“Pursuit” – Ecclesiastes 7:23-8:1

January 12th,  2014

Ecclesiastes 7:23-8:1


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Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.  Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you.                                                              —  Proverbs 4:6-8


Background Information:

  • (v. 26) I find woman more bitter than death.  This misogynistic declaration is notorious, but the language of the rest of this verse and the next one makes clear that the kind of woman Qohelet has in mind is the seductress or “stranger-woman” who often appears in Wisdom literature (as, memorably, in Proverbs 5 and 7).  (Robert Alter, The Wisdom Books, 372)
  • (v. 28) There is not much difference between finding only one man in a thousand and finding no woman in a thousand who is upright. Did the Pundit think of himself as the one exception?  It is interesting how many of us, in our disappointment with the failures of others, begin to wonder if we ourselves are the only one who can be trusted–the one in a thousand!  (Sinclair Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 35)
  • (v. 28) When he alludes to a thousand women, is Solomon thinking of his harem of seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines?  Perhaps after his bitter experiences with them the king had reached the conclusion that not one of them was wise or upright.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 79)
  • (v. 28) Out of the thousand women he was involved with, he never found one whom he could trust.  Why?  Surely it was not because Solomon was a contemptible male chauvinist, as some may be tempted to think.  In Proverbs 8 he uses a woman to symbolize true, godly wisdom, and in Proverbs 31 he holds up a woman as the supreme example of one who lives a life pleasing to God; that chapter is known around the earth for its exaltation of godly womanhood.  Solomon was not a woman hater–that was not his problem.  (Ray C. Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 103-04)
  • (v. 28) Oriental potentates may in large measure account for his building up a royal harem, he found that a harem did not provide the appropriate companion for man.  How much better he would have been with one good wife, such as he speaks of in 9:9 and Proverbs 31!  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1178)


The questions to be answered are . . . As Solomon wraps up chapter 7, what is he attempting to say to us?   Why does he liken pursuing wisdom to a relationship with a woman?  What does this passage tell us about our relationship with Christ?


Answer: Wisdom is like a woman as she is to be pursued and embraced, not a prize to be obtained.  We are far too sinful and wisdom is far too expansive to ever be fully comprehended.  It is faith in One bigger than and more upright than us Who has all wisdom that allows us to enjoy all of the benefits of comprehension without the possession of comprehension.


In wisdom literature the woman is either your best friend or your worst enemy.  She is either that which builds you up or tears you down; depending on whether or not she is a woman from above or a woman from below.  Also throughout wisdom literature wisdom is personified as a woman.  Just like a woman can be from above to our benefit or from below to our demise; so too can wisdom be either from above to our redemption and salvation or from below to our destruction and damnation. — Pastor Keith


The Word for the Day is . . . Pursuit


What is Koheleth telling us in Ecclesiastes 7:23-8:1?: 

I-  Encourage a determined, humble seeking and pursuit of wisdom.  (Eccl 7:23-25; see also: Dt 4:29; Job ch. 28; bk of Prv; Eccl 1:13, 16-18; Jer 29:13; Mat 7:7; Jas 1:5)


For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality; and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline and virtue.  For the modern man, the cardinal problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique. (C. S. Lewis; The Abolition of Man, quoted by Tim Keller in a sermon entitled, “Power for Facing Trouble”)


Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.  — Albert Einstein


We cannot successfully demand the love of a woman or the love of God.  We have to wait.  And just as a woman’s heart is melted when she encounters in us weakness accompanied by our humble admission of it, so God’s heart is melted and he is most tender and gracious to us when he encounters in us weakness accompanied by our humble admission of it.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 49)


It took years for me to understand I have a Christian obligation to continually move toward my wife.  I thought that as long as I didn’t attack my wife or say cruel things to her, I was a “nice” husband, but the opposite of biblical love isn’t hate, it’s apathy.  To stop moving toward our spouse is to stop loving him or her.  It’s holding back from the very purpose of marriage.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 155)


