Chapter 6: Vertical Wisdom from the Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

 

     Can you imagine what it would be like to be the smartest person in the entire world? Wouldn’t that be cool-or would it? Someone once said: “Ignorance is bliss.” If we’re honest, the more we know and figure out about life, the more complicated and burdensome life becomes.

     The Bible tells us that an ancient king by the name of Solomon was the wisest guy ever to set foot on this planet (other than Jesus, of course, who was God in flesh). We need to first understand how Solomon acquired such genius before we go any further into this chapter. What’s fascinating to note is that Solomon’s incredible intelligence was the result of a vertical choice he made early in his reign as king. God appeared to him in a dream one night in a place called Gibeon. What did God have to say? Well, basically this: “Solomon, anything you want, you’ve got it” (1 Kings 3:5).

     Have you ever imagined this kind of scenario in your mind? A multi-billionaire walks up to you out of nowhere and hands you a blank check. His only words of instruction: “Put in any amount you want.  It’s yours.” You respond: “Wow, you’ve got to be kidding me, man-anything?” He says, “That’s right, anything” and walks away.

     Now let’s jolt ourselves back into reality out of that very unlikely scenario and talk about something that really happened and was much more amazing. The infinite, majestic God of this vast universe showed up in Solomon’s life and said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” Talk about an opportunity to indulge oneself in earthly, horizontal realities! “Well Lord, let’s see. I’d like a million tons of gold, perfect health for the rest of my life, political power over every country in the world, and have everyone think I’m the greatest guy ever!

     Come on, if we were in Solomon’s shoes, I’m sure a couple of those thoughts would have crossed our minds! That is what makes Solomon’s response all the more amazing. He didn’t ask for anything worldly to satisfy his senses. Rather, he asked God only for a special endowment of heavenly wisdom to rule Israel (1 kings 3:6-9). God honoured that vertical request and granted Solomon wisdom and understanding unmatched by that of any other person in human history. (1 Kings 3:10-12). Furthermore, as a bonus, God said He would bless him with riches and honour beyond his wildest imaginations (1 Kings 3:13).

     However, there was a catch. There usually is. With blessing comes responsibility. God would only continue to grant him those things if Solomon remained vertical in his perspective and did not slip into sinful, horizontal practices (1 Kings 3:14). So what was the outcome? The book of Ecclesiastes gives us the answer. Incredibly, Solomon wound up going horizontal big-time.

     You would have thought the wisest man ever would have kept his lifestyle and perspective vertical. But this was not the case, according to Solomon’s own writings in Ecclesiastes. He wound up embarking on one of the most extensive and intensive horizontal pursuits of meaning and significance ever known to humanity.

     Solomon sought the answers to the complexity and riddles of life in many different life-arenas. His quest took him to such pursuits as human knowledge, achievement, pleasure, and popularity. After exhausting much time and effort in these pursuits, this was his conclusion: “‘Vanity of vanities, ‘says the Preacher; ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’” (Eccl. 1:2). That’s really sad, isn’t it? Talk about an overwhelming depressing conclusion! Everything is vain. It’s a waste of time.

     Let’s explore in more depth how Solomon arrived at such a state of total despair. If that was the wisest man’s conclusion to what constitutes life, we had better figure out how he got there. It is both compelling and necessary. The fact is, I don’t have wisdom and intelligence that even begins to compare to Solomon’s. Neither do you. Therefore, there’s got to be something in Solomon’s story that is hugely important to ordinary people like you and me.

     What Solomon discovered about life on earth was this: searching for meaning and significance on the horizontal plane is ultimately futile. Put another way, if you start and stay with planet Earth to figure out what life is all about, you are going to come up empty-guaranteed. What Solomon found out was that when it’s all said and done, going vertical is the only answer to life. As if we didn’t know that was coming!

     There are two-hundred and twenty-two verses in the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon could have just saved himself a lot of time and effort by just writing and living by only the last two. But hold on, we’re not there yet. Our task is to first look at his journey of discovery before he finally went unequivocally vertical.

     And there’s something else we need to mention before embarking on this venture. I’m guessing there’s a little thought floating around in your mind right about now. You are probably thinking, “Hey, this guy was supposed to be the smartest person ever, and it takes him two-hundred and twenty verses   to go and stay vertical!” Well, it just proves this basic fact about all of us: “the heart is deceitfully above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).

     Even the smartest of us can become an easy victim to the power of self-deception. Only God knows the evil potential of every human heart. “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10). What’s ironic about this is that what the Lord says about judging people’s motives and actions becomes part of Solomon’s ultimate, vertical conclusion to life’s meaning and significance.

     Solomon was not one to take quests lightly. His attempts to find the bottom-line reason for his existence remain unmatched up to this present time in human history. Nobody has ever expended so much time and energy to find the answers. His self-voyage toward discovering real and lasting significance first took him to the topic of human knowledge and wisdom. We observe this at the end of Ecclesiastes 1. “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all this is done under heaven” (Eccl. 1:13). Seek literally means, “to get to the root of a matter.” To search out means to “explore a subject from every side.” Obviously, we’re talking here about a thorough investigation.

     Solomon’s goal was to write an encyclopedia about life. What was the end result of his quest for earthly wisdom?   I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge” (Eccl. 1:16).  Solomon had come to two conclusions. First, he was the greatest person alive-he had reached the pinnacle of earthly success. Second, he was the smartest person alive-no one could come close to matching his intelligence.

     Was he just on an ego trip? Not according to 1 Kings 4:29-34): And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Thus, Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all men of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men-than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was in all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon.

