Long before American patriots called the pursuit of happiness an inalienable human right, Solomon pursued it with a vengeance. He wondered, Is education the key? He studied arts and sciences, writing thousands of proverbs and songs, and becoming an expert on animals and plants (1 Kings 4:32, 33). But in his pursuit of information, Solomon discovered many problems he couldn’t solve. “The more knowledge, the more grief,” he said (Ecclesiastes 1:18). Education has great value, but knowledge alone isn’t the key to life.
Is pleasure the key? Solomon became an expert at fooling around and making people laugh. He said, “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly” (Ecclesiastes 2:3).But even if you’re the life of the party, what will you do when the party is over? Vacations and holidays eventually come to an end. What then? There has to be more to life than merely surviving from one weekend to the next. Solomon’s experiment with pleasure left him unfulfilled.
Are possessions the key? Solomon built houses, vineyards, gardens, and parks. He lived in an enormous palace half the length of a football field, in rooms paneled with fragrant cedar. He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (2:10). Scrumptious food filled his table. Choirs of singers entertained him. His treasury overflowed with silver and gold. Hundreds of women met his sexual desires. But all these material comforts couldn’t fill his empty heart.
Is work the key? As he achieved one success after another, Solomon’s royal career earned him worldwide fame, but he found that if work alone defines your purpose for existence, your mind won’t rest when you try to sleep at night. Eventually you will retire or die, and someone else will take over the treasures you worked so hard to accumulate.
Solomon wearily declared, “So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (v. 17). That’s pretty depressing! Is the goal of life merely to squeeze out a little bit of happiness before you die? At the end of Ecclesiastes, notice three lessons Solomon learned from his quest for happiness.
- Don’t waste the here and now. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (12:1). Give God your energy and vitality while you can.
- Remember what holds things together. “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails—given by one shepherd” (vv. 11, 12). Like a goad, the wise words of Scripture—given by the Good Shepherd himself—prod us and get under our skin, motivating us to action. Like firmly embedded nails, God’s truth holds things together.
- Live with the end in mind. Solomon’s ultimate conclusion? “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment” (vv. 13, 14). Fearing God doesn’t mean living in terror. It means taking God seriously, holding him in reverence, treating him with the highest respect, and orienting our lives around him. A meaningful life is found not merely by discovering ourselves, but by trusting in Jesus Christ, who came to give us life “to the full” (John 10:10).
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.