Ecclesiastes 1


   Title (v.1)



Ecclesiastes  (the preacher ). The title of this book is in Hebrew Koheleth , signifying 

one who speaks publicly in an assembly. Koheleth is the name by which Solomon,

probably the author, speaks of himself throughout the book. The book is that which

it professes to be, --the confession of a man of wide experience looking back upon

his past life and looking out upon the disorders and calamities which surround him.

The writer is a man who has sinned in giving way to selfishness and sensuality, who

has paid the penalty of that sin in satiety and weariness of life, but who has through

all this been under the discipline of a divine education, and has learned from it the

lesson which God meant to teach him.   (Excerpt from Smith’s Bible Dictionary)



Ecclesiastes  (the preacher ). The title of this book is in Hebrew Koheleth , signifying 

one who speaks publicly in an assembly. Koheleth is the name by which Solomon,

probably the author, speaks of himself throughout the book. The book is that which

it professes to be, --the confession of a man of wide experience looking back upon

his past life and looking out upon the disorders and calamities which surround him.

The writer is a man who has sinned in giving way to selfishness and sensuality, who

has paid the penalty of that sin in satiety and weariness of life, but who has through

all this been under the discipline of a divine education, and has learned from it the

lesson which God meant to teach him.   (Excerpt from Smith’s Bible Dictionary)


THE book is called in the Hebrew Koheleth, a title taken from its opening

sentence, “The words of Koheleth, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.”

In the Greek and Latin Versions it is entitled ‘Ecclesiastes,’ which Jerome

elucidates by remarking that in Greek a person is so called who gathers the

congregation, or ecclesia. Aquila transliterates the word, Kωλέθ -    Koleth - what

Symmachus gave is uncertain, but probably Παροιµιαστής- Paroimiastaes -

Proverbmonger. The Venetian Greek has ‘H ‘Eκκλησιἀστρια

and ‘H ‘Eκκλησιἀζουσα.  In modern versions the name is usually ‘Ecclesiastes; 

or, The Preacher.’ Luther boldly gives ‘The Preacher Solomon.’ This is not

a satisfactory rendering to modern ears; and, indeed, it is difficult to find a

term which will adequately represent the Hebrew word. Koheleth is a

participle feminine from a root kahal (whence the Greek καλέω - kaleo, Latin

calo, and English “call”), which means, “to call, to assemble,” especially

for religious or solemn purposes. The word and its derivatives are always

applied to people, and not to things. So the term, which gives its name to

our book, signifies a female assembler or collector of persons for Divine

worship, or in order to address them. It can, therefore, not mean “Gatherer

of wisdom,” “Collector of maxims,” but “Gatherer of God’s people”

(1 Kings 8:1); others make it equivalent to “Debater,” which term affords a

clue to the variation of opinions in the work. It is generally constructed as

a masculine and without the article, but once as feminine (ch. 7:27,

if the reading is correct), and once with the article (ibid. ch. 12:8). The

feminine form is by some accounted for, not by supposing

Koheleth to represent an office, and therefore as used abstractedly, but as

being the personification of Wisdom, whose business it is to gather people

unto the Lord and make them a holy congregation. In Proverbs sometimes

Wisdom herself speaks (e.g. Proverbs 1:20), sometimes the author

speaks of her (e.g. ibid. 8:1, etc.). So Koheleth appears now as the

organ of Wisdom, now as Wisdom herself, supporting, as it were, two

characters without losing altogether his identity. At the same time, it is to

be noted, with Wright, that Solomon, as personified Wisdom, could not

speak of himself as having gotten more wisdom than all that were before

him in Jerusalem (ch. 1:16), or how his heart had great experience of wisdom,

or how he had applied his heart to discover things by means of wisdom (ch. 7:23, 25).

These things could not be said in this character, and unless we suppose that the writer

occasionally lost himself, or did not strictly maintain his assumed personation, we

must fall back upon the ascertained fact that the feminine form of such words as

Koheleth has no special significance (unless, perhaps, it denotes power and

activity), and that such forms were used in the later stage of the language

to express proper names of men. Thus we find Solphereth, “scribe”

(Nehemiah 7:57), and Pochereth, “hunter” (Ezra 2:57), where

certainly males are intended. Parallels are found in the Mishna. If, as is

supposed, Solomon is designated Keheleth in allusion to his great prayer at

the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:23-53, 56-61), it is strange that

no mention is anywhere made of this celebrated work, and the part he took

therein. He appears rather as addressing general readers than teaching his

own people from an elevated position; and the title assigned to him is

meant to designate him, not only as one who by word of mouth instructed

others, but one whose life and experience preached an emphatic lesson on

the vanity of mundane things.



1  “The words of the Preacher, the son of David, King in Jerusalem.   Septuagint,

“King of Israel in Jerusalem (compare v. 12). The word rendered “Preacher” is

Koheleth, a feminine noun formed from a verb kalal, “to call”, and perhaps better

Rendered “Convener” or “Debater.” It is found nowhere else but in this book, where

it occurs three times in this chapter (vs. 1, 2, 12), three times in ch.12:8, 9, 10, and

once in ch. 7:27. In all but one instance (viz. ch.12:8) it is used without the article,

as a proper name. Jerome, in his commentary, translates it, ‘Continuator,’ in his

version ‘Ecclesiastes.’ It would seem to denote one who gathered around

him a congregation in order to instruct them in Divine lore. The feminine

form is explained in various ways. Either it is used abstractedly, as the

designation of an office, which it seems not to be; or it is formed as some

other words which are found with a feminine termination, though denoting

the names of men, indicating a high degree of activity in the possessor of the

particular quality signified by the stem; e.g. Alemeth, Azmaveth (I Chronicles 8:36;

9:42), Pochereth (Ezra 2:57), Sophereth (Nehemiah 7:57); or, as is most probable,

the writer desired to identify Koheleth with Wisdom, though it must be

observed that the personality of the author often appears, as in ch. 1:16-18; 7:23, etc.;

the role of Wisdom being for the nonce forgotten. The word “king” in the title is

shown by the accentuation to be in apposition to “Koheleth” not to “David;” and

there can be no doubt that the description is intended to denote Solomon, though

his name is nowhere actually given, as it is in the two other works ascribed to him

(Proverbs 1:1; Song of Solomon 1:1). Other intimations of the assumption of

Solomon’s personality are found in v.12, “I Koheleth was king,” etc.; so in

describing his consummate wisdom (ch.1:13, 16; 2:15; compare I Kings 3:12;

5:12), and in his being the author of many proverbs (ch.12:9; compare I  Kings

4:32) — accomplishments which are not noted in the case of any

other of David’s descendants. Also the picture of luxury and magnificence

presented in ch.2. suits no Jewish monarch but Solomon. The origin of the name

applied to him may probably be traced to the historical fact mentioned in

I Kings 8:55, etc., where Solomon gathers all Israel together to the dedication

of the temple, and utters the remarkable prayer which contained blessing and

teaching and exhortation.  The assumption of the name is a mere literary

device to give weight and importance to the treatise to which it appertains.

The term, “King in Jerusalem,” or, as in v. 12, “King over Israel in

Jerusalem,” is unique, and occurs nowhere else in Scripture. David is said

to have reigned in Jerusalem, when this seat of government is spoken of in

contrast with that at Hebron (II Samuel 5:5), and the same expression is

used of Solomon, Rehoboam, and others (I Kings 11:42; 14:21; 15:2,10);

and the phrase probably denotes a time when the government had

become divided, and Israel had a different capital from Judah.



Prologue (vs. 2-11)


The vanity of all human and mundane things, and the oppressive monotony of their

continued recurrence.


2 “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

 (compare ch.12:8). “Vanity” is hebel, which means “breath,” and is used

metaphorically of anything:


o       transitory,

o       frail, or

o       unsatisfying.


We have it in the proper name Abel, an appropriate designation of the youth

whose life was cut short by a brother’s murderous hand. “Vanity of vanities,”

 like “heaven of heavens” (I Kings 8:27), “song of songs” (Song of Solomon 1:1),

etc., is equivalent to a superlative, “most utterly vain. It is here an exclamation,

and is to be regarded as the key-note of the whole subsequent treatise, which is

merely the development of this text. Septuagint, ματαιότης ματαιοτήτων

 mataiotaes mataiotaeton – vanity of vanities – other Greek translators,

ἀτμὶς ἀτμίδων – atmis atmidon - vapor of vapors. For “saith” the

Vulgate gives dixit; the Septuagint, εϊπεν – eipen – saith - but as there is no

reference to any previous utterance of the Preacher, the present is more suitable

here. In affirming that “all is vanity,” the writer is referring to human and mundane

things, and directs not his view beyond such phenomena. Such reflection is

common in sacred and profane writings alike; such experience is universal

(compare Genesis 47:9; Psalm 39:5-7; 90:3-10; James 4:14).

“Pulvis et umbra sumus,” says Horace (‘Carm.,’ 4:7. 16. “O curas

hominum! O quantum est in rebus inane!” (Persius, ‘Sat.,’ 1:1). If Dean

Plumptre is correct in contending that the Book of Wisdom was written to

rectify the deductions which might be drawn from Koheleth, we may

contrast the caution of the apocryphal writer, who predicates vanity, not of

all things, but only of the hope of the ungodly, which he likens to dust,

froth, and smoke (see Wisdom of Solomon  2:1, etc.; 5:14). Paul (Romans 8:20)

seems to have had Ecclesiastes in mind when he spoke of the creation

being (τῇ ματαιότητι – tae mataiotaeti - subjected to vanity), as a consequence

of the fall of man, not to be remedied till the final restitution of all things. “But a man

will say, If all things are vain and vanity, wherefore were they made? If

they are God’s works, how are they vain? But it is not the works of God

which he calls vain. God forbid! The heaven is not vain; the earth is not

vain: God forbid! Nor the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, nor our own

body. No; all these are very good. But what is vain? Man’s works, pomp,

and vain-glory. These came not from the hand of God, but are of our own

creating. And they are vain because they have no useful end That is called

vain which is expected indeed to possess value, yet possesses it not; that

which men call empty, as when they speak of ‘empty hopes,’ and that

which is fruitless. And generally that is called vain which is of no use. Let

us see, then, whether all human things are not of this sort” (St.

Chrysostom, ‘Hem. 12. in Ephes.’).




                                                All is Vanity (v. 2)


If we regard this book as Solomon’s own record and statement of his

remarkable experience of human life, it must be deemed by us a most

valuable lesson as to the hollowness and emptiness of worldly greatness

and renown. If, on the other hand, we regard the book as the production of

a later writer, who lived during the troubled and depressed period of

Jewish history which followed the Captivity, it must be recognized as

casting light upon the providentially appointed consequences of national

sin, apostasy, and rebellion. In the former case the moral and religious

significance of Ecclesiastes is more personal, in the latter case more

political. In either case, the treatise, as inspired by Divine wisdom,

demands to be received and studied with reverential attention. Whether its

lessons be congenial or unwelcome, they deserve the consideration of those

of every age, and of every station in society. Some readers will resent the

opening words of the treatise as gloomy and morbid; others will hail them

as the expression of reason and wisdom. But the truth they contain is

independent of human moods and temperaments, and is only to be fully

appreciated by those whose observation is extensive and whose reflection

is profound. The wise man makes a broad and unqualified statement, that

all things earthly and human are but vanity.



OWING TO INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCE. There are times when every

man who lives is distressed and disappointed, when his plans come to

naught, when his hopes are blasted, when his friends fail him, when his

prospects are clouded, when his heart sinks within him. It is the common

lot, from which none can expect to be exempt. In some instances the

stormy sky clears and brightens, whilst in other instances the gloom

thickens and settles. But it may be confidently asserted that, at some period

and in some circumstances, every human being, whose experience of life is

large and varied, has felt as though he has been living in a scene of illusion,

the vanity of which has been perhaps suddenly made apparent to him, and

then the language of the writer of Ecclesiastes has risen to his lips, and he

has exclaimed in bitterness of soul, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!”





mutability of human affairs, that every nation, every Church, passes

through epochs of prosperity, confidence, energy, and hope; and again

through epochs of adversity, discouragement, depression, and paralysis.

The Israelites had their times of conquest and of progress, and they had

also their times of defeat, of captivity, of subjection, of humiliation. So has

it been with every people, every state. Nor have the Churches into which

Christian communities have been formed, escaped the operation of the

same law. So far as they have been human organizations, they have been

affected by the laws to which all things human are subject. In times when a

nation is feeble at home and despised abroad, when faction and ambition

have reduced its power and crippled its enterprise, there is proneness, on

the part of the reflecting and sensitive among the citizens and subjects, to

lament over the unprofitableness and vanity of civil life. Similarly, when a

Church experiences declension from the Divine standard of faith, purity,

and consecration, how natural is it that the enlightened and spiritual

members of that Church should, in their grief over the general deadness of

the religious community, give way to feelings of discouragement and

foreboding, which find a fitting expression in the cry, “Vanity of vanities;

all is vanity!”




LIFE. It would be a mistake to suppose that the cry of “Vanity!” is always

the evidence of a merely transitory though powerful mood of morbid

feeling. On the contrary, there have been nations, ages, states of society,

with which it has been a settled conviction that hollowness and emptiness

characterize all human and earthly affairs. Pessimism may be a

philosophical creed, as with the ancient Buddhists and some of the modern

Germans; it may be a conclusion reached by reflection upon the facts of

life. To some minds unreason is at the heart of the universe, and in this case

there is no ground for hope. To other minds, not speculative, the survey of

human affairs is suggestive of aimlessness in the world, and occasions

despondency in the observant and reflective mind. Thus even some who

enjoy health and prosperity, and in whose constitution and circumstances

there is nothing to justify discouragement and hopelessness, are

nevertheless found, without any serious satisfaction in existence, ready to

sum up their conclusions, derived from a perhaps prolonged and extensive

survey of human life, in the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, “All is





OF THE ETERNAL AND GLORIOUS GOD. The student of physical

science looks at facts; it is his duty to observe and to classify facts; their

arrangement under certain relations, as of likeness and of sequence, is his

business, in the discharge of which he renders a great service to mankind.

But thought is as necessary as observation. A higher explanation than

physical science can give is imperatively required by human nature. We are

constrained, not only to observe that a thing is, but also to ask why it is.

Here metaphysics and theology come in to complete the work which

science has begun. Human life is composed not only of movements, which

can be scientifically accounted for, but of actions, of which the explanation

is hyperphysical, is spiritual. Similarly with the world at large, and with

human life and history. The facts are open to observation; knowledge

accumulates from age to age; as experience widens, grander classifications

are made. Still there is a craving for explanation. Why, we ask, are things

as they are? It is the answer to this question which distinguishes the

pessimist from the theist. The wise, the enlightened, the religious, seek a

spiritual and moral significance in the universe — material and psychical. In

their view, if things, as they are and have been, be regarded by themselves,

apart from a Divine reason working in and through them, they are

emptiness and vanity. On the other hand, if they be regarded in the light of

that Divine reason, which is order, righteousness, and love, they are

suggestive of what is very different indeed from vanity To the thoughtful

and reverent mind, apart from God, all is vanity; SEEN IN THE LIGHT

OF GOD NOTHING IS VANITY! Both these seeming contradictions are true,

and they are reconciled in a higher affirmation and unity. Look at the world in the

light of sentience ( a feeling or sensation as distinguished from perception and

thought) and the logical understanding, and it is vanity. Look at it in the

light of reason, and it is the expression of Divine wisdom and Divine



  • APPLICATION. It is well to see and feel that all is vanity, if we are thus

led to turn from the phenomenal to the real, the abiding, the Divine. But it

will be to our hurt if we dwell upon the vanity of all things, so that

pessimism be fostered, so that we fail to recognize Infinite Reason at the

heart of all things, so that we regard this as the worst of all worlds, so that

for us the future has no brightness.




