“Who Knows What is Good?” – Ecclesiastes 6:1–12
Hear now, the word of the Lord from Ecclesiastes 6:1-12
There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place? 7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind. 10 Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?Ecclesiastes 6:1-12, ESV
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God endures forever. I recently came upon some rather disturbing information. I was reading about a company who said about a study, a research study to determine how much time people in the United Kingdom spend trying to find something to watch on television. This is not the amount of time they spend watching television, this the time they spend trying to find something to watch on television.
When they added up the average amount of time that someone would spend in the United Kingdom doing this, and they calculated over the course of an adult lifespan from 18 years to 80 years. They discovered that people in the United Kingdom spend 55 days of their lives doing nothing other than scrolling through television channels, trying to find something to watch. Remarkably, that's not what was most disturbing, because then they turn the study of the attention to the United States and in the United States, it's sadly much worse.
The average American adult spends 45 hours every year trying to find something again, not just watching television, trying to find something to watch on television. Over the course of an adult lifespan this would mean 116 days, nearly a third of a year of your life spent trying to find something before you actually settle in to watch it on television.
I think this is a really interesting story because of what it says about who we are as human beings. Every time we turn on the TV, we want to find something good to see. We want to find something to entertain us, something to encourage us, maybe something to enlighten us. Maybe we want something to distract us, distract us from our toil, from our problems, from our pain. And every time we turn on the TV, we know that we're not going to find what we're looking for, right? We know we're not going to find that source of satisfaction. And yet we keep looking for it. If we can't find it the first time we scroll through the channels, we'll go right around again, trying to find something to watch. Even up to a third of a year of our lives looking to see something good on television?
Well, our passage this morning deals with three questions about how we find good in this world under the sun, not just on television, but anywhere in the world. And really, this passage is revolving around three questions.
1. What kind of good are we looking for? What? What is the good that we are looking for in life?
2. Why are we so desperate to find this good?
3. How will we even know if we find that at all?
Well, we are coming in chapter six here to the very end of the first half of Ecclesiastes. We're halfway through and this is really marking a shift in the book in Ecclesiastes six. Here, the preacher is summarizing everything that he has said in the first half of this book. And you'll notice that as we look through this passage, we're going to see a repeated emphasis on what is good. This word good is going to structure and organize and guide and and unify this whole passage.
So our big idea today, then, is this that God alone is good..
Jesus said that from Mark 10:18, God alone is good. So our three points this morning are;
1. Nothing Good
2. Needing Good
3. Knowing Good.
Well, we are going to find by the end of this passage, it's not only do we spend our lives searching in vain for good, but even if we found it, we wouldn't recognize it for what it is.
So let's start with this passage. Number one, nothing good. The first part of this passage in verses one through six. The preacher, again, he's summarizing everything he said up to this point. He says,
There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: Ecclesiastes 6:1, ESV
Now, one commentator notes that this could be a qualitative sense of lying heavily. This is very grievous, very heavy, but really, this word is has to do with frequency. You could just as easily say there's an evil that is very common under the sun. That's very frequent. All of us have experienced this in one way or another.
What's this evil? Well, he gives a specific example to illustrate a broader principle. He says,
A man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. Ecclesiastes 6:2, ESV
Now what's going on here in this illustration that's illustrating the broader principle? Well, probably there are a number of suggestions given as to how this man may have lost the enjoyment of all the good gifts in his life. I think Benjamin Shaw is right when he says, you really have to understand this verse in connection with the next verse, verse three, because the preacher is drawing a contrast. So let's move ahead, and then we'll try to answer what's going on in two and three together.
The preacher continues
If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.Ecclesiastes 6:3, ESV
Verse two contrasted against verse three. Verse three is talking about a man who lives for a long time and has many children, whereas in verse two, you're talking about a very wealthy man who never enjoys the good things of his life. You're probably talking about someone who died very young. The point here is that whether you die very young or whether you live for a very long time, either way, you will not find satisfaction in life. You will not find the joy, the lasting goodness, the soul satisfying good that you are looking for in your life.
He is so despairing of this point that he goes on to make a very stark statement at the end of verse three. He says whether you die young or whether you live for a long time, I say, at the end of verse three, that is stillborn child is better off than he. This is a horrifying thing to say. Understand the preacher is not making light of the grief and the desperation of what it would be to lose a stillborn child. Rather, he's very aware of this, he's facing this grief very squarely. He's pointing to that kind of grief and say, understand, even as grievous as it would be to have a child born stillborn. That's how bad life is under the sun. That it would be better never to enter into this world and see the land of the living, then to live either a short time or a very long time in this evil world under the sun.
