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Go to Bible: Ecclesiastes 7
“a good name.” In the biblical culture, and in most Middle Eastern and Asiatic cultures, a “good name” was very important. As used in this context, a person’s name included their reputation (cp. Prov. 22:1). God promised to make Abraham’s name “great” (Gen. 12:2). Joshua was concerned that if Israel was destroyed by the Canaanites that God’s “great name” would be ruined (Josh. 7:9). In the future Millennial Kingdom, God’s people will have a “name” in the world (Zeph. 3:19-20).
“good perfume.” The comparison between a good name and good perfume was chosen in part because the two words, name” and “perfume” are very similar in Hebrew, “name” being shem, and “perfume” (or ointment) being shemen. The Hebrew is short and punchy: tov shem mashemen. It is easy to remember and a true and important lesson. In the Hebrew, the sentence is an epanadiplosis because the word “good” both begins and ends the sentence. The word “good” is also important because often people think of things as being good, when to God there are a lot of “good” things that are much better than “good” material things.
“better.” The concept of one thing being “better” than another runs through this section of Ecclesiastes (Ecc. 7:1, 2, 3, 5, 8 (2x), Ecc 7:10). The word “better” also plays a major role in the book of Hebrews in showing that Jesus Christ brought “better” things to believers than they had before he came.
“the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.” At first glance Ecclesiastes 7:1 seems strange and even contra-logical. Life is usually considered preferable to death in Ecclesiastes, and a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecc. 9:4). But Ecclesiastes presents life as being difficult, oppressive, and often seemingly meaningless or futile (Ecc. 1:2, 18; 2:11, 17, 23; 4:1-2; 5:15-16). Thus, the day of a person’s birth is the start of a journey that is full of hard work and pain, whereas the end of a good life is, in the experience of the person, a time of everlasting joy (cp. Isa. 35:10; 51:11).
The unspoken assumption in Ecclesiastes 7:1 that comes from the context and that makes the day of death better than the day of birth is that the person has lived a godly life and has a “good name,” and is looking forward to everlasting life. There will be a Day of Judgment (Ecc. 8:13; 11:9; 12:13-14), and those people who are righteous in the sight of God will experience everlasting joy and not the “second death” (Rev. 20:14-15). At the end of his life, the Apostle Paul wrote about what he accomplished in spite of all he went through: “For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day…” (2 Tim. 4:6-8). At a person’s death we often say, “Rest in peace,” and that is true. The hard work and pain of life is over.(top)
“the house of mourning.” There were no funeral homes in the ancient near east. When a person died, they were kept in the home in which they lived and died until the grave was prepared and the person was buried, often late in the afternoon. People of the village would go to the person’s house, the “house of mourning,” and pay their respects and comfort the family. God told Jeremiah not to go into a house of mourning because God had removed His blessing from Judah and many people would die in the wars with Babylon (Jer. 16:5).
To “go to the house of mourning” is to go to visit and comfort the family of the dead person and to consider things about life and death. It does not mean that you go to live there, or constantly live in a morose and depressed state thinking about death. Given the two choices, going to a house of mourning or going to a house where there is a feast and party, the Sage says that it is “better” to go to the house of mourning because death is the end of all people and we cannot lose our focus on that and live as if there is no Day of Judgment coming for us in the future (cp. Ecc. 11:9; 12:13-14).
“for that is the end of all humankind.” “For that” refers to being dead and in the house of mourning. It is commonly taught in business that if a person is going to be successful they must “begin with the end in mind,” whether “the end” is the goal for the day, the year, or one’s working life. Similarly, if we are going to be fully successful with God, we should live the same way, keeping “the end,” our death, in mind, because we are only here for a short while and then will stand before the Lord on Judgment Day. That there is a day of judgment coming for every person should not surprise anyone because God has said a lot about it. God wants every person to have a good day on Judgment Day, so He tells us to take our mortality to heart and live in a way that will please Him.(top)
“Sorrow.” The Hebrew word is kaas (#03708 כַּעַס), and it can mean sorrow, anger, vexation, grief, frustration, etc., depending on the context (it is “anger” in Ecclesiastes 7:9). Here the context is unclear, in part because the word translated “sadness” in the phrase “sadness of the face” is much more often translated “evil” or “bad.” Many versions have “Sorrow…sadness” (ESV; KJV; NAB; NASB; NIV), because of the context about living and dying. But anyone who has dealt extensively with death knows that different people react differently and often people’s emotional state changes with time. Alternate but very acceptable translations instead of “sorrow” include “aggravation” (CEB); “grief” (HCSB); “vexation” (Darby); “anger” (Douay-Rheims); and “frustration” (NIV2011). Similarly, a “sad” face is literally “an evil face,” and it can refer to a sad face; a “sober” face (NET); a “troubled” face (Temper Longman), and even a marred face (Rotherham)—perhaps a face marred by weeping and being distraught in one’s soul.
Ecclesiastes 7:3 uses vocabulary that allows us to go deeply into the mind and heart of people who are experiencing death in some close or visceral way, and/or people who contemplate death deeply and allow it to affect their heart and change it for the better. Living with the end in mind is always better than ignoring the reality of life (cp. Ecc. 7:2).
“the heart is made good.” Like the previous phrases in Ecclesiastes 7:3, the fact that the heart is made good” has a great depth of meaning. The word translated “good” can be translated “well” or even “better,” and the heart can be made good or well as people deal honestly with life and death and do not live in denial of what will certainly come in the future. When we are honest with life and death, and also with the everlasting life offered by God, and do not hide from or ignore reality, our heart changes for the better, and that fact is reflected in many of the various English versions. The NLT paraphrases the Hebrew text, and has “sadness has a refining influence on us.”
Although some English versions say the heart will be made “glad,” that is likely not the emphasis in the text. Sadness does not make people “glad,” but handled well it can deepen their heart and make it good.(top)
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.” Ecclesiastes 7:4 is very similar to Ecclesiastes 7:2 and reminds us to live with the end in mind. In this verse, however, instead of reminding the living to take their own mortality to heart, God goes somewhat the opposite way and contrasts the wise with the fool. The wise keep their mortality in mind, while fools ignore it and spend their time on frivolous activities. The contrast between the wise person and the fool is common in the wisdom literature, especially Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Although Ecclesiastes points out that the wise and the fool both die (Ecc. 2:14-16), there is still a definite advantage to being wise, as we see here (cp. Ecc. 10:12).(top)
“the rebuke of the wise.” This is a wonderful exhortation for both the person who needs advice and also to the wise. A wise person knows when and how to rebuke a person so that it does the most good (cp. Prov. 17:10). The person struggling with something should be thankful that wiser people are willing to help, even if by rebuke. Sadly, people in our modern culture tend to be very arrogant and unappreciative of instruction in any form, and due to that many wise people refrain from trying to instruct, rebuke, or correct those acting in ways that clearly are not in their best interest. Wise people should take courage from the potential good that they can do and take a risk in order to accomplish the greater good.
“the song of fools.” Besides the wider meaning of different songs that fools might sing when they are inspired or excited, typical “songs” in the biblical world were written and sung to praise someone or something, or in order to remember something (cp. Exod. 15:1, about escaping from Egypt; Num. 21:17, about getting water in the wilderness; Deut. 31:19, about the Israelites in the wilderness; Judg. 5:12, about Deborah’s victory over the enemy; 1 Sam. 1:18, extolling Saul and Jonathan; 2 Sam. 22:1, David’s song about his deliverance from king Saul; Job 30:9, that people sang about the misfortunes of Job). In that light and in this context, the “song of fools” would be a song extolling some undeserving person or event, or outright flattery. The point is that the rebuke of a wise man might sting for a moment but be very helpful in the end, and that is much better than the flattering song of a fool, which might make a person feel good for a moment but will hurt instead of help in the end.
It has been suggested that “song” in this context means “praise” (referenced by Tremper Longman in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament), but since songs very often were about praise and something fools would do, there is little reason not to see the standard meaning of “song” here.(top)
“thorns underneath a pot.” In this verse, the rhyme grabs the attention, and causes one to pause and think about the saying. The word used here for “thorn” and “pot” are homonyms, they are spelled the same but have different meanings. The word sir (#05518 סִיר or )fem.סִירָה ( sirah), means “pot,” a household pot, and also means “thorn,” “brier,” or “hook.” The Hebrew is hasirrim tachat hasir (הַסִּירִים֙ תַּ֣חַת הַסִּ֔יר), “thorns [plural] underneath a pot.” There is really no way to reproduce the rhyme and wordplay of the Hebrew text into English, although some scholars have tried. One such attempt is, “the sound of nettles under the kettle” but that falls far short of the Hebrew.
Since everyone cooked over a fire, and since it was common to burn thorns, everyone was familiar with the characteristics of burning thorns. There are a couple very distinct things about thorns when they burn. Thorns burn loudly; they make a loud crackling sound when they burn. Similarly, fools are generally loud and obnoxious. Also, thorns burn up quickly and then are gone. Similarly, fools may laugh now, but they soon pass away and then are gone forever. They foolishly reject God and so do not have everlasting life. They are fools, so why listen to them? It is much better to listen to the rebuke of a wise person (Ecc. 7:5).
