Ecclesiastes 2 has Solomon continuing to look for meaning in life. He tested it in pleasure and amusement. “I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, what use is it?” He tested the theory many live under today; that the meaning of life is found in more and varied pleasures, entertainments, and excitement. He figures out that isn’t the answer. “But behold, this also was vanity”. Life isn’t about pleasure or doing what we want.
He moves on to try and find meaning through work and accomplishment. “I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards….I made myself gardens and parks….I made myself pools….I bought male and female slaves….I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me….I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces”. Solomon tried to find meaning and purpose through doing amazing and wonderful things. But it didn’t work.
Solomon was great above all others. “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me….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 had fame. He did what no one had ever done before. He was the object of admiration by the entire world around him. But it wasn’t the answer. Success does not produce meaning. “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”. There was no enduring, eternal sense of meaning to life lived for these earthly pleasures and accomplishments. Work is not the source of meaning and purpose!
Solomon looked at life and death and believes there is no reason to worry about meaning. “For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten”. He doesn’t understand the potential of legacy. He only sees the immediate, not the potential. Solomon misses the point of passing down legacy. “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me”. God’s charge to us is to find faithful men who will carry forward the legacy. There is purpose and meaning for our life. God created us that way. We need to find it, and then live in a way we leave a legacy that carries that purpose to eternity!
Ecclesiastes 1 begins with “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem”. There are some who believe someone else wrote this for Solomon, but there is no clear reason to assume it was anyone but the King himself. This book is a strange and difficult book to understand. It contains much hopelessness and despair and wrestles at times with the very question of whether God matters or not. Solomon presents a challenge – life is vanity and has no meaning. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity”.
He starts out exploring one of the greatest mysteries and most important discoveries in life – what our purpose is. God has created each of us with a purpose, but that is not the view Solomon takes in Ecclesiastes. He writes through the eyes of a man who thinks and lives as if God doesn’t matter. Using language from business, he asks “what does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun”? Jesus made a similar statement in Mark 8: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul”? Profit is not the answer. Money doesn’t yield any eternal value.
Solomon talks about the cycles in nature with the sun, the generations, the wind, the streams and more. He makes it all sound almost boring. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun”. God’s creation is unending. It will continue forever. God’s seen it all because He planned it all. There is nothing new because God created everything; past, present and future. It was all His doing and done for His purpose His way.
Solomon is frustrated with his search for meaning. “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge. And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind”. The more he learned, the more he realized what he didn’t know. The more he knew, the more clear life’s challenges and sorrows became. Solomon was the wisest man to ever live, yet struggled with the very essence of his purpose. In much wisdom he found there was much grief.
Proverbs 31 is attributed to King Lemuel, whom we really know little about. He obviously had a good mother as she gave him some great advice here in this chapter. She warns him “Do not give your strength to women, your ways to those who destroy kings”. This refers to the need for single and young men to remain pure, and not give up their sexual purity to a woman who can rob a man of his strength by using sex to steal his power and leadership position. Sound advice from a wise mom.
She also tells him to care for the less fortunate. “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy”. We need to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Take care of hurting people. Defend those who can’t defend themselves. Stand for the oppressed. Support the needy and deal justly with everybody. This is great guidance for her son to help him be a good king and a great man.
Then she moves on to the section that typically is tied to this passage – the description of “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels”. She gives him a description of this wife physically, mentally, morally, spiritually. In every dimension the character of the excellent wife and mother is unfolded here. She describes this ideal woman, this model woman by looking at six features:
- her character as a wife (vs 11-12)
- her devotion as a homemaker (vs 13 -19)
- her generosity as a neighbor (vs 20-24)
- her influence as a teacher (vs 25-26)
- her effectiveness as a mother (vs 27-29)
- her excellence as a saint (vs 30-31)
She is truly a gift from God. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all”. As she becomes older, as her children grow, they will appreciate her more and more and so will her husband because of her sacrifice and they will rise up and call her blessed. They will praise her and her husband should say I wouldn’t trade her for anyone or anything. The lesson ends with an understanding that a woman who fears the Lord is not only beautiful inside and out, but is worthy of praise. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised”. It’s what’s in the heart that makes a woman beautiful!
Proverbs 30 begins telling us these are “the words of Agar son of Jakeh”. The chapter seems to be a collection of proverbs written by an unknown sage who ws a student of wisdom. No one knows who the names referred to in this chapter are. There is some speculation that they in fact refer to Solomon himself. The name “agur” means ‘gathered’ and some think it a fancy name for Solomon. Whatever the case, this is a collection of a variety of proverbs, many being collections of things that define an outcome.
The author seems to speak about the reality that the more he learns about God and His ways, the more he sees how little he truly knows. It’s hard work to try and keep up with God’s wisdom. “The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out”. Walking faithfully with God is not a simple task, and teaching others God’s ways is even more difficult. Wisdom is a gift from God, but it isn’t an easy and simple gift. The writer here feels overwhelmed with the task. “Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One”. As wise as he is, he still feels completely inadequate.
