Vexation And Sorrow In Knowledge

Ecclesiastes 1:13-14

And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

When I read this verse I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about it, but I knew I had to write something.

King Solomon decided to seek as much wisdom and knowledge as he could about what goes on in the world.  Solomon says he is going to “apply his heart” which means his very essence and being, to seeking this knowledge.  This is his life’s quest.

King Solomon was in want of nothing.  He was in a position where he didn’t have to seek or do anything in life.  Whatever he wanted could be brought to him or he could have someone else do it.  Solomon didn’t need to seek this knowledge to succeed at a business venture, pass a test or move up the chain in his career.  He was at the top and in need of nothing.  Yet Solomon decides to seek and learn about all that is done by man.

What he learns is not very pleasant.  As he says many times in all his writings, “all is vanity and a striving after wind.”

Solomon refers to this quest as an unhappy business that God had given him.  The business being his thirst for knowledge about how and why things happen in the world.

Why would it be unhappy?  Because he sees the evil and knows that it will always be there and there is nothing he or anyone can do about it except deal with it.

Solomon writes in verse 15:

What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

The evil in man cannot be removed and righteousness cannot be manufactured.  These two truths cannot be wished away or governed away.  They will always be a part of man and on this earth.  There is no amount of wisdom and knowledge that will change it.

Solomon goes on to say in verses 16 and 17 the old adage, “It is what it is.”

I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.

Finally in verse 18 Solomon tells us the more you learn and understand about man and man’s workings, the more you don’t understand and the more you lose faith in man.

For in much wisdom is much vexation,
    and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.

So why did King Solomon, a man who had everything and was in want of nothing, decide to set his heart, his very being, to search out and understand man and what man does on this earth?  Especially when he realized just how evil man can be and he knew just how inconsequential we are in the scheme of the universe.

Maybe it was to answer the question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives.  It’s a question I know I have asked myself constantly throughout my life, more so as I get older.  I’ve never found the answer.  I thought I did, only to realize it’s not the answer. Or maybe I had found it and just talked myself out of it because I didn’t like the answer.  And maybe asking myself this question is my vanity and striving after wind.

The question is, “Why am I here?”

Why did God put me here and do I even have a purpose?

This can be the only reason I can think of that would cause a man who needed to seek nothing, a man who had everything, to go after this wisdom and knowledge.

The vexation and sorrow that Solomon writes about in verse 18 is caused by seeing the evil and unrighteousness that exists in people.  Solomon sees it in himself.  He sees the imperfections that cannot be erased.  The more knowledge gained, the more imperfections are discovered.

Perhaps I see what Solomon saw when I apply my heart to gain wisdom of all that is done under heaven.  I see the honesty required to seek wisdom, true wisdom about oneself.  Most of the time it’s not easy.  The honest evaluation of oneself is vexing and sorrowful when we know what is right and what is righteous and fail to do it.

We see in ourselves that:

 What is crooked cannot be made straight,
    and what is lacking cannot be counted.

Maybe what Solomon is telling us in verse 18 is to stop trying to find your purpose and let it find you.  Let God in your heart, be righteous and honest in all you do, and it will find you as so many other things in life do.

Perhaps this is why Solomon says so many times:

…eat, drink and take pleasure in all his toils – this is God’s gift to man.

© Otis P Smith and About the Groove, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Otis P Smith and About the Groove with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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