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Ecclesiastes, Part 4: The Vanity of Both Wealth and Poverty
Resuming our presentation of Solomon’s Ecclesiastes here with chapter 6, as we have already explained, there are going to be times when we shall necessarily repeat ourselves, because the work itself is quite repetitive in nature. But we have also explained that as he repeats his themes, the Preacher adds different perspectives or new elements to his subjects. With this we have concluded that the repetitious nature of the work is one of its teaching methods, just as the skepticism which is often expressed is also a teaching method. Making repetitive remarks, the author expresses and addresses skeptical concerns in different ways.
The labors of life, the vanity of those labors, the trials which man must undergo only to die in the end empty-handed. And regardless of whether he had been impoverished or wealthy, the oppressed or an oppressor, his fate is the same as all other men, and with this he has no comforter. That was the theme which the Preacher had employed in chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes, that man has no comforter to succour him in his trials, while all of his own labors are vanity. However the antithesis to the skepticism and the dismal outlook of the Preacher is found in Christ, since He is the Comforter of men, as He described Himself, as it is recorded in John chapter 14, and as Paul had also described Christ in the opening passage of his second epistle to the Corinthians. Ultimately, the Preacher will answer his own skepticism in this same manner, that all things are in the hand of God and that He shall judge every good or evil work. But he does not make that conclusion explicit until the very last chapter of the work.
We saw the Preacher make an analogy in chapter 4, of an old and foolish king who would be replaced by a wise child. So in our commentary on Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 we wrote in part that: “Even if a wise child was born who would become the king, the people would nevertheless fail to rejoice in him. We see the fulfillment of that in Yahshua Christ Himself, who also came out of a metaphorical prison [Isaiah 53:8], and we have our Christian doctrines, but the world has not followed them, nor has it rejoiced in them, although it pretends to be Christian. So perhaps this example in Ecclesiastes is in that manner prophetic. Christ should have been king rather than the insolent Herod, and the people sought to enthrone Him but He resisted, because it was not his time. However on a greater scale, Christ ultimately supplants the old order of world empires as King of Kings. So he is the wise child who has replaced the arrogant and foolish old king.”
Another theme which was illustrated in that chapter of Ecclesiastes is that it is better for men who are kinsmen to work together for the common good of all than to isolate themselves from one another where each would work only for his own individual benefit. The man who works for his own benefit would suffer many and greater trials, and the men who worked together would benefit one another mutually. Working together, in their labors they would also find less vanity as a result, as the family group continues to benefit from one another’s labors even after the passing of each individual member.
A thousand years later, all of these things are expressed in the Gospel. Christ is Comforter because He is Judge of the living and the dead. Knowing that judgment is in Him, men should keep the commandments of God which the Preacher also frequently urged his readers to keep. Christ also urged us to love our brethren, and dedicate ourselves to them, working towards edifying our brethren through our devotion to our own kinsmen in our wider Christian community. So the Preacher is preaching a form of the gospel using different terms and examples than those which Christ used later on, but he is exhorting men to essentially the same things. However just as the people would fail to rejoice in the young and wise child who became king any more than they rejoiced in the old fool who had been king, Christians have never truly followed the Gospel of Christ. So the analogies of the Preacher in this part of Ecclesiastes seem not only to anticipate Christ, but even to presage the failure of the people to have true joy which comes from a practice of the Gospel, and not only from a reading of it.
In chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes the preacher advised against dreams, against vows, against following the desires of the flesh, and warned instead that “7… in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.” Then the Preacher also warned against the love of money and the accumulation of riches to one’s own hurt, that by hording riches for oneself one would only find travail. However in chapter 4 he had already warned that a man who did nothing, a man who did not labor, consumed his own flesh. There is a balance between these, where the Preacher exhorted that it was best for a man to work moderately and to live modestly, and in that he should find happiness. But then in the last verses of chapter 5 the Preacher concluded that if a man to whom God had given wealth was able also to enjoy it, that is a gift from God. So we read in the penultimate verse of Ecclesiastes chapter 5 that “19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” Then, as we would translate the final verse of the chapter: “20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God occupies him in the mirth of his heart.” We are not entirely certain if that is a blessing or a curse, but it seems to be a blessing if one’s life was full of travail. Now the Preacher continues to speak of wealth and riches as we proceed with chapter 6, but this time of the man who is blessed with riches and does not get to enjoy them:
Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
This being a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes, we explained at the very beginning of our commentary on this book that in Deuteronomy chapter 28 Yahweh warns that the fruits of one’s labors would indeed be taken away for disobedience, but that if the people were obedient they would enjoy them for themselves. So in Deuteronomy chapter 28 we read among the warnings of the consequences for disobedience that: “30 Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof…. 32 Thy sons and thy daughters shall be given unto another people… 38 Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field, and shalt gather but little in… 39 Thou shalt plant vineyards, and dress them, but shalt neither drink of the wine, nor gather the grapes… 40 Thou shalt have olive trees… but thou shalt not anoint thyself with the oil….”
Then in those same promises where we find such curses for disobedience, Yahweh also gave blessings if the children of Israel were obedient and would keep His commandments, where among other things we read: “2… if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. 3 Blessed shalt thou be in the city, and blessed shalt thou be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy ground, and the fruit of thy cattle, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep. 5 Blessed shall be thy basket and thy store…. 8 The LORD shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
While these are, primarily, national curses and blessings, meaning that they apply to the people as a whole, it is clear that as punishment for sin they may also befall any one of the children of Israel as individuals. We as men, with our limited perception, cannot always tell whether one of our fellows is obedient or not, or whether he should be rewarded or punished by God. So the same writer said in Proverbs chapter 3: “7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil. 8 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. 9 Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: 10 So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.” Then in chapter 5 Solomon writes of the disobedience found in adultery and says, warning of the “lips of a strange woman”: “8 Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: 9 Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: 10 Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger…” So we see Solomon’s teachings in Proverbs were indeed founded upon the blessings of obedience and the curses of disobedience found in Deuteronomy.
However there are also examples to the contrary, where the wicked seem not to be punished, and later in Ecclesiastes, in chapter 8, the Preacher laments the wicked who seem to prosper while the punishment that their deeds merit is delayed, and that in turn seems to encourage men to sin even more. There he writes “11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”
But for now, the Preacher continues to lament the apparent unfairness that he observes in life, using a third sort of man, a man who labors and apparently never has any enjoyment at all:
3 If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
Where the Preacher says “and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial” this is not an observation of the man’s morality. Rather, the New American Standard Bible has a better rendering of the passage: “but his soul is not satisfied [or filled] with good things, and he does not even have a proper burial”. In other words, the man in the example had a long life and many children, but he did not experience any wealth or pleasure during the course of his life, and did not even have a proper burial, being poor. This lack of worldly comfort the Preacher sees as a worse fate than having been a child which was miscarried and died before it was born.
So what follows may apply to one man or the other, to the man who does not have any enjoyment from his labor or to the babe that suffered from miscarriage:
4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
The Preacher places much emphasis on the memory of a man after he passes, on the memory of his name, which is his reputation, later on in chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes. He had lamented in chapter 1 that there “16… is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seeing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten.” So here he laments not that the man with no enjoyment is forgotten, because he has already professed that the memory of all men would eventually be forgotten. Rather, since it is inevitable that all men are forgotten, he laments that the man in his example, as well as the miscarried child, should be forgotten without ever having had any enjoyment in life for themselves. So he goes on comparing the two and says:
5 Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. 6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
The child miscarried has more rest than the man who lived to be quite old, even two thousand years old, and never had the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor. In the end, both of them end up in the same place. Lamenting the vanity of man and comparing him to beasts, in chapter 3 the Preacher said: “20 All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Now he makes another and similar observation:
7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. 8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
A man who has eaten must always eat again and again. But in the end the wise man shall not have more than the fool, or even more than the poor. The Preacher is once again expressing skepticism, where now he returns to an argument which he had made earlier and he says:
9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
In chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes the Preacher wrote that: “14 The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.” So here the sight of the eyes refers to walking with wisdom, and the wandering of desire is something to which a fool succumbs. Furthermore, where the Preacher refers to wisdom, he speaks of the wisdom of God, as he explains in Proverbs chapter 1: “7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Then in Proverbs chapter 2: “ 5 Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. 7 He layeth up sound wisdom.” We must venture to say, that while men may learn some things through experience, wisdom which is found outside of the Word of Yahweh is very often not wisdom at all.
So, why would the Preacher describe the plight of a man who died with no enjoyment in life in such a negative fashion, and then go on to condemn the “wandering of desire”? What we must conclude here is that the Preacher is once again being purposely skeptical. The man who died with no enjoyment in life, even a life of many years, or even of two thousand years, evidently had no wandering desire. So from a worldly viewpoint his life is no better than a babe who was miscarried and never got to enjoy anything, and his lot was even worse, for all of the labor that such a man had to suffer in the course of a long life without any apparent rewards. But from a transcendental viewpoint, knowing that in the end there is a God who judges the living and the dead and who rewards every man for his works, a man who has no reward in this life shall indeed fare better after he passes from this life.
But for now, the Preacher addresses the circumstances of man in the meantime:
10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
We prefer the reading which is found in the New American Standard Bible: “Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is.” The Greek of the Septuagint agrees. So here it seems that the reference to “him that is mightier than he” is a reference to God almighty, as the chapter begins with a reference to a man “to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour… yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof…” and while a different man is now the subject of the Preacher’s discourse, God is still within the focus of his statements, which is evident in verses 10 through 12.
If God does not permit a man to live to enjoy the riches he acquired, how can that man contend with God? If God does not permit a man to benefit at all from the fruit of his labors, how can that man contend with God? As Paul of Tarsus described where he compared Jacob and Esau, in Romans chapter 9: “ 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” So, as the Preacher illustrated at the end of chapter 5, if a man labors and his labor is profitable and if he himself enjoys the fruits of his labor, that is a blessing from God. But if a man labors and his labor is not profitable, and he has no worldly enjoyment, that is also from God. Both men are being tried as Yahweh sees fit for them to be tried, and neither can argue or debate or change their own circumstances unless Yahweh wills it to be so. The Preacher declares this to be vanity, and it is, but it is only vanity if there is no God. However, since there is a God, the Preacher declares that “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire”, even if that is also vanity. So he declares once again, for the meantime:
11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?
Once again, from the New American Standard Bible: “For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man?” Man is also transient, having been subjected to vanity by Yahweh God Himself, as the Preacher has already exclaimed. So to what advantage can a man dispute with God?
The 78th Psalm, a Psalm of Asaph, who wrote during the Babylonian captivity, repeats many of the themes which we see here in Ecclesiastes: the wandering after lusts, the need to fill the belly, the punishments of men for sin and the vanity of men for which they should ultimately realize that they must serve their God. So we read, from where Asaph recollects the events of the Exodus: “25 Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full. 26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind. 27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea: 28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. 29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire; 30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths, 31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel. [The children of Israel were filled with manna, as a gift from God, yet they lusted for meat, so God fed them, and then nevertheless punished them for their contention:] 32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works. 33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble. 34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God. 35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer. 36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues. 37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant. 38 But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath. 39 For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” So we see that resisting his vanity and arguing against God, man only increases his vanity and therefore must learn that any resistance is futile.
