The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 7

Ecc 7:1

There now begins, in the latter part of Ecclesiastes, an extended series of proverbial sayings -- the sort that, by their form and subject matter, may be closely identified with the Book of Proverbs. Many (most?) of these may have been written by Solomon, although some seem to point to other "sons of David" who were "kings in Jerusalem". But the proverbs are certainly not chosen at random, and brought together here: rather, they have been chosen and compiled (remember, Qoheleth IS a "compiler": see Ecc 12:9n) for the obvious purpose of forwarding the writer's primary themes -- eg, wisdom and folly, sorrow and laughter, the brevity and "vanity" of life, and the need to find an ultimate purpose and meaning therein.

A GOOD NAME IS BETTER THAN FINE PERFUME: That is, better to preserve the body of death (cp Ecc 10:1n). A "good name" [literally, "a name" = Heb "shem"; "good" is not in the text, but is very reasonably supplied in translation], figuratively, means a good reputation and standing in the community (cp Pro 10:7; 22:1; Gen 12:2; 2Sa 7:9). In the spiritual sense, the "good name" is not necessarily ours, but rather Christ's "name" upon us! This will preserve us in the day of death.

Precious ointment was very pleasing and refreshing (Pro 7:17). It stands for all that is pleasant and enjoyable and luxurious. It speaks of comfort and honor and wealth (Psa 45:7,8) . But a good name -- a good character -- is much better. A good character, purified through trial and patience, is the sweet smelling savor of a costly sacrifice unto God.

There seems to be an intended contrast with Ecc 6:10: the one who has been already named there is "Adam" -- while the good Name -- the Name above every Name -- is Yahweh Elohim -- the Memorial Name of God, signifying His eternal purpose -- that He might be manifested in a host of mighty ones -- all joyful and all glorious. Our eternal destiny is bound up in the decision: 'which name will we finally choose... the one we were born with and into -- or the one provided to us through the atoning work of our Lord and Saviour?'

PERFUME: The Heb "shemen" refers to fragrant "perfume; cologne; ointment" (Amos 6:6; Ecc 10:1; Song 1:3; 4:10). Such oils were expensive (1Ki 17:12; 2Ki 2:4). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity (Deu 32:8; 33:24; Job 29:6; Pro 21:17; Eze 16:13,20). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Psa 45:8; Ecc 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Pro 27:9). The similar sounding terms "name" (shem) and "perfume" (shemen) create a wordplay.

By contrast, in Hebrew imagery, to have a "bad name" is to "stink" (see Gen 34:30).

Mary literally exchanged perfume for a "good name", for when she had anointed Jesus for his burial (going to the "house of mourning", so to speak), he said: "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her [ie, for her good name!]" (Mat 26:13).

GOOD... FINE: "Tob" in both cases.

AND THE DAY OF DEATH BETTER THAN THE DAY OF BIRTH: "What a reversal of the world's views! But how irresistibly true when viewed in the light of the Scriptures! One day is the beginning of trouble, trial, struggle, effort, warfare -- the other day is the end of all these, the accomplishment, the deliverance, the victory" (GVG). At the birth, at the beginning of one's life, there is no character to assess -- the newborn has a name given him by his parents, but a name which means nothing in Biblical terms. HItler and Stalin and Idi Amin were all at one time cute little babies, full of promise, for whom their parents hoped good things. But at the death of every person, there IS a character that may be assessed -- in Bible terms, there is the record of a life in which may be read one's eternal destiny.

In fact, and in keeping with this approach, the "day of death" may also be, spiritually speaking, the day of one's baptism into Christ, the day when one "dies to sin" and "lives to God"!

In like fashion, Job looks with loathing on the day of his birth (Job 3:1-22; 7:1-21), because of the misery he has come to experience.

THE DAY OF BIRTH: Especially in this section, with its context of feasting and laughter, "the day of birth" may also suggest "a birthday party" -- an occasion for wild and raucous behavior and "celebration", for foolishness and drunkenness and self-indulgence.

Ecc 7:2

IT IS BETTER TO GO TO A HOUSE OF MOURNING THAN TO GO TO A HOUSE OF FEASTING: The comparison is between a funeral and a birthday feast (v 1) or, perhaps better, a funeral and a wedding feast (each of which would traditionally last seven days).

A HOUSE OF MOURNING: This could also refer to the memorial meeting, a remembrance of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A HOUSE OF FEASTING: "Feasting" here is literally "drinking" (cp 1Sa 25:36; Isa 5:12; Jer 51:39; Est 2:18; 5:14; 8:17; 9:19). "What is said here is no contradiction to what was said in Ecc 2:24, that there was nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and enjoy himself. For Koheleth was not speaking of unrestrained sensualism -- the surrender of the mind to the pleasures of the body -- but of the moderate enjoyment of the good things of life conditioned by the fear of God and love of one's neighbor. This statement is quite compatible with the view that sees a higher purpose and training in the sympathy with sorrow than in participation in reckless frivolity" (Pulpit).

The house of mourning is the house of reality, but the house of feasting, or drinking, is the house of illusion and escapism -- the house of searching for an ephemeral satisfaction, in all the wrong places... a satisfaction that is unattainable except in God. Old John Gill writes of the house of feasting, "where there is nothing but noise and clamour, luxury and intemperance, carnal mirth and gaiety, vain and frothy conversation, idle talk and impure songs, and a jest made of true religion and godliness, death and another world."

FOR DEATH IS THE DESTINY OF EVERY MAN: Literally, this might read: "For death is the end of all in Adam!"

THE LIVING SHOULD TAKE THIS TO HEART: This phrase gives off a ray of hope. The "living" are contrasted with the "dead", and "Anyone who is among the living has hope -- even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!" (Ecc 9:4). Even though the "living" know that they will die (Ecc 9:5), and especially BECAUSE they know this (as Ecc 7:1-6 makes plain), they may avail themselves of the remedy offered by God. The dismal parade of life, that winds inexorably toward the grave, may be a sad and melancholy sight -- one that we would prefer not to look at or think about. But it is in the thinking about it, unpleasant but necessary, that we are being prepared for the alternative. "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psa 90:12). We must have the bad news first, and really see it for what it is, before the "good news" has any real meaning!

"The best course is to buy a house across a road from a cemetery and look at it every morning. Reminding yourself where it all ends anyway, you'd never get upset about anything again" (Mildred Davis).

Ecc 7:3

// 2Co 6:10 ("Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing"); Mat 5:4 ("Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted"). "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy" (Joh 16:20-22).

SORROW IS BETTER THAN LAUGHTER, BECAUSE A SAD FACE IS GOOD FOR THE HEART: Sorrow is better... IF it leads to repentance: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation" (2Co 7:10; cp Psa 51). Any and all affliction and suffering and trial is good, and positive, and beneficial, for it is useful to the development of characters that will be eternal, and eternally pleasing to God: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:16-18).

A SAD FACE IS GOOD FOR THE HEART: Sorrow will cause the heart to meditate on more worthwhile and lasting attitudes and actions: "It is good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees" (Psa 119:71; cp Luke 6:21).

Ecc 7:4

THE HEART OF THE WISE IS IN THE HOUSE OF MOURNING, BUT THE HEART OF FOOLS IS IN THE HOUSE OF PLEASURE: Again, the wise face up to mourning -- to the reality of life's brevity and death's inevitability. Better by far to minister to the sick and afflicted (as Jesus did in an extraordinary way: Joh 11:31!) than to fawn upon the rich and powerful... to take a quiet, contemplative stroll through a country cemetery than to attend the liveliest of parties! Every funeral reminds one of his own. "Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!"

The house of mourning is the place of reality, whereas the house of pleasure is the place of illusion and fantasy. Whether it is the sensual pounding of 100-decibel music and the ever-flowing beer keg, or the refined tones of chamber music and the tinkling of cocktail glasses -- or any other combination of such sounds and experiences -- the house of pleasure is the place of fools (Pro 21:17). It is whistling past the graveyard. It is the band playing its last song as the Titanic sinks beneath the waves. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (WSh).

THE HEART: In Scriptural usage, of course, the "heart" is really the "mind", which is the center of man's attentions (Exo 7:23), thought (Deu 7:17), understanding (1Ki 3:9), morality (Pro 4:23), and memory (Deu 4:9). So this may suggest that, even when a man might be forced to be elsewhere, still "in his heart" he may choose to be "in the house of mourning"!

Ecc 7:5

IT IS BETTER TO HEED A WISE MAN'S REBUKE: The rebuke of the wise has substance and purpose. "Let a righteous man... rebuke me -- it is oil on my head" (Psa 141:5). "Rebuke a wise man and he will love you" (Pro 9:8). "He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise" (Pro 15:31). "Wounds from a friend can be trusted" (Pro 27:6).

THAN TO LISTEN TO THE SONG OF FOOLS: The song of fools is empty and powerless. They despise discipline (Pro 1:7; 15:32). "You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end" (Amo 6:5-7; cp Pro 23:29-35).

What does this mean in practical terms? It is better to spend one's spare time, on a regular basis, in reading the Bible (listening to the rebukes of wise men!)... than it is to do almost anything else! Next to listening to God, and talking with God, and talking about God, and listening again, practically everything else in this cold, cruel, vain and meaningless world is just another "song of fools"!

Ecc 7:6

LIKE THE CRACKLING OF THORNS UNDER THE POT: "The pun, 'Like the sound of "sirim" (thorns) under the "sir" (pot, caldron)', is caught by Moffatt's 'Like nettles crackling under kettles' " (Eaton). Very dry thorns may be gathered as kindling, a fire-starter; they burst into flame quickly, and they make a loud crackling noise as they burn, and they give off a bright flame... but they are not a fire-sustainer: they are so soon gone, giving no real heat (cp Psa 58:9; 118:12). Like the wandering, falling stars of Jud 1:13, they come quickly and they go just as quickly.

SO IS THE LAUGHTER OF FOOLS. THIS TOO IS MEANINGLESS: The laughter of fools is as short-lived and unsatisfying as a fire of dry thorns: it is consumed in a short, loud burst, but then nothing remains behind. For real warmth and comfort one must look elsewhere. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep" (Luk 6:25).

"All kinds of wood burn silently, except thorns, which crackle and cry out, 'We too are wood' " (Talmud).

Ecc 7:7

EXTORTION TURNS A WISE MAN INTO A FOOL: "Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad" (KJV). Are the KJV, RSV, and NASB -- or the NIV and ASV (which translates the same word as "extortion") better here? In other words, does this verse refer to "oppression" (as something that is suffered by the subject, as per HAL), or to "extortion" (as something that is practiced by the subject, as per BDB)?

If we accept the first of these, ie, that "oppression" is a burden under which men may be driven to distraction (cp Deu 28:33,34), then we have an idea more in keeping with the wider context of Ecclesiastes. However, in doing so, we destroy the synonymous parallelism with the last part of the same verse.

