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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 3

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-22


Of Earthly Happiness, its Impediments and Means of Advancement

Chap. 3–5.

A. The substance of earthly happiness or success consists in grateful joy of this life, and a righteous use of it.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-22.

1. The reasons for the temporal restriction of human happiness (consisting in the entire dependence of all human action and effort on an unchangeable, higher system of things)

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-11.)

1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: time to be born, and 2a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; 3A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and 6a time to refrain from embracing; A time to get, arid a time to lose; 7a time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew; 8a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time io love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. 9What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth ? 10I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the ons of men to be exercised in it. 11He hath made every thing beautiful in his time; also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.

2. The nature of the temporally restricted human happiness

(Ecclesiastes 3:12-22.)

12know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. 13And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour; it is the gift of God. 14I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. 15That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past. 16And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity wxs there. 17I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. 18I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts. 19For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast: for all is vanity. 20All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. 21Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth ? 22Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him ?

[Ecclesiastes 3:1.—זְמָן This is one of the words relied upon to prove the later Hebraic, or Chaldaic, period of the book. We have, however, no right to say that a word running through the Shemitic tongues [as thia is found in Arabic, Syriac, Ethiopia, as well as Hebrew] is peculiar to any one of them, or borrowed from any one of them, though circumstances may have made it rare in an oariy dialect, perhaps on account of a precision of meaning raruly needed, whilst it has become loose and vulgarized in another. It may have been well known in the days of Soiomon, though seldom used when the more indefinite עֵת would answer.עֵת means time generally, מוֹעֵד a fixed time (like a yearly festival), זמן its earlier sense, before it became vulgarized, a time or an occasion precisely adapted to a purpose. Hence we see its very probable connection with זמם proponit, and having also tho sense of binding, like Arabic زمّ’ the purpose linked to the due occasion. This suits all the acts following, as more or less tho result of purpose In a time proposed. It has good support, too, etymologically, in the final ם changiug to the ן as is the tendency in other words. Thus, besides other examples, Lamentations 3:22, according to Rabbi Tanchum, תּמם becomes תּמן to avoid the harshness of tho final מ making תָּמְמוּ = תָּמְנוּ “they are not consumed,” or spent [that is, the mercies of the Lord instead of “we are not consumed.” We may be assured that the writer did not intend a tautology hero. זמן is more precise than עת as it has more of purpose than מוֹעֵד which relates to things immovable.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 3:18.—על־דּברת E. V. On account of the sons of men. Compare Psalms 110:4, after the manner of.LXX., περὶ λαλιᾶς Vulgate, simply, de filiis. Syriac, על ממללא after the speech of men—morehumano—humanly speaking,which seems the most suitable of any, for reasons given in the Exeget. and Note.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 3:18.—הֵמָה לָהֶם Literally, themselves to themselves—in their own estimation. לְבָרָם to prove them—make it clear, literally, (LXX., διακρινεῖ αὐτοὺςvulg ut probaret), let them see from themselves, or from their own conduct fo themselves, how like beasts they are. This qualified sense is very different from asserting that they are beasts absolutely. The key to it all is in the על דברת above. The writer is speaking more humano-tho judgment that must bo pronounced if men were judged by their own ways.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 3:21—הָעֹלָה It can only mean, as it stands in tho text, “that which goeth up.” An effort has been made to give it another turn by pointing ה as interrogative. It is sufficient to say that it is against the text For oLhtr reasons against H, see Exeget. and Note—T. L]


The unconditional dependence of man on God’s government of the world, in all his efforts for happiness, which formed the concluding thought ! of the preceding discourse (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26), now becomes the starting point of a new and independent reflection, in so far as temporal conditions and restrictions of human happiness are deduced therefrom, and its essence is placed in gratefully cheerful enjoyment and a devout use: of the earthly blessings bestowed by God. For Divine Providence in its controlling power here below will ever remain obscure and mysterious, so that man, in this its hidden side, can neither alter its course nor observe any other conduct than humble submission and godly fear (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11; Ecclesiastes 3:14-15). In the same way the view of the many wrongs in this life, and of the extreme obscurity and concealment of the fate that will overtake individual souls after death, obliges.us to cling to the principle of a cheerful, confiding and contented enjoyment of the present (Ecclesiastes 3:16-20).—In the more special development of this train of thought, we may either (with Vaihinger and Keil) make three principal sections or strophes of the chapter (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8; Ecclesiastes 3:9-15, and Ecclesiastes 3:16-22), or, what appears more logical, two halves; of which each is divided into sec-tions of unequal length. 1.Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 show the reason for the temporal restriction of the earthly happiness of man-a, as consisting in the dependence of all human action on time and circumstances (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8); b, as consisting in the short-sightedness and feebleness of human knowledge in contrast with the endless wisdom and omniscience of God (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11). 2.Ecclesiastes 3:12-22; Ecclesiastes 3:12-22 describe human happiness in its nature as temporally restricted and imperfect—a, with reference to the awe-inspiring immutability of those decrees of God which determine human fate (Ecclesiastes 3:12-15); b, with reference to the secret ways adopted by Divine justice, in rewarding the good and punishing the evil in this world, and. still more in the world beyond (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22).

