Out Of This World

Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labour in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

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Solomon, famously, searched for happiness. In Ecclesiastes 2, he sets out to find happiness in a range of pursuits: wine, pleasure, culture, wealth. property, science, work. But he ends up in frustration: “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:12).

The old puritan Thomas Watson wrote this in his commentary on the beatitudes:

All things under the sun are but 'temporary', therefore they cannot enrich with blessedness. Worldly delights are like those foods which are fresh at first—and then presently grow stale or rot. 'The world passes away' (1 John 2:17). Worldly delights are winged. They may be compared to a flock of birds in the garden—which stay a little while—but when you come near to them—they take their flight and are gone! So 'riches make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven' (Proverbs 23:5).

Put simply, as Solomon discovered, real happiness is so elusive it cannot be found in this world. We need to realise, both theoretically and practically, that true happiness is only to be found in things above, “out of this world”.

I understand that the New Testament word “blessed” (as used in Matthew 5) translates the Greek language makarios, and an appropriate equivalent for our understanding would be “happy”. The same word is used of God, for example, in 1 Timothy 1:11: “according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.” Whatever this word makarios means, it is true both of God and of what God holds out to us.

Zephaniah 3, looking ahead to Israel’s glorious future, is such a great expression of the joy He delights to share. In verse 14, He commands rejoicing: “Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” But not only will Israel rejoice; so too will God Himself: “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). How wonderful to share in God’s own joy!