King Solomon is an example of a person who understood exceptional achievement. He worked hard and “became greater by far than anyone.”
In Ecclesiastes 2:4-10, Solomon describes the scope of his success this way:
“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.”
Solomon was a high achiever of the nth degree. Today, he could be the keynote speaker at any motivational seminar, and a role model for the success-driven masses.
Surely, a man who amassed silver and gold and the treasure of kings was fulfilled in his career? A man who could say, “I denied myself nothing” was satisfied and at peace with his choices, right?
Well, no, not really.
Everything was meaningless.
Solomon’s message doesn’t stop with Ecclesiastes 2:4-10. He went on to write Ecclesiastes 2:11 where he says, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
The key phrase in Ecclesiastes 2:11 is “everything was meaningless.” The Hebrew word for meaningless means unsatisfactory, ephemeral, or transitory. Meaningless, as in the word picture of a vapor that appears quickly, and then dissipates and vanishes.
Too much world and not enough God.
Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 toward the end of his life after he realized he had focused too much on the temporal and not enough on the eternal. He had narrowed his perspective to the natural and shut out the divine—too much self and not enough Spirit; too much world and not enough God.
Solomon is not saying his career achievements were of no value–he is just saying they were temporal and fleeting.
He built houses and planted vineyards which are both good things for this life. But he began to ask himself, Where is God in all of this? What am I doing to serve him today and to prepare for my life in heaven tomorrow?
Solomon had come to understand that the worldly achievements he and others thought to be so impressive were, in fact, contributing nothing to his eternal destiny. Hence, his achievements became meaningless.
Solomon would understand James 4:14 which says, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”