Ecclesiastes 5


Man’s outward and secular life being unable to secure happiness and satisfaction, can

these be found in popular religion?  Religious exercises need the observation of strict

rules, which are far from meeting with general attention.   In vs. 1-7, Koheleth proceeds

to give instruction, in the form of maxims, concerning public worship, prayer, and vows.


1 “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more

ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider

not that they do evil.”  This verse, in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Bibles, forms

the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4., and is taken independently; but the division in

our version is more natural, and the connection of this with the following

verses is obvious. Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God,

Some read “feet” instead of “foot,” but the singular and plural numbers are

both found in this signification (compare Psalm 119:59, 105; Proverbs

1:15; 4:26-27). To “keep the foot” is to be careful of the conduct, to

remember what you are about, whither you are going. There is no allusion

to the sacerdotal rite of washing the feet before entering the holy place

(Exodus 30:18-19), nor to the custom of removing the shoes on

entering a consecrated building, which was a symbol of reverential awe and

obedient service. The expression is simply a term connected with man’s

ordinary life transferred to his moral and religious life. The house of God is

the temple. The tabernacle is called “the house of Jehovah” (I Samuel

1:7; II Samuel 12:20), and this name is commonly applied to the temple;

e.g. I Kings 3:1; II Chronicles 8:16; Ezra 3:11. But “house of God” is applied also

to the temple (II Chronicles 5:14; Ezra 5:8, 15, etc.), so that we need not suppose

that Koheleth avoids the name of the Lord of the covenant as “a natural sign of the

writer’s humiliation after his fall into idolatry, and an acknowledgment of his

unworthiness of the privileges of a son of the covenant. It is probable that

the expression here is meant to include synagogues as well as the great

temple at Jerusalem, since the following clause seems to imply that

exhortation would be heard there, which formed no part of the temple

service. The verse has furnished a text on the subject of the reverence due

to God’s house and service from Chrysostom downwards. And be more

ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools. Various are the

renderings of this clause:


  • “For to draw near to hear is (better) than the fools offering sacrifices.”
  • “For it is nearer to obey than to offer the sacrifice of the disobedient;” i.e.

it is the straighter, truer way to take when you obey God than when you

merely perform outward service.


The Vulgate takes the infinitive verb as equivalent to the imperative, as the Authorized

Version, Appropinqua ut audias; but it is best to regard it as pure infinitive, and to

translate, “To approach in order to hear is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.”

The sentiment is the same as that in I Samuel 15:22, ‘Hath the Lord as

great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the

Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat

of rams.” The same thought occurs in Proverbs 21:3; Psalm 50:7-15; and

continually in the prophets; e.g. Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:21- 23; Hosea 6:6, etc.

It is the reaction against the mere ceremonialism which marked the popular religion.

Koheleth had seen and deplored this at Jerusalem and elsewhere, and he enunciates

the great truth that it is more acceptable to God that one should go to His

 house to hear the Law read and taught and expounded, than to offer a formal

sacrifice,  which, as being the offering of a godless man is called in proverbial language

“the sacrifice of fools” (Proverbs 21:27). The verb used here, “give” (nathan), is not

the usual expression for offering sacrifice, and may possibly refer to the feast which

accompanied such sacrifices, and which often degenerated into excess . That the

verb rendered “to hear” does not mean merely “to obey” is plain from its reference

to conduct in the house of God. The reading of the Law, and probably of the prophets,

formed a feature of the temple service in Koheleth’s day; the expounding of the same

in public was confined to the synagogues, which seem to have originated in the time of

the exile, though there were doubtless before that time some regular occasions of

assembling together (see II Kings 4:23). For they consider not that they do evil;

  [Oi oujk eijsi<n eijdo>tev tou~ poih~sai kako>n - Hoi ouk eisin eidotes tou poiaesai

 Kakon -  (Septuagint); Qui nesciunt quid faciunt mali (Vulgate); Others:


  • “They are without knowledge, so that they do evil;”
  •  “As they (who obey) know not to do evil.”


 The words can scarcely mean:


  • “They know not that they do evil;” nor,
  • They know not how to be sorrowful.”


There is much difficulty in understanding the passage according to the received

reading, and it seems to others that the text is corrupt. If we accept what we now

find, it is best to translate, “They know not, so that they do evil;” i.e. their

ignorance predisposes them to err in this matter. The persons meant are the

“fools” who offer unacceptable sacrifices. These know not how to worship God

heartily and properly, and, thinking to please Him with their formal acts of



2  “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter

any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth:

therefore let thy words be few.”  Koheleth warns against thoughtless words

or hasty professions in prayer, which formed another feature of popular religion.

Be not rash with thy mouth. The warning is against hasty and thoughtless

words  in prayer, words that go from the lips with glib facility, but come

not from the heart. Thus our Lord bids those who pray not to use vain repetitions

(mh< battologh>sate - mae battologaesate – no vain repetitions), as the heathen,

who think to be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6:7). Jesus Himself used

the same words in his prayer in the garden, and He continually urges the lesson of

much and constant prayer — a lesson enforced by apostolic admonitions (see

Luke 11:5-10; Philippians 4:6; I Thessalonians 5:17); but it is quite possible to

use  the same words, and yet THROW THE WHOLE HEART INTO THEM

each time that they are repeated. Whether the repetition is vain or not

depends upon the spirit of the person who prays. Let not thine heart be

hasty to utter any thing before God. We should weigh well our wishes,

arrange them discreetly, ponder whether they are such as we can rightly

make subjects of petition, ere we lay them in words before the Lord.

“Before God” may mean in the temple, the house of God, where he is

specially present, as Solomon himself testified (I Kings 8:27, 30, 43).

God is in heaven. The infinite distance between God and man, illustrated

by the contrast of earth and the illimitable heaven, is the ground of the

admonition to reverence and thoughtfulness (compare Psalm 115:3, 16;

Isaiah 55:8-9; 66:1). Therefore let thy words be few, as becomes one who

speaks in the awful presence of God. We may remember the conduct of the priests

of Baal (I Kings 18:26).


3 “For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s

voice is known by multitude of words.”  The first clause illustrates the second,

the mark of comparison being simply the copula, mere juxtaposition being deemed

sufficient to denote the similitude, as in ch.7:1; Proverbs 17:3; 27:21.

For a dream cometh through (in consequence of) the multitude of

business. The verse is meant to confirm the injunction against vain

babbling in prayer. Cares and anxieties in business or other matters

occasion disturbed sleep, murder the dreamless repose of the healthy

laborer, and produce all kinds of sick fancies and imaginations. Septuagint,

“A dream cometh in abundance of trial (peirasmou~ - peirasmou – trial;

temptation);” Vulgate, Multas curas sequuntur somnia. And a fool’s

voice is known by multitude of words. The verb should be supplied from

the first clause, and not a new one introduced, as in the Authorized Version,

 “And the voice of a fool (cometh) in consequence of many words.” As surely as

excess of business produces fevered dreams, so excess of words, especially in

addresses to God, produces a fool’s voice, i.e. foolish speech. St. Gregory points

out the many ways in which the mind is affected by images from dreams.

“Sometimes,” he says, “dreams are engendered of fullness or emptiness of

the belly, sometimes of illusion, sometimes of illusion and thought

combined, sometimes of revelation, while sometimes they are engendered

of imagination, thought, and revelation together” (‘Moral.,’ 8:42).

(Mr. Spurgeon said of dreams:  “the carnival of thought; a maze of

mental states, a dance of disorder; ………..the most disorderly of

phenomena.”  The Treasury of the New Testament, Vol. 1. p. 382)


4 “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath

no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” Koheleth passes on

to give a warning concerning the making of vows, which formed a great feature in

Hebrew religion, and was the occasion of much irreverence and profanity.

When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it. There is here plainly a

reminiscence of Deuteronomy 23:21-23. Vows are not regarded as absolute duties

which every one was obliged to undertake. They are of a voluntary nature,

but when made are to be strictly performed. They might consist of a

promise to dedicate certain things or persons to God (see Genesis 38:20;

Judges 11:30), or to abstain from doing certain things, as in the case of the

Nazarites. The rabbinical injunction quoted by our Lord in the sermon on the

mount (Matthew 5:33), “Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform

 unto the Lord thine oaths,” was probably leveled against profane swearing,

or invoking God’s Name lightly, but it may include the duty of performing vows

made to or in the Name of God. Our Lord does not condemn the practice of

corban, while noticing with rebuke a perversion of the custom (Mark 7:11).

