Ecclesiastes 3


In this chapter, and in confirmation of the truth that man’s happiness

depends upon the will of God, Koheleth proceeds to show how Providence

arranges even the minutest concerns; that man can alter nothing, must

make the best of things as they are, bear with anomalies, bounding his

desires by this present life.


The providence of God disposes and arranges every detail of

man’s life. This proposition is stated first generally, and then worked out in

particular by means of antithetical sentences. In Hebrew manuscripts and

most printed texts vs. 2-8 are arranged in two parallel columns, so that

one “time” always stands under another. A similar arrangement is found in

Joshua 12:9, etc., containing the catalogue of the conquered Canaanite

kings; and in Esther 9:7, etc., giving the names of Haman’s ten sons. In

the present passage we have fourteen pairs of contrasts, ranging from

external circumstances to the inner affections of man’s being.


1 “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under

the heaven:”  “Season” and “time” are rendered by the

Septuagint  καιρόςkairosseason -  and χρόνοςchronos

time. The word for “season” (zeman), denotes a fixed, definite portion of time;

while eth, “time,” signifies rather the beginning of a period, or is used as a

general appellation. The two ideas are sometimes concurrent in the New Testament;

e.g. Acts 1:7; I Thessalonians 5:1 (compare also Daniel 2:21, where the Septuagint

has καιροὺς καὶ χρόνοιςkairous kai chronois - ; and Daniel 7:12, where we

find the singular kairou~ kai <kairou~ kairou kai kairoua  season and a

time  in Theodotion, and καιροῦ καὶ καιροῦchronou kai kairou – a

season and a time in the Septuagint). So in Wisdom of Solomon  8:8,

“wisdom to foreseeth signs and wonders, and the events of seasons

and times (ἐκβάσεις καιρῶν καὶ χρόνωνekbaseis kairon kai chonon).

Every thing refers  especially to men’s movements and actions, and to what

concerns them. Purpose; chephets, originally meaning “delight,” “pleasure,” in

the later Hebrew came to signify “business,” “thing,” “matter.” The proposition is

In human affairs Providence arranges the moment when everything shall

happen, the duration of its operation, and the time appropriate thereto. The

view of the writer takes in the whole circumstances of men’s life from its

commencement to its close.  Kobeleth is confirming his assertion, made in the

last chapter, that wisdom, wealth, success, happiness, etc., are not in man’s hands,

that his own efforts can secure none of them — they are distributed at the will

of God. He establishes this dictum by entering into details, and showing the

ordering of Providence and the supremacy of God in all men’s concerns,

the most trivial as well as the most important. The Vulgate gives a

paraphrase, and not a very exact one, Omnia tempus habeat, et suis spatiis

transenat universa sub caelo. Koheleth intimates, without attempting to

reconcile, the great crux of man’s free-will and God’s decree.


2 “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to

pluck up that which is planted;”  A time to be born, and a time to die.

Throughout the succeeding catalogue marked contrasts are exhibited in pairs,

beginning with the entrance and close of life, the rest of the list being occupied

with events and circumstances which intervene between those two extremities.

The words rendered, “a time to be born,” might more naturally mean “a

time to bear;καιρὸς τοῦ τεκεῖν - kairos tou tekein  - Septuagint; as the verb

is in the infinitive active, which, in this particular verb, is not elsewhere found

used in the passive sense, though other verbs are so used sometimes, as in

Jeremiah 25:34. In the first case the catalogue commences with the

beginning of life; in the second, with the season of full maturity:  I would

like to recommend a contemplative viewing of Thomas Cole’s paintings

called The Voyage of Life and can be found on your web browser.  Those

who at one time give life to others, at another have themselves to yield to

the law of death. The contrast points to the passive rendering.

There is no question of untimely birth or suicide; in the common order of

events birth and death have each their appointed season, which comes to

pass without man’s interference, being directed by a higher law. “It is

appointed unto men once to die, but after this THE JUDGMENT

(Hebrews 9:27). Koheleth’s teaching was perverted by sensualists, as we

read in Wisdom of Solomon 2:2-3, 5. A time to plant. After speaking of

human life it is natural to turn to vegetable life, which runs in parallel lines

with man’s existence. Thus Job, having intimated the shortness of life and

the certainty of death, proceeds to speak of the tree, contrasting its revivifying

powers with the hopelessness of man’s decay (Job 14:5, etc.). And to pluck

 up that which is planted.  This last operation may refer to the transplanting

of trees and shrubs, or to the gathering of the fruits of the earth in order to

make room for new agricultural works. But having regard to the opposition

in all the members of the series, we should rather consider the “plucking up

as equivalent to destroying, if we plant trees, a time comes when we cut them

down, and this is their final cause.


3 “A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time

to build up;”  A time to kill, and a time to heal. The time to kill might refer

to war, only that occurs in v. 8. Some endeavor to limit the notion to

severe surgical operations performed with a view of saving life; but the

verb harag does not admit of the meaning “rewound” or” cut.” It most

probably refers to the execution of criminals, or to the defense of the

oppressed; such emergencies and necessities occur providentially without

man’s prescience. So sickness is a visitation beyond man’s control, while it

calls into exercise the art of healing, which is a GIFT OF GOD!    A time

to break down, and a time to build up. Theremoval of decaying or unsuitable

buildings is meant, and the substitution of new and improved structures.

A recollection of Solomon’s own extensive architectural works is here



4 “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to

dance;”  The funeral and the wedding, the hired mourners and the guests at

the marriage-feast, are set against one another. The first clause intimates the

spontaneous manifestation of the feelings of the heart; the second, their

formal expression in the performances at funerals and weddings and on

other solemn occasions. The contrast is found in the Lord’s allusion to the

sulky children in the marketplace, who would not join their companions’

play: “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned

unto you, and ye have not lamented” (Matthew 11:17). Dancing sometimes

accompanied religious ceremonies, as when David brought up the ark

(II Samuel 6:14, 16).


5 “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a

time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;”  A time to cast

away stones, and a time to gather stones together. There is no question

about building or demolishing houses, as that has been already mentioned in

v. 3. Most commentators see an allusion to the practice of marring an enemy’s

fields by casting stones upon them, as the Israelites did when they invaded

Moab (II Kings 3:19, 25).  But this must have been a very abnormal proceeding,

and could scarcely be cited as a usual occurrence. Nor is the notion more happy

that there is an allusion to the custom of flinging stones or earth into the grave

at a burial — a Christian, but not an ancient Jewish practice; this, too, leaves the

contrasted “gathering” unexplained. Equally inappropriate is the opinion

that the punishment of stoning is meant, or some game played with

pebbles. It seems most simple to see herein intimated the operation of

clearing a vineyard of stones, as mentioned in Isaiah 5:2; and of

collecting materials for making fences, wine-press, tower, etc., and

repairing roads. A time to embrace. Those who explain the preceding

clause of the marring and clearing of fields connect the following one with

the other by conceiving that “the loving action of embracing stands beside

the hostile, purposely injurious, throwing of stones into a field.  It is plain that

there are times when one may give himself up to the delights of love and

friendship, and times when such distractions would be incongruous and

unseasonable, as on solemn, penitential occasions (Joel 2:16; Exodus 19:15;

I Corinthians 7:5); but the congruity of the two clauses of the couplet is not

obvious, unless the objectionable position of stones and their advantageous

employment are compared with the character of illicit (Proverbs 5:20) and

legitimate love.


6 “A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast

away;”  A time to get (seek), and a time to lose. The verb abad, in

piel, is used in the sense of “to destroy” (ch. 7:7), and it is

only in late Hebrew that it signifies, as here, “to lose.” The reference is

doubtless to property, and has no connection with the last clause of the

preceding verse. There is a proper and lawful pursuit of wealth, and there is

a wise and prudent submission to its inevitable loss. The loss here is

occasioned by events over which the owner has no control, differing from

that in the next clause, which is voluntary.  The wise man knows when to

exert his energy in improving his fortune, and when to hold his hand and take

failure without useless struggle. Loss, too, is sometimes gain, as when Christ’s

departure in the flesh was the prelude and the occasion of the sending of the

Comforter (John 16:7); and there are many things of which we know not the

real value till they are beyond our grasp. A time to keep, and a time to cast away.

Prudence will make fast what it has won, and will endeavor to preserve it

unimpaired. But there are occasions when it is wiser to deprive one’s self

of some things in order to secure more important ends, as when sailors

throw a cargo, etc., overboard in order to save their ship (compare Jonah

1:5; Acts 27:18-19, 38). And in higher matters, such as almsgiving,

this maxim holds good: “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth.... The

liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered also

himself” (Proverbs 11:24-25). Plumptre refers to Christ’s so-called

paradox,” Whosoever would (ὃς ὰν θέλῃ - hos an thelae – whosoever

will) save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake

shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). 


7 “A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a

time to speak;”  A time to rend, and a time to sew (καιρὸς τοῦ ῤῆξαι καὶ

καιρὸς τοῦ ῤάψαιkairos tou rhaexai  kai kairos tou rhapsai). This is usually

understood of the rending of garments in token of grief (Genesis 37:29, 34),

and the repairing of the rent then made when the season of mourning was ended.

There are times when it is natural to tear clothes to pieces, whether from grief, or

anger, or any other cause, e.g. as being old and worthless, or infected; and there

are times when it is equally natural to mend them, and to make them serviceable

by timely repairs. Connected with the notion of mourning contributed by this

clause, though by no means confined to that notion, it is added, A time to

keep silence, and a time to speak. The silence of deep sorrow may be

intimated, as when Job’s friends sat by him in sympathizing silence (Job

2:13), and the psalmist cried, “I was dumb with silence, I held my peace,

even from good; and my sorrow was stirred” (Psalm 39:2); and Elisha

could not bear to hear his master’s departure mentioned (II Kings 2:3, 5).

There are also occasions when the sorrow of the heart should find

utterance, as in David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan (II Samuel 1:17) and

over Abner (Ibid. ch. 3:33, etc.). But the gnome is of more

general application. The young should hold their peace in the presence of

their elders (Job 32:4, etc.); silence is often golden: “Even a fool, when

he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: when he shutteth his lips, he is

esteemed as prudent” (Proverbs 17:28). On the other hand, wise

counsel is of infinite value, and must not be withheld at the right moment,

and “a word in due season, how good is it!” (Proverbs 15:23; 25:11).


8 “A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of

peace.”  A time to love, and a time to hate. This reminds one of the

gloss to which our Lord refers (Matthew 5:43), “Ye have heard that it

hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy,” the

first member being found in the old Law (Leviticus 19:18), the second

being a misconception of the spirit which made Israel God’s executioner

upon the condemned nations. It was the maxim of Bias, quoted by

Aristotle, ‘Rhet.,’ 2:13, that we should love as if about some day to hate,

and hate as if about to love. And Philo imparts a still more selfish tone to

the gnome, when he pronounces (‘De Carit.,’ 21, p. 401, Mang.), “It was

well said by them of old, that we ought to deal out friendship without

absolutely renouncing enmity, and practice enmity as possibly to turn to

friendship. A time of war, and a time of peace. In the previous couplets

the infinitive mood of the verb has been used; in this last hemistich

substantives are introduced, as being more concise and better fitted to

emphasize the close of the catalogue. The first clause referred specially to

the private feelings which one is constrained to entertain towards

individuals. The second clause has to do with national concerns, and

touches on the statesmanship which discovers the necessity or the

opportuneness of war and peace, and acts accordingly. In this and in all the

other examples adduced, the lesson intended is this — that man is not

independent; that under all circumstances and relations he is in the hand of

a power mightier than himself, which frames time and seasons according to

its own good pleasure. God holds the threads of human life; in some

mysterious way directs and controls events; success and failure are

dependent upon His will. There are certain laws which, regulate the issues

of actions and events, and man cannot alter these; his free-will can put

them in motion, but they become irresistible when in operation. This is not

fatalism; it is the mere statement of a fact in experience. Koheleth never

denies man’s liberty, though he is very earnest in asserting God’s

sovereignty. The reconciliation of the two is a problem unsolved by him.




The Manifold Interests and Occupations of Life (vs. 1-8)


There is nothing so interesting to man as human life. The material creation

engages the attention and absorbs the inquiring activities of the student of

physical science; but unless it is regarded as the expression of the Divine

ideas, the vehicle of thought and purpose, its interest is limited and cold.

But what men are and think and do is a matter of concern to every

observant and reflecting mind. The ordinary observer contemplates human

life with curiosity; the politician, with interested motives; the historian,

hoping to find the key to the actions of nations and kings and statesmen;

the poet, with the aim of finding material and inspiration for his verse; and

the religious thinker, that he may trace the operation of God’s providence,

of Divine wisdom and love. He who looks below the surface will not fail to

find, in the events and incidents of human existence, the tokens of the

appointments and dispositions of an ALL-WISE RULER of the world. The

manifold interests of our life are not regulated by chance; for “to

everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the





DEATH are brought before us, as we are assured that “there is a time

 to be born, and a time to die.” (Not only is it a great sin to cause the

death of  a human being on purpose, it is A GREAT SIN, on purpose,

TO PREVENT HIS BIRTH  – CY – 2013).  The believer in God

cannot doubt that the DIVINE OMNISCIENCE observes, as the

DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE  virtually effects, the introduction into

this world, and the removal from it, of EVERY HUMAN BEING!

 Men are born, to show that God will use His own instruments for carrying

on the manifold work of the world; they die, to show that He is limited by

no human agencies. They are born just when they are wanted, and they die

just when it is well that their places should be taken by their successors.

“Man is immortal till his work is done.” (James Williams)



this passage is forcibly reminded of the substantial identity of man’s life in

the different ages of the world. Thousands of years have passed since these

words were penned, yet to how large an extent does this description apply

to human existence in our own day! Organic activities, industrial

avocations, social services, are common to every age of man’s history. If

men withdraw themselves from practical work, and from the duties of the

family and the state, without sufficient justification, they are violating the

ordinances of the Creator (Genesis 3:19).  He has given to every man a

place to fill, a work to do, a service of helpfulness to render to his fellow-




APPOINTMENT. These are natural to man. The mere feelings of pleasure

and pain, the mere impulses of desire and aversion, man shares with brutes.

But those emotions which are man’s glory and man’s shame are both

special to him, and have a great share in giving character to his moral life.

Some, like envy, are altogether bad; some, like hatred, are bad. or good

according as they are directed; some, like love, are always good. The

Preacher of Jerusalem refers to joy and sorrow, when he speaks of “a time

to laugh, and a time to weep;” to love and hate, for both of which he

declares there is occasion in our human existence. There has been no

change in these human experiences with the lapse of time; they are

permanent factors in our life. Used aright, they become means of moral

development, and aid in forming a noble and pious character.




accumulation and consequent prosperity, of loss and consequent adversity.

The mutability of human affairs, the disparities of the human lot, were as

remarkable and as perplexing in the days of the Hebrew sage as in our

own. And they were regarded by him, as by rational and religious observers

in our own time, as instances of the working of physical and social laws

imposed by the AUTHOR OF NATURE HIMSELF! In the exercise of

divinely entrusted powers, men gather together possessions and disperse them

abroad. The rich and the poor exist side by side; and the wealthy are every

day impoverished, whilst the indigent are raised to opulence. These are the

lights and shades upon the landscape of life, the shifting scenes in life’s

unfolding drama. Variety and change are evidently parts of the Divine

intention, and are never absent from the world of our humanity.



MARKS OF DIVINE WISDOM AND ORDER. It cannot be the case that

all the phases and processes of our human existence are to be apprehended

simply in themselves, as if they contained their own meaning, and had no

ulterior significance. Life is not a kaleidoscope, but a picture; not the

promiscuous sounds heard when the instrumentalists are “tuning up,” but

an oratorio; not a chronicle, but a history. There is a unity and an aim in

life; but this is not merely artistic, IT IS MORAL!  We do not work and

rest, enjoy and suffer, hope and fear, with no purpose to be achieved by the

experiences through which we pass. GOD,  who has appointed “a season, and

a time for every purpose under the heaven,” designs that we should, by toil

and endurance, by fellowship and solitude, by gain and loss, make progress

in the course of moral and spiritual discipline, SHOULD GROW IN THE





                                                Opportuneness (vs. 1-8)


Our author makes a fresh start. He drops the autobiographical style of the

first two chapters, and casts his thoughts into the form of aphorisms, based

not merely upon the reminiscences of his own life, but upon the experience

of all men. He gives a long list of the events, actions, emotions, and

feelings which go to make up human life, and asserts of them that they are

governed by fixed laws above our knowledge, out of our control. The time

of our entrance into the world, the condition of life in which we are placed,

are determined for us by a higher will than our own, and the same

sovereign power fixes the moment of our departure from life; and in like

manner all that is done, enjoyed, and suffered between birth and death is

governed by forces which we cannot bend or mold, or even fully

understand. That there is a fixed order in the events of life is, to a certain

extent, an instinctive belief which we all hold. The thought of an untimely

birth or of an untimely death shocks us as something contrary to our sense

of that which is fit and becoming, and those crimes by which either is

caused are generally regarded as specially repulsive. Yet there is an

appointed season for the other incidents of life, though less clearly manifest

to us. Our wisdom lies, not in mere acquiescence in the events of life, but

in KNOWING OUR DUTY FOR THE TIME.  (Like David who served his

generation well.  CY - Acts 13:36)  The circumstances in which we are

placed are so fluctuating, and the conditions in the midst of which we find

ourselves are so varying, that a large space is left for us to exercise our

discretion, to discern that which is opportune, and to do the right thing at

the right time. The first class of events alluded to, the time of birth and the

time of death, is that of those which are involuntary; they are events with

which there can be no interference without the guilt of gross and

exceptional wickedness. The actions and emotions that follow are

voluntary, they are within our power, though the circumstances that call

them forth at a precise time are not. The relations of life which are

determined for us by a higher power give us the opportunity for playing

our part, and we either succeed or fail according as we take advantage of

the time or neglect it. The catalogue given of the events, actions, and

emotions which make up life seems to be drawn up without any logical

order; the various items are apparently taken capriciously as examples of

those things that occupy men’s time and thoughts, and at first sight the

teaching of our author does not seem to be of a distinctively spiritual

character. To a superficial reader it might appear as if we had not in it

much more than the commonplace prudence to be found in the maxims and

proverbs current in every country:


Ø      “Take time by the forelock;”

Ø      “He that will not when he may, when he would he shall have nay;”

Ø      “Time and tide wait for no man,” etc.


But we are taught by Christ Himself that knowing how to act opportunely is a

large part of that wisdom which is needed for our salvation. He himself came

to earth in the “fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), when the Jewish people and

the nations of the world were prepared by Divine discipline for His teaching and

work (Acts 17:30, 31; Luke 2:30-31). The purpose of the mission of John the

Baptist, calculated as it was to lead men to godly sorrow for sin, was in

harmony with the austerity of his life and the sternness of his exhortations.

It was a time to mourn (Matthew 11:18). The purpose of Christ’s own

mission was to reconcile the world to God and to manifest the Father to

men, so that joy was becoming in His disciples (Mark 2:18-20). He

taught that there was a time to lose, when all possessions that would

alienate the heart from Him should be parted with (ibid. ch. 10:21, 23);

and that there would be a time of gain, when in heaven the accumulated

treasures would become an abiding possession (Matthew 6:19-20).

“That which the Preacher insists on is the thought that the circumstances

and events of life form part of a Divine order, are not things that come at

random, and that wisdom, and therefore such a measure of happiness as is

attainable, lies in adapting ourselves to the order, and accepting the

guidance of events in great things and small. while shame and confusion

come from resisting it.” But such teaching is applicable, as we have seen,

to the conduct of our spiritual as well as of our secular concerns. The fact

that there are great changes through which we must pass in order to be

duly prepared for the heavenly state, that we may have to forfeit the

temporal to secure the eternal, that the new life has new duties for the

discernment and fulfillment of which all our powers and faculties need to

be called into full exercise — should make us earnestly desire to be filled

with this wisdom that prompts to opportune action. “If any of you lack

wisdom,” says James, “let him ask of God, that giveth to all men

liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).


9 “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?”

If thus man, in all his actions and under all circumstances, depends upon time

and seasons which are beyond his control, we return to the same desponding

question already asked in ch.1:3. What profit hath he that worketh in that

wherein he laboreth? The preceding enumeration leads up to this question,

to which the answer is “None.” Since time and tide wait for no man, since

man cannot know for certain his opportunity, he cannot reckon on reaping

any advantage from his labor.





                                                Times and Seasons


                                    Heaven’s Order in Man’s Affairs

                                                       (vs. 1-9) 




Ø      Great in their number. The “times and seasons” are great in

      number of the occupations and interests, the occurrences and

experiences, that constitute the warp and woof of mortal

existence. Between the cradle and the grave, instances present

themselves in which more things happen than are here recorded,

and more designs are attempted  and fulfilled than are here

contemplated. There are also cases in which the sum total

of experience is included in the two entries, “born,” “died;”

but the generality of mortals live long enough to suffer and to do

many more things beneath the sun.


Ø      Manifold in their variety.  They are manifold in their variety. In one

      sense and at one time it may seem as if there were “no new thing under

the sun” (ch. 1:9), either in the history of the race or in the experience

of the individual; but at another time and in another sense

                        an almost infinite variety appears in both. The monotony of life,

                        of which complaint is often heard (Ibid. v.10), exists rather in the

mind or heart of the complainant than in the texture of life itself.

What more diversified than the events and purposes the

Preacher has catalogued? Entering through the gateway of birth

upon the mysterious arena of existence, the human being passes

through a succession of constantly shifting experiences, till he

makes his exit from the scene through the portals of the grave,

planting and plucking up, etc.


                                    “All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.”

( Shakespeare:  ‘As You Like It,’ act it. sc. 7.)


Ø      Antithetic in their relations. Human life, like man himself, may

      almost be characterized as a mass of contradictions. The incidents and

interests, purposes and plans, events and enterprises, that compose it,

are not only manifold and various, but also, it would seem, diametric

in their opposition. Being born is in due course succeeded by dying;

planting by plucking up; and killing — it may be in war, or by

administration of justice, or through some perfectly defensible cause —

if not by actual raising from death, which lies confessedly beyond

the power of man (1 Samuel 2:6; II Kings 5:7), at least by healing

every malady short of death. Breaking down, whether of material

structures (II Chronicles 23:17) or of intellectual systems, whether

of national (Jeremiah 1:10) or religious (Galatians 2:18) institutions,

is after an interval followed by the building up of those very things

which were destroyed. Weeping endureth only for a night, while joy

cometh in the morning (Psalm 30:5).  Dancing, on the other hand,

gives place to mourning. In short, whatever experience man at any

time has, before he terminates his pilgrimage he may

almost confidently count on having the opposite; and whatever action he

may at any season perform, another season will almost certainly arrive

when he will do the reverse. Of every one of the contradictions cited by

the Preacher, man’s experience on the earth furnishes examples.


Ø      Fixed in their times. Though appearing to come about without any order

or arrangement, the events and ‘purposes of mundane existence are by no

means left to the guidance, or rather no-guidance, of chance; but rather

have their places in the vast world-plan determined, and the times of their

appearing fixed. As the hour of each man’s entrance into life is decreed;

so is that of, his departure from the same (Hebrews 9:27; II Timothy 4:6).

The date at which he shall step forth upon the active business of life,

represented in the Preacher’s catalogue by “planting and plucking up,”

“breaking down and building up,” “casting away stones and gathering

stones together,” “getting and losing;” the period at which he shall marry

(v. 4), with the times at which weddings and funerals (v. 4) shall occur

in his family circle; the moment when he shall be called upon to stand up

valiantly for truth and right amongst his contemporaries (Proverbs

15:23), or to preserve a discreet and prudent silence when talk would be

folly (Proverbs 10:8), or even hurtful to the cause he serves; the times

when he shall either suffer his affections to flow forth in an uninterrupted

stream towards the good, or withhold them from unworthy objects; or, if

be a statesman, the occasions what, he shall go to war and return from it,

are all predetermined by infinite wisdom.


Ø      Determined in their durations. How long each individual life shall

continue (Psalm 31:15; Acts 17:26), how long each experience shall

last, and how long each action shall take to perform, is equally a fixed

and ascertained quantity, if not to man’s knowledge, certainly to that of

the supreme Disposer of events.




Ø      Appointed by and known only to God. As in the material and natural

world the Creator hath appointed times and seasons, as, e.g.,


o       to the. heavenly bodies for their rising and setting (Psalm 104:19),

o       to plants for their growing and decaying (Genesis 8:22; Numbers

13:20; Judges 15:1; Jeremiah 50:16; Mark 11:13), and

o       to animals for their instinctive actions (Job 39:1-2; Jeremiah 8:7),


so in the human and spiritual world has He ordained the same (Acts 17:26;

Ephesians 1:10; Titus 1:3); and these times and seasons, both in the

natural and in the spiritual world, hath God reserved to Himself (Acts



Ø      Unavoidable and unalterable by man. As no man can predict the day of

his death (Genesis 27:2; Matthew 25:13), any more than know

beforehand that of his birth, so neither can he fathom beforehand the

incidents that shall happen, or the times when they shall fall out during

the course of his life (Proverbs 27:1). Nor by any precontriving can he

change by so much as a hair’s breadth the place into which each incident

is fitted, or the moment when it shall happen.


·         LEARN:


1. The changefulness of human life, and the duty of preparing wisely to

    meet it.

2. The Divine order that pervades human life, and the propriety of

    accepting it with meekness.

3. The difficulty (from a human point of view) of living well, since no man

    can be quite certain that for anything he does he has found the right season.

4. The wisdom of seeking for one’s self the guidance of Him in whose

    hands are times and seasons (Acts 1:7).


In vs. 10-15, the writer relates that there is a plan and system in all the

circumstances of man’s life; he feels this instinctively, but he cannot

comprehend it. His duty is to make the best of the present, and to recognize

the immutability of the law that governs all things.


10 “I have seen the travail which God hath given to the sons of

men to be exercised in it.”   i.e. to busy themselves therewith

(ch.1:13). This travail, exercise, or business is the work that

has to be done under the conditions prescribed of time and season in face

of the difficulty of man’s free action and God’s ordering. We take infinite

pains, we entertain ample desires, and strive restlessly to carry them out,

but our efforts are controlled by a higher law, and results occur in the way

and at the time arranged by Providence. Human labor, though it is

appointed by God and is part of man’s heritage imposed upon him by the

Fall Genesis 3:17), cannot bring contentment or satisfy the spirit’s cravings.





                        Opportunity; Opportuneness; Ordination (vs. 1-10)


This view of life embraces:



comes in its turn; if we weep today, we shall laugh tomorrow; if we have

to be silent for the present, we shall have the opportunity of speech further

on; if we must strive now, the time of peace will return. Human life is

neither unshadowed brightness nor unbroken gloom. “Shadow and shine is

life… flower and thorn.” Let no man be seriously discouraged, much less

hopelessly disheartened: what he is now suffering from will not always

remain; it will pass and give place to that which is better. Let us only

patiently wait our time, and our turn will come. “Weeping may endure for a

night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5) at any rate, and at the

furthest, in the morning of eternity. Only let us wait in patience and in prayerful

hope, doing all that we can do in the paths of duty and of service, and the hour

of opportunity will arrive... with succeeding turns God tempers all, That man

may hope to rise, yet fear to fall.”


