Copyright © 1985 by
RIGHTEOUSNESS AND WICKEDNESS IN
WAYNE A. BRINDLE
Good and evil, righteousness and wickedness, virtue
and vice--these are common subjects in the Scriptures. The poetical
books, especial1y, are much concerned with the acts of righteous
and unrighteous persons. Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes, declares that
"there is nothing better....than to rejoice and to do good in one's
lifetime" (, NASB). In fact, he concludes the book with the
warning that "God will bring every act to judgment, everything
which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" ().
But how righteous should one try to be, and for what purpose?
Qoheleth sets forth what appears to be a strange answer in Eccl
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. Do not be
excessively righteous, and do not be overly wise. Why should you
ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked, and do not be a fool.
Why should you die before your time? 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. (NASB)
1. Common Interpretations of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
Walter C. Kaiser contends that "few verses in Ecclesiastes are
more susceptible to incorrect interpretations than 7:16-18."1 In
fact, interpreters of Ecclesiastes tend to view the argument of -
18 in a variety of ways, depending upon whether they are willing
to attribute to the author a sense of relativity and "moderation" in
Kaiser, Jr., Ecclesiastes: Total Life (
2The Jewish Targum seems to interpret the word "righteous" here in
a technical sense as an admonition to judges not to be too severe in their judgments,
The Golden Mean
Kaiser has also observed that "for many, Solomon's advice
is the so-called golden mean; it is as if he had said: 'Don't
be too holy and don't be too wicked. Sin to a moderate degree!' "3
Indeed, almost every commentator speaks directly or indirectly of
Qoheleth's "doctrine of the golden mean."4 Those commentators
who understand the author of Ecclesiastes to be advocating the idea
of this sort of "golden mean" between virtue and vice usually date
the book quite late, since the concept of a "mean" by which to
guide one's life is thought to have gained popularity during the
time of Aristotle, or even of the Stoics.5
To many, Qoheleth's apparent failure to exhort his readers to
totally righteous behavior seems to leave him open to the charge of
teaching immorality and misconduct.6 They believe that he was
advocating a "middle way" between righteousness and wickedness,
because, as stated by R. N. Whybray, "(i) his [Qoheleth's] experience
had taught him that neither necessarily has any effect on men's
but this is a minority view and is certainly not consistent with the context; cf. A. D.
Power, Ecclesiastes or The Preacher (London, Eng., 1952), p.94; Christian D.
Ginsburg, Coheleth (1861; reprint,
3Kaiser, p. 85; the arguments and conclusions presented here are valid regardless
of one's view of the authorship of Ecclesiastes, as long as one accepts the unity and
positive perspective of the book; this latter problem is important, but cannot be
discussed in this article.
Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien, ed. John G.
Gammie (New York, 1978), p. 203, n. 4.
5See n. 2, above; cf. Robert Gordis, Koheleth: The Man and His World, 3d ed.
(New York, 1968), pp. 178, 276. Aristotle said, "Virtue lies in a mean between
opposite extremes" (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.6.7), a golden mean that was constantly
advocated by Greek and Latin writers (see Power, pp.94-95). Confucius also
advocated a type of "common sense" which resembled the Aristotelian mean (see
Harold H. Watts, The
Modern Reader's Guide to Religions [
p.540). Buddha recommended his "
of self-indulgence and self-mortification; this "
eightfold path toward detachment from life, the elimination of desire, and thus
cessation of suffering (see
6Whybray, p. 191.
