In this chapter, by presenting a series of opposites, a series of life scenarios-situations that we find ourselves in in this fallen world-the Preacher is showing us true wisdom and the folly of trying to make sense of life apart from God. He is also revealing to us in this passage the difference between wisdom and folly. And the characteristic actions and attitudes that reveal to us the heart of wisdom and folly. He reveals these things to us so that we may look at our own hearts and take stock. Is there wisdom there or only folly?

Various Life's Situations Reveal Wisdom or Folly

Let's look first at verses 1-6. Here the Preacher asks us to meditate on the potential instructiveness of suffering and death. In other words, he says that death, and sorrow, and grief and--interestingly with that combination-laughter, have an ability to reveal wisdom and folly. In verse one he says "Just as a good name is better than ointment, so also is the day of one's death better than the day of one's birth." Why is a death day better than a birthday? The funeral, he is saying, poses and reveals ultimate questions, issues and answers about life.

In verse 2 he goes on to say, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting." Why? Once again, he tells you here because that is the end of every man and the living takes it to heart. Death brings the wise to think about life, to take stock of their own end, to take account of their own priorities because every funeral anticipates our own. So the wise person goes to the house of mourning while the fool only thinks about parties.

Verse 3 reads, "Sorrow is better than laughter. When a face is sad a heart may be happy." The Preacher is saying that sorrow, even mourning, is better than an empty laughter. The author of Ecclesiastes is saying, "I'd rather cry with the saints than laugh with the sinners because the sinners are fools." This theme continues in verse 4. He says the wise are thinking about going to comfort someone in their time of mourning and loss, while fools are thinking about going to parties.

Again, as we look at verse 5, the Preacher says that it would be better to hear and experience the unpleasant rebuke of a wise man, than it would be to join in with the singing and laughter of fools. Why? He tells you in verse 6. Just like thorn bushes light quickly and crackle loudly and burn out even faster under a pot, so also a fool laughs loudly and quickly and briefly. The wise man's rebuke serves a greater end than the short, shrill laughter of the fool.

What does all this say? It says that death, sorrow, grief and empty laughter have the ability to reveal wisdom and folly. If you are one that never pauses to think about death, that runs away from looking at the hard issues that death brings, if you are one that would rather have the empty laughter than the contented sorrow, then the heart of a fool has been revealed. And the fool is the one who attempts to live life under the sun, apart from God, to find some sort of meaning and pleasure and satisfaction apart from the living God.

Various Trials of Life Reveal Wisdom or Folly

He continues to meditate on the trials of life in verses 7-10, and he thinks with you on the dangers of compromise and impatience and anger and discontent. And once again, he says the various trials of life in a fallen world reveal the heart's wisdom or folly. Oppression, he says, makes a wise man mad and a bribe corrupts the heart. Here he deals with two trials. How does the wise man respond to oppression? Not with a shrug, but with indignation, and ultimately it drives him crazy to see oppression occurring. And he also says that a bribe corrupts the heart. These trials cannot be ignored by the wise man. The end of a matter is better than the beginning. Why? Because the end often reveals the purposes of God in ways that those purposes cannot be seen at the beginning of a matter.

Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit. Here he's reminding us of the danger of impatience and he's saying that impatience is actually a reflection of being prideful. Glen Knecht tells this story of humility. He says humility is going the speed limit when you know that no one else is around. You have to exercise some patience to do that, don't you? That's the perfect illustration, isn't it, because haughtiness is impatient; you're ready to do what you want to do. That is at the heart of pride.

Wisdom and the Fear of God

In verses 11 and 12, we see the necessity of wisdom. Here the Preacher celebrates the value of wisdom. And so, wisdom is necessary and it preserves the life of its possessor. In verses 13 and 14, he sees the heart of wisdom is to realize that life is under God. Our embrace of God's providence is the key. "Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him." In other words, the heart of wisdom is revealed when you respond to the good things of life by saying, "God has given," and you respond to the hard things, the bad things of life by saying, "God has done this and He has a purpose for this and I accept His wisdom even when my wisdom cannot search this thing out."

And yet, in verses 25-29, the Preacher says that he has looked around an awful long time and he hasn't found many wise men and women. But he has found this. "That God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices." Here is the beginning of wisdom. To recognize that there's not much wisdom out there. Wisdom is not native to us. It is a gift of God. In fact, what is native to us is seeking out our own devices. God made men upright. God made our first parents, Adam and Eve, upright and yet, we have sought out our own devices and we have traded wisdom for foolishness. And so the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, the recognition that we need wisdom from Him, and that it can only be found in Him and that we can't make sense of this life apart from Him. An awe-inspiring reverence of God leads us to see our lack and need, and the fulfillment of that lack and need only in Him. That is what the author of Ecclesiastes teaches us in this great chapter as he looks at wisdom and folly.