This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event to all. -- Ecclesiastes 9:3.
There are many who believe that what appears in the book of Ecclesiastes is simply the statement of the unbelieving man, and thus the words express hopelessness and its words cannot be depended on. Some refer to the book of Ecclesiastes as the "Book of Errors". It is claimed that this book contradicts the rest of the Bible, and thus they claim that the book of Ecclesiastes is not to be trusted for truth. The argument is usually directed especially toward one chapter in Ecclesiastes, and that is chapter nine. The reason for this argument is that in chapter nine the dead are described as unconscious, and sheol (hell) is described as a place or condition without knowledge, wisdom, etc. Not understanding the divine plan, the advocates of the inherent immortality see what they consider contradictions in Ecclesiastes 9 if these statements are taken as actual evidence of the condition of the dead. They claim, that not only does the writer say in verse 5 that the dead know nothing, but he also adds that "they have no more for ever any share in all that is done under the sun". They also claim that verse 2 (rsv) expresses the thought that "one fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil," which idea they claim is contradictory to all the rest of Scripture.
We first note that the word olam, translated "forever" in Ecclesiastes 9:6, does not always carry the exact same thought of eternity in the manner that we often use the words "forever" and "eternity." The King James Version translates it several ways, depending on context: "of old", "ever of old", "old time" or "old" (Genesis 6:3; Deuteronomy 32:7; 1 Samuel 27:8; Job 22:15; Psalm 25:6; Proverbs 23:10; Ecclesiastes 1:10); "alway" (Job 7:16); "the world" (Psalm 73:12); "ancient times" or "ancient" (Psalm 77:5; Proverbs 22:28); "long" (Psalm 143:3; Ecclesiastes 12:5); etc. Leviticus 24:8 tells of the Mt. Sinai or Mosaic covenant as being an everlasting covenant yet Jeremiah 31:31 prophesies its end with a second and better covenant. Hebrews 8:7-13 reiterates this prophecy as in the process of fulfillment. In Exodus 21:5-6, we read that if a Hebrew servant serves his Hebrew master six full years and then does not desire his freedom, the 6th verse says (King James Version), "Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; lie shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever." Taken as literally meaning never coming to an end, this would have the servant in service of his master for all eternity, which is absurd. From the usage of the word "olam" in Deuteronomy 23:3-5 and Psalm 73:12, we ascertain that it can be used as pertaining to a certain period of time, an age or "world". This, we believe, as can be determined from the contextual setting, is also its proper usage in Ecclesiastes 9:6.
For a thorough examination of the usage of *olam*, see:
-- Please Note: The author is a universalist, and while we do not agree with all the conclusions on this author, he does a fairly good job of showing how the Hebrew word "olam" is used.
Nevetheless, Solomon does tell us that the dead have no more any share in all that is done under the sun. Regardless of the amount of understanding he had concerning the divine plan, we believe he told the truth. We do not believe he was lying when he said the dead know nothing, nor do we believe that God would have him write something so direct and then demand that we believe just the opposite or be roasted for all eternity, as some proclaim that God will do.
Solomon does not directly say what he means by "under the sun," and it is possible that, like Daniel and many other writers of the Hebrew scriptures, even he did not know completely why God's spirit led him to use this wordage. (Daniel 12:8) We know many assume that he is referring to the actual sun that shines in the sky. Nevertheless the words in Ecclesiastes do show that he uses this expression as regarding the vanity and crooked condition of man under the sun. Thus, he uses the expression regarding the condition of man in this present evil age, the perverse and crooked generation that that through Adam, the whole creation that has been subjected to futility due to Adam's sin. (Ecclesiastes 1:15; 7:13; Acts 2:40; Romans 5:12-19; 8:19-22; Galatians 1:4; 1 Peter 3:7; 2 Peter 1:4) "Vanity of vanity, all is vanity. What does man gain from all his labor in which he labors under the sun?" "This sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith." --Ecclesiastes 1:2,3,13.
