Wise words from Solomon the Scholar
Whatever we do, it’s a waste of time1David’s son, the Scholar and King of Jerusalem, offers these observations.
2It’s a pitiful waste of time, the Scholar says.
It’s all worthless and meaningless.
3What do people get for all their hard work,
For spilling their sweat under the sun?
4A generation dies and another is born,
But it makes no difference to the everlasting earth.
5The sun rises. The sun sets.
Then it races all night to rise again.
6The wind blows north. The wind blows south.
The wind blows round and round.
It follows its route, comes back home,
Then it starts all over again.
7Rivers and streams flow into the sea
But the sea always has room for more.
So, water returns to the streams where it came from
And the streams flow back to the sea.
8Everything is exhausting,
Too exhausting for words.
What we see isn’t satisfying.
What we hear isn’t good enough.
Everything is a rerun9
Everything from the past gets repeated.
Everything to come has already been done.
So, there’s nothing new under the sun.
But someone did it in a time before ours.
11No one remembers the ancient dead.
And no one will remember the people ahead.
Once they’ve come and gone,
They’re quickly forgotten
By those to be forgotten, too.
Scouting for wisdom12I’m king of Jerusalem and the Scholar. 13I’ve worked hard to find nuggets of wisdom anywhere I could on earth. Mining the mind is hard work. But it’s a job God has given everyone. 14I’ve seen it all, now, so I’ll tell you what I see. No one does anything but chase the wind—a meaningless waste of time.
15A twisted backbone
Can’t be straightened.
The short and half empty
Won’t stretch more than half full. 16I said to myself, “I’ve become richer and wiser than any king who ruled Jerusalem before me. During my search for wisdom, I’ve managed to fill my mind with incredible insight and knowledge.”
17So, next I decided to experience wisdom for myself. And foolishness. And insanely poor judgment. I figured those were all a waste of time, too, like trying to catch and bag the wind. 18The wiser we get,
The more it hurts.
The more we know,
The worse it feels.
There’s only one son of David who was both king and famous for his wisdom: Solomon. The Hebrew word describing him and what he’s doing in this short, philosophical book is Koheleth, spelled and translated several ways. It’s often translated “Teacher” or “Preacher” because the word refers to someone who calls together a class or another group and then presents insights. But he’s also a scholar who explores different points of view and personally tests his raw discoveries in the real world.
It’s unclear what “time before ours” the writer was talking about. It sounds like an era before humanity, which seems unusual for a writer 3,000 years ago. But perhaps the writer was talking about a generation long forgotten in an advanced culture lost to history.
The Hebrew language more literally says “the crooked can’t be straightened.” The word for crooked can refer to a person corrupt and spiritually warped. Or it could refer to a man with a twisted back. It can also work both layers at once, especially in a proverb that may have been ancient even in Solomon’s day. The same is true about “the short and half empty.” It can mean spiritually lacking. And it can refer to a short person. That image creates the kind of word picture that makes the proverb easier to see and remember.
Well, Solomon might have been richer and wiser than the three kings before him—Saul, Ishbosheth (Saul’s son), and David—but his humility may seem to belong in kindergarten. Yet historians who helped write the history of Israel confirm that Solomon was the wisest person in the world (1 Kings 4:31) and the richest (2 Chronicles 9:22).
- Sorry, there are currently no questions for this chapter.