C.S. Lewis says that God always gives us struggles in life.  He makes sure that we always are facing things we can’t quite figure out.  And the reason He does it is so we will remember that this world is not our home.  If you have a good meal, if you have an enjoyable recreational activity, if you have a sweet time with your spouse, that’s good.  But God will always let you know that this world is just an inn.  We are just passing through.  It’s not a destination; it’s a motel.  God will not let your life get so solid that you can trust in your family, your health, your talent, your friends, or your church–not completely.  He wants us to enjoy those things but to put our trust completely in Him.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life well Lived, 123)


Solomon could not make himself wise, and neither can we produce godly discretion in our lives.  Wisdom is a gift from God; no human being can manufacture it.  Furthermore, we cannot fully understand ourselves.  No amount of psychological analysis or introspection will ever unveil all that we are.  To some degree, we will remain an enigma to ourselves until the One who knows us completely, fully reveals to us who we are (cf. 1 Cor 13:12).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 72)


“I am.”  The name’s origins come from the verb to be, so some read it as “I will be who I will be.”  Others suggest it should be read like this: “I will always have been, I am, and I always will be.”  Perhaps this is God’s way of saying, “If your goal is to figure me out and totally understand me, it’s not going to happen.  Even my name is more than you can comprehend.”  (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis Repainting the Christian Faith, 24)


Mystery is created when key facts are hidden from the viewer.  What the writer/director/creator does at the end is pull back the curtain and show us the things that had previously been hidden.  So the mystery gets solved and our questions get answered.  But the Bible has an entirely different understanding of mystery.  True mystery, the kind of mystery rooted in the infinite nature of God, gives us answers that actually plunge us into even more…questions.  (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis Repainting the Christian Faith, 32)


The real trouble with man in sin is that he always wants to understand.  The ultimate sin of man is pride of intellect.  That is why it is always true to say that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many might, not many noble are called.”  The wise man after the flesh wants to understand.  He pits his brain against God’s wisdom, and he says, “I don’t see.”  Of course he doesn’t.  And Christ says to him, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).  If you think that with your mind, which is so small when you compare it with the mind of God, and which is not only small but also sinful, and perverted, and polluted, and twisted–if you think that with the mind you have you can comprehend the working of God’s eternal mind and wisdom, obviously you do not know God, you are outside the life of God, and you are lost.  The first thing that must happen to you before you can ever become a Christian is that you must surrender that little mind of yours, and begin to say, “Of course I cannot understand it; my whole nature is against it.  I can see that there is only one thing to do; I submit myself to the revelation that God has been pleased to give.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 5, 251)


One of the greatest “theologians” of our time, Sean Penn, put it this way: “When everything gets answered, it’s fake.  The mystery is the truth.”  (Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis Repainting the Christian Faith, 33)


Idiot–God’s purposes and ways are far above your thinking.  You can no more comprehend the purposes of God than a thimble can hold the Pacific.  — Pastor Keith


If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile.  There will be no worship without the Spirit.

If God can be understood and comprehended by any of our human means, then I cannot worship Him.  One thing is sure.  I will never bend my knees and say “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I have been able to decipher and figure out in my own mind!  That which I can explain will never bring me to the place of awe.  It can never fill me with astonishment or wonder or admiration.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 85)


One of the great mistakes we’ve made in modern Christianity is approaching God deductively as an object of knowledge instead of approaching Him inductively as the cause of wonder.  So apologists try to prove that God is factual.  And He is.  But facts don’t awe us.  In my humble opinion, it takes far more faith to believe in macroevolution by random chance than creation by intelligent design.  But it’s about more than just arguing the evidence.  God is more than factual.  He is wonderful.  The mind is educated with facts, but the soul is educated with beauty and mystery.  And the curriculum is creation.  (Mark Batterson, Primal, A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity, 53)


The important thing is not to stop questioning.  Curiosity has its own reason for existence.  One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.  It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.  Never lose a holy curiosity.  (Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times, 755)


Therefore we ought to be so disposed in mind and speech that we neither think nor say anything concerning God and his mysteries, without reverence and much soberness.  (John Calvin; Institutes, 2.8.22)


