Ecclesiastes 12

 

 

The division into chapters is unfortunate here, as this verse is

closely connected with ver. 10 of the preceding chapter.

 

1 Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” -  Set God always

before thine eyes from thy earliest days; think who made thee, and what thou

wast made for, not for self-pleasing only, not to gratify thy passions which now

are strong; but that thou mightest use thy powers and energy in accordance with

the laws of thy being as a creature of God’s hands, responsible to Him for the

use of the faculties and capacities with which he has endowed thee. The

word for “Creator” is the participle of the Verb barn, which is that used in

Genesis 1:1, etc., describing God’s work. It is plural in form, like

Elohim, the plural being that of majesty or excellence (comp are Job 35:10;

Isaiah 54:5). It is used here as an appellation of God, because

the young have to bethink themselves that all they are and all they have

COME FROM GOD!  Such plurals are supposed by some to be divinely

intended to adumbrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity — a dark saying

containing a mystery which future revelation should explain – “while the

evil days come not,  i.e. before they come. - aiJ hJme>rai th~v

kaki>av  - ai haemerai taes - days of evil; - Septuagint - (Matthew 6:34);

tempus afflictionis (Vulgate).  The phrase refers to the grievances and

inconveniences of old age, which are further and graphically described in

the following verses, though whether the expressions therein used regard

literal anatomical facts, or are allegorical representations of the gradual

decay of the faculties, has been greatly disputed. Probably both opinions

contain a partial truth, as will be noted in our Exposition. Ginsburg considers

that the allusion is not to the ills that in the course of time all flesh is heir to,

but rather to that premature decay and suffering occasioned by the

unrestrained gratification of sensual passions, such as Cicero intimates

(‘De Senect.,’ 9:29), “Libidinosa et intemperans adulescentia effetum corpus

tradit senectuti” – but there is nothing specially in the text to support this

view, and it is most reasonable to see here generally a figurative description

of decay, whatever may be the cause -  “nor the years draw nigh, when

thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.”   Ere the time comes when

a man shall say, “I have no pleasure in life.” Thus the aged Barzillai asks,”

Can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat,

 or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing-men and

singing-women?” (II Samuel 19:35).

 

 

Remember thy Creator (v. 1)

 

  • REMEMBER: WHOM? “Thy Creator.” The language implies:

 

Ø      That man has a Creator. It would certainly be strange if he

had not, seeing that all things else have (Colossians 1:15-16).

(O how jealous is Hollywood of their copyrighted artworks in which

they deny God’s claim on His – they would be the first to run to

the courts for protection as the Constitution states, but all the while,

promoting all kinds of behaviors that fly in the face of the Creator,

and refuse to Him what He has so graciously provided for them,

protection of their own ideas and works!!!!!!!!!!!!!  - this is just one

of myriads of examples in the world today of foolish and hypocritical

thinking of thoughtless liberalism and/or so called progressivism – CY –

2013). And that Creator is not man himself, since he is at best

a dependent creature (Genesis 3:19);  or an inferior divinity,

since there is none such (II  Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 44:6); but

 

o       GOD, the one living and true God (I Thessalonians 1:9), the

Almighty Maker of the universe (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11;

Psalm 124:8; Isaiah 40:28; Jeremiah 10:16), and therefore of

man (Genesis 1:26; Deuteronomy 4:32; Psalm 100:3; Acts

17:25-26, 28); and

 

o       JESUS CHRIST, the Image of the invisible God (II Corinthians

4:4; Colossians 1:15) and the unbeginning Word of God (John 1:1),

by whom all things were made (John 1:3), whether they be things

 in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible (Colossians 1:16), and

therefore FROM WHOM MAN DERIVES HIS BEING!

 

Ø      That man originally knows God. That even in his fallen condition he is

not entirely destitute of a knowledge of God — not, perhaps, a knowledge

clear and full, but still real and true — appears to be the teaching of

Scripture (Romans 1:21, 28) as well as of experience, no man ever

requiring to argue himself into a belief in God’s existence, though

many try to reason themselves out of it.

 

Ø      That man may forget God. Moses was afraid lest Israel should be guilty

of so doing (Deuteronomy 6:12), in which case they would be no better

than the heathen peoples around them (It is to this that our culture is

falling today! – CY – 2013 - Psalm 9:17). Practically this is

the world’s sin today (I John 4:8), and the sin against which Christians

have to guard (Hebrews 3:12). It is specially the sin against which

young persons should be warned, that of allowing the thought of God to

slip out of their minds.

 

  • REMEMBER: HOW?

 

Ø      By thinking of His Person. A characteristic of the wicked is that

God is not in all their thoughts (Psalm 10:4); whereas a good

man remembers God upon his bed, and meditates upon him in

the night watches (Psalm 63:6).

 

Ø      By reflecting on His character. The Creator being neither an

abstract conception nor an inanimate force, but a living and

personal Intelligence, He is also possessed of attributes,

the sum of which compose His character or name; and one who

would properly remember Him must frequently permit his

thoughts to dwell on these (Psalm 20:7), as David (Psalm

42:8) and Asaph (Psalm 77:3) did — on His holiness, His

lovingkindness, His faithfulness, His truth, His wisdom,

His justice, ALL OF WHICH HAVE BEEN REVEALED

IN JESUS CHRIST and so made much more easily the subjects

 of study.

 

Ø      By acknowledging His goodness. God’s bounties in providence and

mercies in grace must be equally recalled and thankfully retained before

the mind, as David aptly said to himself (Psalm 103:1-2 – “Bless the

Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.”) and protested

before God (Psalm 42:6). One who simply accepts God’s daily

benefits as the lower animals do, for consumption but not for

consideration, is guilty of forgetting God; who knows about,

but never pauses to thank God for HIS UNSPEAKABLE

GRACE IN CHRIST,  comes far short of what is meant by

remembering his Creator.

 

Ø      By meditating in His Word. Those who lovingly remember God

will not forget that He has written to them in the Scriptures words

of grace and truth, and will, like the good man of the Hebrew Psalter

(1:2), meditate therein day and night (See also Psalm 119:97, 99;

104:33-34).  Where God’s Law, with its wise and holy precepts, is

counted as a strange thing (Hosea 8:12),  no further proof is

needed that God himself is forgotten. (Let us sit up and take

 heed! – CY – 2013).  The surest evidence that“no man

remembered the poor wise man” was found in this, that

his wisdom was despised, and his words were not heard (ch.9:16).

 

Ø      By keeping His commandments. As Joseph’s recollection of

Jehovah helped him to resist temptation and avoid sin (Genesis 39:9),

so a sincere and loving remembrance of God will show itself in

 doing those things that are pleasing in His sight. When Christ

asked His disciples to remember Him, he meant them to do so,

not simply by thinking of and speaking about Him, or even by

celebrating in His honor a memorial feast (Luke 22:19), but also

by doing whatsoever He had commanded them (John 15:14).

 

  • REMEMBER: WHEN? “In the days of thy youth.”

 

Ø      Not then only. The remembrance of God is a duty which extends

THROUGHOUT LIFE!  No age can be exempted from it, as none is

unsuitable for it. The notion that religion, while proper enough for

childhood or youth, is neither demanded by nor becoming in manhood,

IS A DELUSION!  The heart-worship and life-service of God and

Jesus Christ are incumbent upon, needed by, and honorable to, old

as well as young.

 

Ø      But then firstly. The reasons will be furnished below; meantime it may

be noticed that Scripture writers may be said to be unanimous in

recommending early piety; in teaching that youth, above all other

 periods, IS THE SEASON FOR SEEKING GOD!   

 

o       Moses (Deuteronomy 31:13),

o       David (Psalm 34:11),

o       Solomon (Proverbs 3:1-2), and

o       Jesus (Matthew 6:33)

 

combine to set forth the advantage as well as duty of giving one’s

early years to God and religion.

 

  • REMEMBER: WHY?

 

Ø      Why remember one’s Creator?

