The Vanity of Pleasure (2:1-11)

Bible Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:1-11

This passage continues the theme started in chapter 1, with the teacher exploring different areas of life ‘under the sun’ (i.e. in this world) and finding that they are unable to offer the meaning and satisfaction that he is searching for. Having tried wisdom in the previous chapter, he now turns to test out the hedonistic lifestyle to see whether that is able to satisfy him.

Pleasure Seeking Is Vanity: The teacher gives a run-down of the different ways he tried to seek satisfaction through hedonism. In verse 2 he speaks of laughter and levity, and concludes that playing the joker does not lead to satisfaction. In verse 3 he speaks of turning to alcohol, first with wisdom (like a connoisseur) and then with folly (like a drunkard) but both had the same result for him: more meaninglessness. In verses 4-8 he speaks of the affluence and the riches that he had accumulated for himself. He had commissioned great works, owned houses, vineyards and parks, had herds and flocks and silver and gold. He was rich in a way nobody had been rich before or since. But this didn’t satisfy either. In verse 8 he speaks about the singers that he had, allowing him to provide live music and throw parties. In the same verse he speaks about his sexual promiscuity and his many concubines. And in verse 10, he goes so far as to say that he did not deny his eyes anything they desired. He threw himself fully into the pleasure seeking life. But the conclusion that he draws from all of it is that the hedonistic lifestyle does not ultimately satisfy.

Filling the God Shaped Hole: These verses challenge the way many people build life, and it is good not to leave things hopeless. There is nothing under the sun that can provide ultimate satisfaction, and the reason is that we were made to find satisfaction in God. It is as we look heavenwards that we can find true joy and satisfaction and meaning and wisdom. In this passage, the word ‘I’ is found 18 times but the word ‘God’ is not found at all, and this illustrates the problem. Joy and meaning are not found in ‘I’ but in him. It is when the relationship with God is in place that all the other things like pleasure, work, wisdom and the rest can find their place. They are good gifts but they are not ultimate and cannot fill the longing inside of us that can only be satisfied by God himself.

Potential Applications:

  • Ask people to reflect on some of the things that the teacher is looking to in order to ‘test’ the pleasure-seeking life. Where people have pursued meaning and satisfaction in those things have they had the same experience with them that the preacher had?
  • Invite people to turn to Jesus to provide the satisfaction that only he can give. This is a great opportunity to make an invitation for people to follow him for the first time.