Series: Under the Sun: The Book of Ecclesiastes
July 26, 2020 | John Ewart
Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:1-26
We rejoin the King in Jerusalem on his search for the meaning of life.
In chapter 1 Solomon concluded that life has no meaning and we live in a trapped monotony of the circle of life due to our sinfulness.
Turn to Ecclesiastes 2
Although he had started out with a Godly heritage, somewhere along the way Solomon became distracted and unfocused with what God could provide for him and sought earthly sources of satisfaction.
He conducted an experiment to seek out the meaning of life under the sun.
He tested everything to find it.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter—“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” 3 I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives.
- The Test of Mirth
Who advised Solomon to test this? Please note, “I said in my heart”.
No one else was responsible.
He is talking to himself not to God.
He searches in his own heart.
That can be dangerous.
That is not the proper destination.
You are making quite an assumption.
He claims to do this with his heart guided by wisdom but when we act alone, we can also self-deceive.
He did not seek wise counsel even though in his Proverbs he said to do so:
14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
The truth is that we can seek to gratify our own desires and we will simply be projecting what is already in our own hearts.
21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.
Solomon had a limitless supply of money, entertainment, and unfortunately, zero accountability, other than himself.
That is a precarious place to live.
When we do not allow anyone to hold us accountable or place ourselves in intentional relationships of accountability, we are expecting ourselves to be correct all the time.
We depend upon our own abilities and judgments.
We will eventually create our own truth.
This flies in the face of his own past wisdom:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths
Yet, in his own heart, he enters into a series of tests.
Time to experiment.
First, he tries the test of mirth or pleasure.
He laughed and drank and partied but when it was time to turn out the lights because the party was over, the King was still empty.
Pleasure is seen as almost an expectation in this culture.
Perhaps even a right.
The definition of the pursuit of happiness is very broad and yet extremely individual.
Pleasure in and of itself is obviously not necessarily wrong, and can even be a gift from God in the proper context, but the improper means and the end of pleasure can certainly lead to wrong conclusion.
Meaningful life requires a proper object and destination.
Pleasure alone will never be enough.
Under the sun driven pleasure seekers can become selfish and addicted because all of their energy is directed toward themselves.
A little more, just a little bit more of under the sun living, brings diminishing returns.
Solomon certainly does not condemn laughter and fun but as the solutions to all of life’s issues and meaning, they fall short.
Our greatest joy comes when we share God’s pleasures with others.
Eugene Peterson: Society is a bored, gluttonous king employing a court jester to divert it after an overindulgent meal.
The test of mirth was not the answer. So, the King continues his experiment:
4 I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. 5 I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. 7 I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. 8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds.
9 So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also, my wisdom remained with me. 10 Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; And this was my reward from all my labor.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; And indeed, all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.
- The Test of Materialism
Again, please note the perspective and the pronouns: me, myself and I.
Everything is directed to self.
He built it all for himself.
It is quite amazing that as he lists all of these architectural feats, he doesn’t mention the Temple!
In 1 Kings we learn it took 7 years to build the Temple.
It took twice as long to build his palace.
The temple was built for the glory of God, the palace was for the glory of Solomon.
He bought stuff, slaves and singers.
The word for musical instruments is only used here in the Old Testament and could be translated as harems referring to his many wives and concubines.
He was the richest and the greatest under the sun.
I Kings 4 (22-23) describes the amount of food Solomon had available every day. Like a herd of animals capable of feeding 10-20,000 people every day.
I Kings 10 describes his golden drinking vessels and houses, his massive shipping and trading, his chariots and horses, how silver was as common as rocks in Jerusalem.
I Kings 10:23
23 So King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom.
True meaning and purpose, however, do not come from having, but from being.
We are to be channels not reservoirs.
We are stewards not owners.
He might have been the greatest, but he might have also been the emptiest.
The legacy of all his labor was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.
There was no gain, no value, nothing that truly mattered past the short life it experienced on this planet.
Disturbing to hear the heart and mind of lost people once you have been saved.
To remember they have no other perspective, no other purpose, other than their own is challenging.
Therefore, we must share about the One who redeems us and gives us meaning.
2 for 2 will not end in July. This is who we must be every month!
Listen to the world’s perspective from…
The King in Jerusalem is testing. He is trying everything under the sun.
Please and fun did not do it. Buying and building could not.
He turns more inward…
12 Then I turned myself to consider wisdom and madness and folly; For what can the man do who succeeds the king? Only what he has already done.
13 Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, But the fool walks in darkness. Yet I myself perceived that the same event happens to them all. 15 So I said in my heart,
“As it happens to the fool, it also happens to me, and why was I then more wise?” Then I said in my heart, “This also is vanity.” 16 For there is no more remembrance of the wise than of the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come. And how does a wise man die? As the fool!
17 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. 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. 20 Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity.
III. The Test of the Mind
No matter how brilliant you may be, your wisdom will not be enough.
He believed that wisdom was better than foolishness but in the end, death will overtake the wise and the foolish alike.
Death is the great equalizer.
So. what’s the point?
There is nothing to be gained from all of our labor if we all end up the same way.
Jewish proverb: There are no pockets in burial shrouds.
The legacy of all we do and think we gain, even if we pass it along to the next generation, even if we leave the greatest abundance of wealth and resources to our children, is simply to perpetuate a cycle that all ends the same way.
We might be wise but how do we know they will be?
In the end, all we worked so har for on this planet during this life could disappear like the vapor that it is.
This leaves the king in despair, in sorrow, all is vanity.
His conclusion is that he hates life.
Happy, happy, happy right?
What an evangelistic book Ecclesiastes should be for us.
To show the world what their secular philosophy and belief systems leave as a legacy.
Those who have trusted in Christ see so much more than this.
We look above the sun for meaning and purpose.
Christians should love life as a gift of God’s grace to be used for His glory.
A healthy Christian does not hate life he believes in the sanctity of life.
Life is an opportunity!
But far, the King’s exam has been bleak and depressing.
24 Nothing is better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I? 26 For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
- The Truth of Meaning
Verses 24 and 25 must not be taken out of context.
Could lead you to the wrong conclusions.
But finally, some prescription for this depressing talk!
He finally sees something from the hand of God.
A greater legacy from above.
We are dependent upon God for the enjoyment of life itself.
Life without God is futile.
Our meaning rests in the very hands of God.
Life is a gift.
Blessings are a gift.
Even the enjoyment of those blessings is a gift.
But the poor king does not seem quite ready to accept these gifts.
He still sees all as vanity and grasping for the wind.
John Piper once wrote: Our fondness for diversion often masks the fact that true pleasure in God has not been found.
When we struggle with the things of this life, we must seek the Creator of it.
When we see no meaning or purpose in it all, we must seek the Sustainer of it.
Right there in His hand He holds grace, forgiveness, hope, purpose.
He seeks to hold you in His hand as well.
But we must remain focused upon Him and pursue Him.
C.S. Lewis: We are happy like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
A day at the beach was simply some distant fantasy to a street kid in the inner city.
We miss out on life and His blessings, because we are looking for answers in the wrong places.
He is right here.
He has it all for you, right here.
But you must believe and trust in Him and the Gospel to receive it.
We are challenged to test and see who and what God is.
What life above the sun can hold!
8 Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!