Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
[Please Note: Click on any scripture reference to read the King James Version of the scriptures.]
Eccl. 1:1 I am Solomon, King in Jerusalem, the son of David, and these are my observations on this creation that God has cursed, based upon my own experiences. And this is my counsel concerning how you, my son, should live in this world until you die.
Eccl. 1:2-9 Nothing in this life is eternal. Everything under the sun is cursed with time. I have searched it out, and you will never be able to contradict what I am telling you. Heaven and earth and everything in them will pass away because this entire creation is temporal. Nothing that a man works for and obtains in this life is of any eternal benefit to him at all. After he is dead, what benefits are provided to a man by all his earthly labor? Think about it. One generation comes and then another, while the earth just sits there, watching each generation rise from the womb to go to work and then collapse into the grave to be completely forgotten.
Mt. 24:35; 2Pet. 3:10
The sun itself is constantly working, traveling round and round the earth–never getting anywhere, just marking the passage of time. The winds tirelessly roam about; they blow one way and then another, getting nowhere, aimlessly dancing about the landscape to the music of time and place. The rivers labor night and day, pouring themselves into the oceans; yet, the oceans always demand more. The waters then leave the oceans and return to the clouds; the winds carry the clouds over the hills, where they relieve themselves of their watery burden. Then the rains run down the hills and return to the valleys, where the whole wearisome process begins anew. Nothing about any of it is eternal. It is all cursed with time.
Every person and everything under the sun is cursed with ceaseless labor, never able to stop and, yet, never able to get anywhere but the place it has already been! The greatest accomplishment for anyone or anything in this cursed world is to survive long enough to be able to start again. To describe adequately the ceaseless, futile effort being expended under the sun is far beyond the ability of mortals.
Everything on earth is imprisoned within a cycle of frustrating labor. The eye sees but is never satisfied with seeing; the ear hears but cannot rest from hearing. Eyes and ears always want more, like the insatiable oceans, greedily swallowing all the water that the rivers deliver but never full and never happy. Nothing here is at rest! There is no peace anywhere to be found in this cursed life.
Eccl. 1:10 There is nothing new under the sun; whatever has been will be, and whatever is, has already been. Show me one new thing anywhere if you can! I will show you that it has already existed in some form before us and that it will be seen again in the future in some new form. Men have “new and improved” many of the elements of God’s creation into different shapes, but they have never created so much as a speck of dust. Nothing in this cursed creation is new. This is a sick and dying universe, and everything within its grasp is sick and dying with it.
Eccl. 1:11 The memory of what has happened on earth before our time has faded away, and present events will be forgotten by those who will come after us. So, what is the point of pursuing earthly glory and wealth? Who in the future will care what titles you held and what possessions were yours? No one. And after you die, none of it will ever again matter to you, either. It all amounts to about zero.
Solomon’s Search For Something Eternal On Earth
Eccl. 1:12-15 Let me tell you, my son, about my earnest, thorough, and useless search to find something in this world that would be of eternal benefit to me. I dedicated my whole being to the task. “If there is anything under heaven that is of any benefit to my soul”, I said to myself, “I must find it and possess it!” What I learned was that God has condemned this creation and everybody in it to interminable, frustrating toil, and that He has done this in order to teach man to tremble before Him.
I tell you, I have seen it all, and none of it is of any eternal benefit to man! Give your soul to nothing under the sun, for nothing here is worth that price. If you do such a foolish thing, it will lead to bitterness and regret, vexation and anger. I have seen more crookedness and injustice on earth than can ever be made right by man, and there is more need on earth than earth itself can ever supply.
Eccl. 1:16-18 Then, I pondered over my situation. “I am become very rich and powerful”, I told myself. “And I am wiser than any before me in Jerusalem!” I routinely contemplated profound matters that most people are never discerning enough to consider at all. And I determined in my heart to become thoroughly acquainted with wisdom, but it was very frustrating.
I observed life. And after doing so, it appeared to me that many people were half-witted but were happy about it! And many others were unmitigated fools but seemed perfectly content to remain that way. So, I decided to experience madness and foolishness for myself, to see if that kind of life made people happy, to see if it held any eternal value, but I quickly found that both insanity and foolishness were altogether worthless.
But this I did learn, and if you become wise, you will learn it too: in much wisdom is much grief, and whoever increases in knowledge increases in sorrow. Do not ask me to explain that now; you will find out soon enough what I mean.
Eccl. 2:1-2 As I said, I fully purposed in my heart to find something eternal on earth. And after the failures I just mentioned, I decided to try to find happiness by giving in to various pleasures and to laughter. Of laughter, I concluded it was a mark of insanity. I experienced the most humorous entertainment that earth could afford, extravagant entertainment that few have ever been able to enjoy, and when it was over, I sat back and asked myself, “What good did that do me?” And the truthful answer was, nothing. Entertainment and laughter, like madness and foolishness, will pass away; they are worthless to me beyond the grave.
Eccl. 2:3 During my frustrating search for lasting happiness, I noticed that many had chosen the pathway of drunkenness, and I wondered if possibly they had discovered some good secret that was unknown to me. I sincerely wanted to find out what was good to do while on earth. I wanted to know how we might best deal with life in this vexing world. So, I devoted myself to drunkenness–at the same time being careful that it would not become my master so that if it turned out to be nothing, I could forsake it. I decided to see if the power that foolishness held over drunkards was a special kind of foolishness in which I might find something good and eternal. It was not. It was just drunken foolishness instead of sober foolishness. I became disgusted with it and quit.
Eccl. 2:4-12 I also observed that very many were pursuing earthly wealth, and wondering if great earthly possessions might provide a way to lasting happiness, I decided to multiply my worldly possessions. If an abundance of wealth brought men true happiness, it was obvious to me that I was about to experience unspeakable joy because I knew that God had given me knowledge to become the richest man on earth, and compared to the riches and majesty that God gave me (as he had promised), the wealthiest men on earth seemed but paupers. I had so much gold and silver brought into Jerusalem that little children playing in the streets were as likely to pick up a nugget of gold or silver for their slingshots as they were to pick up a stone.
I built houses, the finest that could possibly be built. The purest silver was not even good enough to be used to make cups in my royal house in Lebanon; all my drinking vessels were made of gold, and all the other vessels were of pure gold. Silver was unworthy of the lips of my guests. I planted gardens and vineyards of the very highest quality. To them, I added orchards in which were trees producing fruit of every kind. I devised clever works, such as the pools I designed specifically to water the wood which produced trees for my agricultural endeavors. I had multitudes of slaves, both male and female. I developed herds of specially bred cattle, sheep, and goats. I took for myself seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. There was absolutely nothing that I wanted that I did not acquire. (God saw to that, for He was teaching me through it all for your sake.) None of the kings who came before me possessed such wealth as I gained by wisdom, and to none who come after me will God give such wealth again.
For my pleasure, specially trained singers, both men and women, were brought into my palace to coo me to sleep at night with pleasant songs, and throughout the day, they filled the perfumed air of my palaces with their intricate harmonies and sweet voices. Every kind of musical instrument was played as I desired. The most agreeable music on earth was produced in my palace, solely for my comfort and pleasure.
Cunningly woven tapestries and masterful works of art adorned my windows and walls, and every plush, inviting fabric covered my couches. My guests were overwhelmed with loveliness, harmony, and luxury; no unpleasant sight, sound, or smell was allowed to disturb or annoy them as long as they abode in my house. My servants were trained to treat them with perfect care and were themselves happy, well fed, and clothed in expensive, beautiful garments. Sweetness and nourishment burst from the foods served at my table. In no palace on earth had there ever been the like, nor will there ever be the like again. There simply are no words to describe adequately the multitude of undisturbed pleasures that were available in my home, and I thoroughly enjoyed them all; I held nothing back from myself.
My palaces were the epitome of opulence; they were stunning in splendor and perpetually peaceful. Exotic plants and animals, exquisite gold from distant lands, as well as silver and the unique treasures of kings and governors–all sorts of riches–continually poured into my hands like a rushing, mighty river. And I was like the ocean, swallowing all those riches and waiting for luxury and wealth to fill me up and satisfy the longing of my soul, as they so fully satisfied all the senses of my body. But they never did.
On a certain day, I paused in my enjoyment of all this pleasure and comfort, and I considered my many possessions and the spectacular works that I had produced. When I meditated over them all, I had to acknowledge that the contentment I had discerned among wealthy men was a very real feeling. At the same time, I admitted to myself that there was nothing eternal about any of it, that it would all pass away, that none of it had profited my soul in the least, and that nothing of all that I owned or experienced could go with me beyond the grave to keep me happy forever. Unless God satisfies your soul’s longing for happiness, my son, you will never be satisfied. Nothing under the sun can satisfy the soul of the man who desires peace. I learned this, and it is true.
And I also learned that because great wealth can procure for a man immense prestige, power, pleasures, and praise under the sun, a fool who becomes rich can easily be made to think that he has no need of God or of His righteousness. There is nothing on earth that bears more potential danger to a man’s soul than the acquisition of enormous wealth. For this reason, my friend Agur prayed that God would not curse him with either poverty or great wealth, and I saw that he, too, was wise.
I reflected then upon the massive amount of time and labor that both I and my servants had expended to design and to construct my majestic, magnificent works, and it crushed me to have to admit to myself that all of it amounted to nothing. All my possessions were just like the restless wind that spends all its time ceaselessly rushing up hills, only to plummet into valleys and then to rush up the hills again, or like the sun, always running like a powerful athlete in a race but at the end of his day finding no winner’s laurel. Instead, he finds the same old starting block, with the Judge of all creation standing there commanding him to start the race again. There is no finish line in this life! There is no resting place under the sun. There is no lasting happiness anywhere in this creation because it is all cursed with time and because there is no enduring relief from the labor that must be done.
I wanted to cry. All I owned, I admitted, was a burden to maintain and to protect from decay and plunder. My many, mighty possessions began to bear down with more weight upon my soul than could be assuaged by the pleasures they afforded my body. I was devastated and felt once more that familiar, gnawing, empty feeling. Again I cried out, “Everything in this life is worthless! Everything in this whole world is a burdensome irritation, and there is nothing on this earth that is eternal!” How my heart ached because I could find nothing eternal under the sun!
Heavy with grief, I mulled over my labor and my possessions I had acquired in my search for enduring happiness and peace on earth. I thought about wisdom and foolishness and the insanity of entertainment. I thought about drunkenness and sobriety, possessions, pleasure, and fame. Who could ever possibly do more than I had done in my effort to find true and lasting happiness under the sun? There is no monarch, no emperor, no magnate, who will ever surpass the spectacular beauty, riches, and glory that were mine. And yet I concluded, with deep regret, that everything I had experienced and everything I had acquired was ephemeral; all of it was unprofitable in the pursuit of lasting happiness. After all was said and done, the great riches I had amassed had accomplished nothing but to tease my weary, yearning heart with a vain hope of peace.
Solomon Ponders The One Common Event
Eccl. 2:13-17 As I mused on this, I began to understand that wisdom excels foolishness as much as light excels darkness. A wise man sees this life under the sun as it really is. The eyes he has in his head are really there, doing him some good, because he sees things as God sees them. Even though all he sees on this earth amounts to nothing, at least he sees the truth about it and can adjust his manner of life accordingly. But a fool never attains to this knowledge and squanders his whole life pursuing happiness down pathways that can never lead him to it. A fool never learns. He has eyes, but they might as well be in a shoe box in his grandmother’s attic, for all the good they do him. He sees nothing rightly, and that means he sees nothing at all.
But then, a simple, but paralyzingly awful realization completely seized my thoughts: whether wise or foolish, good or evil, rich or poor, every man under the sun will die. My soul’s focus was frozen on this one incontestable, inescapable fact. The same wretched, humiliating event happens to both wise men and to fools! The thought was almost unbearable to my aching heart. “The fool will die, and I will die. Why then has God made me wiser than he? What’s the point?”
In my distress, this indomitable truth rose up to comfort my aching heart: only in this cursed creation do the same events happen to the wise and the foolish. After death, nothing even remotely similar happens to the wise and the foolish, for in judging them, God will make an eternal and absolute difference.
Under the sun, many wise men have died, along with multitudes of fools. Yet, who can tell me their names? What did they love and hate in this life, and how did they live? No one knows. God alone keeps such records; He quietly keeps them all in His heart until the Day of Judgment. In this world, no one receives any eternal benefit either from wisdom or foolishness, and all people, with all their works, are forgotten.
This understanding caused me to hate this life and all the futile works that man is cursed to perform while living under the sun. Everything under the sun is cursed with futility; everything here is vanity and vexation of spirit.
Eccl. 2:18-19 I now viewed all my works with scorn. The ambrosial beauty which surrounded me seemed at once dull and maliferous because I now was beholding it with eyes that were open, seeing earthly goods for what they really are. I learned that the possession of earthly riches is a most deceitful thing.
Mt. 13:22; 19:23
But the worst that all my possessions were, was that they were not eternally mine! I had built them, but I could not have them. I had designed and developed them, but death would deprive me of them. I purchased slaves. I clothed, fed, and educated them, but they would soon be free from me forever. Either death would liberate them, or I would die and leave them to . . . to whom? Oh, what a despairing thought! Who would inherit my possessions that I had gained by wisdom? What kind of man would come and possess all that I had labored so wisely and earnestly to obtain? Oh, the deep frustration that tore at my soul! Whether he be a prudent man or an abject fool, a man that would come after me would have absolute control over all my wealth and my property! I accumulated this massive estate through my own hard work and by wisdom from God, yet that man will have it all handed to him on a golden platter to do with as he will.
Eccl. 2:20-23 This was by far the most disheartening truth with which my wisdom had ever confronted me. Now, everything I had built and labored to accomplish seemed like a gigantic waste of precious time. I had done my very best; I had labored earnestly; I had used wisdom; I had put all my knowledge to its best use; I had been just in my treatment of the souls who labored for me. Yet, one day, I would leave all I had to a man who may prove to be an utter fool, and I knew that I was powerless to prevent it from happening. To my broken heart this seemed a very great injustice–and it is–but it is the common lot of men on this earth. What one man sows, another may reap, and no matter what happens, no matter who it crushes, that cruel wheel of injustice rolls on, relentlessly pursuing its painful course through each succeeding generation.