For He hath no pleasure in fools. The non-fulfillment of a vow would prove

a man to be impious, in proverbial language “a fool,” and as such God must regard

him with displeasure. The clause in the Hebrew is somewhat ambiguous, being

literally, There is no pleasure (chephets) in fools; i.e. no one, neither God

nor man, would take pleasure in fools who make promises and never

perform them. Or it may be, There is no fixed will in fools; i.e. they waver

and are undecided in purpose. But this rendering of chephets appears to be

very doubtful. Septuagint -  [Oti oujk e]sti qe>lhma ejn a]frosi - Hoti ouk esti

 thelaema en aphrosi -  He hath no pleasure in fools – which reproduces the

vagueness of the Hebrew; Vulgate, Displicet enim ei (Deo) infidelis et stulta

promissio. The meaning is well represented in the Authorized Version, and we

must complete the sense by supplying in thought “on the part of God.” Pay that

 which thou but vowed. Ben-Sirs reechoes the injunction (Ecclesiasticus. 18:22-23),

“Let nothing hinder thee to pay thy vow (eujch<n euchaen - vow) in due time, and

defer not until death to be justified [i.e. to fulfill the vow]. Before making a vow

(eu]xasqai euxasthai - prepare thyself) and be not as one that tempteth the Lord.”

The verse is cited in the Talmud; and Dukes gives a parallel, “Before thou vowest

anything, consider the object of thy vow” (‘Rabb. Blumenl.,’ p. 70). So in

Proverbs 20:25 we have, according to some translations, “It is a snare to a man

 rashly to say, It is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.” Septuagint,”

Pay thou therefore whatsoever thou shalt have vowed (o[sa eja>n eu]xh hosa

 ean euxae – pay that you vowed).


5 “Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest

vow and not pay.”  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow. There is no harm

in not vowing (Deuteronomy 23:22); but a vow once made becomes of the

nature of an oath, and its non-performance is a sin and sacrilege, and incurs

the punishment of false swearing. We gather from the Talmud that

frivolous excuses for the evasion of vows were very common, and called

for stern repression, One sees this in our Lord’s references (Matthew

5:33-37; 23:16-22). Paul severely reprehends those women who break

their vow of widowhood, “having condemnation, because they have

rejected their first faith” (I Timothy 5:12).


6  “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the

angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and

destroy the work of thine hands?” Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.

“Thy flesh” is equivalent to “thyself,” the whole personality, the idea of the flesh,

as a distinct part of the man, sinning, being alien from Old Testament ontology.

The injunction means — Do not, by uttering rash or inconsiderate vows,

which you afterwards evade or cannot fulfill, bring sin upon yourself, or, as

others render, bring punishment upon yourself. Septuagint, “Suffer not thy

mouth to cause thy flesh to sin (tou~ wjxamarth~sai th<n sa>rka sou - tou

oxamartaesai taen sarka sou);” Vulgate, Ut peccare facias carnem tuam.

Another interpretation, but not so suitable, is this — Do not let thy mouth

(i.e. thy appetite) lead thee to break the vow of abstinence, and indulge in

meat or drink from which (as, e.g., a Nazarite) thou wast bound to abstain.

Neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error. If we take “angel”

(malak) in the usual sense (and there seems no very forcible reason why we

should not), it must mean the angel of God in whose special charge you are

placed, or the angel who was supposed to preside over the altar of worship,

or that messenger of God whose duty it is to watch man’s doings and to act

as the minister of punishment (II Samuel 24:16). The workings of God’s

providence are often attributed to angels; and sometimes the names of God

and angel are interchanged (see Genesis 16:9, 13; 18:2-3, etc.; Exodus 3:2, 4;

23:20, etc.). Thus the Septuagint here renders, “Say not before the face of

God (pro< prosw>pou tou~ Qeou~ – pro prosopou tou Theou ).” If this

interpretation be allowed, we have an argument for the literal explanation of

 the much-disputed passage in I Corinthians 11:10, dia< tou<v ajgge>louv

dia tous angelous – because of the angels. Thus, too, in ‘The Testaments of

the XII. Patriarchs,’ we have, “The Lord is witness, and His angels are witnesses,

concerning the word of your  mouth” (‘Levi,’ 19). But most commentators

consider that the word here means “messenger” of Jehovah, in the sense of

priest, the announcer of the Divine Law,  as in the unique passage Malachi 2:7.

Traces of a similar use of a]ggelov  angelos   may be found in the New Testament

(Revelation 1:20; 2:1, etc.). According to the first interpretation, the man comes

before God with his excuse; according to the second, he comes to the priest, and

confesses that he was thoughtless and overhasty in making his vow, and desires to

be released from it, or, at any rate, by some means to evade its fulfillment. His

excuse may possibly look to the cases mentioned in Numbers 15:22-26, and

he may wish to urge that the vow was made in ignorance (Septuagint, [Oti

a]gnoia> ejsti Hoti agnoia esti - It is an ignorance), and that therefore he was

not responsible for its incomplete execution. We do not know that a priest or

any officer of the temple had authority to release from the obligation of a

vow, so that the excuse made “before” him would seem to be objectless,

while the evasion of a solemn promise made in the Name of God might

well be said to be done in the presence of the observing and recording

angel. The Vulgate rendering, Non eat providentia, makes the man account

for his neglect by assuming that God takes no heed of such things; he

deems the long-suffering of God to be indifference and disregard (compare

ch.8:11; 9:3). The original does not bear this interpretation. Wherefore should

God be angry at thy voice — the words in which thy evasion and dishonesty are

expressed — and destroy the work of thine hands? i.e. punish thee by calamity,

want of success, sickness, etc., God’s moral government being vindicated by



7 “For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also

divers vanities: but fear thou God.” For in the multitude of dreams and many

words there are also divers vanities. The Hebrew is literally, For in multitude of

dreams, and vanities, and many words; i.e.,  In the multitude of dreams are also

vanities, and (in) many words (as well).  Koheleth sums up the sense of the

preceding paragraph, vs. 1-6. The popular religion, which made much of dreams

and verbosity and vows, is vanity, and has in it nothing substantial or comforting.

The superstitious man who puts his faith in dreams is unpractical and unreal; the

garrulous man who is rash in his vows, and in prayer thinks to be heard for his

much speaking, displeases God and never secures his object.  The Septuagint

rendering is elliptical, [Oti ej plh>qei ejnupni>wn kai< mataioth>twn kai<

lo>gwn pollw~n o[ti su< to<n Qeo<n fobou~ - Hoti e plaethei enupnion kai

mataistaeton kai logon pollon hoti su ton Theon phobou  - For in the

 multitude  of dreams there are vanities, as well as in many words: but

 you must fear God.  To complete this, some supply, “Many vows are made or

excused;” others, “There is evil.” Vulgate, Ubi multa aunt somnia,

plurimae aunt vanitates, et sermones innumeri.’ The Authorized Version

gives the sense of the passage. But fear thou God. In contrast with these

spurious forms of religion, which the Jews were inclined to adopt, the

writer recalls men to the fear of the one true God, to whom all vows

should be performed, and who should be worshipped from the heart.



Vanities in Worship (vs. 1-7)


  • IRREVERENCE. Specially exhibited in entering upon Divine service.

Discommended and rebuked as:


Ø      Inconsistent with the sanctity of the place of worship — the

house of God. Wherever men convene to offer homage to the Divine

Being, in a magnificent cathedral or in a humble upper room, upon

hillsides and moors, or in dens and caves of the earth, there is a dwelling-

place of Jehovah no less than in the temple (Solomonic or post-exilic) or

in the synagogue, of both which the Preacher probably thought. What

lends sanctity to the spot in which worshippers assemble is not its

material surroundings, artificial or natural (architectural elegance

or cosmical beauty); it is not even the convening there of the worshippers

themselves, however exalted their rank or sacred the character of the

acts in which they engage. It is the unseen and spiritual, but real and

supernatural, presence of God in the midst of his assembled saints

(Exodus 20:24; Psalm 46:4-7; Matthew 18:20; 28:20); and the simple

consideration of this fact, much more the realization of that nearness of

God to which it points, should awaken in the breast of every one

proceeding towards and crossing the threshold of a Christian sanctuary

the feeling of awe which inspired Jacob on the heights of Bethel

(Genesis 28:17), Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalm 89:7), and Isaiah in the

temple. (Isaiah 6:1). The thought of God’s immediate neighborhood

and of all that it implies, His observance of both the persons of His

worshippers (Genesis 16:13), and the secrets of their hearts

(Psalm 139:1), should put a hush on every spirit (Habakkuk 2:20;

Zechariah 2:13), and dispose each one to “keep his foot,”

metaphorically, to “put off his shoe,” as Moses did at the bush

(Exodus 3:5), and Joshua in presence of the Captain of Jehovah’s

host (Joshua 5:15).


