You’re So Vain

Posted: May 28, 2015 in Ecclesiastes, Route 66

Route 66: Ecclesiastes, “You’re So Vain”

How many books begin by telling you it’s a waste of time to read it?  At first glance, it would seem like that with Ecclesiastes.  After a brief statement of the author, the first words we read are “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”  If everything is vain, isn’t the book in vain? Actually, Solomon could have hardly begun Ecclesiastes any better than what he did.  Everything IS vanity, and the point of the book is to identify those vanities in order to take us to the one thing that is NOT vanity: the reverent worship of Almighty God.

Ecclesiastes is certainly unusual, but it is valuable.  How many opportunities are there to interview people who “have it all?”  How many people can actually claim they “have it all?”  Not many!  Some might have money, but they don’t have power.  Some might have knowledge, but they don’t have wealth.  Some might have a bit of each, but not the full package.  Only a handful of people through history have had that combination of virtually unlimited wealth, power, knowledge, and influence – and only a small percentage of that tiny number can truly claim any real knowledge and faith in the one true God.

Solomon was one of those people, and he topped them all.  There was none wiser, none more wealthy, and none who had the personal interaction with Almighty God as Solomon did.  Not only was he raised by the epitome of a God-fearing father (King David), but God personally spoke to Solomon a number of times.  There was nothing that Solomon lacked – and yet by the end of the Bible’s account of Solomon’s life, it would seem that he lacked much.  1 Kings 11:4–6, "(4) For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. (5) For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. (6) Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David."

What could cause a man who had so much to forsake the Lord the way that he did?  Sin.  What did Solomon learn from it all?  That is the point of the book of Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes is the record of Solomon’s wasted life – his vanity.  It is his memoir of how he turned his love to all the gifts of God, and away from the Giver.  Thankfully, it also seems to indicate at least some mode of final repentance, one perhaps unrecorded in the book of Kings.

We need to learn the lessons of Solomon – but hopefully we can learn them the easy way & not the hard way.  As we hear from someone who seemingly had it all & wasted it, we learn of the one thing that isn’t wasteful: the worship of the One True God.

Although it is somewhat debated, tradition holds that Solomon is indeed the author of Ecclesiastes, and the Scripture highly infers it.  After all, 1:1 states that this was a “son of David,” and by all indications, this son was also king in Jerusalem.  To be sure, ANY future king in Jerusalem would be considered a son of David, but none had the wisdom and wealth of Solomon – much of which is specifically mentioned within the book.  Technically, the author never identifies himself beyond the title of “the Preacher,” but that’s no reason to discount Solomon as the author.  It’s just the title he takes to himself (and an appropriate one at that, considering the sermon-type nature of the book).  (As an aside, “Preacher” is where we get the title “Ecclesiastes.”)

The book states its theme boldly, proclaiming it at the beginning (1:2), and at the end (12:8): “Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”  What exactly does Solomon mean by “vanity”?  This isn’t a reference to someone making googly-eyes in the mirror all day, or posting endless selfies on Instagram.  This is a reference to waste – vapor – meaninglessness.  All the things in life that people typically seek are ultimately meaningless.  Like wind escaping through our fingers, so it is with materialism.  We have it for a moment, but it never lasts.  Why?  Because we die.  Solomon deals with this is realistic terms, finding that all the things he experienced was simply a waste of time in the first place.  The key is to see these things & this life for what it is, and to ultimately entrust ourselves to God for the rest – a lesson Solomon himself apparently didn’t learn until the end of his life.

Overall, the book of Ecclesiastes can be quite pessimistic – perhaps even morbid with its constant focus on death.  It deals with the failed experiments of a Jewish king who fell away from God.  Why would the book of Ecclesiastes matter to the New Testament Christian at all?  Because it’s a book about perspective.  For all of his failings, Solomon eventually go to a place where he understood the proper perspective about this life & the next.  As Christians, we need that same perspective.  We need to realize that we are strangers in this world, just passing through.  This earth isn’t our home; heaven is.  Jesus is preparing a place right now for us, and we will spend eternity with Him.  So why get caught up in all of the iPhones, iWatches, iWant-and-want-and-wants of this life?  It’s vanity!  Be it materialism or egotism, it’s worthless.  Only Christ can give us the things that are eternal.  And that’s what Solomon reminds us of.

