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Ecclesiastes 07


 

Ecc 7:1a . . A good name is better than fragrant oil,

A companion to that saying might be a proverb also authored by Solomon.

"Like a gold ring in the snout of a pig is a beautiful woman bereft of sense." (Prv 11:22)

Cosmetics, fashions, jewelry, hair, manicures, wonder bras, pantyhose, killer curves, and/or Spanks and scents can't make up for a bad name. No matter how dolled up, or shined up, nor how good a person smells; if they are a pig, they will continue to act like a pig. Better to be a plain Jane with a sweet personality than a super model who affects everyone around her with a witchy attitude.

Ecc 7:1b-2 . . and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting; for that is the end of every man, and a living one should take it to heart.

Nobody under the age of twenty-one is ever going to take that one seriously. Birthday parties and beer busts are far more fun than funerals; although as I get older, I tend to dread my birthdays more and more. When I was young, birthdays were fun, and getting older was exciting. But aging is not so fun anymore. Age is turning me into an ogre, and I can't stand the sight of myself in a mirror; especially one of those large full-length bathroom mirrors they invariably install in motel rooms.

But a funeral can really make you aware of your own mortality in a very special way. My wife's mother died in 2005, my own mother one year later as well as a good friend at work; and my favorite nephew dropped dead to the floor in 2015. All those passings disturbed me because I realized the grim reaper had started picking us off one by one, and it's only a matter of time now before my own number comes up.

Ecc 7:3-4 . .Vexation is better than revelry; for though the face be sad, the heart may be glad. Wise men are drawn to a house of mourning, and fools to a house of merrymaking.

Those kinds of "wise men" are well known as party poopers. While it's true that revelry can't make a person truly happy on the inside, it would still seem a much better choice than dwelling upon Death. You know; it's only natural that Solomon would believe that mourning is better than revelry because he was a wet blanket to begin with; and his nature to shun merriment. (Ecc 2:1-2)

Solomon didn't even know how to have fun. The problem is; he was just too smart for his own good; so smart in fact that all his knowledge and intellect clouded the man's spirit and prevented him from having any fun at all. (Ecc 1:16-18)

Solomon really needed to get out and paint the town once in a while; see a good movie, ride a pony, go to Las Vegas, stroll the beach, take in a Broadway play, roll the dice, joust a windmill, drop a coin in a wishing well, go boating, let his hair down, play a video game, maybe even get plastered sometime— anything but sit around thinking about old age and death. No wonder the poor man was so negative! In the movie Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio convinces Kate Winslet that there is more to life than being rich. He suggests she learn to ride a horse like a man and learn to spit like a man. Sure: why not take off the Spanx, lose the Silkies panty hose and Jimmy Choo heels, and try something silly like skipping a stone across a pond?

I once heard Billy Graham say: The smallest package in the world is a man all wrapped up in himself. Well . . amen to that! Billy was so right. And I would add that the most unimportant man in the world is one who is totally self-absorbed. Some people really need to get out and do a little mixing and have a good time once in a while: break the monotony, do something stupid, get out of their rut; live a little.

But Solomon just couldn't do it. There are some people not only fun-challenged, but they can't permit themselves to indulge in fun. It's like a mental block— a hang-up. They're afflicted with fun-impotence. They feel guilty about having fun, they scorn fun, and look down upon themselves for letting any into their lives.

Ecc 7:5-6 . . It is better to listen to a wise man's critique than to listen to the praise of fools. For the levity of the fool is like the crackling of nettles under a kettle; for that too is transitory.

The "praise of fools" is from the Hebrew word shiyr (sheer) which means: a song; singing; viz: a lullaby. I guess you could liken a fool's praise to the chirping of a bird— tweet, tweet, tweet. Birds make sweet sounds; actually very soothing and entertaining at times, but nonetheless, they only serve to help us escape reality— they don't tell the hearer very much truth about himself.

