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Ecclesiastes, Part 5: Wisdom and the Power of Sin
Presenting our commentary on Ecclesiastes chapter 6, we discussed the vanity of poverty and wealth. The Preacher had presented us with three examples of circumstances in the lives of men, and the evils that befall two of them. The first example was of the man who, having been blessed with riches, was blessed by Yahweh in his later years to enjoy the fruits of his life’s labors. Then there was the man who accumulated riches and was bereaved of them so that he lived his later years in want. Finally, there was the man who worked a long life and had many children, but who had never enjoyed any luxuries all of the time that he lived.
While it was apparent that the men of the latter two examples were undergoing trials imposed on them by Yahweh, whether or not they had sinned, it is also evident from other Scriptures that the man in the first example, the rich man who enjoyed his wealth, was also being tested. But this is not evident unless we examine the Law and the Gospel. In the Law we learn that wealth is given to men by Yahweh so that He may establish His covenant, in Deuteronomy chapter 8. Understanding that, wealthy men should abide the Gospel of Christ and employ their wealth in a manner so as to build His Kingdom, seeking to store treasure in heaven rather than to increase their earthly treasures even further. So this might be the most difficult of these three examples for a man to live up to.
Although we are not told explicitly, the second man may well have lost his wealth because of his own sin, as we read in the curses of disobedience in Deuteronomy that as a punishment for sin strangers would enjoy the fruit of a man’s labor, rather than the sinner himself. Yet the third man apparently never had any luxury in his earthly life because he kept his eyes in his head, as we see in Ecclesiastes 2:14, and in the Preacher’s example that “better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire,” as it says in reference to this man in Ecclesiastes 6:9.
But all of this is vanity, as the Preacher also explains. All of the circumstances of this life are temporary, and ultimately men are subjected to them for the glory of God. The rich man who enjoyed his wealth shall die, depart from this world empty-handed, and be judged for his works. The apparent sinner who lost his wealth is empty-handed, and shall die, and be judged for his works, and also for his sins if he had not yet repented. Likewise, the man who never had any enjoyment in his life will die and be judged for his works. However he seems to have a great advantage, never having sought worldly gain in the first place. This is true even if his apparent condition is worse than if he had been an abortion, as he was compared in the skepticism of the Preacher.
In any event, the Preacher asked, at the end of chapter 6, “12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?” And of course, only Yahweh God Himself knows what is good for each of us, or how we should be tried in this world. As we read Revelation 13:10: “If one is for captivity, into captivity he goes. If one is to be slain by the sword, he is to be slain by the sword. Thus is the patience and the faith of the saints.” Whether we as Christians are to be tried in success, or in poverty, or in life or in death, we do not know, and neither can we know.
And as the Preacher also informed us, we cannot tell our futures, and therefore we should not be confident of where we shall be tomorrow. For that reason, as we had discussed in relation to these examples, the apostle James wrote in his epistle “Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” And since we cannot tell our own futures, where we will be or what state we shall be in, neither can we know what things we may need tomorrow. For that Paul of Tarsus said in Romans, “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
As the Preacher had shown, it is God who consigns men to their worldly fate, and it is useless for men to contend with God. So when men are truly spiritual, when they are guided by the Spirit of Yahweh, they enquire in prayer of that Spirit what it is that they should do each day, not following their own imaginations and their own desires, but seeking the Kingdom of Heaven. So Christ said in Matthew chapter 6: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” They also strive to keep the law, as Paul had also said in Romans, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
So in the opening verses of Ecclesiastes chapter 7, in response to the vanity of man regardless of his worldly circumstances, the Preacher advised that “1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.” From this his readers should derive the understanding that because of the vanity of this life, virtue is more important than the pursuit of worldly riches. For that the Preacher had said that “better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire”. For that same reason, where Yahshua Christ had exhorted His listeners to store up for themselves treasure in heaven, in Matthew chapter 6, He then said “22 The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” The Greek word rendered as single is ἁπλοῦς, which is simple or sincere. Being single in that sense, a man certainly would be virtuous.
Then the Preacher proceeded to confess that a life of mourning, which we may interpret as seriousness or solemnity, is better than a life of mirth, or perhaps, partying. So he said that “3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Doing so, he compared the laughter of a fool, evidently one who spent his life in mirth, to the vanity found in the crackling of thorns under a pot. Finally, where we left off with Ecclesiastes chapter 7, we saw the Preacher warn against anger, and it is apparent that the proud in spirit are quick to anger, where he wrote “8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.”
So far the Preacher in this chapter has admonished his readers to maintain their good names in virtue, to take life seriously rather than waste it away in mirth, and to maintain gentleness of spirit, as the Word of Yahweh had also said, in Isaiah chapter 66: “2 For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” So Christ said in Matthew chapter 5, “3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, and in Luke chapter 4: “18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised…” Yahshua Christ wants His people to have life abundantly, but not necessarily to have a life which is abundant in material possessions. Next in the words of the Preacher, we shall see that wisdom is also better than material possessions, and the need to submit oneself to the will of God.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
In chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes the Preacher had said that “9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Then in chapter 6, from the New American Standard Bible, “Whatever exists has already been named…” meaning that what existed in the days of the Preacher had already been named, and therefore it was already known to men in the past, so it is really nothing new. On this account, simply because we may recollect our past as having been better than our present, a phenomenon which is quite common among the men of all ages, that does not mean that it is true. There is nothing new under the sun, and all of the corruption in the world which is now has been here from the beginning.
Furthermore, in spite of all the history which we may have and study, all we can do, as Paul of Tarsus described it in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, is to “see through a mirror in riddles”. This is because what we know about the past is related from a limited perspective even in the most comprehensive histories and myths, and even in our Scriptures. So the Word of Yahweh says, in Isaiah chapter 41, “…shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods…” Men do not know the past as well as they think they do, even the past which they have experienced in their own lifetimes.
Now once again the Preacher professes that wisdom is more advantageous than either riches or mirth:
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.
The New American Standard Bible clarifies the intent where it says “11 Wisdom along with an inheritance is good and an advantage to those who see the sun.” Having an inheritance, wisdom is the best way to safeguard it. But we must recall that in the life of Solomon, with his own wisdom he himself did not safeguard his inheritance, but rather, for his sin it was to be drastically reduced after his death.
First we read in 1 Kings chapter 4 “29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. 30 And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt.” Solomon’s great wisdom is then recounted in several other places up through chapter 11, and then we read in 1 Kings chapter 11: “1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; 2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. 3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods. 9 And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice, 10 And had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods: but he kept not that which the LORD commanded. 11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. 12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father's sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son. 13 Howbeit I will not rend away all the kingdom; but will give one tribe to thy son for David my servant's sake, and for Jerusalem's sake which I have chosen.”
There is much to be learned of the vanity and foolishness of man in the life of Solomon, as with all of his wisdom he nevertheless went off into sin, and his sin cost Rehoboam his own son the full share of his inheritance. Here, having both wisdom and wealth, Solomon teaches better than he lived:
12 For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.
Where the Preacher says that money is a defense, we should not be misled to believe that having money is a virtue. Rather, he is only making a pragmatic observation of the circumstances of life. While either wisdom or money may be employed in defense of a man’s estate, here the Preacher informs us that of these, wisdom is far more excellent.
So in Proverbs chapter 19 we read, from the New American Standard Bible: “6 Many will entreat the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts. 7 All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone. 8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good.” Now in conclusion the Preacher asks a rhetorical question:
13 Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
The Preacher had already informed us that Yahweh God Himself had subjected man to vanity, where he had written “10 I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it.” In chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes, speaking of the vanity of the circumstances of man, the Preacher said “ 15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.” Submitting to the will of God, man realizes that he cannot adapt the world to himself, but rather, he must learn to acclimate himself to his condition in the world. But doing so, man should not accommodate himself to the world, for as the apostle James warns, a friend of the world is an enemy of God. So now the Preacher warns of prosperity and adversity:
14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.
Brenton’s Septuagint has the final half of this verse to read: “… God also has caused the one to agree with the other for this reason, that man should find nothing after him.” The word rendered as after can also mean beyond. Evidently the Preacher is saying that God causes men to suffer adversity as well as prosperity so that man sees that there is nothing after God, or nothing higher than or beyond God. Furthermore, it is apparent that if man had nothing but prosperity, he may think that there was more to existence than God. Perhaps he may think that his prosperity did indeed come from within himself, apart from God. This is precisely what man was warned against in Deuteronomy chapter 8. Man suffers adversity so that he is humbled. David was humbled by adversity, and then when he was granted mercy and favor, he knew that there was nothing beyond God, and for that reason did he glorify God. This we read in the 30th Psalm: “3 O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. 4 Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. 5 For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 6 And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.”
From this same writer, from Solomon, we read in Proverbs chapter 1: “29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: 30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. 31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. 33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.” The me in that passage is that Wisdom which is from God which the author personifies in his lessons.
So we hope that walking in fear of Yahweh, He will keep adversity from us, although that may not always be the case, as even the apostle Peter warns Christians that they may face adversity so that their faith may be tried. In chapter 1 of his first epistle, speaking of the salvation of God he says “6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ…” Rather than relying upon material wealth, Christians are consistently encouraged to store up treasure in heaven, for example where Christ Himself is recorded as having said in Revelation chapter 3: “14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.” Once again, the exhortations in Ecclesiastes are fully consistent with the Gospel of Christ.
Now the Preacher continues by recounting his own experience with prosperity and adversity, with righteousness and wickedness. In the later portion of this chapter, it becomes clear that the Preacher is actually lamenting his own wickedness:
15 All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness.
The King James Version adds the words “his life” to the text, which are certainly not in the original. A man cannot prolong his life by his wickedness. Rather, in the verses which follow the Preacher seems to indicate that wickedness may shorten a man’s life. Brenton’s Septuagint has the verse to say “I have seen all things in the days of my vanity: there is a just man perishing in his justice, and there is an ungodly man remaining in his wickedness.”
We cannot tell with certainty whether Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes before or after his final apostasy. Here the mood seems to be reflective, that perhaps these words were written in the final portion of his life, just before his death. We certainly do believe that is the case, because the experiences described here must have been accumulated while the Preacher was in a state of apostasy, as he himself indicates on several occasions. However the text of 1 Kings chapter 11 seems to indicate that in the end of his days Solomon did not repent at all, as after Yahweh had admonished Solomon for his sins, and told him that the ten northern tribes would be given over to Jeroboam, we read that: “40 Solomon sought therefore to kill Jeroboam. And Jeroboam arose, and fled into Egypt, unto Shishak king of Egypt, and was in Egypt until the death of Solomon. 41 And the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon?” [This is another book which is now missing in our Scriptures.] However in the concise manner in which the books of Kings were written, it is nevertheless possible that Solomon did write this book in those last days. If that is the case, then he is writing this from his own experience. Where he continues, he certainly seems to be speaking through experience:
16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
The archaic language of the King James Version makes this passage difficult to understand. Brenton’s Septuagint has it to read: “Be not very just; neither be very wise: lest thou be confounded. Be not very wicked; and be not stubborn: lest thou shouldest die before thy time.” The statement certainly seems to be in reference to the “just man that perisheth in his righteousness” and the “wicked man that prolongs in his wickedness.” A wicked man justifies his wickedness with his own self-righteousness, by which he destroys himself, mistaking it for wisdom. So we read in 1 Corinthians chapter 3: “19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” Solomon had said in Proverbs chapter 26 that: “10 The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors. 11 As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. 12 Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” Thus is the man who would think that there is something beyond God.
18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.
The New American Standard Bible has the verse to read: “18 It is good that you grasp one thing, and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.” The Septuagint Greek has the last clause to read “…for to them that fear God all things shall come forth”, to which Brenton adds the word well. The Preacher seems to be telling us that it is necessary both to “be not righteous over much” and “be not over much wicked”, and heeding both warnings a man will do well. The meaning of the Hebrew phrases is correctly rendered in the New American Standard Bible which has them to read “do not be excessively righteous” and “do not be excessively wicked”.
