13 And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. 14 The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. 15 Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” 16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! 17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind. 18 Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. 19 And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. 20 Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. 21 When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil. 22 For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? 23 Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity.
I’ve wrestled with some of the thoughts Solomon has been sharing with us through this book. He talks about how the rich, the wise (in today’s passage), etc. will not be remembered; yet here we are reading about his riches and wisdom. I also saw something floating around on Facebook about some people who “history has not forgotten” which has made me search harder for the meaning of Solomon’s words. Then it hit me. Do we “remember” Solomon by reading his books? Do we “remember” his legacy by looking at his temples? Do we “remember” anything about him or are we just learning about him from what is left behind. We can awe at his experiences. We can wonder at the magnificent structures we left behind. However, we can’t remember him because we didn’t truly know him in the first place!
I love the cantation of Solomon’s words. It is as if he is writing a self-reflective poem. It is part of the reason why I am having trouble cutting it up into smaller pieces; the other is that his thoughts are as big as his wisdom. After he fulfilled what his heart desired in order to experience the best that man could strive after, he felt foolish because it was all for nothing. He realized that regardless of what he did or built or had, it was just dust in the wind. He reveals to us an interesting fact: regardless of what we do or have, someone else is going to benefit from it without having to work for it. Granted, this might seem like a great idea if you want to “leave a legacy” for your family but look at what it has done to our upcoming generations. We have created a generation of entitlement and laziness!
The baby boomers discovered an age where they no longer had to work just to help their family survive, but they were in a position to work ahead for the family to come. Granted, there was a lot to be said about that and what parent wouldn’t want to give their kids good things? However, as our society evolves, how much happiness has it brought us? Kids respect their parents less than their friends. Parents are exhausted because they have worked so hard to give their children what they weren’t able to have and are being taken for granted. I’m not trying to cut down anybody or any specific group here, I’m simply trying to reveal what Solomon is getting at: working to obtain stuff, whether it is for yourself or someone else is pointless. It is still just stuff and doesn’t really get you anywhere. In verse 21 Solomon calls it, “vanity and great evil.”