Ecclesiastes Chapter 5:8-20; 6:10-12 Antique Commentary Quotes

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:8

8. If thou seest the oppression of the poor] From the follies of the religious life we pass to the disorders of the political. As in ch. Ecc_4:16, the thinker looks on those disorders of the world, “the poor man’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,” and teaches others how he has learnt to think of them. The words “wonder not” tells us with scarcely the shadow of a doubt who had been his teachers. In that counsel we have a distinct echo from one of the floating maxims of Greek proverbial wisdom, from the Μηδὲν θαυμάζειν (“wonder at nothing”) of Pythagoras, and Cebes (Tabula, p. 232), which has become more widely known through the Nil admirari of Horace (Epist. i. 6. 1). Why men were not to wonder at the prevalence of oppression is explained afterwards. The word for “province” may be noted as one distinctly belonging to later Hebrew, found chiefly in the books of the Persian period, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther and Daniel; once only in those of earlier date, 1Ki_20:14-17.

for he that is higher than the highest] The first impression made by the verse is that the Debater tells men not to wonder or be dismayed at the prevalence of wrong, on the ground that God is higher than the highest of the tyrants of the earth and will in the end punish their wrong-doing. So understood, the first and the last “higher” both refer to “God,” or, as some take it, the last only, the first referring to the king as distinct from satraps or other officers, and the train of thought is supposed to be “Wonder not with the wonder of despair, at the seeming triumph of evil. The Supreme Judge (ch. Ecc_3:17) will one day set all things right.” The last “higher” is however plural in the Hebrew, and if it be understood of God, it must be by a somewhat unusual construction connecting it with the plural form (Elohim) of the name of God. We have, it may be noted, another example of a like construction in the use of the plural form for Creator in ch. Ecc_12:1, and for “the Holy” in Pro_9:10; Pro_30:3. Over and above the grammatical difficulties, however (which, as has been shewn, are not insuperable), it may be said that this thought is hardly in keeping with the tone of the Debater’s mind at this stage of his progress. Belief in the righteous government of God can hardly remove, though it may perhaps silence, the wonder which men feel at the prevalence of evil. It seems better accordingly to fall back upon another interpretation. The observer looks upon the state of the Persian or Syrian or Egyptian Monarchy and sees a system of Satraps and Governors which works like that of the Pachas in modern Asiatic Turkey. There is one higher than the high one, the king who is despotic over the satraps: there are others (the court favourites, king’s friends, eunuchs, chamberlains) who are higher or, at least, of more power, than both together, each jealously watching the others, and bent on self-aggrandisement. Who can wonder that the result should be injustice and oppression? The system of government was rotten from the highest to the lowest, suspicion and distrust pervading its whole administration. Comp. Aristotle’s description of Asiatic monarchies as suppressing all public spirit and mutual confidence (Pol. Ecc_5:11). It may be suggested, lastly, that the enigmatic form of the maxim may have been deliberately chosen, so that men might read either the higher or the lower interpretation into it, according to their capacities. It was a “word to the wise” after the measure of their wisdom. The grave irony of such an ambiguous utterance was quite after the Teacher’s method. See notes on ch. Ecc_11:1-2.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:8

