Discovering Life in the Mystery: Pleased and Unfulfilled
DISCOVERING LIFE IN THE MYSTERY - Unlocking Ecclesiastes
Pleased and Unfulfilled
Are you trying to fill a void with the things of this world or in Jesus Christ?
What does it mean to be fulfilled? Well, it means you feel like your life has a legitimate purpose; it means you feel like you are valuable as a person, that you matter. To be fulfilled means you are satisfied, at peace with yourself, excited about life, confident about eternity, and as a result, you don’t need or want anything else. When you are fulfilled nothing else matters.
Ironically, Ecclesiastes is the product of a King who had everything BUT fulfillment, and as such set out on an intentional search to try and find it. It was a search for experience and deep reflection. It was practical and philosophical and left no stone unturned.
In chapter one he introduced us to this search and took us through the first door into the room of stress. The idea in that room was that if we just add a lot of effort and work to our lives, we will experience the fulfillment of feeling like we matter; that our life has true purpose.
However, what Solomon found out was that no matter how hard he worked, no matter how much he put on himself; it never fulfilled him. Both the feeling in experience and the wisdom used in evaluating it philosophically led to the same conclusion – all that stress didn’t add one ounce of meaning or value to his life and in the end, it was chasing of the wind!
Solomon now moves us into his next experiment. If adding all kinds of work and stress to your life to try and feel like you have a purpose doesn’t work, what about the opposite extreme. Instead of trying to find value in the grind of life, of outworking everybody else and taking on more burdens than everybody else; what if you juxtaposed that with filling your life with every pleasurable desire?
Solomon said work will never bring meaning and fulfillment, but what about pleasure?
Now, when we were in school, they taught us a process called the Scientific Method. In that process, you identify a problem (in Ecclesiastes Solomon is trying to find meaning and value in life – fulfillment).
You then observe all the available facts and propose a solution, that is a hypothesis of what you think the answer is. Next, you perform experiments to see if your hypothesis is correct, and, based on the results of those real-life experiments, you come up with a conclusion about your hypothesis.
This is exactly the format we are going to see in Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.
Solomon’s Hypothesis – Basking in every pleasure your heart desires will never result in fulfillment. (2:1-2)
1 I said in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself." But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, "It is mad," and of pleasure, "What use is it?"
So right out the gate, we see that after truly pondering what was going to happen if he went through the door of basking in every pleasure his heart desired, he proposed that it would never lead to him to fulfillment. Wisdom told him this isn’t going to work.
However, the scientific process doesn’t base truth on intellectual analysis; it bases truth on practical experience, that is, real-world tests and the objective analysis of the outcomes of those tests. So, Solomon sets out to see if his hypothesis is correct; that everything is vanity and a striving after the wind and that includes a life committed to basking in every pleasure your heart desires!
Now, it’s important to note here that Solomon took this to another level. His experiment was not based on somebody giving him the opportunity to bask in all his pleasures. It wasn’t based on winning the lottery, but rather, it was based on the satisfaction of being able to achieve enough successes to have the gratification of being able to personally buy everything his heart desired and then bask in it to his heart’s content.
He went to the extent of knowing he earned every pleasure he basked in! We all know the gratification in that. We certainly enjoy gifts, but when it’s something you earned you not only get to experience the fun, but you also get the satisfaction of knowing you earned it.
It makes us feel a certain amount of ownership of the fun. This pleasure is mine because I earned it, and because I earned it, I not only have the right to enjoy it to its fullest, I have the right to be proud of it!
I should be totally fulfilled by it because I earned it; so, are we? Solomon proposes right out of the gate that it will not.
Wisdom tells us it will end with the same feeling of vanity as the previous experience. But you can’t say something is true until you put it to the test, so Solomon does just that.
Solomons Experiment – Solomon earned the ability to bask in 8 different pleasures. (2:3-10)
Solomon built numerous vineyards and houses to produce and enjoy the some of the finest wines in the world with family and friends. (2:3-4)
3 I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine--my heart still guiding me with wisdom--and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. 4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself.
