King Solomon, the second son of King David and Bathsheba (their first son died shortly after birth), was considered to be the wisest and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. Many of his words of wisdom are contained in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, which is generally acknowledged to have been penned by King Solomon in his old age (click here for info). He is referred to as “the Teacher” (NIV, NLT) or “the Preacher” (KJV, NKJV) or “the Quester” (MSG) in Ecclesiastes depending on which version of the Bible is being read. Here is a brief background and setting for the book taken from “Grace to You”:
Solomon’s reputation for possessing extraordinary wisdom fits the Ecclesiastes profile. David recognized his son’s wisdom (1 Kings 2:6, 9) before God gave Solomon an additional measure. After he received a “wise and understanding heart” from the Lord (1 Kings 3:7–12), Solomon gained renown for being exceedingly wise by rendering insightful decisions (1 Kings 3:16–28), a reputation that attracted “all the kings of the earth” to his courts (1 Kings 4:34). In addition, he composed songs and proverbs (1 Kings 4:32; cf. 12:9), activity befitting only the ablest of sages. Solomon’s wisdom, like Job’s wealth, surpassed the wisdom “of all the people of the east” (1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3).
The book is applicable to all who would listen and benefit, not so much from Solomon’s experiences, but from the principles he drew as a result. Its aim is to answer some of life’s most challenging questions, particularly where they seem contrary to Solomon’s expectations. This has led some unwisely to take the view that Ecclesiastes is a book of skepticism. But in spite of amazingly unwise behavior and thinking, Solomon never let go of his faith in God (12:13, 14).
The most universally known portion of Ecclesiastes is found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. You’ll most likely recognize it from the opening verse:
For everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.
And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again (Eccl. 3:1-15).
These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.
“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”
What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.
History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.
I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.
What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.
I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.
The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.
It sounds a little bleak, doesn’t it? However, it is really a matter of perspective. GotQuestions.org states the following brief overview of Ecclesiastes:
Ecclesiastes is a book of perspective. The narrative of “the Preacher” (KJV), or “the Teacher” (NIV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, is trying to find meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure is explored by the Preacher, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning.
In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.
By the end of his reign (he reigned for approximately 40 years–circa 970-931 BC), King Solomon had acquired 700 wives (from royal bloodlines) and 300 concubines (slaves who were not allowed to be wives to kings according to custom). It was the custom during that time for kings to have many wives and concubines, and it is one area of Solomon’s life where he failed to take his own advice, or perhaps it was in having so many wives and concubines that he could give the advice he gave regarding women (found in both the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; however, that’s not the topic of this blog post).
King Solomon writes about the futility of both pleasure and work in Chapter 2; In Chapter 3 (quoted above) he describes “a time for everything” and the injustices of life which runs over into Chapter 4. He continues in Chapter 4 with the futility of political power and wealth, and approaching God with care in Chapters 5 through 6, concluding with the following verses (6:10-12) at the end of Chapter 6:
The Future—Determined and Unknown
Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.
The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?
In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone?
I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.
“This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”
I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.
And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!
So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.
In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.
I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.
People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.
Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.
Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person
than the shouts of a foolish king.
Better to have wisdom than weapons of war,
but one sinner can destroy much that is good.
Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts.
And don’t make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom.
For a little bird might deliver your message
and tell them what you said.
Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.
When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.
Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.
“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”
Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.
The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.
But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.
That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.
Of course, King Solomon lived more then 900 years before Jesus Christ came to offer us salvation and hope beyond what they experienced during the Old Testament days. While the wisdom from King Solomon is still true today, Jesus Christ gives us hope beyond the “meaninglessness of life,” expressed by King Solomon. And as John 3:16-18 states:
For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
So believe, and receive the only hope there is beyond the “meaninglessness of life” that transcends . . .
Yesterday (the past). . .
Today (the present). . .
And forever (the future here and in eternity, too). . . .
YouTube Video: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965) by the Byrds: