The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ecclesiastes 6

Ecc 6:1

Ecc 6 is a continuation of the theme of the vanity of the present. Great possessions, a multitudinous family, mean nothing of themselves. These are not the basic realities of life, and true success and accomplishment cannot be measured by them. For with all these things, what is the end result but death? And even while life lasts, these things give no assurance of happiness or peace. We must go much deeper for the answer to life's great purpose.

"Solomon continues his search for the greatest good in life by examining practical morality (Ecc 6-8). He sets forth the need to moderate the pursuit of wealth, by the wisdom of laying up treasures in heaven. Reliance on pleasure and possessions will not provide true happiness: (1) Wealth without happiness is fruitless: vv 1,2. (2) Family without appreciation is disastrous: vv 3-6. (3) Frustrated desire: vv 7,8. (4) The benefits of a single sight: vv 9,10. (6) The future is opaque; so the benefits must be obtained in the present: vv 11,12. All labour is designed for personal enjoyment or profit, but generally a man remains unsatisfied. What advantage then has he who labours if (being rich) he is wise, or if being poor, he knows how to conduct himself properly; what advantage have such labourers above a fool? None, if they remain without contentment, for a thing present to the eyes is preferable to a future which exists only in the unfulfilled desire. One man gives himself to the pursuit of wealth; the other gives himself to wisdom. The fool seeks neither... They all reach the same end (v 10)" (GEM).

I HAVE SEEN ANOTHER EVIL UNDER THE SUN, AND IT WEIGHS HEAVILY ON MEN: The Hebrew "rab" (translated "weighs heavily" in NIV) is simply "rab" -- a quite common word which means great, as to number or degree. This "evil" is great or numerous upon man. The KJV translates "common" -- meaning that it is prevalent; it happens so often as to be commonplace, the rule rather than the exception. The NIV translates "weighs heavily", and the RSV "lies heavy" (cp NEB; ASV; Moffatt also) -- meaning that when such a burden comes, it is great indeed. Either approach yields a reasonable result.

Ecc 6:2

GOD GIVES A MAN WEALTH, POSSESSIONS AND HONOR... BUT GOD DOES NOT ENABLE HIM TO ENJOY THEM: An obvious and intended contrast with Ecc 5:19: there, God gives man the ability to enjoy good things in life; here, He withholds that ability. And though, in the latter case, the material things that might be enjoyed are so much greater, yet if there is no ability to do so -- they might as well be dust and ashes!

AND A STRANGER ENJOYS THEM INSTEAD: Cp 2Ch 32:27-29. It was prophesied that Hezekiah's wealth would ultimately go to strangers, in the king of Babylon, in 2Ki 20:17.

"Enjoy" here is literally "to eat" (as KJV) or "to be filled" -- though here it seems to mean to enjoy all good things of life, not just food.

THIS IS MEANINGLESS: Specifically, this "vanity" -- of another eating one's own wealth -- was Israel's experience: Hos 7:9; Lam 5:2. This happened because of their faithlessness. Such calamities were not "chance" happenings, but rather Yahweh's way of teaching Israel that they were astray from Him.

A GRIEVOUS EVIL: Or, as AV, "an evil disease" -- referring to Uzziah's leprosy, or perhaps even Hezekiah's illness.

Ecc 6:3

Ecc 6:3--11:6: The futility of human desires.

A MAN MAY HAVE A HUNDRED CHILDREN AND LIVE MANY YEARS: Both long life (cp v 6) and a large progeny were considered great blessings among the Jews (cp Deu 11:8,9; 28:4,11; Jdg 8:30; 2Ki 10:1; 2Ch 11:18-23; Psa 127:3-5; 128:2,3,6).

IF HE CANNOT ENJOY HIS PROSPERITY: No matter how much this man has acquired (or rather, been given by God: v 2), he is never able to escape this insidious bondage to the bitter struggle of acquiring more. Consequently he can never relax and enjoy what he does have.

AND DOES NOT RECEIVE PROPER BURIAL: Having no advantage over the beast (Ecc 3:19). "Proper" has been added in the NIV; the text reads simply "burial". In the ANE, to be denied a burial befitting one's place in society was a terrible tragedy (Gen 23; Jer 22:18,19; Isa 14:19,20; cp Ecc 8:10). Goliath (1Sa 17:46) and Jezebel (2Ki 9:35) -- what a pair! -- are examples of having no burial.

"No burial" (KJV) in this instance may possibly mean no "proper burial" (as in NIV). For Uzziah, because of his leprosy, there would be no splendid royal burial. On the other hand, in Uzziah's case, "no burial" might mean "burial deferred" -- ie, a death, and burial, which comes far too late -- when for some time death had been the most desirable outcome, because of his leprosy (often called "a living death").

