“Perspective” – Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

December 29th,  2013     

Ecclesiastes 7:1-14

“Perspective”

 

Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  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. — Ecclesiastes 7:14

 

Ecclesiastes Mid-Term Exam

Circle One answer T = True — F = False:

T or F–I like laughter better than crying.

T or F–I like weddings better than funerals.

T or F–I like thinking of my birthday better than my dying day.

T or F–I like compliments better than criticisms.

T or F–I like shortcuts better than the long way around.

T or F–I like the good old days better than the way things are now.

                               

Background Information:

  • In the first six chapters of Ecclesiastes, Solomon describes human existence–ragged-edge reality–without God.  However, from chapter 7 on, his focus becomes less man-centered and more God-centered.  His journey away from the Lord is ending; he is beginning to come back home.  Some evidence of this change is the frequent occurrence of two terms, wise and wisdom.  They appear almost 35 times in the latter half of his journal.  Furthermore, the 7th chapter opens with several proverbs that offer a godly perspective on dealing with life.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 65)
  • This book of Ecclesiastes is the record of a quest after the chief good.  The Preacher tries one thing after another, and tells his experiences.  Amongst these are many blunders.  It is the final lesson which he would have us learn, not the errors through which he reached it.  (Alexander MacLaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, 2 Kgs – Eccl, 363)
  • By and large, the comparisons, sayings, and commands in this section are a somber lot.  Their color is gray.  Their tone is measured.  Their goal is not to spark joy but to forestall false optimism.  They do not promise to make life exciting; they aim to make it bearable.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 160)
  • Ecclesiastes 7 contains one predominating goad: the pain, sorrow, and perplexity of existence cannot be escaped.  Though we possess a sense of the eternal, we are dying men and women in a world of change and decay.  This depressing fact is countered by a spike of divine truth: if we choose the path of wisdom that comes from God rather than the dead-end streets of human design, we will find joy and meaning in life.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 100-01)
  • (vss. 13-14) When the Preacher talks about something “crooked,” he is not referring to something that is morally out of line, as if God could ever be the author of evil.  Instead he is talking about some trouble or difficulty in life we wish we could change but cannot alter.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 162)
  • “Fools” is the label Solomon gives to people who don’t want to face life as it is.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 68)

 

The question to be answered is . . . What is this hodge-podge of proverbial statements doing here in the middle of the book of Ecclesiastes . . . a book that is supposed to be telling us what life would be like without God?

 

Answer:  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10; Prv 1:7; 9:10).  There is no motivation to enjoy the benefits of a life of wisdom if there is no God.  Wisdom is abrasive, pride-killing and difficult.  If you take God out of your life, you are left with no motivation to pursue nor any standard by which to establish wisdom.   Thus without a proper fear of the Lord you lack the very ingredient you need to become the person you know you should be.

 

The Word for the Day is . . . Sovereign

 

What proverbs does Koheleth give us here in the first 14 verses of chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes?:

I-  A good name is better than fine perfume – consider.  (Eccl 7:1; see also: Prv 10:7; 22:1;  Sg 1:3; 1 Pt 3:3-4)

 

Solomon was suggesting that if you die with a good name, you can no longer do anything to tarnish it.  But on the day of your birth, you have an entire life before you yet unwritten.  In that respect, if you have a good reputation, the day of your death is better than the day of your birth.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 164)

 

The value of this good name is every way manifest.  It gains esteem and confidence.  It gives force to counsel, authority to reproof, weight to example.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 134)

 

When Didymus the Blind studied this verse, he commented that a believer’s dying day is best because it is “the end and termination of evil.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 151)

 

“In the days of his birth he was born to die,” wrote Thomas Boston, but “in the day of his death he dies to live.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 151)

 

Preserve your good name until the day of your death, and you achieve the potentiality of your birth inheritance (v. 1; cf. V. 8a).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1174)

 

Perfume is great for a superficial first impression.

