What’s the wisest thing you have ever heard?
Read Ecclesiastes 6:7-8:1
Ecclesiastes 1-4 was filled with the Teacher, the king of Israel, giving the ‘life under the sun’ perspective and it is described as a ‘chasing after the wind’ and it is ‘meaningless’ or ‘misty’.
Chapter 5 focused on the foolishness of pursuing money rather than listening to God and fearing him. In Chapter 2 he concluded that wisdom is better than folly, obviously. Now we turn to that topic in more detail.
- (6:7-12) What advantage have the wise over fools?
- (7:1-6) Wisdom that matters
- (7:7-12) The enemy of wisdom
- (7:13-29) But where are the wise?
- (8:1) The last word on wisdom
*This section is an exploration digging deeper into his query of Chapter 2. Cleary the wise are better off but why? Chapter 7 covers wisdom in a Proverbs kind of way.
(6:7-12) What advantage have the wise over fools?
“What advantage have the wise over fools?” This is the question of verse 8 and the whole section of Verses 7-11 explore the idea that there is no advantage. Note Verse 11, “…how does that profit anyone?” This is the purpose of Versess 7-11. We’ll step through the bits for clarity.
“Everyone’s toil is for their mouth…” Both the wise and the fool need to eat. The major project of life is not wisdom but survival. And it is never ending. We, like the animals, must go from meal to meal.
“What do the poor gain…” If someone is poor and without food, how is behaving properly going to improve their position?
“Better what the eye sees than…” Food in the hand is better than a growing appreciation of the palette!
“This too is meaningless…” This recurring phrase helps us to catch his point but also as a marker of a change in argument.
“…already been named…has been known…” Is the human race really learning more? Aren’t we just relearning what has always been? And when all is said and done, a strong man will win.
“…how does that profit anyone?” Many words do not add to the sense of things. When we look at it all, you could argue that a smart and well educated man is no better off than a bear. Both need to eat and the bear will always take the salmon. Of course, the intellectual would carry a gun and fence off the compound from the bear and so on, there is scope to challenge the Teacher at this point but his question remains: what advantage have the wise over fools?
“For who knows what is good for a person…” This is an excellent question about authority and wisdom. Who is the author of wisdom? How do we know what is good during the brief stay we have here on earth? The Teacher has this view like we are just bacteria or insects on the planet with too much higher thinking – what is the point of it? The point of Verses 7-12 is to lead us into his answer in 13 onwards. There is an advantage.
“Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?” God has put eternity in our hearts but we are so limited in our knowledge of it. What happens once we are gone? And therefore, why should we care?
(7:1-6) Wisdom that matters
“…for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” It is worth going through each statement of Verses 1-6 which are self explanatory. The high point is this statement: wisdom is better because it is better to be prepared for the end and work backwards from there. 6:12 described our life as shadow, and how do we know more than what we are eating for dinner (7-11). The answer is for us to understand that we will die and live with this knowledge very much in our minds rather than ignored. This is wisdom.
“This too is meaningless.” Again, note the tagline to suggest the end of a thought.
(7:7-12) The enemy of wisdom
“Wisdom preserves those who have it.” The end of this section is the point. Preservation is key but as we pass through the various statements in this section we can see that losing wisdom is so easy. Our ‘animal instinct’ can overthrow wisdom for various reasons. The enemy of wisdom is sin.
“Extortion…bribe…” These can turn a wise person to a fool. Wisdom is very fragile when sin is against it.
“The end of a matter is better…” Hard things are hard – whether it is a hard conversation or a difficult project. The end is better. But the journey ought to be filled with patience rather than pride. Pride presumes that you will win, but patience may well achieve it.
“…anger resides in the lap of fools.” Again, sin is the downfall of wisdom. A fool will have anger at the ready like an unholstered gun.
“…why were the old days better…” This is evidence that there is nothing new – even new winges – under the sun!
“Wisdom, like an inheritance…benefits…is a shelter…wisdom preserves…” Just as money is a tool for existence, so is wisdom – it is a good house to live in.
(7:13-29) But where are the wise?
“This only have I found: God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” Again, using the final word as the summary, we see that this long section (which could be further broken down if we were eager) is a search for true wisdom – the scope of it and the frustration of it. Life under the sun is not easy, it even frustrates the search for wisdom. Nobody is righteous but perhaps one man.
