Summary: All way to meaning apart from God is but a grasping for the wind. But the way of Christ is the way to meaning.
Can You Catch the Wind With Your Hands?
The Preacher uses many colorful metaphors to describe the vanity of everything he sees and does. In many ways, the Book of Ecclesiastes purposely paints the despair and futility he feels with the most colorful terms. He describes life to the endless cycles of the wind, the water, and other “natural” processes.
In this passage, the Preacher goes on with his depressing message. Up to verse eleven, it is thought by many that another person had summed up the entire message of the Preacher. Starting in verse twelve, the Preacher talks in the first person and says he was King over Israel in Jerusalem. Everything leads one to think that this Preacher is King Solomon, a man known for great wisdom which God freely gave Him when God asked Solomon what one thing he wanted over all else. This is the Solomon who was able to find out who the real mother of a child by ordering the son be divided and half given to each mother. The real mother was willing to lose her child rather than have him killed to solve a squabble. This is the Solomon who became rich beyond measure as well and brought the Kingdom of Israel to its greatest power and prominence in its earthly history. It is this Solomon who built the magnificent Temple to Yahweh and royal house for himself. It was this Solomon whose wisdom attracted the Queen of Sheba to come and visit him. He wrote psalms, proverbs, and some think The Song of Solomon.
So far, so good. But it was also this Solomon who built stables and fortresses, contrary to the Law’s prohibition about multiplying horses. In other words, the one who would be king over Israel was to trust entirely in the LORD for his safety and not in military alliances with other nations. Another was in which these alliances were made was to marry the daughters of the kings of the surrounding nations. So Solomon also disobeyed the LORD in multiplying 400 wives and 600 concubines, or as a young boy in Sunday School once said, “porcupines” These wives ensnared him into making places of worship for them. He imposed slave labor upon the people of Israel rather than exacting labor from the conquered peoples, another violation of the Law. So the reign of Solomon which began with such promise ended with a curse that his empire of Israel would be divided in two upon his death.
Commentators are divided whether the Preacher is Solomon himself or someone taking on the persona of Solomon. Many think the book as a whole was written some time after Solomon. I personally see no reason why a Solomon reflecting upon his life and the fact it came to a bitter end could not have written at least the first person section which makes up most of the book. But Solomon seems to be the Preacher we should think of when reading this book and his life, then, becomes important in understanding why he speaks so bitterly.
In verse 13, Solomon says that he made it the work of his life to search for wisdom. He wanted to have the total knowledge of everything under heaven. Usually, he uses “under the sun” rather than “under heaven”, but the meaning is the same. (As sun in Hebrew is “shemesh” and heaven “shemayin”, it is the same thing.) It means he wanted to know everything in the universe. And as God is over the heavens, it meant he wanted to know what everything was in his own thinking, regardless of what God thought about or had made it. Here Solomon makes a work out of what God gave to him as a gift, a problem that seems to trip us up all too often. We try to find meaning in the universe on our own terms. We owe this to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempted Adam and Eve with this lie: “And you shall be like the gods (or God) and know it all.
What God gave as a gift of grace, Solomon considered to be an unfathomable burden. This task was given to the entire human race to be busywork. Everyone knows how wearying busywork is, so we can relate to how Solomon feels. The question I ask is “Do we call God’s gifts to us wearisome busywork?” We of course will immediately respond with a loud “No!”, but we need to think this over very carefully before we open our mouth and insert our foot. As a church, we all have tasks to do, and not all of them are pleasant, even if they are necessary. And as human beings in the church, we sometimes find that a lot of the work we have to do comes from those in authority over us that we feel is totally useless. I as a pastor will freely admit of weariness of doing reports for the Conference that are just going to be shelved, which we do just because we are Methodists. Yet we must be careful not to treat God’s gifts to us the way Solomon did, a grasping after the wind.