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Wise Man's Confession of Chasing the Wind
Who Authored Ecclesiastes?
Most scholars believe that the author of Ecclesiastes is Solomon (King in Jerusalem circa 970 to 931 BC) because:
- the author identifies himself as the Teacher, King David’s son who lived and ruled in Jerusalem;
- he claims to have more wisdom and knowledge than all the previous kings of Jerusalem;
- Solomon is credited with wisdom that "exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt." (1 Kings 4:30).
Who would expect a confession of chasing the wind from a co-author of the Holy Scriptures? “Completely meaningless” is his summary on life.
There are three reasons that compel us to pay attention to the book of Ecclesiastes:
- The author writes from several real-life experiences which he mentions throughout the book.
- The moods of disappointment and disgust are practical instances in the human experience; we’ve all been there.
- The two previous statements qualify the author to teach, and he even calls himself Teacher.
Ken Carson, Biblical Leadership Instructor, believes that the author, despite his wisdom, is a dissatisfied old man looking at the way his life turned out. Carson offers, “The tone of the book ... seems to say, ‘it's too late for me, but maybe you get it right.’"1
No matter what kind of life we live now, we can only benefit from the caution of one who teaches from his own experience, the attitude and actions which he summarizes as simply chasing the wind.
(1) Life in General
I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.— Ecclesiastes 1:14
We identify with this feeling when when we’re confused at life's crossroads. We try different routes and different strategies, but nothing works. Life begins to feel weary and monotonous like the Teacher observed:
- The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again (1:5).
- Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea (1:7).
The life chase takes us round and round in a circle. We become passionate about success. However, when we concentrate on success, disappointments and defeats throw us down. When we submit to purpose we, like the sun and the river, persevere on the way to our destiny.
(2) Pleasure and Wealth
This confession is about pleasure, because the Teacher worked hard in his chase after self-gratification.
But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.— Ecclesiastes 2:11
"I had everything a man could desire." (2:8)
People and Animals
beautiful vineyards and flourishing groves
male and female singers and slaves, concubines
treasure of many kings and provinces
reservoirs to collect water
gardens and parks
herds and flocks
great sums of silver and gold
The Teacher had it all, but none of it gave his life meaning. And the moral? Neither situations nor possessions can satisfy us. Spiritual connectedness with the Source of lasting peace, joy and love is the guarantee for satisfaction and meaning in our lives.
(3) Wisdom and Work
So I came to hate life because everything done here under the sun is so troubling. Everything is meaningless—like chasing the wind.— Ecclesiastes 2:17
To confess hatred of life is to confess deep despair, considering how often (on good days) we thank God for life.
What mood would we probably be in, when we ask questions like the Teacher asked himself?
- Both [the wise and the foolish] will die. . . Since I will end up the same as the fool, what’s the value of all my wisdom? (2:15)
- So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? (2:22)
- Who can tell whether my successors will be wise or foolish? (2:19)
Are we taking life too seriously at this point? The Teacher himself, in a moment of clarity, offers this perspective: “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. . . And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” He seems to recommend trust and contentment.
“Well-doers … often become great and prosperous, but this excites envy and opposition… Let us … not grasp at both hands full, which would only create vexation of spirit. Moderate pains and gains do best.2”
Most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. (4:4)— Ecclesiastes 4:4
- For the successful hard workers, trying to over-reach may set them up for opposition from jealous folk.
- For the successful motivated by envy, satisfaction from success will not last. There will always be the need to compete.
The Teacher suggests peace and quiet instead of rivalry: “Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.” (4:6)
It is not easy to fix an identity for the person who may have influenced this verse, but Solomon, his father David, and his son Jeroboam are among those mentioned.3
Endless crowds stand around him [a young king], but then another generation grows up and rejects him, too. So it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.— Ecclesiastes 4:16
The point is that even campaigning to become head of state is like chasing the wind. It was true of the Teacher’s generation and it true of ours. “The reign which begins so brightly shares the inevitable doom, and ends in darkness, and murmuring and failure… The popular hero of the hour finds himself slighted even in life, and is forgotten by the next generation.”4
If the king despite his power and popularity is forgotten, chances are that we can be too. This is not to suggest that we live life any less passionately, but that we find a wise perspective about the purpose for our lives in the grand scheme of things.
The Teacher's Conclusion
Here are four concluding statements from the Teacher which we do well to remember. These are not suggestions; they are obligations for those who want a meaningful life as an alternative to chasing the wind.
- Talk is cheap, like daydreams and other useless activities. Fear God instead (5: 7).
Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind (6: 9)
- Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do (11: 9).
- Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty (12: 13).
1. Carson, Ken: Grace Institute for Biblical Leadership, Ecclesiastes Survey of the Old Testament: The Writings, Copyright 2006
2. Bible Hub: Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary, Copyright 2004-2014 by Biblos.com.
3, 4. Bible Hub: Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, Copyright 2004-2014 by Biblos.com.
© 2014 Dora Weithers