The Folly of Foolish Advancement (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16)

Try to follow this story.

Jerry was nice person but wasn’t a very good captain of the team. Harold didn’t like Jerry but was a better captain. William was the best player on the team but would never have been a good captain. After playing with all three of them, I would say he is the best all-around person.

So who is the best? It’s not really clear. Probably it is William, because that is the proper name closest to the pronoun “he” in the final sentence. But you can’t really say for sure.

And that is what we have in our passage today. It is confusing. Not gonna lie – I had to read it over and over and go to the commentaries to get it to make sense…

Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 – Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning. The youth may have come from prison to the kingship, or he may have been born in poverty within his kingdom. I saw that all who lived and walked under the sun followed the youth, the king’s successor. There was no end to all the people who were before them. But those who came later were not pleased with the successor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

OK, got it?  Here is the big idea … I think. There was an old foolish king who was replaced by a younger man who rose to the position from poverty and prison. Though the wise, youthful king was popular at first, after more time passed he was increasing disliked by many other people.

The point of the story is that prestige and advancement are like so many of the other items that Solomon has described – transitory and fleeting … a chasing after the wind. Yet it is true that many people are driven to accomplish these life measurements – to be a person of prominence who has achieved at the highest level. The presumption is that great satisfaction will come with such successes.

Prestige is indeed a fleeting attribute. Surely you have all seen the “click bait” photos on web pages that want to entice you to look at, say, some actress from the 70s who was popular and beautiful. It will say something like, “You won’t believe what she looks like now.”  And then when you click on it, there are other then-and-now photos you have to click through to possibly see the one that drew you in. All of those clicks produce advertising revenue.

But when you look at those pictures and see and read what their lives are like 40 years later, it is a visual lesson in the transitory nature of fame.

Advancement and achievement can also have a big downside. The additional headaches and responsibilities are often a grievous weight to carry. Along with this, there is no leader of anything (including churches, I’ve discovered) who is liked by all the people. At best, when leading something of size and substance, you’re going to have at least 10-20% of people who don’t like you or for whatever reason would wish to see you fade off the scene.

So, the lesson is to be careful as to what you long for. Once you gain the advancement and chase the allurements that draw you in, you may find that it is very unfulfilling.