Ecclesiastes 11:9—Should a young man follow his own way or God’s way?

Problem: In this text, Solomon encourages a young person to “walk in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes.” But this flies in the face of other Scriptures that urge them to seek not after “your own heart and your own eyes” (Num. 15:39).

Solution: There are several ways to understand this Ecclesiastes passage that do not conflict with other Scriptures. First, some have suggested that it is an example of irony, meaning, therefore, they were not to go their own way but God’s. Since irony is a perfectly legitimate human literary form that the Holy Spirit may use (see Introduction), this is entirely possible.

Second, even taken literally, the advice is not without qualification, since Solomon adds quickly, “But know that for all these God will bring you into judgment. Therefore ... put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity” (Ecc. 11:9–10). In this sense, Solomon’s advice would be, enjoy yourself. Do what your heart desires, but at the same time bear in mind that you are accountable to God, “who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.