THE WORDS OF THE TEACHER: Or "Preacher" (KJV). Heb
"Qoheleth" = "one who speaks to an assembly", or more simply, "one who
assembles" (from "qahal" = to call together). Thus, the head teacher or leader
of a congregation. Occurs only in Ecclesiastes: Ecc 1:1,2,12; 7:27; 12:8,9,10.
This noun is in the feminine; the best explanation of this
seems to be that it is intended to reflect the "wisdom" of God -- "wisdom" also
being feminine in Hebrew (cp the sense of Pro 8, esp vv 1,21,22).
SON OF DAVID, KING IN JERUSALEM: See v 12n.
V 2: The theme of the Book stated.
"MEANINGLESS! MEANINGLESS!" SAYS THE TEACHER. "UTTERLY
MEANINGLESS! EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS": This full phrase is duplicated in
Ecc 12:8. These two verses (Ecc 1:2 and Ecc 12:8) form a kind of frame around
the main part of the book. The main argument of the book (Ecc 1:3-12:7) takes
place within the boundaries of this frame.
MEANINGLESS: "Vanity" in the KJV. The Hebrew is
"hebel"; this expressive word is used about 40 times in this one short book --
it is the theme, the refrain, appearing and reappearing time after time to
remind us of its sad truth. "Hebel" literally signifies a breath of air on cold
morning. It means... nothingness, a feeding upon the wind, that which is vain or
pointless, that which has no substance and does not last: it is transient or
fleeting (Ecc 11:10; 6:12; 9:9; 3:19). It is like a bubble, which may appear
substantial -- yet when it bursts it reveals there that was nothing there in the
Cp "ruach" with "hebel" in Isa 57:13; see Psa 144:4; Isa
40:6-8; Jam 3:4; Psa 90:10. Cited Jam 4:13-15. More generally, cp also Job 8:9;
Psa 39:5,6,11; 94:11; Isa 49:4; Jer 16:19.
MEANINGLESS! MEANINGLESS!... UTTERLY MEANINGLESS: Or,
as in KJV, "vanity of vanities". Twice this phrase is repeated in this verse --
although translated differently in the NIV. The repetition is a Hebraism,
intended to convey the greatest of all, and increase the force. Many other
similar examples are found in the OT: hence, "holy of holies", ie Most Holy (Exo
26:33), "servant of servants" (the literal of Gen 9:25), and "God of gods" and
"Lord of lords" (Deu 10:17; Psa 136:3).
EVERYTHING IS MEANINGLESS: "Most men lead lives of
quiet desperation" (Thoreau).
"Our surroundings deceive us sometimes. The occupations of
health have a tendency, in the merely secular sight, to hide from view the evils
that are gnawing at the vitals of human existence. All of us are more or less
liable to this blindness. But when, as occasionally happens, we see those with
whom we are familiar and whom we love, drawn aside from the path of active life,
and laid down in the corner to die, and ultimately deposited in the unseen place
from which no human being ever emerges by nature, we are made to feel our real
state, which, at its best is 'vanity'; and we are enabled to see more clearly
than ever, that the truth which we have set our minds upon, is the only truly
valuable thing there is. Everything else is worthless in itself, however good it
may appear at the time. It ultimately vanishes from sight. Men are wise or
foolish in proportion as they act upon the recognition of this fact -- that the
things which (now) are not seen are eternal" (SC 216).
Eve's first son was "Cain" -- his name means "possession". Eve
thought that her firstborn might be the "man of Yahweh" (see Gen 4:1n), who
would destroy the serpent of sin (Gen 3:15) and repossess paradise for mankind
(Gen 3:24). But all too soon, and sadly, she must have discovered that "sin in
the flesh" was lodged irrevocably in her own seed. Disillusioned, she named her
second son "Abel" (or "hebel") -- a breath, or vanity, for now she knew that,
stretched before her, there lay thousands of years of human frustration and
futility (cp Rom 8:19-23) before redemption would finally come.
