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Searching for Satisfaction

Though following the path to pleasure seems promising of abundant life, we come up empty handed.

Ecclesiastes is a wisdom book. Like Proverbs, it helps us to discern wisdom from foolishness, what will lead to life and what may seem promising but is nothing but a dead end. 

Recognizing our quest for meaning and value in life, the book of Proverbs holds up two women for us positioned along the way of our journey. Each one beckons us with identical words: “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here” (Prov. 9:4, 16). Each woman pitches promises of blessing, inviting us to find the life we are looking for. 

A closer look, however, reveals one woman to represent truth and the other to represent a lie. The first woman is identified with wisdom. She urges, “Leave your simple ways, and live, and walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6). The second woman personifies foolishness. She appeals to our desires and encourages any means to the end of satisfying our desires. “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Prov. 9:17). Though she promises satisfaction and fulfillment, we learn that those who give heed to her invitation find themselves at a banquet in the grave. 

Ecclesiastes issues the same warning about a desire-driven life. “And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:10–11). Though following the path to pleasure seems promising of abundant life, we come up empty handed. 

How, then, can we find our way? Where can we gain the direction we need to find the enduring fullness of life we crave? The woman of wisdom in Proverbs gives us these bearings: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Prov. 9:10). 

Fear of the Lord is not so much being afraid of God as it is being awed by God and living in a manner keeping with that awe. Fear of the Lord ascribes to the Lord the glory due His name. It recognizes Him in all that He is as God. In so doing, we acknowledge ourselves to be created beings who owe God worship, reverence, submission, and obedience. Fear of God describes a proper and prosperous orientation to life. 

We find this same operating principle to a life of wisdom in Ecclesiastes. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). Solomon directs that we live a duty-bound life rather than a desire-driven one, a life oriented to the fear of God, rather than the way that seems right to us. That duty will not be onerous but a delight, as the psalmist exquisitely expounds in the wisdom of Psalms 19 and 119. 

God’s words of Isaiah 55 serve as an interpretive guide for understanding the book of Ecclesiastes. “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance. Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isa. 55:2–3, NKJV). Ultimately, we learn in Scripture that that satisfaction, abundance, and life are bound up in Jesus Christ. 

Ecclesiastes bids us to incline our ear to God, particularly as we make our way through the course of life filled with voices inviting us to come, partake, and find life. It is through the lens of wisdom calibrated to the fear of God that we examine the perspectives proffered by our culture and the practices offered to bring life. 

  1. Why should the desires of our hearts be suspect as guides to fulfillment?
  2. How can we establish the fear of the Lord as the operating principle to our lives?

"God of wisdom and might, help me to trust in You with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding."

For further study, see Stanley D. Gale, Making Sanity out of Vanity: Christian realism in the book of Ecclesiastes (Faverdale North, Darlington, England: EP Books, 2011). 

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Books, a division of Good New Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and nine grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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