Topic: Expository Passage: Ecclesiastes 7:26–8:1
Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Ecclesiastes 7. If you remember, we left off three weeks ago after v. 25. This week, I decided to do something I haven’t done in a while and really slow down the place. So we are going to stop after 8:1 this morning. We could have gone on, but I really wanted to be clear about some things that show up in this passage. This is the shortest passage that we’ve considered so far in our study on Ecclesiastes.
If someone was trying to get to know you very quickly and asked, “What is the most important thing about you?” what would you say? Some people might be tempted to talk about their occupations–what they do. Others might want to talk about their possessions–what they own. But far more important than either of those things is what you believe and what you value. This morning, I’d like to challenge you to value wisdom and goodness (7:26-8:1).
II. Value wisdom and goodness.
Value wisdom and goodness because if you don’t, you will be like a trapped animal.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that vv. 26-28 are difficult to interpret because at first glance, they seem to be very chauvinistic. So I want to take this opportunity to say that the Bible is not Now, I guess that depends in part on how you define the word. Some would say that because the Bible recognizes a distinction between men and women, or because it says that women are not to be pastors, or because God refers to Himself as a man, that the Bible is necessarily chauvinistic. But that is all just worldly foolishness! If we interpret God’s Word correctly, we will see that God is not partial towards men, nor does He ever demean or devalue women. In fact, the argument could be made that no force in history has done more to elevate women than the Bible! So the Bible is certainly not chauvinistic. Nor is Solomon chauvinistic (though he did have trouble women). If the author of Ecclesiastes is truly Solomon the sage (as I have argued) and not some sceptic, then there must be a way to interpret these verses that is consistent with the rest of Scripture. And I believe that there is. In fact, I think you’ll see that the passages that illuminate this text are actually found in other writings attributed to Solomon–that is, in the book of Proverbs–which is yet another evidence that Solomon wrote the book.
So what is it that Solomon is saying? First, he is issuing a warning against a particular type of woman. He doesn’t say, “I find more bitter than death, women (in general).” He says, “I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets.” Also, in the second half of the verse, he says, “He who pleases God shall escape from her.” If every woman in the world fits the description in this verse, then the only way to escape would be to avoid women! But we know that is not what Solomon is advocating, because he talks elsewhere in the book about the joys of married life (9:9)! So Solomon must be talking about a particular type of woman, whom a man can escape by avoiding her. Second, Solomon tells us what this woman is like: her heart is snares and nets and her hands are fetters. In other words, she is manipulative and controlling, and she makes a man feel trapped. How does this happen? The book of Proverbs warns young men repeatedly to stay away from seductive women. I want you to see how this works, so turn to Proverbs 7 (Prov 7:6-27). This passage describes a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate and control men. Are men actually drawn this sort of woman? Why? Because they’re enticed by her sexuality, and her flattery appeals to their egos. But what they stupidly don’t realize is that there are strings attached. This woman is not just going to give them everything they want for free. Instead, she is going to try to use them to get what she really wants, which is why the men feel trapped in the end–so much so, that in Ecclesiastes 7:26, Solomon says, “I would rather die than live with a woman like that”! And he would know, because according to 1 King 11:3, Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines; and they turned away his heart from the LORD! Can you think of any other Bible characters who learned this lesson the hard way? How about Samson! Solomon keeps falling for these Philistine women, and what do they do to him? His first wife weeps on him and accuses him of hating her until he tells her the answer to his riddle, which she then turns around and tells the Philistines. And his second wife, Delilah, convinces him to tell her the secret of his strength, and then sells him to the Philistines to be tortured and enslaved for eleven hundred pieces of silver! His marriage to her leads to literal snares and nets! Obviously, that’s a dramatic example, but it illustrates what Solomon is talking about in this verse.
So how do we apply this? I don’t do this all that often, but I want to get very pointed for a couple of minutes.
First, I’d like to talk to the young men in this room. Stay away from the seductive woman! Do not marry her, do not date her, do not text her or hang out with her–stay as far away as possible; and if it comes to this, then run away like Joseph did! Also, be careful not to develop an appetite for this kind of attention. The porn industry is built on feeding these types of desires in men, and it’s a dangerous, dangerous game. But it’s not just the porn industry–many movies also present the idea that men can play with women like this and not get burned. It’s a lie from the pit of hell. Don’t feed your minds with that trash. Also, be humble. Pride is what makes men especially vulnerable to the seductive woman.
Second, I’d like to talk to the young women. Our world constantly feeds this image of the sexy, stubborn, independent woman who manipulates men and gets whatever she wants. That is not what the Bible says that a wise, godly woman ought to be! A godly woman does not flaunt her beauty; she is modest. A godly woman does not seek to manipulate and control; instead, she submits to her God-given authorities. So I just want to say to the young women this morning that you do not need to be that kind of a person in order to fit in or to attract a guy.
