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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

Ecclesiastes 6

 

 

Verse 1

"There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men"

Here is another misfortune, calamity and hardship that Solomon personally witnessed that happens under the sun. Not only that, but Solomon said, "and it is prevalent among men", i.e. common. In other words, you can see this everywhere. "Prevalent among men", can also be translated, "is heavy upon men", or weighs heavy upon men. The reason for this is that the Hebrew term translated prevalent or heavy, simply can mean much in number or degree.


Verse 2

"a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires, but God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction."

"whom God has given"-A thought that should humble us. So much for the idea of the self-made man or millionaire. Or the idea that we did it all on our own and owe no one for our successes. Without God"s physical blessings, and especially without His mercy, we would have nothing. God enables us to prosper (Matthew ; Luke 6:35; Acts 14:15-17; 17:25 "since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things"). "indicates that in no instance is the acquisition of wealth merely an outright achievement of man. Man can acquire nothing less God permits him to have it" (Leupold p. 134). See also 1 Timothy 6:17; Proverbs 30:8; 1 Samuel 2:7.

"honor"-prestige, fame, a high standing in the community, community awards, praise from one"s fellow man, citizen of the year, the noble peace prize, and so on. "a weighty person in society, worthy of respect, someone who is honorable, impressive" (TWOT p. 426).

"so that his soul lacks nothing"-"Soul" here doesn"t mean his spiritual side, but rather, himself (Luke ). Clearly this man makes it to the top, he has everything that he has ever materially desired. He has it all! Solomon had talked about the man who lost everything through a bad business deal (5:13). "But life can have long spells of brilliance and joy, and still succumb to darkness, which will seem all the deeper for the light it has quenched" (Kidner p. 59).

"God has not empowered him to eat from them"-to "eat from them", means "to enjoy them". "Yet he is unable to enjoy it" (Mof). "This rich man never got beyond the painful process of acquisition" (Leupold p. 135).

Points To Note:

1 "The man of verse 2, just because he is outstanding, has more to lose than the plodder who will never arrive. And he may well lose it through no fault of his own: perhaps when war, or sickness, or injustice spills everything into another"s lap….One could have the things men dream of….children by the score, and years of life by the thousand-and still depart unnoticed, unlamented, and unfulfilled" (Kidner p. 59). 2. Events outside this man"s control, of which there are many in life (Ecc. ), may deprive him of his possessions. 3. Or, this man"s attitude towards his possessions may keep him from enjoying them. "to say that God does not empower the rich man to enjoy what he has accumulated is stating that the rich man cannot divorce himself from the power of his wealth…God has ordained personal fulfillment and joy are found only within the confines which He has established" (Kidwell p. 139). 4. There are various laws in the spiritual realm and one of those laws is that greed will prevent you from enjoying what you have (5:10-12). 5. And since wealth is relative (you can always find someone who has more than you do-and less), these truths apply to all of us. There are many "middle class" individuals who are unable to enjoy the fruits of their labors because they are always wanting more.

"for a foreigner enjoys them"-the word foreigner or stranger can refer to someone other than this man"s heir, and simply another person, someone other than oneself. But at this point many may protest that life is not by any means as black as this for most people. But, it seems to me often it is for those outside of Christ. We live in the most prosperous country of all time, and yet look how many people are depressed, lonely, and isolated. With all the "things" that we own, look how many of the people in this country are miserable, either in their career, in their marriage, in their family and so on.

Listen to the following quote:

""I"m bored." He has a room full of action figures, video games, cable TV, a VCR, interactive CD-ROM virtual-reality simulators, and a fully loaded computer with Internet access. But he doesn"t have anything to do. Boredom is more than an irritation in child-raising. It has been called a major spiritual problem, one that is particularly characteristic of our time. Boredom is often the motivation for adultery and divorce, abuse of alcohol or drugs, and even suicide. The ancient moralists associated boredom with sloth….considering it a form of spiritual laziness, an ungrateful lack of interest in what God has ordained. But the ancients do not seem to have been as bored as we are. The word did not even enter the English vocabulary until the Enlightenment of the 18th century, the beginning of the modern era. Boredom is a chronic symptom of a pleasure-obsessed age. When pleasure becomes one"s top priority, the result, ironically, is boredom"


