In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author presents a raw and honest description of the realities of life in a fallen world under the sun. Life is short and the fact that every day we are getting closer to our death should affect how we live. Ecclesiastes exposes the folly of man as he strives to serve himself by pursuing earthly goals and pleasures.
In Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 the Preacher tests his heart in order to find personal happiness in pleasures, possessions, and accomplishments. This experiment fails and what we will see is that the only fulfilled life is one lived in recognition and obedience to God, not in possessions, pleasures, or accomplishments.
When focusing only on one section of the book it is important to have an understanding of the book as a whole. The author describes himself as the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. From this description, we see that most likely the author is King Solomon. His constant theme throughout the book is that all is vanity under the sun. The word translated vanity comes from the word hebel which means mist, vapor, or smoke. This word is used 38 times throughout this book. The idea here is that all of life in this fallen world that we live in is like the mist in the morning. You look out your window and see the mist covering the fields or the forest and yet later on it is gone. Or like when it’s cold outside and you breathe out and you can see in the air as a cloud, similar to fog. It looks like there is some substance there, and yet later on nothing. Solomon is saying life under the sun, in this fallen state we live in is like this. In reality, Solomon isn’t coming up with anything new. We already know that life is like this whether we like to admit it or not.
Solomon starts off this section with an experiment. He says he is going to test pleasure to see its value. His aim in this was to find something that somebody could do “under heaven” that had meaning. He is really trying to help us all out here. And before he even gets to the second verse, He spills the beans and gives us the result of this whole experiment. This was also vanity. The project is a complete failure, pleasure does not give meaning to life and it is just like a puff of wind, here one second and gone the next. Let’s get into the specifics of Solomon’s experiment.
Solomon used laughter as his first test to see if the outside appeal to laughter would really satisfy. He probably had all sorts of comedians around or at least good friends that would make him laugh. But he concludes with this experiment as a failure.
Since laughter proved to be vanity, Solomon decided to hit the bar. He sought to cheer his body with wine. But this proved to be meaningless as well. Scripture tells us: Wine can give us a “merry heart” (Eccl. 9:7). Wine “gladdens life” (Eccl. 10:19). But wine is a poor lover, “a mocker,” “a brawler,” that leads us astray (Prov. 20:1). Wine can be a gift to be enjoyed, but also can pave a way for sin.
Another way Solomon tested pleasure was through projects. He did this by building extravagant houses and gardens. 1 Kings 7:1 says that Solomon’s house took 13 years to build? Can you imagine? He took 7 years to build the temple to God’s exact specifications and yet his house took 13. I don’t know about you, but one of my guilty pleasures is watching HGTV shows such as House Hunters or Fixer Upper. The work on all these extravagant houses and transformations that happen are incredible. Imagine the Chip and Joanna Gaines of Solomon’s time working on his house. But instead of taking 6 months it takes 13 years. This must have been one crazy awesome house will a whole lot of shiplap. Not only did Solomon have many houses, he built many gardens. I’ve got a couple pots on my deck with half dead plants, his garden was probably more like a forest preserve.
When laughter, alcohol, and projects proved to be meaningless, Solomon decided to stop doing stuff for himself and to have servants be at his beck and call. He had all the food he wanted and people to prepare it for him. He had tons of wealth: silver, gold, and treasure. He had the best music. Think about how music affects us. Music brings us pleasure and joy. It brings back memories and stirs the imagination. It brings comfort to those who are hurting. But when the music stops, when the song ends, we go back to normal life, back to the struggles of life under the sun.
Another one of Solomon’s experiments with pleasure was sex. Solomon also says that he had many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. We know from 1 Kings that Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. This guy had the opportunity to create endless sexual fantasies and this still kept him unsatisfied.
Solomon became very great and he was very wise! People of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon and see his greatness. Verse 10 says, “I kept my heart from no pleasure.” This was unrestrained desire. Whatever he saw or wanted he took.
Pleasure held out the promise, but it didn’t last. And at the end of it all it all it was all still meaningless. Solomon’s quest did not fail because he lacked money or things, but because pleasure in itself cannot satisfy. He chose to make his own personal happiness the chief end of his life, to live for himself and not God and this was meaningless.
Death Will Come To All
After Solomon’s experiment failed with seeking pleasure, he continues on in this book for 10 more chapters speaking of the meaningless pursuit of living wisely and seeking wealth and honor. He also makes a big emphasis on the fact that death is inevitable to everyone. The pleasures of this world will not satisfy or complete you. You will not find meaning in them. And even if you do find temporary pleasure death will come.
Solomon and Jordan
Solomon tried his experiment with pleasure and the result was meaningless. We all fall into this sin of trying to replace God with something that will give us immediate pleasure, but we all have to admit that it does not fully satisfy. It is like vapor. A couple years ago ESPN senior writer, Wright Thompson, spent five weeks with NBA super star Michael Jordan to celebrate Jordan’s 50th birthday. The goal of his time with Jordan was to report how his life is today, post basketball. Keep in mind that Michael had at the time:
1) A Private jet painted to mimic a basketball sneaker,
2) Extravagant houses in multiple cities,
3) Ownership of an NBA franchise,
4) A larger sports legacy than any other athlete to date,
5) Wealth and prosperity,
6) A beautiful fiancé,
7) A life and career that a majority of the people in the world would love to exchange for.