Ø      Opposed to the true character of Divine worship. When

congregations assemble in the house of God to do homage to Him

whose presence fills the house, this end cannot be attained by

offering the sacrifice of fools, i.e. by rendering such service as

proceeds from unbelieving, disobedient, and hypocritical hearts

(Proverbs 21:27), but only by assuming the attitude of one willing to

hear (I Samuel 3:10; Psalm 85:8) and to obey not man but God

(Psalm 40:5). If unaccompanied by a disposition to do God’s will,

mere external performances are of no value whatever, however

imposing their magnificence or costly their production. What God

desires in His servants is not the outward offering of sacrifices or

celebration of ceremonies, but the inward devotion of the spirit

(I Samuel 15:22; Psalm 51:16-17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6).

The highest form of worship is not speaking of or giving to God,

but hearing and receiving from God.


Ø      Proceeding from ignorance both of the sanctity of the place and

of the spirituality of its worship. However the final clause may be

rendered (see Exposition), its sense is that IRREVERANCE springs



o       from failing properly to understand the character either

of that God they pretend to worship, or of that worship

they affect to render.

o       of God, of His nature as spiritual,

o       of His character as holy,

o       of His presence as near,

o       of His knowledge as all-observant,

o       of His majesty as awe-inspiring,

o       of His power as irresistible,


is the prime root of all wrong worship, as Christ said of the Samaritans

(John 4:22), and as Paul told the Athenians (Acts 17:23).


  • FORMALITY. Manifested when engaged in Divine service and more

particularly in prayer. Two phases of this evil commented on.


Ø      Rashness in prayer. (v. 2.) Hasty utterance of whatever comes

uppermost, as if any jangle of words might suffice for devotion — a

manner of prayer totally inconsistent with the thought that one is

 standing in THE DIVINE PRESENCE!   If a petitioner would

hardly venture to lay his requests before an earthly sovereign, how

much less should a suppliant draw near to Heaven’s throne without

calm forethought and deliberation?  Moreover, it is inconsistent with

the real nature of prayer, which is a making known to God of the

soul’s needs with thankful acknowledgment of the Divine mercies;

and how can one either state his own wants or record God’s mercies

who has never taken time to investigate the one or count up the other?


Ø      Prolixity in prayer. Much speaking, endless and unmeaning repetitions

— a characteristic of Pharisaic devotions adverted to by Christ

(Matthew 6:7), and difficult to harmonize either with a due regard to

the majesty of God or with the possession of that inward calm which is a

necessary condition of all true prayer. As a dreamer’s eloquence, usually

turgid and magniloquent, proceeds from an unquiet state of the brain,

which during day has been unduly excited by a rush of business or by the

worries of waking hours, so the multitude of words emitted by a fool’s

voice is occasioned by the inward disquiet of a mind and heart that have

not attained to rest in God. At the same time, the admonition, “let thy

words be few,” is not meant to set limits to the fire of devotion, being

directed, not against the inwardly devout, but against the

superficially religious, who fancy that in the multitude of their

words they have an equivalent for the devotion they lack!


  • INSINCERITY. Displayed after leaving Divine service, more

especially in the non-fulfillment of vows voluntarily taken while engaged in

worship. Against this wickedness the preacher inveighs.


Ø      Because such conduct cannot be other than displeasing to God.

“When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it; for he hath no

 pleasure in fools:  pay that which thou hast vowed.” As the

Almighty Himself is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever,”

“without variableness or shadow of turning,” andchangeth not”

(Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17; Malachi 3:6), so He desires in all His

worshippers the reflection at least of this perfection, and cannot

regard with favor one who plays fast and loose with His promises



Ø      Because such conduct is in no sense unavoidable. A worshipper is

under no obligation to vow anything to Jehovah. Whatever is done in

this direction must proceed from the clearest free-will. Hence, to escape

the sin of breaking one’s vows, one is at liberty not to vow (Deuteronomy

23:21-23). Hence also should one cautiously guard against the utterance

Of rash and sinful vows like those of Jephthah (Judges 11:30-31) and of

Saul (I Samuel 14:24), lest through fulfilling (no less than through breaking)

them one should incur sin. Similarly, “we must not vow that which through

the frailty of the flesh we have reason to fear we shall not be able to

perform, as those that vow a single life and yet know not how to keep their

vow” (Matthew Henry). The same remark applies to taking vows of total

abstinence from meats and drinks.


Ø      Because such conduct cannot escape the just judgment of God. The

rashly uttered vow, afterwards left unfulfilled, sets the speaker of it in the

place of a sinner, upon whom as guilty God will inflict punishment. Thus

through his mouth, his “flesh,” or his body, i.e. his whole personality, of

which the flesh or body is the outer covering, is caused to suffer. Being

just and holy, God can by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7),

although He can justify the ungodly (Romans 4:5). Hence the vow-breaker

cannot hope to elude the due reward of his infidelity.


Ø      Because such conduct is practically indefensible. To say before the

angel or presiding minister in the temple or synagogue in whose hearing

the vow haft been registered that the registration of it had been an error,

was, in the judgment of the Preacher, no excuse, but rather an

aggravation of the original offence, and a sure means of drawing

down upon the offender the anger of God, and of causing God to

effectually thwart and utterly destroy the designs His pretended

worshipper had, first in making his vows and afterwards in breaking

them; and so, when one retreats from protestations and promises

made to God, it is no justification of his conduct in the eyes of

others who may have listened to or become aware of his votive

engagements, to aver that he had made them in error. Nor is it

sufficient to excuse one in God’s sight to say that one was mistaken in

having promised to do so-and-so. Hence, if one vows before God

with regard to matters left in his option, it is his duty to fulfill these

 vows, even should it be to his hurt. But in all respects it is wiser

and better not to vow except in such things as are already enjoined upon

one by God; and should it be said that no possible need can arise for

taking upon one’s self by voluntary obligation what already lies upon

one by Divine prescription, this will not be denied. Yet one may vow

to do what God has commanded in the sense of resolving to do it —

always in dependence on promised grace.


Vs. 8-17 deals with  perils to which one is exposed in a despotic state, and the

unprofitableness of riches.  In political life there is little that is satisfactory; yet

one must not surrender one’s belief in a superintending Providence.  (vs. 8-9)


8 “If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of

judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he

that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than

they.”  If thou seest the oppression of the poor. From errors in the

service of God, it is natural to turn to faults in the administration of the

king (Proverbs 24:21). Koheleth has already alluded to these anomalies

in chps. 3:16 and 4:1. Violent perverting of judgment and justice.  Literally,

robbery; so that judgment is never rightly given, and justice is withheld from

applicants. In a province (me dinah, ch. 2:8); the district in which the person

addressed dwells. It may, perhaps, be implied that {his is remote from the

central authority, and therefore more liable to be injuriously dealt with by

unscrupulous rulers. Marvel not at the matter (chephets, ch.3:1). Be not surprised

or dismayed (Job 26:11) at such evil doings,, as though they were unheard of, or

inexperienced, or disregarded. It is like John’s “Marvel not, my brethren, if the

 world hate you” (I John 3:13); or Peter’s “Think it not strange concerning the

fiery trial among’ you” (I Peter 4:12). The stupid and unintelligent observation

of such disorders might lead to arraignment of Providence and distrust in the

moral government of God. Against such mistakes the writer guards. For He that

is higher than the highest regardeth. Both the words are in the singular

number. Septuagint, JUyhlo<v ejpa>nw uJyhlou~ fula>xai - Upsaelos epano

hupsaelou phulaxai -  for one official is eyed by a higher one.  One thinks of

the Persian satraps, who acted much as the Turkish pashas in later times,

the petty rulers oppressing the people, and being themselves treated in the

same fashion by their superiors. The whole is a system of wrong-doing,

where the weaker always suffers, and the only comfort is that the

oppressor himself is subject to higher supervision. The verb (shamar)

translated regardeth means to observe in a hostile sense, to watch for

occasions of reprisal, as I Samuel 19:11; and the idea intended is that

in the province there were endless plottings and counter-plottings, mutual

denunciations and recriminations; that such things were only to be

expected, and were no sufficient cause for infidelity or despair. “The higher

one” is the monarch, the despotic king who holds the supreme power over

all these malad-ministrators and perverters of justice. And there be higher

than they. “Higher” is here plural (gebohgm), the plural of majesty, as it is

called (compare ch.12:1), like Elohim, the word for “God,” the

assonance being probably here suggestive. Over the highest of earthly

rulers there are other powers, angels, principalities, up to God Himself, who

governs the course of this world, and to whom we may leave the final

adjustment. Who are meant seems purposely to be left undetermined; but

the thought of the righteous Judge of all is intimated in accordance with the

view of ch.3:17. This is a far more satisfactory explanation of

the passage than that which regards as the highest of all “the court

favorites, king’s friends, eunuchs, chamberlains,” etc. In this view Koheleth

is merely asserting the general system of injustice and oppression, and

neither accounting for it nor offering any comfort under the circumstances.

But his object throughout is to show man’s inability to secure his own

happiness, and the need of submission to Divine providence. To

demonstrate the anomalies in the events of the world, the circumstances of

men’s lives would be only one part of his task, which would not be

completed without turning attention to the remedy against hasty and unfair

conclusions. This remedy is the thought of the supreme Disposer of events,

who holds all the strings in his hand, and will in the end bring good out

 of evil.



The Oppressor’s Accountability (v. 8)


We are not taught in this verse to disregard the wrongs of our fellow-creatures,

to shut our eyes to deeds of iniquity, to close our ears against the cry of the

suffering, to steel our heart against the anguish of the oppressed. But we are

cautioned against drawing hasty and ill-considered conclusions from the prevalence

of injustice; we are encouraged to cherish faith in THE OVERRULING



  • THE FACT OF OPPRESSION. Such cases as are here referred to exist

in every state; but in the East they have always existed in great numbers.

Despotic governments are more favorable to oppression than those states

where free institutions are established and where popular rights are

respected. Reference is made:


Ø      To the maltreatment of the poor, who are powerless to defend

themselves, and who have no helper.

Ø      To the withholding and perversion of justice.





Ø      To the sufferers themselves; who are in some cases deprived of liberty,

in some cases robbed of their property, in other cases injured in their


Ø      The spectators of such wrongs are aroused to sympathy, pity, and

indignation. No rightly constituted mind can witness injustice without

resentment. Even those who themselves exercise rights and enjoy

privileges lose much of the pleasure and advantage of their own

position by reason of the wrongs which their neighbors endure at

the hand of power and cruelty.

Ø      Society is in danger of corruption when the laws are overridden by

selfishness, avarice, and lust; when righteousness is scoffed at, and

when men’s best instincts and convictions are outraged.





Ø      Oppression is not unnoticed. Whether the oppressor hopes to escape, or

fears to be called to account, it is for the spectator of his evil deeds to

remember that “One higher than the high regardeth.”

Ø      Oppression is not unrecorded. The iniquities of the unjust judge, of the

arbitrary sovereign, of the villainous workman who violently hinders his

fellow-workman from earning an honest livelihood, — all are written in

the book of God (Revelation 20:12).  Even when deeds of oppression

are wrought in the sacred name of religion by the persecutor and the

inquisitor, such deeds are remembered, and will in due time be

brought to light.

Ø      Oppression will not be unavenged. Either now in this world, or hereafter

in the state of retribution, the oppressor, like every other sinner, shall

be brought to the bar of Divine justice. God shall bring every man into

judgment  (ch. 12:14).  As a man soweth, so shall he also reap

(Galatians 6:7).  The wicked shall not go unpunished.  (Proverbs



9  “Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is

served by the field.”  It has been much debated whether this verse should be

connected with the preceding or the following paragraph. The Vulgate

takes it with the preceding verse, Et insuper universae terrae rex imperat

servienti; so the Septuagint; and this seems most natural, avarice, wealth,

and its evils in private life being treated of in v. 10 and many following.

The writer seems to be contrasting the misery of Oriental despotism, above spoken

of, with the happiness of a country whose king was content to enrich himself,

not by war, rapine, and oppression, but by the peaceful pursuits of agriculture

by cherishing the natural productions of his country, and encouraging his people

in developing its resources. Such was Uzziah, who “loved husbandry”

(II Chronicles 26:10); and in Solomon’s own time the arts of peace greatly

flourished. There is much difficulty in interpreting the verse. The Vulgate rendering,

“And moreover the King of the whole earth rules over His servant,” probably means

that God governs the king. But the present Hebrew text does not support this

translation. The Septuagint has, Kai <peri>sseia gh~v eJpi< panti> ejsti<

basileu<v tou~ ajgrou~eijrgasme>nou - Kai perisseia gaes hepi panti esti Basileus

tou agrou eirgasmenou -  Moreover the profit of the earth is for all. The king

profits from the field - which makes more difficulties. “Also the abundance of the

earth is for every one, or upon every thing; the king (is dependent on) the cultivated

land, or, there is a king to the land when cultivated,” i.e. the throne itself depends on

the due cultivation of the country. Or, removing the comma, “The profit of the land in

everything is a king of the cultivated field.” The Hebrew may safely be rendered,

“But the profit of a land in all things is a king devoted to the field,” i.e. who

Loves and fosters agriculture. It is difficult to suppose that Solomon himself

wrote this sentence, however we may interpret it. According to the

Authorized Version, the idea is that the profit of the soil extends to every

rank of life; even the king, who seems superior to all, is dependent upon

the industry of the people, and the favorable produce of the land. He could

not be unjust and oppressive without injuring his revenues in the end. Ben-

Sira sings the praises of agriculture: “Hate not laborious work, neither

husbandry., which the Most High hath ordained” (Ecclesiasticus. 7:15).

Agriculture held a very prominent position in the Mosaic commonwealth.

The enactments concerning the firstfruits, the sabbatical year, landmarks,

the non-alienation of inheritances, etc., tended to give peculiar importance

to cultivation of the soil.



The Picture of an Ideal State (vs. 8-9)


  • THE SOIL WELL CULTIVATED. As the land of a country is its

principal source of wealth, where this is left untilled only destitution to the

people upon it can ensue. Access to the broad acres of earth, to extract

therefrom by means of labor the treasures therein deposited, constitutes an

indispensable prerequisite to the material prosperity of any province or

empire. Hence the Preacher depicts, or enables us to depict, a state or

condition of things in which this is realized — the common people spread

abroad upon the soil and engaged in its cultivation; the upper classes or

feudal lords deriving their support from the same soil in the shape of rents,

and even the king receiving from it in the form of taxes his imperial



  • THE LAW EQUALLY ADMINISTERED. The opposite of this is the

picture sketched by the Preacher, who probably transferred to his pages a

spectacle often witnessed in Palestine during the years of Persian

domination — “the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of

judgment and justice in a province;” the laboring classes despoiled of their

scanty savings, and even denied their fair share in the fruits of their own

industry, ground down and oppressed by the tyranny and avarice of their

social and political superiors, the satraps and other officers who ruled

them, and these again preyed on by fiercer harpies above them, and so on,

up through each ascending rank of dignitaries, till the last and highest was

reached. Reverse the state of matters thus described, and imagine all

classes in the community dwelling together in harmony, and conspiring to

advance each other’s comfort and happiness — the toiling millions

cheerfully, honestly, and diligently cultivating the soil, and manufacturing

its products into higher forms of wealth and beauty, the upper classes

jealously guarding the rights and furthering the welfare of these industrious

artisans, and each regarding the other with confidence and esteem — the

poet’s dream of Utopia, in which “all men’s good” should be “each man’s

rule,” would then be realized:



pushing forward his own personal aggrandizement, which in ancient

Oriental countries was often done at the expense of his subjects, as by

haraoh of Egypt (Exodus 1:11) and Solomon of Israel and Judah

(I Kings 12:4), but by devoting his energies to further the material

(and intellectual) advancement of his people. “But the profit of a land

every way is a king that maketh himself servant to the field,” or “is a king

over the cultivated field” (Revised Version margin), or is a king devoted to

agriculture, like Uzziah of Judah, who “loved husbandry” (II Chronicles

26:10). It is only amplifying this thought to represent the ideal state as one

in which the king or emperor consecrates his life and powers to the

honorable and laborious task of promoting the material prosperity and

temporal happiness of his subjects by removing the yoke from agriculture,

fostering trade and commerce, encouraging manufactures and inventions

aiding science and art, diffusing education, and stimulating his people

upward in every possible way towards the ideal of all free peoples, viz.



