Ecc 9: "The value of wisdom is forced home at a time of crisis
when circumstances make it imperative that something be done. Human nature is
such that it is soon forgotten. The attitude of a sinner in rejecting wisdom's
counsel when the need no longer exists is followed by others with evil results.
Let us walk wisely at all times and not only when crises force us to do so (see
v 18). The wise man continues his record of experiences in search of the
greatest good. He left no stone unturned in his search, but found (1) The
inevitability of death: vv 1-6. (2) The uncertainty of life, and therefore the
need to make the most of opportunity: vv 7-10. (3) It is impossible to calculate
on the issues and duration of life: vv 11,12. (4) Though wisdom is despised by
many, it does good: vv 13-18" (GEM).
SO I REFLECTED ON ALL THIS AND CONCLUDED THAT THE RIGHTEOUS
AND THE WISE AND WHAT THEY DO ARE IN GOD'S HANDS, BUT NO MAN KNOWS WHETHER LOVE
OR HATE AWAITS HIM: Almighty God exercises unquestioned control over all
affairs of life, but especially and preeminently the righteous are in His hands
(Pro 3:6; Psa 37:5; Phi 2:13). It may not be possible for even the wise to
understand WHY God allows certain things to happen in their lives (Ecc 8:17),
and sometimes those things are hard and bitter experiences (Heb 2:8-10; 1Th 3:4;
2Ti 3:12). [This would seem to be the "love" and "hate" of this verse: not what
the righteous do, but what is done to them, especially by God.] Nevertheless the
believer has faith that "in all things [whether seemingly good, or seemingly
bad] God works for the [ultimate] good of those who love him, who have been
called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28).
ALL SHARE A COMMON DESTINY -- THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED,
THE GOOD AND THE BAD, THE CLEAN AND THE UNCLEAN, THOSE WHO OFFER SACRIFICES AND
THOSE WHO DO NOT. AS IT IS WITH THE GOOD MAN, SO WITH THE SINNER; AS IT IS WITH
THOSE WHO TAKE OATHS, SO WITH THOSE WHO ARE AFRAID TO TAKE THEM: Across the
whole spectrum of humanity there is stretched a common thread -- every man, from
the mansion to the hut, from the best of men to the worst, is destined to die (v
3; Ecc 3:19-21). "Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow"
(Psa 144:4). Following on from v 1: not only do events seem to happen, to good
men and bad men alike, more or less at random... but at the last they all --
good and bad alike -- die.
THOSE WHO TAKE OATHS: Cp Deu 16:13; 10:20; Isa 65:16;
Psa 63:11. This does not refer to using vulgar language, but rather to taking
oaths of service to God. The contrast is between those who openly avow faith in
God, and those who do not.
THIS IS THE EVIL IN EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS UNDER THE
SUN: THE SAME DESTINY OVERTAKES ALL: The KJV has: "there is one event unto
all" -- but "destiny" is better. The destiny is, of course, death: "In Adam all
die" (1Co 15:22).
THE HEARTS OF MEN, MOREOVER, ARE FULL OF EVIL AND THERE IS
MADNESS IN THEIR HEARTS WHILE THEY LIVE, AND AFTERWARD THEY JOIN THE DEAD:
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand
it?" (Jer 17:9). "Madness" here signifies "being blinded as to the true issues",
and is elsewhere in Ecclesiastes connected with glib frivolity (Ecc 2:2),
corruption in society (Ecc 7:7), and folly (Ecc 10:12-15).
While the NIV has "men" here, the phrase is literally "the
sons of men" (as in AV). It is possible that here Qoheleth is introducing a
separate class: the "sons of men" as distinct from the "sons of God". Be that as
it may, what he describes here is the natural state of man, and may of course be
true even of those who profess to serve God; it is true, to a certain degree, of
even the very best and most righteous of men. All men may be blind to the most
vital issues of life. While they live they may seek after pleasure, or they may
pursue unobtainable goals, and cherish vain ambitions. Nevertheless, all their
efforts, and all their aspirations -- whatever they might be -- end in the same
place: the grave (Mat 23:16-22; Rom 11:25; 2Pe 1:5-9; 2Co 3:15).
"What a commentary on human life, and what an emphasis on the
oft repeated saying that all is vanity and vexation of spirit! It is a gloomy
saying, but indubitably true. History has been defined as in the main, a record
of the sins and follies of mankind, and a nation is accounted fortunate if it
has no history of any importance. Men struggle for ideals or for position, power
and worldly possessions, or to help their friends, or to have revenge on their
enemies. Motives are often mixed, elements of good being in the worst of men and
evil in the best of them. The quest for the leading motive is often an alluring
study, and for those who are interested in human nature there is interest even
in the dull pages of history.
"We soon become conscious of a very ugly fact in human life.
History records many instances of men who began public life well and ended ill,
but few instances of those whose beginning was evil, turning to good in later
days. Liberators have turned into tyrants, and builders have become wreckers,
but few tyrants ever learn to be merciful and few wreckers ever learn how to
AND AFTERWARD THEY JOIN THE DEAD: " 'After that -- to
the dead!' The word sounds like a brief military command which brings the career
of a rebel to a close and must, of course, be carried out on the spot. A sorry
end, indeed!" (Leupold).
ANYONE WHO IS AMONG THE LIVING HAS HOPE -- EVEN A LIVE DOG
IS BETTER OFF THAN A DEAD LION!: This sounds remarkably like the words of
Hezekiah: "For the grave [Heb Sheol] cannot praise you, death cannot sing your
praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. The
living, the living -- they praise you, as I am doing today; fathers tell their
children about your faithfulness" (Isa 38:18,19; cp Psa 49:12,20; 6:5). This is
from the psalm of praise and thanksgiving that he composed to mark his recovery
from death, and the adding of 15 years to his span of life.
DOG: In Bible times, a dog was an unclean beast, and a
contemptible creature (1Sa 17:43; 24:14; 2Sa 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; Pro 26:11; Rev
22:15), a skulking scavenger.
LION: By contrast, the lion was a creature of royalty
(Gen 49:9), mighty among beasts (Hos 5:14; Pro 30:30), and identified with the
kingly tribe of Judah (Rev 5:5). But death robs him of all his glory and pride
EVEN A LIVE DOG IS BETTER OFF THAN A DEAD LION:
Illustrated in the history of Israel: the faithful "dog", the Gentile Caleb,
named to represent the tribe of Judah, was of considerably more worth than any
faithless son of Judah (the "lion")! And thus the living "dog", whose life was
spared because of his faith, came into the land, whilst his fellow-tribesmen in
Judah, did not -- they were "lions", yet they died in the wilderness!
"Life is a precious thing, and in its humblest form it is
superior to death. This truth is eminently certain in spiritual things... The
lowest degree of grace is superior to the noblest development of unregenerate
nature... The thief on the cross excels Caesar on his throne; Lazarus among the
dogs is better than Cicero among the senators; and the most unlettered Christian
is in the sight of God superior to Plato. Life is the badge of nobility in the
realm of spiritual things, and men without it are only coarser or finer
specimens of the same lifeless material, needing to be quickened, for they are
dead in trespasses and sins.
"A living dog keeps better watch than a dead lion, and is of
more service to his master; and so the poorest spiritual preacher is infinitely
to be preferred to the exquisite orator who has no wisdom but that of words, no
energy but that of sound" (CHS).
Death is real; it is no illusion -- no conjurer's trick! "Many
attempts are made to soften the force of these words, and it must be recognized
that their primary aim is to show the effect of death as it is seen by men. All
a man's busy concerns are cut off sheer as though by the falling of a knife, and
beyond there is only a blank. But the point is made by contrasting the living
state with the utter cessation of consciousness, the complete termination of
everything by which life can be known, which is its opposite; and to contend
that this only describes death as it is seen, and not as it truly is,
unjustifiably weakens the argument. The reason that a man has 'no more a portion
for ever in anything that is done under the sun' is not merely that he appears
to be dead but that he is dead; the reason that 'a living dog is better than a
dead lion' is that death totally deprives of everything that life is"
FOR THE LIVING KNOW THAT THEY WILL DIE, BUT THE DEAD KNOW
NOTHING; THEY HAVE NO FURTHER REWARD, AND EVEN THE MEMORY OF THEM IS
FORGOTTEN: Cp vv 6,10. Death is seen here as an unconscious state: Psa 6:5;
104:33; 146:3,4; Isa 38:18; 2Ki 22:20; Job 14:21. The dead have certainly not
gone to heaven (Joh 3:13). Yet there is deliverance from Sheol (the grave) for
some: Psa 16:10; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa 26:19; Dan 12:1-3. The OT does not
have the word "resurrection", but the principle is plainly taught
AND EVEN THE MEMORY OF THEM IS FORGOTTEN: A common
theme in the Psalms: see Psa 31:12; 41:5; 88:10-12; 115:17.
