Ecclesiastes 7:10 Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this (NASB).
The temptation for every human being is to fondly reminisce about former times, forgetting about their hardships in the process. By highlighting the good times and overlooking the bad times, human beings incline themselves to romanticize the past. Simultaneously, human beings have a tendency toward the other extreme of noting only the bad and disregarding all of the good and consequently look to the future as nothing but progress. In doing so, both tendencies forsake the intermix of good and bad.
More importantly, however, the Preacher posits this verse of wisdom for multiple reasons. First, in the preceding verses, the lesson has been that the end of something is often better than its beginning (verses 1-3, 8). In the succeeding verses, we learn that wisdom is akin to a good inheritance (verses 11-14). By its very qualifier, a good inheritance is good, but that goodness was intertwined with bad. The very thought of a good inheritance should immediately bring this to mind.
Though one obtains something good, what was the process whereby one obtained it, i.e. how does attain an inheritance? Typically, someone close must die for the benefactor to receive his inheritance. It was good for Solomon and for Israel when he ascended to the throne; but that particular good had been birthed through the bad, namely the death of King David. What good could be wrought by King Solomon to romanticize his pre-reigning past? Obtaining wisdom is a similar process. If wisdom is truly valuable in itself, and obtaining wisdom is better than not having done so, then yearning for days of yore, especially those days in which one did not possess this wisdom—such yearning literally cannot be from wisdom. How could wisdom yearn for its own pre-existence?
Second, taking the book as a whole, the Preacher has put the reader in mind that the future will repeat the past in some form, and nothing “new” genuinely exists in terms of wise living (1:4-7, 9). Indeed, much in life is a striving after wind (1:2), and much grief accompanies much wisdom (1:18), and Solomon knew this all-too well. But in further taking the book as whole, with respect to 7:10, one should do so in light of the end, namely the end of the book itself. What is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes? Fear God and keep His commandments—this commandment applies to everyone (not just the righteous!) because God will bring all matters to judgment, both good and bad (12:13-14). For how could God judge otherwise when the good so intertwines with the bad that bad often births good and vice versa? Thus, the end of all matters is better than their beginnings (7:8), and the end of Ecclesiastes is better than its beginning for it settles the matters put forward throughout the book.
Finally, taking the Bible as a whole, it is not from wisdom that one longingly desires former days. While in the desert, the Israelites notoriously looked back upon former days as better than their situation in the desert. Even if they could not anticipate the good that awaited them in the promised land itself, their situation in the desert, though monotonous, was far superior to their lives as slaves in Egypt. Any simple mind should have perceived this. Yet restive minds look upon present tedium with disdain, and future unknowns with angst and fear. Thus, all that remains pleasant are former days—even days of slavery!
And for the Christian, the end is indubitably superior than the beginning. But it will not arrive without much grief. Christ’s glorious return will accompany much death and eternal condemnation of the lost. Good is intermixed with bad. But the good news about this end is that the completion of Christ’s inheritance will simultaneously see the decoupling of the good and the bad. Let us then forsake the question of verse 10, for we know very well as Christians that it is truly not from wisdom that we ask.