“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. 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.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
EDITORIAL NOTE: I took a couple of months off posting to regroup and consider several new developments in my life, all good. I’m back now and will resume posting commentary on how God works in all our lives.
One of my favorite movies every year is the Frank Capra classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I suspect we’ve all seen this film many times, maybe with at Christmas time with friends or family. One of the key early scenes is a confrontation between the hero, George Bailey – a man who has his life in front of him and wants to see the world and find his fortune – and the evil millionaire Henry Potter, a man who has gained everything but has no redeeming qualities.
In this scene, George is preparing to leave on his long awaited trip to Europe, but is stopped by Potter’s desire to take over the Building and Loan built by George’s father. Of course, we know how the story ends. George stays, loses the $8,000 meant for his European trip which he decided to use to save the Building and Loan, and learns the true meaning of life along the way. The true meaning of “having it all.”
What if we could really have it all? Money. Power. Love. Sex. Respect. Popularity. Absolutely anything we wanted. Many of us spend our lives wishing for that very scenario—or at least imagining what it would be like. But not many of us get there.
Mel Gibson got there.
Once an obscure Australian actor, Gibson got his first big break starring in the cult classic Mad Max when he was twenty-three. More big roles followed in blockbusters such as the Lethal Weapon series, Maverick, Ransom, Conspiracy Theory, Payback, What Women Want and Signs. As his international stardom grew, so did his bank account. At one point Gibson was one of the top-paid actors in the world getting $25 million for every movie he starred in.
But acting wasn’t enough for him. In 1993 he stepped behind the camera to direct The Man Without a Face. Two years later he earned two Academy Awards for directing and producing Braveheart.
Gibson’s success didn’t stop with his career. He was married to the same woman for 25 years, and they had seven kids together. People magazine named him the Sexiest Man Alive. Premiere magazine listed him as one of the most powerful people in Hollywood.
Worldwide fame. Unlimited riches. True love. Fatherhood. Widespread respect for his talent. International renown for his sexual appeal. Virtually limitless power in his career. Rarely does one man get so much in one lifetime.
Mel Gibson had it all. So he must have been the happiest man on the planet, right? He had the power to do almost anything he wanted. The money to buy almost anything he could imagine. Almost nothing was out of reach for him.
Yet Gibson felt something was missing. All he had wasn’t enough. So he added some new experiences to the mix: addiction. Drugs, alcohol, women, anything. His addictions very nearly ruined his life, if not his career.
Eventually Gibson sought treatment for his addictions. But after getting clean and sober, he found himself right back where he had started: with an emptiness in his life.
Gibson wasn’t the first guy to reach that depressing conclusion. In fact the viewpoint is as ancient as the Old Testament. King Solomon, sometimes referred to as the wisest man in antiquity, was such a man. Solomon reached the same conclusion about life on earth over 3,000 years ago. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, he spells out everything he tried in his quest for meaning in this life—and how all of it left him feeling empty.
What happened to Solomon in his quest for meaning? How did a man who began with so much promise end with such despair and hopelessness? And more importantly, could this happen to you and me?
Early in his reign, Solomon was described as a king who could do no wrong. The first 10 chapters of I Kings offer numerous instances of Solomon’s remarkable fitness as King of Israel. In 1 Kings 2 Solomon consolidates his rule.
In Chapter 3 he asks God for wisdom rather than wealth or honor and in return, God grants him all three. This chapter is where we learn the story of the two mothers who are arguing over the child.
In Chapter 4, we see Solomon coming into the fullness of his wealth and fame. Verse 26 reads “Solomon had four thousand stalls for chariot horses and, and twelve thousand horses.” Imagine having the wealth to build a garage for 4,000 cars … or even 400 hundred. How much is enough? When is too much enough? Solomon’s wealth exceeded that of any other king in the world.
Yet in the same chapter we also read of his wisdom. Verses 29-34 tell us of how his wisdom spread across the Middle East and that he was wiser than all the people in the surrounding countries.
Chapters 5 – 7 describe the building of the Temple and Solomon’s palace, where over 180,000 men were conscripted to provide the labor. In an incredibly shrewd piece of politics, Solomon makes a treaty with Hiram, King of Tyre, who had participated in the wars against King David. He bargained for Hiram to cut down cedars of Lebanon to build the temple, and he offered to pay “whatever wages” Hiram’s men set. In addition, Solomon agreed to provide wheat and olive oil for Hiram’s Royal Household, and so a peace was made between Israel and Tyre. Again, Solomon displays his wisdom and understanding.
Chapter 8 details the dedication of the Temple and the placing of the Ark into inner sanctuary. During the Dedication ceremony Solomon stands before the altar and delivers a compelling prayer to God for guidance and protection of His chosen people. The prayer covers virtually every aspect of Jewish life from justice, to war, to plagues and famine. He concludes with these words in verse 52: “May your eyes be open to your servant’s plea and to the plea of your people Israel, and may you listen to them whenever they cry out to you.”
