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At first glance Kohelet appears to denigrate wisdom but a closer examination of his teachings shows that he is extremely positive about the place of wisdom in our lives. He tells us that the wise can see where they are going while the fool stumbles along in the dark, that wisdom is like an inheritance in that it preserves the lives of those who acquire it and that a wise youth is better than a foolish king. He believes that wisdom earns a person more respect than ten rulers in a city and that it is better to be criticized by the wise than praised by the foolish. Kohelet praises the effects of wisdom many times in his short book.
The only time he see wisdom as an exercise in futility, like chasing after the wind, is when it is pursued as an end unto itself. Kohelet says, “When I applied myself to a complete understanding of wisdom and knowledge, I discovered I too was chasing after the wind, for with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” He says “when I made it my goal to be wise, wisdom eluded me.” Education and the pursuit of knowledge are often held up as a lofty pursuit, a way to ensure that your life will be significant. But Kohelet believed that “even the pursuit of wisdom is futile, for in days to come the wise person, like the fool, will die and be forgotten.” Education cannot provide a lasting benefit under the sun, everything fades away.
In Kohelet’s teachings anything that is pursued to gain a lasting benefit will fail us, be it pleasure, power, fame, money or even wisdom and knowledge. Yet as we walk through life “the wise know what steps to take and that knowledge brightens their faces and gives them confidence.” Kohelet recognized the pain and suffering surround us but he would not see us give into a defeatist perspective. Instead he says, “Go, eat your bread with gladness and drink your wine with a joyful heart for today your work is blessed by God. Put on your best clothes, use your finest perfume and enjoy each futile day of your fleeting life with the people you love for these pleasures are God’s gift to you in your toilsome labor under the sun.”
This is what I love about reading Kohelet. You get both a realistic assessment of all the futile pursuits in your life but you are also challenged to find joy in every day that you live. “No matter how many days a person my live, each one should be fully enjoyed for darker days, days of futility will come your way.” Only Kohelet could weave the beauty of living together with the certainly of dying together into one sentence. I think its great.
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