Ecclesiastes 11



Approaching the end of his treatise, Koheleth, in view of apparent

anomalies in God’s moral government, and the difficulties that meet man in

his social and political relations, proceeds to give his remedies for this state

of things. These remedies are;


  • beneficence and active life (vs. 1-6);
  • joyful light-heartedness (vs. 7-9);
  • piety (v.10- ch.12:7).


Section 16 (vs. 1-6) - Leaving alone unanswerable questions, man’s

duty and happiness are found in activity, especially in doing all the good in

his power, for he knows not how soon he himself may stand in need of

help. This is the first remedy for the perplexities of life. The wise man will

not charge himself with results.


1 “Cast thy bread upon the waters:” -  The old interpretation of this

passage, which found in it a reference to the practice in Egypt of sowing

seed during the inundation of the Nile, is not admissible. The verb shalaeh

is not used in the sense of sowing or scattering seed; it means “to cast or

send forth.” Two chief explanations have been given.


  • As to sow on the water is equivalent to taking thankless toil and

may be an injunction to do good without hope of return, like the

evangelical precept (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).


  • It is a commercial maxim, urging men to make ventures in trade, that

they may receive a good return for their expenditure. In this case the

casting seed upon the waters is a metaphorical expression for sending

merchandise across the sea to distant lands. This view is supposed to be

confirmed by the statement concerning the good woman in Proverbs

31:14, “She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her bread from far;

and the words of Psalm 107:23, “They that go down to the sea in

ships, that do business in great waters.”


But one sees no reason why Koheleth should suddenly turn to commerce and

the trade of a maritime city. Such considerations have no reference to the context,

nor to the general design of the book. Nothing leads to them, nothing comes

of them. On the other hand, if we take the verse as urging active beneficence as

the safest and best proceeding under men’s present circumstances, We have a

maxim in due accordance with the spirit of the rest of the work, and one

which conduces to the conclusion reached at the end. So we adopt the first

of the two explanations mentioned above. The bread in the East is made in

the form of thin cakes, which would float for a time if thrown into a

stream; and if it be objected that no one would be guilty of such an

irrational action as flinging bread into the water, it may be answered that

this is just the point aimed at. Do your kindnesses, exert yourself, in the

most unlikely quarters, not thinking of gratitude or return, but only of duty.

And yet surely a recompense will be made in some form or other – “for thou

shalt find it after many days.”  This is not to be the motive of our acts, but it

will in the course of time be the result; and this thought may be an

encouragement. In the Chaldee Version of parts of Ecclesiasticus there is

extant a maxim identical with our verse, “Strew thy bread on the water and

on the land, and thou shalt find it at the end of days” (Dukes, ‘Rabb.

Btumenl.,’ p. 73). Parallels have been found in many quarters. Thus the

Turk says, “Do good, throw it into the water; if the fish does not know it,

God does.” Herzfeld quotes Goethe:


 “Wouldst thou too narrowly inquire

Whither thy kindness goes!

Thy cake upon the water cast;

Whom it may feed who knows?”




                        Encouragement to Christian Toilers (v. 1)


The lesson of this verse, if the figure be dropped, may be expressed thus:

Act upon principles and not upon likelihood.


·         A SIMILITUDE. The good we give to men when we preach and teach

Divine truth, when we exercise Christian influence, is seed — fruit-bearing

seed. It is a blessed, but a sacred and serious, occupation to sow the seed

of spiritual life.


·         A DIRECTION. Christian sowers! Cast your bread even upon the



Ø      Even upon an unkindly soil.

Ø      Even in an unpromising season.

Ø      Liberally, though at the cost of self-sacrifice.

Ø      Constantly, even though it seems that the sowing has been long carried

      on in vain.

Ø      Bravely and hopefully, although the calculating, shortsighted world

      deride your efforts.


·         A PROMISE. After lapse of days you shall find the bread you have



Ø      What is cast abroad is not destroyed.

Ø      Neither is it lost sight of.

Ø      It shall, perhaps after many days, be found again.

Ø      It may be in time; it shall be in eternity. Then “he that soweth

      and he that reapeth shall rejoice together.”  (John 4:36)


2 “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight;” - This further

explains, without any metaphor, the injunction of beneficence in v. 1.

Give portions of thy “bread” to any number of those who need. Delitzsch

and others who interpret the passage of maritime enterprise would see in it

a recommendation (like the proceeding of Jacob, Genesis 32:16, etc.)

not to risk all at once, to divide one’s ventures into various ships. But the

expression in the text is merely a mode of enjoining unlimited benevolence.

The numbers are purposely indefinite. Instances of this form of speech are

common enough (see Proverbs 6:16; 30:7-9; Amos 1:3; Micah 5:5).  The word

for “portion” (chelek) is that used specially for the portion of the Levites

(Numbers 18:20); and there is a possible injunction not to confine one’s

offerings to the Levites of Judah, but to extend them to the refugees who

come from Israel“for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the

earth.”  A time may come when you yourself may need help; the power

of giving may no longer be yours; therefore make friends now who may

be your comfort in distress. So the Lord urges, “Make to yourselves

friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9).

It seems a low motive on which to base charitable actions; but men act

on such secondary motives every day, and the moralist cannot ignore them.

In the Book of Proverbs secondary and worldly motives are largely urged as

useful in the conduct of life.  Paul reminds us that we some day may need a

brother’s help (Galatians 6:1). The Fathers have spiritualized the passage, so as

to make it of Christian application, far away indeed from Koheleth’s thought.

Thus St. Gregory: “By the number seven is understood the whole of this temporal

condition… this is shown more plainly when the number eight is mentioned after it.

For when another number besides follows after seven, it is set forth by this very

addition, that this temporal state is brought to an end and closed by eternity. For

by the number seven Solomon expressed the present time, which is passed by

periods of seven days. But by the number eight he designated eternal life,

which the Lord made known to us by His resurrection. For He rose in truth

on the Lord’s day, which, as following the seventh day, i.e. the sabbath, is

found to be the eighth from the creation. But it is well said, ‘Give

portions,’ etc. As if it were plainly said, ‘So dispense temporal goods, as

not to forget to desire those that are eternal. For thou oughtest to provide

for the future by well-doing, who knowest not what tribulation succeeds

from the future judgment’” (‘Moral,’ 35:17, Oxford translation).




                                    Works of Charity (vs. 1-2)


 There can be little doubt that these admonitions apply to the deeds of

compassion and beneficence which are the proper fruits of true religion.

Especially in some conditions of society almsgiving is expedient and

beneficial. In times of famine, in cases of affliction and sudden calamity, it

is a duty to supply the need of the poor and hungry. At the same time, the

indiscriminate bestowal of what is called charity unquestionably does more

harm than good, especially in a state of society in which few need suffer

want who are diligent, frugal, temperate, and self-denying. But there are

many other ways in which benevolence may express itself beside

almsgiving. The Christian is called upon to care both for the bodies and for

the souls of his fellow-men — to give the bread of knowledge as well as

the bread that perisheth, and to provide a spiritual portion for the

enrichment and consolation of the destitute.



AND HALLOWED BY TRUE RELIGION. It may be maintained with

confidence that sympathy is as natural to man as selfishness, although the

love of self is too often allowed by our sinful nature to overcome the love

of others. But when Christ takes possession, by His Spirit, of a man’s inner

nature, then the benevolence which may have been dormant is aroused, and

new direction is given to it, and new power to persevere and to succeed in

the attainment of its object.



BENEVOLENT FEELING. Too often sympathy is a sentimental luxury,

leading to no effort, no self-denial. The poet justly denounces those who,

“Nursed in mealy-mouthed philanthropies, Divorce the feeling from her

mate — the deed.” But the spirit of the Savior urges to Christ-like

endeavor, and sustains the worker for men’s bodily, social, and spiritual

good. The bread must be cast, the portion must be given.



DISCOURAGEMENTS. The bread is cast upon the waters. This implies

that in many cases we must expect to lose sight of the results of our work;

that we must he prepared for disappointment; that, at all events, we must

fulfill our service for God and man in faith, and rather from conviction and

principle than from any hope of apparent and immediate success.



PERSEVERANCE. What is, as it were, committed to the deep shall be

found after the lapse of days. The waters do not destroy, they fertilize and

fructify, the seed. Thus “they who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” In how

many ways this promise is fulfilled the history of the Christian Church, and

even the experience of every individual worker for God, abundantly show.

In places and at times altogether unexpected and unlikely, there come to

light evidences that the work has been cared for, watched over, and

prospered by God Himself. He does not suffer the efforts of His faithful

servants to come to naught. The good they aim at, and much which never

occurred to them to anticipate, is effected in God’s time by the marvelous

operation of His providence and His Spirit. “Be steadfast, immovable,

always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your

labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  (I Corinthians 15:58)


3 “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the

Earth:” -  This verse is closely connected with the preceding paragraph. The

misfortune there intimated may fall at any moment; this is as certain as the

laws of nature, unforeseen, uncontrollable. When the clouds are

overcharged with moisture, they deliver their burden upon the earth,

according to laws which man cannot alter; these are of irresistible

necessity, and must be expected and endured – “and if the tree fall toward

the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth,

there it shall be. ” -  or, it may be, in the south; i.e. let it fall

where it will; the particular position is of no importance. When the tempest

overthrows it, it lies where it has fallen. When the evil day comes, we must bend

to the blow, we are powerless to avert it; the future can be neither calculated nor

controlled. The next verse tells how the wise man acts under such

circumstances. Christian commentators have argued from this clause

concerning the unchangeable state of the departed — that there is no

repentance in the grave; that what death leaves them judgment shall find

them. Of course, no such thought was in Koheleth’s mind; nor do we think

that the inspiring Spirit intended such meaning to be wrung from the

passage. Indeed, it may be said that, as it stands, the clause does not bear

this interpretation. The fallen or felled tree is not at once fit for the

master’s use; it has to be exposed to atmospheric influences seasoned,

tried. It is not left in the place where it lay, nor in the condition in which it

was; so that, if we reason from this analogy, we must conceive that there is

some ripening, purifying process in the intermediate state. St. Gregory

speaks thus: “For when, at the moment of the falling of the human being,

either the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit receives the soul departed from the

chambers of the flesh, he will keep it with him for ever without change, so

that neither, once exalted, shall it be precipitated into woe, nor, once

plunged into eternal woes, any further arise to take the means of escape”

(‘Moral.,’ 8:30).


4 “He that observeth the wind shall not sow;” -  The fact of the

uncertainty and immutability of the future ought not to make us supine or

to crush out all diligence and activity. He who wants to anticipate results,

to foresee and provide against all contingencies, to be his own providence,

is like a farmer who is always looking to wind and weather, and misses the

time for sowing in this needless caution. The quarter from which the wind

blows regulates the downfall of rain (compare Proverbs 25:23). In

Palestine the west and north-west winds usually brought rain – “and he that

regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  For the purpose of softening the

ground to receive the seed, rain was advantageous; but storms in harvest,

of course, were pernicious (see I Samuel 12:17, etc.; Proverbs 26:1);

and he who was anxiously fearing every indication of such weather,

and altering his plans at every phase of the sky, might easily put off reaping

his fields till either the crops were spoiled or the rainy season had set in. A

familiar proverb says,” A watched pot never boils.” Some risks must

always be run if we are to do our work in the world; we cannot make a

certainty of anything; probability is the guide of life. We cannot secure

ourselves from failure; we can but do our best, and uncertainty of result

must not paralyze exertion. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that

runneth, but of God that hath mercy” (Romans 9:16). St. Gregory

deduces a lesson from this verse: “He calls the unclean spirit wind, but men

who are subjected to him clouds; whom he impels backwards and

forwards, hither and thither, as often as his temptations alternate in their

hearts from the blasts of suggestions. He therefore who observes the wind

does not sow, since he who dreads coming temptations does not direct his

heart to doing good. And he who regards the clouds does not reap, since

he who trembles from the dread of human fickleness deprives himself of the

recompense of an eternal reward” (‘Moral.,’ 27:14).




                                    The True Workman (v. 4)


The idea of the text is that something must be endured, and something

must be dared, if we mean to achieve anything of any account. If a man

wants to sow, he must not mind being assailed by the wind while he is at

work; or if he wants to reap, he must not stay indoors because it threatens

to rain. We must be ready to endure, we must be prepared to run risks, if

we have any thought of taking rank among the successful workers of our

time. God does not give His bounties to those who will only walk the road

when it is perfectly smooth and sheltered; nor does He permit us to win

triumphs if our heart misguides us at the sight of difficulty or danger.

Success is for those, and those only, who can brave wind and rain in the

open field of labor, in the wide spheres of usefulness.


·         THE FACT, AS OUR EXPERIENCE TESTIFIES. Everything that is

done which is really worth doing is wrought with trouble, with some

measure of difficulty and of risk, with the possibility or likelihood of

failure, with struggle and some degree of disappointment — e.g., the little

child in learning to walk and to talk; the boy in mastering his lesson or even

his game, or in finding and taking his place in the schoolroom and the

playground; the student in acquiring his knowledge, and in facing and

passing his examination; the tradesman and merchant in making their

purchases unit investing their money; the author in writing and printing his

book; the statesman in planning and submitting his measure, etc. In all

these, and in all such cases, we have to contend with adverse “winds” that

blow upon us; we have to “put our foot down” firmly on the ground; we

have to run the risk of unpleasant “rains,” of falling and of failure. It is the

constant condition of human endeavor.


·         THE BENEFICENT RESULT. This is not to be regretted; on the

contrary, we may be thankful for it. It develops human character; it calls

forth and strengthens all that is best within us.


Ø      It nourishes fortitude — a commendable capacity to endure; a readiness

to accept, unmoved and untroubled at heart, whatever may befall us.


Ø      It creates and sustains courage — a deliberate determination to face the

evil that may possibly await us.


Ø      It contributes to true manliness — the power to do and to endure

anything and everything as God may will, as man may want. We pity

those whose field of work, whose path of life, is unvisited by adverse

winds and unpleasant rains. If they do grow up into strong and brave

souls, it will be in spite of the absence of those circumstances which

are most helpful in the formation of character. We have no condolence

for those who have to face the strong wind and the rain; we congratulate

them that they are placed where the noblest characters are shaped.



workman in the Master’s vineyard is inclined to lay down his weapon when

the clouds gather in the heavens. But to act thus is not worthy of him. Not

thus did He who “bore such contradiction of sinners against himself.”

(Hebrews 12:3)  Not thus have the worthiest of His disciples done —

they who have done the most, and have left behind them the most fragrant

memories. Not thus will they have acted who receive the gladdening

commendation of their Lord “in the day of His appearing” Not thus shall

we finish the work our Father has given us to do. Let the strong winds of

even an unkindly criticism blow, let the dark cloud of possible failure show

itself in the horizon, we will not be daunted; we will go forth to sow the good

seed of the kingdom, to reap its precious harvest.


 5 “As thou nowest not what is the way of the spirit,” -  In this

verse are presented one or two examples of man’s ignorance of natural

facts and processes as analogous to the mysteries of God’s moral

government. The word translated “spirit” (ruach) may mean also “wind,”

and is so taken here by many commentators (see ch.1:6; 8:8;

and compare John 3:8). In this view there would be two instances given,

viz. the wind and the embryo. Certainly, the mention of the wind seems to

come naturally after what has preceded; and man’s ignorance of its way,

and powerlessness to control it, are emblematic of his attitude towards

Divine providence. The versions, however, seem to support the rendering

of the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint (which connects the clause

with v. 4), (ἐν οῖς en ois - among whom - i.e. those who watch the weather),

“There is none that knoweth what is the way of the spirit (τοῦ πνεύματος

tou pneumatos  - the wind);Vulgate. Quomodo ignoras quae sit via spiritus.

If we take this view, we have only one idea in the verse, and that is THE


growth in its mother’s womb – (There is no doubt that those who terminate

the life of the unborn COMMIT MURDER!  - I rest the case until the judgment!


Abortion Rationale – 2012  and Abortion Statistics as of 2004 – #’s 8 and 9 –

this web site – CY – 2013) -  “nor how the bones do grow in the womb

of her that is with child.”  Our version, by its insertions, has made two facts

out of the statement in the Hebrew, which is literally, holy the bones (are) in

 the womb of a pregnant woman.  Septuagint, “As (ὡς hosas) bones

are in the womb,” etc.; Vulgate, Et qua ratione compingantur ossa in ventre

praegnantis, And in what way the bones are framed in the womb of the

 pregnant.” The formation and quickening of the foetus were always regarded

as mysterious and inscrutable (compare Job 10:8-9; Psalm 139:15). Wright

compares Marcus  Aurelius, 10:26, “The first principles of life are extremely

slender and mysterious; and yet nature works them up into a strange increase

 of bulk, diversity, and proportion.” Controversies concerning the origin of the soul

have been rife from early times, some holding what is called Traducianism,

i.e. that soul and body are both derived by propagation from earthly

parents; others supporting Creationism, i.e. that the soul, created specially

by God, is infused into the child before birth. St. Augustine confesses (‘Op.

Imperf.,’ 4:104) that he is unable to determine the truth of either opinion.

And, indeed, this is one of those secret things which Holy Scripture has not

decided for us, and about which no authoritative sentence has been given.

The term “bones” is used for the whole conformation of the body (compare

Proverbs 15:30; 16:24); meleah, “pregnant,” means literally, “full,” and

is used like the Latin plena can here and nowhere else in the Old

Testament, though common in later Hebrew – “Even so thou knowest not

the works of God who maketh all.”  Equally mysterious in its general scope

and in its details is the working of God’s providence. And as everything lies

in God’s hands, it must needs be secret and beyond human ken. This is why to

“the works of God” (7:13) is added, “WHO MAKETH ALL.” The God of

 nature is LORD OF THE FUTURE!  (compare Amos 3:6) -  Man must not

disquiet himself about this.


6 “In the morning sow thy seed,” -  Do not let your ignorance of the

future and the inscrutability of God’s dealings lead you to indolence and

apathy; do your appointed work; be active and diligent in your calling. The

labor of the farmer is taken as a type of business generally, and was

especially appropriate to the class of persons whom Koheleth is instructing.

The injunction occurs naturally after v. 4 - “and in the evening withhold

not thine hand:”  Labor on untiredly from morn till evening. It is not an

advice to rest during midday, as that was too hot a time to work,

but a call to spend the entire day in active employment, the two extremities

being mentioned in order to include the whole. Work undertaken in a right

spirit is A BLESSING,  not a curse,  it shuts out many temptations

and encourages many virtues. Some see here a special reference to the maxim

at the beginning of the chapter, as though the author meant, “Exercise thy charity

at all times, early and late,” the metaphor being similar ‘to that in II Corinthians 9:6,

“He which soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly.” Others find a figure of

the ages of, man in the “morning and evening,” thus, from earliest youth

practice piety and purity, and continue such conduct to its close.  This

leads naturally to the subject of the following section; but it may be

doubted whether this thought was in the author’s mind. It seems best to

take the paragraph merely as commending activity, whether in business or

in benevolence, without anxious regard to results which are IN

HIGHER HANDS!   “Withhold not thy hand,” i.e. from sowing;

Μὴ ἀφέτωχείρ σου  -  mae apheto hae cheir sou - Septuagint).

“for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, (which of the

two sowings) either this or that,” -  the morning or evening sowing. It is a

chance, and a man must risk something; if one fails, the other may succeed -

“or whether they both shall be alike good.”  The uncertainty rouses to

exertion; labor may at any rate secure half the crop, or even give a double

produce, if both sowings succeed. So in religion and morality, the good

seed sown early and late MAY BEAR FRUIT EARLY OR LATE,




Bread Upon the Waters


Rules and Reasons for Practicing Beneficence (vs. 1-6)


  • RULES. Beneficence should be practiced:


Ø      Without doubt as to its result. One’s charity should be performed in a

spirit of fearless confidence, even though the recipients of it should appear

altogether unworthy, and our procedure as hopeless and thankless an

operation as “casting one’s bread upon the waters” (v. 1), or like

“sowing the‘sea.”


Ø      Without limit as to its distribution. “Give a portion to seven, yea

even unto eight” (v. 2); that is, “Give to him that asketh, and from him

that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:42). Social

economics may, but the sermon on the mount does not, condemn

indiscriminate or promiscuous giving. One’s bread should be cast upon the

waters in the sense that it should be bestowed upon the multitudes, or

carried far and wide rather than restricted to a narrow circle.


Ø      Without anxiety as to its seasonableness. As “he that observeth

 the wind will not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not

 reap” (v. 4), so he who is always apprehensive lest his deeds of kindness

should be ill-timed is not likely to practice much beneficence. The

farmer who should spend his days in watching the weather to select

just the right moment to plough and sow, or reap and garner, would

never get the one operation or the ether performed; and little charity

would be witnessed were men never to give until they were quite

sure they had hit upon the right time to give, and never to do

an act of kindness until they were certain the proper, objects to receive

it had been found.


Ø      Without intermission as to its time. “In the morning sow thy seed,

 and in the evening withhold not thine hand” (v. 6). Who would

practice beneficence as it should be practiced must be as constantly

employed therein as the husbandman is in his agricultural operations.

Philanthropy is a sacred art, which can only be acquired by pains and

patience. Intermittent goodness, charity performed by fits and starts,

occasional benevolence, never comes to much, and never does much

 for either the giver or receiver.  Charity to be efficient must be a perennial

fountain and a running stream (I Corinthians 13:8). The charitable man must

be always giving, like God, who maketh his sun to rise on the evil and

the good, etc. (Matthew 5:45), and who giveth unto all liberally

(James 1:5).


  • REASONS. Beneficence should be practiced for the following reasons:


Ø      It is certain in the end to be recompensed. (v. 1.) The kindly disposed

individual, who fearlessly casts his bread upon the waters by doing good to

the unkind and the unthankful (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35), may

have a long time to wait for a return from his venture in practical

philanthropy; but eventually that return will come, here on earth, in the

inward satisfaction that springs from doing good, perhaps in the gratitude

(or, it may be, the temporal and spiritual elevation) of those who

experience his kindness, hereafter in the welcome and the glory Christ

 has promised to such as are mindful of his needy brethren on earth

(Matthew 25:40).


Ø      No one can predict how soon himself may become an object of charity.

As surely as the clouds when full of rain will empty themselves upon the

earth, and a tree will lie exactly in the place where it falls (v. 3), so surely

will seasons of calamity, when they come, descend on rich and poor alike;

yea, perhaps strike the wealthy, the great, and the good with strokes which

the indigent, the obscure, and the wicked may escape. Hence the bare

consideration of this fact, that bad times may come — not only depriving

one of the ability to practice beneficence, but rendering one a fit subject for

the same (the latter of these being most likely the Preacher’s thought) —

should induce one to be charitable WHILE HE MAY OR CAN!

This may seem a low, selfish, and unworthy ground on which to recommend

the practice of philanthropy; but does its meaning not substantially amount

to this, that men should give to others because, were bad times to strip them

of their wealth, and plunge them into poverty, they would wish others to

give to them? And how much is this below the standard of the golden rule

(Matthew 7:12)?


Ø      No amount of forethought will discover a better time for practicing

beneficence than the present. As no one knows the way of the wind

(John 3:8), or the secrets of embryology (Psalm 139:15) — in both

of which departments of nature, notwithstanding the discoveries of modern

science, much ignorance prevails (Is not the ignorance in the fact that

life begins at conception and there are those who want to terminate it as

soon as possible – I saw on television this morning, a woman representing

the National Organization of Women – [NOW] – making foolish

comments about a decision that a judge in North Dakota had made

concering this ignorance of life  – this being July 23, 2013 – the

92nd anniversary of my Mother’s birth – if she had been aborted I would

never have seen the light of day – Thank God for her mother – I trust that

she and my grandmother, Cloda Padgett Shadoan, in this shared the mind

of God when He revealed, concerning abortion and child sacrifice “which

I commanded not, nor spake it, NEITHER CAME IT INTO MY

MIND.” – Jeremiah 19:5 – I recommend Abortion Rationale – 2012 and

Abortion Statistics as of 2004 - #’s 8 and 9this web site – CY – 2013)

 so can no one predict what kind of future will emerge from the womb of

the present (Proverbs 27:1; Zephaniah 2:2), or what shall be the course

of providence on the morrow. Hence to defer exercising charity till one

has fathomed the unfathomable is more than merely to waste one’s time;

it is to miss a certain opportunity for one that may NEVER ARRIVE!

As today only is ours, we should never cast it away for a doubtful to-morrow,



 “Act in the living present,

Heart within and God o’er head.”



Ø      The issues of beneficence, in the recipients thereof, are uncertain. That

an act of charity, or deed of kindness, whensoever done, will prosper

without fail in the experience of the doer thereof, has been declared (v. 1);

that it will turn out equally well in the experience of him to whom it is

done is not so inevitable. Yet from this problematical character of all

human philanthropy as to results should be drawn an argument, not for

doing nothing, but for doing more. An atrabiliar soul will conclude that,

because he is not sure whether his charity may not injure rather than benefit

the recipient, he should hold his hand; a hopeful and happy Christian will

feel impelled to more assiduous benevolence by reflecting that he can never

tell when his kindly deeds will bear fruit in the temporal, perhaps also

spiritual, salvation of the poor and needy.  The seed sown in the

morning of life may bear its harvest at once, or not till the evening of age.

The man may reap at one and the same time the fruits of his earlier and

later sowing, and may find that both are alike good.




Ø      “As therefore ye have opportunity, do good unto all men”

(Galatians 6:10).

Ø      Weary not in well-doing (Ibid. v.9).

Ø      Take no thought for tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).

Ø      Cultivate a hopeful view of life (Proverbs 10:28).





                                    Conditions of Success in Business (vs. 1-6)





Ø      Enterprises are not free from hazard. “Cast thy bread upon the

      waters,” meaning, “launch out upon the sea of business speculation.”

The man who would succeed must be prepared to venture somewhat.

A judicious quantity of courage seems indispensable to getting on.

The timid merchant is as little likely to prosper as the shrinking lover.


Ø      Prudence in dividing risks. “Divide the portion into seven, yea, eight

parts,” which again signifies that one should never put all his eggs into

one basket, commit all his goods to one caravan, place all his cargo in

one ship, invest all his capital in one undertaking, or generally venture

all on one card.


Ø      Confidence in going forward, The agriculturist who, is always, watching

the weather — “observing the wind and regarding the clouds” (v. 4) —

will make but a poor farmer; and he who is constantly taking fright at the

fluctuations of the market will prove only an indifferent merchant. In

business, as in love and war, the man who hesitates is lost.


Ø      Diligence and constancy in labor. The person who aims at success in

business must be a hard and. incessant, not a fitful and intermittent,

worker. If a farmer, he must sow betimes in the morning, and pause not

until hindered by the shades of night. If a merchant, he must trade both

early and late. If an artisan, he must toil week in and week out. It is “the

hand of the diligent” that maketh rich” (Proverbs 10:4).




Ø      The expectation of a future reward. Thou shalt find it [thy bread]

      after any days.” Such enterprises, though attended with risk, will not

all fail, but will generally prove successful — not immediately, perhaps,

but after an interval of waiting, as the ships of a foreign merchant

require months, or even years, before they return with the desired profits.


Ø      The anticipation of impending calamity. As no man can foresee the

future, the prudent merchant lays his account with one or more of his

ventures coming to grief. Hence, in the customary phrase, he “divides

the risk,” and does not hazard all in one expedition.


Ø      The consciousness of inability to forecast the future. Just because of

this — illustrated in vs. 3 and 5 — the man who aspires to prosper in his

undertakings dismisses all overanxious care, and instead of waiting for

opportunities and markets, makes them.


Ø      The hope of ultimately succeeding. Though he may often fail, he

expects he will not always fail; hence he redoubles his energy and

diligence. “In the morning he sows his seed, and in the evening

withholds not his hand,” believing that in the end his labors will

be crowned with success.


·         LEARN:


1. That business is not incompatible with piety.

2. That piety need be no hindrance to business.

3. That each may be helpful to the other.

4. That both should be, and are, a source of blessing to the world.




                                    Provision for the Future (vs. 1-6)


Fruitless though many of the quests had been on which the Preacher had

set out, lost though he had often been in the mazes of barren and withering

speculation, something he did succeed in gaining, which he now places on

record among the concluding sentences of his book. Though truth in its

fullness is out of man’s reach, the path of duty is plain; essential wisdom

may never be discovered, but some practical lessons for the guidance of

life, which after all are what most we need, are to be won from the search.

Perhaps to many minds these may seem commonplace. It may be thought

that after all the bustle of the enterprise, after all the zeal and energy

expended in carrying it through, the gain is small. Surely some new thing of

greater value might have been brought out of the far-off one of philosophy

and speculation than the counsels given here to be beneficent and active,

since a time may come when we shall need the help of others, and the

harvest may far exceed all our expectations. But from the very nature of

the case such murmurings are unreasonable. No new thing can be brought

to light in the moral world. Conscience proclaims the same duties AGE

after AGE; and all that is left to him who would advance the cause of

righteousness is to give clearer utterance to the voice of God in the heart,

to show the imperative claims of duty, and in some instances to suggest

new and weighty motives for obedience to them. None need, therefore,

scorn the simple terms in which the Preacher sums up the practical lessons

he would have us lay to heart. There is nothing novel or wonderful in what

he says, but probably those epithets would be fairly applicable to the

change that would be produced in our lives if we obeyed his counsels.

There is a close connection between verse and verse in this section (vs.

1-6), but a formal division of it into logical parts is impracticable. The

Hebrew or Oriental mind had a different mode of ratiocination
(formation of judgments by a process of logic and reason) from ours.

We may, however, note the stages in the current of thought.



       is commended to us — a benevolence that is generous and

profuse. “Cast thy bread,” he says, “upon the waters.” “Do not be afraid of

showing kindness, even where thou seest no prospect of result or return;

let the flat cake of bread, the type of food to the hungry, aid to the needy,

float down the stream of life. Thou wilt find one day that thou hast hit the

mark, won some grateful heart” (Bradley). His words remind us of the

counsel in the Gospels “to do good, hoping for nothing again, even to the

unthankful and the evil” (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).


Repandez vos bienfaits avec magnificence,

Meme aux moins vertueux ne les refusez pas.”

(Voltaire, ‘Precis de l’Ecelesiaste.’)


Let many experience your beneficence, says the Preacher; confine it not

within narrow limits. He speaks of seven or eight, according to the Hebrew

manner of indicating an indefinite but large number (Micah 5:5). His

specification is not to be taken literally, any more than our Lord’s “seventy

times seven” as indicating the literal number of times we are to forgive

(Matthew 18:22).


·         A MOTIVE TO BENEFICENCE is laid down in v. 2b. “For thou

knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” In the time of prosperity

remember that a day of calamity and suffering may come, when the succor

of the friends you have made may be of great service. Bad as men are,

there are numerous instances of a grateful love recompensing benefits

received long ago, which perhaps even the benefactor has long forgotten.

“Peradventure for the good man some would even dare to die.” (Romans

5:7)  No one can tell what vicissitudes of fortune are in store for him; and

therefore it is prudent to make some provision in the present against a day of

adversity. The same teaching is found in the parable of the unjust steward

(Luke 16:1-9). These who spend some of their wealth in doing deeds of kindness

and mercy (ibid. ch. 14:12-14) are described as laying up treasure in bags

that wax not old, as providing for themselves friends who will, when this

life is over, welcome them into everlasting habitations. To some this may

seem but a sordid motive to benevolence; it may seem to turn that virtue

into a kind of refined selfishness. But, after all, there is nothing unworthy in

the motive. “Self-love is implanted in man’s nature, and men who

themselves affect to despise such a motive are often themselves, with all

their professed loftiness of aim, actuated by no higher objects than those of

pleasure, fame, or advancement” (Wright).




The world is governed by uniform laws; both good and evil are subject to

them. As it is an invariable law of nature that at a certain point the clouds

that are filled with rain begin to discharge their load upon the earth, and no

human power can seal them up, and as it is an invincible law that the forest

tree must fall before the blast, when the force with which it resists the ‘fury

of the wind is insufficient to save it from overthrow, so the future is shaped

by laws which man cannot control, and it is a mark of prudence to be

prepared for any contingencies. The tempest which deluges the earth with

rain, and levels the monarchs of the forest with the ground, can neither be

foreseen nor averted by man; neither can the future, whether it be charged

with prosperity or adversity. The interpretation of v. 3 as teaching that

the fate of man is forever fixed at death is utterly indefensible; there is

nothing whatever in the text to indicate that the writer had any such

thought in his mind. And one may say, in passing, that the teaching in

question can have very little foundation, when it is principally, if not

altogether, founded upon a misinterpretation of this passage. Why the

advocates of the doctrine, which in itself is repulsive to our ideas of

reasonableness and justice, should make so much of an obscure metaphor

in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and shut their eyes to the historical statement

in 1 Peter 3:18-20, which is decisive upon the point in question, is

difficult to understand. No outcry about the obscurity of the latter passage

can annul the plain statement of fact in it, viz. that Christ after His death

went and preached the gospel to the spirits of those who were overtaken

by the flood in the days of Noah. Uncertainty as to the future should not,

however, lead to present inactivity (v. 5). We are not to allow “taking

thought for the morrow” (Matthew 6:25) to hinder our doing good today;

that would be as absurd as the conduct of the farmer if he were to put

off from day to day the sowing or reaping of his fields because of wind or

rain, until the time for sowing or for reaping had passed away. Some risk

we must run in our undertakings; and if some opportunities come to us

without any seeking or effort on our part, we can make others for

ourselves by the exercise of our good sense, energy, or tact. “The

conditions of success cannot be reckoned on beforehand; the future

belongs to God, the all-conditioning” (Delitzsch). This is the idea

contained in v. 5. Two examples are given of processes of nature which

are familiar to us all, but the ways and working of which are hidden from

our knowledge; they are the course of the wind (not the “spirit,” as in the

Authorized Version), which bloweth where it listeth (John 3:8), and

the formation of the babe in the womb of her who is with child.” These

secrets being in nature, it is not wonderful that the methods of the Divine

government cannot be searched out by human wisdom or ingenuity, that

the ways of God should be inscrutable and past finding out. “Even so thou

knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”



      “Since the future rests in the power of One who arranges all things, but

who does not act arbitrarily, and since a finite being cannot unravel the

secrets of the Infinite, man should act faithfully and fulfill energetically his

appointed task” (Wright). The teaching is the same as in ch. 9:10,

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;” In the

morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou

knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both

shall be alike good” (v. 6). “In the morning of life be active; slumber not

through its decline. Use well the gifts of youth; use, too, the special gifts of

age. Thou knowest not which shall bear good fruit; it may be both.” As

men sow, they reap; the greater their exertions, the wider the area they

cultivate, the richer usually is their harvest. The whole precept, says

Plumptre, “is a call to activity in good, not unlike that of Him who said, ‘I

must work the works of him that sent me, while it is called today: the night

cometh, when no man can work’ (John 9:4); who taught men to labor

in the vineyard, even though they were not called to begin their work till

the eleventh hour, when it was toward evening, and the day far spent”

(Matthew 20:1-16)



                                    Incentives to Christian Work (vs. 1-4, 6)


These are not the words of some very young man who has much fervor

and little experience; they are those of one who has known the

disappointment and disenchantment of life. They come, therefore, with the

greater force to us. We gather from them:



STRENGTH IN LOVING SERVICE. “Cast thy bread upon the waters”

— scatter the precious bread-corn, drop it into the flood; that is not the act

of a. fool, but of a wise man. “Give a portion to seven;” ay, go further than

even that in your liberality — spend your whole strength in that which is

good and beneficent, lavish your resources, let there be a generous

overflow rather than a cool calculation in your service; and this whether

you are acting as a citizen, as a neighbor, or as a member of the Church of





sow when we cannot be sure that we shall ever reap? Since we do not

know what evil may come in a week or a day, had we not better turn the

seed of the sower into bread for the eater? No; let our ignorance

concerning the future be rather an incentive to activity. Say not, “I do not

know what changes may come upon the earth; how little my labors may

prove to be profitable; who will appreciate my devotion, and who will be

unresponsive and ungrateful; therefore I shall suspend my exertions.” Say

rather, “I cannot tell what is coming; how soon I may be rewarded; how

short may be the term of my life and of my opportunity here; I must

therefore lose no time and waste no strength; I must do whole-heartedly all

that is in my power. Because I cannot tell which of my words will fall like

water on the rock, and which like seed upon the fertile soil, whether the

morning or the evening labors will be rewarded, therefore I will do my

best; perhaps this present effort I am now making may be the very one

which has in it the seed of a glorious harvest.” Thus our very ignorance

may stimulate us to holy and fruitful action.




the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth without

any regard to our necessity for fine weather; the tree will fall this way or

that, according to the wind, whomsoever or whatsoever it will crush by its

weight. The forces of nature are quite unsympathetic. Feebleness may

incapacitate or death may take away our most efficient fellow-laborer; the

changes that affect our human lives may reduce our means or remove our

agents, or even close our agencies; but we must not be daunted, nor must

we stay our hand on this account. The full mind, like the full cloud, must

pour itself forth, and may do so in words and ways we do not like; the

man, like the tree, must take the line toward which he strongly inclines, and

this may be one that traverses our tastes and wishes, Never mind! We are

not to let our good work for Christ be arrested by such incidental difficulty

as that. We are to “quit us like men, and be strong,” and we are to triumph

over such hindrances as these.



HARVEST. The seed we cast “shall be found after many days.” The

husbandman hath “long patience,” waiting for the fruits of the earth. The

history of the noblest men is one long sermon on the blessedness of

patience. It says to the Christian pilgrim and workman, “Work and wait;

work diligently, intelligently, devoutly, then wait prayerfully and hopefully.

Be not surprised, much less distracted, because the harvest is still far in the

future; in due season you will reap, if you faint not.”  (Galatians 6:9)





                            Fulfill Duty and Disregard Consequences

                                                            (vs. 4-6)


These statements and admonitions respect both natural and spiritual toil.

The husbandman who labors in the fields, and the pastor and the

missionary who seek a harvest of souls, alike need such counsel. The

natural and the supernatural alike are under the control and government of

God; and they who would labor to good purpose in God’s universe must

have regard to Divine principles, and must confide in Divine faithfulness

and goodness.


·         THE DUTY OF DILIGENCE. Good results do not come by chance;

and although the blessing and the glory are alike God’s, He honors men by

permitting them to be His fellow-workers. There is no reason to expect

reaping unless sowing has preceded; “What a man soweth that shall he also

reap.”  (Galatians 6:7)  Toil — thoughtful, patient, persevering toil — such

is the condition of every harvest worth the ingathering.


·         DISSUASIVES FROM DILIGENCE. If the husbandman occupy

himself in studying the weather, and in imagining and anticipating adverse

seasons, the operations of agriculture will come to a standstill. There are

possibilities and contingencies before every one of us, the consideration

and exaggeration of which may well paralyze the powers, hinder effective

labor, and cloud the prospect of the future, so as to prevent a proper use of

present opportunities. This is a temptation which besets some

temperaments more than others, from which, however, few are altogether

free. If the Christian laborer fixes his attention upon the difficulties of his

task, upon the obduracy or ignorance of the natures with which he has to

deal, upon the slenderness of his resources, upon the failures of many of his

companions and colleagues, leaving out of sight all counteracting

influences, the likelihood is that his powers will be crippled, that his work

will stand still, and that his whole life will be clouded by disappointment.

The field looks barren, the weeds grow apace, the enemy is sowing tares,

the showers of blessing are withheld: what, then, is the use of sowing the

gospel seed? Such are the reflections and the questionings which take

possession of many minds, to their discouragement and enfeeblement and



·         INDUCEMENTS TO DILIGENCE. It is not questioned that the

work is arduous, that the difficulties are real, that the foes are many and

powerful, that circumstances may be adverse, that the prospect (to the eye

of mere human reason) may be somber. But even granting all this, the

Christian laborer has ample grounds for earnest and persevering effort. Of

these, two come before us as we read these verses.


Ø      Our own ignorance of results. We have not to do with the

consequences, and we certainly cannot foresee them. Certain it is that

amazing blessings have sometimes rested upon toil in most unpromising

conditions, in places and among people that have almost stricken the heart

of the observer with despair. “Thou knowest not whether shall prosper,

this or that” (v. 6); “With God nothing is impossible.” (Luke 1:37)


Ø      The express command of our Divine Lord. Results we cannot foresee.

But direct commands we can understand and obey. “In the morning sow

thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand.” Such is the voice,

the behest, of Him who has a right to order our actions — to control and

inspire our life. Whilst we have this commission to execute, we are not at

liberty to waste our time and cripple our activities by moodily questioning

what is likely to follow from our efforts. Surely the Christian may have

faith to leave this in the hand of God!


Section 17 – (vs. 7-9).  The second remedy for the perplexities of the

present life is cheerfulness — the spirit that enjoys the present, with a

chastened regard to the future.


7 “Truly the light is sweet,” -  The verse begins with the copula ray,

“and,” which here notes merely transition, as in ch. 3:16; 12:9.

Do not be perplexed, or despondent, or paralyzed in your work, by the

difficulties that meet you. Confront them with a cheerful mien, and enjoy

life while it lasts. “The light” may be taken literally, or as equivalent to life.

The very light, with all that it unfolds, all that it beautifies, all that it

quickens, is a pleasure; LIFE IS WORTH LIVING  and affords

high and merited enjoyment to the FAITHFUL WORKER! 

 The commentators quote parallels Thus Euripides, ‘Iph. in Aul.,’ 1219:


Μή μ ἀπολέσῃς ἄωρον ἡδύ γὰρ τὸ φῶς
Λεύσσειν τὰ δ ὐπὸ γῆν μή μ ἰδεῖν ἀναγκάσῃς

Mae m apolesaes aoron hadu gar to phos

Deussein ta d upo gaen mae m idein anagkasaes


“O slay me not untimely; for to see

The light is sweet; and force me not to view

The secrets of the nether world.”


Plumptre cites Theognis


                                    Κείσομαι ὤστε λίθος
Αφθογγος λείψω δ ἐρατὸν φάος ἠελίοιο

Keisomai oste lithos

Aphthoggos leipso d eraton phaos aeelioio


“Then shall I lie, as voiceless as a stone,

And see no more the loved light of the sun.”


“and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.”  To behold

the sun is to enjoy life; for light, which is life, is derived from the sun. Virgil

speaks of “coeli spirabile lumen” (‘AEn.,’ 3:600). Thus Homer, ‘Od.,’ 20:207:


Αἴ που ἔπι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο
Αἰ δ ἤδη τέθνηκε καὶ εἰν Αι'´δαο δόμοισιν.

Ei pou epi zoei kai hora phaos aelioio

Ei d aedae tethnaeke kai ein Aidao domoisin


“If still he live and see the sun’s fair light,

Or dead, be dwelling in the realms of Hades.”


8 “But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all;”  -  The

conjunction ki at the commencement of the verse is causal rather than

adversative, and should be rendered “for.” The insertion of “and” before

“rejoice” mars the sentence. The apodosis begins with “rejoice,” and the

translation is, For if a man live many years, he ought to rejoice in them

all. Koheleth has said (v. 7) that life is sweet and precious; now he adds

that it is therefore man’s duty to enjoy it; God has ordained that he should

do so, whether his days on earth be many or few -  “yet let him remember

the days of darkness;” -  The apodosis is continued, and the clause should

run, And remember, etc. “The days of darkness ‘ do not mean times of

calamity as contrasted with the light of prosperity, as though the writer

were bidding one to be mindful of the prospect of disastrous change in the

midst of happiness; nor, again, the period of old age distinguished from the

glowing light of youth (Virgil, ‘AEneid,’ L 590, 591). The days of

darkness signify the life in Hades, far from the light of the sun, gloomy,

uncheered. The thought of this state should not make us hopeless and

reckless, like the sensualists whose creed is to “eat and drink, for

tomorrow we die” (I Corinthians 15:32), but rouse us to

make the best of life, to be contented and cheerful, doing our daily

 duties with the consciousness that this is our day of labor and joy

(“This is the day which the Lord has made, we will be glad and

rejoice in it!”- Psalm 118:24)  and that “the night cometh when no

man can work ‘ (John 9:4). Wisely says Beu- Sira, “Whatsoever thou takest

in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss” (Eccliesasticus. 7:36).

We are reminded of the Egyptian custom, mentioned by Herodotus (2. 78), of

carrying a figure of a corpse among the guests at a banquet, not in order to damp

pleasure, but to give zest to the enjoyment of the present and to keep it under

proper control. “Look on this!” it was cried; “drink, and enjoy thyself; for

 when thou diest thou shalt he such.” The Roman poet has many a passage

like this, though, of course, of lower tendency. Thus Horace, ‘Carm.,’ 2:3:


“Preserve, O my Dellius, whatever thy fortunes,

A mind undisturbed, ‘midst life’s changes and ills;

Not cast down by its sorrows, nor too much elated

If sudden good fortune thy cup overfills,” etc.



“for they shall be many.”  Rather, that they shall be

many. This is one of the things to remember. The time in Sheol will be

long. How to be passed — when, if ever, to end — he says not; he looks

forward to a dreary protracted period, when joy shall be unattainable, and

therefore he bids men to use the present, which is all they can claim. “All

that cometh is vanity.”  All that comes after this life is ended, the great

future, is nothingness; shadow, not substance; a state from which is absent

all that made life, and over which we have no control. Koheleth had passed

the sentence of vanity on all the pursuits of the living man; now he gives

the same verdict upon the unknown condition of the departed soul (compare

ch. 9:5).  Till the gospel had brought life and immortality to

light, the view of the future was DARK AND GLOOMY!  So we read in Job

(10:21-22), “I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness

and of the shadow of death; a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a

land of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as

darkness.” The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the clause, rendering,

Meminisse debet tenebrosi temporis, et dierum multorum; qui cum

venerint, vanitatis arguentur praeterita, “He ought to remember… the

many days; and when these have come, things passed shall be charged with

vanity” — which implies, in accordance with an hagadic interpretation of

the passage, that the sinner shall suffer for his transgressions, and shall then

learn to acknowledge his folly in the past. It is unnecessary to say that the

present text is at variance with this rendering.



Enjoyment of the Present (vs. 7-8)


The cloud of pessimism rises from the Preacher’s mind as he thinks of the

happiness which a well-ordered life may after all yield. God has placed

some pleasures within our reach, and if we do not by our willfulness defeat

His purpose, we may enjoy much innocent peace and happiness. And this

assertion, coming so closely as it does upon the admonition to be diligent

in carrying out the business that we have to do, implies that it is the well

earned reward of the worker, and not the ease and luxury of the idle

sensualist, that wins the word of approval. This joy of life, based upon

fidelity to one’s vocation, and sanctified by the fear of God, is the truest

and highest enjoyment here below. Only those have a right to

enjoy life who are zealous in the discharge of the duties that belong to

their lot. The order of thought is the same as in Romans 12:11-12, “In

diligence not slothful… rejoicing in hope.” The Revised Version (in v. 8)

brings out the full meaning more clearly than the Authorized Version:

“Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the

sun. Yea, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him

remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. All that cometh is

vanity.” The light here praised is the light of life; the existence passed in the

world on which the sun shines, as contrasted with the darkness of the

grave, the unseen world, which to the mind of the Preacher, unillumined by

the full revelation in Christ, seemed a region of shadows, dreary and

insubstantial. To our thoughts such a view of the world beyond the grave,

if world it could be called, in which all was dark and without any order

(Job 10:21-22), would seem calculated to rob the present of all

delights. But evidently our author did not regard it as necessarily doing so.

Neither did those ancient Egyptians, who had the representation of a

corpse in its cerements at their banquets. To grosser minds among them the

sight probably suggested the thought, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow

we die.” But doubtless to graver minds it suggested something nobler —

that pleasure, chastened and restrained by wise foresight, is pure and more

lasting than any other. So, too, the enjoyment of life commended by the

Preacher is not found by him incompatible with a contemplation of death.

He does not say, “Let the young and thoughtless have out their time of

frivolity and short-lived mirth; the sad thoughts by which the closing years

of life are naturally darkened will only come to them too soon.” He rather

would have men to rejoice in all the years of their life, though they be

many. Days of evil may come; clouds may, during long hours of sorrow,

obscure the glory of the sun; but even if a man live many days, he should

endeavor to rejoice in them all: and all the more so, if a long night of

darkness awaits him at the close of his earthly career. By the days

of darkness, which are many, he evidently means the condition after

death; for he distinctly differentiates them from the days of life, in all of

which there should be joy, in spite of passing trials and distresses. For all

men days of darkness are in store; let all, therefore, make the most of the

present, and by a wise guidance of their conduct, by a beneficent activity,

let them acquire the right and the ability to enjoy the innocent joys with

which God has been pleased to bless and enrich our lives, seeing that “all

that cometh” after life is vanity. It is true that to us the world beyond the

grave appears in a different light. We believe in the everlasting felicity of

the righteous in the “many mansions” (John 14:2) which remain for those

who have during this life been faithful to God, and have qualified themselves

for higher service and more perfect enjoyment of Him in the world to come.

But this belief need not, should not, lead us to despise the bounties we

have in this world from the hand of God. A devout and grateful acceptance

and use of all the blessings he has bestowed upon us, a joy in living and

seeing the light of the sun, should be much easier to us if we are conscious

of RECONCILIATION TO GOD  and regard death as the entrance to

A HIGHER LIFE!  (John 5:24)



            Light and Darkness (vs. 7-8)


The alternation of day and night is not only contributive to human

convenience, it is symbolical of human experience.



HEALTH, AND PROSPERITY. He who rises betimes, and, turning to the

east, watches for the sunrise, and then beholds the glorious orb of day rise

from the plain or from the sea, and flood hill and valley, cornfield and

pasture, with the radiant splendor of the morning, can enter into the

language of the preacher, “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it

 is for the eyes to behold the sun.” And if then he looks into the face of a

companion, a noble and generous youth, unstained by sin, undimmed by

care, untouched by disease, he can well understand what is meant by the

morning of life, the luster of youth, and can thank God that such a period,

and such strength, joy, and hope, HAVE BEEN APPOINTED BY GOD,

AS A PART OF THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE!   In youth and bounding

health and high spirits, how fresh and winsome is the present! how alluring

 the future! Who would wish to cast a shadow upon the brightness which

God Himself has created?  (Such is what happens when the individual makes

wrong choices and goes down the wrong road, such is what happens

when organizations like Planned Parenthood, The National Organization

of Women, The American Civil Liberties Union, The National Education

Association, ad nauseum,  etc. who FACILITATE THESE WRONG

CHOICES -  Jesus said, “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which

 believe in me, it  were better that a millstone were hanged about his

 neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” – Matthew 18:6 –

 CY – 2013)



INFIRMITY, ADVERSITY, AND DEATH. The same individual whom

we have regarded in the prime of his powers and the beauty of his joy will,

if his life be prolonged, PASS THROUGH QUITE OTHER

EXPERIENCES!   Clouds will gather about his head, the storm will

smite him, the dark midnight will shroud him. There is no discharge in that

war (ch. 8:8);  no exemption from the common lot. He may lose his health,

 his powers of body or of mind, his property, his friends. He must walk through

the valley of death-shade (Psalm 23:4). In some form or other trouble and

sorrow must be his portion.



APPROACH OF THE TIME OF DARKNESS. It may be objected that it

will be time enough to think of the afflictions of life when they are actually

present, and that it is a pity to cloud the sunny present by gloomy

forebodings. Those who know the young and prosperous are, however,

well aware that their natural tendency is altogether to ignore the

likelihood of a great change in circumstances and experience. And to

remember the providential appointment that our life cannot be eternal

sunshine is, in many respects, a most desirable and profitable exercise.

Thus shall we learn to place a due value, and no more than a due value,

 upon the pleasures, the diversions, the congenial pursuits of youth and

prosperity. And, what is still better, thus may we be led to seek a deeper

and surer foundation for our lifeTO ACQUIRE SPIRITUAL

TREASURES  of which we cannot be deprived by lapse of time

or change of circumstances. And thus shall we, by God’s

mercy, find that the darkness through which we needs must walk is but

for a season, and that through it the people of God shall pass into the

BLESSED  LIGHT OF ETERNAL DAY!  (“When thou passest

through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers,

they shall not overflow thee:  when thou walkest through the

fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle


ONE OF ISRAEL, THY SAVIOUR!”  - Isaiah 43:2-3)



The Shadow of the Tomb (vs. 7-8)


Let a man rejoice, says the Preacher, in his long bright days of prosperity;

but let him remember that the time is drawing on when he will sleep his

long sleep beneath the ground; and many as his days have been when the

light of the sun was sweet to his eyes, very many more will be the days of

darkness which will follow. It is open to us all to indulge in some:



We may stroll in the churchyard, and as we read the names and ages of

men who lived for thirty or forty years, but who have been in their graves

for, it may be, two hundred years, we may think how small was the

measure of the light on which they looked compared with that of the

darkness in which they have been sleeping. And as we yield to these

thoughts we feel the vanity of human affairs. Thus the shadow of the tomb

falls upon and darkens the brightness of our life. It seems to us a poor thing

for a man to come out of the infinite darkness behind; to walk in the

sunshine for a few swiftly passing, soon-departed decades, and then go out

into the immeasurable darkness on the other side. There is, however:


  • A CORRECTING THOUGHT. Why should the excellency of human

life be spoiled to us by the reflection that it is limited, bound by a line

which is not far off us? If it be so that there is nothing but darkness

beyond, if it be true that what we see comprises all that is to be seen, then

let us, for that very reason, make the most of all that we hold. If the worth

of our existence is confined to the present, let us compress into the present

time all the action and all the enjoyment which it will hold shall we not say:


“I will drink

Life to the lees.... Life piled on life

Were all too little, and of one to me

Little remains: but every hour is saved

From that eternal silence”?



life will soon be over, may reach its terminus any day, and MUST COME

TO ITS CONCLUSION conclusion before many years have gone. What

shall we be concerned about in this?


Ø      Not the hour or act of dying. Common human fortitude will carry us

through that experience, as it has done in countless millions of cases

already; much more will Christian faith and hope.


Ø      Not the silence and darkness of the grave. What does it signify

to us that our mortal body will lie long in the grave, when we are

hoping to be “clothed upon with our house which is from heaven?”

