“Death” – Ecclesiastes 9:1-12

February 9th, 2014

Ecclesiastes 9:1-12


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Bible Memory Verse for the Week: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” —  John 11:25-26

Background Information:

  • Ecclesiastes seems to deal not with the issue of blessing but with the problem of curse.  The world is closed to human investigation.  Death, not life, is the trademark of the world.  Wisdom is inaccessible, meaninglessness pervasive.  Clearly, there is a world of curse represented by this stream of wisdom literature, and there are numerous linguistic echoes of early chapters of Genesis.  The world can be an evil place.  Many times the wicked seem blessed and the righteous cursed.  Death renders everything pointless–hebel (a word that echoes Abel’s name forcefully).  But ultimately the way out of this riddled existence is not agnosticism, scepticism or trying to acquire a forbidden wisdom (cf. Gn 3); it is through the fear of the Lord.  The way out of the death of exile, where wisdom seems lost, is given through the line of David: fear God and keep his commandments; this is the whole duty of humanity (Ecc 12:13).  (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 207)
  • All of the Bible is divine revelation, divine speech.  But God never speaks directly in Ecclesiastes.  Ecclesiastes is all monologue, not dialogue.  How is it divine revelation?  It is inspired monologue.  God in his providence has arranged for this one book of mere rational philosophy to be included in the canon of Scripture because this too is divine revelation.  It is divine revelation precisely in being the absence of divine revelation.  It is like the silhouette of the rest of the Bible.  It is what Fulton Sheen calls “black grace” instead of “white grace”; revelation by darkness rather than by light.  In this book God reveals to us exactly what life is when God does not reveal to us what life is.  Ecclesiastes frames the Bible as death frames life.  (Peter Kreeft, Three Philosophies of Life, 23)
  • As we’ve seen over and over again, this is an amazing book before us.  Solomon gives us every reason under the sun to be gloomy.  He tells us that death always wins, and life always cheats.  He tells us that the best effort we can put forth guarantees exactly nothing.  Then, as always, he tells us to be joyful!   (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 240)
  • For most of chapter 9 Solomon emphasizes that to live as we should, we must constantly be aware of the brevity of earthly life.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 90)
  • (v.5) Forget” (Heb. shākah; see Hos 2:13) often means more than mere lapse of memory.  It suggests that the record and impact of our existence will be wiped out, as though we had never lived.  Death is the great eraser as Koheleth clearly laments: “And they (the dead) have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.  (Eccl 9:5).  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 86)
  • Occasionally God speaks of a future resurrection, but this is linked to the coming of the Messiah (e.g., Ps 16:9-11; cf. Isa 25:7-8; 26:19; Dan 12:2-3; Acts 2:23-35).

So the dead at that time did not know what future they could expect.  They had to wait for this till after the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  They are soon forgotten on earth, and memorial inscriptions are obliterated with time (v. 5b).  “For them love, hate, ambition, all are now over” (NEB), and they cannot return to this life to do or undo (v. 6).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1182)


The question to be answered is . . . Why Koheleth’s preoccupation with Death?


Answer: Because contemplating death is the great authenticator to insure that your world-view is based on reality and not illusion.  None of us want to live our life and at its end have to say, “Oops!”


It is a poor thing to fear that which is inevitable. — Tertullian


The knowledge of one’s own death is the essential fact that distinguishes us from animals. — Soren Kierkegaard


The Word for the Day is . . . Death


What can we learn about life under the son from Koheleth in Ecclesiastes 9:1-12?:                             

I-  Good/evil, wise/fool, all end up dead.  Under the sun it is always better to be living than dead . . . whatever the cost.  (Eccl 9:2-4; see also: Jn 9:4; Heb 9:27)


The highest value of life under the sun is to stay alive at all costs.  Who knows, if you can just stay alive, you may find something that leads away from meaninglessness.


Life is a web of trails and temptations but only one of them can ever be fatal.  The temptation to think by that it is further, better and more aggressive living that we can have life. — Robert Capan


Can he seriously face up to the fact of his death as one more meaningless event in an endless flow of meaningless events?  And further, can he live consistently with that fact?  Can he forever silence the cries, which arise from every facet of his being, that there must be more to life than this?

Only if he can find an explanation for those deep and instinctive longings.  (Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Pundit’s Folly, 41-42)


The lion, “mightiest of the beasts” (Prv 30:30), was admired in the ancient world.  The dog, on the other hand, was a despised scavenger (Ex 22:31; 1 Kgs 14:11), notorious for its uncleanness (Prv 26:11); a Sumerian proverb states: “He who esteems highly dogs which are clever is a man who has no shame.”  All this adds point to the Preacher’s estimation of this life as decisive.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 126)


Dogs were at the low end of the social scale among animals (witness David’s Philistine enemy, 1 Sm 17:43; Abner’s angry outburst, 2 Sm 3:8; Hazael’s sharp question, 2 Kgs 8:13); lions were at the high end (note Judah’s status, Gn 49:9; and Dan’s, Dt 33:22.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 199)


