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Better Life, Balance Life

Ecclesiastes 7

Lesson audioSolomon shifts tone at this point – he begins to give advice in the positive, telling us just what we should do. It’s not that “vanity, vanity” has vanished, but rather the introduction of “fear God” has put the world in order. On that order Solomon now gives wisdom.

Better Life

Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 NASB (1) A good name is better than a good ointment, And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth. (2) It 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. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter, For when a face is sad a heart may be happy. (4) The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure. (5) It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man Than for one to listen to the song of fools. (6) For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility. (7) For oppression makes a wise man mad, And a bribe corrupts the heart. (8) The end of a matter is better than its beginning; Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. (9) Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, For anger resides in the bosom of fools. (10) Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (11) Wisdom along with an inheritance is good And an advantage to those who see the sun. (12) For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors. (13) Consider the work of God, For who is able to straighten what He has bent? (14) In 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.

We may break this down into three sections: money, time and attitude.


The Bible has a lot to say about money. Here, Solomon makes two points which are of interest.

The first is simply this: if you have to choose between a lifestyle of luxury based on dishonor (for example, a Mafia don) and an honorable life as a poor man, you’re better off with the honor. That’s wisdom. That’s a truth that holds water. One way to know it? It’s a truism that the Mafioso wants his kids to go into legitimate work.[1] It’s normal to want your kids to have it better than you do.

The relationship between wisdom and money is a bit more complicated. Solomon makes these points:

  • Money is good (especially if it’s an inheritance you didn’t have to work for) if you couple it with wisdom. Money is a tool. We don’t let toddlers play with the power saw; fools shouldn’t have money. They usually lose it quickly enough.
  • Wisdom, like money, is a defense against life’s troubles. But it’s better: money can defend you, but wisdom not only defends but enhances your life.

May I put the matter simply? Even in making money wisdom is required. As my stockbroker puts it, “Bulls make money, bears make money – but pigs get slaughtered.”


Solomon sees life as a journey, starting at birth and ending in death. Foreseeing the Christian position, he tells us that the end of the journey is best. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The best is yet to come – and most of us moan about lost youth and dread the future. Fear God – and see things as they really are.

This then changes your view. Many of us are anxious to “fix things right now.” Solomon tells us the opposite: patience is better than pride. For when you approach problems in pride, you give Satan a handle with which to hold you. You also see defeat if victory is not rapid. But the man of patience endures. Even if he is overmatched by his problem, by endurance he may triumph. If you see life as the world sees it, this is difficult to do. But if you see the world in God’s hands, and the victory his, then patience comes more easily.

That attitude applies to the future. It also applies to the past. Many of us worry about what has already happened. “Oh, if I only…” Permit me some wisdom from that great Russian philosopher, Josef Stalin: “The past is history, and history belongs to God.”


Solomon deals with two ideas concerning our attitude. The first is our reaction to a rebuke. If someone comes to you (preferably privately) and points out your faults, wisdom tells you to LISTEN![2]

His second idea is well expressed in this prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”[3] The argument is simple: there are things that God does which you cannot change. He is the source of your prosperity as well as your adversity. You can’t change that. So what should you do?

  • In prosperity, enjoy it.
  • In adversity, learn from it.


Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 NASB (15) I 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. (16) Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? (17) Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? (18) It 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. (19) Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. (20) Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (21) Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. (22) For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

Excessive wickedness

This should be a no-brainer. Wickedness can kill you, not to mention the judgment to come. And you should know this by chapter 7.

Excessive righteousness

Here’s the rub. Any Bible teacher will tell you not to be wicked – but excessive righteousness??? It can be seen that way – especially in light of the fact that we depend upon Christ’s righteousness, not our own. To be specific:

  • There is such a thing as perfectionism. If you are obsessed with being righteous (or worse, being right) you can drive yourself crazy. One result is that you might tend to deny that you have sinned. With no confession, there is no repentance; with no repentance there is no forgiveness.
  • Remember too that in Solomon’s time righteousness meant keeping the Mosaic Law. If you do this to excess you become like the Pharisees. Don’t slip from righteousness into legalism.
  • Of course, righteousness can also be done for show.[4] If you are careful about appearances but not the heart, it is worse than useless.
Don’t listen to everything you hear

My father was sent to Japan at the beginning of the Korean War. He was scheduled to land at Inchon, but they pulled him off the boat when they found he was a finance officer. Reason? There were huge quantities of supplies in Japan, left over from World War II – and they needed them for the war. Dad and two other officers were given the task, dividing Japan into three regions.

Dad – a mustang officer, wise in the ways of the enlisted man – simply formed teams to inventory what was there. The other two officers tried to reconcile all paper transactions in the office. Dad delivered his material; the rest of it is probably still in Japan.

Moral? Don’t believe the paperwork is infallible. Don’t believe that a chance remark is the whole truth.

You know this; you’ve made those remarks too. Wisdom sometimes must look inward to discover the truth about things outward.

Wisdom Alone not the Answer

Ecclesiastes 7:23-29 NASB (23) I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me. (24) What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? (25) I 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. (26) And 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, (28) which 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."

So Solomon gives a bit more on wisdom itself.

Some questions wisdom can’t answer

Perhaps I can give you a parallel. There are some questions that science will never answer, no matter how much we know. Miracles are by definition contrary to scientific understanding. You can either say they can’t happen – despite all the evidence – or you can say that this is beyond the limits of science. (Think about it: science deals with the repeatable.) Wisdom has its limits too.

History is another example. Historians constantly struggle with the problem that different participants tell different stories. That’s particularly true of war. Reasonable assumptions may be made, but ultimately there is no real way to determine exactly what did happen.

So just accept it. Some things are beyond you. As George Washington Carver had it,

"When I was young, I said to God, god, tell me the mystery of the universe. But God answered, that knowledge is for me alone. So I said, god, tell me the mystery of the peanut. Then God said, well, George, that's more nearly your size."

Wicked Women

Solomon probably knew this quite well:

  • There are women out there who are cold-hearted, money-grubbing souls who will destroy a man for his money.
  • The righteous man escapes this trap – because such a trap depends upon sly and devious contact. It’s somewhat like Barnum; you cannot cheat an honest man.

How do you suppose Solomon came to feel this way? The richest king in history, 300 wives, 700 concubines – do you suppose that not one was a gold-digger?

A good man is hard to find

Why is there a limit to wisdom? It’s simple: God made man “very good.” In that man should have wisdom. But man is fallen, and in that there is folly. Thus it is that wisdom has its limits.

[1] The story of Butch O’Hare and his father is instructive in this. As of this writing, the story is at http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/b/butchandeddie.htm.

[2] Much has this author learned from quiet words spoken by his wife in the privacy of the bedroom.

[3] Variously attributed; most likely Reinhold Niebuhr. Falsely attributed to St. Francis.

[4] Matthew 6:1-7

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