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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

Dunagan's Commentary on the BibleDunagan's Commentary

Verse 1

9:1 "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. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him."

"For I have taken all this" -Both to what has been said and to what is coming.

"to my heart and explain it" -"I gave my heart that I might clear up all this" (Sprl); "All this I kept in mind and recognized" (NAB); to explore, search out. "The fact that man does not know what the (earthly) future holds is of grave importance to Solomon, and he gives himself completely to explain it" (Kidwell p. 225).

"their deeds are in the hand of God" -their works, achievements and activities. The "hand of God" means the power and providential working of God (Job 2:10; Acts 17:28). Solomon's point seems to be that while man has freewill, as previous noted, righteous and wise men in this life are not always rewarded according to their deeds. Even the righteous or wise men doesn't know if good or harm awaits him in this life. This verse also infers, "No one by even righteous deeds can gain control over God and coerce blessing from him….One must acknowledge that all is in God's hands" (Garrett p. 330).

"whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him" -The only certainty concerning our earthly future, is that anything could await us. The love and hatred in this verse could be human/earthly love and hated or Divine love and hatred. This is even true of the righteous man. We must not, like the friends of Job, assume that a man is a great sinner because calamity falls upon him (Job 4:7-8). Nor, should we ever assume that a person is right with God, because they are being blessed by outward prosperity (Luke 12:15-21; 16:19-20).

Points To Note:

1 Some have viewed the love and hatred in this verse as being Divine love or hatred. According to Psalms 19:1-2 and Romans 1:20, man can see from simply beholding the creation that a powerful Creator exists. But without the Scriptures, even the moral or wise man cannot tell if God is angry or pleased with their life. "From the manner in which things happen in this life a man cannot tell whether God's attitude toward him is one of love or hatred" (Leupold p. 207). Kidner notes, "We have only to use our eyes without prejudice, according to Psalm 19 and Romans 1:19ff., to see that there is a powerful and glorious Creator. But it takes more than observation to discover how He is disposed towards us. Whether we take the words love or hate here to be a biblical way of saying 'acceptance or rejection', or to have their simple, primary sense, we shall have, either way, only an uncertain answer about the Creator's character from the world we live in, with its mixture of delight and terror, beauty and replusiveness" (p. 80). 2. We need to realize, that without the Scriptures, we don't even know if God wants us saved! Listen to the following:

"Who can tell us whether this awful and mysterious silence, in which the Infinite One has wrapped himself, portends mercy or wrath? Who can say to the troubled conscience, whether He, whose laws in nature are inflexible and remorseless, will pardon sin? Who can answer the anxious inquiry whether the dying live on or whether they cease to be? Is there a future state? And if so, what is the nature of that untried condition of being? If there be immortal happiness how can I attain it? If there be an everlasting woe, how can it be escaped? Let the reader close his Bible and ask himself seriously what he knows about these momentous questions apart from its teachings….He knows nothing, he can know nothing about it, except by direct revelation from heaven"

Verse 2

9:2 "It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean, and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear".

"It is the same for all. There is one fate for…." -The one fate that comes to all, regardless of their conduct or character is death (2:14; 3:19; 9:3). In addition, in the context good and harm also come to all men. All people of every kind meet with circumstances of every sort. Speaking generally, there is no discrimination, in the distribution of evil and good. Sun and shade, calm and storm, fruit and unfruitful seasons, joy and sorrow-come to all classes alike. "No one escapes. Both good and bad experience the same variations, and that no man knows what the future holds and all men are caught up in the interplay of life's struggles" (Kidwell p. 226).

Point To Note:

Here is the vanity and futility of the person who is trying to avoid difficulty and hardship at all cost. Even people who are willing to morally compromise, sacrifice their integrity, and sacrifice other people for their own comfort-will suffer in this life! No lifestyle is void of suffering and hardship. Being a Christian might not always be easy, but neither it is really any easier to live the life of the non-Christian.

Verse 3

9:3 "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. Afterwards they go to the dead."

"This is an evil" -This certainly looks bad to those under the sun, especially it looks unfair to the righteous, who often suffer as much or at times more in this life than the selfish and evil man. In addition, this moral outrage against the injustices of life, also reveals something about the nature of man. Our moral nature is another indication that we were created in the image of God.

