The Destiny of All

2All 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. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. 3This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.

4Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! 5For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. 6Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.

7Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. 8Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. 9Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. 10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.

Solomon, as we have discussed, is at the end of his quest, by human means, to understand the things of life. He has discovered that, no matter how worldly wise a man may be, "no one can comprehend what goes on under the sun" (Eccl. 8:17). Solomon realizes that what happens to "the righteous and the wiseis in God’s hands", but, frustratingly, despite this, "no man knows whether love or hate await him" (Eccl. 9:1). Solomon continues his frustration with the observation that, seemingly, the destiny of all is the same: "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. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead" (vss. 2–3). All share death. Solomon, to underscore his point, gives a list of people from a wide range of moral, social and religious behavior: "…the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices,… those who do not, …the good man, …the sinner, …those who take oaths, …those who are afraid to take them." For all, death happens.

We tend, wrongly, to look at death as some sort of accident. But death is not an accident; rather, it’s an appointment, an appointment that all must keep: "[I]t is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27, AV). Now, one might ask, since death happens to all, whether good or bad, why bother to live a godly life? The answer, of course, is that death is not the end. We all share the common destiny of death, but the moment of death is not an eternal destiny. We all share the destiny that our lives on earth will end, but we do not all share the same destiny of what happens after death. And so, while worldly, natural men will agree with Solomon that "this is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all" (vs. 3), those with an eternal perspective know that death is not the end. For, yes, "it is appointed unto men once to die", but we must also take into consideration what happens next: "…but after this the judgment." The event of the judgment of God should be much more feared than the event of death. For the event of death is a moment of (perhaps) pain, but the result of the judgment determines our eternal destiny. And if we honestly look back at our lives, we realize that we deserve the judgment of God. We have largely ignored Him and His law, in order to pursue our own interests. But in His love, God has sent His Son to pay for our disobedience. The judgment of God fell on His Son Jesus Christ, if we but accept the gift of Jesus Christ.

Solomon next discusses the advantages the living have over the dead: "Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (vss. 4–6). In essence, the living have an advantage over the dead in that the living still have an opportunity to improve their lot in eternity. "Anyone who is among the living has hope." The dead "have no further reward." Their destiny after death is decided by what they do in this life. Despite what Hollywood may tell us with its fanciful tales of angels coming to earth to improve their lot in heaven, the "dead know nothing" of this life. After death, we will not have anything to do with this life, or as Solomon tells us: "Never again will [the dead] have a part in anything that happens under the sun" (vs. 6). This is an encouragement for us to make the most of our lives on earth. Life is our only opportunity to influence, for good or ill, what goes on on earth. "The dead do not know what is happening on earth, but the living know and can respond to it. The dead cannot add anything to their reward or their reputation, but the living can. The dead cannot relate to people on earth by loving, hating, or envying, but the living can. Solomon was emphasizing the importance of seizing opportunities while we live, rather than blindly hoping for something better in the future, because death will end our opportunities on this earth" [Wiersbe, 109]. Most importantly, the living have "hope", and the "living know that they will die". Thus, the living have time to prepare for death. We have time to pursue the "high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14, AV).

Solomon ends this section with advice on how enjoy this life on earth that we are given: "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do. Always be clothed in white, and always anoint your head with oil. Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days. For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom" (vss. 7–10). And though Solomon sounds a bit cynical here, possibly even a touch sarcastic, what he says has merit. He is, in essence, telling us to enjoy a simple life, "for this is your lot in life." Joy can be found, not in extravagance, but in moderation, in the ordinary things of life: eating with gladness, drinking with joy, living in righteousness (being "clothed in white"), dressing nicely (anointing "your head with oil"), enjoying marriage, working hard. All of the elements of joy that Solomon recommends are within our reach. There is nothing extraordinary here.

This can be contrasted with the world’s view of joy. For the world, joy is not found in the simple life, but in pushing things to the limit, in seeking riches, in winning the lottery, in casting off the simple life and living in extravagance. For example, the world does not see working hard as a means of joy. Solomon commends: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." Our only opportunity to do good in this world is while we live in this world. So, we should work hard, be an example. Moreover, we should smile as we work, and derive joy from the work itself, not just its results. As Christians, all work that we do, even secular work, is for the Lord. As Paul exhorts: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord you are serving" (Col. 3:23–24). It is significant that Solomon here does not commend extravagance and leisure. He led one of the most extravagant lives ever lived, but he does not commend such a life. His extravagance and leisure led to his misery (see II Kings 11).

Solomon also speaks of the joy in married life: "Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love." Let me note briefly the interesting wording here, when Solomon speaks of marriage. He says: "Enjoy life with your wife." Your spouse is spoken of, not as the source, but as the companion of joy. The joys of life are greatly magnified when you have a life-long companion to enjoy them with.

Our enjoyment in this life is tinged with the awareness that this life is full of vane and meaningless things. Solomon reminds us of this, even in the midst of telling us to enjoy life: "…all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days." So, though it is proper to enjoy life, don’t get too wrapped up in this life. Everything in this life will burn. Find joy in this life where God gives it, but always look ahead to the next life where there will be no sorrow nor tears.

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