Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Luther on Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

     During my preparations and studies for Sunday’s sermon and service, I searched Luther’s Works for what Luther observed from the appointed Gospel reading of Matthew 25:14-30. In so doing I found this wonderful commentary:

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 (KJV)

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroyg thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time? 18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all.

16. Be not righteous overmuch, and do not make yourself overwise; why should you destroy yourself?

17. Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time?

     That is, forget about the highest law; measure yourself by your own foot and sing, “Know thyself.”28 Then you will find in your own breast a lengthy catalog of vices, and you will say: “Look, I myself am still unrighteous, and yet I am tolerated by God and am not banished by people. Then why am I so carried away with fury that I harshly require of others what I do not achieve myself?” This is what it means to be “righteous overmuch.” The things of this world cannot bear it. Therefore observe the laws by teaching and preaching, and give thanks to God when your household or your audience acknowledge that the laws and teachings are holy and just, even though they do not observe everything as it is prescribed. In this way you will be truly holy and wise. You will be “overwise” and “righteous overmuch” if in your administration either of public or of private affairs you have good laws but insist on them and want them to be observed in such a way that there is not one iota of transgression. For this is what it means that “the highest law brings the deepest injustice.” A prudent public official or head of a household ought to make a distinction between the goodness of the law and the obedience of his subordinates. It is better to bear with and to endure a moderate amount of rebellion than to let the entire state perish. This is what usually happens to the rigid enforcers of laws. Therefore laws should be enforced and insisted upon as far as the situation allows, but no further. This is also what physicians do. They do not diagnose and cure diseases only on the basis of books or of what is prescribed but are often obliged to make adjustments in keeping with the state of the body. Thus also the minds of men are influenced in the most diverse possible ways, so that it is often necessary to modify the laws themselves. This calls for extremely wise men, of whom there are few in the world. Therefore all those chosen as heads of households or as public officials should be men like David, Abraham, Solomon, and Joshua, if they were available, men who could administer the laws properly. For this is how important it is to administer the state well.

Be not wicked overmuch.

     This is the second part of the conclusion. See to it that just as you are not righteous overmuch, you are not wicked overmuch either. That is, do not despise and neglect all the duties of government committed to your charge, and do not permit everything to fall apart. It is good to overlook some things, but not to neglect all things. If wisdom does not succeed, that is no reason to go crazy with anger and revenge. Finally, do not give in to idleness, so that you do not want to care about anything. Do not behave like that wicked servant who buried his talent and did not want to trade with it at all (Matt. 25:24–30). Well then, be just and let others be just with you; demand uprightness; persevere, regardless of the outcome. Why? “Why should you destroy yourself, or die before your time?” There is reason to fear that He may come suddenly and call you to judgment, as He took away the soul of the rich man at night when the rich man was not thinking about it (Luke 12:20). If this life were heavenly and angelic, nothing would happen unjustly; but our sinful nature cannot do anything but sin and be foolish. Anyone who does not know this has not yet learned about the world. We should think that here we are as though we were in a shipwreck or a fire, where one must labor to snatch at least some brand from the fire when one cannot control or extinguish the whole fire. Therefore if you are in a household, be content to snatch even one person from the public fire of wicked people. If you are a teacher of children, labor to educate at least one of them and to bring him up properly. If you are a preacher of the Gospel, do not preach as though you could gain all men for Christ, for not all heed the Gospel (cf. Rom. 10:16); but if you convert three or four souls and lead them to Christ, like the tips of burning brands (cf. Amos 4:11), give thanks. For one should not quit simply because so few are changed for the better to hear the preaching of the Gospel. But do what Christ did: He rescued the elect and left the rest behind. This is what the apostles did also. It will not be better for you. You are foolish if you either presume that you alone can accomplish everything or despair of everything when it does not go your way.

18. It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand; for he who fears God shall come forth from them all.

     Christ makes a similar statement in Matt. 23:23 when He says: “These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.” Thus here, too, he demands both: justice and yet not the highest justice, so that you are neither too remiss nor too exacting. Sometimes you must overlook the laws and judge as though you were wicked, and sometimes you must take hold of the laws and become just once more. But remember, as has also been said earlier, that he is here speaking not of personal righteousness but of communal or political justice, not of righteousness before God but of justice in governing others and before the world. For in personal righteousness there cannot be too much righteousness.

