Today: [Ecclesiastes 2] Under the Sun. In chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes we find Solomon purposing further to discover where true happiness and fulfillment can be found. He touches on two things that are very present in our culture: diversion and materialism. The world around us suggests that happiness can be found in diversion. This is sought after primarily through popular culture and the media, and through substance abuse at various depths. The hopelessness of the idea is the false notion that we cannot truly change anything in life so the best thing to do is to get our minds off of the things we cannot control and fill our lives with other things. In very disturbing ways we understand that our whole culture is largely underpinned by such dark suppositions. Is this true? Can true happiness and fulfillment not be found “under the sun”? Solomon will help us find the answer.
[Ecc 2:1-26 KJV] 1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also [is] vanity. 2 I said of laughter, [It is] mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? 3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what [was] that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. 4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all [kind of] fruits: 6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7 I got [me] servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: 8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, [as] musical instruments, and that of all sorts. 9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
As we continue to study Solomon we observe that many commentators simply dismiss Solomon’s words as the lamentation of a depressed, bored and backslidden king. This has been the almost universal conclusion about Ecclesiastes and as a result it has remained one of the least esteemed books of the bible, many suggesting that it doesn’t rightfully belong in the canon. Over and again Solomon declares that all is vanity and vexation of spirit and as such many object to its overtly negative tone and simply dismiss it as an inspired record of the uninspired sayings of Solomon in a backslidden state. Is there another way to look at Ecclesiastes? Could it not be that Solomon is on the contrary pointing out to his readers and to you and I the fact that true satisfaction and fulfillment can only be found ultimately, not in the pleasures or pursuits of this life but in relationship to God?
Verses 1-3 speaks of Solomon giving himself over to mirth and to wine yet in that diversion the wisdom of God did not elude him. He still maintained the presence of mind to realize the vanity of abandoning himself over to such diversion. His wisdom was still with him and he understood that the weightier matters of life did not disappear just because he chose to ignore them in favor of pursuing good times. These are lessons of great value to us in modern society. Billions upon billions of dollars in our economy are spent in diversion. We are taught and encouraged that in order to rest and recuperate we simply need to get our minds of our troubles and have a laugh or two. Comedy today whether it is on the stage or the screen is largely found to be an expression of scorn or mockery toward thoughtfulness or introspection. The standards and values of our culture have been turned upside down and we are being led to believe that only those who are dismissive of deep truth or philosophy are those who can be truly happy.
Solomon also gave himself up to substance abuse. Why is addiction, alcoholism and so forth such a big problem in our world? We have to realize what need in man such addictions perversely meet. At their most basic level such thing provide an escape from the inescapable in life. If you cannot alter the circumstances of life then we are tempted to alter our perceptions of life by altering our minds by abusing alcohol, drugs, sex, etc. Therefore, such things arise from hopeless, faithlessness and helplessness. Our culture says there is no God, or that if there is a God, He doesn’t care about the little lives of pathetic individuals. From the time our children are very small this agnostic viewpoint is drilled into them through the institutions of learning and popular culture. Then as the gladiators of old we adopt an approach to life “eat, drink, have a laugh, for tomorrow we die…” This may look pragmatic on the surface but is a deeply pessimistic and dark worldview that taken to its furthest extent explains to us the epidemic of suicide and self-destruction that plagues our culture.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all [was] vanity and vexation of spirit, and [there was] no profit under the sun. 12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what [can] the man [do] that cometh after the king? [even] that which hath been already done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes [are] in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. 15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also [is] vanity. 16 For [there is] no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now [is] in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise [man]? as the fool. 17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun [is] grievous unto me: for all [is] vanity and vexation of spirit. 18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise [man] or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This [is] also vanity.
In verse 10 Solomon says that he gave himself up to conspicuous consumption. If he could not find joy in wine and mirth he would seek to fill his life with things and perhaps happiness and a sense of self-worth could be found there. This is a very deceptive path of life that many fall into. How much “stuff” is too much? If we fill our lives with things are we going to be truly happy? If we drive the newest car, own a beautiful house and have everything that our heart might desire does this mean that we will be whole and happy in life? The advertising executives that pummel us daily in the media would have us think so. They suggest that if we buy this car or wear that clothing makers brand, or put this food in our refrigerator that we will in fact be “one of the beautiful people” and live a life of fulfillment and joy. Is this true? How many of us have used shopping as a therapy to deal with emptiness in our lives or to get our minds off the valuelessness of our existence? The deeper and equally troubling truth is that our whole way of life and the stability of our society is built on such values. We call it capitalism. The pursuit of happiness. How many know and realize that happiness can’t be purchased with a credit card or on a shopping spree? If the whole of our population tomorrow would choose to have a moment of clarity on this issue and withdraw from the temptations of those things that are consistently marketed to us – the economy would completely collapse. Such things observes Solomon are ultimately not fulfilling in life nor reflective of the purpose for which God created us.
20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labour [is] in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it [for] his portion. This also [is] vanity and a great evil. 22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? 23 For all his days [are] sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity. 24 [There is] nothing better for a man, [than] that he should eat and drink, and [that] he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it [was] from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten [hereunto], more than I? 26 For [God] giveth to a man that [is] good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to [him that is] good before God. This also [is] vanity and vexation of spirit.
For all of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom it only brought him to utter despair when he realized the folly of what those things could produce in his life. Notice the repeated reference to those things that are “under the sun”. This is not where happiness and true joy in life is found. Let us remember again the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians:
[1Co 15:19 KJV] 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
This is not a statement of hopelessness on Paul’s part. Many see this statement as one of fatalism and absolute despair. This is not the case. Man, was not created to live his life in abandonment to that which he was in the beginning given total dominion over. We are not meant to live lives of abandonment and dependency on what this life affords us in order to find our meaning and purpose. To those without faith such propositions are terrifying because they have no confidence that there is anything beyond this life that even exists. It takes courage to believe. It takes courage to accept the fact that not only there is a God but that He is deeply and fully engaged in our lives and seeking to have an intimate and ongoing relationship with us through which our true purpose and the meaning of our existence are found. The world looks on the atheist and agnostic and admires them for their deep thinking when in fact they are living lives of deep cowardice because they cannot face up to the transaction of faith required by all of those who find their hope in Christ and in the unseen world. For those of us who choose to believe we join with the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians:
[2Co 4:17-18 KJV] 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding [and] eternal weight of glory; 18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen [are] temporal; but the things which are not seen [are] eternal.
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