I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
What is crooked cannot be straightened;
what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said to myself, ‘Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.’ Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.
For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;(Eccl. 1:12-18 NIV)
the more knowledge, the more grief.
The teacher is still answering the question he asked in 1:3
What do people gain from all their labours at which they toil under the sun?(Eccl. 1:3 NIV)
‘Answering wisely takes time. Taking time amid things not yet answered provokes discomfort – a discomfort often required in order to recover spiritual health.’ Christians often lose sight of the life to come. We become embedded in this world, fully integrated. We build up stores of treasures, not just material goods, but all the priorities we set for ourselves, career, education, leisure time and legacy projects. Jesus warned against this danger:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.(Matt. 6:19-21 NIV)
We have propped up our lives with various security props. The teacher is knocking these props away one by one. What would he know about it, we might well ask? He establishes his credentials and his research method for us.
The teacher says he was king over Israel in Jerusalem. Some say this was Solomon, others say that the teacher took on the persona of Solomon. We don’t need to decide. Whoever the teacher is, he was a sage from the school of wisdom. He applied his heart and mind to all the toil and labour that takes place under the heavens.
The teacher has made the sweeping statement that everything is wearisome. Objectors are lining up in the teacher’s mind to prove him wrong. Will the teacher be able to sustain his thesis under the scrutiny of specific test cases?
Still speaking generally, he speaks of the heavy burden that God has laid on mankind. That should come as no surprise to us. We just need to remind ourselves of the curse that the Fall brought upon us:
By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”(Gen. 3:19 NIV)
There is no gain to be had, nothing left over.
Most people are not in a position to carry out the life experiments that the teacher takes on. He has the resources and the time to carry out in-depth investigations so that he can persuade the doubters that everything that he has seem is ‘hebel’, a mere chasing after the wind. Try catching the wind next time you are out. You can’t grasp it, you can’t get it. All our big investments to store up treasure on the earth is just a chasing after the wind.
Even the project of investigation is hebel, because the meaning that he is seeking cannot be found where he is looking. It is a careful experiment, but it can’t produce a result. Then why engage in it? Because the teacher wants to convince us not to waste our energy in these pursuits. We’re already tied in to this world and we need to be dislodged.
There is something crooked in this world and it cannot be straightened, nor can what is lacking be counted, but despite the best advice we still keep trying. What will stop us? The teacher will if we would just listen.
The teacher vicariously put himself through this for us. He increased in wisdom. By any standard the teacher is wise. He observes wisdom and knowledge. He set out to explore wisdom, madness and folly, and this proved to be a chasing after the wind. This was no easy study. It was painful and vexatious. His discovery that it is all hebel brought knowledge but also great pain.
Jesus saw Mary weep at her brother’s tomb:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.(Jn. 11:33 NIV)
It wasn’t just for Mary that He was troubled, it was the whole sin problem that had brought death and pain. Jesus had the wisdom to see it and it caused Him pain. He was troubled.
In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus had the wisdom to foresee the dreadful cup that he had to drink, and it caused Him pain. His soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.
Lord God we are sorry that we are so slow to learn, and so hard to convince to stop investing in that which does not last. Lord help us to meditate upon Your word and to strive after that which is of eternal value for Christ our Saviour’s sake. Amen.