There is a book in the Bible that seems very pessimistic. Even some Bible students agree, pointing to a phrase that appears many times in the book:

“Vanity of vanities: all is vanity and vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:2 NKJV)

To which the writer adds:

“What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3 NKJV)

So, many readers simply close the book of Ecclesiastes and ignore its message altogether!

Whereas in fact the book is not about how very empty life can sometimes seem to be. If you look a little deeper into what the writer of the book, King Solomon, actually tells us, the book can be very helpful as we all search for personal happiness in a very unhappy world.

Searching for happiness

All down the ages people have tried to solve the problem of human unhappiness:

  • Some thought that doing pleasurable things would make them happy, but in the end it didn’t.
  • Others taught that exercising strict self-control and ‘doing your duty’ was the key to happiness, but found that it wasn’t.
  • Still others assumed that becoming very rich or very knowledgeable would make them happy, but that turned out to be wrong too.

King Solomon wanted to find an answer for himself.

A royal experiment

Fortunately Solomon was in a good position to conduct an experiment. He lived in a palace, had numerous wives, earned lots and lots of money and he was very clever. And he had the freedom to do anything he wanted, as Ecclesiastes tells us:

“King Solomon surpassed all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 10:23 NKJV)

If wealth means anything then Solomon could have been the happiest man that ever lived! As an absolute monarch he was his own master. There was no Parliament to limit what he spent, no Trade Unions to call a strike if his workmen disagreed with his plans. He could have and do absolutely anything.

So he did! For example:

  • He built magnificent buildings
  • He created fine gardens and parks with ornamental waters and borders
  • He had his own choirs and orchestras to entertain him

He summed up his ‘royal experiment’ in his own words:

“Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor;” (Ecclesiastes 2:10 NKJV)

Fortunately, throughout this ‘royal experiment’ his honesty and God-given wisdom never left him, so we have a very informative account of what happened.

The result!

Using his wisdom, each stage reached in this ‘royal experiment’ are recorded in Ecclesiastes, step by step. The disappointments and successes are recorded. Worthless pursuits are seen for what they are. The emptiness of many so-called ‘achievements’ is exposed. Apparently insignificant or trivial things are found to bring great happiness.  And the things that he had thought would make him happy didn’t. Above all, the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death were made very clear to him, showing the need for God’s help to get his priorities right.

So as he got older, and with the benefit of hindsight, he had some wise advice for all of us, young or old:

“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.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9 NKJV)

“Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them”” (Ecclesiastes 12:1 NKJV)

Solomon’s experiment had helped him discover for himself that true happiness can only be found by serving God and keeping his commandments.

Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NIV)

Fortunately, it’s never too late to heed that advice, and find true happiness, no matter how old we are!