Ecclesiastes — Lesson 11
Solomon’s God As a Source of Vanity
I. Solomon’s View of God
A. Solomon Displays a Variety of Moods in Ecclesiastes
1. At times he is depressed, and at other times he is joyful. At times he is optimistic, and at other times he is pessimistic. At times he is saying eat, drink, and be merry, and at other times he appears to suggest suicide.
2. Solomon’s view of God changes with his mood.
a) A. W. Tozer said that “What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”
b) At times he is certain that the righteous will ultimately prevail, but at other times he appears to view God as the enemy of man – an enemy who seems intent on taking from man whatever happiness that they might be able to find under the sun.
3. In short, Solomon at times appears to have viewed God himself as a source of the vanity that he discovered in all things under the sun.
a) A common view about Solomon is that he spent much of his life looking for meaning apart from God, but in his old age he saw the error of his ways and repented. Why?
(1) Support for this view comes from the closing verses of Ecclesiastes (and other verses) which appear to recognize that God is the only source of meaning.
(2) However, there are just as many verses about God in that book that appear to picture God as distant and uncaring.
(3) Just because Solomon had the wisdom to discern the truth does not mean that he lived the truth. He very well may have repented – but he also may have continued in his rebellion against God.
4. We know that Solomon believed in God, but did Solomon love God when he wrote Ecclesiastes?
a) Did Solomon ever find what he was looking for?
b) When he wrote that ALL is vanity, did he really mean ALL?
B. Let’s consider some things that Solomon had to say about God in Ecclesiastes:
1. Ecclesiastes 1:13
a) And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised.
2. Ecclesiastes 3:14
a) I know that whatever God does, It shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, And nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.
3. Ecclesiastes 3:18
a) I said in my heart, “Concerning the condition of the sons of men, God tests them, that they may see that they themselves are like animals.”
4. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6
a) When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; For He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed— Better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin, nor say before the messenger of God that it was an error. Why should God be angry at your excuse and destroy the work of your hands?
5. Ecclesiastes 6:2
a) A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.
6. Ecclesiastes 7:13
a) Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked?
(1) Note that he does NOT say “For who can make crooked what he has made straight!”
7. Ecclesiastes 7:14
a) In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, So that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
8. Ecclesiastes 11:9
a) Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, And let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the ways of your heart, And in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment.
9. What sort of God is Solomon picturing for us in these verses?
a) God is distant and powerful and unapproachable. He creates problems we can’t fix and delights in frustrating our plans.
b) Solomon’s father, David, wrote numerous Psalms that praised God for his loving kindness.
(1) (Psalm 36:7) “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.”
(2) Is the God of David also the God of Solomon?
(3) Unless I have missed it, there is not a word in Ecclesiastes about the love of God.
(4) David (who endured repeated tragedies) couldn’t quit talking about the love of God.
(5) Solomon (who seems to have lived a charmed existence) had not a word to say about God’s love.
C. Before we can understand Solomon’s relation with God, we need to understand Solomon himself.
1. Solomon was a cynic.
a) What causes someone to become a cynic? Generally, cynicism is caused by repeated injustices – particularly when those injustices are unpunished and uncorrected.
b) A subtitle for the book of Ecclesiastes could be “Confessions of a Cynic.”
c) Solomon seems to have only witnessed injustice rather than to have endured injustice – unlike Job who we will have more to say about in a moment.
2. Solomon was not an atheist – but he wanted to be!
a) Stephen Crane, the American novelist, was raised in a religious home but spent most of his life trying to separate himself from religion. A friend wrote: “He disbelieved it and he hated it, but he could not free himself from it.”
b) Solomon similarly appears at times as if he would like to separate himself from God and from the religion of his father David – but he could not.
c) Solomon does not seem to have been able to live with God or live without God.
3. Solomon viewed God as he viewed the world – horizontally rather than vertically.
a) All of his observations about the world lack vertical perspective and all his conclusions are humanistic.
(1) There are a few rare interludes of divine viewpoint, but for the most part it is page after page of human wisdom.
(2) The phrases “I have seen” and “I said to myself” underscore his basic, philosophical commitment to human perspective.
