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Previous article in this series: November 15, 2016, p. 85.

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found. Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Ecclesiastes 7:27-29

In the preceding verses, Solomon spoke of the limits of his wisdom and understanding of God’s works and, concerning man, of sin and its deceitfulness. This latter he found especially in the bitterness that came from his union with heathen women, “whose heart is snares and nets” (Eccl. 7:26). This bitterness of heart was rooted in his own sin. This leads him at the conclusion of the chapter to a spiritual inventory in which he wants us to see what he has seen and to behold what he has discerned. He himself wrought many works by wisdom, but found those works in themselves led to vanity. He sought out the ways of God, His providence and judgment, and they were deeper than he could attain. Likewise, his own sin and weakness were marked by foolishness and madness, even as it was in the world around him among men under the sun. He says of all this, “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?” (Eccl. 7:24).

Solomon now continues, “Behold, this have I found saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: which yet my soul seeketh but I find not” (Eccl. 7:27, 28). Like one counting coins or change in a counting house to figure out the total, he would add up the sum. He is looking at what he has seen and found in all his labor and activity, in the order and life of the palace, in the city of Jerusalem. It is the inventory he has set before us in the whole course of the book of Ecclesiastes thus far. He would give it now as a summary of what has gone before and have us see it as a personal inventory rooted in his own experience. While it is a summary, it is not the sum. Throughout he has been concerned to give us not an abstract survey but a clear sight of the issues of life under the sun. He speaks with the authority of experience and long reflection. What he has particularly been seeking with diligence throughout are wisdom and understanding. The problem is that he does not achieve a complete grasp of it. He says, “which my soul seeketh, but I find not” (Eccl. 7:28). He cannot fully attain to the sum of it all, for it is of God and deeper than his understanding to find it out. Man’s wisdom and understanding is limited by the fact that he is man, a creature, and also a sinner. Some measure of understanding he has found, but not complete wisdom. There is always more that is deeper than his thought.

Rather, this survey results in this inventory: “one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found” (Eccl. 7:28). Reckoning up the figure to find out the account, the wisdom that is from God was a rare thing among men: only one among a thousand men in his experience. And among women? Not one among all those. He effectively found none, which, given his heathen wives, is to be expected. Keeping in mind that his search took place in his life and among those around him, given his relationships, this is not surprising. He is not making a blanket statement about women or men but speaks of those with whom he dwelt and among whom he sought to see and know. The women were heathen women with the superstitions of idolaters. The men included the members of his court and officers of his kingdom, who were often motivated by political desires for power, wealth, and personal advantage. The result is to be expected. Even the one among a thousand men is of such a kind that he says of this survey, “I find not.” He found something quite different from what he had thought to find.

The reason is that God alone is the giver of true wisdom, of spiritual wisdom and understanding. Wisdom is alone from above. It is not found in man (Adam) and his seed by nature, because we are all fallen in sin. The conclusion of the matter he plainly states, as the result of his spiritual accounting: “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). The text, as in other places in Ecclesiastes, speaks of “man.” In the original, it is “the man,” so that the reference is both to Adam, our first father, and to man, Adam’s seed after the flesh. The name Adam has in it, as well, the idea of man’s creation from the dust. He is dust. God created Adam, a creature of the dust, and mankind in him.

God made man upright. His whole nature was good, fitted in conformity to the divine will, righteous and holy. It was pure. The result is that man was made with wisdom and possessed knowledge and wisdom from God. He was created able to serve God, so that his knowledge and perception of the world around him informed him of the will of his Creator. He could discern and understand God’s design in the making of all things, their purpose, value, and place. Adam showed this in the naming of the animals in Genesis 2. He was given the wisdom or skill to apply that knowledge in the service of God with perfect, though finite human understanding. There was in him no darkness of sin. Foolishness and madness, self-destructive folly, was far from him. He was made upright and given gifts of wisdom. The world also was free from the stain of sin. It was not yet subjected to the curse of the Fall to vanity.

“…But they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). This is the sad history of the Fall. Solomon has turned to the early chapters of Genesis before, for example, in Ecclesiastes 3:20 and Ecclesiastes 6:10. The period of the Fall, the development of sin, and the Flood shed light upon the vanity of life. In confessing “for there is not a just man on earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Eccl. 7:20), he leads us to the truth of fallen man’s total depravity by nature, who seeks out many inventions of sin. He leads us to the confession that also sin cleaves to us, so that the old man of sin is present in the children of God. He, in effect, assumes we know and understand this history.

In reflecting on this reality, Solomon would lead us here not to an abstract consideration of the matter, but to see the consequences as they work out in history. He does this both to confirm the truth of that depravity by nature and to understand its effects, in madness and folly. As Solomon has sought out wisdom, so man by nature seeks out sin. (He uses here essentially the same term for seeking out a thing). Fallen man’s mind, his natural wisdom and desire after the flesh, now lead him to devise inventions of his own. They are evil inventions, far from uprightness in their origin in thought, design, and motive, not merely in their external form. The light of wisdom that was in man by creation has been changed into darkness; a skilled use of the creation and development of it he still has, but now in the service of sin. It is, under the judgment of God, subject to vanity as a result.

Nor is it a matter of a few things—the matter is one of “many” inventions. The history of wicked Lamech and his sons Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain, the seed of Cain and the serpent is here brought to mind. God made man upright, but what became of him through the Fall? Sin developed and man became the gatherer of earthly riches, heaping and gathering them as did Jabal. He gave himself in music and art to the service of sin as did Jubal. He developed technology and the sciences, discovered iron and brass as did Tubal-cain. He walked in oppression as did wicked Lamech, the murderer. Even the woman “whose heart is snares and nets” echoes Lamech’s wives and daughter. Lamech is the original polygamist, a sin that Solomon carried to new depths, contrary to the law of God (Deut. 17:18). The contrast is between the God-created uprightness and these many inventions of men. The evil is not in things, but in man the thinker, developer, and inventor who labors in vanity in the service of sin and bondage to it.

This is the summary. What also became of these sinful inventions? They were destroyed in the judgment of God in the Flood. What has been the history of the works of men? At the tower of Babel, the city of Sodom, the land of Canaan under the Amorites, Egypt with its plagues, the Red Sea, Jericho, the history is one of judgment and destruction. Works wrought in vanity.

What then of Solomon’s own works? What of the glory of his kingdom? He has wrestled throughout Ecclesiastes with the issue that he must give his works to the one who comes after, and who knows whether he will be wise or foolish? But more than that, there is the fact that stands at the end of the book, and it is to this that Solomon would lead us: “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Eccl. 12:14). This is the testimony of God’s judgments in history, already now in this life and certainly in the final judgment.

Solomon by this sober assessment as a preacher is step by step leading the reader to the conclusion he will set before us at the end, “Fear God and keep his commandment: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). That conclusion is well founded, for “Lo, this only have I found, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.” This is the only conclusion possible, that which “only I have found,” and to which alone one may come in a world fallen in sin and in itself under judgment. This is what is to be found by nature under the sun. Salvation and renewal, forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life can only come from above, and by a wonder of grace from God alone. True heavenly wisdom that walks in the fear of God is also from above, a gift of God’s grace.