February 20, 1994
To me, there are two "depressing" books in Scripture:
Ecc and Lam.
Lamentations was written by the Prophet Jeremiah. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written by a man who identifies himself as the Preacher, meaning a speaker to a public assembly. Though his name is never mentioned, the first verse identifies him as the son of David, king in Jerusalem, Solomon.
Evidently Solomon wrote Ecc at the end of his life because he talks about the futility of life. The Lord prospered Solomon with unbelievable wealth as never a man was prospered. Solomon's yearly income is recorded in 1 Ki 10:14, Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold, At 125 lbs per talent, Solomon's income was 83,250 lbs of gold a year.
Solomon used his prosperity to pursue everything his heart could desire. Then the Lord caused Solomon to record all he learned to show man the foolishness of pursuing the pleasant things the world holds important. Solomon had everything the natural heart could desire, yet we see from this book, those things could not bring contentment, joy and peace.
I believe this is one of the most important books in God's word for our day of materialism. The vast majority of people today have accepted the lie that money can buy happiness, peace and contentment.
Solomon, under inspiration of the Spirit of God, opens the book looking back on his life; he sees only vanity.
The word vanity is only used 78 times in the OT, with 38 times in Ecc alone. Basically, vanity means "wind" or "breath." Of course, it is used in the sense of emptiness.
The parallel verses for Solomon's vanity are Jer 2:5 & 2 Kings 17:15,which we will look at shortly.
Solomon found vanity in several things: 1) in the inability of work to fulfill his life 2) in the apparent improper connection between sin and judgment/righteousness and final deliverance 3) in the shortness of life.
V. 2 establishes the premise of the book: everything under the sun is vain. V. 3, he says that no matter how hard he works, everything continues the same. V. 4, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot make a difference. [He sounds like "a dog chasing his tail."]
1:9, The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be... Here he points out that in spite of all his effort, things remained the same. So he laments the uselessness of hard work and personal effort to bring about change.
Illustration: A man contacted Concerned Citizens some time ago. He had high hopes of doing something that would change the corrupt situations in our county. About a month ago, he contacted me again and said he was selling everything, buying a mobile camper and was going to travel. I asked Phil Apple the other day what happened to the man, and Phil told me that the man said that no matter what you do, things will continue the same. So he sold everything and fled the situation.
Let me say that the attitude displayed by that individual is exactly why we are in the mess we are in today and why we will leave a socialistic tyranny for our children and grandchildren.
One can fall into the same trap when trying to evangelize the community."No matter how hard I try, I cannot influence anyone for the Lord."
That is exactly what Solomon saw after 40 years on the throne of Israel. It seems that no matter what you do, things continue the same. Moreover, after all the hard work and you are gone, no one remembers or cares what you did. When you die, your memory is no more than the memory of the wind, rain or water of the river.
Solomon concludes that hard work is futile.
If something is right to do according to the Lord Jesus Christ, a "What's the use" attitude is the spirit of antiChrist. It reflects a non-Christian view of life. As Christians, we have no choice but to be involved in trying to evangelize our community and in working for good and righteousness in society around us. The Spirit of God makes this very clear at the end of the book.
1:4-7, the Preacher makes an observation about nature. The sun, wind, and water return from whence they came. Everything is simply making a big circle, including human life.
The Preacher cannot be accused of not knowing what he is talking about.
First, he gave himself to obtain peace of mind through hard labour, v. 8.
This is a strange statement: Solomon was not a poor king. In other words, Solomon did not have to work because he had legions of people to work for him. Therefore, we must conclude that his wealth and kingly power did not make him happy, so he found some hard labour to do in hopes that the labour would satisfy.
But he could not find peace in his labour. In fact, he only added to his problems.
Second, Solomon knew what he was talking about because he gave himself to obtain wealth
V. 8, the eye is not satisfied with seeing, so the hand must obtain. There will never be enough labour to satisfy the desires for the pleasant things of and personal security of life. Solomon's eyes were not satisfied with what he had, so he set out to increase his material goods. Did he not make a fleet of ships to bring gold unto himself, 1 Kg 9:26-28?
Solomon's problem is found in the purpose with which he pursued wealth:Labour motivated only by personal goals and ambitions will increasepersonal problems and dissatisfaction with life.
Just look around! There are multitudes of people who should know better working day and night. They are not working because they have not enough money to obtain food and clothing and to support the work of the Lord.Rather, they give themselves to their work so they can obtain the "nicer" things of life that the gods of this world say are important: material possessions of all kinds.
2:18, Solomon points out that life is short and when he is gone, someone else will get the results of the hard labour, the accumulated material goods. Therefore, what is the use of hard work? Those who did not have to work for the wealth, as a rule, will squander it away.
Third, Solomon knew what he was talking about because he gave himself to obtain wisdom
1:18, Solomon worked to increase his knowledge of the things of the world. We know that the knowledge referred to in v. 18 cannot be Godly knowledge, for the knowledge Solomon gained brought grief and sorrow. The same man told us in Proverbs to seek knowledge because it held life and wealth for the seeker, Pro ch 4, &c. Therefore, the knowledge of 1:18 must be knowledge without God. That knowledge will only bring death.
Back to the Illustration of the man who fled the county: he gained knowledge, but the knowledge was not with the purpose of how to better serve God in his community. It had no Christian motive or foundation. Therefore, it had grief and sorrow with it.
Fourth, Solomon knew what he was talking about because he gave himself to obtain righteousness and teach the people the right way: "straighten the crooked," 1:15.
He sought to find and teach the people good knowledge, even words of truth, 12:9, 10.
As the Preacher tried to instruct the people in the right way and judge righteous judgment, he reached a conclusion, 2:15:
One can do right and still be counted by those around him guilty of dastardly deeds. "So," says the Preacher, "why work at doing right if it still will happen to you as happens to the fool? There seems to be no connection between sin and judgment, between righteousness and final deliverance, so why be righteous? Why try to promote righteousness in society?" Righteousness is vanity, hopeless, because both the righteous and wicked meet the same end: death.
After forty years of work and observations in these areas, the Preacher records his final conclusions: he opens and closes this book with Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity. 1:2 &12:8.
Now the parallel passages: Jer 2:5 & 2 Kings 17:15.
2 Ki 17:15 And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that [were] round about them, [concerning] whom the LORD had charged them, that they should not do like them.
Jer 2:5 Thus saith the LORD, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?
The Spirit tells us that as God's people followed after the vain, worthless gods of the world, the people became worthless themselves. Thus the Lord makes these unavoidable points which are proved by Solomon's life and the book of Ecc:
(1) every man takes on to some degree the character and nature of the God he worships: (2) the characteristic of all false gods is that they destroy their worshippers. (TWOT)
Though these verses in 2 Kings and Jeremiah speak of God's people in general, they clearly show us the problem in the Book of Ecclesiastes: the Preacher started out Godly, but he was soon overtaken by the lusts of the flesh, lust of the eye and the pride of life. The pagan gods around Solomon got the best of him, and his heart was turned from the Lord God to the world's gods around him.
A hint of his turning is found at the very start of his reign, 1 Kgs. 3:3, viz., he professed his wonderful love for the Lord, yet sacrificed and burnt incense in high places. The Lord had clearly commanded that all sacrifices unto Himself were to take place at the central location of the tabernacle. Certainly, as we continue in 1 Kgs 3, we see that the Lord blessed Solomon more than abundantly, but we cannot get around the fact that he sacrificed in the high places instead of in the one place commanded by God.
Also, at the start of Solomon's reign, he married Pharaoh's daughter. Hebrews could marry outside the Israelite race, but the Hebrew could only marry one who exhibited conversion to Israel's God, e.g., Boaz, Rahab's husband, &c.
1 Kg 11 tells us Solomon's marriage was evil in God's sight. Solomon never conquered his love for the world and its pleasant things, so it finally gains control. 1 Kings 11 opens with this statement:
V. 1, But king Solomon love many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and hittites;
V. 5, For Solomon went after Ashtoreth..., and after Milcom... And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord...
Solomon's sin was not that he went after the world's gods around him; Solomon's sin started when he allowed those gods to turn him from fully following the Lord.
How many of God's people started pursuing the vain things of the world around them in a very small way, and now today they are wholly following the vain things of this world at the expense of their relationship to their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?
1 Kgs 11 is a sad commentary of a once Godly man turning from the Lord his God to follow after the vain, worthless idols and gods around him,e.g., labour, money, knowledge, social changes apart from Godliness. The result of Solomon's service to the pagan gods is that he takes on those pagan gods' character, and he ends his life destroyed by the false gods he served. He looks back on his life and concludes, all is vanity. Maybe he had a "pleasant" life up to the end, but his life did not end pleasantly.
Solomon served the gods around him. The conclusion he came to at the end of his life is recorded for us, so we do not have to "learn the hard way."
Sure, the gods around us look good. It is pleasant in the present to serve the vain gods that the world serves. It is pleasant to work to obtain what our eyes desire, but in the end, it will all be found empty vanity.
Let one serve the pagan gods of knowledge, money, self, social change without Godliness, the end will be anything but pleasant before God. But it will be too late then to make the change from a vain life.
Solomon, after forty years of being a huge success in the eyes of the world, gives the conclusion of the whole matter, which to me is a high point of Scripture. Let the world around us serve the vain things of their gods, but let us who profess love for the Lord Jesus Christ,
hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the hole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. 12:13, 14.
Solomon gives us two concluding points in vv. 13, 14:
1) he gives the reason we must be involved in evangelizing our community and the world, he gives the reason we must be involved in working for honesty and integrity in society: We have no choice because God requires it of His people.
If we are involved for any other reason than the Lord God commands us to be involved, we will be in sin because we are not involved for God's glory. In other words, it matters not if we see any success, we must be involved because God requires that we be involved. If we look for outward success, then we will probably be overwhelmed with the vanity of the whole mess.
2) man will soon forget all about us, but the Lord never forgets, and He is the one we must stand before!
Man has only been placed upon this earth for one purpose: glorify God in all he does. He has been placed here to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness When the purpose of our lives turn from wholly serving the Lord Jesus with all our heart, soul and strength, and faithfulness to Him, when our heart places the Lord any place after the pagan's gods around us, our lives will end as vain as did Solomon's.
Let us faithfully follow Solomon's conclusion. If we do, our lives will not be vain, and we will face the end with a sure confidence that we will go on to stand before the Lord with a clear conscience. We will then receive praise from the final Judge of all ages, the Lord Jesus Christ.
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