The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 9

Ecc 9:1

Ecc 9: "The value of wisdom is forced home at a time of crisis when circumstances make it imperative that something be done. Human nature is such that it is soon forgotten. The attitude of a sinner in rejecting wisdom's counsel when the need no longer exists is followed by others with evil results. Let us walk wisely at all times and not only when crises force us to do so (see v 18). The wise man continues his record of experiences in search of the greatest good. He left no stone unturned in his search, but found (1) The inevitability of death: vv 1-6. (2) The uncertainty of life, and therefore the need to make the most of opportunity: vv 7-10. (3) It is impossible to calculate on the issues and duration of life: vv 11,12. (4) Though wisdom is despised by many, it does good: vv 13-18" (GEM).

SO I REFLECTED ON ALL THIS AND CONCLUDED THAT THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WISE AND WHAT THEY DO ARE IN GOD'S HANDS, BUT NO MAN KNOWS WHETHER LOVE OR HATE AWAITS HIM: Almighty God exercises unquestioned control over all affairs of life, but especially and preeminently the righteous are in His hands (Pro 3:6; Psa 37:5; Phi 2:13). It may not be possible for even the wise to understand WHY God allows certain things to happen in their lives (Ecc 8:17), and sometimes those things are hard and bitter experiences (Heb 2:8-10; 1Th 3:4; 2Ti 3:12). [This would seem to be the "love" and "hate" of this verse: not what the righteous do, but what is done to them, especially by God.] Nevertheless the believer has faith that "in all things [whether seemingly good, or seemingly bad] God works for the [ultimate] good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).

Ecc 9:2

ALL SHARE A COMMON DESTINY -- THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED, THE GOOD AND THE BAD, THE CLEAN AND THE UNCLEAN, THOSE WHO OFFER SACRIFICES AND THOSE WHO DO NOT. AS IT IS WITH THE GOOD MAN, SO WITH THE SINNER; AS IT IS WITH THOSE WHO TAKE OATHS, SO WITH THOSE WHO ARE AFRAID TO TAKE THEM: Across the whole spectrum of humanity there is stretched a common thread -- every man, from the mansion to the hut, from the best of men to the worst, is destined to die (v 3; Ecc 3:19-21). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow" (Psa 144:4). Following on from v 1: not only do events seem to happen, to good men and bad men alike, more or less at random... but at the last they all -- good and bad alike -- die.

THOSE WHO TAKE OATHS: Cp Deu 16:13; 10:20; Isa 65:16; Psa 63:11. This does not refer to using vulgar language, but rather to taking oaths of service to God. The contrast is between those who openly avow faith in God, and those who do not.

Ecc 9:3

THIS IS THE EVIL IN EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS UNDER THE SUN: THE SAME DESTINY OVERTAKES ALL: The KJV has: "there is one event unto all" -- but "destiny" is better. The destiny is, of course, death: "In Adam all die" (1Co 15:22).

THE HEARTS OF MEN, MOREOVER, ARE FULL OF EVIL AND THERE IS MADNESS IN THEIR HEARTS WHILE THEY LIVE, AND AFTERWARD THEY JOIN THE DEAD: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9). "Madness" here signifies "being blinded as to the true issues", and is elsewhere in Ecclesiastes connected with glib frivolity (Ecc 2:2), corruption in society (Ecc 7:7), and folly (Ecc 10:12-15).

While the NIV has "men" here, the phrase is literally "the sons of men" (as in AV). It is possible that here Qoheleth is introducing a separate class: the "sons of men" as distinct from the "sons of God". Be that as it may, what he describes here is the natural state of man, and may of course be true even of those who profess to serve God; it is true, to a certain degree, of even the very best and most righteous of men. All men may be blind to the most vital issues of life. While they live they may seek after pleasure, or they may pursue unobtainable goals, and cherish vain ambitions. Nevertheless, all their efforts, and all their aspirations -- whatever they might be -- end in the same place: the grave (Mat 23:16-22; Rom 11:25; 2Pe 1:5-9; 2Co 3:15).

