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Ecclesiastes Chapter 2
The Man Who Had It All

By John Edmiston

(Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 NIV) I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless. {2} "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?" ... {4} I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. {5} I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them... {8} I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well--the delights of the heart of man. ... {10} I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. {11} Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

The Man Who Had It All

Materialistic hedonism is the predominant philosophy of the Western world. Life consists of "having". Having money, having pleasure, having sex, having possessions, having power and having success. This philosophy is bankrupt. Those who are "successful" and who "have it all" often testify to feeling empty. They seek out gurus, take drugs and frequently take their own lives. Many are alcoholics. When I was young I moved in wealthy circles and saw the lives of people who "had it all". I concluded, with the brutal logic of the young, that they lived meaningless lives and I determined not to be like them. My ascetic and naive reaction was really no better, poverty has no advantages either. Meaning is only found in Christ.

Solomon's experiment was destructive. His projects involved heavy taxation and huge amounts of slave labor. He alienated the nation from the Davidic dynasty and introduced idolatry to the land in the form of temples for his many wives. His pursuit of pleasure in the end led to a divided kingdom. If Solomon had managed to be content with one wife and one God Israel would have remained whole. The pursuit of pleasure is not just futile it is dangerous. We ruin everything around us as we crave for more and more. As Solomon ruined Israel so we ruin our families, neighborhoods, environments and nations.

Learning to be content, learning to appreciate more and more deeply what we do have is the secret to stopping the madness. When husbands really learn to love and appreciate their wives they won't need mistresses. When people can appreciate the computer they have they won't waste money and resources on "the latest". When people can appreciate what is just around the corner they won't have to travel the world for one more pleasure for a jaded palate. Contentment would stabilize the West. We have whole industries of advertising and media to keep us discontent and to tantalize our lusts. We need to resist their pull.

How do we become content? Contentment comes from two foundational beliefs:

1. That we are loved just as we are. Thus we do not need x,y, or z in order to be loved or lovable. 2. That life is going to turn out well because God will make it turn out well. Thus we do not need x or y or z to ensure life will be happy or good.

The two truths listed above are keys for knocking the wind out of materialism in our lives. Is life meaningless without Nike Air shoes and Bolle sunglasses? Do you have to have a Pentium to be a valid human being? NO! These are lies that ruin our happiness. No thing makes us loved or valid. No thing makes life turn out the way it should. God does that. Having is not the answer. Poverty is not the answer either. Jesus is the answer and the fundamental gospel truths are the key to a truly abundant life.

I will finish my comments on this section of Ecclesiastes 2 with a quote from Jesus:

(Luke 12:15 NKJV) And He said to them, "Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses."

The Wise and Productive Life Seems Futile

(Ecclesiastes 2:12-26 NIV) {14} The wise man has eyes in his head, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both..{16} For the wise man, like the fool, will not be long remembered; in days to come both will be forgotten. Like the fool, the wise man too must die! .. {18} I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. {19} And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. ... {24} A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, {25} for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? {26} To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Many people refuse to study or work hard because like Solomon they see it as bitter and disappointing. The learned man knows more and is a guide to others but the grave awaits him just as it does the fool. The productive man cannot take the fruit of his work with him. While the wise and productive life is better than the hedonism that we saw previously it seems to be brought to nothing by death. In the end being wise and working hard is for nothing. So why bother at all? This is a most bitter thing. Wisdom and achievement without God are meaningless in the end.

However in the Kingdom wisdom and productivity can bring forth great treasures. The productive, wise diligent stewards are highly honored.(Matthew 25:20-21 NRSV) Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' {21} His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.'

When wisdom and productivity are directed into the Kingdom they reap eternal benefits. The work of the gospel is to be done with all diligence and is often "a toilsome labor" that will be rewarded in some measure now but also in the resurrection. Note the language or arduous labor that Paul uses...(2 Timothy 4:7-8 NIV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. {8} Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Wisdom and productivity are good things; not because they make us rich on earth - for those riches are lost when we die. They are good because they make us rich in heaven. (Note: I'm not talking about salvation by works, that's different see Eph 2:8-10, 2 Cor 5:10) Lets direct our knowledge and wisdom and energy into the Kingdom as God directs. Then we will find meaning and true reward in all we do.

Lets see what the angel said to Daniel:

(Daniel 12:2-3 NRSV) Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. {3} Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." Wisdom and productivity in Christ bring us into the joy of our master and into a glorious eternal reward.


Lord there must be something more than this grind, to live and work and die a spent force exhausted. To see wisdom gained and yet produce no gain in me as death steals the fruit of the years. Lord may I not invest myself in folly and in vanity. May my wisdom and strength, though small, build eternal things for You. Give me the heart of a good steward who works hard and long and wisely and well for You so that in the resurrection I may receive a crown. Amen.


This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.