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Ecclesiastes 6

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Futility of Life The Vanity of Gain and Honor
(5:8-6:12)
The Topic of Possessions
(5:10-6:9)
Life Is Useless
(5:8-6:12)
Money
(5:9-6:12)
6:1-6 6:1-2 6:1-6 6:1-6 6:1-3
  6:3-6      
        6:4
        6:5-6
6:7-9 6:7-9 6:7-9 6:7-9 6:7
        6:8
    The Human Condition   6:9
6:10-12 6:10-12 6:10-12 6:10-12 6:10
  (10-11)      
        6:11-12
  (12)      

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

OPENING STATEMENTS

A. Ecclesiastes 6:1 through 8:15 may be a loosely structured literary unit.

 

B. Chapter 6 begins with the folly of (hyperboles):

1. riches, Eccl. 6:2

2. many children, Eccl. 6:3

3. long life, Eccl. 6:6

 

C. The reason for the folly is:

1. the never-ending cycle of human existence

2. the fact that fallen humanity is never satisfied with physical things (cf. chapters 1-2)

 

D. The important question about the meaning of life is asked again in Eccl. 6:12 (cf. Eccl. 1:3; 3:9; 5:16). What does it all mean? Where is the lasting profit/advantage?

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 6:1-6
 1There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men—2a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction. 3If 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, 4for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. 5It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he. 6Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?"

6:1

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV, LXX"an evil"
TEV"a serious injustice"
NJB, NIV"another evil"

This is the Hebrew term (BDB 949) that has been used so often by Qoheleth. It starts Eccl. 6:1 (evil) and closes Eccl. 6:2 (sore). See note at Eccl. 2:21 and especially at Eccl. 5:13.

▣ "under the sun" This is referring to human values and perspectives only. See note at Eccl. 1:3.

NASB"it is prevalent"
NKJV"it is common"
NRSV"it lies heavy"
NJB"which goes hard with people"
LXX"it is abundant"
REV, NIV"it weighs heavily"

This is an ADJECTIVE (BDB 912 I) and a DEMONSTRATIVE ADJECTIVE (BDB 214). As the translations show there are two ways to interpret this phrase:

1. The evil is common to all humans.

2. The evil weighs heavily on humans.

 

6:2 "God has given" This refers to the sovereignty of God in human life and daily affairs (cf. Eccl. 5:19). However, His activity is exactly opposite to traditional wisdom (cf. Job's three friends). Mosaic revelation promised abundance for covenant obedience (cf. Deut. 28), but Qoheleth had seen the prosperity of the wicked (cf. Psalm 73).

▣ "riches. . .wealth. . .honor" See 2 Chr. 1:11, which shows that these things are the desires of all humans. We think these things will make us happy so we pursue them with all our strength and mental focus, but they do not, cannot!

▣ "God has given. . .God has not empowered" Notice the active presence of God. In Eccl. 5:19 this presence is a blessing ("given" and "empowered"), but here the blessing of material possessions is not balanced with the wisdom to enjoy them! Things, without inner peace, do not bring happiness, contentment, satisfaction, or lasting benefit!

We need to:

1. enjoy daily life, whatever it may bring (i.e., 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20; 7:7-9)

2. trust in eternal life, whenever and however physical life ceases (i.e., 1:3; 3:9; 5:16; 6:11)

3. honor God (cf. Eccl. 3:14; 5:7; 7:18; 8:12)!

4. obey God (cf. Eccl. 12:13)!

 

▣ "soul lacks nothing of all that he desires" See Ps. 17:14; 73:7; Luke 12:19.

▣ "to eat from" This is a metaphor meaning "to enjoy."

▣ "foreigner" This can refer to (1) war; (2) one who is not related by birth; or (3) metaphorically the frailty of wealth in this world. In Israel's history it refers to Moses' curses of covenant disobedience in Deuteronomy 27-29.

NASB"sore affliction"
NKJV"an evil affliction"
NRSV"a grievous evil"
TEV"just isn't right"
NJB"grievous suffering"
LXX"an evil infirmity"
REB"a dire affliction"
JPSOA"a grievous ill"

This is made up of a noun and an adjective.

1. noun, BDB 318, meaning sickness, cf. Eccl. 5:16; Deut. 28:59,61; Isa. 53:4

2. adjective, BDB 948 I, meaning injury or wrong. See note at Eccl. 5:13.

Life is unfair and unpredictable, yet God is actively present. In the Semitic proverb genre called "role reversal" the same occurs. The seeming prosperity of the wicked (so common in our world) will change (cf. Psalm 73). Lasting happiness and contentment sought after so diligently by godless humans will not bring lasting satisfaction. A righteous God will act, will judge, will right the wrongs of this life.

6:3-6 The paragraph gives several specific examples which seem to go against traditional wisdom teachings. A man may have many children (i.e., sexual pleasure and descendants), or live a long time (i.e., health and many experiences), but he will find no satisfaction (i.e., no lasting advantage, cf. Eccl. 1:3). His life has been vain, empty, meaningless.

Almost as an aside, Qoheleth mentions, "no proper burial," which was very important to Jewish people. The word "proper" is not in the Hebrew text. Even if he had had a proper burial without lasting benefit, he would not be satisfied! Preparation for the afterlife is not made at death, but through life!

