I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered.
I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.” And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter–“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” I searched in my heart how to gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their lives.
I made my works great, I built myself houses, and planted myself vineyards. I made myself gardens and orchards, and I planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made myself water pools from which to water the growing trees of the grove. I acquired male and female servants, and had servants born in my house. Yes, I had greater possessions of herds and flocks than all who were in Jerusalem before me. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the special treasures of kings and of the provinces. I acquired male and female singers, the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments of all kinds.
So I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor; and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:11)
The American Dream
Prestige. Popularity. Pleasure. Power. Possessions. The five pillars of the American dream. What do these things profit? According to Solomon – not much. The son of David may very well be the richest man that will ever live on the face of this good earth but his conclusion to the whole thing is telling. Education is a valuable tool but the brain will diminish over time in old age. The fame that comes today is lost in the dust of yesterday to a generation yet to come. Seeking after fleshly enjoyment is only temporary at best no matter how many pills, surgeries and vitamins are taken. Men can feel the rush of power for only a short time and then it will be taken away. The stuff we spend all our lives accumulating and hoarding is left behind in death. America is built upon a foundation of sand pillars dissolving before our eyes.
Solomon was not suggesting life is depressing. Education is invaluable and knowledge necessary. Men should always seek to better themselves in the field of learning. Finding a place in the world with notoriety does not have to be a bad thing if it brings about something good. So often in our idol driven world ungodly people are hailed for their physical appearance or talents that will fade away. Good people can do good things and find an element of success. The Lord created man to have pleasure and enjoy the fruits of life. Godliness exalts the joy of pleasure in the manner of His design. Later Solomon will tell young people to enjoy their youth because they are young and to know the lesson of sowing and reaping must be remembered. Our possessions are blessings we should use to help others. The New Testament disciples were taught to work with their hands so they could have something to give others. Earthly possessions are not the evil; the evil heart of covetousness is what makes hoarding stuff useless.
The book of Ecclesiastes is about life. Every part of life is dissected in this volume showing man the values of true living. Solomon can speak from experience because he experienced everything offered in life at the highest level. His conclusion about all the things we seek in our headlong pursuit of the American dream has little merit or worth. The old know the lessons well. Youth has a hard time believing it. We build bigger barns today and die tomorrow. Sad. Life is short. The American dream is only that – a mist of thoughts that have no tangible realities.
If you want to know what life is all about go to the end of Solomon’s book and see what he says. We are not supposed to read the end of the book before the beginning but in this case it will help. Read the last two verses. That is not the American dream. That is the Believer’s reality.
Fame is like a river that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid. (Frances Bacon, Of Praise, 1597)