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For example, Solomon keeps saying things like:

For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?
-- Ecclesiastes 6:12 (KJV)

It is perplexing to me that Solomon seems unsure because David knew of the resurrection as well as others in the OT. It also seems to give fodder to those who argue about contradictions in the scripture, and how can we really know what happens after death.

Scripture is clear to me about our death and resurrection, and then the judgement that determines the eternal destiny of believers and unbelievers.

Please help me understand what Solomon is saying in these verses from Ecclesiastes.

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  • Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. I have edited your question to fix the image, add the full text of the quote you have given, and clarify what you are asking. You can re-edit if you think I have misunderstood.
    – enegue
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 20:21
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    The first thing that comes to my notice is, Solomon's question "Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?" is not a query about what happens to him when he dies, but about life on earth. Dead people are disconnected from life "under the sun".
    – enegue
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 20:48
  • In verse 21 pictured above, the word "whether" does not appear in the Hebrew text. The verse reads: מִ֣י יוֹדֵ֗עַ ר֚וּחַ בְּנֵ֣י הָאָדָ֔ם הָעֹלָ֥ה הִ֖יא לְמָ֑עְלָה וְר֙וּחַ֙ הַבְּהֵמָ֔ה הַיֹּרֶ֥דֶת הִ֖יא לְמַ֥טָּה לָאָֽרֶץ Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 17:09
  • Solomon appears to be unsure about where man goes after death. Why? - Because he didn't know. And, by the looks of it, neither did his readers.
    – Lucian
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 5:18
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    Source that David and others in the OT knew of the resurrection?
    – Alex
    Commented May 6, 2018 at 1:40

4 Answers 4

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This illustrates the problem of taking one verse in the middle of one of the books of the Bible and supposing that it is the author's 'last word' on the subject. Given that there are 12 chapters, and it isn't until the start of chapter 12 that he draws his conclusions, the answer to your question is to go there, to see his 'last word' on the matter of life after physical death.

There is no hermeneutic answer to be found by looking at the one verse you quote. The hermeneutic answer comes when we read the author's own concluding remarks on that subject. As we know, he covers a vast range of subjects about human life "under the sun", when the heavens seem as brass to those who have not 'broken through' (spiritually speaking) to God in heaven. But in his conclusion, he specifically returns to the question of what happens to humans when they die.

He begins by sumarising essential points for young people: to remember their Creator in the days of their youth, before old age and increasing feebleness takes away all joy in living (12:1 onward). He uses illustrations for bodily parts beginning to fail, e.g. 'grinders' being few refer to teeth dropping out, and desire failing. But now comes the really important point:

"Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, then shall the dust return even to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 A.V.

The clincher - showing that the author believes that God (who is in heaven) will judge all who die (which, logically, would happen after they have died) - comes in the last two verses:

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Verses 13-14

Now, is this not clearly speaking of a day of judgment for every person who dies? All their secrets are known to God, who will bring every work of theirs into judgment. The writer clearly speaks of that happening after death because his warning to young people is to remember God before it's too late and death sees their bodies return to dust, and their spirit returns to God, who will hold them accountable for how they lived "under the sun".

The answer to your question, therefore, is that the writer is building up a scene. He is in the middle of that in chapter 6 verse 12, asking an intriguing question to hold his readers' attention- "Who knows if...?"

But he does not leave his readers in suspense. They just have to go on reading another six chapters and then they get the answer. He tells them that, at death, their body becomes dust, while their spirit returns to God who gave it, to judge how they lived in the body, "under the sun".

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  • There is no hermeneutic answer to be found by looking at the one verse you quote. The hermeneutic answer comes when we read the author's own concluding remarks on that subject. A very important point to be noted and remembered. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jan 4, 2023 at 6:58
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The famous Psalm 23, the last verse of David

6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Didn't David mean his afterlife will dwell in the house of the Lord forever? It is generally recognised that the Book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon at his old age. 1 King 11:4 (NIV) read

4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.

So God announced His judgement to Solomon in 1 King 11:9-13

9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.

10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command.

11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates.

12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.

13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

When I am reading Ecclesiastes, it seems so ordinary that an average person like me can say the same things by common sense. Although the Bible didn't tell if God had had His Spirit left Solomon, just as He left King Saul, but clearly Solomon wasn't sure about his afterlife, contrary to his father King David. The book had little mentioned afterlife, but a lot mentioned about the wisdom of the living. Perhaps that was the only reason God kept his Ecclesiastes in the Bible, as a gesture of his repentant?

Had he sang his father's song? There was a doubt.

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So Solomon is the most wise… But until he recorded his thoughts that is contradictory to your religious beliefs? Solomon clearly is not just talking about “under the sun” OR this life. He clearly without argument, and without question says that once we die, there is no more. Whether you are wicked, or whether you are pure. I don’t understand how we can pick and choose the “facts” that we want to believe just because they fit into our religious creed, however, completely deny, the contradictory elements recorded in writing, in the Bible, especially by those that we hold most high.

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    Commented Jan 3, 2023 at 14:12
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Solomon is not unsure about the afterlife he is asking who can tell the dead about what happens under the sun which is the realm of the living, not the dead.

If he was speaking on the after life he would not have said "under the sun" regarding the location of the events unknown to the dead.

BTW, the chances of Solomon being the actual author are low to none, I would not worry about it, rest assured Solomon was more wise than any man who ever lived, maybe Jesus was more wise and definitely greater, but wisdom and Solomon are like bread and bread.

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  • Actually, the Sadducces did not believe in the resurrection prior to Jesus and the Pharisees did, the resurrection of the dead possibly was/is definitely now, a shared belief with Zoroaster's disciples known as Parsees in India, some living in Persia still today, known in the West as Zoroastrians. It is known in the Gospels that the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and not because of Jesus.
    – Gazali
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 6:10
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    I hope you are not suggesting that the words "Pharisees" and "Parsees" (=Persians) are in any way related.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 23:59
  • Why do you hope that? I was not or I would have said that, but I did not. However if I did I would not be the first person to suggest the possibility that the Parsees of Persia, which was a town or city in modern Iran at the time, were the source of the name Pharisees, as the Persian Empire's lingua franca was Aramaic and the Persians play a huge role in the Bible in liberating the Jews, Cyrus even called a Messiah. It is far from improbable that Pharisee was derived from Parsees, they even believed in the resurrection of the dead while the Sadducces did not, like Parsees.
    – Gazali
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 2:11
  • Nobody can say for sure the origin of the word Pharisees as we can with Parsees today, or tell for sure what they called themselves at the time of the Pharisees existence as a sect, but the idea is intriguing and not unlikely at all that the Jews borrowed the name of a place in Persia /Iran as the name of their sect, as the Babylonian Talmud was written by Jews under Parthian patronage in Aramaic, as they had been citizens of Persia and Mesopotamia for centuries. The similarity in sound between Pharisee and Parsee may be a coincidence, but it also may not be. C.W. King is my source.
    – Gazali
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 2:21
  • Also Parsee does not mean Persian it is the self designation of a religion called in the West "Zoroastrianism" after the Prophet Zoroaster, who the early Syrian Christians equated with Baruch for some reason (Book of the Bee) while other literature equateshim withNimrod which Eusebius mentioned was erroneous, this was actually believed by the early Freemasons oddly enough. Nevertheless Parsee is not a word meaning Persian rather,it refers to a town in Persia, but is the name of the a religion, not an ethnicity, which is just Persian, which Parsees are, endogamous, Persians are not all Parsee.
    – Gazali
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 2:59

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