Ecclesiastes 7

7:1 [sorrow is better than laughter: 7:1-4] A good name [Heb. “shem”; a good reputation] is better [this is the key word of this chapter; used 8 times] than fine perfume [Heb. “shemen”; perfumed oils used on joyful occasions; may allude to funeral preparations (cf. Jn. 19:39)], and the day of death [the day our names shows up in the obituary] better than the day of birth [the day when we receive our name; a good name is not established until one dies (someone still living can still ruin their reputation); cf. Prov. 10:7; 22:1].

At first glance, Solomon’s proverb about a good name looks like a bizarre statement. However, upon closer examination this proverb makes good sense. Solomon talked of the day of our birth and the day of our death. Birth marks the point when we officially receive our names. Death marks the day our names appear in the obituary. How we live between these two dates determines whether our names will be like a fragrant perfume or more like a foul stench.

If we exercise wisdom, then our good name or reputation will be better than fine or fragrant perfume (see Prov. 22:1). However, as long as we are alive we can always damage our reputation. Therefore, we should live wisely knowing that the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth because death seals our reputation.

7:2 [reflecting on he certainty of death can be a motivation to seize the day; cf. Ps. 90:12] It is better to go to a house of mourning [the time and place when we cannot escape the reality of death and are forced to think about our own mortality] than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.

Given a choice, most people would attend a feast instead of a funeral. Solomon, however, said it is better to go to a house of mourning. He was not being morbid or suggesting that being sad is better than being glad. Instead, Solomon believed that the reality of death gives us a needed perspective on life. There are lessons about life we can only learn in the house of mourning.

Attending a funeral has a way of reminding us of how fragile life is and that we cannot escape our mortality. The foolish view death as an incentive to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” However, the wise view death as an incentive to turn from folly and to purposefully live each day (see Ps. 90:12). So, the next time you go to a funeral, remember Solomon’s words—that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.

7:3 Sorrow [in times of sorrow we tend to evaluate while in times of victory we tend to celebrate] is better than laughter [the laughter of derision or scorn; both sorrow and laughter are needed for a balanced life], because a sad face is good for the heart [because sadness and sorrows can teach us lessons we might otherwise not learn].

7:4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure [the place one would hear frivolous laughter].

Charlie Brown, the comic strip character, is perhaps best known for his remark, “Good grief!” Good grief is not an oxymoron. Solomon would agree that grief is good. He expanded on the thought of the previous verse by stating that grief is better than laughter. Solomon was not condemning all laughter or a healthy sense of humor (see Ecc. 3:4). Instead, Solomon was stating that grief or sorrow can be beneficial.

When a face is sad, Solomon said, a heart may be glad. In other words, grief or sorrow is good because it can sharpen our understanding about life and teach us things we might otherwise not learn. The wise reflect on what they learn in the house of mourning while the foolish are only concerned about spending more time in the house of pleasure.

7:5 [rebuke is better than praise: 7:5-6] It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke [the rebuke of a wise man is better than the flattery of fools; cf. Ps. 141:5; Prov. 10:17; 12:1; 15:5; 17:10; 25:12; 27:5-6,17; 29:1,15] than to listen to the song [songs that lack serious moral content] of fools.

There is something in each of us that is susceptible to flattery. Regardless of who we are, most of us would rather listen to the joyful lyrics of praise than the somber rhetoric of rebuke. However, Solomon cautioned against listening to fools who sing our praises. Fools are people pleasers who do not want to upset others. They tell others what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. That is why Solomon said it is far better to listen to a wise person’s rebuke. Although rebuke is often hard to swallow and may even wound us, it is much better for us than the soothing flattery and kisses of a fool (see. Prov. 27:5-6).

7:6 Like the crackling of thorns [make lots of noise but do not do much lasting good; the laughter of fools is noisy and self-destructive] under the pot, so is the laughter of fools [the shallow laughter of comedians]. This too is meaningless.

Fools do not put much stock in the wise person’s rebuke and often laugh at what the wise have to say. Solomon compared the laughter of the fool to the irregular and crackling sound produced by burning thorns under the pot. Nettles under the kettle make lots of noise, burn quickly, and produce little heat. In the same way the hollow and bothersome laughter of the fool betrays a shallow mind incapable of discerning, applying, or giving sound counsel.

