1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?
7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.
10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? – Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 ESV
From Solomon’s unique vantage point as king, he has been able to see and experience a great deal of what life has to offer. Some of his observations are more objective in nature, providing the perspective of an impartial outsider, viewing the lives of the people in his kingdom. He has been able to witness first-hand the oppression of the poor. As a judge over his people, he has had to preside over countless cases involving injustice and abuse. He has listened to the cries of the destitute and needy, as they have begged for someone to help them in their time of need.
But some of Solomon’s most powerful insights come from his willingness to look at his own life and share his more subjective and personal observations. In this chapter, he continues to speak from his own personal experience, revealing his frustrations over what he sees and fears.
First of all, he starts with what he describes as a form of evil or wickedness that he has observed “under the sun” or in this life. He writes from a human perspective, presenting his earth-bound opinion concerning a prevalent problem among mankind. There are those whom God has obviously blessed with great wealth, but He has also denied them the power or capacity to enjoy all that they have been given.
God gives some people great wealth and honor and everything they could ever want, but then he doesn’t give them the chance to enjoy these things. – Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT
These people have all that their hearts desire, except contentment and joy. And to make matters even worse, when they die, “someone else, even a stranger, ends up enjoying their wealth!” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). And Solomon deems it all as “meaningless—a sickening tragedy” (Ecclesiastes 6:2 NLT). But is he right?
First of all, Solomon’s viewpoint reflects the prevailing attitude of his day. It was commonly believed that anyone who enjoyed great wealth had obviously been blessed by God. And if they had been blessed by God, their lives must have been pleasing to God. This is why it made no sense that God would withhold the one thing these people wanted and needed: The ability to enjoy what He had given them.
Solomon was right when he concluded that all good things come from God. In fact, he would have based his view on the Scriptures themselves.
Truth springs up from the earth,
and righteousness smiles down from heaven.
Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings.
Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. – Psalm 85:11-12 ESV
Even the New Testament author, James, echoes this view.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV
But where Solomon missed the point was in his assumption that wealth and material goods were to be the sole source of his enjoyment. In other words, he wrongly assumed that it was the blessings of God that brought joy, contentment, satisfaction, and significance. He misunderstood the true nature of their purpose and the significance of their source. The gifts had become the priority rather than the Giver. God was to have been the primary focus of Solomon’s life but not as the giver of good things. In fact, God should have been the only Solomon or anyone else needed in their life. God should have been enough. The apostle Paul expressed this viewpoint when he said:
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT
It didn’t really matter to Paul whether he had a little or a lot. All that really mattered was his relationship with Christ. Yet Solomon and his contemporaries placed their emphasis on the tangible and temporal. For them, the proof of God’s love was in the presence of material goods and the ability to enjoy them. Solomon’s misguided and misplaced emphasis on material goods and earthly pleasures left him with a sense of emptiness and frustration. He was experiencing the very painful lesson that nothing satisfies man’s inner longings and desires like God Himself.
For Solomon, the measurement of a successful life was based on both quantity and quality. He pessimistically observed that if a man ended up fathering hundreds of children (and he had), and lived a long life (which he did), but his soul was not satisfied with life’s good things (and his wasn’t), then his life was a waste.
A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life and doesn’t even get a decent burial, it would have been better for him to be born dead. – Ecclesiastes 6:3 NLT
That is a grim assessment. But notice what he is saying. He is measuring the significance of life using a quantitative matrix. He operated on the commonly held maxim: The more, the merrier. It was long life and lots of kids that brought joy. But having hundreds of children, none of whose names you know will ever bring satisfaction. And living a long life, but without a relationship with the Giver of life will never satisfy. Acquiring much wealth and accomplishing great deeds cannot make anyone truly happy or content if they fail to seek the One from whom all good things come.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights… – James 1:17 ESV
For Solomon, nothing was more futile or frustrating than the thought of living a long life devoid of contentment. He states that a man “might live a thousand years twice over but still not find contentment. And since he must die like everyone else—well, what’s the use?” (Ecclesiastes 6:6 NLT).
And, sadly, this aptly describes Solomon’s own life. When he wrote this verse, he was at the end of life looking back, and while he could claim to have fathered hundreds of children and lived many years, he could say as Paul did, “I have learned to be content.” He had discovered the painful lesson that more was not merrier.
In his mind, it was all about satisfaction. Even the poor, who spend their days trying to scratch out a living and provide food for their next meal, end up discovering that they’re hungry again. The wise, the wealthy, the foolish, and the poor are all faced with the same grievous problem: Enough is never enough. Satisfaction and contentment are elusive. And the only advice Solomon can come up with is “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have” (Ecclesiastes 6:9 NLT).
But again, his emphasis is misplaced. He is not recommending that we find our satisfaction in God, but that we simply resign ourselves to enjoying what little we have been given by God. He has missed the point. And in doing so, he misses out on the real meaning and purpose of life. It is not about gaining and getting. It is not about acquiring and accumulating. It is about learning to seek satisfaction, significance, joy, and contentment from a relationship with the God of the universe.
But Solomon had a warped perspective about God. He euphemistically refers to God as “one stronger than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:10 ESV). He doesn’t see God as his Father but as an enforcer. Rather than approaching God as the gracious giver of good things, Solomon views Him as a capricious tyrant who withholds the ability to enjoy what has been given. And while he rightly understands that God knows all and sees all, Solomon seems to resent the fact that God keeps man’s future fate a mystery. To Solomon, this leaves man stuck in the here-and-now, trying to make the most out of what he has before his life comes to an abrupt end.
What Solomon describes in this chapter is the sad state of all men and women who refuse to see God as the central source of all that is good in their lives. God does bless. God does give good things. God is the author of life and the source of all that we can see. But God is not to be viewed as some disembodied purveyor of presents, like a cosmic Genie in a bottle. He is the gift. He is the good. He is the satisfaction and significance that man so desperately seeks. The apostle Paul summarized it well when he spoke to the people of Athens, describing the nature of the “unknown god” to whom they offered sacrifices, but with whom they had no relationship.
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. – Acts 17:24-28 NLT
God created man to have a relationship with Him. His purpose was for the nations to seek after Him. But sin changed all that. Because of the fall, the blessings of God became substitutes for Him. We made idols out of the good gifts He had given us. The apostle Paul describes the subtle shift that took place among humanity as they took their eyes off the Giver and began to seek satisfaction and significance from the good things He had given.
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself… – Romans 1:25 NLT
Solomon’s relentless quest to find meaning in life had taken him away from the very One who had given him life. He had made false gods out of the good and perfect gifts that had come down from the Father of lights…and he found himself unfulfilled and discontented with life and anxious about death.
In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone? – Ecclesiastes 6:12 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.