What Did the Wise Man Mean?
What Can You Do Compared to a King?
King Solomon made a careful investigation of human affairs. He had the time, assets and insight to be thorough in his search. That is why a person can get immeasurable benefit by reviewing Solomon’s findings as recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Calling attention to the uselessness of others’ attempting to undertake a similar study, the wise man writes: “I, even I, turned to see wisdom and madness and folly; for what can the earthling man do who comes in after the king? The thing that people have already done.” (Eccl. 2:12) Yes, with far fewer advantages and resources than those of a king, just what can the ordinary man do? For him to try what Solomon did would only be covering some of the same ground, doing what people have already done. Nothing new would be learned as to what makes life truly satisfying.
What, then, did Solomon establish? He continues: “I saw, even I, that there exists more advantage for wisdom than for folly, just as there is more advantage for light than for darkness.” (Eccl. 2:13) The person who has wisdom is certainly better off than the one who lacks it. Wisdom enables the individual to cope with the problems of life and to use his energies and abilities more purposefully than if he had very limited insight. Far more can be accomplished in the light than in total darkness.
“As regards anyone wise,” wrote Solomon, “his eyes are in his head; but the stupid one is walking on in sheer darkness.” (Eccl. 2:14) The wise person keeps his eyes open. They are in his “head” in the sense of serving his intellectual powers. So he is able to see a matter through and does not flounder about in futile attempts to reach a certain goal. The stupid one, however, is in darkness; his eyes are closed and of no value in discerning the right course to take.
Nevertheless, the advantage of wisdom over foolishness does not mean that human wisdom can bring genuine happiness and lasting satisfaction. This is what Solomon next acknowledged: “I have come to know, I too, that there is one eventuality that eventuates to them all. And I myself said in my heart: ‘An eventuality like that upon the stupid one will eventuate to me, yes, me.’ Why, then, had I become wise, I overmuch so at that time? And I spoke in my heart: ‘This too is vanity.’ For there is no more remembrance of the wise one than the stupid one to time indefinite. In the days that are already coming in, everyone is certainly forgotten; and how will the wise one die? Along with the stupid one.” (Eccl. 2:14-16) So as regards death, there is no apparent benefit in having worldly wisdom. All one’s works and activities are brought to nothingness. Eventually the dead person, regardless of how wise he may have been, is forgotten by the living.
But is there not an advantage in a person’s being able to leave behind an inheritance for his offspring as a result of his wise use of resources? This, too, is something no one can be sure about. Solomon comments: “I hated life, because the work that has been done under the sun was calamitous from my standpoint, for everything was vanity and a striving after wind. And I, even I, hated all my hard work at which I was working hard under the sun, that I would leave behind for the man who would come to be after me. And who is there knowing whether he will prove to be wise or foolish? Yet he will take control over all my hard work at which I worked hard and at which I showed wisdom under the sun. This too is vanity. And I myself turned around toward making my heart despair over all the hard work at which I had worked hard under the sun. For there exists the man whose hard work has been with wisdom and with knowledge and with proficiency, but to a man that has not worked hard at such a thing will be given the portion of that one. This too is vanity and a big calamity.”—Eccl. 2:17-21.
There really is no way to know just what will happen to the inheritance a person may leave behind. Those receiving the inheritance, because of not having worked hard for it, may not appreciate its value and may soon squander everything. Of what benefit, then, would be all the hard work that went into acquiring possessions? Still worse is the situation if the hard worker experienced much pain and vexation and was unable to get even a good night’s rest because of all his worries and anxieties. Solomon put it this way: “For what does a man come to have for all his hard work and for the striving of his heart with which he is working hard under the sun? For all his days his occupation means pains and vexation, also during the night his heart just does not lie down. This too is mere vanity.”—Eccl. 2:22, 23.
In view of this situation, what can you do? Solomon answers: “With a man there is nothing better than that he should eat and indeed drink and cause his soul to see good because of his hard work. This too I have seen, even I, that this is from the hand of the true God. For who eats and who drinks better than I do?” (Eccl. 2:24, 25) A person should enjoy the fruits of his work during his lifetime. Of course, it is only natural for parents also to think about their children. The Christian apostle Paul wrote: “The children ought not to lay up for their parents, but the parents for their children.” (2 Cor. 12:14) However, this does not mean that parents should lay up material possessions for their children to the extent of depriving themselves of life’s necessities or making their life needlessly austere. Parents need to keep in mind that, regardless of how good or how wise their children may be, material possessions can still be lost, stolen, misused or destroyed. So it is truly best to enjoy good things in a wholesome way while one can, instead of going to extremes in piling up possessions for children without getting any real benefit from these possessions during one’s own lifetime.