The Word Made Fresh
1There is yet another problem I have seen which lies heavy upon humankind: 2God may give someone wealth, many possessions, and honor so that they have everything they desire, but then God doesn’t allow them to enjoy any of it. Instead, a stranger enjoys it. This is meaningless, and a terrible mistake. 3Or, a man might beget a hundred children and live to a ripe old age, but if he doesn’t enjoy the good things of life, or dies without a burial, I say a stillborn child is better off. 4A stillborn child comes into nothing and goes into nothing, and even its name is covered in darkness, 5nor has it even seen the sun or known anything; but it finds rest rather than the other, 6for although the other should live two thousand years, if he doesn’t enjoy any of it, don’t they both go to the same place?
7All a person’s work is for the mouth, but the appetite still isn’t satisfied. 8So, what advantage do the wise have over fools? And what does a poor person have even if they know how to behave themselves? 9What the eyes can see is better than wandering desires. But this is also foolishness and chasing the wind.
10Everything that has happened has been named, and it is clear what human beings are, and that they cannot argue with those who are stronger. 11More words only produce more vanity; one is no better than the other. 12Who knows what is good for people while they live through the few days of their vain lives which are passed like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen after them?
1-6: The cynicism of the Preacher is back in full force. If you’re rich but can’t enjoy life, you’re no better off than a stillborn child. Verse 3 is problematic, and perhaps the best reading is, “if he does not enjoy life’s good things, then even without a decent burial a stillborn child is better off.” The point, I think, is that wealth does not guarantee a good life.
7-9: The appetite is never satisfied; hunger always returns. In this there is no advantage to being wise, nor is poverty a disadvantage. What the eyes see is better than what the appetite craves because the act of seeing doesn’t leave you empty.
10-12: These verses make little sense unless one imagines God standing in the shadows. God knows all that has been, and God knows what human beings are, and God knows that they cannot contend with God, who is stronger. The cynical part is that we human beings have no way of knowing what life is really all about or what will happen when we’re gone.
We hope that at some point the blessings of life will interrupt the Preacher’s train of thought!