Ecclesiastes 3


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

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

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

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

desires by this present life.


The providence of God disposes and arranges every detail of

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

particular by means of antithetical sentences. In Hebrew manuscripts and

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Septuagint  kairo>v kairosseason -  and cro>nov chronos

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

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

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

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

has kairou<v kai< cro>noiv kairous kai chronois - ; and Daniel 7:12, where we

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

time  in Theodotion, and cro>nou kai< kairou ~ chronou kai kairou – a

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

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

and times (ejkba>seiv kairw~n kai< cro>nwn ekbaseis kairon kai chonon).

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

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

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

In human affairs Providence arranges the moment when everything shall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

transenat universa sub caelo. Koheleth intimates, without attempting to

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


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

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

Throughout the succeeding catalogue marked contrasts are exhibited in pairs,

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

with events and circumstances which intervene between those two extremities.

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

time to bear;” kairo<v tou~tekei~n  - kairos tou tekein  - Septuagint; as the verb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

down, and this is their final cause.


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

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

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

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

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

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

oppressed; such emergencies and necessities occur providentially without

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

formal expression in the performances at funerals and weddings and on

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

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

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

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

accompanied religious ceremonies, as when David brought up the ark

(II Samuel 6:14, 16).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

contrasted “gathering” unexplained. Equally inappropriate is the opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

friendship, and times when such distractions would be incongruous and

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

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

obvious, unless the objectionable position of stones and their advantageous

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

legitimate love.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paradox,” Whosoever would (o{v a}n qe>lh| - hos an thelae – whosoever

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

shall find it” (Matthew 16:25).


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

time to speak;”  A time to rend, and a time to sew (kairo<v tou~ rJh~xai kai<

kairo<v tou~ rJa>yai kairos tou rhaexai  kai kairos tou rhapsai). This is usually

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the private feelings which one is constrained to entertain towards

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

touches on the statesmanship which discovers the necessity or the

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

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

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

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

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

mysterious way directs and controls events; success and failure are

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

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

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

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

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

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



The “times and seasons” are great in number of the occupations and interests,

the occurrences and experiences, that constitute the warp and woof of mortal

existence. Between the cradle and the grave, instances present themselves in

which more things happen than are here recorded, and more designs are attempted

and fulfilled than are here contemplated. There are also cases in which the sum total

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

of mortals live long enough to suffer and to do many more things beneath

the sun.


They are manifold in their variety. In one sense and at one time it may seem as if

there were “no new thing under the sun” (ch. 1:9), either in the history of the

race or in the experience of the individual; but at another time and in another sense

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

is often heard (Ibid. v.10), exists rather in the mind or heart of the complainant than

in the texture of life itself. What more diversified than the events and purposes the

Preacher has catalogued? Entering through the gateway of birth upon the mysterious

arena of existence, the human being passes through a succession of constantly

shifting experiences, till he makes his exit from the scene

through the portals of the grave, planting and plucking up, etc.


All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages.”

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

observant and reflecting mind. The ordinary observer contemplates human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

cannot doubt that the DIVINE OMNISCIENCE observes, as the

DIVINE OMNIPOTENCE  virtually effects, the introduction into

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




accumulation and consequent prosperity, of loss and consequent adversity.

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

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

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

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

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

divinely entrusted powers, men gather together possessions and disperse them

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

any advantage from his labor.


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

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

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

the immutability of the law that governs all things.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

su>mpanta to<n aijw~na – sun  ton aiona eternity -  Vulgate, Mundum

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

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

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

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

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

(aijw>n aion - age), or “world” in its relation to time. Commentators who have

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

which is insufficient to solve the problems which present themselves every

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

future, which may solve anomalies and demonstrate the harmonious unity

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

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

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

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


“Also he hath set eternity” (marginal reading, Revised Version) “in their heart.”

We are made to look far beyond the boundary of the visible and the present. The

idea of “the eternal” may help us in two ways.


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

that nothing which is earthly and sensible WILL SATISFY OUR

SOULS!  Nothing of that order ought to do so; and it would put the seal

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

our manhood and the prophecy of our immortality.


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

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

much that happens is inexplicable and distressing indeed (“If in this life

only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”

I Corinthians 15:19); but include the future, add “eternity” to the account,

and the “crooked is made straight,” the perplexity is gone.


What about the skeptic?  The epicure who has lost his faith in God says,

“Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die.” There is no sacredness in the

present, and no solid hope for the future. What is the use of aiming at a high ideal?

Why waste breath and strength on duty, on aspiration, on piety? Why attempt to

rise to the pursuit of the eternal and the Divine? Better lose ourselves in that which is

at hand, in that which we can grasp as a present certainty. The best thing,

the only certain good, is to eat and drink and to labor; is to minister to our

senses, and to work upon the material which is visible to our eye and

responsive to our touch. So speaks the skeptic; this is his miserable

conclusion; thus he owns himself defeated and (we may say) dishonored.

For what is human life worth when the element of sacredness is expunged,

when piety and hope are left out of it? It is no wonder that the ages of

unbelief have been the times when men have had no regard for other

people’s dues, and very little for their own.


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

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

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

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

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

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

quod non esset melius nisi laetari. To do good in his life; Tou~ poiei~n

ajgaqo>n - tou poiein agathonto do good; (Septuagint); Facere bene

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

prospering, enjoying one’s self.” like the Greek eu+ pra>ttein eu prattein and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

the benefit of others less fortunately circumstanced than ourselves.  Over

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

many parts.”


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

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

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

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


Ø      There are speculative difficulties regarding the order and constitution

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

beauty needs the aesthetic faculty in order to its appreciation and

enjoyment. The development of this faculty in advanced states of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

frequently mentioned in this book, whose author was evidently deeply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(John 4:34; 5:36)



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

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

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

affording gratification. He dwells appreciatingly upon the happiness of

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

himself superior to the pettiness which carps at the pleasures connected

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

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

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

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






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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God our Savior.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plans. Septuagint, “It is impossible to add (oujk e]sti prosqei~nai - ouk esti

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

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

it is impossible to lessen or to add to them (oujk e]stin ejlattw~sai oujde<

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

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

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

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

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

Men feel this UNIFORMITY  and UNCHANGABLENESS in the working

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

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

etymologists to derive Qeo>v TheosGod - and Deus from de>ov deos

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

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

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

are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).


15 “That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already

been; and God requireth that which is past.” That which hath been is now;

so Septuagint; “That which hath been made, the same remaineth” (Vulgate); better,

that which hath been, long ago it is; i.e. was in existence long before. The thought

is much the same as in ch.1:9, only here it is adduced not to prove the vanity and

endless sameness of circumstances, but the orderly and appointed succession of

events under the controlling providence of God.  That which is to be hath

 already been. The future will be a reproduction of the past. The laws which

regulate things change not; the moral government is exercised by HIM WHO

“ISM AND WAS, AND IS TO COME” (Revelation 1:8), and therefore in

effect history repeats itself; the same causes produce the same phenomena.

God requireth that which is past; literally, God seeketh after that which

hath been chased away; Septuagint, “God will seek him who is pursued (to<n

diwko>menon - ton diokomenonwho is pursued);” Vulgate, “God

reneweth that which is passed (instaurat quod abiit).” The meaning is —

God brings back to view, recalls again into being, that which was past and

had vanished out of sight and mind. The sentence is an explanation of the

preceding clauses, and has nothing to do with the inquisition at the day of

judgment.   (I would like to recommend a piece by Paul Harvey that

appeared in our local newspaper The Kentucky New Era.

I looked it up on the internet as Heaven’s Jurassic Park by Paul Harvey

the site came up as below.



I remembered enough of it that I think it an interesting sidelight to

this passage - CY – 2013)



Divine Constancy and Human Piety (vs. 14-15)


With the outer world of nature and with our human nature and character before us,

these words may somewhat surprise us; it is necessary to take a preliminary view of:




Ø      There is a sense in which man has modified the Divine action according

to the Divine purpose. God has given us the material, and He says to us,

“Work with it and upon it; mold, fashion, transform, develop it as you

will; make all possible use of it for bodily comfort, for mental

enlargement, for social enjoyment, for spiritual growth.” (This is what is

meant by “subdue it” in Genesis 1:28 – CY – 2013)  Man has made

large use of  this his opportunity, and, with the advance of knowledge

and of science, he will make much more in time to come. He cannot

indeed “put to” or“take from” the substance with which God supplies

him, but he can do much to change its form and to determine the service

it shall render.


