Why did Solomon say, “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise” (Ecclesiastes 7:16)?

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Solomon the wise said, “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself?” (Ecclesiastes 7:16).

Do not be overly righteous

In this verse, Solomon was not speaking about being good and walking in the path of the Lord. Rather, he was speaking against legalism with its reliance on outward forms of worship and ceremonies. The self-righteous Pharisee, in the parable of Jesus, was an example of one who in pride and human wisdom destroyed himself (Luke 18:9–14). The Pharisaic standard of righteousness consisted of rigid external observance of the laws of Moses and of rabbinical traditions.

The Pharisaic legalistic concept of righteousness was build on the concept that salvation is to be earned by keeping a specific pattern of behavior. It gave little or no attention to the needed devotion of the heart to God and the transformation of a man’s motives and goals. It was, basically, righteousness by works. The Pharisees stressed the letter of the law, and not the spirit of it. They were obsessed with idea that surface conformity to divine law was all that the Lord asked, regardless of the motives that impelled obedience to them. Repeatedly, Jesus had warned His disciples and others against this formalistic way to salvation (Matthew 5:20; 16:6; Luke 12:1).

By contrast, true religion is a personal relationship with the Lord. God wants His children to have a daily communion with Him.  In the Old Testament, He commanded, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And in the New Testament, He urged the believers saying, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17–19).

Jesus taught that loving God and man is the goal of the law. “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’” (Matthew 22:37; Exodus 20:3-17).  This love is not an external attitude but it goes down deep into the heart and mind. Love springs directly from the experience of possessing the indwelling Christ, and becomes the foundation of the unity between God and man, and between man and his fellow man (John 15:4). There is nothing greater than love (1 Corinthians 13).

Do not be overly wise

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote about the value of wisdom. But in Ecclesiastes 7:16, he warned against an attitude that might bring one to question God’s ways. The apostle Paul gave the same warning. “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”  Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,  and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:20–23).

Paul reminded the believer that his real relation to God was that of a creature to his Creator. Therefore, man has no right to complain or to question God’s ways. To deny that God has the right to do with man as He sees best is equal to denying that the potter has complete control over his clay, which is obviously wrong. God in love does that which is good for His children. And even though His children may not understand His ways, they should have full trust that He will work all things for their good (Romans 8:28). God is worthy of men’s full and complete trust because He gave His life to redeem mankind from death (John 3:16).

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

This answer is also available in: हिन्दी

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