"What a commentary on human life, and what an emphasis on the oft repeated saying that all is vanity and vexation of spirit! It is a gloomy saying, but indubitably true. History has been defined as in the main, a record of the sins and follies of mankind, and a nation is accounted fortunate if it has no history of any importance. Men struggle for ideals or for position, power and worldly possessions, or to help their friends, or to have revenge on their enemies. Motives are often mixed, elements of good being in the worst of men and evil in the best of them. The quest for the leading motive is often an alluring study, and for those who are interested in human nature there is interest even in the dull pages of history.

"We soon become conscious of a very ugly fact in human life. History records many instances of men who began public life well and ended ill, but few instances of those whose beginning was evil, turning to good in later days. Liberators have turned into tyrants, and builders have become wreckers, but few tyrants ever learn to be merciful and few wreckers ever learn how to build" (CEcc).

AND AFTERWARD THEY JOIN THE DEAD: " 'After that -- to the dead!' The word sounds like a brief military command which brings the career of a rebel to a close and must, of course, be carried out on the spot. A sorry end, indeed!" (Leupold).

Ecc 9:4

ANYONE WHO IS AMONG THE LIVING HAS HOPE -- EVEN A LIVE DOG IS BETTER OFF THAN A DEAD LION!: This sounds remarkably like the words of Hezekiah: "For the grave [Heb Sheol] cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living -- they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their children about your faithfulness" (Isa 38:18,19; cp Psa 49:12,20; 6:5). This is from the psalm of praise and thanksgiving that he composed to mark his recovery from death, and the adding of 15 years to his span of life.

DOG: In Bible times, a dog was an unclean beast, and a contemptible creature (1Sa 17:43; 24:14; 2Sa 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; Pro 26:11; Rev 22:15), a skulking scavenger.

LION: By contrast, the lion was a creature of royalty (Gen 49:9), mighty among beasts (Hos 5:14; Pro 30:30), and identified with the kingly tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). But death robs him of all his glory and pride and pretension.

EVEN A LIVE DOG IS BETTER OFF THAN A DEAD LION: Illustrated in the history of Israel: the faithful "dog", the Gentile Caleb, named to represent the tribe of Judah, was of considerably more worth than any faithless son of Judah (the "lion")! And thus the living "dog", whose life was spared because of his faith, came into the land, whilst his fellow-tribesmen in Judah, did not -- they were "lions", yet they died in the wilderness!

"Life is a precious thing, and in its humblest form it is superior to death. This truth is eminently certain in spiritual things... The lowest degree of grace is superior to the noblest development of unregenerate nature... The thief on the cross excels Caesar on his throne; Lazarus among the dogs is better than Cicero among the senators; and the most unlettered Christian is in the sight of God superior to Plato. Life is the badge of nobility in the realm of spiritual things, and men without it are only coarser or finer specimens of the same lifeless material, needing to be quickened, for they are dead in trespasses and sins.

"A living dog keeps better watch than a dead lion, and is of more service to his master; and so the poorest spiritual preacher is infinitely to be preferred to the exquisite orator who has no wisdom but that of words, no energy but that of sound" (CHS).

Death is real; it is no illusion -- no conjurer's trick! "Many attempts are made to soften the force of these words, and it must be recognized that their primary aim is to show the effect of death as it is seen by men. All a man's busy concerns are cut off sheer as though by the falling of a knife, and beyond there is only a blank. But the point is made by contrasting the living state with the utter cessation of consciousness, the complete termination of everything by which life can be known, which is its opposite; and to contend that this only describes death as it is seen, and not as it truly is, unjustifiably weakens the argument. The reason that a man has 'no more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun' is not merely that he appears to be dead but that he is dead; the reason that 'a living dog is better than a dead lion' is that death totally deprives of everything that life is" (LGS).