It was this prayer God answered in Chapter 9, appearing to Solomon for a second time, saying He had heard Solomon’s appeal and promising to put his Name and eyes and heart on the Temple forever. God further promises to establish Solomon’s royal throne over Israel forever, so long as Solomon walks before Him “faithfully with integrity of heart and uprightness.”
But then God says something else, something that foreshadows not only Solomon’s later years but the very future of Israel itself. Listen to the God’s admonition from verses 6-9:
“But if you or your descendants turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. Israel will then become a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. Allwho pass by will be appalled and will scoff and say, ‘Why has the LORD done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’ People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the LORD their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why the LORD brought all this disaster on them.’”
This is a remarkable warning from God, directly aimed at Solomon’s one significant character flaw – indeed, the central character flaw in each of us – pride and the belief that he could discern a better path than the one God has directed.
What I find most interesting here is God’s consistency. Throughout scripture, God compels us to stay on a path to righteousness. He doesn’t lurk in the dark corners, waiting for us to make mistakes and raining down punishment when we do. He tells us plainly, simply, how to lead a life of fulfillment. He also tells us the consequences when we don’t.
We see this as early as Genesis 2:16-17, where God tells Adam “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die.” And indeed, when Adam and Eve ate from that tree they started the cycle of death we suffer from to this day.
Solomon seemed to have his reign secured. He had followed God Faithfully and used his wisdom and wealth judiciously. Yet lying in Solomon’s heart was the seed of his downfall. Against God’s Instructions, Solomon began to take on foreign wives from the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. All nations that God had specifically said to avoid because they would lead Solomon to turn his heart toward their gods.
We read in 1 Kings 11:4-6 that ultimately, Solomon began turning away from God, following the gods of his waives instead. Using his great wealth, Solomon erected temples to each of the gods of his foreign wives.
God’s reaction was as promised: He stripped the kingdom from Solomon’s descendants, promising all but one tribe to Jeroboam.
What caused Solomon’s downfall? In a word, COMPROMISE. Solomon compromised his wisdom to gain earthly possessions and fame. Ultimately, these compromises emptied Solomon’s heart of his love for God.
Solomon compromised his heart for God by allowing bad influences to creep into his life. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians “Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character.” Solomon allowed corrupting influences to steer his heart away from God, trusting instead on his wealth and fame and own opinions.
Solomon’s compromise is our compromise. Solomon’s downfall is our downfall. Solomon’s problem was not ignorance but outright rebellion – just as we rebel in our own ways.
Late in life, reflecting on his past, Solomon would realize the mistakes he made in writing Ecclesiastes. His conclusion in Ecclesiastes 12:13 is telling: “Now all has been heard; here is the heart of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is duty if all mankind.”
No prosperity in the world matters more than this, even today. As Jesus admonished the crowd in Luke 12:15: “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possession.” Rather, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33 “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,” just as Solomon had done early in his life.
Let me close with a personal story. I know the legacy of Solomon all too well. Over the course of my adult life I’ve fallen victim to the pursuit of position, of money, and yes, the lure of adoration. Every achievement – a promotion, a large bonus check, flattery from someone – fed this sense that I was somehow in control of my own destiny, that I needed no one but myself.
Well the truth is I was in control of my own destiny. Each of us is. God grants us that choice. He calls us to righteousness and we have the choice on how we respond. We can choose God’s path or we can choose a different path. When we select a path different from the one God has put before us, He warns us of the consequences.
David wrote in Psalm 19:11 that God’s laws were warnings for His servants, and in keeping them there is great reward. Hosea 4:6 warns “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge,” that is the knowledge of the Truth in God’s Will.
Like Solomon, I’ve chosen wrongly in the past. Those choices have taken a large toll on my relationships, my health, even my walk with God. All for the pursuit of wealth and recognition. And all for, as Solomon discovered, nothing.
Yet the story of redemption is, ultimately, the story of return: returning to the path God has set before us, returning to our true selves rather than the selves we have created, returning to the unconditional love given to us by our heavenly Father. At the moment of my own turning point, a time in my life when nothing seemed to really matter to me, I found redemption and acceptance and welcome back into the arms of a loving God.
Those who know me will attest I still suffer from the aftereffects to this day, traveling endlessly in my business, determined to win, focused on achievement. The difference is today I bring God with me. I bring purpose and intention to my pursuits, always trying to listen for God’s voice as I make my way from place to place, engaging those I meet along the way, and bringing God into my life rather than keeping Him at an arm’s length.
Solomon had choices. We have choices. God awaits our response.
Copyright © 2012 Robin Green. All rights reserved.