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5. Wisdom vs. Folly


What was the first path that Solomon took looking for satisfaction?

What was the second path that Solomon took looking for satisfaction?

What were his conclusions for both?

In the last few lessons we analyzed Solomon’s pursuits after wisdom and pleasure. His conclusions for both pursuits were similar – vanity. He as well adds concerning wisdom that it was a grievous and painful task placed on men by God. We came to the conclusion, in our modern slang, that “ignorance is bliss.”

Solomon is going to continue down other roads towards satisfaction, but before he does, he analyzes the two paths he has already taken. While both of them did not provide lasting satisfaction, he assesses which was better than the other.

Solomon Compares Wisdom and Folly

The Connection Between Folly and Pleasure

Ecc 2:12 Next, I decided to consider wisdom, as well as foolish behavior and ideas.

Solomon desires to compare and contrast the two paths that he had just taken. The two paths that had just been taken were those of wisdom and pleasure seeking, and yet in this verse Solomon says that he is going to compare wisdom and foolish behavior.

Is pleasure seeking synonymous with foolish behavior? Ecclesiastes 7:4 links these two ideas and is most clearly seen in the Updated New American Standard (NAU) translation …

NAU1 Ecc 7:4 The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

NET Ecc 7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.

The fools life is characterized by pleasure. The word translated pleasure has a primary meaning of ‘joy’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with receiving pleasure or joy. The problem comes when we no longer find pleasure in God, but find it solely in things ‘under the sun.’

“The verb siklut (foolish behavior in Ecc 2:12) is mostly used in contexts where a man acts out of fear and thus behaves rashly, rather than acting wisely out of a confidence based in God … This practical atheism the Babylonians used to call “living in a ramanishu,” i.e. living by oneself, on one’s own resources, without dependence on God. But this is the essence of sin … Wisdom is the way of the moral and spiritual man while folly is the way of a man with twisted values. One other association of siklût (foolish behavior) with madness (Eccl 7:25ff) is pictured by the sinner who allows himself to be entrapped by an immoral woman. The one who would be wise and pleasing to God escapes from her clutches.”2

Therefore, a fool’s life is characterized by blindly following after pleasure apart from God. Solomon’s comparison in 2:12-17 does then appear to be a comparison between wisdom and pleasure/folly.

The Advantages of Wisdom

Ecc 2:13 I realized that wisdom is preferable to folly, just as light is preferable to darkness: 2:14 The wise man can see where he is going, but the fool walks in darkness. Yet I also realized that the same fate happens to them both.

Solomon’s comparison seems to initially uplift wisdom. In similar fashion to that of Proverbs, Solomon sets up wisdom as light and folly as darkness. He acknowledges that the wise man is able to see and analyze life. Due to this light, the wise man is more likely to live a more productive life. In contrast, the fool walks about in darkness. He is oblivious to the many dangers that regularly come near his door. He often falls headlong into danger due to his complete lack of discretion.

The benefits that accompany wisdom are spread throughout the book of Ecclesiastes…

Ecc 7:12 For wisdom provides protection, just as money provides protection. But the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves the life of its owner … 7:19 Wisdom gives a wise person more protection than ten rulers in a city.

Ecc 8:1 Who is a wise person? Who knows the solution to a problem? A person’s wisdom brightens his appearance, and softens his harsh countenance.

Ecc 9:15 However, a poor but wise man lived in the city, and he could have delivered the city by his wisdom, but no one listened to that poor man. 9:16 So I concluded that wisdom is better than might, but a poor man’s wisdom is despised; no one ever listens to his advice.

Ecc 10:10 If an iron axhead is blunt and a workman does not sharpen its edge, he must exert a great deal of effort; so wisdom has the advantage of giving success.

If left at this point, Solomon would seem to be encouraging all to follow a life of wisdom. He does not end there though. He continues his comparison and comes to a surprising conclusion. While wisdom excels folly in many ways; either way, both the wise and the foolish are going to die.

The Reasons For Wisdom Being Worthless

Ecc 2:15 So I thought to myself, “The fate of the fool will happen even to me! Then what did I gain by becoming so excessively wise?” So I lamented to myself, “The benefits of wisdom are ultimately meaningless!” 2:16 For the wise man, like the fool, will not be remembered for very long, because in the days to come, both will already have been forgotten. Alas, the wise man dies – just like the fool! 2:17 So I loathed life because what happens on earth seems awful to me; for all the benefits of wisdom are futile – like chasing the wind.

Pursuing wisdom cannot change your destiny.

