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Samson and Solomon were similar in that both, through their careless hearts, yielded to their base natures. Unlike Samson, who told a riddle and tried to keep its meaning secret, Solomon’s wanted his answers to life’s riddles proclaimed to all who would receive them. The first wisdom gem he wants all to know that “Vanity of vanity, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”  Even here there shines a floodlight of divine insight and wisdom.

Goads and Nails

Solomon’s purpose in writing was that his words would goad his readers to wise thinking and right actions. Godly goading leads to the existence of nails or pegs for one’s life–sound principles on which his readers can hang their future and establish their lives. These nails provide a refuge for life under the sun.  Solomon indicated that the nails are “fastened by the masters of assemblies which are given from one shepherd.” (Ecclesiastes 12:11) Certainly, the shepherd can be none other than Israel’s Lord Himself: “Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth” (Psalm 80:1). Here, in Solomon’s dreary address, the Shepherd of Israel shines forth (see Liberty Bible Commentary, p. 1280).


It was likely that Solomon spent the first-half of his reign experimenting with life, seeking fulfillment, purpose, and satisfaction through his many exploits. At the end of his exhaustive quest to secure the true meaning of life “under the sun,” he was left disillusioned, discouraged, and depressed humanly speaking — not the expected outcome for a man of unlimited resources and opportunity!


How bad did it get? Let’s face it, when someone states the equivalent of “all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” loved ones need to ensure that he or she is not left alone. After creating his own paradise, with no restrictions, he could only bemoan the reality of his gnawing, utter emptiness. Such is the way of mankind without God at the center.

When our lives are not Theocentric we are, in the truest sense of the word, eccentric.When our lives are not Theocentric we are, in the truest sense of the word, eccentric Click To Tweet

When we are spiritually eccentric, our entire lives become out of balance. We become extreme in one or more areas in an effort to distract our attention from the pain of the God-void.


We read that Solomon designed and had constructed architectural marvels. His horses and stables were unprecedented in Israel. His botanical gardens were exquisite. His servants , singers, and choirs unrivaled. His knowledge of the sciences and disciplines were truly unparalleled in his time.  Even the Queen of Sheba, who was apparently herself  of well renown, was left virtually breathless after seeing Solomon and the inner workings of his household and kingdom. Her famous words “the half has not been told me” are famous.


After achieving numerous unprecedented accomplishments in Israel, Solomon did not find what he had hoped for. After personally exploring the realm of wine, woman, and unbridled pleasure, his soul felt a void as large as the Grand Canyon. That’s not to say that for a time it seemed to him that he had found some means to happiness. The passing of time revealed that pleasure, folly, and madness provide no lasting fulfillment for the insatiable longings of the human heart.

Back to Basics 

Throughout his treatise, Solomon repeatedly returns to the realization that the greatest blessings in life are not uniquely possessed by the rich and powerful. They, in fact, may be the ones that most fail to experience them.  He writes that great joy is found in the basic ingredients of life that God has given to most: marriage, family, work, food, sleep, and social interaction. He wrote, “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” (Ecclesiastes 2:24; see also 3:13; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9).


When he considers God’s way, he finds the path to what is truly good–not on the highest level in Ecclesiastes, yet nevertheless a blessing from God’s hand. God wants to give us the power to enjoy life, to work hard, to esteem each other, to invest in one another, and to appreciate the nearly limitless varieties of foods and combinations of flavors that he has given us as a gift. Having a family, enjoying meals together, and reconnecting with each other at the dinner table is a gift from God not to be dismissed as trite or routine.

Don’t Miss it

In our postmodern culture, eating together at the family dinner table is becoming a lost ritual for many. These universal practices are not to be taken lightly. Their true value is not fully appreciated until the ability to practice them is no longer available. Solomon is bringing his readers back to basics.

In our postmodern culture eating together at the family dinner table is becoming a lost ritual for many. Click To Tweet

If we were to delete these refuge passages (God’s blessings of enjoyment) from the text we would be plunged deeper and deeper into a sense of hopelessness. Israel’s king reaches the conclusion of his thesis in chapter 12, giving powerful, straightforward advice to the young (and to all). He paints a word picture that by analogy portrays the end that awaits all. For those who are “privileged” to make it to the elderly stage of life, what awaits them is not pretty.

Our Common Destiny Under the Sun

His description characterizes old age as having trembling arms and hands, weak knees and legs, few teeth, dim eyesight, dullness of hearing, fear of heights, and fear of falling while walking. Solomon describes a good sleep is a luxury of the past. At this juncture of life, all desire is gone, both mentally and physically. Soon the professional mourners, like circling vultures, will come to the door offering their for-profit services to the family for the soon approaching inevitable day.

May it never escape one’s consciousness, especially when life is good and energy abounds, that the day is ever approaching when the hanging lamp will smash to the ground and no longer give light, the pitcher will be broken and will no longer hold water, and the wheel will be broken and no longer able to perform it’s function.

Living for God’s Delight 

What is Solomon’s point in viewing life so pessimistically? Solomon’s sine qua non lesson is that youth is a gift from God. It is to be enjoyed to the fullest and the energy it brings is to be exploited because youth cannot be kept.

Youth affords the young special, short-term privileges that they would be wise to employ for God’s gratification.

The days are ever approaching in which we will say, “I have no pleasure in them.” No matter the “under the sun” pursuit one is committed to–whether noble or ignoble–we must all give an account to our Creator for our words and actions

The Conclusion 

Solomon closes his counsel with these words, Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecc. 12:13-14)

Solomon has gone where not man has gone before, he has plummeted the depths of life’s possibilities. If we heed His counsel we save ourselves from much heartache and disappointment. We can be wiser than Solomon by receiving and serving the One who said, “behold, a greater than Solomon is here.”  He is our wisdom. There is no other. His name is Jesus.


John Hadley

John Hadley

John is a onetime Peace Corps member and now serves as the Dean of Students for Maryland Bible College and Seminary in Baltimore and the Director of Pastoral Counseling. He is a former missionary to Ecuador and is fluent in Spanish.Read the full bio here
John Hadley

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