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Previous article in this series: December 1, 2014, p. 106.

If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, not known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

It may be well, at this point, to recall, first of all, the direction in which Solomon would lead us. He has in view especially young people who are at the beginning of life’s pathway and would say, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth…” (Eccl. 12:1). He would also direct us to the whole duty of man, which is centrally to “fear God” (Eccl. 12:13). This section, beginning in chapter five concerning covetousness and its bondage, is a warning, especially, then, to young people.

That warning is framed by a picture, at this point, of the man given to covetousness who seeks his treasure in this world. That man is in bondage under the judgment of God’s wrath against sin. Riches he may be given, but God withholds from him the true joy of life, the gift of contentment: “God giveth him not power to eat thereof ” (Eccl. 6:2). He walks in an “evil disease” of soul; a grievous misery is his existence. It is this reality Solomon would develop further to underscore it.

He underscores his point in a striking way: “If a man beget an hundred children and live many years, so that the days of his years be many…” (Eccl. 6:3). He draws a certain picture before us of long life and the begetting of sons and daughters, yea, even a hundred children. In verse 6, he expands on this idea of long life by a number twice a thousand or 2,000, that is, one who lives twice as long as Methuselah (Gen. 5:25-27). Solomon evidently wants us to contemplate the genealogies of men recorded in Scripture, particularly those before the flood, though not limiting it to that period.

Such men did live, not only in the line of Seth, but also in the line of Cain. They had very long earthly lives, “many years,” and begat children. Their “days were many,” and their children were many, so that a hundred would not have been impossible. Contemplating those long lives with their many years, we might well be inclined to desire such long days in the earth. Solomon himself, when he asked God for wisdom, could have asked for such a gift instead. And God did give it to him in measure, even though he did not ask for it.

But what of it? If the “…days of his years be many and his soul be not filled with good” (Eccl. 6:3), is it a blessing or a curse? If a man’s soul be not filled with good, what profit is it? If a man’s soul is not filled with good, then it is filled with the restless evil of sin. He may have earthly riches and long life, but his soul enjoys not true good. Rather than being “filled with good,” such a soul is empty, barren of true joy, having no contentment, no peace with God. In the context, he lacks the gift or power to eat of that which he possesses in joy of heart. Because he is wretched, the prolonging of his days is no blessing. Solomon adds, “and also that he have no burial” (Eccl. 6:3); he has, then, not even the honor and dignity of a grave in his end.

The time in view here, in the light of the thought of many days, is not that of the captivity of Israel or the return from exile, as many commentators would have it, but the time of wicked Lamech and his sons Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain, who lived long lives in their era. They drowned in the Flood. They had no burial, in the sense of the honor and dignity of laying one to rest. They were swept away as were all the seed of Cain. They had earthly riches, the pleasures and powers of the world were under their hand, yet they perished in God’s judgment. Can it be said of wicked Lamech and his history and that of his sons that their souls were filled with good? Their long years were vanity and their souls empty of good. Nor did they have a burial; rather, they were erased from the earth, like Jezebel after them.

Thus the Preacher exclaims, “I say, that an untimely birth is better than he” (Eccl. 6:3). This is a rather sober thought. The reference is to a child conceived and born prematurely, to a miscarriage or to a child who is stillborn.

Several things may be said from the text concerning the subject itself. The one born untimely, though miscarried, is nevertheless a person who comes into the world, passing from life through death. His birth is an untimely one. The viewpoint of the text is not, however, concerned with his eternal state after death. Solomon’s focus is on what is seen “under the sun” and not that which is hidden from us. God’s covenant promises in other places address the eternal state of the children of believers who die in such a manner.

Rather, he says of them, “this hath more rest that the other” (Eccl. 6:5). That is, one whose birth is untimely has more rest than the one who has long life and begets many children but whose soul sees no good. The grave, in whatever form that takes, as seen “under the sun,” is a form of rest, for it is the end of the labor, toil, and travail of life. The description of such a child here is that of a person, who in his birth, though untimely, has rest from this life. It certainly implies that such a person will have their part in the resurrection at the last day, though that is an implication and not the focus of the text.

We must note carefully the point of comparison found in the text and what is set before us. The point of comparison is to draw a relation between the physical reality of one born untimely and the spiritual reality of one who, on the other hand, lives many days in many years but whose soul is not “filled with good.”

Of one born untimely we read, “For he cometh in with vanity and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered in darkness.” The state of one untimely born is that of darkness in the physical sense, of obscurity. He never has a place in the labor and toil of this present life in the world; his name in this world, its life and activity, is covered with darkness. He is not known among men. His place is taken away before his birth. The text does not remove the possibility that he has a name before God, nor is the darkness spoken of that of God’s wrath as such, but of his place “under the sun.”

The effect is also described, “Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing” (Eccl. 6:5). He has not seen or known the world “under the sun” nor walked through the years in its vanity. He passes briefly though this world into the sleep of death and rest which comes at the end of life’s journey.

The point of the text is that his portion, his lot, as one untimely born, is “better” than the man who has many days and years but whose soul is not filled with good. He has also “more rest than the other” (Eccl. 6:5). It is not to the sorrow of one untimely born that we are to look but to the horror of one who lives many years, with the riches, wealth, and honor of the world, with a house full of children, and yet in it all his soul is not filled with good. He is a wicked and cursed man.

The wicked man also comes into the world in vanity and darkness, but it is the spiritual darkness of sin and death. In that darkness of sin he labors and toils. “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up, mire and dirt” (Is. 57:20). And for such, “There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Is. 57:21). He walks in the darkness of enmity against God and will not come to the light. He labors and toils for the vanity of this world, because he himself is vanity and in vanity he came into the world. Never is he filled with good. He sees the sun, the glory of God’s works under it, passes his days on earth under the light of the sun, and the truth of God is not hidden from him. But his soul is in darkness and he follows after vanity. He too knows not any thing. Intellect, craft, or skill he may have, but true spiritual knowledge he does not have. It is a world in the folly of sin in which he toils. His learning, for all its complexity, is still spiritual darkness. Of that which fills the soul with good the wicked man also knows not any thing. It is not given him of God.

He seeks to leave his name in the earth, giving to lands and houses his name, seeking a memorial after him. But death carries him away. His name and place, though they endured through many years of labor and toil, are taken from him. God himself erases his name and place, and passing into the darkness of death, his name is covered in darkness and his place remembers him no more.

What rest, then—even in the grave—does such a man have, who has labored all his life with the ceaseless activity of sin for the vanity of this world? All his treasure is lost to him. The stillborn has more rest than he. And if he does not even have a burial, even that dignity is taken from him. “For the face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth” (Ps. 34:16).

By way of contrast, how blessed are God’s children: “The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants; and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate” (Ps. 34:22).