Like other wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes is not easily outlined.  The author goes from subject to subject, many times in a seemingly random way.  It’s not nearly as random as Psalms or Proverbs, but it doesn’t flow as logically (at least from a Western mindset) as a narrative book either.  Generally speaking, there are two main sections in addition to the introduction and conclusion.

  • Introduction (1:1-18)
  • Observations (2:1-6:12) – Solomon’s personal experience of things he tried and what he saw “under the sun.”
  • Instructions (7:1-12:8) – A collection of advice and wisdom regarding the things that so often end up in vanity.
  • Conclusion (12:9-14)

That said, there are some observations in the instructional section & vice-versa.  Solomon didn’t exactly write it with our preferred outlining methods in mind. J

Prologue (1:1-11)
The Preacher and subject are introduced as he begins by stating his thesis: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.”  He’s not exactly the most chipper of people. J  Definitely more of a pessimist…  That said, there’s a lot of truth to the statement.  As others have said, “Life is short, then you die.”  That’s basically Solomon’s whole point.  Life is short, and the stuff we so often seek after is fleeting – it’s temporary – it’s a vapor – it’s vain.

Think about it: for all the stuff that we make to be so important in life, how much of it is really going to matter in the next 100 years?  After all, that’s the kind of perspective we really need, isn’t it?  We are earth-bound for now, but ultimately we face an eternal future.  That’s true whether or not we are born-again believers in Jesus.  People will either face an eternity in hell or heaven.  Our perspective needs to be one that looks ahead 100, 1000, 100K years.  So often, we’re just focused on whatever gives us immediate gratification (and Solomon definitely struggled with that himself).  We have a tough enough time looking ahead to next week, much less next year.  But because we have a difficult time truly looking forward, we have a difficult time realistically assessing something’s true value.  We might go into debt in order to buy some really nice stuff, but how long is that “stuff” really going to last?  We might throw ourselves into our career in order to provide the very “best” for our family, but what exactly is best if we never spend time with them?  Everything perishes – nothing of the world ever truly satisfies.   

Quest (1:12-18)
Solomon is going to engage on a search for the best the world has to offer, and he’s going to find it all comes up short.  It’s all vanity – it’s grasping at the wind.  Be it riches, prestige, or pleasure, every bit of it is fleeting.  All of it falls victim to the ravages of time.  What is it that really matters?  This is the quest Solomon presents himself.  Solomon had access to everything the world had to offer, so he figured he’d attempt it all. 

It’s an interesting experiment, and one that can only be done by a select few.  After all, those who are poor wonder if wealth would help fill the gap.  Those without influence think that power would help them.  Whatever it is we lack, we tend to think, “If I only had ____, then all my problems would be solved.”  Well, Solomon had it all.  There was nothing he lacked.  If Solomon couldn’t find satisfaction in the things the world had to offer, then the world had nothing that truly offered satisfaction in the first place.

So like a student engaging in the scientific method, Solomon engages in his quest.  He’s laid out his hypothesis, he’s developed a plan of experimentation, he’ll make his observations, and analyze the results before bringing his conclusion.

Solomon’s personal experiences (2:1-23)

