The Futility of Pleasure and Possessions
Verses 1-3 Is There a Worthwhile Way to Live
Solomon believed that he could find the truth by carful study and meditation in his mind. That method is very popular in this day. It is how the scientist learn of the mysteries. Then there is another opinion that people have. They should just enjoy the lives that that have. They should explore different pleasures until they find the ones that make them happy in the moment. People should not weight themselves with serious matters, such as truth, the future, and their problems. These thoughts will only make them sad. This is a foolish opinion but many people choose to live in this way. Solomon too decided to live in this manner.
Solomon knew that this was a foolish way to live and he never really thought that he would achieve anything worthwhile. Solomon was a wealthy King and he had every opportunity to enjoy himself. It was his quest to know by experience what the best way is to have a good life. In verses 4-9 we learn what Solomon did and in verse 11 he tells us what he learned. Solomon had discovered absolutely nothing and he had achieved absolutely nothing and the whole experiment was a complete waste of time.
Solomon’s efforts to be a wise man had achieved nothing and his efforts to be foolish had the same effect, nothing achieved. In the end he discovered that all human effort is nothing more than hard work.
God does not reward people for their work effort. (Romans 4:5) God rewards people who trust Him. (Hebrews 11:6) This is how God wants people to live, He wants us to live with faith in Him. (Galatians 3:11)
Verses 4-8 It Is Foolish to Please Yourself
In these verses Solomon tells us of the great things that he did for his own pleasure. This does not seem to be a list of evil things that he did. And it seems not to be a list of things he did that did not accomplish anything. To determine if the actions were good or evil we must determine the motives of the action. And to determine if an action achieved anything we must look to the result of the action.
The first great action that Solomon accomplished during his reign was to build the Temple as a house for the Lord. God had said that Solomon should do that, his father David had wanted to but God said that it would be Solomon who should build the Temple. (2 Samuel 7:12-13) It is clear that this was an important purpose for Solomon to complete. Solomon was careful not to include this in his list of things he pursued to please himself.
It was after he built the Temple that Solomon built his palaces, gardens and pools. At the beginning Solomon may not have realized that he was doing anything wrong. Solomon was just doing what any other rich king would have done. But in fact he was behaving as a fool. He was serving himself instead of God. This wrong desire and selfish ambition had taken control of Solomon’s life. (James 3:14-17)
Solomon collected silver and gold, he collected wives, horses and slaves. Then the people thought that he was really a great king. But this is not what God thought about his behavior. (1 Kings 11:9) At the end of Solomon’s social experiment he even choose to worship false gods. (1 Kings 11:4-6)
Verses 9-11 Why Do Our Feelings of Satisfaction Not Last
Whatever Solomon saw with is eyes he desired with his heart. When he had satisfied his heart’s desire he had a sense of pride for all that he had done. Solomon had felt that he had carried out his work well as he had achieved all the things that he wanted to do. Solomon was greatly satisfied with the work that he had done. Because of his pride and satisfaction it all seemed right to him.
At the completion of each task Solomon found that he desired something else. So his work was never finished. His heart’s desire was for things that no one had ever seen. (2 Chronicles 9:17-19) Solomon had to work much harder to achieve the things that he wanted and the satisfaction seemed greater with each task.
Only when Solomon had finished all his work did he realize that none of his work had useful purpose. His only reward was a sense of satisfaction. And that feeling never lasted long. Few people have had the wealth that Solomon had but his experience was not unusual. People will have similar experiences when they allow their desires to rule their lives. John wrote about such desire. (1 John 2:16-17) Solomon is warning us that the desires of the world will not last. These desires are of the world and not from God and it is wrong to follow these desires. People should do what God wants them to do for that is the way to life and that is better that living for a short time in the world chasing empty desires.
Verses 12-16 How Does a Person Benefit if He is Wise
Solomon was a wise man but he had acted foolishly. Now Solomon compares the two ways that he had lived. He looked at the similarities.