If thou seest the oppression of the poor. From errors in the service of God, it is natural to turn to faults in the administration of the king (Pro_24:21). Koheleth has already alluded to these anomalies in Ecc_3:16 and Ecc_4:1. Violent perverting; literally, robbery; so that judgment is never rightly given, and justice is withheld from applicants. In a province (me dinah, Ecc_2:8); the district in which the person addressed dwells. It may, perhaps, to implied that {his is remote from the central authority, and therefore more liable to be injuriously dealt with by unscrupulous rulers. Marvel not at the matter (chephets, Ecc_3:1). Be not surprised or dismayed (Job_26:11) at such evil doings,, as though they were unheard of, or inexperienced, or disregarded. There is here nothing of the Greek maxim, reproduced by Horace in his “Nil admirari” (‘Epist.,’ 1.6. 1). It is like St. John’s “Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you” (1Jn_3:13); or St. Peter’s “Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among’ you” (1Pe_4:12). The stupid and unintelligent observation of such disorders might lead to arraignment of Providence and distrust in the moral government of God. Against such mistakes the writer guards. For he that is higher than the highest regardeth. Both the words are in the singular number. Septuagint, Ὑψηλὸς ἐπάνω ὑψηλοῦ φυλάξαι. One thinks of the Persian satraps, who acted much as the Turkish pashas in later times, the petty rulers oppressing the people, and being themselves treated in the same fashion by their superiors. The whole is a system of wrong-doing, where the weaker always suffers, and the only comfort is that the oppressor himself is subject to higher supervision. The verb (shamar) translated “regardeth” means to observe in a hostile sense, to watch for occasions of reprisal, as 1Sa_19:11; and the idea intended is that in the province there were endless plottings and counterplottings, mutual denunciations and recriminations; that such things were only to be expected, and were no sufficient cause for infidelity or despair. “The higher one” is the monarch, the despotic king who holds the supreme power over all these maladministrators and perverters of justice. And there be higher than they. “Higher” is here plural (gebohim), the plural of majesty, as it is called (comp. Ecc_12:1), like Elohim, the word for “God,” the assonance being probably here suggestive. Over the highest of earthly rulers there are other powers, angels, principalities, up to God himself, who governs the course of this world, and to whom we may leave the final adjustment. Who are meant seems purposely to be left undetermined; but the thought of the righteous Judge of all is intimated in accordance with the view of Ecc_3:17. This is a far more satisfactory explanation of the passage than that which regards as the highest of all “the court favorites, king’s friends, eunuchs, chamberlains,” etc. In this view Koheleth is merely asserting the general system of injustice and oppression, and neither accounting for it nor offering any comfort under the circumstances. But his object throughout is to show man’s inability to secure his own happiness, and the need of submission to Divine providence. To demonstrate the anomalies in the events of the world, the circumstances of men’s lives would be only one part of his task, which would not be completed without turning attention to the remedy against hasty and unfair conclusions. This remedy is the thought of the supreme Disposer of events, who holds all the strings in his hand, and will in the end bring good out of evil.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:9

It has been much debated whether this verse should be connected with the preceding or the following paragraph. The Vulgate takes it with the preceding verse, Et insuper universae terrae rex imperat servienti; so the Septuagint; and this seems most natural, avarice, wealth, and its evils in private life being treated of in Ecc_5:10 and many following. Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field. The writer seems to be contrasting the misery of Oriental despotism, above spoken of, with the happiness of a country whose king was content to enrich himself, not by war, rapine, and oppression, but by the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, by cherishing the natural productions of his country, and encouraging his people in developing its resources. Such was Uzziah, who” loved husbandry” (2Ch_26:10); and in Solomon’s own time the arts of peace greatly flourished. There is much difficulty in interpreting the verse. The Vulgate rendering, “And moreover the King of the whole earth rules over his servant,” probably means that God governs the king. But the present Hebrew text does not support this translation. The Septuagint has, Καὶ περίσσεια γῆς ἑπὶ παντί ἐστὶ βασιλεὺς τοῦ ἀγροῦ εἰργασμένου, which makes more difficulties. “Also the abundance of the earth is for every one, or upon every thing; the king (is dependent on) the cultivated land, or, there is a king to the land when cultivated,” i.e. the throne itself depends on the due cultivation of the country. Or, removing the comma, “The profit of the land in everything is a king of the cultivated field.” The Hebrew may safely be rendered, “But the profit of a land in all things is a king devoted to the field,” i.e. who loves and fosters agriculture. It is difficult to suppose that Solomon himself wrote this sentence, however we may interpret it. According to the Authorized Version, the idea is that the profit of the soil extends to every rank of life; even the king, who seems superior to all, is dependent upon the industry of the people, and the favorable produce of the land. He could not be unjust and oppressive without injuring his revenues in the end. Ben-Sira sings the praises of agriculture: “Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry; which the Most High hath ordained” (Ecclesiasticus 7:15). Agriculture held a very prominent position in the Mosaic commonwealth. The enactments concerning the firstfruits, the sabbatical year, landmarks, the non-alienation of inheritances, etc; tended to give peculiar importance to cultivation of the soil. …

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:10

10. He that loveth silver] The sequence of thought led the Debater from the evils of the love of money as seen in mis-government to those which are seen in the life of the individual man. The conspicuous fact was the insatiableness of that passion for money;

“Semper avarus eget; hunc nulla pecunia replet.”

“The miser still is poor, no money fills his purse.”

Juven. Sat. xiv. 139.

The second clause may be taken either as in the A. V. as a maxim He who clings to wealth (the word implies the luxury that accompanies wealth as in Psa_37:16; 1Ch_29:16; Isa_60:5), there is no fruit thereof, or as a question, Who clings to wealth? There is no fruit thereof, i. e. no real revenue or return for the labour of acquiring it. In this the Teacher found another illustration of his text that “all is vanity.”