“to “lay hold on folly (sikhluth).” The term includes all those harmless and enjoyable forms of nonsense”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 717). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
Israel was known for its wine production. It was a blessing that God promised the people of Israel if they would obey Him (Deuteronomy 7:12-13) and He would take away if they disobeyed Him (Deuteronomy 11:16-17).
It should be noted, “Becoming a drunkard is plainly not in view here. He aspired to be what might be called a connoisseur of wine. Excessive drinking is excluded by the phrase “yet acquainting my heart with wisdom.””[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 717). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
So, this first pleasure was the wise enjoyment of something God promised. One scholar noted, “The first suggests that he is wholly embracing the good life. Wine is suggestive of many things attached to this—celebration, sophistication, wealth and epicureanism at its most sublime.” (J. Winter)[note]Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (pp. 35–36). Leominster: Day One Publications.[/note]
But, again, it wasn’t just the enjoyment of wine, but additionally, it was the enjoyment of his wine that he was responsible for producing. It was also the gratification of gathering his friends and family together in the magnificent houses he built on his vineyards so that he could relax, take in the countryside and enjoy these fine wines with the people he loved most!
Solomon invested in gardens and parks to enjoy their beauty and produce. (2:5)
5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees.
For many this may not connect, but for those of us who like to grow things we can understand it. I love to grow things, from my lawn to vegetables, to shrubs and flowers; I love growing things. There is satisfaction in looking at its beauty and enjoying its flavors at the dinner table, but also in knowing you did it!
If you ever go to the Biltmore in Asheville, you will see the investment wealthy people made into lavish gardens. Years after Solomon’s famous gardens and parks, the Babylonians would take things to another level. Babylon was known around the world for them. It was an expression of wealth and prosperity as well as pride and enjoyment!
Now, there is no way Solomon was out there with a shovel doing anything, however, it was his hard work in the business world that created the wealth to pay for all of this and it was his artistic creativity that envisioned and planned out what these gardens and parks would look like.
“Solomon was able to do this on a grand scale. The motive for these projects can be seen by the emphasis he places on the word myself. Solomon was a great builder (1 Kings 7:1–8; 2 Chr. 8:3–6), yet there is no mention here of his greatest project, the Temple, in Jerusalem. The Song of Solomon refers to his vineyard at Baal Hamon (S. of S. 8:11). His houses were surrounded by great gardens (1 Kings 21:2).”[note]Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (p. 37). Leominster: Day One Publications.[/note]
Solomon invested in technology to grow his own forest, admire its grandeur, and create a lucrative industry. (2:6)
6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
Trees were essential for construction and were not in abundance in Judea. Solomon was reliant on the King of Tyre to import much of the wood he needed to build the temple and his houses, but, in so doing he apparently recognized both the enjoyment of the grandeur of the forest and the huge economic potential of being able to have a sustainable harvest of trees!
“Solomon was also concerned about hydrological works. Providing water for his growing capital was a great concern. Vast operations were undertaken for this purpose. “The king’s pool” of Neh 2:14 may have been built by him. The most celebrated water work ascribed to Solomon, however, was the aqueduct connecting three large pools west of Bethlehem with the temple mount in Jerusalem. Some of Solomon’s water works were used to irrigate “the growing trees of the grove,” lit., to irrigate a wood sprouting forth trees, i.e., a nursery of saplings”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 718). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
Solomon invested in a huge workforce and as such basked in the pride of power. – (2:7)
7 I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house.
“Royal servants were one measure of the wealth of an oriental king. Solomon procured many such servants to supplement those which were born in his house. The latter were much more esteemed by their masters because their attachment to the family was greater than that of bought slaves or those captured in war. The Queen of Sheba marveled at the number of Solomon’s attendants (1 Kgs 10:5).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 718). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
Winter wrote, “Power over people has always been a strong driving force within the human psyche. For some it becomes obsessive, and, indeed, the only means by which some people can achieve any sense of satisfaction or purpose.” (J. Winter) [note]Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (pp. 37–38). Leominster: Day One Publications.[/note]
Jimmy Hoffa took control of the Teamsters Union and it clearly went to his head. He saw the truck drivers as his workforce. The Teamsters literally held the nation by the throat because if the truck drivers went on strike the entire economy would come to a screeching halt. All that power of having all those workers ready to do whatever he wanted, caused him to make some terribly foolish and selfish decisions that likely eventually led to his death!