  • Attempt at pleasure (2:1-11).  Like anyone else, Solomon begins with what feels good.  Why not?  If you’re going to see what satisfies, you might as well start with the stuff that makes you happy.  The problem is that it didn’t.  At least, the things that the world believes ought to make people happy didn’t truly satisfy Solomon.  He acquired all that people thought was necessary.  He had it all, and in the end he had nothing.  It was vanity.
    • That doesn’t mean that Solomon doesn’t appreciate pleasure.  In fact, the need to appreciate life’s pleasures is a repeated theme in the book.  However, pleasure doesn’t bring ultimate satisfaction.  There’s a lot to enjoy in life, but there’s nothing eternal about it.  When it’s gone, it’s gone.  We have to look at it realistically for what it is.
  • Attempt at wisdom (2:12-16).  Pleasure didn’t do it, so what about wisdom?  It turned out to have the same result.  Both the wise man and the fool still die, so this was vanity as well.  This truly seems unusual for Solomon – after all, he was the wisest man in history, and he spent the 1st 9 chapters of Proverbs extolling the need for wisdom (and will do so again in Ecclesiastes).  How could Solomon not value wisdom?  Actually, Solomon DID value wisdom; he just realized it wasn’t the end-all, be-all.  A person can acquire more wisdom than all his neighbors, but wisdom doesn’t bring everlasting life.  The wisest of the wise still die.
  • Attempt at labor (2:17-23).  Solomon comes to the same conclusion about work.  He could labor and toil to obtain everything – but nothing that he could obtain could be carried with him in the afterlife.  It’s like the old play title “You Can’t Take It With You.”  Hearses are filled with bodies; not stuff – and any stuff you put in your casket doesn’t go with you to eternity anyway.
  • Enjoy the moment #1 (2:24-26).  This is Solomon’s initial conclusion, and one that he comes back to again and again (perhaps even serving as a type of division between sections).  We don’t want to get confused here.  Solomon obviously isn’t extolling hedonism for hedonism’s sake.  After all, his very 1st experiment was with pleasure, and he came up profoundly short.  Pleasure for the sake of pleasure doesn’t satisfy.  So that’s not Solomon’s point.  The idea here (and elsewhere) is to enjoy the simple things of life for what they are – no more, no less.  Enjoy the fruit of your labor, but don’t expect it to grant everlasting happiness.  Enjoy knowledge and wisdom, but don’t expect it to make you better than anyone else or give you eternal life.  Anything else is just vanity.
    • This is so often where we lose sight, is it not?  Instead of enjoying the gifts of God for what they are, we start to put all of our attention on the gifts rather than the Giver.  It’s as if we look at an airplane ticket and think that the ticket is what transports us to our destination.  Not so.  The ticket is just a piece of paper (or was…) – without a skilled airplane pilot, you’re not going anywhere.  When we place all our value in our stuff, our abilities, our knowledge, etc., it’s as if we’re valuing the ticket more than the Pilot.  God is the Pilot.  God is the One who grants us eternal life.  The other stuff is simply supposed to turn our attention to Him.

Song: A time for everything (3:1-11).  Many people were first made familiar with Solomon’s song when they heard the 1965 re-singing of it by the Byrds, “Turn, Turn, Turn.”  Of course the original writing had nothing to do with the Vietnam war and everything to do with the wisdom of God.  Solomon takes a moment away from the pessimistic vanity of the world and acknowledges that there is a rhythm to life.  The underlying thought is that God (though unmentioned) is sovereign over all things, and that there is a time for all things to take place. 

  • Enjoy the moment #2 (3:12-13).  Since “everything is beautiful in its time,” (3:11) we might as well enjoy everything in its own time.  Go ahead and enjoy the gifts of God as God gives them.  Dance when God gives us opportunities to dance, laugh when He gives the time, etc.

Certainty of death & judgment (3:14-21).  Solomon doesn’t remain positive for too long and again is reminded that death comes to everyone.  This time, he goes a bit further.  It’s not just death, but judgment also.  This also happens in the timing of God: Ecclesiastes 3:17, "I said in my heart, “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”"  If even judgment happens in the timing of God, that means we need to be ready for whenever that time may be!

  • Enjoy the moment #3 (3:22).  The exhortation seems especially appropriate in light of the reminder of death.  Since you won’t be able to enjoy the stuff of life after you’re laid in the grave, you might as well enjoy it now.
  • Again, be careful not to write this off as a license for hedonism.  That isn’t Solomon’s point.  It’s just that as pessimistic as this book is, Solomon’s ongoing conclusion through it all is just the opposite.  Why go through life depressed about death?  Realize that it’s going to come to all people, and enjoy life while you have it.  Enjoyment doesn’t come through sinful excess, but through the simple pleasures that God gives us in our relationship with Him, our family, and our friends.  (Besides, if there’s anything you CAN take to heaven with you, that’s it!)

Observations “under the sun” (4:1-5:17).  Solomon had done his own experimentation, and now he takes a look at the lives of others.  Everywhere he looked under the sun (a recurring phrase), he saw the same thing: vanity.  Some of what he saw in people around him were things that he already experimented in for himself; others were new subjects.  But it all ended in the same place with the same conclusion.

  • Oppressed vs. the Dead (4:1-3).  It’s interesting that the king of Israel writes of oppression, and makes us wonder whether he writes of himself or another neighboring kingdom.  Or perhaps he just takes notice of the occasions of injustice even in the kingdom of Israel.  In any case, he decides that death isn’t all bad.  Those who are dead no longer experience any injustice.  (On the contrary, they face nothing BUT justice.)
  • Materialism vs. Contentment (4:4-6).  Solomon says it best: Ecclesiastes 4:6, "Better a handful with quietness Than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind." Contentment is a lost art in the American culture, but it is truly valuable!  Greed always leads to dissatisfaction upon dissatisfaction – it is far better to find our satisfaction in God and His simple provision.  As Paul wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim 6:6)
  • Selfishness vs. Friends/Family (4:7-12).  The idea of greed carries over a bit in that the greedy man or woman keeps it all to himself, never sharing the pleasures of life with anyone else.  But the person who has a true friend is richer than the most wealthy loner.
  • Vanity of prestige (4:13-16).  The prestige here takes the form of a king who desires an everlasting legacy.  Few obtain it, and fewer still are loved on a daily basis after they die.  The same in true in our own culture.  How many US Presidents can most people name?  How many are remembered on a regular basis?  Prestige and fame is terribly fleeting!
    • What makes this so ironic in our own culture is that fame seems to be what people value the most.  They want their youtube videos to be viral – they strive to get on “reality” TV – they want to be talked about, even if people don’t have anything good to say.  But fame never lasts (especially the celebrity-driven kind).  Who sung the #1 pop hit of 2006?  Who cares?  (Daniel Powter, “Bad Day”)
  • *Instruction: fear God (5:1-7).  Here’s a bit of the overlap between sections.  After looking at all that was vanity, Solomon turns his attention to God, before going once more to the vain things of the world.  Most of what he writes deals with paying one’s vows to God & ensuring that someone doesn’t make promises to God he/she has no intention to keep.  Ultimately, those “pie-crust promises” or “fox-hole conversions” are based in vanity as well – a desire to spill a lot of words in prayer, but no desire to actually follow through.  The solution to such vanity?  Fear God. (5:7)
    • This was seen in the book of Proverbs as well.  The proper reverent fear of God is the beginning of knowledge & the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10).  When we see God for who He really is, then we will be far less likely to flap our lips in vain promises.  After all, every idle word spoken will be brought to account on the day of judgment (Mt 12:36).
  • Vanity of oppression (5:8-9).  Oppression is not desired, but it is a reality (like death).  It was vanity, but it wasn’t something to be surprised by.  We live in a fallen world, and thus we face evil every day.
  • Vanity of greed/riches (5:10-17). Again, this would seem unusual coming from the richest man in history, but if anyone knew that wealth didn’t bring ultimate lasting satisfaction, it was Solomon.  He didn’t see this only in his own life, but in the lives of others.  Some might love silver & gold, but they would never be satisfied with it (5:10).  We are naked coming into this world, and we will be naked leaving it (5:15).  To make money an idol is vanity.
  • Enjoy the moment #4 (5:18-20).  This almost seems to be a contradiction following the last indictment of greed, but it isn’t.  It is fine to work hard, and enjoy what God gives, but there isn’t any reason to become idolatrous with it.  We have to remember the source of our wealth (if we have it) – the source of all of our materialistic provision: God. (5:19)  Enjoy the Giver far more than the gifts!
  • Vanity of life and labor (6:1-12).  This is why we are to enjoy the moment: life is fleeting!  You can spend your whole life accumulating stuff, but there will eventually come a time when you cannot use it.  It’ll be passed down to either family or foreigners or who-knows-who, but when the person who accumulated it is dead, that’s it.  Death is an absolute reality for all, and it must be faced.  Our entire health industry is based upon the idea of pushing death aside, but it cannot be done.  It might be postponed (and certainly can be made more pleasant), but it cannot be ultimately avoided.  The sooner we remember that the death rate is 100%, the better!
    • This gets back to the idea of maintaining the proper perspective.  Death isn’t something to fear or become morbidly obsessed with; it’s something that faces everyone.  The question to be asked is: are you ready for it?  If death were to come tonight, would you be ready to meet your Maker?  Would you be able to leave this world knowing where and how you will spend eternity?  (You CAN!)
    • There’s a corollary thought to that for the Christian.  We might know where we will spend eternity, but are you ready to go there?  If God were to call you home tonight, what is it you would leave undone?  What conversations will you wish you would have had?  Who would you wish you would have shared the gospel with?  We ought to live our lives with no regrets!  May we be those who walk confidently into eternity knowing that we did all that we could with the life entrusted to us by God!

