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Despite the repetition of common themes in this Book of Ecclesiastes, I find one aspect to be especially puzzling – to what extent does the view of Solomon ever rise above the “under the sun” perspective and benefit from God’s perspective of eternity?  More difficult question than it might seem …  Commentators differ on their views here.

enigma” – something obscure; inscrutable; mysterious

Iain Provan: Throughout the preceding material and reaching back into chapter 7, Qohelet has been anxious to affirm the superiority of wisdom over folly and of righteousness over wickedness. At the same time he has sought to make his readers think about what wisdom and righteousness really are and how far they are truly attainable, about the expectations that the wise person should have about how life will work out, and about the best way of thinking and living in the light of all the facts. He has particularly emphasized the way in which wisdom and righteousness often do not seem to bring sufficient reward, highlighting the challenge that this reality (and the reality that wicked fools prosper) presents to the notion of a morally coherent universe. The present section continues in this vein, as Qohelet continues his reflection on all he has observed and thought about (“all this,” 9:1).

Derek Kidner: The fascination of this book throughout its length arises very largely from such collisions between obstinate facts of observation and equally obstinate intuitions.  So it pushes us towards a synthesis which lies mostly beyond its own pages; in this case, the prospect of reward and punishment in the world to come.

Walter Kaiser: In spite of all that has been said to explain and justify the ways of God to mortals, there still are some mysteries in divine providence. No one can tell just by God’s treatment of particular individuals whether they are objects of God’s love or hatred (9:1). Qoheleth, the Teacher, warned in 6:1-6 that prosperity is not always or necessarily a good thing, and in 7:1-15 that adversity and affliction are not always or necessarily evil. . .

The mystery before us in 9:2-6 is the most perplexing of all life’s puzzles: how did God ever allow the presence of sin and death in His good world, one which is ruled by His good plan?

Knut Martin Heim: This segment highlights that in an uncertain world whose political parameters the members of his audience cannot escape, they can find purpose and satisfaction in those areas of their lives which they can control.

Douglas Miller: The discussion of this unit has three major points:

(1)  All will die, righteous and wicked alike.

(2)  The advantage of the living over the dead is that the living know they will die and can still partake of their “portion.”

(3)  As a consequence, those among the living should enjoy the life that God has made available to them.

These verses express more directly and extensively than elsewhere Qohelet’s connection between the reality of death and the response to death that he commends.


A.  (:1) Man’s Earthly Fate Lies in the Hand of the Sovereign God

  1. Should be a Source of Comfort and Encouragement to the Righteous

For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men,

                        wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God.

J. Sidlow Baxter: this verse introduces Solomon’s Review of his entire quest and summarizes his conclusions – chaps 9-12

Craig Bartholomew: To be “in the hand of God” is to be subject to God’s sovereignty and power. In Prov. 21:1 the king’s heart is said to be in the hand of the LORD, who turns it wherever he wishes. In Proverbs and the rest of the OT, to be in God’s hand is a wonderful thing for the righteous and wise, the source of trust and assurance. Verse 1a is therefore a confessional statement about God’s sovereignty, stressing that all that the righteous and wise do plus the outcome of their actions is in God’s good control.

Qohelet, however, immediately subverts any such positive connotations. As far as he can observe, no one knows whether being in God’s hand means that love or hate lies ahead. “Hate” is a strong word, referring to God’s wrath and judgment and evoking the strength of Qohelet’s feeling at this point. In Isa. 1:14 the same root is used when the LORD says to the Israelites that his soul hates their new moon festivals and appointed feasts. “Love” by contrast is the attitude of care and grace of the LORD toward his covenant people (cf. Deut. 4:37). Proverbs 3:33 expresses the traditional understanding of how God’s love and hate operate: “The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the abode of the righteous.

  1. But Unpredictability Is Unsettling

Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred;

anything awaits him.”

Talking about outcomes that are dispensed from the hand of God

Charles Ryrie: Love = happy circumstances; Hate = unhappy circumstances

Chuck Swindoll: Being in the hand of God is not synonymous with or a guarantee for being economically prosperous, physically healthy, shielded from pain, enjoying a trouble-free occupation, and having everyone smile and appreciate us.  As Solomon wrote “Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.”  But what does help is the knowledge that behind whatever happens is a God who loves us and cares, who hasn’t lost a handle on the controls.

Michael Eaton: the point is that the treatment the righteous will receive is unknown; who can tell what the future will bring?  Righteousness and wisdom have no built-in guarantees of an easy life.

Iain Provan: The point of verse 1 is to emphasize that the righteous and the wise, perhaps against their expectation, will experience in life both “love and hate,” which may simply be another way of saying “good and evil.” Their experience is in this respect no different from that of the wicked and the foolish—everyone has a mixed experience of life. The lack of knowledge mentioned then refers either to general ignorance that this is indeed the case (perhaps especially among the wise and righteous themselves) or to specific ignorance as to the precise mix of “love and hate” that each individual will have to endure. Human beings cannot know in advance how much of each they will encounter.

