Ecc 6:10-7:13

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Sermon Notes


Wisdom is as good as an inheritance – an advantage to those who see the sun

Because/For the shadow of wisdom is like the shadow of money

The advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who possess it


Eccl. 6:10 ¶ Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what human beings are, and that they are not able to dispute with those who are stronger.

Eccl. 6:11 The more words, the more vanity, so how is one the better?

Eccl. 6:12 For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?

What is the sun?

What is the shadow?

Chapter 6: the future has already been named; humans cannot dispute with God (the stronger); the more words the more hevel therefore man is less than God; life is hevel because its few days pass like a shadow

In one sense, a shadow offers protection; yet in another it is fleeting

The sun represents death/afterlife??

Wisdom and money are profitable only to those who ‘see the sun’?

Shadow of wisdom is like the shadow of money – shadows prevent you from seeing the sun

Advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who possess it

Nobody can possess wisdom – therefore there is no profit to knowledge

We cannot know the afterlife will be like, so no sense in trying to figure it out

Wisdom is as good as money – which is not good at all – profitable to those who ‘see the sun’ – but maybe nobody can see the sun?

Wisdom and money both have shadows – they prevent you from seeing the sun

Therefore the advantage of wisdom and money is only present when they are gone

Money doesn’t do you any good until you let it go – you spend it – you use it on something

Wisdom doesn’t do you any good until you let it go – you use it on something

The more words, the more hevel; the more money, the more hevel

Don’t accumulate all this knowledge and wisdom for yourself – don’t hoard it, for it does you no good – you must instead pass it on; use it for good; spend it; give it out; teach others

This comes right after Qohelet moves from being down on life and self-centered to focused on helping others; it comes right after the turning point

Also, wisdom will not make you better than God

Sermon Outline (6.10-7.13)

Message: To help others in need; become a hero

1. Illustration – Dr. Chandra (early life)

2. Problem: Life is enigmatic and unfair

3. Problem with text

a. Pessimistic book; criticizes wisdom

i. Book of Proverbs and Psalms are all about wisdom

b. Confusing text

4. Resolution to text

a. Protection should be read as ‘shadow’

b. Neither wisdom nor money are good – both are only good when you spend them

c. John Wesley: earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can

5. Illustration - Dr. Chandra (life of a hero)

Occurrences of “Sun” in Qohelet:

Eccl. 1:3 What do people gain from all the toil

at which they toil under the sun?

Eccl. 1:5 The sun rises and the sun goes down,

and hurries to the place where it rises.

Eccl. 1:9 What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Eccl. 1:14 I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Eccl. 2:11 Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

Eccl. 2:17 So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.

Eccl. 2:18 ¶ I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me

Eccl. 2:19 —and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish? Yet they will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.

Eccl. 2:20 So I turned and gave my heart up to despair concerning all the toil of my labors under the sun,

Eccl. 2:22 What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun?

Eccl. 3:16 ¶ Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well.

Eccl. 4:1 ¶ Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed—with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power—with no one to comfort them.

Eccl. 4:3 but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun.

Eccl. 4:7 ¶ Again, I saw vanity under the sun:

Eccl. 4:15 I saw all the living who, moving about under the sun, follow that youth who replaced the king;

Eccl. 5:13 ¶ There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt,

Eccl. 5:18 ¶ This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.

Eccl. 6:1 ¶ There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy upon humankind:

Eccl. 6:12 For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?

Eccl. 7:11 Wisdom is as good as an inheritance,

an advantage to those who see the sun.

Eccl. 8:9 All this I observed, applying my mind to all that is done under the sun, while one person exercises authority over another to the other’s hurt.

Eccl. 8:15 So I commend enjoyment, for there is nothing better for people under the sun than to eat, and drink, and enjoy themselves, for this will go with them in their toil through the days of life that God gives them under the sun.

Eccl. 8:17 then I saw all the work of God, that no one can find out what is happening under the sun. However much they may toil in seeking, they will not find it out; even though those who are wise claim to know, they cannot find it out.

Eccl. 9:3 This is an evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone. Moreover, the hearts of all are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

Eccl. 9:6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.

Eccl. 9:9 Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun.

Eccl. 9:11 ¶ Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all.