 

II-  Sobriety is better than frivolity – consider. (Eccl 7:2-6; see also: 1 Sm 25:32-33; Ps 90:10-17; Prv 10:17; 12:1; 13:1; 15:5, 32; 17:10; 25:12; 27:5-6, 9, 17; 28:23; 29:15; Lk 6:25; Phil 1:21-24)  

 

If we are looking for signposts for living, we are more likely to gain insight when face to face with eternal things than in noisy company where the deeper realities of life are drowned in food, drink, and levity.  Remembering that life on earth does not go on forever, we are moved to look below its surface (v. 2).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1174)

 

The highest purpose in life is not happiness.   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 167)

 

Laughter is medicine for a broken heart, but sorrow is a hearty meal for the soul.  (Warren Wiersby, An Old Testament Sudy: Ecclesiastes, 84)

 

He reminds us that there are things we learn when face to face with sorrow, “in the house of mourning,” which we do not and cannot learn in the midst of happiness, “in the house of feasting.”  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 45)

 

There is an old Jewish saying, “Do not trust in yourself until death.”  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 47)

 

Trials always have a very beneficial purpose.  Trials purify you.  Trials show you what you are.  Whatever comes out of you when you’re hit, shows who you really are.  When you’re jostled, trials show that you can’t make it on your own.  Trials perfect you.  Trials bring you to the end of your physical, intellectual rope.  Trials make you pray.  Trials make you go to the Word.  Trials make you trust.  Trials make everything you heard in Sunday school become real.  Trials make you go to Christ.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 94)

 

If you want character and a good name, sometimes death is better than life.  Sometimes a funeral is better than a party, because pain makes you real.  Pain can get your thinking straight.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 96)

 

You can have a lot of laughter at the beginning, but I’ll take the end where there’s pain, perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, courage, preparation, and discipline.  So Solomon says he is impressed by the guy that makes it to the end.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 103)

 

Pain is good.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 107)

 

The value of the house of mourning is in the lesson it teaches.  Here is the end of all men.  What better lesson can there be?  If anything will set the thoughtless to think, this will be it.  It is what all must expect–what all must arrive at–“going the way of all the earth”  (Josh 23:14; Heb 9:27).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 135-36)

 

Solomon seems to say, “Don’t choose the pleasant experience over the bitter one, since the latter has a greater effect for good than does the former.”  It is good for the living to reflect upon death in a non-morbid manner.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 70)

 

Much of the modern entertainment craze is designed to keep us busy laughing instead of thinking deeply about life and death.  There are people who need to be occupied at all times by something distracting.  They will jog along with a radio-headset clamped over their ears.  As they take the morning jog, they dare not allow this to become a time when they might be forced to think!  Thinking about life may lead to thinking about God, sin, and death.  And they dare not let that happen!  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 70)

 

When sorrow, grief or heartache are deep enough to change the contours of a person’s face, they are strong enough to change the shape of his heart.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 71)

 

In God’s good providence, a Christian may use sorrow for his spiritual profit.  It should drive him closer to God.  It should bring him to decisions that he would not otherwise be apt to make.  Are you using sadness helpfully, or are you wasting the experience by moaning, complaining or something else?  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 71)

 

The day of death is better than the day of birth because of the lessons it teaches.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 101)

 

The Christian is not afraid to face life as it is.  Solomon emphasizes that the believer can openly confront its grim realities and find great joy in everyday living as he gratefully accepts what comes from the Lord.  But he must always see things from the proper perspective, and this can be obtained far more readily in a funeral home than at a dinner party.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 102)

 

Some people will do anything to avoid going to a funeral home.  They express their condolences by mail or on the telephone.  Although they excuse themselves by saying they can not stand the morbid atmosphere, in reality they are unwilling to look death squarely in the eye.  If a loved one dies, they dull their senses with alcohol or tranquilizers before they dare view the body or greet the friends who come to express sympathy.  They do not want to talk about anything really significant, but spend their time watching television, reading light novels, or just having fun.  In this manner they sidestep situations calling for spiritual decisions.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 102-03)

 

How do you respond when you are given a rebuke?  Perhaps you can accept it quite graciously when it comes from your pastor as he preaches God’s Word in sincerity, but how about when someone tells you face-to-face that you are wrong?  With some people, that is like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite, especially when they have no intention of changing.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 104)

 

People in Palestine burned dried thorn bushes when they wanted a small amount of quick heat, but they knew they could not use such fuel to cook everything that required a high temperature over a sustained period of time.

