Ecclesiastes 7:1–14: Seeing Good in the Day of Adversity

by Sep 20, 20210 comments

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Ecclesiastes 7, the beginning of the second half of the book, is set up by one of the closing questions of the first half of the book: “For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow?” (Eccl. 6:12).[1] There, the Preacher identified the fact that human beings struggle to identify what is truly good, especially in light of our few and fleeting days before death. To counter these problems, the Preacher instructs us, using the word “good” eleven times in the first fourteen verses of this chapter. Rather than directing us toward seeking out good in prosperity, ease, and feasting, the Preacher encourages us to look for good by being mindful through sorrow, adversity, and death.[2] Benjamin Shaw explains the new “tone” beginning in chapter 7 this way: “Solomon has already established his foundation: live your brief life in the fear of God, enjoying the blessings of this life as God gives you the opportunity and the ability to do so. Now he begins to give practical advice, setting out what a life lived in the fear of God looks like. He does not begin where the reader of Proverbs might expect, but at a point that would not surprise the reader of Ecclesiastes: the constant reminder of death.”[3] To start this new section of the book, the Preacher first tells us that God alone knows what is good.

[1] Murphy, Ecclesiastes, 62.
[2] Kaiser, Coping with Change, 131.
[3] Benjamin Shaw, Ecclesiastes: Life in a Fallen World (Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth Trust, 2019), 90.

Discussion Questions

1) How can the Preacher say that the day of death is better than the day of birth (v. 1b)? Why does he say that it is better to go to the house of mourning than the house of feasting (v. 2a)? What is the “end of all mankind,” and how are we supposed to “lay it to heart” (v. 2b)? In what sense is sorrow better than laughter, and how does a sad face make the heart good (v. 3)? Why do the wise dwelling the house of mourning, but fools in the house of mirth (v. 4)? How do we make sense of this?

2) How can a healthy appreciation of the impending nature of death prepare us for facing adversity, oppression, and corruption in the world (v. 7)? How does the kind of wisdom that the Preacher is talking about in this passage make us less angry? What kinds of things cause you to become angry? What factors in your own life can exacerbate the anger you feel? How does the wisdom the Preacher holds out lead us to patience of spirit?

3) Why should we not say that the former days were better than these (v. 10)? Why is it a perennial temptation to look back on “better days” in nostalgia? What is the truth about good and evil in the world throughout human history? What does the Preacher say about God’s role in all this (v. 13)? What does it mean to consider his work? What exactly has God “made crooked”? Why? What should be our response to this reality?

4) What should our general approach be to life, whether in times of prosperity or joy (v. 14)? What should we glean from the fact that God made both the good days and the hard days? Why has God given us good and bad days? How does meditating on the certainty of our coming death help us to understand God’s wisdom in the days he has appointed in this world? How does this lead us to trust him? How does this drive us to believe in Christ for our salvation?