The wise man listed a series of “better thans” as he continued his observations about life and death. A good name is “better than” precious ointment or riches. One should be careful to guard his good name as it can be destroyed by a single careless moment. Mourning and sorrow are “better than” feasting and laughter. A person with a frivolous nature can overlook the serious and important side of improving his life and the world around him. Anger is an emotion that everyone expresses at times, but it should be kept under control and not allowed to explode at the least provocation. Solomon related a series of statements of wisdom relating to the folly of living for the present instead of building toward the end of life.
We live in a society of laws. Solomon stated that a wise person keeps the king’s commandments. In today’s Christian age, we are commanded to obey the laws of the land—unless they conflict with God’s laws. Man has a tendency to reason that when the righteous have hardships and the wicked prosper, that there is neither reward for righteousness nor punishment for wickedness. However, that is vain thinking. There will be justice in the end.
Solomon pointed out that the righteous and the wicked all have a common end. They all die. After death, there is nothing left for man in this world. As long as one lives, there is still hope that he may be able to accomplish something with his life. We must recognize the opportunities to serve God and our fellowman and do so with zest and enjoyment.
When God created the earth, He instilled within nature certain laws, seasons and patterns. Man cannot change what God has decreed. One must recognize and adapt to the seasons that surround him and render due reverence to his Creator. There are seasons to be born and to produce for the good of oneself and his fellowman. In time, the seasons for all of that will cease. When they do end, man and animals are the same, as both return to the dust of the earth. However, there is one vast difference. Man’s soul goes upward back to God. One should enjoy the endeavors of life instead of constantly complaining about the negatives that occur.
The wise man had seen within his life of power and wealth that there was also much unhappiness. His worldly possessions could not give him comfort. In his melancholy mood, he could visualize a certain blessing in death where he could find that comfort. Solomon recognized the power of companionship. Man needs someone with whom to share his rewards and disappointments. If one falls, the other can pick him up. Body warmth from a spouse in a cold bed is mutually beneficial. It is not God’s plan for man to be the center of his own existence.
“Walk prudently.” Watch your step is good advice for all in all circumstances. One shouldn’t make rash statements or vows unless he is fully prepared fulfill his words. God would rather have no vow than a broken vow. The person who works to amass a large fortune is never satisfied. Whatever he has is not enough and the fear of losing it keeps him from peaceful sleep. Everyone is born into this world naked—without possessions. Whatever fortune one builds in this life will not follow him to the grave. However, it is wise to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor while he lives without being controlled by them. True enjoyment comes when those fruits are used in the service of God and one’s fellowman.
Solomon continued his admonishments toward the proper use of wealth. He stated that a common evil among men is to amass a great fortune, but never get to enjoy it, because of unhappiness or loss. It would have been better if he had died before his birth. One should have peace of mind with what he has instead of worrying over what he wants. Life is too short and eternity too long to live an unhappy and miserable life.
The writer of Ecclesiastes identified himself as the Preacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem. He also referred to himself as “king over Israel in Jerusalem.” There are some who question whether Solomon was truly the writer of this book, but with that introduction and the wisdom that he possessed, one can, indeed easily accept Solomon as its author. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” is the theme of Ecclesiastes. The word vanity may be defined as emptiness.
Generations of life and seasons come and go, but the earth remains unchanged. Cycles of nature continue to repeat in their seasons. Rivers flow into the seas, but they are not overflowed. They evaporate and return to their beginnings and repeat the cycle. Nothing changes and nothing new is added. A man’s existence is of no significance in the broad scheme of the universe. However, man does have the unique character of being a living soul to prepare for life after leaving this earth. Solomon with all of his knowledge, wisdom, riches and honor concluded, “For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.”
The wise man suggested areas in his life that should have brought joy to him. Surely pleasure, laughter and “a good time” would satisfy a man’s heart and bring joy to him. He was a man of great work and worth with servants to see to all of his needs. Every luxury attainable by man was his to enjoy. Whatever he desired was his. However, with all of his wisdom, he realized that he and a fool would be the same in death. The fruits of Solomon’s labor would go to someone else who had not labored for them after his death. History relates how this was true in the evil reign of his son, Rehoboam who succeeded him to the throne. If all of these worldly blessings could not bring happiness to Solomon, we should take heed and place our treasures in heaven instead of on earth.
I Kin. 10:1-29; II Chron. 9:1-28
With God’s promise of wisdom, glory and great riches, it seems that everything Solomon touched turned into additional wealth. His fame spread far and wide.
Sheba was a kingdom in the southwestern area of the Arabian Peninsula in what is now Yemen. The queen of Sheba hearing the reports of his great wisdom went to Jerusalem to test Solomon and to determine for herself if the things that she had heard were actually true. She was so impressed with his wisdom and the proficiency with which he operated, she stated, “It is a true report…However, I did not believe the words…indeed the half was not told me…” The queen also recognized that it was not just Solomon, but that the God of Israel had blessed him and his people.
Another reason for the queen’s visit was probably to strengthen commercial ties between the two kingdoms. She and Solomon exchanged gifts that probably preceded more extensive commercial trade.
Solomon’s fame continued throughout the region, especially southward into Arabia. His wealth increased through gifts from other kings and through commerce.
I Kin. 7:1-12; 9:10-28; II Chron. 8:1-18
Solomon had a master plan for the construction of many buildings during his reign as king of Israel. With the first and foremost building, the temple of God being dedicated after seven years of building, he turned his attention to building the palace complex which involved another thirteen years. It was near the temple and included the royal palace, the House of the Forest of Lebanon, Hall of Pillars, Hall of Judgment for his throne and a house for Pharaoh’s daughter whom he had married.
Those were elaborate structures built of costly and large stones, cedar pillars and paneled with cedar. Some of the stones were eighteen feet in length.
The partnership with Hiram continued to flourish with exchanges of gifts and Hiram furnishing labor for Solomon’s many projects. Israel’s king continued to prosper as he led the people in God’s paths.
Solomon accomplished many other tasks. He fortified other cities with walls, gates and bars. The inhabitants of the land who were not Israelites were used in the strenuous construction labor. Solomon’s armies and governmental assistants were taken from the Israelite population. He and his people enjoyed a period of great prosperity and progress during his reign as king.
I Kin. 9:1-9; II Chron. 7:12-22
Years earlier, God had appeared to Solomon and promised great wisdom, wealth and honor. After Solomon’s fervent temple dedication prayer, God appeared to him at night and consecrated the temple. He also renewed the promise that He had made to David stating that if he and his sons continued to follow David’s example, the kingdom would forever remain with them. However, if they strayed from God’s ways, the kingdom and all that pertained to it would be taken away. His special blessings carried special conditions then and they also have special conditions during today’s Christian age. The Jews did reject God and He allowed them to be destroyed as a nation. Their only hope today is through obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is not certain when or by whom this psalm was written. Some have suggested that it may have been sung at the dedication of the temple of God. Its sentiments could very well have been appropriate at that time. The psalmist expressed thankfulness for God’s care during sickness and oppression. As the poem points out, recovery and victory were because of God. Likewise, construction of the temple had been delayed many years due to various reasons, but it had finally been completed, dedicated and occupied by the presence of God. Victory at last!