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What does it mean that “whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18)?

fears God will avoid all extremes

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon supports two major assertions. First, Solomon says that all the great endeavors of life are meaningless and fleeting if one does not acknowledge God. Second, Solomon affirms that, if one acknowledges his Creator, then even the small and seemingly mundane aspects of life have great meaning and worth. Mixed into the framework of those two larger points, Solomon provides a great deal of practical wisdom. One practical observation Solomon makes is that “whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18).

In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon exhorts the reader to consider God. God is in control: what He bends cannot be straightened (Ecclesiastes 7:13). God has made both times of prosperity and adversity (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Looking from the perspective of his days of futility, Solomon noticed that sometimes the righteous person dies early and sometimes the wicked live a long time (Ecclesiastes 7:15). This seems an injustice or even an evidence of meaninglessness in life. Solomon recognizes that righteousness and long life and earthly blessing don’t necessarily go together. So, he cautions against over-scrupulous piety and the affectation of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:16). At the same time, one who devotes himself to wickedness will likely die before his time (Ecclesiastes 7:17). Even from an “under the sun” perspective, extremes are unwise.

Solomon offers a better approach than simply taking the earthly perspective. He says, “It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18). Solomon wants his readers to diligently acknowledge or fear God. The person whose life’s goal is to pursue strict piety may not see happy results (verse 16), and neither will the person who pursues wickedness (verse 17). The one who fears God will avoid both extremes—and will happily come forth with both wisdom and righteousness (compare Ecclesiastes 7:16 and 7:18).

The Amplified Bible translates Ecclesiastes 7:18 this way: “It is good that you take hold of one thing (righteousness) and also not let go of the other (wisdom); for the one who fears and worships God [with awe-filled reverence] will come forth with both of them.” Whatever we do in life must be constrained by the fear of the Lord. The path to true righteousness and wisdom is not adherence to a rigorous ascetic code; it is simply fearing God.

Whoever fears God will avoid the extremes of pursuing piety and pursuing wickedness, instead focusing on rightly relating to God. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), and Solomon understands the connection of wisdom to righteousness (Proverbs 10:31). Pursuing wisdom or righteousness independent of the fear of the Lord does not accomplish the desired result but often leads to extremism that can ruin a person (see Ecclesiastes 7:16).

If one fears God, he will gain wisdom and righteousness. In that way, whoever fears God will avoid all extremes and the negative consequences often associated with those extremes. Proper priorities are the opposite of extremism. The Bible provides an order of priorities that God expects people to maintain, and we should be diligent in holding to those priorities. At the top of the list is to fear the Lord. Having the right perspective of God and our relationship to Him is never “extreme”; rather, it will lead us to understand what we should value in life. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes and have a well-prioritized life.

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What does it mean that “whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecclesiastes 7:18)?
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This page last updated: January 16, 2023