Prosperity and adversity (Eccl 7:13-7:14)

“Consider the work of God!

Who can make straight

What he has made crooked?

In the day of prosperity

Be joyful!

In the day of adversity

Consider!

God has made the one

As well as the other.

Thus mortals may not find out anything

That will come after them.”

Qoheleth wants us to look at the work of God. Can anyone make a crooked way straight? Remember that God has made both the days of prosperity and the days of adversity. Mortals would like to know about the future, but only God knows what will come after the life of a mortal.

Pass on wisdom (Eccl 7:8-7:12)

“Better is the end of a thing

Than its beginning.

The patient in spirit are better

Than the proud in spirit.

Be not quick to anger!

Anger lodges in the bosom of fools.

Do not say.

‘Why were the former days

Better than these?’

It is not from wisdom

That you ask this.

Wisdom is good

With an inheritance.

Wisdom is an advantage

To those who see the sun.

The protection of wisdom is

Like the protection of money.

The advantage of knowledge is

That wisdom gives life

To the one who possesses it.”

Following up on the preceding dichotomies, Qoheleth then went on to speak about the value of wisdom. The end is better than its beginning. The patient in spirit are better than the proud in spirit. Do not be quick to anger because that is the way of fools. Wise people do not talk about the good old days. You should try to hand on wisdom as an inheritance, just like you might want to hand on a financial inheritance. In fact, knowledge and wisdom give life to the one who possesses it.

The dichotomies of life

“A good name is better

Than precious ointment.

The day of death is better

Than the day of birth.

It is better to go to the house of mourning

Than to go to the house of feasting.

This is the end of everyone.

The living will lay it to heart.

Sorrow is better

Than laughter.

By sadness of countenance,

The heart is made glad.

The heart of the wise

Is in the house of mourning.

But the heart of fools is

In the house of mirth.

It is better for a man

To hear the rebuke of the wise

Than to hear the song of fools.

Like the crackling of thorns under a pot

So is the laughter of fools.

This also is vanity.

Surely oppression makes the wise foolish.

A bribe corrupts the heart.”

Qoheleth presents a reflection on life and death, like the modern philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). With his phrase Sein zum Tode, from his book Being and Time, Heidegger meant that all human beings were destined to die. It is our purpose in life to die. Therefore we must live our life now in authenticity. Qoheleth starts off by saying how important a good name is, more prized than precious ointment. Also the day of death is more important than the day of your birth. It is better to mourn than to feast. As usual, he points out that everyone will die, so that the living must be aware of that. Sorrow was better than laughter, rather than the other way around. The heart was made glad through a sad face. The truly wise mourn, while the fools live a life of mirth. Listen to the criticisms of the wise rather than the songs of fools. Foolish laughter is like burning thorns crackling on a fire since it is pure vanity and useless. Oppression makes us wiser, but bribes corrupt the heart.

Humans as passing shadows (Eccl 6:10-6:12)

“Whatever has come to be

Has already been named.

It is known what human beings are.

They are not able to dispute

With those who are stronger.

The more words,

The more vanity,

So how is one better?

Who knows what is good for mortals?

They live the few days

Of their vain life

That passes like a shadow.

Who can tell them

What will be after them

Under the sun?”

Death is the final stage of man. Qoheleth says that we know the human condition. Humans do not dispute with stronger humans. They use words. How can one be better with just words since they are useless and vain? Who even knows what is good for mortals. Then in his usual despairing attitude, Qoheleth maintains that our few days on earth are just passing away like shadows, here today and gone tomorrow. If there is no sunshine, there is no shadow. Darkness comes and the shadow disappears. Who can tell what is going to happen after you have left your place in the sun and your shadows?

The appetites of humans (Eccl 6:7-6:9)

“‘All the toil of man is for the mouth.

Yet the appetite is not satisfied.’

What advantage has the wise ones

Over the fools?

What do the poor have?

They know how to conduct themselves

Before the living.

Better is the sight of the eyes

Than the wandering of desire.

This also is vanity.

This is chasing after wind.”

Qoheleth believes that the reason that people work is so that they can have something to eat. However, the problem is that the appetite for food is never satisfied. What advantage does the wise person have over the foolish person? In fact, the poor people know how to conduct themselves. Then Qoheleth warns against wandering desires. After all, remember that this is all vanity and chasing after the wind that cannot be caught.