The typical dog in the orient was a scavenger.  To call someone a dog was a real insult.  For instance, when he was accused of wrongdoing, Abner felt insulted and blurted out, “Am I a dog’s head?” (2 Sm 3:8).  Rv 22:15 describes the damned as “the dogs.”  As much as dogs are enjoyed and pampered in our day, the canine species still has not reached complete respectability.  To call someone a “dirty dog” or just plain “dog” is hardly a compliment.  The lion on the other hand has always been respected as the savage but majestic king of the beasts.  Prv 30:30 describes the lion as “mighty among beasts, who retreats before nothing.”  Yet even a little scavenger dog roaming the streets is better off than a dead lion, because he still has life.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 95)


He lays down for a rule, that the love and hatred of God are not to be measured and judged of by men’s outward condition.  If prosperity were a certain sign of God’s love, and affliction of his hatred, then it might justly be an offence to use to see the wicked and godly fare alike.  But the matter is not so:  No man knows either love or hatred by all that is before him in this world, by those things that are the objects of sense.  (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. III, 1031)


At least where there is life there is hope (v. 4).  There is always something to look forward to, always a possible tomorrow.  To live is to know, to know something, even if it is only that you are going to die.  To be dead is to know nothing.  It is the end of all that life has to offer; its experiences and its passions.  There is no sense here of someone tired of the hassle of life, longing for “restful death.”  Quite the opposite: it is life and life alone that is real.  Better to face the perplexities and questions of life than to step into the nothingness of death.  On his death bed, Thomas Hobbes said: “I am about to take my last voyage, a leap into the dark.”  For Koheleth that “dark” was chill and unattractive.  The only certainty he knew was the light of life.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 63-64)


All things come alike to all.  There is one event to the righteous–to the good–to the clean–to him that sacrificeth–to him that feareth an oath–on the one side; to the wicked–to the unclean–to him that sacrificeth not–to him that sweareth on the other side.  The same Providential dispensations belong to both.  If Abraham was rich, so was Haman (Gn 13:2; Esth 5:11).  If Ahab was slain in battle, so was Josiah (1 Kgs 23:34; 2 Kgs 23:29).  The Lord’s outward dispensation proved therefore neither his love nor his hatred.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 212-13)


Every man must have an object of pursuit to keep him in healthful exercise.  The dreaming privilege of doing nothing will soon melt away into real misery.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 224)


“I have been meditating on this, observing, seeking, and thinking about it,” he says.  “I have come to the conclusion that even though we may understand that we are in the hand of God, nevertheless it is difficult to know from the events that happen to us whether we have His approval or disapproval” (whether it is love or hate).  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 130)


Death is the great equalizer, he says.  No matter if we are righteous or unrighteous, good, bad, or indifferent, death comes to all.  Death is the great proof that there is something wrong about humanity; it forces us to face reality.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 132)


An article by Brooks Alexander of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project in Berkeley, makes a marvelous statement about this theme of death:  Just as death is, humanly speaking, a final and total separation, so the awareness of that end shatters our attempt to find some sense or value in the pattern of life here and now.

     When people try to live only for this life, when all their values are centered here and they see nothing beyond this, they are never able to solve the riddles or questions of life.  The thing that constantly intrudes upon them is the fact of death; they cannot find any final philosophy that comforts and satisfies when they think of death.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 133-34)


By listing all these different kinds of people, Solomon is alluding to every kind of reputation among men.  Some are outcasts (the unclean); some are respected (the good man and those who offer sacrifices); some are looked down on (the sinner); some are considered bold (those who take oaths); others seem timid (those who are afraid to take oaths).  Regardless of their standing among men, all these people are brought to the same level in death.  Then the real sorting out begins, as they stand before the judgment throne of God.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 92)


It is overreaction that Solomon is concerned to counter.  When one overreacts in this way, that is evidence that to some extent he has bought into a worldly philosophy of life – that what happens under the sun is all-important to him.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 94)


In a game of chess, different pieces occupy squares all over the board.  The pawns, bishops, rooks, knights, queens, and kings have different abilities and positions of power.  But at the end of the game, where do all the pieces end up?  In a box.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 145)


One reason it is so hard to tell whether God is for or against us is because the same things happen to everyone.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 205)


Death brings ignorance, for the dead know nothing—at least nothing about what is happening on earth.  The end of verse 6 makes it clear that the Preacher is not denying the afterlife but is describing the totally permanent end that death brings to our earthly existence.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 207)


It is true that the way of faith and obedience to God is in the end the blessed way, and God’s blessings can include good health, financial prosperity, and happiness.  It is untrue, however, that the faithful and obedient person will only and ever possess such things and can somehow be sure of avoiding illness, disaster, and death if he or she can simply muster enough religious devotion.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 183)


Death plays to win; life plays unfairly.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 237)


Instead of living the rotten life of drifting self-indulgence (v. 3b), we should ask the further question, “What is the real purpose of life?”  While there is life, there is hope—but hope for what?  Surely, in the light of this book, there is hope for using life to the full.  A dog that is alive can respond in a way that is impossible for the king of beasts when he is dead (v. 4).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1181)


