By Henry Mahan
Ecclesiastes 1 & 2
The principal doctrine of these chapters is that the world and all things in it and of it are vain things. 'The fashion of this world passeth away' (1 Cor. 7:31). Our Lord said, 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?' (Mark 8:36).
What remains of this world (its labors, its glory, its relationships, its titles of honor, its wealth) after a man is dead? Nothing at all! These all die with him. He goes naked out of this world as he came into it.
(Eccles. 1:12) Solomon was God's preacher first and king of Israel second. Being the preacher, he was qualified to teach and instruct others; and being the king, he did not lack for money, power, nor opportunity to search into and participate in all that the world afforded. If there were anyone who could speak firsthand of the vanities of the world and the true riches of God, it was the preacher-king, Solomon (1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 4:29- 31).
(Eccles. 1:17-18) 'I gave my heart to seek and search out wisdom.' He made himself master of the arts and sciences; he got knowledge of trades and vocations: he studied politics, philosophy, education, and history. He pursued human wisdom; not just superficial knowledge, but he penetrated into the depths of all that men can know.
His conclusion? 'Behold all is vanity and vexation of spirit.' 'In much wisdom is much grief.' The more a man knows, the more he would know, and the more sensible he becomes of his ignorance and the insufficiency of such knowledge to make him happy. All that worldly knowledge and wisdom can do is cause vexation of spirit and promote grief and sorrow. The wisdom of men is foolishness with God and only serves to take a man farther from God and promote misery of soul.
(Eccles. 2:1-3) Solomon reasoned within himself that since he could not find happiness in natural wisdom, he would seek it in pleasure. Sordid lusts and sensual pleasures are not meant here; for Solomon was too wise and too godly a man to indulge in low, lewd behavior. No particulars are given, but it is reasonable that he decided to give himself to laughter, entertainment, foolishness (taking nothing seriously), and feasting. By 'giving himself to wine,' he does not mean drunkenness, but giving himself to the so-called 'good life' of banquetry, entertaining, living luxuriously, and keeping back nothing that would give his flesh pleasure and comfort (1 Kings 4:22-23).
His conclusion? 'Behold this also is vanity.' He said of laughter, entertainment, and pleasure that it is mad and what good does it do? There is no solid and substantial happiness nor lasting peace in any of it. It is a road that has no end and a hunger and thirst that is never satisfied.
(Eccles. 2:4-11) Solomon then turned to 'great works.' He did not spend his time with small projects nor trifling things. Being the richest, wisest, and most powerful man in the world, he made GREAT works. His houses, his gardens and orchards, his lakes, his treasures, his staff of servants, and his orchestras would be the envy of any person who ever lived (vv. 9-10). 'So I was great, wise, and wealthy: then I looked on all these things and on all my labor and behold! All was vanity and vexation of spirit.' There was no real profit in any of it! (Eccles. 2:12-23) Wisdom is better than foolishness: but the wise man, like the fool, dies and leaves it all behind. There is no remembrance of the wise nor the great; they all die alike.
Therefore, I hated life, I hated my labor; for in itself, it is vanity and affords no peace nor rest. Here is the conclusion of the whole matter. There is an answer and there is a good life here and a greater life hereafter, if these things are put in their proper places.
(Eccles. 2:24) Is it wrong for a man to study, to improve his mind, acquire an education, become a teacher, a mechanic, a builder, or an artist? Is it wrong to marry, build a house, plant a garden, raise a family, and enjoy our friends and life? No! 'There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink and enjoy his labor,' for it is all from the hand of God! 'A man can receive nothing except it be given him from above' (1 Cor. 4:7; James 1:17). All that God gives us is to be received with thanksgiving and enjoyed.
(Eccles. 2:25) 'Who knows that more than I,' says Solomon. God made me wise, God made me king, and God gave me what I have.
(Eccles. 2:26) Here is the key! 'God gives to the man who is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy.'
1. Who is the man that is good in his sight? 'There is none good,' say the scriptures. This is the man who is righteous and good in Christ through faith (Rom. 3:20-23; 2 Cor. 5:21).
2. God gives him that wisdom, knowledge, and joy that enables him to properly enjoy the good of his labor.
He is not spiritually wise by nature but by the regenerating grace of God. 'I am what I am by the grace of God.' What he knows and what he has are gifts of God!
3. God gives the believer wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24-30; Col. 2:3). This wisdom enables him to understand the mysteries of grace and life, to understand what true riches are, to remember that a man's life is not in meat and drink, to look on things which are NOT SEEN, and to hold lightly to all material possessions and relationships; for they are temporary.
4. God gives the believer knowledge (2 Tim. 1:12; John 17:3). He knows the source of all mercies and blessings, he knows how to use them and not be used by them, he knows how to be a generous and good steward, he knows how to be abased and to abound, he knows that the earth is the Lord's!
5. God gives the believer true joy (Rom. 5:11). Our joy is not in this world nor in anything it holds; our joy and rejoicing are in our Lord Jesus Christ. We rejoice that our names are in his book and we are in him (Phil. 3:1-3).