  • THE DEITY APPROVING. Here again the Preacher’s picture must

be changed. What he beheld was wholesale oppression and robbery

practiced by the upper and powerful classes against the under and

powerless classes, or in modern phrase, “the masses; and God over both

looking on in calm silence (Psalm 50:21), but by no means unperturbed

indifference (Zephaniah 1:12), accurately noting all the wickedness

going on beneath the sun (Psalm 33:13-15), and quietly waiting his

own time to call it to account (ch.3:15, 17; 11:9; 12:14).  What must

be substituted is a state of matters in which over the well organized,

industrious, peaceful, co-operating community the almighty

Disposer of events, the King of nations and King of kings, presides,

beaming on them with his gracious smile (Numbers 6:24-26) and

establishing the work of their hands upon them (Psalm 90:17).



                                    A Misgoverned State (v. 8)


From the follies only too prevalent in the religious world, the Preacher

turns to the disorders of the political; and although he admonishes his

readers in a later section of the book (<210802>Ecclesiastes 8:2) to be mindful of

the duties to which they are pledged by their oath of allegiance, it is very

evident that he felt keenly the misery and oppression caused by

misgovernment. For these evils he could suggest no cure; a hopeless

submission to the inevitable is his only counsel. Like Hamlet, his heart is

wrung by the thought of evils against which it was almost useless to



“The oppressor’s wrong,

the proud man’s contumely… the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes.”


The subordinate magistrates tyrannized over the people, those who were

higher in office watched their opportunity for oppressing them. From the

lowest up to the very highest rank of officials the same system of violence

and jealous espionage prevailed. Those that were in the royal household

and had the ear of the king, his most intimate counselors, who were in a

sense higher than any of the satraps or governors he employed, were able

to urge him to use his power for the destruction of any whose ill-gotten

riches made him an object of envy (romp. <211004>Ecclesiastes 10:4, 7, 16,

etc.). The whole system of government was rotten to the core, the same

distrust and jealousy pervaded every part of it. “Marvel not,” says the

Preacher, “at oppression and injustice in the lower departments of official

life, for those who are the superiors of the tyrannical judge or governor,

and should be a check on him, are as bad as he.” Such seems to be the

sense of the words. At first sight, indeed, the impression left on one’s mind

is that the Preacher counsels his readers not to be perplexed or unduly

dismayed at the wrong they are forced to witness, on the ground that over

and above the highest of earthly tyrants is the power of God, and that it

will in due time be manifested in the punishment of the evil-doer. As

though he had said, God who is “higher than the highest regardeth,”

beholds the wrong-doing; and when he comes to judgment, the proudest

will have to submit to his power (comp. <210317>Ecclesiastes 3:17). But this

interpretation, though very ancient, is not in harmony with the general

character of the utterance. The thought of God’s power and justice is

indeed calculated to give some consolation to the oppressed, but not to

explain why they are oppressed. The latter part of the verse is assigned as a

reason for not marveling at the prevalence of evil. If, therefore, reference

be made to the power of God, by which the evil might be restrained or

abolished, the marvel of its prevalence would only be increased. We are,

therefore, to understand his words as meaning, “Do not be surprised at the

corruption and baseness of the lower officials, in so much as the same

corruption prevails among those in far higher positions.” He is not here

seeking to cheer up the sufferer by bidding him look higher; he is

describing the evil state of affairs everywhere existing in the empire in his

own day (Wright). There is nothing very heroic or inspiring in the counsel.

It is simply an admonition, based on prudence, to escape personal danger

by stolidly submitting to evils which one’s own power can do nothing to

abolish or alleviate. To those who under an Oriental despotism had become

hopeless and dispirited, the words might seem worthy of a wise counselor;

but surely there is a servile ring about them which ill harmonizes with the

love of freedom and intolerance of tyranny which are native to a European

mind. There is but one relieving circumstance in connection with them, and

that is that submission to oppression is not commanded in them or asserted

to be a duty; and therefore those in whose hearts the love of country and of

justice burns brightly, and who find that a pure and devoted patriotism

moves them to make many sacrifices for the good of their fellows, violate

no canon of Scripture when they rise superior to the prudential

considerations dwelt upon here. Granted that submission to the inevitable

is the price at which material safety and happiness may be bought, it is still

a question at many times whether the patriot should not hazard material

safety and happiness in the attempt to win for his country and for himself a

higher boon. —



A Well-Ordered State (v. 9)


In contrast with the evils produced by an administration in which all the

officials, from the lowest to the highest, seek to enrich themselves, our

author now sets the picture of a well-governed community, in which the

efficient cultivation of the land is a matter of the first consideration, and all

classes of the population, up to the king himself, share in the consequent

prosperity. (The verse has been differently rendered, but the translation of

both our Revised and Authorized Versions is probably the best

reproduction of the original words.) From the kings who wasted the

resources of the lands over which they ruled in carrying on bloody wars,

and in the indulgence of their capricious tastes, he turns to those who, like

Uzziah, encouraged agriculture, and under whose beneficent rule Judah

enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity (<142610>2 Chronicles 26:10).

“The profit of the earth is for all.” All are dependent upon the labors of the

husbandman for the supply of the necessaries of life. By the judicious

cultivation of the soil wealth is accumulated, by which comforts and

luxuries are to be procured, so that even “the king himself is served by the

field.” The king, indeed, is more dependent upon the husbandman than the

husbandman upon the king; without his labors there would be no bread for

the royal palace, and no luxuries could make up for the absence of this

necessary of life. We have, surely, in this consideration a strong proof of

the dignity and value of the humblest labor, and in the fact of the mutual

dependence of all classes upon each other an argument for the necessity of

mutual forbearance and co-operation. A very striking illustration of the

teaching here given is afforded in an incident which took place at

Heidelberg in the reign of Frederic I. (1152-1190). “This prince invited to a

banquet all the factious barons whom he had vanquished at Seekingen, and

who had previously ravaged and laid waste great part of the palatinate.

Among them were the Bishop of Mentz and the Margrave of Baden. The

repast was plentiful and luxurious, but there was no bread. The warriorguests

looked round with surprise and inquiry. ‘Do you ask for bread?’

said Frederic, sternly; ‘you who have wasted the fruits of the earth, and

destroyed those whose industry cultivates it? There is no bread. Eat, and be

satisfied; and learn henceforth mercy to those who put the bread into your

mouths’” (quoted in ‘Sketches of Germany,’ by Mrs. Jameson). —



In vs. 10-17, the thought of the acts of injustice and oppression noticed

above, all of which spring from the craving for money, leads the bard to

dwell upon the evils that accompany this pursuit and possession of wealth,

which is thus seen to give no real satisfaction. Avarice has already been

noticed (ch. 4:7-12); the covetous man now reprobated is one who desires

wealth only for the enjoyment he can get from it, or the display

which it enables him to make, not, like the miser, who gloats over its mere

possession. Various instances are given in which riches are unprofitable

and vain.


10  “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that

loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.”  Warning:  It is

not in the nature of earthly good or goods, to quench the deep desires

of man’s immortal spirit!  He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with

silver. “Silver,” the generic name for money, as the Greek ajrgu>rion - argurion

and French argent. The insatiableness of the passion for money is a common theme

of poets, moralists, and satirists, and is found in the proverbs of all nations.  Thus

Horace (‘Ep.,’ 1:2. 56): “Semper avarus eget;” to which St Jerome alludes (‘Epist.,’ 53),

Antiquum dictum est, Avaro tam deest, quod habet, quam quod non habet.”

Comp. Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 14:139 —


Interea pleno quum forget sacculus ere,

Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecnnia crevit.”


“For as thy strutting bags with money rise,

The love of gain is of an equal size.”



There is much more of similar import in Horace. See ‘Carm.,’ 2:2. 13,

sqq.; 3:16. 17, 28; ‘Ep.,’ 2:2, 147; an, 1 Ovid, Fast.,’ 1:211 —


Creverunt etopes et opum furiosa cupido,

Et, quum possideant plura, plura volunt.”


“As wealth increases grows the frenzied thirst

For wealth; the more they have, the more they want.”