II-  The one with advantages doesn’t always come out on top.  Under the sun we should eat, drink, dress to the nines, have sex with our spouse, work hard, and be merry.  For death will ultimately win and you never really know how things will turn out. (Eccl 9:7-9, 11-12)


The race does not go to the fast, the strong, or the intelligent.  Death always wins.   (Paraphrase of Tullian Tchividjian; Life Without God – Pt 11)


The people with the greatest gifts often end up with the most tragic endings because they’re not wise.  So enjoy your life and work hard.  But don’t think that your natural abilities will give you automatic success.  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 152-153)


Five accomplishments are listed, none of which guarantees success or prosperity: (i) the swift-footed may find himself a loser (cf. 2 Sm 2:18); (ii) military strength is no guarantee of success in battle (cf. Isa 36-37); (iii) wisdom similarly is no guarantee of a livelihood (cf. Eccl 9:13-16; 10:1); (iv) understanding may be accompanied by poverty (cf. 9:15); (v) favor may be delayed for innocent Joseph (Gn 37-41) and not come at all for others (Eccl 9:13-16).  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 130)


We know nothing about Koheleth’s view on material fidelity.  Although most of our English versions do not reflect this, twice in the Hebrew of verse 9 there occurs a phrase which the RSV translates “all the days of your vain life,” literally “all the days of your hebel.”  It acts like a haunting refrain, underscoring his belief that there are no answers.  There is, however, no use sitting down and moaning that life does not make sense.  It is there to be enjoyed…as long (v. 10) as it lasts.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 64)


If we are married we must constantly work at making it a loving relationship.  Simply recognizing the fact that your partner is a gift from God does much to keep your married love alive.

Marriage is a temporary blessing.  “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (Mt 22:30).  So instead of spending years in discontent and bitterness, married people should enjoy their companionship during their short “meaningless” life on earth.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 97)


Surprisingly, the call to marital love is only a short-term calling; it is only for this life, not eternity.  Thus the Preacher tells husbands to enjoy their wives “all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life” (Ecclesiastes 9:9).  This is hardly the kind of statement that a woman is hoping to find written on her anniversary card!  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 215)


At any moment something may happen to us over which we have no control, something totally unexpected.  We are at the mercy of “time and chance.”  Bad luck can ruin our prospects.  One moment like fish swimming freely in the sea, the next caught in a net; one moment like a bird soaring in the sky, the next trapped, struggling helplessly in a snare (v. 12).  That’s life, says Koheleth.  (Robert Davidson, The Daily Study Bible: Ecclesiastes, 65)


A funeral doesn’t permit us to escape ultimate reality.  A funeral is proof that we are not in control of our own lives.  Few would choose to die if they had any way of preventing it, yet there is going to be an end to our existence.  This is what makes people uncomfortable and anxious to get back to the soothing illusions of life.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 132)


Have a blast while you last!  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 89)


The Teacher sums up this section on death with the words, “Never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”  Those who hope for “another time around” through some sort of reincarnation are whistling in the dark.  “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb 9:27).  Once you leave this earth, it’s final.  You’ll never come back.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 96)


Death is certain.  Life is short.  Once you’ve gone, you’ll never return to live on this earth.  Why, then, waste time fretting over things you can’t control?  “Enjoy life,” urges the Teacher.  You can enjoy life without abandoning yourself to sin and madness.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 96)


In the book of Proverbs Solomon frequently speaks out against laziness.  “How long will you lie there, you sluggard?” asks Solomon.  “When will you get up from your sleep?” (Prv 6:9).  In Ecclesiastes the Teacher explains why it’s important to work to capacity. You can’t go back and do it over again.  If you didn’t study in school, if you wasted your talents, if you’ve neglected your children, if you have hurt others through your negligence–you may not get a chance to make amends or to do the job over the right way.  Finally, in the grave, all opportunity will have been lost.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 98-99)


No matter how ably and hard we work, we dare not boast about the outcome.  That is in God’s hands, and we must humbly leave it there.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 99)


“Sin is not just the doing of bad things,” writes Tim Keller, “but the making of good things into ultimate things.  It is seeking to establish a sense of self by making something else more central to your significance, purpose, and happiness than your relationship to God.”   (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 217)


The Olympic slogan says citius, altius, fortius—swifter, higher, stronger!  But the race is not always won by the swift, nor the battle always by the strong.   (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 222)


The fish and the birds get caught before they know it.  If they had realized they were swimming into a net or flying into a snare, they would have gone the opposite direction.  But by the time they were trapped, it was too late to escape.   (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 223)


Who was the toughest?  Goliath, but he was defeated by a flimsy shepherd.  Who was the wisest?  Solomon, who was brought down by the foolishness of love.  Who was the most handsome?  Absalom, who was brought down by ugly behavior.  And oddly enough, who was the man after God’s own heart?  It was the covetous, lying, murdering adulterer David.  Life is complicated; so is godliness.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 239-40)


