Charles H.‭ ‬Dyer

B. Childress
Dec 9 2012

All right,‭ ‬I confess.‭  ‬I like offbeat comics.‭  ‬My wife tolerates my passion for the oddball.‭  ‬I read‭ ‬
Dilbert,‭ ‬Pearls before
,‭ ‬and‭ ‬Zits regularly.‭  ‬I also have the book collections of past‭ ‬Calvin and Hobbes and‭ ‬Far Side comics.‭  ‬In fact,‭ ‬I
struggled with withdrawal symptoms when Gary Larson stopped producing‭
‬Far Side and when Bill Watterson stopped
drawing‭ ‬
Calvin and Hobbes.‭  ‬Much truth can be found in humor.

One of my favorite‭ ‬
Far Side cartoons of all time shows outside steps leading up to Midvale School for the Gifted.‭  ‬At the
top of the steps stands one of these gifted students,‭ ‬books cradled in his right hand,‭ ‬with his left hand vainly pushing
against the outside door to open it.‭  ‬Just above the student is a sign on the door that says‭ (‬in very‭ ‬
letters‭) “‬PULL.‭”  ‬All right,‭ ‬don’t laugh.‭  ‬But you would…if you saw the picture.

That particular comic speaks to me because it distinguishes between knowledge and wisdom.‭  ‬The students attending
the school in Larson’s comic strip were expected to have a high level of knowledge.‭  ‬That doesn’t guarantee they are

The Internet has made the twenty-first century the‭ “‬information age.‭”  ‬Instant access to unlimited information promises to
usher in the technological millennium for humanity.‭  ‬The assumption seems to be that availability of information will lead
to greater wisdom and understanding.

But you cannot equate information with wisdom.‭  ‬There is a large chasm between accessing data and acquiring wisdom.‭  ‬
Data and information‭ (‬not all of it accurate‭) ‬abound online.‭  ‬But most individuals still make poor choices in how they live
their lives.

The Hebrews understood the difference between knowledge and wisdom.‭  ‬Their word for wisdom‭ (‬
hokmah‭) ‬carried
with it the idea of skill.‭  ‬Wisdom was the ability to live life skillfully and successfully.‭  ‬Knowledge doesn’t guarantee that
life will be lived skillfully.

Society is awash in a sea of information‭ – ‬but people can still make very foolish choices.‭  ‬We know the harmful effects of
smoking,‭ ‬excessive drinking,‭ ‬and drugs‭; ‬but all three still entice and enslave otherwise intelligent people.

When some small problem threatens to undo an otherwise good thing,‭ ‬we describe it as‭ “‬the fly in the ointment.‭”  ‬The
phrase originally came from the pen of the wisest of Israel’s kings‭ – ‬Solomon.‭  ‬He had a knack for‭ “‬turning a
phrase,‭” ‬and the whole proverb went,‭ “‬As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,‭ ‬so a little folly outweighs wisdom and
honor‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬10:1‭)‬.‭  ‬The phrase teaches us much about wisdom and folly‭ – ‬and about Solomon.‭  ‬To understand
the full meaning of Solomon’s words we need to sit down,‭ ‬take out the family album,‭ ‬and study three snapshots of
Solomon taken at different times in his life.


“King David is dead‭!  ‬Long live King Solomon‭!”  ‬The words swirled through Jerusalem’s dusty streets and echoed off the
stone walls of this fortress-city.‭  ‬David lived his life in epic proportions,‭ ‬both in his triumphs and in his tragedies.‭  ‬The
shadow of Israel’s greatest warrior and king threatened to obscure his young heir to the throne.‭  ‬Following a legend is

David’s unwise marriages to multiple wives compounded by his adultery with Bathsheba produced a chaotic
and fractured home.‭  ‬One son raped his half sister and was,‭ ‬in turn,‭ ‬murdered by his half brother‭ (‬II Samuel‭ ‬13‭)‬.‭  ‬One
son led a civil war against King David and received support from Bathsheba’s grandfather‭ (‬II Samuel‭ ‬15‭)‬.‭  ‬At the end of
David’s life one son plotted to succeed him as king,‭ ‬only to be thwarted when David appointed Solomon‭ (‬I Kings‭ ‬1‭)‬.‭  ‬Had
they lived back then,‭ ‬Oprah,‭ ‬Dr.‭ ‬Phil,‭ ‬and Jerry Springer would have clamored to put David’s family on their shows‭!

