Do you remember Job’s friends and their repetitious insistence that Job’s sufferings were the result of some sin, whether obvious or secret? Solomon begins today’s reading by eviscerating this notion in telling us that our fates, good or bad, have almost nothing to do with our moral integrity; we all die no matter how good we have been (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3).
Surprisingly, however, Solomon seems to change his tune about the superiority of death to life (see Ecclesiastes 4:2). In telling us that a living dog is better than a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 4:9), Solomon, without losing sight of the pains of life that are so common, Solomon also acknowledges the delight of hoping to enjoy future days. He thus offers the same kind of wisdom as before: to enjoy work, food, and our relationships since our lives will be over soon.
It is important to remember that Solomon is not calling us to hedonism or debauchery, for he has already written repeatedly this is vanity. Rather he is calling us to enjoy the simple pleasures which come from hard work and faithful love in this life. Even if this wisdom comes with a grim backdrop, it offers hope and meaning to our lives.