Life Without Enjoyment Valueless
Ecclesiastes 6:1-6
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:…

The problem which occupies the Preacher (vers. 1, 2) is virtually the same as that in Ecclesiastes 4:7, 8. It is not that which is discussed in the Book of Job, and the thirty-seventh and seventy-third psalms, viz. why the wicked often prosper, and the righteous often suffer adversity. It is that of men blessed with riches, with children, and with long life, and debarred all enjoyment of these blessings. In the Law of Moses these had been the rewards promised for obedience to God (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), but the Preacher sees that something more is needed for happiness than the mere possession of them. There is another "gift of God" needed in order that one may enjoy the good of any one of them.

I. The first picture (vers. 1, 2) is that of A RICH MAN, able to gratify every desire, but incapable of making his wealth yield him any pleasure or satisfaction. He may be a miser, afraid to make use of his riches; he may be in ill health, and find that his wealth cannot procure for him any alleviation of his pains; his domestic circumstances may be so unhappy as to cast a cloud over his prosperity. From various causes, such as these, the evil upon which our author remarks is common enough in human society - great wealth failing to procure for its possessor any enjoyment he can relish, and perhaps passing at last, on his death, into the hands of a stranger, for want of an heir to whom he might have had some satisfaction in leaving it.

II. A second case of a different kind is suggested in vers. 3-6. The rich man is NOT CHILDLESS, but has a numerous family, and lives out all his days; but he, too, often has no happiness in his life, and perhaps even fails to find honorable burial when he dies. His fate is worse than that of the stillborn child that has never tasted of life. "The abortion has the advantage in not having known anything; for it is better to know nothing at all than to know nothing but trouble. It is laid in the grave without having tasted the miseries of human life; in the grave, where, amid the silence and solitude of death, the cares and disappointments, the disquietudes and mortifications and distresses of this world are neither felt nor dreamed of" (Wardlaw). However gloomy these reflections of our author's may seem at first sight, when we examine them a little more closely we find that they are not so somber in their character as many of the utterances of pessimistic philosophy. He does not contrast being with not-being, and declare that the latter is preferable, but he declares a joyless life to be inferior to that which has been "cut off from the womb." His teaching that the value of existence is to be measured by the amount of good that has been enjoyed in it, is so far from being the utterance of a despairing pessimism that most sober-minded persons would accept it as reasonable and true. Specimens of utterances which, to a superficial reader, might appear to be closely akin to his, but which really are the expression of a very much darker mood than his, might easily be given. Thus we have in Theognis (425-428) -

"Best lot for man is never to be born,
Nor ever see the bright rays of the morn:
Next best, when born, to haste with quickest tread
Where Hades' gates are open for the dead,
And rest with much earth gathered for our bed? And in Sophocles ('fed. Colossians,' 1225) -

"Never to be at all
Excels all fame;
Quickly, next best, to pass
From whence we came." And according to the teaching of Schopenhauer, the non-existence of the world is to be preferred to its existence. The world is cursed with four great evils - birth, disease, old age, and death. "Existence is only a punishment," and the feeling of misery which often accompanies it is "repentance" for the great crime of having come into the world by yielding to the "will to live" (Wright, 'Ecclesiastes,' p. 158). Such despairing utterances, when found in the writings of those who have not known God, move us to compassion, but we can scarcely avoid the feeling of indignation when we find them on the lips of those who have known God, but have not "retained him in their knowledge." And we must beware of concluding, after a hasty and superficial reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes, that its author, even in his darkest mood, sank to the depth of atheism and despair which they reveal. - J.W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:

WEB: There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is heavy on men:

The Good Things Appointed for Man by God
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