7:7 [honesty and integrity is better than duplicity and short-cuts: 17:7-9] Extortion [to obtain money (or other goods) by coercion or intimidation] turns a wise man into a fool [a warning that even a wise man may give in to temptation or misuse power; an old Jewish saying cautions, “Do not trust in yourself until death.”], and a bribe [seems like a quick way to get things done] corrupts the heart [and ruins “a good name” (7:1)].

Solomon cautioned that even the wise can become fools. He noted in particular yielding to the temptation to take short-cuts. Extortion, or using intimidation or coercion to gain an advantage, appears to be a quick way to get things done. However, resorting to such tactics turns a wise man into a fool.

Accepting a bribe also seems like a quick way to get things done. However, doing so corrupts the heart. Bad conduct always has a negative impact on a person’s heart. We live in a world that constantly tempts us to wander off the path of honesty. The best way to stay on course is to recognize the shortcomings of short-cuts and unethical practices and avoid them.

7:8 The end [some show great enthusiasm at the start but fail to follow-through to a successful conclusion] of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience [wait for God’s timing on matters] is better than pride.

Some people are great starters who can initiate projects with great enthusiasm and energy. However, a great start does not guarantee a great finish. Some who start well get distracted and find themselves pursuing other matters. Others become discouraged because they failed to count the cost and realize that they lack the resources to finish.

Still others cannot handle criticism and are easily demoralized by the jibes and jabs of spectators. With their pride offended they abandon what they started and never see it through to a successful conclusion. Solomon said the end of a matter is better than its beginning. It is better to be patient and stick at it and see matters through to their successful conclusion.

7:9 Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit [cf. Prov. 14:17; Jas. 1:19-20], for anger resides in the lap of fools.

Solomon warned against harboring anger or resentment. No one is exempt from the temptation to express anger in an inappropriate way. When our pride is offended a natural response is to express anger—perhaps even to “fly into a rage.” Proverbs warns that those with a hot temper do foolish things (14:17). We would do well to remember that those who fly into a rage seldom make a safe landing!

7:10 [the present is better than the past] Do not say, “Why were the old days [or as we say, “the good old days”; yesterday is past and cannot be changed] better than these [in reality, every period has its hardships; “It is said that ‘the good old days’ are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination.” (Wiersbe); do not be paralyzed by the past or hypnotized by the future]?” For it is not wise to ask such questions [romanticizing about the past is a way of running away from the opportunities of the present].

Perhaps you have wished for the good old days. We often romanticize about the past and forget that the good old days had their hardships, disappointments, and opportunities just like the present. Solomon said that it is not wise to ask why the former days were better than the present days. Dwelling on the past can paralyze us and keep us from facing the challenges and opportunities of the present.

While the past is a nice place for an occasional visit, do not dwell there (see Phil. 3:13). Do not let your memories of days gone by outweigh your dreams about days to come. Dare to seize and to live each day in a way that honors God. Allow His wisdom to keep you on course by leading you to apply yourself to today’s tasks rather than longing for days gone by.

Note: “While you are dreaming of the future or regretting the past, the present, which is all you have, slips from you and is gone.” (Hilaire Belloc, Victorian essayist) So, as the Roman poet Horace wrote, “Carpe Diem!”

7:11 Wisdom [a wise man will know how to get and use wealth; a wealthy man without wisdom will waste his fortune], like an inheritance [money], is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.

7:12 Wisdom is a shelter [gives greater protection than money] as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge [“…knowledge is the discerning side of the coin and wisdom is the implementing side.” (Holman OT Comm., Vol. 14, p.88)] is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor [especially if money is stolen or vanishes in hard times].

No one would dispute the fact that an inheritance is a good thing. An inheritance is intended to benefit and to make life better for the recipient. Solomon said that wisdom, like an inheritance, is also good thing. However, wisdom has some advantages over money.

Wisdom is indispensable for the handling of money. A wealthy individual who lacks wisdom can quickly suffer the loss of wealth through bad decisions. A wise individual knows both how to get and to use wealth. And, if money is stolen or loses its value in hard economic times, wisdom knows how to shelter or protect its possessor.

