Bible Society of South Africa

An eye on eternity - 23 November 2023

By Ewald Schmidt

Bible text(s)

10I know the heavy burdens that God has laid on us.

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.

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.

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?

Thoughts about Life

1A good reputation is better than expensive perfume; and the day you die is better than the day you are born.

2It is better to go to a home where there is mourning than to one where there is a party, because the living should always remind themselves that death is waiting for us all.

3Sorrow is better than laughter; it may sadden your face, but it sharpens your understanding.

4Someone who is always thinking about happiness is a fool. A wise person thinks about death.

5It is better to have wise people reprimand you than to have stupid people sing your praises.

6When a fool laughs, it is like thorns crackling in a fire. It doesn't mean a thing.

7You may be wise, but if you cheat someone, you are acting like a fool. If you take a bribe, you ruin your character.

8The end of anything is better than its beginning.

Patience is better than pride.

9Keep your temper under control; it is foolish to harbour a grudge.

10Never ask, “Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?” It's not an intelligent question.

11Everyone who lives ought to be wise; it is as good as receiving an inheritance 12and will give you as much security as money can. Wisdom keeps you safe — this is the advantage of knowledge.

13Think about what God has done. How can anyone straighten out what God has made crooked? 14When things are going well for you, be glad, and when trouble comes, just remember: God sends both happiness and trouble; you never know what is going to happen next.

15My life has been useless, but in it I have seen everything. Some good people may die while others live on, even though they are evil. 16So don't be too good or too wise — why kill yourself? 17But don't be too wicked or too foolish, either — why die before you have to? 18Avoid both extremes. If you have reverence for God, you will be successful anyway.

19Wisdom does more for a person than ten rulers can do for a city.

20There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake.

21Don't pay attention to everything people say — you may hear your servant insulting you, 22and you know yourself that you have insulted other people many times.

23I used my wisdom to test all of this. I was determined to be wise, but it was beyond me. 24How can anyone discover what life means? It is too deep for us, too hard to understand. 25But I devoted myself to knowledge and study; I was determined to find wisdom and the answers to my questions, and to learn how wicked and foolish stupidity is.

26I found something more bitter than death — the woman who is like a trap. The love she offers you will catch you like a net; and her arms round you will hold you like a chain. A man who pleases God can get away, but she will catch the sinner. 27Yes, said the Philosopher, I found this out little by little while I was looking for answers. 28I have looked for other answers but have found none. I found one man in a thousand that I could respect, but not one woman. 29This is all that I have learnt: God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated.

1Only the wise know what things really mean. Wisdom makes them smile and makes their frowns disappear.

Obey the King

2Do what the king says, and don't make any rash promises to God. 3The king can do anything he likes, so depart from his presence; don't stay in such a dangerous place. 4The king acts with authority, and no one can challenge what he does. 5As long as you obey his commands, you are safe, and a wise person knows how and when to do it. 6There is a right time and a right way to do everything, but we know so little! 7None of us knows what is going to happen, and there is no one to tell us. 8No one can keep from dying or put off the day of death. That is a battle we cannot escape; we cannot cheat our way out.

The Wicked and the Righteous

9I saw all this when I thought about the things that are done in this world, a world where some people have power and others have to suffer under them. 10Yes, I have seen the wicked buried and in their graves, but on the way back from the cemetery people praise them in the very city where they did their evil. It is useless.

11Why do people commit crimes so readily? Because crime is not punished quickly enough. 12A sinner may commit a hundred crimes and still live. Oh yes, I know what they say: “If you obey God, everything will be all right, 13but it will not go well for the wicked. Their life is like a shadow and they will die young, because they do not obey God.” 14But this is nonsense. Look at what happens in the world: sometimes the righteous get the punishment of the wicked, and the wicked get the reward of the righteous. I say it is useless.

15So I am convinced that we should enjoy ourselves, because the only pleasure we have in this life is eating and drinking and enjoying ourselves. We can at least do this as we labour during the life that God has given us in this world.

16Whenever I tried to become wise and learn what goes on in the world, I realized that you could stay awake night and day 17and never be able to understand what God is doing. However hard you try, you will never find out. The wise may claim to know, but they don't.

1I thought long and hard about all this and saw that God controls the actions of wise and righteous people, even their love and their hate. No one knows anything about what lies ahead. 2It makes no difference. The same fate comes to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the bad, to those who are religious and those who are not, to those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. A good person is no better off than a sinner; one who takes an oath is no better off than one who does not. 3One fate comes to all alike, and this is as wrong as anything that happens in this world. As long as people live, their minds are full of evil and madness, and suddenly they die. 4But anyone who is alive in the world of the living has some hope; a live dog is better off than a dead lion. 5Yes, the living know they are going to die, but the dead know nothing. They have no further reward; they are completely forgotten. 6Their loves, their hates, their passions, all died with them. They will never again take part in anything that happens in this world.

7Go ahead — eat your food and be happy; drink your wine and be cheerful. It's all right with God. 8Always look happy and cheerful. 9Enjoy life with the woman you love, as long as you live the useless life that God has given you in this world. Enjoy every useless day of it, because that is all you will get for all your trouble. 10Work hard at whatever you do, because there will be no action, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom in the world of the dead — and that is where you are going.

11I realized another thing, that in this world fast runners do not always win the race, and the brave do not always win the battle. The wise do not always earn a living, intelligent people do not always get rich, and capable people do not always rise to high positions. Bad luck happens to everyone. 12You never know when your time is coming. Like birds suddenly caught in a trap, like fish caught in a net, we are trapped at some evil moment when we least expect it.

