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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 7

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

Verses 1-4

Ecc 7:1-4

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

Some scholars see this chapter as an attempt to answer the question implied in Ecclesiastes 6:12, "Who knoweth what is good for man"? However that verse may be read as a declaration that, "No one knows what is good for man." Many of the assertions in this chapter reveal that Solomon himself, in spite of all his vaunted research, experience, and searching had by no means solved the problem with any degree of completeness.

God supernaturally endowed Solomon with great wisdom; but that cannot be a guarantee that everything Solomon either said or did was invariably correct. Like many another person, Solomon’s experiences, at least many of them, were of a nature to confuse and deceive him; and, here and there in his writings, one finds unmistakable evidence of that truth. We do not proceed very far into this chapter before we encounter examples of it.

THE DAY OF DEATH BETTER THAN THE DAY OF ONE’S BIRTH

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

"A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death, than the day of one’s birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance, the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

This paragraph deals with that second clause of Ecclesiastes 7:1. It is true in a number of ways, but not in others. When some promising young person is the victim of some terrible accident and is thus cut down in the prime of life, the day of such a death is not better than the day of his birth.

However, the death of Christ was better than the day of his birth; because his Church celebrates his death, not his birth. Paul declared that, "It is better to depart and be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-23), Also; "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalms 116:15). In spite of these scriptures, we find it very hard to believe that Solomon had anything like that in mind.

His viewpoint here seems to be like that of a tribe in Thrace mentioned by Herodotus, "Who bewailed the birth of a child because of its entry into the trials of life, and celebrated death as a joyful release from life’s trials.”

"A good name is better than precious oil" (Ecclesiastes 7:1 a). This simply means, "Honor is better than vanity.” Some renditions have attempted to duplicate the alliteration found in the Hebrew: "Better is name than nard;” and, "Fair fame is better than fine perfume.” We might paraphrase it by saying, "A good reputation smells better than the most expensive perfume."

"It is better to go to the house of mourning" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). In Biblical times, funeral celebrations lasted several days; and the `house of mourning’ here refers to such celebrations. Why should this be called ’better’ than going to the house of feasting? As Psalms 90 eloquently states it: "So teach us to number our days, that we may get us a heart of wisdom" (Psalms 90:12). "The solemn and necessary thoughts that come to one at a funeral are far more uplifting and beneficial than those that result from attending any kind of a feast.” "Going to the house of mourning is useful because the living are confronted with the fact that death is also their own destiny; and it is certain.” Every funeral is a prophecy of one’s own death and burial.

"House of feasting" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). What is this? "One of the Qumran scrolls reads this as `house of joy,’ `place of amusement,’ as in Ecclesiastes 7:4.”

"Sorrow is better than laughter" (Ecclesiastes 7:3). Solomon is still contrasting the house of mourning with the house of joy; but this does not mean that Christians should not attend such things as wedding feasts and other joyful celebrations. Christ attended a marriage feast in Cana and made eighty gallons of wine to aid the celebration! In this connection, it is good to remember that:

"We should not take Solomon’s words either literally or absolutely. They are not laws of invariable truth. To treat them this way is to err in their application." "The warning here is for those who wanted only the parties and the good times, and who studiously avoided all sad and sorrowful occasions. The wise man partakes of both.”

"The heart of fools is in the house of mirth" (Ecclesiastes 7:4). As noted above, the Qumran manuscript in this place makes the house of mirth here the same as the house of feasting in Ecclesiastes 7:2. Grieve was certain that the reference here is to something like a tavern with its, "Licentious and vulgar tavern songs (Amos 6:5; Ephesians 5:4).”

The "better ... than ... etc." pattern in the first half of this chapter is exactly the same as that followed by Solomon in his Proverbs (Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 8:11; and Proverbs 3:14).

Many of the statements in this part of Ecclesiastes are very similar to sayings of Solomon in Proverbs. Proverbs 22:1 is like Ecclesiastes 7:1, here.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 -This is the beginning of a rather long section of lessons taught through contrasts or comparisons. The technique is not new to Solomon. On the same subject he had previously written: “A good name is to be more desired than great riches, favor is better than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). Undoubtedly the primary emphasis here is on one’s character and integrity. To be honest and to have the respect of one’s peers is the objective. Moral purity should receive the highest priority. The second part of the verse has been discarded by many as incidental to the lessons to be learned and has no particular contribution to make to the meaning here. It is argued that it is employed to simply show that one “thing” is better than another. However, there is purpose in the contrast between life and death that speaks to the lesson in point. The same “theme” of birth and death is carried through verse eight. The correlation is that one’s reputation is often determined by serious consideration of the inevitable time of death which comes to every person. There is a real sense in which the honest facing up to the reality of death, whether your own or the death of another, has a sobering effect on decisions which may determine character and ultimately one’s destiny.

To the Christian death is not the worst thing that can happen. On occasion it is welcomed as a sweet release from suffering or escape from a disease-ridden body which no longer should be joined with the spirit. To the Christian death is often viewed as a victory, a triumph. Especially is this true when it can be said, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13).

It appears that a good man with a good name dies and leaves behind a good reputation. Such an experience would elicit the observation that, in this case at least, the day of one’s death is better than the day of his birth for he has lived his life successfully. He now has the assurance that he shall be remembered. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 9:15) It has been noted that to be forgotten was cause for despair.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 -In the former verse the emphasis was on the importance of one’s reputation and good name. Such an attainment would assure a good memory in the minds of those who outlive you on the earth. In this verse, the emphasis is placed on the living who recall the life lived by the one who is being mourned.

Once again the lesson is taught by comparison. Human nature is such that man naturally gravitates toward festive occasions where the senses are delighted and the heart is made to laugh. However, there are few lasting values in such experiences. It is better to seek out the house of mourning. It is in this house that one is confronted with the issues of life and death. These are the issues which are grave enough to influence destinies and bring about sober reflection on one’s present activities. Because man moves naturally to festive occasions, he needs to be reminded and even admonished to seek out opportunities which will lead him to consider seriously his own short sojourn on the earth.

One should not argue too strenuously that the “house of feasting” is a birthday party. However, since birth is the opposite of death and most births are occasions for festivity, it could be reasoned that the contrast is made between the beginning of life and the house where life has been terminated. If such is the case, the lessons are more plentiful in number and more lasting in value. At any rate, honest men admit that death is inevitable and they are sobered by looking upon the face of a friend who in this life will neither smile nor sing again.

The sobering effect is of a permanent nature because the text literally states that the individual takes the idea of death and “gives” it to his heart (mind). He ponders the ramifications of the death event, and allows the fact that he too will one day come to the same end, help him redesign his thinking and subsequently his life. Note the similarity in the prayer recorded in Psalms 90:12 : “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.”

Ecclesiastes 7:3 -The principle taught in this verse is universally true. When one faces the reality of death and the suddenness of judgment before his Creator, he is drawn in his mind to consider his own ways. His countenance is made sad because he is seeing himself with the veneer and sham produced by self-deceit removed. His sinful ways are apparent. Repentance is implied because his sadness results in his heart being made happy. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Laughter is good for the soul. There are times when it is the manifestation of direct blessing received from the Lord. (Cf. Psalms 126:2) However, it is used here in contrast to sorrow with the latter being more profitable because it leads to repentance while joy is the result.