On the other hand, the NIV rendering ("extortion") -- which more naturally suggests that which the subject does, and not what is done to him, works well in the parallel -- but seems somewhat incongruous in the wider context. Which is correct?

AND A BRIBE CORRUPTS THE HEART: Lit "gift" (as in AV), but "bribe" surely gives the sense here (cp RSV). The LORD expressly forbade His priests to take bribes, gifts, or payments of any kind: Exo 23:8; Deu 16:19; Psa 26:9,10; Pro 15:27; 17:23.

Ecc 7:8

THE END OF A MATTER IS BETTER THAN ITS BEGINNING: "End" here suggests not so much "finality", as it does "outcome" or "result" (cp Pro 14:12). The writer implies that trials (the "oppression" of v 7) may be of limited duration, and that the outcome will be the developing and strengthening of faith, which makes the trial worthwhile (Jam 1:2-4; 5:7-11; cp Job 42:12). In turn this encourages patience or endurance in trials and afflictions. This is analogous to Ecc 7:1: "the day of death [is better] than the day of birth." "He who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat 10:22; 24:13).

"A true evaluation of any project can be made only at its conclusion, not at its beginning. Unwise critics tend to indulge in rash and hasty conjectures. Jesus was born in a manger in humble circumstances; therefore men judged him of no account (Isa 53); yet ultimately he was granted a Name above every name (Phi 2:9). The Kingdom is as a mustard seed, small and insignificant in its beginning [Mat 13:31; Mar 4:31; Luk 13:19]; but eventually filling all the earth (Rev 5:10). Israel's beginning was small, but her end will be glorious (Psa 72)" (Krygger).

"Look at [our] Lord and Master; see His beginning. He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Would you see the end? He sits at his Father's right hand, expecting until his enemies be made his footstool. 'As He is, so are we also in this world.' You must bear the cross, or you shall never wear the crown; you must wade through the mire, or you shall never walk the golden pavement. Cheer up, then, poor Christian. 'Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.' See that creeping worm, how contemptible its appearance! It is the beginning of a thing. Mark that insect with gorgeous wings, playing in the sunbeams, sipping at the flower bells, full of happiness and life; that is the end thereof. That caterpillar is yourself, until you are wrapped up in the chrysalis of death; but when Christ shall appear you shall be like him, for you shall see him as he is. Be content to be like him, a worm and no man, that like him you may be satisfied when you wake up in his likeness. That rough-looking diamond is put upon the wheel of the lapidary. He cuts it on all sides. It loses much -- much that seemed costly to itself. The king is crowned; the diadem is put upon the monarch's head with trumpet's joyful sound. A glittering ray flashes from that coronet, and it beams from that very diamond which was just now so sorely vexed by the lapidary. You may venture to compare yourself to such a diamond, for you are one of God's people; and this is the time of the cutting process. Let faith and patience have their perfect work, for in the day when the crown shall be set upon the head of the King, Eternal, Immortal, Invisible, one ray of glory shall stream from you. 'They shall be Mine,' saith the Lord, 'in the day when I make up My jewels.' [Mal 3:16,17] 'Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof' " (CHS).

AND PATIENCE IS BETTER THAN PRIDE: To see that there will be an end to each and every trial is to begin to develop patience or endurance, to accept those trials as coming from the hand of God (Lam 3:24-33; Psa 37:37-40). This is far better than to rebel against the hand of God, or to question why He does as He does -- which can be symptomatic of pride.

Or, a slightly different approach: In any potentially divisive or difficult situation, patience is required to hear the WHOLE matter, and not to jump to conclusions. Pride (or anger, for that matter -- as in v 9) may provoke a quick response, before all the facts are known; this will often make things worse. Cp Pro 13:10.

Ecc 7:9

DO NOT BE QUICKLY PROVOKED IN YOUR SPIRIT, FOR ANGER RESIDES IN THE LAP OF FOOLS: This continues the theme of v 8. "Do not be quickly provoked" (NIV) is "Be not hasty in thy spirit (Heb 'ruach')" (AV). The counterpart is "slow to become angry" (Jam 1:19). Also cp Pro 14:17; 16:32; 29:11; Eph 4:26.

In Ecclesiastes, "anger" may be expressed in a feeling of exasperation at the perplexities of life (Ecc 1:18; 2:23), or a feeling of resentment roused by unjust persecution (as here).

"Lap" or "bosom" (AV) indicates the innermost part of a person -- that which is embraced or held to one's heart; thus it does not express anger openly expressed, but held and "cherished" inside. This sort of feeling can be terribly destructive of one's emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Ecc 7:10

DO NOT SAY, "WHY WERE THE OLD DAYS BETTER THAN THESE?" FOR IT IS NOT WISE TO ASK SUCH QUESTIONS: This seems to refer to the "privilege" and tendency of the older to look back and pine for the way things were done (Job does something similar in Job 29:2-5, although he had perhaps more reason). The memory is very selective and only remembers the nice things, and forgets the difficulties (as the children of Israel did when recalling life in Egypt: Exo 16:3; Num 11:5,6; 14:1-4). We are dealing with the matter of discontent. Looking back to "the good old days", is pouring scorn on the present and implying, quite wrongly, that there is no hope for the future. There is always hope for the present and the future, because God is in control!

"People have always looked back to the good old days. 'If only we had lived then,' they say, 'we might have done better!' Even Christians sometimes overestimate the early church, the Reformation, or periods of revival. Wise people certainly learn from the past, but they live in the present with all its opportunities. Overmuch dwelling on the past can prevent us from overcoming the world, which often seems so much more wicked today than ever before" (EBC).

Of course, there may have been an immediate context in which this principle was stated -- something in the days of Solomon (or Uzziah, or Hezekiah -- other candidates for authorship of Ecclesiastes) that caused men to think this way. Perhaps comparable to Paul's "present distress" (or 'present crisis') in 1Co 7:26 -- whatever that might have been.

"There is no weight nor truth in it; but men use it to excuse their crimes, and the folly of their conduct. 'In former times,' say they, 'men might be more religious, use more self-denial, be more exemplary.' This is all false. In former days men were wicked as they are now, and religion was unfashionable: God also is the same now as he was then; as just, as merciful, as ready to help: and there is no depravity in the age that will excuse your crimes, your follies, and your carelessness" (Clarke, 200 years ago!).

"It is folly to complain of the badness of our own times when we have more reason to complain of the badness of our own hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would mend) and when we have more reason to be thankful that they are not worse, but that even in the worst of times we enjoy many mercies, which help to make them not only tolerable, but comfortable. It is folly to talk up the goodness of former times, so as to derogate from the mercy of God to us in our own times; as if former ages had not the same things to complain of that we have, or if perhaps, in some respects, they had not, yet as if God had been unjust and unkind to us in casting our lot in an iron age, compared with the golden ages that went before us; this arises from nothing but fretfulness and discontent, and an aptness to pick quarrels with God himself. We are not to think there is any universal decay in nature, or degeneracy in morals. God has been always good, and men always bad; and if, in some respects, the times are now worse than they have been, perhaps in other respects they are better" (Henry, 350 years ago!).

Have things been in an absolute decline for 3,000 years -- every successive generation a little bit worse than the previous one? Or does it merely appear that way when we look back with a nostalgic eye to the (more or less) immediate past? Or... is our age, right now, really worse to a very considerable degree than 25 or 50 or 75 years ago... because we are truly living in the Last Days? 1Ti 4 and 2Ti 3, and so forth. Maybe so. But the funny thing (or not so funny!) is that Bible expositors of 200 or 400 years ago (and Bible authors of 3,000 years ago) were writing that men in their own days thought the same thing -- and pointing out that it was not wise to dwell on that too much.

Ecc 7:11

WISDOM, LIKE AN INHERITANCE, IS A GOOD THING: Similarly, the KJV has: "Wisdom is good WITH an inheritance" -- as though the two belong together (BDB). But the whole context, with its "tob" ("good" or "better") proverbs (eg, vv 1,2,3,5,8, etc) suggests that the two -- wisdom and an inheritance -- should be contrasted (as does HAL): "Wisdom is better (tob) than an inheritance" (cp Pro 8:11). This is of course true if wisdom is DIVINE wisdom, and the inheritance is an EARTHLY inheritance: cp Pro 3:13-18; 4:7-9; 15:33; 16:16. This contrast is made plain in the following verse...

AND BENEFITS THOSE WHO SEE THE SUN: In short, "those who see the sun" = everyone -- except the stillborn child (Ecc 6:5).

Ecc 7:12

WISDOM IS A SHELTER AS MONEY IS A SHELTER, BUT THE ADVANTAGE OF KNOWLEDGE IS THIS: THAT WISDOM PRESERVES THE LIFE OF ITS POSSESSOR: This continues and explains v 11. Both wisdom and money (an inheritance, for example: cp Pro 10:15) are means of protection (so there is a comparison between the two); but one (wisdom) is eternal, while the other (money) is temporary and thus -- ultimately -- an illusion: money can offer no real protection, not in any way that truly matters.

"If one inherits possessions which give him power over his fellow man, it is good to have wisdom to direct his course, for money is a defence when wisely used. All that seems desirable in mortal life can be secured by the appropriate use of that power which is the prerogative of wealth, but even the wisest use of money cannot alter the law of mortality. It often prolongs life and eases the burden of the last few years. All the resources of the world are at the command of money, so that more than anything else it can give an extension of mortal life and provide a defence against the last enemy, but there comes a time when it can serve no more. Wise men and fools, gentle and brutish, 'die and leave their wealth to others'. The defence breaks down utterly and the 'king of terrors' triumphs. Only knowledge and wisdom can have a basis for revival" (CEcc).

SHELTER: "Tsel" -- literally "shadow". In the Middle East (as in Texas!), the shade of a great tree or rock can be a very desirable thing, and a true "shelter", for the sun's rays can be very hurtful at certain times (cp Isa 25:5; 32:2; Jer 48:45; Jon 4:5). There may also be an allusion here to the shadow of the wings of the Cherubim, in tabernacle and temple -- a most tangible example and illustration of the LORD's protection for His people (Psa 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; 91:10).

WISDOM PRESERVES THE LIFE OF ITS POSSESSOR: Especially in the ultimate sense: "Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (Joh 17:3). "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23).

"If in this time of vanity and vexation of spirit, we fear God and keep His commandments, we shall be remembered. We may be misjudged and condemned by men, we may go to the land of forgetfulness without justice being done to us, but in the end 'God will bring every work into judgment' [Ecc 12:14]. If we have feared God in the days of mortality, we shall 'come forth of them all' [Ecc 7:18]. We shall prove the power of wisdom to give life to those who have it" (CEcc).

