Ecclesiastes 6: Why Work?

Tonight we will read and study the sixth chapter of Ecclesiastes. It is conveniently split into two sections as we read. The first section is concerned with the concept of wealth, riches, and how man is best served to relate to these blessings. The second section is presented poetically, explaining the worth of a man (i.e., a person) and how our perspective must be properly managed so that we can minimize the vanity in our lives.

Verses 1-6: The Rich and the Stillborn

When God blesses a man with wealth and honor, yet it is consumed by someone else, this is vanity. The main idea here is familiar by now in this book: prosperity without the right context of enjoyment is useless. Why work and work and work if you are unable to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Other necessary ingredients to rightfully enjoying God’s blessings are having and expressing gratitude, not being wasteful, and sharing our blessings with others, particularly those that can stand to benefit most from our abundance.

The second way this idea is expressed in verses 3-6 is dramatic. The image of a stillborn child is described and presented as preferable to the man that cannot properly enjoy his blessings. It is difficult to conjure up an image that is more sad than that of a child that is born dead. Within our value system, the wealthy man with many blessings is oftentimes the goal. To compare the wealthy man with a stillborn child is one thing, but then to say that the stillborn child had a preferable existence seems absurd. But, we should not let our tendencies blind us to the wisdom in this passage. Remember, the context of Ecclesiastes is eternal, and there is profound wisdom behind this comparison, even if it does seem absurd.

In the eventuality of judgment day, all we have to be judged by and all we bring before God is how we have obeyed Him and what we have done for Him while we were alive. A man, working endlessly yet not enjoying the blessings that result from his work, has no opportunity to thank God for the fruits of his work. His existence is hollow and his perspective is warped because he does not understand why he is working. In the end, his efforts are meaningless because they contributed to nothing for himself; because of the futility and vanity of these efforts, they are worth less than the life of a stillborn child, for even the stillborn child enjoyed peace, while the man did not. The man did not understand rest or goodness. But the stillborn child at least had rest.

The main idea is to live with the proper context spiritually, enjoying God’s blessings and sharing with others. If we work and work and work for nothing, it can be endless and there is no room for us to consider God within the context of such a life.

Verses 7-12: Working for What?

Even though we work to sustain our bodies and our lives, this work cannot satisfy our souls. The eternity in our hearts still seeks God. Despite our efforts to satisfy our soul with things of and on the earth, it cannot be done. Our flesh keeps us earthbound, but our spirits can be filled by seeking and obeying the living God. Only God can provide respite from the toil, pain and endlessness that life on earth offers.

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