THEIR LOVE, THEIR HATE AND THEIR JEALOUSY HAVE LONG SINCE
VANISHED; NEVER AGAIN WILL THEY HAVE A PART IN ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS UNDER THE
SUN: "The three words: love, hatred and envy, express affection, personal
and intense hatred, and burning zeal or jealousy. They are all emotions which
cause one to agonise over issues and to develop character, either one way or the
other. All these emotions are now perished in death; the purpose of the person's
life is finished" (O'Grady). Now they can do neither good nor bad; their fates
have been sealed up, until revealed at the resurrection.
NEVER AGAIN WILL THEY HAVE A PART IN ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS
UNDER THE SUN: That is, they will have no more to do with this present order
of things. They may, of course, have something to do with the future time, when
Christ returns -- depending on their knowledge and responsibility to his
GO, EAT YOUR FOOD WITH GLADNESS, AND DRINK YOUR WINE WITH A
JOYFUL HEART, FOR IT IS NOW THAT GOD FAVORS WHAT YOU DO: Or, "For God now
accepteth thy works" (AV). Here begins advice for those who have entered into a
covenant relationship with Yahweh. Extract what joys you can from this life,
which God has given you: food, drink, clothing, ointment and perfume (v 8), and
the comforts of married life (v 9) -- it is all from Him. And see in these
simple pleasures of life a foretaste of the glories of the life to come -- which
it is God's good pleasure to give to those who love Him.
"A note of imperious exhortation breaks in: 'Go...!' What had
previously been put as advice (Ecc 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20) is now an
urgent summons to action" (Eaton). Why so urgent now? Because "God favors what
you do." God has accepted you! Eat, drink, and be merry with a glad and joyful
heart -- for your Redeemer lives, the Holy One of Israel. Take what He gives you
now, and trust in Him for the future -- He will never leave you nor forsake you.
ALWAYS BE CLOTHED IN WHITE: White garments were
garments of joy -- as at wedding feasts, or other celebrations -- in contrast to
the black garments of mourning. Naturally speaking, white clothing is cool and
comfortable -- something greatly to be desired in Middle Eastern climates.
Spiritually speaking, white raiment symbolizes righteousness,
and is the clothing of the saints: "Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have
not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are
worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot
out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my
Father and his angels" (Rev 3:4,5). "These are they who have come out of the
great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood
of the Lamb" (Rev 7:14). "Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)" (Rev 19:8).
ANOINT YOUR HEAD WITH OIL: Oils would soothe skin left
dry by the heat and blistering winds of the Middle East. On a spiritual level,
oil symbolizes joy and gladness; priests and kings were so anointed (Psa 45:7,8;
133:1-3; Isa 61:3; Pro 27:9). So here continues advice for those who are
destined to be "kings and priests" in God's coming kingdom (Rev
ENJOY LIFE WITH YOUR WIFE, WHOM YOU LOVE: The wife as a
virtuous (noble) woman is the theme of Pro 31:10-31. The writer's advice: Choose
a good and righteous wife, and rejoice in her love; this is one of this life's
greatest joys (cp Pro 5:18,19; Mal 2:14,15).
