A Common Destiny for All
9 So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands, but no one knows whether love or hate awaits them. 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.
As it is with the good,
so with the sinful;
as it is with those who take oaths,
so with those who are afraid to take them.
3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!
5 For the living know that they will die,
but the dead know nothing;
they have no further reward,
and even their name is forgotten.
6 Their love, their hate
and their jealousy have long since vanished;
never again will they have a part
in anything that happens under the sun.
7 Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do. 8 Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9 Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labour under the sun.
Nobody knows what will happen in the future. God has authority over people’s actions. We are responsible for our actions. However, God can reduce the damage that people might want to do. But people cannot know what God has prepared for each person. An easy life is not guaranteed even to those who make righteous decisions (in fact if the example of Jesus is what we go by then the opposite is most likely true). Easy and simple are not exactly the same.
Whatever happens in life, all people go to the grave. It all ends in death. The most consistent and certain fact of life is death. Those who offered gifts to God were serious about their religion. Other people did not offer anything to God. Death is coming.
Man cannot know God’s disposition by observation since the same calamities strike both the wicked and the righteous.
Without God, man does not even have the power to tell the difference between love and hate.
The mention of “a live dog” in verse 4 is not a domestic animal that we know as man’s best friend but at that time, a dog was a dirty animal that lived in the street. To call someone a ‘dog’ was an insult. A lion on the other hand was respected as a powerful animal with great strength.
Even a dirty animal that is alive has an advantage. Even a royal animal that is dead has nothing.
While a dog is alive, someone can teach it to be loyal and to obey instructions. So there is hope even for a wild dog. Someone can change its behaviour. But nobody can do anything for a dead lion.
So it is better to be alive. People who are alive can prepare for their death. They can still share in events in the world. People who have died have nothing more. The dead are soon enough forgotten.
This is not a pessimistic statement about life after death; rather it affirms that life on earth is the only arena of opportunity for accomplishment and reward.
The Teacher is encouraging people to enjoy their life. That is what God intended.
For the first time in the passages on enjoyment, the key words of the exhortation are put into the imperative mood; eat, drink, live, and so on. Also a new motivation is expressed: God now accepts your works. Meaning clearly that God approves of the enjoyment of life. His will is that men enjoy life.
The idea of enjoyment is further reiterated in verse 8 with two directives. White garments on the body and oil on the head made life more comfortable in the torrid Near Eastern climates; they serve here to symbolize purity and the enjoyment of life.
Another possibility for these verses is that in verses 3-6, the author wrote about the effects of death. Then in verses 7-10, the author possibly speaks to one particular person and addresses an issue where the man is living for the blessings of this world and he is asserting go ahead and do that. Enjoy it. That is your lot in life. You will get no more after that.
My jury is out about what the author intended. Both interpretations fit.
11 I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favour to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.
12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:
As fish are caught in a cruel net,
or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Verse 11, the Teacher mentions several situations that he has seen. But sometimes they did not have the result that people expected. ‘Food’ may also refer to other things.
Some examples are:
1) Asahel was a very fast runner. But Abner was able to kill him (2 Samuel 2:18).
2) Goliath was a strong warrior. He did not expect that someone as young as David would kill him (1 Samuel 17:41-51).
3) The strong army from Assyria prepared to destroy Jerusalem. But God caused thousands of their soldiers to die suddenly. His soldiers’ deaths forced the king of Assyria to leave. And he did not attack the city (Isaiah 37:36-37).
Wise people, clever people and capable people may not always receive the rewards that they deserve. These results may surprise us. But these things happen for two reasons:
a) People do not always have enough time. Then they cannot do all that they want to do. Sometimes difficulties happen when people do not expect them. Our lives are in God’s hand, our purpose is to trust him.
b) We may say ‘chance’ (or ‘luck’) when we cannot control our circumstances.
Wisdom cannot guarantee good outcomes because of what appear to be so many unpredictable contingencies. The universe, the world is complex. A decision from one person has an impact throughout humanity. Mostly it’s a slight ricochet but sometimes people in power and influence will have a much greater impact for bad or good.
In verses 11-12 we see five statements of unexpected results are followed by an explanation. Man’s ability cannot guarantee the results because of the equalizing effects of time and chance.
The fastest runner who ever ran a race, could not win with a sprained ankle.
There are always things outside of our control that can have an effect on unexpected outcomes.
We cannot know what will happen in the future. People can catch fish and birds in nets or traps and they cannot escape. This happens suddenly when the animals are not expecting trouble. And death happens to people suddenly. Other difficult things may happen suddenly in our lives too.
When I was 17. I saw an 19 year old colleague die right in front of my eyes as a car mowed him down in front of the store where I worked. He died instantly. He was engaged to be married that summer, he had just put a deposit down on a flat. He was expecting to come to work that day.
Life is full of surprises both good and bad. My job is to embrace them all with the presence of God and know that there is purpose in everything. This is my journey.
Wisdom Better Than Folly
13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
17 The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded
than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good.
I am not sure if the teacher is describing an actual incident or using a parable but he wants to demonstrate the importance of wise words. There’s also a connection between foolishness and ingratitude that is expressed.
The powerful king’s army attacked a small city where only a few people lived. The army surrounded the city. Then the people who were inside the city could not get out. They could not obtain food or water. When they were starving, they could not fight. So the enemy soldiers built a huge pile of rocks, stones and earth against the city’s walls. They would be able to climb up this pile to get over the walls into the city. The poor man gave wise advice to the people and he saved their city. But, because he was poor, nobody remembered him later.
This could be a type and shadow of all the miracles that Jesus did, being soon forgotten just before the crucifixion. He was messiah but only a few accepted him and between his arrest and crucifixion everyone, even his small band of loyal followers abandoned him.
The Teacher emphasises ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ Most people would have possibly listened to the wise man, if he was known as influential or wealthy.
I can relate to that. Some resentment that I felt around the period I began my spiral downwards was that I made suggestions and I was not listened to but then someone more well known and revered as ministry elite would come in and say exactly the same thing and everyone was all over it. That penetrated my heart in not a good way. It is of course all “hevel“. I am now grateful for all that happened the way it did because the peace that I feel today would not have come about without such a great unravelling.
The story teaches that, in spite of the value of wisdom, it often goes unheeded.
Verse 17 informs us that a quiet man who speaks the truth through wisdom from God will be heard. A fool shouting will not be received. You might hear him but you will not respect his message.
Verse 18 tells us that If a person is wise, he is more powerful. Someone who fights with military arms is less powerful than the wise man. But even one foolish act can destroy many good things that a wise person has done. (this I can personally testify to).
Solomon was a great example of this. During his 40 year reign, there were no wars. He was known as a man of peace. He used the wisdom God had given him to stay out of war. This was the very reason he married so many women (maybe not so wise personally but a huge diplomatic success). All the weapons of war might not bring peace, but wisdom can.