Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 and the State of the Dead

Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 and the State of the Dead


I’m J.K. McKee, editor of Messianic
Apologetics. If you are new to the channel, be sure to subscribe for future
teachings and updates. Is it not true that Ecclesiastes 9:5 says that “the dead
know nothing”? Why are there people in today’s Messianic movement who believe
that when they die they will go to Paradise or Heaven, when Ecclesiastes is
clear that they will be unconscious? This section of the Book of Ecclesiastes
is probably the most frequently quoted scripture by psychpannychists toward
people who believe in an intermediate afterlife prior to the resurrection.
Ecclesiastes 9:5b says “the dead do not know anything” (NASU) or
“the dead know nothing” (RSV/NIV). Sometimes this is screamed at
people who are grieving the recent loss of a loved one. While Qohelet is not
screaming at this audience, we need to once again understand his intention for
making this remark, and seeing whether or not it really does support psychopannychy. Qohelet is tempered by wisdom, as he says “I have taken all this to my
heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the
hand of God….It is the same for all. There is one fate for the
{correct: righteous} and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean;
for the man who offers a sacrifice and for them one who does not sacrifice”
(Ecclesiastes 9:1, NASU). The power of death is something that will affect each and every person,
as “there is one fate for all men” (Ecclesiastes 9:3, NASU). Qohelet’s emphasis
here is what happens to evil people, and while “insanity is in their hearts
throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead”
(Ecclesiastes 9:3b, NASU). You almost see a chance for possible repentance in his
claim, “whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope;
surely a live dog is better than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4, NASU). One might be
weaker and righteous before God while living, as opposed to having died strong
but with no hope of restitution before Him. What follows are some more words
from Qohelet that have been strongly debated among interpreters: “For the
living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any
longer a reward, for their memory is forgotten. Indeed their love, their hate
and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer have a share in all
that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, NASU). Psychopannychists will take the
short clause “the dead know nothing” (RSV/NIV) and claim that anyone who believes
afterlife–in either Heaven or Hell– between the time of death and
resurrection is in severe error for believing so. Yet this is not the context
of Qohelet’s words. Qohelet is speaking on how the dead cannot participate “in
all that is done under the sun,” tachat ha’shemesh, things done on Planet Earth.
Those who believe in psychopannychy often base their doctrine on half-verses
such as Ecclesiastes 9:5b, which say “the dead do not know anything” (NASU). Yet this
is not definitive evidence of no intermediate post-mortem afterlife, as
the verse continues describing human life on Earth, and how the dead do not
know of any of these Earth-bound things: “their memory is forgotten. Indeed their
love, their hate and their zeal have already perished, and they will no longer
have a share in all that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:5c-6, NIV).
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 does not say anything about the condition of dead
persons or where they, are but instead lists specific things that they cannot
do precisely because they are dead. The things Qohelet lists such as love, hate, and
zeal are things that these people had time to participate in on Earth or “under
the sun,” but cannot participate in beyond the veil of death, hence not “knowing”
about them. Once a person is dead, his or her fate is sealed before the
Almighty, and no chance of restitution remains. A life of these specific worldly
experiences is over. (Consider how one of the greatest gifts that God has given to
the human race, the pleasures of marital sexual intercourse, can no longer be partaken of once a person dies.) And so what is one to do while living that life
“under the sun”? Is it a life of no value according to Qohelet? No. He says, “Go
then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart;
for God has already approved your works” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, NASU). Now is the time to live
a life pleasing to God, where one can enjoy future blessings–and not
condemnation–from Him. Qohelet says to “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love
all the days of your fleeting life which he has given to you under the sun; for
this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the
sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no
activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going”
(Ecclesiastes 9:9-10, NASU). Life on Earth, in spite of its imperfections, indeed has
its rewards that God wants people to take advantage of–especially those who
are living a life of obedience to Him. These are things, though,
which no longer are available after death. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says that the
joys God has created to be experienced on this Earth cannot be enjoyed when a
deceased person goes to Sheol. While versions like the NIV render this as “for
in the grave where you are going…,” this more accurately means, “for in the realm
of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor
knowledge nor wisdom” (TNIV). A deceased person joins the refaim or
shades in Sheol, an extra-dimensional holding place for the consciousness, and
is not completely what he once was on Planet Earth. Ecclesiastes 9:5-10 and
Qohelet’s assertion “the dead know nothing” presents no problems for those of us who
believe in an intermediate disembodied afterlife, if we can see how he
substantiates what knowing nothing about really involves. If you all found this
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