 

o       Because HE IS INFINITELY WORTHY of being

remembered.

o       Because He is entitled to be remembered on the

simple ground of being Creator.

o       Because WITHOUT THIS REMEMBRANCE

OF HIM, happiness is impossible here and

salvation hereafter.

o       Because the human heart is prone to forget Him,

and remembers only His creatures andHis comforts.

 

Ø      Why remember Him in the way above specified?

 

o       Because any remembrance short of that is incomplete,

insincere, formal, external, and therefore essentially

 worthless.

o       Because the above is the sort of remembrance that is

demanded by Scripture.

o       Because only such remembrance is worthy of being

presented to God.

 

Ø      Why remember Him in youth?

 

o       Because youth, as the first portion of a man’s life,

IS DUE TO GOD!

o       Because youth, as the formative period of life, is the most

important time for acquiring religious habits (Proverbs

22:6).  (Being within 6 weeks of turning 70, I can still

quote passages which I learned in my youth – within the

last five years I have tried to memorize Exodus 34:6-7,

but have not been able to retain memorization of it! – CY –

2013)

o       Because youth, as the happiest season in life, is the time in

which God can most easily be remembered. Then

“the evil days” of”

§         business and worry,

§         temptation and sin,

§         affliction and sorrow,

§         disease and decay,

have not come; and the soul, besides being comparatively

disengaged, is also in a mood for yielding to devout and

holy impressions.

o       Because if God is not remembered in youth He is apt to be

forgotten as we age.  (This mistake in life will not happen

if one would remember the 1st and 3rd Commandments

once a week [preferably every day] – CY – 2013)

 

 

The Vanity and Glory of Youth (v. 1 with latter part of ch. 11:10)

 

  • 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

tomorrow.

 

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

THING!

 

From this v.2 onwards there is great diversity of interpretation. While some

think that the approach of death is represented under the image of a storm,

others deem that what is here intended is first the debility of old age, and

then, at v. 6, death itself, which two stages are described under various

metaphors and figures.

 

2 While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,”  -

Under these figures the evil days spoken of above, the advent and infirmities

of old age, are represented. It would be endless and unprofitable to recount

the explanations of ‘the terms used in the following verses. Every

commentator, ancient and modern, has exerted his ingenuity to force the

poet’s language into the shape which he has imagined for it. But, as we

said above, there are at least two distinct lines of interpretation which have

found favor with the great majority of expositors. One of these regards the

imagery as applicable to the effects of a heavy storm upon a house and its

inmates, explaining every detail under this notion; the other regards the

terms used as referring to the man himself, adumbrating the gradual decay

of old age, the various members and powers that are affected being

represented under tropes and images, Both interpretations are beset with

difficulties, and are only with some straining and accommodation forced

into a consistent harmony. But the latter seems to us to present fewer

perplexities than the other, and we have adopted it here. At the same time,

we think it expedient to give the other view, together with our own, as

there is much to be said in its favor, and many great writers have declared

themselves on its side. Wright supposes (and makes a good case for his

theory) that Koheleth is referring especially to the closing days of winter,

which in Palestine are very fatal to old people. The seven last days, indeed,

are noted even now as the most sickly and dangerous of all the year. The

approach of this period casts a dark shadow upon all the inhabitants of the

house. The theory is partly borne out by the text, but, like the other

solutions, does not wholly correspond to the wording. In the present verse

the approach of old age, the winter of life, is likened to the rainy season in

Palestine, when the sun is obscured by clouds, and the light of heaven

darkened by the withdrawal of that luminary, and neither moon nor stars

appear - “nor the clouds return after the rain:” -  i.e. one storm succeeds

another (Job 37:6). The imagery is intended to represent the abiding

and increasing inconveniences of old age. Not like the spring-time of life

and season, when sunshine and storm are interchanged, winter and old age

have no vicissitudes, one dreary character invests them both. The

darkening of the light is a common metaphor for sorrow and sadness (see

Job 30:26; 33:28, 30; Ezekiel 32:7-8; Amos 8:9). The symbolism of the details

in this verse has been thus elucidated: The diurnal lights appertain to the soul,

the nocturnal to the body; the sun is the Divine light which illumines the soul,

the moon and the stars are the body and the senses which receive their radiance

from the soul’s effulgence. These are all affected by the invasion of old age.

Some consider that this verse depicts the changes which pass over the higher

and more spiritual part of man’s nature, while the succeeding imagery refers

to the breaking up of the corporeal frame. We should say rather that v. 2

conveys a general impression, and that this is then elaborated into particulars.

According to the interpretation mentioned above, a gathering tempest is here

depicted, the details of which are worked out in the following verses.

 

The gradual decay which creeps over the body, the habitation of

the spirit, is depicted under the figure of a house and its parts (compare

Job 4:19; II Corinthians 5:1; II Peter 1:13-14).

 

3 “In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,” -  i.e. this is

the case when, etc. The hands and arms are appropriately called the keepers

of the house, for with them (as Volek quotes from Galen) man oJpli>zei

kai< frourei~ to< sw~ma pantoi>wv hoplizei kai phrourei to soma

pantoios - arms and guards his body in various ways). The shaking and

palsy of old men’s limbs are thus graphically described. This would be one

of the first symptoms discerned by an observer. Taking the alternative

interpretation, we should see in these “keepers” the menservants who keep

watch before the house (In the last half of my seventh decade upon this

earth, I am beginning to see signs of this in myself – CY – 2013). These

menials are appalled by the approach of the tempest, and quake – “and

the strong men shall bow themselves,” -  The “men of power” are the

legs, or the bones generally, which in the young are “as pillars of marble”

(Song of Solomon 5:15), but in the old become feeble, slack, and bent.

(When I first started noticing this (at 54 years of age) I went to the doctor

and was later diagnosed with a peripheral neuropathy – at first I was depressed

but then I concluded that I would have rather had God in my life for 54

years as it was than an eternity without Him!  Two verses of the Bible

really helped me during this period.  [1] “Cast not away therefore your

confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.  For ye have need

of patience, that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive

the promise.”  - Hebrews 10:35-36 – and [2] The Lord “delighteth not

in the strength of the horse:  He taketh not pleasure in the legs of a

man.  The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear Him, in those

that hope in His mercy.”  - Psalm 147:10-11 – I give this example

because of the issue of the legs – CY – 2013 – “and the grinders

cease because they are few,” -  The word for “grinders” is feminine (aiJ

ajlh>qousaihai alaethousai - the grinding-women -Septuagint), doubtless

because grinding was especially women’s business (Matthew 24:41). By them

are meant the teeth, as we speak of molars, though, of course, the term

here applies to all the teeth; so the Greeks used the term mu>lai – mulai –

for the denies molares. These, becoming few in number and no longer

continuous, cannot perform their office – “an those that look out of the

windows be darkened.”  These are the eyes that look

forth from the cavities in which they are sunk; they are regarded as the

windows of the bodily structure, the eyelashes or eyelids possibly being

deemed the lattice of the same. The dimness in the eye and the failing in the

powers of sight are well expressed by the terms of the text. It is noted of

Moses, as something altogether abnormal, that at a hundred and twenty

years of age “his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated”

(Deuteronomy 34:7).

 

4 “And the doors shall be shut in the streets,” -  Hitherto the symbolism

has been comparatively easy to interpret. With this verse inextricable

difficulties seem to arise. Of course, in one view it is natural that in the

bitter weather, or on the appearance of a tempest, the doors towards the

street should be closed, and none should leave the house. But what are

meant by the doors in the metaphorical house, the body of the aged man?