As we’ve seen over and over again, this is an amazing book before us.  Solomon gives us every reason under the sun to be gloomy.  He tells us that death always wins, and life always cheats.  He tells us that the best effort we can put forth guarantees exactly nothing.  Then, as always, he tells us to be joyful!  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 240)


Do not vex and perplex yourselves with the dispensations and mysteries of Providence; enjoy the blessings which God has given you, and live to His glory; and then God will accept your works.  (Adam Clarke, Holy Bible Commentary and Critical Notes, Vol II, 494)


Thou oughtest so to order thyself in all thy thoughts and actions, as if today thou wert about to die.  Labor now to live so, that at the hour of death thou mayest rather rejoice than fear.  (Thomas a Kempis, Imitation of Christ)


If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery. He would break down, at last, as every good fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does.  In place of this we have death.  — Charles Sanders Peirce


The most dangerous man on earth is the man who has reckoned with his own death.  All men die, few men ever really live.  Sure, you can create a safe life for yourself…and end your days in a rest home babbling on about some forgotten misfortune.  I’d rather go down swinging.  Besides, the less we are trying to “save ourselves,” the more effective a warrior we will be.  (John Eldredge; Wild at Heart, 169)


Bumper sticker, “Eat well, stay fit, and die anyway.”  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 206)


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: How does a relationship with Christ change all of this?:


Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil . . . there is no point to it.



A-  Under the Son our focus can be principled living rather than mere survival.  We can be passionate, intentional, purpose-filled humans rather than beasts because death does not have the final victory. (Ps 23:4, 6; 1 Cor 15:10-22, 26, 52-57; 2 Thes 3:6-13; Heb 2:9; Rv 1:17-18)


The man who fears death more than dishonor, more than failure to perform duty, is a poor citizen; and the nation that regards war as the worst of all evils and the avoidance of war as the highest good is a wretched and contemptible nation, and it is well that it should vanish from the face of the earth.  (Theodore Roosevelt, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, 199)


Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily. — Napleon Bonaparte


As a godly Puritan expresses his “good wish that what my hand findeth to do–I may do it with all my might: that I may be of the number of those that spend themselves with labor, and not of those who waste in rust and laziness.  Lord! let me rather wear out in the work, than consume (like a garment laid by with moths) for want of use.”  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 225)


“What have I to do today?  What duty–what work of love?–what talent to be employed?  What service does my Lord call me to do for him?”–“Lord! what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 225)


We must learn to live in the expectation of death.  We must learn that we are finite.  We must fulfill our vocation.  Death reminds us that there is a cut-off point.  Without this sense of termination, we’d become lazy and aimless.  Death provides urgency.  (Michael Bauman, Roundtable: conversations with European Theologians, 147)


The Teacher tells us there is only one way to approach work, namely, “with all your might.”  Whatever work you have found, do your best at it.  If you’re a student, study hard.  If you are a parent, learn from God’s Word what is best for your children, and then do it.  Do you work in a factory or an office, a store or a school?  Are you a salesman, a homemaker, a baker, a preacher, a truck driver, a police officer, a soldier, a lawyer, a nurse…?  Do not spend your time complaining about your job or wishing you had someone else’s talents.  Just do the work God has placed in front of you.  And do the best you can with it.  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 98)


The person who expects recognition in this life will be disappointed.  He is wrong in doing so.  For example, his company fails to recognize his faithfulness and promotes another instead.  He is not even given a raise in salary.  But if he allows this to defeat him, he is wrong.  That’s how he should expect things to be in a sinful, cursed world.  Rather, as Paul teaches, he should work only for Christ’s approval (Col. 3:22-25; cf. also Eccl. 9:7b).  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 99)


The puzzles over injustice and death find their key in what Jesus says and does.  Length of life is no more a gauge of quality of life.  Eternal life has come into the picture and has, among other things, provided the context for all loyalty toward God to be rewarded and all rebellion against God to be punished.  Koheleth knows no such scenario as Jesus gave us in the parable of the talents.  The “well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Lord,” and “You wicked and lazy servant,” your destiny is “outer darkness” with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 25:21, 26:30).  If we look for all wrongs to be righted in this life the questions of justice will swamp us.  The good news of life after death is that fellowship with God continues and total vindication of divine justice becomes possible.  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 205)


Irish poet Evangeline Paterson:  “I was brought up in a Christian environment where, because God had to be given preeminence, nothing else was allowed to be important.  I have broken through to the position that because God exists, everything is important.”  (Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind)


B-  Under the Son we can enjoy all of life because we see provision and protection as gifts from the God we trust.  Not as the last resort of a disillusioned, self-denying, dying optimist trying to find purpose in a meaningless and fallen world. (Jn 14:1-3, 6; Rom 8:18-25; 2 Cor 5:4-10; Heb 2:14-15; 1 Pt 1:3-9)


The Christian does not eat, drink, and become merry because tomorrow he dies; he eats, drinks, and is merry because tomorrow he lives!  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 95)


God approves of your enjoying life.  That’s what the end of verse 7 means.  Many Christians live as if it is a sin to enjoy life.  But God created the world for us to enjoy.  When Howard Hendricks said most Christians’ faces would make a great cover for the Book of Lamentations, he was right.  It’s OK to be a believer and have a good time.  Do you know what the word “Eden” means?  “Eden” is Hebrew for “delight.”  God gave trees that were good for food and a delight to the eyes.  He gave woman to man and man to woman.  It was wonderful.

