Ecclesiastes 8



Section 5 – vs. 1-9 - There is no use in repining or rebelling; true

wisdom counsels obedience to the powers that be, and submission to the

dispensations of Providence. However oppressive a tyrant may prove sure

retribution awaits him.  (I have as an entry in my commentary that Fidel

Castro was in decline – that being August 1, 2006 – CY – 2013)


1 “Who is as the wise man?” -  i.e. Who is like, equal to, the wise

man? The somewhat sudden question occurs naturally after the results of

the search for wisdom mentioned at the end of the last chapter. The

thought is not, as in Hosea 14:9 and Jeremiah 9:12, “Who is wise?”

but — No one canl be compared with a wise man; he has no compeer – “and

who [like him] knoweth the interpretation of a thing?” Who, so well as

the wise man, understands the proper relation of circumstances, sees into

human affairs and God’s dispensations in the case of nations and

individuals? Such a one takes the right view of life. The word pesher,

“interpretation,” occurs (peshar) continually in Daniel, and nowhere else

and is Chaldaic. The Vulgate, which connects these two clauses with

Ecclesiastes 7, renders, Quis cognovit solutionem verbi? So the

Septuagint. The “word” or “saying” may be the question proposed above

concerning the happy life, or the proverb that immediately follows. But

dabar is better rendered “thing,” as ch.1:8; 7:8 – “a man’s wisdom maketh

his face to shine,” -  Septuagint, φωτιεῖ, - photiei - will enlighten,

illuminate. The serene light within makes itself visible in the outward

expression; the man is contented and cheerful, and shows this in his look

and bearing. This is an additional praise of wisdom. Thus Ecclesiasticus 13:25-26,

“The heart of man changeth his countenance, whether it be for good or

evil. A cheerful countenance is a token of a heart that is in prosperity” –

“and the boldness of his face shall be changed.”  The word translated

boldness is עֹז, which means properly “strength,” and is best taken of

the coarseness and impudence engendered by ignorance and want of

 culture. Wisdom, when it fills the heart, changes the countenance

to an open genial look, which wins confidence and love.




A Wise Man’s Superiority (v. 1)


  • IN PENETRATION OF INTELLECT. He knoweth not merely things,

but the interpretation thereof. A wise man — using the term in its widest

sense — has clearer insight than ordinary mortals into the essences of



Ø      The secrets of nature. He is qualified to understand and explain

phenomena which to ordinary minds are mysterious and inscrutable.

Ø      The events of history. He is able frequently to trace the under-

currents moving society, and bringing about occurrences which

to common minds are inexplicable.

Ø      The wonders of revelation. He can discover in sacred Scripture

truths veiled to unenlightened eyes.

Ø      The mysteries of grace. Possessed of an unction from the

Holy One, he can understand all things (I John 2:20, 27).


  • IN ELEVATION OF CHARACTER. “A man’s wisdom maketh his

face to shine.” “It scarcely needs a proof that the countenance or front of

the head is regarded in Scripture as THE MIRROR OF DIVINE

INFLUENCES upon the man — of all affections, and of the entire life

of soul and spirit.”  Many a poet, and seer, and martyr, and reformer,

and woman of the finest fiber has at times had a face that has

looked like porcelain with a light behind it” (Joseph Cook -

‘Boston Noonday Lectures,’ 2nd series, p. 149).). The wise man’s face

shines because of three things:


Ø      The light of truth in his understanding. The wise man is

essentially a child of light. A luminous intellect makes A


Ø      The light of purity in his heart. There are faces which glow

and beam with a soft silver sheen, as if they had shed off all that

was gross and material, animal and brutish, and were spiritualized

into a fine ethereal essence; because they reflect upon their

surface the pure, sweet, chaste, and holy emotions that stir

the clear depths of their bosoms within.

Ø      The light of life in his conscience. In the wise man the moral

faculty is not dead, torpid, dull, and besotted; but alive, bright,

sensitive, and vigorous; and what Cook calls the solar look in

a face “arises from the activity of the higher nature when

                        conscience is supreme”  (Ibid.)


  • IN REFINEMENT OF MANNERS. “The hardness,” or strength, “of

a wise man’s face is changed.” “The coarse ferocity of ignorance” is in him

“transformed by culture” (Plumptre). What Ovid says of human learning —



“Makes manners gentle, rescues men from strife” —


is true of heavenly wisdom, which is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle,

and easy to be entreated,” (James 3:17). “Wisdom gives to a man

bright eyes, a gentle countenance, a noble expression; it refines and

dignifies his external appearance and his demeanor; the hitherto rude

external, and the rude regardless, selfish, and bold deportment, are

changed into their contraries” (Delitzsch). The change may be:


Ø      Gradual, as all moral transformations are slow, “from stage to stage,”

“first the blade and then the ear, and after that the full corn in

 the ear” (Mark 4:28) – but it must be:


Ø      Actual, otherwise there is no reason to suppose the individual has

become possessed of wisdom; and it will eventually be:


Ø      Visible to all, so that all beholding him shall recognize in him the

gentleness of one who has studied in wisdom’s school. Christ,

 in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge

(Colossians 2:2-3), was the highest impersonation the world ever

witnessed of true gentleness and refinement.



The Tokens of Wisdom (v. 1)


 This book, and those which have affinity with it, both canonical and

apocryphal, are in nothing more remarkable than in the stress they lay upon

wisdom. This is the quality of the spirit which in its highest manifestation is

godliness and piety, which in its ordinary manifestations distinguishes the

ruler from the subject, the sage from the fool. The reader of Ecclesiastes

cannot fail to admire the independence of the author of common human

standards of well-being, such as wealth, prosperity, and pleasure; wisdom

is with him “the principal thing.” The signs of true wisdom are graphically

portrayed in this verse.


  • WISDOM IMPARTS INSIGHT. Ordinary men are not even, as a rule,

observant; but there are men who are observant of what strikes the

senses, of the phenomena of nature, of external life, but who go no further.

Now, it is characteristic of the wise that they are not satisfied to know what

lies upon the surface.


Ø      The first stage of wisdom is science; the scientific man notes

resemblances and differences, antecedents and sequences; he

arranges phenomena into classes and species and genera upon the

one principle, and into physical causes and effects upon the other.

He recognizes similarities and uniformities in nature, and terms these

arrangements laws.


Ø      The second stage of wisdom is philosophy, whose province it is

not only to proceed to higher generalizations, but to discover

in all the processes of nature and in all the activities of mind the

presence and operation of reason.


Ø      The third stage of wisdom is theology, or religion, i.e. the discernment

of the ubiquitous presence in the universe of the Eternal Spirit, from

whom all individual minds proceed, and whose language, by which

He holds communion with those minds, is nature. The scientist,

the philosopher, the theologian, are all men who possess

wisdom, who are dissatisfied with superficial knowledge, who “know

the interpretation of a thing.” Their wisdom is limited indeed if

they disparage one another’s work and service, for THE WORLD

HAS NEED OF THEM ALL!   And there is no occasion why,

in a measure, one man should not partake all three characters.


Take an athletic man, the most perfect specimen of athletic training,

                    bone flesh and sinew, if that is all,

he is but one-third of a man and useless to society!


Send him to the schools and cram his mind full,

                    He is but two-thirds of man

and now he is dangerous as well as useless!


Put Christ in his heart to control and urge his purpose

    an ideal man – all three-thirdsA COMPLETE  MAN!


  • WISDOM IMPARTS BRIGHTNESS. The stupid and brutal betray

themselves by an expression of stolidity. The cunning and crafty often

display their characteristic quality by a keen, designing, “underhand,” and

sinister glance. But the wise are bright; clearness of perception, width of

judgment, decisiveness of purpose, seem written upon the brow, seem to

gleam from the steady eye of the wise man. The entrance of a wise man

into the council-chamber is like the rising of the sun upon a landscape, —

when the mists are cleared away and the dark places are illumined.



The wise man is prepared for difficulties and dangers, and because he is

prepared he is not alarmed. He measures circumstances, and sees how they

may be bent to his will, how their threats may be turned into favor. He

measures his fellowmen, discerns the strength of the strong, the depth

of the thoughtful, the trustworthiness of the firm, the incompetency of

the pretender, and the worthlessness of the shifty. He measures himself,

and neither exaggerates or underestimates his abilities and his

resources. Hence the boldness, the hardness of his face (like Christ when he

steadfastly set His face towards Jerusalem – Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7 –

CY – 2013), when he turns to survey his task, to encounter his adversary,

to endure his test. His heart is not dismayed, for HIS TRUST IS





                                     Sweetness and Light (v. 1)


The wisdom which is here spoken of as conferring upon its possessor an

incomparable superiority is not mere wealth of intellectual knowledge, or a

wide and accurate acquaintance with any department of science or

philosophy. It is rather a moral condition, a state of heart and mind with an

outward life consonant with it, a temperament and disposition attained by

long and careful endeavor. In our modern use of the word, wisdom is

equivalent to knowledge, and generally indicates mental endowments and

equipment which may or may not enable its possessor to act sensibly in the

ordinary affairs of life. We are familiar enough with the phenomena of men

of science who in practical matters are as helpless as children, who betray a

gross and astounding ignorance of things which lie outside the department

of knowledge which they have cultivated, or who make it manifest to all

that their knowledge has not had a refining influence upon them, and

delivered them from the evil of being biased by the disturbing influence of

prejudices and passions. Such wisdom which we admire and respect, in

spite of its unpractical character, is not of the same order with that which

the Preacher eulogizes. The wisdom which is so often spoken of in the

Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the Proverbs, in this Book of Ecclesiastes,

and in Job, is a Divine faculty by which a man is enabled to live a well-ordered

life. Its source is in God, but it is not confined to the one nation

which He chose, or synonymous with the exceptional revelations made to

it. Thus the wisdom of Solomon is declared to have been higher in degree

than that attained by any in the neighboring peoples, but not different in

kind (1 Kings 4:29-31). Then, too, its range is very wide. Nothing is too

high, nothing is too low, for wisdom “fitly” to “order.” Law and

government (Proverbs 8:15-16), and even the precepts of husbandry

(Isaiah 28:23-29), are equally her productions with those moral

observations which constitute in the main the three books of Scripture to

which I have referred. She is the source of skill of every kind, the mistress

of the arts, the guardian of the vast and inexhaustible stores garnered by

experience, from which men may equip themselves for meeting every

emergency of life. The wise man is God-fearing, free from superstition and

fanaticism, prudent, shrewd, a good counselor, a safe guide (vide Cheyne,’

Job and Solomon,’ pp. 117, et seq.). The enthusiastic manner in which the

influence of wisdom upon a character is described reminds us of the

somewhat similar sentiment expressed by Ovid:


Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,

Emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.”

(Epp. ex Ponto,’ 2:9, 47.)


“A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face

shall be changed.” The words depict very vividly and beautifully the almost

transfiguring effect of serene wisdom upon the countenance — how it

lights up the face, and gives to even homely features an exquisite charm.

The coarse, sullen, vacant stare of ignorance is transformed by the

sweetness and light” with which the soul is permeated. There is a reference

probably to the literal shining of Moses’ countenance when he came down

from the mount on which he had seen God face to face (Exodus 34:29).

We must all of us have known cases in which true piety and

wisdom, such as is learned from Christ, have had this refining and

transforming influence; persons of little ordinary education or culture, to

whom religion has given really new intellectual power, and whose

tranquility and peace of spirit has given an air of heavenly serenity to their

whole bearing and manner. And, indeed, in every case a holy disposition of

mind has a refining effect upon those who cherish it. The face is an index to

the character, and if the emotions that are expressed upon it are pure and

worthy, they cannot fail in time to transform it in some measure — to tone

down what may have been its natural harshness, and to banish from it all

traces of coarse and sensual passions. An example of religion giving

intellectual power, or rather of drawing out the faculties which but for it

would have remained unexercised, we may see in the life of John Bunyan.

The genius which is so marvelously displayed in his works, and which gives

him a high place in the literature of his country, would never have shown

itself but for the wonderful change in his life, when, from being a profane,

careless, godless fellow, he became a true-hearted servant of Christ.

The abruptness with which this chapter opens may, it has been supposed,

have been intended to call the attention of the reader to the hidden

significance of the words that are about to be spoken, as our Lord often

emphasized his utterances by the saying, He that hath ears to hear, let him

hear.” Something there is in what he is about to add to be read between the

lines. And the probable explanation of the suggestive question, and the

allusion to a wise man’s understanding “the interpretation of a thing,” is in

the fact that the writer veils a protest against despotism in the garb of the

maxims of servility (Plumptre).


2 “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment. The pronoun I stands in

the Hebrew without a verb and some take it as the answer to the question in v. 1,

“Who is like the wise man?” I, who am now teaching you. But it is better to regard

the pronoun as emphasizing the following rule, supplying some verb (which may

possibly have dropped out of the text), as, “Say, advise — I, for my part, whatever

others may do or advise, I counsel thee;” the injunction being given in the imperative

mood. The Septuagint and Syriac omit the pronoun altogether. The

warning implies that the writer was living under kingly, and indeed

despotic, government, and it was the part of a wise man to exhibit cheerful

obedience. Ben-Sira observes that wise men teach us how to serve great

men (Ecclesiasticus. 8:8). Such conduct is not only prudent, but really a religious

duty, even as the prophets counsel submission to Assyrian and Chaldean

rulers (see Jeremiah 27:12; 29:7; Ezekiel 17:15). The liege lord,

being God’s vicegerent, must be reverenced and obeyed.  Paul, though

he does not quote Ecclesiastes, may have had this passage in mind when he

wrote (Romans 13:1-5), “Let every soul be subject unto the higher

powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are

ordained of God,…………..Ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath,

but also for conscience’ sake.” The “king” in the text is understood by

some to mean God, but the following clause renders this improbable, and it

is wisdom in its political aspect that is here regarded – “and that in regard

of the oath of God.” The ray is explicative; “in regard of,” or “because of,”

as ch.3:18. “The oath of God” is the oath of allegiance to the

king, taken in the name of God, under his invocation (compare Exodus

22:11; I Kings 2:43). So we read (II Kings 11:17) of a covenant

between king and people, and people and king, in the time of Jehoiada;

Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah swear by God to be his vassal

(II Chronicles 36:13); and Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 12:1; 11:8. 3) relates that

Ptolemy Soter, son of Lagus (following herein the example of Darius),

exacted an oath from the Jews in Egypt to be true to him and his

successors. We know that both Babylonian and Persian monarchs exacted

an oath of fealty from conquered nations, making them swear by the gods

whom they worshipped, the selection of deities being left to them.


Further advice concerning political behavior.


3“Be not hasty to go out of his (the king’s) sight:”  Do not, from some hasty

impulse, or induced by harsh treatment, cast off your allegiance to your liege lord.

We have the phrase, “go away,” in the sense of quitting of service or desertion

of a duty, in Genesis 4:16; Hosea 11:2. So Peter urges servants to be subject unto

their masters, “not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward

(I Peter 2:18). Solomon might have given this advice to the Israelites who were

ready to follow Jeroboam’s lead; though they could have remained loyal to

Rehoboam only from high religious motives.  But it is better to bear even a

heavy yoke than to rebel. The Septuagint has, “Be not hasty; thou shalt go from

his presence” — which seems to mean, “Be not impatient, and all will be well.”

But the authorized rendering is correct (compare ch. 10:4). We may quote

Mendelssohn’s comment cited by Chance on Job 34:16, “This is a great rule

in politics, that the people must have no power to pronounce judgment upon

the conduct of a king, whether it be good or bad; for the king judges the

people, and not the reverse; and if it were not for this rule, the country

would never be quiet, and without rebels against the king and his law” -

“stand not in an evil thing;”  -  Vulgate, Neque permaneas in opere malo,

“Persist not in an evil affair.” But the verb here implies rather the engaging

in a matter than continuing an undertaking already begun. The “affair” is

conspiracy, insurrection; and Koheleth warns against entering upon and

taking part in any such attempt. This seems to be the correct explanation of

the clause. The Septuagint gives, “Stand not in an evil word” (λόγῳ | - logo –

perhaps “matter”).  (Compare “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to

do evil” – Exodus 23:2).  The reason for the injunction follows – “for he

doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.”  The irresponsible power of a despotic

monarch is here signified, though the terms are applicable (as some, indeed,

take them as alone appertaining) to God Himself (but see Proverbs 20:2).

The Septuagint combines with this clause the commencement of the following

verse, “For he will do whatsover he pleases, even as a king using authority

(ἐξουσιάζωνexousiazonexercise authority).” Some manuscripts add

λαλεῖ - lalei - he speaks.


4 “Where the word of a king is, there is power:” - A further

confirmation of the last thought. More accurately, “Inasmuch as the word

of a king is powerful” (shilton, v. 8). This last word is used in Daniel (3:2)

for “a lord,” or “ruler.” The king does as he thinks fit because his

mandate is all-powerful, and must be obeyed – “and who may say unto

him, What doest thou?:  The same expression is found applied to God

(Job 9:12; Isaiah 45:9). The absolute authority of a despot is spoken of in

the same terms as the irresistible power of Almighty God. Αἰκὼν δὲ βασιλεύς

ἐστιν ἔμψυχος Θεοῦ. – Eikon de basileus estin empsuchos Theou - God’s living

image is an earthly king.


5 “Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing:” -

This is an encouragement to obedience to royal authority (compare

Proverbs 24:21-22; Romans 13:3). The context plainly shows that

it is not God’s commandment that is spoken of (though, of course, the

maxim would be very true in this case), but the king’s. Nor is it necessarily

a servile and unreasoning obedience that is enjoined. Koheleth is dealing

with generalities.  Such cases as that of Daniel and the three children, where

obedience would have been sinful, are not here taken into consideration.

“Shall feel,” literally, “shall know,” i.e. experience no physical evil. Quiet

submission to the powers that be guarantees a peaceful and happy life.

Ginsburg and others translate, “knoweth not an evil word,” i.e. is saved

from abuse and reproach, which seems somewhat meager, though the

Septuagint gives, Οὐ γνώσεται ῤῆμα πονηρόνOu gnosetai hraema

ponaeronshall not come to harm.  The Vulgate is better,

Non experietur quidquam mali – “and a wise man’s heart discerneth

(knoweth) both time and judgment.”  The verb is the same in both clauses,

and ought to have been so translated. The “heart” includes the moral as

well as the intellectual faculties; and the maxim says that the wise man

bears oppression and remains unexcited even in evil days, because he is


all will be righted (ch.12:14). The certainty of retributive justice is so strong in

his mind that he does not resort to rebellion in order to rectify matters, but

possesses his soul in patience (Luke 21:19; Hebrews 10:35-36), leaving the

correction of abuses in God’s hands. Septuagint, “The wise man’s heart

knoweth the time of judgment,” making a hendiadys of the two terms. The

Vulgate has tempus et responsionem, “time and answer.”



                        The Ruler and the Subject (vs. 2-5)


It is possible that some persons, living under a form of government very

different from that presumed in the admonitions of this passage — under a

limited monarchy or a republic instead of under an absolute monarchy of a

special theocratic kind — may fancy that these verses have no special

significance for them, no applicability to the practical conduct of their

actual life. But reflection may show us that this is not so, that there are

valuable principles of interest and import for the civil life of all men.



POSSESSES DIVINE SANCTIONS. The king, the king’s word,

commandment, and pleasure, are all significant of order in society, of that

great reality and power in human affairs — the state. “Order is Heaven’s

first law.” Right does not, indeed, grow out of civil authority, but it is its

Divine basis. That kingship has often become tyranny, and democracy

mob-rule, that every form of government may be abused, is known to

every student of history, to every reader of the newspapers. But law in

itself is good, and its maintenance is the only security for public liberty.

One of the first duties of a religious teacher is to impress upon the people

the sacredness of civil authority, to inculcate reverence for law, to

encourage to good citizenship. He is not called upon to flatter the great

and powerful, to repress discussion, to enjoin servility. But that freedom

which is the condition of the true development of national life, and which

can only be preserved by reverence for rightful authority, for constitutional

government, should be dear to every Christian, and should be held in honor

by every Christian teacher and preacher. “The powers that be are ordained

of God.” (Romans 13:1)



SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITY. Law for the most part is designed to

repress crime, to maintain peace and tranquility, to afford protection to the

honest, industrious, and law-abiding. Therefore to commit wrong of any

kind, whether theft, or slander, or violence, is both evil in itself and is

transgression of the law. A man who simply contents himself with breaking

no civil law may indeed be a villain, for civil law is not all; there is a Divine

Law which the civil ruler is not bound to enforce. But the bad citizen

cannot be a good Christian; to break the laws of the state is not likely to

lead to obedience to the commandments of the King of kings. It is, indeed,

not to be expected that a man should approve of every command of the

king, of every law which is enforced in his country. But if every man were

to refuse to obey every statute of which he disapproved, how could

government be carried on? The wonderful word of Christ is decisive,

“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” (Mark 12:17)  Where no

Divine ordinance is violated by conforming to civil law, the duty of the

subject, the citizen, is plain; he should obey. He is, of course, at liberty under

a constitutional government to use means of an honorable kind to secure a

change of law. It is a grand word of the Preacher, “Whoso keepeth the

commandment shall know no evil thing.”



SUGGESTIVE OF LOYALTY TO GOD. When submission is enjoined, it

is supported by a religious motive — “and that in regard of the oath of

God.” It is evident that the authority of a parent or a ruler, the subjection

of a child or a citizen, are intended to symbolize the even higher facts of

the spiritual kingdom — the empire of the “King, eternal, immortal, and

invisible (I Timothy 1:17), and the loyalty of those who by the new birth

have entered “the kingdom of heaven.”


6 “Because-  This and the three following clauses all begin with ki,

“since,” “for,” and the conjunction ought to have been similarly rendered in

all the places. Thus here, for “to every purpose there is time and

judgment,” -  Here commences a chain of argument to prove the wisdom of

keeping quiet under oppression or evil rulers. Everything has its appointed

time of duration, and in due course will be brought to judgment (see ch.3:1,17;

12:14) – “therefore (for) the misery of man is great upon him.”  This is a

further reason, but its exact signification is disputed. Literally, the evil of the man

 is heavy upon him (compare ch. 6:1). This may mean, as in the Authorized Version,

that the affliction which subjects suffer at the hand of a tyrant becomes

insupportable, and calls for and receives GOD’S INTERPOSITION!   Or

“the evil” may be the wickedness of the despot, which presses heavily upon him,

And under retributive justice will ere long bring him to the ground, and so the

oppression will come to an end. This seems to be the most natural

interpretation of the passage. The Septuagint, reading differently, has, “For

the knowledge of a man is great upon him.” Though what this means it is

difficult to say.



                                    Allegiance of Subjects (vs. 2-5)


It is scarcely to be denied that the wisdom which the Preacher exhorts his

readers to exemplify in their relations as subjects with their kings, has

something very like a servile tone about it. “There is not a trace of the

enthusiastic loyalty of a Hebrew to a native sovereign, ‘ whose power

loveth righteousness, who judgeth God’s people with righteousness; “in

whose days the righteous flourish, and abundance of peace so long as the

moon endureth (Psalm 72:7). Nor do we find the freeman’s boldness,

with which an Elijah could confront an apostate or a tyrant king. That fire

is spent! The counsels here, as where he recurs to the same subject in the

last five verses of chapter 10, are those of submission, forbearance,

self-control, prudence in dealing with a power irresistible, overbearing,

often oppressive, yet which carries within itself the seeds of decay. Such

advice may well have been needed by a generation of Jews, proud,

intractable, detesting foreign rule, and groaning under the tyranny of an

alien monarch” (Bradley). Loyal obedience to a duly constituted authority

is declared to be:


Ø      a matter of conscience (v. 2);

Ø      a prudent course (vs. 3-5a);


because by it we escape the punishment incurred by rebellion, and enjoy

some tranquility even under the worst rule. And as a consolation to those

who are indignant at a tyrannous use of power, the reminder is given (5b)

that punishment for evil deeds will be meted out in due time BY A HAND



·         OBEDIENCE A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE. (v. 2.) “I counsel

thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of

God. Though the words “counsel thee” are not in the Hebrew text, no

better have been suggested to fill up the gap. But the emphasis which is

laid upon the I by the omission of the verb may be interpreted to mean that

the writer is giving a personal opinion, and not speaking authoritatively on

a matter concerning which different men might form very diverse

judgments. And we may compare with it St. Paul’s manner of speaking,

“But to the rest say, not the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:12, Revised

Version), as contrasted with “I command, yet not I, but the Lord”

(ibid. v.10). If we interpret the words in this way, a considerable

measure of what I have called the servility of their tone is taken away. The

writer is giving us prudential counsels, but of course the question still

remains open whether there are not in certain emergencies higher

considerations than those of prudence. He tells how tranquility may be

preserved even under the rule of a tyrant; but it is for us to decide whether

higher blessings than that of tranquility are not to be striven for. The great

cautiousness with which he speaks is not unreasonable when we remember

how ready men are to make use of passages of Scripture to justify even

questionable conduct, and how many errors have sprung from an ignorant

and self-willed misinterpretation of isolated texts. The advice, then, given is

to keep the king’s commandment” out of regard to the oath of allegiance

taken to him or imposed by him. No hasty or ill-advised breach of such an

oath is justifiable. It would seem that this passage was in St. Paul’s mind,

though he does not directly quote from it, when he says, “Wherefore ye

must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for consciencesake

(Romans 13:5). As is well known, both the words of the Preacher, and

the teaching of St. Paul in the thirteenth chapter of Romans, have been

taken as laying down the rule of passive obedience for all subjects in all

circumstances. However cruel the despot, the duty of subjects to obey him

implicitly, and to make no attempt to deprive him of his power, has been

held by many to be clearly laid down by the Word of God. And great stress

has been laid upon the fact that the ruler of the civilized world, when St.

Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans, was Nero, one of the most infamous

and cruel tyrants who ever wore the purple. In our own country during the

seventeenth century, when the question of the prerogative of the sovereign

and the rights and duties of subjects engaged the attention of all, these

portions of Scripture were often interpreted to teach that the king’s will

was by right, and by the authority of God’s Word, above all charters and

statutes and acts of parliament, and that no misuse of his power could

justify rebellion against him. But those who took up this ground forgot or

ignored the fact that kings gave duties towards their subjects, that

coronation oaths bind them to keep the laws; and that St. Paul, in the very

same place in which he commands subjects to obey, describes the kind of

rule which has an absolute claim upon their allegiance. “For rulers are not

a terror to good works, but to evil.... Do that which is good, and thou shalt

have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good… a

revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” (Romans 13:3-4).  It

must surely be evident to all whose minds have not been blinded by a grotesque

and monstrous theory, that a ruler who is a terror to good works, who rewards

vice and punishes virtue, and uses the sword of justice to enforce his own

selfish and cruel purposes, cannot claim from subjects the obedience which

the apostle commands them to render to one of the very opposite

character. But though passive obedience to tyrannical government cannot

be commended on any higher ground than that of prudence, there can be

no doubt that in ordinary circumstances the faithfulness of subjects to their

rulers is a religious duty. And so we find in many passages of Scripture

blame attached to those who thought that rebellion against the authority

even of heathen kings, to whom the chosen people might be in subjection,

was justifiable (Isaiah 28:15; 30:1; Ezekiel 17:15; Jeremiah 27:12;

Matthew 22:21).


·         A PRUDENT COURSE. (vs. 3-5a.) In these verses the Preacher

seeks to dissuade his readers from casting off their allegiance to the king,

or taking part with the enemies of the monarch under any hasty impulse

whatever.” “Do not lightly forsake the post of duty, join in no conspiracy

against the king’s throne or life,” the words might be paraphrased. His

power is absolute; he is above courts of law, and therefore any action

against him must be attended with great risk. Of course, as I have said, the

course recommended is a prudential one, and there are circumstances in

which many will think that the oppressiveness of a tyrannical government

has reached a pitch justifying rebellion against it. But those who seek

tranquility will bear a great deal, and not be eager to enter on any such

undertaking. In ordinary circumstances, those who obey the king’s

commandment will experience no evil thing (5a), cases being left out of

view in which the king requires obedience to decrees contrary to the

Divine laws (Daniel chapters  3 and 6.); while the risk of failure in attempts to

overthrow his power, and the anarchy and crime that generally attend

insurrection against constituted authority, are calculated to make the wise

man pause before he resolves to become a rebel. The advice given by the

Preacher is so carefully stated, and based on such reasonable grounds, that

perhaps one should not term it servile. And this impression is strengthened

by a consideration of what is implied rather than expressed in the latter part

of v. 5. There is hope of a beneficial change even for those who submit in

silence to the worst evils of despotism. It is to be found in the conviction of

there being a power higher than that of earthly sovereigns, which will in its

own time mete out punishment to all transgressors. The wise man’s heart

discerneth both time and judgment;” he will wait patiently for the “time

and season of judgment which God hath put in his own power”

(ch. 3:1, 11, 17; Lamentations 3:26;). Evil doing cannot

escape punishment; however exalted in station the offender may be, the

time will come round when his deeds will be weighed in an unerring

balance, and receive the chastisement they deserve. His high-handed

disregard of equity and mercy may prevail up to a certain point, but

retribution will come when the measure of his iniquity has been filled up.

And the knowledge that this is so will help to console and strengthen the

wise in the dark and evil day.




                                                “Honor the King” (vs. 2-6)




Ø      To keep the king’s command. Unless conscience interposes with a clear

and distinct veto, as in the cases of Moses’ parents (Hebrews 11:23),

Daniel and his companions in Babylon (Daniel 1:8; 3:16-18; 6:10), and

the apostles before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:19-20), it is the

duty of all to render obedience to the civil power, kingly or magisterial,

even though the doing of this should entail suffering and hardship

(Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-15).


Ø      To abide in the king’s service. The subject should not be hasty “to go

out of the king’s presence,” in the sense of either renouncing allegiance

to the king’s throne, or deserting the post of duty he has received from the

king. The obligation to preserve one’s loyalty, however, is not absolute.

Times may come when insurrection is a duty, as in the revolution which

overthrew Athaliah (II Chronicles 23:15; II Kings 11:16). Nor can it be

maintained that statesmen should never desert their sovereigns. When

these embark on projects the consciences of their ministers cannot

approve, it is incumbent on these ministers to leave them. Only nations

should not resort to revolutionary practices without due consideration,

and statesmen should not resign their positions in a fit of haste.


Ø      To preserve the king’s favor. This the subject will usually do, if he

persist not in an evil thing,” i.e. if he take no part in conspiracies

against the king’s power or person; as he certainly will lose the

king’s favor by acting otherwise.





Ø      The sanctions of religion. These as much bind the subject as if the

subject had individually sworn an oath in God’s presence. The

relationship existing between king and people being of Divine

appointment, the subject is practically bound as by a solemn covenant

in God’s sight to render obedience and loyalty to his sovereign (compare

II Chronicles 23:16; 36:13).  Nor does religion exempt the subject from

such obligation even when the king is unworthy and his rule oppressive

(Jeremiah 29:7; Matthew 22:21).


Ø      The power of the king. This also a reason why the subject should not

raise the standard of rebellion without just cause, or offer unreasonable

resistance to the carrying out of royal commands, that the king, as

representative of the supreme power of the state, is usually able to enforce

obedience and loyalty at least of an external kind. “The king doeth

whatsoever pleaseth him,” etc. (vs. 3-4). The language applies to

Oriental despots more than to constitutional monarchs.


Ø      The safety of the subject. Under arbitrary rule such as the Preacher

alluded to, the way of submission was the way of safety. It might not,

indeed, promise much good to the individual quietly to submit to a power

he could not resist; but at least it would largely protect him against evil.

Ideal rulers should be a fountain of blessing to their loyal as well as a

force of repression to their disloyal subjects (Romans 13:3).


Ø      The dictates of wisdom. The subject who might feel impelled to rebellion

and disobedience perceives that, as “to every purpose there is a time and

judgment (i.e. a boundary beyond which it cannot pass, and a judicial

decision upon its character which it cannot evade), since otherwise

man’s misery beneath the whips and scorns of time would become 

intolerable, so the oppression under which he groans will one day

exhaust itself, come to an end, and be called up for judgment

AT THE BAR OF THE SUPREME,  if not in time and on earth,

at least at the world’s close, and in the unseen; and, perceiving this,

the wise subject deems it better to keep the king’s commandment,

and maintain allegiance to the king’s throne, than to enter

on the dubious paths of insurrection and revolt.




1. The superior honor due from man to Him who is the King of kings.

2. The loftier grounds on which the Christian soul’s allegiance to God and

    Jesus Christ is claimed.

3. The blessedness of those who are faithful subjects of the heavenly King.

4. The folly of attempting to elude God’s presence, and the danger of

    persisting in an evil thing.

5. The high argument for patience supplied by the certain prospect of a

                future judgment


7 “For he knoweth not that which shall be:” -  The subject may be

man in general, or more probably the evil tyrant. The clause contains a

third reason for patience. The despot cannot foresee the future, and goes

on blindly filling up the measure of his iniquity, being unable to take any

precautions against his inevitable fate (Proverbs 24:22) -  “for who can tell him

\when it shall be?” Rather, how it shall be. The fourth portion of the argument.

The infatuated man knows not:


·         the time when the blow will fall, nor,

·          the manner in which the retribution will come, or,

·         the form which it will take.


The next verse gives the conclusion of the line of argument which confirms the

last clause of v. 5.


8 There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit;” –

 If we take “spirit” in the sense of “the breath of life,” explaining the clause to

mean that the mightiest despot has no power to retain life when his call comes,

we have the same thought repeated virtually in the next clause. It is therefore better

to take ruach in the sense of “wind” (Genesis 8:1). No one can control the course

of the wind or know its way (compare ch.11:5, where the same ambiguity exists;

Proverbs 30:4). Koheleth gives here four impossibilities which point to the conclusion

already given:


1.      The first is man’s inability to check the viewless wind or to know whence

it comes or whither it goes (John 3:8). Equally impotent is the tyrant to

influence the drift of events that is bearing him on to his end. God’s

judgments are often likened to a wind (see Isaiah 41:16) – “neither

hath he power in the day of death:” - rather, over the day of death.


2.      The second impossibility concerns the averting the hour of death.

Whether it comes by sickness, or accident, or design, the despot must

succumb; he can neither foresee nor ward it off (I Samuel 26:10,

“The Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall

 go down into battle, and perish.


3.       “and there is no discharge in that war;” -  This is the third impossibility.

The word rendered “discharge” (mishlachath) is found elsewhere only

in Psalm 78:49, where it is translated “sending,” “mission,” or “band.” The

Septuagint here has ἀποατολή - apostolaecommission.   The Authorized

Version is doubtless correct, though there is no need to insert the pronoun

“that.” The severity of the law of military service is considered analogously

with the inexorable law of death. The Hebrew enactment (Deuteronomy 20:5-8)

allowed exemption in certain cases; but the Persian rule was inflexibly rigid,

permitting no furlough or evasion during an expedition. Thus we read that

when (Eobazus, the father of three sons, petitioned Darius to leave him one

at home, the tyrant replied that he would leave him all three, and had them

put to death. Again, Pythius, a Lydian, asking Xerxes to exempt his eldest

son from accompanying the army to Greece, was reviled by the monarch in

unmeasured terms, and was punished for his presumption by seeing his son

slain before his eyes, the body divided into two pieces, and placed on either

side of the road by which the army passed, that all might be warned of the

fate awaiting any attempt to evade military service (Heroditus 4:84; 7:35).

The passage in the text has a bearing on the authorship and date of our book,

is as seems most probable, the reference is to the cruel discipline of Persia.


4.      “neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.” -  its

lord and master - Septuagint, τὸν παρ αὐτῆςton par autaeswho

practice it - its votary.  The fact is, no evil despot, however reckless and

imperious, can go long unpunished. He may say in his heart, “There is no

God,” or, “God hideth his face, and sees him not,” but CERTAIN

RETRIBUTION awaits him, and may not be avoided. Says the gnome:


o       Ἄγει τὸ θεῖον τοὺς κακοὺς πρὸς τὴν δίκνη.
Agei to theion tous kakous pros taen diknae.

“Heaven drives the evil always unto judgment”




                                    The Doom of Tyrants (vs. 6-8)


In words which are purposely dark the writer speaks of the fall of

unrighteous tyrants. It is with bated breath that he whispers to those who

are writhing helplessly under the oppressive rule of cruel despots, that the

evil under which they suffer works its own cure in time, and that those who

have their own way at present will sooner or later have to succumb to a

power greater than their own. it is with considerable difficulty that the drift

of the passage is to be made out, but with this clue in our hands it becomes

intelligible. In the sixth and seventh verses there are four statements, each

introduced by the same conjunction,  כִּי, “for,” or “because,” and by

retaining it in each case, instead of varying it as is done in our English

versions, the sequence of thought becomes clearer. The sense of the verses

is as follows: “The heart of the wise man will know the time and judgment,

and will keep quiet; for:


(1) there is a time and a judgment appointed by God in which the wicked

ruler will be duly punished (compare ch. 3:17);


(2) the wickedness of man is heavy upon him, and will entail its own

punishment, — the misery caused by a tyrant is a weight which will bring

him down at last;


(3) no man knows the future, or that which will take place, and therefore

no despot is able absolutely to guard himself against the stroke of

vengeance; for


(4) who can tell him how the vengeance wilt be brought about? He may

look in this direction and in that for the longed-for information, but in vain

(compare Isaiah 47:13, etc.). One thing, however, is certain, that whilst the

wicked “are drowned in their carousing, they shall be consumed like

stubble fully dry” (Nahum 1:10). The inexorable nature of the doom

which will fall upon the cruel despot is described in highly vivid language.

There are four things which are impossible for him to do.


  1. “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit.”

Life can be shortened or cut off at any moment, but can by no art be

prolonged beyond the fixed term. The despot cannot by his power escape

the (doom of death, any more than can the meanest of his subjects. Or

understanding by רוַּה not “the spirit of man,” but “the wind,” to which

Divine judgments are often likened (Isaiah 41:16; 57:13; Jeremiah

4:11-13; 22:22), it is as fruitless to try to keep back the Divine judgments

as to prevent the wind from bursting forth.


  1. There is no one who has power over the day of death, or is able to avert

the arrival of that “king of terrors” (Job 18:14); the pestilence walketh

forth in darkness, and the sickness wasteth at noonday (Psalm 91:6).


  1. There was no discharge granted from the ranks in the time of war under

the vigorous law of Persia, and the Divine law of requital cuts off with

equal certainty all hope of escape from the guilty transgressor; and lastly:


  1. Wickedness will not deliver its master. When the hour of Divine

vengeance strikes, the sinner shall receive the meet reward of his actions.

“The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). By no lavish

bribes, by no use of power, by no arts or endeavors, can the evil-doer,

however high his rank may be, avert the day of judgment, which may

precede, but which, if it does not precede, will certainly coincide with the

day of death. And in that time, when he will have to stand before the

tribunal of the King of kings, none of his deeds of cruelty and oppression

will be passed over. Such is the teaching half concealed beneath the words

of the Preacher; but not so veiled as to be hidden from the discernment of a

reader made sensitive by the righteous indignation which oppression

excites in a healthy mind. His words pass from an apparent servility of tone

into a generous anger, and there is a triumphant ring in his voice as he



BASED.  But though horror of injustice and hardness of heart is manifest

in his words, they are not instinct with any less worthy feeling. He does not

justify revenge, or hint at the advisability of subjects taking the law into

their own hands when their patience has been long tried. But he raises the

matter to a higher level, and makes FAITH IN GOD  the source of

consolation; and in his very words of counsel to subjects adduces

considerations which are calculated to weigh with their rulers, and make

those of them who are still amenable to reason, pause in a course of

oppression and cruelty.



                        Death — Our  Power and Our Powerlessness

                                                      (v. 8)


The Preacher brings before us the familiar fact of:



are evils from which large resources, or high rank, or exceptional abilities

may secure us; but in these death is not included. No man may escape it.

Some men have lived so long that “death has seemed to have forgotten

them;” but their hour has come at last. Death is a campaign in which there

is “no furlough” given. Therefore:


Ø      Let every man be in readiness for it; let us live “as those who today

indeed are on the earth, but who tomorrow may be in heaven.” Let not

death surprise us with some urgent duty undone, the neglect of which

will leave our nearest relatives or dearest friends in difficulty or distress.


Ø      Let us all measure the limit of our life; and let us feel that since so much

is to be done by us if we can, for narrower and for wider circles, and since

there is but a brief period in which to do it, let us address ourselves

seriously, energetically, patiently, devoutly, to the work which the

Divine Husbandman has given us to do. Jesus said, “I must work

the works of Him that sent me, while it is day;  the night cometh

when no man can work.”  (John 9:4)  .But the statement of the Preacher,

reminding us of this familiar truth, may suggest to us, by contrast —



DEATH. Although it is utterly hopeless that we can avert the stroke of

the “last enemy,” we may do much in regard to it.


Ø      We can often defer its coming by the wise regulation of our life; we

cannot “retain our spirit” when our hour is come, but we may put that

hour much further on by prudence and virtue. Folly will ante-date, but

wisdom will post-date it. We cannot, indeed, measure Divine favor

by the number of our years — there is a Christian reading of the

heathen adage, “Whom the gods love die young” — but it is very

often true that “with long life” God will “satisfy” the man who

sets his love upon him” (Psalm 91:14-16).


Ø      We can gain a spiritual victory over it; we can


“…so live, that we may dread

The grave as little as our bed.”


We may so abide in Jesus Christ, and so live in the light of His holy truth,

that the idea of death, instead of being a terror or even a dark shadow

at its close, will be positively welcome to our spirit.


Ø      We may find a friend in it when it comes; the friend whose kind hand

opens for us the door of immortality, and ushers into the life which

is free and full and endless.


9 “All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is

done under the sun:” -  (ch.5:18; 7:23); i.e. all that has been mentioned in

the preceding eight verses, especially the conviction of retributive justice. He gained

this experience by giving his mind to the consideration of men’s actions – “there is

a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.”  This version is

certainly incorrect. A new sentence is not commenced here, but the clause is closely

connected with what precedes; and “his own hurt” should be “his [equivocally] hurt.”

Most modern commentators consider that the hurt is that of the oppressed subject;

but it is possible that the sense is intentionally ambiguous, and the injury may be that

which the despot inflicts, and that which he has to suffer. Both these have been

signified above.




                        The Sorrowful Tale of Man’s Misery upon the Earth

                                                            (vs. 7-9)


·         NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE FUTURE. Neither himself can foresee,

nor can any one inform him, either what shall be or how it shall be. Man’s

acquaintance with the future amounts at best to a “perhaps.”


·         NO EXEMPTION FROM DEATH. This great truth stated in a

threefold form.


Ø      No man can retain his spirit, or hold it back, when the hour strikes for it

to be breathed forth, any more than he can hold back the winds of heaven

when the moment has arrived for them to blow.


Ø      No man has power over the day of his death, to defer it, to remove it to

a dim and distant future, or to hasten it to bring it near, any more than he

has power over the day of his birth. His times both of coming into and of

going out from the world ARE IN GOD’S HAND!


Ø      No man can procure a discharge from the war with the king of terrors,

either for himself or another, any more than a conscript could escape the

battle when drawn for service by an Oriental despot. All without

exception must go forth to the final conflict (Hebrews 9:27).


·         NO ESCAPE FROM RETRIBUTION. The wicked may hope that in

some way or other it may be possible for them to evade the due reward of

their transgressions; but such hope is taken from them by the fact that God

will one day bring every secret thing INTO JUDGMENT, whether it has

been good, or whether it has been evil (ch 12:14).


·         NO IMMUNITY FROM OPPRESSION. Though it cannot be

affirmed that all are oppressed — else where were the oppressors? — yet it

cannot be guaranteed beforehand that any one will not be oppressed, since

there is a time wherein one man hath power over another to his hurt”

(v. 9).


·         LESSONS.


1. Leave the future with God, and live in the present.

2. Prepare for that day which will come on all like a thief in the night.

    (Matthew 24;13; I Thessalonians 5:2; II Peter 3:10;  Revelation 3:3; 16:15)

3. So live that the recompense of the future will be that which belongs to


4. Avoid being an oppressor, and rather be oppressed.


Section 6. Koheleth is troubled by apparent anomalies in God’s moral government.

He notes the prosperity of the godless and the misery of the righteous, God’s

abstention and the seeming impunity of sinners make men incredulous of Providence;

but God is just in reward and punishment, AS THE END WILL PROVE!

Meantime, returning to his old maxim, he advises men patiently to acquiesce in things

as they are, and to make the best of life.


10 “And so” -  (וּבְכֵן); then, in like manner, under the same

circumstances (Esther 4:16). The writer notes some apparent

exceptions to the law of retribution of which he has just been speaking, the

double particle at the beginning of the verse implying the connection with

the preceding statement – “I saw the wicked buried,” - “The wicked” are

especially the despots (v. 9). These are carried to their graves with every

outward honor and respect, like the rich man in the parable, who “died, and

was buried” (Luke 16:22). Such men, if they had received their due

reward, far from having a pompous and magnificent funeral (which would

befit only a good and honored life), would have been buried with the burial

of an ass (compare Isaiah 14:19; Jeremiah 22:19). So far the

Authorized Version is undeniably correct. What follows is as certainly

inaccurate as it is unintelligible – “who had come and gone from the place

of the holy,” -  literally, and they came, and from the place of the holy they

went. The first verb seems to mean, “they came to their rest,” they died a

natural death. The words, in themselves ambiguous, are explained by the

connection in which they stand (compare Isaiah 57:2).  The verse admits and

has received a dozen explanations differing more or less from one another.

A good deal depends upon the manner in which the succeeding clause is translated –

“and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done:” -  As the particle

rendered “so” (ken) may also mean “well,” “rightly,” we get the rendering,

“even such as acted justly,” and thus introduce a contrast between the fate

of the wicked man who is honored with a sumptuous funeral, and that of

the righteous whose name is cast out as pollution and soon forgotten. So

Cheyne (‘Job and Solomon’) gives, “And in accordance with this I have

seen ungodly men honored, and that too in the holy place (the temple,

Isaiah 18:7), but those who had acted rightly had to depart, and were

forgotten in the city.” Against this interpretation, which has been adopted

by many, it may reasonably be urged that in the same verse ken would

hardly be used in two different senses, and that there is nothing in the text

to indicate a change of subject. It seems to me that the whole verse applies

to the wicked man. He dies in peace, he leaves the holy place; the evil that

he has done is forgotten in the very city where he had so done, i.e. done

wickedly. “The place of the holy” is Jerusalem (Isaiah 48:2; Matthew 27:53)

or the temple (Matthew 24:15). He is removed by death from that spot,

the very name of which ought to have cried shame on his crimes

and impiety. The expression seems to picture a great procession

of priests and Levites accompanying the corpse of the deceased tyrant to

the place of burial, while the final clause implies that no long lamentation

was made over him, no monument erected to his memory (see the opposite

of this in the treatment of Josiah, II Chronicles 35:24-25). They who

consider “the righteous “ to be the subject of the last clauses see in the

words, “from the holy place they departed,” an intimation that these were

excommunicated from the synagogue or temple, or banished from the

promised land, on account of their opinions. I would translate the passage

thus: In like manner have I seen the wicked buried, and they came to their

rest, and they went from the holy place, and were forgotten in the city

where they had so (wickedly) acted. The versions have followed various

readings. Thus the Septuagint: “And then I saw the impious brought unto

graves, and from the holy place; and they departed and were praised in the

city, because they had so done;” Vulgate, “I have seen the impious buried,

who also, while they still lived, were in the holy place, and were praised in

the city as if men of just doings.” Commenting oh this version, St. Gregory

writes, “The very tranquility of the peace of the Church conceals many

under the Christian name who are beset with THE PLAGUE OF

THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS!   But if a light breath of persecution

strikes them, it sweeps them away at once as chaff from the threshing-floor.

But some persons wish to bear the mark of Christian calling, because, since

the name of Christ has been exalted on high, nearly all persons now look to

appear faithful, and from seeing others called thus, they are ashamed not to seem

faithful themselves; but they neglect to be that which they boast of being

called. For they assume the reality of inward excellence, to adorn their

outward appearance; and they who stand before the heavenly Judge, naked

from the unbelief of their heart, are clothed, in the sight of men, with a holy

profession, AT LEAST IN WORDS. (‘Moral.,’ 25:26) – “this is also vanity.”

The old refrain recurs to the writer as he thinks on the prosperity of the wicked,

and the conclusions which infidels draw therefrom. Here is another

example of the vanity that prevails in all earthly circumstances.





                                    Unequal Lots (vs. 9-10)


The enunciation in the preceding verses of a firm conviction in the moral

government of the world by God might have been expected to have

silenced for ever doubts excited by the inequalities and irregularities so

often apparent in human society. The possession of a master key might

have been expected to deliver the wanderer from the mazes of the

labyrinth. But so great is the power of the actual, so varying is the strength

of faith, that at times belief in a God of infinite wisdom and power and love

seems a fallacious theory, contradicted and disproved by the facts of

everyday life. And so our author, after bidding his readers to wait patiently

for the manifestation of God’s justice against evil-doers, gives utterance to

the perplexity and distress occasioned by His long delay. He thinks of the

successful oppressor, prosperous in life and honored in burial, and

contrasts with him the righteous driven into exile, and dying in obscurity

and forgotten by all his fellows. Such seems to be the meaning of these

verses, according to the translation given in the Revised Version, “All this

have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work under the sun: there is a

time wherein one man hath power over another to his hurt. And withal I

saw the wicked buried, and they came to the grave; and they that had done

right went away from the holy place, and were forgotten in the city: this

also is vanity.” It is just the state of matters described in the first part of the

parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) the one enjoying in this

life good things, the other evil — and because the Preacher is not able to draw

aside the veil that divides the temporal from the eternal, he cannot be sure that

the inequality of the lots of the wicked and the righteous is ever remedied.

He describes:


(1) the prosperity of the wicked; and

(2) the adversity of the righteous.


·         THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED. It is still the despot whom he

has in his mind’s eye. He sees him ruling over others to their hurt, and at

last receiving honorable burial, and finding rest in the grave. No

insurrection of oppressed and pillaged subjects cuts short his tyrannous

rule; he is undisturbed by enemies from without; he escapes the dagger of

the assassin, and dies peacefully in his bed. And even then, when the fear

he inspired in his lifetime is relaxed, no outbreak of popular indignation

interferes with the stately ceremonial with which he is laid in the tomb.

“There is not wanting the long procession of the funeral solemnities

through the streets of Jerusalem, the crowd of hired mourners, the spices

and ointment very precious, wrapping the body; nor yet the costly

sepulcher, with its adulatory inscription.” He might have been the greatest

benefactor his subjects had known, the holiest of his generation, so

completely has he received the portion of those who have lived prosperous

and honored lives (compare II Chronicles 16:14; 26:23; 28:27). The

punishment merited by an evil life has not fallen upon him; the Divine

Judge has delayed His coming until it is too late, as far as this life is

concerned, for justice to be done, and therefore the faith of those who wait

patiently upon God is subjected to a severe strain.


·         THE ADVERSITY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. While the wicked flourish

in undisturbed peace, the righteous have often to endure hardships. The

decree of banishment goes out against them; with slow and lingering steps

they are compelled against their will to depart from the place which they

love. They must go forth, and only too soon are they forgotten in the city,

i.e. the holy city; a younger generation knows nothing more of them, and

not even a gravestone brings them back to the memory of their people.

This also is vanity, like the many others already registered — this, viz., that

the wicked while living, and also in their death, possess the sacred soil;

while, on the contrary, the upright are constrained to depart from it and are

soon forgotten (Delitzsch). It seems a stain upon the Divine righteousness

that this should be so; that so long an interval should elapse between the

commission of the offence and the dawning of the day of retribution, and

that in so many cases it would appear as if retribution never came. This is

calculated to try our faith, and happy are we if the trial strengthens our

faith. But one thing must not be left out of account — the Preacher dwells

upon it in a subsequent verse — and that is that external circumstances of

prosperity or adversity are not of supreme importance; that righteousness

even with misfortunes is infinitely preferable to wickedness, whatever

measure of external prosperity it may enjoy. Whether happiness or misery

in this life be their outward lot, in the end “it shall be well with them that

fear God” (v. 12).



A Contrast of the Wicked and Good (v. 10)


  • BEFORE DEATH. In the character of their lives. Each lives and acts in

accordance with his character of soul.


Ø      The wicked acts wickedly. Spends his days


o       without religion, having no fear of God before his eyes

(Psalm 36:1; Romans 3:18);

o       without morality, taking pleasure in disobedience to God’s

Law (Romans 1:32; Ephesians 2:2; 5:6) and;

o       without hope (Ibid. ch.2:12), having no happy outlook

beyond the grave.


Ø      The righteous acts rightly.


o       Worshipping in the temple of the holy;

o       Learning in the school of the holy;

o       Walking in the ways of the holy; and

o       Cherishing the hopes of the holy.


These different characteristics belong to the wicked and the righteous

in all ranks and classes of society.


  • AT DEATH.  In the style of their funerals. Both come to the grave, the

house appointed for all the living (Job 30:23), like Dives and Lazarus

(Luke 16:22); perhaps after having lived respectively as these did —

the wicked clothing themselves in fine linen and faring sumptuously every

day; the good lying in rags and sores at the rich man’s gate, and feeding on

the crumbs from the rich man’s table. But from this point their paths and

experiences diverge.


Ø      The wicked have a burial. They are borne to the place of sepulture

with pomp and pageantry, and in presence of assembled crowds are

committed to the dust. Wealth and honor wait upon them to their last

resting-places, and do the utmost to provide quiet and peaceful

couches for their lifeless corpses. Oftentimes, if not always, is this the

fortune of the ungodly who have:


o       defied the Almighty,

o        despised religion,

o        insulted morality,


 and yet increased in riches and grown great in power.


Ø      The good simply go away. They vanish from the scene of their

sufferings and labors, no one knows when or how. Whether they

have a funeral no one cares. Certainly their departure is not marked

by long trains of mourners going about the streets. Their obsequies,

conducted by angels, are not observed by the passing crowds of

busy men on earth. This also is a frequent lot of good men at death,

though it must not be assumed that good men are never carried to

their graves amid lamentations and tears (II Chronicles 24:16; Acts 8:2).


  • AFTER DEATH. In the treatment of their memories. Both pass into

the unseen, and have no more knowledge of what transpires on this side

the veil. But their lots upon the other side are frequently as different from

each other as before.


Ø      The wicked are remembered. Forgotten, it may be, and forsaken by

God, but not by men who admired their splendor, and perhaps envied

or feared their greatness when living.


Ø      The good are forgotten. Remembered indeed by God, but not by

men, who suffer their names to pass into oblivion; as saith the poet:


“The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones.”

(‘Julius Caesar,’ act 3. sc. 2.)


  • LEARN.  The folly of attempting to elude God’s presence, and the

danger of persisting in an evil thing. Study to live well by acting well.

Seek a lodging for thy soul when it must leave thy body. Commit the care

of thy memory to God and good men.  Envy neither the present nor the

future lot of the wicked.



Sin in Power (vs. 9-10)


Amid the obscurities and uncertainties in which the precise meaning of these

verse is lost, we may allow it to speak to us of the truth that when sin is in

power it is in all respects AN UNSATISFACTORY THING!   It is:


  • INJURIOUS TO THE PEOPLE. “A man ruleth over men to their hurt”

The evils of misrule are obvious, for they have been only too often

illustrated; they are these:


Ø      the infliction of grave injustice;

Ø      the encouragement of iniquity and discouragement of


Ø      the disturbance and unsettlement, and consequent reduction in

various spheres of useful industry; and

Ø      the decline of activity, morality, worship.


(Is this not what is going on in America in the 21st Century?  Consider:

Ø      promotion of abortion and gay life styles

Ø      all out war against Christianity and Fundamentalists in general

Ø      prevalence of welfare which is anti-Genesis 3:17-19

Ø      liberalness in contemporary Christianity – CY – 2013)


·         HURTFUL TO THE HOLDER HIMSELF. “One man hath power

over another to his own hurt” (Revised Version marginal reading). It is

certainly and most profoundly true, whether here stated or not, that the

holding of power by a bad man is hurtful to himself. It elevates him

in his own eyes when he needs to be humbled therein; it gives him the

opportunity of indulgence, and indulgence is CERTAIN TO FIND AN

EVIL INCLINATION or to foster an unholy habit; it makes injurious

flattery the probable, and a beneficial remonstrance the unlikely (“faithful

are the wounds of a friend – Proverbs 27:6)- thing in his experience.


  • OF BRIEF DURATION. If we only wait awhile we shall “see the

wicked buried.” It is probable enough that sin in power will be guilty of

serious excesses, and will therefore bring down upon itself those human

resentments or those Divine judgments which end in death. But, apart from


A LIMIT TO OUR HUMAN LIVES which, though it sometimes takes

from the field a brave and powerful champion, on the other hand relieves

society of the impure and the unjust.  Sin in power is bound fast by

 the tether which it is quite unable to snap (see Psalm 37:35-36).


  • CONTRACTING GUILT. They “had come and gone from the place

of the holy.” They had either:


Ø      been professing to administer justice, and had done injustice; or

Ø      attended the place of privilege, and had despised their opportunity.


Either way, they had been “laying up for themselves wrath against the

day of wrath” (Romans 2:5)


  • GOING DOWN INTO OBLIVION. The sense may be that this

happens too often to the righteous; but it is certainly appropriate to the

wicked. And is it not more applicable to them? For no man tries to

remember them. No one proposes to erect monuments or institute

memorials of them. There is a tacit understanding, if nothing more, that

their name shall be dropped, that their memory shall perish. The only kind

thing that can be done concerning them is to leave their name unspoken.


Ø      Be content with the exercise of a holy and benignant influence.

It is well to be powerful if God wills it. But most men have to live

without it, and a human life may be destitute of it, and yet be truly

happy, and be of real service to a great many souls.


Ø      Resolve to leave a holy influence and a fragrant memory behind.

We may have to content ourselves with a very simple memorial stone,

but if we leave kindly memories and good influences in many hearts,

so that in our case “the memory of the just is blessed,” WE



11 “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily,” –

The  verse states one of the results of God’s forbearance in punishing the evil.

The verse begins with asher,  “because,” as in ch.4:3; 6:12, which connects the

sentence with the allegation of vanity just preceding, as well as with what follows.

Pithgam, “sentence,” “edict,” is a foreign word of Persian origin, found in

Esther 1:20 and in Chaldee portions of Ezra (Ezra 4:17) and Daniel (Daniel 4:14,

etc.). God seems to us to delay in punishing the guilty because we behold

only one little portion of the course of His providence; could we take a

more comprehensive view, ANOMALIES WOULD DISAPPEAR and we

should see the end of these men (Psalm 73:17). But a contracted, skeptical view

leads to two evils:


  • first, a weakening of faith in God’s moral government; and
  • second, a miserable fatalism which denies man’s responsibility

and saps his energy.


Of the former of these results Koheleth here treats – “therefore the heart of

the sons of men” -  The heart is named as the seat of thought and the prime

mover of action (compare ch.9:3; Esther 7:5; Matthew 15:18-19) -  “is fully set

in them to do evil.” - Literally, is full in them; i.e. their heart becomes filled with

thoughts which are directed to evil, or full of courage, hence EMBOLDENED!

(Revised Version margin) to do evil.   THE LONGSUFFERING OF GOD,

instead of leading such men to repentance, HARDENS THEM IN THEIR

INFIDELITY!  (Psalm 73:11). Primarily, the reference is still to tyrannical despots,

who, in their seeming impunity, are emboldened to pursue their evil course. But

the statement is true GENERALLY!




                        A Hasty and Foolish Inference (v. 11)


In the case of some this conclusion may be reached deliberately, but in that

of others the process may be unconscious, or at all events without attentive

consideration and reasoned purpose.


·         THE DATA. There. is delay in retribution When we perceive immediate

punishment follow upon flagrant sin, we are surprised and startled. We

often remark that the course of the wrongdoer who avoids collision with

the civil government is a course of uninterrupted prosperity. We see

families advanced to honor and wealth who are lacking in moral character.

We read of nations persevering for years, and even for centuries, in paths

of injustice, rapacity, and violence, and yet growing in power and acquiring

renown. And we cannot doubt that many evil deeds wrought in secret

remain unpunished. The facts must be admitted. But they are explicable,

and may be reconciled with a firm belief in the righteous retribution, the

perfect moral government, of God. Stress is to be laid upon the word

speedily.” It must be remembered that with God “one day is as a thousand

years, and a thousand years are as one day.” (II Peter 3;8)


“Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small;

Though with patience He stands waiting, He exactly judgeth all.”



Judgment deferred is not judgment abandoned. From the time of Job the

facts here referred to have been a perplexity to the observer of human



·         THE ERRONEOUS INFERENCE. “The heart of the sons of men is

fully set in them [is emboldened] to do evil.” The supposition is that sin

may be committed with impunity, and the conclusion is that those sins

which yield pleasure should be committed, since they will entail upon the

sinner no evil consequences. Of course, an upright, conscientious, and

godly man does not reason thus. He does what is right from a conviction of

the nobility and beauty of goodness, and from a desire to act in conformity

with the will of God, and to enjoy the approval of God; he abstains from

evil because his conscience condemns it, because it is contrary to the

universal order, because it is a grief to his Savior’s heart. But the self-seeking,

pleasure-loving, base mind looks only to the consequences of

actions, and does what affords pleasure, and evades painful duty. It is such

a man who is referred to in ‘this passage, whose heart is emboldened to sin

by the foolish persuasion that no penalty will follow.




Ø      The sinner should reflect upon the facts of the Divine government, and

upon the express statements of the revealed Word of God. He may thence

learn the certainty of retribution.


o       “The wicked shall not go unpunished;” (Proverbs 11:21)

o       “The way of transgressors is hard;”  (ibid. ch. 13:15)

o       “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)


The sentence may not be executed speedily; but it is passed, and



Ø      The godly man should rest assured that, however he may be perplexed

by the mysteries of Divine providence, however he may be unable to

reconcile what he sees in society with his religious convictions,

nevertheless the Lord reigneth, and it shall be well with those who fear,

obey, and love Him. And he may well think less of the consequences of

conduct, and more of those principles by which conduct is governed, of

those motives by which action is inspired. Loyalty and gratitude,

devotion and sympathetic admiration, may well lead to such a life as

shall be its own reward. However it may fare with a man in this life,

he chooses the good part who hates that which is evil and loves that

which is good, whose convictions are just, and whose life is in

harmony with his convictions. For such a man all things work

together for good.   (Romans 8:28)


12 “Though a sinner do evil a hundred times,” -  The sentence

begins again, as v. 11, with asher, followed by a participle; and the

conjunction ought to be rendered “because,” the statement made in the

former verse being resumed and strengthened. The Vulgate has attamen,

which our version follows. The sinner is here supposed to have transgressed

continually without check or punishment. (Compare the background of Trayvon

Martin, who has so recently been in the news – perhaps his life could have

been spared had he responded differently to discipline in his high school in

MiamiSanford, Florida, where he lost his life, was not his home –  and all who

are contemplating going down that road, Proverbs 1:10-33 could save your life  -


Saved – # 5 – this web site - CY – 2013)  The expression, “a hundred times,”

is used indefinitely, as Proverbs 17:10; Isaiah 65:20 – “and his days be prolonged,” –

better, prolongeth his days for it; i.e. in the practice of evil, with a kind of

contentment and satisfaction, the pronoun being the ethic dative. Contrary

to the usual course of temporal retribution, the sinner often lives to old age

The Vulgate has, Et per patientiam sustentatur, which signifies that he is

kept in life by God’s long-suffering - “yet surely I know” - rather,

though I for my part know. He has seen sinners prosper; this experience

has been forced upon him; yet he holds an inward conviction that God’s moral

government will vindicate itself at some time and in some signal manner

“it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before Him.”  This is not

eally tautological; it is compared to Paul’s expression (I Timothy 5:3), “widows that

are widows indeed” (o]ntwv ontoscertainly; indeed), implying that they are,

in fact and life, what they profess to be. Delitzsch and Plumptre suggest that in

Koheleth’s time “God-fearers” had become the name of a religious class, as the

Chasidim, or Assideaus,” in I Maccabees. 2:42; 7:13, etc. Certainly a trace of

this so-named party is seen in Psalm 118:4; Malachi 3:16. When this adjustment

of anomalies shall take place, whether in this life or in another, the writer

says not here. In spite of all contrary appearances, he holds firm to his faith

that it will be welt with the righteous in the long run (compare Isaiah 3:10).

The comfort and peace of a conscience at rest, and the inward feeling that

 his life was ordered after God’s will, would compensate a good man FOR

MUCH OUTWARD TROUBLE and if to this was added THE ASSURED

HOPE OF ANOTHER LIFE it might indeed be said that it was well with him.

The Septuagint has, “that they may fear before him,” which implies that the mercy

and loving-kindness of God, manifested in His care of the righteous, LEAD



13 “But it shall not be well with the wicked,” – (this thought is echoed in

Isaiah 3:11) -  If experience seemed often to militate against this assertion, Koheleth’s

faith prevailed against apparent contradictions – “neither shall he prolong his days,

which are as a shadow;”  -  Above we read of a wicked man enjoying a long,

untroubled life; here the contrary is stated. Such contradictions are seen

every day. There are inscrutable reasons for the delay of judgment; but on

the whole moral government is vindicated, and even the long life of a

sinner is no blessing. The author of the Book of Wisdom writes (4:8),

“Honorable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is

measured by number of years;” and Isaiah (Isaiah 65:20), “The sinner

being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” Man’s life is compared to

a shadow because it passes away with the setting sun (see on ch. 6:12)  -

“because he feareth not before God.”  This is the reason, looking to temporal

retribution, why the wicked shall not live out half their days (ch.7:17; Proverbs

10:27;  Psalm 55:23). Koheleth cleaves to the doctrine received from old time,

although facts seem often to contradict it.



Retribution Certain (vs. 11-13)


The prosperity of the wicked is not only an evil in itself, but it leads the

way to a more deliberate and unrestrained course of sin. The fact that the

Divine sentence that condemns evil is not executed speedily, leads many to

think that they can get away with iniquity and sin with impunity.

They do not see that the slowness with which the messenger of vengeance

often travels gives opportunity for REPENTANCE AND AMENDMENT

 before the stroke of punishment falls. Men think they are secure, and give

themselves fearlessly to the practice of evil.  Yet the Preacher could not give up

his conviction that punishment of evil was but delayed, NOT AVERTED!

Though he saw the sinner do evil a hundred times and prolong his days, he knew

 that the righteousness of God, which in the present world seems so often

obscured and thwarted, would IN THE END,  ASSERT ITSELF!  (v. 12).

Though the sinner enjoyed prosperity, it was a deceitful calm before the storm;

but the righteous who truly feared God had a peace of spirit which no outward

misfortunes or persecutions could disturb. Appearances, the Preacher saw clearly

enough, were against him, yet his faith was strong even under all such

difficulties, and through it he was victorious!  (compare I John 5:4). The prosperity

of the wicked is, after all, ONLY APPARENT!   It has no sure foundation

and can anticipate NO LONG DURATION!  His days may be many in

number, but they soon pass away “as a shadow;” and when the last comes,

every wish for prolonged life will be in vain. He may be at the very height

of enjoyment (“They were not estranged from their lust.  But while their

meat was yet in their mouths, The wrath of God came upon them”  -

Psalm 78:30-31) when the hour strikes for his enforced departure from the

world in which he has abused the long-suffering of God; and no prayers or

entreaties or struggles will avail to prolong his days. The shadow on the

dial cannot be forced to retrace its course, or to journey more slowly. “His

breath goeth forth, he returneth to his dust; in that very day his thoughts

perish.” (Psalm 146:4)




                        Solemn Thoughts for Serious Moments (vs. 11-13)



Between the righteous and the wicked (Malachi 3:18), the sinner and

the saint, the man that fears God and the soul that fears him not. This

distinction eclipses all others. Other distinctions affect the externals, this

the essentials of man’s being. The fear of God is the root of all goodness in

the soul (Psalm 111:10).



sentence is already pronounced (Ezekiel 18:4), and will eventually be

executed (unless intercepted by grace) on every evil work (Psalm 11:6;

34:21; Romans 1:18; 5:12; 6:21, 23; James 1:15). A sermon on the

certainty of future judgment. The principle of the Divine government is one

of moral retribution. To each man according as his work shall be — evil to

the evil, good to the good.



pronounced, yet is sentence not executed against every evil work.

Sometimes in God’s providence retribution follows swiftly upon the heels

of crime. For the most part, however, the infliction of the sentence is



Ø      to give the sinner space to repent,

Ø      to reveal to him the greatness of his guilt, and

Ø      to melt him by a personal experience of undeserved kindness.


“Account the long-suffering of our God salvation” (II Peter 3:15).


·         A GREAT INSTANCE OF HUMAN IMPIETY. “Because sentence

against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the

sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.” The abuse of clemency is a sadder

sign of depravity than the violation of commandment; to trample on God’s

mercy a greater wickedness than to break His Law.



Between that of the long-lived and deeply-dyed sinner who defies the

Divine Law and despises the Divine mercy, and that of the good man and

humble who fears God and walks in his commandments and ordinances.

The former, in spite of all his shameless audacity and boundless impiety,

attains not to real happiness“it shall not be well with the wicked,”

either here or hereafter (Isaiah 3:11). The former, notwithstanding his

depressed condition, and perhaps brief life, is possessed of the secret of

inward happiness“it shall be well with them that fear God,” both in this

world and the next (ibid. v. 10; 1 Timothy 4:8).



                        The Perversion of God’s Patience (vs. 11-13)


No obscurity hangs over this passage; the evil to which the Preacher refers

is clear enough and common enough, while his condemnation of it is

distinct and decisive.



that God often lets sin go unpunished, or, as we should rather say, partly

unpunished. The tyrant is not dethroned; the fraudulent dealer is not

convicted and sentenced; the murderer is not apprehended; the drunkard

and the debauchee are not driven from the society which they disgrace; the

hypocrite is not exposed and expelled; the men who fill their purses or

satisfy their cravings at the expense of the property or even the character of

their neighbors are sometimes allowed to remain in positions of comfort

and of honor. And it may be that even their health and their spirits appear

untouched by their sins, and even by their vices.


·         ITS MISINTERPRETATION BY MANY. What does it mean that

God allows this to happen? The guilty are not slow to convince themselves

that it means safety to themselves. It is, they think, that God does not

concern Himself with the small particulars of human life, and will not

therefore visit them with His penalties; or it is that God is too “good,” too

kind, to punish His children for following the bent of their own nature; or it

is that the world is not under the government of any righteous Ruler at all,

but only subject to certain laws of which they may prudently make use for

their ultimate immunity. It is that they may safely go on in their evil course

without fear of consequences.


·         THEIR COMPLETE MISTAKE. They argue that because we always

make penalty follow crime as soon as we can, and because our non-infliction

of it argues our intention to condone it altogether, it is the same

with God, and that His forbearance to punish is proof that He does not

intend to do so. Thus they think that “God is altogether such a one as

ourselves.” But they are wrong; he “will reprove us and set [our sins] in

order before our eyes” (Psalm 50:21). We always make penalty

pursue wrongdoing without any interval, because


Ø      we are afraid the criminal will escape us, or


we fear that we ourselves may be taken from the scene. But God is not

hurried by such considerations as these. The guilty can never get beyond

His reach, and He is ever present. Time does not enter into the account of

Him who is “from everlasting to everlasting.” God’s long forbearance is,

therefore, no proof of Divine indifference or of the absence of a ruling

hand from the affairs of men.


·         ITS TRUE SIGNIFICANCE. What the Divine long-suffering really

means is that God is patient with us in the hope that we shall repent and

live (see Ezekiel 33:11; Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 2:4; and especially

II Peter 3:9). The truth is that:


Ø      while men do often seem to escape the retribution that is due to them,

and while they do in fact enjoy a large measure of Divine forbearance;


Ø      sin is always suffering, and is on its way to doom.


o        If outward and visible evils are not attending it, inward and spiritual

evils are.


o        Sin always tends toward misery and shame, and is working it out, as

the event will show. Even if it should escape the hundredth time,

there is a number that will prove fatal.


Ø      The righteous man has a distinct and immeasurable advantage. It is

well with them that fear God.”


o       Piety and virtue have the promise of the life that now is.

      (I Timothy 4:8)  Sobriety, chastity, uprightness, diligence,

prudence, courtesy, kindness, — these are all making for

health and for prosperity, and for the best friendship which

earth can offer.


o       They lead up to the gates of the heavenly city.


14 “There is a vanity which is done upon the earth,” -  The vanity

is named in what follows, viz. the seeming injustice it, the distribution of

good and evil – “there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according

to the work of the wicked men,” (compare v. 10; ch.3:16). The

melancholy fact is noted that the righteous often experience that fate with

which the wicked ,are threatened, which their conduct might be expected

to bring upon them. The verb translated happeneth (nags), with el, “to

come to,” “strike against,” is thus used only in later Hebrew, e.g.

Esther 9:26 – “again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth

according to the work of the righteous:” The wicked meet with that

outward prosperity and success which were thought to be

the special reward of those who served God. The Vulgate is explanatory,

“There are just men whom evils befall as if they did the works of the

wicked; and there are wicked men who are as free from care as if they had

the deeds of the just.” Commenting on Job 34:10-11, St. Gregory

writes, “It is by no means always the case in this life that God renders to

each man according to his work and according to his own ways. For both

many who commit unlawful and wicked deeds He prevents of His free

grace, and converts to works of holiness; and some who are devoted to

good deeds He reproves by means of the scourge, and so afflicts those who

please Him, as though they were displeasing to Him.... God doubtless so

ordains it of His inestimable mercy, that both scourges should torture the

just, lest their doings should elate them, and that the unjust should pass this

life at least without punishment, because by their evil doings they are

hastening onwards to those torments which are WITHOUT END!

For that the just are sometimes scourged in no way according to their deserts

is shown by this history of Job. Elihu, therefore, would speak more truly if he

had said that there is not unmercifulness and iniquity in God, even when He

seems not to render to men according to their ways. For even that which

we do not understand is brought forth from the righteous balance of secret

judgment” (‘Moral.,’ 24:44). Koheleth ends by repeating his melancholy

refrain, “I said that this also (indeed) is vanity.” This conclusion, however,

does not lead to despair or infidelity.



            The Certainty of Retribution (vs. 12-14)


Again and again the writer of this remarkable book reverts to the same

mysterious and perplexing facts of human society. As soon as men began

to observe carefully and to think seriously, they were distressed by the

inequality of the human lot, and by the apparent absence of a just

arrangement of human affairs. If a family is wisely and righteously ordered,

the obedient children are rewarded; whilst the selfish, willful, rebellious

children are chastised. In a well-administered government the law-abiding

citizens are regarded and treated with favor, whilst the strong arm of the

law is brought down heavily upon the idle and the criminal. Now, if God be

the Father and the King of humanity, how is it that the affairs of the world

are not so administered that the good are recompensed, and the wicked

duly, swiftly, and effectively punished? Can there be a just Ruler who is

also omniscient to observe and almighty to carry out his purposes of

righteous government? Such are the thoughts which have passed through

the minds of reflecting men in every age, and which passed through the

mind of the writer of this Book of Ecclesiastes, and which are expressed in

this passage.


·         THE PERPLEXING FACTS OF OBSERVATION. These are recorded

in the fourteenth verse, and are described as “a vanity which is done upon

the earth.”


Ø      The just suffer the inflictions which seem appropriate to the wicked.


Ø      The wicked reap the prosperity which might be expected to recompense

the righteous. These are facts of human life which belong to no age, to no

state of society more than to another. Taken by themselves, they do not

satisfy the intellect, the conscience, of the inquirer.


·         THE ASSURED CONVICTION OF FAITH. The Preacher, regarding

the admitted facts with the eye of faith, comes to a conclusion which is not

supported by mere reasoning upon observed facts. For him, and indeed for

every truly religious man, there is a test of character which determines the

destiny of spiritual beings; the discrimination is made between:


Ø      those who fear God and

Ø      those who fear him not.


Time and earth may not witness the award; but it is the award of the

Almighty Judge and Lord.


Ø      It will not be well with the wicked, even though he may be

permitted to continue and to repeat his offences.


Ø      On the other hand, it shall be well with them that fear God. Such

convictions are implanted by God Himself; the righteous Lord has

implanted them in the mind of His righteous people, and nothing

can shake them, deep-seated as they are in the moral nature,

which is the most abiding work of the Creator-Spirit.


·         THE ATTITUDE OF GODLY WISDOM. Those who, in the face of

the facts described, nevertheless cherish the convictions approved, may

reasonably apply such convictions to the practical control of the moral life.


Ø      Patience should be cultivated in the presence of perplexing and often

distressing anomalies. We must wait in order that we may see the end,

which is not yet.


Ø      Quiet confidence is ever the strength of God’s people. They do not lean

upon circumstances; they lean upon God:



o       who will not fail those who place their trust in Him.


Ø      Expectation of deliverance and acceptance. God may tarry; but He will

surely appear, and will vindicate and save His own. Our salvation is

nearer than when we first believed. (  Romans 13:11)  Much has happened

to test our faith, our endurance; but when the trial has been sufficiently

prolonged and severe to answer the purpose of our all-wise Father,

it will be brought to an end. 


o       “Unto the upright light ariseth out of darkness;”

o       “The Lord is mindful of His own.”


15 “Then (and) I commended mirth,” - In face of the anomalies

which meet us in our view of life, Koheleth recommends the calm

enjoyment of such blessings and comforts as we possess, in exact

accordance with what has already been said (see ch.2:24; 3:12, 22; 5:18),

though the road by which he arrives at the conclusion is not

identical in both cases. In the earlier chapters the injunction is based on

man’s inability to be the master of his own fate; in the present passage the

inscrutable nature of the law that directs God’s moral government leads to

the advice to make the best of circumstances. In neither instance need we

trace veiled Epicureanism. The result obtained is reached by acute

observation supplemented by faith in God  “because a man hath no better

thing under the sun,” - The phrase occurs twice in this verse and again in

v. 17, and implies that the view taken was limited to man’s earthly existence –

“than to eat, and to drink and to be merry: This is not a commendation of

a greedy, voluptuous life, but an injunction thankfully to enjoy the good provided

by God without disquieting one’s self with the mysteries of Providence. (“For

every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received

with thanksgiving.”  - I Timothy 4:4). So it was said of Israel in its palmy

days (I Kings 4:20), Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is

by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry.“for that

shall abide with him of his labor the days of his life,” - rather, and that this

should accompany him in his labor. The Greek Version regards the verb as

indicative, not subjunctive, nor, as others, as jussive: “This shall attend

(sumprose>stai sumprosestai ) him in his work.” But it seems better to

consider Koheleth as saying that the happiest thing for a man is to make

the best of what he has, and to take with him in all his work a cheerful

 and contented heart.




            A Misunderstood Providence and A Mistaken Judgment

                                                  (vs. 14-15)




Ø      The providence is undeniable. “There be righteous men, unto whom it

happeneth according to the work of the wicked;” and “there be wicked

men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.”

Of the former, Joseph, David, Job, Asaph, and Jeremiah were examples;

as also the apostles and early Christians, the martyrs and confessors of

the New Testament Church. Of the latter, Noah’s sons, who, though not

themselves righteous, were saved in the ark; Pharaoh’s butler, who,

though guilty of having conspired against the king’s life, was

nevertheless spared; Haman, who for a time at least flourished,

though he was essentially a bad man — besides others — may be

cited as examples.


Ø      The providence is inevitable. The constitution of the world being what it

is, and the human family interlaced and interdependent as it is, it is

impossible but that calamities should sometimes fall upon the righteous,

and blessings descend upon the heads of the wicked, and that occasionally

even wicked men should be deliberately treated as if they were righteous,

and righteous men rewarded as if they were wicked. Good men often

suffer the consequences of other people’s evil deeds, and vice versa bad

men reap the benefits of other people’s good works.


Ø      The providence is mysterious. That such things should occur in a world

presided over by an all-wise and all-powerful as well as holy and just

God, who loves righteousness and. hates iniquity, is undoubtedly

hard to be understood,” and for the full solution of the enigma it is

more than likely the clearer light of the future must be awaited.


Ø      The providence is symbolic. At least it has its counterpart in the spiritual

world — in the experience of Christ the Righteous One, who was

numbered with transgressors (Mark 15:28), and made sin for us,

though he knew no sin (II Corinthians 5:21); and in that of believers,

who, though personally sinful and unrighteous, are yet accepted as

righteous in God’s sight, and treated as such on account of the

righteousness of Christ (Romans 3:25-26; 1 Corinthians 1:30;

II Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 1:6). May this not in part explain the

occurrence of such phenomena in actual life? Nevertheless, it often

happens that:


Ø      The providence is misunderstood. Men because of it rush to conclusions

that cannot be sustained — as e.g. that there is no such thing as a

providential government of the world, that the Supreme Being is

indifferent to moral distinctions, that there is no profit in piety, and

that no disadvantage follows on the practice of wickedness, and the like.




Ø      The judgment is wrong. It may not be wrong to affirm that a man, more

especially if good and wise, should eat, drink, and be merry

(Ecclesiastes 9:7), though such as do so are not always either good or

wise (Luke 12:19); but it certainly is not right to say that a man has

nothing better to do under the sun than to eat, drink, and be merry. He

who thinks so must have a low conception of both the nature and the

destiny of man.


Ø      The reason is doubtful. That mirth will abide with a man in his labor all

the days of his life. One fears this cannot be sustained as in perfect

accord with experience. Inward happiness or joy in God may abide with

a soul through every varying phase of external circumstances; it is not

clear that so outward a thing as mirth, hilarity, satisfaction in creature-

comforts, will abide with any to the close of life.


·         LEARN:


1. To trust God even in the darkest and most mysterious providences.

            2. To rejoice in God rather than in any of His creatures





                                    One Way Out of Perplexity (vs. 14-15)


The Preacher has just attained for a moment to higher ground, from which

he may get a wider view of life with all its changes and anomalies (vs. 12-13).

His hope revives, his faith comes back. “For a moment he has pierced

through the ring which has confined him to the interests of common life,

and risen also above his own dark misgivings; and there has flashed across

his soul for a moment the certainty that there is a power in the world that

makes for righteousness,’ a Divine and supreme law behind all the puzzles

and anomalies of life, which will solve them all. He lays his hand on this,

but he cannot grasp it” (Bradley.). The inequalities in human lot, the just

suffering as though they had been wicked, the wicked prospering as though

they had been righteous, afflict his heart once more (v. 13). His

recurrence so often to this perplexing phenomenon is almost painful; it

reveals a distress so deep that no arguments can diminish it, no exercise of

faith can charm it away. Nothing but fresh light upon the mysteries of life

and death can give relief, and this is denied him. He is one of those of

whom the Savior spoke (Luke 10:24) who desired to see and hear the

things seen and heard by those who were privileged to receive a revelation

of God in Christ, but whose longings were doomed never to be satisfied on

earth. In the mean time to what conclusion did the Preacher come? To that

which he has already expressed four times over (ch. 2:24; 3:12, 22; 5:18) —

that it is better to enjoy the good things of life than to pine after an impossible

ideal; to eat the fruit of one’s toil in spite of all that is calculated to sadden

and perplex (v. 14). Yet we must be fair to him. He does not recommend riot

and excess, or a life of mere epicurean enjoyment. There is work to be done

in life before enjoyment is won; there is a God from whom the blessings

come as a gift, and the remembrance of this fact will prevent mere brutish

self, indulgence. The fear of God gives a dignity to his counsel which is

wanting in the somewhat similar words of heathen poets, in which we have

Epicureanism pure and simple — in the songs of Anacreon and Horace

and Omar Khayyam. It would indeed be a mistake to imagine that the advice

he gives, however often it is repeated, is the best that can be given, or even

the best that he has to give. It prescribes but a temporary relief from sorrow

and care and perplexity. And even when he makes the most of the satisfaction

gained by “eating and drinking and being merry,” we remember his own

words, that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of

feasting (ch. 7:2).


Section 7 – v. 16-ch. 9:10 -  (the division in the theme caused by the introduction

of a new chapter is misleading). Man’s wisdom is incapable of explaining the

course of God’s providential government; death awaits all WITHOUT

ANY EXCEPTION, whatever be their condition or actions. These two

considerations conduce to the old conclusion, that man had best enjoy life,

only being careful to use it energetically and well.


Vs. 16-17.  No mortal wisdom, combined with the closest observation

and thought, can fathom the mysteries of God’s moral government.


16 “When I applied mine heart” – (ch.1:13). The answering member of the

sentence is in v. 17, the last clause of the present verse being parenthetical –

“to know wisdom,” -  This was his first study (see on ch.1:16). He endeavored

to acquire wisdom which might enable him to investigate God’s doings.  His second

study was “and to see the business that is done upon the earth:  - i.e. not

only to learn what men do in their several stations and callings, but likewise to

understand what all this means, what it tends to, its object and result. (For

“business,” inyan, see on ch.1:13) - (for also there is that neither day nor

night seeth sleep with his eyes:”)  This is a parenthetical clause expressing

either the restless, unrelieved labor that goes on in the world, or the sleepless

meditation of one who tries to solve the problem of the order and disorder in

men’s lives. In the latter case, Koheleth may be giving his own experience.

To “see sleep” is to enjoy sleep. The phrase is not found elsewhere in the Old

Testament.  The expression is hyperbolical. The same idea is found without

metaphor in such passages as Psalm 132:4; Proverbs 6:4.





                                    Man’s Busy Life (v. 16)


The Preacher was observant, not only of the phenomena and processes of

nature, but also of the incidents and transactions of human life. In fact, man

was his chief interest and his chief study. He observed the diligence of the

laborious; the incessant activity of the scheming, the restless, the

acquisitive. How he would have been affected by the spectacle of modern

commercial life — say in London or Paris, New York or Vienna — we can

only imagine; but as things were then, he was impressed by the marvelous

activity and untiring energy which were displayed by his fellow-men in the

various avocations of life.



would be an absurd misrepresentation of man’s being to consider him as

capable only of feeling and of knowledge. Intellectual and emotional he is;

but, possessed of will, he is enterprising, inquiring, and active. Nature does

indeed act upon him; but he reacts upon nature, subdues it to his purposes,

and impresses upon it his thoughts.  (As directed by God to “subdue

the earth” which means find out its secrets.  Genesis 1:28)



ACTIVITY. Human nature is endowed with wants, which prove, as a

matter of fact, to be the means to his most valuable possessions and his

chief enjoyments. His bodily necessities urge him to toil; and their supply

and satisfaction, in many cases, absorb almost all disposable energy. His

intellectual aspirations constrain to much endeavor; curiosity and inquiry

prompt to efforts considerable in themselves, and lasting all through life.

The family and social relations are the motive to many labors. Could one

enter a market, an exchange, a port, and could one not merely witness the

movements of body and of features which strike every eye, but penetrate

the motives and purposes, the hopes and fears, which dwell in secret in the

breasts of the busy throng, something might be discerned which would

furnish a key to the busy activity of life.



PERILS. The laborer, the craftsman, the merchant, the lawyer, all have

their various employments and interests, which are in danger of becoming

engrossing. Perhaps the main temptation of the very busy is towards

worldliness. The active and toiling are prone to lose sight of everything

which does not contribute to their prosperity, and especially of the higher

relations of their being and their immortal prospects. Young men entering

upon professional and commercial life need especially to be warned against

worldliness, to be reminded that it is possible to gain the whole world, and

yet to lose the, soul, the higher and worthier life. A man may become

covetous, or at least avaricious; he may lose his sensibilities to what is

noblest, purest, and best; he may adopt a lower standard of value, may

move upon a lower plane of life.




all the appointments of providence, this is disciplinary. Business is not only

a temptation, it may be an occasion of progress, a means to moral

improvement. A busy man may learn to consecrate his powers to his

Creator’s service and glory; in the discharge of active duties he may grow

in wisdom, in patience, even in self-denial he may do with his might that

which his hand findeth to do, he may redeem the time, he may prepare for

the account to be rendered at last of the deeds done in the body.


17 “Then I beheld all the work of God,” -  This is the apodosis to

the first clause of v. 16. “God’s work” is the same as “that a man cannot

find out the work that is done under the sun,” -  and means men’s actions

and the providential ordering thereof – “because though a man labor to

seek it out, yet he shall not find it;” - This a man, with his finite understanding,

cannot find out, cannot thoroughly comprehend or explain (compare ch. 3:11;

7:23-24). Because though a man labor to seek it out. The Septuagint has,

 Ὅσα αν μοχθή - hosa an mochthaesae -  whatsoever things a man shall

 labor to seek -  “yea, further:  though a wise man think to know it, yet shall

he not be able to find it.”  It is the part of wisdom to determine to know all that

can be known; but the resolution is baffled here (compare ch.7:23). The two verses,

with their repetitions and tautologous expressions, seem to denote perturbation of

mind in the author and his sense of the gravity of his assertions. He is

overwhelmed with the thought of THE INSCRUTABILITY OF GOD’S

JUDGMENTS while he is FORCED TO FACE THE FACTS!   An exquisite

commentary on this passage is found in Hooker, ‘Eccl. Pol.,’ 1:2. § 2, quoted by

Plumptre; and in Bishop Butler’s sermon ‘On the Ignorance of Man,’ where we

read, “From it [the knowledge of our ignorance] we may learn with what temper

of mind a man ought to inquire into the subject of religion, namely, with

what expectation of finding difficulties, and with a disposition to take up

and rest satisfied with any evidence whatever which is real. A man should

beforehand expect things mysterious, and such as he will not be able

thoroughly to comprehend or go to the bottom of.... Our ignorance is the

proper answer to many things which are called objections against religion,

particularly to those which arise from the appearance of evil and

irregularity in the constitution of nature and the government of the world

Since the constitution of nature and the methods and designs of Providence

in the government of the world are above our comprehension, we should

acquiesce in and rest satisfied with our ignorance, turn our thoughts from

that which is above and beyond us, and apply ourselves to that which is

level to our capacities (which God HAS REVEALED – CY – 2013),

and which is our real business and concern .... Lastly, let us adore that

infinite wisdom and power and goodness which is above our

comprehension.  The conclusion is that in all lowliness of mind we set lightly

by ourselves; that we form our temper to an implicit submission to THE

DIVINE MAJESTY beget within ourselves an absolute resignation to all the

methods of His providence in His dealings with the children of men; that in

the deepest humility of our souls we prostrate ourselves before Him, and join

in that celestial song, ‘Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty;

just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O

Lord, and glorify thy Name? for thou only art holy:  for all nations

shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.”

 (Revelation 15:3-4) (compare Romans 11:33).



                        The Business that is Done Upon the Earth (vs. 16-17)


·         IN ITS RELATION TO GOD. It is His work.


Ø      As to its plan.He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven,

and among the inhabitants of the earth” (Daniel 4:35). “He worketh all

things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).


Ø      As to its execution. Not directly, but indirectly — it being in Him that

men live and move and have their being (Acts 17:28). Not so that He is

the Author of sin, or that in any way the freedom and efficiency of second

causes are taken away; but so that while man freely acts and carries out

his purposes, God also as freely acts in and through man and carries

out His.


Ø      As to its characteristics. It is unsearchable and past finding out. As

God’s thoughts are deep, His works are vast and His ways inscrutable

(Psalm 77:19; Romans 11:33).


·         IN ITS RELATION TO MAN. It is man’s work also, he being the

immediate agent engaged in its performance; and as such it is:


Ø      Incessant. It goes on day and night — work, work, work.


Ø      Laborious. So much so that multitudes are able to see sleep with their

eyes neither day nor night.


Ø      Disappointing. Man labors on, and not only often makes little of his toil,

but never comes to a clear perception of what the garment is he and

others are weaving upon the loom of time.


·         LESSONS.


1. The duty of each man performing his appointed task with fidelity,

    leaving the ultimate issue in the hands of God.

2. The wisdom of recognizing that the business done upon the earth is after

    all only a means toward an end.

3. The greater propriety of laboring for that meat which endureth unto

    everlasting life.

4. The limited extent of man’s knowledge as to God’s plan in the

    government of the world



            The Impenetrable, Inscrutable Mystery (v. 17)


Plain people often think that a wise man is a man who knows, if not all things,

yet all things to which he has directed his attention. It does not enter into

 their mind that wisdom lies largely in THE CONSCIOUSNESS


justly and beautifully said that the larger the circle of knowledge, the larger the

external circumference which reveals itself to the apprehension. The writer of

Ecclesiastes was a wise man, but he confesses himself to have been baffled

in his endeavor to find out and master all the work of man, and much more

the work of God. In this confession he was not singular. The man who

knows a little may be vain of his knowledge; but the man who knows much

knows full well how much there is which to him is unknown, and how

much more is by him unknowable.









Ø      man’s finite nature, and

Ø      God’s infinite wisdom.




Ø      It tends to raise our thought of God to a juster elevation.

Ø      It calls forth:


o       humility,

o       submission, and

o       faith.


Ø      It makes the future infinitely interesting and attractive. What we know

not here we shall know hereafter. Now we know as in a mirror, dimly; then,

face to lace.


“Here it is given only to survey

Dawnings of bliss and glimmerings of day;

Heaven’s fuller affluence mocks our dazzled sight —

Too swift its radiance and too clear its light.”





                                    Vanity of Philosophizing (vs. 16-17)


The endeavor had been in vain to discover the principle according to which

it happens that the just sometimes receive the reward of the wicked, and

the wicked that of the righteous (v. 14). Equal failure attends the endeavor to

understand the purpose and end of the toil and labor in which men are ceaselessly

engaged. That all that was done was “a work of God,” the carrying out of a

Divine law. the accomplishment of a Divine plan, he did not doubt (v. 17);

but he was unable {o see the connection of the individual parts with the whole —

the order and symmetry of events in their course he could not recognize. Two

things he had sought to attain:


            (1) to know wisdom, to understand the essence and causes and objects of

                  things; and


            (2) to bring this wisdom to bear upon the facts of life, to find in it a clue for

the interpretation of that which was perplexing and abnormal. But success

in his endeavor was denied him. The toils and cares which fill up laborious

days, and drive away sleep from the eyes of the weary, seemed to him to be

in many cases utterly fruitless; to be imposed upon men for no end; to have

no connection with any higher plan or purpose by which one might

suppose the world to be governed. What, then, is his conclusion? It is that

the finite cannot comprehend THE INFINITE; that no effort is adequate

for the task; that the highest human wisdom is but as folly when it is bent

upon forcing a solution of this great problem (v. 17). “Then I beheld all the

work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the

sun: because however much a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find

it; yea, moreover, though a wise man think to know it, yet he shall not be

able to find it.” The agnosticism of the writer does not tend to atheism. He

does not deny — on the contrary, he affirms — his faith in a great Divine

plan to which all the labors of men are related, though what it is and how it

is being fulfilled he does not know. The tone in which he records his failure

is not without a strain of bitterness; but one would wish to believe that its

prevailing note is that of reverent submission to the Almighty, whose ways

he could not comprehend, and that the writer’s thoughts would find

adequate expression in the devout ejaculation of the apostle, “Oh 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).

The pregnant words of Hooker describe the attitude appropriate for

creatures in presence of their Creator: “Dangerous it were for the feeble

brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High; whom although

to know be life, and joy to make mention of His -Name; yet our soundest

knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can

know Him, and our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when

we confess without confession that HIS GLORY IS INEXPLICABLE;

HIS GREATNESS ABOVE  our Capacity and reach. HE IS ABOVE, and

we upon the earth;



"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."


This material can be found at:


If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.