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Ecclesiastes 7

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Wisdom and Folly Contrasted The Value of Practical Wisdom
(7:1-8:1)
Various Comments Thoughts About Life
(7:1-8:1)
Prologue to Part Two
7:1-14 7:1-12
(1-4)
7:1-13 7:1 7:1-7
      7:2  
      7:3  
      7:4  
  (5-7)   7:5  
      7:6  
      7:7 Warnings
(7:8-8:17)
  (8-12)   7:8a 7:8-29
      7:8b  
      7:9 (9-10)
      7:10  
      7:11-12 (11)
        (12)
  7:13-14   7:13-14 (13)
    7:14   (14)
7:15-18 7:15-20
(15)
7:15-18 7:15-18 (15)
  (16-18)     (16)
        (17)
        (18)
7:19-22 (19) 7:19 7:19 (19)
  (20) 7:20 7:20 (20)
  7:21-22 7:21-22 7:21-22 (21)
        (22)
    The Meaning of Existence is Hidden
(7:23-8:9)
   
7:23-26 7:23-26 7:23-26 7:23-25 (23-24)
        (25)
      7:26-29 (26-29)
7:27-29 7:27-29 7:27-29    

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. Although this is a series of loosely related subjects, they are related and must be interpreted in context.

 

B. This chapter, as much of Ecclesiastes, reflects "the two ways" of life (e.g., Deut. 30:1,15,19; Psalm 1).

 

C. There are a number of commands found in chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8:

1. 7:9, "be eager," BDB 96, KB 111, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense

2. 7:10, "say," BDB 55, KB 65, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

3. 7:13, "consider," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative (lit. "see")

4. 7:14, "be happy," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal imperative ("happy" BDB 375 III)

5. 7:14, "consider," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative (lit. "see")

6. 7:16, "do not be excessively righteous," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

7. 7:16, "do not be overly wise," BDB 314, KB 314, Hithpael imperfect used in a jussive sense

8. 7:17, "do not be excessively wicked," BDB 957, KB 1294, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

9. 7:17, "do not be a fool," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

10. 7:18, "let go," BDB 628, KB 679, Hithpael jussive

11. 7:21, "take seriously," BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense (lit. "give your heart")

12. 7:23, "be wise," BDB 314, KB 314, Qal cohortative

13. 7:27, "behold," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative (lit. "see")

14. 7:29, "behold," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative (lit. "see")

15. 8:2, "keep," BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperative

16. 8:3, "do not be in a hurry," BDB 96, KB 111, Niphal imperfect used in a jussive sense

17. 8:3, "do not join in," BDB 763, KB 840, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense (lit. "stand" or "stop")

 

D. The UBS Translator's Handbook on Ecclesiastes (p. 214) asserts that the last two rhetorical questions of Eccl. 6:12 are answered in Eccl. 7:1-14 (6:12a is answered in Eccl. 7:1-12 and 6:12b is linked to 7:13-14 by the phrase "after him" [BDB 29]). This gives a contextual relationship for interpretation that attempts to follow the intent of the original inspired author. Only the original author (and in some cases, editors) are inspired. No modern preacher, teacher or individual is inspired. They are illumined by the Holy Spirit to understand the major truths and especially gospel implications. Modern interpreters may disagree, but Scripture does not contradict itself. This last statement is tricky to make with a book like Ecclesiastes, where a tongue-in-cheek critique of human culture and life devoid of God is presented! Qoheleth is stating things purposefully in a way that challenges traditional wisdom teaching to help his readers think about the unfairness and injustice so prevalent in this fallen world. Theological, pithy statements do not cover all circumstances!

 

E. Verses 1-14 are poetic (NAB, NKJV, NRSV, NJB).

 

F. Remember this is a tongue-in-cheek (like, "under the sun") sarcasm on life without God.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:1-14
  1A good name is better than a good ointment,
 And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.
 2It is better to go to a house of mourning
 Than to go to a house of feasting,
 Because that is the end of every man,
 And the living takes it to heart.
 3Sorrow is better than laughter,
 For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
  4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
 While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
 5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
 Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
 6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
 So is the laughter of the fool; And this too is futility.
 7For oppression makes a wise man mad,
 And a bribe corrupts the heart.
 8The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
 Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
  9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
 For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
  10Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?"
 For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
 11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
 And an advantage to those who see the sun.
 12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
 But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
 13Consider the work of God,
 For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
 14In the day of prosperity be happy,
 But in the day of adversity consider—
 God has made the one as well as the other  
 So that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

7:1 "A good name is better than a good ointment" It is the word "good" (BDB 373 II), often translated "better," that links chapters 6 and 7 together (cf. Eccl. 6:3,9,12 and 7:1[twice], 2,3,5, 8[twice], 10, 11,14,18,20,26; often translated as the comparison, "better"). Where is "the good" found?

▣ "A good name" This refers to a godly character and lifestyle through time (cf. Prov. 22:1). Who we are is more important than what we have or do not have!

▣ "good ointment" Good ointment (BDB 1032) is in a contrasting relationship to "good name." Ointment can refer to:

1. an outward appearance (TEV, "expensive perfume")

2. a need for healing and restoration

3. a time of festival

 

▣ "the day of one's death is better" This must be linked with verse la in regard to the foolishness and destruction (temporal and eschatological) of inappropriate living. In Eccl. 9:4 life is affirmed, so don't jump to conclusions or proof-text this book!

7:2 "house of mourning" "House of. . ." is a Semitic idiom (cf. Eccl. 7:4, i.e., Bethel, Bethlehem).

All of the contrasts ("better than. . .") of this chapter are based on the conclusion summary of Eccl. 7:8a. Since life is vanity, its end is preferred to its beginning. 

The noun "end" (BDB 693) is used only five times in the OT and three of them are in Ecclesiastes:

1. 3:11

2. 7:2

3. 12:13

Qoheleth focuses on the mystery of knowing God and trying to understand His plans and purposes for mankind, but he knows well the inevitable end (i.e., every organic thing becomes inorganic again, i.e., dust-to-dust awaits us all).

▣ "house of feasting" Literally "house of drinking" (BDB 1059, cf. Esther 3:15; 7:1) refers to an event like the birth of a child to a friend. These two phrases are parallel in Eccl. 7:2-5.

▣ "Because that is the end of every man" Riotous living tends to cause us to live in unreality concerning the common, certain and sudden end of human life (TEV). Pleasure tends to be an opiate. Suffering can have a positive spiritual benefit (e.g. Heb. 5:8; Rom. 5:3-5)!

▣ "the living takes it to heart" This phrase can have several meanings:

1. Only the living can understand and have wisdom, not the dead.

2. The living should reflect on the reality of their own eventual mortality.

3. The wise ones think about these things (similar to "let him who has an ear hear" of the NT).

If #2 or #3 is correct, then the verb (BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect) may be functioning as a jussive.

7:3 "Sorrow is better than laughter" This parallels Eccl. 7:2. Suffering often brings one to God, while pleasure seldom does (cf. Matt. 5:1; 2 Cor. 7:10).

NASB"for when a face is sad a heart may be happy"
NKJV"for by a sad countenance the heart is made better"
NRSV"for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad"
TEV"it may sadden your face, but sharpen your understanding"
NJB"a joyful heart may be concealed behind sad looks"

In context Qoheleth is (1) saying that life's difficulties have the potential to awaken a spiritual dimension (TEV). This is the focus of Deuteronomy 27-28, as well as the plagues of Egypt that caused some Egyptians to believe in YHWH (cf. Exod. 12:38); similarly the "seals" and "trumpets" judgments of the book of Revelation. Or (2) contrasting the feelings of the immediate (daily life) with the world view of eternity. This life makes us sad; all of us have problems in this world, but if we have faith and obedience, even these sad times give us hope, peace, and strength.

