For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 7

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

7:1.  “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.”


Whether it be from the perspective of the infidel or the believer, a good name is of great value; and from the perspective of both, the latter is also true: the unbeliever seeing death as the end of all earthly toil and care, since he rejects the idea of existence after death; and the believer seeing it also not only as the end of earthly woe, but also as the beginning of eternal bliss in heaven.


7:2.  “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.”


This continues to be the opinion of the infidel, for he equates death with cessation of existence, and therefore with the end of earthly care.


“... the living will lay it to his heart” is also translated “the living will improve his understanding; the living should keep that in mind; it is good to think about it while there is still time.”  This latter translation “while there is still time,” has to be understood in the present context as being the view of the infidel, and therefore not of preparing for eternity in the Christian sense, but rather, of having one’s affairs in such good order that there will be no problems relative to the settlement of his estate when he dies.


7:3.  “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.”


Taylor translates this verse, “Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us,” and Moffatt renders it, “sadness does the soul good.”


Since the ancients viewed the heart, rather than the brain, as the seat of the intelligence, the verse might be paraphrased, “Through sorrow the mind is improved.”  Frivolous laughter never promotes serious thinking.


On this verse William MacDonald makes the following instructive observation, “Sorrows and sufferings here are the means of developing graces in his life.  They give him a new appreciation of the sufferings of Christ.  They enable him to comfort others who are experiencing similar trials.  And they are a pledge of future glory (Romans 8:17).


7:4.  “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”


The thoughts of the wise man dwell much on mourning, for he has the wisdom to realize that the stamp of death is upon everything earthly; but the fool is continually occupied with what will entertain or amuse, for he never gives a thought to the brevity of even the longest earthly life, or considers that each man must eventually die, and be separated eternally from earthly pleasure; nor does he, from observing the lives of the old, learn that even before death comes, mind and body both lose the ability to afford pleasure.


7:5.  “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.”


It is better for a man to take to heart the advice or reprimand of a wise man, than to listen to his praises being sung by a flattering fool, for the latter will only encourage him in the path of folly.


7:6.  “For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.”


The laughter of fools is as transitory and worthless as the crackling of burning thorns under a boiling pot.  The one like the other is of brief duration, and is equally worthless.  The loud, boisterous, easily evoked laughter of folly all too soon subsides before the assault of advancing years, though sadly in our western culture more and more “senior citizens” display the same propensity for giddy folly as do the young.


7:7.  “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.”


The thought being expressed here is not that the wise man is angered by seeing others oppressed, but rather that when he  begins to oppress others he himself becomes a fool; and when he accepts a gift, i.e., a bribe, he corrupts his own mind or understanding so that he becomes incapable of exercising sound judgment.


How often we corrupt ourselves by accepting Satan’s bribe to do something wrong for the sake of a little fleeting earthly pleasure, a little worldly gain, thereby destroying the ability of our own minds to function properly in the pursuit of that which is of eternal profit!


7:8.  “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”


Many a plan has been conceived, but never carried out; many a project begun, but never completed.  A small work brought to its designed end is better than an ambitious undertaking left unfinished.  The man whose patience endures to the end of the course, is better than the proud individual with grandiose plans that are never brought to fruition. 


But “patient” in the present context relates primarily to the quality of long-suffering, a virtue of inestimable worth.  How much peace has been preserved by the exercise of patience: how much trouble caused by lack of it!  Unfortunately the coexistence of pride and patience is a virtual impossibility


7:9.  “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.”


He who is easily provoked to anger is a fool, for words spoken in anger are often ill advised and later regretted, but they can’t be recalled.  And things done in anger may have even more calamitous consequences, as is evidenced by our crowded prisons.


7:10.  “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.”


He who asks such a question betrays his ignorance, for the truth is that we tend to view the past through rose-tinted glasses: the days that are past were seldom better than the present.


7:11.  “Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.”



Wisdom will ensure the wise management and therefore increase of an inheritance.  But the first part of this verse is also translated “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance ...” being so by virtue of the fact that he who possesses wisdom is very likely to accumulate the equivalent of an inheritance.


7:12.  “For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”


The first part of this verse is also translated, “For wisdom is a defence, even as money is a defence.”


“Wisdom giveth life to them that have it” is to be understood, in the present context, not in the sense of imparting spiritual life, but rather as a means of preserving or prolonging physical life.  The wise man will be preserved from the excesses which almost invariably shorten the life of the profligate.


Inasmuch however, as the Lord Jesus Christ is described as “the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” 1 Corinthians 1:24, and “... of God is made unto us wisdom ...” 1 Corinthians 1:30, then the ultimate wisdom is for a man to accept Him as Savior and Lord.


7:13.  “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?”


This acknowledgement of God’s omnipotence and man’s impotence is the result of the infidel’s practical observation, not of his faith in God as Savior.  By God’s permissive will, man in his folly may resist God’s will to his own destruction, but the fact remains that there is no power in heaven, earth or hell that can change His directive will.


7:14.  “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.”


Again, the exhortation to reflect upon God as the Author of prosperity and also of adversity, is not to be construed as proceeding from a believer, but rather simply as the observation of one who is indifferent to God spiritually, but who in a general way acknowledges His existence, and credits Him with having control of all phenomena.


