Taking a different perspective on Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes, Pastor Jesse of New Covenant Fellowship describes the meaninglessness found in the plight for pleasure. It would seem that the “plight of pleasure” is sadly this: an endless pursuit. Giving weighty meaning to the text, Christians can understand that pleasure only comes from the finished work of Jesus.
Part 4: The Plight of Pleasure
As David mentioned to you at the beginning of this series he and I have two differing views regarding the tone of the message of the book of Ecclesiastes.
David has an optimistic interpretation in which the author encourages his readers to obey God and enjoy the journey of life for what it is, whereas I read a bitter and remorseful log of a man’s attempt to find his identity and lasting significance in knowledge, pleasure, and experience; all to no avail. Even though this book to me comes off a bit bitter, downtrodden, and just down right emo to me, that there is great profundity to be found here. Although David and I have different opinions about the tone of the book we both believe that Solomon is most likely the author of Ecclesiastes. I’ve always thought this and I haven’t spent years studying the Hebrew to try to disprove it as I see internal evidence that corroborates it.
As a disclaimer, I’ll be delivering this message today through my interpreted perspective so you may not agree with me and that’s OK! I would ask you though to read the entire book for yourself and then form your own opinion.
Remember Solomon was no ordinary King as he was given a gift and offer from God as a youth that I don’t recall reading anywhere else in the Scripture being given, divine wisdom.
1 Kings 4: 29-34 tells us that people came to him (like the Queen of Sheba) from afar to seek his wisdom, so I must admit I was baffling most of my life that I didn’t walk away from this book amazed at his wisdom.
It is incredibly important for us to remember when reading in the Old Testament that the original audience, Israel, was under the Old Covenant, which means that the Scripture God gave them was only one half of what we have in our Bibles. Let’s try to put ourselves in Solomon’s position and read the Book of Ecclesiastes under the structure of the old covenant.
Here are a few passages from the Old Testament that I believe will shed light to help you understand why I interpret this passages and the book through the lens that I do. These passages explain what obedient children of God had to look forward to as a reward for their obedience to the Lord under their covenant. This is what it meant to be blessed under the Law of Moses.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
v1″ These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess,
v2so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.
Deuteronomy 28 v1-12
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.
v2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God:
v3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
v4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock-the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
v5Your baskets and your kneading trough will be blessed.
v6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
v7 The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but feel from you in seven.
v8 The Lord will send blessing on your barns and on everything you put your hand to.
The Lord your God will bless you in the land He is giving you.
v9 The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands the Lord your God and walk in obedience to him.
v10 Then all the peoples on earth will see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they will fear you.
v11 The Lord will grant you abundant prosperity-in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your ground-in the land he swore your ancestors to give you.
v12 The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will barrow from none. The Lord will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the Lord your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom. Do not turn aside from any of the commands i give you today to the right or to the left, follow other gods and serving them.
Did you notice the duration of the blessings promised in all of those passages?
The Old Covenant promises to Israel were physical promises that were supposed to make their quality of life on earth enjoyable and pleasant. You won’t find anything mentioned beyond their lifetime or the grave.
Is it any wonder then that the author of Ecclesiastes in his search for significance sought fulfillment in carnal, temporal, finite, and earthly things? Not to me anymore, there was nothing more than Solomon’s time under the setting sun. As a youth I judged the author harshly thinking that his life was wasted on making much of himself. I never connected the dots realizing that an intimate relationship with God that meant more than grain, babies, health, wealth, and success in war wasn’t revealed until the New Testament: manifested in the person, life, ministry, and sacrificial and redemptive work of Jesus. So lets be gracious with Solomon, as many men have chased after these things listed in this book with no noble pursuit in mind. As a group we can spare ourselves a lifetime of regret by taking and applying the wisdom found in these few pages, especially you young people.
With that preface behind us, let’s open our Bibles!
We’re in the book of Ecclesiastes Chapter 2:1-11
1 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. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, 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.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other 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 treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem[a] as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
Now that we’ve read it let’s go back through the passage and take a closer look.
In today’s text we find that Solomon is taking a break from all of his knowledge and observation, and giving himself over to hedonism. Understanding why things are, seemed to be hollow in and of itself, so he now trying to see if pleasure will yield a better return than knowledge.
Hedonism- is defined by the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence, and self-gratification.
Verses 1 and 2,
1 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.
2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”
The Teacher has given up on wisdom to find satisfaction and is now exploring pleasure to find substance and meaning in life.
3 I tried cheering myself with wine, 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.
“I tried cheering myself” Solomon said… let me refresh your memory from what we heard last week
The portion of the text David covered last week showed how Solomon’s pursuit of secular wisdom and understandings to find significance, validation, and fulfillment returned void.
“16 I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
So Solomon’s conclusion was that there is a direct correlation between a person’s wisdom and experienced sorrow and he was the wisest of them all and thus the most grief-stricken.
