Ecclesiates 1

 

   Title (v.1)

 

1  “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.   Septuagint,

“King of Israel in Jerusalem (compare v. 12). The word rendered “Preacher” is

Koheleth, a feminine noun formed from a verb kalal, “to call”, and perhaps better

Rendered “Convener” or “Debater.” It is found nowhere else but in this book, where

it occurs three times in this chapter (vs. 1, 2, 12), three times in ch.12:8, 9, 10, and

once in ch. 7:27. In all but one instance (viz. ch.12:8) it is used without the article,

as a proper name. Jerome, in his commentary, translates it, ‘Continuator,’ in his

version ‘Ecclesiastes.’ It would seem to denote one who gathered around

him a congregation in order to instruct them in Divine lore. The feminine

form is explained in various ways. Either it is used abstractedly, as the

designation of an office, which it seems not to be; or it is formed as some

other words which are found with a feminine termination, though denoting

the names of men, indicating a high degree of activity in the possessor of the

particular quality signified by the stem; e.g. Alemeth, Azmaveth (I Chronicles 8:36;

9:42), Pochereth (Ezra 2:57), Sophereth (Nehemiah 7:57); or, as is most probable,

the writer desired to identify Koheleth with Wisdom, though it must be

observed that the personality of the author often appears, as in ch. 1:16-18; 7:23, etc.;

the role of Wisdom being for the nonce forgotten. The word “king” in the title is

shown by the accentuation to be in apposition to Koheleth not to “David;” and

there can be no doubt that the description is intended to denote Solomon, though

his name is nowhere actually given, as it is in the two other works ascribed to him

(Proverbs 1:1; Song of Solomon 1:1). Other intimations of the assumption of

Solomon’s personality are found in v.12, “I Koheleth was king,” etc.; so in

describing his consummate wisdom (ch.1:13, 16; 2:15; compare I Kings 3:12;

5:12), and in his being the author of many proverbs (ch.12:9; compare I  Kings

4:32) — accomplishments which are not noted in the case of any

other of David’s descendants. Also the picture of luxury and magnificence

presented in ch.2. suits no Jewish monarch but Solomon. The origin of the name

applied to him may probably be traced to the historical fact mentioned in

I Kings 8:55, etc., where Solomon gathers all Israel together to the dedication

of the temple, and utters the remarkable prayer which contained blessing and

teaching and exhortation.  The assumption of the name is a mere literary

device to give weight and importance to the treatise to which it appertains.

The term, “King in Jerusalem,” or, as in v. 12, “King over Israel in

Jerusalem,” is unique, and occurs nowhere else in Scripture. David is said

to have reigned in Jerusalem, when this seat of government is spoken of in

contrast with that at Hebron (II Samuel 5:5), and the same expression is

used of Solomon, Rehoboam, and others (I Kings 11:42; 14:21; 15:2,10);

and the phrase probably denotes a time when the government had

become divided, and Israel had a different capital from Judah.

 

 

Prologue (vs. 2-11)

 

The vanity of all human and mundane things, and the oppressive monotony of their

continued recurrence.

 

2 “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

 (compare ch.12:8). “Vanity” is hebel, which means “breath,” and is used

metaphorically of anything:

 

o       transitory,

o       frail, or

o       unsatisfying.

 

We have it in the proper name Abel, an appropriate designation of the youth

whose life was cut short by a brother’s murderous hand. “Vanity of vanities,”

 like “heaven of heavens” (I Kings 8:27), “song of songs” (Song of Solomon 1:1),

etc., is equivalent to a superlative, “most utterly vain. It is here an exclamation,

and is to be regarded as the key-note of the whole subsequent treatise, which is

merely the development of this text. Septuagint, mataio>thv mataioth>twn

 mataiotaes mataiotaeton – vanity of vanities – other Greek translators,

ajtmi<v ajtmi>dwn atmis atmidon - vapor of vapors. For “saith” the

Vulgate gives dixit; the Septuagint, ei+pen eipen saith - but as there is no

reference to any previous utterance of the Preacher, the present is more suitable

here. In affirming that “all is vanity,” the writer is referring to human and mundane

things, and directs not his view beyond such phenomena. Such reflection is

common in sacred and profane writings alike; such experience is universal

(compare Genesis 47:9; Psalm 39:5-7; 90:3-10; James 4:14).

Pulvis et umbra sumus,” says Horace (‘Carm.,’ 4:7. 16. “O curas

hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane!” (Persius, ‘Sat.,’ 1:1). If Dean

Plumptre is correct in contending that the Book of Wisdom was written to

rectify the deductions which might be drawn from Koheleth, we may

contrast the caution of the apocryphal writer, who predicates vanity, not of

all things, but only of the hope of the ungodly, which he likens to dust,

froth, and smoke (see Wisdom of Solomon  2:1, etc.; 5:14). Paul (Romans 8:20)

seems to have had Ecclesiastes in mind when he spoke of the creation

being (th~| mataio>thti – tae mataiotaeti - subjected to vanity), as a consequence

of the fall of man, not to be remedied till the final restitution of all things. “But a man

will say, If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If

they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God

which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not

vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own

body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp,

and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own

creating. And they are vain because they have no useful end That is called

vain which is expected indeed to possess value, yet possesses it not; that

which men call empty, as when they speak of ‘empty hopes,’ and that

which is fruitless. And generally that is called vain which is of no use. Let

us see, then, whether all human things are not of this sort” (St.

Chrysostom, ‘Hem. 12. in Ephes.’).

 

 

The Vanity of Man’s Life (v. 2)

 

At the very outset of his treatise, the wise man gives his readers to understand

that the vanity which is ascribed to all things that are, is distinctive in an especial

and obvious manner of human life. This is the most interesting of all things to

observe and study, as it is the most precious to possess. And there is some danger

lest,  if the study of it lead  to despondency, the possession of it should cease

 to be valued. (God has made the Creation to be subject to vanity. Romans 8:20 –

We therefore should trust Him and depend on Him to deliver us and work

the work which he had planned from the beginning.  Acts 15:18 – CY – 2013).

God’s design and remedy is to look to Jesus, “the Desire of all nations.”

(Haggai 2:7)

 

  • THE FACTS UPON WHICH THE CONVICTION OF THE VANITY

OF LIFE IS FOUNDED.

 

Ø      The unsatisfying character of human toil.  Labor is the destiny of

Man (Genesis 3:19), and is in most cases the indispensable condition

of not only life itself, but of those things for the sake of which many men

value life — wealth, comfort, pleasure, and fame. Yet in how many cases

does toil fail to secure the objects for the sake of which it is undertaken!

