Bible Study for Mar. 17: The problem with wisdom

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Eccl. 2:12-17; 7:23-29
Gregg Potts, lay minister

In 1984, the Lord led me to a small rural church in south Mississippi. After becoming pastor, I was told of an elderly man whose health was declining.  I was asked by his son to visit him and I did. 

As I sat in the kitchen of this man’s home, he began to talk about his life. I was a young preacher and this man was at least in his 60s, if not 70s. As we talked, he mentioned “wisdom” several times. He had tried to live his life based on wisdom. A few weeks after my visit, this man passed away and I was asked to preach his funeral. My message was built around the need for all of us to live our lives with wisdom, as this man had. 

Thus far in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher (Solomon) has shared with us the quest he was on in his life to find meaning. He had sought meaning in pleasure to no avail. Now, he seeks meaning in wisdom. 

We are taught from an early age the importance of wisdom. Solomon himself was given tremendous wisdom from God. When Solomon began his reign, the Lord appeared to him and asked him what he wanted? Solomon responded, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can rule this great people of Thine?” (2 Chron. 1:10)

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon begins a closer look at wisdom. “So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly, for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? (Eccl. 2:12)” Solomon wants to know the difference between “wisdom, madness and folly.” Solomon was interested in how humans apply what they know to make the world better.

Wisdom helps us make better decisions

In verses 13-14, Solomon said, “And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.” Solomon compared wisdom to the advantage that light has over darkness. Darkness is used in scripture to symbolize evil, while light symbolizes what is right.  In this sense, wisdom aligns with all that is good, and the wise tend to see problems coming and can avoid them. 

To emphasize this, Solomon provides a saying that is similar to other observations found throughout Proverbs. The basic idea is that wise people are able to see in front of them — their eyes are put to good use — while fools walk in darkness. 

Yet, regardless of the advantages of wisdom, it cannot stop death. The writer says, And yet I know that one fate befalls them both” (Eccl. 2:14). However, even though that one fate befalls all of us, the wise person prepares for death while the fool does not. 

Then, in 2:15, the writer asks a reasonable question: If the same fate befalls everyone, what is the advantage of wisdom? From a human standpoint, if everyone dies, it makes no sense to live wisely.  Why not “grab all the gusto” you can and enjoy life? But the answer is this: Solomon concluded that wisdom without God is folly. While education is important, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.”

In 7:15-22, Solomon recognized the difference between the wicked and the righteous. To help him understand these groups, he decided to look at these groups through the lens of wisdom. But Solomon realized this was a difficult task. In spite of all of his God-given discernment, some things were simply beyond him. The same is true today. There are some things that even the most intelligent simply do not understand. 

In 7:25, Solomon says, “I directed my mind to know, to investigate, and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness.” Solomon is saying that, in using the wisdom God had given him, he was going to try his best to find the answers to his questions. He discovered that following after wickedness robs us of common sense.

Wisdom helps us avoid the snares of life

In Eccl. 7:26, Solomon writes, And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.’

Solomon has taken a broad approach to death. Now he focuses on one case — that of an immoral woman. Her foolishness led to her death. 

Billy Graham was known as “the pastor to the presidents.” Over the course of his ministry, the Lord used him to lead countless people to Christ. As part of his daily devotional plan, he read a chapter from Proverbs each day.  Wisdom was important to him and it should be to us. 

Where does wisdom begin? Prov. 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” 

Some time back, I was talking with a man who was pastor of a former church that I served. We were discussing an event that he had planned in his church — specifically, an individual he had invited to lead a revival meeting. He said, “I see wisdom in it.” 

I had never hear that expression before; he was saying, “I feel this is a wise move, the right thing to do.” May the Lord help us to always see wisdom in our decisions. 

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