This blog is the continuation of a series on false sources of satisfaction. It’s tempting to find happiness in the earthly joys that are often emphasized during the Christmas seasons. Human beings can fall into the temptation of believing that the world has sources of lasting satisfaction.
This second blog continues to look at Solomon’s warning regarding pleasures and possessions. In the first blog (found here) we were reminded that satisfaction cannot be rooted in leisure and liquor (Ecc 2:1-3). In this blog, we’ll consider Solomon’s warning that happiness and meaning in life cannot be rooted in (1) real estate; (2) assets; (3) assets; and (4) finances.
The Warning Against Real Estate (vv. 4-6). During Solomon’s time, kings were often judged by the architectural projects they left behind. So the list of accomplishments that follow are a legacy and testimony to the shrewd kingship left behind by the world’s wisest man. In many cases, Solomon’s contemporaries would have been blessed with a few of these architectural projects, but in this list no one comes close to rivaling Solomon’s work.
Notice the numerous projects that Solomon accomplished; they are all in the plural! Solomon possessed “houses . . . vineyards . . . gardens . . . parks . . . trees.” These plurals indicate the lavish and excessive real estate projects of Solomon. They each highlight different aspects of luxury. Houses to stay in as they traveled and vacation through Israel. Vineyards to drink a variety of wines. Gardens to picnic and view beautiful vegetation. Parks to play and perhaps even hunt animals for sport. Trees and forests to repopulate and rebuild and build more architectural projects.
What makes this pursuit even more shocking is the repeated phrase, “for me.” It indicates Solomon’s self-centered pursuit to use his power and resources for his own pleasure. This wasn’t the humble attempt of a king to provide for his people. This was a self-absorbed man seeking to build an elaborate utopia for his own pleasure. He was trying to build an unrivaled man cave. Even the language seems to overlap with that used in Genesis 1-2 to describe the garden. Solomon was seeking to be his own god in his own little utopia.
Still, Solomon reflects that these accomplishments have not provided him with lasting satisfaction (v. 11). Possessions have failed to adequately quench his thirsty soul for meaning and purpose. Perhaps, during this Christmas season you feel as though progress on your DIY projects, the purchase of a new home, or recent landscaping upgrade will provide for you lasting happiness. Solomon is here to tell you that it won’t. He is here to tell us that he’s done it bigger and better than us; so we can trust him when he says it won’t make us happy.
The Warning Against Assistance (v. 7a). Solomon’s property would have required a lot of manpower to maintain. Houses to keep clean, experts to care for wine, gardeners for parks and gardens would have been a necessity. If not, Solomon would have occupied his days with chores on chores on chores. This is probably why Solomon immediately speaks of the assistance he had in life, “I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves” (v. 7a). This indicates the growing staff Solomon had in his possession. He wasn’t merely able to purchase slaves, but they were multiplying.
This tells us that Solomon was truly living “the good life” (cf. 2:1). Not only did he have luxurious possessions, but he had the help to never have to lift a finger to maintain his possessions. Imagine, a life without dishes, gardening, taking out the trash, sweeping, doing laundry, vacuuming, mopping, etc. Solomon had that life through the purchase and multiplication of his slaves.
Yet, we must consider the context. Solomon is warning us that the assistance to live the easy life was not a true source of satisfaction and meaning and purpose (cf. v. 11). Perhaps, during this holiday season you are looking to enjoy some time off work to relax. Perhaps you’re looking for reprieve from chores or work and desperately looking forward to some R&R. Well, if that’s what you are placing at the center of your happiness Solomon is telling you that you’re wrong. You cannot be completely happy in simply the pursuit of living the good life.
The Warning Against Assets (v. 7b). Solomon then moves on to emphasize the agricultural assets that he owned, “Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem” (v. 7b). Here, Solomon’s focus is on all the provisions that come from “flocks” (likely a reference to cows and bulls) and “herds” (likely smaller animals like sheeps and goats). For our western minds we may quickly believe these to references to meat and food. But, in the Ancient Near East it was so much more than food. Wool could have been used to make nice clothing; especially for the cold winter months. Perhaps even leather from the animals to make other goods. All of this in addition to the food they would provided.
Solomon warns against finding satisfaction in material goods. Perhaps this Christmas you think the new leather jacket or wallet you have been eyeing will make you happy? Perhaps you think the new winter clothes to make you comfortable will be a source of great happiness as others live in jealousy of your style? Solomon again warns us that placing these things at the center of our happiness cannot and will not satisfy us (v. 11).
The Warning Against Finances (v. 8a). Solomon’s accomplishments are impressive. Yet, what is even more impressive was his ability to accomplish all of the above without going into debt! The text reminds us, “Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces” (v. 8a). The history books remind us of his savings of gold and silver (2 Kgs 10:14, 27). Here, we are told that Solomon also possessed a plethora of items you would find in the security boxes of kings! Solomon’s taxation system also had the provinces of Israel providing for his kingly pursuits (1 Kgs 4:7-19).
Perhaps, you don’t receive many material gifts. Perhaps, your family prefers to give cash during this time of year. Or, maybe you’re so frugal this time of year that you prefer not buy people gifts. Perhaps your love of money is a hindrance to practicing Christian generosity. However it may manifest in your life, placing money at the center of your life will not give you meaning and purpose in this life (v. 11).