Sermons & Sunday Schools

In Wisdom’s Shadow

In this sermon, Pastor Dave Capoccia looks at the introductory poem to the second half of Ecclesiastes articulating true wisdom’s narrow way. In Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, Solomon provides five poignant comparisons to show how wisdom, while not ultimate, makes life better.

1. Facing Death Is Better Than Chasing Fun (vv. 1-4)
2. Rebuke Is Better Than Revelry (vv. 5-7)
3. Patience Is Better Than Protest (vv. 8-10)
4. Wisdom Is Better Than Wealth (vv. 11-12)
5. Reverence Is Better Than Rebellion (vv. 13-14)

Full Transcript:

As I thinking about the passage that we are going to be looking at today, my mind was drawn to one of the profound images that Jesus uses to describe the Christian life. The Christian life, Jesus says, is like entering through a small gate and walking on a narrow way. There are surely many significant aspects to that double metaphor, but the one that Jesus emphasizes most in that figure, in the sermon on the mount, is that there are few who find the right way, and there are also few who keep to it.

I think this metaphor also well describes the situation when it comes to the message of the book of Ecclesiastes. This is the book that we’ve been studying together. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon presents for us a narrow but wise way to live life in a fallen world. But this way is frequently missed and people frequently wander from it. I told you before, even in the introduction to Ecclesiastes, that many people, even commentators, pastors, they misinterpret, they fundamentally misunderstand, what Solomon actually teaches in this book. On the one side, you have people who see Solomon as nothing more than a depressed cynic, with all his comment about how everything in life is vanity. Solomon is basically teaching that life is meaningless and there’s no such thing as true wisdom. God has made real happiness impossible in this life. So just do whatever you can to numb the pain of existence until you receive the sweet release of death. So that’s on the one side.

But on the other side of the path, you have many people who make Solomon out to basically be a prosperity preacher, because sure, he has a lot of depressing things to say in his book, but people think it’s only applied to those who don’t know God because hey, you know the catchy phrase – you can live life under the sun s-u-n, or you can live life under the son s-o-n. Without Jesus life is frustrating. It’s painful, tragic, empty. But with Jesus, life is fulfilling. It’s blessed. You’re protected. If you just obey God and apply His wisdom, all your dreams can come true and no real calamity will ever befall you.

Both of these understandings, they actually miss the way. They miss what Solomon is truly advocating. And what is that? What is he actually teaching? That life is indeed vapor. It is the vaporest of vapors, as he said Ecclesiastes 1:2, and that’s true for everybody. Everything on earth has been changed. It has been cursed. It has been made broken by man’s fall into sin, and all of us must deal with those consequences, Christian and non-Christian. All things have been made fundamentally impermanent, insubstantial, and even incomprehensible – you can’t fully wrap your mind around it. There’s no scientific, philosophical, or theological discovery that’s going to change this situation. We’re not going to fix this world. No one can even know with certainty what tomorrow will bring, except that eventually each one of us will die and pass into eternity.

That’s all true, but that doesn’t mean that life is meaningless, that wisdom is worthless, or that joy is impossible. We may not be able to reverse the curse state of this world right now. The Lord will do that eventually when Christ comes. But we can embrace a perspective that allows us to make the most out of life. What is that perspective? That’s what Solomon is teaching us. The persepctive that we must take is the one that Solomon has been directing us toward in the first half of Ecclesiastes. We’ve looked at this together, the first six chapters. It’s this – we must on the one hand stop searching for ultimate gain in the things and experiences of the world. They’re vapors. They’re not going to do it for us. If we will stop doing that and humble ourselves before God and accept the lot, whatever lot He has given us in his perfect sovereignty, then we can walk in wisdom. We can avoid many of life’s pitfalls. We can rejoice greatly in the good gifts that we’ve received from God, even in this broken world. And we can follow God and faith-filled obedience, knowing that we will still face death, but God will vindicate us after death in the world to come, when He sets everything right.

I know that was kind of a lot of words to summarize this prospective, so let me say it more concisely. And this connects with the sermon title I’m using for today. All of us, Christian or non-Christian, must live life out under the sun. But life is better when you live it in wisdom’s shadow. That’s the title – in wisdom’s shadow. In Ecclesiastes 1-6, Solomon has emphasized for us the first half of the truly wise respective – our need to let go of our natural obsession with finding ultimate gain, lasting gain, in the things of the world. But now as he proceeded into Ecclesiastes 7 to 12, we see the second half of the truly wise perspective more emphasized, and that is our need to walk in humility, contentment, and the fear of God to find blessing.

Now as the first half of the book, the second half of the book begins with a poem. And that’s what I’d like to look at with you this morning. So if you haven’t yet, open your Bibles please to Ecclesiastes 7:1-14. Let’s read the Lord’s word to us. This is the very word and breath and wisdom of God.

A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

It 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.

Sorrow is better than laughter, for when the face is sad a heart may be happy.

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Is it better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.

For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool; and this too is futility.

For oppression makes a wise man mad, and a bribe corrupts the heart.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.

Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.

Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you asked about this.

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good and an advantage to those who see the sun.

For wisdom is protection just as money as protection, but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserve the lines of its possessors.

Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?

In 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.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is this repetition of the words good and better. They’re actually the same word in Hebrew. In Hebrew, if you want to say that something is better, you just say more good than. Solomon is telling us repeatedly what is good in life, and what is more good than something else. That’s a little odd. And why? Because we just glanced back to the previous chapter. Solomon ask at the end of chapter 6 verse 12, who knows what is good for a man with the few years of his fleeting life? The expected answer there, that’s a rhetorical question, expected answer is no one does. No one knows what’s good. You think somebody’s got the secret to good? I’ll tell you – they don’t.

Also, you may notice that in this poem, Solomon identifies something that is an advantage for man in this world. You see that in verse 11 and 12. What’s the advantage to man? Wisdom, wisdom is an advantage. That word advantage, it can also be translated gain or profit. Now that’s a little odd too because didn’t Solomon just say in Ecclesiastes 6:11 regarding man’s supposedly wise pondering and speaking, trying to figure things out, what then is the advantage or the profit to man? And all this thinking, pondering, speaking, what’s the advantage? Expected answer – there is none. It’s all a bunch of wasted words.

But now Solomon says there is an advantage. Okay. What’s going on, is this a contradiction in the Bible? Is the Bible broken? No. This is Solomon’s careful articulation of what I was thinking about in the beginning – the narrow way of wisdom. You see, in this vaporous world, wisdom’s power is limited, but it is still there, and it still beneficial. Wisdom cannot do all that you would like it to do. It cannot free you totally from the brokenness of this world. But wisdom can help you to some extent, and it can cause you to experience a measure of good in this world. Not ultimate good, but genuine, temporal good. It’s like what Solomon said back in Ecclesiastes 2 verses 13 and 14. Solomon’s commenting on his own search for wisdom. He said,

And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.

Make no mistake, the Scriptures declare repeatedly – wisdom is an invaluable treasure. We just read from Proverbs 3 earlier in the service. Wisdom is precious. You should seek it out. But remember that even the wise will still die and experience trials and tragedies. So Solomon wants us to prioritize wisdom, but not idolize wisdom. That’s what he’s telling us here in this introductory poem, and that’s really what he’s going to explain further as we keep going in Ecclesiastes. Prioritize, but don’t idolize wisdom.

Here’s the main idea of our passage today in this introduction to the second half of Ecclesiastes. Solomon provides five poignant comparisons. I’m grouping the comparison based on idea and theme to show how wisdom, while not ultimate, makes life better. Five poignant comparisons to show how wisdom, while not ultimate, makes life better.

We’ll look at each of these comparisons as we work our way back through the text. We’ll start with the first in verses 1 to 4. Number one – facing death is better than chasing fun. Facing death is better than chasing fun. We’ll start with just verse one:

A good name is better than a good ointment, and the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

Okay, that’s a little provocative of an opener. The first part of it is not provocative. It’s a common proverb actually. When Solomon says a good name, that is a good reputation or a good legacy, is better than good ointment – think precious fragrance oil, that was actually a pretty commonly accepted idea. Precious oil, fragrance oil, that was considered a luxury item in ancient times, quite valuable, quite enjoyable. But a good reputation, that’s far more valuable. You can buy perfume but you can’t buy a good reputation. Even Proverb 22:1 says:

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.

People get that. Then comes the second part of verse one. Just as a good name is so much better than precious fragrant oil, Solomon says – so the day of death is so much better than the day of being born. I think it’s safe to say that the second assertion does not readily compute. How can the day of death be better than the day of birth? Death is terrible. Solomon, you’ve been telling us all about that. Birth is wonderful. Solomon, have you lost it? Well here, it’s useful to remember something fundamental to Hebrew proverbs. The lines of this poem are written as Hebrew proverbs, so it’s really a series of proverbs. One fundamental aspect of Hebrew proverb is that you need to ponder them. There’s a riddle-like nature to proverbs. You can’t just read a proverb quickly and assume that you totally understand it. some are simpler and more comprehensible than others. But fundamentally, proverbs are meant for you to think about, to wrestle with. They will provoke your thinking a little bit and you just have to keep working on it. And so it is here. We’re supposed to ask ourselves – wait, in what way is the day of death far better than the day of birth? Now, we’re helped our mental wrestling with this riddle by going on to verse 2. Look at what verse 2 says,

It 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.

Now we’re beginning to see in what sense the day of death is far better than the day of birth. The day of death is far more instructive to a person than the day of birth and more sobering to his heart. Verse two mentions two houses, the house of mourning where a funeral celebration would take place, and the house of feasting which would be the banquet hall where wedding celebrations take place. Now Solomon has got nothing against weddings or even against birthdays necessarily. These are not bad things. They have their place. They should be enjoyed. But which location, house of mourning or the house of feasting, is going to promote greater wisdom? Which is going to better orient the heart to face life? Clearly, it is the house of mourning. Funerals are a preview of our own fate. It’s something that we need to see and need to think about and need to take the heart.

Someone might ask – but funerals are not enjoyable. Wouldn’t I be happier ignoring death and just having fun? Well look at verse 3 now:

Sorrow is better than laughter, for when the face is sad a heart may be happy.

This is an interesting assertion. Solomon suggests, if happiness, true happiness, is what you’re really after, then you won’t find it by avoiding reality. You won’t find it in escapism, just trying to run away. You actually find it by facing reality and accepting the world for what it is.

Now we all know that laughter is enjoyable. Any of us really despised laughing, don’t ever want to laugh? Probably not, but laughter is shallow and fleeting. I enjoy a good joke probably just as much as any of you do, but if you just listen to jokes all day, after a while you’re kind of like – this is kind of empty. True gladness of heart doesn’t come by looking for shallow laughter. It comes by actually facing a certain kind of grief and vexation. Solomon says, let trouble show on your face and your heart can be happy.

You say – can you explain a little bit more, Solomon? What’s he talking about? Well again, this is a proverb. You are supposed to ponder it. You just got to think about it. But again, to help you speed up this process for all of us, let’s remember what Solomon has already taught us in Ecclesiastes 1 to 6 about death.

Death is a great tragedy. It is an evil in our world. It doesn’t belong here. But it’s here. And unless we face this terrible fact, we will live for things that cannot last or be satisfied. Unless we accept the truth about our own soon coming death, we will become distracted by experiences and activities. It ultimately mean nothing. They mean nothing in this world and they’ll mean nothing in the life to come. Also unless we let the reality of death humble our hearts, we’ll never learn to actually enjoy the many good gifts that God gives us in this life because we’ll always think we need more. We don’t have time to enjoy now. We need more before we can actually rest. We can’t be grateful. We can’t enjoy. Death forces us to reevaluate that stance. I tell you, it’s a strange fact, but only in facing our deaths that we really learned to live. Death really shouldn’t leave Christians dower and depressed. Rather, as Solomon says, a temporarily sad face lead to a happy and contented heart.

But as we know, the world largely doesn’t accept this wisdom. And so we have the situation described in verse four. Look there:

The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, while the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Notice in these verses, Solomon clarifies that it’s not the person but it is the mind that is in each house. You don’t actually have to go to a funeral to get the benefit that Solomon is describing. In a sense, it’s really just your mind that needs to go to the funeral, so to speak. Your heart has to face and grapple with the reality of your own death. Now most people don’t want to do this. They don’t want the face death. They don’t want to face God, whom they will face after death. So they flee funeral. They flee churches. And they just look for fun. They drown their anxieties about life and death in a hundred different pleasurable diversions and projects. Under no circumstances will they allow their hearts to go to the house of mourning. But in so doing, Solomon says that these people show themselves to be what? Fools. This is what fools do. They’re only doing what is counterproductive for their own happiness and for their own souls. They’re exchanging true happiness for a shallow alternative. They’re refusing to walk in true wisdom. Death and God’s judgment will still find them, but they won’t be ready for it.

That is a tragic state to be in. But the question that this whole observation provokes for us is – where is our heart? Do we, in one sense, dwell in the house of mourning, or is it the house of feasting? Have we faced the great trouble that is our death, but have we faced it God’s way and found true happiness? Or do we try to ignore death with various kinds of merriment and work, and thereby show ourselves to be great fools. Wisdom cannot deliver you from death’s fact. But wisdom can help you learn death’s lesson so that you live well.

