"I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties...So give your servant a discerning heart togovern your people and to distinguishbetween right and wrong."
It is with these words that Solomon, as a young man, began his reign as the last king of the unified Israel. God was pleased with Solomon's request and told him that as well as wisdom (1Kings 3:12) he would be granted both riches and honor (3:13). The rest of chapter 3 gives us insight into the wisdom of the man, chapter 4 gives us a glimpse of his unimaginable wealth, and chapter 6 describes for us Solomon's construction of the temple of the Lord.
It would seem logical that a man of such wisdom would have lived a life characterized by good personal choices. Unfortunately, we see that his life eventually became a great tragedy. He was a man of great wealth (7:1-12 describes the construction of his palace and 10:14-15 his yearly allowance of gold) and that afforded him the opportunity to pursue virtually any material thing he could ever have wanted. This, along with his inability to control his physical lusts, eventually bring destruction to his kingdom and separation in his relationship with God.
"The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice."
Chapter 11 gives us insight into his greatest failings as a man and servant of God. The chapter begins by telling us that he loved many foreign women (expressly forbidden by the Mosaic Covenant (Deut. 7:3-4) and reveals that the turning of is heart away from the Lord would be the result. The extent of his perversion of God's original design for marriage is seen in 11:3 where we find that he had over 700 wives and 300 concubines. As he grew older, these women turned him to the worship and service of other gods. The Lord's anger burned against Solomon and yet He withheld his direct judgement until after Solomon's death. Even with the withholding of His active wrath, God punished Solomon with His passive wrath by removing enjoyment from Solomon's many sensual experiences.
Given the content and tone of the book, it seems clear that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes from the perspective of a broken down, unfulfilled, old man who is lamenting his wasted life. The book itself is a memoir of repentance as well as a warning to those who would travel the same meaningless paths that Solomon himself so vigorously tread. We should be thankful that the old king came to his senses and left a book that is incredibly straight forward and honest in its presentation.
The quest of philosophy throughout the last two millenia has been a search for truth, meaning, and purpose in life. It's amazing that the words of a man who lived in the 10th century B.C. could speak so clearly and directly to those themes today.
Are there certain choices that we have made and, like Solomon, need to repent of?
Do we learn from the poor choices we make and then share that wisdom with others?