Ø      There is a sense in which man has temporarily thwarted the Divine idea.

For is not ALL SIN  and are not all the dire consequences of sin, a

sad and serious departure from the purpose of the Holy One? Surely

infidelity, blasphemy, vice, cruelty, crime; surely poverty, misery,

starvation, death; all this is not what the heavenly Father meant for His

human children when He breathed into man’s nostrils the breath

of life (Genesis 2:7).   But the leading idea of the text is:





Ø      The fixedness of the Divine purpose. The counsel of the Lord

standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations”

 (Psalm 33:11).  We believe that from the beginning God intended to

work out the righteousness and the blessedness of the human race;

and whatever has come between Him and the realization of His

gracious end will be cleared away. Redeemed man will one day

be all that the Eternal One designed that he should become.


Ø      The constancy of the Divine Law. The same great moral laws,

and the same physical laws also, which governed the action and the

destiny of men in primeval times still prevail, and will always abide.

Sin has meant suffering and sorrow, righteousness has worked

out well-being and joy; diligence has been followed by fruitfulness,

and idleness by destitution; generosity has been recompensed with love,

and selfishness with leanness of soul, etc. As it was at the beginning,

so will it be with the action of all Divine laws, even to the end.


Ø      The permanency of the Divine attitude.


o       What God always felt toward sin he feels today; it is the thing

which He hates. In Jesus Christ, as fully and as emphatically as

in the Law,:


§         His holy intolerance of sin is revealed, and

§         His Divine determination to conquer and to destroy it.


o       What God always felt toward the sinner he feels today:


§         a Divine  grief and

§         an infinite compassion; and

§         a readiness to forgive and to restore the penitent.


·        THE DIVINE DESIGN. “God doeth it, that men should fear before

him.” God’s one unchanging desire is that His children should live a

reverential, Holy life before him. All the manifestations of His character

that He gives us are intended to lead up to and issue in this. And surely the

Divine constancy is calculated to promote this as nothing else would. It is

God’s desire and His design concerning us, because He knows:


Ø      that it is the only right relationship for us to sustain; and

Ø        that it is the one condition of peace, purity, blessedness and



In vs. 16-22, the writer acknowledging the providential government of God,

which controls events and places man’s happiness out of his own power,

one is confronted also by the fact that there is much wickedness, much

injustice, in the world, which oppose all plans for peaceful enjoyment.


SUCH INIQUITIES; and God allows them now in order to try men and

to teach them humility. Meantime man’s duty and happiness consist, as

before said, in making the best use of the present and improving the

opportunities which God gives him.


16 “And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that

wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity

was there.” And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment.

Koheleth records his experience of the prevalence of iniquity in high places.

The place of judgment (mishat); where justice is administered. The

accentuation allows (compare Genesis 1:1) this to be regarded as the object

of the verb. The Revised Version takes μwOqm] as an adverbial expression

equivalent to “in the place.” The former is the simpler construction. “And moreover,”

at the commencement of the verse, looks back to v. 10,  “I have seen the travail,”

etc.  That wickedness (resha) was there. On the judicial seat iniquity sat instead of

justice. The place of righteousness (tsedek). “Righteousness” is the

peculiar characteristic of the judge Himself, as “justice” is of his decisions.

That iniquity (resha) was there. The word ought to be translated

“wickedness” or “iniquity” in both clauses. The Septuagint takes the

abstract for the concrete, and at the end has apparently introduced a

clerical error, which has been perpetuated in the Arabic and elsewhere,

And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, there was the

ungodly (ajsebh>v  - asebaes); and the place of the righteous, there was the godly

(eujsebh>v eusebaes).” The Complutensian Polyglot reads ajsebh<v in both

places.  It is impossible to harmonize these statements of oppression and injustice

here and elsewhere (e.g. ch.4:1; 5:8; 8:9-10) with Solomon’s authorship of the

book. It is contrary to fact that such a corrupt state of things existed in his time,

and in writing thus he would be uttering a libel against himself. If he was cognizant

of such evils in his kingdom, he had nothing to do but to put them down with a

high hand. There is nothing to lead to the belief that he is speaking of other

countries and other times; he is stating his own personal experience of what

goes on around him. It is true that in Solomon’s latter days disaffection secretly

prevailed, and the people felt his yoke grievous (I Kings 12:4); but there is no

evidence of the existence of corruption in judicial courts, or of the social and

political evils of which he speaks in this book. That he had a prophetical foresight

of the disasters that would accompany the reign of his successor, and

endeavors herein to provide consolation for the future sufferers, is a pious

opinion without historical basis, and cannot be justly used to support the

genuineness of the work.


