ECCLESIASTES; OR THE PREACHER. THE GREEK TITLE IN THE LXX. Commentary by A. R. Faussett
The Hebrew title is Koheleth, which the speaker in it applies to himself (Ec 1:12), “I, Koheleth, was king over Israel.” It means an Assembler or Convener of a meeting and a Preacher to such a meeting. The feminine form of the Hebrew noun, and its construction once (Ec 7:27) with a feminine verb, show that it not only signifies Solomon, the Preacher to assemblies (in which case it is construed with the verb or noun masculine), but also Divine Wisdom (feminine in Hebrew) speaking by the mouth of the inspired king. In six cases out of seven it is construed with the masculine. Solomon was endowed with inspired wisdom (1Ki 3:5-14; 6:11, 12; 9:1-9; 11:9-11), specially fitting him for the task. The Orientals delight in such meetings for grave discourse. Thus the Arabs formerly had an assembly yearly, at Ocadh, for hearing and reciting poems. Compare “Masters of assemblies” (see on Ec 12:11, also Ec 12:9). “The Preacher taught the people knowledge,” probably viva voce (“orally”); 1Ki 4:34; 10:2, 8, 24; 2Ch 9:1, 7, 23, plainly refer to a somewhat public divan met for literary discussion. So “spake,” thrice repeated (1Ki 4:32, 33), refers not to written compositions, but to addresses spoken in assemblies convened for the purpose. The Holy Ghost, no doubt, signifies also by the term that Solomon’s doctrine is intended for the “great congregation,” the Church of all places and ages (Ps 22:25; 49:2-4).
Solomon was plainly the author (Ec 1:12, 16; 2:15; 12:9). That the Rabbins attribute it to Isaiah or Hezekiah is explicable by supposing that one or the other inserted it in the canon. The difference of its style, as compared with Proverbs and Song of Solomon, is due to the difference of subjects, and the different period of his life in which each was written; the Song, in the fervor of his first love to God; Proverbs, about the same time, or somewhat later; but Ecclesiastes in late old age, as the seal and testimony of repentance of his apostasy in the intervening period: Ps 89:30, 33 proves his penitence. The substitution of the title Koheleth for Solomon (that is, peace), may imply that, having troubled Israel, meantime he forfeited his name of peace (1Ki 11:14, 23); but now, having repented, he wishes to be henceforth a Preacher of righteousness. The alleged foreign expressions in the Hebrew may have been easily imported, through the great intercourse there was with other nations during his long reign. Moreover, supposed Chaldaisms may be fragments preserved from the common tongue of which Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, and Arabic were offshoots.
The Scope of Ecclesiastes is to show the vanity of all mere human pursuits, when made the chief end, as contrasted with the real blessedness of true wisdom, that is, religion. The immortality of the soul is dwelt on incidentally, as subsidiary to the main scope. Moses’ law took this truth for granted but drew its sanctions of rewards and punishments in accordance with the theocracy, which was under a special providence of God as the temporal King of Israel, from the present life, rather than the future. But after Israel chose an earthly king, God withdrew, in part, His extraordinary providence, so that under Solomon, temporal rewards did not invariably follow virtue, and punishments vice (compare Ec 2:16; 3:19; 4:1; 5:8; 7:15; 8:14; 9:2, 11). Hence the need arises to show that these anomalies will be rectified hereafter, and this is the grand “conclusion,” therefore, of the “whole” book, that, seeing there is a coming judgment, and seeing that present goods do not satisfy the soul, “man’s whole duty is to fear God and keep his commandments” (Ec 12:13, 14), and meanwhile, to use, in joyful and serene sobriety, and not abuse, the present life (Ec 3:12, 13).
It is objected that sensual epicurism seems to be inculcated (Ec 3:12, 13, 22, &c.); but it is a contented, thankful enjoyment of God’s present gifts that is taught, as opposed to a murmuring, anxious, avaricious spirit, as is proved by Ec 5:18, compare with Ec 5:11-15, not making them the chief end of life; not the joy of levity and folly; a misunderstanding which he guards against in Ec 7:2-6; 11:9; 12:1. Again, Ec 7:16; 9:2-10, might seem to teach fatalism and skepticism. But these are words put in the mouth of an objector; or rather, they were the language of Solomon himself during his apostasy, finding an echo in the heart of every sensualist, who wishes to be an unbeliever, and, who, therefore, sees difficulties enough in the world around wherewith to prop up his wilful unbelief. The answer is given (Ec 7:17, 18; 9:11, 12; 11:1, 6; 12:13). Even if these passages be taken as words of Solomon, they are to be understood as forbidding a self-made “righteousness,” which tries to constrain God to grant salvation to imaginary good works and external strictness with which it wearies itself; also, that speculation which tries to fathom all God’s inscrutable counsels (Ec 8:17), and that carefulness about the future forbidden in Mt 6:25.
The Chief Good is that the possession of that which makes us happy, is to be sought as the end, for its own sake; whereas, all other things are but means towards it. Philosophers, who made it the great subject of inquiry, restricted it to the present life, treating the eternal as unreal, and only useful to awe the multitude with. But Solomon shows the vanity of all human things (so-called philosophy included) to satisfy the soul, and that heavenly wisdom alone is the chief good. He had taught so when young (Pr 1:20; 8:1); so also; in Song of Solomon, he had spiritualized the subject in an allegory; and now, after having long personally tried the manifold ways in which the worldly seek to reach happiness, he gives the fruit of his experience in old age.
It is divided into two parts–Ec 1:1-6:10 showing the vanity of earthly things; Ec 6:10-12:14, the excellence of heavenly wisdom. Deviations from strict logical methods occur in these divisions, but in the main they are observed. The deviations make it the less stiff and artificial, and the more suited to all capacities. It is in poetry; the hemistichal division is mostly observed, but occasionally not so. The choice of epithets, imagery, inverted order of words, ellipses, parallelism, or, in its absence, similarity of diction, mark versification.
Ec 1:1-18. Introduction.
1. the Preacher–and Convener of assemblies for the purpose. See my Preface. Koheleth in Hebrew, a symbolical name for Solomon, and of Heavenly Wisdom speaking through and identified with him. Ec 1:12 shows that “king of Jerusalem” is in apposition, not with “David,” but “Preacher.”
of Jerusalem–rather, “in Jerusalem,” for it was merely his metropolis, not his whole kingdom.
2. The theme proposed of the first part of his discourse.
Vanity of vanities–Hebraism for the most utter vanity. So “holy of holies” (Ex 26:33); “servant of servants” (Ge 9:25). The repetition increases the force.
all–Hebrew, “the all”; all without exception, namely, earthly things.
vanity–not in themselves, for God maketh nothing in vain (1Ti 4:4, 5), but vain when put in the place of God and made the end, instead of the means (Ps 39:5, 6; 62:9; Mt 6:33); vain, also, because of the “vanity” to which they are “subjected” by the fall (Ro 8:20).
3. What profit … labour–that is, “What profit” as to the chief good (Mt 16:26). Labor is profitable in its proper place (Ge 2:15; 3:19; Pr 14:23).
under the sun–that is, in this life, as opposed to the future world. The phrase often recurs, but only in Ecclesiastes.
4. earth … for ever–(Ps 104:5). While the earth remains the same, the generations of men are ever changing; what lasting profit, then, can there be from the toils of one whose sojourn on earth, as an individual, is so brief? The “for ever” is comparative, not absolute (Ps 102:26).
5. (Ps 19:5, 6). “Panting” as the Hebrew for “hasteth”; metaphor, from a runner (Ps 19:5, “a strong man”) in a “race.” It applies rather to the rising sun, which seems laboriously to mount up to the meridian, than to the setting sun; the accents too favor Maurer, “And (that too, returning) to his place, where panting he riseth.”
6. according to his circuits–that is, it returns afresh to its former circuits, however many be its previous veerings about. The north and south winds are the two prevailing winds in Palestine and Egypt.
7. By subterraneous cavities, and by evaporation forming rain clouds, the fountains and rivers are supplied from the sea, into which they then flow back. The connection is: Individual men are continually changing, while the succession of the race continues; just as the sun, wind, and rivers are ever shifting about, while the cycle in which they move is invariable; they return to the point whence they set out. Hence is man, as in these objects of nature which are his analogue, with all the seeming changes “there is no new thing” (Ec 1:9).
8. Maurer translates, “All words are wearied out,” that is, are inadequate, as also, “man cannot express” all the things in the world which undergo this ceaseless, changeless cycle of vicissitudes: “The eye is not satisfied with seeing them,” &c. But it is plainly a return to the idea (Ec 1:3) as to man’s “labor,” which is only wearisome and profitless; “no new” good can accrue from it (Ec 1:9); for as the sun, &c., so man’s laborious works move in a changeless cycle. The eye and ear are two of the taskmasters for which man toils. But these are never “satisfied” (Ec 6:7; Pr 27:20). Nor can they be so hereafter, for there will be nothing “new.” Not so the chief good, Jesus Christ (Joh 4:13, 14; Re 21:5).
9. Rather, “no new thing at all”; as in Nu 11:6. This is not meant in a general sense; but there is no new source of happiness (the subject in question) which can be devised; the same round of petty pleasures, cares, business, study, wars, &c., being repeated over and over again [Holden].
10. old time–Hebrew, “ages.”
which was–The Hebrew plural cannot be joined to the verb singular. Therefore translate: “It hath been in the ages before; certainly it hath been before us” [Holden]. Or, as Maurer: “That which has been (done) before us (in our presence, 1Ch 16:33), has been (done) already in the old times.”
11. The reason why some things are thought “new,” which are not really so, is the imperfect record that exists of preceding ages among their successors.
those that … come after–that is, those that live still later than the “things, rather the persons or generations, Ec 1:4, with which this verse is connected, the six intermediate verses being merely illustrations of Ec 1:4 [Weiss], that are to come” (Ec 2:16; 9:5).
12. Resumption of Ec 1:1, the intermediate verses being the introductory statement of his thesis. Therefore, “the Preacher” (Koheleth) is repeated.
was king–instead of “am,” because he is about to give the results of his past experience during his long reign.
in Jerusalem–specified, as opposed to David, who reigned both in Hebron and Jerusalem; whereas Solomon reigned only in Jerusalem. “King of Israel in Jerusalem,” implies that he reigned over Israel and Judah combined; whereas David, at Hebron, reigned only over Judah, and not, until he was settled in Jerusalem, over both Israel and Judah.
13. this sore travail–namely, that of “searching out all things done under heaven.” Not human wisdom in general, which comes afterwards (Ec 2:12, &c.), but laborious enquiries into, and speculations about, the works of men; for example, political science. As man is doomed to get his bread, so his knowledge, by the sweat of his brow (Ge 3:19) [Gill].
exercised–that is, disciplined; literally, “that they may thereby chastise, or humble themselves.”
14. The reason is here given why investigation into man’s “works” is only “sore travail” (Ec 1:13); namely, because all man’s ways are vain (Ec 1:18) and cannot be mended (Ec 1:15).
vexation of–“a preying upon”
the Spirit–Maurer translates; “the pursuit of wind,” as in Ec 5:16; Ho 12:1, “Ephraim feedeth on wind.” But old versions support the English Version.
15. Investigation (Ec 1:13) into human ways is vain labor, for they are hopelessly “crooked” and “cannot be made straight” by it (Ec 7:13). God, the chief good, alone can do this (Isa 40:4; 45:2).
numbered–so as to make a complete number; so equivalent to “supplied” [Maurer]. Or, rather, man’s state is utterly wanting; and that which is wholly defective cannot be numbered or calculated. The investigator thinks he can draw up, in accurate numbers, statistics of man’s wants; but these, including the defects in the investigator’s labor, are not partial, but total.
16. communed with … heart–(Ge 24:45).
come to great estate–Rather, “I have magnified and gotten” (literally, “added,” increased), &c.
all … before me in Jerusalem–namely, the priests, judges, and two kings that preceded Solomon. His wisdom exceeded that of all before Jesus Christ, the antitypical Koheleth, or “Gatherer of men,” (Lu 13:34), and “Wisdom” incarnate (Mt 11:19; 12:42).
had … experience–literally, “had seen” (Jer 2:31). Contrast with this glorying in worldly wisdom (Jer 9:23, 24).
17. wisdom … madness–that is, their effects, the works of human wisdom and folly respectively. “Madness,” literally, “vaunting extravagance”; Ec 2:12; 7:25, &c., support English Version rather than Dathe, “splendid matters.” “Folly” is read by English Version with some manuscripts, instead of the present Hebrew text, “prudence.” If Hebrew be retained, understand “prudence,” falsely so called (1Ti 6:20), “craft” (Da 8:25).
18. wisdom … knowledge–not in general, for wisdom, &c., are most excellent in their place; but speculative knowledge of man’s ways (Ec 1:13, 17), which, the farther it goes, gives one the more pain to find how “crooked” and “wanting” they are (Ec 1:15; 12:12).
He next tries pleasure and luxury, retaining however, his worldly “wisdom” (Ec 3:9), but all proves “vanity” in respect to the chief good.
1. I said … heart–(Lu 12:19).
thee–my heart, I will test whether thou canst find that solid good in pleasure which was not in “worldly wisdom.” But this also proves to be “vanity” (Isa 50:11).
2. laughter–including prosperity, and joy in general (Job 8:21).
mad–that is, when made the chief good; it is harmless in its proper place.
What doeth it?–Of what avail is it in giving solid good? (Ec 7:6; Pr 14:13).
3-11. Illustration more at large of Ec 2:1, 2.
I sought–I resolved, after search into many plans.
give myself unto wine–literally, “to draw my flesh,” or “body to wine” (including all banquetings). Image from a captive drawn after a chariot in triumph (Ro 6:16, 19; 1Co 12:2); or, one “allured” (2Pe 2:18, 19).
yet acquainting … wisdom–literally, “and my heart (still) was behaving, or guiding itself,” with wisdom [Gesenius]. Maurer translates: “was weary of (worldly) wisdom.” But the end of Ec 2:9 confirms English Version.
folly–namely, pleasures of the flesh, termed “mad,” Ec 2:2.
all the days, &c.–(See Margin and Ec 6:12; Job 15:20).
4. (1Ki 7:1-8; 9:1, 19; 10:18, &c.).
5. gardens–Hebrew, “paradises,” a foreign word; Sanskrit, “a place enclosed with a wall”; Armenian and Arabic, “a pleasure ground with flowers and shrubs near the king’s house, or castle.” An earthly paradise can never make up for the want of the heavenly (Re 2:7).
6. pools–artificial, for irrigating the soil (Ge 2:10; Ne 2:14; Isa 1:30). Three such reservoirs are still found, called Solomon’s cisterns, a mile and a half from Jerusalem.
wood that bringeth forth–rather, “the grove that flourisheth with trees” [Lowth].
7. born in my house–These were esteemed more trustworthy servants than those bought (Ge 14:14; 15:2, 3; 17:12, 13, 27; Jer 2:14), called “songs of one’s handmaid” (Ex 23:12; compare Ge 12:16; Job 1:3).
8. (1Ki 10:27; 2Ch 1:15; 9:20).
peculiar treasure of kings and … provinces–contributed by them, as tributary to him (1Ki 4:21, 24); a poor substitute for the wisdom whose “gain is better than fine gold” (Pr 3:14, 15).
singers–so David (2Sa 19:35).
musical instruments … of all sorts–introduced at banquets (Isa 5:12; Am 6:5, 6); rather, “a princess and princesses,” from an Arabic root. One regular wife, or queen (Es 1:9); Pharaoh’s daughter (1Ki 3:1); other secondary wives, “princesses,” distinct from the “concubines” (1Ki 11:3; Ps 45:10; So 6:8) [Weiss, Gesenius]. Had these been omitted, the enumeration would be incomplete.
9. great–opulent (Ge 24:35; Job 1:3; see 1Ki 10:23).
10. my labour–in procuring pleasures.
this–evanescent “joy” was my only “portion out of all my labor” (Ec 3:22; 5:18; 9:9; 1Ki 10:5).
11. But all these I felt were only “vanity,” and of “no profit” as to the chief good. “Wisdom” (worldly common sense, sagacity), which still “remained with me” (Ec 2:9), showed me that these could not give solid happiness.
12. He had tried (worldly) wisdom (Ec 1:12-18) and folly (foolish pleasure) (Ec 2:1-11); he now compares them (Ec 2:12) and finds that while (worldly)
wisdom excelleth folly (Ec 2:13, 14), yet the one event, death, befalls both (Ec 2:14-16), and that thus the wealth acquired by the wise man’s “labor” may descend to a “fool” that hath not labored (Ec 2:18, 19, 21); therefore all his labor is vanity (Ec 2:22, 23).
what can the man do … already done–(Ec 1:9). Parenthetical. A future investigator can strike nothing out “new,” so as to draw a different conclusion from what I draw by comparing “wisdom and madness.” Holden, with less ellipsis, translates, “What, O man, shall come after the king?” &c. Better, Grotius, “What man can come after (compete with) the king in the things which are done?” None ever can have the same means of testing what all earthly things can do towards satisfying the soul; namely, worldly wisdom, science, riches, power, longevity, all combined.
13, 14. (Pr 17:24). The worldly “wise” man has good sense in managing his affairs, skill and taste in building and planting, and keeps within safe and respectable bounds in pleasure, while the “fool” is wanting in these respects (“darkness,” equivalent to fatal error, blind infatuation), yet one event, death, happens to both (Job 21:26).
15. why was I–so anxious to become, &c. (2Ch 1:10).
Then–Since such is the case.
this–namely, pursuit of (worldly) wisdom; it can never fill the place of the true wisdom (Job 28:28; Jer 8:9).
16. remembrance–a great aim of the worldly (Ge 11:4). The righteous alone attain it (Ps 112:6; Pr 10:7).
for ever–no perpetual memorial.
that which now is–Maurer, “In the days to come all things shall be now long ago forgotten.”
17. Disappointed in one experiment after another, he is weary of life. The backslider ought to have rather reasoned as the prodigal (Ho 2:6, 7; Lu 15:17, 18).
grievous unto me–(Job 10:1).
18, 19. One hope alone was left to the disappointed worldling, the perpetuation of his name and riches, laboriously gathered, through his successor. For selfishness is mostly at the root of worldly parents’ alleged providence for their children. But now the remembrance of how he himself, the piously reared child of David, had disregarded his father’s dying charge (1Ch 28:9), suggested the sad misgivings as to what Rehoboam, his son by an idolatrous Ammonitess, Naamah, should prove to be; a foreboding too fully realized (1Ki 12:1-18; 14:21-31).
20. I gave up as desperate all hope of solid fruit from my labor.
21. Suppose “there is a man,” &c.
equity–rather “with success,” as the Hebrew is rendered (Ec 11:6), “prosper,” though Margin gives “right” [Holden and Maurer].
evil–not in itself, for this is the ordinary course of things, but “evil,” as regards the chief good, that one should have toiled so fruitlessly.
22. Same sentiment as in Ec 2:21, interrogatively.
23. The only fruit he has is, not only sorrows in his days, but all his days are sorrows, and his travail (not only has griefs connected with it, but is itself), grief.
24. English Version gives a seemingly Epicurean sense, contrary to the general scope. The Hebrew, literally is, “It is not good for man that he should eat,” &c., “and should make his soul see good” (or “show his soul, that is, himself, happy”), &c. [Weiss]. According to Holden and Weiss, Ec 3:12, 22 differ from this verse in the text and meaning; here he means, “It is not good that a man should feast himself, and falsely make as though his soul were happy”; he thus refers to a false pretending of happiness acquired by and for one’s self; in Ec 3:12, 22; 5:18, 19, to real seeing, or finding pleasure when God gives it. There it is said to be good for a man to enjoy with satisfaction and thankfulness the blessings which God gives; here it is said not to be good to take an unreal pleasure to one’s self by feasting, &c.
This also I saw–I perceived by experience that good (real pleasure) is not to be taken at will, but comes only from the hand of God [Weiss] (Ps 4:6; Isa 57:19-21). Or as Holden, “It is the appointment from the hand of God, that the sensualist has no solid satisfaction” (good).
25. hasten–after indulgences (Pr 7:23; 19:2), eagerly pursue such enjoyments. None can compete with me in this. If I, then, with all my opportunities of enjoyment, failed utterly to obtain solid pleasure of my own making, apart from God, who else can? God mercifully spares His children the sad experiment which Solomon made, by denying them the goods which they often desire. He gives them the fruits of Solomon’s experience, without their paying the dear price at which Solomon bought it.
26. True, literally, in the Jewish theocracy; and in some measure in all ages (Job 27:16, 17; Pr 13:22; 28:8). Though the retribution be not so visible and immediate now as then, it is no less real. Happiness even here is more truly the portion of the godly (Ps 84:11; Mt 5:5; Mr 10:29, 30; Ro 8:28; 1Ti 4:8).
that he–the sinner
may give–that is, unconsciously and in spite of himself. The godly Solomon had satisfaction in his riches and wisdom, when God gave them (2Ch 1:11, 12). The backsliding Solomon had no happiness when he sought it in them apart from God; and the riches which he heaped up became the prey of Shishak (2Ch 12:9).
Earthly pursuits are no doubt lawful in their proper time and order (Ec 3:1-8), but unprofitable when out of time and place; as for instance, when pursued as the solid and chief good (Ec 3:9, 10); whereas God makes everything beautiful in its season, which man obscurely comprehends (Ec 3:11). God allows man to enjoy moderately and virtuously His earthly gifts (Ec 3:12, 13). What consoles us amidst the instability of earthly blessings is, God’s counsels are immutable (Ec 3:14).
1. Man has his appointed cycle of seasons and vicissitudes, as the sun, wind, and water (Ec 1:5-7).
purpose–as there is a fixed “season” in God’s “purposes” (for example, He has fixed the “time” when man is “to be born,” and “to die,” Ec 3:2), so there is a lawful “time” for man to carry out his “purposes” and inclinations. God does not condemn, but approves of, the use of earthly blessings (Ec 3:12); it is the abuse that He condemns, the making them the chief end (1Co 7:31). The earth, without human desires, love, taste, joy, sorrow, would be a dreary waste, without water; but, on the other hand, the misplacing and excess of them, as of a flood, need control. Reason and revelation are given to control them.
2. time to die–(Ps 31:15; Heb 9:27).
plant–A man can no more reverse the times and order of “planting,” and of “digging up,” and transplanting, than he can alter the times fixed for his “birth” and “death.” To try to “plant” out of season is vanity, however good in season; so to make earthly things the chief end is vanity, however good they be in order and season. Gill takes it, not so well, figuratively (Jer 18:7, 9; Am 9:15; Mt 15:13).