Now why is that?
For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?Ecclesiastes 6:4-6, ESV
Even if you lived two thousand years, you would enjoy no good or literally that he would see no good, there's that word for good. You wouldn't find good, you would never come across this good that you were looking for and at the end of the day, whether you were born stillborn, never seeing light in the land of the living or whether you live a thousand years twice over, it will never be enough time to find that good that our souls crave.
If there's nothing good to see in this world, though, what hope do we have? This ends on a point of despair. What hope do we have? Well, in January 2016, a 10 year, $100 million project was launched. It's called Breakthrough Listen. It's still an operation, as far as I know. The purpose of Breakthrough Listen is to dedicate an extraordinary amount of scientific and technological resources just trying to listen to outer space, trying to maybe hear if intelligent life in the outer space is trying to communicate with us purposefully, or whether we just overhear chatter to try to find some evidence of life out there somewhere in the universe.
One of the biggest proponents for bringing this project about was the the late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, who said this. He says, "In an infinite universe, there must be other life." Then he says this, "there is no bigger question. There's no bigger question about whether there is other life." He thinks it's certain that there must be other life. Now, Stephen Hawking did not live to see the success of his project, and he died in 2018. So far, as I know that we have not yet discovered signs of intelligent life out in the universe.
This is an extraordinary thing that Stephen Hawking says. There is no bigger question. It's extraordinary for two reasons number one. First of all, it ignores the possibility of finding God. You would think that finding God would be the biggest question. If that were possible, that would be the most important thing. The biggest question that we could come across. He just sets that aside. He doesn't even consider that. What a tragedy. One of the most brilliant men who has ever walked the face of the Earth, and he doesn't even consider the possibility that God may be out there and readily communicating with us through his word. We don't have to listen with telescopes and all that kind of thing. God speaks to us in his word.
The other reason this is such an extraordinary statement is this. There's a presupposition behind this, you can't say that there's no bigger question unless you already believe, even if you haven't stated it this way, that there is no lasting, satisfying good in our world. He's echoing the conclusions of the preacher. You see, you only look for something as long as you need to. If you if you lose something, say you lose your keys. You only look for your keys until you find your keys after you have found your keys. There's no point in continuing the search. You've already found what you're looking for.
Well, if we spend our lives looking for soul, satisfying good. We can't find it in this world, of course, we're going to look elsewhere. Of course, we're going to be driven to say there's no bigger question than to find something to give me hope if it's not here in this world, that we must look to the great expanse of the universe. That's what drove Stephen Hawking, even though he wouldn't go to God to look for this biggest question in his mind, to try to find extraterrestrial intelligent life.
Well, at the end of the first half of Ecclesiastes, this is a very bitter conclusion that the preacher is drawing. There is nothing good to see in this world. You can have all the wealth, you can have all the children, you can have all the time in the world and you will never, ever find true, lasting good. Soul satisfying satisfaction.
Now, the first reaction the preacher gives us is one of despair, if this is true, it would be better to have been born stillborn than to see even a moment of the vanity and the grievous sickening evil of this world. There's another possible way to respond to this, and that's what the response of denial. To believe, well, that can't be true, certainly, there must be good somewhere in this world. Denial would engage then on a endless, fruitless quest to try to find good somewhere no matter what. And the preacher turns to the issue of denial next in the second section where he deals with the need that we have for good and needing good.
He says this in verse seven.
All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. Ecclesiastes 6:7, ESV
Very literally, the word for appetite is the word for soul. He's saying all the work we do with our hands is to feed our mouths, to feed our bodies. Yet our soul, we're not talking about physical hunger. We are talking about the appetite, the hunger of our soul for something good. This is not filled. This is not satisfied. No matter what you're able to do in life, you will not satisfy the depths of your soul's craving for good in this world.
So is there a fix for this? Is there a life hack where maybe we can side skirt this inconvenient reality? And the answer is in verse eight. Well, wisdom isn't the answer.
For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?Ecclesiastes 6:8, ESV
Whether you're wise, whether you're poor, whether you have street smarts or whether you have very studied wisdom, any kind of wisdom is not going to be able to get you out of this jam. You're left at the end of the day without being able to satisfy your soul.
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.Ecclesiastes 6:9, ESV
Now remember, I said good structures, this passage. Better doesn't look like the word good, but think about what better means. It means more good. In Hebrew it's very obvious, it's good more than these other things. IT says better, more good is the side of the eyes to see something, to have the object of good held in your hands and to see it. That would be better than the wandering of the appetite, the wandering of the soul. If you cannot find the good that you were looking for, you will be doomed to a life spent wandering anxiously, desperately to find some kind of good somewhere.
The good that we seek is not in this world, but because we crave it.. we're never going to give up the search. It's that deep of a need in our souls. This is why we spend 116 days of our lives simply trying to find something good to see on television. This is why we move from experience to experience trying to find lasting joy. It satisfies for a brief, fleeting moment, and then we've got to find our next fix.
This can lead people from relationship to relationship, from job to job, or to pursue after achievement to achievement, or to follow purchase after purchase. There is nothing good enough to satisfy our souls, but because this is such a deep need of ours, we keep looking and desperation.
Our souls then anxiously wander through this life, searching everywhere to find good. Since there is nothing good in this world, we'll never find it. We're doomed to continue flipping through the channels. But there's one more problem of the preacher wants to address here, as he summarizes the first half of his book. That even if we did find good, we wouldn't recognize it. Human beings are notoriously bad judges of what is good. We're notoriously bad at estimating what is truly good.
Knowing good and versus 10 through 12.
Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what man is, and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he. 11 The more words, the more vanity, and what is the advantage to man? 12 For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6: 10-12, ESV
So what are we talking about here? Well, it's probably important, as a lot of commentators who point out to remember that the word man is the word Adam. The word Adam, the name given to the first man created, is the same word that's used, one of the words, at least, that refers to men in the rest of the Old Testament. So when you're talking about Adam, we were talking about the head of all mankind. A similar thing happens when Jacob is renamed to Israel. Israel is one man, and he is also the head of all the nation of Israel. So Adam is the head of all of mankind.
It talks here about whatever has come to be has already been named. Well, in the context of talking about man, it is known what man is talking about Adam and the naming of Adam, this is drawing us back to Adam's commission, given in Genesis 2:19 to name all of the animals. Now this is an important story that helps us to understand what the preacher is saying here is tempered.
Longmen, in his commentary, points out to name something is far more than just affixing a name tag or or telling other people the sounds that we should pronounce when we're referring to something. To name something in the Old Testament is to recapture something of the essence. To understand what something truly is. For Adam to name the animals meant that he alone understood what all of these creatures were, in the sense of what role do they fit into God's larger creation? What part do they play? What had God created them for?.
Understand there is no zoologist who will ever live, who will have a better understanding of the essence of these animals than Adam did when he named him in the garden. He had perfect knowledge of what these were, of their essence, their deep essence of these creatures. He may not have known their feeding patterns and life patterns and all of that and their cellular biology, but he knew what they were at a deeper level than anyone ever will.
This is what the preacher saying, what has come to be has already been named. Adam had perfect knowledge of this. Adam had perfect knowledge of all of creation. But and here's the important thing the preacher wants to remind us, Adam's knowledge failed him. Adam had a perfect knowledge of all the creatures, but Adam's knowledge failed him. How did it fail him? Well, this is what the preacher means when we read, "It is known what man is and that he is not able to dispute with one stronger than he."
Adam had a perfect knowledge of creation, but he mis estimated the Creator. He knew everything about every animal in their essence, but he did not really understand God when he defied God. So in the story of the Garden of Eden, we know that Adam set aside God's word. God gave him wisdom that would have given him true happiness, but he set aside God's word, and he instead trusted an animal to undermine God's word.
Indeed, the serpent was the one who came to Adam and told him in Genesis 3:5 to Adam and Eve, promising that if you would eat off the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will be like God knowing good and evil. That sounds a wonderful promise, doesn't it? You will know what is truly good, but you must set aside what God has said that you must do and must not do.
Indeed, when we read Genesis 3:6 about the original sin we read, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, Adam and Eve used their own ability, their own wisdom, their own knowledge to try to estimate for themselves, to judge, for themselves, evaluate for themselves what is good. The problem is we are notoriously bad judges for ourselves of what is good. We wouldn't know a good thing if it bit us like a snake.
Which brings us back to our original big idea that God alone is good. Adam obeyed the creature rather than the creator who is to be blessed for forever. Then verse 11 records something of his response, "The more words, the more vanity in what is the advantage to man?" You remember Adam in the garden blubbering, trying to make some excuse or justification for his sin? It was that woman that you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it. More words, more vanity, Adam. This refers to his feeble excuse making.