Wisdom proverbs (7:1-8:1).  At this point, Ecclesiastes starts to resemble a bit more of the book of Proverbs.  The ideas are bit more thematically organized, however…not being nearly as random as Solomon’s other compilation.  It seems that here Solomon took the things he observed and drew some application from them.

  • Things that are better (7:1-14).  Solomon gives a list of “better than’s,” drawing some surprising contrasts.  We can understand how a good reputation is better than ointment/perfume (7:1a), but how can a day of death be better than a day of birth (7:1b)?  It goes back to the idea of vanity, and the fleeting nature of life.  At least at death, it’s all over.  In sadness, a heart can be made joyful again, whereas someone who laughs eventually comes to a point where the laughter stops.  Many times the laughter is brought about by foolish ways in the first place (carousing, partying).  If it sounds rather pessimistic, that’s because it is.  Remember: Solomon wasn’t the most chipper of people. J
    • Question: why is such pessimism recorded in the Bible?  Does this mean that God wants us to have this kind of negative outlook on life?  Not at all!  Even Solomon repeatedly has gone back to the idea of enjoying life for what it is (with the right perspective).  Ecclesiastes doesn’t teach pessimism so much as it teaches realism.  Life ought to be lived realistically, with the understanding that the Sovereign God has a purpose for all things He brings to pass.  There will be times of suffering & times of mourning, even for the most faithful of believers.  Just know that these things will come, and that God has not abandoned us.  Be ready for them, with your eyes ever on God our King.
  • Wisdom isn’t everything (7:15-8:1).  Once more, it seems that Solomon disparages wisdom a bit, though we know from Proverbs that he extols its value.  But wisdom needs to be used wisely.  It cannot be a source of arrogance or turned into an idol.  Notice the contrast: Ecclesiastes 7:16, "Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself?"  vs.  Ecclesiastes 7:19, "Wisdom strengthens the wise More than ten rulers of the city."  Obviously, we want to be strengthened by wisdom, but we do not want to be destroyed by it.  When people become proud in what they know, then it doesn’t matter what “wisdom” they believe they have; they certainly are not applying it. (Christians can do the same thing with the Scripture.  We can use it as a bat or a balm – we can use it to hurt or to heal.  We want to use the Scripture wisely and rightly in bringing people to Christ so that they can be saved!)

It’s wise to obey (8:2-9).  One application of true wisdom is how one relates to the king/governing authorities.  Speaking as a king and son of a king, Solomon had an up-close perspective of this.  He knew how people could relate to the king and experience blessing, or experience burden.

  • We might not appreciate how the government uses its power, but we need to acknowledge the reality of that power, and deal with it appropriately.  Just like there were good and bad kings during the history of Israel/Judah, so are there good and bad leaders within our own government.  It doesn’t change the fact that they are still the legal officials, and the Bible is clear that we are to submit to them (1 Pt 2:13-14).  As long as the government does not make us choose between obeying God or man, we are to humbly obey the government, praying for those in positions of power (1 Tim 2:1-2).  That doesn’t mean we cannot petition them for change, and work within the legal or political system to affect that change – but we do so respectfully, ultimately out of our reverence for God.
  • The best way to pray for the governing authorities?  Repentance & revival!  Pray that men and women in all levels of government come to faith in Jesus Christ, and be saved!