Next, I should address the married couples. It’s possible, especially as a guy, to read a verse like this and take it the wrong way. So let me make a couple of important clarifications. First, it is never okay to divorce your wife because you can’t get along with her. When the Bible says, “He who pleases God shall escape from her,” that’s not talking about divorce; it’s talking about not marrying her in the first place! Second, in many cases in which husbands view their wives as controlling or feel trapped by them, that feeling is as much a reflection of the husband as it is the wife. In other words, she might not be the problem–you might be the problem! The problem may be that you are not walking with God, or that you have a wrong view of what a wife’s submission should look like. So guys, you ought to be very careful reading this verse and saying, “Oh ya, that’s my wife!” Third, wives, don’t be controlling or manipulative. Let your husband lead. You say, “But he’s not leading!” Well then, help him lead, but don’t subvert his role. Finally, wives, if that is what you are doing, I hope that you are encouraged. And I should always say this, that if you are having trouble at home in one way or another–if you’re saying to yourself, “We are in a mess; this is not the way marriage is supposed to work,” or, “What Pastor Kris said doesn’t make sense”–please come talk to me. Talk to Pastor Kit. Seek counsel; get help; ask questions. One of the scary things as a pastor about touching on a topic like this is the thought of someone misapplying what you say. So if something I said doesn’t make sense to you, please come and ask me about it.
But let’s go back for a minute to that idea of wives allowing their husbands to lead. One of the things that most attracted me to Elise was the fact that she let me lead. And I know I can be a bad leader! I know there were times when we were dating, where my communication was really bad, and I totally left her in the dark about some things! And yet she was patient, and she didn’t get ahead of me or try to push me in any way, and that really made me feel good about myself, honestly. And that’s how it should be in marriage! And that’s still the way it is in our marriage. If you know Elise, you know that she doesn’t belittle me or disagree with me in front of others; she is respectful and she follows me. You see, the proper husband-wife relationship is free from this struggle for power that plagues so many marriages. The wife does not feel the need to manipulate or control, because she knows that her husband looks out for her. And the husband does not feel the need to be harsh or domineering, because his wife willingly submits. Young people, that is the kind of marriage you should aspire to; but you won’t get it by following the world’s philosophy.
So the general application here is pretty simple: value wisdom and goodness in your relationships, because if you don’t, you will pay the price.
Value wisdom and goodness because if you do, you will be like a rare gem (vv. 27-28).
Again, these verses can be tricky, because they seem to imply that wise women are rarer than wise men, if they even exist at all! So here are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, Solomon does not think that all women are unwise. In fact, he chooses a woman to represent wisdom in Proverbs 1:20-33. However, he does think that wise women are extremely rare and thus very valuable; and that is a fact that is backed up by other verses, as well. For instance, Proverbs 31:10 says, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” Second, I think Solomon’s personal perspective has to factor in to all this, because he says repeatedly, “Here is what I have found.” In other words, he is telling us about his own experience. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he uses the number “one thousand” in v. 28, since we know that Solomon had one thousand wives and concubines! Solomon had a terrible time finding a wise woman, because he gathered to himself so many “human traps” (as he referred to them earlier) for the sake of political expediency and sexual pleasure. I don’t think we should take this verse to mean that godly women are always rarer than godly men at all times and in all places.
So how do we apply this? Do we put down women because they are less likely to be wise than men are? No, that is obviously not the point. The point for men is to value virtuous women and to be careful to stay away from the other kind, because they are everywhere! Proverbs 31:28-31 says, Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: ‘Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.” So we are to praise and appreciate and seek out virtuous women. Men, you ought to value wisdom and godliness in your wives over the traits that the world tends to emphasize, such as beauty or charm. And I don’t say that to in any way diminish the beauty of physical attraction in marriage. It’s a good thing to be physically attracted to your wife! Unmarried guys, you ought to look for someone beautiful! But at the same time, you’ve got to recognize that beauty is vain–it fades over time. However, a virtuous wife is a rare treasure. Proverbs 31:10 says that her price is far above rubies. That may be talking about rubies, but it may also be a reference to pearls. The proper translation is somewhat unclear. If it is talking about pearls, then the comparison is particularly striking, because pearls were the most expensive gemstones in the ancient world. According to Fred Ward, writer for the PBS show, “Nova,” “At the height of the Roman Empire, when pearl fever reached its peak, the historian Suetonius wrote that the Roman general Vitellius financed an entire military campaign by selling just one of his mother's pearl earrings.” So men, value the virtuous women in your life.
And ladies, strive to be wise and godly and thus set yourself apart from all the other women in the world! And men, the same goes for you, as well (8:1a). I think the understood answer to the question at the beginning of that verse is “no one.” No one is like the wise man! He sets himself apart. No one else understands life like he does. And so we see that by pursuing wisdom, both men and women can set themselves apart. Ladies, beauty is not ultimately what will set you apart. Wisdom is what will set you apart. Men, strength is not ultimately what will set you apart. Wisdom will set you apart. There are plenty of beautiful women and buff men in this world–they’re a dime a dozen! So rather than spending your life in the gym, or in Ulta, or whatever, get into your Bible, and seek after wisdom. Again, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to be beautiful or strong–but wisdom and godliness are much more important.