The Vanity of Man’s Life (v. 2)


At the very outset of his treatise, the wise man gives his readers to understand

that the vanity which is ascribed to all things that are, is distinctive in an especial

and obvious manner of human life. This is the most interesting of all things to

observe and study, as it is the most precious to possess. And there is some danger

lest,  if the study of it lead  to despondency, the possession of it should cease

 to be valued. (God has made the Creation to be subject to vanity. Romans 8:20 –

We therefore should trust Him and depend on Him to deliver us and work

the work which he had planned from the beginning.  Acts 15:18 – CY – 2013).

God’s design and remedy is to look to Jesus, “the Desire of all nations.”

(Haggai 2:7)





Ø      The unsatisfying character of human toil.  Labor is the destiny of

Man (Genesis 3:19), and is in most cases the indispensable condition

of not only life itself, but of those things for the sake of which many men

value life — wealth, comfort, pleasure, and fame. Yet in how many cases

does toil fail to secure the objects for the sake of which it is undertaken!

Men labor, but reap no harvest of their painful, wearying efforts. And

when the result is obtained, how commonly does it yield little or nothing

of the satisfaction desired!  Men toil for years, and when they attain that

upon which their hearts were set, disappointment and dissatisfaction take

possession of their nature.  (One of the shortcomings of man is that

he wants what he doesn’t have, and then when he gets it, it wasn’t

what he wanted after all! – CY – 2013)


Ø      The brevity of human life, and the rapid succession of the

generations.  The reflection of the wise man is a reflection which

must have been current among men from the earliest ages No sooner

has a laborious and successful man reached the summit of his ambition,

grasped the object of his desire, than he is taken away from the

enjoyment of that for the sake of which he was content to “scorn

 delights, and live laborious days” (John Milton).  The next

generation renews the quest, only to repeat the experience of

disappointment. Changes and improvements take place in many details

of our life; but life itself remains throughout the ages, subject to the

same limitations and the same calamities, to the same uncertainties

and the same close.


Ø      The contrast between the transitoriness of human life and the

stability of the unconscious earth. It appears strange and inexplicable

that man, with the great possibilities of his nature, should be so short-

lived, and that the earth should outlast generation after generation of

mankind.  (However, I learned recently, after a study of the Book of

Judges, that it is good, that a life so sinful, is so short!  - CY – 2013) 

The writer of Ecclesiastes felt, as every reflecting observer must feel,

the sadness of this contrast between the perpetuity of the

dwelling-place and the brief sojourn of its successive inhabitants.


Ø      The impossibility of any generation reaping the harvest for which

 it has sown. The toil, the genius, the enterprise of a generation may

indeed bear fruit, but it is the generation which follows that enjoys that

fruit (or in a negative sense, as in our own country, the next generation

that suffers the consequences of our moral, political and economic

fall out!  - CY – 2013).  All men labor more for posterity than for

themselves. “This also is vanity.”  (Even what I am doing on this

web site is for those who follow, hoping that by working four or five

hours on a chapter, the next generation can study it within a half hour

or so and get the same benefits!  - CY – 2013)





Ø      It is attributable to the reflecting and aspiring nature of man.

A being less endowed with susceptibilities and imagination, with moral

Capacities and far-reaching aims and hopes, would be incapable of such

emotions and such conclusions as this book expresses. The brute is

content to eat and drink, to sleep, and to follow its several instincts

and impulses (II Peter 2:12-15a).  But of man we may say that nothing

that he can be and do can give him perfect rest and satisfaction. It is

owing to an innate and noble dissatisfaction that he is ever aiming

at something better and higher, and that the narrow range and

brief scope of human life cannot content him, cannot furnish

him with all the opportunity he desires in order to acquire and to

achieve.  (Thus, according to ch. 3:11, God has put eternity (the

world) in man’s heart  “so that no man can find out the work

that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” – CY – 2013).


Ø      It is attributable to the very nature of earthly things, which, because

they are finite, are incapable of satisfying such a nature as that

described. They may and do answer a high purpose when their true

import is discerned — when they are recognized as symbolical and

significant of what is greater than themselves. But no material good,

no terrestrial distinctions, can serve as “profit” of labor. If so regarded,

their vanity must sooner or later be apparent. There is a divinely

ordained disproportion between the spirit of man and the scenes and

occupations and emoluments of earth.  (May we truly be thankful

for the revelation “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither

have entered into the heart of man, the things which God

hath prepared for them that love Him.” – I Corinthians 2:9 –

CY – 2013).


·         APPLICATION.


1. There is in human life a continuity only discerned by the reflecting and

    the pious. The obvious and striking fact is the disconnection of the

    generations. But as evolution reveals a physical continuity, philosophy

    finds an intellectual and moral continuity in our race.


           2. The purpose of God is unfolded to successive generations of men. We see

                this continuity and progress in the order of revelation; but all history is,

                in a sacred sense, a revelation of the Eternal and Unchanging. 

    This state is not all:


a.       life explains school;

b.      summer explains spring; and

c.       SO ETERNITY SHALL EXPAIN  the disappointments,

perplexities, and anomalies of time.



3 “What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?”

 Here begins the elucidation of the fruitlessness of man’s ceaseless activity.

The word rendered “profit” (yithron) is found only in this book, where it occurs

frequently. It means “that which remains over, advantage,” περισσεία - perisseia –

gain - as the Septuagint translates it. As the verb and the substantive are cognate in

the following words, they are better rendered, in all his labor wherein he laboreth.

Man is Adam, the natural man, unenlightened by the grace of God. Under

the sun is an expression peculiar to this book (compare vs. 9, 14; ch.2:11, 17, etc.),

but is not intended to contrast this present with a future life; it merely refers to what

we call sublunary matters. The phrase is often tact with in the Greek poets. Eurip.,

‘Alcest.,’ 151 —


            Γυνή τ ἀρίστη τῶν ὑφ ἡλίῳ μακρῷ| -

Gunae t aristae ton huph haelio macro -

“By far the best of all beneath the sun.”

Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 4:44


Αι{ γὰρ ὑπ ἠελίῳ τε καὶ οὐρανῷ ἀστερόεντι
            Ναιετάουσι πόληες ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων.
Hai gar hup aeelio te kai ourano asteroenti

Naietaousi polaees epichthonion anthropon

“Of all the cities occupied by man

Beneath the sun and starry cope of heaven.”



Ὄλβιος οὐδεὶς

Ἀνθρώπων ὁπόσους ἠέλιος καθορᾷ

Olbios oudeis

Anthropon hoposous aeelios kathora

“No mortal man

On whom the sun looks down is wholly blest.”

Theognis, ‘Parcem.,’ 167


In an analogous sense we find in other passages of Scripture the terms

under heaven” (v. 13; ch.2:3; Exodus 17:14; Luke 17:24) and

“upon the earth” (ch.8:14, 16; Genesis 8:17).  The interrogative form

of the verse conveys a strong negative (compare ch.6:8), like the Lord’s

word in Matthew 16:26, “What shall a man be profited, if he shall

gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” The epilogue (ch.12:13)

furnishes a reply to the desponding inquiry.




                                    Human Life and Human Labor (vs. 2-3)


What is the worth of our human life? This is an old and ever-recurring

question; the answer to it depends far less on what surrounds us than on

what is within us, far less upon our circumstances than upon our spirit. But

it must be acknowledged:



ITS ACTIVITIES. We have to ask — How are we related to our fellows?

What is the number and what the nature of the objects that minister to our

comforts? What opportunities are there for leisure, for repose, for

recreation? But the largest of all questions is this: What is the character of

our activities? Are these congenial or uninviting, burdensome or moderate,

tedious or interesting, fruitful or barren, passing or permanent in their




depressing were they to “the Preacher,” that he pours forth his dejection of

spirit in the strong exclamation of the text. The valuelessness of all human

labor made life itself seem to him to be vain. Three things there are that

dwarf it.


Ø      Its slightness. A few men accomplish that which is observable,

remarkable, worthy of being chronicled and remembered, making its mark

on the page of history or of poetry; but how few they are! The great

majority of mankind spend all their strength in doing that which is of

small account, which produces no calculable effect upon their times,

of which no man thinks it worth while to speak or sing.


Ø      Its dependence on others. There are but very few indeed whose labor

can be said to be original, independent, or creative. Almost every man

is so working that if any of those who are co-operating with him were to

withdraw their labor, his would be of no avail; his work would be quite

unprofitable but for their countenance and support.


Ø      Its insecurity. This is the main thought of the text. What is the use of a

man building up that which his neighbor may come and pull down; of

gathering laboriously together that which the thief may take away; of

expending toilful days and exhausting energies on something which may

be taken from our grasp in the compass of an hour, at the bidding of one

strong human will; of making long and weary preparation for later life,

when the tie that binds us to the present sphere may be snapped in a

moment? Insecurity, arising from one of a number of sources — the

elemental forces of nature, the malice and treachery of men, despotism in

government, the chances and changes of trade and commerce, failure of

health and strength, sudden death, etc. — marks all the products of

human activity with its own stamp, and brings down their value, who

shall estimate how much? The Preacher says to nothing. But let it be




This is only one view of it. Another and a healthier view may be taken of

the subject.


1. All honest and faithful labor is worthy in the sight of the wise man and of

    the Wise One (Proverbs 14:23).

2. All conscientious labor provides a sphere for the active service of God;

    by its honorable and faithful discharge, as in His sight, we can serve and

    please our Lord.  (“And whatsoever ye do in work or deed, do all  in the

    name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.”

    Colossians 3:17; I Corinthians 10:31)

3. All such labor has a happy reflex influence on ourselves, strengthening

    us in body, in mind, in character.

4. All earnest work is really constructive of the kingdom of Christ.

    Although we see not its issues and cannot estimate its worth, we may be

     sure that “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day will

    declare it,” (I Corinthians 3:13) and that it will be found at last that every

    true stroke we struck did tell and count for truth and righteousness, for

                the cause of humanity and of Christ.


4 “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but

the earth abideth for ever.” One generation passeth away, and another

 generation cometh. The translation rather weakens the force of the original,

which is, a generation goeth, and a generation cometh. Man is only a pilgrim on

earth; he soon passes away, and his place is occupied by others.

Parallelisms of this sentiment will occur to every reader. Thus Ben-Sira,

“All flesh waxeth old as a garment: for the covenant from the beginning is,

Thou shalt die the death. As of the green leaves on a thick tree, some fall

and some grow; so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh to an

end, and another is born. Every work rotteth and consumeth away, and the

worker thereof shall go withal” (Ecclesiaticus. 14:17, etc.; compare Job 10:21;

Psalm 39:13). The famous passage in Homer, ‘Iliad,’ 6:146, etc., is

thus rendered by Lord Derby —


“The race of man is as the race of leaves:

Of leaves, one generation by the wind

Is scattered on the earth; another soon

In spring’s luxuriant verdure bursts to light.

So with our race: these flourish, those decay.”


But the earth abideth forever. While the constant succession of generations

of men goes on, the earth remains unchanged and immovable. If men were as

permanent as is their dwelling-place, their labors might profit; but as things are, the

painful contrast between the two makes itself felt. The term, “for ever,”

like the Greek εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα – eis ton aiona - does not necessarily imply

eternity, but often denotes limited or conditioned duration, as when the slave is

engaged to serve his master “for ever” (Exodus 21:6), or the hills are called

“everlasting” (Genesis 49:26). This verse gives one instance of growth

and decay in contrast with insensate continuance. The following verses

give further examples.


5 “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his

place where he arose.”  The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down.

The sun is another instance of ever-recurring change in the face of an enduring

sameness, rising and setting day-by-day, and resting never. The legendary

‘Life of Abram’ relates how, having been hidden for some years in a cave

in order to escape the search of Nimrod, when he emerged from his

concealment, and for the first time beheld heaven and earth, he began to

inquire who was the Creator of the wonders around him. When the sun

arose and flooded the scene with its glorious light, he at once concluded

that that bright orb must be the creative Deity, and offered his prayers to it

all day long. But when it sank in darkness, he repented of his illusion, being

persuaded that the sun could not have made the world and be itself subject

to extinction (see ‘Abraham: his Life and Times,’ p. 12). And hasteth to

his place where he arose; literally, and panteth (equivalent to hasteth,

longeth to go) to its place arising there; i.e. the sun, sinking in the west,

eagerly during the night returns to the east, duly to rise there in the

morning. The “place” is the region of reappearance. The Septuagint gives,

“The sun arises, and the sun sets, and draws (ἕλκειhelkei) unto its place;”

And then carries the idea into the following verse: “Arising there, it proceedeth

southward,” etc. The Vulgate supports the rendering; but there is no doubt

that the Authorized Version gives substantially the sense of the Hebrew

text as accentuated. The verb שׁאפ  (shaaph)implies “panting,” not from

fatigue, but in eager pursuit of something; and all notions of panting steeds or

morning exhalations are quite foreign from the conception of the passage.

The notion which Koheleth desires to convey is that the sun makes no real

progress; its eager panting merely brings it to the old place, there to recommence

its monotonous routine.


6 “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north;

it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his

circuits.”  The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto

the north; literally, going towards the south, and circling towards the

north. These words, as we have seen above, are referred to the sun by the

Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac; but it is best to make this verse refer only

to the wind — a fresh example of motion continually repeated with no real

progress to an end. Thus each verse comprises one subject and idea, v. 4

being concerned with the earth, v. 5 with the sun, v. 6 with the wind,

and v. 7 with the waters. There seems to be no particular force in the

naming of north and south, unless it be in contrast to the sun’s motion from

east to west, mentioned in the preceding verse. The words following show

that these two directions are not alone intended. Thus the four quarters are

virtually included. It whirleth about continually. The original is more

forcible, giving by its very form the idea of weary monotony. The subject is

delayed till the last, thus: Going towards the southcircling, circling,

goeth the wind; i.e. it blows from all quarters at its own caprice. And the

wind returneth again according to his circuits. And on its circlings

returneth the wind; it comes back to the point whence it started. The wind,

seemingly the freest of all created things, is bound by the same law of

immutable changeableness, insensate repetition.


7 “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place

from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full. Here is

another instance of unvarying operation producing no tangible result. The

phenomenon mentioned is often the subject of remark and speculation in

classical authors. Commentators cite Aristophanes, ‘Clouds,’ 1293 —

Αὕτη μὲν (sc. ἡ θάλατταοὐδὲν γίγνεται Ἐπιῥῤεόντων τῶν ποταμῶν πλείων,
–- Autae men (hae thalatta) ouden gignetai epippeonton ton potamon pleion -


“The sea, though all the rivers flow therein,

Waxeth no greater.”