Passion for unity that is the momentary gift of sexual union distracts us from the deeper emptiness that is the gift of lasting union.  (Rami Shapiro, The Way of Solomon, 66)


Have you ever asked yourself after you had done something, “Why did I do that?  I knew it was wrong.  I knew it would hurt somebody; why did I say that?”  You were wrestling with the same problem the Searcher faced, that great question of the mystery of evil.  The Searcher says he did not find the answer by wisdom, by trying to reason it out.  (Ray C. Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 101)


The more we know of God–his nature (Job 11:7)–his works (Ps 42:5)–his dispensations (Rom 11:33), the more we are humbled in the sense of our ignorance.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 173)


There is much that is far off–not only from our senses, but from our understanding–exceeding deep to men–even to angels (1 Pt 1:12).  Nay–the plainest surface needs Divine teaching for the practical knowledge of it.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 174)


He was far more stimulated by the grandeur of his object, than disheartened by the difficulty of attaining it.  He would seek and search out principles–the reason of things, tracing effects to their causes.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 174)


One major thrust of the passage is its teaching on the limits of human wisdom.  As we seek to interpret the passage we find ourselves saying “Amen.”  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 172)


The theme of this section is the Teacher’s test and its results.  It recounts the Preacher’s persistent attempts to use his “wisdom” as the means for putting to the “test” (“prove,” v. 23, should be translated as “test”; see 2:1, where the lengthy process of testing began) various theories about finding true profit and ultimate meaning in life.  And it reveals the limited and negative results of that test.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 173)


Solomon is saying that we human beings will never exhaust all there is to know.  Nobody reaches the point where he knows it all.  Even if we get to know a tremendous amount of information, we still must learn to apply it practically!  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 77)

At this point it almost seems as if the whole book of Ecclesiastes may end in failure.  Qoheleth is looking for wisdom that he cannot find.  His quest has failed.  He is unable to explain the purpose of life, or explain why everything matters.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 175)


In verse 24 he announced that wisdom was too deep for anyone to get to the bottom of it.  Verse 25 tells us that he kept looking anyway, trying to understand the difference between the wise way and the foolish way to live.  Yet what he discovered was the darkest mystery and the deepest problem of all–the depravity of the human heart.  In one way or another, the troubles of life always come back to the problem of sin.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 175-76)


II-  Be careful which wisdom you pursue.  (Eccl 7:25-28; see also: Gn 39:9-10; Jdg ch. 16;  1 Kgs 11:1-8; Ps 1; Prv chs 1-9; 11:6; 12:4; 14:1; 19:13-14; 21:9, 19; 22:14; 23:27-28;25:24; 27:15-16; 29:25; 31:10-31; Mt 6:23; 7:24-27; Lk 11:34-36; Jn 3:19; 8:12; 12:35, 46; 1 Cor 3:18; 4:5; 2 Cor 6:14; Jas 3:13-17)


A careful reading of verses 23-25 establishes the fact that Solomon is discussing the quest for human wisdom, not the dangers of fast women.  He says that when he thought he could gain an understanding of life through study, he found the solution to be “far from me” and “exceedingly deep.”  Following the pattern established in Proverbs, he speaks of the women “whose heart is snares and nets.”  To view these verses as only a warning against harlots is to do an injustice to the context.  (Richard De Hann, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 109-10)


Premarital escapades and extramarital affairs will not fulfill their promise to bring lasting satisfaction.  Instead, they will both drag us away from a vital walk with God and bring confusion and hurt into the human relationships we hold most dear.  Moreover, Solomon says that in his search for satisfaction in life, he did find “one man among a thousand” who could help answer his questions (vv. 27-28a). But he did not come across even one woman in a thousand who could provide fulfillment (v. 28b).  Perhaps the reason this occurred was because his preoccupation with sexual intimacy robbed him of the opportunity to experience the deep joys of marriage  with one mate.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 73)


“Modern man, with confidence in all of his modern understanding and knowledge, now has both feet firmly planted in midair”.  (Paraphrase of Francis Shaffer; Session 5.1 Wide Angle)


The trouble of this world is not with God, but with man.  Because we will not heed the wisdom of God in the Word of God, we seek to circumvent what He is telling us and try to find the richness of life despite (or apart from) the rules of life that He has set forth.  It cannot be done.  The inevitable discovery of an honest search is that true life can never be found except where God says it is found–in a relationship with Him.  (Ray C. Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 105)


Solomon speaks from experience.  His wives had led him astray and had made a fool of him.  Luther offers these words on the passage, “Those who are wise in the Word of God run away from these snares but not from the female sex.”  In other words, don’t avoid women, but just the wrong kind of women.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 78)


We read of the bitterness of death (1 Sm 15:32); and of a worse bitterness.  “The end of a strange woman is bitter as wormwood, and her steps take hold on hell” (Prv 5:4, 5).  “Death may be sweetened and sanctified, made a welcome and desirable thing to a believer.  But the bitterness of hell is incurable.  Death may be honorable, to die in a good cause, to go to the grave in peace, lamented, desired, with the sweet savor of a holy life, and many good works to follow one.  But for a man to putrefy alive, under the plague of impure lust–to make shipwreck of his honor–to put hell into his conscience–to bury his name, his substance, his soul and body–in the bosom of an harlot–this is a bitterness beyond that of death”–not only separating the soul from the body, but separating soul and body eternally from God.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 176)


The proverb itself does not refer to women in general but to the “immoral (lit. “strange,” “foreign to our way of life”) woman” of Proverbs (2:16-19; 5:3ff; 6:20-29; 7:5ff.).  Her ways smack of “death” (see Prv 2:18; 5:5; 7:27).  Dealing with her bears “bitter” consequences (Prv 5:4).  Her person is an arsenal of hunting equipment: “snares” (the verb form is “prey” in Prv 6:26), “nets” (see the fishing imagery of Babylonian cruelty and ruthlessness in Hab 1:15-17), “fetters” (like Samson’s “ropes” in Jdg 15:14).  She is fully equipped to lasso and hogtie her victims.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 175-76)


The Preacher-King compares this woman’s heart to a trap, like the kind of net or snare that a fowler would lay for a bird.  But who was she?  The Preacher seems to have someone in mind.  If we wanted a Biblical example, the first woman who comes to mind is Delilah, who entangled Samson’s long hair in her loom and eventually robbed that strong man of his godliness (Judges 16).  Some commentators make a comparison with the book of Proverbs, where Solomon personifies wisdom and folly as two women in the street calling out to passersby.  According to Proverbs, “The woman Folly…is seductive” (9:13).  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 176)


Before we accuse the Preacher of being sexist, we need to see these verses in their total context.  Taken as a whole, the Bible has as much (if not more) to say about sinful men than sinful women.  Iniquity is an equal opportunity employer.  We see that here in Ecclesiastes.  Lest we think that the Preacher viewed men any more positively than women, we need to remember what he said in verse 20: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”  Even the one good man that he found in a thousand was still a sinner.  If he speaks to us about the wickedness of men, we should not be offended when he also talks about the folly of women.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 177)


The writer is not telling us about all people everywhere but is testifying to his own personal experience, which may say as much about him as it says about anyone else.  Remember that these verses may well have been written by King Solomon, who knew some wise and godly men, like the prophet Nathan, but who also had a thousand wives and concubines in his royal harem–unbelieving women who worshiped foreign gods (see 1 Kgs 11:3).  Does it really surprise us to learn that not one of them was known for her godliness?  The Bible says that these women turned Solomon away to the worship of other gods (see 1 Kgs 11:1-8).  Their hearts were the bitter trap that led to his tragic downfall.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 177)


There is no use arguing about who is more or less righteous than whom or quibbling with Qoheleth for saying that the men he knew were one-tenth of one percent more likely to be righteous than the women he knew.  Sin is the great equalizer.  Every man, every woman, and every child is a sinner.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 178)


There is a human wisdom that opposes God and that God opposes.  It is a wisdom he intends to frustrate (1 Cor 1:17-21).  Christ, by contrast, is himself “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24, cf. v. 30), the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15, alluding to the personified figure of wisdom in Prv 8:22-31; cf. Col 2:3 and Jn 1:1-5).  All truth and wisdom are ultimately focused on him and derive from him (e.g., 1 Cor 12:8; Eph 1:8; Col 1:9).  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 156)


Doubtless this is not intended as a censure of the female sex in general; it is probably that there have been and are more good women than good men (Acts 17:4, 12); he merely alludes to his own sad experience.  And perhaps there may be this further in it: he does, in his proverbs, warn us against the snares both of the evil man and of the strange woman (Prv 2:12, 16; 4:14; v. 3); now he had observed the ways of the evil women to be more deceitful and dangerous than those of the evil men, that it was more difficult to discover their frauds and elude their snares, and therefore he compares sin to an adulteress (Prv 9:13), and perceives he can no more find out the deceitfulness of his own heart than he can that of a strange woman, whose ways are movable, that thou canst not know them.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1025)


We cannot suppose, that Solomon’s judgment of woman was an universal sweeping condemnation.  He had no difficulty to find female virtue in its own legitimate sphere.  And many were the testimonies which he has given of its value.  Who would scruple to adopt Luther’s judgment, that “there is nought on earth so lovely as a woman’s heart, with God’s grace to guide its love?”  But here his view was evidently confined to the walls of his own harem  (comp. 1 Kgs 11:3).  And among the thousand “strange women” 1 Kgs 11:1) dwelling in that crowded seraglio he himself living in the open breach of God’s law (v. 10)–in the gross violation of marriage purity–and casting away all the domestic happiness of endeared affection and undivided love–how could he expect to find “the virtuous woman,” whom he so beautifully portrays–“her price far above rubies?”  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 177)


III-  Your pursuit of wisdom is God ordained but misguided by depravity.  (Eccl 7:20, 29; 9:3; see also: Gn 1:26-28; 2:7, 19-20; 5:1-2; 9:6; Job 33:4; Ps 8; 5:9; 14:1-3; 94:12; 100:3; 119:73; 139:14; Prv 1:7; 3:5-6; Eccl 3:11; Isa 42:6-7; 43:7; 53:6; 64:8; Jer 17:9; Micah 7:1-4; Mt 11:27; 13:11; 16:16-17; Jn 3:19; 14:17; Rom 1:18-25; 3:9-20; 5:12-14; 1 Cor 1:18-2:16; 15:48-49; Eph 2:8-10; 4:17-22; 2 Tm 3:16-17; 1 Jn 1:8-10)


In marriage each partner should pursue his or her own joy in the joy of the other; that is, marriage should be a matrix of Christian hedonism.  (John Piper, Brothers, We are NOT Professionals, 250)


God created man with the freedom to love and serve Him forever.  But man turned his freedom against God and, as a result, has become creatively deceptive and destructive (cf. Gn 1-4, Rom 1:18-32).  We cannot–indeed, dare not–blame the Lord for our sin.  We are directly responsible for our own wrongdoing (cf. Jas 1:13-17).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 73)


Nothing is more comforting than the doctrine of total depravity.  In fact, the doctrine of total depravity is the most emotionally freeing doctrine in all of NT theology.  It states that my whole person has been radically tainted by sin.  Everything I can do, think, or say on this side of glory will be tainted by sin.  In our fallen state, our entire will is oriented against God.  We are bent on our own ways of evil from the get-go.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life well Lived, 118)


This is a most important verse.  It opens up to us an hidden mystery–man’s original, and his awful apostasy from it–how God made man–how man unmade himself.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 178)


The origin of the evil was in Satan’s heart.  Man’s responsibility was his consent to it–his abuse of his own free will, not–like God’s–unchangeably holy, but mutable–even in its highest strength of uprightness.  Here therefore was a voluntary act–the free choice of his independent will; and therefore willful apostasy from God.  Thus man in the exercise of his own free will became the author of his own ruin.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 179)


If the people, who had seen the glory of the first temple, wept when they beheld the glory of the second, only because it was inferior in external magnificence; might there not well be “a fountain of tears” drawn out by the sight of the first spiritual temple in its “perfection of beauty”–totally defiled–yea, made a temple of Satan?  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 181)


The blame for the rarity of wisdom is attributed to no-one but mankind himself.  He was created neither sinful, nor neutral, but upright, a word used of the state of the heart which is disposed to faithfulness or obedience (cf. 2 Kgs 10:15; Heb; Ps 7:11).  Despite an original uprightness, sin has “entered in” (cf. Gn 3:1-7; Rom 5:12).  Man’s sin is perverse (AV invention means a deliberate contrivance for overcoming what would otherwise be expected), deliberate (sought indicates something positive and persistent), universal (they individualizes man mentioned earlier; cf. 1 Kgs 8:46; Rom 3:23), multiform (many points to the variety of manifestations of sin:  ‘Every one to his own way’, Isa 53:6).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 116-17)


The difference between the results of the investigation is precisely one tenth of one percent.  The aim is not to put down women as a gender but to show how utterly scarce, if not nonexistent, genuinely good people are, people who would have passed muster with God to justify his deliverance of them from feminine snares or any other kind.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 177)


Blaise Pascal wrote, “We have not sufficiently plumbed the wretchedness of man in general, nor our own in particular, when we are still surprised at the weakness and corruption of man.”  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 95)


I wouldn’t be surprised if many marriages end in divorce largely because one or both partners are running from their own revealed weaknesses as much as they are running from something they can’t tolerate in their spouse.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 97)


The whole human family (as ʾādām must mean here; see at 1:3) has deliberately (“sought out” translates the same verb that describes Koheleth’s inquiries in v. 25) and wickedly developed “many schemes” to deviate from being “upright” (Heb. yāshār), a favorite word for stellar conduct in Proverbs (2:7; 3:32; 11:3, 6, 11 and more than 20 other places) and in Job, where it is defined by “feared God and shunned evil” (1:1, 8; 2:3).  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 177)


According to God’s inspired Word–of which Ecclesiastes is a part–men are to be the leaders in home (1 Pt 3:1-7) and church (1 Cor 14:33-36).  Even among men wise leadership is a rare gift.  Perhaps one in a thousand have it.  Solomon is simply pointing out how rare a truly upright or wise person is–whether that person be male or female.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 79)


To come from the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve, is both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on the earth.”  (C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian, 233)


This may not have been the answer that the Preacher was hoping to find when he started looking for the meaning of life, but it is essential to knowing true wisdom.  One of the first things we need to understand is the human condition.  What doctrine has greater explanatory power than the doctrine of total depravity, which teaches that the problem with the world is not God but us and our sin?  Depravity is the one doctrine of the Christian faith that can be proven empirically.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 179)


IV-  Your pursuit of wisdom is the goal, not the mastery and manipulation of it.  Proper pursuit will make you unique, discerning and glorious.  (Eccl 8:1; see also: Jdg 13:18; Job 36:26; Job 37:5, 23; 33:3; Prv 2:1-22; 3:13-19; 4:5-9; 8:1-12; 9:26; 10:13; Hos 14:9;  Rom 11:33; 1 Cor 2:6-10; 3:18-20; Eph 1:17; 3:2-13; 5:32; 6:19; Col 1:24-29; 2:2; Col 4:3; 1 Thes 5:4-5; 1 Tm 3:16)



Christianity does not direct us to focus on finding the right person; it calls us to become the right person.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 236)


You don’t abandon your faith because you can’t figure it out.  You don’t punt because God didn’t behave.  You trust in what you know, not in how you feel. (Tommy Nelson, A Life well Lived, 126)


It looks as if he would have agreed in spirit with the comment of one of the early Church Fathers who said that Satan, having stripped Job of all that was precious to him in life, left him his wife because Satan thought that she would greatly assist him in conquering this saint of God!  If he had a jaundiced view of women, he is not much less jaundiced in his view of men.  Not a single woman had come up to his expectations, and “only one man among a thousand” (v. 28).  Statistically it is not very impressive.  We can only wonder what company he kept.  How much of this was his own fault?  Was he too coldly and intellectually cynical ever to enter into lasting and meaningful human relationships?  You can spend so much time trying to dissect life that you forget how to live it.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 55)


He did become wise as he had resolved in verse 23, not wise enough to figure out the purpose and pattern of God’s ways but wise enough to know that they were beyond figuring.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 177-78)


True wisdom is a bottomless treasure.  It is there for the taking in God’s Word.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 80)


Many people have a lot of facts at their finger tips or degrees behind their names, but do not have a real grasp of what it all means.

