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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

Verses 1-2

‘For all this I laid to my heart, even to explore all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hatred, man does not know it. Everything is before them. All things come alike to all. There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked, to the good and to the clean and to the unclean, to him who sacrifices and to him who does not sacrifice. As is the good, so is the sinner. And he who swears as he who fears oaths.’

As a wise man he ‘laid to his heart’ (decided firmly in his heart), for the purposes of exploring it further, that the righteous and the wise, together with their doings, are in the hand of God. But what holds them there, whether it be love or hate, man cannot tell, for it cannot be discovered by examining God’s behaviour towards them. He treats all alike. For although everything is before men, they see that all things come alike to all.

This is not to deny that the righteous know that God loves them, only that it cannot be told by His behaviour towards them on earth. He would seemingly treat them in just the same way if he hated them, for He behaves the same towards the wicked. This conclusion comes from looking at their general experiences of life. What happens to the wicked happens to the good, and vice versa.

This is confirmed by the fact that identical things happen to the righteous and the wicked, to the good, the clean and the unclean, to the one who sacrifices and to the one who does not sacrifice. All are seemingly treated the same by God. Thus neither morality nor religious observance make any difference to their treatment.

Verses 1-18

Chapter 9 The Same Things Happen to All Whether They Be Righteous, Wise Or Sons of Men. And In The End All Die In The Same Way. So Let The Righteous Live Life As They May And Enjoy It For God Has Accepted All That They Do. But Let Them Not Look For Anything Beyond.

After seeming to be making progress through an examination of religious experience The Speaker now turns to consider what difference there is between the overall treatment of the righteous and the wicked while on earth, and discovers that there is none.

Verse 3

‘This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event to all. Yes also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.’

‘The sons of men’ appear to be a new class first introduced in Ecclesiastes 8:11 (but see Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 3:18). They are clearly seen as sinful. Probably then the idea is of ‘those who by their behaviour show themselves to be but men’, in contrast with the righteous and the wise. But the point is that the same thing happens to all, even to these ‘sons of men’ who are full of evil, and in whose heart there is madness while they live, after which they go to the dead (madness is paralleled with folly. It possibly means wild behaviour). This he sees as an evil. It seems to thrust man back into futility.

Verses 4-6

‘For to him who is joined with all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. As well their love, as their hatred and their envy, is now perished. Nor have they any more for ever a portion in anything that is done under the sun.’

For it is while they are alive that men have hope, for life is still ahead, even if the quality of life expected is not what it could be. In contrast the dead have no hope. Thus a living dog with its pitiful life (the mangy dog scavengers who live wild in the towns and countryside, the lowest of beasts - 1 Samuel 24:14) is better than a dead lion, which while alive is the proudest and most fearsome of beasts, but once dead is just a corpse.

The living have knowledge. They know for example that they will die (I will die therefore I am?). But the dead do not know anything. They do not even have the reward of being remembered. Everything about them is forgotten, their love, their hatred, their envy, their good deeds, their bad deeds. All is forgotten. And they have no part or portion in anything that is under the sun. They have left it all behind. Death is the ultimate end.

So he tells men that it is better to be alive and looked down on (as a dog) rather than dead and being honoured (as a lion), because the living at least have consciousness.

Thus the conclusion is that God treats all alike while they live, and all die in the same way and finish up a blank. This is the philosopher’s view.

Verses 7-10

The Righteous Must Therefore Find Joy In Their Present Life For There Is None Beyond The Grave (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 ).

The Preacher is still considering the facts on which he is to make his final decision, and he has just reiterated his great problem, that God does not differentiate between the treatment of the righteous and the unrighteous, between the wise and the foolish, and has appointed the same death for all. He has previously been impressed with the lives of the godly. They have something that no others have. But he now feels that that is also futile. He has reached the lowest point of his musings. So he now tells them that they must enjoy it while they may, for it seems to him that they will not enjoy anything beyond the grave. Yet it is clear that he still accepts that the godly ‘have the best of it’. They eat with joy, they drink joyously, they wear festive clothes, they anoint their heads lavishly, they live joyously with their wives. Nevertheless in the end they finish up like everyone else.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

‘Go your way, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a joyous heart, for God has already accepted your works. Let your clothes be always white, and do not let your heads lack ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your meaningless life, which he has given you under the sun. For that is your portion in life, and in your labour with which you labour under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave to which you go.’

He tells God’s true people that they must carry on living, eating and drinking joyfully, as normal, for God has already accepted their works as is demonstrated by the fact that they do have food and drink. They must wear festive garments and anoint their heads lavishly (signs of continual joy). They must live joyfully with their wives whom they love. But that is all that they can expect. That is their portion in life and in their labour which ‘He has given you under the sun’. This last phrase links the godly with the futility of the ungodly and limits all things to this earth. In view of that all that is open to them is to do whatever their hands do with all their might. For once they are in the grave there will be no work, no device, no knowledge and no wisdom. Death is the end. So they are told to enjoy their lives in contentment, and make the most of them while they can, for that is what God has allotted to them. The description covers everyone, both the labourer, the businessman, the student, and the professor. No one can work beyond the grave so they should put in every effort here in this life so as to achieve the best.

Until recognition comes of a life beyond the grave this is the best a man can hope for. But he wants us to know that it is a good best.

Verses 11-12

Things Do Not Always Go As We Expect (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 ).

His first lesson is that men do not necessarily succeed because of their advantages and their abilities, because in the end success is largely a matter of chance

Ecclesiastes 9:11

‘I returned and saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men with business acumen, nor yet favour to men of skill. But time and chance happens to them all.’

Things do not always go as expected. It is not always the swift who win the race. It is not always the strong who win the battle. It is not always the wise who are fed. It is not always those who have business acumen who succeed in business. It is just that some are in the right place at the right time, others are favoured by providence, while still others are unfortunate. Thus it is not always those who are expected to win who gain the prize. It is only too often simply a matter of chance. The truth is that they might fall at the first fence. So all are subject to time and luck. Such are the uncertainties of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:12

‘For man also does not know his time. As the fish who are taken in an evil net, and as the birds who are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time when it falls on them suddenly.’

His second lesson is that men do not know what the future holds. Life may be going along smoothly when suddenly they find themselves ensnared in one way or another. It may be by invasion, it may be by the toppling of authority and replacement by a new authority, it may be by pestilence or plague. But it can come suddenly and unexpectedly on men who are unprepared. For a man does not know what time has in store for him. Thus we should seek to prepare for possible emergencies.

Verses 11-18

Sayings About the Wise (Ecclesiastes 9:11 to Ecclesiastes 10:12 ).

His philosophy having come up with the fact that all a man has to look forward to is the life just described, the Preacher now recognises that he is a wise man and must therefore give some advice on living that life. Thus he proceeds to enunciate his wisdom.

Verses 13-16

A Parable of Wisdom and Ingratitude (Ecclesiastes 9:13-16 ).

Ecclesiastes 9:13-16

‘I have seen also wisdom under the sun like this. There was a small city and few men in it. And there came a great king against it, and besieged it and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no man remembered that same poor man. Then I said, “wisdom is better than strength. Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.’

For in this life men are not treated fairly. Someone who becomes famous for some great act of wisdom which produces wonderful results, may soon be forgotten and summarily dismissed. In this example a poor but wise man delivered a city under siege by some clever scheme, but he was neither rewarded nor commended once the first gratitude was over. He was never consulted again. He was pushed back into obscurity. Such are the ways of an ungrateful world. The story demonstrates two things. That often wisdom is more important than strength, and that men are in general ungrateful and easily forget what has been done for them.

Indeed wisdom is often undervalued. No doubt the king soon convinced himself that in fact he had almost been about to have the idea himself.

Ecclesiastes 9:17-18

‘The words of the wise spoken in quiet are heard more than the cry of him who rules among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.’

These are further lessons of the parable. It is better to listen to the wise who give their advice quietly than to listen to the noisy rantings of one who rules over the unlearned and thoughtless. Success is more likely in such a case, and the words of the former are more likely to be worth listening to and to provide a solution.

Furthermore wisdom is more effective than weapons of war. This is obviously true, partly because wise discussion will often avoid war, and secondly because clever tactics will make weapons more effective. For wars are often won by those who use the better tactics.

However one who behaves foolishly or unintelligently can destroy much good. Therefore it is better to put one’s concerns in the hands of wise men.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/ecclesiastes-9.html. 2013.
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