21 Do not pay attention to every word people say,
or you may hear your servant cursing you –
22 for you know in your heart
that many times you yourself have cursed others.
23 All this I tested by wisdom and I said,
‘I am determined to be wise’–
but this was beyond me.
24 Whatever exists is far off and most profound –
who can discover it?
25 So I turned my mind to understand,
to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things
and to understand the stupidity of wickedness
and the madness of folly.
26 I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.
27 ‘Look,’ says the Teacher, ‘this is what I have discovered:
‘Adding one thing to another to discover the scheme of things –
28 while I was still searching
but not finding –
I found one upright man among a thousand,
but not one upright woman among them all.
29 This only have I found:
God created mankind upright,
but they have gone in search of many schemes.’
The Teacher pulls together some challenging truths for us to ponder today, including a few verses which are difficult to understand!
Firstly, we need to be judicious in our listening to others. There is a lot of random talk and noise out in the world. If we paid attention to it all and took everything seriously, we could get into a right mess! The Teacher shares the example of a servant cursing his master (which of us has never moaned about a boss or someone in authority over us….) and also of our contribution to the noise and unwarranted gossip of the world (red faces all around, if we’re honest). So let’s be careful what we pay attention to.
The rest of today’s passage appears closely linked to Proverbs chapters 1 – 9 as the Teacher carefully examines the issue of wisdom and folly. If you have the time, it is worth skim reading Proverbs 1 to 9 as Solomon deals with the issues of wisdom and folly in some depth there. He opens with wisdom, concluding that we should strive with all our energy to gain wisdom and understanding. Contrast Solomon’s warnings against adultery and folly, both of which lead to death and destruction.
In Proverbs 9 Solomon compares wisdom and folly using the metaphor of two women. Lady Wisdom is outlined as beckoning to all who will listen, offering life and insight. A key verse is Proverbs 9:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”
Lady Folly is also beckoning from a high vantage point calling out to any who will listen to her, holding out apparently sweet and delicious things, but all of them leading to death.
It seems likely that the Teacher had this passage in Proverbs mind when we set about testing wisdom and folly and determining to be wise. Yet he finds wisdom to be elusive and folly to be close at hand. Lady Folly is here, ready to ensnare sinners. Mankind is full of schemes and it is rare to find someone who is upright. Try as he might, the Teacher looks for Lady Wisdom and yet he fails to find her, hence his remark about not finding one upright woman among them all. His world-weary conclusion is that God created us upright, but we have gone in search of many schemes.
As ever, the Teacher’s conclusions are full of insight and understanding. He truly sees our world (and indeed our hearts) as they are, warts and all.
All of this leaves us longing for rescue, longing for a solution. How will we find the true and permanent wisdom which we seek and need to give us life? Who will rescue us from the folly and death which beckon so earnestly? The Teacher is setting up so many questions, all of which are answered by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who lived the perfect life, showing us perfect wisdom in action. He is the one who provides us all with undeserved rescue from the schemes which we have all gone after. He is the one who lays down his life for us all, granting us eternal life through his love and grace, taking away our disgrace and the death which we deserve, nailing them to the cross where he died.
This is how Paul summarises his and our situation and the solution, in Romans:
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Thank you for your word which helps us to see the real situation we are in, and our desperate need of rescue.
Thank you that you did not leave us helpless and in dire trouble, but that you sent your Son to show us the way and to lay down his life as a sacrifice for each one of us.
Give us wise and grateful hearts which love, because you first loved us, and which worship and honour you and particularly your Son our Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow’s passage: Ecclesiastes 8:1-9