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Message # 3 | Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 | July 24, 2016

Introduction

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. He had this to say about happiness.

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.[1] [All men seek happiness.]

Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus.  Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher living between 341–270 BC, wrote the following.

We must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it . . . . When we are pained pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure. For this reason, we call pleasure the alpha and omega of a happy life . . . . And since pleasure is our first and native good, for that reason we do not choose every pleasure whatever, but often pass over many pleasures when a greater annoyance ensues from them. And often we consider pains superior to pleasures when submission to the pains for a long time brings us as a consequence a greater pleasure.[2]

Utilitarianism.  Jeremy Bentham, in the 18th century, initially proposed the thought of utilitarianism.  He found that pain and pleasure were the only intrinsic values in the world.  From this he derived the rule of utility: that the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

Hedonism.  The primary thought behind Hedonism is that all actions can be measured on the basis of how much pleasure and how little pain they produce.

Are you satisfied? Are you happy? Do you feel fulfilled? Is their purpose in your life? Are you uncertain if you are satisfied? I would think that knowing your satisfied would be an inherent quality of being satisfied, but if you’re not sure, Ed Diener offers a simple test.[3] To take this simple test you must consider the five following statements and determine the level to which you agree or disagree. (1) In most ways my life is close to my ideal. (2) The conditions of my life are excellent. (3) I am satisfied with life. (4) So far I have gotten the important things I want in life. (5) If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing.[4]

And our search for satisfaction continues. In Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 we observe that Solomon’s path towards fulfillment was by means of wisdom or philosophy.  His conclusion was that satisfaction in life could not come through philosophy, and instead resulted in vain effort that resulted in grief and pain.  Solomon does not yet end his search for fulfillment.  Instead he turns his focus towards pleasure.  Will pleasure bring satisfaction to one’s life?

Characteristics of Solomon’s Pleasure

Ecclesiastes 2:1–11 (ESV) 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.

Comprehensive (2:9-10)

Solomon’s search for pleasure was comprehensive in two ways.  He searched for pleasure in every area, and in every area he searched completely. Another way to say this, there were no potential areas of pleasure in which Solomon did not pursue and in every area in which he pursued pleasure he did so completely.

Wine (2:3). It appears that Solomon’s first attempt at satisfaction through pleasure was through the venue of wine/alcohol.  There are a couple possible understandings of this passage.  (1) Solomon, since he allowed his “mind to guide him wisely,” never became intoxicated.  He was merely scrutinizing the benefits of heightened awareness.  (2) Another interpretation would take into consideration the fact that Solomon took hold of or embraced folly.  This might imply a stronger indulgence with wine.  Either way, he describes his heightened experiment or downright intoxication as fruitless.

Nature (2:4-6).  As we remember the hanging gardens of Babylon, we are reminded that a beautiful garden was a sign of luxury as well as pleasure.  These many gardens and parks that Solomon had built for himself found the nourishment through the ponds and aqueducts that Solomon built.  Three ancient pools have been found southwest of Jerusalem.  They are considered to be part of Solomon’s aqueducts.  The presence of the plural (gardens, parks, trees, ponds) in all these categories shows the enormity of the tasks and extravagance of the projects.

Possessions (2:7-8).  I Kings 10 reveals the enormous amount of wealth that Solomon possessed.  The chapter initially tells the story of the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon in Jerusalem and was overwhelmed by both his wisdom and his wealth.  She as well left a great bit of treasure with Solomon.  The rest of the chapter entails the amount of possessions and wealth that he possessed.

1 Kings 10:14–15 (ESV) 14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold, 15 besides that which came from the explorers and from the business of the merchants, and from all the kings of the west and from the governors of the land.

Exodus 38:25, 26 makes it clear that the talent was equal to 3000 shekels…excavated talents weigh from about 65 to 80 pounds.[5] In the OT the talent is only used for precious metals, usually silver or gold. In 1 Kings 10:14 the annual tribute income of Solomon’s kingdom was 666 talents, which apparently was considered quite extravagant. David bequeathed 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 talents of silver to Solomon for the building of the temple (1 Chr 22:14).

