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Wednesday, June 12th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 6

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Verses 1-2

Having Wealth, but Not Able to Enjoy It

The Preacher again points out that he has seen something “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 6:1). As a result, he once again makes clear his point of view, in order to look at and think through the things around him from there. He has observed “an evil” that anyone can see anywhere. It is actually an evil that “is prevalent among men” or, as it also can be translated “heavily presses on men”.

It concerns a man who has everything he desires and lacks nothing (Ecclesiastes 6:2). It has all been given to him by God and God also gives him the chance to enjoy it, as the Preacher noted earlier (Ecclesiastes 5:17-Psalms :). Whatever a man could possibly possess, he owes it all to God, whether he is aware of it or not. God satisfies our “hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17).

Now the Preacher notes the downside of wealth, possessions and honor: God does not empower man to “eat from them”. This observation is as true as the previous one. We just have to see the context of both observations. There is “a foreigner” here and he “enjoys them”. We can see a reference to Satan here. As long as a person does not stand in a living relationship with God by repentance and faith, he is under the control of Satan with everything that he has. The real enjoyment can only be there when someone comes to repentance and starts to live according to it.

When man shuts God out, God surrenders him to his own way and actions. A man cannot really enjoy anything without Him. The fact that God does not empower man to enjoy any of it, it is up to man himself. Man chooses to attribute his wealth, possessions and honor to his own merits. Such an attitude of man has made God to automatically attach the consequence that man cannot enjoy it either.

From what the Preacher sees, he concludes that the possession of wealth and properties and honor is “vanity”. What good is it to a man if someone else, even if he is not aware of it, runs off with it? Solomon does not conclude this soberly, but it touches him deeply. He undergoes the perception he makes as “a severe affliction”. Possibly this comes from the realization that man himself cannot change anything about the evil, in whatever form.

It is about cause and effect, both of which are anchored by God in His creation, also in man’s actions. Man has surrendered himself to ‘the foreigner’, Satan. Satan consumes what people possess as long as they shut God out of their minds. The word ‘consume’ contains the thought of wasting or squandering valuable things as if they were without any value.

Satan can do this by encouraging people to rob or destroy the property. He can also do it by a personal plague, a physical or mental illness, or a sinful lifestyle, so that there is no opportunity to enjoy what God gives (cf. Romans 1:21). The sowing of turmoil and hatred is also a tried and tested means by which he makes pleasure impossible (cf. Proverbs 15:16-Esther :).

Verses 3-6

A Miscarriage Is Better Off

A person can have a very great offspring and grow very old, things that are presented in the Old Testament as a special blessing, and yet leave life empty and unnoticed, without others mourning him (Ecclesiastes 6:3; cf. Jeremiah 22:18-Psalms :). That is really tragic. Moreover, it is a great torment to experience and see beautiful things and not to find joy and satisfaction in them.

If the life of such a man is over, there is no one to shed a tear for him. His life is worth nothing and neither is his dead body. They do not even bother to dig a grave for him and bury him. His end is, as his life was: empty.

Such torments do not bother “a miscarriage” and that is why it is better off. The stillborn child is not confronted with the restlessness of an unfulfilled existence. He also has no guilt towards God. If a life is lived in sin and is ended in unbelief, it would have been better never to have lived it (cf. Mark 14:21).

A miscarriage is the first to die (Ecclesiastes 6:4). That happens already before it has seen life (Psalms 58:8). Everything remains hidden in darkness. Although the miscarriage has not seen the life and the light, it is better off than he who has seen it all (Ecclesiastes 6:5). The miscarriage has rest and has not experienced all afflictions under the sun, while the living one has always had unrest. Job and Jeremiah have desired to be like that when they were desperate (Job 3:1-Psalms :; Jeremiah 20:14-Nehemiah :).

The rich man and the poor man who die in unbelief will both go to the place where all temporal differences have disappeared. This is the realm of the dead. Everyone will end up there, however long he lives. Even if someone gets twice as old as Methuselah (Genesis 5:27), it will be of no use to him when he dies. After his long, unpleasant life he goes to the realm of the dead, the place where there is also the miscarriage that has not seen life.

The New Testament teaches that there is a difference between the place where a miscarriage goes and where the unbeliever goes after death. A miscarriage has not sinned and is therefore saved by the work of Christ. The unbeliever is in the place of pain because he has refused to repent. He will be judged according to his deeds (Revelation 20:12-1 Chronicles :). However, there is a difference in the gravity of the punishment that the unbelievers receive after their death (Luke 12:48).

We learn from the New Testament that there is also a distinction in reward for those who die in faith. They will be rewarded according to the faithfulness with which they have served the Lord in their lives (Matthew 25:14-Amos :).

Verses 7-9

Food Does Not Fill Spiritual Emptiness

The very first and great goal of all man’s labor is that his mouth gets something to eat, because only then he stays alive (Ecclesiastes 6:7). Over and over again, man has to eat. He never reaches the point of final saturation, so that he has eaten enough once and for all. He gets hungry again and again, so he has to eat again and again. That is what he works for. This applies to the rich industrialist and the prime minister as well as to the worker.

It is working to eat and eating to be able to work: “A worker’s appetite works for him, for his hunger urges him on” (Proverbs 16:26). His stomach is in control of him. At the same time, there is a deeper hunger, a spiritual hunger. The desire for what is truly satisfying is not fulfilled by filling the stomach. This is the deeper lesson of this verse.

When a person realizes that healthy food for his soul is more important than it is for his body, he has learned the lesson. To say it with the words of the Lord Jesus is the lesson that “man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

In filling the stomach the wise has no advantage over the fool; there is no distinction between them in this (Ecclesiastes 6:8). They both have the same need to eat and drink in order to stay alive. Both of them also experience the brevity of the satisfaction of needs.

In the New Testament we learn that the relationship between the stomach and the food is a temporary one. God will at some point destroy both the stomach and the food (1 Corinthians 6:13). This happens as soon as a person dies. In the afterlife, there is no need to eat in order to stay alive, is a very poor person and that his soul is in a disastrous state.

The same principle applies to the poor who understands the art of cautiously maneuvering through life. He may know how to deal with “the living”, but with all his skills to be befriended with everyone, he cannot fill his stomach. The living may be the rich, or the prominent people, who look down on the poor. If the poor man is able to deal with them dexterously, he will not gain any additional advantage over those rich or prominent people. They, like him, have the same necessities of life.

The restless desiring of things one does not possess causes torment, while there is so much to enjoy at the moment because of what the eyes see (Ecclesiastes 6:9). Desire stirs up to a restless pursuit of something that never becomes a possession. The first – what the eyes see – is better than the second – what the soul desires – because the first one you have. The enjoyment of today’s good, makes you content and happy. Life is full of little surprises, if we want to see them. However, even this does not give any final rest and does not fill the deepest desires for inner satisfaction.

Only seeing God's great gift in Christ gives the greatest joy and rest. This also applies to the pursuit of getting to know Him. These activities are neither futile nor striving after wind, but they prove the reality of a faith which is in a living connection with Christ.

Verses 10-12

Man Is Only a Man

God knows the beginning of every man (Isaiah 46:9-2 Samuel :), also his name and character (Ecclesiastes 6:10). His name, his identity, is given to him by God (cf. Isaiah 40:26). Giving a name to someone or something means that someone has the authority to do so. Thus God called “light day and darkness night” (Genesis 1:5). A name expresses the nature of something (Genesis 2:19).

Concerning man “it is known what man is”. Man must know that he is a weak creature (cf. Psalms 9:20) and not the strong God (Isaiah 31:3). He must know that it is impossible to dispute with God or call Him to account. It is foolishness to begin with this, for he will always be defeated “by him who is stronger than he” (Job 23:13; Job 33:12). It is also possible that with ‘him who is stronger than he’ death is meant.

He cannot change what God has made of him, the character He has given him (Jeremiah 1:5). To accept that is the most essential thing to function as God has intended it to be. That also gives full meaning to life. It makes no sense to argue about this with God, although God allows us to do so when we do, as with Job, in order to teach us even richer lessons.

However, man is not inclined to accept what God has made of him. He dares to rage against God, the Almighty, for the slightest thing, and to challenge His right to the government of all things. Like a nitwit, he grumbles at God and curses at Him, even though he himself is to blame for the misery, his decay and his mortality in which he finds himself, due to his own sins. Even though a man is well known and rich, it is generally known that he is only a man, made of dust, and therefore weak and fragile.

He is, because he is human, subject to numerous disasters. His ability to prevent them is completely beyond his control, despite all his fearful efforts and worries. He cannot use his power and wealth to carry out his will in order to make the disasters disappear from him when they have struck him. Although a man may become famous, it is known that he is only a man who cannot dispute with Him Who is stronger, which means that he cannot control events, for only He Who is stronger, namely God, can.

There are so many things in the life of man that are futile, transitory (Ecclesiastes 6:11). What is the real benefit of such things to him? They do not benefit him, they do not benefit him at all. Words of people do not change the world, they only make the emptiness bigger. Just listen to the countless empty words of many politicians. The firm language used to suppress evil in any form is becoming more and more pitiful.

It is reminiscent of the saying that a proverb in the mouth of fools is like the legs to the lame, which are useless (Proverbs 26:7). You can see it happen before you: the firm words seeping like powerless saliva out of the speaker’s mouth, trickling down along his chin and making his neat jacket dirty. Only the living and powerful Word of God is able to bring about a change for the better.

No one knows what is good in this life for mankind, only God knows, but He is off-side in this book, because the Preacher sees everything only under the sun (Ecclesiastes 6:12). Will there be days of prosperity or adversity, of profit or loss, of abundance or of lack? Man does not know it because he spends his days as a shadow, which means as if he has no real existence.

He cannot control the course of his life and cannot make it to his own will. His life is counted in a number of “years”, which are seen as “futile” and spent like “a shadow”. This description shows how small man is. This is the reality of life when it is lived apart from God, because life only has meaning and sense in connection with Him.

A man who does not consider God, knows nothing of the value of life, and has no knowledge of what will be after him, let alone any certainty about it. The life after him cannot be described in a plan. Without God, he can make predictions, which at best have no other basis than previous experiences. At the same time it will be experienced how worthless those forecasts have often proved to be. With the change of people the view on life also changes.

God knows from the beginning what is going to happen and He knows what will happen to him after the life of a man on earth. Only God knows what will happen after this life, and so does anyone to whom God reveals it.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ecclesiastes 6". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ecclesiastes-6.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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