B.  (:2-3) No Difference Between the Righteous and the Wicked – in terms of their earthly fate

  1. Same Fate Awaits All

It is the same for all.”

Douglas Sean O’Donnell: The Certainty of Death

Morality is no protection against mortality. Keeping God’s law (the ritual washings, sacrifices, oaths, etc.) cannot keep you from Adam’s curse. As the poet John Donne wrote:

Earth is the womb from whence all living came,

So is’t the tomb, all go unto the same.

 Then in Ecclesiastes 9:3, we read that death is an “evil” earthly event: “This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all.” To the Preacher, “death is not a ‘natural’ phenomenon . . . but an invincible evil.”  Death is like a demon-possessed scorpion—it has an unethical edge to its sting.

Finally, at the end of verse 3, we read that death is a deserved event:

Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil,

and madness is in their hearts while they live,

and after that they go to the dead.

Ecclesiastes 9:3 is a further exposition of the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis, Adam sins. In Adam, all the “children of man [adam]” spiritually and physically die. And between being born in sin and dying in our sin, we sin. As it was in the days of Noah, so it is now: our “hearts . . . are full of evil” or “madness.” This is not merely an outward problem, but an inward one—at the core of our beings (our “hearts”). As the result of Adam’s sin and our own evil inclinations and actions, death is certain. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

  1. Five Sets of Contrasts Between the Character of All Men / Yet One Fate for Both

a.  “There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked;”

b.  “for the good, for the clean and for the unclean;”

c.  “for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice.”

d.  “As the good man is, so is the sinner;”

e.  “as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear.”

Is it good or bad here to take an oath?

Douglas Miller: Comparing those texts with these, the Teacher’s message is that people can avoid making things worse for themselves but can never, by their choices, guarantee that things will always go well.

Michael Eaton: refers not to profane or rash swearing (the majority interpretation; cf. Ex. 20:7; Mt. 5:34), but to swearing “by the Lord’s name” (cf. 6:13; 10:20) which was part of allegiance to the covenant. . .  This view is upheld by the fact that in the series of contrasts the good characteristic comes first.

  1. One Fate for All Men / Character of Men Apart from God is Ultimately the Same = Evil and Insanity – Moral and Mental Twistedness

This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for

all men.  Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.”

Chuck Swindoll: We’ve heard about the doctrine of depravity all our lives, but not much about the doctrine of insanity, right?  . . .  Lurking in the human heart is a permanent mixture of evil and insanity . . .  What an awful mixture —  meanness and madness!

Nightly news is just an accounting of the day’s experiences of evil and insanity being worked out in different circumstances.  Nothing should surprise or shock us anymore.

Those who hold to a humanistic philosophy of the inherent goodness of man have a tough sell.

  1. Same Fate Awaits All

Afterwards they go to the dead.”

Tremper Longman: The abrupt syntax at the end of the verse is intentional and reflects the suddenness of death in the midst of life.

C.  (:4-6) Advantages of the Living — Hope Remains as Long as Life Lasts

there is a difference between the dead and the living

Knut Martin Heim: The living have three advantages over the dead.

  • First, in verse 4 Qoheleth strongly affirms that the living have ground for hope (biṭṭāḥôn; cf. 2 Kgs 18:19; Isa. 36:4). The statement is unusual. Following the ketib, the Hebrew seems to be composed as a question followed by its answer: who [is the one] who should be chosen? – With all the living, there is hope. Qoheleth’s audience should choose to be among the living rather than give up on life prematurely or provoke retaliation from the foreign regime with foolhardy and rebellious talk or conduct.
  • He reinforces this with a sarcastic proverb, which provides his second advantage for the living over the dead: As for a living dog: it is better off than a dead lion! Many consider the proverb to be bitterly self-ironic, undermining the very thing it appears to promote (Longman 1998: 228). However, the opposite is true (Krüger 2004: 170). Negative attitudes towards canines and the associated sarcastic irony of the proverb strengthen rather than weaken Qoheleth’s point.
  • His third reason for postulating an advantage for the living over the dead lies in the circumstance that the living know that they will die (v. 5a).
  1. Hope is an Intrinsic Part of Life

For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope;”

  1. Illustration: Life is Always Better than Death

Surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.”

Warren Wiersbe: dogs were despised in that day . . .  Solomon was emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities while we live, rather than blindly hoping for something better in the future, because death will end our opportunities on this earth.

