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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verse 1

The terrible pessimism of Ecclesiastes continues in this chapter with the mention of certain misfortunes that befall human beings. The things mentioned here are indeed tragic; but all of them and countless others are the result of our fallen human family’s status as servants of Satan rather than servants of God. Solomon himself was part of the problem and no part of the solution. The value of his words lies in the fact that they do indeed carry a valid description of the life on earth by a race of men in rebellion against their Creator. Every man should ponder what is written here, and turn his heart to God who alone has the power to save mankind.

Verses 1-2


“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is heavy upon men: a man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor, so that he lacketh nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not the power to eat thereof, but an alien eateth it; this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.”

“So that he lacketh nothing for his soul” There is in this clause a terrible blindness on the part of the author, Solomon. That was his false notion that riches were capable of providing for the soul of a man, “all that he desireth.” That was exactly the blindness of the rich man mentioned by Jesus who said, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This is always the blindness of men who are, “not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21). They think that the true `soul food’ is money and riches!

“God giveth him not the power to eat thereof” This might have been the result of all kinds of developments. An untimely death from disease, accident, murder, or a hundred other things could have robbed him of his power to enjoy what he had accumulated; but only one of them was mentioned here.

“An alien eateth it” How could that have happened? “The alien here could have been an invading army, a thief, or a dishonest business man who defrauded him.”(F1)

Verses 3-6


“If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not filled with good, and moreover he have no burial; I say that an untimely birth is better than he: for it cometh in vanity, and departeth in darkness, and the name thereof is covered in darkness; moreover it hath not seen the sun nor known it; this hath rest rather than the other: yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, and yet enjoy no good, do not all go to one place?”

“If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years” For a man with 700 wives and 300 concubines, this was by no means an impossibility. As a matter of fact, Gideon fathered 70 sons (Judges 8:30).

“His soul be not filled with good… and… he have no burial” It is a tragic fact of life that, “In spite of family, longevity and fame, life may so miscarry as to incur life-long dissatisfaction and an unmourned death.”(F2)

In the light of ancient concern regarding one’s proper burial, it would appear here that a man’s not being properly buried was considered as the ultimate disaster that could befall a human being. Christians, of course, reject this viewpoint out of hand. Some of the early Christians were fed to the lions in the Coliseum; but God’s people remembered the words of Jesus: “Fear not them that kill the body, but after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).

The pyramids of Egypt and the elaborate historical sepulchres of the wealthy and the great stand as mute and terrible monuments to the materialistic blindness of mankind that regarded the body as actually all that there was to a human being. In the ultimate resurrection of the dead, the inspired apostle tells us quite forcefully in his vision of the Resurrection that, “The sea gave up the dead that were in it” (Revelation 20:13). The bodies of such as were drowned in the sea would have been totally consumed.

The last verses of this paragraph affirm that a still-born fetus is better than a man who was denied an honorable burial.

“This hath rest rather than the other” Let men contemplate what is stated here. If a man should live 2,000 years, he still would find that the earth is no place to rest.

Verses 7-9


“All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. For what advantage hath the wise man more than the fool? or what hath the poor man that knoweth how to walk before the living? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this also is vanity, and a striving after wind.”

When life on earth, as considered apart from the knowledge of God, as the author of Ecclesiastes was speaking of it in these lines, “Then life itself is a rat-race that makes no sense at all. This awful truth is just as real to the modern man on his industrial treadmill as it was to the primitive peasant scraping a bare living from the ground (which God has cursed for Adam’s sake). He works to eat, for the strength to go on working, to go on eating; and, even if he enjoys his work and his food, the compulsion is still there.”(F3) His mouth, not his mind, is in control.

Even with all of man’s vaunted discoveries, achievements, inventions, etc., there is an epic tragedy of human life on earth continually lived out in the lives of uncounted millions of people. Millions of children annually die without proper food from malnutrition and starvation. Disease and death are rampant in all lands. Oh yes, the average life-span has been increased a little; but it remains only a small fraction of what God intended, as evidenced in the lives of Adam and many of the patriarchs. What is wrong? Just one thing. Man’s wickedness.

Apart from God, “homo sapiens” (the wise one, as he calls himself) would be more appropriately named if he had called himself `homo ignoramus.’! Apart from God, mankind has no more future than the ichthyosaurus or the dinosaur. More and more our wretched human family is claiming for itself the scriptural designation that must be applied to unbelievers, namely, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalms 14:1 and Psalms 53:1).

“Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire” Cook interpreted this to mean that, “A thing pleasant before the eyes is preferable to a future which exists only in the desire.”(F4) If this is correct, then we have here the equivalent of the current saying that, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” the very same thought of every sinner who consents to take what his lustful eyes may see instead of those things eternal which are invisible (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Verses 10-12


“Whatsoever hath been, the name thereof was given long ago; and it is known what man is; neither can he contend with him that is mightier than he. Seeing there are many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? For who knoweth what is good for man in his life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?”

The dark and pessimistic tone of these passages might be merely a presentation of what many evil men of his generation were saying, and that Solomon would renounce all of this pessimism in his glorious conclusion (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14); and, for Solomon’s sake, we may pray that this is the true explanation of this constant parade of the words `vanity and a striving after the wind,’ words which occur dozens of times in this book. However, in the light of Solomon’s Gargantuan wickedness, we also fear that these passages reveal the secrets of his evil life.

The Anchor Bible entitled these last two verses thus:


As the words stand in our version, this writer finds the full meaning of this chapter somewhat illusive, in spite of the fact that the radical pessimism is clear enough. Barton supposed that, “Ecclesiastes 6:11 is a reference to a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees with reference to how far fate influenced the actions of men.”(F6) The same scholar affirmed that Ecclesiastes 6:12 should be understood as an assertion that, “No one knows what is good for man; because power, possessions, sensual enjoyment and wisdom have been shown to be vanity.”(F7) Scott interpreted all three verses as a declaration that, “Everything that is, is predetermined and foreknown. Man cannot alter his fate, or comprehend the meaning of his brief and fleeting life.”(F8) Samuel Cox’s comment on Ecclesiastes 6:12 is that, “It is impossible for you to know what is good for you to have. That on which you set your heart may prove to be an evil rather than a good when at last you get it.”(F9)

Kidner understood the meaning thus: “These verses remind us that we shall not alter the way in which we and our world were made. Those things are already named and known (Ecclesiastes 6:10); and that is only another way of saying that the Creation owes its being to the command of God; and that command includes the sentence passed upon Adam and his posterity after the Fall in Eden.”(F10) There is utterly no use for man to spend his time complaining about the way things are in this present evil world. We are getting exactly what our progenitors ordered when they elected the devil to be the authority which they chose to obey.

God promised Adam and Eve that in the day they disobeyed God they would surely die. That “day” was the seventh day of Creation (a day that is still in progress. See Hebrews 4.); and not a mere 24-hour period; and man is totally insane if he thinks he shall escape that sentence. It shall yet be executed upon Adam and Eve in the person of their total posterity when the probation of the human race is ended. And at that time, all mankind shall perish, the sole exceptions being those who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ. Read it, Sir! That is what the Bible teaches.

One may inquire, `why does not God end it all at once’? To this it may be replied that, it has been God’s purpose, from the beginning, to redeem a certain number from the Adamic creation unto eternal life and glory. That will be accomplished in God’s appointed time; and then the end will come, but not before then.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/ecclesiastes-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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