“... that man should find nothing after him” is taken by some to mean that man will not be able to know what lies in the future; but by others, that what God does is to teach man that there is nothing greater than He; He is the beginning and the end of all things.  His ways are inscrutable and immutable.


7:15.  “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.”


The writer here declares that in the course of his brief and fleeting life he had seen all sorts of people and things, e.g., he had seen righteous men die even in the midst of a righteous life, and he had seen wicked men continue in their wickedness into ripe old age.  He failed to realize that the end of a man’s life is not the end of his existence, and that the just recompence of a man’s life doesn’t always come here on earth, but in heaven or hell depending on whether the man died as a believer or an unbeliever.


God’s ways are inscrutable and immutable.  Prosperity and adversity are not always the evidences of his pleasure or anger.


7:16.  “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?”


Some take this to be the advice of the infidel to men not to try to present themselves as being very righteous or wise, and thereby destroy themselves by becoming the objects of other men’s envy or mockery; but a more likely interpretation is to see it as warning against the self-righteousness which is based on works as the way to heaven.  Destruction lies at the end of that road.


7:17.  “Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?”


On the other hand, the infidel’s advice was that men shouldn’t  run to extremes in wickedness and folly, and thereby provoke God to cut them off in death; or by their riotous living ruin their health, thus bringing themselves to an early grave.


7:18.  “It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.”


Again, this may not be taken to mean that the writer was the OT equivalent of a NT born-again believer.  He was, rather, the representative of those who in a vague way feel that men and affairs in general are subject to the capricious dominion of a superior power or force which they call fate, but that if a man lives a “decent” life everything will be alright with him in the end.  It is interesting to note that almost invariably such people have no opinion about the after-death experience of those they consider wicked.  They are very ready to conclude that all except the very wicked somehow wind up at rest and at peace.


7:19.  “Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.”


Wisdom makes a man stronger or more powerful than ten rulers, princes, or magistrates, for it enables him to conduct himself so that his affairs prosper, and it preserves him from the troubles incurred by folly.


7:20.  “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”


The infidel has to admit that there is no man on earth so righteous that he always does what is right or good, and never fails or sins; but clearly his admission falls very far short of God’s unequivocal declaration that all have sinned, and that “there is none righteous, no, not one,” Romans 3:10.


7:21.  “Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:”


This is sound advice.  It is better not to take to heart everything said to or about us, for it happens sometimes that in the heat of anger things are said, which hurt terribly, and are as deeply regretted by the speaker as by the hearer; but a word once uttered can’t be recalled.


7:22.  “For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself hast cursed others.”


An additional reason for ignoring some of the unpleasant or hurtful things said to or about us is that we ourselves have spoken in the same manner to or about others.


7:23.  “All this I have proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.”


All that is recorded in the preceding verses was what he had learned by his contemplation of wisdom, but in spite of its being good he had failed to apply it practically to his own life, so that he was no better off for having known it: he might as well have remained ignorant of it all.


7:24.  “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?”


Wisdom however, had remained far off, elusive, and beyond his understanding, so that he could only ask in despair, “Who can find it out?”


7:25.  “I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:”


Having striven to acquaint himself with wisdom, and to apply it to his own life, he had to make the sorrowful confession that the only conclusion he had come to was that it was folly to be wicked, and utter madness to act like a fool.


7:26.  “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands; whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”


Solomon had many wives, but his relationship with them appears to have been impelled by lust rather than love, so that instead of enjoying the love that characterizes the God-ordained marriage relationship of one man and one woman, he had found that as he had used women only to gratify his selfish quest for pleasure, so had they in turn proved to be scheming, manipulative, and selfish, he himself being to blame, for he had done nothing to merit their love.


Some understand the “woman” here to be a synonym for folly; and others take her to be a type of worldly wisdom.


7:27.  “Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:”


“... counting one by one” means simply “adding one thing to another: summing them all up,” and “... the account” is better rendered “conclusion: sum.”


7:28.  “Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find it not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.”


This may mean that his search for a righteous person had produced only one man in a thousand, but not one woman, and the reason isn’t far to seek: his own attitude towards women had doomed any hope of his finding one who was righteous, for his selfish use of them could evoke nothing but selfishness on their part, as it is written, “... whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” Matthew 7:12.


The statement however, is more likely to mean that he had failed to find any righteous person, man or woman.


Relative to women, G. Campbell Morgan has written, “... the part that women have taken in corrupting the race has been terrible.  When the womanhood of a nation is noble, the national life is held in strength.  When it is corrupt, the nation is doomed.  Woman is the last stronghold of good or evil.  Compassion and cruelty are superlative in her.”


7:29.  “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”


This is also translated, “God made the race of men upright, but many a cunning wile have they contrived”; “Man’s nature was simple enough when God made him, and these endless questions are of his own divising”; “God made mankind straight, but men have had recourse to many calculations.”


In spite of his having come from the hand of God as a perfect creature, man quickly fell victim to the wiles of Satan, and in his fallen state has multiplied his own machinations.

[Ecclesiastes 8]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough