Solomon’s Carnal Adventure
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?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
Solomon wrote this book, very likely in his old age – reflecting back over life and in many places in this book and warning us from his example.
Here in chapter two, he reports his carnal adventure, which happens over and over in every generation. People come to a place (whether in their teens or later) where they perceive that it is time to be free of restraint. Every possible pleasure the world offers that is available must be tried. So, there is this reckless journey into self-indulgence – where no lasting satisfaction is found, just time and money wasted . . . relationships broken and perhaps (with mature reflection) – Lessons Learned.
This sometimes happens when children leave home, like the prodigal son; now without the restraint of parental authority, reckless living is pursued. A young man or woman goes off to college, or they leave for a job. A teenager leaves home for the military, and the ambition quickly finds expression: “Now I can see what it’s like to get drunk, to lose my virginity, to spend my own money for anything I want.”
It is common, this reckless journey into self-indulgence – where no permanent satisfaction is found, just time and money wasted . . . relationships broken, and sometimes – Lessons Learned.
Solomon is telling his readers: That’s Exactly What I Did
It is like Solomon is saying - I tried everything a man could indulge in; I surrounded myself with what the world offers. Like the son, “The Wanderer,” with the lead vocal by Johnny Cash: “I went out there . . . In search of experience . . . To taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can, before he repents.”
Solomon’s Conclusion: “Behold, All Was Vanity,” (v.11). So, this is not a recommendation; this is a lesson learned – and this is a warning to people today, who will read this text seriously and take stock of life on earth.
Let’s look back into his report of this experiment,
and observe some strong clues.
FIRST – Right off the page – perhaps at first glance, we see something that speaks clearly. The pronouns tell much of the story. “I…my…myself.” In the English Standard Version, in 11 verses, 16 times there is the personal pronoun, “I.” Every sentence has the heartbeat of self: “I” or “me” or “myself.”
LESSON: These trips people take into self-indulgence are intensely self-centered.
Not for others.
Not to glorify God.
Not to make you a better person.
Not for family.
Not for good health.
It is the pursuit of unmitigated indulgence in pleasure, and the end conclusion is vanity.
SECOND, let us understand, Solomon is not writing as a detached commentator or journalistic witness. He did this! He set out to do it on purpose. He applied himself to the experiment. He thought about it; he planned it; he allocated the resources; he used people. he did this and concluded, “there was nothing to be gained.”
THIRD, there was nothing in this hedonistic life style that honored God. Nothing! I think people who live this way have to admit that and many will. Ask the person who is drunk – Did you honor God in that episode? They will almost always, with shame, admit they didn’t honor God through that behavior. The man who brags of all the women he has had will generally not claim that those relationships honored the Creator. There is nothing in this hedonistic lifestyle that glorifies God, that honors the Maker, or that expresses any allegiance to Jesus Christ.
FOURTH – this clarification is needed: Not everything Solomon did is inherently sinful! There is nothing inherently wrong with laughter, planting a garden, or enjoying good music. But when these activities are combined with ungodly pursuits and become the purpose of your existence, to indulge your appetites, leaving God out - you set yourself up for “vanity,” and “a striving after the wind.”
But Wait – Not Me!
The argument may be made – about this famous Old Testament passage – that these projects and pursuits were so large, that only a few people could ever attempt this today – on this scale. There is some truth there. Solomon had resources none of us have. He had wealth and access to people and nations and servants we do not have, and will likely never have.
This was like building a Second Garden of Eden! Derik Kidner says, “He creates a little world within a world: multiform, harmonious, exquisite; a secular Garden of Eden, full of civilized and agreeably uncivilized delights, with no forbidden fruits.”
Notice that almost everything here occurs in the plural: houses, vineyards, gardens, parks, trees and pools, songs and women and servants, silver and gold. We may read this and there be some temptation to say to ourselves – This isn’t about me . . . not in any way – I could never build this kind of hedonistic world.
Understood, but we may try! On a smaller scale, we may seek purpose in indulgence, still it will be to our ruin! We don’t have Solomon’s resources – but if we are not well disciplined spiritually, we may discover, we have Solomon’s carnal appetite.
And, I have to add this. We actually have some things Solomon didn’t have! We live in modern homes with climate control; we can listen to a much greater variety of music (Pandora, etc.); we have methods of transportation and communication unknown in Solomon’s time. As far as sex is concerned – the Internet offers an endless supply of virtual partners.
So – like Solomon – we have ample opportunity to indulge ourselves, and try to find our purpose in that self-indulgence – but we are able to read this in the Bible and know – IT WILL NOT WORK!
Leave God out – and there is this dramatic result of vanity, “and a striving after wind.” Without God – there is a dark emptiness that sets in, depressing; with loads of regret.
We are always, when we study this, struck by this statement in verse 3, “I searched with my heart, how to cheer by body with wine, my heart still guiding me with wisdom…” Historically – here’s what students and scholars have asked about this: How is it, that you intoxicate yourself, while claiming you are being guided by wisdom?
It sounds contradictory to all we know about intoxication – and much of what we know about it is from Solomon in Proverbs. How do you intoxicate yourself while retaining wisdom? My answer is not authoritative, and you may have a different answer.
Here’s what occurs to me: Though you make the wrong choice, to cheer your body and perhaps intoxicate your mind, it doesn’t mean you have lost all your raw intelligence and wisdom – you can sober up and repent!
I’ve said some very strong things over 45 years about intoxication mostly from Proverbs 20 and 23. But we need to be certain we don’t leave the impression – that once you drink or get drunk, you’ve lost your mind forever! That would be an exaggerated and hopeless condition. Solomon experimented with wine, but his brains didn’t fall out!
There was a raw intelligence, quite impressive, that he still had – after the hangover. This sobriety led him to regret the drunkenness and enabled him, when he sobered up, to conclude it was in vain.
You cannot preach the gospel to a drunk. You have to wait until he sobers up. The hope is – the heart will resume an interest in wisdom – after the foolish episode.
Verse 10: “And whatever my eyes desired, I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.”
This shows something that will absolutely kill you – it is an absence of restraint. Sometimes the word is used, “abandoned,” meaning, no limits; no boundaries; no hesitation: if you see it, take it . . . if you hear about it, do it . . . if someone says, “come along,” you go . . . whatever is offered, you take and ask for more.
That’s just a miserable way to live – and it will kill you, certainly spiritually – and perhaps literally! The shadowy, elusive promises of this world - if indulged with utter abandon – not only do not satisfy, but could kill us.
There is a lethal trap the devil has set for us, suggesting – we can have everything, taste of everything, play every game and win, eat, drink and be merry – and see ultimate rewards. It just isn’t true!
Verse 11: “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” I want you to underline or highlight that word “nothing.” Solomon thought he had everything – but he had, in reality, NOTHING . . . because God wasn’t served and honored.
A couple of weeks ago, the ordinary flow in the news cycle was interrupted with the headline: Robin Williams Died. Facebook and Twitter went into overload. Everybody has an opinion, an idea, a judgment, when a celebrity dies, especially under those circumstances.
Look with me again, at verse 11. “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
We are familiar with this temptation – If I only had this ________.
If I had money.
If I had a mansion, paid for, with servants and a chef and a wine steward.
If I had celebrity status; if people knew how great I am.
If I had fans, a following … praise and acclaim.
If I had great works, gardens, parks, musicians, silver and gold …
Everything would be fine; I would be fulfilled; happy … IT WOULD BE GAIN!
Solomon wants us to stop that flow of thought, long enough to listen to his experience. He kept his heart from no pleasure known to man at that time. He wanted to see how much he could accumulate; how much fun he could have; how much entertainment he could consume. So he tested his heart with all these pleasures. And came to this conclusion:
“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
After this – Solomon arrived at another conclusion; turn over to the end of this book – and find the last two verses.
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 21.9; September 2014