New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


Ecc 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is heavy on men-
Solomon feels that not being able to take wealth beyond the grave is "evil" (Ecc. 4:8; 5:13; 6:2). If Solomon had instead humbled himself to accept that his wealth was a gift from God by grace, in response to his choice of wisdom, then he would not have had all this regret about being wealthy and being unable to use it beyond the grave.

Ecc 6:2 a man to whom God gives riches, wealth, and honour, so that he lacks nothing for his soul of all that he desires, yet God gives him no power to eat of it, but an alien eats it. This is vanity, and it is an evil disease-
Solomon clearly has himself in view, for he was the one to whom God gave wealth, and in Ecc. 5:19 he says that God has also given him in this life the opportunity to enjoy it. He recognizes this as indeed "the gift of God", but then blames God for having given him a life which therefore had no time for self reflection, because of the joy of this life which God had given him (Ecc. 5:20). But even this apparent gratitude to God is nuanced by Solomon's complaint in Ecc. 6:2 that he has been given wealth, but his death stops him from ultimately enjoying it. He really is acting even in old age as the spoilt child he had always been.  

Truth  flowed  through  his  mouth  with ease, but took no lodgment at all in his heart. Truth, absolute and pure, flows through our hands in such volume. Bible study after Bible study, chapter  after  chapter... But does it mean anything  at  all  to us? Prov. 6:26 warns the young man that the Gentile woman will take his money and leave him destitute at the end. These words seem to be alluded to by Solomon years later in Ecc. 6:2, where he laments that despite his wealth and success, a Gentile  would have it all after his death. He saw in later life that  his  warnings  to  the young men of Israel had been in the form of painting a picture of a typical young man who epitomized youthful  folly;  but  now  he  saw  that  he  had been making a detailed prophecy of himself.

Ecc 6:3 If a man fathers a hundred children, and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not filled with good, and moreover he has no burial; I say, that a stillborn child is better than he-
Having had 1000 wives, Solomon surely is the man in view, who had fathered many children and also lived a long life. But for all his wealth, and the ability to enjoy it in this life (Ecc. 5:19), he felt his soul had not been filled with good, and that he would be despised after his death, his name covered in darkness and shame (:4). This is the meaning of the idiom of a man having no burial; it is not always to be taken literally. See on Ecc. 7:1. He knew he had oppressed his people and would be bitterly remembered for it after his death (1 Kings 12:11). He understands so well his situation; and yet refuses to repent.

Solomon concludes that despite having every material blessing, a man can still not be satisfied (s.w. Ecc. 4:8; 6:3). But in Proverbs he thinks that the righteous do satisfy their souls in this life (Prov. 13:25). But he thought that this would be experienced in this life, rather than in any future Kingdom of God on earth. As he got closer to death, he realized that he had not satisfied his soul despite all his wealth. And so he concluded that righteousness was vain, and turned away from Yahweh. This is what happens when we lose the perspective of the future Kingdom of God.

It is possible to see Solomon as an anti-Christ, as well as a type of Christ; like Saul, he was both a type of Christ, and also the very opposite of the true Christ. This point is really brought out in Is. 53:11, where the true Messiah is described as being “satisfied” with the travail or labour of his soul, and will thereby bring forth many children. The Hebrew words used occur in close proximity in several passages in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon speaks of how all his “travail” or “labour” has not “satisfied” him, and that it is all the more vain because his children may well not appreciate his labour and will likely squander it (Ecc. 1:8; 4:8; 5:10; 6:3). Likewise the ‘Babylon’ system of Revelation, replete with its feature of 666, is described in terms which unmistakably apply to Solomon’s Kingdom. This feature of Solomon- being both a type of Christ and yet also the very opposite of the true Christ- reflects the tragic duality which we will observe at such length in our later studies.

Ecc 6:4 for it comes in vanity, and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness-
The "it" is the soul or person of :3. Solomon feels he may as well not have existed, and considers himself no better than a stillborn child (:3). In Ecc. 5:17 Solomon has complained that he had lived his whole life in the depression of darkness. He knows he will be despised after his death because of his oppression of his people (see on :3). This continues the thought of Ecc. 5:17; that he was frustrated and angry as he faced death and final sickness; and he feels that this is in fact how he has always been, eating his sumptuous meals in the darkness of depression. And this again is absolutely true to observed experience; the feelings of old age depression are extrapolated by the sufferer and assumed to have been how their entire lives have been, whether or not that was the case.

Ecc 6:5 Moreover it has not seen the sun nor known it. This has rest rather than the other-
GNB: "It never sees the light of day or knows what life is like, but at least it has found rest". The reference is to the stillborn child of :3, but Solomon is saying that whether one lives just a few moments in the womb or thousands of years (:6), the reality of the "rest" of death is such that life has no meaning. Solomon's abuse of his own people, whipping them at the end (1 Kings 12:11), was a reflection of how he failed to perceive the value and meaning of his own life, and this was reflected [as it is in the behaviour of abusers today] in how he treated  the lives of others. If Solomon had accepted the basic Biblical truth that life is a gift from God, as his father David had understood (Ps. 139:15), then he would have realized his need to use that life for God and not himself. And his value of the human person and the lives of others would have subsequently been transformed.

