part 16 – the scheme of things (Ecc 7:19-29)
This morning we continue through Ecclesiastes, picking up in chapter 7, where we left off in verse 19.
This verse indicates the superlative excellence of wisdom. We have already discussed this, but as a refresher, the book of Proverbs, especially Chapter 3 makes this clear:
Prov 3:13-15 & 21-22
13 Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her…
Now, we see the teacher says in v19
19 Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful than ten rulers in a city.
Last time we discussed Ecc 7:15-18, we noted the connection between righteousness and wisdom. The two just seem to go hand in hand. They are often mentioned together within the same context especially within the wisdom literature.
While the Teacher encourages wisdom and encourages righteousness, it’s good to lay hold of one and not let go of the other, we will see that both wisdom and righteousness are not available to humans in their full capacity. In other words, we are limited, indeed we are finite. Our wisdom only goes so far; we are not infinitely wise, nor can we be. He will touch on this in vv 23-24. Our righteousness only goes so far. As he says in verse 20
20 Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.
One of the teacher’s observations is that there is no human being who is perfect, no one who has never sinned. This is Ecclesiastes’ version of Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Yes, walk in righteousness, the Teacher encourages his audience, but remember, aside from Jesus Christ, there is no human who can walk in perfection, so this should do a few things for us:
1. Humble us (we realize that we are part of the all)
2. Encourage us to be gracious to the others who are part of the all
One huge way that people fall short, one huge blemish on the record when it comes to the righteousness of humanity has to do with the tongue.
2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by Gehenna.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
The tongue has the power of life and death. On the one hand it has the ability to bring nourishment and healing and empowerment to people. On the other hand it has the power to belittle, damage emotions and discourage.
James says that if we were never at fault in what we said we would have the power to keep the whole body in check but this little thing called the tongue is something that no man has tamed.
As our teacher says in Ecc 7:20 there is not a righteous man on earth who always does what is right and never sins. And look at what he says next. Based on what James says about the tongue, it’s not very surprising:
21 Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you— No one is perfectly righteous and without sin. In fact, if you pay attention to everything people say, you will see evidence of this flaw. You will see evidence of the tongue at work.
Now, I believe this is more than an observation. I believe this is good advice to help us to live a balanced life.
We have touched on the importance of a good name, a good reputation and its value. Chapter 7 began in verse 1 with the words: A good name is better than fine perfume. And this is supported by Proverbs 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
Thus, on one hand, we should care what people think about us and what they say about us.
Yes, live the kind of life that warrants a good reputation. BUT, on the other hand, we should not pay attention to every word people say because people don’t always say nice things. They have this nasty little thing called the tongue; with it they praise God and yet curse man who was made in God’s image. No matter how righteous of a life we live, no matter how carefully we walk, no matter how much integrity we show, people are still going to find something to say, whether it is some nitpicky thing in which they are simply airing their own subjective opinions or some fabricated falsehood, some slander, or juicy gossip.
CH Spurgeon told his pastoral students that the minister ought to have one blind eye and one deaf ear. You cannot stop people’s tongues and therefore the best thing to do is to stop your own ear and never mind what is spoken. There is a world of idle chitchat abroad, and he who takes note of it will have enough to do.
So yes, do care about your reputation and do what is in your power to live a life worthy of a good name, but you and I don’t have the power to control what other people say, so don’t paytoo much attention to it. In fact, not only can we not control what others say, according to James we have a hard enough time controlling what we say.
21 Do not pay attention to every word people say,
or you may hear your servant cursing you—
22 for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others.
This is where the humility and grace comes in. Before we get too bent out of shape about what someone has said about us, let’s examine the words that have come out of our mouths, what we have said about others because it probably hasn’t always been sugar and spice and everything nice.
Now, this isn’t in the text, but I thought it may be an appropriate place to interject a suggestion. One of the things I try to practice is honoring the absent. I’m human like you and I have one of these little tongues as well, so I’m not perfect at this, but one thing I strive to do is when I speak of someone who isn’t in the room, I always try to speak of them as if they were in the room. I ask myself, “Would I say this if that person were present?” I find that to be a helpful way to practice the whole do to others as you would have them do to you.
