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Ecclesiastes 7:20  (King James Version)
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<< Ecclesiastes 7:19   Ecclesiastes 7:21 >>


Ecclesiastes 7:16-20

Super-righteousness is destructive because one of its major fruits is a proud attitude of “God owes me” because of what we feel we have accomplished. Pride destroys humility before God and is therefore deadly. How destructive? Jesus began His preaching in the Sermon of the Mount with one of the most important of all of His sayings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Humility begins and reinforces a right relationship.

Solomon charges us in Ecclesiastes 7:17, “Do not be overly wicked.” Does he mean we should aim at being just a little bit wicked? Of course not. He knows that we are already flawed, sinning creatures: “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (verse 20). He is not counseling us in any way to add sin to what we already are. His words caution against choosing to sin deliberately, for it is highly likely to lead to death. It reveals a “what's the use” attitude.

Sin is like a highly addictive drug. Solomon knows that some sin in everyone's life is inevitable because it dwells in us. But those who deliberately embrace it engrain it in their characters and are deliberately destroying the opportunity to be in God's Kingdom.

Thus, Solomon gives the solution, counseling in verse 18, “It is good that you grasp this, and do not remove your hand from the other.” The Revised English Bible translates this more clearly: “It is good to hold on to the one thing and not lose hold on the other.” What is he referring to? “Hold on to the one thing” refers to holding firmly to the counsel not to become super-righteous. “[Do] not lose hold on the other” refers to maintaining our grip in restraining ourselves from sinning. In other words, “Don't lose control of the character you have built.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued



Ecclesiastes 7:15-22

Ecclesiastes 7:16-22 can help to solve the riddle of verse 15. To begin with, “Do not be overly righteousness” does not warn against aiming for excellence in obedience to God. Rather, it is a further caution not to find fault with God for allowing situations like those in verse 15 to exist, for such circumstances hold vital teaching for those directly involved.

Thus, this passage is first an appeal for humility, a caution against arrogant self-righteousness that guides a person to assert that he “knows it all,” that he fully grasps what is going on, and that his judgment is correct. The wisdom Solomon teaches here is that the goodness of the righteous must be accompanied by humility. Without the presence of humility, a person's goodness and righteousness run the risk of producing intellectual and moral pride.

This can be learned from the bad experiences of others whose examples are given in Scripture. The Pharisees became involved in such moral pride hundreds of years later. Jesus charged them with hypocrisy. In their self-righteousness, they were calling God into account because they believed His law was not enough. The Pharisees added their self-righteousness to God's written law by means of the spoken or oral law, a set of rules framed by the minds of men through the centuries. What a lack of humility! Their trashing of the written law was not wisdom, as Mark 7:6-9 shows.

Blinded by their proud self-righteousness, they could not see that, in their blind attempts to make up for what they perceived as God's deficiencies and the people's failures, they were adding despair to people's lives. Their judgment severely lacked a proper sense of proportion about what God requires.

An interesting sidelight is that the Bible shows that most Pharisees appear to have been well off. According to Jesus' judgment, they were far from righteous, so they actually fit the description of prosperous evil people given in Ecclesiastes 7:15.

But what the Pharisees were involved in is not the real lesson for a converted person, as the Pharisees were unconverted.

Psalm 73:1-17 vividly describes the emotional and spiritual involvement of a person caught in a paradoxical situation. This psalm depicts a righteous man for a time severely misjudging the reality of his situation until God reveals the truth. Any of us could be guilty of the same. The wicked appear to prosper only if we, in our judgment, consider only what appears on the surface.

What God reveals to the psalmist is that these people may appear to gain the whole world, but in reality, they are losing something of far greater value. The psalmist grasps this through prayer and meditation, and his emotional and spiritual state return to an even keel through God's revelation.

At one point, through a bad attitude toward God fueled by his envy of the worldly, the psalmist appears to have been rapidly sliding into despair and perhaps “right out of the church.” This presents a grave danger in such a paradoxical situation.

Assuming the psalmist was a converted man, what would have happened to him if he had not done the right thing and appealed to God, or if he appealed, but God did not respond as quickly as he expected? What if the trial had gone on and on without relief? From the psalmist's own testimony, as he went into the sanctuary, he was at the point that his feet had almost slipped. However, an answer on recognizing the issue appears within the psalm. Despite his envious attitude, the psalmist did not stop praying to God for understanding and relief. God has the answers.

