For several weeks recently, I was looking for insurance protection for the church. At first, I was looking for nothing more than accident or liability insurance against slip and fall accidents. I came close to buying a commercial package which any business might buy. But then I ran into a couple of good agents who handle nothing but insurance for churches. And I bought a reasonably priced policy which includes everything from personal accidents to fires and to ministerial liability.
Ministerial liability? This is something for which the local coffee shop doesn’t need insurance, but churches do. For example, families are suing churches and pastors, who counsel people whose lives are falling apart. Let’s say that a man addicted to pornography comes to me, seeking my help, and I give him advice about how to overcome his sin. But then, after three months of counsel, the man kills himself, leaving a note declaring that his pornography addiction made him so depressed that he decided to take his own life. Surviving family members of such suicides have begun suing the pastors who failed to deliver their loved ones from their sins. I know that such law suits are unjust, but this is life in the ungodly, lawsuit-prone, United States. Settlements have reached into the millions of dollars. This is just one example. The actual details might involve a failing marriage or drug abuse or any number of other things. Now, we (or I) need to have insurance to cover such a problem should it ever arise.
This is where my introduction begins to touch on Ecclesiastes 2. Even though someone with suicidal thoughts may come to me for help, the truth is, I am not an expert in the heart and mind of such people. The Bible says a great deal about the human heart, but there isn’t much specific material on suicide – or pornography, or the treatment of addictions. On the other hand there are libraries of secular books on the causes and prevention of such social epidemics. And no matter what you or I might say to a potential suicide, there could be some self-proclaimed expert to condemn us, especially if we were trying to use the Bible in that person’s treatment. And this could lead to seven figure law suits should our counsel be rejected.
I said last week that Solomon shows signs of a suicidal tendency. But you might have questioned it at the time. And therein must I take a step back and repeat – “I am not an expert on this subject.” I may be totally wrong and you might be as well. But I ask you, what does Solomon mean in verse 18, when he said, “Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun”? What might we expect from someone who concludes that nothing he had ever done in his life was worthwhile? If he had been told by his parents, his spouse and his friends that his life was a waste, what might that person do? Should we be surprised to learn that the woman who said, “I hate my life,” eventually ended her life? In verses 16 and 17 Solomon says, “after all I have seen and done, how dies the wise man? As the fool. Therefore I hated life, for it is all vanity and vexation of spirit.” Do you still think that Solomon doesn’t show signs of becoming a suicide? The truth is, people’s inability to recognize the signs of potential suicide is one reason why it is a leading cause of death in this country. One website which I consulted the other day, told me to call 911 if my friend has displayed any of the following: Hopelessness, loneliness in the midst of crowds, or if she feels trapped, if she is seriously and constantly anxious or agitated, and says there is no reason to go on in life, if there are serious mood swings or she uncharacteristically starts abusing alcohol or drugs. Do we see any of these in Solomon?
Let’s consider Solomon’s earlier life – his backslidden period.
I went through this chapter, jotting down the various experiments he attempted while looking for joy, or life, or fulfilment, or whatever he was calling it. And to be honest, the list reads like cover of some popular secular magazine. We are told, “Here are the things which make life great – successful – full.” But God in His wisdom showed Solomon that they were all vanity and vexation of spirit. Despite Solomon’s success in these things, he came out the other side depressed almost to the point of suicide.
“I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?” How often does the world try to tell us that “to be happy” with ourselves and what we are doing is the key to an enjoyable life? And we are told that a good hearty laugh releases endorphins which will cure just about any disease. While there may be some truth in that, there is at least one disease which Solomon knows it cannot cure. Laughter has no lasting effect on guilt. I googled the question, how many comedians have committed suicide, and it spat out two dozen names with Robin Williams at the top of the list. If someone would like to point to mental illness, drugs, marital problems, financial problems or whatever in these 24 people, it doesn’t change the fact that laughter and mirth failed to help the experts.
Verse 3 – “I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine…” Aren’t we lead to believe by the world that the highlight of life is a good party flowing with alcohol, cocaine and meth? Legalizing marijuana is supposed to cure all kinds of social ills from pain to depression and even poverty. Hog wash; it will do nothing of the kind. If anything, the problems of society will continue to increase, spurred on by the legalizing of narcotics. And proof is in the history of alcohol.
Solomon says, “I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.” What did these do for you, Solomon? “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” A few weeks ago, I quoted some philosopher, who said three things will enable a man to feel that he’s had a full and complete life. Do you remember what they were? Have a son, plant a tree and write a book. Hasn’t Solomon done all three? And what did that do for him?
You might say that he created a good business and employed hundreds of workers. “I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me:” Those sheep and cattle demanded farmers, herdsmen and cattlemen. And those cowhands may have lived their simple lives and died happy people. But it didn’t look like their boss was headed in the same direction. He may have been a social and financial blessing to others, but it didn’t bless his own heart.
