Summary: In today’s lesson we learn that apart from God, we will not gain anything from living wisely.
We continue in our sermon series on the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. The writer of Ecclesiastes, also known as “Qoheleth” and “the Preacher,” wanted to know how to live a meaningful life. He tried all kinds of ways to live a meaningful life. Today we shall see how he discovered the vanity of living wisely.
Listen to how the Preacher put it in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17:
12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)
In early 1886, Australian George Harrison was employed to build a homestead on a South African farm. He had been a gold digger in Australia and had come to South Africa with the hope of making his fortune.
In his spare time, Harrison panned for gold, and that March he found a surface outcrop of gold embedded in a rock. In April, he was granted a prospector’s license and soon the gold rush in South Africa was on. The city of Johannesburg grew out from this and by 1889, Johannesburg was the largest town in southern Africa. Today these world-famous gold mines produce nearly 280,000 pounds of gold annually.
So what happened to George Harrison? After years of prospecting in Australia prior to his arrival in South Africa and then unknowingly coming upon the biggest gold strike in history, Harrison sold his claim for just $20.00 only one month after his discovery.
Later, while traveling from a farm in Johannesburg to Barberton, lions killed him. George Harrison never was able to enjoy the fruit of his long years of prospecting.
It is probably fair to say that George Harrison did not make a wise decision regarding his claim. He sold the fortune that was his for a mere $20.00. But even if he had made a wise decision and kept the claim, would George Harrison have discovered how to live a meaningful life?
I think that it is this approach to life that the Preacher has in mind in our text for today.
The Preacher opened the book of Ecclesiastes with an introduction of himself (1:1), a statement of his theme (1:2), and a poetic summary of his theme (1:3-11).
His theme is simple: all is vanity.
The Hebrew word for vanity means “vapor” or “breath.” It refers to that which is meaningless, futile, ephemeral, and passing.
So the Preacher’s theme is that everything in life is meaningless. For twelve and a half chapters he demonstrates his theme.
However, the Preacher eventually gives a corrective at the very end of his book. He says that everything in life is meaningless without God. His ultimate purpose is to show that we can live a meaningful life only when we live it in a right relationship to God. If we don’t live our lives in a right relationship to God, then indeed everything in life is meaningless. But, if we do live our lives in a right relationship to God, then everything in life is meaningful.
The Preacher explored several areas of life to demonstrate that all is vanity, that everything in life is meaningless without God.
The Preacher first explored wisdom (1:12-18). He discovered that apart from God, we do not gain anything from wisdom.
Then, the Preacher explored pleasure and self-indulgence (2:1-11). Here too he discovered that apart from God, we do not gain anything from self-indulgence.
In his continuing quest to find how to live a meaningful life, the Preacher turned his attention next to living wisely.
In today’s lesson we learn that apart from God, we will not gain anything from living wisely.
I. The Thesis (2:12-14a)
First, let’s look at the thesis.
The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 2:12a, “So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly.”
“Madness” and “folly” go together. The Preacher is not describing three categories but only two.