Wisdom in Ecclesiastes

The noun "wisdom" (chokmah), adjective "wise" (chakam), and verb "to be wise" (ch-k-m) occur a total of 58 times in Ecclesiastes.

My best understanding of Ecclesiastes' core message is Permanent meaning and satisfaction are not found in any of life's components, but only in life's Creator. ~Jim Berg

Solomon (Qoheleth) drives this wisdom-nail firmly into place (cf. Ecc. 12:11) by consistently juxtaposing the positive and negative sides of any topic he addresses. His treatment of wisdom is no exception.

What follows is my best attempt to summarize Ecclesiastes' explicit teaching on wisdom.

Wisdom comes from God, and He gives it to those who please Him (2:26). Wisdom is attainable to those who set their hearts to know it (1:13, 16-17), but one cannot know all the wisdom there is to know (7:23; 8:16-17). There is more profit in wisdom than in folly just as light is better than darkness (2:12-13), for wisdom enables the wise to see where he is going, whereas the fool can't see his path (2:14). However, wisdom does not enable one to see the future (9:1), and it takes only a little folly to outweigh the benefits of wisdom and honor (10:1).

It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the song of fools (7:5). It is better to be young, poor, and wise than old, rich, and foolish (4:13), but the wisdom of the poor is despised (9:16). Wisdom with an inheritance is good and profitable for those who see the sun (7:11). In fact, wisdom is better than money; though both offer protection, wisdom can save your life (7:12). However, wisdom can't save one from death, for all die (2:16). Further, wisdom is useless in the grave, so make vigorous use of it you can while you're alive (9:10). And beware for wisdom improperly displayed (being "over wise") can destroy you (7:16).

Wisdom gives more strength to a wise man than ten rulers give to a city (7:19). Wisdom is better than strength (9:16), for it can help to win a war with a small force, but the poor wise man is soon forgotten once a crisis passes (9:15) and his wisdom is despised (9:16b) . Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good (9:18).

A wise heart knows the right time and procedure (8:5). Wisdom has the advantage of giving success (10:10), but the appetite is never satisfied, so in this regard there is no advantage to the wise over the fool (6:8). Wisdom gives success, but the race is not always won by the swift, bread is not always to the wise nor is wealth always to the discerning, but time and chance (under the sun perspective) happen to all (9:11). Wisdom makes a man's face shine (8:1), but in much wisdom there is much grief (1:18), and the reality of oppression is maddening to the wise (7:7). Wisdom may enable one to do accomplish great things, but it cannot guarantee that the one who inherits its profit will use it wisely and not squander it (2:19-21), nor can it ensure that its possessor will not be forgotten, for there is no lasting remembrance of the wise (2:14).

The wise value the house of mourning over the house of pleasure (7:4), for it reminds them of their mortality and the certainty of judgment (11:9). Wisdom doesn't value the past over the present (7:10), but whatever it finds to do, it does it with all its might (9:10).

The words of the wise heart in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools (9:17). The words of wise men are gracious (10:12), even though they are goads (12:11).


Bob McCabe said…
I appreciate your summarized treatment of wisdom, Phil. How do you take the use of "wisdom" in Eccl 1:16 and 2:3?
Philip Brown said…
With all due respect to Kidner, Provan, Longman, and others, I still favor Solomonic authorship. Since Jerusalem has a history of kingship that stretches back to the 3rd millennium, I don't find the "all those who were before me over Jerusalem" of v. 16 strange.
Based on v. 16, we can say one can have less or more wisdom than others. The language of the "heart seeing much wisdom" suggests the capacity to recognize wisdom outside oneself (in the created world, in others).
2:3 the heart leading with/in wisdom while drinking -- wisdom, at base, is essentially skill. Here it looks like wisdom is the skill of seeing reality in its proper framework. Qoheleth was able to analyze and properly evaluate the value of the pleasure gained through drinking wine.

~ That's my best shot right now. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts.
Toots said…
I appreciate your sharing this-- really enjoyed it--refreshing and helpful.

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