Not so with the wise man.  He knows the explanation of things.  He knows that behind life’s complexities and seeming injustices, God is at work.  He understands that God is using everything for the good of his people.  The wise man understands all this and he confidently places his life into God’s loving hands.

Every field of learning takes on a new light when viewed in this way.  History, for instance, becomes more than the recounting of the rise and fall of nations.  It is the story of the Almighty’s blessings and judgments upon the nations as he carries out his plans.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 80-81)


At this point there are two main choices.  One is to give up completely and give in to despair.  But Qoheleth never did that, and neither should we.  The best alternative is to admit that we do not have all the answers, but also to believe that God still does, and then to wait for whatever wisdom he provides.  This is the way of humility and faith–what Calvin once called a “learned ignorance.”  We should try as hard as we can to understand the meaning of life.  But we should also be content to confess that there are some mysteries we do not understand.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 175)


Knowing the limits of wisdom is part of wisdom.  The more we know, the more we should realize how little we know, and that whatever wisdom we gain comes as a gift from God.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 175)


It is only a matter of consistency, of course, that we should not object to other people’s attempts to control the universe if we ourselves are practicing a religion that seeks such control rather than exercising true biblical faith.  In this regard it is important to remember that the Bible itself was never intended to give us complete inside knowledge and understanding of the universe, so that we ourselves might exercise a godlike power over our own lives and over others.  It is an amazing indication of just how deep our human rebellion against God goes, however, that the very Bible that tells us the truth about God, the world, and ourselves should have been so frequently used by Christians to fight power with power.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 180)


The Bible, we should remember, has not been given to the church so that we as Christians, rather than some other human beings, should behave like gods, knowing all things and being capable of all things.  It has not been given to the church so that we can control “the times.”  It is given only so that we may have sufficient light to live by, as we worship the God of mystery and wonder and move humbly through his amazing creation as the brief, mortal beings that we are.

We do not truly understand anything, even if we know the contents of the Bible, if we do not understand this.  The Bible itself can become an obstacle to our redemption, in fact, if it receives more of our devotion and trust than God does.  It can become itself an idol we worship.  Even the Bible cannot function properly in God’s universe unless it is read in dependence on the living God and as a witness to the One who is alone the fount of all wisdom.  The Bible should never be used as a means of placing ourselves, rather than God, at the center of the universe.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 160-61)



CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does this message help me to better understand my relationship with Christ?:

  • Determined Jesus, wisdom personified, is the One throughout all eternity who perfectly pursued us, His bride; even though we were a snare to Him.  He did not allow Himself to become ensnared but redeemed us and restored us so that we His bride might enjoy brightened faces and a renewed appearance. (Ex 34:29-35; Num 6:24-26; Job 33:1-30; Mt 13:43; 17:1-6; 19:28; 28:3; Jn 1:12-14; 8:12; 12:32; 15:16;  Acts 6:15; 26:18; Rom 5:12-17; 13:12; 1 Cor 1:30; 1:19-2:16; 15:22;  2 Cor 3:7-18; 4:6; Phil 2:15; Eph 1:4; 2:10;  5:8, 21-33; Col 2:1-5; 1 Thes 5:5; 2 Thes 2:13; 1 Pt 2:9; 1 Jn 1:5; 2:8-9; 3:1-3; Rv 21:5)


How do we live in light of these truths?  Apply wisdom where you are.  Seek God to know Him.  Trust Him.  Grow in Him; but remember that you are a sinner, you live among sinners, and you have no wisdom in yourself.

