PRESENTED ON 04-05-14


       Last time we met we covered the first four verses of Ecclesiastics chapter 7.  Today we will continue were we left off and begin with verse 5 where Solomon shifts his focus from discussing death and dying in verses one through four and now begins to make some heady observations about human behavior.

       Ecclesiastes 7:5-6:  It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless.

       In saying “It is better to heed a wise man's rebuke than to listen to the song of fools,” Solomon is simply saying you are going to benefit more from being corrected by someone who sees you for what you are and knows your need for correction than listening to someone praising you who may have a distorted view of you or is just trying to flatter you for personal gain.

       Humans like to be flattered.  Flattery strokes the ego.  It inflates the ego and when the ego is inflated that inflation of ego needs to be nourished.  How is it nourished?  It’s nourished by more flattery.  Flattery can become addictive.  One can come to depend on flattery to maintain self image.  When the flattery isn’t there the self image then suffers and people become depressed.  This is especially true of people who have low self esteem and are insecure.  

       Although the Hebrew word translated “song” in this passage does mean song in the Hebrew, it is of interest that in a footnote to verse 5 the NET Bible suggests there is an opposing parallel between rebuke and song which suggests the word song may be figurative for praise/flattery which is seen as music to the ears of the hearer.  The NEB (New English Bible) translation actually renders the word song as praise. 

       Solomon writes "Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools.”  The word thorns refers to twigs from wild thorn bushes which were used as fuel for quick heat, but burned out quickly before a cooking pot can be properly heated.

       Psalms 118:10-12: All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the LORD I cut them off. They swarmed around me like bees, but they died out as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off. 

       Solomon analogizes the short lived burning thorns to the laughter of fools.  This appears to be a continuation of Solomon’s instruction to heed the rebuke of a wise man rather than to listen to the song or praise of a fool.  The fools song, praise or flattery is fleeting while the correction of a wise man may have life changing significance. Correction coming from a wise man should be considered of much greater value then the praise that comes from someone who may be doing nothing more than “sucking up” to you in an effort to in some way enhance his own image or set you up for a favor.

       Solomon is not saying that to praise or receive praise is wrong.  When praise is given in a sincere manner with no strings attached and humbly received by the person being praised, it certainly can boast one's self esteem and provide positive feedback as to what one is doing.  We all can use positive feedback.  However, correction is better.  It is better because it can stimulate greater growth and development.  It can cause one to take a critical look at oneself and make changes where necessary rather than just maintaining the status quo.  

       While praise may help support and enhance ones current level of self-esteem, correction can actually improve self-esteem by facilitating self improvement which can in turn improve self image.  While correction can be ego challenging, it has greater value than praise. 

       Ecclesiastes 7:7: Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.

        The Hebrew word translated “extortion” in the NIV is osheq (o-shek).  It can mean injury, fraud, distress, unjust gain, extortion, oppression, a thing deceitfully obtained.  There has been scholarly debate as to whether this word is better translated extortion or oppression here in verse 7.  While the NIV and several other translations render the Hebrew here as extortion, a number of other translations render it as oppression.   This same Hebrew word is rendered “oppression” in the NIV translations of 4:1 and 5:8 where the context shows it is the oppression of people that is being addressed.

       Ecclesiastes 4;1: Again I looked and saw all the oppression (osheq) that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed-- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors-- and they have no comforter.

       Ecclesiastes 5:8:If you see the poor oppressed (osheq) in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still.

       In actuality, oppression and extortion pretty much mean the same thing.  To extort is to acquire something through the use of force or threats. That certainly is oppression as well.  The common dictionary definition of oppression is to deal with or be exposed to a source of worry, stress, or trouble.   It means to subject a person or a people to a harsh or cruel form of domination.

       Solomon is teaching that extortion/oppression is not the way to treat others.  When a person who may be considered wise in many respects begins to oppress others, he becomes a fool.  He is not exercising wisdom.  I have to wonder if Solomon was possibly reflecting on his own life here. 

       As I pointed out in a past sermon in this series, after Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king and the people asked that he lift some of the heavy burden off their shoulders that Solomon had placed upon them.  When Rehoboam refused to do this and instead increased their burden, ten of the tribes revolted and formed a separate kingdom.  This would suggest Solomon had been oppressing his subjects to some extent.

        Much of the history of the world has involved oppression of the masses by leaders who fail to consider the needs of those they govern and instead take advantage of their position of power and authority to harshly dominate others.  Often the oppressed rise up in revolution and oust their leaders.   The problem is that new leaders come to power and often end up oppressing the very ones that allowed them to come to power and the cycle of revolution and formation of new government continues without end.   This never ending cycle occurs largely because of the next observation Solomon makes in verse 7, “a bribe corrupts the heart.”

