Solomon's fifth piece of wisdom in this chapter is that we must not let pride get the better of us by allowing ourselves to reject correction from a person we know has experience in a difficulty we are going through (Ecclesiastes 7:5-6). If we fail to humble ourselves in such a case, we will likely later regret passing off the correction as nothing more than arrogant interference. That can be a major misjudgment, as Proverbs 11:2 bluntly reminds us, “When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.”
A sixth piece of Solomonic sagacity appears in Ecclesiastes 7:8, where he reminds us not to let impatience defeat us. When a trial is resolved, we will be glad we stuck with it. Impatience is a restlessness of mind that can easily become anxiety-ridden. It rises when we want to put an irksome and perhaps dangerous task behind us. Peace departs and the quality of our involvement in the situation dwindles. We so easily become frustrated and angry when things seem stacked against us. Some trials must be endured for long periods, often the case in relationship problems. Thus, Proverbs 11:12 cautions, “He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace.”
A seventh nugget of sound advice: Do not look back, bemoaning one's commitment to God's way of life (Ecclesiastes 7:9-10). Solomon directly states that is not wisdom. Wisdom is to keep plowing forward as one's best defense. Jesus says in Luke 9:62, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” He adds in Mark 4:17 that some called ones have no root in themselves and so endure only for a while, and when tribulation and persecution arise they stumble. We must continue forward, though it is difficult at times, because it will pay off handsomely in the end.
A final item of wisdom appears in Ecclesiastes 7:13-14: We should never allow ourselves to lose sight of God. Paul promises in I Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” God—the same God who gives us days of prosperity—remains with us during adversity. In adversity, even though it appears dark and perhaps never-ending, He calls on us to use our faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Fourteen): A Summary
Solomon is comparing two powers that offer their possessors the ability to defend themselves against many of the vicissitudes of life. On the one hand is money and on the other, wisdom. Money can help one avoid and even preserve a person from many of life's difficulties. Wisdom, however, can give him something no amount of money can—life. Wisdom produces things material possessions cannot because it is insurance against willful self-destruction, whether physical or spiritual.
Consider in verse 13 literally means "to see." It counsels us to understand that some situations cannot be rectified. No amount of money or wisdom will prevent them from occurring. We can do nothing about them because circumstances are beyond our powers, and we should not fret overmuch about them. An obvious example is the impossibility of a person being able to stop wars, floods, riots, or a hurricane. Each of these can bring devastation and a great deal of personal pain that may be entirely unavoidable. All one can do in such a case is to deal with the aftereffects as wisely as possible.
Verse 14 carries on the thought, counseling us that good and bad times occur in everybody's life. There will be situations that are seemingly unjust, such as the righteous seeming not to be prospered, becoming diseased and dying young, while the evil are prospered with wealth, good health, and long, comfortable lives. These things occur in every culture on earth. We are to consider—to see—that God overrules all and is well aware of what is happening. He may even be directly involved in causing the kinds of circumstances that upset our sense of fairness (Isaiah 45:7). We must never allow our thoughts to wander from the reality of the depths of God's involvement in governing His creation.
The passage concludes by drawing our attention to the future. It is beyond our abilities to know precisely what is going to happen. How long will our present trial last? Will we be drawn into another? Are we pleasing God? Will we be prospered to a greater level? When will Christ come? Solomon is not saying we should not think about the future, but that we will never know precisely what is coming. Thus, we should not be overly concerned about it. We must live our belief that God is on His throne, which allows us to be emotionally stable.
Solomon does not begin to give an answer to the thought he is posing until verses 18-19, and even then, it is a very brief answer: "It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all. Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city." The combination of the fear of God and wisdom, which is the fruit of vision, appear together as a solution.