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 245
fortunes in terms of divinely imposed reward or punishment"; and
"(ii) it had also taught him that extremes of any kind are in
practice more likely to lead to disaster than is moderation."7
Is this what Qoheleth is urging? Is he suggesting that since
personal righteousness is no guarantee of long life or happiness
(), the reader should become "amoral,"8 steering a middle
course between right and wrong? Or is he warning against
becoming "too goody-goody or too impossibly naughty"?9
G. A. Barton, who concludes that Qoheleth's warning against
"extreme righteousness" is a reproof of the excessive legal obser-
vances of the "Chasidim," states further that "some interpreters…
hesitate to admit that Qoheleth really implies that one may sin
to a moderate degree. That, however, is what he undoubtedly implies."10
Loyal Young takes the meaning of the passage to be that if
"one would avoid premature death, let him be neither too righteous
nor too wicked"; he refers to a number of Hebrew and Christian
martyrs, on the one hand, and to the inhabitants
were too righteous for their own safety--the last class were too
wicked to be spared. This seems to be the only satisfactory explana-
tion of the verses."11 He adds, however, that "every man, judging
for himself, is consoled in his shortcomings by the supposition
that those more godly or more moral than he are too righteous,"
and that the true explanation seems to be that "if there is no future
world, let us make the best we can of this, avoiding the extremes of
too much zeal for God, and too much wickedness."12
Some commentators who recognize the "golden mean" in Eccl
7:15-18 do so because they believe that the author is speaking as a
mere "man under the sun." Samuel Cox, for example, concludes
8Ibid., p. 102, n. 3.
9Power, p. 95.
10George A. Barton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of
Ecclesiastes, ICC (New York, 1908), p. 144.
11Loyal Young, A Commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes (
1865), p. 170.
that the author permits a "temperate indulgence both in virtue and
in vice, carrying neither to excess (ver. 18)--a doctrine still very
dear to the mere man of the world."13
J. N. Coleman suggests that the word "saying" belongs at the
end of , so that the passage should read: "And there is a wicked
man who prolongs his life through his iniquity (saying), 'Be not
righteous overmuch, neither make yourself overwise; why should
you destroy yourself?' "14 Coleman thus declares that "this worldly
maxim is the counsel of the wicked man, not the maxim or
teaching of Solomon"; and consequently, the inspired reply of
Solomon, then, is at vs. 17: "Do not be overmuch wicked"--that is,
do not add to original sin actual rejection of God and his will.15
R. B. Y. Scott contends that the "mean" of -17 follows
from the assertion in that "men do not receive their just
deserts." It is therefore ''as unprofitable for men to exhaust them-
selves in struggling for moral perfection as it is to hasten their
demise through folly"; and while wisdom is important, he says, no
one can be perfect.16 On the other hand, Robert Gordis interprets
the passage as a warning that "both extremes of saintliness and
wickedness lead to unhappiness"; what is best is a moderate course
between both extremes.17
According to C. D. Ginsburg, it is impossible to make the
passage conform to orthodoxy.18 The author teaches that one
should be ''as moderate in the indulgence of sin" as he should be
"temperate in the practice of virtue."19 Ginsburg adds, however,
that this viewpoint is not the final opinion of the author; that
opinion comes later, at the end of the book, and it should not be
anticipated in this passage.20
13Samuel Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes, The Expositors' Bible, ed. W. Robert-
Coleman, Ecclesiastes (
15Ibid., p. 38.
16R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, AB (Garden City, N.Y., 1965), p. 237. He
attributes the Greek maxim, "nothing too much," to Solon (ca. 600 B.C.).
17Gordis, p. 179.
18Ginsburg, p. 379.
19Ibid., p. 380.
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 247
Fanaticism and Legalism
Other commentators, while perhaps acknowledging an exhort-
tation to moderation in Eccl 7:15-18, see the author as warning
especially against fanaticism. Edgar Jones, for instance, says that
the passage is “reporting that the fanatical extremist does run into
trouble.”21 And Franz Delitzsch holds a somewhat similar opinion,
declaring that the author teaches that one should not exaggerate
righteousness; for “if it occurs that a righteous man, in spite of his
righteousness, perishes, this happens, at earliest, in the case in
which, in the practice of righteousness, he goes beyond the right
measure and limit."22
Certain other commentators see in all of this a reference to the
legalism of the Pharisees. A. D. Power, for example, suggests that
possibly “religious" would be a better understanding of the word
“righteous” here, “for K. might have been thinking of the Pharisees
who paid tithe of mint and anise and cummin, but overlooked
such matters as judgment, mercy and faith (cf. Matt ), so
perhaps the writer here meant religious or ritualistic, like the
Pharisees who strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel. ..."23
This view understands the words of Qoheleth to refer to an
excessive concentration on legal observance or pious practices.
