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Ecclesiastes 1-6

HOW TO LIVE A FULL LIFE IN AN EMPTY WORLD
(ECCLESIASTES 1:1-6:9)

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
ECCLESIASTES

 

Life – God = Emptiness?  Life + God = Fullness!!

 

Life – God = emptiness (1:1-2:23)

Life + God = Fullness! (2:24-3:22) (God adds His enjoyment, proper timing, eternity, and purpose to our lives.)

Life + sin = misery (4:1-5:9)

Riches – God = emptiness (5:10-6:9)

How to live a full life in an empty world (6:10-12:7)

1. Choose humility (6:10-12)
2. Choose sobriety over frivolity (7:1-6)
3. Choose patient endurance (7:7-10)
4. Choose wisdom over money (7:11,12)
5. Choose contentment (7:13-14)
6. Choose the fear of God (7:15-18)
7. Choose the wisdom that gives power (7:19-22)
8. Choose the wisdom that will humble you (7:23-24)
9. Choose the wisdom that will watch over you (7:25-26)
10. Choose the wisdom that will replace disappointment with joy(7:27-8:1)
11. Choose a wise response to those in authority (8:2-17)
12. Choose a God-fearing approach to the future (9:1-10:3)
13. Choose to keep your composure when ruled over by the foolish (10:4-20)
14. Choose a life of service (11:1-6)
15. Choose to live life to the full (11:7-12:7)

CONCLUSION

1. Life is meaningless if all there is to life is to grow old (12:8)
2. But, Solomon has much more to offer us (12:9-14)

 

INTRODUCTORY INFORMATION ABOUT EPHESIANS

1. The author:  Solomon or………?

a. Qoholeth means someone who gathers or assembles.  In the Septuagint it is translated ecclesiastes, which became the title of the book. It is the Greek word for "church"—it describes those who have been called out or those who have assembled. The NIV translates this word as "the Teachers"— some-one who gathers people together to speak to them or to teach them.

b. Arguments that Solomon was the author (my choice):

(1) The author refers to himself as the "son of David, King of Jerusalem."  After Solomon, the nation of Israel was divided into Israel and Judah.  Only the southern Kingdom of Judah had its throne in Jerusalem.  So, it would appear that the author was Solomon, for the only son of David who ruled in Jerusalem was David's son Solomon.

(2) The author's description of himself also fits Solomon: a man of great wisdom (Eccl 1:16 & I Kings 3:12); a man of great wealth (Eccl 2:4-10 & I Kings 10:14-29; II Chron. 9:13-27); a great builder (Eccl 2:4-6 & I Kings 10:14-29); and a man who wrote many proverbs (Eccl 12:9 & I Kings 4:32; the book of Proverbs - Prov 1:1).  Compare also Eccl 7:20 & I Kings 8:46).  Certainly, the Bible does not describe another son of David who was King in Jerusalem and who matches Solomon's wisdom, wealth, building prowess, and who was known for writing Proverbs.  Again, the only one we know of who fits these descriptions is Solomon.

(3) Jewish and Christian tradition says that Solomon was the author.

c. Arguments that Solomon was not the author.

(1) There is no Biblical record that Solomon repented at the end of his life (unless, of course, Ecclesiastes is that record).

(2) The description of governmental corruption does not fit Solomon's reign of peace and prosperity (I Kings 4:20, 25), but better describes Israel in the time of the prophet Malachi (Eccl 7:10 & Mal 2:17, 3:13-15; Eccl 8:9 & Nehemiah 5:15; Eccl 5:1,5-6 & Mal 1:8,14)  See also Eccl 4:1-4, 5:7,8, 8:1-4,10, 10:5-7, 20.  Also he speaks like one who is not the king – 4:1-2, 5:8-9, 8:2-4, 10:20.

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 the author says that he "was king over Israel in Jerusalem," implying that he was no longer king when he wrote Ecclesiastes (It can, though, describe someone who was king and continued to be king).

Leupold believes that the author is someone at a later time (600 yrs after Solomon) who, as a literary device, impersonates Solomon.

2. The date:  Solomon appears to have written this later in his life: after he tried unsuccessfully to find meaning and happiness from what was bountifully made available to him by God.  In Ecclesiastes he describes what happens to man when he grows old.  It seems to be likely that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes when he was already personally experiencing the old age that he describes in chapter twelve.

3. The purpose:  He appears to have written the book so that we can learn from his experience—that all that the world offers will not satisfy us.  He learned this lesson from personal experience.  The wise are those who take to heart his words and do not have to learn this lesson in the hard school of life.  Fools are those who learn everything the hard way.

2. The theme:  Some believe that Ecclesiastes is primarily a pessimistic book; demonstrating that life without God is devoid of meaning and satisfaction.  But, the purpose of the book is not merely to show us that life without God is empty, but, more importantly, its ultimate purpose is to show us that even a simple life with God is meaningful and satisfying.  The title given to this study summarizes the theme of the book: How to find a full and meaningful life in an empty world.

a. In the epilogue (12:9-14), the author states that his purpose was not to show that life has no meaning (nihilism), but to show that only by fearing God will man find a life that has meaning: "Fear God and keep his commandments for this is the whole [duty] of man." (12:13b)

b. 12:13 – "the sum of the matter" is the purpose of the book: to show that a simple life with the fear of God will fulfill us.

c. The "one Shepherd" in 12:11 who gives these words of wisdom is God.

d. Is there one theme in Ecclesiastes?  At least we know that all of the words
Ecclesiastes lead to the one conclusion that is given in 12:9-14.  Also, someone who thought so deeply about the meaning of life, certainly also must have thought deeply about the plan and order of his book of Ecclesiastes.

e. The repetition of the "life under the sun" (29 times) is Solomon's description of seeking to live a full life apart from considering the God who is above the sun.  His conclusion is that life without including God is "Meaningless!  Meaningless!" (1:2) (37 times in Ecclesiastes) (1:2,14,2:1,11, 17,19,21,23,26,3:19, 4:4,7-8,16, 5:10, 6:2,9,11-12, 7:6, 8:10,14, 9:9, 11:8, 12:8)

f. His conclusion is that life – God = emptiness, and life + God = fullness! He describes how we can find a full life in an empty world!

 

THE MESSAGE OF ECCLESIASTES

The theme of Ecclesiastes can be put into the following two mathematical formulas:  Life – God = Emptiness; Life + God = Fullness!!  Someone has said that the poor have it better than the rich, for they still think that riches will satisfy.  The rich, like Solomon, have learned that riches are not enough to fill up the emptiness inside of us.  Solomon tells us what life "under the sun" has to offer us.  Life "under the sun" describes seeking to find happiness only by seeking that happiness "under the sun"—without seeking to find happiness in a relationship with the One who is above the sun and who created all of this that we see all around us.  Let us gain wisdom from Solomon who tried it all and found emptiness along with it all; but who also found what eternally satisfies.  May we learn from him and his book, so that we will not also need to spend our whole lives learning a lesson that we can learn from reading and heeding his words.

LIFE – GOD = EMPTINESS (1:1-2:23)
1. Apart from God, life is meaningless (1:1-2)
"The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:  'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher.  'Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.'"

Thought Question:  Look up Romans 8:20.  The word "meaningless" in the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes and "frustration" in Romans 8:20 are the same Greek word.  How does that help you to better understand the use of the word in Ecclesiastes?

 

 

A definite attention getter!  But, also, it is a negative way for Solomon to start his book.  He is saying that when you try all life has to offer you, you will conclude that it is full of emptiness.  I liken what Solomon says here to what happens when we eat cotton candy.  It seems like there is a lot more to it than there actually is.  You take a big bite of cotton candy and like life without God; it is mostly empty space with very little substance.

The Hebrew word hebel that is translated "Meaningless" is translated using the Greek work mataiotes in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  This is the Greek word that Paul uses in Romans 8:20, when he said, "For the creation is subjected to frustration [mataiotes], not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God."  We learn as we continue on in Ecclesiastes the life without God can only lead to emptiness, frustration, and meaninglessness.  We learn from Romans 8:20 and the surrounding verses that it is part of God's specific plan that men will learn that life without Him will always lead to emptiness so that men and women may be drawn into an eternal relationship with Him.

2. Apart from God, history is empty and meaningless. (1:3-4)
"What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?  Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever."

Thought Question #1:  According to Solomon, "What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?"

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Have you ever asked this type of question and felt like Solomon felt here?  If your answer is yes, when?

 

 

Solomon states what is a reality about the history of mankind: it is nothing more than an assembly line, impersonally cranking out one generation after another.  We are just one face that is here today and gone tomorrow and soon forgotten.

One of my younger sisters purchased a family tree of the Corys.  What I saw on this family tree was a long list of people in my family line going back to our family's origin in Scotland.  On this family tree there were the dates of when each of those on the family tree were born and when they died.  Then, near the end of the family tree, was my name.  There I found the date of my birth but, of course, not the date of my death.  But that date will also come and go as another generation is born and then dies.

Solomon's obvious question is the following: What is gained from all our toil, when we are here one day and completely gone the next?  Solomon describes this empty toil as being done "under the sun."  "Under the son" describes life as we each know it.  It is the scientific materialist's view of life.  It is life without any reference to God or a God.  It is man living a godless life.  Jesus' words in Mark 8:36 capture the same conclusion as Solomon's words here: "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

Kaiser gives us the following insight into the word "gain" that Solomon chose: "so what is left [yitron] for man for all his trouble?…The word for 'gain,' 'profit,' or 'that which remains or is left over' [yitron], is drawn from the world of business."  "Taken from EcclesiastesTotal Life by Walter Kaiser.  Copyright 1979 by Moody Press."  So, Solomon asks, when you have labored through your whole life, what do you really have in the end for all your work?  What is your profit for all your work?  The answer, of course, is, if your are just laboring for this short life that is here today and gone tomorrow, you will have nothing left over.  When you or I are gone, if this life is all that there is, it is all over and done, for you and I are over and done.

