Monday, April 6, 2009


In Chapter 2 of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon contemplates pleasure, attainment and labor, first from hedonistic, then from materialistic points of view.

he·don·ism (hēd'n-ĭz'əm) n.

1. Pursuit of or devotion to pleasure, especially to the pleasures of the senses.

2. Philosophy of hedonism: The ethical doctrine holding that only what is pleasant or has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good.

3. Psychology of hedonism: The doctrine holding that behavior is motivated by the desire for pleasure and the avoidance of pain.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

The Vanity of Pleasure: In verses 1-3, Solomon briefly examines pleasure and quickly comes to the conclusion that happiness is not found in entertainment. Just because you laugh, drink and enjoy your pleasure, does not mean you have found true happiness. Often times, pleasure is used as an escape from the things in life that are unpleasant and when the entertainment is over, you crash back into the reality of your unhappy life. Pleasure is in vain as it pertains to the meaning of life.
I blame my generation for making pleasure the epitome of our existence. Shame on the flower children. How did my generation justify the pursuit of pleasure? There was an expression – “If it feels good, do it.” Sad but true…this expression was on almost everybody’s lips of the day. They justified sexual gratification by declaring that “God is Love”. Some went even further by using just enough scriptural knowledge to form communes to live out their hedonistic philosophy. In the commune lifestyle, it was “free love”, drugs and a combining of resources so that the commune community could spend all of their time in the pursuit of pleasure and not materialism. Hmmm…this leads us to the next point. It seems that Solomon had an opinion about materialism as well.

Well, Thank You God that You gave me the parents that You did because I was not really a citizen of that world. No siree….my parents would have yanked me out of such a lifestyle and made me wish I had not even glanced in that direction. I am grateful that I had such parents.

ma·te·ri·al·ism (mə-tîr'ē-ə-lĭz'əm) n.

1. Philosophy of materialism: The theory that physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena.

2. The theory or attitude that physical well-being and worldly possessions constitute the greatest good and highest value in life.

3. A great or excessive regard for worldly concerns.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

The Vanity of Attainment: Solomon acquired much in his life. His wealth and possessions were great and he excelled more than all the Kings of Jerusalem who lived before him (vs. 9) and his wisdom remained with him throughout his reign. Yet, when he looked upon all he had attained, Solomon realized that all was, once again, vanity.

Then I looked on all the works
That my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed, all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 2:11

I can relate… I worked from age 18 until 60. During this period of time, I attained much. Sometime during my 50’s I came to realize that possessions did not make me happy. I was and am a very happy person, but not because of all I owned. In fact, possessions began to feel like a burden. All I wanted was to simplify my life and that meant getting rid of “things”. I find it ironic that I spent approximately 35 years acquiring “things” and then I didn’t want them. And, how much better it would have been if I had kept it simple from the start and saved all the money I spent on “stuff”!!! It was all vanity… “Stuff & things” do not hold the key to the meaning of my life.

Likewise, Solomon’s possessions did not give meaning to his life. And, as he considered further, he examined wisdom compared to folly. He reasons that, in the end, the wise man is no different from the fool.

For there is no more
Remembrance of the wise
Than of the fool forever,
Since all that now is will be
forgotten in the days to come
And how does a wise man die?
As the fool!
Ecclesiastes 2:16

Solomon concludes his contemplation of attainment with this pronouncement that it was not worth the work and stress:

Therefore I hated life because the
work that was done under the sun was
distressing to me, for all is vanity and
grasping for the wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:17

The Vanity of Labor: Prior examination of “attainment” leads, naturally, into thought about labor. Solomon examines labor – for what? He makes no secret of the fact that he hates that he worked so hard, but only to die and leave his wealth to someone who did not work for it. He reasons that he attained all of his wealth through wisdom, knowledge and skill, yet he must leave his heritage to, not only someone who did not work for it, but quite possibly a fool.

For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun?

For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest.
This also is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

So far, Solomon has examined the reason for life intellectually, hedonistically and materially. Regardless of how successful he was, how much he attained materially, how much pleasure he found; I suspect that Solomon still felt emptiness in his life. I’m thinking that Solomon was thinking….”Why did I bother?” I’m also thinking about that expression “he who dies with the most toys wins”… I think NOT.

Solomon recognizes that, possibly, the key to the meaning of life can only be found in God, but that causes him to consider the difference in what God may give to each… the believer and the sinner. And that this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy
to a man who is good in his sight;
but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering
and collecting, that he may give to him who is good
before God. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:26

Enjoy life: Solomon comes to the conclusion that there is nothing better than that man should eat, drink and be happy. Solomon’s message is that we should enjoy life because it is a gift from God and that without Him, our life is labor without joy, which he also concludes is vanity and grasping for the wind.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
and comes down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation
or shadow of turning.
James 1:17

Is this all there is? The answer is blowing in the wind…it remains a mystery. We come to realize all of life is vain or in vain. Our world is flawed and can’t be fixed. We must live our lives the best that we can live it… The empty feeling inside cannot be filled by intellectualism, hedonism or material possessions.

As a happy Christian, I can tell you that empty feeling can be filled by God. And instead of continually striving against the world? King Solomon had some good advice... He decided it is better to enjoy life. My advice? Don't waste your life... Take the time to smell the flowers...

Thank you for joining me in the study of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3 will be up by the end of the week.

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