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The Scriptorium

The Measure of a Wise Heart

Ecclesiastes 7.2-4

2Better to go to the house of mourning
Than to go to the house of feasting,
For that
isthe end of all men;
And the living will take
itto heart.
3Sorrow isbetter than laughter,
For by a sad countenance the heart is made better.

4The heart of the wise isin the house of mourning,
But the heart of fools
isin the house of mirth.

The Story:Death is the common experience of all men. Not all men can feast abundantly; nor is everyone able to make merry or know much happiness. But all men die. The wise man enters into the plight of all men. He knows how to sympathize with all and is not consumed with gratifying all his own lusts. “Think about others, son; think about all your people and how you can serve them best.” This seems to be the thrust of this part of Solomon’s warning to Rehoboam. It was the starting-point of Solomon’s own reign and led to his having great wisdom (2 Chron. 1.7-12). This is not a call to moroseness; rather, it is a call to compassion, to suffering with others rather than being occupied only with one’s own concerns. As such it foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ as Paul outlines that work in Philippians 2.5-11.

The Structure:Verses 1 to 4 form an inclusio – they begin and end at the same place, and so encompass a single idea. Solomon skillfully blends his images from verse 1 to verse 4. Beginning with the idea of one’s own death, he branches out to the death of all people and thereby changes the focus of his image – from self to others – and suggests the object of his lesson – to think of one’s legacy in terms of the needs of others. The measure of a man’s heart, Solomon suggests, is in his ability to feel the suffering of others and not merely to focus on his own pleasure. The wise man nurtures a compassionate heart and thereby finds true happiness in living.

How can Christians begin to think more about others and less about themselves (Phil. 2:1-11)? Would doing so make us more effective as witnesses for Christ?

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Telling it Slant (1),” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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