Nettles make very poor firewood. They burn very brightly, go up with a woosh almost as soon as they're thrown into a fire; but produce very little heat and soon go out. Oak and Pine are far better. Those sturdy woods burn slowly and quietly, make good coals, and produce lots of usable heat for a long time. The praise of fools is like birds twittering and nettles burning: noisy, momentarily soothing, a brief caress with no long-lasting usefulness; while a wise man's critique may not be so cheering, but can result in life-changing improvements.

Ecc 7:7 . . Unjust gain robs the wise man of reason and destroys the prudence of the cautious.

The praise of fools is typically unmerited, and often falls in the category of flattery; which, if a wise man takes seriously, he's just downright stupid no matter what his IQ.

The word for "fool" is from keciyl (kes-eel') which means: fat, i.e. (figuratively) stupid or silly. I guess that means some people are fat-heads. Roget's Thesaurus synonyms for fat-headed are: dull, asinine, and thick-witted— in other words: a numbskull. Those are not attributes you need to see in a person who is patting you on the back and telling you how wonderful you are and how good a job you did. You certainly would not want to take a fat-head's praise too seriously because to see yourself through the eyes of a fat-head is to accept a false impression of yourself; and that could prove to be very self-destructive in the long run.

Ecc 7:8-9 . .The end of a matter is better than the beginning of it. Better a patient spirit than a haughty spirit. Don't let your spirit be quickly vexed, for vexation abides in the breasts of fat-heads.

Not all matters are pleasant matters. Some are bitter. Those matters are best not taken up at all; and quickly ended if they begin.

To start a quarrel is to open a sluice; before a dispute flares up, drop it." (Prv 17:14)

Parenting is one arena where it doesn't pay to be a fat-head. It's very important to pick your fights with care, rather than simply react. It is not a good idea to flare up and quarrel with your children over every little thing. Let little things slide; and only make a fuss over things that really make a difference in the long haul.

 "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged." (Col 3:21)

One of the most dysfunctional families I've ever seen is the fictional one portrayed on the HBO series Sopranos.

AJ Soprano's dad Tony is a mob boss whose parenting style mirrors his criminal management practices; which is that of a despotic, bullying sociopath. Tony constantly oppresses his son AJ with thoughtless remarks, manhandling, unfairness, profanity, purple epithets, sarcasm, ugly criticism, bickering, demeaning humor, confrontations, sneering, scorn, relentless ridicule, intimidation, shouting, rage, and threats.

AJ rarely, if ever, is given a word of sympathy or encouragement. Typically, everything he does is wrong and his father impossible to please. Subsequently; AJ feels unwelcome in his own home— a person of little consequence whose thoughts and feelings neither matter nor count. His home's living hell turns AJ into not only a loser, but also an emotional train wreck; and then his dad ends up asking the inevitable question eventually asked by every abusive parent: Where did I go wrong? Duh.

Ecc 7:10 . . Don't say; How has it happened that former times were better than these? For it is not wise of you to ask that question.

The problem with the good old days is that we often conveniently forget the bad parts and sometimes invent good parts to take their place; viz: the good old days are often a combination of poor memory and a good imagination.

Lyrics in Carly Simon's song Anticipation say: "I tell tomorrow, these are the good old days". Get her point? You are living in some good old days right now, this very moment; and in the future you'll look back on them with the same wistful fondness that you are now looking back on earlier good old days. Carly's song was released on an album in 1972, some 40 years ago as of 2012. Was she right? Were those days good old days for her?

Sometimes there's no denying the good old days really were better than our present lot in life. People with serious illnesses and handicaps were certainly better off before those problems degraded their quality of life. I think a young girl with Herpes and/or an unwanted pregnancy would agree that things were better before.

Myself, I would have been dead with appendicitis as a teen-ager were it not for modern medicine. And yet again in my 40's with a kidney stone. And yet again in my fifties with Grave's Disease (hyperactive thyroid). I think anyone would agree Americans are far better off today economically than the 1930's. So not all the good old days were good. Some of those good old days would have been fatal for many of us— not only in health, but also in hard labor and low pay.

Ecc 7:11-12 . .Wisdom is as good as a patrimony, and even better, for those who behold the sun. For to be in the shelter of wisdom is to be also in the shelter of money, and the advantage of intelligence is that wisdom preserves the life of him who possesses it.

