When Should We "Eat Drink and Be Merry" (Ecclesiastes 8:15)?
- Stephanie Englehart stephaniemenglehart.com
- 2020 13 Oct
Have you ever been on one of those teacup rides? The colorful human-sized saucers that spin you dizzy at amusement parks? I don’t enjoy them. Maybe it’s my general dislike for being dizzy, but more than likely it’s the connection to my earliest memory. I don’t remember anything about my first trip to Disneyland other than those teacups. I simply remember the blur of faces and color spinning around me, while Alice in Wonderland music blared in the background. As I staggered off the ride, I sought to steady my gaze. People surrounded us, as my mom’s epilepsy was triggered. To this day, I can’t make out any faces, the world was just a spinning—out of control and disordered. Since then, I’ve spent much of my life trying to stop the blur. Seeking control and order and trying to rid myself of the faint dizziness. Maybe you’ve experienced it too—feeling like just when things start going right, a haze comes in and clouds your ability to set things straight. For a long time, I wondered why my efforts to keep life under control were fruitless, but after wading through the fog, the book of Ecclesiastes offered me hope where my life felt upended.
What Does it Mean to 'Eat Drink and Be Merry' in Ecclesiastes 8:15?
Ecclesiastes is known as wisdom literature in the Bible. It speaks to the meaning of life, death, and injustice on earth while leaving us with a refreshing view to eat, drink, and be merry. The main repeated theme of Ecclesiastes comes from the Hebrew word Hevel, in which the preacher states in Ecclesiastes 1:2:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
Although the Hebrew word Hevel is translated as 'meaningless' or 'vanity,' some scholars argue that that’s not quite what the author is intending. A clearer picture would be the translation 'vapor.' The preacher in this book is providing his wisdom by stating that all of life is a vapor. He describes life like trying to bottle fog or capture smoke. It is an enigma—mysterious and incapable of being grasped. Therefore, when he directs us to ‘eat, drink, and be merry' in Ecclesiastes 8:15, he is shedding light on the joy of life despite its confusing, uncontrollable, and unjust manner.
The preacher understands the corrupt world we live in. He looks at humanity's longing for control, striving for success and happiness, and calls it all vapor—a chasing after the wind. No matter our work ethic, good standing, or healthy choices, the preacher knows that the 'teacup' never stops spinning (Ecclesiastes 8:16). He describes life on earth as such:
"Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them." - Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
It is from this view that the preacher offers a solution to the dizziness of our world:
“Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.” - Ecclesiastes 8:15 (KJV)
Other versions read:
"So I commend enjoyment because there's nothing better for people to do under the sun but to eat, drink, and be glad. This is what will accompany them in their hard work, during the lifetime that God gives under the sun." - Common English Bible
"And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun." - English Standard Version
"So I am convinced that we should enjoy ourselves, because the only pleasure we have in this life is eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves. We can at least do this as we labor during the life that God has given us in this world." - Good News Translation
"So, I'm all for just going ahead and having a good time - the best possible. The only earthly good men and women can look forward to is to eat and drink well and have a good time - compensation for the struggle for survival these few years God gives us on earth." - The Message
"So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun." - NIV
Rather than allowing our anxieties and the pressures of this world to beat us down, Ecclesiastes 8:15 calls us to enjoy the simple gifts that God has given us despite our circumstances.
Are We to 'Eat Drink and Be Merry' All the Time?
Ecclesiastes 8:15 teaches us to be joyful in all circumstances. In the midst of a miscarriage, a failed friendship, or job loss, the preacher would remind us that ‘there is a time for everything’ (Ecclesiastes 3:18), and to experience the joy of God’s gifts despite the worlds teetering foundation. This is not a dismissal of our suffering or tragedy. God sees us in our pain and reminds us that He is with us (Romans 8:38-39). Rather, this is an exhortation to simply be present in God’s gifts to humanity.
"I perceived that there is nothing better for [human beings] than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man." - Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
"There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy." - Ecclesiastes 2:24-26
The fact that we have tastebuds to enjoy rich coffee, sweet candied apples, and savory nachos is a gift. God grants us the time to enjoy the work of our hands, and the joy of sitting among old friends. For “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Heavenly lights” (James 1:7).
What Does the Bible Say about Enjoying Life?
So how are we to enjoy life in a fallen world? Do we just focus on the great tasting food and drink in front of us, or is there more to the new mercies God claims to give us each morning (Lamentations 3:23)? The exhortation of Ecclesiastes is to release our perceived sense of control and enjoy the lot God has given us, no matter what’s thrown our way. In order to do this, we cannot just simply claim to ‘enjoy’ things, but we must seek the very thing that provides joy in the first place. Understanding ultimately who is in control (Proverbs 19:21), who gives and takes away (Job 1:21), and what is most satisfying sobers you. We can enjoy a candied apple at the fair, but our thirst for ultimate satisfaction will never be tamed, and our blurred world will never become clear until we submit to the Giver of all good things.
Jesus tells us that He is the way, the truth, and the life, no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). It is in our surrender of control, identity, and life to Jesus that we receive lifelong satisfying joy.
"Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:8-9
God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us the ultimate gift of joy in Jesus. He sent His son to live the life we couldn’t live, die a death we deserved, and rose from the grave defeating sin and Satan once and for all. Through belief in Him, we receive an inexpressible joy. All other gifts— friendship, sunsets, good food, and humor, are simply meant to point us back to the joy we have in Him.
How Are Christians Called to Live on Earth?
That day on the teacups remains burned in my mind. It both reminds me of who I used to be, and how God has transformed my life through Jesus. The more I have sought to submit myself to the Bible and live with an open hand, the more joy I have experienced in the things He gives and the things He takes away. No matter where you are today, let us be reminded of 1 Peter 3:10-12:
“Whoever desires to love [and enjoy] life and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit;
let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
As Christians, we are called to enjoy life by keeping our tongue from evil, doing good to others, and pursuing peace with all. By enjoying life in this way, we seek to honor the precious blood of Jesus that died to make life possible for us. Whether you feel like you’re sitting on a spinning teacup, or stuck in a fog of dizziness, I encourage you to submit the pieces of life that you’re white-knuckling. Cultivate a grateful heart, appreciate the simple gifts that God has given, and seek to enjoy life by honoring Jesus and obeying His commands. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Let us not live with the ‘YOLO’ mentality that our actions do not matter but let us enjoy life by pursuing peace and righteousness and thanking God for His grace in our lives.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/DisobeyArt
Stephanie Englehart is a Seattle native, church planter’s wife, mama, and lover of all things coffee, the great outdoors, and fine (easy to make) food. Stephanie is passionate about allowing God to use her honest thoughts and confessions to bring gospel application to life. You can read more of what she writes on the Ever Sing blog at stephaniemenglehart.com or follow her on Instagram: @stephaniemenglehart.
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