I know that I wouldn’t want someone to speak ill of me behind my back, so I try my best to honor others in the same way. If I have a problem with someone, I make it my ambition to speak about that problem with that person instead of complaining about them to others and I strive to say in the absence of others only what I would say in their presence.
SO, IT’S GOOD TO LAY HOLD OF ONE AND NOT LET GO OF THE OTHER. STRIVE FOR WISDOM, STRIVE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, BUT REMEMBER, THEY ARE LIMITED.
Looked at the limitation of righteousness. All have sinned. No one is perfect and never sins and the evidence lies no further than the tongue. Thus, righteousness is limited. What about wisdom?
23 All this I tested by wisdom and I said,
“I am determined to be wise”—
but this was beyond me.
24 Whatever exists is far off and most profound—
who can discover it?
This, I believe indicates that while we should pursue wisdom, we should keep in mind that we are finite and cannot grasp all that there is to know. In fact, the truly wise man gets this. The wise person is able to say (and mean) I still have a lot to learn.
The famous Greek philosopher, Plato said “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
True wisdom possesses the humility to recognize one’s limitations.
In fact, if we were to have continued reading in James 3, we would find that he connects humility with wisdom. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
So the teacher turned his mind to seeking out wisdom. He was determined to be wise, but found that it was beyond him. It was profound. Nonetheless, he pursued what he could. Continuing in the text:
25 So I turned my mind to understand,
to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
and the madness of folly.
Sometimes, one of the best ways to understand something is by analyzing its antithesis, exploring its opposite. In the pursuit of wisdom and righteousness, he investigated the scheme of things and in the process sought to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly.
If you have been reading through the book of proverbs, you will have a hard time walking away without coming to the conclusion that wickedness is stupid and folly is madness.
And what example does he now move into? What illustration does he give? He says in v26:
26 I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.
It’s as if he says, look, this wickedness, this folly, this madness, you know what lies at the apex of it all? The woman who ensnares a man. Now, this verse (v26) is a bit vague; it is left open to interpretation. However, if I may venture a suggestion, I would say that the Proverbs 7 woman is the subject to which this text refers.
7 My son, keep my words
and store up my commands within you.
2 Keep my commands and you will live;
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
3 Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.”
5 They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words.
6 At the window of my house
I looked down through the lattice.
7 I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
8 He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
9 at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.
10 Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
11 (She is unruly and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
12 now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
13 She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:
14 “Today I fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
15 So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
16 I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
17 I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
18 Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
19 My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
20 He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”
21 With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
22 All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer[a] stepping into a noose[b]
23 till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.
24 Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.
25 Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
26 Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
27 Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.
I believe this is the woman he refers to when he says:
26 I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.
Who was it that she ensnared but the youth who lacked judgment.
27 “Look,” says the Teacher, “this is what I have discovered:
“Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things—
28 while I was still searching
but not finding—
Remember, he is searching out wisdom, having noted that it is complex, that no one can come to a comprehensive understanding of the entire scope of things, that the ocean of wisdom is too wide and deep, that the scheme of things is beyond him, he continues his search, noting:
I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them all.
Let’s close in prayer.
Just kidding. This portion of the text is a bit tricky to deal with.
The first point to note is that the word “upright” is not literally in the text.
The YLT reads 28 (that still my soul had sought, and I had not found), One man, a teacher, I have found, and a woman among all these I have not found.
Most commentaries point out that the implication is there, that though the word “upright” is not in the text, it is implied. Nonetheless, it is worth mentioning, because that may have some bearing on our interpretation.
There is a wide variety of interpretations.
One view says that this is simply The Teacher’s observations, that in his sampling of society, he found only one upright man amongst a thousand and not one upright woman. Those who take Solomon to be the author believe that this refers to his own intimate relationships. 1 Kings 11:3 He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. That adds up to 1000 – perhaps Solomon’s sampling of females with no such luck.
Those holding that view would say that this is simply what the teacher observed and not necessarily representative of the entire picture. In other words, if he observed 2000 men, he may have found five upright men and if he observed 2000 women, he may have found 1000 upright women.
Another view says that the distinction between men and women is inconsequential and that the point is the human tendency toward depravity.
Another view says that all of mankind aside from Jesus is void of righteousness. This view would see the number 1000 as a number of completion (which, it is), and that among the entirety of the human race, both men and women, no one is upright except for the one man, Jesus Christ; this view would take a prophetic approach.
In case you’re wondering where I stand, well, I see some merit in every one of these. I don’t know that I see much prophetic flavor anywhere else in Ecclesiastes, so it’s hard for me to see the Christ view because I don’t believe that by “upright” he means perfect, I believe he means “upright” in the sense that Joseph, Mary’s husband was, and Job, and Noah. And if I put myself in the shoes of a woman and read this text, it’s hard for me to simply overlook the distinction made between man and woman. My reply to that would be: if his point was simply that all mankind tends toward depravity, why have statements dedicated to men and women distinctively?
Those are some of the issues I see, but as far as anything conclusive? The jury is still out. I have to suspend judgment on this one. But I won’t let what I don’t know rob me of what I do know and that is that v29 says:
29 This only have I found:
God created mankind upright,
but they have gone in search of many schemes.”
Now, I believe that this points back to creation. God made Adam upright, but he (and his descendants after him) went astray. Adam followed Eve into the deception of the serpentbecause he believed the lie that the forbidden fruit would be good for him though God forbade it. It will make you wise, like God; you will have knowledge of good and evil.
And whether this has anything to do with the verse, I’m not sure, so I’ll let you be the judge of how or whether you even want to consider this, but Warren Wiersbe points out the following: “Created in the image of God, man has the ability to understand and harness the forces God put into nature, but he doesn’t always use this ability in constructive ways. Each forward step in science seems to open up a Pandora’s box of new problems for the world, until we now find ourselves with the problems of polluted air and water and depleted natural resources. And besides that, man has used his abilities to devise alluring forms of sin that are destroying individuals and nations.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for science. Science and technology are inherently good, but in many ways mankind has gone after schemes, many of which are driven by money, so those upon whom we rely to provide us food have processed it in very unnatural ways with cost-effective modifications. Often times what we consume does us more harm than good and it is driven by money – those who have gone after schemes.
But, there is a solution – others who have gone after schemes can provide pharmaceutical solutions, another world driven by the almighty dollar; there is a pill for everything. But medical assistance costs a small fortune these days and the whole healthcare Obamacare – I wonder how often people would truly need to visit the doctor if not for the schemes.
Technology is great, but if we aren’t careful with it and use it properly, it may not be beneficial to us. I was in McDonald’s one day studying and I looked up and saw a group of 5 or 6 teenage girls and every single one of them was like this (on their phones) hardly said a word to one another. The last two times I took my kids to the park, I intentionally left my phone at home. If I had my phone with me yesterday, I would have probably been answering emails and texts and I would have missed out on the beautiful conversation between Jordan and Luke.
Men have gone after many schemes. While some aren’t beneficial to us, some are downright deadly. Consider schemes like the arms race. Let’s see who can develop the best weapons.
Science and technology are great, but when employed by mankind with wrong motives, they can be destructive and deadly.
The teacher brings to light that while we should strive to lay hold of both wisdom and righteousness, we are limited in both pursuits. In both ventureswe will fall short. We cannot attain to the level of all of the wisdom in existence, for if we did, we would be God. We would be like God in the way that Eve was tempted to be, in the way that the builders of the tower of babel attempted to be. Our pursuit of wisdom should be balanced. Wisdom is beneficial in life, it preserves life and blesses one’s life but it should not be sought after in an unhealthy pursuit of schemes.
While we cannot attain the full measure of wisdom, we do have a clear path for the beginning of wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The fear of the LORD will set us on a healthy journey toward wisdom and guide our path so that we take the balanced approach. And we do have anoutline of what Biblical wisdom looks like: James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Not only are we unable to attain to the full measure of wisdom, but we are also limited in the area of righteousness. This should humble us and move us to be gracious with the shortcomings of others and drive us to Christ that we may be found righteous in him and in him alone, that by trusting in him by faith to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, in a judicial sense, Christ takes on our imperfection, our sin, and we are imputed with His righteousness.
Let us begin, therefore, with the fear of God. As Paul says in 1 Cor 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.