“I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.” Probably, like me, you enjoy a variety of good music – music which you consider to be good. Despite the parking, the walking and sometimes the cost, there is nothing like a concert of classical music. But a life filled with HEARING good music, and even the CREATING of good music, may not be very satisfying. At least Solomon didn’t think so.
What might be the “peculiar treasures of kings?” It could be those things which only the very wealthy and powerful can “gather” or collect. I’ve mentioned it often enough that you are aware of my stamp collecting hobby. Let’s say that some day I am able to gather a mint collection of Victoria Diamond Jubilee stamps. Actually, only a king, or some other reasonably wealthy person can do that – I never will. But if it was possible, I guarantee that once I stuck those stamps in my album, I’d be off looking for a mint set of the Large Queens or a complete set of the earliest Canadian booklets. It is not the possession of the peculiar treasures of kings that thrills; it’s the chase – the pursuit. But thinking like a lost man, if I completed all my collecting objectives, and collecting was the only thing I lived for, I might loose my reason to live. We could apply verse 8 to the collection of fine art or the collection of just about anything – books, rare baseball cards, models, whatever.
If you take the time to read through the first half of this chapter again, I think you’ll find that we have a list of most of the things which modern man seeks for the sake of fulfilment. But Solomon says, “I’ve tried all these things, and they are vanity – vexation of spirit.” Verse 11 suggests that he even EXCELLED in all these things. And still when the dust settled he was at the point of suicide.
Solomon’s use of one word might help us to understand his problem.
Verse 12 – “And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done. Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness.” Forgive me for contradicting myself, but I think Solomon’s use of the word “wisdom” is slightly different here than it has been throughout most of Proverbs. “And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly.” Remember that Solomon is not yet out of the spiritual woods; he is still submerged in self and sin. As he studies wisdom in this case it isn’t the wisdom of God, but rather it’s what fleshly men might consider “wisdom.” Maybe he has turned to reading the classics of fiction, philosophy and logic – materials imported by his foreign wives.
These things didn’t help his Spiritual condition or even his mental condition. You may disagree with me, but I think mental illness can be a real disease. I believe that depression can be caused by chemical, hormonal imbalances or other physical problems. But while saying that, I’m convinced that there may be a lot more spiritual cause to such things than there is physical. A great deal of mental illness is actually spiritual illness – either sin-induced or demon-induced. How many people take their own lives because they are over-come with guilt and shame for sin?
And what does the wisdom of the world do to treat mental illness, depression and suicide? “I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly.” Solomon tried laughter and mirth in order to feel better, but he found it a waste of time. He also turned to conventional wisdom. He could have consulted psychologists and psychiatrists, if they had existed in his day. That is often where people go today. But the statistics indicate that such worldly wisdom is far from perfect.
Something else which might be useful in understanding the king’s mental condition is verse 18.
“Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity. Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun? For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity”
What is important here is not what Solomon says, but what he doesn’t say. He couldn’t see anything or anyone beyond his works and the generation which would inherit them. What Solomon was missing during this period in his life was Jehovah. What if all those gardens and buildings, his zoo and his collections had been built for the glory of God? The King may have been concerned that his sons were all fools, and there is evidence they were. But if what Solomon was doing was being done for the Lord… If everything was being left in God’s hands… Then it doesn’t really matter who is going to succeed as king or as the conservator of his estate.
There is a telltale statement beginning in verse 20, which sheds even more light on Solomon’s problem. “Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun. For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall he leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil. For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the sun?” Solomon was living in spiritual forgetfulness, having cast aside his faith in the Lord. And, as he states, he deliberately “went about to cause his heart to despair.” It may be a dangerous thing to tell a potential suicide to “buck up,” put on “a stiff upper lip,” and “throw aside those blues.” But sometimes that is exactly what the man needs to do. The depraved heart of the sinner often deliberately rejects all logic and all those scriptures which he heard in his youth. On the downward slide, suicides choose to reject everything but what furthers their descent. But today, from the perspective of this moment, we can say “look on the bright side” – not on the darkness. We can and should tell Solomon, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” Especially as Christians, we have a choice – to rejoice in the Lord or to cause our hearts “to despair.”
No matter who we are, or what our position might be in this world, if we have at least one eye on Heaven, then there will be no reason to hate our lives or our labors. When we know that our time in the world is preparatory for eternity with God, then whatever we do or whatever we suffer today will be okay. “There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” John Gill understands this “eating and drinking” to be what’s necessary for the maintenance of life. He says this isn’t the “eat and drink for tomorrow we die” philosophy. This is enjoy the blessings of the Lord today and the good of your labor at this moment. “For who can eat, or who else can hasten hereunto, more than I? For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy. But to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God.”
It is to the unbeliever and the wicked man that life is vanity and vexation of spirit. The Christian should never have this kind of thought, because he has no reason to do so. None. As I said last week, for you and me, “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”