Do Right!

Eccl. 7: 15-18.

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.

 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

 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.

In my vain 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.

Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?

Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?

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.


This was a difficult passage for me. I chose to use both the KJV and the ESV (English Standard Version) to gain some clarity, but the most help was from a commentator I’ve come to appreciate. David Guzik offers this explanation of these four verses, which I have condensed and put into my own words:

Solomon complained that in his own empty life he has seen good men suffer and wicked men prosper, and it just isn’t fair.

Solomon rather cynically suggests that we be righteous, but not too righteous; be wise, wicked, or foolish–just don’t overdo it. He was suggesting that we do whatever works best, not going too far in any direction. I suppose he would have considered this to be a balanced way to live.

It is important that we remember Solomon’s perspective here was still that of living “under the sun,” from the human perspective. What he suggests here is actually a pragmatic approach: Do what gets you the best results. Don’t go too far, or people will think you are unbalanced. In v. 18, he seems to suddenly remember that God is actually in charge, and that we should keep that in mind.

It is a good thing to seek balance in our lives, but we must not forsake biblical righteousness in order to attain what seems to the world to be balanced. Think of the Apostle Paul. He was considered a fanatic, an unbalanced lunatic, by the world to which he ministered.

So was Jesus. After all, He spent most of His time with sinners, the poor, needy, sick, and forsaken. Not balanced at all.

I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Bob Jones, Sr, when he preached,  “Do rightDo rightDo right till the stars fallDo right.”

We learn what is right, and how to do it, from a consistent, faithful, humble study of God’s Word.

We Can’t Correct God

Eccl. 7:13-14

Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked?

 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.

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This is some of the wisest counsel in Ecclesiastes. Most of us take a lifetime to learn it, because we often seem to think we can just do it ourselves, and we don’t need any help. Well, maybe that’s not the way your mind works, but mine does. There’s a reason I was born on July 4, I guess. Independence has always been both a strength and a weakness of mine. I think Solomon could have easily spoken these words directly to me.

To paraphrase: We need to understand the place of man in contrast to the place of God. If we fight against Him, we’re going to lose. Accepting His sovereignty brings us to a peaceful acceptance with life under the sun. This is not to say we should be fatalistic about life, sighing and shrugging at the hard things that come our way. God has provided us with many resources for dealing with trouble, especially with the practical counsel from His Word. It is true that He is sovereign; His sovereignty, however, does not absolve us of responsibility to deal with the hard things in life.

Solomon’s counsel on how to put the good and the bad of life into perspective: “Accept the good and the not-so-good in life, and do the best you can.” As Solomon seems to be turning again to a sense of hopelessness, we have to remember his perspective: “Under the sun ,” or from man’s perspective. With the excellent advice he has given us here, he still maintains his rather negative outlook, a hopeless sense of vanity, or emptiness. Isn’t it interesting that we can know something is true, and yet continue to behave in a way that would make it seem as if we DON’T know what is true? When that happens, it is usually because we allow our feelings, our emotions, to get in the way of our common sense.

This is what happened to Solomon. His sadness overwhelmed his own good counsel, and he felt that everything was rigged; a man can’t know what is going to happen, nor can he figure out what will come later.

Money and Wisdom

Eccl. 7:11-12

Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.

 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.

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According to Matthew Henry, one of my favorite commentators, money (an inheritance) is good for little without wisdom. I’m thinking of someone who has gained, perhaps, a small inheritance. Used wisely and invested well, that money can become a fortune. But, spent in haste on unnecessary things, it is soon gone and there is little to show for it. Where there is no wisdom, the money is actually not a blessing, but a stumbling block.

Or think of the commonly heard story of someone who has won a huge amount of money in the lottery; or perhaps someone who makes a million dollars or more in only one season as an athlete. Without wisdom, bankruptcy is sure to happen, as history shows us. It might be interesting to do some research on lottery winners who are bankrupt or even who have committed suicide; same with athletes who had no sense in their sudden wealth and fame and whose lifestyle has ruined their careers.

I have a lot of respect, by the way, for athletes who, suddenly wealthy, have shared that wealth in ways that have improved the lives of others. Money plus wisdom.

Wisdom can be like a strong rock of defense; it can shelter and protect. Money can also be used as a defense against many of the ills of this world “under the sun” (from man’s perspective). When you put them together wisely, you have a very good thing. Wisdom, however, is the better thing, because without wisdom, money can be a burden rather than a blessing.

Anger and Complaining

Eccl. 7 :9-10

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.

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We are not to allow ourselves to be quick to anger. People whose only instant response to a given situation is anger, according to God, are fools.

Temper is a terrible master. When an angry temper controls one’s spirit, there is no room for contemplation; no room for kindness, no room for a soft answer. An angry person is controlled by that swift, explosive response that showers shards of hurtful words, and sometimes physical violence.

We’re seeing a lot of anger in our country right now. Some people are stirring up others with angry words and actions, hoping to force others either to change their minds, or to just be quiet and move out of the way for a style of government that has failed over and over again and undermines the spirit of freedom that is uniquely ours.

No good will come of such angry behavior. Debate based on reason and history is a thing of the past. It is very sad for me to see so much anger and hatred in my country.