Then in verse 12, the preacher ends the first half of this book this way, he says, "For who knows what is good for man? While he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow." This is the question, isn't it? We all want good, but we can't even define it. We don't know what it is. Again, we wouldn't know good if it bit us like a snake. Who knows what's good for men while he lives the few days of his life?
We're chasing after what we think will make us happy, what we think will satisfy us. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, what we think will give us the knowledge of good and evil only ends up bringing us into more misery and heartache.
Then the final question is for who can tell man what will be after him under the sun? Adam certainly didn't know what the consequences of sin would be. If Adam didn't know all this, then how possibly can we can we know this?
Over the last few weeks, I was contacted out of the blue by one of the people that I went on my trip to Africa, to Kenya and Rwanda last year, in February and March of 2020. I went on a group with a group of one of my best friends and his parents, and then some friends of his parents, and it was from this group, I knew his parents, but it was the friends of his parents that I met. And so the woman, she was very kind. She was an older woman. She was very traveled. She had done a lot of things, very friendly. She had a lot of experiences of things, and she was always telling interesting stories going along.
Well, she contacted me out of the blue to catch up. You know, we hadn't talked, certainly because of everything that's been going on for almost a year and a half. So she messaged me over Facebook Messenger. So we were kind of texting back and forth what's going on, hearing things have been going on in her life and it was really good to catch up with her.
Well, in the course of the conversation, you know, again, this is a woman who's done a lot of things in life. She mentioned that she had recently gotten this grant to do some of the interesting things that she does in her life. A grant from the government and, you know, the government's opening all these new grants and ways to get money right now. She starts telling me, you know, have you ever thought about getting a grant? You could get a grant and do all kinds of sorts of different things. She gave me the contact information for the attorney who had helped her to apply for this grant.
Now, here's the thing, if I had needed a grant that might have been too good of an opportunity to pass up. As it happened was this wasn't my friend I was talking with. I had had a long, multi-week conversation with her and it wasn't my friend. It was at that point, what saved me from fraud or identity theft or whatever would have happened is that by God's grace, I didn't believe that a grant would be good for me. I didn't think I needed it.
So it was in that moment where I realized maybe something is going on here that I haven't fully appreciated. It helped me take a step back from the situation, and I called my parents friend or I texted her, my parents, mom and I said, "Hey, would you call your friend and see if I'm actually the one talking with her?" A couple of hours later, I got a call from the real woman and she said, it wasn't me. I had nothing to do with this. So then I reported this imposter to Facebook. Because I didn't believe that what was being held out to me was good. It gave me enough distance to take a step back from this, thoroughly convincing conversation in every other way, to recognize that I was being deceived.
Well, in the same way, the preacher has spent the first half of Ecclesiastes trying to tear every possible way that we could look after good or seek after good in this world because he wants to equip you. He wants to teach you. There is nothing good in this world and you can keep looking for it. You can keep flipping through the channels, trying to find something good to see in this world, but understand you are being deceived. Unless you have the distance from that to realize I don't actually want that, I might not being dealt with honestly here, I might be being deceived. Unless you have that perspective given by the first half of Ecclesiastes, you're very likely to get sucked up into whatever convincing conversation that you're going to enter into this world.
Our application point then today is this trust in God who alone is good. He said the deepest craving in all of our hearts is to find this true good. Instinctively, we will all spend our lives searching for what is good. You were created for good. Your soul craves good. Wherever you look in this world, your appetite will not be satisfied. It cannot be satisfied by any good in this world.
Why? Well, two reasons. Number one, there's nothing good to see in this world. Just like on TV, there's nothing good to see in this world. Number two, even if you came across good, you wouldn't know it. You wouldn't know it if it bit you like a snake. To know good requires wisdom from God. That was the promise of the Serpent. You'll know this good for yourself. You'll be able to make your own decisions. You will be able to find your own way, to discover your own good, to be your own person, to live by your own rules and to make yourself satisfied according to your own terms.
To know good requires wisdom that can only come from God. God gave Adam this wisdom. Adam ignored it again. He listened to the creature rather than listening to the creator. Later, Solomon prayed for this wisdom that was good. He he should have sought wisdom, and he sought for wisdom to discern between good and evil. It reflects the the language right out of Genesis three. He wanted to know good and evil, and he went to the right source. He went to God. This was good. And by that wisdom, Solomon flourished, until he too ignored this wisdom to ignore God, to do what God had forbidden him to do and worship all of these false idols.
