In the ancient fable The Boy and the Filberts (Nuts), a boy sticks his hand into a jar of nuts and grabs a great fistful. But his hand is so full that it gets stuck in the jar. Unwilling to lose even a little of his bounty, the boy begins to weep. Eventually, he’s counseled to let go of some of the nuts so the jar will let go of his hand. Greed can be a hard boss.
The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes illustrates this moral with a lesson on hands and what they say about us. He compared and contrasted the lazy with the greedy when he wrote: “Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves. Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind” (4:5–6). While the lazy procrastinate until they’re ruined, those who pursue wealth come to realize their efforts are “meaningless—a miserable business!” (v. 8).
According to the teacher, the desired state is to relax from the toil of greedy grasping in order to find contentment in what truly belongs to us. For that which is ours will always remain. As Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul” (Mark 8:36).
What are you driven to pursue and grasp? How can you apply the wise words of Ecclesiastes in order to find tranquility?
The book of Ecclesiastes is properly placed amid the Wisdom books of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs). This obscure book highlights the concerns of mankind from the beginning, with questions about God, earthly living and eternity, joy and sorrow, good and evil, death and dying, wisdom and folly. Ecclesiastes is like a twelve-chapter journal where the author records his musings and perspective on how life works. The writer is a realist (he doesn’t ignore the many complexities of life) and uses phrases that represent the author’s varied frustrations. The word meaningless is repeated thirty-five times, and the phrase chasing after the wind occurs nine times. But the writer is also a theist—he believes in God. He urges his readers to acknowledge and reverence their Maker. Why? “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (12:14)