Ecclesiastes 9:1 – Some describe the first part of Ecclesiastes 9 as the most pessimistic passage in the entire book. But it ends on an optimistic note, preparing us for the positive elements that follow in the next three chapters. In Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 Solomon reflects on all he has learned from his observations and they reveal both truth and error about the nature of salvation. It is here that he considers true biblical faith.
Solomon has observed the unfairness of life, seen its injustices but, at the end of it all, the grave is the great equalizer, death. This is seen in Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Solomon declares that the fate of man is ultimately in the hand of God.
The metaphor “hand or arm” is used about 200 times in the Old Testament to refer to the sovereign power of God. It speaks of his creative power (Psalm 19:1;Isaiah 48:13); his judgmental power (Isaiah 19:16;Zechariah 2:9); his saving power (Exodus 14:31;Psalm 78:42); and his protective power (Ezra 7:9;Nehemiah 2:18). In the New Covenant we see this in Yeshua, his creative power (Hebrews 1:10, Ecclesiastes 9:2); coming to sift the wheat from the chaff (Matthew 3:4); his hand in cleansing and healing (Luke 5:13;Mark 8:23). The Believer’s hope is in the hand of God: (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Ecclesiastes 9:2-6 – It almost seems as though God doesn’t care whether people are good or bad (Ecclesiastes 9:2). So why be good? If evil pays in this life, why not do whatever we want to do? The end is only death, after all, and good people die just as others do (Ecclesiastes 9:3). Solomon is leading up to the way we ought to live in view of the finality of death. Instead of living a rotten life of self-indulgence (Ecclesiastes 9:3b), we should ask the question, “What is the real purpose of life?” While there is life, there’s hope, but hope for what? Surely, in the light of this book, there is hope for using life to the full. While there is life, there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4).
The lion, the king of animals, has none when he is dead. But the dog who was looked on so lowly, has hope because he is still alive. Life is better than death because something is better than nothing. We must make the best of what we have now. The humanist would agree with this, arguing that religion, with the promise of heaven and hell, devalues life. As John Lennon’s wrote: Imagine there’s no heaven, It’s easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky. Imagine all the people, Living for today.
To fully understand this passage, it is important to realize that our knowledge of eternity depends on how much God reveals to us. Attempts to discover the state of those who have died through mediums is forbidden in Scripture (Isaiah 8:19-20).
The Old Testament speaks of the patriarchs being “gathered to their people” (Genesis 25:8;49:33). The significance of this is shown in Yeshua’s answer to the Sadducees concerning God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22:32). God speaks of a future resurrection, but this is linked to the coming of the Messiah (Psalm 16:9-11;Isaiah 25:7-8;26:19;Daniel 12:2-3). So the dead had to wait for the resurrection of the Messiah.
Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 Solomon in light of the certainty of death calls his readers as they give thanks to God for their lives to enjoy what He has given. This is a recurring theme as we have seen in our studies so far.
Yes, death is coming, but God gives us good gifts to enjoy so enjoy them! He lists such things to enjoy with thanksgiving in our home life; meals with our family (Ecclesiastes 9:7), family celebrations (Ecclesiastes 9:8), a faithful, loving marriage (Ecclesiastes 9:9), and hard work (Ecclesiastes 9:10). What a contrast to today’s lifestyle of a frenetic schedule. Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24), we need to discover that everything that’s really important is back home at the Father’s house. King Solomon sat down to a daily feast (1 Kings 4:2-23), but there is evidence that he didn’t always enjoy it as Proverbs 15:17, and Proverbs 17:1, hint.
The most important thing is love and enjoyment of family, love turns an ordinary meal into a banquet. He counseled to enjoy every occasion (Ecclesiastes 9:8). Life was difficult, but every family knew how to enjoy special occasions such as weddings and reunions. That’s when they wore their white garments which were a symbol of joy and put on perfumes instead of the usual olive oil. These occasions were few, so everybody made the most of them.
But Solomon calls his readers to always wear white garments always and anoint themselves with special perfume. He didn’t mean this literally but what Of course, his congregation didn’t take his words literally, because they knew what he was saying: make every occasion a special occasion, even if it’s ordinary or routine as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” This may be what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to become like children (Matthew 18:1-6).
In Ecclesiastes 9:9 he calls his readers to enjoy their marriage. He saw a wife as a gift from God (Proverbs 18:22; 19:14) and marriage as a commitment that lasts a lifetime. No matter how difficult life may be, there is great joy in the home of the man and woman who love each other and are faithful to their marriage vows. Sadly Solomon didn’t live up to his own own counsel or perhaps he is writing in retrospect. He went against the command of God to Kings and his many wives led him away from devotion to the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8).
Then he counsels his readers to enjoy their work in Ecclesiastes 9:10. The Jewish people looked on work, not as a curse, but as a stewardship from God. Even rabbis learned a trade (Paul was a tent maker) and taught their talmudim “He who does not teach a son to work, teaches him to steal.”
Paul wrote, “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thesalonians 3:10). When he counsels in Ecclesiastes 9:10 “whatever your hand finds to do it with all your might” he is calling his readers to do your very best, and do it while you still have strength. The day will come when you will not have the strength any longer. We see this truth taught in Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Moreover the work in this life will not be available after death so make your the most of your opportunity now. One day our works will be judged, and we want to receive the reward for our service for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 3:10ff; Colossians 3:23-25). If we fear God and walk by faith we will not try to escape or merely endure life. We will enjoy life and receive it happily as a gift from the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 Solomon now turns from talk about living in the face of death and began to discuss life. No one can guarantee what will happen in life, because life is unpredictable. Our natural abilities are no guarantee of success. The wise person will know the proper time and way to do things he told us in Ecclesiastes 8:5 but in Ecclesiastes 9:11 we are told that ultimately it is only the Lord who controls “time and chance”.
Solomon taught us that God has a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8), a purpose to be fulfilled in that time (Ecclesiastes 8:6), and “something beautiful” to come out of it in the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The word “chance” simply speaks of an event not of gambling. We might say, “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I got the job. Ability had little to do with it!” Believers understand this as providence, the unseen hand of God orchestrating events. The Lord is sovereign over all events.
The children of God leave “time and chance” in His hands. We are reminded that none of us knows when trouble will arrive on the scene and wreck all our great plans (Ecclesiastes 9:12). When they least expect it, fish are caught in the net and birds are caught in the trap. So men are snared in “evil times,” sudden events that are beyond their control. That’s why we should take to heart the admonition against boasting (James 4:13-17).
Ecclesiastes 9:13-15 Something that Solomon discovered concerning wisdom made a great impression on him. One who is endowed with wisdom can readily appreciate it when he sees it in others. What impresses him is the story of a poor man whose wisdom delivered a city from siege laid by a great army. There have been great speculation as to what event he is referring to.
Christians historians have suggested the besieging of Abel by Beth-maach (2 Samuel 20:15-22) and the deliverance of Thebes (Judges 9:50-55). Whatever the historical event recorded, while it impressed Solomon no one remembered that poor man who gave the wisdom. This story may be included to give us insight into the way things work in the world and not be disappointed if our words of wisdom are never noted though they might be very influential.
In Jewish tradition these thoughts were allegorized giving it a more overtly spiritual dimension. The targum of this passage, a targum is an oral paraphrase or interpretation of the Scriptures in Aramaic, interprets the city as a person whose body is invaded by an evil spirit. The poor wise man stands for the good but humble spirit that wages war against the evil spirit. This targum would have been used in the synagogues in the time of Jesus, to demonstrate the spiritual struggle that takes place within a person.
There is a parallel in the Gospel. The believer is under attack by the forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Yeshua is the wise man (1 Corinthians 1:30) who became poor for our sake (Philippians 2:7-8) His atoning sacrifice is God’s wise way of delivering man from the city of destruction (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), yet it is greeted with ingratitude (Luke 17:11-19).
John Bunyan, writes of the siege and deliverance of the soul of man in his Holy War, where Jesus delivers the city from Satan’s attack.
Ecclesiastes 9:15-18 Solomon concludes from this what he knows to be true that ‘wisdom is better than strength’ (Ecclesiastes 9:16). God’s way is better than man’s, even though it is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23). Man may despise the gospel and even try to drown out its proclamation, but it should and will be heard (Ecclesiastes 9:16-17). God’s wise words meet with a mixed reception. After Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill, we are told that, ‘Some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter” … some men joined him and believed.’ (Acts 17:32-34).
‘Wisdom is better than weapons of war’ (Ecclesiastes 9:18). Solomon says ‘But one sinner destroys much good’ vs. 18 which links with the next chapter, but also deals with the root of the whole problem—man’s sinful heart. It is through the sin of one man that we have been brought into the bondage of death, and through the obedience of another that we have been brought life (Romans 5:12-21).
As we walk by faith, we need not fear our “last enemy,” because Jesus has conquered death. Because He is alive, and we live in Him, we don’t look at life and say, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” Instead, we echo the confidence expressed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:57-58.