1A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one's death is better than the day of one's birth.
2It 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.
A bad name and reputation cannot be fixed overnight, and thus a good name is very valuable and hard-earned. An ointment can be bought and sold, but a good name is either true of a person or not. The day of death is better than the day of birth because man can go to a better place if he knows the Lord. There is value in going to a house of mourning because the living can recognize that they, too, will die and that life is short. Seeing the temporal nature of one’s life should lead to wisely seeking out how to best use it. Constantly going to happy parties and not reflecting on the serious, short nature of life can be dangerous.
3Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
Solomon is not saying that it is always ideal for a person to be sad. What he is saying is that it is wise to feel sorrow when sorrow is in order rather than to suppress healthy and normal emotions by trying to distract oneself with laughter. Rather than amuse ourselves to death, there is value in learning how to have true joy even when life brings sorrow. A heart that can have joy even when life is sorrowful is better than mere shallow, empty laughter.
4The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Those who are wise will reflect upon the short nature of life so as to determine how to best use their time on earth. The fools will pass all of their time in vain pleasure and likely miss out on the real purpose of life.
5It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
6For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool;
And this too is futility.
It is important to spend time with those who are wise and not be corrupted by the company of fools. Fools act carefree and happy, but their lives are hollow, empty, and without vision. The wise know that there are moral absolutes that govern the universe, and they will challenge us to pursue what is true, right, pure, and noble. The way of wisdom leads to true joy and songs of endless praise for Christ. The laughter of fools will be here and then gone like thorns burned up by the fire. Their thoughts and amusements are but temporal and mere distractions. The wise lead us to be diligent and to pursue meaning that has implications and rewards even after death.
7For oppression makes a wise man mad,
And a bribe corrupts the heart.
Those who are wise because they fear God get angry when they see injustice and oppression because their hearts are aligned with the heart of God. A fool, on the other hand, will gladly take a bribe because of supposed temporary gain, caring nothing about morality or the will of God. Their song of victory is a sign of corruption because their hearts have been sold out to do evil.
8The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
Time has a way of revealing who a person really is, and thus character is proven in the end. A person might be arrogant at the beginning that they are strong, but in the end they may be proven to be weak. The end is thus better than the beginning because it reveals truth. Those who are patient and persevering until the end are those who are wise.
9Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
Anger doesn’t lead to good things, but it is characteristic of fools and those who do foolish things. Anger can lead to bad judgment, stress, destruction, and disappointment. We cannot let anger move us to hate another person or take revenge. Zeal for righteousness is fine, but anger must not persist. We are not allowed to let the sun set on our anger because it festers and leads to hate (Ephesians 4:6). We must harness our feelings of anger and let God deal with the situation, taking justice into His hands. Giving in to anger solves no problems, and thus we are told to put away all anger, wrath, clamor, and slander (Ephesians 4:31). We are to be children of peace and to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Anger doesn’t lead to righteous acts, but zeal does (see John 2:17). We should be passionate for truth and to defend truth, but we should never be angry at those who oppose our cause. God will deal with them because vengeance is His. He can be righteously angry because it is His job to avenge wrong and pour out wrath and judgment. Our job is not to act out in anger because God will vindicate the righteous, but we are to be zealous for good (Titus 2:14). Our zeal should motivate act righteously and peacefully, seeking conciliation, restoration, and forgiveness, not elevated conflict. Anger can turn into a power trip where we play God, and we must not let that happen. We should be slow to anger (Proverbs 14:29, 15:18, 16:23, 19:11, 19, 22:24), and we should remove it from our bodies (Ecclesiastes 11:10). Man’s anger does not achieve the righteousness of God, so we must get rid of it (James 1:19-20). God can be angry because God isn’t controlled by anger as if He is going to get led away into unrighteous acts. God acts justly, and it is His prerogative to execute vengeance, not ours (Romans 12:19).
10Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?"
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
There is no wisdom is wondering why things used to be better. When we go through tough times, sometimes we are tempted to wish for the good old days when things were “easy.” The reality is that we can’t go back to the former days. Secondly, if we went back, we probably wouldn’t like those days any more than the present days because sin is ever present. Thirdly, wisdom focuses on making the most of the present. Thus, rather than wishing for the past, we need to focus on how to make kingdom priorities a priority in the present. We are to live in the present, forgetting what is behind (Philippians 3:13) and not worrying about what is to come (Matthew 6:31).
11Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
And an advantage to those who see the sun.
12For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
Those who are yet alive on the earth benefit from wisdom with or without an inheritance. Yet an inheritance is a good thing in that it can provide protection as it provides for needs. But more important is wisdom because wisdom is also protection, guarding the soul from damnation.
