A Study in the Word – Ecclesiastes 2:12-17


No matter what is accomplished in life, even if life is wasted, death plays a trump card over everyone. How then should wisdom that is so desirable be understood in light of the death that comes to everyone, wise or foolish? The Preacher put wisdom and human foolishness to the test (2:12a).

He offered his own experience as a history lesson for others (2:12b).

Initially, he concluded that human wisdom does indeed prove more valuable than foolishness. There was night and day difference between them (2:13). Wisdom opened his eyes to see clearly its offer of a better quality of life.

The Bible uses the word “fool” not in the sense of a lack of knowledge but in a moral sense. Foolishness marks the person who deliberately chooses immoral actions (Psalm 53:1; Isaiah 32:6; Proverbs). In the estimation of the Preacher, folly stumbles around in darkness, which brings disaster. Upon consideration, however, he accepted that neither the wise nor the fool had any advantage in light of the death that comes to all. Death levels the field for the wise and the foolish (2:14).

Why then become enamored with human wisdom? Death strikes one person the same as another (2:15a). His question of “Why” reveals frustration, perhaps a complaint (addressed to God?). Like so much else in the course of life, he found being enamored of wisdom proved no advantage; it was vanity (2:15b).

His test also demonstrated that memories fade. Someone famous one day is a nobody the next. One’s legacy counted for little, for the wise or for the foolish, because people hardly valued remembrance itself. Death that comes to all alike does have a lamentable effect (“how alike”), but an effect that is completely unalterable (2:16).

The Preacher concluded (at this point) that life was extremely unfair (2:17). He misdirected hatred toward life, not death. He saw life as his enemy. What was the point of work when it caused pain and misery (“Grievous” is often translated as “evil”)? Thus, he saw achieving something worthwhile in life not worth the effort. Such a life was futile and elusive.

He found that achievement did not guarantee quality of life or lasting legacy. Things like length of life, accomplishment, awards, and even difficulties take their rightful places in the course of life, but no one of them is the sum total of life. Keep in mind his conclusion (12:13).

Dr. David Moore is a university online Bible and theology instructor. Email: dm5867se@outlook.com