Society today tells us to put the self first. “Be confident,” “no worries,” and “you do you” convey that if we just feel good and do what we want, everything will be great. However, thousands of years ago, a Jewish monarch realized that results in meaninglessness.
“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon in Ecclesiastes’ first sentence. In Hebrew, it reads, “Vapor of vapors, all is vapor,” just as the Lord’s half-brother said a millennium later when friends became overly concerned with planning for the future:
What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away (James 4:14, NKJV).
The most famous saying in Ecclesiastes comes in its ninth verse: “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”
That last phrase has been quoted by writers noted and diverse, including William Shakespeare and Christina Rosetti.
“There’s nothing new under the sun” is a common reply to hearing a story that’s new but with action heard before, such as a masked robber saying, “Your money or your life!” as he brandishes a gun. But is that all the king wished to say in his remark?
Solomon Comes to Power
Solomon (meaning “The Peaceful One”), King David’s legitimate son by Bathsheba, grew up as his parents’ choice to succeed his father on the throne.
Likely crowned in his later teens, his name became ironic as he had to battle his older brother for control and ultimately executed several key leaders to consolidate power.
Behind his boldness was a strong faith, so much so the prophet Nathan, who had confronted David about his affair with Bathsheba and its cover-up, nicknamed the youth “Jedidah,” or “Beloved of Yahweh.”
David left Solomon a strong country, having united the Hebrews in an area slightly larger than the modern state of Israel.
His son expanded upon that good start, roughly doubling its size at its greatest extent by conquering lands mostly to the northeast and some to the southwest. This would be the height of the Jewish kingdom in all history.
The younger monarch, like his father, would reign for 40 years. The first half of Solomon’s rule was the better, as he more deeply sought God then. One night as the king traveled, the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Ask! What shall I give you?”
Solomon replied, “O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child… Therefore, give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:5-9).
The Lord famously gave Solomon not only wisdom but riches, and the leader distinguished himself as the wisest and wealthiest ever in the Holy Land.
When two women both claimed a baby as their own and shunned a dead one, the king called for a sword and said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one and half to the other.”
The true mother of the baby said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”
The other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” Solomon then made his ruling: “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother,” as he knew she would not let her own flesh and blood die (1 Kings 3:16-27).
God also gave Solomon the gift of eternal insight, so he penned the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, most of Proverbs, and a pair of biblical psalms. During his lifetime, he wrote 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), including those not in Scripture.
Insofar as wealth, Solomon built a glorious temple for the Lord using magnificent cedar from Lebanon as well as cypress and olive wood.
The entire sanctuary was covered with pure gold, and there was meticulous stonework throughout (1 Kings 6:19-36). Despite David giving the project a tremendous head start by gathering materials, it still took seven years under his son to complete.
Solomon personally may have been the wealthiest individual in history. He received 666 talents of gold annually, equal to 800,000 ounces and worth $1.4 billion in 2022.
That was only one measure of his income, which brought him 12,000 horses going for $1,135 per steed and 1,400 chariots at $11,400 each in silver in today’s currency.
Add to this a throne made of pure ivory overlaid with gold, a palace taking 13 years to build, and so much else that he could have been a trillionaire (1 Kings 10:14-29).
Peace at a Price Too Costly
The gifts of wisdom and wealth ultimately had negative sides for Solomon, however. He was able to pursue learning not only about spirituality but animals, insects, birds, and fish because his kingdom was at peace with the countries surrounding it. Keeping out of war also allowed trade to flourish.
The quiet had a high price tag, as Solomon’s strategy for peace with other lands was to marry one of its queens or princesses, bring her to his palace, and allow her to worship her pagan gods.
He built temples for these false deities so his wives wouldn’t have to leave home to pay homage to them. He eventually had 700 wives and 300 concubines and, at times, participated in rites for gods other than Yahweh.
Solomon, in the second half of his reign, weakened in his faith and concentrated more greatly on education and money, imposed hefty taxes on his subjects, and made them labor in his armed forces as well.
He favored the tribes of Judah over those of Israel, adding to the people’s bitterness. Assyria and Aram began to move against him militarily.
Hard-Learned Lessons from Having it All
Having become the most famed intellectual of his era, Solomon finally reflected, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).
About wealth, he observed, “The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding, nor favor to men of skill, but time and chance happen to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).
Solomon had the best of everything: wine of the choicest grapes, women from across the known world, and many hundreds of songs to his name. He was smart, powerful, and famous.
Yet he concluded all of it was meaningless, with someone else learning more, each asset and debit passing away, leaders rising against him, and succeeding generations forgetting his achievements.
“I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity in their hearts.”
The king, discovering all he saw and experienced on earth was temporary, realized that forever with God is far more valuable than any of it.
What Does This Mean?
Today, the Lord is shaking the world, rearranging its plans, tussling governments, and exposing evils.
Those who think humanity now is wonderfully advanced and erudite will soon find its character has not changed from ages past, when “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
Back in those days of Noah, God judged the earth and those upon it and found them wanting. He is about to do so again, but his sentence will not be a watery grave; rather, He will subject the physical realm to fire and people to the tyranny of the godless.
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter,” Solomon said in the final verses he authored in the Bible. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
There is nothing new under the sun, yet there are forces well beyond it unseen but shortly making themselves known. Our allegiances — to God or the devil — will bring to each of us a greater reality and permanent home: heaven or hell, the eternity in our hearts.
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Kyle Huckins has three careers of over 20 years: journalism, higher education, and ministry. He’s won 25 awards for his professional media work and three honors for his scholarly research. Huckins is also an ordained pastor whose evangelism outreach, Eternity Now, has reached over 1 million for Christ in its first two years. See more at EternityNow.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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