The term “sorrow” is also rendered “anger, indignation, chagrin,” and suggests a more severe attitude one should express toward his own iniquity. (Cf. Psalms 6:8) Sorrow is probably the better word as the visitor is in the house of mourning and this causes him to reflect on his part in the light of the deep emotion of the moment.

Ecclesiastes 7:4 -The thesis of this section which reads, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting,” has been thoroughly explained and defended. In this summary verse, a final argument is stated. It is noted that the “wise” man is the one who dwells upon the meaning of life as he faces the reality of death. If one fails to give death its rightful place in the forming of life’s decisions, and only pursues the activities of mirth and folly, he is considered a fool.

Death is never far removed from the mind of a Christian. There is an element of wisdom which is characteristic of the followers of Christ that is indeed foolishness to the world. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18-23) We rejoice in the death of Christ for us and also our own death to sin which leads us to daily repentance. (Cf. Romans 6:1-7; Matthew 16:24-25) As one contemplates the cross and the death event of Jesus, the face is sorrowful but the heart is made to rejoice.

Verses 5-7

Ecc 7:5-7

Ecclesiastes 7:5-7

REGARDING FOOLS

"It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the look this also is vanity. Surely extortion maketh the wise man foolish, and a bribe destroyeth the understanding."

Here are denounced songs of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:5), the laughter of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:6) and the behavior of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:7).

"Songs of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:5). "These are probably mirthful drinking songs such as are mentioned in Amos 6:5." These are the same as those sung in the house of mirth (Ecclesiastes 7:4).

"Crackling of thorns under a pot" (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Here again, there is a play on words in the Hebrew text, and this English rendition catches the spirit of it: "For like nettles crackling under kettles is the cackle of a fool.” "In the East, charcoal is commonly used for fires, but thorns (nettles) or stubble might be burned by the hasty, but the result was noise not heat.” This is an excellent simile for the noisy and worthless meaning of a fool’s laughter.

"Extortion maketh the wise man foolish" (Ecclesiastes 7:7). It does not appear in our translation whether the extortion is the practice of one who was wise, but fell into sin, or if it was the extortion against the wise man by an oppressor. We believe the key is in the second clause (Ecclesiastes 7:7 b). A bribe destroyeth the understanding (Ecclesiastes 7:7 b). The parallelism of these two clauses in Ecclesiastes 7:7 indicates emphatically that extortion whether endured or practiced can cause even a wise man to lose his head and do foolish things; and that, "Whether he is either giving or receiving a bribe, either or both are foolish and sinful deeds.”; Isaiah 33:15 denounces the taking of a bribe as sinful; and it is just as sinful to give one. Again, the evil of bribes here reflects the teaching in one of Solomon’s proverbs (Proverbs 15:27).

Solomon is still contending that one should maintain a good name and protect it. His argument has been that if we give sober consideration to the lessons gained from reflecting on death, rather than pursuing foolish pleasures, we will discover those truths which will enable us to protect our reputation. He continues to argue for the same cause. However, he now suggests that our attention should be directed toward the rebuke from wise men. If we listen and accept the admonition, this will cause us to develop into wise men, too.

Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is not encouragement that comes from the lips of the wise man, but stern rebuke. The idea is one of offering grave admonition that heals and strengthens while it wounds. Much of life is this way. Physical muscles must be broken down through hard work or exercise before they can be rebuilt with firmness and strength. Sometimes suffering is the direct result of sin. In such instances the sinner has found a friend when he discovers one who will rebuke him with the truth mingled with love and long-suffering. The rebuke of the wise is a blessing in disguise. Rebuke, with a view to repentance and renewal of spirit, has always been characteristic of God’s prophetic word. Prophets, apostles and gospel preachers have all lived under the same mandate to “speak, exhort and reprove” (Titus 2:15).

The listening to the singing of fools is the equivalent of luxuriating with the world in pleasure and mirth. In such circumstances one is seldom confronted with a rebuke which leads to godly sorrow and healing of the soul. The reason is simple: wise men are not found singing songs that fools sing or frequenting places where fools seek pleasure and mirth.

Ecclesiastes 7:6 The lesson taught in the former verse is now illustrated by a simple but vivid analogy. The laughter of fools is short-lived, meaningless, loud, and without lasting value. In like manner, quick-burning, dried thorn bushes will crack and pop while appearing to give lasting heat beneath the kettle. However, their contribution to the cooking process is meaningless. In the original Hebrew, there appears to be a play on words which may be translated in our language as “nettles under the kettle.” The point of the lesson is that the laughter of fools is a temporary contribution without redeeming value.

The oft-defined “vanity” is once more employed to underscore the uselessness of mirth and pleasure. That which once gave occasion for joy and laughter now lies in ashes. James summarized the lesson in the following words, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom” (James 4:8-9).

Ecclesiastes 7:7 One needs to safeguard his good name and maintain personal integrity. Especially is vigilance required when oppression is rampant and the universal practice of bribe-taking is corrupting the hearts of influential leaders. Rulers, who are tempted (Cf. Proverbs 16:8), need the rebuke of wise men just as those who are poor and suffer under oppression. The Jewish tradition surrounding Proverbs 31:1-9 is that in this section Solomon’s mother is reprimanding him because he failed to act wisely. Her words conclude, “Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” When one is given to strong drink he cannot judge wisely. In like manner, when one is influenced by a bribe he renders distorted judgments.

A corresponding observation concerning the destructive nature of taking a bribe is found in Proverbs 15:27. The heart is corrupted to the point where a man will abandon wisdom and sound judgment. The bribe-taker has fallen prey to compromise. He is now vulnerable to numerous areas of corruption. A reflection of verse five enables the reader to weigh the warning in the light of a positive declaration.

Numerous writers have expressed attitudes that verse seven is misplaced and unrelated to the preceding materials. However, the theme of this section, the protection of a good name through wise behavior, is threatened by oppression and bribe taking. The idea is that a wise man will safeguard himself against both hazards.

Verses 8-10

Ecc 7:8-10

Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

"Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof,, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these; for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this."

"Better is the end ... than the beginning." (Ecclesiastes 7:8). Here again, the truth of this hinges upon the question of whether or not the "thing" spoken of was good or bad, wise or foolish. The end of a wicked ruler’s reign is, of course, better than the beginning of it. Apparently the burden of the meaning is that the completion of some great project is better than the beginning of it.

"The statement here is not a repetition of Ecclesiastes 7:1, but states a truth generally applicable to certain situations. The end is better, because at that time we can form a right judgment about a matter.” "Of course, this proverb is too pessimistic to be true without qualifications." In fact Solomon gave two proverbs in which this is not true, namely, in Proverbs 5:4 and in Proverbs 23:32.

"Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry" (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Here once more Solomon virtually repeats a proverb he gave in Proverbs 14:17, "He that is soon angry will deal foolishly."

"What is the cause that the former days were better ...?" (Ecclesiastes 7:10). This, of course, is exactly the kind of question that may be expected of nearly any old man. "This is always the plaint of an old man.” However, something else may also be true of such questions. The downward spiral of human wickedness in many situations is radical enough to justify such an old man’s question, because, as an apostle said, "Wickedness shall wax worse and worse" (2 Timothy 2:13).

