Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.PART II. CHAPTERS 7-12
1. The Good Advice of the Natural Man, Discouragement and Failure
1. The better things (Ecclesiastes 7:1-14)
2. The anomalies (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)
3. The strength of wisdom, yet none perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:19-22)
4. The worst thing he found (Ecclesiastes 7:23-29)
Ecclesiastes 7:1-14. All had been tested by the royal searcher; all was found out to be vanity and vexation of spirit. Darkness, discouragement, uncertainty and despair were the results. The good, that which is right and comely for men, supposedly, found had also turned unto vapor, empty and hollow like the rest. He starts now in a new direction; he turns moralist and philosophizeth on the better things. He climbs high with his reason and deductions. He had come to the conclusion that life is not worth living. Having riches, possession of everything, were found out nothing but vanity. Perhaps being good, having the better things morally, and doing good, will satisfy the heart in “which is set eternity,” the soul of man, And so he makes his observations in seven comparisons.
A good name better than precious ointment;
the day of death better than the day of birth;
the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting;
sorrow is better than laughter,
the rebuke of the wise better than the songs of fools;
the end of a thing better than the beginning;
the patient in spirit better than the proud in spirit.
He has used his highest power of reasoning in reaching these conclusions, similar to the conclusion of other wise men, moralists and philosophers among the pagans. The different “sacred writings” of other nations, the Greek, Roman, Persian, Hindu, Chinese, etc., poetry and ethics as well as philosophies of all these nations give a definite proof that Ecclesiastes is the book of the natural man, that reason speaks and not revelation. For these “sacred writings” and philosophies are on the same line as our book. But does this satisfy? Can man thereby attain perfection? His heart has passions which man cannot control. Oppression makes a wise man mad (Ecclesiastes 7:7); anger is in his bosom (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Again he mentions wisdom. It is a good thing, just as good as an inheritance; it profits to see the sun, but not above the sun. Wisdom and wealth are both good as a defense; both give life, animate the person who possesses them, give a certain amount of enjoyment. But can both wisdom and wealth give a solution to man’s problem? Who can make that straight which God hath made crooked? His ways are mysterious, unsolvable as far as man is concerned; man cannot solve the providential dealings of God. Prosperity is followed by adversity and adversity by prosperity; He sets one over against the other. But who by his reason, by his wisdom, can find out what God will do in the future, what His dealings will be? In the very reading of all these statements one feels like walking in a dense fog. Some statements are beclouded so that it is difficult to ascertain the correct meaning that the searcher is really aiming at. Perhaps this is the case to teach the lesson how man, with his finite reason searching for light, apart from revelation, wanders in darkness and ends in confusion.
Ecclesiastes 7:15-18. Prosperity and adversity, controlled by a higher power; how are they meted out? No one knows when they come; they come to the righteous and to the wicked. He has seen the righteous perish in his righteousness and the wicked prolongs his days in his wickedness. How does the natural man, the philosopher, meet this difficulty? He answereth it by what is called “common sense.” “Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise; why should thou destroy thyself?” Do not overdo it, strike a happy medium; avoid any kind of excess; be not too self-righteous for you might become puffed up and then you destroy yourself. Here is more “common sense” of the natural man. Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish; why shouldst thou die before thy time? Enjoy yourself, but avoid too much wickedness; have a good time but avoid excesses. Not too much righteousness and not too much wickedness; just a happy middle way; such a way, thinks the natural man, is not compatible with the fear of God.
Ecclesiastes 7:19-22. Wisdom is strength. He had tried wisdom; he tells us what he proved by wisdom. But the wise man makes a wise confession: “I said I will be wise; but it was far from me.” He owns his ignorance. Everything has left him unsatisfied. He cannot find out by wisdom that which is far off and exceeding deep. All is imperfection. “There is not a just man on the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Ecclesiastes 7:23-29. Again he applies his heart to know, to search and to go to the root of the matter--to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. And what does he find? “I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands.” He speaks here as a Hebrew with the knowledge at least of what happened to man. God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions. And woman was deceived by the serpent and her heart is often a snare and a net and her hands drag down into the vile things of the flesh. Here, at least, is an acknowledgement that sin is in the world and has corrupted the old creation, but what about the remedy? He knows nothing of that, for the new creation which lifts man out of the condition where sin has put him is the subject of the revelation of God.