In this concluding sermon on the study of Ecclesiastes, Pastor Dave Capoccia briefly reviews the answers to the book’s fundamental questions before reading the entire book from start to finish. The three questions Pastor Dave considers are:
1. What is the main message of Ecclesiastes?
2. How is the message of Ecclesiastes developed?
3. How does the message of Ecclesiastes connect to Christ?
Let’s turn to the Word now and pray. Father, thank You for all the good that You give us, for another day of life and breath, for the opportunity to be here and hear Your Word. Thank You for Your Word and I pray that You would speak to us in a profound way today to reach into our hearts and encourage and convict and instruct. May our lives be changed, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Imagine a graduation ceremony with me for a moment. It might be for high school or college with all of these students scattered with their caps and gowns. Soon they have diplomas in hand and parents and friends are also gathered to celebrate with them. These young men and women have just completed years of education and training and have worked hard and succeeded. And now they are looking forward to the future.
In such ceremonies, there is usually a speaker to pass on words of encouragement and wisdom to the graduates. What do these speakers usually say? Maybe something like, “You did it. We’re so proud of you. Oh, the places you’ll go! You’ve got so much to look forward to. Never give up on your dreams. Go change the world!”
This is common in graduations but in our theoretical graduation, imagine a certain speaker walks up to the podium and begins by following to the gathered assembly: “What you’ve accomplished so far in life is not significant. You have much pain, frustration, and uncertainty to look forward to in life. Your dreams are empty, and even if you reach them, they won’t satisfy you. You’ll work really hard in life but in the end, you’ll have nothing to show for it.
“You’ll try to change the world, but in the end, you’ll find that in the most important ways you can’t. By the way, you’re going to die sooner than you think.” That’d be crazy right? Did anyone ever say such things to graduates in real life? No one would ever be so bold and depressing to say such words to starry-eyed young ones.
Well, the truth is that someone once did, and that was King Solomon of Israel. We’ve just finished going through Solomon’s great Old Testament book of wisdom, Ecclesiastes. Though we don’t know the specific occasion of this work, it is likely that Ecclesiastes was written down to be spoken in an assembly. After all, the writer refers to himself as kohaleth, the Hebrew word that means preacher, gatherers, or speaker of the assembly.
Actually, our name for the book in our Bibles is just the Latin transliteration of the equivalent Greek word for preacher. So this book really is a sermon and though it is addressed to all people in one respect, it is primarily directed toward the young, to those who are still deciding what they will pursue and expect out of life. Solomon’s words to them as we’ve seen, and his words to us are indeed sobering and provocative. But not because Solomon is callous or he just likes to rain on people’s parades and spread misery. Rather, because he knows that if we do not face the true nature of our world and of life in it, then we will live a foolish, frustrated, and wasted life.
Solomon wants to spare us as does the Spirit of God who speaks through Him. Solomon wishes to show us a better way. Thus he speaks to us this sermon that we call the book of Ecclesiastes. We’ve taken a little over a year to go through this book verse by verse, and section by section. There are twenty-six sermons, twenty-seven counting today. And this methodical approach has been good and necessary as part of what we call expository preaching.
After all, we are not Solomon’s original audience and don’t have their same background. We read his work in a translation from Hebrew to English. So it is necessary for us to understand the work’s meaning and its relevance to our lives that we go through it slowly, explain what he is saying, what he means, and how it applies to each one of us. This is what expository preaching is. But of course, this is not how Solomon’s original audience heard the message.
They heard it all at once. And as much as I’ve sought to remind you as we move through the book regarding Solomon’s overall message and structure, I know it can be difficult to keep the whole book connected in your mind when our examinations are so spread out. So I want to do something a little different with the sermon this morning. I want to read to you the entire book of Ecclesiastes from beginning to end. I feel it is appropriate to do so now after we’ve completed our year-long study.
And like I said last week, I believe that doing so will help remind you of what you have heard and drive in more deeply the nail of Solomon and his wisdom before we move on from this great book. Our reading all of Ecclesiastes takes about thirty-five minutes. But before I do so with you, I want to briefly set the stage one more time for what you’re about to hear. As we look at Ecclesiastes: A Retrospective today, let’s first answer three fundamental questions about this book so we can understand, remember, and apply its truth.
First, what is the main message of Ecclesiastes? Second, how is the message developed? And third, how does the message connect to Jesus Christ? Let’s begin with the first question. What is the main message of Ecclesiastes? The message begins with the fact of Ecclesiastes 1:2, that life, for all people Christian and non-Christian, is a vapor of vapors. It is the most vaporous vapor of all. The idea of vapor comes from that key Hebrew term that we have seen throughout Ecclesiastes translated as vanity, futility, or fleeting. But it’s the Hebrew term, havel.
All of life, including ourselves and everything and everyone that we love, is fundamentally vaporous. Because of the fall, we have sin, death, and uncertainty in the world. Everything has become like a vapor, insubstantial, impermanent, and quickly gone. Even incomprehensible and inscrutable and not able to be figured out. Like a vapor, you cannot get a good grasp on anything in the world. Just when you think you have, life eludes you. That thing that you were holding on to eludes you and disappears. Just like vapor, breath, or smoke.
Which means, that if you live for this world or any of its treasures. If you are looking for lasting gain or profit or ultimate treasure, you will fail. You won’t find what you’re looking for and instead only find pain, sorrow, and frustration. You will be like one chasing after the wind.
But there is another way to approach life. Most people in the world take that first frustrating route. There is another wise way to live in a fundamentally vaporous world. It is to live in the fear of God. If you will humble yourself before God and remember His coming judgment and stop expecting too much from life and its treasures, then you can live totally different from most people. You can walk in God’s wisdom and make the most of your quickly passing days and you can rejoice as you go through life and experience all the good that God still shows you in a vaporous world.
The idea that Solomon keeps directing us back to as we move through the book of Ecclesiastes is the idea of embracing our portion, which is not to become gods or to live like gods in some self-created paradise. Our portion is instead to fear God, keep His commandments, and rejoice in God’s good. This is the only way to live wisely and well in this world and the only way to contentment. It’s God’s design for us.
In my introductory sermon to Ecclesiastes, I gave you a summary statement that I think still captures well the overall message and charge of Solomon to us in Ecclesiastes. That message is this: life is a vapor of vapors so embrace it as a gift and not as gain.
This is the main message in brief, but number two how is this message of Ecclesiastes developed? Let’s trace the overall structure one more time. You can follow along with me as you glance in your Bibles as we move from chapter one to twelve. Ecclesiastes roughly divides in half. The first half shows why we can’t ultimately live for gain for some ultimate treasure or profit in this world.
The second half focuses on showing us what limited gain we can still enjoy in the fear of God. Solomon begins his first half of the book in Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 with a poem describing the fundamentally vaporous nature of life that destroys all hope of ultimate gain and then in Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:24, Solomon describes his own personal journey to discern a profit for himself or for mankind in a vaporous world. It was an epic undertaking but it turned out to be an epic fail due to that great frustrating factor of life: death.
Death ruins everything, but it is not the only great frustration of life. Moving into Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, Solomon identifies and discusses another uncertainty. Our times are always changing and we don’t know what’s coming next. In Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 at the end of chapter 3, Solomon introduces a third frustrating factor of life which is injustice. Death, uncertainty, injustice all make it so there’s no lasting profit in this world.
Yet these terrible realities don’t mean that there is no consolation or no good for people in life. In Ecclesiastes 4:1-16, Solomon reminds us that no matter how difficult life can be, it is better lived with companions. Life is better together. Yet in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, Solomon also reminds us that our fundamental lack of power and control should also lead to a palpably humble attitude toward God in worship. We should watch our mouths in worship, watch what we promise and what we pray.
