Poetry – Ecclesiastes 7-8

A good name is better than fine perfume,
    and the day of death better than the day of birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
    because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person
    than to listen to the song of fools.
Like the crackling of thorns under the pot,
    so is the laughter of fools.
    This too is meaningless.
Extortion turns a wise person into a fool,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning,
    and patience is better than pride.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit,
    for anger resides in the lap of fools.
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”
    For it is not wise to ask such questions.
Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing
    and benefits those who see the sun.
Wisdom is a shelter
    as money is a shelter,
but the advantage of knowledge is this:
    Wisdom preserves those who have it.
Consider what God has done:

Who can straighten
    what he has made crooked?
When times are good, be happy;
    but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
    as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
    anything about their future.
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
    and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
    neither be overwise—
    why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
    and do not be a fool—
    why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
    and not let go of the other.
    Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful
    than ten rulers in a city.
Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
    no one who does what is right and never sins.
Do not pay attention to every word people say,
    or you may hear your servant cursing you—
for you know in your heart
    that many times you yourself have cursed others.
All this I tested by wisdom and I said,
“I am determined to be wise”—
    but this was beyond me.
Whatever exists is far off and most profound—
    who can discover it?
So I turned my mind to understand,
    to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
    and the madness of folly.
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 ensnare.
“Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered:
“Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—
    while I was still searching
    but not finding—
I found one upright man among a thousand,
    but not one upright woman among them all.
This only have I found:
    God created mankind upright,
    but they have gone in search of many schemes.”

  • Ecclesiastes 7:1-29

Who is like the wise?
    Who knows the explanation of things?
A person’s wisdom brightens their face
    and changes its hard appearance.
Obey the king’s command, I say, because you took an oath before God. Do not be in a hurry to leave the king’s presence. Do not stand up for a bad cause, for he will do whatever he pleases. Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, “What are you doing?”
Whoever obeys his command will come to no harm,
    and the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure.
For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter,
    though a person may be weighed down by misery.
Since no one knows the future,
    who can tell someone else what is to come?
As no one has power over the wind to contain it,
    so no one has power over the time of their death.
As no one is discharged in time of war,
    so wickedness will not release those who practice it.
All this I saw, as I applied my mind to everything done under the sun. There is a time when a man lords it over others to his own hurt. Then too, I saw the wicked buried—those who used to come and go from the holy place and receive praise in the city where they did this. This too is meaningless.
When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.
There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night—then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

  • Ecclesiastes 8:1-17

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Ecclesiastes 7:1-7 ‘folly and wickedness’: “Turning his mind to the more mundane, Qoheleth demonstrates that folly and wickedness are the same (7:25). His attitude toward women must be kept in the context of his personal observations. He can be positive about women (9:9). The one upright man whom he found among a thousand (7:28) is the wise man of 8:1 who is able to handle the difficult issues raised in ch. 7.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 7:1-6 ‘good name’: “When a man has so lived to earn a good reputation, the day of his death can be a time of honor.
“The point of this section is to emphasize that more is learned from adversity than from pleasure. True wisdom is developed in the crucible of life’s trials, though the preacher wishes that were not the case when he writes ‘this is also vanity’ (v. 6).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 7:1 ‘a good name’: ”l do not think by ‘a good name’ he merely meant a good reputation. A person truly has a good name if he deserves to be held in high esteem, though he may, for Christ’s sake, be in disrepute. His name is good, whatever people may say about it. His name is, indeed, all the better in the sight of God because he has been slandered and reproached for the sake of the truth of God. His name shall shine out like the stars of heaven when Christ comes—even the name of the one of whom the world was not worthy. It is, after all, a small matter to be judged by human judgment—our record is on high. A good character may be understood here and, assuredly, that is better than the rarest luxury of kings.
“But a truly good name is a name written on the heart of Christ, written in the Lamb’s book of lite. Otherwise, if the day of our birth was a bad day, the day of our death will be a thousand times worse—for when we die, what will happen to us unless we have that good name? But if we have that good name, our death day is better than our birth day. Infancy can be a very dangerous passage for a tiny boat unfitted to bear rough buffetings. Those first few years are full of rocks and quicksand, and many scarcely begin life before they end it. He who is newly born and is ordained to endure through a long life is like a warrior who puts on his harness for battle—and is he not in a better case who takes it off because he has won the victory?”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 7:5-10 ‘dangers to avoid’: “After a proverb urging the acceptance of the harsh words of the sage rather than the flattering words of the fool (7:5-6), Qoheleth turns his attention to four ever-present dangers: extortion (v.7), impatience (v.8), anger (v.9), and discontentment (v.10). Qoheleth is consistent in this chapter in recommending that the reader take the harder, less humanly attractive road.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 7:8 ‘true on a case by case basis’: ”We must take the text as it stands with a grain or two of salt. It is relatively true rather than absolutely true. It is true, or we would not find it in Scripture. But the application of its truth is particular, not universal. There are some things that are worse in their ending than in their beginning. It is true, I believe, of all things that proceed according to God’s order. In such cases I say the end is better than the beginning—but the text must not be taken to be absolutely and indiscriminately true in all cases.“