17 “I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked:

for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the

wicked. In view of the injustice that prevails in earthly tribunals, Koheleth

takes comfort in the thought that there is RETRIBUTION FOR EVERY

MAN when God shall award sentence according to deserts. God is a

Righteous Judge strong and patient, and His decisions are infallible. Future judgment

is here plainly stated, as it is at the final conclusion (ch. 12:14). They who refuse to

credit the writer with belief in this great doctrine resort to the theory of interpolation

and alteration in order to account for the language in this and analogous passages.

There can be no doubt that the present text has hitherto always been regarded as


though not so much as a conclusion firmly established, but rather as a belief which

may explain anomalies and afford comfort under trying circumstances. For there

 is a time there for every purpose and for every work. The adverb rendered

there (μv;, sham) is placed emphatically, at the end of the sentence. Thus

the Septuagint, “There is a reason for every action, and for every work there (ejkei~ -

ekei).”  But it is unexampled to find the elliptical “there,” when no place has been

mentioned in the context, and when we are precluded from interpreting the

dark word by a significant gesture, as Medea may have pointed downwards

in her histrionic despair. Where the words, “that day,” are used in the New

Testament (e.g. Luke 10:12; II Timothy 1:18, etc.), the context

shows plainly to what they refer. Some take the adverb here in the sense of

“then.” Thus the Vulgate, Justum et impium iudicabit Deus, et tempus

omnis rei tunc erit.” But really no time has been mentioned, unless we

conceive the writer to have been guilty of a clumsy tautology, expressing

by “then” the same idea as “a time for every purpose,”  It is best, with many

modern commentators, to refer the adverb to God, who has just been spoken

of in the preceding clause. A similar use is found in Genesis 49:24. With

God, spud Deum, in His counsels, there is a time or judgment and

retribution for every act of man, when anomalies which have obtained on

earth shall be rectified, injustice shall be punished, virtue rewarded.



Man’s Unrighteousness Contrasted with God’s Righteousness (vs. 16-17)


Every observant, judicial, and sensitive mind shares this experience. Human

society, civil relations, cannot be contemplated without much of disapproval,

disappointment, and distress. And who, when so affected by the spectacle which

this world presents, can do other than raise his thoughts to that Being, to those

relationships that are characterized by a moral excellence which corresponds to

our highest ideal, our purest aspirations?



AMONG MEN. The observation of the wise man was naturally directed to

the state of society in his own times and in his own and of the neighboring

countries. Local and temporal peculiarities do not, however, destroy the

applicability of the principle to human life generally. Wickedness was and is

discernible wherever man is found. Unconscious nature obeys physical

laws, brute nature obeys automatic and instinctive impulse. But man is a

member of a rational and spiritual system, whose principles he often

violates in the pursuit of lower ends. In the earliest ages “the wickedness of

man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of

his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  A remedial system

has checked and to some extent counteracted these evil tendencies; yet to

how large an extent is the same reflection just!




It is well known that in every age complaints have been made of the venality

of Eastern magistrates. In the Old Testament references are frequent to the

gifts,” the bribes, by which suitors sought to obtain decisions in their

favor. Corruption here is worse than elsewhere, for it is discouraging to

uprightness, and lowers the tone of public morals. We would be grateful

that, in our own land and in our own day, if such such corruption was unknown!



atheist has no refuge from such observations and reflections as those

recorded in v. 16. But the godly man turns from earth to heaven, and

rests in the conviction that there is A DIVINE AND RIGHTEOUS

JUDGE  to whose tribunal ALL MEN MUST COME, and by whose

 just decisions every destiny must be decided.