He doesn’t lose sight of the reality that God is truth. “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him”. While depending on human insight and knowledge is mere speculation, when we put our trust in God’s Word we have divine revelation. It is always true and right. We can depend on it. And it is complete, lacking nothing. “Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar”. Nothing else is needed to make it all we will ever need. If we only read and heed it, we’ll be able to walk faithfully with God.
One piece of wisdom has to do with being content. Greed keeps us from contentment. When is enough, enough? “The leech has two daughters: Give and Give”. The writer uses a leech to point out the impact of unbridled greed. It will hand on forever. Unfortunately it demonstrates the truth of the human heart around money and stuff in many instances. No matter how much people accumulate, they never seem to truly have enough. We must learn to be satisfied and rather than attach ourselves to the pursuit of stuff, we need to rest in God and His provision.
Proverbs 29 contains more wisdom around fools, discipline and pride. Solomon lays out the reality of dealing with a fool. “If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet….A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back”. The world is filled with fools, and they spew lots of noise with little value. A wise person remains quiet when dealing with a fool and does not get drawn into that interaction. You can’t convince a fool of anything.
Solomon again talks about the importance of discipline in raising kids. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother….Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart”. The reality is that parents have a responsibility to train up a child in the way they should go. God has given us that task. Kids don’t raise themselves, or at least they shouldn’t. It is our job to teach them the difference between right and wrong and be sure they understand it – even if discipline is required to drive the lesson home.
Pride is again called out as an issue of character. “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor”. We must not allow our own thinking about ourselves cause us to become prideful. When we are humble, and keep a view that is real in relationship to the mighty God we serve, we set ourselves up for God’s honor. We should never bring honor on ourselves – true honor comes from above. God delivers honor to the meek and humble in His way.
Part of that humility is the recognition of who God is and what His place is in our life, and the universe. God is the Master, in full control, seated on the throne above all. If we fear anything other than Him, our fear is misplaced. Yet far too often we do fear man, whom is nowhere nearly as powerful or authoritative as the God of the universe. We need to get that right. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe”. Our Rock, our Salvation, our Hope, our Future is God and Him alone. To allow man to have any of that is placing trust in the wrong spot.
Proverbs 28 has Solomon giving us some strong words around integrity. Integrity is what you do when no one else is around to watch. It’s what you do as a default action. Solomon makes it clear that integrity matters. “Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways….Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall”. Integrity isn’t optional. It is God’s standard for how we are to live.
Our influence on others is also important. “Whoever misleads the upright into an evil way will fall into his own pit, but the blameless will have a goodly inheritance”. We have the opportunity to impact others and how they live. That happens whether we necessarily intent to do that or not. The outcome though is something God cares about. If we set an example that leads people to walk in God’s ways, to live a righteous and godly life, good things happen – Solomon calls it a goodly inheritance. If we fail to lead people in the right way, there is a price for that as well.
We have been told often in Proverbs that we must fear the Lord as it is the beginning of wisdom. Solomon gives us another warning about that here. “Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity”. The only reason you would not fear the Lord is you have a total misunderstanding of what God’s requirements are, and the reality that failing to meet them will lead to eternal separation from Him. God is in control. He is in charge. We need to fear Him and live God’s way.
God is paying attention to how we live. “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished”. If we walk with Him faithfully, we will be blessed. If we follow our own hearts, we will be punished. It’s a pretty simple if/then situation. Living God’s way will yield a good result. Doing it our way not so much. We have to learn to walk in His ways – following His wisdom. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered”. We have to walk with God in His ways. That’s the only way to achieve His blessing!
Proverbs 27 has Solomon sharing lots of wisdom around relationships and people. But he kicks off this chapter with this: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring”. This truth contains enough for us to ponder for some time. The reality is, we have no idea what tomorrow brings. It is not in our control. It is not something we can know. God alone is in control of the future, and while we will never know what that future has in store, we can know the One who holds that in His hand. We need to remember that life is precious and needs to be lived fully today!
He goes on to challenge us not to let pride get in the way of living well. Pride happens when we think more highly of ourselves than we should. “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips”. Some of us want to create the PR story of our life rather than living life in a way it shouts that by how we live. Far better for us to live life in a way that brings honor and glory to God in a way that others see, not that requires us to explain or promote ourselves.
He talks about the importance of relationships again. We need people close. “Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away”. We can’t impact each other nearly as much if we aren’t together and don’t spend time being close to those around us. There is power in relationships, “the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel”. We need to seek out and listen to the wisdom and knowledge of people around us. That counsel can save us much heartache if we only listen.
But relationships, the right relationships, are not merely a party. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another”. We need to provide accountability for one another. Left to our own desires, we’re going to struggle to stay the course. We have to be willing to have awkward conversations and call each other out when we get off the road and into the weeds. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love”. Most of us aren’t willing to go there. We want peaceful and easy, not necessarily the hard and important challenges about how we live. But God’s going to deal with the dross. “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and a man is tested by his praise”. We’ll all be tested. Far better to live with people who will challenge our decisions and life to make sure we align with God.