In Ecclesiastes 5:8-20, Solomon considers the folly of constantly seeking more things. Greater wealth, more possessions, instead of enjoying and being content with what you have. In Ecclesiastes 6:1-12, in a doppelgänger passage, Solomon provocatively argues that those who never take the time to enjoy the gifts of God in this life, even wealth, are worse off than a miscarriage. They won’t enjoy what God has actually given them and this concludes the first half of Solomon’s sermon.
The second half begins like the first with a poem in Ecclesiastes 7 which we see in verses 1-14 and then in the entire chapter. In that section, Solomon exhorts us to seek the limited but real and practical power of wisdom. Wisdom is not the way to ultimate gain but it is such a great help in life that you must seek it. In Ecclesiastes 8:1-15, Solomon shows us how wisdom gives us practical wisdom for dealing with authorities, even unjust and oppressive authorities.
Then starting in Ecclesiastes 8:16, Solomon begins the crescendo of his sermon, driving to the conclusion another way that wisdom directs us to live in this world, captured by the phrase carpe diem, which means to seize or pluck the day. Specifically, in Ecclesiastes 8:16-9:10, Solomon reminds us that it is good to be alive. The realities of death and uncertainty should actually move us to act, make use of life, and enjoy it to God’s glory.
In Ecclesiastes 9:11-10:20, Solomon clarifies that our ready actions are taking hold of life and must be with the delivering power of wisdom and not with the reckless and destructive power of folly. In Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, Solomon urges us to not let the factor of risk prevent us from trying and finding that we just might succeed. In Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8, we are urged to make the most with the best days of our lives, our days of light before old age and death permanently remove our ability to act in the world.
Finally, as we saw together last time, Solomon ends his book with an epilogue of clarifications in Ecclesiastes 12:9-14. In case we missed what his main message was, it is here again. This is what we’ve seen together in the past 14 months. I give it to you again in outline form so that as you hear this book read, you can see Solomon’s flow of thought and remember some of what we previously learned.
We’ve seen the main message, how it develops, and finally let’s consider how the message of Ecclesiastes connects with Christ, because it surely does. We can say a lot about this, a whole sermon in fact. But I’ll just mention a few thoughts. Though Solomon did not know the specifics of the Messiah’s coming, or even the name of Jesus Christ, Solomon’s book fits perfectly with the later life and ministry of Jesus.
Jesus taught the same things as Solomon and He warned us especially of the folly of living for the ultimately unprofitable things of the world, instead of what really matters and seeking God and His eternal treasure. You remember that Jesus says in Mark 8:36:
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?
Another connection is that Jesus really is the sovereign, good, and holy God whom Solomon urges us, again and again, to fear and obey. Jesus is the God that you should fear, and yet amazingly this Jesus, this God, was also the One who stepped down into a havel world and took on havel human flesh. Jesus lived with all the havel frustrations that we experience in His incarnation and He died on behalf of havel people, you and me, who previously lived for havel things instead of God. But then by God’s grace, they came to know and believe in Jesus. Jesus died on our behalf and experienced firsthand the havel nature of death and yet He overcame it by His divine power and His resurrection. He promises the same for all those who believe in Him.
We’ve been saying provocatively that we will never die because we will be raised again. The havel nature of life ultimately will not have power over us because of Jesus. Even now today, Jesus waits to bring about His promised Kingdom free from havel. This is what we heard from Romans 8 earlier. The creation was subjected to futility, to havel temporarily in hope of the revealing of the sons of God and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingdom.
The world to come to which we are going if we know Jesus Christ. There is no longer havel, curse, sin, or death in that world. There is only good and finally justice and reward for every secret act of righteousness that those who fear God have done. And that is what we look forward to and that is what he says in seed form when we see it even more fully in the words and life of Jesus. Until then, our Lord is with us, even on our havel sojourn. We believers and inheritors of the non-havel Kingdom to come still live in a havel world.
