Reading and fully digesting Ecclesiastes can be challenging for sure. It appears on the surface a very cynical look back by a wise king on a long life in which he has pursued purpose and meaning. In the end of the whole matter he concludes in Ecclesiastes 12 that the only thing which has real purpose is to fear YHWH and obey his commandments.
13The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.
I have found it important to keep this conclusion in mind when I am sifting through the book of Ecclesiastes. I encourage you to read it searching for valuable treasure in bits of wisdom that can help you still in your life today. Some of it seems counter to what we would expect… dwell on it. Ask the Lord to open your eyes and grant you understanding. Do not just breeze through it and expect to harvest the full value.
Wisdom and Folly Contrasted
1A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
2It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
3Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool;
And this too is futility.
7For oppression makes a wise man mad,
And a bribe corrupts the heart.
8The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
10Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
And an advantage to those who see the sun.
12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
13Consider the work of God,
For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
14In the day of prosperity be happy,
But in the day of adversity consider—
God has made the one as well as the other
So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.
15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.
19Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. 21Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.
23I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? 25I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. 26And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.
27“Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. 29“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”
I find much wisdom to think on in this chapter. I find also some hard verses that require more consideration.
How can one be excessively righteous or wise? and why would this be a bad thing? Righteousness and wisdom are good things to pursue. I can imagine that pursuit of righteousness through our own deeds can lead to legalism, but he does not specifically say that is what he means. We are left to speculate and reflect and ask the LORD to show us.
Why say do not be excessively wicked? Why not simply say do not be wicked? I think for this one perhaps he is referring to a lifestyle that will result in your premature death as a possible result of your wickedness, but it is an interesting statement.
He is genuinely reflecting on life more than simply identifying a moral path for us to follow in life. We do well to both reflect on life and put our faith and trust in the LORD and his written word in the Bible to guide us in how we should live.
Do you know for sure if you will go to heaven or hell when you die? Are you experiencing in your life the peace and joy of a personal relationship with our Creator and Father? Learn more about salvation through The Message of the Cross.