Natural marriage is ordained by God, and is His divine parable
of the glorious eternal life of His Kingdom: the marriage of the Lamb -- in
which the Bride of Christ will enjoy the fullest communion with her Lord and
Husband in the Age to Come (Gen 2:20-25; Eph 5:25-33; Joh 17:21-23; Rev 19:7-9;
ALL THE DAYS OF THIS MEANINGLESS LIFE THAT GOD HAS GIVEN
YOU UNDER THE SUN -- ALL YOUR MEANINGLESS DAYS: First realize that your life
is "vain", that ultimately all life in this world ("under the sun") is
temporary, and bound to have sorrow and suffering. But, having realized as much,
then remember to be grateful to your Maker for what pleasure there is in such a
life -- and rejoice that this life, with its trials, is but the stepping-stone
to an eternal life in His coming kingdom.
WHATSOEVER YOUR HAND FINDS TO DO, DO IT WITH ALL YOUR
MIGHT: This is the same exhortation and advice given to believers by the
apostle Paul: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for
the Lord, not for men" (Col 3:23); and... "Be very careful, then, how you live
-- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the
days are evil" (Eph 5:15,16; cp Gal 6:10; Col 4:5). "As God's fellow workers we
urge you not to receive God's grace in vain. For he says, 'In the time of my
favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.' [Isa 49:8] I tell
you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2Co 6:1,2).
Cp also Joh 5:36; 9:4; 17:4; Rom 12:11.
FOR IN THE GRAVE, WHERE YOU ARE GOING, THERE IS NEITHER
WORKING NOR PLANNING NOR KNOWLEDGE NOR WISDOM: Recalling the words of vv
"Keep telling yourself over and over (if it is true -- and it
is almost certain to be true), there is something I should be doing right now,
more important than this, more related to eternity, more helpful to others, more
useful to the Truth; less childish, less foolish, less selfish. Some day I will
go to bed to sleep and I will be thankful that I have made the effort required,
that I will work hard on forever hereafter with satisfaction and joy; and no
regret or embarrassment. Perhaps God is watching at this very moment to see if I
am suitable for His eternal use and pleasure; whether the deepest recesses of my
heart are fleshly or spiritual; whether the natural bent of my heart is fleshly,
and the 'spectacle' is but a veneer; or whether the spiritual is the true self;
sincerely struggling against the terrible power of the flesh. Is this moment the
watershed of my destiny? Shall I go on from here in prayerful, intelligent,
organized spiritual self-discipline or drift week by week into the cozy valley
of death; or put ineffectual sociality between both?
"Take your life firmly in hand and give it unto the Lord.
There may be no tomorrow. For millions there will not be, and will never be
again. Today is eternally appealing, and God may well decide today that we have
had tomorrows enough" (GVG).
"One good deed is more worth than a thousand brilliant
theories. Let us not wait for large opportunities, or for a different kind of
work, but do just the things we 'find to do' day by day. We have no other time
in which to live. The past is gone; the future has not arrived; we never shall
have any time but time present. Then do not wait until your experience has
ripened into maturity before you attempt to serve God. Endeavour now to bring
forth fruit. Serve God now, but be careful as to the way in which you perform
what you find to do - 'do it with thy might.' Do it promptly; do not fritter
away your life in thinking of what you intend to do tomorrow as if that could
recompense for the idleness of today. No man ever served God by doing things
tomorrow. If we honour Christ and are blessed, it is by the things which we do
today. Whatever you do for Christ throw your whole soul into it. Do not give
Christ a little slurred labour, done as a matter of course now and then; but
when you do serve Him, do it with heart, and soul, and strength"
I HAVE SEEN SOMETHING ELSE UNDER THE SUN: THE RACE IS
NOT TO THE SWIFT OR THE BATTLE TO THE STRONG, NOR DOES FOOD COME TO THE WISE OR
WEALTH TO THE BRILLIANT OR FAVOR TO THE LEARNED: "Five accomplishments are
listed, none of which guarantees success or prosperity: (i) the swift-footed may
find himself a loser (cf 2Sa 2:18) [cp also Amo 2:14,15]; (ii) military strength
is no guarantee of success in battle (cf Isa 36; 37); (iii) wisdom similarly is
no guarantee of a livelihood (cf Ecc 9:13-16; 10:1); (iv) understanding may be
accompanied by poverty (cf Ecc 9:15); (v) favor may be delayed for innocent
Joseph (Gen 37--41) and not come at all for others (Ecc 9:13-16)" (Eaton).