The author is not condemning happiness. Just the opposite, he is advocating an appropriate peace and contentment that is not based on temporal circumstances alone. A book outside the Bible that has helped me in this area is Hannah Whithall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

▣ "sad" This term (BDB 947) usually means "evil" or "bad," but in a few places it refers to sadness (cf. Neh. 2:2; Prov. 25:20).

7:4-5 Verses 4 and 5 parallel verses 2 and 3.

7:5 "the rebuke of a wise man" The term "rebuke" (BDB 172) is from the Aramaic verb "cry out." The Bible records two kinds of rebukes:

1. from God, Job 26:11; Ps. 18:15; 39:11; 76:6; 80:16; 104:7; 106:9; Isa. 50:2; 51:20; 66:5,15

2. from other humans, Prov. 13:1,8; 17:10; Eccl. 7:5; Isa. 30:17 (twice, NASB, "threat"). It is alluded to in Ps. 141:5; Prov. 6:23; 13:18; 15:31-33; 25:12; Eccl. 9:17.

Rebukes are unpleasant, but a wise person hears and heeds the words of rebuke from a biblically informed person rather than flattering words from an earthly person. This type of statement is common in Proverbs (e.g., 12:15; 13:14; 25:12).

▣ "the song of fools" This refers to a pleasure oriented life. It is parallel to "laughter of fools" in Eccl. 7:6.

7:6 "the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot" Thorn bushes make poor cooking fires. They burn too hot and too fast (cf. Ps. 58:9; 118:12). As the fire promises and cannot deliver, so too the laughter of fools!

The term "laughter" (BDB 966) is used often in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 2:2; 3:4; 7:3,5,6). It is used metaphorically of the person who seeks instant gratification. It denotes life that focuses on the pleasure of this life in an existential moment, but does not ponder the "lasting benefit."

7:7 "oppression makes a wise man mad" The injustice of life causes many people (even believers) problems (cf. Eccl. 4:1; 5:8) if we don't allow God time to set it straight; sometimes it is not until the afterlife.

▣ "bribe" This is not the normal word for "bribe" (BDB 1005, cf. Exod. 23:8; Deut. 16:19), but is the word "gift" (BDB 682), used in a specialized sense (cf. Prov. 15:27).

It must be recognized that Eccl. 7:7 does not fit into the context easily. The NKJV and NJB see it as relating to the previous verses (i.e., 5-7). From Eccl. 7:1 the text has been referring to how wise men think. However, fallen humanity (oppression and bribery) can affect even the wise. Wisdom is reflected in how one lives, not just how one thinks. The term shema (BDB 1033), which means "to hear so as to do" (cf. James 1:22-25), is used twice in Eccl. 7:5!

7:8 "The end of a matter is better than its beginning" This may be (1) a summary statement or (2) related to Eccl. 7:1 about a good name which is acquired with time and must be maintained. Often we judge something or someone too quickly and are disappointed.

▣ "Patience of spirit is better" Verse 8, second line, contrasts two kinds of people by the repeated use of "spirit" (BDB 924, cf. Eccl. 7:9), often translated "breath," "wind," or "spirit." It refers metaphorically to the life of a person. Here there are two kinds of people contrasted:

1. "Patient," literally "long" (BDB 74). This is often used in Proverbs for a person slow to anger (cf. 14:29; 15:18; 16:32; 19:11). However, its most common usage describes YHWH's merciful character (cf. Exod. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Nahum 1:3).

2. "Haughtiness," literally "high" (BDB 147), used of a haughty spirit (ruach).

Notice the other anthropomorphic usages of "high"

1. literally, of tree, but tree as a haughty person, Isa. 10:33

2. metaphorically, of an arrogant mouth, 1 Sam. 2:3

3. haughty heart, Prov. 16:15

4. haughty eyes, Ps. 101:5; Isa. 5:15

People of faith are meant to emulate YHWH. People of faith are encouraged to take the long look, not only the immediate (cf. Eccl. 7:10). The attitude with which people of faith face life is a powerful witness (cf. Prov. 16:32; Gal. 5:22; Eph. 4:2).

