Let’s read Ecclesiastes 7:15-18: “I have seen everything in my days of vanity: There is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, And there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, Nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, And also not remove your hand from the other; For he who fears God will escape them all” (NKJV).

Throughout this book Solomon is observing life, and trying to find meaning and purpose in light of what he has seen. He speaks in verse 15 of “my days of vanity” because many things that he did observe made no sense to him; they were “vanity,” which means “without purpose.” He goes on in this verse to speak of one of life’s greatest enigmas, that “a just man perishes in his righteousness” and “a wicked manprolongs life in his wickedness.” In other words, he saw what you and I see at times; a good man dies at a young age, and a wicked man lives a long life.

In verses 16-17 he advises us to avoid being “overly righteous” and “overly wise” on the one hand, or “overly wicked” and “foolish” on the other hand, for both could lead to a premature death. What exactly is Solomon saying? We will consider two possible interpretations.

  1. We should avoid the “extremes” of being TOO RIGHTEOUS or TOO WICKED. We should “play it safe” by being a “middle of the road” person. If we live a life of “moderation” we may avoid dying young. This is human logic and those who espouse this view say that logic and reasoning is what guided Solomon throughout this book. If this view is true then Solomon was clearly contradicting Scripture, for God’s standard for His people is that they should NOT SIN, as we see in 1 John 2:1, “My little children, these things write we unto you, that you sin not.” God would NEVER tell us, “don’t be too good or too bad.”
  2. We should avoid the extreme of being SELF-RIGHTEOUS and PROUD OF WHAT WE KNOW, and the extreme of RECKLESS and IMMORAL LIVING, for both can lead to an early death. In this view, Solomon is NOT contradicting God’s standard of holiness; he is warning against the sin of religious pride and licentiousness. The Lord Jesus condemned self-righteous pride in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” And throughout Scripture we are exhorted against living a life of sin without any restraint.

It is interesting that Solomon ends this train of thought in verse 18 by saying, “It is good that you grasp this, And also not remove your hand from the other; For he who fears God will escape them all.”  We believe he is saying that if we truly fear the Lord we will grasp these principles and avoid both extremes. This thought fits in nicely with view #2, for the fear of God will allow us to escape being SELF-RIGHTEOUS and MORALLY WICKED. But if view #1 is the correct one, there is not a real fear of God, for that would be teaching that God is in favor of moderation when it comes to sin. In that case, Solomon’s observations in life and his human logic led to a false conclusion and he clearly misrepresented God.  (192.7)  (DO)