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"All this" refers to the general pattern of God’s inconsistent retribution that Solomon had discussed. Even though he could not predict whether a given person would experience prosperity or adversity, he believed all people are in God’s hand. He sovereignly controls individual destiny, and He may manifest either apparent love or apparent hate toward anyone in this life.
"Every possible thing may befall a man-what actually meets him is the determination and providence of God." [Note: Delitzsch, p. 356.]
C. Man’s Ignorance of the Future 9:1-11:6
The emphasis in this section (Ecclesiastes 9:1 to Ecclesiastes 11:6) is on what man does not know because God has not revealed many things. Solomon also emphasized, however, that the remaining mystery in this subject (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17) must not diminish human joy (Ecclesiastes 9:1-9) or prevent us from working with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6). [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 92.] The subsections that follow begin "no one knows" or the equivalent (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Ecclesiastes 9:12; Ecclesiastes 11:2; cf. Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ecclesiastes 10:14-15; Ecclesiastes 11:5 twice, 6).
"Before the positive emphasis of the final three chapters can emerge, we have to make sure that we shall be building on nothing short of hard reality. In case we should be cherishing some comforting illusions, chapter 9 confronts us with the little that we know, then with the vast extent of what we cannot handle: in particular, with death, the ups and downs of fortune, and the erratic favours of the crowd." [Note: Kidner, p. 80.]
1. The future of the righteous on earth 9:1-10
In the sense just explained, all share the same fate. No one knows what God may send him or her. "Clean" (Ecclesiastes 9:2) means ritually clean. Because we do not know what our fate will be, we may yield to temptation to sin (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Everyone experiences both love and hate in his life, though in differing proportion, and everyone eventually dies.
However, the inequities in life and the certainty of death should not make us give up on living. Life is better than death. In the ancient Near East, people despised wild dogs and they honored lions. Solomon’s point was that it is better to be alive and have no honor, than dead and receive honor, because the living person also has consciousness and hope. The living can enjoy life, but the dead cannot.
"The dead do not know anything" does not mean they are insensible. Later revelation indicates that the dead are aware of their feelings, the past, other people, and other things (cf. Matthew 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; et al.). In the context, this clause means the dead have no capacity to enjoy life as the living can.
Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 do not contradict Ecclesiastes 4:2-3, where Solomon said the dead are better off than the living. A person who is suffering oppression may feel it is preferable to be dead (Ecclesiastes 4:1), but when a person is dead his opportunities for earthly enjoyment do not exist (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6).
Again Solomon recommended the present enjoyment of the good things God allows us to experience in life (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). This was his conclusion, since our future on the earth is uncertain, and since after we die, we cannot enjoy these things. In particular, we should enjoy food and drink (Ecclesiastes 9:7), clean clothing and perfume (Ecclesiastes 9:8), and marital companionship (Ecclesiastes 9:9), among other of life’s legitimate pleasures. This list includes some luxuries as well as the necessities of life (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:19).
"God has already approved your works" (Ecclesiastes 9:7) means such enjoyment is God’s will for us. This encouraging word does not contradict the fact that we are the stewards of all God entrusts to us. However, this verse should help us realize that it is not sinful to take pleasure in what God has given us, even some luxuries. We need to balance gratefulness and generosity, keeping some things and giving away others. This balance is not easy, but it is important.
Solomon’s second recommendation was diligent work (cf. John 9:4). He viewed work as is a privilege that the dead do not have. Probably toil connected with the curse on nature is in view here. We will be active in service in heaven, for example, but this will not be work as we know it now (Revelation 22:3). If you think work is not a blessing, spend some time talking with someone who has been out of work for a long time.
2. The future of the wise on earth 9:11-10:11
Solomon’s emphasis in Ecclesiastes 9:2-10 was on the fact that a righteous person could not be more certain of his or her earthly future than the wicked. In Ecclesiastes 9:11 to Ecclesiastes 10:11, his point was that the wise cannot be more sure of his or her earthly future than the fool.
Wisdom does not guarantee a good job or a prosperous future. Likewise, sometimes the fastest runner does not win a foot race and the stronger army does not win a battle. Usually the best succeed, but not always. The reason for this is that everyone is subject to misfortune that we cannot anticipate or control (Ecclesiastes 9:12).
Clearly, in this illustration, wisdom is better than strength, but even so it does not guarantee a reward. People generally do not value wisdom as highly as wealth, even though wisdom is really worth more.
Just a little folly can decrease the value of wisdom. For example, a wise person can end his opportunity to provide wisdom to others by giving foolish advice just once. This, too, is unfortunate, but it is a fact of life. The theme expressed in Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 is elaborated in Ecclesiastes 10:1-20. [Note: See Graham S. Ogden, "Qoheleth IX 17-X 20: Variations on the Theme of Wisdom’s Strength and Vulnerability," Vetus Testamentum 30 (1980):27-37, reprinted in Zuck, ed., Reflecting with . . ., pp. 331-40.]
"A man may commit one sin, and this can destroy a lifetime of virtue." [Note: Laurin, p. 592.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany