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.

Practical Observations

Eccl. 7:1-2.

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

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Solomon has spent six chapters on the vanity (emptiness) of life. Now, he starts giving us some good ways to prevent that emptiness, and perhaps to amend some behaviors that have caused harm to ourselves and others.

The first, in verse one, is the importance of a good name; in verse two, he speaks of taking life seriously.

Somewhere back in the foggy distant past, I remember reading about someone who said his father always said, “Remember your last name!” every time he left the house as a young man to go out with friends. I like that. The point, of course, was that he not bring shame to his father’s name, or to the family as a whole, with unwise behavior.

It’s very easy to apply that principle to our identification as Christians. Christ-followers. Remember what your name is when you’re impatient with others, for instance, on the road. Or at the Walmart, where it seems to me that most children are in charge of their parents. Our testimony as believers is more important than the passing irritations of life.

Verse two had me puzzled when I was much younger. I couldn’t understand how a house of mourning would be better than a house of feasting. Well, I’m at an age now in which it is becoming more and more obvious that all life here on earth ends in death. Here are some things I’ve learned:

  1. Birth is wonderful! There’s nothing like a new baby in the family to bring joy and pleasure, and God is not saying that we shouldn’t rejoice over such things.
  2. Watching that new life grow and mature into a good and godly adult is also a joy, and there will be some feasting along the way; family gatherings, social times with dear friends–all are a normal and acceptable part of life, when that life is directed by the principles in the word of God.

Then I attended the first funeral I can remember. I was about 14. A close friend of my mother had battled leukemia, and back in that day it was usually a losing battle. She died, leaving four little girls and her husband.

I’d never been to a funeral, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. But here are some things I learned:

  1. It is good to weep with those who weep. When we share in someone else’s grief, we ease the burden, even if just for a moment.
  2. It is good to remember the one who has died, and to recount the goodness of her life and of the testimony she carried through her family and her illness. Sharing stories of the loved one who has gone on to heaven helps release some of the grief.
  3. It is good to reflect on the brevity of life, and on the purpose and goals of our lives. Not every day is going to be a party day. We need to learn to accept the grief as well as the joy.

I remember that funeral now, nearly 60 years later, as a time of rejoicing and laughter mixed with the tears as we celebrated and remembered the life of that good and godly woman.

I don’t dread funerals and memorial services any more. There is sorrow and grief, but there is also comfort and joy in knowing that the loved one is now with the Lord. When we know the Lord, we do not grieve “as those who have no hope” (I Thess. 4:13-18).

The simple truth is that all of us will die. For a believer, physical death brings eternal joy in heaven, where Jesus is the center of everything.

Solomon’s Conclusions So Far

Eccl. 6: 10-12.

That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with Him that is mightier than he.

 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?

¶For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

God has always known each individual that ever lived; He knew us long before we were born. It is foolish for us to argue with God about the path or direction our lives will take. We may choose a path different than what God has ordained, but if we do, we will not live the fullness of the life He has prepared for each of us.

Verses 11 and 12 show us Solomon’s conclusions at this point in his ponderings.

  1. He is convinced that the life of main is vain (empty, of no value).
  2. Man is no nearer true happiness in his wealth, earthly gain and fame, than he was before he attained all that he has.
  3. We fail to know what to seek, what to ask for, because sometimes all that we gain proves to be “vanity and vexation of spirit,” as Solomon says so often. It is an indication of the corruption of our hearts that we tend to seek that which is harmful to us, but looks so good–until we have it.

I’m thinking of Lenin, the Russian leader and dictator until 1924. He was just a small man, only 5’5,” yet his influence is still felt in Russian thinking today. One of his most famous quotes: “The goal of socialism is communism.” Another: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”

When he died, his body was preserved and kept on display to the public. People filed past his resting place, stopping to honor this man who was really not much more than a glorified murderer. His body has been preserved for nearly 150 years, and still looks the same as it did after it was embalmed. It has required a lot of money to keep this body from rotting away. Ultimately, though, it is just a dead body. Powerless, lifeless, it is doing him no good at all. He was guilty of the massacre of thousands who disagreed with his political philosophies, and there is no doubt in my mind that his soul has spent those nearly 150 years, and will spend all eternity, in hell. His fame and power aren’t doing him a bit of good. Vanity and vexation of spirit.

God is Enough

Eccl. 6:9. “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.”

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One of the things I enjoyed most about our recent trip to England was the rural countryside. The hedgerows, the sheep and other animals, just the peacefulness of it.

The other thing, and this was probably foremost, was to just soak in my children and grandchildren. I often watched them, when they didn’t know it; memorizing faces, habits, gestures, expressions of speech typical to each one, was wonderful. Stored away in my memory now, these things are riches that no one can take from me.

Sadly, the person who is focused on material possessions is never satisfied. There is never enough; always one more hill to climb, one more river to cross, one more treasure to be collected.

The “wandering of the desire” is something that becomes an obsession. We absolutely have to go buy the next new electronic creation, the newest phone, the latest tablet. This wandering desire can be experienced, of course, in many ways. I landed on the electronic devices because, after all this time, I’m still just amazed at how people can’t get along without having their phones out All. The. Time. These little devices have consumed us, becoming both a connection and an escape. Tremendously useful, they can also be tremendously habit-forming and cause us to ignore the people we’re with while we focus on whatever is on the screen.

Well. I didn’t intend for this to be a diatribe against cell phones. I have one. It’s been helpful on many occasions, and I’m thankful to have it. But it will never, ever be more important than whoever I am with.

Electronics, clothes, food, money, cars, houses, jewels—-never enough.

God? Always enough, and more. We need to get it right.

The Appetite is Not Satisfied

Eccl. 6:7-8.

All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.

For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?

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Heaping up the material wealth and gain of this world will never satisfy the appetite. A man can feast all day, and still be hungry in the morning. Our appetites for our own comfort are ravenous, and will control us completely if we don’t recognize them for what they really are: Man’s effort to go beyond what God can do!

Man’s search for happiness is all for the satisfaction of worldly desires. There is little for the head, the spirit, the heart of man in this mad search for satisfaction.

Really, the wise man has very little more than the fool; even a poor man can learn how to behave among other men in a way that gains respect and honor.

I can almost see Solomon as he ponders these things, perhaps wondering what all his wisdom has gained him, and what real value there is in all his possessions. After all, as he said in yesterday’s passage, we all end in the same place. We all die and go to the grave, and all our wealth won’t do us any good there.

Kind of a gloomy perspective, isn’t it? That’s because, again, Solomon is looking at all this from man’s perspective (under the sun) and not from God’s viewpoint.

Solomon’s Sad Commentary

Eccl. 6:3-6.

If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.

For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.

Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.

Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?

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I think this is one of the saddest passages in Ecclesiastes. It seems obvious to me that Solomon is thinking of himself here. I don’t think he had 100 children, but he did have many. After all, 300 wives, 700 concubines. I don’t know, maybe he DID have that many children!

Solomon’s soul was filled with good in his early years as king, but he grew farther and farther away from God as he brought more and more ungodly, Idolatrous women into his harem. He adopted their ways of worshiping idols. It would seem that his soul was no longer filled with good.

In fact, Solomon says that a miscarriage resulting in a dead baby is better than a man who is born in vanity, dies in darkness, and is soon forgotten.

Even if a man man were to live for two thousand years, he ends in the same place as that untimely birth. Both end in the grave, and Solomon believes that the baby who never saw the sun, never knew anything, is better off than the wealthy man who had no goodness in his soul.

How often do we learn that some wealthy, famous person has been found dead, having taken his own life because he was so desperately unhappy? One of the more recent was Robin Williams. He was a man who could make us all laugh, yet in his innermost spirit he was miserable.

Bill Cosby isn’t dead yet, and I hear he’s making plans for some new endeavors when he’s released from prison. Another man who could make us all laugh, but a man who was living two lives in conflict with each other. His fame and wealth were brought down by his lust for power.

We need to be satisfied with what God has given us. We need to beg God for a generous spirit, a heart for Him, and a life that honors the Creator Who made us.