A Precious Commodity
“I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me” (Ecclesiastes 7:23).
— David Rice
The value of wisdom is expressed also in Proverbs, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). Although Solomon was gifted by God with wisdom, he recognized that this quality could otherwise be challenging to obtain.
Wisdom requires experience. As the years pass by, and we reflect on experience in the past, we can be thankful for good choices, and God’s providence directing us in good ways. But unwise choices should also attract our attention. In those cases, time and circumstance can focus our attention on the results of poor choices, and a proper regret. If the consequences affect us alone, we can accept the lesson with grace and seek to do better. If the consequences have affected others, the memory and regret may be deeper. In either case, we should learn from the experience. And we should adjust our conduct.
In Solomon’s reflections, he considers the difficulty of securing wisdom. “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things” (Ecclesiastes 7:24, 25).
In Ecclesiastes 7:26-28, Solomon speaks about the snares of an unholy woman. This is among the follies mentioned in verse 25 that we should avoid, by knowing “the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness.”
This is an affliction that Samson faced on three occasions. As Samson’s experiences are symbolic of the experiences of the Church through the Gospel Age, it reminds us that “Jezebel” (Revelation 2:20), an unholy woman, represents the Roman Catholic Church that was a severe test upon the Church during the Dark Ages and beyond. Identifying this unholy system, presented in the guise of something holy, is linked to wisdom in Revelation 13:18. “Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast [Papacy]: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” Peter Waldo perceived this, after him John Wycliffe, followed by John Huss, a century later Martin Luther and Protestants generally, starting with the Reformation.
Revelation 17:5 speaks of the Roman Church with expressive language. “Upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” This is followed by verse 9, “Here is the mind which hath wisdom” — identifying where the “woman sitteth.” That system will be an enduring example of a “woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands … the sinner shall be taken by her” (Ecclesiastes 7:26).
However, as Jesus observed in Matthew 15:19, the mundane sins of this world also require our attention, in order to avoid them. When James and other disciples convened a conference at Jerusalem, they agreed to advise Gentile believers to avoid sins of the flesh. “Abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication” (Acts 15:20).
Later, the Apostle Paul raised this concern with brethren in Corinth. “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you,” such “as is not so much as named among the Gentiles,” urging that it be addressed (1 Corinthians 5:1). He repeats this concern in 1 Corinthians 6:13, and in verse 18 says, “Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” Paul warns of this also in 1 Corinthians 7:2, 10:8, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3.
“Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine” (Ecclesiastes 8:1). The scriptures abound with history, plain facts, and direct exhortations. However, there is also abundant room for interpretation. Paul saw in the life of Abraham and his family pictures of the Covenants that God established with Abraham and Moses. Hagar represents the Law Covenant, and Ishmael her son, natural Israel.
Sarah represents the Abrahamic Covenant, and Isaac her son, spiritual Israel (Galatians chapters 3, 4). Interpretations such as this give us a springboard to look for more details in the life of Abraham, and also look at the experiences of others recorded in the Old Testament. A thoughtful student of scripture sees in these records of Biblical history, pictures of the details of God’s Plan. A wise child of God will appreciate the bounties of this field of thought — but also feel some reserve, recognizing that interpretation is involved.
Ecclesiastes 8:6 observes, “To every purpose there is time and judgment.” We observe this in the Chart of the Ages, illustrating the various parts of God’s Plan of the Ages. But Solomon’s observation is primarily practical, about the experiences of life that come our way. He adds, “therefore the misery of man is great upon him. For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?” In life’s circumstances, we cannot always perceive what experiences will come, when they may come, or the purpose of God in them. The experiences of life can be diverse and unanticipated. But God is at the helm, in what He either directs, or permits. The variety of life, if received with faith, will form a network of experience by which Christian character can be developed. If we see the value of a particular experience, that is wonderful. But if not, let us accept it as part of general background experience, common to the world.
An Hundred Times
“Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God” (Ecclesiastes 8:12). The immediate lesson is that during this permission of evil, there is not always rapid recompense for bad deeds. Irrespective of this, those that fear God and live properly are assured that it “shall be well with them.” If not in the near term, certainly in the long term.
The expression “an hundred times” is an arbitrarily large number, something we see also in Ecclesiastes 6:3, “If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years.” Both of these cases, and also Isaiah 65:20, “the child shall die an hundred years old,” refer to experiences of mankind in general, either now or in the kingdom. It reminds us that we also see the number 100 repeatedly in the Tabernacle, which illustrates God’s plan of redemption for mankind, through Jesus. The gate, door, and veil were each 100 square cubits of material, and the 100 silver sockets of the Tabernacle supplements the use of this number. In these four cases the number 100 is “Jesus’ number.” He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and the one who gave his life as a foundation for man’s redemption.
We are blessed with a knowledge of God’s Plan, beyond that which even the saints of past ages received. This is because we are living in the Harvest, or ending period of the Gospel Age. Knowledge generally has increased, but our special treasure is the increase of knowledge in spiritual things (Daniel 12:4). We should treasure this.
However, compare what we are privileged to see, with the knowledge gained by our brothers and sisters who have already passed through the veil, to the glories above. “When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth … Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out … though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it” (Ecclesiastes 8:16, 17). Humility is thus always in order. “We know in part, and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).
Humility, born of wisdom, will guard us against too much insistence. And against pressing upon the liberties of investigation exercised by our brethren.
In the Hand of God
“The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 9:1). We may experience things “alike to all” (verse 2), but God will overrule experiences for the righteous, for their good. Meanwhile we can appreciate life even in the present. “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing” (verse 5). Thus “go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works” (verse 7). However, our conduct should be holy, and we should apply the holy Spirit of God, continually. “Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment” (verse 8).
Solomon then gives some practical advice for daily life. “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest” (verse 9). What a pleasant privilege, for those so favored. Let us be thankful. Also, be earnest with our opportunities. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (verse 10). In the present, “time and chance happeneth to” all (verse 11). Even the close of our life may come “suddenly upon” us, as a fish taken in a net (verse 12). Thus, while we have opportunity, wisdom suggests that we do good, and be good.
This Wisdom Also
Closing chapter nine, Solomon adds another observation. “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me” (verse 13). He recounts an experience of a city under siege, delivered by the wisdom of “a poor wise man,” soon forgotten, in spite of his remarkable contribution. “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength … The words of wise men are heard in quiet … Wisdom is better than weapons of war” (verses 14-18).
By wisdom, we choose a “road less travelled.” “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14). “The price of wisdom is above rubies” (Job 28:18).