Nor he that loveth abundance with increase. The Authorized Version

scarcely presents the sense of the passage, which is not tautological, but

rather that given by the Vulgate, Et qui amat divitias fructum non capiet

exeis, “He who loveth abundance of wealth hath no fruit therefrom;” he

derives no real profit or enjoyment from the luxury which it enables him to

procure; rather it brings added trouble. And so the old conclusion is again

reached, this is also vanity.   The Septuagint, however, reads the clause

interrogatively, Kai< ti>v hjga>phsen ejn plh>qei aujtw~n (aujtou~, al.)

ge>nnhma; - Kai tis aegapaesen en plaethei auton autou gennaema

 “And who has loved [or, has been content with] gain in its fullness?”

But ymi is not necessarily interrogative, but here indefinite, equivalent to



11 “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what

good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with

their eyes?” Koheleth proceeds to notice some of the inconveniences which

accompany wealth, which go far to prove that God is over all. When

goods increase, they are increased that eat them. The more riches a man

possesses, the greater are the claims upon him. He increases his household,

retainers, and dependents, and is really none the better off for all his

wealth. So Job in his prosperous days is said to have had “a very great

household” (Job 1:3), and the servants and laborers employed by

Solomon must have taxed to the utmost even his abnormal resources (I Kings

5:13-16). Commentators from Pineda downwards have quoted the

remarkable parallel in Xenoph., ‘Cyropaed.,’ 8:3, wherein the wealthy

Persian Pheraulas, who had risen from poverty to high estate, disabuses a

young Sacian friend of the idea that his riches made him happier or

afforded supreme content. “Do you not know,” said he,” that I neither eat,

nor drink, nor sleep with any more pleasure now than I did when I was

poor? by having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard

more, to distribute more among others, and to have the trouble of taking

care of more. For now numerous domestics demand of me food, drink,

clothes; some want the doctor; one comes and brings me sheep that have

been torn by wolves, or oxen killed by failing down a precipice, or tells of a

murrain that has affected the cattle; so that I seem to myself to have more

afflictions in my abundance than I had when I was poor,… It is obligatory

on him who possesses much to expend much both on the gods and on

friends and on strangers; and whosoever is greatly pleased with the

possession of riches will, you may be assured, be greatly annoyed at the

expenditure of them.” What good is there to the owners thereof, saving

the beholding of them with their eyes? i. e. -  the sight of the amassed wealth.

The contemplation of this is the only enjoyment that the possessor realizes. So

the Vulgate, Et quid prodest possessori, nisi quod cernit divitias oculis

suis? Septuagint, Kai< ti> ajndrei>a tw~| par aujth~v o[ti ajrch< tou~ oJra~|n

ojfqalmoi~v aujtou~ - Kai ti andreia to par autaes hoti archae tou oran

 ophthalmois autou - And in what does the excellence of the owner

consist? except the power of seeing it with his eyes.  A Lapide quotes

Horace’s portrait of the miser (‘Sat.,’ 1:1.66, sqq.)


Populus me sibilat; ut mihi plaudo

Ipse domi, simul ac, nummos contemplor in area...

... congestis undique saccis

Indormis inhians et tanquam parcere sacris

Cogeris aut pictis tanquam gaudere tabellis.”


“He, when the people hissed, would turn about,

And dryly thus accost the rabble-rout:

Hiss on; heed you not, ye saucy wags,

While self-applauses greet me o’er my bags.”

O’er countless heaps in nicest order stored,

You pore agape, and gaze upon the hoard,

As relics to be laid with reverence by,

Or pictures only meant to please the eye.”



12 “The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much:

but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.”  Another

inconvenience of great wealth — it robs a man of his sleep. The sleep of a

laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. The laborer is the

husbandman, the tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:2). The Septuagint, with a

different pointing, renders dou>lou - doulouslave - which is less appropriate,

the fact being generally true of free or bond man.  Whether his fare be plentiful

or scanty, the honest laborer earns and enjoys his night’s rest. But the abundance

of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. The allusion is not to the overloading

of the stomach, which might occasion sleeplessness in the case of the poor

equally with the rich man, but to the cares and anxieties which wealth brings.

“Not a soft couch, nor a bedstead overlaid with silver, nor the quietness that

exists throughout the house, nor any other circumstance of this nature, are so

generally wont to make sleep sweet and pleasant, as that of laboring, and

growing weary, and lying down with a disposition to sleep, and very greatly

 needing it .... Not so the rich. On the contrary, whilst lying on their beds,

 they are frequently without sleep through the whole night; and, though they

devise many schemes, they do not obtain such pleasure” (St. Chrysostom, ‘Hom.

on Stat.,’ 22). The contrast between the grateful sleep of the tired worker and

the disturbed rest of the avaricious and moneyed and luxurious has formed

a fruitful theme for poets. Thus Horace, ‘Carm.,’ 3:1.21 —


Somnus agrestium

Lenis virorum non humiles domes

   Fastidit umbrosamque ripam,

     Non Zephyris agitata Tempe.”


“Yet sleep turns never from the lowly shed

Of humbler-minded men, nor from the eaves

In Tempe’s graceful vale is banished,

Where only Zephyrs stir the murmuring leaves.”



And the reverse, ‘Sat.,’ 1:1.76, sqq.


“An vigilare metu exanimem, noctesque diesque

Formidare males fures, inccndia, serves,

Ne to compilent fugientes, hoc juvat?”


“But what are your indulgencies? All day,

All night, to watch and shudder with dismay,

Lest ruffians fire your house, or slaves by stealth

Rifle your coffers, and abstract your wealth?

If this be affluence — this her boasted fruit,

Of all such joys may I live destitute.”



Comp. Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 10:12, sqq.; 14:304. Shakespeare, ‘Henry IV.,’ Pt.

II., act 3. sc. 1 —


“Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

And hush’d with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,

Under the canopies of costly state,

And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?”


In vs. 13-17, another view of the evils attendant upon riches is here

presented: the owner may lose them at a stroke, and leave nothing for his

children. This thought is presented in different lights.


13 “There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches

kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.”  There is also a sore evil which

I have seen under the sun (so v. 16). The fact that follows is, of course, not

 universally true, but occasionally seen, and is a very bitter evil. The Septuagint

calls it ajrjrJwsti>a arrostia – grievous evil - the Vulgate, infirmitas.

Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt; rather, preserved by

the possessor, hoarded and guarded, only to bring their lord added grief

when by some reverse of fortune he loses them, as explained in what follows.


14 “But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and

there is nothing in his hand.”  Those riches perish by evil travail; thing or

circumstance. There is no need to confine the cause of the loss to unsuccessful

business, as many commentators do. The rich man does not seem to be a

tradesman or speculator; he loses his property, like Job, by visitations for which

he is in no way answerable — by storm or tempest, by robbers, by fire, by

exactions, or by lawsuits. And he begetteth a son, and there is nothing

in his hand. The verb rendered begettethis in the past tense, and used

as it were, hypothetically, equivalent to “hath he begotten a son,”

supposing he has a son. His misery is doubled by the reflection that he has

lost all hope of securing a fortune for his children, or founding a family, or

passing on an inheritance to posterity. It is doubtful to whom the pronoun

“his” refers. Many consider that the father is meant, and the clause says

that when he has begotten a son, he finds he has nothing to give him. But

the suffix seems most naturally to refer to the son, who is thus left a

pauper. Vulgate, Generavit filium qui in summa egestate erit. Having a

thing in the hand moans having power over it, or possessing it.


15 “As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to

go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry

away in his hand.”  The case of the rich man who has lost his property is here

generalized. What is true of him is, in a measure, true of every one, so far

as he can carry nothing away with him when he dies (Psalm 49:17). As

he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he

came. There is a plain reference to Job 1:21, “Naked came I out of my

mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.” The mother is the earth,

human beings being regarded as her offspring. So the psalmist says, “My

frame was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth” (Psalm

139:15). And Ben-Sira in Ecclesiasticus 40:1 says, “Great trouble is created

for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that

they go out of their mother’s womb till the day that they return to the mother of all

things.” I Timothy 6:7, “We brought nothing into the world, and it

is certain that we can carry nothing out.” Thus Propertius, ‘Eleg.,’ 3:5. 13 —


“Hand ullas portabis opes Acherontis ad undas,

Nudus ab inferna, stulte, vehere rate.”


“No wealth thou’lt take to Acheron’s dark shore,

Naked, th’ infernal bark will bear thee o’er.”


Shall take nothing of his labor; rather, for his labor, the preposition

being B] of price. He gets nothing by his long toil in amassing wealth.