2. First Division, first strophe.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Every human action and effort are subject to the law of’ time and temporal change.—To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.—“Every thing,” namely, every thing that man undertakes or does on earth; a very general expression, more clearly defined by the following כָּל־חֵפֶץ every business, every undertaking, but more clearly illustrated in the subsequent verses in a number of special examples.—זְמָן lit., precision, limitation, indicates in later style (Nehemiah 2:6; Esther 9:27; Esther 9:31), a certain period, a term for any thing, whilst tho more common עת [lime) signifies a division of time in general.

Ecclesiastes 3:2. A time- to be born and a time to die.—This is the original text, as is the same turn until the 8th verse.1 The Sept. and the Vulg. express this construction genitively [καιρὸς τοῦ τέκειν tempus nascendi, etc.) The word לָלֶדֶת does not stand for the passive לְהִוָּלֵד to be born (Vulg., Luther, Ewalt, Gesenius, Elsies.),, but like all the fol-lowing infinitives, is to be taken actively: to bear. The constant usage of the Old Testament favors this rendering with reference to the verb יָלַד and also the circumstance that with, לֶהֶת an undertaking (חֵפֶץ), a conscious and intentional action or business is to be named, which can only be said of the maternal part of the act of human birth, and not of that of the child. Death fittingly follows closely to birth. By this juxtaposition of the acts which mark the entrance into life and the exit from it, the whole arena within which the subsequent actions are performed, is from the beginning “ marked by its fixed limits ”(Hitzig). A time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.—For the affinity between these two ideas and that of birth and death, comp. Proverbs 12:12; Ps. 1:37; Psalms 37:35 f.; Psalms 92:13 f.; Psalms 128:3; Daniel 4:11; Daniel 4:20; Matthew 3:8-10; Matthew 7:17 f.; Matthew 15:18. לַעֲקוֹר probably from Chald.2 עִקָּר“root,” means originally to root out, to unroot, but is always elsewhere in the o. T. used metaphorically, e.g., of the destruction of cities (Zephaniah 2:4), of striking down horses or oxen, and making them useless by severing the sinews of their hind feet. (Genesis 49:6 :).

Ecclesiastes 3:3.—A time to kill and a time to heal.—A negative thought here precedes, as also in the subsequent clauses, till the first of Ecclesiastes 3:5, after which, until the end, the positive or negative idea alternately precedes. “To kill” (הֲרוֹג lit., cut down, or stab) indicates the inflicting of the very wounds whose healing the following verb points out.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 : A time to weep, etc.—לִבְכוֹת appears only on account of similarity of sound to be placed immediately after לִּבְוֹת as in the following clause: רְקוֹד to leap, to danee, appears to be chosen on account of its like sounding ending as a contrast to סְפוֹד to lament (κόπτεσθαι plangere).3Ecclesiastes 3:5; Ecclesiastes 3:5. A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.—In this first expression there is, of course, no allusion to the destruction of the temple, of which, according to Mark 13:2, not one stone shall remain upon another (as Hengstenberg and others think), and quite as little to the stoning of malefactors, or to the throwing of stones on the fields of enemies, according to 2 Kings 3:19; 2 Kings 3:25 (Hitzig, Elster, etc. But הַשְׁלִיךְ אֲבנים is here identical with סִקֵל “to free from stones,” Isaiah 5:2; Isaiah 62:10, and alludes therefore to the gathering and throwing away of stones from the fields, vineyards, etc.; whilst the latter expression naturally means the collecting of stones for the construction of houses (as Vaihinqer justly observes).__A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.—Whether the connection of the preceding expressions with חֲבוֹק to embrace, is really effected by the fact that one embraces with the hand the stone to be cast, as Hitzig supposes, is very doubtful. At all events, however, חבק means the embrace of love (Proverbs 5:20), and-the intensive in the second rank is purposely placed there to indicate that every excess of sexual intercourse is injurious.

Ecclesiastes 3:6. A time to get, and a time to lose.—אִבֵּד as a contrast to בִּקֵּשׁ must clearly here mean to lose (or also to be lost, to abstain from getting, Vaihinger) although it every where else means to destroy, to ruin; for in all the remaining clauses of the series, the second verb asserts directly the opposite of the first. In contrast to the unintentional losing, the corresponding verb הַשְׁלִיךְ of the second clause then indicates an intentional casting away of a possession to be preserved (2 Kings 7:15; Ezekiel 20:8).—A time to rend and a time to sew.—One might here suppose the rending of garments on hearing sad tidings (1 Samuel 1:11; 3:39; Job 1:20; Job 2:12; Matthew 26:63), and again the sewing up of the garments that had been thus rent as a sign of grief. And also by the following “to keep silence” one would first think of the mournful silence of the sorrowing (Genesis 34:5; Job 2:13)

Ecclesiastes 3:8. A time to love, etc.—Love and hatred, war and peace, forming an inter-relation with each other, are now connected with the contents of the preceding verse by the intermediary thought of the agreeable and disagreeable, or of well and evil doing.

3. First Division, second strophe

Ecclesiastes 3:9-11. In consequence of the temporal character of all worldly action and effort, human knowledge is also especially ineffective and feeble in presence of the unsearchable ruling of the Eternal One.—What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?—That is, what profit do all the various, antagonistic actions, of which a number has just been quoted (Ecclesiastes 3:3-8) bring to man ? The question is one to which a decidedly negative answer is expected, and draws therefore a negative result from the preceding reflection: There is nothing lasting, no continuous happiness here below.

Ecclesiastes 3:10. I have seen the travail, etc.—Comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13. This verse has simply a transitional meaning; it prepares us for the more accurate description given in Ecclesiastes 3:11 of the inconstant, transitory and feeble condition of human knowledge and effort, in the presence of the unsearchable wisdom of God.

Ecclesiastes 3:11. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time—The principal emphasis rests on the word בְּעִתּוֹ “in his time,” as the connection with the foregoing Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 shows. God has arranged all things beautifully in this life (comp. Genesis 1:31), but always only “in his time,” always only so that it remains beautiful and good for man during its restricted time, but after that becomes an evil for him; therefore always only so that the glory of this earth soon reaches its end.—Also he hath set the world in their heart.—(Zöckler’s rendering, eternity in their heart).—That is, in the hearts of men; for the suffix in בְּלִבָּם refers to the children of men in Ecclesiastes 3:11, whilst in the subsequent clause the individual man הָאָדָם is placed opposite to the one God. This clause clearly holds a rising relation to the contents of the preceding: God has here below not only arranged all things well for man in this temporal period; He has even given them eternity in their hearts. This is clearly the author’s train of thought. With eternity given to the heart cf man, he also means the knowledge of God’s eternal nature and rule, innate even in the natural man, that notitia Dei naturalis insita s, innata, which Paul, Romans 1:19 f., describes as an intellectual perception of God’s eternal power and divinity, peculiar as such to man, and which develops itself in the works of creation. It appears as well from the word בְּלִבָּם(heart, here in the same sense as Ecclesiastes 1:13-17, etc.)i as from the following: “So that no man can find out,” that it is substantially this natural knowledge of God, namely, something belonging to the realm of human conception, a moral good from the sphere of intellectual life,—that the author means by the expression הָעוֹלָם (consequently not simply the character of immortality)—although he must have considered this closely connected with the natural conception of God, according to Ecclesiastes 7:7. For this restrictive clause clearly expresses a restriction of human nature in an intellectual sense, an inability to find, which is equal to an inability to know. But as certainly as this inability to know refers to the extent and limits of Divine action, so certainly will also the knowledge of the human heart, expressed by הָעוֹלָם be a religious knowledge referring to God and Divine things. Therefore we would reject as opposed to the text those explanations of הָעוֹלָם which give to this expression the sense of “world” (Vulg., Luther, Umbreit, Ewald, Ulster, etc.), or “worldly-mindedness” (Gesenius, Knobel), or “worldly wisdom,” “judgment” (Gaab, Spohn); also Hitzig, who, however, contends for עֵלֶם instead of עולם And besides the connection, the style of the entire Old Testament and of this book is opposed to this rendering; according to them עולם is always eternity (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 1:10; Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 9:6; Ecclesiastes 11:5) and first receives the signification of “world macrocosmos” in the literature of the Talmud.—So that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.—That is, this one restriction is laid on this human conception of the Eternal One, that it can never obtain a perfect and truly adequate insight into the Divine plan of the world, but rather, is only able to perceive the unsearchable ways and incomprehensible decrees of God, fwgmentarily and in a glass darkly (Rom. 2:32; 1 Corinthians 13:12).מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר is here clearly in the sense of only that, “except that,” therefore synonymous with אֶפֶס כִּי formerly used for this (Amos 9:8; Judges 4:9; 2 Samuel 11:14). Comp. Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 354 b. The deviating significations Vulg., Gesenius: “ita tit non;” (Sept., Herzpeld ὅπως μὴ: “in order not,” Knobel: “without that;” Hitzig, Umbreit, Hahn: “without which,” etc.) are not only inconsonant to the text, but without suflicient linguistic authority, so far as regards the signification of מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר4—The author is here silent in respect to the profoundesfc reason why man cannot thoroughly know and comprehend the works and reign of God, that is the interruption of the original pure harmony of his Spirit by means of sin; he is so because he would seem rather, as it were, purposely to presuppose this fact than emphatically to express it.

