What Did the Wise Man Mean?
Possessions Without Enjoyment
In his survey of human affairs, wise King Solomon did not overlook the circumstances that often make it impossible for people to enjoy what they have.
Regarding one situation, he wrote: “There exists a calamity that I have seen under the sun, and it is frequent among mankind: a man to whom the true God gives riches and material possessions and glory and who, for his soul, is in no need of anything that he shows himself longing for, and yet the true God does not enable him to eat from it, although a mere foreigner may eat it. This is vanity and it is a bad sickness.”—Eccl. 6:1, 2.
The Almighty permits any individual to use his God-given abilities to acquire possessions and to gain recognition or glory among his contemporaries. In that sense Solomon could rightly speak of God as ‘giving’ riches, material possessions and glory to such a man. Sadly, however, though a man may have everything, circumstances may prevent his enjoying those possessions.
He may have tasty food and, yet, because of some stomach or intestinal disorder, be unable to enjoy it. The case of Nebuchadnezzar provides an interesting illustration. He gained the position of world ruler at Babylon. Then, Jehovah God humiliated him on account of his pride, depriving him of his sanity. The delights of the palace, including fine food and excellent wine, no longer had any appeal to Nebuchadnezzar. Imagining himself to be a beast, he left the luxurious palace and subsisted on grass like a bull. While Nebuchadnezzar was missing out on the pleasures of palace life, ‘mere foreigners’ benefited from his riches. Truly what befell Nebuchadnezzar was a severe malady, “a bad sickness,” for seven years.—Dan. 4:28-37.
Next, Solomon pointed out that long life and a large family in themselves are not enough for a satisfied, contented life. He continues: “If a man should become a father a hundred times, and he should live many years, so that numerous the days of his years should become, yet his own soul is not satisfied with good things and even the grave has not become his [perhaps meaning that he longs for the grave, as did Job in his affliction (Job 3:11-22)], I must say that one prematurely born is better off than he is. For in vain has this [prematurely born] one come and in darkness he goes away, and with darkness his own name will be covered. Even the sun itself he has not seen, neither known. This one has rest rather than the former one. Even supposing that he has lived a thousand years twice over and yet he has not seen what is good, is it not to just one place that everyone is going?”—Eccl. 6:3-6.
Really, without one’s being able to get any enjoyment from life, of what value are even a long life and many children? Whether rich or poor, young or old, at death all go to but one place—gravedom. For the man who gets no real joy in living, a long life just means more problems and troubles over a longer period than for one who dies young. The one prematurely born, a stillborn baby, is better off in the sense of never having to endure all the hardships of an empty, frustrated life.
Solomon writes further: “All the hard work of mankind is for their mouth, but even their own soul does not get filled. For what advantage does the wise have over the stupid one? What does the afflicted one have in knowing how to walk in front of the living ones? Better is the seeing by the eyes than the walking about of the soul. This too is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 6:7-9.
People work hard to get what they need to keep themselves alive; they work “for their mouth.” Yet this seldom satisfies their many desires, their soulful longings. The wise but discontented man may try to suppress troublesome desires, whereas the fool gives in to them, exercising no restraint. This was apparently the basis for Solomon’s questions: “For what advantage does the wise have over the stupid one? What does the afflicted one have in knowing how to walk in front of the living ones?” In the sense that both the wise and the stupid one have nagging desires, the wise person has no advantage. Similarly, the afflicted one may know how to conceal his disturbing desires before others, but this still does not remove them. Unfulfilled, they continue to trouble him. He, too, is no better off than the fool. So the truly wise course is for a person to be content, enjoying what he has, what he can see with his eyes, instead of longingly looking at something else, letting soulful desire deprive him of peace.
Another factor that can interfere with contentment is a failure to recognize that many things simply cannot be changed. Solomon stated: “Whatever has come to be, its name has already been pronounced, and it has become known what man is; and he is not able to plead his cause with one that is more powerful than he is.” (Eccl. 6:10) A man may attain riches and position. But he remains nothing more than the first man was pronounced to be, earthling man, ’a·dhamʹ, a Hebrew designation drawn from a root meaning “red” or “ruddy.” Yes, he continues to be an earthling, a mortal. So he cannot make any bargain to keep himself alive indefinitely. The psalmist expressed this thought as follows: “Not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; (and the redemption price of their soul is so precious that it has ceased to time indefinite) that he should still live forever and not see the pit.”—Ps. 49:7-9.
At best, in this system of things, life is very uncertain. Time and circumstance befall all, adding to the uncertainty. For this reason, Solomon raised these questions: “Because there exist many things that are causing much vanity, what advantage does a man have? For who is there knowing what good a man has in life for the number of the days of his vain life, when he spends them like a shadow? For who can tell man what will happen after him under the sun?”—Eccl. 6:11, 12.
In view of the fact that death ends all of a person’s striving and struggling, what real advantage is there in what material possessions or prominence a man may acquire? Who really can say just which worldly goal—riches, prominence, power—is worth striving for? How often people think that something is desirable and, then, after obtaining it, are disappointed, perhaps even bitter. The fact that life is so brief, ‘passing like a shadow,’ only adds to the aggravation. There is no way to regain time and redirect one’s efforts toward another goal. Furthermore, because there is no way of determining what will happen after a person’s death, pursuing materialistic goals in behalf of children and grandchildren, to the exclusion of spiritual things, does not lead to real satisfaction either.
How forcefully the wise man’s words illustrate the need for being content, getting wholesome enjoyment out of life! Rather than letting materialistic desires build up, the truly wise person concentrates on maintaining a good relationship with God.