Ignorance is Bliss | Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ecclesiastes 1:12–18
Christopher Rich – September 13, 2015
The Pursuit | Week #2 | Ignorance is Bliss | Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
Good morning! This week we are beginning a sermon series walking though the book of Ecclesiastes called The Pursuit: Chasing Meaning Under the Sun. What’s the point? What’s the point of life? What are we pursing? Where do we go to find wisdom, meaning, and purpose? What is the point of all our accomplishments? Where is our hope when we life is met with failure or even simple toil and boredom? In life under the sun all seems to be vanity as we struggle to find our purpose and meaning apart from God. “Fear of God will turn a vain, empty life into a meaningful life including enjoying God’s gifts.” - Greidanus The message of this sermon in Ecclesiastes isn’t all of life is meaningless and nothing matters; it’s because of God as the source of all meaning, and goodness, as we live the life we are given EVERYTHING matters! Our pursuit in this series is to mine the wisdom of The Preacher in the hopes of seeing and understanding the world, our lives, as they truly are as accurately as possible. Last week’s verses (1-11), on their own, led to a very pessimistic place. “What’s the point of life if it’s is just unprofitable toil, unsatisfying, unending cycles, where we die and are forgotten. Where can we find refuge and meaning in world like this? The next three weeks the preacher is going to take us down three paths he went down pursuing meaning “under the sun” and shows us where they eventually lead. Self-indulgence, work, and this week Wisdom.
Ecc 1:12-18 12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted. 16 I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17 And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Verse 12-13a | Wisdom of Solomon
Solomon was King David’s Son and heir to his throne over Israel. He was the only king beside David who ruled over all Israel in Jerusalem. When his reign began he had an earnestness to worship God properly yet he did so in ways that were actually unfaithful. He was sacrificing to God on “High places” the same way the neighboring pagans worshipped. There was sincerity in his worship, but it still needed to be corrected. It was in a moment of worship that God presented Solomon with an amazing opportunity.
1 Kings 3:5-12 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” 6 And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. 7 And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.8 And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. 9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. …….12 behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.
This is a huge moment in the life of Solomon and set the stage for our understanding of how we read Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. This wisdom guidance laid out in these books is just the musings of a Jewish Ben Franklin. They are a Holy Spirit inspired gift of wisdom given by God to Solomon. It important for us to see that Solomon’s desire for wisdom started in a place of humility; he was smart enough to know what he didn’t know. Solomon wanted wisdom to bless others (I want to know this so I can govern well.) Solomon recognized he needed to know the difference between good and evil. Proverbs 8:15-17 15 By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just;16 by me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly. 17 I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. God is good and he is also wise. All wisdom is a gift of God to people to navigate the lives he has given. A desire for more wisdom is an acknowledgement of your inadequacy and need to be sustained by God. This should be the prayer of every pastor, husband/wife, parent, manager, anyone who leads others. James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Solomon pursues meaning in the world under the sun/under heaven by using wisdom (from God) as a lens to see what meaning and purpose there is in all wisdom, knowledge, and activity apart from God. This is a noble pursuit. There is a deep “heart level” (meaning the deepest center of our inner emotional, spiritual, and intellectual life.) searching. This pursuit is both sincere “applied my heart” and comprehensive.
Verse 13b-15 | Three Verdicts.
While wisdom is seen as a good gift from God in these verse is not seen as ultimately valuable. This is because it is speaking specifically of wisdom under heaven limited to what people can learn, or discern about the world, knowledge, and the human experience without looking to God and part from the revelation of God. It is wisdom divorced from God. The Preachers verdicts are not positive, they are cautionary. He wants us to learn from his experiences looking at the world though worldly lenses. “Common grace” says that all truth, everything that is right, all wisdom, is from God. There can even be “godly” principals in false religions and human/secular teaching. The question is not is there any wisdom under the sun; it is how far can that wisdom take us. Will it lead us to greater life, everlasting life and joy, or greater vexation? Will it save? Does it point us to Jesus? Our hope cannot be in the gift alone, but in the gift giver.
Unhappy business- Why is the business unhappy? Because (Rom 8:20) all of life and creation has been subject to futility (vanity) that means an inescapable fact of life is the burden (business) we experience in our lives. The preacher says this experience has actually been given/ordained by God. Why did God make it this way? It is a consequence of sin. God didn’t created the world broken he made it “good”. Sin has corrupted the world. Life apart from God as the source of life, joy, and purpose shouldn’t feel effortless or peaceful. So we are restless because the world is no longer a place defined by peace. The unhappy isn’t an emotional feeling (this life is discouraging) it is deeper. It is a moral judgement showing not only that life can make us unhappy as a value on (its own) it is evil. Separation from God leading to futility still has “hope” God has made us restless (without him) in this life so we can only find rest in Him. Under heaven meaning will always ring hollow. Stephen Hawking “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. Bu we can understand the universe. That makes us something very special.” This is a brilliant man, with a broken body, who understands there is something unique with humanity but fails to see the creator behind the creation.
Under the Sun is striving after the wind- From this point on in the text, God disappears and is not mentioned. The preacher says when he looks comprehensively at all the pursuits of the world “under the sun” (what we are able to see of this world and interpreting it in light of itself, it is merely taking the world at face value) they are both futile AND are really just a chasing of the wind. It’s like Herding cats, but it is much deeper. It is a “vexation/affliction of spirit” it is not just effort that is unsuccessful it is a level of frustration that sears the heart. We want to know to have certainty and solutions to our questions and problems. Unitarian Church says “we don’t give you answers, we help you ask questions.” Questions cry out for answers!
