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For in much wisdom there is provocation to anger,

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and he who increases knowledge, increases pain.

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The more wisdom you have, the more you see things that cause pain because they don’t seem right; the more we know, the more we suffer with irreconcilable realities.


1: “provocation to anger”

This Hebrew word’s primary meanings are “vexation, anger.” Secondarily, it can mean “grief of frustration.” The idea of grief found in this word may, or may not, be referring to the grief of losing a loved one. I think Solomon was indeed grieving the loss of a loved one, and not doing it very well. But this statement is about the frustrating, anger-inducing effort involved in trying to understand the incomprehensible. There are things in life, like death, that will not submit to rational analysis.

2: “Increases pain”

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is obviously the words of a man who is suffering great mental and emotional anguish. In fact, “anguish” is one of the ways to translate this word, along with “pain and suffering.” The longer we strive to understand things like death, the more pain we cause ourselves because the injustice of it only grows. For that reason it requires a simple, child-like faith to trust God anyway, even in the midst of meaningless loss. I am convinced that when he wrote this, Solomon was still struggling with the death of the Shulammite whom we know from the Song of Solomon. He had not yet recovered from that blow, but he had not turned his back on God either. The jury was still out. Ecclesiastes is a very dark book because it flowed from the heart of a man suffering great anguish of spirit, and who was unable to make sense of it. A big part of Solomon’s problem was that he would not stop analyzing death. He could not let go and trust God. When one does this the danger is that he will become angry with God, and that was the direction Solomon was headed. Solomon was walking a tight-rope wire. He wrote this to help others who were also in pain, but he never did get over his grief and he did become angry with God and eventually turned his back on God. Let us learn from his negative example.