Ecclesiastes 7:8
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
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(8) Thing.—Here, as in Ecclesiastes 6:11 and elsewhere, we may also translate “word.” Possibly the thought still is the advantage of bearing patiently “the rebuke of the wise.”



Ecclesiastes 7:8

This Book of Ecclesiastes is the record of a quest after the chief good. The Preacher tries one thing after another, and tells his experiences. Amongst these are many blunders. It is the final lesson which he would have us learn, not the errors through which he reached it. ‘The conclusion of the whole matter’ is what he would commend to us, and to it he cleaves his way through a number of bitter exaggerations and of partial truths and of unmingled errors. The text is one of a string of paradoxical sayings, some of them very true and beautiful, some of them doubtful, but all of them the kind of things which used-up men are wont to say-the salt which is left in the pool when the tide is gone down. The text is the utterance of a wearied man who has had so many disappointments, and seen so many fair beginnings overclouded, and so many ships going out of port with flying flags and foundering at sea, that he thinks nothing good till it is ended; little worth beginning-rest and freedom from all external cares and duties best; and, best of all, to be dead, and have done with the whole coil. Obviously, ‘the end of a thing’ here is the parallel to ‘the day of death’ in Ecclesiastes 7:1, which is there preferred to ‘the day of one’s birth.’ That is the godless, worn-out worlding’s view of the matter, which is infinitely sad, and absolutely untrue.

But from another point of view there is a truth in these words. The life which is lived for God, which is rooted in Christ, a life of self-denial, of love, of purity, of strenuous ‘pressing towards the mark,’ is better in its ‘end’ than in its ‘beginning.’ To such a life we are all called, and it is possible for each. May my poor words help some of us to make it ours.

I. Then our life has an end.

It is hard for any of us to realise this in the midst of the rush and pressure of daily duty; and it is not altogether wholesome to think much about it; but it is still more harmful to put it out of our sight, as so many of us do, and to go on habitually as if there would never come a time when we shall cease to be where we have been so long, and when there will no more arise the daily calls to transitory occupations. The thought of the certainty and nearness of that end has often become a stimulus to wild, sensuous living, as the history of the relaxation of morality in pestilences, and in times when war stalked through the land, has abundantly shown. ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,’ is plainly a way of reasoning that appeals to the average man. But the entire forgetfulness that there is an end is no less harmful, and is apt to lead to over-indulgence in sensuous desires as the other extreme. Perhaps the young need more especially to be recalled to the thought of the ‘end’ because they are more especially likely to forget it, and because it is specially worth their while to remember it. They have still the long stretch before the ‘end’ before them, to make of it what they will. Whereas for us who are further on in the course, there is less time and opportunity to shape our path with a view to its close, and to those of us in old age, there is but little need to preach remembrance of what has come so close to us. It is to the young man that the Preacher proffers his final advice, to ‘rejoice in his health, and to walk in the ways of his heart, and in the sight of his eyes,’ but withal to know that ‘for these God will bring him into judgment.’

And in that counsel is involved the thought that ‘the end which is better than the beginning’ is neither old age, with its limitations and compulsory abstinences, nor death, which is, as the dreary creed of the book in its central portions believes it to be, the close of all things, but, beyond these, the state in which men will reap as they have sown, and inherit what they have earned. It is that condition which gives all its importance to death-the porter who opens the door into a future life of recompence.

II. The end will, in many respects, not be better than the beginning.

Put side by side the infant and the old man. Think of the undeveloped strength, the smooth cheek, the ruddy complexion, the rejoicing in physical well-being, of the one, with the failing senses, the tottering limbs, the lowered vitality, the many pains and aches, of the other. In these respects the end is worse than the beginning. Or go a step further onwards in life, and think of youth, with its unworn energy, and the wearied longing for rest which comes at the end; of youth, with its quick, open receptiveness for all impressions, and the horny surface of callousness which has overgrown the mind of the old; of youth, with its undeveloped powers and endless possibilities, which in the old have become rigid and fixed; of youth, with the rich gift before it of a continent of time, which in the old has been washed away by the ocean, till there is but a crumbling bank still to stand on; of youth, with its wealth of hopes, and of the hopes of the old, which are solemn ventures, few and scanty-and then say if the end is not worse than the beginning.