Solomon built a successful livestock business and as such basked in the pride and enjoyment of the wealth it provided him. (2:7b)
I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem.
“Wealth was also measured in terms of flocks and herds. Solomon had more livestock than any inhabitant of Jerusalem before him (cf. 1:16). The enormous size of Solomon’s herds and flocks is proved by the extraordinary multitude of the sacrifices which he provided at the consecration of the temple (1 Kgs 8:63), and the lavish provision made daily for the needs of the royal table (2:7; 1 Kgs 4:22f.).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 718). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
Solomon had such a huge herd that he had more than enough livestock to trade for anything he wanted! It wasn’t just the pleasure of looking across his pastures and seeing these great herds, it was the pleasure of all he could buy with them!
Solomon built a successful mining business and as such basked in the pride and enjoyment of all it provided. (2:8a)
8 I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces.
“Solomon also gathered for himself silver and gold in great abundance. All the vessels of his table are said to have been gold. His bodyguards were armed with golden shields. The king himself sat on an ivory throne overlaid with gold. He received from distant lands “the special treasure of kings,” i.e., annual tribute. He sent his navies to ever more distant lands to import precious metals. Silver became as common in Jerusalem as stones (1 Kgs 9:28; 10:14–27; 2 Chron 1:15; 9:20–27).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (pp. 718–719). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
He not only traded for silver and gold with the wine, grain and livestock he produced, but as a great entrepreneur he created a mining business that mined so much gold and silver some have estimated 9.5 million pounds of Gold were used in the Temple and 75 million pounds of silver![note]https://www.icsid.org/uncategorized/how-much-would-solomons-temple-be-worth-in-todays-money/[/note]
Jewelry has never really been a thing for me, but to those who truly enjoy collected things made of precious metals like gold and silver, can appreciate what Solomon had going on here!
Solomon basked in the entertainment and sex he purchased. (2:8b)
I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man.
“Music has always been a powerful expression of man’s experience of life. From triumph to tragedy, from raw sexuality to deep spirituality, he has expressed himself through music.”[note]Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (p. 38). Leominster: Day One Publications.[/note]
“The reference is to the musicians who were introduced at banquets and festivals to enhance the pleasure of the scene. Such exhibitions were probably accompanied by sensuous dances on the part of the female “singers.””[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 719). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
“Solomon multiplied “concubines” which he describes euphemistically as “the delights of the sons of men,” i.e., they provide the sensual pleasures which men enjoy. The wives and concubines of Solomon numbered a thousand (1 Kgs 11:3).”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 719). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note]
Solomon used his wealth as to acquire everything he saw as pleasurable. (2:9-10)
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil (he loved working!), and this was my reward for all my toil.
“with the wealth from his great herds and flocks (Ecc. 2:7) and his great treasures of silver and gold (v. 8; cf. 1 Kings 10:14–15, 27) he could buy anything his heart desired and indulge in every pleasure (Ecc. 2:10).”[note]Glenn, D. R. (1985). Ecclesiastes. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 1, p. 982). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.[/note]
“Nothing outward (visible to eyes; 10) or inward (things in which the heart takes pleasure) was withheld.”[note]Eaton, M. A. (1994). Ecclesiastes. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 611). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.[/note]
“for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil,” in other words, the reward for all the hard work I did to make all this money is that I get to enjoy whatever pleasures I desire! I can buy whatever I want – gardens, singers, dancers, concubines, wine, workers and even a forest!
“The expression “I became great” has an interesting force in the Hebrew: “I became great, and I added,” i.e., he went beyond greatness.”[note]Smith, J. E. (1996). The wisdom literature and Psalms (p. 719). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.[/note] He is going to get into greatness, and the lack of fulfillment in that as we move forward. But what I want us to see here is that he uses this greatness, power and wealth to access and wallow in whatever his heart desired. He didn’t just dip his tow in it or take a taste, but he went and made a buffet of it and feasted on it!