Solomon's comment is for those who "behold the sun" as opposed to those who behold the face of God.

Wisdom isn't just an accumulation of information like a journal or an encyclopedia. Wisdom is a combination of knowledge and understanding gained through experience. That's why so many young people are air-heads. Although they're better educated; they just haven't lived long enough to really know the score.

But youth isn't necessarily an indicator that somebody hasn't got any sense. If young people are fortunate enough to have the benefit of a mentor, like say a savvy parent or a connection in the Big Brother program of their town, then they have on tap the wisdom of an older person who knows many ins and outs of life. However, too many young people are vain, conceited, and arrogant, and tend to have the attitude of a know-it-all. For them, a mentor serves no purpose because those kinds of young people are of the sort who want to find out everything for themselves, rather than be instructed.

Wisdom is a far better inheritance for a young person than money and property. Wisdom will enable a wise youth to get the money and property later. But no amount of money will enable a dunce to attain wisdom.

"What good is money in the hand of a fool to purchase wisdom, when he has no mind?" (Prv 17:16)

Good sense is far more important than money. A young co-worker of mine, who had been out of work for quite a while, took his very first paycheck to a sound shop and spent the entire thing on a $700 stereo system for his car. The car was an old clunker and the stereo was actually worth more than the car. Now there was a boy who seriously needed some counseling.

"There is desirable treasure, and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man squanders it." (Prv 21:20)

Ecc 7:13-14 . . Consider the work of God; for who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: surely God has appointed the one as well as the other, so that man can find out nothing that will come after him.

Solomon's references to a God are mostly rhetorical in the book of Ecclesiastes. When he says "consider the work of God" I suspect he's just referring to the natural order of things under the sun.

The Scottish poet Robert Burns noticed that life sometimes throws a curve ball at you in spite of your best precautions. Fate often casts its long shadow when human beings set about planning their lives.

Burns was out one day plowing in the field and uprooted a mouse's underground nest who was all set for the oncoming winter. The mouse had picked a fallow field as the site for its winter retreat thinking it would be safe and snug; unmolested during the cold. But it didn't (or maybe we should say it couldn't) know the workings of powers higher than itself— in this case, human beings and their farm machinery.

But, mousie, thou art no thy lane
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men [Oft go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain for promis'd joy.

Take for example Job (Job 1:1-3). He was all set to enjoy retirement when of a sudden, without the slightest warning, his world fell apart even though he was the most righteous man of his day and deserved only the best of luck rather than bad. But completely unknown to him were higher powers— God and the spirit world —in a contest of loyalties; with 'ol Job right smack in the middle of their contentions. Consequently; he lost everything— his family, save for his (un)loving wife, his livestock, all his houses; and his health. In very little time, Job went from wealthy retiree to disabled pauper.

Job surely knew he didn't deserve the bad luck that came his way. But like Robert Burns said: The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry. Why? Because as Solomon indicated; you can neither predict nor fathom the ambitions of powers and circumstances beyond your control. The spirit world is a higher power than Man, just as Man is a higher power than mice. However, as mice cannot control the ways of Man, neither can Man control the ways of the spirits. Therefore; both men and mice are subject to the whims of powers beyond their control so that neither one is superior to the other in that respect.

It's not uncommon to see property owners forced out and/or displaced because of Eminent Domain; the power of a state, provincial, or national government to take private property for public and/or economic use. So then, like the mousie in Burns' poem; your land is never really your land. Higher powers are at liberty to condemn your property and take it away from you at will for what they inevitably categorize as the so-called "greater good".

Ecc 7:15-16 . . In my own brief span of life, I have seen both these things: sometimes a good man perishes in spite of his goodness, and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness. So don't overdo goodness and don't act the wise man to excess, or you may be dumfounded.

Some ultra ascetic types are obsessed with self denial— don't do this, don't do that, don't go here, don't go there, don't look at this, don't look at that. I once knew an ascetic type who actually felt guilty simply by walking through the door of a Blockbuster video store; and was so offended by young people's music that he made his teen-age son listen to his boom box outside; even in inclement weather.

Dr. Laura (who's normally pretty level-headed) says that any parent that would take their child to a mall that has a Victoria's Secret store is a bad parent. That's asceticism (not to mention bigotry). Well; asceticism can guarantee no one long life nor does it necessarily make one a better person. Asceticism can, in fact, result in a superiority complex and, maybe even neurosis.

It would seem that the best way to enjoy) a long life, as opposed to merely existing, is by sensible practices in diet and health. But those things, as sensible as good diet and healthy habits may be, won't guarantee good health and a long life. I once worked in a family-owned boatyard in San Diego run by a man and his three brothers, and his two sons. One of the sons was a model citizen and the picture of health. He was married and had a little girl, didn't run with a bad crowd, didn't smoke or drink, didn't stay out late, didn't eat fatty foods or sweets, jogged regularly, attended church every Sunday and played piano for the choir, and he was young; barely twenty-six years old.

Well, one day he complained of stomach pains and upon examination there was found in his abdomen a cancerous growth as big as a child's nerf football. He underwent surgery, lost a testicle, suffered through chemo-therapy, and last I knew, was doing okay. The cancer was in remission but they had to keep an eye on him all the time.

In contrast, the vaudeville, TV, and movie star George Burns smoked a cigar every day of his life until he died at age 100. Go figure.

You know, life is short. If us "good" people deny ourselves every little pleasure, one day we'll regret it, especially if our own life ends too soon and those we consider wicked live full, prosperous lives long after we ourselves are passed away.

Ecc 7:17-18 . . . On the other hand, don't be too wicked either— don't be a fool! Why should you die before your time? So try to walk a middle course— but those who fear God will succeed either way.

The recommendation in that passage is to do everything in moderation. That's the key. Excess is what ruins people— too much tobacco, too much coffee, too much gambling, too much education, too much ignorance, too much quarreling, too much sugar and fatty foods, too much alcohol, too much work, too much play and even too much religion. Too much of anything is bad; even too much recreation. Everyone knows that, but no one takes it to heart. Some abstain from everything thinking to make themselves ultra pious. But piety is not found in excessive self-denial. After all, God created all things for Man to enjoy, rather than to abstain from. (1Tim 6:17)

Ecc 7:19 . .Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city.

It's not too difficult to find city managers with lots of intelligence and lots of political savvy, but at the same time, too many are irresponsible adults who can't be trusted with either money or power.

The wise man is circumspect; which Webster's defines as careful to consider all circumstances and possible consequences, i.e. the wise man is smart enough, and prudent enough, to decide upon a course of action that's best for everyone rather than only for himself and/or special interests.

Ecc 7:20 . . For there is not one good man on earth who does what is best and doesn't err.

Solomon was a keen observer of people in power. He knew they couldn't be trusted. Too many people look to government to improve their quality of life and to remedy society's ills. That is a bad habit because human government is made up of human beings, and human beings cannot be trusted to always do what is right because they have prejudices and biases, private ambitions, axes to grind, hands to shake, boots to lick, favors to repay, promises to keep, opportunities to grab, and friends to curry. They also have mental, physical, and emotional problems that effect their judgment and sometimes put them in a bad mood. Sometimes they drink, which loosens them up and often disposes them to do things that are not in the public's best interests.

Only the foolish believe their government to be as pure and honest as the angels of God. They aren't. They weren't in Solomon's day; and they sure aren't now. The voters who put their hero in office, believing him to be a Messiah capable of healing their country's ills and giving people hope, are often very disappointed to discover he's just another cheap politician with a charismatic persona and feet of clay rather than gold.

Ecc 7:21-22 . . Finally, don't pay attention to everything that is said, so that you may not hear your slave reviling you; for well you remember the many times that you yourself have reviled others.

There are some instances in life where ignorance is truly bliss; and this is one of them. Some people just have to know everything others are saying about them. That's not a good idea. People are only human, and humans love to gossip and say negative things about others. If you are prone to talk about others, then it is a sure bet others are prone to talk about you, because they are just as human as you. Solomon advised against being overly wise and overly foolish. I would add: don't be nosey and don't be overly sensitive.

