Ecclesiastes 9:1-18 Enjoy Life
Death is unavoidable (Ecclesiastes 9:1-10)
“I’m not afraid to die;” quipped Woody Allen, “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Death is not an accident, it’s an appointment, a destiny that nobody but God can cancel or change.1 We talked about this in the last chapter. Here, we address life. In this first section, Solomon addresses the fear of death. Because if you are going to enjoy life, you have to accept that death is unavoidable. Here are three responses to the fear of death.
THREE RESPONSES TO THE FEAR OF DEATH
1. Escape (Ecclesiastes 9:3)
“This is an evil in all that is done under the sun: there is one fate for everyone. In addition, the hearts of people are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live —after that they go to the dead.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3, HCSB)
The first way to respond to the fear of death is to try to escape it in life. People party, do drugs, drink alcohol to escape. People act in evil ways because they are fearful of death. They seize the wrong things in life to cope with the fear of death.
2. Endure (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6)
“But there is hope for whoever is joined with all the living, since a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything. There is no longer a reward for them because the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their envy have already disappeared, and there is no longer a portion for them in all that is done under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:4–6, HCSB)
The second way to respond to the fear of death is to endure life.
“Where there’s life, there’s hope!”
That motto goes as far back as the third century B.C. It’s part of a conversation between two farmers who are featured in a poem by the Greek poet Theokritos. “Console yourself, dear Battos,” says Korydon. “Things may be better tomorrow. While there’s life there’s hope. Only the dead have none.” Shades of Ecclesiastes!2
Solomon was emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities while we live, rather than blindly hoping for something better in the future, because death will end our opportunities on this earth.3
3. Enjoy (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)
The third way to respond to the fear of death is to just enjoy life.
FOUR WAYS TO ENJOY LIFE
1. Enjoy your meals
“Go, eat your bread with pleasure, and drink your wine with a cheerful heart, for God has already accepted your works.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, HCSB)
God gives us means to enjoy. He even gives us extra rich food to enjoy. The idea is to enjoy each meal that God gives you to eat.
2. Enjoy every occasion
“Let your clothes be white all the time, and never let oil be lacking on your head.” (Ecclesiastes 9:8, HCSB)
There are times when we enjoy time with others. We dress for the occasion. We dress for the family reunion, or the wedding, or the graduation. So the emphasis is not on what one wears as much as one enjoys the occasion.
3. Enjoy your marriage
“Enjoy life with the wife you love all the days of your fleeting life, which has been given to you under the sun, all your fleeting days. For that is your portion in life and in your struggle under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9, HCSB)
The Bible encourages us to enjoy life together. One of the purposes of marriages is to live life together. Life is meant to be shared. This is what marriage teaches us.
We as couples made a vow – in sickness and in health, and in good and in bad times, we would stay together. So yes there will be difficult times. But the Bible literally says in this verse that we should “see life” joyfully with our spouse.
Life is an adventure. Life is exciting. Life will never be dull for the two of you. God gives married couples the exciting privilege of sharing everything. Of course, sometimes we don’t want to share everything. But sharing is part of marriage. We should share our food. We should share our money, we should share our vacations. We get to share our families. We get to share the same bed. Sharing can be enjoyable.
The writer of Ecclesiastes was a wise man. He said that life can be vain, or feel empty sometimes. Yet, he encourages us by asking each of us to enjoy this life – a life that may sometimes not feel like satisfies us. The reason that God gave us a spouse is to help us feel satisfied in this life.
God gives us the privilege of waking up every day, not only with Him – but with a spouse that we know that God has given to us. There can be all kinds of trouble in life. Certainly, there will be times of difficulty. But God lets us know through our spouse, whom we love, that God loves us. He shows us through our marriage that He will not leave us. He shows us that He will help us. God wants us to go through this life with a positive attitude – not a negative one.
When we encounter tough times, we have someone there who can help us, who can talk to us, who can share our experience – that is our spouse. God teaches us to enjoy life together with our spouse, because when we enjoy life with our spouse and we show love to our spouse, we love God. We love God by loving our spouse. One way to love our spouse is to enjoy everything together.4
4. Enjoy your work
“Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your strength, because there is no work, planning, knowledge, or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10, HCSB)
Life is unpredictable (Ecclesiastes 9:11-18)
My abilities are no guarantee of success (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12)
“Again I saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong, or bread to the wise, or riches to the discerning, or favor to the skillful; rather, time and chance happen to all of them. For man certainly does not know his time: like fish caught in a cruel net or like birds caught in a trap, so people are trapped in an evil time as it suddenly falls on them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:11–12, HCSB)
The turtle can beat the hare. The weak can win against the strong. The fact is that everyone encounters experience. Sometimes our abilities help us succeed, but many times they do not. You might think that Solomon is saying that everything is left to chance. From a world’s perspective of observing, yes, it seems random. Life can be unpredictable sometimes.
When Dave Boon first saw the avalanche that swept his car over a guardrail on Interstate 40 in Denver, Colorado, it was only a puff of powder. After that brief warning, a snowy burst of wind knocked the car out of control. “Not even a second later, a freight train hit us,” Boon said.
Boon had been traveling with his wife, June, and Gary Martinez, thirteen, on their way to a youth group ski trip. The three of them had been discussing the possibility of an avalanche. “We were talking about avalanches and how there was so much snow and stuff. Then we turned the corner and saw some white powder, and it slammed us into the guardrail,” Boon said.
The wall of snow knocked the car over the rail and caused it to roll hundreds of feet down a steep mountain slope. In the middle of the descent, the car struck a tree and was knocked out of the avalanche’s grasp. It came to a stop upside down and pointing back uphill.
Fortunately, Boon and his wife were well trained. After clearing an airway and freeing himself from the seat belt, Boon was able to exit the car along with Martinez and then cut his wife free from her restraints. Despite several bumps, bruises, and scrapes, none of the three required hospitalization.
For Boon, the experience was a reminder that warnings and hints of danger need to be respected. “The signs read, ‘Avalanche Area, No Stopping,’ ” he said. “We’ve driven by that place hundreds of times. We’ve skied avalanche chutes, worn beepers, always carried an avalanche shovel. We’ve seen avalanches. But in our wildest dreams, we never imagined getting hit in a car by one.”5
My opportunities are no guarantees of success (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18)
Just as my abilities are no guarantee of success, so are my opportunities. Each new adventure might bring you success, but it might not.
“I have observed that this also is wisdom under the sun, and it is significant to me: There was a small city with few men in it. A great king came against it, surrounded it, and built large siege works against it. Now a poor wise man was found in the city, and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man.” (Ecclesiastes 9:13–15, HCSB)
The opportunity that came from the poor man’s wisdom didn’t lead to the poor man being successful.
Given the drama of the story, the climax is a frightful letdown. We would expect the “poor” man to receive all the accolades the town could muster and to be promoted to a place of authority and honor. Instead, “no one remembered” him.6
He was successful to save the town, but there was no personal achievement that came from his bravery. When push came to shove, everyone looked out for themselves and they never let the poor man rise above his poverty.
Solomon observes from this incident:
“And I said, “Wisdom is better than strength, but the wisdom of the poor man is despised, and his words are not heeded.”” (Ecclesiastes 9:16, HCSB)
Even though wisdom is powerful, it doesn’t help everyone. There are limits to wisdom.
“The calm words of the wise are heeded more than the shouts of a ruler over fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much good.” (Ecclesiastes 9:17–18, HCSB)
Solomon then concludes that wise words are better than other things like weapons and shouting, even if it doesn’t give us more opportunities in life. Three summary statements conclude this section. Wisdom is better than strength. Calm words are better than shouts. Wisdom is better than weapons. This last one is contrasted with the warning that one sinner can destroy much good.
So there are limits to the opportunities of wisdom. This warning is important to know when someone wants to enjoy life. There are limits to success in life. So success should not be the driver of how one enjoys life.
I saw a picture this week that showed a dog sitting with his owner sitting on a bench overlooking a wonderful view of the forest. The thought captions of the man showed that he was thinking about travel, a new car, and a big house. His thoughts were driven by potential opportunities of success in life. The thought caption of the dog was the owner and the dog sitting on the bench overlooking a wonderful view of the forest. The point was that the dog enjoyed life at the moment and not worrying about potential successes. God gives us each a new day to enjoy life. We need to take each day as an opportunity to enjoy it.
1 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 106.
2 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 108.
3 Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Satisfied, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 109.
4 Jim Erwin, “Enjoying Life Together With Your Spouse,” Ecclesiastes 9:9, 19 December 2005, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2005/12/19/enjoying-life-together-with-your-spouse/, accessed on 13 July 2017.
5 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 236–237. Patrick O’Driscoll, “Avalanche Sends Travelers Tumbling,” USA Today (January 8, 2007).