Also, there is a quality in human life that romanticizes and glorifies the days of one’s youth, conveniently forgetting its hardships and disasters, dwelling only upon those memories which are delightful and pleasant; and this very human trait frequently leads old people to glorify "the former days" with a halo of desirability to which those days are in no wise entitled. The ancient poet Horace has this:

Morose and querulous, praising former days

When he was boy, now ever blaming youth ....

All that is most distant and removed

From his own time and place, he loathes and scorns.

Thus, Solomon’s proverb here fingers an action on the part of old people that is very generally foolish, although, of course, exceptions undoubtedly exist also. Paul also gave us the good example that included, "Forgetting the things which are behind" (Philippians 3:13).

Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 Why is the end of a thing better than its beginning? There are numerous answers which could be given as many experiences of life underscore the truth that “hind sight is better than foresight.” One who enters rashly into a business deal or enterprise, bragging concerning his personal ambitions and goals, may discover that the wiser action would be to wait and see how events finally materialize. Jesus said concerning the individual who boasted of his intention to build, only to discover that he ran out of funds, that “all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’” (Luke 14:29-30). A similar statement comes to us from the Old Testament in the classic statement of Ahab: “Let not him who girds on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11). Thus, the wise man knows that it is better to resign all of one’s future plans into the providential control of the Creator. This does not relieve one of the responsibility of planning for tomorrow, but it does safeguard against the proud spirit.

The purpose of a thing is best understood by looking back upon it. Wisdom is gained by patiently waiting even when one is tempted to press and force the situation to fit desired or predicted ends.

A quick temper in company with frustration is the earmark of a fool. Another mark of the fool is to welcome, harbor and entertain anger. The wise man will be careful not to become easily agitated or react physically without just provocation. Such irresponsible behavior will not produce a “good name.”

Ecclesiastes 7:10 -There is undoubtedly more implied in this verse than merely a rebuke of being dissatisfied with the present and the fruitless longing for days gone by. If the conditions of the present time which produce suffering are a result of disobedience and sin, then the present is a time of just retribution. In such a case, it is not wise to question the circumstances of the present or long for the past. There is evidence that Solomon detected three signs of lack of wisdom: impatience, willingness to harbor anger, and a failure to inquire wisely concerning the circumstances of the present.

It is easy to imagine that former days were better than the present time regardless of the age in which one lives. With the passing of time there is the tendency to forget the evil experience of the day-to-day living that constitutes life in every age. Thus, the present appears to be more difficult than what one overhears concerning the joy of past experiences. However, the wise man interprets the present in the light of wisdom. This will enable him to interpret the past and make necessary adjustments to live wisely in the present.

Verses 11-12

Ecc 7:11-12

Ecclesiastes 7:11-12

THE SUPERIORITY OF WISDOM

"Wisdom is as good as an inheritance; yea, more excellent is it for them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defense, even as money is a defense; but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it."

The proposition stated here is that wisdom is more precious than (better than, or more excellent than) money. The weakness of this passage was cited by Kidner. "Wisdom here is being treated on much the same footing as money, for its utility. However, the true worth of wisdom is incalculable." In fact, Proverbs 8:11 declares that wisdom is so valuable that nothing on earth may be compared with it.

Even in Ecclesiastes the infinite superiority of wisdom is apparent. Here it states that wisdom may save a man’s life; but in Ecclesiastes 9:18, it is revealed that wisdom saved an entire city.

Ecclesiastes 7:11 -There are two ways to view this verse. One suggests that wisdom “plus” an inheritance is good. The other is that wisdom “like” an inheritance is good. The original language will permit either. The English translations are varied.

Wisdom is likened unto an inheritance. This suggests that it is a permanent possession. An inheritance was kept in the family to be passed on from parents to children. It is wisdom, however, that is under discussion and not an inheritance. Wisdom is good like an inheritance, it is permanent like an inheritance, and it is superior to an inheritance. Other related passages in Ecclesiastes verify these conclusions. It is also true that wisdom enhances the value of an inheritance. However, when one is reduced to wisdom alone, he still has the greater treasure. Note Proverbs 3:13-14 : “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding. For its profit is better than the profit of silver and its gain than fine gold.”

There is also a reciprocal nature that exists between wisdom and money: Wisdom lends value to wealth and wealth lends prestige to wisdom.

Wisdom is an advantage to those who see the sun. This conveys the idea that one can make more of life upon this earth than normally thought. The word “advantage” probably does not mean financial increase but rather that wisdom will add more to the enjoyment and purpose of living than would an inheritance. This conclusion is also supported by verse twelve.

Ecclesiastes 7:12 -This verse adds another comparison to the growing list that exists between wisdom and other possessions which are discovered upon the earth. It is intended to help the reader understand that a wise man will value knowledge, which is synonymous with wisdom in this instance, above other things. To maintain a good name, one must place wisdom at the top of his priorities.

The additional comparison here is to illustrate the protective nature of wisdom. Yet, wisdom has greater value than offering protection to the one who possesses it. Solomon states that wisdom also preserves or keeps the one who possesses it. The analogy of the “shadow” is appropriate in that the heat of adversity (“oppression” Ecclesiastes 7:7) is evidently threatening. The shadow offers a shelter of protection from such heat. One can escape from certain threats in life by employing wisdom just as he can escape certain threats through the use of money. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 7:11) Examples of how both wisdom and money serve in this capacity are found in Ecclesiastes 9:15 and Proverbs 13:8.

Some translations suggest more the idea that wisdom gives life rather than preserves life. The idea of giving life is consonant with other passages in the Bible which speak to the subject. One example is found in 1 Samuel 2:6; 1 Samuel 2:8 : “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up . . . He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap.” It is also true that wisdom preserves life. (Cf. Proverbs 3:18) Either way, wisdom is the prize possession.

Verses 13-14

Ecc 7:13-14

Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

WHY GOOD TIMES AND BAD TIMES ARE INTERMINGLED

"Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; yea, God hath made the one side by side with the other, to the end that man should not find out anything that shall be after him."

"Consider the work of God" (Ecclesiastes 7:13). "The author (Solomon) here has not given up belief in God, although he is a pessimist.”

"Who can make that straight which he (God) hath made crooked" (Ecclesiastes 7:13 b)? This means that, "No one can change, with a view to improving it, what God has determined shall be."

"Man shall not find out anything that shall be after him" (Ecclesiastes 7:14 b) The underlined words here are not in the Hebrew; and we have often observed when the translators add that many words, even including verbs expressing the future tense, it is very probable that there is uncertainty of the meaning. This is true here.

Franz Delitzsch stated unequivocally that the literal translation here is, "That man may find nothing behind him," but added, "That is meaningless.” Most modern translators have concurred in this; but this writer finds it impossible to believe that the literal translation is meaningless. In fact, it is our version (American Standard Version) and the whole crop of current translations (which are not translations at all, but are the words of the translators) - it is these current renditions that are meaningless. Read our version here. What does it say? That God has set the days of prosperity and adversity side by side so that man cannot predict the future; but, of course, HE CAN PREDICT THE FUTURE. He can be absolutely certain that in the future the good days and bad days will continue to be side by side exactly as God has ordained it! The true rendition of this place is:

"God hath also set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing AFTER him" (KJV).

