We saw last time that Solomon has reached a certain limitation in the wisdom he sought. He has just said, “Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it out” (). God’s works transcend man’s understanding, and beholding those works under the sun there is much hidden from us in God’s counsel. The judgments of the righteous and sovereign God are deeper than wisdom can discern from what is seen under the sun.
Now he continues, “For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them” (). This limitation he considers and spiritually takes to his own heart that he may declare or explain it also to us. The truth is that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. God holds His people, for that is who the righteous and the wise are, in His hand. God is indeed gracious and merciful to His people. He governs and directs their works in time under the sun according to His own counsel and purpose. As the objects of His grace and love, they and their works serve the realization of His counsel and purpose. This is known by faith through the promises of God. They and their works are truly in the hand of God, not simply as sovereign over them but as the One who upholds, governs, and directs them. That man’s wisdom and understanding are limited does not mean we are devoid of comfort. Rather, by this limitation, we are called to a childlike trust and confidence in God and His fatherly care.
This leads to an important conclusion when we contemplate what is seen under the sun: “no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them” (Eccl. 9:1). The love and hatred spoken of are the love and hatred of God. The scriptural idea of God’s love embraces the truth of His grace, mercy, and goodness, while God’s hatred includes His wrath, anger, and judgment. The point made is that you cannot and may not, by looking at external circumstances and the affairs of life that are before you (in front of your face), draw the conclusion that God either loves or hates you, your neighbor, or someone else. What you see under the sun does not itself reveal the attitude of God. To know that you must go to His revealed Word.
God is no respecter of persons. “He maketh the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust” (). Seeing this, you may not draw the conclusion that all men are the objects of His grace, not even a “common” grace, or find in it a general goodness of God toward men. God is good, all He does is good, and His gifts are good gifts in the creation. But they are not a revelation of a universal favor of God or an attitude of grace toward all. Solomon here rejects such a conclusion as false, for it is based on a mistaken inference from what is seen.
Similarly, when calamities come as they did to Job, you may not draw the conclusion that Job is a wicked man and God’s wrath has come upon him in judgment. The prosperity of the wicked does not mean that God loves them. The poverty of Lazarus, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, does not mean that God hated Lazarus and loved the rich man. In the parable the opposite is true ().
The reality is, “All things come alike to all…” (). God deals with men and the life of men organically, so that in the daily course of life “all things come alike to all.” Fruitful and barren years, riches and poverty, sickness and health are so in the hand of God that they come upon men personally and corporately in such a way that, in themselves, you may not draw from them the conclusion that God loves or hates this person or that person, this nation or that nation.
Sin manifestly has consequences, but all have sinned. All deserve the consequences of sin. But from what can be seen, the wrong interpretation may not be drawn. Jesus takes this up in its negative aspect when confronting the Jews,
There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish ().
The Word of God guards us from the erroneous conclusion that we are inclined by nature to draw from what we see. We would infer God’s love or hatred from external circumstances or from things seen under the sun. But grace and wrath are not in things. The point is important both in the practical circumstances of our own life as well as for our doctrinal understanding. “No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all…” (Eccl. 9:1, 2). It is exactly our natural tendency when things go well with us to feel that God loves us, and when things go wrong or badly that God is against us. The knowledge of God’s love, His chastening hand of correction for sin, the burden of a troubled conscience, belong to the knowledge of faith by the Word. God may use the circumstances of life or the consequences of our behavior to drive us to that truth revealed in His Word and to repentance, but we may not make a false inference from things in themselves. The same is true doctrinally for the theories of some universal favor or goodness of God in rain and sunshine. Such an inference is here repudiated by the text, so that it is well worth repeating: “No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all…” (Eccl. 9:1, 2).
This truth Solomon demonstrates in the rest of verse 2: death comes upon all. “There is one event to the righteous, and the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that that feareth an oath” (Eccl. 9:2). That one event is death, to which all are subject no matter whether they are good or evil, righteous or wicked. This contrast of good and evil, where yet one event comes upon all, means also that God’s righteous judgment is largely hidden from our sight under the sun. By faith we know that God is righteous and judges in time and eternity, but that does not mean that we may ourselves see this work of God with our earthly sight under the sun.
That all are subject to one event, namely death, brings out the truth that God is no respecter of persons and underscores the limitation of our understanding by what we see before us. All die and through death are subjected to vanity in this world and to a judgment hidden from us in that which is to come for an individual at the moment of his death. It is by faith in the light of God’s promises and His righteousness that Solomon confessed in the preceding chapter, “Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked…” ().
Further, Solomon points us to a certain fruit this reality has in the life of men. That no one knows love or hatred by all that is before him, that one event comes to all, that all are subject to vanity and death, all work a certain spiritual fruit in the life of man as he is fallen by nature. He says, “This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead” (). The evil of which he speaks is not in what God does, but in the effect it has upon the heart of wicked man because he is a sinner.
He speaks of the “sons of men,” which may well have here the original sense of the word “men”—“sons of the man,” that is, Adam. For it is man as he is fallen in Adam and under the judgment of death who stands before us. Fallen man’s heart is “full of evil” and “madness;” the folly and blindness of sin is “in his heart.” The root of the problem is that man through the Fall into sin has become totally depraved. Evil is not only in his works and deeds, but in his heart. The heart is the spiritual center of man’s life, out of which arises the activity of his life in thinking and willing, working and doing. The folly of sin resides there, in the heart of the fallen, unregenerated sinner.
Sinful man sees that there is one event to all, that all die and leave this life. He is confronted by the transitory vanity of this present life. He beholds the appearance, from what is seen with the eye, that there seems to be no difference between the good and the evil, the righteous and the wicked, because all leave this life. He draws the false conclusion: “What difference does it really make as to what I do?” He denies the judgment of God. He concludes as in, “And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?” The effect of this is that the evil conclusion is drawn that I should live it up now, take from life what I can get in pleasure and excitement, and live for myself.
It works the spiritual fruit in the heart of sinful man that he gives himself over unto the lusts of his flesh and is held in bondage to sin, both because he is fallen and yet also is one who willingly serves sin. It works through also in this way. Fallen man through fear of death is in his lifetime subject to spiritual bondage. Sin reigns over him and in him, in his heart. Solomon describes this sad state: evil and madness in his heart “while they live, and after that they go to the dead.” They leave this life and go to the grave, and all they have in this life, their portion in the things of this world, is taken away. They die and depart forever from the earth. They wrongly conclude: “Get it now!” because God is not in their thoughts.
It belongs to the wonder of our salvation that Jesus Christ assumed our human nature from Adam to overcome death and its power to enslave us, that having redeemed us unto God, He might transform us from being sons of Adam to being sons of God. “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” ().