Ecc 6:6 Yes, though he live a thousand years twice told, and yet fails to enjoy good, don’t all go to one place?-
Solomon speaks in Ecclesiastes 6 of the tragedy of possessing all things but being unable to enjoy them, because fulfilling one's own natural desires one after another really isn't much of a life. And thus he came to despise the concept of eternal life because he saw no point in life itself (see on :5); "A thousand years" was likely a figure for eternity. He conceived of eternal life as being life as we now know it; and he didn't really want to live for ever as he'd fulfilled every natural desire. There's a real warning for us here. If we see the eternity of the Kingdom as a big carrot for us, it may not actually be that motivating for us in the long run of spiritual life. It is the quality and nature of that life which is surely important to us, and not the mere infinity of it. Indeed, eternal life as we now know it would be a curse rather than a blessing. 

Ecc 6:7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled-
The appetite [Heb. ‘soul’] continues the commentary upon the human person or soul which began in :3. These verses explain the sense of weariness and vanity which there is in our world. Human labour is required just to keep alive, but there is no satisfaction from it in ultimate terms. Solomon is here rejecting the whole message of the Gospel in Gen. 3. Indeed man is cursed to eat bread in the sweat of his face; but Gen. 3:15 opens up the possibility of overcoming that curse, through the Messianic seed of the woman. But Solomon had no place in his thinking for this Messianic seed, assuming he was the one. And so, like all who reject Christ, he was left labouring in the sweat of his face for a soul / appetite which can never be fulfilled without Him.

Ecc 6:8 For what advantage has the wise more than the fool? What has the poor man, who knows how to walk before the living?-
This shows how effectively he despised his wisdom; he lost sight of the Kingdom which it led to ultimately, and the God manifestation which it could enable in this life. LXX "since the poor man knows how to walk before life?"since the poor man knows how to walk before life?". Solomon in Proverbs has consistently seen the poor as foolish, poor because they are fools. But he now thinks that the fools walk as do the "wise" and there is no real ultimate advantage of wisdom over folly. This is a specific retraction of all his wisdom as published in his anthology of his wisdom in the book of Proverbs.

Ecc 6:9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind-
LXX "waywardness of spirit", parallel with the wandering of desire. Again Solomon has himself in view, for in Ecc. 2 he describes how his desire wandered and he sought to fulfil those desires, be they sexual or in the desire to engage in science, agriculture, building schemes etc. Again, we note that Solomon's self criticism was so penetrating and accurate. But mere possession of knowledge, correct analysis, will not save. It is humble faith in grace which is needed in order to elicit repentance, but Solomon had none of that.

Solomon’s proverbs about not eating too much honey (Prov. 25:16) clearly mean that we shouldn’t over indulge legitimate human pleasures. But his approach in Ecclesiastes was the studied opposite of this. He openly says that he indulged himself in every human pleasure to the extreme, until it meant nothing. And yet he had warned against doing this very thing. Having  stated  that  he  sees no particular advantage of Divine wisdom, Solomon goes on to allude to his own wandering of desire (Ecc. 6:9);  he  had  been given all a man could wish, his desire knew  no  bounds,  and  yet  it  wandered.  This  is yet another powerful challenge from Solomon; his every desire was satisfied, but  still  he  felt that his desires were unfulfilled (Ecc. 1:8; 6:7).  So  much  of  our  mental  and  physical energy goes into gratification  of  desire, even though it is heavily camouflaged beneath  social  respectability  and  achieving the norms of our community. Yet if we believe the lesson of Solomon, the only man who  actually  had every desire gratified, then we will shun all this-  and  fix  our  hope  and every striving on Christ and his Kingdom alone.  

Ecc 6:10 Whatever has been, its name was given long ago; and it is known what man is; neither can he contend with him who is mightier than he-
This continues the theme which Solomon developed at the beginning of Ecclesiastes; that all is cyclical, without ultimate progress. Nothing is new. And if there is indeed a God, then He is "mightier" than man, and so all relationship with Him is pointless, seeing that He will not allow man to take his wealth with him beyond the grave. This denial that anything radically new can appear, no deeper insight into the human condition, is another way of Solomon abrogating his previous wisdom. For that wisdom had indeed sought to explain "what man is" and to furnish new insights and understanding. Solomon seems to have in mind Job's desperate thoughts, that no man can contend with God because of His mightiness (Job 9:3). But he fails to as it were read to the end of the book, where Job repents, and is brought to the glorious realization that relationship with God is wonderfully possible, and indeed eagerly sought by God with man.

Ecc 6:11 For there are many words that create vanity. What does that profit man?-
This is said by Solomon in the context of abrogating the importance of the wisdom he has previously taught; see on :8. The "many words" would then be a reference to the many words he had written himself in codifying that wisdom. The criticism of "many words" in Ecc. 5:7 and 6:11 seems a reference to his own writing down of the wisdom God had given him, codifying it into books such as the compilation we have in the book of Proverbs (Ecc. 12:10,12). He associates the "many words" with "dreams", perhaps an intensive plural for "a great dream" (Ecc. 5:7). It was as a result of the dream of 1 Kings 3:5 that he was given the "many words" of wisdom which he now considered unhelpful and irrelevant because death meant that there was no particular ultimate advantage of wisdom over folly; wisdom was at best profitable in this life in some short term sense. And he therefore associates "many words" with folly (Ecc. 10:14). He considers he had been foolish by preaching and believing those many words of Divine wisdom. Now, for him, the true wisdom was in idolatry and not Yahweh worship in His temple. For he had forsaken worshipping at Yahweh's temple and instead worshipped in the idol temples he had built nearby (1 Kings 11:4-8).

Ecc 6:12 For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he spends like a shadow? For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?
The obvious answer is "God", but Solomon had turned away from God to idols. Surely Solomon writes this knowing that his words elicit the answer: "God". Yet he believed that God was powerless to resurrect man to judgment after his death (Ecc. 3:22), and so we can read this as deep sarcasm against God.