“Then I looked again at vanity under the sun.” Ecc 4:7
Solomon spent much of his life in contemplation. He was trying to figure out life. He was trying to understand it. He took on the arduous task of narrowing life and all its components into one, cohesive conclusion: what is the meaning of life???
Each time Solomon thought he was getting closer, he would realize again that the mystical, ethereal answer was eluding him. In despair, after countless attempts to summarize it, his conclusion of life crumbled to a hopeless epitaph: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” Ecc 1:2
One thing is for sure: Solomon didn’t live in pipe dreams. He was what we might call a “realist”. And there are some who would say he was a pessimist, a man who took a dark view of things. No matter how one sees his perspective on life, there is a significant fact that must not be ignored, and it is this: Solomon had every reason to be happy, perhaps more than anyone who has ever lived.
It is indisputable that he had riches beyond the imagination. He had worldwide power (I Kings 4:21). He had massive influence (I Kings 4:34). And he had wisdom (I Kings 4:30). How could one so endowed with everything that is desirable, have taken on such a despairing view of life?
I will tell you how. Because Solomon had experienced the “ultimate” – achieved the highest possible level of everything that is desired by people in all the world, he was uniquely positioned by God to offer the overarching, all-encompassing truth:
No amount of money, position, pleasure, or power can bring a person even one step closer to contentment.
In chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes, Solomon told us about the mission he embarked upon to find happiness and contentment. He held nothing back. He explored everything that humanity has used and is using today to find that imaginary gem at the end of the fantastical rainbow.
He pursued it with wine (body stimulation with drugs). He built buildings and parks and gardens (accomplishment and achievement). He had slaves and servants and workers under him, at his service (internal power and influence). Vast herds of livestock and gold and silver (wealth). Treasures of kings and provinces (global power and influence). Singers and a harem of women (entertainment and pleasure). Wisdom and discretion (intellectual achievement).
Did he miss anything? I don’t think so. What Solomon pursued is essentially what everyone on the planet pursues, day by day, every day, to the end of their lives.
And what did he find? NOTHING. Nothing but vanity.
“Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.” Ecc 2:11
Pretty dark, huh? Yeah, maybe, but Solomon was just saying what was true. People may not want to openly confess that there is no lasting meaning in what they do all throughout the year. They may even put on a pretense of happiness and fulfillment. But that doesn’t make it real.
In truth, people have been experiencing what Solomon experienced from the far reaches of history to this very morning. Nothing has changed.
It does mean a lot more coming from a man who had everything intellectually, physically, situationally, mentally. If one who has achieved the epitome of life says it’s all meaningless and void…we’d better tune in.
The great writer of Ecclesiastes left us with some serious things to think about. He beckoned us to not waste time in the fruitless pursuit of things that have never, and can never, bring happiness. Instead, this weathered old man, having experienced all that the world could give him, arrived at the final, conclusive truth here in these words:
“The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Ecc 12:13,14