The Expository Files

 What Is Better

 Ecclesiastes 7:8-10

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.

(Ecclesiastes 7:8-10 ESV)

In this section of Ecclesiastes there are proverbs, but with some expansion beyond just a brief statement. And, there is an overriding theme: What Is Better. Navigating life under the sun requires mature attention to values. Reality is, some courses of action are better than others. Some attitudes lead us in better directions; some emotions are better than others for us and for those with us.

“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Solomon is teaching us patience. His approach is, to get us to think about how the end of a thing is better than the beginning. He wants us to remember that. At the beginning of some crisis, trial or time of adversity, there is a tendency to be absorbed in those first moments of shock and to be overwhelmed and impatient. Solomon point us to the end, the conclusion. It will be over! Going into surgery, focus on the anticipated end and good outcome. Entering into a meeting with people where tension and conflicts is expected, think of the desired outcome of peace or resolution. Finding yourself at the beginning of a powerful temptation, put your eye on the victory of resisting and being refreshed by your courage. Don’t let that common desire for immediate gratification foster hopeless impatience. Wait for the satisfaction of the end of a thing, for “the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”

“Do not be quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.” Once again, it is that quick impulse and desire for immediate gratification that gets us into trouble. In a world where we can almost have anything instantly, we can’t be warned enough about impatience and anger. {Most Expository Files readers know the experience of getting upset, because your computer took 15 extra seconds to boot; or the Internet was down yesterday from 3:00 pm until 3:04. We have been cultivated to expect everything to happen almost instantly. And that cultural technological expectation can lead to rather immature frustration.} Learning to calm down and wait is better. Patience and self-control contributes to good health, good relationships with people – and most of all, this state of heart and life is pleasing to God. Beware of anger that lodges or finds a home within you. Evict bitterness.

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” Solomon is not teaching against a knowledge of history, nostalgia, or speaking of the past. He is addressing the spirit of attitude that complains – claiming that if we could go back to a former time, everything would be better. First, such talk is futile since it longs for the impossible. We cannot go back. It’s not 1950 anymore! But further, think with care – was everything smooth, pain-free and easy back in the “good ole’ days?” Could it be, we remember some of the good times but repress the bad? Better to face the reality of the present, gather up your courage and experience and apply your best wisdom to today.

“The Bible does not commonly assess the present in terms of the past, but much more typically does so in terms of the future, with all its potential for change. Those who insist on harking back to the past often impose burdens on those who live in the present, from which they cannot escape. But to set the present in the context of the future is to set a path before someone else that allows the past to be left behind and a new way of being to be embraced,” (Iain Provan, NIV Application Commentary, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs; publisher: Zondervan).

And please consider, in 25 years, these will be the good ole’ days. Focus on what is better now!

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 19.10; October 2012