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Nothing Makes Sense

When the son of David was king in Jerusalem, he was known to be very wise,[a] and he said:

Nothing makes sense!
Everything is nonsense.
    I have seen it all—
    nothing makes sense!
What is there to show
for all of our hard work
    here on this earth?
People come, and people go,
but still the world
    never changes.

The sun comes up,
    the sun goes down;
it hurries right back
    to where it started from.
The wind blows south,
    the wind blows north;
round and round it blows
    over and over again.
All rivers empty into the sea,
    but it never spills over;
one by one the rivers return
    to their source.[b]

All of life is far more boring
    than words could ever say.
Our eyes and our ears
are never satisfied
    with what we see and hear.
Everything that happens
    has happened before;
nothing is new,
    nothing under the sun.
10 Someone might say,
    “Here is something new!”
But it happened before,
    long before we were born.
11 No one who lived in the past
    is remembered anymore,
and everyone yet to be born
    will be forgotten too.

It Is Senseless To Be Wise

12 I said these things when I lived in Jerusalem as king of Israel. 13 With all my wisdom I tried to understand everything that happens here on earth. And God has made this so hard for us humans to do. 14 I have seen it all, and everything is just as senseless as chasing the wind.[c]

15 If something is crooked,
    it can’t be made straight;
if something isn’t there,
    it can’t be counted.

16 I said to myself, “You are by far the wisest person who has ever lived in Jerusalem. You are eager to learn, and you have learned a lot.” 17 Then I decided to find out all I could about wisdom and foolishness. Soon I realized that this too was as senseless as chasing the wind. [d]

18 The more you know,
    the more you hurt;
the more you understand,
    the more you suffer.

It Is Senseless To Be Selfish

I said to myself, “Have fun and enjoy yourself!” But this didn’t make sense. Laughing and having fun is crazy. What good does it do? I wanted to find out what was best for us during the short time we have on this earth. So I decided to make myself happy with wine and find out what it means to be foolish, without really being foolish myself.

I did some great things. I built houses and planted vineyards. I had flower gardens and orchards full of fruit trees. And I had pools where I could get water for the trees. I owned slaves, and their sons and daughters became my slaves. I had more sheep and goats than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem. Foreign rulers brought me silver, gold, and precious treasures. Men and women sang for me, and I had many wives[e] who gave me great pleasure.

I was the most famous person who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and I was very wise. 10 I got whatever I wanted and did whatever made me happy. But most of all, I enjoyed my work. 11 Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work, and it was simply chasing the wind.[f] Nothing on earth is worth the trouble.

Wisdom Makes Sense

12 I asked myself, “What can the next king do that I haven’t done?” Then I decided to compare wisdom with foolishness and stupidity. 13 And I discovered that wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. 14 Wisdom is like having two good eyes; foolishness leaves you in the dark. But wise or foolish, we all end up the same.

15 Finally, I said to myself, “Being wise got me nowhere! The same thing will happen to me that happens to fools. Nothing makes sense. 16 Wise or foolish, we all die and are soon forgotten.” 17 This made me hate life. Everything we do is painful; it’s just as senseless as chasing the wind.[g]

18 Suddenly I realized that others would someday get everything I had worked for so hard, then I started hating it all. 19 Who knows if those people will be sensible or stupid? Either way, they will own everything I have earned by hard work and wisdom. It doesn’t make sense.

20 I thought about all my hard work, and I felt depressed. 21 When we use our wisdom, knowledge, and skill to get what we own, why do we have to leave it to someone who didn’t work for it? This is senseless and wrong. 22 What do we really gain from all of our hard work? 23 Our bodies ache during the day, and work is torture. Then at night our thoughts are troubled. It just doesn’t make sense.

24 The best thing we can do is to enjoy eating, drinking, and working.[h] I believe these are God’s gifts to us, 25 and no one enjoys eating and living more than I do. 26 If we please God, he will make us wise, understanding, and happy. But if we sin, God will make us struggle for a living, then he will give all we own to someone who pleases him. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.[i]

Everything Has Its Time

Everything on earth
has its own time
    and its own season.
There is a time
for birth and death,
    planting and reaping,
for killing and healing,
    destroying and building,
for crying and laughing,
    weeping and dancing,
for throwing stones
and gathering stones,
    embracing and parting.
There is a time
for finding and losing,
    keeping and giving,
for tearing and sewing,
    listening and speaking.
There is also a time
for love and hate,
    for war and peace.

What God Has Given Us To Do

What do we gain by all of our hard work? 10 I have seen what difficult things God demands of us. 11 God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future. 12 I know the best thing we can do is to always enjoy life, 13 because God’s gift to us is the happiness we get from our food and drink and from the work we do. 14 Everything God has done will last forever; nothing he does can ever be changed. God has done all this, so that we will worship him.

15 Everything that happens
    has happened before,
and all that will be
    has already been—
God does everything
    over and over again.[j]

The Future Is Known Only to God

16 Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of fairness and justice. 17 So I told myself that God has set a time and a place for everything. He will judge everyone, both the wicked and the good. 18 I know that God is testing us to show us that we are merely animals. 19 Like animals we breathe and die, and we are no better off than they are. It just doesn’t make sense. 20 All living creatures go to the same place. We are made from earth, and we return to the earth. 21 Who really knows if our spirits go up and the spirits of animals go down into the earth? 22 We were meant to enjoy our work, and that’s the best thing we can do. We can never know the future.

I looked again and saw people being mistreated everywhere on earth. They were crying, but no one was there to offer comfort, and those who mistreated them were powerful. I said to myself, “The dead are better off than the living. But those who have never been born are better off than anyone else, because they have never seen the terrible things that happen on this earth.”

Then I realized that we work and do wonderful things just because we are jealous of others. This makes no more sense than chasing the wind.[k]

Fools will fold their hands
    and starve to death.
Yet a very little food
    eaten in peace
is better than twice as much
earned from overwork
    and chasing the wind.[l]

Once again I saw that nothing on earth makes sense. For example, some people don’t have friends or family. But they are never satisfied with what they own, and they never stop working to get more. They should ask themselves, “Why am I always working to have more? Who will get what I leave behind?” What a senseless and miserable life!

It Is Better To Have a Friend

You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. 10 If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. 11 If you sleep alone, you won’t have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night. 12 Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, “A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.”

13 You may be poor and young. But if you are wise, you are better off than a foolish old king who won’t listen to advice. 14 Even if you were not born into the royal family and have been a prisoner and poor, you can still be king. 15 I once saw everyone in the world follow a young leader who came to power after the king was gone. 16 His followers could not even be counted. But years from now, no one will praise him—this makes no more sense than chasing the wind. [m]

Footnotes

  1. 1.1 known to be very wise: This stands for the Hebrew word often translated “preacher” or “teacher.” The word may refer to someone who was a very wise leader or to someone who had become wise from collecting sayings about wisdom.
  2. 1.7 return to their source: Or “flow into the sea.”
  3. 1.14,17 chasing the wind: Or “eating the wind.”
  4. 1.14,17 chasing the wind: Or “eating the wind.”
  5. 2.8 many wives: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  6. 2.11,17 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14.
  7. 2.11,17 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14.
  8. 2.24 The best. . . working: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  9. 2.26 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14,17.
  10. 3.15 God does. . . again: One possible meaning for the difficult Hebrew text.
  11. 4.4,6,16 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14.
  12. 4.4,6,16 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14.
  13. 4.4,6,16 chasing the wind: See the note at 1.14.