Ecclesiastes 7:15-18: Avoid The Extremes

Read: Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

Excessive righteousness and excessive wickedness stand in contrast to one another as do excessive wisdom and excessive folly. In the Bible, the ones most often associated with excessive righteousness are the Pharisees. They had created rules to supplement the rules that were in the Law so that they were sure not to violate the law. They had become sticklers for doing the law perfectly such that they really missed the point. Likewise, there were those who threw the law to the wind and did whatever they wanted to such that they were excessively wicked. The Preacher is not encouraging people to be slightly wicked or even saying that a little wickedness is okay, rather that wickedness with no regard for the law is unacceptable as it leads to destruction. In the same manner, the Preacher says one should not be overly wise or overly foolish. Being excessively wise is being wise for wisdom’s sake and being excessive foolish is being foolish with no regard to wisdom at all because it to is destructive. When one goes to the extremes, one’s life is effectively wasted and the preacher is telling people to not waste their lives in trivial or destructive pursuits.

The Preacher is telling people to avoid extremes in a manner of speaking.  He sees one as grasping two things and holding onto them and bringing them to God. If one were to grasp two ropes pulling with equal force opposite directions, one would remain in the middle. If one holds something heavy in one hand and something of equal weight in the other, there is equilibrium and such is actually easier to carry than something that is not balanced. This sort of imagery is what the Preacher is using to illustrate the matter of grasping wisdom alongside folly righteousness alongside wickedness. One needs to be in touch with both to avoid the dangerous extremes.

Paul, before becoming a Christian was the sort of legalistic Pharisee mentioned earlier. He had a zeal for the law and a zeal for persecuting those who he did not agree with, namely the church. But when he converted, he took on a more level-headed approach to obeying the law. In Romans 12:1-3, Paul encourages the Christians at Rome to present themselves as living sacrifices and to do so in a manner such that they don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought to, rather being sober minded (i.e. living wisely) and doing as to not create false piety (Colossians 2:16-22). This is all done in light of God’s mercy. At the same time, there is another extreme Paul warns against: sinning in light of grace. Jesus’ death is not a license to sin, rather quote the opposite. Christ fulfills the demands of the law and upholds the law in doing so. One should be all the more compelled to live according to it (Romans 6:15-18).

Living out one’s life in a manner that does not drift towards one extreme or another requires vigilance against the extreme. One should heed the advice given by the Preacher by being aware of wickedness and righteousness at the same time and being aware of wisdom and foolishness at the same time. It is in this balance, one will be able to live in a way that does not destroy or needlessly waste one’s life.

Lord, help not waste my life in trivial or dangerous pursuits!