Ecclesiastes 1:12-26 – The Teacher’s Despair


Ecclesiastes 1:12-26


The author speaks in the voice of King Solomon, whose reputation for wealth and wisdom is depicted in 1 Kings 3-11. As a man of great achievement who spent his life working to acquire riches and knowledge, greatness and happiness, Solomon finds that he faces the same fate as the poor or the foolish: death. He concludes that, given this reality, “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)  


Ecclesiastes holds up Solomon as the pinnacle of human striving. He succeeds in acquiring wealth, in accomplishing great building projects, and in realizing all that his heart desired (2:10). Yet, when he had it all, Solomon discovered that those things did not actually bring fulfillment. He spent his life toiling for things that he would not be able to enjoy after his death. Despite the ancient context, the book of Ecclesiastes rings remarkably relevant in a modern world full of striving, where work—even work that makes one miserable—is often seen as valuable in itself. Ecclesiastes invites readers to turn a critical eye on their own relationships with work, achievement, and acquisition.