"What! the whole of it vanity? O favoured monarch, is there
nothing in all thy wealth? Nothing in that wide dominion reaching from the river
even to the sea? Nothing in Palmyra's glorious palaces? Nothing in the house of
the forest of Lebanon? In all thy music and dancing, and wine and luxury, is
there nothing? 'Nothing,' he says, 'but weariness of spirit.' This was his
verdict when he had trodden the whole round of pleasure. To embrace our Lord
Jesus, to dwell in his love, and be fully assured of union with him -- this is
all in all. We need not try other forms of life in order to see whether they are
better than the Christian's: if we roam the world around, we will see no sights
like a sight of the Saviour's face; if we could have all the comforts of life,
if we lost your Saviour, we would be wretched; but if we win Christ, then should
we rot in a dungeon, we would find it a paradise; should we live in obscurity,
or die with famine, we will yet be satisfied with favour and full of the
goodness of the Lord" (CHS).
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot. Full of sound and fury
Vv 3-11: The futility of human efforts without God.
WHAT DOES MAN GAIN FROM ALL HIS LABOR AT WHICH HE TOILS
UNDER THE SUN?: Rather than simply stating, "All work is vanity... or
without profit", the author makes the same point by asking a rhetorical question
that expects a negative response. He uses this literary device often throughout
the book (cf Ecc 2:2; 3:9; 6:8,11,12; etc.)
This question anticipates Christ's question in Mat 16:26:
"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his
soul?" The answer is: there is no profit to our labor, since "generations come,
and generations go" (Ecc 1:4). The transitory nature of human existence in
itself insures that there can be no profit; no one can ever achieve more than 70
or 80 years' worth of "profit," because after that all must be left behind. The
only benefit a man can reap from his labor is that which he enjoys within the
tiny constraints of his own lifetime. In a few years he is gone, never to
return. So what if he dies with the most "toys" -- what can he possibly "win"?
In only a few years after that, the generation that followed him is gone too. It
is an infinitely repeating cycle of birth and death.
And so it was from the beginning, when sin entered the world,
and the curse upon man followed: "Cursed is the ground because of you; through
painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce
thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since
from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen
GAIN: "Yithron" = something left over; life as a
business transaction. "If life 'under the sun' were a business, it would go
bankrupt!" Occurs 9 times in Ecclesiastes and none elsewhere (Ecc 2:11,13; 3:9;
5:9,16; 7:12; 10:10,11). "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole
world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Mat 16:26). 'The man who dies with the most toys
wins!' But when one dies, there is nothing left over! Cp parable of rich man and
barns, Luk 12:15-21.
UNDER THE SUN: Occurs approximately 29 times, all in
Ecclesiastes: Ecc 1:3,9,14; 2:11,17-20,22; 3:16; 4:1,3,7,15; 5:13,18; 6:1,12;
8:9,15,15,17; 9:3,6,9,9,11,13; 10:5. Understanding this phrase explains much of
the "sadness" and "pessimism" of the whole Book. That which is done "under the
sun" = strictly human activities, in contrast to spiritual matters, or (as Hill
puts it) "things that are earthbound, the observable world that discounts the
sovereignty of God". (Qoheleth knows there is something "above the sun" also,
but does not note that fact here. Contrast "under the sun" with "in heavenly
places in Christ": Eph 1:3,20; 2:6; 3:10...) The difference between "under the
sun" and "in heavenly places" is the same as the difference between Paul's
"things seen" and "things not seen" (2Co 4:17,18).
Furthermore, the phrase "under the sun" is found elsewhere in
Elamite and Phoenician inscriptions, with possible reference to the Sun-god Ra
-- which was extremely popular in Egypt. While its main meaning is surely
'everything that exists on earth, apart from a recognition of the One True God',
its use in Ecclesiastes may also be a sort of indictment of the worship of other
false gods, like Ra -- which was essentially vain or meaningless.
Vv 4-8: Qoheleth observes the cyclical patterns in nature and
concludes that the meaning to life cannot be found in the created order. The
Sun, the wind, the rivers -- an endless cycle, over and over, generations come
and go, and are forgotten -- millions upon millions -- there is nothing new. In
our brief hour of existence, we are but a tiny speck in the endless, apparently
GENERATIONS COME AND GENERATIONS GO: "The sad pageant
of man, on an enduring stage" (Ecc 12). Man, made in image of God, passes away.
