Monday, May 1, 2017

Ecclesiastes: Does Anything Really Matter? Day 4, Solomon Begins To Despair

Solomon will tell us today about falling into despair when he was unable to find meaning in his life.

"Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king's successor do than what has already been done?" (Ecclesiastes 2:12) The glory of Solomon's kingdom exceeded even that of David's and he wondered whether there was anything left for his successor to do. How was any man going to top the works that Solomon had already done? Sadly, the only reason his son and successor, Rehoboam, stands out in the Scriptures is by losing ten tribes of the kingdom, retaining only Judah and Benjamin. It would seem Solomon was right in worrying about the fate of Israel after his passing.

Solomon tried living wisely and he tried living foolishly. When compared to each other, wisdom was preferable, but even then he didn't see much advantage in it. "I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness. The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both." (Ecclesiastes 2:13-14) He says, "Life is better for the man who uses the brains God gave him and who tries his best to do what's right, but he is still going to die. The wise man dies and the foolish man dies. What's the difference between them?" If this life were all there is, Solomon would be making a great point here, because there would be no eternal consequences to our actions. If there were no God and if we had no soul, nothing would really matter very much. Who would give us our moral code for living? Good and evil would become relative; each man and woman would be free to decide for themselves how to live and there would be no Judge to face after death. If there were no God there would be no true purpose to our existence and no profitable reason for anything that happens to us. In that case we might as well do as we please and enjoy what we can. But there is a God and there is a purpose for every life. Solomon has lost his way by living far from God for a long time. That is what has caused him to feel that life lacks meaning.

"Then I said to myself, 'The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?' I said to myself, 'This too is meaningless.' For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!" (Ecclesiastes 2:15-16) Solomon asks, "Shouldn't there be a reward for living wisely? Shouldn't the fate of the wise man be different than the fate of the foolish man? This all seems so pointless to me!" Because he's strayed from the Lord, Solomon has forgotten that there are eternal rewards for the one who lives for God. In this life we can't always see the rewards for righteous living. As we just studied in the book of Job, sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We can't necessarily judge the character of a person by the circumstances that come into their lives. But there will be a day of judgment in which God will say to the faithful ones, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!" (Matthew 25:23) And to those who have lived in rejection of Him, the Lord will say, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matthew 7:23)

Solomon's dissatisfaction and depression leads him to feel almost suicidal. "So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:17-20) He's still thinking in worldly terms, not in spiritual terms. It bothers him that he's spent most of his life working so hard only to lose control over the kingdom at his death.

The Apostle Paul, a very wise and intelligent man who once gloried in his education and position and wealth, was willing to give up all worldly things in order to preach the gospel. He lost his place in the strict religious sect of the Pharisees, something he had gained by ambition and hard work. He lost his wealth, his freedom, and eventually his life. But did he ever think, as Solomon did, that life was meaningless? On the contrary he thought life was full of meaning when a person thinks in spiritual terms rather than in worldly terms. This is Paul's advice for a fulfilling life, "Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things." (Colossians 3:1-2) He's not saying we aren't to be faithful to our responsibilities or to enjoy our families and friends, but he's saying we must always keep in mind that we have an eternal soul and we have a Savior who loves us. Life does have meaning. We were created for a reason. Our Creator loves us so much He thought we were worth dying for. If knowing Christ died to save us doesn't give our lives meaning, then I don't know what does. The Lord created the universe and everything in it, and the earth and everything on it, with humans in mind. Everything He's done since has been with humans in mind. If we are that important to Him, then we must matter very much, and our lives and what we do with them must matter very much.

Solomon continues thinking about his kingdom and his ambitious projects that he must leave to another. "For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless." (Ecclesiastes 2:21-23) Solomon's mind can't rest at night because he's worried about the worldly legacy he's leaving behind. The only legacy that should really worry us is whether we set a spiritual example for those who will follow us. Which matters more, whether our great-grandchildren can say we were good at business and knew how to make money, or whether they say we were mighty warriors of God? There's nothing wrong with being wise about money and being good stewards of anything the Lord blesses us with, but I'd far rather have those who come after me say, "She set an example of godly living that I can follow. She spent time in prayer and in God's word. She knew that a relationship with Christ is what makes life meaningful and satisfying."

Because he can't seem to figure out the meaning of life, even though he's the wisest man on earth, Solomon concludes at this point in time that the best we can do is try to enjoy what we have. "A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil." (Ecclesiastes 2:24a) It's true we ought to enjoy our blessings. If we are in good enough health to have an appetite for our daily meals, then by all means let's savor them and be thankful for them. If we like our jobs or the work we do at home, then it would be wrong not to take any pleasure in the labors God has given us the strength to perform. As Solomon goes on to say, "This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without Him, who can eat or find enjoyment?" (Ecclesiastes 2:24b) He acknowledges, "It's a blessing from God when we can enjoy our food and the works of our hands. Maybe that's the most we can hope for in this life. Maybe that's all there is to life, and if so, then we should be thankful for our health and our food and our work."

"To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner He gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 2:26) Solomon is not always going to be this shallow. The same man who says "life is meaningless" will write the book of Proverbs, a guide for godly living, a book that is about the Lord and man's relationship with Him. The spiritual and mental crisis plaguing the king of Israel at this time is going to lead him places he never expected to go. He's going to find a meaning in life he never suspected was there. He will pen some of the most beautiful words in the Bible because he will want to share what he's learned about the Lord with generations to come. That is the legacy Solomon leaves behind. His palaces, cities, and great storehouses filled with treasures are lost to history, but his words are not lost because they became part of the Holy Bible. It was God's will to include the writings of a man who once was filled with doubts and despair but who later found meaning and satisfaction through a relationship with the Lord.

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