Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
You may remember Job's famous response to the catastrophes he suffered: ″Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?″ (Job 2:10). In today's passage the Teacher seems to reverse Job's saying: ″Shall we receive trouble from God, and not receive the good?″
Having dwelt on the finality of death (Ecclesiastes 9:1-6), the Teacher once again commends enjoyment of pleasures, which lie near to hand (vv. 7-9): ″eat . . . with gladness″; ″drink . . . with a joyful heart″; ″enjoy life with your wife.″ Don't even ask whether God wants you to enjoy these things: He does. They are part of the world He has made; they are ″your lot″ (v. 9). By enjoying them you honour your Creator.
The implication of these verses in context is plain: why brood on questions which have no clear answers (8:10-14, 16-17)? Why worry over what you can do nothing about (9:1-6)? Why not relish what God gives you to enjoy? But reading 9:7-10 in context also suggests that this can be difficult advice to follow: just how easy is it to dismiss life's unresolved issues? Indeed, the Teacher himself seems to undermine what he says: telling us to ″enjoy life″, but reminding us that life is futile (v. 9); telling us to go for it, but reminding us that the place we will go in the end is Sheol, a realm of utter nothingness (v. 10).
Further, life is unpredictable (vv. 11-12): ″the race is not to the swift″; ″evil times″ arrive unexpectedly. Note the imagery: ″a cruel net″, ″a snare″-as though events conspire to bring us down. That is how it can seem: I was so happy, things were going so well-and then disaster happened. It is as though the Teacher is saying: enjoy life while you can, before calamity strikes.
Some scholars attempt to reduce the tension between 9:7-10 and its context by suggesting it is meant ironically, along the lines: ″God's dealings are incomprehensible, but you may as well try to convince yourself that He wants you to enjoy life: it may help you on your journey to the grave.″ But I suggest that we should take both sides of what the Teacher says here with full seriousness. Indeed, 9:1-12 acts as a focus for the main themes of Ecclesiastes: these verses remind us of our limitations (in life-span, power, and knowledge), and then point us towards God. In a paradoxical way, today's passage is about faith in God: the Teacher acknowledges everything in the world that seems to undermine faith, and then tells us to accept and even enjoy whatever God sends us.
Is our faith robust enough to accept this challenge?
How would you respond to someone who claimed that enjoyment of things like food, drink, good company, and family life is a distraction to Christians, who ought to be engaged on the work of God's kingdom?
How can you enjoy life when you face pain or suffering or when you are troubled by life's unexplained mysteries?