7:9-10 See Contextual Insight C.

7:9 "Do not be eager in your heart" The VERB is "eager" (BDB 96, KB 111, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Eccl. 5:2, "do not be hasty in word").

The phrase "heart" is literally "in your spirit." Notice how ruach is used to describe several kinds of people:

1. "the patient in spirit," Eccl. 7:8

2. "the haughty in spirit," Eccl. 7:8

3. "the quick in spirit," Eccl. 7:9

 

▣ "angry" The term "angry" (BDB 495) is translated "sorrow" in Eccl. 7:3 (also note 1:18; 2:23; 11:10). The "slow to anger" God of Eccl. 7:8 can also be angry (e.g., 1 Kgs. 14:9,15; 16:33; 22:54; 2 Kgs. 17:11; 23:19). However, God is angry over human rebellion, but human anger is sparked by self-interest. This emotion quickly reveals the fallenness of humanity (cf. Prov. 14:17; 16:32; James 1:19).

7:10 Humans without a sense of God's presence and purpose in their daily lives often seek peace by reflecting on positive circumstances from the past! (i.e. the "good old days")! However, they

1. cannot be reclaimed

2. were not that "good" to begin with

3. often reflect a fallen view of "good"

God is in the mysterious process of molding His covenant partners into the "people of God." This takes time (patience) and faith! Focusing on human experiences long since past causes one to stumble in the present!

7:11-14 There are several key terms in interpreting this verse:

1. "good" (BDB 373 II, see note at Eccl. 2:26)

2. "advantage" (BDB 452, see note at Eccl. 1:3)

3. "the sun" (BDB 1039, see note at Eccl. 1:3)

"Good" and "advantage" point toward more than just a happy life here and now. Happiness and contentment have two foci:

1. now ("wisdom" and "inheritance," both from previous generations)

2. afterlife ("under the sun," "see the sun")

However, they are tied together. Our afterlife is affected by physical life now! Verse 12 explains Eccl. 7:11 and relates to this life, while Eccl. 7:13 and 14 relate to God's active presence in this temporal realm, but also to the implication of His continuing presence and care. He is sovereign and He is with us and for us, even when circumstances seem to scream the opposite. If the believer's joy and peace are based on physical blessings (traditional OT wisdom teaching) they can be removed or changed in a moment! No, the eyes of faith take the long look (cf. Eccl. 7:8,10) and trust in God.

I hope as a reader you recognize that my understanding of "under the sun" permeates all of my interpretations of this book. It is a basic presupposition, bias, a priori! Every commentator has these presuppositions (i.e., theological glasses). The first place to analyze an interpretation is the basic presuppositions of the interpreter. All of us have them, you know!

7:12 "protection" This is the Hebrew word for "shadow" (BDB 853), which offers protection in the desert (e.g., Ps. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:1,4). The term "shadow" was used in the sense of brevity in Eccl. 6:12, but here it is used in the sense of God's personal presence and protection (like the Exodus).

▣ "wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors" Longevity is connected to (1) the will of a sovereign God and (2) the choices of human beings (cf. Eccl. 7:17; Job 22:16; Ps. 55:23; Prov. 10:27).

7:13-14 See Contextual Insights, C. God is in control (a recurrent theme, e.g., 1:15; possibly 6:10) even though we can't always understand the why of our natural or individual circumstances! This inability to understand is purposeful (e.g., 3:11; 7:14; 8:17). Faith, not understanding, is crucial in life and death.

7:13 "to straighten" This verbal (BDB 1075, KB 1784) occurs in the OT only three times in Ecclesiastes. The first two have it contrasted with "crooked" (cf. Eccl. 1:15, Qal infinitive construct; 7:13, Piel infinitive construct). It is used of human activity in contrast to God's activity.

