I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honour, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
In this section, the teacher discusses the three measuring sticks of success in Jewish society: wealth, long life, and lots of children. He recognises that these are great gifts but proposes that unless God is at the centre of all this we cannot enjoy them as gifts and will encounter burden, worry.
The “evil” he speaks of is that this misfortune is “prevalent among men.” In 6:2, the active presence of God is emphasized. God is the giver and therefore to receive such gifts and appreciate them fully is to be in a relationship with the giver.
Riches, wealth, and honour do not automatically bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or even guarantee a lasting benefit! In fact they can bring trouble, trauma, burden, unhappiness, ingratitude, restlessness, and grief.
“There are two tragedies in life: one is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” – George Bernard Shaw
In Verses 3-6, the teacher offers us the comparison of a stillborn child and a 2,000 year-old man who fathers 100 children. One gets to participate in more than his fair share of the full feast of life; the other doesn’t quite make it to the table. He presents us with the idea that the stillborn child is better off than the one who experiences the fullness of life with all it’s trouble and trauma. It’s a strong statement but theologically accurate if we are to believe that this still life lived only in his or her mothers womb before entering the presence of God!
Family, children, grandchildren, as great a blessing as these can be, are not the source of deep satisfaction in our soul. Long life and prosperity without the presence of God will leave us thirsting.
Material possessions and wealth we know with certainty don’t fulfil us for very long and yet they have their lure.
One thing is certain and that is that we all will die. We all go to the grave and though the details of what happens after that are not exactly clear, we can expect some sort of judgment and encounter with the giver of this gift of life.
yet their appetite is never satisfied.
8 What advantage have the wise over fools?
What do the poor gain
by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
9 Better what the eye sees
than the roving of the appetite.
This too is meaningless,
a chasing after the wind.
10 Whatever exists has already been named,
and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
with someone who is stronger.
11 The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?
12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?
Verses 7-9 are an observation that this constant thirst for more erodes our heart and our gratitude. It steals our heart for God and places our attention on things that cannot quench that thirst.
Verses 10-12 offer us the thought of “just accept things as they are”, “be content” don’t get involved in what is God’s business but embrace what God has called us to.
The Teacher is thinking about two problems. He will try to answer his own questions in the next chapters. It is a mystery why we are alive. He thinks about whether anything can have permanent value. A person’s life ends so soon. It is merely a shadow. Also, after a person dies he cannot know anything. He does not know his own future. And he cannot know what will happen in the world after his death. “hevel“