Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day, 2, Solomon Speaks Of The Fleetingness Of Life

Today Solomon mourns the shortness of life. The Bible doesn't tell us how old Solomon was when he became king or how old he was when he died. We know he reigned over the nation of Israel for forty years and we know that his son and successor, Rehoboam, was forty-one years old when he became king. This means that Rehoboam had already been born a year before David made Solomon king, leading us to think Solomon was probably at least eighteen or twenty when he received the throne. He was a married man with a baby when the crown was placed on his head. This would allow us to estimate he was at least in his sixties when he died. Some scholars believe he could have been as old as eighty if he were closer to middle age when he got married and had his son Rehoboam. I tend think he might have died at the younger age, partly because David himself only lived to be seventy and there may have been some genetics that influenced the length of Solomon's life, and partly because Solomon lived a life of excess which included lots of wine and rich foods. He may also have been quite sedentary, being a scholar and a politician, not a physically active warrior like his father. The best we can calculate is that he was likely somewhere between sixty and eighty at death, a fairly short life when compared to the ages of the patriarchs, and an exceedingly short time when compared with the long ages of eternity.

Solomon feels as if all his work has been futile. He is soon to leave this world and that means leaving behind his kingdom and his vast projects. The idea that a man can work hard all his life only to leave it so quickly seems pointless to him. "What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises." (Ecclesiastes 1:3-5) He says, "This world outlives us all! No matter how hard we work or how much we achieve, the world goes on without us. Why do we even bother? I've spent many days standing in the hot sun staring at blueprints and watching my buildings slowly rise from the ground, but when you stop to think about it, what's the point of it all? I've named great palaces and towers and gardens after myself. I've even built a temple in the name of the Lord. But I'm still going to die and when I do the sun is going to keep coming up every morning and the world is going to keep on turning."

In his youth Solomon lived a self-centered life. He indulged himself in every pleasure his carnal mind could concoct. He drank to excess and spent money like it grew on trees. This is a man who had the means to experience every fine thing and every pleasurable pursuit the world offers, yet being able to have it all left him feeling completely empty inside. Now that he's older he realizes the world doesn't revolve around him. While he was young he lived as though it did, but now he knows better. As he celebrates birthday after birthday, Solomon wonders if he's done anything that really matters. What kind of legacy is he leaving behind? Has he done anything of eternal value for the kingdom of God?

When he dies he knows that life will go on without him, a thought that bothers a man like him who has lived life mostly for himself. "The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again. All things are wearisome, more than one can say." (Ecclesiastes 1:6-8a) Solomon sums up a feeling that all of us have probably experienced at one time or another when he says, "All things are wearisome, more than one can say." He states, "Day in and day out it's the same old stuff. We get up and go about our work, then we come home and go to bed, then we get up and do it all over again. It's monotonous. It wears a person down. It causes us to question what the point is of anything. The work we do today will have to be repeated tomorrow. And then eventually we will die and someone else will simply take up where we left off, doing the same old things day in and day out. It makes me exhausted to think about it."

A life that consists of thinking solely of ourselves or of the things of this world will indeed drag us down and make us bored and disappointed with life. There's no magic or mystery to a life like that. There's no wonder or excitement. But when we live a life that's closely connected to our Creator, daily communing with Him, He can give us back our joy of living. He will open our eyes to the wonders of the world and to the simple pleasures of home and family, work and worship. God is able to wake us up every morning with fresh eyes and a zest for living when we firmly decide to live for Him. There is nothing more exciting than walking in the footsteps of our Lord and constantly learning more about Him. He will give us opportunities we never expected and adventures we never dreamed of.

Solomon has been able to experience pretty much everything but as his youth fades away he is forced to come to the conclusion that none of it made him feel fulfilled. He will admit to a life of decadence and dissolution in the next chapter, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure." (Ecclesiastes 2:10a) He had the wealth to obtain anything that appealed to him, but because it didn't satisfy his soul it only made him want more. He could afford tickets to all the best plays and concerts and could buy the books of every philosopher in the world, but the more educated and cultured he became the more educated and cultured he wanted to be. Nothing was ever enough for him because he left God out of the equation.  So he says, "The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing." (Ecclesiastes 1:8b)

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, 'Look! This is something new'? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time." (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10) He spent his youth in pursuit of new adventures and new pleasures only to find that it was all the same old thing. He probably rushed out to hear the latest opera or see the newest play or listen to a famous orator who came to town only to go back home disappointed. His heart had a continual longing for something more but he couldn't find it because he was looking in all the wrong places. He complains, "There's nothing new or exciting in this world. It's the same stuff dressed up in modern packaging. Sin isn't even very interesting; it may look new and improved, but at heart it's nothing but the usual lust and covetousness and greed that it's always been."

He fears that the generations to come will forget him just as the great men of previous generations have been forgotten. "No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them." (Ecclesiastes 1:11) He asks, "Who is going to remember and talk about great-great-grandpa Solomon? Who is going to tell stories about me? Who is going to care about what I did with my life? Who will want to follow my example?" He would have been correct in expecting to be mostly forgotten except that his life turned around near its end. Would we be studying about Solomon today if he had never experienced the spiritual and mental crisis that caused him to write the book of Ecclesiastes? Would we care anything about him if he had not decided to make his final years count by turning back to the Lord and by writing instructions for following the Lord in the book of Proverbs? We would simply remember him as a vastly wealthy king of Israel who ruled the nation when it was at the height of its glory and power. He would have rated interest only as a character of history, not as a man of God or a spiritual guide. Without the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs we would be missing two extremely important books of the Bible, and I am thankful that Solomon didn't leave this world without God in his heart. We are blessed by his life because he ended it well. Like many of us, he made a great deal of mistakes in his youth, but he is not forgotten these thousands of years later because he decided to make his life count for the Lord. He is an example to all of us who took some wrong turns but want to stay on the right path for the rest of our lives. It doesn't matter how many years we spent going in the wrong direction. It doesn't matter whether we are already middle aged or elderly. God can still take the years we have left and make them really count for something. He did it for Solomon; He can do it for us.

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