Question: "What is the meaning of "chasing the wind" in Ecclesiastes?"
Answer: The book of Ecclesiastes uses the phrase chasing after the wind at least seven times. Ecclesiastes 1:14 speaks of chasing the wind as it relates the theme of the whole book: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Chasing the wind is a metaphor for pursuing futility. The author of Ecclesiastes learned that pursuing meaningless things—things that do not have eternal significance—is only chasing after the wind.
Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes as a personal benediction, sharing what life had taught him. He had begun well. Chosen by God from infancy to be the next king after his father, David (2 Samuel 12:25; 1 Chronicles 28:6; 29:1), Solomon had everything he could need for a lifetime of success. He had power, position, prosperity, and great wisdom: all gifts from the God who loved him (2 Chronicles 1:7–12). Yet, despite those gifts, he began to drift away from God’s commands (1 Kings 11:3–4). He wrote Ecclesiastes at the end of his life as he reflected upon lessons learned.
His first mistake in chasing after the wind was to multiply foreign wives for himself in direct disobedience to God’s orders in Deuteronomy 17:16–17. The custom in other nations of the day was for kings to marry daughters or sisters of foreign kings in order to form alliances with those countries. Rather than trust in the God who had blessed him so abundantly, Solomon followed the world’s custom, believing that he could secure peace with the nations around Israel. He also collected thousands of horses and chariots, importing them from Egypt, also in direct disobedience to God’s law. Solomon learned too late that seeking meaning through abundance was only chasing the wind (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
In Ecclesiastes, Solomon lists the various vain pursuits that are equivalent to chasing after the wind:
• All things done “under the sun,” that is, in a human life lived apart from any consideration of God (1:14)
• Pursuing wisdom and the understanding of madness and folly (1:16–17)
• Rewarding oneself with pleasure (2:10–11)
• Seeking immortality (2:16–17)
• Thinking one can control the outcome of his life (2:26)
• Envious competition with one’s neighbor (4:4)
• Trying to make a lasting name for oneself (4:16)
Solomon’s conclusion was that, apart from seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness (see Matthew 6:33), life has no meaning. The things we pour our lives into on earth won’t last. Our projects, our hard work, our rivalries, alliances, and successes—nothing will last. We can’t hang on to the rewards of this world any more than we can grasp the wind.
Beginning with chapter 5 in Ecclesiastes, Solomon’s tone changes. He shares wise instruction, much as he did in the book of Proverbs (Proverbs 1:1). By the end of the book, he has detailed all the avenues we take in our pursuit of meaning and pleasure and concludes that it is all chasing after the wind. His regal life of opulence, his foolish disobedience, and his subsequent wisdom are summed up in his final words: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). Any pursuit that does not have as its aim the furtherance of God’s plan is merely chasing after the wind (1 Corinthians 10:31).