Ecclesiastes Chapter 6



Remembering how far the writer of our book excels all
who have ever come after him, in ability, wisdom, or riches, his groans
of disappointment shall have their true weight with us, and act as lighthouse
beacons, warning us from danger, or from spending the one short fleeting
life we have in treading the same profitless pathway of groaning.

So chapter six opens, still on the same subject of wealth
and its power to bless. A sore evil, and one that weighs heavily on man,
has Solomon seen: riches, wealth, and honor, clustering thick on the head
of one person, and yet God has withheld from him the power of enjoying
it all. As our own poet, Browning, writes that apt illustration of King

"A people is thine,

And all gifts, which the world offers singly, on one
head combine!

High ambition, and deeds which surpass it, fame crowning
them all,

Brought to blaze on the head of one creature--King Saul."

So sorrowful is this in our preacher's eyes, and so thoroughly
does it bespeak a state of affairs under the sun in confusion, that Solomon
ventures the strongest possible assertion. Better, he says, an untimely
birth, that never saw light, than a thousand years twice told, thus spent
in vanity, without real good having been found. How bitter life must show
itself to lead to such an estimate! Better never to have been born than
pass through life without finding something that can satisfy. But this
is not looking at life simply in itself, for life in itself is good, as
the same poet sings:

"Oh, our manhood's prime vigor! No spirit feels waste,

Not a muscle is stopped in its playing nor sinew unbraced.

Oh, the wild joys of living! the leaping from rock up
to rock,

The strong rending of boughs from the fir-tree, the cool
silver shock

Of the plunge in a pool's living water!

How good is man's life--the mere living! how fit to employ

All the heart and the soul and the senses forever in

It is because man has, of all the creation of God, an
awful shadow hanging over him--"death and darkness and the tomb," with
the solemn, silent, unknown "beyond" lying before him, robbing him of rest.
Angels have present pure delight, with no such shadow possible--they die
not. The beast may enjoy his pasture, for no thought of a coming death
disturbs him. Life may be full of a kind of enjoyment to such; but man,
poor man, when awake to the possibilities of his own being, as it surely
becomes man to be (and that is just the point of this book--we are not
looking upon man as a mere animal, but as a reasoning creature, and as
such he), is robbed of present rest and enjoyment by an inevitable fate
to which he is hastening, and from which there is no possible escape. Do
not all go to one place?--that vague "Sheol," speaking of the grave, and
yet the grave, not as the end, but an indefinite shadowy existence
beyond? All, all go there; and with no light on that,
better, indeed,
"the untimely birth which came in vanity and departs in darkness"; for
this, at least, has the more rest. Bitter groan this, indeed!

For the Preacher continues: "Does man's labor satisfy
him? Can he get what is really 'good' from it?" No. For never is his appetite
filled so that it desires nothing more. The constant return of its thirst
demands constant toil; and fool and wise must alike obey its call. This
is not confined to bodily food, but covers that bitter hunger and thirst
of the heart, as the use of the word soul (margin) shows. The longings
of the wise may be for a higher food. He may aim above the mere sensual,
and seek to fill his soul with the refined, but he fails, as indeed
do all, even "the poor man who knows to walk before the living"; that is,
even the poor man who, with all the disadvantages of poverty, has wisdom
enough to know how to live so as to command the respect of his fellows.
Wise indeed must such be; but he, no more than the fool, has found the
"good" that forever satisfies hunger and thirst, and calms to rest the
wandering of the soul, which, like the restless swallow, is ever on the
wing. Man is made up of desire, and one glimpse with the eyes, something
seen, is at least something secured, and it is better than all mere longing,
which is vanity and the pursuit of the wind. For everything has long ago
been named from its own nature; and in this way its name shows what
it is. Thus man, too, (Adam,) is, and ever has been, known from his name,
from "adamah," earth; his name so showing his mortality. If thus he has
been made by his Creator, how vain for him to hope to escape his fate,
for with Him no contention is possible. What use, then, in many words (not
things) since they afford no relief as against that end? they only increase
vanity. Then the last sad wail of this subject: "Who knoweth what is really
good--satisfying for man--during the few fleeting years of his vain life
here, which he passes as a shadow; and when he is gone, who can tell him
what shall be after him under the sun"?

Let that wail sink down deep into our ears. It is the
cry that has been passed, in ever increasing volume, from heart to heart--every
empty hollow heart of man echoing and re-echoing, "Who will show us any
good?" Now turn and listen to One who came to answer that fully, and in
His word to Mary, the sister of Lazarus, He does distinctly, in words,
answer it. She had chosen the portion that He could call "good." And was
that travail and toil, even in service for Himself? No, that was rather
her sister's portion; but a seat--expressive of rest--(consider it), a
listening ear, whilst the Lord ministered to her;--and that is all that
is needful! What a contrast between this poor rich king, communing with
his own heart to find out what is that good portion for man; and the rich
poor saint in blessed communion with infinite Love, infinite Wisdom, infinite
Power, and resting satisfied! Surely, Solomon in all his glory had no throne
to be compared to hers, as she sat lowly "at His feet." And mark carefully,
for thy soul's good, that word of tender grace that the Lord said, This
is "needful." He who had listened to the groan of man's heart through those
long four thousand years, and knew its need fully and exactly, says that
this good portion must not be regarded as any high attainment for the few,
but as the very breath of life--for all. If He knows that it is needful
for thee, then, my soul, fear not but that He will approve thy taking the
same place and claiming Mary's portion on the ground of thy need alone.

Yes, but does this really answer the root cause of the
groan in our chapter? Is the shadow of death dispelled by sitting at His
feet? Is death no longer the dark unknown? Shall we learn lessons there
that shall rob it of all its terrors, and replace the groan with song?
Yes, truly, for look at the few significant foot-prints of that dear Mary's
walk after this. See her at that supper made for the Lord at Bethany. Here
Martha is serving with perfect acceptance--no word of rebuke to her now
; she has learned the lesson of that day spoken of in the tenth of Luke.
But Mary still excels her, for, whilst sitting at His feet in that same
day of the tenth of Luke, she has heard some story that makes her come
with precious spikenard to anoint His body for the burial! Strange act!
And how could that affectionate heart force itself calmly to anoint the
object of its love for burial? Ah! still a far sweeter story must she have
heard "at His feet," and a bright light must have pierced the shadow of
the tomb. For, look at that little company of devoted women around His
cross, and you will find no trace of the no less devoted Mary, the sister
of Lazarus, there. The other Marys may come, in tender affection, but in
the dark ignorance of unbelief, to search for Him, in His empty tomb on
the third day. She, with no less tender affection surely, is not there.
Is this silence of Scripture without significance, or are we to see the
reason for it in that "good portion" she had chosen "at His feet"?--and
there did she hear, not only the solemn story of His cross leading her
to anoint His body for the burial, but the joyful story of His resurrection,
so that there was no need for her to seek "the living amongst the
dead";--she knew
that He was risen, and she, as long before, "sat
still in the house"!
Oh, blessed calm! Oh, holy peace! What is the
secret of it? Wouldst thou learn it? Sit, then, too, "at His feet," in
simple conscious emptiness and need. Give Him the still more blessed part
of ministering to thee. So all shall be in order. Thou shalt have the good
portion that shall dispel all clouds of death, and pour over thy being
heaven's pure sunlight of resurrection; and, with that Light, song shall
displace groan, whilst thy Lord shall have the still better part--His own
surely--of giving; for "more blessed it is to give than to receive."