The NET Bible has an interesting take on this line (p. 1129). It sees it as related to the previous line and referring to an extended life. It mentions Ps. 49:9 and 89:48 as other examples of this poetic parallelism. I think this interpretation is surely possible and fits the immediate context well!

6:3 "hundred children" Children are a great blessing from God (cf. Ps. 127:3-5), but they cannot provide a lasting benefit (cf. Eccl. 1:3; 2:18).

▣ "lives many years" Long life is also a great blessing from the Father (cf. Prov. 3:16), but it cannot provide a lasting benefit (cf. Eccl. 6:6).

▣ "he does not have proper burial" In Hebrew this can refer to an elaborate funeral.

SPECIAL TOPIC: BURIAL PRACTICES

▣ "Better the miscarriage than he" This is based on the life of a man mentioned in Eccl. 6:1-3. This world's goods and honors (cf. chapters 1-2) do not, by themselves, bring happiness or lasting benefit (cf. Eccl. 4:3). Life without God is not authentic life!

The term "miscarriage" (BDB 658) can mean

1. abortive birth, cf. Job 3:16; Ps. 58:8; NRSV

2. untimely (i.e., early or late) birth (RSV)

Number 1 fits this context best (cf. Eccl. 4:3).

6:4-5 "it" This refers to the untimely birth of Eccl. 6:3.

1. Its birth is in vain.

2. It goes into obscurity (darkness).

3. Its name is covered in obscurity (darkness).

4. It never sees the sun (i.e., light).

5. It never has wisdom.

6. It is better off!

What a pessimism that challenges OT Wisdom teaching! This author wants us to walk to the brink of existence and look straight into the empty nothingness of atheistic humanism!

6:5

NASB"it is better off than he"
NKJV"this has more rest than that man"
NRSV"yet it finds rest rather than he"
TEV"but at least it has found rest"
NJB"it will rest more easily than that person"

The "it" refers to the child of untimely birth, which is contrasted with the man who has wealth and honor, but no peace, Eccl. 6:1-3.

6:6 "thousand years" This is a symbol of fullness or completeness.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THOUSAND (ELEPH)

SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE

▣ "do not all go to one place" This refers to the common fate of all living things, Sheol (cf. Eccl. 2:14).

SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 6:7-9
  7All a man's labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied. 8For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living? 9What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind.

6:7-9 This may be poetry (cf. NJB). The parallel lines would be:

1. all animals toil just to eat (cf. Gen. 3:17-19); yet they can never eat enough to give lasting satisfaction (i.e., they get hungry again), Eccl. 6:7

2. both the wise and the foolish are caught up in the trials and problems of a fallen world.

The second line is uncertain; it seems to give an advantage (i.e., "street smarts") to the poor man who has to perpetually cope with less, Eccl. 6:8

3. all humans want more than they have, yet when they have much (i.e., chapters 1-2) it is still not enough (i.e., vanity, futility, see note at Eccl. 1:14), Eccl. 6:9

 

▣ "advantage" This term (BDB 452, cf. Eccl. 6:8,11) is a recurrent key word in Ecclesiastes. See note at Eccl. 1:3.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: ECCLESIASTES 6:10-12
 10Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is. 11For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man? 12For 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?

6:10 "named" This is either (1) a reference to the naming of the animals by Adam, showing his dominion or authority over them (cf. Gen. 2:19-20) or (2) a reference to man being named "Adam" from the Hebrew Adamah (cf. Gen. 2:18-25).

However, in this context it is not the naming of Adam or Adam naming the animals that is the focus, but the repetitive cycle (cf. Eccl. 1:9; 3:15) of humans naming things. This naming was, in a sense, an act of power and authority. Adam had dominion (cf. Gen. 1:28-30), but lost it (i.e., Genesis 3).

▣ "for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is" The "him who is stronger" can refer to:

1. another human (i.e., one person seeks justice from a physically or socially stronger person, cf. NJB)

2. metaphorically of the cycles of time, which have already named everything (over and over)

3. God (cf. Job 9:32; 40:2; Isa. 45:9)

 

6:11-12 Human disputation, either with God or one another, cannot solve the problem of meaningless life without hope.

The famous question of Ecclesiastes is, "What then is the advantage to a man?" This is a repeat of Eccl. 1:3; 2:11,22; 3:9; 5:16! Without a God of justice and mercy there is no joy, benefit, or lasting satisfaction! Life can be good or hard, but what is beyond? Is there a qualitative difference between the fate of a person of faith versus a self-seeking, wicked person?

Human life is fleeting (i.e., like a shadow, cf. Eccl. 8:13; 1 Chr. 29:15; Job 9:9; 14:2; Ps. 102:11; 109:23; 144:4). Human life is a laborious toil. What does the future hold? This is the question (cf. Eccl. 3:22; 7:14; 8:7; 10:14). Is there a fair, just, merciful, unchanging God whose promises can be depended on? This is the faith issue of human existence!

6:11 "many words which increase futility" The infinitive "many" (BDB 915 I, Hiphil infinitive absolute) and the participle "increase" (BDB 915 I, KB 1176, Hiphil participle) are word plays on the same term, which means, "make much" or "make great."

Israel's Wisdom tradition counseled speaking few words (cf. Prov. 10:19), because words quickly reveal the person's character and motives.

6:12 "who" Notice there are two questions introduced with "who."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Is this chapter an attack on riches and honor?

2. How can death or non-existence be preferred to life?

3. List the ways this chapter teaches the sovereignty of God.