Series: Under the Sun: The Book of Ecclesiastes
August 30, 2020 | John Ewart
Passage: Ecclesiastes 7:1-29
King Solomon has been on a journey and has been suffering from a life-ache.
His life was empty.
We must find what is supposed to go into it in order to be full.
Turn to Ecclesiastes 7.
This chapter marks the beginning of the second half of this book.
Something begins to come into focus for the king of Jerusalem.
The terms “wise” and “wisdom” are used 35 times in the 2nd half of Ecclesiastes.
Solomon is beginning his journey back home.
He has a long way to go but he is now turning in the right direction.
Maybe that is you this morning.
Maybe you feel like you have wandered a long way from home, a long way from the truth.
Listen, and you can find the right path back.
Solomon turns to writing more like in the style of Proverbs.
His perspective is changing.
He points to a better way.
We must choose the right path.
It is simple and easy to be foolish.
That path is wide and smooth, but it will not fill or fulfill you.
The path to wisdom is more difficult but also more fulfilling.
The king shares a series of wise proverbs, lessons, and conclusions.
- The Pathways to Wisdom
A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one’s birth; 2 Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; and the living will take it to heart. 3 Sorrow is better than laughter, for by a sad countenance the heart is made better.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6 For like the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This also is vanity.
It was common practice to cover oneself with perfume or oil in the days before deodorant if one could afford it.
This perfumed ointment may even be referring to the preparation of the dead body at burial considering the next words.
You can buy nice smelling things to cover the stink on the outside but that does not change what is happening on the inside.
The internal decay cannot be covered or hidden.
A good name is even better.
Remember that naming someone is a part of defining their character.
A good name represents a good character.
A good character on the inside is better than trying to cover it all up on the outside.
That which is on the inside must also be sweet smelling.
A good name goes farther than cosmetics.
Who you are on the inside, and not just how you appear on the outside, is what really matters in the end.
Are you consistent? Inside and out?
That is the definition of integrity.
When someone has lived a life of consistent and godly integrity, the day of his or her death can be time of great honor.
Often in today’s world, we seem to only be concerned with the external perception.
The facade becomes more important than the facts or…faith.
David George Moore writes, Fame and popularity have replaced genuine heroism.
Is it more important that we look good and healthy or to truly be good and healthy?
Churches and individuals suffer from this.
Appearance and perception become more important than integrity and truth.
Truth gets spun and shaded and great energy is spent to hold up the image we hope to project.
Between birth and death, that dash between the dates on a tombstone, we make the decisions about who truly are and will be.
Solomon reminds us that the quality of life is determined by the time we die.
Our true character will become clear.
The definition of our name will be clear.
The king even goes on to say it would be better to go to a funeral than a wedding.
That does not mean it is more fun.
I have been to some sad and hard funerals. I have also been to some that are the most profound experiences of faith, hope, and joy.
Solomon is not interested in fun anymore.
He is searching for wisdom, for meaning, something to fill life.
He is interested in the lessons we must learn.
He is suggesting we can learn more about life and death at a funeral than a feast.
We will grow in our understanding and appreciation of the realities of life and death.
Homer in The Iliad, The shades of death are a fate no man can withstand.
Our mortality should cause us to reflect on our brief lives and hopefully make right choices and changes while we still have life and time
Many live as if there is an unlimited amount of time to get our act together and do the will of God and somehow, we can just start that later.
Some live as if they believe they will live forever.
But I assure you, there is a day coming, a day of reckoning, when we will face those choices.
Please understand, Solomon is not condemning all mirth or laughter.
He is referring to the frivolous focus on the temporal, rather than the reflection upon the eternal that can teach us so much.
If you think about it, we can often learn far more during the difficult times.
But the person who is laughing their head off on the outside, often that loudest person in the room, may simply be trying to cover up something on the inside.
Again, integrity issues.
In verse 5, It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.
It is never fun to be rebuked by anyone, but a lot of good can come out of it if it comes from a wise source.
Early in my ministry especially, I made some dumb mistakes.
Nothing immoral or sinful, just unwise and immature.
I had some wise people call me out.
I did not enjoy that, but I sure appreciate all of those orchard drives now!
Unfortunately, too many will reject the rebuke of the wise and even mock them because they think they do not know what they are talking about.
Why they’re just a bunch of old boomers!
Wisdom is so rare in some people’s lives; they have a hard time recognizing it when it does appear.
