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Wisdom Matters (Ecclesiastes 6:10–8:1)

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Ecclesiastes is a Wisdom Book and is also Scripture

Now I am recapping a little here when I say that Ecclesiastes is a Wisdom Book. Together with the books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job and Song of Solomon. These 5 books help us with knowing how to live in this world. We also need to remember that Ecclesiastes is God’s word. It is not a book that we can just decide is too hard or part of the Old Testament and you know I’m just really a New Testament Christian. That is not an option.

2 Timothy 3:16

We do well to remember what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 about all of the Bible. This is a good verse to memorise as you read the bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

So we need to read, understand and apply the book of Ecclesiastes in our lives.

Nancy Guthrie sums up the high value that wisdom literature in the Bible has for us.

The wisdom books are called that for a reason, she says. They show us how to make sense of the world and how to live in wisdom (20). But they also show us something greater. They show us our inability to live as wise people on our own, thus pointing us to the One who was, and is, perfectly wise (21). We must first understand that Jesus is the wisdom of God revealed.

Nancy Guthrie – The Wisdom of God

1. The Earth and Human Nature are Set

As we come to verse 10 of Chapter 6 of Ecclesiastes we are straight away reminded of three central truths in this one verse. Read verse 10 with me (it’s up on the screen).

Ecclesiastes  6:10

10 Whatever exists was given its name long ago, and it is known what mankind is. But he is not able to contend with the one stronger than he.

So firstly, whatever exists is talking about creation and created things. Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 stated this same thought by saying that there is nothing new under the sun.

God has created everything and it was named in the beginning, and this takes us back to Genesis 2:19. 

Genesis 2:19

19 The Lord God formed out of the ground every wild animal and every bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name.

Secondly, it is known what mankind is. This statement is talking about our state as human beings. We are all marred by the fall. Our nature is set. In fact verse 29 of today’s passage shows that Adam and Eve were made upright. God created them righteous, yet they disobeyed God. They went their own way and human nature was corrupted from that time. And thirdly, God is in control, we can’t change the world or our ourselves.  As Isaiah 45:9 says:

Isaiah 45:9

“Woe to the one who argues with his Maker—
one clay pot among many.
Does clay say to the one forming it,
‘What are you making?’
Or does your work say,
‘He has no hands’?

Ecclesiastes 6:11-12

These opening three verses that begin our passage today serve as a transition from the first half of Ecclesiastes to the second half. And in verse 12 we see two questions that will be answered in the remaining chapters of this book. Verses 11 & 12:

11 For when there are many words, they increase futility. What is the advantage for mankind? 12 For who knows what is good for anyone in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow?) Who can tell anyone what will happen after him under the sun?

2. The Question….Who knows what is good?

So the question that we will spend the rest of our time answering today is:  Who knows what is good for anyone in life, in the few days of his futile life that he spends like a shadow? As I’m sure you noticed, there is also a second question which is: Who can tell anyone what will happen to him under the sun? Which is basically asking: “What will happen in the future”? Well, this second question starts to fully be answered in chapters 9 and 10. Today’s passage though does remind us in verse 14 that only God knows the future. But back to what is good.

3. The Answer So Far

Now some of you might remember that the Preacher has been trying to answer this question that first came up in verse 3 of chapter 2. “What is good for people to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.” So far the answer has been.

Ecclesiastes 3:22

Ecclesiastes 2:24

22 I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?

24 There is nothing better for a person than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand,

4. The Answer in the passage

So, it is good or you might say very good to enjoy our work and enjoy everything that God has provided. And now in chapter 7 we are told what else is better or good. We see eleven times in these verses what is good or better. What we see here is the relative value of Wisdom. Read with me verses 1-4 of chapter 7.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

 A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
since that is the end of all mankind,
and the living should take it to heart.
Grief is better than laughter,
for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.
The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.

In verse 1 we see a good name, we would say a reputation. This was incredibly important 2000 years ago. Your name was everything. A good reputation is better than channel number 5. Now perfume was expensive back then, but good character was better then and it is still better today. This does pose a question for us doesn’t it? When someone says our name what are the thoughts that they have? What is our reputation? Are we known as followers of Christ?

Now the comparison with our death and our birth at first glance seems like a bit of a strange comparison.

The day of death is better because death teaches us about life. This is where the preacher then goes. Verse two in a sense answers why it is better. It is because in looking at death we are made to think about our life.

Now we avoid death at all costs. That might even mean turning the television off when there is a news story about war or death. Yet, death is an important idea for wisdom, an important idea for faith. We need to learn about death and keep death in view. Why you may ask. Because death helps us to keep things in perspective. Contemplating death is good for us.

Why is death and mourning held up as better than celebration? It is simple really. In remembering that our time on earth is limited and that we are not in control is wisdom. For in psalm 90:12 we read

Psalm 90:12

Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.

Knowing that we will die and seeing death around us, and remembering that this is the fate for all humankind due to our fallen nature, this helps us to live well.

When sharing the good news of Jesus with people I do on occasion ask them what they think will happen to them when they die. That question always elicits a response, because death is confronting. In verse three it is not that mourning makes a heart glad, a better rendering would be that the heart is put right. That there is an understanding of our position.

Ecclesiastes 7:5-10

Verses 5 to 10 carry on with helpful ways in which wisdom is better. Verse 5. Being put in your place by a wise person is more helpful than singing songs of joy.

Verse 6 There is no wisdom in a fools laugh, it doesn’t last. A laugh like fire will go out.

Verse 7 Oppression (ESV) and extortion we know do terrible things to people. Being under an oppressive government leads to misery. Being oppressed in any way can lead to mental and physical harm.

