In this chapter the Preacher is proposing several good things, as means, in the divine hand, for a remedy against the vanities of life. He showeth the blessedness of gracious sorrow, and the superiority it hath to carnal mirth. In these, and the like observations, this Chapter abounds.
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
The name of Jesus is as ointment poured forth, Solomon hath said elsewhere, Song of Solomon 1:3. And to be called by that honourable name in Jesus, which the mouth of the Lord hath promised to name, is fragrancy indeed, Isaiah 62:2. That the day of a man's death is better than the day of his birth, is a very unaccountable saying in the estimation of worldly men: but to a gracious soul the day of death unto sin, and of being born to God, is, of all days, the most blessed. And how can the day of his death in the body be otherwise than blessed, when, from being in union with Christ, he dies here, his soul becomes alive forever in Christ. So the voice from heaven told John. And so true believers in Christ most assuredly know. Revelation 14:13.
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 his heart. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. (4) The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (5) It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. (6) For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
These are solemn truths, and thousand's have borne, and still can bear testimony to them. He that would desire to be conformed to the lovely pattern of Jesus, who, by way of eminent distinction, the Holy Ghost himself calls the Man of sorrows, will find the best means under grace, for so blessed an accomplishment. It is truly remarked of our dear Lord Jesus, that it is never once said of him, when upon earth, that he laughed. He rejoiced, indeed, but it was in spirit. Luke 10:21. Reader! I know not what your sentiments may be; but depend upon it, all that unmeaning joy and mirth, which is in the house of the carnal, is highly unsuitable to our present fallen state. If to redeem our nature from this state, nothing short of the Son of God becoming man, and in that assumption of our nature dying in our stead, could bring us from it; every degree of laughter which carries with it a forgetfulness of the agonies and pains of Jesus, must be unbecoming. Let my soul go to the garden of Gethsemane, or to Mount Calvary, and while by the eye of faith I behold the soul-travail of Jesus, let me hear also by faith that earnest question of God by the Prophet: Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold and see, if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. Lamentations 1:12.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. (8) Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. (9) Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. (10) Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
If we read these verses by the gospel standard, their beauty will then appear to be full. The Apostle James gives the sweetest comment to them, when speaking of the oppressions which the faithful suffer from the ungodly, when he saith, Do not they oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by which ye are called? James 2:6-7. And what doth the Apostle say by way of consolation? Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord: behold, the Judge standeth before the door. James 5:7-11.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. (12) For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. (13) Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? (14) In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him. (15) All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.
If I mistake not, the Preacher is stating, in what is here said, the difference of security which men find in their different objects of defense. Carnal men make riches their defense. The gracious soul takes wisdom, that is Jesus, for his. And Solomon then demands that the subject be considered. He then puts a close question: Who can make that strait which God hath made crooked? In other words, who would put confidence in that which must deceive: for riches make to themselves wings and flee away. Proverbs 23:5. Reader! in what is your confidence?
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
Various have been the opinions concerning the Preacher's meaning in this verse. Common sense, however, cannot but conclude, that if Solomon meant the righteousness of man, there would have been no cause for the caution of avoiding an overmuch righteousness among creatures, sinful and fallen as the best of men are. But if the wise Preacher meant to guard against that ill-founded and unbecoming confidence, which too often springs out of a supposed righteousness, the precept is beautiful and just. Faithfulness itself in God's rich promises in Christ, when it is made, by our improper use of it, to beget presumption in ourselves, instead of looking wholly to that arm, which first wrought it to our heart to keep it there, will lead to the confines of danger. This is strongly and fully read to us in the instance of Peter. Had the Apostle confided more in Jesus, to preserve him, and less in his own strength, Satan would not have had such advantage over him. Luke 22:31-34. But a man's fall, or as the phrase of Solomon is, his own self-confidence, ministers to destroy himself, when he is overmuch righteous in anything of his own, instead of living wholly out of himself, upon the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
Here the wise man takes the reverse of the proposition, and cautions against overmuch wickedness. But here again, common sense must see that, as all wickedness is prohibited, the smallest transgression is overmuch, if in the general acceptation of the word wickedness, the wise man directed this precept to guard from. But if by the former, self-righteousness was aimed at, by which souls too often presume, and in that presumption sometimes fall; so in this latter, by overmuch wickedness, if the Preacher meant to preserve a soul, distressed by the view of his own unworthiness, from despair, great beauty appears in both precepts, and both are agreeable to the analogy of faith. It is as if he had said, Ye whom grace hath restrained from evil, take no confidence therefrom, as if your own arm had wrought it. And ye, who have fallen by sin, let not the greatness of it make you despond: And let the Reader judge how corresponding to the grace of the gospel of Christ are both these precepts.
It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all. (19) Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city. (20) For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
By a just man, we may suppose is meant a justified believer in Christ. And of such John the Apostle speaks, when declaring God's faithfulness and justice, to forgive them their sins, 1 John 1:9. Even those are yet exposed to infirmities. It is only among the spirits of just men made perfect, that we are to expect sinless perfection. How endeared in this point of view is Christ, and his atoning blood! 1 John 2:1-2.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: (22) For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. (23) All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. (24) That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? (25) I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: (26) And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. (27) Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: (28) Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. (29) Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
Solomon in his own life, had learnt much of the experience here recorded; and he was well calculated to be a Preacher upon such subjects. But when the Reader hath finished all his observations to this effect on Solomon's history, I would call upon him to remark with me, the concluding observation of the wise men. He sets his seal to the divine record of man's fall, and God's holiness in creation; and as such, gives the finishing sentence in confirmation of the gospel. Reader! it is truly blessed to observe, as we go along, how all the several parts of the Bible harmonize in this one grand doctrine, and which in fact, is the sum and substance of all: Though the law was given by Moses, yet grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. John 1:17.
My soul! ponder well the many blessed truths contained in this Chapter, that thou mayest understand aright the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. Suspect thyself, and thine own heart, whenever the scriptures appear, at the first reading, with an aspect thou canst not immediately unfold. And do not forget to look up to God the Holy Ghost, the Author of his own most blessed word, who if any man lack wisdom, and will ask of God, giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. Yes! thou Almighty Teacher! under thy gracious instruction do I pray continually to come. Taught by thee, I shall find it profitable to go to the house of mourning rather than to the house of feasting. Taught of thee, I shall never find confidence in any supposed overmuch, righteousness. And taught of Thee, my soul will not despond in the otherwise overwhelming view of the multitude of my transgressions. But looking unto Jesus, whom thou art forever glorifying to my view in him, and his complete all-justifying righteousness, shall all my poor services be forgotten; and in his all-cleansing blood, shall all my sins be done away; and, like the iniquity of Judah, and of Israel, when sought for, shall not be found.
Precious Lord Jesus! increasingly precious be thou to my poor soul! Where, or to whom, should I look, but to thee, under the daily infirmities of a fallen nature, which even in justified souls, are breaking out continually. Oh! Lord! keep, I beseech thee, my eyes stedfastly fixed on thee. Cause me to look within the vail, whither as the forerunner of thy people, thou art entered! And let me never forget the infinite and eternal worth and excellency that there is in thy blood, though there be new defilements in my poor heart from day to day! Oh! cause me to remember thy never-failing Priesthood, and to take comfort from the assurance that thou, blessed Jesus, hast more to plead for thy redeemed before God and the Father, than their transgressions have to plead against them. And let me never lose the blessed sound in my ears of the gracious voice of God, in confirmation of the merits of thy blood and righteousness, in which he hath said, Deliver him from going down into the pit, I have found a ransom.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter