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If a man fathers one hundred

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and lives many years so that the days of his years be great, but if his soul is not satisfied with goodness, also if he has no burial,

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to which I say that

a still-born child is better off than he,


In contrast to the above, if a man were so blessed as to father many, many sons who could receive his estate, and he were to live a very long life, living out all his years and more, but if his soul were not satisfied with the good things

of life, and even if he has no need of burial because he lives forever, I say that a still-born child is better off than he,



The text does not say clearly whether or not this is referring to sons or to children in general. I take it to mean sons because the issue at hand is one of inheritance of wealth, and daughters did not usually receive an inheritance.

Some see in this verse the possibility that Solomon was using himself as an example of someone who has had more children than anyone the people knew about. Nothing can be proven about this. The part about not having a burial did not apply to Solomon, so it is likely that this first part is a general statement.

For more about the issues of Solomon’s wives and how many children he may have had, please read my study series about The Life of Solomon where these are addressed in greater detail than is possible in this footnote.


Having “no burial” was a disgrace and was usually an indication of being despised and hated. But in this case, we are not sure that it is meant that way; it is possible that it means this person never dies. That would fit the meaning of the verse much better. However, this begs the question, why didn’t Solomon write exactly what he meant, saying something like, “he never sees death.” Several translations have chosen to translate it exactly as the Hebrew has it, “he has no burial” without trying to decide why that would be the case. This is not the first time Ecclesiastes has written something that is hard to understand or uses words in a way that is not normal. In the end I must side with the context and interpret it in the paraphrase column as an indication that, like Enoch and Moses, he never experiences physical death.

One other problem with this verse is that the part about having no burial is separated from the section that describes the “if” part of the logical progression. However, maybe it is intentionally separated because the first part describes things that are possible, 100 sons and a long life, but now the author is stepping into territory that is not possible, or at least not ordinary. Prior to this Enoch and Moses did not have burials and they did not die in disgrace (Elijah has not come on the scene yet). So because the logic seems to turn a corner, this part of it is placed in a different part of the sentence that the other “if” statements. Also, this may answer the question about why he chooses a phrase that is usually negative and uses it as a positive – he wanted his readers to ask themselves if it is ever possible to not have a burial and yet be honored. The answer is “Yes, look at Enoch and Moses who had great honor.” Think about it this way, if a person is not happy with their accomplishments, even if he lives forever, that will not make him happy; and it would have been better for him not to be born.