(3) We have often compared Ecclesiastes to the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21.
(a) They both reached the same conclusion – we should just eat, drink, and be merry.
(b) Also, both seemed to have a favorite word – “I” as in “I did this,” “I did that.”
b) Solomon believed in God, but he refused to look up in dependence on God.
c) As the poet said, his head was bloody but unbowed.
(1) That line comes from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley – I am the master of my fate, and the captain of my soul.
(2) Listen to the entire stanza and ask yourself if it reminds you of anything from Ecclesiastes: “Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed.”
(3) (Ecclesiastes 9:11) “but time and chance happen to them all.”
d) When Solomon said that all was vanity, he wasn’t sad – he was mad. He was not on his knees, but on his feet. The injustices of life had taken their toll.
(1) “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne.”
e) Solomon was shouting at God. With what other attitude could he have complained to God that there was no advantage for man over beast? (Ecclesiastes 3:19)
4. Is it possible to believe in God and still despair and still not know why you are living? Solomon says yes!
D. Solomon’s God was Nature’s God
1. If all we knew about God was what we could gather from nature, then we would know four things:
a) God exists.
(1) Only the fool would deny this.
b) God is powerful.
(1) Only a powerful God could have created the Universe.
c) God is intelligent.
(1) Only an intelligent God could have designed such a Universe.
d) God is aesthetic.
(1) Only an aesthetic God could have created such a beautiful Universe.
e) But being powerful, intelligent, and aesthetic does not mean you are loving.
2. If all we knew about God was what we could gather from nature, we would not know that God is good, loving, just, and caring.
a) The God of nature is not a personal God.
b) To Solomon, God was like the moon.
(1) God was there, not here. He controlled the tides of men’s lives, but he was not personally involved with man.
3. To Solomon:
a) God was the creator to whom we owe our existence.
(1) “Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1)
b) God was the Sovereign over everything, but not really concerned about man.
(1) In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider: Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, So that man can find out nothing that will come after him. (Ecclesiastes 7:14)
c) God had a plan, but didn’t share it with anyone.
(1) Then I saw all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. For though a man labors to discover it, yet he will not find it; moreover, though a wise man attempts to know it, he will not be able to find it. (Ecclesiastes 8:17)
d) God was the giver of all good gifts, but he was whimsical in his giving.
(1) A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction. (Ecclesiastes 6:2)
e) God was a judge, but he was capricious in exercising and demonstrating his justice.
(1) “For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner, He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath.” (Ecclesiastes 9:1-2)
4. Part of Solomon’s problem with God may have been that (like God) Solomon was also a king.
a) The only person who Solomon answered to was God – and it appears that he resented it.
b) At times he seems to be saying to God, “I have done my best to fix things down here, but with no help from you. You have frustrated all of my plans.”
c) Read again Ecclesiastes 7:13.
(1) “Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked?”
(2) Solomon is saying “Don’t blame me! How can I fix what God has broken?”
(3) “After all I have done for you! I built your temple, and how do you repay me?”
d) While Paul in Romans 8:31 wrote “If God is for us, who can be against us,” Solomon would have written “If God is against us, who can be for us?”
e) (Psalm 115:3) “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.”
5. Solomon’s God was too small.
a) J. B. Phillips wrote a book entitled “Your God is Too Small.” In that book, he explored various false views of God and showed how they fall far short of the God revealed in the Bible.
b) One of the problems that Phillips points out is that men often model God upon what they know about man.
(1) He write: “Man may be made in the image of God; but it is not sufficient to conceive God as nothing more than an infinitely magnified man.”
c) Solomon seems to have fallen into this trap of trying to understand the attributes of God by comparing them to his own attributes.
(1) Perhaps Solomon’s real complaint was simply that God was not ruling as Solomon would have ruled had Solomon been in the place of God.
(2) Solomon had been blessed with great wisdom, great riches, and great authority. Perhaps it had just all gone to his head. If he were in charge, things would be different.
6. Solomon’s God did not seem to have any special love for mankind – and Solomon at times did not appear to have any special love for God.
a) To Solomon, God was distant, occasionally indifferent, and sometimes cruel.
b) Psychologists tell us that our view of God is often determined by how we view our earthly father.
