The Pursuit Of Pleasure

A daily devotion for February 4th

Read the Scripture: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

1 I thought in my heart, "Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good." But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 "Laughter," I said, "is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?" 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 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. 8 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. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 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.

11 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.

New International Version
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I thought in my heart, Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good. But that also proved to be meaningless (Ecclesiastes 2:1).

In chapter 2 we are introduced to the record of what Solomon found in this search. We have an examination of the various ways by which humans have sought through the ages to find contentment, enjoyment, and delight in life. The first way, the one that is most popular today and always has been, is his examination of what philosophers call hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure. All of us instinctively feel that if we can just have fun, we will find happiness. That is what the Searcher examines first to see whether it is true.

He gives us details of what he experienced. First, Solomon tells himself, Enjoy yourself, so he went in for mirth, laughter, and pleasure. You can let your mind fill in the gaps here. Imagine how the palace must have rocked with laughter. Every night they had stand-up comics and lavish feasts, with wine flowing like water.

Solomon gives us the result of the search. Laughter, he said to himself, is foolish. I wonder if each of us has not experienced this to some degree. Have you ever spent time with a group of your friends, giving yourself to laughing, having fun, and telling stories? If you think carefully about it, you will recall that at least parts of the stories were based on exaggeration; they did not have much basis in reality.

It is the same with laughter. Laughter deals only with the peripheries of life. There is no solid content to it. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Laughter is only a crackling noise. It leaves one with a sense of unfulfillment. I have had such afternoons and evenings that were delightful occasions. We laughed all the time as we rehashed experiences and told jokes, but when all was said and done, we went to bed feeling rather empty. That was Solomon's experience. He is not saying that this is wrong. He says that laughter is empty, it does not fulfill or satisfy.

Of pleasure, Solomon's comment is, What use is it? What does it contribute to life? Nothing, is his answer. Pleasure consumes resources; it does not build them up. Most of us cannot afford a night out more than once or twice a year because it costs so much. Going out uses up resources that have been acquired through hard work. Pleasure, Solomon concludes, adds nothing.

Solomon says there were some positive things. First, he gained a degree of notoriety. He became great, surpassing all who went before him in Jerusalem. Many people think that fame will satisfy the emptiness of the heart. Solomon found fame. I enjoyed it for a while, he says. I found pleasure in all my toil, but that was all the reward I got for my labor—momentary enjoyment. Each time I repeated it, I got a little less enjoyment out of it.

My conclusion, Solomon says, is that it was not worth it. Like a candle, it all burned away, leaving me jaded and surfeited. Nothing could excite me after that. He concludes that it was all emptiness, a striving after wind. He was burned out.

Lord, I too have sought for my satisfaction in fun, laughter, and pleasure, and, like Solomon, I have come up empty. Let me enjoy those pleasures You give as gifts from Your hand, but let me find my heart's delight in You.

Life Application: Do we live as consumers, using every resource & person in our quest for fulfillment? Has the well of hedonistic pleasures gone dry? Where do we go after burn out?

We hope you were blessed by this daily devotion.

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