The Futility of Seeking Wisdom

Ecclesiastes 1

Jerry A Collins



® Does any human endeavor have permanent value?

What does more wisdom produce in our lives?

Can life on this side of the grave ultimately satisfy?

A few weeks ago I saw part of the movie On Golden Pond with Kathryn Hepburn and Henry Fonda. Fonda is now dead and Hepburnís heyday was 50 yrs ago. I often get emails about great sportsmen who have died. Fred so and so who scored the winning touchdown in the 1946 Rose Bowl game. Who cares. A recent TV commercial has several pictures of past dead executives of a company all talking to one another about e-solutions network for businesses in the 21st century. Bemoaning what they could have done with that kind of technology whenever they had been the executive. Each of these illustrate what our authors message is from Ecc 1. Namely that it is impossible for any human endeavor to have permanent value. That no matter the achievement it ultimately has no profit for you. The passage begins by introducing the writer with The words of the preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem vs. 1. This all points to Solomon, the son of King David as the writer of this material. Verse 2 gives us the subject of the whole book. This is Solomonís big idea. Twice he repeats the refrain, Vanity of vanities. He has been on a search and what he found on the search is meaninglessness and futility. What he found was a lack of substance, value, permanence or significance. The All is vanity of vs 2 will describe every kind of endeavor of human experience in the rest of the book. No thing, knowledge, pleasure, relationship, possession, power, or fame of any kind has enduring value in life. Of course, everyone is trying to make them work by seizing on one or more of these views of life to provide the satisfaction they are pursuing. According to the one who has been on that search, all of it is vanity. It is this point he proceeds to support, prove and apply in the rest of the material. Is vanity is used at least 29 times in 12 chps.


Here is a rhetorical question which expects a negative response. The word advantage refers to what remains in the sense of a net profit. He is not saying there is nothing good about work but that the work engaged in does not yield a long-term profit. The phrase under the sun is also used 29 times and means on the earth, life here and now. Just last nite I had loaded the dishwasher with a number of glasses that had been used throughout the day. Later still, out of nowhere, an hour or two later were another 5 glasses I had to somehow stuff into that dishwasher to get washed. So much of our work is cyclical and forever it seems. I mean, how many times have we washed those exact same glasses! Work is futile because it produces nothing ultimately satisfying to us.

A. He illustrates cyclical nature of futility in vss 4-7.

(1) The endless cycles of life 4. The searcher has discovered that humanity is transient while nature is permanent. A generation comes and goes, goes and comes-the human race passes on from this life but the earth remains forever. The point is that since man is not permanent it is obvious that his work cannot be either on this earth. His work may outlive him, like a building itís builder or a company itís founder but even building come down and businesses bought out, disappear or close.

(2) The endless cycle of nature 5-7. In nature many things recur in cyclical pattern. A. The cycle of the sun apparently rising and setting 5. Scurrying around the dark side of earth while we are sleeping only to be there in the east again when we awaken. That has been going on as long as time has existed. It is endless and repetitive. B. The circuit of the winds blowing toward the south and then turning to the North 6. Swirling here and there always in a circular pattern. C. The cycle of evaporation 7. We never have a rainstorm that makes it unnecessary to have more rainstorms. Our work is never complete in the sense that we never finally arrive at point where no more work is necessary. There is always more that needs to be done. Our garden is an example. Any homeowner knows this.

B. Present human experience confirms the sense of futility in life 8-11. He begins by asserting that All things are wearisome, restless 8. There is an inherent restlessness in everything. First, human desire is never satisfied. Oh I wish I could see that is a statement of young and old alike. We never tire of seeing. We long yet to see other places, other realms, other opportunities. But neither is the ear satisfied with hearing. Always alert to the next new idea, or new happening, new coffee shop, news, morning newspaper, juicy Hollywood gossip, new way to make a profit. The eye and ear never tire because human desire never does. Second, with all of this desire nothing new ever really shows up vs 9. Life is a rehash of what has been before. Yes we have innovations others have not enjoyed not basic changes. man still struggles with same essential problems he has always had. Future generations will make the same mistakes. The Balkan wars of the 1990ís motivated by the same motivation of the Balkan wars of the 1880ís and 1913-15. Manís memory is faulty and technology does not improve it. History will not teach it.


A. An Investigation of human achievement 12-15 The writer tells us of the unique resources he had for investigating life 12. King of Israel, possessed superlative wisdom he made an exhaustive study of human activities 14. The highest authority none could challenge, peace in the land 40 yrs, amassed greatest wealth in history of his realm, investigated widely. He concludes that its all a grievous task. Striving after wind 14 verifies that in his search he found no type of effort or action that can produce something ultimately permanent and therefore satisfying. In 15 he quotes a proverb meaning that it is difficult for man to discover answers to life because when he sees something wrong there is an inbuilt difficulty, something wrong inside of man, his sin nature, that prevents him from correcting it. This a one of greatest frustrations in life that no matter how hard you try some things cannot be made straight. Information, connections, power, none of it can help.

B. An Evaluation of Human Achievement 16-18. In this investigation he used wisdom, human intelligence to ferret out truth and meaning. But it was inadequate to turn up any meaningful activity in human experience. Consequently wisdom was in this respect no better than madness and folly 17. In the end greater wisdom had only brot greater grief, mental anguish and pain, emotional sorrow. There a 2 things we cannot know from only studying life under the sun apart from God revealing it to us.

(1) History is linear rather than cyclical. Reincarnation comes from cyclical view ensuring absence of any meaningful judgment, can make it up in next life.

(2) There is purpose to travail and sorrow