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:10

He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver. “Silver,” the generic name for money, as Greek ἀργύριον and French argent. The insatiableness of the passion for money is a common theme of poets, moralists, and satirists, and is found in the proverbs of all nations. Thus Horace (‘Ep.,’ Eph_1:2. 56): “Semper avarus eget;” to which St Jerome alludes (‘Epist.,’ 53), “Antiquum dictum est, Avaro tam deest, quod habet, quam quod non habet.” Comp. Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 14.139—

“Interea pleno quum forget sacculus ere,

Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecnnia crevit.”

“For as thy strutting bags with money rise,

The love of gain is of an equal size.”

(Dryden.)

There is much more of similar import in Horace. See ‘Carm.,’ 2.2. 13, sqq.; 3.16. 17, 28; ‘Ep.,’ 2.2, 147; an, 1 Ovid, Fast.,’ 1.211—

“Creverunt etopes et opum furiosa cupido,

Et, quum possideant plura, plura volunt.”

“As wealth increases grows the frenzied thirst

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

Nor he that loveth abundance with increase. The Authorized Version scarcely presents the sense of the passage, which is not tautological, but rather that given by the Vulgate, Et qui amat divitias fructum non capiet exeis, “He who loveth abundance of wealth hath no fruit therefrom;” he derives no real profit or enjoyment from the luxury which it enables him to procure; rather it brings added trouble. And so the old conclusion is again reached, this is also vanity. Hitzig takes the sentence as interrogative, “Who hath pleasure in abundance which brings nothing in?” But such questions are hardly in the style of Kohelcth, and the notion of capital without interest is not a thought which would have been then understood. The Septuagint, however, reads the clause interrogatively, Καὶ τίς ἠγάπησεν ἐν πλήθει αὐτῶν (αὐτοῦ, al.) γέννημα; “And who has loved [or, has been content with] gain in its fullness?” But מִי is not necessarily interrogative, but here indefinite, equivalent to “whosoever.”

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:11

Koheleth proceeds to notice some of the inconveniences which accompany wealth, which go far to prove that God is over all. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them. The more riches a man possesses, the greater are the claims upon him. He increases his household, retainers, and dependents, and is really none the better off for all his wealth. So Job in his prosperous days is said to have had “a very great household” (Job_1:3), and the servants and laborers employed by Solomon must have taxed to the utmost even his abnormal resources (1Ki_5:13, etc.). Commentators from Piueda downwards have quoted the remarkable parallel in Xenoph; ‘Cyropaed.,’ Job_8:3, wherein the wealthy Persian Pheraulas, who had risen from poverty to high estate, disabuses a young Sacian friend of the idea that his riches made him happier or afforded supreme content. “Do you not know,” said he,” that I neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep with any more pleasure now than I did when I was poor? by having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more among others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more. For now numerous domestics demand of me food, drink, clothes; some want the doctor; one comes and brings me sheep that have been torn by wolves, or oxen killed by failing down a precipice, or tells of a murrain that has affected the cattle; so that I seem to myself to have more afflictions in my abundance than I had when I was poor,… It is obligatory on him who possesses much to expend much both on the gods and on friends and on strangers; and whosoever is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, you may be assured, be greatly annoyed at the expenditure of them.” What good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? What it is that the owners behold is doubtful. Ginsburg considers that the increased number of devourers is meant; but surely this sight could hardly be called kishron, “success, profit.” So it is better to take the sight to be the amassed wealth. The contemplation of this is the only enjoyment that the possessor realizes. So the Vulgate, Et quid prodest possessori, nisi quod cernit divitias oculis suis? Septuagint, Καὶ τί ἀνδρεία τῷ παρ αὐτῆς ὅτι ἀρχὴ τοῦ ὁρᾷν ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ,” And in what does the excellence of the owner consist? except the power of seeing it with his eyes.” A Lapide quotes Horace’s portrait of the miser (‘Sat.,’ 1.1.66, sqq.)

“Populus me sibilat; ut mihi plaudo

Ipse domi, simul ac, nummos contemplor in area …

… congestis undique saccis

Indormis inhians et tanquam parcere sacris

Cogeris aut pictis tanquam gaudere tabellis.”

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

And dryly thus accost the rabble-rout:

‘Hiss on; heed you not, ye saucy wags,

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

O’er countless heaps in nicest order stored,

You pore agape, and gaze upon the hoard,

As relics to be laid with reverence by,

Or pictures only meant to please the eye.”

(Howes.)

