A Son Learns True Wisdom (pt.3)

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Leader Guide ESV, Unit 12, Session 2
© 2019 LifeWay Christian Resources, Permission granted to reproduce and distribute within the license agreement with purchaser. Edited by Rev. Lex DeLong, M.A., Oct 2022.
Summary and Goal
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:12), wrote three Old Testament books of wisdom: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. The latter is a celebration of love in marriage, and the former has the feel of a father passing on his collected wisdom to his son. But Ecclesiastes is different; it feels like a bitter old man expressing regret over a wasted life. In this session, we will see that while Ecclesiastes seems to have more in common with existentialist philosophy than with Judeo-Christian Scripture, the book absolutely belongs in the Bible. We will see that more than any other book, Ecclesiastes helps us understand the limits of human wisdom and shows us the futility {fleeting nature] of pursuing the things of the world.
++The Futility of Human Wisdom (Eccl. 1:12-18)
++The Futility of Pleasure (Eccl. 2:1-3)
++The Futility of Possessions (Eccl. 2:4-11)
Session in a Sentence
Wisdom is found in recognizing the futility [the fleeting benefit] of pursuing the things of the world.
Christ Connection
Wisdom is the skill of living faithfully in God’s world, in response to the understanding of the knowledge of God, but all of us have sinned.
Wisdom shows us how to live but it cannot save us.
1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB
But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption,
For this reason, Jesus became God-given wisdom for us (1 Cor. 1:30) so that through His death and resurrection (which appear foolish to the world), we might be saved according to the wise plan of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 NASB
For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Proverbs 9:10 NASB
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Missional Application
Because God has given us His wisdom in place of our foolishness, we live with purpose as we call on others to turn to Jesus Christ, who became wisdom from God for us.
DDG (p. 103)
In the fourth century, Augustine, age seventeen, set out to find wisdom and fulfillment. He embraced a hedonistic, dualistic religious philosophy, which ridiculed his mother’s Christian faith in favor of rationalism and permitted his desire for sexual exploits. But he found no fulfillment. Instead, he felt enslaved to his passions and struggled for freedom within himself.
One day, Augustine heard a child chanting a playground jingle: “Take and read.” So Augustine picked up a collection of Paul’s epistles and read:
Romans 13:13-14
Romans 13:13–14 NASB
Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.
Reading these verses at this time changed the course of Augustine’s life, and he became one of the most influential theologians in church history. 1
Voices from Church History
“Thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.” 2 –Augustine (c. 354-430)
When Augustine set out looking for wisdom and fulfillment, he did not find it because he was looking in the wrong places. But when God drew him to look to the Lord for the longing of his soul, he found it.
What are some ways people try to find fulfillment apart from God?
(through selfish pursuits of wealth, power, and sex; in false religions; through human-centered philanthropy and good deeds to help others; through good works in the Lord’s name but apart from faith in Jesus)
More than any other book, Ecclesiastes helps us understand the limits of human wisdom and shows us the futility of pursuing the things of the world and how fleeting such pursuits are.

Point 1: The Futility of Human Wisdom (Eccl. 1:12-18)

Read: Ask a volunteer to read Ecclesiastes 1:12-18 (DDG p. 104).
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 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. 14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.
15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 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.” 17 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.
18 For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.
Pack Item 12: Solomon’s Wisdom:
DDG (p. 104) Everything is vanity [fleeting] under the sun.
· While Solomon is not explicitly named as the author of Ecclesiastes, the first verse of the book identifies the author as “the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.” Since Ecclesiastes 12:9 speaks of the author as a writer of proverbs, the internal evidence points to Solomon as the author. Additionally, the accounts of superlative wisdom (1:16), great building projects (2:4-5), and vast wealth (2:8-9) all correspond to descriptions of Solomon (1 Kings 4:29-31; 9:15-19; 10:14-23).
Solomon wanted the reader to understand that everything is like a breath, like a mist that vanishes—everything is “vanity” (see Eccl. 1:2-3).
Nothing lasts, and if nothing lasts, then nothing matters. Even human life is like a vapor that is fleeting (see Jas. 4:14, …your life is but a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away).
Of course, one’s perspective matters. All of life is under God’s sovereign rule, but so often we live as if life “under the sun” is all there is. This is like trying to chase after the wind—vanity.
· In Ecclesiastes 1:2-3, Solomon presented the thesis for the book: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity [fleeting]. What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” The word translated “vanity” is the Hebrew word hebel, which means, “vapor,” “breath” or “breathing,” “perishableness.” Hebel is used in Job 7:16 to describe the fleeting nature of life: “My days are a breath.”
How might an “under the sun” focus or priority manifest itself in our lives?
(we choose to sin as if there were no consequences; we forget to pray to God; we ignore opportunities to share the gospel with others; we fail to consider the interests of others in our decision-making)
DDG (p. 104)
Another way to say life “under the sun” is to say life without acknowledging the one true God. The grand experiment of Ecclesiastes was this wise man taking his God-given wisdom to explore all this world had to offer for its own sake. But all Solomon’s wisdom did was bury him in sadness because his human wisdom had no meaning. Life and wisdom and even the Book of Ecclesiastes only make sense when they are linked to God in faith.
· There are references to God sprinkled throughout Ecclesiastes and on a number of occasions Solomon spoke directly of fearing God or showing reverence for Him (Eccl. 5:7; 7:18; 8:12-13; 12:13); however, never once did he express praise or rejoice in Him.
· In Solomon’s record in Ecclesiastes, we see that wisdom apart from faith always flounders.
It always disappoints.
It always frustrates.
It always leaves us wanting more.
The reason is simple—because true wisdom is made for more than the things of this world. It is made to draw us to the One over this world, the One who created this world.
Wisdom is designed to draw us to deeper faith in Christ, but when we remove Him from the equation, wisdom turns into folly.
Essential Doctrine “Illumination of Scripture”: Because of the vast difference between God’s wisdom and ours and because of humanity’s sinful state, human beings are incapable, on our own, of fully grasping spiritual truth without being aided by the Holy Spirit through the process of illumination.
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 104) Illumination of Scripture:
When it comes to understanding the meaning of God’s Word, Christians do not rely ultimately upon human reason in the process of interpretation, nor do we rely solely upon an institution or body of scholars. Instead, a Christian’s ultimate reliance is upon the work of the Spirit of God, who illuminates the Scriptures in the heart and mind (John 14:15-18; 16:7-12).
John 14:15-18 ““If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
John 16:7–12 ““But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment;concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me;and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me;and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

Point 2: The Futility of Pleasure (Eccl. 2:1-3)

Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 (DDG p. 105).
1 I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. 2 I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” 3 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.
DDG (p. 105) Ask:
Why do laughter and pleasure fail to satisfy us?
Does God disapprove of happiness?
Does He frown on smiling?
Not at all. God is not just permissive of our enjoyment, He is for our enjoyment. We are to enjoy God and enjoy what God has provided. The problem for Solomon, and for many people today, was that he was viewing pleasure and laughter as ends in themselves. But...
Laughter and cheer are always intended to lead us back to and point others to God, the author of joy.
· Failing to connect our joy with the Giver of that joy is not just a problem, it is disobedience [sin] (Prov. 3:5-6).
Proverbs 3:5–6 (NASB)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him -
We participate in this wickedness when we seek enjoyment in things apart from God or we seek enjoyment as an end in itself.
· True enjoyment—indeed, true wisdom—will always be sourced in God alone, in who He is and what He has done (Eccl. 7:18; Eccl. 12:13).
Without union with God as the source of pleasure and glorifying Him as the goal of pleasure (1 Cor. 10:7,31), we are left asking ourselves the same question Solomon asked in verse 2: “What does this accomplish?”
Solomon’s search for fulfillment in this life “under the sun” could be summed up this way:
++–The Intellectual’s Solution: Study Further (Eccl. 1:12-18; 2:12-17)
++–The Hedonist’s Solution: Party Harder (Eccl. 2:1-3)
++–The Achiever’s Solution: Work Longer (Eccl. 2:4-7,18-23)
++–The Materialist’s Solution: Acquire More (Eccl. 2:8-11; 4:4-16; 5:8-20)
++–The Philosopher’s Solution: Think Deeper (Eccl. 3:1–4:3)
++–The Religionist’s Solution: Do Church (Eccl. 5:1-7) 3
3. Adapted from Been There. Done That. Now What? by Ed Young (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994), vii.
Time and time again in this section of Ecclesiastes (1:14; 2:1,11,15,17,19,21,23,26; 3:19; 4:4,8,16; 5:10), Solomon reached the same conclusion: “This also is vanity.”
What does faithful enjoyment of God’s good gifts look like?
(enjoyment with gratitude to the Lord; enjoyment according to the commands God has given; never at the expense of others but rather for mutual joy to be shared together; in perspective that God in Christ is the ultimate gift)
DDG (p. 105)
So here in these verses, Solomon moved on to the next item on his “fulfillment quest” bucket list: wine. In saying his mind was still guided by wisdom, Solomon was investigating the pleasures of wine without debauchery, but he still saw this as grasping for folly. Once again, what he pursued for pleasure to satisfy his heart let him down in the end. It always does.
· The Bible does not describe alcohol as if it were sinful in and of itself (see Ps. 104:14-15; Eccl. 9:7; 1 Tim. 5:23). But drunkenness is condemned without reservation throughout the Scriptures and recorded with shameful consequences (Gen. 9:20-23; 19:30-38; Rom. 13:13; Gal. 5:21).
· Proverbs (largely written by Solomon) describes wine as “a mocker” (Prov. 20:1), suggesting that the effects of wine simply mimic joy and are not the real thing. He went on to say that whoever goes astray because of alcohol use “is not wise.” Furthermore, in Proverbs 23:31-33, he counseled: “Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things.”
What are some ways you have seen the pleasures of this world lead people astray?

Point 3: The Futility of Possessions (Eccl. 2:4-11)

