A Great Contrast

 •  6 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Of all the men whose lives are recorded in Old Testament Scripture, Solomon stands out supreme in his intellectual endowments. If we read 1 Kings 4:29-34 and then glance at the first verse of 1 Kings 10, we shall see that his extraordinary mental powers were given him by God. He was not only a literary and poetic genius with great knowledge of all natural history subjects, but he also had great understanding “concerning the name of the Lord.” It was the fame spread abroad as to this latter feature that drew the Queen of Sheba to his presence. He was evidently the wonder of his age.
Solomon and Saul of Tarsus
When we turn to the New Testament and confine our thoughts to those who were merely men, no individual stands out more strikingly than Saul of Tarsus. Like Solomon, he came of pure Hebrew stock, as he states in Philippians 3:4-64Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4‑6), and in religious matters he held a foremost place, for he wrote that he “profited in the Jew’s religion above many my equals [that is, contemporaries] in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:1414And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. (Galatians 1:14)). In him again we find a man of outstanding intellectual powers.
When, however, we consider the spirit that marked them, the course they pursued, and the end to which they came, we find the greatest possible contrast. In our consideration, we must, of course, remember the great difference that existed between the epochs in which they lived. Solomon had to walk in the light of God as He had been made known in the law system, ministered through Moses; Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, was brought into the light of God revealed in Christ — in the grace of His atoning sufferings and of His risen glory.
The Good Things of Life
We are struck, in the first place, by the fact that Solomon possessed and enjoyed all the good things of this life in superabundant measure, whereas Paul enjoyed none of them. We may gain some idea of Solomon’s abundance by reading Ecclesiastes 2:4-104I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: 5I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: 6I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: 8I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts. 9So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 10And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor. (Ecclesiastes 2:4‑10). We turn to Philippians 3:88Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, (Philippians 3:8) and find Paul saying, “I have suffered the loss of all things.” And if we would know what he gained as regards this world, we may read 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Having done so, the contrast is great in the highest degree.
But now consider the spirit that animated them. Ecclesiastes 2:1010And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor: and this was my portion of all my labor. (Ecclesiastes 2:10) shows that Solomon threw himself wholeheartedly into “having a good time,” as men speak. He pursued everything that came within his reach. His motto must have been, “I do everything,” in the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction. And what was the principle on which Paul lived? We find it again in Philippians 3:1313Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, (Philippians 3:13): “This one thing I do.” And what was the one thing? The things behind him, the things he had lost, he forgot, as he reached forth to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Again the contrast could not be more complete.
Selfishness and Selflessness
The result of this was that Solomon became exceedingly selfish. This too comes out clearly in Ecclesiastes 2. Read the passage again, and note how he puts it: “I made me  ...  I builded me  ...  I planted me  ...  I got me  ...  I gathered me  ...  so I was great.” His life became one of self-gratification, so much so that he might have said, “For me to live is — SELF.” And as to Paul, we have his word in Philippians, “For to me to live is — CHRIST” (Phil. 1:2121For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)). No greater contrast can be found than that between a life lived for self and one lived for Christ.
So with Solomon, for a season all went well. He prospered in the most amazing fashion, and his fame was noised abroad in all directions, and in that same chapter in Ecclesiastes he was able to write, “Whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labor.” In his immense worldly success, he found his joy.
But when Paul wrote his epistle to the saints at Philippi, he was a prisoner in Rome; he was in very unpleasant circumstances, yet he was filled with joy. Here are some of his words: “I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice  ...  I joy, and rejoice with you all  ...  finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord  ...  rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice.” Is he rejoicing in prosperous surroundings? Not at all, for his surroundings were anything but prosperous. His rejoicing was altogether in the Lord, and this is the rejoicing that lasts. Solomon rejoiced in his own successful achievements; Paul rejoiced in the Lord. Another complete contrast.
Vanity and Contentment
Lastly, we notice that when Solomon wrote of his rejoicing, he used the past tense: not, “my heart rejoices,” but, “my heart rejoiced.” We glance at the very next verse, and we find him saying, “All was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” His disillusionment was complete.
And what of Paul? We turn once more to the Philippian epistle, and in its closing chapter we find him writing, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content  ...  I have all, and abound.” So while the man who had, as men would say, everything one’s heart could wish, ended with vanity and emptiness; the man who lost all the good things of life, yet found his sufficiency in God, was full “according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The contrast in their finish is not less striking than that which marked their course.
Fascinating Objects
Now these things have a very clear and challenging voice to us today. I would desire to accept the challenge for myself and to pass it on to you, my readers. None of us have the immense wealth and boundless opportunities of a Solomon, but we live in an age far more filled with alluring and fascinating objects and devices. The man of small means can today spend much time listening to the voices of men who speak or to music played all around the world. He can watch scenes that are enacted in the far distance. He can get in his car and drive along the roads to his desired destination, or, perhaps, sit in an airplane and cut through the air at more than 500 miles an hour. These things are very fascinating, but we have to remember that all these extraordinary human inventions in the end are going to prove to be but “vanity and vexation of spirit.”
F. B. Hole (adapted)