XI. A Common Destiny (9:1–10)

The concerns of the previous chapter are continued here. Having already denied consistent and predictable patterns of reward and retribution, Qoheleth again emphasizes the uncertainty of outcome. The righteous/wise themselves and their actions are in God's hands (9:1), suggesting resignation more than trust. God is not controlled by human concepts of retribution. He is free to act, either to accept (love) or reject (hate). If the terms love and hate are to be applied to human action, then people do not know either their own future attitudes toward others or the future attitudes of others toward them. Applying these terms to the events and circumstances of life, people cannot know whether they will experience love or blessing. Qoheleth protests such a reality, being outraged that moral distinctions are not made.

Qoheleth now focuses on death. Life with all its frustrations is better than death (v. 4). Life at its very worst is preferable to death; in life there is awareness, but in death there is no awareness, no further reward, no opportunity to alter one's image or perpetuate one's memory (v. 3), and no emotions or feelings (v. 6). The absence of these passions indicates the destructiveness of death.

Given these stark truths about death, Qoheleth urges three responses. First, life is to be enjoyed. While food, wine, garments, and oil can be viewed as necessities of life (Hos 2:5), they are also suggestive of celebration. The certainty of death is not to prevent the enjoyment of life (9:7-8). Second, companionship and fidelity in marriage are urged (v. 9). Last, he calls for thoroughness in our efforts (v. 10). Whatever we do must be done with all our might. The certainty of death must not lead to inertia.