Is Death Fair?
9 I thought about all this very carefully. I saw that God controls what happens to the good and wise people and what they do. People don’t know if they will be loved or hated, and they don’t know what will happen in the future.
2 But, there is one thing that happens to everyone—we all die! Death comes to good people and bad people. Death comes to those who are pure and to those who are not pure. Death comes to those who give sacrifices and to those who don’t give sacrifices. Good people will die just as sinners do. Those who make promises to God will die just as those who are afraid to make those promises.
3 Of all the things that happen in this life, the worst thing is that all people end life the same way. But it is also very bad that people always think evil and foolish thoughts. And those thoughts lead to death. 4 There is hope for those who are still alive—it does not matter who they are. But this saying is true:
A living dog is better than a dead lion.
5 The living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything. They have no more reward. People will soon forget them. 6 After people are dead, their love, hate, and jealousy are all gone. And they will never again share in what happens on earth.
Enjoy Life While You Can
7 So go and eat your food now and enjoy it. Drink your wine and be happy. It is all right with God if you do these things. 8 Wear nice clothes and make yourself look good. 9 Enjoy life with the wife you love. Enjoy every day of your short life. God has given you this short life on earth—and it is all you have. So enjoy the work you have to do in this life. 10 Every time you find work to do, do it the best you can. In the grave there is no work. There is no thinking, no knowledge, and there is no wisdom. And we are all going to the place of death.
Life Is Not Fair
11 I also saw other things in this life that were not fair. The fastest runner does not always win the race; the strongest soldier does not always win the battle; wise people don’t always get the food; smart people don’t always get the wealth; educated people don’t always get the praise they deserve. When the time comes, bad things can happen to anyone!
12 You never know when hard times will come. Like fish in a net or birds in a snare, people are often trapped by some disaster that suddenly falls on them.
The Power of Wisdom
13 I also saw a person doing a wise thing in this life, and it seemed very important to me. 14 There was a small town with a few people in it. A great king fought against that town and put his armies all around it. 15 But there was a wise man in that town. He was poor, but he used his wisdom to save his town. After everything was finished, the people forgot about the poor man. 16 But I still say that wisdom is better than strength. They forgot about the poor man’s wisdom, and the people stopped listening to what he said. But I still believe that wisdom is better.
17 Words spoken by the wise are heard more clearly
than those shouted by a leader among fools.
18 Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one fool[a] can destroy much good.
10 A few dead flies will make even the best perfume stink. In the same way, a little foolishness can ruin much wisdom and honor.
2 The thoughts of the wise lead them the right way, but the thoughts of the foolish lead them the wrong way. 3 Fools show how foolish they are, just walking down the road. Their minds are empty, and everyone knows it.
4 Don’t quit your job simply because the boss is angry with you. If you remain calm and helpful, you can correct even great mistakes.[b]
5 Here is something else that I have seen in this life[c] that isn’t fair. It is the kind of mistake that rulers make. 6 Fools are given important positions, while the rich get jobs that are not important. 7 I have seen servants riding on horses, while rulers were walking beside them like slaves.
Every Job Has Its Dangers
8 If you dig a hole, you might fall into it. If you break down a wall, you might be bitten by a snake. 9 If you are moving large stones, you might be hurt by them. If you cut down a tree, you are in danger of it falling on you.
10 But wisdom will make any job easier. It is very hard to cut with a dull knife. But if you sharpen the knife, the job is easier.
11 Someone might know how to control snakes. But that skill is useless if a snake bites when that person is not around.
12 Words from the wise bring praise,
but words from a fool bring destruction.
13 Fools begin by saying something foolish. But in the end, they speak nonsense. 14 Fools are always talking about what they will do, but you never know what will happen. People cannot tell what will happen in the future.
15 Fools aren’t smart enough to find their way home,
so they must work hard all their lives.
The Value of Work
16 It is very bad for a country if the king is like a child. And it is very bad for a country if its rulers use all their time eating. 17 But it is very good for a country if the king comes from a good family.[d] And it is very good for a country if the rulers control their eating and drinking. They eat and drink to become strong, not to become drunk.
18 If someone is too lazy to work,
their house will begin to leak, and the roof will fall in.
19 People enjoy eating, and wine makes life happier. But money solves a lot of problems.
20 Don’t say bad things about the king. Don’t even think bad things about him. And don’t say bad things about rich people, even if you are alone in your home. A little bird might fly and tell them everything you said.
Boldly Face the Future
11 Do good wherever you go.[e] After a while, the good you do will come back to you.
2 Invest what you have in several different things.[f] You don’t know what bad things might happen on earth.
3 There are some things you can be sure of. If clouds are full of rain, they will pour water on the earth. If a tree falls—to the south or to the north—then it will stay where it falls.
