Ecclesiastes 1:12 - 2:26

Most people in America have a basic dissatisfaction about their lives. This dissatisfaction manifests itself in many ways. People are dissatisfied with how they LOOK. There are those who think that they are too heavy. Or others who think that they are too skinny. And so they work out and apply cosmetics and nip and tuck and attempt to change their outward appearance. They join spas and they go to beauty salons and they adorn themselves in the most up-to-date styles, all in an attempt to look better.

People are also dissatisfied with what they KNOW. We have entered the communications age. We are bombarded with information in books and newspapers and magazines and television and E-mail and Internet.

People are also dissatisfied with what they HAVE. Merely look at how many lottery tickets are purchased each day, each purchaser hoping that he or she will strike it rich so that they can have more money to obtain more stuff.

People are also dissatisfied with their RELATIONSHIPS or the lack of them. There are single people want to be married and married people want to be single.

And people are dissatisfied by what they DO. Most people are not particularly happy in the jobs and careers in which they find themselves. It isn't merely a matter of how much money they are paid. Most people find themselves working at jobs which they feel don't really matter.

There was once a man like that. A man who sought to find satisfaction in himself, in his possessions, in his relationships and in his accomplishments. His name was Solomon.

We already know what became of his search for satisfaction. Solomon presented his thesis statement in verse 2 - that all is vanity- all is emptiness. Now he proceeds to prove his statement through his own experiences.







Attempts to Find Significance through...

Frustration of...







Man trying to find significance without God

God's Gift



12 I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.

13 And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with.

14 I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.

15 What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

16 I said to myself, "Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge."

17 And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind.

18 Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain. (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18).

When Solomon was a lot younger, he had an encounter with God. God appeared to him one night in a dream and told him, "You ask me whatever you want and I will give it to you." What a deal! To be given anything, no matter how big! For what would you ask? What is you heart's desire?

Solomon asked for wisdom. He asked for "an understanding heart" to be able to lead the people of God and to be able to discern between good and evil (1 Kings 3:9).

The Lord commended his choice. The Lord said to him, "You could have chosen wealth or a long life or conquest over your enemies, but you didn't. And because you asked for wisdom, I am not only going to make you the wisest man of all, but I am going to give to you all of those other things as a bonus."

Solomon took that wisdom which was given to him by God and he worked it. He set out upon an intellectual journey to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven (1:13). He looked and he studied and he thought and he pondered. What did he find? He found that rationalism ultimately has no answers that satisfy. It is all empty. If intellectualism brought fulfillment, then our colleges and universities would be "Camelots" of peace. But it isn't so. Knowledge doesn't make you happier. It has just the opposite effect. It brings grief (Verse 18). Increasing knowledge results in increasing pain (1:18).



1 I said to myself, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself." And behold, it too was futility.

2 I said of laughter, "It is madness," and of pleasure, "What does it accomplish?"

3 I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3).

The next thing that Solomon did was to invest in the pleasures of life. That is the slogan of today's lifestyle - "If it feels good, do it!" That is the message given in our advertisements and in our commercials. You only go around once, so eat, drink and be merry! The technical term for this is HEDONISM.

Solomon tried pleasure. He tried comedians. He tried laughter. And he even livened it up with the best of wines. He ate and he drank and he tried to be merry. He was an ancient man with a modern lifestyle. But it was all to no avail. There are several lessons that we can learn from Solomon's experiences:

1. Sensual pleasures make promises that lack staying power.

They can be enjoyable for a time. But after awhile, the fun fades, the limelight loses its luster and the amusements just aren't as amusing as they used to be. This is true of...

It is true of any kind of physical pleasure. The pursuer of pleasure continues to strive for more and more because the thrill gradually wears off. Eventually it is an empty thrill.

I can remember the first time I ever went to Disney World. What a thrill! The rides were exciting. The food was good. The entertainment was entertaining. But no longer. I will be satisfied never again to visit the Magic Kingdom. It has lost its magic for me. The thrill just isn't there anymore. And physical pleasures and entertainments are always like that.

2. Sensual pleasures offer to open your eyes, but in reality they blind us.

How do they blind us? By making us feel as if the quest for pleasure is the most important thing in life. Empty pleasures blind us to those things in life which bring real happiness because they divert our attention from them.

James said that they "wage war in your members" (James 4:1). The lie of the serpent in the Garden was, "Do this and you will know more, see more, feel more." But the truth is that a lifestyle of self-gratification only leads us away from the important things of life - from family, friends and God.

3. Sensual pleasures disillusion us, making us cover-up artists.

When the good feelings begin to fade away, our tendency is to begin to pretend that we are having fun, even when we aren't.

Sometimes this disillusionment takes another form. Once the party is over any you are faced with the emptiness of your quest, then your reaction is one of ceasing to search. Instead of deciding that you have been searching for your answers in the wrong direction, you decide that there are really no answers to be found.

Colleges and universities are full of people who have come to this conclusion. They are without hope. They are empty. And they are no longer searching for answers because they have concluded that there are no answers.



1. The Accomplishments of Possessions.

4 I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; 5 I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; 6 I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees.

7 I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. (Ecclesiastes 2:4-7).

Solomon was the epitome of the Yuppie. He had it all. What he didn't have, he didn't want. After all, he was a KING. And he made sure that he had more than any other king who had reigned in that part of the world.

Solomon made Israel a first-rate nation with building projects that were the wonder of the ancient world. A thousand years later, people were still talking about the glory of Solomon's Temple. His reign was the golden age of Israel.

2. The Accomplishments of Wealth.

8 Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men -- many concubines.

9 Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. (Ecclesiastes 2:8-9).

Solomon had MONEY. He took the old saying that money can't buy happiness and he tested it by collecting the treasures of the nations.