The same point is made by David: "No king is saved by the size
of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope
for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save" (Psa 33:16,17).
And also by Jeremiah: "This is what the LORD says: 'Let not the wise man boast
of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of
his riches" (Jer 9:23) -- for all these abilities and achievements of mortal men
are so many fleeting shadows; they do not in any way guarantee "success" in this
life. But David continues: "But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and
keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our
shield" (Psa 33:18-20). And likewise Jeremiah continues: "But let him who boasts
boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who
exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight"
(Jer 9:24). Each of these OT prophets realizes that God is in control, and will
ultimately reward those who have faith in Him, and manifest His character to the
world around them. They may be the poorest and the weakest of men and women, and
they may possess little of the wisdom of this world (cp 1Co 1:20) -- but
nevertheless they dwell in the bosom of the Eternal One; they are His special
treasure; and all He has will finally be given to them!
BUT TIME AND CHANCE HAPPEN TO THEM ALL: "Chance" is
"pehgah", which signifies to impinge upon, to meet with -- apparently by
accident, but most often by the providence of God. Some "chance" meetings (where
the same word occurs in the Hebrew) -- which are plainly not random happenings,
but God-directed events -- are to be found in Gen 32:1; Exo 5:3; 1Sa 10:5;
22:18; 1Ki 2:29; Isa 53:6; 64:5. "On the lips of an Israelite, 'chance' means
what is unexpected, not what is random" (Eaton).
Jesus rules out such "time and chance" random circumstances in
the lives of believers, when he says: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Mat 10:29,30). (This
interpretation is also that of Harry Whittaker, in WEnj 117; cp also Tid
The "time and chance" scenario seems to run afoul of various
NT statements, eg: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of
those who love him" (Rom 8:28). But it seems that "time and chance" is not for
the elect of God, but for the worldly and the ungodly (the "SONS OF men" in Ecc
9:12, AV). "It could not be imagined that the objects of the Father's love
should be left to the operations of chance; that he should leave undirected, in
the morass of human life, the steps of those whose eyes, affections and trust
are directed to him in daily prayer" (WP 16). And again, RR writes, "The
righteous fall into trouble, but it is for their good. When trouble comes, do
not think it is not from God because it is natural. It may not differ from that
of other men in apparent origin and form, but it differs from theirs in being
under an invisible supervision which aims at a result. There are some painful
things in life that we have to live through. God will not remove them, but he
assures us that he is with us in them; as we bear them, our work for him becomes
more fruitful. Do not think God has forsaken you because you feel the hardness
of the way. Your suffering may be needful to hedge your way to the Kingdom, to
prepare you for the exaltation that is to come. Resign yourself to the will of
God, hope in him in all your ways. You may yet see your deepest trouble was your
best experience" (WP 28,44).
MOREOVER, NO MAN KNOWS WHEN HIS HOUR WILL COME: AS FISH
ARE CAUGHT IN A CRUEL NET, OR BIRDS ARE TAKEN IN A SNARE, SO MEN ARE TRAPPED BY
EVIL TIMES THAT FALL UNEXPECTEDLY UPON THEM: This verse explains v 11. To
Qoheleth, "time and chance" (or "time and circumstance") are in the hand of God,
guided and directed and ordained by Him... but "no MAN knows" what will happen
next, in his life or in the world around him: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today
or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on
business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.
What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then
vanishes" (Jam 4:13,14; cp Pro 27:1; Mat 6:33,34). And so events in his life
will APPEAR to be random, and unexpected -- ALTHOUGH God knows the end from the
beginning, and is working in all things for the good of His children (Rom 8:28
AS BIRDS ARE TAKEN IN A SNARE: Upon which LGS comments:
"And all his flapping and fluttering will not get him out of it!"
MEN ARE TRAPPED: Literally, "sons of men [are] snared"
(AV) (cp v 3n).
THERE WAS ONCE A SMALL CITY WITH ONLY A FEW PEOPLE IN IT.
