Questions From Readers
● What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6: “For the living are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun”?—U.S.A.
By reading the context we can see that Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, is speaking from the point of view of life as it exists now, on earth, “under the sun,” we might say, from the strictly human point of view, from the objective view of an observer. He is not here taking into consideration God’s purpose to bring about a resurrection. He is dealing with man’s situation as described by the apostle Paul, at Romans 8:20: “For the creation was subjected to futility.” Solomon says that “everything is vanity,” that “one eventuality there is to the righteous one and the wicked one.”—Eccl. 1:2; 9:2, 3.
This is the situation in which all mankind finds itself. Rich and poor, great and small, good and bad—all die. The apostle Paul expressed it: “In Adam all are dying.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Certainly righteous persons are basically not any better off than the wicked as regards their life-span. But this does not deny that God views the righteous as different and that he has provided a hope for them that sustains them now and offers life in the future. The apostle’s statement, quoted earlier in part, says: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him [God] that subjected it, on the basis of hope that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Rom. 8:20, 21.
Solomon, taking the position of an observer, shows that the “average” person, a person of the world, knows that he will die, just as he sees all other men dying. He is conscious of death. Observation also reveals that when a person is dead he is unconscious of anything about him. Humans can do nothing for him; money means nothing. The world goes on and even his relatives and friends, in the fast-moving stream of everyday living, can no longer include him in their plans and affairs, and so, perforce, must eventually forget him. Not that they do not remember he existed, but that he is no longer a force—he does not figure in their lives. Much of his personality is forgotten, and the next generation does not actually know him at all.
The dead person can no longer express love, hate or jealousy. Regardless of the power, authority or riches he had when alive, this passes into other hands, and he has no say about it. (Eccl. 2:21) In this system of things he has no portion to time indefinite, and would remain completely out of the picture forever, indeed, if it were not for God’s provision of a new order and the resurrection of the dead.
So Solomon writes merely to represent the situation viewed as though this present world is all there is. He shows the vanity of life if one is not a worshiper of God. But the apostle Paul said to the Christians at Thessalonica: “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are sleeping in death; that you may not sorrow just as the rest also do who have no hope. For if our faith is that Jesus died and rose again, so, too, those who have fallen asleep in death through Jesus God will bring with him.”—1 Thess. 4:13, 14.
Solomon was “the Congregator” (the meaning of the Hebrew word Qo·heʹleth, the title of Solomon’s book). He was exerting himself to congregate the people to Jehovah’s worship. That is why he painted a picture of the futile situation of this world, and, after surveying its complete vanity and hopelessness, pointed to the right Source of hope, saying: “The conclusion of the matter, everything having been heard, is: Fear the true God and keep his commandments. For this is the whole obligation of man. For the true God himself will bring every sort of work into the judgment in relation to every hidden thing, as to whether it is good or bad.”—Eccl. 12:13, 14.