Jewish expositors understood them to be the pores, or excretive apertures

of the body, which lose their activity in old age — which seems an

unseemly allusion. More natural is it to see in the word, with its dual form,

the mouth closed by the two lips. So a psalmist speaks of the mouth, the

door of the lips (Psalm 141:3; compare Micah 7:5). As it is only the external

door of a house that could be employed in this metaphor, the addition, “in [or,

‘towards’] the streets,” is accounted for – “when the sound of the grinding is

low,” – The sound of the grinding or the mill is weak and low when the teeth have

ceased to masticate, and, instead of the crunching and grinding of food,

nothing is heard but a munching and sucking. The falling in of the mouth

over the toothless gums is represented as the closing of doors. To take the

words in their literal sense is to make the author repeat himself, reiterating

what he is supposed to have said before in speaking of the grinding-women

— all labor is lessened or stopped. The sound of grinding betokened

cheerfulness and prosperity; its cessation would be an ominous sign (see

Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22) “and he shall rise

up at the voice of the bird,” -  This is a very difficult sentence, and has been

very variously explained. It is usually taken to mean that the old man sleeps

lightly and awakes (for “rises up” may mean no more than that) at the

chirp of a bird. The objection to this interpretation is that it destroys the

figurative character of the description, introducing suddenly the personal

subject. Of course, it has another signification in the picture of the terror

stricken household; and many interpreters who thus explain the allegory

translate the clause differently. Thus Ginsburg renders, “The swallow rises

to shriek,” referring to the habits of that bird in stormy weather. But there

are grammatical objections to this translation, as there are against another

suggestion, “The bird (of ill omen) raises its voice.” We need not do more

than refer to the mystical elucidation which detects here a reference to the

resurrection, the voice of the bird being the archangel’s trumpet which calls

the dead from their graves. Retaining the allegory, we must translate the

clause, “He [or, ‘it,’ i.e. the voice] rises to the bird’s voice;the old man’s

voice becomes a “childish treble,” like the piping of a little bird. The

relaxation of the muscles of the larynx and other vocal organs occasions a

great difference in the pitch or power of tone (compare what Hezekiah

says, Isaiah 38:14, “Like a crane or a swallow so did I chatter,” though

there it is the low murmur of sorrow and complaint that is meant) -  “and all

the daughters of music shall be brought low.”  “The daughters of song”

are the organs of speech, which ere now humbled and fail, so that the man

cannot sing a note. Some think that the ears are meant, as St. Jerome

writes, Et obsurdescent omnes filiae carminis, which may have some such

notion. Others arrive at a similar signification from manipulation of the

verb, thus eliciting the sense — The sounds of singing-women or songbirds

are dulled and lowered, are only heard as a faint, unmeaning murmur.

This exposition rather contradicts what had preceded, viz. that the old man

is awoke by the chirp of a sparrow; for his ears must be very sensitive to

be thus easily affected; unless, indeed, the “voice of the bird” is merely a

note of time, equivalent to early cock-crowing. We must not omit Wright’s

explanation, though it does not commend itself to our mind. He makes a

new stanza begin here: “When one rises at the voice of the bird,” and sees

here a description of the approach of spring, as if the poet said, “When the

young and lusty are enjoying the return of genial weather, and the concert

of birds with which no musician can compete, the aged, sick in their

chambers, are beset with fears and are sinking fast.” We fail altogether to

read this meaning in our text, wherein we recognize only a symbolical

representation of the old man’s vocal powers. It is obvious to cite

Juvenal’s minute and painful description of old age in ‘Sat.,’ 10:200, etc.,

and Shakespeare’s lines in ‘As You Like It’ (act 2. sc. 7), where the

reference to the voice is very striking-

 

“His big, manly voice,

Turning again toward childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound.”

 

5 “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high,” -  There is

no “when” in the original, which runs, “Also, or yea, they fear on high.”

“They” are old men, or, like the French on, “people” indefinitely; and the

clause says that they find difficulty in mounting an ascent, as the Vulgate

renders, Excelsa quoque timebant. Shortness of breath, asthmatic

tendencies, failure of muscular power, make such an exertion arduous and

burdensome, just as in the previous verse a similar cause rendered singing

impossible. The description is now arriving at the last stage, and

allegorizing the closing scene. The steep ascent is the via dolorosa, the

painful process of dying, from which the natural man shrinks; for as the

gnome says —

 

Tou~ zh~|n ga<r oujdei<v wJv oJ ghra>skwn ejra~|

Tou zaen gar oudeis hos ho gnraskon era

None dotes on life more than the aged man.”

 

The old man is going on the appointed road “and fears shall be in the

way,” or, all sorts of fears (plural of intensity) are in the path; as in his

infirm condition he can walk nowhere without danger of meeting with

some accident, so analogously, as he contemplates his end and the road he

has to travel, “fearfulness and trembling come upon him, and horror

overwhelms him” (Psalm 55:5) – “and the almond tree shall flourish,” –

or, is in blossom. The old man is thus figured from the observed aspect

of this tree. It blossoms in winter upon a leafless stem, and its flowers, at

first of a pale pink color, turn to a snowy whiteness as they fall from the

branches. The tree thus becomes a fit type of the arid, torpid-looking old

man with his white hair. So Wright quotes Virgil, ‘AEneid,’ 5:416 —

 

“Temporibus geminis canebat sparsa senectus;”

 

though there the idea is rather of mingled black and grey hair than of ahead

of snowy whiteness. Canon Tristram (‘Nat. Hist. of the Bible,’ p. 332),

referring to the usual version of this clause, adds, “But the better

interpretation seems to be, that as the almond blossom ushers in the spring,

so do the signs referred to in the context indicate the hastening (shaked,

‘almond,’ meaning also ‘hasten’) of old age and death.” Plumptre adopts

the notion that the name of the tree is derived from a stem meaning “to

watch,” and that thus it may be called the early-waking tree (see

Jeremiah 1:11), the enigmatic phrase describing the wakefulness that

often attends old age. But this seems a refinement by no means justified by

the use of the word. The versions are unanimous in translating the clause as

the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint, ajnqh>sh| to< ajmu>gdalon

anthaesae to amugdalon – the almond tree shall blossom  -  Vulgate,

fiorebit amygdalus. (So Verier. and the Syriac.) Wright takes this clause

and the next to indicate the opening of spring, when nature reawakens

from its winter sleep, and the dying man can no longer respond to the call

or enjoy the happy season  - “and the grasshopper shall be a burden,” –

Chagab, rendered “grasshopper” here and Leviticus 11:22; Numbers 13:33,

etc., is rightly translated “locust” in II Chronicles 7:13. It is one of the

smaller species of the insect, as is implied by its use in Isaiah 40:22,

where from the height of heaven the inhabitants of earth are regarded as

chagabim. The clause is usually explained to mean that the very lightest

burden is troublesome to old age, or that the hopping and chirping of these

insects annoy the querulous senior. But who does not see the incongruity

of expressing the disinclination for labor and exertion by the figure of

finding a grasshopper too heavy to carry? Who would think of carrying a

grasshopper?  The Septuagint gives, kai< pacunqh~| hJ ajkri>v: - kai

pachunthae hae akris – and the grasshopper shall be a burden –

 the Vulgate, imping, uabitur locusts, “the locust grows fat. Founded on

this rendering is the opinion which considers that under this figure is depicted

the corpulence or dropsical swelling that sometimes accompanies advanced life.

But this morbid and abnormal condition could not be introduced into a typical

description of the usual accompaniments of age, even if the verb could be rightly

translated as the Greek and Latin versions give it, which is more than doubtful.

