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Ecclesiastes 7

Better and balanced living (chapter 7)

Introduction to Chapter 7

In the remaining six chapters are a mixture of proverbs and narration designed to make the most of life "under the sun." In other words, while life under the sun is "vanity," how then should we live? Human Wisdom is limited in providing answers. Notice how skewed and limited wisdom is when God is not included in the equation.

Proverbs on better living (v. 1–13)

"These proverbs are full of irony, and Qohelet often starts off sounding very much like Proverbs but then gives the proverb an ironic twist."[1] An example would be verse 1, which starts off by saying, "A good name is better than precious ointment." This is very similar to Proverbs 22:1, which says, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches." But the next line in Ecclesiastes 7:1 is very different from anything in Proverbs. It says, "and the day of death than the day of one’s birth." Why does Qohelet say this? "Even if parallels to this proverb might be found in the broader wisdom literature, the appearance of it here, in light of Qohelet’s general teaching about death (3:18–21 and 12:1–7), supports an interpretation that this proverb indicates Qohelet’s world-weariness."[2] "Qohelet attempts to answer the question as to the nature of the good life by looking again at traditional wisdom. Not surprisingly, therefore, the dominant form is that of the proverb. He starts with traditional wisdom and then problematizes this each time, so that we are left with no clear answer as to what constitutes the good life. The sort of wisdom that Proverbs offers would appear to be deeply problematic and to offer no secure place to stand."[3] Two themes that are prominent in this section are death (v. 1b, 2, 4, and perhaps 8) and wisdom and folly (v. 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12).[4]

He concludes this section in verse 13 by saying that the world is bent and broken, but he cannot see any further than that. "It is as though his world is confined to that ushered in by Gen. 3, the fall. It is true, as Qohelet finds again and again, that an empirical approach to our present fallen world makes life appear utterly enigmatic. But the larger context of Gen. 3, of creation and redemption through the line of Abraham, alerts us that God is at work making straight what has been bent and broken."[5]

Counsel for balanced living (v. 14–29)

The second half of the chapter offers "counsel for balanced living." These are challenging and difficult statements which should be understood in their context, and in the context of the Bible as a whole. It appears Qohelet is mainly warning against extremism and against the presumption that one can find the answer to every question in life.

Moderation in wisdom and folly (v. 14–22)

In these verses Qohelet comes to the conclusion that it is not good to be too wise or too righteous. He says this because he sees the righteous, the wicked, the wise, and the fool all meeting the same end. "The two case studies present us with a paradox, and Qohelet surely wanted his listener/reader to be shocked by what he said. He saw the righteous perishing and the wicked living long. This is the polar opposite of what some strands of biblical teaching indicate. For instance, certain legal portions of the Bible teach that observation of the law prolongs life (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 4:40), and the wisdom teachers instructed that righteousness led to life (Prov. 3:1–2), while the wicked suffered and died early (Ps. 1)."[6] "What could it possibly mean to be moderately righteous and moderately wicked?"[7] There are two ways of interpreting this:

  1. Qohelet warns against seeking righteousness and wisdom with too much fervor
  2. he guards against false pretense in righteousness and wisdom.[8]

Qohelet’s Reflection on His Journey and the Inaccessibility of Wisdom (v. 23–29)

  • [1] Baker, p. 322
  • [2] Longman, T. (1998). The Book of Ecclesiastes (p. 182). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • [3] Baker, p. 329
  • [4] Longman, T. (1998). The Book of Ecclesiastes (p. 179). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • [5] Baker, p. 329
  • [6] Longman, T. (1998). The Book of Ecclesiastes (p. 194). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • [7] Baker, p. 338
  • [8] Longman, T. (1998). The Book of Ecclesiastes (p. 195). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.