(II Corinthians 5:2)


Ø      The long future of heavenly life. Not the many days of darkness,

but the long, the everlasting day of glory is before us who believe

in Christ, and who hope to dwell with Him FOREVER!   For that

endless day of blessedness the life we are now living is not only

the preliminary BUT THE PREPARATION.  Therefore let every

day, every hour, be sacred; be so spent in faith, in love, in holy labor,

in ennobling joy, that the future will be but the continuance of the

present  but also the enlargement, THE GLORIFICATION!

Thus shall there not fall upon the life that now is the shadow

of the tomb; there shall shine upon it some beams from the glory

that is beyond.




            Carpe Diem: Memento Mori; or, Here and Hereafter Contrasted

                                                        (vs. 7-8)


Carpe Diem:  seize the day

Memento Mori - remember you must die



DARKNESS. Under the Old Testament the abode of departed spirits was

usually conceived of as a realm from which the light of day was excluded,

or only dimly admitted (Job 10:21-22).



OF VANITY. Life beneath the sun, even to the most miserable, has

pleasures which are wanting to the bodiless inhabitants of the underworld

(ch. 9:10).



MANY. At the longest, man’s duration upon earth is short (Job 14:1;

Psalm 39:5); in comparison, his continuance in the narrow house, or in

the unseen world, will be long.


·         LESSONS.


1. Enjoy life heartily, as a good gift of God.

2. Use life wisely, in preparation for the world to come.


9 “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth,” -  Koheleth continues to

inculcate the duty of rational enjoyment. “In thy  youth” is during youth; not in

the exercise of, or by reason of, thy fresh, unimpaired powers. The author

urges his hearers to begin early  to enjoy the blessing with which God

surrounds them. Youth is the season of innocent, unalloyed pleasure; then,

if ever, casting aside all tormenting anxiety concerning an unknown future,

one may, as it is called, enjoy life – “and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of

thy youth,” -  Let the lightness of thy heart show itself in thy bearing and

manner, even as it is said in Proverbs (Proverbs 15:13), “A merry heart

maketh a cheerful countenance.”  - “and walk in the ways of thine heart,” –

(compare Isaiah 57:17). Where the impulses and thoughts of thy heart lead thee.

The wording looks as if the personal identity, the “I,” and the thought were

distinct. We have a similar severance in ch. 7:25, only there the personality

directs the thought, not the thought the “I,” – “and in the sight of thine eyes:” –

Follow after that on which thy eyes fix their regard (ch. 2:10); for, as Job says

(Job 31:7), “The heart walketh after the eyes.”  Go on your way,” he cries,

“do as you list, sow your wild oats, live dissolutely, BUT REMEMBER,


the counsel is seriously intended, and is quite consistent with many other passages

which teach the duty of enjoying life as man’s lot and part (see ch. 2:24; 3:12-13, 22;

5:18; 8:15). The seeming opposition between the recommendation here and in

Numbers 15:39 is easily reconciled. The injunction in the Pentateuch,

which was connected with a ceremonial observance, ran thus: “Remember

all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye go not about

after your own heart, and your own eyes, after which ye used to go

 awhoring.”  Here unlawful pleasures, contrary to the commandments, are

forbidden; Ecclesiastes urges the pursuit of innocent pleasures, such as will

stand scrutiny.


It is not Epicureanism, even in a modified form, that is here encouraged.

For moderate and lawful pleasure Koheleth has always uttered his sanction,

but the pleasure is to be such as God allows. This is to be accepted with

all gratitude in the present, as the future is wholly beyond our ken and our

control; it is all that is placed in our power, and it is enough to make life

more than endurable. And then to temper unmixed joy, to prove that he is

not recommending mere sensuality, to correct any wrong impression which

the previous utterances may have conveyed, the writer adds another

thought, a somber reflection which shows the RELIGIOUS CONCLUSION

TO WHICH HE IS WORKING UP!  - “but know thou, that for all these

things God will bring thee into judgment (mishpat).”  It has been doubted

what is meant by “judgment,” whether present or future, men’s or God’s. It has been

taken to mean — God will make thy excesses prove scourges, by bringing

on thee sickness, poverty, a miserable old age; or these distresses come as

the natural consequences of youthful sins; or obloquy shall follow thee, and

thou shall meet with deserved censure from thy fellow-men. But every one

must feel that the solemn ending of this paragraph points to something

more grave and important than any such results as those mentioned above,

something that is concerned with that indefinable future which is EVER

LOOMING  in the DIM HORIZON. Nothing satisfies the expected conclusion


THE GRAVE!   Shadowy and incomplete as was Koheleth’s view of this great

assize, his sense of God’s justice in the face of the anomalies of human life was so

strong that he can unhesitatingly appeal to the conviction of a coming inquisition,

as a motive for the guidance of ACTION and CONDUCT!  That in other

passages he constantly apprehends earthly retribution, as the Pentateuch taught,

and as his countrymen had learned to expect (see ch. 2:26; 3:17; 7:17-18),

is no argument that he is not here rising to a higher view. Rather,

the fact that the doctrine of temporal reward and punishment is found by

experience to fail in many cases (compare ch.8:14) has forced

him to state his conclusion that this life is not the end of everything, and

that there is another existence in which:


  • actions shall be tried,
  • justice done,
  • retribution awarded.


One last,  powerful and restraining thought!  God will bring

him into judgment. And God’s judgment is threefold:


  • He judges us every moment, deciding whether our thought, our

feeling, our action, is right or wrong; and He is thus continually

approving or disapproving, and is constantly pleased or displeased.

Surely this is not a Divine judgment to be disregarded.

  • He causes an evil habit to be visited, sooner or later, with the penalty

which appropriately follows it — sickness, feebleness, poverty, mental

incapacity, human condemnation, ruin, death, as the case may be.

  • He reserves the day of trial and of account for the hour when



The statement is brief, for he knew nothing more than the fact, and could add

nothing to it. His conception of the soul’s condition in Sheol (see ch.9:5-6, 10)

seems to point to some other state or period for this final judgment; but whether

a resurrection is to precede this awful trial is left in uncertainty here, as elsewhere

in the Old Testament.


Section 18 (vs. 10-ch.12:7)  The third remedy is piety, and this ought to be

practiced from one’s earliest days; life should be so guided as not to offend

the laws of the Creator and Judge, and virtue should not be postponed till

the failure of faculties makes pleasure unattainable, AND DEATH

CLOSES THE SCENE!   The last days of the old man are

beautifully described under certain images, metaphors, and analogies.


10 “Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart,” -  The writer

reiterates his advice concerning cheerfulness, and then proceeds to

inculcate EARLY PIETY!   Kaas, rendered “sorrow,” has been variously

understood. The Septuagint has θυμόνthumonwrath -  the Vulgate gram;

so the margin of the Authorized Version gives “anger,” and that of the Revised

Version “vexation,” or “provocation.” Wordsworth adopts this last meaning

(relating to I Kings 15:30; 21:22; II Kings 23:26, etc., where,

however, the signification is modified by the connection in which the word

stands), and paraphrases, “Take heed lest you provoke God by the

thoughts of your heart.” Jerome affirms that in the term “anger” all

perturbations of the mind are included — which seems rather forced. The

word is better rendered, low spirits, moroseness, discontent. These feelings

are to be put away from the mind by a deliberate act – “and put away evil

from thy flesh:” - Many commentators consider that the evil here named is

physical, not moral, the author enjoining his young disciple to take proper

care of his body, not to weaken it on the one hand by asceticism, nor on

the other by indulgence in youthful lusts. In this ease the two clauses would

urge the removal of what respectively affects the mind and body, the inner

and outer man. But the ancient versions are unanimous in regarding the

“evil” spoken of as moral. Thus the Septuagint gives πονηρίαν

ponaerian -  wickedness; the Vulgate, malitiam. Similarly the Syriac and

Targum. And according to our interpretation of the passage, such is the meaning

here. It is a call to early piety and virtue, like that of Paul (II  Corinthians 7:1),

“Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the

flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Do not, says

Koheleth,  defile thy body by carnal sins (I Corinthians 6:18), which bring

decay and sickness, and AROUSE THE WRATH OF GOD AGAINST

THEE! - “for childhood and youth are vanity.”  This time of youth soon

 Passes away; the capacity for enjoyment is soon circumscribed; therefore

 use thy opportunities aright, REMEMBERING THE END!   The word

for “youth” (shacharuth) occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and is

probably connected with shachon, “black,” used of hair in Leviticus 13:31.

Hence it means the time of black hair, in contradistinction to the time when

the hair has become grey. The explanation which refers it to the time of

dawn (Psalm 110:3) seems to be erroneous, as it would then be identical

with” childhood.” The Septuagint renders it ἄνοιαanoia - folly; the Vulgate,

voluptas, “pleasure;” the Syriac, “and not knowledge, but the word cannot

be rightly thus translated. The two terms are childhood and manhood, the

period during which the capacity for pleasure is fresh and strong. Its vanity

is soon brought home; it is evanescent; it brings punishment. Thus Bailey,



“I cast mine eyes around, and feel

There is a blessing wanting;

Too soon our hearts the truth reveal,

That joy is disenchanting.”

And again —


“When amid the world’s delights,

How warm soe’er we feel a moment among them —

We find ourselves, when the hot blast hath blown,

Prostrate, and weak, and wretched.”





Advice to a Young Man or Woman (vs. 9-10)



man, in thy youth,” etc.


Ø      Not a sanction to self-indulgence. The Preacher does not teach that a

young man (or, indeed, any man) is at liberty to “make provision for the

flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:14); to have asserted or

suggested that a youth was permitted by religion to follow his inclinations

wherever they might lead, to plunge into sensuality, to sow his wild oats

(as the phrase is), would have been to contradict the Law of God as

given by Moses (Numbers 15:39).


Ø      Not a protest (ironical) against asceticism. The Preacher does not say

that God will judge men if they despise his gilts and refuse to enjoy them,

Doubtless, in so far as asceticism springs from a contemptuous disregard of

God’s providential mercies, it is sinful; but this is hardly the case the

Preacher has in view.


Ø      But a warrant for reasonable pleasure. The young man or maiden is

informed that he or she may enjoy the morning of life to the utmost of his

or her bent, “walking in the ways of his or her heart, and in the sight

of his or her eyes,” provided always such pleasures as are sinful are

eschewed.  Moreover, the Preacher’s language appears to hint that such

enjoyment as is here allowed is both appropriate to the season, the days

of youth, and demanded by the nature of youth, being the legitimate

gratification of the heart and eyes.



 But know thou that for all these things, God will bring thee into

Judgment.” The judgment of which the Preacher speaks is:


Ø      Future. The great assize will be held, not on earth, but in the unseen

world; not in time, but in eternity. That the Preacher had no clear

perception of either the time, place, or nature of this judgment, is probably

correct, but that he alluded to a dread tribunal in the great hereafter

seems a legitimate conclusion from the circumstance that he elsewhere

(ch.8:14) adverts to the fact that in this life men are not always requited

either for their righteousness or for their wickedness. (“Some men’s

sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some

men they follow after.  Likewise also the good works of some

are manifest beforehand; and they that are otherwise cannot

be hid.”  - I Timothy 5:24-25).  What was comparatively dark to

the Preacher is to us clearly illumined, viz. that after death is

THE JUDGMENT!  (Hebrews 9:27)


Ø      Divine. The Judge will not be man, but God (ch. 3:17;

Psalm 62:12; Isaiah 30:18). This fully discovered in the New

Testament, which states that God shall judge men by Jesus Christ

(Acts 17:31; Romans 2:16; II Timothy 4:1).


Ø      Individual. The judgment will be passed, not upon mankind in the mass,

or upon men in groups, but upon MEN AS INDIVIDUALS  

(II Corinthians 5:10).


Ø      Certain. As the Preacher himself was not dubious, so would he have the

young to know that THE FUTURE JUDGMENT WILL BE A

MOMENTOUS REALITY!  (Hebrews 12:23; II Peter 2:9).


  • AN URGENT DUTYto banish sorrow and evil.


Ø      To remove sorrow from the heart. Either


o       the sorrow of vexation, in which case the counsel is to

avoid cherishing a peevish, morose, or discontented spirit,

such as arises from looking at the dark side of things, and

to cultivate a cheerful disposition — a state of

mind which accepts whatever lot falls to it in providence

(“I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith

to be content.” -  Philippians 4:11). Or


o       that which causes sorrow to the heart, viz. sin; in which

case, again, the exhortation is to abstain from all ungodliness,

the real root of HEART-BITTERNESS (Deuteronomy 29:18;

Proverbs 1:31; Galatians 6:8), and to follow holiness, WHICH


(Isaiah 48:18; Psalm 81:10-16; 106:3).


Ø      To put away evil from the flesh. Doubtless:


o       physical evil, pain, suffering, affliction, whether occasioned

by the self-inflicted tortures of asceticism or by the accidentally

incurred strokes of disease — a clear injunction to promote

the body’s comfort and health. But also:


o       everything that may induce suffering or evil in the flesh; hence

once more sin which, apart altogether from those wickednesses

which are against the body (especially sexual sins - I Corinthians

6:15),  which have a tendency to engender disease and



  • A SERIOUS REASON — the vanity of boyhood and manhood.


Ø      Both are transient. Youth and the prime of life will not last, but will

pass away. Hence they should be kept as joyous and pure as possible.

Only one thing more unfortunate for the after-development of the soul

than a sunless youth, namely, a sinful youth. If the opening years

of man’s pilgrimage on the earth should be radiant with happiness,

 much more should they be glorified with holiness.


Ø      Both are inexperienced. Hence their fervid impulses should be

moderated and restrained by the solemn considerations that spring



o       the brevity of life and

o       the certainty of a FUTURE JUDGMENT!



·         LEARN.


Ø      That youth should be happy and serious.

Ø      That man’s existence has a future and a present.

Ø      That privilege and responsibility ever go together.



In Joy Remember Judgment!  (vs. 9-10)


There is certainly no asceticism in the teaching of this book. On the other

hand, there is no commendation of worldliness and voluptuousness. Human

nature is prone to extremes; and even religious teachers are not always

successful in avoiding them. But we seem in this passage to listen to

teaching which at once recognizes the claims of human nature and of the

earthly life, and yet solemnly maintains the subordination of all our

pleasures and occupations to the service of our Master, and to our

preparation for the great account.


THE DIVINE PROVISION OF LIFE’S JOYS.  We are taught that the delights

of this earthly existence, however they are capable of abuse, are in themselves not

evil, but proofs of the Creator’s benevolence, to be accepted with DEVOUT




Conscience suggests that we are responsible beings, and that retribution is

a reality. What conscience suggests revelation certifies. The Bible lays the

greatest stress upon INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY.   We are taught

in the text that we are not only responsible for the work we do in life, but

for the pleasures we pursue. Certainly it is of the greatest advantage that

men should recollect in the days of happiness the assurances of Scripture,

that God shall ere long bring them into judgment. Such recollection will

check any inclination to unlawful enjoyments, and will prevent undue

absorption in enjoyments which are in themselves lawful, but to which a

disproportionate value may be attached. There is a sense in which, as we

are here reminded, “youth and the prime of life are vanity.” They will

prove to be so to those who imagine that they will last, to these who

pride themselves in them and boast of them, to those who use them

 only as the opportunity of personal pleasure, to those who forget their

Creator, neglect His Law, and despise His Gospel





in this life be taken as coming directly from the great Giver’s hand, as

a token of His favor, and as the result of the mediation of His blessed

Son,  then may the very enjoyments of this life become to Christians

the occasion of present grace and the earnest of fullness of joy.




                        Human Joy and Divine Judgment (vs. 9-10)


That these words are not to be taken ironically is probable, if not certain,

when we consider how frequently the Preacher had given substantially the

same counsel before (see ch. 2:24; 3:12, 22; 5:18; 8:15; 9:9).

Moreover, we obtain an excellent meaning by taking them in their natural

sense. We may indeed ask for:


·         THE NECESSITY FOR SUCH COUNSEL. It may be said — What

need is there for offering such an exhortation? Young manhood is certain

to take all the indulgence which is good for it, without any man’s bidding;

the danger is not on the side of defect, but of excess. That certainly is so

generally. But there is the religious devotee, who thinks he is pleasing God

by abstaining from all bodily comforts, and enduring all physical sufferings.

There is also the ascetic moralist, who thinks that he is conforming to the

highest standard of ethics when he practices a rigorous abstinence, and

goes through life denying himself the delights to which outward nature and

inward instincts invite him. There is also the man of prudent policy, who

thinks that in a state of society such as that in which the Preacher lived and

wrote, where there is no security for life or property, it is better not to

enter into new relationships or to embark in great enterprises; let life be cut

down to its smallest limits. Hence the necessity for such a cheery invitation

as that in the text. But we must mark:


·         THE EXTENT TO WHICH IT GOES. Clearly the words must not be

taken in their widest possible sense. That would be not liberty, but license;

that would not encourage enjoyment, but sanction vice. The Preacher

would have the young man, who is full of strength, energy, hope, affection,

have the full heritage which the Father of spirits and Author of this world

intended and provided for him. Let him give play to all the sound impulses

of his nature; let him taste the exquisite enjoyment of a pure affection and

of happy friendship; let him be an eager and earnest competitor in the

contest of strength, of skill, of the studio, of the mart, of the council, of the

senate; let him throw his full energies into the activities, recreations,

ambitions, aspirations, of his time; let him play his part as his heart inclines

and as his capacities enable him. But let him not cross the line which



Ø      virtue from vice,

Ø      wisdom from folly,

Ø      conscientiousness from unscrupulousness.


For there has to be taken into account:



him into judgment. And God’s judgment is threefold.


Ø      He judges us every moment, deciding whether our thought, our feeling,

our action, is right or wrong; and he is thus continually approving or

disapproving, and is constantly pleased or displeased. Surely this is not

a Divine judgment to be disregarded.


Ø      He causes an evil habit to be visited, sooner or later, with the penalty

which appropriately follows it — sickness, feebleness, poverty, mental

incapacity, human condemnation, ruin, death, as the case may be.


Ø      He reserves the day of trial and of account for the hour when life is over.





                                    The Vanity and Glory of Youth (v. 10)


  • THE VANITY OF YOUTH. There is an aspect in which it is true that

“childhood and youth are vanity.”


Ø      Its thoughts are very simple; they are upon the surface, and there is no

depth of truth or wisdom in them.


Ø      Its judgments are very mixed with error; it has to unlearn a great deal

of what it learns; the young will have to find, later on, that the men of

whom and the things of which they have made up their minds are different

from what they think now; their after-days will bring with them much

disillusion, if not serious disappointment. Much that they see is magnified

to their view, and the colors, as they see them today, will look otherwise



Ø      Itself is constantly disappearing. Few things are more constantly

disturbing, if not distressing, us than the rapid passage of childhood

and youth. (I am thankful that when I was young, I knew it and was

taught this verse “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy

youth while the evil days come not nor the years draw nigh,

when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”  Now, I

have, through God’s mercies, been retired for thirteen years and

for all practical purposes, the way time flies, am in a second childhood –

CY – 2013)  Sometimes the young life is taken away altogether — the

flower is nipped in the bud. But where life is spared, the peculiar beauty

of childhood or of youth — its simplicity, its trustfulness, its docility, its

eagerness, its ardor of affection, its unreserved delights, this is perpetually

passing and “fading into the light of common day.” Yet is there — and

it is the truer and deeper thought:


  • THE GLORY OF YOUTH. Whatever may be said of youth in the way

of qualification, there is one thing that may be said for it which greatly

exalts it it may be wise with a profound and heavenly wisdom, for it

may be spent in the fear and in the love of God (see Proverbs 1:7;

Job 28:28). To “remember its Creator,” and to order its life according

to that remembrance, is THE HEIGHT AND DEPTH OF HUMAN

WISDOM!  Knowledge, learning, cunning, brilliancy, genius itself, is not so

desirable nor so admirable a thing as is this holy and heavenly wisdom.


Ø      To know God (Jeremiah 9:23-24),

Ø      to reverence Him in the innermost soul,

Ø      to love Him with all the heart (Mark 12:33),

Ø      to be obedient to His commandments,

Ø      to be patiently and cheerfully submissive to His will,

Ø      to be honoring and serving Him continually,

Ø      to be attaining to His own likeness in spirit and character,


surely this is the glory of the highest created intelligence of the noblest rank

in heaven, and surely this is the glory of our human nature in all its ranks.

It is the glory of our manhood, and it is the glory of youth. Far more

than any order of strength (Proverbs 20:29), or than any kind of beauty

(II Samuel 14:25), or than any measure of acquisition, does the abiding

and practical remembrance of its Creator and Savior glorify our youth.

That makes it pure, worthy, admirable, inherently excellent, full

of hope and promise. We may add, for it belongs to the text

as well as to the subject:


  • THE WISDOM OF YOUTH. “While the evil days come not,” etc.

Let the young live before God while THEY ARE YOUNG, for:


Ø      It is a poor and sorry thing to offer TO GOD, OUR

DIVINE REDEEMER,  the dregs of our days. To Him

who gave himself for us it becomes us to give, not our wasted

and worn-out, but our best, our freest and freshest, our

purest and strongest self.


Ø      To leave the consecration of ourselves to Christ to the time

when faculty has faded, when the power of discernment and

appreciation has declined, when sensitiveness has been dulled

with long disuse, when the heavenly voices fall with less charm

and interest on the ear of the soul,THIS IS A MOST

PERILOUS THING! To hearken and to heed, to recognize

and to obey, in the days of youth is THE ONE WISE





                                    Youth and Age (v. 9 - ch. 12:7)


The greater part of the Book of Ecclesiastes is of a somber character. It

records the experiences of one who sought on all sides and with passionate

eagerness for that which would satisfy the higher wants of his nature the

hunger and thirst of the soul — but who sought in vain. Ordinary coarse,

sensual pleasures soon lost their charm for him; for he deliberately tried —

a dangerous experiment to see if in self-indulgence any real satisfaction

could be found. From this failure he turned to a more promising quarter.

He sought in “culture,” the pursuit of beauty and magnificence in art, the

pathway to the highest good, on the discovery of which his soul was set.

He used his great wealth to procure all that could minister to a refined

taste. He built palaces, planted vineyards and gardens and orchards; he

filled his palaces with all that was beautiful and costly, and cultivated every

pleasure which is within the reach of man. Whatsoever mine eyes desired,”

he says,I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy Then

I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on all the labor

that I had labored to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit,

and there was no profit under the sun.” From this he turned to the joys and

employments of an intellectual life — acquired knowledge and wisdom,

studied the works of nature, analyzed human character in all its phases, and

applied himself to the solution of all those great problems connected with

the moral government of the world and the destiny of the soul of man.

Here he was baffled. The discoveries he made were he found, useless for

curing any of the evils of life, and at every point he met with mysteries

which he could not solve, and his sense of failure and defeat convinced him

that though “wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness,” it

does not satisfy the soul. “What, then, is the result of his inquiries, of his

pain and labor in searching after the highest good? Do his withering

speculations leave anything untouched which may reasonably be the object

of our pursuit, and which may afford us the satisfaction for which he

sought in vain in so many quarters? Does he decide that life is, after all,

worth living, or is his conclusion that it is not? In the closing sections of his

book some answer is given to these questions; something positive comes as

a pleasing relief from all the negations with which he had shut up one after

another of the paths by which men had sought and still seek to attain to

lasting happiness. Two conclusions might have been drawn from the

experience through which he had passed. “Since the employments and

enjoyments of life are insufficient to give satisfaction to the soul’s craving,

why engage in them, why not turn away from them in contempt, and fix the

thoughts solely on a life to come?” an ascetic might ask. “Since life is so

transitory, pleasure so fleeting, why not seize upon every pleasure, and

banish every care as far as possible?” an Epicurean might ask. “Let us eat

and drink; for to-morrow we die.” Neither of these courses finds any favor

in the mature judgment of Solomon, or of the writer who draws his

teaching from the experience of the Jewish king. “Rejoice,” he says,

rebuking the ascetic; “know thou that for all these things God will bring

thee into judgment,” he adds, for the confusion of the Epicurean. He

speaks with the authority of one who had fully considered the problems of

life, and with the solemnity of one whose earthly career was hastening to

its close; and he addresses himself to the young, as more likely to profit by

his experience than those over whom habits of life and thought have more

power. But of course all, both young and old, men and women, can learn

from him if they will, according to the gospel precept, “become as little

children,” and listen with reverence and simplicity. The counsel which the

Preacher has to give is bold and startling. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy

youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the

ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for

all these things God will bring thee into judgment.” What does he mean?

Are his words ironical, or spoken in sober earnest? A very long time ago

they caused some perplexity to translators and commentators. In the

earliest translation of this book into another language, that into Greek, this

passage was considerably modified and toned down. The translator put in

the word “blameless” after “walk,” and the word “not” into the next part of

the sentence. “Walk blameless in the ways of thine heart, and not after the

sight of thine eyes.” But any such tampering with the text was not only

profane, but also senseless, for it simply destroyed the whole meaning of

the passage. But granting that we have in our English a fair reproduction of

the original, can there be any mistake about the interpretation of it? Is it

possible that it may mean, “Rejoice if you will, follow your desires, have

your fling, go forth on the voyage of life, ‘ youth at the prow, and pleasure

at the helm,’ but know that the end of it all are the penal flames”? Some

have thought that that is the meaning of the words. But a little

consideration of them, and comparison of them with other passages in the

book, will show us that it cannot be. Our author on several occasions, after

showing us the vanity of earthly pursuits, falls back on the fact that there

are many alleviations of our lot in life, which it is true wisdom to make use

of — many flowers of pleasure on the side of the hard road which one may

innocently pluck. Thus he says (ch.  2:24), “There is nothing

better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should

make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw that it was from the

hand of God.” And again (ch. 9:7), “Go thy way, eat thy bread

with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy

works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no

ointment. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy

vanity… for that is thy portion in this life.” And the same lesson he repeats

there, but in a tone of deeper solemnity, balancing and steadying the

inclination to pleasure, which in few of us needs to be stimulated, with the

thought that for every one of our actions we shall have to give an account

at the judgment-seat of God. Surely this thought is a sufficient corrective

to the abuse of the teaching which a perverse mind might make, and a

proof that the enjoyments spoken of are such as do not degrade the soul. A

gloomy asceticism which would unlawfully diminish human happiness is

forbidden; a thankful acceptance of all the blessings God gives us, and a

constant remembrance of our responsibility to Him, is commended to us.

With all the repugnance of a healthy mind, our author recoils from that

narrow and self-righteous fanaticism which has done so much to deepen

the gloom of life, and to turn religion into an oppressive yoke. He does

not, however, go to the other extreme; but while he bids the young to

enjoy the morning of life, he at the same time admonishes them in all things

to have the fear of God before their eyes. Youth and manhood are vanity;

their joys are fleeting, and will soon be past. Must we, therefore, neglect

them, and indulge in equally vain and fleeting regrets? No; but rather put

away all morose repining, and spare ourselves all unnecessary pain, and

cultivate a cheerful contentedness with our lot. If the morning will soon be

past, let us enjoy its light while it lasts, mindful of Him who is the Giver of

every good and perfect gift. The thought of Him will not dull any innocent

happiness, for He has made us capable of joy, and given us occasions of

experiencing it. That no fears need be felt about the application of this

teaching to actual life is abundantly proved by the words that follow, in the

solemn and stately passage with which the twelfth chapter opens. The idea


LIFE  — with the buoyancy and gaiety of youth, as well as with the

decaying hopes and failing strength of age. That religion is not merely a

consolation to which we may betake when all other things fail, but all through

the food by which the soul is nourished. The fact is put very strongly. If in


 when the faculties  begin to lose their vigor, to think of Him for the first

time, and consecrate one’s self to Him.


The mere accumulation of the weaknesses, both physical and mental, which

attend the close of life will absorb the attention and crowd out other

thoughts. “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the

evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no

pleasure in them.” And then he goes on to draw a picture, full of pathos

sad solemnity, of the gradual dissolution of human life with the advance of

age, of the decay and death into which the strongest fall, even if they

endure for many years. One cannot make out all the successive images with

equal clearness, but the evident purpose of the whole passage is clear

enough. In the evil days the light of the sun, moon, and stars is darkened,

and the sky is time after time overcast with returning clouds. The light of

youth has fled, and with it the self-confidence and strength by which the

life was sustained. Like some household in Egypt when the plague of

darkness came down upon it and put an end to all tasks and pleasures, and

filled every heart with a paralyzing terror, so is the state of man “perplexed

with fear of change.” “The keepers of the house tremble, the strong men

bow themselves, the terrified servants cease their labor, none look out of

the windows, the street doors are shut, the sound of human bustle and

activity dies away, the shrill cry of the storm-bird is heard without, and all

the daughters of music are hushed and silent.” And then, in language still

more enigmatical, other of the humiliating characteristics of old age are set

forth —


Ø      its timidity and irresolution,

Ø      the blanched hair,

Ø      the failing appetite.


These signs accumulate rapidly; for man goes to his long, his eternal home,

and the procession of mourners is already moving along the street.

“Remember,” he says, “thy Creator ere the day of death; ere the silver cord

be loosened which lets fall and shivers the golden bowl that feeds with oil

the flame of life; ere the pitcher be shattered by the spring, and the fountain

of life can no longer be replenished; ere the wheel set up with care to draw

up from the depths of earth the cool waters give way and fall itself into the

well. Therefore remember thy God, and prepare while here to meet Him,

before that the dust shall return upon the earth dust as it was; for the spirit

shall then return to God who gave it.” “It was a gift from Him, that spirit.

To Him it will return. More he says not. Its absorption, the re-entering, of

the human unit into the eternal and unknown Spirit, would be a thought, it

would seem, alien to a Hebrew. But we must not press his words too far.

As just now he spoke of a judgment, but gave us no picture of the sheep on

the right hand and the goats on the left, so here he has no more to say, no

clear and dogmatic assertion of a conscious and separate future life. Into

thy hands I commend my spirit,’ said the trustful psalmist (Psalm 31:5).

‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ said He who bowed

His head upon the cross (Luke 23;46), who tasted death for our sakes.

Our Preacher leaves the spirit with its God — that is all, and that is much.

‘God will call us to judgment,’ he has said, and now he adds, ‘The body

molders (slowly decays), the spirit passes back to the God who gave it’

(Bradley). Many are the reasons which might be adduced to give

weight to the admonition, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy

youth. The uncertainty of life, e.g., renders it unwise in any who begin to

realize their responsibilities, and to act for themselves, to postpone self-

consecration to God. If not done now, when the affections are fresh, when

habits are beginning to form, there is risk of its not being done at all.

Certainly it is more difficult to make a change, and to enter upon the higher

life when the heart is taken up with a love of other things, when the

attention and interest are absorbed in other cares. Then, too, love of our

Creator and service of Him are due from us in the best of our days, in the

time of our strength and energy, and not merely when we are weary and

worn out with following our own devices, and are anxious merely to

escape utter ruin and overthrow. True it is that the repentant prodigal is

welcomed when he returns to his Father’s house; the worker beginning

even at the eleventh hour receives his wages as though he had been the

whole day in the vineyard. But their sense of gratitude, Wonder, and awe

at the love which has overlooked their faults and shortcomings is the

source of a joy far inferior to that of those who have never wandered, who

have served faithfully with all the strength and all the day, upon whom the

sunshine of God’s favor has ever rested. Another and final reason why it is

wise to remember our Creator in the days of youth is that this is the secret

of a happy life. The happiness which is disturbed by remembrance of God

is not worth the name. That alone gives satisfaction — the satisfaction after

which the Preacher sought so long and in so many quarters — which

springs from communion with God. It alone is intense, it alone is lasting.

Arising as it does from the relations of the spirit of man with Him who

created it, it is raised above all the accidents of time and change. The

sooner, therefore, that we begin this life of holy communion and service,

the longer period of happiness shall we know, the surer will be our ground

of confidence for the future, when the day comes for leaving the world.

“Over against the melancholy circumstances of decay and decline, as the

end of life draws on, will be set;


Ø      the bright memories of the past,

Ø      the consciousness of present help, and

Ø      the hope of a joyous immortality.


Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!’ was the sentence of one whose wisdom

sprang only from his experience of an earthly life, and upon whose mind

the burden lay of human sorrows and cares. But “a greater than Solomon,”

One whose wisdom is Divine, whose power to remove every burden is

daily seen, has an infinitely more hopeful message for us. “Let not your

heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s

house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to

prepare a place for you.... I will come again, and receive you unto myself;

that where I am, there ye may be also.”  (John 14:1-3)




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