Men labor, but reap no harvest of their painful, wearying efforts. And

when the result is obtained, how commonly does it yield little or nothing

of the satisfaction desired!  Men toil for years, and when they attain that

upon which their hearts were set, disappointment and dissatisfaction take

possession of their nature.  (One of the shortcomings of man is that

he wants what he doesn’t have, and then when he gets it, it wasn’t

what he wanted after all! – CY – 2013)

 

Ø      The brevity of human life, and the rapid succession of the

generations.  The reflection of the wise man is a reflection which

must have been current among men from the earliest ages No sooner

has a laborious and successful man reached the summit of his ambition,

grasped the object of his desire, than he is taken away from the

enjoyment of that for the sake of which he was content to “scorn

 delights, and live laborious days” (John Milton).  The next

generation renews the quest, only to repeat the experience of

disappointment. Changes and improvements take place in many details

of our life; but life itself remains throughout the ages, subject to the

same limitations and the same calamities, to the same uncertainties

and the same close.

 

Ø      The contrast between the transitoriness of human life and the

stability of the unconscious earth. It appears strange and inexplicable

that man, with the great possibilities of his nature, should be so short-

lived, and that the earth should outlast generation after generation of

mankind.  (However, I learned recently, after a study of the Book of

Judges, that it is good, that a life so sinful, is so short!  - CY – 2013) 

The writer of Ecclesiastes felt, as every reflecting observer must feel,

the sadness of this contrast between the perpetuity of the

dwelling-place and the brief sojourn of its successive inhabitants.

 

Ø      The impossibility of any generation reaping the harvest for which

 it has sown. The toil, the genius, the enterprise of a generation may

indeed bear fruit, but it is the generation which follows that enjoys that

fruit (or in a negative sense, as in our own country, the next generation

that suffers the consequences of our moral, political and economic

fall out!  - CY – 2013).  All men labor more for posterity than for

themselves. “This also is vanity.”  (Even what I am doing on this

web site is for those who follow, hoping that by working four or five

hours on a chapter, the next generation can study it within a half hour

or so and get the same benefits!  - CY – 2013)

 

  • THE CHARACTER OF THE INFERENCE FROM THESE FACTS,

VIZ. THAT LIFE IS PROFITLESS AND VAIN.

 

Ø      It is attributable to the reflecting and aspiring nature of man.

A being less endowed with susceptibilities and imagination, with moral

Capacities and far-reaching aims and hopes, would be incapable of such

emotions and such conclusions as this book expresses. The brute is

content to eat and drink, to sleep, and to follow its several instincts

and impulses (II Peter 2:12-15a).  But of man we may say that nothing

that he can be and do can give him perfect rest and satisfaction. It is

owing to an innate and noble dissatisfaction that he is ever aiming

at something better and higher, and that the narrow range and

brief scope of human life cannot content him, cannot furnish

him with all the opportunity he desires in order to acquire and to

achieve.  (Thus, according to ch. 3:11, God has put eternity (the

world) in man’s heart  “so that no man can find out the work

that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” – CY – 2013).

 

Ø      It is attributable to the very nature of earthly things, which, because

they are finite, are incapable of satisfying such a nature as that

described. They may and do answer a high purpose when their true

import is discerned — when they are recognized as symbolical and

significant of what is greater than themselves. But no material good,

no terrestrial distinctions, can serve as “profit” of labor. If so regarded,

their vanity must sooner or later be apparent. There is a divinely

ordained disproportion between the spirit of man and the scenes and

occupations and emoluments of earth.  (May we truly be thankful

for the revelation “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither

have entered into the heart of man, the things which God

hath prepared for them that love Him.” – I Corinthians 2:9 –

CY – 2013).

The purpose of God is unfolded to successive generations of men. We see this

continuity and progress in the order of revelation; but all history is, in a sacred

sense, a revelation of the Eternal and Unchanging.  This state is not all:

 

o       life explains school;

o       summer explains spring; and

o       SO ETERNITY SHALL EXPAIN  the disappointments,

perplexities, and anomalies of time.

 

The fuller revelation with which we have been favored enlightens us with respect to

the intentions of Eternal Wisdom and Love. Our Savior has

founded upon earth a kingdom which cannot be moved. And the figures

which He Himself has employed to set forth its progress are an assurance

that it is not bounded by time or space; that it shall grow until its

dimensions and beneficence exceed all human expectations, and satisfy the

heart of the Divine Redeemer Himself.  (This will be the remedy of the problem

set forth in ch. 3:11, mentioned above.  Also, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will

perform this”  (Isaiah 9:7).  Each faithful Christian, however

feeble and however lowly, may work in his Master’s cause with the

assurance that his service shall be not only acceptable, but effective. Better

shall be the end than the beginning. The seed shall give rise to a tree of

whose fruit all nations shall taste, and beneath whose shadow humanity

itself shall find both shelter and repose.  (Matthew 134:31-32)

 

3 “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?”

 Here begins the elucidation of the fruitlessness of man’s ceaseless activity.

The word rendered “profit” (yithron) is found only in this book, where it occurs

frequently. It means “that which remains over, advantage,” perissei>a - perisseia

gain - as the Septuagint translates it. As the verb and the substantive are cognate in

the following words, they are better rendered, in all his labor wherein he laboreth.

Man is Adam, the natural man, unenlightened by the grace of God. Under

the sun is an expression peculiar to this book (compare vs. 9, 14; ch.2:11, 17, etc.),

but is not intended to contrast this present with a future life; it merely refers to what

we call sublunary matters. The phrase is often tact with in the Greek poets. Eurip.,

Alcest.,’ 151 —

 

Gunh> t ajri>sth tw~n uJf hJli>w| makrw~| -

Gunae t aristae ton huph haelio macro -

“By far the best of all beneath the sun.”

Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 4:44

 

Ai{ ga<r uJp hjeli>w| te kai< oujranw~| ajstero>enti

Naieta>ousi po>lhev ejpicqoni>wn ajnqrw>pwn.

Hai gar hup aeelio te kai ourano asteroenti

Naietaousi polaees epichthonion anthropon

“Of all the cities occupied by man

Beneath the sun and starry cope of heaven.”

Cowper.

 

]Olbiov oujdei<v j

Anqrw>pwn oJpo>souv hje>liov kaqora~|.

-         Olbios oudeis

Anthropon hoposous aeelios kathora

“No mortal man

On whom the sun looks down is wholly blest.”

Theognis, ‘Parcem.,’ 167

 

In an analogous sense we find in other passages of Scripture the terms

under heaven” (v. 13; ch.2:3; Exodus 17:14; Luke 17:24) and

“upon the earth” (ch.8:14, 16; Genesis 8:17).  The interrogative form

of the verse conveys a strong negative (compare ch.6:8), like the Lord’s

word in Matthew 16:26, “What shall a man be profited, if he shall

gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” The epilogue (ch.12:13)

furnishes a reply to the desponding inquiry.

 

4 “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but

the earth abideth for ever.” One generation passeth away, and another

 generation cometh. The translation rather weakens the force of the original,

which is, a generation goeth, and a generation cometh. Man is only a pilgrim on

earth; he soon passes away, and his place is occupied by others.

Parallelisms of this sentiment will occur to every reader. Thus Ben-Sira,

“All flesh waxeth old as a garment: for the covenant from the beginning is,

Thou shalt die the death. As of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall

and some grow; so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh to an

end, and another is born. Every work rotteth and consumeth away, and the

worker thereof shall go withal” (Ecclesiaticus. 14:17, etc.; compare Job 10:21;

Psalm 39:13). The famous passage in Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 6:146, etc., is

thus rendered by Lord Derby —

 

“The race of man is as the race of leaves:

Of leaves, one generation by the wind

Is scattered on the earth; another soon

In spring’s luxuriant verdure bursts to light.