It was always party time in Jerusalem. There was song and there was sex and there was the enjoyment of every worldly pleasure. And it all of this, Solomon kept his wits about him, using his intellect to enjoy life to the fullest.

3. The Accomplishments of Present Enjoyments.

All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. (Ecclesiastes 2:10).

There was not anything that Solomon wanted that he did not take to himself. And when he had gotten it all and studied it all and built it all, then he set out to enjoy it. He wasn't like the man who slaved to be rich only to die before he could enjoy the benefits of his labors. Solomon became rich while he was still young. He was like the bumper sticker on the Cadillac that says, "I'm spending my children's inheritance."

4. The Emptiness of Accomplishments.

Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

Even though he had it all and knew it all and built it all, Solomon concluded that it was ultimately meaningless.

It isn't that you cannot accomplish things. It is that once you accomplish them, they provide no lasting fulfillment. Alexander the Great conquered the entire known world before he was 30 years old and then wept that there were no more worlds to conquer.



12 So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?

13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.

14 The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.

15 Then I said to myself, "As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?" So I said to myself, "This too is vanity."

16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!

17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17).

In case you hadn't already noticed, Ecclesiastes uses the term "wisdom" and "wise" in a way that is different from the way in which it is used in Proverbs.

Wisdom in Proverbs

Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

The fear of the Lord is the beginning and foundation of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).

Wisdom is seen as natural intellect in looking at life "under the sun."

Wisdom equals godliness.

Only secular wisdom is in view.

Ecclesiastes is not talking about God's wisdom. This is wisdom "under the sun." This is the wisdom of the world. This is the wisdom of Albert Einstein and of Isaac Newton and of Plato and Aristotle and Carl Sagan and David Thoreau and Spinoza.

Solomon had made it his life's ambition to be WISE. He reasoned that it is better to be wise than to be a fool. A wise man looks to see where he is going while a fool is blinded by his foolishness.

Is it better to be wise of foolish? Is it better to be known as a serious intellectual or as a fun-loving party animal? Is it better to go through life with your head in a book, or with your head in a buzz?

The short term answer is obvious. The person who seeks after wisdom lives in a world where the lights have been turned on - where "light excels darkness." Only a fool operates in a dark room.

But in the final analysis, they both end up in the same place. Both the fool and the wise man eventually die and end up in the grave.

The Benefits of Wisdom

The Futility of Wisdom

Verses 13-14

Verses 15-16

Wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.

The wise man sees where he is going while the fool walks in darkness.

The same fate awaits both the wise and the fool.

Both the wise and the fool are forgotten after their death.

Death is the great equalizer.

Solomon realized that the same thing happens to the wise man that happens to the fool. It doesn't matter if you have an I.Q. of 60 or 160. In each case, you are born and you live and then you die. The fool doesn't live any longer than the wise man. Neither escapes death.

And when you die, you are quickly forgotten. Before my own father died, I came across some old family pictures. There was one with the name inscribed on the back - Joel Armour Stevenson. I believe it to be my father's grandfather. But when I asked him about it, he couldn't remember. In the space of two generations, a man and his wife who had borne four children had been forgotten so that their own grandchildren couldn't even remember their names.

Solomon's disillusionment turned to bitterness. He "hated life" (2:17). He found himself hating all of his accomplishments. They mocked him because he realized that they would not last.

Go to Israel today and visit Jerusalem. Where is Solomon's Temple? Where are the magnificent palaces? Where are the rich stables? It has all been destroyed. Only some of the weathered foundation stones remain for the rummaging of grey-haired archaeologists.



18 Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.

19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.

20 Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.

21 When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.

22 For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun?

23 Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23).

Solomon realizes that, no matter what he has collected or built or accomplished, he will have to leave it all behind when he dies. You will never see a hearse with a U-Haul. But that is not the worst of it. To make matters worse, you do not really know if the person to whom you leave all of your inheritance will be deserving of that inheritance.

It doesn't matter that you have acted wisely in whatever you have built and in whatever you have invested your time and effort and finances. There is no guarantee that the person to whom you leave it will act wise or whether he will squander it.

Indeed, Solomon will spend 40 years in building a united kingdom of Israel and making it into the premier nation of the world of that day. It will take his son, Rehoboam, only a few months to tear apart the nation. At Solomon's death, Rehoboam will meet with the elders of Israel and he will act so badly that 10 of the tribes of Israel will secede from the union.

But that is not all. A few years later Egypt will invade Rehoboam's weakened kingdom and he will attempt to bribe the Egyptians by stripping off the gold from the Temple that Solomon had built.

As a result, Solomon says that he came to hate the fruit of his labor for which he had labored. There is a lesson here. It is that the fruit of your labor will not endure. The only thing that will last is the fruit of the Spirit.

Fruit of Your Labor

Fruit of the Spirit

Those things which you attempt to accomplish in this life.

Those things that are accomplished in you through the working of God.



From where are you seeking fruit? What are you sowing? What kind of seed are you planting? If you only look at life "under the sun" then the only fruit you will enjoy will be the fruit of your own labor. Solomon has shown what will happen to such fruit. It will be passed to another and you don't even have a guarantee as to whether he will make a full use of it or merely throw it away. It is only the fruit of the Spirit that will endure.



24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.

25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?

26 For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God's sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26).

Solomon's conclusion is a gloomy one for those who would find significance for life "under the sun." His conclusion it that this is as good as it gets. He concludes that "there is nothing better" - literally, "not good for a man except to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good."

If there is nothing but nothing under the sun, then our only hope must lie above the sun. Most people have their focus so riveted to the here and now that they completely ignore any other dimension. Such a path leads to emptiness and eventual frustration.

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