And if we go further, and think of death as the end, is it not in a very real and terrible sense, loss, loss? It is loss to be taken out of the world, to ‘leave the warm precincts and the cheerful day,’ to lose friends and lovers, and to be banned into a dreary land. Yet, further, the thought of the end as being a state of retribution strikes upon all hearts as being solemn and terrible.

III. Yet the end may be better.

The sensuous indulgence which Ecclesiastes preaches in its earlier portions will never lead to such an end. It breeds disgust of life, as the examples of in all ages, and today, abundantly shows. Epicurean selfishness leads to weariness of all effort and work. If we are unwise enough to make either of these our guides in life, the only desirable end will be the utter cessation of being and consciousness.

But there is a better sense in which this paradoxical saying is simple truth, and that sense is one which it is possible for us all to realise. What sort of end would that be, the brightness of which would far outshine the joy when a man-child is born into the world? Would it not be a birth into a better life than that which fills and often disturbs the ‘threescore years and ten’ here? Would it not be an end to a course in which all our nature would be fully developed and all opportunities of growth and activity had been used to the full? which had secured all that we could possess? which had happy memories and calm hopes? Would it not be an end which brought with it communion with the Highest-joys that could never fade, activities that could never weary? Surely the Christian heaven is better than earth; and that heaven may be ours.

That supreme and perfect end will be reached by us through faith in Christ, and through union by faith with Him. If we are joined to the Lord and are one with Him, our end in glory will be as much better than this our beginning on earth as the full glory of a summer’s day transcends the fogs and frosts of dreary winter. ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.’

If the end is not better than the beginning, it will be infinitely worse. Golden opportunities will be gone; wasted years will be irrevocable. Bright lights will be burnt out; sin will be graven on the memory; remorse will be bitter; evil habits which cannot be gratified will torment; a wearied soul, a darkened understanding, a rebellious heart, will make the end awfully, infinitely, always worse than the beginning. From all these Jesus Christ can save us; and, full as He fills the cup of life as we travel along the road, He keeps the best wine till the last, and makes ‘the end of a thing better than the beginning.’Ecclesiastes 7:8-9. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning — The good or evil of things is better known by their end than by their beginning; which is true, not only respecting evil counsels and practices, which perhaps seem pleasant at first, but, at last, bring destruction; but also concerning all noble enterprises, the studies of learning, and the practice of virtue and godliness, in which the beginnings are difficult and troublesome, but in the progress and conclusion they are most easy and comfortable; and it is not sufficient to begin well unless we persevere to the end, which crowns all; and the patient in spirit — Who quietly waits for the issue of things, and is willing to bear hardships and inconveniences in the mean time; is better than the proud in spirit — Which he puts instead of hasty or impatient, because pride is the chief cause of impatience. Be not hasty in thy spirit, &c. — Be not angry with any man without due consideration, and just and necessary cause: see on Mark 3:5. For anger resteth in the bosom of fools

That is, sinful anger, implying not only displeasure at the sin or folly of another, which is lawful and proper, but ill-will and a desire of revenge, hath its quiet abode in the heart of fools: is ever at hand upon all occasions, whereas wise men resist, mortify, and banish it.7:7-10 The event of our trials and difficulties is often better than at first we thought. Surely it is better to be patient in spirit, than to be proud and hasty. Be not soon angry, nor quick in resenting an affront. Be not long angry; though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it passes through it as a way-faring man; it dwells only in the bosom of fools. It is folly to cry out upon the badness of our times, when we have more reason to cry out for the badness of our own hearts; and even in these times we enjoy many mercies. It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times; as if former ages had not the like things to complain of that we have: this arises from discontent, and aptness to quarrel with God himself.Better - Inasmuch as something certain is attained, man contemplates the end throughout an entire course of action, and does not rest upon the beginning.

Patient ... proud - literally, "Long," long-suffering ..."high," in the sense of impatient.