7:13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked [there are some things that we cannot alter]?

We will never fully understand why God does some things the way in which He does. From our limited human perspective, some of God’s plans appear wrong or crooked. And who can fully understand why He selects certain seasons to allow adversity or prosperity to touch our lives? Solomon said there are crooked things that we cannot alter or straighten. Therefore, we should learn to yield to God’s will and look beyond His acts to consider His ways (see Ps. 103:7).

We may not understand His acts but we can trust in His ways. We can count on God to do the right things, even if all appearances seem to be to the contrary. Regardless of whether our days are filled with adversity or prosperity, we should live in the present with an awareness that God is working out His purposes.

7:14 When times are good, be happy [people often forget to thank God when good things come]; but when times are bad [people seldom forget to blame God when times are bad; wisdom can give us the perspective to make the most of difficult times], consider: God has made the one as well as the other [cf. Job 1:21; 2:10; God knows how to give us enough blessings to keep us happy and enough burden to keep us humble]. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future [part of life is accepting prosperity and adversity from God’s hand without being able to understand or explain how everything will work out for the future].

People often forget to thank God when times and good and seldom forget to blame Him when times are bad. Yet God has made us to know both good and bad times. When Job’s grieving wife told him to curse God and die, Job replied, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10).

While good times are preferable to bad, we need both—blessings to keep us happy and burdens to keep us humble. Like a skillful weaver who works dark threads among the bright colored ones, God knows how each fits into the pattern of our lives. One day we will see the other side of the tapestry and understand why the dark threads were necessary in the pattern God planned for each of our lives.

7:15 In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these [cf. Ps. 73:1-17; Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Matt. 6:2,5,16]: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.

7:16 [good people can be as harmful and villainous as bad people] Do not be overrighteous [or self-righteous like the NT Pharisees; cf. Matt: 5:20; 23:1-36], neither be overwise [or filled with pride, thinking that you know it all]— why destroy yourself [self-righteousness and pride lead to destruction and death]?

7:17 Do not be overwicked [does not mean that is acceptable to sin in moderation], and do not be a fool [do not embrace evil as a way of life or it will destroy you]— why die before your time?

7:18 It is good to grasp the one [devotion to God and the teachings of wisdom] and not let go of the other [enjoyment of the good things of life]. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes [asceticism and libertinism].

7:19 Wisdom [not a reference to accumulated facts] makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers [possibly a reference to “the council of ten” who were responsible for the civic affairs in the cities of his day] in a city.

7:20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins [cf. Rom. 3:10].

7:21 Do not pay attention to every word people say [daily gossip], or you may hear your servant cursing you—

7:22 for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others [at some time everyone has been guilty of critical gossip].

The Bible has much to say about the destructive power of the tongue. Solomon advised that we not pay attention to every word people say about us. Because people are sinners (7:20), they will say things that are unkind and hurtful. People will gossip about us whether we like it or not. Their words will inflict a measure of pain and exact a certain amount of damage.

We must keep in mind that we too are guilty of having spoken unkindly about others. We too have gossiped about or been critical of others. Wise people ignore those who complain about them, realizing that they themselves have done their share of complaining also. God’s wisdom keeps us on course by instructing us to make allowances for those who speak unkindly of us.

7:23 All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise”— but this was beyond me [the wise man knows that he does not know].

7:24 Whatever wisdom may be, it is far off and most profound— who can discover it?

7:25 [cf. Ecc. 1:13] So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom [cf. Job 28:28] and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.

7:26 I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare [refers either to domestic conflict (cf. Gen. 3:16) or to the prostitute who traps and leads men to death (cf. Prov. 2:16-19; 5:3-6; 6:24-26; 7:5-27)], whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.

7:27 “Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered: “Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—

7:28 while I was still searching but not finding—I found one upright [wise] man among a thousand, but not one upright [wise] woman among them all [Solomon was not rating women as lower or less than man; Solomon spoke highly of women in Proverbs (12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 19:14; 31:10ff), Ecclesiastes (9:9), and Song of Songs].

7:29 This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men [starting with Adam who sinned against God] have gone in search of many schemes [so, do not blame God for what has gone wrong].”

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