Eccl. 9:13 ¶ I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed great to me.

Eccl. 10:5 ¶ There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as great an error as if it proceeded from the ruler:

Eccl. 11:7 ¶ Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

Eccl. 12:2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain;

Use of “shadow” in Qohelet:

Eccl. 6:12 For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?

Eccl. 8:13 but it will not be well with the wicked, neither will they prolong their days like a shadow, because they do not stand in fear before God.


Text: Ecc. 6.10-7.13.

Sometimes I think I’m the last person who should be up here preaching. After all, I used to be an accountant – and I kind of still am one at heart. I like things ordered and structured. I like things logical. And, well, let’s face it – life is not logical. Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense. Up seems down and front seems backwards. Bad people get ahead in life and, sometimes, good people are just given some bad apples.

For instance, take this guy by the name of Dr. Chandra. At least, that’s what everyone calls him. His real name is Chandrasekhar Sankurathri, but that’s too hard for most people to say, so they call him Dr. Chandra. He’s a loving guy and used to be one of Canada’s immigrant success stories. By age 31 he had completed two masters and a PhD in Zoology, earning the honors distinction along the way. He became a biologist working for Health Canada, a prestigious job, and became a husband and father to two children. He had studied hard and worked hard, and it seemed to be paying off. He had a good job, made good money, and had a good family. Things were working the way they’re supposed to.

Then, life turned upside down. In 1985, at the age of 42, he lost his entire family as they were on board a flight to India when a terrorist set off a bomb, killing them and the other 326 people on board. Dr. Chandra was left in turmoil. None of the people on board were ever found – all that anyone knew was that the plane fell somewhere into the Indian ocean. For years, he has had no closure – no way of knowing whether they survived or not. If you look at his face, the once handsome young man now looks almost disfigured. His face has this blotchy pigmentation all over it – cause by a disease known as vitiligo. The cause? Stress. As if having his family torn from him for no reason was not enough, this man who once had it all is now alone and disfigured. As I said – life makes no sense – sometimes the cruelest things happen to those who deserve it the least.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author – a teacher whom we call Qohelet – was a much better preacher than I am. He saw life for what it is – upside down and backward. Throughout the book he calls life hevel. It’s a word that means enigmatic or vain. Some Bibles translate it as meaningless. In chapter 1, Qohelet says “all of life is hevel – it is like chasing after the wind.” Did you ever do that as a kid? Try to grab the air? It can’t be done – as soon as you try to grab it, it goes away. Qohelet says that’s what life is like. Don’t try to comprehend it – because just as soon as you think you understand it, it will elude you.

And, of course, Qohelet is really good at illustrating this. For instance, if you look carefully at our scripture reading for this morning, you’ll probably notice it’s a lot like life – it doesn’t make sense! It starts out with this strange statement of “Whatever has come to be has already been named, and it is known what human beings are, and that they are not able to dispute with those who are stronger.” Good luck with that one – if you figure out what that means, let me know!

The rest doesn’t get much better. He basically says it’s better to be dead than to be alive. He says “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death, than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting; for this is the end of everyone, and the living will lay it to heart.” None of the experts on Qohelet are quite willing to say he’s depressed to the point of being suicidal here, so instead they say “yeah…we don’t know what he’s talking about – he’s just talking gibberish!”

And then we get to verses 11-12: “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it.” Now, if you’re like most people, you say ‘well, that makes sense. Wisdom is good just like money is good – both give you protection.’ But, here’s the problem. Throughout the entire book of Ecclesiastes, Qohelet is saying the opposite of this. At the beginning of the book, he writes “I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind. For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.” Not exactly a teaching to go out and study and learn all you can! In fact, Qohelet says this kind of thing so much that the rabbis who taught on this used to soften it up a bit by saying “well, he means everything other than the study of the Bible.”

He then goes on and says “I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and delights of the flesh, and many concubines. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. … Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.”

So, when he says here in chapter 7 that “wisdom is as good as an inheritance, and advantage to those who see the sun”, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Either he forgot what he wrote at the beginning of the book, or he’s purposefully trying to confuse us! Either way, these two verses seem to be contradictions to what he writes elsewhere in the book.

