What Did the Wise Man Mean?
Pursuing Pleasure and Culture Brings Limited Rewards
King Solomon found that the acquisition of worldly wisdom and knowledge was not a satisfying goal. For this reason he explored other areas of life, including pleasure and culture.
Did Solomon find real satisfaction in pleasure, rejoicing and laughter? He wrote: “I said, even I, in my heart: ‘Do come now, let me try you out with rejoicing. Also, see good.’ And, look! that too was vanity. I said to laughter: ‘Insanity!’ and to rejoicing: ‘What is this doing?’”—Eccl. 2:1, 2.
It was in vain that Solomon looked to merriment and laughter for something worth while. In itself the pursuit of pleasure brings no real and lasting happiness. Laughter and rejoicing may temporarily contribute to one’s forgetting one’s problems. But the problems will not go away and, after the merriment is over, they may, by contrast, loom up to an even greater degree. Rightly Solomon could speak of laughter as “insanity,” for thoughtless laughter beclouds sound judgment. It may cause a person to take very serious matters lightly and thereby offend or irritate others. Merriment or the kind of rejoicing associated with the words and actions of a court jester does not really amount to anything. It cannot be pointed to as producing something tangible and meaningful.
Not pleased with the results of pleasure, merriment and laughter, Solomon tested out the effect of wine. He continues: “I explored with my heart by cheering my flesh even with wine, while I was leading my heart with wisdom, even to lay hold on folly until I could see what good there was to the sons of mankind in what they did under the heavens for the number of the days of their life.” (Eccl. 2:3) In his use of wine, Solomon was guided by wisdom, good sense. He did not become a drunkard but maintained self-control. His ‘laying hold on folly,’ therefore, did not mean that he cast moderation to the wind. Rather, in his investigation of the lighter side of life he controlled himself and so did not become a dissipated pleasure-seeker. Because Solomon retained full possession of his senses, he could properly evaluate his findings.
Describing his further activities, he states: “I engaged in greater works. I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them fruit trees of all sorts. I made pools of water for myself, to irrigate with them the forest, springing up with trees. I acquired menservants and maidservants, and I came to have sons of the household. Also, livestock, cattle and flocks in great quantity I came to have, more so than all those who happened to be before me in Jerusalem. I accumulated also silver and gold for myself, and property peculiar to kings and the jurisdictional districts. I made male singers and female singers for myself and the exquisite delights of the sons of mankind, a lady, even ladies. And I became greater and increased more than anyone that happened to be before me in Jerusalem. Moreover, my own wisdom remained mine. And anything that my eyes asked for I did not keep away from them. I did not hold back my heart from any sort of rejoicing, for my heart was joyful because of all my hard work, and this came to be my portion from all my hard work.”—Eccl. 2:4-10.
In the position of king, Solomon had within his reach the assets that enabled him to do anything that he wanted. Yet he did not abandon wisdom in the pursuit of proper works and culture—architecture, gardening, landscaping and music. Hence, Solomon did not deplete his financial resources but kept on accumulating more gold and silver. His ‘wisdom remained his,’ guiding his numerous activities. He also found a certain pleasure in what he was able to accomplish. But did Solomon really discover in these varied pursuits what was of lasting value in life? His answer: “I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! everything was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing of advantage under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:11) Yes, even in what may be considered worthwhile pursuits, Solomon sensed a feeling of emptiness, vanity. He realized that death would overtake him and there was no way of knowing what would become of all his hard work.—Eccl. 2:17-19.
Truly the pursuit of pleasure and culture does not in itself secure one a happy, contented life. Actually, the one whose life centers around this may eventually come to realize that his life is very empty and that he is in need of spiritual food.