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 7:11-14 ‘benefits of wisdom’: “Wisdom offers two major benefits:
Wisdom preserves our lives from human pitfalls. The pitfalls? Go back to what the man wrote. I can think of several examples: ‘With an inheritance comes the pitfall of pride. Wisdom preserves us from that.’ …
“Solomon is absolutely correct: ‘Wisdom is protection.’ But it is more than that.
Wisdom provides our lives with divine perspective. We are first invited to ‘consider the work of God,’ then we are given several occasions when that will provide us the perspective we need …”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 ‘balance’: “Can you detect the emphasis on balance? Solomon’s words paint a picture of a superpious, overly zealous individual who finds it terribly important to impress others. This person is a master of external impressions and ‘presumptuous self-sufficiency’—-those little innuendos regarding how much a person may pray and those unbelievably pious looks.
“It’s a good idea for us periodically to take a look at our ‘looks.’ It’s all too easy to become foolishly fanatical and model an out-of-balance Christianity. When that happens, it’s religion ‘gone to seed,’ and it is one of the most unpleasant things to be around.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 7:19-22 ‘need for discernment’: “We need to be discerning and careful as we attempt to untie the knots of this section. Solomon begins by saying that the one who operates in the sphere of wisdom possesses an inner strength that cannot be matched by ten influential city officials. That’s quite a statement! He goes on to say that those who are wise possess a strength to accept painful tensions in life.
“There are some whose greatest struggle is accepting life’s questions and living with life’s tensions. God bless you if you’re a perfectionist … and God help you! God especially help those who live with you! I read this humorous definition of a perfectionist recently:
“A perfectionist is one who takes great pains … and gives them to others!”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 7:20 ‘does good and does not sin’: “Solomon gave great emphasis to the general effects of sin (cf. Gen. 3:1-24) and also pointed out the universality of personal transgressions. Paul may have recalled this passage when he wrote Romans 3:10.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24 ‘I will be wise … Who can find it out?’: “The already wise king resolves to be even wiser. But upon further investigation, the limitations of wisdom become apparent. Some things are unknowable. This realization quickly dampens his enthusiasm.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24 ‘making ourselves wise?’: “Not even Solomon, on his own, could pull it off.
“Many New Year’s resolutions include, ‘This year I’m going to be wise’—and by the second day of January the resolution is already broken. We can’t make ourselves wise. We can’t grit our teeth or grunt real hard or double up our fists tightly or read enough chapters of the Bible to bring ‘instant wisdom’ into our lives. When Solomon tried to manufacture it, even he had to admit that it was far from him. Wisdom is a gift handed to us directly from the hand of God. And by the way, who knows why some are wiser than others? It’s all part of the mystery.
“Not only can we not make ourselves wise, we can’t even understand ourselves! ‘What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it?’ Very often I hear folks say, ‘He just doesn’t understand me. If he just understood me better, then he …’ The truth is you don’t understand you either.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 7:26 ‘The woman’: “This is the seductress about whom Solomon warns young men in Proverbs (Prov. 2:16-19; 5:1-14; 6:24-29; 7:1-27). Elsewhere, Solomon exalts the virtues of man’s lifetime companion (Eccl. 9:9; cf. Prov. 5:15-23; 31:10-31).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 8:1-9 ‘command of the king’: “Look at his reference to ‘the command of the king.’ He’s obviously a person of authority. And again, ‘the word of the king is authoritative.’
