Can an ironic proverb help us make sense of our complex world? – Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:8, Part 1

Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Are you feeling perplexed?  Confused by the world we live in?  If so, you are not alone.  How many of you are familiar with Veggie Tales?  The creator of Veggie Tales, Phil Vischer has been making some fascinating informational videos relating to racial justice in the USA.  One video answers the question why Black Christians generally vote for one party and White Christians generally vote for another.  Shouldn’t our Christian beliefs lead us to vote the same way?  Interestingly, Black and White Christians agree on so many theological issues.  But when we go to the voting booth, we overwhelming part ways.  It’s perplexing.  Why does it have to be so confusing?

And that is just one important issue among many.  We humans see the world in so many different ways.  Have you ever had that experience when you’re talking with someone or watching a news report or reading a Facebook post, and you think to yourself, “How can they, in their right mind, believe that nonsense?”  It’s perplexing!  Where can we find wisdom in this perplexing world? 

What we are starting today is a four-week sermon mini-series on a section of Ecclesiastes that runs from chapters 7:15-10:20. If you follow the blog regularly, next week there will be no posts because we’ll have a guest speaker at Faith Church. I’ll return the following week with a quarterly current events sermon. After that I’ll continue with our study of Ecclesiastes 7:15-10:20, which Dorsey titles, “Practical Advice about Wise Living in This Perplexing World.”[1]  It is interesting to think that the Teacher, some 3,000 years ago, might have thought he lived in a perplexing world.  We definitely think that our world can be perplexing, don’t we?  Hopefully these four sermons on Ecclesiastes 7:25-10:20 will be a treasure trove to help us make sense of the world and help us live more faithfully in it.

This week on the blog we are studying Ecclesiastes 7:15-8:8, and what we are going to see in this section is that the Teacher includes lots of proverbs.  As we read, see if you can spot the proverbs.  But what is a proverb? A proverb is a short wise saying.  The book of Proverbs is the epitome of this kind of literature.  It is 31 chapters filled almost wall-to-wall with proverbs.  There is one very important point we need to make about proverbs, as we look for them in Ecclesiastes 7 and 8.  Proverbs are often defined as sayings that are always true, but the reality is that proverbs are not necessarily always true.  Instead proverbs are better defined as wise sayings that are usually or often true.  We cannot say that proverbs are always true because there tend to be exceptions to the rule.  Let’s start our search for proverbs by reading Ecclesiastes 7:15. Please open a Bible and read that verse.

Was there a proverb in verse 15?  Yes.  But it is a twisted, ironic proverb. “The righteousness of the righteous man destroys him, while the wickedness of the wicked man helps him live a long life.”  Both of these situations can be true, and in fact, they occur far more than we might like.

When would a righteous man be destroyed in his righteousness?  It can happen when a person is killed because of their faith.  The epitome of this is Jesus.  He was literally a righteous man that was killed because of his righteousness.   Earlier this year we studied the book of Acts, and in chapters 7 and 8 we met Stephen, who, though he was not perfectly righteous like Jesus, was a faithful follower of Jesus who was killed for clearly articulating his faith in Jesus. 

Along with millions of others who have been unjustly slaughtered, Jesus and Stephen are examples of the injustice that is far too prevalent in our world.  What the Teacher sees in his world, we have seen far worse in ours.  I watched the World War 2 in Color episode about the Holocaust recently, and it was very, very hard to get through.  Millions snuffed out.  Similar genocides have happened in so many other places throughout history.  I’m not saying that all those people died because of righteousness or because of their faith.  Many did.  What I am saying is that this proverb is ironic because the righteous are not supposed to die because they are righteous.  You’d think that living a life of righteousness would lead to life, as it often does.  But the Teacher is right. Righteous people do sometimes die because of their righteousness.

Likewise, there is a sick irony in the second half of verse 15.  Wicked men whose lives are prolonged because of their wickedness.  Think, for example, of a crime boss who gets rich via fraudulent means, or maybe a bank robber, or leaders of a drug cartel. Through their riches, gained by evil means, they are able to live a long life, get excellent health care, etc.  Again, while these cases happen, and they happen far more than they should, they are not the way life is supposed to be. 

So the Teacher starts us off on a dark note.  Where is he going with this?  I thought this was supposed to be wisdom for a complex world.  Instead, he seems to start by highlighting the complexity.

Stay tuned, because the Teacher has a flow of thought, and as we follow his thinking in the rest of the posts in this five-part series, we’ll learn some very practical wisdom for navigating the complexity of our world.

[1] Dorsey, David. 1999. Literary Structure of the OT.

Published by joelkime

I love my wife, Michelle, and our four kids and two daughters-in-law. I serve at Faith Church and love our church family. I teach a course online from time to time, and in my free time I love to read and exercise, especially running,

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