Solomon asked in 2:12 - "What can the man do who succeeds the king?" The answer is: Only what has already been done! He too will search for answers; he too, unless he is a fool, will pursue the meaning of life.
The king affirmed in 2:13 that "wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness." Wisdom is like a lamp for man's path. However, it isn't the solution to everything because "the same event happens to them all" (2:14). Whether one walks an illuminated path or in the fog of darkness, the physical end is the same regardless! Death strikes down both the wise and the foolish.
Solomon therefore pondered what the use is of being wiser than everyone else since death would still come. The pursuit of knowledge, education, and wisdom is consequently vain. A man can work hard for wisdom and then die; a fool can spend his entire life in his stupidity and perish just like an educated man!
To make matters worse, Solomon then reiterated a truth from 1:16 - "All that now is will be forgotten in the days to come." The wise cannot even really leave a legacy. In this regard also, the educated are not in a better position than the ignorant.
These conclusions were troublesome to the wise king. The acquiring of wisdom was distressing to him because it was vain. His wisdom was futile! Although Solomon stated in 2:17 that he hated life, it must be remembered that he was writing from a purely secular perspective; that is, without God, life is meaningless and those who are wise (and therefore, contemplative) will hate it! Those who reflect upon the things Solomon did will naturally come to hate life unless they know God and understand His overriding purpose to our existence. Only blind, ignorant fools can really love life on Earth without an understanding of God's will (and their enjoyment in life is only superficial). On the other hand, one who is truly wise (whether he is highly educated or not) will live a life of purpose in service to God. Such a life is a wonderful thing that should be cherished (cf. 12:13).
We will continue this series of lessons tomorrow.