Ecc 9:5

FOR THE LIVING KNOW THAT THEY WILL DIE, BUT THE DEAD KNOW NOTHING; THEY HAVE NO FURTHER REWARD, AND EVEN THE MEMORY OF THEM IS FORGOTTEN: Cp vv 6,10. Death is seen here as an unconscious state: Psa 6:5; 104:33; 146:3,4; Isa 38:18; 2Ki 22:20; Job 14:21. The dead have certainly not gone to heaven (Joh 3:13). Yet there is deliverance from Sheol (the grave) for some: Psa 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:1-3. The OT does not have the word "resurrection", but the principle is plainly taught throughout.

AND EVEN THE MEMORY OF THEM IS FORGOTTEN: A common theme in the Psalms: see Psa 31:12; 41:5; 88:10-12; 115:17.

Ecc 9:6

THEIR LOVE, THEIR HATE AND THEIR JEALOUSY HAVE LONG SINCE VANISHED; NEVER AGAIN WILL THEY HAVE A PART IN ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS UNDER THE SUN: "The three words: love, hatred and envy, express affection, personal and intense hatred, and burning zeal or jealousy. They are all emotions which cause one to agonise over issues and to develop character, either one way or the other. All these emotions are now perished in death; the purpose of the person's life is finished" (O'Grady). Now they can do neither good nor bad; their fates have been sealed up, until revealed at the resurrection.

NEVER AGAIN WILL THEY HAVE A PART IN ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS UNDER THE SUN: That is, they will have no more to do with this present order of things. They may, of course, have something to do with the future time, when Christ returns -- depending on their knowledge and responsibility to his judgment.

Ecc 9:7

GO, EAT YOUR FOOD WITH GLADNESS, AND DRINK YOUR WINE WITH A JOYFUL HEART, FOR IT IS NOW THAT GOD FAVORS WHAT YOU DO: Or, "For God now accepteth thy works" (AV). Here begins advice for those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Yahweh. Extract what joys you can from this life, which God has given you: food, drink, clothing, ointment and perfume (v 8), and the comforts of married life (v 9) -- it is all from Him. And see in these simple pleasures of life a foretaste of the glories of the life to come -- which it is God's good pleasure to give to those who love Him.

"A note of imperious exhortation breaks in: 'Go...!' What had previously been put as advice (Ecc 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20) is now an urgent summons to action" (Eaton). Why so urgent now? Because "God favors what you do." God has accepted you! Eat, drink, and be merry with a glad and joyful heart -- for your Redeemer lives, the Holy One of Israel. Take what He gives you now, and trust in Him for the future -- He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Ecc 9:8

ALWAYS BE CLOTHED IN WHITE: White garments were garments of joy -- as at wedding feasts, or other celebrations -- in contrast to the black garments of mourning. Naturally speaking, white clothing is cool and comfortable -- something greatly to be desired in Middle Eastern climates.

Spiritually speaking, white raiment symbolizes righteousness, and is the clothing of the saints: "Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels" (Rev 3:4,5). "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14). "Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)" (Rev 19:8).

ANOINT YOUR HEAD WITH OIL: Oils would soothe skin left dry by the heat and blistering winds of the Middle East. On a spiritual level, oil symbolizes joy and gladness; priests and kings were so anointed (Psa 45:7,8; 133:1-3; Isa 61:3; Pro 27:9). So here continues advice for those who are destined to be "kings and priests" in God's coming kingdom (Rev 5:9,10).

Ecc 9:9

ENJOY LIFE WITH YOUR WIFE, WHOM YOU LOVE: The wife as a virtuous (noble) woman is the theme of Pro 31:10-31. The writer's advice: Choose a good and righteous wife, and rejoice in her love; this is one of this life's greatest joys (cp Pro 5:18,19; Mal 2:14,15).

Natural marriage is ordained by God, and is His divine parable of the glorious eternal life of His Kingdom: the marriage of the Lamb -- in which the Bride of Christ will enjoy the fullest communion with her Lord and Husband in the Age to Come (Gen 2:20-25; Eph 5:25-33; Joh 17:21-23; Rev 19:7-9; 21:2,9,10).

