Online Bible Commentary
Grasping for the Wind
Ecclesiastes 1:12 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. 14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. 15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, And what is lacking cannot be numbered. 16 I 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." 17 And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. 18 For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. (NKJV)
Solomon, son of David, was the “king over Israel” (v. 12) for some forty years (1 Kings 11:42) from 970 B.C. until his death at the age of fifty-nine in 931 B.C. The book of Ecclesiastes was likely written near the end of his life, about 935 B.C.
Solomon had turned from God in his later years (1 Kings 11). He established other gods in Israel to honor some of his 700 wives who were from other countries and worshiped different gods.
Solomon, being the son of a king, had received the best education known to man at the time. He learned the best of human wisdom. He also was blessed by God with true wisdom, the wisdom from God, but in his later years he turned away from the wisdom of God and towards human wisdom.
In this passage, Solomon identifies himself as “the preacher” (v. 1). The word translated “preacher” is the Hebrew word “qoheleth”, which means “assembly leader.” He is preaching not about God, but about human wisdom, “wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven” (v. 13). He concludes about human works that “all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (v. 14).
“What is crooked cannot be made straight, And what is lacking cannot be numbered” (v. 15) is a proverb which describes a problem that cannot be solved by human wisdom. Understanding life is beyond human wisdom. It can only be understood though the wisdom of God.
Solomon then reflects on his life. He recalls that he has “attained greatness”, “gained more wisdom than all who were before me in Jerusalem”, and that his “heart has understood great wisdom and knowledge” (v. 16). Besides wisdom he also sought out knowledge of the opposite, “madness and folly” (v. 17). But madness and folly, like wisdom, was also meaningless, futile, like “grasping for the wind” (v. 17b).
Solomon concludes, in this passage, that human wisdom, knowledge, just brings “grief”, and “sorrow” (v. 18). It only leads to less certainty and more pain.
This passage is not intended to devalue the importance of education. Education is necessary in this world in order to gain the knowledge to help others. God uses our knowledge to accomplish his purposes on earth.
Instead, this passage teaches us that human knowledge, education, does not give us knowledge of the meaning of life, as some university professors and philosophers would like for us to think. It only leaves us confused and frustrated, “grasping for the wind.”
True wisdom comes only from God. It comes from reading and studying the word of God, the Bible. The Bible teaches us the meaning of life. That is, that we are put here to glorify God. For it is through pleasing God with our life that we glorify Him and realize the true meaning for our life. Then, and only then, will we stop “grasping for the wind.”