The problem of the miser in Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 is deeper than his loneliness. Consider: Loneliness does not require work. And yet, Why is there is no end to all his toil? Why won’t riches satisfy him? If he were thirsty, a drink would satisfy. If he were hungry, food would satisfy. Why can’t he obtain satisfaction?
Qoheleth has repeatedly placed enjoyment as a gift of God (Eccl. 2:24-25). The prophet Micah demonstrates that the Lord can take away satisfaction:
You shall eat, but not be satisfied, and there shall be hunger within you; you shall put away, but not preserve, and what you preserve I will give to the sword. Micah 6:14 (ESV)
While the negated verb (no satisfied/full) appears four times in the OT (Ecclesiastes 1:8, 4:8 & 6:3; Micah 6:14), the verb otherwise appears 97 in 93 verses. It is used in Exodus 16:8 & 12, Deuteronomy 6:11, 8:10, 12; 11:15 & 31:20 to refer to God giving good things to bring people to satisfaction. In Deuteronomy 11:15 & 14:29, God commands those who have much to give to those who have little that they may be satisfied. Leviticus 26:26 warns of the curse of not being satisfied should they rebel against God.
The matter of relative material satisfaction (nothing in the verses of the Torah would imply that such things would bring a continual satisfaction: indeed, the word in each context means eat to the full), is developed in the prophets to concern the matter of satisfaction in God:
How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. Jeremiah 5:7 (ESV)
Here, God notes that he has provided full material goods and yet the people were not satisfied in what they received from God and sought elsewhere. The refusal to be satisfied with good of God will result in the sword being made full of blood as it brings judgment (Jer. 46:10). The curse promised in Leviticus 26 will come. This is a point raised repeatedly in the prophets: Hosea 4:10; Joel 2:19 & 26.
How could receiving the goodness of God lead to the loss of satisfaction?
11 Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, Deuteronomy 8:11–14 (ESV)
As the prophets explained, this is precisely what happened to the people of Israel:
4 But I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; you know no God but me, and besides me there is no savior. 5 It was I who knew you in the wilderness, in the land of drought; 6 but when they had grazed, they became full, they were filled, and their heart was lifted up; therefore they forgot me. Hosea 13:4–6 (ESV)
In fact, God giving good things may actually be the precursor for judgment:
29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved. 30 But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, 31 the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel. Psalm 78:29–31 (ESV)
This does not negate enjoyment of gifts from God. However, when the gifts are received without thankfulness, the gifts become poison. The Lord does not forbid seeking food from God. Indeed, he commands us to seek such things from God (Matt. 6:11). But such prayers must be followed with joy and thankfulness (Psalm 103:5, 145:16, 147:14):
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; 5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. 6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 7 He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. 8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things. Psalm 107:1–9 (ESV)
Contentment cannot be obtained by obtaining stuff. The creation is far too small and life far too short to provide contentment. Thus the irony of obtaining things without satisfaction: to labor to get may result in the loss of true satisfaction:
13 Arise, O LORD, confront him, bring him low; Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword, 14 From men with Your hand, O LORD, From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure; They are satisfied with children, And leave their abundance to their babes. 15 As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. Psalm 17:13–15 (NASB95)
The wicked may gain property – but the only thing they can do is leave it for another. To leave it to another is vanity (Eccl. 2:21); and to have no one as an heir is vanity (Eccl. 4:8). Yes, there may be some pleasure in a thing, but no ultimate satisfaction.
David refuses to be satisfied with creation; he rather seeks satisfaction in seeing God (Ps. 17:15). With God all is true blessing:
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! Psalm 65:4 (ESV)
Indeed, the satisfaction which comes from God is so great as to overcome even affliction and death. Notice the prayer and hope for satisfaction from God despite and in the midst of affliction and death:
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 13 Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Psalm 90:12–15 (ESV)
Indeed, this is the true satisfaction of the Savior:
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:10–12 (ESV)
Now just one further step: We sin in this life, because we seek satisfaction somewhere other than in God (James 1:14-17: our hearts deceive us into sin – when the only good and perfect gift is the gift which comes from the Father of Lights). The Lord persevered through trial and temptation not because he did not seek satisfaction, but rather because he sought supreme satisfaction.
We, to put off our entangling sin, must look to our Savior and follow after the pioneer of our faith (Heb. 2:10) and follow after him:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1–2 (ESV)
This seeking after joy despite the world as a means of putting off sin is throughout the Bible. Note how Peter moves effortlessly from hope of obtaining Christ to holiness:
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13–16 (ESV)
1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:1–3 (ESV)
Sin cannot be defeated merely by seeking to avoid the world – rather it suffers defeat when a greater is offered. A thirsty man may drink pond water rather than die – but he will choose cold clear water over the murky pond if it can be had. The desire – the need for satisfaction – lies at the heart of being human.
God has so rigged the world that seeking satisfaction outside of God will ultimately result in unhappiness. The world without Christ is vanity. God has so rigged the world to use our desire for happiness to drive us to Christ.