“…what [God] has made crooked…” We noticed back in 1:15 that the world we live in is crooked from sin. Verse 29, however, says that God has made mankind upright. If God had made us broken then this would be impossible to fix, and we know that sin is our constant enemy. But we have been made with the potential to be wise. By the grace of God we are able to say no to sin (Titus 2:11-14). This is a broad overview of what God himself can fix. Back to Ecc 7, however, leads us to the wisdom of knowing what hard times are given just as good times are. This is beyond our control.
“When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad…” Ecclesiastes teaches here that bad times come to all – it is not a punishment. Sickness and disaster just happens – it is not directly the result of sin. But the Teacher does remind us that all of it is under God’s sovereign hand. See also Verse 15.
“Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” If there’s no cause and effect to do with good times or bad then how can a person predict their future? Nobody knows what will happen in a year from now. We have been shown this all too clearly in 2020-2021. See James 4:13-16!
“Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.” Isn’t it interesting to be told to avoid over righteousness and also an implication that wickedness will be part of our makeup but keep it in check! But there is a tipping way toward righteousness. Don’t be over wise but don’t be a fool. The fear of the Lord is our key to winning here. Live this life conscious of the Lord who reigns. See Ecc 3:14. Overthinking wisdom will destroy us!
“…no one on earth who is righteous…” Interesting little insight by the Teacher.
“I am determined to be wise – but this was beyond me.” The Teacher admits that while wisdom is better, it is hard and impossible to maintain. Notice the connection between wisdom and righteousness. It is so hard to avoid sin! So much that we need to not take things too far when someone else sins.
“I found one upright man among a thousand…” The point is that the righteous person is a rare species. Even the Teacher was cut from the list.
“…not one upright woman…” My safety net here is that the only righteous person I know is the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is not originating from this earth (Verse 20).
“…God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” Mankind is guilty of sin – we cannot blame God for our rebellious heart. We go in search of many schemes. Making money and building barns and oppressing others so that we can be king. These have all been covered by the Teacher already.
(8:1) The last word on wisdom
“Who is like the wise?” Wise people are like the wise – fools are not. This is a category question. What does wisdom give us?
“Who knows the explanation of things?” Answer: the wise. They have their eyes inside their head (Ecc 2:14) while the fool lives in darkness. Wisdom is a shelter like money is a shelter. It is better to be aware of our death than to live in ignorance.
“A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance.” Is this a measure of wisdom? If it is not softening our face then we’re doing it wrong? Let’s imagine that a person who knows and fears God, who understands the grace of God and that in the end, we will see him without condemnation through Christ – that ought to soften our faces.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. “What advantage have the wise over fools?” (6:8) According to Chapter 6 Verses 7-12, how would you answer that?
Q2. According to Chapter 7 Verses 1-6, what things do the wise think about?
Q3. Looking at Verses 7-12, what things fight against wisdom to make it hard?
Q4. What is the advantage of wisdom then?
Q5. Compare Verse 13 with Verse 29 which bookend the whole section of Verses 13 to 29. What is this section trying to teach us?
Q6. Answer the question of Chapter 8 Verse 1.
Wisdom is better for us because we live with understanding. We live in the fear of the Lord and knowledge about our place in the universe. Being conscious of death means we will be wise with the resources of today. The enemy among us is sin. Which is not an external enemy but comes from our own desires to scheme and be drawn to foolishness. The fact is that nobody is righteous! While it is our shelter and better than ten kings, it is also allusive to us.
Challenge#1 The sinfulness of mankind
The gospel teaches us that we all need saving. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says that it is the schemes of people that are the problem. This whole section has outlined how impossible it is for you and I to remain sinless, to walk the path of righteousness and wisdom. Even as we try, we are led astray by our passions and cravings. Titus 2:11-14 outlines what God has done to save us AND to give us the ability to say no to ungodliness. We need saving from ourselves and God has done it. It is over to us to choose the harder road of saying no to sin – this too by the grace of God. Read also Ephesians 3:14-21 on how we can grasp real wisdom.
Challenge#2 The Limit of Wisdom
We do not know what tomorrow will bring and we do not know how long our investments will last. Ecclesiastes 7:14 says, “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.” There is no guarantee of cause and effect. Wise people will suffer too. Read James 4:13-17.
Challenge#3 Wisdom at funerals
One mission field is church services, particularly funeral services. It is one of the few remaining times when all walks of life may venture to a Christian service by invitation. And during the service, there is no embarrassment in talking about life after death and about judgment and/or assurance. Wisdom is found at funerals. That said, there are plenty of funerals which entertain foolish thinking. I wonder if you have thought about your funeral?