WISDOM IN A WAYWARD WORLD

Ecclesiastes 7:15-29

It is no accident that Ecclesiastes has been classified as "Wisdom Literature." It is perhaps the most philosophical of all of the books of the Bible. And yet, the book contains more than mere philosophical debate. It contains some very practical and down-to-earth wisdom.

 

THE BALANCE OF WISDOM

I 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.

Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

It 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. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18).

Ecclesiastes is a book that gives us a harsh dose of reality. The rose-colored glasses came off a long time ago. Everything is not sweetness and light, the good guys do not always win, and the hero does not ride off into the sunset. Quite to the contrary. The Preacher proclaims the fact that he has seen instances where bad things happened to good people and where good things happened to bad people.

I have seen...

A righteous man

Perishes in his righteousness

A wicked man

Prolongs his life in his wickedness

Prosperity theology says that only good things happen to good people. When disaster strikes a Christian, the Prosperity Theologian retorts, "He must not have been good enough," or, "He must not have prayed hard enough." Similar to this view are those who believe that you can claim Godís power for healing and, if you have enough faith, such healing will always take place.

I remember once when some friends of ours had a daughter who came down with Leukemia. They named it and they claimed it and she did not immediately get better. What was interesting was how many of their charismatic friends deserted them. They couldnít handle the fact that some Christians get sick and remain sick through no fault of their own.

One solution that is sometimes attempted is a multiplication of religious effort. It is reasoned, "If God blesses good people and I am not being blessed, then Iím going to try harder and pray harder and give more and to be more righteous until I am good enough to merit Godís blessings."

Donít get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with trying to be good. But there IS a problem with spiritual imbalance. The Preacher warns against imbalance in both of its extremes.

Verse 16

Verse 17

Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise.

Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool.

Why should you ruin yourself?

Why should you die before your time?

What does he mean? That you should not be too good? That itís okay to be a "little bad?" No. He does not say, "Be a little good and be a little bad." He doesnít actually say to be wicked at all. What he DOES say is do not be excessive. Donít try to be excessively righteous or excessively wise.

What does this mean? Its meaning can only be seen in the light of the CONTEXT. The Preacher has just described in verse 15 how he has seen a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and... a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.

One might be tempted to object, "Thatís not fair!" And by making such a conclusion, one would be attempting to pass judgment upon the righteousness and fairness of God.

You hear people do it all the time. People say, "I canít believe in a God who would allow war and suffering and injustice to take place in the world. If I were God, then I would do it differently." To make such a statement is to attempt to be overly righteous and overly wise. It is to put your own righteousness and your own wisdom over that of Godís. It is the way of ruin.

But neither should you go to the other extreme of saying, "Godís righteousness and Godís wisdom are so far removed from me that they do not relate to me and Iím just going to live in sin. After all, if I have broken one of the commandments, it is the same as though I had broken all of them so I might as well have fun doing it." This is also the act of a fool. Moreover, it is a path in which you may well die before your time.

Where is the balance between these two extremes? The answer is found in verse 18. It is in the fear of the Lord. How can you maintain a balance between trying to be overly righteous versus walking the way of sin? By fearing God. We donít talk that much these days of fearing God. But we ought to. After all, that is where real wisdom begins.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10a).

We are to fear Him because He is a lot bigger than us and because He has ultimate power and control, not only over our lives here on planet earth, but over all eternity.

 

THE STRENGTH OF WISDOM

Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20 Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:19-20).

What Solomon has said in the previous verses is not meant to negate the value of wisdom. Wisdom works! He likens it to the value of 10 rulers in a city. A king might ally himself to 10 other kings and bring them all together to collect their might into one city. And as good as that is, wisdom is better.

But a part of wisdom is being aware of the reality of sin. In Reformed Theology, we refer to this as the Doctrine of Total Depravity. There is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. This same testimony is given by Paul in the New Testament.

...as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one; 11 there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; 12 all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."

"Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving," "The poison of asps is under their lips"; 14 whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness"; 15 rheir feet are swift to shed blood, 16 destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 and the path of peace they have not known."

"There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18).

Paul strings together six Old Testament passages to compose a powerful argument for the universal depravity of all men. Most of these are taken from the Psalms.

3:10

Statement of Manís Sin

Four times we read the statement, "There is none..."

3:13

Picture of Manís Sin

Manís sinfulness is said to affect his...


m
Throat
m
Tongue
m
Mouth
m
Feet
m
Eyes

Every part of this man is seen to be in rebellion against God. He is a sinner from head to toe. But notice Paulís summary. At the root of manís sin problem is the fact that he has no fear of God. There is a progression at work here.