One of the reasons God created the world was for our enjoyment.  “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude” (1 Tm 4:4). Too often, Christians today equate fun with sin and misery with righteousness.  But the Bible says that “In [God’s] presence is fullness of joy; In [God’s] right hand there are pleasures forever” (Ps 16:11).  (Tommy Nelson, A Life Well Lived, 147)


A note of imperious exhortation breaks in: Go…!  What had previously been put as advice (2:24-26; 3:12f., 22; 5:18-20) is now an urgent summons to action.  The believer must give himself to a contented life and to a joyful life (11:9).  The basis of contentment is that God has already approved what you do.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 127)


Ecclesiastes, however, does not advocate hedonism under the shadow of the gods’ ill-will, but contentment as part of God’s gift, the outflow of an assurance of acceptance by him.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 128)


The series of encouragements leads naturally to this one, for contentment (v. 7), comfort (v. 8) and companionship (v. 9) enable a man to throw himself into the tasks of life with energy and confidence.  (Michael A. Eaton, Tyndale OT Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 129)


Go thy way.  Enjoy your mercies while you have them.  The charge of melancholy is a libel upon religion.  The man that is an heir to “a lively hope, anchored within the veil” (1 Pt 1:3; Heb 6:19)–what ground has he for melancholy?  Why–we find him “greatly rejoicing,” even in the midst of “heaviness” (1 Pt 1:6).  A sinner has no right–a Christian–supported by Divine strength, favor, and consolation, has no reason–to complain.  His treasure includes the promise of all that he wants, in deep sense of his own unworthiness, and of his Father’s undeserved love.  (Charles Bridges, The Geneva Series of Commentaries: Ecclesiastes, 219)


The labor we perform in this world and the intelligence we apply to the problems we confront will have no place in the afterlife.  We must, therefore, view our time in this sin-cursed world as the opportunity to offer unique service to God even though we know heaven will be far better.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 122)


Notice the first part of Solomon’s advice for living: “Go then, eat your bread in happiness, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works” (Eccl 9:7).  This is definitely uncommon advice in conservative Christian circles.  Nevertheless, God has approved it since He is the One who has given people the ability to enjoy the fruits of their labor (2:24-25, 3:12-13, 5:18-19).  So the Lord is pleased when we find pleasure in His good gifts.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 92)


The comforts, delights, and passions of a marital union are to be expressed and relished by each mate.  After all, marriage has been sanctioned by God as an honorable relationship, and He considers the marriage bed to be undefiled (Gn 2:24-25, Mt 19:4-6, Heb 13:4).  So if you are married, live it up with your spouse!  That’s what God wants you to do (cf. Song of Solomon).  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 93)


You won’t always be able to find pleasure in life, for one day you will die.  So don’t wait until you retire to enjoy life.  Don’t even hold back until next week or tomorrow.  Start today.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 93)


Notice how clearly that is stated in verse 7: Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do.”  This is a recognition, even in the OT, of a relationship of righteousness that has been established.  We know now that that basis was laid in our Lord’s coming into this world in time, and in His subsequent death and resurrection.  Yet it is applied to people in the OT, as well as in the New, who had faith in what God declared, who believed His Word and thus were given the gift of righteousness.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 136)


These words of Solomon call us to realize that the meaning of life can never be found by trying to solve all its problems.  Rather, it is by trusting in the living God, who knows what He is doing and who is working out His strange purposes through our lives, teaching us all we need to know as we go on through.  Then our eyes will reflect the peace of God and our hearts shall respond with joy at the promises that await a fulfillment yet to come.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 139)


Olive oil and white clothes were associated with happiness.  The Bible uses these customs to symbolize the spiritual joy of God’s people.  Isaiah foretells how the Savior will “bestow on” his people “the oil of gladness” (Isa 61:3).  St. John depicts the saints in heaven as those who “have washed their robes and made them white” (Rv 7:14).  (Roland Cap Ehlke, The People’s Bible, Ecclesiastes, 97)


It is true that the universe is an ordered place and that cause and effect are features of its reality.  Yet the universe is not a machine.  It is a personally created and governed space, whose Originator and Sustainer is the living God.  Our human vocation is to love God, to love our neighbour, and to look after the earth-not to take advantage of the order of the universe to engage in self-centered and manipulative living. Indeed, cause and effect will only get us so far in life.  The pursuit of health and education, for example (perfectly good things in themselves), will only disappoint us in the end, if they are invested by us with ultimate value.  For beyond cause and effect there is God, who will not allow the idolatry of the self ultimately to exist.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 188)