Of course, since all men sin and fall short of the glory of God, every man is at least a little wicked at some points in his life. But the man who is “righteous over much”, or self-righteous, also does wrong and is prone to fail. For this Paul warned in Galatians chapter 6 that even when correcting a sinner a man must be humble, where he said: “1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
The Preacher now speaks concerning true wisdom, the wisdom of God and not the wisdom of men:
19 Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
Ostensibly, this is true, but only of the wisdom which comes from God. As we have explained, Solomon counted as wisdom only that wisdom which comes from God. This is evident in Proverbs chapter 1 where he wrote that “7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction”, and in chapter 2 where he said “6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. 7 He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. 8 He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. 9 Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. 10 When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; 11 Discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee: 12 To deliver thee from the way of the evil…”
In his continual repetition, he Preacher builds on this statement later on in chapter 9 where he wrote “13 This I also saw to be wisdom under the sun, and it is great before me: 14 suppose there were a little city, and few men in it; and there should come against it a great king, and surround it, and build great mounds against it; 15 and should find in it a poor wise man, and he should save the city through his wisdom: yet no man would remember that poor man.16 And I said Wisdom is better than power: yet the wisdom of the poor man is set at nought, and his words not listened to. 17 The words of the wise are heard in quiet more than the cry of them that rule in folly. 18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: and one sinner will destroy much good.”
Now the Preacher substantiates what we said in response to his admonition not to be “over much wicked”.
20 For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
As we have already cited, Paul of Tarsus wrote in Romans chapter 3: “23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God…” David also, in the 143rd Psalm, made supplication to Yahweh in a humble manner, admitting his low estate and his sinfulness and saying: “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me, and in thy righteousness. 2 And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” No living man shall be justified, ostensibly because every man is a sinner.
21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
We read in Proverbs chapter 21 that “ 23 Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.” But it is a very difficult thing for a man to do, to keep the tongue under control at all times. So the apostle James warned in chapter 3 of his epistle: “7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” However, earlier in Ecclesiastes the Preacher had warned against being quick to anger and judgment, so we should not rush to judgment when those we know curse us in a fleeting fit of anger. So therefore our first impulse must be to be merciful towards those who may speak rashly, because at certain times we ourselves have also spoken rashly.
The Preacher once again concludes:
23 All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. 24 That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
Again, we read from 1 Kings chapter 4: “ 29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea shore. [But it was evidently not as deep as the ocean, which is the analogy that Solomon himself seems to make here.] 30 And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 For he was wiser than all men… and his fame was in all nations round about. 32 And he spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five [or five thousand in other manuscripts]….”
Solomon sought wisdom, he prayed for wisdom from Yahweh, and his prayer was answered. Yet here he confesses that with all of his wisdom there were still things that he could not know or understand, which is also an expression of humility. So he continues:
25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:
This seems as if Solomon may be justifying his own experiment in mirth and in folly as an experiment in wisdom, as we also suspected in Ecclesiastes chapter 2 where he said “3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.” But whether or not he sought to justify his own wicked deeds, this is nevertheless a confession in the life of Solomon, who was granted great wisdom and then purposely chose to act foolishly.
Here Solomon is returning to the theme of Ecclesiastes chapter 2, where we saw that in spite of his wisdom, he purposely gave himself over to wine, to mirth, in order to purposely experience folly, and he concluded in part in that chapter, “13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.” But as we have said before, repetition is one of his teaching methods, and as he repeats his themes, the Preacher also uses different perspectives or adds new elements to his subjects. Here he repeats the theme from chapter 2, and now he adds women as a new element to his subject:
26 And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.
Evidently, the Preacher already had the instruction found in Proverbs, which very frequently warns its readers in regard to strange or adulterous women. We read in Proverbs chapter 22: “14 The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.” Then in Proverbs chapter 23, where sexual licentiousness is the result of an abuse of wine: “31 Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. 32 At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder. 33 Thine eyes shall behold strange women, and thine heart shall utter perverse things.” Then in Proverbs chapter 31: “3 Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.” Solomon was indeed one such king, but Yahweh had mercy even on he who above all earthly kings, should have known better.
