The Futility of Earthly Pleasures (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11)

It is the generally-believed proposition of life that having unlimited resources will lead to unlimited happiness. We tend to think about the things that worry us – those items where we fear not having sufficient assets to fund even our legitimate needs and desires … if only we had even just one or two million dollars, we’d be wonderfully happy and at peace with life. Worry would be completely removed from the equation.

At the same time, we all know that there is no shortage of examples of famous people who have every resource of riches and pleasure at their disposal, yet who proved in the end to be miserable, some even taking their own lives.

But again, most of us probably think we would handle such riches and power well; we’d be smart with the money in using it in such a way as to provide true contentment. But today we read that the smartest guy ever discovered that his experiment in seeking pleasure through abundance was not fulfilling at all.

Here is his proposition …

Ecclesiastes 2:1 – I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?”

Solomon had no limits. He could do it all, have it all. And it went after it – bigly!  There are five ways he experimented with seeking unlimited happiness through unlimited resources…

  1. The Party Life

Ecclesiastes 2:3 – I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

He speaks of wine and folly – a good time of laughter and merriment. It describes the party life. And we too live in a party world. People slug through a work week just to make it to the party-hardy weekend.

I’ve never understood this. Yet even Christians can be people who live for the fun and leisure of the weekend … the off times from responsibility. Some live to fill their free time with a steady stream of fun activities, vacations and journeys near and far. The problem is that such busyness may take a person away from any ability to focus upon the greater values of godliness and kingdom service and relationship.

  1. Material Consumption

Ecclesiastes 2:4 – I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.

Solomon did a lot of good things. He worked hard to accomplish all that is listed above. But it all takes time and energy. The more one has, the more one needs to worry about protecting and maintaining all that one has. This story of Solomon is much like the parable of the rich fool who laid up treasures for years to come, only to get to the door of enjoying them and having his “soul required” at that time.

  1. The Pleasure of Having Money

Ecclesiastes 2:8a – I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.

Again, having a lot requires the burden of managing and protecting it all. In my four years of living around the excessively wealthy crowd that largely comprised my Dallas congregation, I was much struck by the worrisome burden upon such people of means. They had the constant concern of security systems and a sense of being a target of thieves.

In those days, I was a pretty good golfer. And some of the wealthy guys in the church would like to take the young music minister as a member of their foursome team in golf tournaments. Of course, I thought this was pretty awesome. But I noticed they could never quite get away from the office. Long before cell phones, they would have to run into the clubhouse quickly to make a quick business call. One time, the guy I was playing with (a Texas oilman) was late coming out to make the turn and begin the back nine. We were almost disqualified. As we rode down the fairway, I asked him if everything was alright. And he told me that yes, things were fine – he just needed to call his son back at the office to give the authority to buy an oil well they were looking to purchase. So, he bought an oil well between the 9th and 10th holes. The burdens of wealth followed him onto the golf course.

  1. Sexual Gratification

Ecclesiastes 2:8b – I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart.

You get the picture here. Solomon lived the fantasies of the sensual world to the fullest extent. The guy had 1,000 wives!  So if there was satisfaction in fleshly gratification, Solomon would be the one who could report it to be fulfilling. Spoiler alert – he calls it worthless and a chasing after the wind.

  1. Career Success

Ecclesiastes 2:9 – I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

Solomon was the greatest of the kings. Rulers came from other lands just to see the amazing opulence of his kingdom.

And in our contemporary world, this may be the most tempting of the five categories we’re examining today.

But at the end of it all, God is not going to say, “Well done, thou good and successful servant!”  No. God does not call us to be successful, but we are called to be faithful.

And so he concludes …

Ecclesiastes 2:10 – I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

In our brief years of living here under the sun, we may have that time enhanced by listening to the perspectives and wisdom of Solomon. The things of this world do not satisfy. Their true value is to be used in such a way as to contribute to the greater purpose of investing in the world that is yet to come.

We don’t want to be an example of climbing the ladder of success, only to get to the top and find out that it was leaning against the wrong building.

This entry was posted in Life Under the Sun and tagged by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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