by the Rev. Martin Emmrich
7Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.
10Say not, "Why were the former days better than these?"
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
an advantage to those who see the sun.
12For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves
the life of him who has it.
13Consider the work of God:
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.
7:5 concluded, "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools." This passage (7:7-14) is about road bumps, in that it concerns the challenges to the application of wisdom. There are essentially two ways you can divert people from their path. You can apply force, or you can use lures (7:7). This observation logically leads to 7:8: Patience is required to keep the faith and continue on the path of wisdom.
Patience is a virtue drawing its power and value from consistent reflection of the believe's goal and purpose, namely, the kingdom of God. It is not accidental that Qoheleth in the second part of 7:8 pitches patience against pride. Patience has humility as an indispensable ingredient, namely, the ability to think properly about who we are in this world and before God.
But one of the greatest challenges to the application of wisdom and the keeping of the faith is the presence of evil. This, of course, can include persecution and oppression, but is not limited to it. A father buries his son, and a mother loses her three week old baby to a mysterious disease—these and so many other tragedies, if only they hit close enough to home—may result in an angry heart. The anger, to be sure, is often directed against God who did not play by our rules nor spared us the one thing that we feared. So the question, "Why me?", or "Why were the former days better than these?" (7:10) can carry a hidden agenda against God, and, most of all, a distorted image of him. We are more prone than we think to lock God in a path of blessing for us (God in a box, as it were).
What advice does our friend give us in terms of handling the messiness of life without jumping ship or abandoning faith? This is his advice: "In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that (and here it comes…) man may not find out anything that will be after him" (7:14). At first sight, this sounds like more tales about the ogre in the sky. But the author has to be heard on this point.
Even we Christians, standing on the far side of the incarnation and the cross, only see through a "glass darkly" and oftentimes see nothing at all, when it comes to predicting the future. What redeems Qoheleth's insight from the charge of tautology is a truth as simple as a children's song and as deep as the ocean. God keeps us on the edge. It is not good for us to know more than what is conducive to trusting only in him. Perhaps the famous words of Deut. 29:29 may come to mind here: "The secret things belong to Yahweh our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." God takes care of the future, our children and coming generations. What we and they ought to worry about is to do what we know from his word here and now. That is all.
The author of these devotionals, the Rev. Martin Emmrich, is an ordained OPC minister (Westminster OPC, Corvallis, Oregon) as well as the author of Pneumatological Concepts in the Epistle to the Hebrews, a book on the teaching of Hebrews on the Holy Spirit. We are happy to make these devotionals on Ecclesiastes and other passages of Scripture available to you.