“Then I turned away to see wisdom and madness and foolishness because what is there for the man who comes after the King? He does that which is already.”
Once again we find Solomon turning away from one pursuit and moving on to another. And, while in modern culture, people often glory in playing the fool, in a Biblical worldview, there is little worse than you can do or be. If wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10), foolishness begins with the denial of God’s existence (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). While the wise are an honor to God and a blessing to those around them, the foolish bring shame and ruin (Proverbs 13:20).
While it is impossible for someone truly wise to play the fool (theism and atheism are mutually exclusive notions), a characteristic of Solomon’s wisdom that we find in this book is that he is willing to explore the ideas and notions of competing worldviews. And as such, he seeks to give them a fair hearing. So, be aware that he is not trying to combine madness and foolishness with wisdom; he is exploring the contrast between the two poles.
The rabbinic writers often parallel the idea of madness with the judgment of God. Indeed, there is much to be said about this notion, for when God withdraws his grace and blessing, irrationality follows. Only the briefest survey of western society is needed to illustrate that great truth; as we have rejected God as part of education and life, people have thrown reasoned argument and logic to the wind, embracing an extreme post-modern notion that all things are relative — even the language we use to describe such things. Jeremiah speaks of the madness of the nations that are under God’s judgment (Jeremiah 25:16; 50:38; 51:7); indeed, such words could be said about America today — and even of the American church which is endorsing immorality rather than opposing it.
Solomon concludes this verse with an interesting conclusion. Essentially, he is saying, “Look folks, you try and innovate, but your king has already done all of these things.” In other words, the king with his wisdom and resources can do more than you can do; you cannot rival him. So what is there left to do? He leaves that open-ended, though the rest of the book will be leading you to the answer. Or, if we look back to Proverbs 13:20, we find ourselves a summary:
“The one who walks with the wise, he will be wise; but the companion of fools does evil.”
As we listen to the words of wise Solomon, may we become wise by learning from his wisdom.