Similarly, the merriment of the worldly crowd gives only temporary relief.  It does not solve any problems or bring about a change for the better in a person’s life-style.  The rebuke of a godly man or woman is far more valuable.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 105)

 

People who do not share the believer’s hope will try to avoid sorrow and death.  This philosophy wants to forget about life’s sadness and live for the pleasures of the moment.  Solomon himself had tried that route.  Our culture has taken it a step farther.  It attempts to shove death itself out of the realm of reality.  Violence on television gives the impression that somehow death isn’t quite real.  The good guys knock off the crooks like flies and hardly give it a thought.  After all, everyone knows it’s only make-believe.  Meanwhile the real thing takes place everywhere, often without the dying person’s family anywhere around.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 67-68)

 

Strong words, dark words!  But the Preacher would have called them realistic.  He had looked at the certainty of death, and it loomed so large that it dwarfed life.  Death, not life, was the dominant issue to be faced.  In the light of it, mirth and laughter were a luxury only fools could indulge in.  The wise and the serious had to pay their full attention to death.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 161)

 

Somberness in the face of life’s brevity is not just slightly better than levity.  The gulf between the two is as wide and deep as the difference between wisdom and folly.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 162)

 

To sing a song of hope, to whistle a tune of expectation, to let loose a laugh of anticipation in such a climate was the height of folly.  His opponents may have chided him with words like, “Come now, Koheleth, relax, cheer up, life is not so grim as your picture of it.”  But the Preacher would have none of it.  Mindless festivities were fearfully misleading in his view.  They marked all who engaged in them as fools.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 162)

 

In Eccl 7:2-6, Solomon appears to censor laughter and happiness.  However, he is actually rejecting the senseless merriment that characterizes those who ignore life’s realities.  Solomon uses the phrases the heart of fools (v. 4), the song of fools (v. 5), and the laughter of the fool (v. 6) to describe those who mask their empty lives with mirth and folly.  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 23)

 

III-  Your heart is already inclined towards evil – don’t encourage it. (Eccl 7:7; see also: Mt 6:13; 26:41; Mk 14:38; Lk 11:41 22:40-46; 1 Cor 15:33)  

 

If you hold an influential position, do not use it for personal advantage.  In particular, a bribe erodes character, making it susceptible to other forms of corruption.  Thus a reputation can be destroyed in a moment.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1174)

 

Notice how Solomon makes his point.  Verse 7 says, “surely oppression destroys a wise man’s reason, and a bribe debases the heart.”  A bribe is nothing but a shortcut dressed in green.  It’s using money or some other asset to get your way without earning it.  It will corrupt your integrity and destroy the purity of your heart.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 178)

 

The opportunity to oppress others makes people think that they are invincible.  Because they, like a judge, have power to afflict others, they think that they can profit from their positions: this is why a bribe corrupts the heart.  They are offered bribes by those who can benefit from the corrupt use of that power.  When they accept them, that is one more step down into deeper corruption.  A person who gets away with the first bribe will take the second, the third, and so on, until he is caught and punished for it (perhaps this will have to wait until the life to come as we saw earlier; 1 Tm 5:24).  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 73)

 

It is easy to be hastily offended in one’s spirit: to take offense before gathering all the facts about a case (cf. Prv 18:17).  This is especially so when one does not deal with the supposed offense, but holds it against someone.  Down deep in the heart of stupid persons is bitterness.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 74)

