The Vanity of Human Wisdom
Ecclesiastes 1:12-18
I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.…

Solomon was one of the great, magnificent, and famous kings of the East, and was eminent both for possessions and abilities. The splendor of his court and capital may have impressed the popular mind more profoundly than anything else attaching to him. But his wisdom was his most distinctive and honorable peculiarity. At the beginning of his reign he had sought this from God as his supreme gift, and the gift had been bestowed upon him and continued to him. Its evidences were striking and universally acknowledged. As a king, a judge, an administrator, a writer, a religious teacher, Solomon was pre-eminently wise. It must be admitted that he did not always make the best use of the marvelous talents entrusted to him. But he was well able to speak from his own experience of the gift of wisdom; and none was ever better able to speak of its vanity.


1. This implies natural ability, as a foundation; and, if this be absent, eminence is impossible.

2. It implies also good opportunities. There are doubtless many endowed with native powers, to whom are denied the means of calling forth and training those powers, which accordingly lie dormant throughout the whole of life.

3. It implies the diligent cultivation of natural powers, and the diligent use of precious opportunities.

4. It implies prolonged experience - "years that bring the philosophic mind."

II. THE LIMITATION OF HUMAN WISDOM. To the view of the uncultivated and inexperienced, the knowledge of the accomplished student seems boundless, and the wisdom of the sage almost Divine. But the wise man knows himself too well to be thus deluded. The wisest man is aware that there are

(1) problems he cannot solve;

(2) errors he cannot correct;

(3) evils he cannot remedy.

On every side he is reminded how limited are his speculative and his practical powers. He is often all but helpless in the presence of questions that baffle his ingenuity, of difficulties that defy his endeavors and his patience.


1. One erroneous inference from the considerations adduced must be carefully guarded against, viz. the inference that folly is better than wisdom. The wise man may not always come to a just conclusion as to belief and practice, but the fool will usually he misled by his folly.

2. The wise man is gradually disillusioned regarding himself. He may start in life with the persuasion of his power and commanding superiority; but his confidence is perhaps by slow degrees undermined, and he may end by forming a habit of self-distrust.

3. At the same time, the wise man becomes painfully conscious that he does not deserve the reputation which he enjoys among his fellow-men.

4. But, above all, he feels that his wisdom is folly in the presence of the all-wise God, to whose omniscience all things are clear, and from whose judgment there is no appeal.

5. Hence the wise man acquires the most valuable lesson of modesty and humility - qualities which give a crowning grace to true wisdom. The wise man assuredly would not exchange with the fool, but he would fain be wiser than he is; and he cherishes the conviction that whatever light illumines him is but a ray from the central and eternal Sun. - T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

WEB: I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

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