Provers 8:35 For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord, find wisdom and find life. Richard Dawkins – Human existence is Solomon doesn’t have a limited view of the world but a robust view that gra“neither good nor evil, neither kind nor cruel, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, and lacking all purpose.” “I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.” nts him a more comprehensive prospective. It isn’t The Preacher is satisfied with not understanding (not giving the world a good look), he fully understands the world and is still unsatisfied. We know the a desire for lasting gain, true satisfaction, real progress in the world but when look close there is nothing to grasp.
Unfixable and Uncountable There are aspects of the world that are so broken and bent out of shape they are completely unfixable. They can’t be made straight. We can’t easily resolve them. No more counseling appointment, self-help books, or accountability groups will ever make what is crooked in us straight if it doesn’t point to the one who makes things straight. No amount of human effort can overcome God’s will. Ecclesiastes 7:13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?
It can even seem there are aspect of life that are so complex no matter how hard we try we cannot make easy sense of them. This is even truer if this is the way God has designed things. God is good, God is also a God of mystery and there are things about Him and His creation that are simply unknowable. There are truths that can seem awkward to us. We have to remember we are the ones bent out of shape so when something seem curved (and we think we’re straight) remember our perspective that needs to be fixed.
We are told we can change the world, which is true but only in the amount we are changed by our creator. We are bent and broken, we cannot make straight when we are so crooked. Human culture is misdirected and incomplete. There is something missing. All pursuit “under the sun” leads us to be unreconciled; like a check book that just won’t balance. You know it’s off, but you can’t find what is missing. What you don’t have you can’t count. We want easy answers and tight little systems that don’t give any room for questions and doubts. But in that we will constantly be frustrated because any system “under the sun” will encounter questions it cannot answer and problems it cannot solve. Because of sin there is brokenness and lack! Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Verse 16-17 | Double Down
When I was in college and ran around Greenlake I would pass everyone else running there so I called myself the “fastest man in all the land” Not humble. In this case when we’re talking about Solomon and wisdom he isn’t speak in prideful hyperbole. He is just calling it like it is. The Preacher goes beyond saying he has simply pursued wisdom and knowledge to declare rightly he has found it. There is great credibility when the preacher starts talking about his pursuit of wisdom.
1 Kings 4:29-30 29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon's wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt…… 34 And people of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom. The issue not one of degrees or intensity, that wisdom and knowledge wasn’t pursued enough or merely more understanding would have been satisfying. Solomon, was THE wisest, anyone else you know that you think is smart or wise is an idiot compared to Solomon. We have a snobbery that says we know more than previous generations and that we are so much wiser than previous generations. The preacher says you can go as far down this path as you want, but I’ve gone farther. His wisdom was awe inspiring.
1 Kings 10 3 And Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her. 4 And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, …….. there was no more breath in her. 6 And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, 7 but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.
Yet while Solomon’s wisdom and knowledge were absolutely legendary; he also more than causally dove into alternatives to what is plain right and true. We’ll look deeper at 1 Kings 11 Solomon tried to look at things from every angle even going so far as to intensely dive in to all the folly the world had to offer even false worship. It is necessary to distinguish from wisdom and folly. This isn’t about insanity; it is about immorality. It is the folly of living a life like the prodigal. It doesn’t lead to anything any more valuable. We believe wrongly when wisdom and virtue fail to satisfy that there is joy in the alternatives. This is why we say ignorance is bliss. Under the sun, apart from God, we find the pursuit of wisdom isn’t worth it; it is ended instead it should be redirected. There was not pursuit of God in this, no study scripture, no pray and seek wisdom from above.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 Let not the wise boast in his wisdom…. but that he understands and knows me.”
Verse 18 | Mo Knowledge = Mo Problems
We said there are apparent contradictions in Ecc. Here is one of them. Though out this sermon Wisdom is lifted up as the blessing from God that it is, but here it is shown that while valuable it will fail to save us from the brokenness of this world, in fact it will magnify it. There is not a positive relationship with more knowledge leading to more joy. In the garden Adam and Eve before the fall had literally no knowledge of evil they were innocent of it in the truest and most positive way imaginable (not naïvely) What were they offered in exchange for their rejection of God’s law? Knowledge of good and evil. They already knew good because all that is good comes from God. All that was added to them was the knowledge of evil. The more we understand the world the more we ache for something better. We know grief and sorrow. The more we know the more that grief and sorrow increase. When our gaze is fixed so we can only see what is under the sun more knowledge cannot lead to hope only discouragement and despair.
Jesus Answers |
Remember last week we said Ecclesiastes is not a destination it’s pavement on the Road to Jesus. Solomon is a great example to learn from certainly we should learn from the failure of others. But eventually all that will lead us to the pursuit of “not failing the same way,” it won’t lead us to the pursuit we are supposed to be on. Solomon may be a prince (Son of King David) who ruled a the peak of peace in Jerusalem but his rule is over and it has been 3 millennia since you could call Jerusalem a city of peace. WE need something today in the here and now. We have to look beyond Solomon. His wisdom and what he learned and is trying to teach us is of great value, but it cannot save. Solomon is dead and Jesus is alive. Jesus is the better Solomon.
Matthew 12:42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Jesus makes the unhappy business of the world “bearable” when we place our burdens on him.
Isaiah 53:3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. Not only does God know our sorrow He knows the peace and perfection of Heaven. His understanding of our pain is even greater then we can comprehend. Because Jesus is acquainted with grief and a man of sorrows we both have the comfort that He can and will meet us in our afflictions. Because Jesus meets us there we have a responsibility to meet others in theirs.
Colossians 2:2-3 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossian 3:16-17 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
More in THE PURSUIT | Ecclesiastes
January 3, 2016Season Finale | Ecclesiastes 12:1-14
December 20, 2015Bridled Joy | Ecclesiastes 11:1-10
December 13, 2015Farmers Market of Foolishness | Ecclesiastes 10:1-20