ALL THE DAYS OF THIS MEANINGLESS LIFE THAT GOD HAS GIVEN YOU UNDER THE SUN -- ALL YOUR MEANINGLESS DAYS: First realize that your life is "vain", that ultimately all life in this world ("under the sun") is temporary, and bound to have sorrow and suffering. But, having realized as much, then remember to be grateful to your Maker for what pleasure there is in such a life -- and rejoice that this life, with its trials, is but the stepping-stone to an eternal life in His coming kingdom.

Ecc 9:10

WHATSOEVER YOUR HAND FINDS TO DO, DO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT: This is the same exhortation and advice given to believers by the apostle Paul: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Col 3:23); and... "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:15,16; cp Gal 6:10; Col 4:5). "As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, 'In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.' [Isa 49:8] I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2Co 6:1,2). Cp also Joh 5:36; 9:4; 17:4; Rom 12:11.


"Keep telling yourself over and over (if it is true -- and it is almost certain to be true), there is something I should be doing right now, more important than this, more related to eternity, more helpful to others, more useful to the Truth; less childish, less foolish, less selfish. Some day I will go to bed to sleep and I will be thankful that I have made the effort required, that I will work hard on forever hereafter with satisfaction and joy; and no regret or embarrassment. Perhaps God is watching at this very moment to see if I am suitable for His eternal use and pleasure; whether the deepest recesses of my heart are fleshly or spiritual; whether the natural bent of my heart is fleshly, and the 'spectacle' is but a veneer; or whether the spiritual is the true self; sincerely struggling against the terrible power of the flesh. Is this moment the watershed of my destiny? Shall I go on from here in prayerful, intelligent, organized spiritual self-discipline or drift week by week into the cozy valley of death; or put ineffectual sociality between both?

"Take your life firmly in hand and give it unto the Lord. There may be no tomorrow. For millions there will not be, and will never be again. Today is eternally appealing, and God may well decide today that we have had tomorrows enough" (GVG).

"One good deed is more worth than a thousand brilliant theories. Let us not wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of work, but do just the things we 'find to do' day by day. We have no other time in which to live. The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall have any time but time present. Then do not wait until your experience has ripened into maturity before you attempt to serve God. Endeavour now to bring forth fruit. Serve God now, but be careful as to the way in which you perform what you find to do - 'do it with thy might.' Do it promptly; do not fritter away your life in thinking of what you intend to do tomorrow as if that could recompense for the idleness of today. No man ever served God by doing things tomorrow. If we honour Christ and are blessed, it is by the things which we do today. Whatever you do for Christ throw your whole soul into it. Do not give Christ a little slurred labour, done as a matter of course now and then; but when you do serve Him, do it with heart, and soul, and strength" (CHS).

Ecc 9:11

I HAVE SEEN SOMETHING ELSE UNDER THE SUN: THE RACE IS NOT TO THE SWIFT OR THE BATTLE TO THE STRONG, NOR DOES FOOD COME TO THE WISE OR WEALTH TO THE BRILLIANT OR FAVOR TO THE LEARNED: "Five accomplishments are listed, none of which guarantees success or prosperity: (i) the swift-footed may find himself a loser (cf 2Sa 2:18) [cp also Amo 2:14,15]; (ii) military strength is no guarantee of success in battle (cf Isa 36; 37); (iii) wisdom similarly is no guarantee of a livelihood (cf Ecc 9:13-16; 10:1); (iv) understanding may be accompanied by poverty (cf Ecc 9:15); (v) favor may be delayed for innocent Joseph (Gen 37--41) and not come at all for others (Ecc 9:13-16)" (Eaton).

The same point is made by David: "No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save" (Psa 33:16,17). And also by Jeremiah: "This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches" (Jer 9:23) -- for all these abilities and achievements of mortal men are so many fleeting shadows; they do not in any way guarantee "success" in this life. But David continues: "But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield" (Psa 33:18-20). And likewise Jeremiah continues: "But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight" (Jer 9:24). Each of these OT prophets realizes that God is in control, and will ultimately reward those who have faith in Him, and manifest His character to the world around them. They may be the poorest and the weakest of men and women, and they may possess little of the wisdom of this world (cp 1Co 1:20) -- but nevertheless they dwell in the bosom of the Eternal One; they are His special treasure; and all He has will finally be given to them!

BUT TIME AND CHANCE HAPPEN TO THEM ALL: "Chance" is "pehgah", which signifies to impinge upon, to meet with -- apparently by accident, but most often by the providence of God. Some "chance" meetings (where the same word occurs in the Hebrew) -- which are plainly not random happenings, but God-directed events -- are to be found in Gen 32:1; Exo 5:3; 1Sa 10:5; 22:18; 1Ki 2:29; Isa 53:6; 64:5. "On the lips of an Israelite, 'chance' means what is unexpected, not what is random" (Eaton).

Jesus rules out such "time and chance" random circumstances in the lives of believers, when he says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Mat 10:29,30). (This interpretation is also that of Harry Whittaker, in WEnj 117; cp also Tid 42:3:6.)

The "time and chance" scenario seems to run afoul of various NT statements, eg: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Rom 8:28). But it seems that "time and chance" is not for the elect of God, but for the worldly and the ungodly (the "SONS OF men" in Ecc 9:12, AV). "It could not be imagined that the objects of the Father's love should be left to the operations of chance; that he should leave undirected, in the morass of human life, the steps of those whose eyes, affections and trust are directed to him in daily prayer" (WP 16). And again, RR writes, "The righteous fall into trouble, but it is for their good. When trouble comes, do not think it is not from God because it is natural. It may not differ from that of other men in apparent origin and form, but it differs from theirs in being under an invisible supervision which aims at a result. There are some painful things in life that we have to live through. God will not remove them, but he assures us that he is with us in them; as we bear them, our work for him becomes more fruitful. Do not think God has forsaken you because you feel the hardness of the way. Your suffering may be needful to hedge your way to the Kingdom, to prepare you for the exaltation that is to come. Resign yourself to the will of God, hope in him in all your ways. You may yet see your deepest trouble was your best experience" (WP 28,44).

Ecc 9:12

MOREOVER, NO MAN KNOWS WHEN HIS HOUR WILL COME: AS FISH ARE CAUGHT IN A CRUEL NET, OR BIRDS ARE TAKEN IN A SNARE, SO MEN ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL TIMES THAT FALL UNEXPECTEDLY UPON THEM: This verse explains v 11. To Qoheleth, "time and chance" (or "time and circumstance") are in the hand of God, guided and directed and ordained by Him... but "no MAN knows" what will happen next, in his life or in the world around him: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (Jam 4:13,14; cp Pro 27:1; Mat 6:33,34). And so events in his life will APPEAR to be random, and unexpected -- ALTHOUGH God knows the end from the beginning, and is working in all things for the good of His children (Rom 8:28 again).

AS BIRDS ARE TAKEN IN A SNARE: Upon which LGS comments: "And all his flapping and fluttering will not get him out of it!"

MEN ARE TRAPPED: Literally, "sons of men [are] snared" (AV) (cp v 3n).

Ecc 9:14

THERE WAS ONCE A SMALL CITY WITH ONLY A FEW PEOPLE IN IT. AND A POWERFUL KING CAME AGAINST IT, SURROUNDED IT AND BUILT HUGE SIEGEWORKS AGAINST IT: Notice that this was an event "seen" by the author (v 13). There was no such siege -- so far as is known -- in the days of Solomon; his reign was known for its peace and prosperity (1Ki 4:24,25). On the other hand, Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem is well-known.

