Ecclesiastes 9

 

 

 One fate happens to all, and the dead are cut off from all the feelings and

interests of life in the upper world.  (vs. 1-6) This continues the subject treated

above, confirming the conclusion arrived at in ch.8:17, viz. that God’s government

of the world is unfathomable.

 

1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this,” -  literally,

for all this laid up in my heart, and all this I have been about (equivalent to I sought)

to clear up. The reference is both to what has been said and to what is coming.

The ki, “for” (which the Vulgate omits), at the beginning gives the reason for

the truth of what is advanced; the writer has omitted no means of arriving at a

conclusion. One great result of his consideration he proceeds to state. The

Septuagint connects this clause closely with the last verse of the preceding

chapter, “For I applied all this to my heart, and my heart saw all this.” that

the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God:” –

 (Psalm 31:15; Proverbs 21:1); i.e. in His power, under His direction. Man is not

independent. Even the good and wise, who might be supposed to afford

the plainest evidence of the favorable side of God’s moral government, are

subject to the same unsearchable law. The very incomprehensibility of this

principle proves that it comes from God, and men may well be content to

submit themselves to it, knowing that He is as just as He is Almighty“no

man knoweth either love or hatred” - God’s favor or displeasure are

meant. Vulgate, Et tamen nescit homo, utrum amore an odio dignus sit.

We cannot judge from the events that befall a man what is the view which

God takes of his character. We must not, like Job’s friends, decide that a

man is a great sinner because calamity falls upon him, nor again suppose

that outward prosperity is a proof of a life righteous and well-pleasing to

God. Outward circumstances are no criterion of inward disposition or of

final judgment. From the troubles or the comforts which we ourselves

experience or witness in others we have no right to argue God’s favor or

displeasure. He disposes matters as seems best to Him, and we must not

expect to see every one in this world treated according to what we should

deem his deserts (compare Proverbs 1:32 with Hebrews 12:6).

Delitzsch and others think that the expressions “love” and “hatred” are too

general to admit of being interpreted as above, and they determine the

sense to be that no one can tell beforehand who will be the objects of, his

love or hate, or how entirely his feelings may change in regard of persons

with whom he is brought in contact. The circumstances which give rise to

these sentiments are entirely beyond his control and foresight. This is true

enough, but it does not seem to me to be intended. The author is

concerned, not with inward sentiments, but with prosperity and adversity

considered popularly as indications of God’s view of things. It would be

but a meager assertion to state that you cannot know whether you are to

love or hate, because God ordains all such contingencies; whereas to warn

against hasty and infidel judgments on the ground of our ignorance of

God’s mysterious ways, is sound and weighty advice, and in due harmony

with what follows in the next verses. The interpretation, “No man knows

whether he shall meet with the love or hatred of his fellows,” has

commended itself to some critics, but is as inadmissible as the one just

mentioned“by all that is before them.”  The Hebrew is simply, “all [lies]

before them.” All that shall happen, all that shall shape their destiny in the

future, is obscure and unknown, and beyond their control. Septuagint, Ta<

pa>nta pro< prosw>pou aujtw~n. – Ta panta pro prosopou autonall is

before them.  The Vulgate mixes this clause with the following verse, But all

 things are kept uncertain for the future. St. Gregory, “As thou knowest not

who are converted from sin to goodness, nor who turn back from goodness to

sin; so also thou dost not understand what is doing towards thyself as thy

merits deserve. And as thou dost not at all comprehend another’s end, so art

thou also unable to foresee thine own. For thou knowest now what progress

thou hast made thyself, but what I [-God] still think of thee in secret thou

knowest not. Thou now thinkest on thy deeds of righteousness; but thou

knowest not how strictly they are weighed by me. Woe even to the praiseworthy

life of men if it be judged without mercy, because when strictly examined it is

overwhelmed in the presence of the Judge by the very conduct with which it

imagines that it pleases Him” (‘Moral.,’ 29:34, Oxford transl.).

 

2 “All things come alike to all:” -  literally, all things [are] like that

which [happens] to all persons. There is no difference in the treatment of

persons; all people of every kind meet with circumstances of every kind.

Speaking generally, there is no discrimination, apparently, in the

distribution of good and evil. Sun and shade, calm and storm. fruitful and

unfruitful seasons, joy and sorrow, are dispensed by inscrutable laws. The

Septuagint, reading differently, has, “Vanity is in all;” the Syriac unites two

readings, “All before him is vanity, all as to all” – “there is one event to the

righteous, and to the wicked;” - All men have the same lot,

whether it be death or any other contingency, without regard to their

moral condition. The classes into which men are divided must be noted.

“Righteous” and “wicked” refer to men in their conduct to others -  to the

good” -  The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac add, “to the evil,” which is said

again almost immediately – “and to the clean, and to the unclean;” -  “The

goodand “clean” are those who are not only ceremonially pure, but, as the

epithet “good” shows, are morally undefiled -  “to him that sacrificeth,” -  i.e.

the man who attends to the externals of religion, offers the obligatory

sacrifices, and brings his free-will offerings – “and to him that sacrificeth

not:  as is the good, so is the sinner;” -  in the widest senses – “he that

sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.”  He who takes an oath lightly, carelessly,

or falsely (compare Zechariah 5:3), is contrasted with him who regards it as a

holy thing, or shrinks in awe from invoking God’s Name in such a case.  This

last idea is regarded as a late Essenic development (see Josephus, ‘Bell. Jud.,

2:8. 6); though something like it is found in the sermon on the mount, “I say

unto you, Swear not at all,” etc. (Matthew 5:34-37). Dean Plumptre, however,

throws doubt on the above interpretation, owing to the fact that in all the other

groups the good side is placed first; and he suggests that “he who sweareth

may be one who does his duty in this particular religiously and well (compare

Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 65:16), and “he who fears the oath” is a

man whose conscience makes him shrink from the oath of compurgation

(Exodus 22:10-11; Numbers 5:19-22), or who is too cowardly to

give his testimony in due form. The five contrasted pairs are:

 

·        the righteous and the wicked,

·        the clean and the unclean,

·        the sacrificer and the non-sacrificer,

·        the good and the sinner,

·        the profane swearer and the man who reverences an oath.

 

The last clause is rendered by the Septuagint, “So is he who sweareth

(oJ ojmnu>wn ) – ho omnuon - even as he who fears the oath,” which is

as ambiguous as the original. A cautious Greek gnome says —

 

[Orkon de< feu~ge ka~n dikai>wv ojmnu>h|v

          Horkon de pheuge kan dikaios omnuaes

“Avoid an oath, though justly you might swear.”

