Believe it or not, I was beginning to dislike reading the Book of Ecclesiastes whenever I encountered it in my regular bible-reading plan; all those ‘vanities’ and ‘vexations of spirit’. I had come to the point of saying to myself, “enough is enough: can’t we get on a more inspiring subject?” I even began to wonder why the book was even included in the bible. But then, I was losing my focus and I sensed it.
The funny thing about it was that a good friend of mine, someone I much admire, who has a wonderful personal relationship with the Lord, and is also a regular bible reader, was encountering the same thing and in fact voiced it to me one day. And I thought, ‘that’s odd’ and so we began to discuss our similar reactions a bit, but didn’t really come up with a satisfying conclusion.
Now, I believe the Lord sees and answers both the spoken and unspoken desires and questions of the heart, and he did just that concerning my reaction to Ecclesiastes. Several days later I was reading from St. Augustine’s City of God when I came across some related passages therein that began to help renew my focus.
Yes, ‘all is vanity and vexation of spirit’ as is so aptly described in Ecclesiastes, but are we not to look past the vanity and vexation to ask ourselves ‘why’? Is the book not rather a picture of man reaping the often bitter fruits of his desired ‘fruit’? It’s as if God is holding up a mirror image to man saying, ‘you choose this. You choose disobedience and independence. See and experience for yourselves.’ ‘Is it good? Does it taste good? Is it pleasant? Does it satisfy? See and behold, and when ‘enough is enough’, maybe then, just maybe, you’ll learn and turn to your source of true happiness, fulfillment and destiny.
And if one takes the time to consider who authored the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, who is purported to have been the richest, wisest, and most glorious king that ever existed, the point of the entire book almost becomes a ‘no brainer’. If someone in the history of mankind, of Solomon’s status and stature, can come to such a conclusion, can the rest of us not accept it and benefit from the advice his unique position afforded? Do we have to run through the gamut of a life filled with our own vanity and vexation of spirit, ad infinitude to learn essentially the same?
Thank God for the record of Ecclesiastes. Thank God when all is vanity and vexation, without it we’d never learn.
The poet Lord Byron is famous for his quotation, ‘“I’ve drunk of every fount of pleasure and quaffed every cup of fame, yet, alas, I die of thirst!” He had tested the best of what life had to offer and; like King Solomon, found that none of it satisfied him.
In his play of the same name, Shakespeare has King Lear exclaiming,
“I am a man,
More sinn’d against than sinning.”
Lear’s expression, a kind of universal sentiment, accords with the vanity and vexation of Ecclesiastes. Lear feels that, more than anything else; life offers him rather the brunt end of the stick.
How many great men have to go on record before we realize that life, as it’s often pursued, isn’t really that great without living it unto ‘The Greatest’?