You tell me. What can a man take with him when he dies? He labors his whole life, but then what does he really have? All his short life, he suffers through pain and heartache to keep working, fighting off depression and misery every day as he struggles on his way to death. Even in sleep he finds no enduring rest because his belly demands that he awake in the morning and go to work so that he can feed it. He lives and labors to keep his dying body alive as long as he can, and when, in spite of all his efforts to continue living, his body finally drops dead, men recommit it to the ground, and it returns to dust, and he is forgotten.
When these thoughts flooded my heart, the only comfort I could find was in the knowledge that there is a place of true and lasting rest and that the monstrous injustices that I and all men must suffer happen only on this side of the grave. After death, no one but I will receive what is my due. And no one there can take from me my reward from God, ever. Here in this life, one man can work and another come along and benefit freely from all his back-breaking labor, but beyond the grave, God’s perfect, immutable justice will reign forever and totally. The only possessions anyone in that realm will be allowed to have–and have them forever–are those rewards that he himself has earned.
Eccl. 8:8 There is no one who has power to escape the appointment with death that God has made for him. No one has power to determine when his body will finally give up its useless struggle to keep on living. The warfare between the body’s will to live and God’s will for it to die is one in which all men are engaged from the moment of their birth. From birth, it is man’s nature to struggle against the will of God.
In Israel, the Law of God has provided for exemptions from military service. And among the Gentile nations, there are some who are excused from fighting the wars of their country. However, in the battle between man and death, there are no exemptions and no discharges. And all the efforts of man’s nature to resist the onslaught of darkness are fruitless; none of his ideas or efforts provide any security at all against the day of his death and of the Judgment.
Dt. 20:5-9; 24:5
Eccl. 10:5-7 I have seen that, under the sun, rulers make errors of judgment, but no such thing is seen by those who are already dead. The rulers of the world to come are perfect in wisdom and in their work, and everything is exactly and forever as it should be. So many things in this tormented world are out of place! I have seen foolishness exalted with great fanfare and ceremony. I have seen rich men sitting in seats reserved for slaves. I have seen princes walking like servants along the street, and I have seen servants riding like princes on horses. But nothing out of place will ever be seen in the eternal home that awaits all men beyond the grave.
Eccl. 8:14 One especially outrageous injustice on earth that I have witnessed is this: I observed a just and good man unto whom things happened that should have happened to an evil man instead. And again, I observed an evil man upon whom blessings fell like rain. But the wisdom of God comforted me because He caused me to understand that both undeserved suffering and undeserved blessing are experienced only in this world. One step beyond the bounds of this vexing life, and all things change forever. From the moment of one’s death, he is confronted with an irreversible change: all things are just as they should be, and they will remain that way forever.
Eccl. 7:15 In my time under the sun, I have seen everything because God gave me the eyes to see it! I have seen a righteous man die young, and I have seen a very wicked man live a long, prosperous life. How good it is to know that such things are only seen here on earth!
Eccl. 6:1-5 There is another very great and common evil that I have seen. I have seen God give to some men incredible wealth, but then He took away their health, and they helplessly watched their fortunes, for which they labored, consumed by strangers rather than by their children. Rulers, lawyers, physicians, and others seized their goods for their own children instead.
This, too, never happens beyond the grave, but it is an evil disease that afflicts many in this world.
But even if a man is blessed with a hundred children and a long life, if he is not at heart a good man, and if when he dies no one even loves him enough to bury him, then I say that a miscarried child has had a better life, for he is brought out of the womb for nothing and departs in darkness, leaving not so much as a name behind. Moreover, he departs with no knowledge or memory of the evils done under the sun. In death, the stillborn child has more rest than the aged sinner.
Eccl. 7:1b-6, 8a For all these reasons, I say that in this world, the end of a thing is better than the beginning because when you reach the end of a matter you are finished with one more piece of vanity. It is better to die than to be born, for when you die, you are finished forever with everything that is not eternal, but when you are born, you are born to labor throughout your whole life for what amounts to nothing. For this reason, it is better to visit a bereaved family than to go to a party, for while you are with those who are grieved, your heart is instructed in wisdom as it considers the brevity of life and the certainty of death.
Sorrow is worth more to your soul than laughter, for by sadness and tears the heart is made better. The thoughts and feelings of the wise are with those who are grieving over the loss of someone dear to them, but the desire of fools is only to have fun. Stay away from them. It is better to hear a wise man’s reproof than to listen to the jokes of fools. Son, if you are wise, you will hide yourself as quickly as you can whenever you hear fools laughing because whatever they are laughing about is sinful. The laughter of fools is a sure indication that something evil is being cooked up. The laughter of fools is applause for wickedness.
Eccl. 6:6 My instruction, son, is not the rambling of a depressed, embittered old man. Listen and learn. Nothing of all I am telling you could be proved wrong, even if a man were to live two thousand years and observe the lives of billions of people from all over the world. Regardless of how long any man lives on this earth, he will find nothing that is eternal in it. Do not all men end up in the dirt?
Eccl. 6:7-9 Every ounce of strength that men expend in labor is for food, yet the belly is never satisfied–no, not with the kind of satisfaction that wise men seek, for the comfort of a full belly does not last. This is true of the labor of wise men and of fools, of the rich and the poor, of the good and the evil. In terms of life and death, though, there are no rich or poor, for all must pay the same awful debt for sin, and all men have the same amount to pay. So, enjoy while you can what God has given you, rather than spend your days longing for what He has given to others.
Eccl. 9:1-6 I pondered all these things in my heart, and I decided that I should emphasize to you this unchangeable truth: the righteousness of the righteous, and the wisdom of the wise, and the goodness of the good, are from God alone. He is the only source of what is right, true, and good. Men cannot even understand what to love or what to hate unless God shows them.
In this world, all things happen alike to all. The same events happen both to the righteous and to the wicked, to the clean and to the unclean, to those who worship God and to those who refuse to worship God, to the good and to the sinful, to those who swear and to those who fear to swear. This is a pervasive cruelty on this earth; nothing here can escape its cruel clutches. And because God mercifully delays executing His fearsome wrath upon sinners, blessing the evil and the good alike while they are under the sun, the wicked see no difference between themselves and the upright; nor do they see any special benefit in being good. Consequently, their hearts are completely given to evil. Men have made themselves mad with wickedness while they live under the sun; they spend their lives in a frenzy of foolishness, and then they go to the dead–just like the righteous.
After death, all men are wise. All dead men, both the blessed and the damned, understand the truth and love it. But only among the living is there hope of obtaining mercy from God. A despised vagabond who is still alive is better than an honored hero in the grave, who can no more turn from his sin and be forgiven.
The living know that death is coming and may yet prepare for the Judgment that follows, but the dead know nothing of what is happening under the sun. For them, the events that take place in time are finished. Their children are greatly blessed or greatly distressed, and they will know nothing of it. Nor can they ever again do anything for which God will reward them in the coming Judgment. Only in this life is there hope of anything. When men die, their influence begins to die as well; their loves and their hatreds fade from the memory of those who knew them. Never again will they have any part in anything under the sun. Man is given but one chance to get it right, and after that, he dies.
The Way To Happiness:
Submission to God’s Curse of Continual Labor
Eccl. 10:8-10 With all the labor that man is condemned to do under the sun comes a measure of danger. The man who digs a pit may fall into it himself. The man who breaks down a hedge may be bitten by a serpent hiding in it. The man who moves stones can be hurt by them, and the woodcutter is endangered by his own ax. If he sharpens his tools as he should, he is in even greater danger, but if he does not sharpen them, then he must work harder to get his work done. In all labor, wisdom is profitable to the worker. There is both a wise and a foolish way to do any of the work that man is condemned to do under the sun.
Eccl. 2:24-26 The best that a man can do is to discipline himself to do his work humbly and patiently and to be content with enough to eat and drink until he dies. But with an attitude of humility before God you can find good even in this, for the frustrating earthly toil to which all on earth have been sentenced is from the hand of God, and submission to His chastening hand is the way that leads to lasting happiness.
The way of duty and integrity leads to happiness. I have the best food and the best accommodations on earth, and yet I tell you that the honest-hearted pauper who trusts in God and humbles himself to His chastening hand finds as much rest in the night as I with my full belly, warm bed, and singers sweetly laboring to calm my troubled mind so that I can sleep. Peace is a matter of the heart, my son, not merely of the condition of the body.
Eccl. 5:12 Oh, how sweet is the rest of a hard-working, honest man, whether he eat little or much! His weary body gives itself completely to slumber, and he rests undisturbed. But the abundance of a rich man keeps him up at night; business demands his life, and it cares nothing about his health, his family, or his soul.
To be able to rest a little in this miserable life is a gift from God, and it is a matter of the heart, not of wealth or station. The heart that is pure is blessed by God with wisdom, knowledge, and joy; and a clear conscience is blessed with sweet rest in the night. But God has irreversibly determined that there shall be no peace to the wicked on this earth, and even less of it in the world to come. He sentences transgressors to especially hard labor, and although He may prosper the ungodly man’s work for a time, in a little while the hand of God takes his fortune and distributes it to the upright in heart. But even that happens only in this life. In the world to come, God will leave the sinner to his fortune–his fortune of wrath, and it will never be taken from him and given to anyone else.
Eccl. 3:1-8 Everything that happens on earth is transitory; all is cursed with time. Still, all the things that happen serve the manifold purposes of the Creator, and because events in our lives are so full of meaning from God, it is wise not to think of them as mere events but to understand them as the purposes of God, in action.
Nothing cursed with time can benefit or harm a man beyond the grave. Time is death, and death is an enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed; and then time shall be no more.
It is good that the evil things of earth are cursed with time because we know that they will end, but it can be dispiriting to understand that the good and pleasant things of earth are also cursed with time because we know that all pleasantness that is under the sun will, too, pass away. There is a time to be born, but that is distressing because it is not an eternal birth. There is a time to die, but that gives hope because death under the sun is not the eternal Second Death.
In times of destruction, it is comforting to understand that, although under the sun there is a time to kill and destroy, there is only a time for them, and their times will surely pass. In times of safety and health, it is sorrowful to consider that under the sun there is time, but only a time, for rest and healing and that no condition of well-being under the sun is eternal. In dangerous times, it is heartening to remember that there is only a time for danger; there is no everlasting terror under the sun. And that there is a time to build can be disheartening to a wise builder because he knows that whatever he builds under the sun must fall into ruin when the time of devastation and decay returns.
My son, rejoice that there is a time to weep, for sorrow under the sun cannot continue forever. But mourn that there is only a time to laugh, for all earthly joy is fleeting. Be thankful to your Creator that there is a time to mourn, for all earthly sorrow is cursed, and joyous times must return. But be grieved that there is a time to dance, for no earthly jubilation can endure.
There is a time to gain, but when you have gained, tremble before God, for what on earth can be gained and kept? And there is a time to lose, but when you lose be thankful that there is nothing to lose under the sun that is eternal. There is a time to keep, but only a time. There is a time to throw away what once we valued, but our spirits are encouraged by knowing that the time of receiving will come again.
Sadly, there is a time to love, for in this life there is only a time for it. And there is, happily, a time to hate, for in this life hatred cannot be unending. We are blessed that there is a time for war under the sun, for none of us could survive the carnage of perpetual warfare; but, alas, there is a time for peace, and we know that wars shall begin again.
Eccl. 3:9-11 Every purpose of God has its place and its time in this world, and in its time, every purpose of God is a beautiful thing. In its own time, sowing seed is good, but to plant a crop in the time of harvest is unseemly. It is right for a man to harvest his field when the crop is ready to be harvested, but to reap a crop in the middle of its growing season is disorderly and wasteful. So it is with all the purposes of God, gathering stones or casting them away, embracing or not embracing, tearing or mending, speaking or being silent. In the proper time, they are all good.
It is not the act itself that is either good or bad; it is the timing of it. Nothing, of itself, is either clean or unclean. When it is time to hate, it is sin to love. When it is time for peace, it is sin to make war. Even prayer is good only if it is time to pray. At the Red Sea, God reproved Moses, and later, in the camp at Gilgal, He reproved Joshua, because they prayed when it was time to do something else. And God rejected the house of Saul the son of Kish and chose my father to be king in his stead because when it was time to be still and wait on God, King Saul took it upon himself to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Or consider the relationship of a man and his wife. The marriage bed is undefiled in the sight of the Lord, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. In its proper time and place, everything is pure and lovely. Out of its time and place, anything can be sin.
A wise man, my son, understands what it is time for, and the times of a good man are always in the hands of God, for he trusts God to direct his steps, regardless of the times.
Ps. 31:15; 37:23; 62:8
Still, even if a man conducts his affairs wisely, nothing on earth is eternal; then, what benefit to his soul is there in all his labor under the sun? The incessant labor imposed upon fallen man is the discipline of God, and He has turned man’s sad heart to darkness so that he cannot find the way out of it. The way to happiness must be revealed; no man can find it by himself. Then, seek God, my son, while there is time for it. Man cannot so much as imagine anything beyond this cursed creation. How then can he find the secret pathway out of it?
1Cor. 2:9-10, 14
Eccl. 8:5b-7 A wise man discerns when to do what, and he discerns God’s hand in the results of whatever is done. For everything, there is both a proper time and a result determined by God alone, but a foolish man is discontent with this. He does not know what it is time for, and he does not discern the hand of God in the results of actions. No one can possibly attain to the knowledge of God without acknowledging His mighty hand at work in all things having to do with this life. It is only by acknowledging God’s judgments in the earth that men can ever come to know Him and His righteousness.
Ps. 9:16 & Isa. 26:9
Eccl. 3:12-17 The very best of anything under the sun is bad enough because there is no eternal good in the best of things that happen to people on earth. Therefore, the very best for a man to do is to live simply, to be content to do what is good in God’s sight and to enjoy the earthly blessings that God gives him for his labor. To be able to enjoy living a simple life is a gift from God, and any man who has that gift is rich.
Fools waste their lives attempting to circumvent that simple truth, laboring incessantly either to avoid the unpleasant realities about life on earth since God rearranged it because of man’s sin or to add to His ways something they would prefer. But theirs is a thoroughly useless endeavor. The wise observe their foolish, obstinate struggle and learn to fear God. The way God set things up when He first cursed both man and the earth is the way it is now, and the way it is now is the way it will continue to be until the end of time. And God will judge a man tomorrow for the things he does today. He will neither change nor forget.
