The story is told of a father who was tucking his small son into bed one night. As always, the young boy knelt by his bed to say his nightly prayers; however, that particular night what he said took his dad by surprise: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I wake before I die, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
For a second, he started to correct his son because he should have said “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take;” however, upon reflection he realized “out of the mouth of babes” had come great truth—for, sadly, there are many people who never “wake before they die,” i.e., they never live at all.
They’re “much to do about nothing”…always “grabbing for all the gusto they can get”…always trying to make a name for themselves and not caring whom they step on to do so. To them “the end justifies the end.” But, sadly, when it’s all said and done, it was for all for naught because it was all about them.
Interestingly, the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament has a lot to say about that. King Solomon, the second son of David by Bathsheba, succeeded his father as the third king of Israel. He ruled from 971-931 B.C. and experienced great prosperity and tranquility during his 40-year reign.
What’s interesting is that God asked him what he’d like from Him—and, instead of saying fame and fortune or continual victory over his enemies, he asked for wisdom: wisdom to properly lead his people. And, God gave him that and much more (I Kings 3:4-15).
During the first part of his reign he was able to build the long-awaited Temple his father had envisioned. He divided his kingdom into 12 regions, establishing a trade center and military outpost in each. His military consisted of 12,000 horses with riders and 1,400 chariots. He even formed a navy which was used in bringing in exotic, quite valuable goods from faraway nations.
Soon his fame spread far and wide. Dignitaries from other nation would visit him, bearing gifts, to hear his wisdom and view his magnificent kingdom. The Queen of Sheba (most likely modern-day Ethiopia) also paid him a visit and marveled at all she saw, particularly the contentment of his servants.
But soon things began to change. Something had happened to him.
What was that “something?”
In I Kings 11 we read that “Solomon loved many strange women” (v.1). This meant “foreign or pagan” women. Even though he knew God had commanded the Israelites to not intermarry with other nations because “they would turn their hearts after their gods and away from Him”—he still did so and that’s exactly what happened (vv.2-3).
Soon he had built temples for his 700 wives’ and 300 concubines’ false gods of Ashtoreth and Molech. Soon he was allowing the people to sacrifice their children to Molech by burning them to death.
Thus, it’s no wonder that Solomon included the word “vanity” 39 times and “under the sun” 27 times in Ecclesiastes. He looked back on his life and considered all he’d done as futile or a waste. He’d also lost sight of the One Who’d given him wisdom, fame and fortune—for he’d forgotten that He was the One Who created the sun and reigned above it.
Even a cursory reading of Ecclesiastes is depressing. And his theme song was “Doom, despair and agony on me.” He talked about the vanity of pursuing wisdom, pleasure, great accomplishments, hard labor, popularity, religion, etc. But, thankfully, there’s still enough sage, spiritual insights in 3:1-22 and 7:1-12:14 to remind us of what’s important.
Simply put, if we view Ecclesiastes as Solomon’s memoirs or reflection on his life, we’ll hear him warning of pursuing worldly things or making them an end in themselves. In so doing, we ultimately end up with nothing and finish up at one point: death and the grave.
Much better is “remembering our Creator in the days of our youth” (12:1) and “fearing and obeying Him for the rest of our lives” (12:13). Truly, the choice is ours: temporal or eternal. A legacy that remains after we’re gone or is soon forgotten.
The choice is ours. Here’s hoping you’ll heed Solomon’s advice and live your life for God’s Glory—for, when it’s all said and done, that’s all that really matters. God bless you.
(NOTE: If you’d like to contact Bro. Tom or receive his daily e-mail devotional, entitled “Morning Manna,” you can write him at P.O. Box 10614, Fort Smith, AR 72917 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tom Smith is chaplain with the 188th Wing, Air National Guard, Fort Smith and the Arkansas National Guard Command chaplain at the Joint Forces Headquarters at Camp Robinson in North Little Rock. He is also the bi-vocational pastor at Vine Prairie Baptist Church, Mulberry.