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I've noticed that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes have shockingly differing views of wisdom and knowledge:

“Her [wisdom and understanding personified] ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.” (Proverbs 3:17)

“Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18)

Clearly peace is not the same thing as grief, nor is pain the same as pleasant. Considering that there is no argument over that, what then make sense of these two verses. Can they both be true at the same time? Is wisdom and understanding a grievously pleasant and peacefully painful thing? Are we supposed to do the math and determine that wisdom is just average then in every regard?

How can these two verses be understood so that they are both true, but can be in harmony with each other and not be a ridiculously obvious contradiction?

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You do realize that Ecclesiastes 1:18 is speaking of wisdom "under the sun". This is worldly wisdom where Proverbs speaks to Divine wisdom. – Rick Aug 30 '13 at 19:26
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I have of late taught that "wisdom" in the book of Proverbs is best understood as the understanding of God's ways or will and the application of such. In other words, acting and behaving in the manner which God intends for us. "Knowledge" can be understood in a similar fashion. This interpretation of wisdom, in my opinion, can be applied to all instances of "wisdom" within Proverbs with the resulting understanding of the passage remaining consistent with all of scripture. Again, this is my opinion.

However, if we look at Ecc 1:16-18, it would seem the author is boasting that he is responsible for his wisdom and intelligence, not God, and through that he could determine on his own what was foolishness in thought and deed apart from the discernment and direction of God. But, he knows now such a thing is futile because the more he did what he thought in his own mind as wise, the more trouble he brought upon himself. So, in this sense, despite both books using the same word the connotation of it is different in these three verses.

To answer the question, then, yes, the two instances of wisdom are indeed polar opposites in that God's wisdom, the understanding and application of His will for our lives, is diametrically opposed to following our own "wisdom" which is selfish, self-interested (Pr 14:2 and others), and governed by a deceitful heart (Jer 17:9).

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Thanks Mark. What about this though: There are many who believe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. If that is the case, we know that God granted much wisdom to him. What if the level of wisdom and knowledge he says he has wasn't, like you said, only from himself, but from God? If understood that way, it can definitely change things here. – Prattski Aug 30 '13 at 15:11
Sure, it certainly could. However, when he took the wisdom given to him by God and claimed credit for it himself is when his problems started. We know Solomon left God's instruction (wisdom) behind and did what he thought was best, even though God had forbidden it in the Law. Kings were not to marry many wives, buy Egyptian horses, or accumulate large amounts of wealth (Deut 17:14-20). Solomon did all three (cf. 1K 11:1-6, 1 K 10:28, and 2 Chr 1:14-15). And this is only part of his sin. And yet, if we assume he wrote Ecclesiates, Solomon found no fulfillment in this, only grief and heartache. – Mark Anthony Songer Aug 30 '13 at 15:28
Solid thoughts. Thanks Mark. – Prattski Aug 30 '13 at 20:34

Living wisely allows a person to avoid a great deal of calamity. For instance, someone who is wise with his money and stores up wealth for his later years can enjoy the blessings of wisdom, whereas someone who spends money foolishly will suffer for that. So, there is blessing in living wisely with the things of this world.

However, Ecclesiastes probably addresses the folly of focusing exclusively on the things of the world, as such things are only temporal. Riches and wealth can satisfy the desires of the flesh but not the cravings of the soul and spirit. Thus, it is good and honorable to live wisely in regard to the things of this world, but even better to live wisely in regard to eternal things.

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Narnian - Thanks for your comment, but that, to me, doesn't clear up the stark difference. In Ecclesiastes, the author is observing the wisdom and knowledge that he has gained in this world, and considers it pain and grief. Proverbs is also talking about wisdom in this world, and the peace and pleasure that it is. Both, to me, seem to be talking about wisdom and knowledge in the world - temporal wisdom and knowledge. – Prattski Aug 30 '13 at 13:46

There is “worldly wisdom” and there is “wisdom from God”:

1Corinthians 3:19 “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.”

Ecclesiastes speaks further of wisdom that is not polar to proverbs:

2:13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

7:11 Wisdom [is] good with an inheritance: and [by it there is] profit to them that see the sun.

7:19 Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty [men] which are in the city.

9:18 Wisdom [is] better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

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There may be different understandings of wisdom, but unless the Bible specifically says something like "wisdom of the world", when it refers to wisdom, it refers to Godly wisdom. I don't think that's what the two verses I provided are contrasting though (worldly vs godly). And, your 2:13 reference is kind of taken out of context. He says while wisdom excels folly, he says that both succumb to the same fate and in the end it's all vanity. – Prattski Aug 30 '13 at 14:28
Can you validate this statement: "but unless the Bible specifically says something like "wisdom of the world", when it refers to wisdom, it refers to Godly wisdom" – Rick Aug 30 '13 at 15:25
Your argument on 2:13 is valid, however, wisdom is distinguished from folly (darkness to light). What of the rest? One must reconcile the whole book of Ecclesiastes. – Rick Aug 30 '13 at 15:28
@Prattski, You do realize that your 1:18 is wisdom "under the sun". How would you interpret this other than worldly wisdom? – Rick Aug 30 '13 at 15:35

The contrast is worldly wisdom vs Godly Wisdom. We know the Bible tells us it is not up to man to direct his own steps but up to our maker - yet we chase the wind with all our pursuits when we chase our pursuits from the bossom of our own desires rather than in prayer and asking for direction first. So we seek our own way first then ask for God to bless our own will and its backwards and our hearts are unsatisfied because it is backwards - futility and vanity. Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added onto you - that's pretty simple and not exhausting but unburdensome. Christ himself on the cross said I would this cup pass from me but nonetheless let your will father be done. Demonstrates the correct form of prayer and submission that we should model make our petitions known but nonetheless know that his will is best and ask for that guidance. Solomon was exercising the fleshly chasing of the mans desires after the physical pursuits of the world a rebellion of fleshly desires and the fight against the acknowledgement and wilful submission to God.

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An interesting idea. You are saying that they are very intentionally contrasting. Do you know of any sources that say a similar thing? – fredsbend Nov 3 '14 at 23:17

The verses aren't contradictory, even if you make a distinction between Godly and earthly wisdom. They both can be true at the same time.

Godly wisdom brings prosperity for the entire man. Not only are his physical needs addressed, but his spiritual life blessed.

The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.

We live in a world, governed by principals that are the antithesis of God's. Those without a relationship with him, do not grasp or comprehend, the wisdom of God. In fact, they find it absurd.

As a believer, you must deal with this. You'll encounter a dying world in desperate need of the truth of Christ. However, you'll see him being rejected consistently.

So while you're flourishing due to a knowledge, graciously bestowed on you by the spirit of God, you're grieved by those perishing in their blind and hard hearted ignorance.

You're saddened by the mockery made of your Lord.

You're troubled by the adversity and persecution you face.

You see the condition of a fallen world and it sucks.

Yet in all of this you have peace, because you know God as a omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being with a personal and fierce love for you. You believe he is love and that love never fails. You know first hand,how real his redemptive power is, and honor him for it.

You rejoice in your hardship and tribulation because you know it produces endurance, perseverance, patience--things that are necessary to continue to love God and reflect his character, amidst a world that does not.

You understand the homeostatic nature of peace, even in the presence of profound grief. You can experience the full spectrum of human emotion, but not be engulfed by negativity. You can be impacted by adverse situations in life, but won't drown in a sense of hopelessness or despair. You know that all things are working together for your good.

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