This translation uses the word "after", which is a synonym for "behind". If the family of a deceased person follows behind the hearse on the way to the cemetery, then they most certainly follow after it. This verse (Ecclesiastes 7:14 b) simply means that God has mingled the good days and the bad days in such a manner that man’s estate shall be exhausted by the time of his death; and the experience of millions of people corroborates this. For the vast majority of mankind, when the medical expenses of the terminal illness and the funeral expenses are all paid, nothing is left.

EXCEPTIONS TO THE GENERAL RULE

As a general principle, it is certain that God blesses the righteous and judges the wicked; but Solomon here deals with exceptions that he has seen in the operation of this law.

Ecclesiastes 7:13 A wise man will consider the work of God. There are unlimited advantages in searching out God’s involvement in His world. Some of these advantages have been clearly stated in the previous verses. Now others are called to the reader’s attention. Certain traits of a fool, such as a haughty impatient spirit, can be averted if one seriously fixes his mind on God and his works.

The inability to alter the plans of God and the awareness that He is in complete control of His world results in humility on the part of men who consider this. Such action also causes one to discover serenity and calmness as anxieties are eliminated and trust is exercised. These are positive benefits from acknowledging that man cannot straighten what God has bent. The declaration here is positive confirmation that God has ultimate control of every-day events which are often so besetting to men. Man is not capable of arranging the events and circumstances of life in such a way as to satisfy his own ends. Otherwise, he would not remain under the burden of oppression. A wise man will, therefore, acknowledge that what he cannot change or control he will accept. It is comparable to the declaration of Paul who wrote, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Additional evidence of Paul’s wisdom is found in Philippians 4:11-12 when he writes, “Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

How can God make anything crooked? The term “crooked” is used in reference to the wicked, as it is stated that God “. . . makes crooked the way of the wicked” (Psalms 146:9). Study once again the COMMENTS on Ecclesiastes 1:15. It is said that God makes things crooked only because His righteous judgments demand penalties be attached to the violations of His commands.

Ecclesiastes 7:14 “In the day of prosperity be happy.” This is in harmony with the wise man’s conclusions (Cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24, Ecclesiastes 3:12 and Ecclesiastes 3:22). Both the good days and evil days will serve the higher purposes of God. Therefore, one should learn to cope with the trouble-some days as well as enjoy the good ones. He should realize that God remains the same regardless of the emotional “ups” and “downs” experienced by men. One indication of a person being mature is that he is not unduly influenced by his environment. Such a person maintains a spiritual constancy under all circumstances. Inner peace is a mark of wisdom. Discontent, longing for the former days, and giving anger a place in the heart are the marks of a fool. God does not allow us to see the future. Withholding such information from men should cause him to learn to look to God. Peter suggested that we cast our all upon Him and trust Him. (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7)

The remaining part of this verse corresponds with the former verse. There is the additional thought, however, that man cannot know if tomorrow will be a good day or an evil one. The conclusion is that man should learn to rejoice in the day of prosperity and thoughtfully consider the true nature of God when evil days are experienced. No man can know what will be after him. “After him” does not refer to eternity; neither does it refer to some period of time upon the earth after one dies. The context demands the interpretation we have given: No man knows what tomorrow will hold for him.

Verses 15-18

Ecc 7:15-18

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

"All this have I seen in my days of vanity; there is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil doing. Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from that withdraw not thy hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth from them all."

"There is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness" (Ecclesiastes 7:15). Solomon did not need to gather such information as this from what he had seen in his `days of vanity.’ He should have known this from the Mosaic account of what happened to Abel at the hands of Cain (Genesis 4:8). There would be many other `exceptions’ in the subsequent days of the Jewish monarchy. Naboth, the sons of Gideon, Josiah, and many other `good people’ would die untimely deaths. Also an evil man like Manasseh enjoyed one of the longest reigns in Israel’s history.

Rankin wrote that, "Experience does not support the view that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked.” However, he overlooked the fact that this very passage confirms the general law, while citing exceptions to it. Exceptions to any valid principle do not negate it.

The friends of Job who held the false view that there were no exceptions to the general rule of God’s rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked were rebuked by God Himself for teaching, with reference to God, "Things that were not right" (Job 42:8); but it is an equally false affirmation that God does not reward the righteous nor punish the wicked. This truth is freely admitted in the words that the wicked "die before their time" (generally) (Ecclesiastes 7:17) and in the tremendous affirmation of Ecclesiastes 7:18 (See comment below).

As for the reasons why there are exceptions, we discussed this thoroughly in the Book of Job; but the summary of them is: (1) the activity of Satan, (2) freedom of the human will, (3) the primeval curse upon the earth for Adam’s sake, (4) the element of `time and chance’ happening to all men. (5) the lack of wisdom, sometimes, on the part of the righteous (Luke 16:8). and (6) the impartiality of natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, etc. (these are related to (3).

Therefore, we reject the conclusion of Barton that, "Ecclesiastes here takes issue with two orthodox Old Testament doctrines: (1) that the righteous have a long life (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 4:40; Psalms 91:16; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16; and Proverbs 4:10), and (2) that the wicked shall not live out half their days (Psalms 37:10; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 58:3-9; and Psalms 73:18).” This doctrine is true; it is not contradicted by the exceptions cited here; and it is gloriously confirmed in the New Testament. (Matthew 28:18:20; Mark 10:30-31; Ephesians 6:3; etc.). Solomon’s own wicked life was cut short; and Ecclesiastes 7:18 here emphasizes the same doctrine.

"Be not righteous overmuch ... be not overmuch wicked" (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17). The first clause here probably refers to the hypocritical `righteousness’ like that of the Pharisees who were so severely condemned by Jesus. Their fault was that of `specializing in trifles,’ and neglecting the `weightier matters of the law’ (Matthew 23:23). Eaton agreed that, "The emphasis here is upon legalistic righteousness, not any excess of true righteousness (there is no such thing), but self-righteousness.”

"The suggestion that Ecclesiastes 7:17 is intended to advocate a middle course between sin and virtue is at variance with the tenor of the whole Book (the Bible).” Of course, that is exactly what some radical scholars say that the passage means. Barton wrote, "That one may sin to a moderate degree is what he (the author) undoubtedly implies.” No! A statement that `overmuch wickedness’ leads to an untimely death cannot be intelligently understood as any kind of an endorsement of a so-called moderate wickedness. It was the moderate wickedness of Adam and Eve (What’s the harm in eating a little fruit?) that plunged all mankind into disease, misery, violence, construction and death.

There is a warning in this passage against going to extremes in anything. The same thought also appears in Proverbs 25:16. "One must not even eat too much honey." "Especially, The end result of wickedness-run-riot is an untimely death.” It is absolutely amazing what some teachers of God’s Word have written about this passage. Note:

"The view is that, in certain situations in life, it is advisable and right for a man to compromise in his actions and decisions. He should conform when circumstances make conformity the only safe (for him) and wise course.” This is exactly what the servants of Adolph Hitler pleaded as their excuse for operating the death camps for Jews during World War II. A million times NO! If one compromises his conviction to preserve his own safety, ease or comfort, his guilt is not diminished in any degree whatsoever.

"He that feareth God shall come forth from them all" (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Here again we have a disputed verse. The current wisdom interprets this as meaning that, "He that feareth God will set himself free of all, the extremes just mentioned, and will acquit himself of one as well as the other.” This is only another way of saying that the fear of God, which is the beginning of all wisdom, will give ultimate victory, not only from the extremes mentioned here, but from sin and death, thus endowing the servant of God with eternal life.