 

A person who hasn’t learned humility will always have a problem with God.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 108)

 

To the house of mirth we may go.  But our heart can never rest there.  The world can never be our home.  Its resources are too poor for our wants.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 139)

 

All of us are either subject to the power of others, and therefore in danger of oppression; or we are invested with power, and therefore tempted to oppress.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 141)

 

IV-  Your pride and impatience will incline you toward a selfish short-term outcome – consider. (Eccl 7:8-9; see also: Ps 1; 126:5; Prv 13:10; 14:17, 29; 20:21; Mt 21:28-32; Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 4:7-5:10; Heb 10:34-36; ch 11; Jas 1:19-20; 1 Pt 1:3-9)   

 

8-9 The thought of v. 1 is next amplified.  Patience is needed to see our resolutions and enterprises through to the end.  How often we embark on something with pride in our ability to carry it through but abandon it because of a few discouragements (v. 8)!  Then we may become angry and hit out at other people as an excuse for our own incompetence (v. 9).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1174)

 

The late J. Oswald Sanders wrote biblical books packed with remarkable insight and common sense.  In one of them he said, “Pride is a sin of whose presence its victim is least conscious.  There are, however, three tests by means of which it can soon be discovered.”  He went on to suggest these three tests:

The Test of Procedure:  How do we react when another is selected for an assignment we expected, or the office we coveted?  When another is promoted and we are overlooked?  When another outshines us in gifts and accomplishments?

 

The Test of Sincerity:  In our moments of honest self-criticism, we will say many things about ourselves and really mean them.  But how do we feel when others, especially our rivals, say exactly the same things about us?

 

The Test of Criticism:  Does criticism arouse hostility and resentment in our hearts, and cause us to fly into immediate self-justification?  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 174)

 

On this journey from birth to death and beyond, one of God’s greatest desires is the development of our character.  The achievement of this objective involves replacing our pride with patience.  Haughtiness tends to push wisdom aside, while forbearance can encourage its development.  Solomon adds to this observation that impatience can lead to the harboring of anger and resentment–characteristics of a fool (v. 9).  In addition, pride and bitterness can encourage wasteful and foolish longings for yesterday (v. 10).  Wisdom, on the other hand, learns from the past, lives in the present, and looks forward to the future.  As a result, the wise can flourish in the midst of gut-wrenching reality, while the foolish are dying on the ragged edge.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 68)

 

We all know people who can quickly become fired with enthusiasm for something, whether it is getting a new pet, learning a musical instrument, or working for Christian Aid.  But the enthusiasm wanes.  It is not as easy as they thought; there are snags or something else comes along to catch their fancy.  So they give up; they never see things through to a successful, worthwhile conclusion.  That, says Koheleth–and maybe there is something of that in most of us–is no good:  “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.”  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 47)

 

To romanticize about the good old days, however, is as useful a way as any of running away from the challenge and the opportunities of the present.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 49)

 

Nothing has been more of a problem in my life than a short fuse, a quick burst of anger.  To learn patience is one of the great lessons that adversity can teach us.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 91)

 

Time dims our memories of the past so that the present looks bleak–but it is not really so.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 91)

 

The ordinary trials of the Christian life are grievous in the beginning; but fruitful in the end.  Therefore–whatever be the trial of faith–never despond.  Never look at the present dark face of things, except in connection with the will of God’s love.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 142)

 

Patience is the child of faith.  “He that believeth shall not make haste.  Surely there is an end, and thine expectation shall not be cast off.”  Let the Lord take his own course, as certainly he will.  But trust him for the end in his own time and way.  We can only improve his dispensations, as we walk with him in them, to know his mind.  Beware of fretfulness in walking through the rough and thorny path.  Does not he make it the way home–the way to glory?  Never forget that we are most incompetent judges of his purposes.  This only we know–and we know it from his own mouth–that the thoughts which he thinks towards us are thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give us an expected end (Jer 29:11).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 144-45)