 

3  This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun,” -

The “evil” is explained in the following words, which speak of the common

fate. The Vulgate takes the first words as equivalent to a superlative: Hoc est

pessimum inter omnia, “This is the greatest evil of all that is done under the

sun.” But the article would have been used in this case; nor would this accurately

express Koheleth’s sentiments. He looks upon death only as one of the evils

appertaining to men’s career on earth — one of the phases of that identity of

treatment so certain and so inexplicable, which leads to disastrous results

(ch. 8:11) that there is one event unto all:”  The “one event,” as the end

of the verse shows, is death. We have here the old strain repeated which is

found in ch. 2:14-16; 3:19; 5:15; 6:12) -  “yea, also the heart of the sons of

men is full of evil,” -  In consequence of this indiscriminating destiny

men sin recklessly, are encouraged in their wickedness“and madness is

in their heart while they live,” - The “madness” is conduct opposed to the

dictates of wisdom and reason, as ch.1:17; 2:2, 12. All their life long men

follow their own lusts and passions, and care little for God’s will and law,

or their own best interests. This is well called “want of reason” (perife>reia

 periphereia -  Septuagint) – “and after that they go to the dead.”  The verb

is omitted in the Hebrew, being implied by the preposition yKi, “to;” the

omission is very forcible. Delitzsch, Wright, and others render, “after him,”

i.e. after man’s life is ended, which seems rather to say, “after they die,

they die.” The idea, however, appears to be, both good and evil go to the

same place, pass away into nothingness, are known no more in this world.

Here at present Koheleth leaves the question of the future life, having

already intimated his belief in Ecclesiastes 3. and 8:11.

 

 

The Antidote to Despondency (vs. 1-3)

 

Horace Walpole once said “Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those

who feel.” The epigram is more sparkling than true; reflecting men in every age have

been oppressed by the solemnity of life’s facts, and the insolubility of life’s

 problems.  Some men are roused to inquiry and are beset by perplexities when

trouble and adversity befall themselves; and others experience doubts and distress

at the contemplation of the broad and obvious facts of human life as it unfolds

before their observation. Few men who both think and feel have escaped the

probation of doubt; most have striven, and many have striven in vain, to vindicate

eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men.

 

  • THE FACT THAT IN THIS EARTHLY STATE THERE IS AN

ABSENCE OF COMPLETE RETRIBUTION. “All things come alike to

all;” “There is one event unto all.” The righteous, the good, and the wise

do not seem to meet with more prosperity and greater happiness than the

wicked and the foolish. The man who offers due religious observance, and

who reveres his oath, is subject to misfortune and calamity equally with the

negligent, the impious, the false swearer. No thunderbolt of vengeance

smites the sinner, no miraculous protection is round about the upright and

obedient. Nay, the righteous is sometimes cut off in the prime of his

manhood; the sinner’s days are sometimes lengthened, and he dies in a

delusive peace.

 

  • THE DIFFICULTY, DOUBT, AND PERPLEXITY OCCASIONED

BY THE OBSERVATION OF THIS FACT. The writer of Ecclesiastes

laid to heart and explored the mysteries of Providence; and in this he was

not peculiar. Every observant and thoughtful person is sometimes

compelled to ask himself whether or not there is a meaning in the events of

life, and, if there be a meaning, what it is. Can our reason reconcile these

events, as a whole, with belief in the existence, in the government, of A

GOD AT ONCE ALMIGHTY AND BENEVOLENT!  Are there

considerations which can pacify the perturbed breast? Beneath the laws

of nature is there a Divine heart? or is man alone sensitive to the inequalities

of human fate, to the moral contradictions which seem to thrust themselves

upon the attention?

 

  • THE TRUE SOLUTION OF THESE DOUBTS TO BE FOUND IN

THE CONVICTION THAT ALL ARE IN THE HAND OF GOD. It is

to be observed that faith in God can do what the human understanding

cannot effect. Men and their affairs are not in the hand of chance or in

the hand of fate, BUT IN THE HAND OF GOD!  And by God is meant

not merely the Supreme Power of the universe, BUT THE PERSONAL

POWER which is characterized by the attributes Holy Scripture assigns to

THE ETERNAL!   Wisdom, righteousness, and benevolence belong to

God. And by benevolence we are not to understand an intention to secure

the enjoyment of men, to ward off from them every pain, all weakness,

want, and woe. The purpose of the Divine mind is far higher than this —

even the promotion of men’s SPIRITUAL WELL-BEING,  the

 discipline of human character, and especially the perfecting of

obedience and submission. Sorrow and disappointment may be,

and in the case of the pious will be, the means of bringing men

into harmony with the will and character of God Himself.

 

4 “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope:” - As

long as a man lives (is one of living beings) he has some hope, whatever it

be. This feeling is inextinguishable even unto the end.

         

Aelpton oujde>n pa>nta d elpi>zein crew>n

            Aelpton ouden panta d elpizein chreon

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

 

Thus Bailey sings, in ‘Festus’ —

 

“All Have hopes, however wretched they may be,

Or blessed. It is hope which lifts the lark so high,

Hope of a lighter air and bluer sky;

And the poor hack which drops down on the flints,

Upon whose eye the dust is settling, he

Hopes, but to die. No being exists, of hope,

Of love, void.”

This clause gives a reason for the folly of men, mentioned in v. 3.

Whatever be their lot, or their way of life, they see no reason to make any

change by reformation or active exertion. They go on hoping, and do

nothing. Something may turn up; amid the inexplicable confusion of the

ordering of events some happy contingency may arrive. The above is the

reading according to the Keri. Thus the Septuagint: [Oti ti>v o[v koinwnei~;

Oti tis hos koinonei - “For who is he that has fellowship with all the living?”

Symmachus has, “For who is he that will always continue to live?” while the

Vulgate gives, Nemo est qui semper vivat. The Khetib points differently,

offering the reading, “For who is excepted?” i.e. from the common lot, the

interrogation being closely connected with the preceding verse, or “Who

can choose?” i.e. whether he will die or not. The sentence then proceeds,

“To all the living there is hope.” But the rendering of the Authorized

Version has good authority, and affords the better sense – “for a living dog

is better than a dead lion.” The dog in Palestine was not made a pet and

companion, as it is among us, but was regarded as a loathsome and

despicable object compare I Samuel 17:43; (II Samuel 3:8); while the

lion was considered as the noblest of beasts, the type of power and

greatness (compare Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 31:4). So the proverbial

saying in the text means that the vilest and meanest creature possessed of

life is better than the highest and mightiest which has succumbed to death.

There is an apparent contradiction between this sentence and such passages

as claim a preference for death over life, e.g Ecclesiastes 4:2; 7:1; but

in the latter the writer is viewing life with all its sorrows and bitter

experiences, here he regards it as affording the possibility of enjoyment. In

the one case he holds death as desirable, because it delivers from further

sorrow and puts an end to misery; in the other, he deprecates death as

cutting off from pleasure and hope. He may also have in mind that now is

the time to do the work which we have to perform: “The night cometh

when no man can work” (John 9:4) “Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead,

as from one that is not; Ecclesiasticus  17:28,  the living and sound shall praise

the Lord” (compare Isaiah 38:18-19.)

 

5 “For the living know that they shall die:” This is added in

confirmation of the statement in v. 4. The living have at least the

consciousness that they will soon have to die, and this leads them:

 

·        to work while it is day,

·        to employ their faculties worthily,

·        to make use of opportunities,

·        to enjoy and profit by the present.

 

They have a certain fixed event to which they must look forward; and they

have not to stand idle, lamenting their fate, but their duty and their happiness

is to accept the inevitable and make the best of it –“but the dead know

not anything,” -  They are cut off from the active, bustling world; their

work is done; they have nothing to expect, nothing to labor for. What

passes upon earth affects them not; the knowledge of it reaches them no

longer“neither have they any more a reward;” - i.e. no fruit for labor

done. There is no question here about future retribution in another world.

The gloomy view of the writer at this moment precludes all idea of such

an adjustment of anomalies after death – “for the memory of them is

forgotten.”  They have not even the poor reward of being remembered

by loving posterity, which in the mind of an Oriental was an eminent

blessing, to be much desired. There is a paronomasia in zeker, “memory,”

and sakar, “reward,” which may be approximately represented in English

by the words “record” and “reward.”

 

6 “Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now (long ago) perished;”

 All the feelings which are exhibited and developed in the life of the upper world

are annihilated (compare v. 10). Three are selected as the most potent passions,

such as by their strength and activity might ideally be supposed to survive even

the stroke of death. But all are now at an end – “neither have they any more a

portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun.”  Between the dead

and the living an impassable gulf exists (Luke 16:26).  The view of death here

given, intensely gloomy and hopeless as it appears to be, is in conformity with

other passages of the Old Testament (see Job 14:10-14; Psalm 6:5; 30:9;

Isaiah 38:10-19), and that imperfect dispensation. Koheleth and his

contemporaries were of those “who through fear of death were all

their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15); it was Christ who

brightened the dark valley, showing the blessedness of those who die in the

Lord, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel (II Timothy

1:10). Some expositors have felt the pessimistic utterances of this

passage so deeply that they have endeavored to account for them by

introducing an atheistic objector, or an intended opposition between flesh

and spirit. But there is not a trace of any two such voices, and the

suggestion is quite unnecessary. The writer, while believing in the

continued existence of the soul, knows little and has little that is cheering

to say about it’s condition; and what he does say is not inconsistent with a

judgment to come, though he has not yet arrived at the enunciation of this

great solution. The Vulgate renders the last clause, Nec habent partem in

hoc saeculo et in opere quod sub sole geritur. But “forever” is the correct

rendering of μl;wO[l], and Ginsburg concludes that Jerome’s translation can

be traced to the Hagadistic interpretation of the verse which restricts its

scope to the wicked

 

 

All Things Alike to All (vs. 1-6)

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY IN THE HANDS OF GOD.

 

Ø      Their persons. The righteous and the wise (v. 1), but not less

certainly the unrighteous and the foolish.

 

o       God’s breath sustains  ALL;

o       God’s providence watches over ALL;

o       God’s power encircles ALL, and

o       God’s mercy encompasses ALL!

 

Ø      Their works. Their actions, whether good or bad, in the sense

explained in the last homily, are conditioned by God, the

Governor of the world and the Former of history.

 

Ø      Their experiences. “All lies before them;” i.e. all possible

experiences lie before men; which shall happen to them being

reserved by God in His own power.

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY IGNORANT OF THE FUTURE. “No man

knoweth either love or hatred,” or whether it be love or hatred, no man

knoweth; which may signify either that no man can tell whether

providences of a happy nature proceeding from the love of God, or of an

unhappy nature proceeding from the hatred of God,  are to befall him;

or that no man can predict whether he will love or hate. In either

case the meaning is that no man can certainly predict what a day may

 bring forth. In so far as the future is in God’s hand, man can only learn

what it contains by waiting the occurrence of events; in so far as it is molded

by man’s free determinations, no man can predict what these will be until the

moment arrives for their formation.

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY SUBJECT TO DEATH. “All things come

alike to all: there is one event” (v. 2).

 

Ø      To the righteous and to the wicked; i.e. to the inwardly and morally

good and to the inwardly and morally evil.

 

Ø      To the clean and to the unclean; i.e. to the ceremonially pure and

to the ceremonially defiled.

 

Ø      To him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; i.e. to him

who observes the outward forms of religion and to him who observes

 them not.

 

Ø      To him that sweareth and to him that feareth an oath; i.e. to

the openly sinful and to the outwardly reverent and devout.

“All alike go to the dead” (v. 3).

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY DEFILED BY SIN. “The heart of the sons of

men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live” (v. 3).

From which may be learned:

 

Ø      That sin is a kind of madness. This will not be doubted by

those who consider that SIN IS THE REBELLION OF A

CREATURE AGAINST THE CREATOR  and that

sinners generally hope both to escape punishment on

account of their sin, and to attain felicity through their sin.

 

Ø      That the seat of this madness is in the soul. It may affect

the whole personality of the man, but the perennial fountain

whence it springs is the heart, in its alienation from God.

“The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7).

 

Ø      That the heart is not merely tainted with this madness,

BUT IS FULL OF IT!  In other words, it is, in its natural

condition, WHOLLY UNDER THE POWER OF SIN,

a total corruption of human nature, besides being taught in

Scripture (Genesis 6:5; 8:21; Job 15:14; Psalm 14:2-3; ch.7:20;

Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-3), is

abundantly confirmed by experience.  (Thank God for the

remedy – Ephesians 2:4-10 – CY – 2013)

 

Ø      That, apart from DIVINE GRACE,  this madness CONTINUES

THROUGHOUT LIFE, UNCHANGED!  There is nothing in human

nature itself or in its surroundings that has power to subdue and far less

to eradicate this madness. A NEW BIRTH ALONE can rescue the

soul from its dominion (John 3:3).

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY THE SUBJECTS OF HOPE.

 

Ø      Hope a universal possession. “To him that is joined to all the living

there is hope” (v. 4); i.e. while man lives he hopes. Dum spirat, sperat

(Latin proverb). “Hope springs eternal in the human breast” (Pope).

Even the most abject are never, or only seldom, abandoned by this

passion. On the contrary, “the miserable hath no other medicine,

 but only hope” (Shakespeare). When hope expires, LIFE DIES!

 

Ø      Hope a potent inspiration. In ordinary life “we are kept alive by

 hope(Romans 8:24). The pleasing expectation of future good enables

the heart to endure present ills, and nerves the resolution to attempt

further efforts. Though sometimes, when ill-grounded, “kings it makes

gods, and meaner creatures kings” (Shakespeare), yet when soundly

based it

 

“Like a cordial, innocent though strong,

Man’s heart at once inspirits and serenes.”

(Young.)

 

Especially is this the case with that good hope through grace

(II Thessalonians 2:16) which pertains to the Christian (Romans 5:5;

II Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20; I Peter. 1:13).

 

  • ALL MEN EQUALLY POSSESSED OF INTELLIGENCE. Not of

equal intelligence, but equally intelligent. In particular:

 

Ø      All know themselves to be mortal. “The living know that

they shall die” (v. 5). They may frequently ignore this fact, and

deliberately shut their eyes upon it, but of the fact itself THEY

ARE NOT IGNORANT!

 

Ø      In this knowledge they are superior to the dead, who “know not

anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory

of them is forgotten;” who in fact, having dropped out of life, have

or ever ceased to take an interest in anything that is done under the

sun.

 

  • LEARN.

 

Ø      The essential equality of all men.

Ø      The inherent dignity of life.

Ø      The value of the present.

 

These next six verses (vs. 7-12),  give the application of the facts just

mentioned. The inscrutability of the moral government of the world, the

uncertainty of life, the condition of the dead, lead to the conclusion again

that one should use one’s life to the best advantage; and Koheleth repeats

his caution concerning the issues and duration of life.

 

7 “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy,” -  This is not an injunction

to lead a selfish life of Epicurean pleasure; but taking the limited view to

which he here confines himself, the Preacher inculcates the practical

wisdom of looking at the bright side of things; he says in effect (though he

takes care afterwards to correct a wrong impression which might be

given),” Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die” (I Corinthians

15:32). We have had the same counsel in ch. 2:24; 3:12-13, 22; 5:18;

8:15 – “and drink thy wine with a merry heart;” -  Wine was not an

accompaniment of meals usually; it was reserved for feasts and solemn

occasions. Bread and wine are here regarded as the necessary means of

support and comfort (compare ch.10:19; Genesis 14:18; I Samuel 16:20).

The moderate use of wine is nowhere forbidden; there is no law in the Old

Testament against the use of intoxicating drinks; the employment of such

fluids as cordials, exhilarating, strengthening and comforting, is often

referred to (compare Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 31:6-7).

Thus Koheleth’s advice, taken even literally, is not contrary to the spirit

of his religion – “for God now (long ago) accepteth thy works.”  The

works are not moral or religious doings, in reward of which God gives

temporal blessings, which is plainly opposed to Koheleth’s chief contention

in all this passage. The works are the eating and drinking just mentioned.

By the constitution of man’snature, and by the ordering of Providence, such

capacity of enjoyment is allowable, and there need be no scruple in using it.

Such things are God’s good gifts, and to be received with reverence and

thanksgiving; and he who thus employs them is well-pleasing unto the Lord

(ch. 2:24; 8:15).

 

8 “Let thy garments be always white;” -  The Preacher brings into

prominence certain particulars of enjoyment, more noticeable than mere

eating and drinking. White garments in the East (as among ourselves) were

symbols of joy and purity. Thus the singers in Solomon’s temple were

arrayed in white linen (II Chronicles 5:12). Mordecai was thus honored

by King Ahasuerus (Esther 8:15), the angels are seen similarly decked

(Mark 16:5), and the glorified saints are clothed in white

(Revelation 3:4-5, 18) -  “and let thy head lack no ointment.” Oil and

perfumes were used on festive occasions not only among Eastern nations, but

by Greeks and Romans (see on ch.7:1).  Thus the double injunction in this verse

counsels one to be always happy and cheerful.. Doubtless the

advice may readily be perverted to evil, and made to sanction sensuality

and licentiousness, as we see throughout history,  but Koheleth only urges the

moderate use of earthly goods as consecrated by God’s gift.

 

9 “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest” - literally, see

life with a wife whom thou lovest. The article is omitted, as the maxim is to

be taken generally. In correction of the outspoken condemnation of women

in ch. 7:26, Koheleth here recognizes the happiness of a home where is found

a helpmate beloved and worthy of love (compare Proverbs 5:18-19; 17:22,

on which our passage seems to be founded. (For the expression, “ see life,”

vide note on ch. 2:1.) – all the days of the life of thy vanity:” -  i.e.

throughout the time of thy quickly passing life. This is repeated after the

next clause (though there omitted by the Septuagint and Syriac), in order

to emphasize the transitoriness of the present and the consequent wisdom

of enjoying it while it lasts. So Horace bids man “carpe diem” (Carm.,

1:11.8), “enjoy each atom of the day;’” and Martial sings (‘Epigr,’ 7:47.

11) —

 

“Vive velut rapto fugitivaque gaudia carpe.”

“Live thou thy life as stolen, and enjoy

Thy quickly fading pleasures.”

 

which He (God) hath given thee under the sun all the days of thy

vanity:” The relative may refer to either the “wife” or “the days of life.”

The Septuagint and Vulgate take it as belonging to the latter, and this seems

most suitable (compare ch.5:17) -  fo that is thy portion in this life, and

in thy labor which thou takest under the sun.” Such moderate enjoyment

is the recompense allowed by God for the toil which accompanies

A PROPERLY SPENT LIFE!

 

 

The Joy of Human Life (vs. 7-9)

 

Optimists and pessimists are both wrong, for they both proceed upon the

radically false principle that life is to be valued according to the

preponderance of pleasure over pain; the optimist asserting and the

pessimist denying such preponderance. It is a base theory of life which

represents it as to be prized as an opportunity of enjoyment. And the

hedonism (When I was working on my Master’s Degree in Education

in the early 1970’s, I was fed a steady diet of Hedonism and other

philosophies which are in the process of bringing the house down in

the United States as we know it – pseudo-intellectuals giving their two

cents worth and often undermining this nations morals and values which

were built upon the Old and New Testaments – CY – 2013) which is common

to optimist and to pessimist is the delusive basis upon which their visionary fabrics

are reared. Pleasure is neither the proper standard nor the proper motive

of RIGHT CONDUCT!  (I once saw on a marquee in Elizabethtown, KY,

“There is no right way to do the wrong thing.”  - The undermining of

right and wrong, the attack on “absolute values”in American culture has

taken a heavy toll in the last half century – CY – 2013)  Yet, as the text

points out, enjoyment is a real factor in human life, not to be depreciated

and despised, though not to be exaggerated and overvalued.

 

  • ENJOYMENT IS A DIVINELY APPOINTED ELEMENT IN OUR

HUMAN EXISTENCE. Man’s bodily and mental constitution, taken in

connection with the circumstances of the human lot, are a sufficient proof

of this. We drink by turns the sweet and the bitter cup; and the one is as

real as the other, although individuals partake of the two in different

proportions.

 

  • MANY PROVISIONS ARE MADE FOR HUMAN ENJOYMENT.

Several are alluded to in this passage, more especially:

 

Ø      the satisfaction of natural appetite;

Ø      the pleasures of society and festivity,

Ø      the happiness of the married state, when the Divine idea

concerning it is realized.

 

These are doubtless mentioned as specimens of the whole.

 

  • THE RELATION OF ENJOYMENT TO LABOR. The Preacher

clearly saw that those who toil are those who enjoy. It is by work that most

men must win the means of bodily and physical enjoyment; and the very

labor becomes a means of blessing, and sweetens the daily meals. (I once

read that John D. Rockefeller once said that he would give half his fortune if

he could enjoy a meal like one of his common laborers. – CY – 2013) The

primeval curse was by God’s mercy transformed into a blessing. (Genesis

3:17-19)

 

  • THE PARTIAL AND DISAPPOINTING VIEW OF HUMAN LIFE

WHICH CONSIDERS ONLY ITS ENJOYMENTS.

 

Ø      Pain, suffering, and distress are as real as happiness, and must come,

sooner or later, to all whose life is prolonged.

 

Ø      Neither pleasure nor pain is of value apart from the moral discipline both

may aid in promoting, apart from the moral progress, the moral aim,

towards which both may lead.

 

Ø      It is, therefore, the part of the wise to use the good things of this

life as not abusing them; to be ready to part with them at the call

of Heaven, and to turn them to golden profit, so that occasion

 may never arise to remember them with regret and remorse.

 

10 “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;” -

In accordance with what has been already said, and to combat the idea

that, as man cannot control his fate, he should take no pains to work his

work, but fold his hands in resigned inaction, Koheleth urges him not to

despair, but to do his part manfully as long as life is given, and with

all the energies of his soul CARRY OUT THE PURPOSE OF HIS

BEING!   The Septuagint gives, “All things whatsoever thy hand shall find to

do, (wJv hJ du>nami>v sou);” hos hae dunamis soudo it as thy power is -

Vulgate, Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operate. The

expression at the commencement may be illustrated by Leviticus 12:8; 25:28;

Judges 9:33, where it implies ability to carry out some intention, and in some

passages is thus rendered, “is able,” etc. (compare Proverbs 3:27). It is therefore

erroneous to render it in this place, “Whatever by chance cometh to hand;” or

 “Let might be right.” Rather it is a call to work as the prelude and accompaniment

of enjoyment, anticipating Paul’s maxim (II Thessalonians 3:10), “If any would

not work, neither should he eat.” The true meaning of the verse is confirmed

by such references as John 9:4, “I must work the works of him that sent me,

while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work;” (II Corinthians 6:2,

“Now is the accepted time; NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION!”  

Galatians 6:10, “As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men” –

for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave,” –

The departed have no more work which they can do, no plans or calculations to

make; their knowledge is strictly limited, their wisdom is ended. It needs body

and soul to carry on the labors and activities of this world; when these are

severed, and can no longer act together, there is a complete alteration in the

man’s relations and capacities. “The grave,” sheol (which is found nowhere else in

Ecclesiastes), is the place to which go the souls of the dead — a shadowy

Region – “whither thou goest.” -  to which all are bound. It is plain that the

writer believes in the continued existence of the soul, as he differentiates its

life in sheol from its life on earth, the energies and operations which are

carried on in the one case being curtailed or eclipsed in the other. Of any

repentance, or purification, or progress, in the unseen world, Koheleth

knows and says nothing. He would seem to regard existence there as a

sleep or a state of insensibility; at any rate, such is the natural view of the

present passage.

 

 

The Day of Opportunity (v. 10)

 

There is great force in the Preacher’s words, demanding present diligence

and energy in view of future silence and inaction. It may be well to consider:

 

  • THE TRUTH LEFT UNSTATED. There is no work in the grave; but

what is there beyond it? We who have sat at the feet of Jesus Christ know

well that the hour is coming in which all who are in their graves shall

hear His voice - (John 5:28-29). The rest which remaineth for the people

of God (Hebrews 4:9) is not the rest of unconsciousness or repose, but of

untiring activity; of knowledge that will be far removed from the dim visions

of the present (see I Corinthians 13:12); of wisdom far surpassing the

sagacity to which we now attain. In that heavenly country we hope to

address ourselves to nobler tasks, to work with enlarged and liberated

faculties, to accomplish far greater things, to be “ministers of his that do

His pleasure” in ways and spheres that are far beyond us now. But what

we have first to face, AND HAVE ALL TO FACE,, is:

 

  • AS ON-COMING EXPERIENCE.The grave, whither thou goest.”

Our life is, as we say, a journey from the cradle to the grave. Death is a

goal which:

 

Ø      Is absolutely inevitable. We may elude many evils, but THAT

 we must all encounter.

 

Ø      We may reach soon and suddenly. It may be the THE VERY

NEXT TURN OF THE ROAD which will bring us to it. No man

can tell what mortal blow may not be struck on the morrow, what fatal

disease may not discover itself before the year is out.

 

Ø      Will certainly appear before we are expecting it. So swiftly does

our life pass — so far as our consciousness is concerned — with

all its pressure of business and all its growing and gathering excitements,

and so pertinacious is our belief that, however it may be with others,

we ourselves have some life left in us still, and some work to do yet,

that when death comes to us it will surprise us. What, then, is:

 

  • THE CONCLUSION OF THE WISE. It is this: To do heartily and

well all that lies within our power. The Master Himself felt this (John

9:4). He knew that there was glorious “work” for Him in the long future,

even as there had been for his Father in the long past (Ibid. 5:17). But

he knew also that between the hour of that utterance and the hour of His

death on the cross there was that work to be done which could only be

done then and there. So He girded himself to do all that had to be done,

and to bear all that had to be borne, in that short and solemn interval. We

should feel and act likewise. We look for a very blessed and noble sphere

of heavenly activity; but between this present and that future there is work

to be done which is now within our compass, but will soon be without it.

There is:

 

Ø      Good work to be done in the direction of self-culture, of gaining

dominion over self, in casting out evil from our own soul and our

own life.

Ø      Good service to be rendered to our kindred, to our friends, to our

neighbors, whom we can touch and bless now but who will

soon pass beyond our reach.

Ø      A good contribution, real and valuable, if not prominent, towards the

establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ upon the earth. All,

therefore, that our “hand findeth to do” because our heart is willing

to do it, let us do with our might, lest we leave undone that which

no future time and no other sphere will give us the opportunity to

attempt.

 

 

The Picture of an Ideal Life (vs. 7-10)

 

  • A LIFE OF PERENNIAL JOY. The joy should be fourfold.

 

Ø      Material enjoyment. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and

drink thy wine with a merry heart” (v. 7). The permission herein

granted to make a pleasurable use of the good things of this world,

of its meats and its drinks, has not been revoked by Christianity.

(“Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send

portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared……

neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength”

(Nehemiah 8:10). Not only did the Son of man by His example

(Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34; John 2:1-11) show that religion did

 not require men to be ascetics or monks, Rechabites or

Nazarites, but the apostolic writers have made it clear that Christianity

is not meats or drinks (Romans 14:17; I Timothy 4:3; Hebrews

9:10), and that while no one has a right to over-indulge himself

in either, thereby becoming gluttonous and a wine-bibber, on

the other hand no one is warranted in the name of Christianity to

impose on believers such ordinances as — “Touch not, taste not,

 handle not” (Colossians 2:21).

 

Ø      Domestic happiness. “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest

all the days of the life of thy vanity” (v. 9). Marriage is not only

honorable and innocent (Hebrews 13:4) as being a Divine institution

(Matthew 19:4-6), but is one of the purest sources of felicity open to

man on earth, provided it be contracted in the fear of God, and

cemented with mutual love. As woman was made for man (I Corinthians

11:9), to be his helpmeet (Genesis 2:20), i.e. his counterpart and

complement (one of my favorite verses – “heirs together of the

grace of life” – I Peter 3:7 – CY – 2013), companion and counselor,

equal and friend; so he that findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and

 obtaineth favor of the Lord (Proverbs 18:22) findeth one in whose

love he may indulge himself, in whose sympathy he may refresh himself,

in whose grace he may sun himself without fear of sin. The notion that

a higher phase of the religious life is attained by celibates than by married

persons is against both reason and revelation, and is contradicted by

 the fruits which in practical experience it usually bears.

Neither the Preacher nor the great Teacher grants permission to

men to live joyfully with unmarried females or with other people’s

 wives, but only with their own spouses (“Drink waters out of thine

own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” – Proverbs

5:15 – CY – 2013), and neither Old Testament nor New favors the

idea that men should take as wives any women but those they love, or

should treat otherwise than with affection those they marry (Ephesians

5:28).

 

Ø      Religious felicity. Arising from two things:

 

o       The cultivation of personal purity. “Let thy garments

be always white.”  Though “white garments” were most

probably intended by the Preacher to be a symbol of joy and

gladness, they may be used as an emblem of purity,

since they are so explained in the Talmud and Midrash.

 

o       The realization of Divine favor. God now accepteth

thy works,” or “God hath already accepted thy works.”

Here again the Preacher’s intention was no doubt to say that

such enjoyment as he recommended was not discommended,

but rather distinctly approved of by God; that God did not reject,

but from long ago had accepted, such works as eating and

drinking, etc., and had shown His mind concerning them by

furnishing in abundance the materials for them. Yet with

greater emphasis the Preacher’s words will apply to the works

of the Christian believer, who with all his activities is ACCEPTED

IN THE BELOVED! (Ephesians 1:6), and entitled to derive

therefrom an argument, not for sinful indulgence, but for

the cultivation of a joyous and holy life.

 

  • A LIFE OF UNWEARIED ACTIVITY. The work of a good man

ought to be:

 

Ø      Deliberately chosen. Voluntarily undertaken, not reluctantly endured;

the work of one whose hands have been stretched out in search of

occupation. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do.”

 

Ø      Widely extended. A good man’s labors should not be too restricted

either as to number, character, or sphere. “This one thing I do”

(Philippians 3:13) does not signify that never more than one business at

a time should engage a good man’s attention. The ideal good man should

put his hand to every sort of good work that Providence may place in his

way (Galatians 6:9-10) — at least so far as time and ability allow.

 

Ø      Energetically performed. Whatsoever the hands of a good man find to

do, he should do with his might. Earnestness an indispensable condition

of acceptable service. Fitful and intermittent, half-hearted and indifferent,

labor especially in good work, to be condemned (I Corinthians 15:58).

 

Ø      Religiously inspired. A good man should have sufficient reasons for his

constant activity. The argument to which the Preacher alludes, though not

the highest, but the lowest, is nevertheless powerful, viz. that this life is

the only working season a man has. “There is no work, nor device,

 nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest (v. 10).

The inhabitants of the under-world are forever done with the activities of

earth.  The good man no more than the wicked can pursue his schemes

when he has vanished from this mundane scene. Hence the urgency of

working while it is called today, for “the night cometh when no man

can work.” (John 9:4). Though the Christian has loftier and clearer

conceptions of the after-life of the good than Old Testament saints

had, the Preacher’s argument is not possessed of less, but rather of more,

force as an incitement to Christian work, seeing that the “now” of the

present life is the only accepted time, AND THE ONLY DAY OF

SALVATION!  (II Corinthians 6:2).

 

  • LEARN.  The twofold aspect of every true life — as one of receiving and giving,

of enjoying and working.  The essential connection between these two

departments of lifethe joy being a necessary condition as well as A 

natural result of all true work, and the work being a necessary expression

 and invaluable sustainer of THE JOY!    The true way of redeeming life

TO CONCENTRATE  ITS DAYS AND YEARS TO SERVING THE

LORD WITH GLADNESS, OR TO REJOICING IN GOD AND

DOING HIS WILL!

 

 

Enjoyment of the Present (vs. 7-10)

 

No one who is at all familiar with the Preacher’s thoughts can be surprised

with the advice here given, following so closely as it does upon the gloomy

reflections on death to which he has just given expression. He for the sixth

time urges upon his hearers or readers the practical wisdom of enjoying the

present, of cheerfully accepting the boons which God puts within our

reach, and the mere thought that He is the Giver, will of itself rebuke all

vicious indulgence. He permits enjoyment; nay, it is by His appointment that

the means for it exist. “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and. drink thy

wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works” (v. 7). That

is, God approves of these works — a cheerful, thankful enjoyment of food

and drink. The white garment symbolical of a glad heart, the perfume

sprinkled upon the head, are not to be slighted as frivolous or as

inappropriate for those who are so soon to pass from life unto death (v.8).

Asceticism, self-imposed scruples, half-hearted participations in the

good things that lawfully fall to us, mean loss of the present, and are not in

themselves a preparation for the future. The ascetic may have his heart set

upon the very pleasures he denies himself, may value them more highly,

than he who takes them as they come, and exhausts them of all the

satisfaction they contain. The happiness, too, which marriage yields is

commended by him. He speaks elsewhere of the wretchedness and shame

into which sensuality leads, and of the hateful types of womanhood

 with which it brings the sensualist into contact (ch. 2:8; 7:26); but

here he alludes to the calm peacefulness of a happy home, which, though it

cannot remove the sense of the vanity and transitoriness of life, at least

makes it endurable. A happy life, a useful life, a life filled by a

wholesome activity, may be lived by all or by most, and the fact that the

end is near, the grave in which there is neither “work, nor device, nor

wisdom,” should be a stimulus to such activity (v. 10). Honest, earnest

labor, together with whatever enjoyments God’s providence brings

 within our reach, and not an indifference to all sublunary concerns because

of their transitoriness, is asserted to be OUR BOUNDEN DUTY!   Had he

recommended mere sensuous indulgence, we should turn from him

contemptuously. Had he recommended an ascetic severity, we might have

felt that only some could follow his advice. But as it is, his ideal is within

the reach of us all, and is worthy of us all. And those who speak

censoriously of the conclusion he reaches and expresses in these words,

would find it a very hard task to frame a higher ideal of life. Zealous

performance of practical duties, a reasonable and whole-hearted

enjoyment of all innocent pleasures, and MINDFULNESS OF

JUDGMENT TO COME  are commended to us by the Preacher, and

only a stupid fanatic could object to the counsel he gives.

 

Section 8. It is impossible to calculate upon the issues and duration of life.

(vs. 11-12). He reverts to the sentiment of v. 1, that we cannot calculate

on the issues of life. Work as we may and must and ought, the results are

uncertain and beyond our control. This he shows by his own personal experience.

 

11 I returned, and saw under the sun,  - The expression here does

not indicate a new departure, but merely a repetition and confirmation of a

previous thought — the dependence and conditionality of man. It implies,

too, a correction of a possible misunderstanding of the injunction to labor,

as if one’s own efforts were sure to secure success -  “that the race is not to

the swift,” -  One is reminded of the fable of the hare and tortoise; but Koheleth’s

meaning is different. In the instances given he intimates that, though a man

is well equipped for his work and uses all possible exertions, he may incur

failure. So one may be a fleet runner, and yet, owing to some untoward

accident or disturbing circumstance, not come in first. Thus Ahimaaz

brought to David tidings of Absalom’s defeat before Cushi, who had had

the start of him (II Samuel 18:27, 31). There is no occasion to invent an

allusion to the foot-race in the formal Greek games – “nor the battle to the

strong,” -  Victory does not always accrue to mighty men, heroes. As David,

himself an instance of the truth of the maxim, says (I Samuel 17:47),

“The Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s”

(compare II Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 33:16) -  “neither yet bread to

the wise,” -  Wisdom will not ensure competency. To do this requires other

endowments. Many a man of cultivated intellect and of high mental power

is left to starve -  “nor yet riches to men of understanding,” - Aristophanes

accounts for the unequal distribution of wealth thus (‘Plutus,’ 88), the god himself

speaking-

 

“I threatened, when a boy,

On none but just and wise and orderly

My favors to bestow; so Zeus in jealousy

Hath made me blind, that I may

 none of these Distinguish.”