H. C. Leupold describes them as referring to “a righteousness that
is beginning to go to seed, a righteousness that will flourish in its
most distorted form in the days of Jesus, in regard to which Jesus
will be moved to say: ‘Except your righteousness shall exceed the
righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, etc.' (Matt )."24
Whybray states that scholars have suggested two possible
reasons for the giving of such advice:
(i) Such striving after perfection is not a virtue, but rather a sin:
that of pride or blasphemy. (ii) Such excessive behavior is not
required by God, and is to be avoided: for on the one hand its
21Edgar Jones, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Torch Bible Commentaries (New
22Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes (Grand
23Power p. 95.
24H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes (Columbus, Ohio, 1952), p. 164.
goal is beyond man's capacity and so it can achieve nothing; and
on the other hand it makes life joyless, leading to narrowness and
bigotry. So, in one way or another, the striving after perfection
Overreaction to Truth
R. W. DeHaan and Herbert Vander Lugt explain Eccl 7:16-17
as a warning against overreactions to the truth of :
First, some conclude that everyone who goes to an early
grave somehow must have fallen short of doing what pleases the Lord.
Therefore they set about to make up this lack in their own lives
by extreme legalism, ascetic practices, or some other form of
works-righteousness. . . .
The second wrong reaction is that of going down the road of
lustful living, giving oneself over to unbridled sensuality…
Many who see apparently good people suffer adversity or die
young go down the pathway of a false and artificial works-
religion while others go down the road of unrestrained wicked-
ness. Both courses will lead to disaster.26
This viewpoint explains the context (both and ) and is
in concord with the rest of Scripture. The command not to be
"overly wise" () would be interpreted similarly, as a possible
overreaction to the failure of wisdom to provide the full answer to
life (do not devote yourself fully to wisdom as if it were the only
solution to life, but do not reject it to become a fool either).
An increasingly common interpretation has been to see in the
word "righteous" a reference to hypocrisy, and to understand the
author to be referring to "self-righteousness" rather than genuine
righteousness.27 As Power puts it: "It may be he [Qoheleth] had in
mind those excessively religious people who spend all their time
seeking out wickedness in others and have no time for real religion
25Whybray, p. 191.
26Richard W. DeHaan and Herbert Vander Lugt, The Art of Staying Off Dead-
end Streets (Wheaton, Ill., 1974), pp. 107-108.
27A. F. Harper,
"Ecclesiastes," in the Beacon Bible Commentary (
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 249
themselves; another translation therefore might read as an injunc-
tion not to be self-righteous."28
According to Kaiser, what most commentators miss is that
"verses 16-17 are not cautioning against possessing too much
real righteousness." Rather, the danger is that men might delude
themselves and others through "a multiplicity of pseudoreligious
acts of sanctimoniousness; ostentatious showmanship in the art of
worship; a spirit of hypercriticism against minor deviations from
one's own cultural norms, which are equated with God's righteous-
ness; and a disgusting conceit and supercilious, holier-than-thou
attitude veneered over the whole mess."29 He states, further, that
the real clue to this passage is that the second verb in ("to be
wise") must be rendered reflexively, as "to think oneself to be
furnished with wisdom."30
G. R. Castellino, in a careful analysis of the Hebrew forms,
comes to a similar conclusion: namely, that refers to "passing
oneself off as righteous" (self-righteousness) and "passing oneself
off as wise” (intellectualization). Vs. 18 then urges the reader to
"grasp true wisdom" and not to let go of "the avoidance of
foolishness," both of which are achieved through the fear of God.31
Whybray argues from the structure, grammar, and meaning
of the passage as a whole that what is in view is "the state of
mind which claims actually to have achieved righteousness or
perfection."32 He advances the following arguments:
1. In the use of the construction haya + adjective
(‘al-t ehi saddiq--"do not be overly righteous") instead of the cognate verb
‘al-tisdaq is not due to chance or to purely stylistic considerations,
but has a deliberate purpose: in order to give some special meaning
to the word saddiq which could not be conveyed by the use of the
verb. The phrase "refers to the self-righteous man, the would-be
saddiq, the Inan who claims to be, or sees himself as, exceptionally
28Power, p. 95.