Most of us have thought about this at one time or another.  Why am I working so hard to have a nice lawn?  You also may have moved at some time in the past.  Someone else is living in your old home right now.  You are gone and forgotten.  What you worked hard on may now have been painted a new color, ripped up and replaced, and broken down; or the lawn you worked so hard on may now be overrun with weeds.  What use was all your labor?  When our life comes to an end, we will be not able to go back to our house, our business, our city.  We will be gone!  But, life will go on for the most part as if we had never lived.  This may seem overly negative, but we must see first the emptiness of life without God before we will yearn for life with God.

3. Apart from God nature is nothing more than an endless cycle without any meaning. (1:5-7)
"The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.  The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course.  All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full.  To the place the streams come from, there they return again."

Thought Question #1:  Read these verses aloud in the way that you believe Solomon would want them read. How?  Why?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is the difference between when you look at these cycles without considering God and when you look at them when you consider God?

 

 

If we look at nature as the materialist looks at it, all we will see are endless series of cycles.  For example, the sun goes up, the sun goes down.  To get the full feeling of what Solomon is saying in these verses, read these verses very drearily.  You will see Solomon's point immediately.  It reminds me of the exercise machines called treadmills.  You walk and walk, but you get nowhere.  Some of us have felt like that as we have gone through a week looking forward to the weekend off, only to start a new week all over again at the end of the weekend.  So, we once more look forward to the weekend, only to start the cycle all over again.

How, though, does the way that we look at these cycles change if we consider that God is behind it all?  Instead of feeling dreary as we consider them, we will see God's faithfulness to us as we see that it is He who uses these cycles of love to continually provide for all that we need. See Lamentations 3:22, 23

4. Apart from God, there is no satisfaction in life. (1:8-11)
"All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.  What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.  There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."

Thought Question #1:  Considering what he says in these four verses and the preceding verses, why do you think that Solomon says that "all things are weariness"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How does it change when you include God in your outlook on life?

 

 

Solomon says here that everything soon gets old and wearisome.  Why?  It is because we have soon seen it all and done it all.  "All things are wearisome, more than one can say.  The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing."  Simply put, the monotonous cycles of life do not give us enough to fill the emptiness inside of us.  We see, but our seeing is not enough to fill the empty void within us.  We hear, but we remain unfulfilled and unsatisfied.  It wearies us to talk about it.  We talk and talk, but our talk gets old and tired.  "Is this all there is to life, one empty day following another?" See 4:8, 5:10; Proverbs 2:7,20

"Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'?  It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time."  Men are continually seeking after something that is novel and new.  At the time that I am writing, reality shows are newly popular on television.  We have grown tired of the standard television drama, for each show seems so much like the other shows that we have already seen.  We need something new!  But, as Solomon says here, there is really nothing that is really new.  It is just the same basic types of shows repackaged in another way.  Our game shows of the past were also reality shows.

But, it may be argued that there are new things.  But, Solomon answers this argument: "It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time."  If we could visit all peoples of all time, Solomon says we would see that our new and novel ideas have occurred before.  Even the new inventions were previously created by God.  We say that we invented the flying machine.  But, there have already been flying machines called birds for many years.  We may talk about the new computers.  But, are they superior to the brains of insects and animals?  Certainly, they do not measure up to the brains of humans.

"There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."  The reason that we do not recognize that life repeats itself over and over and over again is that we forget so much of what we have seen and done.  We do not recognize that what happens to us today in all of our relationships and experiences is very much a repeat of what has happened to us in the past.  In other words, life is even more a dreary cycle of similar events than we even have realized.  For, if we remembered everything vividly, we also would vividly see the endless repetitions of life under the sun.  We would see, for example, the endless cycles of births and deaths, days and nights, seasons upon seasons; and we would be even more aware of how dreary life is; that is, how dreary life is under the sun without God.

Again, does seeing God's hand in everything change how we look at life?  God, who can work good into everything that he has determined should happen in life, puts us by faith in constant touch with our loving, wise, and sovereign God.  We discover from another of the wisdom books, the book of Job, that God causes even the tragedies of life to accomplish His purposes for us.  The whole Bible describes God's wise hand in all that happens on earth.

5. Apart from God, what is the benefit of all our learning? (1:12-18)
"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men!  I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.  I thought to myself, 'Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.'  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

Thought Question #1:  Here, "the Teacher" says that he "was king over Israel in Jerusalem."  Does that mean that he was no longer king when he wrote this book?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does Solomon's search for wisdom result in?
 

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Have we progressed in wisdom beyond Solomon in nearly 3000 years since Solomon?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #4:  What do you think about the statement: "ignorance is bliss"?

 

 

"I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem" gives the impression that when this "Teacher" wrote this book he was no longer king.  But, the verb tense of the word translated "was" gives the meaning that he was the king and continues to be the "king over Israel in Jerusalem."

Solomon tells us here that he had made a thorough and determined search and exploration of the meaning of life "under heaven."  "I devoted myself to study. (1:13)  "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun." (1:14)  "I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me." (1:16)  So, therefore, the conclusion that he has reached is not some half-hearted opinion of someone who knows very little about what he is talking about.

On television, when there is some significant event that has taken place, paraded in front of us are many experts in the area of concern.  Sometimes, though, a movie star or popular singer is asked one of these questions.  They often speak as if their words are the words of an expert.  Solomon, was certainly one of the greatest experts of all time on the meaning of life, for God had made him the wisest of men.  Listen to what God says to Solomon:  "I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be…" (I Kings 3:12)  "God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight and breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.  Solomon's wisdom was greater than all the wisdom of all the men of the east.  He was wiser than any another man." (I Kings 4:29-31a)

So, let us listen to this man who was gifted by God with wisdom above all men.  What is his conclusion after researching, studying and exploring the meaning of life under the sun?  His conclusion: all of life is "meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

As a graduate college student, I took a class on contemporary philosophy.  I was not a Christian at the time and I was, like Solomon, searching for the meaning of life. After going through a number of philosophers in the class, I asked my professor in a discussion group, "How can you know which philosopher is right?"  She said, "You can't!"  I thought at the time that studying more philosophers would be just what Solomon says here, a "chasing after the wind."

"What is twisted cannot be straightened, what is lacking cannot be counted."  When Solomon began his research he undoubtedly thought that study and research would lead to the solution to all of man's problems.  Mankind, in general, has come to believe that we have now come out of the dark ages of superstition when we began to make scientific discoveries.  It appeared that in this new age of enlightenment that we were on the verge of solving all of man's problems, scientific and social.  But, here, we are many years after the beginning of the scientific age of enlightenment, and many more years after the time of Solomon, and we still have not solved mankind's greatest problems.  We still have prisons, mental wards, divorce, child abuse, divorce, wars, gangs, slums, addictions, and many more social problems.  Not only that, but we do not seem any closer to a solution today than we ever have been.  We must agree with Solomon's conclusion: "What is twisted cannot be straightened, what is lacking cannot be counted."

One thing I learned as I was introduced to psychology in college was that psychologists have become experts at defining and describing man's problems.  If psychologists were as successful as other scientific fields, such as those fields that are perfecting the computer, we would no longer have the type of problems that were listed in the last paragraph.

Today, nevertheless, one of the supposed solutions to the problems in our society is for our society to become better educated.  Malcomb Muggeridge had this to say about education:  "Education, the great mumbo-jumbo and fraud of the ages, purports to equip us to live and is prescribed as a universal remedy for everything from juvenile delinquency to premature senility.  For the most part, it only serves to enlarge stupidity, inflate conceit, enhance credulity, and put those subjected to it at the mercy of brainwashing with printing presses, radio and television at their disposal."  Solomon, after his thorough research, came to the same conclusion.

"I thought to myself, 'Look, I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.'  Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief."

What Solomon learned from seeking to grow in knowledge and wisdom is that the more knowledge and wisdom he gained, the greater his grief also grew.  In short, the more one learns about life, the more one also discovers what is wrong with the world; and the more one learns what is wrong with the world.  He also learns better that we are also unable to solve the problems of the world.  As knowledge grows, frustration also grows.

Let us say that you decided to read every book in a university library.  What would you feel like after you had read every one of those books?  You would not have a better outlook on life; you would actually undoubtedly have a far worse outlook on life than you had before you began reading all the books.  You would be very confused at the varying conclusions that you would have read; you would be frustrated at the lack of answers to man's basic problems that you had read.  Eventually, you would not ever want to pick up another book.

As part of his research and investigation, he also investigated "madness and folly."  If wisdom is not the answer, then maybe the answer is "madness and folly."  Most everyone has heard the saying, "Ignorance is bliss" and "What they don't know can't hurt them."  But, ignorance is not bliss, it is foolishness.  It is seeking to live in a fantasy world.

Solomon is not arguing here that we should not study and learn.  Rather, he is saying that we will not find the solutions to life's problems by studying and learning.  Solomon is still in favor of men gaining wisdom, though, for he says throughout the book of Proverbs that it is foolish to refuse to learn wisdom.

6. Apart from God, what is the benefit of pleasure? (2:1-3)
"I thought in my heart, 'Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.' But that also proved to be meaningless.  'Laughter,' I said, 'is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?'  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives."

Thought Question #1:  Why do you think that Solomon's pleasure-seeking leads ultimately to emptiness? See also Ecclesiastes 2:10, 11, 7:6; II Timothy 3:4b

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Can pleasure ever lead to satisfaction? See I Timothy 4:4

 

 

Listen to Ray Stedman's words as he describes how King Solomon sought to find satisfaction through pursuing pleasure.  "Have you ever asked yourself, 'What can I do that will make me happy all my life?'  That was Solomon's question.  What a time they must have had!  Solomon, with all his riches, gave himself over to the pursuit of pleasure.  He must have spent weeks and months, even years, in this experience.  The first thing he said to himself, was, 'Enjoy yourself,' so he went in for mirth, laughter and pleasure.  Let your mind fill in the gaps.  Imagine how the palace must have rocked with laughter.  Every night there were stand-up comics, and lavish feats, with wine flowing like water.  You may be interested to what just one day's menu included during this time.  First Kings tells us what King Solomon required to feed his retinue in the royal plans for one day.  'Solomon' provision was thirty cors of fine flower (a cor is about ten bushels), and sixty cors of meal (grain of various sorts) ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle (prime Grade-A meat, and a hundred sheep, besides harts, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl (chicken, ducks, and all kinds of birds). (I Kings 4:22-23)  That was the menu for one day!  It has been estimated that it would feed between ten and twenty thousand people, so there were many others besides the king involved in this search for pleasure." "Taken from Is This All There Is to Life? by Ray Stedman. Copyright 1985 by Multnomah Press. "

Many try pleasure as the path that they believe will lead them to happiness.  Here are the words of the pleasure-seeker: "Let's party!" "Free sex!"  "Videos,"  "Video games,"  Professional sports,"  "Las Vegas,"  "Disneyland."  And the list goes on and on.  Does all of this lead to a deep sense of inner satisfaction, peace, joy, contentment, and meaning in life?  Solomon's answer was, "No!"  He partied and sought out every type of pleasure available to him at that time.  He had both the time and the resources to fully devote himself to the pursuit of pleasure.

