I love the encouragement of this picture. With two and a half months to go in 2020, many of us are holding out for a better life in 2021. Here in the USA, the bitter presidential election will be over. It seems that we will get beyond Covid in 2021. So does that mean, as the picture says, we just need to “hang in there”? Is having a better life just about waiting?
Or is there something we can do now?
There is a lot we can do now!
All week long, we’ve been studying the poem in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14. It is a poem comprised of seven couplets, and in this post we study the 6th and 7th. In the sixth couplet, the Teacher gives us a kind of summary “better than.” Read for yourself how the Teacher puts it in Ecclesiastes 7:11-12:
Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing
and benefits those who see the sun.
Wisdom is a shelter
as money is a shelter,
but the advantage of knowledge is this:
that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.
Don’t see a “better than” statement in there, do you?
It’s there, in the first sentence. Still don’t see it? See the phrase, “is a good thing”? A literal translation of that phrase could be, “is a ‘gooder than’ thing.” That doesn’t work for English. Neither does, “is a ‘better than’ thing.” So translators just shorten it to the word “good,” so it reads smoothly in English. But know that it is the same word in the Hebrew as in all the previous couplets.
Why am I telling you this nuance of translating the Bible? Because I’ve been saying all along this week that the poem in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14 is structured by 7 couplets, each having a “better than” statement. Even though you can’t see it in most English translations, like all the previous couplets, there is another “better than” statement here too. But what is the Teacher saying in this sixth couplet?
With this “better than,” the Teacher summarizes the larger concept that he has been illustrating in each of the previous five “better thans.” He is saying, “Here’s how to have wisdom in this life: Be prepared for your death, hear the truth about yourself, work hard with patience, control your anger.” This is very similar to what we could call the way of the Kingdom of Jesus. We Christians strive to live a different way, the way the Jesus himself lived. The way of wisdom is better than any other way to live.
And so the Teacher concludes with the seventh and final “better than,” as he connects his “better than” poem to the larger point he has been trying to make in the book of Ecclesiastes: Enjoy the good times, but remember: both good and bad times are from God. Read how the Teacher describes the “better than” life in Ecclesiastes 7:13-14:
Consider what God has done:
Who can straighten
what he has made crooked?
When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover
anything about his future.
Can’t find the “better than” in that one either, can you? It’s there. A literal translation of verse 14 says, “When you have ‘gooder than’ times, be happy.” That doesn’t work for English. Neither does, “When you have ‘better than’ times.” Like the previous couplet, most translators just shorten it to the word “good,” so it reads smoothly in English.
The Teacher is saying that we can and should be happy and joyful no matter the circumstances of our lives. In fact, the Teacher has taught us all along in Ecclesiastes that if we pursue the way of wisdom, we will experience that deep inner joy.
The Teacher reminds us that even though we cannot know the future, we don’t have to know the future to experience joy. God is who he is, and we can trust in him, following his way of wisdom. That is the better way to live.
As you review the poem, go back and skim through the blog posts starting here. Is there one of these “better than” phrases that speaks to you? Take it to the Lord, and say, “Lord, I want my life to follow your better way. Please help. Fill me Holy Spirit, transform my heart, so that your fruit of the Spirit flows through me in a new and deeper way.”