Here we have thus far seen the Preacher describe three courses of life for men. There was the man who was wealthy, and who lived to spend his later years enjoying the fruits of his labor. He was able to do that as a gift from God, as the Preacher explained at the end of chapter 5: “19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.” Then there was the man who was wealthy, and did not live to enjoy his riches, he was bereaved of his riches before he died so that he could not enjoy them, as the Preacher explained at the beginning of chapter 6: “2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.” As Solomon had written in Proverbs chapter 15: “ 16 Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.” Finally, there was the man who lived a long life and had many children, “but his soul is not filled with good things, and he does not even have a proper burial”. Men experiencing any of these three courses of life are experiencing trials willed for them by God, so it is futile for any of them to resist.
But the Preacher had already explained the vanity of riches and their enjoyment, in spite of the fact that their enjoyment is a gift from God, where he wrote in chapter 2, in part, where he was speaking of his own wealth and labors: “ 5 I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: 6 I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: 7 I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me… 9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. 10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” Then further on he explained the danger of the desire for riches, in chapter 5 where he said “10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity” and “13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14 But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.”
These instances relate in order to the first two men which we have seen described in the examples here. The man who enjoys his riches to the end of his life may do so as a blessing from God, but he shall depart from life empty-handed and be judged for his works just like every other man. Likewise, the man who was bereaved of his riches, ostensibly for his sin, shall also depart from this life empty-handed. As the Preacher said in chapter 5, “15 As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.”
But the man who never enjoyed any good things in life from the fruits of his labor, and yet kept his eyes in his head, may indeed fare better than either of these first two men. He evidently had little, and had it “in fear of the Lord.” For that the Preacher said in reference to him, “9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire…” In Ecclesiastes chapter 2 the Preacher had said that “14 The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.” The poor man having a hundred children and a long life was, ostensibly, a wise man and not a fool, because he maintained the sight of the eyes rather than chase after the fulfillment of his lusts.
Once again, the same writer addresses the transcendental rewards of the righteous, whether they be wealthy or poor, in Proverbs chapter 13: “6 Righteousness keepeth him that is upright in the way: but wickedness overthroweth the sinner. 7 There is [he] that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is [he] that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. 8 The ransom of a man's life are his riches: but the poor heareth not rebuke. 9 The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out. 10 Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom. 11 Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase. 12 Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh [referring to the fulfillment of what the righteous hope for], it is a tree of life. 13 Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded. 14 The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death. 15 Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard. 16 Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly. 17 A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health. 18 Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured. 19 The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul: but it is abomination to fools to depart from evil. 20 He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. 21 Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed….”
So if we examine the teachings of the Preacher in a shallow manner, a verse or two at a time, we may be deceived by the skepticism which he expresses, not seeing the bigger picture which his words create for us. The skepticism is refuted immediately where the Preacher says “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire”, because there must be a transcendental reason as to why a man should not seek to fulfill his every desire. There must be a transcendental reason why a man should not satiate his lusts. The skepticism is refuted more soundly in chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes where the Preacher admonishes his readers to keep the commandments of God and fear the judgement that all men are destined to face.
However the vanity of both wealth and poverty are made evident in the Gospel of Christ, where he says, as it is recorded in Matthew chapter 6, “19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
If we examine the teachings of the Preacher in a shallow manner, a verse or two at a time, even if we recognize the vanity of his skepticism we may nevertheless entrap ourselves when we do not recognize the vanity of his optimism. For example, here the Preacher made an example of the man who has great wealth, and gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor and the riches he has been blessed with, and informs us that such is a blessing from God. While it is a blessing from God, that man will be judged for his works just like the sinner who loses his wealth, or the man who experienced poverty while maintaining the sight of his eyes, not having been drawn away by his lusts. So the same writer said in the Proverbs, which we have already cited, that “7 There is [he] that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is [he] that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches. 8 The ransom of a man's life are his riches: but the poor heareth not rebuke…. 13 Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.”
The commandments, which are for the admonishment of the wicked and the poor, are equally for the instruction of the wealthy. As we have cited in the past, we read in Deuteronomy chapter 8: “10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. 11 Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day… 17 And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. 18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.” So wealth is a gift from God, and those who have it may certainly enjoy it, but along with it those who are so blessed should nevertheless seek to do the will of God.
For this reason, Yahshua Christ had explained to His disciples, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 12: “15… Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. 16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: 17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? 18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. 20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? 21 So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
In the example of the Preacher, even the man who had nothing to show for his labors nevertheless had a long life and many children. So as Christ continued after that parable, He added: “22… Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. 23 The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. 24 Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls? 25 And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? 26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? 27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith? 29 And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. 30 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. 31 But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. 32 Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
So there is a vanity of wealth, and a vanity of poverty. The vanity of wealth is explained by the Preacher where he laments that all of his own labors and riches were in vanity, as he would not enjoy them after his death even if he considered it a blessing from God to enjoy them while he lived. The vanity of poverty is explained by the relief that the poor man would find after his death, that he has a Comforter who would reward him for not seeking to pursue his desires, but even living a long life, had maintained the sight of his eyes. So Solomon had said in Proverbs chapter 13, which we have already cited, “7 There is [he] that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is [he] that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” Likewise, Christ had said in the Sermon on the Mount, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 6, “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.”
Once again, we see that the Preacher’s skepticism should be a lesson, that from a worldly viewpoint it may seem that the man who lived a poor life had been worse off than a babe who suffered miscarriage, as there was no enjoyment in all of his labors. But that would be true only in a world without God, and where the Preacher exhorts his readers to nevertheless keep the commandments of God, and that it is better not to pursue fleshly desires, we see that in the end it is actually better for the man who lived a lowly and humble life, than for the man who lived richly in this life but who could not take his wealth with him when he died.
Thus the Preacher asks:
12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
Of course, only Yahweh God can tell a man so, as He says in Isaiah chapter 41: “21 Produce your cause, saith the LORD; bring forth your strong reasons, saith the King of Jacob. 22 Let them bring them forth [speaking of the idols which the children of Israel had taken after], and shew us what shall happen: let them shew the former things, what they be, that we may consider them, and know the latter end of them; or declare us things for to come. 23 Shew the things that are to come hereafter, that we may know that ye are gods: yea, do good, or do evil, that we may be dismayed, and behold it together. 24 Behold, ye are of nothing, and your work of nought…” And as Paul of Tarsus had also taught, man does not even know what he needs, or what he may need. So he wrote in Romans chapter 8, that “26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”
Now that the Preacher has shown that it is God who consigns men to their worldly fate, and that it is useless for men to contend with God, the Preacher turns, as we commence with Ecclesiastes chapter 7, and stresses the importance of leaving behind a good name, which is a good reputation in the eyes of one’s people, and of course a man walking irreproachably in Christ would have such a name:
Ecclesiastes 7:1 A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
Death and the end of one’s vain labor is better than birth and the beginning of labor. But a good name, or good reputation, is the most valuable possession that a man may leave behind. So this same writer said in Proverbs chapter 22: “1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. 2 The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all. 3 A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished. 4 By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life.”
In the King James Version of the New Testament, the concept of a good name is often expressed with the term good report, such as we see Paul command that servants of the Christian assemblies should have, in 1 Timothy chapter 3 where he speaks of the qualifications of a bishop and says: “7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” So not only must Christians have a good name among themselves only, but even among those outside of their own number or community.
Now the Preacher commences with a string of apparently unrelated exhortations, which truly are not unrelated. First he addresses the need for seriousness, or perhaps, solemnity, over mirth, or perhaps as we would say in a vulgar manner, partying:
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart.
The living should have an example in the dead, that their own time is also coming, so that they are reminded to store treasure up in heaven through the actions of their remaining lifetime. The Preacher had explained in chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes that he had given himself over to mirth, and therefore had the experience necessary to judge its value, where he wrote that “1 I said in mine heart, Go to now, I will prove thee with mirth, therefore enjoy pleasure: and, behold, this also is vanity. 2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it? 3 I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life.”