“pointless.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2.(top)
“For.” The standard meaning of the Hebrew word is “for.” Tremper Longman explains that the “for” likely connects to the last phrase in Ecclesiastes 7:6, that “this too is pointless.” Longman writes, “The wise are not above suspicion. There are factors as to why their advice and/or rebuke may not be reliable” (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes). In spite of the very possible connection between 7:6 and 7:7, most translators agree with the explanation given by James Bollhagen (Concordia Commentary: Ecclesiastes): “The opening כִּיis usually interpreted as an asseverative [a positive affirmation], the intensifier “indeed,” as in Ecc. 4:16 and 7:20.” However, Longman’s advice is to translate the text as it stands, “for” and that seems correct.
There is no real reason to doubt the connection between Ecclesiastes 7:6 and 7:7, especially in light of the whole flow of Ecclesiastes, which up to this point (and continuing forward for most of the book) has a decidedly cynical view (some might say “a very honest view”) of this earthly life and what goes on in it. It would be nice if the rich and powerful were always honest and wise, but far too often the “wise decisions” that they make are based on ulterior motives and pressures from behind-the-scenes players.
“extortion.” The translation “extortion” (getting something, often money, through force or threats) is a good one, and here it also would include various ways of extorting money or favors, including blackmail. The rich and powerful, usually considered “wise,” are subject to extortion, and the last phrase in the verse mentions bribery, which was so common that the Mosaic Law mentions bribes several times (cp. Exod. 23:8; Deut. 16:19; 27:25. Deut. 10:17 says the God will not take a bribe).
“makes the wise man foolish.” The Hebrew verb means to make foolish (HALOT Hebrew-English lexicon). Although there are some scholars who think word relates to being “mad,” the lexical and contextual evidence supports “fool” being the correct meaning of the Hebrew text.
Ecclesiastes 7:7 adds questionable motives and therefore questionable quality to the advice of the wise. It points out what often happens to the rich and powerful people who are supposedly wise and give wise advice: they succumb to extortion and bribery. By giving in to evil, through pressure or because of their own greed and aspirations, the “wise” person becomes a “fool.” This life is short—very short—and eternity is a very long time. The person who trades everlasting life and/or future rewards for material gain in this life is indeed a fool.
The fact that the “wise” people give in so often to evil forces that pervert their judgment and advice adds to the seeming pointlessness of this life. But it also forces people to a point of decision: we can be cynical about this life because so much of it seems wrong and unfair, or we can be positive about this life, realizing that it is a war zone between good and evil and we can support God and good in this life and look forward to a wonderful next life as well. The Devil is the god of this age, and God is a man of war (Exod. 15:3) fighting against him, and we can be cynics and negative and inadvertently give aide to the Devil, or we can have a positive point of view and spread the good word about our loving God and the wonderful next life He will provide.
“destroys the heart.” In biblical Hebrew, the “heart” can be the mind or understanding, or as it does here, it can have the wider meaning of the center of one’s life and personality (see commentary on Prov. 15:21). The heart is always changing, and it can change for the better or for the worse. The hearts of people who refuse to acknowledge God grow “dark” (Rom. 1:21). People who participate in evil spiral downhill. Their hearts become harder and harder and their lives become more and more ungodly (Eph. 4:18-19).(top)
“matter.” This verse has a depth of meaning that is difficult to bring out in English because the Hebrew word can mean “word” or “matter,” and both make sense in the context (but for different reasons), and therefore both apply and are worth our studious consideration. The translation “matter” is more inclusive than “word,” and is therefore to be preferred, but beyond that “matter” connects Ecclesiastes 7:7 with Ecclesiastes 7:8 very well. It can be impossible to tell why “wise” and powerful people make the decisions they do, and whether or not there is extortion or bribery involved, but the end of the matter is better than the beginning because the truth will eventually come out, and the patient person sometimes gets to see the that.
On the other hand, the translation “word” makes the two halves of Ecclesiastes 7:8 fit together very well, because one reason that a patient person is better than a proud person is that proud people usually go on and on about themselves and their interests and the “word” (message) that they speak never seems to end. In contrast, a patient person is generally sparing with their words. Furthermore, we are not able to truly judge the value and wisdom of what someone says until the whole message, “the end of the word,” is given, but if there are too many words the message may get lost. That is in part why Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, “the voice of a fool comes with a multitude of words.”
“patient spirit...proud spirit.” The Hebrew language is very concrete, and that is the case here. The “patient spirit” is literally in Hebrew the “long spirit,” and the “proud spirit” is the “high spirit.” This is an example of when trying to translate an idiom literally into the receptor language can be a problem. “High spirit” in Hebrew means “proud,” but in modern English if a person is in “high spirits,” they are happy and excited.(top)
|Ecc 7:9||- (top)|
|Ecc 7:10||- (top)|
“Wisdom with an inheritance.” Both wisdom and money are a defense against some of the troubles of life, as the next verse, Ecclesiastes 7:12, says. But money can go away, while wisdom provides much more reliable security.
