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You spend your life pursuing the highest levels of education; getting degree after degree – seeking the respect of your academic peers – What does that get you?

What does hard work get you? when viewed “under the sun”?

What is the end result when you try to make a name for yourself?

What can you leave behind that will have lasting value?

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Cobb: In chapter 1, Solomon has stated up front that everything he found on his search was empty–nothing satisfied. Not only was life empty, but on top of that we are told that the work God has left for men to do is a “grievous task.”

In chapter 2, Solomon describes his search through the Plains of Pleasure. Anything and everything he ever dreamed of he got; but even in all of this he concluded, “All was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun.”

As we pick up the record in v. 12, Solomon starts another quest for meaning in life. He is now entering the Woods of Wisdom, the Marsh of Madness, and the Fields of Folly. In his own way, I believe Solomon is going on a search to see if education holds the key to meaning in life. Education is not wisdom; yet education is the way to wisdom.

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Then he is going to turn his attention in more detail to the life of a workaholic – what can he possibly achieve?


A. (:12) The Repetitive Investigation – Nothing New Under the Sun

“So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done?”

These are his 2 options: a lifestyle marked by wisdom or folly (madness and folly grouped together here) – what should he go after?

Ryrie: Solomon’s successor may take up the same issues but will not arrive at any better solutions to the paradoxes of life.

B. (:13-14a) The Advantages of Wisdom – Light is Better than Darkness

“And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness.”

Glenn: A wise man has the foresight to avoid danger while a fool gets into trouble as though he stumbles around in the dark (cf. Prov. 4:18-19 for a similar metaphorical use of light and darkness).

Eaton: To possess wisdom will give success (10:10), preserve life and protect (7:12). It gives strength (7:19) and joy (8:1), and is better than mere brute strength (9:16). Man is guided by it (2:3), toils by it (2:21), tests and weighs experiences by it (7:23). Even the practical politics of delivering cities involves wisdom (9:15). Limited it may be, but it is still indispensable. . . As God’s gift it is light; as man’s possession it is sight.

John Gill: as the light of the day the darkness of the night; the one is pleasant and delightful, the other very uncomfortable; the one useful to direct in walking, the other very unsafe to walk in: light sometimes signifies joy and prosperity, and darkness adversity; the one is used to express the light of grace, and the other the darkness of sin and ignorance; now as the natural light exceeds darkness, and prosperity exceeds adversity and calamities, and a state of grace exceeds a state of sin and wickedness, so wisdom exceeds folly.

C. (:14b-16) The Futility of Wisdom – The Same Fate Awaits Both

1. (:14b) Death is Every Man’s Destiny

“And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.”

Wisdom cannot solve the ultimate question of life’s purpose.

Wiersbe: The certainty of death is a topic Solomon frequently mentioned in Ecclesiastes (1:4; 2:14-17; 3:18-20; 5:15-16; 6;6; 8:8; 9:2-3, 12; 12:7-8)

2. (:15-16) Two Reasons Pursuing Wisdom is Worthless

a. (:15) Pursuing Wisdom is Worthless Because it Cannot Change Man’s Destiny

“Then I said to myself, ‘As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?’ So I said to myself, ‘This too is vanity.’

b. (:16) Pursuing Wisdom is Worthless Because it Cannot Build a Redeeming Legacy – After Death All is Forgotten

“For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!”

Swindoll talks about the Egyptian pyramids – trying to preserve their legacy

Hard to come to grips with mortality and reality; they made sure they were buried with all of the glorious possessions they hoped to enjoy in the life beyond

D. (:17) The Frustrating Conclusion – No Purpose in Living

“So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.”

Cobb: Solomon was bitter and bummed out because he realized he couldn’t take it with him. He had lived a life of self. His world revolved around him and now payday was coming. It wouldn’t be too long before he would stand before the God who created him and give an answer for all he was given. He squandered God’s wisdom. He horded the wealth. There were a lot of things he had done for the Lord in his life, but along the way he was drawn away by compromises he had made.

Swindoll: I looked at all the labor, all the projects, all the little hobbies, all the plans, all the hours, all the years of education, all the investment of time and energy, and I saw it accomplishing little more than stirring up the dust of tomorrow and finally being forgotten. I hated it. Why? Because everything is futility and striving after the wind.

Kidner: If there is a lie at the centre of existence, and nonsense at the end of it, who has the heart to make anything of it? If, as we might put it, every card in our hand will be trumped, does it matter how we play?


