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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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John Cobb: In chapter 1, Solomon has states 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.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

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

David Hubbard: Futile and senseless it is to pay the demanding price to acquire goods and wealth. We cannot take them with us—the wise man knew that. But what pained him even more was that an entirely unworthy heir might gain the comfort and glory.

No biblical passage paints a grimmer picture of what it costs to succeed on human terms and how fragile that success is. Strain, toil, pain, vexation, insomnia—this is the currency with which we pay for success that we can neither fully gain nor truly keep.

We spend all our human resources, and we borrow against energy we do not have, to build our pyramids by which to be remembered. Then death, our common destiny, slips into the scene, erases our name from the cornerstone, and engraves in larger letters the name of someone less deserving. Our expensive legacy of wisdom and work has been stripped from us by death, the consummate swindler. . .

Death is a haunting reality diminishing the value of wisdom, erasing the memory of even the wise, and transferring our hard-earned gains to persons unsuited for them. All this the wise man made clear. Yet he did not counsel his pupils to give up on life. Instead, he came to an alternative conclusion that modest enjoyment was possible. Three words of advice expressed this conclusion.

First, enjoy life as you can: Ecclesiastes 2:24–25

God, to Koheleth, was not an absentee landlord. He was a gracious Provider, apart from whom we would not have either the basic staples of life or its simple delights. The God of grace has given us freedom to enjoy His daily gifts. What we are not free to do is to presume on His grace or predict our own future, so we enjoy life as we can.

The second word of advice was this: surrender to God’s decisions: Ecclesiastes 2:26

God it is who determines what kind of lot we have in life. And He does this on the basis of His evaluation of us. His decisions are final, though it is our duty to seek to please Him. Since He alone knows what is best for us, we must surrender to His decisions and make the best of the lot He sends us.

This final word of counsel summed up the wise man’s opinion: Do not expect anything better. We only brand life’s results as vanity—as futility—if we hope for too much. It is false optimism that wounds us, according to the Teacher. If we try to guarantee our own permanence, if we try to build timeless pyramids through wealth, wisdom, pleasure, or achievement, we are doomed to futility. If we take God’s gifts and decisions as they come and do not try to outwit God, we can snatch a measure of enjoyment from each day.

This alternative conclusion, so simple and direct when compared to the grandiose experiment which is its setting, serves to wrap up the entire argument from 1:2 to 2:23. What it says, in effect, is that all our efforts to grasp the larger picture of God’s plan for the world and our lives will come a cropper. What Solomon could not do with all his wealth, power, leisure, station, and wisdom, we surely cannot do with our puny resources. Hence we must look at life from an entirely different angle. To fail to do so is to continue to crack our heads against its unbending mystery and rigidity.

In various forms this conclusion is the heart of the book, the key to its purpose and positive message. It breaks through the gloom persistently and brings its gentle light just at those places where life’s puzzles seem to have left us most in the dark.


Tremper Longman: Death Renders Both Wisdom and Folly Meaningless

With a characteristic phrase (I turned my attention) Qohelet changes the subject. He turns from the topic of pleasure again to the topic of wisdom and folly (see 1:12–18). He then claims that his, the king’s, efforts cannot be superseded by anyone who follows him, the implication being that if he cannot find meaning or significance here, then no one can.


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?

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

Van Parunak: That is, who could possibly be better qualified in the matter of wisdom than Solomon?

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).

Michael 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.

Tremper Longman: Wise people walk around with a clear head in a (supposedly) well-lit room. Fools walk around as if blind. The analogy is to life. Wise people can “get on” with the world, but the fool keeps stumbling over obstacles.

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)

  1. (: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.’

Knut Martin Heim: This also is a mirage! The devastating verdict that his life’s work had been a chasing after an illusion invalidates any relative success that ‘wisdom’ might have brought him in the short term. Wisdom’s apparent success is exposed as a mirage.

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.”

John 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.

Charles 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.

Derek 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

Characteristics 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?

Tremper Longman: Death Renders Toil Meaningless

The introduction of a new topic, toil, signals a new section. Finding no ultimate meaning in wisdom, Qohelet now explores the possibility that toil (ʿāmāl) can provide the kind of satisfaction that he so earnestly desires. But right from the start he leaves the reader in no doubt as to his conclusion. Though never explicitly mentioned, the nemesis of death is carried over from the previous section: as it did with wisdom, death renders toil ultimately without meaning.

