Every day I find myself, as well as people around me, hurriedly and worriedly rushing after things of the world. We absorb ourselves in work, or revel in lazy pleasure. To what end?
In the first chapter of Ecclesiastes, Solomon lamented, “Vanity, all is vanity,” because everything seemed so pointless, so in chapter two, he decided to try an experiment. In a quest to find something that might have some kind of value, Solomon decided to see what would happen if he put his limitless resources and kingly authority toward attaining whatever he fancied. He vowed that any time he felt himself desiring anything, he would say yes to it and deny himself nothing; thus he began pursuing all the pleasures and successes of the world. If you had unlimited power and resources, what kinds of things would you pursue to make yourself happy? What kinds of achievements would you work hard to accomplish?
Solomon determined to put effort and hard work into to accomplish things of worth, and set out to contemplate the philosophies of wisdom, madness, and folly. He surrounded himself with servants, musical performers, and beautiful women, all of whom were ready at all times to obey his every whim. He obtained herds of livestock and hoards of treasure until he was wealthier than anyone else in his kingdom. He built wonderful mansions and castles, vineyards and gardens, orchards of fruit and pools of water. His utopia shut out all dissatisfaction. In a way, he re-created his own little garden of Eden. That is what all human striving is, after all, isn’t it? A vain attempt at getting back into Eden—trying to find the kind of peace we’d have if we were united to God.
Now, it took Solomon a lifetime of this grasping for the wind to figure it out, but we know how the chapter ends: he still says it’s all vanity. It did not matter that he was the wisest man in the world, or that he had been so hardworking, or that he had acquired so much, or that he had experienced so many pleasures. He could not take anything he had earned to the grave with him; everything would just get left behind and passed down to someone else. At the end of his life, his wisdom did not change the fact that he would die just like the fools. That’s why he wrote, “There was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
In saying this, though, Solomon makes a contrast. Even though he describes the world as just an endless cycle of nothing, we know this perspective isn’t true, because there is a life beyond this world. That is Solomon’s hidden message in Ecclesiastes: by showing how pointless and hopeless life would be without God, Solomon shows us how very important it is to live with God. We have hope because we know there’s more to life than just what is under the sun.