Which he may carry away in his hand, as his own possession. The

ruined Dives points a moral for all men.  (Luke 16:19-31).


16 “And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he

go: and what profit hath he that hath labored for the wind?”

This also is a sore evil. The thought of v.15 is emphatically repeated.

In all points as he came; i.e. naked, helpless. And what profit

hath he that laboreth for the wind? The answer is emphatically

“nothing.” We have had similar questions in ch. 1:3; 2:22; 3:9.

To labor for the wind is to toil with no result, like the “feeding on wind,

pursuing of vanity,” which is the key-note of the book. The wind is the

type of all that is empty, delusive, unsubstantial. In Proverbs 11:29 we

have the phrase, “to inherit the wind.” Job calls futile arguments “words of

wind” (Job 16:3; 15:2). Thus the Greek proverb jAne>mouv qjra~n ejn

diktu>ov Anemous thran en diktuos - to try to catch the wind   and the Latin,

Ventos pascere,” and “Ventos colere “(see Erasmus, ‘Adag.,’ s.v. “Inanis opera”).

Septuagint, Kai< ti>v hJ peri>sseia aujtou~ h+| mocqei~ eijv a]nemon – Kai tis

hae perisseia autou ae mochthei eis anemon - And what is his gain for which he

labors for the wind?”


17 “All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow

and wrath with his sickness.”  The misery that accompanies the rich man’s

whole life is summed up here, where one has to think chiefly of his distress

after his loss of fortune. All his days also he eateth in darkness; i.e. passes his life

in gloom and cheerlessness. wym;y;AlK;, “all his days,” is the accusative of time,

not the object of the verb. To eat in darkness is not a common metaphor

for spending a gloomy life, but it is a very natural one, and has analogies in

this book (e.g. ch. 2:24; 3:13, etc.), and in such phrases as to “sit in darkness”

(Micah 7:8), and to “walk in darkness” (Isaiah 1:10).   And he hath much

sorrow and wrath with his sickness; literally, and much vexation, and sickness,

and wrath; Revised Version, he is sore vexed, and hath sickness and wrath.

The man experiences all kinds of vexation:


·        when his plans fail or involve him in trouble and privation; or

·        he is morbid and diseased in mind and body; or

·        he is angry and envious when others succeed better than himself.


The sentiment is expressed by Paul (I Timothy 6:9), “They that desire (boulo>menoi

 Boulomenoi – they that will be; those intending) to be rich fall into a temptation

and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men (buqi>ousi

tou<v ajnqrw>pouv buthiousi tous anthropousdrown men) in destruction and

 perdition.” “For,”  he proceeds, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,

which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced

 themselves  through (eJautou<v perie>peiran heautous periepeiran – pierced

 themselves through) with many sorrows.” The Septuagint continues its version,

“And in much passion (qumw~| - thumo – fierceness; wrath) and in infirmity and wrath.”

The anger may be directed against himself, as he thinks of his folly in taking




A Sermon on the Vanity of Riches (vs. 8-17)


  • FREQUENTLY ACQUIRED BY WRONG. As, for instance, by

oppression and robbery (v. 8). That honest labor sometimes leads to

affluence cannot be denied (Proverbs 10:4); more often, however, it is

the ungodly who increase in riches (Psalm 73:12), and that, too, by

means of their ungodliness (Proverbs 1:19; 22:16; 28:20; Habakkuk

2:6, 9; I Timothy 6:9-10). Hence the question arises whether, if riches

cannot be obtained without plunging into all sorts of wickedness,

are they worth seeking to obtain at all?  If to secure them a man must

 not only practice dishonesty, theft, oppression, and perhaps worse,


PERNICIOUS LUSTS such as avarice, covetousness, and envy,

Is really a good bargain to secure them AT SUCH A COST?

 Christ’s question, “What is a man profited , if he gain the

Whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) has a bearing

on this.



loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance

with increase” (v. 10). In addition to the well-known fact that material

wealth has no power to impart solid satisfaction to the better instincts of

the soul (Luke 12:15) — a fact eloquently commented on by Burns

(‘Epistle to Davie’) —


“It’s no in titles nor in rank,

It’s no in wealth like Lou’on Bank,

     To purchase peace and rest,” etc.


— the appetite for wealth grows by what it feeds on. The rich are ever

craving for more. “The avaricious man is always wanting,” said Horace

(‘Epist.,’ 1:2. 26); while Ovid (‘Fasti,’ 1:211,212) wrote of rich men,

“Both their wealth and a furious lust of wealth increase, and when they

possess the most they seek for more.” Hence, to use another rendering,

“He whose love cleaveth to abundance hath nothing of it” (Delitzsch). “He

who hangs his heart on the continual tumult, noise, pomp, of more

numerous and greater possessions if possible, to all real profit — i.e., all

pleasant, peaceful enjoyment is lost” (ibid.).




Ø      Numerous dependents. Unless he is a miser, who shuts up his

money in chests and only feeds himself in looking at it with closed

doors, the rich man, like Job  and Solomon, will maintain a large and

expensive household, which will eat up his substance, so that,

notwithstanding all his wealth, he shall have little more for his

portion in the same than the satisfaction of seeing it pass through his

hands (v. 11). As Pheraulas the Persian observed to a Sacian

youth, who congratulated him on being rich, “Do you think, Sacian,

that I live with more pleasure the more I possess? Do you not know

that I neither eat nor drink nor sleep with a particle more pleasure now

than when I was poor? But by having this abundance I gain merely this,

that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the

trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand

of me their food, their drink, and their clothes Whosoever, therefore,

is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel

annoyed at the expenditure of them” (Xenophon, ‘Cyropaedia,’ 8:3,



Ø      Increased anxieties. The rich man, through the abundance of his riches,

is worried with cares, which pursue him into the night, and will not suffer

him to sleep (v. 12), for thinking of how he shall protect his wealth

against the midnight prowler, of how he shall increase it by successful

trade and profitable investment, of how he shall employ it so as to

extract from it the largest quantity of enjoyment; whereas the laboring

man, whether he eats little or much, drops into refreshing slumber the

moment he lays his head upon his pillow, untroubled by anxious

thoughts as to how he shall dispose of his wealth, which consists

chiefly in the fewness of his wants. So sang Horace long ago of

gentle sleep,” which “scorns not the humble abodes of ploughmen”

(‘Odes,’ 3:1.21-23), and Virgil of the tillers of the soil, who “want

not slumber sweet beneath the trees” (‘Georg.,’ 2:469); so wrote

Shakespeare of the “honey-heavy dew of slumber” (‘Julius Caesar,’

act it. sc. 1), describing it as


“Sore labor’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast;”

(‘Macbeth,’ act 2. sc. 2.)


representing it as lying rather —


“In smoky cribs

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great:”

(‘Henry IV.,’ Part II., act 3. sc. 1.)


and depicting the shepherd’s “wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade”

as “far beyond a prince’s delicates” (‘Henry VI.,’ act ii. sc. 5).




Ø      The hope of never-failing happiness. The rich man hopes that in

future years his wealth will be to him a source of comfort (Luke 12:19).

As the years go by he discovers they have only been kept to his hurt

(v. 13) -  if not physically or mentally, at least morally and spiritually

(I Timothy 6:10,17); and the fact is often so, whether he discovers

it or not.


Ø      The hope of never knowing want. The rich man expects that, having

safely locked them up in a prudent speculation, he will keep them at least

during his lifetime; but alas! the speculation turns out “an evil adventure,”

and his much-prized riches perish (v. 14).


Ø      The hope of perpetuating his name. Once more the rich man pleases

himself with the prospect of founding a family by leaving his son the

fortune he has heaped up by toil, thrift, and profitable speculation. By the

time he comes to die he has nothing in his hand to bequeath, and so is

forced to bid farewell to his hopes and leave his son a pauper.




Ø      Absolutely. However rich a man may grow in his lifetime, of all he has

amassed he must divest himself at the grave’s mouth, as Claudio in the

prison is reminded by the duke-


“If thou art rich, thou art poor;

For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,

Thou bent’st thy riches but a journey,

And death unloads thee.”

(‘Measure for Measure,’ act 3. se. 1.)


“As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to

go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may

carry away in his hand” (v. 15; compare Job 1:21); for as “we brought

nothing into this world,” so it is “certain we can carry nothing out”

(I Timothy 6:7).