·         OPPORTUNENESS. The words of the text may suggest to us, though

the thought may not have been in the writer’s mind, that some things are

good or otherwise according to their timeliness. There is a time to speak in

the way of rebuking, or of jesting, or of contending, and, when well-timed,

such words may be right and wise in a very high degree; but, if ill-timed,

they would be wrong and foolish, and much to be condemned. The same

thought is applicable;


Ø      to the demonstration of friendliness, or of any strong emotion (vs. 5, 7);

Ø      to the exercise of severity or of leniency (v. 3);

Ø      to the manifestation of sorrow or of joy (v. 4);

Ø      to the action of economy or of generosity (v. 6).


Hard-and-fast rules will not cover the infinite particulars of human life.

Whether we shall act or be passive, whether we shall speak or be silent,

what shall be our demeanor and what the tone we shall take, — this must

depend upon particular circumstances and a number of new combinations;

and every man must judge for himself, and must remember that there

is great virtue in opportuneness.


·         ORDINATION. There is a season, an “appointed time for every

undertaking” (Cox). “What profit hath he that worketh,” when all this

“travail” with which “the sons of men” are exercised results in such fixed

and inevitable changes? That is the spirit of the moralist here. We reply:


Ø      That it is indeed true that much is already appointed for us. We have no

power, or but little, over the seasons and the elements of nature, and not

very much (individually) over the institutions and customs of the land in

which we live; we are compelled to conform our behavior to forces

which are superior to our own.


Ø      But there is a very large remainder of freedom. Within the lines that are

laid down by the ordination of Heaven or the “powers that be” on the

earth, there is ample scope for free, wise, life-giving choice of action.

We are free to choose our own conduct, to form our own character, to

determine the complexion and aspect of our life in the sight of God, to

decide upon our destiny.


11 “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also He hath set the

world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God

maketh from the beginning to the end.” He hath made every thing

beautiful in his (its) time.  “Everything:” (eth hacol) does not refer so

much to the original creation which God made very good (Genesis 1:31), as

to the travail and business mentioned in v. 10. All parts of this have, in God’s

design, a beauty and a harmony, their own season for appearance and

development, their work to do in carrying on the majestic march of Providence.

Also He hath set the world in their heart. The world;eth-haolam, placed

(as haeol above) before the verb, with eth, to emphasize the relation. There is

some uncertainty in the translation of this word. The Septuagint has

Σύμ τὰ παντα τὸν αἰῶνα – Sun ta panta  ton aiona  Vulgate, Mundum

tradidit disputationi eorum. The original meaning is “the hidden,” and it is

used generally in the Old Testament of the remote past, and sometimes of the

future, so that the idea conveyed is of unknown duration, whether the glance

looks backward or forward, which is equivalent to our word “eternity.” It

is only in later Hebrew that the word obtained the signification of “age”

(αἰώνaion - age), or “world” in its relation to time. Commentators who have

adopted the latter sense here explain the expression as if it meant that man

in himself is a microcosm, a little world, or that the love of the world, the

love of life, is naturally implanted in him. But taking the term in the

signification found throughout the Bible, we are justified in translating it

“eternity.” The pronoun in “their heart” refers to “the sons of men” in the

previous verse. God has put into men’s minds a notion of infinity

INFINITY OF DURATION,  the beginning and the end of things are

 alike beyond his grasp; the time to be born and the time to die are equally

unknown and uncontrollable. Koheleth is not thinking of that hope of immortality

which his words unfold to us with our better knowledge; he is speculating on the

innate faculty of looking backward and forward which man possesses, but

which is insufficient to solve the problems which present themselves every

day. This conception of eternity may be the foundation of great hopes and

expectations, but as an explanation of the ways of Providence it fails. So

that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the

beginning to the end; or, without man being able to penetrate; yet so that

he cannot, etc. Man sees only minute parts of the great whole; he cannot

comprehend all at one view, cannot understand the law that regulates the

time and season of every circumstance in the history of man and the world.

He feels that, as there has been an infinite past, there will be an infinite

future, which may solve anomalies and demonstrate the harmonious unity

of God’s design, and he must be content to wait and hope. Comparison of

the past with the present may help to adumbrate the future, but is

inadequate to unravel the complicated thread of the world’s history (compare

ch. 8:16-17, and 9:1, where a similar thought is expressed).





                                    Desiderium Aeternitatis (vs. 9-11)


The thought of there being a fixed order in the events of life, of laws

governing the world which man cannot fully understand or control, brings

with it no comfort to the mind of this Jewish philosopher. It rather, in his

view, increases the difficulty of playing one’s part successfully. Who can be

sure that he has hit upon the right course to follow, the opportune time at

which to act? Do not “the fixed phenomena” and “iron laws of life” render

human effort fruitless and disappointing? Another conclusion is drawn

from the same facts by a higher Teacher. We cannot by taking thought alter

the conditions of our lives, and should, therefore, Christ has taught us,

place our trust in our heavenly Father, who governs all things, and whose

love for the creatures He has made is seen in His feeding the birds and

clothing with beauty the flowers of the field (Matthew 6:25-34). The

anxiety which the thought of human weakness in the presence of the

immutable laws of nature excites is charmed away by the consolatory

teaching of Jesus. But no solution is given of the difficulties that

occasioned it. These will always exist as they spring from the limitations of

our nature. We are finite creatures, and GOD IS INFINITE!   We endure but for


apprehension of these facts, of infinitude and eternity, prevents our being

satisfied with that which is finite and temporal. “God has set eternity” (see

Revised Version margin) “in our hearts.” Though we are limited by time, we

are related to eternity. “That which is transient yields us no support; it carries

us on like a rushing stream, and constrains us to save ourselves by laying hold on

eternity” (Delitzsch). We cannot rest satisfied with fragmentary

knowledge, but strive to pass on from it to the great worlds of truth yet

undiscovered and unknown; we would see the whole of God’s work from

beginning to end (v. 1), and find ourselves precluded from accomplishing

our desire. From Solomon’s point of view, in which the possibility or

certainty of a future life is not taken into account, this desiderium

aeternitatis is only another of the illusions by which the soul of man is

vexed. But we should contradict our better knowledge, and ungratefully

neglect the Divine aids to faith which have been given us in the fuller

revelation of the New Testament, if we were to cherish the same opinion.

Dissatisfaction with the finite and the temporal is not a morbid feeling in

those who believe that they have an immortal nature, and that they are yet

to come into “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth

not away” (1 Peter 1:4).





                                    This Unintelligible world (v. 11)


How shall we solve all those great problems which continually confront us,

which baffle and bewilder us, which sometimes drive us to the very verge

of distraction or even of unbelief? The solution is partly found in:



long and far, we shall see that, though many things have an ugly aspect at

first sight, God “has made everything beautiful in its time.” The light and

warmth of summer are good to see and feel; but is not the cold of winter

invigorating? and what is more beautiful to the sight than the untrodden

snow? The returning life of spring is welcome to all hearts; but are not the

brilliant hues of autumn fascinating to every eye? Youth is full of ardor,

and manhood of strength; but declining years possess much richness of

gathered wisdom, and there is a dignity, a calm, a reverence, m age which

is all its own. There is a joy in battle as well as a pleasantness in peace.

Wealth has its treasures; but poverty has little to lose, and therefore little

cause for anxiety and trouble. Luxury brings many comforts, but hardness

gives health and strength. Each climate upon the earth, every condition in

life, the various dispositions and temperaments of the human soul, — these

have their own particular advantage and compensation. Look on the other

side, and you will see something that will please, if it does not satisfy.



FUTURITY. “Also he hath set eternity” (marginal reading, Revised

Version) “in their heart.” We are made to look far beyond the boundary of

the visible and the present. The idea of “the eternal” may help us in two



Ø      That we are created for the unseen and the eternal accounts for the fact

that nothing which is earthly and sensible will satisfy our souls. Nothing

of that order ought to do so; and it would put the seal upon our

degradation if it did so. Our unsatisfiable spirit is the signature of our

manhood and the prophecy of our immortality.


Ø      The inclusion of the future in our reasoning makes all the difference to

our thought. Admit only the passing time, this brief and uncertain life,

and much that happens is inexplicable and distressing indeed; but

include the future, add “eternity “to the account, and the “crooked

is made straight,” the perplexity is gone. But, even with this aid,

there is;



man can find out,” etc. We do well to remember that what we see is only a

very small part indeed of the whole — only a page of the great volume,

only a scene in the great drama, only a field of the large landscape — and

we may well be silenced, if not convinced. But even that does not cover

everything. We need to remember that we are human, and not Divine; that

we, who are God’s very little children, cannot hope to understand all that is

in the mind of our heavenly Father — cannot expect to fathom His holy

purpose, to read His unfathomable thoughts. We see enough of Divine

wisdom, holiness, and love to believe that, when our understanding is

enlarged and our vision cleared, we shall find that “all the paths of the Lord

were mercy and truth” — even those which most troubled and bewildered

us when we dwelt upon the earth.


12 “I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and

to do good in his life.” I know that there is no good in them, but for a man

 to rejoice; rather, I knew, perceived, that there was no good for them; i.e. for

men. From the facts adduced, Koheleth learned this practical result — that

man had nothing in his own power (see on ch.2:24) which would conduce to his

happiness, but to make the best of life such as he finds it. Vulgate, Cognovi

quod non esset melius nisi laetari. To do good in his life; Τοῦ ποιεῖν ἀγαθόν -

tou poiein agathonto do good; (Septuagint); Facere bene (Vulgate).

This has been taken by many in the sense of “doing one’s self good,

prospering, enjoying one’s self.” like the Greek εϋ πράττεινeu prattein and

therefore nearly equivalent to “rejoice” in the former part of the verse. But

the expression is best taken here, as when it occurs elsewhere (e.g. 7:20), in a

moral sense, and it thus teaches the great truth that VIRTUE IS

ESSENTIAL TO HAPPINESS,   that to “trust in the Lord… to depart

from evil, and to do good” (Psalm 37:3, 27), will bring peace and

content (see in the epilogue, ch.12:13-14). There is no Epicureanism in this

verse; the enjoyment spoken of is not licentiousness, but a happy appreciation

of the innocent pleasures which THE LOVE OF GOD OFFERS  to those

who live in accordance with the laws of their higher nature.


13 “And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good

of all his labor, it is the gift of God.”  This enforces and intensifies the statement

in the preceding verse; not only the power to “do good,” but even to enjoy what

comes in his way (see on 2:24), man must receive FROM GOD!   When

we pray for our daily bread, we also ask for ability to take, assimilate, and

profit by the supports and comforts afforded to us. “It” is better omitted,

as “is the gift of God” forms the predicate of the sentence.




The Mystery and the Meaning of Life (vs. 9-13)


The author of Ecclesiastes was too wise to take what we call a one-sided

view of human life. No doubt there are times and moods in which this

human existence seems to us to be all made up of either toil or endurance,

delight or disappointment. But in the hour of sober reflection we are

constrained to admit that the pattern of the web of life is composed of

many and diverse colors. Our faculties and capacities are many, our

experiences are varied, for the appeals made to us by our environment

change from day to day, from hour to hour. “One man in his time plays

many parts.”


  • IN LIFE THERE IS MYSTERY TO SOLVE. The works and the ways

of God are too great for our feeble, finite nature to comprehend. We may

learn much, and yet may leave much unlearned and probably unlearnable, at

all events in the conditions of this present state of being.


Ø      There are speculative difficulties regarding the order and constitution

of things, which the thoughtful man cannot avoid inquiring into, which

yet often baffle and sometimes distress him. “Man cannot find out

 the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.”


Ø      There are practical difficulties which every man has to encounter in the

conduct of life, fraught as it is with disappointment and sorrow. “What

profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboreth?”


  • IN LIFE THERE IS BEAUTY TO ADMIRE. The mind that is not

absorbed in providing for material wants can scarcely fail to be open to the

adaptations and the manifold charms of nature. The language of creation is

as harmonious music, which is soothing or inspiring to the ear of the soul.

What a revelation is here of the very nature and benevolent purposes of the

Almighty Maker! “He hath made everything beautiful in its time.” And

beauty needs the aesthetic faculty in order to its appreciation and

enjoyment. The development of this faculty in advanced states of

civilization is familiar to every student of human nature. Standards of

beauty vary; but the true standard is that which is offered by the works of

God, who “hath made everything beautiful in its time.” There is a beauty

special to every season of the year, to every hour of the day, to every state

of the atmosphere; there is a beauty in every several kind of landscape, a

beauty of the sea, a beauty of the heavens; there is a beauty of childhood,

another beauty of youth, of healthful manhood and radiant womanhood,

and even a certain beauty peculiar to age. (I still recommend a viewing of

Thomas Cole’s paintings on The Voyage of Life which can be found by

browsing the internet – CY – 2013)  The pious observer of the works

of God, who rids himself of conventional and traditional prejudices, will

not fail to recognize the justice of this remarkable assertion of the Hebrew



  • IN LIFE THERE IS WORK TO DO. Labor and travail are very

frequently mentioned in this book, whose author was evidently deeply

impressed by the corresponding facts — first, that God is the Almighty

Worker in the universe; and, secondly, that man is made by the Creator like

unto Himself, in that he is called upon by his nature and his circumstances

to effort and to toil. Forms of labor vary, and the progress of applied

science in our own time seems to relieve the toiler of some of the severer,

more exhausting kinds of bodily effort. But it must ever remain true that

the human frame was not intended for indolence; that work is a condition

of welfare, a means of moral discipline and development. It is a factor that

cannot be left out of human life; the Christian is bound, LIKE HIS

MASTER,  to finish the work which the Father has given him to do.

(John 4:34; 5:36)



asceticism in the teaching of this Book of Ecclesiastes. The writer was one

who had no doubt that man was constituted to enjoy. He speaks of eating

and drinking as not merely necessary in order to maintain life, but as

affording gratification. He dwells appreciatingly upon the happiness of

married life. He even commends mirth and festivity. In all these he shows

himself superior to the pettiness which carps at the pleasures connected

with this earthly existence, and which tries to pass for sanctity. Of course,

there are lawful and unlawful gratifications; there is a measure of

indulgence which ought not to be exceeded. But if Divine intention is

traceable in the constitution and condition of man, he was made to partake






RESPONSIBILITY.  (“Every good and every  perfect gift is from above

and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no

variableness, neither shadow of turning”  - James 1:17).  In receiving and

enjoying every gift, the devout mind will exclaim, “It is the gift of God.” In

taking advantage of every opportunity, the Christian will bear in mind that

wisdom and goodness arrange human life so that it shall afford repeated occasion

for fidelity and diligence. In his daily work he will make it his aim to “serve

THE LORD CHRIST” that as Christians we may adorn the doctrine of

 God our Savior.


·         APPLICATION.


            1. There is much in the provisions and conditions of our earthly life which

                baffles our endeavors to understand it; and when perplexed by mystery,

                we-are summoned to submit with all humility and patience to the

                limitations of our intellect, and to rest assured that God’s wisdom will, in

                the end, be made apparent to all.


            2. There is a practical life to be lived, even when speculative difficulties are

                insurmountable; and it is in the conscientious fulfillment of daily duty, and

                the moderate use of ordinary enjoyments, that as Christians we may adorn

                the doctrine of God our Savior.



                        Another Condition of Pure Happiness (vs. 12-13)


In vs. 12-13,  we have a repetition of the conclusion already announced in ch.2:24

as to the method by which some measure of happiness can be secured by man,

but there is a very important addition made to the former declaration. Our author is

referring to temporal things, and tells the secret by which the happiness they may

procure for us is to be won. It consists of two particulars:


  • a cheerful enjoyment of the gifts of God, and
  • a benevolent use of them.


This latter is the addition to which I have referred. It is a distinct advance

upon the previous utterance, as it introduces the idea of an unselfish use of

the gifts which God has bestowed upon us — an employment of them for

the benefit of others less fortunately circumstanced than ourselves.  Over

and above the life of honest labor and simple joys which had been

recognized as good before, the seeker has learnt that ‘doing good’ is in

some sense the best way of getting good. It may be that beneficence is only

a part of what is meant by “doing good,” but in the connection in which the

phrase is here employed it must be a large part, because it evidently suggests

something more as desirable than a selfish enjoyment of the good things

of life. This twofold duty of accepting with gratitude the gifts of God and of

applying them to good uses was prescribed by the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy

26:1-14); and, to a truly pious mind, the one part of the duty will suggest the other.

The thought that God in His bounty has enriched us, who are unworthy of the

least of all His mercies, will lead us to be compassionate to those who are in

want, and we shall find in relieving their necessities the purest and most

exquisite of all joys. We shall in this way discover for ourselves the truth of

that saying of our Lord’s, “It is mere blessed to give than to receive”

(Acts 20:35). While those who selfishly keep all they have for themselves find

that, however their goods increase, their satisfaction in them cannot be increased —

nay, rather that it rapidly diminishes. Hence it is that the apostle counsels the

 rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be ready to distribute,

 willing to communicate “ (I Timothy 6:17-19). The general teaching of the

Scriptures, therefore, is in harmony with the results of our own experience, and

leads to the same conclusion, that “doing good” is a condition of PURE



14 “I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing

can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that

men should fear before Him.”  I know that, whatsoever God doeth,

it shall be forever. A second thing (see v. 12) that Koheleth knew, learned

from the truths adduced in vs. 1-9, is that behind man’s free action and volition

stands the will of God, which orders events with a view to eternity, and that man

can alter nothing of this providential arrangement (compare Isaiah 46:10;

Psalm 33:11). Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it.

We cannot hasten or retard God’s designs; we cannot add to or curtail His

plans. Septuagint, “It is impossible to add (οὐκ ἔστι προσθεῖναι - ouk esti

 prostheinainothing can be added) to it, and it is impossible to take away

from it.” Thus Ecclesiasticus. 18:6, “As for the wondrous works of the Lord,

it is impossible to lessen or to add to them (οὐκ ἔστιν ἐλαττῶσαι οὐδὲ προσθεῖναι

 ouk estin elattosai oude prostheinai), neither can the ground of

them be found out.” (Compare “O the depth of the riches both of the

wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments,

and His ways past finding out!”  - Romans 11:33).  God doeth it, that

men should fear before Him. There is a moral purpose in this disposal of events.

Men feel this UNIFORMITY  and UNCHANGABLENESS in the working

of Providence, and thence learn to cherish a reverential awe for the righteous

government of which they are the subjects. It was this feeling which led ancient

etymologists to derive Θεός TheosGod - and Deus from δέος,deos

“fear” (compare Revelation 15:3-4). This is also a ground of hope and confidence.

Amid the jarring and fluctuating circumstances of men God holds the threads, and

alters not His purpose. “I the Lord change not; therefore ye, O sons of Jacob,

are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).




                                                All Things Beautiful


                                            God, Man, and the World

                                                        (vs. 11-14)



            Expressed by four words.


Ø      Dependence: no such thing as independence, self-subsistence, self-

origination, self-regulation, in mundane affairs. The universe, out to its

circumference and in to its center, from its mightiest structure down

to its smallest detail, is the handiwork of God. Whatever philosophers

may say or think upon the subject, it is simple absurdity to teach that the

universe made itself, or that the incidents composing the sum of human

life and experience have come to pass of themselves. It will be time

enough to believe things are their own makers when effects can

be discovered that have no causes. Persons of advanced (?) intelligence

and culture may regard the Scriptures as behind the age in respect of

philosophic insight and scientific attainment; it is to their credit that

their writers never talk such unphilosophic and unscientific nonsense

as that mundane things are their own creators. Their common sense —

if not permissible to say their inspiration — appears to have been strong

and clear enough to save them from being befooled by such vagaries as

have led astray many modem savants, and to have taught them that the

First Cause of all things is God (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah

9:6; Job 38:4; Psalm 19:1; Isaiah 40:28; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Romans

11:36; Ephesians 3:9; Hebrews 3:4;  Revelation 4:11).


Ø      Variety no monotony in mundane affairs. Obvious as regards both the

universe as a whole and its individual parts. The supreme Artificer of the

former had no idea of fashioning all things after one model, however

excellent, but sought to introduce variety into the works of His hands;

and just this is the principle upon which He has proceeded in arranging

the program of man’s experiences upon the earth. To this diversity in

man’s experience the twenty-eight instances of events and purposes

given by the Preacher (vs. 2-8) allude; and this same diversity is a mark

at once of wisdom and of kindness on the part of the Supreme. As the

material globe would be monotonous were it all mountain and no valley,

so would human life be uninteresting were it an unchanging round of the

same few incidents. But it is not. If there are funerals and deaths, there

are as well marriages and births; if nights of weeping, days of

laughing; if times of war, periods of peace.


Ø      Order: no chance or accident in mundane affairs. To short-sighted and

feeble man, human life is full of accidents or chances; but not so when

viewed from the standpoint of God, Not only does no event happen

without His permission (Matthew 10:29; Luke 12:6), but each event

occurs at the time and falls into the place appointed for it by infinite

wisdom. Nor is this true merely of such events as are wholly and

exclusively in His power, like births and deaths (v. 2), but of such

also as to some extent at least are within man’s control, as e.g.:


o       planting of a field and the plucking up of that which is planted (v. 2),

o       killing and healing, breaking down and building up (v. 3),

o       weeping and laughing (v. 4), etc.


Men may flatter themselves that of these latter actions they

are the sole originators, have both the choosing of their times and the

fixing of their forms; but according to the Preacher, God’s supremacy

is as little to be disputed in them as in the matter of man’s coming into

or going out from the world. We express this thought by citing the

well-known proverb, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” or the

familiar words of Shakespeare —


“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will.”

                        (‘Hamlet,’ act 5. so. 2.)


Ø      Beauty: no defect or deformity in mundane affairs. This cannot signify

that in such events and actions as “killing,” “hating,” “warring,” there is

never anything wrong; that God regards them only as good in the making,

and generally that sin is a necessary stage in the development of human

nature. The Preacher is not pronouncing judgment upon the moral

qualities of the actions he enumerates, but merely calling attention to

their fitness for the times and seasons to which they have been assigned

by God. Going back in thought to the “Very good!” of the Creator when

He rested from His labors at the close of the sixth day (Genesis 1:31),

the Preacher cannot think of saying less of the work God is still carrying

on in evolving the plan and program of His purpose. “God hath made

everything beautiful in its time” (compare v. 11): beautiful in itself,

so far as it is a work of His; but beautiful not less in its time, even when

the work, as not being entirely His, is not beautiful in itself, or in its

inward essence. Cf. Shakespeare’s:


“How many things by season seasoned are

To their right praise and true perfection!”

            (‘Merchant of Venice,’ act 5. sc. 1.)


Beautiful in themselves and their times are the seasons of the year, the

ages of man, and the changing experiences through which he passes;

beautiful, at least in their times, are numerous human actions which

God cannot be regarded as approving, but which nevertheless He

permits to occur because He sees the hour has struck for their

occurring. As it were, the glowing wheels of Divine providence

never fail to keep time with the great clock of eternity.



expressed in four words.


Ø      Weariness: no perfect rest in the midst of mundane affairs. Not only is

man tossed about continually by the multitudinous vicissitudes of which

he is the subject, but he derives almost no satisfaction from the thought

that in all these changes there is a beautiful because divinely appointed

harmony, and a beneficent because Heaven-ordained purpose. The order

pervading the universe is something outside of and beyond him. The

fixing of the right times is a work in which he cannot, even in a small

degree, cooperate. As a wise man, he may wish to have every action in

which he bears a part performed at the set time marked out for it on the

clock of eternity; but the very attempt to find out for each action the

right time only aggravates the fatigue of his labor, and increases the

sense of weariness under which he groans. “What profit hath he that

worketh in that wherein he laboreth?” Not, certainly, “no profit,”

but not enough to give him rest or even free him from weariness. And

this, when viewed from a moral and religious standpoint, is beautiful

inasmuch as it prevents (or ought to prevent) man from seeking

happiness in mundane affairs.


Ø       Ignorance: no perfect knowledge of mundane affairs. “No man can

find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.”

One more proof of the vanity of human life — that no man, however

wise and farseeing, patient and laborious, can discover the plan of God

either in the universe as a whole or in his own life; and what renders

this a special sorrow is the fact that God hath set “the world [or.,

 eternity’] in his heart.” If the “world” be accepted as the true rendering

(Jerome, Luther, Ewald), then probably the meaning is that, though each

individual carries about within his bosom in his own personality an

image of the world — is, in fact, a microcosmus in which the

macrocosmus or great world is mirrored — nevertheless the problem

of the universe eludes his grasp. If, however, the translation “eternity

be adopted (Delitzsch, Wright, Plumptre), then the import of the clause

will be that God hath planted in the heart of mana longing after

immortality,” given him an idea of the infinite and eternal which lies

beyond the veil of outward things, and inspired him with a desire to

know that which is above and beyond him, yet he cannot find out the

secret of the universe in the sense of discovering its plan. With an

infinite behind and before him, he can grasp neither the beginning

of the work of God in its purpose or plan, nor the end of it in its

issues and results, whether to the individual or to the whole. What

his eye looks upon is the middle portion passing before him here and

now — in comparison with the whole but an infinitesimal speck

and so he remains with reference to the whole like a person walking

in the dark.


Ø      Submission: no ground for complaining as to mundane affairs. Rather

in the view presented is much to comfort man had the ordering of the

universe, or even of his own lot, been left to man, man himself would

have been the first to regret it. As Laplace is credited with having said

that, if only the Almighty had called him into counsel at the making

of the universe, he could have given the Almighty some valuable hints,

so are there equally foolish persons who believe they could have drafted

for themselves a better life-program than has been done for them by the

supreme Disposer of events. A wise man, however, will always feel

grateful that the Almighty has retained the ordering of events in

His own hand, and will meekly submit to the same, believing that


ARE EVER “mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and

His testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).


Ø      Fear: no justification for impiety or irreverence in mundane affairs.

A proper study of the constitution and course of nature, a due recognition

of the order pervading all its parts, with a just consideration both of the

perfection and permanence (v. 14) of the Divine working, ought to

inspire men with “fear “ — of such sort as both to repress within them

                        irreligion and impiety, and to excite within them humility and awe.




                                    The Purposes of Providence (v. 14)


Different minds, observing and considering the same facts, are often very

differently affected by them. The measure of previous experience and

culture, the natural disposition, the tone and temper with which men

address themselves to what is before them, — all affect the conclusion at

which they arrive. The conviction produced in the mind of the Preacher of

Jerusalem is certainly deserving of attention; he saw the hand of God in

nature and in life, where some see only chance or fate. To see God’s hand,

to admire His wisdom, to appreciate His love, in our human life, — this is

an evidence of sincere and intelligent piety.


·         GOD’S WORK IS PERFECT AND UNALTERABLE. “Nothing can be

put to it, nor anything taken from it.” This cannot be said to be the general

conviction; on the contrary, men are always finding fault with the

constitution of things. If they had been consulted in the creation of the

universe, and in the management of human affairs, all would have been far

better than it is! Now, all depends upon the end in view. The scientific man

would make an optical instrument which should serve as both microscope

and telescope — a far more marvelous construction than the eye. The

pleasure-seeker would eliminate pain and sorrow from human life, and

would make it one prolonged rapture of enjoyment. But the Creator had no

intention of making an instrument which should supersede human

inventions; his aim was the production of a working, everyday, useful

organ of vision. The Lord of all never aimed at making life one long series

of gratification; He designed life to be a moral discipline, in which suffering,

weakness, and distress fulfill their own service of ministering to MAN’S

HIGHEST WELFARE! For the purposes intended, God’s work needs no

apology and admits of no improvement.


