From the second lecture in the audio seminar Abounding Emptiness, Abundant Living
What does he try next, in (Ecc. chapter 2) verse 3? He tried - “cheering [himself] with wine.” This statement in Hebrew literally reads, “I tried to drag my flesh with wine.” Or translated “tempt myself” with wine. The idea here is that Solomon, again, in this kind of intellectual superiority, wanted to explore the full dimensions of inebriation but never to the point that he was out of control. In the modern version of this, we seek to find meaning and joy in drugs. We want to heighten our consciousness. We want to extend the limits of our sensory experience. We don’t want to be out of control; we just want to feel good. And it is amazingly tempting. Bright people are falling victim to this desire to find meaning and purpose and joy in life. Cocaine is the drug of choice among the yuppies and the well to do. And crack, this incredibly potent, cheap form of drug - does a number on your head but at the same time, brings you into incredible subjectivity and bondage. It is meaningless and vapor. The joy of life is not found in a bottle, nor in wine, nor in cocaine. Seek as you might for pleasure, Solomon can tell you and he knew, that it is vanity.
So he tried tempting himself with wine, embracing folly. Next, in vs. 4, he tries building projects: “I undertook great projects, I built houses for myself. I 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." If you go to Israel, you’ll see the remains of these great Solomonic pools or reservoirs. There were three of them. And they were quite extensive, set southeast of Jerusalem in the hills. And, in fact, it is from these reservoirs that the water was channeled down, in Jesus’ day, to the Temple Mount that filled the ritual immersion pools - the baptisteries, as we would say. Solomon built these great pools. The dimensions of one of them is 582 feet long, 207 wide and 50 feet deep. This is an impressive building project and there were three of these. He also built, of course, the Temple. He built houses for himself and his wives. And more than that, he was a master builder of cities, Hatzor, Megiddo (the remains of which still stand today), and Gezer, among others.
You know, someone once commented – I’m not an original with this statement – why is it that many ministers, many men of God develop what is called an edifice complex. They are always wanting to build. I remember hearing many years ago the testimony of David Wilkerson at a very trying time in his life - a transition point in his ministry. At that point, he had given away his huge holdings in northeast Texas returned to the streets of New York City. He had built up quite an empire there. And he said, quite honestly, "I can tell you that no sooner would we finish one building project that I would begin to grow restless. Grow restless not knowing what to do, wanting to do something. And so, I would say, let’s start another building. Let’s start another fundraising campaign. Let’s get everybody excited. We need a new educational building. We need a new this...." There is a tendency in men, I think, to want to build. We want to build things. And Solomon says, look, try as I might, impressive as all my accomplishments were, there is really nothing.
Also, you notice, he mentions, horticulture and ranching, as it were. Farming. He has fruit trees and gardens and he has animals. This is, of course, part of the primordial impulse in man, all the way back to the Garden, that he would tend and care for and protect the ground and labor in the field. But now look at verses 7 and 8: “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. I amassed silver and gold for myself and the treasures of kings and provinces.” The wealth of Solomon was legendary -- even Jesus refers to it. You can read about in 1 Kings, chapter 10. In fact it’s said that so great was the accumulation of silver and gold that in Jerusalem, silver and gold were as common as stones. He amassed wealth unto himself.
And he also amassed treasures. He was a collector of objects of art. He was brought some of the finest and rarest things, but they gave him no satisfaction. Verse 8 says, he also acquired men and women singers. He was a patron of the arts, we would say today. The arts are a lovely, creative thing. But if you are looking to them for your meaning in life, you are going to find that they are empty. Finally and ultimately, it’s all futile.
And now as a very predictable thing, verse 8 says, "I also acquired a harem, the delights of the heart of man." According to the Biblical text, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He experimented with and explored the full range of sexual pleasures. And it is predictable that he would do so because we have already seen that he was a man of wealth and power. And there is, I believe, in fact, what could be called the unholy Trinity of human existence and that is wealth, power and sex. They go together. Invariably, you’ll have them. There is no coincidence, for example, that in Washington, D.C. you have so many sex scandals. The same goes for great and powerful and wealthy ministries, because sex and power and wealth all fit together in the psyche of man in an almost archetypal way. Solomon says, I’ve experienced this. Three hundred women and I still wasn’t satisfied. Seven hundred wives and, how could anybody be content with 700 wives? Give me a break! That means at least 700 mother-in-laws, oi vey. You have to question his wisdom, I think, a little bit.
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.