There is a common misunderstanding that there is a one-to-one connection between blessing for good deeds done, but judgment for bad deeds. We even joke and tease about it. We might see someone very blessed in some specific way and say, “So what did you do to earn that?” Or we might tease someone by saying, “You’re going to pay a terrible price someday for that deed!”
This common thought was also present in Jesus’ time. On the occasion of Christ and the disciples seeing a blind man, in John chapter 9 the disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus answers that his blindness was not at all related to this sort of one-to-one retribution.
Solomon begins today by noting the apparent injustice that righteous people have very bad things happening in their lives in spite of their upright ways, whereas certain sinful people seem to never pay any price and instead have prosperity abounding. And we too have all seen similar upside-down illustrations of injustice where the wicked prosper.
This passage is filled with a number of verses that are not actually communicating what at first glance they appear to say, some of it rather outlandish even!
Solomon is not saying that the best way to live is to have equal doses of righteousness and wickedness, doing all things in moderation. He is saying that you cannot depend upon your righteousness as a guarantee of universal blessing, nor should you think that there is no judgment for anything and thereby live a licentious life.
In several other passages in Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about how God will be the ultimate judge, saying that evil will be dealt with. But it is done in God’s timing, and that cannot be known. Until then, there will be occasions where the wicked appear to get away with wrongdoing, while the apparently righteous suffer beyond expectation.
Another problem with “righteous” people is that they really don’t exist, not fully. Solomon accurately writes that none are righteous and sinless – a theme that Paul will establish at the beginning of Romans.
However, wisdom really is a great value. Though it will not make one truly righteous (perfect), it will supply great strength in life in terms of choices for the good and direction for avoiding the pitfalls of evil. That is the best that man can do under the sun.
To explain the odd man/woman remarks at the end of the chapter would take more words than you want to read today! Trust me, believe me! It is not saying that on average there can be found one good man out of a thousand, but never a good woman. Interpreting this has to do with where the “ellipsis” begins, complicated by the fact that the word for man (as in mankind) is “adam,” though that word is also being used as the proper name for the first human – Adam. And then there is a sort of cumulative literary devise being used …… see what I mean? The weeds are deep.
The intent of this communication as the passage ends is to say that there are no men or women who can be found who are purely righteous. Though created that way by God at the beginning, the reality of sin has taken all mankind down many bad paths.
The fact is that we are a mess. There is no such thing as “I’m OK, you’re OK” … the title and big idea of the famous 1969 self-help book by Thomas Anthony Harris. The truth is rather, “I’m a mess, you’re a mess.” We are all sinners in line for judgment. Our lives can be enhanced, even in a sinful world, by applying godly wisdom. And the rest of the story of Scripture teaches that there is a gracious provision for deliverance from the curse of sin, but it does not happen fully in this life under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 – In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?
18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
19 Wisdom makes one wise person more powerful than ten rulers in a city.
20 Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.
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.”