Lucretius attempts to account for the fact,

De Rer. Nat.,’ 6:608 —


“Nunc ratio reddunda, augmen quin nesciat sequor.

Principio mare mirantur non reddere majus

Naturam, quo sit tantus decursus aquarum,

Omnia quo veniant ex omni fiumina parte.”


This Dr. Busby thus versifies —


“Now in due order, Muse, proceed to show

Why the deep seas no augmentation know,

In ocean that such numerous streams discharge

Their waters, yet that ocean ne’er enlarge,” etc.


No particular sea is intended, though some have fancied that the

peculiarities of the Dead Sea gave occasion to the thought in the text.

Doubtless the idea is general, and such as would strike every observer,

however little he might trouble himself with the reason of the circumstance.


Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again;

rather, unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again.  שָׁם ;

after verbs of motion has often the signification of שָׁמָּה; and the idea is that the

streams continue to make their way into the sea with ceaseless iteration. The other

rendering, which is supported by the Vulgate undo, seems rather to favor

the Epicurean poet’s solution of the phenomenon. Lucretius, in the passage

cited above, explains that the amount of water contributed by rivers is a

mere drop in the ocean; that a vast quantity rises in exhalations and is

spread far and wide over the earth; and that another large portion finds its

way back through the pores of the ground to the bed of the sea. Plumptre

considers that this theory was known to Koheleth, and was introduced by

him here. The rendering which we have given above would make this

opinion untenable; it likewise excludes the idea (though that, indeed, may

have been entertained by the Hebrews, Psalm 104:10 and Proverbs 8:28)

of the clouds being produced by the sea and feeding the springs.

Thus Ecclesiasticus. 40:11, “All things that are of the earth do turn to the earth

again; and that which is of the waters doth return into the sea.”




The Stability of Nature (vs. 4-7)


The Preacher was struck with the strong contrast between the permanence

of nature and the transiency of human life; and the thought oppressed and

pained him. We may take his view of the subject — and our own. We look

at the stability of nature:


  • AS IT APPEALS TO OUR SENSES. To the outward eye things do

continue as they were: 


“Changeless march the stars above,

    Changeless morn succeeds to even,

And the everlasting hills,

    Changeless, watch the changeless heaven.”


The hills, “rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun;” the “unchanging,

everlasting sea;” the rivers that flow down the centuries as well as through

the lands; the plains that stretch for long ages beneath the skies; — these

aspects of nature are impressive enough to the simplest imagination; they

make this earth which is our home to be charged with deepest interest and

clothed with truest grandeur. No man, who has an eye to see and a heart to

feel, can fail to be affected by them.


  • AS IT APPEALS TO OUR REASON. The stability of all things about

and above us:


Ø      Gives us time to study the nature and the causes of things, and enables

one generation to hand down the results of its researches to another, so

that we are constantly accumulating knowledge.

Ø      Gives us proof of the unity of God.

Ø      Assures us of the mighty power of the great Author of nature,

who is seen to be strong to sustain and preserve and renew.


Ø      AS IT AFFECTS OUR LIFE. For what would happen if everything

were inconstant and uncertain? What would be the effect on human labor

and on human life if there were no dependence to be placed on the

continuance, as they are, of land and sea, of earth and sky, of hill and plain?

How does the security of all the great objects and systems of the world add

incentive to our industry! how does it multiply our achievements! how

does it enlarge and enrich our life! That we shall be able to complete what

we have begun, and that we have a good hope of handing down our work

to our successors, — is not this a large factor, a powerful inspiration,

among us?  (Our God, your God, my God, made them all! – CY – 2013)



seemed to feel this acutely. What a small, slight, evanescent thing is a

human life when compared with the long ranges of time that the ancient

earth and the more ancient heavens have known! A generation comes and

goes, while a river hardly changes its course by a single curve; many

generations pass, while the face of the rocks is not visibly affected by all

the waves that beat upon its surface night and day; all the generations of

men, from the time that a human face was first turned up to heaven, have

been looked down upon by those silent stars! Why make so much of so

transient a thing as a human life? Ay, but look at it:




o       The worth of spiritual life is not determined by its duration. The

life of a human spirit — if that be the life of purity, holiness, reverence,

love, generosity, aspiration — is of more account in the estimate of Divine

wisdom, even though it be extended over a mere decade of years, than

the existence which knows nothing of these nobilities, even though it

should be extended over many thousands of years.


o       Moreover, holy human life on earth leads on and up TO THE

LIFE WHICH IS ETERNAL!   So that we, whose course upon the

earth is so short, who are but of yesterday and with whom tomorrow

may not be, do yet begin upon the earth A LIFE WHICH WILL


 when the “everlasting hills” have crumbled into dust. 

(II Peter 3:10-13)



The Cycles of Nature (vs. 5-7)


This is not to be taken as the language of one who makes complaints of

nature, wishing that the great forces of the world were ordered otherwise

than they actually are. It is the language of one who observes nature, and is

baffled by its mysteries; who asks what all means, and why everything is as

it is. Even at that distant time it was recognized that the processes of

nature are cyclic. The stars accomplish their revolutions, and the seasons

return in their appointed order. There is unity in diversity, and changes

succeed one another with remarkable regularity. These observations seem

to have suggested to the writer of Ecclesiastes the inquiry — Is man’s life

and destiny in this respect similar to the order of nature? Is our human

experience as cyclic as are the processes of the material universe? Is there

no real advance for man? and is he destined to pass through changes which

in the end will only leave him where he was?



AND RESTLESSNESS. The three examples given in these passages are

such as must strike every attentive observer of this earth and the

phenomena accessible to the view of its inhabitants. The sun runs his daily

course through the heavens, to return on the next morning to fulfill the

same circuit. The wind veers about from one quarter to another, and quits

one direction only in a few hours, or a few days, or at most a few weeks,

to resume it. The rivers flow on in an unceasing current, and find their way

into the sea, which (as is now known) yields in evaporation its tribute to

the clouds, whence the water-springs are in due time replenished. Modern

science has vastly enlarged our view of similar processes throughout all of

the universe which is accessible to our observation. “Nothing continueth in

one stay.” There is in the world nothing immovable and unchangeable. It is

believed that not an atom is at rest.



CHANGES EXHIBITED. Not only is there a want, an absence, of

stability, of rest; there is no apparent advance and improvement. Things

move from their places only to return to them; their motion is rather in a

circle than in a straight line. It was this cyclic tendency in natural processes

which arrested the attention and perplexed the inquiring mind of the wise

man. And modern science does not in this matter effect a radical change in

our beliefs. Evolutionists teach us that rhythm is the ultimate law of the

universe. Evolution is followed by involution, or dissipation. A planet or a

system evolves until it reaches its climax, and thenceforward its course is

reversed, until it is resolved into the elements of which it was primevally

composed. In the presence of such speculations the intellect reels, dizzy

and powerless.




THERE IS A DIVINE PURPOSE IN NATURE. If there be evidence of

reason in the universe, if nature is the expression of mind, the vehicle by

which the Creator-Spirit communicates with the created spirits He has

fashioned in His own likeness, then there is at least the suggestion of what

is deeper and more significant than the cycles of phenomena. There is rest

for the intelligence in such a conviction as that of the theist, who rises

above the utterances to the Being who utters forth His mind and will in the

world which He has made, and which He rules by laws that are the

expression of His own reason. He looks behind and above the mechanical

cycles of nature, and discovers the Divine mind, into whose purposes he

can only very partially penetrate, but in whose presence and control he

finds repose.





occurred to the mind of the wise man that, as in nature, so in human

existence, all things are cyclic and unprogressive, such an inference was not

unnatural. Yet it is not a conclusion in which the reasonable mind can rest.

The fuller revelation with which we have been favored enlightens us with


Our Savior has founded upon earth a kingdom which cannot be moved. And

the figures which He Himself has employed to set forth its progress are an

assurance that it is not bounded by time or space; that it shall grow until its

dimensions and beneficence exceed all human expectations, and satisfy the

heart of the Divine Redeemer Himself. Each faithful Christian, however

feeble and however lowly, may work in his Master’s cause with the

assurance that his service shall be not only acceptable, but effective. Better

shall be the end than the beginning. The seed shall give rise to a tree of

whose fruit all nations shall taste, and beneath whose shadow humanity

itself shall find both shelter and repose.


8 “All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not

satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”

All things are full of labor. Taking the word dabar in the sense of “word”

(compare the Greek ῤῆμα - rhema - word), the Septuagint translates, “All

words are wearisome;” i.e. to go through the whole catalogue of such

things as those mentioned in the preceding verses would be a laborious and

unprofitable task. The Targum and many modern expositors approve this

rendering. But besides that, the word yaged implies suffering, not causing,

weariness (Deuteronomy 25:18; Job 3:17); the run of the sentence

is unnecessarily interrupted by such an assertion, when one is expecting a

conclusion from the instances given above. The Vulgate has, cunetse res

difficiles. The idea, as Motais has seen, is this — Man’s life is constrained

by the same law as his surroundings; he goes on his course subject to

influences which he cannot control; in spite of his efforts, he can never be

independent. This conclusion is developed in succeeding verses. In the

present verse the proposition with which it starts is explained by what

follows. All things have been the object of much labor; men have

elaborately examined everything; yet the result is most unsatisfactory, the

end is not reached; words cannot express it, neither eye nor ear can

apprehend it. This is the view of St. Jerome, who writes, “Non solum do

physicis, sed de ethicis quoque scirc difficile est. Nec sermo valet explicare

causas natu-rasque rerum, nec oculus, ut rei poscit dignitas, intueri, nec

auris, instituente doctore, ad summam scientiam pervenirc. Si enim nunc

‘per speculum videmus in aenigmate; et ex parte cognoscimus, et ex parte

prophetamus,’ consequenter nec sermo potest explicate quod nescit; nec

oculus in quo caecutit, aspiecre; nec auris, de quo dubitat, impleri.”

Delitzsch, Nowack, Wright, and others render, “All things are in restless

activity;” i.e. constant movement pervades the whole world, and yet no

visible conclusion is attained.”  This, however true, does not seem to be the

point insisted on by the author, whose intention is, as we have said, to

show that man, like nature, is confined to a circle from which he cannot

free himself; and though he uses all the powers with, which he is endowed

to penetrate the enigma of life and to rise superior to his environments, he

is wholly unable to effect anything in these matters. Man cannot utter it.

He cannot explain all things. Koheleth does not affirm that man can know

nothing, that he can attain to no certitude, that reason will not teach him to

apprehend any truth; his contention is that the inner cause and meaning

elude his faculties, that his knowledge is concerned only with accidents

and externals, and that there is still some depth which his powers cannot

fathom. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with

hearing. Use his sght as he may, listen to the sounds around him, attend

to the instructions of professed teachers, man makes no real advance in

knowledge of the mysteries in which he is involved; the paradox is

inexplicable. We have, in Proverbs 27:20, “Sheol and Abaddon are

never satisfied; and the eyes of man are never satisfied.” “Remember,”

says Thomas a Kempis (‘De Imitat.,’ 1:1.5), “the proverb, that the eye is

not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Endeavor, therefore, to

withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to transfer thyself to

the invisible. For they that follow their sensuality do stain their conscience

and lose the grace of God.”




                                                Weariness and Rest (vs. 7-8)


We have here:


·         THE COMPLAINT OF THE UNSATISFIED. “All things are full of

weariness” (Revised Version).


Ø      There are many obvious sources of satisfaction. Life has many

pleasures, and many happy activities, and much coveted treasure.

Human affection, congenial employment, the pursuit of knowledge,

“the joys of contest,” the excitements of the field of sport, the attainment

of ambition, etc.


Ø      All of them together fail to satisfy the heart. The eye is not satisfied with

seeing, nor the ear with hearing, nor the tongue with tasting, nor the hand

with handling, nor the mind with investigating and discovering. All the

streams of temporal and worldly pleasure run into the sea of the human

soul, BUT THEY DO NOT FILL IT! The heart, on whatsoever it feeds,

is still ahungered, is still athirst. It may seem surprising that when so much

that was craved has been possessed and enjoyed, that when so many things

have ministered to the mind, there should still be heart-ache, unrest,

spiritual disquietude, the painful question“There be many who

say, Who will show us any good? (Psalm 4:6)  Is life worth having?

The profundity, the commonness and constancy of this complaint,

is a very baffling and perplexing problem. We surely ought

to be satisfied, but we are not. The unillumined mind cannot explain it,

the uninspired tongue “cannot utter it.” What is the solution?


·         ITS EXPLANATION. Its solution is not far to seek; it is found in the

truth so finely uttered by Augustine, “O God, thou hast made us for

thyself, and our heart findeth no rest until it resteth in thee.” The human

spirit, created in God’s image, constituted to possess His own spiritual

likeness, formed for truth and righteousness, intended to spend its noble

and ever-unfolding powers in the high service of the Divine, is it likely

that such a one as this, that can be so much, that can know so much, that

can love the best and highest, that can aspire to the loftiest and purest

well-being, can be satisfied with the love that is human, with the

knowledge that is earthly, with the treasure that is material and transient?

The marvel is, and the pity is, that man, with such powers within him and

with such a destiny before him, can sometimes sink so low as to be filled

and satisfied with the husks of earth, unfilled with the bread of heaven.


·         ITS REMEDY. To us, to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, there is a

plain and open way of escape from this profound disquietude. (“Why art

thou cast down, O my soul?  and why art thou disquieted within me?

Hope thou in God:  for I shall yet praise Him, who is the  health of my

countenance, and my God.”  Psalm 42:5,11; 43:5)  We hear the

Master say, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I

will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you… and ye shall find rest unto

your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)


Ø      In the reconciliation to God, our Divine Father, which we have in

Jesus Christ;

Ø      in the happy love of our souls to that Divine Friend and Savior;

Ø      in the blessed service of our rightful, faithful, considerate Lord;

Ø      in the not unavailing service we render to those whom He loved and for

whom He died;

Ø      in the glorious hope of immortal life beyond the grave, we do

“find rest unto our souls.”




        The Insatiability of Sense (v. 8)


Man is on one side akin to the brutes, whilst he is on the other side akin to

God. Sense he shares with the inferior animals; but the intellect and

conscience by which he may use his senses in the acquisition of knowledge,

and his physical powers in the fulfillment of a moral ideal, these are

peculiar to himself. On this account it is impossible for man to be satisfied

with mere sensibility; if he makes the attempt, he fails. To say this is not to

disparage sense  (or reason) — a great and wonderful gifts of God. It is simply

to put the senses in their proper place, as the auxiliaries and ministers of reason.

Through the exercise of sense man may, BY DIVINE AID rise to great

spiritual possessions, achievements, and enjoyments.



OF SIGHT AND HEARING. These are chosen as the two noblest of the

senses — those by whose means we learn most of nature, and most of the

thoughts and purposes of our fellow-men and of our God. Around,

beneath, and above us are objects to be seen, sounds and voices to be

heard. The variety is as marvelous as the multiplicity.  (Thus man is

“fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).




The susceptibility of the nerves of the eye to the undulations of ether, of

the ear to atmospheric vibrations, has only been fully explained in recent

times. There is no more marvelous instance of design than the mutual

adaptations of the voice, the atmosphere, and the auditory nerve; of the

molecular structure of colored body, the ether, and the retinal structure

of the optic nerve. And these are only some of the arrangements between

nature and sense which meet us at every turn and at every moment of our

conscious existence.  (To put it modern terms INTELLIGENT DESIGN –

CY – 2013)




MAN.  (Unfortunately, something that seems to be lost on today’s lesbians,

homosexuals, libertines, free love advocates, etc. ad nauseum.  The

Bible is very plain, “To be carnally minded is death.”  - Romans 8:6 –

CY – 2013).   It is not to be supposed that any reasonable being should seek

his gratification merely in the enjoyment of the impressions upon the senses.

But even curiosity fails to find satisfaction, and those who crave such

satisfaction make it manifest that their craving is in vain. The restlessness

of the sight-seer is proverbial. When the impressions of sense are used as

the material for high intellectual and spiritual ends, the case is otherwise.

But it remains true as in the days of Koheleth, “The eye is not satisfied with

seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.”




inference has sometimes been drawn by enthusiastic minds; and mystics

have inculcated abstinence from the exercise of the senses as essential in

order to intellectual and spiritual illumination. The error here lies in

overlooking the distinction between making ourselves the slaves of our

senses, and using the senses as our helpers and servants.




HIGHER THAN SENSE. When the eyes are opened to the works of

God, when we look upon the form of the Son of God, when we hear

the Divine Word speaking in conscience and speaking in Christ,

our senses then become, directly or indirectly, the instrumentality by

means of which our higher nature is called into exercise and finds

abundant scope.


Ø      Our reason may thus find rest in truth;

Ø      our sympathies may thus respond to the revealed love of the

 Eternal Father through His blessed Son;

Ø      our whole heart may rise into fellowship with Him from whom

all our faculties and capacities are derived, and

Ø      IN WHOM ALONE, we,  His spiritual children can find




9 “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is

done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under

the sun.” The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be. The

Septuagint and the Vulgate render the first clauses of the two parts of the verse

in both cases interrogatively, thus: “What is that which hath been? The very

thing which shall be. And what is that which hath been done? The very

thing which shall be done.” What has been affirmed of phenomena in the

material world is now affirmed of the events of man’s life. They move in an

analogous circle, whether they are concerned with actions or morals.

Koheleth is speaking merely from experience, and is indulging in no

philosophical speculations. There is no new thing under the sun. The

Vulgate transfers this clause to the next verse, which, indeed, supports the

assertion. From classical authors commentators have culled examples of

the same thought. Thus Tacitus, ‘Annal.,’ 3:55, “Nisi forte rebus cunctis

inest quidam velut orbis, ut quem ad modum temporum vices, ita morum

vertantur.” Seneca, ‘Epist.,’ 24., “Nullius rei finis est, sod in orbem nexa

sunt omnia; fugiunt ac sequuntur Omnia transeunt ut revertantur, nihil novi

video, nihil novi facio. Fit ali-quando et hujus rei nausea.” Marcus Aurelius,

‘Meditations,’ 6:37, “He that sees the present has seen all things, both that

which has Been from everlasting and that which shall Be in the future. All

things are of one birth and one form.” Again, 7:1, “There is nothing new;

all things are common and quickly over;” 12:26, “Everything that comes

to pass was always so coming to pass, and will take place again.”


10 “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath

been already of old time, which was before us.” Is there any thing

 whereof it may be said, See, this is new?  The writer conceives that

objection may be taken to his statement at the end of the preceding verse, so

he proceeds to reiterate it in stronger terms. “Thing” is dabar (see on v. 8).

Septuagint, “He who shall speak and say, Behold, this is new,” scil.

Where is he? Vulgate, “Nothing is new under the sun, nor is any one

able to say, Lo! this is fresh.” The apparent exceptions

to the rule are mistaken inferences. It hath been already of old time,

which was before us. In the vast aeons of the past, recorded or

unrecorded, the seeming novelty has already been known. The discoveries

of earlier time are forgotten, and seem quite new when revived; but closer

investigation proves their previous existence.





Novelty (vs. 9-10)


If, in the ancient days in which this book was written, men were already

experiencing the weariness which comes from their familiarity with the

scenes of earth and the incidents of life, how much more must this be the

case at the present time! It is, indeed, ever characteristic of the favorites of

fortune, that they “run through” the possibilities of excitement and of

pleasure before their capacity for enjoyment is exhausted, and cry for new

forms of amusement and distraction. It is remarkable how soon such

persons are reduced to the painful conviction that there is nothing new

under the sun.



When we examine human nature, we find there a deep-seated interest in

change. What is called “relativity,” the passage from one experience to

another, is indeed an essential condition of mental life. And transition from

one mode of excitement to another is a constituent of a pleasurable life.

Thus, in the case of the intellectual man, the aim is to know and to study

ever new things; whilst in the case of the man of energy and activity, the

impulse is to view new scenes, to undertake new enterprises. It is this

principle in our nature which accounts for the efforts men put forth, and for

the sacrifices to which men willingly submit.



WORLD AND IN HUMAN AFFAIRS. A little reflection will convince us

that continuous novelty is unattainable. The laws of nature remain the

same, and their sameness produces effects which with familiarity produce

the effect of monotony. The conditions of human life do not materially vary

from year to year, from age to age. And human nature possesses certain

constant factors, in virtue of which men’s employments and pleasures,

hopes, sufferings, and fears remain substantially as they were in former

times. The chief exception to this rule arises from the fact that what is old

to one generation is for a while new to its successor. But it must not be

forgotten that the individual, if favorably circumstanced, soon exhausts the

variety of human experience. The voluptuary offers a reward to him who

can invent a new pleasure. The hero weeps for want of a new world to

conquer. The child of fortune experiences in the satisfaction of his wants,

and even his caprices, the ennui (boredom) which is a proof that he has followed

the round of occupations and pleasures until all have been exhausted. Thus the

most favored are in some cases the least happy, and the most ready to join

in the complaint, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!”



CHARACTERIZED BY NEWNESS. If it is impossible that the Book of

Ecclesiastes should be written over again in the Christian ages, the reason

is that the fuller and sublime revelations made by the Son of God incarnate

have enriched human thought and life beyond all calculation. There is no

comparison between the comparative poverty of knowledge and of life,

even under the Mosaic economy in ancient times, and “the unsearchable

riches of Christ.” None can exhaust the treasures of knowledge and

wisdom, the possibilities of consecrated service and spiritual progress,

distinctive of the Christian dispensation. Christianity is emphatically a

religion of newness. It is itself the new covenant; its choicest gift to man is

the new heart; it summons the disciples of the Redeemer to newness of life;

it puts in their mouth a new song; whilst it opens up in the future the

glorious prospect of new heavens and a new earth. God comes in the

Person of His Son to this sin-stricken humanity, and His assurance and

promise is this: “Behold, I make all things new.” And in fulfillment of this

assurance, the Church of Christ rejoices in the experience expressed in the

declaration, “Old things have passed away; behold, all things are become

new.”  (II Corinthians 5:17)



                                    The Changing and the Abiding (vs. 9-10)


We are not to take the Preacher’s words in too absolute a sense. There is

that which has been but which is not now. We are sometimes powerfully

affected by:


·         THE CHANGING. Of those things which bear the marks of time, we

may mention:


Ø      The face of nature.


Ø      The handiwork of man. We look on prostrate palaces, fallen temples,

buried cities, disused and decaying harbors, etc.


Ø      Historical characters. We have been familiar with the faces and forms

of men that have played a great part in their country’s history or created

an epoch in philosophy, or poetry, or science; but where are they now?


Ø      Human science. Whether medical or surgical, whether geographical,

geological, philosophical, theological, or of any other order, human

science is changing continually. The top-stone of yesterday is the

stepping-stone of today.


Ø      The Character of philanthropic work. This was once represented by

almsgiving, but today we feel that almsgiving is as much of an evil as a

good, and that we want to do that for men which will remove for ever all

“charity” on the one side and all dependence on the other. (Today, on

the way in to church, on the side of a street was a young man

who was either begging, panhandling or soliciting:  who am I

to judge?  One side of me wants to give, and I have, perhaps even

to the same individual, another side thinks of our

unwise government, seemingly for political gain by those who

control it,  who in the process of the last year have given away

so-called stimulus checks which have effectively caused people

not to work.  To the point that businesses, restaurants, etc.,are having

problems getting workers, I even heard recently about a Jobs Fair in

Hopkinsville where 35 business were seeking workers.  CY - 2021) 

But look at:


·         THE ABIDING. Many things remain and will remain; among these are:


Ø      The main features of human life. Labor, sorrow, care, struggle, death;

love, pleasure, success, honor.


Ø      Typical human characters. We still have with us the false, the licentious,

the cruel, the servile, the ambitious, etc.; and we still have the meek, the

grateful, the generous, the pure-hearted, the devout, etc.


Ø      The spiritual element. Men have not done, and they never will have

done, with the mysterious, the supernatural, the Divine. They still ask:

Whence came we? By whose power are we sustained? To whom are we

responsible? Whither do we go? How can we know and serve and please



Ø      The truth of Jesus Christ. Heaven and earth may pass away, but His

words “will not pass away.” They are with us still, and they will remain,

amid all wreckage:


o       to enlighten our ignorance,

o       to cheer our sorrow,

o       to accompany our loneliness,

o       to conquer our sin,

o       to light up our departure,

o       to bless and

o       to enrich us, ourselves, with the blessings and the treasures that

                              are not of earth BUT OF HEAVEN!


11 “There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be

any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall

come after.” There is no remembrance of former things; rather, of

former men — persons who lived in former times. As things are

considered novel only because they had been forgotten, so we men

ourselves shall pass away, and be no more remembered. Bailey, ‘Festus ‘—


“Adversity, prosperity, the grave,

Play a round game with friends. On some the world

Hath shot its evil eye, and they are passed

From honor and remembrance; and a stare

Is all the mention of their names receives;

And people know no more of them than they know

The shapes of clouds at midnight a year hence.”


Neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come

with those that shall come after; rather, and even of later generations

that shall be there will be no remembrance of them with those that shall be

in the after-time. Wright quotes Marcus Aurelius, who has much to say on

this subject. Thus: cap. 2:17, “Posthumous fame is oblivion;” cap. 3:10,

“Every man’s life lies all within the present; for the past is spent and done

with, and the future is uncertain;” cap. 4:33, “Those words which were

formerly current and proper are now become obsolete and barbarous. Alas!

This is not all: fame tarnishes in time, too, and men grow out of fashion as

well as language. Those celebrated names of ancient story are antiquated;

those of later date have the same fortune; and those of present celebrity

must follow. I speak this of those who have been the wonder of their age,

and shined with unusual luster; but as for the rest, they are no sooner dead

than forgotten” (And our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man

shall have our works in remembrance, and our life shall pass away as

the trace of a cloud, and shall be dispersed as a mist, that is driven

away with the beams of the sun, and overcome with the heat thereof.

Wisdom of Solomon 2:4). (On the keen desire to live in the memory of posterity,

note   “A wise man shall inherit glory among his people, and his name shall be

 perpetual.”  - (Ecclesiasticus 37:26);  “All these were honored in their

generations, and were the glory of their times.”  (Ibid. ch. 44:7)




                        The Summary of a Life’s Experience (vs. 1-11)


Solomon and Job,” says Pascal, “had most perfect knowledge of human

wretchedness, and have given us the most complete description of it: the

one was the most prosperous, the other the most unfortunate, of men; the

one knew by experience the vanity of pleasure, the other the reality of

sorrow.” In such diverse ways does God lead men to the same conclusion

— that in human life, apart from him, there is no true satisfaction or lasting

happiness, that the immortal spirit cannot find rest in things seen and

temporal. The words, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity: what profit hath

man of all his labor wherein he laboreth under the sun?” (Revised Version),

are the key-note of the whole book — the theme which the author

maintains by arguments and illustrations drawn from a most varied

experience. If Solomon be not the speaker, if we have in Ecclesiastes the

composition of a later writer, no more appropriate personage could have

been found than the ancient Jewish king to set forth the teaching which the

book contains. For he had tasted all the good things human life has to give.

On him God had bestowed wisdom and knowledge, riches, wealth, honor,

and length of days. All these he had enjoyed to the full, and therefore

speaks, or is made to speak, as one from whom nothing had been kept that

his soul desired, and who found that nothing results from the mere

satisfaction of appetites and desires but satiety and loathing and

disappointment. We may contrast with this retrospect of life that given us

by One whose aim it was to fulfill the Law of God and secure the well-being

of his fellow-men; and we may thus discover the secret of Solomon’s

failure to win happiness or to reach any lasting result. At the close of His

life the Redeemer of mankind summed up the history of His career in the

words addressed to God, “I glorified thee on the earth, having

accomplished the work which thou hast given me to do” (John 17:4). It

may seem to some a dreary task to follow the course of Solomon’s morbid

thoughts, but it cannot fail to be profitable, if we undertake the task in the

earnest desire to discover the causes of his melancholy and disappointment,

and learn from the study how to guide our own lives more successfully,

and to enter into the peace and contentment of spirit which, after all his

efforts, he failed to make his own. In the first eleven verses of this chapter

we have revealed to us the despair and weariness which fell upon the soul

of him whose splendor and wisdom raised him above all the men of his

time, and made him the wonder of all. succeeding ages. Life seemed to him

the emptiest and poorest thing possible — “a vapor that appeareth for a

little time, and then vanisheth away.” (James 4:14)  He might have used the words

of the modern philosopher Amiel, “To appear and to vanish, — there is the

biography of all individuals, whatever may be the length of the cycle of

existence which they describe; and the drama of the universe is nothing

more. All life is the shadow of a smoke-wreath, a gesture in the empty air,

a hieroglyphic traced for an instant in the sand and effaced a moment

afterwards by a breath of wind, an air-bubble expanding and vanishing on

the surface of the great river of being — an appearance, a vanity, a

nothing. But this nothing is, however, the symbol of universal being, and

this passing bubble is the epitome of the history of the world.” It seemed to

him that life:


Ø      yielded no permanent results,

Ø      that it was insufferably monotonous, and

Ø      that it was destined to end in utter oblivion.


