In Solomon’s time, perfume or oil was a symbol of joy and prosperity and often used as a metaphor for one’s reputation. Solomon combines these ideas with birth and death. He suggests that it is better to have a good name or reputation at the end of your life than to have a joyful and favorable beginning which, by one’s own actions could result in nothing. “The day of death is better”, in his second letter to Corinth and in his letter to Philippi, Paul reminds us of how true this is for those found in Christ. But Solomon’s point is valid for everyone as he explains that we generally learn less from the good times than the bad.
Solomon was pretty big on wisdom so he wrote about the wisdom of reflecting on the brevity of life, “Death is the destiny of every man.” He said that the “living should take this to heart.” or reflect on it. The heart was considered the seat of reflection and of moral decision and action. Seems like the opposite of what most people think today. Anyway, here he recommends that we not only reflect but do so soberly rather than delving into foolish pleasures. Through serious reflection we may achieve some level of moral and spiritual growth or maturity. Moses understood this as he said “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” These words, this message, is desperately needed in this day that emphasizes and encourages self-centeredness. It is common for us to laugh at troubles rather than face them, to joke about what we should take seriously. People are living life like it is an all-you-can-eat buffet that will never run out. This is the fool’s way but the wise live life in light of life’s brevity. Not cautiously or in excess but with purpose and meaning. There is also wisdom in listening to and taking to heart the warnings, corrections, and rebukes of the wise. It is in this that we learn and grow.
With that being said, let us heed the words of a wise man. Solomon warns against adversity and prosperity bringing temptations – temptations that draw us away from wisdom and God. Drawing us into foolishness. Adversity and prosperity alike may lead one to become impatient or be provoked to anger, or complain about where they are, longing for the “good old days.” Each of these is contrary to the trust we ought to have in God. But he was not condemning either of these. He had already made a case for how we can learn more from adversity than times of plenty and he was also in favor of prosperity. In both cases though, wisdom is present. The wise learn from adversity and enjoy the fruits of their prosperity.
It is the wise who would “consider what God has done.” Some try to find fault in God’s ways. The fool is blinded to the ways in which God works through the good and the bad. It is a matter of perspective and … ours is limited. Solomon warned against depending on our perceived righteousness while living wickedly. Those who become “holier-than-thou”, the “high and mighty”, are often the first to fall. Over righteousness occurs when we begin to think too highly of ourselves. We lose the humility that helps balance our relationships … with God, Jesus, and each other. He suggests that we try to strike a balance in life. “Did Solomon just tell us to be a little wicked?” not at all. He is just acknowledging that we are already wicked by our fallen nature. We cannot escape it but we can work to counteract it.
We are not righteous in and of ourselves. The great part about being on this side of the cross is that we know that we can be made righteous through the blood of Jesus. This knowledge brings wisdom. Wisdom makes one powerful but it does have limitations. In itself, wisdom is inadequate to provide us protection or offer salvation. Additionally, we are not able to gain full wisdom. Solomon, yes that Solomon, said that true wisdom was far beyond him.
What he did discover though is that true righteousness and true wisdom does not exist among men. In his searching he finds that there is only one upright man among a thousand it says and none among women. This speaks to the rarity of such a person but if Scripture and experience have taught us anything it is that such a person is all but nonexistent. In fact I question whether this statement was more prophetic than observational. Could Solomon’s one upright man have been speaking of the coming Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus the Christ? The reason for man’s universal depravity is his own doing, not God’s. “God made men upright.” He made us perfect and we screwed it up. We follow our own schemes thus we lack true uprightness, true righteousness, and true wisdom. And we fail to please God.
Solomon asks many questions in this book. Some that we find in this reading will be answered when Jesus returns. At his return we will have true righteousness, true wisdom. Then we will be changed and made new. Into the glorious creations that He intended us to be. In knowing God, pleasing Him, we gain wisdom but in growing closer to Him through His Son we gain life everlasting. Do you see the wisdom in this?
To be continued …