VIII. Provocative And Perplexing Proverbs (7:1–8:1)
Qoheleth now cites a number of gloomy proverbs that surprise, anger, and disappoint. This series of better than proverbs (7:1-12) is possibly Qoheleth's answer to his own question, “What is good for a man?” (6:12).
The advantage of sorrow over pleasure is presented first (7:1-6). Since death is the destiny of all, it must not be ignored (v. 2). The consideration of one's death is critical to proper living. Frivolity characterizes the fool whose occupation is with partying, while pensiveness characterizes the wise whose preoccupation is with death (v. 4). The funeral, not the party, causes one to number one's days and to gain a heart of wisdom (Ps 90:12).
After a proverb urging the acceptance of the harsh words of the sage rather than the flattering words of the fool (7:5-6), Qoheleth turns his attention to four ever-present dangers: extortion (v. 7), impatience (v. 8), anger (v. 9), and discontentment (v. 10). Qoheleth is consistent in this chapter in recommending that the reader take the harder, less humanly attractive road.
As he did in the opening chapters (chs. 1-2), Qoheleth recognizes the value of wisdom but observes that it must be linked with means (7:11-12). Even as fools can lose their money, so the wise can be poor. But wisdom has its advantage over wealth.
Echoing his earlier comments, Qoheleth does not attribute prosperity and adversity to fate but to God (7:13-14). He now speaks of an anomaly that he has observed (v. 15). The righteous perish while the wicked live long. Hence he urges moderation in righteousness, wisdom, and wickedness (vv. 16-18). The warning against being overrighteous is troubling. Various explanations have been offered. Some see Qoheleth extending his golden mean here to religion, while others see this as a caution against overscrupulosity, legalism, and self-righteousness.
The recognition that no man is completely righteous (7:20) supports the call for moderation (v. 16) and also for forbearance (vv. 21-22). Qoheleth also concedes the unattainability of wisdom (vv. 23-24), thus supporting his call for moderation in that area (v. 16).
Turning his mind to the more mundane, Qoheleth demonstrates that folly and wickedness are the same (7:25). His attitude toward women must be kept in the context of his personal observations. He can be positive about women (9:9). The one upright man whom he found among a thousand (7:28) is the wise man of 8:1 who is able to handle the difficult issues raised in ch. 7.