I have never seen anyone do this, but I will be sure to keep looking. I am looking for someone running down the street with a net, swinging it in the air, trying to catch the wind. What a crazy concept! You would think a person was completely insane to attempt to catch the wind. But this is the picture that Solomon paints concerning life under the sun. Solomon reminds us that he is taking a journey and he is recording us what he found. We like to think that the grass is greener on the other side. But Solomon had the opportunity and resources to find out for himself. In this journey he is ignoring any impact that God may have. The writer says that he is looking at life “under the sun.” This means that his examination is completely horizontal, looking at life merely from a human perspective. Verses 13-14 reminds us of Solomon’s purpose:
I applied my mind to seek and explore through wisdom all that is done under heaven. God has given people this miserable task to keep them occupied. I have seen all the things that are done under the sun and have found everything to be futile, a pursuit of the wind.
Solomon has seen all the tasks that people have to do. Solomon applied himself to every task, yet he still found all the things that are part of the physical world to be futile. In fact, he says that these things are like chasing the wind. Quite simply, just like chasing the wind is ridiculous, so are the tasks that humans are given to do. Now Solomon is going to prove his assertion.
What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (1:15)
Notice this umbrella statement: nothing gets fixed in life. What can we really fix in this world? We want to make ourselves so important and give ourselves these important life purposes. But what are we really fixing? There are these grand statements of purpose that we are here on this earth to make the world a better place and to give back to society. Is the world getting better? Is what is crooked being made straight? This reminds me of politics every four years. Every four years we have people running on the platform of all the things that will be fixed. Yet, what changes? Nothing. The promises of things being so much better in the future are empty promises. It does not happen and has not happened. Solomon will now identify five specific areas showing the futility of this world and how it is like chasing the wind.
Futility of Wisdom (1:16-18)
Solomon decides to amass wisdom, so much more than those who had ruled before him. Solomon did it as he applied his mind to thoroughly understand wisdom and knowledge. But he found that putting one’s life purpose in increasing one’s knowledge and wisdom to be chasing the wind. Why?
For with much wisdom is much sorrow; as knowledge increases, grief increases. (1:18)
More knowledge and wisdom only increases frustration, heartache, and grief. We even have sayings in our society that reflect this knowledge. “Ignorance is bliss” and “What you don’t know won’t hurt you.” There are a number of reasons for the increase of wisdom causing pain and frustration.
- You know what to do, but no one else pursues the wise path. There is great frustration in knowing what people ought to do, but those people choose not to do, not listen to wise counsel.
- Knowledge is not fulfilling. Many times knowing more causes pain. Consider watching the local news. I find myself far happier in life by not knowing about all the problems and violence in our community. Some may think this is foolish and ignorant, but I find greater pleasure not watching and not reading much about those things.
- Acquiring knowledge/wisdom is a futile task because we will never find all the answers. For all of the questions there are in this world, the world does not contain the answers.
- Great wisdom does not fix life’s problems. What is crooked still cannot be straightened. There are many problems that cannot be solved even with great knowledge and wisdom. In short, worldly wisdom does not bring joy and fulfillment, but pain and frustration.
Futility of Self-Indulgence (2:1-3)
Solomon tries to find satisfaction in the pleasures of this world. Some have had difficulty understand what Solomon is trying. But “laughter” is not speaking about having a pleasant time. This laughter is talking about merry making and partying. Solomon is going to try the party scene. These are the pleasures that he is talking about. Living for the weekend. Staying up all night and sleeping all day. In fact, we can see this more clearly by noting that he says he was trying to enjoy life by drinking wine. Solomon is trying the party scene. He is drinking and partying, trying to find satisfaction in these things. But note the parenthetical that he points out “my mind still guiding me with wisdom.” Solomon was not become a drunk. We do not have to experience drunkenness to know that there is no value in such activity. But Solomon is testing rationally controlled indulgences.
But Solomon also found this to be madness and that it accomplishes nothing. Why was there no value?
- Parties and drinking do not take away the pain. So many people think they can forget their problems and wash away their sorrows through drinking. But it does not. The pain remains and our problems remain. We need to stop thinking that these things can kill the pain. If you have problems in life, you must address those problems and not think that debauchery is going to fix it.
- Further, Solomon points out that these things are a waste of time. When you get done, you have not accomplished anything. Your life is not better and nothing has been done.
Kids, you will be tested especially in college to enter the nightlife, the drinking scene, and the party world. Learn from Solomon. There is no value there. There is not happiness but emptiness. You will be wasting what little time we have in this world pursuing emptiness and chasing the wind.
Futility In Wealth and Women (2:4-11)
Solomon then plunges into the rest of life’s pleasures. He amasses silver and gold. In fact, Solomon says, “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse myself any pleasure…” Notice that he does this in a careful, calculated way: “My wisdom also remained with me.” Not only this, he had many concubines. We know that Solomon had 1000 women, wives and concubines combined. Now this is probably the greatest lure of the American society. I believe our society glorifies the business person who makes a lot of money and can have any woman or man you want. Solomon says there was no satisfaction or lasting happiness here. He points out that there was pleasure in these things. But it was still futility and chasing the wind. There was nothing to be gained from this kind of living. We think more money and more stuff will bring happiness. But it doesn’t. There was no fulfillment. Solomon will speak more to this shortly as to why these things are futile.
More Thoughts About Wisdom (2:12-17)
After showing the futility of wisdom, Solomon does make the point here that there is advantage to having wisdom instead of folly. Wisdom is not meaningless or useless. The person who has wisdom sees where he is going. The fool walks in darkness. So there are benefits to wisdom. The wise know where they are going even if they only know they are headed for trouble. Solomon points out that your life will be better.
But the conclusion remains the same. Wisdom alone is futile because both the wise and the fool will die. The wise will not have a different fate than the fool. Neither the fool nor the wise will be remembered after death.
Futility In Being A Workaholic (2:18-24)
Solomon concludes by point out that overworking is also futile for a number of reasons. We live in a society that glorifies the workaholic. Men are made to believe that there is something wrong with them if they only work 40 hours a week. Women are made to believe that there is something wrong with them if they do not have a secular job along with all the work of caring for the home. But Solomon is now going to tell us why plunging ourselves into our work is foolish.
- All our gain from work is left to another who has not worked and may be a fool. You cannot keep what is gained from working. Why try to accumulate wealth when you cannot take it with you? You still must die. All we are doing is giving the wealth to someone who did not work for it and who may simply be foolish with all of your hard work.
- Overworking brings grief and a lack of rest. Read verse 23 and see if this sounds like what you are experiencing: For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. You will not find true happiness and satisfaction in your work. Why do we think we will find our meaning and purpose in work? It is work! We have to be paid to do it. We do not pay others so that we can work! Notice the rest of the statement: even at night, the mind does not rest. We become consumed with work. We cannot even rest because we are so focused upon our jobs. We are so focused on the things we have to do that we cannot enjoy life.
Solomon gives us very important counsel: enjoy the fruit of your labor. Do not overwork. Work enough to take care of what you need so that you can enjoy life and enjoy your earnings. We work so much we cannot even enjoy the reason we work: the earnings. No, we think that we must have more. Solomon says that we need to do enough to be able to enjoy life. Understand that life does not consist of work. Work is not our purpose for existence. You will not find lasting satisfaction in your work.
Here is Solomon’s first important realization: life cannot be enjoyed apart from God. With God, you can have wisdom, knowledge, and joy. You can have a good life when you are pleasing to God. You can enjoy life and appreciate the fruit of our labor. But to the wicked, life is simply monotony, working and accumulating for no purpose at all. It will be given to someone who is pleasing to God. The work of the wicked is futile and like chasing the wind.
Apart from God, life is futile. Wisdom, pleasures, wealth, and work have no value without God. Life simply becomes the grind without God. Has life turned into a grind, a monotonous chore for you? If you feel this way then it reflects that you do not have a good relationship with God. You are doing things pleasing to God. Instead, you are living according to worldly wisdom. You are listening to what society says in best rather than what God says is best. Lay your burdens down today and put your trust in God.
Enjoy today. Enjoy what you have. Satisfaction is not here. Satisfaction is with the Lord.