“So I turned my heart to despair over all the anxieties with which I had been anxious under the sun. For there is a man who has troubled himself with wisdom and with knowledge and with skill but a portion will be enjoyed by a man who has not toiled over it. This is also vanity and it exasperates the spirit. What then is it to a man who has had every anxiety and exertion of his heart, who is anxious under the sun? For all his days are suffering and his work is vexation. Also, in the night his heart does not rest. This too is his vanity.”
As we have worked through this passage, I have chosen to translate the word עָמָל (amal) as “anxiety” rather than “toil” as is often done. The reason behind this is that it seems that Solomon’s focus is not just regarding the things that we might sweat and labor to accomplish, but the things that we sweat and labor to accomplish because they are a burden upon our hearts to do so. As I have often noted here before, work is not a product of the Fall (Genesis 2:15), but frustrated work and the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:19) — that which makes us anxious over our labors.
And so, when people inherit that which they have not worked for and for which they have no appreciation for the anxiety and toil required to create such a thing, how often do they value what they receive? How much more often do they squander their inheritance and lay it to waste. As the old saying puts it: “Easy come — easy go.” And as Solomon looks over his great empire, seeing the inevitability of this taking place, he feels a burden on his heart and realizes that if you build an empire simply for your own ends, it is vanity because it will not last.
This language anticipates the language later in this book where he speaks about enjoying the little pleasures of life — the wife of your youth, for example. We will not get ahead of ourselves, but how often, when amassing an empire, when building a business or even a reputation within a business, or while simply pursuing your goals, the simple pleasures of life and the pleasure of a rich family life is sacrificed. And, beloved, to what end? How many people have wealth and success, but in their later years are miserable because they have sacrificed far more valuable things on the altar of their vanity. Heed the wisdom of Solomon. Jesus poses the matter this way — what gains a man to win the world if he loses his soul in the process? Solomon seems to be putting it similarly in this book by asking, what gains a man to win the world if he loses the simple pleasures of life, his friends, or his family in the process?
Take heed, beloved, of the wisdom of Solomon.