People may not sing it much anymore, but the following song was popular in its day:
You’re gonna take that ocean trip, no matter come what may;
You’ve got your reservations made, but you just can’t get away.
Next year for sure, you’ll see the world, you’ll really get around;
But how far can you travel when you’re six feet under ground?
Then the refrain:
Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by, as quickly as a wink,
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Herb Magidson, “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later than You Think),” 1934.
“Enjoy Yourself” was written in the 1930s and popularized in the 1950s, but its perspective on life is as old as Ecclesiastes. Our time on earth is short, so we had better make the most of it, finding joy in its many pleasures.
Solomon says it like this:
7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head. 9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
This doesn’t sound like the doom and gloom that Solomon has been relating to us. He had just bemoaned the fact that both the righteous and the wicked, both the wise and the foolish, all die and are forgotten. But here, as he has done so often (cf. 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-19), Solomon recommended the present enjoyment of the good things God allows us to experience in life.
This was his conclusion, since our future on the earth is so uncertain, and since after that we die, we cannot enjoy these things, after death.
In particular, we should enjoy food and drink (v. 7), clean clothing and perfume (v. 8), and marital companionship (v. 9), among other of life’s legitimate pleasures. Notice that this list includes some luxuries as well as the necessities of life (cf. 5:19).
I know I’ve mentioned this before. It is important that our primary satisfaction must be in Jesus Christ Himself. We are to “glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” Keeping that in mind keeps any of God’s good gifts from becoming idols that we “must have” in order to be happy. But, when we make Him our greatest joy, then we are allowed to enjoy all other good gifts for His sake, or for His glory. We are to receive those gifts (Eccl. 2:24; 3:13; 5:20) with humble gratitude, knowing that we don’t deserve them, and then enjoy them as we rejoice in His generosity and kindness to us.
I find it God’s timing that this passage comes up during Thanksgiving week.
Solomon is providing some balance in perspective from the consternation and frustration that he feels about being unable to understand all of God’s ways. Solomon has said a lot about life that is vanity and chasing wind. He acknowledges that life is unfair and we often cannot figure out what God is up to.
But, while we may not be able to figure out the big things, we can enjoy and rejoice in the little things, the little gifts of life that God so generously and graciously gives us.
We need to respond to the times (Eccl. 3:1-8), remembering that there are times to be sad and times to be glad. Experiencing both of these realities is what life is really about. It is not a continual party; neither is it a perpetual funeral. Some people need to spend more time at funerals, but others need to go to a party and enjoy themselves every once in awhile.
Of course, Solomon is not encouraging us to get sinfully involved in any of the pleasures of life. When he says in v. 7 that “God has already approved what you do” he is not giving a blanket endorsement of everything a person might do. Rather he is saying that enjoying the simple gifts of life finds approval with God. God delights in our delighting in His good gifts.
“God has already approved what you do (v. 7) means such enjoyment is God’s will for us. This encouraging word does not contradict the fact that we are the stewards of all God entrusts to us. However, this verse should help us realize that it is not sinful to take pleasure in what God has given us, even some luxuries.
We all need to learn to balance grateful participation and generous sharing, keeping and enjoying some things and giving away others so that others might enjoy them. This balance is not easy, but it is important.
What kinds of pleasure has God given his people to enjoy? The Preacher mentions at least three pleasures in particular: contentment, comfort, and companionship.
He begins with the basic pleasures of eating and drinking: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
The word “go” here conveys a sense of urgency. It is a command to engage in eating and drinking “with joy” and “with a merry heart.” It is probably not the gastric eating and drinking that Solomon is commending, as much as the heartfelt joy in experiencing God’s good gifts.
How do we know if our eating and drinking are “with joy”? I think the way we stoke our joy is through rejoicing, in expressing verbally our gratitude and our delight in God’s good gifts. Yes, thank your hostess, but thank God too for the tastes of the food and drink.
For those of you who might have experienced the symptoms of COVID-19, you understand the blessing of being able to taste your food and drink.
Warren Wiersbe points out that Solomon, unlike the normal Israelite family, sat down to a daily feast (1 Kings 4:22-23). However, there is evidence that he didn’t always enjoy it. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Prov. 15:17). “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife” (Prov. 17:1). He says, “The most important thing on any menu is family love, for love turns an ordinary meal into a banquet” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1137).
The celebration continues in verse 8: “Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.” White garments were the “dress-up clothes” of the ancient Near East. Many festive occasions were adorned with robes of white.
They were worn by war heroes in a victory parade, by slaves on the day they gained their freedom, and by priests on the high holy days of Israel (e.g., 2 Chronicles 5:12). To put this into a contemporary context, the Preacher is telling us to put on tuxedos and evening gowns so we can dance the night away.
Again, he is telling us to enjoy life. There’s nothing wrong with that. God approves of it.
Qoheleth also tells us to wear sweet perfume. To anoint someone’s head with oil (see Psalm 23:5) was to pour out something richly scented, like cologne — what the Bible terms “the oil of gladness” (Psalm 45:7). This is an important part of getting ready for a celebration — not just looking good but also smelling good, especially in a hot climate. People didn’t bathe that often, so perfume made up for that. The Preacher is telling us to get ready for a party!
“White garments and anointing oil make life more comfortable in a hot climate.” (Eaton)
Although white garments and perfume were normally for special occasions, Solomon is advising people to “always” wear white garments and never be lacking oil on the head. This is akin to Paul’s exhortation “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Phil. 4:4).
Again, Wiersbe says, “Among other things, this may be what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to become like little children (Matt. 18:1-6). An unspoiled child delights in the simple activities of life, even the routine activities, while a pampered child must be entertained by a variety of expensive amusements. It’s not by searching for special things that we find joy, but by making the everyday things special” (The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1137).
I love this quote by G. K. Chesterton:
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
There is more. The Preacher also invites us to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Literally he says, “with the woman you love,” but he is not just saying, “Love the one you’re with.” That can be a dangerous sentiment.
Solomon knew nothing of cohabitation or trial marriages. He saw a wife as a gift from God (Prov. 18:22; 19:14), and marriage as a loving commitment that lasts a lifetime. It is not, ultimately, based on passion or chemistry, but commitment. M. Scott Peck calls commitment “the foundation, the bedrock of any genuinely loving relationship” (The Road Less Traveled, p. 140).
As Tremper Longman has argued persuasively in his commentary, the woman in view is understood to be none other than the man’s beloved wife (Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes , pp. 230–231). The Preacher is commending the daily pleasures of marriage and family life.
It’s too bad Solomon didn’t live up to his own ideals. He abandoned God’s pattern for marriage—remember he had 1000 women—and then allowed some of them to seduce him away from faithfulness to the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8). If he wrote Ecclesiastes later in life, as I believe he did, then verse 9 is his confession, “Now I know better!”
Here it seems appropriate to give a word of practical exhortation to married couples. We could apply the principle of this verse to other relationships, of course. We should enjoy the company of others as well. The love between a man and his wife is not the only pleasure we can experience in human friendship.
But here the Bible gives a specific command to husbands, who need to pay attention to exactly what the Preacher says.
9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
Every husband is called to enjoy his wife. This means spending time together as friends. In all the busy demands of life, set aside time to do things together that you both enjoy. If you have to, schedule time together. Some people go on regular date nights, just to get away by themselves.
Some people have the love language of quality time, but that can mean different things. Some enjoy doing things side by side, like gardening, sports, or watching movies. But for others, quality time means face to face, heart to heart conversation about the things that really matter.
It means prizing one another as lovers. Speak terms of affection and get away — just the two of you — to fuel the fires of romantic love. Emotional intimacy means sharing your love and affection for one another. This form of intimacy can also be nurtured through empathizing with each other and trying to understand each other’s feelings.
Enjoying one’s wife also means valuing her as a person. Listen carefully to what she says, without immediately pointing out where she’s wrong or trying to solve problems that she’s not even asking you to solve until she has been understood. Value her opinion and take it into consultation when making a decision.
Enjoy her sexually. Solomon is very explicit in the book of Proverbs, telling men to enjoy their wives sexually instead of going to prostitutes. In Proverbs 5 Solomon says:
15 Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. 16 Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? 17 Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. 18 Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, 19 a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. 20 Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?
Those are pretty sexual words. If that isn’t enough, read Song of Solomon 4.
1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. 3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. 5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. 6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. 8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards. 9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! 11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices– 15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. 16 Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
Whew. That’s at least PG rated! But can you see the delight these two find in each other?
Physical intimacy can be as light as holding hands, hugs and kisses, or it can involve engaging in sex.
These are only a few of the many ways that husbands are called to enjoy their wives. But the key word is “enjoy” her. Don’t just live with her and put up with her. If you’re not enjoying your wife, it’s not her fault, but yours.
And notice that this enjoying of your wife is to be lifelong—“all the days of your life”—and even amidst all the difficulties or regular responsibilities—your portion in life and toil in life.
At this point some husbands (and not a few wives) will be tempted to complain that their wives (or husbands) are not always easy to enjoy. The romance has fizzled away and sometimes even the friendship can be on the rocks.
If that is the case, then we need to notice exactly how the Preacher words this command: the wife when we are told to “enjoy” is also the wife whom we are said to “love.” Maybe your wife, or your husband, can be very hard to enjoy right now, but you can at least obey God’s command to love them.
That’s because the love the Bible recommends as the basis of marriage is not a feeling, but a sacrificial commitment to do what is best for your spouse, even if it hurts and even if they don’t deserve.
That is exactly the kind of love that Jesus Christ shows to us through the cross. He demonstrates His love in that “while we were still sinners” (undeserving) He died for us. That is the kind of love that Paul says keeps a marriage strong.