What Did Solomon Mean by “Do Not Be Overly Righteous?”

Before I get to the main verse, “Do not be overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself,” we have to recognize and understand the state that Solomon was in and the lens through which he was saying these things in Ecclesiastes. 

I sought to cheer my body with wine and to embrace folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom—until I could see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives. -Ecclesiastes 2:3 BSB

Solomon put aside godly righteousness to gratify the flesh due to the fact that he fell into idolatry because of the pagan women he married, causing him to explore that route. It ended up becoming a snare for his soul.

For when Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the LORD his God, as his father David had been. -1 Kings 11:4 BSB

15 In my futile life I have seen both of these: A righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. 16 Do not be overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? -Ecclesiastes 7:15-16 BSB

Even though Solomon still obtained wisdom, his wisdom was now deluded with sin, as he lived in opposition to God’s Word. You can see it in his words, here, in verses 15-16.

There is a futility that is done on the earth: There are righteous men who get what the actions of the wicked deserve, and there are wicked men who get what the actions of the righteous deserve. I say that this too is futile. -Ecclesiastes 8:14 BSB

Here, Solomon sounds a lot like Job when he was suffering, and at the end of his suffering, the Lord rebuked him. But before God spoke to him, Job couldn’t understand why he was suffering, as he was a man who sought God in truth and righteousness. By reading the Book of Job, we learn why Job suffered. Satan didn’t like Job’s integrity and wanted him to sin against God by abandoning the LORD.

Job said:
7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? 8 Their descendants are established around them, and their offspring before their eyes. 9 Their homes are safe from fear; no rod of punishment from God is upon them. -Job 21:7-9 BSB

The LORD God Rebukes Job:
1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: 2 “Who is this who obscures My counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Now brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall inform Me. -Job 38:1-3 BSB

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow, and as knowledge grows, grief increases. -Ecclesiastes 1:18 BSB

Wisdom gives the believer the knowledge of what’s coming through God’s Word to those who reject Jesus Christ. When a person dies without Jesus in his heart, he will end up in hell forever. Knowing where a family member or friend will end up because they keep rejecting Jesus brings sorrow for their sake and the suffering that awaits them. Another thing that Scripture reveals is that those who stay behind, after the rapture, will go through a period of time like never seen before and ever will again. These realities will bring sorrow to some extent, but joy because we will be with Jesus forever.

The Scriptures teach us to be more righteous. The way we become more righteous is through maturity in the faith.

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. -Colossians 1:28 BSB

The Greek word for “perfect” suggests a believer reaching a faith of maturity.

Many will be purified, made spotless, and refined, but the wicked will continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand. -Daniel 12:10 BSB

In Daniel 12:10, it says that God will continue to refine and purify all Christians to become more and more Christlike in His righteousness. The Lord will continue to work in the lives of believers to become more righteous during their pilgrimage on the earth.

Let the unrighteous continue to be unrighteous, and the vile continue to be vile; let the righteous continue to practice righteousness, and the holy continue to be holy.” -Revelation 22:11 BSB

Believers must continue to grow and practice God’s righteousness in their lives. The more we pray, read the Scriptures, and live it out, the more righteous we will become. This righteousness is not speaking of being self-righteous—one who glories in himself, but the righteousness that comes from the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus Christ.

In conclusion: At the end of Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, Solomon understands this reality, “13 When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil.” 

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