The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
So as you know, I am slowly making my way through a plan for reading the Bible chronologically in a year. The other week I read the book of Ecclesiastes, and I thought I would share a few pieces of its wisdom with you.
Ecclesiastes was written by King Solomon, David's son, and is autobiographical in matter. God loved Solomon, because he was David's son and followed God's commandments. When Solomon was a young man, God said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” Solomon replied, "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (I Kings 3:4,9)
So God gave Solomon a "wise and discerning mind" - in fact, God said that he was to be the wisest man in all of history. So I guess my point is that when reading Ecclesiastes we have to try and keep in mind that this book was penned by the wisest man in history (of course, all Scripture is God-breathed and comes from God through the Holy Spirit, but since this book is personal to Solomon it is still important to bear this in mind).
Most scholars agree that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes when he was old, since much of it seems to be a reflection on his life. What never ceases to amaze me is that despite Solomon's immense wisdom, which is reported to have attracted "all the kings of the earth" to him (1 Kings 4:32), this does not necessarily mean he lived a life in obedience to God, even though he would have been able to discern that this was the wisest thing to do. This is essentially what Ecclesiastes is all about: true wisdom means following God.
In the end, everything apart from God is vanity. Solomon uses the word "vanity" 38 times in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and it has 3 different meanings, depending on the context: 1) "fleeting", as in a vapour; 2) "futile" or "meaningless", which refers to the curse that humanity is now under due to sin; 3) "incomprehensible" or "enigmatic", which refers to life's unanswerable questions.
Solomon forsook a life of obedience to God and instead completely embraced the world and all its pleasures, intending to glorify himself instead of God. After all, he was the richest man alive, so he could experience the world along with all its temptations and carnal delights to the absolute max. And after living like this, what did he conclude? Throughout Ecclesiastes he repeatedly says everything under the sun is nothing but "chasing after the wind".
Makes you think, doesn't it? That was Solomon's experience with the effects of the curse and rejection of God's ways: that when someone pursues any worldly goal or ambition as their ultimate end, it is vanity, and life is meaningless. Why? Because it is God who created us and it is only in Him that we can find life, and life to the full. As Jesus says in John 10:10: "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
We were made to glorify God, not ourselves. This, of course, doesn't mean that we can't enjoy life. The fact is that we enjoy life the most when we are living in obedience to God. Sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? But it's true! Who knows what's best for us but our Creator, the very God who designed us and knows us even more intimately than we could ever possibly know ourselves, even if we lived for a thousand years?
Life only becomes meaningful with God in it because each day is a gift from God - not merely a gift of existence, but for us to live and to labour, to experience God's love and grace, and to go out into His world and share that love and grace with the world.
There is a proper balance of enjoying life, but it must be remembered that some day in the future we will also be held accountable and answerable to God for what we did with our lives. Did we use them to glorify ourselves or to glorify God?
But, it may be asked, how can we glorify God? Through repenting of our disobedience and acknowledging that in our own strength we could never be acceptable to God - that we need the saving grace of His Son Jesus Christ. Unlike us, Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to God, and lived and died on the cross for God's glory, so that He could take our punishment and set us free from sin and death. We can receive this gift of forgiveness by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus to save us.
The last words of Ecclesiastes are probably some of the most sobering in the Bible and show that Solomon at the end of his life understood the eternal importance of obedience:
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.