By Sam E. Stone
The book of Ecclesiastes begins, “The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.” This suggests that Solomon wrote the book, although his name is not mentioned anywhere in it. The topics fit with his life experiences, and many Bible scholars consider him the author. The book’s theme is summed up in 1:2—”Meaningless . . . . Everything is meaningless.”
The world’s wisest man (and one of the richest!) came to the end of his life and reflected on the futility of knowledge, pleasure, work, and fame. G. S. Henry observed, “The melancholy refrain, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,’ is not his verdict upon life in general, but only upon the misguided human endeavor to treat the created world as an end in itself.”
An Example of Wisdom/Ecclesiastes 9:13-16
I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me. While this display of wisdom seemed quite impressive at first, it raised questions for him. Under the sun is another common expression in the book, appearing nearly 30 times. The writer cites what may be a parable or possibly a now-forgotten historical incident (9:14-16).
A powerful king came against a small city. He surrounded it with his army and built high bulwarks around it. Everything seemed hopeless. Only one man knew what to do. This wise man was able to save the city by his sage counsel. But when everything was over and life got back to normal, no one thought of him. He was still poor and so, even though he had saved the city, people forgot about him. This prompted the writer to observe, Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. Unfortunately, similar experiences have occurred many times through the years.
Sayings About Wisdom/Ecclesiastes 9:17, 18; 10:1-4
Men are impressed by wealth and power, yet these provide no lasting benefit. Wisdom is the real asset. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. The Old Testament contains many accounts of leaders who boasted of their great power, but were ultimately seen as failures when God’s judgment was executed upon them (consider Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and Ahab). Still, all it takes is one sinner to destroy much good.
Albert Barnes explains, “Chapter 10 resembles much of the book of Proverbs, consisting entirely of rhythmical sentences giving advice, more or less direct, as to conduct.” A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. One such example of folly is seen when Hezekiah was taken in by the envoys from Babylon. His foolish action led to the downfall of the nation (2 Kings 20:12-21). Modern leaders are no less susceptible to the schemes of evil men. Only God’s true wisdom can keep one safe. No wonder James encouraged his readers, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Another familiar contrast appears in verse 2—the distinction between the right and the left. Sometimes this signifies the greater and the lesser good (see Genesis 48:13-20). Later Jesus used this same expression to show the contrast between good and evil (Matthew 25:33). The unwise choices of a fool quickly become evident. Even by just walking down the road, he shows everyone how stupid he is. An old saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt!”
Remaining calm and steady in the face of challenges is the way to weather the storm and move on to better things. Do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest. To walk away from your job in a huff when someone upsets you will not gain you anything. In the illustration used here (when a ruler became angry with a servant), his leaving could even be interpreted as proof that he is guilty of some wrongdoing. At the very least it shows that the person cannot be depended on to do the job he has agreed to do. In Proverbs 15:1, Solomon offered good advice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Value true wisdom!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.