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, fwtiei~ - 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 z[O, 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

things.

 

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

RADIANT COUNTENANCE!

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

it:

 

“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.

 

  • WISDOM IMPARTS STRENGTH, BOLDNESS, CONFIDENCE.

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

EVER IN HIS GOD AND SAVIOUR!

 

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” (lo>gw| - 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

(ejxousia>zwn exousiazonexercise authority).” Some manuscripts add

lalei~ - 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. Eijkw<n de<

basileu>v ejstin e]myucov Qeou~. – 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, Ouj gnw>setai rJh~ma ponhro>n Ou 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

convinced that THERE IS A TIME OF JUDGMENT COMING when

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.”

 

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.

 

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 ajpostolh> - 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, to<n par aujth~v ton 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:

 

]Agei to< qei~on tou<v kakou<v pro<v th<n di>knh.

Agei to theion tous kakous pros taen diknae.

“Heaven drives the evil always unto judgment”

 

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.

 

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” -  (ˆkeb]W); 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.

 

 

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

righteousness;

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

this, AN EVIL COURSE MUST END IN DEATH!   God has put

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

SHALL NOT HAVE LIVED IN VAIN!

 

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!

 

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  -

JESUS CAN AND WILL SAVE YOUR SOUL – I recommend How to Be

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

TO PIETY AND TRUE RELIGION!

 

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)

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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,

 [Osa a}n mocqh>sh| - 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 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

OF THE LIMITATION OF HUMAN POWERS!   A great thinker has

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.

 

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