“… another reminder of a superior. Then he mentions ‘a royal command,’ and a little further on he speaks of ‘every deed wherein a man has exercised authority over another man.’ Clearly, this depicts those in authority. If you are exercising authority over other people, if your word is the command, if you are in charge, then I suggest that you take these words to heart.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 8:2-9 ‘sages’: “Sages were essentially favorable to the monarchy, and their pupils were probably from the upper classes and had contact with the king. They needed practical advice. Having taken an oath of loyalty, the subject should not be quick to desert his post (8:2-3). Since kings can be capricious and unpredictable, subjects must exercise discretion, even expediency. “With the dangerous caprices of a king to reckon with, wisdom has to fold its wings and take the form of discretion, content to keep its possessor out of trouble” (Kidner, 74). Such a call may be seen as unworthy of the Bible unless it is balanced by the rest of Scripture where principles and examples of courage and integrity in government are given. Not only are a people limited by royal power, but they are also helpless in the presence of the wind, death, war, and evil (vv.7-8). Unable to control these phenomena, they turn to lording it over other humans, and the result often is injustice (v.9).”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 8:4 ‘What are you doing?’: “Kings in Solomon’s day had a vast amount oi power, for their word was absolute. When such a monarch happened to be wise and good, it was a great blessing to the people. But if he was of a hard, tyrannical nature, his subjects were mere slaves, and groaned beneath a yoke of iron. There is, however, blessed be the Lord, one King whose power we do not wish in any degree to limit. God does as he wills among the armies of heaven and among the inhabitants of this lower world; none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What are you doing?’  In this we greatly rejoice. The personal rule of one individual would be the best form of government if that individual were perfectly good, infinitely wise, and abundant in power. And the reason why an autocrat turns into a despot is that there is no man who is perfectly good, unselfish, or wise. God has no fault or failing, and therefore it is a joy that he does according to his will. He never wills anything that is not strictly just. In the exercise of absolute sovereignty he is neither unjust nor unmerciful; it is not possible for him to err, and therefore it is a great subject for joy that ‘The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed, enveloped in strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken’(Ps 93:1).”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 8:10-14 ‘injustice is meangingless’: “Qoheleth now expresses his dismay at the injustice he observes in the world. The wicked are praised and receive an honorable funeral in the very city where they perpetrated their crimes (8:10). Such a delay in retribution incites further wrongdoing (v.11). In vv.12 and 13 Qoheleth either affirms his faith in ultimate justice or is citing a popular position which he then rejects in the next verse on the basis of empirical data he has collected. Retribution and reward are interchanged and not appropriately distributed as some claim (v.14). This does not make sense to the writer, and he labels it meaningless.”

  • Eugene E. Carpenter, Asbury Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 8:10 ‘hypocrisy is futility’: ”If we judged rightly, when a hypocrite died we would do him no honor. If people could but see a little deeper than the skin and read the thoughts of the heart, they would not patronize this great black lie and lead a long string of carriages through the streets. They would say, ‘No, the man was good for nothing. He was the outward skin without the life. He professed to be what he was not—he lived the scornful life of a deceiver. Let him not have a funeral at all! Let him be cast away as loathsome carrion, for that is all he is.’ If we had eyes to see invisible things and we could break the lid of the hypocrite’s coffin, we should see a great deal there. There lie all his hopes. The wicked one may come and go from the place of the holy, but he has no hope of being saved! He thought, because he had attended the place of the holy regularly, therefore he was safe for another world. There lie his hopes and they are to be buried with him. Of all the frightful things that a man can look upon, the face of a dead hope is the most horrible! His epitaph is contained in these short words—’This too is futile.’”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from sermon notes

Ecclesiastes 8:10 ‘the place of holiness’: “This refers to the temple at Jerusalem (cf. 5:1). vanity. Lessons that should be gained from the death of the hypocritically wicked are quickly forgotten.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 8:15 ‘enjoyment’: “In no way does Solomon commend unbridled, rampant indulgence in sin, which is implied in Christ’s account of the man whose barns were full. That man may have justified his sin by quoting this passage (cf. Luke 12:19). His focus here is on the resolve to enjoy life in the face of the injustice which surrounded him (see 2:24).”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 ‘’: “It is terribly important that we have the right perspective on God’s mysteries which are connected to His wisdom.
God’s mysteries defy human explanation. Even though we stay up night after night, even though we give ourselves laboriously to the task oi searching out God’s mind in all of God’s plan, we are not equipped to explain God’s mysteries. Most of His mysteries defy human explanation.
God’s mysteries go beyond human intellect and wisdom. The wise man, even though he may say, ‘I know,’ cannot discover the full picture of what God is about.”

  • Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge

Ecclesiastes 8 ‘Challenge’: “I hope you have not missed something good from God‘s hand because you felt you did not measure up to Gideon or Isaiah. In this your generation, give God all of your attention! Give Him all of your love! Give Him all of your devotion and faithful service! You do not know what holy, happy secret God may want to whisper to your responsive heart.”

  • A. W. Tozer, Jesus, Author of Our Faith


My Thoughts

A side comment at the beginning of Ecclesiastes 7 could easily go unnoticed, the value of a good name.  This simple statement could equal the value of the rest of the book.  For all those things that Solomon, or Qoheleth, spends time arguing are meaningless, he spends a fraction of one breath saying the one thing that is worthwhile, the value of a good name.  Yet, the rest of the book points to that, in a way.  It points to things that do not necessarily aide you in obtaining a good name.  A good name only comes when you have been … good.  We can’t get there without God’s help.  Jesus stated that only God is good.

That leads to our end is better than our beginning.  Some of the scholarly quotes above point toward this “proverb” being conditional.  If we die loving Jesus and desiring our last breath on earth will be taken as we see Jesus welcoming us to the other side, then the end is infinitely better than the beginning.  Besides, was our birth that memorable?  Can you give me any of the details?  Gracie Allen quipped that she was so shocked upon being born that she didn’t talk for a year and a half.  Whether we share her reason for not talking or we differ in the length of time, our birth is something that almost all on earth claim to know nothing about – and you wonder about those who claim to remember.

But as for our end, we can choose God and spend eternity in His presence or we choose to be away from God and God obliges by casting us into the lake of fire, away from His presence.  The choice is ours.

Of course, the thought of death causes the wise to mourn, yet the fool seeks pleasure while there is still time.  And one of the quotable quotes in these chapters that I thought of is that the laughter of fools is meaningless.

Another poignant concept is that wisdom is only good for those who have it.  I have written before about several people that I met in southwest Pennsylvania who claim to be smart.  In Hamlet by William Shakespeare, that is if the history books have not changed the authorship to “unknown,” Hamlet creates a play.  A character in the play within the play overacts and Queen Gertrude says, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”  Almost everyone who has protested in my presence that they are smart were some of the poorest thinkers that I have ever met in my 70 years plus.

So, I do think that Solomon is correct in that wisdom is only good for those who have it.  Those that do not will claim, even protest, to have it and then every action they do and every word they say betrays their protestation.  Not only meaningless, but foolhardy.

