Pleasures Are Meaningless
2 I said to myself, “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 madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.
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. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.
10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
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 Teacher introduces us to finding meaning and purpose in pleasure but even the laughter stops and leaves us empty.
Verse 3 reveals a pursuit of wine and folly …that also leads to a dead end.
In verses 4-11 The words ‘for myself’ show that he was thinking only about himself.
Great projects is something common to every man. We all want to do something that inspires us and inspires others. I think about writing a book or creating a music project. These in the end are meaningless and though we may enjoy them for a while they ultimately leave us “thirsty”.
Houses, palaces, vineyards. The teacher lived in a wealthy and comfortable way. The ‘houses’ in verse 4 are like Solomon’s buildings. (See 2 Chronicles 8:1-6.) These verses lead many to believe that these are the words of Solomon.
The description continues to give us an attractive picture of a very comfortable life.
In verse 9 the teacher says that he was the most powerful person in Jerusalem. He was the most powerful person who had ever lived there.
In effect the teacher had everything that many of us aspire to have. Wealth, fame, influence, luxury, anything he wanted. He would be the billionaire of his day.
However, when he took stock he described it as “hevel“. A chasing after the wind.
Enjoy the momentary pleasures but the pursuit of them are meaningless. They are simply blessings on the greater journey of seeking and pursuing God.
The peace that we thirst for can only be met by spiritual pursuit. External things, situations and circumstances are not designed to fulfil us in that way.
I need to remember this. It’s okay to make music because I love it but the moment I invest my heart in it I am serving two masters and that’s only going to lead to disappointment, sadness and loss.
Wisdom and Folly Are Meaningless
12 Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?
13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.
14 The wise have eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realize
that the same fate overtakes them both.
15 Then I said to myself,
“The fate of the fool will overtake me also.
What then do I gain by being wise?”
I said to myself,
“This too is meaningless.”
16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
Toil Is Meaningless
17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
In verse 12 The Teacher thinks about whether future kings would examine the same problems. They should examine the problems as carefully as the Teacher had examined them.
The teacher concludes that in the end wisdom has some value. It is better to be wise. He compares it to the contrast of light and darkness. But in the end, the same thing happens both to wise people and to foolish people. They all die. “hevel“.
Verses 15-17 The teacher thought about whether wise people have any advantage. A wise person dies and a fool dies. It was a puzzle. Everyone soon forgets both wise people and foolish people. In the end that there is no answer to these puzzles. It is like chasing after the wind. Even wisdom ultimately is not fulfilling and leaves us thirsty.
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 that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.
We work hard and then we die so says the bumper slogan. Other people benefit from our work. People do not always appreciate something that they have not worked for. King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, showed that, when he became king. He destroyed the unity in Solomon’s kingdom (1 Kings 12:1-19).
The teacher questions the fairness of this. His results were down to his toil, his worry, the endurance he had put his body through, the mental strain, the solving of complex and difficult problems, the anxiety. At the end he would die and someone else would gain from his legacy which they would either build on or destroy and start again. In the end hard work was also “hevel“.
Hard work is valuable but it is not our raison d’etre. It is just another case of “hevel“.
24 A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, 25 for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? 26 To the person 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.
The Teacher has expressed that pleasure has not satisfied him completely. It is momentary and unsustainable. Hard work has disappointed him because he must die. Ultimately he will gain nothing from all that he has achieved.
In these verses, the Teacher begins to change his attitude. Now he shows that our life is a gift from God. So he can enjoy his life. We can be content with the simple moments of eating and drinking or whatever else we engage in because all that is good is a gift from God.
In verse 26 we are informed that spiritual people will recognise God’s gifts. They recognise that everything comes from God. It is easier for them to be grateful because they know that they are not the ultimate source of whatever it is that pleases them but the source is God.
The unspiritual person cannot think too much outside of himself. This person gets no satisfaction from his work. And he gets no satisfaction from all the things that he gains. He is searching for fulfilment with external things that cannot quench his thirst and without the focus on God he turns on himself.
This is a constant chasing after the wind. Pursuing an elusive satisfaction, sense of purpose and content. “Hevel” to the spiritual person means something positive but to the unspiritual person is something meaningless or empty.