The Search for Wisdom – Ecclesiastes 7:23-8:13
Reading our way through Ecclesiastes, its hard not to be impressed by Solomon’s persistence. He was not on again – off again in his pursuit of wisdom. He comes right out and says that he pursued wisdom at least 16 times in this book. He was relentless, testing everything and looking for wisdom wherever he could.
Solomon was wise enough to want a full measure of wisdom. He wanted to unwind every paradox and to solve every riddle. So he set out to work his was all the way back from self-evident truth to the mind of God who put it there. So it is no surprise then when our text starts with the words “I will be wise”
He didn’t say “I hope one day to be wise”…but “I will be wise”. He meant, not only can it be done, but I’m the person to do it. He was confident and eager when he started, and only later do we find him admitting…that wisdom was still ‘far from him’.
There was so much about God’s world that he didn’t understand, and as we now know, so much about God himself, that He had not yet revealed. And regarding much of what might be known about God, Solomon concluded that “Man cannot find out the work that God does” (3:11)
The apostle Paul later explained that God’s plan to save the world: was at one time amystery…it was not yet revealed. (Col. 1:26-27). God’s plan was at one time
…”the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
The ambition to be wise can be a good thing. It is reasonable to believe that God expects us to use our minds, as our intellect is in good measure one of the things that makes us like God. God wants us to know Him and to live responsibly in His world.
But the pursuit of wisdom for selfish reasons is not good. Doing it to make a name for yourself or to show someone up – is unworthy. The person who is truly wise has better motives.
Now it seems that the harder Solomon worked at getting wisdom – the farther away it got. And it’s fair to ask, why was that? Well, it could be, that the more youknow, the more you know how little you really do know. Every answer raises more questions and the process seems never-ending. So as wisdom grows, it pushes against the boundaries of human limitations.
Those who pursue it, find themselves facing two choices:
Give up, stop chasing the unknown, because you might as well chase the wind. Or double down try that much harder…which is what Solomon did.
One one level, God can use men and women who try harder – people who keep seeking God until they find him and who keep knocking until God answers
And sure enough…in the fullness of time God did answer. He sent his Son to save the world. And it is the blood of Jesus Christ that ‘cleanses us of all sin’. (1st John 1:7) . God did not reveal this to Solomon, but we now know what he did not.
Yet, Solomon did not give up. He knew that he had not yet arrived, and the passage that we are looking at is part of the result.
It is important to see that Solomon did actually did know something about wisdom. And among the things that he knew was, that you don’t have to know everything in order to know something. And he knew that knowledge could be true without being exhaustive.
So he put his mind to work, recalling:
“I 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” (Vs. 25)
This verse tells us something about his method of investigation. The first step was to investigate the truth. After all, you can’t evaluate the facts until you know what they are.
He started by collecting information instead of just assuming that he already knew what there was to know. His first question was always ‘what?”, for once you know the “what” you can start thinking about the “why”.
And Solomon’s ambitions were grand. He wanted to formulate the big picture – to understand how things worked together as a system. We would call that worldview.
Verse 27 gives us another clue about his methodology. He says “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another… to find an explanation…”
The process of that he used was inductive reasoning. He started with individual facts and added them together to form a unified picture.
The facts had to ‘add up’ – and at least in his mind, they had to make sense. And then, once he had formed a general rule or principle, he tested it to see if it was true. Sounds a lot like the ‘scientific method’, doesn’t it?
What we come to next are some of the conclusions that Solomon drew. They were based on his observations of things ‘under the sun’. Solomon is very much interested in human behavior. So the verses that follow delve into motives and conduct.
Having set out to discover the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness, Solomon shares this:
“And 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. “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, which 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. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” vs.26-28
One commentator says… that this is one of the more difficult passages in all of scripture. Part of the difficulty turns on who the ‘woman’ is. Is the author speaking literally or figuratively? There is nothing in the context to suggest that Solomon was speaking figuratively. So the question is “what does he mean?”
Let me suggest – first of all, that Solomon is not talking about all women. He describes the kind of woman who sets out to catch and destroy. The kind whose heart is ‘snares and nets’. That implies that there are also women who are not that way. But Solomon singles out this kind of woman and raises the alarm
He had discovered what we all know – that women can and do exert considerable influence over men. And that some women use that influence for selfish ends.
Along these same lines, Solomon in Proverbs 7:21-27, warns:
“With her many persuasions she entices him; With her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her As an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, Until an arrow pierces through his liver; As a bird hastens to the snare, So he does not know that it will cost him his life. Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, And pay attention to the words of my mouth. Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths. For many are the victims she has cast down, And numerous are all her slain. Her house is the way to Sheol, Descending to the chambers of death.
This is not a new theme for Solomon, nor was it speculation. He had 300 wives and 700 concubines. The scriptures tell us that they turned his heart away from God. Solomon was tangled up with real women…who ensnared his heart . And when faced with a clear choice between them and God, he chose them.
