The Limitations of Wisdom

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 9:13–16 (ESV)

13 I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 14 There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it. 15 But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16 But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.

Understanding and Applying the Word

How valuable is wisdom? How much difference does it really make in the end? Here we read the story of how a poor man with great wisdom saved a city from being captured by a more powerful enemy. This may seem to tell us that wisdom is of great value and that through it we can find meaning and purpose in life. However, we also read, “Yet no one remembered that poor man.” In the end the poor man was forgotten and his wisdom left nothing lasting for him.

It is true that wisdom does have its advantages in life. This is the point of verse 17. However, in the context of the entire book of Ecclesiastes, wisdom proves to be vanity in bringing lasting meaning and fulfillment to life. After all, just as the poor man in the story, we will all die and soon be forgotten, even if we are wise. There must be something else to give meaning or we have to admit that it is all meaningless. Thankfully, there is more and Jesus Christ gives us the answers to our search for meaning and purpose. God is there and the grave is not the end of the story. Want to know more? Grab a Bible and begin reading in one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) about the person of Jesus.


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We Never Know the Time

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 9:11–12 (ESV)

11 Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. 12 For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Life goes by quickly and we never know when it will end. We may think we have many years ahead, but that can change in the blink of the eye. It does not matter how smart one is, how fit, how strong, how wealthy, or anything else. Death can, and often does, come unexpectedly.

We must live our lives today. We cannot assume we have tomorrow because we may not. This means we need to love our families and friends today. If we have unresolved conflict, we should take care of it now. And we need to prepare today to stand before our Creator, who will judge each and every person. Live today as if it could be your last. One day it will be.


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Enjoy Your Life

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 9:7–10 (ESV)

Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.

Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In light of the reality of death, which Solomon has been writing about previously, he encourages his readers to go out and enjoy life. He mentions that “God has already approved what you do.” This does not mean that God approves of whatever one may do, whether good or evil, but that God has already approved that we should enjoy the good gifts that he gives us. Solomon tells us that we should wear our finest clothing and anoint our heads with oil. Enjoy life because it will quickly come to an end. This is just reality.

This life is fleeting, but we must not forget that it is a gift from God to be enjoyed. There are many wonderful things we experience in our few years. We must take the time to smell the roses, eat good food, play with our children, enjoy our spouses, and give glory to God for it all. And as we are reminded of the goodness of life and the reality of death, let that point us to Jesus Christ who promises eternal life to all who will trust in him.


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A Living Dog Is Better Than a Dead Lion

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 9:4–6 (ESV)

But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

Understanding and Applying the Word

We read of the reality and consequences of death. It is the end. It is the end of everything for the dead person. The dead no longer partake in the things of life and they are soon forgotten by all. As the writer says, “…for a living dog is better than a dead lion.” A dog was considered a dirty scavenger while the lion was a noble predator. Yet, with the realty of death, it is better to be alive than dead.

Many Christians seem to minimize death, but the Bible does no such thing. Scripture teaches that death is the consequence of sin. It is not the way God designed the world, but is an intruder into creation. If sin is the disease then death is the final outcome of our sickness. Scripture calls death our final enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). It takes away the life that was given by God and separates us from those we love.

Thankfully, God has done something to cure our disease and free us from the sentence of death. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to die in our place. Jesus died and was buried, but he rose from the dead to conquer death for us and promises eternal life to all who will trust in him. The end of the Bible tells us of a new creation where sin and death are no more and all of the pain and suffering of death are removed. This is the hope of Christianity.


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The Certainty of Death

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 9:1–3 (ESV)

But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Understanding and Applying the Word

No matter who you are. No matter what you have done. There is one thing that is true for every one of us. We are all going to die. The wicked and the righteous, the moral and the immoral, as well as the religious and the irreligious all face the same end. This all seems like vanity. How can we make any sense of life where death is the reality for all?

The clue is in the first verse. We are all in the hand of God. It is God that makes the difference. Yes, we will all face physical death, but because Jesus conquered the grave, those who trust in him are promised that the grave is not our final destination. There is resurrection and eternal life for all who believe and belong to Jesus. So, the true final destination is not the same for all. The wicked and rebellious will face eternal condemnation, while the righteous and those of faith will live in the presence of God in a new creation where sin and death are no more. All is not vanity in Christ.


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Some Things Are a Mystery

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page to follow along every day. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 8:16–17 (ESV)

16 When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, 17 then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.

This Upside Down World

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 8:14–15 (ESV)

14 There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. 15 And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In verse 14, we read what has been stated earlier in Ecclesiastes. Life does not always give us the outcomes we expect. Sometimes the wicked live long and prosperous lives and sometimes the righteous live short and difficult lives. It all seems like vanity. Solomon’s conclusion is that we should simply seek to find joy in the days that we have.

The writer of Ecclesiastes seeks to find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in life from a naturalistic perspective. He speaks of his thinking as “life under the sun”. However, he also reminds us that life is more than this. He reminds us that our lives are given to us by God. It is because of God that we can find joy and contentment in this life that often seems unfair. It is because of God that we know that there is more and that the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked will be judged.


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Is Evil Rewarded?

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 8:10–13 (ESV)

10 Then I saw the wicked buried. They used to go in and out of the holy place and were praised in the city where they had done such things. This also is vanity. 11 Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 12 Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. 13 But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Today, we read of the seeming unfairness of life. The wicked die and are buried and receive dignified burials. Even though they do many evil things, they live long lives and justice does not come soon enough. It seems like complete vanity. Should not evil be judged and the wicked be cut off from life? They certainly should not be honored in their burials. Yet, this is not what we observe in life where evil seems to be rewarded.

The second half of the passage tells us that, while evil may seem to win for a time, we can be sure that those who fear God will see justice done. The wicked will be dealt with and judged by God. Scripture tells us that there is everlasting condemnation for those who are the enemies of God and everlasting life for those who have repented of their sin and trusted in Jesus Christ. The final Judge will bring complete justice to all. We must live our lives according to this truth.


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I Have Seen Everything

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do include a suggested Scripture reading. Please be sure to subscribe to this page to follow along every day. Thanks for reading!

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 7:15–18 (ESV)
15 In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.
16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?
17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.

Wisdom and Security

Reading the Word

Ecclesiastes 7:11–14 (ESV)
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Understanding and Applying the Word

An inheritance is a source of security. In the times of the Old Testament, when these verses were written, this was especially true. However, wisdom needs to go along with such an inheritance or it will not go very far and will not give the security it otherwise could. In fact, wisdom is a source of security itself.

The wise understands that God holds the future in his hands. What God has set in place cannot be changed. This is true in times of prosperity and in days of adversity. When we realize this through wisdom, we can rest knowing that we are in the hands of God and that is the truest source of our security.


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