VI. Wisdom and Its Limitations (Ecclesiastes 7:1–9:18)
VI. Wisdom and Its Limitations (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.
7:2-4 We might be tempted to raise our eyebrows at this passage: It is better to go to a house of mourning rather than a house of feasting (7:2). Really? After all, nobody goes to a funeral because they want to but because they have to. We put parties on our schedules—not funerals. Yet Solomon reminds us that if we’re looking for the real deal, we need to attend a funeral rather than a party. Why? Because everything is camouflaged at a party. People at parties are usually just playing parts; they’re escaping the realities of life. You won’t get the truth. At a funeral, though, you’re forced to remember that life under the sun doesn’t go on forever. Death eventually comes to everyone. At the funeral home, therefore, things get real. You’re obliged to stare at a casket and admit to yourself, “One day, that’s going to be me in there.” A visit to a funeral will remind you of what’s important and that your days are numbered. It will help you live with an eternal perspective.
7:5-6 Being wise isn’t tied to academic accomplishment: a fool can have a PhD. Wisdom is the ability to make spiritually informed decisions. It’s applying the divine truth of God’s kingdom rule to every area of life. If someone with a divine perspective rebukes you, let him speak into your life so you can become wise. No one likes to be rebuked, but a wise rebuke is far more valuable than a fool singing your praises.
7:8-9 A wise person knows that the end of a matter is better than its beginning (7:8). Regardless of how you begin, you want to make sure you finish strong. Don’t be in a rush to be angry because anger lives in a fool’s heart (7:9). Many people commit foolish mistakes because they were hasty in their outrage.
7:10 There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing with friends and family. It’s good to remember where you came from. But don’t live in yesterday. Don’t waste all your time gabbing about and longing for the good ol’ days. If you choose to live in yesterday, you won’t make forward progress and will fail to achieve what God wants you to be tomorrow.
7:11-12 Whatever financial inheritance you leave behind for your children, make certain that you also leave them some wisdom (7:11). We know money can offer some protection from the uncertainties of life. That’s why we have insurance. But we need this same view regarding wisdom because it preserves the life of its owner (7:12). Financial security is tenuous. But wisdom provides the security of God’s perspective.
7:13-15 Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that “the hidden things belong to the Lord.” In the same vein, Solomon invites us to consider God’s works and ask ourselves who can straighten out what he has made crooked? (7:13). If you consume yourself with trying to figure out what God doesn’t explain, you’ll only get a headache. As sure as we don’t always answer our kids’ “why?” questions because we know it wouldn’t be appropriate to do so or because they wouldn’t understand anyway, God often does not reveal his ways to us. That he has made the day of prosperity and the day of adversity (7:14) is a reminder that he’s sovereign. When things are out of your control, thank God that they are in his control. From a purely earthly viewpoint, life often seems unfair (7:15). Therefore, you must develop a spiritual viewpoint for living life.
7:16-20 Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise (7:16). What? Now before you get the wrong idea, understand that Solomon is talking about going beyond what God requires. That approach is exactly what the Pharisees did. They added their own standards to God’s standards, and in the name of righteousness became self-righteous. Wise in their own eyes. Of course, you don’t want to be excessively wicked either (7:17). We all fall short; everyone sins (7:20)—but that doesn’t give us license to persist in wickedness. Instead we are to live a balanced life, avoid excess, and take God seriously (7:18).
7:23–8:1 Whatever your life experiences, they don’t match Solomon’s. And as someone whom God blessed with profound wisdom, he can truly say, I have tested all this by wisdom (7:23). Yet all his study, all his investigation, didn’t secure for him the answers to life’s ultimate questions (7:24, 28). The answer to life can’t be discovered in life. Under the sun, it’s best to live wisely. Folly is madness (7:25). Although God made people upright, they pursued many schemes and mischief (7:29). Humanity wandered from God, evil proliferated, and the world suffers. But a person’s wisdom brightens his face (8:1). All things being equal, wise living delivers happiness resulting from good life decisions.
8:2-5 The apostle Paul commands Christians to “submit to the governing authorities” (Rom 13:1). So, also, Solomon urges us to obey legitimate governmental authorities and to be careful how we relate to those authorities because of the power they exercise over us.
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.