Ø      All characters, the righteous and the wicked alike, will be judged

by the Lord of all. Has the unjust escaped the penalty due from a

human tribunal? He shall not escape THE RIGHTEOUS

JUDGMENT OF GOD!  Has the innocent, been unjustly

sentenced by an earthly and perhaps corrupt judge? There is for

him a court of appeal, and his righteousness shall shine as the



Ø      All kinds of works shall meet with retribution; not only the acts of

private life, but also acts of a judicial and governmental kind. The

unjust judge shall meet with his recompense, and the wronged

and persecuted shall not be unavenged.


18 “I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that

God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves

are beasts.” The comfort derived from the thought of the future judgment

is clouded by the reflection that man is as powerless as the beast to control

his destiny. Concerning the estate of the sons of men; rather, it happens

on account of the sons of men. God allows events to take place, disorders

to continue, etc., for the ultimate profit of men, though the idea that

follows is humiliating and dispiriting. The Septuagint. has peri< lalia~v

- peri lalias - concerning the speech of the sons of men.  So the Syriac.

The word dibrah may indeed bear that meaning, as it is also used for “word” or

matter;” but we cannot conceive that the clause refers solely to words,

and the expression in the text signifies merely “for the sake, on account

of,” as in ch.8:2. That God might manifest them; rather, that God

 might test them; Ut probaret eos Dens (Vulgate). God allows

these things, endures them patiently, and does not at once redress them, for

two reasons.  The first of these is that they may serve for the probation of

men, giving them opportunity of making good or bad use of them. We see

the effect of this forbearance on the wicked in ch.8:11; it hardens them in

impenitence; while it nourishes the faith of the righteous, and helps

them to persevere (see Daniel 11:35 and Revelation 22:11). And that they

might see that they themselves are beasts. The pronoun is repeated

emphatically, “that they themselves are [like] beasts, they in themselves.”

This is the second reason. Thus they learn their own powerlessness,

if they regard merely their own animal life; apart from their relation to God

and hope of the future, they are no better than the lower creatures (see

II Peter 2:12). Septuagint. “And to show (tou~ dei~xai tou deixai) that

they are beasts.” So the Vulgate and Syriac.


Vs. 19-21 are best regarded as a parenthesis explanatory of vs. 16-18,

elucidating man’s impotence in the presence of the anomalies of life. The

conclusion in v. 22 is connected with vs. 16-18. We must acknowledge

that there are disorders in the world which we cannot remedy, and which

God allows in order to demonstrate our powerlessness; therefore the

wisest course is to make the best of present circumstances.


19 “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one

thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they

have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a

beast: for all is vanity.” For that which befalleth the sons of men

 befalleth beasts; literally, chance are the sons of men, and chance are

beasts (see on ch. 2:14); Septuagint, “Yea, and to them cometh the event

(suna>nthma  - sunantaema – that which befalls, happens) of the sons

of men, and the event of the beast.” Koheleth explains in what respect

man is on a level with the brute creation. Neither are able to rise superior to the

law that controls their natural life. So Solon says to Croesus (Herod., 1:32),

Pa~n ejsti a]nqrwpov sumforh – Pan esti anthropos sumphorae -> Man is

naught but chance; and Artabanns reminds Xerxes that chances rule men,

not men chances (ibid., 7:49). Even one thing befalleth them. A third

time is the ominous word repeated, “One chance is to both of them.”

Freethinkers perverted this dictum into the materialistic language quoted in the

Book of Wisdom (2. 2): “We are born at haphazard, by chance

(aujtoscediwv> - autoschedios); etc. But Koheleth’s contention is, not

that there is no law or order in what happens to man, but that neither man nor

beast can dispose events at their own will and pleasure; they are conditioned

by a force superior to them, which dominates their actions, sufferings, and

circumstances of life. As the one dieth, so dieth the other. In the matter

of succumbing to the law of death man has no superiority over other

creatures. This is an inference drawn from common observation of exterior

facts, and touches not any higher question (compare ch.2:14-15; 9:2-3).

Something similar is found in Psalm 49:20, Man that is in honor, and

understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish.” Yea, they

have all one breath (ruach). This is the word used for the vital

principle, “the breath of life,” as it is called in Genesis 6:17, where the

same word is found. In the earlier record (Ibid. 2:7) the term is nishma.