I SAY THAT A STILLBORN CHILD IS BETTER OFF THAN HE: Again, as in Ecc 4:2,3, expressive of an overwhelming depression (cp Ecc 7:1; Job 3:11-19; 21:32,33; Psa 58:8; Jer 15:1).

Ecc 6:4

IT COMES WITHOUT MEANING: "For he cometh in with vanity" (AV).


On a spiritual level, this is a powerful statement regarding those who are raised to condemnation: whereas the children of the Kingdom are "born" a second time into an eternal existence, and given a new name emblematic of that existence (Rev 2:17; 3:12), those who are rejected receive NO NAME -- they are not acknowledged as God's children ("I never knew you": Mat 7:23), and they depart into outer darkness (Mat 8:12; 22:13; 25:30); like the fetus, they are stillborn!

Ecc 6:5

THOUGH IT NEVER SAW THE SUN OR KNEW ANYTHING, IT HAS MORE REST THAN DOES THAT MAN: "The implied limitation in point of view must be understood" (LGS, Eccl 52). Cp Job 3:16-22; 10:18,19.

THOUGH IT NEVER SAW THE SUN: And "never saw the light of day" (Job 3:16), in common vernacular. By contrast, to "see the sun" is a metaphor for "to live", as Ecc 7:11; 11:7.

Ecc 6:6

EVEN IF HE LIVES A THOUSAND YEARS TWICE OVER: More than twice as long as the 930 years of Adam (Gen 5:5), or than 969 years, the oldest recorded lifespan -- that of Methuselah (Gen 5:27). Long life is generally considered a blessing (Exo 20:12; Deu 25:15; 32:47; Pro 3:16), but here Qoheleth sees it as being to no real purpose.

DO NOT ALL GO TO THE SAME PLACE?: The destination, ie "Sheol" which is the grave, is common to all -- no matter how long or short their span of life. Ecc 3:20n.

Ecc 6:7

ALL MAN'S EFFORTS ARE FOR HIS MOUTH, YET HIS APPETITE IS NEVER SATISFIED: "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Gen 3:19; cp Pro 16:26). But there is an appetite that is never satisfied with food: "Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deu 8:3).

Ecc 6:8

WHAT ADVANTAGE HAS A WISE MAN OVER A FOOL?: Typically, the rhetorical question in Hebrew implies a negative answer. Now this particular question has already been answered affirmatively in Ecc 2:13: "I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness." Yet this may be only part of the answer, and the smaller part at that: in a natural realm, and looking at the long view of things, man has no preeminence even over a beast -- for all perish (Ecc 3:19,20; cp Ecc 2:14-16); in this context, how can one man have any preeminence over another man? So it would seem this second answer -- the negative one -- is the one Qoheleth is focusing on at the moment.

WHAT DOES A POOR MAN GAIN BY KNOWING HOW TO CONDUCT HIMSELF BEFORE OTHERS?: The answer to this question is self-evident: being a poor man, he plainly has gained no advantage by his knowledge -- at least insofar as "life under the sun" is concerned. This answer is in keeping with the deep-seated futility of this section.

Ecc 6:9

BETTER WHAT THE EYE SEES THAN THE ROVING OF THE APPETITE: It is better to enjoy what one has than to desire the unattainable. The thoughts of the heart are only evil continually, and ought to be curbed, not indulged (Gen 6:5). "The roving of the appetite" is just another name for "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1Jo 2:15-17; cp Jam 4:2).

"People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (1Ti 6:9,10).

Man must learn to be content with what he has, so long as he has the promises of God (Heb 13:5,6), to be content whatever the circumstances, because he knows that his God can supply every need (Phi 4:11-13; Mat 6:25-33).

We do not find happiness OUTSIDE of ourselves; we find happiness INSIDE ourselves.

It may be said there are two ways to find happiness: (a) "Get everything you want" -- but, given man's inherent lust, this is impossible! Or... (b) "Enjoy -- and be thankful for -- what you have" -- this EVERYONE can do!

THIS TOO IS MEANINGLESS, A CHASING AFTER THE WIND: "Happiness lies in the appreciation and quiet enjoyment of what we have -- not in the restless yearning for what we have not -- in casting out desire, and replacing it with rejoicing. How hard this lesson is to learn, and yet how simple it really is! Desire has never brought happiness, but only unhappiness. But contentment -- an inner state of the mind beyond the control of any outside influence -- is an immediate guarantee of happiness and peace.

"What we have -- or can have freely -- life itself, the assurance of immortal joy if we walk worthy, the understanding of the Scriptures, the revelation of the beauty and goodness of God, the gracious invitation to companionship and comfort and joy in Him -- all this is so infinitely more valuable than anything in the world that we could desire, that if we cannot be content and happy and abundantly satisfied in this, we could never find happiness or satisfaction in anything. So the problem of happiness is entirely within ourselves -- not in anything outside of us that we think we desire. These are deep and basic facts. Ecclesiastes presents the Gospel in a different way. It shows that the way of the Truth is not only a command, an obligation, a responsibility, but that it is the only sensible way -- the only way to find what all mankind is seeking -- happiness, contentment, satisfaction, the greatest good, the most lasting joy and pleasure.

"Ecclesiastes examines all the things men strive for -- all the things they attach value to -- all the things they think will bring them satisfaction -- and logically traces them all through to the same final conclusion -- vanity" (GVG).

A CHASING AFTER WIND: This is the last of nine times the phrase "chasing, or striving after wind" occurs (cf Ecc 1:14,17; 2:11,17,26; 4:4,6,16).

Ecc 6:10

WHATEVER EXISTS HAS ALREADY BEEN NAMED: And it is named... (1) "Adam", or man -- whose name is derived from the "earth" or "ground" (Heb "adamah") out of which he was taken, and to which he shall return (Gen 1:26,27; 2:7). (Is this the origin of the phrase, "His name is Mud"?) Ironically, man's name reveals both his origin and his destiny (Gen 3:19; Ecc 3:19,20). Or, it is named... (2) "Vanity!" There is nothing new, nothing that has not been tried as a way of happiness and satisfaction, and all has been shown to be "vanity" or "meaninglessness"!

WHAT MAN IS HAS BEEN KNOWN: "Adam" IS "dust" (Gen 3:19).

NO MAN CAN CONTEND WITH ONE WHO IS STRONGER THAN HE: That is, with "death"! Or with the Almighty God who has decreed death as the natural condition of man. "Contend" is legal language; it takes us into a court of law -- where man, like Job, might make his case before God (eg, Job 9:2,32). But the fact is man has no case to plead regarding his vanity / frailty / futility / frustration of life. If a man could indeed go to court with God, he would find that he would certainly lose his case (cp Isa 45:9; 46:10; Rom 9:20).

Ecc 6:11

THE MORE THE WORDS, THE LESS THE MEANING, AND HOW DOES THAT PROFIT ANYONE?: "Man is continually railing against Yahweh, criticizing the conditions of life under which he must live. Yet he achieves nothing; all his wordy arguments get him nowhere. He forgets that man himself is the first cause of all his troubles. He sinned, and the divine judgment is both just and righteous: 'You shall surely die.' In view of that, all his complaining and bitterness, his brooding sense of injustice, only serve to increase his irritation" (Krygger). "To argue with God is to argue with the very power that makes it possible to argue at all" (CSL).

Ecc 6:12

WHO KNOWS WHAT IS GOOD FOR A MAN IN LIFE...?: Again, as in v 9, such a rhetorical question is intended to be answered negatively; the answer is, of course, "Nobody!" Not even Qoheleth, who has examined riches, power, prestige, and sensual expression -- subjecting them all to the test of lasting benefit -- and found them all wanting. All is vanity and vexation of spirit.

DURING THE FEW AND MEANINGLESS DAYS HE PASSES THROUGH LIKE A SHADOW?: Cp 2Ki 20: the shadow of the sun-dial marked the declining years of Hezekiah. More generally, a shadow -- like the wind, or a breath of air -- is the symbol of that which is fleeting and insubstantial (cp 1Ch 29:15; Job 8:9; 14:2; Psa 39:4,5,11; 102:11; 144:4).

WHO CAN TELL HIM WHAT WILL HAPPEN UNDER THE SUN AFTER HE IS GONE?: No man knows the future (Ecc 8:7; cp Job 14:21; Pro 27:1). Only God sees the end from the beginning (Jer 14:13-16; 23:15-40; Pro 16:9).

Step by step, the Book of Ecclesiastes is leading the reader to the conclusion that nothing -- absolutely nothing -- in this life ("under the sun") can give lasting satisfaction. It may be a tiresome road that the traveler trudges down, and many other doors may be slammed shut in his face, but when he finally arrives at his destination, he may say, as did Peter long centuries ago, "Lord, to whom [else] shall we go? You [and you only!] have the words of eternal life" (Joh 6:68).

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