This statement is not descriptive but imperative.  We are hereby commanded to eat our bread and drink our wine (yes, wine) with joyful hearts.  It is not so much the eating and drinking that the Preacher is after, but the heartfelt joy.  As we share table fellowship with one another—as we break fresh bread, sip fine wine, and taste all the other good food and drink that God provides—we are charged to receive each pleasure with God-centered joy in the heart.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 214)


The Preacher is telling us to put on tuxedos and evening gowns so we can dance the night away.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 214)


Every husband is called to enjoy his wife.  This means spending time together as friends.  In all the busy demands of life, set aside time to do things together that you both enjoy.  It means prizing one another as lovers.  Speak terms of affection and get away—just the two of you—to fuel the fires of romantic love.  Enjoying one’s wife also means valuing her as a person.  Listen carefully to what she says, without immediately pointing out where she’s wrong or trying to solve problems that she’s not even asking you to solve until she has been understood.  These are only a few of the many ways that husbands are called to enjoy their wives.  At this point some husbands (and not a few wives) will be tempted to complain that their wives (or husbands) are not always easy to enjoy.  The romance of marriage is long gone, and sometimes even the friendship seems to be over.  If that is the case, then we need to notice exactly how the Preacher words this command:  the wife whom we are told to “enjoy” is also the wife whom we are said to “love.”  Maybe your wife or your husband is hard to enjoy very much right now, but can you at least obey God’s command to love?  For husbands, this means loving their wives with the same costly, sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated when he died for our sins on the cross (see Eph 5:25-30).  It is hard to see how any man will enjoy his wife (or how she can possibly enjoy him) unless he is committed to loving her in a Christlike way.  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 214-215)


One of the best ways for us to enjoy life with Jesus is by sharing in his pleasures.  All of the good things mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9 symbolize the gifts of his grace.  Jesus gives us our daily bread (see Lk 11:3).  He makes our hearts glad with the bread and the wine of the Lord’s Supper.  He has anointed our heads with oil—the oil of the Holy Spirit.  He has invited us to the wedding supper of Heaven, where he will be our worthy groom and we will be his beautiful bride (see Rv 19:7, 9).  He has promised to give us spotless white to wear in his eternal kingdom, where we will join the celebration that never ends (see Rv 7:9, 14).  From here to eternity, every pleasure we enjoy is a gift from our everlasting Savior.   (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 219)


The time is short.  This makes some Christians think that we do not have time for the joyous activities described in Ecclesiastes 9, like celebrating, and maybe even marrying.  But these things still have their place in life.  In fact, the right kind of enjoyment will prove to be one of our best preparations for eternity.  Our earthly pleasures are telling us that we were made for another world.  Every honest day’s work brings us one day closer to our eternal rest.  Every good meal is a reminder that we have been invited to the last and the best of all banquets.  Every God-centered party anticipates the heavenly celebration that will never end.

Marriage too is part of our preparation for glory.  In his book on marriage, Bishop Jeremy Taylor acknowledged that one day everything that pleases us about marriage will pass away.  “At the resurrection,” he said, “there shall be no relation of husband and wife, and no marriage shall be celebrated but the marriage of the Lamb.”  Nevertheless, Taylor said, we will all remember that there was such a thing on earth as marriage, and we will see for ourselves that it was part of our preparation for eternity.  Whenever we saw an eager groom and his bride dressed in white, we were catching a glimpse of the eternal love that Jesus has for all his people.   (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 220)


Therefore what Paul is teaching us here is that the proper use of physical pleasures in sex and food is that they send our hearts Godward with the joy of gratitude that finds its firmest ground in the goodness of God himself, not in his gifts.  This means that if, in the providence of God, these gifts are ever taken away–perhaps by the death of a spouse or the demand for a feeding tube–the deepest joy that we had through them will not be taken away, because God is still good (see Hab 3:17-18).  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 187)


1.  Eat Every Meal As If at a Banquet.

2.  Celebrate Every Day As If at a Party.

3.  Enjoy Marriage As If on Your Honeymoon.

4.  Work As If It Were Your Final Workday.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 232-34)


C-  Life under the Son (Who is Himself Life) is fearless because He develops in us a new heart, and a renewed mind, that delivers us from the evil and madness in our hearts and helps us to see what God has in store for those who love Him. (Jn 1:4-5; 3:3, 15-16, 36; 4:5-26; 5:21-26, 39-40; 6:40-63; 8:11-12;  Acts 3:15; 17:25; Rom 5:12-21; 6:3-23; 8:2, 6, 10-11; 12:1-2; 1 Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:17; Gal 2:20; 6:15; Eph 3:14-21; 4:17-32; Phil 1:21-24; 1 Pt 1:3-9; 1 Jn 1:1-2; 5:11-13)                                   

Death is not a period . . . it’s only a comma.


