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:
wisdom preserves those who have it.
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 this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
the righteous perishing in their righteousness,(Eccl. 7:11-15 NIV)
and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
The Preacher instructs about the advantages of wisdom. Wisdom is not the same thing as qualifications. What has been achieved in the academic world should be of benefit but does not necessarily give us wisdom. Wisdom is to fear the Lord and live reverently before Him. It means living the way God has shown us in the Bible.
It is wise to have a savings account where possible, because if something goes wrong money in the bank is helpful, just like an inheritance. Wisdom is also helpful and serves as a shelter, and provides guidance to prevent us from taking the wrong path when we face difficult decisions. The wise person understands the difference between right and wrong, and when faced with temptation they understand what the Bible has to say about godly behaviour. If we do fail, then wisdom teaches us to turn to God in repentance.
Wisdom provides perspective to our lives. Life can be a puzzle at times. We always like things to have a meaning. Many times I have heard people say, ‘I believe everything happens for a reason.’ The expectation is that they will find out in due course what that meaning is. The conviction is that if we have enough insight to be able to figure it out then we’ll be able to plot the twists and turns in life. The Preacher’s advice seems to challenge that simplistic notion. The Preacher says ‘consider what God has done, can we straighten what God has made crooked?’ Why God makes something crooked, we have to admit we just don’t understand, never mind hope to straighten it. Wisdom teaches us to let these puzzles go. Don’t constantly be seeking to make sense of it all or find the answers to life’s puzzles. ‘Some people are so wrapped up in the enigma of life that they never live.’
The Preacher’s instruction for life is that when the good times come, be happy and enjoy them as a gift from God. Why wouldn’t someone enjoy the good times? Because they are afraid that they might end, or they feel that might appear shallow. Another reason we may not enjoy the good times is that we fail to notice that it is a good time. Take today as an example. We had a brief walk in Syon Park this afternoon. I like to see how many fishermen are fishing from the bank of the lake. If I meet any fishermen returning to their car after fishing, I like to ask them what the fishing was like, as I plan to fish as soon as the weather is a little warmer. Today the children in the park were having fun kicking down all the snowmen that others had made the day before. After our walk we parked alongside the Thames and watched the ducks, geese and seagulls competing for the food that people were throwing down for them. It would easily be possible not to notice that that was a good time. We take so many ordinary things for granted and possibly even think that nothing good happens to us. There are likely lots of good times, it is just we may have stopped noticing, and never paused to give thanks to God for His goodness and love. When the bad times come, continue to trust in the Lord because God sends both the good times and the bad times. Why would God send the bad times? Well, we could ask why would God send the good times? It is because He is God. ‘The times of success come from God, and He uses the times of failure too. Health and promotion are His gift, but equally sickness and unemployment may be His tool.’ Wisdom leads us to see that it is all under His control. Job responded to his wife who advised him to curse God and die:
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.(Job 2:10 NIV)
Richard Niebuhr in 1934 wrote what is now called the serenity prayer.
O God, give us
Serenity to accept what cannot be changed,
Courage to change what should be changed
And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
The Preacher removes a notion that some may have of life. There is no formula that says live a godly life and you will prosper; live a bad life and you will suffer. The Preacher has seen many examples of godly people having their lives cut off in their prime, examples of wicked people acquiring wealth and living into their old age and making the most of their wealth. If this life is all there is then this would be a great injustice, but death introduces everyone to the afterlife. After death comes the judgement.
O Lord our God help us to accept that everything that we encounter comes from Your good hand of providence. Help us to rejoice and have pleasure in the many small blessings that make up our day. Forgive us for taking for granted the pleasure of a walk, the joy that comes from music, the pleasure that we have from reading and the pleasure in preparing and eating a meal. Lord when times of trial and suffering or weakness become part of our lives help us to trust Your wise providence. Give us more wisdom to be able discern what is the more excellent pathway for us to follow, because we ask this in our Saviour’s name. Amen.