4 But there are some things that you cannot be sure of. You must take a chance. If you wait for perfect weather, you will never plant your seeds. If you are afraid that every cloud will bring rain, you will never harvest your crops.
5 You don’t know where the wind blows. And you don’t know how a baby grows in its mother’s womb. In the same way, you don’t know what God will do—and he makes everything happen.
6 So begin planting early in the morning, and don’t stop working until evening. You don’t know what might make you rich. Maybe everything you do will be successful.
7 It is good to be alive. It is nice to see the light from the sun. 8 You should enjoy every day of your life, no matter how long you live. But remember that you will die, and you will be dead much longer than you were alive. And after you are dead, you cannot do anything.
Serve God While You Are Young
9 So young people, enjoy yourselves while you are young. Be happy. Do whatever your heart leads you to do. Do whatever you want, but remember that God will judge you for everything you do. 10 Don’t let your anger control you, and don’t let your body lead you to sin.[g] People do foolish things in the dawn of life while they are young.
The Problems of Old Age
12 Remember your Creator while you are young, before the bad times come—before the years come when you say, “I have wasted my life.”[h]
2 Remember your Creator while you are young, before the time comes when the sun and the moon and the stars become dark to you—before problems come again and again like one storm after another.
3 At that time your arms will lose their strength. Your legs will become weak and bent. Your teeth will fall out, and you will not be able to chew your food. Your eyes will not see clearly. 4 You will become hard of hearing. You will not hear the noise in the streets. Even the stone grinding your grain will seem quiet to you. You will not be able to hear the women singing. But even the sound of a bird singing will wake you early in the morning because you will not be able to sleep.
5 You will be afraid of high places. You will be afraid of tripping over every small thing in your path. Your hair will become white like the flowers on an almond tree. You will drag yourself along like a grasshopper when you walk. You will lose your desire,[i] and then you will go to your eternal home. The mourners will gather in the streets as they carry your body to the grave.
6 Remember your Creator while you are young,
before the silver rope snaps and the golden bowl is crushed
like a jar broken at the well,
like a stone cover on a well that breaks and falls in.
7 Your body came from the earth.
And when you die, it will return to the earth.
But your spirit came from God,
and when you die, it will return to him.
8 Everything is so meaningless. The Teacher says that it is all a waste of time![j]
Final Words of Advice
9 The Teacher was very wise. He used his wisdom to teach the people. He very carefully studied and arranged[k] many wise teachings. 10 The Teacher tried very hard to find the right words, and he wrote the teachings that are true and dependable.
11 Words from the wise are like sharp goads. When these sayings are written down and saved, they can be used to guide people, just as a shepherd uses a sharp stick to make his sheep go the right way. 12 So, son, study these sayings, but be careful about other teachings. People are always writing books, and too much study will make you very tired.
13-14 Now, what should we learn from everything that is written in this book?[l] The most important thing a person can do is to respect God and obey his commands, because he knows about everything people do—even the secret things. He knows about all the good and all the bad, and he will judge people for everything they do.
- Ecclesiastes 9:18 fool Literally, “sinner.”
- Ecclesiastes 10:4 If you … great mistakes Literally, “A healer can put to rest great sins.” The word “healer” means a person who is forgiving and tries to help other people.
- Ecclesiastes 10:5 in this life Literally, “under the sun.”
- Ecclesiastes 10:17 comes from a good family Literally, “is a son of freedmen.” This is a person who was never a slave and whose parents were not slaves.
- Ecclesiastes 11:1 Do good … go Or “Throw your bread on the water.”
- Ecclesiastes 11:2 Invest … different things Or “Give a part to seven, or even eight.”
- Ecclesiastes 11:10 Don’t let … sin Or “Don’t worry about things. Protect yourself from troubles.”
- Ecclesiastes 12:1 I have wasted my life Literally, “I take no pleasure in them.” This might mean “I don’t like the things I did when I was young” or “I don’t enjoy life now that I am old.”
- Ecclesiastes 12:5 desire Or “appetite” or “sexual desire.” The Hebrew text here is hard to understand.
- Ecclesiastes 12:8 meaningless … a waste of time The Hebrew word means “vapor,” “breath,” or “something that is useless, meaningless, empty, wrong, or a waste of time.”
- Ecclesiastes 12:9 arranged This Hebrew word means “to make straight,” “arrange,” “correct,” or “edit.”
- Ecclesiastes 12:13 Now … book Literally, “The sum of the matter, when all is heard, is ….”