Averaging 75 pounds each, Solomon had an income of 50,000 (49,950) pounds of gold per year. This would amount to about 700 million dollars in present currency.  This does not include the money that came from merchants, explorers, and kings from other countries. Understanding the vast amount of wealth allows us to more easily understand how Solomon could obtain everything that his eyes looked upon.  He could have easily purchased whatever he desired.

Music / Entertainment (2:8b).  It appears that due his wealth, Solomon had the ability to purchase his own choir.  This choir would have been different than the typical Levitical choir made up of just men. A Levitical choir would have been used in worship, whereas this choir was most likely used in the midst of festivities. We have constant access to our iPhones and the “cloud” that is filled with all types of music and artists.  Solomon had the artists and they played and sang for him whenever he wanted.

Women (2:8c).  In almost a crude manner, Solomon admits that he did not withhold his sexual passions.  The word he used, translated ‘concubines,’ actually carries a much more sensual meaning.[6] Solomon admits that he had the power and wealth to possess whatever he liked.  He also states that he does not refuse his eyes anything that they wanted.  While there seems to be some self-control (my heart still guiding me with wisdom), apparently Solomon indulged in every sexual pleasure he desired.  We read in 1 Kings concerning the amount of Solomon’s wives and concubines.

1 Kings 11:1–3 (ESV) 1 Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women…Solomon clung to these in love. 3 He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.

 Areas not all condemned.  Once again, let us remember that the above areas are not being condemned as much as they are being presented as ineffectual means to a purposeful life.  Are there ever times in our lives where we might be able to say any of the following?

If I could just get a little raise at work or that promotion, I would be happy, and our marriage wouldn’t be such a struggle.

I know I can control my alcoholic consumption. After all, it calms me down. I don’t let it go too far too often.

If my spouse were more attentive to my sexual needs I wouldn’t have committed adultery, looked at pornography, dressed immodestly, flirted with another employee, etc.

I love my cabin. I need to use it. After all, I get to see the creation of God every time I sit on my porch. It is such a wonderful experience. This is what brings me happiness.

The problem is not that we are involved in these areas.  The problem lies in what we sacrifice to participate in these areas. Often times our hearts really mean . . .

God, I will not be satisfied primarily in you, I want to be satisfied in receiving financially what is due me.

God I am willing to ignore your clear dangers of and commands against drunkenness in scripture and desire instead to yield to my fleshly cravings with no thought to others or your glory.

God, I want to obey you, but I demand sex when I desire it. I will do what I have to, to fulfill my fleshly desires.

God, I know you desire for me to pursue my spouse, invest in my children, be active within the church body, be developing redemptive relationships with those around me . . . but my own pleasures (such as sports, nature, relaxation, TV, more money) are more important than what you want.

I know that none of us would say any of these things. We probably wouldn’t even necessarily think any of these things, but our actions reveal the true intent and desires of our hearts. Our actions also reveal what we really believe.  When we pursue happiness or satisfaction through these areas we reveal that we believe that those areas are truly more satisfying than a fervent pursuit of Christ or godliness.

Controlled (2:3b-c)

We have already briefly discussed the fact that Solomon’s ventures into pleasure where guided by his wisdom.  There are a couple of ways to understand this fact. (1) He indulged in every type of pleasure and throughout or shortly after, he assessed its merits as far as its satisfaction was concerned.  In this scenario, he may have lived a life of debauchery, but was cautious to examine all the fruits of such a life.  (2) Another scenario is possible, and more likely.  He followed after pleasure modestly.  He wisely approached pleasure and while he kept nothing back, he never let himself go completely.  It is likely that Solomon realized that pleasure in excess can result in pain (sexual disease, loss of wealth, poor relationships) and as a result considered those potential consequences when he approached a particular area of pleasure.

A question appropriate to this section concerns our level of control.  We often think that we can control something, while both scripture and observation show that it is very easy to lose control.  Be careful to not indulge in pleasure because you think you might be able to control it.  Solomon seems to have done just that and his conclusion is that it was a waste of time.