Our life isn’t the answer for death.  But Christ’s death is the answer for life.  (Tullian Tchividjian; Life Without God – Pt 11)


These observations are neither novel nor particularly profound, but they can lead to feelings of fear and hopelessness.  Life may not be too depressing for someone who gets a series of “good breaks,” but even he will be jolted from time to time when someone smashes into his car or when a loved one dies.  We all stand helpless before the unknown and need a source of confidence and understanding beyond ourselves.  (Richard W. De Haan, The Art of Staying Off Dead-end Streets, 124)


Lest we conclude that Solomon is encouraging hedonism, we should note that he immediately adds these words of exhortation: “Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head” (9:8).  This verse is not to be interpreted literally.  White clothes often symbolize moral purity and spiritual righteousness in Scripture (Isa 1:18; Rv 3:4-5; 7:9-14), and oil typologically represents the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, Solomon is encouraging us to live our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit of the Lord sets us free from the slavery of sin so that we can enjoy the earthly benefits of our salvation in Christ (Rom 8:1-27).  Now that’s living!  (Charles R. Swindoll, Living on the Ragged Edge, 92-93)


So if we are going to get anything out of life, if our present existence is to have any meaning at all, it must be found now; that is his argument.  Do not waste your life, do not run after every titillating experience, every empty pleasure that life may fling at you.  Do not try to lose yourself in a merry round of forgetfulness.  Use life–that is his argument.  Fill it to the full, discover its purpose now, for whatever meaning life may have it must be found right now.

Thus we are not to seek after comfort, but significance.  (Ray Stedman, Is This All There Is to Life?, 135)


Koheleth rightly dreaded the sting of death and resented every victory achieved by the grave.  Given what he knew, he could do no other.  The Greater Wise Man is “the way, the truth, and the life”; we can follow him into eternity with untroubled hearts (Jn 14:1-6).  (David Hubbard, Mastering the OT: Ecclesiastes, 205)


Never accept lack of self-esteem as an explanation for sinful behavior (a view that has permeated the Christian church).  The essence of sin, indeed, is the assertion of self-worth.  The sinful exaltation of self lies behind every wicked activity listed in verse 2.  Man’s problem since the Garden of Eden has been rooted in loving and serving self rather than God and his neighbor.  “Self-esteem” in writing not long ago was a pejorative term.  Now it has been made acceptable by the psychologizing of the faith.  It is at the root of all of man’s problems. (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 92)


Qoheleth has never lost his grip on the sovereignty of God; so he knows that our fate is in God’s hands.  What he does not know, however, is whether God’s hand is for us or against us.  The Scripture says that God’s “right hand is filled with righteousness” (Ps 48:10), that we are “the sheep of his hand” (Ps 95:7), and that no one can ever snatch us out of his hand (Jn 10:28), even when it comes time for us to die (Ps 31:5).  Yet the Scripture also says, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).  Therefore, it is not enough to know that we are in God’s hands.  Everyone is in God’s hands.  The question is whether God’s hand is for us or against us.  Is he our friend or our foe?  (Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 204-05)


When you’re old as I am, there are all sorts of extremely pleasant things that happen to you…the pleasantest of all is that you wake up in the night and you find that you are half in and half out of your battered old carcass. It seems quite a tossup whether you go back and resume full occupancy of your mortal body, or make off toward the bright glow you see in the sky, the lights of the city of God.  (Malcolm Muggeridge; Christian Times, September 3, 1982)


For it is in dying, we are born to eternal life.  —St. Francis of Assisi


The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity. —Seneca
For death of itself will never be desired, because such a desire is at variance with natural feeling, but is desired for some particular reason, or with a view to some other end.  Persons in despair have recourse to it from having become weary of life; believers, on the other hand, willingly hasten forward to it, because it is a deliverance from the bondage to sin, and an introduction into the Kingdom of heaven.  (John Calvin; Commentary on Phil 1:23)


“Life and death look to us like two evils of which we know not which is the less.  As for the Apostle, they look to him like two immense blessings, of which he knows not which is the better. . . On either side of the veil, Jesus Christ is all things to him . . . Only , the conditions of the other side are such that the longed-for companionship of his Master will be more perfectly realized there.”  (H. C. CG. Moule Philippians Studies; 71, 78)
Paul wanted them (the Corinthians) to understand that for the Christian, life down here is simply hors d’oeuvre.  It is just the first course.  It is the soup course. — Alistair Begg


Look:  the question is not whether we should bring God into our work or not.  We certainly should and must; as MacDonald says, “All that is not God is death.”  (Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, 103)


Around 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides wrote to one of his friends, trying to explain the extraordinary success of the new religion, Christianity.  In his letter he said, “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they accompany his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby. (Today in the Word, April 10, 1993)


“Spare not death, do thy worst.   You will only make me better than before.”  —George Hebert


No one knows but that death is the greatest of all good to men; yet men fear it, as if they well knew that it is the greatest of evils.  Is not this the more reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know?  —Socrates


The Christian Way—The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.   A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food.   A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.   Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 120)


They have no fear of death who know that life goes on forever.


