Leading on from the proceeding chapters, the writer of Ecclesiastes in chapter 9 turns his focus onto the issue of life and death. Death is one of those depressing subjects that society avoids discussing and so it is buried under numerous euphemisms such as “passed away” and “kicked the bucket” to make it less confronting.
But instead of denying death, the writer of Ecclesiastes tackles it head-on concluding that death is the “Great Equalizer” which plays no favourites. Whatever happens during a person’s life, all people (foolish, wise, good or bad) share the same fate finally – death is certain! (v.1-3). As Paul writes in Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death” but living on the other side of the cross – the Christian has the promise that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Where there is life, there is hope (v.4-6). As long as there is a breath in the body, a person can repent and be saved. People who are alive can prepare for their death. In the teacher’s time, a dog was thought of as a useless animal, while the lion was thought of as being the bravest; nevertheless, a living dog is better that a dead lion because with life comes knowledge, reward ( v.5), and continued activity on earth (v.6). Life on earth is the only arena of opportunity for accomplishment and reward (in this life and the next).
Since life is uncertain, the teacher implores his readers to make the most of our lives because time and chance can overtake us (v. 7-12).
Having recently faced major surgery to treat a life threatening disease, the thing I take most from a second chance at life – is to make the most of opportunity given me and work towards leaving a legacy. So I will eat my flax-seed and quinoa bread and other health foods with the joy knowing that eating healthy will lower my risk factors and “enjoy life with the wife whom you love” all the days left to me. Ultimately legacy and the memories from our relationships are what are left when we have passed away.
The teacher goes on to make the point that we cant make assumptions about life (v.11-12). The fastest runner may not always win the race – just ask Steven Bradbury who claimed Olympic Gold in speed skating when all the other competitors fell over in front of him. The strongest army may not always win the battle as Napoleon found at Waterloo. Wise people do not always have food. And clever people do not always become rich – despite the fortunes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – most ideas/patents will never make their owner millions.
People do not always praise the most capable people. Time and chance happen to us all. We cannot know what will happen in the future. All kinds of unpredictable and uncontrollable events may, and frequently do, change good fortune into bad fortune, or vice versa. Like fish and birds suddenly ensnared in nets or traps and cannot escape, so death happens to people suddenly. Other bad things may happen suddenly in our lives too.
In verses 13-15 the teacher recounts the story of a poor man whose wisdom saved his community. We are not told how, only the fact that it was through his wisdom, but because he lacked status and position, he was soon forgotten. When we look at the monuments that have built all over the world, they generally honour those who butchered thousands in battle, and not the wise statesmen who negotiated peace.
Verses 16-18 stress both the value and the vulnerability of wisdom. Wisdom is more valuable than strength or weapons of war. While in human politics, the last word generally may go to the loudest voice, or to military might; the teacher contends that the “pen truly is mightier than the sword” and even the greatest works of good can be destroyed by just one foolish act (v.18).