But then in Ecclesiastes 7:18, Solomon states that the fear of God will avoid the extremes.  Possibly loving God with every fiber that we can muster might be the exception to that proverb, but think of the political views today.  All are extreme views.  Everyone is becoming a fool in one respect or the other, and everyone, at least most people, seem to hate all who do not share their extremist view.

Now there are some absolutes that God tells us to avoid, those things like killing people (abortion) or sexual activity other than in a marriage between a man and a woman (adultery).  When we are told to disobey civil law that violates God’s law, then there can be some lines drawn in the sand.  But in almost every case on the political spectrum, worldwide, the extreme view leads to foolishness while simply fearing God leads to wisdom.

Then most of Ecclesiastes 8 speaks of the seductress woman who leads entire nations to destruction.  Note how the Bible talks about the hundreds of wives and concubines Solomon had.  You cannot keep them all happy.  As the Rev. MacArthur quote states above, while Solomon spoke of this evil side of the fairer sex, he also extolled the good side as well.  But at this point of writing the book of Ecclesiastes, I can close my eyes and imagine 300-400 wives whining about one thing or another as he wrote this passage.

Yet, Ecclesiastes 8:14-15 speaks of the righteous who get what the wicked deserve and the wicked getting what the righteous deserve.  This is truly meaningless, but how often is this not the case?

Note: I must praise God at this moment.  I was getting comfortably ahead on my writing, so that I would not be in a frenzy, meeting writing deadlines, but then it took me nearly a full week writing this post.  It was not the difficulty in the material covered, but in the exhaustion over taking my wife to various appointments.  The week’s schedule was blank until she suffered an infiltration two weeks ago.  An “infiltration” is when the IV needle goes clear through the vein, spilling blood into the arm with pain and bruising, but for a kidney dialysis patient using a graft, the graft is not human tissue and thus does not heal.  A graft must clot and clog itself into not bleeding out.  Due to other medical issues, that have been resolved through some long distance doctor appointments and procedures, the infiltration could not clot during dialysis due to excessive blood pressure.  It might take my wife a month or longer to feel better in that arm.  There will be more on this in the afternoon post, Just a Business.  But our schedule free week led to awakening in the middle of the night to get to far flung appointments on time.  I wanted to nap this afternoon, the day of writing this, but I just had to finish it and move to the next thing.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

Ecclesiastes 7 – Wisdom Part 1: 1. How sincere is your quest for the ‘good’ things God provides in life? How do you recognize them?
“2. When you are confused, how do you decide who to listen to‘? How do you know when to give advice? Rebuke? Praise?
“3. As compared to dwelling on the past or longing for the future, how much do you live in the present? How much do you enjoy it’? What can you do to enjoy the ‘here and now’ more?
“4. Would you say these days are good times or bad times for you? ls your answer based on nostalgia (for the past) or hope (for the future)?
Ecclesiastes 7 – Wisdom Part 2: 1. Who sees you as an ‘extremist’? ln what? Has such extremism helped, or hindered, your ability to minister? How so?
“2. What do you do when you find sin in your life? How does this affect your self image?
“3. When might you ‘curse’ others (v.22)? How can you break that habit?
“4. Are you ignorant of the scheme of things, or all too aware? In what positive ways can you can increase in such wisdom?
“5. Are you a ‘snare’ to others (v.26), or an uprighter (vv.28-29)? How so’?
Ecclesiastes 8: 1. What sort of injustices (personal, family, global) are most likely to arouse you to act? Where do you draw the line (‘To here, and no farther’)?
“2. How does your search for answers to life’s problems affect your relationship with God? How easy is it for you to trust him when the answers are unattainable? What can be done to develop such trust?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

There is two sets of questions for Ecclesiastes 7 and one set of questions for Ecclesiastes 8.

Substitute whatever group for any reference to a small group or ask who could come to your aid.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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