What Did the Wise Man Mean?
‘That They May See that They Are Beasts’
Men may pride themselves in their abilities and knowledge. Yet as regards the way life comes to its end, men are no better off than unreasoning beasts. Wise King Solomon called attention to this, saying: “I, even I, have said in my heart with regard to the sons of mankind that the true God is going to select them, that they may see that they themselves are beasts. For there is an eventuality as respects the sons of mankind and an eventuality as respects the beast, and they have the same eventuality. As the one dies, so the other dies; and they all have but one spirit, so that there is no superiority of the man over the beast, for everything is vanity. All are going to one place. They have all come to be from the dust, and they are all returning to the dust.”—Eccl. 3:18-20.
Just before introducing this thought, Solomon wrote: “The true God will judge both the righteous one and the wicked one, for there is a time for every affair and concerning every work there.” (Eccl. 3:17) So, in Ec 3 verse 18, Solomon’s speaking of God’s ‘selecting’ or ‘sifting’ humans may mean that what he affords them in the way of opportunities, as well as the things he allows them to experience, including problems and uncertainties, will in time reveal whether they are righteous or wicked. The fact that life is filled with difficulties and uncertainties and finally terminates in death should bring home to men that, as far as their own power goes, in the end they are like beasts. The same spirit or life force, sustained by breathing, animates both man and beast. After dying both man and beast return to the lifeless dust.—Eccl. 9:4-6.
Based solely on human observation, no one can answer the question next raised by Solomon: “Who is there knowing the spirit of the sons of mankind, whether it is ascending upward; and the spirit of the beast, whether it is descending downward to the earth?”—Eccl. 3:21.
Since death ends all of a human’s activities just as in the case of a mere beast, Solomon concludes: “I have seen that there is nothing better than that the man should rejoice in his works, for that is his portion; because who will bring him in to look on what is going to be after him?” (Eccl. 3:22) Wisdom dictates getting wholesome enjoyment from one’s hard work. After a person is dead, he ceases to have any further share in human activities. As a lifeless corpse, he cannot even look upon what is taking place among humankind.—Eccl. 9:5, 10.
Our remembering that death can reduce a person to nothingness just like an unreasoning beast should have a sobering effect upon us. It should make us mindful of the importance of using our life for good despite uncertainties and problems. We should also be moved to turn to God, recognizing that any future life prospects after death rest with him.