One Upright Man Among A Thousand, But No Upright Woman? – Ecclesiastes 7:28

“While I was still searching but not finding — I found one upright man among a thousand, but not one upright woman among them (Ecclesiastes 7:28, NIV).”

I’ve got to admit that the above verse may be one of the most perplexing in the entire Bible. On the surface it appears that Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, was comparing men with women and that though he could find at least one upright or righteous man among a thousand men, he could not find even one upright woman among that same number of women. I’ve even heard a number of sermons over the years that were consistent with this understanding of the passage;  that men are somehow more upright than women, perhaps because it was Eve who was first tempted by Satan in the Garden of Eden.

I believe this understanding of the passage is flawed, that it results from a misunderstanding of the context in which it was written, and that taking into consideration Solomon’s background may give us a better understanding of what this verse means.

Solomon’s Thousand Wives

The first thing to note is that Solomon seems to have had at least one woman in his life who he deeply loved and respected. The Song of Songs, probably written by Solomon early in his life, is a vivid and wonderful expression of the longing he felt for this one woman.  Although we don’t know who this woman was, she could have been the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). What is apparent is that Solomon had a very high opinion this woman and was totally enamored by her beauty and her charms.

The problem that Solomon may have had with regards to women is that he was not satisfied with having just one in his life. He eventually had a harem that totaled one thousand. 1 Kings 11:1-6 gives some details regarding this and what happened because of it:

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women beside Pharaoh’s daughter — Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. 

1 Kings 11:11 describes God’s response:

So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.” 

Who then was Solomon referring to then when he said, “I found one upright man among a thousand?” I believe he was referring to himself. I don’t think he was saying, “I found one upright man, me, among a thousand men,” however.  I think he was saying, “I found one upright man, me, among a thousand women.” If this is so, then the women he was referring to were most likely the thousand he’d gathered into his harem. And it appears according to I Kings 11 that none of them, including the daughter of Pharaoh, worshipped God.

An Upright Man who Lost His Focus

What then does upright mean in this context? The mistake I believe many make at this point is bringing a New Testament understanding of uprightness into the passage and equating upright with being righteous. This can lead to concluding that the passage is talking about a righteous man who was unable to find a righteous woman. But I think that in the context of Ecclesiastes that being upright has more to do with where a  person decides to look for wisdom regarding how best to live life “under the sun (Eccl. 1:3),” and not the result of that decision.  Solomon was an upright man in the sense that he looked upwards to God for wisdom and guidance, at least early in his life. The same could not be said to be true regarding the thousand women he gathered into his harem. It seems that none of them was upright in their spiritual lives, not in the same sense that Solomon was or should have been. All of them worshipped other gods.

1 Kings 11:4 notes the influence that Solomon’s thousand wives had on his own spiritual focus:

As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. 

Solomon may have been sharing his feelings about this in Ecclesiastes 7:25-26:

So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things and to understand the stupidity of wickedness and the madness of folly. I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.

If this verse is referring to how Solomon felt about his decision to have so many women in his harem, then he found the results to be more bitter than death, used words like stupid, madness, and folly to characterize his choice, and acknowledged that these women  became snares, traps, and chains

Solomon may have been an upright man at one point in his life. But because of his decision to have so many wives, he lost his upward focus and his heart turned to other gods.

Solomon concluded this portion of Ecclesiastes with these words:

This only have I found: God made mankind upright, but men have gone in search of many schemes (Eccl. 7:29). 

If Solomon is referring to himself in this verse, what he’s noting is that his life was characterized at one time by an upward or upright focus but that eventually he quit relying on God’s advice and instead followed his own schemes, a decision he came to regret.

A Better Choice

What would Solomon have done differently if he had an opportunity for a do-over in this area of his life?  I think he would have stopped at one. A clue to this is may be found in the advice he gave in Ecclesiastes 9:9:

Enjoy life with your wife, whom you live, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun.

He also advised this is Proverbs 5:18-19:

May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, and a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. 

The focus of Ecclesiastes 9:9 is what do to when you feel that life is meaningless. The focus of Proverbs 5:18-19 is what to do if you are attracted to the charms of a person other than your own spouse. Both have the same message. They are urging men and women who are married to be satisfied with the spouse they have and to quit looking elsewhere for fulfillment in this area of their lives.

As we grow older and our lives, bodies, and circumstances change, we need to adapt to those changes and reject the notion that “changing models” or “adding to the harem” is somehow better than living in a committed and meaningful way with the spouse we already have.

That’s my understanding of this passage and its implications, at least as I see it today.

11 thoughts on “One Upright Man Among A Thousand, But No Upright Woman? – Ecclesiastes 7:28

  1. I think this is pretty good. I would disagree that Solomon is talking about himself. I think that’s a bit contradictory. It seems he could be saying that finding an upright (righteous in character) man (friend, trusted servant, etc) was very rare (1 in a 1000) according to his personal experience, but finding a righteous wife was something incredibly more rare in his personal experience (0 out of 1000). Chapter 7 begins with the wisdom of a “good name” being better than precious ointment. Solomon continues this chapter it seems to comment on the betterness of living your life for a good reputation(good in more of the objective than subjective of course), and the difficulties we find to living that honorable life which gives us that good reputation. The difficulties are foolishness/surface level living (vv. 2-6), oppressions and injustices that can cause us to throw away wisdom (vv.7-12), the sovereignty of God which at times brings adversity our way (vv.13-19), your sinfulness and the sinfulness of others (vv.20-22), and relational compromise/corruption -with a little emphasis on sexual.(vv.23-29). So, in the context, if I have a correct breakdown, Solomon is describing the pitfalls of living an honorable life which brings a good reputation. And he’s making the point in verse 28 that his personal experience has taught him that upright people and upright relationships with sinful people are rare. I thought your applications were great and loved that you thought to reconcile ecc 7:28 with song of songs and proverbs. Also, song of Solomon could be speaking of abishag I have heard people say. I think whoever she is, she does not have to be included in the 1000. Solomon is simply saying I had 1000 women and they were all corrupt, so be on guard. She could be the “one that got away”. So, either we’ve got the author wrong on one of these books or these are ways to reconcile that they were all written by Solomon…which I think is most probable. Thanks!

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  2. You’re dead wrong. Don’t put words in Shlomo’s mouth. He’s saying things as they are. Women are inherently amoral. They seek pleasure and resources. that is all. They lie to avoid inconvenience. They have no moral character.

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    1. I don’t believe I’m putting words into Solomon’s mouth. I’m putting them in context. What that means is that I’m attempting to determine by noting what else I know about Solomon what prompted him to make this statement.

      Your understanding of the passage stands in sharp contrast with what Solomon said in the “Song of Solomon” regarding a woman he deeply loved and respected. He certainly did not consider the woman he was writing about in that book to be amoral or of questionable character. He considered her beautiful and deeply desired to share his love with her. One of the writers of the Proverbs had high regards for women as well (Proverbs 31: 10-31). Dozens of women in the Bible are praised for their devotion, integrity and their commitment to God as well as to their husbands. Very few are depicted the way you’ve described them.

      I’ve found by experience that my understanding of this passage in Ecclesiastes is consistent with Scripture’s high view of women in general . It also passes the test of what works in the real world for the most part and what doesn’t. Your experiences and observations may be different than mine, of course, which would undoubtedly result in a different conclusion.

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  3. Sounds reasonable to me that making the best of what you already have to work with is the better choice. After 62+ years with one special lady, that is my best assessment of your question.

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