Verse 3 He said “I tried cheering myself with wine…” So it appears that Solomon even chose to become an alcoholic for a season of his life.
In my life it seems to me that unhappy people by nature seem to go into survival mode and seek to meet their needs by whatever means necessary. Have you ever thought to yourself “if only I just had enough money” or “if only I was popular” or “if only I just had that…” fill in the blank? We’re reading the intimate thoughts of a King who had more success, gold, wealth, fame, or praise than anyone in his lifetime and he too felt sorrow and sought solace at the bottom of a proverbial bottle; no different than people alive today roaming the earth as vagabonds, beggars, stateless, derelicts seeking comfort wrapped up in a neat brown paper bag.
How many people have you known… no let’s get real. How many of us have turned to alcoholism, drugs, substances, or trifles to cope with stress, run from fears, or just give up? Substance abuse is self-deprecating and so destructive and there is no value in these things friends. Depression is a slow killer that in my personal experience is best overcome by hope and resolve. It appears to me that Solomon is feeling crushed by his insignificance… He’s already said in chapter one that generations come and go and that all will be forgotten the same.
4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.
*Solomon sought to find pleasure in accomplishments and achievements.
He set lofty goals, planned, and executed them in hopes of feeling proud, significant, happy. He labored in his construction of structures, created useful and agricultural systems, and pleasantries.
Today this is comparable to individuals that try to find their value in their jobs or talents.
If I do well, work hard, and toil and my work is good then I too will be considered good. Do you find yourself slaving, toiling, spending too many hours trying to “prove” yourself, be the best, or advance beyond your peers because you believe that it will make you feel good or that you will have “made it”? Do you define yourself by and feel important because of what you’re good at? I want to warn you dear friends that defining yourself incorrectly and the quest for perfection will rob you of contentment and leave you lacking.
7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.
*Now Solomon working down the list tried to find pleasure in prestige and extravagance.
He increased his household and possessions for the satisfaction of attained status in the eyes of men. This is still a very prevalent behavior today- expense for the sake of elevated social status.
If I buy this, own this, have the best that, then I’ll feel complete which too is fleeting.
8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
I wonder if Solomon in his wisdom realized that in his pursuit of pleasure that he had crossed the line turning to disobedience to Lord’s covenant and the law of God in order to feel good. He was literally going to defy the will of God to try to find something in life that made it all worthwhile.
In Duet 17:14 & 16-17 this is what the law specified about the King…
14When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites.
16The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.
1 Kings 11:1-6 records for us how Solomon disobeyed God in one of these specific way.
“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 2 They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 5 He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. 6 So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.”
The context of that passage in 1 Kings goes on to say that God was angry with Solomon and told him he was going to take the kingdom from him, but for the sake of his father David whom the Lord loved He would do it in his son’s lifetime.
I can’t imagine that Solomon was unaware that he was sinning. This too is not uncommon today, unhappy believers turn to disobedience, sin, and wrong doing to try to find lasting happiness or significance, which is an overwhelmingly painful, and deadly decision. Some turn away from the Lord, leave church, or just choose daily to live in direct opposition with God’s will and their convictions as an exhibition to God to show their unhappiness with Him. How unloving, ungrateful, irreverent, wasteful, disrespectful, childish, and foolish a lifestyle to choose for one’s self, but sadly this is not an unpopular path.
Let’s continue in the text…
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor,and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
The Teacher gave himself over fully to the practice of lust, greed, prowess, and the admiration of men. But alas when all of his desired objects were attained, buildings constructed, sin committed, and desires executed he found himself yet again… dissatisfied.
“A chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun.”
I believe that what Solomon described in verse 11 is a point that many people reach on their deathbeds. In quietness they survey their life to watch a slideshow of their life scene after scene of being blown around by idols, whims, and vanity leaving them with an overwhelming sense of regret.
This is the lie that the media wants to sell you friend, that if you buy their meal can make you “happy” or if you just get to that next level you’ll be satisfied, and so on. I believe that in this portion of Solomon’s book he realized how fleeting and lackluster a lifetime spent pursuing pleasure is, and regretted that too.
It would seem to me that the “plight of pleasure” is sadly this: it is an endless pursuit.
If a person seeks pleasure to fulfill them they will spend a lifetime chasing it and never getting enough for its sweetness fades quickly. I think this book records that Solomon was seeking something worth living for that would give meaning to his life: something eternal that would provide lasting significance.
I truly hope that when I die and go to heaven that I get to meet and wrap my arms around Solomon’s neck and see the look in his eyes that his life wasn’t meaningless and that his work has taught me so much in my life. I pray that in heaven, in eternity, when and If he and I embrace we can agree together that ALL the wisdom and pleasure we’ve ever needed is found in YHWH and Christ Jesus whom He sent.