Chapter 7 begins the second section of the book, beginning with a series of Proverbs designed to provide perspective on the present by viewing it in light of our mortality.
1 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.
And the day you die is better than the day you are born.
2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies—
so the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
5 Better to be criticized by a wise person
than to be praised by a fool.
6 A fool’s laughter is quickly gone,
like thorns crackling in a fire.
This also is meaningless.
7 Extortion turns wise people into fools,
and bribes corrupt the heart.
8 Finishing is better than starting.
Patience is better than pride.
9 Control your temper,
for anger labels you a fool.
10 Don’t long for “the good old days.”
This is not wise.
11 Wisdom is even better when you have money.
Both are a benefit as you go through life.
12 Wisdom and money can get you almost anything,
but only wisdom can save your life.
13 Accept the way God does things,
for who can straighten what he has made crooked?
14 Enjoy prosperity while you can,
but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God.
Remember that nothing is certain in this life.
Since Proverbs are essentially pithy sayings that speak for themselves, I want to point to some overarching themes in this text rather than restate the obvious.
Verses 1-6 reveal the importance of resisting the temptation to escape the demands of reality. Notice the imagery of celebration: perfume, birthday celebrations, parties, laughter, good times, and laughter. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these celebratory practices, but they are only “little islands of relief” in the vast ocean of life’s experiences. A more relevant perspective comes from our own economy. For example, a person may work 50 weeks per year and have 2 weeks of vacation. The challenge comes when we spend 50 weeks of the year working while thinking about nothing but the 2 weeks of vacation. Qoheleth says we should enjoy our two weeks of vacation, but not at the expense of meeting life’s demands during the other 50 weeks we live.
The next six verses point to the priority of wisdom above all things, a theme that is not new to Ecclesiastes, albeit now introduced by way of proverbial statements. In a world where much is not within our control, it is important to control the things we can. Extortion, bribes, anger, and pining for the past are ways of manipulating others in an attempt to control that which is beyond our control. None of those behaviors can bring the benefits that wisdom can, so we can stop the race to the bottom.
The rest of the verses lean into the importance of living with an attitude of acceptance. We begin to mature in faith when we recognize that acceptance is not the same as approval. For example, I can accept the fact that a loved one has a terminal illness without approving of the terminal illness. Somehow we have made the words acceptance and approval synonymous when they are not. Our need to approve every thing that happens is an indicator of our sense of entitlement, and those who live life demanding what they believe they deserve will soon be crushed by those same demands. Those who demand the right to approve or disapprove everything live life with closed fists and experience the self inflicted pain each time their grip is pried open. Acceptance means that we live with an open hand, giving and receiving from life moment by moment remembering that “nothing is certain in this life.”