13Consider the work of God,
For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
14In 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.
Solomon’s point here is that God will do what God will do, and no man can tell Him what He should do. When God blesses and things are well, we should not feel guilty but rather enjoy what God has given and praise Him with it. But God also appoints adversity for man, and man needs to accept it as from His hand. The reason for this is that man can become arrogant when all things go well. He can start to think that he controls his destiny. Adversity reminds us that we are dependent beings on the hand of God and that we need Him. God gives and takes away. The important thing is that we bless Him in both good and bad times (Job 1:21).
15I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness.
16Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself?
17Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
18It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.
Solomon’s life was futile in that he lived much of it in rebellion against God, ignoring the source of meaning, joy, and purpose. This section is best understood in light of v. 18 which is better translated in the NKJV: “It is good that you grasp this, and also not remove your hand from the other; for he who fears God will escape them all.” Solomon examines those who are excessively righteous, that is, self-righteous and judgmental and those who are wicked, pursuing evil and being foolish. The conclusion is that neither is a good option. Self-righteousness can lead to ruin because it is filled with pride and the scorn of others. Those who are wicked will also find ruin because sin is dangerous and harmful. Thus, neither route is the right way to live. The way to live is to fear the Lord and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13), not in pride and self-righteousness but in a holy reverence and humility before God. No other way satisfies, and all other roads lead to destruction. It is important that we understand this and not let go of these realities so that we live wisely and escape the dangers that we otherwise would certainly face.
19Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
Wisdom is more desirable than ten rulers to protect, govern, lead, and direct a city. Wisdom has far more assurances and securities with it than mere numbers of mortal man. One wise man is better to be trusted to do good for the welfare of a city than ten who lack wisdom. Wisdom can only be found in fearing God (Proverbs 1:7).
20Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.
This squares with the New Testament teaching in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the holy and glorious standards of God. All of us are lawbreakers and guilty of eternal punishment (Romans 6:23). We need to be forgiven through Jesus Christ, the only Person to ever walk this earth and do good continually, never sinning.
21Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you.
22For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others.
We need to be merciful toward others because others might say offensive things about us, yet we may have said offensive things about them in the past. Thus, we need mercy, and we need to show mercy. Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment or which we don’t really mean or intend. Thus, we need to be longsuffering toward others and gentle in our response toward them.
23I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me.
24What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious Who can discover it?
Solomon sought to add wisdom to his wisdom, but he found that there are many things which the human mind just can’t know or comprehend. There are unknowable things, things which God calls “secret” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Thus, even the wisest among us cannot have insight into what God has not revealed.
25I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness.
26And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her.
Solomon began a very purposeful and measured inquiry into the nature of wisdom and that of foolishness and evil. What he found was that one of the most destructive follies that a man can commit on earth is to fall for the seductress. Her heart is a trap, like a spider seeking its victim and prey to feast upon. Beauty is the bait, but destruction awaits. Immorality can become an addictive chain and a very destructive force, pulling the mind into thoughts and feelings that remove one’s ability to think, function, and live normally and healthily. The one who escapes her trap is the one who seeks to fear God. Those who desire in their hearts to do right will not succumb to the lies. They will be able to escape temptation and live in victory. God gives freedom from deception and/or rebellion if we humbly seek His help and wisdom. The sinner, however, has no divine intervention to help him, and he foolishly allows himself to be destroyed by folly and what is a mere farce.
27"Behold, I have discovered this," says the Preacher, "adding one thing to another to find an explanation,
28which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these.
29"Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices."
Solomon did some empirical research in seeking out wisdom, and what he realized, adding one thing to another, was that very, very few are righteous. Solomon says he happened upon one man in a thousand who was righteous, but of the thousand women he observed, he didn’t find any righteous. The Bible is clear that both men and women are equally prone to sin, and thus the point is not that there was one more man righteous than there was women but that there are very few righteous. Whether zero out of a thousand or one out of a thousand, mankind is in a very bad state. God created mankind upright as Genesis teaches, but man fell into sin. Their hearts are corrupt (Jeremiah 17:9), and they seek out the fulfillment of their evil desires. Solomon does not have an explanation for why so many stay in this corrupted state and why they don’t choose to seek after wisdom. Why do a very select few have their eyes opened and hearts changed while the vast majority do not? This is a question the Bible does not answer this side of eternity, but God knows what He is doing. We do know that those who do repent are vessels of mercy which God showcases to the world as an example if His merciful nature (Romans 9:23).