Wisdom Excels Folly, But…

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Wisdom Excels Folly, But…

Sermon by  Thomas Thornhill Jr

Passage: Ecclesiastes 2:12-17




As we continue our study of Ecclesiastes, we now turn to various observations that Solomon makes about life.   Having sought for meaning in every area of this life, Solomon concluded that “all is vanity”, grasping for the wind.   We now find reasons why this is the case.   And in addition to that we begin to find numerous proverbs (short, wise sayings that give general principles about life), though the book of Ecclesiastes seems to be more orderly than the book of proverbs.

We begin tonight by noting some of Solomon’s observations and conclusions about his quest.

  1. I turned to consider (12)
    1. Solomon looks back and contemplates on his completed, but unfulfilled task – finding meaning in the ways of this world. This comes back our need to reflect on life.   2 Corinthians 13:5 – examine yourself and test yourself.
      Someone might ask: Can good come out of failure?   It can if you learn from it.     That’s the forgetting and pressing on Paul was talking in Philippians 3:13.
    2. For what can man do who succeeds the king? Only what has been done.   This is a personal observation that applied to him.   What he notes is that he did all he could – his “investigation” was thorough. His successor would not be able to add to it.
    3. Furthermore, his conclusions, as we shall see – will NEVER change.   Much of what Solomon observes in this letter deals with the nature of man and this life – things that are going to remain as long as this world exists. Earlier we noted that he said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
  2.   Wisdom is better than folly (13-14a)
    1. The pursuit of wisdom is better than folly, as light is better than darkness.
      Solomon gives great insight into this in the first 4 chapters of Proverbs. Therein he describes wisdom, including its superiority to foolishness.

      1. Proverbs 1:5 – A wise man will hear and increase learning.   And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.
      2. Proverbs 2:1-12 – Wisdom will preserve you and help you understand the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God.
      3. Proverbs 3:13-18 – the value of wisdom
      4. Much more could be said about wisdom. Solomon will appeal to its value throughout the book of Ecclesiastes and we will take note.
      5. Vs. 14a – The wise man’s eyes are in his head – the wise man is alert and thinks before he acts and speaks. He is careful in his actions and thoughts. We have just read about this in the proverbs.
    2. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness (14a)
      1. Solomon here noted that folly is worse than wisdom, as darkness is worse than light.
        Often the fool walks in darkness.   The fool is not careful.   He is wasteful and doesn’t think about the future.   He seeks immediate and self-gratification, rather than consider long term outcomes. The fool is more likely to die young (recently I saw a story about selfie related deaths, etc.). We seek careless driving, street racing, and so many other ways where foolish actions lead to tragedy.
        Beyond, that there are many other consequences of foolish behavior.   Sometimes it affects the innocent as well.
      2. BUT, the most foolish thing one can do is to disregard God.
        • Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.
        • Proverbs 3:7 – Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
        • Again, we will see this throughout the book of Ecclesiastes as the fool and the wise are contrasted.
        • Ephesians 5:15 says, See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, (NKJV).
        • “Unwise” (NASB).
        • Romans 1:22 speaks of those who refuse to consider God – professing to be wise, they became fools…
      3. As to fools walking in darkness, that has been addressed in our theme this year (Lights in a Dark World – 2019). Darkness is often associated with rejection of God and His ways.     John 3:19-21 – contrasts those whose deeds are evil (walking in darkness) with those walking in truth (who come to the light).   John 1:4-5 – at his introduction, he notes that the Light (Jesus) shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
      4. Romans 13:12 – the wise man will cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
  3.   The vanity of the pursuit of wisdom (14b-16)
    1. Here we find the FIRST reason why the pursuits of this life are vanity.
    2. He perceived that the same event happens to them all (14b) – death!   Ecclesiastes 3:18-19.
      One of the themes of scripture we are continually reminded of is that death is coming, and it will be followed by judgment.   Hebrews 9:27, Romans 14:10-12.
      When we die, our fate is sealed. That is why we must prepare for death – Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
    3. So why was I more wise? A question asked in frustration.
      NOTE: That Solomon is not saying wisdom is not good, as we have just seen, BUT do not count on wisdom to keep you from dying.   AND worldly wisdom – well, it too is folly – 1 Corinthians 1:20-26.
      His point, you can be the smartest, wisest, richest, most famous, etc. – person in the world, and you are going die, and your flesh is going to rot and decay the same as everyone else.
      And, you will NOT return from the grave – Think of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
    4. There is no more remembrance of the wise than the fool forever, since all that now is will be forgotten in the days to come.
      For 99+ percent of people, once they die, their remembrance will only last a generation or so, if that long.   One’s social status, wealth, wisdom or folly will not matter.
      Someone might ask, “What about famous people?” They may be remembered for a long (or longer) time, but they are the exception to the rule, and the preservation of their works are not consistent.   BUT, even with this, when others die, they likely will not remember them either, nor will it matter.
      AND, what good will being famous do the one who is dead?   It will not gain one standing before God.
      ALSO, consider that fame is not limited to the good and wise!   Sometimes it is the fool and evil one that is remembered.   And isn’t that the point Solomon is making?   Read the verse!
    5. How does the wise man die, as the fool! Death comes to all men (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22) – none are exempt (except when the Lord returns, and 2 exceptions in scripture).
      Therefore, prepare to meet your God.   You never know WHEN you will face Him in eternity – 2 Peter 3:10.
      While, on average, the wise live longer than fools, there is still NO guarantee! Death comes to all, and many at uncertain times.

Solomon, in his wisdom, explains WHY the pursuits of this life are vanity. One reason is because of death. May we never be so foolish as to think we can escape death.   Instead, we need to prepare for it.   Are you ready?