6 Teacher: I have seen another injustice under the sun, one that is a real burden upon humanity. 2 Sometimes God gives money, possessions, and even honor, so that we have everything a person might desire; nothing is lacking. But then, for reasons God only knows, God does not allow him to enjoy the good gifts. Rather, a stranger ends up enjoying them. This, too, is fleeting; it’s a sickening evil. 3 If a person has one hundred children and lives for many years but finds no satisfaction in all of the good things that life brings and in the end doesn’t have a proper burial, I say that it would be better if that person had been stillborn 4 because the stillborn arrives in a fleeting breath and then goes nameless into the darkness mourned by no one and buried in an unmarked grave. 5 Though the child never sees the sun or knows anything, it still had more rest than the person who cannot enjoy what he has. 6 Even if a person were to live one thousand years twice over, but could find no satisfaction, don’t we all end up going to the same place?
The words, “it would be better if that person had been stillborn,” may shock the modern reader because it is hoped that no child is stillborn; believers pray for a good life for all of God’s creatures. But the writer of Ecclesiastes does not dwell on the fate of the stillborn; instead he contrasts the life of the person who finds no good in life with the fate of the child who never drew breath, never saw the sun, and never was given a name. Life is a gift from God, and the teacher admonishes his readers to find the good in that gift. Yes, sometimes life is not fair; yes, sometimes life deals harsh blows; yes, life slips away far too quickly. But as long as someone draws breath, he or she should find the good in that life.
Teacher: 7 As the saying goes, “All of our toil is food for our mouths.” We eat; we drink, and yet deep down we do not feel satisfied. 8 What good is it to be wise? Are the wise better off than fools? And what do the poor know that others do not when they conduct themselves before the public?[a] 9 It is better to enjoy what our eyes see than to long for what our roving appetites desire. This, too, is fleeting, like trying to embrace the wind.
10 Whatever exists has already been named. Human nature, as it is with its strengths and limitations, is already known. So no one dares to dispute with One so much stronger than he. 11 The more a person speaks, the more breath is fleeting; and what advantage do a lot of words bring us? 12 For who knows the best way for us to live during the few days of our fleeting lives? After all, we pass through them like shadows. For who can say what will happen under the sun after we are gone?
- 6:8 Meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.