Life in all animals is regarded as THE GIFT OF GOD.  Says the

psalmist, Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruach), they are created”

(Psalm 104:30). This lower principle presents the same phenomena in men and

In brutes. Man hath no preeminence above a beast; i.e. in regard to

suffering and death. This is not bare materialism, or a gloomy deduction

from Greek teaching, but must be explained from the writer’s standpoint,

which is to emphasize THE IMPOTENCE OF MAN  to effect his own

happiness.  Taking only a limited and phenomenal view of man’s circumstances

and destiny, he speaks a general truth which all must acknowledge. Septuagint,

“And what hath the man more than the beast? Nothing.” For all is vanity.

The distinction between man and beast is annulled by death; the former’s

boasted superiority, his power of conceiving and planning, his greatness,

skill, strength. cunning, all come under the category of vanity, as they

cannot ward off the inevitable blow.


20 “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.”

All go unto one place. All, men and brutes, are buried in the earth (ch.12:7).

The author is not thinking of Sheol, the abode of departed spirits, but merely

regarding earth as the UNIVERSAL TOMB of ALL CREATURES.

All are of the dust (Genesis 3:19; Psalm 104:29; 146:4). So Ecclesiasticus

 41:10, “All things that are of earth shall turn to earth again.” This

is true of the material part of men and brutes alike; the question of the

destiny of the immaterial part is touched in the next verse.


21 “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and

the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?” The

statement is here too categorically rendered, though, for dogmatical

purposes, the Masorites seem to have punctuated the text with a view to

such interpretation. But the analogy of two other passages (ch.2:19 and 6:12),

where “who knoweth occurs, intimates that the phrases which follow are

interrogative. So the translation should be, “Who knoweth as regards the spirit

(ruach) of the sons of men whether it goeth upward, and as regards the spirit

(ruach) of the beast whether it goeth downward under the earth?” Vulgate,

Quis novit si spiritus, etc.? Septuagint, Ti>v ei=de pneu~ma uiJw~n tou~

ajnqrw>pou eij ajnabai>nei aujto< a]nw - Tis eide pneuma huion tou anthropou

 ei anabainei auto ano -Who ever saw the spirit of the sons of man, whether

 it goeth upward?” The Authorized Version, which gives the Masoretic reading,

is supposed to harmonize better with the assertion at the end of the book (ch.12:7),

that the spirit returns to the God who gave it. But there is no formal denial of the

immortality of the soul in the present passage as we render it. The

question, indeed, is not touched. The author is confirming his previous

assertion that, in one point of view, man is not superior to brute. Now he

says, looking at the matter merely externally, and taking not into

consideration any higher notion, no one knows the destiny of the living

powers, whether God deals differently with the spirit of man and of beast.

Phenomenally, the principle of life in both is identical, and its cessation is

identical; and what becomes of the spirit in either case neither eye nor mind

can discover. The distinction which reason or religion assumes, viz. that

man’s spirit goes upward and the brute’s downward, is incapable of proof,

is quite beyond experience. What is meant by “upward” and downward

may be seen by reference to the gnome in Proverbs 15:24, “To the wise

the way of life goeth upward, that he may depart from Sheol beneath.”

The contrast shows that Sheol is regarded as a place of punishment or

annihilation; this is further confirmed by Psalm 49:14-15, “They are

appointed as a flock for Sheol: death shall be their shepherd… their beauty

shall be for Sheol to consume But God will redeem my soul from the

power of Sheol; for he shall receive me.” Koheleth neither denies nor

affirms in this passage the immortality of the soul; that he believed in it we

learn from other expressions; but he is not concerned with parading it here.

But Koheleth’s inquiry suggests the possibility of a different destiny for the

spirits of man and brute, though he does not at this moment make any

definite assertion on the subject. Later on he explains the view taken by the

believer in Divine revelation (ch.12:7).



Before and After Christ (vs. 18-21)


These words have a strange sound in our ears; they evidently do not belong

to New Testament times. They bring before us:



evidently possible that, under certain conditions, men may judge

themselves to be of no nobler nature than that of “the beasts that perish.”

