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.
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?
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…
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.
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.
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?