The inability to enjoy a wealthy life (Eccl 6:1-6:6)

“There is an evil

That I have seen under the sun.

It lies heavy upon humans.

God gives wealth.

God gives possessions.

God gives honor to people.

Thus they lack nothing of all that they desire.

Yet God does not enable them

To enjoy these things.

But a stranger enjoys them.

This is vanity.

It is a grievous illness.

If a man beget a hundred children,

If a man lives many years,

However many are the days of his years,

But he does not enjoy life’s good things,

If he has no burial,

I say

That a stillborn child is

Better off than he.

‘It comes into vanity.

It goes into darkness.

In darkness

Its name is covered.

Moreover it has not seen the sun

It does not know anything.

Yet it finds rest rather than him.’

Even though he should

Live a thousand years twice over,

Yet enjoy no good,

Do not all go to the one place?”

Qoheleth finds another evil under the sun in his pessimistic mood. What happens to those who have everything that they desire? Somehow they are not able to enjoy all their wealth. Instead a stranger seems to enjoy them. This is another useless vain thing, another grievous illness among us. Even if someone had 100 children and a long life, but cannot enjoy them, what is the point of all this? If he does not even get a burial, this wealthy person with a large family and a long life is no better off than a stillborn child. This is an amazing comparison. He maintains that the stillborn is better off because it lives in darkness with no name, never seeing the sun, or knowing anything, but finds a better rest than this old rich guy with the large family. Even though this person might live 2,000 years, he would not enjoy any good things. After all, the stillborn and this old guy, as well as everyone else, will end up in the same place, dead.

Enjoy your wealth (Eccl 5:18-5:20)

“This is what I have seen to be good.

It is fitting is to eat and drink.

It is fitting to find enjoyment

In all the toil

With which one toils under the sun

The few days of the life

That God gives us.

This is our lot.

Likewise,

God gives wealth.

God gives possessions.

He enables them to enjoy them.

They should accept their lot.

They should find enjoyment

In their toil.

This is the gift of God.

They will scarcely brood

Over the days of their life

Because God keeps them occupied

With joy in their hearts.”

Qoheleth finally found something good. It was appropriate to eat and drink. You should find enjoyment in your work when you toil under the sun. God has given you a few days to enjoy all this. This is your lot in life, accept it. You may have wealth and possession, so enjoy them. Enjoy your work and any wealth that comes with it as a gift from God. Do not brood over the few days you have here on earth because God can keep you occupied with joy in your heart.

Lost wealth (Eccl 5:13-5:17)

“There is a grievous evil ill

That I have seen under the sun.

Riches were kept

By their owners

To their hurt.

Those riches were lost

In a bad venture.

Even though they were parents of children,

They have nothing

In their hands.

As they came

From their mother’s womb,

They shall go again.

They are naked

As they came.

They shall take nothing

For their toil

That they may carry away

With their hands.

This also is a grievous ill.

Just as they came,

So shall they go!

What gain do they have

From toiling for the wind?

Besides,

All their days

They eat in darkness,

In much vexation,

In much sickness,

In much resentment?”

Now Qoheleth tells the story of evil and illness here on earth. Some rich owners got together in a bad venture. The result was that they had nothing left for their children. Thus, they would be, as they left their mother’s womb, naked. They had nothing that they could carry away for all their labor. In other words, just as they came into this world with nothing, they were going to leave it the same way, with nothing. What did they gain from all their hard work? They were chasing the wind to no avail. Thus all their days, they would eat in darkness, be troubled, sick, and resentful.

The vanity of money (Eccl 5:10-5:11)

“The lover of money

Will not be satisfied with money.

The lover of wealth

Will not be satisfied with gain.

This also is vanity.

When goods increase,

Those who eat them increase.

What gain has their owner?

He only sees them with his eyes?”

Qoheleth says that if you love money, you will never have enough money to be satisfied. The same goes for wealth. You are never wealthy enough. No gain is enough. We see this all the time. The rich and wealthy never say that they have enough. They always want more. All this is vanity and useless. If you have more goods, there will be more people there to eat them up. What is the gain for the owner of this increase in food? He gets to watch others eat it up.