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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ecclesiastes 9:0


Men Are in the Hand of GodDeath Comes to All(Ecclesiastes 8:10-12)A Judgment About LifeThe Wicked and Righteous(Ecclesiastes 8:9-12)Destiny
Ecclesiastes 9:1Ecclesiastes 9:1-6(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:1-2)Ecclesiastes 9:1-6Ecclesiastes 9:1-6Ecclesiastes 9:1-2
Ecclesiastes 9:2-6
(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:3-4) Ecclesiastes 9:3
Ecclesiastes 9:4
(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6)Qoheleth Offers Another of His Own Conclusions Ecclesiastes 9:5-6
Ecclesiastes 9:7-9Ecclesiastes 9:7-8Ecclesiastes 9:7-10Ecclesiastes 9:7-10Ecclesiastes 9:7-12
Whatever Your Hands Find to DoEcclesiastes 9:9-12(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:9-11a)
Ecclesiastes 9:10-12
Ecclesiastes 9:11-12Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)
Wisdom Superior to Folly(Ecclesiastes 9:13-20)Wisdom and MightThoughts on Wisdom and Foolishness(Ecclesiastes 9:13-20)Wisdom and Folly(Ecclesiastes 9:13-6)
Ecclesiastes 9:13-18Ecclesiastes 9:13-18(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:13-16a)Ecclesiastes 9:13-18Ecclesiastes 9:13-18Ecclesiastes 9:13
(vv. Ecclesiastes 9:16-18)
Ecclesiastes 9:14-16
Ecclesiastes 9:17-3

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:1 1For 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.

Ecclesiastes 9:1 Notice the parallelism:

1. righteous men

2. wise men

Wise persons are righteous persons (cf. Proverbs 1:13; Proverbs 9:9; Proverbs 23:24). The righteous and the wicked are contrasted in Ecclesiastes 9:2:

1. the righteous vs. the wicked

2. the good vs. the bad (LXX)

3. the clean vs. the unclean

4. the man who offers a sacrifice vs. the one who does not

5. the man who does not swear vs. the one who takes oaths lightly

The “wicked” and “righteous” both refer to covenant people (not people of the world). This follows the theology of Deuteronomy 31:29 and Judges 2:19.

NASB“explain” NKJV“declare” NRSV“examine” NJB“experienced” LXX“has seen” REB“understood”

This word (BDB 101, KB 116, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) is found only here and means “to make clear” or “explain” (from the Arabic root, “to examine”). There is some question about the text at this point and some scholars

1. assume that the VERB is a misprint for “seek out” (BDB 1064, KB 1707), found at Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 7:25, where the initial t and b are confused

2. believe that the INFINITIVE comes from brr (BDB 140, KB 162), meaning “to be clear” or “to select.” It is used in Ecclesiastes 3:18 in the sense of “test” or “purify” (cf. Psalms 18:26)

3. divide the Hebrew consonants differently (cf. LXX, “seen”)

“deeds” This is the only place in the OT where this word (BDB 714), which normally is used of “service to God,” is used as a NOUN.

“their deeds are in the hand of God” This is the continuing theme of God's sovereignty (“hand” equals “power,” cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Job 19:21; Job 27:11; Psalms 10:12; Psalms 17:7) and humanity's ignorance of the cause or reason of present events and future events! Fallen humans do not control their!

Scripture assures believers that their lives are in the hand (i.e., control) of God (e.g., Deuteronomy 33:3; Job 12:10; Psalms 119:109; Matthew 6:25-34). However, experience teaches that bad things happen to good people. Life is uncertain at best, yet God is sure and faithful. Faith sees through life's uncertainties and beholds God!

Life is uncertain and undependable, but God is certain and dependable!

“Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred, anything awaits him” Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable (contra idolatry, cf. Deuteronomy 18:0), even for those who serve God (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:2, Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 8:7; Ecclesiastes 10:14).

Since there is not a textual marker as to whom these refer, it is possible to make them refer to

1. the wise men (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:6)

2. God

a. human actions are in God's hand

b. God's reaction to human deeds

Verses 2-6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:2-6 2It 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. 3This 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. 4For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. 5For 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. 6Indeed 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.

Ecclesiastes 9:2 “It is the same for all” The same events (i.e., death) occur in the life of the wicked and the righteous (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:3, Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 2:14-15; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). If the promises of God are sure, how can this be true? This is the mystery of this fallen age (i.e., the uncertainty of life, but the certainty of death [cf. Romans 5:12, Romans 5:17, Romans 5:18-19])! True life is more than a physical, earthly experience!

Ecclesiastes 9:3 “in all that is done under the sun” This is a major interpretive theme (see note at Ecclesiastes 1:3). It is used six times in this chapter.

“one fate for all men” This is a reaction to the traditional OT theology that asserts that if you love and obey God, He will prosper you physically and spiritually (i.e., Deuteronomy 27-29). It is often called “the two ways” (cf. Psalms 1:0). The book of Job and Psalms 73:0 also react against the imbalance of this statement when compared to experience (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20).