As the words stand, they also suggest that there shall at last emerge from earth’s boundless populations those who are truly triumphant: "There shall come forth (emerge) from earth’s incredible multitudes (from them all) those who fear the Lord." Whether or not that is what was intended by the Hebrew, this is what the English translation says to this writer.

Ecclesiastes 7:15 -Can a man interpret the riddle of life which states that the innocent perish while the wicked prosper? He can if he is a wise man. Wisdom offers the advantage of looking beyond the apparent anomalies to the higher purposes of God.

Not only is life transitory and unfulfilling, it is also inconsistent. A wise man will acknowledge the inequities but he will not despair. He will remember that God controls the ultimate outcome.

There is a sense in which man receives an equitable return for his investment in life whether that investment is made in righteousness or in wickedness. (Cf. Proverbs 10:28; Proverbs 11:21) However, there are exceptions to the rule that “Whatever a man sows he shall also reap.” At the same time, the exceptions are but temporary—that is it only appears for a short time that the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper (Cf. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). Solomon does not propose to his readers that they pursue wickedness because it pays or shun righteousness because suffering is often associated with it. He is still speaking to the theme of a good name. He points to the apparent reversal of the rules because this is a facet of life that wise men will eventually face. The next two verses in this chapter amplify his contention.

Ecclesiastes 7:16 There is a righteousness that is unhealthy and a wisdom which should be avoided. One would normally pursue both. However, upon closer study of the Word of God, it is apparent that there is a kind of righteousness that causes spiritual and mental harm. There is also a wisdom which fosters pride and produces a false foundation upon which to build a life.

We call this kind of righteousness “self-righteousness.” It questions God’s dealings and judgments. (Cf. Romans 9:19 ff.) It elevates man and leads him into arrogancy. It is this strained, dangerous righteousness that Jesus publicly derided and condemned. (Cf. Matthew 23; Luke 18:10-14) Solomon is warning his readers against such temptations as this will lead them to grow bitter and resentful. Especially would this be a threat when the truly righteous person is persecuted and suffers while the wicked person prospers. Losing sight of God’s higher purposes in history will lead to a crooked or perverted sense of ethical behavior. This is vividly illustrated in the words of Malachi 3:13-15 : “‘Your words have been arrogant against Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Yet you say, “What have we spoken against Thee?” ‘You have said, “It is vain to serve God; and what profit is it that we have kept His charge, and that we have walked in the mourning before the Lord of hosts? So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also test God and escape.”’” Such attitudes and behavior are indeed dangerous. If you persist in this direction, Solomon states, you will “ruin yourself.”

He also warns against false wisdom. Here again the Bible is clear concerning the type of wisdom which destroys. This wisdom grows out of self-righteousness. Paul wrote concerning it: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, ‘he is the One who catches the wise in their craftiness’; and again, ‘The Lord knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless’” (1 Corinthians 3:19-20). The wise man will not ruin himself. He will cope with the pressures of the day as he properly interprets the events of life in the light of God’s overall purpose. Once again, Paul summarized the proper attitude one should have when he said, “For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:3).

Ecclesiastes 7:17 God can neither condone nor encourage the slightest degree of wickedness. This statement in Ecclesiastes 7:17, like the preceding ones, must be explained in the context of the passage. Solomon is pointing out that righteousness is not immediately rewarded. Neither does God’s judgment fall suddenly upon all who engage in wickedness. However, this does not give one God’s approval to sin. Neither does the wise man interpret it as discouraging righteousness. One is indeed a fool if he thinks that he can entangle himself in sin and not pay the penalty for such involvement. As it is written, “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Proverbs 10:27). Exceptions to this rule are just that—exceptions! No sin will go unpunished forever. This principle is foundational and is expressed throughout the Bible.

There can be no such thing as excessiveness in true righteousness. There are no limitations which God places upon us in respect to true wisdom. On the other hand, God cannot approve of any sin, nor does He want man to play the part of a fool. The explanation given here to the problems of these two verses is in harmony with the general purposes of Scripture. Furthermore, it fits the immediate context of this chapter. Solomon’s contention is to find a wise man. He will be a man who protects himself from the deceitfulness of self-righteousness, the power of self-indulgence, the destruction of self-esteem and the pitfalls of foolishness. He will not knowingly ruin himself or die before his time.

Ecclesiastes 7:18 -Solomon is now admonishing his readers to follow the wisdom of acting upon the previously stated observations. He adds the incentive that if they will do this, they will always be free from the evils which destroy us and kill us before our time. The condition that must be met which enables one to maintain his good name and attain unto wisdom is to practice the fear of God. This fear is a healthy reverence for God which results in departing from evil and following that which is good. Such pious activity will safeguard one against the dangers delineated in the two preceding verses.

The latter part of this verse presents a problem in translation and subsequently in interpretation. The Anchor Bible reads: “He who fears God will consider both sides.” In a footnote on this verse, the translators openly state that it does not refer to “wisdom” and “folly” but to both sides of a question. However, there is more involved here than just the investigation of both sides of a question. Solomon is specific in pointing to the evils of self-righteousness, false wisdom, indulging in wickedness, and acting foolishly. The pursuit of any of these evils would destroy one’s good name. The high good of attaining unto wisdom would thus be missed.

The New American Standard Version states that the wise man will “come forth with both of them.” In this case the them would refer to purity of life and wisdom. The preposition “with” suggests that he desires to have them and figuratively holds them in his hands.

An opposite view is that the them refers to self-righteousness and folly, and that the wise man will escape from them. The following translations are based on this interpretation: “For he who fears God will come forth from every case” (Leupold); “. . . he that feareth God shall escape from all” (Hengstenberg).

Although the difficulty in translation exists, the main message is not diminished. Solomon is teaching that the wise man, who labors to maintain his good name, will do all within his power to “turn away from evil and do good” (1 Peter 3:10). In his honest pursuit he will be delivered from the snare of the Devil and he will come forth with righteousness and wisdom in his hand.

Verses 19-22

Ecc 7:19-22

Ecclesiastes 7:19-22

THREE PROVERBS

"Wisdom is a strength to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city. Surely there is not a righteous man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not. Also take not heed to all words that are spoken, lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others."

"Wisdom is a strength ... more than ten rulers" (Ecclesiastes 7:19). The statement here is a variation of what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 21:22. The story of Job’s capture of the ancient stronghold of Salem (Jerusalem) is an illustration of this truth.

"There is not a righteous man ... that sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes 7:20). New Testament writers echo this same conviction (Romans 3:10-12; 1 John 1:10). This is also exactly the same thing that Solomon said in 1 Kings 8:46. Eaton pointed out that this charge of man’s sinfulness, "Includes both sins of commission (doeth good), and sins of omission (sinneth not).”

"Take not heed unto all the words that are spoken" (Ecclesiastes 7:21) "... thine own heart knoweth" (Ecclesiastes 7:22). These verses are an appeal to man’s conscience. "The Hebrews had no word for conscience, and they used heart as an equivalent. One knows how little meaning attaches to many of one’s own idle words, and should not therefore pay any attention to the idle words of others.”

