Do you know anyone who doesn’t like pleasure? To be sure, that is a loaded question because it is not possible to say “No” to that one. Everyone likes pleasure… by definition, although not everyone has the opportunity to experience it. Pleasure is fun, it is… pleasurable. We can do all sorts of things for pleasure; we can enjoy fine foods, drink good wines, read good books, watch good movies and listen to good music. Solomon, using the great wisdom he has gained, seems to have conducted an investigation into pleasure, to determine whether or not it would add meaning to life.
In verses 1-9 he tells us of his investigation, and then he sums up his conclusions in verses 10-11. In the first two verses, he goes after amusement, in 3 it is wine. In 4-6 he pursues pleasure in great accomplishments, then he goes for wealth in 7-8a, and then in 8b he pursues the pleasures of sex; the number of his wives and concubines (sex slaves) was in the thousands! (1 Kings 11:3). In verse 9 he sums this all up by pointing out that in all of this, he became far greater than anyone who had come before “in Jerusalem”. Then he gives us his conclusions:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.
Verse 10 begins with another parallelism that clearly tells us that there was absolutely nothing that he didn’t try, and that he utterly indulged his every fancy. He had a great time; his “heart took delight” in what he was doing, and that delight was his entire reward: Fun.
Yet when it was all said and done, what had he really accomplished? With the great wisdom he had received, he came to realize that all of his fun and frivolity was “meaningless” (vanity), chasing after the wind. He sums this up in a parallel construct this way: “nothing was gained under the sun.”
Have you ever looked forward to some big event in your life, say a party or a trip or a concert or… whatever, and then felt let down afterwards? Maybe that big day was great, but now that it’s over…blah. I do most of the cooking in my house, and there have been many times when I work 3 or 4 hours (or more) preparing a meal. I pull out my entire bag of culinary tricks and really try to create something special. Then comes the moment of truth as everyone sits down at the table and lo and behold a culinary triumph! Yippee!
After a few minutes I survey the scene. I put heart and soul into my creation, and now all I have left is a mess to clean up. Usually, what passes through my brain is something like: It would have been a lot easier to have zapped a few hot dogs!
Vanity of vanities.