Why does the Bible tell us, “Be not righteous over much”?

So you don’t destroy yourself.

When Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, he was writing to us about things “under the sun.”  In other words, these instructions found in this book concern things down here and not things that deal with the after-life.

Both verse 16 and verse 17 have very practical application to us today just like they did when Solomon penned these verses.  They say, “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?  Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?”

These are admonitions warning you against destroying yourself with too much righteousness or dying before your time with too much wickedness.  So, these are more than admonitions defining a wise man.  They are practical instructions to keep you from destruction and an early death.

To illustrate the first part of verse 16, the Pharisees destroyed themselves by being “righteous over much.”  They missed the righteousness of Jesus Christ by their excessive self-righteousness (Rom 10:1-4; 9:31-32).  Men today still turn down Jesus Christ because they are willing to pit their righteousness against his at a judgment before God.  They will be destroyed in the lake of fire if they don’t turn from their righteousness (Is 64:6) and receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21; 1 Cor 1:30).

To illustrate the part of verse 16 that says, “neither make thyself over wise,” all you have to do is check out a modern university.  The students there become wise to the things of the world and in their pursuit of an education they reject the faith to believe in Jesus Christ.  Paul said, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,” (Rom 1:22).  Paul also said, “the world by wisdom knew not God,” (1 Cor 1:21).  If you become so wise that you reject Jesus Christ, you have made yourself over wise and you will destroy yourself, just like the verse says.

Scholars who use their wisdom to justify correcting the words of God are likewise destroying themselves.  They are cutting off the light of God’s words in an effort to justify their own sins of unbelief and to promote their own scholarship and education.  This destructive work will not only destroy their faith and their hope of doing God honoring work for the Lord, but it will also destroy the faith of those foolish enough to follow them.

To illustrate the first part of verse 17, you must first remember that “there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.”  Paul said that in his flesh “dwelleth no good thing.”  In other words, even when we are saved, we are still in a body of flesh that sins.  So, Solomon is saying that you should limit your wickedness; to do so will keep you from an early grave.

Just read the daily newspaper and see how many young people die as a result of drunken driving, sexually transmitted diseases, gun shot wounds, drug overdoses and so forth.  They all kicked the bucket early by being “over much wicked.”  Like Gal 6:7-8 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

To illustrate the last part of verse 17, which says, “neither be thou foolish,” all we have to do is observe the Pharisees again.  Jesus said to them, “Ye fools and blind,” (Matt 23:17, 19).  They thought they were really wise in their knowledge of the law, but their knowledge was not mixed with faith and so they were fools.  Consequently, Jesus asked them, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Mat 23:33).  In their foolishness, they couldn’t.  And neither can you.

Solomon’s advice is timely today and many have rejected his wise counsel.  Don’t reject his wisdom; he knew exactly what he was talking about.

Hope this helps,

Pastor Bevans Welder