A SMALL CITY WITH ONLY A FEW PEOPLE IN IT: That Jerusalem was a small city, with few defenders, is evident in the words of Rabshakeh in 2Ki 18:23.

A POWERFUL KING: Heb "melek gadol" -- comparable to the title of the Assyrian rulers: "great king" (cp 2Ki 18:19,28; Isa 36:4,13). Besides Ecc 9:14 and these references, the title "melek gadol" is applied only to Yahweh Himself (Psa 47:2; 95:3; Mal 1:14).

SIEGEWORKS: Heb "metsudhim" -- probably siege towers, used to discover the vulnerable parts of a city's walls, and also to carry besiegers up to the city walls and upon them when attacks were made (cp Deu 20:20; 2Sa 20:15; 2Ki 19:32; Jer 33:4).

Spiritually speaking, the body of believers is a "small city with only a few people in it" -- yet when besieged by the "powerful king" Sin, they look to the poor but wise man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver them! In this way, they are analogous as well to the conies (the rock badgers), who are creatures of little power, who can do nothing to save themselves, yet they prudently make their home in the crags of the rock cliffs, and upon the great "Rock" (Pro 30:26)!

Ecc 9:15

NOW THERE LIVED IN THAT CITY A MAN POOR BUT WISE, AND HE SAVED THE CITY BY HIS WISDOM: Generally this suggests the incident in 2Sa 20:14-22 -- except that it was a wise woman rather than a wise man whose advice, when followed, saved the city.

Going forward to the NT, Jesus is the wise pauper who told people how to escape the Roman siege, and thereby saved the portion of Jerusalem who were believers (Mat 24:15-22).

BUT NOBODY REMEMBERED THAT POOR MAN: Or, perhaps, "no one HAD THOUGHT of that poor man"... that is, until his advice, out of "nowhere", saved the city. Could this refer to Hezekiah, brought to "poverty", so to speak, by his fatal illness, and this at a time when Judah and Jerusalem were coming under siege by the Assyrian host? So, even though still the king, it was in name only, for he had been forgotten and left to die. Meanwhile, his erstwhile counselors were now running the show, and running it badly, until Hezekiah was miraculously healed of his grave disease. Then his advice (coupled with that of his friend Isaiah) saved the city of Jerusalem from an unimaginable calamity.

A possible example of this, generally: Joseph was destined to be the "saviour of the world" to Egypt -- but while he languished in prison, a poor slave, he was forgotten (Gen 40:23). For that matter, even after he had saved Egypt, a later generation (and not so much later at that!) seems to have forgotten all about him (Exo 1:8).

Ecc 9:16

Vv 16-18: "The Preacher's story about the poor wise man confirms what we may presume to be conventional wisdom (the positive statements). It shows wisdom is better than strength and weapons of war, because the poor wise man was able to save his city from a great and mighty king. Furthermore, the quiet words of a wise, though unimportant, man have more value than the loud cries of a king of fools.

"We are not at all surprised to see such conclusions drawn from the story; what is surprising is the negative truths which the Preacher also presents. The positive axioms about wisdom are not the whole truth, for there is a flip-side which weakens the entirely positive view of wisdom that we might otherwise have had. People are so fickle that they do not even remember the wise man despite all he did for the city! The implication is that perhaps this was because he was poor. People did not care for him because of his low status, even though he was wiser than them all. Although everyone would claim wisdom is better than riches, the facts of the matter show money talks louder than anything else. As if this of itself were not enough to undermine the supposed value of wisdom, the Preacher also points out that one foolish move achieves an effect as great if not greater than one wise move -- only in the opposite direction.

"The effect of the passage as a whole is to praise wisdom as we would expect, but it is also to present other truths which undermine and show the limits of human wisdom" (MV).

And in this last point we are brought back to the basic theme of Ecclesiastes as a whole: that all human endeavor is ultimately vain and meaningless.

