The Goodness of Toil
“Is it not good for a man that he eat and that he drink and that he make known to his soul the goodness of his toil? I saw that this also was from the hand of God, for who eats and who hustles more than me?”
Solomon shifts to a rhetorical question. He has been exploring the idea of how all of the things he labors for will pass into the hands of others and it tempted to despair in that reality — it is vanity indeed! Yet, the common sense wisdom is that eating and drinking and finding satisfaction in one’s labors is good. How does one reconcile these two ideas.
The answer is indeed, that this comes from God. Do not miss what he is proposing. Solomon is not just saying that food and drink comes from God (it does), but he is saying that the satisfaction that we find — the goodness of these things for which we labor — also comes from God. But, how does God bring that pleasure and satisfaction to us? Therein lies the great deception of the west — a deception that we Americans are prone toward.
I have to think that there was a time in his life that Solomon would have gotten along splendidly in America — work and labor to amass as much wealth as possible. Yet, as we read Ecclesiastes, Solomon is clearly beyond this stage in his growth; many (if not most) Americans are not. Because there is work to be done and money to be made, businesses are now open seven days a week. And because money isn’t the only thing that consumes us, there are also activities that take place seven days a week.
And so, people go, go, go. Yet, God set for us a different pattern of living. In God’s economy, we would go, go, go six days a week, but when it came to the seventh, we would have the opportunity to rest. This is the pattern that God modeled for us in creation. And how did God exercise rest on the seventh day? He had already pronounced his work of creation to be “very good,” now he sets the day apart as holy — a day for his purposes. This makes the Sabbath day not only a day of worship but a day for taking satisfaction in the things that God has permitted your hands to complete.
Without that day set apart, work leads you into a rat race. Solomon understood that satisfaction comes from the hand of God and we will never truly appreciate that unless we follow God’s model of work and rest.
The final verse of this passage is translated in various ways, depending on the translation one is working with. Literally it translates: “for who eats and who hastens outside of me?” Many of our Bibles will take the term חושׁ (chush) to derive from the Akkadian word meaning “to be glad,” yet, when used elsewhere in the Hebrew text, it is translated as “to hasten” or “to hurry.” Thus, I have translated this as “to hustle” reflecting the nature of Solomon’s labors. Not only has Solomon enjoyed life more fully than any of his subjects, but he works harder (he hustles) than his subjects as well. In other words, he is saying, “Who knows this better than me?” In Solomon’s day, no one could say they did.
Yet, my concern is for our day and the desire that Christians take to heart the importance of the Sabbath as a day (a whole day!) set apart for the things of God and not for the things of man. If we pursue the things of God on the day set apart for God, then surely he will show us how to properly be satisfied in the earthly things he sets before us.