We have unparalleled opportunities for entertainment in our society. There is the potential to have 100s of channels of your TV set. If you miss a particular program you can catch up on the internet, where films and TV programs can be viewed at any time, irrespective of when they were broadcast. Opportunities for DVDs, computer games, clubs, sports and other leisure activities abound. Yet all this entertainment has the danger of distracting us from what is truly important.
Preserving a good name before God has much value, as we will meet Him when we die. Considering what is beyond death should be on everyone’s agenda, as unless Christ returns first, we will all die. How do we preserve a good name? – through wisdom. But we need to give wisdom the space to operate by remaining calm. Once we do so, wisdom can protect us and guide us through the circumstances God has appointed for our lives.
This is counter cultural; we will not receive many prizes or much acclaim for telling others to consider death. Many prefer to be distracted and try to ignore the inevitability of death approaching them. Yet a wise man knows the value of preparing for what will happen – meeting his maker – and will take every opportunity to be reminded of this.
Preserving A Good Name Before God Requires Seriousness of Life (7:1 – 6)
Having a Good Name Before God is All Important (7:1)
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth.” Ecclesiastes 7:1
The value of a good name is great; it is worth striving for, something worth desiring. Having a reputation for honourable, godly conduct gives confidence to the individual concerned. There is added authority to their advice, after all it comes from a good source, an honourable individual who knows God. There is also added weight given to the example of their life. While all else is vanity, a good name before God endures. How precious it would be to hear the words “well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23) as we are welcomed by our Lord Jesus Christ beyond the grave.
But it is one thing to start well, to preach well when young, or to demonstrate great spiritual gifts in your youth, it is another to finish the race without dishonouring the Lord. Consider the example of King David. As a youth he defeated Goliath, that giant warrior of the Philistine nation. In his teenage years he accomplished what grown men (who were better equipped and trained) failed to do. Yet as a middle aged man David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then murdered her husband Uriah. It is one thing to start well in spiritual things, it is another to maintain a constant witness and testimony to the Lord over years of service. The apostle Paul, in his latter years and suspecting death was near, could say to a younger Christian man:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
Hence The Wise Man Knows When To Seriously Consider His Ways (7:2,3)
What will help us to remember our creator, and to walk carefully in the world He has given us? The answer is simple, remembering that we will meet Him beyond death!
“It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.“ Ecclesiastes 7:2,3
The most effective aid to growth in spiritual wisdom can be considering death. It is not sweeter, but better, to go to the house of mourning. Solomon has clearly stated that there is a time to laugh as well as to weep (Ecclesiastes 3:4). He is not against laughter and enjoyment as part of our lives. What he is stating is that it is good for us to be reminded that our time here on earth will end. We are too easily absorbed in the world around us and funerals drive home to us that we are here on earth on a temporary basis. There are no lasting joys in this world, but there are important lessons in pain, pointing us to eternity. To a wise man focussing on what is beyond death is important. After all most people do die, it is something we need to be prepared for!
In some ways death is a mercy. It limits sin. Dictators and tyrants do not last forever, their evil influence will come to an end when their lives are over. Death also ends pain, whether this is from illness or injury, or perhaps long battles with the sinful nature in our fallen world, but out struggles and hardship will one day come to an end. By no means the least of death’s mercies to us, is that we will meet with God, death is our gateway to eternal life. Life is heaven’s departure lounge, God’s people wait until God calls them home to Himself.
“We are made to feel that if we had not leaned so strongly on our earthly props, they might not have broken under us. But if our Father takes away our all, does He not give His all – infinitely richer and more enduring?” Charles Bridges
Fools Continuously Look For Entertainment (7:4 – 6)
“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 for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity.“ Ecclesiastes 7:4 – 6
The wise seek what is valuable in this world, such as preparation for the next, and not just continuous distractions. They are not those who simply seek to ignore the reality of death, hoping that it will not happen until some distant time in the future. But knowing the importance of a good name before God, now, in this life, they want reminders (such as death) to keep them on track and to stop them becoming totally absorbed in the things of this life. When a timely word of rebukes comes, though perhaps unpleasant initially, the wise man knows that benefit will come in his character from a friends advice.
“It is better to have our corruptions mortified by the rebuke of the wise, than to have them gratified by the song of fools” Matthew Henry
Fools simply want entertainment, and never give serious thought to what is beyond this life. But here is their weakness; laughter in the face of grief has little value! Laughter is totally inappropriate when faced with the loss of a loved one. The best defence of the fool, laughter, distraction and entertainment, has no value when the fool is confronted with his greatest problem – death itself. The fool in his distraction is often noisy, there is continuous laughter rather than seriousness of heart, but the noise simply proclaims his shallowness. Because the fool does not consider eternity, he does not have a good name before God, his values, language and ambitions are ungodly. Why? Because he never studies God’s ways. He has no interest in them because he is absorbed in this world.
When Correctly Applied, Wisdom Brings Us Through the Circumstances God Appoints (7:7 – 14)
Wisdom Needs a Calm Spirit (7:7 – 9)
“Surely oppression drives the wise into madness, and a bribe corrupts the heart. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:7 – 9
We may think that talk of oppression and bribery affects others in more important positions than ourselves, such as judges or those in authority, but as one commentator writes:
“All of us are either subject to the power of others, and therefore in danger of oppression; or we are invested in power, and therefore tempted to oppress. Oppression may be either the active power of inflicting suffering, or the passive enduring of it.” Charles Bridges
As parents have authority over children and line managers have authority over staff at work, it is perhaps more relevant to us than we first think. We need to recognise the weight of the matters involved and the consequences of getting it wrong – which an uptight spirit can easily lead us into. Anger removes our ability to think, to be rational, or to be friendly. It also leads us to say things in an unsuitable spirit – in summary it produces foolish behaviour. Anger also removes the ability to pray (1 Timothy 2:8), it is the perfect alienation of the mind from prayer! The emphasis is on remaining calm and patient knowing that weighty matters are under consideration, and that inappropriate emotion can often produce the behaviour of fools. Besides, what matters are not weighty when it comes to our Christian witness?
“It [anger] may pass through a wise man’s heart. But the bosom of a fool is its home. The indulgence of causeless anger is the mark of a fool”
We are also given a reason why we need to maintain this patient spirit which allows wisdom to operate – the end of a matter is better than its beginning. The wise know that the test of something is how it performs over time. It is not how the project at work starts that is important, but how it ends. Was the project completed on time, to budget and to the sufficient quality required? The friendship may start well, but will it stand the test of time? It is not the marriage day itself that a marriage will be judged by, but the years of faithful, loving, productive and fulfilling time spent together.
There is another aspect to this to consider, that of God’s dealings with His people. God orders our ways, and when going through trouble or hardship, we may not see the benefit it produces until much after the events. However this does not alter the truth of Romans 8:28,29 – God orders all things well in the lives of His people who are called according to His purpose. We suffer now through temptation or hardship, but we will have bliss with the Lord Jesus Christ beyond the grave. I believe another aspect of our joy on the new heavens and the new earth will be that we will see something of what we have been saved from (Isaiah 66:24). God is working for our good, and we need humility and patience to accept what He gives, and to trust His judgement.
Wisdom Helps Us Keep Perspective Of the Day We Live In (7:10)
“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Ecclesiastes 7:10
Wisdom knows that when looking at the former days you are probably looking through rose tinted specs (giving you a more favourable view than they really were). Further, today is the day God has appointed for us, and our purpose in life is to glorify our maker in the day he has given us. Finally, we also need to recognise that God organises history for His glory and not our private benefit! It is too easy to forget present blessings. A dissatisfied spirit will often exaggerate our evils and quickly charge God with not providing what is good for us. Ultimately we need to remember that God has appointed the day of our birth and life, which is now, so don’t long for past perceived “glory days”, but seek to glorify God now. Charles Bridges ably puts things in perspective:
“Yet in general view, God has always been good, and men have always been bad, there is nothing new under the sun.” Charles Bridges
Wisdom Protects Us (7:11,12)
“Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.” Ecclesiastes 7:11, 12
The fool will squander an inheritance, yet the wise knows how to handle it carefully. Wealth alone can fail to bring lasting benefit. It can be squandered and wasted and there are certainly many examples of this in our society, but an inheritance with wisdom can offer real benefit. Wisdom is similar to money in that it can offer some protection against the misfortunes of life.
