“The end of a thing is better than its beginning; the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Ecclesiastes 7:8
Ecclesiastes is like the reality check of the canon. There is no spiritual grandstanding here. The world and all its vanity is examined and critiqued without any sentimental interference. Yet even through all the hard realities the preacher points out, he always leads us back to the home base of simple, godly wisdom based on the fear of the Lord.
At first glance, this passage may be chalked up to the preacher’s melancholy perspective on the vanity of this world. To say “the end of a thing is better than its beginning,” seems like an unqualified critique of everything we do and every process of life. It seems as though he is saying, “whatever you do, it’s best to just get it over with.” If that is what is meant, then this is perhaps the saddest assessment of all human endeavors. But, is that what he is saying?
The key, I think, is found in the parallel line, “the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.” Hebrew poetry mainly works on the principle of parallelism, where a single thought is presented in a double thrust. In this case a statement is made then expanded upon in the next line. In this construction there are two sets of opposites: the end and the beginning, then patience and pride. In each pair the first is better than the second. So, the two first things have something in common and are meant to be paired: the end of a thing and patience. The second two things likewise go together: the beginning of a thing and pride. Seeing this connection, the preacher’s point begins to emerge.
At the beginning of any endeavor, pride can be confused with high hopes and great expectations. It’s easy to brag about what you will accomplish before you have done anything. This point reminds me of what Ahab said to Ben-Hadad when he was bragging about how he would beat Israel in an upcoming battle: “Let not the one who puts on his armor boast like the one who takes it off” (I Kings 20:11). In other words, don’t be proud before you have done anything. Wait until the armor comes off before you brag about the battle. Of course, Ben-Hadad and the Syrians lost.
On the other hand, patience is borne out at the end of a thing. This is what makes the end of a thing better than its beginning; at the end, patience has been tested, proven and confirmed. So, the preacher is not simply saying that it’s best to get things over with. He is saying that patience will make something – anything – better than when it first started, and make the thing itself worthwhile.
In fact, patience is the whole point. We are talking about the end and beginning of a “thing.” It doesn’t matter what it is. If there is some “thing” that engenders patience within us, then there is value to it. Patience, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit, and to gain more of that fruit is itself a great thing, no matter what the other “thing” is that brings it.
So, at the beginning of anything think about its end. What do you want that end to reveal? Approach that thing, whatever it may be, with the resolution that its end will be a time when faithful patience has been confirmed. Then, indeed, the end will be better than the beginning.