Ecclesiastes 7:1 is also found in Solomon’s proverbs: ‘A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold’ (Proverbs 22:1). Why does Solomon use perfume rather than silver and gold? A good name is greatly valued in Biblical Jewish tradition (Job 18:17; Proverbs 10:7) Perfume was also highly regarded as we see in Matthew 26:7. But here Solomon is using them to represent the inward values and the outward appearance.
The reputation of a man is transparent, but perfume can be used as a cover-up. Jesus referred to the Pharisees as ‘whitewashed sepulchers’. It may also be a link to the second part of the verse. When the woman anointed Yeshua with expensive perfume, he responded by saying that she was anointing him for his burial (Matthew 26:6-13). A poor man may not have expensive perfume applied to his body but a good name will count for more.
As a man’s inner character is better than any outward fragrance, so his funeral and not his birth reveal his true value. If a man dies with a good reputation, it will remain but while he is still alive that reputation can be harmed. And even if he has a bad reputation, his death is better because then he can do no more harm or suffer more shame. For Believers these words are surely true.
At birth we are born into a world of sin and sorrow; at death we are delivered from it. Paul writes, ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). In Ecclesiastes 7:2 we are encouraged to adjust our thinking with regard to death. Most of us today do all we can to avoid hospitals and funeral homes because they bring us face to face with our mortality.
But as the Psalmist wrote Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12). When a loved one dies is cuts us to the heart, but often it is the surgeon’s scalpel that removes the cancer of false promise that keeps us thinking of the things of this world. The wound may be deep but, if we listen to the voice of God, as revealed in His Word we pour our hearts out to the One who bears our burdens and speaks of the blessings that come to those who mourn and His promise of His comfort (Matthew 5:4).
Ecclesiastes 7:3-4 Solomon continues by adding to this a discussion about sorrow and laughter and then returning to death and mourning. We need to always be mindful that God works all things together for good to those who love Him. We generally don’t give much thought to God when times are going well, or think it is because we are in His will. However when things begin to go wrong we return to the place we are called to be, dependent and yielded to Him every hour.
The Hebrew word translated as “sorrow” can also mean anger or frustration. Solomon uses it the same way in Ecclesiastes 5:17 when he describes how some react in such times when facing death or other severe disappointments. But death serves the purpose of waking us up from some of the illusions we live in avoiding eternal matters.
In the New Covenant Paul speaks of both kinds of sorrow: ‘Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner … For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death’ (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Paul’s remarks capture what Solomon is getting at in these two verses.
Ecclesiastes 7:5-6 This is the same thought articulated by Solomon in Proverbs, Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). Adlai Stevenson, once remarked, ‘Flattery is all right—if you don’t inhale it!’ It is a drug that can intoxicate us and deceive us and lead us in ways that will lead to our undoing. On the other hand when we receive the ‘rebuke of the wise’ we may feel that it is hurtful, but in the end it produces something that will bless and cause us to grow in our faith and walk with the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 7:7– On one hand, oppression or extortion can cloud a man’s judgement; and on the other, a bribe will distort it. Extortion or oppression as the ESV translates it is an abuse of power in this case it comes from the wise, but it seems to be flowing from a situation in which they are victims of extortion. What Solomon seems to be saying here is that even the wise person can fail when he is oppressed or extorted and as a result may use a bribe to solve his problem.
Bribery is a something Scripture recognizes (Proverbs 17:8) and warns against (Proverbs 15:27) and is condemned in the Law (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). This is a temptation that can overcome even the wise. When you reflect on this in light of the previous two verses, which placed the wise person above the foolish; it is a reminder not to be to overly optimistic about the effects of wisdom. It takes faith to stand against oppression and extortion and to resist the temptation to use it. Faith only comes through God’s Word, both hearing and obeying it.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 – The man who is wise knows that the end of a matter is better than the beginning. Wisdom enters into things not subject to overconfidence or pride for a wise person knows from experience that things don’t turn out as you think they will. Patience is a much better to cultivate than pride (Proverbs 14:29).
