The sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes is one of the shorter chapters of the book, but all because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s any less important.
In fact, the very structure of the chapter is pretty interesting in and of itself (if I may say so myself), mirroring the 12-chapter structure of the book by having 12 total verses. Going off this, Ecclesiastes 6 can likewise be split in half by its two separate sections – verses 1-6 and 7-12 – just as Ecclesiastes can similarly be broken down by theme into chapters 1-6 and 7-12. The funny thing is, the first six verses of this chapter are comparable to the last six chapters of the book, whereas the last six verses are comparable to the book’s inaugural first chapters. It’s pretty dang awesome if you ask me.
But I’m a writer, so of course I’d be fascinated about that. If you’re reading this I’m sure that you are actually much more intrigued by the content of the chapter, so let’s not waste any more time in getting to the point:
PART 1: Enjoy your strawberries. (Ecc 6:1-6)
As has been common throughout the book so far, Solomon begins by pointing out “another evil under the sun” (v.1), but here he notes that this particular evil “weighs heavily on mankind.” In other words, Solomon wants us to realize that the evil he is about to discuss is a very, very common thing to be seen amongst the people of the world and likewise has a particularly weight effect on the world’s culture – both back when he wrote this in the tenth century BC and in our current twenty-first century nearly three thousand years later. And the evil is this, Solomon says: God can both give and take away (a la Job 1:21). The thing is, this isn’t truly an evil to anyone except for anyone who is seeing things “under the sun,” as he so constantly reminds us. This statement goes even further in the fact that many people – most people, arguably – are not given the ability to properly enjoy what has ben given. This goes along with the never-satisfied nature talked about in the previous chapter.
For instance, take a look at this interview with Tom Brady from a few years back:
“What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matt 16:26) This is something Jesus asked us during His earthly ministry, and it was just as true then as it is today. The Lord gives and takes away per His own purposes, so we shouldn’t take them for granted as we so often do. Instead, we should enjoy those “strawberries” while they are ripe. Often, people looking from the outside in can see our blessings and truly appreciate them whereas we, lost in our own satisfaction and selfishness, fail to see the beauty of what we’ve been given. We forget to live in the moment by longing for some unending goal of achieving some satisfaction that can never come. But in reality we should be constantly rejoicing and be realizing that God has the power to both give and take away, and that while we are still alive we have plenty reason to praise. We should be like Peter in prison, taking such comfort in the love of God and the security He provides that we can sleep at peace despite our trials so that it takes an angel striking us on the side to wake us up from our restful slumber (see Acts 12).
We need to realize how unworthy we are of everything we’ve been given, for that is the true way of reaching an ultimate appreciation of God’s gifts. We need to recognize that not only are we blessed by God, but we’re spoiled! If you have a tough time coming to reality with this, I encourage you ask yourself this question each and every time you catch yourself in sin (whether that be doing something bad or failing to do something good, whether these be intentional or unintentional): “Does Jesus still feel those nails driving into His wrists and feet every time I fail Him?”
The idea of taking an outside look at things is common throughout Ecclesiastes: Strangers are better as realizing and appreciating your blessings; an onlooker will see the oppressed and recognize the wickedness in the world (5:8); everything is hevel (smoke, vapor, meaningless) and you can only find true meaning in life by stepping out of the vapor so you can at last see clearly (1:2). It’s very Buddhist in its idea of separating your mind from yourself, in doing so embracing your true self. (Solomon draws a different conclusion then Buddhist thinkers, opting to find true meaning in God rather than in good works…though good works are most definitely good and beneficial, as Solomon will point out in later chapters.)
Solomon then brings up the idea of burial to reflect on disrespect and total disregard for one’s life (v.3). To die without anyone to mourn your passing or to reflect on how great a person you were during life is worse than being stillborn (according to Solomon), an idea expanded upon from a slightly different perspective in Job 3. (Note that, despite living the life of an average Hebrew man and dying the death of a criminal, Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb with plenty of people mourning Him after His crucifixion.) This idea of it being better to be stillborn is obviously a hyperbolic statement, but the point of it is to shock someone into remembering to go out and make something of their life rather than wallowing around in fear of the past of future. Embrace the present and enjoy all God has given you before He takes it away to give it to someone who will appreciate it more.
