Do you know of any wise people who have gone unnoticed in this world?
Read Ecclesiastes 9:7-10:4
The book of Ecclesiastes seems repetitive because it is! The book begins and ends with the slogan: Meaningless! Meaningless! Along the way, the Teacher has given us wisdom to live by according to what he can test ‘under the sun’. He has examined wealth and wisdom. He has lamented that everybody seems to go to the same end. God is to be feared and it is better to live with regard to him than to live like a fool but the vision of the Teacher has its limit. We have noticed each time that Jesus is the better Teacher because he has a bigger vision.
Previously, we saw that our place in the universe is under all who sit above us in this world and even kings must submit to God. This section links closely with the previous. We’ll see the mention of kings again but there is an appreciation for the wise people who do not get noticed.
- 9:7-10 Live good while it lasts
- 9:11-12 Death comes despite your plans
- 9:13-16 Poor man’s wisdom
- 9:17-10:4 The blunt instrument of folly
9:7-10 Live good while it lasts
“Go, eat…drink…with a joyful heart…” The Teacher has brought us to this conclusion back in 2:24. All things come from God. If we are able to have them, best to enjoy them! Without a long explanation, access to wine is a sign of God’s blessing on the land. Having land, plus peace and rain to grow it are all signs that God is for Israel. See next point.
“…for God has already approved what you do.” The protestant within me stalls at this line. How can he say that God approves what we do when we’ve also recognised that all are unrighteous (Ecc 7:20). But specifically, he has mentioned eating and drinking. He is not making a salvation judgment but inviting us to enjoy life because life itself is a gift from God and the food and the drink is also a gift. So why not enjoy the gift? There are limits and wisdom to this and that is what follows…
“Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil.” Being clothed in white is a symbol of purity but also wealth – the same symbol used by Jesus to reward the saints in heaven (Rev 4:4 and 3:5). Anointing your head is similar. It comes with blessings and riches and honour. Psalm 23:5 and Luke 7:46. The Teacher is giving us the language of the blessed people of God. This is our direction rather than the life of the fool.
“Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life…” Enjoy the gift of life that God has brought to you. The Teacher has a very optimistic view of the quality of life before death comes here. It is brought down with the laborious use of ‘meaningless’ and ‘toilsome’ and ‘this is your lot’. But if there is joy in your lot, then embrace it, says the Teacher, because it will end one day.
“…do it with all your might…” We might look to the New Testament and see a vision beyond the Teacher. He says, enjoy it because it’s all you’ve got for now. God has blessed you right now and that’s all there is from him. But Jesus gives us hope for eternal life and he is now our new Master. See Colossians 3:23-24.
“…where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” His vision of the future ends at the grave.
9:11-12 Death comes despite your plans
“…but time and chance happen to them all.” The proverb of Verse 11 is straight forward. The bible teaches us that chance is really not the last word since God is sovereign over everything. But from observing the human race, it seems like pot luck as to where you are born, who gets the wealth, who was in the right spot at the right time. Strategy and skill is no sure means to get where you want to go. The Teacher is frustrated with ambition and instructs us to look at what we have and enjoy that.
“…no one knows when their hour will come…” The imagery in Verse 12 is also simple and clear. No fish aims to be stuck in a net nor a bird in a trap. People are described as trapped in calamity rather than being blamed for it. The evil times that we live in happen despite our ambition to lengthen the days of this earth. But knowledge that the end will come one day ought to shape the way we live today.
9:13-16 Poor man’s wisdom
“…a small city…a powerful king…built huge siege works against it.” The story places a little town with abundant over force used against it. What hope does it have?
“…a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.” The details are missing but the point is that wisdom can overcome an army. This little man had no obvious hope but he outwitted the king’s army.
“Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised…” To the Teacher’s story, wisdom wins actually but the glory will still go to the king who probably goes off and wins hundreds of other battles. The abrupt and overpowering king will go down in history but the poor wise man will be forgotten.
“…no longer heeded.” The final words of this story lead us to the final section.
9:17-10:4 The blunt instrument of folly
“The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” This line summarises the story of 9:13-16 perfectly. What follows is the opposing sides of the foolish and the wise.
“…a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” Wisdom seems quiet and a beautiful perfume while folly is loud and stupid like a zombie. People can’t help see the zombie but wisdom can go completely unnoticed.
“If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post, calmness can lay great offenses to rest.” The ruler’s anger bursts out of foolishness, rashness and short sightedness. The wise should stand their ground and wait patiently. There is advice here to choose wisdom with calm and you will find yourself on the right side in the end. But buckle to the anger of the king and folly wins.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. The Teacher doesn’t simply say, “eat and drink” but to do it with gladness and joy. What is he teaching in Verses 7-10?
Q2. Verses 10-12 consider the permanence and surety of death. How does this knowledge shape the way that we ought to live? How do these Verses direct us?
Q3. How does Verses 13-18 compare wisdom with strength?
Q4. What makes wisdom difficult according to 10:1-4?
Q5. What is lacking or missing in the Teacher’s instructions?
While wisdom is way better, folly is loud and overruling. The good things in life come from God and ought to be enjoyed as they come. Life and death come to us outside of our power and it is best to live with wisdom than without. While this is the conclusion of the Teacher, the lesson falls short of what good it really does to choose wisdom.
Challenge#1 Blessed are the poor
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12 give us wisdom from the True Teacher of Israel. Jesus teaches us that it won’t be the strong and the powerful who win in the end but the poor in spirit, the meek and those who hunger for righteousness. He shares the same image as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes does with regard to the poor wise man who went unnoticed, or the wise person who stood calmly against the anger of the king. This world will insult, persecute and say all kinds of evil against Jesus’ followers, but stick with him, being calm and sure that He is the Wisdom of this world. He is the invisible strength who will conquer the foolishness of this world.
Challenge#2 Whatever you do
Colossians 3:23-24 is snapshot of instructions to those who know where their future is: in heaven. The whole chapter directs us to think in light of the hope that we have and then to do everything as though working for the Lord. We are not trying to please people. And we are not trying to conquer this world (since you don’t know when your time will come) but we live for today in the full knowledge that God has purchased our inheritance for eternity. As Colossians says, the Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (1:12). What we do today is not in pursuit of success because we already know that something greater than what we can achieve is already prepared for us. Enjoying the days of our life surely come from embracing our eternal life first.
Challenge#3 The wisdom of God
Paul reminded the church in Corinth of the days when he brought the gospel to them. He said that it was not filled with human wisdom but he kept his message to the cross of Christ which is the power of God. The Teacher in Ecclesiastes described a battle between a powerful king and a little town with one poor wise man in it. Paul is like that poor wise man. You can read his account in 1 Corinthians 2:1-9. We can be just like the poor wise man too if we remain calm against the shouting in this world and speak about the cross of Christ.