Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:17


What would the wisest person say to us?

I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 

I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.

I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 

And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
Outline Points:
The Teacher has seen it all and had it all.
The Teacher built a life on wisdom that's without match.
Talking Points:
  • What is the effect of the Teacher's intro here? What does it do to you as the listener to know that he's done it all, had it all, and built a life without measure?
  • Might it be helpful to remind yourselves of what hevel is in Ecclesiastes? How does last sermon's understanding of hevel impact what you read and discuss today?
  • Even with all the experience, accomplishments, and wisdom of the Teacher, he says, "What is crooked cannot be made straight." What sense of powerlessness does this communicate? What sense of powerlessness do you feel?
  • Is it a surprise to you that wisdom doesn't seem to pass the Teacher's test? Why or why not?
I said to myself, “Come now, I will make a test of pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But again, this also was vanity.

I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my mind how to cheer my body with wine—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, until I might see what was good for mortals to do under heaven during the few days of their life.

I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I also had great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines.

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Outline Points:
The Teacher indulges in folly and pleasure without compare.
Talking Points:
  • What does it mean that the Teacher "tests" pleasure? As you read his description of all that he did, can you compare that to anything you experience or see today? 
  • Now rather that simply seeing excess around you, can you see a comparison to anything in you today? How are the Teacher's life and your life closer than first appears?
  • What would happen if you did not keep yourself from whatever your eyes desired? What keeps you from living like that? In what ways are you actually living very much like that?
So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the one do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. Then I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness.
Ecclesiastes 2:12-13
Outline Points:
The Teacher comes back to say: wisdom is still the better way.
Talking Points:
  • Even after saying that wisdom didn't quite pass the Teacher's test, the Teacher says wisdom is the better way. Why? 
  • While wisdom cannot make us absolutely secure, significant, and satisfied, wisdom does bring much good into our lives. What good have you seen wisdom bring into people's lives? What bad have you seen folly bring into people's lives?
  • How is wisdom like living in light and foolishness like living in darkness?
  • How could wisdom improve the quality of one's life?
The wise have eyes in their head, but fools walk in darkness. Yet I perceived that the same fate befalls all of them. Then I said to myself, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also; why then have I been so very wise?” And I said to myself that this also is vanity. For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
Ecclesiastes 2:14-17
Outline Points:
Wisdom is the better way, but wisdom cannot deliver us from hevel.
Talking Points:
  • "Having eyes in your head" is a Hebraic phrase for seeing the world rightly. The wise see the world rightly, while fools walk in darkness. When you tip toe to the bathroom at night in total darkness, what do you see, think, imagine, or feel? How does this shed light on the meaning of the Teacher's imagery here?
  • While wisdom improves the quality of one's life, ultimately what happens to the wise and fool alike? What do you feel as you consider that reality?
  • What does the text and the Teacher leave you wanting right now?
Bottom Line: We need wisdom from outside ourselves to save ourselves.
Talking Points:
  • Where do you look for wisdom outside of yourself?
  • Where is the best wisdom found?
  • How do you set up your life to pursue that wisdom regularly?
Application: Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God revealed.
Talking Points:
  • Many passages refer to Jesus the Messiah as the wisdom of God. Can you think of any together? What do you gain from reading and discussing these passages as well?
  • How is the wisdom of God displayed in Jesus in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2? What does this wisdom ask of us? What response is appropriate to this wisdom?
  • How is the wisdom of God brought into our lives in Ephesians 1:17-19? What would it look like for you to seek this wisdom throughout this week?
  • How does the wisdom of God shape our lives in Colossians 1:9-14? What should the result of this wisdom in you? (This is not a vague life or a vague pursuit of Jesus as the wisdom of God.)
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