·         GOD’S WORK IS ETERNAL. All men’s works are both unstable and

transitory. Fresh ends are ever being approved and sought by fresh means.

The laws of nature know no change; the principles of moral government

are the same from age to age. When we learn to distrust our own

fickleness, and to weary of human uncertainty and mutability, then we fall

back upon the unchanging counsels of HIM WHO IS from EVERLASTING




What God has done in this world He has done for the benefit of His spiritual

family. Everything that is may be regarded as the vehicle of communication

between the creating and the created mind. The intention of God is “that

men should fear before Him,”‘ i.e. venerate and glorify him. Our human

probation and education as moral and accountable beings is his aim. Hence

the obligation on our part to observe, inquire, and consider, to reverence,

serve, and obey, and thus consciously and voluntarily secure the ends for

which the Creator designed and fashioned us.


15 “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already

been; and God requireth that which is past.” That which hath been is now;

so Septuagint; “That which hath been made, the same remaineth” (Vulgate); better,

that which hath been, long ago it is; i.e. was in existence long before. The thought

is much the same as in ch.1:9, only here it is adduced not to prove the vanity and

endless sameness of circumstances, but the orderly and appointed succession of

events under the controlling providence of God.  That which is to be hath

 already been. The future will be a reproduction of the past. The laws which

regulate things change not; the moral government is exercised by HIM WHO

“ISM AND WAS, AND IS TO COME” (Revelation 1:8), and therefore in

effect history repeats itself; the same causes produce the same phenomena.

God requireth that which is past; literally, God seeketh after that which

hath been chased away; Septuagint, “God will seek him who is pursued

(τὸν διωκόμενον - ton diokomenonwho is pursued);” Vulgate, “God

reneweth that which is passed (instaurat quod abiit).” The meaning is —

God brings back to view, recalls again into being, that which was past and

had vanished out of sight and mind. The sentence is an explanation of the

preceding clauses, and has nothing to do with the inquisition at the day of

judgment.   (I would like to recommend a piece by Paul Harvey that

appeared in our local newspaper The Kentucky New Era.

I looked it up on the internet as Heaven’s Jurassic Park by Paul Harvey

the site came up as below.



I remembered enough of it that I think it an interesting sidelight to

this passage - CY – 2013)



Divine Constancy and Human Piety (vs. 14-15)


With the outer world of nature and with our human nature and character before us,

these words may somewhat surprise us; it is necessary to take a preliminary view of:




Ø      There is a sense in which man has modified the Divine action according

to the Divine purpose. God has given us the material, and He says to us,

“Work with it and upon it; mold, fashion, transform, develop it as you

will; make all possible use of it for bodily comfort, for mental enlarge-

ment, for social enjoyment, for spiritual growth.” (This is what is meant

bysubdue it” in Genesis 1:28 – CY – 2013)  Man has made large use of

this his opportunity, and, with the advance of knowledge and of science,

he will make much more in time to come. He cannot indeed “put to” or

“take from” the substance with which God supplies him, but he can do

much to change its form and to determine the service it shall render.


Ø      There is a sense in which man has temporarily thwarted the Divine idea.

For is not ALL SIN  and are not all the dire consequences of sin, a

sad and serious departure from the purpose of the Holy One? Surely

infidelity, blasphemy, vice, cruelty, crime; surely poverty, misery,

starvation, death; all this is not what the heavenly Father meant for His

human children when He breathed into man’s nostrils the breath

of life (Genesis 2:7).   But the leading idea of the text is:





Ø      The fixedness of the Divine purpose. The counsel of the Lord

standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations”

 (Psalm 33:11).  We believe that from the beginning God intended to

work out the righteousness and the blessedness of the human race;

and whatever has come between Him and the realization of His

gracious end will be cleared away. Redeemed man will one day

be all that the Eternal One designed that he should become.


Ø      The constancy of the Divine Law. The same great moral laws,

and the same physical laws also, which governed the action and the

destiny of men in primeval times still prevail, and will always abide.

Sin has meant suffering and sorrow, righteousness has worked

out well-being and joy; diligence has been followed by fruitfulness,

and idleness by destitution; generosity has been recompensed with love,

and selfishness with leanness of soul, etc. As it was at the beginning,

so will it be with the action of all Divine laws, even to the end.


Ø      The permanency of the Divine attitude.


o       What God always felt toward sin he feels today; it is the thing

which He hates. In Jesus Christ, as fully and as emphatically as

in the Law,:


§         His holy intolerance of sin is revealed, and

§         His Divine determination to conquer and to destroy it.


o       What God always felt toward the sinner he feels today:


§         a Divine  grief and

§         an infinite compassion; and

§         a readiness to forgive and to restore the penitent.


·         THE DIVINE DESIGN. “God doeth it, that men should fear before

him.” God’s one unchanging desire is that His children should live a

reverential, Holy life before him. All the manifestations of His character

that He gives us are intended to lead up to and issue in this. And surely the

Divine constancy is calculated to promote this as nothing else would. It is

God’s desire and His design concerning us, because He knows:


Ø      that it is the only right relationship for us to sustain; and

Ø        that it is the one condition of peace, purity, blessedness and





                                    Requiring That Which is Past (v. 15)


·         IN THE REALM OF NATURE. God seeks after that which is past or

has been driven away, in the sense that He recalls or brings again

phenomena that have vanished; as e.g. the reappearance of the sun with its

light and heat, the various seasons of the year with their respective

characteristics, the circling of the winds with other meteorological aspects

of the firmament. The thought here is the uniformity of sequence in the

physical world (ch. 1:4-7).



that which has been driven away in the sense that He reproduces in the life

of one individual experiences that have existed in another, or in himself at a

former point in his career. The thought is, that by Heaven’s decree a large

amount of sameness exists in the phases of thought and feeling through

which different individuals pass, or the same individuals at successive

stages of their development.


·         IN THE DOMAIN OF HISTORY. God seeks after that which has

been driven away, in the sense that, on the broad theatre of action which

men name “time,” or “the world,” He frequently, in the evolutions of His

providence; seems to recall the past by reproducing “situations”

“incidents,” “events,” “experiences,” similar to, if not identical with, those

which occurred before. The thought is that history frequently repeats itself.


·         IN THE PROGRAM OF THE UNIVERSE. God will eventually seek

after that which has been driven away, by calling up again out of the past

for judgment every individual that has lived upon the globe, with every

word that has been spoken and every act that has been done, with every

secret thought and imagination, whether it has been good or whether it has

been bad. The thought is that the distant past and the distant future will one

day meet. The place will be before THE GREAT WHITE THRONE, the time

will be THE LAST DAY!


In vs. 16-22, the writer acknowledging the providential government of God,

which controls events and places man’s happiness out of his own power,

one is confronted also by the fact that there is much wickedness, much

injustice, in the world, which oppose all plans for peaceful enjoyment.


SUCH INIQUITIES; and God allows them now in order to try men and

to teach them humility. Meantime man’s duty and happiness consist, as

before said, in making the best use of the present and improving the

opportunities which God gives him.


16 “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that

wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity

was there.” And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment.

Koheleth records his experience of the prevalence of iniquity in high places.

The place of judgment (mishat); where justice is administered. The

accentuation allows (compare Genesis 1:1) this to be regarded as the object

of the verb. The Revised Version takes מְקום as an adverbial expression

equivalent to “in the place.” The former is the simpler construction. “And moreover,”

at the commencement of the verse, looks back to v. 10,  “I have seen the travail,”

etc.  That wickedness (resha) was there. On the judicial seat iniquity sat instead of

justice. The place of righteousness (tsedek). “Righteousness” is the

peculiar characteristic of the judge Himself, as “justice” is of his decisions.

That iniquity (resha) was there. The word ought to be translated

“wickedness” or “iniquity” in both clauses. The Septuagint takes the

abstract for the concrete, and at the end has apparently introduced a

clerical error, which has been perpetuated in the Arabic and elsewhere,

And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, there was the

ungodly (ἀσεβής - asebaes); and the place of the righteous, there was the godly

(εὐσεβήςeusebaes).” The Complutensian Polyglot reads ἀσεβὴς in both

places.  It is impossible to harmonize these statements of oppression and injustice

here and elsewhere (e.g. ch.4:1; 5:8; 8:9-10) with Solomon’s authorship of the

book. It is contrary to fact that such a corrupt state of things existed in his time,

and in writing thus he would be uttering a libel against himself. If he was cognizant

of such evils in his kingdom, he had nothing to do but to put them down with a

high hand. There is nothing to lead to the belief that he is speaking of other

countries and other times; he is stating his own personal experience of what

goes on around him. It is true that in Solomon’s latter days disaffection secretly

prevailed, and the people felt his yoke grievous (I Kings 12:4); but there is no

evidence of the existence of corruption in judicial courts, or of the social and

political evils of which he speaks in this book. That he had a prophetical foresight

of the disasters that would accompany the reign of his successor, and

endeavors herein to provide consolation for the future sufferers, is a pious

opinion without historical basis, and cannot be justly used to support the

genuineness of the work.


17 “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked:

for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the

wicked. In view of the injustice that prevails in earthly tribunals, Koheleth

takes comfort in the thought that there is RETRIBUTION FOR EVERY

MAN when God shall award sentence according to deserts. God is a

Righteous Judge strong and patient, and His decisions are infallible. Future judgment

is here plainly stated, as it is at the final conclusion (ch. 12:14). They who refuse to

credit the writer with belief in this great doctrine resort to the theory of interpolation

and alteration in order to account for the language in this and analogous passages.

There can be no doubt that the present text has hitherto always been regarded as


though not so much as a conclusion firmly established, but rather as a belief which

may explain anomalies and afford comfort under trying circumstances. For there

 is a time there for every purpose and for every work. The adverb rendered

“there” (שָׁם, sham) is placed emphatically, at the end of the sentence. Thus

the Septuagint, “There is a reason for every action, and for every work there (ἐκεῖ -

ekei).”  But it is unexampled to find the elliptical “there,” when no place has been

mentioned in the context, and when we are precluded from interpreting the

dark word by a significant gesture, as Medea may have pointed downwards

in her histrionic despair. Where the words, “that day,” are used in the New

Testament (e.g. Luke 10:12; II Timothy 1:18, etc.), the context

shows plainly to what they refer. Some take the adverb here in the sense of

“then.” Thus the Vulgate, Justum et impium iudicabit Deus, et tempus

omnis rei tunc erit.” But really no time has been mentioned, unless we

conceive the writer to have been guilty of a clumsy tautology, expressing

by “then” the same idea as “a time for every purpose,”  It is best, with many

modern commentators, to refer the adverb to God, who has just been spoken

of in the preceding clause. A similar use is found in Genesis 49:24. With

God, spud Deum, in His counsels, there is a time or judgment and

retribution for every act of man, when anomalies which have obtained on

earth shall be rectified, injustice shall be punished, virtue rewarded.




            A Present Use and Enjoyment of the Gifts of God

                                                    (vs. 14-17)


This, an argument in support of the statement that is found in the fact of the

unchangeable character of the Divine purposes and government. He who has given

may take away, and none can stay His hand. While, therefore, we are in possession

of benefits He has bestowed on us, we should get the good of them, seeing that we

know not how long we shall have them. Exception has been taken to this teaching.

“The lesson to cheerfulness under such bidding seems a hard one. Men have recited

it over the wine-cup in old times and new, in East and West. But the human heart,

with such shadows gathering in the background, has recognized its

hollowness, and again and again has put back the anodyne from its lips”

(Bradley). But though the thought of the Divine unchangeableness may be

regarded by some as a stimulus to a reckless enjoyment of the present, it is

calculated to have a wholesome influence upon our views of life, and upon

our conduct. Acquiescence in one’s lot, and reverential fear of God,

leading to an avoidance of sin, are naturally suggested by it. The conviction

that the will of God is righteous will prevent acquiescence in it becoming

that apathetic resignation which characterizes the spirit of those who

believe that over all the events of life an iron destiny rules, against which

men strive in vain.



is eternal and. unalterable. In the phenomena of the natural world, we see it

manifested in laws which man cannot control or change; in the providential

government of human affairs, the same rule of a higher Power over all the

events of life is discernible; and in the revelations of the Divine will,

recorded in the Scriptures, we see steady progress to an end foreseen and

foretold from the beginning. What God does stands fast; no created power

can nullify or change it (Psalm 33:11; Isaiah 46:9-10; Daniel 4:35).



PRODUCE. (v. 14b.) That men should fear before Him.” It should fill

our heart with reverence. This is, indeed, the purpose for which God has

given this revelation of himself, and no other view of the Divine character

is calculated to produce the same effect. The thought of God’s infinite

power would not impress us in like manner if at the same time we believed

that his will was variable, that it could be propitiated and changed. But the

conviction that His will is righteous and immutable should lead us to

sanctify Him in our hearts, and make Him our Fear and our Dread”

(Isaiah 8:13), and give us hope and confidence in the midst of the

vicissitudes of life (Malachi 3:6). In the earlier part of his work

(ch. 1:9-10) the Preacher had dwelt upon the uniformity of

sequence in nature, as if he were impressed with a sense of monotony, as

he watched the course of events happening and recurring in the same

order. And now, as he looks upon human history, he sees the same

regularity in the order of things. “That which hath been is now, and that

which is to be hath already been.” But the former feeling of weariness and

oppression is modified by the thought of God’s perfection, and by the

fear which it excites. He recognizes the fact of a personal will governing

the events of history. It is no mechanical process of revolution that causes

the repetition time after time of similar events, the same causes producing

the same effects; no wheel of destiny alternately raising and depressing the

fortunes of men. It is God who recalls,who seeks again that which is

passed away” (v. 15b). “The past is thought of as vanishing, put to flight,

receding into the dim distance. It might seem to be passing into the abyss

of oblivion; but God recalls it, brings back the same order, or an analogous

order of events, and so history repeats itself” (Plumptre). And out of this

belief in God’s wise providence a healthy spirit should gather strength to

bear patiently and cheerfully the difficulties and trials of life. The belief that

our life is governed by an unalterable law is calculated, as I have said, to

lead to a listless, hopeless state of mind, in which one ceases to strive

against the inevitable. But that state of mind is very different from the

resignation of those who believe that the government of the world is

regular and unchangeable, because unerring wisdom guides Him who is the

Creator and Preserver of all things. Their faith can sustain them in the

greatest trials, when God’s ways seem most inscrutable; they can hope

against hope, and, in spite of all apparent contradictions, believe that “all

            things work together for good to them that love God.”  (Romans 8:28)




Man’s Unrighteousness Contrasted with God’s Righteousness (vs. 16-17)


Every observant, judicial, and sensitive mind shares this experience. Human

society, civil relations, cannot be contemplated without much of disapproval,

disappointment, and distress. And who, when so affected by the spectacle which

this world presents, can do other than raise his thoughts to that Being, to those

relationships that are characterized by a moral excellence which corresponds to

our highest ideal, our purest aspirations?



AMONG MEN. The observation of the wise man was naturally directed to

the state of society in his own times and in his own and of the neighboring

countries. Local and temporal peculiarities do not, however, destroy the

applicability of the principle to human life generally. Wickedness was and is

discernible wherever man is found. Unconscious nature obeys physical

laws, brute nature obeys automatic and instinctive impulse. But man is a

member of a rational and spiritual system, whose principles he often

violates in the pursuit of lower ends. In the earliest ages “the wickedness of

man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of

his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  A remedial system

has checked and to some extent counteracted these evil tendencies; yet to

how large an extent is the same reflection just!




It is well known that in every age complaints have been made of the venality

of Eastern magistrates. In the Old Testament references are frequent to the

“gifts,” the bribes, by which suitors sought to obtain decisions in their

favor. Corruption here is worse than elsewhere, for it is discouraging to

uprightness, and lowers the tone of public morals. We would be grateful

that, in our own land and in our own day, if such such corruption was unknown!



atheist has no refuge from such observations and reflections as those

recorded in v. 16. But the godly man turns from earth to heaven, and

rests in the conviction that there is A DIVINE AND RIGHTEOUS

JUDGE  to whose tribunal ALL MEN MUST COME, and by whose

 just decisions every destiny must be decided.


Ø      All characters, the righteous and the wicked alike, will be judged

by the Lord of all. Has the unjust escaped the penalty due from a

human tribunal? He shall not escape THE RIGHTEOUS

JUDGMENT OF GOD!  Has the innocent, been unjustly

sentenced by an earthly and perhaps corrupt judge? There is for

him a court of appeal, and his righteousness shall shine as the



Ø      All kinds of works shall meet with retribution; not only the acts of

private life, but also acts of a judicial and governmental kind. The

unjust judge shall meet with his recompense, and the wronged

and persecuted shall not be unavenged.


18 “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that

God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves

are beasts.” The comfort derived from the thought of the future judgment

is clouded by the reflection that man is as powerless as the beast to control

his destiny. Concerning the estate of the sons of men; rather, it happens

on account of the sons of men. God allows events to take place, disorders

to continue, etc., for the ultimate profit of men, though the idea that

follows is humiliating and dispiriting. The Septuagint. has περὶ λαλιᾶς

- peri lalias - concerning the speech of the sons of men.  So the Syriac.

The word dibrah may indeed bear that meaning, as it is also used for “word” or

matter;” but we cannot conceive that the clause refers solely to words,

and the expression in the text signifies merely “for the sake, on account

of,” as in ch.8:2. That God might manifest them; rather, that God

 might test them; Ut probaret eos Dens (Vulgate). God allows

these things, endures them patiently, and does not at once redress them, for

two reasons.  The first of these is that they may serve for the probation of

men, giving them opportunity of making good or bad use of them. We see

the effect of this forbearance on the wicked in ch.8:11; it hardens them in

impenitence; while it nourishes the faith of the righteous, and helps

them to persevere (see Daniel 11:35 and Revelation 22:11). And that they

might see that they themselves are beasts. The pronoun is repeated

emphatically, “that they themselves are [like] beasts, they in themselves.”

This is the second reason. Thus they learn their own powerlessness,

if they regard merely their own animal life; apart from their relation to God

and hope of the future, they are no better than the lower creatures (see

II Peter 2:12). Septuagint. “And to show (τοῦ δεῖξαιtou deixai) that

they are beasts.” So the Vulgate and Syriac.



                                    Wickedness in the Place of Judgment


                                          The Mystery of Providence

                                                     (vs. 16-18)


·         THE PROFOUND PROBLEM. The moral disorder of the universe. “I

saw under the sun in the place of judgment that wickedness was there, and

in the place of righteousness that wickedness was there” (v. 16).


Ø      The strange spectacle. What fascinated the Preacher’s gaze and

perplexed the Preacher’s heart was not so much the existence as the

triumph of sin — the fact that sin existed where and as it did. Had he

always beheld sin in its naked deformity, essential loathsomeness, and

abject baseness, receiving the due reward of its misdeeds, trembling as a

culprit before the bar of providential judgment, and suffering the

punishment its criminality merited, the mystery and perplexity would

most likely have been reduced by half. What, however, he did witness

was iniquity, not trembling but triumphing, not sorrowing but singing, not

suffering the due recompense of her own evil deeds but snatching off the

rewards and prizes that belonged to virtue. In short, what he perceived

was the complete moral disorder of the world — as it were society turned

topsy-turvy; the wicked up and the righteous down; bad men exalted and

good men despised; vice arrayed in silks and bedizened with jewels, and

virtue only half covered with tattered rags.


Ø      Two particular sights.


o        Iniquity usurping the place of judgment; thrusting itself into the very

council-chambers where right and justice should prevail; now as a judge

who deliberately holds the scales uneven because the one litigant is rich

and the other poor, anon as an advocate who employs all his ingenuity

to defend a prisoner whom he knows to be guilty, and again as a witness

who has accepted a bribe and calmly swears to a lie.


o        Iniquity preoccupying the place of righteousness; i.e. the tribunal,

whether secular or ecclesiastical, whose efforts should be all directed to

finding out and maintaining the cause of righteousness.


·         THE PERPLEXING MYSTERY. “I said in mine heart” (v. 17). The

Preacher was troubled about it, as:


o       David (Psalm 37:1, 7),

o       Job (Job 21:7),

o       Asaph (Psalm 73:3), and

o       Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1) had been.


To him, as to them, it was an enigma. But why should it have been?


Ø      On one hypothesis it is no enigma. On the supposition that God, duty,

and immortality are non-existent, it is not a mystery at all that vice

should prevail and virtue have a poor time of it so long as it remains

above ground, for (on the hypothesis) fleeing to a better country

beyond the skies is out of the question. The mystery would be that

it were otherwise.


Ø      On another hypothesis it is an enigma. What creates the mystery is that

these things occur while God is, duty presses, and immortality awaits.

Since God is, why does He suffer these things to happen? Why does He

not interpose to put matters right? If right and wrong are not empty

phrases, how comes it that moral distinctions are so constantly

submerged? With “eternity in their hearts,” how is it to be explained

that men are so regardless of the future?


·         THE PROPOSED SOLUTION. This lay in three things.


Ø      The certainty of a future judgment. “I said in mine heart, God shall

judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time for every purpose

and for every work” (v. 17). Convinced that God, duty, and immortality

were no fictions but solemn realities, the Preacher saw that these implied

the certainty of a judgment in the future world when all the entangle-

ments of this world would be sorted out, its inequalities evened, and

its wrongs righted; and seeing this, he discerned in it a sufficient reason

why God should not be in a hurry to cast down vice from its undeserved

eminence and exalt virtue to its rightful renown.


Ø      The discrimination of human character. The Preacher saw that God

allowed wickedness to triumph and righteousness to suffer, in order

that He might thereby “prove them,” i.e. sift and distinguish them

from one another by the free development of their characters. Were

God by external restraints to place a check on the ungodly or by

outward helps to recompense the pious, it might come to be doubtful

who were the sinful and who the virtuous; but granting free scope to

both, each manifests its hidden character by its actions, according to

the principle, “Every tree is known by its fruits” (Matthew 7:16-20).


Ø      The revelation of human depravity. Because a future judgment awaits, it

is necessary that the wickedness of the wicked should be revealed. Hence

God abstains from interfering prematurely with the world’s disorder that

men may see to what thorough inherent depravity they have really

come;  that, oppressing and destroying one another, they are little better

than brute beasts who, without consideration or remorse, prey on each



·         LESSONS.


1. Patience.

2. Confidence.

3. Hopefulness.


Vs. 19-21 are best regarded as a parenthesis explanatory of vs. 16-18,

elucidating man’s impotence in the presence of the anomalies of life. The

conclusion in v. 22 is connected with vs. 16-18. We must acknowledge

that there are disorders in the world which we cannot remedy, and which

God allows in order to demonstrate our powerlessness; therefore the

wisest course is to make the best of present circumstances.


19 “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one

thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they

have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a

beast: for all is vanity.” For that which befalleth the sons of men

 befalleth beasts; literally, chance are the sons of men, and chance are

beasts (see on ch. 2:14); Septuagint, “Yea, and to them cometh the event

(συνάντηημα - sunantaema – that which befalls, happens) of the sons

of men, and the event of the beast.” Koheleth explains in what respect

man is on a level with the brute creation. Neither are able to rise superior to the

law that controls their natural life. So Solon says to Croesus (Herod., 1:32),

Pa Πᾶν ἐστι ἄνθρωπος συμφορή – Pan esti anthropos sumphorae -> Man is

naught but chance; and Artabanns reminds Xerxes that chances rule men,

not men chances (ibid., 7:49). Even one thing befalleth them. A third

time is the ominous word repeated, “One chance is to both of them.”

Freethinkers perverted this dictum into the materialistic language quoted in the

Book of Wisdom (2. 2): “We are born at haphazard, by chance

(αὐτοσχεδιως - autoschedios); etc. But Koheleth’s contention is, not

that there is no law or order in what happens to man, but that neither man nor

beast can dispose events at their own will and pleasure; they are conditioned

by a force superior to them, which dominates their actions, sufferings, and

circumstances of life. As the one dieth, so dieth the other. In the matter

of succumbing to the law of death man has no superiority over other

creatures. This is an inference drawn from common observation of exterior

facts, and touches not any higher question (compare ch.2:14-15; 9:2-3).

Something similar is found in Psalm 49:20, Man that is in honor, and

understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” Yea, they

have all one breath (ruach). This is the word used for the vital

principle, “the breath of life,” as it is called in Genesis 6:17, where the

same word is found. In the earlier record (Ibid. 2:7) the term is nishma.

Life in all animals is regarded as THE GIFT OF GOD.  Says the

psalmist, Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruach), they are created”

(Psalm 104:30). This lower principle presents the same phenomena in men and

In brutes. Man hath no preeminence above a beast; i.e. in regard to

suffering and death. This is not bare materialism, or a gloomy deduction

from Greek teaching, but must be explained from the writer’s standpoint,

which is to emphasize THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN  to effect his own

happiness.  Taking only a limited and phenomenal view of man’s circumstances

and destiny, he speaks a general truth which all must acknowledge. Septuagint,

“And what hath the man more than the beast? Nothing.” For all is vanity.

The distinction between man and beast is annulled by death; the former’s

boasted superiority, his power of conceiving and planning, his greatness,

skill, strength. cunning, all come under the category of vanity, as they

cannot ward off the inevitable blow.


20 “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

All go unto one place. All, men and brutes, are buried in the earth (ch.12:7).

The author is not thinking of Sheol, the abode of departed spirits, but merely

regarding earth as the UNIVERSAL TOMB of ALL CREATURES.

All are of the dust (Genesis 3:19; Psalm 104:29; 146:4). So Ecclesiasticus

 41:10, “All things that are of earth shall turn to earth again.” This

is true of the material part of men and brutes alike; the question of the

destiny of the immaterial part is touched in the next verse.


21 “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and

the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” The

statement is here too categorically rendered, though, for dogmatical

purposes, the Masorites seem to have punctuated the text with a view to

such interpretation. But the analogy of two other passages (ch.2:19 and 6:12),

where “who knoweth occurs, intimates that the phrases which follow are

interrogative. So the translation should be, “Who knoweth as regards the spirit

(ruach) of the sons of men whether it goeth upward, and as regards the spirit

(ruach) of the beast whether it goeth downward under the earth?” Vulgate,

Quis novit si spiritus, etc.? Septuagint, Τίς εῖδε πνεῦμα υἱῶν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου εἰ

ἀναβαίνει αὐτὸ ἄνω - Tis eide pneuma huion tou anthropou

 ei anabainei auto ano -Who ever saw the spirit of the sons of man, whether

 it goeth upward?” The Authorized Version, which gives the Masoretic reading,

is supposed to harmonize better with the assertion at the end of the book (ch.12:7),

that the spirit returns to the God who gave it. But there is no formal denial of the

immortality of the soul in the present passage as we render it. The

question, indeed, is not touched. The author is confirming his previous

assertion that, in one point of view, man is not superior to brute. Now he

says, looking at the matter merely externally, and taking not into

consideration any higher notion, no one knows the destiny of the living

powers, whether God deals differently with the spirit of man and of beast.

Phenomenally, the principle of life in both is identical, and its cessation is

identical; and what becomes of the spirit in either case neither eye nor mind

can discover. The distinction which reason or religion assumes, viz. that

man’s spirit goes upward and the brute’s downward, is incapable of proof,

is quite beyond experience. What is meant by “upward” and “downward”

may be seen by reference to the gnome in Proverbs 15:24, “To the wise

the way of life goeth upward, that he may depart from Sheol beneath.”

The contrast shows that Sheol is regarded as a place of punishment or

annihilation; this is further confirmed by Psalm 49:14-15, “They are

appointed as a flock for Sheol: death shall be their shepherd… their beauty

shall be for Sheol to consume But God will redeem my soul from the

power of Sheol; for he shall receive me.” Koheleth neither denies nor

affirms in this passage the immortality of the soul; that he believed in it we

learn from other expressions; but he is not concerned with parading it here.

But Koheleth’s inquiry suggests the possibility of a different destiny for the

spirits of man and brute, though he does not at this moment make any

definite assertion on the subject. Later on he explains the view taken by the

believer in Divine revelation (ch.12:7).



Before and After Christ (vs. 18-21)


These words have a strange sound in our ears; they evidently do not belong

to New Testament times. They bring before us:



evidently possible that, under certain conditions, men may judge

themselves to be of no nobler nature than that of “the beasts that perish.”

It may be:


Ø      bodily suffering or weakness; or

Ø      untoward and disappointing circumstances; or

Ø       bewilderment of mind after vain endeavors to solve great

spiritual problems; or

Ø      the distracted and unnatural state of the society in which we

are placed


but, owing to some one of many possible causes, men may be driven to take

the lowest view of human nature; so much so that they may lose all respect for

themselves — may shut the future life entirely out of view, and live in the narrow

circle of the present; may confine their ambition and aspiration to bodily enjoyment

and the excitements of present occupation; may practically own themselves to

be defeated, and go blindly on, ‘hoping nothing, believing nothing, and fearing nothing.”

Such a melancholy conclusion:


Ø      does us sad dishonor;

Ø      has a demoralizing influence on character and life;

Ø      yields a wretched harvest of despair and self-destruction. In

most happy contrast with this is:



He asks us to think how “much a man is better than a sheep,” (Matthew

12:12) and reminds us that we are “of more value than many sparrows”

(Luke 12:7).  He bids us realize that one human soul is worth more than

“the whole world” (Mark 8:36), and that there is nothing so costly that it

will represent its value. He reveals to us the supreme and most blessed fact

that each human spirit is the object of Divine solicitude, and may find a home

in the Father’s heart of love at once, and in His nearer presence soon. He

\assures us that there is a glorious future before every man that becomes the

subject of His kingdom, and serves faithfully to the end. Under His teaching,

instead of seeing that “they themselves are beasts,” His disciples find themselves

“children of their Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45), “kings and

 priests unto God” (Revelation 1:6), and “heirs of  eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

Coming after Christ, and learning of Him, we see that we are  capable of a noble

heritage now, and move toward a still nobler estate a little further on. 

(I Corinthians 2:9).




                                    The Common Destiny of Death (vs. 18-21)


The double nature of man has been recognized by every student of human

nature. The sensationalist and materialist lays stress upon the physical side

of our humanity, and endeavors to show that the intellect and the moral

sentiments are the outgrowth of the bodily life, the nervous structure and

its susceptibilities and its powers of movement. But such efforts fail to

convince alike the unsophisticated and the philosophic. It is generally

admitted that it would be more reasonable to resolve the physical into the

psychical than the psychical into the physical. The author of Ecclesiastes

was alive to the animal side of man’s nature; and if some only of his

expressions were considered, he might be claimed as a supporter of the

baser philosophy. But he himself supplies the counteractive. The attentive

reader of the book is convinced that the author traced the human spirit to

its Divine original, and looked forward to its IMMORTALITY.



NATURE AND LIFE. If we look upon one side of our humanity, it

appears that we are to be reckoned among the brutes that perish. The

similarity is obvious in:


Ø      The corporeal, fleshly constitution with which man and brute are alike



Ø      The brevity of the earthly life appointed for both without distinction.


Ø      The resolution of the body into dust.




AND LIFE. It is difficult for us to treat this subject without; bringing to

bear upon it the knowledge which we have derived from the fuller and

more glorious revelation of the new covenant. “Christ has abolished death,

and has brought life and immortality to light by the gospel.” (II Timothy

1:10)  We cannot possibly think of such themes without taking to their

consideration the convictions and the hopes which we have derived from the

incarnate Son of God. Nor can we forget the sublime speculations of

philosophers of both ancient and modern times.


Ø      In his spiritual nature man is akin to God. Physical life the Creator

imparted to the animal organisms with which the world was peopled. But

a life of quite another order was conferred upon man, who participates

in THE DIVINE REASON who is able to think the thoughts of God

Himself, and who has intuitions of moral goodness of which the brute

creation is for ever incapable. Instead of man’s mind being a function

of organized matter, as a base sensationalism and empiricism is wont

to affirm, the truth is that it is only as an expression and vehicle of

thought, of reason, that matter has a dependent existence.


Ø      In his consequent immortality man is distinguished from the inferior

animals. The life possessed by these latter is a life of sensation and of

movement; the organism is resolved into its constituents, and there is no

reason to believe that the sensation and movement are perpetuated. But

“the spirit of man goeth upward;” it has used its instrument, the body,

and the time comes — appointed by God’s inscrutable providence —

when the connection, local and temporary, which the spirit has

maintained with earth, is sundered. In what other scenes and pursuits

the conscious being is continued, we cannot tell. But there is not the

slightest reason for conceiving the spiritual life to be dependent

upon the organism which it uses as its instrument. The spiritual

life is the life of God; and the life of God is imperishable.



“The sun is but a spark of fire,

A transient meteor in the sky;

The soul, immortal as its Sire,

                                                Can never die.


22 “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man

should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him

to see what shall be after him?” After all, the writer arrives at the conclusion

intimated in v.12; only here the result is gathered from the acknowledgment of man’s

impotence (vs. 16-18), as there from the experience of life. Wherefore I

perceive that there is nothing better, etc.; rather, so, or wherefore I saw

that there was nothing, etc. As man is not master of his own lot, cannot

order events as he would like, is powerless to control the forces of nature

and the providential arrangements of the world, his duty and his happiness

consist in enjoying the present, in making the best of life, and availing

himself of the bounties which THE MERCY OF GOD PLACES

BEFORE HIM!   Thus he will free himself from anxieties and cares, perform

present labors, attend to present duties, content himself with the daily round,

and not vex his heart with SOLICITUDE FOR THE FUTURE!  There

is no Epicureanism here, no recommendation of sensual enjoyment; the author

simply advises men to make a thankful use of the blessings which

GOD PROVIDES FOR THEM!   For who shall bring him to see

what shall be after him? The Revised Version, by inserting “back”

Who shall bring him back to see? — affixes a meaning to the clause which

it need not and does not bear. It is, indeed, commonly interpreted to signify that

man knows and can know nothing that happens to him after death — whether

he will exist or not, whether he will have cognizance of what passes on earth,

or be insensible to all that befalls here. But Koheleth has completed that thought

already; his argument now turns to the future in this life. Use the present, for you

cannot be sure of the future; — this is his exhortation. So he says

(ch. 6:12), “Who can tell a man what shall be after him under

the sun?” where the expression, “under the sun,” shows that earthly life is

meant, not existence after death. Ignorance of the future is a very common

topic throughout the book, but it is the terrestrial prospect that is in view.

There would be little force in urging the impotence of men’s efforts

towards their own happiness by the consideration of their ignorance of

what may happen when they are no more; but one may reasonably exhort

men to cease to torment themselves with hopes and fears, with labors that

may be useless and preparations that may never be needed, by the

reflection that they cannot foresee the future, and that, for all they know,

the pains which they take may be utterly wasted (Jesus said, “Take no thought

 for the morrow:  for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  - Matthew 6:34 – “Be careful

[anxious; worrying] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication

with thanksgiving let your requests be made know unto God.” – Philippians

4:6 -  compare ch.7:14; 9:3). Thus in this section there is neither skepticism nor

Epicureanism. In brief, the sentiment is this — There are injustices and anomalies in

the life of men and in the course of this world’s events which man cannot control

or alter; these may be righted and compensated hereafter. Meantime, man’s

happiness is to make the best of the present, and cheerfully to enjoy WHAT





The Conclusion of Folly or the Faith of the Wise? (vs. 12-13, 22)


In what catalogue shall we place these words of the text? On whose lips

are they to be found? Are they:


·         THE REFUGE OF THE SKEPTIC? They may be such. The epicure

who has lost his faith in God says, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we

die.” There is no sacredness in the present, and no solid hope for the

future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal? Why waste breath and

strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to rise to the

pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own. Or shall we rather find here:


·         AN ARTICLE, OF A WISE MAN’S FAITH? It is not certain what

was the mood in which the Preacher wrote; but let us prefer to think that

behind his words, actuating and inspiring him, was a true spirit of faith in

God and in Divine providence; let us take him to mean — what we know

to be true — that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, a wise and loyal-

hearted man will hold that there is much that is worth pursuing and

possessing in the simple pleasures, in the daily duties, and in the ordinary

services which are open to us all.


Ø      Daily God invites us to eat and drink, to partake of the bounties of His

hand; let us appreciate His benefits with moderation and gratitude.


Ø      Daily He bids us go forth to “our work and to our labor until the

evening;” let us enter upon it and carry it out in the spirit of

conscientiousness and fidelity toward both God and man (Colossians



Ø      Daily God gives us the means of getting good to ourselves and doing

good to others; let us eagerly embrace our opportunity, let us gladly avail

ourselves of our privilege; so doing we shall make our life peaceful,

happy, worthy.


Ø      In the light that shines into our hearts from the truth of Christ we judge:


o       That these lesser things — pleasure, activity, acquisition — are well in

their way and in their measure. “Bodily exercise profiteth a little, but

godliness is profitable unto all things having promise of the life that

now is and of that is to come..” (I Timothy 4:8)  But:


o       That human life has possibilities and obligations which immeasurably

transcend these things; such, that to put these into the front rank and

to fill our life with them is a fatal error. Made subordinate to that

which is higher, they take their place and they render their service —

a place and a service not to be despised; but made primary and

supreme, they are usurpers that do untold injury, and that must

be relentlessly dethroned




                        The Darkness of the Grave (vs. 18-22)


In these words our author reaches the very lowest depth of misery and

despair. His observation of the facts of human life leads him to the

humiliating conclusion that it is almost hopeless to assign to man a higher

nature and a more noble destiny than those which belong to the beasts that

perish. The moral inequalities of the world, the injustice that goes

unpunished, the hopes by which men are deluded, the uncertainty of life,

the doubtfulness of immortality, seem to justify the assertion “that a man

hath no pre-eminence over a beast.” The special point of comparison on

which he dwells is the common mortality of both. Man and beast are

possessed of bodies composed of the same elements, nourished by the

same food, liable to the same accidents, and destined to return to the

kindred dust from which they sprang. Both are ignorant of the period of

life assigned to them; a moment before the stroke of death falls on them

they may be unconscious that evil is at hand, and when they realize the fact

they are equally powerless to avert it. What there is in common between

them is manifest to all, while the evidence to be . adduced in favor of the

superiority of man is, from its very nature, less convincing. The spiritually

minded will attach great weight to arguments against which the natural

reason may draw up plausible objections. Let us, then, see the case stated

at its very worst, and consider if there are any redeeming circumstances

which are calculated to relieve the gloom which a cursory reading of the

words calls up.


·         The first statement is that MEN, LIKE BEASTS, ARE CREATURES

OF ACCIDENT. (v. 19a.) Not that they are both the results of blind

chance; but that, “being conditioned by circumstances over which there can

be no control, they are subject, in respect to their whole being, actions, and

sufferings, as far as mere human observation can extend, to the law of

chance, and are alike destined to undergo the same fate, i.e. death”

(Wright). A parallel to the thought of this verse is to be found in the very

striking words of Solon to Croesus (Herodotus, 1:32), “Man is altogether

a chance;” and in Psalm 49:14, 20, “Like sheep they are laid in the

grave...... Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that



·         The second statement is that As IS THE DEATH OF THE ONE, SO

IS THE DEATH OF THE OTHER (v. 19b), for in both is the breath of

life, and this departs from them in like manner. So that any superiority on

the part of man over the beast is incredible in the face of this fact, that

death annuls distinctions between them. One resting-place receives them all

at last — the earth from which they sprang (v. 20). A belief in the

immortality of the soul of man would at once have relieved the gloom, and

convinced the Preacher that the humiliating comparison he institutes only

reaches to a certain point, and is based upon the external accidents of

human life, and that the true dignity and value of human nature remain

unaffected by the mortality of the corporeal part of our being. Put aside

the belief in the prolongation of existence after death, that what has been

begun here may be completed, and what has gone wrong here may be set

right, and man is but a more highly organized animal, the ‘cunningest of

nature’s clocks,’ and the high words which men speak as to his greatness

are found hollow. They too are ‘vanity.’ He differs from the brutes around

him only, or chiefly, in having, what they have not, the burden of

unsatisfied desires, the longing after an eternity which after all is denied

him” (Plumptre).


·         The third statement is the saddest of all — that of THE



spirit that at death goeth upward” — or whether the living principles of

both man and beast perish when their bodies are laid in the dust (. 21).

It is quite fruitless to deny that it is a skeptical question that is asked — If

the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth, who knows that that of

man goeth upward? Attempts have been made to obliterate the skepticism

of the passage, as may be seen in the Massoretic punctuation followed in

the Authorized Version of our English Bible, but departed from in the

Revised Version, “Who knoweth the spirit of mall that. goeth upward,”

etc.? as though an ascent of the spirit to a higher life were affirmed. The

rendering of the four principal versions, and of all the best critics,

convinces us that it is indeed a skeptical question as to the immortality of

the soul that is here asked. A very similar passage is found in the great

poem of Lucretius (1. 113-116) —


“We know not what the nature of the soul,

Or born or entering into men at birth,

Or whether with our frame it perisheth,

Or treads the gloom and regions vast of death.”


It is to be noted, however, about both the question of the Preacher and the

words of the heathen poet, that they do not contain a denial of immortality,

but a longing after more knowledge resting on sufficient grounds. Sad and

depressing as uncertainty on such a point is to a sensitive mind, a denial of

immortality would be infinitely worse; it would mean the death of all hope.

The very suggestion of a higher life for man, after “this mortal coil has

been shuffled off,” than for the beast implies that, far from denying the

immortality of the soul, the writer seeks fur adequate ground on which to

hold it. Arguments in favor of the doctrine of immortality were not wanting

to the Preacher. He has just spoken of the desiderium aeternitatis

implanted in the heart of man (v. 11), which, like the instincts of the

lower creation, is given by the Creator for our guidance, and not to

tantalize and deceive us. The inequalities and evils of the present life render

a final judgment in a world beyond the grave a moral necessity

(ch. 12:14). But still these are, after all, but indirect arguments, which have

not the weight of positive demonstration. It is only faith that can return any

certain reply to his doubting question; its weight, thrown into the balance,

inclines it to the hopeful side. And this happy conclusion he reached at last,

as he distinctly affirms in ibid. v.7, “Then shall the dust return to the earth

as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God. who gave it.” That the Preacher

should ever have doubted this great truth, and spoken as though no certainty

concerning it were within the reach of man, need not surprise us. In the

revelation given to the Jewish people, the doctrine of rewards and punishments

in a future state was not set forth. The rewards and punishments for obedience to

the Law, and for transgressions against it, were all temporal. Almost nothing

was communicated touching the existence of the soul after death. In the

passage quoted by Christ in the Gospels, for the confutation of the

Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, the doctrine of immortality is

implied rather than stated (Matthew 22:23-32). And in a matter so far

beyond the power of the human intellect to search out, the absence of a

word of revelation rendered the darkness doubly obscure. It is, however,

utterly monstrous for any of us now who believe in Christ to ask the

question, “Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward?” The

revelation given us by Him is full of light on this point. “He hath brought

life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Timothy 1:10). His

own resurrection from the dead, and ascension to heaven is the proof of a

life beyond the grave, and a pledge to all who believe in Him of a future and

an everlasting life. It was not wonderful that the Preacher, in the then stage

of religious knowledge, should have spoken as he does here; but nothing

could justify us, to whom so much fresh light has been given, in using his

words, as though we were in the same condition with him.


·         The fourth and concluding statement is, strangely enough, that since

we know not what will come after death, A CHEERFUL ENJOYMENT

OF THE PRESENT is the best course one can take. This is the third time

he has given this counsel (ch. 2:24; 3:12-13). A calm and

happy life, healthy labor, and tranquil enjoyment, are to be valued and

token advantage of to the full. It is an Epicureanism of a spiritual cast that

he commends, and not the coarse and degraded animalism of those who

say, “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.” He recognizes the good

gifts of the present as a “portion” given by God, and says — Rejoice in

them, though the future be all unknown. The very gloom out of which his

words spring give a dignity to them. “We feel that we are in the presence

of one who has the germ given him of some courage, equanimity, and

calmness, which may grow into other and better things. His spirit is torn

by, suffers with, all the pangs that beset the inquiring human heart. He feels

for all the woes of humanity; cannot put them by, and fly to the wine-cup

and crown himself with garlands. He has hated life, yet he will not lose his

courage. ‘Be of good cheer,’ he says, even in his dark hour; ‘work on, and

enjoy the fruits of work; it is thy portion. Do not curse God and die’”

(Bradley). His words are not, as they might seem. at first, frivolous and

heartless. It is a calm and peaceful happiness, a life of honest endeavor and

of single-hearted enjoyment of innocent pleasures, that he commends; and,

after all, it is only by genuine faith in God that such a life is possible — a

faith that enables one to rise above all that is dark and mysterious and

perplexing in the world about us.





                                    Are Men No Better than Beasts? (vs. 19-22)


·         BOTH ALIKE EMANATE FROM THE SOIL. “All are of the dust”

(v. 20). This the first argument in support of the monstrous proposition

that man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.


Ø      The measure of truth it contains. In so far as it asserts that man,

considered as to his material part, possesses a common origin with the

beasts that perish, that both were at first formed from the ground, and are

so allied to the soil that, besides emerging from it, they are every day

supported by it and will eventually return to it, being both resolved into

indistinguishable dust, it accords exactly with the teaching of Scripture

(Genesis 1:24; 2:7), science, and experience. Compare the language of

Arnobius, “Wherein do we differ from them? Our bones are of the same

materials; our origin is not more noble than theirs” (‘Ad Genies,’ 2:16).


Ø      The amount of error it conceals. It overlooks the facts that, again

according to Scripture (Genesis 1:27; 2:7; 9:6), man was created in the

Divine image, which is never said of the lower creatures; was endowed

with intelligence far surpassing that of the creatures (Job 32:8); and so

far from being placed on a level with the lower animals, was expressly

constituted their lord (Genesis 1:28). Read in this connection

Shakespeare’s “What a piece of work is man!” etc. (‘Hamlet,’ act 2. sc. 2).

Moreover, it ignores what is patent on every page of Scripture as well as

testified by every chapter in human experience, viz. that God deals with

man as He does not deal with the beasts, subjecting him as not them to

moral discipline, and accepting of him what is never asked of them, the

tribute of freely rendered service, inviting him as they are never invited to

enter into conscious fellowship with Himself, punishing him as never

them for disobedience, and making of him an object of love and grace

to the extent of devising and completing on his behalf a scheme of

salvation, as is never done or proposed to be done for them. Unless,

therefore, Scripture be set aside as worthless, it will be impossible

to hold that in respect of origin and nature man hath no pre-eminence

over the beasts.


·          BOTH ALIKE ARE THE SPORT OF CHANCE. “That which

befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them;”

or, “Chance are the sons of men, chance is the beast, and one chance is to

them both” (v. 19).


Ø      The assertion under limitations may be admitted as correct. Certainly

no ground exists for the allegation that the course of providence, whether

as it relates to man or as it bears upon the lower animals, is a chance, a

peradventure, a haphazard. Yet events, which in the program of the

Supreme have their fixed places and appointed times, may seem to man to

be fortuitous, as lying altogether beyond his calculation and not within his

expectation; and what the present argument amounts to is that man is as

helpless before these events as the unthinking creatures of the field are —

that they deal with him precisely as with the boasts, sweeping down upon

him with resistless force, falling upon him at unexpected moments, and

tossing him about with as much indifference as they do them.


Ø      The assertion, however, must be qualified. It follows not from the above

concessions that man is as helpless before unforeseen occurrences as the

beasts are. Not only can he to some extent by foresight anticipate their

coming, which the lower creatures cannot do, but, unlike them also, he

can protect himself against them when they have come. To man belongs a

power not (consciously at least) possessed by the animals, of not merely

accommodating himself to circumstances — a capability they to some

extent share with him — but of rising above circumstances and

compelling them to bend to him. If to this be added that if time and

chance happen to man as to the beasts he knows it, which they do not,

and can extract good from it, which they cannot, it will once more

appear that ground exists for disputing the degrading proposition

that man hath no pre-eminence over the beasts.


·         BOTH ALIKE ARE THE PREY OF DEATH. “As the one dieth, so

dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath” (v. 19).


Ø      Seeming correspondences between the two in the matter of dying.


o       In both death means the extinction of physical life and the

dissolution of the material frame.

o       In both the mode of dying is frequently the same,

o       The same grave receives both when the vital spark has departed.

o       The only difference between the two is that man commonly gets

a coffin and a funeral, a mausoleum and a monument, whereas

the beast gets none of these luxuries.


Ø      Obvious discrepancies between the two in respect of dying.


o       Man living knows that he must die (ch. 9:5), which the

beast does not.

o       Man has the choice and power, if he accepts the provisions of

grace, of meeting death without a fear.

o       Even if he does not, there is something nobler in the spectacle of

a man going forth with eyes open to the dread conflict with the

king of terrors, than in that of a brute expiring in unconscious


o       If one thinks of him dying, as he often does die, like a Christian,

it will be seen more absurd than ever to assert that a man hath no

pre-eminence over a beast.



KNOWLEDGE, “Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth

upward? and the spirit of the beast, whether it goeth downward to the

earth?” (v. 21).


Ø      Admitted so far as scientific knowledge is concerned. The agnostics of

the Preacher’s day, like those of modern times, could not say what

became of a man’s spirit, if he had one (of which they were not sure),

after it had escaped from his body, any more than they could tell where

a beast’s — and the beast was as likely to have a spirit as the man — went

to after its carcass sank into the soil. Whether it was the man’s that went

upward and the beast’s downward, or vice versa, lay outside their ken.

Their scientific apparatus did not enable them to report, as the scientific

apparatus of the twenty-first century does not enable it to report, upon

the post-mundane career of either beast or man; and so they assumed

the position from which the agnostics of today have not departed, that

it is all one with the man and the beast when the grave hides them,

and that a man hath no preeminence over a beast.


Ø      Denied so far as religious knowledge is concerned. Refusing to hold

that the anatomist’s scalpel, or chemist’s retort, or astronomer’s telescope,

or analyst’s microscope are the ultimate tests of truth, and that nothing is

to be credited which cannot be detected by one or other of these

instruments (thus the foolishness of man in trusting to instruments and

his ill-use of intelligence in his ungodly rationale - CY - 2021), we are

not so hopelessly in the dark about man’s spirit when it leaves its

earthly tabernacle as are agnostics whether ancient or modern.

On the high testimony of this Preacher (ch. 12:7), on the

higher witness of Paul (II Corinthians 5:1; Philippians 1:23), and on

the highest evidence attainable on the subject (II Timothy 1:10), we

know that when the spirit of a child of God forsakes the body it does not

disperse into thin air, but passes up into the Father’s hand (Luke 23:46),

and that when a good man disappears from earth he forthwith

appears in heaven (ibid. v.43; Philippians 1:23), amid the spirits of the

just made perfect (Hebrews 12:23); so that another time we decline to

endorse the sentiment that man hath no pre-eminence over a beast.



RETURN. “Who shall bring him back to see that which shall be after him?”

(v. 29). Accepting this as the correct rendering of the words (for other

interpretations consult the Exposition):


Ø      It may be granted that no human power can recall man from the grave

any more than it can reanimate the beast; that the realm beyond the

tomb, so far as the senses are concerned, is “an undiscovered country, from

whose boundary no traveler returns.”


Ø      It is contended that nevertheless there is a power which can and

ultimately will despoil the grave of its human victims, and that man will

eventually come back to dwell, if not upon the old soil and beneath the

old sky, at least beneath a new heavens and upon a new earth,



·         LESSONS.


1. The dignity of man.

2. The solemnity of life.

3. The certainty of death.




                                    The Earthly Portion (v. 22)


When a man is, perhaps suddenly, awakened to a sense of the transitoriness

of life and the vanity of human pursuits, what more natural than that, under

the influence of novel conceptions and convictions, he should rush from a

career of self-indulgence into the opposite extreme? Life is brief: why

concern one’s self with its affairs? Sense-experiences are changeable and

perishable: why not neglect and despise them? Earth will soon vanish: why

endeavor to accommodate ourselves to its conditions? But subsequent

reflection convinces us that such practical inferences are unjust. Because

this earth and this life are not everything, it does not follow that they are

nothing. Because they cannot satisfy us, it does not follow that we should

not use them.





Ø      Man’s works, to the observant and reflecting mind, are perishable and



Ø      Man’s joys are often both superficial and transitory.


Ø      The future of human existence and progress upon earth is utterly

uncertain, and, if it could be foreseen, would probably occasion bitter




VIEW OF LIFE. There is true wisdom in the wise man’s declaration,

“There is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his works; for

that is his portion.” The epicurean is wrong who makes pleasure his one

aim. The cynic is wrong who despises pleasure as something beneath the

dignity of his nature. Neither work nor enjoyment is the whole of life; for

life is not to be understood save in relation to spiritual and disciplinary

purposes. Man has for a season a bodily nature; let him use that nature

with discretion, and it may prove organic to his moral welfare. Man is for a

season stationed upon earth; let him fulfill earth’s duties, and taste earth’s

delights. Earthly experience may be a stage towards heavenly service and




“Also He hath set eternity” (marginal reading, Revised Version) “in their heart.”

We are made to look far beyond the boundary of the visible and the present. The

idea of “the eternal” may help us in two ways.


o       That we are created for the unseen and the eternal accounts for the fact

that nothing which is earthly and sensible WILL SATISFY OUR

SOULS!  Nothing of that order ought to do so; and it would put the seal

upon our degradation if it did so. Our unsatisfiable spirit is the signature

of our manhood and the prophecy of our immortality.


o       The inclusion of the future in our reasoning makes all the difference to

our thought. Admit only the passing time, this brief and uncertain life,

and much that happens is inexplicable and distressing indeed (“If in this

 life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

I Corinthians 15:19); but include the future, add “eternity” to the

account, and the “crooked is made straight,” THE PERPLEXITY



What about the skeptic?  The epicure who has lost his faith in God says,

“Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.” There is no sacredness in the

present, and no solid hope for the future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal?

Why waste breath and strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to

rise to the pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own.




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