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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 6


Chapter 6

Wealth without joy and other lessons

1. There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind:
2. a man to who God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.
3. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
4. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered.
5. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he.
6. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good… do not all go to the one place?
7. All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.
8. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?
9. Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
10. Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he.
11. The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man?
12. For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?

Adding to the vanity of life under the sun are many evil complications and cruel tragedies. They weigh heavily upon their victims, until they break under the load. Here is a different case from the one that Solomon portrayed at the end of the last chapter. In that one, God had given wealth, possessions and the ability to enjoy them. This rich person´s fortune has been interrupted by some kind of malady, before he can reap the benefits of all that he has gained. Perhaps it was due to a bad business venture, such as was described in chapter 5:14. Perhaps it was a swindle or a theft, or the invasion of an enemy. It may have been a spiritual breakdown, in which all the enjoyment in life is stripped away and only the fiendish enemy of his soul rejoices in his wicked success (v.1-2).

Even if the man of means does not lose his wealth, and his household is full of offspring (one of the chief blessings in Solomon’s time), other calamities can strip him of satisfaction. If, in addition, he has been endowed with long life, both of these advantages are annulled by an inability to rejoice in them. The preacher is surely presenting a spiritual infirmity, clearly speaking of the condition of the soul. The physical and material part of man is overruled by his spiritual state. Solomon’s conclusion is that a stillborn child, who has never experienced either good or bad, has a better fate (v.3).

The aborted child is born in vain… without purpose… and never sees the light of day. He is quickly forgotten, but resting in death, he has an advantage over the troubled soul. There is no torture like that of spiritual depression (v.4-5). Putting this comparison aside, even if it were possible to live 2,000 years, eventually he will experience the same end as the stillborn. If in all that time, he has found no true satisfaction, there is no reason at all for his long existence. If the king seeks to impress us with one truth, it is that the inner man must find satisfaction, or all is in vain (v.6).

The argument that favors vanity under the sun is built largely upon the premise that nothing in life has any lasting value. From the first verses of the first chapter, the preacher provided a list of cycles that begin and end at the same point and accomplish nothing. The basic reason for a working man’s efforts is to put food on his table and yet, in a matter of hours after the most sumptuous feast, he becomes hungry once again. He drinks deeply and soon is thirsty; he finishes his chores, with the full knowledge that he will only have to repeat them the next day. According to Solomon, this is the definition of vanity (v.7).

From the vanity of physical labor, he returns to mental adeptness and learning. Is there any real difference between the wise and the fools? Taking wealth into account: What advantage is there in being rich? In fact, the poor man, who knows how to behave, is given the nod over the rich man (v.8).

The next consideration is the advantage of using what is at hand, over an attempt to reach for dreams. This would contradict the mentality of the 21st Century, but it is still true. Time and effort is wasted by reaching for the stars, rather than reaching for that which is available and making the most of it. Chasing dreams, says the preacher, is chasing the wind and is vain and purposeless (v.9).

The king makes the point that all is vanity under the sun, because nothing is really new. He has made the point before, but repetition is a great instructor. All of these lessons were written primarily for youth, but this one, in particular, is for the naive. Young people are full of desire to experience life, to learn knowledge, and to resolve the problems of the world. A sobering truth lies before them… all that they seek has been tried, experienced and learned before. The basic foundation stones of earthly existence never change. Progress is only achieved on the surface, but the root problems remain. History and basic principle are strong teachers and it is useless to debate against them (v.10).

The skillful debater is not on the side of right, just because he can win an argument. This is another lesson that we learn with difficulty. He may publicly shame his opponent, only to discover that his premise is false. Words are cheap… no, the preacher says that they are vain and there is no advantage to be gained by them (v.11).

Life is short and we continually need to be reminded of that fact. Think about this before you endanger your soul. Consider this before you take the easy way out of a situation. Let this truth be your guide before you compromise in order to settle for comfort and satisfaction in this life. Think about this, before you follow your doubtful opinion. What may be the consequences, if your opinion is wrong? The analogy that we have in verse 12 is that of a passing shadow. Life goes by, as quickly as a cloud passes over, and puts us temporarily under its shadow. Eternity lies on both sides of the shadow and there is where we need to fix our attention.

James asked, “What is your life?” Then he answered, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (Jm.4:14). Solomon seldom veers from his subject, because he has been inspired to bear a message for all of mankind and he needs to be faithful to his task. For this reason, we find few answers to the dilemma of life in his book and we must look to other sources. However, we cannot look for answers until we know and understand the problem. This preacher puts the problem clearly before us.

These are valuable lessons and they are indisputable. Few people are willing to face them and consequently few people are in hot pursuit of salvation. Because these hard truths are rejected, young people turn to the world’s deception and waste valuable years preparing for life under the sun; but this is the realm of vanity. How Bible pastors, teachers, and church leaders of all kinds, need to follow the message of the preacher! Ecclesiastes will drive the sincere seeker of truth to the cross of Christ. Life under the sun ends in a cemetery, but the cross stands on the border of eternity and is the doorway into the everlasting Kingdom of God.


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