“…oppression makes a wise man shine…” (Ecc 7:10)
The third section of the book (6:8-12:7) moves to the wise man life lived in joyful humility before God whose work is unfathomable (6:8-12). Then Solomon focuses on what is good for man (7:1-18) and the wisdom’s power (7:19-8:8).
Wise Man (6:8-9)
Solomon starts by asking what advantage the wise man has over the fool. He writes,
“8 For what more to the wise than the fool; what to the humble man who knows how to walk before the living? 9 Good the sight of the eye than walking of a soul. This also is vanity and chasing wind” (Ecc 6:8-9).
The humble wise man knows how to walk in this life and is content before God with what he sees as the portion God has given him. But the soul of the fool is walking in searching dissatisfaction. His dissatisfaction is a vain rebellion against God and chasing the wind. The question is how a man will respond to his mortality. The wise are content before God; the rebellious fool contends with God in roving dissatisfaction.
Not Contest God (6:10-12)
He is a fool who thinks he can contend with God. Solomon rebukes,
“10 What is, has already been named, and it is known that he is an Adamite and he is not able to contend with Him who is mightier than he. 11 For there are many words that increase vanity. What advantage to the Adamite? 12 For who knows what is good to the Adamite in life, the number of days of his vain life and which pass like a shadow? Who can declare to the Adamite what will be after him under the sun” (Ecc 6:10-12)?
God is the sovereign who has determined what has been and what will be. The fallen sons of Adam are in not position to contend with God. The fool may utter countless words in his defense before God, just increasing his vain plea of being justified. What standing does he have? Rather he should recognize his condition the brief days of his life. He is not in a position to know the future; but there is a judgment to come. God is still judge.
What is Good for Man (7:1-18)
Back to the question, “What is good…” (6:12)? He gives what seems to be a list,
“1 Good a name than good oil, and the day of death than the day of birth. 2 Good to go to the house of mourning than to a house of feasting for this is the end of every Adamite, and the living will lay it to his heart. 3 Good sorrow than laughter for in a sad face will be a good heart. 4 A wise man’s heart in a house of mourning, and fools’ heart in a house of mirth. 5 Good to hear a wise man’s rebuke than a man hearing a song of fools. 6 For as noise of the thorns under a pot so the laughing of the fool; this also is vanity. 7 For the oppression makes a wise man shine (halal) and a bribe debases the heart. 8 Good after the word than its beginning; Good the patient of spirit than the high in spirit. 9 Do not be quick in your spirit to be angry, for anger rests in the bosom of fools. 10 Do not say ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom you inquire concerning this. 11 Good is wisdom with an inheritance, and an advantage to those who see the sun. 12 For wisdom is a shade as money is a shade, and the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom gives life in its possessors” (Ecc 7:1-12).
Almost universally this section is translated “better…than,” -- “Better is a good name is than oil, and the day of death than the day of birth.” But in a subtle and significant way this misses the point Solomon is presenting. Solomon is not presenting “things that are better.” He is answering the question, “What is good?” He is not contrasting good and better things; he presents what is good for the wise man in his life under the sun. There are seven things he says are “good:”
vs. 1 a name
vs. 2 going to the house of mourning
vs. 3 sorrow
vs. 5 to hear a wise man’s rebuke
VANITY vs. 6
vs. 8 a word kept
vs. 8 patient spirit
vs. 11 wisdom with an inheritance
He has not given a hodgepodge list, but rather a detailed description of the wise man walking humbly before God. He is a man whose name and character matter more than expensive oil. He is a man who reflects on the realities of life and finds instruction in the funeral home. His sorrow and grief are home to a good heart. He grows from the instruction and rebuke of the wise. He keeps his word, has a patient spirit and passes his wisdom with an inheritance to those in his house. This is what is good for a man.
The contrasting picture is a garish fool. He has traded any name for oil. He loves the feasts and parties. He seeks out laughter and the house of mirth and the songs of the fools. His are the words promising, not the promises kept. He is high spirited and proud. He is quick to anger, living for the good old days. But the glory of the wise is clear in the midst of oppression, and his wisdom gives him life. The sabbath of the wise man’s characteristics culminate in life, though he lives in the midst of vanity (vs. 6).
The wise man knows that he is not God. He knows he is but a sinner seeking mercy from the Almighty. Solomon writes,
“13 See the work of God, for who can make straight what He has made crooked? 14 In a day of good, be in good, and in a day of evil see also God has made this as well as well as this so that the Adamite will not find anything after him. 15 I have seen everything in the days of my vanity; there is a righteous man who perishes and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be overly righteous, and not overly wise. Why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overly wicked and do not be a fool. Why die before your time? 18 Good that you take hold in this and also not let your hand go from this, for the one who fears God will go out with both of them" (Ecc 7:13-18)
The wise see the broken world where the righteous perish and the wicked prosper. He does not try confirm himself in his own righteousness – overly righteous. Nor does he try to rebel against God, overly wicked. He is not a pharisee or a debauched sinner. He takes account of both and walks in fear of God with knowledge to avoid both.
Wisdom’s Power 7:19-8:8
His path of humble wisdom in grace is powerful.
A Power (7:19)
B All sin (7:20-22)
C Unfathomable (7:23-24)
B' All sin (7:25-29)
A' Power (8:1-8)
“19 Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers who are in a city” (Ecc 7:19).
Though man live in a bent world, godly wisdom is powerful. It is more powerful than the power of this world. He continues,
“20 For there is no righteous man in the earth who does good and does not sin. 21 Also, do not take to heart to all the words that they say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 For also your heart knows that many times you have cursed others” (Ecc 7:20-22).
That doesn’t mean that there is anyone exempt from sin. Even the wise man must remember he is a sinner saved by grace. The wise man must remind himself when he is sinned against, that he too has often sinned against others. He is called to a humble powerful wisdom. That is an oxymoron foreign to the world. The world knows power and the world knows self-loathing, but a wisdom that is humble and powerful it does not know.
But the wise man knows that he does not know! When he has thought he would be wise, it is all so evident that he is not. What God is ultimately doing is beyond his comprehension. He sees a piece here and a piece there, but it is ultimately beyond him. Solomon confesses,
“23 All this I tested in wisdom. I said, ‘I will be wise.’ But it was far from me. 24 What is, is far off, and depth of depth. Who can find it out” (Ecc 7:23-24)?
Sin is everywhere. He writes,
“25 I turned my heart to know and to search, and to seek out wisdom and the reason, and to know the wickedness of folly, and the folly of madness. 26 And I find more than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are chains. He who is good before God will escape from her, and the sinner will be captured in her. 27 See this I found, says the Teacher, one to one, to find the reason 28 which my soul still seeks and I have not found. I found one man from a thousand, and a woman from all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I have found, that God made man upright and they sought many devices” (Ecc 7:25-29).
He saw the ensnaring allure of the wicked woman who chains her victims. The wise will not succumb to her traps. He found that all are sinners. He found one man who is not. God made man upright, but man has pursued many inventions and deviances to build chase the wind in hope of his own eternal kingdom.
But the wise man is powerful. Solomon concludes the thought,
“1 Who is like a wise man? And who knows the interpretation of a thing? Wisdom of a man makes his face shine, and the sternness of his face is changed. 2 I say, ‘the mouth of the king, keep for the sake of your oath to God.’ 3 Do not be hasty to go from his presence. Do not stand in an evil thing, for he does whatever he pleases. 4 Since a king’s word is authoritative, and who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ 5 He who keeps a command will know no evil thing, and a wise in heart knows both time and judgment. 6 For to every delight there is a time and judgment, for the evil of the Adamite is great upon him. 7 For he does not know what will be for who can tell him when it will be? 8 No man has power over the wind to restrain and no one has power over the day of death; and there is no discharge from war, and wickedness will not release those in its possession” (Ecc 8:1-8).
The wise do have understanding and his face does shine. But he lives humbly obeying the word of the king. He knows there is a time when God will make things right, a time for judgment. He is not crushed by the great burden that weighs on man. No one knows the future, nor can any restrain the wind. He does not have control over the day of his death. And the wicked are in bondage like an enlisted man in war. He will not be discharged. But the righteous will know no evil thing; he lives humbly in God’s grace.
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Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are from NASB. Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org
trans. indicates my translation
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