I Did it All! | Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:1–2:11
Christopher Rich – September 20, 2015
The Pursuit | Week #3 | I Did it All! | Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Good morning! This week we are beginning a sermon series walking though the book of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? Is this all there is to life? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. “Fear of God will turn a vain, empty life into a meaningful life including enjoying God’s gifts.” – Greidanus. The message of this sermon of Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Our pursuit in this series is to mine the wisdom of The Preacher in the hopes of seeing and understanding the world, our lives, as they truly are, as accurately as possible. Chapter one asked us “What’s the point of life? What are we pursing when life seems to be unsatisfying cycles that lead to our end? What is the outcome when we attempt to understand the world comprehensively apart from God? More knowledge and more wisdom only seems to lead to greater sorrow and pain. Where can we find refuge and meaning in world like this? These three weeks the preacher is going to take us down three paths he went down pursuing meaning “under the sun” and shows us where they eventually lead. Last week was wisdom, this week is self-indulgence, and next week is work.
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 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.
Verse 1 | Library to Laboratory
When the pursuit of wisdom led down a path that ended with more knowledge and wisdom leading to greater sorrow; and much study leads to weariness, it is time to get out of the library. Get past things of the mind and start experiencing all the good pleasures life has to offer. We’re going to see experiments carried out to their fullest conclusion in the most well-appointed laboratory imaginable. The test for The Preacher isn’t as much about the pleasure as it is about himself. “enjoy yourself” is literally “I will plunge” This isn’t a “dipping your toe in” type experiments these are “run off the end of the dock into a rushing river” experiments. Here we see when we use pleasure divorced from God (sought independently from Him, his designs and purposes) and is purely a pursuit of personal happiness as our greatest goal; it will lead to the same place of sorrow much wisdom does. Verse 1 already gives the verdict we’ll see in verse 11 (VANITY) so as we look at each experiment we don’t get entranced or intoxicated by their false promises. Look at each of these experiments like a movie preview for any comedy. “you’ve already seen the best parts, save your time and money, and a lot of grief of experiencing a truly bore of a film.”
This sermon is not saying do not enjoy life, or the pleasures within it. It is saying know what pleasure is capable of and what it’s not. The preacher of Ecc and this preacher are not saying pleasure and enjoyment are a bad thing. All pleasure (whatever it is) is all God’s idea. He designed us to experience joy. The preacher will tell us in chapter 8 and 9 that joy in life is commendable. Because there is so much toil under the sun, we can find enjoyment in God’s gifts. But it is saying there is a pursuit of pleasure apart from God does not satisfy, does not provide meaning and can indeed lead to sin and destruction as good gifts are turned into idolatry, addiction, abuse, and selfishness. In my studying I was introduced to a song U2 wrote for Johnny Cash based in part by Ecclesiastes called The Wanderer. I key verse says; I went out there in search of experience - To taste and to touch and to feel's as much - As a man can before he repents. I identified with both this text and specifically the lyrics of this song; I chased so much before repenting.
Verse 2-3| Experiment #1 | I’ve done it all!
During this short life what can I do to enjoy all there is that is good and enjoyable and escape from all that is bad or difficult. So he goes deep into entertainment and laughter. He says “it is mad” not in the sense of insanity but from immorality. It is humor that comes from glorification of sin. Think any Judd Apatow film (Anchorman, Bridesmaids). This is laughter that comes from always being cynical and dark about life under the sun. It also includes being so frivolous that it completely ignores the reality of challenges in the world. This trying to drown out the sirens of life by just turning up the TV (there is still something happening that needs to be addressed!) How have you experimented with entertainment? How has it satisfied?
He pursues alcohol and substances. There is a ceiling to what pleasure can be experienced “under the sun”. There is a fine line between being a connoisseur and a drunkard or glutton. I am not sure we are always a good judge of where that line is. It may even be at different places for different people? We are a society of addicts and extremes. We don’t want just a little of something, more is better and we always want better. In my fraternity we actually had a guy come in and teach us how to consume alcohol most effectively to stay buzzed as long as possible without blacking out, and how to avoid hangovers. This is what the preacher says he has attempted to do, see how much he can get away with, see how much he can walk the line without falling, how close he can get to the limits and ends of things to maximize how much enjoyment can be had from them in them. He says he was able to step back from it and be objective. There are some activities you cannot go half in on! He is trying to get away from all godly wisdom and virtue to see if there can be satisfying pleasure apart from God. “You can’t be half a gangster!” How have you experimented with alcohol or substances? What other things have you used to pursue pleasure?
I Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
Verse 4-6 | Experiment #2 | I’ve made it all
The preacher has been involved in creation of many great works. Ok what if I uses the creativity I have as an image bearer of the Creator and I try to make things as awesome as I can for my glory so everyone around me will look and say “how awesome is your workmanship and creativity!” I wonder if I’ll find joy in that pursuit. He talks about himself constantly showing how selfish his true motives are. He is making his own world within the world. In 1Kings 7 we see Solomon built the House of the Forest of Lebanon. The Hall of Pillars, and Hall of the Throne also called the Hall of Judgement (He is king after all!) That was just his office because he also built his primary residence, a house that took 10 years, and an additional one for the wife (Daughter of Pharaoh) we’ll see why that is necessary later. 2 Chronicles 8 says he also had whole cities built in the wilderness and fortified cities for his private army and collection of chariots. At the heart of what Solomon is doing is trying to recreate the Garden of Eden. Paradise restored by himself for himself, remaking the Garden of Eden completely without God. He says “I made it all!” for who? “myself”. I stopped outside a church house where the citizens like to sit- They say they want the kingdom - But they don't want God in it – The Wanderer. Watch any rehab or remodel show on HGTV. What are the words they always use “retreat” “sanctuary” “peaceful” “get away” This is what we do when we try to improve our environment for our own glory rather than reflecting the Glory of God. Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
“I made pools to water tress” He made so much stuff he needed to build more infrastructure to support the materials he needed and used to keep building and creating. Jesus talks about the Rich Fool in Luke 12 who has accumulated so much wealth he needs to tear down his old silos and build new ones. The rich man is called a fool because his entire dialogue is with himself. Luke 1218-19 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.19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”
Verse 7-9 | Experiment #3 | I’ve had it all
Self-glorifying creativity leads to selfish consumption. Solomon had so many people working for him for so long there were people born in his houses who grew up to work for Him. He had the best of everything the world had to offer from a material stand point. He would have been the definitive trend setter and lived both the most opulent and aspirational lifestyle imaginable as he experimented with the question; “Is life truly better with more and better stuff? And does having (consuming more) lead to more lasting joy?”
1 Kings 10:21 All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver; silver was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. I Kings 10:26-27 26 And Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen. He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. 27 And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. Solomon accumulated massive quantities of wealth that he didn’t necessarily work for. It came from taxes, it came for foreign governments. Solomon became a silo for wealth. He wasn’t the only one who benefited from this vortex of wealth. His growth in wealth and possessions did actually have a trickledown effect to the entire city of Jerusalem and Israel as a whole. All these possessions need people to maintain them and those people need to be feed. Additionally, when you have the best stuff what’s the point of it if only you know it? You’ve got to invite others over to show it off? I Kings 4:22-23 22 Solomon's provision for one day was thirty cors of fine flour and sixty cors of meal, 23 ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl. After all your guests have eaten and they’ve all oo’d an awe’d at your latest remodel, or building project you’re going to need something else to entertain them with, enter the singers….
Art Appreciation- We saw how unsatisfying low brow entertainment was back in verse 2, but what about fine art and culture. Maybe I just need to enjoy the fine things is life. ($200 bottle of champagne) There are a diversity of singers and entertainers coming to perform for him and his guests. While everyone else was sweating it out during summer. Solomon was bringing snow down from Mt Hermon to have cold drinks. 1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
God’s gift of pleasure and enjoyment should lead us to worship of God. After all the partying, all the work, all the appreciation of art, all the feasting. It’s time for some lovin’. Solomon consumed conspicuously in everything and sex/women were no exception. Men, Solomon had all the women you could want or handle. All the women you lust over Solomon had. He was the envy of all the sons of man.
I Kings 11:3-4 3 He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. 4 For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.
700 wives and princesses; 300 concubines. Really?! That’s also 700 pintrests boards full of “joint projects”. When sex is the ultimate pursuit and lust the primary motivator, women are not sisters to share friendship, a bride to love intimately and sacrificially, or daughters to care and protect, they were possessions to use or consume. The world under the sun tells us this guy is a stud to envy and that he couldn’t possibly be anything less than happy all the time. Solomon’s harem or pornography are both clear evidence that when it comes to God’s gift of sexual pleasure, more or different, will not lead to better or more satisfying.
How have you experimented with consumption and attempted to have joy with “more”? How did it go?
Verse 9-10 | Experiment #4 | I’ve earned it all…
Great in wealth and growing all the time, parties, projects, feasts, and fetishes. Solomon’s wisdom remains but this is not Godly wisdom that leads to life; he has used his knowledge and wisdom for selfish gain. Nothing was kept from him. Solomon attempted to be the ultimate consumer. Man was not made to blindly consume everything, but to steward under the instruction of the Lord. Where Adam and Eve in the garden were told to abstain from the fruit of one tree, Solomon has no such restraint or forbidden fruit in his man made Garden of Eden. There are no prohibitions in The Preachers experiments, only unbridled self-indulgence. He had all he could conceive of and he believed he deserved it all. It is a dangerous place to be when we believe we are somehow entitled to the gifts of God. Gifts by definition are not earned they are given. When we treat what we have as a gift it leads to gratitude. When we treat what we have as something we’ve “earned” it leads to entitlement.
These experiments are so comprehensive and exhaustive there is no room for “Yeah, but have you…” Yes “The Preacher” has and more. The issue was not one of not trying enough things or not having enough of something. This is the lie we all buy into regularly that “a little more” or “a lot more” will satisfy. We are really no different than The Preacher at this point in our cultural progress can you name one concrete prohibition or taboo when it comes to any of the pursuits of pleasure we’ve looked at? Are we a happier?
Verse 11 | Empty with No Gain.
Wait but you experienced so much, you achieved so much, you consumed so much aren’t you full? You’ve done the best you can to recreate heaven on earth, all without God, are you happy/satisfied? What is left when the part is over for you under the sun? is there gain? No we’re right back where we started. Wisdom leads to sorrow, pleasure leads to vanity (no gain) So now what?
Repent - What sins do you need to repent of? What experiments are you trying right now hoping to gain pleasure and meaning apart from God that you need to end? What experiments are so enticing you that you believe your life would be truly better if only you could pursue them or pursue them with greater vigor? Are you pursuing sex outside of God’s design or seeking satisfaction in relationships that are not for you? Do you need to turn from entitlement/selfishness to gratitude/self-denial? Repentance is not a rejection of pleasure as much as it is a decision to exchange vapor-like happiness for long lasting Joy. Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Our experiments are not without consequences both temporal and eternal. What is sin if not an experiment of life in rebellion from God? While we haven’t earned God’s good gifts; because of sin we have earned God’s just wrath. If we’re going to experience an eternal feast in the True King’s house there will need to be a perfect eternal sacrifice to earn our eternal life in our place.
I went out searching, looking for one good man - A spirit who would not bend or break - Who could sit at his father's right hand – The Wanderer. Being a wanderer is an ok place to start but not where any of us want to end. Our pursuit of life needs a better destination than the pursuits of Solomon; it needs to lead to Jesus.
In Jesus, we see food and drink being enjoyed as the gifts they are without sin, addiction, or abuse.
Matthew 11:19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”
In Jesus we see one who has faced all the false promises of sinful pleasure with perfect wisdom and never fell into sin as we all have.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
In Jesus we have one who promises real lasting life now and forever. Jesus came not to consume but to serve. Jesus sets aside all pleasure, exchanged it for excruciating agony when endured the cross knowing it would lead to lasting Joy as his people “under the sun” could be reunited with the Creator of the sun. Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
More in THE PURSUIT | Ecclesiastes
January 3, 2016Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20