Solomon comes across as a scientist here in the first eleven verses, he intentionally and systematically goes through all of the life options available to him and examines their ultimate reward. In the first few verses he explores the merits of filling his life with pleasure and wealth, and ultimately finds them lacking. There have been times in the past – and likely more in the future – where I have trusted in my own abilities and strengths and restraint, thinking that I could still partake in parts of life I knew were bad for me, yet make it through unscathed. Solomon in all his God given wisdom fell victim to this trap of the enemy too, though is able to see it for how worthless it is. I need to realize my need for God every day, in everything. I need to run to him instead of relying on self, and know in my heart of hearts that He works everything for my good. I need to weigh all my actions against His word to ensure I am on the right path, because it is so easy to step one foot wrong and fall astray.
As Solomon reflects back on the choices he has made and effort he has put forth while searching for value in life, he sees that neither wealth or pleasure had any true worth at all. It was all dust in the wind, providing only the most instant of gratification that was impossible to hold on to. What idols do I have in my life that I place on a pedestal of importance above God? What do I seek to gain, thinking it will satisfy me more than the relationship I can have with the Lord? Do I seek gratification in pleasure or wealth more than I seek His face? I think this is too often the case. This is a great check to see where my heart is, and provides me the chance to refocus on what is truly important.
Solomon moves on from pleasure and wealth, to now pursuing the value of wisdom in comparison to folly. He finds that a wise life is better than not, yet both the wise and the fool still fall victim to the same fate, death, in the end without God. Then fixating on how, upon his death, his hard work will be left to someone who didn’t put in the work to earn it. Worse so, it could be left to a fool; he despairs in the chance a fool may reap the rewards of the wise man. This thought in itself though should not be a worry to Solomon if he refocused his eyes on the Lord, because we are called to work hard to please Him, and should not worry about the rest of mankind’s response, be it what they think of us as we labour for the Lord, or how they will steward that selfsame work when we are gone. (Eph 6:7, Col 3:23-24)
It is better for me to try and live a life of wisdom than without, provided that I keep the Lord in His rightful place as author of my life. I think this is another great check to put in place so that I can quickly refocus myself if my heart isn’t in the right place. Is what I am doing being done to please and glorify God, or is it to please myself or others? If it isn’t for God I need to stop and reconsider the motives behind what I am doing.
Solomon notes with this observance of the fool reaping from the hard work of the wise how much injustice there is in the world. He can work hard his entire life, and all that work becomes worth nothing upon his death and passes to someone who hasn’t earned it. The work we do for God, however, has benefit for eternity both on earth and in heaven. Like rolling a boulder up hill, working to improve my worldly situation is a pointless task in the end, as once I stop pushing it, it simply rolls back down to where I began. The work I do for the Lord, glorifying His name and spreading His love has wonderful rewards in the end upon my death. It is also a legacy of knowledge I would want to leave for others to benefit from, especially those ‘unworthy’ of it. Because we are all unworthy of the grace and forgiveness that knowing the Lord brings.
After contemplating the value of pleasure, wisdom, and work, Solomon comes to a conclusion: we should enjoy life. He has now seen that the creation of God is His gift to us, and that we are intended to enjoy both the work as we toil, and the pleasures it can bring, provided our life is being lived in obedience to Him and not for selfish gain. It is sometimes hard for me to see that line before I step over it: between enjoying life while serving the Lord, and enjoying life for my own pleasure. I need to remember that there is no enjoyment in life without God.
1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. 2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? 3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life. 4 I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: 6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: 8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. 9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun. 12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. 13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. 15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth even to me; and why was I then more wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity. 16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? as the fool. 17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit. 18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. 19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. 20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. 21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? 23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
24 There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? 26 For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.