The empty words of the fool may make us feel better in the moment or entertain us, but they are empty.
Fools are people-pleasers, wise people seek to please God.
5 Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
They would use thorns as kindling to help start fires.
They eventually made a crown out of them one day, years later.
But thorns under a pot will burn up in an instant.
The empty words or laughter of the fool will not last in value.
We must seek something that benefits us for the long haul.
7 Surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, and a bribe debases the heart. 8 The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. 10 Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?” For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.
We must be careful of the things that will detour us from the path to wisdom.
Injustice and the love of money will detour you.
They will undo the work of wisdom.
They will halt of the progress of growth and maturity.
Our pride or the desire for immediate gratification can be a detour.
Waiting upon the Lord is a significant spiritual discipline that few master.
Ungodly anger is a detour for you and those impacted.
These things are often a testimony to a lack of faith in God.
I do not believe God is sovereign, as we discussed last week, so when life does not go my way, I try to manipulate it, force my way, or get angry and lash out.
In addition, focusing on the past and the “good old days” can be a detour.
Especially since, for many, their memory of the “goodness” of those days is often exaggerated and not always accurate.
Living in the past is not your best path forward.
Learn whatever lessons you were supposed to and move on as soon as you can. The present and the future is where the King’s Mission can be found and joined.
The king continues…
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance, and profitable to those who see the sun.
12 For wisdom is a defense as money is a defense, but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it. 13 Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what He has made crooked? 14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
We have seen the Pathways to Wisdom, now we learn about…
II The Profit of Wisdom
Wisdom is good and profitable for dealing with many of the issues in this life.
It can protect and guide us through the difficulties and the blessings.
From the proper perspective toward and use of material things, to the proper search for and use of knowledge, wisdom is invaluable.
Knowledge and wisdom are not the same things.
This is confused by many.
I know people who know a lot about a lot but struggle with what to do with that knowledge in practice.
Wisdom is the proper, godly application of biblical knowledge to life.
And God knows best!
In verse 13, the Hebrew word for “consider” = to examine for the purpose of evaluating.
We are to examine the works of God.
If He has straightened it out, it’s a waste of time to try to bend it.
God has made the day of adversity as well as prosperity and it is our responsibility to trust Him in both.
There is a time and a purpose for every season. Remember chapter 3.
Wisdom allows us to examine and evaluate both these hard times and times of prosperity and to learn from them.
In the end, it reminds us to depend upon Him and not to forget Him no matter what time it is.
14 But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” 15 My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.
Our times, all of them, are in the hands of God.
God will give us enough blessings to equip our obedience for our burdens.
Even those afflictions are redemptive as they drive us down the pathway to Him.
14 b: so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.
Death loomed before Solomon as it looms before us, and we do not know what will be in this world after we depart.
I am concerned for the next generation that follows but we must trust Him for that.
He knows what will come next and after.
The more pressing, immediate question that demands our response is not what happens to this world or to the rest of you after our death, it is what will become of us after our death?
In the hands of God, when I die, what I have here, my possessions, my profession, will all be gone; but who I truly am will remain.
And who we are, and where we are, depends on the decisions we have made about the two eternal things: God and our souls.
Then Solomon writes…
15 I have seen everything in my days of vanity: there is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all. 19 Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city. 20 For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin. 21 Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.
III. The Power of Wisdom
Life can be unfair and unjust.
This book has shown us that over and over again.
We must not lose heart over this.
We must recognize this is part of the fallen creation in which we live and not be surprised by it.
- 16 is a strange verse. Never take verses out of context!
Sounds very cynical.
But Solomon is describing, perhaps in an embellished fashion, the way life really works sometimes.
The verb form is what is called reflexive. That means its action is reflected back on the subject.
He is not suggesting we not be wise or righteous.
That does not fit into the larger context of even this passage let alone the book.
Solomon is warning us to not think we can be too righteous or wise by our own strength.
Do not try this on your own!
Do not believe you can master these things by your power.
It will be a disaster!
why should you destroy yourself? Solomon asks.
We can be overzealous about our religion with little faith involved when we seek to be zealous by our own power instead of depending upon God to empower us to be obedient to Him.
We become pharisees and legalistic.
We cannot be righteous apart from God.
Tie v.16 to v. 17-18:
17 Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all.
Just because we see the wicked and foolish prosper does not mean you should seek to imitate them either and destroy yourself.
Do not be tempted to imitate them.
