That fine feat of advertising sells us on Mentos. Solomon’s story in Ecclesiastes 9:13–15, as a testimonial to the benefit of wisdom, isn’t really selling us on wisdom.
I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me. 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. 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.
In this real-life example of wisdom, a powerful king laid siege against a little city. And somehow, a poor, wise man used his wisdom to save the city. What a happy resolution. But tragically, everyone forgot the poor, wise man. This isn’t how things are supposed to work. Wisdom was helpful, but in the end, it didn’t do much for our hero. Too bad for the poor, wise guy. What happened? We don’t know. But we do know how this happened from what he told us in Eccl. 9:13–15:
- The swift don’t always win the race.
- The strong don’t always win the battle.
- The wise don’t always have lots of food to eat.
- Smart people aren’t always rich.
- Smart people aren’t always popular.
According to Eccl. 9:11, “time and chance happen to them all.” Life is unpredictable. These things aren’t hard and fast laws. And we’re not in control of how things go. This means we don’t know how things will work out.
We’re like fish: happily swimming along one minute, and the next—caught in a net and put on a plate, grilled with lemon wedges on the side. We’re using wisdom, but we don’t know how things will turn out. Like a bird in a bush, we’re happy one minute and the next thing you know, we’re butter-basted in the oven. These images of dead fish and birds bring death to the forefront. Life and even death are unpredictable.
In Solomon’s poor, rich man example, the strong didn’t win the battle. The wise man was poor and probably lacked food. He was smart, but he wasn’t rich. And he wasn’t popular. People forgot him in a heartbeat. Why? Time and chance. Time passed and people forgot. Who knows what random turn of events caused everyone to forget the guy. But it was time and chance that did it.
So what conclusion does Solomon draw from this discussion? We find out in Eccl. 9:16–18.
Wisdom is fragile. It doesn’t always work out like it’s supposed to. A misdirected sneeze can knock over our wise efforts like a house of cards. But, still, wisdom is better than foolishness.
Ecclesiastes helps us balance out the book of Proverbs with its message that wisdom will give us the good life. This text from Ecclesiastes isn’t bad advertising. It’s realistic about the world we live in. Its message tells us that even when we’re using wisdom, things don’t always work out the way we would like.
But still, wisdom is better than might. That’s what the story of the poor wise man saving his little city teaches us. The soft words of a wise person are better than loud words from a ruler. Wisdom is better than weapons. The story of the poor wise man also teaches us that. Wisdom is the answer.
We can ask God for wisdom, we can live wisely, but ultimately we live in a world where we ourselves or someone else can disrupt our plans.
We might have a great plan for ourselves, our family, our church, or our organization—but then someone throws it out of whack. That can happen. But we can still trust God’s wisdom and power. He is infinitely wise and infinitely powerful.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure (Ps. 147:5).
God is perfectly wise and completely powerful. When our attempts to use wisdom are thwarted, His are never thwarted. We should respond in praise and trust. When our wisdom is thwarted—God’s is not.
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