*Observation: Death is certain (8:10-9:12).  Another example of a bit of overlap between sections.  The main section of Solomon’s observations has ended, but he includes some further observations here.  His subject certainly isn’t new – he revisits the theme that has been constant throughout Ecclesiastes: death is certain.

  • Judgment eventually comes to all (8:10-14).  This is actually one of the most joyous aspects about death.  For the Christian, we can rejoice that we will be in the presence of God experiencing the grace of Jesus – but we can also rejoice that the judgment of God will be made known to all.  Those who seemed to get away with evil on earth will find their sin exposed in eternity.  Although the wicked sometimes prosper today, it will not be that way forever.  Ecclesiastes 8:12, "(12) Though a sinner does evil a hundred times, and his days are prolonged, yet I surely know that it will be well with those who fear God, who fear before Him."  The wicked will be judged, and the saints will be preserved.
    • Never forget that this is by grace!  Apart from the grace of God, we would ALL face the judgment of God!  Every single one of us would be included among the group of “sinners.”  It is only through the grace of Jesus that we have been forgiven, and we can rightly fear God in reverence and worship.
  • Enjoy the moment #5 (8:15).  It’s because of eternal judgment that Solomon returns to temporary enjoyment.  The idea is that the wicked will continue to exist now, though they will be judged later.  So don’t let the wicked take away your joy!  Live life with what God gives you, knowing that you can trust Him to make all things right in the end.
  • None can know everything (8:16-9:1).  For all the observations Solomon made, there was a limit as to what could be observed at all.  God knows all things; man does not.  We have to trust the workings of the world to God, knowing that He is sovereign and in control.
  • Death comes to wicked and righteous (9:2-6).  Solomon writes in 9:2 that “one event happens” to all men. That one event is death.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived well or poorly.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve lived a life rebelling against God or worshipping God.  One day you will indeed die.  As the writer of Hebrews states, “It is appointed for men to die once, and then the judgment.” (Heb 9:27)  So what do you do in the meantime? …
  • Enjoy the moment #6 (9:7-10).  Solomon seems to come back to this almost as much as he does the idea of vanity.  Trust God that He knows you, knows your worship, and has all things in His sovereign control.  In the meantime, enjoy your life, your family, and the brief days God has appointed to you.  Use these days to their utmost, for these are the only earthly days you will receive.  Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going."
    • For the Christian, there are eternal days ahead – but there are some things that will not be possible in eternity.  The spiritual gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit today will not be used in heaven (only faith, hope, and love will remain – 1 Cor 13:13).  Evangelism will not take place in heaven.  The time for these things is now.  So use the time!  Be diligent with the days given you by the Lord!
  • Be prepared for death (9:11-12).  In a mixture between observation and instructional proverbs, Solomon wraps up the idea of the reality of death.  All men face it – as is written in 9:11, “time and chance happens to them all.”  Some will be taken unaware, so be always ready!
    • That’s not just true regarding death, but also the rapture.  As born-again Christians, we live with the very real possibility of seeing Jesus at any moment.  Whether we drop dead or we raise in the blink of an eye, we will see our Jesus.  It WILL happen.  Are you ready for that time?

*Observation: Wisdom is better than strength (9:13-18).  In one final observation, Solomon again writes of wisdom.  Earlier, he reminded the reader that wisdom isn’t everything & could be made into a source of arrogance and idolatry.  But when used rightly, wisdom is highly valuable!  Solomon gives a brief parable of a city delivered from conquest due to the wise counsel of a poor man.  It didn’t matter what kind of armies came against them, the wisdom of the one considered “weak” was far more powerful.  We have a modern proverb that echoes it: “the pen is mightier than the sword.”