However, the third occurrence in Eccl. 12:9 is used in connection with human proverbs being "arranged" or "set in order' (Piel perfect). This difference shows the possibility of similar Semitic roots and the uncertainty of the intended nuances and connotations. As the inspiration of Scripture is a faith presupposition, so too, is our ability to understand it. The Spirit is active in both, yet when it comes to translation and interpretation, godly, educated, prayerful believers disagree. It is crucial for all of us affected by sin to search for the main truths of:

1. literary units

2. paragraph/stanzas

and not fight or build systematic theologies on disputed words or contexts!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18
 15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.

7:15 The opening phrase of this verse goes back to the literary foil of chapters 1-2 (i.e., Solomon). The author is claiming both extensive observational wisdom, yet he also recognizes its absolute folly and futility. Experience has caused him to become pessimistic about earthly life, but hopeful (though veiled) of God's activity both now and in the future (i.e. "advantage," cf. Eccl. 1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:16).

This verse states the theological tension over the circumstances of the righteous vs. the wicked. The traditional theology (i.e., "the two ways") was that God materially blessed the righteous and destroyed the wicked (cf. Deuteronomy 27-28; Ps. 37:25; Prov. 2:21ff; 11:19). However, this did not always work out in life, therefore, Job, Psalm 73, and Ecclesiastes begin to question this traditional premise. This is not meant to depreciate obedience or covenant faith, but to place it in the context of a fallen world. This is not the world God intended it to be. A good Christian song at this point would be "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it."

NASB"my lifetime of futility"
NKJV"my days of vanity"
NRSV"my vain life"
TEV"my life has been useless"
NJB"my futile life"

The term "futility" (BDB 210) means "vapor" or "breath," but in Ecclesiastes it is used metaphorically to describe the transitoriness and meaninglessness of human, earthly life. It is used five times in Eccl. 7:12 and thirty three more times throughout the book (three in Eccl. 12:8). It characterizes human pursuits and activities, including wisdom and righteousness!

7:16-18 We are warned to be careful of (1) the extremes of legalism and antinomianism or (2) self estimation of one's goodness.

7:16 This verse, which seems so strange to us as NT believers, has several unusual verbs:

1. "do not be," BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive

2. "excessively," BDB 915 I, KB 1176, Hiphil infinitive absolute

3. "do not be overly wise," BDB 314, KB 314, Hithpael imperfect

4. "why should you ruin yourself," BDB 1030, KB 1563, Hithpolel imperfect

The last one denotes a self-deceiving spirit that trusts too much in its own efforts. These, like the self-deceiving wicked, die; sometimes unexpectedly!

The NET Bible (p. 1133) denotes that verb #4 is translated elsewhere in this stem as "to be astonished" (e.g., Ps. 143:4; Isa. 59:16; 63:5; Dan. 8:27), meaning an OT person who had heard the Deuteronomic promises of health, blessing, and prosperity for the obedient covenant partners may be surprised when the unfairness and fallenness of this age takes the life of "righteous" covenant partners early. They are also surprised when an obviously wicked person lives a prosperous, long life (cf. Psalm 73).

7:17 "Why should you die before your time" See note at Eccl. 7:12.

7:18 This is a summary statement going back to Eccl. 7:15. From the context Qoheleth seems to encourage

1. a righteous life

2. a prolonged life

both of which are related to an appropriate fear and respect for God (cf. Eccl. 3:14; 5:7; 8:12,13; 12:13; Prov. 1:7). There is evil in our world and in our hearts! God and His hidden will, goodness, and presence are fallen mankind's (cf. Eccl. 7:23; 3:11; 8:17) only hope. We cannot fully understand Him or our circumstances, but we can trust Him, obey Him, and abide in faith amidst an unpredictable earthly life!