In several other chapters of Proverbs there are warnings in regard to the strange woman, the zuwr (Strong’s # 2114) stranger who is not necessarily a racial alien as well as the nokriy (Strong’s # 5237) stranger who is an alien, someone of another nation, of another Adamic nation or of any other race, as the word was used in the early portions of the Scriptures. For example, it was used of Adamic Egypt in Exodus 21:8, but of the Canaanite Jebusites in Judges 19:12.
The paramount warning against strange women in Proverbs seems to be in chapter 5: “1 My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: 2 That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge. 3 For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: 4 But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a twoedged sword. 5 Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. 6 Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them. 7 Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth. 8 Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: 9 Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: 10 Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; [this is what happened to Solomon, as Jeroboam was handed most of his kingdom because of his sin] 11 And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, 12 And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; 13 And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me! 14 I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly. 15 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. [Remain with the women of one’s own race.] 16 Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets. 17 Let them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee. 18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love. 20 And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? 21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings. 22 His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. 23 He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.” But knowing all of this, Solomon himself did not take heed.
The next passage also informs us that the Preacher certainly is Solomon, towards the end of his life:
27 Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: 28 Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.
The word counting was added to the text by the King James translators. The addition of superfluous words to the text often damages the chances of a plausible interpretation. But admittedly, neither the New American Standard Bible nor the Septuagint interpret the passage the way in which we shall interpret it here. In fact, all of the popular translations add unnecessary words to the passage in verse 27. Our interpretation is based on the simplest translation, which adds no words.
Of all men, Solomon did indeed have this experience, where we read in 1 Kings chapter 11 that “1 But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites; 2 Of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. 3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. 7 Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. 8 And likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods.”
In the ancient world it was easy for a man to encounter and get to know a thousand men, but women both young and old were sheltered. However a king could get to know a thousand women, and that is just what Solomon did, one at a time, as “he had seven hundred wives… and three hundred concubines”. Most men never had an opportunity to know a thousand women intimately, but Solomon did, so only Solomon, towards the end of his life, could say these things which the Preacher says here.
So where it says in verse 27 “Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, one by one, to find out the account”, Solomon knew a thousand women, he knew them intimately one at a time, and evidently he found none of them to be upright. And out of the thousands of men he must have known, he found only one upright man among a thousand. But we must take note, that while most of the men Solomon had known were probably Israelites, most of the women he married were evidently strange women, so the comparison is not entirely fair.
Nevertheless, the Preacher once again concludes:
29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
Solomon’s sin was that the strange women with whom he had been intimate ultimately led him off into idolatry, and for that his posterity were punished and his kingdom divided. We do not know exactly when the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon was written, but we see similar language in a warning against such idolatry in Wisdom chapter 15: “1 But thou, O God, art gracious and true, longsuffering, and in mercy ordering all things, 2 For if we sin, we are thine, knowing thy power: but we will not sin, knowing that we are counted thine. 3 For to know thee is perfect righteousness: yea, to know thy power is the root of immortality. 4 For neither did the mischievous invention of men deceive us, nor an image spotted with divers colours, the painter's fruitless labour; 5 The sight whereof enticeth fools to lust after it, and so they desire the form of a dead image, that hath no breath. 6 Both they that make them, they that desire them, and they that worship them, are lovers of evil things, and are worthy to have such things to trust upon.”
So once again we may determine that Solomon should have known better than to enter into his apostasy in the first place. But to resist sin is the greatest challenge to man, and even the wisest and greatest of men have been powerless in its grasp. Even David admitted this challenge as he prayed for mercy from Yahweh in the 40th Psalm: “11 Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O LORD: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me. 12 For innumerable evils have compassed me about: mine iniquities have taken hold upon me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of mine head: therefore my heart faileth me. 13 Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me: O LORD, make haste to help me.”
Such is wisdom and the power of sin, that without the mercy of God man cannot have enough wisdom to keep himself preserved from the power of sin. Here we find the most important difference and the most significant lesson in comparing the lives of David and Solomon.