(1) Most of the world’s best known atheists had terrible relationships with their fathers.
(a) Madelyn Murray O’Hare once tried to stab her father with a pair of scissors.
(2) Were Solomon and David close? Or perhaps did Solomon view King David as a distant and unloving monarch – much like his view of God.
(a) We read of Solomon’s birth in 2 Samuel 12:24, where we find that the Lord loved him.
(b) We next meet Solomon very late in David’s life. See 1 Kings 1 and 1 Chronicles 22.
(c) Meanwhile David had much to say about how much he loved his son – but it was not Solomon he was talking about. It was Absalom!
(d) Perhaps Solomon was like the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son.
(3) When you read Ecclesiastes, do you sense any rebellion by Solomon against the picture of God we find in the Psalms?
(a) Was Solomon perhaps trying to straighten out David and let the world know what God is really like?
c) But wait, you say. The book of Ecclesiastes is inspired. How can it picture a false view of God?
(1) Along with the truth about God, the Bible contains many false views about God.
(2) Look at the book of Job. In that book Job’s three friends give their opinions about God – and when God shows up he lets them know what he thinks of those opinions!
(a) (Job 42:7) “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”
(3) Solomon, like Job’s friends, also has opinions about God (some of which perhaps are false) – and God has put all of those opinions into the Scriptures so that we can learn from them.
(a) The Bible does not hide the ball. God believes in full disclosure.
(b) Here is a divinely inspired book by a man who was blessed with wisdom, power, and riches – yet who did not have a kind word for the God who so blessed him.
(4) Who is this God that we worship? Is he the loving and kind God of David or the harsh and distant God of Solomon?
II. Job was another Biblical figure who had some views about injustice.
A. Solomon and Job Each Had Complaints with God.
1. Job actually endured the injustices that Solomon only wrote about.
2. Solomon gained everything and Job lost everything, yet each came to the same conclusions about God.
B. Both Solomon and Job Seem To Have Been Disappointed In God.
1. Disappointment comes when our actual experience falls short of what we anticipate.
2. Listen to Job describe his disappointment:
a) (Job 30:20-26) “I cry out to You, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You regard me. But You have become cruel to me; With the strength of Your hand You oppose me. You lift me up to the wind and cause me to ride on it; You spoil my success. For I know that You will bring me to death, And to the house appointed for all living. “Surely He would not stretch out His hand against a heap of ruins, If they cry out when He destroys it. Have I not wept for him who was in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor? But when I looked for good, evil came to me; And when I waited for light, then came darkness.
3. Solomon also expected God to act in a certain way, and He did not.
a) (Ecclesiastes 6:2) “A man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.”
4. Philip Yancey has written a book entitled “Disappointment with God.” The subtitle of that book is “Three Questions No One Asks Aloud.”
a) Those three questions are: Is God unfair? Is God silent? Is God hidden?
(1) Yancey considers how different things would be if God handed out instant justice, if he spoke directly to us, and if he made himself visible.
(2) God in fact did these things during the Exodus – and yet people still rebelled against him!
b) Aren’t these the same three questions that Job and Solomon were grappling with?
c) They expected God to act in a certain way and when he didn’t they were disappointed with God. They thought God had let them down.
(1) (Job 30:26-27) But when I looked for good, evil came to me; And when I waited for light, then came darkness. My heart is in turmoil and cannot rest; Days of affliction confront me.
C. Neither Solomon Nor Job Was Sure He Could Trust God to be Fair and Just
1. Herman Melville wrote that “the reason the mass of men fear God and at bottom dislike him is because they rather distrust his heart and fancy him all brain like a watch.”
2. Listen to Job speaking about God:
a) (Job 27:2) “As God lives, who has taken away my justice, And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter.”
(1) Interestingly, even while complaining to this hidden, absent God, Job never denied the reality of God. That God existed remained absolutely beyond question. Job did not say, “As I live…” but he said “As God lives…” even though this God had hidden his face from Job and denied him justice.
