’s people in worship. So, even there, we begin to see Solomon’s focus. For Solomon is not praising joy in the abstract or even praising joy in the way that later Greek Hedonists would. He is praising a specific kind of joy that transcends our worldly experience as it is rooted in the worship of the divine.
But what of the eating and drinking? Indeed, it is eating and drinking and being joyful. How often in both modern and ancient times, God’s people choose to eat together and drink together in fellowship around the worship of our great and glorious God. God has provided food for our bellies from the richness of the ground just so that we can eke out a miserable existence, but he provides an abundance of foods and flavors from the ground which can be combined in new and creative ways to create joy for the palate. And for this, God’s people give God thanks and that thanks is poured out into our worship. So indeed, the fellowship we have around the table with other believers in the context of worship aids us as we go through the anxieties and cares of our daily lives, but more importantly, it points us to the joy of worship.
Yet, how often, even professing believers rob themselves of that joy. Worship gets placed low on the priority list or it is treated as a passive activity rather than one with which the believer participates and engages. The singing of God’s people and their eagerness to learn the Word of God are two indications of the joy they have in the Worship of the Lord. If this describes your worship, or if you dread “going to church,” or if you find your worship “unfulfilling or dull” then let me challenge you to look within before you criticize what is going on around you. Ask yourself, “How am I preparing for worship and how am I engaging in it?” Even a funny movie will be dull and bland if you watch it with a bored and disinterested attitude. This is the worship of our Almighty God! So much better than a movie and an expression of joy in a Christian’s life! Take that to heart as you prepare for worship on this Sabbath day.