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The Scriptorium

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Ecclesiastes 1.16

Ecclesiastes 1:16

16I communed with my heart, saying, “Look, I have attained greatness, and have gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem. My heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge.”

The Story: Ecclesiastes 1 ends like the last movement of a Beethoven symphony, coda after coda, restating or expanding the theme and motif so that the conclusion is firmly established. Again, Solomon reflects on the condition at which he had arrived in verse 11: He had known more wisdom and knowledge than any of his forebears. He had realized all his desires and a full measure of the gift of God as a result of much study and diligent labor. But in this verse is a hint of what will become more pronounced in verse 17 and chapter 2 – Solomon reflecting on Solomon and the greatness he had attained. Still, at this point Solomon’s primary concern is to emphasize that it is not likely his son – or many subsequent readers – would realize as much in the way of wisdom and knowledge – or all their fruits – as he had gained; thus, it behooves us to listen to him and consider his counsel carefully.

The Structure: The sudden appearance of multiplied instances of first person pronouns (“I”, “I”, “me”, “My”) is hard to overlook. It’s as if Solomon is implying, “I had it all, and it began to be all about me.” Ecclesiastes 2 will make this point even more emphatically. Solomon’s quest had begun all about God and governing God’s people so that they could know God’s blessing. At some point it began to be all about Solomon; and, when it was, it was never enough. As he anticipated receiving his father’s crown, Rehoboam seems already to have set his heart on a similar course. All his father’s wealth, wisdom, and servants would be his, to do with as he pleased. As Solomon will imply in verse 17, such thinking is madness and folly; better to recognize this as soon as possible and to seek the Lord and His wisdom in all things.

Paul warned against the danger of comparing our abilities and blessings with those of others (2 Cor. 10.12). He also warned us against the idolatry of covetousness (Col. 3.5). Why is this good advice? What should we do instead?

Each week’s studies in our
Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Vanity of Vanities: Ecclesiastes 1,” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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