       Bribery, as is commonly understood, is the receiving of considerations in exchange for the granting of favors.  Simply said, I will give you this if you will give me that.   According to this broad definition, we all practice bribery to some extent.  We may say to our child who is causing a ruckus that if he behaves himself we will buy him a toy.  If a toy is something the child desires, he will control his behavior, at least for while and the bribe pays off with some temporary peace and quiet.

       The problem with bribery is that it can become a tool of oppression.  It can even happen with the example I gave of the misbehaving child.  While the parent may have bribed the child into proper behavior, the child may come to realize that by misbehaving he can get more toys.  So now he begins to use misbehavior as a means of obtaining more toys and in this manner begins to oppress his parents. 

       Solomon said a bribe corrupts the heart.  In view of Solomon’s concerns about oppression, it is apparent he is thinking about bribery that leads to others being governed in a harsh and cruel manner.  Bribery becomes an evil when it involves the use of force and threats to facilitate behavior by the governed that only really benefits those doing the governing.  When the welfare of those governing is advanced at the expense of the welfare of those being governed is when we have oppression.  The sustaining of this kind of oppression often involves some form of bribery at all levels of such oppressing government.  Bribery of this nature truly does corrupt the heart.

       Ecclesiastes 7:8: The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

       Saying the end of a matter is better than its beginning is to observe that beginnings are undertaken to arrive at an end of some kind or another.  We begin a project or a course of action with the intent of reaching a desired result or goal.  From that standpoint the end is better than the beginning as the beginning simply serves as the means to reach a particle goal and once that goal is reached there is satisfaction and sometimes celebration.

       We are down to the final four of the NCAA basketball tournament which begins with 64 teams from around the country.  All those teams had a beginning to the basketball season.  They all worked hard to get to the NCAA tournament.  I am sure all 64 teams were thrilled that they made the tournament.  That was the end that the beginning produced.  Once in the tournament it was a new beginning for the teams involved which produced both joyous and sad endings depending on whether they won or lost.    

       Life is a constant routine of beginnings and endings.  While endings don’t always turn out as we hope, without there being a beginning there is no possibility of any kind of ending.  From that standpoint an ending is better than a beginning.   

       Solomon says patience is better than pride.  Pride is associated with defense of ego.  Ego often gets in the way of making a right decision.  We all know that pride can get in the way of doing what is best while patience can facilitate a measured and careful result.   Pride stands in the way of considering all the possible dynamics of an issue whereas patience allows for a careful consideration of all the variables involved and thus leads to a better possible solution to a problem.  

       Pride interferes with objectively viewing a matter which often leads to a rush to judgement whereas patience allows for an objective examination of detail and contributes to administration of a verdict based on all the evidence.  Many individuals have been wrongly convicted of a crime because prosecutors were more intent on winning a case and satisfying their prideful ego than patiently examining all the evidence in a case.

       Ecclesiastes 7:9: Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.

       Anger is a normal passion of human nature.  It is not a sin to become angry.  The Scriptures show Jesus became angry with the religious leaders of his day.  Paul’s comments directed toward the abstinent Jews who were persecuting the developing Christian community shows Paul was angry with them.

       Mark 3:4: Then Jesus asked them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.

       Solomon appears to be discussing anger from the standpoint of it becoming a life style.  We all know people with a quick trigger.  This may include some of us.  A quick triggered person is someone who flies off the handle at the least provocation.  For such a person anger is seemingly always at hand, seemingly ever present.  Such quick triggered response to the issues of life is very problematic.  It usually gives evidence to underlying discontent and general unhappiness with life and ones station in life.  It often reflects deep seated resentments and failed aspirations.  These are all roots of anger that must be addressed in order to make any headway in dealing with the problem.

       We all know how anger can result in behavior that leads to results that we later may be sorry for but the damage has already been done.  When quick temperedness is a strong attribute of ones nature it can lead to devastating results.  Human altercations of all kinds spring from quick temperedness.  Road rage, bar fights and spousal abuse are just a few of the consequences of quick temperedness.  Solomon rightly said:

       Proverbs 29:22: An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.

       Again, we must keep in mind that anger, in and of itself, is not sin.  Rightly directed, anger can be helpful in identifying and correcting sin.  The Scriptures show God to be angry with sin and He wants us to be angry with sin as well.  The key is for us to keep anger controlled and not allow anger to control us.  Solomon sums it up nicely in the Proverbs.

       Proverbs 16:32: He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city (KJV).

       Now Solomon moves on to a different issue.  Chapter 7 of Ecclesiastics is rather eclectic.  Solomon, as he does in the Proverbs, moves from one issue to another and simply makes pithy statements reflecting his own experiences and what he has seen of life.

       Ecclesiastics 7:10:  Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions.

       We sometimes like to look back on the past and compare it with the present.  Those of us in our 70’s like to look at the 1950’s and think of how great a decade that was.  Eisenhower was in the White House and the nation was at peace.  Bill Hayley was singing "Rock Around The Clock" and Elvis was swinging his hips on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Pat Boon and Connie Francis were crooning love songs and Bob Hope and George Burns were making us laugh.  It seemed to be a happy time when life just flowed along.  In many respects life was seemingly better when compared with the present.  

       We could offer up a number of reasons why we think the 50’s were better than the present.  We could point to there being in the 50’s shows liked Father Knows Best and Ozzie and Harriet where Family values and morality were promoted in comparison to today’s sitcoms that feature adultery, fornication and homosexuality.  We could point to the 50’s as a time when parents, teachers and other authority figures were treated with respect and schools were places of learning as opposed to the "zoo’s" many of them are today.  We could point to the 50’s as a time when the drug culture was virtually unknown as compared to today when mind altering drugs are commonly used and even legal in several states.

       On the other hand, human nature was still human nature in the 50’s as it is today. While adultery, fornication and homosexuality were not openly promoted, you can bit it was still going on behind closed doors as it has been going on for centuries.  People were still lying and cheating and sinning in a variety of ways.  

       The NET Bible foot notes “For it is not wise to ask such questions” with "Heb. “It is not from wisdom that you ask about this.”  Most other translations appear to better reflect the Hebrew.

       “for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this” (KJV ).

       “for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this (ASV).

        “For it is not from wisdom that you ask this”  (RSV).   

       Solomon appears to be saying it is not with wisdom you ask such a question.  You are not asking this question with the proper level of knowledge and perspective. Why would Solomon say this?  In John Gill's Exposition of the Bible Mr. Gill says this about this statement of Solomon’s:

       for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this:  this is owing to ignorance of former times; which, if rightly inquired into, or the true knowledge of them could be come at, it would appear that they were no better than the present; and that there were always bad men, and bad things done; frauds, oppressions, and violence, and everything that can be complained of now:

       What Gill is saying is that while things may appear to have been better in the past, the same uncontrolled passions of human nature were at work and always have been.  Therefore, while the past may always appear to be better for some it is anything but better for others.  Let’s return to the 1950’s.   The Korean War was fought from 1950 to 1953.   The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action or prisoners of war.  Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW's.  Those numbers outstrip deaths, wounded and missing in action by a significant amount over Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  For the millions of families impacted by the Korean War, it was not a good time.

       From 1953 to 1959 was the Cuban revolution which resulted in the establishment of a communist country 90 miles from Florida.  There was the war over the Suez Canal in 1956 and the Algerian war which began in 1954.  On August 15, 1950, an earthquake and floods in India killed 574 and left 5,000,000 homeless.  On August 19, 1955, Hurricane Diane hit the northeastern United States, killing over 200 people, and causing over one billion in damage.  On June 27, 1957 Hurricane Audrey demolished Cameron Louisiana, killing 400 people.

       While the 50’s may have seemed like a time of relative peace and prosperity for the average American, it was anything but that for those directly affected by the Korean War, other wars in the world, weather disasters and other such events.

       I think what Solomon was saying is that we need to look deeper than what we sometimes tend to do in drawing conclusions about the past versus the present.  We tend to see things through the eyes of our own limited experience and draw conclusions based on our own little world of events and activities.  In failing to see and consider what others are experiencing and going through we tend to get a distorted view of the world and subsequently draw conclusions that simply are not valid.  

       Whether he intended it or not, Solomon is actually revealing a very important principle by which we should live.  The principle he is revealing is that we need to be very careful as to how we arrive at conclusions.  People too many times draw conclusions that don’t necessarily follow from the facts.  When I was in college majoring in philosophy we early on learned about something called a non sequitur.  Non sequitur is a Latin term that means the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.  You would be surprised how often people engage in non sequiturs without realizing it.  

       One area plagued by non sequiturs is theology.  This in part explains why we have so many different perspectives as to what the Bible says.  There are two basic approaches to Bible study which are best explained by the two Greek words exegesis and eisegesis.  Exegesis is where great care is taken to consider the circumstances extant when a document was written, who it was written to or for and what it meant to those to whom it was originally written to.  Eisegesis, on the hand, is the process of interpreting a text or portion of text in such a way that it introduces one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases into and onto the text. This is commonly referred to as reading into the text.  

       While exegesis draws out the meaning from a text in accordance with the context and consideration of audience relevance (what did it mean to the original audience), eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. As a result, exegesis tends to be objective while eisegesis is regarded as highly subjective.  Unfortunately a lot of Bible Study is based on eisegesis rather than exegesis. 

       We will continue next time beginning with verses 11 and 12.