29Kaiser, pp. 85-86.
30Ibid., p. 86.
31George R. Castellino, "Qohelet and His Wisdom," CBQ 30 (1968): 24.
32Whybray" p. 191.
33Ibid., pp. 192-195.
2. The word saddiq ("righteous") has an ethical sense, and
the author recognizes that in the strict sense there is no saddiq
in existence (7:20). He does not distinguish between "righteous"
and "perfect," but uses the same term for both. Whybray concludes,
therefore, that in 7:16 he must be using the term in an ironical sense:
"Do not be a self-styled saddiq."34
3. The word harbeh () always means "much, many, greatly,
very," etc., and does not express any value-judgment such as "too
great, or too much." The word is best taken as qualifying the whole
preceding phrase. Qoheleth thus "uses the qualifying adverb harbeh
to indicate that he recognizes a tendency in human nature towards
self-righteousness." His meaning is "Do not allow self-righteousness
to become your dominating characteristic." It is "a gentle warning
which takes account of human weakness."35
4. In 7:16b the phrase "be overly wise" is simply the hithpael
of the verb hkm. Whybray contends that of the meanings generally
attributed to the hithpael, only three would make any sense at all here:
"to conduct oneself in a particular way"; "to imagine/set oneself up to
be"; or "to pretend to be." The first possibility would mean "Do not
act with great wisdom," which cannot be what the author is saying.
The last two options have a similar meaning: "Having first warned his
readers against setting themselves up to be, or pretending to be,
absolutely righteous, Qoheleth now warns them against similar
pretensions to wisdom."36
5. Vs. 17 states, "Do not be very wicked." Here again the
word harbeh is a concession to human frailty. Qoheleth adds a
warning not to go to the other extreme and throw off all restraints
and all striving towards these virtues, abandoning oneself to a life
of folly. But "he knows that one cannot entirely avoid either wickedness
or folly (cf. vs. 20), and so he adds the word harbeh: what is to be
avoided is the carrying of them to extremes." It is not an encouragement
to immorality, but merely a recognition of the frailty and inherent
sinfulness of man.37
34Ibid., p. 195.
35Ibid., p. 196.
37Ibid., p. 197.
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 251
Charles Bridges likewise understands Qoheleth' s words as a
warning against self-righteousness: "To whom then, and to what,
does the admonition apply? We have seen that it does not warn
us against true righteousness. But it is a wholesome caution
against the 'vain affectation of it.' Every right principle has its
2. Exegesis of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18
In Eccl 6:8, Qoheleth introduces the question, "What advantage
does the wise man have over the fool?" Throughout the second half
of the book he deals with the futility, benefits, and limitations of
wisdom, focusing especially on the issue, "Who knows what is
good for a man during his lifetime?" ().
In chap. 7, the author points out that no one can really
understand the work or the ways of God, or of the future. "Who is
able to straighten what He has bent?" he asks (7:13b). God has
made adversity as well as prosperity, and both must be accepted
from him (). Human beings cannot really know for certain
what the future holds for them during their lifetime.
What Qoheleth Has Seen-7:15
At this point a question surely enters Qoheleth's mind: "I
have already said that in place of righteousness there is wickedness
, and that man can expect both prosperity and adversity
from God . What, then, of the age-old principle that righ-
teousness brings blessing [prosperity], and wickedness brings
cursing [adversity]? Is that principle invalid?"
This question clearly relates closely to the central problems of
the Book of Job. Qoheleth has neither the problem with God's
justice that Job had, nor the faulty view of reality that Job's friends
demonstrated. He sees clearly (with Job) that the principle of
righteousness®prosperity is only a general principle and has
many exceptions. Qoheleth thus states from his experience: "There
is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a
wicked. man who prolongs [j`rx--"lengthen," "prolong"] his life
1960), p. 163.
in his wickedness" (). In spite of their righteous character
some men die young. And in spite of their wickedness, some evil
men live long, prosperous lives.
The Law stated time after time that those who obeyed God and
lived righteously would "prolong" (j`rx) their days and receive
blessing (Deut , 40; , 33; 6:2; 11:9; ; 25:15; 30:18; 32:47).
Solomon in his wisdom had also made similar promises (cf. Prov
28:16). But the problem of exceptions persisted.
Job recognized the same problem when he asked, "Why do
the wicked still live, continue on, also become very powerful?"
(Job 21:7). They have many children, safe houses, prosperity,
and many days of rejoicing (21 :8-12). "They spend their days in
prosperity," Job complains (), while many righteous men are
suffering or dying.
The psalmist also "saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Ps 73:3),
and it nearly caused him to stumble (73:2). He complains: "Behold,
these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in
wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my
hands in innocence" (Ps 73:12-13). This was very "troublesome" to
him (73:16), until he went to God's sanctuary and finally under-
stood the end of the wicked (73: 17). God would destroy them,
sooner or later (73:18-20). The psalmist's solution is to focus all his
desires on God: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides
Thee, I desire nothing on earth. . . . God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. . . as for me, the nearness of God is my
good" (Ps 73:25-28; cf. Matt ).
Qoheleth himself explains the problem and its principle more
in detail in the following chapter (Eccl 8). The general principle is
valid, he says, that "it will not be well for the evil man and he will
not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God"
(). And, on the other side, it is still true generally that "it will
be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly" ().
However, judgment for evil does not come quickly; and because
of that, many are inclined to give themselves over to do evil ().
Qoheleth declares further that "there are righteous men to whom it
happens according to the deeds of the wicked," and, on the other
hand, "there are evil men to whom it happens according to the
deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility" ().
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 253
This is the same problem that he relates in . Righteousness
does not necessarily bring prosperity, and,wickedness does not
necessarily bring suffering and death.
The following two verses must therefore be understood as
Qoheleth's counsel in the light of vs. 15. It is here that the two
major exegetical problems of the passage arise: (1) Do the expres-
sions "excessively righteous" and "overly wise" really refer to self-
righteousness and pretended wisdom, as Kaiser, Whybray, Castel-
lino, and others contend? Or do these expressions imply, instead,
an exaggerated "striving after" righteousness and wisdom? (2) Does
Qoheleth in -17 intend to warn against a possible overreaction
(on the part of some) to the statement in that righteousness
does not guarantee prosperity, nor wickedness death (i.e., deciding
to strive fanatically for perfection or to slide cynically into foolish
immorality)? Or does he instead begin a new, unrelated section,
discussing the nature of true righteousness and true wisdom, in
order that the reader might be able to evaluate inner character?
Before embarking on a detailed consideration of these ques-
tions, the unusual structure of this passage must be noted:
7:16a hBer;ha qyDica yhiT;-lxa
do not be excessively righteous
7:16b rteOy MKaHat;Ti-lxav;
and do not be wise to excess
7:1 MmeOw.Ti hm.AlA
why should you cause yourself desolation?
7:17a hBr;ha fwar;Ti-lxa
do not be excessively wicked
7:17b lkAsA yhT;-lxav;
and do not be a fool
j~T,fi xloB; tUmtA hm.AlA
why should you die before your time?
