Practical Wisdom – Ecclesiastes 7

Read the Passage: Ecclesiastes 7

Death and Foolishness (7:1–10)

More so than in the preceding chapters, in Eccl. 7 Solomon begins to write in a style very similar to that of the book of Proverbs. This same genre will be Solomon’s method of writing throughout most of the remainder of this book. As he discusses the value of practical wisdom in Eccl. 7:1–10, Solomon initially focuses on death. Indeed, as Moses had noted earlier, being introspective about death is a good practice (cf. Ps. 90:10, 12). Note that Solomon had pondered death at Eccl. 4:2 and will do the same at Eccl. 8:8; 9:3–5. In Eccl. 7:1–4 Solomon teaches the day of death is better than the day of birth (cf. Eccl. 7:1); funerals are better than feasts (cf. Eccl. 7:2); sorrow is better than laughter (cf. Eccl. 7:3); and wisdom is connected to mourning, while foolishness is tied to mirth (cf. Eccl. 7:4). The larger idea here is that death helps mankind to see his life more clearly.

Life-experience teaches that suffering and trials, including the presence of death and sorrow, oftentimes results in wisdom and spiritual growth. Conversely, blessings and ease can produce foolishness and spiritual apathy. This phenomenon, writes Solomon, itself “is vanity” (Eccl. 7:6), for the presence of death and sorrow ought not be needed in order to attain wisdom. Recall that Agur wrote in the book of Proverbs that the ideal life is one that is balanced between being abased and abounding (cf. Prov. 30:8–9; Phil. 4:10–13). One important teaching that Solomon cites in Eccl. 7:7 is the idea that “oppression [i.e., death, funerals, sorrow, and mourning] destroys a wise man’s reason.” This loss of reason, then, leads some people to ask, “Why were the former days better than these” (Eccl. 7:10)? In reality, though, there are no good ol’ days, and nostalgia can sometimes breed a sense of victim-hood.

Wealth and Righteousness (7:11–18)

Solomon had written about wealth several times earlier in this book, most recently at Eccl. 5:8–17. Here in Eccl. 7:11–12 Solomon again addressed the relationship between wisdom and wealth, as he teaches that wisdom and wealth can work well together as a defense against foolishness. In Eccl. 7:13–14 Solomon returns to a theme he had first introduced at Eccl. 1:15—that is, the sovereignty and providence of God. In this passage Solomon gives the challenging yet comforting teaching that God is sovereign over both good and evil things (cf. Exod. 4:11; Deut. 32:39; Ps. 119:75; Isa. 45:7; Lam. 3:32, 38; Amos 3:6). Given God’s providence, man ought to enjoy life’s blessings and not be anxious about evil. Eccl. 7:19 is an interesting verse as here Solomon exhorts his readers, “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise.” The idea in this verse seems to be to avoid being self-righteous and to refrain from legalism.

Cursing and Scarcity (7:19–29)

In Eccl. 7:19–20 Solomon writes about the benefits of wisdom and the universality of sin. First, Solomon records, “Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city” (Eccl. 7:19). The teaching here is that, by its very nature, wisdom is applicable to life. Indeed, wisdom is the ability to see the world from God’s perspective and to apply God’s Word to daily living. In practice, this strengthens the wise and creates human flourishing. One of the reasons why such divine wisdom is needed is, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Eccl. 7:20; cf. Rom. 3:10). Second, in Eccl. 7:21–22 Solomon gives some important advice about criticism. The idea in this verse is to not take to heart everything that people say about you, or even about others (cf. Isa. 51:7–8), as everyone knows that they have unjustly criticized others in times past (cf. Eccl. 10:20).

In Eccl. 7:23–29 Solomon gives a brief recap of his prior investigation into wisdom and the grand meaning of life. As he had declared earlier at Eccl. 1:13, so here at Eccl. 7:25 Solomon records, “I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things.” Yet, in testing everything (cf. Eccl. 7:23), Solomon realized that there are many things that are unknowable, even for the wisest of men. In Eccl. 7:26 Solomon again personifies foolishness as a clamorous woman (cf. Prov. 2:16–19; 5:1–14; 6:20–29; 7:1–27), as he notes that death is preferable to foolishness. At first glance Eccl. 7:27–29 may seem chauvinistic; however, bear in mind that Solomon is not writing about women in general here; rather, he is personifying foolishness as a woman. Recall that Solomon had personally loved many women and that he wrote much in Proverbs praising femininity in general and women in particular (cf. Prov. 5:15–23; 31:10–31).

Application Questions:

  1. In favoring death, funerals, sorrow, and mourning is Solomon being too pessimistic? In what way does death help mankind to see life more clearly?
  2. Why do so many people long for the so-called “good ol’ days”? Are there, in fact, any good old days?
  3. Are you challenged by Solomon’s teaching at Eccl. 7:14 that God is sovereign over both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity?
  4. How well do you receive criticism? Have you ever been guilty of unjustly criticizing others? How should we respond to unjust criticism?
  5. How can Solomon seemingly write disparagingly about women in Eccl. 7:28, but then praise the blessing of a wife in Eccl. 9:9?

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David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.