The Futility of Life
Verses 1-2 A Rich Person Who Cannot Enjoy His Life
A person who has received possessions, wealth, and honor often does not gain the respect of the people. Instead the people try to work out how they can benefit from the wealth and possessions that they can receive the honor. The rich often find that their enemies pretend to be a friend. They will do business with him for their own advantage. They may give him too much wine so that he will make unwise decisions and promises to them. Others will pretend nothing and lay plans to rob him and even murder him to gain what is his.
People in the world strive to take wealth, possessions and honor believing that these are the best things to have. They will do most anything to acquire these things believing that these things will give them the good life. In these verses Solomon has told us of a man who had these things. They were a gift from God and he did not even have to work to receive them. If these are the things that give one a good life, then this man would have had a good life.
We can wonder why if God had given this man possession, wealth, and honor why God did not protect them. Perhaps this was God’s way to show the man not to put his trust in his possessions, wealth and honor. But these things belong to the world only and will be no benefit in the life after. Only putting our trust in God will benefit us in this world and in the next.
Verses 3-6 What is a Good Life
Solomon is showing us how wrong the popular ideas of men can be. In that day a man with many sons was a successful man. Today we still say that a long life is a good life. In that day one would say of a man who had passed he now rest with his fathers. (1 Kings 16:6) Solomon has told us of a man who seemed to have a good life. He had many children and he lived longer than most. When he died the truth of his life became clear. His many children did not care even enough to bury him. That would mean that the wild animals devoured him. (1 Kings 16:4)
In their selfishness they did not care for the dead man’s body because it had no value. But they would fight like dogs for the man’s wealth. This would have been a terrible end for a life that seemed good and honorable. This seems worse because these things happened in the view of the people.
When an unborn child dies its whole life has happened in secret. The child never achieved the great things the people desire. His life passed from a short life into death. Death is the path that all must take. It makes no difference if that person is buried in a proper grave or not their bodies return to the dust. (3:20) But the spirit of a man must stand before God who is their judge. (3:17; 3:21; Luke 16:19-31)
Verses 7-9 Rest for the Soul
In these verses the translation for the words desire and appetite is soul. The use of the word soul means the real person. It is from the soul that our most important desires come from. The example would be that our body needs food so we hunger. The soul needs a right relationship with God and cannot live without Him. People will work hard for food to satisfy their bodies but food cannot satisfy the desires of the soul. This is why the fool and the wise alike cannot find satisfaction without God. In this important matter the wise have no advantage over the foolish. Careful study and thought do not give one a right relationship with God.
A poor man can hide the truth of his poverty. A man can pretend that he is not hungry. Other people can believe his deception but the soul of the man still will not be satisfied. It is good to learn to be content with the things that we have and all know that but the things that we can see in this world will not satisfy us. The soul will remain without rest and that person will stay in a desperate state without God. The only remedy is found in God’s promises. The person who puts his trust in Christ will find rest. This is the promise that Jesus has given us. (Matthew 11:29; John 6:27; Psalm 62:1)
Verses 10-12 Who Would Argue Against God
Solomon seems to be asking questions here. Who is this and what kind of man would argue against God and who made him? (Job 40:2) From the beginning we know that this man was Adam. In the Hebrew this word man (Adam) became the word for all people. This word reminds us that God created man from the dust. (Genesis 2:7) It reminds us of the weakness of all people who at death return to the dust. (Genesis 3:19)
Even as we are only men we still argue with God. They will argue that His opinion of their lives is incorrect, the He should approve of their efforts, but their efforts only show how weak they are. Their arguments against God only show how wrong they are.
With this closing of the chapter Solomon has said enough of the weaknesses of men and their efforts to please God by their own works. Solomon has proved that riches, honor, and a long life do not satisfy.
Now Solomon will try to answer the question, “For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?” Now that we see that a man’s life is short and weak. (Psalm 90) None can control what will happen in the world after their death. What then should people do in their lives? Solomon now tries to show the proper way for people to live. He will try to answer his question by study of the behavior of people in this world.