 

The indulgence of causeless anger is the mark of a fool.  Take care that we do not open our bosom to receive what we are forbidden to foster there.  Its unrestrained power may be murderous outrage.  The contemplation of the Savior is the mysterious secret of victory.  When did an “unadvised” word ever drop from “his lips?”  When did mockery or scorn ever ruffle his spirit?  When did sudden provocation ever for a moment cloud the bright sunshine of his holiness?  Look then, and be what you behold.  Look, and be like him.  The likeness grows on us as we look.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 148)

 

Under the pressure of a moment we often lose track of our long-range objectives.  Our determination to be loving and patient disappears the first time some little thing goes wrong.  Later, after we calm down from an angry blowup, we are sorry.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 105)

 

From impatience flows anger.  We human beings tend to become irritated when our plans don’t work out.  This is another mark of the fool.  The wise man understands that God is in control.  We must entrust our work to him and await his time.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 69-70)

 

Solomon said anger rests in the bosom of fools (Eccl. 7:9), indicating that the fool has embraced anger, making it his companion.  Just as it’s impossible for a Christian to believe in a sovereign God and have a “victim mentality,” so it’s impossible to be a grateful Christian (cf. 1 Thes 5:18) and allow anger to be his companion.  Most anger is either a sinful attempt to control other people or fear related to something for which the believer is unwilling to trust God.  Either way, it’s an indication that an individual has never fully surrendered a particular area of his life to God.  (John A. Stewart, Lamplighters Self-Study: Ecclesiastes, 24)

 

“Anyone with vision can start a big project.  But vision without wisdom often results in unfinished projects and unmet goals.”  (NIV Life Application Study Bible; 1143)

 

V-  What is it about us that inclines us to think the past was always better than the present? – consider.  (Eccl 7:10; see also: Eccl 1:9; Eph 1:3-14; 3:14-21)    

 

Even Christians sometimes overestimate the early church, the Reformation, or periods of revival.  Wise people certainly learn from the past, but they live in the present with all its opportunities.  Overmuch dwelling on the past can prevent us from overcoming the world, which often seems so much more wicked today than ever before.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1174)

 

God has designed life to be full of the unexpected so we might realize that we do not control our future.

We are not in charge of life.  The great satanic lie that subtly comes at us a thousand times a day is that we are gods, we are in charge, we can plan, we can direct, we can control.  In the freedom of will that God has granted us there is enough truth in that so that we easily believe we can ultimately control everything.  But the lesson of Scripture, driven home again and again, is that it is not true.  God is in charge.  What He sends us is always designed to benefit.  Even though adversity may have painful aspects, we must understand that it comes from a loving God, and be grateful for it.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 93)

 

Present days are a felt reality.  Under the pressure it is natural to believe, that the former days were better than these.  Not indeed that the comparison in all cases is proscribed.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 149)

 

But the rebuke is evidently directed against that dissatisfied spirit, which puts aside our present blessings, exaggerates our evils, and reflects upon the government of God as full of inequalities, and upon his providence, in having cast us in such evil times.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 149)

 

National changes may bring national declension.  Increasing wealth and luxury may relax the tone of public morals.  But–it may be asked–“Is it not the ordinary habit of the old men of the generation to give undue worth and weight to the records of bygone days?”  Has not each succeeding generation left a protest against the degeneracy of its predecessor?  Yet in a general view “God has been always good, and men have been always bad,” and “there is nothing new under the sun.” (Chr. 1:9; 3:15).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 149-50)

 

“Murmurers and complainers” belong to every age.  Leave God’s work to him, and let us attend to our own work, which is–not so much to change the world, but to change ourselves–to “serve our own generation by the will of God,” and to “let the badness of the age in which we live make us more wise, more circumspect, more humble.”  Brighter days are before us–each day brightened with the hope of a near-coming salvation.  O Christian!  “Salvation nearer.”  What a quickening glow!  (Rom 13:11).  Faith, hope, diligence, perseverance, watchfulness–all stir up the bottom springs of the heart (1 Pt 1:13).  The earnest is “joy unspeakable.”  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 151)

 

Since the Fall, the days have always been evil.  In some ways our age might be much worse than another.  In other ways our age may be better.  For instance, while today’s mass media have helped spread many ungodly ideas, they have also helped Christians to share the gospel.