Ultimately, when Jesus Christ came into this world, Paul tells us in First Corinthians, 1:30, that Jesus Christ was for us wisdom from God. Wisdom in the flesh stood in our midst. When Jesus Christ came into this world, the world absolutely rejected him. Paul meditates on this in First Corinthians 2:7-8. He says, We do teach wisdom, not the world's wisdom, but we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages unto our glory. Then in the very next verse, First Corinthians 2:8, he says none of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
Wisdom was in their midst, and not only did they not understand him, not only that they simply just walk away from him. Wisdom was in their midst and they hated him so much they crucified him. We are horrible judges of what is truly good of what is truly wise. We still do this, why do we ignore God's wisdom, because to our site, it doesn't seem like a good thing. We judge according to what we can see. Indeed, the preacher says it's better to see. Better is the sight of the eyes and the wandering of the appetite we want to see good. But the problem is, there's nothing good to see in this world, verse six, "Even though he should live a thousand years twice over yet, see, no good, there's no good to see, cannot all go to the same place."
Yet, despite this, despite the knowledge of this, sometimes we keep chasing everything that remotely appears to be good. Brothers and sisters, we must not live according to outward appearances, if we do, we will be doomed to live a life chasing from one shiny object to another. Always trying to satisfy the cravings and the desires of our souls. Instead, the Bible says, don't do this. You are a horrible judge of what is good for yourself, and you know this intuitively by all the misery that you have brought on your own life.
Instead, the Bible says we must walk by faith, not by sight. True wisdom means trusting in what God says is good. Now what we see for ourselves to be good, it means setting our eyes above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, rather than setting our eyes on the things of this world.
So how do we do this? Well, the Bible doesn't give us the seven steps to the good life. It's not that simple. Let me give you some questions to ponder. I've used these before, we've talked about these in classes and things before here.
When I ask you what would make you happy right now? Maybe you are looking for that government grant and that would solve a lot of problems that you're looking for. Maybe you're looking for a new job, maybe you're looking for a new relationship. Maybe you're looking to be happy. What would make you happy right now? What's the first thing that comes to your mind? That's the thing you love.
What preoccupies you're thinking when it's just you alone, what are your what is your mind tend to? Where do you start planning in a certain direction? What do you fantasize about? What do you wonder about? What are you googling to try to find more information about? What are the things that make you most angry or what are you afraid and terrified to lose? That's where you think good is in this world. Those are the things that preoccupy your heart and your soul.
So the question is, is it Christ or is it something in this world that cannot truly satisfy you? The Bible says the only good, the truly good thing in this world and beyond this world and the one who created this world is God himself. Jesus says this God alone is good.
So if you're setting your hopes, if you're pinning your life's goodness and satisfaction on anything in this world, it's always going to let you down. You'll keep flipping the channels to something else in life. The Bible calls us to repent of trusting in all of these false goods and instead turn to Jesus Christ and so to be saved by him. He's the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the one who loved you so much that he gave up his life for you. He is the one who promises that at his right hand are pleasures forever more. God alone is good. Are you looking to Jesus Christ to satisfy you or someone or something else?
Christ alone has entered into this vain world, has suffered, has given up everything that he enjoyed as the Crown Prince of Heaven in order to suffer and die in your place for your sin. He was raised up from the dead as the possessor of all things, as the one who has conquered sin, death in the devil forever, who extends his salvation to all those who are pent from your sins and look to him in faith are you looking to Christ in faith?
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing good in this world, the one who is good is seated at the right hand of God, and there will come a day when he will return. Just like we talked about it, the call to worship, and that'll be a day when there will be a new heavens and a new Earth and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. We will dwell with God as our God forever and we will be with him as his people forever. That's what's good. Is that what preoccupies your heart, soul and mind? Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we pray that you would give us good through Jesus Christ. We pray that he would preoccupy us, that he would be our joy and our satisfaction, and that we would repent of all lesser satisfactions and joys that we chase after in this life. We pray this that Christ would be glorified as we look more and more to him, and we pray this for our good. That we know in Christ would have peace and joy and satisfaction in this life, even as everything is wasting away in our outer bodies and in this world that we would be satisfied in Christ until the day comes when he can make all things new. We pray this in Christ name. Amen.