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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 7

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

It is better to end life with a good reputation than to begin it auspiciously but then ruin it through folly. This emphasis on the importance of living wisely continues through the rest of the book (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14). The mother rubbed the "good ointment" on her baby and supposedly got it off to a good start in life by doing so.

Verses 1-14

1. Adversity and prosperity 7:1-14

He began by exposing our ignorance of the significance of adversity and prosperity (Ecclesiastes 7:1-14; cf. Job). Both of these conditions, he noted, can have good and bad effects-depending on how a person responds to them. Prosperity is not always or necessarily good (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:1-12), and adversity, or affliction, is not always or necessarily evil (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:1-15). Actually, adversity is often a greater good than prosperity. [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., pp. 80, 82.]

"With his sure touch the author now brings in a stimulating change of style and approach. Instead of reflecting and arguing, he will bombard us with proverbs, with their strong impact and varied angles of attack." [Note: Kidner, p. 64.]

Verses 1-17

B. God’s Inscrutable Plan chs. 7-8

Solomon proceeded in this section to focus on the comprehensive plan of God: His decree. His point was that we cannot fathom it completely.

Verses 2-4

The point of these verses is that it is wise to bear the brevity of life in mind as one lives (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:1). The "heart," mentioned in all three verses, is where we make moral decisions (cf. Proverbs 4:23). Thoughtful rather than thoughtless living is wise (cf. Psalms 90:12). Sobriety contrasts with self-indulgence.

"A sorrow shared may bring more inner happiness than an evening with back-slapping jokers (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4)." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1174.]

Verses 5-6

All things considered it is wiser to live a life of thoughtful self-restraint than to pursue a life of hedonism.

Verses 7-10

Both adversity and prosperity tempt people to abandon a wise lifestyle for one of folly. The wise man’s prosperity might tempt him to accept a bribe, or his adversity might tempt him to oppress others (Ecclesiastes 7:7).

". . . even a wise person can be made a fool when money becomes involved." [Note: Longman, p. 185.]

Impatience and pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8), anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9), and dissatisfaction (Ecclesiastes 7:10) might also lure him from the submissive attitude that is part of the way of wisdom.

"It has been said that ’the good old days’ are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination, and often this is true." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 514.]

Verses 11-12

Prosperity can also be a good thing, especially if the prosperous person behaves wisely. Note that the wise normally live longer than the foolish (Ecclesiastes 7:12 b; cf. Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3).

Verses 13-14

We cannot understand why God uses adversity and prosperity as He does. A man or woman of faith trusts God nonetheless (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we should enjoy the times of prosperity, and remember in the times of adversity that God is in control.

"God balances our lives by giving us enough blessings to keep us happy and enough burdens to keep us humble." [Note: Ibid., p. 515.]

The phrase "man cannot discover" or the equivalent is another structural marker in Ecclesiastes that indicates the end of a subsection in chapters 7 and 8 (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ecclesiastes 7:28 twice; Ecclesiastes 8:17 thrice). Other key structural markers are the phrases "vanity and striving after wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14; et al.) and "man does not know" (Ecclesiastes 9:1; et al.). [Note: See A. G. Wright, pp. 325-26.]

Verses 15-18

Solomon had observed many exceptions to the dogma of retribution (i.e., the belief that God always punishes the wicked with adversity and blesses the righteous with prosperity in this lifetime; Ecclesiastes 7:15; cf. Job). Therefore we should not conclude that by being righteous we can escape adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:16). The righteousness in view here seems to be self-righteousness (cf. Matthew 5:20; Matthew 23:1-36). [Note: R. N. Whybray, "Qoheleth the Immoralist? (Qoh 7:16-17)," in Israelite Wisdom . . ., pp. 191-204; J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1176; Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 86.] We should probably translate "ruin yourself" (Ecclesiastes 7:16, Heb. tissomem) "be appalled, astounded."