A biblical example of this is the wise woman who saved the town of Abel (2 Samuel 20:1 – 22). Sheba son of Bichri rebelled against King David and then fled to Abel. However he was pursed by Joab, commander of King David’s army, and Joad then proceeded to besiege the city of Abel. It is only through the intervention of an unnamed wise lady that Abel is saved. She asked Joab why he was attacking Abel, in essence seeking to bargain with him, to find out what he really wanted. Joab replies that he wants Sheba, whose head is duly handed to him by the inhabitants of Abel. A modern (and less violent) example of this is where I have found myself in the position where the project team are under pressure, and the demands from the client area seemingly impossible to meet in the required timescale. The key can be to know and understand the pressures your client is under, and then focus your efforts in supporting him/her achieve their objectives. This has cut down unmanageable workloads to manageable sizes!
There is effort in learning wisdom, yet unlike money it does not disappear in a recession!
“If it is worth seeking at all, it is worth seeking first. And if it be not sought first, it will not be sought at all.” Charles Bridges
Know That Gods Appoint Your Circumstances (7:13 – 14)
“Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” Ecclesiastes 7:13
Events in our life do not always go in the way we planned or would want. God’s appointed ways may seem crooked to our eye, our will goes one way yet God’s providence, His ordering of our lives, goes another. However we know that our God is infinitely wise and loving towards His people. What God appoints cannot be undone, we need to accept this while avoiding the error of fatalism. God does call us to act in certain ways, e.g. to work to provide for ourselves and others. To just accept that one avenue of employment has come to an end without seeking another is to risk denying the faith we hold (1 Timothy 5:8). In the UK, our society and government are moving away from God, but we are also called to pray for those around us and especially those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1 – 4).
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” Ecclesiastes 7:14
The wise understand that both prosperity and adversity are from the hand of God and they accept both – God has wise purposes in both! Prosperity has its unique temptations that would lead us from God. There is little chance of misusing money if you don’t have it. Equally there is little chance of misusing time if you have to fulfil daily work and family commitments. Without hardship we would be proud, thinking we had no weakness or that all was achieved by our own strength. Sometimes adversity reveals weakness that would have remained hidden otherwise. This humbles us and brings us to God. We are driven to Him for His aid and strength. We trust ourselves less and Him more. I love this doctrine of God appointing His providence, both what we define as good and bad events, in our lives. Both the clear journey and the 8 hour delay due to an accident, both the clear run and the 30mph driver in the 50 mph zone, God has appointed both sets of circumstances and has His purposes in both. Knowing that should bring peace to our lives and calmness of spirit, which is essential to give wisdom room to guide us through the circumstances God has appointed for us.
Lessons From Chapter 7:1 – 14
Preserving a Good Name before God is a Serious Business that Requires Death to Remind Us of Our Duties
Fools allow themselves to be distracted and entertained by this world without considering death or what is beyond death. The wise know that to stop them being distracted by this world, they need to consider the reality of death.
Wisdom is One of God’s Means of Bringing Us Through the Times He Appoints For Us
God has appointed our circumstances. Prayer, the church, the word and wisdom (which is applying God’s word to our lives), will bring us through what God appoints for us. Do not long for the former “glory” days, seek how you can glorify God in the day he given you to live.
Wisdom Requires A Calm Spirit To Operate
Be wary of the strong influence on you. Whether it comes from yourself, such as anger or impatience, or outwith yourself such as a bribe or tyranny. Such strong influences have a tendency to produce emotions that destroy wisdom and produce foolish behaviour.
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.