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This blog post is Part 5 of a series entitled, "A Summer of Wisdom" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN. 

Message Date: August 28, 2022

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How do I reconcile the tension in my life when my faith teaches that life is to be meaningful but much of what I observe + experience in my life seems to point in the opposite direction?  

This is an overarching thought throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.  

And, in pursuit of the answer, this resulting tension between these two life beliefs and approaches leads the wisest man ever on a journey unlike any human ever. If speaking honestly, every human, and dare I say, every Christian, has asked this question at one point or the other. Again: How do I reconcile the tension in my life when my faith teaches that life is to be meaningful but much of what I observe + experience in my life seems to point in the opposite direction?  

As we read through this teaching today, we are going to see that the author is a man of faith. He knows right from wrong. He has a faith that tells him who God is, what he is to believe about God, and how necessary it is to rely on God in his life. However, real life creates this overwhelming tension and can present itself as a tremendous struggle. As a follower of the Lord God, he knows that life is meaningful. But his life experiences quickly lead him to ponder, if, in fact, life can be meaningless.  

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Theme of Ecclesiastes = Life without God is meaningless.   

The teachings of Ecclesiastes aren’t just about the meaninglessness of life but about how life is to be meaningful amid circumstances in which nothing seems to make sense.  

Have you experienced this? Are you experiencing this today? Do you know what scripture says and how it is you are to feel and respond to life challenges as a Christian, yet you also have seasons of life when there is this overwhelming complexity, frustration, and simply put, questions, for which there seem to be no answers?  

Additionally, do you have areas of your life that are broken or challenging, have been less than fulfilling, and potentially have left you empty, alone, scared, and more?

I believe, that if each of us is being honest, we can say “Yes!” to each of these questions. There are times, possibly today is one such time when though you know all the right answers, nothing seems to make sense.  

If this is you, you are not alone. YOU. ARE. NOT. ALONE!  

This is a challenge humanity has faced since the beginning of time. This challenge can be traced back to Genesis 3 where the tree of the knowledge of good and evil stood, and earth’s first humans were faced with the decision:

Do I look to God for meaning, purpose, and fulfillment? Do I take matters into my own hands in my attempt to find fulfillment apart from God?  

This has been the overarching struggle of humanity: To where and/or whom do I look for meaning in my life?  

Scholars are split on the identity of the author of this complex read. Some believe the obvious author is Solomon.  

Ecclesiastes 1:1 & Ecclesiastes 1:12  

Others believe the author is one who assumes the role of a King and imagines what life would be as such.  

I am of the belief that Solomon did in fact pen this book. I will teach from this vantage point today. The Hebrew word “CO-hell-eth” means:  

Qohelet (Hebrew) = one who assembles a group for the purpose of teaching

In the original manuscript, we would see this Hebrew word throughout these writings. The NIV translation of this text defines the Author as: the Teacher.  

Ecclesiastes 1:1  

And, in Greek, the word “teacher” is translated:

Teacher (Greek) = ekklesiastes  

So this book, even its title, is one of very specific meaning for us as followers of our Lord. Ecclesiastes is a book with the specific intention of “teaching” us as to the meaning of life.  

The book of Ecclesiastes poses 2 critical questions:

Question 1: Can the world provide me true meaning?

Question 2: If the world cannot provide me true meaning, can I trust God to do what the world never can?  

The book of Ecclesiastes is quite puzzling at first glance. This short read of all 12 chapters is riddled with unorthodox statements that border on extreme pessimism.  

I mean…the first 11 verses are not the greatest pep talk you’ve heard, right?!  

If one does not approach the book of Ecclesiastes with an underlying understanding of its true meaning, it might appear to the reader that much of this book is at odds with much of the Bible. For example:

Ecclesiastes 3:19-21

Again… let me remind you, this is why as one studies this book, it is imperative to keep ever-before you this theme:

Theme of Ecclesiastes = Life without God is meaningless.  

Question 1: Can the world provide me with true meaning?   

In order to resolve this question, the teacher, Solomon, takes the reader on his personal journey of exploration. His path towards a resolution ventures into several worldly and unholy experiments.  

I want to consider Question 1 through 3-unique-experiments upon which Solomon endeavored.  

1. Can the world provide my true meaning in wisdom?

For a man in possession of such wisdom and wealth, King Solomon sure did make some royally unwise decisions that cost him, his family, the throne, and ultimately the nation of Israel. Even with such wisdom, he realizes that wisdom in itself is meaningless:

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18  

Meaningless (Hebrew) = Hebel (hay-bell) Hebel = breath  

The idea here is that (hay-bell) breath, once used, is no more. You breathe and the breath is gone from you forever. It is a vapor that is never again to return.  

The word “meaningless” occurs 36 times in the book of Ecclesiastes. As a matter of fact, Solomon begins his words in the book of Ecclesiastes by stating exactly this:  

Ecclesiastes 1:2  "Meaningless! Meaningless!”says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” 

One could question how such a wise man as Solomon could make such a statement as this - - that “wisdom itself is meaningless.” But this is exactly what he says:  

Ecclesiastes 1:18 For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

So, can the world provide me with true meaning in wisdom? Solomon’s response: No.  

It is important for us to remember: Wisdom is a gift not to be taken lightly. Even with such a gift, wisdom does not automatically make one wise in applying this gift.  

We are about to see this reality come to life in the pleasures of which King Solomon indulges. Let’s venture deeper into more of Solomon’s journey as we examine another experiment in which the King endeavored:  

2. Can the world provide me with true meaning in pleasures?  

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11  

If you had all the money you could ever imagine, how would you use it?  

Here are some of the Most Expensive Things in today's world:

  1. Blue Star Jeans - $2390
  2. Nike Air Mag Back to the Future - $40,000
  3. Air Jordan Silvers - $60,000
  4. Passion Diamonds - $17 M
  5. Tibetan (too-bet-in) Mastiff - $2 M
  6. The Ashera Cat – only 5-10 bred each year in CA - $125,000
  7. Kopi Luwak - - Civet Coffee $100/cup   

So, if you had all the money you could ever imagine, would you buy any of these items? Easy to say you would use it for good, but when considering the amount of money that Solomon had, no purchase was too extravagant!

Solomon had an average annual income of what is equivalent to $1.31B in today’s money. Over his 40-year reign, Solomon made over $64B. Solomon’s net worth was $2.1 TRILLION dollars!   

More than any other person who has ever walked the planet, Solomon was able to buy anything he set his mind on.  

Of what pleasures did Solomon partake?

Ecclesiastes 2:1-3

Laughter, Wine, Folly = lack of good sense, silliness - - Solomon was determined to have a good time!  

Ecclesiastes 2:4-9  

Verse 4 says he had “great projects, built houses, + planted vineyards.”

Water reservoirs, Slaves, Herds + flocks, Silver + gold, Entertainers, Harem (hair-um) = abundance of intimacy with multiple women: 700 wives + 300 concubines  

I’ve been asked before, “Why? Why did God allow Solomon to do all he did – to make such foolish choices when having been given such overwhelming wisdom and blessings?  

Well, Solomon started strong as a successor to his father King David! He followed the instructions of his father who, before dying, said this to his son: 1 Kings 2:1-4

Solomon asks the Lord for wisdom: 1 Kings 3:7-9  

The Lord blesses Solomon as an extremely wise man: 1 Kings 4:29-34  

Solomon is also a prolific writer. Solomon’s book of Proverbs is filled with practical counsel on how to follow the Lord. Solomon also wrote the Song of Songs. This book presents a beautiful picture of Godly intimacy in marriage.  

This wise man knew right from wrong, though he never fully followed such a path.  

God had already clearly established the ways in which a King over Israel is to lead. These commands were to prevent God’s leader from trusting in the power of a strong military over God, following the ways of other religions, and placing trust in earthly wealth over Godly provisions and trustworthiness.  

Deuteronomy 17:14-20  

In his pursuit of worldly pleasures, Solomon broke all 3 of these divine prohibitions. Specifically, Solomon taking so many wives + concubines was in direct violation of God’s Word. God allowed Solomon to make the choice to disobey, and this choice brought inevitable consequences.  

1 Kings 11:1-13  

Solomon was not a puppet king. God did not force him to obey Him. Rather, God articulated His will & plans, blessed Solomon with wisdom, & expected the King to obey. As Solomon moved throughout his life, he made the disastrous decision to disobey, & he was held accountable!

This is such a reminder to us: THIS is why bad things happen. THIS is why there is pain in the world. THIS is why we all suffer: Sin!

And each of us is guilty!

God promises He will bless those who obey Him. God also warns those who choose not to obey Him will receive His wrath. You may be more wondering: What separates a wife from a concubine?  

A concubine = a woman who lives with a man as if she were a wife, but without having the same status as a wife. Concubines had an inferior rank to a wife. They were often used to bear children for men whose wives were barren. Sadly, it seems, were mostly kept simply for sexual pleasure.

The Bible never explains why God allowed men to have concubines.  

In Matthew 19:8, we read: Jesus replied, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.

God allowed divorce & polygamy although neither was part of His original plan for marriage. Jesus said God allowed divorce because of the hardness of men’s hearts. Most likely the same hardness of heart led to concubine age.

So…as he approaches the end of his life, Solomon comes to the realization that these worldly pleasures have left him empty and unfulfilled.  

His pursuit of worldly pleasures has led to this conclusion: Ecclesiastes 2:10-11  

So, #2…Can the world provide me with true meaning in pleasures? Solomon’s response: No.    