Ecclesiastes 7:19 -Wisdom gives strength. This is the first observation in a list that runs through verse twenty-two. When wisdom is accepted as a companion, strength of such proportion is added to one that ten competent leaders cannot equal. Some argue that the verb will not allow “strengthen” but rather conveys the idea of a separate entity that can be called upon to fight for and defend the one who calls for such assistance. It has previously been noted that wisdom is better than money (Ecclesiastes 7:12), and here it is declared to be better than the accumulative power of ten rulers in a city. They may be wise in the ways of the world, but if they do not “fear” the Lord, they do not possess the true strength. As Psalms 127:1-2 states: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who built it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

The fact that “ten” rulers are mentioned is used by some to argue for a late date for the writing of Ecclesiastes on the basis that ten rulers often ruled Hellenistic towns and this is a reference to such instances. However, ten has a significant meaning in all Biblical periods. It represents completeness and may be suggesting nothing more than the fact that true wisdom is better than the accumulated wisdom of ten men which suggests in this context the complete, united effort of the strength of all non-wisdom sources. For the use of the number ten in Bible times, study the following:

(1) The ten antediluvian patriarchs: Adam, Seth, Enosh, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech and Noah (Genesis 5);

(2) The ten righteous men who would have saved Sodom (Genesis 18);

(3) The ten plagues of Egypt (Exodus 8-12);

(4) The ten commandments (Exodus 20);

(5) The ten servants of Gideon (Judges 6);

(6) The ten elders who accompanied Boaz (Ruth 4);

(7) The ten virgins of the parable (Matthew 25);

(8) The ten pieces of silver (Luke 15);

(9) The ten servants entrusted with ten pounds (Luke 19);

(10) The ten days tribulation predicted for the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2)

The recognition that the ten rulers are in a city is also significant. Power, resources and authority would be assets of a city. In addition, there would be many from whom the rulers would be selected which suggests the choice of talented and competent men. The import is that of a superlative: Wisdom is a better companion and offers greater benefits than ten of the finest rulers chosen from the major population centers of the land. In light of the various ways the number ten is employed in the Bible, it would be a mistake to attribute significance to it beyond that which has been discussed here.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 -This second benefit of wisdom—to teach us to be humble and to depend upon strength gained apart from human resources—is based on the conclusion of the former verse. Israel had the treasure of revelation and this alone should have kept her free from the wickedness which typified the heathen communities around her. Such wisdom should also eliminate the evils of self-righteousness which would be the major temptation of those who possessed the true revelation.

Since there is no man so righteous that he always does what is best, it logically follows that he needs all the assistance he can get. Wisdom is the very best source of such assistance.

Solomon had previously asked, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’” (Proverbs 20:9)? A section of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple spoke to this point when he said, “When they sin against Thee (for there is no man who does not sin) and Thou art angry with them and dost deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, if they take thought in the land where they have been taken captive, and repent and make supplication to Thee in the land of those who have taken them captive, saying, ‘We have sinned and have committed iniquity, we have acted wickedly’” (1 Kings 8:46-47). Repentance and confession are fruit of wisdom. In Solomon’s prayer he foresees the people of God following this path of healing back to God. It is a wise man who recognizes that he has need of strength to withstand temptation, and also see the pathways to repentance, supplication, and forgiveness should his own strength fail him. No man, on his own, is able to hold on to the best pathways of life. He needs the strength which wisdom affords.

Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 There is yet another benefit wisdom will bring to the one who turns to it for strength. In this instance, it is a two-fold blessing. First of all, it will keep one from prying into every bit of gossip or information circulating in the area; secondly, it will safeguard against a self-righteous attitude.

It is indeed the mark of a foolish man to pursue every tidbit of information that may be spoken concerning himself or others. So much of what is said is best unheard, and if heard soon forgotten. Wisdom will lead one to correct behavior and thus eliminate many sorrowful experiences because information gained was weighed and dismissed on the basis of lack of merit. How many heartaches in life would have been avoided if the whole matter would simply have been dropped. Solomon does not have reference here to information which will benefit the hearer. If in the sharing of truth, there will be benefit, then the one who possesses such knowledge has a moral obligation to speak. However, the idea here is that it is gossip or unprotected words which wend their way into the communicative fabric of every culture and society.

The servant is mentioned for two reasons. Since he is a servant, he will most likely know the weaknesses of his master, or at least be near when his master loses control of his tongue. On the other hand, the master would be nearby and would overhear the conversation of the servant.

The idea of “cursing” in this context suggests more of a reviling than what one normally considers either “to curse” or “to swear.” Base men curse and swear, but all men, whether of high or low estate, have difficulty controlling their tongues. The master is reminded that he has often “reviled others.” He must admit that he, too, has spoken words in a moment of weakness or heated discussion which he would like to recall. He confesses that he would like such words to be forgotten.

Verses 23-25

Ecc 7:23-25

Ecclesiastes 7:23-25

SOLOMON’S DESIRE TO PROVE WHAT GOD HAD SAID

"All this have I proved in wisdom; I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is, is far off and exceeding deep; who can find it out? I turned about, and my heart was set to know and to search out, and to seek wisdom and the reason of things, and to know that wickedness is folly, and that foolishness is madness."

"But it was far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:23). Why would the wisest man of his day have failed to find wisdom? He was searching for it by ’experience,’ rather than trusting God for the truth. "This line is an honest confession of Solomon’s failure to find wisdom," and the failure was due to his method of seeking it. "He found out here that wisdom (derived from earthly experience) cannot answer the ultimate questions.”

"My heart was set to search out ... and to know (find out) that wickedness is folly, etc." (Ecclesiastes 7:24). Instead of taking God’s Word for it that the multiplication of wives to himself and the acquisition of horses from Egypt, and all such things, were both wickedness and folly, Solomon here announced his purpose of `proving’ whether or not all this was the truth. He found out, all right; but in doing so he lost his relationship with God, was seduced into paganism, and laid the foundation for the destruction of Israel. Today, there are men who take this same approach. They will try everything out for themselves; they will discover their own religion; they will choose what is wise, etc., etc. Barton, in these verses, credited the author of having actually found out that, "Wickedness is folly, and that folly is madness"; but that information came from God, not from Solomon’s experience."

Ecclesiastes 7:23 What is the “all this” to which Solomon here refers? Whatever it is, he declares that he tested it with wisdom. One idea is that “all this” refers to everything written thus far in Ecclesiastes. This suggests that all of his previous experiments, observations and conclusions have been tested with wisdom. Others argue that “all this” is limited to the observations which pertain to a good name, and speak only to the material in the first twenty-two verses in chapter seven. On the other hand, there are those who believe that “all this” refers only to the final five verses of chapter seven, and not to any of the previous material. There is little doubt that Solomon claims that all of his activities were guided by wisdom. Examine the following random expressions: “explore by wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 1:13) “I set my mind to know wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 1:17); “my mind was guiding me wisely” (Ecclesiastes 2:3); “My wisdom also stood by me” (Ecclesiastes 2:9); “I turned to consider wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 2:12); “Wisdom is protection . . . wisdom preserves” (Ecclesiastes 7:12); “wisdom strengthens” (Ecclesiastes 7:19). Similar references to the place of wisdom are found in eleven direct instances in chapters eight through twelve. Note: Ecclesiastes 8:1; Ecclesiastes 8:16; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 9:13; Ecclesiastes 9:15-16; Ecclesiastes 9:18; Ecclesiastes 10:1; Ecclesiastes 10:3; Ecclesiastes 10:10; Ecclesiastes 12:11.

