A Study by Scott Sperling
Ecclesiastes 9:1 -
In God’s Hands
So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what
they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate awaits him.
In the previous section of the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon found himself at the
end of his quest, by human means, to understand the things of life. He discovered
that, no matter how worldly wise he may be, a man could not understand fully
what goes on in life: “When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe
man’s labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night—then I saw all that
God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all
his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man
claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it” (Eccl. 8:16–17). Here, he
continues that thought, concluding that whatever happens on earth is in God’s
hands: “So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise
and what they do are in God’s hands, but no man knows whether love or hate
awaits him” (vs. 1). God is in control. We cannot change that. And this is fine with
Solomon. What is puzzling to Solomon, however, is that, despite the fact that God
is in control, the “righteous” and “wise” do not know “whether love or hate awaits
[them]”. One might think that, since a loving God is in control, then the
“righteous” could always expect a life of ease and peace, a “good” life with no
suffering. Yet, this is not the case. This mystery of providence is a stumbling block
Life, even for the most devout Christian, is not a bed of roses. God allows affliction.
As Jesus pointed out: “In this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Many
would ask, “Why, Lord, is there trouble for us?” Part of the answer to this question
is that God, in His sovereignty, has largely chosen to put the world under the
stewardship of sinful man. And since sinful men are given by God the free will to
run things down here, sin happens. Where sin is, there is affliction. And yet, the
answer is more complicated than this. Despite the fact that men run things down
here, God does direct circumstances according to His will, for we have statements
from God’s word, such as: “And we know that in all things God works for the
good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”
(Rom. 8:28). So, though there is pain and affliction in this sinful world, what we
experience, what we must endure, is in “God’s hands”. Many ask, “Well, how can
a loving God allow His children to experience pain?” One can respond, simply:
“Do not you, as a parent, allow your children to experience pain? Do you not
discipline them? Do you not allow the doctor vaccinate them so that they will not
contract horrible diseases? Do you not, for their good, deny them things they
would think pleasurable?” The fact that God allows us to undergo affliction is not a
sign that He does not love us. On the contrary, the fact that we are disciplined by
God is a sign that He loves us: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating
you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not
disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate
children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who
disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit
to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while
as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in
his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on,
however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have
been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees”
Yes, the godly at times suffer; the ungodly at times prosper. “God’s approval or
disapproval of us cannot always be read from [what happens to us]; things are not
always what they seem to be to us or what our friends construe them to be. After
all, Job’s three friends took the bare facts of his suffering and incorrectly concluded
that he must have sinned grievously; otherwise he would not have been suffering
as he was. Nor must we conclude that God hates those to whom He sends
adversity and loves those who receive prosperity. If believers are to walk by faith,
there will be times when outward appearances and facts will defy explanation for
the moment. It is cruel to add to the hurt of oppressed persons by suggesting that
they are definitely objects of God’s judgment. Such narrow-minded reasoning
would suggest that all suffering is the result of personal sin, but that would be
unbiblical” [Kaiser, 94–95]. We learn in the Bible, that the suffering of God’s
children has its purpose. “Certainly some suffering is (1) educational (as Elihu
informed Job by divine inspiration in Job 34:32;35:11;36:10,15,22); some is (2)
doxological, for the glory of God (as Jesus showed His disciples the proper
deduction to be drawn from the man born blind in John 9:1-3); some is (3)
probationary (as when Habakkuk looked out from his watchtower on a world of
tyranny, violence, and sin and found the answer in patient waiting for God's long-
suffering retribution to take effect); some is (4) revelational (as the prophet Hosea
learned the isolation felt by God as a result of Israel's spiritual adultery when he,
Hosea, lost his own wife in physical harlotries); and some suffering is (5) sacrificial
(as the suffering Servant bore great pain because of the sin of others, see Isa. 42;49-
50;53). Therefore, it is most unfortunate when men hastily make a one-to-one nexus
between personal guilt and suffering” [Kaiser, 95]. As for myself, I can truly say
that all suffering I have experienced in life has been beneficial to me, in some way. I
can see, looking back, God’s hand at work, in all times of affliction that I have
experienced. Think back. Can you not see God’s hand at work in your life through
your times of affliction?
Bibliography and Suggested Reading
Bridges, Charles. A Commentary on Ecclesiastes. Edinbrugh: Banner of Truth, 1992.
(Originally published in 1860).
Hubbard, David. Mastering the Old Testament: Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Dallas:
Jamieson, Robert; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. A Commentary: Critical,
Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. 3 Vols. Grand Rapids:
Eerdman’s, 1993. (Originally published in 1866).
Kaiser, Walter. Ecclesiastes: Total Life. Chicago:Moody, 1979.
Keil, Carl & Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament. Reprint
Edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971. (Originally published ca. 1880).
Kidner, Derek. The Message of Ecclesiastes. Downer’s Grove, IL:Inter-Varsity, 1976.
Nisbet, Alexander. An Exposition with Practical Observations upon the Book of
Ecclesiastes. Reprint Edition. Edmonton, Alberta: Still Waters Revival Books, 1998.
(Originally published in 1694).
Wiersbe, Warren. Be Satisfied. Wheaton, IL:Victor Books, 1990.
© 1994-2017, Scott Sperling