Some Jewish interpreters consider that under the term “locust” is

meant the loins or hips, or caput femoris, which is thus named” because it

includes in itself the mechanism which the two-membered foot for

springing, placed at an acute angle, presents in the locust.” The poet is

thought to allude to the loss of elasticity in the hips and the inability to bear

any weight. We cannot agree to the propriety of this artificial explanation,

which seems to have been invented to account for the expressions in the

text, rather than to be founded on fact. But though we reject this

elucidation of the figure, we think Delitzsch and some others are right in

taking the verb in the sense of “to move heavily, to crawl along.” “The

locust crawls,” i.e. the old man drags his limbs heavily and painfully along,

like the locust just hatched in early spring, and as yet not furnished with

wings, which makes its way clumsily and slowly. The analogy derives

another feature from the fact, well attested, that the appearance of the

locust was synchronous with the days considered most fatal to old people,

namely, the seven at the end of January and the beginning of February. So

we now have the figure of the old man with his snow-white hair, panting

and gasping, creeping painfully to his grave. One more trait is added – “and

desire shall fail:” -  The word rendered “desire” (hn;wOYbia}) is found nowhere

else in the Old Testament, and its meaning is disputed. The Authorized

Version has adopted the rendering of some of the Jewish commentators

(and that of Venet., hJ u]rexiv hae urexis - , but, according to Delitzsch,

the feminine form of the noun precludes the notion of an abstract quality, and the

etymology on which it rests is doubtful. Nor would it be likely that, having

employed symbolism hitherto throughout his description, the writer would

suddenly drop metaphor and speak in unfigurative language. We are,

therefore, driven to rely for its meaning on the old versions, which would

convey the traditionary idea. The Septuagint gives, hJ ka>ppariv hae

kapparis - and so the Vulgate, capparis, by which is designated the caper

tree or berry, probably the same as the hyssop, which is found throughout the

East, and was extensively used as a provocative of appetite, a stimulant and

restorative. Accordingly, the writer is thought here to be intimating that

even stimulants, such as the caper, affect the old man no longer, cannot

give zest to or make him enjoy his food. Here, again, the figurative is

dropped, and a literal, unvarnished fact is stated, which mars the perfection

of the picture. But the verb here used (parar) is capable of another

signification, and is often found in the unmetaphorical sense of “breaking”

or “bursting;” so the clause will run, “and the caper berry bursts.”

Septuagint, kai< diaskedasqh~| hJ ka>ppariv  -  kai diaskedasthae hae

kapparis - Vulgate, dissipabitur capparis. The fruit of this plant, when overripe,

bursts open and falls off — a fit image of the dissolution of the aged frame,

now ripe for the tomb, and showing evident tokens of decay. By this interpretation

the symbolism is maintained, which perhaps is further illustrated by the fact that the

fruit hangs down and droops from the end of long stalks, as the man bows his

head and stoops his back to meet the coming death. (Compare “Thou shalt

come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his

season.”  - Job 5:26 – CY – 2013) – “because (ki) man goeth to his

long home,” -  This and the following clause are parenthetical,

v. 6 resuming the allegory. It is as though Koheleth said — Such is the

way, such are the symptoms, when decay and death are approaching; all

these things happen, all these signs meet the eye, at such a period. “His

long home;” eijv oi+kon aijw~nov aujtou~ - eis oikon aionos autou – his

everlasting home - (Septuagint), “to the house of his eternity,” “his

 everlasting habitation,” i.e. the grave, or Hades.  Compares Job 10:21;

30:23. So Psalm 49:11 (according to many versions), “Their graves are

their houses for ever.” The skhnai< aijw>nioiskaenai aionioi –

everlasting habitation - of Luke 16:9 are a periphrasis for life in heaven.

Diodorus Siculus notes that the Egyptians used the terms aji>dioi oi+koi

Aidioi oikoi –  and hJ aijw>niov oi]ksiv - hae ainonios oiksis – eternal

house or home - of Hades (2. 51; 1. 93). The expression, “domus eterna,”

appears at Rome on tombs, as Plumptre observes, both in Christian and non-

Christian inscriptions; and the Assyrians name the world or state beyond

the grave “the house of eternity” (‘Records of the Past,’ 1:143). From the

expression in the text nothing can be deduced concerning Koheleth’s

eschatological views. He is speaking here merely phenomenally. Men live

their little span upon the earth, and then go to what in comparison of this is

an eternity. Much of the difficulty about aijw>niov – aionios – everlasting –

would be obviated if critics would remember that the meaning of such words

is conditioned by the context, that e.g. “everlasting” applied to a mountain and

TO GOD cannot be understood in the same, sense“and the mourners go

about the streets:” -  This can hardly mean that the usual funeral rites have begun;

for the death is not conceived as having already taken place; this is reserved

for v. 7. Nor can it, therefore, refer to the relations and friends who are

sorrowing for the departed. The persons spoken of must be the mourners

who are hired to play and sing at funerals (see II Samuel 3:31;

Jeremiah 9:17; 34:5; Matthew 9:23). These were getting ready to ply their trade,

expecting hourly the old man’s death.

 

6 “Or ever” -  i.e. before, ere (ad asher lo). The words recall us to

vs. 1 and 2, bidding the youth make the best use of his time ere old age

cuts him off. In the present paragraph the final dissolution is described

under two figures – “the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be

broken,” -  This is evidently one figure, which would be made plainer by

reading “and” instead of “or,” the idea being that the lamp is shattered by

the snapping of the cord that suspended it from the roof. But there are

some difficulties in the closer explanation of the allegory. The “bowl”

(gullah) is the reservoir of oil in a lamp (see Zechariah 4:3-4), which

supplies nourishment to the flame; when this is broken or damaged so as to

be useless, the light, of course, is extinguished. The Septuagint calls it to<

ajnqe>mion tou~ crusi>onto anthemion tou chrusion – the golden

bowl - the Vulgate, vitta aurea, “the golden fillet,” or flower ornament on

a column, which quite sinks the notion of a light being quenched.

The “cord” is that by which the lamp is hung in a tent or a room.

But of what in man are these symbols?  The general break-up of life

is here delineated, not the progress of destruction in certain organs or parts of

the human frame. The cord is what we should call the thread of life, on which

hangs the body lit by the animating soul; when the connection between these is

severed, the latter perishes, like a fallen lamp lying crushed on the ground.

In this our view the cord is the living power which keeps the corporeal substance

from failing to ruin; the bowl is the body itself thus upheld. The mention of gold

and silver is introduced to denote the preciousness of man’s life and nature.

But the analogy must not be pressed in all possible details. It is like the parables,

where, if defined and examined too closely, incongruities appear. We

should be inclined to make more of the lamp and the light and the oil,

which are barely inferred in the passage, and endeavor to explain what

these images import. Koheleth is satisfied with the general figure which

adumbrates THE DISSOLUTION OF MATERIAL FABRIC BY

THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE PRINCIPLE OF LIFE!   What is

the immediate cause of this dissolution, injury, paralysis, etc., is not handled;

only the rupture is noticed and its fatal result.  Another image to the same effect,

 though pointing to a different process, is added – “or the pitcher be broken

at the fountain, or (and) the wheel broken at (in) the cistern.”  The picture

here is a deep well or cistern with an apparatus for drawing water; this apparatus

consists of a wheel or windlass with a rope upon it, to which is attached a bucket;

the wheel fails, falls into the well, the bucket is dashed to pieces, and no water

can be drawn. It is best to regard the two clauses as intended to convey one

idea, as the two at the beginning of the verse were found to do. Some

commentators, not so suitably, distinguish between the two, making the

former clause say that the pitcher is broken on its road to or from the

spring, and the latter that the draw-wheel gives way. The imagery, points

to one notion which would be weakened by being divided into two. The

motion of the bucket, the winding up and down, by which water is drawn

from the well, is an emblem of the movements of the heart, the organs of

respiration, etc. When these cease to act, life is extinct. The fraction of the

cord and the demolition of the bowl denoted the separation of soul and

body; the breaking of the pitcher and the destruction of the wheel signify

the overthrow of the bodily organs by which vital motion is diffused and

maintained, and the man lives. The expressions in the text remind one of

the term, “earthen vessel,” applied by Paul (II Corinthians 4:7) to

the human body; and “the fountain of life,” “the water of life.” so

often mentioned in Holy Scripture as typical of the grace of God and the

blessedness of life with Him (see Psalm 36:9; Proverbs 13:14; John 4:10, 14;

Revelation 21:6).

 

7 “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was:” -  rather, and

the dust return, etc. — the sentence begun above being still carried on to

the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man

at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language

used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body,

when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally

made (Genesis 2:7; 3:19; compare Job 34:15; Psalm 104:29). So

Siracides calls man “dust and ashes,” and asserts that all things that are of

the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclesiasticus. 10:9; 40:11). Soph., ‘Electra,’

1158 —

 

Anti< filta>thv

Morfh~v spodo>n te kai< skia<n ajnwfelh~

 

Anti philtataes

Morphaes spodon te kai skian anophelae

 

“Instead of thy dear form,

Mere dust and idle shadow.”

