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Bummer, Dude

Ecclesiastes 6

Lesson audioOne of our former members, Jackie Crockett, told us a story of her parrot. An African Gray, which is a very intelligent breed, the parrot did not like having its cage covered for the night. As she would put the pillow case over the cage, the parrot would comment, “Bummer, dude.”

That parrot could be Solomon’s spokes-bird this week.

A Prevalent Evil

Ecclesiastes 6:1-2 NASB (1) There is an evil which I have seen under the sun and it is prevalent among men-- (2) a man to whom God has given riches and wealth and honor so that his soul lacks nothing of all that he desires; yet God has not empowered him to eat from them, for a foreigner enjoys them. This is vanity and a severe affliction.


May I point out two quick items about this evil which Solomon describes?

  • First, it is an evil. It’s a bummer, dude. You may or may not work your tail off to get wealth and honor, but if you have them only to find someone else – a stranger – enjoying them, it’s a bummer. Once you have something, you feel entitled to it. If you think you are entitled to something, losing it is a bummer. (Obvious enough, I hope).
  • And it is prevalent. The story is repeated often enough. The schlemozzle does the work and the schlemiel gets the credit and the money. But only after the schlemozzle gets used to the lifestyle. (Comedy and tragedy are the same art.)
God gives

Notice something, please: God gives this wealth and honor in the first place. It is a good gift; it’s a bummer to lose it. The Old Testament view is generally that wealth and honor are a sign of God’s favor, though the matter is more complicated than that. The word “honor” hear can also be translated “weight;” just as we today might say that someone is “a real heavyweight.” The problem is not the wealth and honor, then. So what is it?

The real evil

It’s that the man doesn’t get to enjoy it. When this happens, we usually ask one question – “Why?” – and really mean to ask two:

  • The first is, “Why?” By this we mean we want to know why this sort of thing happens at all. The short, simple answer is that we live in a fallen world.
  • The second is, “Why me?” Often enough the righteous see the answer the way Job’s friends did: the victim is a horrible sinner, that’s why. Often enough, that’s wrong.

“I don’t get no satisfaction”

Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 NASB (3) If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, however many they be, but his soul is not satisfied with good things and he does not even have a proper burial, then I say, "Better the miscarriage than he, (4) for it comes in futility and goes into obscurity; and its name is covered in obscurity. (5) "It never sees the sun and it never knows anything; it is better off than he. (6) "Even if the other man lives a thousand years twice and does not enjoy good things--do not all go to one place?"

A translational difficulty

Those of you with the NIV will have, in verse three, “if he cannot enjoy his prosperity” instead of the phrase highlighted. This is a problem with the “phrase by phrase” method of translation. I hope you see the difference. In the NASB (and ESV, and KJV, and a number of other, stricter, translations) it’s clear that the issue is the satisfaction of the soul, not the enjoyment of prosperity. We may look at those two items now.


Noah Webster defined the soul as the “spiritual, rational and immortal” part of man’s being – that which distinguishes us from all other animals. Darwinists must, therefore, deny the existence of the soul, but I assume you are no such fool. There are two pertinent aspects here:

  • This is a spiritual problem – not a financial one. It originates in the spirit of man, in his desires, not in his wallet.
  • This problem can be dealt with rationally – it does not require mystic mumbo-jumbo. It does require discipline.

The problem is relatively simple: satisfaction occurs when our expectations have been met by reality. So I ask you, which is easier to change: expectations (which are under your sole control) or reality (which is not)?

Belly is their god

Ecclesiastes 6:7-8 NASB (7) All a man's labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied. (8) For what advantage does the wise man have over the fool? What advantage does the poor man have, knowing how to walk before the living?

It can’t be all futility – after all, we still get to eat, right? Why can’t we just “go with the flow” and just live for our bellies? Let pleasure be our guide!

Suppose you do. May we point out (that’s Solomon and I):

  1. You’re still going to get hungry again.
  2. You’ll always want a better steak. If you get it, you’ll want a better diet.

In short, we’re back to older whiskey, younger women, faster cars and more money. So why not?

Reductio ad absurdum

It’s Latin for “reduction to the absurd.” The logical argument is simply this: if you reach an absurd conclusion based on your assumptions, your assumptions are wrong. Let us examine the conclusions:

  • If this is true, then everything you know about good manners is useless. Reach, grab and fight for everything as rudely as you can. You don’t need to know which fork to use, only how to stab with it. Which is absurd.
  • More than that, wisdom is useless – you don’t need wisdom to use a fork at all. Wisdom? Don’t need it. Which is absurd.

The entire idea of living for your belly is absurd. Paul put it more fully to the Christian in this manner:

Philippians 3:18-19 NASB (18) For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, (19) whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.


So what’s the answer? Look again at verse 9: it’s contentment. It’s better to be satisfied with “what the eyes see” (i.e., what you already have) than what the KJV calls the “wandering of the desire”. If you’re never satisfied, maybe it’s because you’re still looking.

Consumer capitalism

Ecclesiastes 6:10-12 NASB (10) Whatever exists has already been named, and it is known what man is; for he cannot dispute with him who is stronger than he is. (11) For there are many words which increase futility. What then is the advantage to a man? (12) For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?

Look at the facts

To wit:

  • You already know what’s out there. Better than ever, in our time. So don’t tell me you’re looking for something unknown. You’re looking for “more”.
  • You already know what people are like: they’re sinners. They’re going to disappoint you eventually. If your expectations include the perfect wife[1] you’re going to be disappointed. And it won’t take long.
  • You also know what your chances are of getting God to alter the universe to your liking.

Given that, just what is it that people really do about it?

What to do

We talk about it, that’s what. We write books about it, we complain about it, we watch TV shows that show us people like this, we read gossip magazines – and accomplish nothing. Why? Because there is nothing we can accomplish. It’s basically useless.

What’s with the futility?

Solomon’s point, in our terms today, is pretty simple: without Christ,

  • Life’s a bummer
  • Then you die
  • And who knows what then?

But with Christ, things are different:

  • Life has purpose, meaning and joy.
  • He gives us eternal life, and
  • We know it.

[1] Defined as the woman who knows the answer to the question: “How many men does it take to open a beer can?” Correct answer: “None. It should already be open when she brings it to him.”

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