The apostle Paul agrees with Solomon that mankind has been subjected to vanity, not of his own will, but by the will of him who has subjected him (Romans 8:20), therefore the sun that mankind Solomon also describes the futility that man has been subjected to as "chasing after the wind." (Ecclesiastes 1:14; 2:11,17,26; 4:16; 6:9) No one would think that the expression "chasing after the wind" means to literally chase after the literal wind. Likewise, Solomon is referring to the evil as "under the sun", probably referring back to Genesis 3:17-19. He constantly makes references to the curse of evil in connection with "under the sun": "the oppressions that are done under the sun"; "the evil work that is done under the sun.", "vanity under the sun", etc. -- Ecclesiastes 4:1,3,7.
Mankind has also been subject, as the seed of the Serpent, to the sun that is presently ruling the world, that Satan the Devil. Satan depicted as the "God of this age," and thus the main ruler in the present "heavens" that is be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:5-7)
This vanity and rulership of Satan is not forever, for the world of mankind will eventually be released from this bondage to vanity in order that they might enjoy the freedom of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19-23; Isaiah 2:2-4; 25:7,8) When this bondage to vanity is gone, the sun that is the source of this travail will be gone with it. Solomon does not so expressly state it, but, as noted above, we can ascertain from the rest of the Bible that the sun that produces this evil is the rulership of Satan. Jesus used the "sun" similarly as a symbol of tribulation. (Matthew 13:5,6,20,21) God's kingdom through Jesus will extinguish the sun of travail in the present heavens of Satan's rulership (as well as all the false things that man looks to for light) that is now shines upon the present earth filled with evil. (Isaiah 13:9-12; Matthew 4:8,9; John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:3,4; Revelation 12:9; 16:13,14; Ephesians 6:12; Galatians 1:4) The present symbolic heavens (with its symbolic sun, moon and stars) will pass away, to be replaced by the new heavens (with a new sun -- the sun of righteousness -- Malachi 4:3; 2 Peter 3:13) and a new earth. -- 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1-5.
Thus the present sun under which all the present evil is being done will no longer be in existence when the dead are raised. Praise Yah!
However, with the Biblical view of this symbolic sun and the travail it produces, one can see that none of the statements of Solomon should be blown off as though he were lying or presenting a false view, or that his statements contradict the rest of the Bible. When he said that the dead know nothing, he meant they really do not know anything. And, generally speaking, they will never return to this present evil world under its present sun of travail. However, the world of mankind will return to life on the earth during the millennial rule of Jesus and his church, when the present sun that produces travail and evil will no longer be. Satan will be abyssed at that he will not be able to deceive the nations. -- Revelations 20:1-3.
What about verse 2 of Ecclesiastes 9? Does this indeed contradict the rest of the Bible? Absolutely not! The one fate or event that comes to all is death -- death is upon mankind as received through Adam, and the rest of the Bible agrees with this. Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 shows that man even shares this same fate with the beasts. It is only because of the ransom sacrifice of the Lord Jesus that mankind has any hope to return from the fate of death. -- Job 14:1,4; Hosea 13:14; Matthew 20:28; John 3:16,17; Romans 5:15-19 (See NAS or ASV); 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; Hebrews 2:9; 9:27,28; 1 John 2:2.
Related to this, the claim is made that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes after he fell into false worship, thus the words in Ecclesiastes do not express the truth. It is true that Solomon disobeyed Yahweh's commands and took wives who worshiped the heathen idol-gods, for which Yahweh rebuked Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-13); this does not mean that Solomon did not repent of his sin when Yahweh rebuked him, or that Solomon was telling lies in Ecclesiastes. Nevertheless, it is not certain when the book was written. It is likely that it was written after Solomon fell into disobedience and in the latter days of his life he returned to the true God and wrote down the wisdom revealed in his experience. Some scriptures within Ecclesiastes tend to support this thought, such as Ecclesiastes 2:13. Regardless, the book of Ecclesiastes is the result of Solomon's exploration of the wisdom that God had given him in Jerusalem, which wisdom he said remained with him. (Ecclesiastes 1:13;16; 2;9) The book of Ecclesiastes, although it shows the vanity of the present life "under the sun," was written to encourage worship and obedience of the laws of the true God, not the false gods of the heathen. -- Ecclesiastes 12:1,13,14.
Thus the points presented concerning Ecclesiastes 9 are shown to be in agreement with, and not in contradiction of the rest of the Bible.
Some related studies written by others (We do not necessarily agree with all conclusions given.)