Both James and the Apostle Paul wrote about two kinds of wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:18-30; James 3:13-17) One kind of wisdom is a gift from God. This wisdom causes a person to respect God and to refuse to do evil things. We can read of this wisdom in the book fo Proverbs and Job. (Proverbs 3:5-6; Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28)
In the book of Ecclesiastes we seem to have a lower standard of wisdom, the wisdom that comes from the world. To be wise in the world’s wisdom a person must think clearly and study carefully. Like Solomon that person must learn all that he can from the world.
A wise persona understands what is happening. A wise person is like a person who carries a lamp at night so that he can see the dangers. But the foolish person will pretend that there are no dangers. Or, maybe he does not care about the dangers. Or, he is too lazy to study about such dangers. The risk and dangers are unknown to him.
A person who is wise can protect himself from some troubles but only a fool imagines that he can protect himself form all danger. The wise know that they will surely die, as he has learned from his study of the world that he will not remain here. What the wise man has gained in the world someone else will receive. And in time people will forget both the wise man and what he had learned in the world. The wisdom of the world only brings death.
But the wisdom that comes from God brings eternal life to a person. (1 John 2:17; Proverbs 8:32-36)
Verses 17-21 Can a Person’s Efforts Achieve Anything that Last
Solomon had wanted to find a better way to live and he made a careful study of the world. But the world and its wisdom disappointed Solomon. Neither the study of the wise nor the foolish had brought a better way to live. All that Solomon had learned is that surely one day he would die.
Solomon does not express any fear of death but fear of the things that would happen after his death. One works hard to earn their wages and it was upsetting to Solomon that he would lose what he had labored for. By his death Solomon would lose everything that he had labored for. That would not matter all that much to Solomon if the new owner would use these things wisely. But there is no guarantee that the new own would be a wise husbandmen.
We know from the book of Kings that Solomon’s son behaved in a foolish manner. (1 Kings 12-1-19) In 1 Kings 14:25-28 we see how Solomon’s son lost much of his father’s wealth. But what upset Solomon the most was the loss of all his effort. Solomon had worked hard as he wanted to achieve much in his life. But all the labors of Solomon’s life were for the things of this world and nothing of this world will last.
The teaching of Jesus is that there are permanent things that we can achieve in this life. But they cannot be achieved by using the wisdom of this world. Our careful study and sensible thought, along with hard effort will not achieve permanent results. Only the wisdom that comes for God by His Word will give us the eternal wisdom. The wisdom of the world will eventually disappoint but the wisdom form God will never disappoint. (Matthew 7:24-25; John 12:49-50)
Verses 22-26 Without God Can Anyone Have a Good Life
The usual tasks of a laborer is hard. People sometimes do not receive a proper reward for their labors. That is the way of the world here in this life. There is little justice and good in this life. For others life does not seem so hard their work feels pleasant and they feel content. They enjoy their lives.
God has been kind to these people and they should be grateful to Him. For all good things come from God. (James 1:17) People in this world should not think that their whole lives will be filled with happiness. When hard times come they should still be loyal to God as God deserves honor no matter what state we are in.
Job was a man who had a very pleasant life. (Job 29:1-6) In Job we read that Job was God’s servant and God was protecting him. (Job 1:10) God had placed a hedge of protection around Job because he was living his life in God’s righteousness. God did not open that wall of protection because Job had sinned against Him. We do not know what is going on in the spiritual realm and therefore we do not know the reasons that God allows evil things to happen. Satan had challenged God that if God removed the hedge of protection around Job he would no longer serve Him. God obliged Satan because He knew that Job was faithful. It was not just a test of Job’s faith but a proof to Satan that Job served God.
I am not comparing Job’s suffering to any other, as we each suffer that which we can bear and no more. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Job remained loyal to God and praised Him through his suffering. Job did not serve God because He was kind to him, Job served God because He is deserving of our honor. When the trial was over for Job God restored him greatly. We do not earn God’s grace, it is His gift to us because God loves us.