I’ve preached quite a few sermons from Ecclesiastes 7. But I’ve always felt a little awkward when reading verse 28 in the pulpit:

One man among a thousand I have found,
But a woman among all these I have not found.

In the context it looks as if Solomon’s search for wisdom turned up a wise man now and again, but never a wise woman! It’s not exactly New-York-Times-speak, is it! Is Solomon a closet Republican conducting a “war on women?”

I’ve never found a commentary that either deals with the difficulty or solves it to my satisfaction. Until last Saturday, when I was preparing a sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:29, and I came across this in the ESV study Bible:

The term “found” here means “figured out, comprehended by study.” The Preacher is admitting that he is unable to “figure out” the vast majority of people he encounters, whether male or female; even his successes in understanding his own sex are extremely unimpressive (only “one man among a thousand”).

This explanation fits the Hebrew, the grammar, the immediate context, and the wider context of the whole Bible which honors women and elevates them above the cultural and societal norms of biblical times.

So, no, it’s not the most sexist verse in the Bible. If anything, you’d expect a man to have a much higher “figure out” rate among his own gender. But his stats are hardly impressive, are they.

The Bible reveals God’s saving love for women; it’s sin that’s sexist and wars against all women…and all men.

  • Les

    Thank you for explaining this verse. It’s always annoyed me. I was reading Leviticus 12 this morning and came across the passage on purification after childbirth. I’ve never understood why the mother’s period of uncleaness after birth was twice as long for girls than for boys. I know the uncleaness is because of vaginal blood loss and not because of a girl or boy buy why the doubling? My study Bible wasn’t very helpful. What do other commentators say on this?

  • http://www.wogmagazine.com T.Newbell

    Thanks for this post. At first I kind of giggled and thought, even then men just couldn’t figure us out. :) God is love. He loves women so much that he sacrificed himself for us. What amazing grace. His Word demonstrates that redeeming love throughout the whole of it. So thankful!

  • Timothy Edwards

    Thanks for this. I have likewise found this to be a difficult verse.

    I liked the look of this solution, so I fired up Bibleworks to check the Hebrew of Ecc 7:28. The Hebrew for find here is מצא, which is the standard word for ‘find’.

    So I wondered whether there was an element to the semantic range with which I was unfamiliar where it meant “figured out”. So to the lexica I went. There I find the sense of figured out, but the only references for that are in Judges 14, where the expression is “find [the solution to] a riddle”, so that is not necessarily applicable to other contexts.

    BDB does suggest the meaning “learn by study” for the verses either side of this one – so I wondered whether that would fit. But really that is not so much a distinct meaning as the method for finding (hence the fact that most English versions continue to translate with “find” (NET has “discover”, but that hardly seems to be materially different)).

    So I think that I am left in the position of saying that that sounds like a neat solution, but is not really apparent in the text. Unless there is something that I am missing (as suggested by your comment that this “fits the Hebrew …”); if so, please help.

  • St. Steve of Northern Lights

    Dr. Murray, Thanks for blogging on this verse. I think I remember reading in the book “The Art of Prophecying” by William Perkins, that this verse refers to the special calling Ministers have, and that a good minister is so very rare. And then, Christ being the only real minister, or “upright” man among them all. I think that the book is in the church library back in CA, and so I wasn’t able to look it up, nor find any references for that passage of the book online. So maybe it was Perkins or another Puritan on preaching. But I had that same question for a long time as well! Would you agree with that take on the passage?

  • St. Steve of Northern Lights

    To follow up on the topic, our New Geneva study, references this verse to Job 33.23
    The reference of “One among a thousand” as the NKJ version has it. One could perhaps see a more pastoral association and Christlike reference given with the context of the Job passage. Any thoughts on this potential connection?

    “If there be for him an angel,
    a mediator, one of the thousand,

    to declare to man what is right for him,
    24 and he is merciful to him, and says,
    ‘Deliver him from going down into the pit;
    I have found a ransom;
    25 let his flesh become fresh with youth;
    let him return to the days of his youthful vigor’;
    26 then man[c] prays to God, and he accepts him;
    he sees his face with a shout of joy”