So here’s our first poignant comparison, showing us why we should look for wisdom, why we should seek wisdom. Facing death is better than chasing fun. Our second poignant comparison appears in verses 5 to 7. Number two – rebuke is better than revelry. Rebuke is better than revelry. Let’s look at verse 5 to start:

It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man than for one to listen to the song of fools.

In many ways, this proverb fits with and says the same as what came before in verses 1 to 4. Notice how Solomon is taking the previous principal and made it more general. Wisdom doesn’t just help you face the hard fact of death. Wisdom helps you face many of the important truths of life that you would rather not. And notice another difference here – the hard but necessary truths, they come to us via personal agents. That is, we’re not just facing situations or realities in verse 5, but actual people. Solomon is saying – better to have wise people around you who will tell you the hard truths than to just hang out with foolish partygoers who just like to sing songs.

We could see a similarity between the situation in verse 5 and verses 1 to 4. In both case, we have a choice between something that is initially more pleasant and something that is only more pleasant in the end, more productive in the end. I think we would all agree, even silly songs can be a lot of fun. I mean, just ask Larry from VeggieTales. But what is going to bless your life more in the end? What’s going to make you happier in the end – a time of singing silly songs, or heeding a rebuke that you needed to hear? It’s the latter case. And this is the big difference between wisdom and folly. Though wisdom can be hard in the beginning, it results in greater blessing in the end. Whereas folly is pleasant in the beginning, but results in uselessness and hardship in the end.

This point is underscored by the first part of verse 6. You can look there now:

For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool;

The point of this proverb will be more readily understandable if we think about doing a bonfire outside. I actually recently did one with Ema and her family an evening last week. And during the bonfire, we thought we put some yard waste on top of the fire. This consisted of bush clipping, some grass, and some other light materials. And what was interesting is that when we put these over the flame, these light bits of plants, they erupted in bright fire instantly, but they finished burning in about 10 seconds and they provided no real lasting benefits of fire to any of us sitting around it. Solomon says – so it is with the shallow merrymaking of fools. Though the laughter can burn bright and even make a lot of noise. Some plants when you put them in the fire, they crackle a bit kind of like the cackling of laughter. But this light and noise of laughter is over in an instant with no substantial benefit.

So Solomon asks us, will you really choose useless laughter over the sober and useful rebukes of wise companions? Indeed, if you want to have the blessed life, you need to think about the kind of companions you have. I mean, do that now. Are your companions wise people who rebuke you, or are they just fools who laugh with you? Are those companions around you substantive wood that burns long and provides real light and heat, or are they just nettles under the kettle – a brief and useless snap crackle and pop.

Wisdom says choose rebuke over revelry, and you’ll be blessed in the end. Proverbs says the same. Proverbs 27:6:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

And Proverbs 15:31:

He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

Consider how useful reproof is. But then the end of verse six going into verse 7 gives us a kind of a puzzling situation. Look at those lines now:

And this too is futility. For oppression makes a wise man mad, and a bribe corrupts the heart.

Without verse 7, I think we’d be inclined to say that the phrase about futility at the end of verse 6, a phrase we’ve seen many times before. This is that trademark – this also is vanity or this also is vapor, hevel. We would think that this applies to the laughter of fools. This is worthless laughter. It’s vapor, it’s vanity. But, verse seven starts with the word for, and that’s a word that indicates that what is about to be given is a reason for what was just said. What was just said? This also is vanity. What’s the reason that Solomon says that? The reason is oppression or extortion. It can make a wise man mad, or we could say foolish. It can turn a wise man into a fool. A bribe also is able to corrupt or destroy someone’s heart.

What’s Solomon saying? It’s not impossible for good and wise men to be wrong or to even become corrupted. If they’re oppressed, if they’re given a bribe, even wise men can go astray. And Solomon’s not original in this. God said the same thing in Moses’s Torah – Deuteronomy 16:19. God says:

You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.

Verse seven then, it shows us that the phrase about vapor or futility at the end of verse 6 doesn’t simply apply to the useless laughing companions, but even to the wise. There’s a vapor-like quality even to wise counsel. Wise companions are good and you should seek them out over foolish revelers. But don’t over rely on even the most godly because they can and sometimes will fail you. As many have said, don’t forget that your favorite Christian heroes are still made of clay. So are you and so am I. You can see then how Solomon is keeping us on the narrow way of wisdom. If you want to be blessed, don’t neglect wise companions, but also don’t over rely on them either.

Now, this second point of comparison actually flows nicely into our third, which appears in verses 8 to 10. So, let’s look at that now. We’ve seen secondly – rebuke is better than revelry. But number three – patience is better than protest. Patience is better than protest. We’ll take verses 8 and 9 together.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning; patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools.

Considering that verses 1 to 4, considering their emphasis on dealing with death, we might think that verse 8 is basically the same message. Solomon is going back to the same theme. The end of the matter, namely death, is better than the beginning. But the context of verses 8 and 9, maybe you’ll notice, is different. The main idea here is the idea of patience. Patience is being highlighted and the benefit of patience.

So many of the good things in life require patience. They require great investments of time and hard work, even pain, before we are able to reap the reward. But are humans naturally patient? Not at all. We typically hate getting stuck in traffic. We hate waiting in line. We hate persevering in arduous work. And we hate saying no to our desires and cravings. And why? Not simply because it’s difficult or unpleasant or painful, but more fundamentally, because we feel like we deserve better. Why should I be the one that gets stuck in traffic? Why should I have to do this difficult task after I got home from work? I just worked all day. There is a direct connection between pride and impatience. Because we so often have exalted views of ourselves, we think that we should have whatever we want whenever we want. Any situation in which we are forced to wait and endure feels like a fundamental injustice. But because so many good things in life require waiting, what do impatient ones often do? They blow up in anger or they give up in disgust.

But consider how God’s wisdom directs us to act differently. The end of a matter is better than its beginning, Solomon says. Beginnings are great. Everyone loves to start something new. It’s fresh, interesting, full of possibility. But then when you actually proceed on, you’re like – it’s getting hard. And that’s when we’re tempted to give up or protest, but Solomon says don’t. Keep going. The end will be even better than the beginning. There’s usually a good result at the end of a worthy project. If you persevere through the hard times, you put in the necessary work, you wait with self-control, generally you will find blessing.

Therefore, if you want to be happy, if you want to have the best life, you want to make the most of this life, you have to give up the haughty I demand it now spirit. And that is the spirit of our culture, isn’t it? I shouldn’t have to work for it. I deserve it now. God respond – no, you don’t, and that’s not the way I designed this world. If you want to be blessed, give up your arrogant, or literally the text here is tall. Give up your tall spirit, and embrace a patient, or literally long spirit. You want a long spirit, not a tall spirit.

Another reason we’re often tempted towards prideful impatience is that we believe that there’s something out there that we need and don’t have. There’s some necessary profit or gain in the things of the world or the experiences of the world that we are being denied. That’s why we get upset. But by now we know, Solomon has shown us, there is no such gain in the world. There is nothing so necessary out there that you don’t already have for your happiness. And what limited gain there is in the world, it doesn’t come by impatience, it comes by humility. That’s the gain of wisdom. Thus there’s a kind of an irony here. In the impatience from many to find gain, they give up the only gain that’s actually available, which is the gain of wisdom.

So Solomon warns us in verse 9 – if you find yourself impatiently angry, realize whom you resemble – a pool. Impatient anger is characteristic of the fool. It’s like the beloved lap companion of the fool in his bosom, in his lap. If You want to be wise, if you want to be blessed, then take a humble and long-term perspective. Patience over protest.

Now Solomon gives us one specific application of this necessary patient perspective in verse 10. Look at that:

Do not say, “Why is it that the former days are better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.

Isn’t this a common sentiment among mankind? Oh, what about the good old days. The sentiment is given in the form of a complaint here, a complaining question – why was the past better than that now? Solomon doesn’t give a full reply. He just says – that question doesn’t come from wisdom. Well, why not? Again, this is a proverb. You’re supposed to think about it. But again, let’s do that together by thinking about what Solomon’s already told us in Ecclesiastes. You can go straight back to Ecclesiastes 1 to find the answer. Why is it not wise to ask why the past is better than now? Because there’s nothing new under the sun. Every time period has its crises and frustrations. And if you don’t think so, if you’re longing for some past time, it’s simply because you don’t know or don’t remember all the problems of that time.

Give you an example. People often bemoaned the state of American politics todaym and I’m with you. It’s rough. So much partisanship, so much hatred, so much misinformation and slander. Oh how did we ever come to this? But if we’re thinking this, if we think it’s so bad today, we just need to get to know American history a little bit better, because we’ll find our political history is filled with all the same things. Corruption, lies, vicious partisan politics. You don’t even want to know the kind of vulgar slanders that people are hurling at each other in pastimes.

Or look at another example. Consider Israel, that first generation of Israel going to the promised land. They encountered some difficulties along the way. And mind you, they just had experienced this incredible deliverance from Egypt. They’re seeing God miraculously provide for them again and again in the wilderness. But they encounter a few difficulties, and what is it that they say? Oh, it was so much better when we were back in Egypt. That is not a statement that comes from wisdom. That doesn’t even come from reality. Where does it come from? It comes from that arrogant and impatient spirit that says I shouldn’t have to deal with this. I shouldn’t have to deal with this. I should have whatever I want right now. We can look at that and say, tsk tsk Israel. But do we do the same?

The Bible says we’re supposed to learn from Israel’s past mistakes. So if we find ourselves engaging in this complaining about the present and the longing for the past, have we really learned? Let’s not protest even about the past. The past wasn’t really better than now. And even if it were, even if in some aspect it was, we can’t go back to it. What we have in the present, whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, it is our portion from God. If we want to be wise and blessed, we must humble ourselves before God and accept what He’s given. Patiently accept it. Look for the long-term view. God has some purpose in this. That’s the way to be happy. Patience is better than protest.

so we’ve seen three comparisons now, all pointing us to wisdom’s limited but nonetheless true value for life. A fourth poignant comparison appears in verses 11 and 12. Number four – wisdom is better than wealth. Wisdom is better than wealth. And we can take these two verses together. Verse 11:

Wisdom along with an inheritance is good and an advantage to those who see the sun. For wisdom is protection just as money is protection, but the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.

Notice in the verse 11 that Solomon mentions two items that can be considered both good and an advantage in life – wisdom and the inheritance of wealth. I think we can readily see with just a little bit of thought – yeah, those really would give a person a leg up in life. Then in verse 12, Solomon specifically points out how both wisdom and wealth benefit a person via protection. They both offer protection. Now we’ve already heard by this point in Ecclesiastes, neither of these blessings bring ultimate protection. They cannot totally secure you in this world. But they can be a genuine help. They can help you when you encounter certain difficulties or unforeseen calamities. Oh no I have this big medical bill. Good thing I set aside some some savings. Or I have to make this decision. It’s going to have a lot of consequences. Good thing I have this wisdom to know what is the better course.

Now, it’s really interesting to me is the Hebrew phrase that is what’s translated as protection here. Literally, the Hebrew text reads – for in shadow is wisdom. In shadow is money. What’s the connection between shadows and protection? Well, again if we think about it a little bit, we can see the connection. Being in something’s shadow was like a metaphor for being protected by that thing. In fact, we hear this language used of God and us in the Scriptures. Psalm 17:8 says,

Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Or Psalm 91:1 says,

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

To be in God’s shadow means to be under His protection. It’s like He’s standing over you, or standing between you and some danger. That’s a good place to be. Same idea’s being expressed here when it comes to wisdom and wealth. Both wisdom and wealth offer you a shadowed shelter. That’s a good thing. You should want that for your life. Now according to verse 11, having both of these boons is great if you can manage it. If you can get both wisdom and wealth – great. That’ll help you. But if you have to choose one or the other, which is better? Well, verse 12 and really the entire rest of the Scriptures makes clear that it’s pretty much no contest. Wisdom is so much better than wealth. Wealth may offer some protection. But Solomon says the protection of wisdom or knowledge, they’re treated as synonyms here, is so great that it can preserve your very life. And that’s sometimes true literally. You can avoid death or being killed when you might otherwise have taken the foolish action, and you don’t. You instead follow wisdom. Wisdom protected your life. But even apart from literal death, wisdom protects in a figurative sense your life. Proverbs says repeatedly how our lives are ruined and destroyed by the folly of sin. And wisdom, God’s wisdom, can protect you from that. It is a great protection, invaluable treasure.

Before we get too excited, before we get too excited about the power and ability of wisdom, let’s remember that it only offers us a shadow. And what did Solomon tell us about man in Ecclesiastes 6:12? He said, man will live his days like a shadow. That is a picture of vapor. That is a picture of something fleeting and insubstantial. We saw that. That applies to man, that’s totally true. There is an aspect of that to even the protection of wealth and wisdom. Wealth can vanish suddenly. It sprouts its wings and flies away, Solomon says in the Proverbs. And wisdom, even God’s wisdom cannot forestall all of life’s disasters. You can be the wisest man on earth and still go through great troubles. So again here’s Solomon’s narrow way, really God’s narrow way of wisdom, articulated for us. Seek wisdom. It is better than wealth. It can preserve your very life, but don’t expect from wisdom more than it can provide. It will not make you invincible against life’s troubles.

A fifth and final poignant comparison in our passage functions kind of like a conclusion to the previous four. We see it in our last two verses here, verses 13 and 14. Number 5 – reverence is better than rebellion. Reverence is better than rebellion. Look at verse 13:

Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent?

Probably getting a little bit of deja vu here. This phrasing is reminiscent of Ecclesiastes 6:10 where Solomon says,

for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is.

But an even more specific parallel came all the way back in Ecclesiastes 1:15. Solomon was speaking about the limitations of wisdom and he says,

What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.

Just some things wisdom can’t do. Solomon’s bringing this point back into our minds. He says, let this affect you and your view of God. Consider, Solomon says, see, look at the works of God and come to an important realization. Who is able to straighten what God has bent? Of course the answer is no one. God is holy. God is powerful. God is sovereign. He is infinitely far above each one of us and every person. When He makes the world a certain way, or when He curses the world in a certain way because of sin and the fall, there’s no getting around what God has decreed. Nor can anyone successfully argue with God, that God somehow made a mistake. God, why did You make things this way? Why did You create things this way? Why did You do this in my life? I think You messed up. No, you cannot straighten what God has bent nor can you contend with Him who is so much stronger and wiser than you. Observing this, Solomon says, should results in our taking a certain posture before God, and really it’s wisdom. Before I identify that specifically, we see that posture further described in verse 14. Look at that now:

In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity considered – God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

What is the posture that man should assume before God, when he sees the difference between God and man and what God has done and what man can do? It is a posture of reverent acceptance, it is that fear of God that looks at God with gratefulness and even affection. God does not owe us anything. Not a single one of us and not a single thing, least of all an explanation for why He does what He does. He’s made certain pronouncements throughout the Scriptures that all His ways are good. He does everything in a wise, loving, and holy way. He even says specifically for Christians, I cause all things to work out for your good and My glory. But beyond that, I don’t have to tell you. You don’t have to know.

Therefore, our part is not to question God in unbelief, not to complain, not to rebel against God. Rather, we are to receive what He has wisely ordained for us, whether that is good days or bad. It is the sign of the wickedness of the human heart that we will take for granted the good days that God gives us, days of success, days of gladness, days of prosperity. But we will resent God for the hard days He gives us, days of difficulty, days of pain, days of sorrow. You say, where is God? How could a good God? But what about all those good days He gave you? If we will take the one, we must be willing to take the other. God has the right to give us both as He so chooses.

And God has a good purpose in giving us both. Again, those are articulated in other Scriptures, but one is articulated even right here at the end of verse 14. That purpose is so that we will stay humbly dependent on God and not trust in our own strength or knowledge. Because that is always the great danger for us, isn’t it, even as Christians? Our weakness and our sinful flesh is such that if God gave us only success and told us in advance everything that would happen in our lives so we never had to really exercise faith, what would we do? We’d stop going to God and we’d exalt ourselves. We’d start living for the things of the world. We’d start building our kingdom here. We’d start relying on and crediting our successes to ourselves, which is exactly what so many great kings in history have done. Wow, look at my empire, look at my kingdom. Am I not great? Am I not great for all these things that I’ve done? That’s what we would all do, and be tempted to do. But in doing this, not only do we provoke God by sin, basically idolizing ourselves and the things of the world rather than Him. He says, no I will not give My glory to another. You are to worship Me, not yourself, not the things of the world. Not only is that sin provoking God’s angry judgment, but it’s foolish because the place of joy, the source of joy and life and blessing for all of us is God Himself. Whatever removes us from God really removes us from life. If God let us do that, He would not be a good guy. He would not be truly loving to us because He is the essence of life.

So then as with God’s giving the thorn to the apostle Paul to keep him from exalting himself, so God ordains that we will have both good days and bad days. We will not know for certain which days will come when, and we will not know for certain what will happen after we pass from this earth. It’s his design to keep us from exalting ourselves. You say, but I don’t like that. Well, there’s no point in fighting this. Especially if you want to be happy. You will not be able to rejoice in your portion from God or act wisely as long as you exalt yourself and rebel against God. God is God and you are not. This is a fight you’re not going to win. I heard somebody say in a sermon. They’re quoting somebody else, but I think it’s a line from poem – your arms, young man, are too short to box with God. So take the position, therefore, that you were designed to take before God in humble and reverent dependence. Then and only then can you truly rejoice in the gracious gift that is a good day from God. And also only then can you be content in the days of difficulty.

So this is the narrow way of wisdom, brothers and sisters. Solomon has overviewed for us how to live life well in a vaperous world, as he prepares to teach us more in the second half of Ecclesiastes. This introductory poem has given us five poignant comparisons to show us that while wisdom is not the way to ultimate gain in this world, wisdom nevertheless does make life better, so much better. Remember number one, facing death is better than chasing fun. Number two, rebuke is better than revelry. Number three, patience is better than protest. Number four, wisdom is better than wealth. And number five, reverence is better than rebellion.

So when you hear a teaching like this, you are brought to the same question that I really sought to bring you to and the Lord seeks to bring you to. Every time we look at a passage of Ecclesiastes, the question is – will you heed this wisdom? Will you accept it? Will you receive it? Will you face death rather than chase fun? Will you accept rebuke rather than just indulge in revelry? Will you embrace patience rather than protest? Will you seek wisdom even over wealth? Will you embrace that position of reverence of God, fear of God, rather than rebellion?

Because you know, what’s so interesting to me about Ecclesiastes is that judgment is not one of the main themes. It is mentioned. Solomon does believe that there is a judgment for the righteous and for the wicked. And truly, if we don’t want to heed this wisdom of God, we better know that there is judgement coming for us. God says, I’ve given you good and you haven’t been thankful for it. I’m God and you haven’t reverenced Me as is appropriate. Therefore, I will judge you and I will judge you forever in hell. That is something that we need to know and soberly deal with. That’s why you need to run to Christ as the only substitute, as the only One who can save you from your just penalty of sin. But that’s not the tack that Solomon and really God takes in Ecclesiastes. The tack is – why would you choose something that doesn’t bring you any benefit? If you want to be blessed, take God’s way of wisdom. You’ll be blessed in this life. You’ll avoid a lot of the dangers. You’ll be able to actually enjoy even in the midst of difficulty. And you’ll be blessed in the life to come. You will inherit eternal life. You will have a place in the kingdom of God rather than a place in hell, suffering God’s wrath. Why would you not choose the blessing? That’s the appeal. That’s God’s appeal to you even this morning. Why will you not choose the blessing? You say it’s hard. It’s unpleasant. But it’s good in the end, both now and certainly in the life to come. The end is better than the beginning. We haven’t even seen the end yet. And yet even for us, to embrace this wisdom now, there is such blessing.

So do you, will you, will you humble yourself and accept this wisdom of God and say yes, I will give up looking for gain in the world. I’ll take God is my gain. I’ll take whatever portion He gives me because He’s God and I’m not. He deserves the honor, I don’t. He’s already given me so much more than I deserve. Is that your perspective? If it isn’t, you need to repent. You need to turn and take that perspective and you can find blessing. But if it is, praise God. Continue in it, don’t stray from it. Keep reminding yourself of these truths. Keep rejoicing in God everyday, because He is good. He doesn’t just give us wisdom. He gives us Himself. He says, yes you’ve got a difficult sorjourn to go through in this world, but guess what? I’m with you, I’m with you. I’m your God just like I was God to Abraham and I was with him and I never forsook him. So I will never forsake you. Who wouldn’t want that? May God make this wisdom not just something we affirm mentally, but really lived out in our lives.

Let’s pray together. Heavenly Father, thank You for Your wisdom. Thank You for Your good word. Thank You for Your loving heart that says I want the best for you. Why will you choose what is no profits you and instead forsake the fountain of living waters? God, this is what we do when we turn to idols. These things, Your scriptures even describe them as hevel, vapor, vanity, and we keep looking to those rather than You who are the living God. May it not be anymore, God. For any who are still struggling with this, and You know that we often do, turn our hearts back towards You. I pray that anyone who is not walking according to your wisdom would repent today, even right now, and find Your blessing. It will be hard. There will be some difficulties, especially in the beginning, but it’s good in the end. But I pray that You would make that so clear by Your Spirit. Open the eyes of each one of us to see this and embrace it and to cling to it. In Jesus name, amen.