Ecc 7:13

CONSIDER WHAT GOD HAS DONE: WHO CAN STRAIGHTEN WHAT HE HAS MADE CROOKED?: The "crooked" conditions under which we all live (cp Ecc 1:15) were brought about by the original transgression and curse of Gen 3. This "human condition" cannot and will not be altered this side of God's Kingdom. But even now, in the midst of a world filled with "crooked" people and "crooked" ways, those who love and serve God can choose, insofar as they are able, to walk in "straight" paths (Psa 125:5; Pro 2:10-15), while themselves not complaining or whining about their lot (Ecc 6:10,11).

Ecc 7:14

WHEN TIMES ARE GOOD, BE HAPPY: This has already been considered in Ecclesiastes. Man should always be thankful for the good things, which come from the hand of God -- he must be thankful, and use them wisely, and find satisfaction therein.

BUT WHEN TIMES ARE BAD, CONSIDER: GOD HAS MADE THE ONE AS WELL AS THE OTHER: ...But he must never forget that adversity has its uses for God, as well as prosperity. No matter what happens, no matter what life has to offer, the believer must remember that God is in control, and that He works for the ultimate good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). "Adversity is a necessary experience in the life of a saint, being instrumental in providing the conditions whereby faith and obedience can be exercised to the purification of character, fitting him for entry into the Kingdom with life eternal (Heb 12:1-11; Jam 1:2-4)" (Krygger). Cp also Deu 8:3; Job 2:10; Isa 45:7.

THEREFORE, A MAN CANNOT DISCOVER ANYTHING ABOUT HIS FUTURE: This echoes Ecc 3:22; 6:12. It is precisely because the world as now constituted is a "crooked" world -- with seemingly random "punishment" of the righteous, and "reward" of the wicked -- that even a God-fearing man cannot know what shall happen next, either to himself or his loved ones. As Job discovered in his extremity, God does not explain all His actions, nor reveal His immediate purposes, to His children (cp Pro 27:1; Jam 4:14; Mat 6:34). But His ultimate purpose IS revealed: that the whole earth will at last be filled with His glory, through a multitude of redeemed ones, who have themselves suffered afflictions and overcome the world through their faith in Him.

Ecc 7:15

IN THIS MEANINGLESS LIFE OF MINE I HAVE SEEN BOTH OF THESE: A RIGHTEOUS MAN PERISHING IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND A WICKED MAN LIVING LONG IN HIS WICKEDNESS: It is quite possible, in every human experience, to see how righteous deeds are seemingly punished, while wickedness is seemingly rewarded. Man's knowledge and personal experience is so limited -- by time, for one thing, as Qoheleth has earlier stated (Ecc 3) -- that it may appear that God Himself is being grossly unfair. All such misperceptions arise from man's limited perspective. Or, as Paul puts it, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men" (1Co 15:19). In other words, if we expect that all good will be amply rewarded, and all evil will be amply punished, IN THIS LIFE... then we are setting ourselves up for big disappointments. God has a grand purpose -- even in the sufferings of His people, who love Him and trust Him and wait upon Him -- but this purpose will be fully realized only in the Age to Come, when the "vanity" of His new ongoing creation will be delivered into the glorious liberty of God's dear children (Rom 8:18-25).

A RIGHTEOUS MAN PERISHING IN HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS: Even good and righteous men can be overtaken by death early on in their lives (Psa 102:23,24; Heb 11:36-38) -- like Naboth, for example (1Ki 21:13). Also see Mat 23:34; Joh 16:2.

A WICKED MAN LIVING LONG IN HIS WICKEDNESS: ...While a wicked man may seem to prosper, and to prosper long -- in contrast to the righteous who die young (Job 21:7; Psa 73:12; Jer 12:1; Hab 1:13-17). But, when measured against eternity, such a life of "prosperity" is as fleeting and ephemeral as a morning mist when the sun arises in its heat (Psa 37; 90:1-12; Jam 4:13,14), or as the fragile flowers of spring when the hot winds of summer blow (1Pe 1:24,25; Isa 40:6-8).

Ecc 7:16

DO NOT BE OVERRIGHTEOUS, NEITHER BE OVERWISE -- WHY DESTROY YOURSELF?: Since no ordinary man may be truly righteous -- as v 20 points out -- there can never, in a literal sense, be a man who is "overrighteous"! So what does this word "overrighteous" suggest? Probably pride and self-righteousness -- like the Jews' pseudo-"righteousness" (Rom 10:3; Mat 5:20; 6:1,2; 23:1-36; Luk 5:32; Isa 65:5; Mal 2:17; 3:13-15). Religious fanaticism, morbid and overly scrupulous; an overstrained "righteousness", a "righteousness" of affectation and technical "works" and asceticism (Col 2:23) -- like the self-satisfaction exhibited by the Pharisee whose fasting and giving exceeded that of other men (Luk 18:12-14), so that he was so sure he stood firm in God's sight (1Co 10:12).

Or, considering the background of Ecclesiastes, here is perhaps a reference to Uzziah's "overrighteous" attempt to act as a priest as well as a king, thus overstepping the position granted him by Yahweh -- in which he "destroyed" himself.

NEITHER BE OVERWISE: "It is possible to have a Bible full of notes, yet to be lacking in true wisdom and understanding. Learning is not an end in itself, but a means to an end (Pro 4:5-8; 1Co 13; 2Pe 1:5-11)" (Krygger).

"Be not opinionated, and conceited of thy own abilities. Set not up for a dictator, nor pretend to give law to, and give judgment upon, all about thee. Set not up for a critic, to find fault with every thing that is said and done, nor busy thyself in other men's matters, as if thou knewest every thing and couldest do any thing" (Henry).

So Qoheleth also warns against condescendingly revealing superior knowledge, against always seeking to put others right regardless of their feelings and customs, and against dispensing wisdom with the air of always being right. Such people draw undue attention to themselves, and earn the dislike of others by making them feel inferior -- besides which, they very seldom lead anyone into a better way of life.

WHY DESTROY YOURSELF?: "Why should you be dumbfounded?" (NET). "Lest thou be confounded" (LXX). BDB supports these renderings.

Ecc 7:17

DO NOT BE OVERWICKED: "Qoheleth is not condoning a little sin and warning us not to go too far, as though Yahweh will tolerate some transgression, if we do not overdo it. Paul reveals the folly of this iniquitous attitude to Yahweh in Rom 3:8. The person that deliberately sets out to sin, even a little, shall die (Pro 10:27-31; Eze 18:20-24; Heb 10:26-31). Qoheleth means, do not be overwicked in your own estimation of yourself; so do not magnify your failings out of all proportion, imagining your sins to be so black as to place you beyond the scope of the Father's forgiveness (Psa 103; Isa 1:18). An attitude that limits the Father's mercy and forgiveness tends to dry up faith and be nonproductive of the good works that glorify God. This is a self-destructive spirit that can be evicted only by meditation and by prayer" (Krygger).

AND DO NOT BE A FOOL -- WHY DIE BEFORE YOUR TIME?: Fools who thought they could "get away with it", and died in their folly before their appointed time, include Nadab and Abihu (Num 3:4), Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Num 16), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). In such (perhaps exceptional) cases, "the years of the wicked are cut short" (Pro 10:27-29), and "bloodthirsty and deceitful men will not live out half their days" (Psa 55:23; cp Psa 58:3-9; 73:18).

Furthermore, and in general, a "wicked" lifestyle can also be a very foolish life: so many pursuits can lessen one's quality of life, as well as shorten one's actual life: alcoholism, drug addiction, tobacco consumption, gluttony, sexual promiscuity (either heterosexual and homosexual).

Ecc 7:18

IT IS GOOD TO GRASP THE ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER. THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD WILL AVOID ALL EXTREMES: The extremes to avoid are self-righteousness and self-condemnation. To assert one's righteousness is folly; but likewise, to condemn oneself is folly -- both roles belong to the Father and not to His children. On the other hand, however, it is good to have something of each extreme in our spiritual make-up: (a) to feel a confidence in the promises of God, and His mercy extended to us -- even as we avoid feeling that we are "righteous" in and of ourselves; and yet also (b) to remember our weaknesses, and to recognize our shortcomings, rather than hiding them away -- even while we avoid condemning ourselves.

THE MAN WHO FEARS GOD: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Pro 1:7; 9:10). "Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed" (Rev 15:4).

"The man who goes to an extreme in saving money, becomes more and more saving. The man who goes to extremes in developing business, becomes more and more devoted to that object, and increasingly indifferent to everything else. The man who goes to extremes in careful provision for family exigencies, becomes more and more careful and anxious, until the words of Christ, which tell us to be without carefulness, cease to have the least meaning for him. All these classes of extremists -- and they are legion -- sink at last into a state of spiritual turpitude, in which all sensibility is gone. The present world, which they have loved, has slain them, while they continue to think they are alive" (SC 159).

Ecc 7:19

WISDOM MAKES ONE WISE MAN MORE POWERFUL THAN TEN RULERS IN A CITY: "Wisdom is not the knowledge of accumulated facts but the inner strength that comes from a God-instructed conscience" (EBC). "Wisdom is better than strength" (Ecc 9:16). Cp Pro 21:22: "A wise man attacks the city of the mighty and pulls down the stronghold in which they trust" (also cp Pro 24:5). And 2Co 10:4,5: "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." What is being considered here is the strong, fortified "city" of pretense, self-righteousness, and pride which is... MAN HIMSELF. How might such a "fortress" be conquered? Not by a powerful army! But rather by wisdom: by the wise man of God equipped with the armor of God (Eph 6:11-17). By the "sword of the Spirit" he may throw down the strongholds in his own life, the fortresses he has erected in his own mind, thus breaking down all barriers that stand between himself and a full, humble, obedient service of the LORD. Such a victory will never be won by natural strength, but by spiritual wisdom.

RULERS: Heb "shalliytim" = princes, ie, warriors, or military commanders.

Ecc 7:20

THERE IS NOT A RIGHTEOUS MAN ON EARTH WHO DOES WHAT IS RIGHT AND NEVER SINS: Still the writer must remind us once again: no matter how hard a righteous man attempts to please the LORD, he will inevitably fall short, because of the law of sin in his members (Rom 3:9,20,21; 7:15-25; 1Jo 1:8-10). "For there is no one who does not sin" (1Ki 8:46; 2Ch 6:36). Cp also Psa 130:3; 143:2; Pro 20:9; Jam 3:2.

Ecc 7:21

DO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY WORD PEOPLE SAY, OR YOU MAY HEAR YOUR SERVANT CURSING YOU: Human weakness and fallibility (v 20) is seen particularly in the inability to control the tongue (cp Jam 3:2-12). "Qoheleth cautions against heeding the effects of gossip, for men and women will gossip continually, an additional proof that all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Most gossip is lightly spoken, and of little importance, so there is no need to lose one's serenity of mind because of it" (Krygger).

