One aspect of Eccl 2:12-26 that I did not get to explain in Sunday’s message is how Solomon’s fears and frustrations regarding death poignantly played out in his own passing. Solomon’s legacies of both wisdom and work were quickly ruined by his successor.
When Solomon laments in Eccl 2:16 that wise men are forgotten just like fools are forgotten, we might initially want to object. Don’t we in fact remember Solomon today for his great wisdom? Hasn’t he truly gained an immortal legacy in contradiction of his own complaint? Well, remember that Solomon is not claiming that there is absolutely no remembrance of the past, rather no substantive remembrance: most people in the world today probably do not know about or remember Solomon, those who have heard of him probably know next to nothing else about him, and most who do know something about Solomon have not been greatly affected by Solomon—that is, Solomon’s legacy has not caused people to live in accord with Solomon’s wisdom. And who is the greatest proof of this point? Solomon’s own son and successor, Rehoboam. Amazingly, despite having wisdom books like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes written for him and despite being able to see his father’s failed attempt to live outside God’s true wisdom, Rehoboam did not remember his own father or his father’s wisdom. Shortly after Solomon’s death, Rehoboam stubbornly embraced folly instead of Solomon’s painfully gained wisdom (1 Kings 12:13; 2 Chr 12:1). Many of Rehoboam’s descendants did the same.
As for work, Solomon laments in Eccl 2:18-19 that he must leave all his toil in the hands of someone who could turn out to be a fool and who ruins it all. Solomon also expresses great frustration in Eccl 2:20-21 at the prospect of someone who does not deserve Solomon’s legacy—either by merit or by descent—coming into control of Solomon’s toil. Tragically, both of these fears were realized after Solomon’s death. Rehoboam indeed turned out to be a fool and caused most of Israel to revolt (1 Kings 12:16-19), led Judah into wrath-bringing idolatry (2 Chr 12:2-5), and lost most of Solomon’s treasures in defeat to Pharaoh Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-27). Though Rehoboam and the princes of Judah did later express repentance (2 Chr 12:6-8), the damage to Solomon’s legacy was done. Meanwhile, Solomon’s enemy, Jeroboam, who turned out to be a wicked man, ended up in control of most of Solomon’s kingdom (1 Kings 12:20, 25-33).
Solomon’s wisdom and toil, then, indeed turned out to be extremely vaporous! And death showed itself, even in Solomon’s own passing, to be the great frustration Solomon describes. These historical happenings should cause us to take even more seriously God’s counsel through Solomon in Eccl 2:12-26: stop living for vapor but enjoy God’s good instead.
Eccl 2:24 (NASB 2020), There is nothing better for a person than to eat and drink, and show himself some good in his trouble. This too I have seen, that it is from the hand of God.
Questions to Consider:
1. How does an understanding of God’s sovereignty fit with what Solomon teaches about the uncertainty of life?
2. Though legacies are ultimately uncertain, how does God still call us in the Bible to work to leave a legacy (consider 2 Tim 2:2)?
3. What are your goals for life, and how should Solomon’s teaching affect what you are striving after?