“the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil” This is the result of the Fall of mankind recorded in Genesis 3:0, illustrated in Genesis 4:0, and stated in Genesis 6:5, Genesis 6:11-12, Genesis 6:13; Genesis 8:21; Psalms 14:3; Psalms 58:3.

NASB“insanity” NKJV, NRSV, TEV“madness” NJB“folly”

This word (BDB 239) is used only in Ecclesiastes (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 7:25; Ecclesiastes 9:3; and a related form in Ecclesiastes 10:13). It seems to be related to the word for “praise” (possibly similar to Saul's experience in 1 Samuel 10:6, 1 Samuel 10:10-11 or David's in 1 Samuel 21:14 (BDB 237 II).

In Ecclesiastes 1:17 and Ecclesiastes 2:12 the meaning is parallel to a search for wisdom and does not have a negative connotation. However, in Ecclesiastes 9:5 and 9:3 it is parallel with “evil” and is obviously negative. The first pair describes the author's search for meaning and a lasting advantage, but the last pair describes fallen humanity (cf. Genesis 6:5, Genesis 6:11-12, Genesis 6:13; Genesis 8:21; Romans 3:9-18). The real question is “Does Qoheleth's thought focus on Genesis 3:0 (i.e., sin, cf. Romans) or on covenant obedience (i.e., Deuteronomy, cf. covenant disciple)?

Ecclesiastes 9:4 Life is better than death because there still remains the chance to know God (i.e., “there is hope,” BDB 105, lit. “trust,” cf. 2 Kings 18:19). It is difficult to know when Qoheleth is using sarcasm versus tongue-in-cheek wisdom sayings. At points he seems to contradict himself. At these points several exact opposite interpretations are possible! Is he (1) totally pessimistic (i.e., “there is no hope); (2) pessimistic with glimpses of hope here and there (i.e., there is hope possible); or (3) always speaking sarcastically about the fallen world (i.e., there is always hope with God)?

It seems best to me to choose #2. This interpretive stance allows for “under the sun” (see notes at Ecclesiastes 1:3) sarcasm, but also allows hope texts (i.e., Eccl. 8:2-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9).

The MT has the VERB “chosen” (BDB 103, Pual IMPERFECT), but the rabbis recognized this should read “joined” (BDB 288), which reverses the first two consonants.

“dog” This represents street scavengers (BDB 476).

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 The “under the sun” logic (sarcasm) of Qoheleth drives him to search for a lasting advantage. If there is no God, there is no lasting advantage:

1. the living struggle with the fear of death (“know,” BDB 393, KB 562, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE)

2. the living seek happiness (“reward,” BDB 969 I)

3. the living seek memorials (“no memory,” BDB 271), but in the end the life experience of all humans is the samedeath (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:2, Ecclesiastes 9:3, Ecclesiastes 9:6, Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 3:20)! There is no lasting advantage! No share (i.e., reward, cf. Ecclesiastes 9:6 [BDB 324]) in life!

He comes to this conclusion based on life observances. This is an unfair, unjust, and surprisingly evil world. Often the promises of God seem not to be fulfilled in this life! The wicked prosper and have longevity! What can a person do? The book as a whole gives two answers:

1. enjoy life when and where you can (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9)

2. trust God and keep the commandments (even if the lasting advantage is not apparent, cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

Ecclesiastes 9:6 This verse describes the fleeting, transitory life of humans. The term “share” (BDB 324) is translated (1) “reward” in Ecclesiastes 2:10; Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 5:19; Ecclesiastes 9:9; (2) “lot” in Ecclesiastes 3:22; and (3) “portion” in Ecclesiastes 11:2. It is the term used for God's allotment of land to the tribes in Deuteronomy and Joshua.

Verses 7-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 7Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. 8Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. 9Enjoy 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.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 This is Qoheleth's answer to the futility and uncertainty of human existence! Notice all the commands:

1. “go,” Ecclesiastes 9:7, BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE

2. “eat,” Ecclesiastes 9:7, BDB 37, KB 46, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15

3. “drink,” Ecclesiastes 9:7, BDB 1059, KB 1667, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15; see Special Topic: Biblical Attitudes Toward Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse

4. “let your clothes be white all the time,” Ecclesiastes 9:8, BDB 224, KB 243, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

5. “let not oil be lacking on your head,” Ecclesiastes 9:8, BDB 341, KB 338, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

6. “enjoy life with the woman. . .,” Ecclesiastes 9:9, BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERATIVE, lit. “see”

7. “do it with all your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10, BDB 793, KB 889, Qal imperative, cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15

Ecclesiastes 9:7

NASB, NJB“for God has already approved your works” NKJV“for God has already accepted your works” NRSV“for God has long ago approved what you do” TEV“It's all right with God” JPSOA“for your action was long ago approved by God”

This cannot refer to sin and rebellion, so it must refer to God's activity within this fallen world (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:19; Ecclesiastes 8:15)! Life is hard, but we are not alone! God has gifted those who trust Him. In this context it refers to “eating” and “drinking,” which could refer to a daily activity or a religious or social festival (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:8; Ecclesiastes 8:15).

Ecclesiastes 9:8 “Let your clothes be white” We cannot control circumstances, but we can control our reaction to them. Those who trust God have a positive mind set, which is not affected by circumstances (see Hannah Whithall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

“oil” Putting oil on the face and arms was a sign of gladness (cf. Psalms 23:5; Psalms 45:7; Psalms 104:15; Isaiah 61:3).

Ecclesiastes 9:9 “Enjoy life with the woman you love all the days of your fleeting life” This command (“enjoy” Qal IMPERATIVE) implies monogamy (“love,” BDB 12, KB 17, Qal PERFECT, cf. Proverbs 5:18-19). Marital contentment is a great blessing from God. The question remains, does “woman” (BDB 61), without the ARTICLE, refer to “wife” or “woman?” The problem is Qoheleth's seemingly negative view of women found in Ecclesiastes 7:26 and 28. Does this verse encourage monogamous marriage (if so the author cannot be Solomon!)? The Qal PERFECT VERB “love” implies a complete union, not brief encounters! Wisdom Literature used “woman” in two ways:

1. wife to be loved, protected, and kept

2. woman as temptress and symbol of false wisdom or momentary pleasure

As Wisdom Literature used both senses, so too, does Qoheleth!

Verse 10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:10 10Whatever your hand finds to do, verily do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatever your hand finds to do, verily do it with all your might” See note at Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, #7. Physical labor originally was not a consequence of sin, but part of Adam's God-given task in the Garden of Eden (cf. Genesis 2:15). After the Fall labor became a curse (cf. Genesis 3:19). In this context labor refers to making a daily living (i.e., food, shelter, home, family, etc). This aspect of life is a gift from God. It takes our minds off the task of trying to discover God and His purposes, which we cannot do. Work is good! From the NT perspective it can glorify God (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:6; John 9:4; Colossians 3:17, Colossians 3:23; Ephesians 6:5-7). Do all you do as unto the Lord!

Notice the things that humans do not do in Sheol:

1. activity (“work,” BDB 795, cf. Ecclesiastes 2:4, Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 3:17, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:9; Ecclesiastes 9:7, Ecclesiastes 9:10)

2. planning (or “reckoning schemes,” BDB 363 I, cf. Ecclesiastes 7:25, Ecclesiastes 7:27)

3. pursue knowledge (BDB 395, cf. Ecclesiastes 1:16, Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:21, Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 7:12)

4. gain wisdom (BDB 315, cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13, Ecclesiastes 1:16 [twice], Ecclesiastes 9:18; Ecclesiastes 2:3, Ecclesiastes 2:9, Ecclesiastes 2:13, Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 7:10, Ecclesiastes 7:11, Ecclesiastes 7:12 [twice], 19,23; Ecclesiastes 8:1; Ecclesiastes 9:10, Ecclesiastes 9:15, Ecclesiastes 9:16 [twice], Ecclesiastes 9:18; Ecclesiastes 10:1, Ecclesiastes 10:10)

“there is no activity or planning or wisdom in Sheol where you are going” The OT (except for Job 14:14-15; Job 19:25-27; Psalms 16:9-10; Psalms 49:15; Psalms 86:13) depicts death as a conscious but shadowy existence. The faithful are with their families, but there is no fellowship, joy, or activity. Death is a place or abode, but nothing more (e.g., Ecclesiastes 1:11; Ecclesiastes 9:5; Job 3:13-19; Job 10:21-22). Thank God for the progressive revelation of the New Testament!

“Sheol” See Special Topic: The Dead, Where Are They? (Sheol/Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus).

Verses 11-12

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 11I 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. 12Moreover, 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.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12 These verses highlight the ineffectualness and helplessness of human effort! They again magnify the sovereignty of God. This conclusion is based on the unfairness and injustice that Qoheleth had seen and experienced. Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable (i.e., “for time and chance overtake them all,” cf. Ecclesiastes 9:12; Ecclesiastes 8:7).

His conclusions to this situations are

1. enjoy life when and where you can; death is coming

2. trust God even if He is unknown and invisible

3. there is an afterlife and humans will give an account of the gifts and stewardship of life

As I sit here writing this, I am so glad I live in a post-resurrection era. Progressive revelation, the life of Jesus, the gospel, the empty tomb are ours! New Testament believers understand so much more of the eternal plans and purposes of God than any OT person. The real question for us is, “What are we doing with this information?”!

Verses 13-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 13Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. 14There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. 15But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. 16So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. 17The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 This sounds like a specific historical event that Qoheleth had observed (i.e., a series of eight Qal PERFECT VERBS; LXX makes them SUBJUNCTIVES, implying a hypothetical situation). These verses magnify “wisdom,” but in the end it is ignored and forgotten! The wise man can affect things, but so can the sinner (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:18).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ecclesiastes-9.html. 2021.
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