Ecc 7:22

FOR YOU KNOW IN YOUR HEART THAT MANY TIMES YOU YOURSELF HAVE CURSED OTHERS: Our own experience is sufficient proof that vindictiveness arises from human sinfulness and is frequently inaccurate. Krygger is somewhat more charitable than this, for he writes: "If we need proof of the truth of this [ie, that gossip need not be heeded: v 21], then remember that your own idle talk of others carried no real animosity. However, malicious gossip that is deliberately aimed at destroying another's good name is really slander, and has its roots in envy, jealousy and hatred (Mat 12:34-37)."

"According to Young's the Hebrew word here rendered 'curse' is rather elastic: 'To lightly esteem, to vilify, to revile'... Do we ever speak slightingly of any of them? Assuredly we do, indulging in rather extreme criticism sometimes, it may be... With a recollection in our hearts of caustic comments we have passed on others, it is surely wise to forgive equally severe criticism others may pass on us. The wise course with all criticism is to seek the benefit which may come from all that is constructive, and to ignore everything else. It is just because so few people are wise enough so to act that the Preacher's admonition may be of great value. All who revere the Scriptures will pay heed when they see the meaning of a passage whether it has to do with the fundamental truths affecting salvation or whether -- as in the passage under review -- it presents sound advice to help us through the difficulties of everyday life" (CEcc).

Ecc 7:23

ALL THIS I TESTED BY WISDOM AND I SAID, "I AM DETERMINED TO BE WISE" -- BUT THIS WAS BEYOND ME: As he pursued the use of wisdom in a practical sense, he came to discover the limitations of such wisdom, in at least two ways: (1) because the human mind, in its present corrupted state, can stretch only so far (v 23), and (2) because some wisdom is simply inaccessible, even to the very best of human minds -- it is kept hidden in the Eternal Mind (v 24).

Ecc 7:24

WHATEVER WISDOM MAY BE, IT IS FAR OFF AND MOST PROFOUND -- WHO CAN DISCOVER IT?: Wisdom is inaccessible, or accessible only at a steep price: it is as though it were buried far beneath the surface of the earth, or hidden in the depths of the sea (Job 28:12,21, etc in context; Psa 36:6). Or, alternatively, wisdom is far above the earth -- "too lofty for me to attain" (Psa 139:6). Either way, "the secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deu 29:29). Paul confesses his limitations in understanding the deep things of God: "Oh, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom 11:33; cp 1Co 1:9-25; Job 11:7).

It has been pointed out that the knowledge of any man or woman (or, for that matter, the accumulated knowledge of all mankind) is like a circle that surrounds us. In this analogy, the perimeter of the circle represents the outer boundary, the limit of what is known; beyond that line there is the unknown. As the circle expands, that is, as more is learned -- of ANY subject -- it is obvious that the line is still there, and there is still the unknown beyond that line. But now, with the growth of knowledge, and the widening of the circle, the circumference of the circle of that knowledge is growing too. In other words, the more we learn, the more we appreciate how little we know, and how much more there is to learn! Ad infinitum!

Of course, humanly speaking, the best example of this limitation of human knowledge is the ultimate line which our inquiries can never cross: the last line, beyond which is the true unknown, is the line of death. Who can go to explore that dark land and return to reveal all its mysteries? No one.

Man continues to study the workings of the human brain. As time goes by, certain advances have indeed been made -- we are told that scientists now understand the fundamental purposes of various parts of the brain itself, and how chemical or electrical stimuli, or a tumor or injury can disrupt its workings in a particular area, while leaving other functions unimpeded. Even in such instances, scientists are only now beginning to perceive how -- even when the work of one functional area of the brain is interrupted -- other parts of the brain may go beyond their ordinary functions to take over this other necessary job, as though the human brain is a self-repairing apparatus!

One great hindrance in such study, of course -- and it seems to be hinted at in these verses -- is this: when we study the human brain, we are using the human brain! And our understanding, such as it is, is limited by the fact that we are studying ourselves, and we simply have no platform higher than ourselves on which to stand, in order to evaluate objectively what we are and how we work.

Ecc 7:25

SO I TURNED MY MIND TO UNDERSTAND, TO INVESTIGATE AND TO SEARCH OUT WISDOM AND THE SCHEME OF THINGS: Man is born knowing nothing; if he would be wise, he must exert himself tremendously, laboring long and hard to acquire knowledge and its byproduct wisdom. When he has children, he will labor just as diligently to impart to them as much of knowledge and wisdom as he is able (Deu 6:6-9; Pro 4:1-13; 2Ti 3:14-17). And all of this will be for the purpose, not simply of knowing, but of DOING what is good and right in the sight of God: "If we are honest-hearted, or at least striving with all our might to be honest-hearted -- and this should be absolutely fundamental with any claiming to be a brother or sister of Christ -- then the greatest thing we need, and what we should most pray for -- is to see the right way in any circumstance, condition, doctrine or issue" (GVG).

AND TO UNDERSTAND THE STUPIDITY OF WICKEDNESS: Wickedness is so stupid because it is so destructive -- of everything holy and peaceful and pleasant and beneficial. Following the cravings of our flesh, of our natures, excludes us from the covenants of promise, and makes us the objects of God's wrath (Eph 2:1-3,12).