Thoughts on Wisdom and Foolishness

13There is something else I saw, a good example of how wisdom is regarded in this world. 14There was a little town without many people in it. A powerful king attacked it. He surrounded it and prepared to break through the walls. 15Someone lived there who was poor, but so clever that he could have saved the town. But no one thought about him. 16I have always said that wisdom is better than strength, but no one thinks of the poor as wise or pays any attention to what they say. 17It is better to listen to the quiet words of a wise person than to the shouts of a ruler at a council of fools. 18Wisdom does more good than weapons, but one sinner can undo a lot of good.

1Dead flies can make a whole bottle of perfume stink, and a little stupidity can cancel out the greatest wisdom.

2It is natural for the wise to do the right thing and for fools to do the wrong thing. 3Their stupidity will be evident even to strangers they meet along the way; they let everyone know that they are fools.

4If your ruler becomes angry with you, do not hand in your resignation; serious wrongs may be pardoned if you keep calm.

5Here is an injustice I have seen in the world — an injustice caused by rulers. 6Stupid people are given positions of authority while the rich are ignored. 7I have seen slaves on horseback while noblemen go on foot like slaves.

8If you dig a pit, you fall in it; if you break through a wall, a snake bites you. 9If you work in a stone quarry, you get hurt by stones. If you split wood, you get hurt doing it. 10If your axe is blunt and you don't sharpen it, you have to work harder to use it. It is more sensible to plan ahead. 11Knowing how to charm a snake is of no use if you let the snake bite first. 12What the wise say brings them honour, but fools are destroyed by their own words. 13They start out with silly talk and end up with pure madness. 14A fool talks on and on.

No one knows what is going to happen next, and no one can tell us what will happen after we die.

15Only someone too stupid to find his way home would wear himself out with work.

16A country is in trouble when its king is a youth and its leaders feast all night long. 17But a country is fortunate to have a king who makes his own decisions and leaders who eat at the proper time, who control themselves and don't get drunk.

18When someone is too lazy to repair his roof, it will leak, and the house will fall in.

19Feasting makes you happy and wine cheers you up, but you can't have either without money.

20Don't criticize the king, even silently, and don't criticize the rich, even in the privacy of your bedroom. A bird might carry the message and tell them what you said.

What a Wise Person Does

1Invest your money in foreign trade, and one of these days you will make a profit. 2Put your investments in several places — many places, in fact — because you never know what kind of bad luck you are going to have in this world.

3No matter in which direction a tree falls, it will lie where it fell. When the clouds are full, it rains. 4If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never sow anything and never harvest anything. 5God made everything, and you can no more understand what he does than you understand how new life begins in the womb of a pregnant woman. 6Do your sowing in the morning and in the evening, too. You never know whether it will all grow well or whether one sowing will do better than the other.

7It is good to be able to enjoy the pleasant light of day. 8Be grateful for every year you live. No matter how long you live, remember that you will be dead much longer. There is nothing at all to look forward to.

Advice to Young People

9Young people, enjoy your youth. Be happy while you are still young. Do what you want to do, and follow your heart's desire. But remember that God is going to judge you for whatever you do.

10Don't let anything worry you or cause you pain. You aren't going to be young very long.

Ecclesiastes 3:10GNBOpen in Bible reader

The old Romans had the saying, tempus fugit velut umbra – time flies like a shadow. In this verse, there is a differentiation between human time and eternity (God’s time). Human time is measurable. So many hymns sing of the passing of time, like this one by Sidney Dyer: “Time is earnest, passing by; Death is earnest, drawing nigh; Sinner, wilt thou trifling be, while the voice of God doth call thee?

When we are very young, it feels as if time stands still. It seems to be such a long time before our lunch break or until dinner time. Christmas is still an eternity away. As we grow older, we are more aware of the sand in our hour glass running out. Time feels as if it is going faster. Last year this time, it was still September and now, we are a month away from Christmas. Where has the time gone?

Our human time is measurable. It is the time we are aware of – the time from our birth until our very last breath. We are ever more aware that our time is finite and, therefore, precious. May we pray with Moses in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord, Psalm 111:10 teaches us. The art of graceful living is to find every day as a gift from God’s hand. It invites us to make the most of every passing day. We need to make time to celebrate the small things along the way. Its asks of us to spend our precious time on the precious people God has put in our lives. Quality time together is the most valued gift that we can give one another. Time flies, so don’t waste it! Be aware of the things that steal your time – time thieves, like social media.

The secret is to live every day to its fullest, to find the grace and love of God in every moment, because we are also aware of another dimension of time – God’s time, eternity – the time that we are not able to measure. How do I begin to comprehend eternity before I was born? How do I grasp eternity after my death? Eternity is God’s time, where one day is like a thousand years for him and a thousand years, like one day (2 Peter 3:8). God is above time, he is not bound by it. I am too small to comprehend the magnitude of eternal time; I can only stand in awe.

I know that, one day, my time on earth will run out. I am not afraid, for I belong to the God who is in control of eternity. I trust him for my future; his love expels all fear.

Prayer: Lord, you wrote the days of my life even before I was born. You have given me a life, here and now. You fill my life with your beauty. Teach me to number my days, that I may gain wisdom, to serve you more. Thank you that I may leave eternal matters in your capable hands! Amen

Bible Society of South Africav.4.16.16
Find us on