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Ecclesiastes 2:12-17:

12 So I turned to consider wisdom and madness and folly. For what can the man do who comes after the king? Only what has already been done. 13 Then I saw that there is more gain in wisdom than in folly, as there is more gain in light than in darkness. 14 The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. 15 Then I said in my heart, “What happens to the fool will happen to me also. Why then have I been so very wise?” And I said in my heart that this also is vanity. 16 For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! 17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. Ecclesiastes 2:12–17 (ESV)

The question of translation: Verse 12 has several potential translation problems:

….to consider wisdom and madness and folly

                                wisdom which is madness and folly

                                wisdom and madness [irrationality]which is folly

The answer to this question depends upon what we understand Solomon to be considering.  The first is the easiest translation into English. The problem is that Solomon does not immediately discuss “madness” after this statement. The second translation is possible; yet, Solomon does thereafter consider folly/foolishness and fools. Therefore, it does seem best to consider both topics. The third translation is perhaps best:

1.       The context is as to both wisdom & folly.

2.       The punctuation (which you can’t see in the English Bible) organizes wisdom on one side and madness/folly on the other side.

3.       Madness and folly are closely related concepts: Eccl. 1:17 (7:7, potentially by context), 7:25 & 10:13.

Thus, Solomon has turned to consider wisdom and irrationality/foolishness.  The precise word used for “madness” here occurs only in Ecclesiastes. However, a related word (which interestingly, in certain forms and circumstances can mean “praise”) gives us examples of people acting mad – such as David in 1 Samuel 21:14.   A good example of the use of the word in a way which may be helpful to our examination is found in Jeremiah 50:38 (speaking of Babylon):

A drought against her waters, that they may be dried up! For it is a land of images, and they are mad over idols. Jeremiah 50:38 (ESV)

What do you think the link is between madness and idols? Did the idols drive them mad? Does their madness drive them to idols? Other related uses are found in Jeremiah 25:16, 46:9 & 51:7; Nahum 2:5. These other uses refer to the madness which comes in chaos or judgment:

They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.Jeremiah 25:16 (ESV)

 Here is the first question then: What is the connection between madness and folly?

Having considered that, what is this verse doing here? What is the point of considering wisdom and folly after having considered pleasure and power?