In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these:
the righteous perishing in their righteousness,
and the wicked living long in their wickedness.
Do not be overrighteous,
neither be overwise—
why destroy yourself?
Do not be overwicked,
and do not be a fool—
why die before your time?
It is good to grasp the one
and not let go of the other.
Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes
Solomon has noticed two things that might come as a surprise: First, he has seen righteous men die young in their righteousness, and he has seen really wicked men live long lives. From our point of view, this isn’t all that surprising; it happens all the time, and is something that we sometimes wonder about… Why O Lord is this so?
Back in the time of Solomon, this was more shocking, for the righteous were supposed to live long, have many children and prosper in the land, while the wicked were supposed to suffer the calamities they so richly deserved and come to an early termination if they didn’t change their ways. As we now understand, there is a season for everything, and a time for every season under heaven.
Then he goes on to tell his readers that they should neither be overly righteous, nor overly wicked; what does he mean by that? This dear reader is simpler than it might seem at first.
The best Biblical example of being overly righteous that I can think of as I write this is the example of the Pharisees. Those guys were really very righteous; they did everything just exactly right. No, really they did. Think about it, they were so righteous that they not only followed the letter of the Law, they actually made up more laws so that they wouldn’t even come close to breaking a Law. Yet in the end, they became so outwardly righteous that they put form over substance, and lost track of the inward realities of their relationship with God, and they perished in their outward form of righteousness.
As for being overly wicked, you might think that we aren’t supposed to be wicked at all, and in this you would be correct. OK, maybe I should just speak for myself here: As much as I might want to be perfectly righteous in everything I do, say or think, I fall short and can comprehend completely Paul’s observation that the things he would do, he didn’t, and the things he wouldn’t do, he did. Oh wretched man that I am! Yet while all of this is going on, I manage not to go too far, for I have no wish to damage my relationship with our Lord, so I restrain myself, and with His grace I do much better than I used to, by the power of His life in me.
In this, we avoid both extremes, as the Teacher says in the last verse. Notice that he says “whoever fears God.” This is the guy who also said that “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” Thus a wise person avoids extremes, and another word for this is “moderation.”
See how simple this text is? Now just because the text is simple, putting it into practice may not be easy, but if we are completely honest with ourselves, it isn’t all that hard either.
I’ll bet you can’t wait for restraint, and that is coming up next!