“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity, a striving after the wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Ecc 2:11
I sometimes think Solomon must have been one of the most miserable and depressed men to have ever lived on this earth. Because he had the means to pursue everything I’m naturally prone and drawn to—every passion, every pleasure, every allure that sets itself up as a source of fulfillment but ultimately brings utter disappointment–and lives the entirety of his life unsatisfied. He sought every conceivable source of happiness available in his lifetime (Ecc 2:1), indulging himself in everything imaginable. He sought out entertainment in various forms, pleasure from rich food and drink (Ecc 2:3), comfort in a luxurious home (Ecc 2:4-6), companionship with friends, extravagant possessions and entertainment (Ecc 2:7-8), sexual relations with women (1 Ki 11:3), and fame throughout the known world (Ecc 2:9).
The heartbreaking irony of Solomon’s life is that in keeping himself from no pleasure (Ecc 2:10), he inhibited himself from experiencing true contentment and joy. The more worldly, temporary happiness he sought, the more grief and disappointment he wrought. He wanted it all—he wanted God and things. Scripture says, “He loved the Lord, [a dangerous place for a comma] ONLY…he sacrificed and made burnt offerings at the high places (1 Ki 3:4).” I am convinced that “loving God, but” has not worked out well for anyone. It didn’t work for Solomon, it didn’t work for Samson (1 Ki 11:9), it didn’t work for the rich young ruler (Mt 19:22), and it most certainly doesn’t work for me. We are designed to worship the Lord and serve him only (Deut 6:13)—why? Not because He wants to withhold, but because he wants to give. He longs for us to enjoy creation, but not more than the Creator of them (Ro 1:25). He wants us to worship the one to whom all created things, concepts, and ideals point to. Anything less than that would be to short us on the abundance of this life (John 10:10) which he so adamantly sacrificed to give us.
Solomon had riches incomparable to what I will ever experience…. Or did he? Wealth is relative to one’s circumstance and values. A camel which would be of very little value to me* was worth much in the ancient world whereas an Iphone would hold no meaning for Solomon—there is no one he could contact and being the wisest human (1 Ki 3:12) who’s ever lived second only to Jesus, he would have no need for Google or Wikipedia. I might not have the monetary equivalent of millions of dollars, but I do live in the wealthiest nation on the planet with luxuries people in other countries have never heard of. I may not have a palace with manicured grounds, but I do have a home with a yard, irrigation, trash pick up, electric and gas hook up. I may not have a harem of superficial relationships, but I have facebook, pinterest, twitter, and Instagram.
I sometimes wonder whether the excessive grace God pours out in response to our prayers can actually be a hindrance if not received with humility, wisdom, stewardship, and maturity. Solomon seemed to have a right heart in his initial request, responding in gratitude (1 Ki 3:8) and humility (1 Ki 3:7)—he took his role of stewardship over God’s people so seriously that he wanted most of all the wisdom to do a good job with what the Lord had entrusted him. In his lavish delight (1 Ki 3:10-11), God poured out upon him, not only heavenly wisdom (1 Ki 3:12), but also the ability to pursue worldly things (1 Ki 3:13). This ability in and of itself is not bad, but it is dangerous—because it paves a way for competition with God, something which has potential to lead the purest of human hearts astray. Solomon later said, “Give me neither poverty, nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I may become poor and steal and so dishonor the name of my God (Pro 30:8-9).” Might it be that God often graciously withholds our earthly desires and even inflict suffering such that our eyes would be fixed on Him alone—the only source of true and lasting joy—for rescue, relief, satisfaction and peace? (Isa 38:17) It took a lifetime of frustration for Solomon to realize that the one he originally sought after to give him all he needed to be successful was not a means to an end, but the end itself. He concludes after a depressing discourse on the meaninglessness of life while pursuing all earthly gain, “Fear God and keep his commands, for this is the whole duty of man (Ecc 12:13),” and I believe we could save ourselves a lifetime of frustration by heeding his wisdom, learning from his example, and pursuing God and Him alone.
An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.—(Screwtape) CS Lewis
*That being said, if given a camel I have several ideas were the opportunity to arise