Not only can wisdom set you apart, but it can also improve your demeanor (8:1b)! According to this, wisdom softens the wise man’s face and makes it shine in the sense that it helps him to be gracious, merciful, and forgiving. Isn’t that a grace? We were in Costco the other day; we like to go there as sort of a family outing sometimes, and we always go to the food court, because who can beat the $1.50 hot dogs, right? And we enjoy our family outings to Costco! I know it might sound silly, but I kind of look forward to that Costco hot dog, and so do my girls! So we had just gotten through that long snake line, we had gotten our hot dogs, we had gotten our drinks, and I was putting ketchup on all the hot dogs. Elise had been out in the car feeding Mollie, and she was going to meet us. But apparently, they had run out of mustard. And there was this guy standing at the condiment area, cussing and complaining, and warning others and saying stuff like, “How can they be out of mustard! I paid for my mustard! I never would have bought this junk if I had known they were out of mustard!” And I’m looking at the difference between him and my girls, and thinking, “What a contrast! What a grace that we teach our girls to be thankful, because that guy is miserable!” And I’m not saying that my girls are wise; they’re not even saved yet. But by God’s grace, we’re trying to teach them what it is to be wise, and hopefully they’re picking up some of those practical lessons. And when a person is truly wise, you can often see the difference on his face. And it’s a grace. So I hope that I’ve convinced you–pursue wisdom! Be wise.
But before we close, we need to consider v. 29, first of all, because it’s here, but also because it’s very important theologically (v. 29).
So if we go all the way back to v. 25, Solomon talks about his quest for wisdom. And then in the following verses, he lists a couple of his findings. In vv. 27-28, he says what he didn’t find–that is, one virtuous woman out of a thousand. But then in v. 29, he says what he did find, and that is this: he found that we, and not God, are to blame for our sin. When theologians talk about the condition in which God created Adam and Eve, they say that He created them in “unconfirmed creature holiness.” So let’s break that down a little bit. It was “unconfirmed holiness” because Adam and Eve had not been tested; and in fact, when they were tested, they failed. It was “creature holiness” because although they were good, they were never absolutely holy in the same sense that God is separate from His creation. However, even though there were some limitations on their holiness, the Bible still says that God created them upright! Why is that important? It’s important because in order for the gospel to make sense, there must be a Creator, and that Creator cannot be responsible for our sin. You see, the world wants to deny that there is a Creator. And so the scientific community doggedly pushes evolution, to the extent that they don’t want anyone to come even remotely close to questioning that presupposition. It’s like a religion with them. But when you remove a Creator from the picture, the idea of sin makes no sense. I mean, if we’re all just one big cosmic accident and mankind has evolved just like the animals, why not do whatever it takes to get ahead? After all, that’s how evolution progresses, right? It’s survival of the fittest! So when we talk to people about the gospel, we really have to start with the fact that there is a God who created this world, and that He demands certain things of you and me. But that is not all. Because if God is somehow sinful or capricious like the ancient Greek or Roman gods, or if He somehow created us with a flaw that led to our fall, then we are not really guilty, and repentance doesn’t make any sense! Plus, who would trust a God like that to provide a way of salvation? And so it is absolutely essential when we look out over the mess of this world, as we read the Bible, and as we interpret our own personal experiences, that we insist with the Bible that God is the righteous one and we are the wicked ones. He is not in any way to blame for this mess, even though He is sovereign.
It could be that there is someone here today who has never completely “owned up” to that before God. You’ve never confessed your sinfulness to God and asked Him to forgive and cleanse you on the basis of Christ’s death and resurrection. You’ve never gone from trusting yourself and your own good works for salvation to trusting 1005 in Christ. Maybe you’re not even sure what that means. If that’s you, then I’d love to talk with you, because you need Christ. So come talk to me today or someone else who can help you today.
If you Google “most expensive stuff ever thrown away,” you’ll find this story. “Nigel Reynolds was the first journalist to ever interview JK Rowling and he received a first edition copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a 'thank you'. But in spite of the hype, Nigel was convinced the book would flop–and threw it in the bin. Now, first edition copies sell for up to £50,000...” (or over $65,000). As sad as that story is, people often make more much costly mistakes when it comes to God and the gospel. In fact, one of the marks of foolishness is that we hug garbage and trash diamonds. The most radical example of this is found in Rom 1:25, which says of unbelievers that they exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creatures rather than the Creator. If we are wise, we will value what God values; and this passage reminds us that that means valuing wisdom and goodness in relationships. The rewards for doing so are very high. The stakes for not doing so are just as high. The question is, “What will you do?”