AND A POWERFUL KING CAME AGAINST IT, SURROUNDED IT AND BUILT HUGE SIEGEWORKS
AGAINST IT: Notice that this was an event "seen" by the author (v 13). There
was no such siege -- so far as is known -- in the days of Solomon; his reign was
known for its peace and prosperity (1Ki 4:24,25). On the other hand,
Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem is well-known.
A SMALL CITY WITH ONLY A FEW PEOPLE IN IT: That
Jerusalem was a small city, with few defenders, is evident in the words of
Rabshakeh in 2Ki 18:23.
A POWERFUL KING: Heb "melek gadol" -- comparable to the
title of the Assyrian rulers: "great king" (cp 2Ki 18:19,28; Isa 36:4,13).
Besides Ecc 9:14 and these references, the title "melek gadol" is applied only
to Yahweh Himself (Psa 47:2; 95:3; Mal 1:14).
SIEGEWORKS: Heb "metsudhim" -- probably siege towers,
used to discover the vulnerable parts of a city's walls, and also to carry
besiegers up to the city walls and upon them when attacks were made (cp Deu
20:20; 2Sa 20:15; 2Ki 19:32; Jer 33:4).
Spiritually speaking, the body of believers is a "small city
with only a few people in it" -- yet when besieged by the "powerful king" Sin,
they look to the poor but wise man, the Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver them! In
this way, they are analogous as well to the conies (the rock badgers), who are
creatures of little power, who can do nothing to save themselves, yet they
prudently make their home in the crags of the rock cliffs, and upon the great
"Rock" (Pro 30:26)!
NOW THERE LIVED IN THAT CITY A MAN POOR BUT WISE, AND HE
SAVED THE CITY BY HIS WISDOM: Generally this suggests the incident in 2Sa
20:14-22 -- except that it was a wise woman rather than a wise man whose advice,
when followed, saved the city.
Going forward to the NT, Jesus is the wise pauper who told
people how to escape the Roman siege, and thereby saved the portion of Jerusalem
who were believers (Mat 24:15-22).
BUT NOBODY REMEMBERED THAT POOR MAN: Or, perhaps, "no
one HAD THOUGHT of that poor man"... that is, until his advice, out of
"nowhere", saved the city. Could this refer to Hezekiah, brought to "poverty",
so to speak, by his fatal illness, and this at a time when Judah and Jerusalem
were coming under siege by the Assyrian host? So, even though still the king, it
was in name only, for he had been forgotten and left to die. Meanwhile, his
erstwhile counselors were now running the show, and running it badly, until
Hezekiah was miraculously healed of his grave disease. Then his advice (coupled
with that of his friend Isaiah) saved the city of Jerusalem from an unimaginable
A possible example of this, generally: Joseph was destined to
be the "saviour of the world" to Egypt -- but while he languished in prison, a
poor slave, he was forgotten (Gen 40:23). For that matter, even after he had
saved Egypt, a later generation (and not so much later at that!) seems to have
forgotten all about him (Exo 1:8).
Vv 16-18: "The Preacher's story about the poor wise man
confirms what we may presume to be conventional wisdom (the positive
statements). It shows wisdom is better than strength and weapons of war, because
the poor wise man was able to save his city from a great and mighty king.
Furthermore, the quiet words of a wise, though unimportant, man have more value
than the loud cries of a king of fools.
"We are not at all surprised to see such conclusions drawn
from the story; what is surprising is the negative truths which the Preacher
also presents. The positive axioms about wisdom are not the whole truth, for
there is a flip-side which weakens the entirely positive view of wisdom that we
might otherwise have had. People are so fickle that they do not even remember
the wise man despite all he did for the city! The implication is that perhaps
this was because he was poor. People did not care for him because of his low
status, even though he was wiser than them all. Although everyone would claim
wisdom is better than riches, the facts of the matter show money talks louder
than anything else. As if this of itself were not enough to undermine the
supposed value of wisdom, the Preacher also points out that one foolish move
achieves an effect as great if not greater than one wise move -- only in the
"The effect of the passage as a whole is to praise wisdom as
we would expect, but it is also to present other truths which undermine and show
the limits of human wisdom" (MV).