NASB"comes forth with both of them
NKJV"will escape them all"
NRSV"shall succeed with both"
TEV"will be successful anyway"
NJB"will find both"
LXX"all things shall come forth well"
JPSOA"will do his duty by both"
NIV"will avoid all extremes"
NET"will follow both warnings"

It is obvious from the translations that the phrase is uncertain. Here are the options:

1. somehow related to Eccl. 7:15-17

a. will fulfill (i.e., "our duty," from later meaning in Mishnah, JPSOA)

b. will reject (NET)

c. will avoid the extremes (NIV)

2. will be successful (NRSV, TEV)

3. will accept the warnings (NKJV)

Numbers 2 and 3 are parallel. Life is unpredictable! God's work and will are hidden! Wisdom cannot find ultimate answers! In light of this, live in fear and faith, leave the outcome to God. Avoid thinking human efforts can ever fully answer or overcome the uncertainties of this age!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:19-22
 19Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. 20Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. 21Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. 22For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.

7:19 Wisdom is a strong ally in this fallen world (cf. Eccl. 7:12; 9:13-18), but it cannot shield the believers from pain, injustice, and bad circumstances.

Please look at the beginning of this chapter where the paragraphing of different modern English translations are compared. Notice that the contextual relationship between Eccl. 7:19-22 is uncertain.

1. NASB, one paragraph (Eccl. 7:19-22)

2. NKJV, NRSV, TEV, Eccl. 7:19, Eccl. 7:20, Eccl. 7:21-22

3. NJB, Eccl. 7:19, Eccl. 7:20, Eccl. 7:21, Eccl. 7:22

These charts at the beginning of each chapter help us decide how many truths are being addressed in each literary unit. Paragraphs are crucial in discerning related contexts. Every paragraph, or stanza in poetry, has one main truth or thought. All lines or sentences must relate to this truth. Be careful of being sidetracked on illustrations or minor points!

7:20 "who never sins" This is an affirmation of the falleness of all humanity (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:46; 2 Chr. 6:36; Job 15:14-16; 25:4; Ps. 130:3-4; 143:2; Prov. 20:9; Rom. 3:9-18,23; 1 John 1:8-2:1). This shows the foolishness of perfectionism and/or human effort (cf. Eccl. 7:16-18).

7:21-22 The writer encourages us not to take ourselves or the words of others too seriously. We often say what we do not really mean!

Another possibility is that all humans are incapable of complete righteousness (all sin, in some ways, at some times). Be careful of judging one another or reacting to insults since you, too, insult people.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:23-26
 23I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me. 24What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? 25I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. 26And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.

7:23-25 Where does the paragraph or stanza start and stop? Is the major point in Eccl. 7:26 (i.e., NASB, NKJV) the evil woman? Or does this context run through Eccl. 7:29 (cf. NRSV)? These kinds of questions are crucial, but often there are not textual markers, just the interpreter's common sense and context!

7:23 "all this" How far back does this phrase refer (i.e., Eccl. 7:19-22; 15-22; 1-22; or earlier chapters)? Wisdom is hard to find (3:11; 8:17), but must be sought (i.e., Proverbs 1-8).

▣ "I will be wise" This verb (BDB 314, KB 314, Qal cohortative) denotes a self determination. However, human effort cannot discover the mysteries of God or the mysteries of a fallen world (cf. Eccl. 1:13-18)!

7:24 Notice the parallel concepts about the difficulty in fallen humanity's (women singled out in Eccl. 7:28) search for wisdom:

1. "remote," Eccl. 7:23, BDB 935, "far off"

2. "exceedingly mysterious," Eccl. 7:24, BDB 771, "deep, very deep" (i.e., Job 5:9; 11:7; 15:8; Rom. 11:33 (twice)

3. "who can discover it," Eccl. 7:24, BDB 592, KD 619, Qal imperfect (cf. Job 11:7)

4. from Eccl. 7:28, "I am still seeking, but have not found" (same verb as #3)

 

▣ "discover" This verb (BDB 592, KB 619) is used nine times in chapter 7:

1.-2. "discover," Eccl. 7:14,24, Qal imperfect

3. "discovered," Eccl. 7:26 Qal active participle

4. "discovered," Eccl. 7:27, Qal perfect

5. "to find," Eccl. 7:27, Qal infinitive construct

6.-8. "have not found," Eccl. 7:28 (thrice), Qal perfect

9. "found," Eccl. 7:29, Qal perfect

Qoheleth discovered he could not discover! The search was sincere, thorough, intensive. God has put in our hearts the desire "to know," "to understand," but it is beyond our current fallen ability. The "desire" probably comes from our being made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26-27), but sin has damaged our ability (cf. Genesis 3). Yet we still seek, search, yearn, and strive (cf. 1 Cor. 13:9-13)!

