Ecclesiastes and Vanity of Life, Part 4
In our continuing look at the book of Ecclesiastes, I’m wondering if what I’ve written so far has piqued your interest and curiosity to reconsider the message of this book if you’ve been a person who has always seen it as a huge, depressing read? I hope so. If you’ve always seen Ecclesiastes as a book of hope and truth, consider yourself fortunate…and maybe a bit spiritual as well 😀
Last time in Part 3, we made it through verses 9-11, so let’s pick it up from there, shall we? Here are verses 12-15, which is where Solomon comments on secular accomplishments.
12 I, the Teacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 I decided to carefully and thoroughly examine
all that has been accomplished on earth.
I concluded: God has given people a burdensome task
that keeps them occupied.
14 I reflected on everything that is accomplished by man on earth,
and I concluded: Everything he has accomplished is futile—like chasing the wind!
15 What is bent cannot be straightened,
and what is missing cannot be supplied.
Though there are numerous points in the above text, there are two main points Solomon really wants us to zero in on and consider.
- God wants us occupied
- All (secular) accomplishments are futile
Right now, you’re thinking, “Then what is the purpose for ANYTHING?!” I know, I know, it can seem a bit maddening, can’t it, but we need to be careful about understanding just exactly what Solomon is saying.
Let’s look at things this way for a moment. In the world, there are many, many programs where people can receive awards. These awards range from spelling bees and other academic areas, to sports and sporting events as a whole, to music, TV, and movie awards show, with many others in-between. We’re all familiar with the Academy, Awards, the Oscars, the Grammy Awards, the Superbowl, the World Series in baseball, any numbers of awards within the academic fields, not to mention degrees and diplomas. Solomon is not necessarily saying these are bad, though it’s easy to arrive to that conclusion.
Solomon is doing something here that he wants us to see. He doesn’t want to come out and say it yet because he wants it to dawn on people. If it dawns on a person, it’s likely to make a far greater impact than if he were to simply spill the beans now, right out of the chute.
If Solomon is making this blanket statement that everything man accomplishes is completely futile, one can only arrive to that conclusion by comparing something to something else. To simply say that all of man’s accomplishments ultimately mean nothing is not necessarily a true statement. However, when that statement is made in reference to something else, then it clearly makes sense. So what is Solomon comparing man’s accomplishments to, in order to note that they are ultimately futile?
Clearly, Solomon can only be comparing man’s achievements to one thing and that one thing is eternity.
I’ve begun to notice that many musicians and actors I grew up watching and/or listening to as a kid and into my early adult years are dying. I’ve actually lost count of how many musicians and celebrities have passed away in the past few years. What is even more astounding is how old some of them were when they passed.
People like Cory Wells and Jimmy Greenspoon (Three Dog Night), Abe Vigoda (actor), Yogi Berra (baseball player/coach), Frank Gifford (sports), Jack Carter (actor), Dick Van Patten (actor), Christopher Lee (actor), Leonard Nimoy (actor), Mario Cuomo (politician), David Bowie (musician), Alan Rickman (actor), Glenn Frey (musician/singer), and the list goes on and on and on.
During the course of the lives of the people noted in the previous paragraph, many won awards or were part of singing groups and bands whose songs won awards. They were all noted for their acting or singing ability and had become household names. People in my generation knew at least who these people were, recognized their work, and in general, placed some type of value on what they accomplished.
The interesting question to ask though is this: do any of those accomplishments mean anything to our Creator who is the righteous Judge of all who live and die? The answer is clear: not directly. What do I mean by that.
It’s not the accomplishments themselves that God cares about, but the way in which people carry themselves while attempting to achieve things. In other words, what concerns God is how we act toward other people in this life far more than our secular accomplishments. I have a Bachelors, a Masters, and a Doctorate, and I don’t think any of them impress God. What may impress Him (if anything) is how much effort I put into the study of His Word in pursuit of those degrees and how much more understanding I have where His Word is concerned. However, if all I have is head knowledge, I probably wasted my time with nothing real to show for it.
This is what I believe Solomon is stating here. Our secular pursuits do nothing to gain us access to heaven or even bring us closer to God. There is something much more important, which he will get to eventually. For now, Solomon is attempting to drive a very serious point home. We human beings waste a tremendous amount of effort pursuing things that ultimately have no eternal value. Remember though, there are many things in the secular area that are not bad or immoral in and of themselves (though there are also plenty of those!). But people will pursue what they believe has value and often do so by using unscrupulous methods, or at the very least, unloving methods. Men want that huge promotion so they put all their energy into chasing after that to the detriment of their wife and children. “It’s all for the big payout” they say, but what are they doing to their families in the meantime?
Solomon wants people to know that all of our secular pursuits amount to nothing as far as God is concerned. He even goes onto state that all of the effort utilized by people chasing this dream or that one is like chasing the wind (v. 14b). Even when people achieve what they set out to achieve, they are still usually not happy! It’s always the next promotion, the next car, the larger home, the next girlfriend/boyfriend, the next movie deal, the next award. It never ends because people – due to the fall – are never satisfied. In fact, it actually takes a great amount of work to learn to become satisfied in this life with the few things a person might have.
Are you one of those people who is actually satisfied with life, with what God has given you, or do you constantly yearn for more? If you’re struggling financially, I can certainly understand why you would want a better job to provide for yourself or your family. Do you think God is aware of your need? I’m sure He is and maybe He’s waiting for you to simply accept what you have and let Him guide you to that next phase as He sees fit. Maybe there are things you can get rid of in your life now, which will free up some of your money so that things are not as tight.
Verse 15 is interesting. We know how that works. Take a piece of metal and bend it. Now reshape it so that it looks exactly like it did before you bent it. You really can’t undo that bend you put into it, can you? Even a machine that is designed to straighten the bent frame of a car cannot bring it back fully to speck. For one thing, the metal frame has been bent, therefore it is not undamaged even though it may appear wonderful after fixing. It will still have an area in it that has been weakened. Solomon is simply saying that we should think very carefully about the decisions we make and the paths of pursuit we follow. Once we walk down those paths, we cannot undo them. We can come back to the point of origin, but we will still have had the experience of traveling down that path. Solomon is telling us to use wisdom before we set off on a course of action.
We might find ourselves down a path only to discover that something is missing after we are well on our way. What is missing – it turns out – will not be discovered on that path. Usually, what is missing is peace of mind or contentedness. This does not come by chasing a myriad of things. It comes by understanding the value of what we have now.
I’m realizing that Solomon was exceedingly wise. In fact, it seems clear to me that Jesus had this attitude and lived it perfectly, which is why He was always at peace. He never rushed into or away from anything. He was the calm in the storm in spite of the upset around Him.
I think this is one of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian and brothers and sisters, if you’re not there (I’m not!), it’s where we need to be. It was obviously very difficult for Adam and Eve prior to the time they fell. Had they been perfectly satisfied, they would not have been able to be tempted to rebel. There they were in a perfect environment and without a sin nature until the day they agreed that there was more to life than all that God had given them.
Entry filed under: christianity, israel, Judaism, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: all is vanity, ecclesiastes, king solomon, solomon, solomon wise man, utter futility.