But the earth endures.
BUT THE EARTH REMAINS FOREVER: "Forever" is Heb
"olahm", and means an unknown period of time -- although, often, in context the
meaning is plainly "endless". Elsewhere, we are told that the Creator made the
earth (the subject of this verse) to last forever (Psa 37:29; 78:69; 104:5;
119:90; Isa 45:18), and that the righteous will dwell therein forever (Gen
13:15; Num 14:21; Pro 10:30; 11:31; Isa 11:9; Dan 2:44; Zec 14:16; Mat 5:5; Luk
13:28; Rom 4:13; Rev 2:26,27 -- a small sampling of proof-texts!)
"Yet it is a strange kind of cycle, as can be seen when we
compare it with other cycles which we know about. This is exactly the comparison
the Preacher now goes on to make. After making the poignant contrast between the
coming and going of human generations he abruptly states, 'But the earth abideth
for ever.' The steadfastness and eternity of the earth makes the human cycle of
birth and death all the more ludicrous. The Preacher emphasizes this by drawing
our attention to three of the earth's fundamental cycles: the daily circuit of
the sun (Ecc 1:5); the wind blowing round and round the earth (Ecc 1:6) and the
water cycle (Ecc 1:7).
"The contrast is exquisite. Century after century, millennium
after millennium, the earth's cycles continue. It is the same sun around which
our earth orbits; the wind whirls around 'continually'; the rain cycle goes on
and on. In contrast to these displays of constancy and timelessness (a lesson
about God's constancy and timelessness) a man comes and goes never to return --
so that there will never be another you or another me. This is the harsh reality
of death" (MV).
"Young gives as a literal rendering: 'A generation is going,
and a generation is coming, and the earth to the age is standing'. This sounds
prophetic as a description of the divine purpose expressed at the end of the
book to bring all things into judgment.
"The affirmation of the earth's stability and continuity may
include the idea of unchanging human nature. The generations come and go, but
the earth and the ways of earth-born creatures remain fundamentally unaltered.
Those who are getting old and yet retain deep memories of their early days,
often think on these lines. Those strange early impressions, those absurd
misconceptions and the folly which is 'bound up in the heart of a child'! If we
had good parents we can remember the comfort we derived from them and the trust
we put in them. We can perhaps remember certain childish faults which leave a
feeling of shame even to the present day. We can remember some early adventures,
ordinary enough in reality but seeming great to us, giving us a feeling of
pleasurable excitement at the time, and perhaps causing our parents a
corresponding degree of anxiety and trouble.
"Then came schooldays with interesting or hateful studies,
pleasant or painful human contacts, and withal some of the deepest impressions
that human life can give. Very soon, as it seems in our retrospective review,
schooldays were over, sterner work began, responsibilities accumulated, new joys
and new troubles came to us; and presently there was a new generation on its way
-- children with just the same childish outlook and repeating the foolish
mistakes of our early days; deriving comfort from us, and perhaps so trusting in
our power and wisdom as to give us a strange stab of amused pain. We feel
inclined to laugh and sigh at the same time, knowing how weak we are.
"Very soon the children grow up, for now it seems that the
pace of time is mysteriously increasing. The years fly by, and our mental
impressions are not as deep. There are so many duties to claim our thoughts, so
many repetitions of sense and memory, that nothing seems quite as impressive as
in early days. Then almost before we can realise how old we are getting, there
are grandchildren on the scene, with all the old lessons to be learned afresh.
Then there may come to us the sobering thought that although these two
generations seem so quickly to have arrived, in the ordinary course of nature it
is improbable that we shall live to witness a third. It is pleasant then to
think of those deeper implications which seem to be suggested by Young's
'literal rendering': 'A generation is going, and a generation is coming, and the
earth to the Age is standing.'