Just as every age is full of wickedness, God’s goodness also remains from one age to the next.  In this respect no day has ever been better than today.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 70)

 

Yearning for the “good old days” is not realistic.  God has not changed, and life is very little different now than it was then.  Grumblers may have become far less tolerant over the years, or conveniently forgotten how they grumbled in days gone by.  Rather than cheerfully accepting their current situation as part of God’s good plan, they prefer to gripe and complain.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 106)

(v. 8a) Dreams may abound at the beginning, but reality is what’s left at the end.  And that’s what is most important when we reach the end of our earthly lives.  What we did, not what we thought about doing, is all that will count in eternity.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 67)

 

The “good old days” is a state of mind that has no coordinates in the real world.  It is just a few blocks south of the pot of gold at rainbow’s end, and it’s another few blocks east of that other entrancing fantasy-land, “what might have been.”  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 187)

 

The superiority of your yesterday is no more real than the “good old days” of slavery for the Israelites.  As Paul Simon pointed out in a song, everything looks nice in Kodachrome.  The only problem is that when you stare too long into your rearview mirror, you collide with the life that is coming at you.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 189)

 

VI-  Wisdom (like money) has distinct advantages.   But without knowledge both can lose their ability to preserve the possessor.  (Eccl 7:11-12; see also: Ps 107:43; Prv 8:10-11)    

 

As good Bishop Hall observes–“if a man have a great estate, and wisdom to use it, he may do great matters, and is very happy therein.”  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 152)

 

VII-  God is sovereign, you are not.  Be happy when things are going great and be contemplative when things are going poorly.   Above all don’t ever think you have the future figured out.  That is the beginning of arrogant, ignorant, foolishness.  (Eccl 7:13-14; see also: Job 33:13; Ps 111:2-3; Eph 1:11; Phil 4:11-13; 1 Tm 6:6-19; Jas 1:1-4; 4:13-16)

 

The reference to God’s “making crooked” (cf. v. 13) does not make a moral judgment on God (cf. 1:15).  It is meant to stress his sovereign control over all events.  There are some things that we cannot alter, at least for the time being.  This does not mean that we should not try to right wrongs and relieve suffering; the Teacher frequently protests against those who permit oppression (e.g., vv. 7-8).  It is easy to blame God when things go wrong and to forget to thank him when good things come (v. 14).  As children of God, we commonly experience both good and bad and may even thank God for allowing hardships rather than giving us an entirely smooth passage (cf. Mt 8:20; Lk 10:38; 2 Cor 1:4-7).  Part of the life of faith is accepting prosperity and adversity from God’s hand without being able to explain just how everything will be worked out for the future (v. 14; Rom 8:28).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1175)

 

Ill does it become us to walk before our Father with a wrinkled brow, doubting, desponding.  No, rather–let us give him his just right in an affectionate and delighting confidence.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 156)

 

The Lord is in control.  Therefore, we can replace resistance and frustration with submission and relief.  Indeed, trusting in God’s sovereignty frees us to really enjoy the prosperity He brings and to seriously consider the adversity He permits.  To this fact Solomon adds that the Lord is ultimately responsible for both the good times and the bad.  He also tells us that God works through both in such a way that man cannot “discover anything that will be after him” unless God reveals it to him.  In short, wisdom gives us a divine outlook that helps us rejoice in our bright days and persevere through our dark times.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 68)

 

The right kind of wisdom leads us to “consider what God has done.”  We come to see that everything is in his hands.  No one can “straighten what he has made crooked.”  No one can change what God ordains.

