Eat, drink and be merry
“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)
This seems like good advice. There is nothing better in life than to eat, drink and be merry. But this is true only if we are considering life “under the sun.” Notice how that phrase bookends our saying for today. Life under the sun is best lived by enjoying what pleasure this world affords.
Solomon does not recommend wasting much time on religion or moral strivings. His lust for life leads him to the harem, the banquet hall, the university, the building site and the palace… but never the temple. He mentions God here and there but he never recommends the paraphernalia of religious devotion. His advice? If you want to live life well “under the sun”, attend dinner parties, and laugh loud.
It’s good advice, except that the grave makes a mockery of it all.
Centuries later the inhabitants of Jerusalem tried to follow Solomon’s advice when an invading army besieged the city. At that time God called them to fasting and prayer. The people responded with “joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine. [They said] “let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.” (Isaiah 22:13) It ends badly for these merry makers.
In the face of coming judgement, Solomon’s advice doesn’t work.
That’s the point of Jesus’ story: the Rich Fool. Jesus imagines a man who follows Solomon’s philosophy. He lives for wealth and pleasure and when he gets rich he says to himself,
“take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said unto him, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee”. (Luke 12:19-20)
It’s a wonderful life philosophy… except for the one eventuality that strikes us all. In the face of death it’s utterly bankrupt.
Paul makes the same point from the other direction in 1 Corinthians 15:
if the dead rise not, let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die. (1 Corinthians 15:32)
If the grave is the end, we should follow Solomon’s advice – invest in parties. But if Christ rose from the dead, then there’s a bigger feast to come, and therefore a greater goal to live for.
Paul invests himself in the gospel of resurrection – pointing people to the Messianic banquet. It was a hope that shaped who he dined with and why. He ate and drank “to the glory of God… that all men… may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 10:31-33)
To the Christian it’s not “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Instead it’s, “Tomorrow we will eat, drink and be merry, so today let’s invest in the gospel of the coming feast.”
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