Ecclesiastes 8 Summary Study Guide Sermon Commentary

Ecclesiastes 8-9

As we enter this Ecclesiastes 8 summary article, we remember that chapter 7 ended with considering our need of wisdom in dealing with the unjust. Now, the Preacher talks more about wisdom…

External Marks of a Wise Man

KJV Ecclesiastes 8:1 Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation [solution] of a thing [matter]?

Well, who is a wise man? Would you know one if you saw him? Well, the Preacher gives you one identifying mark of a wise man in the second part of the verse…

a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine [illumines him/brightens his appearance], and the boldness of his face shall be changed [causes his stern (strong) face to beam/softens his harsh countenance].

So, what a man possesses on the inside – wisdom – will affect how he appears on the outside, particularly on his face.

Next, the Preacher counsels us regarding our relating to kings and authorities (vv2-9)…

Relating to a King

2 ¶ I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and [do] that in regard of the oath of [that you or he made to] God.

So when a king or someone in authority gives a command, you do well to obey it. Why? Because either you or he swore an oath to God. It’s possible that this was referring to an oath that the citizens of a kingdom would make regarding obeying the king during his coronation. Or maybe it’s saying that the king himself made an oath to God concerning his duties while in office.

The US doesn’t coronate kings, but we do inaugurate our presidents. And each President thus far has put his hand on a Bible and recited an oath that begins “I do solemnly swear…” and ends with “So help me God.”

Again, the idea is that you ought to obey the king because both you and he have a solemn obligation to each other.

The Preacher continues with his counsel regarding how to relate to a king…

3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not [don’t join] in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.

Going out of the king’s sight hastily and joining yourself to an evil thing are probably both referring to abandoning your allegiance to the king to go join a rebellion against him. Maybe the going out hastily is talking about having an angry attitude toward him that eventuates in joining a rebellion.

And why should you not abandon the king and join a rebellion against him? Because he does whatever he pleases. Including, putting down rebelions. So, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that.

Still on the theme of obeying your king or authority…

4 Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?

This goes along with the idea that the king does whatever he wants. Nobody can question what he’s doing. And that’s where our system of government is a little different. We of course don’t have a king. We have a President or Executive Branch. We have Congress or a Legislative Branch. And we have the Supreme Court or the Judicial Branch. And we’re a Democratic Republic. We elect our rulers – well, most of them. And yet, the effect is the same. I mean, you can petition a king. And in the same way you can petition your American government. You can also try to vote people out of office. But ultimately, if the person is in office and the law is the law, then you better obey it because the government does whatever it will and no one can say “what are you doing?” to them because they have power. They have authority. And Romans 13 tells us that this authority actually comes from God. Ultimately, what was true of kings in ancient civilizations is ultimately true in our modern day, with a few adjustments.

And we’ll read the last verse that draws our attention to our duty to obey our authority…

5 Whoso keepeth the [king’s] commandment shall feel [know/experience] no evil thing [trouble]: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.

Again, this sounds a lot like Romans 13. Do you want to not fear authority? Then do what they say – so long as it doesn’t go against God’s commands to you. You’ll be prudent about this if you’re wise. That’s how verse 5 ends.

Now, in verses 6 through 8 it seems like the Preacher starts discussing something totally different from what he’s just been saying. But we have two reasons that would lead us to think that verses 2 through 9 are one section. First, the phrase “time and judgement” that just appeared in verse 5 also appears in verse 6. So, there’s some connection between verse 5 and verse 6. Second, look at verse 9. “…There is a time wherein one man–” what? RULETH OVER ANOTHER. Hey, that sounds like something a king does! So, even in verse 9 we’re still talking about kings.

So, I think verses 6 through 8 are related to the broader discussion about kings and how to relate to them. But this section also forms sort of an aside. And a big emphasis in these three verses is helplessness. So let’s read and try to figure this out…

Helplessness

6 Because to every purpose [pleasure] there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.

So, the misery is great upon whom? I think it’s talking about the wise man from the previous verse – the one whose heart can discern time and judgement. The misery that’s common to man is great or heavy upon him. Why? Verse 7…

7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?

So, the wise man is miserable. And this seems strange – since he’s discerning enough to be able to deal rightly with a king. And yet, not all is well. For as wise as he is, he still can’t predict the future. And in particular, for all his wisdom, he still cannot predict the day of his death. That’s verse 8…

8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death:

In other words, if it’s your appointed time to die, you have no power to change that. You can’t “retain your spirit”. And in the context, I think this is speaking of what happens when you cross a king. If you don’t follow the Preacher’s advice and obey the king, then remember that you don’t have power over the day of your death – which is what you’re going to experience from your enraged king for your disobedience.

And, the Preacher makes it clear in the last part of verse 8 that disobedience to a king is wickedness…

and [just like] there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

There’s no discharge in a war. There may be discharge before a war – like when Gideon let go all those who were scared and who didn’t drink water in a certain way. There’s discharge after a war. But during a war? That’s called “going AWOL”. It shouldn’t happen. There’s no legitimate way of being released from the military during a time of war if you’re a soldier.

And just like that, there’s no way of being released from anything by wickedness. And I think this relates to the Preacher’s admonition in verse 3 to not leave a king’s presence hastily in order to join in a rebellion against him. That rebellion won’t deliver you from the wrathful king whom you’ve disobeyed.

So, we’ve seen that the Preacher is really advocating that his readers obey their king. But it’s not to say that the king is always going to be right – or even righteous. And that’s where the Preacher ends his consideration of relating to a king in verse 9…

Oppressive King

9 All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.

So, this whole time, the Preacher has been urging us to obey the king. And yet, he’s not unrealistic about the character of some kings. Some kings do in fact rule over men in a hurtful way. They’re bad to their subjects. And yet, that doesn’t cancel out anything of what he’s just said. Those under authority still need to obey that authority – even when it results in their hurt.

Now, the Preacher moves on to consider several negative aspects of wickedness. Remember – he already considered that wickedness can’t deliver people who are given to it. And so he wants to explore that thought a little more in verses 10 through 13…

Drawbacks of Wickedness

10 ¶ And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.

Here’s vanity or emptiness or meaninglessness – a wicked man who comes and goes from the Temple – “the place of the holy” – and then he dies and is buried. And the crowning emptiness to that situation is the fact that this man is forgotten in his city after he dies.

Next, the Preacher speaks of the spreading of evil due to its punishment not being executed swiftly…

11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

Which tells you that the common practice in our nation of having inmates on death row for decades is really not the best way to go. Evil needs to be punished swiftly – in order for the general populace to to be discouraged from committing the same evil.

And sometimes sinners do get away with their sin in this life. Sometimes sentences against evil are not executed swiftly – or even at all! And yet, the Preacher isn’t fooled about the sinner’s position in the sight of God…

12 Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: 13 But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

So, in this world it might appear that sinners are on top and the righteous are the losers. But it doesn’t matter how it appears. Take it from the Preacher that it will be well with the righteous. It will not be well with the wicked.

And yet, in this world, often that’s not the way it looks or how it goes. Often, we have the situation described in verse 14…

More Contradictions to the Law of Retribution

14 ¶ There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked [they get what the wicked deserve]; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

So, even though we know that ultimately it will be well for the righteous and not so for the wicked – in this life, it can look like the exact opposite is true. This is vanity and emptiness and frustrating.

So, in light of all of this, the Preacher again comes back to advising us to enjoy life…

Enjoy Life

15 Then I commended mirth [pleasure/enjoyment of life], because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that [joy] shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.

Enjoy your work – whatever it is you do. Eat, drink, be happy. And recognize that God gives you these things and fear him.

And the Preacher keeps his focus on God in verses 16 and 17, where he considers God’s work and concludes that it is unsearchable…

God’s Work is Unsearchable

16 ¶ When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes: [this is what this kind of quest requires]) 17 Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

God’s work is unsearchable. You can’t discover every single thing that God has done, is doing, or will do. It’s marvelous. It’s beyond our ability to comprehend – even if you never sleep! Even if you’re wise. You won’t get all of it.

Now, earlier in the book, we were led to consider that one of God’s works is humbling men through death. We just considered God’s works and how they’re ultimately unsearchable. And now, in 9:1-6 we’re reminded of this work of death again. And this time we’re led to think of its inevitability…

 

Ecclesiastes 7 Commentary Summary

Ecclesiastes 7 Commentary

Enjoy this Ecclesiastes 7 Commentary!

The value of difficult things over pleasant things

So, in Ecclesiastes 7:1-14, the Preacher talks to us about the value of difficult things over pleasant things.

We might notice that our life seems to be filled with difficult things – difficult people, difficult situations, problems that are over our head, etc. And it’s when life is filled with these kinds of things that we’re most likely to bitterly contend with God.

But, the Preacher wants us to think differently about difficult things. He asserts that they’re more valuable than the pleasant things that you and I prefer to experience.

So, let’s read Ecclesiastes 7:1…

7:1 A good name [reputation] is better than precious ointment [perfume];

Well, that’s not so bad. Who doesn’t want a good reputation? I’d want that. But would you agree that it’s hard to gain a good reputation and really easy to lose it? In that sense, it’s difficult. Whereas, perfume is pleasant and it’s a good thing – but the value of the difficult in this case is greater than the value of the pleasant.

And, so, I think that statement is easy to accept, but what do you think about the second part of Ecclesiastes 7:1?…

and the day of death [is better] than the day of one’s birth.

Now, when you think of it, both of these days are difficult. But at least you don’t remember the day of your birth. Plus, there’s so much hope when you’re born. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Your parents are happy. Everyone’s happy. In those senses it’s a pleasant thing.

But then the day of your death. What’s pleasant about that? I mean, really, the only pleasantness that we can derive from it is if we’re believers and if death is simply our entrance into life. And yet, even then, can’t you wish for some other way to enter into glory? Isn’t this one reason we yearn for the rapture of the Church? We don’t want to experience death. The day of one’s death is difficult. And yet, the Preacher wants us to value this day above your birth day.

Why? Let’s keep reading…

Why?

2 It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral], than to go to the house of feasting: for that [death] is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.

So, Ecclesiastes 7:2 sheds more light on why the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth. Death is the end of everyone. And therefore – don’t try to avoid it. Rather, take it to heart. Consider this truth and learn. Be ready for death. Be ready to face this God that the Preacher keeps talking about. And let your knowledge of death lead you to consider what comes after – not merely reality under the sun – but spiritual reality.

Sorrow vs. Laughter

Next, the Preacher compares another difficult thing with something pleasant…

3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better [in sadness of face (sober reflection) there is good for the heart].

The context here is the house of mourning – or a funeral. Sadness of face is good for the heart. There are things that God shows us through sorrow that teach us so much more than laughter ever can.

And that’s why Ecclesiastes 7:4 is true…

Mourning vs. Mirth

4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

If your heart is in the house of mourning – if you consider the end of your life and let that sober reality sink in and act on that reality – then you’re in good company. Because those thoughts are the exact ones that wise men have. It’s wise for you to consider your end and act based on what you learn.

On the other hand, the fool won’t go there. The fool doesn’t consider death. He’d rather be in the house of mirth. He’d rather just enjoy life and forget all about the reality of death. But whether he faces that reality now voluntarily or not – he will eventually meet his end. And he’s going to be completely unprepared.

Rebukes vs. Songs

Next, the Preacher moves from the value of the difficult task of considering one’s death to hearing rebuke…

5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. 6 For as the crackling of [quick-burning] thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

Songs are lovely. Who doesn’t like music? It’s pleasant.

And at the same time, who likes rebuke? No one.

And yet, you would do better to listen to the difficult rebuke of a wise man than to listen to the pleasant song of a fool.

Then the Preacher pictures the fool’s song-producing voice as something fleeting that will quickly vanish in light of eternity. Those thorns under a pot will burn and crackle quickly and will be no more. That laughter and mirth enjoyed by a fool is vanity. It’s fleeting. It will ultimately end. And he’ll be unprepared for what’s to come.

Oppression and Gifts

And then it seems like the next verse is a warning about the potential of a wise man becoming a fool…

7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad [into a fool]; and a gift destroyeth [bribe corrupts] the heart.

So, this is saying that either – 1) when a wise man oppresses someone else he will become a fool or 2) that the wise man can become a fool by witnessing oppression happening around him. And whichever of those is the case, it’s similar to the effect that a bribe has on a person – it corrupts that person’s heart. So, too, does oppression turn a wise man into a fool.

End vs. Beginning

And then in Ecclesiastes 7:8 the Preacher goes back to comparing difficult things with pleasant things…

8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Again, the beginning of something is naturally more exciting and hopeful. But the Preacher sees that the value of the end of that thing is higher. And the second part of that verse holds the key to understanding this. You need to be patient to accept this. It’s hard to wait for the end of a matter. The beginning of a thing is right there immediately. You don’t need to wait for it. But waiting for the end of it takes patience. And in the Preacher’s mind, that’s a good thing. It’s good to patiently wait for the end of something. Patience is a good thing.

Haste and Anger

And as long as the Preacher is talking about patience and pride in one’s spirit, he continues in Ecclesiastes 7:9 talking about other potential problems within one’s spirit…

9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.

Be patient. And don’t be hasty – the opposite of patient – to be angry. Only fools do that. And you want to be wise, don’t you? So, don’t be quick to anger. Be slow to anger, slow to speak, and quick to hear – as James says in the New Testament.

Wistful Thinking

Moving on, I’m thinking that most of us who are a little farther along in life have been caught thinking the way that the Preacher criticizes next in Ecclesiastes 7:10…

10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this [asking this question is not wise].

So, you and I might want to value the former days when things were easier and more pleasant for us. I assume that many things were easier and more pleasant for most of us when we were children than they are now. Now you have responsibilities. Now, when you make a mistake it can really cost you. You’re in the real world now. When you were a child, you were taken care of – or you should have been, at least. Your responsibilities were probably relatively few in comparison to what you face now. And sometimes you just don’t remember problems in the world back then – whereas maybe now you’re keenly aware of them, and even worried about them.

But the Preacher wants you to estimate the value of the easy days of old as far less than what you’re experiencing now. It’s not wise for you to say “Why were the old days better than what I have now?” And this admonition aligns well with all that we’ve seen so far. Hard and difficult things are good for you and me. They’re ultimately much better than easy and pleasant things. They sober you up and get you searching for God in the midst of the difficulty. Or at least, they should.

Wisdom vs. Money

Next, the Preacher goes on to consider the relative value of wisdom and money…

11 Wisdom is good with [like] an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. 12 For wisdom is a defence [protection], and [like] money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth [preserves] life to them that have it.

So, both wisdom and money can provide some protection in various ways. But money won’t save your life. Wisdom has the potential to do just that. And again, we have money here – which is pleasant and wisdom which is difficult to obtain. And again, the difficult wins over the pleasant.

Prosperity vs. Adversity

And lastly in this section, we’re directed to the relative value of adversity, which is difficult, and prosperity, which is pleasant…

13 Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? 14 ¶ In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set [made] the one over against [as well as] the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him [can’t know what the future holds].

God has made both the day of adversity and the day of prosperity. Rejoice when things are pleasant and abundant. But also when you’re experiencing difficulty – just remember that God has made both.

And the reason he has made both is so that no one really knows what’s coming next – it could be prosperity or adversity. And I think the idea is that since you don’t know what’s next you need to get out of your mindset of life lived merely under the sun and start trusting the God who knows what’s coming next – indeed, who has foreordained what’s coming next and who can help you through it and whose work is unchangeable – you can’t straighten what he’s made crooked and vice versa.

So, now, the Preacher is going to move on – because he believes that you got the point of valuing difficult things over pleasant things.

Next, the Preacher considers contradictions to the law of retribution

Contradiction to the law of retribution

15 ¶ All [the following two] things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in [despite] his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in [despite] his wickedness.

It would seem that in a perfect world, a man who does right would have a prolonged life and one who is evil would have a very short life. And sometimes that is the case, but the Preacher has seen in his life instances where that is not the case. The man who does right dies young and the man who is evil lives a long time.

Long Life by Doing Right

And so, for the person who is going to try to achieve long life by doing right, the Preacher has a message in Ecclesiastes 7:16 and following…

16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise [do not depend upon your righteousness or wisdom FOR YOURSELF (reflexive) to obtain long life]: why shouldest thou destroy thyself [be disappointed when you die early]?

This is obviously not talking about the righteousness that’s imputed or credited to a person when he believes God’s promise – like Abraham did regarding God’s promise of a descendant or like New Testament Christians do regarding God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. I think this is more like right and wise living. And the emphasis I think is on having a long life. That’s what we saw in the previous verse – that emphasis on prolonging one’s life.

So, in light of that, If you try really, really hard to make yourself righteous and wise so that you have a long life – you’re going to be disappointed when you happen to die early. So, don’t waste your time trying to prolong your life by those means. It might not work.

Short Life by Doing Evil

And the flip side of that is also true…

17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

So, don’t be evil and foolish either. Those actions might actually end your life prematurely. Yes, you might prolong your life even though you’re wicked and foolish. The Preacher said that he’s seen that happen. But there’s a really good chance that you’ll die earlier than usual if you live that kind of lifestyle.

Balance

So, there’s a balance to be achieved here…

18 It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this [one warning]; yea, also from this [other warning] withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all [go forth in both, obey both].

So, pay attention to both of these warnings. Don’t make great efforts to prolong your life through super-right living. You might be disappointed and there won’t be much to show for your extraordinary efforts. And don’t be a fool or you might die prematurely. Obey both commands. And – above all – fear God.

And lastly, the Preacher turns his attention to the need for wisdom in dealing with the unjust

Wisdom needed in dealing with the unjust

19 ¶ Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city. 20 ¶ For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. 21 ¶ Also take no heed unto [do not give your heart to] all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22 For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

You need wisdom precisely because of the absence of just men who do right and don’t sin. And because of that, don’t listen too carefully to people or you’ll likely hear your servant or your friend or whomever else curse you!

And you might think – what?! How can my servant or buddy or whatever curse me?! That’s where the Preacher comes back with this convicting thought – you, too, have cursed others, haven’t you?

What offense we take at people speaking poorly of us. But do we ever consider how we’ve spoken of others?

So, here’s the first piece of wisdom in dealing with the unjust – realize that no one is totally just and without sin under the sun. Not even you.

More Need of Wisdom

And the Preacher’s not done with this theme of needing wisdom in dealing with the unjust…

23 ¶ All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. 24 That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? 25 I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness:

Now, we’ve heard this kind of statement before. It seems to be the Preacher’s attempt to communicate his efforts to understand the way things are under the sun.

Latest Findings

But it’s in Ecclesiastes 7:26 that he gets to his latest findings regarding life under the sun…

26 And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.

So, this is speaking of the evil, adulterous, seductive woman. This is another instance where we need wisdom in dealing with the unjust.

Women

And the Preacher continues…

27 Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: 28 Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one [righteous] man among a thousand have I found [which isn’t saying much]; but a woman among all those have I not found [which is saying even less].

And I’m sure this kind of statement is very offensive to the broader culture in which we live. But this is what the Preacher says. He’s found maybe one righteous man in a thousand. He hasn’t found any righteous women. That’s not to say that there were no righteous women in the Preacher’s day. But he is saying that he couldn’t find any. And again since behind the Preacher is Solomon, it’s not hard to see why he might not have found any righteous women – since he got married to all those pagan wives.

God Made Us Good

But, whatever the case, this is what the Preacher ultimately arrives at –whether speaking of men or women…

29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions [evil schemes, devices].

And this unfortunately is why you and I need wisdom in dealing with unjust people. And sadly almost everyone is this way. And this is the case in spite of God originally creating man upright. But we’ve all sought out many evil schemes.

Summary of Ecclesiastes 6-7

So, enjoy the good things that God has given, submit to his sovereignty in your life, value difficult things over pleasant things, remember these contradictions to the law of retribution, and deal wisely with the unjust. That’s Ecclesiastes 6-7.

Ecclesiastes 6 Commentary Summary Meaning Explained

We’re starting in Ecclesiastes 6:1 for this Ecclesiastes 6 Commentary. But in order to get the significance of that verse and the section it’s in, we need to back up just a little.

In Ecclesiastes 5 we learned that for those to whom God has given riches and wealth, he’s also given the ability to eat from those things. This is a gift from God, we’re told.

But, there’s an exception to that rule. Sometimes things don’t work out that way.

The evil of not enjoying good things

And the Preacher wants to tell us about that situation in Ecclesiastes 6:1-9 where he discusses the evil of not enjoying good things

KJV Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common [prevalent] among men:

So, actually I said that this is an exception to the rule. But really, this situation is common among men. It’s probably still an exception, but it’s a rather common one. So, here’s the evil exception…

Riches Without Enjoyment

 2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger [someone else] eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.

So, the situation is – a man who has everything he needs and should be enjoying it—but he isn’t. God – for whatever reason isn’t allowing it. God usually does – but in this common case, he doesn’t. And as a result, someone else gets to enjoy the fruit of this man’s labor. I don’t have many more details than this, so it’s hard to try to imagine what the Preacher had in mind. But this is what we have.

Horrible Situation

And if this is the case – if a man has everything he needs to enjoy life and yet he can’t for whatever reason, in the Preacher’s mind, the situation is so horrible that the man might as well never have been born. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 6:3…

3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial [even if he’s never buried – because he never dies, hypothetically]; I say, that an untimely birth [a stillborn] is better than he.

So, the Preacher gathers a few hypothetical situations that are all positive. Begetting 100 children – which, mind you, the preacher sees as good and not evil. Having many years of life. Never dying, even!

Well, if any or all of these situations come to pass – so long as the man isn’t filled with good in this life, then he might as well have never lived. A baby who is born dead is better than that man.

Why would the Preacher say that?

Why?

Well, he explains himself in Ecclesiastes 6:4-5…

 4 For [Though] he [the stillborn] cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. 5 Moreover [Though] he [the stillborn] hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this [stillborn] hath more rest than the other [the man in v 2].

So, that’s what it comes down to. The still born at least had rest – whereas this man who had everything, but couldn’t enjoy it is just miserable.

They Both Die

And even more basic than that, both of these people die. That’s what he says in Ecclesiastes 6:6…

6 Yea, though he [the man] live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place? [both die]

So, to the Preacher, one of the worst things that can happen to a person in this life is to have stuff but not enjoy it. It’s a tragedy in his eyes.

But there’s another side to this problem of not enjoying what God gives you. We just talked about one side – which is having enough to be content but then somehow having someone else enjoy it.

Greed and Lust

But now in Ecclesiastes 6:7-9, the Preacher is going to explore another reason for not being able to enjoy what God’s given – greed and lust

7 ¶ All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled [satisfied].

Isn’t that awful? Man works to feed himself and yet it’s not as if man’s appetite is ever satisfied. And since that’s the case, the Preacher asks…

Ever Satisfied?

 8 For [So] what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living [by knowing how to survive]?

The work that man does, it’s all ultimately for his appetite to be satisfied. And yet his appetite is never ultimately satisfied. So, what does it matter if you’re wise or foolish? What does it matter if you’re poor and know how to survive? You still won’t be able to satisfy your appetite.

No Satisfaction

And, so, the Preacher says…

9 Better is the sight of the eyes [having what the eye can see] than the wandering of the desire [walking of the soul, pursuing what the soul desires]: this [this constant longing] is also vanity and vexation of spirit.

So, it’s better to have what your eye can see – what you have. In other words, be content with what you have. Don’t keep restlessly seeking more. If you do, it’s vanity and it will vex your spirit.

So, enjoy the good things that God gives you. That’s what the Preacher has admonished us thus far.

Submit to God’s sovereignty in your life

Now, it’s hard to enjoy the things that God has given you when you have a contentious spirit about the way that he’s ordering your life. When you’re consumed by greed and lust, you know that you’re not really bowing to God’s plans for you in this life.

And that’s why in the next section, the Preacher wants to urge you to submit to God’s sovereignty in your life in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12…

10 ¶ That which hath been is named already [foreordained], and it is [has been] known that it [what] is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he [God].

So, God has foreordained everything. He has known man – what he is, what will happen to him, etc. And therefore, don’t think you can contend with him and somehow prevail.

Now, this doesn’t exclude prayer. But it definitely does exclude bitter contention with God. Don’t bitterly argue with God about what he’s doing in your life. He has a plan for you that he determined before you were born. So, don’t feel like you’re going to get ahead by bitterly arguing with God about his plans. Rather, submit to him who is mightier than you.

Feeling Contentious?

But if you do feel the need to be contentious, here’s what the Preacher says…

11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity [the more (contending) words, the more vanity], what is man the better [how is man benefited by this]?

How are you benefited by angrily contending with God? You’re not. It’s vanity for you and me to do this.

The Main Thing

And, here’s the main thing…

12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this 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?

So, do you really think that you know better than God about how your life ought to be run? Your life is spent like a shadow. It goes by quick. You don’t know the future. How can you or I pretend to know how God ought to direct our lives? We need to submit to his authority.

And, you know, part of submitting to God’s sovereignty in our lives involves learning how to value various things that we experience. What is truly good for us in this life?

Ecclesiastes 5 Summary Commentary

Ecclesiastes 5 Summary

Enjoy this Ecclesiastes 5 summary!

Relating to God

So, let’s get to thinking about God – seeing as nothing is worth anything apart from him. And the Preacher wants to help you do that. So, Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 he’s going to tell us about how we should relate to God. And throughout these 7 verses we’ll be repeatedly admonished about our speech in regard to God. Let’s first read verses 1 and 2 where we’ll be told that our words to God should be carefully thought out, and few.

Words to God Should be Carefully Thought Out and Few

KJV Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot [guard your steps/be careful what you do] when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. 2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

So, when you go to worship God, listen a lot and speak very little. Remember your sinfulness. Don’t be like a fool that doesn’t consider that he does evil. Don’t feel the need to be quick to say anything. Remember that God is in heaven and knows what you need. He’s in heaven and is the one in control. You want to hear what he says, rather than him hearing what you think. So, humble yourself, settle down, and listen to God. That’s what we should do as we come to worship the Lord.

First Proverb about Dreams and Words

Then the Preacher adds this proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:3…

3 ¶ For a dream cometh through the multitude of business [many cares – explain this]; and a fool’s voice is known by [comes through a] multitude of words.

He’s going to give another proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7. But the idea is that you don’t want to be like the fool who isn’t careful about his words and just talks and talks.

Vows to God Should be Thoughtfully Made and Always Kept

Then, next in Ecclesiastes 5:4-6, we’re led to consider something else about our speech in relation to God. Your vows and promises to God should be thoughtfully made, and always kept.

4 ¶ When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh [you] to sin; neither say thou before the angel [messenger/priest], that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice [because of what you say], and destroy the work of thine hands?

So, then, if you do end up opening your mouth and saying something and in this case you make a vow or a promise to God – don’t take that lightly. Do the thing you said you would do. If you have no intention of doing what you promised, you would be better to just not make any promises to God.

And in Old Testament Israel, this promise would be a formal thing that the priest would be involved in. And you don’t want that minister to have to come and then be faced with having to explain your rash promise to him. But it’s not just the human minister you have to deal with in a situation like that. You have God who is now angry and could potentially destroy the work of your hands because you lied to him. You told him you’d do something and you didn’t do it. He holds people responsible for this kind of thing. Don’t be light about making promises to God. Your words directed toward him matter.

Second Proverb about Dreams and Words

And then the Preacher ends this section about our words to God giving a second proverb about dreams and words in Ecclesiastes 5:7.

7 ¶ For in the multitude of dreams [I think not the ones from God, just natural ones] and many words there are also divers vanities: but [here’s the focus] fear thou God.

Fear God. Do this by:

  1. Really considering the things you say to God and
  2. Following through on whatever you say to him with those thoughtful words of yours.

So, God is very much in the picture in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. We’ve been taught how to relate to him with our words.

How to Think of Oppression

But I think that God drops back out of the picture as we transition into the next section – in

Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 – where we’re brought back to the matter of oppression. In this case, we’re instructed on how to think about oppression. Before, we were just made aware of the awful reality of the matter. But now we’re going to be taught how to think – or, really, how not to think – about that awful reality…

8 ¶ If thou seest the oppression [oppression/extortion] of the poor, and violent perverting [robbery] of judgment [justice] and justice [righteousness] in a province, marvel [amazed/astonished/astounded/wonder] not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth [a high official is watched over/protected by a higher official]; and there be higher than they [there are higher officials over them, who protect them]. 9 Moreover the profit [produce] of the earth is for all [of these officials]: the king himself is served by the field.

Don’t Be Amazed

So, the Preacher advises us against being amazed or astonished or astounded when we see the poor being extorted – their goods being seized unjustly. When we see justice and righteousness being robbed in a province.

Now, he’s not telling us to not be concerned. He’s certainly not telling us that extortion and robbery of justice and righteousness are good things. He’s simply advising us to not view this as some strange unusual thing that’s never happened before.

Why? Why not marvel at this? Because one official watches over another. And unfortunately, I think this is not talking about accountability. I think this is a use of the word “regardeth” that means something more along the lines of “protect”. So, one official is protected by another. And then there are higher officials over them that protect them.

So the idea is that there’s a plethora of corrupt officials and they’re all in on the corruption. So, is there really any reason you’d marvel at the fact that corruption runs rampant when you’ve got a pyramid of unprincipled evil men in control and watching over and protecting each other?

Corrupt Officials

In addition to those considerations, we have Ecclesiastes 5:9. There we’re told that the produce of the land is for all of these corrupt officials. And of course, the top of the line is the king. It doesn’t go any higher than him. And we can assume that he’s in on the take as well. And what Ecclesiastes 5:9 reminds us of is that he, too, like the rest of the officials that watch out for each other – he’s a recipient of the produce of the land.

Again, we have no mention of God and of his ultimate judgement of evil – like we saw earlier in the book. This is all you have to think concerning corrupt government apart from a knowledge of God. Just don’t marvel. Take it in stride. It’s inevitable. That’s a pretty miserable way to live. But it’s the reality of life under the sun apart from God.

Thinking Right about Riches

Now, the Preacher moves on to Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 where we’re taught how to think about riches.

Riches Alone Provide No Real Satisfaction

First, in Ecclesiastes 5:10 the Preacher tells us that riches alone provide no real satisfaction

10 ¶ He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.

Isn’t that a conundrum? And one reason that this is the case is the next verse where we see the truth that the more you have, the more people take

The More You Have, the More People Take

11 ¶ When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?

Just ask a winner of one of these lottery jackpots and they’ll be able to illustrate for you the truth of this verse.

So, don’t love riches because the more you have, the more people take – especially those corrupt government officials we just talked about!

Relative Value of Labor and Riches Compared

So, that leads the Preacher to compare the relative value of labor and riches. Ecclesiastes 5:12.

12 ¶ The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer [allow] him to sleep.

So, it’s not riches that we need to pursue. Rather, we should pursue work. And the Preacher looks at the sleep life of the rich and the laborer. The sleep of the laborer is sweet. The sleep of the rich is constantly interrupted by worrying about his riches. Maybe he has nightmares about the corrupt government officials that are out to get his money – or other people who want a piece of the pie.

Dangers of Hoarding Riches

And the last consideration concerning our thinking right about riches is in Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 where we explore the dangers of hoarding riches.

13 ¶ There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept [guarded/hoarded] for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14 But those riches perish by evil travail [a bad investment/bad luck/misfortune]: and [although] he begetteth a son, and [yet] there is nothing in his hand [to leave to his son]. 15 As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 16 And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? 17 All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

So, the man here hoards riches and this results in hurt for him. But actually, the man ends up losing it all through a bad investment. As a result he doesn’t have anything to leave his children. He goes to the grave a poor man. And even if he kept all his money to the day of his death, he can’t take anything with him. So, what benefit does he have for all his work and all his hoarding and all his days of eating in darkness and being filled with sorrow and sickness? Absolutely none.

Enjoy Life

Therefore, the Preacher ends chapter 5 with this conclusion – enjoy life

18 ¶ Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. 19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and [also he] hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. 20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him [keeps him occupied] in [with] the joy of his heart [that he derives from his labor].

Summary of Ecclesiastes 4-5

So, realize the awful reality of oppression and yet don’t be surprised at its existence. Find the right balance in regard to work and appreciate the benefits of companionship. Recognize the superiority but ultimate vanity of wisdom. Be sober in your speech to God. Think right about riches. And ultimately, enjoy God’s good gifts to you – one major gift being the ability to enjoy your work and its fruit.

That’s a fair summary of the message of Ecclesiastes 4-5.

Ecclesiastes 4 Commentary

Ecclesiastes 4-5

Ecclesiastes 4 Commentary: In Ecclesiastes 4 and 5 the Preacher wants to talk to us about the following subjects:

  • Oppression
  • Work
  • Companionship
  • Wisdom
  • God
  • Riches
  • Enjoying life

And really – what more is there to life? So, in these chapters we get a good cross-section of issues of life and how to approach them.

So, let’s study first of all, what the Preacher has to say about the awful reality of oppression in this world in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3.

The Awful Reality of Oppression

So, first – let’s notice that oppression doesn’t go unnoticed. The Preacher considered it. And God notices it, too. But we need to understand that this is one of those sections where God seems to be out of the picture.

There’s a time when the Preacher can comfort himself that God will make all wrongs right – like we saw with the matter of injustice in the places of judgement. But here in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, the Preacher doesn’t bring God into the picture.

Now, again, the Preacher wants to lead us through this thought about oppression – not as a king who can actually do something about oppression – but as one who is experiencing it just like anyone else who has no power to change it himself.

And in this case, the Preacher wants to lead us through this scenario as one who isn’t even able to comfort himself with the thought of God’s future judgement. How does a lost man – who’s sensitive to the plight of the oppressed, and yet can’t do anything about it – how does he view this oppression?

Well, the Preacher notices this oppression as I said. He sees the tears of the oppressed. He witnesses the total lack of anyone to comfort the oppressed. And in fact the ones who are doing the oppressing have power on their side. They can force their oppression on others.

The Dead Have It Better

And this is all the Preacher can come to as a hypothetical lost man – the dead are to be praised or considered more fortunate or congratulated. Why? Because they’re not around to see this maddening injustice.

Those Not Born Are Better

And actually – to take it a step further – this situation of oppression is so deeply disturbing to a sensitive but lost man that he’ll conclude that it is better to just never be born into this kind of world where oppression is ubiquitous and unstoppable.

I’m not saying that the Preacher is a lost man. In fact, he can’t be – based on other things he says. But I am saying that the Preacher is leading us through the mindset of a lost man – or at least how a lost man would logically think about this phenomenon of oppression in this world.

And then he just leaves it there for now!

There’s something perhaps a little unsatisfying with that kind of abrupt ending to this consideration. But isn’t that how life is apart from God? It’s unsatisfying. And the Preacher’s abrupt transition to another topic in Ecclesiastes 4:4-6 mirrors how life is without being able to rest in God and his sovereignty.

Finding Balance in the Realities of Work

Well, next, the Preacher turns to consider work. In particular, he leads us through finding balance in the realities of work in Ecclesiastes 4:4-6.

Envy or Rivalry

So, to start, every work and skill that a man has is – depending on how you translate the Hebrew – either:

  1. The stimulus that causes others to envy him or
  2. The result of rivalry between that man and others

And either way – the Preacher says that this is vanity. I think I actually prefer the first reading that we have here in the King James Version. Because competition isn’t necessarily – in my mind – meaningless. We benefit from competition. But no one benefits from envy. Envy is truly vain and meaningless and profitless. So, envying the abilities and skills and labor of others is vain.

So, avoid envy.

Laziness

And while you’re avoiding envy – Ecclesiastes 4:5 – avoid laziness in regard to work.  The fool sits back and folds his hands. He doesn’t work. And because he doesn’t work he won’t eat either. And that’s the idea in the second part of Ecclesiastes 4:5. The fool eats his own flesh – or is pictured as doing so – because there’s nothing to eat due to all of his laziness.

So, avoid envy and avoid laziness.

Be Happy

And as you’re avoiding envy and laziness – be happy with a tranquil and quiet life (Ecclesiastes 4:6).

Now, all else being equal, would you rather have one handful of something or two? Like – gold. Would you rather fill one hand with gold or two? You’d want two.

But balance that with the kind of lifestyle that attends your two handfuls of whatever it is. Sometimes it’s better to settle for less compensation or whatever else if it’s a calm and quiet situation – rather than receiving double and doing so through a great amount of labor and vexation.

So – in other words – don’t overcompensate in light of the last warning against laziness and swing totally to the opposite end of the spectrum where you’re working constantly and at a fevered pace simply to accumulate more stuff to yourself. Find a middle ground – I think is what the Preacher is advising us.

So, avoid envy. Avoid laziness. And avoid overworking yourself just to get ahead materially. Find balance in the realities of work.

The Benefits of Companionship

Now, the Preacher moves on to consider the benefits of companionship in Ecclesiastes 4:7-12.

Don’t be a Workaholic

Now, in a sense, Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 are a continuation of the previous section about finding a balance in your work life. The Preacher is still addressing work and an imbalanced view of it. The guy in this new section is working so hard. There’s no end to his work. And yet strangely he’s not satisfied with all that work and what it produces – riches.

But Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 also transition us into considering companionship. The man is “one” and he’s “alone”. He doesn’t have a “second” or a partner. He doesn’t even have a child or sibling. He’s all alone in this world. And he’s laboring so hard – but ultimately, he never asks himself – and he should! – whom he’s actually laboring for, to such an extent that he’s missing out on some good things in life that would be right for him to pursue and enjoy.

So, we find in Ecclesiastes 4:7-8 a combination of:

  1. A warning to keep work – and life beyond work – balanced and
  2. The benefits of companionship

And really, we see the negative argument for companionship here. The man doesn’t have anyone else to share his work and its fruit with. He’s not happy with riches and yet he’s not able to improve the life of others with his excessive labor.

Companionship is Important

And then we get into Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. Here, the Preacher keeps some of his earlier emphasis on work – but the emphasis is much heavier on the concept of companionship and its benefits.

Two is better than one. That’s the Preacher’s contention. Why are two better than one?

Well, first of all, generally speaking, two get more done than one. There’s a good reward for their labor.

Further, two people can support each other. If one falls and he’s all alone – there’s no one else there and so there’s no one to help him get back up. But if there’s a second, that person can help the first get back up. And that falling and getting back up can apply to physical falls or even to non-physical emotional or spiritual falls.

Next, two can keep each other warm. Now, of course if you want to keep yourself warm these days, this isn’t the first thing you think of – “oh, let me go get someone to help me keep warm”. We have heat. We have blankets. And you know – they had those things in the Old Testament as well. But do you remember what happened to David – the father of the author of this book? Remember when he was very old and about to die? He was cold. Very cold. And they didn’t just heap more blankets on him. They didn’t put warmer clothing on him. Apparently those things wouldn’t work for him. No, they found a person to lay down with him to keep him warm. It’s that kind of situation that I think the Preacher has in mind here.

Next, there’s strength in numbers. If one prevails against one man, then if another is with the one being attacked, the two will win.

And lastly, a three-fold cord is not quickly broken. Again, this is speaking of strength in numbers. And it might just be saying that a rope that’s made up of three separate cords is much stronger than one that is made of one or two cords. But some see here a reference to the rightful place of God in a life. We’ve been talking about two being better than one. But where did this “three” come from all of a sudden? Perhaps the third character is a reference to God.

And that’s the end of that section – verses 7 through 12.

So, we started chapter 4 dealing with the awful realities of oppression in this life. Then we explored work and finding the right balance in our minds regarding work. That led to a consideration of the benefits of companionship. And now, we jump to another seemingly-unrelated matter. Just like the jump from oppression to work seemed unrelated, now we’re making a similar move from work and companionship to wisdom.

In verses 13 through 16, to end chapter 4, we consider the superiority but ultimate vanity of wisdom. Let’s read.

Superiority but Ultimate Vanity of Wisdom

So, this section begins by asserting that wisdom is the trump card. It is better than anything – in particular, it’s better to have wisdom than to have age on your side or to have power and money on your side. That’s Ecclesiastes 4:13.

13 ¶ Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

Poor Child vs. Foolish King

Ecclesiastes 4:14 leads us through that poor and wise child coming out of prison to become king after that old and foolish king. And Ecclesiastes 4:15 tells us that everyone followed that new king who was the formerly poor wise child who came out of prison. So, that’s all so exciting. Who doesn’t love a Cinderella story?

14 For out of prison he [the king – maybe the child] cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor [he was born poor in what would become his kingdom]. 15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with [coming to follow] the second child that shall stand up in his stead. 

No End to the People

But Ecclesiastes 4:16 brings us back out of fairy tale and into reality. There’s no end to all the people who come and pass off the scene. And because of that, that wise poor child who was formerly in prison and then became king – well, he ends up being forgotten just like anyone else!

16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him [but even though he was so popular, neither those before nor after the wise young child will remember him]. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

But what a remarkable life this child lived! And it was due to his wisdom. So, good for him. But the Preacher wants to remind us that in this life, wisdom is excellent – and yet, the one who has it will still end up being forgotten just like everyone else. And to the Preacher, that is vanity. It’s striving after wind or working so hard just to realize that what you’ve achieved is nothingness and ultimately empty.

And again, in this section, God is left out of the picture. Wisdom is great – but without God it’s useless. It doesn’t matter how wonderful your life is if you don’t have God. Because your life will end and everyone will forget about your remarkable achievements.