Perhaps no other person in history could match the possessions of King Solomon who amassed a great fortune by inheriting a kingdom from his father, and by increasing his wealth through the receipt of taxes and by accepting gifts from many, including the Queen of Sheba. Solomon was not only revered for his possessions, but for his wisdom also. Without the latter it is doubtful he would have acquired his great material wealth. When not distracted by his many wives and concubines he found time to write exquisite poems and prose, some of which are recorded in the Bible, notably his Song of Songs, several Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
It is generally accepted that Solomon wrote the wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes when in his old age, and although this exceptionally gifted king was noted for his wisdom when he was a young man, his experience of life would have endowed him with a retrospective insight into the nature of life so as to draw from it a synthesis of quintessential moral and ethical values. If anyone could have done this, it undoubtedly would have been Solomon who had experienced so much.
To short-circuit the learning curve of gaining wisdom, it must make sense to study the words of Solomon, and if we examine Ecclesiastes we shall know of his conclusion to the purpose of life and the most apt conduct for us to adopt during our sojourn upon this planet. Such knowledge should give us a head start.
The word that crops up time and again throughout Ecclesiastes is ‘vanity’, and it has two meanings: the first is, ‘excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements’ and the other is, ‘the quality of being worthless or futile’. How to handle these aspects of vanity requires a certain amount of wisdom. Those who think highly of themselves and who place themselves on pedestals run the risk of falling, and those who believe they are worthless and that their efforts are futile, stand the chance of being victims of their lack of self-esteem. There needs to be a balance, but most importantly there should be a standard for judging one’s conduct and one should have a sense of direction in the pursuit of goals.
At the end of Ecclesiastes Solomon concludes, “Vanity of vanities ………… all is vanity,” and he further proclaims that the correct attitude for man’s conduct should be to “Fear God and keep His commandments.” How does this wisdom relate to the sailor? Surely if he is on the water for pleasure, his conduct is vain – or is it? Those who race across oceans, those who endeavour to break sailing records and those who explore the world by cruising their yachts, are they practitioners of vanity? They certainly are not - if they fear God and keep His commandments.