The apostle Peter also addressed this in his first epistle, where in chapter 4 he wrote: “3 For enough of the time has passed perpetuating the will of the heathens, having walked in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revelries and lawless idolatries. 4 While they are astonished, they blaspheme at your not running together in the same excess profligacy. 5 They shall give an account to Him who holds ready to judge the living and the dead.”
As Christ had said in that same sermon which we have already cited, from Matthew chapter 5: “4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” Solomon had already concluded at length that mirth was foolishness and vanity, as we had seen in Ecclesiastes chapter 2. So once again, we may perceive that the man who is wealthy and does nothing but enjoy the fruits of his own riches is not really doing well for himself when he stands before the judgement seat of Christ.
For this same reason the apostle James exhorted, in chapter 4 of his epistle: “7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. 9 Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
The Preacher continues with the same concept:
3 Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. 5 It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
The character of a man is built in trials, rather than in mirth. Christ Himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, which we have already cited: “3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Rather than seeking the “abundant life”, as many Baal churches, or denominational churches, now teach, men should seek what is the will of God, and it is not found in dreams of riches and an easy life. The apostle Peter warned that Christians would face trials, and for that he wrote in chapter 1 of his first epistle that “7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: 8 Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: 9 Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.” Paul of Tarsus also warned, for example in Titus chapter 1, that a servant of Christ should be “not given to wine… not given to filthy lucre… But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate…”
So the Preacher continues to condemn mirth and says:
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
We can only imagine that the crackling of thorns is fleeting, therefore it is vanity, and the thorns are left broken, or perhaps the thorns are even left as burnt ashes, if they were used as tinder, to make a fire to heat the pot. Such is the laughter of the fool who does not pursue the wisdom of God, it is no more lasting than smoke.
7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Paul of Tarsus warns us that vengeance belongs to Yahweh, where he wrote in Romans chapter 12: “19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” The proud in spirit would take the vengeance of God into their own hands. So we read in the 40th Psalm: “1 I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. 2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. 3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is that man that maketh the LORD his trust, and respecteth not the proud, nor such as turn aside to lies.”
Then in this same manner we read in 1 Peter chapter 5: “4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5 Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” However while Christians wait upon their Lord, they must nevertheless resist evil, and in that same place Peter continues and says: “8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
Now the Preacher exhorts men to calmness of spirit:
9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
It is better to be patient in spirit, and not judge a brother wrongly, than to be proud and rush to judgement. In the opening verses of Chapter 5 of Ecclesiastes we read “be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools” and “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God”. So we said, in part: Be more ready to hear than to speak: the apostle James exhorts his readers in chapter 1 of his epistle: “19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” A man who judges unjustly sows iniquity. For this we read in Proverbs chapter 22: “8 He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail.”
Discussing the related passage in Ecclesiastes chapter 5 we also cited Proverbs chapter 14 where it says “29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” So we explained that those who judge wisely are prudent and slow to make conclusions. For this Paul of Tarsus also said, in part, in Ephesians chapter 4: “25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath… 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Do not let the sun go down on your wrath: when you are wronged in the daytime, or if you think you were wronged, put away your anger and consign vengeance to God before evening, and your own life will be better for it.
Christians should strive to imitate Yahweh their God, as we read in the 103rd Psalm: “8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9 He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10 He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.” So Paul of Tarsus also encourages, as he wrote in Ephesians chapter 5: “1 Therefore you must be imitators of Yahweh, as beloved children, 2 and walk in love, just as Christ has also loved us...” We cited the Christogenea New Testament here because the King James Version has only followers, where the Greek word is imitators. The difference is important, since to follow God properly, we should indeed become His imitators in every way that we can. Paul commended the Thessalonians, in the opening verses of his first epistle to them: “6 And you have become imitators of us and of the Lord, accepting the Word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit.”