Ecclesiastes 1:12-18

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, January 20, 2020 1 comments

by Katie Erickson

Last week, we began to dig into Ecclesiastes 1, and we looked at how the Teacher tells us that everything is meaningless. He began by showing how nature is meaningless, and today we continue on and take a look at wisdom.

In today’s passage, we start out in verse 12 learning that the Teacher was king over Israel. As I wrote about in my introduction post, this gives more credence to the Teacher being King Solomon. We read in 1 Kings 3:1-15 that God told Solomon he could ask Him for anything, and Solomon asked God for a discerning heart to govern the people well. Because of his integrity in asking that, rather than asking for God to fulfill his own selfish desires, God gave Solomon that wisdom along with great wealth and honor. So, King Solomon was known as being a very wise king, having been given great wisdom by God.

But what exactly is that widsom we’re talking about? In Hebrew, there are generally considered to be 3 words for wisdom: sacal, da’at, and hokmah. Sacal has the idea of teaching, instruction, or knowledge, and da’at is an intimate knowing like how well God knows every detail about us. Hokmah is the word used here in Ecclesiastes (and in 1 Kings 3), and it has the idea of discernment and applying knowledge well to the situations of life. I’ve heard it said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. We have to have knowledge in order to have wisdom, which is the application of that knowledge.

So, knowing all of that, we see in Ecclesiastes 1:13-14 that the Teacher has much knowledge and wisdom. He has learned a lot over his lifetime, and his conclusion is that it is all meaningless! He acknowledges that over living things, like animals, don’t worry about meaning and purpose like humans do. Animals just go about their lives and do what they were intended to do without worrying about why they’re doing it, whereas humans strive to have purpose and understanding of every situation.

The Teacher equates chasing after wisdom to chasing after the wind. There is so much that we don’t understand, and our knowledge and wisdom will never equal God’s. We keep trying to fix things (verse 15) but we are not able to do so.

We see that even though the Teacher received so much great knowledge, it still did not satisfy him and give his life purpose (verse 16). Even when he applied that knowledge in the form of his wisdom as a ruler, it was still like chasing after the wind - a goal that can never be reached (verse 17). He ends this section with a depressing thought in verse 18: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”

That thought makes it sound like we should all just give up. Why keep learning things if they just bring more sorrow? Why keep gaining knowledge about how the world works if that just gives us more grief? It does sound like all that is just a pointless pursuit that will have no benefit for our lives or for humanity as a whole.

But the thing that makes it more worthwhile is our intention and our purpose. No, knowledge won’t fix the things that are broken with this world, though our continued wisdom and application of that knowledge may make life a little easier at times. Our knowledge can help solve the inconveniences of this world, but only God can really solve what’s truly wrong; the real problem with this world is sin.

Let me give you an example. While this is not directly stated in the Bible, I would suggest that in the Garden of Eden before mankind sinned, the food there would never go bad. The fruit would never rot or have bugs that would destroy it. Everything was perfect, and there was no death, for humans or for anything else in nature. After mankind sinned and all of creation fell into sin, death now affected everything. Fruit would go rotten and spoil.

As humans have advanced in knowledge, we have applied that knowledge as wisdom and have come up with ways to preserve food for longer periods of time. I appreciate that some fruits or vegetables will last longer in my refrigerator, thanks to mankind’s knowledge on how to make refrigeration - the electricity to power it can get to my house, and all parts to a refrigerator that have all come about thanks to mankind pursuing knowledge and wisdom. But, even my refrigerator won’t make my food last forever. My food will still spoil and go bad. Even the amazing technological advances that we have learned won’t fix the real problem.

The only real solution is God. Someday, He will restore everything to perfection. While knowledge and the pursuit of wisdom are good things, they will not truly fix what’s wrong with this world. Getting an education is a great tool for making things in this world a little better, but ultimately, compared to the perfection of God, our wisdom is meaningless, as the Teacher points out here in Ecclesiastes.

Continue to pursue knowledge and wisdom as the Teacher did, but remember that the pursuit of wisdom is not our goal. Our goal is to praise God who has given us the ability to have that wisdom and who will one day fulfill all things to perfection.

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Bill said...

Love the fruit analogy! Very appropriate.