A. No One Can Find Out the Best Way of Acting
Critique of Sages on the Day of Adversity
1A good name is better than good ointment,#Ointment: a good name can be affirmed only with death, when one is normally anointed. The author dialogues in this section (vv. 1–14) with traditional wisdom, alternately affirming or countering its assertions. The real value of traditional wisdom lies in its ability to provoke one to thought and reflection, and not to absolve one from such activity.
and the day of death than the day of birth.#a. [7:1] Eccl 4:2; Prv 22:1.
2It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to the house of feasting,
For that is the end of every mortal,
and the living should take it to heart.#b. [7:2] Eccl 12:1.
3Sorrow is better than laughter;
when the face is sad, the heart grows wise.
4The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of merriment.
5It is better to listen to the rebuke of the wise
than to listen to the song of fools;
6For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
so is the fool’s laughter.
This also is vanity.
7Extortion can make a fool out of the wise,
and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8Better is the end of a thing than its beginning;
better is a patient spirit than a lofty one.
9Do not let anger upset your spirit,
for anger lodges in the bosom of a fool.
10Do not say: How is it that former times were better than these? For it is not out of wisdom that you ask about this.
11Wisdom is as good as an inheritance
and profitable to those who see the sun.
12#St. Jerome’s translation of v. 12b gives an edge to wisdom over money: “But learning and wisdom excel in this, that they bestow life on the one who possesses them.” For the protection of wisdom is as the protection of money; and knowledge is profitable because wisdom gives life to those who possess it.
13Consider the work of God. Who can make straight what God has made crooked?#c. [7:13] Eccl 1:15. 14On a good day enjoy good things, and on an evil day consider: Both the one and the other God has made, so that no one may find the least fault with him.
Critique of Sages on Justice and Wickedness.
15#The author continues both to affirm and to counter traditional wisdom. He affirms a certain validity to wisdom, but challenges complacency and mindless optimism. His sense of life’s uncertainty and insecurity finds expression, for example, in the irony evident when v. 16 is read in the light of vv. 20–24: How can one be “excessively” just or wise, when justice and wisdom may be out of reach to begin with? The only sure thing is to “fear God” (v. 18). I have seen all manner of things in my vain days: the just perishing in their justice, and the wicked living long in their wickedness. 16“Be not just to excess, and be not overwise. Why work your own ruin? 17Be not wicked to excess, and be not foolish. Why should you die before your time?” 18It is good to hold to this rule, and not to let that one go; but the one who fears God will succeed with both.
19Wisdom is a better defense for the wise than ten princes in the city, 20#d. [7:20] Jb 9:2; 1 Kgs 8:46; Rom 3:23. yet there is no one on earth so just as to do good and never sin. 21Do not give your heart to every word that is spoken; you may hear your servant cursing you, 22for your heart knows that you have many times cursed others.
23All these things I probed in wisdom. I said, “I will acquire wisdom”; but it was far beyond me. 24What exists is far-reaching; it is deep, very deep:#Far-reaching…deep: the spatial metaphor here emphasizes wisdom’s inaccessibility, a frequent theme in wisdom literature; cf. Jb 28; Prv 30:1–4; Sir 24:28–29; Bar 3:14–23. Who can find it out? 25#The emphasis is on the devious designs of human beings in general, reflecting the viewpoint of Genesis. #e. [7:25] Eccl 1:17. I turned my heart toward knowledge; I sought and pursued wisdom and its design, and I recognized that wickedness is foolishness and folly is madness.
Critique of Advice on Women.
26#f. [7:26] Prv 5:4. More bitter than death I find the woman#More bitter than death…the woman: warnings against the scheming, adulterous woman are common in ancient wisdom (e.g., Prv 2:16–19, etc.). who is a hunter’s trap, whose heart is a snare, whose hands are prison bonds. The one who pleases God will be delivered from her, but the one who displeases will be entrapped by her. 27See, this have I found, says Qoheleth, adding one to one to find the sum. 28What my soul still seeks and has yet to find is this: “One man out of a thousand have I found, but a woman among them all I have not found.” 29But this alone I have found: God made humankind honest, but they have pursued many designs.