Ecclesiastes 6:  How is Man the Better?

Since there are many things that increase vanity, How is man the better? Ecclesiastes 6:11

Passing Through Life Like a Shadow


Whatever the future holds for a newborn infant, its days will be without meaning.  Solomon’s despairing conclusion is that a child might better die stillborn than live to discover the meaningless of life!

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 has given riches and wealth and honor, so that he lacks nothing for himself of all he desires; yet God does not give him power to eat of it, but a stranger consumes it. This is vanity, and it is an evil affliction.

6:2 God does not give him power:  Prosperity without the divine gift of enjoyment amounts to nothing.

3  If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he—

6:3 Sometimes the achievement of the greatest of goals becomes hollow when there is no decent end to life.  Stillborn child:  Ordinarily a great sadness, the child who does not live is considered to be better off than the person who has lived poorly.  If life is nothing more than a meaningless journey to death, then a stillborn is better off, for that child reaches the end of the worthless journey with less pain.

4  for it comes in vanity and departs in darkness, and its name is covered with darkness. 5  Though it has not seen the sun or known anything, this has more rest than that man, 6  even if he lives a thousand years twice–but has not seen goodness. Do not all go to one place?

7  All the labor of man is for his mouth, And yet the soul is not satisfied.

8  For what more has the wise man than the fool? What does the poor man have, Who knows how to walk before the living?

NLT: “So are wise people really better off than fools? Do poor people gain anything by being wise and knowing how to act in front of others?” Ecclesiastes 6:8, CSB: “What advantage then does the wise person have over the fool? What advantage is there for the poor person who knows how to conduct himself before others?

The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give satisfaction. The poor man has comfort as well as the richest, and is under no real disadvantage. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the resting of the soul in God; for it is better to live by faith in things to come, than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things.

9  Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of desire. This also is vanity and grasping for the wind.

6:9 The meaning of this proverb is that it is better making do with what we can look on and enjoy than fantasizing about desirable things that are beyond our grasp.

Solomon’s version of the cliché, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” He is essentially saying, “It is better to have little and purposely enjoy it than to dream about much and never attain it.” A problem with dreams is that, all too often, they never become a reality.

10  Whatever one is, he has been named already, For it is known that he is man; And he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he.

11  Since there are many things that increase vanity, How is man the better?

6:11 The teacher has tried to find meaning.  He has honed the tools of observation, rational thought, and deduction.  But rather than making sense out of life, his examination of the reality that man experiences shows that life makes less sense than he assumed.

Seeing there be many things that increase vanity. As appears by all that has been said in this and the preceding chapters; such as wisdom and knowledge, wealth and riches, pleasure, power, and authority. Man is a poor vain creature himself, all he is and has is vanity; and these serve but to increase it, and make him vainer and vainer still; what [is] man the better?

12  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?

6:12 like a shadow:  This phrase is a confirmation of the meaning of the Hebrew word translated vanity.  Life passes away quickly, like a vapor.  What will happen after him:  The implied answer is that only God knows what will happen to us after death.  Rather than imply that nothing exists beyond the grave, this book teaches that each person’s life will be reviewed by God after death.

Labor (Hebrew ‘aml )

This noun means “toil,” or work for material gain, but it can also mean “trouble” or “sorrow.”  The effort required for work and human achievement produces “sorrow” and “troubles” in the sense that it can never satisfy the deeper needs of the human soul.  However, when believers recognize that their work is a gift from God, work can become a joy.  Our work is part of God’s plan to establish His eternal kingdom.  In this sense, we can be assured that our faithful commitment to our work will have eternal consequences and reap eternal rewards (see 1 Cor. 3:8, 14; 15:58).

** Some of us are happy and some of us are sad and depressed.  Sometimes we feel happy and sometimes we feel sad and down even when there is reason to feel that way.  Like sadness, joy is something that happens to us.  As Solomon suggests in this chapter, men cannot come up with lasting joy on their own.  The root cause of joy seems to be more than having the knowledge of truth – that of heaven and eternal life as our destiny.  We feel joy because of His presence in us.  We don’t know the mystery, but it is real and it rules our hearts as well as our mind.










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