For this post this week I chose to not write two posts (one on Sunday and one today) but rather take the time to write a longer, more in depth post on one topic. I hope you enjoy the words below and I pray they shed some light on the topic of Wisdom and Knowledge. I would love to hear your thoughts!
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.
All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said, "See, this is new"? It has been already in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said in my heart, "I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge."
And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
-- Ecclesiastes 1:1-18 --
As I read this chapter written by the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, it throws my mind into a twilight-zone where I wonder what the purpose of any of the learning I have endured has for my future. Pre-school, grade-school, middle-school, junior high, high school… Is it all really “vanity”? The final sentence of this chapter is what hits me the hardest. If wisdom is vexation, and knowledge increases sorrow, then why on earth would I ever want to learn more?
What further causes me trouble is when I look to Proverbs and find such verses as these:
Proverbs 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 17:24 – “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”
Proverbs 28:26 – “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
According to Solomon knowledge is sorrow and wisdom is vexation. Yet, according to the Proverbs the fool despises these things. Once again, why would a fool despise something foolish? Or, why would something that Godly people must seek be so bad in Solomon’s mind?
As I pondered these questions I think I have come to a somewhat reasonable conclusion. I would like to tie this into my post from last week regarding the evils of the world and us not worrying about them. I would posit that son of David is seeing the evils of the world and seeing how crooked and perverse it is and because of this he sees somewhat of an irony in trying to gain wisdom. The world is foolish and everything in it, what actual wisdom can there be? Quite honestly, this isn’t all that unreasonable of a thought process.
Because this is still a confusing conclusion however, I decided to read the 2nd chapter of Ecclesiastes to see if I might find more answers. I absolutely did. The 2nd chapter we see Solomon gives himself all of the pleasures of the world. He felt that wisdom and knowledge were useless in the world and decided to check out the life-style of the world. It is almost as if he tried to perform a research study to try out the different ways of life:
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.
So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done.
Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.
Then I said in my heart, "What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?" And I said in my heart that this also is vanity.
For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?
For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
-- Ecclesiastes 2:1-26 --
After reading this second chapter it finally dawned on me that Solomon truly was the wisest man who ever lived. If you take a minute to think about this fact it should strike you as a key part of answering the question why Solomon feels the way he does about wisdom.
1st Kings 3:7-12 – “’Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
“The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’”
God quite literally granted Solomon wisdom that surpassed anyone living in his day and surpassed the wisdom of anyone who would ever be born after. Consider that for a moment. Imagine being wiser than anyone else on the entire planet. How would life be knowing you knew better than everyone around you and there was no hope for them ever coming close to the wisdom you have. How would life look? Well, Solomon puts it best in these two chapters of Ecclesiastes. It was a living hell.
However, the conclusion that Solomon offers sheds light on the final truth we should hold on to. The truth that gives us hope to live and continue trusting God.
“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”
You can be the wisest man to ever live, you can have knowledge and wisdom that far surpasses the world but in the end it is all from the hand of God. And apart from God we cannot have anything. Vanity may be vanity, and the world may be despicable, but all that truly matters in the end is that we believe in and live for God.