Each verse consists of three parts, each of which begins with
the same word: lxa, lxav;, and hm.AlA, respectively. Each verse begins
with a pair of negative warnings ("do not"), these four warnings
generally containing a negative particle (lxa), a verb or verbal
clause, and an adverb (the adverb is lacking in 7:17b). The third
part of each verse consists of an interrogative sentence introduced
by the word hm.AlA followed by a verb. And in each case, the
interrogative sentence implies a positive concept or result.39
At this point, several of the more controversial words in the
passage must be defined. Lexically, the word qyDica in 7:16a means
“just" or “righteous" in conduct and character, either toward God
or, ethically, toward others. Nothing more than this can be read
into the statement from the term itself. The form hBer;ha is the hiphil
infinitive absolute of the verb hbArA, (“to be many, much, great"), and
is here used adverbially to mean “greatly," “exceedingly."40 It is
used, for instance, in Neh 2:2: “Then I was very much afraid." In
Eccl 7:16a, this word modifies the adjective “righteous," so that the
sentence should read, “Do not be exceedingly righteous." The
meaning of the statement will depend on the nuance which the
context gives to the expressions “exceedingly" and “righteous." If
“righteous" refers to inward character, then an inordinate striving
for perfection may be in view. If, however, “righteous" refers to
outward conduct, then the warning probably has to do with
excessive occupation with some sort of Pharisaic externalism.
In 7:16b, MKaHat;Ti is the hithpael form of the verb MkaHA (“to be
wise"), and, according to Whybray, means “to pretend to be wise"
or “to make great pretensions to wisdom."41 In the Brown-Driver-
Briggs Lexicon, it is rendered as “make or show thyself wise."42
A. B. Davidson states that the hithpael is reflexive of piel43 (in this
case, “to make wise," “to teach wisdom"). Thus, the hithpael
would mean “to make oneself wise" or “to teach oneself wisdom."
But Davidson adds that “it very often implies that one shows
himself as, or gives himself out as, performing the action of the
39Whybray, p. 192. Another interesting aspect of this structure is the fact that
there is a 3:2:2 decrescendo in the meter of vs. 16, followed by a 2:2:4 crescendo in
the meter of vs. 17, indicating, perhaps, the comprehensive, yet parallel, nature of
40Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English
of the Old Testament (
cited as BDB.)
41Whybray, pp. 196-197.
42BDB, s.v. MkaHA, p. 314.
B. Davidson, An Introductory Hebrew Grammar, 25th ed. (
1962), p. 107.
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 255
simple verb."44 In this case, the verb in Eccl 7:16b could mean "to
show oneself to be wise," or perhaps even "to pretend to be wise."
Several factors argue against the latter meaning of the word in
the passage at hand. First, there is absolutely no reason from the
context to understand the verb as a reference to pretense. Second,
grammatically the hithpael form may just as easily mean "to make
the only other use of the hithpael of MkaHA is in Exod , where it
refers to wise conduct--"Let us deal wisely with this people"-and
there is no reason to treat it in any other way in Eccl 7:16. (The
appeal made by some exegetes to Prov 3:7 ["Do not be wise in your
own eyes"] is invalid, since the reference there has the modifying
expression [“in your own eyes"] spelled out; and, moreover, the
verb is not hithpael, but rather "to be" with an adjective.)
The word rteOy (Eccl 7:16b) is common in Ecclesiastes, usually
meaning "superiority," "advantage," or "excess."45 As an adverb it
means "to excess," or perhaps "to a superior degree." It is used in
Eccl 2:15, where Qoheleth asks himself, "Why then have I been
extremely wise?” In 7:16b, he is apparently saying that there is no
need for anyone to try to become the wisest person on earth. It is
not worth the trouble.
In 7:16c, the verb MmeOw.Ti is the hithpael form of MmewA, which
means "to be desolated.” As a reflexive, the word means "to cause
oneself desolation or ruin."46 Qoheleth asks, "Why should you
cause yourself ruin by such extreme reactions?" This cannot refer
primarily to either a divine judgment or societal sanctions, as
Whybray suggests,47 since the reflexive makes the ruin self-caused.
