Physical Labor is Vanity
King Solomon continued his discourse on vanity in Ecclesiastes 2:18-26 - "Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome, even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind."

In 2:18,19, it is clear that the wise king did not want to leave his accomplishments to someone else. Who knew what they will do with them? He was worried that his inheritance might go to a complete fool. Ironically, this is exactly what happened when Solomon's son, Rehoboam, took the throne (cf. I Kings 12). Followers of Christ today must exercise wisdom in the planning of their wills. Friends, if you are truly seeking first the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), do not leave your estate to earthly-minded fools if they will only squander it on their selfish pleasures! This is true even if the fools are your children!

In 2:22,23, Solomon described physical life as full of toil and striving. From the purely secular viewpoint, man's days are indeed sorrowful and burdensome. From the beginning of one's life to the end, grief and futility reign. Peace is not even found when one lays down to sleep.

However, 2:24 marks a turning point in the text - "Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God." Here God is mentioned positively for the first time (cf. 1:13). From this point on, God is a focal point in the book.

Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch believe a better rendering of 2:25 is as follows - "For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, without Him [i.e., God]?" This is a significant verse. The preacher has effectively shown the futility of life from the worldly perspective, but, as we've noted earlier, these conclusions are not true with God factored into the equation. However, with God in the picture, everything changes, but, without Him, there is no true value to anything man does. With God's hand in our existence, life can be enjoyable and beautiful (cf. 3:11).

The Scriptures teach that those who are good in God's sight are those who serve Him faithfully and humbly. Solomon affirmed in 2:26 that such will find wisdom, knowledge, and joy. The sinner, however, focuses upon himself and his own desires. His life is vain, except that God uses him to accomplish good for His people (cf. Prov. 13:22; 28:8).

Although toiling for physical things is futile, the labor of a Christian is never in vain if he is working for the Lord and storing up heavenly treasures. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58; cf. Matt. 6:19-21).

We will continue our study of this great book next week.