“those who see the sun.” A poetic way of saying “those who are still alive.” This would especially apply to those in the family because an inheritance was usually passed in the family.(top)
|Ecc 7:12||- (top)|
|Ecc 7:13||- (top)|
“about his future.” The Hebrew simply reads, “after him,” but the phrase is unclear in and of itself. Some commentators say it refers to the person’s future, while others say it is referring to after the person dies. However, the fact that the text seems to be clearly referring to the person being joyful in prosperity and in deep thought and consideration during adversity, the weight of evidence favors the verse being about what will happen to a person in their own future.(top)
“pointlessness.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2.(top)
“excessively righteous.” In this context, “righteous” is being used as doing right and righteous actions. Some people are overly worried about making a mistake or not doing enough for God and others. While it is good to want to do what is right, we will never be perfect, and that concern adds pressures to life that can affect one’s mental and physical health, just like the verse says.
Another aspect of being excessively righteous is that there are times when strictly enforcing a rule is clearly wrong (for example, a person rushing to the hospital with a dying person in the car, and running a red light when there are clearly no cars coming does not need to get a ticket for running a red light). Thus, the New Testament tells leaders to be “reasonable” (1 Tim. 3:3).(top)
|Ecc 7:17||- (top)|
“but do not withdraw your hand.” Cp. Ecclesiastes 11:6.
“will come out from both of them.” The Hebrew text is unclear as to whether it is saying, “come out from” (ESV), or “come out with” (NASB). The previous verses had given two extremes, and the person who is wise does not get caught up with either one.(top)
|Ecc 7:19||- (top)|
|Ecc 7:20||- (top)|
“cursing you.” There are several words translated “curse” in the Old Testament. The one used here in Ecclesiastes 7:21 is qalal (#07043 קָלַל), and its root meaning is “to make light of, make of little account, treat as insignificant.” The semantic range of qalal ranges from just speaking badly about someone or “making light of them,” to genuinely putting a curse on someone. So “curse” can mean just badmouthing someone. For example, the CJB has, “Also, don't take seriously every word spoken, such as when you hear your servant speaking badly of you.” The TNK has the final phrase as hearing “your slave reviling you.”
Life is difficult and all of us say things in the heat of an emotional moment that we did not really mean or think through, as Ecclesiastes 7:22 says. So we cause ourselves a lot of problems and endure much emotional trauma if we do not learn how to ignore and/or let go of things that people say and do. If we take to heart everything we hear people say about us, we will have nothing but worries and bad days. When we make a mistake or say something unkind, we are happy if other people ignore it and let it go, and we can have a very peaceful life if we learn to do that too. We will never have the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7) if we are offended by everything that people say.(top)
|Ecc 7:22||- (top)|
“but it was beyond my reach.” The “it” refers back to wisdom. The Sage starts to test the things in life by the wisdom that he has (Ecc. 1:13), and he makes the decision that he will be wise. But in the end, the true wisdom and understanding of life was still beyond him, and his conclusion fits perfectly with the next verse, Ecclesiastes 7:24.(top)
“That which is.” The Hebrew more properly means, “That which has been” (cp. Ecc. 1:9), but occasionally it has a present tense meaning, as here (James Bollhagen, Concordia Commentary: Ecclesiastes). The true “what’s” and “why’s” of life are too deep and complex for a human to discover.
“beyond reach.” The same Hebrew word “beyond reach” that is in Ecclesiastes 7:23, but verse 23 has the pronoun “my” (me).
“deep, deep.” The Hebrew doubles the word for emphasis, which is technically referred to as the figure of speech epizeuxis. The emphasis is “very deep,” or “exceedingly deep.”(top)
“the reason for things.” The Hebrew word is used in business and especially accounting, and it refers to how things fit together and add up. There is no good single English word to bring out all the meaning in the text.(top)
|Ecc 7:26||- (top)|
|Ecc 7:27||- (top)|
|Ecc 7:28||- (top)|
“God made humankind upright.” God’s original creation of humankind was perfect, but He gave Adam and Eve free will, which they used in disobedience to God and lost their upright status. Although “humankind” is singlar, it is a collective singular as can be see by the “but they search,” which is plural.
“schemes.” This word “schemes” is almost identical to “reasons” in Ecc. 7:25 and 7:27. God has made things with specific reasons, and the wise person looks for them, but sadly fallen humanity searches out its own schemes, and ignores what God has done. This word “schemes” is from the same root as the word in 2 Chronicles 26:15, where king Uzziah made cleverly designed war “devices” to throw rocks and arrows.