It is during the college years that many pursue pleasure with the most gusto.  Across the street from our home is a duplex that is rented by college students.  On a number of evenings we can hear the laughter, loud music, yelling, and cars coming and going.  To listen to them, you could get the impression that they have found what makes one truly happy.  But, Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 7:6, "Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools."  Seeking to find fulfillment through laughter, drink, and fun will always come up short.  First of all, it is usually very self-centered.  Life lived for self leaves one, in the end, very alone.  It is like the "crackling of thorns."  They burn quickly, and then there is nothing left; no lasting value.  It is interesting that the type of partying that we hear across the street often ends for most people in the college years.

Solomon, though, is not saying that pleasure is evil.  According to Paul's words in I Timothy 4:4: 'everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving."

Pleasure is a gift from God.  He wants us to enjoy the pleasures of life.  But, when pleasure becomes the highest goal of life, it takes life from us, rather than giving life to us.  In the last days Paul tells us that people will be "lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God." (II Timothy 3:4) See Proverbs 21:17

Notice, though, that Solomon investigates pleasure and seeking folly with his "mind still guiding" him.  Simply put, he kept his pleasure-seeking under control.  He kept his head while he was pursuing pleasure.  He controlled his pursuit after pleasure, rather than his pleasures controlling him.  Nevertheless, it did not satisfy.  His pleasure-seeking was only skin deep, and it did not lead to deep fulfillment, joy, and contentment.  He found that, in the end, it was a waste of time: "foolish."

Part of the pleasure that Solomon sought came through the drinking of wine.  Remember, he sought pleasure from wine while his "mind [was] still guiding" him.  He controlled the wine, rather, than the wine controlling him.  The Bible does not condemn this type of drinking of wine.  It does condemn drunkenness. See Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35  The Bible does not condemn pleasurable experiences.  Jesus' first miracle was turning water into wine, so that a father would be able to continue to provide wine for the celebrants at a wedding party.

But, Solomon learned that the use of wine did not lead to a fulfilled life.  Many learn this lesson the hard way.  We tend to think that if a little of something is pleasurable, that more of it will bring even more pleasure until the emptiness in us is fulfilled.  Those who use alcohol and chemicals to fill the vacuum inside of them, find that first they drink the alcohol, and then the alcohol takes a drink of them until it controls their lives.  Finally, they become pickled in it!    Even Solomon, who actually was able to control his drinking, found it was just one more dead-end road.  It was "meaningless, a chasing after the wind."  Many in our society are seeking satisfaction through pursuing pleasure and through seeking to have a good time.  Who are the highest paid people in our society?  It is those whose business is to entertain us; the Hollywood star, the rock singer, and the professional athlete.  Our whole society is chasing after the wind!

7. Apart from God, what is the benefit of possessions? (2:4-11)
"I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees."
See I Kings 7:1-12; 10:14-29

Thought Question #1:  Do we today in our society have more or less than Solomon possessed?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Does all that we have satisfy us?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Solomon built his own Garden of Eden.  He built a garden paradise.  Imagine yourself walking around in Solomon's garden.  It would have been beautiful to the sight, sweet-smelling and very tasty to the lips as you plucked fresh fruit from the trees.  Surely, you have walked through someone's landscaped garden and lawn masterpiece.  That person has spent countless hours working (or paid someone else to do it) to create this masterpiece.  Is creating a lush garden what will fill the emptiness in one's heart?  Certainly, there is pleasure designing and creating a backyard wonderland.  But, Solomon found that in the end his wonderful gardens and orchards left him, once again, empty and dissatisfied.

"I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house."  Riches lead to bigger houses, which leads to the need for more property that needs to be maintained and cleaned, which leads to more people to take care of it all.  As Ray Stedman said:  "The rich always want someone to do all the hard work for them." "Taken from Is This All There Is to Life? by Ray Stedman. Copyright 1985 by Multnomah Press."

 "I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor."

Thought Question #1:  Do you believe that the richest in our society are satisfied and happy?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Imagine that you inherited 100 million dollars.  What would change for you?  Would it satisfy you?

 

 

We have a saying in our society that sums up what Solomon is saying here: "He had it all."  The advertiser promises that if you buy their product, whether it is a can of soda or an expensive car, you will, then, have it all.  A book about advertisers is titled: The Want Makers.  As exaggerated as the claims these advertisers make, it is nevertheless true that we in America are closer to having it all than any other society that has ever existed.  Who else has had digital TVs, DVD players, CD players, SUVs, reality computer games, and much more.  We also have, like Solomon, "men and women singers."  For at the click of our fingers we can listen and watch some of the most talented and skilled musicians the world has ever known.  Certainly, we deny ourselves little of what our eyes desire.  And even though most of us cannot have anything we desire, there are those in our world that can pretty much have anything that they desire.

Solomon amassed an amazing amount of wealth – both of silver and gold. See I Kings 9:26-28, 10:14-29 for a description of Solomon's wealth.  Certainly, we as a country have also amassed an amazing amount of wealth.  Consider the professional athlete and his collection of expensive cars.  Does he need them all?  Can he even use them all?  As Solomon did, he is amassing what is valuable to him.

Solomon also attained greatness.  He pursued all the avenues one can to seek to find happiness; fun, pleasure, wealth, and fame.  He "became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me."  Yet, he did not allow all of this ego-inflating fame to go to his head: "In all this my wisdom stayed with me." 

Solomon had a "harem."  This is an understatement as well: "the delights of the heart of man."  I Kings 11:3 tells us he had 700 wives and 300 concubines.  He denied his "heart no pleasure."  He tried wine, women, and song.  And, of course, sex is one of the ways our society pursues happiness.  Years ago Playboy magazine was seen as seamy magazine that one did not talk about in polite society.  Now, the founder of this magazine is revered just as we revere Billy Graham.

"Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun."  He had it all.  But, when he added up all that he had it equaled "nothing."  He was still empty inside!  As I have summarized 1:1-2:23: Life – God = Emptiness; no matter how much one is able to pack into one's life.  Solomon discovered after all that he had tried to pack into his life, that he was still as empty as when he had begun.

Do we not also follow a path very similar to Solomon?  Have we not tried many things in our lives in our pursuit after happiness?  Many of the things that we tried were often very exciting and brought us great hope of fulfillment.  But, then, the novelty wore off and we became empty once again.  (Just before I became a Christian I went skiing for the first time.  I can remember thinking, "This is it!"  Shortly after that time, though, I really found what brought me deep-hearted satisfaction, a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  I never went skiing again.  There is nothing wrong with skiing.  But, it definitely was not "it.")  Allow me to list some things that you may have tried: the new car, the plasma television, golf, the perfect someone, the new house, the new boat, the dream vacation, the expensive computer, the new job…  Solomon and we have learned that after we have tried it all, the emptiness remained.

8. Apart from God, what is the benefit of wisdom? (2:12-16)
"Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly.  What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?  I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.  The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.  Then I thought in my heart, 'The fate of the fool will overtake me also.  What then do I gain by being wise?'  I said in my heart, 'This too is meaningless.' For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in the days to come they will both be forgotten.  Like the fool, the wise man too must die!"

Thought Question #1:  What does Solomon conclude about wisdom?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does Solomon mean by, "What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?"

 

 

In short, wisdom gives light to our eyes so we can see and avoid the pot-holes in life.  The fool blindly walks into them.  But, wisdom still leads to death, just as foolishness leads to death.  Solomon wondered if his pursuit of wisdom had any value at all.  It had only led him to realize more fully that life is meaningless.

It is important to realize that the wisdom that Solomon talks about here is different than true wisdom.  For, as we are told by Solomon in the book of Proverbs, true wisdom begins with a fear of God (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10).  But, here Solomon is talking about gaining insight and knowledge about how to live in the smartest way. As we can see in these verses, Solomon concluded:  "Wisdom is better than folly" (2:13a), for it opens ones eyes so that one is able to avoid the potholes of life.  We should listen to those who are older, for they have learned, often the hard way, what does and does not work.  We should listen so we do not have to learn the hard way by making the same mistakes that they have made.

But, as Solomon points out, the wise man is only different from the fool in that when he dies, he has not made as many mistakes as the fool.  But, they both die!  And to make it worse, both the wise man and the fool will soon be forgotten.  The fool has an advantage at this point; he does not know that he will be forgotten.  So, wisdom only helps the wise man to learn the futility of life.

The wisdom of the existentialist philosopher is somewhat like the wisdom that Solomon speaks of here.  The existentialist philosopher looks at life realistically (life without God) and concludes that life is absurd and has no meaning.  Then, he tries to do the best he can to do something meaningful.  Before I became a Christian I had come to exactly the same conclusion.  I was not sure, though, what I was going to do about it.  God opened my heart to the true wisdom at that point, and I found that a relationship with God gives meaning to one's life. 

Before we leave this section, consider Solomon's words in 2:12b:  "What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?"  In short, do not think that you are going to find something that works better than what Solomon found.  Someone has defined insanity as trying the same thing over and over again, and each time expecting a different result.  Solomon says what I have concluded I have concluded utilizing the abundant resources at my disposal (God-given insight about life), and anyone who tries the same experiment will also ultimately come to the same conclusion.  If you think that you can pursue life and the meaning of life as Solomon did and find that it is not empty after all, is mistaken.  What Solomon concluded, all men will eventually also conclude.  Consider how many in Hollywood have had it all, but have ended with empty, tragic lives.  Most of them are pretty much forgotten.

