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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 7


Chapter 7

Sorrow versus laughter

1. A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.
2. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
3. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
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 for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.
6. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.

Solomon has a fascinating mentality, but we need to remember that he is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He is seeing things from God’s perspective and that makes his thoughts profitable to our lives. However, the man, who will preach like this preacher will not be popular.

The writer begins this chapter with a statement about a good name and follows with a comparison between sorrow and laughter. I have to think that this is done with purpose, in order to show the attitudes toward life that are most likely to bring about a good name. Names in the Bible have meaning and refer to someone’s character. A person’s name was changed, when his character was changed. Therefore a good name means a good character which, he says, is better to wear, than precious ointment. It leaves a better scent behind it, than expensive perfume.

Precious ointment refers to a pleasant experience, while good character is brought on by a willingness to face unpleasant events and emotional suffering. The preacher sees that it is a good thing to contemplate death and prepare one’s heart for that day. Blessed is the person, who is ready to die and is able to face death with courage, because he has prepared his soul for the afterlife. That is far better than to celebrate birthdays (v.1).

Next, we learn that it is better to go to a funeral parlor than to a wedding. When it comes to a choice for preaching, I prefer to preach at a funeral, than at a wedding. People’s hearts are better prepared to hear the gospel at a funeral. They are being confronted with reality and at that moment, they are thinking healthy thoughts. We might as well face the fact; we are all headed in the same direction. It is a wise statistic that tells us that out of every 100 people, who are born, 100 of those same people will die (v.2). Yet the natural tendency is not to think about death, much less to talk about it. That custom is common and natural, but it is not beneficial. When it comes to preaching, death must be a frequent theme.

Jesus said in the beatitudes, “Blessed are they that mourn…” (Mt.5:4) and the Holy Spirit-inspired preaching concurs: “Sorrow is better than laughter” (v.3). As Christians, we must be looking for, and even desiring, that which will improve the heart. Sadness does the heart good, bringing about depth of character. A superficial character, a light-hearted person, is not attractive. People gather like bees around someone, who has known and values suffering.

There are some that teach that a Christian can avoid trials and always walk on the mountaintops of victory. I wouldn’t want to have a pastor, who makes such claims. They are averse to truth and good Bible teaching and produce undesirable characteristics in the hearts of their people. Verse 4 is before us in plain language: The wise heart is looking for that, which brings inner strength, while the fool is addicted to comedy.

Adding to the quality of the wise person, is the desire to be rebuked, when he is wrong. Rebuke, the king claims, is better than song (v.5) and lifts the heart above the emotions. I admire this in the apostle Peter: When the younger and less experienced Paul correctly rebuked him, there is no evidence that Peter took offense. The Scripture trumped experience in Peter’s life and he later writes of Paul, “our beloved brother” (2 P.3:15). That’s the Christian attitude and these are the things we desire for our lives. Notice the colorful example that Solomon gives for foolish laughter… “the crackling of thorns under a pot” (v.6). He throws it on the garbage heap of vanity, by which the people who live for, and take pleasure in, the things under the sun are evaluated.

The wise consider the sovereign work of God

7. Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
10. Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.
12. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13. Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?
14. In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Solomon, in this book and in the Proverbs, writes of bribes given to judges (v.7). Wise, intelligent people can be corrupted, lose their integrity, and in the end, become oppressive. It happens frequently in politics and the king has observed it. Spiritual principle teaches that how people turn out in the end, is more important than the way they begin (v.8). 

Notice the principle in the book of Ezekiel: “If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him (such as the bribe we have just discussed) … he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered…” (Ezek.3:20). Jesus taught of the end times, “Many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray… the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.24:10-12).

This is a principle that produces patience in someone’s character and in verse 8, patience is contrasted with pride… so an impatient person is a proud person. A proud person thinks he deserves immediate results and his impulsive self-confidence will drive him to get it. The humble person relies heavily on the sovereign wisdom of God.

The principle that we have just learned applies to our temperament. To explode in anger is the result of impatience and pride (v.9). We learn from the Lord to be slow to anger (Ps.103:8; 145:8). Solomon teaches in his Proverbs: “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Pr.16:32). I think we are seeing that to build character means to become more like our Creator; in the New Testament sense, it means to be more like Christ.

The sin in verse 10 is in the question, Why? It is to question the sovereign ways of God and to doubt that He continues unfolding His will and will continue to do so in ever-increasing ways right up to the end. When “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse” (2 Ti.3:13), God continues to be faithful in goodness and holiness; when Christians become careless and indifferent in evangelism, God continues His work in the hearts of sinners. When preachers cease to expound the truth, “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Ro.3:4). God’s purposes march forward and no one will detain Him.

In these imperfect days, in which we live under the sun, there are good things in store for the God-fearing person. For instance, a wise man will take advantage of an inheritance and make good use of it (v.11). Protect wisdom and it will protect your life (v.12). To desire wisdom and to keep it is better than money in the bank. I think of the Proverb, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom and instruction, and understanding” (Pr.23:23). In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified: “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you desire cannot compare with her… Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold” (Pr.8:10, 11, 18, 19).

This portion is all about learning to trust the sovereignty of God. No human being can do His work and no one can undo, what He has done. The duty of a Christian is to rest in the work of God, trusting Him completely. We can contemplate verse 13 along with verse 10. The fall of Adam did not take God by surprise, nor does any of the wickedness of this generation. He will work through it all and in the end, He will reign in righteousness.

Don’t be afraid to rejoice in the good days. Some people, I think, find it hard to do this, especially if they have seen hard times in the past. Take advantage of good times and when God sends adversity, remember like Job, that both come from His hand: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord… Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job.1:21; 2:10). Future prosperity or adversity cannot be predicted, but we can trust in the faithfulness of God at all times (v.14).

Religious strictness and licentiousness

15. In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing.
16. Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?
17. Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
18. It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
19. Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
20. Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
Observations like that in verse 15 have driven some into unbelief. It stems from a mistaken interpretation of who God is, what He allows, as well as a misunderstanding of life under the sun. It is the reason for which Solomon existed and wrote, because he saw these things and came to discern the sovereign ways of God. Under the sun, we will see injustice in abundance. We will see bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The righteous man’s life is cut short and the wicked man lives to old age and so will things continue until Jesus returns to set up His righteous kingdom.

There are some, even among Christians, who tend to be overly conscientious, something which the preacher calls being overly righteous. We might term it being very religious and certain people have a great tendency to go in this direction.  Having this attitude and putting it into practice may lead to legalism or self-righteousness. They really know too much and try to put what they know into practice. They strive over issues that are not essential, which somehow others around them seem to miss, and hold very tenaciously to them (v.16). The Pharisees were the epitome of this kind of mentality and Jesus said that they were “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel” (Mt.23:24).

Others have the opposite tendency and are overly permissive. The preacher is not giving anyone an open door to being a little wicked or sinful, but he is portraying one, who takes the opposite position, as the “overly righteous”. They are foolishly careless and take extreme risks. They want to avoid religion or legalism altogether and stay as far away from it, as possible. It is interesting that both of these attitudes have the same consequences and Solomon asks both sides a similar question: Why should you destroy yourself or why should you die before your time? The first will fall apart under the strain that he puts upon himself and the second will run headlong into danger (v.17). I think this matter can be applied in both the physical and spiritual realms.

Long before I had a computer, I kept my thoughts in a notebook and on April 2, 1985, I wrote the following: It is wrong to think that we need to hold some kind of a moderate view between legalism and licentiousness. They are actually opposite ends of the same spectrum of fleshly nature. Verse 18 tells us that the answer to both extremes is the fear of God. The cross cuts through the middle of them and gives us the proper perspective. The cross deals a deathblow to the flesh and its proud attempts to try to please God through its religious efforts. On the other hand, it has “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal.5:24).  The one who has been to the cross is governed by the fear of God.

