Eccl 7:1-9; 9:7-10
The writer in verse 10 makes an interesting statement. Christians like to emphasize the first clause which states, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do with thy might;” but we neglect to consider the last portion. In the last half of the sentence his fatalistic, hopeless philosophy of life becomes evident again as he tells the reader why he should do everything in life with gusto. The four aspects of life, work, device, knowledge and wisdom cease as far as this existence is concerned at death. But what exactly was the writer speaking of when he used these terms? Do they mean what we assume as we read the English words?
The first word we will look at is translated work in the KJV. The root word for maaseh is asa and means to do or make. Quite often, however, asa carries an ethical connotation. In those situations it is more than a matter of doing for the sake of doing. It is a matter of doing because of Gods expectation. At other times the word is used with an emphasis on the concept of the creation of an object. When used in reference to God the word often is speaking of the acts of God within the history of mankind. . . in other words, His immanence, and His interest for humanity. This word is frequently found in the creation account of Genesis. It is broader in scope than bara which speaks of Gods creating acts. Rather it indicates the fashioning of specific objects from what He has already created.
Maaseh takes on special significance when we realize these things. It means deed, acts, business, workmanship, or purpose. It also is used in a general and in an ethical sense. When used in an ethical sense it often takes on a negative connotation. In Ecclesiastes the word is used a number of times. It refers to the events of history, “the works which have been done.” It speaks of mans work, “God now accepteth thy works.” But in an ethical sense it speaks of evil deeds and good deeds or works. Thus we could sum up the meanings to say that it essential means a persons significant contribution to the history of his life.
The word translated device in the KJV is hesheb which literally means ingenious work. Whereas maaseh referred to the physical employment of activity in order to make a significant contribution to a persons history, hesheb refers to the employment of the mind in the activity of thinking. This is not talking about trying to understand something but rather involves the creation of new ideas. At times it may take on the connotation of planning, another time it may refer to making a judgment, a third time to meditation, a fourth to inventive thoughts, or finally to an accounting.
The word for knowledge is daat and is means knowledge that is gained in various ways by the senses. It includes knowledge that is gained through the process of trial and error, technical knowledge, the contemplative perception of a wise person, and moral cogitation.
The word translated wisdom is hakam. “The essential idea of hakam represents a manner of thinking and attitude concerning lifes experiences; including matters of general interest and basic morality. These concerns relate to prudence in secular affairs, skills in the arts, moral sensitivity, and experience in the ways of the Lord.” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament)