The Vanity of Wisdom

Posted On July 24, 2019

Ecclesiastes 1:12–18, “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.”

All Is Vanity

The preacher proclaims in the opening of Ecclesiastes that all is vanity. There is nothing new under the sun.

In Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, the preacher begins to look at life specifically to show the vanity of a certain subject. In these verses, he focuses on the vanity of wisdom. The preacher was king over Jerusalem.

The Pursuit of Wisdom

His pursuit of wisdom was an all-out effort. The text said he applied his whole heart to seek out and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. Heart in this passage refers to the whole person, the whole being. The preacher applied his mind, will, and emotions to this pursuit. Everything about him was involved.

His conclusion is that man’s business on this earth is an unhappy one. Life on this earth is hard. Jesus told us to expect that we would face troubles and tribulations (Jn. 16:33).

God pronounced curses on Adam, Eve, and the Serpent in Genesis 3. Human relationships were cursed. Childbearing was cursed. Work was cursed. The Serpent was ultimately cursed, and his defeat would come through the seed of the woman. Life on this side of Eden is a cursed existence. Sin ruined the harmony and peace humanity had with God and one another.

When we are not at peace with God, our life is an unhappy business. Rebellion against God does not lead to joy and happiness, but sorrow and unhappiness.

I Have Seen Everything

The preacher saw everything that is done under the sun, and h,e, concludes that all is vanity and a striving after the wind.

Have you ever tried to capture the wind? Have you ever tried to hold the wind in your hand? It’s impossible. We can’t control the wind much less capture it. It is a hopeless pursuit. You can never achieve it.

This is the end of everything that is done under the sun, under heaven.

Nothing that is crooked can be made straight, and anything that is lacking cannot be counted. This is a similar thought to what the preacher said in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been done is what will be.” As we continue reading the book, we find we might be fighting against God if we try to make crooked things straight (Ecclesiastes  7:13).

Greater Wisdom than all Before Me

The preacher’s pursuit of wisdom led him to have more wisdom than all who were over Jerusalem before him. He gained so much wisdom he surpassed all who reigned over Jerusalem before him, both David and Saul and those who lived in the land before Israel dwelled in the land.

The conclusion of searching for wisdom and knowing madness and folly is that it too is a striving after wind. Having a lot of wisdom is vexing, and increasing sorrow accompanies increased knowledge.

We live in an age where the argument is made that more knowledge and education will lead to a better life. The preacher declares that sorrow is the result of more knowledge and striving after wisdom is vain, it is a vain pursuit.

Life Under the Sun

What are we to make of this? How are we to apply this?

As we extend our view of the book and Scripture, we know that wisdom is not bad it is not vain. But there is a wisdom that glorifies God and leads to happiness and a wisdom that dishonors God and leads to futility.

Biblical wisdom is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). The pursuit of wisdom apart from fearing God is vain and futile.

This passage serves as a corrective for many of us, and that includes me. Learning and knowledge are good gifts from God. But in the end, if they do not help us pursue our God-given purpose, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever, then we are wasting His good gift to us. All knowledge and learning are opportunities to know God and love Him more deeply.

We often associate this with only biblical truth, but we should also do this with other areas of learning. Take math as an example. Math is orderly and logical. Math reminds us that God is a God of order and not confusion. His works and ways always make sense even when we struggle to comprehend them.

Life under the sun is the only life we have. Apart from God, the pursuit of wisdom is futile and will lead us to the conclusion that everything is futile. But God. Those two words change everything. When we fear Him and obey His commandments, we find our true purpose in life and wisdom can be properly pursued.

In Christ, this is possible. He is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). We can do nothing apart from Him (Jn. 15:5). In and through Him, we can live out the purpose we were created for and properly use wisdom. Pursue Him and in Him fear God and keep His commandments. This is life under the sun for the Christian, and it is a happy, wise life indeed.

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