CLAIM: Solomon writes, “For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?” Does Solomon believe that wisdom is worthless?
RESPONSE: In order to understand this passage, we need to remember Solomon’s reason for writing it. He was trying to outline the meaning of life and human existence apart from God (see “Introduction to Ecclesiastes”). This is why Solomon’s statements are so difficult to interpret at first glance. The context is the futility of life without God. Solomon is challenging the notion that wisdom is useful, if there is no God. What use is wisdom, he writes, if it all ends in the grave? We might compare Solomon’s argument to Paul’s argument for the primacy of love in 1 Corinthians 13. While the gift of tongues (v.1), prophecy (v.2), knowledge (v.2), and generosity (v.3) are all good attributes, Paul argues that these are worthless without love. Likewise, Solomon is arguing that even wisdom is worthless if God does not exist.