…Besides all of this, at the end of this five weeks Wright Thompson found that Michael Jordan was very unhappy and discontented with life beyond basketball. Turns out that Jordan still desperately yearns for the opportunity to suit back up and play ball again. He has constant fears that he’ll be forgotten in the wind by the next generation. His daily routines consist of him habitually staying busy and active so that he doesn’t have long stints of silence or boredom. He is now somewhat a prisoner of his own life.(1) Doesn’t this sound a bit similar to what we have just read in the life of Solomon?
So you may be saying well that’s Solomon and Jordan……but friends this is all of us.
This Is All Of Us
Just like Solomon we all have a need to find meaning in life. And we too try Solomon’s experiment in our own lives. We use laughter and comedy to escape or excuse our sin, and even sometimes use it at someone else’s expense. Even though it is good and does provide temporary relief, it cannot fully heal us from what ails us under the sun. Some of us try to cheer ourselves with alcohol. A couple of beers at the bar with the guys tend to solve all our problems…or at least we think. Until Monday comes around. It has the illusion of joy but has no substance and after it all, we are still left empty, sad, lonely,.. Solomon found out that this was vanity and it’s the same for us. Some of us are remodeling or doing something some sort of project around the house. We are spending all this time and money working on a project that will frustrate us while we are doing it and when all is said and done will give us enough satisfaction until we see the next thing we want to fix or upgrade in our house. Have you ever saved up to go to your favorite restaurant? Sat down, ate your favorite meal and then, later on, felt hungry. You spent all that money to satisfy yourself and yet only a couple hours later you are digging in the fridge trying to find something to crave your unsatisfied stomach. A better paying job, we believe will fix most of our problems. If we only made a little bit more, things would get a little more easy to handle. Friends, all of this is vanity.
I remember signing the papers for the vehicle that we just bought feeling somewhat fulfilled and as soon as we were driving away, I saw a newer model of the same car and soon became unsatisfied.
This is a sin that has plagued us since the fall. Adam and Eve had all the trees in the whole garden of Eden to eat from, besides one, and they fell. Because of this we have fallen as well and live in this fallen world under the sun where nothing can satisfy. Even though we try to seek fulfillment in wisdom and pleasure and fame, something deep down reminds us that we were made for more and this is why we feel unsatisfied. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has written eternity on our hearts, I believe this is our deep longing. A relationship with our Creator.
Jesus Is The Better Solomon
The message of Ecclesiastes is to convince us not to love the world or live for its pleasures. It is meant to drive us back to God. Back to God who sent His Son to be our Savior. This Savior, Jesus, resisted the pleasures of this life to fulfill the purposes of God for our salvation. Jesus Christ is the better Solomon. Jesus Himself even says this in Matthew 12:42. The crucified Christ offers to us all satisfaction. We must be like Moses, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” (Heb 11:24-25)
When we pursue pleasure to bring meaning it will always fail us, but the pleasure of this world can be meaningful when we receive every pleasure as a gift from God. Laughter is a gift from God. Wine is a gift from God. A nice home and other buildings and accomplishments are all gifts from God. Nature and gardens are gifts from God. Food is a gift from God. Sex in the context of a godly marriage is a gift from God. The greatest gift of all is Jesus Christ. He is the One who satisfies. You will never find satisfaction living for your own pleasure, it is only found in Christ.
Jesus told us in Matthew 6 to not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.
Solomon ends the book of the Ecclesiastes with this, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”
Everything does matter. Life under the sun is not all there is, but it still matters. There is a God who rules the world. There is a life to come after this life. There will be a final judgment and how we lived our lives will matter. What matters most is if we received Christ as our Lord and Savior. The only way to be found righteous and not guilty on this Day of Judgement is to entrust your life to Jesus Christ, who alone has the power to save us from the wrath of God.
The only fulfilled life is one lived in recognition and obedience to God, not in possessions, pleasures, or accomplishments. Our duty is to fear God and keep His commandments.
Trust Jesus, who saves us from life’s vanity.
“Let nothing of earth be our rest-God never intended so poor a portion for His redeemed ones. Our rest is built upon unchangeable promises. The real joy in when God is the center.” – Charles Bridges
- We live in a fallen world. This is true to believers and unbelievers.
- Death is inevitable. You can’t bring your stuff with you.
- Enjoy earthly things, but do not rest in them.
- Put your focus on eternal things.
- Fear God and Keep His Commandments
Ecclesiastes by Charles Bridges – Banner of Truth
Living Life Backward by David Gibson – Crossway
NIV Application Commentary Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs by Iain Provan – Zondervan