When involved in such a scenario, we have in reality only three alternatives: One, we can continue as is, faithfully enduring with much prayer and steadfast submission to God's will. Two, we can give up in despair and leave the church. Three, we can strive all the harder to impress God by becoming super-righteous to attract His attention and receive blessings for our righteousness, relieving the stress. Solomon is addressing the third alternative in these eight verses.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox



Ecclesiastes 7:15-22

A critical element will make Ecclesiastes 7:15 a bit clearer. The Hebrew word translated as “perishes” ('ābad; Strong's #6) creates a misunderstanding. In its strongest sense, if the context calls for it, it can indeed indicate death. Its first definition, though, is simply “to wander.” It can also suggest merely slipping away or declining. Solomon is indeed warning that danger is present, but it is not an emergency situation. Verse 15, then, is saying that the just man is declining in his righteousness, not that he is perishing because he is an evil sinner ignoring a character flaw.

The reality is that he is declining despite being righteous, which makes all the difference in the world. He is not perishing because he is not righteous enough; he simply is not handling a trial well. Punishment from God is not the issue here, just as it was not the issue with the author of Psalm 73, Job, Paul, or for that matter, Christ, in the midst of their deep trials. However, it is a warning because danger is present.

Job, a righteous man, went through a great trial but not because he was a terrible sinner. Job 1:1 clearly states, “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil.” He was clearly not an evil man. However, his friends thought he was hypocritically hiding the fact that he was a sinner. Job did not judge himself as such, so he defended himself—vigorously. Job was correct. When he repented, it was of his lack of understanding, and God accepted it.

As he served God and the church, was Paul being punished through his trials (II Corinthians 11:22-33)? Did Jesus go through the horrible torture of the crucifixion and death because He was not righteous enough? He certainly received unjustified and painful punishment, but it was not for His sins but ours. Punishment from God is not the issue in this paradoxical circumstance either. It rarely is the issue with His children, and there are reasons why.

When we are called into God's Family and the church, our lives change radically because God's creative activities intensify. He must prepare us for our change. He has allowed Himself enough time, but He will certainly not waste any of it. Consider that God used Jesus, Job, and Paul, among others, for specific purposes in His great creative program. Their parts included difficult trials that were public enough to witness for God before the world and for us too. This factor will also be active in our lives.

In other words, paradoxical trials like the one described in Psalm 73, are not unusual for us. The stakes are high in our calling. We must be tested.

When a person is involved in such a scenario, in reality only three alternatives exist: First, with much prayer and steadfast submission to God's will, he can continue faithfully enduring. Second, he can give up in despair and leave the church. Third, he can strive all the harder to impress God by becoming super-righteous so that He will take notice and bless him for his righteousness, relieving the stress.

It is the third alternative that Solomon addresses in Ecclesiastes 7:15-22, a “solution” that contains an element of danger. We may have lived through such a trial and been delivered, totally unaware of the peril. Super-righteousness is peculiar and dangerous because it is really a deceptive form of evil.

How does super-righteousness arise within a converted person? On the surface, it actually seems like a natural outcome unless the situation is controlled to prevent it. Though a form of self-righteousness, it is different from the self-righteousness we are more familiar with. It can develop from a resolve to obey God better, but those efforts are allowed to get out of control.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued



Ecclesiastes 7:19-25

In verse 19, following the paragraph containing the paradox (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18), he writes, “Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city.” So Solomon made the accumulation of wisdom a major goal in his life, saying in verse 23, “I will be wise.” He wanted to be strong and able to confront all circumstances that beset him. He sought to be prepared.

In verse 25, he expands on his goal: “I applied my heart to know, to search and seek out wisdom and the reason of things.” This is a goal all of us should have. Wisdom does not stand alone. It is a result, built on true knowledge and understanding that a person accumulates along the way to attaining wisdom. All of these will serve us well in life, not only spiritually, but also in family life, business, and civic responsibilities in our communities.

It is interesting that in his search for wisdom, what he discovered may have also included insight into his personal defects. One of these may be revealed in verse 20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” Another may appear in verses 21-22, “Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.” We can take these statements as encouragement not to allow what we discover in our search for wisdom to deter us from continuing on, despite how it affects us personally.

In the rest of the chapter, Solomon touches on a few things he learned that can help us in setting our expectations. However, he says other things that, while not negatives, we should also understand as we search, for instance, writing in verse 23, “But it was far from me.” The search for wisdom is a lifelong endeavor, requiring diligent and continuous effort. In verse 24, he asks, “As for that which is far off and exceedingly deep, who can find it out?” He is gently informing us that we will never find answers to some things.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fourteen): A Summary



Ecclesiastes 7:20

Notice that Solomon is speaking of “a just man,” not an evil man or a corrupt man. The best citizens among us, those we raise to judgeships and listen to in church, have their own sins, and even in their doing of good, they cannot keep out the taint of sin.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are Humans Good or Evil?



Ecclesiastes 7:15-22

The solution to the Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 conundrum involves the converted person's faith in God. At the same time, it also heavily involves his fear of God and applying thoughtful wisdom to ensure he analyzes the situation accurately. Two of these spiritual qualities are directly named in Ecclesiastes 7, while faith, which is not directly named, is critical to the right solution. Influencing all three qualities is knowing God well enough from within the relationship to activate them all correctly. Consider II Corinthians 5:4-7:

For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.