Verse 3

"If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things, and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, "Better the miscarriage than he,""

"If a man…."-Perhaps, one may reason, a large family and long life will surely bring personal joy. In Jewish culture, Solomon is describing a man who had it all! A large family was a great blessing (Psalm ). A hundred children isn"t an exaggeration, for Ahab had 70 sons (2 Kings 10:1), and Rehoboam had 88 children (2 Chron. 11:21). Long life was also considered to be (and still is) a great blessing (Psalm 90:10; Ex. 20:10; 1 Kings 3:11,14). "Artaxerxes Mnemon is said to have had 115 children, and died of grief at the age of 94 at the suicide of one son and the murder of another" (P.P. Comm. p. 138).

"but his soul is not satisfied with good things"-"Soul"-his appetite, desires, his person. "In a word he is not happy in his life" (Keil/Del. p. 305). Yes, you can have it all, and still be completely unhappy.

"and he does not even have a proper burial"-unlamented. "To be deprived of burial was considered by the Jews one of the greatest dishonors that could be inflicted on a human being" (Manners and Customs, Freeman, p. 227). (Deut. ; 1 Samuel 17:44-46; Jeremiah 7:3; 16:4). What could be included in this improper burial, is that no friends or family come to mourn over his death. "It is not noted as to the reason why the rich man does not have a burial, but circumstances of life led to this unfortunate conclusion" (Kidwell p. 140). See Jeremiah 22:18-19. But such things do happen under the sun! Famous and wealthy men often die in obscurity, die friendless, and estranged from other family members.

"then I say, "Better the miscarriage than he""-the same thought is found in .


Verse 4

"for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity".

The stillborn or miscarriage comes in futility, i.e. comes for no purpose. The miscarriage or stillborn is (still to this day) often buried without a ceremony, often the child isn"t even named, or if he or she is named, the name is quickly forgotten because the child never had a chance to make a name for himself. The immediate family might remember the name, but the rest of society is completely ignorant of this child"s short life. While we know the names of our neighbor"s or friend"s children, we are often completely ignorant concerning the fact that they may have had one or more miscarriages.


Verse 5

"It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he."

"never knows anything"-i.e. never knows anything of this life or never knows what life is like.

"better off than he"-the miscarriage is better off than the rich man in this section. Why? Note, Solomon doesn"t say that the rich man in this section and the miscarriage are equal, but rather, the miscarriage is better off than such a man.


Verse 6

"Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things----do not all go to one place?"

Even if such a rich man could live 2000 years, twice the lifetime of the oldest man mentioned in the Scriptures (Genesis ). 1. Time doesn"t necessary cause us to mature. Maturity and spirituality just don"t happen naturally or without any effort (Heb. 5:12-14). 2. Some people think that given enough time greedy people would finally out-grow their greed and finally wake up to the important things in life. But God says, that a person could live 2000 years and still fail to realize what this life is all about! 3. So much for the idea that people end up lost because God didn"t give them enough time (Romans 2:1-5). 4. If God had allowed mankind to live for the beginning of Creation to the end of this Creation, the percentage of those who obey God probably wouldn"t change much. 5. Prior to the flood men lived for hundreds of years and yet such people-far from being godly or mature were extremely wicked (Genesis 6:1-6). 6. This verse also tells us that a person must make a firm decision to change-or they will never change. Too many people are hoping that they will just kind of naturally become a better person, or that their sinful habits will just kind of naturally go away, and that over time temptation will just kind of naturally lose its appeal. Not so! 7. This is why if you are going to change your life, repent or become a Christian, then you need to act today (2 Corinthians 6:1ff).

"and does not enjoy good things"-even after 2000 years of life and experience-and he still doesn"t get it! So much for the idea that this life could provide me with lasting happiness if I just had enough, or if I just had enough time. There doesn"t exist any fountain of material happiness on this earth!