3. time to kill–namely, judicially, criminals; or, in wars of self-defense; not in malice. Out of this time and order, killing is murder.
to heal–God has His times for “healing” (literally, Isa 38:5, 21; figuratively, De 32:39; Ho 6:1; spiritually, Ps 147:3; Isa 57:19). To heal spiritually, before the sinner feels his wound, would be “out of time,” and so injurious.
time to break down–cities, as Jerusalem, by Nebuchadnezzar.
build up–as Jerusalem, in the time of Zerubbabel; spiritually (Am 9:11), “the set time” (Ps 102:13-16).
4. mourn–namely, for the dead (Ge 23:2).
dance–as David before the ark (2Sa 6:12-14; Ps 30:11); spiritually (Mt 9:15; Lu 6:21; 15:25). The Pharisees, by requiring sadness out of time, erred seriously.
5. cast away stones–as out of a garden or vineyard (Isa 5:2).
gather–for building; figuratively, the Gentiles, once castaway stones, were in due time made parts of the spiritual building (Eph 2:19, 20), and children of Abraham (Mt 3:9); so the restored Jews hereafter (Ps 102:13, 14; Zec 9:16).
refrain … embracing–(Joe 2:16; 1Co 7:5, 6).
6. time to get–for example, to gain honestly a livelihood (Eph 4:23).
lose–When God wills losses to us, then is our time to be content.
keep–not to give to the idle beggar (2Th 3:10).
cast away–in charity (Pr 11:24); or to part with the dearest object, rather than the soul (Mr 9:43). To be careful is right in its place, but not when it comes between us and Jesus Christ (Lu 10:40-42).
7. rend–garments, in mourning (Joe 2:13); figuratively, nations, as Israel from Judah, already foretold, in Solomon’s time (1Ki 11:30, 31), to be “sewed” together hereafter (Eze 37:15, 22).
silence–(Am 5:13), in a national calamity, or that of a friend (Job 2:13); also not to murmur under God’s visitation (Le 10:3; Ps 39:1, 2, 9).
8. hate–for example, sin, lusts (Lu 14:26); that is, to love God so much more as to seem in comparison to hate “father or mother,” when coming between us and God.
a time of war … peace–(Lu 14:31).
9. But these earthly pursuits, while lawful in their season, are “unprofitable” when made by man, what God never intended them to be, the chief good. Solomon had tried to create an artificial forced joy, at times when he ought rather to have been serious; the result, therefore, of his labor to be happy, out of God’s order, was disappointment. “A time to plant” (Ec 3:2) refers to his planting (Ec 2:5); “laugh” (Ec 3:4), to Ec 2:1, 2; “his mirth,” “laughter”; “build up,” “gather stones” (Ec 3:3, 5), to his “building” (Ec 2:4); “embrace,” “love,” to his “princess” (see on Ec 2:8); “get” (perhaps also “gather,” Ec 3:5, 6), to his “gathering” (Ec 2:8). All these were of “no profit,” because not in God’s time and order of bestowing happiness.
10. (See on Ec 1:13).
11. his time–that is, in its proper season (Ps 1:3), opposed to worldlings putting earthly pursuits out of their proper time and place (see on Ec 3:9).
set the world in their heart–given them capacities to understand the world of nature as reflecting God’s wisdom in its beautiful order and times (Ro 1:19, 20). “Everything” answers to “world,” in the parallelism.
so that–that is, but in such a manner that man only sees a portion, not the whole “from beginning to end” (Ec 8:17; Job 26:14; Ro 11:33; Re 15:4). Parkhurst, for “world,” translates: “Yet He hath put obscurity in the midst of them,” literally, “a secret,” so man’s mental dimness of sight as to the full mystery of God’s works. So Holden and Weiss. This incapacity for “finding out” (comprehending) God’s work is chiefly the fruit of the fall. The worldling ever since, not knowing God’s time and order, labors in vain, because out of time and place.
12. in them–in God’s works (Ec 3:11), as far as relates to man’s duty. Man cannot fully comprehend them, but he ought joyfully to receive (“rejoice in”) God’s gifts, and “do good” with them to himself and to others. This is never out of season (Ga 6:9, 10). Not sensual joy and self-indulgence (Php 4:4; Jas 4:16, 17).
13. Literally, “And also as to every man who eats … this is the gift of God” (Ec 3:22; 5:18). When received as God’s gifts, and to God’s glory, the good things of life are enjoyed in their due time and order (Ac 2:46; 1Co 10:31; 1Ti 4:3, 4).
14. (1Sa 3:12; 2Sa 23:5; Ps 89:34; Mt 24:35; Jas 1:17).
for ever–as opposed to man’s perishing labors (Ec 2:15-18).
any thing taken from it–opposed to man’s “crooked and wanting” works (Ec 1:15; 7:13). The event of man’s labors depends wholly on God’s immutable purpose. Man’s part, therefore, is to do and enjoy every earthly thing in its proper season (Ec 3:12, 13), not setting aside God’s order, but observing deep reverence towards God; for the mysteriousness and unchangeableness of God’s purposes are designed to lead “man to fear before Him.” Man knows not the event of each act: otherwise he would think himself independent of God.
15. Resumption of Ec 1:9. Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God’s “everlasting” laws (Ec 3:14), and returns in a fixed cycle.
requireth that … past–After many changes, God’s law requires the return of the same cycle of events, as in the past, literally, “that which is driven on.” The Septuagint and Syriac translate: “God requireth (that is, avengeth) the persecuted man”; a transition to Ec 3:16, 17. The parallel clauses of the verse support English Version.
16. Here a difficulty is suggested. If God “requires” events to move in their perpetual cycle, why are the wicked allowed to deal unrighteously in the place where injustice ought least of all to be; namely, “the place of judgment” (Jer 12:1)?
17. Solution of it. There is a coming judgment in which God will vindicate His righteous ways. The sinner’s “time” of his unrighteous “work” is short. God also has His “time” and “work” of judgment; and, meanwhile, is overruling, for good at last, what seems now dark. Man cannot now “find out” the plan of God’s ways (Ec 3:11; Ps 97:2). If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for free will, faith, and perseverance of saints in spite of difficulties. The previous darkness will make the light at last the more glorious.
there–(Job 3:17-19) in eternity, in the presence of the Divine Judge, opposed to the “there,” in the human place of judgment (Ec 3:16): so “from thence” (Ge 49:24).
18. estate–The estate of fallen man is so ordered (these wrongs are permitted), that God might “manifest,” that is, thereby prove them, and that they might themselves see their mortal frailty, like that of the beasts.
sons of men–rather, “sons of Adam,” a phrase used for “fallen men.” The toleration of injustice until the judgment is designed to “manifest” men’s characters in their fallen state, to see whether the oppressed will bear themselves aright amidst their wrongs, knowing that the time is short, and there is a coming judgment. The oppressed share in death, but the comparison to “beasts” applies especially to the ungodly oppressors (Ps 49:12, 20). They too need to be “manifested” (“proved”), whether, considering that they must soon die as the “beasts,” and fearing the judgment to come, they will repent (Da 4:27).
19. Literally, “For the sons of men (Adam) are a mere chance, as also the beast is a mere chance.” These words can only be the sentiments of the skeptical oppressors. God’s delay in judgment gives scope for the “manifestation” of their infidelity (Ec 8:11; Ps 55:19; 2Pe 3:3,4). They are “brute beasts,” morally (Ec 3:18; Jude 10); and they end by maintaining that man, physically, has no pre-eminence over the beast, both alike being “fortuities.” Probably this was the language of Solomon himself in his apostasy. He answers it in Ec 3:21. If Ec 3:19, 20 be his words, they express only that as regards liability to death, excluding the future judgment, as the skeptic oppressors do, man is on a level with the beast. Life is “vanity,” if regarded independently of religion. But Ec 3:21 points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future destiny; also (Ec 3:17) beasts have no “judgment” to come.
21. Who knoweth–Not doubt of the destination of man’s spirit (Ec 12:7); but “how few, by reason of the outward mortality to which man is as liable as the beast and which is the ground of the skeptic’s argument, comprehend the wide difference between man and the beast” (Isa 53:1). The Hebrew expresses the difference strongly, “The spirit of man that ascends, it belongeth to on high; but the spirit of the beast that descends, it belongeth to below, even to the earth.” Their destinations and proper element differ utterly [Weiss].
22. (Compare Ec 3:12; 5:18). Inculcating a thankful enjoyment of God’s gifts, and a cheerful discharge of man’s duties, founded on fear of God; not as the sensualist (Ec 11:9); not as the anxious money-seeker (Ec 2:23; 5:10-17).
his portion–in the present life. If it were made his main portion, it would be “vanity” (Ec 2:1; Lu 16:25).
for who, &c.–Our ignorance as to the future, which is God’s “time” (Ec 3:11), should lead us to use the present time in the best sense and leave the future to His infinite wisdom (Mt 6:20, 25, 31-34).
1. returned–namely, to the thought set forth (Ec 3:16; Job 35:9).
power–Maurer, not so well, “violence.”
no comforter–twice said to express continued suffering without any to give comfort (Isa 53:7).
2. A profane sentiment if severed from its connection; but just in its bearing on Solomon’s scope. If religion were not taken into account (Ec 3:17, 19), to die as soon as possible would be desirable, so as not to suffer or witness “oppressions”; and still more so, not to be born at all (Ec 7:1). Job (Job 3:12; 21:7), David (Ps 73:3, &c.), Jeremiah (Jer 12:1), Habakkuk (Hab 1:13), all passed through the same perplexity, until they went into the sanctuary, and looked beyond the present to the “judgment” (Ps 73:17; Hab 2:20; 3:17, 18). Then they saw the need of delay, before completely punishing the wicked, to give space for repentance, or else for accumulation of wrath (Ro 2:15); and before completely rewarding the godly, to give room for faith and perseverance in tribulation (Ps 92:7-12). Earnests, however, are often even now given, by partial judgments of the future, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth.
3. not seen–nor experienced.
4. right–rather, “prosperous” (see on Ec 2:21). Prosperity, which men so much covet, is the very source of provoking oppression (Ec 4:1) and “envy,” so far is it from constituting the chief good.
5. Still the
fool (the wicked oppressor) is not to be envied even in this life, who “folds his hands together” in idleness (Pr 6:10; 24:33), living on the means he wrongfully wrests from others; for such a one
eateth his own flesh–that is, is a self-tormentor, never satisfied, his spirit preying on itself (Isa 9:20; 49:26).
6. Hebrew; “One open hand (palm) full of quietness, than both closed hands full of travail.” “Quietness” (mental tranquillity flowing from honest labor), opposed to “eating one’s own flesh” (Ec 4:5), also opposed to anxious labor to gain (Ec 4:8; Pr 15:16, 17; 16:8).
7. A vanity described in Ec 4:8.
8. not a second–no partner.
child–“son or brother,” put for any heir (De 25:5-10).
eye–(Ec 1:8). The miser would not be able to give an account of his infatuation.
9. Two–opposed to “one” (Ec 4:8). Ties of union, marriage, friendship, religious communion, are better than the selfish solitariness of the miser (Ge 2:18).
reward–Advantage accrues from their efforts being conjoined. The Talmud says, “A man without a companion is like a left hand without the right.
10. if they fall–if the one or other fall, as may happen to both, namely, into any distress of body, mind, or soul.
11. (See on 1Ki 1:1). The image is taken from man and wife, but applies universally to the warm sympathy derived from social ties. So Christian ties (Lu 24:32; Ac 28:15).
threefold cord–proverbial for a combination of many–for example, husband, wife, and children (Pr 11:14); so Christians (Lu 10:1; Col 2:2, 19). Untwist the cord, and the separate threads are easily “broken.”
13. The “threefold cord” [Ec 4:12] of social ties suggests the subject of civil government. In this case too, he concludes that kingly power confers no lasting happiness. The “wise” child, though a supposed case of Solomon, answers, in the event foreseen by the Holy Ghost, to Jeroboam, then a poor but valiant youth, once a “servant” of Solomon, and (1Ki 11:26-40) appointed by God through the prophet Ahijah to be heir of the kingdom of the ten tribes about to be rent from Rehoboam. The “old and foolish king” answers to Solomon himself, who had lost his wisdom, when, in defiance of two warnings of God (1Ki 3:14; 9:2-9), he forsook God.
will no more be admonished–knows not yet how to take warning (see Margin) God had by Ahijah already intimated the judgment coming on Solomon (1Ki 11:11-13).
14. out of prison–Solomon uses this phrase of a supposed case; for example, Joseph raised from a dungeon to be lord of Egypt. His words are at the same time so framed by the Holy Ghost that they answer virtually to Jeroboam, who fled to escape a “prison” and death from Solomon, to Shishak of Egypt (1Ki 11:40). This unconscious presaging of his own doom, and that of Rehoboam, constitutes the irony. David’s elevation from poverty and exile, under Saul (which may have been before Solomon’s mind), had so far their counterpart in that of Jeroboam.
whereas … becometh poor–rather, “though he (the youth) was born poor in his kingdom” (in the land where afterwards he was to reign).
15. “I considered all the living,” the present generation, in relation to (“with”) the “second youth” (the “legitimate successor” of the “old king,” as opposed to the “poor youth,” the one first spoken of, about to be raised from poverty to a throne), that is, Rehoboam.
in his stead–the old king’s.
16. Notwithstanding their now worshipping the rising sun, the heir-apparent, I reflected that “there were no bounds, no stability (2Sa 15:6; 20:1), no check on the love of innovation, of all that have been before them,” that is, the past generation; so
also they that come after–that is, the next generation,
shall not rejoice in him–namely, Rehoboam. The parallel, “shall not rejoice,” fixes the sense of “no bounds,” no permanent adherence, though now men rejoice in him.
1. From vanity connected with kings, he passes to vanities (Ec 5:7) which may be fallen into in serving the King of kings, even by those who, convinced of the vanity of the creature, wish to worship the Creator.
Keep thy foot–In going to worship, go with considerate, circumspect, reverent feeling. The allusion is to the taking off the shoes, or sandals, in entering a temple (Ex 3:5; Jos 5:15, which passages perhaps gave rise to the custom). Weiss needlessly reads, “Keep thy feast days” (Ex 23:14, 17; the three great feasts).
hear–rather, “To be ready (to draw nigh with the desire) to hear (obey) is a better sacrifice than the offering of fools” [Holden]. (Vulgate; Syriac). (Ps 51:16, 17; Pr 21:3; Jer 6:20; 7:21-23; 14:12; Am 5:21-24). The warning is against mere ceremonial self-righteousness, as in Ec 7:12. Obedience is the spirit of the law’s requirements (De 10:12). Solomon sorrowfully looks back on his own neglect of this (compare 1Ki 8:63 with Ec 11:4, 6). Positive precepts of God must be kept, but will not stand instead of obedience to His moral precepts. The last provided no sacrifice for wilful sin (Nu 15:30, 31; Heb 10:26-29).
2. rash–opposed to the considerate reverence (“keep thy foot,” Ec 5:1). This verse illustrates Ec 5:1, as to prayer in the house of God (“before God,” Isa 1:12); so Ec 5:4-6 as to vows. The remedy to such vanities is stated (Ec 5:6). “Fear thou God.”
God is in heaven–Therefore He ought to be approached with carefully weighed words, by thee, a frail creature of earth.
3. As much “business,” engrossing the mind, gives birth to incoherent “dreams,” so many words, uttered inconsiderately in prayer, give birth to and betray “a fool’s speech” (Ec 10:14), [Holden and Weiss]. But Ec 5:7 implies that the “dream” is not a comparison, but the vain thoughts of the fool (sinner, Ps 73:20), arising from multiplicity of (worldly) “business.” His “dream” is that God hears him for his much speaking (Mt 6:7), independently of the frame of mind [English Version and Maurer].
fool’s voice–answers to “dream” in the parallel; it comes by the many “words” flowing from the fool’s “dream.”
4. When thou vowest a vow unto God–Hasty words in prayer (Ec 5:2, 3) suggest the subject of hasty vows. A vow should not be hastily made (Jud 11:35; 1Sa 14:24). When made, it must be kept (Ps 76:11), even as God keeps His word to us (Ex 12:41, 51; Jos 21:45).
5. (De 23:21, 23).
6. thy flesh–Vow not with “thy mouth” a vow (for example, fasting), which the lusts of the flesh (“body,” Ec 2:3, Margin) may tempt thee to break (Pr 20:25).
angel–the “messenger” of God (Job 33:23); minister (Re 1:20); that is, the priest (Mal 2:7) “before” whom a breach of a vow was to be confessed (Le 5:4, 5). We, Christians, in our vows (for example, at baptism, the Lord’s Supper, &c.) vow in the presence of Jesus Christ, “the angel of the covenant” (Mal 3:1), and of ministering angels as witnesses (1Co 11:10; 1Ti 5:21). Extenuate not any breach of them as a slight error.
7. (See on Ec 5:3). God’s service, which ought to be our chief good, becomes by “dreams” (foolish fancies as of God’s requirements of us in worship), and random “words,” positive “vanity.” The remedy is, whatever fools may do, “Fear thou God” (Ec 12:13).
8. As in Ec 3:16, so here the difficulty suggests itself. If God is so exact in even punishing hasty words (Ec 5:1-6), why does He allow gross injustice? In the remote “provinces,” the “poor” often had to put themselves for protection from the inroads of Philistines, &c., under chieftains, who oppressed them even in Solomon’s reign (1Ki 12:4).
the matter–literally, “the pleasure,” or purpose (Isa 53:10). Marvel not at this dispensation of God’s will, as if He had abandoned the world. Nay, there is coming a capital judgment at last, and an earnest of it in partial punishments of sinners meanwhile.
higher than the highest–(Da 7:18).
there be higher–plural, that is, the three persons of the Godhead, or else, “regardeth not only the ‘highest’ kings, than whom He ‘is higher,’ but even the petty tyrants of the provinces, namely, the high ones who are above them” (the poor) [Weiss].
9. “The profit (produce) of the earth is (ordained) for (the common good of) all: even the king himself is served by (the fruits of) the field” (2Ch 26:10). Therefore the common Lord of all, high and low, will punish at last those who rob the “poor” of their share in it (Pr 22:22, 23; Am 8:4-7).
10. Not only will God punish at last, but meanwhile the oppressive gainers of “silver” find no solid “satisfaction” in it.
shall not be satisfied–so the oppressor “eateth his own flesh” (see on Ec 4:1 and Ec 4:5).
with increase–is not satisfied with the gain that he makes.
11. they … that eat them–the rich man’s dependents (Ps 23:5).
12. Another argument against anxiety to gain riches. “Sleep … sweet” answers to “quietness” (Ec 4:6); “not suffer … sleep,” to “vexation of spirit.” Fears for his wealth, and an overloaded stomach without “laboring” (compare Ec 4:5), will not suffer the rich oppressor to sleep.
13, 14. Proofs of God’s judgments even in this world (Pr 11:31). The rich oppressor’s wealth provokes enemies, robbers, &c. Then, after having kept it for an expected son, he loses it beforehand by misfortune (“by evil travail”), and the son is born to be heir of poverty. Ec 2:19, 23 gives another aspect of the same subject.
16. Even supposing that he loses not his wealth before death, then at least he must go stripped of it all (Ps 49:17).
laboured for the wind–(Ho 12:1; 1Co 9:26).
17. eateth–appropriately put for “liveth” in general, as connected with Ec 5:11, 12, 18.
darkness–opposed to “light (joy) of countenance” (Ec 8:1; Pr 16:15).
wrath–fretfulness, literally, “His sorrow is much, and his infirmity (of body) and wrath.”
18. Returns to the sentiment (Ec 3:12, 13, 22); translate: “Behold the good which I have seen, and which is becoming” (in a man).
which God giveth–namely, both the good of his labor and his life.
his portion–legitimately. It is God’s gift that makes it so when regarded as such. Such a one will use, not abuse, earthly things (1Co 7:31). Opposed to the anxious life of the covetous (Ec 5:10, 17).
19. As Ec 5:18 refers to the “laboring” man (Ec 5:12), so Ec 5:19 to the “rich” man, who gets wealth not by “oppression” (Ec 5:8), but by “God’s gift.” He is distinguished also from the “rich” man (Ec 6:2) in having received by God’s gift not only “wealth,” but also “power to eat thereof,” which that one has not.
to take his portion–limits him to the lawful use of wealth, not keeping back from God His portion while enjoying his own.
20. He will not remember much, looking back with disappointment, as the ungodly do (Ec 2:11), on the days of his life.
answereth … in the joy–God answers his prayers in giving him “power” to enjoy his blessings. Gesenius and Vulgate translate, “For God (so) occupies him with joy,” &c., that he thinks not much of the shortness and sorrows of life. Holden, “Though God gives not much (as to real enjoyment), yet he remembers (with thankfulness) the days; for (he knows) God exercises him by the joy,” &c. (tries him by prosperity), so Margin, but English Version is simplest.
1. common–or else more literally,–“great upon man,” falls heavily upon man.
2. for his soul–that is, his enjoyment.
God giveth him not power to eat–This distinguishes him from the “rich” man in Ec 5:19. “God hath given” distinguishes him also from the man who got his wealth by “oppression” (Ec 5:8, 10).
stranger–those not akin, nay, even hostile to him (Jer 51:51; La 5:2; Ho 7:9). He seems to have it in his “power” to do as he will with his wealth, but an unseen power gives him up to his own avarice: God wills that he should toil for “a stranger” (Ec 2:26), who has found favor in God’s sight.
3. Even if a man (of this character) have very many (equivalent to “a hundred,” 2Ki 10:1) children, and not have a “stranger” as his heir (Ec 6:2), and live long (“days of years” express the brevity of life at its best, Ge 47:9), yet enjoy no real “good” in life, and lie unhonored, without “burial,” at death (2Ki 9:26, 35), the embryo is better than he. In the East to be without burial is the greatest degradation. “Better the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that left to hang on till rotten” [Henry].
4. he–rather “it,” “the untimely birth.” So “its,” not “his name.”
with vanity–to no purpose; a type of the driftless existence of him who makes riches the chief good.
darkness–of the abortive; a type of the unhonored death and dark future beyond the grave of the avaricious.
5. this–yet “it has more rest than” the toiling, gloomy miser.
6. If the miser’s length of “life” be thought to raise him above the abortive, Solomon answers that long life, without enjoying real good, is but lengthened misery, and riches cannot exempt him from going whither “all go.” He is fit neither for life, nor death, nor eternity.