"the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil" -Their hearts are not full of evil from birth or conception (1 Cor. 14:20; Matthew 18:3). Rather, in light of the fact that this physical life doesn't always reward or punish people on the basis of their behavior, many people become bold and confident in sinning when it appears that God doesn't punish the wicked. How many people at times will say, "They got away with it!" How many sinners are only emboldened to sin more when it appears that selfishness is rewarded and that righteousness often complicates life? (Psalm 73; Romans 2:1-5). Instead of reckoning with the meaning and reality of death, most people fill their lives with the distractions of a thousand passions and squander what little time they have.

"and insanity is in their hearts" -In the context, it looks like the insanity under consideration is the foolishness of living as if one isn't going to die. Most people, are very irrational when it comes reality. Instead of using their time to repent and serve God, they squander it on meaningless and temporary projects, or even worse, they sin all the more. In view of our temporary nature, in view of the fact that we are going to die, to remain in sin is an act of insanity! It is pure foolishness to think that God won't punish you for sins which you haven't forsaken. Jesus called the man who was unprepared to meet God in judgment, a "fool" (Luke 12:20).

"Afterwards they go to the dead" -"Having lived a life that is blinded by delusion, man has only one tragic outcome to report, and that is: 'After that-to the dead!'" (Leupold p. 210). After they sin up a storm, claim that they will live forever, argue that God doesn't exist or that a merciful God won't punish anyone, after all of that-they die.

The Finality Of Death

The emphasis in this section is simply on the fact that life affords opportunities which the dead cannot experience. Death terminates all activity under the sun. "People may not live as if they are going to die, but they are going to die just the same. The only person who still has hope (the hope to change) is the person who is alive" (Posey p. 58).

Verse 4

9:4 "For whoever is joined with the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion."

"whoever is joined with the living" -i.e. anyone still alive

"there is hope" -If there is no God, then the living doesn't have any hope! The word hope here infers an afterlife that is determined by the type of life that one lives in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10; Ecc. 12:14). As long as there is life, man can change his eternal destiny, but once death happens his or her fate is fixed forever (Luke 16:19-31; Hebrews 9:28).

"a live dog is better than a dead lion" -The dogs in Palestine weren't pets, rather they were wild, roamed in packs, lived off the garbage and the bodies of dead animals and humans, and were viewed as miserable creatures. On the other hand, the lion is a symbol of majestic power and royalty. In the animal kingdom, the contrast here is between the king of beasts and the bottom of the barrel. The meaning is, the most lowly person who still possess life is better off than the most exalted man who had already gone to the grave (and wasn't prepared to meet God). Better poor, alive and with time to change than rich, dead and lost.

Verse 5

9:5 "For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten."

"know they will die" -and hence can make preparations so they die in a right relationship with God.

Point To Note:

We foolishly tend to envy the wrong people. If you are alive then you have something more valuable than the wealthiest people in past generations. In fact, you have something that if they could they would trade everything they owned and accomplished for one thing that you have, i.e. time, the time to change, the time to repent.

"but the dead do not know anything" -Jehovah Witnesses and others argue that this verse is teaching that the dead cease to exist or are unconscious. But such an interpretation seriously backfires. If the knowledge in this verse applies to knowledge in the afterlife, then so does the "reward " in the next statement! To argue that the dead are unconscious or cease to exist, is to argue that none of the dead (including the righteous) will be rewarded! Obviously, Solomon is talking about "knowledge" and "rewards" in this life (9:6). The memory of the dead is not forgotten by God, but their memory is forgotten in this life (9:5).

Point To Note:

The point being made is that death completely cuts a person off from this life. Even though the dead "remember" events in this life (Luke 16:28), this verse seems to suggest that while they remember the past or the life they lived, they are completely unaware of what is happening in the present or since they died.

"nor have they any longer a reward" -that is, earthly rewards. The end of all earthly wages and benefits.

"for their memory is forgotten" -Not by God, but by their fellow man. Compare with 2:16. "Because all memory of them is lost" (NAB). So much for pinning all our hopes on posterity, memorials, or some foundation that will bear our name.

Verse 6

9:6 "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."

"love, hate, zeal" -"They no longer share in the knowledge, love, hatred, or events upon the earth" (Kidwell p. 228). Their ability to manifest love, hatred or zeal towards others in this life is completely gone. This is one more verse that suggests that the dead stay dead and the dead cannot in any way contact, help, assist or hinder the living. One of the good things about death, is that death does check the sinner. Death does put an end to the suffering that some people seem determine to inflict upon others.

"no longer have a share in" -Death completely cuts you off from this life. This verse agrees with the truths found in Luke 16:19-31. It also seriously contradicts the idea of ghosts, both good and bad. Or, the ability for the dead to contact us or for us to contact them. "they have no part in anything here on earth any more" (Tay).

Verse 7

9:7 "Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works."

"eat your bread in happiness" -Far from being depressed or discouraged by the previous facts, Solomon exhorts the living to make the most of the wholesome pleasures of this life. "Go then"-Go to it then. "It is a summons to be up and doing and is directed against the tendency to brood and to ponder over problems" (Leupold p. 213).

"wine" -doesn't mean go out and get drunk. Even denominational sources, such as the Theological Workbook Of The Old Testament, notes: "All the wine was light wine, i.e. not fortified with extra alcohol. Concentrated alcohol was only known in the Middle Ages when the Arabs invented distillation ('alcohol' is an Arabic word), so what is now called liquor or strong drink and the twenty per cent fortified wines were unknown in Bible times….To avoid drunkenness, mingling wine with water was practiced" (p. 376). In addition, many writers note that the Hebrew word translated "wine" (yayin), simply can refer to all stages of the juice of the grape. It can describe simple grape juice, or a thickened syrup, etc…It is a generic term, which depending on the context can mean either fermented or unfermented drink. In this verse it appears that wine simply means "drink", for obviously, "bread" applies to all things that a person might eat.

"with a cheerful heart" -Compare with 2:24; 3:12-13,22; 5:18; 8:15 and 1 Timothy 4:3-4 "which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth".

Point To Note:

Note that the righteous man has been delivered from so many of the worries which plague other people. How many people are so worried about their health, so determined to live long, that they can't enjoy the simple pleasures of today. How many people can't even enjoy a good meal, because they are trying to analyze everything to death? Isn't it ironic that a world bent on ignoring God and doing whatever it wants to do, has forfeited the ability to enjoy the simple and wholesome pleasures of each day? God doesn't want the godly to be eating their meal in terror or dread. Notice how being a Christian helps you to be relaxed!

"for God has already approved your works" -hence the promise of this verse and the following, only applies to the righteous. God is telling the righteous man or woman, "I know that good and harm happen to all, and I know that from outward appearances, there are typically no clear outward signs of Divine approval or disapproval, but rest assured righteous man, long ago God has accepted your course of conduct, so persevere in that course and joyfully use what God has given you.

Verse 8

9:8 "Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head."

Points To Note:

1 But how many professed Christians are consumed by worry and anxiety? How many professed Christians really do not enjoy their faith? How many of us worry about our salvation, fret and dread death or have a very negative view of life? 2. Far from acting like the Amish or some ascetic group, God exhorts the righteous to enjoy their meals, enjoy their prosperity, refresh themselves with oil and wear white garments, which in Palestine would symbolize purity, festivity, and would reflect rather than absorb the heat. 3. Note, God believes that your personal appearance is reflecting the condition of your heart and mind. If you are nicely dressed, then you are feeling good and confident. Clothing and personal grooming does reflect what is going on inside a man or woman. "The white garments are in contrast to the black robes of mourning, and thus are an expression of festal joy, of a happy mood" (Keil/Del. p. 363). 4. It is really inexcusable for faithful Christians to be cynical or depressed. God has accepted your works! What greater motivation could you have for enjoying life? 5. This leads me to conclude that depression, lack of motivation for the Christian is either a physical problem (something is physically wrong in your body) or it is due to the fact that you have a spiritual problem. In the East, one of the comforts of life was perfumed oil, which made the skin sweet-smelling and soft. Carefully note, being happy isn't a sin!

Verse 9

9:9 "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."

"Enjoy life with the woman whom you love" -Clearly this woman is your wife, for such love lasts a lifetime, "you love all the days of your fleeting life". Note, the Hebrew word translated here "woman" can equally be translated "wife" (ASV). While Solomon had many wives (1 Kings 11:1-3), here and other places he uses the singular, "wife" (Proverbs 5:18; 18:22; 19:14). As if God is informing the reader that all the enjoyment that a man could ever want, can be found in having simply one wife. Solomon really didn't find any greater or lasting happiness in having many wives compared to the man who had one. Also note, ancient men and women did fall in love! And it is possible for a man and a woman to remain in love!

"all the days of your fleeting life" -Note that God exhorts such enjoyment throughout all the days of your marriage. God doesn't feel that love has to die with time. Once again we are reminded that our life is fleeting and it will pass by oh so quickly. "throughout the time of thy quickly passing life…in order to emphasize the transitoriness of the present and the consequent wisdom of enjoying it while it lasts" (P.P. Comm. p. 227).

"which He has given to you" -We tend to forget that life itself is a gift from God (12:7). All of us live and continue to live because God permits our continued physical existence.

"for this is your reward in life" -Far from believing that marriage is a burden, God looks at marriage as a reward, a temporary shelter from the frustrations of life. Hence, what a waste to be miserable in your marriage! Marriage is a relationship that countless individuals squander. Marriage is a relationship that you will only have the opportunity to enjoy in this earthly existence (Matthew 22:30). What a shame to misuse such an opportunity. Your mate is intended to make this toilsome life more bearable, to offset the troubles of life, hence make the most of your marriage! Marital problems start happening when people no longer appreciate what God has given them, when they no longer realize the brevity of life, or the few years that they will actually have with their mate.

Verse 10

9:10 "Whatever your hands finds to do, verily, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going."

"Whatever….do it with all your might" -i.e. what you can accomplish, do! In the above verses, God isn't advocating a drifting along, do nothing, addicted to pleasure attitude in life. There is work to be done, talents to use. "And at this time the brevity of life has become a spur, as it did our Lord when He spoke of the onset of night, 'When no one can work' (John 9:4)" (Kidner p. 84). "Throw yourself into" (Mof).

Point To Note:

Eternal life is great, but that doesn't mean that this earthly life doesn't matter. God isn't impressed by the religious person who attempts to justify their present laziness by saying, "I'm supposed to lay up treasures in heaven, not upon the earth", or, "I don't need to plan for my physical future, because I just know that God will take care of me." God expects us to make the most of each day, to make the most of the physical blessings that we receive and to make the most of our marriages, families, human relationships and employment. Clearly, righteous people should be seen as people who love the Lord and love life, who have a zest for God and a zest for living. There should be no such thing as a boring, lazy, apathetic, or unmotivated Christian. God wants us to do everything with zeal and enthusiasm.

"for" -the reason for such a wise use of our earthly life.

"no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol" -You cannot accomplish anything in this world once you are dead. So, if you are going to do something, do it now! You cannot redeem lost opportunities once you are in the grave! "Planning" applies to the human devising of new things and projects. Practice and theory both come to an end at death. Note: The passage isn't teaching that the dead cease to exist or are unconscious, rather that earthly planning, all earthly activity, and every opportunity to use their wisdom to do something in this life-has ended! (Galatians 6:10; 2 Cor. 12:15; Ephesians 5:16). Death will stop all our earthly plans, goals and projects. So, if we are going to accomplish something, then we need to get started now.

Verse 11

9:11 "I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise, nor wealth to the discerning, nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all."

Solomon observed that the swiftest person does not always win the race. "The idea here is not that the swift loses the race to the slower runner because he is diverted from his goal by some lesser attraction or activity. Neither does it mean that the fast runner is over confident in his ability, or does not try hard enough-like the Tortoise and the Hare. The incident that causes him to lose the race is not of his own doing" (Kidwell p. 234).

The idea is that man can't prepare for everything. "Though a man is well equipped for his work and uses all possible exertions, he may incur failure!" (P.P. Comm. p. 228). In the same vein, the best-prepared army doesn't always win (David and Goliath-1 Samuel 17:47), and wise men aren't always rich. In fact, look what teachers, scientists, etc….make compared to professional athletes and movie stars. In addition, skillful men, men of great ability are often neither rich nor famous. "Reputation and influence do not necessarily accompany the possession of knowledge and learning" (P.P. Comm. p. 229).

"time and chance" -The word "chance" here doesn't mean something gambled, or that one has fallen down on his luck. Rather it means an incident, such as a calamity, disappointment, setback, an unforeseen occurrence. "Not all-powerful fate, but rather God may let things transpire that overthrow those who have apparently had all resources and gifts at their disposal. He may let something meet them and cross their path, events that interrupt their prosperous course" (Leupold p. 220). These are things that man, even with the best human wisdom, cannot foresee or anticipate.

"overtake them all" -to befall, meet, happen to all. Bad or inconvenient things happening isn't a matter of bad luck, in fact there is no such thing as luck. Rather, such things happen to everyone. Hard work isn't always rewarded in this life, and life can be unfair. Even if we do everything right to order to be successful, no man can guarantee success or victory.

"Time and chance are paired, no doubt because they both have a way of taking matters suddenly out of our hands…for providence operates in secret, and to man's view life is largely made up of steps into the unknown and events out of the blue, any of which may change our whole pattern of existence at a moment….All this counterbalances the impression we get from maxims about hard work, that success is ours to command" (Kidner p. 84).

