I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: God gives some people wealth, possessions and honour, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.
A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man – even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?
Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
yet their appetite is never satisfied.
What advantage have the wise over fools?
What do the poor gain
by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
Better what the eye sees
than the roving of the appetite.
This too is meaningless,
a chasing after the wind.
Whatever exists has already been named,
and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
with someone who is stronger.
The more the words,
the less the meaning,
and how does that profit anyone?
For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?(Eccl. 6:1-12 NIV)
What must it be like to have it all but not be able to enjoy it. The death was announced this week of Phil Spector, who died in a prison hospital aged 81. He made his fortune as a record producer, developing his renowned ‘Wall of Sound’. He had made his first million pounds in his twenties. He amassed a fortune but his private life was sad and tragic, leading to imprisonment for murder at the beginning of the 21st century. He had all the wealth, but he never enjoyed it. He had a number of failed marriages. Who receives his wealth has not been disclosed. This is one example, of many that could be listed, of those who acquired wealth but never enjoyed it. The Preacher says that this is another evil under the sun.
It is not possible for us to enjoy the gifts that God gives us apart from God. The gifts from God are the very thing that turns us away from God. Enjoyment without God is merely entertainment, and it doesn’t satisfy. Enjoyment with God is enrichment and brings true joy and satisfaction. Many things could prevent someone from enjoying their possessions, perhaps ill-health (physical or mental), death of a love one, or a relationship breakdown.
The Preacher encourages us to enjoy the blessings of God. Don’t plan to live at some point in the future, live now and give God thanks for every blessing God has sent.
The Preacher engages in hyperbole to make his point. He postulates the idea of a man with one hundred children. Normally children are a joy to their parents and to live to enjoy grandchildren and even great grandchildren is a great blessing. Even if you had one hundred children and no matter how long you live if you can’t enjoy your prosperity then this too is heble. The man dies unloved and none of his children come to his funeral to mourn his passing. It would have been better for that man if he had never been born. In fact the Preacher says that a stillborn child is better off. Back then a stillborn child was not named so that they would not be remembered. A stillborn child is a cause of great sadness and often questions are asked about why the child was allowed by God to be conceived if there was to be no life. This is a great sadness but worse than that is the man who lives unloved and unable to enjoy his possessions. Just as no possible reason can be given for a stillborn child, so no possible reason can be given to explain a person not able to enjoy life or their possessions. Even should the man live for 2000 years the futility of death overcomes him, the grave is the same destiny as the stillborn child.
The Preacher now turns his attention to the poor man. Rich and poor alike toil to stay alive. We have to either grow food or earn money to buy food. The rich man makes his money work for him, but the poor man uses his strength to provide for himself and his family. But after all this work neither the rich man nor the poor man is satisfied.
A person must eat if he is to add years to his life, but he may not be able to add life to his years. If life only consists of working and eating, then we live a life that is controlled by our appetites. If all we do is exist to satisfy our appetite, then the wise man has no advantage over the fool.
There is no gain in the poor man trying to improve his education to learn how to conduct himself in the presence of the wealthy. Plutarch the Greek biographer in the first century was the first to record the saying, ‘better is a bird in the hand than two in the bush.’ The Preacher says as much as he says that better is what you can see before you and enjoy than the dreams that you might have of what you might gain.
The Preacher is not against dreams and ambitions, but these dreams and ambitions need to be for the glory of God rather than the praise of people.
In v11-12 the Preacher has another type of person in mind, the person who has endless questions about the meaning of life. The Preacher is not against the process of enquiry, but it is important to realise that not all questions in life can be answered, but our ignorance must not be used as an excuse for unbelief. We don’t live on explanations, we live on promises that God has made.
Lord we have surrounded ourselves with many things. We have pleasure in cooking and eating. We have pleasure in reading. We have pleasure in walks and the company of our family and friends. Thank You for these gifts but help us not to allow any of these things to become a substitute for You because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.