That Tyrant, The Heart
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun. (ESV)
How many times have you been blessed only to find that you desire more? You have everything you need, but your heart demands what you don’t have. The mood sours and the mind wanders. The sweet blessings suddenly taste bitter, and those things that once brought a smile now get a depressing scowl. Life becomes a burden as the heart demands to drive you onto different paths, often covered in thorns and brambles and where little light shines. Its incessant nagging clouds the mind, and anxiety settles into the chest like a deep fog from the sea. “More,” it demands. “Not this, but that!” it complains. Like a petulant child, it stomps its feet and shouts for what it does not have. Its desires are insatiable, and its mouth all-consuming. Its tyranny is ever abounding.
In the modern hyper-sensitive, emotionally incontinent society we live in, the heart serves as the guide. “Follow your heart,” “Let your heart guide your path,” “Do what feels right in your heart,” “If you feel it in your heart, then it’s the right decision,” and “If your heart feels moved, then that’s God speaking to you” are all common phrases and encouragements issued by the populace. Media, counseling, churches, and so on preach about the heart and its inherent wisdom to guide and advise in times of happiness or struggle. Ascribing to the heart god-like attributes, many let emotion guide the rocky roads of life. They meditate upon themselves, communing with a god of their desires and likeness. Self-indulgence is the altar they sacrifice to. However, this god is deceptive and corrupted, infected by sin. It is a broken compass leading people into the wilderness rather than towards the Celestial City.
Speaking to himself, Solomon states his intention to test his heart or his inner self. We must remember that the heart is symbolic of our inward selves. Within our culture, the heart represents the center of the individual. We view the heart as the source of emotion, feeling, and illogical judgment. Naturally, we rely on this aspect to address circumstances beyond our limited understanding, or that logic cannot handle. Solomon looks inwardly, and feeling unfulfilled, he decides to let this inner self guide the application of his God-given wisdom. He effectively places this heart on the throne and submits to its wishes.
As we read verses 4 through 10, we find what lengths Solomon went to please his heart. He built houses, planted vineyards, made pools and parks, and bought slaves to tend to it all. He brought possessions unto himself like no other in Israel’s history. Silver, gold, and treasures poured in from all around and celebrated with purchased musicians, and he occupied his nights with concubines and wives. He lived without restriction seeking whatever his eyes saw and his heart desired. Pleasure and happiness temporarily filled his heart, and his wisdom remained. Cracks formed, and the throne his heart claimed faltered. His heart, that corrupt tyrant, proved incapable of providing everlasting, meaningful joy. It created vanity, and for all the time he expended gallivanting about seeking and enjoying worldly pleasures, waste was the result. His heart thrived off chasing the wind, and Solomon’s test ended with disappointment.
A Heart Problem
When sin entered the world, it infected our hearts; thus, the inner self became twisted and wicked. The Bible declares man's heart is deceitful and desperately sick. Our heart is incapable of seeking righteousness, understanding, or God. Within its decrees lay death. It distances itself from God. The heart is like Pharaoh; it hardens itself to the holy words of God and hates anything that would seek to usurp it from the throne.
Through rough trials, Solomon learned this lesson the same way we all do. Throughout scripture, we find that God uses tests to reveal our inner corruption and to show our weaknesses. Unfortunately, exposing the heart is necessary, for God must reveal it to our eyes. Like Solomon, we’ll go through times when our wicked heart reigns, and we find how empty and vain its promises are. However, we have a merciful God who, rather than leave us as slaves to our sins, delivers us from that tyrant, the heart. God gives us a new heart of flesh, a new spirit, and removes the heart of stone. It is only then that the new heart, a servant subject to Christ, will abdicate the throne and give it to the rightful ruler, the righteous and holy Son of Man. Apart from the triune work of God within the inner self, bondage, tyranny, and eternal separation from God are the only promises kept.
Our hearts are fallen. While the world praises the inner self and its “wisdom,” it works slavishly to satiate its hearts’ demands. They are like the rich fool who produced plentifully and built bigger barns. Their hearts are filled with temporary pleasure, but the time draws nigh in which their souls will be required. What then? Will the King of Kings spare his enemies who rebel against His decrees? Will the Lord of Lords share His throne with creation? We cannot serve two masters. We must pray that God will search and know our hearts and lead us in the way everlasting. Pray for that heart of flesh and the willful submission to God’s perfect authority and praise Him for His faithfulness and tender mercy.