  • Such is the power of the word of God!  The right word given at the right time in the right way is a powerful thing.  Know the Scripture – drink it in.  You might never know how God desires to use it in your life to bring His deliverance and mercy to someone else.

Wisdom proverbs (10:1-11:8).  Things start to get a bit more random at this point, but there are some general groupings.

  • Foolish leaders (10:1-7).  Being as high up in government as he was, Solomon no doubt saw his share of foolish men in leadership positions. (In his later life, he was one of them!)  It was a reality, but that didn’t make it desirable.  It was like a dead fly in the perfumer’s ointment (10:1)…quite the mental picture!  When fools rule over the wise, it is an evil thing.  (Thankfully, it is one other thing that will not escape the judgment of God.)
  • Foolish actions and words (10:8-15).  Fools did not exist only in government, but among the common people as well.  Solomon warns people not to fall into the traps set by their own foolishness.  Our actions have consequences, as do our words.  We ought to think carefully before we do or say much.
  • Wisdom in the nation (10:16-20).  Fools may sometimes rise to power, but other times the wise reign – and that is a glorious thing!  That is a blessing that ought not be taken for granted, for it will seldom last.  The laziness of the people will ensure that things break down once again, and we’re left in the place that we began.
  • Be diligent (11:1-8).  This goes hand-in-hand with the repeated idea of enjoying the time that we’ve been given.  Be diligent with it…use it to the utmost!  For some, that might include financial investment (11:1) – for some that includes getting off the couch and actually getting to work (11:4).  For all, it means getting about the things God has given us to do, and then trusting Him for the result.  We sow the seed, and leave the rest up to God.

Remember God (11:9-12:8).  It’s upon trusting God that Solomon starts to draw things to a close.  He tells his reader to rejoice in his youth, but to be wise in it knowing that God will bring him to judgment (11:9).  We’re to take the time we have now to know and worship our Creator (12:1), knowing that one day we will die and face the Lord (12:7). 

  • When is the best time to come to faith in Jesus?  The present time!  This isn’t something to postpone – this isn’t something to say “I’ll do it on my deathbed.”  We don’t know when that time will be.  The only time we are guaranteed is right now.  So worship God now.  Follow Him now.  Trust Jesus by faith right now.  To do so is true wisdom!  Everything else is vanity.

More to be said (12:9-12). A third person begins to narrate at this point, saying that the Preacher (Solomon) had much more to teach.  People from all over the world came to hear from him, and he took pains to teach them correctly.  Even in this, there was no end.  The Preacher could teach for year after year, and it still wouldn’t be enough.  Even learning could be vanity in itself.

Final conclusion (12:13-14).  Solomon says it best: Ecclesiastes 12:13–14, "(13) Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. (14) For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil." At the end of the day, worship God and obey Him.  Fear Him – reverence Him – keep Him in the right priority.  And then let your actions follow suit, by keeping His commandments.  Let your life reflect your worship of God, knowing that we will one day be held to account.  THAT is the sum of Solomon’s wisdom.

It seems so simple, does it not?  It makes you wonder why Solomon had to write 12 chapters just to get to this point.  He wrote them, because that’s what we so often go through.  [“When all else fails, read the directions.”]  We treat God the same way.  Like Solomon, we want to try everything else in life first, leaving God until the end.  Once we’ve had our time of sin – once we’ve sowed our oats – once we’ve begun to reap the consequences of our actions – that’s typically the time we finally come to a point of humility and faith, asking Jesus for His forgiveness.  We do exactly what Solomon did, only without the vast resources and knowledge he had starting out.

Instead of repeating Solomon’s experiences, far better to learn from his mistakes!  We don’t have to learn things the hard way, if we would just take the Bible for its word & do what it says.  Fear God and keep His commandments.  Worship God & obey Him.  What’s another way of putting it?  Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Know God as God, and trust Him with everything.  That’s true wisdom.  That’s the only thing that isn’t vanity.  The love and worship we cultivate of God today will endure into eternity.

So seize the day!  Use every second you have to worship God, and love Him as He calls you to do.  Stop wasting your time on worthless things, and take the time you have to worship Jesus with all you have.


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