Summary: God was pleased to give Solomon His wisdom and Solomon often spoke of the importance of seeking that wisdom. So, why was Solomon telling us here in Ecclesiastes that wisdom is empty and disappointing?
TITLE: Is There Wisdom In Wisdom? TEXT: Ecclesiastes 1:12-18/2:12-16
The average public library has between 10,000 to 15,000 books on its shelves.
During the War of 1812 (between England and America), the British invaded Washington D.C. and burnt much of it to the ground… including the Library of Congress with its 30,000 books. After the war was over, Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson’s personal library – 6487 books – to restart that library.
Nearly 6500 books.
That’s a lot of books for one man to own.
But those collections pale in comparison to that of Abdul Kassem Ismael in the 10th century. He was the grand-vizier of Persia – and a very wealthy and educated man - and he had a library that consisted of 117,000 volumes (more likely scrolls rather than the bound books we have today).
Abdul loved his books so much that even when he traveled (and he traveled a lot) he never parted with them.
How did he do that? Well, he used about 400 camels which were loaded with his library, and these camels that were trained to walk in alphabetical order so that he could obtain the volumes he wished at a moment’s notice.
(Readers’ Digest, June 1981, p. 16)
Down through the ages, knowledge and wisdom have been highly prized by civilized men. And the mark of wisdom – for many people – has been the number of books they possessed.
But Solomon’s wisdom wasn’t measured by the number of books he owned.
His wisdom was measured by how much he wrote… and how much he knew.
According to I Kings 4:
“He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.
He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish.
From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.” I Kings 4:32-34
Amongst those who came to hear his wisdom was a particular Queen you may have heard of. Do you remember her name? (The Queen of Sheba)
She traveled nearly 1500 miles to present Solomon with gifts and to ask him hard questions to discover just how “wise” he was. She was so shocked by how well he answered that she said:
“I did not believe what they said until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told me; you have far exceeded the report I heard.” (II Chronicles 9:6)
Now, if I were to say the name “Solomon” what would be the first word that would come into your mind? (WISDOM) That’s right, and that’s because Solomon was so wise that, to this day, his name has been forever associated with wisdom.
So, it’s a bit odd to read what Solomon wrote in the passages we read this morning.
“… I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
“Then I thought in my heart, ‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also. What then do I gain by being wise?’ I said in my heart, ‘This too is meaningless.’”
And after spending a great deal of time focusing on the shortcomings of wisdom Solomon writes “Therefore I hated life…” Ecclesiastes 2:17
But now - wait a minute.
Solomon was supposedly the wisest man that ever lived.
In fact… who gave Solomon his wisdom?
That’s right God did.
In I Kings 3:5-13 we read this:
“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said,
‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’
Solomon answered, ‘You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’
The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this & not for long life or wealth for yourself, NOR have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have NOT asked for — both wealth and honor — so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.’”