And in this last point we are brought back to the basic theme
of Ecclesiastes as a whole: that all human endeavor is ultimately vain and
BUT THE POOR MAN'S WISDOM IS DESPISED: The poor are
often despised (cp Jam 2:1-8), as if to say, 'If a man cannot even benefit
himself materially -- which (we all know!) is the paramount purpose of life --
then how in the world could he ever have anything worth listening to?!' The
despite may therefore arise from a misconception of life and its purpose, but a
misconception which is tragically so common as scarcely to be noticed, and a
misconception that may afflict the brotherhood of believers as well. By
contrast, Paul reminds us that God has chosen "the poor of this world (who are)
rich in faith" (1Co 1:27-31). And Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the poor in
spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:3).
In the ultimate sense, Jesus Christ is our "poor wise man" --
and it is true that he was "despised and rejected", even by his own people (Isa
THE QUIET WORDS OF THE WISE ARE MORE TO BE HEEDED THAN THE
SHOUTS OF A RULER OF FOOLS: The example of Jesus with his disciples: Mat
5:1; cp Isa 42:2; Mat 12:19; 1Ki 19:11-13 (the "gentle whisper", the "still
small voice" of God); Pro 28:11.
And so "a gentle answer turns away wrath" (Pro 15:1). We have
perhaps all seen something like this: a heated discussion, with serious
differences of opinion expressed, and the participants bordering on anger and
bitterness -- and then a calm, quiet, measured few words spoken by a party who
to this point has had nothing to say... and the effect is striking: all conflict
ceases, and reason returns, like oil poured on troubled waters. How does one get
to be such a man, or woman? By so living that others will -- despite themselves
-- respect one's words. And by refusing to indulge in tit-for-tat debates, and
hurtful personal comments. And so a few quiet words, carefully chosen and
carefully inserted at the appropriate time, may accomplish so much more than a
multitude of words, even if true, which are shouted in anger.
And for us all there is a lesson, which surely our Heavenly
Father would have us learn. The words of the wise -- HIS words! -- are often
truly listened to, and heeded, when the listener's desires and passions are
stilled -- when the heat of anger is passed, or the overpowering temptation is
removed. When the fire of self-will is quenched -- as sometimes it may be by the
providence of God -- then the ear and the heart may be open to God's advice. If
we would but know it, many of the hardships and trials and illnesses and
setbacks we experience may be manifestations of God's love. We can almost hear
Him saying: 'Be still, reflect, pause and consider, take a deep breath... There,
now that I have your attention... listen to Me!'
A RULER OF FOOLS: Or, as AV, "him that ruleth among
fools" -- as though the whole ruling class was composed of fools! This may
answer quite reasonably to the Judah of Hezekiah's day when, apart from Isaiah
and his counselor Isaiah, the royal family and its advisors seem singularly
unprepared to deal with any problem from the divine perspective -- and are quite
ready to run off to Egypt or elsewhere, in short to all the wrong places, to
find the sort of "help" which is no help at all.
"By balancing 'wise men' against 'ruler', the author indicates
that authority is not necessarily on the side of wisdom. 'Shouting' seems to
refer here to the shrill self-assurance of a local 'district governor'. The
flattering, vociferous company he keeps has a poor influence. There is more hope
of wisdom in 'quietness' (linked with trustfulness in Isa 30:15 and with
contentment in Ecc 4:6). Thus wisdom will not always win its way; clamour,
verbosity and power may triumph against it. Wisdom has no built-in guarantees"
WISDOM IS BETTER THAN WEAPONS OF WAR: Because wisdom
can gain the "victory" even when, and perhaps especially when, a man is overcome
and subdued. Wisdom fights its battles in the spiritual realm, and no drop of
blood is shed; nevertheless the greatest victories may be won: "For though we
live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight
with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power
to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets
itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to
make it obedient to Christ" (2Co 10:3-5; cp Eph 6:11-17; Pro 3:13-18; Jam
3:17,18). And so Solomon may write: "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man
who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Pro 16:32).
BUT ONE SINNER DESTROYS MUCH GOOD: The truth of this
verse is illustrated by the incident of Achan, whose folly brought distress and
suffering upon the nation (Jos 7:11,12; cp Pro 29:8), and Rehoboam, whose folly
occasioned the great schism in Israel (1Ki 12:16).