Neither should we conclude that because God does not consistently punish the wicked in this life, it is all right to sin (Ecclesiastes 7:17). One who fears God should avoid both of these extremes (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Solomon was not saying in these verses that a little wickedness and folly are good, the so-called "golden mean." Rather, he advocated living life in the light of God’s judgment, but not falling into the trap of believing in rigid retribution. Even though Solomon was uncertain about the time God would judge, he was sure God would judge righteously. [Note: For a more complete defense of this interpretation, see Wayne A. Brindle, "Righteousness and Wickedness in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18," Andrews University Seminary Studies 23:3 (Autumn 1985):243-57.]

Verses 15-29

2. Righteousness and wickedness 7:15-29

Even though the righteous sometimes do not receive a reward in this life and the wicked prosper, it is still better to live righteously.

"Proper evaluation of a man’s character helps to explain the apparent inequalities in divine providence." [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 78.]

Verses 19-24

Righteousness does not always protect from adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:15-16), but wisdom will help guard us against it (Ecclesiastes 7:19).

"Wisdom is not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1176.]

Wisdom is necessary because righteousness does not protect completely (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Solomon illustrated the fact-in Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 -that no one is perfectly righteous. If you think you are perfect, just ask those closest to you if you are (Ecclesiastes 7:21). If people are honest with themselves, they will admit that they are not perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:22).

"In itself, 21 f. is excellent advice, since to take too seriously what people say of us is asking to get hurt, and in any case we have all said some wounding things in our time." [Note: Kidner, p. 69.]

Wisdom also has its limitations. It is not a completely reliable shield against adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24). Even Solomon with all his wisdom could not ward off all adversity. He did not have sufficient wisdom to do this, and no one else does either.

Verses 25-29

The connections between wisdom and righteousness on the one hand, and folly and wickedness on the other, are especially close in this pericope. As in Proverbs 1-9, Solomon personified folly as a woman (Ecclesiastes 7:26). As Solomon sought to understand wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:25), he learned that the person who wants to please God will escape folly and wickedness, but the person who prefers to sin will not (Ecclesiastes 7:26). Folly is worse than death (Ecclesiastes 7:26).

The "man" in view in Ecclesiastes 7:28 is the "person" who is pleasing to God (Ecclesiastes 7:26). The Hebrew word for "man" here (adam) is generic, and refers to people, rather than males in contrast to females. Solomon meant in Ecclesiastes 7:28 b that a person who is pleasing to God is extremely rare (cf. Job 9:3; Job 33:23). The reference to "woman" (Ecclesiastes 7:28 c) is a way of expressing in parallelism (with "man") that no one really pleases God completely. A paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 7:28 b-c is, "I have found very few people who please God, no one at all really." The idea definitely is not that one out of 1,000 males pleases God, but no females at all do. This is a good example of Hebrew parallelism that, if unobserved, can lead to a bizarre interpretation.

"This is one man’s experience [i.e., the writer’s], and he does not universalize it." [Note: Ibid., p. 72.]

"Some commentators have suggested that this woman whose heart is a snare and a trap (Ecclesiastes 7:26) is but the personification of that wickedness which is folly itself. She is the ’strange woman’ of Proverbs 1-9. Perhaps this interpretation is the closest to what Solomon intended, for the topic is wisdom from Ecclesiastes 7:20 to Ecclesiastes 8:1." [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 88.]

Who is responsible for the universal failure to please God? Solomon said people are, not God (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God made us upright in the sense of being able to choose to please or not please God. Nevertheless, we have all gone our own way in pursuit of "many devices." The same Hebrew word translated "devices" in Ecclesiastes 7:29 reads "explanation" in Ecclesiastes 7:25; Ecclesiastes 7:27. The point is not that people have turned aside to sin, but that they have sought out many explanations. They have sought many explanations of what? In the context, Solomon was talking about God’s plan. Failing to fully understand God’s scheme of things, people have turned aside to their own explanations of these things.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2012.
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