Ecclesiastes is probably my favorite book of the Bible. To me, it paints a picture of the world as I see it. Also, if you take time to consider life, and your place in this world, you should walk away feeling a little depressed. After all, everything is, as the Teacher proclaims, “hevel.” This word literally refers to vapor or smoke, and it provides a great image for life—days are long, years are short, and a century from now the dent of our lives will probably not remain on Earth.
To brighten things up a little bit, let’s step into chapter 5 dealing with the idea of the fruits of our labor. Here is the idea of chapter 5: You will toil and labor. You will reap some fruit from your labor. You will lose the fruit of your labor because everything is outside of your control. The question of how we lose the fruit of our labor is the content of our chapter.
First, you might lose the fruit of your labor due to a rash vow. We see this clearly in verses 4 & 5, “ When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” To make a rash vow is to exhibit your lack of wisdom before the Lord. We’ve all said, “Lord, if you do X, I’ll do Y.” For the most part, that is stupid and it would have been better to say nothing at all because when God comes through, you’re left holding the bag.
Secondly, in verses 8–9 we see this odd little section about the poor and officials having higher officials finally ending with “After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land” (9). Basically, the idea is you will lose the fruit of your labor because we all have an authority over us who wants something for nothing. The author is essentially saying in verse 9 that it would be great for the king to work for his own food, but no king does. Every king takes what they didn’t earn.
The third way you may lose the fruit of your own labor is your own greed. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money” (10). Some people lose the fruit of their labor because of their own stupidity with rash vows, others from corruption or those who want something for nothing, but some people lose the fruit of their labor because they never stop to enjoy it. They toil, toil, toil, then drop dead.
Labor and it’s fruits are “hevel,” if you do not lose them through the above means, you will ultimately lose them when you die (16). No matter what, you will lose the fruits of your labor. So what’s the point? Why should anyone labor?
Verses 18–20 answer those questions. God has given us a few years. God has given us work to do. If you work, you will reap fruit. Enjoy God and enjoy the fruit—everything else is meaningless.
Questions for reflection:
We understand a relationship with God transcends the meaninglessness of life (the point of the book of Ecclesiastes), but in what ways are you tempted to despair about the meaninglessness of life?
This passage is pretty depressing; where do you find hope?
In what ways have you witnessed the loss of fruits in your own life or in the lives of others?
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate