Our culture is the embodiment of these verses. The birth rate has slipped below the replacement level. People now wait until their 30’s and 40’s to marry and have children, if they have children. A very large number of the births that do take place are to un-wed mothers (a deceptive term that hides that the real issue is un-wed fathers who abandon the mother of their child and their child).
Solomon looks out in his day and sees the same thing. People who exhaust themselves seeking after stuff, but have no one to share it with, no one even to pass their accumulation of stuff along to as an heir. And for some reason the question, “For whom am I toiling and depriving myself of pleasure?” never comes to mind.
Solomon does not have in mind those who are in such situations due to things beyond their control. Infertility, the loss of a spouse, death of children, etc. is not his point. Rather it is those who seek such a lifestyle deliberately. For those in some of these imposed situations, the Lord offers comfort.
Solomon wants us to know that a life lived for work, lived for stuff, lived for better finances, lived for a career path, lived for convenience, lived for self will deprive us of some of the greatest parts of life. The richness of life isn’t found in riches.
One reminder is appropriate. Solomon is writing from the vantage point of life “under the sun”, that is, a life without any consideration of God. As Christian we know that there are indeed some, like Paul, who are called to lives of celibacy and singleness for the sake of the spread of the Gospel. Here the children born are not physical children, but spiritual.
This is the greater call of this passage. While God has made most people to marry and have physical heirs, the greater call is for every believer to pass along their faith to the next generation, whether or not they have physical descendants.
Are you working for for this world? It won’t satisfy. Are you toiling for the salvation of the next generation? In this there is great joy and satisfaction.
Lord, help us to recognize the joy and blessing of having children. Let us seek not only physical children, but most of all spiritual children to whom we pass the faith. Amen.
One other foot note