"do not all go to one place?"-that is, the grave. Yet, compared to a man that lives 2000 years, has descendants without number, and all the material possessions he could ever want-and yet is not happy-better to have the earthly fate of the miscarriage than that type of life. Yes, the miscarriage had a brief earthly existence, but the rich man in this chapter simply had a long existence that will filled with frustration, depression, misery, discontentment, heartache, loneliness, lack of satisfaction, stress, toil, estrangement, bitterness, etc….Better to have never see the light of day-then live that type of life! And as Jesus will note, better to have never lived, than to end up lost in hell! (Mark "It would have been good for that man if he had not been born").


Verse 7

"All a man"s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied".

"is for his mouth"-for self-preservation and enjoyment. "The first of them (7) makes a point which is as real to modern man on his individual treadmill as to the primitive peasant scraping a bare living from the soil: that he works to eat, for the strength to go on working to go on eating. Even if he enjoys his work-and his food-the compulsion is still there. His mouth, not his mind, seems to be master" (Kidner p. 61).

"yet the appetite is not satisfied"-Certain men labor endlessly for the products of food and pleasure, and yet their desire is never satisfied. When I become addicted to having things, then those things become a relentless taskmaster instead of things that can bring comfort and convenience to my life. The moment I start worshipping anything other than God, I have just forfeited contentment and happiness. Solomon warns that there is always the danger that our desire will outstrip our acquisitions. Actually, the statement, "It is more that you can imagine", typically doesn"t apply to what man can imagine concerning earthly wealth and earthly possessions. The problem that confronts many people is that they can imagine much more than they could every possess.

"All this is damaging to any rosy picture of the world….Qoheleth is very far from holding that man has rights which God ignores; it is rather that man has needs which God exposes….The world itself is made to say to us, in the only language we will mostly listen to, "This is no place to rest"" (Kidner p. 60) (Hebrews ).


Verse 8

"For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?"

"does the wise man have over the fool?"-"When we object that men have more in them than this, and better things to live for, verse 8 does not let this pass without a challenge" (Kidner p. 61). Once again, "advantage" means "lasting advantage". Someone might argue that the wise man will be better off financially, but even this temporary material advantage isn"t true in every case (Ecc. ). In addition, the wise man"s wisdom may bring him pain-rather than peace of mind (Ecc. 1:18 "Because in much wisdom there is much grief"). How many secular "deep thinkers" have committed suicide? How many secular writers or poets have been men and women who went from one emotional extreme to the other and basically lived very miserable lives?

"What advantage does the poor man have"-and lest we are tempted to glorify the life of the hard working peasant (as it done in various communist writings), Solomon challenges us on this point also. "What does a poor man, however well thought of, actually get for his pains?" (Kidner pp. 61-62). Lest we say that the hard working and moral peasant will find happiness-not if they also ignore God. The good life isn"t found on the farm or working the land when God is excluded from the picture.

"knowing how to walk before the living"-that is the poor man who doesn"t use his poverty as an excuse to break the law or sin. The hard working blue color worker who is a good neighbor. The man who knows how to behave himself in the company of his fellowman. But even such a poor man can have dreams, big dreams, dreams which never are fulfilled. One might be rich, a fool or a prudent poor man, but if you can"t enjoy what you have-then you are all equal! The rich man who is miserable and frustrated is on the same level as the man or woman living on the street because of their own foolishness.


Verse 9

"What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind."

"What the eyes see is better than…"-"better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire" (KJV); "Better aim at what lies in view than hanker after dreams" (Knox).

Points To Note:

1 Constantly longing for more is futile. 2. Too many of us spend too much time daydreaming for what we consider to be the ideal_________, instead of realizing the true wealth and enjoyment which is right before our eyes. Too many of us are living in the earthly future, rather than the present. We think that something in the earthly future (marriage, children, career, home, vacation home, new car, retirement, vacation, etc…) will bring the happiness that we are so desperately trying to find. Instead of thinking, "I can"t wait until…..", why don"t we say, "Today is going to be a great day, everything that this life can offer me can be found today, can be found right now".