You wouldn’t even recognize God unless He provided Christ and the Holy Spirit drew you and converted you.  You’d still be dead in sin unless Christ’s righteousness was imputed to you.  It’s only on the basis of His death that God forgave you.  And it’s by His grace that He keeps you.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 121)


Do you have joy?  If not, perhaps it’s because you aren’t soaking in the wisdom of God’s Word.  It’s not being integrated into your life and giving you poise.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 128)


Here wisdom is said to make a face shine and take away the hardness of his expression.  How is this?  He is happy and assured in life because, as the result of his wisdom, he knows the meaning of a thing [or matter].  The wise person has become well versed in biblical truth and is able to interpret what is going on around him from God’s perspective.  That makes a difference.  He is not wandering through this world ignorant of the processes at work.  Theological wisdom is important.  There is technological wisdom, which also has its place.  To a lesser extent, this too makes one’s face shine (gives him the happy, assured confidence that he is “with it,” as we say).  But it is theological wisdom–wisdom about the ways of God with His world and with us men–that really does this for people.  (Jay E. Adams, Life Under the Son, 81)


Grace makes the face shine because it is joy visibly expressed on the human face.  (Ray C. Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 106)


Have you ever watched somebody under the impact of the spirit of God soften, mellow, and grow easier to live with?  That is the work of the Spirit of God.  (Ray C. Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 106)


Ecclesiastes says that although the rebellious sinner will be trapped by the temptress, the person who pleases God will find a way to flee.  Never say that you cannot stop sinning; always believe that by the power of God the Holy Spirit there is a way to run away from temptation, as Joseph did when he was caught in the clutches of Potiphar’s wife (Gn 39).  Believe the gospel.  Take your sin straight to the cross and confess it.  Grow in the knowledge of God through the ministry of his Word.  Pray for holiness, and ask a friend to help you pray.  Get the shepherding help of a pastor or elder in the church.  Seek the pleasure of God, and by his grace he will deliver you from the power of sin.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 176-77)


Jesus Christ is the only man who ever remained totally upright and never fell into sin.  By virtue of his perfect life and atoning death, he offers to forgive us for all our wicked schemes.  Although it is true that “many died through one man’s trespass,” it is also true that those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” will live “through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:15, 17).  Even if we do not have the wisdom to solve all the deep mysteries of life or to figure out everything there is to know about our place in the universe, we should at least be wise enough to see the deadly sin in our own hearts and to ask Jesus to be our Savior.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 179)


Why did God create us and later redeem us at great cost even though he doesn’t need us?  He did it because he loves us.  His love is perfect love, radically vulnerable love.  And when you begin to get it, when you begin to experience it, the fakery and manipulativeness of your own love starts to wash away, and you’ve got the patience and security to reach out and start giving a truer love to other people.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 99-100)


The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised, firstly, that we shall be with Christ; secondly, that we shall be like Him; thirdly, with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; fourthly, that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and, finally, that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple. (C. S. Lewis; The Weight of Glory)


Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for  a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.  (C. S. Lewis; The Weight of Glory)


A good marriage is not something you find, it’s something you work for.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 133)


Karl Barth said, “Only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace.”  If we think we understand God’s love and grace, we are probably without it.  (R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word: Romans, 19)


Worship point:  The only way it makes sense for Jesus, the One upright man, to pursue us, sinners that we are, is because He is Who He is:  God, perfect and righteous.   Otherwise we would have been nothing but a trap and a snare for Him.  But, instead, He pursued us, redeemed us and married us so that we can be a glorious, spotless bride (Eph 5:21-33).   Knowing that should cause you to worship Him.

When you have pursued God in repentant helplessness, you will have worshiped.  And every time you sense his embrace, your soul will shine the slightest bit brighter with his reflected glory, and you will be the slightest bit more ready to face what his life has in store for you.  (Timothy Keller, King’s Cross, 122)


Spiritual Challenge:  Seek wisdom from above and resist the wisdom from below.  And consider what a gracious, forgiving, merciful, patient and loving husband we have because He pursued us even though we would be, and have been, nothing but a hassle for Him.



O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.  I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.  I am ashamed of my lack of desire.  O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.  Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed.  Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.  Say to my soul, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.”  Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.  (A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)




Loving Pursuer



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