Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
A pastor today asked if we were unhappy in our work. He asked if we desired not to work but yet still get paid. He asked if we desired a life in which we don’t need to work. It’s possible – he said. It’s easy – he told us. It’s in Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Often we complain about having too much work, having too much to plan, having too much to study, having too much to think about. In the modern society, these claims are probably true as compared to our ancestors. Sleep deprivation, stress and exhaustion caused illnesses are also on a rising curve. While having too much on plate is certainly an issue, complaining about what we ought to do is unnecessary. The teacher, in his ever so melancholic tone as adopted throughout the book, contrasts our current lot against the extreme – a scenario where we won’t have to do work, where we won’t have to think, where we won’t have to plan anything – a scenario set in hell.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might – I’d like to assume that this does not refer to evil, since that would go against many teachings in other parts of the Bible, and if that assumption is held, then the converse is true – whatever your hand finds to do refers not to the evil, which surely is readily available all around us and near our hands as well – but it refers to the good, the necessary, the things that a righteous man ought to do. Do not skimp around or do it half-heartedly, instead, do it earnestly. Put in 100% of your effort, do it with all your might – keeping in mind that your strength comes from God.
for in the grave, where you are going – some versions render this as hell, some render this as Sheol, which according to my brief understanding is a Hebrew term for a place of death, generally translated or understood in English as Hades (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). This phrase could merely mean death, something that all of us will one day face, and all of us will one day lie in the grave (metaphorically speaking, since not everybody ends up in graves upon death these days) – and thus it is indeed a place where we are all going. Interpreting the term as Hell is probably not wrong, and I’m inclined to it if only purely for the dramatic effect, although it would be harder to explain why the teacher says, ‘where you are going’. I can’t quite answer that, so I’ll take a safe step back and understand this place as ‘death’ in general. The dead can no longer do anything – For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness [Isaiah 38:18].
there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom – When you are dead all the labour that you’re responsible of will come to an end. A dead person holds no responsibility in this world – a dead man needs to think not, plan not, seek knowledge not, work not. There is no one corpse wiser than another. In death all these things are worldly, and we bring not with us as we depart from life. This would probably apply pretty well to hell as well – no working, no planning, no knowledge, no wisdom. Just suffering. And would this apply to heaven? I think it’s possible too. In heaven I suppose we just need to worship God. What work is there? What do we have to plan? And while heavenly knowledge may exist (I don’t know, though), humanly knowledge and humanly wisdom would certainly be useless there.
At the end of the day, whether this verse refers to hell or not, it surely refers to death. Majority of Ecclesiastes 9 speaks of the lot of a man’s life – to toil, toil and toil. Yet to toil is not a bad thing, for in death, even if you want to toil, you will not longer have the opportunity to. Ecclesiastes may be written very solemnly, but it clearly teaches the truth. Let us honour God by giving our utmost in our work – be it for Him, or in our jobs, or in our studies. As Col 3:23 says, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Without overworking ourselves, let us give our 100% and be serious and earnest in every task that we attempt. After all, once this short life of ours ends, all these labour would end too.
So let us be thankful for toiling.