Solomon’s Conclusion – His hypothesis was correct. No type nor amount of pleasure brings fulfillment. (2:11)
11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
“The pile-up of terms (meaningless, chasing the wind, nothing … good) indicates his bitter disappointment.”[note]Eaton, M. A. (1994). Ecclesiastes. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 611). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press. [/note]
“He is creating a great problem for himself, for he has already tasted the joy of God’s kingdom. He is a child of the narrow way and will not find what he is looking for on the broad way. In effect, he turns from sense to sensuality and finds it senseless!”[note]Winter, J. (2005). Opening up Ecclesiastes (p. 32). Leominster: Day One Publications.[/note]
Gain again is what’s left. In the case of pleasure, when the fun stops what’s left? There is happiness in pleasure but the activities that cause happiness are not sustainable and even if they are hypothetically sustainable, what Solomon found by basking in them to their absolute maximum capacity was that at no point did they truly fulfill.
At no point did any pleasure bring meaning to his life, that is, when viewed through the reality of life, death and eternity there was nothing any amount of pleasure brought to fulfilling life!
Maybe if you could blind yourself to this reality you might fool yourself into feeling fulfilled, but the fact of the matter would be that it was a false sense of fulfillment that would eventually show itself as a huge empty void!
Solomon is emphatically saying that in no way, fashion, shape, or form can any pleasure of this life, even the ones achieved by your own efforts; in no way will they ever leave you fulfilled and completed as a person!
So, what’s the answer?
God is not opposed to fun; He is opposed to us living for it.
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
The Bible isn’t opposed to us having fun! We are going to talk about this a couple of times in Ecclesiastes, so I don’t need to belabor the point here.
However, after a passage on basking in pleasure, it’s important to clarify what the Bible teaches.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul makes it clear to the believers in Corinth, and consequently to us, that when we are engaging in the pleasures God has created in this world, we never get to do so outside of the authority of God. That is, you never get to live for the pleasures, you live for God. You never get to surrender yourself to them because they are not King – He is!
Therefore, you should never be defined or controlled by any pleasure so that you serve them or enjoy them in a manner that God has told us not to do.
For instance, sex is a pleasure that God has given us, but it is to be enjoyed in the confines of a husband and a wife in their marriage. We are not to live for the glory of sexual pleasure and thus surrender to sex to govern our actions and activity; to be controlled by sex, or even defined by sex; but rather, we are to live for the glory of God and as such be governed by Him in our actions and activity.
Wine is a gift from God. We are not to live for the glory of the fermented drink and thus surrender to it to govern our actions and activity; to be controlled by it; or even defined by it; but rather, we are to live for the glory of God and as such be governed by Him in our actions and activity as we enjoy a fermented drink.
This is true of everything God has created in this world!
Fulfillment is found in loving and being loved by Jesus more than anything!
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)
The contrast in this passage is clear. If you serve pleasure your end will be what’s left when the pleasure is done – shame!
But, those who find their citizenship in heaven are those who love being loved by Jesus more than they love the pleasures of this world – even the good pleasures of this world!
We are truly fulfilled when we love being loved by Jesus because His love for us is immeasurable in its impact and never-ending in its application! He never stops loving us with the eternal love that He is!
Challenge: Do you truly believe fulfillment only comes in knowing Christ?
So many of us have learned to say yes but our lives so often say something else. There is nothing wrong with money, having stuff, or having fun; but how many of us are honestly still trying to find our sense of peace, purpose, and value in pleasure; that is, our sense of fulfillment in how often and how much we can bask in the pleasures of this life.
What experiments are you justifying in your life to find fulfillment outside of Christ?
Solomon already did the trial run on this … its rather foolish to not learn from history!
As Christians, we know how to play the game and not be honest about what we are doing. But what is your life saying? Are you excusing sexual immorality? Are you excusing drunkenness?
Are you hiding how much pride and joy you are seeking in the stuff you are able to buy? Are you horrified by the thought of losing what you have, of not being able to enjoy the fun you currently enjoy? If so, you need to be honest with yourself – you think fulfillment is in that and not Christ!
Do you have the faith to trust the presentation God has given us in the book of Ecclesiastes that the pleasure of this world will not fulfill you? Do you have the faith to believe the presentation God has given us in the entire Bible that the New Covenant in Christ WILL fulfill us if we will only have the faith to repent of our faith in the pleasures of this world and surrender to knowing and following Him?