Selfish (2:4-6)

We have already looked at these verses, but another point to consider is the clear selfishness displayed in these verses.  There seems to be no indication of Solomon serving someone else’s needs or desires.  Everything done was simply done for himself.

Ecclesiastes 2:4-6 (ESV)  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.

Do you do things, throughout the day, with little concern for anyone else.  Do you consider your family when you go home?  Do you consider your spouse’s needs when you are together?  Do you stay at work longer than necessary with little thought to your family?  Are your evenings filled with self-focused activities?  Do you put your relaxation in front of serving others?  We tend to be selfish creatures.  Even when we are serving others, too often our motivation is selfish.  The question you must answer is, “Do you place your own happiness over the needs of others and over the commands of God?”

Presumptuous (2:9-10)

Solomon thought he deserved to bathe himself in all types of pleasures.  He states in verse 10 that he viewed pleasure as a reward for all his hard work.

Ecclesiastes 2:9–10 (ESV) 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.

“I’ve worked hard; I deserve to focus on myself for a little while.”  Have you ever had that mentality?  Have you ever had a hard day’s work and came home with the mindset that you deserved a little ‘me time’?  Family, spouse, church, needed projects, other people are all put on hold because you deserve some time for yourself, and you don’t want to feel bad about taking it either.

Unsatisfying (2:11)

Once again, we come to a familiar conclusion.  Solomon’s search for satisfaction in pleasure was futile.  He successfully pursued every area of fleshly indulgence and pleasure and found that it brought no lasting satisfaction.

Ecclesiastes 2:11 (ESV) 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.

Conclusion

Throughout time man has followed the impulses of his heart and the desires of his eyes.  We are innately no different.  It is very easy for us to become consumed by our own desires.  Those desires merely bring temporary satisfaction, yet we naively and passionately follow after them.   The conclusion never changes – fear God and keep His commandments.  Follow God alone.

What selfish pleasures have you justified or rationalized in your life?  Solomon clearly states that a search for permanent or even temporary satisfaction in the pleasures offered by this world is a waste of time. Notice that I said “the pleasures of this world” have no lasting satisfaction. C.S. Lewis addresses this reality in his book, Reflections on the Psalms.

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion . . . is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[7]

We started this message with a quote from Blaise Pascal.  He goes on to say in that same thought:

There once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.[8]

Adam and Eve lived in a state of perfect and appropriate pleasure. They had unhindered access to and communion with God their creator. Once they were removed from the garden there was within them a gaping hole of dissatisfaction.  Ever since that time, mankind has desired to go back to that state.

Romans 8:18–26 (ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. . . . 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

The psalmists reference this groaning and the desire man has to be satisfied like he once was in the garden.

Psalm 42:1–2 (ESV) As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Psalm 63:1 (ESV) O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

And it is here, in the presence of God that we truly find lasting satisfaction.

Psalm 37:4 (ESV) Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 119:103 (ESV) How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalm 16:11 (ESV) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

 

 

 

[1] B. Pascal, “Pensees,” in Pensees, ed. W. F. Trotter (1660; New York: Dutton, 1908).

[2] Epicurus, “Letter to Menoeceus,” accessed July 15, 2016, http://www.epicurus.net/en/menoeceus.html.

[3] Ed Diener, “The Satisfaction With Life Scale,” Journal of Personality Assessment 49, no. 1 (1985): 71-75, accessed July 15, 2016, http://internal.psychology.illinois.edu/~ediener/Documents/Diener-Emmons-Larsen-Griffin_1985.pdf.

[4] If time allows and the setting is appropriate have people rate them 1-7 with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 7 being “strongly agree.”  If their cumulative total is between 35-31 they are extremely satisfied – 26-30 satisfied – 21-25 slightly satisfied – 20 neutral – 15-19 slightly dissatisfied – 10-14 dissatisfied – 5-9 extremely dissatisfied.

[5] Averaging 75 pounds each, Solomon had an income of 49,950 pounds of gold per year. This does not include the money that came from merchants, explorers, and kings from other countries.

[6] technically means ‘breast’ if not even more specific to more erogenous areas.

[7]C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 94– 5.

[8]Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensees, trans. W. F. Trotter (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1958), 113, thought #425.

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