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:12

Another inconvenience of great wealth—it robs a man of his sleep. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. The laborer is the husbandman, the tiller of the ground (Gen_4:2). The Septuagint, with a different pointing, renders δούλου, “slave,” which is less appropriate, the fact being generally true of free or bond man. Whether his fare be plentiful or scanty, the honest laborer earns and enjoys his night’s rest. But the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. The allusion is not to the overloading of the stomach, which might occasion sleeplessness in the case of the poor equally with the rich man, but to the cares and anxieties which wealth brings. “Not a soft couch, nor a bedstead overlaid with silver, nor the quietness that exists throughout the house, nor any other circumstance of this nature, are so generally wont to make sleep sweet and pleasant, as that of laboring, and growing weary, and lying down with a disposition to sleep, and very greatly needing it …. Not so the rich. On the contrary, whilst lying on their beds, they are frequently without sleep through the whole night; and, though they devise many schemes, they do not obtain such pleasure” (St. Chrysostom, ‘Hom. on Stat.,’ 22). The contrast between the grateful sleep of the tired worker and the disturbed rest of the avaricious and moneyed and luxurious has formed a fruitful theme for poets. Thus Horace, ‘Carm.,’ 3.1.21—

“Somnus agrestium

Lenis virorum non humiles domes

Fastidit umbrosamque ripam,

Non Zephyris agitata Tempe.”

“Yet sleep turns never from the lowly shed

Of humbler-minded men, nor from the eaves

In Tempe’s graceful vale is banished,

Where only Zephyrs stir the murmuring leaves.”

(Stanley.)

And the reverse, ‘Sat.,’ 1.1.76, sqq.—

“An vigilare metu exanimem, noctesque diesque

Formidare males fures, inccndia, serves,

Ne to compilent fugientes, hoc juvat?”

“But what are your indulgencies? All day,

All night, to watch and shudder with dismay,

Lest ruffians fire your house, or slaves by stealth

Rifle your coffers, and abstract your wealth?

If this be affluence—this her boasted fruit,

Of all such joys may I live destitute.”

(Howes.)

Comp. Juvenal, ‘Sat.,’ 10.12, sqq.; 14.304. Shakespeare, ‘Henry IV.,’ Pt. II; act 3. sc. 1—

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

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

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

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,

Under the canopies of costly state,

And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?”

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:13

13. riches kept for the owners thereof] Yet another aspect of the evils attendant on riches is brought before us, as in ch. Ecc_2:18-19. Not only do they fail to give any satisfying joy, but the man who reckoned on founding a family and leaving his heaped-up treasures to his son gains nothing but anxieties and cares, loses his wealth by some unforeseen chance, and leaves his son a pauper. By some commentators the possessive pronoun in “his hand” (Ecc_5:14) is referred to the father. The crowning sorrow for him is that he begets a son and then dies himself in poverty. The upshot of the two constructions is, of course, practically the same.

Adam Clarke

Ecclesiastes 5:13

Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt – This may be the case through various causes:

1. He may make an improper use of them, and lose his health by them.

2. He may join in an unfortunate partnership and lose all.

3. His riches may excite the desire of the robber; and he may spoil him of his goods, and even take away his life.

4. Or, he may leave them to his son, who turns profligate; spends the whole, and ruins both his body and soul. I have seen this again and again.

Daniel Whedon

Ecclesiastes 5:14

14.Those riches perish — It is to be remembered that the heir for whom the keeping is done is now spoken of, and the case is viewed from the standpoint of his fortunes. By the time when he himself becomes a father the wealth hoarded for him is gone, and he — the heir and now the father — has nothing in his hand. By evil travail is meant some ruinous enterprise.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:15

15. As he came forth of his mother’s womb] The words so closely resemble those of Job_1:21 that it is natural to infer that the writer had that history in his mind as an example of a sudden reverse of fortune. In both, earth, as the mother of all living, is thought of as the womb out of which each man comes (Psa_139:15) and to which he must return at last, carrying none of his earthly possessions with him. Comp. a striking parallel in Sir_40:1: “A hard lot has been created for human beings, a heavy yoke lies on the children of Adam from the day they come out of their mother’s womb, till the day they return to the mother of them all.”

