12So 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. 13I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14The 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. 15 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. 16 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! 17So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 ESV)
After having attempted to find meaning and fulfillment by pursuing selfish pleasures [Ecclesiastes 2:1-11], King Solomon next turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. Solomon approached life via wisdom and he also approached life from the opposite direction. In the end he saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness.
Solomon had previously told us that he found wisdom to be lacking [Ecclesiastes 1:16-17] but here he explains why that is so.
Wisdom is better than ignorance because wisdom allows a person to see what lies ahead of him in life (has his eyes in his head) whereas the one who goes through life ignorant is a fool who walks in darkness [Proverbs 8].
The wise man has paid attention to life and has learned to avoid those behaviors which have detrimental consequences. The one who goes through life without wisdom – who does not learn and heed the lessons of life – does not avoid actions with negative consequences.
And yet there is one event that happens to all people regardless of whether they went through life wisely or foolishly. Both will die [Psalm 49:10]. Death is the great equalizer.
Furthermore, there will be no enduring remembrance of the wise or of the fool. In the days to come they will have long been forgotten.
There are billions of people on this planet. There have been billions more who have come before us. Very few of them make a lasting impression. They are quickly forgotten in a generation or two (what were your great grandparents’ names?). Those who do achieve world-wide fame may be remembered a bit longer. But eventually all is forgotten (ask a 13 year-old about the Beatles).
Solomon realized that all the knowledge he had attained under the sun could not keep him from death. In the end, all his efforts were no different than striving after wind because they could not save him. This is a very important point.
There is nothing on this earth (“under the sun”) that can save our souls. Not fame. Not money. Not knowledge. Each of these things are not inherently bad. They have their utility to be sure, but only on earth. None give men any eternal advantage.
Solomon wondered why he had bothered to accumulate earthly knowledge and become so very wise since it also is a vapor (vanity); it cannot last. In fact, there is something better with which we can occupy ourselves with in this life.
It is better to prepare for eternity than to solely concentrate on this life. Because the love of God and the peace of Christ surpasses earthly understanding and knowledge [Psalms 16:11; Ephesians 3:19; Philippians 4:7].
There is earthly wisdom [1 Corinthians 1:20-30; James 3:13-17]. And there is heavenly wisdom [Proverbs 3:5-6; Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28]. The former cannot save anyone. The later can, and does, for the one who believes.
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