4. Second Division, first strophe. Ecclesiastes 3:12-15. Human happiness is temporally restricted, consisting mainly in the cheerful enjoyment and proper use of tfte moment, because it depends on the immutable decrees qf divine laws, claiming fear and humble submission, rather than bold hope and effort.—I know that there is no good in them—namely, in the “children of men,” (Ecclesiastes 3:10) to whom the Ecclesiastes 3:11 already referred. בָּם “in them with them,”5 is mainly synonymous with “for them;” comp. Ecclesiastes 2:24. יָדַעְתּי is literally, “I have perceived, and I know in consequence thereof;” it means the past, in its result reaching into the future, here also as in Ecclesiastes 3:14.—But for a man to rejoice and do good in this life—Together with the gratefully cheerful enjoyment of life’s goods, the “doing good” is here named more distinctly than in Ecclesiastes 2:26, as a principal condition and occupation of human happiness. Anil therewith is also meant, as that passage shows, and as appears still more definitely from the parallels in Psalms 34:14; Psalms 37:3; Isaiah 38:3, etc., not merely benevolence, but uprightness, fulfilment of the divine commands (comp. Ecclesiastes 12:13). For the meaning of עֲשׂוֹת טוֹב in the sense of “be of good cheer,” to be merry (Aben Ezra, Luther, de Wette, Knobel, Hitzig, etc.) there is not a single philological proof; for in chap, Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:7, etc., there are similar phrases, but still materially different from this one, which express the sense of being merry.” 6—בְּחַיָּיו lit., “in his life” refers again to the singular הָאָדָם Ecclesiastes 3:11, so that in this verse the singular and the plural use of this verb alternates as in the preceding.

Ecclesiastes 3:13. And also that every man should eat and drink, etc., it is the gift of God. Clearly the same thought as in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25. The particle וְנַם introducing still another object of perception to יָדַעְתִּי besides that named already in Ecclesiastes 3:12, refers to the whole sentence. As to the peculiar construction of the first conditional clause without אִם or other particle, see Ewald, § 357, c.

Ecclesiastes 3:14. I know that -whatever God doeth it shall be forever. Herein it appears that all human action is dependent on the eternal law of God, and that especially all cheerful, undisturbed enjoyment of the blessings of this life, depends on the decrees of this highest law-giver and ruler of the world. Comp. the theoretical description of the ever constant course of divino laws in Ecclesiastes 1:4-11.—Nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it. To it (עָלָיו) namely, to all that everlastingly abiding order which God makes, to all those eternally valid enactments of the Most High. for the construction אֵין לְהוֹסִיף Comp. Ewald, § 237, c. For the sentence: Sir 18:5; Revelation 22:18.—And God doeth it, that men should fear before Him.—And this by those very immutable laws of his world-ruling activity, on which men, with all their deeds and destiny, depend; comp. Ecclesiastes 9:12; 2 Corinthians 5:11; and for the construction: Ezekiel 36:27; Revelation 13:15. As in those places, so also here, the expression “doeth it that,” does not mean “in order that,” but “effecting that” “making it to be so,” accomplishing. By יָרִא “to fear,” Koheleth does not mean a feeling of terror and horror, but rather that sacred feeling of holy awe which we call reverence; but nevertheless “he here considers this reverence not as a beneficent blissful sensation, but rather as a depressing feeling of the yanity of man in contrast with the boundless fulness of the power of God, as an inward shudder at the bonds of the divine decree, which envelop him, and by which, in his conception, every spiritual movement is restricted in advance to a certain measure,” (Elster).

Ecclesiastes 3:15. That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been.—(כְּבַר הוּא) i.e. already long present, comes of old (not exactly; is something old, as Hitzig translates, turning the adverb into a substantive). The second clause containing אֲשֶׁר לִהְיוֹת says, literally, as in the English rendering: “that which is to be.” For the sentence comp. Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 6:10, and especially Job 14:5; Psalms 139:15, where still more clearly than here, is expressed the predestination of all the destinies of man by God.—And God requireth that which is past. (Lit., and God seeketh that which was crowded out). He again briags forth that which the vicissitudes of time had already crowded out, or pushed back into the past; Deus instaurat, quod abiit (Vulgate). This signification alone of יְבַקֵשׁ אֶת נִרְדָף is in accordance with the context not that given in the Sept. Syridc, Targ., Heng-stenberg, etc., according to which the allusion here would be to the divine consolation and gracious visitation of the persecuted, (Matthew 5:10; Luke 19:10, etc.).

5. Second Division, second strophe. Ecclesiastes 3:16-22. The restriction of human happiness appears especially in the numerous cases of.unsatisfactory, indeed, apparently unjust, distribution of happiness and unhappiness, according to the moral worth and merit of men, as this mundane life reveals it, as well as in the uncertainty regarding the kind of reward in the world beyond, which ever exists in this world below. And moreover I saw under the sun.—The “moreover” (עוֹד) refers to Ecclesiastes 3:12, and therefore introduces something which comes as a new conception to the one there described (and also in Ecclesiastes 3:14 f.), and which holds the same relation to that as the special to the general.—The place of judgment, etc. Lit., at the place of judgment; for מְקוֹם here, and in the subsequent clause is strictly taken, not as the object of “I saw,” but, as the accents indicate, is an independent nominative (or locative)—an abrupt construction which produces a certain solemn impression well adapted to the excited feelings of the poet.מִשְׁפָט and צֶדֶק judgment and righteousness, differ materially as objective and subjective, or as the judgment that must serve the judge as the absolute rule for his decisions, and as the practical judgment in the life of the normal man; the latter expression is, therefore, largely synonymous with “innocence,” virtue. In contrast to both ideas, Koheleth calls הָרֶשַׁע “the evil,” “the crime,” thinking of course, in the first place, of objective, and in the second place of subjective wrong, or, the first time, of crime as a wicked judge practices it, the second time, of the wantonness of the wicked in general.