Now young Solomon sits uneasily on his father’s throne.‭  ‬His father’s last words of advice were whispered
warnings about Joab,‭ ‬David’s former military commander who had plotted to make Solomon’s brother king.‭  ‬Solomon’s
first act as king‭ (‬after another plot to usurp his throne‭) ‬was to give orders to execute the two conspirators‭ – ‬his own half
brother and Joab‭ (‬I Kings‭ ‬2‭)‬.‭  ‬What had he gotten himself into‭!?!

The burden of following in the footsteps of his illustrious father,‭ ‬reigning wisely as king,‭ ‬and knowing how to discern
between right and wrong gnawed at the young king.‭  ‬Anyone ever thrust into a place of leadership and responsibility
knows the sense of inadequacy that must have gripped Solomon.‭  ‬He was now responsible for making life-and-death
decisions.‭  ‬Things that seemed so clear to him as he stood on the periphery now seemed complex and involved as he
tried to explore all sides to make fair and impartial judgments.

Two dangers face an individual thrust into a position of power and authority.‭  ‬One danger is that the leader will become
paralyzed by the enormity of the task.‭  ‬The leader is responsible for others,‭ ‬and a single mistake or miscalculation can
cost those followers their job,‭ ‬their families,‭ ‬or their lives.

Most decisions are not black-and-white.‭  ‬The leader must sort through conflicting reports,‭ ‬incomplete data,‭ ‬and divided
supporters to decide what is best.‭  ‬A leader can become so afraid of making a mistake that he or she will analyze‭ – ‬and
reanalyze‭ – ‬every possible angle and option…and do nothing unless one option emerges as the clear choice.‭  ‬Some call
this paralysis by analysis.‭  

The second danger is that the leader will become self-centered and prideful.‭  ‬Position brings with it prestige and perks,‭ ‬
and a leader can become sidetracked by these trappings of power.‭  ‬Most corrupt politicians do not enter politics with evil
motives.‭  ‬They begin with a genuine desire to make a difference.‭  ‬But the constant pressures and demands of those who
seek their attention and help gradually desensitize them.‭  ‬A leader can then justify receiving gifts from those seeking
access,‭ ‬accepting financial rewards for political favors,‭ ‬or even taking kickbacks from those who receive government

Alone.‭  ‬Vulnerable.‭  ‬Uncertain.‭  ‬Unsure how to proceed.‭  ‬Solomon must have doubted his father’s wisdom in making him
king.‭  ‬He was‭ ‬
not the warrior his father had been.‭  ‬But he had inherited his father’s desire to follow God.‭  ‬And so it’s no
surprise that our first snapshot of Solomon finds him kneeling before God and asking for wisdom.

Solomon traveled nearly eight miles northwest from Jerusalem to Gibeon to seek the Lord because God’s temple in
Jerusalem was still nothing more than a dream passed on from David to his son.‭  ‬Four more years would pass before
Solomon could begin the temple project.

So Solomon traveled to Gibeon‭ “‬for that was the most important high place‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:4‭)‬.‭  ‬What made it so important‭?  
“‬The tabernacle of the Lord,‭ ‬which Moses had made in the desert,‭ ‬and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the
high place at Gibeon‭” (‬I Chronicles‭ ‬21:29‭)‬.‭  ‬Did Solomon walk or ride‭?  ‬We don’t know,‭ ‬but even by foot the journey
would only have taken a few hours.‭  ‬The procession included a thousand noisy animals to be offered as burnt offering.‭  ‬
The dust kicked up by the people and animals announced their presence long before the party arrived at the round,‭ ‬
terraced hill sitting by the road leading from the hills to the Philistine plain.

Solomon made a pilgrimage to the tent of God built by Moses himself.‭  ‬He stood before the altar first consecrated by
Moses almost five hundred years earlier and offered sacrifices to the living God.‭  ‬Perhaps Solomon looked for
strength in his spiritual heritage.‭  ‬Perhaps he felt so inadequate he longed for a visible sign of God’s blessing.‭  ‬
Whatever his motivation,‭ ‬his willingness to offer a thousand burnt offerings on the altar demonstrated his dedication to
God and his dependence on God for the task ahead.

Many leaders struggle with a crushing sense of their own inadequacy.‭  ‬Their followers put them on pedestals and
assume they see all,‭ ‬hear all,‭ ‬know all,‭ ‬and can do all.‭  ‬But true leaders know better.‭  ‬They see beyond the hype and
hoopla to understand their limitations and inadequacies.‭  ‬Solomon came to God because he was acutely aware of his
need for God’s help.

The Lord responded to Solomon’s act of worship and devotion.‭  ‬Appearing to him at night,‭ ‬God made the ultimate offer:‭
“‬Ask for whatever you want me to give you‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:5‭)‬.‭  ‬God offered Solomon the chance of a lifetime‭!

