Ecclesiastes for Everyday: Day 16

The one where Qohelet talks about wisdom and politics. 


13 Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king, who will no longer take advice. 14 One can indeed come out of prison to reign, even though born poor in the kingdom. 15 I saw all the living who, moving about under the sun, follow that youth who replaced the king; 16 there was no end to all those people whom he led. Yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is mere breath and like trying to herd the wind.


In King Lear Shakespeare writes of a king who asks his daughters how much they love him. The first two wax eloquent about their love for the king, their father. The third, Cordelia, is not given to excessive speech, and simply says:

You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.

She knows that wise speech means saying what you mean, and meaning what you say. King Lear, however, does not hear the truth in the plain language of Cordelia, but like a fool, falls for the insincere but beautiful words of her sisters. He banishes Cordelia.

As it turns out the two sisters are quite fickle in their love for the king, but Cordelia, true to her word, loves the king with an enviable constancy, even after her banishment. Lear dies, alone and mad, unable to undo the foolish action of trusting his insincere daughters.

Qohelet sounds like he knows people like Lear. Great in stature, but not in wisdom. He says that people will follow the wise youth rather than the foolish king.

Given the political climate in this country, and around the world, these are welcome words. To think that people would follow a wise, but inexperienced youth over a foolish king with many years under his belt is welcome to hear. Experience may be good, but sometimes experience just proves that we don’t really learn anything. When I first moved to Alaska I needed to get a car worked on, and a parishioner recommended a certain auto shop. “I take my car there all the time,” he said. “Four or five times a year!” I knew that this person drove a relatively new car, and wondered, if the mechanic was that good, why was my parishioner constantly having to bring his car in to be fixed by this guy? Beware the automobile mechanic who has a lot of “experience” with your car!

Wisdom can be a rare commodity, and when we find a wise person, we should figuratively set up our tents at their feet.

But Qohelet just cannot leave well enough alone. Yes, the people will do this, however it will not be long before they turn on the youth, looking for someone else to guide them. In other words, the people will not be satisfied with their rulers, no matter who they are, or how popular they once were. Sometimes we find out they have feet of clay, and we cannot live with the disappointment. Sometimes we just want something new. But as Qohelet is fond of saying, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Politics is, like everything else, mere breath, havel havelim. It is an exercise in herding the wind.

Thoughts and Questions

  1. Qohelet says that the poor, but wise youth is better off than the foolish, rich king. That sounds nice, but is that true? (Kings have a lot of perks!)
  2. Qohelet says that the people will eventually turn on the poor, wise youth as a leader. People do tend to turn on their political leaders with alarming frequency. (It has been said, “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”) Why do we tend to do this?
  3. The Pirkei Avot (a Jewish text on ethics) says, “Beware the powerful. Their friendship is a matter of convenience.” In the previous section Qohelet is discusses friendship when he talks about how two are better than one. What is the essence of true friendship?

About tmrichmond3

I am the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Medford, Oregon. I believe that faith should be able to sustain us, not oppress us.
This entry was posted in Devotional, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes for Everyone, Lent, Lenten Devotional, religion and politics, Spiritual Growth, spirituality, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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