Read Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 (DDG p. 106)
4 I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. 5 I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. 6 I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. 7 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. 8 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 sons of man.
9 So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. 10 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. 11 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.
Notice verses 4-11 and the use of “I,” “me,” “my,” and “myself.”
DDG (p. 106)
Solomon was in pursuit of Solomon. If our cultural maxim today is true—“I have to do what’s right for me”—then Solomon should have been the happiest man ever. But he wasn’t. None of his accomplishments, achievements, and acquisitions satisfied him. Even these lined the path of vanity.
· Jesus Christ as the King of kings and the Creator of all, was born in a stable (Luke 2), even through He was Owner of the cattle on a thousand hills (Ps. 50:10) and didn’t have a place to lay His head (Luke 9:58), because that was what He chose in His obedience to the Father.
· Jesus did not seek fulfillment through “filling up” on stuff, yet Jesus had real joy.
Christ’s joy and fulfillment were found in His obedience to the Father.
He emptied Himself by taking on the form of a servant, the likeness of humanity, so that He could obey to the point of death on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8). He did this for the joy that lay before Him: exaltation with the Father and our salvation (Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 12:2).
Fill in the blanks: DDG (p. 106)
If you are looking for the secret to fulfillment:
++Don’t look to Solomon;
++Don’t look to the pursuit of possessions.
++Instead, look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
DDG (p. 106)
In his pursuit of possessions, Solomon again recognized that his wisdom had not left him (Eccl. 2:3-9). Perhaps this was more a statement about God’s faithfulness than Solomon’s restraint. God had promised David in 2 Samuel 7:15 that His faithful love would never leave Solomon. Wisdom can lead to moderation and even provide one with the ability to handle excess, but what we all need is the God-given wisdom revealed in the life-giving message and guidance of God’s truth through His Word.
· Our salvation does not rest on what we bring to God or what we do with His wisdom. All of us, and most of us by the world’s standards, lack what would be considered important for standing out in God’s sight: wisdom, power, nobility (1 Cor. 1:26-27).
Instead, our salvation hinges on what God brings to us—namely, His Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died, and rose again. We cannot exercise enough wisdom to do away with even a single one of our sins. That is not what wisdom accomplishes. Instead, God gives us wisdom so that we might turn to the true wisdom that saves from sin—Jesus Christ.
· Jesus, “the wisdom of God,” demonstrates forever that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:24-25). It is through Christ Jesus, the One whom the world scoffs at and believes to be of no consequence, that God has provided salvation for all who trust in Him. Salvation and fulfillment are not found in wisdom, pleasure, or possessions but in Christ alone. This is true wisdom.
Why do people struggle to see the gospel of Jesus Christ as revealing God’s wisdom?
(we cannot fathom how the crucifixion of Jesus can accomplish God’s good purposes; faith in Jesus requires humility and even humiliation in the eyes of the world; as a plan of God, it seems so foolish and powerless in our eyes; Christians themselves can act sheepish about their faith in the gospel of Christ; we are so distracted by what this world can offer that we don’t consider the good news of Jesus)
My Mission
Solomon’s repeated refrain in the Book of Ecclesiastes is that everything “under the sun” is meaningless and fleeting. He was right and still is. To pursue that which is “under the sun” is to chase after a life apart from God. But humanity isn’t supposed to live “under the sun.”
True wisdom is understanding that we cannot find meaning in anything apart from God, and finding meaning in Him shapes how we live each day in pursuing Him and His glory instead of our own passing pleasures.
True wisdom is found in knowing Christ and living for Him, which includes calling others to join us by faith in the joy of life eternal, in life above the sun where Christ is enthroned for us (Col. 3:1-4).
This is what we learn from Solomon and all his vain pursuits.
DDG (p. 107)
Because God has given us His wisdom in place of our foolishness, we live with purpose as we call on others to turn to Jesus Christ, who became wisdom from God for us.
· How will you turn from your pursuits of wisdom, pleasure, and possessions to Jesus Christ, the true wisdom of God?
· How can your group display the true joy of relationship with Christ to one another and to the community around you?
· Who is pursuing what cannot fulfill, and how will you point this person to the fulfillment found only in Christ?
Voices from Church History
“Jesus love me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong; They are weak, but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus love me, The Bible tells me so.” 4 –Anna B. Warner (1827-1915)
Close in prayer:
1. “Augustine of Hippo: Architect of the Middle Ages,” Christianity Today, November 30, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/theologians/augustine-of-hippo.html.
2. St. Augustine, The Confessions (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 5.
3. Adapted from Been There. Done That. Now What? by Ed Young (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1994), vii.
4. Anna B. Warner, “Jesus Loves Me,” in Baptist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: LifeWay Worship, 2008), 652.
5. Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14 in The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2003) [Wordsearch].
6. “Ecclesiastes,” in Africa Study Bible (Oasis International, 2016), 954.
7. “Ecclesiastes,” in Worldview Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2018), 778, n. 1:16-18.
8. Duane Garrett, “Ecclesiastes,” in CSB Study Bible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2017), 1007, n. 2:3.
9. David George Moore and Daniel L. Akin, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, in Holman Old Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2009) [Wordsearch].
10. Duane Garrett, “Ecclesiastes,” in CSB Study Bible, 1007, n. 2:9; 2:11.
11. Daniel L. Akin and Jonathan Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Ecclesiastes (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2016) [Wordsearch].
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