Ecclesiastes 2:12-16

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, February 3, 2020 0 comments

by Katie Erickson

Wise versus foolish is a prominent topic throughout much of the Bible, as it’s so very important in our daily lives. Just start reading pretty much any chapter in Proverbs and you’ll find sayings about the wise and foolish - how they act, what their character is like, etc. One of the main literary tools used in Proverbs is antithetical parallelism, which is really a fancy phrase meaning opposites. For example, Proverbs 14:16 says, “One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.” You can easily see the contrast between the wise person and the foolish one; the verse says basically the same thing but from opposite points of view.

This idea of wisdom versus foolishness is also in the New Testament. Jesus told parables to illustrate this, such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins and the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders. The chapter of James 3 also talks about wisdom and the lack thereof.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about Proverbs and other parts of the Bible in a post on Ecclesiastes. Well, today’s section of Ecclesiastes 2:12-16 deals with wisdom and folly, along with so much of the whole of Scripture.

The Teacher (likely King Solomon) has already considered nature, other aspects of wisdom, and pleasure previously and has found them to be ultimately meaningless. Now, he turns to wisdom and folly. In verse 12, he says, “What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?” This could be referencing Solomon’s son Rehoboam who will be king after him and realizing no one will match Solomon’s wisdom, or it could be Solomon looking back at his father King David and feeling like he can’t match up to his great legacy.

If we take to heart what he says in verse 13, that basically sums up everything we need to know: “I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.” If we know what is wisdom and we know what is folly and we do those things, then we’ll be all set in life, right?

Not quite. Verse 14 goes on to say, “The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.” Walking in light and being able to see with our eyes (i.e. having wisdom) is great for this life, but the wise one and the fool will both end up with the same fate - death. The Teacher realizes in verse 15 that this simple fact makes even seeking wisdom instead of foolishness to be meaningless. What’s the point if we’re all going to die anyway?

This point is further emphasized in verse 16: “For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!” There is some irony in the Teacher saying that both the wise and the fool will not be remembered long, as we are still reading his words today, a few thousand years later! But his point is that whether you live a wise life or a foolish one, you’ll still die and be forgotten eventually. As with most of this book, that sounds pretty depressing at first glance.

So what is our takeaway from this section? No matter how you live your life, whether you make wise choices or foolish ones, ultimately you will die. That may be depressing for some people, but for those of us who follow Jesus Christ and have faith in Him, we have hope even in this dismal statement! We may make many foolish mistakes in our lives here on this earth, but through Jesus Christ, there is always forgiveness. We may make many wise choices in our lives here on this earth, but they will not get us to eternal life - only Jesus Christ can do that.

The choices we make on a daily basis and the way we live our lives are important for being good witnesses and living out our faith (see James 2:14-26 for more on that). But ultimately, we will all die a physical death, and the choices we’ve made in this life are meaningless compared to the one important choice in the history of mankind: the choice that Jesus made to leave heaven, come down to earth as a human, die a terrible death, and be raised again so that we may have eternal life through our faith in His work. Jesus never made a foolish choice, and His wisdom is infinite. He is all that truly matters. While the things we do are important for the cause of Jesus Christ, even everything that we do, whether wise or foolish, is meaningless compared to the great sacrifice and work of Jesus.

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