The turn of the year provides one with an opportunity to look back at a year and take stock. Every year is eventful- plans that have materialized, goals reached, surprises galore, the good eagerly received and the bad forced down our throats. We live one more year of what is called life; we amass or lose fortunes, form or break relationships, chase targets and accomplish things. As the busyness of the Christmas season morphs into the celebration of a new year, it is not often that we stop to reflect on whether the year that just passed was truly meaningful. What if the year was truly successful in terms of good health, achievements and milestones but leaves behind an emptiness that is hard to explain? What if the satisfaction quotient is nowhere near the achievement quotient?

King Solomon ruled over Israel at the peak of its glory. His father expanded and consolidated the Israelite nation and silenced their foes like no one before or after him. Solomon was the beneficiary and his rule was characterized by power, splendor and an opulence that was unmatched in the history of Israel. In his own words,

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. ———-7 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 before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well–the delights of the heart of man. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. (Ecclesiastes 2)

It is rare to find someone who could and who did partake of everything that the world had to offer. If we live in a materialistic world where the mantra is to partake of everything that is on the table, Solomon was ‘excess’ personified. Yet, when compared to the ‘excess seekers’ of today, the most unusual thing about Solomon was that he was burdened with the gift of wisdom. He had asked God early in his life for wisdom, and he received plenty of it. There was no escaping it for Solomon- what was the greatest gift for him as he started his reign also became his burden. He could not accomplish and move on. He could not enjoy and forget. His mind had to reflect on all of his experiences and crystallize into words the harsh truths he found. And we who are lesser mortals than Solomon are better off for his discoveries. He continues,

11 Yet when I 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. (Ecclesiastes 2)

Excess personified was felled by the meaninglessness of excess. Solomon had to have an answer! How could he live and get rid of the vacuum in his heart? Reluctant to come back to God, he tries to find meaning in numerous eager candidates. Much to his disheartenment, riches, toil, destiny, justice, talents and wisdom itself fail him.

All roads apparently lead to God; only one road emerges from the true God. He slays chaos and brings order. Solomon finds his answer in the God of his youth, the God of his father and the Yahweh God of the Bible. He finds that the path of meaningfulness and satisfaction emerge only from him. And so he ends the book with an exhortation to turn to God in one’s youth, to stick on to him and make him the center of all that man endeavors for. Looking back then becomes truly enjoyable.

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