The futility of effort, the monotony of life, and the oblivion that engulfs it at last

are the topics of this opening passage of the book. Let us take them up one

after the other.



have before us, then, the deliberate judgment of one who had full

experience of all that men busy themselves with — “the labor wherein they

labor under the sun” — the pursuit of riches, the enjoyment of power, the

satisfaction of appetites and desires, and so on, and his conclusion is that

there is no profit in it all. And his sentence is confirmed by the words of

Christ, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and

lose his own soul?” In the case of Solomon, therefore, we have a record of

permanent significance and value. We cannot deprive his somber utterances

of their weight by saying that he spoke simply as a sated voluptuary, and

that others might with more skill or discretion extract from life what he

failed to find in it. For, as we shall see, he did not confine himself to mere

pursuit of pleasure, but sought satisfaction in intellectual employments and

in the accomplishment of great tasks, for which the power and wealth at his

disposal were drawn upon to the utmost. His melancholy is not a form of

mental disease, but the result of the exhaustion of his energies and powers

in the attempt to find satisfaction for the ‘soul’s cravings. And in

melancholy of this kind philosophers have found a proof of the dignity of

human nature. “Man’s unhappiness,” says one of them, “comes of his

greatness: it is because there is an infinite in him, which, with all his

cunning, he cannot quite bury under the finite He requires, if you consider

it, for his permanent satisfaction and saturation, simply this allotment, no

more and no less: God’s infinite universe altogether to himself, therein to

enjoy infinitely, and fill every wish as fast as it rises Try him with half of a

universe, of an omnipotence, he sets to quarrelling with the proprietor of

the other half, and declares himself the most maltreated of men. Always

there is a blackspot in our sunshine; it is even the shadow of ourselves”

(Carlyle). The very consciousness of the unprofitableness of life, of failure

to attain to perfect satisfaction in the possession of earthly benefits, painful

as it is, should convince us of the value of the higher and better inheritance,

which may be ours, and in which alone we can find rest; and we should

take it as a Divine warning to seek after those things that are eternal and

unchangeable. Our dissatisfaction and our sorrows are like those of the

exile who pines for the pleasant land from which by a hard fate he is for a

time dissevered; like the grief of a king who has been deposed. And it is to

those whose hunger and thirst cannot be satisfied by things of earth, who

find, like Solomon, that there is no profit in a man’s labor wherein he

laboreth under the Sun,” that God issues the gracious invitation, “Lo, every

one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come

ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without

price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your

labor for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye

that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.”  (Isaiah 55:1-2)

The idea of the unprofitableness of human labor expressed by Solomon is

calculated, if carried too far, to put an end to all healthy and strenuous effort

to use the powers and gifts God has bestowed upon us, and to lead to

indifference and despair. If no adequate result can be secured, if all that

remains after prolonged exertion is only a sense of weariness and

disappointment, why should we labor at all? (JUST QUIT - CY- 2021)

But such thoughts are dishonoring  to God and degrading to ourselves.

He has not sent us into the world to spend our labor in vain, to be overcome

with the consciousness of our poverty and weakness. There are ways in which

we can glorify Him and serve our generation (like David - Acts 13:36); and

He has promised to bless our endeavors, and supply that wherein we

come short. Every sincere and unselfish effort we make to help

the weak, to relieve the suffering, to teach the ignorant, to diminish the

misery that meets us on every hand, and to advance the happiness of our

fellows, is made fruitful by His blessing. Something positive and of enduring

value may be secured in this way, even “treasure laid up in heaven, where

neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break

through nor steal?” (Matthew 6:20)  We may so use the goods, the talents,

now committed to our charge, as to create for ourselves friends, who will

receive us into everlasting habitations when the days of our stewardship

are over, and this visible, tangible world fades away from us.


·         The second reflection of the royal Preacher is that HUMAN LIFE IS

INSUFFERABLY MONOTONOUS; that under all outward appearances

of variety and change there is a dreary sameness (vs. 4-10). Generation

succeeds generation, but the stage is the same on which they play their

parts, and one performance is very like another. The incessant motion of

the sun, traveling from east to west; the shifting of the wind from one point

to another, and then back again; the speedy current of the rivers to join the

ocean, which yet is not filled by them, but returns them in various ways to

water the earth, and to feed the springs, “whence the rivers come;” the

commonplace events of human life, are all referred to as examples of

endless and monotonous variation. The law of mutability (liability to

change), without progress, seems to the speaker to prevail in heaven and in

earth — to rule in the material world, in human society, and in the life of the

individual. The lordship over creation, bestowed upon man, appeared to him

a vain fancy. Man himself was but a stranger, sojourning here for but a very

short time, coming like a wandering bird from the outer darkness into the light

and warmth of a festive hall, and soon flitting out back again into the

darkness.  And, to one in this somber mood, it is not wonderful that all

natural phenomena should wear the aspect of instability and change. To the

pious mind of the psalmist the sun suggested thoughts of God’s glory and

power; the majesty of the creature gave him a more exalted idea of the

greatness of the Creator, and he expatiated upon the splendor of that light

that rules the day. “The heavens were His tabernacle;” morning by morning

he was as “a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, and rejoicing as a

strong man to run a race.” (Psalm 19:4-5)  Our Savior saw in the same

phenomenon a proof of God’s impartial and bountiful love to the children

of men: “He maketh his sun to rise upon the evil and the good.” (Matthew

5:45)  But to the melancholy and brooding mind of our author nothing more

was suggested by it than monotonous reiteration, a dreary routine of rising

and setting. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to

his place where he arose.” “He issues forth, day after day, from the east,

mounts up the vault of heaven until he has reached the meridian, and then

he descends at once towards the western horizon. He never stops in his course

at midday, as though he had attained the end for which he issued forth with

the dawn; he never sinks beneath the horizon to enjoy repose. Even throughout

the night he is still hastening onward, that, at the appointed hour, he may again

reach his eastern starting-place. The wind, great though its changes may be,

seems never to have accomplished the purpose for which it puts forth its

power. It never subsides into a state of lasting quiescence; it never even

finds a station which it can permanently occupy. It, veereth about

continually, ‘yet it ever bloweth again according to its circuits.’ The

streams flow onward to the ocean; but the time never comes when the sea,

filled to overflowing, refuses to receive their waters. The thirst of the sea is

never quenched; the waters of the rivers are lost; and yet, with unavailing

constancy, they still pour their contributions into its bosom” (Tyler). And

so with regard to all the other things on which the eye rests, or of which

the ear hears — weariness clothes everything; an unutterable monotony

amid their changes and variations. Human life, too, all through, is

characterized by the same unrest and ceaseless, fruitless labor. Sometimes a

new discovery seems to be made; the monotony seems to be broken, and

fresh and great results are anticipated by those who are ignorant of the

world’s past history. But the initiated, those whose experience has made

them wise, or whose knowledge has made them learned, recognize the new

thing as something that was known in times long ago; they can tell how

barren it was of results then, how little, therefore, can be expected from it

now. There is scarcely anything more discouraging, especially to the

young, than this kind of moralizing. We feel, perhaps, that we can carry out

some scheme that will be of benefit to the society about us, and are met

with lamentable accounts of how similar schemes were once tried and

failed disastrously. We feel moved to attack the evils that we meet in the

world, and are assured that they are too great and our own strength too

puny for us to accomplish anything worth while. And in the mean time our

fervor grows cold, our courage oozes away, and we really lose the power

for good we might have had. Now, this teaching of Solomon is not meant

for the young and hopeful. Indeed, those who collected together the books

of the Old Testament were rather doubtful about including Ecclesiastes

among the others, and it ran a narrow chance of being omitted from the

sacred canon. But it has its place in the Word of God; and those who have

known anything of the doubts and speculations contained in it will find it

profitable to trace the course of thought that runs through it, until they find

the solid and positive teaching which the Preacher at lasts gives. The

distressing fact remains, and must be encountered, that to those who have

had long experience of the world, and whose horizon is bounded by it, who

see only the things that are done “under the sun,” in the midst of ever-recurring

changes, there seems to be little or no progress, and that which

appears to be new is but a repetition of the old. But they should remember

that this world is meant as a place of probation for us — a school in which

we are to learn great lessons; and that all the changing circumstances of life

serve, and are meant to serve, to develop our nature and character. If it

were to be our abiding-place, many improvements in it might be suggested.

It is not by any means the best of possible worlds; but for purposes of

education, discipline, and testing, it is perfectly adapted. “Rest yet

remaineth for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9);  it is not here, BUT IN

A WORLD TO COME!  This truth is admirably stated by the poet Spenser,

who perhaps unconsciously reproduces the melancholy thoughts of Solomon,

and answers them. He speaks of mutability seeking to be honored above all the

heavenly powers, as being the chief ruler in the universe, and as indeed

governing all things. In a synod of the gods, she is silenced by Nature, who

combats her claims, and speaks of a time to come when her present

apparent power will come to an end


But time shall come that all shall changed bee,

And from thenceforth none no more change shall see.”


And then the poet adds —


“When I bethinke me on that speech whyleare [former]

Of Mutability, and well it way,

Me seemes, that though she all unworthy were

Of the Heav’ns Rule; yet, very sooth to say,

In all things else she bears the greatest sway:

Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle [unsure],

And love of things so vain to cast away;

Whose flow’ring pride, so fading and so fickle,

Short Time shall soon cut down with His consuming sickle.


“Then gin I thinke on that which Nature sayd,

Of that same time when no more Change shall be,

But stedfast rest of all things, firmely stayd

Upon the pillars of Eternity,

That is contrayr to Mutability;

For all that moveth doth in Change delight:

But thence-forth all shall rest eternally

With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:

O I that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabbaoth’s sight!”



considerations of the resultlessness of life, of changefulness and monotony,

is added that of the oblivion that sooner or later overtakes man and all his

works (v. 11). “There is no remembrance of the former generations;

neither shall there be any remembrance of the latter generations that are to

come, among those that shall come after” (Revised Version). One

generation supersedes another; the new come up with fresh interests and

schemes of their own, and hustle the old off the stage, and are themselves

in their turn forced to give place to those who come up after them. Nations

disappear from the earth’s surface and are forgotten. The memorials of

former civilizations lie buried in the sand, or are defaced and destroyed to

make room for something else. On every page of creation we find the

sentence written, that there is nothing here that lasts. Almost no means can

be devised to carry down to succeeding generations even the names of the

greatest conquerors, of men who in their time seemed to have the strength

of gods, and to have changed the history of the world. The earth has many

secrets in her keeping, and is sometimes forced to yield up a few of them.

“The ploughshare strikes against the foundations of buildings which once

echoed to human mirth, skeletons of men to whom life once was dear; urns

and coins that remind the antiquary of a magnificent empire now long

passed away.” And so the process goes on. EVERYTHING PASSES!

 A few years ago and we were not; a hundred years hence, and there may

be none who ever heard our names. And a day will come when:


“The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve;

And… leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”


Abundant material, then, had the Preacher, the son of David, for somber

meditation; abundant material for contemplation does he suggest to us.

And if we cannot get much further on in speculation than he did, if since

his time very little new light has been cast upon the problems which he

discusses, we may still refuse to be depressed by melancholy like his.

Granted that all is vanity, that restlessness and monotony mark everything

in the world, and that its glories soon pass away and are forgotten; STILL

IT IS NOT OUR HOME!   It may dissolve and leave us no poorer. The tie that

binds together soul and body may be loosened, and the place that knows us

now may soon know us no more. Our confidence is in Him, who has promised

to take us to Himself, that where He is we may be also. “God is our Refuge

and Strength... therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed.”

(Psalm 46:1-2)  In contrast with the Preacher’s desponding, despairing words

about the fruitlessness of life, its monotony and its brevity, we may set the

hopeful, triumphant utterance of Christ’s apostle: “The time of my departure is

at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the

faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which

the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me

            only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.”  (I Timothy 4:6-8)





Vanity of Vanities (vs. 2-11)



(v. 3.) Passing over the pathetic picture these words instinctively call up

of human life as a ceaseless round of toil — a picture which modern

civilization, with all its appliances and refinements, has not obliterated, but

rather, in the experience of many, painted in still more lurid colors; a

picture which has always possessed for poetic minds, sacred (Job 7:1-2)

no less than profane (Thomas Hood 1799-1845), ‘Song of the Shirt’),

Song of the Shirt 
By Thomas Hood
With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread— 
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
   And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the "Song of the Shirt."
   "Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!             
   And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It's O! to be a slave
   Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
   If this is Christian work!
Till the brain begins to swim;
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,                    
   Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
   And sew them on in a dream!
   "O, men, with sisters dear!
   O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you're wearing out, 
   But human creatures' lives!
   In poverty, hunger and dirt,      
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
   A Shroud as well as a Shirt.
   "But why do I talk of death?
   That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
   It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own, 
   Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
   And flesh and blood so cheap!
   My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
   A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
   A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
   For sometimes falling there!
   From weary chime to chime,   
   As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
   Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
   As well as the weary hand.
In the dull December light,
   And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—         
While underneath the eaves
   The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
   And twit me with the spring.
   "O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
   With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
   To feel as I used to feel,            
Before I knew the woes of want
   And the walk that costs a meal!
   "O! but for one short hour!
   A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
   But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
   But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
   Hinders needle and thread!"
With fingers weary and worn,
   With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
   Plying her needle and thread—
      Stitch! stitch! stitch!
   In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—

   She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"



a peculiar fascination — readers may note the melancholy truth to which

the Preacher here adverts, viz. that the solid outcome of human labor, in

the shape of permanent advantage to either society at large or the individual,

is comparatively small.


Ø      This cannot mean that labor is wholly useless (ch.5:19),

since without labor man cannot find that bread which is needful for his

bodily sustenance (Genesis 3:19). It would be misconceiving the

Preacher to suppose he disapproved of all that has been effected by

human industry and genius to enrich, enlighten, and civilize the race, or

desired to teach that men had better times of it on earth when they lived

like savages upon the spontaneous fruits of the earth.


Ø      Nor is it likely that he designed to glance at what has been a sore evil

under the sun ever since men began to divide themselves into laborers

and capitalists, viz. the small portion of labors fruits which usually

fall to the former, without whom there would be little or no fruits at all.


Ø      It is rather probable that the writer was thinking, not of laborers so

called, to the exclusion of other workers, but of all toilers without

distinction, when he said that the outcome of man’s activity, so far

at least as attaining to felicity was concerned, was practically nothing.





Ø      Illustrated in four particulars.


o       The passing by of human generations, in comparison with

which the globe seems stable (v. 4);

o       the daily revolution of the sun (v. 5);

o       the circling of the winds (v. 6); and

o       the returning of the rivers to the seas (v. 7).


The writer means not to assert that these different cycles have no

uses in the economy of nature — which uses may be here illustrated;

merely he pitches upon what belongs to them in common, the

element of change, to him a picture of man’s condition on the

earth generally.


Ø      Explained by four clauses. It is as if he said, “Look around and

behold! All things of earth are perpetually on the move — the

sun in the sky, the winds in the firmament, the clouds in the air,

the waters in the ocean, the rivers on the meadow (I have been

cooped up all winter and yesterday, April 1, 2013, it went out

into the woods and walked along the Little River and this is

certainly true of southern Christian County, Kentucky in the

21st century! – CY – 2013), man himself upon the surface of the

globe. Nothing bears the stamp of finality. Everything is shifting.

Nothing remains long in one stay. ‘All things are full of labor

and weariness; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied

 with seeing, nor is the ear filled with hearing’” (v. 8)

by which he means that the changeful condition is never done;

there never comes a time when the eye says, “Enough!” or the

ear repeats, “Behold! I am full.” This view of life had occurred to

 many before the Preacher’s day (Genesis 47:9; I Chronicles 29:15;

Job 4:19-20; 7:6; 8:9), as it has occurred to some since — to the

Greek philosophers who described nature as in a state of perpetual flux,

to modem poets such as Shakespeare, and to sacred writers like John

(I John 2:17) and Paul (I Corinthians 7:31.)




Ø      What the Preacher could not have meant. That no new occurrence

ever happens on the earth, that no new contrivance ever is devised,

that no new experience ever emerges. Because since the Preacher’s

day multitudes of new discoveries and inventions have been made in

all departments of science; while in the sphere of religion at least one

new thing has taken place, viz. the Incarnation of Jesus Christ,

and another will take place (Isaiah 65:17).


