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Go to Bible: Ecclesiastes 9
“I laid to my heart.” The essence of this phrase is that the Sage reflected on and considered what was said.(top)
“righteous...wicked...good…clean...unclean.” The words are singular: the righteous person, the wicked person, etc.(top)
|Ecc 9:3||- (top)|
|Ecc 9:4||- (top)|
“the dead do not know anything.” When a person dies they are dead, lifeless, in every way. They are not alive in heaven or “Hell” or any other place, they are dead, as Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 describes. Because dead people are actually dead, they “do not know anything.” The grave is called “the land of forgetfulness” (Psalm 88:12) and it is a place of silence (Ps. 94:17)
[For more on people being dead and in Sheol, the state of being dead, see commentary on Rev. 20:13. For more on dead people being lifeless in every way, see Appendix 4, “The Dead are Dead.” For more on what the “soul” is, and that it does not live on after a person dies, see Appendix 7, “Usages of ‘Soul’”].
“nor do they have any more a wage.” The Hebrew word translated “wage” is sakar (#07939 שָׂכָר), and its primary meaning is “wage, hire, fee, pay,” and it is also sometimes used with the more expansive sense of “reward, benefit.” Although most English Bibles read “reward” or “benefit” or something similar, there is no reason not to read “wage” here. In fact, “wage” makes excellent sense in the scope of Scripture.
People earn “wages” in the spiritual world while they are living. Thus, Proverbs 10:16 says, “The wage of the righteous person is life; the revenue of the wicked is sin” (Prov. 10:16 uses different but applicable Hebrew words for “wage.” Cp. Prov. 11:18). In the context of evangelizing, Jesus said that the person who reaps receives wages (John 4:36). Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death, and 2 Peter 2:13, speaking of unsaved people who will be destroyed, says they will suffer wrong as the “wage of wrongdoing.”
Once a person dies they do not earn any more wages—they have what they have earned. The sinner has earned death, and the righteous person has earned everlasting life. However, there are some people who teach that there will be a “second chance” on Judgment Day and that people who are raised from the dead will have a chance to confess their sin and be saved. That is not the case. Scripture says that we have this life to live and please God, and after this life comes the judgment (Heb. 9:27).
So in the context of the scope of Scripture we can see why the Bible would say that dead people “do not have any more a wage,” because they cannot earn a wage anymore—they are dead. So Ecclesiastes 9:5 is an encouragement to righteous people to keep working to earn “wages,” i.e., rewards in the future. It is also an encouragement for sinners to get saved and earn the “wage” of everlasting life, because if they die before getting saved they will not have another chance—they will be resurrected and awake to Judgment Day and their doom.
“the memory of them is forgotten.” That is, the person is forgotten. In the Jewish world, that people are remembered after death is very important. That people will eventually be forgotten is stated elsewhere in Ecclesiastes (cp. Ecc. 1:11).(top)
“envy.” The Hebrew word can refer to envy, jealousy, or zeal. These are all very strong emotions (and can be negative or positive (cp. Ps. 69:9)), but once a person is dead they have no emotions.
“a portion.” A share, and a “portion” can also refer to an inheritance (cp. Num. 18:20).
“forever.” The Hebrew can mean “forever” or just “for a long time.” In this case it can be both, because the wicked will be destroyed but the righteous will be resurrected to life on a glorious earth. Thus, concerning the righteous, the “forever” is technically a hyperbole for “a long time.” And it has indeed been a long time since Ecclesiastes was written.(top)
“Go and eat your bread with pleasure.” Many verses in Ecclesiastes encourage people to rejoice and have fun in life (cp. Ecc. 2:24-25; 3:4, 12-13, 22; 5:18-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 10:19; 11:7-8). See commentary on Ecclesiastes 2:24.
“God has already accepted your works.” This verse is not saying that God accepts every “work” or action people do. The Hebrew text does say that God “already” accepts your works, and many English versions follow the Hebrew text in that translation (cp. ASV, CJB, HCSB; DBY; ESV; JPS; NASB, NET; REV; RSV). However, many English translations avoid “already” because many translators think it makes the verse sound like God approves whatever people do, but that is not what the verse is saying. Since the Hebrew text says “already,” it is best to leave “already” in the English versions and then properly understand the verse, because when Ecclesiastes 9:7 is properly understood, it teaches a powerful lesson.
Many people think or are taught that to be truly spiritual a person has to let go of the things of this life and become an ascetic in one way or another. This has shown up in many ways throughout history, with supposedly spiritual people giving up fine food, or wine, or material wealth, or marriage and family, and even giving up talking to others. But these are man-made regulations based on man-made ideas of what would please God
God made the world and many of the things in it to be enjoyed, and things to be enjoyed include food, drink, marriage and children. It does not draw us closer to God to give up those things (it does occasionally happen that a person becomes so entangled with those things that it helps to give them up for a season).
Ecclesiastes 9:7 is in the larger context of the message in Ecclesiastes that a person has one life, and that life is difficult and uncertain and ends in death. But in this challenging life, God has given the gift of food and drink and companionship in marriage, and the person who engages in those activities does not have to wonder if they are okay with God, the Bible says, “God has already accepted your works.” God cannot make our fallen world easy and fun, but He can give us some things to enjoy, and He wants us to enjoy them, and when we do, He accepts our works.(top)
“white.” The white in this context is associated with joy.
“oil.” In the culture, oil had an association with joy. It smelled good and kept the skin from drying in the sun.(top)
“Enjoy life.” The Hebrew is literally, “See life,” using “see” in its idiomatic sense of “experience” (as in the phrase, he will not “see death,” i.e., die). Thus to “see life” with your wife is to “experience life,” and in this context, “enjoy life.”
“have loved.” The Hebrew verb is in the perfect tense, “have loved.” Although it may be the man’s love has continued, it seems clear that the Sage is pointing out that at one time the man had a great love for his wife, no matter how he felt about her now.
“pointless.” See commentary on Ecclesiastes 1:2. Here again we see the meaning “temporary” become more important than just “pointless.”
“for that is your portion in life and in your labor.” Enjoying life and being with the wife that you loved is your portion in life and in your labor; that is, the wife is to be a part of your life and a support and joy in your life and in your work. Ecclesiastes 9:9 continues the theme of finding joy in life that was clear in Ecclesiastes 9:8; “he who finds a wife finds a good thing” (Prov. 18:22). Wine, oil, and wonderful companionship were designed by God to help make this difficult life joyful.(top)
|Ecc 9:10||- (top)|
“Then I turned.” This is a break and introduces a new subject (cp. Ecc. 4:1).(top)
“his time.” In this context, “his time” refers to the day of his death.
“evil time.” This is a use of “evil” that does not have the connotation of morally evil, but just “evil, bad, inopportune” from the standpoint of the one who is experiencing the disaster. Similarly, the “evil net” is not morally evil, it is simply a disaster from the perspective of the fish.(top)
“Also in this.” This refers to the examples to follow in the next couple of verses.
“made a great impression on me.” The literal Hebrew is “was great upon me,” and this seems to be an idiom for made a great impression upon me.(top)
|Ecc 9:14||- (top)|
“poor wise man.” In contrast with the “great king.” “Poor” is not only in money, but could be “poor” in other ways; not respected, pitied (cp. Ecc. 4:13, the “poor” young man).
“remembered.” This is the idiomatic sense of “remember,” meaning to honor, favor, help. The poor man was still alive, as we see from Ecclesiastes 9:16.(top)
“Wisdom is better than strength.” The one with the strength was the great king; the one with the wisdom was the poor man who delivered the city.(top)
|Ecc 9:17||- (top)|
“but one sinner destroys much good.” This last phrase of Ecclesiastes 9 connects the closing subject of chapter 9 with the opening subject of chapter 10. Wisdom is good, as we have seen in the last few verses, but it can be undone by even a little foolishness, as chapter 10 points out.(top)