Surely, no bleaker portrait of man has ever been drawn than that found in Ecclesiastes. In secular literature and even in historical records, men apart from God are portrayed with sentimental dignity and purpose. Even men of great evil are invested with an aura of grandness by the romantic tenor of secular humanism. The book of Ecclesiastes strips humanity bare of every shred of sentiment and human dignity, leaving him, like the prodigal, as one feeding among the hogs, striving with the beasts for survival. It is no accident that the Lord chose Solomon, the wisest and richest of men, to write such a book. We might naturally expect the galley slave, perpetually bending his back to the oar, chained in one spot for his entire existence, never seeing the light of day, and for diversion feeling only the crack of the whip on his naked back, to write such a book. But how forcefully the truth is borne home when we realize that the Lord anointed Solomon—he who surfeited on sensual pleasures with seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, he about whom the cosmopolitan queen of Sheba was forced to declare after seeing “all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his waiters, and their attire, his cupbearers, and his stairway by which he went up to the house of the lord” that “the half was not told me” (I Ki. 10:4b, 5, 7b; for even more, see also 10:14ff.)—to write such a book. It was the fame of Solomon that brought the queen to his kingdom in the first place. Yet so great was Solomon, so little had the whispered gossip and the shouted grandeur of his kingdom prepared her that, when she saw the reality, she was left breathless, speechless, and utterly deflated: “there was no spirit in her” (I Ki. 10:5b). The queen of Sheba, arriving with her own considerable pomp, “with a very large retinue, with camels carrying spices and very much gold and precious stones (I Ki. 10:2b)—gifts for Solomon—was left intimidated and amazed by the magnitude of Solomon’s greatness.
Yet it is this same man, who begins the inspired book of Ecclesiastes with these scorching words: “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun?’” (1:2, 3). No man has ever been more qualified to answer that question than Solomon—one supremely blessed in all the natural blessings the world has to offer. Perhaps no human being has ever amassed such wealth, enjoyed such broad cultural experience, and indulged his utmost natural desires as did Solomon. We need not seek what the world has to offer in order to discover its emptiness: Solomon has done that for us. And to those who would seek such or attempt to take comfort in such, Solomon offers only emptiness and despair. Existentialism may have been named and formalized in the 20th Century, but its worldview is surely as old as the unregenerate flesh of men, its spirit alive in the breast of every human, and its soul given voice in the pages of Ecclesiastes.
One by one, Solomon examines, as one who knows them intimately, the pleasures and values of this life apart from the grace of God. And one by one he casts them off as the dried and empty husks that they are. Pleasure or mirth? “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness,’ and of pleasure, ‘What does it accomplish?’” (2:2). Riches and great works? “Thus I considered all my activities which my hand had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (2:11). Wisdom? “There is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool . . . . And how the wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life” (2:16a, 17a). Solomon had known and experienced it all and had found it to be less than nothing. What a stark warning this ought to be to us to avoid envying the successful in ephemeral things and to shun goals and ambitions rooted in temporality. Solomon had it all. And he pans it all—not with the coldness of disdain and contempt, not with the heat of anger, but with the shallow, tired, and empty sadness of wasted experience. This life is futile and empty; the best natural goodness does not suffice. We should marvel and rejoice that it pleased God to give us such a complete example of the vanity of everything that is merely natural and to provoke Solomon to give us his personal testimony. We need not pursue those things to discover their worthlessness; we need only to read and believe the Word to be delivered.
Previous Page | Next Page