Study Guide

Ecclesiastes Wisdom and Knowledge

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Wisdom and Knowledge

Wisdom is last but definitely not least on this list—considering that it's, you know, the whole overarching purpose of Ecclesiastes's book. Yet, Ecclesiastes also says that wisdom increases sorrow—but then again, it's better to be wise than to be a fool. But hey, all things considered, the wise man and the fool both die. So, there's that to consider. He keeps vacillating, going back and forth. By the time we get to the end of the book, Ecclesiastes probably thinks wisdom is more valuable than not—but does he prove it?

It's funny. Other people have noticed that Ecclesiastes is a book about wisdom that also questions whether wisdom is worth anything. Maybe, in the end, Ecclesiastes thinks that what people usually think of as wisdom is only a small part of a greater wisdom. If you try to be conventionally wise constantly, you risk going overboard and failing to enjoy life. But if you're not wise at all, you're just another fool babbling to yourself in the dark.

So Ecclesiastes might be saying that what's really "wise" is to not be too wise. It's not wise to be too wise, because if you're too wise, you won't be able to enjoy life. And it definitely wouldn't be wise not to try to find joy in existence. So, what you wind up with, at the end, is a new definition of wisdom—a kind of wisdom that goes beyond wisdom. It's sort of a paradox—but it's not actually all that complicated.

Questions About Wisdom and Knowledge

  1. If wisdom doesn't make you happy, why have any wisdom at all? Why bother?
  2. How does "sadness of countenance make the heart glad"? Is Ecclesiastes recommending seeing the dark comedy of life as a key to happiness?
  3. Why is it better to be quiet? Why does the wise man limit his words?
  4. How does knowing what you can't know help you to live a better or less anxious life?

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