A Study by Scott Sperling
Ecclesiastes 7:13-22 -
The Crooked Things in Life
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: God has
made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything
about his future.
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man
perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?
be overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time?
It is good to
grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all
Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city.
not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Do not pay
attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you—
for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed others.
Solomon continues with his proverbs, as he speaks on “what is good for a man in
life” (see Eccl. 6:12). Here he advises: “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: God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future” (vss. 13–14).
Solomon asks us now to stop, and “consider what God has done.” Solomon wants
us to ponder what we have seen in life, ponder what he has told us about life, and
realize that, by golly, we don’t understand everything that’s going on. Moreover,
concerning the things that we see in life that don’t make sense, we can’t do
anything about them: “Who can straighten what He has made crooked?”
From our point of view, there are many “crooked” things in life, things beyond our
understanding. Most of the things we consider “crooked” have to do with
adversity of some sort or another (we don’t seem to complain much when good
things happen to us that are beyond our understanding…). Who has not thought
life “crooked” when “bad things happen to good people”? Who has not thought
life “crooked” when “innocent” children suffer? We have all heard questions asked
(even possibly asked by ourselves) of the form: How could a loving God let such
and such happen? Yes, life, from our point of view, can be “crooked”.
But does this mean that God is evil? Because we do not understand everything that
happens in life, does this mean that God has failed? Of course not. I find it
arrogant that some people think that it should be possible to know and understand
everything that God does. How can we, mortal and sinful man, expect to
understand everything that God does? Why should God be expected to give
account to us for all that He does? Remember this: God is God, and man is man.
As Paul said, “Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” (Rom. 9:20). We will
never, in our mortal bodies, understand all that God has done, much less
Because of this uncertainty, because of our lack of understanding about life, “a man
cannot discover anything about his future” (vs. 14). Be careful when you plan. Do
not set everything in concrete, for “crooked” things happen that can destroy your
plans. James warns us against being too presumptuous concerning the future:
“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even
know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that
appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the
Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast and brag. All
such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16). Depend on the “Lord’s will”. Always
search, minute by minute, for the “Lord’s will”.
Solomon advises: “When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad,
consider: God has made the one as well as the other” (vs. 14). There is nothing
wrong with being happy when God gives us good times. We “should enjoy
them—not wantonly, or selfishly, but as opportunities of glorifying Him, and doing
good to our fellow-creatures” [Bridges, 156]. “But when times are bad, consider:
God has made the one as well as the other” (vs. 14). As Job put it: “Shall we
accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10). God has His reasons for
allowing us to endure trouble, though we may view trouble as what is “crooked” in
life. Look back, and you will realize that the troubles you have experienced have
been valuable for your spiritual growth, “not only as our school of discipline, but as
the test of our improvement in this school. For if prosperity doth best discover
vices, adversity doth best discover virtue” [Bridges, 157]. It is worth remembering
that God sends both good times and bad times: both are signs of His love. How,
you may ask, are bad times a sign of His love? The writer of Hebrews teaches us:
“Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons… Our fathers
disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for
our good, that we may share in His holiness” (Heb. 12:7,10). Every loving parent
knows that discipline springs from love.
Solomon himself points out something “crooked” in life that he has seen: “In this
meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in
his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be
overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Do not be
overwicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp
the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all
[extremes]” (vss. 15–18). This, at first glance, is a very strange passage to find in the
Bible. We are not often advised to avoid being “overrighteous” and “overwise”.
However, we must infer that Solomon is not speaking of godly righteousness or
godly wisdom, for he concludes his point by saying, “The man who fears God will
avoid” these things. Then also, a few verses later, he points out, “There is not a
righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (vs. 20).
We must remember that in this book, Solomon is speaking from a worldly point of
view. And so, here too, Solomon is speaking of worldly “righteousness” and
worldly “wisdom”. A tip off that he is speaking in this passage from a worldly
point of view is the way he introduces these points: “In this meaningless life of
mine…” (vs. 15). Solomon complains here that he sees the worldly “righteous”
perish, while the wicked live long. So he gives some worldly advice: “Do not be
overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?”
In the Bible, we find examples of those who are “overrighteous”. For instance, we
see the Pharisees denying the hungry disciples food that they gleaned on the
Sabbath (see Matt. 12:1–8); we see the Pharisees trying to accuse Jesus for healing on
the Sabbath (see Luke 6:7ff; Luke 14:1ff). These are cases of “overrighteousness”.
The Pharisees, in an attempt to look “religious”, rebuke those who are doing what
is right in God’s eyes. “There cannot be over much of the righteousness which is by
faith. But there is over much of the righteousness that consists in punctiliousness as
to external ordinances, when these are substituted for ‘the weightier matters of the
law—judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God’ (see Matt. 23:23; Luke 11:42)”
[JFB, 530]. Charles Bridges eloquently summarizes what Solomon is saying:
“Avoid all affectation or high pretensions to superior wisdom. Guard against that
opinionative confidence, which seems to lay down the law, and critically finds fault
with every judgment differing from our own” [Bridges, 164].
Solomon continues with some words concerning his favorite subject, wisdom:
“Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city. There is
not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. Do not pay
attention to every word people say, or you may hear your servant cursing
you—for you know in your heart that many times you yourself have cursed
others” (vss. 19–22). Solomon here places the value of wisdom as greater than
wealth, strength and power, for “wisdom makes one wise man more powerful
than ten rulers in a city.” He goes on to point out a couple of cases where he finds
a lack of wisdom. First, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is
right and never sins.” Sin is always a case of failing to put godly wisdom into
practice. We sin when we knowingly go against God’s Word. We all sin, and so
there is in all of us much room for improvement concerning putting into practice of
godly wisdom. In fact, this is the wisdom we most lack, and thus most need: godly
Second, Solomon finds a lack of wisdom in people who get upset at what others
say. So, Solomon advises: “Do not pay attention to every word people say, or you
may hear your servant cursing you—for you know in your heart that many times
you yourself have cursed others.” Solomon advises us to show wisdom by turning
a deaf ear to what others say about us: “Do not pay attention…” Solomon is
essentially saying: “Look. We all say stupid things at unguarded moments.
Therefore, show some forgiveness for those who say stupid things about you.”
And if you cannot turn a deaf ear to what others are saying about you, do not hold
it against them. Rather, apply what they say as constructive criticism. “Therefore,
instead of cherishing a bitter feeling against the agents who cause our sufferings,
we ought to regard them as the instruments in the hands of the loving Father who
corrects us; then it becomes, by God’s Spirit, easy for us to love them and pray for
them whilst they despitefully use us.” [JFB, 531].
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Bridges, Charles. A Commentary on Ecclesiastes. Edinbrugh: Banner of Truth, 1992.
(Originally published in 1860).
Hubbard, David. Mastering the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Dallas:
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical,
Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 3 Vols. Grand Rapids:
Eerdman’s, 1993. (Originally published in 1866).
Kaiser, Walter. Ecclesiastes: Total Life. Chicago:Moody, 1979.
Keil, Carl & Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint
Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971. (Originally published ca. 1880).
Kidner, Derek. The Message of Ecclesiastes. Downer’s Grove, IL:Inter-Varsity, 1976.
Nisbet, Alexander. An Exposition with Practical Observations upon the Book of
Ecclesiastes. Reprint Edition. Edmonton, Alberta: Still Waters Revival Books, 1998.
(Originally published in 1694).
Wiersbe, Warren. Be Satisfied. Wheaton, IL:Victor Books, 1990.
© 1994-2017, Scott Sperling