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Thursday, December 7th, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 3

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



The thought expressed at the end of the last chapter is developed in this chapter, which treats of the supremacy of God. Man can have no enjoyment except as He is pleased to bestow it. He has pre-ordained the times and seasons of all human events, and success cannot be obtained except in conformity with His arrangement.

Verse 1

(1) A season.—The word is only found in later Hebrew (Nehemiah 2:6; Esther 9:27; Esther 9:31), and in the Chaldee of Daniel and Ezra.

Purpose.—The use of the word here and in Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 8:6, in the general sense of “a matter,” belongs to later Hebrew. The primary meaning of the word is “pleasureor “desire,” and it is so used in this book (Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Ecclesiastes 12:10).

Verse 2

(2) The list of times and seasons is ranged in Hebrew MSS. and printed books in two parallel columns.

A time to die.—Job 14:5.

Verse 4

(4) Mourn.—This is the ordinary word used for noisy funeral lamentations (Jeremiah 4:8; 1 Samuel 25:1).

Verse 5

(5) Gather stones.—As the collecting of stones for building purposes is included in Ecclesiastes 3:4, it is thought that what is here referred to is the clearing or marring of land (Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 62:10; 2 Kings 3:19; 2 Kings 3:25).

Verse 6

(6) To lose.—Elsewhere this word means to destroy, but in the later Hebrew it comes to mean to lose, like the Latin “perdere.”

Verse 11

(11) In his time.—In modern English, “its.”

The world.—The word here translated “world” has that meaning in post-Biblical Hebrew, but never elsewhere in the Old Testament, where it occurs over 300 times. And if we adopt the rendering “world,” it is difficult to explain the verse so as to connect it with the context. Where the word occurs elsewhere it means “eternity,” or “long duration,” and is so used in this book (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 1:10; Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Ecclesiastes 12:5). Taking this meaning of the word here (the only place where the word is used with the article), we may regard it as contrasted with that for “time,” or season, immediately before. Life exhibits a changing succession of weeping alternating with laughing, war with peace, and so forth. For each of these God has appointed its time or season, and in its season each is good. But man does not recognise this; for God has put in his heart an expectation and longing for abiding continuance of the same, and so he fails to understand the work which God does in the world.

So that no.—The connecting phrase here employed is rendered “because none” (Deuteronomy 9:28; 2 Kings 6:3, &c), “so that none” (Jeremiah 9:10; Zephaniah 3:6, &c).

End.—Ecclesiastes 7:2; Ecclesiastes 12:13; Joel 2:20; 2 Chronicles 20:16. A word belonging to the later Hebrew.

Verse 12

(12) I know.—Literally, I knew: i.e., I came to know. The writer is relating the conclusions at which he successively arrived.

To do good.—This phrase is always used elsewhere in a moral sense: “to act rightly.” When enjoyment is meant, the phrase used is, as in the next verse, “to see good;” but the context seems to require that this sense should be given to the phrase in this verse also.

Verses 13-14

(13, 14) Sir. 11:17; Sir. 18:6.

Verse 15

(15) Is now.—Rather, was long ago.

Requireth.Seeketh again: i.e., recalleth the past. The writer has not been speaking of the bringing the past into judgment, but of the immutable order of the universe, which constantly repeats itself. But it would seem that the word suggesting the thought of seeking for the purpose of judgment leads on to the next topic.

Verse 16

(16) This verse introduces the consideration of the difficulty arising from the imperfection of moral retribution in this life. Other places where the iniquity of judges is mentioned are Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 6:7; Ecclesiastes 8:9-10.

Verse 17

(17) A time there—viz., with God. In this verse a judgment after this life is clearly spoken of, but not yet asserted as a conclusion definitely adopted, but only as a belief of the writer’s conflicting with the doubts expressed in the following verses. “1 said in mine heart,” with which Ecclesiastes 3:17-18 both begin, conveys the idea, “I thought,” and yet again I thought.” The writer returns again to speak of the punishment of the wicked in Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 11:9.

Verse 19

(19) That which befalleth.—The word translated “event” in Ecclesiastes 2:13 (where see Note).

Breath.—The same word as “spirit” (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Genesis 7:15; Psalms 104:30).

Verse 21

(21) The LXX., followed by a great body of interpreters, ancient and modern, translate, “Who knoweth whether the spirit of man goeth upward?” &c, and this agrees better with the context of this paragraph. The sceptical thought is, “We see that death resolves into dust (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7; see also Sir. 41:10) the bodies of men and animals alike; and if it be alleged that there is a difference as to what becomes of their spirits, can this be asserted with the certainty of knowledge?” The writer here seems to have read both Psalms 49:14 and Proverbs 15:24.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1905.
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