Ecclesiastes 5:8–20: Occupied with Joy

by Sep 6, 20210 comments

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After considering how we relate to God, the Preacher again turns to consider our relationship to the rest of the world. In the second half of Ecclesiastes 5, the Preacher evaluates the vanity that exists in the sphere of public justice (or, rather, injustice), as well as vanity of toiling to accumulate wealth in this world in our private occupations. Public and private, there is no place in this world where we can find something solid and secure to establish a foundation for our security and satisfaction. Nevertheless, the Preacher does not write off life altogether; rather, he counsels us instead to seek joy and satisfaction that comes not from anything in this life, but from receiving everything as a gift from God’s hand. In Ecclesiastes 5:8–20, the Preacher exhorts us to learn experientially that God provides paradoxical joy.

Discussion Questions

1) What does the Preacher tell us about the reality of public injustice (v. 8)? Why does he tell us not to be amazed by the corruption we see among public officials? What does the system of high and higher officials tell us about the need for accountability and oversight in public justice? Does this mean that we should be passive or fatalistic or dismissive of such public injustice? How does the Preacher’s words about “cultivated fields” lead us simply to do our work (1 Thess. 4:11)?

2) If money brings such pleasure, why does the Preacher warn us that ultimately money cannot satisfy us (v. 10)? What problems come with the increase of money (v. 11)? Why might the poor laborer sleep better than the wealthy man (v. 12)? What does the Preacher’s parable of the rich father who loses his son’s inheritance tell us about the uncertainty of riches (v. 13–16)? Why does such a man live out his days in angry confusion (v. 17)? How are you tempted toward money?

3) Given everything the Preacher has just written, how does he finally claim that it is “good and fitting…to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil” in our lives (v. 18)? In what sense is our toil a gift from God’s hand (v. 18–19)? How does looking to our work and our possessions as the gift of God adjust our perception in such a way that avoids the warnings of the two previous sections of this passage? How does this help us to seek not the gift, but the Giver?

4) What does the Preacher mean when he promises that God will keep us “occupied with joy in [our] heart” (v. 20)? How can we find lasting joy, when the world is filled with injustice, and our own hearts are chasing after unsatisfying wealth? What do you tend to pursue when you long for satisfying joy? What does the Preacher teach you about the wisdom of what you are pursuing? What, then, does this passage teach you about finding paradoxical joy from the hand of God?