It is easy, yet foolish, to rally enthusiasm for the “beginning” of a task yet much more difficult to maintain the staying power to see it through. The patient spirit is the opposite of the “short of spirit” who lacks self-control (Proverbs 25:28). The impatient and proud cannot wait for the final result; they act impulsively (1 Kings 20:11). Instead, the wise are careful and cautious.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 – complements with regard to anger in Ecclesiastes 7:9, which has its counterparts in Proverbs 14:27. Anger can lead to poor decisions and needs to be sorted out in patience and through God’s Spirit as the proverbs remind us (Proverbs 12:16; 27:3). Failure to control these reactions can mark us as fools. Solomon is primarily referring to anger, but the principle can be applied to man circumstances as well. ‘Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for the fool than for him’ (Proverbs 29:20; 19:3; 21:5).
In the New Testament, the city clerk at Ephesus sees the wisdom in this (Acts 19:36). We all have a tendency to jump to conclusions and we often make the mistake of completing the picture before we have all the facts. How many relationships have been damaged because explanations were not allowed to be completed, or actions misinterpreted?
Ecclesiastes 7:10 – Looking back helps us gain perspective and wisdom. In fact Scripture calls us to do this (Isaiah 46:8-9; 1 Corinthians 10:1-33), but we need to avoid living in the past. We are not to dwell on past blessings, other than to give thanks to God, or to remind ourselves of how he cared and provided for us. To do so is to blind ourselves to what God is doing in our lives in the present.
It is easier for us to look back and see what God has done than to discern what He is do in our present circumstances. Past experiences can strongly affect us negatively. If you want to test this, try remembering one of your most embarrassing moments, and if you are like me you will probably start beating yourself in some ways.
Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 – Wisdom and wealth should not be seen as an either/or for God has blessed many with both. But wealth without wisdom offers no shelter and without wisdom can be fleeting. But wisdom without wealth we are told by Solomon ‘preserves the life of its possessor’ Wisdom is consistently esteemed more than gold or silver in Scripture (Proverbs 3:14; 8:19; 16:16).
Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 – This is the first time God’s name is mentioned in this section of Ecclesiastes. Solomon’s advice is good for all including unbelievers. But wisdom without the Lord is not true wisdom but worldly wisdom. The reference to God’s “making crooked” in Ecclesiastes 7:13 does not suggest that it is the Lord who makes things crooked but rather an acknowledgment of his sovereign control over all events.
He is responsible for both good and bad in our lives and there are some things that we cannot alter. This does not mean that we should not try to right wrongs and relieve suffering. It is easy to blame God when things go wrong and to forget to thank him when good things come (Ecclesiastes 7:14). As children of God, we experience both good and bad and even at times thank God for allowing hardships rather than giving us an entirely smooth passage (2 Corinthians 1:4-7). Part of the life of faith is accepting blessings and adversity from God’s hand without being able to explain just how everything will be worked out for the future (Romans 8:28).
Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 Solomon with all his wisdom still could not understand everything. “all this” looks back on all that Solomon has considered thus far. The “wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 7:25) which the Solomon was for a wisdom beyond all the wisdom he already possessed. He desired to understand the way life worked at its deepest levels, to understand the mysteries of how God rewarded and judged man, and to understand God’s times and plans.
But with this sear Solomon would remain frustrated and unable to find it since what he was seeking can only be found in Messiah Yeshua as Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:10ff and Paul 1 Corinthians 1:24ff. But for Solomon this wisdom remained far off. Solomon then in 1 Corinthians 1:25 determines to consider the stupidity of wickedness.
Ecclesiastes 7:26-29 Solomon now considers the adulterous woman, which was the subject of much warning in the Proverbs. He doesn’t warn against this he simply observes that the righteous man will avoid her and the sinful man will be ensnared by her. The observations of Solomon are not against all women, but an agreement with what is written in Proverbs about the adulterous woman in Proverbs 5:1-11; 7:1-23.
It was not until the New Covenant that women are placed on a level playing field with men, there are glimpses of righteous women, such as Hannah, Samuel’s mother, and Deborah, and Ruth, but it is the actions and teachings of Yeshua that place women in a proper light. Solomon held to the traditional Israelite values about sexual morality, adultery is wrong and fidelity is good. But lest we think that Solomon thinks men to be better than women in Ecclesiastes 7:20 declared that all mankind is sinful and corrupt. Ecclesiastes 7:29 underlines this as well.