9. Apart from God, what is the benefit of hard work? (2:17-23)
Most of us have worked hard all of our lives.  There are many things that men and women like you and I work at.  Our labor results in possessions, such as cars and houses.  We work at educating ourselves.  We work at relationships.  What lasting value is all the work of the one who is working only for what is of earthly value?

"So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.  So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.  For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.  For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.  What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless."
     
Thought Question #1:  Are Solomon's conclusions about hard work true?  Why?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What will satisfy us? (III John 4; I Thessalonians 2:19)

 

 

As a young person, television was just getting its start.  One of the delights of those days for our young family was watching the "I Love Lucy" television program.  What a happy go-lucky couple were Desi and Lucy with their friends Fred and Ethyl.  But, recently I watched a biography of Desi and Lucy about the other side of their lives—their life off the television show.  According to the documentary, it was very difficult for Desi and Lucy to play the happy and loving couple on television while their real marriage was fallen apart.  According to what was disclosed to us in this report, Desi was a womanizer with a drinking problem, and it broke Lucy's heart.  It broke my heart also.  What is the real result of all their work?  It ended with at least two shattered lives.

Solomon goes further, as he asks "What will happen to our work after we die?"  Our children or someone else will take it over; and what will they do with it?  It will, in most cases, not mean as much to them as it meant to us.  Possibly, you have lived next door to an older couple at one time as we did.  Some time ago they each died.  While we lived next door to them we watched him labor on his house and his lawn to get it the way he wanted it to be.  Someone else now lives in that house.  They have changed much that was precious to this older couple.  Maybe you know an older couple like them who also is no longer alive.  What has happened to their house and all the labor they put into it?  The new family that has moved into their house can repaint the house another color, tear out the lawn and put in concrete, tear out flowers, plow under the garden, and chop down the once cherished fruit trees.  What is the value, now, of all their labors?  My wife and I now are the older couple.  We are working on our house and planting flowers.  One day, someone else will take over our house.  How will they treat it?  If these labors represent all our lives were lived for, we can say with Solomon:  "All of it is "meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

"So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.  For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune."

It appears that Solomon is sinking deeper and deeper into discouragement and depression the more he thinks about the empty value of all of his toil.  Now, he realizes that he is going to be turning what he has worked so hard for to someone who has not worked for it.  What Solomon is saying is similar to the saying, "Easy come, easy go."  In working with addicts in a treatment center, I have heard how true this is.  Young addicts are easily able to acquire large amounts of money selling drugs.  But, the money that comes so easily to them usually goes just as quickly.  So, it is true that most children who receive an inheritance do not appreciate the value of what their parents worked so hard for.  It is usually not long before it is all gone.  As Solomon contemplates how quickly what he has worked so hard for will be quickly squandered, it leaves him with a feeling of emptiness and futility.  And what he dreaded is exactly what happened; his son squandered Solomon's kingdom immediately after Solomon died. See I Kings 12

"For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.  What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?  All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless."

What does all of man's labor get him?  Solomon sums up his answer to this question in three ways: (1) pain – sore muscles, blisters, eyestrain, stress… (2) grief – lack of appreciation, opposition, a rat race (Who wins a rat race?), failure…, and (3) a mind that races even at night and gives us no rest.  What is Solomon's conclusion?  All his toil and pain is getting him nothing more than a lot of toil and pain; in other words, he ends up with zero!  Is there an answer?  The answer, in part, is found in the next verses.

LIFE + GOD = FULLNESS God gives fullness and meaning to our lives! (2:24-3:22)
Up to this point, Solomon has been talking about life under the sun.  Now, he begins to talk about life above the sun.

1. God adds His enjoyment to our eating and drinking. (2:24-26)
God gives us the ability to enjoy what we have and do.  God adds His wisdom to what we have and do, and the simple becomes beautiful and full.

"A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Thought Question #1:  What keys to finding enjoyment in life do you find in these words?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you think about the following statements?  "Happiness does not come from having all you want, but from being content with all that you have."  "Happiness does not come from seeking to get more and more, but from seeking to enjoy more what God has given to you."

 

 

Thought Question #3:  "but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God."  Does this always occur?  Please explain your answer. (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Psalm 73:1-12)

 

 

In these few verses is great wisdom.  What leads to fullness of life?  It comes from knowing that all of life is a gift from a loving and wise God.  Then, a simple bite from a slice of bread takes on infinite meaning.  This piece of bread is a magnificent gift from a loving Creator.  The bread was made from wheat that was designed by God!  The ability to taste the bread is a wonderful gift from the Master Designer!  The energy received from eating the bread is part of the Great Engineer's work!  And He did it for me!  That simple bite of bread becomes filled with meaning and joy beyond what we can contain in our small earthly bodies.  Our lives become meaningful because we are not alone; our lives are entwined with the One who gives life meaning.

Someone has said that happiness does not come from having all you want, but from wanting all you have.  True happiness occurs when a person is content with what he has, no matter how little he may have.  Happiness comes from being able to drink fully of all that you have.  And we can drink fully of what we have when we see and recognize that all that we have comes from a loving Father who has provided it for us with His great wisdom and love.

A multimillionaire can be discontent with his millions and therefore be poor.  A very poor man can be content with the little that he has and be rich! See 3:12-13; Proverbs 15:15-16; Philippians 4:11; I Timothy 6:6-11; Hebrews 13:5

Solomon, then, contrasts this enjoyment of what comes from God with: "but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

The person who ignores God and chooses a life of sin misses out on the enjoyment that just has been described.  Instead of enjoying God's gifts, the one who darkens his mind to God tries to find happiness through wealth and possessions alone.  He gathers and stores, gathers and stores, and gathers and stores some more.  What does he get from all of his gathering and storing?  He has a lot of stuff; stuff that someone else will get when he dies.  God often blesses those who please Him with the stuff that the non-believer gathers and stores. Seek Luke 12:15-21

Ray Stedman provides us with the following examples of times when believers are blessed by God with the labors of non-believers:  "That explains a remarkable thing that I have observed many times.  Privileged as I am to speak in various conference centers around the country, I have often observed that many of these Christian gatherings are held in the expensive homes of millionaires who were not Christians.  I am thinking, for instance of Glen Eyrie, the headquarters of the Navigators, outside Colorado Springs.  There in a beautiful natural glade, General William Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs and founder of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, built an English-style stone castle for his British bride.  She never lived in it more than a few weeks, and he himself never enjoyed the property at all.  It sat empty for years.  Finally it was sold several times and ended up in the hands of the Navigators, who are using it as a Christian conference ground and world headquarters for their training movement.  Twice I have been invited to be conference speaker at a beautiful site on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River in Oregon, an estate called Menucha.  This wonderful home, covering almost an acre of ground, was built by a wealthy Jewish businessman who had little interest in spiritual things.  He entertained presidents at that home, but now it is in the hands of the Alliance Churches of Oregon.  You can duplicate this kind of story many, many times.  It is remarkable that God so planned life that these multimillionaires in their pursuit of pleasure spend lavishly on their homes in order that their estates might at last be given into the hands of those who please God!"  "Taken from Is This All There Is to Life by Ray Stedman. Copyright 1985 by Multnomah Press."

2. God adds His wisdom about His planned timing to our lives.
(3:1-11a) (Proverbs 25:11-12; I Thessalonians 5:14-15)
Doing what we do according to God's timing adds fuller enjoyment to life.  He makes all things "beautiful in its time."

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.  What does the worker gain from his toil?  I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time."

Thought Question #1:  What makes things beautiful in their time?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  A farmer learns to do his yearly work in God's timing.  How does this apply to our Christian lives?

 

 

When our life operates on God's time schedule, He increases the fullness of our life.  We can get insight into this part of God's wisdom when we contrast what life is like according to God's time schedule with what life is like when we are not operating on God's time schedule.  Consider Solomon's words: "a time to keep and a time to throw away."  What occurs when we do not throw away when it is time to throw away?  Have you ever been in the home of someone who never throws anything away (or at least it appears that nothing is ever thrown away)?  It is not beautiful!  Yet, there are things that we should keep, for there are things that are beautiful reminders of joys in your life and mine.  Picture albums bring joy again and again.  The wedding album, for example, is something to keep.  Assuming, of course, that it was a time of joy and that the marriage continues to bring you joy.

Look at the other contrasting events in this list.  Consider what it is like when any of them is done at the wrong time.  Here are some examples: telling jokes at a funeral, talking to a friend while the pastor is preaching, tearing up and throwing away a traffic ticket, two men walking together holding hands, and destroying something that is a small child's masterpiece.  The timing of things is very important.

But, what is there about doing things in their proper timing that brings fullness to life?  Again, it is a way that we unite ourselves with the God who designed things to be done in a certain way and in a certain time.  In our modern world, the prevalent view is that true freedom is being able to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it.  A wild time is when you break the rules or laws and get by with it.  But, true freedom and fulfillment comes from learning to live life as God designed it.  Marriage, the way God designed it, will lead to the fullest relationship that one can experience with another human being; whereas, the world offers free sex, the self-indulgent singles' life, and homosexuality as the liberated life and the high life.

How does living according to God's time schedule bring fullness to our lives?  God designed life so that it will be most fully enjoyed when we live it according to His design.  It is somewhat similar to choosing to follow the instructions in the owner's manual of a new car.  Solomon says that there is "a time to be silent and a time to speak."  If we want to live the fullest life in a world full of people, we need to know when it is appropriate to speak and when it is best if we refrain from talking.  If we master this ability to discern when to speak and when not to, we will find that our relationships will tend to be more enjoyable.  Jesus is the perfect example, for He had the joy of always saying the right words at the right time. See Proverbs 25:11   We can add fullness to our lives by learning the beauty of living our lives according to God's timing.

Solomon concludes his list with this question:  "What does the worker gain from all of his toil?"  He follows this question with his observation:  "I have seen the burden God has laid on men."  The question and the statement can be summarized as follows:  How can your work and my work be worth the effort we are making?  Paul makes this statement in I Corinthians 15:58:  "Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor is not in vain."  Our labor that is done in God's strength and for God's eternal purposes is not in vain. See Colossians 1:28-29; Galatians 6:9  Let us go on and see how Solomon deals with this question at a time previous to this church age.

Solomon has already given one answer to his question.  He now summarizes all that he has said so far in chapter three with these words:  "He has made everything beautiful in its time."  Our toil is worth it and produces valuable and eternal results, first of all, when we labor according to God's timing.  Jesus was born in God's perfect timing. Galatians 4:4; Romans 5:6  Ishmael was born out of God's timing. See Genesis 16  God told Abraham that He would give he and his wife Sarah a son; but they grew impatient waiting for God's timing, so they chose for Abraham to have a child, in their timing, through Hagar their slave girl.  Ishmael was born, who was not the son God had promised to them.  For our toil to be worth it, we need to seek to align ourselves with God's time schedule.

We need to become so attuned to God's ways that we learn His wisdom and His ways of doing things.  Jesus was never in a rush.  He always said and did the right things at the right time.  His work was obviously not in vain.  May we also seek to learn God's ways so that our toil will also not be in vain. 

The farmer is a picture of work that is done in line with God's timing.  If the farmer plants and reaps at the right time, he reaps a harvest.  If he plants and reaps at the wrong time, it does not work.  So, we should be wise like the farmer and do things in God's time so we also will reap a harvest from our labors.

3. God adds His eternity to our lives! (3:11b-15) (I Thessalonians 2:19-20,
3:8)
Here, in these verses, we find that God has an eternal purpose for our lives.  We will never be fulfilled unless we are confident that our lives are having some type of eternal results.  Life will not have sufficient meaning to satisfy your heart until you know that your life is eternally significant.  You need to know that you and what you are doing is part of an eternal plan.

"He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.  Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account."

Thought Question #1:  What do you believe with regard to your life that Solomon means by, "He also sets eternity in the hearts of men."?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does Solomon mean by, ". . . yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Since we are unable to fathom God and His ways, how, according to these verses, can we find satisfaction?

 

 

Thought Question #4  Verses 3:14-15 are difficult verses to understand.  What do you think they mean?

 

 

Solomon explains here why mankind experiences a continual yearning for something more:  "He has also set eternity in the hearts of men;"  Columbus went in search for a land beyond the sea.  Men today search the stars with telescopes, seek to reach the planets with space vehicles, and listen to the infinite reaches of space for something that will explain life and give our life meaning on this tiny rock spinning around in an immense universe through endless time.

We can never be satisfied with a life that goes only from the womb to the tomb and with minds that are unable to probe and discover what is beyond the clouds.  It is just not enough; it will never be enough!

What is the result of our search after eternity?  "…yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."  Living our very finite lives for a very short time in light of infinite time prevents us from being able to understand an eternal and infinite God.  As John Lawrence, professor at Multnomah Bible College, has pointed out, it is as if we have heard a few notes from a great piece of music.  We cannot know what the whole symphony is like for we have heard too little of it.  So, also, apart from Him revealing Himself to us, we know only a little about God and His eternal and infinite ways.

"I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God."

You might think that if we cannot understand the infinite and eternal God and His ways that we are left in a state of emptiness and despair.  But, that is not where Solomon is leading us; for if we can come to truly know the eternal God, we also have, then, come in touch with eternity and infinity!  So, with faith in this eternal God, we begin a journey toward knowing Him, knowing what His eternal plans and purposes are, and knowing how we fit into His plans and purposes.  Life now has meaning.  With God, the small and mundane is no longer small and mundane.  Brother Lawrence, a monk of many years ago, found that he could practice the presence of God while washing the dishes.  Every moment of our lives has significance because it is lived before God and in relationship with God.  There is so much that we do that is very routine.  But, the dishes need to be washed, our food needs to be prepared, the lawn needs to be mowed.  How can these times be anything but dull and empty?  With God, the dreariest routine of life can be filled with significance because we are never alone.  For, each moment of the life of faith is lived in a vital relationship with the eternal and infinite God; whether we are sharing our faith or washing the dishes.  In faith we see each moment of our lives as gifts from the eternal and infinite God that He wants us to enjoy to the full and/or that He wants to use to the full. See I Timothy 4:1-5; John 10:10; Philippians 4:10-11  And even our trials have significance because God is using them for His purposes. See James 1:2-4; Roman 5:3-5, 8:18-25, 28-30

"I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him."

Men are always on the search for something new and different.  Each new generation tries to create something new that is unique to their generation.  Rather than seeking to discover God's wonderful ways, we think by rebelling against God's ways we will find what we are looking for in the bizarre, the senseless, the ugly, and the distorted.  So many have followed this path down a dead-end road, and then have found what they are looking for in what has been called the "old-time religion": joy in reading and coming to understand God's eternal truth found in the Bible, satisfaction in loving relationships, and completion found in a growing intimacy with our Creator.  Then, we have come in touch with the eternal that will alone satisfy our hearts.

"Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account."

Here, Solomon describes the three tenses of life: what is, what will be, and what was.  The verse we are covering ties together the past, the present, and the future.  Each generation believes it is progressing toward the ultimate happiness that is somewhere out there.  But, this verse tells us, as Solomon said in 1:9, "There is nothing new under the sun."  For many years in my life, I put my hope in the future.  Someday, I believed I would find happiness.  I looked to the job I would have after college and the woman I would someday meet as my hope for finding happiness.  But, while I was attending graduate school in college, I began to realize that in a selfish world that would never cease to be selfish, my hopes were just fantasies.  The hardest reality I began to face was my own selfishness.  It was at that time that I hit my bottom.  I concluded that life was empty and purposeless.

Solomon shows us the way out of this dilemma.  Our fulfillment will not come some time in the future, but in the God who, as John Lawrence has said, is always in "the eternal now." 

This verse contains a line that is difficult to interpret: "and God will call the past to account."  What does Solomon mean by these words?  The key to understanding these words is that they are a transition between (1) 3:14 and the first part of 3:15 where Solomon states, that though we live in linear time, to God there is no time and (2) 3:16-17 where Solomon speaks of God judging what has happened in the past.  "God will call the past to account."  God has kept a completely accurate record of the past and will hold us all to account for what we have done in the past.  As Solomon said in 3:11b, no one is capable of understanding God.  Furthermore, no one can come up with something that is unique.  What is unique to us is not unique to God; we are just coming up with something that God has already thought of.  For all that happens He is always the "I AM"; and for all that happens we are accountable to Him.  Solomon is putting everything into its proper perspective.  We need to live our entire lives remembering the One whom we are living before and the One to whom we are accountable!

4. God adds His justice to our lives. (3:16-17)
"And I saw something else under the sun:  In the place of judgment—wickedness was there, in the place of justice—wickedness was there.  I thought in my heart, 'God will bring to judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time for every deed.' "

Thought Question #1:  Of what importance is it to you that there will one day be justice?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How do Solomon's words here help you to handle injustices that happen to you?

 

 

We see two realities in these verses:  (1) "Under the sun" and from our limited human observations, there are great injustices that continually take place on earth.  Our country, for the most part, believes that though O. J. Simpson killed two people; the court declared him innocent.  We have learned recently that DNA tests have determined that a number of men were imprisoned for years for crimes that they never committed.  A television movie, based on a true story, described how a husband was arrested for possession of drugs as a result of a police raid.  What was discovered some time later is that the police had gone to the wrong house on the raid.  They went to the right address, but to the south number (as best as I can remember) rather than to the north number.  The police knew that they had gone to the wrong house and had planted drugs in this wrong house to cover up for their mistake.  If these types of injustices happen in our country, how much more often injustices occurs in other parts of the world.  So, looking at justice and injustice as we see it occurring throughout the world and under the sun, we can become very discouraged.  But, Solomon does not leave us there, for he brings in God's perspective.  He remembers God will one day judge everything.  What is His conclusion?  There will one day be justice.  If O. J. Simpson is innocent, he will be completely cleared in God's court.  If he is guilty, he will receive what he deserves in God's court.  Life under the sun is very discouraging; life above the sun, which includes God, is very encouraging! See 12:14; Romans 2:5-16; Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:11-15; John 5:22; II Corinthians 5:10

Notice that Solomon introduces this section with the words:  "And I saw something else under the sun."  Solomon introduces the sections following this section with similar words: 3:18, "I also thought;" 4:1, "Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun;' 4:7, "Again I saw something meaningless under the sun."  In each case, Solomon begins with his observations about the emptiness of some aspect of life when we look at it from a human-only perspective and then he follows this observation with how God and a belief in God gives meaning to these aspects of life.

5. God adds His sovereign purposes and testing to our lives. (3:18-22)
 "I also thought, 'As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.  Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.  Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?'  So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?"

Thought Question #1:  Why do you think that Solomon says that our death is just like the death of the animals?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What wisdom does Solomon give us in these verses to help us to live a full life? (Matthew 6:34)

 

 

From a human perspective, a man's death is not different from the death of an animal.  Both men and animals are alive chemically and physically, and then we die.  From our human-only perspective, it appears that is all there is to life.  As Solomon says, this is all "meaningless."  As many humanistic philosophers have concluded, life is absurd and it makes no sense.

Solomon goes on to say:  "Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"  From the human-only perspective we have no way of knowing what happens after a man or an animal dies.  Solomon in 12:7, though, says these words: ". . . and the dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it."  How does he know that man's spirit returns to God?  It is only because God has revealed it to him.  For, he could not know with certainty what happens to our spirit after we die, apart from God revealing it to him.

Solomon concludes this section with these words:  "So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?"  We each are going to die (or be raptured).  What should our attitude be toward our life in the meantime?  What is Solomon's answer?  Enjoy your life right now.  There are those who have gone through a dramatic near-death experience.  After their experience, when death was so near to them, they usually will tell you that they now enjoy each day as if it were their last day on earth.  That is what Solomon urges each of us to do.  Live in the moment; you and I do not know what the next day will bring nor how much longer we will live on this earth.  Jesus said something similar: "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34)

It needs to be mentioned that these verses are not a good place to develop our view of what happens after we die.  Solomon is describing what all man can conclude about death from a purely human perspective.  Advocates of soul-sleep and some cults have used these verses to argue their views of what happens after death.  For example, the soul-sleep position is that we die and become nothing more than a lifeless corpse.  At the resurrection, they believe that the dead corpse is raised to life.  II Corinthians 5:1-9, though, says that when we are away from the body, we will immediately be at home with the Lord. See also Philippians 1:23

It also needs to be pointed out that even Solomon did not believe that the death of animal is just like the death of a man.  For in 12:14 Solomon says these words:  "For God will bring every deed into judgment." See also 3:16 and 12:7  In the context it is clear that Solomon is speaking of what will happen to a man after he dies.  So, though from a human perspective we have no idea what happens to a man after we die, God has revealed to us that after we die we will stand before God and we will be judged by Him.  There is nothing in the Bible that says that animals will face the same judgment before God.  So, it is clear from the Bible that men and animals will not face the same fate.

Finally, it also needs to be mentioned that some translate verse 21 as a statement and not as a question.  Instead of, "Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward…?; they translate as follows: "Who knows the spirit of man which rises upwards…"  This translation, to me, though, does not appear to follow Solomon's line of reasoning and is also not the translation that has been chosen by the NIV translation and by most of the other translations that are commonly used today.  It is my conclusion, then, that Solomon is not expressing his view in verse 21, but the "under the sun" view; or the view that we see without any divine revelation to us about what occurs to us after death.

LIFE + SIN = MISERY (4:1-5:9)
Solomon reflects on the effects that sin of various types have on his life and the lives of others.  He, then, lists a number of depressing realities that he sees in the life that is under the sun.

1. Life + the oppression of the weak = misery (4:1-3)
"Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:  I saw the tears of the oppressed— and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors— and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.  But better than both is he who has not yet been, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun."

Thought Question #1:  The oppression of the weak is a real part of our world, from the bully at the elementary school to the oppression of a whole country by a cruel and brutal dictator; what oppression have you experienced or what oppression particularly troubles you?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can we be joyful when there is so much misery always taking place in our world? (Philippians 4:4; I Thessalonians 5:16)

 

 

In the world we live in, we see the weak being oppressed by the strong; whether it is the bully on the school campus doing it or tyrants like Saddam Hussein and his sons doing it in the Iraq of the past.  As Solomon observes, oppression is a constant reality in our world.  There have been those in power through the ages and today who are completely selfish and wicked.  Men like Hitler, Stalin and many others with smaller positions of authority, through the years and in different parts of the world, have had total power and control over a group of people.  We even have had slavery in our country for a period of time.  Today, there are women who are being taken from their own countries to be used, against their wills, as prostitutes in other countries.  The cry of those who have not lost their concern for humanity is—how can a loving God allow all of these atrocities to take place?  These horrors are to the oppressed so great that in the midst of their pain they feel that it would be much better if they had not even lived at all. See I Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:3; Job 3:9-11

2. Life + Rivalry = Misery (4:4-6)
"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  The fool folds his hands and ruins himself.  Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind."

Thought Question #1:  The "hippie" movement in the 1960s was partly a reaction to the human "rat race" and to the continual "keeping up with the Joneses" in our society; what do you believe they were reacting against?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Was their choosing to drop out of the "rat race" a solution?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #3:  How do these first two questions relate to what Solomon says in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #4:  What is Solomon's solution? (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Philippians 4:11-13)

 

 

Solomon is speaking here about what we call the "rat race," "keeping up with the Joneses," and the constant competition we all face in our jobs, communities, our schools, and that we may even face in our churches.  It is often the seeking to be advanced to a more respected place in society that drives our society more than the need for more money.  Some of the types of ugliness that come along with the rat race are (1) a green-eyed jealousy of those who are succeeding more than we are; (2) a cold-hearted seeking to climb over others to get to the top; (3) a continual state of strife; and (4) a deep hatred toward those in authority whom we perceive as preventing us from succeeding.  Is it worth all the stress that goes along with it?

The hippie movement in the sixties was a reaction to this rat race of competition.  They were seeking to leave this ugly striving for success, continual pursuit to have more, compulsive drive to do better, and insatiable seeking to be admired, by simply dropping out of it all.  But, as Solomon states: "The fool folds his hands and ruins himself."  Dropping out is not a solution, either.  For example, dropping out and living on welfare leads to a loss of self-respect and to being despised by those who work hard to pay for those who have chosen to depend on welfare.  (I am not describing those who are in genuine need.)

What, then, is the solution, since neither running in the rat race nor dropping out are a solution?  Solomon does give us an answer: "Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind."  The Apostle Paul found the secret to this tranquility in his own life:  "…for I have learned be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well-fed or hungry.  Whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength." (Philippians 4:11-13)  If we learn to be content in both times of need and times of plenty, we will avoid both of the extremes that Solomon mentions. See also I Timothy 6:6; Proverbs 15:16-17, 16:8

Another possible interpretation of verse six is that it is not something that Solomon says in wisdom, but something that the fool of verse five says.  It, though, appears to be a statement of wisdom rather than the statement of a fool.  For, in 5:8, he speaks of someone who has not found contentment.  So, contentment is something that only the wise can find.  Solomon ultimately finds this contentment.  See Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

3. Life + Greed = Misery (4:7-12)
"Again I saw something meaningless under the sun:  There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother.  There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.  'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?'  This too is meaningless—a miserable business!"

Thought Question #1:  What type of person is described in 4:7-8?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is Solomon's solution in 4:9-12?

 

 

Solomon said earlier that there is nothing new under the sun. See 1:9  We in our modern world think that we are making new discoveries.  But, nearly, 3000 years ago, Solomon describes what we today call a "workaholic."  He also describes a miser who accumulates wealth for himself alone.  The tragedy is that he cannot find satisfaction in his wealth.  The rich man does not find satisfaction in what he does, but is instead, obsessed with getting more and still more.  His empty pursuit continues until he dies.  Ray Stedman talks about how after the billionaire Howard Hughes died, it was not clear who his heirs were.  So, his fortunes became the cause for an angry squabble between those who all claimed to be his heirs.  John D. Rockefeller's fortune led to him becoming a recluse just like these verses describe.  Here also is the Ebenezer Scrooge of the "Christmas Carol."  Greed is sin.  It ultimately leads to one form of misery or another form of misery.  As Solomon says, "This too is meaningless—a miserable business!"

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

These verses are a continuation of the miser's predicament.  His plight is seen more clearly as it is compared to how much better it is to be not alone.  Living by oneself and only for oneself is a miserable and lonely experience, even if one is wealthy.  Solomon's solution occurs when one has close and intimate friends who will be there when you need them and who work beside you so that the combined result of the work is much greater than the work of you alone.  And as, Solomon says in 4:12, three are better even than two.

The scrooge-like miser "falls down," but there is no one to help.  He is cold and by himself.  He is attacked and no one to help.

Solomon uses a rope to strongly illustrate his point:  "A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."  The day that I am writing these words follows a day when I traveled 30 miles with two very close friends to minister at a Union Gospel Mission service.  Certainly, the impact in that service was much greater because there were three of us.  We obviously enjoyed our time together more than if it had only been one of us who came.  Also, recently, a friend from years ago came by to visit.  He used these words as a description of  a Christian marriage.  The "three strands" are the husband, the wife, and the Holy Spirit.

4. Life + Discontentment = Misery (4:13-16)
 "Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to take warning.  The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom.  I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king's successor.  There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Thought Question #1:  What is there in society that is similar to what is described in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What response should we as Christians make to the trend that is described in these verses?

 

 

We see similar patterns in our country to the one described in these verses.  Because our country has grown discontent with the previous president, a new president is elected with an overwhelming majority.  But, soon, the country becomes discontented with the new president.  While I am writing these words (October 2006), there has just been a scandal in the congress.  As a result of this new revelation and for other reasons, the country as it is polled is displeased with the present congress and looks like they will unseat a number of incumbent members of congress.

Throughout the years we have seen this pattern repeated many times.  Those who are in power have, over and over again, been replaced by another regime.  In Russia, the Czars were replaced by Communism, which itself was replaced by a democratic form of government, and that democracy has now been replaced by a dictatorship.  I could, of course, name other countries where there have been these types of upheavals.  They really happen in one form or another in every country.

When the new form of government comes, often there is wide public support for the new start.  Even Hitler was very popular when he took over Germany.  So, the new king in these verses starts out very popular, but meets the same fate as the old king that he replaced; for he also became unpopular in the end.  Solomon says that God makes "everything beautiful in its time."  But, we often make everything ugly in our time and our way.

These verses describe powerfully how fickle we can be.  Jesus experienced how fickle people can be.  For, He was welcomed into Jerusalem as King, shortly after His grand reception He heard the words: "Crucify!  Crucify!"  As Solomon says here:  "This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

Some commentators believe that the lesson of this verse is that kings keep falling into the same pattern as their predecessors.  The old king was foolish, and later the new king becomes foolish.  But these verses do not say that the new King became foolish.  Instead, it merely says that "those who came later were not pleased with the successor."  It does not say that they were displeased because he had changed and became a poor leader.  We only know that the people changed and became displeased with him.  What is described in these verses is how fickle we are.  One day we think our leader is great, but later we begin to turn on him—even if he remains pretty much the same person.

5. Life + Irreverence = Misery (5:1-7)
 "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God.  God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.  It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, 'My vow was a mistake.' Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?  Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God."

Thought Question #1:  What are examples today of where we need to be careful to heed Solomon's advice in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is Solomon's Solution?

 

 

In Proverbs 18:2, Solomon says:  "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions."  This type of foolishness is totally inappropriate in God's presence.  Instead, Solomon in these verses in Ecclesiastes says: "Go near [to God] to listen…"  In listening we learn many things about God and ourselves.  We will learn about our pride, self-sufficiency, sinful thoughts, and more.  We will also gain insights into our world from God's perspective.  In Psalm 73:16,17, David expresses his distress at how the wicked seemed to be prospering more than the righteous.  He said, "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny."  When he listened to God he began to look at life in a completely different way. See Psalm 73:18-20,25-26

If we focus on listening instead of focusing on what we want to say, our lives will be transformed as God's Spirit enlightens us on how his truth applies to our lives.