The only antidote I know of for anger is forgiveness. And that’s a whole different conversation. You can go here to read what I’ve written about forgiveness over the years. Scroll all the way to the bottom and read up.

Verse 10 warns us against the folly of wishing we were back in “the good old days.” Granted, we can have memories of times that were gentler and carried less fear. However, Solomon says it is not wise to dwell on these things.

The truth is, the heart of man does not change from one age to another. Jeremiah 17:9 says that our hearts are deceitful and wicked beyond any hope of change, and that we can’t even begin to know our own propensity for wickedness.

It is also true that God does not change. He is from age to age the same (Psalm 90:2). If He is always the same, then the trouble must lie with us. Perhaps a different age seems like it was better because we simply are not seeing the blessings we enjoy every day that we live.

We can talk ourselves into a terrible frame of mind wondering why things can’t be like they used to be. It’s a waste of time and energy, and those who live in the past in their thinking are simply not wise.

More Common Sense

Eccl. 7:7-8.

Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

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The first part of v. 7 seems simple–even a wise man is maddened by oppression. In his discussion of the benefits of adversity, Solomon realizes that there is a limit to how much even a wise man can endure. Suffering takes its toll on the body and the spirit, and can even lead to insanity.

Another translation of the second part of v. 7 reads, “A bribe debases the heart.” To accept a bribe or to offer a bribe, either way the heart is hardened and destroyed.

I’m going to take this principle down to something I see often, and that always gives me pause. Parenting should not ever involve bribing our children to do what is right. Giving them candy or some other treat if they do as they are told teaches them that they can use disobedience to gain a reward. Does that seem backward to you? Well, consider this: A child is told to make his bed. He pitches a fit, refuses, and leaves his parents feeling helpless. So they say, “Okay, if you make your bed we’ll give you money to buy some candy .” The child then makes his bed, and demands his money. Who won this little skirmish? Well, the bed is made; but the parents were manipulated by the child, rewarding him for simply doing what he was supposed to do anyway. In fact, the child is robbed of the satisfaction of doing the right thing simply because it is right to do right.

In verse eight, we read that the ending of a thing is better than the beginning. As applied to human life, it would seem to say, then, that something we accept with joy, the birth of a baby, is actually not as good as death, which we mourn. As I was reading over some commentaries on this passage, I read one author who said that birth is the beginning of death, and that death is the completion of life. Of course we know this is true; the moment we are born–or even the moment of our conception–is the beginning of our walk through life until the day of death. For a believer, that is an event for which we yearn–to be with Jesus Christ for all eternity.

However, when that process is cut short, we grieve terribly over the one who, it would seem, has died much too soon. Jesus knew that grief, for instance, over the death of His friend Lazarus, whose life He restored.

What we need to understand is that our grief is not for the loved one who is now in heaven; rather, it is grief over our own loss of that person in our own life’s journey. And it’s okay to grieve. We are never told in God’s Word that grieving is sinful.

Finally, verse eight makes a comment on patience. Those who are patient in spirit–that is, not quick to unleash anger, harsh words, criticism– are better than those who are proud in spirit. They are quick to find offense; quick to fight back, to answer without thinking, angry at a moment’s notice. Solomon has a little more to say about those who are proud in spirit in the passage for tomorrow.

The Song of Fools

Eccl. 7:5-6.

It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity

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I wanted a good explanation for the song of fools, and I found this one on The Bible “the song of fools; the vain and impure songs that foolish men sing in the house of mirth.” Any time I hear this phrase, “the song of fools,” I think of Frank Sinatra singing “I did it MY WAY!”

And what is a house of mirth? Several ideas exist about that. Some consider it simply a dwelling place of foolish people who lack in common sense. Others believe it would be equivalent in our day to a bar or a nightclub in which inappropriate entertainment is available. In any case, it is not a good place for a believer who wants to live biblically

No one enjoys rebuke. Having one’s faults pointed out can be painful and humiliating. But it is much better for us to be reproved by a wise and godly friend than to hear the song of fools.

The laughter of fools in v. 7 is compared to thorns burning under a pot. The thorns make a lot of noise, but they don’t contribute much heat. If you want a pot to boil, you need the steady heat of good firewood, not the useless snapping and popping of thorns.

Again, don’t be confused about this. God does not condemn joy and laughter. But there is laughter that is vain, foolish, and short-lived. The joy of a believer, the laughter that can come with good fellowship, these are gifts of God.

Contrasting Joy and Sorrow

Eccl. 7:3-4.

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

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Continuing with the theme of v. 2 in this chapter, Solomon repeats the contrast between sorrow and mirth.

I think it’s important to understand that God is not saying the mirth, laughter, fun, and joy are bad things. He does say, in Proverbs 17:22, that a merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.

Instead of condemning or forbidding laughter, God is pointing out that experiencing grief and loss can build character. It can help us become stronger, more compassionate, able to face the problems of life with more fortitude.

The best thing we can learn from sorrow and grief, when we know the Lord and are walking with Him, is that He keeps His promise to be with us always; He will never leave us or forsake us.

We do ourselves and our children harm when we protect ourselves and our children from ever having to experience grief and loss. These things are all a normal part of life.