I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom . . . (1:17, niv)
Wisdom is just “a chasing after the wind,” says Solomon (v. 17). This is a surprising statement from a king who was blessed by God for choosing wisdom over riches and long life (1 Kings 3). Wisdom can mean clever thinking, but a more biblical understanding would define it as “knowledge that leads to godly living.” You’d think having that would guarantee a meaningful life, but even wisdom has its limitations.
Wisdom can’t overcome death. Solomon’s proverbs, including those in Ecclesiastes 7, are sign posts pointing the way to a successful life. But the best-lived life still comes to an end (vv. 1-2). Sooner or later the wise person is as dead as the fool.
Wisdom doesn’t have all the answers, either. It can’t tell us why God allows bad things to happen to good people (vv. 14-15), the one question that makes it difficult to believe life has purpose and that causes us to question the justice of God. Finally, since no one can be perfectly wise (v. 20), we can never fully experience life as God intended it to be lived. Having wisdom is better than being foolish, but when we ask, “Where shall I go to find meaning?” the Teacher says, “First, reject all dead-end paths, including even wisdom.”
Father, give me wisdom, but may I know its limitations, too. Amen.