The Futility of Earthly Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-16)

I suppose we all have down days when things aren’t going well or we are not feeling the best. But some of us have more proclivities toward depressed thoughts than others. I can be one of those folks, even as many of my relatives have struggled with it far more than I ever have. But I know the feeling.

When I have one of these episodes where physical ailments seem to multiply and circumstances are not falling into place, I can even scare myself just a bit with the negative assessment of life that will come out of my mouth. As a very active person over most of my years, this aging process is grievously annoying.

So, I really like Solomon. I can groove with the way he thinks and states some attitudes and moods. It is blunt – sorta like he might have been born and raised somewhere between Brooklyn and South Philly!  And today he has a discussion about the value of wisdom that leads him to a terribly negative summary statement.

Ecclesiastes 2:12 – Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly. What more can the king’s successor do than what has already been done?

13 I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.

14 The wise have eyes in their heads, while the fool walks in the darkness; but I came to realize     that the same fate overtakes them both.

15 Then I said to myself, “The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?”  I said to myself, “This too is meaningless.”

16 For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered; the days have already come when both have been forgotten. Like the fool, the wise too must die!

Solomon is able to assert that wisdom is better than folly. It is smarter to walk wisely with one’s eyes open in the light than it is to attempt to travel as a fool in total darkness. Wisdom wins.

But Solomon also realizes in this moment of depression that the victory of wisdom is rather shallow. Both the wise and the fool have the same end: death. One will be as forgotten as the other. So in light of this fact that death is the ultimate human equalizer, what good is wisdom?

His answer will be forthcoming in later passages and days. But at this juncture, Solomon is presenting the cold, hard facts.

There is no denying the inevitability of death, though many just choose to never think about it. It is laughed at by others, as in the line, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

There are simply going to be down days and sad, melancholy times of particularly internal reflection. It is sobering. But it is also normal; and facing even the darkest realities has the benefit of giving informative and motivational guidance to the days of life that we do have.

I have a son who is getting married in July and moving to Colorado. He could choose to be in denial about the realities of total change coming his way, including the end of his life as a Virginia resident. He could hope it all somehow works out. Or he could count the days and weeks until this life change happens and therefore use his time productively to plan for both the ending and the beginning.

I have always loved the 90th Psalm and especially the great 12th verse: Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

This entry was posted in Life Under the Sun and tagged by Randy Buchman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

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