Jesus is still with us and helping us and sustaining us every day. He still gives us good gifts, of Himself chiefly, but also just many kind graces in life and things that we can enjoy and encourage us. Really the words of Ecclesiastes, if you want to be theologically astute, are not simply the words of Solomon but also of Jesus Christ because He is God. It is by the Spirit of Christ that Solomon wrote and spoke what he did.
So we must not simply heed the words of Ecclesiastes because they are the wisdom of a wise man, but the wisdom of God, even the charge to us from Christ about how to live our lives well for His glory. So having sought briefly to give us context to our reading, let us now hear the Word of Christ as given by the Spirit through Solomon that once great king of Israel, and wisest man who ever lived apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s give attention to these words, and remember them, and put them into practice. Here begins the book of Ecclesiastes, follow along with me:
The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.
Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
Blowing toward the south,
Then turning toward the north,
The wind continues swirling along;
And on its circular courses the wind returns.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.
All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.
There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still.
I, the Preacher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. And I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven. It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted. I said to myself, “Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.” And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure. So enjoy yourself.” And behold, it too was futility. I said of laughter, “It is madness,” and of pleasure, “What does it accomplish?” I explored with my mind how to stimulate my body with wine while my mind was guiding me wisely, and how to take hold of folly, until I could see what good there is for the sons of men to do under heaven the few years of their lives. I enlarged my works: I built houses for myself, I planted vineyards for myself; I made gardens and parks for myself and I planted in them all kinds of fruit trees; I made ponds of water for myself from which to irrigate a forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves and I had homeborn slaves. Also I possessed flocks and herds larger than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. Also, I collected for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I provided for myself male and female singers and the pleasures of men—many concubines. Then I became great and increased more than all who preceded me in Jerusalem. My wisdom also stood by me. All that my eyes desired I did not refuse them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart was pleased because of all my labor and this was my reward for all my labor. Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun. So I turned to consider wisdom, madness and folly; for what will the man do who will come after the king except what has already been done? And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both. Then I said to myself, “As is the fate of the fool, it will also befall me. Why then have I been extremely wise?” So I said to myself, “This too is vanity.” For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die! So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind. Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun. When there is a man who has labored with wisdom, knowledge and skill, then he gives his legacy to one who has not labored with them. This too is vanity and a great evil. For what does a man get in all his labor and in his striving with which he labors under the sun? Because all his days his task is painful and grievous; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by. Furthermore, I have seen under the sun that in the place of justice there is wickedness and in the place of righteousness there is wickedness. I said to myself, “God will judge both the righteous man and the wicked man,” for a time for every matter and for every deed is there. I said to myself concerning the sons of men, “God has surely tested them in order for them to see that they are but beasts.” For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust. Who knows that the breath of man ascends upward and the breath of the beast descends downward to the earth? I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot. For who will bring him to see what will occur after him?
Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression which were being done under the sun. And behold I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but they had no one to comfort them. So I congratulated the dead who are already dead more than the living who are still living. But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun. I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind. The fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh. One hand full of rest is better than two fists full of labor and striving after wind. Then I looked again at vanity under the sun. There was a certain man without a dependent, having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied with riches and he never asked, “And for whom am I laboring and depriving myself of pleasure?” This too is vanity and it is a grievous task. Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. A poor yet wise lad is better than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction. For he has come out of prison to become king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I have seen all the living under the sun throng to the side of the second lad who replaces him. There is no end to all the people, to all who were before them, and even the ones who will come later will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity and striving after wind.