Solomon points out that we should be very careful about making vows before God. See Numbers 30  In our day, one of the most common vows that is made before God is the wedding vow.  Solomon warns us:  "And do not protest to the temple messenger [to the pastor who performed the marriage], 'My vow was a mistake.' "  Certainly, there are many who feel that it is okay to break this marriage vow that is made before God.  "I made a mistake; I should not have married him." (or her)  In Deuteronomy 23:22, Moses says:  "But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty."  In short, it is much better not to make a vow than to make a vow to God or before God and, then, not meet it.

What is the primary problem that Solomon is dealing with in these verses?  Certainly, it is irreverence in God's presence.  The new Christian often provides us with an example to follow when he or she first starts attending church services.  This new person to the faith is often intensely interested in every word in the music they sing and eagerly listens to each word the Pastor says.  This spiritual fledgling often feels that the pastor knows all about them and speaking directly to him or her.  Solomon warns us about how we are to behave in the presence of God.  We are to come before Him in humble reverence, eager to listen, and slow to speak.

We need to be careful about everything we say before God.  We need to be careful in the selection of songs for our church services.  We need to be reverent as we sing these songs: do we really mean what we are singing?  We must also remember that our spoken prayers are said before a holy God.  There should never be an insincere or flippant word said in these prayers. See Acts 5:1-11

How can we apply these words of Solomon's time to our own time?  First of all, Christians are the house of God; we do not go to the house of God as the people of Israel went to the Temple at Jerusalem (incidentally, it was the Temple Solomon the author of Ecclesiastes built).  Today, we who are the house of God (we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit; See I Corinthians 3:16, 6:19-20) go to a building, where we gather together.  But, when we gather in worship, do we desire God's Spirit to make the words we sing richly real to us and do we desire God's Spirit to teach us as the pastor speaks? See Ephesians 5:18-20; Colossians 3:16-17  Do we come together with our minds frequently focused on something else rather than focusing on the fact that we are together standing before a holy God?  We really are completely wasting our time if our hearts are not reverently focused on God during these important moments in our week.  Certainly, though, this reverent attitude is to be there in every moment of our lives. See Ecclesiastes 12:13; Philippians 2:12

6. Life + Corruption = Misery (5:8-9)
"If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.  The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields."

Thought Question #1:  What are some words that we use to describe what Solomon is complaining about in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Can what Solomon describes be changed or is it something that we have to live with?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Here we have one of the aspects of life that has frustrated almost everyone.  We call it bureaucracy or "red tape."  We also call it "politics."  It is when government does not operate for the people it serves, but begins to operate for itself and for the people who are in the government.  Solomon is describing "corruption" in government.  Here, in these verses, the result is that the poor are oppressed; "and justice and rights [are] denied,…"  Solomon says, ". . . do not be surprised at such things."  In this life we will never have perfect government, because those who are in the various strata of government are themselves selfish and corrupt.  And, as Solomon says in verse nine, even the king himself is in on it!  We call those in our government, "public servants."  But, most often they take rather than serve.

When Solomon says that, ". . . for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still," it appears from the context that they are eyeing each other to make sure that they each get their cut.  Leupold points out the Hebrew word translated "eyed" is the same word used in I Samuel 19:11 where Saul is watching David's house so that he can kill him.  So, the government officials, as described in these verses, are watching each other with evil, greedy, and selfish hearts.

Someone has said that democracy will only work until the people in the democracy realize that they can vote to get money for themselves from others.  Men can find, have found, and will find ways to legislate money and power to themselves.  Would they do such a lowly thing?  The answer is, "Yes!"

RICHES – GOD = EMPTINESS (5:10-6:9)
A fellow I knew would continuously talk about winning the lottery.  He obviously felt that riches would bring him happiness.  Solomon was rich.  Did it bring him happiness?

1. The empty rich (5:10-12)
 "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.  This too is meaningless.  As goods increase, so do those who consume them.  And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?  The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep."

Thought Question #1:  What do these verses tell us about the rich?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Do you believe that you would be happier if you were richer than you now are?  Why?

 

 

Years ago an older fellow told me that getting old is not all it's cracked up to be.  I am about twenty years closer to his age as I write these words than I was when he said it and I am learning from experience what he was talking about.  Solomon, here, tells us that getting rich is not all its cracked up to be.  Since Solomon was one of the richest men to have ever lived, he spoke from his own personal experience.

First of all, he says that the rich never have enough money.  He is never satisfied.  John D. Rockefeller was asked how much money is enough.  He said, "one more million."  We may think that we would be satisfied with just one million.  But, Solomon tells us that no matter how much we have, we will still want more.  Money will never bring contentment and satisfaction with it,.

Solomon brings up something that comes along with riches.  Riches bring many others who desire your riches.  We once lived across the street from a couple who won the lottery.  We heard that she was afraid to get to know any of us in the neighborhood, for she feared that we would be trying to get at her money.  Then, there will be the need for investment consultants, accountants, tax specialists, and others to manage the money and any properties or businesses that are accrued.

Next, Solomon discusses a reality about riches.  Much of the riches that the wealthy acquire are far beyond what they need or can ever fully enjoy.  I have often wondered about what the professional athlete can do with all of his millions.  Some have many cars.  Since he can only drive one at a time, the others sit in the garage or garages.  The same is true of so much of the wealth of the very wealthy.  It is way more they can use.  We can only eat so much.  We can only enjoy so much at one time.  So, much of their wealth sits most of the time not being used by themselves.  As Solomon says:  "And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" See Luke 12:19

Finally, Solomon points out that the hardworking laborer has an advantage over the rich man.  The laborer comes home from his day of physical effort and sleeps like a baby.  The rich man has trouble freeing his mind of all his worries.  Is there anyone embezzling my money?  How is the stock market going to do tomorrow?  Why did my business have a poor day?  Is this the beginning of a downward trend?  Can I trust my new in-law?

Solomon concludes that riches do not bring satisfaction and that, "This too is meaningless."

2. An even emptier emptiness (5:13-17)
The emptiest are those who once had riches, but then lost them—the very opposite of rags to riches.  It is hard to be poor, but it is much harder to be poor if we were once rich.

"I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him.  Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs.  He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.  This too is a grievous evil:  As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?  All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger."

Thought Question:  Gaining riches is not always a positive experience; according to these verses, how can gaining riches be an unhappy experience in one's life?

 

 

Just a few years ago, many lost large amount of money in the stock market.  One day, on paper, they were rich and the next day most or all of that money was gone.  Those in New Orleans in the path of Hurricane Katrina saw how fast one's fortunes can change.  Also, many former millionaire sports stars are now poor; some are even in prison.  What must it be like for these people as they drive by mansions like the one they used to live in, only to drive back to their little apartment on the low-rent part of town? Solomon has seen this occur, and notes that it is also part of life.  What are his or her emotions like as they live the rest of their days on this earth dirt poor?  All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger."  It would have been better if they had never been wealthy than to have had riches and then be poor.

Also, in this section, Solomon says that ". . . a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner,"  Riches can also be harmful to us:  "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all kinds of all kinds of evil.  Some people eager for money have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (I Timothy 6:9-10)

Sadly, Solomon himself experienced this type of grief.  For his riches led him away from God.  A sad example of the evil effect that money can have on Christian leaders was its effect on Jim and Tammy Baker, the former Christian television celebrities.  Their television empire came crashing down partly due to their inability to deal with the riches that came from their television success.

Solomon goes on to say:  "Naked a man comes from his mother's womb, and as he comes, so he departs.  He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand.  This too is a grievous evil:  As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?" See John 1:21; I Timothy 6:7; Psalm 49:16-20

There are some who gain riches, but then lose their riches in their lifetime.  There are those, however, who are rich and remain rich their whole lifetime.  But, even they lose their riches when they die.  And as Solomon says:  "He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand…As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind?"

3. ***Life + God = Enjoyment*** God alone gives one true fullness.
  (5:18-20)
We can only truly enjoy riches when we are confident that these riches come to us as a gift from God.

"Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.  Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.  He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart."

Thought Question:  What keys to happiness and fulfillment do you find in these verses?

 

 

A good friend of mine, years ago, bought a fairly new car.  After she bought this nice car, it troubled her that God may not have wanted her to have such an expensive car.  She had owned an older car for years and this new snazzy vehicle seemed too nice for a Christian to own.  That was years ago, and that car became the car she drove for many years, until it too became an older car.  Margaret is, at the time of this writing 97 years old.  That car took many Awana children safely and comfortably to meetings, took friends of hers from Europe and Asia on trips around the state of Washington, took the Pastor's wife and his children to church, and took her to church meetings for many years.  There is no doubt that that car was a gift from God that He wanted her to fully enjoy; and enjoy it she did.  She still likes to drive, and she loves to drive that car.  God is not a killjoy.  He desires that we fully enjoy His many gifts to us.  That is why He gives them to us.  It is just like a father who gives his children Christmas presents.  He wants them to enjoy his gifts to them.  So, God want us to enjoy His gifts to us.  Joy comes when we know that the wealth and riches that we have are a gift from God. See I Timothy 4:1-5

Richard DeHaan in his book The Art of Staying off Dead-end Streets points out that the monks and ascetics who seek God by depriving themselves of enjoyment and material possessions are not now nor were they in the past on the right track.  Again, if parents gave their children Christmas gifts and the children wanted to please their parents by not playing with them, they will have missed their parents' intention.  So, God wants us to enjoy what He has given us.

When our enjoyment comes primarily from our relationship with God, then, the troubles that will inevitably come into our lives cannot take away that which is our main source of enjoyment, the enjoyment of our relationship with God.  If, however, we seek after our enjoyment primarily from that which is earthly and temporal, we can quickly lose those earthly things which give us enjoyment such as through a great financial loss and also completely lose our enjoyment of life.  As DeHaan points out, Job is a perfect example of this type of thing.  Quickly, he lost everything, but he said: "…The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised."  Could we do the same under similar circumstances?  If we understand that our greatest riches and enjoyment comes from our relationship with God, we will be able to handle the ups and downs of life.