It may be:


Ø      bodily suffering or weakness; or

Ø      untoward and disappointing circumstances; or

Ø       bewilderment of mind after vain endeavors to solve great

spiritual problems; or

Ø      the distracted and unnatural state of the society in which we

are placed


but, owing to some one of many possible causes, men may be driven to take

the lowest view of human nature; so much so that they may lose all respect for

themselves — may shut the future life entirely out of view, and live in the narrow

circle of the present; may confine their ambition and aspiration to bodily enjoyment

and the excitements of present occupation; may practically own themselves to

be defeated, and go blindly on, ‘hoping nothing, believing nothing, and fearing nothing.”

Such a melancholy conclusion:


Ø      does us sad dishonor;

Ø      has a demoralizing influence on character and life;

Ø      yields a wretched harvest of despair and self-destruction. In

most happy contrast with this is:



He asks us to think how “much a man is better than a sheep,” (Matthew

12:12) and reminds us that we are “of more value than many sparrows”

(Luke 12:7).  He bids us realize that one human soul is worth more than

the whole world” (Mark 8:36), and that there is nothing so costly that it

will represent its value. He reveals to us the supreme and most blessed fact

that each human spirit is the object of Divine solicitude, and may find a home

in the Father’s heart of love at once, and in His nearer presence soon. He

\assures us that there is a glorious future before every man that becomes the

subject of His kingdom, and serves faithfully to the end. Under His teaching,

instead of seeing that “they themselves are beasts,” His disciples find themselves

children of their Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45), “kings and

 priests unto God” (Revelation 1:6), and “heirs of  eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

Coming after Christ, and learning of Him, we see that we are  capable of a noble

heritage now, and move toward a still nobler estate a little further on. 

(I Corinthians 2:9).


22 “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man

should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him

to see what shall be after him?” After all, the writer arrives at the conclusion

intimated in v.12; only here the result is gathered from the acknowledgment of man’s

impotence (vs. 16-18), as there from the experience of life. Wherefore I

perceive that there is nothing better, etc.; rather, so, or wherefore I saw

that there was nothing, etc. As man is not master of his own lot, cannot

order events as he would like, is powerless to control the forces of nature

and the providential arrangements of the world, his duty and his happiness

consist in enjoying the present, in making the best of life, and availing

himself of the bounties which THE MERCY OF GOD PLACES

BEFORE HIM!   Thus he will free himself from anxieties and cares, perform

present labors, attend to present duties, content himself with the daily round,

and not vex his heart with SOLICITUDE FOR THE FUTURE!  There

is no Epicureanism here, no recommendation of sensual enjoyment; the author

simply advises men to make a thankful use of the blessings which

GOD PROVIDES FOR THEM!   For who shall bring him to see

what shall be after him? The Revised Version, by inserting “back”

Who shall bring him back to see? — affixes a meaning to the clause which

it need not and does not bear. It is, indeed, commonly interpreted to signify that

man knows and can know nothing that happens to him after death — whether

he will exist or not, whether he will have cognizance of what passes on earth,

or be insensible to all that befalls here. But Koheleth has completed that thought

already; his argument now turns to the future in this life. Use the present, for you

cannot be sure of the future; — this is his exhortation. So he says

(ch. 6:12), “Who can tell a man what shall be after him under

the sun?” where the expression, “under the sun,” shows that earthly life is

meant, not existence after death. Ignorance of the future is a very common

topic throughout the book, but it is the terrestrial prospect that is in view.

There would be little force in urging the impotence of men’s efforts

towards their own happiness by the consideration of their ignorance of

what may happen when they are no more; but one may reasonably exhort

men to cease to torment themselves with hopes and fears, with labors that

may be useless and preparations that may never be needed, by the

reflection that they cannot foresee the future, and that, for all they know,

the pains which they take may be utterly wasted (Jesus said, “Take no thought

 for the morrow:  for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.

Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  - Matthew 6:34 – “Be careful

[anxious; worrying] for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication

with thanksgiving let your requests be made know unto God.” – Philippians

4:6 -  compare ch.7:14; 9:3). Thus in this section there is neither skepticism nor

Epicureanism. In brief, the sentiment is this — There are injustices and anomalies in the life

of men and in the course of this world’s events which man cannot control

or alter; these may be righted and compensated hereafter. Meantime, man’s

happiness is to make the best of the present, and cheerfully to enjoy WHAT





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