Ecclesiastes and Vanity of Life, Part 9
I’m going to assume that by now, if you’ve been reading these articles on Ecclesiastes since the first one, you’re getting the bigger picture that Solomon is attempting to paint for us. If you just found this article and haven’t started from the beginning, I’d encourage you to that and you can find Part 1 here.
Solomon has spent the entire first chapter and into the second one of Ecclesiastes attempting to provide the foundation that will ultimately prove his thesis statement: all is vanity. He has covered the following areas:
- secular accomplishments
- secular wisdom
- self-indulgent pleasures
- materialism or consumerism
Even though he covered these areas, Solomon is just getting started because there are 10 more chapters in this book of Ecclesiastes to include! As a reminder, with the age of consumerism/materialism on us, it is amazing what people are willing to buy and how much they are willing to pay for some of these items.
In the mid-1970s I can recall my mother buying a brand new Datsun 510. It was bright orange and she paid $2,500 for it prior to driving it off the lot. I’ve included a photo of it and noticed that these cars can be purchased from private owners. I saw one ad for a used one for $3,000. However, we all realize that to buy a new car today costs at the very least, about $12,000 depending upon type and amenities. There are many used cars that cost well over that amount.
We have no car payments and so far, our vehicles run well. When they break down, we pay a good mechanic to fix them. In one case, we had the motor replaced in one of our vehicles rather than purchase another car because they are not cheap at all. Yet, it is very common to see high-end SUVs and cars on the road today. It’s as though people have trees in their yards that actually grow money.
Then again, when my mom was buying her Datsun, the economy was quite a bit different from what it is today. People weren’t so overextended. Their debt-to-income ratio was much better than that it is now. In fact, not too many years ago, thousands upon thousands of people lost their homes because of the rapid drop in housing values. Overnight, home values took major plunges, which put people in the unenviable position of being “upside down” as far as debt-to-income ratio and housing values were concerned. We may well be approaching a similar scenario again.
Still, look at the type of things that are available to buy today. Action figures, televisions, gaming consoles, cell phones, computers, and other electronics items. People cannot seem to get enough. They are truly living for today on the one hand and making absolutely no plans for tomorrow.
One of my favorite comic book characters is Batman. I’ve followed his exploits in the comics and on television for years. I’ve also collected a number of items that are connected to the Batman franchise. However, I don’t buy everything just because it’s Batman. In fact, there are many things I simply cannot afford.
One company – Hot Toys – produces large-scale action figures that are highly realistic. These figures can be positioned, faces, hands, or other things can be swapped out. But in the end, they are still action figures and they essentially sit on the shelf. Collectors are willing to shell out hundreds for these things though! Take a gander at some of the figures and accessories available for purchase from Hot Toys here. If you take the time to flip through those web pages, you’ll learn that many of these figures – even with price tags of $200, $300, or much more – are completely sold out and no longer available except from collector to collector. Either people actually have the money to buy these things or they are racking up massive credit card debt to get what they want. So it goes in the realms of consumerism and materialism. People want what they want and they want it now, in spite of the fact that these things have no eternal value and none can be taken with a person when he/she passes from this life to the next.
But just so we are all aware of how treacherous self and the need to cater to self can be, I ran across an interesting story this morning. Apparently, at the recent Sundance Film Festival, a documentary on abortion was shown and four individuals connected to the abortion industry were present. They were actually given a standing ovation for what they do. Let’s be clear: they murder unborn babies at the behest of the mother and yet, there are people who are willing to applaud them for their murderous operations!
This is the problem with living a life of self-aggrandizement. There is absolutely no value in it! This seems to be Solomon’s point. Solomon continues exhorting us with Ecclesiastes 2:12-13.
12 Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas.
For what more can the king’s successor do than what the king has already done?
13 I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly,
just as light is preferable to darkness:
Here is a sliver of light shining out of darkness. Solomon considers the value of wisdom and also shines the light on foolishness, both in behavior and ideas. Verse 13 reveals that there is a point in favor of wisdom over folly. This, to most of us, seems logical, yet how many people live under the dark cloud of folly? It would seem that much of society does that. Why is that?
It is due – Solomon would say – because people live lives of vanity or utter futility. They do not use any God-given intelligence that they might possess to improve the spiritual aspect of their lives. If they did, they would live less and less under the throes of vanity. Instead of living in darkness (folly), they would live in the light (wisdom).
However, just because a person has or exercises wisdom, that is no guarantee that they will avoid foolish behavior and ideas. He states that what is often the fool’s portion in life could easily be his as well!
14 The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness.
Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both.
15 So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me!
Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?”
So I lamented to myself,
“The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!”
Of course, we need to realize that Solomon is not referring to godly wisdom, but simply wisdom that can come from native intelligence, or secular wisdom. Having worldly or secular wisdom is no guarantee of success and avoidance of foolishness. In fact, even having true godly wisdom is no guarantee of success. Consider King David, Solomon’s father. He loved the Lord and parts of the Old Testament are filled with examples of how mightily God worked in and through David. Yet, in spite of the heights to which David arrived due to his commitment to the Lord and the Lord helping him achieve things that he would not have been able to achieve without God, David sinned terribly by having an adulterous affair with Bathsheba, then having her husband Uriah, murdered. Even godly wisdom must be used and obeyed. It’s not enough to simply know the correct path.
I believe this is why Solomon admits that the fate of the fool could happen to him if he was not careful. In fact, there are no guarantees in this life except that all will die. What happens between birth and death does not come with any guarantees at all.
Because both secular wisdom and godly wisdom are what they are, people can still lead a life of vanity or utter futility if they refuse to obey the tenets of godly wisdom. We will see in our next article what Solomon truly thinks of secular wisdom and folly. Join me then.
Entry filed under: christianity, eternity, israel, Judaism, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation. Tags: all is vanity, ecclesiastes, king solomon, life under the sun, solomon wise man, utter futility.