Ecclesiastes 3:17. God shall judge the righteous and the wicked.—He will appoint to them, therefore that “judgment” which, according to Ecclesiastes 3:16, is so frequently in human life, either not to be found at all, or not in the right place; comp. Ecclesiastes 5:7; Deuteronomy 1:17; Psalms 82:1 ff.—For there is a time there for every purpose, and every work.—That is, in heaven above, with God, the just judge, there is a time to judge every good and every evil deed of men. שָׁם pointing upwards, (as in Genesis 49:24, מִשָּׁם) and עֵת here as elsewhere, is the “time of judicial decision, the term;” comp. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12, as well as the New Testament ἡμέρα 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 4:2, etc. Others read שָׂם instead of שָׁם “He has set a time for everything,” (Houbigant, Van dee Palm, Döderlein, Hitzig, Elster), but which is quite as unnecessary as the temporal signification of שָׁם=time, in tempore judicii (Hibronymus), or as referring the expression to the earth as the seat of the tribunal here meant (Hahn), or as the explanation of שָׁם according to the Talmud, in the sense of “appraising, taxing” (Furst, Vaihinger: “And He appraises every action”), or, finally, as Ewaln’s parenthesizing of the words כִּי עֵת לְכָל־חֵפֶץ whereby the sentence acquires the following form: “God will judge the just and the unjust (for there is a time for everything), and will judge of every deed.”7

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.Concerning the sons of men, that God might manifest them. As the introductory words: “I said in my heart,” connect the verse with the preceding one, it assumes the same relation to Ecclesiastes 3:16 as to that, and to עַל־דִבְטרַת בְּנֵי הָאָדָם and, therefore, the principal thought of this 16th verse is to be thus supplied: “On account of the sons of men, does this unfinished toleration of wrong on earth exist, in order that God may manifest (try) them, i. e., grant them their free decision for or against His truth (comp. Revelation 22:11). For בָּרַר, to test, prove, compare chap, Ecclesiastes 9:1; Dan. 9:35, as well as the Rabbinic style, according to which this verb means “to sift,” “to winnow” (Schebiit, 5, 9). לְבָרָם הָאֱלֹהִים is lit.

“for God proving them,” a somewhat harsh construction, but which has its analogy in Isaiah 29:23.—That they might see, namely, the sons of men, for whose instruction the test is indeed instituted; since God, for His part, needs not to see it, for He knows in advance of what men are made, (Psalms 103:14).—That they themselves are beasts. Men are here declared to be beasts, that is, not better than the beasts of the field, not on account of their conduct (as Psalms 73:22), but on account of their final dissolution, and their inevitable sinking under the dominion of death; comp. Ecclesiastes 3:19 f.; Ecclesiastes 9:12, and also Habakkuk 1:14; Psalms 49:20. Therefore, not the brutal disposition, and the lawlessly wild conduct of the natural mind (Hitzig, Elster, etc.), but his subjection to the rule of death, and the curse of vanity (Romans 5:12 ff; Romans 8:19 ff.), furnish the reason for this placing our race on a level with the brutes (as Luther, Hengstenberg, Vaihinger. correctly assume).—“They themselves,” i.e., apart from God’s redeeming influence, Which can finally secure to their spirit eternal life and blessedness notwithstanding the subjection of the body to death (Ecclesiastes 12:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13).—לָהֶם casts the action back on the subject, and serves to bring out this latter with special emphasis, comp. Genesis 12:1; Amos 2:14; Job 6:19, etc. According to Ewald, § 315, a.—הֵמָּה לָהֶם is a playful intensity of the sense something like the Latin ipsissimi; but Bwald can quote no other proof than this very passage.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 affords a still further illustration of the comparison between men and beasts, which extends to Ecclesiastes 3:21 inclusive, with the view of forcibly expressing the uncertainty of the destiny of the former in and after their death.—For that which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts. [Lit. Ger. For chance are the sons, of men, and chance the beasts); this because they are both equally under the dominion of chance (מִקְרֶה, as chap, Ecclesiastes 2:14-15), because the lot of both is inevitably marked out for them from without, (Hengstenbebg). But it is arbitrary to refer this appellation “chance,” simply to the beginning of life in men and beasts, as “the issues of a blind fate,” (Hitzig) and it is in opposition to the remark immediately following: (in the German) “and one fate, or chance, overtakes them all;” which shows that the end of both is death, striking them all the same inexorable blow; on which account it is, by a bold metaphor, called “chance.”—As the one dieth, so dieth the other, that is, in external appearance, which is authoritative for the author’s present judgment; for he is now disregarding that life which exists for man after death, as ho simply wishes to call attention to the transitory character of the earthly existence of our race.—Yea, they have all one breath, so that man has no pre-eminence above a beast, רוּחַ is here as in Ecclesiastes 3:21, not spirit, in the stricter sense, but breath, or force of life, the animating and organizing principle in general, and is therefore, in that more extended sense, applicable to men as well as beasts, as in Genesis 7:21 f.; Psalms 106:29, and Ecclesiastes 8:8, of this book. On account of the broader latitude of the conception רוח, “breath,” the following remark, that man has no preeminence (מוֹתָר) over the beast, is meant not in the sense of an absolute, but simply of a relative equality of both natures; the poet will place both on the same level only in reference to the external identity of the close of their life (and not as Knobel supposes, who here thinks materialism openly taught).8 Comp. also the dogmatical and ethical section.

Ecclesiastes 3:20. All go unto one place, i.e., men and beasts; for they both alike become dust, as they were formed of dust. The following clause shows that by the “one place,” is meant the earth as a common burial place for the bodies of men and beasts; and not Scheol, “the house appointed for all living,” (Job 30:23).—All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. Comp. Genesis 3:19; Psalms 104:29; Psalms 107:4; Sir 40:11; Sir 41:10. All these passages, like this one, regard man solely as a material being, and, in so far, assert a perfect likeness in his death to that of beasts. The question whether the spirit of man shares this fate, is yet unanswered. The following verse refers to that, not to afford a definite answer, but to affirm the impossibility of an answer founded on sense-experience.

Ecclesiastes 3:21. For who knoweth the spirit of man that gosth upward?—The interrogative form of this and the following clause, is unconditionally required by the structure of the sentence and the context. Therefore הָעֹלָה is not, as in the masoretic text, to be written with the ה articuli, but with the ה interrogativum, (thus, הֲעלָה) and the same way in the following, or הֲיֹרֶדֶת. That construction is therefore not, as in Joel 2:14, that of an affirmative question, but rather that of a doubtful one, expressing uncertainty. As in Psalms 90:11, or above in Ecclesiastes 2:19, מִי יוֹדֵעַ הֲ points out that the matter is difficult of conception, not, at first view, clear and apparent, but rather eluding the direct observation of sense. This verse does not, therefore, assert an absolute ignorance (as Knobel. supposes), but rather some knowledge regarding the fate of the spirit in the world beyond, though wanting certainty and external evidence. Concerning the return of the spirit of man to its Divine Giver, it maintains that no one, in this world, has ever seen or survived it, just as emphatically, and in like manner, as John [Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 1:1 Epist. Ecclesiastes 4:12] asserts of the sight of God, that it has never been granted to any man. A denial of the immortality of the spirit of man, as an object of inward certainty of faith [as later testimony from this standpoint of faith shows, Ecclesiastes 12:7], is as little to be found in this passage as in the assertion of John, “no one has ever seen God,” is to be found a doubt of the fact, certain to faith, of the future beholding of God (1 John 3:2). Ignoring this state of the case, the Masora, in order to destroy the supposed skeptical sense of the passage, has punctuated the twice repeated ה, before עלה and before ירדת as articles, and so reached the thought maintained by many moderns (Geier, Dathe, Rosenmueller, Hengstenberg, Hahn): “Who knoweth the spirit of man, that which goeth upward? and the spirit of the beast, that which goeth downward to the earth?” The only just conception, according to connection and structure, is that given by the Sept., Vulg., Chald., and Syr., which not only the “rationalistic exegesis,” as Hengstenberg supposes, but also Luther, Starke, Michaelis, Elster, and many others, have adopted, who are very far from attributing to the Preacher skeptical or materialistic tendencies.9

Ecclesiastes 3:22. A return to the maxim already given in Ecclesiastes 3:12, that one must cheerfully and joyously seize the present as now offered by God, and use it to get a sure path into the future.—Than that a man should rejoice in his works—בְּמַעֲששָׂיו, i.e., in his labor and efforts in general, in his works as well as in their fruits; comp. Ecclesiastes 5:18. This “rejoicing in his own works,” is not materially different from the passage in Ecclesiastes 2:24, that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor [Hitzig thinks otherwise], nor from the expression (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13) “to rejoice and do good,” etc.For that is his portioni.e., for nothing farther is allotted to him here below, comp. Ecclesiastes 2:10.—For who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?—That is, not into the condition after death, into the relations of human life in another world, but, as shown by the parallel passages, Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 2:19 : into the future conditions of human life, into the relations as they shall be on earth after his departure from life (especially in his immediate surroundings and sphere of activity, comp. Ecclesiastes 2:19). This sentence involves, therefore, neither a denial of the personal continuance of man (Hitzig), nor an authorization of the Epicurean principle: “Enjoy before death, that you may not go out empty” (Knobel), nor, indeed, any reference to the world beyond, but simply an exhortation to profit by the present in cheerful and diligent occupation, without being anxious and doubting about the future, which is indeed inaccessible to our human knowledge. Hengstenberg justly observes: “Man knows not what God will do,” Ecclesiastes 3:11. Therefore, it is foolish to chase after happiness by toilsome exertion, or to be full of anxiety and grief, Ecclesiastes 3:9-10; and quite as foolish (chap, Ecclesiastes 6:12) to engage in many wide reaching schemings, to chase after the ἀδηλότητα πλού του (1 Timothy 6:17) to gather and heap for him to whom God will give it, Ecclesiastes 2:26; but, on the contrary, it is rational to enjoy the present. Properly understood, therefore, this verse draws its practical consequence not from the verses 19–21 immediately preceding, but from the contents of the entire chapter.


[Interpretation of Verses 11, 14, 15; the Inquisition of the Ages, Ecclesiastes 3:15,יְכֵקִּשׁ אֶת נִרְדָּף וְהָאֱלהִים This remarkable language is rendered, in our English Version, “God requireth that which is past,” or, as given in the margin, “that which is driven away.”—Zöckler has das Verdrängte, that which is pushed away, crowded out. None of these give the exact force of נִרְדָף, nor do they seem to. recognize the very peculiar figure which is so strongly suggested by. נִרְדָּף and יְבַקֵשׁ when thus taken together. Pursued, the true rendering, is something different from being driven away, or crowded out. The expression does, undoubtedly, refer to time past, but not after the common representation of something left behind U3, but rather of something sent before, or gone before, which is chased and shall be overtaken. It is more like an idea very frequent in the Koran, and coming undoubtedly from the ancient Arabic theology, that the lives of men, and especially their sins, are all gone before to meet them at the judgment. The flight of time is a common figure in all languages, and especially its great swiftness—sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus. The representation of the ages driving away their predecessors, and taking their places, is also a familiar one, as in Ovid Met. XV. Ecc 181:

ut unda impdlilur unda,

Urgeturque prior venienti, urgetque priorem,
Tempora sic fugiunt pariter pariterque sequuntur.

The figure here, however, although presenting this general image, has something else that is both rare and striking. We know it from the words נִרְדָּף and יְכַקִּשׁ which, as thus used, immediately call, up the idea of the flying homicide with the avenger or the inquisitor [יְכַקִּשׁ] behind him. See how רדף is used in such passages as Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 20:5 [הַדָּם אַחֲרֵי הָרצֵ֗תַ וְגו יִרְרּף גאֵ֗ל], and בִּקֵּש denoting inquisitor (pursuer or avenger), in places like 2 Samuel 4:11 [אֲכַקִּשׁ אֶת דָּמו֗], Ezekiel 3:18; Ezekiel 3:20; Ezekiel 33:8, and, without דם [blood], 1 Samuel 20:16, besides other places where this old law of pursuit is referred to. They all show that the words [and especially בִּקֵּש] had acquired a judicial, a forensic, or technical sense. The figure here, however strange it may seem, can hardly be mistaken: God will make inquisition for that which is pursued, that which has gone before us, seemingly fled away, as though it had escaped forever. They are not gone, these past ages of wrong; they shall be called up again. They shall be overtaken and made “to stand up in their lot,” at some “latter, day” of judgment and inquisition. There can be no severance of times from each other; מָה שֶּׁההָיָה כְכָר חוּא;

What was is present now;
The future has already been;
And God demands again the ages fled.

The thought is closely allied to the cyclical idea so prominent elsewhere in this book (see Ecclesiastes 1:9-10; Ecclesiastes 6:10), and the idea of the olam as the unity of the cosmos in time. As each power or thing in space, according to an old thought existing long before Newton, is present dynamically and statically in every other part of space, so is every time present in every other time, and in the whole of olamic duration. The cosmos is one in both respects. It is the עולם of God “to which nothing can be added (Ecclesiastes 3:14) and from which nothing can be diminished.” But besides this cyclical idea, which would seem like asserting an actual reappearance, it may be said, with equal emphasis, that the ages come again in judgment, and as really, too, in one sense, as when they were here, in the events to be judged. God shall arraign these homicidal centuries; “He shall call to them and they shall stand up, and say here we are” (Isaiah 48:13; Job 38:35). It is the same great idea of judgment that seems to pervade all the writer says, and which comes out so clearly, and so solemnly, at the close: “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” It is that great thought which has ever been in the souls of men, and, which they cannot get rid of. It appears in the Old Testament, Psalms 1:5 [לֹא יָקוּמוּ רְשָעים בַּמִּשְׁכָּט, “the wicked shall not stand in the judgment];” Daniel 12:0,; Ecclesiastes 12:11; Job 21:30 [כִי לְיוֹם אֵיד יֵחָשֶׂךְ רָע]; Proverbs and Prophets sparsim. How prominent the idea, though indefinite as to time and manner, in the Greek dramatic poetry: there must be retribution for wrong, however it may take place, and however long delayed,—retribution open, penal, positive, and not merely as concealed in blind physical consequences. It presents itself more, or less in all mythologies; but its deepest seat is in the human conscience. If there is any thing that may be called a tenet of natural religion, it is this, that there will be, that there must be, a righting of all wrongs, and a way and a time for its manifestation. It holds its place amid all speculative difficulties; it rises over all objections that any philosophy, or any science, can bring against it in respect to time, place, or manner; it remains in the face of all doubts and questions arising out of any doctrine of eschatology, so called. Deeper than , any speculative reasoning lies in the soul the feeling that tells us it must be so. We cannot bear the thought that the world’s drama shall go on forever without any closing act, without any συντέλεια, reckoning, or winding up, whether final, or preparatory to some higher era. We cannot read a poor work of fiction, even, without feeling pain if it does not end well,—if right is not made clear, and wrong punished, even according to our poor fallen standard of right and wrong. The worst man has more or less of this feeling. We have all reason to fear the judgment; but when the mind is in something of a proper state, or when reason and conscience are predominant, the soul would rather suffer the pain arising from the risk and fear of the individual condemnation, than obtain deliverance from it by the loss of the glorious idea.

