Ecclesiastes 1: The Frustration of Wisdom

Welcome to Ecclesiastes! We don’t start off with the happiest chapter in the Bible, but I think that most of the time we think that gain the knowledge is a good thing. We see a little different perspective here.

Ecc 1:16  I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

Ecc 1:17  And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

Ecc 1:18  For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

This is problematic. The more wisdom you gain, the more grief you develop. The same applies to knowledge and sorrow. Why?

I have heard it said in academia that one of the most frustrating parts of working on your PhD is the fact that as you learn more and more about your field, the more you realize that you really don’t know very much at all. Sure, your knowledge might be growing, but your awareness of everything else is growing as well. You realize that there is almost an infinite number of things you don’t know.

It seems that that might be the problem here. We are hearing Solomon say that he has more wisdom than any other ruler in Jerusalem thanks to the intervention of God. We also see in verse 17 that he set his heart to find wisdom. He was continually trying to learn more and was committed to that pursuit. Again, this is a lot like that PhD. This was a big commitment for him.

However, on some level it irritated him. In verse 17 it talks about this pursuit is a vexation. It is apparently frustrating just to have wisdom. That is not enough to bring happiness. All the wisdom in the world cannot do that. That reflects the sentiment from verse 14.

Ecc 1:14  I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

All the works under the sun are simply vanity and a vexation. It is not enough just to have works or to have just wisdom. There needs to be something more than that which is of this world. Fortunately, as Christians, we know that there is someone who is greater and can provide the purpose that makes everything more than mere vanity.


Posted on May 13, 2014, in Ecclesiastes and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As the writer of Ecclesiastes searches to find any lasting benefit from all our hard work under the sun he looks at wealth, pleasure, politics and many other human occupations. He also takes a close look at the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. As you state, many people believe that if they pursue education, knowledge and wisdom that their lives will attain a new level of significance, that they will gain something that will last. But the writer of Ecclesiastes notes that there is nothing that can provide a lasting benefit for God has planted thorns and thistles in all our work in order to bring us back to himself.

    But he does not end there for he goes on to note that even though the pursuit of wisdom as an end unto itself will let us down and end up in futility (accomplishing nothing) wisdom is a great asset in our daily lives. He says “The wise can see where they are going,” and “wisdom earns a person more respect than ten rulers in a city.” Wisdom is a wonderful guide but a terrible goal for it never ends and in a twisted world we will learn more and more of the evil that takes place upon the earth.

    Thanks for the post,

    Vance Neudorf

    • You make a good point. Also, I think back to Proverbs. Wisdom is from God, so on some level, if we do follow wisdom to its logical conclusion, we will end up back with God. The end makes it significant rather than the wisdom itself I think.

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