Bible Society of South Africa

To The Word – Day 171

Ecclesiastes 1–6

Bible text(s)

Life is Useless

1These are the words of the Philosopher, David's son, who was king in Jerusalem.

2It is useless, useless, said the Philosopher. Life is useless, all useless. 3You spend your life working, labouring, and what do you have to show for it? 4Generations come and generations go, but the world stays just the same. 5The sun still rises, and it still goes down, going wearily back to where it must start all over again. 6The wind blows south, the wind blows north — round and round and back again. 7Every river flows into the sea, but the sea is not yet full. The water returns to where the rivers began, and starts all over again. 8Everything leads to weariness — a weariness too great for words. Our eyes can never see enough to be satisfied; our ears can never hear enough. 9What has happened before will happen again. What has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new in the whole world. 10“Look,” they say, “here is something new!” But no, it has all happened before, long before we were born. 11No one remembers what has happened in the past, and no one in days to come will remember what happens between now and then.

The Philosopher's Experience

12I, the Philosopher, have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13I determined that I would examine and study all the things that are done in this world.

God has laid a miserable fate upon us. 14I have seen everything done in this world, and I tell you, it is all useless. It is like chasing the wind. 15You can't straighten out what is crooked; you can't count things that aren't there.

16I told myself, “I have become a great man, far wiser than anyone who ruled Jerusalem before me. I know what wisdom and knowledge really are.” 17I was determined to learn the difference between knowledge and foolishness, wisdom and madness. But I found out that I might as well be chasing the wind. 18The wiser you are, the more worries you have; the more you know, the more it hurts.

Ecclesiastes 1GNBOpen in Bible reader

1I decided to enjoy myself and find out what happiness is. But I found that this is useless, too. 2I discovered that laughter is foolish, that pleasure does you no good. 3Driven on by my desire for wisdom, I decided to cheer myself up with wine and have a good time. I thought that this might be the best way people can spend their short lives on earth.

4I accomplished great things. I built myself houses and planted vineyards. 5I planted gardens and orchards, with all kinds of fruit trees in them; 6I dug ponds to irrigate them. 7I bought many slaves, and there were slaves born in my household. I owned more livestock than anyone else who had ever lived in Jerusalem. 8I also piled up silver and gold from the royal treasuries of the lands I ruled. Men and women sang to entertain me, and I had all the women a man could want.

9Yes, I was great, greater than anyone else who had ever lived in Jerusalem, and my wisdom never failed me. 10Anything I wanted, I got. I did not deny myself any pleasure. I was proud of everything I had worked for, and all this was my reward. 11Then I thought about all that I had done and how hard I had worked doing it, and I realized that it didn't mean a thing. It was like chasing the wind — of no use at all. 12After all, a king can only do what previous kings have done.

So I started thinking about what it meant to be wise or reckless or foolish. 13Oh, I know, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. 14The wise can see where they are going, and fools cannot.” But I also know that the same fate is waiting for us all. 15I thought to myself, “I will suffer the same fate as fools. So what have I gained from being so wise?” “Nothing,” I answered, “not a thing.” 16No one remembers the wise, and no one remembers fools. In days to come, we will all be forgotten. We must all die — wise and foolish alike. 17So life came to mean nothing to me, because everything in it had brought me nothing but trouble. It had all been useless; I had been chasing the wind.

18Nothing that I had worked for and earned meant a thing to me, because I knew that I would have to leave it to my successor, 19and he might be wise, or he might be foolish — who knows? Yet he will own everything I have worked for, everything my wisdom has earned for me in this world. It is all useless. 20So I came to regret that I had worked so hard. 21You work for something with all your wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then you have to leave it all to someone who hasn't had to work for it. It is useless, and it isn't right! 22You work and worry your way through life, and what do you have to show for it? 23As long as you live, everything you do brings nothing but worry and heartache. Even at night your mind can't rest. It is all useless.

24The best thing anyone can do is to eat and drink and enjoy what he has earned. And yet, I realized that even this comes from God. 25How else could you have anything to eat or enjoy yourself at all? 26God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness to those who please him, but he makes sinners work, earning and saving, so that what they get can be given to those who please him. It is all useless. It is like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 2GNBOpen in Bible reader

A Time for Everything

1Everything that happens in this world happens at the time God chooses.

2He sets the time for birth and the time for death,

the time for planting and the time for pulling up,

3the time for killing and the time for healing,

the time for tearing down and the time for building.

4He sets the time for sorrow and the time for joy,

the time for mourning and the time for dancing,

5the time for making love and the time for not making love,

the time for kissing and the time for not kissing.

6He sets the time for finding and the time for losing,

the time for saving and the time for throwing away,

7the time for tearing and the time for mending,

the time for silence and the time for talk.

8He sets the time for love and the time for hate,

the time for war and the time for peace.

9What do we gain from all our work? 10I know the heavy burdens that God has laid on us. 11He has set the right time for everything. He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does. 12So I realized that all we can do is to be happy and do the best we can while we are still alive. 13All of us should eat and drink and enjoy what we have worked for. It is God's gift.

14I know that everything God does will last for ever. You can't add anything to it or take anything away from it. And one thing God does is to make us stand in awe of him. 15Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same thing happen again and again.

Injustice in the World

16In addition, I have also noticed that in this world you find wickedness where justice and right ought to be. 17I told myself, “God is going to judge the righteous and the evil alike, because every thing, every action, will happen at its own set time.” 18I concluded that God is testing us, to show us that we are no better than animals. 19After all, the same fate awaits human beings and animals alike. One dies just like the other. They are both the same kind of creature. A human being is no better off than an animal, because life has no meaning for either. 20They are both going to the same place — the dust. They both came from it; they will both go back to it. 21How can anyone be sure that the human spirit goes upwards while an animal's spirit goes down into the ground? 22So I realized then that the best thing we can do is to enjoy what we have worked for. There is nothing else we can do. There is no way for us to know what will happen after we die.

Ecclesiastes 3GNBOpen in Bible reader

1Then I looked again at all the injustice that goes on in this world. The oppressed were weeping, and no one would help them. No one would help them, because their oppressors had power on their side. 2I envy those who are dead and gone; they are better off than those who are still alive. 3But better off than either are those who have never been born, who have never seen the injustice that goes on in this world.

4I have also learnt why people work so hard to succeed: it is because they envy their neighbours. But it is useless. It is like chasing the wind. 5They say that anyone would be a fool to fold his hands and let himself starve to death. 6Perhaps so, but it is better to have only a little, with peace of mind, than to be busy all the time with both hands, trying to catch the wind.

7I have noticed something else in life that is useless. 8Here is a man who lives alone. He has no son, no brother, yet he is always working, never satisfied with the wealth he has. For whom is he working so hard and denying himself any pleasure? This is useless, too — and a miserable way to live.

9Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. 10If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it's just too bad, because there is no one to help him. 11If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? 12Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break.

13-14A man may rise from poverty to become king of his country, or go from prison to the throne, but if in his old age he is too foolish to take advice, he is not as well off as a young man who is poor but intelligent. 15I thought about all the people who live in this world, and I realized that somewhere among them there is a young man who will take the king's place. 16There may be no limit to the number of people a king rules; when he is gone, no one will be grateful for what he has done. It is useless. It is like chasing the wind.

Ecclesiastes 4GNBOpen in Bible reader

Don't Make Rash Promises

1Be careful about going to the Temple. It is better to go there to learn than to offer sacrifices as foolish people do, people who don't know right from wrong. 2Think before you speak, and don't make any rash promises to God. He is in heaven and you are on earth, so don't say any more than you have to. 3The more you worry, the more likely you are to have bad dreams, and the more you talk, the more likely you are to say something foolish. 4So when you make a promise to God, keep it as quickly as possible. He has no use for a fool. Do what you promise to do. 5Better not to promise at all than to make a promise and not keep it. 6Don't let your own words lead you into sin, so that you have to tell God's priest that you didn't mean it. Why make God angry with you? Why let him destroy what you have worked for? 7No matter how much you dream, how much useless work you do, or how much you talk, you must still stand in awe of God.

Life is Useless

8Don't be surprised when you see that the government oppresses the poor and denies them justice and their rights. Every official is protected by the one over him, and both are protected by still higher officials.

9Even a king depends on the harvest.

10If you love money, you will never be satisfied; if you long to be rich, you will never get all you want. It is useless. 11The richer you are, the more mouths you must feed. All you gain is the knowledge that you are rich. 12Workers may or may not have enough to eat, but at least they can get a good night's sleep. The rich, however, have so much that they stay awake worrying.

13Here is a terrible thing that I have seen in this world: people save up their money for a time when they may need it, 14and then lose it all in some unlucky deal and end up with nothing left to pass on to their children. 15We leave this world just as we entered it — with nothing. In spite of all our work there is nothing we can take with us. 16It isn't right! We go just as we came. We labour, trying to catch the wind, and what do we get? 17We have to live our lives in darkness and grief, worried, angry, and sick.

18This is what I have found out: the best thing anyone can do is to eat and drink and enjoy what he has worked for during the short life that God has given him; this is man's fate. 19If God gives a man wealth and property and lets him enjoy them, he should be grateful and enjoy what he has worked for. It is a gift from God. 20Since God has allowed him to be happy, he will not worry too much about how short life is.

Ecclesiastes 5GNBOpen in Bible reader

1I have noticed that in this world a serious injustice is done. 2God will give someone wealth, honour, and property, yes, everything he wants, but then will not let him enjoy it. Some stranger will enjoy it instead. It is useless, and it's all wrong. 3A person may have a hundred children and live a long time, but no matter how long he lives, if he does not get his share of happiness and does not receive a decent burial, then I say that a baby born dead is better off. 4It does that baby no good to be born; it disappears into darkness, where it is forgotten. 5It never sees the light of day or knows what life is like, but at least it has found rest — 6more so than the man who never enjoys life, though he may live 2,000 years. After all, both of them are going to the same place.

7People do all their work just to get something to eat, but they never have enough. 8How are the wise better off than fools? What good does it do the poor to know how to face life? 9It is useless; it is like chasing the wind. It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else.

10Everything that happens was already determined long ago, and we all know that you cannot argue with someone who is stronger than you are. 11The longer you argue, the more useless it is, and you are no better off. 12How can anyone know what is best for us in this short, useless life of ours — a life that passes like a shadow? How can we know what will happen in the world after we die?

Ecclesiastes 6GNBOpen in Bible reader
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