Lion is the most majestic and powerful of the animal kingdom – Lion King –good combination of terms for a title;

Look at a powerful horse like the filly Eight Belles yesterday that ran her heart out in the Kentucky Derby against those powerful colts; nothing more futile than that picture of the dead carcass – once the life is gone, what is left?

  1. Expectation of Death better than Cessation of Thinking

For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything,”

Thomas Constable: “The dead do not know anything” does not mean they are insensible. Later revelation indicates that the dead are aware of their feelings, the past, and other things (cf. Matt. 25:46; Luke 16:19-31; et al.). In the context this clause means the dead have no capacity to enjoy life as the living can.

Douglas Miller: In the midst of his lament on the limitations of human knowledge, the Teacher has consistently affirmed certain things that humans do know, such as the value of enjoyment (3:12), certain factors related to God (3:14), the reality of human weakness (6:10), self-awareness (7:22), that there is a judgment (3:17; 11:9), and that there is a reward for those who fear God (8:12). In addition, the book’s epilogue affirms that Qohelet has taught people knowledge (12:9). Here in verse 5 there appears to be deliberate irony: the living know that they will die (NRSV, T/NIV). Yet this is important knowledge: it enables humans to make the most of their time among the living, as the advice that follows indicates (9:7-10; cf. 7:2; 11:8).

  1. Death Quickly Erases All Legacy and Reward in this Life

nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. 

Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun.”

Knut Martin Heim: Five circumstances demonstrate the pitiable state of the dead and promote the benefits of being alive.

  1. First, they lack consciousness;
  2. second, there is no further reward for them;
  3. third, nobody will remember them;
  4. fourth, their emotions have perished with them;
  5. fifth, the influence of the dead upon the world of the living is denied: and they will never again have a share in anything that is done under the sun.

Michael Eaton: earthly life cannot be enjoyed in retrospect

Tremper Longman: reward likely refers to the end of all earthly wages or benefits, and thus Qohelet is not leaving open the possibility of heavenly rewards.  The thought does not even cross his mind.


Solomon keeps coming back to this common thread – the closest he can come to any type of solution to the enigmas of this life – still he does not have much of an eternal perspective.

Walter Kaiser: What, then, should be done (9:7-9)? The righteous know: They must rejoice and enjoy life. This is one of the so-called carpe diem passages, i.e., “seize the day” (the others are: 2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18-20; 8:15), for “this is the day that the Lord has made; [they] will be glad and rejoice in it” (Psalm 118:24). Instead of allowing grief to consume one’s life, Solomon urges that whatever remains of the unexplained mystery in our lives must not prevent us from enjoying life. The tendency to brood and to mope has to be resisted in the lives of those who fear God, who take life as a gift from God’s hand, and who receive His plan and enablement to enjoy that life. Accordingly, verse 7 begins with an invitation: “Come on”; “be up and about.” To be specific about what it is that one is to do, five pieces of advice are given: (1) eat your food, (2) drink your wine, (3) get out your white set of clothes, (4) shampoo your head with the most luxurious of oils, and (5) enjoy the domestic comfort and love of your wife (9:7-9). The reason for such action is stated immediately: “For God has already accepted your works” (9:7, NKJV). Righteous men need not worry whether God is indifferent to them and their lives: He is not; they are the special objects of His gifts and His acceptance.

4 Areas of God’s Gifts for Us to Enjoy in This Life

A.  (:7) Grateful Eating and Drinking

Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful

heart; for God has already approved your works.”

Last phrase here is one of the most difficult in the chapter to interpret – “for God has already approved your works” – this is the important motivation clause for enjoying God’s good gifts: to whom is this addressed ?  what are the possible meanings?  Can’t mean God’s unlimited approval of all deeds of all men.

Agrarian society; the fact that the fields have already yielded fruit from your labors only comes as the blessing of God; otherwise your fields would be barren and you would be experiencing drought and famine; so if you have something to eat, partake in recognition that it is only the goodness of God that has so blessed your labors.

We are not called to a life of asceticism like the monks of the Middle Ages who imagined that they could draw closer to God by abstaining from all worldly comforts and pleasures.

Knut Martin Heim: This is a commendation of a life lived well, embracing the simple but good things in life (such as food and drink) as gifts from a generous God.

J. Sidlow Baxter: This advice in Ecclesiastes has nothing of Epicureanism or godless, fleshly indulgence in it. It is simply a periphrasis for living in a legitimate comfort and prosperity (see Jer. xxii. 15), due to Jehovah’s bountifulness.

C. J. Mahaney: Sermon on addressing the sin of complaining, murmuring, grumbling – this is an offense against God – Who are we not to be grateful and thankful and content with the gifts that God has provided? Look at how seriously God treated those who sinned in this area – study book of Numbers; look at NT commands – sin of complaining lumped right in there with others – but we treat it so lightly; we have our own expectations; when those are not met, we grumble; what does that say about our view of the Goodness of God and His Providence in our life; how do we feel as parents when our kids grumble and complain.


