15 I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. 16 Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? 17 Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? 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. 19 Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.
Excessiveness. Solomon addresses this in verse 16 directly but this entire passage is overflowing with wisdom about it. One might call it an excessively wise instruction on excessiveness (I hope at least one person laughs at that joke). Solomon has been talking about this throughout this whole book so far. Until now, it has been about material excessiveness, but now he is mentioning something outside of the physical realm. Wisdom and righteousness are not tangible things, yet they exist and having too much of either, as Solomon warns, could lead to our demise.
What? We can be “too” righteous? Yeah, because we get big heads about our righteousness and suddenly it isn’t about serving God, it’s about how good of a person we are. If we fast-forward to the first four books of the bible we see the phenomenon known as the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes who were knowledgeable about the scriptures to a point they became self-righteous.
I believe the “take away” for today’s passage is what Solomon says in the second half of verse 18 about wisdom and righteousness, for one who fears God comes forth with both of them. Two things are happening here: 1) we fear (respect/love) God first and 2) there is a balance between righteousness and wisdom as a result of having that intimate relationship with God. If we obtain ungodly wisdom or ungodly righteousness, then not only is it devoid of a relationship with God but it does us no good. We aren’t capable of maintaining this balance because it is only possible with God in our lives. If we respect, love, and follow His will, the fruit that we bear will witness this balance. Have you ever seen it otherwise?
The key to this dynamic is in the first sentence. Jesus once said, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” It is a reflection of the truth that Solomon is revealing to us here in Ecclesiastes. First of all, I love how he calls his experience his “lifetime of futility”. Next he reveals that if we seek these things to try to live longer (even if that means leaving a legacy behind), it is pointless. Wisdom and righteousness aren’t about our human lifespan. Since original sin began to plague this earth, man has been fighting against mortality. The funny thing is that by fighting against it, we just better accentuate it! This too is vanity. It’s like trying to build the most advanced motorcycle on the planet so you can be a better swimmer: they are incompatible and completely unrelated.
First we must understand and accept our purpose in this temporary state of existence and secondly we must carry it out. Seeking out and developing a relationship with God most easily accomplish this. Our perceived wisdom and righteousness in this world will flow out of it as a result. This is what Solomon has discovered. As Paul would say (about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and a relationship with God), against these things there is no law. Wisdom and righteousness will come naturally to us as a result. If we simply strive after them, we will never achieve them.
How have your priorities been aligned? Do you strive after wisdom and righteousness in an effort to be closer to God or are you closer to God and as a result wisdom and righteousness flow from you? It amazes me that in the human race we try so hard to be both of these things yet we continually fail because it isn’t possible on our own. Once we realize and accept it isn’t possible, hopefully we will stop trying so hard and recognize the point: a relationship with God.