     Wow! Imagine being able to fill out your resume with “greatest and most intelligent person on the planet.” You would have thought, “Solomon could easily figure out what life was all about. No sweat!” However, the smarter he got, the more frustrated with life he actually became. “For in much wisdom is much grief, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Eccl. 1:18). Solomon found out superior intelligence does not automatically resolve life’s complexities or unlock its mysteries.

     So where exactly did he turn next to find the answers that he was in such pursuit to discover? First, “the good life.”  “I said in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure’” (Eccl. 2:1). Perhaps there he would find real satisfaction and life’s true meaning. Now when Solomon set his heart on something, he left nothing on the table. If pleasure held the answer, Solomon was going to indulge in it big-time. We mistakenly think partying is a present day phenomenon. Wrong! Solomon knew how to party! Under his reign, party time was the norm, not the exception. “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing” (1 Kings 4:20).

     Solomon also sought pleasure in the finest foods and the very best eating utensils.  "All King Solomon’s drinking vessels were gold, and the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Not one was silver, for this was accounted as nothing in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 10:21)."

     "Now Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty kors of fine flour, sixty kors of meal, ten fatted oxen, twenty oxen from the pastures, and one hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl (1 Kings 4:22,23)."

     Now it’s obvious Solomon didn’t eat all that food himself! Historians estimate it would have taken up to forty thousand people to eat that much food in one day. After eating all that food and indulging in extravagant pleasure, did Solomon find the answers to life he so desperately sought? No! “Surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter-‘Madness!’; and of mirth, ‘What does it accomplish?’” (Eccl. 2:1,2).

     Well, Solomon didn’t give up very easily. What else did he turn to in order to find life’s true  meaning? His insatiable quest took him next to seeking the pleasures of alcohol and folly. Perhaps while in a state of intoxication the answers of life would come to him, not in the realm of rationality but absurdity. Not finding it there, he focused his energies on physical pursuits: building great houses, planting incredible vineyards and gardens, and constructing vast reservoirs to water his trees and plants. He also acquired numerous male and female servants and utilized a working force that numbered more than 183,300 men to supervise and construct his vast building projects (1 Kings 5:13-18). He also had such enormous numbers of herds and flocks that he could sacrifice twenty-two thousand bulls and one-hundred and twenty thousand sheep to the Lord in one day (1 Kings 8:63). Solomon also had more silver and gold than anyone. He even had the best singers and instrumentalists to entertain his soul.

     Yet, with all of these physical realities within his grasp this was his conclusion:

“Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labour in which I had toiled; And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun” (Eccl. 2:11).

     Now if this does not blow your mind, nothing will. Here is history’s most intelligent man pursuing satisfaction and meaning in life in ways no other person could ever duplicate and he only comes up empty. Yes, that’s exactly what he said, “Whatever I’ve learned and whatever I’ve gained means nothing, zero.”

     That’s huge. We’ve got to find some answers to this. What can we learn from Solomon’s quests? Fundamentally this: staying horizontal inevitably leads one to despair. Conversely, going vertical is the one and only way to bring hope into the equation of life on this planet.

     Here’s some good news, great news in fact. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what life is about. Actually, it’s quite simple. It’s certainly not rocket science. You can save yourself a lot of time, energy, resources, and grief if you just go vertical. Solomon finally figured life out.

     Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgement, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil (Eccl. 12:13,14).

     What did Solomon figure out? The answer to life’s meaning and significance is not found on earth. Earthly pursuits ultimately only produce emptiness. They’re inevitably meaningless. Only eternity counts. We can say it this way: “The only things that really count are God and what He thinks of me.” Life isn’t all about the here and now. It’s exceedingly more about the hereafter.

     However, whatever I do now does have great importance, because there’s an evaluation time for everyone on the other side. Therefore the primary quest for my life should be to fear God and keep His commandments. This means I will take the reality of God’s presence and God’s will into account every moment of my conscious existence on earth. That’s what it is to go vertical.

     What are the practical implications of this? They’re truly radical, life-transforming. Going vertical transforms how one thinks, how one communicates, and changes one’s attitudes and conduct within the context of any life scenario. We’ll explore this in more detail in a later chapter.

     So, we are on a journey together, learning what it is to practice a vertical perspective in our present lives.  What we will read in the next chapter will encourage us to go vertical when life gets really tough. We have all faced impossible circumstances in our lives.  Praise God that we have got some great examples from Scripture on how to go vertical and experience true victory!

     

What’s the BLT? Nothing earth-side, apart from God, can satisfy our souls-nothing, zero, zilch. Do we think and live as if we really believe this?

 

Unite My Heart to Fear Your Name (Psalm 86:11)

 

Lord, my heart is filled with praise.

To You my hands I gladly raise.

I love to worship You in song.

You are near and I feel strong.

 

But when I praise Your name,

Do I just remain the same?

Does something truly happen inside of me

And reveal itself in holy purity?

 

So…

 

Teach me Your way, O LORD,

I will walk in Your truth,

Unite my heart to fear Your name.

 

Lord, I know praise is good,

But do I fear You as I should?

What You really want from me

Is not just a song but integrity.

 

So…

 

Teach me Your way, O LORD,

I will walk in Your truth,

Unite my heart to fear Your name.

 

Yes, Lord, I want my praise and my life to mesh,

To really live for You, and not the flesh.

So as I raise my voice to You,

May it come from a heart that’s true.

 

So…

 

Teach me Your way, O LORD,

I will walk in Your truth,

Unite my heart to fear Your name.

 

 

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