Verse 10

"Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is, for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is."

"Whatever exists has already been named"-"Whatever hath been, long ago hath its name been given" (P.P. Comm. p. 140). "Whatever is, was long ago given its name" (NAB).

"and it is known what man is"-"and the nature of man is known" (NAB).

Points To Note:

1 The idea appears to be that it is useless to argue against any of the truths which Solomon has noted. For the nature of man doesn"t change. Greed couldn"t satisfy ancient man, and it can"t satisfy modern man. "Man should know who he is and recognize that his ability to speak long and loud will not change his nature" (Kidwell p. 148). 2. "Whatever brave words we may multiply about man, or against His Maker, verses 10 and 11 remind us that we shall not alter the way in which we and our world were made" (Kidner p. 62). 3. But many people refuse to accept what God says about man and man"s nature. People seem bent on proving God wrong, they seem determined to prove that material things can bring them lasting happiness, that they can find lasting enjoyment in sin, that they can live selfish lives and be content. And beyond this, that they can supposedly change their gender, defy or completely ignore what God gave them, including their gender, their soul, or their emotional and mental nature (Romans ). We live in a society which seems determined to prove God wrong.

"for he cannot"-i.e. man

"dispute with him who is stronger than he is"-the "him" in this verse appears to be God. Man often will attempt to dispute with God or outright deny His entire existence. But man can"t win an argument with God, man can"t change the mind of God concerning things which are right and wrong.

Points To Note:

2 Solomon is making the point that it is pointless to argue with the truths being presented. Your arguments can"t change reality, you cannot be something other than "man". A person may try to argue that they can be completely happy without God (), or that God has given them nothing or they owe Him nothing (6:2). But such arguments are pointless and false. 2. Be impressed with the patience and mercy of God! Realize the amount of foolish talk that God puts up with on a daily basis! 3. "The idea of disputing with the Almighty (10b,11) fascinated Job, who abandoned it only after much heart-searching (and divine rebuke) (Job 42:1-6)….Yet we still find it easier to enlarge on the way things ought to have been than to face the truth of what they are" (Kidner p. 62).


Verse 11

"For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?"

"many words which increase futility"-There are many human arguments which in the end are only vanity. "Even though man is very glib and capable of varying and lengthy speeches, such exercises will only manifest his vanity" (Kidwell p. 149). Many human arguments simply prove that God is right when He says, "Nor is it in man who walks to direct his steps" (Jeremiah ). And nothing is improved by the multiplication of arguments or lengthening the arguments. A multiplication of words only multiplies the argument as being vain. "more exhaustive attempts at explaining the human situation (apart from God) only confound the facts and are of no benefit to humanity"


Verse 12

"For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?"

"For who knows"-of course, the answer to both questions is that God knows! But remove God and His will from the picture, and you have a picture of hopelessness and confusion It is a double bewilderment, for without God, man is left with no absolute values to live for ("what is good?"), and not even any practical certainties ("what will be after him?"). "Secular man, heading for death, and swept along by change, can only echo, "Who knows what is good…..? Who can tell man what will be after him….?"" (Kidner p. 62).

Points To Note:

1. Despite all his boastful and arrogant claims, man is completely unable to determine what is "good"-apart from divine revelation. 2. The Bible often makes the point that even a long lifetime is fleeting compared to eternity (1 Chron. ; Psalm 102:11; 144:4; James 4:13ff). 3. Here we see the folly of worshipping human wisdom, since human wisdom is so limited that it can"t even predict what will happen tomorrow, not to mention years from now (1 Corinthians 1:21). 4. "The wise, rich, but yet unhappy man has concerned himself with many problems that pertain to tomorrow: Who will come after him? To whom will he really leave all that he has collected and gathered? What if he has no son to carry on? Will he receive a proper burial? What will people think of him when he has died? These and many other questions continually trouble his mind" (Kidwell p. 151).

 


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Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/ecclesiastes-6.html. 1999-2014.

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