God is preparing us for entrance into His Kingdom in a similar way a human instructor prepares a school student for graduation and service. There are two major differences though: We must matriculate our lessons by faith, and in our case, the purpose—to be clothed with glory and eternal life—is huge by comparison.

These verses assure us that God has made a contract with us—the New Covenant—in which we are responsible for carrying out assigned duties. He is preparing us to fulfill those responsibilities to a far greater extent in His Kingdom. As He is preparing us, we must live by faith.

Luke 14:26-27 reminds us of the seriousness of the pledge we made to Jesus Christ at baptism, to live by faith while carrying out our responsibilities. This serious commitment works in our favor. Knowing God's character from the midst of this close relationship, we can always confidently be reassured that God is in control despite how difficult events look to us. This truth became the foundation for the psalmist's victory in his situation (Psalm 73). Our responsibility is to trust Him as the psalmist did, to walk by faith, not by appearance or physical observation. God is faithful!

Paul, then, clearly establishes what our aim should be no matter the circumstances in our lives. We should desire to please God by being faithful to Him in return as demonstrated by trusting Him. He reinforces this by stating that we must be ready to answer for our choices.

Romans and Ephesians make it clear that God accepts us in His presence at conversion and at all times during conversion only upon the meritorious sinless works of Jesus Christ. This is because, as Paul shows in Romans 7, sin stains all our works no matter how meritorious they may seem to us.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Twelve): Paradox, Conclusion



Ecclesiastes 7:20-22

"Others" here is referring to another person; it could even refer to a stranger. What Solomon is giving us in this section (verses 15-29) is counsel for balanced living.

Verse 20 shows that no one on earth does what is right all the time, never making a mistake. It is the character of a just man to do good, but that is not what always happens.

Then verse 21 begins with the word "also," which means "in addition," "likewise," "too," "in like manner," and "furthermore," suggesting that verses 21-22 continue the thought of verse 20. In just about every situation, sin is involved. Either we have sinned or others have sinned against us—or both.

Solomon advises us not to pay attention to or take to heart everything people say, even if we hear an employee or someone under our authority insulting us—because we know that we have insulted other people many times.

Understanding the word "curse" is important here. It does not mean "to invoke or bring evil or misfortune upon" or "to damn." It is the Hebrew word qalal, which means "to make light, trifling, bring into contempt, abate." Our English word abate means "to make less," "to reduce in quantity, value, degree, or intensity," "to beat down," and even "to deprive."

These verses do not give specific examples of what might have been said. Perhaps it was a defaming remark, an unwarranted comment, an angry threat, a joke at another's expense, or deliberate untruths. What was said is ultimately unimportant.

Baptist commentator John Gill (1697-1771) writes in his Exposition of the Old Testament on verse 21:

Seeing so it is, that imperfection attends the best of men, no man is wise at all times, foolish words and unguarded expressions will sometimes drop from him, which it is better to take no notice of; they should not be strictly attended to, and closely examined, since they will not bear it. A man should not listen to everything that is said of himself or others; he should not curiously inquire what men say of him; and what he himself hears he should take no notice of; it is often best to let it pass, and not call it over again; to feign the hearing of a thing, or make as if you did not hear it; for oftentimes, by rehearsing a matter, or taking up words spoken, a deal of trouble and mischief follows.

In the face of provocation, the true quality of self-restraint is displayed in our ability to take it patiently with forbearance and longsuffering. A person who is longsuffering is not quick to retaliate or promptly punish someone who has insulted, offended, or harmed him.

Ted E. Bowling
Sticks and Stones



Ecclesiastes 7:16-22

Ecclesiastes 7:20 in the New Revised Standard Version says, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” This includes even a super-righteous Christian (verse 16). Could we imagine God, who never sins under any circumstance and has continued so for eternity, being expected by a mere creation to give a blessing for performing what is required of him as a matter of course? Such arrogance! Clearly, near equality with Him would generate pride!

Solomon continues his thought in verse 22, “For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.” He is reminding us of how spiritually weak we are—that we cannot go a day without sinning in some manner! Thinking we can meet the terms we are setting for ourselves reveals substantial pride. Yet, by dedicating ourselves to super-righteousness, we are foolishly demanding blessings.

Solomon is not directly saying so, but such a course of straining for absolute, moral, spiritual, yet unattainable perfection leads to a frustrating dead end. Our resolve will not cause God to be persuaded to comply with our demands because it would not be good for us and our relationship with Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Ecclesiastes 7:20:

Ecclesiastes 7:15-22
Ecclesiastes 7:15-22
Ecclesiastes 7:18

 

<< Ecclesiastes 7:19   Ecclesiastes 7:21 >>



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