When I was in high school, my friends and I would pretty much do something almost every night during the summer. It wasn’t necessarily anything big or exciting. A lot of the time we would end up sitting on the tailgates of our trucks in our school’s parking lot. Even though most of the time we just sat in the Calvary parking lot, I rarely missed a night out with my friends.
Now, of course, I didn’t know this then, but I know it now, I was there every night because I wanted to be a part of it all. I wanted to be a part of it all because I was seeking meaning in the moments, in being a part of the crowd, in being in on every inside joke.
If we’re honest, we all seek meaning in something. Whether it be in the little moments of life, knowing we are in the “in crowd”, or something else, we all seek meaning in something. Maybe you are pursuing something right now that you believe will finally provide the meaning for which you long. Or maybe that which you have pursued so long has just let you down, and that’s left you wondering: How can I find meaning in life?
In order to answer that question, the second thing we need to look at is:
What Tests Did the Preacher Run?
The preacher ran several tests and made a ton of observations that are grouped throughout the book. We are going to look at some of those. Some of the big ones. Some of the things we are prone to seek meaning in ourselves. The first test that we encounter is:
A. The Test of Pleasure (2:1)
We don’t have time to read the entire section, so let’s just read verses 1 and 2. I’ll summarize the specifics. Starting in verse 1.
“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”” (Ec 2:1–2)
So the Preacher begins his series of tests with pleasure. The things he seeks pleasure in are wine, great works, art, and even sex. His actions, they really represent intense consumerism, which is our society today. We are a people who just can’t seem to get enough.
While the things this world offers do provide pleasure, the pleasures they provide aren’t something that can provide ultimate satisfaction. They always leave us longing for more. That’s what I have experienced. I’m sure you have experienced the same. And Solomon, who experienced it to the max, tells us that without a doubt that is the truth. Pleasure is vanity. It is a chasing after the wind. It’s not something that’s going to provide the meaning for which we long.
B. The Test of Wisdom (2:12; 9:2)
He says starting in verse 12,
“So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.” (Ec 2:12–13)
So he begins to test wisdom. In his test, he finds that wisdom is indeed better than folly. In other words, it’s better to live as a wise man than a fool. But look at the second half of verse 14,
“And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.” (Ec 2:14)
What is this event? Look at verse 16,
“For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!” (Ec 2:16)
What happens to both is that they both die and they are eventually forgotten. People may remember them for a time, but unless you are someone who has made the history books, you will eventually be forgotten. And even those who have made the history books are forgotten. It just takes a little bit longer. So while it’s good to be wise, to be skillful, to be good at what you do, we shouldn’t seek ultimate meaning in wisdom. It again fails us because death comes to us all. And time erases people’s memory of us.
C. The Test of Career (2:18)
Many people pour themselves into their career. They make it their life. They sacrifice everything for it. Sometimes people do that because they just need an escape and that provides them a sense of escape because it keeps them busy. Other times people do it because they think it going to provide them with meaning, that it’s going to fulfill them. And to some degree work can be fulfilling. I’m not saying you shouldn’t find some sort of fulfillment in your work. You just shouldn’t seek ultimate meaning in it. It shouldn’t be your everything. It shouldn’t be that which you have directed your entire life towards. Solomon tried that and starting in verse 18 he says,
“I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ec 2:18–23)
So Solomon finds himself in a state of despair because he realizes that he can’t control who gets that which he worked hard for and built. Nor does his work provide him any rest or enjoyment. Even at night, when he is supposed to be resting, he can’t because all he can do is think about work. So work is hevel; it’s vanity; it’s chasing after the wind.
D. The Test of Wealth (5:10)
Look at what he tells us starting in verse 10,
“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ec 5:10)
So right off the bat, he tells us that chasing wealth is vanity. It doesn’t satisfy. Then he tells us why starting in verse 11,
“When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.” (Ec 5:11–12)
In other words, there’s always going to be people who want your money. That’s either friends, family, or strangers asking for it. Or thieves trying to steal it. Either way, riches can end up bring more trouble than they are really worth. Wealth, then, doesn’t bring the satisfaction we think it will. It doesn’t provide that which we are seeking. So we shouldn’t place ultimate meaning in wealth.
So those are some of the tests Solomon employees. All of them turn out to be hevel, vanity, a chasing after the wind. Now, I don’t know about you, but to know that everything is vanity can be depressing. And in some sense, I believe that’s the idea of the book. To bring you to a state of despair. And once you are there, it provides you the solution — that which you should place your hope in. That which you can find ultimate meaning in life.
We will stop there for today. Next time I’ll answer the question: In what do we find meaning?
Question for Reflection
- Which test resignates with you most?
Post developed from my sermon: Ecclesiastes – Hevel and the Secret to the Meaning of Life