Ecclesiastes 7:23
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) The confession of failure to attain speculative knowledge gives energy to the preacher’s next following enunciation of the practical lesson which he has learned from his experience.

Ecclesiastes 7:23-24. All this have I proved — All these things, of which I have here discoursed, I have diligently examined and found to be true; by wisdom — By the help of that singular wisdom which God had given me. I said, I will be wise — I determined that I would, by all possible means, seek to attain perfection of wisdom, and I persuaded myself that I should attain it; but it was far from me — I found myself greatly disappointed, and the more I knew the more I saw mine own folly. That which, is far off, &c. — No human understanding can attain to perfect wisdom, or to the exact knowledge of God’s counsels and works, and the reasons of them, because they are unsearchably deep, and far above out of our sight; some of them being long since past, and therefore utterly unknown to us, and others yet to come, which we cannot foreknow. 7:23-29 Solomon, in his search into the nature and reason of things, had been miserably deluded. But he here speaks with godly sorrow. He alone who constantly aims to please God, can expect to escape; the careless sinner probably will fall to rise no more. He now discovered more than ever the evil of the great sin of which he had been guilty, the loving many strange women,I will be - Or, I am. There was a time when Solomon thought himself wise enough to comprehend the work of God, and therefore needed for himself the self-humbling conviction declared in this verse.

It - i. e. Wisdom. Compare Ecclesiastes 8:17.

23. All this—resuming the "all" in Ec 7:15; Ec 7:15-22 is therefore the fruit of his dearly bought experience in the days of his "vanity."

I will be wise—I tried to "be wise," independently of God. But true wisdom was then "far from him," in spite of his human wisdom, which he retained by God's gift. So "over wise" (Ec 7:16).

All this, or all these things, of which I have here discoursed,

have I proved, I have diligently examined and found all this to be true, by wisdom; by the help of that singular wisdom which God had given me.

I said, I will be wise; I determined within myself that I would by all possible means seek to attain perfection of wisdom, and I persuaded myself that I should attain to it.

But it was far from me; I found myself greatly disappointed, and the more I knew, the more I saw mine own folly and misery. All this have I proved by wisdom,.... Referring either to all that he had been discoursing of hitherto in this book, concerning the vanity of natural wisdom and knowledge, of pleasure, power, and riches; or to the several useful instructions given in this chapter, particularly concerning patiently bearing everything from the hands of God or men, Ecclesiastes 7:8. This, by the help and use of that wisdom which God had given him, he had made trial of, and found it to be right, and therefore recommended it to others; though he acknowledges that, with all his wisdom, he was from perfection;

I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me; he determined, if possible, to attain to the perfection of wisdom, and made use of all means to come at it; that he might know all the works of God in creation, the nature, use, and excellency of them; in providence, his different dispensations towards the sons of men, and the causes of them; and in grace, the redemption and salvation of men, and the mysteries thereof; but the more he knew, the more he was convinced of his own ignorance, and seemed further off from the summit of knowledge than he was before; and plainly saw, that perfection in wisdom is not attainable in this life. The Targum restrains this to the wisdom of the law; but it is better to understand it in a more general sense.

All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me] The words express at once the high aim of the seeker and his sense of incompleteness. Wisdom in its fulness was for him, as for Job (chap. 28) far above out of his reach. He had to give up the attempt to solve the problems of the Universe, and to confine himself to rules of conduct, content if he could find guidance there.Verses 23-29. - Section 4. Further in sight into essential wisdom was not obtain able; but Koheleth learned some other practical lessons, viz. that wickedness was folly and madness; that woman was the most evil thing in the world; that man had perverted his nature, which was made originally good. Verse 23. - All this have I proved by wisdom; i.e. wisdom was the means by which he arrived at the practical conclusions given above (vers. 1-22). Would wisdom solve deeper questions? And if so, could he ever hope to attain it? I said, I will be wise. This was his strong resolve. He desired to grow in wisdom, to use it in order to unfold mysteries and explain anomalies. Hitherto he had been content to watch the course of men's lives, and find by experience what was good and what was evil for them; now he craves for an insight into the secret laws that regulate those external circumstances: he wants a philosophy or theosophy. His desire is expressed by his imitator in the Book of Wisdom (9.), "O God of my fathers,... give me Wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne.... O send her out of thy holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory, that being present she may labor with me." But it was far from me. It remained in the far distance, out of reach. Job's experience (28.) was his. Practical rules of life he might gain, and had mastered, but essential, absolute wisdom was beyond mortal grasp. Man's knowledge and capacity are limited. Up to this point all is clear: righteousness and wisdom are good and wholesome, and worth striving for; but even in these a transgressing of the right measure is possible (Luther remembers the summum just summa injuria), which has as a consequence, that they become destructive to man, because he thereby becomes a caricature, and either perishes rushing from one extreme into another, or is removed out of the way by others whose hatred he provokes. But it is strange that the author now warns against an excess in wickedness, so that he seems to find wickedness, up to a certain degree, praiseworthy and advisable. So much the stranger, since "be no fool" stands as contrast to "show not thyself wise," etc.; so that "but also be no wicked person" was much rather to be expected as contrast to "be not righteous over-much." Zckler seeks to get over this difficulty with the remark: "Koheleth does not recommend a certain moderation in wickedness as if he considered it allowable, but only because he recognises the fact as established, that every man is by nature somewhat wicked." The meaning would then be: man's life is not free from wickedness, but be only not too wicked! The offensiveness of the advice is not thus removed; and besides, Ecclesiastes 7:18 demands in a certain sense, an intentional wickedness, - indeed, as Ecclesiastes 7:18 shows, a wickedness in union with the fear of God. The correct meaning of "be not wicked over-much" may be found if for תרשׁע we substitute תּחטא; in this form the good counsel at once appears as impossible, for it would be immoral, since "sinning," in all circumstances, is an act which carries in itself its own sentence of condemnation. Thus רשׁע must here be a setting oneself free from the severity of the law, which, although sin in the eyes of the over-righteous, is yet no sin in itself; and the author here thinks, in accordance with the spirit of his book, principally of that fresh, free, joyous life to which he called the young, that joy of life in its fulness which appeared to him as the best and fairest reality in this present time; but along with that, perhaps also of transgressions of the letter of the law, of shaking off the scruples of conscience which conformity to God-ordained circumstances brings along with it. He means to say: be not a narrow rigorist, - enjoy life, accommodate thyself to life; but let not the reins be too loose; and be no fool who wantonly places himself above law and discipline: Why wilt thou destroy thy life before the time by suffering vice to kill thee (Psalm 34:22), and by want of understanding ruin thyself (Proverbs 10:21)?

(Note: An old proverb, Sota 3a, says: "A man commits no transgression unless there rules in him previously the spirit of folly.")

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