The verb fwar;Ti in 7:17a is simply the Qal imperfect of the verb
fwarA ("to be wicked," "to act wickedly"). It is important to note
that on this negative side of the coin, no process is in view (such as
was the case with "make yourself excessively wise"). The word
simply looks on the actions of wickedness.
It is perhaps obvious by now that Whybray's interpretation of
the passage depends almost entirely upon a highly questionable
44Ibid.; Ginsburg, p. 380, notes, however, that the wisdom under consideration
must be real, since the antithesis speaks of real, not affected, foolishness. He thus
concludes that the piety referred to is also sincere and genuine piety.
45BDB, s.v. rteOy, p. 452.
46BDB, s.v. MmewA, p. 1030.
47Whybray, p. 198.
meaning of one word in the passage: MKaHat;Ti (7:16b). Having con-
cluded that this word refers to "pretensions of wisdom," he reasons
that 7:16a is parallel and that it should therefore read, "Do not
pretend to be righteous" or "Do not be self-righteous." This is an
Whybray's solution fits neither the context nor the details of
the passage. He is forced to conclude that is totally dis-
connected from , and that -17 in no way provides counsel
for the problem of 7: 15.48 He is also forced to treat the questions of
7:16c and 7:17c as extremely vague references to a possible future
calamity, and in the process he violates his own explanation of the
hithpael/hithpoel form. In addition, Whybray completely boxes in
7:16-18 as a separate passage almost totally unrelated to the rest of
the chapter,49 since he has divorced himself from any sort of correct
What, then, is the conclusion of the matter? (1) The expres-
sions "excessively righteous" and "make yourself overly wise" are
best understood as an exaggerated striving and seeking after perfec-
tion and super-wisdom. Qoheleth's point is that these things are
not really of value; he had discovered that himself-both experien-
tially and through observation. (2) Vss. 16 and 17, therefore, have a
very close relationship to vs. 15. As DeHaan and Vander Lugt
suggest, if the principle that righteousness brings prosperity does
not always hold (-15), and if wisdom cannot really discover
everything that man needs to know for his life (), many
people would have one of two types of reaction: (a) They might
decide that if they could reach perfection in character and knowl-
edge, their problems would be solved; or (b) they might decide that
God is unfair and simply devote themselves to immorality and
foolish living as the best they can get out of life. Qoheleth warns
them against both of these options, since both of them lead to
disaster. The best life, he says, depends on the fear of God.
The Spiritual Conclusion-7:18
Following the negative admonitions of -17, Qoheleth now
describes positively a "good" in life. Though neither righteousness
nor wisdom can guarantee prosperity or unlock the mystery of the
future, they are nevertheless good and necessary. It is good to hold
48Ibid., p. 202.
ECCLESIASTES 7:15-18 257
on to righteousness, and not to let go of wisdom. Both wickedness
and foolishness lead to disaster.
Both righteousness and wisdom are achieved through the fear
of God. It is through trust in, and obedience to, God that righteous-
ness and wisdom can actually be balanced and made worthwhile.
In Eccl 7:15-18, Qoheleth discusses the problem of the value
and balance of righteousness and wisdom. He has concluded that
human wisdom cannot really explain all of life nor the future
(), and that even the principle that righteousness brings'
prosperity h;lS many exceptions (-15). Thus, he notes in
that some righteous people die in spite of their righteousness, and
some wicked people live long lives in spite of their wickedness.
How would a concerned human react to this admission of
reality? Many would tend to overreact either toward striving harder,
or toward ending all efforts and slipping into identity with those
who do not know God. Qoheleth offers some helpful counsel: Do
not strive for exaggerated righteousness or try to make yourself the
wisest person on earth, for these are not really worthwhile goals;
and in the end, such striving will ruin your life. Likewise, do not
turn to immorality or act like a fool, since God's principles do still
operate and you will put yourself in danger of premature death.
God is still in control.
What then of righteousness and wisdom? What good are they?
Qoheleth answers that they are both of great benefit. Grasp them
both. If you learn to fear God (which is the important thing), you
will come out right in both areas.
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