BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
For the week beginning Sunday November 17, 2013
CAN I KEEP ON GOING?
(When problems seem too tough to solve)
Ecclesiastes 7:1-18 & 8:9-17
Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes 7, verse 1 runs a lot deeper than most people care to understand. Solomon’s choice and use of Hebrew words, analogies, and metaphors, seem to drive home one of the more profound thoughts in all of Scripture, as for as the life choices of man is concerned, and how he incorporates GOD’s wisdom into his thinking. This is how this verse reads in “plain English” from the “New Living Translation” and “The Living Bible” versions:
“A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume (precious ointment-NKJ). In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born”.
The connection of the two parts of this verse is not coincidental. In the Hebrew the word used here for “precious” is “towb” (pronounced toe-be) and it means “good”, in the broadest sense of the word, in this case, “valuable”. This is the only time in all of Scripture, that this particular word is used for “precious”.
In the Hebrew the word used here for “ointment”, or “perfume”, “shemen” (sheh-men), is the same word that is used for “oil”, and it is, in fact, “a perfumed olive oil”. The same Hebrew word used here for oil is also a symbol of “joy” and “prosperity”, and it is also a “metaphor” for the term “reputation”, or “odor”. Here Solomon combines the thoughts of joy, prosperity, and reputation, with the idea of “birth” and “death”. He is saying, in effect, that, it is better to reach the end of life with a “good reputation”, than to have a celebrated birth, and end up living a life that is of “ill-repute” that resulted into nothingness.
Death is the destiny of all who live, and in fact, everyone is born with an expiration date already set. In verses 1-4 we see a short collection of proverbs that prompt us to focus on “the brevity of life” here on earth. Most often, it is sorrows and grief that sort of forces us to focus on such an issue as this. Solomon recommends that we reflect soberly and often on the shortness of life, instead of being caught up so much in foolishness and pleasure. A house of mourning should be preferred over a house of feasting, for example, and in the same way, sorrow preferred over laughter. It is this type of attitude toward life that can lead to “moral improvement”, and, it is good for the heart, Solomon says. We are to learn how to “count our days rightly”, or, as the Apostle Paul might say, “buy up the time” so that our hearts may grow in wisdom.
In verses 5-6 we see two warnings to the “foolish” at heart, or, to those who think and live frivolous foolish lifestyles:
· It is better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool (v.5)
· A fool’s laughter is quickly gone, like thorns crackling in a fire (v.6)
Here Solomon compares “the frivolous lifestyle of a fool”, a person with little, or no spiritual discernment or wisdom, to “the quick burning of dry wood” on an open fire. To be praised by a fool is not to be exalted at all, but rather, it is, in fact, demeaning. It is better to listen and heed warnings, and accept correction and rebuke from a wise person, than it is to accept meaningless praise from a fool.
In verse 7, “oppression” is the word translated from the original Hebrew word “osheq” (o-shek) and it means “to oppress by using unjust methods to acquire something from someone” such as fraud, extortion, robbery, etc.”. Often the temptations that come along with prosperity can corrupt the heart, or “thinking” even of a wise man, causing him to want to live like a fool. He may give in to extortion, or bribery, and, may even, also, cave in to all kinds of adversity.
In verses 8-10 Solomon tells us that “how we finish” is much more important than “how we start”. Here Solomon gives us other ways how we can be led down the path of a fool through pride, impatience, anger, and by longing for our “sinful past”, or, as we might say, “the good old days”.
If we start out too good, too fast, it can contribute greatly to us obtaining a prideful attitude, however, if we don’t start out fast enough, we can become too impatient, especially while watching others who have obtained more success than we have at a given point in life. Learning strong patience can keep us “balanced” firmly in the center where “virtue” can always be found. And then we must learn to control, or deal with “anger”, which stops us from thinking, which blocks our “hearts”, which stops us from applying “GODly wisdom” to our life’s situations. And as far as the good old days are concerned, when most of us look at our past, we typically see ourselves in a position in life where we were very much out of the will of GOD. Even though we may have enjoyed it at the time, we now know in our hearts (thinking) that we needed to abandon that old lifestyle and move closer to GOD.
Wisdom and prosperity working together can be a wonderful thing, as prosperity’s value goes way up when GODly wisdom is applied. Being wise is better than being rich because wisdom by itself can preserve your life, whereas money can’t (Vs.11-12). We need to see how GOD does things, and then, fall in line (v.13). We must enjoy prosperity whenever we have it, and remember that when hard times comes, that they both came from the ONLY WISE GOD. It is GOD’s will that we see nothing in this world as certain, except HIM (v.14).
In verse 15 Solomon confesses, in spite of his vast wisdom, that he often couldn’t make sense of certain events in life, for instance, why some good people die young, and some wicked people live long lives. In verses 16-17 he suggests that “moderation” is the key word. Here he advises that, while it doesn’t pay to be wicked, it also doesn’t pay to be overly righteous either.
These two verses (vs.16 & 17) have long been an enigma to bible students everywhere, and I’m probably not going to provide anyone with a satisfactory answer to this puzzling statement at this time. However, I believe that “The Teacher” Solomon, is trying to warn us against being overly “self righteous”, which, in and of itself, is “a form of wickedness” because it lends itself to “prideful behavior”, and brings on a “cavalier spirit” which automatically sets us out of the will of GOD (see what happened to David- 1 Chronicles 13). We can hurt ourselves “physically” and “spiritually” when we fall into a “legalistic” or “Pharisaic” approach to life.
In chapter 8, verses 9-17, Solomon expands his thoughts regarding the wicked and the righteous. In a world where people have the power to hurt or help each other, Solomon says he has seen wicked people buried with honor, people who frequented the temple and are praised in the very city in which they committed their crimes (Vs.9-10). The frightening thing about those kinds of strange happenings is that, when people see crime go unpunished, people begin to feel that it is OK to do whatever they please, without repercussions (v.11).
Sadly, we must learn to adjust to the evilness in the world around us, and we must always take great care that we ourselves do not become entangled in the snares and temptations that await us around every corner. Even though a wicked person can sin many times over, and live a long life, still, those who fear GOD will always be a lot better off, and live a long, “good life”, which will show benefits that are eternal in the life to come (Vs.12-13).
Solomon says that in his search for wisdom, he tried to observe everything that goes on in the world around him. He discovered that there is endless activity day and night. In his search he was reminded constantly that no one can discover everything that GOD has created in the world, no matter how long and hard they try. Not even the wisest of the wise can know everything about GOD, it is impossible for mere man to know (Vs.16-17).
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website