The Work Ethic — the harder you work… more commendable from society’s standpoint, but what do you really have to show for it

Remember the story of Mary and Martha: (Luke 10:38-42)

devotion to Christ takes priority over activity — there’s a type of busyness that distracts us from our focus

Nothing wrong with Work — Must understand God’s design for work and commit ourself to a Biblical work ethic — will be looking at that in future weeks

Someone that pursues the work ethic with an obsession = known as a workaholic

Characs. of a Workaholic: (think of ones you know)

1) preoccupied with the office even when he is home

all the time thinking about it

carries a briefcase and opens it every night

not just work at work; also work at home

2) put in long hours — become strangers to their wives and family; more concerned with production than people

3) unable to relax –can’t sit still in his easy chair – unless so tired he falls asleep

buys a hammock; tries it out — just can’t get comfortable

4) can’t find the time to take vacations – too much that needs to get done

5) sense of guilt — I’m not being productive enough – either self-guilt or imagining that others are judging you as unproductive; not measuring up

6) driven for success — Top Dog mentality; on the fast track

sometimes a perfectionist; wants to do things well

7) very control-oriented

8) very capable — labored with wisdom, skill, knowledge

Dealing here with a very sophisticated super-achiever — one who with knowledge and skill and wisdom has accomplished more than any one person we can point to today

Solomon is looking back and reflecting on his ultimate legacy –What has he actually accomplished that will have lasting value?

A. (:18) You Can’t Take it With You – Emotion of Hatred


“Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me.”

1. OT Example — Lot’s Wife (Luke 17:28-33) Don’t look back and try to hang on to the pleasures and possessions of this life

2. NT Example — Rich man who kept building bigger barns (Luke 12:13-14)

“you have many goods laid up for many years to come” (v. 19) (1 Tim. 6:7-10)

His goal: Working to provide financial security for the future so that he could live selfishly a life of pleasure; never truly secure

Problem = Covetousness — always desiring more; never content

We fail to remember some basic facts about material possessions (or accomplishments designed to accumulate possessions):

1) inconsequential compared to spiritual things — not true riches — called a little thing

2) belong to God ultimately; we are just stewards; Money is a test — How will we use it? Faithfulness is the key

3) they do not constitute the essence of who you are – they don’t give you meaning

“not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions”

Death comes quickly and often unexpectedly

Our Primary Failure: Because we have not yet seen heaven – we fail to appreciate the riches that God has in store for us;

God has things for us that are beyond our wildest dreams;

Why are we trying to hold on to that which will rust and decay– to the perishable?

What do we love so much that we will be sad to leave it behind?

Importance of leaving behind a Legacy of a Good Name

“a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches”

B. (:19) You Must Surrender Control to Someone Else – Emotion of Despair


“And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity.”

If you realize that all you have, you obtained because of the grace of God, you will have a different attitude towards leaving a legacy for others

Wiersbe: It’s bad enough that we must leave our wealth behind, but even worse that we might leave it to somebody who will waste it!

John Gill: Some think that Solomon here gives a hint of the suspicion he had, that his son Rehoboam, his successor and heir, would turn out a foolish man, as he did; yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have showed myself wise, under the sun; be he what he will, all will come into his hands; and he will have the power of disposing of all at his pleasure; not only of enjoying it, but of changing and altering things; and perhaps greatly for the worse, if he does not entirely destroy what has been wrought with so much care and industry, toil and labour, wisdom and prudence

If you are enslaved to a system of works, you will have a different perspective

1. OT Example — Solomon and Rehoboam (1 Kings 11:41 – 12:24)

2. NT Example — Father of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:29-32) — involves an inheritance; Contrast good attitude of Father with poor attitude of older son

Who will get it all?? “the man who will come after me”

seems like a strange way to describe his son; not a very close relationship

What type of nurturing took place between David and Solomon??

Between Solomon and Rehoboam?

Sometimes the success-driven Achiever justifies his long hours away from home with the excuse:

“I’m doing it for my kids — so that they will have the things I never had” — how sad; what the kids really want is a Dad who is there for them

Def. of Legacy: a gift by will; a bequest; anything handed down by an ancestor or predecessor

Solomon’s will must have been most complicated of all time –all those wives gain both possession and control (management) of all the resources

You can hear Solomon crying: “Unfair” “Foul” “I’ve been had”

(1) Person might not be worthy in terms of his character

“who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool” (Luke 15:29)

(2) Person might not be capable to maintain the legacy, much less cause it to grow and prosper (Luke 15:30)

Solomon labored with:

– wisdom

– knowledge

– skill

Rehoboam comes along and the first day in office he engineers a split in the kingdom

Shows what a great politician Solomon was; holding things together — everyone was not happy under the burden of high taxation and bureaucratic exploitation

(3) Even if a person is worthy, even if he is capable, It is still unfair because the Person did not Earn the Legacy

Conclusion: “This too is vanity and a great evil”

Aside: Work as an escape from other pressures — from family, from spiritual priorities, from character flaws; from weaknesses you don’t want to accept

Nice to have a comfortable work situation where you can hide and imagine you are successful, because you can control this environment

don’t just assume that activity and even productivity is healthy if it is really an escape from some other responsibility (Cf. illustration from CAA – one of the directors)


Japanese have given a name to this rat-race: karoshi which means death by overwork, usually from a heart attack

C. (:20) You Don’t Get Any Return on Your Investment –

Emotion of Pain, Suffering, Pressure, Anxiety, Rat-race


“Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun.”