He who fears God shall come forth from them all.

     That is, the fear of the Lord will easily judge both. If I fear the Lord, my heart says: “I have often lived this way, and I still live shamefully. Therefore I will have compassion on those delinquents. If I can restrain them by moderating my discipline, I will do so. If not, I will let them continue until they collide with the law of the sword. If they escape all of this, they still will not escape the judgment of God.” Thus he who fears God proceeds correctly in these matters; when he sees that he cannot prevail, he calls upon the Lord. Therefore do your duty, warn, exhort, and never stop. He who does not hear you will bring on his own punishment, even though not through your punishing him; for there is One who will punish. This is what happened recently to our peasants. When they did not accept our rebuke, they were thoroughly punished by others.29 30


     gdestroy...: Heb. be desolate?

     28 This injunction, quoted here in Greek, was attributed to Thales of Miletus.

     29 Once again, as on p. 90 above, a reference to the Peasants’ War of 1525

     30 Luther, M. (1999, c1972). Vol. 15: Luther's works, vol. 15 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (15:122). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

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val said...

Satan has deceived the whole world until the woman of Rev 12 delivers the true word of God Rev 12:5. She is not a church, she is not Israel, and she is not Mary. She is the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17 delivering the true word John 1:1 from the wilderness Rev 12:6 to prepare a people for the Lord’s return. God our Father will not put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. It never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Turn your heart to the children of God. A gift is now delivered and proven to the whole world as a witness Matt 24:14. http://minigoodtale.blogspot.com. A righteous judge gathers ALL evidence before making a judgment. If you are called to know the true word- Prove all things. God chose a woman.

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Dear Val,

You say: “She is the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17.”

Here are three passages that speak to this issue, all from the King James Version. Please hear what these Scriptures say.

And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:11-13)

Here Matthew records that Jesus declared that the one coming in the spirit of Elijah is John the Baptist.

But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13-17)

Here Luke records that the angel Gabriel announced that the one coming in the spirit and power of Elijah would be named John, the son of Zacharias and Elisabeth, clearly a male.

And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass, that every soul, which will not hear that prophet, shall be destroyed from among the people. (Acts 3:20-23)

Here, in the sermon delivered at Pentecost, Peter declares that Jesus Christ is the prophet like Moses whom the Lord raised up to turn our hearts back to God.

You, dear lady, are just like the rest of us poor deluded sinners whom God is calling to be turned to the Truth, who is Jesus. Don’t put yourself above Jesus, claiming to be the one that Moses foretold and of whom John prepared the way. We already have Muhammad and Joseph Smith as well as others who have made this false claim. Rather rejoice in your womanhood, as one whom Jesus redeemed, and bow your knee with the rest of us confessing Him alone as Savior and Lord. Then you will no longer need to prove yourself, for Jesus and His grace will be sufficient for you.

God’s peace to you in Christ Jesus.

Unknown said...


These are indeed blessed comments on EC. 7:1-18 - blessed because it is clear the commentator is observing the context closely; from the context come the precise comments which clarify the very things to which the Triune God would have saving faith cling. The Holy Spirit then produces the very fruits of faith which the words clearly commend, all the while watching and praying carefully about the perils into which the unwary not only can easily fall, but into which one will fall apart from such blessed faith worked by the Spirit from the clear context.

Thank you for the posting.

Gary Cepek

Not Alone +++ PAS said...


I am always amazed at the wisdom that the Lord gave to Solomon before he fell away. This of course serves us all as a reminder against treating the Word lightly, as even the wisest can be tempted and fall. Solomon thought that the seemingly little trespasses of marrying unbelieving princesses would be wise for political reasons. In doing so he idolized his own wisdom and reason and was led from faith to sin.

Luther, counting his own reason as weak and corrupt, continually relied upon what the Holy Spirit reveals through the Holy Scriptures. Thus he was continually turned from self reliance and sin to faith in God and His grace.

Both men received their wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Yet one eventually counted wisdom as his own while the other counted wisdom as flowing from faith and therefore remained evermore the faithful servant of the Word. Thus I am grateful that both examples are recorded for us.

Thanks for your comments, which reflect the early wisdom given to Solomon and the consistent wisdom given to Luther.

God's peace,

~ Paul

SEO TIPS said...

yes this is right