 

nor yet favor to men of skill;” -  “Skill” here does not mean dexterity in

handicrafts or arts, but knowledge generally; and the gnome says that

reputation and influence do not necessarily accompany the possession of

knowledge and learning; knowledge is not a certain or indispensable means

to favor. Says the Greek gnomist —

 

Tu>chv ta< qnhtw~n pra>gmat oujk eujbouli>av.

Tuchaes ta thnaeton pragmat ouk euboulias

“Not prudence rules, but fortune, men’s affairs.”

 

but time and chance happeneth to them all.”  . We have had the word eth,

time,” all through Ecclesiastes 3  and elsewhere; but [g"p,, rendered

chance,” is uncommon, being found only in I Kings 5:4.  Everything has its

proper season appointed by God, and man is powerless to control these

arrangements. Our English word “chance” conveys an erroneous impression.

What is meant is rather “incident,” such as a calamity, disappointment,

unforeseen occurrence. All human purposes are liable to be changed

or controlled by circumstances beyond man’s power, and incapable

of explanation. A hand higher than man’s disposes events, and

success is conditioned by superior laws which work unexpected results.

 

 

The Powerlessness of Man (vs. 10-11)

 

The reflections contained in these verses are not peculiar to the religious.

No observer of human life can fail to observe how constantly all human

calculations are falsified and all human hopes disappointed. And the

language of the Preacher has naturally become proverbial, and is upon the

lips even of those for whom it has no spiritual significance or suggestion.

Yet it is the devout and pious mind which turns such reflections to

profitable uses.

 

  • HUMAN EXPECTATION. It is natural to look for the success and

prosperity of those who are highly endowed, and who have employed and

developed their native gifts. Life is a race, and we expect the swift to

obtain the prize; it is a battle, and we look for victory to the strong. We

think of wealth and prosperity as the guerdon due to skill and prudence; we

can hardly do otherwise. When the seed is sown, we anticipate the harvest.

There are qualities adapted to secure success, and observation shows us

that our expectations are justified in very many cases, though not in all.

When we behold a young man begin life with every advantage of health,

ability, fortune, and social recommendations, we forecast for such a one a

career of advancement and a position of distinction and eminence. Yet how

often does such an expectation prove vain!

 

  • HUMAN DISAPPOINTMENT. Human endeavor is crossed and

human hope is crushed. The swift runner drops upon the course, and the

bold warrior is smitten upon the battlefield. As the fishes are caught in the

net, and the birds in the snare, so are the young, the ardent, the gifted, and

the brave cut short in the career of buoyant effort and brilliant hope. All

our projects may prove futile, and all our predictions may be falsified. The

ways of Providence are inscrutable to our vision. We are helpless in the

hands of God, whose thoughts are not as our thoughts. “Man also knoweth

not his time” (v. 12).  Attention is called to the suddenness with which our

aims may be frustrated, our anticipations clouded, and our efforts defeated.

And the observation of every experienced mind confirms the warning of the

text. It is often when the sun is brightest that the cloud sweeps across its

disk, when the sea is calmest that the storm arises in which the ship is

foundered.

 

  • THE RELIGIOUS LESSONS TAUGHT BY THESE

OVERTURNINGS OF HUMAN ANTICIPATIONS.

 

Ø      They rebuke human pride and self-confidence. It is natural for

The young, the vigorous, the prosperous, to glory in their gifts, and to

indulge bright hopes of the future, based upon their consciousness

of power. Yet we have this lesson which the strong and fortunate

will do well to lay to heart, “Let not the strong man glory in

his strength,” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

 

Ø      They check worldliness of spirit. We are all prone to attach

Importance to what is seen and temporal, and to allow our heart’s

affections to entwine around what is fair and bright, winsome and

hopeful. God would teach us the supreme importance of those

qualities which are imparted by His own blessed Spirit, and

 which endure unto everlasting life.

 

Ø      They lead the soul to seek a higher and more enduring

 satisfaction than earthly prosperity can impart. When

riches take to themselves wings and fly away, this may enhance

the value of the true, the unsearchable riches.  When a fair, bright

youth is plucked like a rosebud from the stem, and beauty withers,

this may lead our thoughts and our hearts’ desires away from this

transitory scene to that region into which sorrow and death

can never enter, and where God wipes away every tear.

 

12 “Man also knoweth not his time:” - Vulgate, Neseit homo finem

suum, understanding “his time” to mean his death-hour; but it may include

any misfortune or accident. The particle gain, “also,” or “even,” belongs to

his time.” Not only are results out of man’s control (v. 11), but his life is

in higher hands, and he is never sure of a day – “as the fishes that are

taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in a snare:” –

The suddenness and unforeseen nature of calamities that befall men

are here expressed by two forcible similes (compare Proverbs 7:23;

Ezekiel 12:13; 32:3). Thus Homer (‘Iliad,’ 5:487)

 

“Beware lest ye, as in the meshes caught

Of some wide-sweeping net, become the prey

And booty of your foes.”

(Derby.)

 

so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth

suddenly upon them.”   Men are suddenly overtaken by calamity, which

they are totally unable to foresee or provide against. Our Lord says

(Luke 21:35) that the last day shall come as a snare on all that

dwell in the earth (compare Ezekiel 7:7,12).

 

Section 9 (vs. 13-16).  That wisdom, even when it does good service,

is not always rewarded, is shown by an example.

 

13 “This wisdom have I seen also under the sun,” -  better, as the

Septuagint, This also I saw to be wisdom under the sun. The experience

which follows he recognized as an instance of worldly wisdom. To what

special event he alludes is quite unknown. Probably the circumstance was

familiar to his contemporaries. It is not to be considered as an allegory,

though of course it is capable of spiritual application. The event in Bible

history most like it is the preservation of Abel-Beth-maachah by the

counsel of the wise woman (whose name is forgotten) narrated in II

Samuel 20:15-22 - “and it seemed great unto me:” -  Septuagint, Kai<

mega>lh ejsti pro<v me>, -Kai megalae esti pros me - And it is great before

me.  To my mind it appeared an important example (compare Esther 10:3).

 

14 “There was a little city, and few men within it” -  The substantive

verb is, as commonly, omitted. Commentators have amused themselves

with endeavoring to identify the city here mentioned. Thus some see herein

Athens, saved by the counsel of Themistocles, who was afterwards driven from

Athens and died in misery (Justin., 2:12); or Dora, near Mount Carmel, besieged

unsuccessfully by Antiochus the Great, B.C. 218, though we know nothing

of the circumstances (Polyb., 5:66); but see note on v. 13. The

Septuagint takes the whole paragraph hypothetically, “Suppose there was a

little city,” etc. Wright well compares the historical allusions to events

fresh in the minds of his hearers made by our Lord in his parable of the

pounds (Luke 19:12, 14-15, 27). So we may regard the present section

as a parable founded on some historical fact well known at the time when

the book was written -  “and there came a great king against it,” –

The term points to some Persian or Assyrian potentate; or it may mean merely

a powerful general (see I Kings 11:24; Job 29:25) – “and built great bulwarks

against it:”  The Septuagint has ca>rakav mega>louv,- charakas megalous -

great palisades;  the Vulgate, Extruxitque munitiones per gyrum. What are

meant are embankments or mounds raised high enough to overtop the walls of

the town, and to command the positions of the besieged. For the same purpose

wooden towers were also used (see Deuteronomy 20:20; II Samuel 20:15;

II Kings 19:32; Jeremiah 52:4). The Vulgate rounds off the account in

the text by adding, et perfects est obsidio, “ and the beleaguering was

completed.”

 

15 “Now there was found in it a poor wise man,” -  The verb,

regarded as impersonal, may be thus taken. Or we may continue the subject

of the preceding verse and consider the king as spoken of: “He came

across, met with unexpectedly, a poor man who was wise.” So the

Septuagint. The word for “poor” in this passage is misken, for which see

note on ch.4:13 – “and he by his wisdom delivered the city;” -

When the besieged city had neither soldiers nor arms to defend itself

against its mighty enemies, the man of poor estate, hitherto unknown or

little regarded, came forward, and by wise counsel relieved his countrymen

from their perilous situation. How this was done we are left to conjecture.

It may have been by some timely concessions or negotiations; or by the

surrender of a chief offender as at Abel-Beth-maachah; or by the

assassination of a general, as at Bethulia (Judith 13:8); or by the clever

application of mechanical arts, as at Syracuse, under the direction of

Archimedes (Livy, 24:34; Plutarch, ‘Marcell.,’ 15-18.) – “yet no man

remembered that same poor man.”  As soon as the exigence which brought

him forward was past, the poor man fell back into his insignificance, and

was thought of no more; he gained no personal advantage, by his wisdom;

his ungrateful countrymen forgot his very existence. Thus Joseph was

treated by the chief butler (Genesis 40:23). Classical readers will think

of Coriolanus, Scipio Africanus, Themistocles, Miltiades, who for their

services to the state were rewarded with calumny, false accusation,

obloquy, and banishment.

 

16 “Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: The latter part

of the verse is not a correction of the former, but the whole comes under

the observation introduced by “I said.” The story just related leads to this

assertion, which reproduces the gnome of ch. 7:19, wherein it

is asserted that wisdom effects more than mere physical strength. There is

an interpolation in the Old Latin Version of Wisdom of Solomon 6:1 which seems

to have been compiled from this passage and Proverbs 16:13 – “nevertheless

the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words not heard.”  In the instance

above mentioned the poor man’s wisdom was not despised and his words were

heard and attended to; but this was an abnormal case, occasioned by the extremity

of the peril. Koheleth states the result which usually attends wisdom emanating from

a disesteemed source. The experience of Ben-Sira pointed to the same issue

(see Ecclesiasticus 13:22-23). Horace, ‘Epist.,’ 1:1.57 —

 

Est animus tibi, sunt mores et lingua fidesque,

Sed quadringentis sex septem millia desunt;

Plebs erie.”

 

“In wit, worth, honor, one in vain abounds;

If of the knight’s estate he lack ten pounds,

He’s low, quite low!”

(Howes.)

 

“Is not this the carpenter’s Son?” asked the people who were offended at

Christ (Mark 6:2-3).

 

Section 10 (vs. 17-18).  Here follow some proverbial sayings

concerning wisdom and its opposite, which draw the moral from the story

in the text.

 

17 “The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the

cry of him that ruleth among fools.”  This verse would be better

translated, Words of the wise in quiet are heard better than the shout of a

chief among fools. The Vulgate takes the tranquility to appertain to the

hearers, thus: Verbs sapientium audiuntur in silentio; but, as Delitzsch

points out, the contrast between “quiet” and “cry” shows that it is the man,

and not his auditors, who is quiet. The sentence says that a wise man’s

words, uttered calmly, deliberately, without pompous declamation or

adventitious aids, are of more value than the blustering vociferation of an

arch-fool, who seeks to force acceptance for his folly by loudness and

swagger (compare Isaiah 30:15; 42:2 and Matthew 12:19, passages which

speak of the peacefulness, reticence, and unobtrusiveness of true wisdom,

as seen in THE SON OF GOD!). The verse introduces a kind of exception

to the general rejection of wisdom mentioned above. Though the multitude turn

a deaf ear to a wise man’s counsel, yet this tells in the long run, and there are

always some teachable persons who sit at his feet and learn from him. “He that

 ruleth among fools” is not one that governs a silly people, but one who is a

prince of fools, who takes the highest place among such.

 

18 “Wisdom is better than weapons of war,” -  Such is the moral

which Koheleth desires to draw from the little narrative given above (see

vs. 14-16; and ch.7:19). Wisdom can do what no material force can effect,

 and often produces results which all the implements of war could not

 command – “’but one sinner destroyeth much good.” The

happy consequences which the wise man’s counsel might accomplish, or

has already accomplished, may be overthrown or rendered useless by the

villany or perversity of a bad man.  Adam’s sin infected the whole race

of man; Achan’s transgression caused Israel’s defeat (Joshua 7:11-12);

Rehoboam’s folly occasioned the great schism (I Kings 12:16). The

wide reaching effects of one little error are illustrated by the proverbial

saying which every one knows, and which runs in Latin thus: “Clavus unus

perdit equi soleam, soles equum, equus equitem, eques castra, castro

rempublicam.”

 

 

The Destructiveness of One Evil Life (v. 18)

 

How much of destruction may flow from one single life may be seen if we

look at the subject:

 

  • NEGATIVELY. We may judge of the magnitude of the evil by

considering:

 

Ø      How one evil life may hinder the work of God; e.g. Achan,

Sanballat, Herod, Nero. Who shall say how much of Christian

influence has been arrested by one grossly inconsistent member

of a Church, or by one arch-persecutor of the gospel of Christ?

 

Ø      How much a man may fail to do by refusing to spend his powers in

the service of God. To a man with large means, great resources,

brilliant capacities, almost anything is open in the direction of

HOLY USEFULNESS, of WIDE-SPREAD and FAR-

DESCENDING INFLUENCE!  All this is lost, and in a sense

destroyed, by a selfish and guilty withholding of it all from

THE SERVICE OF GOD AND MAN!

 

  • POSITIVELY. We may estimate the serious and lamentable mischief of

an evil life if we think that a godless man may be injuring his neighbors:

 

Ø      By weakening or undermining their faith; causing them to lose

their hold on Divine truth, and thus sinking into the miseries of doubt

or into the darkness and despair of utter unbelief.

 

Ø      By undoing the integrity of the upright; leading them into

A FATAL MORASS of AN IMMORAL LIFE!

 

Ø      By cooling, or even killing, the consecration of the zealous;

causing them to slacken their speed or even to leave the field

of noble service. One man, by his own evil example, by his words

of folly and falsity, by his deeds of wrong, may enfeeble many minds,

may despoil many hearts, may misguide many souls, may blight and

darken many lives. (May God help us to resist such exposure to

our lives! – CY – 2013)

 

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