The old foolish king (Eccl 4:13-4:16)

“‘Better is a poor

But wise youth

Than an old

But foolish king,

Who will no longer take advice.’

One can indeed

Come out of prison

To reign,

Even though born poor

In the kingdom.

I saw all the living

That move about

Under the sun.

Follow that youth

Who replaced the king.

There was no end

To all those people

Whom he led.

Yet those who come later

Will not rejoice in him.

Surely this also is vanity.

This is chasing after wind.”

It is better to get rid of an old foolish king who will not take advice. A poor wise young person can be a king, even if he comes out of prison. Qoheleth has seen everything under the sun. He wants you to follow the new young king, who replaced the old king. People will follow him even though they might not rejoice later. After all, this is all vanity and futile. Finding the perfect king is like chasing after wind, never to be achieved.

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The solitary worker (Eccl 4:7-4:8)

“Again,

I saw vanity under the sun.

There is the case of solitary individuals

Without sons or brothers.

Yet there is no end to all their toil.

Their eyes are never satisfied with riches.

They ask.

‘For whom am I toiling?

Why am I depriving myself of pleasure?’

 This also is vanity.

This is an unhappy business.”

Once again, Qoheleth saw vanity all over the place. This time it is a solitary worker with no brothers or sons. They never seemed satisfied with riches. Why didn’t they ask themselves some questions? Why were they working? Why were they depriving themselves of pleasure? All this hard work was a futile unhappy business for the solitary worker. Who was he working for, other than himself?

The wise ones and the fools both die (Eccl 2:14-2:17)

“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.

Vanity of vanities (Eccl 1:2-1:3)

“‘Vanity of vanities!’

Says Qoheleth.

‘Vanity of vanities!

All is vanity!

What do people gain

From all the toil

At which they toil

Under the sun?’”

This book starts with a poem to vanity. This is the superlative Hebrew usage of hebel. What is the worst vanity? This hebel is vapor or something unsubstantial, futile or vain. This term “vanity” occurs over 38 times here in this biblical book that shows the futility of humans. Is everything vain and futile? What is the reward for hard work? If all you do is work hard under the sun, what is your reward. This is somewhat reminiscent of Job and his laments.