"He who dies with the most toys still dies." (plaque on my boss's wall)
King Solomon had it all! He was the wisest man and most successful. But he wasn’t exempt from the pain of the curse common to all. It is one thing to see frustration in the lives of others and think that you are not like them, but quite another to know exactly what they are going through. Solomon not only observed man’s work and wisdom, he set out in his own life to answer the question, “What profit does a man have from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” (Ecc 1:3) He made his own life one big research project. He conducted a “test” of his labors (vs. 2), and “turned to consider” his wisdom (vs. 12). Solomon shares the results.
Pleasures from Labors (2:1-11)
He knew the benefits that came from his work. He writes,
“I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure and see what is good.’ Behold, it also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does this make?’ 3 I searched in my heart to draw the flesh with wine (my heart guiding me with wisdom), and how to lay hold of folly until I might see what is good for the sons of Adam to do under the heavens the few days of their lives.” (Ecc 2:1-3)
He gives the conclusion at the start and the end. The laughter ultimately was madness. How can the sane actually laugh in the face of the vain fruits of his labor – it is madness. What did the pleasures he gained from his labor really produce? But he set out to answer the question how it all profited and what was good for fallen man to do in this brief life. Though the translators shy from calling them the “sons of Adam” (ha adam), Solomon recognizes the origin of the common curse – the vassal king who broke the covenant with God. It is not a generic proposition for Solomon.
If anyone knew the pleasurable fruit of work, it was Solomon. He writes,
“I made my works great: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of growing trees.” (Ecc 2:4-6)
His achievements were considerable. The focus is on his projects. He doesn’t discuss his building the temple or the size of his military. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horses (1 Kgs 10:26). What did his labors achieve? He built houses and vineyards and enjoyed the wine. He had gardens and parks and enjoyed the fruit of their trees. For what?
He gained possessions through his labor. He writes,
“I bought male and female slaves and had slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the special treasure of kings and the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and the delights of the sons of Adam – a harem of concubines. 9 I became great and increased more than all who were in Jerusalem before me. Even in all this my wisdom remained with me.” (Ecc 2:7-9)
He owned slaves. He owned move livestock than anyone in Jerusalem ever owned. He gained silver and gold. Solomon gained so much silver and gold that it was as common as stones (1 Chron 1:15). He gained the treasure of kings. It would seem it was a veritable “paradise.” He had singers and concubines.
He had it all. He writes,
"10 And all which my eyes asked for I did not withdraw from them.
I did not withhold my heart any pleasure;
For my heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was my reward for all my labor."
He sought out to find the result of his labor. He had it all, but found he had nothing. He writes,
"11 and I turned to see all the works that my hands had done
and on the labor in which I had toiled to achieve.
Behold, all was vanity, and a chasing after the wind;
and there was no profit under the sun."
All his work, the technology and science of his day, produced pleasure and possessions – passing pleasure and possessions. His work, his labor, did not produce anything to bring the eschatological sabbath. It did not build the everlasting kingdom of God. It was all wind chasing, no profit. Perhaps his wisdom would be different.
Solomon turned from his power to produce to his wisdom to see if his wisdom could escape the curse on man. He writes,
"12 And I turned to see wisdom,
and madness and folly.
For what can the man do who succeeds the king
than what he has already done?"
He had done it all; he had exhausted the labor test with his own achievements. But what about wisdom?
"13 I saw there is advantage to wisdom over folly,
just as the advantage of light over darkness.
14 The wise man has eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the one fate happens to them all.
15 Then I said in my heart,
'The fate of the fool, happens to me also.
Why then was I wiser?'
I said in my heart,
'This too is vanity.'
16 For there is no long remembrance to the wise over the fool;
Already the coming days all have been forgotten."
Yes, there were advantages to wisdom. It helps to be able to see where you are going and what is going on. It is dangerous to walk in the dark. But at the end of life under the sun, both the wise and the fool die. So what is the real advantage of wisdom. Solomon asks, “Why was I wiser?” What did it get him? His conclusion: both still die under the common curse. God told Adam,
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return” (Gen 3:17-19).
From dust to dust. Solomon’s labor and wisdom did not gain the glorious sabbath rest. The wise are not even remembered after they are gone. The most notable of men, such as Solomon, are forgotten figures of the past.
So Solomon comes to the godly conclusion,
"17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is vanity, a chasing after the wind."
The world God created for Adam to fill and transform into the eschatological kingdom sabbath of God, is a graveyard! Solomon hates that! His work doesn’t do what work was supposed to do; his wisdom does not produce what it was given for. The cultural mandate given to Adam is no more. Now there is a delay of the coming judgment day and man on death row. There are pleasures and benefits, but they do not last. If Solomon, the wisest and wealthiest of men is not exempt, who is?
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