9 1-3 Well, I took all this in and thought it through, inside and out. Here’s what I understood: The good, the wise, and all that they do are in God’s hands—but, day by day, whether it’s love or hate they’re dealing with, they don’t know.
Anything’s possible. It’s one fate for everybody—righteous and wicked, good people, bad people, the nice and the nasty, worshipers and non-worshipers, committed and uncommitted. I find this outrageous—the worst thing about living on this earth—that everyone’s lumped together in one fate. Is it any wonder that so many people are obsessed with evil? Is it any wonder that people go crazy right and left? Life leads to death. That’s it.
4-6 Still, anyone selected out for life has hope, for, as they say, “A living dog is better than a dead lion.” The living at least know something, even if it’s only that they’re going to die. But the dead know nothing and get nothing. They’re a minus that no one remembers. Their loves, their hates, yes, even their dreams, are long gone. There’s not a trace of them left in the affairs of this earth.
7-10 Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
This is your last and only chance at it,
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think
In the company of the dead, where you’re most certainly headed.
* * *
11 I took another walk around the neighborhood and realized that on this earth as it is—
The race is not always to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor satisfaction to the wise,
Nor riches to the smart,
Nor grace to the learned.
Sooner or later bad luck hits us all.
12 No one can predict misfortune.
Like fish caught in a cruel net or birds in a trap,
So men and women are caught
By accidents evil and sudden.
Wisdom Is Better than Muscle
13-15 One day as I was observing how wisdom fares on this earth, I saw something that made me sit up and take notice. There was a small town with only a few people in it. A strong king came and mounted an attack, building trenches and attack posts around it. There was a poor but wise man in that town whose wisdom saved the town, but he was promptly forgotten. (He was only a poor man, after all.)
16 All the same, I still say that wisdom is better than muscle, even though the wise poor man was treated with contempt and soon forgotten.
17 The quiet words of the wise are more effective
Than the ranting of a king of fools.
18 Wisdom is better than warheads,
But one hothead can ruin the good earth.
10 Dead flies in perfume make it stink,
And a little foolishness decomposes much wisdom.
2 Wise thinking leads to right living;
Stupid thinking leads to wrong living.
3 Fools on the road have no sense of direction.
The way they walk tells the story: “There goes the fool again!”
4 If a ruler loses his temper against you, don’t panic;
A calm disposition quiets intemperate rage.
* * *
5-7 Here’s a piece of bad business I’ve seen on this earth,
An error that can be blamed on whoever is in charge:
Immaturity is given a place of prominence,
While maturity is made to take a backseat.
I’ve seen unproven upstarts riding in style,
While experienced veterans are put out to pasture.
* * *
8 Caution: The trap you set might catch you.
Warning: Your accomplice in crime might double-cross you.
9 Safety first: Quarrying stones is dangerous.
Be alert: Felling trees is hazardous.
10 Remember: The duller the ax the harder the work;
Use your head: The more brains, the less muscle.
11 If the snake bites before it’s been charmed,
What’s the point in then sending for the charmer?
* * *
12-13 The words of a wise person are gracious.
The talk of a fool self-destructs—
He starts out talking nonsense
And ends up spouting insanity and evil.
14 Fools talk way too much,
Chattering stuff they know nothing about.
15 A decent day’s work so fatigues fools
That they can’t find their way back to town.
* * *
16-17 Unlucky the land whose king is a young pup,
And whose princes party all night.
Lucky the land whose king is mature,
Where the princes behave themselves
And don’t drink themselves silly.
* * *
18 A shiftless man lives in a tumbledown shack;
A lazy woman ends up with a leaky roof.
19 Laughter and bread go together,
And wine gives sparkle to life—
But it’s money that makes the world go around.
20 Don’t bad-mouth your leaders, not even under your breath,
And don’t abuse your betters, even in the privacy of your home.
Loose talk has a way of getting picked up and spread around.
Little birds drop the crumbs of your gossip far and wide.
11 Be generous: Invest in acts of charity.
Charity yields high returns.
2 Don’t hoard your goods; spread them around.
Be a blessing to others. This could be your last night.
3-4 When the clouds are full of water, it rains.
When the wind blows down a tree, it lies where it falls.
Don’t sit there watching the wind. Do your own work.
Don’t stare at the clouds. Get on with your life.
5 Just as you’ll never understand
the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman,
So you’ll never understand
the mystery at work in all that God does.
6 Go to work in the morning
and stick to it until evening without watching the clock.
You never know from moment to moment
how your work will turn out in the end.
Before the Years Take Their Toll
7-8 Oh, how sweet the light of day,
And how wonderful to live in the sunshine!
Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.
Take delight in each light-filled hour,
Remembering that there will also be many dark days
And that most of what comes your way is smoke.
9 You who are young, make the most of your youth.
Relish your youthful vigor.
Follow the impulses of your heart.
If something looks good to you, pursue it.
But know also that not just anything goes;
You have to answer to God for every last bit of it.
10 Live footloose and fancy-free—
You won’t be young forever.
Youth lasts about as long as smoke.
12 1-2 Honor and enjoy your Creator while you’re still young,
Before the years take their toll and your vigor wanes,
Before your vision dims and the world blurs
And the winter years keep you close to the fire.
3-5 In old age, your body no longer serves you so well.
Muscles slacken, grip weakens, joints stiffen.
The shades are pulled down on the world.
You can’t come and go at will. Things grind to a halt.
The hum of the household fades away.
You are wakened now by bird-song.
Hikes to the mountains are a thing of the past.
Even a stroll down the road has its terrors.
Your hair turns apple-blossom white,
Adorning a fragile and impotent matchstick body.
Yes, you’re well on your way to eternal rest,
While your friends make plans for your funeral.
6-7 Life, lovely while it lasts, is soon over.
Life as we know it, precious and beautiful, ends.
The body is put back in the same ground it came from.
The spirit returns to God, who first breathed it.
8 It’s all smoke, nothing but smoke.
The Quester says that everything’s smoke.
The Final Word
9-10 Besides being wise himself, the Quester also taught others knowledge. He weighed, examined, and arranged many proverbs. The Quester did his best to find the right words and write the plain truth.
11 The words of the wise prod us to live well.
They’re like nails hammered home, holding life together.
They are given by God, the one Shepherd.
12-13 But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There’s no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you’re no good for anything else. The last and final word is this:
Do what he tells you.
14 And that’s it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it’s good or evil.