Ø      What the Preacher did mean. That the general impression made by

`life upon beholders is that of sameness. Going back to the above

illustrations, he would have said, “See how it is in nature. No doubt one

new day succeeds another, one gale of wind follows another, and one

body of waters hastens after another. But every day and always it is the

same thing over again; the same old sun which reappears in the east; and

the same gusts of wind to which we are accustomed that blow from the

north to the south, and whirl about continually to all points of the compass;

and the same stream that keeps on filling up its fountains and sending forth

its waters to the sea. And if you will look at the world of humanity it is the

same. A new generation appears on the globe every thirty years, and every

hour of every day new individuals are being born; but they are substantially

the same old men and women that were here before. ‘Fed by the same

food, hurt by the same weapons, warmed and cooled by the same

summer and winter’ as those who preceded them, they go through

 the same experiences their fathers and mothers went through before

them.” This feeling of monotony is even more emphasized when attention

is fixed on the individual. Try to think of how monotonous and wearisome

an ordinary human life is! An attempt to realize this will awaken surprise.



MUST EVENTUALLY SINK. (v. 11.) So obvious is this that it

scarcely needs illustration. Consider what a small portion of the earth’s

incidents during the past six thousand years have survived in history, and

bow few of the world’s great ones have left behind them more than their

names. The memory has been preserved of a Flood, but what about the

ordinary words and actions that make up everyday life during the years

between the Creation and the Deluge? A few particulars have been

preserved of the histories of an Abraham and a David, a Sennacherib and a

Nebuchadnezzar, an Alexander and a Caesar; but what about the myriads

that formed their contemporaries? How much has been transmitted to

posterity of the history of these islands? How few of the events of last year

have been recorded? How many of those who then died are still

remembered? This is, no doubt, all as it should be; but still it is a proof of

the vanity of things below, if these be regarded simply in themselves.


CONCLUSION. This view of life should not be possible to a Christian

who enjoys the fuller and clearer light of the New Testament revelation,

and views all things in their relations to God, duty, and immortality.




                                    Oblivion and its Consolations (v. 11)


We have here:


·         A NATURAL HUMAN ASPIRATION. We do not like to think that the

time is coming when we shall be wholly forgotten; we should like to live on

in the memory of men, especially in the memory of the wise and good. We

shrink from the idea of being entirely forgotten; we do not care to think

that the hour will come when the mention of our name will not awaken the

slightest interest in any human circle. There is something exceedingly

attractive in the thought of fame, and repelling in that of oblivion. There is

that within us which responds to the fine line of Horace, in which he tells

us that he has built for himself a monument more enduring than brass; and

to the aspiration of our own Milton, that he might prove to have written

something which “the world would not willingly let die.”




Ø      It is indeed true that “the memory of the just is blessed,” and that they

who have lived well, loved faithfully, wrought nobly, suffered meekly,

striven bravely, will be remembered and honored after death; they may be

long, even very long, remembered and revered.


Ø      There are just a few men whose names and histories will go down the

long stream of time, of whom the very last generation will speak and learn.


Ø      But the vast majority of men will soon be forgotten. Their names may be

inscribed on memorial-stones, but in a very few years none will care to

read them; the eye that lights upon them will glance from them with

indifference; there will be “no remembrance” of them. The world will take

its way; will do its work and find its pleasure, regardless altogether of the

fact that these men once trod its surface and now lie beneath it.  (Isn’t it

wonderful that it is not so with God, the He knew us, He knows us

and that we are one of His!   CY - 2021)


·         THE TRUE CONSOLATION. This is certainly not found in the

commonness of our lot. It is no consolation to me that my neighbor is as

ill off as myself; that ought to be an aggravation of my trouble. It is,

in fact, twofold.


Ø      We may be always living in the deathless influence our faithful lives

exerted and handed down. For good influences never die; they are

scattered and lost sight of, but they are not extinguished; they live on in

human hearts and lives from generation to generation.


Ø      We shall be loved and honored elsewhere. What if we be forgotten

here upon the earth? Are there not other parts of the kingdom of God?

And is there not one where God will have found for us a sphere, and in the

minds and hearts of those who will be our friends and fellow-laborers there

      we shall hold our place, honoring and honored, loving and beloved?







    Section 1. Vanity of Striving for Wisdom and Knowledge (vs. 12-18)


12 I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.” Koheleth

relates his own experience as king, in accordance with his assumption of

the person of Solomon. The use of the past tense in this verse is regarded

by many as strong evidence against the Solomonic authorship of the book.

“I have been king” (not “I have become king,”)  is a statement introducing the

supposed speaker, not as a reigning monarch, but as one who, in time past,

exercised sovereignty. Solomon is represented as speaking from the grave, and

recalling the past for the instruction of his auditors. In a similar manner, the author

of the Book of Wisdom (8:1-13) speaks in his impersonation of Solomon. That king

himself, who reigned without interruption to his death, could not have

spoken of himself in the terms used here. He lost neither his throne nor his

power; and, therefore, the expression cannot be paralleled by the complaint of

Louis XIV., unsuccessful in war and weary of rule, “When I was king.” Solomon

redivivus (brought back to life; reborn) is introduced to give weight to the succeeding

experiences. Here is one who had every and the most favorable opportunity of

seeing the best side of things; and yet his testimony is that all is vanity. In the

acquisition of  wisdom, the contrast between the advantage of learned leisure and the

interruptions of a laborious life is set forth in Ecclesiasticus. 38:24, “The wisdom of

a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little

 business shall become wise.. King over Israel. The expression indicates a time

before the division of the kingdom. We have it in I Samuel 15:26, and occasionally

elsewhere. The usual phrase is “King of Israel.” (For in Jerusalem, see on v. 1.)





                                    Koheleth, the Preacher (vs. 1,12)


·         THE PREACHER’S NAME. Koheleth, signifying:


Ø      The Assembler, or Collector (Delitzsch, Bleek, Keil), not of sentences

(Grotius), but of people. Hence:


Ø      The Preacher (Delitzsch, Wright), since the object for which he calls or

convenes the assembly is to address it with words of wisdom

(ch. 12:9).


Ø      The Debater (Plumptre), since “the Ecclesiastes was not one who called

the ecclesia or assembly together, or addressed it in a tone of didactic

authority; but rather an ordinary member of such assembly (the political

unit of every Greek state) who took part in its discussions” (ibid.).




Ø      Solomon. In support of this, the traditional view, may be urged:


o       That the work is, or seems to be, ascribed to him by the writer (v. 1).

o       That the experiences assigned to the Preacher (ch. 2:1-3), the works

declared to have been wrought by him (ch. 2:4-5), and the wisdom

represented as possessed by him (v. 17), are in perfect accord with

what is known of the historical Solomon.

o       That the composition of this book cannot be proved to have been

beyond the ability of Solomon (1 Kings 3:12; 10:3-4; 11:41;

II Chronicles 1:12; 9:22-23).

o       That the writer obviously wished his words to be accepted as

proceeding from Solomon.

o       That if Solomon was not the author, then the author is unknown —

which is, to say the least, unfortunate.





Ø      Not an atheist. Since besides making frequent (thirty-seven times)

mention of the name of God, he expressly recognizes God as:


o       the true God, exalted above the world (ch. 5:8),

o       the Object of man’s fear (ch. 5:7; 12:13) and worship (ibid. vs. 1-2),


o       the Disposer and Governor of all (ch. 7:13).


He acknowledges the existence in man of a spirit (ch. 12:7), and

of such things as truth and error, right and wrong, holiness and sin

(ch. 5:4-6; 7:15-16; 9:2-3); places the sum of duty as well as the

secret of happiness in fearing God and keeping His commandments

(ch. 12:13); and hints his belief in the coming of a day when God

will bring the secrets of all into judgment (ch. 11:9).


Ø      Not a pantheist. The God he believes in is a personal Divinity,

distinguished from the works He has made (ch.  3:11) and the

man He has created (12:1); who issues commandments (ibid. v. 13),

and can be worshipped by prayer, sacrifice, and vows (ch. 5:1-7);

who should be feared (ibid. v. 7),  and who can accept the service

of His intelligent creatures (ch. 9:7).


Ø      Not a pessimist. Though at times seeming to indulge in gloomy views of

life, to imagine that all things on earth are going to the bad, that the sum

of human happiness is more than counterbalanced by that of human

misery, that life is not worth living, and that the best a wise man can do

is to escape from it in the easiest and most comfortable way he can; yet

that these were not his deliberate opinions may be gathered from the

frequency with which he exhorts men to cultivate a cheerful mind,

and to enjoy the good of all their labor which God giveth them under

the sun (ch.  2:24-26; 3:12; 9:7; 11:9), and from the emphatic manner

in which he repudiates morose conclusions concerning the degeneracy

of the times (ch. 7:10).


Ø      Not a libertine. This notion (Plumptre) may appear to derive

countenance from what the preacher says of himself (ch.2:1-3); but

his language hardly warrants the conclusion that the author of this

book had in his lifetime been a person of dissolute morals and profligate

manners. If he was, before he penned this work he must have seen the

error of his way.


Ø      But a deeply thinking and religious man. When he looked upon the

mystery of life he felt perplexed. He saw that, APART FROM GOD

LIFE WAS EMPTINESS AND VANITY!   Yet was he not thereby

driven to despair, or impelled to renounce life as an unmixed evil;

but rather offered it as his opinion that man’s highest duty was to fear

God and keep His commandments, to accept whatever good Providence

might pour into his cup, bear with tranquility and submission whatever

trials might be mingled in his lot, and prepare himself for the moment

when he should pass into the unseen to render an account for the things

done in the body (II Corinthians 5:10).


·         THE PREACHER’S AIM. Neither:


Ø      To expound the doctrines of pessimism — to show “that the past has

been like the present,” and “the present like that which is to come,” that

“the present is bad,” that “the past has not been better,” and “that the

future will not be preferable” (Renan). Nor:


Ø      To furnish an autobiographical confession (ideal, but based on personal

experiences) of the progress of a Jewish youth from skepticism through

sensuality to faith (Plumptre). But possibly:


Ø      To comfort Gods people, the Hebrew Church, under oppression — that

of Persian rule, e.g., supposing the book to be a late composition, by

showing them the vanity of earthly things, and exhorting them “to seek

elsewhere their happiness; to draw it from those inexhaustible eternal

fountains, which even at that time were open to all who chose to come”

(Hengstenberg). And certainly:


Ø      To exhibit the true secret of felicity in the midst of lifes vanities, which

consisted, as above explained, in fearing God and keeping His



·         LESSONS.


1. The inspiration of a Scripture not dependent on a knowledge of its date

    or author.

2. The value of the Bible as a key to the problem of the universe.

3. The succession of Heaven-sent preachers that have appeared all down

     the centuries.


13 “And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning

all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to

the sons of man to be exercised therewith.” I gave my heart (v. 17; ch.7:25;

Daniel 10:12). The heart, in the Hebrew conception, was the seat, not of the

affections only, but of the understanding and intellectual faculties generally.

So the expression here is equivalent to “I applied my mind.” To seek and

search out. The two words are not synonymous. The former verb (דָּרַשׁ,

darash) implies penetrating into the depth of an object before one; the

other word (תּוּר, tur) taking a comprehensive survey of matters further

away; so that two methods and scopes of investigation are signified. By

wisdom; τῇ σοφίᾳ - en tae sophia - (Septuagint). Wisdom was the means

or instrument by which he carried on his researches, which were directed, not

merely to the collecting of facts, but to investigating the causes and conditions of

things. Concerning all things that are done under heaven; i.e. men’s

actions and conduct, political, social, and private life. We have “under the

sun” in v. 9, and again in v. 14. Here there is no question of physical

matters, the phenomena of the material world, but only of human

circumstances and interests. This sore travail (rather, this is a sore travail

that) God hath given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. The

word rendered “travail” (ˆעִנְיָן, inyan) occurs often in this book (e.g.

ch. 2:23, 26, etc.), and nowhere else in the Old Testament. The same root is

found in the word translated “exercised;” hence “It is a woeful exercise which

God has given to the sons of men wherewith to exercise themselves.” If we keep

 to the word “travail,” we may render, “to travail therein.” It implies distracting

business, engrossing occupation. Septuagint, περισπασμόν – perispasmon –

heavy burden -  Vulgate, occupationem. Man feels himself constrained to make

this laborious investigation, yet the result is most unsatisfactory, as the next verse

shows. “God” is here Elohim, and so throughout the book, the name Jehovah

 (the God of the covenant, the God of Israel) never once occurring. Those who

regard Solomon as the author of the book account for this on the plea that the

king, in his latest years, reflecting sadly on his backsliding and fall, shrank from

uttering with his polluted lips the adorable Name once so often used with filial

reverence and beloved. But the true reason is found in the design of Koheleth,

which was to set forth, not so much Israel’s position under the covenant, as the

condition of man in the face of the God of nature. The idiosyncrasies and

peculiar features of the chosen people are not the subject of his essay; he

deals with a wider sphere; his theme is man in his relation to Divine

providence; and for this power he uses that name, common alike to the true

and false religions, Elohim, applied to the Supreme Being by believers and



14 “I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold,

all is vanity and vexation of spirit.” Here is the result of this examination of human

actions. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun. In his varied

experience nothing had escaped his notice. And behold, all is vanity and vexation

 of spirit; reuth ruach; afflictio spiritus (Vulgate); προαίρεσις πνεύματος,

proairesis pneumatos - choice of spirit, or, wind - (Septuagint); νομὴ ἀνέμου 

 nomae avemou - feeding on wind (Aquila and Theodotion); βοσκήσις ἀνέμου

 boskaesis avemou  (Symmachus). This last translation, or “striving after wind,”

seems to be most agreeable to the etymology of the word רְעוּת, which, except

in this book (ch. 2:11, 17, 26, etc.), occurs elsewhere only in the Chaldee portion

of Ezra (Ezra 5:17; 7:18). Whichever sense is taken, the import is much the

same. What is implied is the unsubstantial and unsatisfying nature of human

labors and endeavors. Many compare Hosea 12:1, “Ephraim feedeth on

wind,” and Isaiah 44:20, “He feedeth on ashes.” In contrast, perhaps,

to this constantly recurring complaint, the author of).  Bailey, in ‘Festus,’ sings —


            “Of all life’s aims, what’s worth the thought we waste on’t?

How mean, how miserable, seems every care!

How doubtful, too, the system of the mind!

And then the ceaseless, changeless, hopeless round

Of weariness, and heartlessness, and woe,

And vice, and vanity! Yet these make life —

The life, at least, I witness, if not feel

No matter, we are immortal.”


15 “That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is

wanting cannot be numbered.” That which is crooked cannot be made straight.

This is intended as a confirmation of v. 14. By the utmost exercise of his powers

and faculties man cannot change the course of events; he is constantly met

by anomalies which he can neither explain nor rectify (compare ch.7:13).

The Vulgate takes the whole maxim as applying only to morals: “Perverse men are

Hardly corrected, and the number of tools is infinite.” So too the Syriac and

Targum. The Septuagint rightly as the Authorized Version. The writer is

not referring merely to man’s sins and delinquencies, but to the perplexities

in which he finds himself involved, and extrication from which is

impracticable. That which is wanting cannot be numbered.  We

cannot reckon where there is nothing to count; no skill in arithmetic will

avail to make up for a substantial deficit. So nothing man can do is able to

remedy the anomalies by which he is surrounded, or to supply the defects

which are pressed upon his notice.