Now, some people say “well, that’s just how Qohelet writes. The whole book is confusing – it has no structure to it, and it’s hard to tell what, if any, meaning there is to be found in it.” However, when you start to look closer at these two verses, there is something that seems to emerge from underneath the text – something that I believe points to the message of the entire book.

Now, verse 12 starts out “For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money.” But that word “protection” really doesn’t mean that. The original word in Hebrew is “tezel”. It means shadow – like the shadow cast from the sun. Now, a lot of times in the Bible, this word, shadow, it does mean protection. For instance, Psalm 36:7 says “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

But, here’s the thing. Sometimes the word shadow is related to death. Psalm 102 says “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” Or Psalm 109 says “I am gone like a shadow at evening.” In both of these, shadow is not protection at all. It’s not really death, but it points to it. It’s as if to say “our lives, they are like shadows – they don’t last long and they’re gone as quick as they come.” They are fleeting.

So here’s the really interesting thing. Qohelet only uses the word shadow 3 times in the entire book. In the other two instances, it’s really clear that he’s not talking about protection. The first one comes in chapter 6, at the very beginning of our scripture reading. Qohelet says “For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow? For who can tell them what will be after them under the sun?”

Notice how he uses the words “shadow” and “sun” to play off of each other. Throughout the book, the “sun” watches over all of life. He constantly everything that happens here on earth as ‘everything under the sun.’ And then he throws in this word, shadow, to talk about how fleeting life is. Perhaps the sun represents God. If so, then when we get so busy with life that it just passes us by – then it’s like a shadow – it prevents us from seeing the sun – from seeing God.

Let’s look again at what he says in chapter 7 about wisdom and money. He says “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the shadow of wisdom is like the shadow of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it.” Now, the key here is that last part – “the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possess it.” You see, for Qohelet, nobody can possess wisdom. It’s like chasing after the wind. The more you try to gain wisdom the more you realize how much knowledge is out there that you don’t know. So, if the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one that possesses it, and nobody can possess it, then knowledge really has no advantage.

Instead, both wisdom and money are like shadows – they prevent us from seeing the sun. Remember, he says “wisdom is as good as an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun.” But, if both wisdom and money are like shadows, then the advantage goes to the person who gives up both his wisdom and his inheritance.

Now, you may say, “okaaay, that still doesn’t make any sense Chris!” But think about it this way – what is money good for? It allows us to buy things, right? [hold up dollar bill] This dollar – it’s just a piece of paper – it doesn’t really have much value – it can’t really do anything for me – until I spend it – until I give it away. It’s not very good advice for savings plans, but there is some truth in it – hoarding money is only good for blocking you from seeing God.

The strange thing, though, is that Qohelet says the same is true for wisdom. It’s just like money – it has a shadow side – hoarding it prevents you from seeing God. As someone who has been in school more days than not in my life, that’s not very good news to hear! But consider – what is the value of wisdom? Knowledge becomes wisdom only in the way you use it – the way you give it away to others. When we use our intelligence only for selfish reasons, we are placed in its shadow – we are prevented from seeing the sun. But, when we use wisdom to help others, it is then that we see God most fully.

Remember that story of Dr. Chandra I told you about? He had gained all this money and all this wisdom – two masters and a Ph.D. And where did it get him? He still lost his family and a part of himself. He was left in despair – left in the shadow of life. But then, after 3 years of trying to make sense of life, he decided he needed to change his outlook. He realized that if he gave his wisdom away – if he used it to help others – he would find himself looking into the face of God.

So, he packed up and moved to India – to the place where his family had died – and to the place where so much poverty exists. Taking stock of the land, he found two problems in particular that were troubling: a lack of school attendance and rampant blindness. Using the money and knowledge he had accumulated, Dr. Chandra created a foundation in his wife’s name, and then in turn, built a school and an eye hospital in the small rural village of Kuruthu, not far from where his wife had been born.

That was in 1992. In the nearly 20 years since, more than 1,200 students have graduated from the school, many of which have gone on to high school and college – something that would have been virtually impossible before. In India, the dropout rate at elementary schools is estimated to be 50%. But at the school Dr. Chandra has built, not a single student has.

And as for the hospital, more than 137,000 cataract surgeries have been performed, with 90% of them being for free. Experts estimate that 75% of India’s 15 million blind people could avoid blindness with prevention or medical treatment. However, most either can’t afford the healthcare or don’t know it’s even an option for them. For Dr. Chandra, providing 80 surgeries a day through the hospital is more than just going through motions as he goes about his life – it’s using what he has to get out of the shadow and see God.

Most of us don’t have the education or money that Dr. Chandra has accumulated to help others. And yet, the message of Qohelet is not that you have to be rich or highly educated to help others. We all have the ability to reach out to our neighbors and to think creatively about how we might help them.

Think back over this past week. Were you focused on God each day? Did you use your time to find ways of seeing the sun, of helping others? Or did the days of the week seem to fly by, as if they were a fleeting shadow? We say that time flies by when you’re having fun. Well, it also flies by when you are so busy you lose sight of everything around you, including the sun who watches over us all. As you leave from here, take time, each day, to step out of the shadow – even if for only a moment – and gaze upon God. Amen.

For my final project, I elected to write a sermon based on Ecc. 6.10-7.13. I used a personal adaption of the narrative form of preaching, creating tension around the idea that both life and the book of Qohelet are illogical. The climax of the sermon comes in the analysis of 7.11-12, where I point out that this is in contradiction to the rest of the book, and then give the clue to resolution by saying that these two verses hold the key to interpreting the entire book. For the duration of the sermon, I focus on these two verses, using an interpretation similar to that of Seow’s, with a greater emphasis on the juxtaposition of “sun” and “shadow”.

This pericope is difficult to understand, and scholars have thus posited several different interpretations. Therefore, the tension I build in the sermon around the idea that this pericope is illogical has some support when looking at the various interpretations from a distance. Further, some scholars point out that we should not force an interpretation from this pericope. For instance, Michael Fox writes “This advice seems out of place in a book that emphatically advocates enjoyment of the pleasures of eating and drinking – and recommends merriment for diverting us from sadness (5:19). But Koheleth is not always consistent in what he values, and conflicting counsels may be appropriate in different circumstances.” To maintain this tension lifted by Fox in my sermon, I therefore intentionally do not return to these verses to offer an explanation. Instead, I leave the question open in the minds of the listener.

As stated above, the focus of my sermon quickly becomes 7.11-12. In these two verses, different interpretations exist (as to be expected); yet I make the decision to go with one particular interpretation that is against the grain. Most scholars interpret these verses to mean wisdom and money are both helpful assets in life. Typically, the debate in the interpretation centers on the interpretation of 7.11a, with the meaning of {im. The NRSV translates this as “wisdom is as good as an inheritance…”. This translation equates the value of wisdom with the value of money/inheritances. Many scholars uphold this translation; yet others, such as Fox, disagree. He writes “Literally, ‘Wisdom is good with an inheritance.’ Wisdom is especially effective if one has a material inheritance to back it up.” (italics added for effect). It seems that some scholars are unwilling to accept the first interpretation as the idea that money and wisdom are on par with each other is contrary to traditional wisdom literature.

However, as Ogden points out, the NRSV translation is the best way to read the text. Thus, he says “There are those who have understood the preposition ‘im to mean ‘together with’ (see e.g. Barton, Gordis, Rankin etc., also RSV). Two factors argue against this and for the view that here ‘im marks a simile. One is that the motive clause (v. 12) equates wisdom and money; the second is that in other instances, such as 2.16, the preposition denotes likeness.” It is this view that I support in the sermon, although I do not go into the debate behind this verse.

The other point of contention in the scholarly world with 7.11-12 comes in the interpretation of b§sΩeœl in 7.12a. Here, the NRSV translates the word as “protection”; however others, such as Lohfink, point out that the literal translation of the word is “shadow.” However, the NRSV use of “protection” does not offer much trouble for these scholars, though, as “shadow” is often used to connote protection in wisdom literature. Thus, Fox writes “Literally, ‘shade,’ which implies protection.” Support for this can be found throughout the book of Psalms, such as seen in Psalm 36.7b: “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” (NRSV).

Seow, however, takes a different approach from anyone else. Rather than equate b§sΩeœl with ‘protection’, he relates it to impermanence. He writes: “So, too, we should understand Qohelet’s analogy of wisdom and wealth with ‘shade/shadow.’ Wisdom is only as good as material possessions. They may give one temporary relief, but they are ultimately unreliable. They are only as good as the shade that a shadow may give, but they provide no permanent protection.” This is the interpretation that I use in the sermon, and support for it can be found in verses such as Psalm 102: “My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.” (NRSV).

Using this interpretation, I take some “creative licensing” to show that 7.11 is not so problematic and the two together actually provide a meaningful message. To do so, I juxtapose the image of the shadow in 7.12 with the image of the sun in 7.11. This is not a comparison that Seow addresses directly, and is completely ignored in virtually every other commentary on the pericope. Likely, this is because the equation of “shadow” to “protection” prohibits a meaningful juxtaposition with “sun.”

However, when Seow’s interpretation is taken, 7.12 and 7.11 stand in contrast to each other as if by night and day. The “creative licensing” referred to above comes in my interpretation of “sun” to mean “God.” This is very much a departure from any scholarly commentary, and does not make sense when applied throughout the book of Qohelet. For instance, 2.11 (NRSV) says “Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.” Replacing “sun” with “God” here loses coherence and meaning, and therefore is not very sustainable. Further, there does not seem to be a parallel of this usage in other forms of biblical wisdom literature.

On the other hand, the sun god, “Ra”, was considered the primary god of the Egyptians, and Qohelet has demonstrated consistently, throughout the book, his willingness to comment on outside religious and philosophical teachings. Therefore, it is not completely foolish to suggest he is referring to something other than Judaic tradition in 7.11-12. Further, the use of “sun” in 7.11 is of a form that occurs only one other time in the entire book, and that is in 11.7: “Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.” (NRSV). In both, Qohelet uses the phrase “see the sun”. However, in almost every other instance of “sun” in the book, he uses the phrase “under the sun.” Therefore, if “under the sun” represents life, it is possible he is referring to something else with the phrase “see the sun.” Although “God” is probably not the best interpretation here, the door has been opened for creative licensing in a sermon. Interestingly, read through the book by replacing every instance of “sun” with “God” – the book becomes a theological treatise unlike that which has been previously considered!

Although I do not explore it in depth, I make the bold statement that this interpretation of 7.11-12 reveals the message of the entire book. I come to this claim by way of the placement of the two verses in the book. In my exegesis, I argued for a shift in the tone of the book occurring at the midpoint of the book, following the chiasm in 5.8-6.9. Therefore, this pericope, beginning with 6.10, marks the first part of the second half of the book. According to Washington, this is accompanied by a shift in focus whereby Qohelet moves from self-reflection to communal teachings. If so, then the placement of this pericope is such that it should hint at what is to come.

When looking at 6.10-12, it’s easy to see a parallel to 7.11-12. Both contain the words “shadow” and “sun”, and both are talking about wisdom. In the case of the former, Qohelet is clearly criticizing wisdom. According to my interpretation, he again criticizes wisdom (and now wealth) in 7.11-12, using the same juxtaposition. The difference is that 6.10-12 was a wholesale rejection of wisdom whereas in 7.11-12 he makes allowance for wisdom to be valuable only to the extent that it is given away or used for good. This again is a “creative license” interpretation, but fits well for the message of the sermon. Further, it agrees with the message of the book, using Washington’s narrative interpretation.

Thus, the sermon contains an interpretation that is, perhaps, a stretch from Qohelet’s intention for the verses. However, it agrees with the overall message of the book, teaching that life is best experienced when we live in community and take joy in the blessings of everyday life. The structure of the sermon – narrative in form – agrees with the overall structure of the book, and points to the human condition. It is confusing and illogical at times, but full of meaning and joy when viewed within a narrative framework.

Works Cited

Fox, Michael, and Jewish Publication Society. Ecclesiastes: The Traditional Hebrew. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004.

Lohfink, Norbert. Qoheleth : a Continental Commentary. Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

Ogden, Graham. Qoheleth. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987.

Seow, Choon Leong. Ecclesiastes. Vol. 18. The Anchor Bible. Doubleday, 1997.

Washington, Harold. “Qohelet”. Lecture. Saint Paul School of Theology, Kansas City, MO, February 16, 2010.

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