This also should humble all of us. For without God's providential help, we would probably have much less than we presently have. Time and chance can completely destroy the best ideas, the best laid plans, or something that would have been a million dollar idea in another time and place. The verse stresses Divine Providence and puts at naught all human resources that men conceive of as though they were a guarantee of success in human enterprises.

Verse 12

9:12 "Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net, and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them."

"man does not know his time" -either the hour of his death, some misfortune (time and chance) or both. Man is never sure of what will really happen tomorrow (James 4:13-15; Luke 12:20).

"like fish caught…and birds trapped" -When it comes right down to it, often people are as helpless against the uncertainties of life as fish are against fishermen. "The suddenness with which men are frequently overtaken with the catastrophe which puts an end to their life, is seen by comparison with the fishes which are suddenly caught" (Keil/Del. p. 366).

"at an evil time" -a time of calamity or misfortune. Time and chance not only happen to all, but often they happen suddenly and catch us completely off guard. "The emphasis in the verse is on the suddenness of calamity. People remain unaware until the last moment that the end is upon them, and this colors their enjoyment of the present" (Longman p. 233). Hence, the folly of trying to time one's repentance until the last possible moment.

Verse 13

9:13 "Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me."

Solomon notes that he has an example of human wisdom that made a large impact on him. The following account demonstrates the temporary value of even the best human wisdom, and that often in life under the sun, such wisdom is either not appreciated or rewarded in the end. This had made a big impression on Solomon.

Verse 14

9:14 "There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it, and constructed large siege-works against it."

Verse 15

9:15 "But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man."

We have a little city here, one without large military forces or large defenses. In this city, only a few men were found who could bear arms and fight. It only had a minimum of men who could defend it. The siege-works included embankments or earthen mounds constructed around the city, which served as a military blockade, cutting off any supplies from reaching the city.

Points To Note:

1 Note, that the wise man is still "poor" even after he delivered the city! Not only was he quickly forgotten, but he was never rewarded. This poor wise man fell back into his insignificance. 2. "We can identify at once with the people in the little city under siege, and feel their relief when the amateur strategist-or is he a diplomat?----brings off his masterstroke. If we are honest, we may still see ourselves in the last scene, when they totally forget him…. is not a moral tale to show what people should do: it is a cautionary tale (real life example) to show what they are like…..we should learn not to count on anything as fleeting as public gratitude" (Kidner p. 85).

Verse 16

9:16 "So I said, 'Wisdom is better than strength.' But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded."

In the above case, wisdom had everything against it, small defenses, resources, a small army and means. Strength, brute force, seemingly had everything on its side, a great king with a powerful army. Yes, human wisdom has a greater value than force or strength, but in the long run, it has a dark side. In the long run, often human wisdom only reaps ingratitude. "The rulers of the small city were forced to listen to the wisdom of the poor man and they heeded it. Because he was poor and the crisis facing their city was over, they forgot about him (and ceased to listen to his advice)" (Kidwell p. 240).

Many a parent, friend, elder, teacher or preacher has learned that often people cease to listen to your advice once a crisis in their life is over or avoided. It seems at times that wisdom is only heeded when all other alternatives have been removed.

Verse 17

9:17 "The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools."

The teaching of wise men appeal by virtue of their content, not by their volume. The words of any wise individual are far better than the shouts of a leader who is ruling over a foolish people. "His shouting stands for the violent use of authority. Wisdom thus provides better security to a community than military strength" (Garrett p. 334). As I look at the above verse, I can't help but think about how dictators often shout and are able to stir up mobs and the shouting of many modern day protesters. Being loud doesn't mean that you have the truth or really anything to say.

Verse 18

9:18 "Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good."

Points To Note:

1. Every government needs to take seriously the above truth, because so many governments rely upon their military might, instead of also placing emphasis upon wisdom and morality. 2. "We are left with more than a suspicion that in human politics the last word will regularly go to the loud voice of verse 17 or the cold steel of verse 18. Seldom to truth, seldom to merit" (Kidner p. 85). 3. One sinner destroys much good, especially when that sinner is allowed to overturn the words of a wise man, when that one sinner is a foolish king. The Bible is filled with examples where many people suffered because of the sinfulness of one person (Achan, Joshua 7:11-12; Jeroboam's idolatry, 1 Kings 12:26-33; Rehoboam's foolishness, 1 Kings 12:1ff).

Bibliographical Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Dunagan's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dun/ecclesiastes-9.html. 1999-2014.
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