Notice that Solomon says:  "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot."  Solomon speaks here about enjoying "toilsome labor."  The human tendency for those who work Monday through Friday is to live for the weekends.  We can primarily focus on getting the work-week over so we can enjoy our weekends.  Solomon speaks here of enjoying Monday through Friday, from the beginning of each workday until the end of it.  Or, for the woman whose work is never done, he speaks of enjoying this work that is never done.

Notice that Solomon says: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun…"  Also notices that Solomon says that God "enables him to enjoy them…" to enjoy their wealth.  Our normal pattern is to not be able to truly enjoy anything, and certainly "toilsome labor" is usually nothing more than a drudgery to us.  But, one of the fruits of a joyful relationship with God is that God gives us the ability to enjoy those times of labor that most cannot enjoy.  Once again, we repeat what Solomon said in 2:26:  "To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,"  How can we enjoy our toilsome times?  If we primarily seek to please God, we will come to "realize" that God is giving us joy, even in the middle of tough times. See 2:24, 3;12-13,23, 8:15, 9:7; John 17:3

When life is lived in this way, what is described in 5:20 will occur:  "He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart."  Solomon describes a state of mind where one does not have a life full of extreme emotional ups and downs, and full of dark days.  Instead, one begins to enjoy "gladness of heart" even in the tough times.  Paul and Silas demonstrated what Solomon describes here when they were imprisoned in Philippi:  "About midnight [in prison] Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…" (Acts 16:25) The book of Philippians is a book of joy, even though Paul wrote it while he was in prison in Rome.  See also II Corinthians 4

4. Life + Riches results in a lifeless life (6:1-9)

a. A lifeless life results when one's wealth is lost and enjoyed by another. (6:1-2)
"I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on men:  God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil."

Thought Question #1:  What do you believe that Solomon means by, "but God does not enable him to enjoy them."?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What do you believe that Solomon means by, "a stranger enjoys them instead"?

 

 

There is a book titled The Want Makers.  I have read through most of it.  This book is about advertising.  The title, The Want Makers, describes the goal of advertising.  Its goal is to get us to want what is being sold, whether or not we at first really want it or need it.  The problem is that we can get all that we end up wanting and still not enjoy it.  As Ray Stedman points out, this is a primary emphasis in Solomon's book: If God does not give us the ability to enjoy his gifts to us; we will not be able to enjoy them.  "Enjoyment…is a gift from God."  "Taken from Is This All There Is to Life? by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1985 by Multnomah Press."

A sad reality is that the world outside the true church is seeking after riches rather than seeking God, thinking that having them will give them fulfillment and satisfaction.  But, because they are godless, they are unable to enjoy their riches in the way that God wants His gifts to us enjoyed.  Instead of their riches bringing them satisfaction, these riches are never enough to fill the craving inside of them.  Years ago, before I was a Christian, I attended a fraternity prom with the date I had hoped would say yes when I asked her.  But, at that prom, right in the middle of the fulfillment of my dream date, I realized that I was still empty inside.  I felt that I had all that I wanted to have at that particular time, but the all was not enough.

When we look at those who have much more than we have, we can conclude that they are much happier and more fulfilled than we are.  We can feel that if we had what they have, we would be happier also.  But, Solomon tells us here that unless God gives one the ability to enjoy the riches that He provides, riches will never give us enjoyment.  Those who have little still have the hope that if they could somehow become rich, they would be satisfied.  The unsatisfied rich no longer have that hope!

Some might object at this point and say that they would not mind being rich.  It is true, of course, that it is much better to be rich than very poor, for the very poor do not even have their basic needs met.  The rich have their needs met and more; they have better health care, many more options in life, fewer inconveniences, and others do the unpleasant tasks that they do not want to do.  So, it stands to reason that rich are happier; right?  But, though being rich is better than being poor in many ways, that does not mean that being rich automatically brings with it satisfying happiness.  Modern-day studies show that once one's basic needs are met, greater and greater riches do not bring correspondingly greater and greater perceived happiness.  Such factors as whether or not one has faith in God, whether one has a happy or unhappy marriage, whether or not one has good  friendships, and whether or not  one is making more money than the neighbors has a lot to do with whether or not someone sees themselves as happy.  One writer in Money magazine states that one thing is for certain and that is that we are never satisfied with the amount of money we have.  Even the very wealthy feel like they would be happier if they just had a little more money.  Although there is disagreement among those who have written, in recent years, on the subject of whether or not money can bring happiness, even secular writers acknowledge that riches alone will not bring happiness or satisfaction. 

Furthermore, Solomon is here describing something that he has seen occur.  He has seen someone who has had all his heart desired and yet could not enjoy all he possessed.  Leupold suggests that Solomon may be describing someone who is so focused on pursuing riches that he has no time to enjoy them.  That is a possibility, for it certainly occurs throughout the competitive upper class of our society.  It is my conclusion, though, from what is taught in other parts of Ecclesiastes and other parts of the Bible, that even the millionaire cannot really and fully enjoy His riches without being thankful to God for them.  Riches plus self-centeredness does not lead to real enjoyment. See 2:24-26,3:12-13,22, 5:19; I Timothy 4:1-5, 6:6

Solomon says that what further occurs is that in the end, someone else, a stranger, enjoys what the rich possess.  What is he referring to?  At the time that I am writing these words, a former Enron CEO has been sentenced to 24 years in prison.  He had earned millions.  Who is now going to enjoy his riches?  It will certainly not be he.  This may be what Solomon is referring to here: a sudden turn of events resulting in one's riches becoming someone else's riches. 

In short, riches promise us happiness, but often they are like a mirage.  When, we get there we learn that they are nothing more than a rich emptiness.  And, if we suddenly lose our riches, those lost riches bring us even greater pain than we would have had if we had never been rich and had stayed poor.

b. A lifeless life results when no one cares when one dies. (6:3-6)
"A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.  It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded.  Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man—even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?"

Thought Question:  Why do you believe Solomon says here that a man can have a prosperous life in many ways and in the end "a stillborn child is better off than he."?

 

 

Let us seek to follow Solomon's reasoning in these verses.  He compares a man who lives many years, has many children, and is rich to a stillborn baby.  His point is that if this rich man lived an empty life, his life is really just an elongation of the empty life of the stillborn baby.  Both lives are lived "without meaning" and both depart "in darkness."   Solomon's point is that the stillborn baby is ultimately better off, for he endured the emptiness of his life for a much shorter period of time, and he did not have to think at all about the emptiness of his life.   Ultimately, both end up dead.  It is a particularly grievous tale, though, if the rich man lives many years, then dies, and no one goes to his funeral.  That will show that others also believe that he lived a worthless and purposeless life, for it was not worth it for them to take the time to acknowledge that he even lived.

Maybe, you have been one of the few who have attended someone's funeral, and you have thought, "He or she lived and died and no one really cares."  His or her life was long, but it ended in a pathetic way.  In this case, it would have been better if he or she was stillborn.  Then, he or she would have avoided all those years of empty existence. See Job 3:16

c. A lifeless life results when one is never satisfied. (6:7-9)
"All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied.  What advantage has a wise man over a fool?  What does a poor man gain by knowing how to conduct himself before others?  Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.  This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind."

 Thought Question #1:  Do you believe that a man that is so rich that he can easily and continually buy the fanciest meals at the fanciest restaurants is more satisfied than a God-seeking Christian who continually eats simple and inexpensive meals that he knows God has provided for him? (Which would you rather be?)

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does Solomon mean by, "What does a poor man gain by knowing how to conduct himself before others?"

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What does Solomon mean by, "Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite."?

 

 

Apart from God there is no true and deep satisfaction.  The story of men apart from God is succinctly summed up in 6:7:  "All man’s efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied."  Men attempt to prove that this verse is wrong, but in the end all their labors only lead to different expressions of emptiness.  They become workaholics, addicts and alcoholics, unfaithful to their spouses, sex-addicts, victims of stress, resentful and jealous of those who are more successful, and caught up in an endless seeking after something that will ultimately satisfy them.  Most of us have heard the saying, "He who dies with the most toys wins."  But, the truth is that they also lose, for they also die and leave their toys behind; and they lose because their toys never satisfied the emptiness within them while they were alive.  As Solomon says in 6:9; it is "a chasing after the wind." 

There are many examples that prove that what Solomon says is true:  Our paycheck increases, but does the increase in money bring contentment?  Most often our desires and what we buy increases without greater satisfaction and without the greater amount of money bringing us contentment.

Solomon's point in 6:8 is that the wise man and fool end up the same way: empty.  "What advantage has a wise man over a fool?  What does a poor man gain by knowing how to conduct himself before others?" 

Now, Solomon provides his solution.  In 6:9 to 7:5, Solomon uses the word "better" a number of times.  In 6:9 we find the first use of "better""Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite."  "What the eye sees" refers to being content with what is already yours and is within your line of sight, rather than going out into the world on a pursuit for satisfaction outside your present way of life.  Our tendency is to think that satisfaction is out there somewhere, but not right here.  The husband or wife may think that the grass is greener on the other side and searches for another mate who will satisfy him or her.  But, from the higher rater of divorce in second and third marriages, the second mate does not satisfy either.  What is the solution?  Seek satisfaction and enjoyment in your present marriage.  Leaving the marriage illustration, seek satisfaction and enjoyment in your present life; do not continually be looking elsewhere!  Be thankful for all that God has given you and enjoy His gifts to you to the full.

CONCLUSION

How can we live a full life in an empty world?  The world is empty because God has been successfully eliminated from its thinking.  The people of the world believe that they have been able to free themselves from the guilt of feeling that they are not living up to God's standards, but they have actually enslaved themselves to a life of sin, futility, and emptiness.  But, their emptiness need not be our emptiness.  We can live a life of faith in God, fearing Him and seeking to fulfill His purposes.  We can enjoy all that He has given us to enjoy and we can realize that life has an eternal purpose.  We can live a full life in an empty world!!  To find out what Solomon teaches us about how we can live a full life in an empty world, continue on DIGGING FOR GOLD in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12:14.

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. ®   NIV ®   Copyright ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Ecclesiastes