Everyone Will Die, 1-3
9:1 So I reflected on all this, attempting to clear it all up.
I concluded that the righteous and the wise, as well as their works, are in the hand of God;
whether a person will be loved or hated—
no one knows what lies ahead.
9:2 Everyone shares the same fate—
the righteous and the wicked,
the good and the bad,
the ceremonially clean and unclean,
those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
What happens to the good person, also happens to the sinner;
what happens to those who make vows, also happens to those who are afraid to make vows.
9:3 This is the unfortunate fact about everything that happens on earth:
the same fate awaits everyone.
In addition to this, the hearts of all people are full of evil,
and there is folly in their hearts during their lives—then they die.
Everyone shares the same fate – ‘Outward things happen alike to good and bad. “There is one event to the clean and to the unclean.” They are both travellers in the thoroughfare of this world, both lodge in one inn, both have the same provision; perhaps the wicked have the better cheer-but in the morning their ways part!’ (Thomas Adams)
‘Those events that are beyond the individual’s own control so often appear to happen in a haphazard way. The tower at Siloam falls on the good as well as on the bad. And then, looming ahead, is the one event for all mankind, the one event of Death. And Death closes all. “A living cur is better than a dead lion.” ” The living know that they shall die “, and can make their plans accordingly. There is a sense in which it is never too late in this life to take up your part in God’s plan. But the dead have run their course. They are waiting in Sheol for the judgment. They do not, like the living, know what is happening on the earth. They have no further opportunities of earning the Master’s reward. Their bodies, the vehicles of the emotions of love and hatred and envy, have gone to dust, and no more can they share in life under the sun.’ (J. Stafford Wright)
Better to Be Poor but Alive than Rich but Dead, 4-6
9:4 But whoever is among the living has hope;
a live dog is better than a dead lion.
9:5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead do not know anything;
they have no further reward—and even the memory of them disappears.
9:6 What they loved, as well as what they hated and envied, perished long ago,
and they no longer have a part in anything that happens on earth.
The living know that they will die – This does not seem like much of an advantage! But ‘the explanation is that the living may yet reckon with the reality of death and in so doing embrace the joy life has to offer, but no such possibility exists for those who have already died. Their time has passed.’ (Garrett)
In other words, ‘Where these is life, there is hope.’
The dead do not know anything – They know nothing ‘so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Isa. 63:16).’ (JFB)
This verse (to say nothing of the rest of Scripture) suggests that the popular notion that the dead are ‘looking down on us’ is a pious myth.
Do this verse teach, in contradiction to other Scriptural witnesses, that there is no conscious afterlife?
To be sure, passages such as Psa 73:23f; 41:12 hold out a definite hope for such an afterlife. Moreover, the OT prohibition against contact with the dead (Deut 18:11) was not because it was impossible, but precisely because it was possible (1 Sam 28:13). Again, the frequent mention of the dying as being ‘gathered with one’s people’ or ‘sleeping with one’s fathers’ (see, e.g., Gen 49:29; 1 Kings 2:10) further suggests the existence of a life after death. (The metaphor of ‘sleeping’ does not deny consciousness, but rather refers to the posture of the body after burial).
So what is the present verse talking about? 2 Kings 22:20, where the Lord speaks to Josiah through the prophetess Huldah, helps to clarify:
‘I will allow you to die and be buried in peace. You will not have to witness all the disaster I will bring on this place.’
This verse does not teach that Josiah would know nothing, but rather that he would be spared knowledge of what was happening here in this world.
Heiser (on whose discussion the above is based) concludes:
‘Similarly, Ecclesiastes 9:5 likely refers to the dead being detached from conscious participation in this world, not an unconscious afterlife.’ (The Bible Unfiltered, p133f)
Barnes: ‘Solomon here describes what he sees, not what he believes; there is no reference here to the fact or the mode of the existence of the soul in another world, which are matters of faith. The last clause of v. 6 indicates that the writer confines his observations on the dead to their portion in, or relation to, this world.’
Life is Brief, so Cherish its Joys, 7-10
9:7 Go, eat your food with joy,
and drink your wine with a happy heart,
because God has already approved your works.
9:8 Let your clothes always be white,
and do not spare precious ointment on your head.
9:9 Enjoy life with your beloved wife during all the days of your fleeting life
that God has given you on earth during all your fleeting days;
for that is your reward in life and in your burdensome work on earth.
9:10 Whatever you find to do with your hands,
do it with all your might,
because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave,
the place where you will eventually go.
‘Take up the common things of life, and find your joy in the service of God there. Life is but vanity, but it is a vanity that may be turned to profit if only one grasps the opportunity while it is present.’ (Stafford Wright)
Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might – The message of Ecclesiastes is not one of passive resignation, meeting God’s mysterious plan with an attitude of fatalism. ‘The fact that he introduces the idea of moral responsibility, with his warning of the Judgment, shows that we are to live our life as free beings. Moreover the incidental pieces of proverbial wisdom are intended to be a guide for the practical side of life.’ (Stafford Wright)
‘If that last verse [v10b] sounds sub-Christian, we may remind ourselves that Christ Himself said, ” I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work” Jn 9:4).’ (Stafford Wright)
Wisdom Cannot Protect against Seemingly Chance Events, 11-12
9:11 Again, I observed this on the earth:
the race is not always won by the swiftest,
the battle is not always won by the strongest;
prosperity does not always belong to those who are the wisest,
wealth does not always belong to those who are the most discerning,
nor does success always come to those with the most knowledge—
for time and chance may overcome them all.
9:12 Surely, no one knows his appointed time!
Like fish that are caught in a deadly net, and like birds that are caught in a snare—
just like them, all people are ensnared at an unfortunate time that falls upon them suddenly.
Most People Are Not Receptive to Wise Counsel, 13-16
9:13 This is what I also observed about wisdom on earth,
and it is a great burden to me:
9:14 There was once a small city with a few men in it,
and a mighty king attacked it, besieging it and building strong siege works against it.
9:15 However, a poor but wise man lived in the city,
and he could have delivered the city by his wisdom,
but no one listened to that poor man.
9:16 So I concluded that wisdom is better than might,
but a poor man’s wisdom is despised; no one ever listens to his advice.
Wisdom versus Fools, Sin, and Folly, 17-18
9:17 The words of the wise are heard in quiet,
more than the shouting of a ruler is heard among fools.
9:18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner can destroy much that is good.