Verse 8 is wisdom that we all know to well. Be patient and humble, not proud and impatient. In fact as Christians, as those that have put our faith in Jesus, we are to be looking forward to the day of Jesus’ return. The end of the matter is indeed better. Waiting on God, trusting in God. Patience is better than pride.

Verse 9 don’t become someone who lashes out in anger. Don’t be someone who flies off the handle. Because that will become your habit. Now I have to watch myself when I am driving. I don’t know why, but for me driving seems to be one place where if I’m not careful I can get angry. You’ll be happy to know that this means talking to myself in the car and not to other drivers. I have learnt to pray while I drive. But for me this verse of wisdom in enacted often. I don’t let me spirit rush to be angry.

Finally in this section verse 10. It is not wise to wish for today to be like it used to be. Michael Eaton in his Ecclesiastes commentary makes the point that “One cannot face the difficulties of one age by pinning for another.” Really this is foolish.

5. Wisdom is Better (Good)
Ecclesiastes 7:11-14

Wisdom is indeed good. And wisdom is needed to live a good life. Look at what is written in verses 11-14

Wisdom is as good as an inheritance
and an advantage to those who see the sun,
12 because wisdom is protection as silver is protection;
but the advantage of knowledge
is that wisdom preserves the life of its owner.

13 Consider the work of God,

for who can straighten out
what he has made crooked?

14 In the day of prosperity be joyful,

but in the day of adversity, consider:
God has made the one as well as the other,
so that no one can discover anything that will come after him.

Now the Preacher talks up wisdom.

Verse 11 It’s an inheritance, Wisdom is being compared to the promised land that was given to God’s people as their inheritance from the Lord.

Verse 12 Wisdom is now compared to wealth that protects by feeding and preserving people in life. Wisdom is also here being seen as better than wealth.

6. God is in Control

Verse 13 then reminds us that God is in control. In fact more than this, these words make clear that there is no such thing as fate. If something is crooked, it is because God has made it that way. In verse 14 days of prosperity and days of adversity both come from God.  Romans 8:20 states:

“For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly, but because of him who subjected it.’’

Ecclesiastes 3:11
Ecclesiastes 1:15

We also see from earlier in Ecclesiastes that God is in control. Life is under God’s hand. We can’t change what God has done. In fact we can’t even know much of what God has done. We don’t even know what will happen, and this is what the Preacher has come to realise.

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

The preacher now gives us his lived experience. He starts the section by saying “in my futile life’. He has seen that a so called good person, which probably means the self-righteous person, has died and yet someone who was very evil lived a long life. So, he says neither is the way. Don’t be either of these extremes. In fact he says in verse 18. Trust in God and fear him and then you will see clearly how to walk between self-righteousness and wickedness.

Ecclesiastes 7:19-20

The preacher returns to talking about all of the earth and once again we see that the preacher says wisdom is good, is better. In fact a wise person is better than 10 rulers of a city, this most probably refers to the city’s council, that is those elders that would decide matters at the city gates. Yet remember that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Verse 20 Not one is righteous on the earth. Surely, certainly there is not a righteous man on earth. Sin affects us all. The preacher isn’t just talking about his experience. He is talking about all of humanity. All people sin. Even though Wisdom has value, in fact great value, sin then hinders wisdom. The preacher gives us the example of speech. Here is a way in which we all sin. Verses 21-22. We have all cursed others, think on that.

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24

In verses 23 & 24 we see that the teacher realises that wisdom can’t answer the big questions about life and death. In fact even attaining wisdom is beyond him. He willed himself to be wise, but it didn’t work. Yes, wisdom helps us to live. But God’s plans and his goals are beyond our comprehension.

Ecclesiastes 7:25-29

He is not writing about the whole world in this section. He is writing about those that he has seen, those that he had found. He is writing about the sinfulness of humankind that he has seen. When the teacher does his maths, he sees that that the calculation only adds up to one wise person in a thousand. He found one person in a thousand. Now while he found only one upright man here and no upright women, let’s remember in these verses that if it is indeed Solomon who was writing this, then he had 1000 wives and concubines. 1 Kings 11:4 When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away to follow other gods. He was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been.

Perhaps this is what he had in view. This is not a statement on women being less righteous than men for this is not true. Proverbs 31 – the Wife of noble character.

In verse 29 the teacher concludes by stating “Only see this: I have discovered that God made people upright, but they pursued many schemes.” In a sense we come back to where we started today in verse 10 of chapter 6. God created Adam and Eve without sin. They were created as they were meant to remain. Upright, righteous, yet they chose to go their own way and disobey God. In the end we see that in this passage today the teachers’ theology and lived experience agree.

7. Fearing God is Wisdom

I don’t want to leave us there though. Wisdom is a gift from God for us. Proverbs 9:10 is a must when we understand what wisdom gives us. For indeed “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” True wisdom is believing in Jesus Christ. For as 1 Corinthians 1:24 tells us Christ is power of God and the wisdom of God. I come back to the quote from Nancy Guthrie at the beginning of the sermon. We can’t live lives well without Jesus. Our nature is fallen, we will continue to Sin, yet if we put our trust in Jesus. Put our trust in his life, death and resurrection. Well we are trusting in God’s wisdom. And while we couldn’t be counted righteous by trying to be wise because it was impossible. In Christ we are made righteous through faith.

Ecclesiastes 8:1

Our final verse gives us a good ending. Wisdom is a good thing. It is a gift from God. When we find Jesus, when we find wisdom it is indeed true that our face changes. The idea of going from stern to gentle. What a glorious picture. 

8. Wisdom is better

The preacher doesn’t have all the answers as we can see. But he does know God is in control, and that wisdom is important for living life here on earth under God.