Solomon leaves us, at this point, with the grim conclusion that whether you choose wisdom or pleasure, you will die and be forgotten. While we are aware that Solomon will offer a different conclusion later in his book, take a moment to examine the words of the sons of Korah …

Psalm 49:7 Certainly a man cannot rescue his brother; he cannot pay God an adequate ransom price 49:8 (the ransom price for a human life is too high, and people go to their final destiny), 49:9 so that he might continue to live forever and not experience death. 49:10 Surely one sees that even wise people die; fools and spiritually insensitive people all pass away and leave their wealth to others … 49:12 but, despite their wealth, people do not last, they are like animals that perish … 49:14 They will travel to Sheol like sheep, with death as their shepherd. The godly will rule over them when the day of vindication dawns; Sheol will consume their bodies and they will no longer live in impressive houses. 49:15 But God will rescue my life from the power of Sheol; certainly he will pull me to safety. (Selah)

While it is true that both the wise and foolish alike will die; we find hope in the fact that while we both die, we do not both go to the same place after death. Consistent with the Proverbs, the wise is honored and their soul is redeemed while the foolish is destroyed.

Pursuing wisdom cannot preserve a lasting legacy.

Not only are they going to die, but they are going to be forgotten. The wise man will often sacrifice their present prestige and appreciation for the hope that even after their life, their works of wisdom will be appreciated. They believe that their gift of wisdom to the world will allow them to live on even when they die. Solomon does not allow them to find satisfaction in that. He informs them that all will be forgotten, the wise man and the fool.

Consider Solomon’s Spiritual State

1 Kings 3:3 tells us that Solomon “was walking in the statutes of his father David.” At this point in Solomon’s life, God came to him and offered whatever he wished. Solomon request for wisdom is granted.

In 1 Kings 4:32 we are told of the many proverbs and songs that Solomon wrote. The immediate preceding context speaks of the wisdom that God gave Solomon, and the apparent product of such wisdom was the many proverbs and songs that Solomon wrote. Most likely Solomon wrote many of the Psalms and Proverbs at this period of his life.

In 1 Kings 9, following the dedication of the temple, God visited Solomon and told him that if he followed in the path of his father David (in integrity of heart and uprightness) the Lord would establish his throne over Israel forever. A safe assumption might be made at this point – Solomon had been following in the path of his father David up to this point in his life.

It is in 1 Kings 11:4, when Solomon was old, that we see that he turned his heart away after other gods. The passage continues to inform us that Solomon sacrificed to detestable idols and built high places for other idols. At this point the Lord was angry with Solomon because ‘his heart was turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel’.

1 Kings 11:11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Because you insist on doing these things and have not kept the covenantal rules I gave you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.

The end of chapter 11 in 1 Kings speaks of the death of Solomon, with no apparent record of his having repented. While we don’t see his repentance in 1 Kings, Ecclesiastes seems to be a record of such repentance. Solomon likely wrote this book very near the end of his life.

Was Solomon a believer? That question might weigh on your mind as you view a life of rebellion in his older years. Did Solomon possess eternal security like we would understand it now? If the Spirit did not permanently indwell believers then, what sealed him in the faith? Did he have to continue to do good deeds throughout his life to remain a believer? Was salvation the same in the OT as it is in the NT?

  • In the mind of God, Christ’s death has always been the sufficient grounds for salvation.
  • Faith has always been required for salvation.
  • The ultimate object of that faith has been in God.
  • No man has ever placed their faith in God without God first drawing them to Himself.
  • Personal faith was placed in the revelation that God had given up to that point.
  • The visible fruit of salvation has changed. (i.e. The OT saints offered sacrifices, the NT saint no longer does)

It appears that Solomon was a believer, but in his elder years turned away from God. I would contend that Ecclesiastes appears to be a sign of repentance at the end of Solomon’s life. While much could be discussed concerning the work of the Spirit, it seems likely that God, even in OT times, continued the work He began in the lives of believers.

Questions To Consider

1. Solomon tells us that the wise man will be forgotten (Ecc 2:16). What does he mean by that? We remember him. We have written down some of his wisdom. We have literature telling us about the wisdom of other men. They haven’t been forgotten, at least in one sense … so what does he mean?

2. Solomon teaches that seeking after wisdom can’t change your destiny. Do you agree? What destiny is he speaking of, eternal or earthly? Is it true that wisdom has no benefit? If there is benefit in wisdom of what kind of wisdom is Solomon speaking?

Consider Proverbs 2 … Is the wisdom discussed here the same type of “wisdom” of which Solomon is speaking? What are the benefits of wisdom in Proverbs 2? Consider the due diligence needed to seek after such wisdom.

Prov 2:2 by making your ear attentive to wisdom, and by turning your heart to understanding, 2:3 indeed, if you call out for discernment – raise your voice for understanding – 2:4 if you seek it like silver, and search for it like hidden treasure, 2:5 then you will understand how to fear the Lord, and you will discover knowledge about God. 2:6 For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

1 Updated New American Standard Bible, 1995, by the Lockman Foundation.

2 Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, used in Bible Works.

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