BUT THE POOR MAN'S WISDOM IS DESPISED: The poor are often despised (cp Jam 2:1-8), as if to say, 'If a man cannot even benefit himself materially -- which (we all know!) is the paramount purpose of life -- then how in the world could he ever have anything worth listening to?!' The despite may therefore arise from a misconception of life and its purpose, but a misconception which is tragically so common as scarcely to be noticed, and a misconception that may afflict the brotherhood of believers as well. By contrast, Paul reminds us that God has chosen "the poor of this world (who are) rich in faith" (1Co 1:27-31). And Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:3).

In the ultimate sense, Jesus Christ is our "poor wise man" -- and it is true that he was "despised and rejected", even by his own people (Isa 53:3,10).

Ecc 9:17

THE QUIET WORDS OF THE WISE ARE MORE TO BE HEEDED THAN THE SHOUTS OF A RULER OF FOOLS: The example of Jesus with his disciples: Mat 5:1; cp Isa 42:2; Mat 12:19; 1Ki 19:11-13 (the "gentle whisper", the "still small voice" of God); Pro 28:11.

And so "a gentle answer turns away wrath" (Pro 15:1). We have perhaps all seen something like this: a heated discussion, with serious differences of opinion expressed, and the participants bordering on anger and bitterness -- and then a calm, quiet, measured few words spoken by a party who to this point has had nothing to say... and the effect is striking: all conflict ceases, and reason returns, like oil poured on troubled waters. How does one get to be such a man, or woman? By so living that others will -- despite themselves -- respect one's words. And by refusing to indulge in tit-for-tat debates, and hurtful personal comments. And so a few quiet words, carefully chosen and carefully inserted at the appropriate time, may accomplish so much more than a multitude of words, even if true, which are shouted in anger.

And for us all there is a lesson, which surely our Heavenly Father would have us learn. The words of the wise -- HIS words! -- are often truly listened to, and heeded, when the listener's desires and passions are stilled -- when the heat of anger is passed, or the overpowering temptation is removed. When the fire of self-will is quenched -- as sometimes it may be by the providence of God -- then the ear and the heart may be open to God's advice. If we would but know it, many of the hardships and trials and illnesses and setbacks we experience may be manifestations of God's love. We can almost hear Him saying: 'Be still, reflect, pause and consider, take a deep breath... There, now that I have your attention... listen to Me!'

A RULER OF FOOLS: Or, as AV, "him that ruleth among fools" -- as though the whole ruling class was composed of fools! This may answer quite reasonably to the Judah of Hezekiah's day when, apart from Isaiah and his counselor Isaiah, the royal family and its advisors seem singularly unprepared to deal with any problem from the divine perspective -- and are quite ready to run off to Egypt or elsewhere, in short to all the wrong places, to find the sort of "help" which is no help at all.

"By balancing 'wise men' against 'ruler', the author indicates that authority is not necessarily on the side of wisdom. 'Shouting' seems to refer here to the shrill self-assurance of a local 'district governor'. The flattering, vociferous company he keeps has a poor influence. There is more hope of wisdom in 'quietness' (linked with trustfulness in Isa 30:15 and with contentment in Ecc 4:6). Thus wisdom will not always win its way; clamour, verbosity and power may triumph against it. Wisdom has no built-in guarantees" (Eaton).

Ecc 9:18

WISDOM IS BETTER THAN WEAPONS OF WAR: Because wisdom can gain the "victory" even when, and perhaps especially when, a man is overcome and subdued. Wisdom fights its battles in the spiritual realm, and no drop of blood is shed; nevertheless the greatest victories may be won: "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 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" (2Co 10:3-5; cp Eph 6:11-17; Pro 3:13-18; Jam 3:17,18). And so Solomon may write: "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Pro 16:32).

BUT ONE SINNER DESTROYS MUCH GOOD: The truth of this verse is illustrated by the incident of Achan, whose folly brought distress and suffering upon the nation (Jos 7:11,12; cp Pro 29:8), and Rehoboam, whose folly occasioned the great schism in Israel (1Ki 12:16).

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