The first two chapters of Ecclesiastes paint a mostly bleak picture of human existence, but Ecclesiastes 3 is mostly hopeful. Solomon tells us that even those seemingly pointless things like “war” and “hate” have their purpose. Additionally, the admonition to eat, drink, and enjoy one’s toil is repeated in this chapter (Ecclesiastes 3:13), and this enjoyment is hopefully characterized as a gift of God. That expression is not new. What is new is the hope that nothing God does will completely fade away (Ecclesiastes 3:14). Thus, God’s work in and for us will endure.
Now, that is interesting because Solomon seems to be agnostic on the future fate of people (Ecclesiastes 3:21). It is important to remember that at this time in redemption-history, Solomon’s father, David, seemed to some to have a hope in eternal life (2 Samuel 12:23), but God does not inform the hope of the resurrection until later in time (e.g. in Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12).
Solomon still seems conflicted about the purpose of our lives. On the one hand, God gives us work and joy that should last somehow since God’s work lasts forever. On the other hand, Solomon appears to question whether humans, God’s chief work, will last. This tension will affect our ongoing reading of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon’s book shows us the difficulty of living without a hope in the living God and life eternal. May we rejoice and be glad in our hope that Solomon and others longed to see (see Hebrews 11:39-40).