"Many recollections of Scripture arise in the mind to support
this thought. God has 'not made the earth in vain. He formed it to be inhabited'
(Isa 45). It is reserved for that seed which shall serve God and be counted by
Him for a generation (Psa 22:30), even that 'chosen generation' spoken of by the
apostle Peter. The earth stands waiting for the age of blessedness and for the
divinely begotten generation which is to inhabit it" (CEcc).
Vv 5-8: The physical world is seen as symbolic of mankind's
endless repetition of life. Possibly, seen as symbols of political world: sun =
rulers; winds = political change; rivers = common peoples, etc.
THE SUN RISES AND THE SUN SETS, AND HURRIES BACK TO WHERE
IT RISES: The word for "hurries" suggests "panting", as in exhaustion: as if
even the sun is tired from its endless, relentless, racing through the heavens
-- as if a runner were to circle the track once and twice, and a third time, and
then, again and again and again, is doomed perpetually to repeat the cycle (the
same cycle is described in Psa 19:5,6 -- although the idea of fatigue seems to
be absent there). This feeling is caught perfectly by the myth of Sisyphus,
doomed forever by the "gods" to push a huge rock to the peak of a mountain, only
to watch helplessly as it falls again to the base, so that he may repeat the
same process again.
THE WIND BLOWS TO THE SOUTH AND TURNS TO THE NORTH:
That which is changeable, inconstant, reversible. Cp "winds of doctrine" in Eph
4:14; Jud 1:12.
An alternative here is to see this first phrase of v 6 as
still referring to the "sun" of v 5 (note that "the wind" does not appear in the
first phrase of v 6, but only in the second). So the moving to the south and
then to the north may refer to the sun in its annual course -- as it rises
further and further south on the horizon until the summer solstice in June, and
then it reverses its course and rises further and further north until the winter
solstice. This seasonal adjustment of the sun relative to the earth was
noticeable, and tracked by ancient astronomers. It was, in the eyes of the
writer, another endless and repetitive cycle.
ROUND AND ROUND IT GOES, EVER RETURNING ON ITS COURSE:
The globe is so arranged by the design of Almighty God -- that, in the middle
latitudes, a prevailing "jet stream" (as it is called now) blows from west to
east. Though it may vary by degrees (blowing south or north somewhat -- if we
take the first phrase to apply to the wind), yet it continues everlastingly.
This phenomena is emblematic of the aimless "circle" of life.
This theme is returned to in Ecc 11:5: "As you do not know the
path of the wind... so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all
ALL STREAMS FLOW INTO THE SEA, YET THE SEA IS NEVER FULL.
TO THE PLACE THE STREAMS COME FROM, THERE THEY RETURN AGAIN: The rivers also
follow a cycle of life. They go into the sea, evaporate, rise as clouds, fall
again in rain, and again go into the sea -- the same endless process. The
streams are never ceasing, yet seemingly accomplishing nothing! Cp, generally,
Job 6:15; 36:27; Isa 55:10; and Amos 5:8.
Tennyson, in "The Brook", personifies his subject, which in
turn speaks to us:
"And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever."
ALL THINGS ARE WEARISOME, MORE THAN ONE CAN SAY:
Qoheleth writes of endless labor. Paul writes of labor (ie childbirth) with an
end: the manifestation of God's children: Rom 8:18-23. Frustration, failure,
futility, all the time from "fall" to Christ. But in Christ our labor is "not in
vain" (1Co 15:58).
THE EYE NEVER HAS ENOUGH OF SEEING, NOR THE EAR ITS FILL OF
HEARING: Man is never satisfied with life (cp Ecc 4:8; Pro 27:20; 30:15).
This statement anticipates the next, in Ecc 3:11: "He [God] has also set
eternity in the hearts of men." Inherent in man is a desire for something beyond
-- for new experiences, and new understanding. The sad thing is that such desire
can never be satisfied by this life, and ultimately death will make it all
meaningless in the extreme.
But there IS a hope beyond, and it may be seen in the
contrasting Isa 53:11: there Christ will see the travail (labor) of his life,
and be satisfied; for the result -- a multitude of saved and glorified ones --
will endure to all eternity, and only grow richer and more meaningful as time
ITS FILL OF HEARING: The Heb for "fill" harks back to v
7 as well: "yet the sea is never full."