B.  (:8) Joyful Enjoyment of the Comforts of Life (or Festive Occasions)

Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head.”

Michael Eaton: make life more comfortable in a hot climate.

Tremper Longman: The hot, dry climate of Palestine is the reason for both the white clothes, which reflect rather than absorb the heat, and the oil, which protected against dry skin (Ps. 23:5; 45:7; Prov. 27:9; Isa. 61:3).

Lots of people take very elaborate symbolic interpretations here … white representing clothes of righteousness and oil being a symbol of the Holy Spirit – I don’t think anything very complicated is going on here – sometimes the simple view is the best one – Why wear a cloak of camel’s hair like John the Baptist and limit your diet to locusts and wild honey?

R. Norman Whybray: both were signs of joy and associated with festive occasions.

C.  (:9) Happy Marriage — Refreshing Love and Companionship

Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life

which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in

your toil in which you have labored under the sun.”

Recognition that life is hard and difficult; laborious; not enjoyable; frustrating

Douglas Miller: The life the Teacher has been describing as vapor involves not only brevity but also things that are insubstantial and foul. In contrast, note the reference to the human’s vapor-like life in 6:12. There Qohelet uses the word few and the image of a shadow, letting the reader know that vapor indicates transience. By leaving the term unguided in 9:9, the sage allows vapor to symbolize all that he has been describing: this includes transience and also the other elements [Metaphor, Simile, and Symbol, p. 237; Vapor, p. 258].

Enjoy the relationship in terms of the companionship it provides …

Enjoy the physical side of the relationship with all of the pleasures that God has designed into sex . . .

Issue of concern for many singles:

Chuck Swindoll: mentions book by his sister, Luci Swindoll,  Wide My World, Narrow My Bed – what a great look at the single life – the freedoms and opportunities it affords . . .  Contentment and God’s providential provision for you personally must be embraced.

Walter Kaiser: Qoheleth urges acceptance of the grace and joy of life, not pessimism, nihilism, and blind determinism. Believers are to be rebuked for rejecting God’s worldly gifts and refusing to use them in a proper way. Out of a distorted view of worldliness, wherein every pleasure ordained by God for man’s enjoyment is either denied or begrudgingly used, many have developed a super-pious, unhappy, and even miserable existence. This text proclaims liberation to them. Brother and sister: rejoice in God’s good gifts, and ask for His ability rightfully to use them. Accordingly, neither our joy nor our involvement in work is to be short-circuited because of all inability to explain everything in life or the world.

D.  (:10) Hard Work — Diligent Labor and Accomplishment

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no

activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.”

Work is not a curse!

Pleasure and leisure are not intended to be an escape from the responsibilities of activity, planning, knowledge, wisdom … a break, Yes … a change of pace, Yes …

But just like the major league pitcher – most of the time you want to throw that fastball … all of life cannot be a change of pace.

Michael Eaton: life is to be active and energetic

Van Parunak: Regarding Work — This item is extremely important. It is what keeps the whole section from being nihilistic.

1)  Exhortation: work with diligence and energy here.

2)  Motive: this is the only time when you can work. (Implied: God has given you this work to do.) If you don’t work now, you are as good as dead already, since no work is the character of the grave!

Robert Laurin: The Hebrews of ancient times thought Sheol was a pit deep under the earth where the dead abode (cf. Deut 32:22).  It is uniformly depicted as the place to which both righteous and unrighteous went after death, and where there were not punishments or rewards (cf. Eccl 3:19, 20; 6:6).  It was a “land of forgetfulness” (Ps 88:12) and darkness (Job 38:17), where men existed as shadowy replicas of their former selves (cf. Isa 14:9, 10).  Here (Eccl 9:10) is one of the strongest statements in the OT about the nothingness of Sheol.

The sense of eternity and expectation of future judgment are only hinted at in this book

Perspective = “under the sun” – looking at Sheol from that perspective as well

David Hubbard: In the very face of death, expansive joy is not only possible but demanded. Only God’s grace can make it so. A time there is for everything (3:1), and now, whatever and wherever our “now” is, is a time for enjoyment.

Koheleth’s closing reason for these commands is the motivation introduced by “for” in the last lines of verse 10. They reach back to all the things of which death deprives us in verses 4–6 and add some of their own: “no work” cancels the joy of what God has already accepted (v. 7); no “device” (Heb. heshbôn) harks back to Koheleth’s attempts to sum up the wisdom beyond wisdom which makes sense of all of life—the “reason” (see 7:25, 27); no “knowledge” and no “wisdom” mean that the major quest of Koheleth’s life and of ours, as he saw it, remains forever unfinished.