The Word Made Fresh
1I studied all this – how the righteous and the wise and all their deeds are in God’s hands. And one cannot know whether it is love or hate. It seems that everything that confronts them is meaningless, 2because we all, good and bad, suffer the same fate. It doesn’t matter whether we are righteous or wicked, ritually clean or unclean, or whether we present sacrifices or not. The good are as the sinners. Those who swear are like those who shun making an oath. 3This is the evil that takes place under the sun, that the same fate awaits everyone. Everyone’s heart is filled with evil. They all suffer from madness while they live, and then they die. 4But those who are living have hope; a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5The living know they are going to die, while the dead know nothing. They are given no more reward, and soon even their memory is gone. 6Their love and their hate and their jealousies have perished, too, and they will never again have any connection with all that takes place under the sun.
7So, enjoy your bread. Drink your wine with a merry heart. God has long ago approved what you do. 8Always wear clean clothing, and always let your head be anointed with oil. 9Enjoy life with the wife whom you love every day of the life you are given, because that is your portion. Toil at that which you toil every day under the sun. 10Do what your hands find to do, with all your might. There is no work, nor thought, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in death, and that is where you are going.
11I saw again that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor wealth to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance overtake them all. 12No one can anticipate when disaster will strike, but like fish in the net or bird in the snare, so we are snared at a time of calamity when it suddenly falls upon us.
13I have also seen this kind of wisdom in the world, and it seemed important to me: 14There was a small city with few inhabitants. A powerful king attacked it, building great barriers against it. 15In the town there was a poor wise man, who by his wisdom saved the city. But no one remembered him. 16Then I said, “Wisdom is better than strength, but the poor man’s wisdom is forgotten and his words unheeded.”
17The soft words of the wise are more likely to be obeyed than the shouting of a ruler among fools. 18Wisdom is much better than weapons of war, but one idiot can destroy much good.
1-6: He changes his tune a bit now. Whereas before it was better to be dead than alive, now he acknowledges that “a living dog is better than a dead lion.” Having a “share in all that happens under the sun” is a good thing after all.
7-10: His optimism is hollow, though, for now he reveals that the reason we should enjoy life is because once we die there won’t be anything to enjoy. I’m beginning to feel a bit sorry for this fellow.
11-12: C’est la vie. Que sera sera. Again.
13-18: Still, he cannot put out of his mind that good people don’t always get credit for the good they do. For the Preacher, that fact is the great injustice of life on earth.
Did you notice an important but nearly invisible nod to good and decent people? Read it again; could there be some advantage to being good, after all?