Good times, bad times. Prosperity, adversity. Ups, downs. We all experience both extremes, that is the nature of life under the sun.
The trick in life is to respond with wisdom in both situations. It is not wise to live riotously during prosperous times, nor is it right to despair in difficult circumstances.
As Solomon reflects upon the ups and downs of life in our passage today in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, the summary statement is in the last verse – When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other.
So how does one respond to bad times? Introspection and facing the realities of life is actually a good benefit from difficult days. Beyond this, it causes us to trust in God rather than our own resources. And again, as we have said earlier in this series, it causes us to refocus our hearts upon our true citizenship.
In the first four verses, the writer speaks of benefits that come from dark days, even in the face of death and mourning. I have lost several good friends in the last year, and the sobering sadness that accompanies the loss does indeed have a positive benefit of thinking about those things that are truly important and that truly last forever.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 – A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
3 Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Many of life’s circumstances, both high and low, offer opportunities to discard the discipline of wisdom for the immediacy of foolishness. For example, when we are rebuked about something where we deserve to hear corrective words, it is easier to listen rather to the simple silliness of laughter. But the writer says this has the lasting benefit of the crackling coals under a pot – soon gone, like the “breath” … the meaninglessness of folly.
5 It is better to heed the rebuke of a wise person than to listen to the song of fools.
6 Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless.
There are many temptations to abandon wisdom for the temporary satisfactions of foolishness. This includes the temptations that may come from wrongful gain of money, from impatience, from anger, or from longing for the better times of the past that may not have been as better as they are recalled …
7 Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.
9 Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.
10 Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.
But wisdom can enhance times of prosperity. Verse 11 (not translated the best here in the NIV) should be understood to be saying that when an inheritance is used wisely, this is a great benefit. And wisdom is pictured in verse 12 as a shelter that preserves a person in this life.
11 Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun.
12 Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.
But again, there are going to good times and bad times. God allows the bad times (not his original plan, but are the result of the curse of sin) as well as the good times. And his ways and purposes and timing cannot ever be fully known, no more than the future can be known. So the best policy in light of this is to live in trust of God’s sovereignty in our affairs. It is the old illustration of letting God drive, without us stepping in to take the wheel, nor us jumping out of the moving car.
13 Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
14 When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future.