20. You spend much of your allotted time striving, only to find there is not much left for enjoyment. There is the other element of reduced joy because of aging and its effects on mind and body. Under the present arrangements you spend your life gathering and building up for retirement, only to find life has past you by. They give you a sum of money claiming they have put it to good use and now it is yours to enjoy.
The Preacher has proved the point from his own experience. If you are to challenge it you would need to show from your experience that it is different.
There is a significant sample taken to corroborate the conclusion. This sample is the working life of a distinguished person. Not a sample to ridicule. Not unrepresentative or meaningless, but one to which all can relate. He gave the tree a good shake. It might have been worthwhile, except for the fact that it was threatened as soon as he left the scene.
18 Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. I hated all my labour. History tells the end of this story. The son of Solomon, a man called Rehoboam, lost the kingdom shortly after he assumed the throne. Ten of the twelve tribes made Jeroboam king and there was friction between the two parts from that time forward. The Preacher had reason to express his concern. The social system, the finely balanced economic structure was dismantled, and in its place a feeble and ineffective system that no one was happy about. The power was gone.
20 Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. The Preacher could only despair, because his achievements were grand. The whole system depended on his ingenuity. He was like the conductor of an orchestra, and he knew that anyone taking control of Israel would find it difficult to keep everyone in tune, and in time.
Well what can you do but get depressed? Perhaps you should not make such grand plans. Perhaps you should not worry about firm Government and a settled society. Perhaps you should not bother to set things up, when you know that finally they will fall apart and the people be worse off than before. Perhaps you should make all your plans for the contingency that someone taking over will lose control. What do you do? You just despair. There is no answer to the question, because you know that you will leave the scene and the people will suffer.
Some say; there is arrogance in his approach. He assumes things. He does not admit the time honored traditions of past generations, where we have built up this store of knowledge. Generations do not just pass away, they leave a heritage, a vast store of knowledge.
The thing is we need to examine everything to see if it is true. It must make sense. Life is something we have in common and we would all like to do it properly. We know if we damage other people or even ourselves we make things worse for us and the ones we love. Why would we do that? We need to work with others to make their lives and our lives worthwhile. Life would be a lot easier if people did not do unkind things to us, because we would not be tempted to do unkind things to them. Do to others as you would have them do to you. That makes sense to me.