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:16

16. what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?] The ever-recurring question (ch. Ecc_1:3, Ecc_2:22, Ecc_3:9) rises once again, “What profit?” In “labouring for the wind” we have a phrase almost identical with the “feeding on wind” or, as some render it, the “striving after the wind” which is the key-note of the whole book. As in Pro_11:29; Isa_26:18; Job_16:3 the “wind” is the emblem of emptiness and nothingness.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:17

The misery that accompanies the rich man’s whole life is summed up here, where one has to think chiefly of his distress after his loss of fortune. All his days also he eateth in darkness; i.e. passes his life in gloom and cheerlessness. כָּל־יָמָיו, “all his days,” is the accusative of time, not the object of the verb. To eat in darkness is not a common metaphor for spending a gloomy life, but it is a very natural one, and has analogies in this book (e.g. Ecc_2:24; Ecc_3:13, etc.), and in such phrases as to “sit in darkness” (Mic_7:8), and to “walk in darkness” (Isa_1:10). The Septuagint, reading differently, translates, Καί γε πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι αὐτοῦ ἐν σκότει ἐν πένθει, “Yea, and all his days are in darkness and in mourning.” But the other versions reject this alteration, and few modern commentators adopt it. And he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness; literally, and much vexation, and sickness, and wrath; Revised Version, he is sore vexed, and hath sickness and wrath. Delitzsch takes the last words as an exclamation, “And oh for his sorrow and hatred!” The man experiences all kinds of vexation when his plans fail or involve him in trouble and privation; or he is morbid and diseased in mind and body; or he is angry and envious when others succeed better than himself. The sentiment is expressed by St. Paul (1Ti_6:9), “They that desire (βουλόμενοι) to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men (βυθίουσι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους) in destruction and perdition.” “For,” he proceeds, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through (ἑαυτοὺς περιέπειραν) with many sorrows.” The Septuagint continues its version, “And in much passion (θυμῷ) and in infirmity and wrath.” The anger may be directed against himself, as he thinks of his folly in taking all this trouble for nothing.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:18

18. Behold that which I have seen] The thinker returns to the maxim of a calm regulated Epicureanism, as before in chs. Ecc_2:24, Ecc_3:22. If a man has little, let him be content with that little. If he has much, let him enjoy it without excess, and without seeking more. In the combination of “good” and “comely” we have perhaps an endeavour to reproduce the familiar Greek combination of the ἀγαθὸν and the καλόν.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:18

Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely, etc. The accentuation is against this rendering, which, however, has the support of the Syriac and the Targum. The Septuagint gives, Ἰδ οὺ εἶδον ἐγὼ ἀγαθο ̀ν ὅ ἐστι καλόν, “Behold, I have seen a good which is comely;” and it is best to translate, with Delitzsch and others, “Behold, what I have seen as good, what as beautiful, is this.” My conclusion holds good. They who seek for traces of Greek influence in Koheleth find Epicureanism in the sentiment, and the familiar combination, καλὸν κἀγαθὸν, in the language. Both ideas are baseless. (For supposed Epicureanism, see on Ecc_2:24 and Ecc_3:12.) And the juxtaposition of καλὸς and ἀγαθὸς is only a fortuitous rendering of the Hebrew, upon which no argument for Grecism can be founded. To eat and to drink, etc.; i.e. to use the common blessings which God bestows with thankfulness and contentment. As St. Paul says, “Having food and covering, we shall he therewith content” (1Ti_6:8). Which God giveth him. This is the point so often insisted upon. These temporal blessings are God’s gifts, and are not to be considered as the natural and assured result of man’s own exertions. Man, indeed, must labor, but God giveth the increase. For it is his portion (Ecc_3:22). This calm enjoyment is allotted to man by God, and nothing more must be expected. Ben-Sira gives similar advice, “Defraud not thyself of a good day, and let not the share in a right pleasure pass by thee Give, and take, and beguile thy soul; for there is no seeking of dainties in Hades” (Ecclesiasticus 14:14. etc.).

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:19

Every man also. The sentence is anacoluthic, like Ecc_3:13, and may best be rendered, Also for every man to whom … this is a gift of God. Ginsburg connects the verse closely with the preceding one, supplying, “I have also seen that a man,” etc. Whichever way we take the sentence, it comes to the same tiling, implying man’s absolute dependence upon God’s bounty. To whom God hath given riches and wealth. Before he can enjoy his possessions a man must first receive them from God’s hands. The two terms here used are not quite synonymous. While the former word, osher; is used for wealth of any kind whatever, the latter, nekasim, means properly “wealth in cattle,” like the Latin pecunia, and thence used generally for riches (volek). Hath given him power to eat thereof. Abundance is useless without the power to enjoy it. This is the gift of God, a great and special bounty from a loving and gracious God. Thus Horace, ‘Epist.,’ 1.4. 7—

“Di tibi divitias dederunt artemque fruendi.”