I am not blind, my son. I know that there are corrupt judges. I have watched patiently as poor, innocent people tearfully implored the wicked for justice, only to be turned away, abused, and cheated. Moreover, I have seen men in God’s holy service who were secretly wicked, men who for their own profit and pleasure perverted the faith of those who came to them for instruction in the ways of God. There is more corruption than there is integrity among those who rule the earth, and no man will ever change that. But remember this: there is no escaping the coming judgment of God. He patiently and mercifully allows evil men to continue in their wickedness until His purposes are fulfilled, but an evil end will suddenly come upon them.
There is a time and a purpose for every work on earth, not only for the works of just men but also for the works of sinners. God uses all men for the good of His chosen people, and He will judge them all according to the deeds they have done.
Eccl. 3:18-22 The wisdom with which God filled my heart makes for a lonely life, and I have longed occasionally to have fellowship in this wisdom with others. I carried a prayer in my heart that God would enable others to see this truth that He had enlarged my heart to fully comprehend: we all will die. Men are no better than beasts in this regard. As animals die, so do men, because nothing in this creation is eternal. Animals came from and return to dirt, and men came from and return to dirt. After death, there is a difference, for the spirit of man returns upward to God who gave it, whereas the spirit of a beast goes to the earth with its corpse. But until death, vain man differs nothing from a beast.
For this reason, I concluded that there is nothing better for a man than to do his work joyfully and humbly and to patiently wait for the end. That is his earthly portion from God, and after he is dead, nothing of earth will matter to him. Neither will anyone bring him back to earth to show him what is happening.
You may have heard that those who die look down on us from heaven. Forget it. Whether they are cast into hell or are borne into paradise, the dead neither see earth nor communicate in any way with those living on earth anymore. Stay far from soothsayers who, with the aid of demon spirits, enrich themselves by making fools believe they are communicating again with departed loved ones. Trust me, my son. Their deceased loved ones know nothing about that conversation.
Observations of Life Under The Sun
Eccl. 4:1-3 After contemplating on this a while, I returned once more to observe the oppressions that fill the earth, the bribe-taking judges, the crooked businessmen, and the lying priests. I saw the tears of the oppressed, and I saw that they had no political or military might with which to protect or avenge themselves. The oppressors held the reins of influence and power, while the poor were stuck fast in misery and held there by those with money.
Considering these situations, and the fact that they will never change so long as the world lasts, it seemed to me that those who are already dead are more blessed than they who are still living here in this mess. But then I realized that there is a group that is even more blessed than the dead; namely, those who have not yet been born and have not yet seen the evils that are done on earth.
Eccl. 4:4-5 Then I thoroughly reconsidered the burdensome labors that all men are condemned by God to perform, leaving nothing out, and the only new thing I saw was something bad. I saw a righteous man work hard and do good and be blessed by God for it, and then I saw his neighbor envy him instead of learning from the righteous man’s example so that God would bless him, too. The envious fool would not get up and submit himself to the labor that God has imposed upon fallen man. He just lay there with his hands folded until all he had was consumed, and then he whined and grumbled about how hard his life had been. This sort of wickedness will pass away when the curse of time is removed, but for now it deeply and constantly vexes my soul.
Eccl. 4:7-8 Later, I again pondered over the things I saw under the sun, and I noticed a man who lived alone. He had neither child nor any relative for whom he had to provide; still, he gave himself no rest and labored constantly to heap to himself riches. No amount of money satisfied him. And he never stopped to ask himself, “For whom am I heaping up all this wealth?” or “Why do I never pause to enjoy what I have earned?” I think this man’s kind of labor is especially hard, for he is enslaved to a senseless desire to increase in wealth. There is nothing eternal about his kind of life. Once time has ended, it will never be seen again.
Eccl. 10:19 A feast is made to provoke laughter in the midst of this world of perpetual toil, and wine causes people to temporarily forget their troubles, but riches make people forget more troubles for a longer time than anything else under the sun.
Eccl. 7:7, 8b-9 Bribery has utterly destroyed all sense of right and wrong in the hearts of many rulers, and money has more influence over most men than does wise counsel. When a wise man is afflicted by injustice and can do nothing about it, it is enough to drive him to distraction. Whether it be a greedy ruler who demands more taxes than is proper or a clever, dishonest businessman who takes advantage of the poor, it is maddening to the wise either to be a witness to oppression or to experience it himself.
But the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit, and there is peace for the wise in the knowledge that God will judge all things rightly, in His time. It is tempting to give in to the angry desire to punish the ungodly of this world before the time appointed by God, but that is the path taken only by an impatient spirit. Trust God and wait for Him to do His work. There is more wrong here on earth than you, or an army of wise men, will ever be able to correct. Do not be hasty; do not meddle in God’s business.
Eccl. 5:8-11 When you see the rich oppressing the poor, or rulers violently abusing people and perverting justice, do not be surprised. He that is higher than the highest ruler on earth sees what is happening, and He has other rulers who will exercise His judgment upon them in His time.
Those who oppress the poor are thieves, for God created the earth, with its harvests of the fields, its fruits, and its vineyards, for the good of all people, princes and paupers alike. The man who is obsessed with money never has enough, and the man who is obsessed with owning land can never be satisfied. Enduring happiness is as far from greedy men as they are from the heart of God.
My son, when goods increase, people around you will increase to help you consume them, and then what good are those goods to you? The most frequent benefit to the man who owns many goods is that he catches fleeting glimpses of them before they disappear into the pockets and mouths of his family and friends.
Eccl. 5:13-17 As I observed men in their dealings with money and property, I learned that a man can strangle himself by squeezing his money too tightly. A man can ruin his hope of prosperity by refusing to spend money for things necessary to make his business prosper. Then his money is lost through some accident or need, and a son is born to take whatever he has remaining. He himself returns naked to the earth, just as he arrived from his mother’s womb, taking nothing of all the things for which he labored.
It is a very great evil, afflicting the whole earth, that nothing under the sun is eternal and that we must leave this world just as we came, no matter how wisely or arduously we labor. What good does it do man to labor for things under the sun? All he inherits is the wind . . . if he can catch it. All his days, he labors for his food, not knowing when he will die, nor what happened to those who lived on earth before him, nor yet what will happen after he, too, returns to dust. And in his last days, he suffers with sadness and sickness because of the wrath of God on all this vain creation.
Eccl. 5:18-20 Son, pay attention to the wisdom I have gained by observing all these things with the eyes God gave me. It is altogether good and appropriate for a man to work and to enjoy the benefits of his labor throughout the days God gives him on earth. It is his portion from God. This is true of both the rich and the poor. If a man is made wealthy by God and is given health and length of days to enjoy it, it is his portion from God to rejoice in his labor and the fruits of it. It is his gift from God. But all portions in this life, whether large or small, will pass away and will not be remembered by the generations that follow, nor in the world to come, because God has cursed this creation with time and with judgment.
Solomon Praises Wisdom
Eccl. 7:19 It is better to have no war than to win one. The counsel of one wise man is more beneficial to a nation than the strength of ten mighty warriors.
Eccl. 9:13-16a; 18a; 16b-17; 18b Some time ago, I learned of a rare and wonderful wisdom that impressed me deeply. Against a certain small city came a mighty king with a huge army, and he besieged the city and built bulwarks against it. But within those troubled walls there was an obscure, poverty-stricken wise man who by the use of his wisdom persuaded the mighty king to remove his army and depart from the city. Later, when the army departed and the city was saved from certain destruction, the people rejoiced because of their deliverance but forgot that it was the poor man’s wisdom that had brought peace and safety to them. His name, in time, was forgotten by them and is now unknown to the descendants of those people whom he by wisdom saved from certain destruction.
I said to myself, when I had seen all this and reflected upon it, “Wisdom is better than strength. Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Yet, the poor man’s wisdom is despised because he is poor, and his words are forgotten. He is not honored, his children are not rewarded, and his precious, wise words are not repeated for the benefit of the next generation.”
Most men are fools, completely deaf to the voice of wisdom. The ears of the prudent give more heed to the whispers of wise men than fools give to the loud cries of their own rulers. Here, under the sun, one sinner can have more influence than a multitude of wise men. One sinner can undo much of the good that many wise men have labored together to accomplish.
Eccl. 4:13-16 It is better to be an indigent child who is willing to learn than to be a mighty king who will no longer listen to counsel. As long as you will listen, God will speak. And as long as you will follow, He will guide. The wise obey, and God brings them as paupers out of dungeons to sit upon thrones, but the foolish go their own way, and God casts them out of their high positions and strips them of their riches.
I considered carefully all the living who walk under the sun. In particular, I contemplated God’s reward of the wise pauper. There is no counting of the people living on earth or of those who lived before, and there is no numbering of the people yet to be born; still, throughout all generations, men have not and will not celebrate the wise pauper’s good work, though God blessed him while he lived. Only in the world to come will he be recognized for the good he did. Nothing of earth is eternal, and all of it irritates the sincere soul that longs for lasting happiness and honor.
Eccl. 7:11-14 It is a special blessing to receive both wisdom from God and an inheritance from parents because then there are two lines of defense against the troubles of this world. Wisdom is a defense against unhappiness because it protects from being deceived and abused. Money is a defense against unhappiness on earth because with it a man can purchase food, clothing, and shelter. The superiority of wisdom to money, however, is that by wisdom, men discover the secret pathway to eternal happiness, whereas money reveals nothing of God to man.
Stop and consider the work of God. Who can alter any of His plans? If He makes your pathway smooth and plain, or if He makes it rough and hard, who can change it? Go ahead and rejoice (with fear and trembling) when He gives you an abundance of health and provisions; it is your portion from God. But in the days when He makes your way hard, get still and think it over.
Both good and bad things will happen to you in this life. In wisdom, God has designed life under the sun that way, to the end that man cannot attain to any truth by his own intelligence. Man does not know what will happen next, no matter what is happening now. When God has done a work, the most that a man can say is that God has done it. He knows nothing else, and he does not even know that, unless it is revealed to him by God.
Eccl. 7:23 - 8:1 All these things I have proved by wisdom, and they are true. At one time, I thought, “I will make myself wise”, but I learned very quickly that it was far beyond me to do so. God has many mysteries hidden from man, and they are exceedingly deep; no one can find them out.
I humbled my heart to know the truth, to make earnest effort to obtain wisdom from God, to learn the reason for things, and to understand the wickedness of foolishness and insanity. And I found more bitter than death the heart of a perverse, immoral woman. Her spirit is a filthy trap, and her soft, perfumed hands are as strong as the chains of death. Those who please God escape her alluring glance to live another day, and those who displease Him are attracted to her siren call.
Listen to my wisdom, my son. I diligently, carefully, and earnestly made this search. What I am about to tell you, I know to be true.
One by one, I examined the lives of those around me to learn what was right. After examining the hearts of a thousand men, I found only one of a thousand whom I knew would be faithful to God and steadfast in righteousness, regardless of what I said or did, or what circumstances developed around him. And after I examined the hearts of a thousand women, I found none who were unmovable from what is right. As pathetic as men are, women remain the weaker vessel; their hearts are more easily deceived.
God created man upright, but man was discontent with His Creator’s design and sought for himself other ways to happiness. Now, he is completely lost, and only by trusting God’s wisdom will man ever find happiness again.
I wondered, “Who is a wise man?” and “Who really understands the hidden meaning of things?” And I learned by observation that there is a singular expression on the faces of those who possess wisdom. Wisdom brightens a man’s countenance; it beams humbly, but confidently, through his eyes.
Eccl. 8:15-17 When I gave myself to the search for wisdom, to see all the business that takes place on earth, I learned that there is such a thing as being unable to sleep night or day because of the many cares of this life. And then I ran headlong into another obstacle in my pursuit of wisdom when I beheld the vastness of man’s works on earth and the scale and multitude of the wonderful works of God. I saw that it is impossible for a man to search through each one of them. Even if a wise man labors his whole life, he will not be able to consider all the works of man, much less all the works of God. All things were created solely for God’s pleasure, not for man’s knowledge and benefit. Be content, then, with the things you can know, and keep the commandments that are given to you. Secret things belong to God, not to us.
Then I knew in my heart that to enjoy eating and drinking what God provides and simply to have a good time with one’s friends makes for the happiest life on earth. Those unadorned, modest pleasures are God’s reward for faithful labor and for surrendering the vain hope that work can be avoided in this life. Seek first, therefore, the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the things you really need will be added to you. Until you are content with your portion under the sun, you can be moved from the right ways of God, but godliness with contentment is great gain.
The Greatness of God
Eccl. 7:20 No one can ever become wise and good, my son, unless he understands this: there is no one on earth who is good and just unless he has been made that way by God. There is no one who has ceased from sin unless God has reached down in His great mercy and delivered him from sin’s power. God is the only source of goodness.
Eccl. 6:10-12 There is nothing new for man to create, for there is one Creator, who has created all things already, including man. And there is absolutely nothing that man can do about that, despite the many vain hopes of the wicked. Man has designed and constructed a vast array of buildings and machinery, but he has created nothing new. All that has resulted from those mighty labors of man is an increase in the number of things that will pass away. How have any of his innumerable inventions made man one whit better?
Who knows what is good for man to do on earth? He lives his whole baffling life under the shadow of the long home to which he must go. When he is gone, who will go to him and let him know what is happening on earth? No one, for he has no more part at all with anything under the sun.
Eccl. 5:1-7 The worship of God is of supreme importance. Be prudent and sober-minded when you approach Him. Do not be hasty to participate in any religious act. Be slow even to offer praise to God, for it is better not to praise Him than to offer praise that angers Him because your works are evil. Know yourself; be honest and listen to your conscience before you worship God. It is dangerous to worship God contrary to the commandment. Son, it is dangerous to worship God with an unclean heart. Fools do not understand that ungodly worship is a mockery of God’s holiness and that it will be a testimony against them when they stand before the Judge.
A quick tongue is a short cut to damnation. Think it over before you utter any word before God. He is in heaven, and you are on earth. There is not much that you have to say to Him, and when you have said those few things, be silent. Do not be foolish, thinking that by much speaking you will get your prayer heard by God. A fool’s voice is known by the river of words that constantly pours out of his mouth. Nobody praises God more, or more loudly, than a fool.
If you commit your ways to God, He will communicate with you by various means of His own choosing. A dream from God is the result of your being diligent concerning the labor He has imposed upon you. Just do not become carried away with such things. Many claim to have dreams given to them by God, when it is only their own imaginations at work. In a multitude of words and in many dreams there are also a multitude of false statements and vain hopes. If God does give you a dream, however, do not be afraid to tell it. There is no comparison between truth and error, between God’s word and man’s imagination. Do not allow the many who boast of false messages from God to discourage you from testifying to what God has truly given you.
If you ever make a vow before God, do not delay to fulfill it. God takes no delight in fools. Do quickly what you have vowed to do, or do not vow at all. It is better never to make a vow before the Lord than to make a vow and then fail to perform it. Such an ungoverned mouth can cause your whole body to sin. And when God sends His angel to collect on the vow you made, do not dare to say to that angel, “It was a mistake.” In doing that, you will provoke God to great wrath, and He will then destroy those things for which you have labored long and hard.
Eccl. 8:9-10 I saw all these things, and I applied my heart to examine every work done under the sun. I beheld and saw that there is a time when one man rules over another to his own hurt, and it would have been better for both if the other had ruled instead. I have also seen deeply religious, wicked men buried and forgotten by the very people who had shared both their religious opinions and their wicked deeds. Those who worshipped with the wicked and partook in their evil deeds continued worshipping as they had done before and continued doing evil. The wicked learn nothing from God’s judgment because they do not see God’s chastening hand in man’s experience of death.
Eccl. 7:10 Watch out for people who lament that the “good old days” are gone. They are just trying to manipulate you to become entangled with their social or political agenda. It is unwise to think that former days were better than these. When has God ever changed? The life He gave to those in the past who trusted in Him, He gives now to those who do the same. The good old days are past only if God has ceased to be good.
Eccl. 7:16-18 Do not be overly religious, son. Just obey God’s commandments. That is enough. And do not strain to become very wise. Why destroy yourself? And if you find yourself walking in an evil way, do not give up hope and surrender your soul to that unclean thing. Have faith in God’s tender mercies and change your direction. One bad move is enough. God has a perfect time chosen for the good and the upright to die. But if you go astray from the right path and then surrender your soul to wickedness and foolishness, He will choose another time for you to die that will not be to your liking.
It is good for you to take this in. My knowledge will keep you if you hold on to it. You need not be especially religious, nor profound or scholarly, in order to do God’s will and escape the coming wrath. The way to happiness is a way of simplicity and faith. No matter what the issues are, no matter how confusing the circumstances of life become, no matter who proclaims what doctrine, those who in their hearts fear God will survive all of the dangers and troubles under the sun. All you really need to know is the will of God, and all you really need to do is obey Him. The fear of God is not only the beginning of wisdom; it is also the conclusion of it.
God’s Secret Concerning Each Young Person
Eccl. 9:7-10 Now, my son, go your way. Eat your food with thanksgiving and joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, for now is the time, while you yet live on earth, to humble yourself to do the things that please God. Wear the clothes you like to wear, and keep your body clean. Set apart time for nothing but to enjoy the wife God gives you, and spend your days with her happily while your vain life is used up in labor under the sun. These are God’s rewards for the labor that you must do while on earth.
God knows a secret about you, my son, a secret that He will reveal to no one but you. You know that you must labor your whole life under the sun. God’s secret concerns what kind of labor will bring you the most contentment. He will not reveal that secret to me or to any wise man. Only you can find it, and there is only one way for you to do that; to wit, whatsoever you are given to do while you are young, do it with all your might. Only in striving with your whole heart to please the guides of your youth will you discover God’s secret that will give you a thoroughly fulfilled life.
When you were a toddler, you strove with your whole heart for what you wanted, but soon, the world teased you, hurt you, divided and confused your heart, and made you ashamed of your precious sincerity. Become as a child again, my dear son, and pursue happiness again with all your heart. That is what you really want. When you were young, you were not ashamed of what you felt. Dare to be that way again.
Do not be like the cold multitudes who failed to strive with their whole heart to do their best while they were young and now have to muddle through life with whatever jobs they can find. Earnestly labor to discover that perfect work for you! God wants you to have it! Now is the time for you to do it, my son, and you will never have this opportunity again. Dig deep into the things your instructors demand of you, and if they demand more, give more. It is God’s blessing you seek, not theirs! Your teachers are your servants, sent by God to help you find His secret. Somewhere in all the labor that is required of you by your elders is hidden the key to the kind of labor you would choose for yourself if you knew all things, as God does.
Many foolish people, young and old, mock sincerity and hard work. Just a few people will ever encourage you to pursue happiness the right way, and if your heart is not made up, then the encouragement of those few people will not be sufficient to shore up your young heart against the onslaught of fools. It must come from you, my son! The desire to be happy must spring from your own heart! No one can make the effort or reap its benefits for you. How happy do you want to be? Consider it, and answer me. And consider how unhappy the scoffers are who wasted their youth on lust and rebellion and who now mock the sincerity of those who diligently seek true happiness.
When you study the stars, you are searching for the secret concerning the labor that God has for you. When you study the earth and its history, you are asking God, “Is it here?” When you labor over mathematical formulas, or when you examine the ways of creatures small and great, God is watching and waiting for you to find His secret, hidden somewhere in that maze for you, and you alone. Even if you are given a small task, do it with all your strength and zeal, for it is often in unexpected places that God waits for the diligent worker to come. The lazy, the rebellious, and the careless, will never find either Him or the hidden pathway to happiness. They do not clean out the corners.
There are some subjects in which you will not have much interest. And there are, of course, some tasks given to you that you will not enjoy. All of that is acceptable. You are not required to enjoy what you do not enjoy. But if you are given an assignment or entrusted with a task that is not what you enjoy, still pursue it wholeheartedly. (It will help you to remember that nothing here lasts forever.) The hidden key to your happiest future may lie in the words of the last paragraph of that boring text or in the back corner of the barn you are sent to clean. Read it all. Clean the corners. God is waiting for you somewhere in your work with the key to a happiness that none but those who are both young and wise are given.
How happy and content do you really want to be? Now is the time for you to lay the foundation for the life you really want, both here and hereafter. There is no work, nor planning, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave where you are going. Now is the time, while you are young, to discipline yourself to be diligent and obedient in all your tasks, trusting God to judge you in His righteousness.
Eccl. 9:11-12 Later in their lives, some people realize their error and try to make up for the lost opportunities of their youth. As adults, they begin their search for the kind of labor that will make their time on earth most bearable for them, but it cannot be found then. All who repent from wickedness and seek the pathway of lasting happiness when they are older are forgiven and blessed by God, but the labor they will be given under the sun will only be God’s second best for them. Now, my son, while you are still young, is the only time you will ever be given to find that perfect, precious secret for your life. Most young people foolishly squander their youth on vanity, but you be diligent and wise, and in just a little while you will know what the foolish never will know, and you will be given what they will never have.
In contemplating the things done under the sun, I saw that the fastest runners do not always win the race, nor do the strongest always win the battle. The wise do not always have bread to eat; those with understanding are not always given riches; and the most skilful are sometimes overlooked in favor of lesser qualified men. Time and chance happen to all. You must trust your future to God and put everything you have into whatever you do. Do not be puffed up by your skills, your attractiveness, your strength, or your intelligence, nor trust in such things to bring you happiness. God will not bless a man who trusts in himself with the kind of labor that will keep him perfectly content while he lives on earth.
Eccl. 11:1-3 If you patiently continue to do what is right, you will soon learn for yourself the lesson that many never learn at all; to wit, whatever any man sows, he most certainly will reap. This is one of the most important truths about life under the sun that you can learn because if you take this truth into your heart, you will never run out of patience or be lured away from the pathway of righteousness.
Keep doing good! Over and over, day in and day out, do what is good, and you will reap a harvest of blessing that you cannot yet imagine. I understand that you cannot know for certain that I am telling you the truth about this. For that reason, you must trust my words until enough time passes for you to see for yourself that for every purpose under the sun there is a time, and after that, there is an inescapable, everlasting, perfect judgment from God.
Sow good seed; be merciful to others; be generous to the poor. Doing this is the best insurance against poverty and loss. You will reap a harvest from your good deeds as certainly as rain drops from the clouds to earth.
When a tree falls down, it stays down. The truth that I am telling you, son, is as simple and obvious as that. Patiently continue doing what is right in God’s sight, and you will be rewarded by God as certainly as a fallen tree stays fallen. And you will learn by experience to ignore the transitory circumstances of earth that sometimes may seem to contradict God’s eternal, unchangeable truth.
Eccl. 11:4-6 Those who are fearful and lazy try to excuse their slothfulness by pointing to the difficult circumstances they face. But if a farmer spent his time watching the sky and worrying about the weather, he would never sow his crop. And just as it is impossible to plant a crop with your eyes constantly turned toward the clouds, so it is impossible to do what you are supposed to do if you keep worrying about the people who oppose righteousness. Keep your mind on your goal and keep plowing. Do not come out of the rain until it begins to fall.
And do not be troubled if God hides Himself and His work from your eyes for a little while. You are not commanded to watch over God; He has promised to watch over you. You may continue both morning and evening to do what is right, fully confident that wherever God is and whatever He is doing, it is good. God’s ways are often hidden and very mysterious, but they are even now being revealed to you, and you may be assured that He is preparing a reward for all that you do. Every moment, the Creator is performing a myriad of works, both small and great; yet, He is never so occupied by them that He forgets any man or his deeds. It does not strain the Almighty to do great things.
Eccl. 11:7-8 Son, it is a wonderful thing to be alive and to see the marvelous works of God. But even if a man lives a very long and prosperous life and has no evils befall him during all his days, yet his days are but a few in comparison to the length of days that will follow his death. Consider it, my son; consider it carefully. Regardless of how many years one lives under the sun, they are few in comparison to what comes afterward. Will not a wise man, then, prepare for the days to come after he is dead? for they will be very many.
It is unwise not to work for the money you will need for yourself and your family. Yes, there is more to life than life under the sun, but while you live here, you must deal with it. Prudent men are mindful of their earthly responsibilities; they are concerned for the health and safety of their families. None of that, however, diminishes their ability to see beyond this life or their concern with guiding others to the right path.
Solomon’s Final Instruction To His Son
Eccl. 11:9-10 While you can, enjoy your youthful health and exuberance, young man. Have a good time, be cheerful, and do with gusto whatever you like to do. At the same time, know that for every deed you perform God will bring you into judgment. So, cast out of your young heart all rebelliousness, and refuse the pathways of sin. Begin now to prepare for the time to come. This whole life is short, but childhood and youth are even shorter.
NOTE: This remarkable parable of old age that Solomon gave to his son is one of the most inspiring found in the Old Testament. How many of Solomon’s symbols of old age can you interpret? I provide footnotes for the few that I can understand.
1. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, “I have no pleasure in them”,
2. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,4 nor the clouds return after the rain:
3. In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,5 and the strong men shall bow themselves,6 and the grinders cease because they are few,7 and those that look out of the windows be darkened,8
4. And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low;
5. Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish,9 and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail,10 because man goeth to his long home,11 and the mourners go about the streets.
6. Or ever the silver cord be loosed,12 or the golden bowl be broken,13 or the pitcher be broken at the fountain,14 or the wheel broken at the cistern.15
7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Eccl. 12:8 Nothing in this life is eternal. Everything under the sun is cursed with time. I have searched it out, and you will never be able to contradict what I am telling you. Heaven and earth and everything in them will pass away because this entire creation is temporal.
Eccl. 12:9-12 (Because the preacher was wise, he constantly taught the people of God the knowledge of God. He labored diligently to know the truth and to write it down for others in simple proverbs. These proverbs are like a sharp prick, against which it is unwise and painful to kick. They are like nails fashioned by the hand of God and driven in by master craftsmen, almost unseen, yet expertly placed and secure.)
Let me warn you now, my son, that as long as men live on earth they will be writing books, and it will wear you out to study the books written by men. Be judicious, then, in your choice of what to read while you live under the sun.
Solomon’s Conclusion About Life Under The Sun
Eccl. 12:13-14 This is the conclusion of everything I have known, and everything I have observed and experienced during the days of my life under the sun. This is the sum of all the wisdom that God has revealed to me in the days of my vanity. The conclusion of the whole matter, my son, is this:
Fear God, and keep His commandments. There is nothing else that man must do, for God will bring every deed of man into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.
4 In Joseph’s dream in Genesis 37:9-10, the sun and the moon referred to his father and mother. So, this reference to the sun and the moon still shining (not yet being darkened) may refer to a young person’s parents still being alive, the stars referring to brothers and sisters (again, as we find in Joseph’s dream).
5 The “keepers of the house” are the hands, which take care of the body as we go through life. Often in old age, they tremble.
6 The “strong men” I take to refer to the shoulders, which often “bow themselves” as one reaches an advanced age.
7 The “grinders”, of course, are the teeth, which usually become fewer in number as we age.
8 “Those that look out of the windows” are the eyes.
9 An almond tree in full bloom (”flourishing”) is full of white blossoms, a reference to the white hair of older people.
10 “Failing desire” is a decrease of interest in intimate marital pleasure.
11 Our “long home” is the grave.
12 Beginning with an injury to “the silver cord”, which I take to be a reference to the spinal cord, Solomon describes various ways that men may die other than from old age.
13 The “golden bowl” would refer to the skull, the “bowl” in which lies the brain, and the bowl upon which would rest a crown, thus “golden”. By “broken” Solomon appears to mean that it becomes dysfunctional, whether by an accidental injury, or in battle, or through sickness, or by any other means.
14 The “pitcher” may refer to the stomach, which receives into it what comes from the fountain. Solomon again uses “broken” in the sense of becoming incapable, by whatever means, of supporting life.
15 The “wheel at the cistern” may refer to the heart, from which liquid flows.
These are my suggestions for the meaning of some of the elements of Solomon’s wonderful parable. As time passes, I hope to understand these symbols more perfectly, and I would be grateful for any suggestions or insights that the reader may forward to me concerning it.