Concerning Crooked Things and Things Wanting (v. 15)



PROGRAM. This the teaching of the two proverbs, that crooked things

cannot be straightened, i.e. by man, or wanting things numbered. To the

seeker after wisdom, who surveys all the works that are done under the

sun, and gives his heart to search into and to seek out by wisdom with

regard to these what is their end and issue, there appear in the physical,

mental, and moral worlds anomalies, irregularities, excrescences,

deviations from the straight line of natural order, as well as defects, wants,

imperfections, gaps, cleavages, interruptions, failures to reach

completeness, which arrest attention and excite astonishment.


Ø      Of irregularities or crooked things, such phenomena as these

may be cited:


o       In the physical world:

§         storms,

§         tempests,

§         accidents,

§         diseases,

§         sudden and unexpected calamities.


o       In the mental world:

§         perverted judgments,

§         erroneous beliefs,

§         false conclusions.


o       In the moral world:

§         wicked principles

§         depraved actions,

§         sins ofevery kind,

§         transgressions of human and Divine law.


Ø      Of things wanting or defects, may be reckoned these:


o       In the material realm, scenes where some element is wanting to

complete their beauty or utility, as e.g. a Sahara without a green

leaf to refresh the eye, or a well at which to quench the thirst;

or forms of life that never attain to maturity, as e.g. buds that drop

 before ripening into flowers or fruit.

o       In the intellectual sphere, ignorance, limited knowledge, defective

education, bigotry, arrogance, one-sided apprehension of truth,

narrow and imperfect views.

o       In the moral domain, actions that, without being wholly wrong,

yet fall short of being fully right, as e.g. where one tells a half-truth,

or does less in particular circumstances than duty demands of him.

(Sins of omission – CY – 2013)



POWER OF MAN TO REMOVE OR REMEDY. This, at least, is the

doctrine of the above two proverbial sayings.


Ø      The doctrine, however, is not absolutely and universally true.

In the physical, mental, and moral worlds, man can do something

to straighten what is crooked and supply what is lacking. For

instance, by skill and foresight he can guard himself to some extent

against the virulence of disease, the violence of storms and tempests,

the destructiveness of unexpected calamities; by education he can

protect himself and others against the perils arising from defective

knowledge and erroneous judgments; by personal cultivation of

virtue he can at least diminish the quantity of its opposite,

vice, in the world. If he cannot straighten out all the crooks, he

can even some; if he cannot remedy every defect, he can

remove a few.


Ø      Yet the doctrine is true in the sense intended by the Preacher.

This is, that after man has done his utmost there will remain anomalies

that baffle him to explain, a sense of incompleteness which nothing he

can attempt will remove. Let him prosecute his investigations ever so

widely and vigorously, there always will be “more things in heaven

and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy” — enigmas he cannot

solve, antinomies he cannot reconcile, defects he cannot fill up.





Ø      That the present system of things is not final. Nothing that is

imperfect can be final. The crooked things that want straightening

and the lacking things that need supplying contain a dim prophecy

of a future and better order, in which THE CROOKED THINGS




Ø      That mans power of apprehending things is incomplete. From this

probably arises not a little of that sense of disorder and incompleteness in

the outer world of which he complains.


Ø      That things impossible to man IS POSSIBLE WITH GOD! 

 Though man’s faculties are limited, it does not follow that God’s

power is limited.  The crooked things that man cannot straighten,

GOD CAN STRAIGHTEN  if it seem good to His wisdom.


Ø      That mans duty meanwhile is to submit and wait. Instead of

fretting at what he cannot rectify, he should aim at extracting from it

that moral discipline which, doubtless, it is intended to impart; and

instead of rushing to hasty conclusions from what he only imperfectly

apprehends, he ought in a spirit of hopefulness to PATIENTLY



16 “I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great

estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been

before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of

wisdom and knowledge.”  Koheleth now arrives at his first conclusion, that wisdom

is vanity. I communed with mine own heart. The expression suggests, as it

were, an internal dialogue, (compare ch.2:1, 15). Lo, I am come to

great estate. If this be taken by itself, it makes Koheleth speak of his

power and majesty first, and of his progress in wisdom afterwards; but it is

best to connect it with what follows, and to confine the clause to one idea;

thus: “I have obtained great and ever greater wisdom” — I have

continually added to my stores of knowledge and experience. Than all

they (above all) that have been before me in (over) Jerusalem. Who are

the rulers alluded to? Solomon himself was only the second of the Israelite

kings who reigned there; of the Canaanite princes who may have made that

their capital, we have no knowledge, nor is it likely that Solomon would

compare himself with them. The Targum has altered the approved reading,

and gives, “Above all the wise men that were in Jerusalem before me.” The

reading, “in [instead of ‘over’] Jerusalem,” has indeed some manuscript

authority, and is confirmed by the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac, but it is

evidently a correction of the text by critics who saw the difficulty of the

authorized wording. Motais and others assert that the preposition in the

Masoretic text, עַל (all, often means “in,” as well as “over,” when the

reference is to an elevated spot; e.g. Isaiah 38:20; Hosea 11:11. But

even granting this, we are still uncertain who are the persons meant.

Commentators point to Melchizedek, Adonizedek, and Araunah among

rulers, and to Ethan, Heman, Chalcol, and Darda (I Kings 4:31) among

sages. But we know nothing of the wisdom of the former, and there is no

tangible reason why the latter should be designated “before me in

Jerusalem.” Doubtless the words point to a succession of kings who had

reigned in Jerusalem, and the writer, involuntarily, perhaps, betrays his

assumed character, in relying an excusable anachronism, while giving to the

personated monarch a position which could not belong to the historical

Solomon. Yea, my heart had great experience of (hath seen abundantly,

κατὰ πολύ  - kata polu - Venetian) wisdom and knowledge, הַרְבֵה used

adverbially qualifies the word before it, “hath seen.” The heart, as we have

observed (v. 13), is considered the seat of the intellectual life. In saying that the

heart hath seen wisdom, the writer means that his mind has taken it in,

apprehended and appropriated it (compare ch.8:16; Job 4:8). Wisdom and

knowledge; chokmah and daath; σοφίαν καὶ γνῶσιν  – sophian kai gnosin -

(Septuagint), the former regarding the ethical and practical side, the latter the

speculative, which leads to the other (compare Isaiah 33:6; Romans 11:33). 


17 “And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and

folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.” And I gave my heart.

He reiterates the expression in order to emphasize his earnestness and energy

in the pursuit of wisdom. And knowing, he studies the opposite of wisdom, and

learns the truth by contrasting it with error. And to know madness and folly

(ch.2:12). The former word, holeloth (intensive plural), by its etymology points

to a confusion of thought, i.e. an unwisdom which deranges all ideas of order

and propriety; and folly (here sikluth), throughout the sapiential books (books

of wisdom), is identified with vice and wickedness, the contradictory of

practical godliness. The Septuagint has παραβολὰς καὶ ἐπιστήμην

 parabolas kai epistaemaen - parables and endued with knowledge - 

and some editors have altered the Hebrew text in accordance

with this version, which they consider more suitable to the context. But

Koheleth’s standpoint is quite consistent.  Den-Sirs gives a much-needed

warning against touching pitch (Eccleiasticus 13:1), and argues expressly

that “the knowledge of wickedness is not wisdom” (Ibid. ch. 19:22).

The moralist had no need to travel beyond his own experience in order to

learn that sin was the acme of unwisdom, a declension from reason which

might well be called madness.. Thus far we have had Koheleth’s secret thoughts —

what he communed with his own heart (v. 16). The result of his studies was

most unsatisfying.   I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit; or,

a striving after wind, as v. 14 Though the word is somewhat different. As

such labor is wasted, for man cannot control issues.


18 “For in much wisdom is much grief:  and he that increaseth

knowledge increaseth sorrow.”  For in much wisdom is much grief.

The more one knows of men’s lives, the deeper insight one obtains of their

actions and circumstances, the greater is the cause of grief at the incomplete and

unsatisfactory nature of all human affairs. He that increaseth knowledge

increaseth sorrow; not in others, but in himself. With added experience

and more minute examination, the wise man becomes more conscious of

his own ignorance and impotence, of the unsympathizing and

uncontrollable course of nature, of the gigantic evils which he is powerless

to remedy; this causes his sorrowful confession “I perceived that this

also is vexation of spirit.” (v. 17b). St. Gregory, taking the religious view

of the passage, comments, “The more a man begins to know what he has

lost the more he begins to bewail the sentence of his corruption, which he

has met with” (‘Moral.,’ 18:65); and, “He that already knows the high state

which he does not as yet enjoy is the more grieved for the low condition in

which he is yet held” (ibid., 1:34). The statement in our text is paralleled in

Ecclesiasticus. 21:12, “There is a wisdom which multiplieth bitterness,” and

contrasted in Wisdom of Solomon  8:16 with the comfort and pleasure

which true wisdom brings.




                           The Vanity of Human Wisdom (vs. 12-18)


Solomon was one of the great, magnificent, and famous kings of the East,

and was eminent both for possessions and abilities. The splendor of his

court and capital may have impressed the popular mind more profoundly

than anything else attaching to him. But his wisdom was his most

distinctive and honorable peculiarity. At the beginning of his reign he had

sought this from God as His supreme gift, and the gift had been bestowed

upon him and continued to him. Its evidences were striking and universally

acknowledged. As a king, a judge, an administrator, a writer, a religious

teacher, Solomon was pre-eminently wise. It must be admitted that he did

not always make the best use of the marvelous talents entrusted to him.

But he was well able to speak from his own experience of the gift of

wisdom; and none was ever better able to speak of its vanity.




1. This implies natural ability, as a foundation; and, if this be absent,

     eminence is impossible.

2. It implies also good opportunities. There are doubtless many endowed

    with native powers, to whom are denied the means of calling forth and

    training those powers, which accordingly lie dormant throughout the

    whole of life.

3. It implies the diligent cultivation of natural powers, and the diligent use

    of precious opportunities.  (Diligent meaning to exercise yourself - CY -


4. It implies prolonged experience — “years that bring the philosophic



·         THE LIMITATION OF HUMAN WISDOM. To the view of the

uncultivated and inexperienced, the knowledge of the accomplished student

seems boundless, and the wisdom of the sage almost Divine. But the wise

man knows himself too well to be thus deluded. The wisest man is aware

that there are:


Ø      problems he cannot solve;

Ø      errors he cannot correct;

Ø      evils he cannot remedy.


On every side he is reminded how limited are his speculative and his

practical powers. He is often all but helpless in the presence of questions

that baffle his ingenuity, of difficulties that defy his endeavors and his





1. One erroneous inference from the considerations adduced must be

    carefully guarded against, viz. the inference that folly is better than

    wisdom. The wise man may not always come to a just conclusion as to

    belief and practice, but the fool will usually be misled by his folly.

2. The wise man is gradually disillusioned regarding himself. He may start

    in life with the persuasion of his power and commanding superiority; but

    his confidence is perhaps by slow degrees undermined, and he may end by

    forming a habit of self-distrust.

3. At the same time, the wise man becomes painfully conscious that he

    does not deserve the reputation which he enjoys among his fellowmen.

4. But, above all, he feels that his wisdom is folly in the presence of the

    All-Wise God, to whose omniscience all things are clear, and from whose

    judgment there is no appeal.

5. Hence the wise man acquires the most valuable lesson of modesty and

    humility — qualities which give a crowning grace to true wisdom. The

    wise man assuredly would not exchange with the fool, but he would fain be

    wiser than he is; and he cherishes the conviction that whatever light

    illumines him is but a ray from the central and eternal Father.  




                                    Speculative Study of the World (vs. 12-18)


Solomon has made serious allegations concerning human life, and he now

proceeds to substantiate them. He has declared that it yields no permanent

results, that it is tedious beyond expression, and that it is soon overtaken

by oblivion. “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!” The monotony of things in

the natural world — the permanence of the earth in contrast with the

changes in human life, the mechanical routine of sunrise and sunset, the

ceaseless agitation of the atmosphere, the constant course of rivers to the

sea, and so on — had not been the sole ground for his conclusions. He had

considered also “all the works that are done under the sun,” the whole

range of human action, and found in them evidence justifying his

allegations. Both in natural phenomena and in human efforts and

attainments he found that all was vanity and vexation of spirit. He had, he

tells us (v. 12), all the resources of a great monarch at his command —

riches, authority, capacity, and leisure; and he applied himself, — he gave

his heart to discover, by the aid of wisdom, the nature of earthly pursuits,

and found that they were fruitless. He concentrated all his mental energy

upon the course of investigation, and continued in it until the conclusion

was forced upon him that “in much wisdom is much grief, and he that

increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” So different is the estimate of

wisdom and knowledge formed by the Jewish king from that held by other

great philosophers and sages, that it is worth while to inquire into the cause

of the difference. The explanation is to be found in v. 15, “That which is

crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be

numbered.” It was a practical end that Solomon had in view — to remedy

evils and to supply deficiencies. He did not engage in the pursuit of wisdom

and knowledge for the sake of the pleasure yielded by intellectual activity.

In the case of ordinary philosophers and scientists the aim is a different

one. “A truth, once known, falls into comparative insignificance. It is now

prized, less on its own account than as opening up new ways to new

activity, new suspense, new hopes, new discoveries, new self-gratulation

— it is not knowledge, it is not truth, that the votary of science principally

seeks; he seeks the exercise of his faculties and feelings. Absolute certainty

and absolute completion would be the paralysis of any study; and the last

worst calamity that could befall man, as he is at present constituted, would

be that full and final possession of speculative truth which he now vainly

anticipates as the consummation of his intellectual happiness. And what is

true of science is true, indeed, of all human activity. It is ever the contest

that pleases us, and not the victory. Thus it is in play; thus it is in hunting;

thus it is in the search of truth; thus it is in life. The past does not interest,

the present does not satisfy; the future alone is the object which engages

us. ‘It is not the goal, but the course, that makes us happy,’ says Richter”

(Hamilton, ‘Metaphysics’). But in the case before us we find that the

pleasure afforded by intellectual activity is not regarded by the Preacher as

an end sufficient in itself to engage his energies. It is a practical end he has

in view; and when he finds that earthly pursuits cannot alter destinies,

cannot change the conditions under which we live, cannot set right that

which is wrong, or supply that which is wanting for human happiness, he

loathes them altogether. The very wisdom and knowledge which he had

acquired in his investigations seem to him useless lumber. He wanted to

find in life an adequate aim and end, something in which man could find

repose. He found it not. “The light which the wisdom he had learned cast

on human destiny only exhibited to him the illusions of life, but did not

show him one perfect object on which he might rest as a final aim of

existence. And therefore he says that ‘he that increaseth knowledge

increaseth sorrow,’ since he only thus perceives more and more illusions,

whilst nothing is the result, and nihilism is only sorrow of heart” (vide

Martensen, ‘Christian Ethics’). The Preacher then says about the pursuit of

wisdom, that though it is implanted by God in the heart of man (v. 13), it is;


            (1) a severe and laborious task, and

            (2) the results it yields are grief and sorrow.