What does this prove? First, it proves that one should not make too much of what “all this” refers to since everything in the book is tested by wisdom. Secondly, the emphasis is on the fact that wisdom is the tool used to test everything. Solomon’s stated purpose was to possess wisdom fully. He wanted to understand all the facets of life—the perplexing contradictions as well as the transparent joyous experiences, the deep riddles along with the self-evident truths. There is now the obvious desire to probe deeper into the hitherto unexplored areas of life. His desire to know more concerning the deeper things of life is openly stated. He wishes to explore each nuance of every side of life, and yet his conclusion is almost a declaration of frustration: “‘I will be wise,’ but it was far from me.” The secret things of God are always a little distance from man’s reach; at least until that time when God chooses to disclose the deep, deep mysteries. (Cf. Deuteronomy 29:29; Colossians 1:26-27). A parallel thought is found in Solomon’s own words: “Man cannot find out the work that God does” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The Bible receives a new dimension of appreciation from such a searcher for it holds numerous answers to what would otherwise be perplexing riddles of life. More than that, the Bible gives us the most important answer to the most important question of life: “What will God do with my sins?” What “the Preacher” of Ecclesiastes searched diligently to discover, the Christian knows about and gives thanks, for God teaches us that “. . . the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

A beautiful parallel passage to the two verses under discussion here is found in Job 28:12-28. The reader would do well to look it up and read through it thoughtfully. One is immediately impressed with three conclusions: (1) Man is limited in his knowledge and understanding; (2) Wisdom is of the greatest premium; and (3) God is the only source of true wisdom and man must turn to Him for understanding.

Ecclesiastes 7:24 Solomon set out to write about wisdom and in the midst of his adventure, he confesses his lack of it. He is wise but not fully wise. He can see the value of wisdom and extols it honestly and sincerely while at the same time humbly confessing that he is helpless before the infinite wisdom of God. He wants to know what is the actual essence of all things. Yet, he cannot discover it. He turns to a superlative which is variously translated but the impact is still felt. He states that it is “remote and exceedingly mysterious”; or that it is “far from me and deep, deep.” He wishes to impress upon the reader that such knowledge as he is seeking is beyond the grasp or understanding of man. He cannot discover it!

There is a wisdom which is discoverable by man but it lies “under the sun.” It is this wisdom that Solomon employs. However, there is a wisdom which God alone possesses and man cannot discover it. It is to Solomon’s credit that he perceives his limitations and is wise enough to admit to them.

What is the nature of the information he seeks? From the context, it is obviously the every-day entanglements of life with its recurring inequities which build a web of unexplained riddles to bind and limit the understanding. He is practical rather than philosophical. He wants answers to why things happen as they do rather than how did they come to be. He knows God is the Creator (Cf. Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 11:5; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Ecclesiastes 12:7). He now wants to know the why behind the behavior of men. He is unable to explain it but he does draw a conclusion that temporarily satisfied him. He says, “Behold, I have found only this, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many devices” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Man’s eyes are blinded by sin and the darkness is compounded because he lives in a sinful (dark) environment. Solomon’s conclusion is another way of saying that man is the author of his own blindness, while “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Verses 26-29

Ecc 7:26-29

Ecclesiastes 7:26-29

WHAT SOLOMON CLAIMED THAT HE LEARNED

"And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets and whose hands are bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, laying one thing to another, to find out the account; which my soul still seeketh, but I have not found: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Behold, this only have I found: that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions."

"I have found more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets" (Ecclesiastes 7:26). This is fully in harmony with what Solomon had written in Proverbs 2:14; Proverbs 5:3-4, etc. "Solomon himself had experienced much bitterness from the sin and misery into which women can lead their victims.” In this verse, however, he is speaking particularly of the wicked woman described repeatedly in the first seven chapters of Proverbs. Nevertheless, as Barton charged, what Solomon wrote here is sufficient grounds for assuming that, "He was a misogynist.” After all, it was not Solomon, but Lemuel, who wrote that magnificent 31chapter of Proverbs in praise of women. Such thoughts as are written there seem never to have entered into Solomon’s heart. The bitter words Solomon wrote here should be understood as Waddey said, "They are the words of a man speaking purely from his own distorted, sinful reason and experience. It would be sinful to quote what Solomon said here as God’s assessment of women.” After all, "By woman came the Christ and salvation for mankind."

"God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Ecclesiastes 7:29). At least, this was one valid discovery that Solomon actually made. Moreover, his experience had nothing to do with it. All men can read it in Genesis 1:26.

"Many inventions" (Ecclesiastes 7:29). What are these? Scholars are in agreement that scientific and industrial inventions are not mentioned here. "These verses reflect the writing of Genesis 4:21 ff, and Genesis 6:1 ff. Perhaps they were intended to suggest that the harem was one of man’s wicked contrivances.” Waddey also, a very dependable scholar accepted this interpretation. "Man has corrupted himself by seeking out evil things and doing them. Modern man is still busily engaged in a frenzied attempt to out-sin his progenitors.” Solomon’s bitterness in the final paragraph of this chapter was explained by Grieve, "Either as the result of some bitter personal experience, or from the intrigues of the harem.”

These verses are among the most difficult verses in Ecclesiastes to interpret. The primary cause of difficulty stems from whether one should exegete the passage literally or figuratively. If the woman is figurative (false wisdom), it is one thing, but if she is a real woman then a different interpretation must be given. It is true, however, that regardless of the direction one takes, whether literal or figurative, there are similar passages in the Bible to support the principles involved.

An overview of the passage. Solomon is determined to discover wisdom in the fullest sense. This is not a new quest. (Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:16-17; Ecclesiastes 7:23-24) However, he admits that he has not found the satisfactory answers. The one thing he has discovered is that not only is complete wisdom illusive, it is equally difficult to discover a wise person. His observation is that only one man in a thousand could be considered wise, but he failed to discover even one woman among this number. He further observes that there are some women who will catch and destroy you if it is in their power to do so. The one who pleases God and receives His favor will escape from the snare of such a woman. However, the one who acts foolishly will be caught by her.

The literal view. Solomon does not categorically label all women as evil. He identifies the evil woman as “the woman whose heart is snares and nets.” The implication suggests that there are women whose hearts are not snares and nets. It is from the writing of Solomon that we have the beautiful description of the virtuous woman so delineated in terms of praise and honor. (Cf. Proverbs 31:10-31)

There can be little question concerning the power women are capable of exerting over men. In the context of Solomon’s discussion, that power is evil. There are numerous non-Biblical proverbs which speak to a consensus on this subject. Some of these are: “It is better to follow a lion than a woman”; “Woe to the age whose leader is a woman”; “Who follows the counsel of his wife arrives at hell”; and “Women are snares of Satan.” There is also the warning from Solomon: “Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, and pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, do not stray into her paths. For many are the victims she has cast down, and numerous are all her slain. Her house is on the way to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:24-27).

