The Book of Ecclesiastes
James J. Barker
THE PURSUIT OF PLEASURE
- Last week we studied
Ecclesiastes 1. I entitled my
message, “Life Without God is Vanity” (cf. 1:1, 2,
- Tonight we will move into
chapter 2. I have entitled tonight’s message, “The Pursuit of
- In chapter 1, King Solomon
describes his intellectual pursuits (cf. 1:13, 14, 18). In chapter 2, Solomon describes his
pursuit of wine, women, and song.
- Solomon comes to the same
conclusion in both chapters (1:18; 2:1).
- William MacDonald wrote,
“Pleasure, by definition, means the enjoyable sensations that come from the
gratification of personal desires.
So he decided that he would live it up, that he would try to experience
every stimulation of the senses known to man. He would drink the cup of fun to the
full, and then, at last, his heart would ask no more. But the search ended in failure”
- This does not mean it is
wrong to seek after pleasure (sports, vacations, reading, hobbies, fishing,
hunting, etc.). First Timothy 6:17
says, God “giveth us richly all things to
- God wants us to understand
what Solomon’s father understood: “In thy presence is fulness of joy; at
thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm
- “Pleasures for
evermore” – not worldly pleasures, and not just temporal pleasures “under
- The devil wants people to
think that they can be happy here in this world without God. The book of Ecclesiastes shows this is
- I remember the Sunday night
before 9/11/2001. A missionary to
Chile preached for us that night.
After the meeting, we stood out on the sidewalk and talked for a
while. He said to me, “The problem
here in America is people think they can have their heaven right here on
earth. This world is all they seem
to care about.”
- People are obsessed with
wealth, big homes, nice cars, fast boats, exotic vacations, expensive clothing,
etc. Who needs God? Who needs
- The book of Ecclesiastes
deals with these issues (cf. 2:26).
WORLDLY PLEASURES DO NOT LAST
- In Proverbs
14:13, King Solomon wrote, “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end
of that mirth is heaviness.”
- Worldly pleasures do not
last long. Eventually the party will be over, and Solomon learned “behold, this
also is vanity” (Eccl. 2:1).
- Solomon refers to wine and
laughter and mirth (2:1-3). Partying is a way of life for many people. It is very prevalent on many college
(and even HS) campuses, and in many work places.
- King Solomon was
backslidden, and like many other backsliders, he drank wine. But there is no indication that he
became a drunkard. He was not
addicted to wine (2:3).
- Verse 2 says, “I sought in
mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with
wisdom…” King Solomon was too wise to abandon himself to drunkenness. He was
too wise to allow himself to become addicted to wine.
- Let me add that the best way
to avoid drunkenness is not to take the first drop. I knew quite a few drunkards and
dope-heads before I was saved. Most of them never thought it could happen to
- Many people spend hours at a
time in nightclubs, bars, and parties.
Bars have “happy hours” but the only one who is happy is the owner of the
bar because he is making all the money.
- But even he is not truly
happy because money cannot buy happiness (2:7-11). King Solomon had accumulated great
wealth, but it could not bring him happiness or true satisfaction.
- Solomon took great pleasure
in working – building “great works” and houses (2:4), planting vineyards, and
gardens, and orchards, and trees (2:4, 5), and making pools (2:6).
- But all of his labor left
him unhappy (2:11). Work is important and God wants us to work hard, but some people work all the time and
have no time for God.
- David Garrick was the
greatest Shakespearean actor of the 18th century. Referring to the great evangelist George
Whitefield, Garrick said, “I would give a hundred guineas, if I could say ‘Oh’
like George Whitefield.”
- David Garrick was very rich
and successful. One day he showed the great writer and moralist Samuel Johnson the elegance and beauty of his
country-villa. As they walked around the beautiful estate, Dr. Johnson laid his hand on Mr. Garrick’s shoulder
and said, “Ah, David! These are the things that make a death-bed terrible.”
- King Solomon enjoyed great
music (2:8). But even beautiful music could not satisfy. Solomon placed no limits on his
expenditures. If he saw something
he liked, he bought it (2:9, 10).
- Solomon took stock of all he
had. He considered all the work he
had done, and everything he had accomplished “under the sun.” And he concluded that it “was vanity and
vexation of spirit” (2:11).
WISDOM IS FAR BETTER THAN FOLLY
- King Solomon
tried everything – wisdom and madness and folly (2:11), and he concluded that
wisdom was far better (2:12, 13).
both the wise man and the fool will someday die (2:14b, 15).
- After the
funeral, the wise man and the fool are soon forgotten. We demonstrated this a couple of
weeks ago. The young people in the room did not recognize Harry Truman, Roger Maris, or John Wayne.
Yet they were famous in their day (2:16; cf. 1:4).
- Fame is
short-lived. “As far as lasting fame is concerned, the wise man is no better off
than the fool” (William MacDonald).
realization made King Solomon hate life. It vexed him that he would not be permitted to enjoy the great wealth
which he had accumulated (2:17, 18).
- It bothered
King Solomon that he would leave everything to his son Rehoboam (2:18, 19). Furthermore, Rehoboam was a bad
king. This reminds us that the truly successful man is the man whose children live for God.
- The idea of
leaving his life’s work to a foolish son upset King Solomon (2:20, 21). He said, “This also is vanity and
a great evil” (2:21).
- This is the
great theme of the book of Ecclesiastes.
As we noted last week, we must remember what the apostle Paul said in I
Corinthians 15:58, “forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in
- Yes, “under
the sun,” apart from God, our labor is in vain (2:22, 23). But if it is done for the Lord, it “is
not in vain.”
EVERYTHING COMES FROM THE HAND OF
8:18 says, “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is He that
giveth thee power to get wealth.”
good (2:24, 25) and bad (2:26) comes from the hand of God.
- King Solomon
is not advocating hedonism, or gluttony, or drunkenness (2:24). God “giveth us
richly all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17).
This another theme in Ecclesiastes (cf. 3:13, 22; 5:18, 19; 8:15; 9:7;
- We should
enjoy our meals. We should enjoy our (non-alcoholic) beverages. We should enjoy the satisfaction that
comes from working hard for a living. These are blessings from God (2:24).
- But eating
and drinking and working and enjoying all of life’s pleasures are profitless if
we leave God out of it. The apostle Paul said if this life is all there is, “we are of all men most
miserable” (I Cor. 15:19).
- He went
on to say that if there is no resurrection, what is the point of living (“what
advantageth it me”). We might as well just “eat and drink; for to morrow we die” (I Cor.
preparing this message, I read about an artist named Ralph Barton. From a worldly perspective he was rich
and very, very successful. But this is what he said about his life, “I have had few difficulties,
many friends, great successes. I have gone from wife to wife, from house to house, and have visited great
countries of the world. But I am fed up with devices to fill up twenty four hours of the day” (cited by William
- Mr. Barton committed suicide at the age of 39.
- “Our Lord
pronounced the children of this world ‘wise in their generation,’ and who can
doubt that thousands who are lost would, with God’s blessing, be saved, did they
bring the same prudence, and diligence, and energy to their eternal, as they do
to their temporal interests? But in how many people is consummate wisdom joined
to the greatest folly! They are wise enough to gain the world, but fools enough
to lose their souls.” (Thomas Guthrie).