So with our race: these flourish, those decay.”

 

But the earth abideth forever. While the constant succession of generations

of men goes on, the earth remains unchanged and immovable. If men were as

permanent as is their dwelling-place, their labors might profit; but as things are, the

painful contrast between the two makes itself felt. The term, “for ever,”

like the Greek eijv to<n aijw~na eis ton aiona - does not necessarily imply

eternity, but often denotes limited or conditioned duration, as when the slave is

engaged to serve his master “for ever” (Exodus 21:6), or the hills are called

“everlasting” (Genesis 49:26). This verse gives one instance of growth

and decay in contrast with insensate continuance. The following verses

give further examples.

 

5 “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his

place where he arose.”  The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down.

The sun is another instance of ever-recurring change in the face of an enduring

sameness, rising and setting day-by-day, and resting never. The legendary

‘Life of Abram’ relates how, having been hidden for some years in a cave

in order to escape the search of Nimrod, when he emerged from his

concealment, and for the first time beheld heaven and earth, he began to

inquire who was the Creator of the wonders around him. When the sun

arose and flooded the scene with its glorious light, he at once concluded

that that bright orb must be the creative Deity, and offered his prayers to it

all day long. But when it sank in darkness, he repented of his illusion, being

persuaded that the sun could not have made the world and be itself subject

to extinction (see ‘Abraham: his Life and Times,’ p. 12). And hasteth to

his place where he arose; literally, and panteth (equivalent to hasteth,

longeth to go) to its place arising there; i.e. the sun, sinking in the west,

eagerly during the night returns to the east, duly to rise there in the

morning. The “place” is the region of reappearance. The Septuagint gives,

“The sun arises, and the sun sets, and draws (e[lkei helkei) unto its place;”

And then carries the idea into the following verse: “Arising there, it proceedeth

southward,” etc. The Vulgate supports the rendering; but there is no doubt

that the Authorized Version gives substantially the sense of the Hebrew

text as accentuated. The verb pav (shaaph)implies “panting,” not from

fatigue, but in eager pursuit of something; and all notions of panting steeds or

morning exhalations are quite foreign from the conception of the passage.

The notion which Koheleth desires to convey is that the sun makes no real

progress; its eager panting merely brings it to the old place, there to recommence

its monotonous routine.

 

6 “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north;

it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his

circuits.”  The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto

the north; literally, going towards the south, and circling towards the

north. These words, as we have seen above, are referred to the sun by the

Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac; but it is best to make this verse refer only

to the wind — a fresh example of motion continually repeated with no real

progress to an end. Thus each verse comprises one subject and idea, v. 4

being concerned with the earth, v. 5 with the sun, v. 6 with the wind,

and v. 7 with the waters. There seems to be no particular force in the

naming of north and south, unless it be in contrast to the sun’s motion from

east to west, mentioned in the preceding verse. The words following show

that these two directions are not alone intended. Thus the four quarters are

virtually included. It whirleth about continually. The original is more

forcible, giving by its very form the idea of weary monotony. The subject is

delayed till the last, thus: Going towards the southcircling, circling,

goeth the wind; i.e. it blows from all quarters at its own caprice. And the

wind returneth again according to his circuits. And on its circlings

returneth the wind; it comes back to the point whence it started. The wind,

seemingly the freest of all created things, is bound by the same law of

immutable changeableness, insensate repetition.

 

7 “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place

from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full. Here is

another instance of unvarying operation producing no tangible result. The

phenomenon mentioned is often the subject of remark and speculation in

classical authors. Commentators cite Aristophanes, ‘Clouds,’ 1293 —

Au[th me<n (hJ qa>latta) oujde<n gi>gnetai jEpirjrJeo>ntwn tw~n

potamw~n plei>wn –- Autae men (hae thalatta) ouden gignetai epippeonton

ton potamon pleion -

 

“The sea, though all the rivers flow therein,

Waxeth no greater.”

 

Lucretius attempts to account for the fact,

De Rer. Nat.,’ 6:608 —

 

Nunc ratio reddunda, augmen quin nesciat sequor.

Principio mare mirantur non reddere majus

Naturam, quo sit tantus decursus aquarum,

Omnia quo veniant ex omni fiumina parte.”

 

This Dr. Busby thus versifies —

 

“Now in due order, Muse, proceed to show

Why the deep seas no augmentation know,

In ocean that such numerous streams discharge

Their waters, yet that ocean ne’er enlarge,” etc.

 

No particular sea is intended, though some have fancied that the

peculiarities of the Dead Sea gave occasion to the thought in the text.

Doubtless the idea is general, and such as would strike every observer,

however little he might trouble himself with the reason of the circumstance.

 

Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again;

rather, unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.  μv;

after verbs of motion has often the signification of hM;v;; and the idea is that the

streams continue to make their way into the sea with ceaseless iteration. The other

rendering, which is supported by the Vulgate undo, seems rather to favor

the Epicurean poet’s solution of the phenomenon. Lucretius, in the passage

cited above, explains that the amount of water contributed by rivers is a

mere drop in the ocean; that a vast quantity rises in exhalations and is

spread far and wide over the earth; and that another large portion finds its

way back through the pores of the ground to the bed of the sea. Plumptre

considers that this theory was known to Koheleth, and was introduced by

him here. The rendering which we have given above would make this

opinion untenable; it likewise excludes the idea (though that, indeed, may

have been entertained by the Hebrews, Psalm 104:10 and Proverbs 8:28)

of the clouds being produced by the sea and feeding the springs.

Thus Ecclesiasticus. 40:11, “All things that are of the earth do turn to the earth

again; and that which is of the waters doth return into the sea.”

 

 

The Stability of Nature (vs. 4-7)

 

The Preacher was struck with the strong contrast between the permanence

of nature and the transiency of human life; and the thought oppressed and

pained him. We may take his view of the subject — and our own. We look

at the stability of nature:

 

  • AS IT APPEALS TO OUR SENSES. To the outward eye things do

continue as they were: 

 

“Changeless march the stars above,

    Changeless morn succeeds to even,

And the everlasting hills,

    Changeless, watch the changeless heaven.”

 

The hills, “rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun;” the “unchanging,

everlasting sea;” the rivers that flow down the centuries as well as through

the lands; the plains that stretch for long ages beneath the skies; — these

aspects of nature are impressive enough to the simplest imagination; they

make this earth which is our home to be charged with deepest interest and

clothed with truest grandeur. No man, who has an eye to see and a heart to

feel, can fail to be affected by them.

 

  • AS IT APPEALS TO OUR REASON. The stability of all things about

and above us:

 

Ø      Gives us time to study the nature and the causes of things, and enables

one generation to hand down the results of its researches to another, so

that we are constantly accumulating knowledge.

Ø      Gives us proof of the unity of God.

Ø      Assures us of the mighty power of the great Author of nature,

who is seen to be strong to sustain and preserve and renew.

 

Ø      AS IT AFFECTS OUR LIFE. For what would happen if everything

were inconstant and uncertain? What would be the effect on human labor

and on human life if there were no dependence to be placed on the

continuance, as they are, of land and sea, of earth and sky, of hill and plain?

How does the security of all the great objects and systems of the world add

incentive to our industry! how does it multiply our achievements! how

does it enlarge and enrich our life! That we shall be able to complete what

we have begun, and that we have a good hope of handing down our work

to our successors, — is not this a large factor, a powerful inspiration,

among us?  (Our God, your God, my God, made them all! – CY – 2013)

 

Ø      AS IT DWARFS OUR INDIVIDUAL CAREER. The Preacher

seemed to feel this acutely. What a small, slight, evanescent thing is a

human life when compared with the long ranges of time that the ancient

earth and the more ancient heavens have known! A generation comes and

goes, while a river hardly changes its course by a single curve; many

generations pass, while the face of the rocks is not visibly affected by all

the waves that beat upon its surface night and day; all the generations of

men, from the time that a human face was first turned up to heaven, have

been looked down upon by those silent stars! Why make so much of so

transient a thing as a human life? Ay, but look at it:

 

Ø      IN THE LIGHT OF THE SPIRITUAL AND THE ETERNAL.

 

o       The worth of spiritual life is not determined by its duration. The

life of a human spirit — if that be the life of purity, holiness, reverence,

love, generosity, aspiration — is of more account in the estimate of Divine

wisdom, even though it be extended over a mere decade of years, than

the existence which knows nothing of these nobilities, even though it

should be extended over many thousands of years.

 

o       Moreover, holy human life on earth leads on and up TO THE

LIFE WHICH IS ETERNAL!   So that we, whose course upon the

earth is so short, who are but of yesterday and with whom tomorrow

may not be, do yet begin upon the earth A LIFE WHICH WILL

ABOUND IN ALL THAT IS BEAUTIFUL AND NOBLE,

 when the “everlasting hills” have crumbled into dust. 

(II Peter 3:10-13)

 

8 “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not

satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”

All things are full of labor. Taking the word dabar in the sense of “word”

(compare the Greek rJh~ma - rhema - word), the Septuagint translates, “All

words are wearisome;” i.e. to go through the whole catalogue of such

things as those mentioned in the preceding verses would be a laborious and

unprofitable task. The Targum and many modern expositors approve this

rendering. But besides that, the word yaged implies suffering, not causing,

weariness (Deuteronomy 25:18; Job 3:17); the run of the sentence

is unnecessarily interrupted by such an assertion, when one is expecting a

conclusion from the instances given above. The Vulgate has, cunetse res

difficiles. The idea, as Motais has seen, is this — Man’s life is constrained

by the same law as his surroundings; he goes on his course subject to

influences which he cannot control; in spite of his efforts, he can never be

independent. This conclusion is developed in succeeding verses. In the

present verse the proposition with which it starts is explained by what

follows. All things have been the object of much labor; men have

elaborately examined everything; yet the result is most unsatisfactory, the

end is not reached; words cannot express it, neither eye nor ear can

apprehend it. This is the view of St. Jerome, who writes, “Non solum do

physicis, sed de ethicis quoque scirc difficile est. Nec sermo valet explicare

causas natu-rasque rerum, nec oculus, ut rei poscit dignitas, intueri, nec

auris, instituente doctore, ad summam scientiam pervenirc. Si enim nunc

‘per speculum videmus in aenigmate; et ex parte cognoscimus, et ex parte

prophetamus,’ consequenter nec sermo potest explicate quod nescit; nec

oculus in quo caecutit, aspiecre; nec auris, de quo dubitat, impleri.”

Delitzsch, Nowack, Wright, and others render, “All things are in restless

activity;” i.e. constant movement pervades the whole world, and yet no

visible conclusion is attained.”  This, however true, does not seem to be the

point insisted on by the author, whose intention is, as we have said, to

show that man, like nature, is confined to a circle from which he cannot

free himself; and though he uses all the powers with, which he is endowed

to penetrate the enigma of life and to rise superior to his environments, he

is wholly unable to effect anything in these matters. Man cannot utter it.

He cannot explain all things. Koheleth does not affirm that man can know

nothing, that he can attain to no certitude, that reason will not teach him to

apprehend any truth; his contention is that the inner cause and meaning

elude his faculties, that his knowledge is concerned only with accidents

and externals, and that there is still some depth which his powers cannot

fathom. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with

hearing. Use his sght as he may, listen to the sounds around him, attend

to the instructions of professed teachers, man makes no real advance in

knowledge of the mysteries in which he is involved; the paradox is

inexplicable. We have, in Proverbs 27:20, Sheol and Abaddon are

never satisfied; and the eyes of man are never satisfied.” “Remember,”

says Thomas a Kempis (‘De Imitat.,’ 1:1.5), “the proverb, that the eye is

not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Endeavor, therefore, to

withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to transfer thyself to

the invisible. For they that follow their sensuality do stain their conscience

and lose the grace of God.”

 

 

The Insatiability of Sense (v. 8)

 

Man is on one side akin to the brutes, whilst he is on the other side akin to

God. Sense he shares with the inferior animals; but the intellect and

conscience by which he may use his senses in the acquisition of knowledge,

and his physical powers in the fulfillment of a moral ideal, these are

peculiar to himself. On this account it is impossible for man to be satisfied

with mere sensibility; if he makes the attempt, he fails. To say this is not to

disparage sense  (or reason) — a great and wonderful gifts of God. It is simply

to put the senses in their proper place, as the auxiliaries and ministers of reason.

Through the exercise of sense man may, BY DIVINE AID rise to great

spiritual possessions, achievements, and enjoyments.

 

  • AN INFINITE VARIETY OF OBJECTS APPEAL TO THE SENSES

OF SIGHT AND HEARING. These are chosen as the two noblest of the

senses — those by whose means we learn most of nature, and most of the

thoughts and purposes of our fellow-men and of our God. Around,

beneath, and above us are objects to be seen, sounds and voices to be

heard. The variety is as marvelous as the multiplicity.  (Thus man is

“fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

 

  • WONDERFUL IS THE ADAPTATION OF THE SENSES TO

RECEIVE THE VARIED IMPRESSIONS PRODUCED BY NATURE.

The susceptibility of the nerves of the eye to the undulations of ether, of

the ear to atmospheric vibrations, has only been fully explained in recent

times. There is no more marvelous instance of design than the mutual

adaptations of the voice, the atmosphere, and the auditory nerve; of the

molecular structure of colored body, the ether, and the retinal structure

of the optic nerve. And these are only some of the arrangements between

nature and sense which meet us at every turn and at every moment of our

conscious existence.  (To put it modern terms INTELLIGENT DESIGN –

CY – 2013)

 

  • IT IS IMPOSSIBLE THAT THE MERE EXERCISE OF SENSE

SHOULD AFFORD A FULL SATISFACTION TO THE NATURE OF

MAN.  (Unfortunately, something that seems to be lost on today’s lesbians,

homosexuals, libertines, free love advocates, etc. ad nauseum.  The

Bible is very plain, “To be carnally minded is death.”  - Romans 8:6 –

CY – 2013).   It is not to be supposed that any reasonable being should seek

his gratification merely in the enjoyment of the impressions upon the senses.

But even curiosity fails to find satisfaction, and those who crave such

satisfaction make it manifest that their craving is in vain. The restlessness

of the sight-seer is proverbial. When the impressions of sense are used as

the material for high intellectual and spiritual ends, the case is otherwise.

But it remains true as in the days of Koheleth, “The eye is not satisfied with

seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”

 

  • IT WOULD BE AN ERROR TO REGARD THIS FACT AS A

PROOF OF THE INHERENT BADNESS OF THE SENSES. Such an

inference has sometimes been drawn by enthusiastic minds; and mystics

have inculcated abstinence from the exercise of the senses as essential in

order to intellectual and spiritual illumination. The error here lies in

overlooking the distinction between making ourselves the slaves of our

senses, and using the senses as our helpers and servants.

 

  • BUT IT IS JUST TO REGARD THIS FACT AS AN INDICATION

THAT MEN SHOULD SEEK THEIR SATISFACTION IN WHAT IS

HIGHER THAN SENSE. When the eyes are opened to the works of

God, when we look upon the form of the Son of God, when we hear

the Divine Word speaking in conscience and speaking in Christ,

our senses then become, directly or indirectly, the instrumentality by

means of which our higher nature is called into exercise and finds

abundant scope.

 

Ø      Our reason may thus find rest in truth;

Ø      our sympathies may thus respond to the revealed love of the

 Eternal Father through His blessed Son;

Ø      our whole heart may rise into fellowship with Him from whom

all our faculties and capacities are derived, and

Ø      IN WHOM ALONE, we,  His spiritual children can find

A PERFECT SATISFACTION  and AN UNSHAKEN

REPOSE!

 

9 “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is

done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under

the sun.” The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be. The

Septuagint and the Vulgate render the first clauses of the two parts of the verse

in both cases interrogatively, thus: “What is that which hath been? The very

thing which shall be. And what is that which hath been done? The very

thing which shall be done.” What has been affirmed of phenomena in the

material world is now affirmed of the events of man’s life. They move in an

analogous circle, whether they are concerned with actions or morals.

Koheleth is speaking merely from experience, and is indulging in no

philosophical speculations. There is no new thing under the sun. The

Vulgate transfers this clause to the next verse, which, indeed, supports the

assertion. From classical authors commentators have culled examples of

the same thought. Thus Tacitus, ‘Annal.,’ 3:55, “Nisi forte rebus cunctis

inest quidam velut orbis, ut quem ad modum temporum vices, ita morum

vertantur.” Seneca, ‘Epist.,’ 24., “Nullius rei finis est, sod in orbem nexa

sunt omnia; fugiunt ac sequuntur Omnia transeunt ut revertantur, nihil novi

video, nihil novi facio. Fit ali-quando et hujus rei nausea.” Marcus Aurelius,

‘Meditations,’ 6:37, “He that sees the present has seen all things, both that

which has Been from everlasting and that which shall Be in the future. All

things are of one birth and one form.” Again, 7:1, “There is nothing new;

all things are common and quickly over;” 12:26, “Everything that comes

to pass was always so coming to pass, and will take place again.”

 

10 “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath

been already of old time, which was before us.” Is there any thing

 whereof it may be said, See, this is new?  The writer conceives that

objection may be taken to his statement at the end of the preceding verse, so

he proceeds to reiterate it in stronger terms. “Thing” is dabar (see on v. 8).

Septuagint, “He who shall speak and say, Behold, this is new,” scil.

Where is he? Vulgate, “Nothing is new under the sun, nor is any one

able to say, Lo! this is fresh.” The apparent exceptions

to the rule are mistaken inferences. It hath been already of old time,

which was before us. In the vast aeons of the past, recorded or

unrecorded, the seeming novelty has already been known. The discoveries

of earlier time are forgotten, and seem quite new when revived; but closer

investigation proves their previous existence.

 

11 “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be

any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall

come after.” There is no remembrance of former things; rather, of

former men — persons who lived in former times. As things are

considered novel only because they had been forgotten, so we men

ourselves shall pass away, and be no more remembered. Bailey, ‘Festus ‘—

 

“Adversity, prosperity, the grave,

Play a round game with friends. On some the world

Hath shot its evil eye, and they are passed

From honor and remembrance; and a stare

Is all the mention of their names receives;

And people know no more of them than they know

The shapes of clouds at midnight a year hence.”

 

Neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come

with those that shall come after; rather, and even of later generations

that shall be there will be no remembrance of them with those that shall be

in the after-time. Wright quotes Marcus Aurelius, who has much to say on

this subject. Thus: cap. 2:17, “Posthumous fame is oblivion;” cap. 3:10,

“Every man’s life lies all within the present; for the past is spent and done

with, and the future is uncertain;” cap. 4:33, “Those words which were

formerly current and proper are now become obsolete and barbarous. Alas!

This is not all: fame tarnishes in time, too, and men grow out of fashion as

well as language. Those celebrated names of ancient story are antiquated;

those of later date have the same fortune; and those of present celebrity

must follow. I speak this of those who have been the wonder of their age,

and shined with unusual luster; but as for the rest, they are no sooner dead

than forgotten” (And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man

shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as

the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven

away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.

Wisdom of Solomon 2:4). (On the keen desire to live in the memory of posterity,

note   “A wise man shall inherit glory among his people, and his name shall be

 perpetual.”  - (Ecclesiasticus 37:26);  “All these were honored in their

generations, and were the glory of their times.”  (Ibid. ch. 44:7)

 

 

Vanity of Vanities (vs. 2-11)

 

  • THE UNPROFITABLE CHARACTER OF ALL HUMAN LABOR.

(v. 3.) Passing over the pathetic picture these words instinctively call up

of human life as a ceaseless round of toil — a picture which modern

civilization, with all its appliances and refinements, has not obliterated, but

rather, in the experience of many, painted in still more lurid colors; a

picture which has always possessed for poetic minds, sacred (Job 7:1-2)

no less than profane (Thomas Hood 1799-1845), ‘Song of the Shirt’),

 
 
 
Song of the Shirt 
By Thomas Hood
 
 
With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread— 
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."
 
   "Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!             
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!
 
   "Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
   Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                    
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!
 
   "O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
   But human creatures' lives!
      Stitch—stitch—stitch,
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,      
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.
 
   "But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own, 
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!
              
   "Work—work—work!
   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!
 
   "Work—work—work!
   From weary chime to chime,   
Work—work—work,
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.
 
   "Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—         
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.
 
   "O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,            
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!
 
   "O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!"
 
