From the second lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
So we come to the conclusion of Section One. The conclusion is Chapter Two, verses 24-26. He’s built up here to a point and he is about now to summarize it in a very important statement, a statement that, regrettably, I believe, is not translated right in most Bibles. It’s translated in the NIV, verse 24, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” The problem with this translation, which I am going to show, is an interpolation, is that it seems to come to some rather frail and impotent conclusion. Solomon looks all around him, and he says, man, I’ve tried it all and it is meaningless. And so there’s nothing better to do but just eat another hamburger and have another milkshake. You know, enjoy it while you can. That’s all that’s good for man to do. That’s not very wise. What’s significant about that? That’s sort of a copout. In fact, what is said here literally is. Ein tov ba adam. Or, rendered literally, “There is nothing good in man that he should be able to eat, drink or get satisfaction in his work. For this too I see or I now understand is from the hand of God. For without him who can eat or find enjoyment. What is he saying here? That within us in the natural, in our inherent being, we have no capacity to establish what is good or find what is good. There is nothing, ein tov ba adam. It doesn’t say – the reason it is translated this way, by the way, in most Bibles is because they look at Chapter 3, verse 12 and Chapter 8, verse 15 in which there is a similar statement. But there the construction is not ein tov ba adam, it’s la adam, for man, but here ba adam means in man. There is no good in man. In other words, the natural man under the sun within his own capacities does not have the skill to fully enjoy life. That very ability to enjoy life is a gift from God. The good things of this world -- and they are good -- God created this world and he called it good. The good things of this world that we have should be viewed as gifts from God. But not only are the things a gift from God, the ability to enjoy the things are a gift from God. All good, in other words, comes from God. It comes from above. It is not under the sun. But it is above the sun. So the point he is making here is very significant. That even our capacity to enjoy life is dependent on God’s gracious gift. In the natural, we toil and struggle. But in the spiritual, by God’s gift, we can enjoy, we can eat, we can drink, we can have work that is meaningful. As God gives us that work, that food, that provision, as well as the ability to enjoy it.
You know the sages of Israel said that when your judgment comes before God, you will be judged not only for wrong things that you did but you will also be judged for good things in this world which God created that you did not enjoy. The Jewish view is not an ascetic, withdrawn, negative kind of view as characterized certain Puritan thought, for example. The Jewish view is life affirming. Life is full and abundant if you operate above the sun and not under the sun. As long as you are playing by the rules of the game here, in the natural, it’s an endless toiling and ceaseless activity that is meaningless. But God has the capacity to give you the ability to enjoy life to the fullest, indeed, to live abundantly and to enjoy.
So the prophet here is making three vital principles: The possession of the goods is a gift of God. It’s a gift from God. The good things of life should be viewed as blessings to be enjoyed and appreciated and used productively. All good gifts come from above. Look at Matthew 7. You are familiar with this passage, I believe, beginning with verse 7 of Chapter 7. Jesus is teaching that you should ask and you should knock. Now, here is the text that I want you to look at, verse 9 of Chapter 7. Jesus here, in a rabbinic way of arguing says, “Which of you, if a son ask for bread, will give him a stone, or which of you if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts, good things to those who ask him?” This type of argumentation as some of you will recall on our study of Jesus, the historical Jesus, Col vahomer, arguing from the simple to the complex. If you, as an earthly father, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more then, will your heavenly Father give you good gifts. But the imagery here is so interesting to me. Like everything about Jesus; it has such significance.
There is nothing casual about Jesus. He’s drawing on imagery from the Sea of Galilee. That was sort of his hangout, Kfar-nahum, Capernaum, was the place he was most often around. And just a little bit around the coastline there, is Pabka and Magdala, where Mary Magdalene, Mary of Magdala. And this is where the fishermen were and they would fish. They would be out all night. They fished at night just as they do today in Israel. And they would toil throughout the evening. And then in the morning, in early morning light, they would come to shore and they would take some of their catch and they would fry up some fish and they would have some bread and they would have breakfast. And Jesus is using here these two items, typical of a fisherman’s breakfast on the Sea of Galilee. Bread and fish. But, he says then, which of you would give, instead of bread, a stone and instead of fish, would give a serpent. He is using additional imagery that every fisherman knew. Because part of the fishing technique there on the Sea of Galilee was to use nets and there are different kinds of nets. And they are even mentioned here in the Gospels, they are quite historically accurate. But they would drop one type of net, they would put weights on it and they would drop it in the water and then go into the shore at two different points and begin pulling it toward the shore. And if they happened to have an unlucky night fishing, they could toil all night and the fruit of their labor was not fish but was just stones, from the bottom. They would pull ashore stones from the net rather than fish. And they also might pick up a water snake or two, which are common in the Sea of Galilee. Don’t worry -- you are not going to go swimming there if you go with me to Israel. But the point is here, this image of a stone and a serpent to the fisherman of Galilee was a powerful image of fruitless labor. It’s an image here of frustration and disappointment with the catch. In other words, it is the very image that Solomon is using. Life is a matter of going fishing but no matter how skillfully you do it and how you go about, it seems like all you come up with is stones and serpents. In other words, you come up with an empty catch. And Jesus is saying your heavenly Father is not like this. If you ask of him for good things, it won’t be meaningless. It wont’ be futile. Quite the contrary. He desires to give you good gifts, even more than your earthy fathers desire to give your children good gifts. And, in fact, he will give you the supreme gift of his Holy Spirit, as Luke renders this text.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.