One more experiment I want to highlight, experiment 

3. Can the world provide me with true meaning in toil?

Ecclesiastes 2:17-23  

Do you like your job? Really like your job? I know that many, many people do not like their job.  

Here’s a question: Is work a penalty for man’s original sin?  

Is work a price we pay because of what Adam & Eve did in the Garden by disobeying God?

Work is not a penalty for man’s sin. Hard work is a penalty for man’s sin. The word “toil” appears in various forms in Ecclesiastes chapter 2 on 6 occasions.  

Toil (Hebrew) = hard work with laborious effort  

The first-time humans are introduced to this Hebrew word: Genesis 3:17-19  

This is the first time that man’s work is associated with a “laborious effort” that is painful for man. Prior to this, God does give Adam the responsibility to work in the garden.   

Genesis 2:15  

Before sin, man worked. But man’s work was not a “toil!”

In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon concludes these thoughts of “toil” with a few interesting statements.  

Look at it again: Ecclesiastes 2:17-23

All of Solomon’s work was “grievous: to him. Why?  

Well, look at Ecclesiastes 2:4-9  

Solomon’s work was meaningless because:

  • His work was for his own pleasure. Ecclesiastes 2:1  

How many times do we read the words “I” or “me” in this passage? - - 15 times!

Solomon never found meaning in his work because he never did his work for the glory of God.

  • His work was for his own legacy.  

Look at what Solomon is worried about: Ecclesiastes 2:18  

The wisest, the most blessed, and the richest man ever to walk this planet was worried that when he died he wouldn’t get credit for all the stuff he did! 

Ecclesiastes 2:22-23

Notice that Solomon could not even rest his mind at night. Why? Because his work during the day wasn’t to build God’s legacy. It was for his own!  

I will never find meaning in my work if I work for my own pleasure to build my own legacy.  

Let’s be a church who works hard to bring pleasure to the Lord and honor to His legacy.  

For anyone who finds themselves in a career that is less than fulfilling and exciting and rewarding, make it your prayer: God, help me to work to bring you pleasure and to build your legacy. This prayer might not change your situation overnight. It might not immediately bring you joy at the end of the workday. But I do believe that such a prayer will begin, even if little by little, to help you see your career from a different perspective.

Because when we begin to take our eyes off of our own pleasures & legacies and place them on the Lord’s name and on His pleasure and His legacy, then we begin to see that even though our circumstances might not change, our hearts do, and THIS is what is truly important to God.

So… #3 Can the world provide me with true meaning in toil? Solomon’s response: No.  

If we were to read throughout the rest of Ecclesiastes, we would see that Solomon experiments with additional worldly aspirations and enjoyments.  

I’ve highlighted these 3 - - wisdom, pleasures, and toil - - as I’ve worked to answer the first of 2 critical questions presented in Ecclesiastes.  

After considering these three experiments the conclusion to each is a resounding: “NO!”   

The world CANNOT provide me true meaning!  

So as we bring our time to a close this morning, we do so considering the second critical question we find in the book in the book of Ecclesiastes:

Question 2: If the world cannot provide me true meaning, can I trust God to do what the world never can?  

Well, let’s let Solomon answer this question. And I want to do this by showing you TWO STATEMENTS Solomon makes over and again throughout Ecclesiastes. 

As a matter of fact, we have read both, though I did not bring either to your attention.  

The first statement Solomon makes:  

Ecclesiastes 2:1

Ecclesiastes 2:3  

There is one critical word that appears in both of these verses. Do you see it?  

It’s the word “good!”

Why is the word “good” so important? This word “good” is the same word that appears in:  

Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  

Good (Hebrew) =

  1. Of the highest quality.
  2. Morally uncompromising.  

So this is a very high standard of “good” in Hebrew.  

This Hebrew word “good” appears 40 times in the book of Ecclesiastes.  

When the number “40” is used/appears in the bible, it is typically associated with a time of testing.  

Notice the use of the word “test” in Ecclesiastes 2:1.  

Solomon, in all of his experiments, we see has been “testing” the ways of the world to see what is “good.” And, with each experiment, his conclusion has been every time:  

The world will never provide true meaning!  

The second statement Solomon makes throughout his experiments:  

Ecclesiastes 2:3

Ecclesiastes 2:9

In Solomon’s pursuit for the “good,” he never lost his wisdom though he did lose his way.  

Solomon never lost his wisdom! You see, Solomon’s intentions were good, but his method for getting there was skewed.  

And his conclusion…   Ecclesiastes 2:24-26  

So… Question 2: If the world cannot provide me true meaning, can I trust God to do what the world never can? Solomon’s response: Absolutely yes.  

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, we find humanity's wisest person ever, King Solomon, in search of the meaning of life apart from God.

Can God be trusted to lead you and me to a meaningful life? In the final words of Solomon on the matter:  

Ecclesiastes 12:9-13 



Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.