With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—

   She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

 

 

a peculiar fascination — readers may note the melancholy truth to which

the Preacher here adverts, viz. that the solid outcome of human labor, in

the shape of permanent advantage to either society at large or the individual,

is comparatively small.

 

Ø      This cannot mean that labor is wholly useless (ch.5:19),

since without labor man cannot find that bread which is needful for his

bodily sustenance (Genesis 3:19). It would be misconceiving the

Preacher to suppose he disapproved of all that has been effected by

human industry and genius to enrich, enlighten, and civilize the race, or

desired to teach that men had better times of it on earth when they lived

like savages upon the spontaneous fruits of the earth.

 

Ø      Nor is it likely that he designed to glance at what has been a sore evil

under the sun ever since men began to divide themselves into laborers

and capitalists, viz. the small portion of labors fruits which usually

fall to the former, without whom there would be little or no fruits at all.

 

Ø      It is rather probable that the writer was thinking, not of laborers so

called, to the exclusion of other workers, but of all toilers without

distinction, when he said that the outcome of man’s activity, so far

at least as attaining to felicity was concerned, was practically nothing.

 

  • THE UNCEASING CHANGE TO WHICH ALL MUNDANE

THINGS ARE SUBJECT. (vs. 4-7.)

 

Ø      Illustrated in four particulars.

 

o       The passing by of human generations, in comparison with

which the globe seems stable (v. 4);

o       the daily revolution of the sun (v. 5);

o       the circling of the winds (v. 6); and

o       the returning of the rivers to the seas (v. 7).

 

The writer means not to assert that these different cycles have no

uses in the economy of nature — which uses may be here illustrated;

merely he pitches upon what belongs to them in common, the

element of change, to him a picture of man’s condition on the

earth generally.

 

Ø      Explained by four clauses. It is as if he said, “Look around and

behold! All things of earth are perpetually on the move — the

sun in the sky, the winds in the firmament, the clouds in the air,

the waters in the ocean, the rivers on the meadow (I have been

cooped up all winter and yesterday, April 1, 2013, it went out

into the woods and walked along the Little River and this is

certainly true of southern Christian County, Kentucky in the

21st century! – CY – 2013), man himself upon the surface of the

globe. Nothing bears the stamp of finality. Everything is shifting.

Nothing remains long in one stay. ‘All things are full of labor

and weariness; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied

 with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing’” (v. 8)

by which he means that the changeful condition is never done;

there never comes a time when the eye says, “Enough!” or the

ear repeats, “Behold! I am full.” This view of life had occurred to

 many before the Preacher’s day (Genesis 47:9; I Chronicles 29:15;

Job 4:19-20; 7:6; 8:9), as it has occurred to some since — to the

Greek philosophers who described nature as in a state of perpetual flux,

to modem poets such as Shakespeare, and to sacred writers like John

(I John 2:17) and Paul (I Corinthians 7:31.)

 

  • THE WEARISOME MONOTONY OF LIFE. (vs. 9-10.)

 

Ø      What the Preacher could not have meant. That no new occurrence

ever happens on the earth, that no new contrivance ever is devised,

that no new experience ever emerges. Because since the Preacher’s

day multitudes of new discoveries and inventions have been made in

all departments of science; while in the sphere of religion at least one

new thing has taken place, viz. the Incarnation of Jesus Christ,

and another will take place (Isaiah 65:17).

 

Ø      What the Preacher did mean. That the general impression made by

`life upon beholders is that of sameness. Going back to the above

illustrations, he would have said, “See how it is in nature. No doubt one

new day succeeds another, one gale of wind follows another, and one

body of waters hastens after another. But every day and always it is the

same thing over again; the same old sun which reappears in the east; and

the same gusts of wind to which we are accustomed that blow from the

north to the south, and whirl about continually to all points of the compass;

and the same stream that keeps on filling up its fountains and sending forth

its waters to the sea. And if you will look at the world of humanity it is the

same. A new generation appears on the globe every thirty years, and every

hour of every day new individuals are being born; but they are substantially

the same old men and women that were here before. ‘Fed by the same

food, hurt by the same weapons, warmed and cooled by the same

summer and winter’ as those who preceded them, they go through

 the same experiences their fathers and mothers went through before

them.” This feeling of monotony is even more emphasized when attention

is fixed on the individual. Try to think of how monotonous and wearisome

an ordinary human life is! An attempt to realize this will awaken surprise.

 

  • THE UNIVERSAL OBLIVION INTO WHICH MEN AND THINGS

MUST EVENTUALLY SINK. (v. 11.) So obvious is this that it

scarcely needs illustration. Consider what a small portion of the earth’s

incidents during the past six thousand years have survived in history, and

bow few of the world’s great ones have left behind them more than their

names. The memory has been preserved of a Flood, but what about the

ordinary words and actions that make up everyday life during the years

between the Creation and the Deluge? A few particulars have been

preserved of the histories of an Abraham and a David, a Sennacherib and a

Nebuchadnezzar, an Alexander and a Caesar; but what about the myriads

that formed their contemporaries? How much has been transmitted to

posterity of the history of these islands? How few of the events of last year

have been recorded? How many of those who then died are still

remembered? This is, no doubt, all as it should be; but still it is a proof of

the vanity of things below, if these be regarded simply in themselves.

 

CONCLUSION. This view of life should not be possible to a Christian

who enjoys the fuller and clearer light of the New Testament revelation,

and views all things in their relations to God, duty, and immortality.

 

 

PROOF OF THE VANITY OF EARTHLY THINGS FROM

 PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND GENERAL OBSERVATION (v.12 – ch. 6:12)

 

    Section 1. Vanity of Striving for Wisdom and Knowledge (vs. 12-18)

 

12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.” Koheleth

relates his own experience as king, in accordance with his assumption of

the person of Solomon. The use of the past tense in this verse is regarded

by many as strong evidence against the Solomonic authorship of the book.

“I have been king” (not “I have become king,”)  is a statement introducing the

supposed speaker, not as a reigning monarch, but as one who, in time past,

exercised sovereignty. Solomon is represented as speaking from the grave, and

recalling the past for the instruction of his auditors. In a similar manner, the author

of the Book of Wisdom (8:1-13) speaks in his impersonation of Solomon. That king

himself, who reigned without interruption to his death, could not have

spoken of himself in the terms used here. He lost neither his throne nor his

power; and, therefore, the expression cannot be paralleled by the complaint of

Louis XIV., unsuccessful in war and weary of rule, “When I was king.” Solomon

redivivus (brought back to life; reborn) is introduced to give weight to the succeeding

experiences. Here is one who had every and the most favorable opportunity of

seeing the best side of things; and yet his testimony is that all is vanity. In the

acquisition of  wisdom, the contrast between the advantage of learned leisure and the

interruptions of a laborious life is set forth in Ecclesiasticus. 38:24, “The wisdom of

a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little

 business shall become wise.. King over Israel. The expression indicates a time

before the division of the kingdom. We have it in I Samuel 15:26, and occasionally

elsewhere. The usual phrase is “King of Israel.” (For in Jerusalem, see on v. 1.)

