The Finite Influence of Human Wisdom.

We are expected to pursue human wisdom and enjoy that pursuit while understanding that only God's wisdom will satisfy us in Jesus Christ.

God has given humanity a task in the dominion mandate to pursue wisdom. Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 reflecting on when he had pursued human wisdom alone, not walking with God. It is futile to pursue any good thing apart from God.

James 3:13-18 describes two kinds of wisdom. Human wisdom is not bad; it just should not be pursued on its own. James 4:13-17 reminds us to remember God along the way.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-15

Our passage today is divided into two sections, each with a concluding proverb. The first section restates the first 11 verses of the chapter with a focus on wisdom. What ultimately happens in life often outwits our best planning. The same author attests to this truth in Proverbs 16:8.

When has God redirected your plans? Only God's grace helps us readjust. Solomon was equipped to be the best at pursuing wisdom and to reach the pinnacle of human success. He mastered learning in every area. But apart from God, he found all this distressing.

"Solomon bends his energy to projects worthy of his aesthetic gifts, his grasp of skills and sciences, and his ability to command a great establishment. He creates a little world within a world, multiform, harmonious, exquisite, a secular garden of Eden, full of civilized and agreeably uncivilized delights, with no forbidden fruits or none that he regards as such. He has had the sense in all this to avoid the rich man's boredom by strenuous activity, enjoyment valued for its own sake, and he has kept an appraising eye on his projects even while in full pursuit of them. ...He has not lost sight of the quest, the search for meaning which was the mainspring of it all. ...A less exacting mind than the Teacher would have found a great deal to report with satisfaction. The best of the best are still left understanding their pursuits as just being temporary and ofttimes misguided."

— Derek Kidner

We do certain things so that a particular result will happen, but sometimes it doesn't. This frustration is an affliction of human living. Walter Kaiser interprets Ecclesiastes 1:15 this way: "No investigation is going to be able to make up what is deficient and lacking from anything in this world. So much is lacking, it boggles the mind to even begin to contemplate the deficiency. This proverb summarizes Solomon's search on a horizontal and terrestrial plane. The problem calls for a solution greater than the sum of all of its parts: Fear God and keep His commandments." The infinite God may have a better way than our best plan (Isaiah 55:8). All we can do in this frustration is to trust and continue to walk with God.

Ecclesiastes 1:16-18

The wisest aren't much better off than the rest of us. No matter how rich or smart, everyone still dies. You can gain everything in the world and still lose your soul (Mark 8:36).

In Ecclesiastes 1:17, "madness" describes the person who avoids making reasonable decisions because they insist on figuring it out on their own. They find satisfaction in destructive habits that make no sense. When pursuing a good thing to its end without God, you will be forced to madness to find satisfaction. "Folly" is behaving rashly when under unexpected pressure. Both are moral rather than rational words. Trusting God is the ultimate stability for a troubled soul (Psalm 37:3).

Practical Conclusions

Human wisdom seeks explanation, while godly wisdom offers promises. Know and trust the promises of God.

Wisely prioritize your time and spend time with God. Our problem is not time or money but priority.

Be a wise example among those who don't know Christ.

Keep life simple. Pursue human wisdom, but enjoy the simple blessings that God has also provided. Eat, drink, and be merry to the glory of God (Ecclesiastes 8:15, 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Application Points

  • Wisdom will only satisfy when we know God's wisdom personally, Jesus Christ. He is the only wise one who can offer soul rest.
  • Are you walking with God? We can't learn God's wisdom without walking with God. Are you pursuing the good things He has for you? Don't neglect the pursuit of wisdom once you are walking with Him.
  • Healthy believers evangelize. Are you being an influence of divine wisdom among those who don't know Jesus?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • 1 Peter 3:14, 5:4-7, Proverbs 3:5-6 – When things don't work out how we thought, all we can do is to trust and continue to walk with God.
  • Colossians 4:1-6 – Knowing God's wisdom allows us to display His wisdom among those who don't know His Son.