Ecclesiastes 7 Drear Prudence

Standard
Questions: Is death better than birth? Sorrow superior to rejoicing? Why must the author focus on so many depressing things? Does wisdom eliminate the need for wealth? Or even for folly? Can we ever become wise enough to escape the snares of our common humanity?

“Read More” to pursue answers from Ecclesiastes.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-29

A good name [is] better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

The author appears to be taking a break from his narrative to drop a few proverbs, though to be honest I’m not sure if he’s imparting wisdom or cynicism:

[It is] better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that [is] the end of all men; and the living will lay [it] to his heart. Sorrow [is] better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise [is] in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools [is] in the house of mirth. [It is] better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so [is] the laughter of the fool: this also [is] vanity.

Quite the downer of a passage! But, I think he’s trying to make a rather crucial point: that even though we naturally desire pleasure (as discussed earlier), it is only when we confront pain, rebuke, and death itself that we can begin to grasp true wisdom.

Though, even there we shouldn’t overdo it!

Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

Truly it is hard to find the right path, which is why we would do well to be cautious:

Better [is] the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: [and] the patient in spirit [is] better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is [the cause] that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

I think the old-fashioned word prudence captures this spirit nicely, even if it sounds boring to modern ears. There is a lot to be said for focusing on the now — though it doesn’t hurt to lay aside something for a rainy day:

Wisdom [is] good with an inheritance: and [by it there is] profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom [is] a defence, [and] money [is] a defence: but the excellency of knowledge [is, that] wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

It is good to be wise, but it doesn’t hurt to also be rich! 🙂 Especially when we don’t know what the future holds:

Consider the work of God: for who can make [that] straight, which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

Because, let’s face it, nice guys don’t necessarily finish at all:

All [things] have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just [man] that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked [man] that prolongeth [his life] in his wickedness.

In fact, I tend to agree with him that an obsessive focus on our own righteousness and trying to be wise is a waste of time:

Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

Though ignoring both is even stupider:

Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

In fact, he seems to be arguing for holding both in tension:

[It is] good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.

Very radical middle of him! Though, in the end he definitely seems to prefer wisdom:

Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty [men] which are in the city.

If for no other reason than the fact that we live in a sinful world:

For [there is] not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

As we ourselves know to our own sorrow:

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Yet, it isn’t even clear that we can know enough wisdom to save ourselves:

All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it [was] far from me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason [of things], and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness [and] madness:

Heck, Solomon couldn’t even figure out women!

And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart [is] snares and nets, [and] her hands [as] bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.

God may have made man good, but we inevitably twist ourselves into folly:

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, [counting] one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

If such is our lot, what is there left to hope for? To hope in?

Stay tuned. Hopefully we’ll find out together…

Prayer

Father, blessed are those who mourn. May we with unveiled faces gaze calmly into the face of death, knowing that you are greater still. May we never run away from the cold hard reality of suffering, into either self-righteousness or wanton folly, but may we always fall into your arms of love. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title is a mournful pun on the Beatles’ Song.

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