Ecclesiastes 7–Collected Proverbs

Ecclesiastes 7 begins a group of collected proverbs.  We know Qoheleth was their collector and arranger because of 12:9, “He (Qoheleth) pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs”.  In that sense he was an editor and redactor, but in 12:10 he “searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true.”  So he didn’t just take any old proverbs, he looked for those that were true.  By implication he also arranged them to forward his themes for the book.

7:1-6  A good name is better than perfume, mourning better than feasting, frustration better than laughter, house of mourning better than house of pleasure, rebuke of wise better than song of fools.  Do you see a theme running through this?  Isn’t it the same sort of theme that runs through the first shall be last, lose your life to find it, etc.?  These thoughts are contrary to what we usually are told by society.  Some of these are plays on words, for example shem is name in Hebrew while shemen is perfume.

What do these proverbs taken together mean? It is not the things we expect to give us meaning and worth in life that actually do. 

7:8-9 The end is better than the beginning and patience better than pride.  Do we start off strong only to fade in the distance?  My answer must be yes.  Ooheleth says that its not where you are at the start of the race that matters but where you end.  The same is true in making decisions.  It is better to be patient, to weigh all the information than to pridefuly conclude we know enough and jump to hasty conclusions.

7:10, 13-14 We often like to complain that the good old days were better.  Consider this quote written by Matthew Henry, the Bible commentator, 350 years ago.

It is folly to complain of the badness of our own times when we have more reason to complain of the badness of our own hearts (if men’s hearts were better, the times would mend) and when we have more reason to be thankful that they are not worse, but that even in the worst of times we enjoy many mercies, which help to make them not only tolerable, but comfortable.

And also:

We are not to think there is any universal decay in nature, or degeneracy in morals. God has been always good, and men always bad; and if, in some respects, the times are now worse than they have been, perhaps in other respects they are better

Times are not worse than they were by any measurable amount than they have been in the past nor are we.  Henry reminds us men have always been bad and God has always been good.

7:15-20 He sees both the righteous and wicked both perishing, and so counsels us not to be too much of either.  What the heck?  Is it possible to be too righteous?  Perhaps he is referring to self-righteousness like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time.  People who are overly concerned about works or deny themselves all pleasures thinking they can buy favor with God.

He gives the same sort of advice about being over-wise.  What is the modern proverb, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” 

7:21-22  If you have employees or people who work for you, have you ever rounded the corner and overheard them saying something negative about you?  Or have you overheard co-workers or friends mocking or saying bad things about you?  Qoheleth says ignore them because you know how many times you have done the same thing.  The suggestion here is to have a thick enough skin to learn what may be of benefit from criticism and ignore the rest while making sure we are not guilty of the same sort of actions.

7:23-25 He used his mind, reason, to test everything he thought he had learned and found, though he was determined to be wise, that he could not grasp it no matter where he looked.  How does this relate to not being “over-wise”?  Is the admission that true wisdom always alludes us the precursor to the folly of “over-wisdom”?

Now all the bits about evil women I don’t understand.  I mean I get evil women, but Qoheleth seems to be saying all women are evil.  Some suggest that, if Solomon is the author he is lamenting about his wives.  Or, if he is not the author then Qoheleth is lamenting the state of affairs Solomon’s “strange wives” brought upon him or the kingdom.

Others suggest it is related to Proverbs where Folly is presented allegorically as a woman.  What do you think?

How does all of this advance Qoheleth’s central thesis that everything “under the sun” is hebel?