Because the circumstances he posed will affect all, Solomon's advice is to keep on following wisdom. This is a precursor to the climax of the book where he says, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether it is good or whether it is evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). It also foreshadows Romans 8:28, where Paul writes, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
In his terse statements, Solomon is saying, "Keep on following the revelation of God, for this is wisdom. The vision of His overall purpose is wisdom. It is an unerring guide through good and bad times. Always consider—see, discern—that an unseen Hand is involved in events, even those of our seemingly insignificant lives."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Two): Vision
These verses are akin to a bridge: They provide a conclusion to the teaching that precedes them, and at the same time, they lay a foundation to understand the teaching that follows. In both cases, they essentially say, “Whatever you choose to do, for the best understanding do not leave a correct understanding of God out of the picture.”
The Living Bible translates them in a picturesque way, adding considerably to our understanding of the paradox's lesson by bringing God clearly into the picture before we even see the inconsistency:
See the way God does things and fall into line. Don't fight the facts of nature. Enjoy prosperity whenever you can, and when hard times strike, realize that God gives one as well as the other so that everyone will realize that nothing is certain in this life.
This paraphrase clearly reflects on the subject of Ecclesiastes 3—“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven”—then proceeds to show God's involvement in all that is happening. Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 is saying that God is involved, therefore we should accept the circumstance we find ourselves in, exercise faith, and learn to roll with the punches life deals us! The “punches” include paradoxical situations, such as what is described in Ecclesiastes 7:15 with a just man perishing and a wicked man prospering.
Thus, when faced with a situation that on the surface seems unfair, the first element in reaching a proper conclusion is to avoid negatively judging God. God is aware; He is involved. He loves us; He is not cruel. He is always fair in His dealings. This sets us on the path to a righteous solution.
This approach is reinforced by Solomon's description of the situation as “what He has made crooked” (verse 13). This verifies God's involvement. Certainly, the paradox is a crooked situation. We consider things “straight” when events are clear and going well. “Crooked” happens when things are going contrary to our expectations.
God's governance of His creation contains absolutely no complacency. He creates circumstances for our benefit both to test us and to strengthen our faith. We need to exercise our faith, and He needs to know where we stand. We must understand that, as the apostle Paul states in I Corinthians 13:12, we sometimes “see in a mirror dimly.” So the question facing us is, “Do we trust that He is faithfully carrying out His creative actions even when we fail to see the entire picture?”
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued
Even as man makes many things crooked (Ecclesiastes 1:15), God, too, wrests things out of our hands and twists our paths in a different direction—and we certainly cannot undo what He has done. He exercises His sovereign authority, and it turns things upside down. He upsets the natural order of the cosmos, and the normal course of events for mankind in general and for individuals. He subverts the cause of anyone He chooses, according to His goodness and what He knows is best.
Many people have a hard time with this aspect of God, preferring to shy away from it. Yet He says Himself that He creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7). What is calamity if not crookedness on a monumental scale? He caused the Flood that destroyed all of mankind save eight. He removed a hedge around Job, which resulted in a tremendous trial. He decimated the nation of Egypt. When His people were obedient, He annihilated the armies of those who came against them, but when His people were rebellious, He fought against them and spoiled their efforts. He sent Israel into captivity, scattering them so thoroughly that most of them do not even know who they are.
Closer to home, He scattered His own church because He judged that its course needed to be upset—because it was not good. The course needed to be wrenched in a different direction in order for each child of His to examine his own ways to see what crookedness needs to be straightened out. And as Solomon rhetorically asks, who can undo what the Creator has willed to occur? Only He can—and only when and how He ordains.
If it seems like our every endeavor turns sour, or similar events are conspiring against us, it is not necessarily because we are being punished for being the worst of sinners. Perhaps we are—but we have to remember that even if we have the very best spiritual walk, perfectly resembling Jesus Christ, we will always encounter things that are crooked because the world is crooked, because Satan is continuing to make things crooked, and because God, too, is making things crooked (at least according to human reckoning). The reality is that His actions are always good and will always produce good fruit in the end, but that does not change the fact that they may also turn our world upside down in a most uncomfortable way. And that is all before we add in the crookedness that we cause ourselves!