AND THE MADNESS OF FOLLY: Following the ways of that seductive temptress, "Folly": cp Pro 5:3-6; 7:5-17.

Ecc 7:26

I FIND MORE BITTER THAN DEATH THE WOMAN WHO IS A SNARE, WHOSE HEART IS A TRAP AND WHOSE HANDS ARE CHAINS. THE MAN WHO PLEASES GOD WILL ESCAPE HER, BUT THE SINNER SHE WILL ENTRAP: As in the Book of Proverbs, "Folly" (v 25) is presented allegorically, as a "strange woman", an adulteress -- who waits at the corners of the streets, and in dark alleys, to seduce the young and the gullible (Pro 2:16; 5:1-13,16,22; 7:1-27). "Her personality is dominated by the instincts of the hunter {'snares' and 'nets'), and she is forceful in her attentions ('hands' as 'prison fetters')" (Eaton). There is a strong Biblical basis for this parable, since much of the idolatry of the Middle East in Bible times involved immorality: the "worship" of such "gods" was by the observance of various lewd fertility rites, that often culminated in sexual intercourse -- and the "priestesses" of such cults were nothing but "holy" prostitutes (eg, Num 25:1-3). Thus the strong connection between idolatry and adultery. Generally, cp women such as Delilah (Jdg 16:4-22) and Jezebel (1Ki 16:31; 18:13; 19:1-2; 21:6-16). (And in the NT as well, false worship is symbolized by a great whore: Rev 17; 18:1-5.)

Sadly, and more personally, either Solomon is now talking about his own most egregious failings, or else Qoheleth (if he be someone else here) is recalling those failings of Solomon: for "his [strange, or foreign] wives led him astray" and "turned his heart after other gods" (1Ki 11:3,4).

Ecc 7:27

SAYS THE TEACHER: This is the only place in this main body of the book (Ecc 1:3--12:7) in which third person speech ("he") is again introduced. This little phrase, occurring as it does roughly in the middle of the book, is a reminder that all the main text through this central section (Ecc 1:3-12:7) is a first person account, the personal observations of the Teacher or Preacher.

TEACHER: "Qoheleth" (Ecc 1:1n).

LOOK... THIS IS WHAT I HAVE DISCOVERED: "ADDING ONE THING TO ANOTHER TO DISCOVER THE SCHEME OF THINGS": "Adding one thing to another" is to "find out the account" -- an accounting or commercial term. It is as if the Preacher has been poring over the financial statements of life item by item, counting all the discrepancies and calculating all the totals. And what he has discovered is, in short, that -- from a human standpoint -- many things just "don't add up"!

Man cannot save himself, because he cannot find a rock on which to stand, nor the fulcrum with which he can lift himself up. It is as though man is sinking in quicksand -- who will pull him out? He looks in vain in this direction and that, but finds no one who can do so -- because all men are sinking in the same quagmire. So Qoheleth, by his own in-depth study of the human condition, realizes that in the very nature of things man cannot save himself from death, nor can he save his brother (Psa 49:7). He needs someone from outside, but with access to the human condition, someone who stands on solid ground, someone with a strength that the best of mortal, sinful men lack -- the "one upright man among a thousand" -- to lift others out of the morass.

And so Qoheleth now sees (or now points out to his readers, for the first time) the need for such a man: the Redeemer (v 28)! He needed to become fully conversant with the "bad news", as his story to this point in Ecclesiastes makes evident, before he could appreciate the "good news" -- what the Almighty LORD of the Universe had in mind all along for the salvation of mankind.

Ecc 7:28

WHILE I WAS STILL SEARCHING BUT NOT FINDING: Qoheleth is letting his readers know that his next conclusion is not one of casual inquiry, but of long, thorough, diligent, painstaking research. What has he discovered? That, whereas sin entered the world through the sin of one woman (in which, of course, the man was involved) (Gen 3:1-7; Rom 5:12; cp 1Co 11:7-9; 1Ti 2:11-15), so the salvation of the world will be through one special man, the promised seed of that woman (Gen 3:15).

I FOUND ONE UPRIGHT MAN AMONG A THOUSAND: Christ is called "one among 10,000" in Song 5:10-16. That is, the "one man" who can act as a redeemer, or mediator, for all the rest, ie the "thousand" or the "ten thousand" (Job 33:23,24).

BUT NOT ONE UPRIGHT WOMAN AMONG THEM ALL: Cp Solomon's "strange wives". "Though Solomon's desire to compete with other Oriental potentates may in large measure account for his building up a royal harem, he found that a harem did not provide the appropriate companion for man. How much better he would have been with one good wife, such as he speaks of in Ecc 9:9 and Pro 31!" (EBC).

Ecc 7:29

THIS ONLY HAVE I FOUND: GOD MADE MAN UPRIGHT: God made man in His own image and likeness (Gen 1:26), to walk on two feet, upright, and lifted up from the contaminating earth, out of which he had been made.

BUT MEN HAVE GONE IN SEARCH OF MANY SCHEMES: But it has been man's disposition to seek out many "schemes" by which he might return, figuratively, to crawling upon, or groveling in, the very dust (Gen 3:14), like his "father" the serpent, the dust from which his Heavenly Father sought to rescue him!

SCHEMES: Sw in 2Ch 26:15: "In Jerusalem he (Uzziah) made MACHINES designed by skillful men for use on the towers" (or "engines engineered by the ingenious"!).

More generally, this suggests how the human heart is capable of all manner of schemes of wickedness: Jer 17:9; Mat 15:18,19.

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