A persistent childhood fantasy is the desire to have all our wishes fulfilled.‭  ‬Our childhood desire to possess Aladdin’s
lamp might be replaced with the hope of winning the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes‭ – ‬or the state lottery‭!  ‬Be
honest:‭ ‬the thought of‭ “‬having it all‭” ‬is appealing.

What’s amazing about this first snapshot of Solomon is how he responded to God’s offer.‭  ‬Foremost in his mind was his
need for wisdom,‭ ‬not wealth.‭  “‬Now,‭ ‬O Lord my God,‭ ‬you have made your servant king in place of my father David.‭  ‬But I
am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:7‭)‬.‭  ‬Solomon sensed his inexperience and

The Lord waited for Solomon’s answer.‭  ‬What should he ask for‭?  ‬Money‭?  ‬Security‭?  ‬Protection‭?  ‬Long life‭?  ‬Solomon’s
answer was profound in its simplicity and honesty.‭  “‬So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people
and to distinguish between right and wrong.‭  ‬For who is able to govern this great people of yours‭?”  (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:9‭)‬.‭  ‬
Solomon asked God for wisdom to do what was right in leading the people of Israel.

God rewarded Solomon for his humble request.‭  “‬The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:10‭)‬.‭  ‬
Solomon put his responsibility to Israel ahead of any desire for personal reward.‭  ‬God not only gave Solomon the‭ “‬wise
and discerning heart‭” ‬he requested‭ (‬3:12‭)‬,‭ ‬God also rewarded Solomon with‭ “‬riches and honor‭” (‬3:13‭)‬.‭  ‬God promised
Solomon he would be wise‭ …‬and wealthy‭!

So how did Solomon do‭?  ‬The writer of I Kings includes five incidents that reveal the extent of the wisdom God gave

Wisdom to discern truth

The first test for Solomon’s God-given wisdom was not long in coming.‭  ‬Two prostitutes came before the king‭ – ‬each
claiming custody of a newborn baby boy.‭  ‬Both women had given birth to children,‭ ‬but one child had died.‭  ‬Each woman
claimed the dead child belonged to the other while she was the legitimate parent of the child who remained alive.

The child still alive was but a baby‭ – ‬too young to help in establishing identity.‭  ‬No witnesses were present to vouch for
either woman.‭  ‬DNA testing was not available.‭  ‬Each story was plausible,‭ ‬and each woman was passionate in arguing her
side.‭  ‬How could Solomon administer justice when the truth could not be established beyond a reasonable doubt‭?

Solomon revealed his God-given wisdom in his response to the women.‭  ‬His apparent decision to slice the living child in
half and divide him between the women brought out the compassion of the true mother.‭  ‬He looked beyond the obvious
to establish justice…and his wisdom made an impression on others.‭  “‬When all Israel heard the verdict the king had
given,‭ ‬they held the king in awe,‭ ‬because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬3:28‭)‬.

One little postscript.‭  ‬As a young boy I remember hearing this story in Sunday school.‭  ‬The finer points of the story were
lost on me,‭ ‬but I walked home from church with a vivid picture of a king in purple robes and a crown holding a child’s
ankle in his left hand while raising a sword in his right to slice the boy in two.‭  ‬A few months later I put the story to use.‭  ‬
Our next door neighbor had four girls.‭  (‬The oldest was my age.‭)  ‬I was playing in my backyard when I overheard two of
the younger girls arguing over a Barbie doll.‭  ‬Each was trying to wrest control of the doll away from the other as they
shouted,‭ “‬It’s mine‭!” “‬No,‭ ‬it’s mine‭!”  ‬Very Solomon‭ –‬like I walked over,‭ ‬grabbed the doll,‭ ‬and offered to break it in half
and give each sister a piece.‭  ‬When one screamed,‭ “‬No‭!” ‬I handed her the doll and told her it was hers.‭  ‬I felt very smug
until the other sister went home to tell her mom that her sister and I were picking on her‭!  ‬Oh well,‭ ‬it worked for Solomon.

Wisdom to organize efficiently

David built Israel into a great empire,‭ ‬but Solomon organized it to operate smoothly.‭  ‬He developed an efficient central
government and divided Israel into twelve districts,‭ ‬each with a district governor‭ (‬I Kings‭ ‬4:1-19‭)‬.‭  ‬Solomon also ruled
over those surrounding nations captured by David.‭  ‬Evidently Solomon ruled these lands well,‭ ‬because the writer of
Kings notes that he‭ “‬had peace on all sides‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬4:24‭)‬.‭  ‬Solomon’s organizational skills brought a time of
security and prosperity unknown in the land of Israel up to that day.‭  ‬From‭ “‬Dan to Beersheba‭” – ‬from north to south in
the land‭ – ‬the people‭ “‬lived in safety,‭ ‬each man under his own vine and fig tree‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬4:25‭)‬.

Wisdom in arts and science

Solomon was more than just a smart politician.‭  ‬He was a card-carrying member of Mensa‭!  “‬Solomon’s wisdom was
greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East,‭ ‬and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt‭”      (‬I Kings‭ ‬4:30‭)‬.‭  ‬The
writer singles out Solomon’s accomplishments in literature‭ (‬3,000‭ ‬proverbs‭)‬,‭ ‬music‭ (‬1,005‭ ‬songs‭)‬,‭ ‬botany‭ (‬all plants from
the great cedar of Lebanon to the common hyssop‭)‬,‭ ‬and zoology‭ (‬animals,‭ ‬birds,‭ ‬reptiles,‭ ‬and fish‭)‬.‭  ‬Solomon observed
life at all levels,‭ ‬and his keen powers of observation and analysis helped him synthesize that knowledge.

Wisdom to keep peace

King David had many enemies during his lifetime,‭ ‬but he had also made some powerful allies.‭  ‬One of these was King
Hiram of Tyre.‭  ‬Solomon sent Hiram a letter reaffirming his friendship and proposing a business deal.‭  ‬If Hiram would
supply cedar wood for the temple,‭ ‬Solomon would pay Hiram and the laborers for the work.‭  ‬Solomon was quick to
compliment Hiram on his skilled workers.‭  “‬You know that we have no one so skilled in felling timber as the Sidonians‭” (‬I
Kings‭ ‬5:6‭)‬.‭  ‬Hiram agreed,‭ ‬and their relationship prospered.‭  ‬Such cooperation was no accident.‭  “‬The Lord gave
Solomon wisdom,‭ ‬just as he had promised him.‭  ‬There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon,‭ ‬and the two
of them made a treaty‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬5:12‭)‬.

Wisdom to exalt God

Throughout these early years Solomon never forgot the source of his wisdom and great ability.‭  ‬His father had wanted to
build a temple for God in Jerusalem,‭ ‬but God had not permitted David to do so.‭  ‬Now,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬he dedicated himself to
that task.‭  ‬For seven years Solomon devoted his energy,‭ ‬insight,‭ ‬and accumulated wealth to the building of a house for
God.‭  ‬But Solomon did not let his religious devotion crowd out God.‭  “‬The heavens,‭ ‬even the highest heaven,‭ ‬cannot
contain you.‭  ‬How much less this temple I have built‭!” (‬I Kings‭ ‬8:27‭)‬.‭  ‬Later in life he encapsulated the essence of wisdom
and knowledge…and said it began with a proper relationship to God.‭  “‬The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
knowledge,‭ ‬but fools despise wisdom and discipline‭” (‬Proverbs‭ ‬1:7‭)‬.

Our first snapshot of Solomon is impressive e.‭  ‬We see a man with a proper understanding of his limited abilities and
God’s abounding grace.‭  ‬In seeking God’s wisdom,‭ ‬Solomon found the key that unlocked his full potential as a leader.‭  ‬
And that wisdom helped him in all areas of life…from affairs of state,‭ ‬to observations on life,‭ ‬to worship.


The original snapshot,‭ ‬perhaps slightly dog-eared,‭ ‬is now just a memory in Solomon’s photo album of life.‭  ‬Solomon had
gazed at the picture frequently during his early days as king,‭ ‬but new interests entered into life to crowd out old
commitments.‭  ‬Somewhere in the busyness of life Solomon made a wrong turn.‭  ‬The wisest of men was undone by a
foolish mistake‭ – ‬one so subtle as to elude even the champion of observation.

A new snapshot shows him entering a period that pundits today could describe as his midlife crisis.‭  ‬At first glance the
photo looks like it was taken at a large family reunion or gathering.‭  ‬Individual faces are hard to recognize because the
photographer had to stand at a distance to get everyone in the picture.‭  ‬A thousand women,‭ ‬countless children,‭ ‬and one
distracted man pause in their pursuit of pleasure to have their activities immortalized in this verbal snapshot of life in the
royal court.‭  ‬What went wrong‭?

A careful look at this second snapshot reveals three reasons why the wisest of men made so many foolish mistakes.‭  ‬
Solomon allowed three tiny cracks to appear in the foundation of his life,‭ ‬and those cracks widened to bring him crashing
down.‭  ‬Study the snapshot carefully…and learn from Solomon’s mistakes.

Solomon pursued forbidden pleasure

Power and prestige attract individuals who hope to profit from such connection.‭  ‬No doubt merchants and businessmen
crowded into Solomon’s palace every day seeking to secure the king’s blessing‭ – ‬and some of his financial backing‭ – ‬for
building projects,‭ ‬trading partnerships,‭ ‬and other ventures.‭  ‬The court had a cosmopolitan flair as dignitaries and envoys
from countless nations around Israel sought an audience with the king to cement trade agreements and treaties.

One way to ratify a treaty between two nations was through marriage.‭  ‬A king would give his daughter‭ (‬or another young
woman from the royal family‭) ‬in marriage to the king of another nation.‭  ‬Many of Solomon’s marriages were the result of
such arrangements.‭  ‬Evidently his Achilles‭’ ‬heel was his love of pleasure‭ – ‬especially the pleasure of beautiful women.‭  ‬It
did not take long for these envoys to realize that one way to seal an agreement with Solomon was to give him a lovely
young woman in marriage as part of the bargain.

The Bible doesn’t mince words about Solomon’s weakness.‭  “‬King Solomon,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬loved many foreign women…He
had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines,‭ ‬and his wives led him astray‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬11:1,‭ ‬3‭)‬.‭  ‬
Solomon lived life full throttle,‭ ‬and he had the resources to support his craving for good things.‭  ‬In the book of
Ecclesiastes Solomon confesses,‭ “‬I denied myself nothing my eyes desired‭; ‬I refused my heart no pleasure‭”
(‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2:10‭)‬.

Pleasure itself is not wrong,‭ ‬but it can turn one’s eyes away from the Lord.‭  ‬Solomon became more intent on gratifying
himself than on pleasing God.‭  ‬A tiny crack appeared in the foundation of Solomon’s life,‭ ‬and it grew in proportion to the
size of his harem.

Solomon ignored God’s Word

Pleasure by itself is not wrong.‭  ‬Joy in life is a gift from God,‭ ‬who didn’t intend for us to live our lives in misery‭!  ‬But in
pursuing pleasure one must remain within the bounds of God’s Word.‭  ‬On two key points Solomon chose to ignore
specific prohibitions found in God’s Word‭ – ‬and his disobedience in these two areas produced the second crack in his

In I Kings‭ ‬11‭ ‬the author sadly records Solomon’s marriages to women from those nations around Israel.‭  “‬They were from
nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites,‭ ‘‬You must not intermarry with them,‭ ‬because they will surely turn
your hearts after their gods.‭’  ‬Nevertheless,‭ ‬Solomon held fast to them in love‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬11:2‭)‬.

Perhaps Solomon struggled when the first of these foreign women arrived with the envoy from a neighboring state.‭  ‬At
the time Solomon was still living in the palace built by his father,‭ ‬David,‭ ‬perched on the northern edge of the still-
small city of Jerusalem.‭  ‬Perhaps the walls of his new palace‭ – ‬and God’s temple‭ – ‬were rising on the hill just to his north,‭ ‬
the limestone glowing a golden white in the setting sun.‭  ‬The camels belched out protests as they were forced to kneel
so their riders could dismount.‭  ‬The colorful robes of the messenger contrasted with the more utilitarian dress of the
armed escort.‭  ‬And following behind was a young woman‭ – ‬the daughter of a neighboring king‭ – ‬dressed in the finest
linen.‭  ‬As the envoy fawned over Solomon and described the mutual benefits of the proposed treaty,‭ ‬Solomon barely
listened.‭  ‬Instead,‭ ‬his eyes kept moving back to take in the form and beauty of this remarkable woman who stood in his
royal court.‭  ‬Surely God wasn’t referring to‭ ‬
this woman when He made such a prohibition against having foreign wives,‭ ‬
or else why would God have made her so beautiful‭?

No doubt Solomon used his great intellect to construct several rationalizations for why God would consider this marriage
to be an exception.‭  ‬But in the end he deliberately decided to disobey God’s Word and follow the lust of his heart.

Somewhat later in life Solomon came to a sad realization.‭  ‬All man’s efforts are for his mouth,‭ ‬yet his appetite is never
satisfied‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬6:7‭)‬.‭  ‬And Solomon had an appetite for beautiful women.‭  ‬In Deuteronomy‭ ‬17:17‭ ‬God
commanded Israel’s future kings to guard their hearts.‭  “‬He must not take many wives,‭ ‬or his heart will be led astray.‭”  ‬
Solomon must have known this command,‭ ‬but as each new woman arrived in his royal court,‭ ‬he rationalized that‭
“‬just one more wife‭” ‬wouldn’t make a great difference.‭  (‬After all,‭ ‬God had not set a specific number had He‭?)  ‬I wonder
how long Solomon lived before he woke up one day and realized he had accumulated a thousand wives and concubines.

Solomon allowed his love for God to grow cold

Solomon’s pursuit of pleasure and his‭ “‬benign neglect‭” ‬of God’s Word caused a subtle transformation in his own life.‭  ‬
This crack in his moral foundation was the most insidious because it happened so slowly he never saw the change until it
was too late.‭  ‬But over time his love for God grew cold,‭ ‬and his heart grew callous.‭  “‬As Solomon grew old,‭ ‬his wives
turned his heart after other gods,‭ ‬and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God,‭ ‬as the heart of David
his father had been‭” (‬I Kings‭ ‬11:4‭)‬.

Solomon began his reign by following the Lord,‭ ‬but his heart had become dulled by success.‭  ‬He started well,‭ ‬but he
finished poorly.‭  ‬Part of living wisely is realizing that temptations can take different forms as we grow older.‭  ‬The crucible
of conflict that brings us closer to God in our youth often grows cold later in life.‭  ‬Our wealth multiplies,‭ ‬our reputation
becomes established,‭ ‬our circle of friends increases…and the temptation to rely on ourselves instead of God grows.‭  ‬
Recognizing the pleasures that allure us,‭ ‬remaining obedient to God’s Word,‭ ‬and‭ ‬maintaining a warm relationship with
the Lord are three wise actions that will help keep us faithful to God as we grow older.‭  ‬Solomon neglected
all three…and he awoke one day to find that the wise young king had become a foolish old man.


Shoulders stooped,‭ ‬bony fingers trembling slightly,‭ ‬Solomon waved his arm in a way that signaled for us to follow as he
shuffled into the next room.‭  ‬There,‭ ‬taking a seat in front of a fire to ward off the numbing chill of Jerusalem’s winter,‭ ‬
Israel’s aging monarch showed once again that though his body had grown old,‭ ‬his mind was still nimble.‭  ‬Staring out a
window at nothing in particular,‭ ‬he carefully opened the photo album of his mind and mentally flipped through the pages
of his life.

Solomon’s photo album of life was nearly full.‭  ‬Some of the early images were faded and worn‭ – ‬the subject of the photos
barely recognizable.‭  ‬The more recent pages contained dark,‭ ‬shadowy images that lacked the brightness so evident in
the earlier ones.‭  ‬How could a life that started with so much promises end in such despair‭?  ‬This was the mystery of life
we wanted Solomon to explain.

His opening words rattle us.‭  “‬Meaningless‭!  ‬Meaningless‭!  …‬Utterly meaningless‭!  ‬Everything is meaningless‭!”
(‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬1:2‭)‬.‭  ‬The man of unparalleled intellect had set out to understand the meaning of life as we know it‭ – ‬and
his conclusion was that life by itself is empty and hollow.‭  ‬Like a soap bubble that glistens in the sun,‭ ‬life appears to have
substance and meaning until you try to grasp it.‭  ‬The second you get your hand around it,‭ ‬it disappears and leaves you

Was this the cynical whining of a‭ “‬bitter old man‭”?  ‬Or were Solomon’s observations profound words of wisdom that can
help us live wisely today‭?  ‬Many have assumed the former is true,‭ ‬but Solomon argues for the latter.‭  ‬The book of
Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s final photograph in his album of life,‭ ‬and it’s a photographic masterpiece that captures the
essence of life itself.‭  

Solomon has no need to gloss over his failures in life.‭  ‬His self-portrait in Ecclesiastes shows every wart and wrinkle.‭  ‬His
original God-given wisdom combines with the insight he gained from life’s‭  “‬school of hard knocks.‭”  ‬The result is a
photograph of life as it really is,‭ ‬not a touched-up version.

Solomon began his portrait by recounting everything he had done to find meaning in life as it’s lived here on earth.‭  ‬The
list is impressive.

Get a good education‭!

