In the first six chapters of Ecclesiastes we see the fruit of Solomon's rebellion. He disobeyed God in marrying foreign wives and they led him away from the Lord. To compensate for this loss, Solomon tried to find satisfaction in a variety of worldly ways. By chapter six he has exhausted his search and acknowledges that his results are empty.
In chapter seven we see Solomon turning again to God as he begins to write about true wisdom. He does this in the form of proverbs and uses a literary devise known as parallelism.
Parallelism is a literary device used to accentuate or highlight an idea or a word using repetition, contrast and comparison. Writers would, for example, repeat the same thought in successive verses using different words in order to emphasize that idea, or give an opposite idea in a successive verse to achieve emphasis or contrast.
Parallelism was used to contrast or emphasize ideas rather than words. Here are some general examples of this device being used:
- Contrasting Parallelism - Proverbs 13:1 (Shows difference)
A wise son accepts his father's discipline,
But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.
- Completion Parallelism - Proverbs 14:13 (Stacks information to complete)
Even in laughter the heart may be in pain,
And the end of joy may be grief.
- Comparative Parallelism - Proverbs 25:24 (Compares)
It is better to live in a corner of the roof
Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
In each of these passages parallelism is used to emphasize the points he is trying to make.
In the discussion of true wisdom (7:1-15) Solomon uses seven comparative, one contrastive (vs. 4) and one completive (vs. 7) parallelism devices.
1. The value of a good name - vs. 1a
A good name is better than a good ointment,
This is a comparative proverb comparing a good name to good ointment. Good ointment gives off a lovely fragrance, blesses all who enjoy the aroma, has value just by being there, is a great gift to someone else and so is a good name. Once you spoil or dilute it, it is almost impossible to regain its former value or potency.
2. Death is better than birth - vs. 1b
And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.
This is also a comparative proverb. Once the end has come we can understand the whole story in context. For believers, the end signals the beginning of a new and more enjoyable spiritual life. At death we have come to the end of suffering and trouble, there is no more to come for the Christian, it is truly a time of rest.
3. Funerals are better than weddings - vs. 2a & b
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Verse 2a is comparative and 2b is completing. You learn many more important things at a funeral than at a wedding. Funerals remind us of our short lives, they draw us close to families, they teach us about the frailties of life whereas weddings are for rejoicing - more pleasant but not more instructive. Funerals force us to face God regarding our sins and need for mercy, weddings rarely do this.
4. Sorrow is better than laughter - vs. 3-4
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
These are contrasting. Sober mindedness brought on by the trials of life is more profitable than the laughter and merrymaking we experience during the good times. In life we experience both sorrow and laughter, but it is in sorrow that we draw closer to God and usually learn the most valuable lessons in life. Solomon is not telling us to be overly serious, he is encouraging us to benefit from those times when we experience sorrow.
5. Better receive rebuke than listen to foolishness - vs. 5-7
5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility.
7For oppression makes a wise man mad,
And a bribe corrupts the heart.
This is completive parallelism.
Verse 5 states the premise - better to be rebuked (which is unpleasant) by a wise person than listen to entertainment that has no value for growth or development (only feels good).
Verse 6 completes the picture by adding a comparative verse showing what fools and their jokes are really like. Burning thorns that make jokes as they are being destroyed, this is how useless they are.
Verse 7 is a final completive verse to round out the idea. Yes, it is better to listen to the rebuke or advice of a wise man, but even in this you need to be careful. In difficult times you can easily be manipulated by seemingly wise advice. As an example of this he shows how under extreme circumstances one could corrupt all wisdom by accepting a bribe. Be very careful, even those who think they are wise could fall into temptation
6. To end is better than to begin - vs. 8a
The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
This part of the verse is comparative. It is easy to start, harder to finish. The excitement of starting gives way to the joy of completing. Both are good but to finish something is always sweeter.
7. A patient spirit is better than a proud spirit - vs. 8b-10
Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
10Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?"
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
This is comparative and completive. God desires to develop our character as we go from birth through to death. In this regard, Solomon says that this includes replacing our pride with the quality of patience. Pride pushes patience aside. Patience leads to the development of a godly character.
Solomon adds that a proud spirit can lead to the harboring of anger and resentment (which are the characteristics of a fool). In addition to this, pride and bitterness can lead to wasteful and foolish longings for "yesterday." Wisdom, on the other hand, lives in the present, learns from the past and looks forward to the future. As a result, the wise can flourish despite difficulties and obstacles while the foolish are doomed to live in the past and repeat the same mistakes.
In the last four verses of this section, Solomon explains the advantages of wisdom. He has already said that the foolish and wise end up in the same way, but he now concedes that the wise person has two advantages nevertheless.
A. Wisdom guards against pitfalls - vs. 11-12
11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
And an advantage to those who see the sun.
12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
Yes, both fool and wise die, but the wise person makes less mistakes along the way and learns how to preserve his life. Wisdom does not extend life but it can enable one to have a better quality of life.
B. Wisdom gives a divine perspective - vs. 13-14
13Consider the work of God,
For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
14In the day of prosperity be happy,
But in the day of adversity consider—
God has made the one as well as the other
So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.
Wisdom helps one to "consider the work of God". What does this mean and how do we do this? We cannot change what God does nor can we know what He will not reveal. However, in knowing our limitations we can seek Him in humility, and this is the first step in finding eternal life. This section on wisdom teaches us two important lessons:
- Seek God when making decisions in life - seek His wisdom not our own.
- Ask God to reveal to us what we do not understand.
If we have true wisdom, we will be doing this on a regular basis. Doing this is what "life" is all about - this is the answer to the questions, "What is life about? And what should I do?"
Wisdom at work - verses 15-29
Now that Solomon has given us a few proverbs about the value of wisdom, he will go on to explain some of the ways that wisdom can benefit a person in his/her life. In verses 15 to 29 he gives three things that wisdom provides the person who avails himself of it.
A. Wisdom provides balance - vs. 15-18
15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.
In these seemingly contradictory verses Solomon is telling his readers that in a world where there are extremes, the middle road is the one that is indicated by wisdom. That the good perish young and the wicked live long is a testimony to this contradictory world. Wisdom allows us:
- Not to be so pious that we cannot face reality (i.e. too heavenly bound to be any earthy good).
- Not so wicked that your life is in danger. All men are sinners but some revel in it and give themselves to it (i.e. hell-raisers).
By avoiding the extremes a wise man can live a good life here and have the one to come as well.
B. Wisdom provides strength - vs. 19-22
19Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. 21Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.
Solomon begins by saying that wisdom is worth the strength of ten rulers of cities - in other words, there is great strength in wisdom. Especially in three areas.
1. Strength to handle sin. No man is perfect, and everyone sins and causes trouble. Wisdom helps us deal with the fallout from the sin in our lives.
2. Strength to avoid entrapment. It is easy to be taken in by flattery and cunning deceit. Wisdom helps us have a fair estimate of ourselves so we are not easily taken in by these things.
3. Strength to deal with criticism. Sometimes we are justly or unjustly criticized. Wisdom builds a strong character that does not cave in to problems, flattery or criticism.
C. Wisdom provides insight - vs. 23-29
True satisfaction comes from a relationship with God, and the reason that this produces satisfaction is because it is only in this relationship that we gain:
- Salvation - peace for our souls
- Insight - understanding
- Peace + understanding = satisfaction.
Solomon shares some of the insights that his God-given wisdom has provided for him.
1. Understanding only comes from God - vs. 23-24
23I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me. 24What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it?
He does not express it here, but he realizes that man cannot produce wisdom and cannot reveal what God has hidden. Understanding is a joyful discovery that God gives as a gift to all those who seek it by faith.
2. Sexual adventure is not satisfying - vs. 25-28
25I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. 26And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. 27"Behold, I have discovered this," says the Preacher, "adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these.
In all of his sexual experimentation he found only suffering and guilt. In his life there were few men (1 in a 1000) who could give a wise or satisfying answer. However, his 1,000 wives could not give him satisfaction. Of course this is because he violated the way in which God designed sexual and intimate satisfaction to be found, where only one man is united to only one woman for life.
3. The problem is within not without - vs. 29
Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.
Solomon's wisdom finally led him to understand that man's problems and the evil in the world do not come from God; they come from within man's sinful heart. Wisdom helps us to know where to lay the blame for the problems in our lives. Solomon explains how his wisdom is finally working to lead him back to God by teaching him what true wisdom is and how it is to be properly applied to life.