7:25

NASB"I directed my mind"
NKJV"I applied my heart"
NRSV"I turned my mind"
TEV"I devoted myself"
LXX"I and my heart went round about"
REB"I went on to reflect"

Literally this is, "I myself turned my heart." This same verb (BDB 685, KB 738, Qal perfect) is used in Eccl. 2:20. It denotes a point in Qoheleth's thinking where he comes to a decision. Maybe we would say "he got his mind around an issue."

The ancients thought "the heart" was the center of thinking, reasoning, feeling. See Special Topic at Eccl. 1:13.

Notice the series of infinitive constructs:

1. "to know," BDB 393, KB 390, Qal

2. "to investigate," BDB 1064, KB 1707, Qal

3. "to seek," BDB 134, KB 152, Piel

4. "to know," BDb 393, KB 390, Qal

He wanted to understand or posses:

1. "wisdom," BDB 315

2. "an explanation," BDB 363 I, lit. "the sum of things," cf. Eccl. 7:27; 9:10 (#1 and #2 are possibly a hendiadys)

The search from chapter 1 continues by means of 

1. "the evil of folly"

2. "the foolishness of madness"

Alternately, since Qoheleth has just informed his readers of the impossibility of attaining wisdom (cf. Eccl. 7:23-24,27), this may mean he turned from the search.

7:26 "the woman" This verse seems to be out of context, therefore, some have said "the woman" refers to (1) "godless philosophy" (i.e., wisdom personified, cf. Eccl. 7:4; 9:10); (2) the "foolishness" (i.e., the word is feminine) of Eccl. 7:25; or (3) the sin of Eve (cf. Genesis 3). Proverbs personifies both evil and wisdom in a woman (cf. Prov. 1-8).

This verse has several metaphorical allusions to hunting animals or violence:

1. "snares," BDB 844 II, cf. Job 19:6

2. "nets," BDB 357 II

a. hunter, Micah 7:2

b. fisherman, Ezek. 26:5,14; 32:3; 47:10; Hab. 1:15,16,17

3. "chains," BDB 64 (usually referring to human bonds)

4. "escape," BDB 572, KB 589, Niphal imperfect (usually referring to human deliverance)

5. "captured," BDB 539, KB 530, Niphal imperfect (military metaphor)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 7:27-29
 27"Behold, I have discovered this," says the Preacher, "adding one thing to another to find an explanation, 28which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. 29Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices."

7:27-28 These verses seem chauvinistic, but males are not much better, only 1/10 of 1% (one man among a thousand). The contextual emphasis is on the rarity of wisdom.

7:27

NASB, NKJV
LXX"the Preacher"
NRSV, NIV"the Teacher"
TEV"the Philosopher"
NJB, JPSOA"Qoheleth"
REB"the Speaker"

This term (BDB 875) is found only in Ecclesiastes (cf. Eccl. 1:1,2,12; 7:27; 12:8,9,10). It may be a Qal active participle (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 890). In Eccl. 12:8 it has the definite article (twice) denoting not a proper name, but a title (i.e., the who who gathers or assembles, which could denote wisdom or students). See Introduction, Authorship.

7:29 This verse asserts two truths from Genesis:

1. Initially all of God's creation was good (cf. Gen. 1:31). Humans can understand and implement God's will.

2. Fallen humans are creative and energetic in the area of evil and rebellion (cf. Genesis 3-4; 6:5,11-12,13; 11). Though morally capable, humans turn from God's will to self-will at every opportunity!

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why are verses 1-14 so hard to interpret?

2. What are verses 16-17 referring to?

3. Why is wisdom so hard to find?