Solomon began his reign as a mental‭ “‬Superman‭”…‬with powers far beyond those of most mortals.‭  ‬It was just
natural that the first item on his‭ “‬to do‭” ‬list was to figure out‭ (‬using his fantastic powers of wisdom and observation‭) ‬how
life worked.‭  “‬I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬1:13‭)‬.‭  ‬Bad
mistake‭!  ‬The more he learned,‭ ‬the more he realized the futility of his ultimate goal.‭  ‬It was,‭ ‬he concluded,‭ “‬a chasing
after the wind.‭”

In the thousands of years since Solomon,‭ ‬millions of individuals have devoted their lives to advancing knowledge.‭  ‬The
more we know,‭ ‬the more we realize no one person can possibly understand how all life works.‭  ‬Scientists push the outer
limits of knowledge by concentrating on ever-narrower fields of specialization.‭  ‬This is the only way they can possibly
learn all the knowledge available that is relevant to their research.‭  ‬As someone wryly observed,‭ “‬We know more and
more about less and less,‭ ‬until eventually we will know everything about nothing.‭”  ‬Only God can know everything about
everything.‭  ‬Though education is helpful,‭ ‬no one person will ever gain enough knowledge to understand all of life.‭  ‬To
think we can is futility.

Pursue pleasure‭!

Solomon didn’t take long to switch his focus.‭  ‬If education can’t supply the meaning of life,‭ ‬perhaps he could discover life’
s true meaning in the pursuit of pleasure.‭  “‬You only go around once in life,‭ ‬and you’ve got to grab for all the gusto you
can get‭!”  ‬may have become Solomon’s motto at this point.‭  ‬His experiments ran the gamut:‭ ‬pleasure and laughter‭
(‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2:1-2‭); ‬mood-altering drugs‭ (‬2:3‭)‬,‭ ‬material possessions‭ (‬2:4-7‭)‬,‭ ‬wealth‭ (‬2:8a‭)‬,‭ ‬sex‭ (‬2:8b‭)‬,‭ ‬and personal
influence‭ (‬2:9‭)‬.‭  ‬Then he stopped to evaluate everything he had tried.‭  ‬His conclusion:‭ “‬Everything was meaningless,‭ ‬a
chasing after the wind‭; ‬nothing was gained under the sun‭” (‬2:11‭)‬.

Modern society perpetuates the myth that the essence of life is found in the pursuit of pleasure.‭  ‬Solomon reached the
point where he‭ “‬had it all‭” ‬only to discover that it wasn’t enough to bring meaning and purpose to life.‭  ‬Most today
are not wise enough to know they are running down a dead-end street.

Work Hard‭!

Solomon’s third attempt to find meaning in life took a more biblical approach.‭  ‬One purpose God assigned humanity was
to exercise dominion over creation,‭ ‬and this included physical activity.‭  ‬God put Adam and Eve‭ “‬in the Garden of Eden to
work it and take care of it‭” (‬Genesis‭ ‬2:15‭)‬.‭  ‬Perhaps the real meaning to life,‭ ‬Solomon reasoned,‭ ‬came through‭ “‬good
old-fashioned hard work.‭”  ‬Like many today,‭ ‬he looked for life’s meaning in his work.

But Solomon’s wisdom brought two troubling observations.‭  ‬First,‭ “‬the work that is done under the sun was grievous to
me.‭  ‬All of it is meaningless,‭ ‬a chasing after the wind‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2:17‭)‬.‭  ‬Sometimes work is monotonous.‭  ‬Sometimes
life rewards diligence and hard work with failure.‭  ‬Sometimes work is a constant battle with unappreciative
bosses,‭ ‬jealous coworkers,‭ ‬and petty bureaucrats.‭  ‬Work brings as much grief as it does joy.

Second,‭ ‬the one doing the work doesn’t always enjoy the benefits.‭  “‬I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun,‭ ‬
because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.‭  ‬And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool‭?  ‬Yet
He will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2:18-19‭)‬.‭  ‬
Perhaps Solomon had his own son Rehoboam in mind.‭  ‬This foolish son soon split apart the kingdom his father had
worked so hard to build.‭  ‬No doubt Solomon had seen the seeds of irresponsibility growing in his son and
could anticipate the unpleasant results.

Some individuals work hard throughout life,‭ ‬putting up with grief,‭ ‬misery,‭ ‬and other frustrations to gain the material
benefits hard work can bring.‭  ‬But they wake up one day to realize their spouses and children are strangers.‭  ‬They have
gained material possessions but forfeited the relationships that really mattered.‭  ‬Others work hard to provide for
themselves and their children and work themselves into an early grave.‭  ‬Rather than being a means to an end,‭ ‬work
becomes an end in itself and exacts a harsh toll from those who have allowed it to enslave them.‭  ‬Bottom line:‭ ‬work did
not bring the satisfaction and meaning Solomon had hoped.


Does the book of Ecclesiastes contain nothing more than the angry words of a bitter man who realized too late he had
squandered his life‭?  ‬The answer is a resounding No‭!  ‬The portrait is not flattering,‭ ‬but Solomon must be brutally honest
or the alluring glitz and glitter of life itself will crowd out the truth of his words.‭  ‬As hard as they are to hear,‭ ‬Solomon’s
observations on life have the ring of reality.‭  ‬They are words of wisdom from a man who can speak from experience.

Solomon summarizes his wisdom for life in two basic statements.‭  ‬Instead of trying to‭ “‬unscrew the inscrutable,‭” (‬a‭) ‬enjoy
the life God has given you and‭ (‬b‭) ‬trust and obey the God who does understand the meaning of life.

One key to living wisely in an uncertain world is to learn how to be satisfied with what God does supply.‭  ‬As a wise
instructor,‭ ‬Solomon reemphasizes this theme throughout his book.

    ‭“‬A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.‭  ‬This too,‭ ‬I see,‭ ‬is from the
    hand of God,‭ ‬for without him,‭ ‬who can eat or find enjoyment‭?” ‬(Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2:24-25‭)

    I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.‭  ‬That everyone may eat
    and drink,‭ ‬and find satisfaction in all his toil‭ – ‬this is the gift of God.‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬3:12-13‭)

    So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work,‭ ‬because that is his lot.‭  ‬For who can bring
    him to see what will happen after his‭?” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬3:22‭)

    Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink,‭ ‬and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor
    under the sun during the few days of life God has given him‭ – ‬for this is his lot.‭  ‬Moreover,‭ ‬when God gives any
    man wealth and possessions,‭ ‬and enables him to enjoy them,‭ ‬to accept his lot and be happy in his work‭ – ‬this is a
    gift of God.‭”  (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬5:18-19‭)

    So I commend the enjoyment of life,‭ ‬because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and
    be glad.‭  ‬Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.‭”  
    (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬8:15‭)

    Go,‭ ‬eat your food with gladness,‭ ‬and drink your wine with a joyful heart,‭ ‬for it is now that God favors what
    you do.‭  ‬Always be clothed in white,‭ ‬and always anoint your head with oil.‭  ‬Enjoy life with your wife,‭ ‬whom you
    love,‭ ‬all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun‭ – ‬all your meaningless days.‭  ‬For
    this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun.‭”  (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬9:7-9‭)

Observe closely Solomon’s advice.‭  ‬Life from a human perspective is uncertain.‭  ‬You don’t know how long you will live.‭  ‬
You don’t know if your hard work will bring material success.‭  ‬God does have a plan for your life,‭ ‬but He doesn’t reveal
the details to you.‭  ‬So how does one live wisely in the midst of life’s uncertainties‭?  ‬Solomon says one secret to a
wise life is to realize these uncertainties and then to enjoy the blessings God does bestow rather than becoming angry
or fearful of those things over which we have no control.

Trust and obey God

Some have described Solomon’s first piece of advice as materialistic hedonism.‭  “‬Eat,‭ ‬drink,‭ ‬and be merry for tomorrow
we may die‭!”  ‬His words could be taken that way…were it not for the other piece of advice Solomon adds at the very end
of his journal.‭  ‬We must understand his advice to enjoy life in the complete context of the book.‭  ‬First,‭ ‬he has already
shown that a life dedicated only to the pursuit of pleasure will result in emptiness‭ (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬2‭)‬.‭  ‬Second,‭ ‬he ends the
book by pointing his readers beyond the materialism of this life to the reality of God and the life to come.‭  ‬These two
restrictions form a set of mental‭ “‬bookends‭” ‬that limit the meaning one can give to his other words of advice.

Solomon reached the conclusion of his book by pointing his audience to the ultimate Source of the wisdom found within
its pages.‭  “‬The words of the wise are like goads,‭ ‬their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails‭ – ‬given by one
Shepherd‭” (‬Ecclesiastes‭ ‬12:11‭)‬.‭  ‬What is God’s final word on how to live wisely in uncertain times‭?  “‬Now all has been
heard‭; ‬here is the conclusion of the matter:‭ ‬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-
14‭)‬.‭  ‬Wisdom is remembering that God is in charge and that He will work everything out in His own way.‭  ‬We are not
responsible to understand why everything in life happens as it does.‭  ‬But we are responsible to trust Him in spite of life’s

Solomon’s secret to wisdom‭?  ‬Wisdom begins when we develop a proper relationship to God…recognizing our limitations
and humbly following His divine directives.‭  “‬The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,‭ ‬but fools
despise wisdom and discipline‭” (‬Proverbs‭ ‬1:7‭)‬.


CHARACTER COUNTS,‭ ‬by Charles H.‭ ‬Dyer,‭ ‬Copyright‭ ‬2010,‭ ‬Moody Publishers.