 

Cornelius a Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch (‘Apol. ad

Apollon.,’ 110) from Epicharmus,” Life is compounded and broken up,

and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to

upper regions.” – “and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” –

Or, for the spirit — the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking

indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition “to” is l[", in the

second la,, as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the

upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in

ch.3:21 (where see note), “Who knoweth the spirit of man,

whether it goeth upward,” etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the

two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded v. 7 as an

interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his

perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the

conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it

 shall be brought into immediate connection with A PERSONAL

GOD!   There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, i

n accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality,

denied the personality of the soul, have we any opinion given concerning the

adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism (origin of the soul), though the

terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man’s

nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), when this departs, HE WHO GAVE

IT RECEIVES IT!   God “gathereth in” man’s breath (Psalm 104:29).

The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul,

the personal “I;” it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath;

and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this

would be a feeble conclusion of the author’s wanderings; rather the sentence

signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle,

places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum

paraphrases the passage, returning TO STAND IN JUDGMENT

BEFORE ITS CREATOR!

 

It has been much questioned whether this next verse (v.8) is the conclusion of the

treatise or the commencement of the epilogue. For the latter conclusion it is

contended that it is only natural that the beginning of the final summing-up should

start with the same words as the opening of the book (ch.1:2); and that thus the

conjunction “and,” with which v. 9 begins, is readily explained. But the treatise

is more artistically completed by regarding this solemn utterance as the conclusion

of the whole, ending with the same burden with which it began — THE

NOTHINGNESS OF EARTHLY THINGS!   Koheleth has labored to show

this, he has pursued the thought from beginning to end, through all circumstances

and conditions, and he can only re-echo his melancholy refrain.

 

8 “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher;” -  He does not follow the destiny

of the immortal spirit; it is not his purpose to do so; his theme is the fragility of

mortal things, their unsatisfying nature, the impossibility of their securing

man’s happiness: so his voyage lands him at the point whence he set forth,

though he has learned and taught faith in the interval  - “all is vanity.”

If all is vanity, there is behind and above all a God of inflexible justice,

 who must do right, and to whom we may safely trust our cares and

perplexities. Koheleth,” Preacher,” here has the article, the Koheleth,

 as if some special reference was made to the meaning of the name — he who

has been debating, or haranguing, or gathering together, utters finally his careful

verdict. This is the sentence of the ideal Solomon, who has given his experiences

in the preceding pages.

 

 

The Last Scene of All

    or,

Man Goeth to His Long Home (vs. 2-8)

 

  • THE APPROACH OF DEATH.

 

Ø      The decay of man’s higher faculties. “Or ever the sun, and the light,

and the moon, and the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after

the rain” (v. 2).  We may see:

 

o       In the sun an emblem of man’s spirit, elsewhere compared to the

lamp of Jehovah (Proverbs 20:27), and described by Christ as

“the light that is in thee” (Matthew 6:23), and in its light a

symbol of the spirit’s activity of apprehension — thought,

memory, imagination, etc.

 

o       In the moon a figure for the animal soul, “by means of which the

Spirit becomes the principle of the life of the body (Genesis 2:7),”

and which as the weaker vessel (it, according to Hebrew ideas,

being regarded as female, while the spirit is male) is comforted

by the spirit (Psalm 42:6).

 

o       In the stars an allegorical representation of the five senses, by

which the soul has cognizance of the outer world, and the light

of which is dim and feeble in comparison with that of the soul

and spirit, or of the reason and intelligence of man.

 

o       In the clouds that return after the rain, a materialized picture of

those calamities and misfortunes, sicknesses and sorrows,

“which disturb the power of thought, obscure the

 consciousness, and darken the mind,” and which,

though leaving man for a while, return again after a season

without permitting him long to experience health.

 

Ø      The failure of man’s bodily powers. Picturing man’s corporeal frame as

a house, the Preacher depicts its ruinous condition as old age approaches.

 

o       The keepers of the house tremble. The aged person’s arms,

which bring to the house (of the body) whatever is suitable for it,

and keep away from it whatever threatens to do it injury, now,

touched with infirmity, shake, so that they are able neither to

grasp securely, to hold fast and. use, nor actively to keep back

and forcibly avert evil.

 

o       The strong, men bow themselves. The legs, of young men like

marble pillars (Song of Solomon 5:15), are in aged persons

loose, feeble, and inclined to stoop.

 

o       The grinders, or the grinding-women, cease. That these are the

molars, or teeth, which perform the work of mastication,

is apparent; so is the reason why they are not now at work, viz.

because in aged persons they are few.

 

o       Those that look out of the windows are darkened. The eyes,

called by Cicero “the windows of the mind” (‘Tusc.,’ 1:20),

become dim, and as a consequence the soul’s eyes, which

look through the body’s eyes, lose their power of perception.

 

o       The doors are shut in the street. These are probably the lips,

which in old age are usually closed and drawn, because the

teeth have disappeared.  (But I have noticed that many keep

the mouth open, possibly a sign of stress –  also consider

the ears and not hearing as well as we used to - CY – 2013)

 

o       The sound of the grinding is low. The noise made by an old man

in mastication is that of a low munching, he being unable any more

to crack, crunch, or break his food.

 

o       One rises up at the sound of a bird. So timid and nervous, and

so light a sleeper, is the old man, that if even a bird chirps he

awakes, and, being put off his rest, is obliged to rise.  (I trust

that this is not universal for “soHe giveth His beloved sleep.” -

Psalm 127:2 – CY – 2013)

 

o       The daughters of music are brought low. Not so much the old

man’s powers of singing are diminished, his once strong and

manly treble having become so feeble and low as to be scarcely

 audible (Isaiah 38:14), as the old man, like Barzillai (II Samuel

19:35), has now no longer an ear for the voice of singing-men

and singing-women, so that to him as a consequence “the

daughters of song” must lower their voices, i.e. must

retire so as no longer to disturb him, now so feeble as to be

“terrified by the twittering of a little bird.”

 

o       That which is high causes fear (v. 5). To the old man “even a little

hillock appears like a high mountain; and if he has to go a journey

he meets something that terrifies him” (Targum, ‘Midrash’).

Decrepit old men “do not venture out, for to them a damp road

appears like a very morass, a gravelly path as full of neck-breaking

hillocks, an undulating path as fearfully steep and precipitous,

that which is not shaded as oppressively hot and exhausting”

(I should think also a fear of falling as the bones are so

brittle – uneven terrain, climbing on ladders or chairs, etc.

CY – 2013)

 

o       The almond tree blossoms. An emblem of the winter of age,

with its silvery white hair.

 

o       The grasshopper is a burden, or the grasshopper drags itself

along, the old man resembling a grasshopper, drags himself

along with difficulty.

 

o       The caper-berry fails. The appetite, which this particular

condiment is supposed to stimulate, ceases; the stomach

can no more by means of it be roused from its dormant

and phlegmatic condition. So low and feeble is he

that no quinine or phosphorus can help him now.

 

o       “Desire shall fail.” Romance is gone. You can try to act as if

you are just as young as you were, but you don’t fool anyone.

I remember listening to an evangelist who had married a young

girl. He hopped on the platform, jumped in the air, and said,

“I’m just as young as I ever was.” He wasn’t fooling anybody

but himself, and he died shortly after that.  (J. Vernon McGee)

 

  • THE DISSOLUTION OF THE SOUL AND BODY.  (The breakdown

of the organs of the body).

 

Ø      The loosening of the silver cord, and the breaking of the golden

bowl.

 

o       The figure. A golden bowl or lamp suspended from the roof of

a house or tent by a silver cord, through the sudden snapping of

which it, the golden bowl or lamp, is precipitated to the ground,

thus extinguishing its light.

 

o       The interpretation.  The silver cord is the spinal cord, the

golden bowl, the brain.  The functioning of the brain decreases

in its efficiency as one gets older, and at death it ceases to

function at all.” (J. Vernon McGee)

 

Ø      The breaking of the pitcher at the fountain, and of the wheel at the

cistern.

 

o       The image. That of a pitcher, which is used for letting down by

a rope or chain into a well or fountain, becoming shivered at the

fountain’s side through the sudden breaking down of the wheel

during the process of drawing water.  (“The pitcher is the lungs.

“The pitcher is broken at the fountain”. The wheel is the heart

“the wheel broken at the cistern.” It is no longer pumping blood

through the body. All of this is a picture of the deterioration of

old age leading to death. Life cannot be sustained without the

functioning of these organs. – J. Vernon McGee).

 

o       The significance. The action of the lungs and the heart, the

one of which like a pitcher or bucket, draws in the air-current

which sustains life, and the other of which pumps up the blood

into the lungs; or the wheel and the pitcher may be the breathing

apparatus, and the pitcher at the fountain the heart which raises

the blood (We are “ fearfully made and wonderfully made.”  -

Psalm 139:14).

 

  • THE DESTINATION OF THE SEVERED PARTS.

 

Ø      Of the body.The dust returns to the earth as it was” (v. 7). As the

body came forth from the soil, so to the soil it reverts (Genesis 3:19).

 

Ø      Of the soul. “The spirit returns unto God who gave it.” Whatever

may have been the Preacher’s opinion at an earlier period (ch.3:21),

he was now decided as to three things:

 

o       that man had  a spirit, as distinguished from a body;

o       that this spirit, as to origin, PROCEEDED FROM

GOD (Genesis 2:7; Job 32:8); and

o       that on separating from the body it did not cease to be,

but ascended to Him from whom it came — not to be

reabsorbed into the Divine essence, as if it had originally

emanated therefrom, but to preserve in God’s presence

an independent existence, as the Targum translates,

“The spirit will return to stand in judgment before

God who gave it to thee.”

 

  • THE LAST TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION. “The mourners go about

the streets” (v. 5).

 

Ø      Sorrowing for the departed. Probably the Preacher describes either

the professional mourners who go about the streets, in anticipation of the

dying man’s departure, ready to offer their services the moment he

expires, or the actual procession of such mourners following the dead

man’s funeral to its place of sepulture. Still, it is permissible to

think of the deceased’s relatives, who, like Abraham mourning for Sarah

(Genesis 23:2), and Martha and Mary for Lazarus (John 11:31),

give expression to their sadness by going about the streets in the garb of

sorrow.

 

Ø      Exciting the sympathy of the living. This is one reason why private

griefs are paraded in public. The heart in times of weakness, such as those

occasioned by bereavement, instinctively craves the compassion of others,

to whom, accordingly, it appeals by the visible cerements of woe.

 

  • LEARN:

 

Ø      The mercy of God as seen in the gradual approach of death.

Ø      The wisdom of improving the seasons of youth and manhood.

Ø      The solemn mystery of death.

Ø      The duty of preparing for a life beyond the grave.

Ø      The lawfulness of Christian mourning.

 

 

THE EPILOGUE (vs. 9-14)

 

This contains some observations commendatory of the author, explaining his

standpoint and the object of the book, the great conclusion to which it leads.

 

Koheleth as teacher of wisdom (vs. 9-11)

 

9 “And moreover,” -  rteyOw]; kai< perisso>n kai perisson – further –

Septuagint); rather, with the following ve, besides that“because the Preacher

was wise,” -  If we render “because the Preacher was wise,” we are making an

unnecessary statement, as the whole book has demonstrated this fact, which goes

without saying.  What the writer here asserts is that Koheleth did not merely

possess wisdom, but had made good use of it for the instruction of others.

The author throws aside his disguise, and speaks of his object in composing the

book, with a glance at the historical Solomon whom he had personated.

That he uses the third person in relation to himself is nothing uncommon in

historical memoirs, etc. Thus Daniel writes; and St.John, Thucydides,

Xenophon, Caesar, mask their personality by dropping their identity with

the author (compare also ch.1:2; 7:27). The attestation that

follows is compared with that at the end of John’s Gospel (John 21:24),

and is plainly intended to confirm the authority of the writer, and to

enforce on the hearer the conviction that, though Solomon himself did not

compose the work, it has every claim to receive attention, and possesses

intrinsic value – he still taught the people knowledge. As well as being

esteemed one of the company of sages, he further (od) took pains to

instruct his contemporaries (to<n a]nqrwpon  - - ton anthropon – the

people - Septuagint), to apply his wisdom to educational purposes -

“yea, he gave good heed,” -  literally, he weighed (like our word “ponder”);

only thus used in this passage. It denotes the careful examination of every fact

and argument  BEFORE IT WAS PRESENTED TO THE PUBLIC! -

“and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.” There is no copula in the

original; the weighing and the investigation issued in the composition of “proverbs,”

which term includes not only the wit and wisdom of past ages in the form of pithy

sayings and apophthegms, but also parables, truths in metaphorical guise, riddles,

instructions, allegories, etc., all those forms which are found in the canonical Book

of Proverbs. The same word (mishle) is used here as in the title of that book.

Koheleth, however, is not necessarily referring to that work (or to I Kings 4:29,

etc.), or implying that he himself wrote it; he is only putting forth his claim

to attention by showing his patient assiduity in the pursuit of wisdom, and

how that he adopted a particular method of teaching. For the idea

contained in the verb taqan, “to place or make straight” (ch.1:15; 7:13),

applied to literary composition, Delitzsch compares the German word for” author”

(Schriftsteller). The notion of the mashal being similitude, comparison, the writer’s

pondering and searching were needed to discover hidden analogies, and, by means

of the known and familiar, TO LEAD UP TO THE MORE OBSCURE

AND THE ABSTRUSE.  

 

10 “The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words:” -  literally,

words of delight; lo>gouv qelh>matov logous thelaematos – acceptable

words – (Septuagint); verba utilia (Vulgate); so Aquila, lo>gouv crei>av

logous chreias.  The word chephets, “pleasure,” occurs in ch.5:4; 12:1. Thus

we have “stones of pleasure” (Isaiah 54:12). He added the grace of refined

diction to the solid sense of his utterances. We are  reminded of the “gracious

words” (lo>goiv th~v ca>ritov - logois taes charitos - Luke 4:22) which

proceeded from the mouth of him who, being the Incarnate Wisdom of God,

was indeed greater than Solomon – “and that which was written was upright,

even words of truth.”  The Authorized Version, with its interpolations,

does not accurately convey the sense of the original. The sentence is to be

regarded as containing phrases in apposition to the “acceptable words” of

the first clause; thus: “Koheleth sought to discover words of pleasure, and

a writing in sincerity, words of truth. ‘The Septuagint has, kai<

gegramme>non eujqu>thtov kai gegrammenon euthutaetos – that

which was written blamelessly - a writing of uprightness; Vulgate, et

conscripsit sermones rectissimos. The meaning is that what he wrote had

two characteristics:

 

  • it was sincere, that which he really thought and believed, and
  • it was true objectively.

 

If any reader was disposed to cavil, and to depreciate the worth of the treatise

because it was not the genuine work of the celebrated Solomon, the writer claims

attention to his production on the ground of its intrinsic qualities, as inspired by the

same wisdom which animated his great predecessor.

 

11 “The words of the wise are as goads,” -  The connection of this

verse with the preceding is maintained by the fact that the “acceptable

words,” etc., are words of the wise, emanate from the same persons.