His point is this: nobody takes wealth or prosperity with them to the afterlife, and since those are all things that you experience while here on earth and on earth alone, if you fail to appreciate them you have forsaken the very things that are unique to your life. Based on this logic, is not a stillborn child just as well [if not more] well off, not having to have endured the suffering of human life? He is essentially explaining the conclusion he drew towards the end of chapter 5 (v.18-19); once again, remember that these books were not initially written in chapters and verse, but more in the form of one, cohesive essay (or, in the case of Ecclesiastes, research paper).
PART 2: Earth Can’t Satisfy Us. (Ecc 6:7-12)
In these verses, Solomon lists the reasons why we will never be satisfied here on earth:
- We often work only for what is consumed (v.7) – We work to provide for ourselves, and even if we were to take out all fleshly desires, still we will never stop growing hungry! As long as we hunger, we need to work, and since we will never stop being hungry, our work will never full satisfy.
- We don’t often see the benefits of wisdom over folly (v.8) – Lost to our own darkness, we often embrace the worldly mindset and pursue pleasures above all else; even when we are closest to God, we rend to put our own desires first. It is so easy to get off that eternal mindset and start living too in the moment; in recognizing that nothing goes with us to the afterlife, we often abuse this power by remembering that works don’t save us. Where Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1), often our answer is, shockingly and incorrectly, “Yes.”
- We don’t know the future (v.9) – We live lives in constant speculation, seeing things that aren’t there and stressing about things that might never happen or are beyond our control. We are stuck in the present, not knowing what is to come, and thus we are never satisfied. It might be most easily conveyed in the Message translation of the verse: “So what advantage has a sage over a fool, or over some poor wretch who barely gets by? Just grab whatever you can while you can; don’t assume something better might turn up by and by. All it amounts to anyway is smoke. And spitting into the wind.”
- We realize that God controls everything (v.10) – It is so easy to mistake our sense of free will when we remember that God knows all and is in control of all. Though He has given us free will, there are laws [of nature] by which we must abide and in the end, we must answer to He who will always be greater than us. “Whatever exists has already been named”…if you name something, you are in control of it (think how God gave Adam dominion over the very animals he named), so we see that God is in control of it all, though we in our own desires continually wrestle for that control. We are like sheep, and try as we might to break free of our pens, all it gets us is lost.
- We truly don’t understand anything (v.11) – The more we learn, the less we understand because that many more questions arise (see 1:18). God designed the world this way so that we would always be dependent on Him, yet often we misinterpret this paradox by abandoning or hiding from all the difficult questions of life. In this way of thoughts, we lie to ourselves and will fail to ever find the true meaning of life, instead living in constant frustration and unsatisfaction of the fact that we will never have the answers.
Essentially, Solomon is telling us that we will never be truly satisfied because we aren’t God. We want to be (no matter how much we try to deny it), but we aren’t and we never will be. Solomon asks a few questions to wrap up the chapter, and while the first answer that comes to mind is a rather depressing one – “Nobody” – we must remember that, as in chapters past, there must be some other answer to the questions…Who knows what is good for a person in life? Who can tell them what will happen once they die? (v.12) (NOW LET'S BE HONEST...you know where I'm going with this.)
There is only one answer to these questions, and He wouldn’t roll around for nearly a thousand years after this books was written. His name is Jesus.
- Whereas on earth our appetites are never satisfied and we will always be hungry again, He came along and said, “I AM the bread of life.” (John 6:35,48)
- Whereas we, lost in our darkness, fail to keep an eternal mindset, He came along and said, “I AM the light of the world.” (John 8:12, 9:5)
- Whereas we, stuck in the present, fear both the future and the past, He came along and said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” (John 8:58)
- Whereas we, like sheep, have gone astray and tried to run from God’s rule, He came along and said, “I AM the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, Isa 53:6)
- Whereas we, in following our own way, fail to find the true meaning of life because we just get more and more confused, He came along and said, “I AM the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
You see, Solomon listed 5 reasons why we will never be satisfied in this life, yet 930 years later a man came out of Nazareth and said, “I got you, bro.” As Solomon ends this chapter, we are left with the sense that perhaps there is meaning in life…we just haven’t grasped it yet. And with this, we reach the halfway point of the book: the question has been asked, and now it’s time to answer it.