The golden rule applies here as well as any other place: Do unto others as you would like it done unto you. So don't crowd people or monitor their conversations like Big Brother or something. They need to be free to talk about you; just as you need freedom to talk about them.

But beware of vicious gossips and rumor mongers. Some of us talk about others for fun and don't really mean anything by it; but some are out to stir up trouble and deliberately assassinate reputations. They come up to you and say: "You should hear what so and so is saying about you". People like that are a menace to society.

Ecc 7:23-25 . . All this I tested with wisdom. I thought I could fathom it, but it eludes me. [The secret of] what happens is elusive and deep, deep down; who can discover it? I put my mind to studying, exploring, and seeking wisdom and the reason of things, and to studying wickedness, stupidity, madness, and folly.

Well; Solomon is not the first one to grapple with the mystery of life and fail to make any sense out of it. Many famous philosophers of the past came up empty handed too. The happiest people seem to be those who don't think very deep. They just live out their lives like a nutria or a dragonfly without the slightest concern about their origin nor the way things are, nor of the future. Maybe they have the right idea after all.

Ecc 7:26-27 . . Now, I find woman more bitter than death; she is all traps, her hands are fetters and her heart is snares. He who is pleasing to God escapes her, and he who is displeasing is caught by her. See, this is what I found, said Koheleth, item by item in my search for the reason of things.

Most men "under the sun" would agree with Solomon that women are a necessary evil; and mostly evil. "You can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em." How many times I've heard unhappy men sound that lament.

According to Gen 2:18-24, God created Woman so the male would have a supportive friend; a certain somebody who understands him and relates to him; someone he could lean on. Adam discovered that animals can't relate to Man, unless of course a particular man happens to be an animal himself. One of my all-time favorite bumper stickers goes like this:

MEN ARE NOT PIGS!
Pigs Are Gentle, Sensitive, Intelligent Animals.

Ecc 7:28a . . As for what I sought further but did not find,

Apparently, the thing that Solomon sought further (in addition to the investigations he has made up to this point) was a human being free from the foibles of human nature. Is it actually possible that the world cannot produce even one single human being who is 100% rational and sensible?

Ecc 7:28b . . I found only one human being in a thousand, and the one I found among so many was never a woman.

(chuckle) If left up to Solomon, America would never have a female President.

His comment doesn't mean Solomon did actually find a truly 100% percent sensible person; only that he found one that was sensible in his own opinion; which is a subjective evaluation. That kind of determination has no value in reality because it's a judgment based upon one's own personal (and possibly biased) point of view. Although it appears in that verse that Solomon is being terribly sexist about the intelligence of women; he isn't actually suggesting there are no sensible women at all, but that in his own personal experience, sensible women were even more rare than sensible men.

In the movie As Good As It Gets one of the main characters (a writer played by Jack Nicholson) was asked by an admirer how he was able to understand women so well— knowing what goes on in their hearts and minds and putting it down on paper. He answered; "I start with a man, and take away reason and accountability." (chuckle) Nicholson's character, by the way, was a very self-centered, obsessive-compulsive individual who harbored some strong anti-social opinions about women and LGBT.

Ecc 7:29a . . But, see, this I did find: God made men plain,

Plain can mean simple or uncomplicated; which seems to be exactly what he's saying. God made Man an uncomplicated being; but he didn't stay that way.

Ecc 7:29b . . but they have engaged in too much reasoning.

The word for "reasoning" is from chishshabown (khish-shaw-bone') which means: a mental or mechanical contrivance, i.e. a warlike machine or a mental machination, e.g. sophistry and rationale.

Some people do tend to complicate everything by over-thinking; thus they engage themselves in a sort of mental bull session that never gets to the bottom of anything. They can't just take things as they are, and let things happen. No, they have to complicate everything.

Then there are those who can't permit themselves to accept anything they don't understand. So their minds remain forever vacillating in a limbo between two opinions. They're indecisive, and oftentimes insecure, because for minds like that, there are no absolutes and no way of knowing what's for real and what's not for real. So they're forever stalling with yeah-but, maybe, possibly, could be, and what-if.
 


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