·         In the first place, then, HE DESCRIBES THE PURSUIT OF WISDOM

AS A SEVERE AND LABORIOUS TASK. He looks back upon the

course of inquiry he had followed, and declares that it has been a rugged,

thorny road. “This sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be

exercised therewith.” And it is quite in harmony with the spirit of the book

that the name of God, which occurs here for the first time, should be

coupled with the thought of His laying heavy burdens upon men, since it

was by Him that this profitless search had been appointed. He remembers

all the labors of the way by which he had come — the weariness of brain,

the laborious days, the sleepless nights, the frustrated hopes, the

disappointments he had experienced; and he counts the pursuit of wisdom

but another of the vanities of life. The common run of men, who have no

high aims, no desires after a wisdom more than that needed for procuring a

livelihood, who are undisturbed by the great problems of life, are spared

this painful discipline. It is those who rise above their fellows, that are

called to spend their strength and resources, to deny themselves pleasures,

and to separate themselves from much of that in which mankind delight and

find solace, only to find keener sorrows than those known to their fellows.

They do indeed hear and obey the voice of God, but it calls them to

suffering and to self-sacrifice. In these days, when the sciences open up

before men vast fields for research, there must be many who can verify

from their own experience what Solomon says about the laboriousness of

the methods used. The infinite patience needed, the observation and

cataloguing of multitudinous facts, the inventing of fresh mechanical

appliances for facilitating research, the varied experiments, the careful

examination of evidence, and the construction and testing of new theories

and hypotheses, are the “sore travail” here spoken of.


·         In the second place, THE WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE SO


SORROW. (v. 18.) There is abundant evidence of the truth of this

statement in the experience of those who have made great attainments in

intellectual wisdom. For progress in knowledge only convinces man of the

little he knows, as compared with the vast universe of being that lies

undiscovered. He is convinced of

Ø      the weakness of his powers,

Ø       the shortness of the time at his disposal, and

Ø      the infinite extent of the field,


which he desires, but can never hope to take possession of. This thought is

expressed in the well-known words of Sir Isaac Newton: “I seem to have

been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself now and

then with a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the

ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me.” With increase of intellectual

knowledge, with enlarged acquaintance with the thoughts of men, and the

various theories of the universe that have been held, and the various

solutions of difficulties that have been given, there often comes, too,

unwillingess or inability to rest content with any theory or any solution.

Doubts, which frequently settle down into definite agnosticism, beset the

man who is given to great intellectual activity. And then, too, the fact

remains that we cannot by sheer reasoning come to any definite

conclusions as to any of the great questions which most concern our

happiness. No one can by searching find out God — reach definite

knowledge concerning Him, His existence, nature, and character; or be

assured of the fact of there being an overruling Providence, of the efficacy

of prayer, of a life beyond the grave, or of the immortality of the soul.

Probable or plausible opinions may be formed, but CERTAINTY COMES

ONLY BY REVELATION AND FAITH!  Hence it is that Milton describes

some of the fallen angels as wandering hopelessly through these labyrinths of

thought and conjecture, and finding in so doing intellectual occupation, but

neither SOLACE nor REST.


“Others apart sat on a hill retired,

In thoughts more elevate, and reason’d high

Of providence, foreknowledge, will, and late;

Fix’d fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,

And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.

Of good and evil much they argued then,

Of happiness and final misery,

Passion and apathy, and glory and shame,

Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy.”


And it has been said that one of the attractions which this Book of

Ecclesiastes has for the present age is in its skeptical questioning, and

restless, fluctuating uncertainty. The age can adopt as its own its somber

declarations. “Science beasts vaingloriously of her progress, yet mocks us

with her grand discovery of progress through pain, telling of small

advantages for the few purchased by enormous waste of life, by destructive

conflict and competition, and by a deadly struggle with Nature herself, ‘red

in tooth and claw with ravin,’ greedy to feed on the offspring of her own

redundant fertility. The revelations of geology and astronomy deepen our

depression. The littleness of our lives and the insignificance of our

concerns become more conspicuous in comparison with the long and slow

procession of the aeons which have gone before, and with the vast ocean

of being around us, driven and tossed by enormous, complicated, and

unresting forces. A new significance is thus given to the words, ‘In much

wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth

sorrow’” (Tyler). In his celebrated engraving of ‘Melaucolia,’ Albert Direr

has with wonderful skill depicted this mood of intellectual depression. He

represents a winged figure, that of a woman seated by the seashore and

looking intently into the distance, with bent brows and proud, pensive

demeanor. Her thoughts are absorbed in somber meditation, and her wings

are folded. A closed book is in her lap. Near her stands a dial-plate, and

above it a bell, that strikes the hours as they pass. The sun is rapidly

nearing the horizon-line, and darkness will soon enshroud the earth. In her

right hand she holds a compass and a circle, emblematic of that infinity of

time and space upon which she is meditating. Around her are scattered the

various implements of art, and the numerous appliances of science. They

have served her purpose, and she now casts them aside, and listlessly

ponders on the vanity of all human calculations. Above her is an hourglass,

in which the sands are running low, emblematic of the shortness of

the time yet left for fresh schemes and efforts. In like manner the Preacher

found that on the moral side increase of knowledge meant increase of

sorrow. Knowledge of the true ideal only made him the more conscious of

the distance we are from it, and of the hopelessness of our efforts to reach

it. The further the research is carried, the more abundant is the evidence

discoverable of our moral nature being in a condition of disorder. We find

that conscience too often reigns without governing, that natural appetites

and desires refuse to submit to her rule, that often motives and feelings

which she distinctly condemns, such as pride, envy, selfishness, and cruelty,

direct and animate our conduct. All schools of philosophy have recognized

the fact of moral disorder in our nature. It is, indeed, unfortunately too

evident to be denied or explained away. Aristotle says, “We are more

naturally disposed towards those things which are wrong, and more easily

carried away to excess than to propriety of conduct.” And Hume, “We

naturally desire what is forbidden, and often take a pleasure in performing

actions merely because they are unlawful. The notion of duty when

opposite to the passions is not always able to overcome them; and when it

fails of that effect, is apt rather to increase and irritate them, by producing

an opposition in our motives and principles.” But it is not necessary to

multiply Testimony to a fact so generally acknowledged. How this moral

disorder originated in human nature is A PROBLEM WHICH


ABILITY TO CORRECT IT!  It can discern the symptoms and character of

the disease, and describe the course it takes, but cannot cure it. And so the

existence of disturbing and lawless forces in our moral nature, the power of

evil habit, the social inequalities and disorders which result from the perversity

of the individuals of whom society is made up, and the varying codes of

morals which exist in the world, are all calculated to distress and perplex him

who seeks to make that straight which is crooked, and to supplement that

which is defective.  Increase of knowledge brings increase of sorrow.





Increase of Knowledge, Increase of Sorrow (v. 18)




INCREASED. No royal road to wisdom any more than to wealth. He who

would acquire knowledge must dig for it as for hidden treasures

(Proverbs 2:4). Those who have attained to greatest distinction, as

philosophers, poets, astronomers, etc., have all been hard workers. The

information that renders them so wise and their society so agreeable has

been slowly and painfully collected by diligent and unremitting effort,

sustained through years, often amid hardships, and by means of self-denials

which would have caused them to abandon their enterprises had they been

common men, sometimes at the expense of restless days and sleepless

nights, and in the midst of bodily infirmities not soothed but aggravated by

close and severe study. No doubt, to one inspired with a love of

knowledge, such labors and anxieties are more than compensated by the

knowledge so acquired; but the proposition of the Preacher is that the

largest amount of wisdom one may gather is an insufficient requital for all

this toil and anxiety, if the knowledge be only earthly and secular — i.e.

has no connection with God, duty, or immortality — one cannot help

asking if the Preacher is not right.




imagine that, as the circle of information widens, that of ignorance

contracts — which it does in the sense that, the more one knows, the sum

of what remains to be known diminishes; but in another and important

sense the amount of what remains to be known increases. As in mountain

climbing, the higher one ascends he sometimes discovers heights beyond of

which previously he had no suspicion, so in footing it up the steep and

difficult slopes of Parnassus, one actually comes to see that the more

extensive the boundaries of this knowledge become, the vaster grow the

regions beyond into which he has not yet penetrated. A child, for instance,

looking up for the first time into the evening sky, imagines he has

understood it all at a glance; but afterwards, when he has learned the

elementary truths of astronomy, there rushes on him the conviction that

what he knows is but a small part of a very large whole; and as he

prosecutes his search into the wonders of star-land, he realizes that the

more he knows of it the more there remains to be known, till he feels that

with respect to this, at least,” “he that increases knowledge increases

sorrow.” Nor is this experience confined to one department of knowledge,

but in every department it is the same; the larger and clearer one’s

acquaintance becomes with it, it only seems to open up untrodden realms

beyond, the bare contemplation of which exercises on the mind a strangely

depressing influence.



DIFFICULTIES SEEM TO MULTIPLY. Especially in dealing with the

problem of existence. Contrast the states of childhood and manhood, of

ignorance and learning, of savage peoples and of civilized nations. The

child is unconscious of anxieties that oppress the parental bosom. The

peasant, innocent of geology, biology, astronomy, and history, is not

troubled with mental, moral, and religious difficulties such as perplex those

acquainted with these themes. The heathen, with crude and ill-defined ideas

of God, duty, and immortality, are incapable of appreciating those

questionings concerning the future life that proceed in Christian minds. Not

that it is not better to increase in knowledge, even should such increase

awaken and foster doubts; only to increase in knowledge does not

necessarily bring peace to the heart or happiness to the soul. It enables one

to discern dark problems where none were discerned before; it pushes one

on to inquire after solutions for those problems which, nevertheless,

constantly elude the grasp. In the region of morals and religion especially it

burdens one with a sense of weariness and pain, because of the endless

questionins it raises and cannot answer. One who has never been launched

upon this sea of doubt can hardly appreciate the wretchedness of those

who have been tossed by its raging billows. Those who can hold on by

ideas of God, duty, and immortality for the most part escape these

perplexities; the man who tries to solve the problem of the universe

without these fundamental and regulative conceptions does not, but

becomes entangled in a labyrinth of difficulties, and commonly ends by

finding himself “in wandering mazes lost.”




WORLD’S SORROW. Often said, “One half of the world knows not how

the other half lives.” How much, e.g., does the civilized Briton know of the

degradation of “darkest Africa;” or the religiously educated youth or

maiden of the sin that runs rampant in modern society; or the well-fed,

well-clothed, and well-housed citizen of the aching hearts and miserable

lives of the houseless and breadless poor who herd in great cities? Because

these things are not known, the Christians are often comparatively indifferent

to the sad and sorrowful condition of the poor and criminal classes at home,

and of the heathen abroad. Did they properly consider these things, they

would be filled with sorrow. Should this be adduced as a reason why one

should not trouble himself with such disagreeable subjects, the answer

is that if God, duty, and immortality are fictions, it is perhaps better to

let the world stew in its own wretchedness and profligacy, and to guard

one’s felicity from being invaded by such disquieting influences; but if

God, duty, and immortality are realities, it may be perilous to exhibit such

indifference towards the world’s wretchedness and sin.




Knowledge is power. Insight into nature’s laws enables one to apply these

to mechanical uses which, in the absence of such insight, would be

impossible. A person of large intelligence and mature experience can do

things transcending the capacity of youth. Yet this increased efficiency,

which springs from increased knowledge, does not always augment the

sum of happiness. If it helps man to multiply instruments for good, it also

enlarges his ability to perpetrate evil. It was once believed that crime and

misery would disappear from society with the general diffusion of

education. No one believes that now. Mere knowledge has no tendency to

make men good. (Milton’s Satan was not a fool.) It will help such as are

good to means and opportunities for doing good; but just as certainly it

will aid the wicked in their wickedness, and add to their power of causing

misery. Then, in so far as knowledge or education has a tendency to refine

the nature, intensify the feelings, quicken the susceptibilities, to that extent

it augments the sum of human sorrow.


  • LEARN:


1. Not to glorify ignorance or despise knowledge, but to seek first that

    wisdom which cometh from above (James 1:5; 3:17).

2. To seek other knowledge, not so much for their own sakes, as for the

     purpose of using them in God’s service and for His glory.






                                                Knowledge and Sorrow (v. 18)


This is one of those utterances which contain much truth and leave much to

be supplied. “In much wisdom is much grief,” but there is much beside

grief to be found in it. So we look at:


·         THE TRUTH WHICH IT CONTAINS. Of the wisdom or the

knowledge which brings sadness to the heart we have to reckon the



Ø      Our deeper insight into ourselves. As we go on we find ourselves

capable of worse things than we once supposed we were — selfish aims,

evil thoughts, unhallowed passions, etc. Neither David nor Peter

supposed himself capable of doing the deed to which he fell.


Ø      Childhood’s corrected estimate of the good. We begin by thinking all

good men and women perfect; then, as experience enlarges, we have

reluctantly and sorrowfully to acknowledge to ourselves that there are

flaws even in the life and character of the best. And disillusion is a very

painful process.


Ø      Maturity’s acquaintance with evil. We may go some way into life

before we know one-half of the evil which is in the world? Indeed, it is

the wisdom and the duty of many — of even a large proportion of the

race not to know much that might be revealed. But as a widening

knowledge unveils the magnitude and heinousness of moral evil,

there is sorrow indeed to the pure and sympathetic soul. The more

we know of the sins and the sorrows of our race — of its cruelties

on the one hand and its sufferings on the other, of its enormities and

its privations, of its toils and troubles, of its degradation and its

death in life — the more we are distressed in spirit; “in much

wisdom is much grief.”


·         ITS LARGE QUALIFICATIONS. There is much truth belonging to

the subject which lies outside this statement, qualifying though not

contradicting it.


Ø      There is much pleasure in the act of acquisition. The study of one of the

sciences, the reading of history, the careful observation of nature and

mastery of its secrets, the investigation of the nature of man, etc., —

there is a pure and invigorating delight in all this.


Ø      Knowledge is power; and it is power to acquire that which will

      surround us with comfort, with freedom, with friendship, with

intellectual enlargement.


Ø      The knowledge which is heavenly wisdom is, in itself, a source of

elevation and of deep spiritual thankfulness and happiness.


Ø      The knowledge of God, as He is known to us in Jesus Christ, is




The fuller revelation with which we have been favored enlightens us with respect to

the intentions of Eternal Wisdom and Love. Our Savior has

founded upon earth a kingdom which cannot be moved. And the figures

which He Himself has employed to set forth its progress are an assurance

that it is not bounded by time or space; that it shall grow until its

dimensions and beneficence exceed all human expectations, and satisfy the

heart of the Divine Redeemer Himself.  (This will be the remedy of the problem

set forth in ch. 3:11, mentioned above.  Also, “The zeal of the Lord of hosts will

perform this”  (Isaiah 9:7).  Each faithful Christian, however

feeble and however lowly, may work in his Master’s cause with the

assurance that his service shall be not only acceptable, but effective. Better

shall be the end than the beginning. The seed shall give rise to a tree of

whose fruit all nations shall taste, and beneath whose shadow humanity

itself shall find both shelter and repose.  (Matthew 13:31-32)






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