No Fear of the Lord

®

No fear of the consequences of sin

®

Free rebellion against God

®

Ultimate destruction

On the other hand, a proper fear of the Lord brings with it a corresponding realization of the consequences of our sin and our need of a Savior. This is the strength of wisdom. It points you to the Savior. It points you to Christ.

 

THE TOLERATION OF WISDOM

Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22 For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others. (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22).

We have already mentioned in an earlier chapter the importance of watching what you SAY. Now we are warned against watching what we HEAR. The situation is one in which you hear your servant muttering under his breath. There is only one problem. His mutterings are directed against you.

What is your first reaction when you learn that people are speaking ill of you? Especially when it is being done behind your back. Anger? Does it make your blood boil? Do you want to confront and put a stop to it? The Preacher has some words of wisdom.

Donít take it so seriously. Let it go. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words arenít all that bad. Just think about what they could say of you if they really knew the truth.

Before you go flying off the handle, remember the times that YOU have spoken ill of someone else. And it hasnít been one isolated instant. For you also have realized that you likewise have MANY TIMES cursed others.

 

THE DISCOVERY OF WISDOM

The Preacher now turns to his own personal testimony. He has not done this since chapter 2. In the first 2 chapters of Ecclesiastes, he related his search for wisdom in all the different areas of life. Now he returns to the telling of that quest.

7:23

7:25

7:26

7:27

The Preacherís Search

The Preacherís Discovery

The resolve of his quest

The direction of his quest: Wisdom & folly

The Snare of a Woman

The Lack of a Righteous Man (or woman)

1. The Resolve of the Preacherís Quest.

I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me. 24 What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24).

As he shared in chapter 2, the Preacher set out to learn wisdom. This was his goal. And there was nothing wrong with the goal. Indeed, the Lord commended Solomon for his desire to be wise. But the resolution of his quest was far from him.

It is said of Solomon that he was the wisest man who ever lived. But his own testimony concerning himself was that wisdom remained elusive - a remote and mysterious entity. Why? Certainly not for a lack of looking. Neither was it a lack of mental capacity. It all had to do with PERSPECTIVE.

True wisdom cannot be found "under the sun." True wisdom requires a divine perspective. And one can only acquire such a perspective through the filling of the Holy Spirit. Such a perspective must come from a source outside yourself.

2. The Direction of the Preacherís Quest.

I 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. (Ecclesiastes 7:25).

The Preacher attempted to seek through rationalization and through observation the qualities of wisdom and knowledge as well as their opposites.

He will point out in verse 27 that the instances of wisdom were far and few between. But before he speaks about that, he deals with a pitfall en route.

3. The Snare of a Woman.

And 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. (Ecclesiastes 7:26).

This seems completely out of place in this passage. We have been speaking of the high value of wisdom and of its search for such wisdom among men, and suddenly the Preacher interjects this verse about the snare of a wild woman.

Why is this here? It is here because Solomon is speaking of his own experiences. Solomon began his search for wisdom, but it was short-circuited by his unwise choices regarding women.

This was a man who was well-acquainted with women. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He knew a lot about women. And he was led astray by his relationships.

The Woman...

whose heart is snares and nets,

whose hands are chains

One who is pleasing to God

The Sinner

Will escape from her

Will be captured by her

Into which category does Solomon place himself? He doesnít say. But we know the rest of the story. And we know that he is one whose wisdom was captured by women. His is the voice of experience.

This tells me something about man-woman relationships. It tells me that sex before marriage short-circuits the potential for a healthy relationship. Solomon had relations with hundreds of women. But it seems as though he managed not to have a real relationship with any of them.

4. The Search for a Righteous Man.

"Behold, I have discovered this," says the Preacher, "adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28 which 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.

"Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices." (Ecclesiastes 7:27-29).

The Preacher concludes his search results with the observation that wisdom is rare. He concludes that wisdom is rare among men and even more of a rarity among women.

If this sounds a bit sexist, it is because it is. That was a sexist age. It was an age in which women were not taught to read or write. It was an age in which women were considered to be the property of a man.

And yet, I do not believe that this is meant to be a devaluing of women, but rather an indictment upon all mankind. This is seen in verse 29. God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices. This reference to men is not masculine, it is generic.

Why is wisdom so rare? It is because man has been blinded by sin. Why is man a sinner? Not because he was created to be that way. It is because men have turned from God to seek out "many devices."

All of us like sheep have gone astray,

Each of us has turned to his own way;

But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all

To fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6).

Man is not as he was created to be. He is abnormal. The root of this abnormality is sin. It was for this reason that God sent His only Son to be a sacrifice in our place - to die for our sins. And this is the way back to wisdom. It is through the cross.


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