Ecclesiastes 7: The Better Life through Christ
May 28, 2012, 1:24 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

Ecclesiastes 7:  The Better Life

In Ecclesiastes 6:12, Solomon the seeker asked “For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime?”  In chapter 7, he, as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, shows that the better life involves some bitter things, which God uses to produce the godly character we need to better serve the Lord.  Some of the things that Solomon said were better are: 

• In life or death a good reputation is better than smelling good (v. 1a).

• One’s dying day is better than the day of his or her birth (v. 1b).

• A funeral is better than a festival (v. 2).

• Grief is better than laughter (v. 3).

• A wise man’s rebuke is better than a fool’s song (v. 5).

• The end of something is better than its beginning (v. 8a).

• Patience is better than pride (v. 8b).

• Realism about the present and occupation with the future are better than nostalgia over the past (v. 10).


Chapter 7 is divided into two sections: verses 1-14, which examines our circumstances in light of eternity and verses 15-29, which examines our character in light of divine revelation.  Together, both sections proclaim, “Life Is the Time to Serve the Lord”.


A Person’s Present Circumstances in the Light of Eternity (7:1–14) demonstrate a great truth that we often miss.  We mistakenly believe that godly people enjoy only the blessings of God, and those who endure the hardships of life are being judged by God for their rebellion and sin.  However, the Seeker, Solomon, discovers that even the godliest individuals endure the ravages of time with the hope that passing from this life will bring a desirable release from the effects of the Fall.


Let’s look at the verses in this section:

1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

tov shem mishshemen tov; tov-good, starts and ends the verse.  Shem-name, and shemen-ointment or perfume). The “good ointment” might refer to any of a number of normal situations in ancientIsrael’s culture:

(1) the bathing of an infant in oil at birth (cp. Ezek 16:4),

(2) refreshing the body to provide relief from body odor, muscle soreness, dry skin, and other conditions,

(3) a luxury provided by the possession of significant wealth,

(4) the preparation of a corpse for burial.

In Ecclesiastes 7:1’s proverb, “A good name is better than a good ointment,” the adjective “good” operates as a bridge between chapters 6 and 7, between the first half of the book and the second half of the book. The author utilizes the phrase “better than” (literally, “more good than”) to offer a series of contrasts that argue for the superiority of wisdom over foolishness, righteousness over wickedness.  The second half of 7:1 continues to elevate one’s death above one’s birth. Birth commences a temporary existence “under the sun.” Death, however, propels a person into an eternal existence, so it is better than the day of birth if the name of that person has merited a lasting reputation and influence.

 “Patience” – Hudson Taylor said, “As a rule, prayer is answered and funds come in, but if we are kept waiting, the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial.”

That’s why God balances our life w/trials & triumphs – to keep you from getting proud & set in your ways.
Charles Swindoll defined Wisdom as “The God-given ability to see life with rare objectivity and  to handle life with rare stability.”

Great minds talk about ideas; mediocre minds talk about things; small minds talk about other people.

Satan may want to use criticism as a weapon to batter us; but if we let Him, God can use it as a tool to build us!


7:2–6 The point of this section is to emphasize that more is learned from adversity than from pleasure.

Verses 2 and 4 form a proverbial pair sandwiching verse 3:  the house of mourning vs. the house of feasting (v. 2) sorrow and laughter compared to sadness and goodness and the house of mourning vs. the house of pleasure (v. 4)

“The house of mourning” refers to the home of the deceased, where the family mourns the departure of their loved one. Jacob’s family observed a seven-day period of mourning, a practice still continued among the Jews. The benefits of a funeral include:

• Understanding more clearly the ultimate result of the Fall.

• Giving proper consideration to the brevity of life.

• Being reminded that how we live does count.

• Recommitting ourselves to live life in the light of eternity.

• Preparing to die.

• Learning the value of comfort and being comforted.

• Knowing that no one lives to herself and no one dies to himself.

2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

Mourning and sorrow are better than feasting and laughter (vv. 1–3) because they cause a man to reflect wisely on the brevity of life.


3 Sorrow (or anger) is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

“the sadness that shows in the face results in a better heart, a spiritually healthy heart.


4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.


 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

5–7. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than … the song of fools. The way to profit is to be kept by patiently hearing the rebuke of the wise.


6 For as the crackling (Hebrew for “sound”) of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity. Burning thorns will provide quick flames, little heat, and a lot of noise, just like the sudden outbursts of laughter among fools; there is more noise than substance. The pleasing words of the fool are like thorns placed under a kettle. Anticipation may run high as the immediate crackling sound occurs, but little lasting good can come of it. This flash of fire fails to produce any substantial heat. In like manner, the shallow speech and laughter of the fool is never productive of lasting good.


7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

In verse 7 the means by which the cackling fool has fallen to such non-substantive living is identified. Some have become fools because they have refused to hear faithful rebuke and have chosen rather to pursue a course of oppression and corruption. The Preacher warns that those who practice oppression and relish the gain brought by bribes are destined for madness.


 8 better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

How can the end of a matter be better than the beginning? Patience and humility enable a person to wait for the outcome of a matter and to actually witness the truth that the end is better than the beginning.


9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

“Fools” :

the heart of a fool seeks pleasure (v. 4),

his song lacks wisdom (v. 5),

his laughter lasts momentarily (v. 6),

and he harbors anger (v. 9).

This fool can be described as obstinate, with no patience to seek wisdom, and possessing no reverence for the truth. 

