In themselves, happiness, pleasure, and achievement are fruitless, unsatisfying pursuits. Only when our lives are focused on God and we accept and use His gifts for His glory do we find true contentment and joy in this life. This is Solomon’s message in Ecclesiastes 2–5.
Making the Most of Our Time
We discovered last time that Solomon’s journey with God began like a pilot flying off into blue skies, headed in the right direction. But because he took his eyes off the instrument panel of truth, he began to fly into the dark clouds of rebellion. Solomon himself described that dark time as empty and meaningless.
Now in chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon basically asks the question, “How can I be happy?” In verse 1 we read, “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.’”
So, in verse 2 Solomon turns to “laughter,” or comedy. He tried to entertain himself with good times, but that did not last for long. In fact, he says, “I said of laughter, ‘It is mad,’ and of pleasure, ‘What use is it?’” The word here for “madness” implies that Solomon was laughing at morally perverse things. And let me tell you, what a man laughs at is a good indication of what kind of man he is.
Now here in verse 3, Solomon writes, "I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine." One author writes that in verse 3 Solomon effectively leaves the comedy club and heads over to a bar to find some kind of satisfaction apart from the Lord. He is going to do what millions of people are doing today, using alcohol to numb the pain of their problems rather than turn to God.
Through the rest of chapter 2, he recounts his pursuit of pleasure without God. Remember, this book is Solomon’s private journal. He uses the personal pronouns I, me, my, and myself more than forty times. And at the end of his selfish pursuits, he writes here in verse 26, “This also is vanity and a striving after wind.”
A poet was struck by the fact that tombstones typically record a person’s year of birth, followed by the year of death. And those two dates are separated by a little dash. That dash represents the length of that person’s life. The poem, which she titled, “The Dash,” contemplates the importance of how you live out that dash—that amount of time you have been given.
Solomon is pondering this here in chapter 3. You are going to read the word time twenty-eight different times. It begins in verse 1: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” As Solomon considers the time we have in life, he composes fourteen pairs of opposites. This poetic device of coupling opposites in each phrase is called a merism.
Solomon writes in verse 2, “[There is] a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up.” Down in verse 4 he says there is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance,” in verse 7 “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” and so on.
Solomon is focusing us on the totality of life, but he is not being pessimistic about it. In fact, he writes here in verse 11, “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time.” The word for “beautiful” refers to that which is “suitable” or “fitting.” God has made everything suitable for its time. You could say, “It’s beautiful how God fits everything together.” It might not suit you at the moment. It might not look all that beautiful right about now, but God is weaving everything according to His purposes.
There is another well-known line related to time here at the end of verse 11:
[God] has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Even though we cannot figure out at times what God is doing, there is one thing we do know: we are wired for eternity. One author put it this way:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
Solomon asks another question here in verse 22: “Who can bring him [mankind] to see what will be after him?” Well, the answer is God alone. One of the reasons we anticipate the joy of heaven is because all the difficulties of life down here under the sun will finally be given a redeeming purpose and a glorious conclusion.
Now as we journey into chapter 4, we get into a section that reads a lot like Solomon’s book of Proverbs. There are short paragraphs that cover a lot of different territory. I think it sounds like a survival guide as you navigate the rough experiences of life. Solomon writes in his journal about encountering oppression, envy, laziness, and blind ambition.
He provides some wise counsel throughout this passage. For instance, he writes in verse 6, “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil.” “Quietness is a word that serves as a synonym for contentment.” The question is, are you content with just one handful? Solomon is describing wise contentment that is able to say, “God has given me just enough.”
Solomon now shifts gears in verses 7-12 and begins to show how our focus will impact the lives of others. He starts here in verse 8 with one solitary man who is working hard every day, never taking time off for family or friends. He reminds me of that fictional character Ebenezer Scrooge. He is not focused on the Lord but only on himself, and it’s “Bah, humbug” on everybody else.
Solomon gives some advice to Ebenezer Scrooge and the rest of us here in verses 9-12. He writes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. . . . a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
The point is that when you face personal attacks or difficulties in life, you need reinforcements who have your back, who lift you up in prayer, who remind you of God’s promises. And what could be better than one friend like that? Well, two friends, Solomon says, because a threefold chord is not quickly broken or defeated.
Solomon quickly changes his focus again—this time to the world of worship in chapter 5. In verse 1, he writes, “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.”
The king is concerned about treating God lightly—making promises you do not intend to keep. He writes here in verse 7 about being motivated in life by your own dreams rather than God’s desires. Look, worship is not demanding your dreams be accomplished in heaven; true worship is dreaming of God’s will being done on earth.
Now here in verses 18-20, we find two of the most spiritually minded entries in Solomon’s private journal. This is now a God-focused Solomon speaking to God-focused believers. In verse 18, he writes:
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.
He goes on to say in verses 19-20:
Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he [the person focused on God] will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
Beloved, Solomon is calling us to be God-focused believers who will accept what God has given us and where God is leading us. When we do, a joyful heart is the result. Whether God gives you one handful or two, whether you experience some peace and quiet or days of trouble, you and I are being challenged to recognize that all we have is from the hand of God.
So, let’s become God-focused today, and entrust our lives to Him. We do not have long to live, do we? Our lives are just a little dash; let’s commit that little dash into His hands.
 Philip Graham Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters (Crossway, 2010), 47.
 Alistair Begg, quoted in Danny L. Akin and Jonathan Akin, Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes (Holman, 2016), p. 24
 Linda Ellis, “The Dash.”
 Don Givens, Storms of Life: Ecclesiastes Explained (Xulon Press, 2008), 54.
 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, revised and enlarged (Macmillan, 1952), 120.
 Ryken, 111.