(2) C. S. Lewis wrote “When you cannot practice the presence of God, then it is something to practice the absence of God.”
b) (Job 9:22-24) “Therefore I say, ‘He destroys the blameless and the wicked.’ If the scourge slays suddenly, He laughs at the plight of the innocent. The earth is given into the hand of the wicked. He covers the faces of its judges. If it is not He, who else could it be?”
3. Now listen to Solomon as he describes what it is like to be “in the hand of God.”
a) (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3) “For I considered all this in my heart, so that I could declare it all: that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. People know neither love nor hatred by anything they see before them. All things come alike to all: One event happens to the righteous and the wicked; To the good, the clean, and the unclean; To him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner; He who takes an oath as he who fears an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: that one thing happens to all.”
4. Neither Solomon nor Job seems to have believed they could trust God to be just and fair.
D. Both Solomon and Job Were Angry with God
1. What do children often do when they become angry at their parents? Don’t they often do the very thing that they know will upset their parents the most?
2. That is exactly what Solomon did with God.
a) (1 Kings 11:4-10) For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David. 5For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David. 7Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. 8And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods. 9So the Lord became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the Lord God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the Lord had commanded.
3. These verses tell us that God was angry with Solomon. I think they also tell us that Solomon was angry with God.
a) Like a rebellious son, Solomon went about doing the very thing that he knew would cause his father the most pain.
b) The only question is which father was he rebelling against? David or God or both?
E. Is God Silent? Solomon seems to have thought so.
1. Like David, Solomon might have prayed “Awake! Why do You sleep, O Lord? Arise! Do not cast us off forever. Why do You hide Your face, And forget our affliction and our oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24)
2. At least Job got to have a talk with God, even though it really turned out to be just a “listen.” All Solomon ever got to do was complain.
F. Is God Hidden? Solomon seems to have thought so.
1. While Solomon clearly believed in God, he made it very clear that he saw very little of evidence of God on earth. How, he asks, does man have any advantage over the beasts?
2. Like the Soviet cosmonaut, he had looked for God but he had not been able to find him.
a) (If that cosmonaut had really wanted to see God, he would have opened the door rather than just looked out the window!)
A. To Solomon, God had no face.
1. To Solomon, God was the “Am” rather than the “I Am.”
2. Solomon’s God was nature’s God, but nature is the back of God.
a) It is the word of God (the written word and the word made flesh) that shows us the face of God.
3. Why is the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible at all? What good does it do us to read about Solomon’s faceless God?
a) The answer is that Ecclesiastes is the perfect silhouette of Jesus.
b) Ecclesiastes presents the stark outline of the darkness that the face of Jesus fills.
c) God put Ecclesiastes into the Bible because God knew what (or rather who) was coming!
B. Solomon had a false view of God because Solomon did not understand the love of God.
1. In fact, this was at the heart of all of Solomon’s problems. The love of God was the answer that Solomon was seeking.
2. Solomon was looking for evidence of the love of God – and that evidence is Jesus Christ.
3. One commentator noted: “God’s problem is not that God is not able to do certain things. God’s problem is that God loves. Love complicates the life of God as it complicates every life.”
4. (1 John 3:1) “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
5. (1 John 4:16) “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
C. God showed his love by sending his Son
1. (1 John 4:9) “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”
2. Solomon’s problem was that he did not know about Jesus.
3. One verse from the New Testament would have ended all of his complaints and misunderstandings about God – John 3:16.
a) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
4. Both Job and Solomon wanted to see God face to face. God answered that prayer by sending his son to this earth.
a) Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)
b) All of the fullness God dwells in Jesus. (Colossians 1:19)
c) Jesus said in John 14:9 that “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”
(1) That is, in God there is no un-Christlikeness.
(2) If you want to know about God, look at Jesus.
(3) If you want to know about God, read his world.
d) Solomon’s view of God was a horizontal view. He looked out, but not up.
(1) To understand the love of God, we must look beyond the sun to the son of God and to the word of God.
e) Solomon would no doubt have taken the book of Ecclesiastes back for a major rewrite had he seen the love of Christ and the compassion that Christ had for those who were experiencing injustice.
(1) Indeed, Jesus himself experienced the greatest injustice of all.
(2) Jesus was the answer that Solomon was seeking.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)