Vanishing Satisfaction – Ecclesiastes 6

Read the Passage: Ecclesiastes 6

Lack of Satisfaction (6:1–6)

As we saw earlier, Eccl. 5:18–20 is one of five passages in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon gives a positive exhortation to enjoy the present world, including the fruit of one’s labors (cf. Eccl. 2:24; 3:11–13, 22; 8:15). At Eccl. 5:19 Solomon describes the ability to view and to enjoy wealth properly as a special “gift of God.” In contrast, as he wraps up the details of his initial investigation into life under the sun in this chapter, Solomon describes a great “evil which I have seen under the sun” (Eccl. 6:1). This evil is that a man may have riches, wealth, and honor; however, “God does not give him power to eat of it, but a foreigner consumes it” (Eccl. 6:2). The trouble here is not solely that the wealthy man cannot enjoy his riches, nor is it merely that a foreigner eats his food; rather, the problem here is the violation of God’s good design and intent that labor should lead to productivity.

Scripture speaks repeatedly about the goodness of production and even of reproduction. In fact, God’s very first command to humanity was to procreate (cf. Gen. 1:28). Furthermore, in the book of Psalms Solomon himself declared, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Ps. 127:3). Yet, here at Eccl. 6:3 Solomon writes that if a man has 100 children, and he cannot enjoy the fruit of his labor, then all is vanity. The importance of the relationship between labor, productivity, and joy is evident here, as in this passage Solomon teaches that even a stillborn child is better off than a man who has many children yet cannot enjoy life. Another notion that Solomon addresses in this passage is the idea of having a long life (Eccl. 6:3, 6). Indeed, almost all of mankind views a long life as ideal; yet, in this passage Solomon teaches that a long life is not an ultimate good in-and-of itself.

Lack of Fulfillment (6:7–9)

In Eccl. 6:1–6 Solomon focuses on working in the world and the material production that it can provide. In Eccl. 6:7–9 Solomon turns to address the relationship between labor and the soul. Here in Eccl. 6:7 Solomon observes, “All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied.” As Solomon wraps up this section of Ecclesiastes that details his investigation into life, this is an important conclusion—that is, the truth that life under the sun apart from God cannot provide spiritual fulfillment. Indeed, in Eccl. 6:8 Solomon asks rhetorically, “For what more has the wise man than the fool?” Regarding spiritual goods, the answer is: nothing. Eccl. 6:9 can be a difficult verse to understand as Solomon teaches, “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire.” The idea here is that contentment with one’s possessions is better than lusting after what one lacks.

Lack of Knowledge (6:10–12)

One of the hardest things for fallen man to accept is the fact that he is not God. Indeed, man is contingent, God is eternal. In this passage Solomon reminds his readers that man “cannot contend with God who is mightier than he” (Eccl. 6:10). Consider some of the biblical teachings about God’s might and man’s frailty, “You thought that I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you” (Ps. 50:21); “To whom will you liken Me, and make Me equal and compare Me, that we should be alike? . . . for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me” (Isa. 46:5, 9); “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord, ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isa. 55:8–9; cf. Job 23:13–15; 26:14; Ps. 94:7–11; 2 Pet. 3:1–9).

Eccl. 6:12 is an appropriate conclusion to Solomon’s study of life under sun, as here Solomon asks, “For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?” The answer to these rhetorical questions is that only God knows what is ultimately good for man and only God can tell the future. As Solomon moves toward synthesizing the results of his investigation in Eccl. 7–12 remember: (1) his teachings come from the observation of reality, (2) he is practical, not fatalistic, in his perspective, and (3) his conclusions are not a hedonistic “take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19) stance. Rather, many times in Eccl. 1–6 Solomon’s advice to his readers has been to accept the vanity of life under the sun and to enjoy the moment God has provided, for we cannot know or predict the future.

Application Questions:

  1. In what ways is modern society structured so that individuals are insulated from the consequences of their actions?
  2. If there is no guarantee that labor will lead to productivity and enjoyment of life, what is the motivation to work in the fallen world?
  3. Do you find it difficult to be content with your material possessions? How can we better achieve contentment in the fallen world (cf. 1 Tim. 6:6; Heb. 13:5)?
  4. Why is man prone to believe that he is a god himself? Is it possible for someone to have no sense or knowledge of God (cf. Rom. 1:18–20; 2:14–15)?
  5. How can believers balance the reality that life under the sun is vanity, with the duty to enjoy God’s good gifts in the present moment?

Published by

David W. Jones

David W. Jones is a professor and author working in the field of Christian Ethics. You can following him on Twitter @ethicist.