To be able to embrace this truth is to our good advantage, the verse teaches us, and cautions us not to be afraid to grasp it. Why would anyone not hold to it? It is similar to someone wading into a river and reaching a depth, where he is no longer able to touch bottom, and so must allow himself to be carried by the stream. The natural tendency is to maintain control, but the fear of God involves absolute trust in Him to carry us. There is release and freedom in the fear of God from both of the extremes described in the previous two verses.

The Bible frequently teaches us not to confide in princes: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help” (Ps.146:3). On the other hand, wisdom that comes from God has many promises for the individual, who seeks it: “Whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord” (Pr.8:35 and all of Proverbs 8). It builds an inner strength in him that has more stability than the words of ten princes over a city (v.19).

In verse 20 is another lesson from biblical wisdom that is vital. The apostle John teaches it in his first letter: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us… if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn.1:8 and 10). The doctrine of Ecclesiastes teaches that we are not to expect any perfection on this side of heaven.

The depth of wisdom and the ‘scheme of things’

21. Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you.
22. Your heart knows that many time you yourself have cursed others.
23. All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me.
24. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
25. I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness.
26. And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.
27. Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things-
28. which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found.
29. See, this along I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

My brother came home from the Marines making this statement: “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” Of course, it was an exaggeration, but it warns of a greater evil… that of believing everything that we hear. Please be aware of the danger of believing everything that you read or hear on the internet. So much is deception. I am constantly amazed at how convincing people can be, while they are telling bold-faced lies.

When personal insult is involved, abstain from trying to “get to the bottom of things”. Remember, the preacher advises, the times you have spoken against someone. James maintains, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man…” (Jm.3:2). Or take some advice from Charles Spurgeon: “If any man speaks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” Listen to your heart and don’t be afraid to face the truth concerning yourself (v.21, 22).

Self-determination will not get you wisdom, for true wisdom only comes from God (v.23-24).  We’ll go back to James again: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (Jm.1:5). The depths of wisdom are far beyond human ability to uncover it. I recommended a little earlier all of Proverbs 8. There we learn from wisdom personified that “the Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (Pr.8:22,23). The Lord questioned Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).

Solomon tells of beginning a deep search, after he had repented (I turned my heart), to find the roots of his folly and madness. He is looking for the “scheme of things”, as it relates to sin. He is digging deep inside himself to find the truth (v.25). It may seem strange that he determines to go in this direction first, before searching for forgiveness and salvation, but he needs to know the traps and entanglements that brought him to the depths of idolatry and godlessness. How else will he know to inform others?

We have heard of those who find sin to be bitterer than death. Blessed are they who are afraid to sin and would rather face death than commit sin. It was Solomon’s experience that at the bottom of his personal “scheme of things”, lay his lust for women. Was the daughter of Pharaoh the beginning of the “snares and nets, and whose hands are fetter”; is he describing her, for whom he built a house outside the city of David (1 K.9:24)? Did he see in her, first of all, the threat of succumbing to idolatry? Later, “Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods” (1 K.11:7-8). This king displeased God and fell into a deep snare (v.26).

As he contemplated the whole scheme and followed the process of sin in his life, he could see clearly the trap. His history gives the account of having 700 wives and 300 concubines… one thousand! There may have been a man in his kingdom, who tried to bring him closer to God, but there was not one woman, among the thousand in his harem, who influenced him for good (v.27, 28). This is not a condemnation of the female sex. He is only relating the scheme of things in his personal experience and his fall away from God. 

Solomon is not charging God for his downfall, but the devil’s schemes were many and deep (v.29). He knew where the king was weak and in the very beginning, when he married Pharaoh’s daughter, it was against God’s commandment: “King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them… for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.  Solomon clung to these in love” (1 K.11:1-2).


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