|The Attitude that is Becoming (Ecclesiastes 9:7-12)
The Attitude That Is Becoming
Central Thought: Even though death surrounds us, believers still enjoy the gifts of life which God has created for us.
Ecclesiastes declares that "everything is meaningless" (1:2). Life is filled with futility and frustration. It is like chasing the wind (1:14,17; 2:11,17,26; 4:4,16; 6:9)--you can never grab hold of it. Life "under the sun" (1:3,9,14) can never satisfy. There is nothing we can gain--there is nothing permanent under the sun (1:3; 2:11; 3:9; 5:16). When life is lived under a secular horizon, when it is lived without a divine perspective, life is unrewarding, meaningless and full of frustration. When one lives "under the sun" without God, then life is filled with "pain and grief" so that one's "mind does not rest," even at night (2:23).
However, when God is the center of our lives, when we live life from an heavenly perspective, then life is filled with joy and happiness. God has given us life to enjoy, but genuine joy only comes from the hand of God. God himself is the one who gives "wisdom, knowledge and happiness." Here the believer, the one who pleases God, can find enjoyment while the sinner only lives with frustration and meaninglessness (2:24-26; cf. 5:19-6:2). The believer enjoys life, but the unbeliever is frustrated by life's apparent vanity.
Whether believer or unbeliever, however, death awaits us all. "All share a common destiny--the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not" (9:2). Death is the great equalizer--it equalizes the rich and the poor, the powerful and the oppressed as well as the wicked and the righteous. "The same destiny overtakes them all" (9:4). Death shows no partiality.
But while death comes to all, the attitude of the righteous and the wicked toward death is vastly different. The wicked look at death as the unsatisfying end of a frustrated life filled with pain and grief. The wicked end their lives with frustration--they searched for something they never found. Death means that they will never be happy. But the righteous have a different attitude. The righteous view life as God's gift, a gift to be enjoyed till death. The righteous find happiness by enjoying God's gifts to life, and anticipate a fuller joy in the world to come.
Verse 7. God invites us to enjoy life. God created food and drink as enjoyments. They are part of the joys of life. Meals are celebration times, times of joy. God has approved this--it is part of his plan for life. God wants us to enjoy bread and wine.
Verse 8. White garments probably refer both to festive times (celebration or party clothes) as well as comfortable clothing (white as opposed to dark in hot climates). Oil also probably refers to both festive times (perhaps a fragrant oil) as well as comfort (oil relieves dry skin in hot climates). Both items point to both the joy and comforts of life.
Verse 9. God invites us to enjoy our marriages. This is part of the pleasure of life "under the sun." The joy of marriage is found in loving companionship ("wife whom you love") and permanent commitment ("all the days of your life"). This reflects God intention in creation. God ordained marriage as a means of union and communion among his people. The Preacher here calls us to enjoy God's gift.
Verse 10. Yet this life is still "under the sun"--and it is filled with toilsome labor. But this does not mean we bemoan our situation, but rather we are invigorated to live life while we have it. We are called to act with urgency and with all our energies. We live life actively rather than passively. Just because life is hard does not mean that we live pessimistically. On the contrary, because God has given us this life to enjoy, we live it energetically as we enjoy all of God's gifts to life. We should use all our resources to live with joy (working, planning, knowledge and wisdom) because we will not be able to use them in the grave. Death will come soon enough, so let us enjoy life while we can.
Verses 11-12. No one knows when death will arrive; no one knows when evil times will befall him. Such evil happens to all. It is life's cruel net. Death will overtake everyone, even the strongest, even the richest, even the most learned. Life cannot be preplanned--the fastest does not always win. "Time and chance" will happen to everyone, that is, death will knock at every one's door. It is the great equalizer, and no one knows when it will come. Consequently, we should live life now--to its fullest. We should live it with everything we have in us because in the grave there is no more living "under the sun."
Life "under the sun" is a hard place. It is full of pain and grief. It is surrounded by death. Death invades life to undermine its joy; it destroys the happiness of life. But God invites us to enjoy life despite its ultimate end. The believer's attitude is to live with such joy that it shames death. Life is meaningful despite death.
God invites us to live with contentment. God does not want his people to starve, and neither does he want them to feel guilty for enjoying food and drink. God's people should live lives of celebration and enjoy God's gifts.
God invites us to live with comfort. God clothes his people and provides for their comfort. This does not mean that we live in luxury, but neither is asceticism required of believers. God wants us to enjoy life, including the pleasures of comfortable clothes and a relaxing bubble bath.
God invites us to live with companionship. God does not intend loneliness for anyone. Marriage pleasures satisfy this deep loneliness that everyone feels, and the marriage bed is for union and communion. It is also for pleasure. Married couples should enjoy each other while they still live.
Life will not always turn out as we expect. The fastest runner will not always win, and strongest warrior will not always survive. Rather, "things happen" and life does not always go as we have planned. Evil times--heartaches, tragedies, sorrows--will come, but these should not destroy God's good gift of life. Life will have its unexpected pains, but it is also filled with joy when it is lived in relationship with God.
God wants believers to enjoy life, and this joy derives from our trust that God has already approved what we do. Consequently, we do not worry about death. Instead, we enjoy life.
1. How does death provide a context for this call to enjoy life?
2. Does this call to enjoy life sound hedonistic? How does it differ from common cultural lines, like "Get all the gusto you can"?
3. What does it mean to enjoy food and drink?
4. What does it mean to enjoy white clothing and oil? How does this apply to us when we do not use oil or necessarily value "white clothing"?
5. How does one "enjoy life with his wife"?
6. What is the attitude we should have toward life as given in verse 10?
7. What does it mean that "time and chance" happen to everyone?
8. Why should not the "evil times" discourage us from enjoying life?
First published as "The Attitude That is Becoming," Adult Bible Quarterly (Spring 1998), 21st Century Christian, pp. 48-51.