Van Parunak: This section has three big ideas: Hard labor; leaving the resulting wealth to someone unworthy; the resulting despair.

David Thompson: Solomon was an achiever, a hard worker, an accomplisher. Solomon would get up and get things done. He didn’t lie around. He worked hard, he played hard and he drove himself. He built homes, he built a temple and he was a success story. But there was a thought that kept haunting him–someday he would die and turn all of this stuff over to someone else. That thought haunted him and that is what these verses are all about.


If our total focus of life is “under the sun,” it will wind up empty. If our focus is “above the sun” on that which is eternal, things we accomplish will last and stand.

Every one of our enterprises on this earth, sooner or later, will flip out of our control. The more one has worked, the more one has accomplished, the more one will hate turning it all over to someone else; but that is eventually what everyone will do.

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. 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

Warren 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

gains 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)

  1. 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.

Daniel Akin: Even the legacy game will not work because eventually your descendants will waste that for which you worked so hard. Statistics say that in 60 percent of cases, inherited wealth is completely gone by the end of the second generation. The fear of billionaires who are “self-made men” is that their spoiled children who never knew hunger will not have the wisdom and resolve to handle so much money. The children of Hall of Fame baseball star Ted Williams tied up so much money fighting over whether to keep him frozen! That is Solomon’s point. How long until the family fortune is spent? For Solomon the answer was “quickly”—one generation! First Kings 14:25-26 tells us that a foreign army came into Jerusalem and took Solomon’s treasure away from his son Rehoboam. This reality renders work meaningless and only causes despair. Ecclesiastes 2:22 asks the same question as 1:3, and the answer is “nothing” ultimately. There is no net gain from all of our toil.

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.”

Tremper Longman: The gist of the previous section is simply stated. Hard work brings no rewards for the present, nor can the worker look forward to a future reward since there is no escape from the daily grind and, as he implies elsewhere (3:18–22; 12:1–7), there is doubt if not denial of the afterlife. Indeed, there is frustration now, and this is accompanied by the strong possibility that someone else will benefit from the work, and not a person chosen by the one who has earned the reward. Qohelet’s final statement in the section should surprise no one—meaningless; see 1:2.


Warren 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).

Derek 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.

David Thompson: Now watch this carefully–the ability to have a true enjoyable life lies in our relationship with God. It does not lie in our job, it does not lie in our income, it does not lie in our achievements, it does not lie in our abilities. The ability to enjoy life lies in our relationship with God. Life will be good when God is at the center of it.

God is the one who can hand out an enjoyable life. The word “enjoyment” (2:25) is one that speaks of an internal perspective that is happy and excited with life (Gesenius, p. 267). If enjoyment of life were something external, then perhaps man could figure out some way to get it. But enjoyment of life is internal and it can only come from God.

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

– Work

  1. These Gifts are From the Sovereign, Providential Hand of God
  2. No satisfaction apart from appreciation of God’s Good Gifts

Chuck 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!

Charles 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.”

David Thompson: Now I want you to carefully see what God gives to one He deems as good. It isn’t anything tangible. There are three specific things He will give to one He deems as good that ultimately lead one to have a meaningful, fulfilled and happy life:

(Grant #1) – God will grant one good His wisdom. To the one who pleases God, God will give wisdom. This wisdom (chokmah) is the kind of wisdom that is intelligent to the point of making crafty and wise choices and decisions (Gesenius, p. 277).

(Grant #2) – God will grant one good His knowledge. The word “knowledge” (dayath) is one that speaks of an ability to understand and to know. God grants those He deems good a supernatural ability to see things and understand things that others do not see nor understand.

(Grant #3) – God will grant one good His joy. The word “joy” is one that refers to a joyful and cheerful mindset that is happy internally and externally. It describes a happiness in which one actually leap.

  1. Different Strokes for Different Folks
    • For the Righteous
    • For the Sinner
  1. Nothing but Futility for the Sinner Apart from God

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

Warren 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?

Chuck 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

Opportunity 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