Where Is The Balance?
Ecclesiastes/Job Lesson 11
SUBJECT: Where is the balance?
CENTRAL THEME: The wise person realizes God offers wisdom to the imperfect.
INTRODUCTION: We live on a fine line. If we think too lowly of ourselves, we see ourselves as being so broken we are not salvageable. If we think too highly of ourselves, we see no need for God or His forgiveness. We need to find balance to being broken by sin and yet still created in the image of God. Fortunately, God has not left us on our own to navigate our time “under the sun.” The wise person realizes God offers wisdom to the imperfect which gives us balance in this life and hope for the future.
WHY IS ACKNOWLEDGING OUR SINFULNESS IMPORTANT FOR HAVING A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF OURSELVES AND OUR LIMITS IN THIS LIFE?
UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT:
In Ecclesiastes 6:12 the Teacher asked: “For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?” He set out to answer this question in 7:1–8:17. This passage contains proverbs and practical wisdom for dealing with the ups and downs of life, and evocative depictions of both folly and wisdom. The person who is wise is able to evaluate what the better things in life are.
One of the things Ecclesiastes 7 makes clear is that humans are an enigma—hard to understand. In fact, Solomon was rarely able to make sense or fully understand the people he encountered. However, he was able to surmise that all humans are consumed with their own desires. Of all the people on earth, one might assume that those in authority (like kings) possess more wisdom than others. Solomon revealed that all people are essentially the same. The only difference with kings is their ability to do greater good or harm with the power they wield. In light of this futility, Solomon proclaimed that it is still possible to live a life of wisdom and do what is good.
As for God, Solomon reminds us that He is often slow to punish the wicked. Yet we should not assume that His patience is a sign of injustice. This might be difficult to believe when the wicked seem to prosper and to live long and relatively comfortable lives. One’s hope must remain in God’s sovereign providence and His justice because in the end all humans return to dust. Therefore, we are not to place our trust in the things of this world, namely, in money, power, or our own ideals. If all humans are subject to the same fate (death), then we must learn to fear God and hope in Him rather than the transient things of this life. Who is wise? It is the person who heeds Solomon’s counsel to fear God. As we have already seen, the fear of God is an attitude of submission to, respect for, and dependence on the Lord. The implication is that we must trust God rather than human resources, circumstances, or appearances. We do not always understand God’s ways, but wisdom teaches us to trust His will.
EXPLORE THE TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:11-22
Objective Statement: Every Christian should learn that God’s wisdom teaches us to trust His will because of three truths taught in our text.
TRUTH #1 – Accept GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:11-14)
11 “Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. 12 For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”
One of the recurring themes of Ecclesiastes is the idea that the fool lives life as if what’s “under the sun” is all there is. In Eccl. 7:7-10, Solomon dealt with what we might call escapist tendencies. First, he warned of the allure of money (v. 7). No amount of money will deliver a person from the difficulties of life. Positively, the Teacher exhorted readers to see difficult times as opportunities to grow in patience (v. 8). With the long view in mind, people are to guard themselves from explosions of anger, which is no way to escape difficulties (v. 9). Solomon also urged the reader to beware of nostalgia, that is, wishing for things as they used to be, which is no way to deal with the present (v. 10). To put it simply, the wise person is more measured and patient in spirit for the long haul. It is the height of wisdom to patiently trust in God. This type of wisdom is more valuable than any earthly riches (v. 11) and provides protection that is greater than wealth (v. 12).
Verses 11-12 espouse the high value and desirability of wisdom. The first part of verse 11 states that gaining “wisdom is good with an inheritance.” They are similar in that both wisdom and an inheritance are passed on from one generation to another. Additionally, both have value. That which one inherits may have sentimental value or monetary value. In either case, an inheritance is meant to be a blessing to the one who receives it. Likewise, the one who receives wisdom is greatly blessed.
The first clause of verse 12 provides the Teacher’s reasoning for saying wisdom is as good as an inheritance. It is because both wisdom and financial wealth provide “a defence.” Therefore, it is safe to assume that Solomon had a significant monetary inheritance in mind in verse 11. The phrase “wisdom is a defence” literally is “the shade of wisdom” in Hebrew. The idea of protection derives from the picture of one’s being protected from the intensity of the sun’s rays in the heat of the day. We understand how financial wealth provides protection in a financial crisis, but how does wisdom offer protection? The wisdom that others pass down provides a tried and true way of maneuvering through life. The Book of Proverbs is an example of this. Think about the wisdom that those who fear the Lord inherit from Him. The security of this godly wisdom is even greater because it not only provides security in this life but also in the life to come.
13 “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?”
“Who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?” This is a rhetorical question expecting the emphatic answer: “Nobody can.” There is some debate about the precise implications of verse 13. (See also 1:15.) The idea of something being crooked in this context may be understood in the sense of “inexplicable” rather than a more ethical meaning like “wicked” or “corrupt.” In other words, there will always be times in life that remain enigmatic because God has chosen not to reveal His purposes completely or not to provide the answers to all of our questions. Once again, this teaches us to trust God’s sovereign hand.
14 “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.”
Expounding on verse 13, the Teacher anticipated and answered the question his readers must have been asking: “If we are powerless to change the way God has made things and what He does, then what can we do?” Solomon’s answer contains two imperatives given in two circumstances. In the first instance, when you are experiencing good times, rejoice and enjoy God’s blessings. However, when you experience seasons of “adversity,” then you must “consider.”
Certainly, some days will be more difficult than others. There will be days of “prosperity” and joy. These good times are from the hand of God. There will also be days of adversity. This too is from the hand of God. It does not matter if you are a new Christian or a seasoned theologian; this is one of the most difficult truths of our existence.
Solomon reminds us that we do not know if prosperity or adversity awaits us. But we do know the One who knows what is to come. There are times that bring us to our knees in joy over God’s blessing, and there are times that bring us to our knees in sorrow and remind us that our only hope is found in God. There is a certain grace in both of these situations, that in these times we are reminded of our utter dependence on Him. Therefore, as we look to the future we can be still and know that He is God.
There are two common ways that people handle adversity. The first is denial, which is nothing more than an attempt to avoid or numb the pain of life. But this never works in the long run. The second way people tend to react to adversity is to try to conquer it. In this attempt, the idea is to rise above adversity, to man up, to push through as if it has no impact on us. But, if we are honest, this too never works in the long run.
The teacher suggested a third way to deal with adversity. The third way is to embrace it, to accept it, to sit in it. Why? Adversity can increase our dependency on God. The two truths of this passage can be stated concisely as praise God in our prosperity and trust God in our adversity. In the end, believers can be sure that God’s plans for them are the best.
How does our inability to foresee what lies ahead in our lives force us to depend on and trust in God?
TRUTH #2 – Find Balance IN GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:15-18)
15 “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. 16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? 18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.”
Verse 18 is the hinge point of this paragraph. In this verse, Solomon argued that wisdom and righteousness characterize the life of “he that feareth God.” However, the verses before may be some of the most complicated verses in the book. In 7:15, the Teacher noticed that a righteous person’s life might end while he is living righteously. He also observed that a wicked person might experience an extended life in spite of his continual wickedness. The point the Teacher was making is that the length of a person’s life does not depend on his or her spirituality. The Teacher made this point by posing a question to us: why do some upstanding people die way too young, while some wicked people live long lives and die at a very old age? This becomes a more poignant question when one understands the ancient Hebrew context in which the Teacher was asking it.
In Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:33, we read that righteous living (obedience to the word of God) prolongs a person’s life, while the opposite (disobedience and wicked living) shortens an individual’s life. What then do we do with this text in Ecclesiastes? The key is found in the words “righteous over much,” and “over wise” in verse 16 and “over much wicked” and “foolish” in verse 17. Why would someone intentionally live overly wicked or foolish? It may be logical, if under the sun is all there is, to live anyway you want—if this is the only life you have with no expectation of meeting your Maker. In fact, this is what often drives the most wicked people in the world. As Christians, we may not struggle with this as much.
What did the writer mean by “righteous over much” or “over wise?” In the Old Testament, a long life is paired with obedience to God’s commands. So it is quite possible that some people were going to excessive lengths to live righteously in order to earn a long life.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem so harmful. However, consider a child who sees the reward of another for doing a good deed and follows suit to receive the same reward. The issue is not obedience but the motivation behind it. The second child did not do a good deed out of love or concern for another, he or she did it in order to benefit himself or herself. This may be what the Teacher meant by “righteous over much” and “over wise.” It describes the person who is obedient to God’s commands not out of love for God but to get something from God. This person thinks he or she can prolong life by engaging in some extreme forms of religious living. This person’s actions were for his or her own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving God for His sake. In this way, careful obedience to God’s law may be exposed as a strategy to manipulate God. “I’ve done my duty; now I have my demands.”
What this text reminds us of is that Christians not only need to repent of wickedness but also repent of the wrong reasons for doing what is right. This is why the fear of God is so important. If we fear God—have a reverent respect for His holiness and a deep horror at the depth of our own sin—we will abhor wickedness. We will also abhor self-centered righteousness because it reveals that we are acting as our own savior in order to demand things of God.
People can even avoid Jesus as Savior by keeping all the moral laws. The person motivated to do good from a heart of self-centered righteousness tends to think: God owes me answered prayers and a good life for all I’ve done. God is viewed as a vending machine to dispense one’s desires.
However, “he that feareth God” avoids both extremes and lives a grace-balanced life. The one who fears God will be wise enough to know his or her own heart and to pursue righteousness for the right reasons—as a loving response to who God is.
In the end, this settles our hearts when it comes to questions like why some upstanding people die too young, while some wicked people live long lives and die at a very old age. If our purpose is to love God in response to His grace, we obey without making demands.
The questions raised by Ecclesiastes 7:15 end up being less important than doing good for the right reasons. Christians are called to live righteously—not to get what we want from God—but in response to what God has already given us, namely, grace we do not deserve. Solomon called for God’s people to live reasonable and balanced lives, avoiding the extremes of moral self-righteousness and foolishness. This emphasis reminds us that we should not view ourselves as being righteous apart from God.
Why is it important that we not only repent of our wickedness, but also repent of our self-righteousness?
TRUTH #3 – Acknowledge Sin BY GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:19-22)
19 “Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city. 20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. 21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.”
The Teacher surmised that wisdom found in the fear of God makes one stronger than the collective wise counsel of “ten mighty men.” This is significant given the great value the biblical sages gave to having many counselors. (See Prov. 11:14.) Our fear of God and our faith in Him and what He has done in Christ saves us. Rulers attempt to curb sin, but only the wisdom of God through Christ can cleanse us of our sin.
Solomon and Paul were in agreement: “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). Recognizing we are all sinners (Eccl. 7:20) should impact how we understand ourselves and others. We must learn to deal with people as they are—as sinners like us. In verses 21-22, the Teacher provided an example of what this looks like. He advised that we should not take too seriously everything people say because we are probably going to hear someone say something insulting about us: “take no heed unto all words that are spoken.” Don’t we live in a world where people are so easily offended at what words we might say? Most of us grew up with the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” Well, all of us have discovered that unkind and harsh words do cause pain. Solomon warns us to not get involved in gossip or participate in falsehoods. He reminds us that we ourselves have said unkind things about others too. Taking issue with those who speak wrongly of us serves to justly accuse us of our own culpability in relationship to others.
The self-righteous (foolish) person takes counsel or criticism to heart because it is an attack on their worth and security. The humble (wise) person can accept counsel or criticism for what it is and implement what is useful and true in a constructive way because of his or her own admission of the need for growth.
It is interesting that Solomon’s example is of a “servant” doing the insulting. A person is much more likely to rebuke a subordinate than a superior. Nevertheless, it is wise to let it go. Just as we are sinners who have spoken unfair criticisms of others and are in need of God’s grace, so is everyone else. Since the perfect, holy, sinless God who is our Superior has shown mercy and grace to us who have willfully rebelled against Him and offended Him, then how can we refuse to show mercy and grace to others?
HOW DOES OUR AWARENESS OF OUR OWN SINFULNESS MAKE US INCREASINGLY WILLING TO OFFER FORGIVENESS AND EXTEND GRACE TO OTHERS?
Remember our Objective Statement: Every Christian should learn that God’s wisdom teaches us to trust His will because of three truths taught in our text.
TRUTH #1 – Accept GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:11-14)
TRUTH #2 – Find Balance IN GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:15-18)
TRUTH #3 – Acknowledge Sin BY GOD’S WISDOM (Eccl. 7:19-22)