“‘All the toil of man is for the mouth.
Yet the appetite is not satisfied.’
What advantage has the wise ones
Over the fools?
What do the poor have?
They know how to conduct themselves
Before the living.
Better is the sight of the eyes
Than the wandering of desire.
This also is vanity.
This is chasing after wind.”
Qoheleth believes that the reason that people work is so that they can have something to eat. However, the problem is that the appetite for food is never satisfied. What advantage does the wise person have over the foolish person? In fact, the poor people know how to conduct themselves. Then Qoheleth warns against wandering desires. After all, remember that this is all vanity and chasing after the wind that cannot be caught.
“There is a grievous evil ill
That I have seen under the sun.
Riches were kept
By their owners
To their hurt.
Those riches were lost
In a bad venture.
Even though they were parents of children,
They have nothing
In their hands.
As they came
From their mother’s womb,
They shall go again.
They are naked
As they came.
They shall take nothing
For their toil
That they may carry away
With their hands.
This also is a grievous ill.
Just as they came,
So shall they go!
What gain do they have
From toiling for the wind?
All their days
They eat in darkness,
In much vexation,
In much sickness,
In much resentment?”
Now Qoheleth tells the story of evil and illness here on earth. Some rich owners got together in a bad venture. The result was that they had nothing left for their children. Thus, they would be, as they left their mother’s womb, naked. They had nothing that they could carry away for all their labor. In other words, just as they came into this world with nothing, they were going to leave it the same way, with nothing. What did they gain from all their hard work? They were chasing the wind to no avail. Thus all their days, they would eat in darkness, be troubled, sick, and resentful.
“Yet I perceived
That one fate befalls all of them.
Then I said to myself.
‘What happens to the fool
Will happen to me also.
Why then have I been so very wise?’
I said to myself
That this also is vanity.
There is no enduring remembrance
Of the wise
Or of the fools.
In the days to come,
All will have been long forgotten.
How can the wise die just like fools?
So I hated life,
Because what is done under the sun
Was grievous to me.
All is vanity.
All is a chasing after wind.”
Having accepted the importance of wisdom, Qoheleth then realizes that he, the wise one, and the fools also will both die. They share the same fate. What then is the advantage to being a wise person? No one remembers the fools, but everyone will also forget about the wise ones. Even this wise life is in vain. Why do they both share the same result as dead forgotten people? Now he begins to hate life itself, as an element of despair like Job. He thought that this was injurious to him, since all was futile. He and the wise ones were just chasing after that unattainable wind.
“So I became great.
I surpassed all
Who were before me in Jerusalem.
My wisdom remained with me.
Whatever my eyes desired,
I did not keep from them.
I kept my heart from no pleasure.
My heart found pleasure in all my toil.
This was my reward for all my toil.
Then I considered
All that my hands had done.
I considered the toil
I had spent in doing it.
All was vanity.
It was like chasing after wind.
There was nothing to be gained under the sun.”
Qoheleth became great as he surpassed all those that had gone before him. Yet he still had his wisdom. There was no pleasure denied to him. Whatever his eyes or heart desired, he got. He was the great playboy of the ancient world. Everything was his because of his wealth. In fact, he felt that he deserved this because of his hard work, which is true about most rich people. They feel that they deserve all their wealth because of their hard work. They forget about all the other hard working people who never achieve great wealth because of their circumstances. Qoheleth considered how much time he had spent becoming rich and great. Then it all kicked in. This was useless and in vain. He was once again out there chasing a wind that could never be caught. Rarely does one ever get rich enough to feel that they have enough. Like the super rich, suddenly Qoheleth felt that he had enough, because nothing was to be gained under the sun. He practically had everything. He was the richest man in Jerusalem.
“‘What is crooked cannot be made straight.
What is lacking cannot be counted.’
I said to myself.
‘I have acquired great wisdom.
My wisdom surpasses all
Who were over Jerusalem before me.
My mind has had great experience of wisdom.
My mind has had great experience of knowledge.
I applied my mind to know wisdom.
I applied my mind to know madness.
I applied my mind to know folly.
I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
In much wisdom
Is much vexation.
Those who increases knowledge
This book once again has the first person singular of Qoheleth speaking. He points out, quite correctly, that the crooked cannot be made straight. However, you can come close. On the other hand, there is no doubt that you cannot count something that is not there. Then Qoheleth gets quite personal. He explains that he has great wisdom and knowledge, greater than anyone whoever was in Jerusalem before him. He knows the difference between wisdom, madness, and folly. In a kind of reversal of the Proverbs, he seems to imply that that with all this wisdom, he is still like chasing after the wind. More problems and vexation come with wisdom. There is an increase in sorrow that comes with more knowledge. Wisdom is not the be all and end all like in Proverbs.
“I applied my mind
To search out
All that is done under heaven.
It is an unhappy business
That God has given to human beings
To be busy with.
I saw all the deeds
That are done under the sun.
All is vanity.
All is a chasing after wind.”
Qoheleth applied his mind with wisdom. He wanted to seek and search out everything under the heavens. He wanted an encyclopedic mind, or as we would say a Wikipedia mind. However, he thought that this is an unhappy business that God allows humans to be involved with, the search for knowledge. Notice that throughout this work, God and not Yahweh is used. Qoheleth boasts that he has seen all the deeds that were done under the sun. His response is that it is all in vain. All is vanity, useless, or temporary. Once the wind came, it would be gone. Searching for knowledge was like chasing the wind. You would never catch it