We often hear people talk about the American Dream. What they mean is that America is a land of opportunity and that anyone can succeed or better their life through hard work and determination. This dream may be achieved when we own a home, do well in our professional career, achieve a respectable job, or enjoy early retirement.
When the American Dream is focused primarily on materialism and financial security, it can never really satisfy, any more than achieving the "Israelite Dream" satisfied Solomon in Ecclesiastes. In search of purpose and value in life, he pursued laughter, wine, and entertainment. He designed and built houses, vineyards, orchards, parks, and gardens. He amassed every kind of wealth or "treasure" available in that day (v. 8), including the sexual pleasure and political power, symbolized by his large harem of wives and concubines.
How wealthy was Solomon? Every year, he gained about 25 tons of gold from gifts, tributes, and trade. He was "greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth" (1 Kings 10:23). But even with all of this treasure, Solomon found life unfulfilling.
His activities were a kind of philosophical experiment. He acquired, achieved, and indulged in every way possible. He denied himself nothing and gained all "the delights of a man's heart"(vv. 8, 10). And he used his wisdom to observe the results (v. 9). Could any of these possessions or activities reveal life's ultimate purpose and value?
The outcome, said Solomon, was negative. None of these things would endure. When he "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" (v. 11).
The meaning of life cannot be found “under the sun,” but that doesn’t stop people from trying. It’s human nature to worship something and to build our lives around it. We have a tendency to treasure the work of our hands. Today, consider what your heart loves and whether the things you cherish are of eternal value.