The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 1

Ecc 1:1

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).


Ecc 1:2

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 first place!

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
Signifying nothing"
(William Shakespeare).

Ecc 1:3

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 3:17-19).

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.

Ecc 1:4

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 meaningless stream.

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).

Ecc 1:5

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.

Ecc 1:6

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 things."

Ecc 1:7

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."

Ecc 1:8

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 goes by.

ITS FILL OF HEARING: The Heb for "fill" harks back to v 7 as well: "yet the sea is never full."

Ecc 1:9

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 5:14,17,18)!

Ecc 1:10

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.

Ecc 1:11

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

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 3:16; 4:1)!

For more discussion of this issue, see Ecc, authorship.

Ecc 1:13

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 conclusion!)...

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 2:7).

Ecc 1:14

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.

Ecc 1:15

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 Heb 12:13).

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; 6:8).

Ecc 1:16

I THOUGHT TO MYSELF: Introspection, self-analysis, meditation.

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.

Ecc 1:17


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 likely.

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.

Ecc 1:18

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 things.

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 future.

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" (CEcc).

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