I was reading through Ecclesiastes the other day and I realised that apart from it containing the "A Time for Everything" portion of scripture, I knew nothing about Ecclesiastes. The main reason for knowing "A Time for Everything" is partly due to the 'Turn Turn Turn' song sung by The Byrds that featured on the Forest Gump soundtrack. I sound so educated, don’t I!
Ecclesiastes was one of those books I just couldn’t stop reading. From one chapter to the next I was amazed, jaw droppingly amazed. At times I found myself laughing. I realise that laughing through some of Ecclesiastes is quite inappropriate of me, and somewhat simplistic but I need to point out I never have professed to being a theologian! I loved Ecclesiastes. It amused and challenged me with its brutal honesty.
I used to work in Mental Health, and those who have had the pleasure of working alongside folks that suffer from a mental illness will tell you, you have never worked with a more open, honest bunch of people. They know their weaknesses so they don't pretend - they don't waste their time with masks. What you see is what you get. I get the picture that Solomon is having a moment of total personal honesty and it seems like he had an epiphany. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? He saw his life for what it was. All he had; knowledge, wisdom, wealth and fulfilling of his lusts and desires, it was all worthless, pointless and vanity. You could sum up the 12 chapters of Ecclesiastes in the same vein, "What's the point of this life? What? You’re born, you work hard, you die, you're forgotten, so what's the point?" (my paraphrasing)
“Nothing makes sense! Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all - nothing makes sense!” (CEV) or “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” (ESV). Ecclesiastes 1:2 The Hebrew word used in this text is hebel which means; emptiness or vanity, something transitory and unsatisfactory.
Why would Solomon think of his life as empty, unsatisfactory or a waste? He had built the temple, only dreamed about by his father David and it was magnificent. What did he discover when he was able to look back upon his life and see it clearly for what it was?
The truth that Solomon learned, is so very important for us to hear in a world where we are feed messages of get, get, get. Work, work, work. Play, play, play. I encourage you to read through the whole 12 chapters. It won’t take you long. It’s riveting and drama all the way.
King Solomon lived his life achieving and enjoying. He was blessed by God with wisdom. He had riches; 25 ton of gold a year (2 Chronicles 9:13-28). He had girls, more than a man can handle! In 1 Kings 11.3 we are told he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (I’m guessing remembering anniversaries wasn’t required). King Solomon had all we strive to attain in our lives: A nice house, a good job with a great salary, a spouse and family, fantastic clothes, great accessories. Solomon had the lot, he had worked hard and been blessed and in the end he declares “So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labour 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.” 2:17-18.
How’s that for full on frankness. But he doesn’t stop there “All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear it’s fill of hearing..... There is no remembrance of men of old and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow.” 1: 8, 11.
Is this a depressed old King at the end of his life, looking back on a life full of opportunity and all that the world calls success, but yet a life riddled with regrets? No this is called Perspective. That’s what this is. Solomon has perspective. What’s the point? The point, the only point is “fear God and keep His commands”. Many of us focus on things that will lead us to regrets later in life, or even in a couple of minutes time. I’m feeling this lesson from Solomon hitting home. Perspective is a hard lesson to learn, as we are prone to selfishness and self centeredness. If only we knew the glory of God, we would fear him. To be in awe of God, reverent, humble awe of God, that is the ultimate perspective.
“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14 It took a whole lifetime of greatness, self-indulgence, wisdom, knowledge, wealth and achievement for Solomon to come to the end and say it was “chasing after the wind”, worthless, pointless, vanity. If only we could learn the lesson now, before too many regrets are made, before achievement gets put before relationships, before indulgence destroys the conscience, before wealth becomes our idol. If only … if only we could see that the point is to fear God and keep His commands.