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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 9


Chapter 9

1. But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God. Whether it is love or hate, man does not know; both are before him.
2. It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.
3. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. 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.
4. But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
5. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.
6. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

The hope of the living

I will remind you again that we must think within the sphere that the preacher is presenting. He has a charge and he is faithfully discharging it in writing. We will be in serious trouble, if we form spiritual doctrine around the literal interpretation of some of these earthly observations. Solomon’s purpose is to awaken the reader to the vanity of living for anything that is offered under the sun.

The king speaks transparently from his own experience and he is in a position to do it with authority. Probably no one was ever better equipped to deliver this message. The opening statement is to be taken into consideration, before anything else is added. We give all that we cannot see under the sun into the hand of God, because our human focus is only on the limited understanding of what we see and know. We learned in the last chapter that the calamity into which man falls, is not necessary a sign of God’s hatred for him; nor are his prosperity and health a sign of God’s love. What then is the lesson? We must live the life of faith, trusting God and laying our lives and future totally in His hand (v.1).

The king’s thoughts are never far from a fundamental and significant proof of vanity under the sun. That is that one event happens to all, righteous and wicked, good and evil, clean and unclean, religious and non-religious, saint and sinner, the one who vows and he who does not. Death lies before him and claims everyone (v.2). Although there are traces of hope in this book, they are few and incomplete. We must go to the gospel for hope.

Jesus, God made flesh, offers this powerful word: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn.11:25-26). Pauline theology is built on that hope: “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ (Is.25:8). ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (Ho.13:14). The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Co.15:54-57).  The final proof of victory over death is the resurrected person of Jesus Christ Himself: “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Rev.1:18).

Those who live according to the evidence offered under the sun have every reason to be depressed. Those who hold to earth’s philosophy and have no hope besides, are prone to sin and find satisfaction in an evil way. They are driven to insanity. Even though they pass the test of mental soundness, given according to the norms of psychology or psychiatry, the biblical verdict pronounced upon the sinner is madness. Earthly life is maddening and the happy-go-lucky person is living under a foolish delusion. This is the story of their life and in the end they die (v.3).

“Where there is life, there is hope,” the preacher states and to this day, the adage is proclaimed. We have to understand that throughout Bible times, the dog did not receive the kindness and fame that he has today as man’s best friend. He was a low life in the animal kingdom and the lion, on the other hand, was a noble king among the beasts. Loosely interpreted, Solomon says, that it’s better to be a pauper and be alive, than to be a dead nobleman (v.4).

To what hope is the preacher referring? Is it a hope that clings to earthly life and a higher form of living in the future? Then it is no hope at all. Gospel hope, is not a hope-so hope, but an unfailing and sure hope, an “anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf” (He.6:19, 20). It is true, however, that, while a person has life, he has opportunity to repent of sin and latch on to eternal hope; for once he dies, that hope is gone forever.

In chapter 4, verse 2, Solomon put the state of the dead over the living and here again in verse 5, he states that the living exists under the dread of death. On the other hand, the empty corpse neither dreads nor fears anything. He does not hope or expect a reward and the memory of him will not last very long in the minds of the survivors. Every emotion that was so important to him throughout his life has come to an end. The love that he cherished and the hatred that he fed, everything, for which he envied and longed, has perished forever (v.6).

7. Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
8. Let your garments be always white. Let not oil be lacking on your head.
9. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.
10. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

God-given privileges

Solomon repeats the legitimacy of enjoying temporal pleasures. No one does God a favor by living within the gray walls of a monastery under a vow of silence. That is a religious misconception of God’s personality. The Lord of heaven and earth is the God of music and the creator of the rainbow. Therefore, common sense tells you that He approves of legitimate pleasure. Man does not offend Him by enjoying what He has created. It is rather the opposite; God is offended by the misuse, the perversion, of what He has made. Sin is in the mutinous nature of man and in his twisted value system. God does not begrudge a happy heart or a pleasant, delightful meal (v.7). Cleanliness and moderate, proper, personal grooming is not sinful (v.8).

Enjoy life with a life-long partner, counsels the man, whose ruin came from disobeying this order, which was given by God from the time of man’s creation. He knew the awful consequences of abandoning His creator in an immoral and idolatrous lifestyle. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (He.13:4). Marriage was designed to be a blessing throughout life and up until the time that death separated the couple. It is a comfort and relief from the curse of laboring in order to exist on this planet (v.9).

Blessed is the man who enjoys his profession, who goes happily to work in the morning, instead of virtual slavery to make ends meet. The preacher is pointing to areas of respite that God has given for the general enjoyment of all of mankind. Since the fall of man, all of creation is under a curse, and yet, in the goodness of the Creator, He lightens the burden. Yet, bear in mind that these enjoyments end in the future existence, when the body and the soul are separated (v.10).

11. Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.
12. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.
13. I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me.
14. There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siegeworks against it.
15. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man.
16. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.
17. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.
18. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

The poor wise man

There are no guarantees in this unsure world that the fastest person will always win the sprint, that the strongest person will always win the fight, or that the people with the highest mental capacities will be able to achieve their goals. We learned in chapter 3 that there were times, in which certain actions were appropriate and other times, when exactly the opposite was needed. The changing of times can bring unseen and unexpected obstacles, which will prevent the expected success. We hear statements like, “It just wasn’t his day” or “on another day, he would have come out on top”. It would be difficult to give a better explanation for this kind of phenomena, so like Solomon, we will charge it to time.

Also to be taken into account is what natural man would call “bad luck”, but Solomon names it chance (v.11). Chance might include accidents, bad weather, unexpected illness, or some kind of natural upheaval, which turned the expected victory into defeat. As fish go about following their instincts, they don’t take the net into account, nor do the birds reckon with a snare. Mankind, says the preacher, are no better and calamity strikes them suddenly (v.12). Therefore the God-fearing person will not trust in his natural abilities, but will look to the Lord in prayer for His will and favor in all his activities.

Solomon observed an incident, which he considered of great significance. Apparently it was a true story, which serves as an example to the lesson that he is teaching (v.13). He tells of a town with a small population, which was attacked by a powerful king, using the best war equipment of the day. In the town lived a poor man, who was very wise, and through his wisdom, he found a way to deliver his town from the stronger enemy. Already, we see the principle in the earlier verses come into play in two ways. Unexpectedly the stronger army did not achieve its purpose and the wisdom of the citizen did not make him rich (v.14, 15).

The poor man is not given credit or recognition for his great, cunning plan that saved the town, nor did he gain favor with the townspeople. He continued to be poor and despised and he has not gotten anyone’s attention.  The story gives a third lesson, and that is that wisdom prevails against military strength (v.16 and 18)… the wisdom of one poor man versus a strong army. Verse 17 is also related to the story, emphasizing a fourth lesson, which taught that the quiet words of the poor man, which apparently were not heard by the general population, were stronger than the loud commands of the attacking king (v.18). That teaches a very simple lesson that people still do not practice: It’s not the one who shouts the loudest, who has the strongest argument.    

As the preacher declared from the beginning of the chapter, behind all these lessons is the hand of God. He is the one who sets the times and seasons. He is the one who brings “coincidences” into play that change the outcome of events. The providence of God brings success or failure, regardless of the speed, physical or mental strength of the participants.

One more spiritual lesson is added to all the former ones: “One sinner destroys much good.” When we consider the plight of the human race due to the sin of Adam, we could deem that final sentence a huge understatement. What destruction it brought upon God’s creation! What condemnation fell upon Adam’s race! It is also the cause behind the theme of this book: Life under the sun is vanity, rather than joy and purpose that the Lord willed, because of one sinner! (v.18).       


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