“All go to one place. All is from the dust and all will return to the dust. Who knows if the spirit of the sons of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down beneath the earth? I saw that there is nothing good but for man to rejoice in his work and in his portion because who can bring him to see what will come after him?”
In death, the bodies of both humans and animals go to the ground. Decay sets in and unless extraordinary measures are taken, the bodies of both man and beast decay into the dust. And, as Solomon surveys the world around him, he observes that he cannot tell whether the spirits of man go up (toward the heavens) or whether the spirits of beasts reside beneath the earth.
As a pastor, I conduct more funerals than I would like to admit…we live in a fallen world and death is a real part of that reality. And while I often have the pleasure of conducting services for a believer whose fruit were readily apparent, there are also times when I conduct services for those whose spiritual fruit is rather unclear. And in cases like these, while the fate of the body is readily apparent, we cannot know for certain the fate of the soul. And so, just as I cannot “preach someone into heaven,” I also do not presume to place myself in God’s seat of eternal judgment. So at that point, I honor the good that the person has done in the family or community and preach Christ for the living.
But it is this uncertainty that I think that Solomon is observing as he looks at the death around him. If someone is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, we can be assured that glory is the destination that lies ahead. If someone is not, hell calls. Yet, there are also people who profess to be Christians but show little or no evidence or regeneration…and with Solomon, we say, “Who knows?” The answer to that question, of course, is that God knows and he will bring every deed into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14), for he is indeed the eternal judge over mankind.
And so, what is the conclusion? Rejoice in your work. Do your work to the glory of God. And even if you are an unbeliever or a person whose faith is unclear in the eyes of men, rejoice in laboring in ways to serve your family and community, for in that you will be remembered fondly.