The Scriptorium

More to Life than Living

In the end, life is about rest. Ecclesiastes 6.4-6

Ecclesiastes 6 (3)

Pray Psalm 4.3.
But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly;
The LORD will hear when I call to Him.

Read Ecclesiastes 6.4-6.

1. How do you see this passage is building on verses 1-3?

2. What “rest” is Solomon thinking about here?

The man who doesn’t find life “under heaven” won’t find it “under the sun.”

Solomon says that a stillborn child is better off than the man he has been describing in verses 1-3. It doesn’t matter how long a man lives, or how much his life is filled with good things, if he is unable to enjoy those things as gifts from God, to be used for His glory, his life is vanity and chasing the wind.

Don’t miss Solomon’s off-hand remark about the stillborn child finding rest (v. 5) rather than the man he has been describing. My sense is that the “rest” Solomon has in mind here is that which every person’s soul most desires. Covenant children, dying in infancy, may be regarded as redeemed and saved on the basis of their parents’ faith. Both the Old and New Testaments indicate this (cf. 2 Sam. 12.15-23; 1 Cor. 7.14). It’s not clear whether or not this grace extends to all children dying in infancy.

Note here that the “stillborn child” is spoken of as though it were a fully human person, since it enjoys rest as other men do. The Latin word used here in the Vulgate version of the Bible is abortivum. Even the ancients knew that aborted children were human persons.

In these verses, Solomon extends his parallelism even further, now drifting farther from the original image (the unhappy man), through the lonely image, to the new and stronger image (the child at rest). The “one place” idea here is qualified by “all” and seems to refer to “all those who live under the sun” rather than the all stillborn children. In other words, all who live like this man go to death and vanity for eternity, so what difference does even 2,000 years of the good life “under the sun” avail a man?

Recall that Solomon began this section with a general focus on “men” (v. 1). The problem he observes here is systemic; it’s part of the human condition, the result of mankind’s fall into sin. Sin has effects on every aspect of human life, including our culture, social practices, institutions, and conventions. Human beings are powerless to extricate themselves from the snare of sin and the misguided, ultimately unsatisfying way of life to which sin leads. They need help from beyond, from heaven itself.

1. Neither time nor things nor experiences can bring people what their souls ultimately desire. Why not? But why do people continue to live as if they think these things are where happiness lies?

2. Why is “rest” a good way of thinking about the ultimate need and desire of the soul? Why can’t people find rest “under the sun”?

3. What’s the nature of the “rest” we have who live our lives “under heaven” rather than “under the sun”? How should this idea of rest fit into our presentation of the Gospel?

If a long life terminates in death with no prospect of anything else, will that life have been worthwhile? Long life without knowing God and without the power to enjoy it is indeed frustrating and useless. Earl Radmacher (1931-2014), NKJV Study Bible, Note on Ecclesiastes 6.6

Lord, I want a full life with You! I want You to overflow from me! So help me today to…

Pray Psalm 4.6, 7.
“Gladness” is next of kin to “rest”. And the gladness God gives is better than that which comes from things. Thank the Lord for all the good things and gladness with which He fills your life.

Sing Psalm 4.6, 7.
Psalm 4.6, 7 (Picardy: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent)
Wicked men may scorn and try us, casting doubt upon Your grace.
Send Your Spirit, Lord, don’t deny us till we see Your glorious face.
You Who sent Your Son to buy us, fill our hearts with joy and grace.

T. M. Moore 

Where does the book of Ecclesiastes fit in the overall flow of Scripture? Our series of studies, God’s Covenant, can show you, and help you discover the great beauty of the unity and diversity of Scripture, and how it all points to Christ. To order your copy of this important workbook, click here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore