“Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.
Who [is] as the wise [man]? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
This chapter starts out cheerfully enough, with an ode to the wonders of wisdom. However, it soon takes a more pragmatic turn:
I [counsel thee] to keep the king’s commandment, and [that] in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
I infer two distinct reason for obeying the king: an ethical reason (avoiding evil) and an expedient one (he’ll get you if you don’t). Unfortunately, the lack of accountability means he (the king) — at least in practice — gets to decide what is good and evil:
Where the word of a king [is, there is] power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
As Solomon might say, that’s a nasty business. Though, I pick up a hint that there might even be a time and a place to do what is right even if the king disagrees:
Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Alas, this thought doesn’t exactly fill the author with joy:
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man [is] great upon him. For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
If I’m reading this right, it sounds pretty depressing and fatalistic: yeah, it is good to be wise and virtuous, but we don’t have either the knowledge or power to pull it off. Ouch. Life sucks — and then we die:
[There is] no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither [hath he] power in the day of death: and [there is] no discharge in [that] war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
It is a small comfort — and a cold one — that even the wicked suffer under the same curse. Though they may prosper in other ways:
And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this [is] also vanity. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
So, why not just do evil?
Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his [days] be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong [his] days, [which are] as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
Given that death happenneth to us all, why waste ourselves in wickedness pursuing things that do not satisfy? In this sense, the Preacher’s very despair over earthly pursuits becomes his strongest argument for virtue!
Though the fickleness of life seems an equally strong argument against it:
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just [men], unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked [men], to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also [is] vanity.
Perhaps that is why he says both wisdom and folly are ultimately futile, and the best we can hope for is to simply enjoy life:
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
I read this as “Accept the lot God has given you, and seek to enjoy that rather than waste yourself in vain pursuits.” Because, frankly, there’s no way to game the system — no matter how smart you are:
When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also [there is that] neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek [it] out, yet he shall not find [it]; yea further; though a wise [man] think to know [it], yet shall he not be able to find [it]
I find this both depressing and liberating. Depressing because — perhaps like House — I like to think of life as a puzzle to be solved, whose rules we can master and bend to our purposes. The author is basically saying to me, “Look, bud; I’m way smarter and older than you, with resources you couldn’t dream of, and *I* still can’t figure it out. Give it up. You’re just spitting into the wind.”
Liberating because it is only when I stop analyzing life that I can truly begin to enjoy it…
Dear Father God, I am convicted by the realization that my pursuit of wisdom is too often an attempt to play God, rather than to know God. Have mercy on me, O my Lord. Teach me to enjoy life under the Son, my Savior Jesus Christ. In whose name I pray, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title is in honor of the belated resignation of a man who — like me — may well have been too smart for his own good.