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God. If you see oppression of the poor and denial of justice and righteousness in the province, do not be shocked at the sight; for one official watches over another official, and there are higher officials over them. After all, a king who cultivates the field is an advantage to the land. He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity. When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on? The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich man does not allow him to sleep. There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. When those riches were lost through a bad investment and he had fathered a son, then there was nothing to support him. As he had come naked from his mother’s womb, so will he return as he came. He will take nothing from the fruit of his labor that he can carry in his hand. This also is a grievous evil—exactly as a man is born, thus will he die. So what is the advantage to him who toils for the wind? Throughout his life he also eats in darkness with great vexation, sickness and anger. Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward. Furthermore, as for every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them and to receive his reward and rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God. For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men— a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction. If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, “Better the miscarriage than he, for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he. Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things—do not all go to one place?” All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living? What the eyes see is better than what the soul desires. This too is futility and a striving after wind. 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. For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man? For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?
A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
For when a face is sad a heart may be happy.
The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning,
While the mind of fools is in the house of pleasure.
It is better to listen to the rebuke of a wise man
Than for one to listen to the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorn bushes under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool;
And this too is futility.
For oppression makes a wise man mad,
And a bribe corrupts the heart.
The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.
Do not be eager in your heart to be angry,
For anger resides in the bosom of fools.
Do not say, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?”
For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this.
Wisdom along with an inheritance is good
And an advantage to those who see the sun.
For wisdom is protection just as money is protection,
But the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the lives of its possessors.
Consider the work of God,
For who is able to straighten what He has bent?
In the day of prosperity be happy,
But in the day of adversity consider—
God has made the one as well as the other
So that man will not discover anything that will be after him. I have seen everything during my lifetime of futility; there is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his wickedness. Do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise. Why should you ruin yourself? Do not be excessively wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them. Wisdom strengthens a wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city. Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins. Also, do not take seriously all words which are spoken, so that you will not hear your servant cursing you. For you also have realized that you likewise have many times cursed others. I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. What has been is remote and exceedingly mysterious. Who can discover it? I directed my mind to know, to investigate and to seek wisdom and an explanation, and to know the evil of folly and the foolishness of madness. And I discovered more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, whose hands are chains. One who is pleasing to God will escape from her, but the sinner will be captured by her. “Behold, I have discovered this,” says the Preacher, “adding one thing to another to find an explanation, which I am still seeking but have not found. I have found one man among a thousand, but I have not found a woman among all these. “Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.”
Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam. I say, “Keep the command of the king because of the oath before God. “Do not be in a hurry to leave him. Do not join in an evil matter, for he will do whatever he pleases.” Since the word of the king is authoritative, who will say to him, “What are you doing?” He who keeps a royal command experiences no trouble, for a wise heart knows the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every delight, though a man’s trouble is heavy upon him. If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen? No man has authority to restrain the wind with the wind, or authority over the day of death; and there is no discharge in the time of war, and evil will not deliver those who practice it. All this I have seen and applied my mind to every deed that has been done under the sun wherein a man has exercised authority over another man to his hurt. So then, I have seen the wicked buried, those who used to go in and out from the holy place, and they are soon forgotten in the city where they did thus. This too is futility. Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred times and may lengthen his life, still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God. There is futility which is done on the earth, that is, there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked. On the other hand, there are evil men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I say that this too is futility. So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun. When I gave my heart to know wisdom and to see the task which has been done on the earth (even though one should never sleep day or night), and I saw every work of God, I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, “I know,” he cannot discover.
For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him. It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead. For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all that is done under the sun. Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. Let your clothes be white all the time, and let not oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has given to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going. I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them. Also this I came to see as wisdom under the sun, and it impressed me. There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the wisdom of the poor man is despised and his words are not heeded. The words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor. A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left. Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses. There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler— folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places.I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land. He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning. Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time—for strength and not for drunkenness. Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks. Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything. Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known.
Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things. Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good. The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility. Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light, the moon and the stars are darkened, and clouds return after the rain; in the day that the watchmen of the house tremble, and mighty men stoop, the grinding ones stand idle because they are few, and those who look through windows grow dim; and the doors on the street are shut as the sound of the grinding mill is low, and one will arise at the sound of the bird, and all the daughters of song will sing softly. Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it. “Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “all is vanity!” In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly. The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.