Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 Wisdom for the Better Life
Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 Wisdom for the Better Life
Solomon pauses in this chapter, which begins the second half of the book. Here, Solomon seems to reflect on the wisdom he has shared in the previous six chapters. The key word in this section is “better”. The Lord shows us that some of the medicine that tastes the worst has the best cure. In these verses, Solomon is going to goad us into thinking outside the box.1
As a result, he reflects on his experience and shares seven better things.
SEVEN BETTER THINGS IN LIFE2
1. Honor is better than luxury (Ecclesiastes 7:1)
“A good name is better than fine perfume…” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, HCSB)
The Teacher begins and ends this section with a rationale that wisdom is better than wealth (Ecclesiastes 7:1 and Ecclesiastes 7:11-12). Honor is better than luxury for the simple reason that reputations last longer than a lifetime. One may have luxury in life, but that luxury ends at death.
2. Death is better than life (Ecclesiastes 7:1)
“…and the day of one’s death than the day of one’s birth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1, HCSB)
The Teacher turns in this wisdom from describing the value of wisdom over wealth to the idea that death is better than life. The reason I believe is two-fold: First, as was shown earlier, reputations last longer that one’s life. Second, as will be shown later, it brings people together.
3. Mourning is better than feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2, HCSB)
Mourning is the outward expression of an inward sorrow or grief. The Teacher here reminds us that one will not be able to party all of the time. People who come to your party only come from the enjoyment. They may not be coming for your sake. However, that is different when you go the place of mourning.
Unlike at a party, a person may go to comfort people who are going through grief. The friends who come to the house of mourning shows that they are truly friends. That is why it is better.
4. Sorrow is better than laughter (Ecclesiastes 7:3-4)
“Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad. The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.” (Ecclesiastes 7:3–4, HCSB)
To follow up the previous better thing is the reason why mourning is better than feasting. The reason is that sorrow is better than laughter. When the face is happy, they heart may not be happy. However, when the face is sad because of the death of a loved one, it shows that the heart is happy.
We gain more wisdom from going to one good funeral than we do from going to a whole year’s worth of birthday parties. Dealing with death is good for the heart—a word the Preacher mentions repeatedly in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4. The heart is the center of who we are—the thinking, feeling, willing core of our being. “Sorrow is better than laughter” because it makes the heart glad. More literally, by sadness, the heart “is made better.” The point is not so much the gladness as it is the soundness of the heart. Dealing with death, in all its sorrow, makes us better people.3
5. Rebuke is better than praise (Ecclesiastes 7:5-6)
“It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person than to listen to the song of fools, for like the crackling of burning thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the fool. This too is futile.” (Ecclesiastes 7:5–6, HCSB)
The praise of fools doesn’t accomplish anything more than puff a person up. However, it doesn’t make the person better. However, when one is corrected by a wiser person, if the one who is corrected would listen, they would learn. The hard part with this better thing is to discover that correction helps me more than praise. Correction is a form of encouragement. When I rebuke someone, it should always be to make the person better – to correct a flaw, to teach a lesson, to improve something. Inherently, correction can be encouraging and healing. This is why it is better than praise. Praise is letting me know I do something well. But correction helps me to do something I don’t do well in a better way.
6. Patience is better than pride (Ecclesiastes 7:7-10)
“Surely, the practice of extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe destroys the mind. The end of a matter is better than its beginning; a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit. Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools. Don’t say, “Why were the former days better than these?” since it is not wise of you to ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:7–10, HCSB)
Here we see four ways in which my pride can prevent me from being patient.
FOUR WAYS MY PRIDE CAN PREVENT ME FROM BEING PATIENT4
The first way my pride can prevent me from being patient is by making me impatient.
“…a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8, HCSB)
To finish something takes patience. We don’t have lots of patience. We live in an instant gratification world. If the hamburger at McDonald’s takes longer than two minutes, we get impatient. If the person in front of us in line doesn’t finish in a couple of seconds, we get impatient. If the bill for our meal doesn’t arrive before we are finished and we have to wait, we get impatient. The same is true with the church. We can easily get impatient.
The second way is indifference. Impatience leads to indifference of the other person.
“Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry…” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, HCSB)
Indifference is when I let my spirit rush. What does that mean. I don’t take my flesh captive. I don’t learn the value of self-control. I begin not to care. You know that sense that when you think you need to get something done or something needs your attention, but you end up avoiding other people? I have to get this done. When you have that in your spirit, it is a form of indifference. This leads to the third way my pride can prevent me from being patient, and that’s irritability.
“Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry, for anger abides in the heart of fools.” (Ecclesiastes 7:9, HCSB)
When we become impatient, we can become indifferent and procrastinate. The other way we act out our impatience is that we become irritable. In the family, you try to be patient with your kids to get ready to go somewhere important. But it gets at you. So you try to rush them out the door and when they don’t do what you want them to do, you get angry. We have to learn to be patient. When I get irritated because something isn’t done, the problem is with me, not that thing that I am irritated about.
“Don’t say, “Why were the former days better than these?” since it is not wise of you to ask this.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10, HCSB)
People who don’t want to move forward usually are the ones who are asking this question. People who ask for the former days to return usually are the irritable, critical people. By always questioning what and why we are doing things, they are usually showing that their pride is overtaking their patience.
Warren Wiersbe explains this well when he said: When life is difficult and we are impatient for change, it is easy to long for “the good old days” when things were better. It has been said that “the good old days” are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination, and often this is true.5
As we go through these verses, we see how my pride can interrupt my patience.
The end of a matter is better than the beginning of a thing because I learn patience. Extortion and bribes are just short-cuts to the end. They don’t teach me to be patient. They cut the path of patience and make me look good because of my ingenuity.
This is why a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit. If I become proud, I can easily become angry because things don’t go my way. If I am angry about a matter, it means that I didn’t learn patience, but that I am relying upon my pride.
When I look back to former days, I am relying upon my pride and not my patience. Pride teaches me to be discontent with my present because I believe that my past is better than my present, or future. Pride leads to a negative outlook. Patience teaches me to endure because I believe that my future is better than my past. Patience leads me to a positive outlook.
7. Wisdom is better than wealth (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12)
“Wisdom is as good as an inheritance and an advantage to those who see the sun, because wisdom is protection as money is protection, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner.” (Ecclesiastes 7:11–12, HCSB)
As we saw earlier, this section begins and ends with the idea that wisdom is better than wisdom. Honor is better than luxury. Wisdom and money both protect a person. However, wisdom defines a person more than the things a person accumulates.
Summary: The better things come from the hand and power of God (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14)
“Consider the work of God, for who can straighten out what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity, consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man cannot discover anything that will come after him.” (Ecclesiastes 7:13–14, HCSB)
In this section, wisdom is shown to be better than wealth. The contrast has been between earthly possessions and heavenly possessions. Jesus stated that one should not accumulate things on Earth, but things in Heaven.
““Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20, HCSB)
The reason that wisdom is better than wealth is that the heavenly is better than the earthly. Wisdom is better because wisdom comes from the hand of God. All of these experiences highlight the wisdom of God. Honor, death, mourning, sorrow, rebuke, patience, and wisdom all teach us that the better things in life, and not necessarily the easy things all come from the hand of God. As a result, one should learn to trust Him.
The familiar account of the killing of ﬁve young missionaries in the 1950s as they tried to bring the gospel to the Auca Indians in Ecuador illustrates the principle of God’s goodness. Many Aucas came to faith in the aftermath of those deaths. Many young people volunteered for missions after hearing about the story. The martyrs’ families had ongoing ministries. Under the metanarrative of God’s providence, anything can happen. Who knows, ﬁnally, what is good? Jim Elliot’s wife, Elisabeth, noted that Jim’s credo was captured in the words that he had written in his Bible: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”6
1 David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth: How to Find What Really Matters in Life (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2004), 162.
2 Jim Erwin, “7 Better Things in Life,” Simple Thoughts Reflections 2016-2017, Notes, Logos Bible Software, 10 May 2017, Internet, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2017/05/10/7-better-things-in-life/ accessed on 19 May 2017.
3 Philip Graham Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2010), 154.
4 Jim Erwin, “Ecclesiastes 7:8-10 Git-R-Done,” sermon, Internet, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2012/10/08/ecclesiastes-78-10-git-r-done/, 8 October 2012, accessed on 19 May 2017.
5 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 87–88.