VI. Wisdom and Its Limitations (Ecclesiastes 7:1–9:18)

7:1 A good name is better than fine perfume. And whether it’s a woman wearing the latest fragrance or a man wearing cologne, people take notice when a person smells good and ask, “What’s that you have on?” It’s far better, though, that people take notice of you because of the pleasant scent of your dignity and character. After all, no matter how sweet-smelling your perfume, it can’t make up for a foul-smelling reputation. Work on your character so you’ll have a fragrant reputation.

8:6 The wise person knows that for every activity there is a right time and procedure. Timing matters. When you do something is often as important as what you do. In other words, it’s possible to do a good thing but at the wrong time. Certain comments are not appropriate when someone is grieving. And when in mixed company, it’s sometimes best to save your thoughts for a private conversation later.

8:8-9 The concept of authority is a good thing. God exercises authority over humanity. He ordains rulers to have authority over people. Husbands are called to exercise godly authority in their homes. The problem is that under the sun a person often has authority over another to his harm (8:9). And the one thing that no one has any authority over is the one thing coming for us all: the day of death (8:8).

8:11-13 When a sentence against an evil act is not carried out quickly, the heart of people is filled with the desire to commit evil (8:11). In other words, if justice doesn’t come immediately, some people think it isn’t coming at all. God-fearing people, however, know better (8:12). Eternal judgment may be delayed, but it’s certain. One day the books will be opened. There will be a day of reckoning to determine the reward for believers and a judgment to punish unbelievers. It will not go well with the wicked (8:13). In the end, a price will be paid.

8:14-17 But that price doesn’t always get paid on the earth. And in this Solomon sees more futility: Sometimes the righteous get what the wicked deserve and the wicked get what the righteous deserve (8:14). Life is filled with inequities and injustices. So if the under-the-sun perspective is all you have, you’re going to experience frustration and despair. The way the world works is ultimately incomprehensible to man. Even if a wise person claims to know it, he is unable to discover it (8:17). On your best day, you’re still human and not God. You need his perspective.

9:2-3 The divine perspective on life is essential because under the sun, everything is the same for everyone: There is one fate for the righteous and the wicked (9:2). Life is unpredictable, and death is inevitable for all (9:2-3). That’s the one common denominator for every person.

9:4-6 The next twenty-four hours can lift you up or do you in. But a live dog is better than a dead lion (9:4). This is a reminder that as far as our earthly existence is concerned, life—even when filled with struggles and disappointments—is preferable to death (9:5-6).

9:7-10 In light of this reality, Solomon returns to his repeated exhortation (see 2:24; 3:12-13; 5:18; 8:15): Eat . . . with pleasure, and drink . . . with a cheerful heart . . . Enjoy life . . . Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength. Whatever life God gives you, live it to the max. You don’t need to chase misery; it knows where you live. And since you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, enjoy the legitimate pleasures of each day, because God “richly provides us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17). Don’t, however, seek enjoyment independent of him.

9:11-12 Our existence under the sun often looks like a roll of the dice. And regardless of whatever strength, wisdom, riches, or skill a person has, time and chance happen to all (9:11). Life appears to be random. Certainly no one knows his time (9:12). Yet we must live with an eternal perspective. Remember Psalm 73 and remind yourself that it’s not over yet.

9:13-18 Wisdom is not always rewarded by the world, but the good news is that you don’t have to be a rich and powerful ruler to have it (9:13-16). Although no one may remember him in the end, a poor man can deliver a city from danger by his wisdom (9:15). It is better than strength and weapons of war (9:16, 18). Wisdom is bringing God’s perspective to bear on life.

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