These verses briefly examine one of the properties that wisdom and money share. The key word is “share.” Notice that the term “better” does not appear in the context. The reason is that wisdom is so superior to wealth that it derives no additional glory from it. If a person has both, that is of course good. However, if they are personified, one must conclude that wisdom could do better without wealth than wealth could do without wisdom.
The attribute that they share is the power to protect, to be a defense or a shade, as some translations say, against life's difficulties. Even in regard to this quality, the comparison reveals that wisdom is of greater value. The comparison shows that wisdom is like a wall of protection whereas wealth is merely a hedge. In adversity, wisdom provides reserves of strength to the person who possesses it. Wealth, though, continues to feed a person's self-importance and lusts, and so it may even be detrimental to progress.
What does Solomon mean by “Wisdom is good with an inheritance”? This translation is vague and difficult. In its translation, The Revised English Bible reinserts “better” into the thought: “Wisdom is better than possessions and an advantage to all who see the sun.” The NIV reads, “Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.” The Jewish Soncino commentary makes two suggestions: “Wisdom is good when it is an inheritance” and “Wisdom is good when there is an inheritance together with it.” Solomon seems to be saying that, even as receiving a family inheritance is an advantage, so also is receiving family wisdom an advantage. It thus becomes an admonishment to young people to learn from their parents.
The Soncino commentary catches the essence of what Solomon is saying. Biblical wisdom always gives a person an advantage regardless of age, and the younger the person is when he begins using what he learned from his family the better.
The counsel in the last phrase of this verse—“Wisdom is . . . profitable to those who see the sun”—can be taken in two ways. “Those who see the sun” may be taken generally, including all humanity. But it may be directed specifically toward those who truly see God as part of their lives, that is, he refers to “over the sun,” converted people. In this way, verse 11 carries strong counsel to those who have God-given wisdom that enables them to “see” God. Such a person's wisdom imparts even better judgment for facing the difficulty of the times with a much steadier walk and broader, deeper sagacity.
At the same time, to be realistic, some events may affect our lives that neither wisdom nor wealth can protect us from, such as a national economic cataclysm or a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake that one cannot be physically prepared for. Except for those extraordinary situations, from what does wisdom defend a person? It protects individuals who have this wisdom derived from a relationship with God from the ordinary trials of the times, whatever their time in history.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense