Ecclesiastes 9 Commentary Explained

We start our Ecclesiastes 9 commentary considering that death is inevitable.

9:1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred [he doesn’t know which he might experience — either or both of these] by all that is before them.

So, the wise are in the hand of God and don’t know what’s coming to them…

2 All things come alike to all: there is one event [death] to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

So, it doesn’t matter who you are. Death is coming to you. It doesn’t matter if you live life well or not. Death is coming. And you might not like that fact. And, you’re not alone. The Preacher doesn’t like it either. He calls this “an evil”…

3 This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all:

The fact that all die no matter how they live is evil in the Preacher’s eyes. It’s a bad thing. And yet, it’s sort of necessary, given the heart of man and how evil it is…

yea, 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.

And this seems to be one reason that God shortened the life span of people after the flood. The longer man is able to live, the more evil he’s capable of accomplishing. Death ends that evil on this earth. But before death, there’s hope that a man will turn from his evil…

4 For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward [for their labor]; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

The living know that they will die. And it’s that knowledge that the Preacher has continually commended to us through this book. This thought of death is somber and unpleasant. But it’s crucial. There’s hope for one who’s living and can consider his death – for him to consider God and his works and fear him.

So, in light of your inevitable death, the Preacher advises you to enjoy your life…

Enjoy Life in Light of Your Inevitable Death

7 ¶ Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth [already approved] thy works [that he just mentioned in this verse]. 8 ¶ Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.

God approves of you enjoying the life that he gave you. Don’t deny yourself the simple joys that he gives in this life…

9 ¶ Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

If you have a wife, live joyfully with her. If you don’t have a wife, find one – and then live joyfully with her!

And verse 10 is a verse that’s oft-quoted when someone wants to encourage himself or others to work hard and not be lazy. And the context is helpful to consider. What motivates someone to work hard? Well, this at least – pretty soon you won’t be able to work or do anything. So do it now, while you still have time in this life. Work for the night is coming when no one can work anymore.

But, the Preacher can’t focus on anything positive for very long – because he wants to give us wise counsel about the reality of life – and the reality of life is often unpleasant. So, next the Preacher counsels us to be ready for the unpredictable…

Be Ready for the Unpredictable

11 ¶ I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Sometimes the fastest runner doesn’t win the race. Sometimes the strongest man doesn’t win the fight. Sometimes the wisest man doesn’t have the most stuff. Why? Because time and chance – from a human perspective – sometimes mess things up.

And just like everyday-things are unpredictable, so is your death…

12 For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

Fish and birds are caught and they don’t expect it. Then comes their death. And just like them, death comes unexpectedly to us.

But – you know – sometimes death is avoidable. Sometimes – as the Preacher has said before – wisdom can preserve the life of him that posesses it. So, the Preacher ends chapter 9 with a story about the potential of wisdom to benefit a whole city… but we also see that wisdom has it’s limitations…

The Benefits and Limitations of Wisdom

13 ¶ This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great [impressive/a great burden] unto me:

Here’s the story…

14 There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:

So, there’s no way that this city will stand against the great king…

15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom [could have] delivered the city;

Great! What a wonderful story. The city was outnumbered and outpowered – but a poor wise man was able to deliver the city through his wisdom! Well, not so fast. He had the potential of delivering the city. But…

yet no man remembered [listened to – based on v 16] that same poor man.

Ugh! There was such potential! Wisdom could have granted a great deliverance against all odds. And yet, the people didn’t listen to the wise man. And you can imagine what happened to that city because they rejected wisdom.

So, this story leads the Preacher to a conclusion about wisdom…

16 Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

So, if you compare wisdom to strenth – wisdom wins. And yet, it’s strength that’s highy valued and wisdom is thought little of by many people.

And then the Preacher ends his message with two proverbs about wisdom…

17 ¶ The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.

In other words, fools won’t listen to wisdom…

18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

Wisdom can be more effective than weapons. But – returning to the concept of vanity – all sorts of good things can be undone by one sinner. This is vanity.

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