Vv 9-11: Qoheleth then looks at man for progress in history
and technology as possibly giving the key to life, but concludes that any
apparent progress is only illusionary, and that this does not hold the key to
life. The futility of "inventing" new things! All things move in endless cycles,
but ultimately nothing improves!
WHAT HAS BEEN WILL BE AGAIN, WHAT HAS BEEN DONE WILL BE
DONE AGAIN; THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN: It is true enough that -- in
this present, secular world -- there ARE "new things" invented and devised. But
the simple fact is that these are really reorganizations of elements and objects
created by Almighty God untold years ago; and science makes "advances" by
finally learning to put to productive use what He put in place long ages ago.
HOWEVER... under the auspices of heaven -- ie, NOT just "under
the sun" -- there IS something "new": a NEW "creation" (2Co
IS THERE ANYTHING OF WHICH ONE CAN SAY, "LOOK! THIS IS
SOMETHING NEW"? IT WAS HERE ALREADY, LONG AGO; IT WAS HERE BEFORE OUR TIME:
Here is a strong challenge to the hearers -- can anyone provide an example of
some phenomena or circumstance or condition which is altogether new, never heard
of nor experienced nor seen in earlier times? The question carries with it the
powerful implication of denial: there is no such thing!
This is true, not just in the observable natural world, but
also in every aspect of man's life and society. Some claim that in the area of
fiction there are only a handful of plots and story lines, and the rest just
repeat these themes in different settings. Even new "inventions" are based upon
God's natural laws, in effect since the beginning of time.
Every vice and virtue has been known from of old time, and
ancient civilizations provide examples of such.
THERE IS NO REMEMBRANCE OF MEN OF OLD, AND EVEN THOSE WHO
ARE YET TO COME WILL NOT BE REMEMBERED BY THOSE WHO FOLLOW: This may explain
why some mistakenly suppose that they are seeing or experiencing "some new
thing", which really isn't new at all!
Man never learns. Each generation ignores what previous
generations have learned. They do not think it important enough to remember. And
what they themselves do and learn will then in its turn also be forgotten by
future generations. And thus they may sometimes think that they have come up
with a new wisdom. But in the end, if they only knew it, if they searched, they
would discover that it is but the same old wisdom that men have always known,
possibly wrapped up in a different way.
Secondly, it is true also that "there is no remembrance FOR
men of old" -- thus the writer is referring to the transitory nature of personal
recognition or notoriety (Ecc 9:5; Psa 49), the proverbial "15 minutes of fame".
Even momentous deeds of great men, and their wise sayings, are quickly forgotten
by the generations that follow after (cp Ecc 9:5; Psa 49).
Ecc 1:12--2:26: The test of practical experience.
I... WAS... KING OVER ISRAEL IN JERUSALEM: Notice the
significance of the past tense. Possibly this is Uzziah -- in his last days as a
leper in seclusion, while his son Jotham and grandson Ahaz took over the kingdom
that he could no longer actively govern, AND drove it into the ground (cp Ecc
I DEVOTED MYSELF TO STUDY AND TO EXPLORE BY WISDOM ALL THAT
IS DONE UNDER HEAVEN: Qoheleth devoted himself wholeheartedly to the
exploration of life. ("To study" is "to seek after" -- as in a consistent,
plodding effort after a known goal; "to explore" is more "to wander, or meander"
-- as in a random investigation, seeing what might turn up next.)
"These 'laws' of nature are the toys God has given to His
clever children to keep them out of worse mischief" (WGen 2).
WHAT A HEAVY BURDEN GOD HAS LAID ON MEN!: A righteous
God, and not some "wicked" agency, has created this "evil" (cp Isa 45:5-7)!