“The gods have given you wealth, and (what is more)

Have given you wisdom to enjoy your store.”

(Howes.)

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 5:20

20. he shall not much remember the days of his life] This follows the order of the Hebrew and gives a satisfying meaning: The man who has learnt the secret of enjoyment is not anxious about the days of his life, does not brood even over its transitoriness, but takes each day tranquilly, as it comes, as God’s gift to him. By some commentators, however, the sentence is construed so as to give just the opposite sense, “He remembereth (or should remember) that the days of his life are not many,” i.e. never loses sight of the shortness of human life. It is difficult to see how the translators of the A. V. could have been led to their marginal reading “Though he give not much, yet he remembereth the days of his life.”

because God answereth him in the joy of his heart] The verb has been very variously rendered, (1) “God occupies him with the joy …,” or (2) “God makes him sing with the joy …,” or (3) “God causeth him to work for the enjoyment …,” or (4) “God makes all answer (i.e. correspond with) his wishes,” or (5) “God himself corresponds to his joy,” i.e. is felt to approve it as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with His own blessedness. The last is, perhaps, that which has most to commend it. So taken, the words find a parallel in the teaching of Epicurus, “The Blessed and the Immortal neither knows trouble of its own nor causeth it to others. Wherefore it is not influenced either by wrath or favour,” (Diog. Laert. x. 1. 139). The tranquillity of the wise man mirrors, the Teacher implies, the tranquillity of God. So Lucretius;

“Omnis enim per se divum natura necessest,

Immortali ævo summâ cum pace fruatur,

Semota ab nostris rebus sejunctaque longe;

Nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,

Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nil indiga nostri,

Nec bene promeritis capitur neque tangitur ira.”

“The nature of the Gods must need enjoy

Life everlasting in supreme repose,

Far from our poor concerns and separate:

For from all pain exempt, exempt from risks,

Rich in its own wealth, needing nought of ours,

’Tis neither soothed by gifts nor stirred by wrath.”

De Rer. Nat. ii. 646–651.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_5:20

For he shall not much remember the days of his life. The man who has learned the lesson of calm enjoyment does not much concern himself with the shortness, uncertainty, or possible trouble of life. He
carries out the counsel of Christ, “Be not anxious for the morrow, for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (Mat_6:34). Ginsburg gives an entirely opposite rendering to the clause, “He should remember that the days of his life are not many;” i.e. the thought of the shortness of life should urge us to enjoy it while it lasts. But the Authorized Version is supported by the Septuagint and Vulgate and most modern commentators, and seems most appropriate to the context. The marginal rendering, “Though he give not much, yet he remembereth,” etc; which Ginsburg calls a literary curiosity, must have been derived from the version of Junius, which gives, “Quod si non multum (supple, est illud quod dederit Deus, ex versu praec.),” etc. Because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. The man passes a calm and contented life, because God shows that he is pleased with him by the tranquil joy shed over his heart. The verb מַעֲנֶה (the hiph. participle of עָנָה) is variously rendered. The Septuagint gives, Ὁ Θε ὸς περισπᾷ αὐτὸν ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ καρδίας αὐτοῦ, “God distracts him in the mirth of his heart;” Vulgate, Eo quod Deus occupet deliciis cot ejus; Ginsburg, “God causeth him to work for the enjoyment of his heart,” i.e. God assigns him work that he may thence derive enjoyment; Koster,” God makes him sing in the joy of his heart;” Delitzsch, Wright, and Plumptre, “God answers (corresponds with) the joy of his heart,” which the latter explains to mean “is felt to approve it as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness, the tranquility of the wise man mirroring the tranquility of God.” But this modified Epicureanism is alien from the teaching of Koheleth. Rather the idea is that God answers him with, imparts to him, joy of heart, makes him sensible of his favorable regard by this inward feeling of satisfaction and content.

