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The Scriptorium

Oil and Water

Oil and Water

Materialism and happiness just don't mix.

Ecclesiastes 2.1-3

1I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely this also wasvanity. 2I said of laughter – “Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” 3I searched in my heart howto gratify my flesh with wine, while guiding my heart with wisdom, and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what wasgood for the sons of men to do under heaven all the days of their life.

The Story: Solomon gives us a glimpse into his season of crisis. He was continuing to seek the wisdom of God, to know how he ought to live before Him (“under heaven”); at the same time, he was beginning to look for answers in the folly and pleasures of life under the sun. But these are like oil and water. Perhaps because he found the pursuit of wisdom so difficult (1.13) and filled with vexation (temptation, 1.18), he decided to give in to the pleasures of the flesh – only as a “test”, mind you – in order to see if there might not be some wisdom here. But the presence of divine wisdom in his soul led him quickly to conclude that laughter, folly, and diversion for their own sakes cannot yield meaning or purpose; instead, they only bring vanity and disappointment. The course Solomon describes in chapter 2 must have begun later in his life, after he had finished most of his great building projects and garnered the esteem and obedience of the surrounding nations (1 Kings 10). As we read in 1 Kings 11.1ff, the influence of pagan women, doubtless taken on in the name of political “wisdom”, must have had a role in bringing Solomon to this point of crisis. Solomon seems to have believed that one can only learn the value of something by experiencing it; he also clearly rues having taken that approach to pleasure and folly. A “word to the wise” was not sufficient for Solomon; it would not be sufficient for his son, either.

The Structure:Chapter 2 begins the most biographical section of Ecclesiastes. Solomon reflects on his experiences, achievements, and greatness. This part of the book would have been the most familiar to Rehoboam, who would have known his father best in the years after he had begun to attain to greatness. Did Solomon hope to establish a point of contact with his son by beginning his admonition at this place they could both share in common, building out from there to a fuller understanding of life as God intends it?  The dramatic and rather embarrassing use of the first person pronoun (in various forms) throughout this chapter was perhaps intended to arrest Rehoboam’s own self-serving tendencies, as Solomon may have observed or supposed them to exist. Solomon is allowing all his folly, vanity, and disappointment to show through at the beginning of his book because he wants to lead Rehoboam to see himself in his father’s folly, so that he might turn away before he is consumed. Solomon’s advice to his son fell on deaf ears, yet this does not negate either the value of the advice or the approach to communicating it.

Do we need to experience sinful things in order to learn that they are harmful to our wellbeing? Explain.

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Solomon’s ‘I’ Problem: Ecclesiastes 2,” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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