8. connected with Ec 7:7. Let the "wise" wait for "the end," and the "oppressions" which now (in "the beginning") perplex their faith, will be found by God's working to be overruled to their good. "Tribulation worketh patience" (Ro 5:3), which is infinitely better than "the proud spirit" that prosperity might have generated in them, as it has in fools (Ps 73:2, 3, 12-14, 17-26; Jas 5:11). If this verse relates to that next foregoing, it is an argument to keep men’s minds from being disordered, either by oppression or bribery, because the end of those practices will show, that he who oppresseth another doth himself most hurt by it, and that he who taketh bribes is no gainer by them. But if this be independent upon the former, as divers other verses here are, it is a general and useful observation, that the good or evil of things is better known by their end than by their beginning; which is true both in evil counsels and courses, which are pleasant at first, but at last bring destruction; and in all noble enterprises, in the studies of learning, and in the practice of virtue and godliness, where the beginnings are difficult and troublesome, but in the progress and conclusion they are most easy and comfortable; and it is not sufficient to begin well, unless we persevere to the end, which crowns all.

The patient in spirit, who quietly waits for the end and issue of things, and is willing to bear hardships and inconveniences in the mean time,

is better than the proud; which he puts instead of hasty or impatient, which the opposition might seem to require, partly because pride is the chief cause of impatience, Proverbs 13:10, and makes men unable to bear any thing either from God or from men whereas humility makes men sensible of their own unworthiness, and that they deserve, at least from God, all the indignities and injuries which they suffer from men by God’s permission, and therefore patient under them; and partly to correct the vulgar error of proud men, who think highly of themselves, and trample all others, especially such as are meek and patient, under their feet. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof,.... If the thing is good, other ways the end of it is worse; as the end of wickedness and wicked men, whose beginning is sweet, but the end bitter; yea, are the ways of death, Proverbs 5:4; and so the end of carnal professors and apostates, who begin in the Spirit, and end in the flesh, Galatians 3:3; but the end of good things, and of good men, is better than the beginning; as the end of Job was, both with respect to things temporal and spiritual, Job 8:7; see Psalm 37:37;

and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit; patience is a fruit of the Spirit of God; and is of great use in the Christian's life, and especially in bearing afflictions, and tends to make men more humble, meek, and quiet; and such are highly esteemed of God; on them he looks, with them he dwells, and to them he gives more grace; when such who are proud, and elated with themselves, their riches or righteousness, are abominable to him; see Luke 16:15.

Better is the {f} end of a thing than its beginning: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

(f) He notes their lightness who attempt a thing and suddenly leave it off again.

8. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof] As in ch. Ecclesiastes 6:11, the noun translated “thing” may mean “word” and this gives a preferable meaning. It cannot be said of everything, good and bad alike, that its “end is better than its beginning” (comp. Proverbs 5:3-4; Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 23:32), and those who so interpret the maxim are obliged to limit its meaning to good things, or to assume that the end must be a good one. Some (as Ginsburg) give to the “word” the sense of “reproof,” but this limitation is scarcely needed. It may be said of well-nigh every form of speech, for silence is better than speech, and “in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin.” It is obvious that this furnishes a closer parallel to the second clause. The “patient in spirit” is the man who knows how to check and control his speech, and to listen to reproof. The “proud” (literally, the lofty or exalted) is one who has not learnt to curb his tongue, and to wait for the end that is better than the beginning. So interpreted the whole maxim finds a parallel in James 3:1-18, in the precepts of a thousand sages of all times and countries.Verses 8-14. - Section 2. Here follow some recommendations to patience and resignation under the ordering of God's providence. Such conduct is shown to be true wisdom. Verse 8. - Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. This is not a repetition of the assertion in ver. I concealing the day of death and the day of birth, but states a truth in a certain sense generally true. The end is better because we then can form a right judgment about a matter; we see what was its purpose; we know whether it has been advantageous and prosperous or not. Christ's maxim, often repeated (see Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 3:6, etc.), is, "He that shall endure unto the end shall be saved." No one living can be said to be so absolutely safe as that he can look to the great day without trembling. Death puts the seal to the good life, and, obviates the danger of falling away. Of course, if a thing is in itself evil, the gnome is not true (comp. Proverbs 5:3, 4; Proverbs 16:25, etc.); but applied to things indifferent at the outset, it is as correct as generalizations can be. The lesson of patience is here taught. A man should not be precipitate in his judgments, but wait for the issue. From the ambiguity in the expression dabar (see on Ecclesiastes 6:11), many render it "word "in this passage. Thus the Vulgate, Melior est finis orationis, quam principium; and the Septuagint, Ἀγαθὴ ἐσχάτη λόγων ὑπὲρ ἀρχὴν αὐτοῦ, where φωνή, or some such word, must be supplied. If this interpretation be preferred, we must either take the maxim as stating generally that few words are better than many, and that the sooner one concludes a speech, so much the better for speaker and hearer; or we must consider that the word intended is a well-merited rebuke, which, however severe and at first disliked, proves in the end wholesome and profitable. And the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. "Patient" is literally "long of spirit," as the phrase, "short of spirit," is used in Proverbs 14:29 and Job 21:4 to denote one who loses his temper and is impatient. To wait calmly for the result of an action, not to be hasty in arraigning Providence, is the part of a patient man; while the proud, inflated, conceited man, who thinks all must be arranged according to his notions, is never resigned or content, but rebels against the ordained course of events. "In your patience ye shall win your souls," said Christ (Luke 21:19); and a Scotch proverb declares wisely, "He that weel bides, weel betides." Still more in the spirit of the N.T. (cf. e.g., Luke 6:25) are these words of this singular book which stands on the border of both Testaments: "It is better to go into a house of mourning than to go into a house of carousal (drinking): for that is the end of every man; and the living layeth it to heart." A house is meant in which there is sorrow on account of a death; the lamentation continued for seven days (Sirach 22:10), and extended sometimes, as in the case of the death of Aaron and Moses, to thirty days; the later practice distinguished the lamentations (אנינוּת) for the dead till the time of burial, and the mournings for the dead (אבלוּת), which were divided into seven and twenty-three days of greater and lesser mourning; on the return from carrying away the corpse, there was a Trostmahl (a comforting repast), to which, according as it appears to an ancient custom, those who were to be partakers of it contributed (Jeremiah 16:7; Hosea 9:4; Job 4:17, funde vinum tuum et panem tuum super sepulchra justorum).

(Note: Cf. Hamb. Real Encyc. fr Bibel u. Talmud (1870), article "Trauer.")

This feast of sorrow the above proverb leaves out of view, although also in reference to it the contrast between the "house of carousal" and "house of mourning" remains, that in the latter the drinking must be in moderation, and not to drunkenness.

(Note: Maimuni's Hilchoth Ebel, iv. 7, xiii. 8.)

The going into the house of mourning is certainly thought of as a visit for the purpose of showing sympathy and of imparting consolation during the first seven days of mourning (John 11:31).

(Note: Ibid. xiii. 2.)

Thus to go into the house of sorrow, and to show one's sympathy with the mourners there, is better than to go into a house of drinking, where all is festivity and merriment; viz., because the former (that he is mourned over as dead) is the end of every man, and the survivor takes it to heart, viz., this, that he too must die. הוּא follows attractionally the gender of סוף (cf. Job 31:11, Kerı̂). What is said at Ecclesiastes 3:13 regarding כּל־ה is appropriate to the passage before us. החי is rightly vocalised; regarding the form החי, vid., Baer in the critical remarks of our ed. of Isaiah under Isaiah 3:22. The phrase נתן אל־לב here and at Ecclesiastes 9:1 is synon. with שׂים אל־לב, שׂים על־לב (e.g., Isaiah 57:1) and שׂים בּלב. How this saying agrees with Koheleth's ultimatum: There is nothing better than to eat and drink, etc. (Ecclesiastes 2:24, etc.), the Talmudists have been utterly perplexed to discover; Manasse ben-Israel in his Conciliador (1632) loses himself in much useless discussion.

(Note: Vid., the English translation by Lindo (London 1842), vol. ii. pp. 306-309.)

The solution of the difficulty is easy. The ultimatum does not relate to an unconditional enjoyment of life, but to an enjoyment conditioned by the fear of God. When man looks death in the face, the two things occur to him, that he should make use of his brief life, but make use of it in view of the end, thus in a manner for which he is responsible before God.

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