In Solomon’s investigation to discover the “evil of folly” and the “foolishness of madness,” he discovered how far both men and women are removed from their original design. There is little comfort for men, and less for women. He was unable to discover the degree of wisdom which he desired, but he discovered all too soon the depths of evil to which both men and women are capable of descending. As a male writer, he naturally turns to his counterpart in crime to impress the minds of his readers with the extent of his discovery of evil. He speaks of inescapable snares, nets and chains. However, he hastens to speak objectively and suggests that although God made men upright, they have bent low in the pursuit of devising new ways of committing sin.

His statement that he was unable to find one wise woman among a thousand should not be looked upon as saying there are no wise women. It is rather a relative comparison with men. He is saying that from his own observations, he has discovered that there are fewer wise women than men.

These verses should not be used to build a case for the superiority of men over women in the possession and use of wisdom. Many commentaries miss the point of Solomon’s argument when they draw attention to the fact that only men were employed in writing the Bible, and in holding prominent positions of leadership in both the Jewish economy and the Christian church. The inference is that women were neither wise enough nor suited for such undertakings. It is true that woman was first in the fall (Cf. 1 Timothy 3:13-14), and that she is to be in subjection (Cf. Ephesians 5:22-24). But neither of these conclusions speak to the point at hand. It is simply that in Solomon’s pursuit of wisdom and evil, he discovered mankind to be perverse and crooked. His conclusion is: wise, righteous people are scarce!

The literal interpretation of this passage satisfies the hermeneutical demands placed upon it.

The figurative view. The personification of false wisdom as “the woman” establishes a natural correspondence between sound doctrine which is “pleasing to God,” and its opposite, “folly and madness” which trap, ensnare, and destroy the sinner. It could be argued that “the woman” answers to philosophy and vain deceit. (Cf. Colossians 2:8; 1 Timothy 6:20) While it is true that both Israel and the church are personified as a woman (Cf. Ephesians 5:24-32; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9; Revelation 22:17; Judges 8:27), it does not necessarily follow that such figurative language is used here. Solomon’s literal wives (300 of them and 700 concubines) were responsible for turning his heart away after other gods. They were real, physical women who ensnared and captured Solomon’s heart. So enslaved was he by their evil powers that he actually accepted the false wisdom of Ashtoreth and Milcom. He was led to false doctrine by his entanglement with real women. It is written of him, “And Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not follow the Lord fully, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:6). There is little justification in the light of Solomon’s experiences and the context of Ecclesiastes for a figurative interpretation.

Christological thoughts. It is true that men and women are equally wise. It is also true that they are equally sinful. When one realizes that Solomon is marking all with the curse of sin and only a few with the blessing of wisdom, he has arrived at the intent of the passage. Some have not shared this interpretation of the passage and since they are reluctant to make a distinction between men and women in the area of wisdom, they ascribe the “one man among a thousand” to Jesus Christ. The one man they insist is a reference to Jesus who to Solomon was also the “rose of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2:1). There are a number of arguments that militate against such a conclusion. Jesus does stand in a class by Himself. He is wisdom. However, to find one among a thousand implies that he would find another if he continued his search. There is only one Jesus (God). To ascribe this passage to Jesus would be breaking from the “under the sun” context of Solomon’s search. It is better to simply take him at his word: he did find one among a thousand. Finally, the context is not clarified or helped by such an interpretation.

Solomon is still reasoning “under the sun.” He has clearly expressed his desire to be wise, and he has confessed to his inability to achieve such wisdom. He states his purpose to discover folly and madness and it is in this area that he excels. His final conclusions are consistent with the total context. He says (1) there are few wise people, (2) there are many who are caught in the trap of wickedness, and (3) those who devise new ways of sinning!

Ecclesiastes 7:29 -The use of the interjection “behold” suggests that Solomon wants the attention of his readers on this subject. Why is there the gravity at this particular point? Two things become apparent: First, God is not to blame for man’s inability to discover wisdom. God made man upright, and in that state man was in a position to know and understand the things which are now hidden from him. Man cannot achieve complete wisdom, but it is his own fault. Second, man busies himself with innovative, vain speculation and self-wise reasonings which compete in his own mind with the true wisdom of God. Solomon is underscoring his previous contention that both men and women are evil.

The “inventions” of this verse are speculations or thoughts which result in a spiritual and sometimes physical stance which is contrary to God’s word. The one evil invention that Solomon cites in this entire passage is found in verse twenty-six. Here he speaks of the weakness of his own life. He speaks of the violation of the monogamous marriage situation in his own personal experience. The large number of both wives and concubines which he possessed defies the imagination. However, Solomon implies by the “many devices” that there are numerous ways to sin, many of which are unrelated to immoral sexual activity.

Man should both desire and be ready to receive the will of God for his life. He should not invent his own speculative philosophies. God approves of the wise man who allows God to speak to him. The promise has been given: “Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you” (Proverbs 1:23). The word translated “devices” is used only twice in the Old Testament. The other reference is 2 Chronicles 26:15 where the devices or “inventions” were “engines of war.” These devices were clearly designed to shoot arrows and great stones at the enemy. They were also strategically located on the towers and on the corners to give maximum defense to the city. Such detail and cunning illustrates the ingenuity of the mind of man and demonstrates the variety of his inventiveness. The context under consideration, however, implies evil devices because they are set against the fact that God made man “upright.” Man was made to walk with God, but he fell from his high place of honor because of sin. Without grace and truth (John 1:17) man continues to invent pathways of departure from the presence of God.

Solomon’s conclusion is the inevitable point to which all thinking men are drawn: all have sinned. The Apostle Paul concurs. He writes, “we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:10-12).

Wisdom - Ecclesiastes 7:1 to Ecclesiastes 8:1

Open It

1. When do you find yourself wishing for the "good old days"?

2. What do you find difficult about being at a funeral? a party?

3. How do you usually feel after a party? a funeral?

4. Concerning what issues do your coworkers tend to take extreme rather than moderate positions?

Explore It

5. Why is it better to go to a house of mourning than to a feast? (Ecclesiastes 7:2)

6. Why is sorrow better than laughter? (Ecclesiastes 7:3)

7. Why should we be patient and not easily provoked? (Ecclesiastes 7:9)

8. Why did Solomon counsel against comparing today with some wonderful past? (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

9. To what did Solomon compare wisdom? (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12)

10. What is the advantage of knowledge? (Ecclesiastes 7:12)

11. What should we do when times are bad? (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)

12. What two things had Solomon seen during his meaningless life? (Ecclesiastes 7:15)

13. What counsel about living did Solomon give? (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18)

14. How much consideration should we give to the words of others? (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22)

15. What did Solomon discover when he sought out wisdom? (Ecclesiastes 7:23-26)

16. What did Solomon find while he was still searching? (Ecclesiastes 7:27-29)

17. What effect does wisdom have on a person? (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

Get It

18. How is a sad face good for the heart?

19. In what way is wisdom a shelter?

20. In what way is today very much like yesterday?

21. How should the fact that God has made both the good times and the bad times affect the way we view and live our life?

22. How do you feel when you see good people suffering and bad people prospering? Why?

23. Why do people tend toward extremes rather than balance?

24. Why do people choose to go in search of their own schemes rather than follow God’s plan?

25. What sort of schemes are people in our society pursuing?

Apply It

26. In what area of your life will you strive to achieve more balance this week?

27. What do you want to remember the next time you start to idealize the past?

28. What is one specific step you can take to pursue wisdom?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/ecclesiastes-7.html.
 
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