Here is the Teacher's conclusion (at least, his first
Vv 13,14: An observation of the natural world -- the sun and
the heavenly bodies, the rain, the wind, the rivers, etc -- reveals a world
which has a built-in "frustration" or "futility" (v 14). This is seen in its
endless, repetitious cycles -- which seem to accomplish nothing and leave
nothing better off. AND SO IT IS WITH MAN. Even from a study of man in his
natural environment, it looks very much as though a Creator has subjected man to
the same "vanity" (frustration, futility) as the rest of His creation -- life
and death, life and death, through countless generations. And of course this
does accord with what the Bible teaches, about sin and death (Gen
I HAVE SEEN ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE DONE UNDER THE SUN; ALL
OF THEM ARE MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND: "Chasing" is the Heb
"reuwth": a feeding upon (it is derived from "raah", to shepherd), ie, perhaps
by extension a grasping or seeking after. This phrase graphically pictures the
futility the Teacher sought to communicate (cf Ecc 2:11,17,26; 4:4,6,16; 6:9).
This phrase occurs frequently in Ecc 1:12 -- 6:9 and is a structural marker that
indicates the end of a subsection of the Teacher's thought: he is saying that
there is no type of effort or action that can produce something ultimately
permanent and therefore satisfying. There is nothing people can do that will
yield this, no type of work or activity.
THE WIND: Heb "ruach" can mean the "wind", and thus
that which is essentially impossible for man to grasp. But it can also mean the
"spirit", as in the "spirit of God" Himself, and this adds a breadth of meaning
to the whole of the saying. Thus "All is meaningless, and a chasing after the
wind" could as well be paraphrased: "All is mortal, but strives for
immortality", or "All is fleeting, yet desires permanence", or even, "All is
human, but seeks divinity". (With this last especially, cp Eve's plain desire in
Gen 3:5, to be "like" the "elohim" or God -- also cp Phi 2:6.) Qoheleth, the
Teacher, uses the proverb throughout Ecclesiastes to express the hopelessness of
this desire for what humanity cannot have, and to support his admonition that
people ought to focus on what they can realistically achieve -- leaving the
Almighty to dispense immortality and divinity in His own good time.
Similarly, Qoheleth tells his readers that God has "set
eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom" it (Ecc 3:11); in other
words, though the concept of immortality may be faintly grasped by mortal men,
it may not be FULLY comprehended in this life. Thus he expresses the same point
in another way.
WHAT IS TWISTED CANNOT BE STRAIGHTENED; WHAT IS LACKING
CANNOT BE COUNTED: A general description of mankind in his fallen condition
(cp also Ecc 7:13).
It is true: left to himself, and by his own devices, man
CANNOT straighten what is twisted, or find what is missing. Life is filled with
anomalies, and cannot be reduced to a neat system. But God, through His beloved
Son and His glorious Plan, can do this very thing; He "is able to do
immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine... to him be glory in the church
and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations" (Eph 3:20,21)!
TWISTED: "Perverse", "crooked", descriptive of human
nature: Ecc 7:29; Psa 125:5 -- because of Adam: Rom 5:19.
This is a direct contrast with that which is "upright": man is
afflicted and bowed down by sin, as the crippled woman (Luk 13:11-17), but Jesus
is able to heal such as this! The healing power of God's Spirit can cause even
those who are "twisted" or "perverse" morally to stand upright and justified (cp
LACKING: The essential incompleteness of human
existence: Rom 7; Psa 51. "What is lacking" may signify -- in financial terms --
a "loss", in contrast to a "profit" or "gain" (see Ecc 1:3; 2:15; 3:9; 5:16;
I THOUGHT TO MYSELF: Introspection, self-analysis,
LOOK, I HAVE GROWN AND INCREASED IN WISDOM: Contrast
the unprepared king in Luk 14:28-33. Qoheleth had made sure he was "prepared".
(But what good did it really do for him?)
MORE THAN ANYONE WHO HAS RULED OVER JERUSALEM BEFORE
ME: Heb "paniym", lit "in my face": sw Ecc 1:10; 2:7,9; Gen 13:10; 29:26;
36:31; 1Ch 29:25; Neh 5:15.
THEN I APPLIED MYSELF TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF WISDOM, AND
ALSO OF MADNESS AND FOLLY: Not a course that is generally recommended!
MADNESS AND FOLLY... THIS, TOO, IS A CHASING AFTER THE
WIND: This involved unproductive and frivolous behavior. Kidner points out
that "in Scripture both 'madness' and 'folly' imply moral perversity rather than
mental oddity." The experience of idleness, which many prefer to the rigors of
constant and relentless labor -- even while accomplishing nothing in itself,
served to highlight the fact that the gaining of great knowledge could itself be
futile (v 18).
Now it may be that Qoheleth (whether he is Solomon, or Uzziah,
or Hezekiah, or some other king) did not engage in madness and folly personally,
but only observed it in all its aspects -- much as a psychiatrist might.
However, given the detail in Ecc 2 (eg, "I denied myself nothing my eyes
desired; I refused my heart no pleasure": v 10) this does not seem
A CHASING AFTER THE WIND: KJV "vexation of spirit". The
picture is that of an athlete who strives to gain the prize. He is running with
all his might for a single purpose. But when he achieves the goal, and catches
hold of the force that was driving him, or luring him onward, he finds that it
was nothing. It was a "chasing after wind". The wind has energy and momentum; it
is potentially very powerful. But even when it is captured or contained, its
force is diminished -- it is nothing.
FOR WITH MUCH WISDOM COMES MUCH SORROW: Sorrow in
seeing more clearly all human failings and hopelessness. "Great scholars do but
make of themselves great mourners" (Henry). Cp Jesus in Joh 11:35; Heb 4:15; Isa
53; Rom 12:15. Yet "wisdom" (proper wisdom) brings life also: Ecc 7:12.
With this agree also the words of Paul in 1Co 1:20: "Where is
the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has
not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?"
THE MORE KNOWLEDGE, THE MORE GRIEF: "Knowledge puffeth
up, but love edifieth" (1Co 8:1). Knowledge of itself and for itself is sterile,
and caters only to pride. Truly creation is marvelous, and natural curiosity is
continually delighted with its infinite variety, but such knowledge of itself --
though fascinating -- is lifeless and vain.
Even the knowledge of the Scriptures -- though this is the
only important knowledge -- pursued simply as knowledge, is empty and dead if it
does not transform the character and purify the heart. In fact, knowledge and
wisdom of themselves just open up the heart to a greater experience and
discernment of grief and sorrow and the utter vanity of all earthly
How is this true, that the more we learn, the more we
experience sorrow and grief? In several different ways: (1) The more we learn,
the more we see of grief and sorrow in the world. Knowledge can be a heavy
burden. (2) The more we learn, the clearer we can think, and thus the more we
see is madness and folly. (3) The more we learn, the more clearly we may see how
easily the things of life could go wrong. (4) The more we learn, the more we see
that nothing is permanent. (5) The more we learn, the more we understand how
little we really know. We may discover whole areas of knowledge to which we have
not even given a single thought; we know nothing of these things and may never
learn. (6) The more we learn, the more we realize our inability to control the
This is the sad experience of all who are wise and understand.
Jesus wept when he entered into the fellowship of Mary's sufferings (John
11:35), because in that suffering he saw all the suffering of all humanity (cp
Heb 4:15; Isa 53). But we may rejoice in the knowledge that the time of
suffering will give way, at last, to the time of deliverance and glory (Psa
30:5; 126:5,6; Luk 6:21-23; Rev 21:4).
"This is not a pleasant thought, but it is true and
inseparable from the present constitution of human life. Wisdom and knowledge
made Christ 'a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.' His wisdom brought
distress through the contemplation of human folly, and he was 'straitened' by
the knowledge of bitter trial to come. He wept over Jerusalem, distressed by the
folly of its citizens and his knowledge of impending doom. It is true that in
the Hope of Israel there may come a joy far greater than the careless bliss of
ignorance, but it is equally true that our early, thoughtless joys disappear as
wisdom and knowledge increase. We begin to know how frail we are in the deep and
full sense of that word. We begin to see human nature as it is, and to make a
correct assessment of human values"