WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

 

ECCLESIASTES: PART THREE

 PRESENTED ON 10-26-13

        In Chapter two of Ecclesiastes we see a continuation of Solomon’s disenchantment with how life works.  He recites his many accomplishments and concludes it all is nothing more than a chasing after wind.

       Ecclesiastes 2:1-11:  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. 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. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. 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.  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.

       Solomon appears to have been a hedonist.   A hedonist is a person who is obsessed with self gratification.  A hedonist is obsessed with pursuing the pleasures of life with little regard for much of anything else.  Solomon appears to have pursued fulfillment in life through pleasure.  Yet we see that this did not bring Solomon the satisfaction or fulfillment he graved.

       We find that Solomon actually used himself as a kind of experiment to see if he could identify what it is that brings fulfillment and satisfaction in life.  The problem is that he used pleasure as the measuring stick for determining fulfillment and satisfaction and this proved to be the wrong approach.  While he experienced delight in the work of his hands, he found in the end that such delight was very fleeting and he was always looking for something else to do that he hoped would bring him happiness. 

       Solomon found happiness to be very momentary.  In many respects that is the way life is.  Take the game of golf.  You play a good round and you are happy with what you achieved.  You play another round and you stink.  The happiness experienced in the first round of golf quickly dissipates into frustration and sadness.  However, both the good round and the bad round of golf are momentary experiences as is much of what we do in life.  Solomon was looking for what he did to have lasting significance.  He discovered that in seeking the pleasures of life, he was not achieving lasting significance. The reason Solomon wasn’t achieving anything of lasting significance is that he was gathering to himself treasures on earth rather then laying up treasures in heaven.

       Matthew 6:19-20: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

       Solomon’s heart was in the treasures of this life.  He said “I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good."  Solomon thought he could achieve happiness by experiencing everything there is to experience in this physical life even if it meant behaving in ways that ran contrary to what God intended.  Solomon had 1000 wives and the Scriptural record shows that these wives led him into idolatry and in so doing he sinned against God. Solomon was willing to sacrifice his relationship with God for the treasures of this life.  This is in notable contrast to another OT personality who was willing to give up the treasures of this life for the much higher calling of being an instrument in God’s hand for accomplishing a lasting significance.

       Hebrews 11:24-26: By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 

       The Scriptural record shows that Moses was not reluctant to defend a fellow Israelite who was being beaten by an Egyptian with the result being that Moses had to flee for his life after Pharaoh found out he had killed an Egyptian.  While Solomon was intent on accumulating the treasures and rewards of this physical life, Moses was willing to give up the treasures and rewards of this life and do whatever God required of him and in so doing gain reward beyond this physical life.

       You may ask what it means to lay up treasure in heaven.  In reading through the Scriptures and especially in studying the teachings of Jesus, it is apparent that to lay up treasure in heaven is to focus ones life on serving the needs of others in contrast to serving the needs of oneself. 

       Matthew 20: 25-28:  Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

       Jesus is the ultimate example of serving the needs of others even at the expense of serving ones own needs.  To lay up treasure in heaven is to focus our lives on serving the needs of others.  Providing time and resources in helping those in need is what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a servant of God the Father.  Doing good deeds in the service of others is foundational to being a follower of Jesus and maintaining a right relationship with God.  James, the brother of Jesus, understood what Jesus meant in teaching we are to serve one another.

       James 2:14-17: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

       James is saying that to have faith in God is to do what God intends for us to do.  God intends for us to respond to the needs of our fellow man and if we don’t do so we really don’t have faith in God.  James clearly shows that having faith in God is more than just believing He exists.  Having faith in God is doing what He says

       James 2:19-20: You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

       James points out that demon’s (fallen angels) certainly believe in God.  They know God exists. They were once in God’s presence but at some point became disobedient and were cast out.  They were cast out because they did not express their faith in remaining faithful to God.  To be faithful to God is to be obedient to God. 

       Ecclesiastics 2:12-19:  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 days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! 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.

       Here we see Solomon recognizing the usefulness of wisdom over folly but also recognizing that both the wise and the fool suffer the same fate.  They both die.  Solomon finds this to be very frustrating.  Solomon doesn’t want to die and leave all that he had accomplished and acquired behind.  He even questions what is to be gained by being wise.  What does it profit to be wise and use wisdom to accomplish things if it all comes to an end when you die?

       Solomon is basically questioning why live life at all.  What’s it purpose?  We are born, we grow up, we experience happiness and sorrows, we accumulate and accomplish things and then all of a sudden it is all over. We die and leave what we acquired and accomplished to someone else who may mishandle what we leave. 

       At this point in Solomon’s life he is displaying a rather selfish and self-centered attitude.  He is basically asking what purpose there is in accumulating and accomplishing if he has to die and leave it all to someone else.  Rather than seeing what he has acquired and accomplished as a legacy that can be enjoyed and built upon by others. He instead is bemoaning the fact that he has to leave it all to someone else. 

       It is very possible Solomon made this statement about having to leave every thing he acquired to someone else after having learned that his kingdom was going to be taken away from him because he failed to obey God and apparently didn’t repent of that failure.

       1 Kings 11:10-11: Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the LORD's command. So the LORD said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.

       Looking at the history of mankind, it is apparent God intended for man to increase in knowledge and effectively use the things extant in the physical world to discover, invent and flourish.  One generation builds upon the discoveries and inventions of the previous generation and a significant purpose in life is to do the best one can do to leave something positive for others to build on. Solomon had accomplished a great deal and had accumulated great wealth.  His problem was that he did not want to share what he had accomplished with others.  He found it very frustrating to think that he would have to leave what he accomplished to someone else.  This brings us back to what we discussed earlier. 

       God intends for us to serve the needs of others.  Such service often involves the giving of our time and our resources in order to accomplish such service.  Solomon apparently became very attached to what he had and did and wanted to keep it to himself.  God wants us to give of ourselves and what we have and not become attached to the physical things of this world. 

       Luke 12:29-34: And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

       We will see as we move through Solomon’s dialog that he came to realize that the accumulation of wealth on this earth is not where our focus should be.  It is to fear God and do His will that is of prime importance. We see Solomon recognizing this in a proverb he wrote. We also see this expressed in a statement made by Apostle John.

       Proverbs 15: 12: Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.

       1 John 2:16-17: For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

       Ecclesiastics 2:20-26:  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.  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.  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.

       Here Solomon continues to reflect on the fact that all he has attained and acquired will be left to someone else who has not worked for it.  He seems to be very upset over the prospect of others getting what he has worked so hard for.  He considers all his labors and how transitory they all are and he concludes that it is best to just eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work at the moment and not be constantly seeking to achieve and attain more and more.  He seems to be saying we should stop and smell the roses as the saying goes.  Apostle Paul makes a similar observation in his letter to Timothy.

       1 Timothy 6:6-9: But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 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.

       While it is not wrong to have wealth, people with wealth often become preoccupied with gaining more wealth and never stop to small the roses.  Their pursuit of wealth never really brings them contentment.  Paul advises us to be content with the basics of life and instructs that we will experience great gain by practicing godliness with contentment.   As we move through Solomon’s dialog, we will see that Solomon came to realize this. 

PART FOUR