10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? (When faced with difficulty, don’t fall for living in the “good, old golden days”) for thou dost not enquire wisely (Hebrew for “out of wisdom) concerning this.

11 Wisdom is good (Hebrew for “as good as an inheritance, yea, better too) with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. (This seems to be a variation on the more familiar phrase “under the sun.”) Wisdom is good with an inheritance. In likening wisdom to an inheritance, the Preacher establishes the fact that an inheritance is to be a permanent possession of a man, which, especially inIsrael, was received from parents and passed on to children. The permanence of such a possession is emphasized.

12 For wisdom is a defence (Hebrew for “shadow”) , and money is a defence (Hebrew for “shadow”): but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. The word translated defense literally means “shade” or “shelter,” a kind of protection. The Hebrew word translated here as excellence is often rendered profit in Ecclesiastes.

In verses 13-14, Solomon turns the reader’s attention God-ward with the truth that the Sovereign God Is in Control.

13 Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

God’s work cannot be altered (v. 13). God has appointed both the good (the straight) and the bad (the bent or crooked)  circumstances. This is not mere “fate.” God controls all events in our lives and designs them for our good (Rom 8:28).

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set (Hebrew for “made”) the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.

Prosperity and adversity both come from God’s hands; a wise Father’s heart has given them to you.


A Person’s Character in the Light of Revelation (7:15–29)

Solomon describes what is seen from those living under the sun concerning righteous and unrighteous in the next section.  However, reading the verses reveals a remarkable truth about those who are self-righteous and those who are wicked sinners.  This section provides case studies for verses 13 and 14. 

7:15–18 The focus on the nature of righteousness is made clear in the statement “For the one who fears God comes forth with both of them” (v. 18).

15 All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.

Two qualities of personal character of those who “fear God” dominate 7:15–29: wisdom (Wisdom is the God-given ability to see life with rare objectivity and to handle life with rare stability.”) and righteousness.

Although life has passed Solomon faster than he could imagine, he manages to make some observations related to its brevity. First, he notices that a righteous person’s life might end while he is still living righteously. Second, he observes that a wicked person might experience an extended life in spite of his continual wickedness. In other words, the length of a person’s life does not depend upon his spirituality.

Verse 15 marks the eleventh time Solomon has used the phrase “I have seen.”

In the days of my vanity or “my lifetime of futility” (literally, “in the days of my futility” or “in my fleeting days”).

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy (Hebrew for “be desolate”) thyself? This is a warning against self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the attitude of people who regard themselves as righteous because of the things they do not do. That is, in my judgment, the curse of the church today. The New Testament calls this pharisaism; the Searcher rightly labels it wickedness. Wickedness is expressed not only by murder, thievery, and sexual misconduct but also by bigotry, racism, pompousness, and cold disdain; by critical, judgmental attitudes; by harsh, sarcastic words; by vengeful and vindictive actions. The evangelical prig, male or female, is a wicked person!

Not only is self-righteousness wicked, but the opposite extreme is wicked too, the Searcher goes on to say. The foolish casting off of all moral restraints, the abandoning of one’s self-discipline and going in for wild and riotous living also is wickedness.  “Do not be overly righteous”: Few verses in Ecclesiastes are more susceptible to incorrect interpretation than these (vv. 16–18). This is not the so-called golden mean that advises: “Don’t be too holy and don’t be too wicked; sin to a moderate degree.” The Preacher was warning instead about pseudo-religiosity and showy forms of worship. The Hebrew verb for “be wise” may be rendered “think yourself wise,” and to “be overly righteous” would mean “righteous in your own eyes” (see Prov. 3:7).

17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?


18 It is good  that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.


19 Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.


20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.


21 Also take (Hebrew for “give not thine heart”) no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:


22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.


23 All this have I proved(“to put to the test”) by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.


24 That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?


25 I applied (Hebrew for “I and mine heart compassed”) mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:

The threefold description of the goal of his determination (“to know, to search or investigate, and to seek”) summarizes his previous testimony concerning his search for wisdom.

26 And I find more bitter than death the woman, (This is the seductress about whom Solomon warns young men in Proverbs) whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.


27 Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:


28 Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. (man=godly man; woman=godly woman)

Why had Solomon not found a wise woman among the thousand?  Think about the women that Solomon knew, then about his intimacy with those women.  He has forgotten the wise woman of Proverbs 31 and the love of his life in Song of Solomon.  Remember he is the same human author of Proverbs and Song of Solomon.


29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions (intent or devices).

In our society, we think that we should be able to live without pain, suffering, or disappointment in our pursuit of self-indulgence, pleasure, and happiness.  We believe that these are inalienable rights which are owed to us.  Whenever some circumstance comes into our life which restrict these, we react with five basic methods in our dealing with obstacles or unpleasantness.

  • First, escape through our busy lives.  We become too busy to think, reflect, or even hear about things we can’t handle, enjoy, or control.
  • Second, we try denial.  We deny that our life has problems.  Our conversation is filled with lies we believe that cause us to reject the difficult times we are experiencing.
  • Third, we become callous to pain experienced by others.  This indifference is seen in our callous nature to other’s pain and suffering.  We are unmoved by others pain.
  • Our fourth method is hedonism or our extreme pursuit of happiness at any cost and at every level.
  • Finally, the fifth method is withdrawal, turning inside and closing off as many contacts as possible with the outside world.  We shut off others to live an empty, lonely, and barren existence that we call depression.

God wants us to reject a life in which we try to find “upright-ness” and to have the better life He gives.


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