By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Ecclesiastes 4:13-5:7
Some older readers may remember “Hey There,” a popular song in the 50’s. It’s about a young lady in love, trying to talk herself into making wise decisions. She says, “Will you take this advice I hand you, like a mother? Or, am I not seeing things too clear? Are you just too far gone to hear? Is it all goin’ in one ear — and out the other?”
Our focal passage, Ecclesiastes 4:13-5:7, seems to reveal King Solomon in a very similar conversation with himself. He had reached a goin’-in-one-ear-and-out-the-other stage. He describes himself as “an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more” (Ecc. 4:13).
Composing the book of Proverbs earlier in his life, Solomon gathered hundreds of wise sayings. One of his most-used words was ‘better.’ For example, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, Than a fatted calf with hatred.” (Proverbs 15:17) I have a message from that text about marriage and family; I call it “When a Salad is Better than a Steak.” Solomon wrote that and many other ‘betters’ when he was younger and wiser.
Now he’s older, jaded, and dealing with depression; yet Solomon returns to his ‘betters.’ He begins our focal passage, Ecclesiastes 4:13-5:7, with a ‘better’ (4:13) and ends it with a six-verse ‘better’ passage (5:2-7). Let’s look at those two proverbial betters — and the fascinating verse in between them.
(1) Wisdom is BETTER than foolishness (Ecc. 4:13-16).
Is Solomon telling his personal story here? If so, the idea of a “poor” young man who “comes out of prison” doesn’t seem to describe him. But could Solomon mean that he was a poor and imprisoned man compared to his riches and freedom now?
But who is the “second youth,” and in whose “place” does he stand (v. 15)? One of my mentors, Dr. J. Vernon McGee, says Solomon is referring to himself, the second born to David and Bathsheba.
You remember that their firstborn died soon after birth. Solomon could also be pondering other ‘seconds’ like Isaac (Abraham’s second), and Jacob (Isaac’s second), and others. If this idea is correct, it certainly should be a great comfort to any of us ‘seconds!’ And I don’t mean just birth order. Anyone who feels like a second should remember that God specializes in choosing seconds.
(2) Spirituality is BETTER than religion (Ecc. 5:1).
This verse starts “meddling:” Solomon writes about church-going folk. In John chapter 4 Jesus told the woman at the well that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Solomon says something similar: that church folk should “draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools.” Yessir, King Sol!
(3) True worship is BETTER than thoughtless words (5:2-7).
In this concluding passage Solomon says “Better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (verse 5). Is this another way of saying put your money where your mouth is? And more seriously, it’s surely saying, “If you make a commitment, stick with it.” To fear (be in awe of) God (v. 7) is ‘better’ than our many words about Him. B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.