It is wisdom, then, to accept what God sends.  He sends bad times as well as good.  When life is pleasant we can be happy and thankful, recognizing even temporary blessings as gifts from a loving God.  When troubles come we can accept them as well, trusting that they, too, are for our good.  We can go even further than accepting our troubles.  We can rejoice in them.  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (Jas 1:2, 3).  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 71-72)

 

Martin Luther gave the following pastoral advice:  “Enjoy the things that are present in such a way that you do not base your confidence on them, as though they were going to last forever…but reserve part of our heart for God, so that with it we can bear the day of adversity.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 165)

 

Bumping our heads against the stone wall of God’s sovereignty can make us downright angry.  Why can’t we change what we don’t like?  Are we stuck with the constant problems of joyless work, ceaseless pain, endless hassles in the home, fruitless efforts to make sense of life’s puzzles, pointless speculations about what tomorrow may bring?  “Often we are,” says the Teacher.  Better it is to let God’s sovereignty do its thing than spend our days flushed with anger, aglow with indignation.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 167)

 

CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What difference does Christ make in understanding and applying this passage?:

A-  It is the hope of eternal life in Christ that allows us to see the truth of points I – VII.

 

It is not the birth of Jesus that saves us, although of course he had to be born before he could die.  Rather it is the death of Jesus that delivers–the shedding of his blood for the atonement of our sins.  It is only because the day of his death was so good–Good Friday, we usually call it–that we can have any hope of life after our own death.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 151-52)

 

‘We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true; and we are in him that is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 Jn 5:20).  Here is the One that gives the true knowledge.  Here is the treasure, that ensures every other blessing.  Life and knowledge from any other source, so far as eternity is concerned, is utter vanity.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 152-53)

 

B-  Jesus was a man of sorrows while on this earth because he knows the end of a matter is so much better than the beginning; that Good Friday and Easter are so much better than Christmas.  (Isa 53:3-4; Mt 5:1-30)

 

We should share in the grief of others.  This was the way of our Savior.  He was, in the Prophet Isaiah’s words, “ a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering,” and “he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows” (Isa 53:3, 4).  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 67)

 

Worship point:  Worship the God of big endings.  The God who encourages us to go further up and further in because there is no end to His goodness, His grace and His delight to give us all things to enjoy.

 

Spiritual Challenge:  To become the person you desire to be, you need wisdom.  But strive to understand that you will never be properly motivated to seek wisdom without first knowing that there is a God who is Lord over all and Who holds all the cards to your happiness and personal fulfilment.

 

 

Arthur Bennett wrote a prayer called “The Valley of Vision” that wonderfully summarizes some of the things in this section of Ecclesiastes.  He uses the language of paradox, which is really the language of the kingdom about which Solomon wrote and Jesus Christ taught–the language of truth:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,

Where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

That the way down is the way up

That to be low is to be high

That the broken heart is the healed heart,

That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

That to have nothing is to possess all,

That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

That to give is to receive,

That the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime, stars can be seen from the deepest wells,

And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

Thy life in my death,

Thy joy in my sorrow,

Thy grace in my sin,

Thy riches in my poverty,

Thy glory in my valley.  (Moody Bible Institute Stewardship Dept., Today in the Word, Nov. 9, 1995, 16)  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 189-90)

 

The kingdom of God always appears upside down to the human perspective.  We think it’s strange to die in order to live, or to give in order to receive, or to serve in order to lead.  Solomon captures the perpetual enigma of our looking-glass values just as Jesus describes them in the Sermon on the Mount.  He insists we should embrace sorrow over laughter, rebukes over praise, the long way instead of the short, and today instead of yesterday.

The truth is that it’s not the kingdom of God that is upside down–it’s the world.  It’s not the Word of God that turns life inside out–it’s the world that has reversed all the equations that God designed for our lives.   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 189)

 

 

 

Christ: Life

 

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