Inexorable Destiny
Ecclesiastes 9:1-6
For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works…

The teaching in this section of the book is very similar to that in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12. The Preacher lays stress upon the powerlessness and short-sightedness of man with regard to the future. A higher power controls all the events of human life, and fixes the conditions in which each individual is to live - conditions which powerfully affect his character and destiny. Such a thought has been to many a source of consolation and strength. "My times," said the psalmist, "are in thy hand" (Psalm 31:15). "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things," said Jesus (Matthew 6:32), when he counseled his disciples against undue anxiety for the future. But no such comfort is drawn by the Preacher from the consideration that "the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God" (ver. 1). It suggests to him rather an iron destiny, a cage against the bars of which the soul may beat its wings in vain, than a gracious Providence. The loss of freedom implied in it afflicts him - the thought that not even the feelings and emotions of the heart are under man's control. They are excited by persons and things with whom or with which he is brought in contact. A slight change of circumstances would make his love hatred, and his hatred love; and these circumstances he cannot change or modify. Events of all kinds are before us, and God arranges what is to happen to us. "Whether it be love or hatred, man knoweth it not; all is before them" (ver. lb, Revised Version). "The river of life, along which his course lies, is wrapped in mist. Man's destiny is wholly dark, and is out of his own control. But it is not man's ignorance that cuts him to the heart; it is that the injustice of earthly tribunals seems to have its counterpart in g higher region. No goodness, no righteousness, will avail against the persistent injustice of the laws by which the world seems ruled. What a half-blasphemous indictment, what passionate recalcitration against the God whose fear is in his mouth, is embodied in the cold and calm despair of the words which follow in the next verse (ver. 2)!" (Bradley). He names five classes or' persons, embracing all the various types el righteousness and wickedness, and affirms that one event comes to them all, that no discrimination on the part of the Divine Ruler between them appears in their earthly lot. The first group is perhaps that of those whose conduct towards their neighbors is righteous or wicked; the second that of those who are pure or impure in heart; the third that of the religious and the irreligious; the fourth perhaps that of those whose characters are in all these relations good or evil; the fifth that of the profane swearer and the man who reverences the solemn oath (Isaiah 65:16). "There is no mark at all of a moral government in this world. The providence of God is as indiscriminating as the falling tree, or the hungry tiger, or the desolating famine. If the fittest survive for a time, that fitness has nothing in common with goodness or righteousness." And one of the evil consequences of this state of matters is, as already referred to in Ecclesiastes 8:11, that those evilly disposed are subject to less restraint than they would be if Divine Providence in all cases meted out reward and punishment immediately to the righteous and the wicked. "Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead" (ver. 3). The gloomy thoughts concerning death and the world beyond it which filled his mind, made the "one event" that comes to all seem all the more unjust. For some, doubtless, it is a deliverance from misery, but to others it is an escape from merited punishment. Even life with all its inequalities and wrongs is better than death, and yet the righteous are swept away from the earth indiscriminately with the wicked.

"Streams will not turn aside
The just man not to entomb,
Nor lightnings go aside
To give his virtues room;
Nor is that wind less rough
which blows a good man's barge." That a strong faith in Divine Providence in spite of all outward appearances, and a firm grasp of the truth of immortality, were denied to the Preacher, need not surprise us, when we remember that the confidence we have in God's fatherly love, and in the eternal happiness of those who are faithful to him, is derived from the teaching of Christ, and his triumphant resurrection from the dead. The Preacher had not the consolations which the gospel affords us. To him the world beyond the grave was dreary and uncertain. He was one of those "who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15). The meanest form of life was superior to the condition of even the noblest who had passed within the grim portals of the grave. The living dog, loathed and despised, feeding on the refuse of the streets, was better than the dead lion (ver. 4). Hope survives while life remains, even though it may be illusive; but with death all possible amelioration of one's lot is cut off. The bitterness of the thought is displayed in the touch of sarcasm which marks his words. "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten" (ver. 5). The very consciousness of the coming doom gives a distinction to the living which is denied to the dead. The very memory of those who have passed away soon perishes. Others take their place, and carry on the business of the world. A new generation springs up, with interests and concerns and passions with which the dead have nothing to do. The strongest passions of love, hatred, and envy are quenched by the cold hand of death (ver. 6), and those who may in life have been bosom friends, or mortal enemies, or jealous rivals, lie side by side in the grave, in silence and oblivion. Nothing that is done in the earth concerns them any more (cf. Isaiah 38:9-20). The view here given us of the state of the dead is gloomy in the extreme. The darkness is more intense and palpable than that with which the same subject is invested in the Book of Job, and even in some of the psalms. But we must remember that though the world beyond the grave is represented by him as dim and shadowy, he affirms at the same time that "God will bring every secret thing into judgment" in "his own time and season." "Consequently, the dead, even though regarded by him as existing in a semi-conscious state in Hades, are supposed to be still in existence, and destined at some future period to be awakened out of this dreary slumber, and. rewarded according to the merit or demerit of their actions on earth. He does not, it is true, speak of this awakening out of sleep, still less does he allude to the resurrection of the body. His book is mainly occupied with the search after man's highest good on earth, and it is only incidentally that he refers at all to the state of the dead' (Wright). The doctrine of a future judgment, in which every man will appear and receive the reward or punishment due to him, is repeatedly dwelt upon by our author; and. this of itself implies a conscious existence after death in the case of all. So far, however, as this life is concerned, the grave puts a period to all activity, extinguishes all the passions which animate the children of men. They pass into another state of existence, and. have no further concern with that which is done here on earth. - J.W.

Parallel Verses
KJV: For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.

WEB: For all this I laid to my heart, even to explore all this: that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; whether it is love or hatred, man doesn't know it; all is before them.

In the Hand of God
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