The longer I live the more obsolete I become.  —Paul Lehman, March 19, 2008


In the century just gone by, was there a bolder witness than that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer?  On April 9, 1945, in a concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany, having been condemned to death for conspiring in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Bonhoeffer broke loose from his two Nazi guards and went running toward the gallows, shouting, “O death, you are the supreme festival on the road to Christian freedom!”  (Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust, 179)


From an ancient oratorio: “Thou has made death glorious and triumphant for through its portals we enter into the presence of the living God.”


It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today.  The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day.  Our salvation is “external to ourselves.”  I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.  Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 54)


The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.  — Mark Twain


Worship point:  Only by having a relationship with Jesus Christ can you logically and rationally enjoy pursuing the good life with integrity, principle and conviction.  Outside of Christ, under the sun, the only hope and goal one has is to live one more hour.  Good luck!?!


The greatest tragedy is not death, but life without purpose. (Rick Warren; The Purpose Driven Life, 30)


Spiritual Challenge:  Think!  Why is Easter so crucially important to humanity?  Think!  Why must we hear from God to even begin to know if we are living the good life?  Think!  What will life on earth become if unbelieving mankind gets their way and shoves God out of our culture, thinking and world-view?  Think!  Why did Jesus refer to Himself as the Resurrection and the Life?



You cannot prove God’s love or hatred to you by outward events or circumstances.  This is a fallen world and it and you are both screwed up and therefore do not communicate reality.   But, you can prove God’s love to you and hatred towards sin by looking at His crucified Son (Rom 5:6-10).


That a person is still alive means that there is yet hope for him.  He still has time to come to fear God and take his place among the righteous.  Once he is dead, that possibility disappears.  It doesn’t matter whether one was significant or insignificant, powerful or weak; once dead, his opportunity to fear God vanishes forever.  So even the insignificant and the weak (like the living dog), because they are still living, are in a better position than those who (like the dead lion) have died.  The strong, the significant, the wealthy of this world, lose all opportunity at death to be saved.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 93)


Death is the ultimate proof, if we need one, that our pretensions to be gods are utterly foolish, but death is also the phenomenon that makes it too late to address our error.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 188)


I have asked myself what it is about funerals that makes them so nervous.  The answer I came to is that a funeral is one event where one can no longer escape ultimate reality.  A funeral is proof that we are not in control of our own lives.  This is what makes people uncomfortable and anxious to get back to the comfortable illusions of life.  (David Jeremiah, Searching for Heaven on Earth, 228)


To fully understand this passage, it is important to realize that our knowledge of the hereafter depends on how much God reveals to us.  Attempts to discover the state of the departed through mediums is forbidden in Scripture (e.g., Isa 8:19-20).  The OT speaks of the patriarchs being “gathered to [their] people” (Gn 25:8; 49:33).  The significance of this expression is shown in Christ’s answer to the Sadducees concerning God as the continuing God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob:  “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Mt 22:32).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 5, 1182)


“You need an Easter faith in a Good Friday world.”


Outside a church on Easter Sunday:  “Jesus Changes Grave Situations.”


Thou oughtest so to order thyself in all thy thoughts and actions, as if today thou were about to die.  —Thomas a Kempis


Remembering death acts like a filter, helping us to hold on to the essential and let go of the trivial.  Climacus pointed out that a “man who has heard himself sentenced to death will not worry about the way theaters are run.”  His point, of course, is that all of us have been sentenced to death; it’s just a matter of time, so shouldn’t we live our lives accordingly?  Why let trivia captivate our hearts?  Forgetting death tempts us to lose perspective.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 151)
Death is the godly man’s wish, the wicked man’s fear.  (Samuel Bolton;   The True Bounds of Christian Freedom, 46)


Quotes to Note:

By way of example, consider these words from The Epic of Gilgamesh, an Akkadian poem from the time of Abraham, or even earlier:

Gilgamesh, fill your belly—

Day and night make merry,

Let days be full of joy,

Dance and make music day and night.

And wear fresh clothes,

And wash your head and bathe.

Look at the child that is holding your hand,

And let your wife delight in your embrace.

These things alone are the concern of men.

(Philip Graham Ryken, Preaching the Word: Ecclesiastes, 212)


All is in God’s hand.  That is enough!  And when you think about it, what more than that does one need to know?  It is clearly the only satisfying answer; indeed, it is the only possible one.  All other answers are non-answers.  It alone meets all objections head on.  (Jay E. Adams, Life under the Son, 92)


The God of order, therefore, brings chaos to life, so as to remind us that we are not in fact gods who control the present or the future.  Instead, we are mortals in need of repentance in dust and ashes.  Every time a prediction fails, every time the swift do not win a race and the strong battle, every time our health breaks down, or we find ourselves poorer rather than richer, or we discover we are miserable rather than happy—every such occasion is a moment of grace and an opportunity to look reality straight in the eye.  It is a moment in which we are helped to remember who controls the times.  (Iain Provan, The NIV Application Commentary: Ecclesiastes, 188)




Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian;

it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.




the Life and the Death of Death


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