So when Solomon said that he had been looking for a wise and righteous person…he really had been looking. He had to look long and hard because righteous people are scarce. A good man was one in a thousand and in view, a good woman was more rare than that.
Let me suggest – that some things just don’t change. Wealth has a way of bringing out the worst in people. How hard it must have been for a billionaire king…to find a woman without ulterior motives. It seems that the women that he knew were all out to get something
And then we have the reason for it all…vs. 29. it is not God’s fault that people are the way that they are. God made us upright...he made us good and righteous. He made us straight, but we have made ourselves crooked. We all are pretty good at coming up with new ways to sin and Solomon knew it.
Now its important to understand, that Solomon was not comparing the wisdom of men and women. He is not saying that one was better than the other, but he was playing a numbers game.
In his lifetime, Solomon had associated with more wise men than women. But the number of men were so pitifully small that it made little difference. It was hardly a compliment to men and more a reflection of those he surrounded himself with. One might argue that his experience with shallow women matched his shallow reasons for accumulating them.
Coming to chapter 8, Solomon turns to the value of wisdom in solving the problems of life. He says that wisdom is the thing that either makes you or breaks you. It changes how you look at the world, and it changes how you live in the world.
True wisdom opens your eyes to a world that makes sense. It becomes a different place when you look at it with different eyes. Confusion gives way to clarity and insecurity to confidence. Wisdom changes you as a person. You are not the same with it as you were without it. Solomon even says…that it shows in your face and demeanor, transforming your life for the better.
So, for example, the person who is wise knows his place. He lives within the law, obeying the king and keeping the peace.This is not only wise because it works but the morally right thing to do. The person who is wise, is faithful to God and loyal to the king.
But why is loyalty important?
Solomon reminds his subjects that they have all sworn loyalty to him. They are bound by an oath taken in the name of Yahweh. And, then he reminds them that the power of the king is real. He enforces the law, he keeps the peace and provides security. Disobedience is a crime and insurrection istreason.
And then he adds some advice from the complaint department. Use the right channels – be patient with the process, even when you want justice now. After all, you don’t know how things will turn out.
Consider the case of Joseph. He was sold into slavery but remained true to God. Promoted by Potipher but falsely accused by the man’s wife. Wrongfully imprisoned before being put in charge of the prison. Ignored and neglected – but he didn’t give up and he didn’t give in to sin
And then…God took him from the jail-house to the palace in a single day. This is the principle that Solomon is talking about in verses 2-7
The point is – that there a lot of things that you and I don’t control. We can’t summon the wind. The army doesn’t hand out discharges in times of war. And we don’t get to control when we die. The day comes when it does.
But feeling powerless is not the same thing as being powerless. And sin, sin is not the way to take control. Even the bravest sin, is foolish rebellion. You and I were not created to be God..but to be obedient toGod.
It is rare to see someone in charge, admit to making mistakes. But in verse 9, Solomon says – it happens. Kings and governors all make bad decisions – now and then. They are fallible. Fallible people become fallible rulers with the result that no government is perfect. Decisions made in good faith may still turn out badly and innocent people get hurt. Justice is sometimes miscarried…and power misused
It happened to Solomon. God tore most of the kingdom away from him at his death. It was because he had listened to his wives instead of God. Rehoboam lost the kingdom, in part due to his own poor judgment and the advice of those lacking wisdom. No government is perfect. But even poor government is better than none at all.
Coming to verses 10-13, Solomon takes aim at more instances of futility.
It comes in the form of wicked people who look like regular church-folks. They go to the temple. They sacrifice to God. They donate money and appear pious and good. But in their case, it’s just a facade. Those who know that they are faking it are bound to be “turned off”. And wven when they die, and all of their friends show up and say nice things about them…it is still futility. Bad examples are sometimes more attractive than good ones, especially when ungodly living – seems to pay off. Punishment delayed is justice denied…and people see it. And laws that are not enforced are worse than no laws at all.
The Psalmist put it this way…
Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure And washed my hands in innocence; For I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning. (Ps. 73:13-14)
But then he thought about it a little bit more and concluded:
“When I pondered to understand this, It was troublesome in my sight. Until I came into the sanctuary of God; Then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! (Vs. 16-19)
The truth is that God does not immediately punish sin. He watches, He waits and then he waits some more. He is patient, not wanting anyone to die in sin.
But in the end, God is vindicated. Even if a man sins a hundred times and lives a long life…God is not mocked. What a man sows, that he will also reap. An extension of life does not mean that God approves.
God does care about how you and I live. Sometimes the good die young, but God still cares. And in the end, it will be well with the one who fears God.
As Solomon puts it…life is like a lengthening shadow. We don’t know how far it will stretch before everything fades to black. But we do know that our day on earth is short, just as we know that the sun will set.
The question is, will it set on a good and godly life? Or will it set on a life of darkness…on its way to eternal darkness?