Friday, March 04, 2016

The Good Old Days - Wisdom and Folly - Ecclesiastes 7

I've been doing a series for my church on Ecclesiastes, and latest in the series, this time taken from the ESV, is Ecclesiastes 7... The Good Old Days... Wisdom and Folly...

A good name is better than precious ointment,
   and the day of death than the day of birth.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
    but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
    than to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
    so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.[a]
Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
    and a bribe corrupts the heart.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
    for anger lodges in the heart[b] of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
    an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
    who can make straight what he has made crooked?
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
15 In my vain[c] life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. 16 Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18 It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.
19 Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
20 Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.
21 Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. 22 Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. 24 That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
25 I turned my heart to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the scheme of things, and to know the wickedness of folly and the foolishness that is madness. 26 And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.27 Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher, while adding one thing to another to find the scheme of things— 28 which my soul has sought repeatedly, but I have not found. One man among a thousand I found, but a woman among all these I have not found. 29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

So let's break this down...

This passage starts to sound like the Solomon we all know from Proverbs because he starts giving us a lot of proverbs in this section. We see starting off that having a good name being better than a precious ointment. Why is this significant? Don't forget that in that time ointments were very valuable, in some ways more than today as they could cure ailments, used in religious ceremonies, and funerals. The prices of these depended but most were expensive, like gold in some cases. So when we are told a good name is better than a precious ointment, today we'd say a good name is better than gold or platinum! It is so very important to have a good name! Then he talks about the day of death being better than when we are born. Why? For believers we get to see Jesus face to face and spend eternity with him - so indeed that is so much better than being born! The flip side is that for the non-believer? Not so good... destruction and pain in hell for eternity. 

Vs 2 - 4 talks about how it's better to go to a house of mourning than to a place of feasting, and how everyone's fate is to die some day, and that sorrow is better than laughter, the sad face making a glad heart. the wise have their hearts in the house of mourning and fools in the house of mirth (amusement). Why on earth is it better to be sad and mourning over laughter? The point is the world chases after the pursuit of happiness over everything else, and a lot of Christians do too in the whole prosperity gospel. The focus is wrong. A person whose heart is in that state of mourning and face that is sad is more open to being humble and willing to listen to God and not rash(usually) to make decisions. Their mind is focused and has clarity, is able to put things in perspective rather than someone who is laughing their way through life. May family and I are experiencing this right now with having lost my mom at the beginning of February due to brain cancer. Let me tell you, in that state, you are humbled and calm and willing to listen to others. We are still experiencing that now as we are still fresh from the funeral and dealing with going through mom's things and seeing how dad is doing. We are still in that place of humbleness and calm. Seeking God's will in the midst of it. Clarity is there. This is what Solomon was talking about.

Vs 5 and 6 talks about being rebuked by wise people and how it is so much better than songs of fools and it compares the laughter of fools to the crackling of thorns under a pot. Some pretty harsh words about foolish people right? Have you ever seen thorns crackle under a pot? Think of a heavy pot, then set it on thorns, what happens? They break under the pressure. That is what happens to the fools who ignore wisdom and the rebuke of wisdom. They will break under pressure because they wouldn't listen. 

Vs 7 talks about oppression driving wisdom into madness and how bribery corrupts the heart. No kidding! Nothing more frustrating than someone who is wise and can help guide being shut down by someone who thinks they know better but really they're a fool.  And bribery? Yeah it rots the soul. How can you not be affected when you have to bribe someone or some business to work with you? You always have the hanging over your head, you only got to where you did through bribery - you didn't earn it. It's fake. Yikes... The next issue is in vs 8 saying the ending of something is better than the start, a repeated theme from earlier of death being better than being born. Then it finishes the verse with saying a patient spirit is better than a proud one. Have you ever witnessed a proud person? Look at our media and you'll see stars and politicians who are so full of themselves. Who wants that? That's why someone who is patient is who people want to be around. There is a sense of calm with them that can't be ignored. 

Vs 9 talks about anger, how not to be so quick to be angry because it lodges in the hearts of fools. Lodges, gets stuck, like a car stuck in a ditch that needs a tow truck to get it out this is the picture of anger getting stuck in a fool's heart. Is it okay to be angry? Yes, but don't sin in our anger and don't let it fester, don't let the sun go down on our anger. Let the anger motivate us to do something productive and inspirational, not destructive and horrifying that we regret later. A very key verse here to make sure we take precautions necessary.

Verse 10 - Say not, "Why were the former days better than these?" or "why were the old days better than these?" (NIV) 

Ah yes, "The good old days..." The Bible right here warns us not to be trapped by thinking this, that it's now wise to do so. Really were the good old days better? Or was sin just masked better? I think back to when I was in school, the same issues were there, just hidden more - no one talked about them/ Drugs, alcohol, sexual behaviours, and more. The technology we have now has just exposed it more I think. In the days of selfies and smart phones with cameras and social media - nothing remains hidden anymore. Small events become huge because someone caught it on their cell phone and uploaded it to youtube. So no, not really better days, just disguised to make us think it was better. Fools are exposed more and more whether they fail at a robbery or try to get away with hitting someone - it's all exposed for everyone to see. Fools still try though...

Wisdom on the other hand, according to verse 11 - 12, protects and preserves - foolishness obviously then leaves us exposed and condemns us. See the contrast back and forth throughout this passage? 

Vs 13 and 14 asks us to consider God's work: making straight paths out of what was crooked (Proverbs 3:5,6). Taking joy when things are good, pondering what God is meaning when adversity comes because God made both days.

Vs 15 Solomon talks about what he has seen in his life - righteous who perish, wicked living prolonged lives. It obviously frustrated him because the next thing he says is to not try to be too righteous and wise and destroy ourselves in the pursuit of it, and it also says to not be wicked or a fool and end up dying before our time. He points out to make sure we have a balance in our lives. Seek righteousness and wisdom, yes, but don't let that rule your life or you become a loveless person who is so focused on that you leave compassion and love out and are like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. He is not encouraging us to be wicked or foolish, but he realizes sometimes we do wicked and foolish things because we're not thinking - so don't let that be how our lives are characterized. In verse 19 he tells us how wisdom gives us strength more than almost a dozen rulers, because they're unwise. And righteous living? It is a high calling because the goal is perfection - and no one is perfect down here. We won't be that way until we reach heaven. For now we do what we can through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Have you ever been in earshot of someone who is putting you down and they didn't realize it? Vs 21 and 22 says don't put stock into it, validating their thoughts by a reaction. Let it roll and let God deal with them. If you need to confront in love with the goal of restoration, not to put someone in their place. because as much as you hurt from what they have said, think of all the times when in our hearts we have thought bad things about others and wished them ill will. Scary huh? By verse 23 Solomon says he has tested everything by wisdom and thought he was going to be wise in all his dealing, but it didn't happen. he tried it all he says, and found this out: He mentions a woman, but essentially anyone who seeks to entrap and catch us for harm is worse than death. Those who please God escape this allegorical woman Solomon talks about, but the sinner falls into her traps. Also in verse 27 he says this is what I've found "says the Preacher" (see pastors in the Old Testament) it is hard to find righteous and wise people. God made us to be upright, but in our hearts we seek out ways to sin and scheme to do it. We don't use wisdom, instead we're fools most of the time. 

That is so true - just look at thee world around us, look at your workplace, look at our homes, look at us, and we'll see that when we take our eyes off God and focus elsewhere, we seek out pleasures for ourselves and scheme and plan and become fools because we leave God, righteous living and wisdom out of the picture. So the point is - stay focused, pursue righteous living and wisdom, seek God first. Everything else second. God bless!

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