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 every man; the living should take this to heart. Sorrow 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 a wise man’s rebuke 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 man 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: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor. 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: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his 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. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes .
Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city. There is not a righteous man on earth 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 wisdom may be, it 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 made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.”
Proverbs are juicy morsels for eating, like a good steak. This next portion of Ecclesiastes is full of tasty treats. Chapter 7 teaches us:
- Seek a good reputation
- Take life seriously
- Avoid corruption
- Be patient, not arrogant in insisting on your own way, right away
- Don’t get angry
- Don’t wish for the good old days
- Don’t worry about the future (see Philippians 4:4-9)
- Don’t wear yourself out trying to be smart or perfect
- Recognize that you don’t understand all things and be content with that
- Don’t be disturbed by wicked gossip about you
- Beware adultery
- Do good but don’t be weary in striving for it, and don’t be short-tempered or obnoxious in pushing others to your standards of goodness.
In this chapter we also observe that mocking is from fools. Fools are obnoxious and make fun of serious people. They laugh, but it grates the nerves of their victims. Dr. Ford’s testimony in Brett Cavanaugh’s hearings paint the picture vividly (regardless of your political leanings): “The unforgettable thing about that evening was the laughter at my expense.” We can all relate to drunken laughter, like the crackling of thorns under a pot, or screeching fingernails on a chalkboard, a most vexing annoyance. So the author writes with hyperbole, “better the day of death than the day of birth.” We learn and grow through grief, though we pray for times of respite and joy from God in the midst of trials and even during our routine toil.
To better understand hyperbole and other figures of speech, here’s an illustration. A daughter mouthed off to her mother. The mother said, “Say it again!” So the daughter dared to repeat what she had said. This enraged the mother further, and she repeated the demand, “Say it again!” After several rounds, finally the father stepped in and explained that the daughter took the request literally. “You said, ‘Say it again;’ so she dutifully did what you requested.” When figures of speech are interpreted literally, misunderstandings happen. That is why we have to understand the role of irony and hyperbole in Ecclesiastes in order to benefit from its wisdom.
Wisdom is extremely valuable and it protects, unlike the false shelter of money. Wisdom values a good name, patience, sobriety, contentment with today. Wisdom avoids adultery.
Wisdom is often hard to understand. The author frames the passage by saying wisdom is good (vs 11-12, 19). But a sense of balance is promoted. It is best explained by looking back at chapter 5 (vs 18-20): “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.” Sometimes it’s better not to take life too seriously—it leads to depression. “Grasping a little foolishness” is hyperbole, yet it is true that over-thinking life can be detrimental. Pace yourself and don’t try to figure out everything at once. Be content and find rest in Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30).
Note verse 29, “God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes.” Herein lies the need for the Gospel: After God created everything very good (Genesis 1:31), including people, the people went and messed it up with selfishness and rebellion against God (Genesis 3). The only hope for humans is God’s mercy through the payment of Jesus, who died and rose to life again. The New Testament puts it clearly, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
God makes both pleasant and difficult circumstances. Accept both with contentment (see Philippians 4:10-13). Righteous people die, sometimes even earlier than wicked people, who might live long lives. So don’t become anxious in your ambition to do good—but don’t just do bad because it seems not to matter, because wisdom in all its value directs us to do good with contentment. It’s good to have a balanced life, not needing to know everything. Wisdom brings power; yet no one is perfect. Be content with the limitations God has created in you.
Beware adultery. It is a trap. Think from the perspective of a male reader; after all, most of the literate of that day were men. So he tells the reader to beware an adulterous woman. It is in this context that the seemingly strange statement comes: “I found one upright man among 1000, but not one upright woman among them all.” The modern reader might dismiss the sarcasm in anger and miss the point. It’s hyperbole. The writer is saying, “Watch out. Any woman could potentially catch you off-guard and lead you down the path of adultery, which is the path of death.” So a married man is wise to be on his guard and keep a safe emotional distance from any woman who is not his wife. If the readers were women, the statement could have turned the tables and just as easily said, “Watch out. Any man could catch you off-guard and lead you down the path of adultery, which is the path of death.” Clearly, whether the man or the woman is the initiator, illicit relationships are like scooping fire into one’s lap (Proverbs 6:27). Why would anyone be so foolish? For a more complete elaboration of this concept, see the Book of Proverbs, chapters 5, 6, 7.