Cambridge Bible Plumptre

Ecclesiastes 6:10

10. That which hath been is named already] The maxim is enigmatic. As viewed by many commentators, it asserts that man is the creature of a destiny, which he cannot resist. Long ago, in the far eternity, his name has been written, and what he will be. He cannot plead against the Power that is mightier than himself, i.e. against God. There is nothing left but submission. So taken, the words have a parallel in all utterances in the Bible, or out of it, that assert, or seem to assert, an absolutely predestinating fatalism (Isa_45:9; Act_15:18; Rom_9:20). In such a fatalism, reconciled in some way or other with man’s freedom and responsibility, both the Stoics and Pharisees believed, and so far there would be nothing strange in finding a like maxim in a book which contains so many mingled and heterogeneous elements, both Greek and Jewish, of oscillating thought. There are, however, what seem sufficient reasons for rejecting this interpretation. The word for “already,” which occurs only in this book (chs. Ecc_1:10, Ecc_2:12, Ecc_3:15), is never used of the eternity of the Divine decrees, but, as the passages referred to shew, of that which belongs essentially to human history; that for “mightier,” found in the O. T. only here and in Ezr_4:20; Dan_2:40; Dan_2:42; Dan_4:3; Dan_7:7, is not used, in any of these passages, of God. The sequence of thought leads the writer to dwell on the shortness of man’s life, rather than on its subjection to a destiny. The following explanation gives that sequence more clearly, What he is, long ago his name was called. In the last words we find a reference to Gen_2:7, where the name of Adam (= man) is connected with Adamah (= the ground), as homo was, by older philologists, derived ex humo. The very name of man bore witness to his frailty. This being so, he cannot take his stand in the cause, which one “mightier” than himself pleads against him. Death is that mightier one, and will assert his power. So taken, the thought is continuous and harmonious throughout.

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_6:10

That which hath been is named already; better, whatsoever hath been, long ago hath its name been given. The word rendered “already,” kebar (Ecc_1:10; Ecc_2:12; Ecc_3:15; Ecc_4:2), “long ago,” though used elsewhere in this book of events in human history, may appropriately be applied to the Divine decrees which predetermine the circumstances of man’s life. This is its significance in the present passage, which asserts that everything which happens has been known and fixed beforehand, and therefore that man cannot shape his own life. No attempt is here made to reconcile this doctrine with man’s free-will and consequent responsibility. The idea has already been presented in Ecc_3:1, etc. It comes forth in Isa_45:9, “Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?” (comp. Rom_9:20); Act_15:18 (according to the Textus Receptus), “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” The same idea is brought out more fully in the following clauses. Septuagint, “If anything ever was, already hath its name been called,” which gives the correct sense of the passage. The Vulgate is not so happy, Qui futurus est, jam vocatum est nomen ejus, being rather opposed to the grammar. And it is known that it is man. What is meant by the Authorized Version is doubtful. If the first clause had been translated, as in the margin of the Revised Version, “Whatsoever he be, his name was given him long ago,” the conclusion would come naturally, “and it is known that he is man” (Adam), and we should see an allusion to man’s name and to the ground (adamah) from which he was taken (Gen_2:7), as if his very name betokened his weakness. But the present version is very obscure. Cox gives, “It is very certain that even the greatest is but a man, and cannot contend with him,” etc. But the Hebrew will not admit this rendering. The clause really amplifies the previous statement of man’s predetermined destiny, and it should be rendered, “And it is known what a man shall be.” Every individual comes under God’s prescient superintendence. Septuagint, Ἐγ νώσθη ὅ ἐστω ἄνθρωπος, “It is known what man is;” Vulgate, Et scitur quod homo sit. But it is not the nature of man that is in question, but his conditioned state. Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. The mightier One is God, in accordance with the passages quoted above from Isaiah, Acts, and Romans. Some consider that death is intended, and that the author is referring to the shortness of man’s life. They say that the word taqqiph, “mighty” (which occurs only in Ezra and Daniel), is never used of God. But is it used of death? And is it not used of God in Dan_4:3 (3:33, Hebrew), where Nebuchadnezzar says, “How mighty are his wonders”? To bring death into consideration is to introduce a new thought having no connection with the context, which is not speaking of the termination of man’s life, but of its course, the circumstances of which are arranged by a higher Power. Septuagint, Καὶ οὐ δυνήσεται κριθῆναι μετὰ τοῦ ἰσχυροτε ́ρου ὑπὲρ αὐτὸν. With this we may compare 1Co_10:22, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (μὴ ἰσχυρο ́τεροι αὐτοῦ ἐσμέν;).”

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_6:11

Seeing there be many things that increase vanity. The noun rendered”things” (dabar) may equally mean “words;” and it is a question which signification is most appropriate here. The Septuagint has λόγοι πολλοί, “many words.” So the Vulgate, verba sunt plurima. If we take the rendering of the Authorized Version, we must understand the passage to mean that the distractions of business, the cares of life, the constant disappointments, make men feel the hollowness and unsatisfactory nature of labor and wealth and earthly goods, and their absolute dependence upon Providence. But in view of the previous context, and especially of Ecc_6:10, which speaks of contending (din) with God, it is most suitable to translate debarim “words,” and to understand them of the expressions of impatience, doubt, and unbelief to which men give utterance when arraigning the acts or endeavoring to explain the decrees of God. Such profitless words only increase the perplexity in which men are involved. It is very possible that reference is here made to the discussions on the chief good, free-will, predestination, and the like subjects, which, as we know from Josephus, had begun to be mooted in Jewish schools, as they had long been rife in those of Greece. In these disputes Pharisees and Sadducees took opposite sides. The former maintained that some things, but not all, were the subject of fate (τῆς εἱμαρμένης), and that certain things were in our own power to do or not to do; that is, while they attribute all that happens to fate, or God’s decree, they hold that man has the power of assent, supposing that God tempers all in such sort, that by his ordinance and man’s will all things are performed, good or evil. The Sadducees eliminated fate altogether from human actions, and asserted that men are in all things governed, not by any external force, but by their own will alone; that their success and happiness depended upon themselves, and that ill fortune was the consequence of their own folly or stupidity. A third school, the Essenes, held that fate was supreme, and that nothing could happen to mankind beyond or in contravention of its decree (‘Joseph. Ant.,’ 13.5. 9; 18.1.3, 4; ‘Bell. Jud.,’ 2.8. 14). Such speculative discussions may have been in Koheleth’s mind when he wrote this sentence. Whatever may be the difficulties of the position, we Christians know and feel that in matters of religion and morality we are absolutely free, have an unfettered choice, and that from this fact arises our responsibility. What is man the better? What profit has man from such speculations or words of skepticism?

Pulpit Commentary

Ecc_6:12

This verse in the Greek and Latin versions, as in some copies of the Hebrew, is divorced from its natural place, as the conclusion of the paragraph, Ecc_6:10, Ecc_6:11, and is arranged as the commencement of Ecc_7:1-29. Plainly, the Divine prescience of Ecc_7:10, Ecc_7:11 is closely connected with the question of man’s ultimate good and his ignorance of the future, enunciated in this verse. For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? Such discussions are profitless, for man knows not what is his real good—whether pleasure, apathy, or virtue, as philosophers would put it. To decide such questions he must be able to foresee results, which is denied him. The interrogative “Who knows?” is equivalent to an emphatic negative, as Ecc_3:21, and is a common rhetorical form which surely need not be attributed to Pyrrhonism (Plumptre). All the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow. These words amplify and explain the term “in life” of the preceding clause. They may be rendered literally, During the number of the days of the life (Ecc_5:18) of his vanity, and he passeth them as a shadow. A life of vanity is one that yields no good result, full of empty aims, unsatisfied wishes, unfulfilled purposes. It is the man who is here compared to the shadow, not his life. So Job_14:2, “He fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not,” He soon passes away, and leaves no trace behind him. The thought is common. “Ye [Revised Version] are a vapor,” says St. James (Jas_4:14), “that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Plumptre well quotes Soph; ‘Ajax,’ 125—

ὁρῶ γὰ ρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν

Εἴδωλ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν ἢ κου ́φην σκιάν

“In this I see that we, all we that live,

Are but vain shadows, unsubstantial dreams.”

To which we may add Pind; ‘Pyth.,’ 8.95—

Ἐπάμεροι τί δέ τις τίδ οὔ τις σκιᾶς ὄναρ Ἄνθρωπος.

“Ye creatures of a day!

What is the great man what the poor?

Naught but a shadowy dream.”

The comparison of man’s life to a shadow or vapor is equally general (comp. Ecc_8:13; 1Ch_29:15; Psa_102:11; Psa_144:4; Wis. 2:5; Jas_4:14). The verb used for “spendeth” is asah, “to do or make,” which recalls the Greek phrase, χρόνον ποιεῖν, and the Latin, dies facere (Cic; ‘Ad Attic.,’ 5.20. 1); but we need not trace Greek influence in the employment of the expression here. For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? This does not refer to the life beyond the grave, but to the future in the present world, as the words, “under the sun,” imply (comp. Ecc_3:22; Ecc_7:14). To know what is best for him, to arrange his present life according to his own wishes and plans, to be able to depend upon his own counsel for all the actions and designs which he undertakes, man should know what is to be after him, what result his labors will have, who and what kind of heir will inherit his property, whether he will leave children to carry on his name, and other facts of the like nature; but as this is all hidden from him, his duty and his happiness is to acquiesce in the Divine government, to enjoy with moderation the goods of life, and to be content with the modified satisfaction which is accorded to him by Divine beneficence.

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