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Ecclesiastes 9. As the Bible Says:

Chapter Contents

Good men and bad men do the same in this world. (1-3) All men must die, their share in this life. (4-10) Common disappointments. (11,12) Benefits of wisdom. (13-18)

If Ecclesiastes only said that it is worthwhile to be good in the long run, and then he got a little bit carried away, he is now completely crazy. The righteous and the wicked face the same fate: they both die. There is no afterlife. The dead know nothing and no one remembers anything about them.

Eat, Drink, Be Happy

Once again, Ecclesiastes urges people to enjoy eating and drinking and to have fun. He says that God has already approved everything you are going to do. So, honey, that’s a total blank check, straight from God. (However, you’re still supposed to be good.)

Feel free to buy fine clothes (“white clothes” are the preference of Ecclesiastes), comb your hair with oil and look for someone to love. Repeat, once again, your point about finding some kind of work to do.

Not Just Deserts For You

This next passage is one of the most famous, not only in Ecclesiastes, but in the entire Bible (particularly in the King James translation). He says that he realized that people who should be successful, are not always successful. The best people do not always receive the best rewards, whether they are wise, intelligent, or talented. “Time and chance happen to everyone” (9:11): only deserts are a myth.

Not only do the rewards not reach the people who deserve them, but death falls suddenly and cruelly on everyone, probably without warning. The chapter ends with a story about a small city besieged by a king’s army. A poor but wise man in the city was able to save it from destruction. But no one remembered him or who he was… But wisdom is “better than strength”. (However, no one will remember him forever.)

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9: 1-3

We should not think that our search for the word or deeds of God is useless, because we cannot explain all the difficulties. We can learn many things that are good for us and useful for others. But man cannot always decide who are the objects of God’s special love, or under his wrath; and God will certainly put a difference between the precious and the vile, in the other world. 

The difference as to present happiness arises from the inner supports and consolations enjoyed by the righteous, and the benefit they derive from various trials and mercies. As far as the children of men are concerned, their hearts are full of evil; and prosperity in sin, causes them even to defy God by defying evil. Although, on this side, death, the righteous, and the wicked may often seem the same, on the other side there will be a great difference between them.

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9: 4-10

The state of the most despicable living man is preferable to that of the noblest who have died impenitent. Solomon exhorts the wise and pious to joyful trust in God, whatever their condition in life. The most evil morsel, coming from his Father’s love, in answer to prayer, will have a particular taste. It is not that we can put our hearts into the delights of the senses, but that what God has given us we can use with wisdom. 

The joy described here is the joy of the heart that springs from a sense of divine favor. This is the world of service, the future is the world of reward. Everyone at their stations can find some work to do. And, above all, sinners must seek the salvation of their souls, believers must demonstrate their faith, adorn the gospel, glorify God, and serve their generation.

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9: 11,12

Men’s success rarely matches their expectations. We must use means, but not trust them: if we succeed, we must praise God; if he crosses over, we must submit to his will. Those who put off the great concerns of their souls are caught in Satan’s web, which he baits with some worldly object, by which they reject or neglect the gospel, and continue in sin until they suddenly fall into destruction.

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