The Vanity of Wisdom
I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.
I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind.
For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
The Vanity of Self-Indulgence
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life.
I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the children of man. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me.
And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them.
I kept my heart from no pleasure,
for my heart found pleasure in all my toil,
and this was my reward for all my toil.
Then I considered all that my hands had done
and the toil I had expended in doing it,
and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind,
and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind.
The Vanity of Toil
I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Evil Under the Sun
Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun.
And behold, the tears of the oppressed,
and they had no one to comfort them!
On the side of their oppressors there was power,
and there was no one to comfort them.
And I thought the dead
who are already dead
more fortunate than the living
who are still alive.
But better than both
is he who has not yet been
and has not seen the evil deeds
that are done under the sun.
Meaningless of Accumulation
Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
The fool folds his hands
and eats his own flesh.
Better is a handful of quietness
than two hands full of toil
and a striving after wind.
Vanity of Being Alone
Again, I saw vanity under the sun:
one person who has no other,
either son or brother,
yet there is no end to all his toil,
and his eyes are never satisfied with riches,
so that he never asks, “For whom am I toiling
and depriving myself of pleasure?”
This also is vanity and
an unhappy business.
Two are better than one,
because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall,
one will lift up his fellow.
But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
Again, if two lie together, they keep warm,
but how can one keep warm alone?
And though a man might prevail
against one who is alone, two will withstand him—
a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice. For he went from prison to the throne, though in his own kingdom he had been born poor. I saw all the living who move about under the sun, along with that youth who was to stand in the king’s place. There was no end of all the people, all of whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.
Be not rash with your mouth,
nor let your heart be hasty
to utter a word before God,
for God is in heaven
and you are on earth.
Therefore let your words be few.
For a dream comes with much business,
and a fool’s voice with many words.
When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.
The Vanity of Wealth and Honor
If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money,
nor he who loves wealth with his income;
this also is vanity.
When goods increase,
they increase who eat them,
and what advantage has their owner
but to see them with his eyes?
Sweet is the sleep of a laborer,
whether he eats little or much,
but the full stomach of the rich
will not let him sleep.
There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun:
riches were kept by their owner to his hurt,
and those riches were lost in a bad venture.
And he is father of a son,
but he has nothing in his hand.
As he came from his mother’s womb
he shall go again, naked as he came,
and shall take nothing for his toil
that he may carry away in his hand.
This also is a grievous evil:
just as he came, so shall he go,
and what gain is there to him
who toils for the wind?
Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness
in much vexation and sickness and anger.
Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.
If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?
All the toil of man is for his mouth,
yet his appetite is not satisfied.
For what advantage has the wise man over the fool?
And what does the poor man have
who knows how to conduct himself before the living?
Better is the sight of the eyes
than the wandering of the appetite:
this also is vanity
and a striving after wind.
Vanity of Prosperity
Consider the work of God:
Who can make straight
what he has made crooked?
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.
Keep the King’s Command
I say: Keep the king’s command, because of God’s oath to him. Be not hasty to go from his presence. Do not take your stand in an evil cause, for he does whatever he pleases. For the word of the king is supreme, and who may say to him, “What are you doing?”
Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing,
and the wise heart will know the proper time
and the just way.
For there is a time and a way for everything,
although man’s trouble lies heavy on him.
Vanity of Wickedness
For he does not know what is to be,
for who can tell him how it will be?
No man has power to retain the spirit,
or power over the day of death.
There is no discharge from war,
nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.
All this I observed while applying my heart to all that is done under the sun, when man had power over man to his hurt.
Those Who Fear God Will Do Well
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.
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. 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. 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.
Man Cannot Know God’s Ways
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. And I commend joy, for man has no good thing 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.
Wisdom Better than Folly
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. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.
The words of the wise heard in quiet are better
than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good.
Holy Bible, English Standard Version,
as arranged in chronological order by F. Legard Smith