Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
The Teacher continues to explore the topics of toil and wealth. In today's passage he begins by reflecting on the question: what is our basic problem? His answer: ″enough″ is never ″enough″; we always want more (Ecclesiastes 6:7).
But there is a wisdom which can help us here (vv. 8-9), a wisdom which is particularly accessible to the poor (which is why v. 8 uses ″the wise″ in parallel with ″the poor″). The poor cannot gratify many of their desires, because they lack the resources. This teaches them wisdom-wisdom to say ″No″ to wandering desires (v. 9). The wise approach to life is to enjoy what we already have (″what the eye sees″), and not to yearn for what lies out of reach, which is truly ″chasing after the wind″ and utterly futile.
The Teacher uses the phrase ″chasing after the wind″ nine times in chapters 1-6 to underscore his basic theme: God is sovereign, and we humans must recognise our God-given limitations. Ecclesiastes 6:10-12 rounds off the first half of Ecclesiastes by focussing on this theme, four times repeating the word ″man″ (humanity) to hammer the main idea home. (In the NIV, the same Hebrew word is translated variously as: ″humanity″, ″anyone″, ″a person″, ″them″.) God has made things the way they are (Ecclesiastes 6:10). Everything has been ″named″ (see Genesis 1). That is, God has assigned everything its due place. In particular, it is ″known″ (by simple observation, presumably) what humans can accomplish and what lies beyond them. All attempts to resist these facts, whether verbally or in other ways, are futile (Ecclesiastes 6:10-11). It is not that God is unwilling to bless humans, but the blessing comes on God's terms. Disregarding His will in the pursuit of our own plans will only lead to futility.
This is rather stern stuff, but 6:12 seems yet more despairing: How can we know anything? Who knows what is good? But this is the Teacher's method. He has not yet put all his cards on the table: at this stage he leaves issues unresolved because he wants to prod us into thinking hard about our lives.
So in 6:12 he repeats earlier points, but deliberately selects points which emphasise human limitations: life is brief (see 1:4); we do not know the right time for everything (see 3:1-8); we lack the full picture (see 3:11); the future is uncertain (see 3:22). He does not pick up other, more positive earlier statements (that certain things are clearly ″good″ or at least ″better″, 2:24; 3:12, 22) because he wants to challenge us: Have we truly recognised our limitations? If so, what will our response be?
The Teacher does not glorify or romanticise poverty (see Ecclesiastes 4:5), but he suggests in 6:8-9 that being poor forces us to be wise in the area of restraining our desires for more. How may those of us who are wealthy learn to restrain these desires?
Why is the Teacher so dismissive of those who speak many words in 6:11? (You may wish to compare with 5:1-7.)