Herewith he proceeds to characterize them, with especial reference to his

own work. The goad was a rod with an iron spike, or sharpened at the end,

used in driving oxen (see Judges 3:31; I  Samuel 13:21; Acts 9:5). Words of

wisdom are called goads:

 

·        because they rouse to exertion,

·        promote reflection and action,

·        restrain from error,

·         impel to right;

 

 if they hurt and sting, the pain which they inflict is healthful, for

good and not for evil -  “and as nails fastened by the masters of

assemblies,” -  The proposition “by” is an interpolation, and the sentence

should run: And like nails fastened [are] the, etc. — masmeroth, “nails,”

as in Isaiah 41:7. There is much difficulty in explaining the next words,

twOpsua" yli["B" - baale asuppoth). We have had similar expressions applied

to possessors in ch.10:11, “lord of the tongue,” and “lord of wings” (ch.10:20);

and analogy might lead us to apply the phrase here to persons, and not things; but

in Isaiah 41:15 we find a threshing-instrument termed “lord of teeth;” and in

II Samuel 5:20 a town is called Baal-Perazim, “Lord of breaches;” so we must

be guided by other considerations in our exposition. The Septuagint, taking the whole

sentence together, and regarding baals as a preposition, renders, “As nails

firmly planted, (oi{ para~ tw~n sunqema>twn ejdo>qhsan ejk poime>nov

eJno>v – hoi para ton sunthematon edothaesan ek poimenos enos – which

from the collections were given from one shepherd.” Schleusher

takes oi{ para< tw~n sunqema>twn to mean, “Ii quibus munus datum

erat collectionem faciendi,” i.e. the author, of collections. The Vulgate has,

Verbaquae per magistrorum consilium data sunt a pastore uno. The

“masters of assemblies” can only be the chiefs of some learned conclaves,

like the great synagogue supposed to exist in the time of Ezra and later.

 It seems best to take the word translated “assemblies” as denoting collections,

not of people, but of proverbs; and the compound phrase would thus mean

proverbs of an excellent character, the best of their sort gathered together in writing.

Such words are well compared to nails; they are no longer floating loosely about,

they are fixed in the memory, they secure other knowledge, and, though they are

separate utterances, they have a certain unity and purpose. Nails are often used

proverbially as emblems of what is fixed and unalterable – “which are given from

one shepherd.”  All these words of the wise, collections, etc., proceed from one

source, or are set forth by one authority. Who is this shepherd? Some say that he is

the archisynagogus, the president of the assemblies of wise men, to whose

authority all these public utterances are subjected. But we do not know that

such supervision existed or was exercised at the time when Koheleth

wrote; and, as we saw above, there is probably no reference to any such

assemblies in the passage. The “one shepherd” is doubtless JEHOVAH,

 who is called the Shepherd of Israel, who feeds His people like a flock, etc.

(see Genesis 48:15; 49:24; Psalm 23:1; 80:1). The appellation is

here used as concinnous with the thought of the ox-goad, intimating that

God watches and leads His people like a tender shepherd and a skilful

farmer. This is an important claim to inspiration. All these varied

utterances, whatever form they take, whether his own or his predecessor’s,

are outcomes of wisdom, and proceed from Him who is only wise,

Almighty God. It is no disparagement of this work to imply that it is not

the production of the true Solomon; Koheleth is ready to avow himself the

writer, and yet claims a hearing as being equally moved by heavenly

influence. It is like Paul’s assertion (I Corinthians 7:40), “I think

that I also have the Spirit of God.”

 

In the last three verses the author warns against profitless study, and gives the

final conclusion to which the whole discussion leads.

 

12 “And further, by these, my son, be admonished;” -  rather, and

what is more than these, be warned. Besides all that has been said, take

this additional and important caution, viz. what follows. The clause,

however, has been differently interpreted, as if it said, “Do not attempt to

go beyond the words of the sages mentioned above; or, “Be content with

my counsels; they will suffice for your instruction.” This seems to be the

meaning of the Authorized Version. The personal address, “my son,” so

usual in the Book of Proverbs, is used by Koheleth in this place alone. It

does not necessarily imply relationship (as if the pseudo-Solomon was

appealing to Rehoboam), but rather the condition of pupil and learner,

sitting at the feet of his teacher and friend – “of making many books there

is no end;” - This could not be said in the time of the historical Solomon,

even if we reckon his own voluminous works (I Kings 4:32-33); for

we know of no other writers of that date, and it is tolerably certain that

none existed in Palestine. But we need not suppose that Koheleth is

referring to extraneous heathen productions, of which, in our view, there is

no evidence that he possessed any special knowledge. Doubtless many

thinkers in his time had treated of the problems discussed in his volume in a

far different manner from that herein employed, and it seemed good to

utter a warning against the unprofitable reading of such productions.

Juvenal speaks of the insatiable passion for writing in his day (‘Sat.,’ 7:51)

“Tenet insanabile multos

Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senestit;”

 

which Dryden renders:

 

“The charms of poetry our souls bewitch;

The curse of writing is an endless itch.”

 

As in taking food it is not the quantity which a man eats, but what he

digests and assimilates, that nourishes him, so in reading, the rule, Non

multa, sed multum, must be observed; the gorging the literary appetite on

food wholesome or not impedes the healthy mental process, and produces

no intellectual growth or strength. The obvious lesson drawn by spiritual

writers is that Christians should make God’s Word their chief study,

“turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the

knowledge which is falsely so called” (I Timothy 6:20). For as St.

Augustine says (‘De Doctr. Christ.’), “Whereas in Holy Scripture you will

find everything which has been profitably said elsewhere, to a far greater

extent you will therein find what has been nowhere else enunciated, but

which has been taught solely by the marvelous sublimity and the equally

marvelous humility of the Word of God.”- “much study is a weariness of

the flesh.”  The two clauses in the latter part of the verse are co-ordinate.

Thus the Septuagint, Tou~ poih~sai bibli>a polla< oujk e]sti perasmo<v

kai< mele>th pollh< ko>pwsiv (“weariness”) sarko>v Tou poiaesai

biblia polla ouk esti perasmos kai meletae pollae koposis -  The word for

“study” (lahag) is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, nor in the

Talmud, but the above meaning is sustained by its connection with an

Arabic word signifying “to be eager for.” The Vulgate (like the Septuagint)

renders it meditatio. You may weary your brain, exhaust your strength, by

protracted study or meditation on many books, but you will not necessarily

thereby gain any insight into the problems of the universe or guidance for

daily life. Marcus Aurelius dissuades from much reading: “Would you

examine your whole composition?” he says; “pray, then let your library

alone; what need you puzzle your thoughts and over-grasp yourself?”

Again, “As for books, never be over-eager about them; such a fondness for

reading will be apt to perplex your mind, and make you die unpleased”

(‘Medit.,’ 2:2, 3, Collier).

 

The teaching of the whole book is now gathered up in two weighty sentences.

 

13 “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:” -  The

Revised Version gives, This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard.

The Septuagint has, Te>lov lo>gou to<pa~n a]koue Telos logou topan

akoue – the end of the matter,  the sum, hear thou;” Vulgate, Finem

loquendi pariter omnes audiamus. Another rendering is suggested,

“The conclusion of the matter is this, that [God] taketh knowledge of all things;”

literally, “everything is heard.” Perhaps the passage is best translated, The end

of the matter, when all is heard, is this. The first word of this verse, soph,

“END” is printed in the Hebrew text in large characters, in order to draw

attention to the importance of what is coming. And its significance is rightly

estimated. These two verses guard against very possible misconception,

and give the author’s real and mature conclusion. When this is received, all

that need be said has been uttered -  “Fear God (ha-Elohim), and keep His

commandments:” -  This injunction is the practical result of the whole

discussion. Amid the difficulties of the moral government of the world,

amid the complications of society, varying and opposing interests and

claims, one duty remained plain and unchanging — the duty of

PIETY AND OBEDIENCE!   - “for this is the whole duty of man.”

The Hebrew is literally, “This is every man,” which is explained to mean,

“THIS IS EVERY MAN’S DUTY!” Septuagint, [Oti tou~to pa~v oJ

a]nqrwpov  - Hoti touto pas ho anthropos – this is the whole duty

of man - Vulgate, Hoc est enim omnis homo. For this man was made and

placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good which he has

to seek, and WHICH ALONE WILL SECURE  CONTENTMENT

and HAPPINESS! The obligation is put in the most general terms as

applicable to the whole human family; for God is not the God of the

Jews only, but of Gentiles also (Romans 3:29).  The great duty just named

is here grounded upon the solemn truth of  A FUTURE JUDGMENT!

 

God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in

Righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof

He hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised

Him from the dead”  (Acts 17:31). 

 

14 For God shall bring every work into judgment,” -  It will then be seen

whether this obligation has been “ATTENDED TO OR NOT!”  The

judgment has already been mentioned (ch.11:9); it is here more emphatically set

forth as a certain fact and a strong motive power. The old theory of earthly

retribution had been shown to break down under the experience of practical life;

the anomalies which perplexed men’s minds could only be solved and remedied

by a future judgment under the eye of the OMNISCIENT AND UNERRING

GOD!  - “with every secret thing,” -  The Syriac adds, “and manifest thing.” The

Septuagint renders, “with EVERYTHING that has been overlooked” — a very

terrible, but true, thought. The doctrine that the most secret things shall be revealed in

the dies irae is often brought forward in the New Testament, which makes

plain the personal nature of this final investigation, which the earlier

Scriptures invest with a more general character (see Luke 12:3; Romans 2:16;

14:12; I  Corinthians 4:5). So this wonderful book closes with the

enunciation of a truth found nowhere else so clearly defined in the Old

Testament, and thus opens the way to the clearer light shed upon the awful

future by the revelation of the gospel.

 

 

The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

                                                   or

         The Whole Duty of Man

 

  • THE ESSENCE OF IT.

 

Ø      The fear of God. Not servile or guilty, but

 

o       reverential, such as the Divine greatness and glory are fitted

 to inspire (Deuteronomy 28:58; Psalm 89:7; Matthew 10:28;

Hebrews 12:28);

 

Ø      filial, such as a child might cherish towards a parent (Psalm 34:11;

Hebrews 12:9).

 

Ø      The service of God. Not that merely of external worship (Deuteronomy

6:13; Psalm 96:9; Hebrews 10:25), but that of inward devotion

(John 4:24), which expresses itself in the homage of the heart and life,

or in the keeping of God’s commandments — in particular of the three

named by the Preacher, charity, industry, hilarity.

 

  • THE REASON OF IT. The certainty of judgment.

 

Ø      By God. He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25);

the Judge of all (Hebrews 12:28), who will yet judge the

world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).

 

Ø      In the future. Not merely here upon the earth, but also hereafter

in the world to come (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 11:22; 16:27;

I Corinthians 4:5; II Timothy 4:1).

 

Ø      Of works, Not of nations or communities, but of individuals

(Mark 8:38; Romans 2:5-6); not of open actions merely, but of

secret things as well (Luke 12:2; Romans 2:16; I Corinthians 3:13; 4:5);

not of good deeds only, but also of evil (II Corinthians 5:10; II Peter

                        2:10).

 

 

The Last Word (v. 13)

 

“Fear God, and keep His commandments.” Both  the inward disposition and the

outward conduct are covered by the exhortation.

 

  • THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH WE SHOULD BE GOVERNED IS

THE “FEAR OF GOD.” This is the root from which the goodly leaves

and choice fruit of a religious life will spring. If the word “fear” had been

used in this passage only, and we had not been at liberty to

understand it in any other than its ordinary sense, one would be forced to

admit that such a low motive could not be the mainspring of a vigorous

and healthy religious life. But all through the Scriptures the phrase, “fear of

God,” is used as synonymous with a genuine, heartfelt service of Him, and

as rather indicating a careful observance of the obligations we as creatures

owe to Him, than a mere dread of His anger at disobedience. It is not to be

denied that fear, in the ordinary sense of the word, is reasonably a motive

by which sin may be restrained, but it is no stimulus to that kind of service

which we owe to God. “I thank God, and with joy I mention it,” says Sir

Thomas Browne, “I was never afraid of hell, nor ever grew pale at the

description of that place. I have so fixed my contemplations on heaven,

that I have almost forgot the idea of hell; and am afraid rather to lose the

joys of one than endure the misery of the other. To be deprived of them is

a perfect hell, and needs methinks no addition to complete our afflictions.

That terrible term hath never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good

action to the name thereof. I fear God, yet am not afraid of Him; His

mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before His judgments afraid thereof.

These are the forced and secondary methods of His wisdom, which He useth

but as the last remedy, and upon provocation — a course rather to deter

the wicked than incite the virtuous to His worship. I can hardly think there

was ever any scared into heaven: they go the fairest way to heaven that

would serve God without a hell. Other mercenaries, that crouch unto him

in fear of hell, though they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the

slaves, of the Almighty” (‘Rel. Med.,’ 1:52). Plainly, therefore, when the

fear of God is made equivalent to true religion, it must include many other

feelings than that dread which sinners experience at the thought of the

 laws they have broken, and which may consist with hatred of God and of

righteousness. It must be a summary of all the emotions which belong to a

religions life — reverence at the thought of GOD’S INFINITE MAJESTY,

HOLINESS, AND JUSTICE,  gratitude for His loving-kindness and tender

mercy, confidence in His wisdom, power, and faithfulness, submission to His

will, and delight in communion with Him. If fear is to be taken as a prominent

emotion in such a life, we are not to understand by it the terror of a slave,

who would willingly, if he could, break away from his owner, but the

loving reverence of a child, who is anxious to avoid everything that

would grieve his father’s heart. The one kind of fear is the mark of an

imperfect obedience (I John 4:18); the other is the proof of a disposition which

calls forth God’s favor and blessing (Psalm 103:13).

 

  • THE CONDUCT WE SHOULD MANIFEST IS DESCRIBED:

“KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.” This is the outward

manifestation of the disposition of the heart, and supplies a test by which

the genuineness of a religious profession may be tried. These two elements

are needed to constitute holiness:

 

Ø      a God-fearing spirit and

Ø      a blameless life.

 

If either be wanting the nature is out of balance, and very grave defects

will soon appear, by which all of positive good that has been attained will

be either overshadowed or nullified. If there be not devotion of the heart

to God, no zeal and fidelity in discharging the ordinary duties of life

will make up for the loss. The reverence due to Him as our Creator —

gratitude for His benefits, penitent confession of sins and shortcomings, and

faith in His mercy — cannot be willfully omitted by us without a

depravation of our whole character. And, on the other side, an

acknowledgment of Him that does not lead us to “keep His

 commandments” is equally fatal (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:25-27).

 

The Preacher appends two weighty considerations to induce us to attend to

his exhortation to “fear God, and keep His commandments.”

 

  • The first is that THIS IS THE SOURCE OF ALL TRUE HAPPINESS!   

So would we interpret his words, “For this is the whole of man.” The word

“duty” is suggested by our translators to complete the sense, but it is not

comprehensive enough. “To fear God and keep His commandments is

not only the whole duty, BUT THE WHOLE HONOR AND INTEREST

AND HAPPINESS OF MAN!  The quest with which the book has been

largely concerned is that for happiness, for the summum bonum, in which alone

the soul can find satisfaction, and here it comes to an end. The discovery is

made of that which has been so long and so painfully sought after.

In a pious and holy life and conversation REST IS FOUND; ALL

ELSE IS BUT VANITY AND VEXATION OF SPIRIT! 

 

  • The second motive to obedience is THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE

JUDGMENT  (v. 14). “For God shall bring every work into judgment,

with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

NOTHING WILL BE OMITTED OR FORGOTTEN! . THE

JUDGE WILL BE ONE WHO IS ABSOLUTELY JUST AND

WISE,  who will be free from all partiality; AND HIS SENTENCE

WILL BE FINAL!   If, therefore, we have no such regard for our own

happiness in the present life as would move us to secure it by love and

service of God, we may still find a check upon self-will and self-indulgence

in the thought that we shall have to give an account of our:

 

Ø      thoughts,

Ø      words, and

Ø      deeds

 

to One from whose sentence THERE IS NO APPEAL!

 

 

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