1. OT Example: contrast between Abraham and Lot

Job — what did he get for a life of righteousness?

Jacob — working hard for Laban for 7 years — ended up the first time with Leah (not Rachel)

2. NT Example: Zaccheus — hard-working, rich tax collector

(Luke 19) no peace of heart from accomplishment

bank account got bigger; knew all about investments;

commodities trading; pressured to meet quotas by Mid-East Mafia

Very Desperate man — wanted to see who Jesus was — a man who didn’t have any of the world’s possessions but also was free from the anxiety and rat-race

Summary: How do we measure up against these 3 Tests from our passage this morning?


What are we holding on to that we need to let go? Remember Lot’s wife

You can’t take it with you


How are we relating to others? Remember the brother of the Prodigal Son who

wanted to operate strictly on a works value system


Where are we investing? What return on investment will we get?

Remember the tragic choices made by Lot

D. (:21) Your Hard-Earned Legacy Can End Up in the Hands of the Undeserving

“When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil.”

Some wealthy people do not believe in handing down the bulk of their assets to their children

E. (:22-23) Conclusion: The Pursuit of Work Brings No Worthwhile Return

“For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.”


Wiersbe: This is the first of six “conclusions” in Ecclesiastes, each of which emphasizes the importance of accepting life as God’s gift and enjoying it in God’s will (3:12-15, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-10; 11:9-10).

Kidner: Major transition at this juncture

– God is now in view in this section

– wisdom viewed as a gift from God rather than simply man’s acquisition

Here then is the antithesis of secular pessimism. The Preacher has held before his readers two ways of life; the vicious circles of a pointless world, temporary pleasures, fruitless work, futile wisdom, inevitable death, versus an enjoyable life taken daily from the hand of God, in the “assurance of faith” that he deals appropriately with righteous and unrighteous.

A. (:24-25) God’s Gifts Are Good and Should be Enjoyed with Thanksgiving

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”

1. Basic Gifts are the Best Gifts

– Food

– Drink

– Wor

2. These Gifts are From the Sovereign, Providential Hand of God

3. No satisfaction apart from appreciation of God’s Good Gifts

Swindoll: We have the idea that the world is the one that give enjoyment and God’s the One who clubs us when we have fun – I mean the kind of fun that is really enjoyment (without a hangover) – then you need only one ingredient in your midst; you need a relationship with the living God. According to Solomon, “Who can have enjoyment without Him?” As God’s people, we’re the ones who ought to be having the time of our lives!

Ryrie: Solomon’s solution to the paradoxes of life, set forth six times … is to enjoy to the fullest the life that God has given, recognizing it as His gift. God has not revealed the solution to all of life’s inconsistencies but has given man a life to enjoy while living in obedience to him.

B. (:26) God’s Gifts Ultimately Flow to the Righteous

“For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.”

1. Different Strokes for Different Folks

a. For the Righteous

b. For the Sinner

2. Nothing but Futility for the Sinner Apart from God

Prov. 13:22 “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous.”

Wiersbe: At their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites spoiled their Egyptian masters (Ex. 3:22; 12:36), and throughout Jewish history their armies took great spoil in their many conquests. In fact, much of the wealth that went into the temple came from David’s military exploits.

CONCLUSION: How should we approach the pursuit of wisdom and meaningful accomplishment?

Swindoll: How very many there are who appear to be suave, stable, and successful but who, down inside, are dreadfully frustrated! The term “frustrated” comes from a Latin term frustra, which means “in vain.” In other words, one who is “frustrated” feels that all he does is void of purpose. In spite of great effort and constant pursuit, the frustrated individual fails to realize his dreams. A sense of helplessness evolves into hopelessness . . . even though great pains are taken to hide the awful truth. Few are those who peel off their masks and admit how greatly they struggle. When they do, however, our admiration for them is enhanced. Vulnerability is a rare but much-respected trait. (p.40)

Example of Christ — “came not to be ministered unto (not to accumulate possessions and accomplishments for himself) but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many” — What type of legacy did he leave behind?? Purchased eternal life for us

2 Cor. 8:9 “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich”

1) He left behind all of His glory and treasure in heaven -“He became poor”

no clenched fists of hatred

2) He operated on the basis of Grace

no cries of despair

3) He sought an eternal return on His investment — a spiritual return — instead of earthly treasures

no anxiety of heart, but instead Perfect Peace

John 14:1-3 This is our eternal destiny

No need to get caught up in a lifetime of futile accomplishments that won’t add anything to our heavenly home

Oppty now is to do “greater works” than even Jesus did:

– works of faith

– works energized by the Holy Spirit

– works accomplished thru prayer

1 Cor. 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”

Tremendous promise of encouragement