Ø      Without compensation. “What profit,” then, the Preacher asks, has the

rich man who has labored all his days to amass wealth? The answer is,

“Nothing! he has simply labored for the wind.” Nor is this the worst. To

have had a pleasant time of it before being obliged to part with his wealth

would have been a compensation, however slight, to the rich man; but for

the most part even this is denied him. In order to amass his riches he has

commonly been found to play the part of a miser, “eating in the dark to

save candle-light, or working all day and waiting till nightfall before he sits

down to a meal;” or, if the words “eating in darkness” be taken

metaphorically, while gathering gold he has passed his existence in gloom

and sadness, having no light in his heart, he has fallen into sore vexation

at the failure of many of his plans, become morbidly disposed,

“diseased in mind and body,” and even waxed wrathful at God,

Himself, and all the world.  Consider:



o       The duty of moderating one’s pursuit of earthly riches.

o       The wisdom of laying up for one’s self treasures in heaven.

o       The happiness enjoyed by the poor.


In vs. 18-20, the inconveniences of wealth lead the writer back to his old

conclusion, that man should make the best of life, and enjoy all the good that

 God gives with moderation and contentment.


18 “Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat

and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh

under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it

is his portion.”  Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely, etc.

The accentuation is against this rendering, which, however, has the support

of the Syriac and the Targum. The Septuagint gives, jIdou< ei+don ejgw<

ajgaqo<n o[ ejsti kalo>n - Idou eidon ego agathon ho esti kalon - Behold,

I have seen a good which is comely -  and it is best to translate, with

Delitzsch and others, “Behold, what I have seen as good, what as beautiful,

is this.” My conclusion holds good. They who seek for traces of Greek

influence in Koheleth find Epicureanism in the sentiment, and the familiar

combination, kalo<n kajgaqo<n kalon kagathongood and proper ,

in the language. Both ideas  are baseless. (For supposed Epicureanism,

see on ch. 2:24 and 3:12.)  And the juxtaposition of kalo<v kalos - 

and ajgaqo<v agathos  is only a fortuitous rendering of the Hebrew, upon

which no argument for Grecism can be founded. To eat and to drink, etc.;

i.e. to use the common blessings which God bestows with thankfulness and

contentment. As Paul says, “Having food and covering, we shall he

therewith content” (I Timothy 6:8). Which God giveth him. This is

the point so often insisted upon. These temporal blessings are GOD’S GIFTS

and are not to be considered as the natural and assured result of man’s own

exertions. Man, indeed, must labor, but God giveth the increase (I Corinthians 3:7). 

For it is his portion (ch. 3:22).  This calm enjoyment is allotted to man by God,

and nothing more must be expected. Ben-Sira gives similar advice,

“Defraud not thyself of a good day, and let not the share in a right pleasure

pass by thee Give, and take, and beguile thy soul; for there is no seeking of

dainties in Hades” (Ecclesiasticus 14:14, 16).


19 “Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and

hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to

rejoice in his labor; this is the gift of God.”  Every man also. The sentence

is anacoluthic, like ch. 3:13, and may best be rendered, Also for every man to

whom... this is a gift of God. Ginsburg connects the verse closely with the

preceding one, supplying, “I have also seen that a man,” etc. Whichever

way we take the sentence, it comes to the same thing, implying man’s

absolute dependence upon God’s bounty. To whom God hath given

riches and wealth. Before he can enjoy his possessions a man must first

receive them from God’s hands. The two terms here used are not quite

synonymous. While the former word, osher; is used for wealth of any kind

whatever, the latter, nekasim, means properly “wealth in cattle,” like the

Latin pecunia, and thence used generally for riches (volek). Hath given

him power to eat thereof. Abundance is useless without the power to

enjoy it. This is the gift of God, a great and special bounty from a loving

and gracious God. Thus Horace, ‘Epist.,’ 1:4. 7 —


“Di tibi divitias dederunt artemque fruendi.”


“The gods have given you wealth, and (what is more)

Have given you wisdom to enjoy your store.”



20 “For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God

answereth him in the joy of his heart.” For he shall not much remember

the days of his life. The man who has learned the lesson of calm enjoyment does

not much concern himself with the shortness, uncertainty, or possible trouble of life.

He carries out the counsel of Christ, “Be not anxious for the morrow, for the

morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil

thereof” (Matthew 6:34). Because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

The man passes a calm and contented life, because God shows that He is pleased

with him by the tranquil joy shed over his heart. The verb hn,[}m" (the hiph. participle

of hn;[;) is variously rendered. The Septuagint gives, JO Qeo<v perispa~|

aujto<n ejn eujfrosu>nh| kardi>av aujtou~ - Ho Theos perispa auton en

euphrosunae kardias autou - God occupies him in the joy of his heart;”

Vulgate, Eo quod Deus occupet deliciis cot ejus.  God answers him with,

imparts to him, joy of heart, makes him sensible of his favorable regard by this

inward feeling of SATISFACTION and CONTENT!



The Good Things Appointed for Man by God (vs. 18-20)


Some detect in these verses the ring of Epicurean morals. But the

difference is vast between desiring and rejoicing in the things of this world

as mere means of pleasure, and accepting them with gratitude and using

them with moderation and prudence, as the gifts of A FATHER’S BOUNTY





Ø      God’s earth which provides our sustenance;

Ø      God’s creative wisdom that provides our companionships;

Ø      God who gives us power to acquire, to use, and to enjoy His gifts.






GOODNESS. They were not given to tempt or to curse man, but to

gladden his heart and to enrich his life. Benevolence is the impulse of the

Divine nature. God is “good to all, and his tender mercies are over all

His works.”  (Psalm 145:9)




THANKSGIVING TO GOD. Thus even the common things of earth may

be glorified and made beautiful by their devotion to the highest of all

purposes. Through them the Giver of all may be praised, and the heart of

the grateful recipient may be raised to fellowship with “the Father of the

spirits of all flesh.”  (Numbers 27:16)



ERROR AND SIN. They are so often abused that it is not to be wondered

at that men come to think them evil in themselves. But in such cases, the

blame lies not with the Giver, but with the recipient, who turns the very

honey into gall.



The Picture of a “Good and Comely” Life (vs. 18-20)


  • THE LABOR OF THE HANDS REWARDED. The toiler spends not

his strength for naught and in vain (Isaiah 49:4), but with the sweat of

his brow earns for himself bread to eat, water to drink, and raiment to put

on (Genesis 28:20). Work and food the two first requisites of a good

and comely life.  (My father used to tell me that all he expected out of

this life was all that he could eat and all that he could wear out! –

CY – 2013)


  • THE GOOD THINGS OF LIFE ENJOYED. Not only has the toiler

the pleasant satisfaction of being able to earn through his personal

exertions something, yea, enough, to eat and drink and to clothe himself

withal, but over and above he can eat and drink and wear that which he has

earned, and generally rejoice in that which his hands have won. (No doubt

the lack of this experience is a huge negative in the modern “welfare system”

and is a contributor to the ennui and idle time which are the backdrop of

loose sexual behavior; drug abuse and irresponsibility, plagues of the

United States of America – CY – 2013)  Health and cheerfulness are

the next two requisites of a good and comely life.


  • THE ILLS OF EXISTENCE FORGOTTEN. If not entirely exempt

from ills, since there is no man born of woman who is not heir to trouble

(Job 5:7; 14:1), yet these affect him so slightly and leave so small

impression on his soul, that the even tenor of his life flows on, and he

hardly remembers the days as they pass. Equanimity (self-composure)

and hopefulness make up a third pair of requisites for a good and comely life.



comely” life differs from mere animal existence in this, that it

acknowledges all it receives and enjoys as a portion marked out for it by

the sovereign appointment, and bestowed upon it by THE GRACIOUS

BOUNTY OF GOD!   (James 1:17). Gratitude and religion are a fourth

pair of requisites for a good and comely life.



life, being more than mere sensuous gratification, and springing up within

the deep recesses of the soul, being in fact pure heart-joy, is not displeasing

to God, but, on the contrary, is by Him observed, answered, and confirmed.

Peace and joy the last and highest pair of requisites for a good and comely



(I guess the question is “Are you experiencing the  “GOOD AND COMELY” life?

What roles do work, food, health, cheerfulness, self-composure, hopefulness,

gratitude, religion, peace and joy, play in your life?  Your answer will explain

everything! – CY – 2013)




o       The propriety of striving after an ideal life.

o       The necessity of aiming at improved surroundings of existence.

o       The impossibility of reaching Utopia either for the state or the

individual WITHOUT GOD!



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