Even so, we should not despair. God makes things crooked, but He also makes things straight. He supplies what is lacking when we cannot. Recall the crooked hands and legs that He made straight during His earthly ministry and the healing He performs for us. Consider the resurrections that He performed and the crookedness that He straightened out in them. Ponder the food that He provided and the truth that He supplied when they were lacking. He came to a crooked world and began setting things straight.
He did not do it all at once, though He is nevertheless continuing to make straight the crookedness introduced into His creation some 6,000 years ago. The Father and the Son are always working (John 5:17), and they are working for our spiritual benefit. Part of Their work is making things straight for the firstfruits, intervening to bring us to a vastly different conclusion from the end we would reach on our own.
God, at times, grants His children favor in the eyes of others when the normal course would be for them to be despised. He gives peace, which can include straightening out an interpersonal conflict. He takes things that are out of kilter and wrests them to bring them into alignment. “Power belongs to God,” the psalmist says, and so it should be common sense to seek favor with Him, because then He is willing to upset the order of things in a way that will help us toward the Kingdom.
He does not make everything perfect all at once, but as we continue to walk with Him, He straightens out sections of our road that we cannot straighten. He does not take away all of the consequences of our crookedness, nor does He undo all of the world's crookedness that impinges on us. Nevertheless, He straightens enough so that we can continue making spiritual progress and even receive unexpected blessings along the way.
David C. Grabbe
These verses build on the preceding ones on wisdom being a defense. Yet as good a shelter as God's wisdom is, it cannot shield us from every possible event we might consider a calamity. Everybody faces such situations. Wisdom will aid us to resign ourselves to the circumstances of those times. “Resignation” is too often understood to have the sense of throwing up our hands and giving up, thus quitting under fire. It indeed can have that connotation, but not always, and such is not the implication here. The wisdom in this case is that we are to submit to the fact that there are times that nothing can be done to avoid certain situations.
This verse marks the third time such counsel is dealt with, and this is just the seventh chapter. It is important because we are dealing with the Sovereign of this entire creation. There are things He is doing that He absolutely will not change for us. Similar instruction appears in chapter 3.
Therefore, we have to discern those times, resign ourselves to them, and gracefully and humbly accept them, allowing Him to work out His purpose without constant complaining from us. Job 12:13-16 makes this point clearly:
With Him are wisdom and strength, He has counsel and understanding. If He breaks a thing down, it cannot be rebuilt; if He imprisons a man, there can be no release. If He withholds the waters, they dry up; if He sends them out, they overwhelm the earth. With Him are strength and prudence. The deceived and the deceiver are His.
If one tries to fight God, there is no possibility of winning. To do so is stupid beyond the bounds of reason, but mankind constantly attempts it. This concerns us on a daily basis because we live in this world too. What is going on in the world is not pleasant to experience or even to contemplate, so our becoming angry, depressed, and weary with the entire matter is a likely possibility. Nevertheless, the situation will not go away because God has willed it for the present.
Wisdom, in this case, is to be resigned to it. We must think this reality through and accept what is impossible for us to change. All too often, though, we allow it to depress us and dominate our lives to such an extent that we do virtually nothing positive about the things we can change. That is when Satan wins because, having put ourselves into a weakened attitude, we more readily cave to his devices.
Verse 14 contains further wisdom to defend against those difficult times when it seems that nothing can be changed. Solomon essentially counsels us to learn to “roll with the punches.” We must make careful efforts to make the best of the situation, understanding that God has seemingly withdrawn Himself for our good. God is love; He is neither forgetful nor a harsh taskmaster. We have a hard time seeing that the level of difficulty we are experiencing is good for our growth. He is not doing it to smother us but to benefit us in the end.
The last phrase of verse 14 tells us that God, from His sovereign height, has determined to keep man somewhat off-balance for His purposes. God has commanded that we must live by faith. So trying to figure out the precise reasons for a situation is not only often impossible, but also a huge waste of time and energy. This counsel may not satisfy some people because of its simplicity, but it is right: Trust Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Nine): Wisdom as a Defense