I’ve been drawn to the Book of Ecclesiastes lately for some reason. It has to be one of the oddest books of the Bible and there are times when I wonder why it is in the Bible at all. But, I suspect there are times in most of our lives when we feel a whole lot like the writer of Ecclesiastes. It seems to be the case that Solomon is the writer even though he isn’t named in it. But he does mention his being the king of Israel, the son of David and his great wealth and wisdom, so it fits him. Looking at Solomon’s life, one would normally think of him as extremely blessed. This book seems to have been written when he was an old man, has messed up many things in his life and now as he looks back over the horizon it all seems meaningless to him. The second verse of the Book sets the tone with” Meaningless, Meaningless! says the teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”
He could have looked back and thought about how God had answered his prayer for wisdom and made him the wisest man alive. He could have looked back and considered the fact God chose him to build the temple rather than this father David. He could have looked back and seen how God had blessed the kingdom during his rule and it had become extremely wealthy and powerful. But those things seemed far away. It had been a long time since he felt his life really made any difference for good. This certainly isn’t rare. Think of the lives of so many who have been in powerful positions in life, then it ends and they have an extremely difficult time not being in the spotlight any longer. They can’t get over the fact the crowds don’t gather around them now, reporters aren’t at their door and life moves on. But it isn’t just the powerful. The truth is when you realize the best days of this life are behind you and that you aren’t able to do many of the things you used to do without even thinking about it. Sometimes it feels that life has moved on and somehow you got caught in the traffic and missed the parade.
Solomon’s response to those feelings was that he set upon a mission to rebuild the meaning and purpose to his life. He determined, since he was a wise person, to put all kinds of things to the test to see if they would bring meaning and purpose to his life. He took the tremendous wealth and opportunities he had to run a scientific test to see what would make one feel loved, important, and useful again.
In chapter 2:1-3 he describes some of his efforts, “I said to myself, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. But that also proved to be meaningless. Laughter, I said, is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish? I tried cheering myself with wines and embracing folly – my mind still guiding me with wisdom, I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.” He goes on to talk about buildings he had built, gardens planted and reservoirs to water the groves of flourishing trees. He bought servants of all kinds, amassed silver and gold, and denied himself nothing his eyes desired. But he found it all meaningless and chasing after the wind.
He reached the point that he hated life when he thought of all the work he had done and now he was facing death and who would receive all this stuff. Would they care for it, take care of it or just waste it all? It just seemed meaningless and chasing the wind. Strangely, this despair led to one of the greatest statements of the book and from life as a whole. In chapter 3:1-8 he wrote: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”
As one works their way through the book there are both times of constant complaining about life and its circumstances and times when he offers great advise on living. Near the end of the Book in the last verses of chapter 11 and all of chapter 12 he challenges those who are young to enjoy their youth knowing it doesn’t last and to remember their creator in the days of youth before the evil days come when you will say you have no pleasure in them. He looked closely at the days before death and the time when death comes and the dust returns to the dust and the spirit unto God who gave it. Even that brought again the plea, “Meaningless! Meaningless, says the teacher, everything is meaningless.” He seems frustrated to know that there would always be more books written and the study of them brings weariness to the body.
By far the greatest message of the book comes with the final words in chapter 12. “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”
It many ways Solomon wasted the huge opportunities God gave him with his pursuit of pleasure, power and pomp. Yet, as he reached the final days of his life, he realized it was all without meaning and purpose. If only he had remembered through his whole life that the ultimate purpose of mankind is to fear God and keep his commands. it would surely have mattered if he had kept in view that God would bring everything into judgement and nothing is hidden from his view. It is normal to feel like our place, purpose and value is passing. But it is vital in such times to keep the focus on God and our duty to Him who makes all things have meaning.