7. man–rather, “the man,” namely, the miser (Ec 6:3-6). For not all men labor for the mouth, that is, for selfish gratification.
appetite–Hebrew, “the soul.” The insatiability of the desire prevents that which is the only end proposed in toils, namely, self-gratification; “the man” thus gets no “good” out of his wealth (Ec 6:3).
8. For–“However” [Maurer]. The “for” means (in contrast to the insatiability of the miser), For what else is the advantage which the wise man hath above the fool?”
What–advantage, that is, superiority, above him who knows not how to walk uprightly
hath the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?–that is, to use and enjoy life aright (Ec 5:18, 19), a cheerful, thankful, godly “walk” (Ps 116:9).
9. Answer to the question in Ec 6:8. This is the advantage:
Better is the sight of the eyes–the wise man’s godly enjoyment of present seen blessings
than the (fool’s) wandering–literally, walking (Ps 73:9), of the desire, that is, vague, insatiable desires for what he has not (Ec 6:7; Heb 13:5).
this–restless wandering of desire, and not enjoying contentedly the present (1Ti 6:6, 8).
10. Part II begins here. Since man’s toils are vain, what is the chief good? (Ec 6:12). The answer is contained in the rest of the book.
That which hath been–man’s various circumstances
is named already–not only has existed, Ec 1:9; 3:15, but has received its just name, “vanity,” long ago,
and it is known that it–vanity
is man–Hebrew, “Adam,” equivalent to man “of red dust,” as his Creator appropriately named him from his frailty.
neither may he contend, &c.–(Ro 9:20).
11. “Seeing” that man cannot escape from the “vanity,” which by God’s “mighty” will is inherent in earthly things, and cannot call in question God’s wisdom in these dispensations (equivalent to “contend,” &c.),
what is man the better–of these vain things as regards the chief good? None whatever.
12. For who knoweth, &c.–The ungodly know not what is really “good” during life, nor “what shall be after them,” that is, what will be the event of their undertakings (Ec 3:22; 8:7). The godly might be tempted to “contend with God” (Ec 6:10) as to His dispensations; but they cannot fully know the wise purposes served by them now and hereafter. Their sufferings from the oppressors are more really good for them than cloudless prosperity; sinners are being allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Retribution in part vindicates God’s ways even now. The judgment shall make all clear. In Ec 7:1-29, he states what is good, in answer to this verse.
1. (See on Ec 6:12).
name–character; a godly mind and life; not mere reputation with man, but what a man is in the eyes of God, with whom the name and reality are one thing (Isa 9:6). This alone is “good,” while all else is “vanity” when made the chief end.
ointment–used lavishly at costly banquets and peculiarly refreshing in the sultry East. The Hebrew for “name” and for “ointment,” have a happy paronomasia, Sheem and Shemen. “Ointment” is fragrant only in the place where the person is whose head and garment are scented, and only for a time. The “name” given by God to His child (Re 3:12) is for ever and in all lands. So in the case of the woman who received an everlasting name from Jesus Christ, in reward for her precious ointment (Isa 56:5; Mr 14:3-9). Jesus Christ Himself hath such a name, as the Messiah, equivalent to Anointed (So 1:3).
and the day of [his] death, &c.–not a general censure upon God for creating man; but, connected with the previous clause, death is to him, who hath a godly name, “better” than the day of his birth; “far better,” as Php 1:23 has it.
2. Proving that it is not a sensual enjoyment of earthly goods which is meant in Ec 3:13; 5:18. A thankful use of these is right, but frequent feasting Solomon had found dangerous to piety in his own case. So Job’s fear (Ec 1:4, 5). The house of feasting often shuts out thoughts of God and eternity. The sight of the dead in the “house of mourning” causes “the living” to think of their own “end.”
3. Sorrow–such as arises from serious thoughts of eternity.
laughter–reckless mirth (Ec 2:2).
by the sadness … better–(Ps 126:5, 6; 2Co 4:17; Heb 12:10, 11). Maurer translates: “In sadness of countenance there is (may be) a good (cheerful) heart.” So Hebrew, for “good,” equivalent to “cheerful” (Ec 11:9); but the parallel clause supports English Version.
5. (Ps 141:4, 5). Godly reproof offends the flesh, but benefits the spirit. Fools’ songs in the house of mirth please the flesh, but injure the soul.
6. crackling–answers to the loud merriment of fools. It is the very fire consuming them which produces the seeming merry noise (Joe 2:5). Their light soon goes out in the black darkness. There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew, Sirim (“thorns”), Sir (“pot”). The wicked are often compared to “thorns” (2Sa 23:6; Na 1:10). Dried cow-dung was the common fuel in Palestine; its slowness in burning makes the quickness of a fire of thorns the more graphic, as an image of the sudden end of fools (Ps 118:12).
7. oppression–recurring to the idea (Ec 3:16; 5:8). Its connection with Ec 7:4-6 is, the sight of “oppression” perpetrated by “fools” might tempt the “wise” to call in question God’s dispensations, and imitate the folly (equivalent to “madness”) described (Ec 7:5,6). Weiss, for “oppression,” translates, “distraction,” produced by merriment. But Ec 5:8 favors English Version.
a gift–that is, the sight of bribery in “places of judgment” (Ec 3:16) might cause the wise to lose their wisdom (equivalent to “heart”), (Job 12:6; 21:6, 7; 24:1, &c.). This suits the parallelism better than “a heart of gifts”; a benevolent heart, as Weiss.
8. connected with Ec 7:7. Let the “wise” wait for “the end,” and the “oppressions” which now (in “the beginning”) perplex their faith, will be found by God’s working to be overruled to their good. “Tribulation worketh patience” (Ro 5:3), which is infinitely better than “the proud spirit” that prosperity might have generated in them, as it has in fools (Ps 73:2, 3, 12-14, 17-26; Jas 5:11).
9. angry–impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was (Ec 5:2; Pr 12:16).
10. Do not call in question God’s ways in making thy former days better than thy present, as Job did (Job 29:2-5). The very putting of the question argues that heavenly “wisdom” (Margin) is not as much as it ought made the chief good with thee.
11. Rather, “Wisdom, as compared with an inheritance, is good,” that is, is as good as an inheritance; “yea, better (literally, and a profit) to them that see the sun” (that is, the living, Ec 11:7; Job 3:16; Ps 49:19).
12. Literally, (To be) in (that is, under) the shadow (Isa 30:2) of wisdom (is the same as to be) in (under) the shadow of money; wisdom no less shields one from the ills of life than money does.
is, that–rather, “the excellency of the knowledge of wisdom giveth life,” that is, life in the highest sense, here and hereafter (Pr 3:18; Joh 17:3; 2Pe 1:3). Wisdom (religion) cannot be lost as money can. It shields one in adversity, as well as prosperity; money, only in prosperity. The question in Ec 7:10 implies a want of it.
13. Consider as to God’s work, that it is impossible to alter His dispensations; for who can, &c.
straight … crooked–Man cannot amend what God wills to be “wanting” and “adverse” (Ec 1:15; Job 12:14).
14. consider–resumed from Ec 7:13. “Consider,” that is, regard it as “the work of God”; for “God has made (Hebrew, for ‘set’) this (adversity) also as well as the other (prosperity).” “Adversity” is one of the things which “God has made crooked,” and which man cannot “make straight.” He ought therefore to be “patient” (Ec 7:8).
after him–equivalent to “that man may not find anything (to blame) after God” (that is, after “considering God’s work,” Ec 7:13). Vulgate and Syriac, “against Him” (compare Ec 7:10; Ro 3:4).
15. An objection entertained by Solomon
in the days of his vanity–his apostasy (Ec 8:14; Job 21:7).
just … perisheth–(1Ki 21:13). Temporal not eternal death (Joh 10:28). But see on Ec 7:16; “just” is probably a self-justiciary.
wicked … prolongeth–See the antidote to the abuse of this statement in Ec 8:12.
16. Holden makes Ec 7:16 the scoffing inference of the objector, and Ec 7:17 the answer of Solomon, now repentant. So (1Co 15:32) the skeptic’s objection; (1Co 15:33) the answer. However, “Be not righteous over much,” may be taken as Solomon’s words, forbidding a self-made righteousness of outward performances, which would wrest salvation from God, instead of receiving it as the gift of His grace. It is a fanatical, pharisaical righteousness, separated from God; for the “fear of God” is in antithesis to it (Ec 7:18; 5:3, 7; Mt 6:1-7; 9:14; 23:23, 24; Ro 10:3; 1Ti 4:3).
over wise–(Job 11:12; Ro 12:3, 16), presumptuously self-sufficient, as if acquainted with the whole of divine truth.
destroy thyself–expose thyself to needless persecution, austerities and the wrath of God; hence to an untimely death. “Destroy thyself” answers to “perisheth” (Ec 7:15); “righteous over much,” to “a just man.” Therefore in Ec 7:15 it is self-justiciary, not a truly righteous man, that is meant.
17. over much wicked–so worded, to answer to “righteous over much.” For if not taken thus, it would seem to imply that we may be wicked a little. “Wicked” refers to “wicked man” (Ec 7:15); “die before thy time,” to “prolongeth his life,” antithetically. There may be a wicked man spared to “live long,” owing to his avoiding gross excesses (Ec 7:15). Solomon says, therefore, Be not so foolish (answering antithetically to “over wise,” Ec 7:16), as to run to such excess of riot, that God will be provoked to cut off prematurely thy day of grace (Ro 2:5). The precept is addressed to a sinner. Beware of aggravating thy sin, so as to make thy case desperate. It refers to the days of Solomon’s “vanity” (apostasy, Ec 7:15), when only such a precept would be applicable. By litotes it includes, “Be not wicked at all.”
18. this … this–the two opposite excesses (Ec 7:16, 17), fanatical, self-wise righteousness, and presumptuous, foolhardy wickedness.
he that feareth God shall come forth of them all–shall escape all such extremes (Pr 3:7).
19. Hebrew, “The wisdom,” that is, the true wisdom, religion (2Ti 3:15).
than ten mighty–that is, able and valiant generals (Ec 7:12; 9:13-18; Pr 21:22; 24:5). These “watchmen wake in vain, except the Lord keep the city” (Ps 127:1).
20. Referring to Ec 7:16. Be not “self-righteous,” seek not to make thyself “just” before God by a superabundance of self-imposed performances; “for true ‘wisdom,’ or ‘righteousness,’ shows that there is not a just man,” &c.
21. As therefore thou being far from perfectly “just” thyself, hast much to be forgiven by God, do not take too strict account, as the self-righteous do (Ec 7:16; Lu 18:9, 11), and thereby shorten their lives (Ec 7:15, 16), of words spoken against thee by others, for example, thy servant: Thou art their “fellow servant” before God (Mt 18:32-35).
22. (1Ki 2:44).
23. All this–resuming the “all” in Ec 7:15; Ec 7:15-22 is therefore the fruit of his dearly bought experience in the days of his “vanity.”
I will be wise–I tried to “be wise,” independently of God. But true wisdom was then “far from him,” in spite of his human wisdom, which he retained by God’s gift. So “over wise” (Ec 7:16).
24. That … far off … deep–True wisdom is so when sought independently of “fear of God” (Ec 7:18; De 30:12, 13; Job 11:7, 8; 28:12-20, 28; Ps 64:6; Ro 10:6, 7).
25. Literally, “I turned myself and mine heart to.” A phrase peculiar to Ecclesiastes, and appropriate to the penitent turning back to commune with his heart on his past life.
wickedness of folly–He is now a step further on the path of penitence than in Ec 1:17; 2:12, where “folly” is put without “wickedness” prefixed.
reason–rather, “the right estimation” of things. Holden translates also “foolishness (that is, sinful folly, answering to ‘wickedness’ in the parallel) of madness” (that is, of man’s mad pursuits).
26. “I find” that, of all my sinful follies, none has been so ruinous a snare in seducing me from God as idolatrous women (1Ki 11:3, 4; Pr 5:3, 4; 22:14). As “God’s favor is better than life,” she who seduces from God is “more bitter than death.”
whoso pleaseth God–as Joseph (Ge 39:2, 3, 9). It is God’s grace alone that keeps any from falling.
27. this–namely, what follows in Ec 7:28.
counting one by one–by comparing one thing with another [Holden and Maurer].
account–a right estimate. But Ec 7:28 more favors Gesenius. “Considering women one by one.”
28. Rather, referring to his past experience, “Which my soul sought further, but I found not.”
one man–that is, worthy of the name, “man,” “upright”; not more than one in a thousand of my courtiers (Job 33:23; Ps 12:1). Jesus Christ alone of men fully realizes the perfect ideal of “man.” “Chiefest among ten thousand” (So 5:10). No perfect “woman” has ever existed, not even the Virgin Mary. Solomon, in the word “thousand,” alludes to his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. Among these it was not likely that he should find the fidelity which one true wife pays to one husband. Connected with Ec 7:26, not an unqualified condemnation of the sex, as Pr 12:4; 31:10, &c., prove.
29. The “only” way of accounting for the scarcity of even comparatively upright men and women is that, whereas God made man upright, they (men) have, &c. The only account to be “found” of the origin of evil, the great mystery of theology, is that given in Holy Writ (Ge 2:1-3:24). Among man’s “inventions” was the one especially referred to in Ec 7:26, the bitter fruits of which Solomon experienced, the breaking of God’s primeval marriage law, joining one man to “one” woman (Mt 19:4, 5, 6). “Man” is singular, namely, Adam; “they,” plural, Adam, Eve, and their posterity.
1. Praise of true wisdom continued (Ec 7:11, &c.). “Who” is to be accounted “equal to the wise man? … Who (like him) knoweth the interpretation” of God’s providences (for example, Ec 7:8, 13, 14), and God’s word (for example, see on Ec 7:29; Pr 1:6)?
face to shine–(Ec 7:14; Ac 6:15). A sunny countenance, the reflection of a tranquil conscience and serene mind. Communion with God gives it (Ex 34:29, 30).
changed–into a benign expression by true wisdom (religion) (Jas 3:17). Maurer translates, “The shining (brightness) of his face is doubled,” arguing that the Hebrew noun for “boldness” is never used in a bad sense (Pr 4:18). Or as Margin, “strength” (Ec 7:19; Isa 40:31; 2Co 3:18). But the adjective is used in a bad sense (De 28:50).
2. the king’s–Jehovah, peculiarly the king of Israel in the theocracy; Ec 8:3, 4, prove it is not the earthly king who is meant.
the oath of God–the covenant which God made with Abraham and renewed with David; Solomon remembered Ps 89:35, “I have sworn,” &c. (Ps 89:36), and the penalties if David’s children should forsake it (Ps 89:30-32); inflicted on Solomon himself; yet God not “utterly” forsaking him (Ps 89:33, 34).
3. hasty–rather, “Be not terror-struck so as to go out of His sight.” Slavishly “terror-struck” is characteristic of the sinner’s feeling toward God; he vainly tries to flee out of His sight (Ps 139:7); opposed to the “shining face” of filial confidence (Ec 8:1; Joh 8:33-36; Ro 8:2; 1Jo 4:18).
stand not–persist not.
for he doeth–God inflicts what punishment He pleases on persisting sinners (Job 23:13; Ps 115:3). True of none save God.
4. God’s very “word” is “power.” So the gospel word (Ro 1:16; Heb 4:12).
who may say, &c.–(Job 9:12; 33:13; Isa 45:9; Da 4:35). Scripture does not ascribe such arbitrary power to earthly kings.
time–the neglect of the right “times” causes much of the sinful folly of the spiritually unwise (Ec 3:1-11).
judgment–the right manner [Holden]. But as God’s future “judgment” is connected with the “time for every purpose” in Ec 3:17, so it is here. The punishment of persisting sinners (Ec 8:3) suggests it. The wise man realizes the fact, that as there is a fit “time” for every purpose, so for the “judgment.” This thought cheers him in adversity (Ec 7:14; 8:1).
6. therefore the misery, &c.–because the foolish sinner does not think of the right “times” and the “judgment.”
7. he–the sinner, by neglecting times (for example, “the accepted time, and the day of salvation, 2Co 6:2), is taken by surprise by the judgment (Ec 3:22; 6:12; 9:12). The godly wise observe the due times of things (Ec 3:1), and so, looking for the judgment, are not taken by surprise, though not knowing the precise “when” (1Th 5:2-4); they “know the time” to all saving purposes (Ro 13:11).
8. spirit–“breath of life” (Ec 3:19), as the words following require. Not “wind,” as Weiss thinks (Pr 30:4). This verse naturally follows the subject of “times” and “judgment” (Ec 8:6, 7).
discharge–alluding to the liability to military service of all above twenty years old (Nu 1:3), yet many were exempted (De 20:5-8). But in that war (death) there is no exemption.
those … given to–literally, the master of it. Wickedness can get money for the sinner, but cannot deliver him from the death, temporal and eternal, which is its penalty (Isa 28:15, 18).
9. his own hurt–The tyrannical ruler “hurts” not merely his subjects, but himself; so Rehoboam (1Ki 12:1-33); but the “time” of “hurt” chiefly refers to eternal ruin, incurred by “wickedness,” at “the day of death” (Ec 8:8), and the “time” of “judgment” (Ec 8:6; Pr 8:36).
10. the wicked–namely, rulers (Ec 8:9).
buried–with funeral pomp by man, though little meriting it (Jer 22:19); but this only formed the more awful contrast to their death, temporal and eternal, inflicted by God (Lu 16:22, 23).
come and gone from the place of the holy–went to and came from the place of judicature, where they sat as God’s representatives (Ps 82:1-6), with pomp [Holden]. Weiss translates, “Buried and gone (utterly), even from the holy place they departed.” As Joab, by Solomon’s command, was sent to the grave from the “holy place” in the temple, which was not a sanctuary to murderers (Ex 21:14; 1Ki 2:28, 31). The use of the very word “bury” there makes this view likely; still “who had come and gone” may be retained. Joab came to the altar, but had to go from it; so the “wicked rulers” (Ec 8:9) (including high priests) came to, and went from, the temple, on occasions of solemn worship, but did not thereby escape their doom.
11. The reason why the wicked persevere in sin: God’s delay in judgment (Mt 24:48-51; 2Pe 3:8, 9). “They see not the smoke of the pit, therefore they dread not the fire” [South], (Ps 55:19). Joab’s escape from the punishment of his murder of Abner, so far from “leading him to repentance,” as it ought (Ro 2:4), led him to the additional murder of Amasa.
12. He says this, lest the sinner should abuse the statement (Ec 7:15), “A wicked man prolongeth his life.”
before him–literally, “at His presence”; reverently serve Him, realizing His continual presence.
13. neither shall he prolong–not a contradiction to Ec 8:12. The “prolonging” of his days there is only seeming, not real. Taking into account his eternal existence, his present days, however seemingly long, are really short. God’s delay (Ec 8:11) exists only in man’s short-sighted view. It gives scope to the sinner to repent, or else to fill up his full measure of guilt; and so, in either case, tends to the final vindication of God’s ways. It gives exercise to the faith, patience, and perseverance of saints.
shadow–(Ec 6:12; Job 8:9).
14. An objection is here started (entertained by Solomon in his apostasy), as in Ec 3:16; 7:15, to the truth of retributive justice, from the fact of the just and the wicked not now receiving always according to their respective deserts; a cavil, which would seem the more weighty to men living under the Mosaic covenant of temporal sanctions. The objector adds, as Solomon had said, that the worldling’s pursuits are “vanity” (Ec 8:10), “I say (not ‘said’) this also is vanity. Then I commend mirth,” &c. [Holden]. Ec 8:14, 15 may, however, be explained as teaching a cheerful, thankful use of God’s gifts “under the sun,” that is, not making them the chief good, as sensualists do, which Ec 2:2; 7:2, forbid; but in “the fear of God,” as Ec 3:12; 5:18; 7:18; 9:7, opposed to the abstinence of the self-righteous ascetic (Ec 7:16), and of the miser (Ec 5:17).
15. no better thing, &c.–namely, for the “just” man, whose chief good is religion, not for the worldly.
abide–Hebrew, “adhere”; not for ever, but it is the only sure good to be enjoyed from earthly labors (equivalent to “of his labor the days of his life”). Still, the language resembles the skeptical precept (1Co 15:32), introduced only to be refuted; and “abide” is too strong language, perhaps, for a religious man to apply to “eating” and “mirth.”
16. Reply to Ec 8:14, 15. When I applied myself to observe man’s toils after happiness (some of them so incessant as not to allow sufficient time for “sleep”), then (Ec 8:17, the apodosis) I saw that man cannot find out (the reason of) God’s inscrutable dealings with the “just” and with the “wicked” here (Ec 8:14; Ec 3:11; Job 5:9; Ro 11:33); his duty is to acquiesce in them as good, because they are God’s, though he sees not all the reasons for them (Ps 73:16). It is enough to know “the righteous are in God’s hand” (Ec 9:1). “Over wise” (Ec 7:16); that is, Speculations above what is written are vain.
1. declare–rather, explore; the result of my exploring is this, that “the righteous, &c., are in the hand of God. No man knoweth either the love or hatred (of God to them) by all that is before them,” that is, by what is outwardly seen in His present dealings (Ec 8:14, 17). However, from the sense of the same words, in Ec 9:6, “love and hatred” seem to be the feelings of the wicked towards the righteous, whereby they caused to the latter comfort or sorrow. Translate: “Even the love and hatred” (exhibited towards the righteous, are in God’s hand) (Ps 76:10; Pr 16:7). “No man knoweth all that is before them.”
2. All things … alike–not universally; but as to death. Ec 9:2-10 are made by Holden the objection of a skeptical sensualist. However, they may be explained as Solomon’s language. He repeats the sentiment already implied in Ec 2:14; 3:20; 8:14.
one event–not eternally; but death is common to all.
sacrificeth–alike to Josiah who sacrificed to God, and to Ahab who made sacrifice to Him cease.
sweareth–rashly and falsely.
3. Translate, “There is an evil above all (evils) that are done,” &c., namely, that not only “there is one event to all,” but “also the heart of the sons of men” makes this fact a reason for “madly” persisting in “evil while they live, and after that,” &c., sin is “madness.”
the dead–(Pr 2:18; 9:18).
4. For–rather, “Nevertheless.” English Version rightly reads as the Margin, Hebrew, “that is joined,” instead of the text, “who is to be chosen?”
hope–not of mere temporal good (Job 14:7); but of yet repenting and being saved.
dog–metaphor for the vilest persons (1Sa 24:14).
lion–the noblest of animals (Pr 30:30).
better–as to hope of salvation; the noblest who die unconverted have no hope; the vilest, so long as they have life, have hope.
5. know that they shall die–and may thereby be led “so to number their days, that they may apply their hearts to wisdom” (Ec 7:1-4; Ps 90:12).
dead know not anything–that is, so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Isa 63:16); also, they know no door of repentance open to them, such as is to all on earth.
neither … reward–no advantage from their worldly labors (Ec 2:18-22; 4:9).
memory–not of the righteous (Ps 112:6; Mal 3:16), but the wicked, who with all the pains to perpetuate their names (Ps 49:11) are soon “forgotten” (Ec 8:10).
6. love, and … hatred, &c.–(referring to Ec 9:1; see on Ec 9:1). Not that these cease in a future world absolutely (Eze 32:27; Re 22:11); but as the end of this verse shows, relatively to persons and things in this world. Man’s love and hatred can no longer be exercised for good or evil in the same way as here; but the fruits of them remain. What he is at death he remains for ever. “Envy,” too, marks the wicked as referred to, since it was therewith that they assailed the righteous (see on Ec 9:1).
portion–Their “portion” was “in this life” (Ps 17:14), that they now “cannot have any more.”
7. Addressed to the “righteous wise,” spoken of in Ec 9:1. Being “in the hand of God,” who now accepteth “thy works” in His service, as He has previously accepted thy person (Ge 4:4), thou mayest “eat … with a cheerful (not sensually ‘merry’) heart” (Ec 3:13; 5:18; Ac 2:46).
8. white–in token of joy (Isa 61:3). Solomon was clad in white (Josephus, Antiquities, 8:7,3); hence his attire is compared to the “lilies” (Mt 6:29), typical of the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ, which the redeemed shall wear (Re 3:18; 7:14).
ointment–(Ps 23:5), opposed to a gloomy exterior (2Sa 14:2; Ps 45:7; Mt 6:17); typical, also (Ec 7:1; So 1:3).
9. wife … lovest–godly and true love, opposed to the “snares” of the “thousand” concubines (Ec 7:26, 28), “among” whom Solomon could not find the true love which joins one man to one woman (Pr 5:15, 18, 19; 18:22; 19:14).
10. Whatsoever–namely, in the service of God. This and last verse plainly are the language of Solomon, not of a skeptic, as Holden would explain it.
hand, &c.–(Le 12:8, Margin; 1Sa 10:7, Margin).
thy might–diligence (De 6:5; Jer 48:10, Margin).
no work … in the grave–(Joh 9:4; Re 14:13). “The soul’s play-day is Satan’s work-day; the idler the man the busier the tempter” [South].
11. This verse qualifies the sentiment, Ec 9:7-9. Earthly “enjoyments,” however lawful in their place (Ec 3:1), are to give way when any work to be done for God requires it. Reverting to the sentiment (Ec 8:17), we ought, therefore, not only to work God’s work “with might” (Ec 9:10), but also with the feeling that the event is wholly “in God’s hand” (Ec 9:1).
race … not to the swift–(2Sa 18:23); spiritually (Zep 3:19; Ro 9:16).
nor … battle to … strong–(1Sa 17:47; 2Ch 14:9, 11, 15; Ps 33:16).
favour–of the great.
chance–seemingly, really Providence. But as man cannot “find it out” (Ec 3:11), he needs “with all might” to use opportunities. Duties are ours; events, God’s.
12. his time–namely, of death (Ec 7:15; Isa 13:22). Hence the danger of delay in doing the work of God, as one knows not when his opportunity will end (Ec 9:10).
evil net–fatal to them. The unexpected suddenness of the capture is the point of comparison. So the second coming of Jesus Christ, “as a snare” (Lu 21:35).
evil time–as an “evil net,” fatal to them.
13. Rather, “I have seen wisdom of this kind also,” that is, exhibited in the way which is described in what follows [Maurer].
14, 15. (2Sa 20:16-22).
bulwarks–military works of besiegers.
15. poor–as to the temporal advantages of true wisdom, though it often saves others. It receives little reward from the world, which admires none save the rich and great.
no man remembered–(Ge 40:23).
16. Resuming the sentiment (Ec 7:19; Pr 21:22; 24:5).
poor man’s wisdom is despised–not the poor man mentioned in Ec 9:15; for his wisdom could not have saved the city, had “his words not been heard”; but poor men in general. So Paul (Ac 27:11).
17. The words of wise, &c.–Though generally the poor wise man is not heard (Ec 9:16), yet “the words of wise men, when heard in quiet (when calmly given heed to, as in Ec 9:15), are more serviceable than,” &c.
ruleth–as the “great king” (Ec 9:14). Solomon reverts to “the rulers to their own hurt” (Ec 8:9).
18. one sinner, &c.–(Jos 7:1, 11, 12). Though wisdom excels folly (Ec 9:16; 7:19), yet a “little folly (equivalent to sin) can destroy much good,” both in himself (Ec 10:1; Jas 2:10) and in others. “Wisdom” must, from the antithesis to “sinner,” mean religion. Thus typically, the “little city” may be applied to the Church (Lu 12:32; Heb 12:22); the great king to Satan (Joh 12:31); the despised poor wise man, Jesus Christ (Isa 53:2, 3; Mr 6:3; 2Co 8:9; Eph 1:7, 8; Col 2:3).
1. Following up Ec 9:18.
him that is in reputation–for example, David (2Sa 12:14); Solomon (1Ki 11:1-43); Jehoshaphat (2Ch 18:1-34; 19:2); Josiah (2Ch 35:22). The more delicate the perfume, the more easily spoiled is the ointment. Common oil is not so liable to injury. So the higher a man’s religious character is, the more hurt is caused by a sinful folly in him. Bad savor is endurable in oil, but not in what professes to be, and is compounded by the perfumer (“apothecary”) for, fragrance. “Flies” answer to “a little folly” (sin), appropriately, being small (1Co 5:6); also, “Beelzebub” means prince of flies. “Ointment” answers to “reputation” (Ec 7:1; Ge 34:30). The verbs are singular, the noun plural, implying that each of the flies causes the stinking savor.
2. (Ec 2:14).
right–The right hand is more expert than the left. The godly wise is more on his guard than the foolish sinner, though at times he slip. Better a diamond with a flaw, than a pebble without one.
3. by the way–in his ordinary course; in his simplest acts (Pr 6:12-14). That he “saith,” virtually, “that he” himself, &c. [Septuagint]. But Vulgate, “He thinks that every one (else whom he meets) is a fool.”
yielding pacifieth–(Pr 15:1). This explains “leave not thy place”; do not in a resisting spirit withdraw from thy post of duty (Ec 8:3).
5. as–rather, “by reason of an error” [Maurer and Holden].
6. rich–not in mere wealth, but in wisdom, as the antithesis to “folly” (for “foolish men”) shows. So Hebrew, rich, equivalent to “liberal,” in a good sense (Isa 32:5). Mordecai and Haman (Es 3:1, 2; 6:6-11).
7. servants upon horses–the worthless exalted to dignity (Jer 17:25); and vice versa (2Sa 15:30).
8. The fatal results to kings of such an unwise policy; the wrong done to others recoils on themselves (Ec 8:9); they fall into the pit which they dug for others (Es 7:10; Ps 7:15; Pr 26:27). Breaking through the wise fences of their throne, they suffer unexpectedly themselves; as when one is stung by a serpent lurking in the stones of his neighbor’s garden wall (Ps 80:12), which he maliciously pulls down (Am 5:19).
9. removeth stones–namely, of an ancient building [Weiss]. His neighbor’s landmarks [Holden]. Cuts out from the quarry [Maurer].
endangered–by the splinters, or by the head of the hatchet, flying back on himself. Pithy aphorisms are common in the East. The sense is: Violations of true wisdom recoil on the perpetrators.
10. iron … blunt–in “cleaving wood” (Ec 10:9), answering to the “fool set in dignity” (Ec 10:6), who wants sharpness. More force has then to be used in both cases; but “force” without judgment “endangers” one’s self. Translate, “If one hath blunted his iron” [Maurer]. The preference of rash to judicious counsellors, which entailed the pushing of matters by force, proved to be the “hurt” of Rehoboam (1Ki 12:1-33).
wisdom is profitable to direct–to a prosperous issue. Instead of forcing matters by main “strength” to one’s own hurt (Ec 9:16, 18).
11. A “serpent will bite” if “enchantment” is not used; “and a babbling calumniator is no better.” Therefore, as one may escape a serpent by charms (Ps 58:4, 5), so one may escape the sting of a calumniator by discretion (Ec 10:12), [Holden]. Thus, “without enchantment” answers to “not whet the edge” (Ec 10:10), both expressing, figuratively, want of judgment. Maurer translates, “There is no gain to the enchanter” (Margin, “master of the tongue”) from his enchantments, because the serpent bites before he can use them; hence the need of continual caution. Ec 10:8-10, caution in acting; Ec 10:11 and following verses, caution in speaking.
12. gracious–Thereby he takes precaution against sudden injury (Ec 10:11).
swallow up himself–(Pr 10:8, 14, 21, 32; 12:13; 15:2; 22:11).
13. Illustrating the folly and injuriousness of the fool’s words; last clause of Ec 10:12.
14. full of words–(Ec 5:2).
a man cannot tell what shall be–(Ec 3:22; 6:12; 8:7; 11:2; Pr 27:1). If man, universally (including the wise man), cannot foresee the future, much less can the fool; his “many words” are therefore futile.
15. labour … wearieth–(Isa 55:2; Hab 2:13).
knoweth not how to go to the city–proverb for ignorance of the most ordinary matters (Ec 10:3); spiritually, the heavenly city (Ps 107:7; Mt 7:13, 14). Maurer connects Ec 10:15 with the following verses. The labor (vexation) caused by the foolish (injurious princes, Ec 10:4-7) harasses him who “knows not how to go to the city,” to ingratiate himself with them there. English Version is simpler.
16. a child–given to pleasures; behaves with childish levity. Not in years; for a nation may be happy under a young prince, as Josiah.
eat in the morning–the usual time for dispensing justice in the East (Jer 21:12); here, given to feasting (Isa 5:11; Ac 2:15).
17. son of nobles–not merely in blood, but in virtue, the true nobility (So 7:1; Isa 32:5, 8).
in due season–(Ec 3:1), not until duty has first been attended to.
for strength–to refresh the body, not for revelry (included in “drunkenness”).
18. building–literally, “the joining of the rafters,” namely, the kingdom (Ec 10:16; Isa 3:6; Am 9:11).
hands–(Ec 4:5; Pr 6:10).
droppeth–By neglecting to repair the roof in time, the rain gets through.
19. Referring to Ec 10:18. Instead of repairing the breaches in the commonwealth (equivalent to “building”), the princes “make a feast for laughter (Ec 10:16), and wine maketh their life glad (Ps 104:15), and (but) money supplieth (answereth their wishes by supplying) all things,” that is, they take bribes to support their extravagance; and hence arise the wrongs that are perpetrated (Ec 10:5, 6; 3:16; Isa 1:23; 5:23). Maurer takes “all things” of the wrongs to which princes are instigated by “money”; for example, the heavy taxes, which were the occasion of Rehoboam losing ten tribes (1Ki 12:4, &c.).
20. thought–literally, “consciousness.”
rich–the great. The language, as applied to earthly princes knowing the “thought,” is figurative. But it literally holds good of the King of kings (Ps 139:1-24), whose consciousness of every evil thought we should ever realize.
bed-chamber–the most secret place (2Ki 6:12).
bird of the air, &c.–proverbial (compare Hab 2:11; Lu 19:40); in a way as marvellous and rapid, as if birds or some winged messenger carried to the king information of the curse so uttered. In the East superhuman sagacity was attributed to birds (see on Job 28:21; hence the proverb).
1. Ec 11:2 shows that charity is here inculcated.
bread–bread corn. As in the Lord’s prayer, all things needful for the body and soul. Solomon reverts to the sentiment (Ec 9:10).
waters–image from the custom of sowing seed by casting it from boats into the overflowing waters of the Nile, or in any marshy ground. When the waters receded, the grain in the alluvial soil sprang up (Isa 32:20). “Waters” express multitudes, so Ec 11:2; Re 17:15; also the seemingly hopeless character of the recipients of the charity; but it shall prove at last to have been not thrown away (Isa 49:4).
2. portion–of thy bread.
seven–the perfect number.
eight–even to more than seven; that is, “to many” (so “waters,” Ec 11:1), nay, even to very many in need (Job 5:19; Mic 5:5).
evil–The day may be near, when you will need the help of those whom you have bound to you by kindnesses (Lu 16:9). The very argument which covetous men use against liberality (namely, that bad times may come), the wise man uses for it.
3. clouds–answering to “evil” (Ec 11:2), meaning, When the times of evil are fully ripe, evil must come; and speculations about it beforehand, so as to prevent one sowing seed of liberality, are vain (Ec 11:4).
tree–Once the storm uproots it, it lies either northward or southward, according as it fell. So man’s character is unchangeable, whether for hell or heaven, once that death overtakes him (Re 22:11, 14, 15). Now is his time for liberality, before the evil days come (Ec 12:1).
4. Therefore sow thy charity in faith, without hesitancy or speculation as to results, because they may not seem promising (Ec 9:10). So in Ec 11:1, man is told to “cast his bread corn” on the seemingly unpromising “waters” (Ps 126:5, 6). The farmer would get on badly, who, instead of sowing and reaping, spent his time in watching the wind and clouds.
5. spirit–How the soul animates the body! Thus the transition to the formation of the body “in the womb” is more natural, than if with Maurer we translate it “wind” (Ec 1:6; Joh 3:8).
bones … grow–(Job 10:8, 9; Ps 139:15, 16).
knowest not the works of God–(Ec 3:11; 8:17; 9:12).
6. morning … evening–early and late; when young and when old; in sunshine and under clouds.
seed–of godly works (Ho 10:12; 2Co 9:10; Ga 6:7).
prosper–(Isa 55:10, 11).
both … alike–Both the unpromising and the promising sowing may bear good fruit in others; certainly they shall to the faithful sower.
7. light–of life (Ec 7:11; Ps 49:19). Life is enjoyable, especially to the godly.
8. But while man thankfully enjoys life, “let him remember” it will not last for ever. The “many days of darkness,” that is, the unseen world (Job 10:21, 22; Ps 88:12), also days of “evil” in this world (Ec 11:2), are coming; therefore sow the good seed while life and good days last, which are not too long for accomplishing life’s duties.
All that cometh–that is, All that followeth in the evil and dark days is vain, as far as work for God is concerned (Ec 9:10).
9. Rejoice–not advice, but warning. So 1Ki 22:15, is irony; if thou dost rejoice (carnally, Ec 2:2; 7:2, not moderately, as in Ec 5:18), &c., then “know that … God will bring thee into judgment” (Ec 3:17; 12:14).
youth … youth–distinct Hebrew words, adolescence or boyhood (before Ec 11:10), and full-grown youth. It marks the gradual progress in self-indulgence, to which the young especially are prone; they see the roses, but do not discover the thorns, until pierced by them. Religion will cost self-denial, but the want of it infinitely more (Lu 14:28).
10. sorrow–that is, the lusts that end in “sorrow,” opposed to “rejoice,” and “heart cheer thee” (Ec 11:9), Margin, “anger,” that is, all “ways of thine heart”; “remove,” &c., is thus opposed to “walk in,” &c. (Ec 11:9).
flesh–the bodily organ by which the sensual thoughts of the “heart” are embodied in acts.
childhood–rather, “boyhood”; the same Hebrew word as the first, “youth” in Ec 11:9. A motive for self-restraint; the time is coming when the vigor of youth on which thou reliest, will seem vain, except in so far as it has been given to God (Ec 12:1).
youth–literally, the dawn of thy days.
1. As Ec 11:9, 10 showed what youths are to shun, so this verse shows what they are to follow.
Creator–“Remember” that thou art not thine own, but God’s property; for He has created thee (Ps 100:3). Therefore serve Him with thy “all” (Mr 12:30), and with thy best days, not with the dregs of them (Pr 8:17; 22:6; Jer 3:4; La 3:27). The Hebrew is “Creators,” plural, implying the plurality of persons, as in Ge 1:26; so Hebrew, “Makers” (Isa 54:5).
while … not–that is, before that (Pr 8:26) the evil days come; namely, calamity and old age, when one can no longer serve God, as in youth (Ec 11:2, 8).
no pleasure–of a sensual kind (2Sa 19:35; Ps 90:10). Pleasure in God continues to the godly old (Isa 46:4).
2. Illustrating “the evil days” (Jer 13:16). “Light,” “sun,” &c., express prosperity; “darkness,” pain and calamity (Isa 13:10; 30:26).
clouds … after … rain–After rain sunshine (comfort) might be looked for, but only a brief glimpse of it is given, and the gloomy clouds (pains) return.
3. keepers of the house–namely, the hands and arms which protected the body, as guards do a palace (Ge 49:24; Job 4:19; 2Co 5:1), are now palsied.
strong men … bow–(Jud 16:25, 30). Like supporting pillars, the feet and knees (So 5:15); the strongest members (Ps 147:10).
grinders–the molar teeth.
those that look out of the windows–the eyes; the powers of vision, looking out from beneath the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window.
4. doors–the lips, which are closely shut together as doors, by old men in eating, for, if they did not do so, the food would drop out (Job 41:14; Ps 141:3; Mic 7:5).
in the streets–that is, toward the street, “the outer doors” [Maurer and Weiss].
sound of … grinding–The teeth being almost gone, and the lips “shut” in eating, the sound of mastication is scarcely heard.
the bird–the cock. In the East all mostly rise with the dawn. But the old are glad to rise from their sleepless couch, or painful slumbers still earlier, namely, when the cock crows, before dawn (Job 7:4) [Holden]. The least noise awakens them [Weiss].
daughters of music–the organs that produce and that enjoy music; the voice and ear.
5. that which is high–The old are afraid of ascending a hill.
fears … in the way–Even on the level highway they are full of fears of falling, &c.
almond … flourish–In the East the hair is mostly dark. The white head of the old among the dark-haired is like an almond tree, with its white blossoms, among the dark trees around [Holden]. The almond tree flowers on a leafless stock in winter (answering to old age, in which all the powers are dormant), while the other trees are flowerless. Gesenius takes the Hebrew for flourishes from a different root, casts off; when the old man loses his gray hairs, as the almond tree casts its white flowers.
grasshoppers–the dry, shrivelled, old man, his backbone sticking out, his knees projecting forwards, his arms backwards, his head down, and the apophyses enlarged, is like that insect. Hence arose the fable, that Tithonus in very old age was changed into a grasshopper [Parkhurst]. “The locust raises itself to fly”; the old man about to leave the body is like a locust when it is assuming its winged form, and is about to fly [Maurer].
a burden–namely, to himself.
desire shall fail–satisfaction shall be abolished. For “desire,” Vulgate has “the caper tree,” provocative of lust; not so well.
long home–(Job 16:22; 17:13).
mourners–(Jer 9:17-20), hired for the occasion (Mt 9:23).
6. A double image to represent death, as in Ec 12:1-5, old age: (1) A lamp of frail material, but gilded over, often in the East hung from roofs by a cord of silk and silver interwoven; as the lamp is dashed down and broken, when the cord breaks, so man at death; the golden bowl of the lamp answers to the skull, which, from the vital preciousness of its contents, may be called “golden”; “the silver cord” is the spinal marrow, which is white and precious as silver, and is attached to the brain. (2) A fountain, from which water is drawn by a pitcher let down by a rope wound round a wheel; as, when the pitcher and wheel are broken, water can no more be drawn, so life ceases when the vital energies are gone. The “fountain” may mean the right ventricle of the heart; the “cistern,” the left; the pitcher, the veins; the wheel, the aorta, or great artery [Smith]. The circulation of the blood, whether known or not to Solomon, seems to be implied in the language put by the Holy Ghost into his mouth. This gloomy picture of old age applies to those who have not “remembered their Creator in youth.” They have none of the consolations of God, which they might have obtained in youth; it is now too late to seek them. A good old age is a blessing to the godly (Ge 15:15; Job 5:26; Pr 16:31; 20:29).
7. dust–the dust-formed body.
spirit–surviving the body; implying its immortality (Ec 3:11).
8-12. A summary of the first part.
Vanity, &c.–Resumption of the sentiment with which the book began (Ec 1:2; 1Jo 2:17).
9. gave good heed–literally, “he weighed.” The “teaching the people” seems to have been oral; the “proverbs,” in writing. There must then have been auditories assembled to hear the inspired wisdom of the Preacher. See the explanation of Koheleth in the Introduction, and chapter 1 (1Ki 4:34).
that which is written, &c.–rather, (he sought) “to write down uprightly (or, ‘aright’) words of truth” [Holden and Weiss]. “Acceptable” means an agreeable style; “uprightly … truth,” correct sentiment.
11. goads–piercing deeply into the mind (Ac 2:37; 9:5; Heb 4:12); evidently inspired words, as the end of the verse proves.
fastened–rather, on account of the Hebrew genders, (The words) “are fastened (in the memory) like nails” [Holden].
masters of assemblies–rather, “the masters of collections (that is, collectors of inspired sayings, Pr 25:1), are given (‘have published them as proceeding’ [Holden]) from one Shepherd,” namely, the Spirit of Jesus Christ [Weiss], (Eze 37:24). However, the mention of “goads” favors the English Version, “masters of assemblies,” namely, under-shepherds, inspired by the Chief Shepherd (1Pe 5:2-4). Schmidt translates, “The masters of assemblies are fastened (made sure) as nails,” so Isa 22:23.
12. (See on Ec 1:18).
many books–of mere human composition, opposed to “by these”; these inspired writings are the only sure source of “admonition.”
(over much) study–in mere human books, wearies the body, without solidly profiting the soul.
13. The grand inference of the whole book.
Fear God–The antidote to following creature idols, and “vanities,” whether self-righteousness (Ec 7:16, 18), or wicked oppression and other evils (Ec 8:12, 13), or mad mirth (Ec 2:2; 7:2-5), or self-mortifying avarice (Ec 8:13, 17), or youth spent without God (Ec 11:9; 12:1).
this is the whole duty of man–literally, “this is the whole man,” the full ideal of man, as originally contemplated, realized wholly by Jesus Christ alone; and, through Him, by saints now in part, hereafter perfectly (1Jo 3:22-24; Re 22:14).
14. For God shall bring every work into judgment–The future judgment is the test of what is “vanity,” what solid, as regards the chief good, the grand subject of the book.