Our only hope to escape or to survive, is to fear God.
Fearing Him keeps us from the pride of self-righteousness and motivates us to stay away from wickedness.
It gives us a two-handed grip.
We can both fear God and enjoy His gifts and blessings.
19 Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city. 20 For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.
See the great value and power of wisdom.
But also be reminded that we are all sinners and will fall short if we attempt to empower ourselves with self-wisdom and self-righteousness.
10 As it is written: there is none righteous, no, not one
Focusing upon, grasping upon, and fearing God keeps us balanced.
We can grow in wisdom without becoming prideful about it and believing we are able, within ourselves, to be wise and to deal with this unbalanced life.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
We are all sinners surrounded by sinners.
Some of us have just been saved by grace through faith so now we have One on to whom we can grasp and can honor and glorify and love in fear and reverence.
21 Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.
Be careful to which voices you are listening and how much they are allowed to impact your heart.
I fear that many allow the wrong voices to have great impact upon their hearts.
Voices that are not healthy or helpful.
Some more gossip than Gospel.
Some who would lead far away from the paths to godly wisdom.
None of us are above the judgment of others and we are often guilty of judging others in return out of our arrogance and pride.
I am amazed at the amount of gossip, slander, back room conversations, and anonymous criticism that occur in the church.
That is sin.
We should be humbled by these truths.
We are all just imperfect people on a journey, sinners saved by His grace.
We are dependent on Him for our next step.
G.K. Chesterton was once asked what was wrong with the world. And his response, “I am.”
Finally, we read…
23 All this I have proved by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise”; but it was far from me. 24 As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?
25 I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. 26 And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God shall escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her. 27 “Here is what I have found,” says the Preacher, “Adding one thing to the other to find out the reason, 28 which my soul still seeks but I cannot find: one man among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.”
Join the king in…
- The Pursuit of Wisdom
The ultimate understanding of life and wisdom are a mystery Solomon says.
The wisest man to ever live could not figure it all out on his own.
But he is determined to pursue them.
Some truths are so far off and exceedingly deep, we must accept them by faith.
I own and have read thousands of books, two offices full.
Books about theology and Scripture and the church and the Christian life.
None of them can adequately explain mysteries of our faith such as the Incarnation or the Trinity in a way that would make someone completely understand them.
None of them can adequately contain or explain the glorious truth of God’s grace.
None of them can explain to me why God would save someone like me.
We don’t get to box up God.
But we must intentionally and passionately pursue those things He has revealed to us and desires for us to know and live.
There are plenty of very clear teachings and truths to keep us moving forward.
Solomon is dedicated to search and seek out.
We must pursue the wisdom and will of God with such energy and focus.
Again, do not take v. 26-28 out of context.
This could seem like a strong anti-feminism passage.
But put it into its proper context.
Remember Solomon’s life, with hundreds of wives and concubines, most of whom worshiped pagan gods and even set up idolatrous places of worship around Jerusalem.
I Kings 11:3
3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
That number of one thousand is right on.
His personal experience is being displayed here.
This is not some general teaching about men vs women.
This is part of Solomon’s unfortunate testimony.
He knew a few godly men, a very few, but the women in his life were not helping him serve God.
They were turning his heart away and were partially responsible for the struggle he was facing.
What a lesson!
What a testimony about those with whom we should surround ourselves.
Those who impact our hearts.
Those with whom we should be in relationship.
Those who we allow to be influencers in our lives.
29 Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.
God’s first people, Adam and Eve were created upright and beautiful.
31 Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
They looked to Him for everything and walked in intimate fellowship with Him.
But they sought their own wisdom with Satan’s help, and believed his truth about God.
Instead of seeking to satisfy God, Adam and Eve sought to satisfy themselves.
We have all sinned ever since.
We are born with a sinful nature.
From that day to now we “have sought out many schemes”.
The word “schemes” can be translated “intent”.
Sinful man has evil intent usually focused upon himself.
He is working out his plans instead of seeking God’s.
We need wisdom to have the proper focus, to make the right choices, to live a life of known, godly character and action.
Honestly facing our mortality can give that kind of wisdom.
Solomon seems to have lost interest in the silly shadowy side of life.
He’s beginning to come back home.
Wisdom’s search is beginning to pay its dividends.
There are a lot of pathways, wide and easy, that lead to sin and foolishness.
The path to godly wisdom is narrow and hard.
Which pathway will you choose?
Your schemes or God’s plan?