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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 2:1-11


Chapter 2

The Vanity of Self-Indulgence

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?" 
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. 
5.  I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 
6.  I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 
7.  I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. 
8.  I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. 
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, and this was my reward for all my toil. 
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. 

Solomon’s power, fame and riches and the experience gained by living in their glory are what gave him exceptional qualifications to present his perspective on human existence. His arguments are basic, powerful and incontrovertible, but the average person can find little, by which he can relate to this ancient king. He was endowed with unique gifts and in chapter one, he recounted his devotion and pursuit of more wisdom and knowledge. His conclusion is that his efforts brought no true satisfaction; it was striving after wind, he confessed.

However, as we begin chapter 2, King Solomon takes up projects, pleasure, laughter, diversion and entertainment. I submit that in this area, we can find common ground.  I think that everyone of us have had times in our lives, when we have spoken to our souls, “I have some free time and a little money to spend. Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself."

Let’s begin with his accumulation of multiple male and female slaves, who would be employed exclusively to help him in his quest for self-indulgence in every area of life. Some were bought and some were second-generation slaves, born in his palace. We’ll compare this to 21st Century living in the Western World. Consider the car… or two, or three… in your garage, each one of which has the power of anything from 120 to 200 horses. That would not equal Solomon’s stable, but it could rival a smaller king! Their speed would boggle Solomon’s mind and the average distance that they take you in one year, would probably equal that which Solomon traveled in his lifetime. If there is any doubt left concerning the superiority of modern travel, one airplane ticket can take you to lands, of which Solomon never heard.

Inside a house, the family is served by a television, with any number of channels, providing news, sports, children’s entertainment, movies, music and other regular programing. The king would have had to acquire a significant number of slaves to equal that source of entertainment and information. Then, we are wonderfully served by electricity. Lights, fans, heaters and air conditioners function at the flick of a switch. We may have our own private secret service; I mean by that, house and car alarms. Likely, there is also a personal computer in the house with an internet service that connects us to the world at the click of a mouse. Need I mention the iPods, Kindles, and smart phones?

In the kitchen are a host of appliances… microwaves, mixers, coffee makers, dish washers, refrigerators, and freezers. I wonder if all these modern servants wouldn’t cut a large dent in the employment of Solomon’s palace kitchen. Then, we have the washer/dryer combination, the vacuum cleaner and outside we have a riding lawn mower in the shed and an edge trimmer. Of course, we could go on, but I think I have presented enough evidence to show that 21st Century living, at least in the Western World, is fit for a king.

Here’s the question: Do we have a small amount of the sense of the great king, so that we are able to say that the efforts to obtain and maintain our comfortable, convenient lifestyle is to chase the wind? My question concerns all those, including Christians, who live their entire lives to acquire earthly goods, beginning with the basics, such as food, shelter and clothing. You could almost question that He, who we claim as our Lord, ever said, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on… Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these… Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things” (Lk.12:22-31).

I can relate to you years in La Costa Chica in Mexico, living in a village without electricity. We bought a half-block of ice every other day to put in a picnic chest to keep a little of our food cold. We had no telephone and our only contact with the outside world was by telegraph. My wife scrubbed clothes on an old-fashioned washboard, even after we had two or three children and no disposable diapers.

I recounted a little of that experience in a meeting in the U. S., without realizing the reaction some listeners might have. How naïve I was! One lady went to my wife deeply moved, trying to convey her sympathy. After that experience, I never talked about our standard of living on the mission field. It is useless to try to explain that my wife was perfectly happy there; people could never understand that. My wife was satisfied to be in the will of God, never complaining or wishing that she were somewhere else. Material things have so little to offer the human soul and Solomon was wise enough to know that.

We hear of “Christian” leaders these days, with two, three or more elaborate, million(s) dollar homes, just as this greatest of Israel’s kings had and this, in spite of the fact that our anointed preacher warned us that he found it all to be vanity. Even some leaders of humanitarian, charity organizations receive immense salaries. Soloman planted gardens, vineyards, groves of fruit trees and even parks. He dammed watering pools to irrigate. He tested choice wines, employed clowns, comedians, and singers to indulge his pleasure and make him laugh. His flocks and herds outnumbered that of any previous Israelite king and, I am sure, that no later king could ever boast of having the animals that this rich king possessed. However, he had not yet given us an exhaustive list of his riches, for he adds besides, “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”.

Even in his times of heavy self-indulgence and immorality, Solomon retained a certain wisdom. He refers to it in these verses more than once. I am arrested by the fact that some translators, both in Spanish and English versions, found in the original text, “till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life”.  The king never lost the conviction that life under the sun was very short. The height of men’s folly is revealed by his treatment of his immortal soul, valuing earthly life above eternity!

Hear this example in the teaching from heaven by the Word made flesh: The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry."' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21). Said the preacher: “This is also vanity… madness… a striving after wind… nothing to be gained under the sun.”


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