 

13 “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning

all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to

the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” I gave my heart (v. 17; ch.7:25;

Daniel 10:12). The heart, in the Hebrew conception, was the seat, not of the

affections only, but of the understanding and intellectual faculties generally.

So the expression here is equivalent to “I applied my mind.” To seek and

search out. The two words are not synonymous. The former verb (vr"D;,

darash) implies penetrating into the depth of an object before one; the

other word (rWT, tur) taking a comprehensive survey of matters further

away; so that two methods and scopes of investigation are signified. By

wisdom; ejn th~| sofi>a| - en tae sophia - (Septuagint). Wisdom was the means

or instrument by which he carried on his researches, which were directed, not

merely to the collecting of facts, but to investigating the causes and conditions of

things. Concerning all things that are done under heaven; i.e. men’s

actions and conduct, political, social, and private life. We have “under the

sun” in v. 9, and again in v. 14. Here there is no question of physical

matters, the phenomena of the material world, but only of human

circumstances and interests. This sore travail (rather, this is a sore travail

that) God hath given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. The

word rendered “travail” (ˆy;n][i, inyan) occurs often in this book (e.g.

ch. 2:23, 26, etc.), and nowhere else in the Old Testament. The same root is

found in the word translated “exercised;” hence “It is a woeful exercise which

God has given to the sons of men wherewith to exercise themselves.” If we keep

 to the word “travail,” we may render, “to travail therein.” It implies distracting

business, engrossing occupation. Septuagint, perispasmo>n perispasmon

heavy burden -  Vulgate, occupationem. Man feels himself constrained to make

this laborious investigation, yet the result is most unsatisfactory, as the next verse

shows. “God” is here Elohim, and so throughout the book, the name Jehovah

 (the God of the covenant, the God of Israel) never once occurring. Those who

regard Solomon as the author of the book account for this on the plea that the

king, in his latest years, reflecting sadly on his backsliding and fall, shrank from

uttering with his polluted lips the adorable Name once so often used with filial

reverence and beloved. But the true reason is found in the design of Koheleth,

which was to set forth, not so much Israel’s position under the covenant, as the

condition of man in the face of the God of nature. The idiosyncrasies and

peculiar features of the chosen people are not the subject of his essay; he

deals with a wider sphere; his theme is man in his relation to Divine

providence; and for this power he uses that name, common alike to the true

and false religions, Elohim, applied to the Supreme Being by believers and

idolaters.

 

14 “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold,

all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Here is the result of this examination of human

actions. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun. In his varied

experience nothing had escaped his notice. And behold, all is vanity and vexation

 of spirit; reuth ruach; afflictio spiritus (Vulgate); proai>resiv pneu>matov

proairesis pneumatos - choice of spirit, or, wind - (Septuagint); nomh< ajne>mou

 nomae avemou - feeding on wind (Aquila and Theodotion); boskh>siv ajne>mou 

 boskaesis avemou  (Symmachus). This last translation, or “striving after wind,”

seems to be most agreeable to the etymology of the word tW[r], which, except

in this book (ch. 2:11, 17, 26, etc.), occurs elsewhere only in the Chaldee portion

of Ezra (Ezra 5:17; 7:18). Whichever sense is taken, the import is much the

same. What is implied is the unsubstantial and unsatisfying nature of human

labors and endeavors. Many compare Hosea 12:1, “Ephraim feedeth on

wind,” and Isaiah 44:20, “He feedeth on ashes.” In contrast, perhaps,

to this constantly recurring complaint, the author of).

 

Bailey, in ‘Festus,’ sings —

 

            “Of all life’s aims, what’s worth the thought we waste on’t?

How mean, how miserable, seems every care!

How doubtful, too, the system of the mind!

And then the ceaseless, changeless, hopeless round

Of weariness, and heartlessness, and woe,

And vice, and vanity! Yet these make life —

The life, at least, I witness, if not feel

No matter, we are immortal.”

 

15 “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is

wanting cannot be numbered.” That which is crooked cannot be made straight.

This is intended as a confirmation of v. 14. By the utmost exercise of his powers

and faculties man cannot change the course of events; he is constantly met

by anomalies which he can neither explain nor rectify (compare ch.7:13).

The Vulgate takes the whole maxim as applying only to morals: “Perverse men are

Hardly corrected, and the number of tools is infinite.” So too the Syriac and

Targum. The Septuagint rightly as the Authorized Version. The writer is

not referring merely to man’s sins and delinquencies, but to the perplexities

in which he finds himself involved, and extrication from which is

impracticable. That which is wanting cannot be numbered.  We

cannot reckon where there is nothing to count; no skill in arithmetic will

avail to make up for a substantial deficit. So nothing man can do is able to

remedy the anomalies by which he is surrounded, or to supply the defects

which are pressed upon his notice.

 

 

Concerning Crooked Things and Things Wanting (v. 15)

 

  • IRREGULARITIES AND DEFECTS EXIST IN THE WORLD’S

PROGRAM. This the teaching of the two proverbs, that crooked things

cannot be straightened, i.e. by man, or wanting things numbered. To the

seeker after wisdom, who surveys all the works that are done under the

sun, and gives his heart to search into and to seek out by wisdom with

regard to these what is their end and issue, there appear in the physical,

mental, and moral worlds anomalies, irregularities, excrescences,

deviations from the straight line of natural order, as well as defects, wants,

imperfections, gaps, cleavages, interruptions, failures to reach

completeness, which arrest attention and excite astonishment.

 

Ø      Of irregularities or crooked things, such phenomena as these

may be cited:

 

o       In the physical world:

§         storms,

§         tempests,

§         accidents,

§         diseases,

§         sudden and unexpected calamities.

 

o       In the mental world:

§         perverted judgments,

§         erroneous beliefs,

§         false conclusions.

 

o       In the moral world:

§         wicked principles

§         depraved actions,

§         sins ofevery kind,

§         transgressions of human and Divine law.

 

Ø      Of things wanting or defects, may be reckoned these:

 

o       In the material realm, scenes where some element is wanting to

complete their beauty or utility, as e.g. a Sahara without a green

leaf to refresh the eye, or a well at which to quench the thirst;

or forms of life that never attain to maturity, as e.g. buds that drop

 before ripening into flowers or fruit.

o       In the intellectual sphere, ignorance, limited knowledge, defective

education, bigotry, arrogance, one-sided apprehension of truth,

narrow and imperfect views.

o       In the moral domain, actions that, without being wholly wrong,

yet fall short of being fully right, as e.g. where one tells a half-truth,

or does less in particular circumstances than duty demands of him.

(Sins of omission – CY – 2013)

 

  • SUCH IRREGULARITIES AND DEFECTS ARE BEYOND THE

POWER OF MAN TO REMOVE OR REMEDY. This, at least, is the

doctrine of the above two proverbial sayings.

 

Ø      The doctrine, however, is not absolutely and universally true.

In the physical, mental, and moral worlds, man can do something

to straighten what is crooked and supply what is lacking. For

instance, by skill and foresight he can guard himself to some extent

against the virulence of disease, the violence of storms and tempests,

the destructiveness of unexpected calamities; by education he can

protect himself and others against the perils arising from defective

knowledge and erroneous judgments; by personal cultivation of

virtue he can at least diminish the quantity of its opposite,

vice, in the world. If he cannot straighten out all the crooks, he

can even some; if he cannot remedy every defect, he can

remove a few.

 

Ø      Yet the doctrine is true in the sense intended by the Preacher.

This is, that after man has done his utmost there will remain anomalies

that baffle him to explain, a sense of incompleteness which nothing he

can attempt will remove. Let him prosecute his investigations ever so

widely and vigorously, there always will be “more things in heaven

and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy” — enigmas he cannot

solve, antinomies he cannot reconcile, defects he cannot fill up.

 

  • THE EXISTENCE OF SUCH IRREGULARITIES AND DEFECTS

SUGGESTS SOME IMPORTANT LESSONS. AS:

 

Ø      That the present system of things is not final. Nothing that is

imperfect can be final. The crooked things that want straightening

and the lacking things that need supplying contain a dim prophecy

of a future and better order, in which THE CROOKED THINGS

WILL BE STRAIGHTENED AND THE DEFECTIVE

THINGS SUPPLIED!

 

Ø      That mans power of apprehending things is incomplete. From this

probably arises not a little of that sense of disorder and incompleteness in

the outer world of which he complains.

 

Ø      That things impossible to man IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD! 

 Though man’s faculties are limited, it does not follow that God’s

power is limited.  The crooked things that man cannot straighten,

GOD CAN STRAIGHTEN  if it seem good to His wisdom.

 

Ø      That mans duty meanwhile is to submit and wait. Instead of

fretting at what he cannot rectify, he should aim at extracting from it

that moral discipline which, doubtless, it is intended to impart; and

instead of rushing to hasty conclusions from what he only imperfectly

apprehends, he ought in a spirit of hopefulness to PATIENTLY

WAIT FOR FURTHER LIGHT!.

 

16 “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great

estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been

before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of

wisdom and knowledge.”  Koheleth now arrives at his first conclusion, that wisdom

is vanity. I communed with mine own heart. The expression suggests, as it

were, an internal dialogue, (compare ch.2:1, 15). Lo, I am come to

great estate. If this be taken by itself, it makes Koheleth speak of his

power and majesty first, and of his progress in wisdom afterwards; but it is

best to connect it with what follows, and to confine the clause to one idea;

thus: “I have obtained great and ever greater wisdom” — I have

continually added to my stores of knowledge and experience. Than all

they (above all) that have been before me in (over) Jerusalem. Who are

the rulers alluded to? Solomon himself was only the second of the Israelite

kings who reigned there; of the Canaanite princes who may have made that

their capital, we have no knowledge, nor is it likely that Solomon would

compare himself with them. The Targum has altered the approved reading,

and gives, “Above all the wise men that were in Jerusalem before me.” The

reading, “in [instead of ‘over’] Jerusalem,” has indeed some manuscript

authority, and is confirmed by the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac, but it is

evidently a correction of the text by critics who saw the difficulty of the

authorized wording. Motais and others assert that the preposition in the

Masoretic text, l["(all, often means “in,” as well as “over,” when the

reference is to an elevated spot; e.g. Isaiah 38:20; Hosea 11:11. But

even granting this, we are still uncertain who are the persons meant.

Commentators point to Melchizedek, Adonizedek, and Araunah among

rulers, and to Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda (I Kings 4:31) among

sages. But we know nothing of the wisdom of the former, and there is no

tangible reason why the latter should be designated “before me in

Jerusalem.” Doubtless the words point to a succession of kings who had

reigned in Jerusalem, and the writer, involuntarily, perhaps, betrays his

assumed character, in relying an excusable anachronism, while giving to the

personated monarch a position which could not belong to the historical

Solomon. Yea, my heart had great experience of (hath seen abundantly,

kata< polu> - kata polu - Venetian) wisdom and knowledge, hber]h" used

adverbially qualifies the word before it, “hath seen.” The heart, as we have

observed (v. 13), is considered the seat of the intellectual life. In saying that the

heart hath seen wisdom, the writer means that his mind has taken it in,

apprehended and appropriated it (compare ch.8:16; Job 4:8). Wisdom and

knowledge; chokmah and daath; sofi>an kai< gnw~sin sophian kai gnosin -

(Septuagint), the former regarding the ethical and practical side, the latter the

speculative, which leads to the other (compare Isaiah 33:6; Romans 11:33). 

 

17 “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and

folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.” And I gave my heart.

He reiterates the expression in order to emphasize his earnestness and energy

in the pursuit of wisdom. And knowing, he studies the opposite of wisdom, and

learns the truth by contrasting it with error. And to know madness and folly

(ch.2:12). The former word, holeloth (intensive plural), by its etymology points

to a confusion of thought, i.e. an unwisdom which deranges all ideas of order

and propriety; and folly (here sikluth), throughout the sapiential books (books

of wisdom), is identified with vice and wickedness, the contradictory of

practical godliness. The Septuagint has parabola<v kai <ejpisth>mhn

 parabolas kai epistaemaen - parables and endued with knowledge - 

and some editors have altered the Hebrew text in accordance

with this version, which they consider more suitable to the context. But

Koheleth’s standpoint is quite consistent.  Den-Sirs gives a much-needed

warning against touching pitch (Eccleiasticus 13:1), and argues expressly

that “the knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom” (Ibid. ch. 19:22).

The moralist had no need to travel beyond his own experience in order to

learn that sin was the acme of unwisdom, a declension from reason which

might well be called madness.. Thus far we have had Koheleth’s secret thoughts —

what he communed with his own heart (v. 16). The result of his studies was

most unsatisfying.   I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit; or,

a striving after wind, as v. 14 Though the word is somewhat different. As

such labor is wasted, for man cannot control issues.

 

18 “For in much wisdom is much grief:  and he that increaseth

knowledge increaseth sorrow.”  For in much wisdom is much grief.

The more one knows of men’s lives, the deeper insight one obtains of their

actions and circumstances, the greater is the cause of grief at the incomplete and

unsatisfactory nature of all human affairs. He that increaseth knowledge

increaseth sorrow; not in others, but in himself. With added experience

and more minute examination, the wise man becomes more conscious of

his own ignorance and impotence, of the unsympathizing and

uncontrollable course of nature, of the gigantic evils which he is powerless

to remedy; this causes his sorrowful confession “I perceived that this

also is vexation of spirit.” (v. 17b). St. Gregory, taking the religious view

of the passage, comments, “The more a man begins to know what he has

lost the more he begins to bewail the sentence of his corruption, which he

has met with” (‘Moral.,’ 18:65); and, “He that already knows the high state

which he does not as yet enjoy is the more grieved for the low condition in

which he is yet held” (ibid., 1:34). The statement in our text is paralleled in

Ecclesiasticus. 21:12, “There is a wisdom which multiplieth bitterness,” and

contrasted in Wisdom of Solomon  8:16 with the comfort and pleasure

which true wisdom brings.

 

 

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