13Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. 14For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. 15I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. 16There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 ESV)
Not only do envy and being alone lead to an empty life but also popularity and power lead to an empty life. Solomon explains this through an analogy of a king.
It is better to be poor and a youth but wise than to be an old king who is foolish and no longer knows how to take advice. Although we often think of wisdom coming with age, it is possible to be wise and young [Psalm 119:100]. It is also possible to be old and stupid. There are many older people who don’t mature – who don’t learn and who keep making the same mistakes over and over.
Wisdom is attained through life experiences. But it is also attained through the advice of others. No matter how old we are, we can still learn from others. When we stop taking advice, we become foolish.
We also should remember where we came from. Most of us come from humble beginnings. But despite being born poor we can rise to great heights as the king in this analogy did (he went from prison – likely placed there because he opposed the current ruler – to the throne). We can become very rich, powerful, and popular. But such things are fleeting.
The world has not been deprived of leaders who rose to popular power only to be despised and later toppled. Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, and Ferdinand Marcos (among others) came to lead their respective countries on the backbone of popularity only to be subsequently removed forcibly. Even in countries with regular elections leaders who were adored when they took over often leave office with low popularity ratings.
Jesus was hailed by the Jewish people when He entered Jerusalem. But a week later these same people demanded His crucifixion [Matthew 21:9-10, 27:22-23]. The masses are fickle. The want what they want. And if they don’t get it they will turn to someone else who will promise it to them and those who come later will not rejoice in the previous ruler.
The same thing happens in the sports and entertainment industries. Today’s Super Bowl hero and Grammy winner are soon replaced by someone new. Former Dallas Cowboy’s quarterback Don Meredith said of football fame “Today you are in the penthouse. Tomorrow you’re in the outhouse.” Exactly.
Therefore seeking fame, popularity, and power is also vanity and a striving after wind. There is no point to it. Achieving these things does nothing for our eternity. They only stroke our ego. They are “under the sun” things – they only last for a brief moment in time and have no eternal value.
Glory is fools’ gold. It’s better to live a life that flies under the radar but is filled with wisdom, using that wisdom to influence others by leading them to Christ. Influence trumps popularity because popularity is temporal. Jesus is eternal.
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