This doctrine of judgment is not only in harmony with that cyclical idea which is strongly suggested by the general aspect of the passage, and especially by what immediately precedes in this same verse, but may be regarded, in some respects, as identical with it. If any choose so to view it, the ages past may be said to be judged in the ages that follow, though still in connection with the thought of some general and final manifestation. Such, is the view which, is most impressively given by Rabbi Schelomo in his comments on the passage. He deduces from it a notion similar to one that is now a favorite with some of our modern authorities. It is, that history repeats itself; the events in one age being types of succeeding events on a larger scale in another. The Jewish writer has the same thought, though he gives it more of a retributive aspect, as though these types came over again in judgment. As we should expect, too, he draws his examples from the Scriptural history, or from traditions connected with it. Thus Esau pursues Jacob. It is the same thing coming over, on a larger scale, when Egypt pursues the children of Israel. Other examples are given from other parts of the Jewish history, and then he says, generally: “that which is going to be in the latter day is the exemplar [דוגמה, it should be דיגמה, a Rabbinical word formed from the Greek δεῖγμα, παράδειγμα] of what already has been; as in the first, so it is in the last” [באחרונח כאשר בראשונח]. He means that the first event is the δεῖγμα, the παράδειγμα, or paradigm, to which the latter is adapted, either retributively, or for some other purpose, and taken, generally, on a larger scale.

The commentary of Aben Ezra on the passage is also well worthy of note. His general remark on the whole verse is that God’s way is one—that is, that the world, whether regarded in space or time, has a perfect unity of idea, אלהים על דרך אהת מּעשה, and then he thus proceeds to explain the verse: “What was (or is), already had there been like it, and that which is to be, of old there had been the same; and that which is pursued (נִרְדָּף), or the past, is that which is present, and that (the present) lies between the past and the future. The meaning of it is that God seeks from time that it shall be pursued, time pursuing after time, and never fail; for the time that is past again becomes the present [העִומד that which stands], and the time that is to be, shall be again like that which was, and So it is all one time. If we divide time into the future and the past, then, in the course of things (גלגל the wheel, or mundane orbit), it becomes clear that every portion ever pursues after one point (or towards one point), and that is the centre, so that the portion that was in the East appears again in the West, and conversely; and to the place of the world’s revolution there is no beginning from which such motion commences; for every beginning is an end, and every end a beginning, and that which is pursued, that is the centre, and so it is clear to us that all the work of God is on one way,”—or, as we would say, on one idea, ever repeating itself. See something like this in the Book of Problems, ascribed to Aristotle, Vol. XIV., Leip.; Prob. XVIII., Sec. 3, on the question, “How shall we take the terms Before and After?” (on the supposition of an eternal repeating cycle).

It is the idea in Ecclesiastes 3:14 which seems mainly to have influenced Aben Ezra, and other Jewish commentators [such as Levi Ben Gerson, in his profound book entitled Milhamoth ha-Schem], in the interpretation of these words of the 15th: “I learned that all which God made is for eternity [or the world time, לעולם]; to it there is no adding, and from it there is no diminishing, and God made it that men might fear before him.” This, in their view, would seem to refer not merely to the amount of matter in the cosmos, or the amount of force, or motion, or even to the amount of space and time assigned to it, but to the amount of eventualities making up the olam,—or, as we might rather say, the amount of historical action, as one great drama, having a perfect unity, both of movement and idea, so that any change would be a diminution or an addition, out of harmony with the one great spiritual thought to whose manifestation it is devoted. This is shown, “that men might fear before him,” מלפניו, in the presence of such a God; as though there was something more awful in such an exhibition of the eternal thought, than in any display of mere power, whether in the matural or the supernatural. See remarks on the Divine constancy in the greater movements of Nature, and the quotation from Cicero in Note on the Olamic Words, p. 61.

Some modern writers who dogmatize about the supernatural, and deny its possibility, might, perhaps, regard the philosophizing author of Koheleth, especially when thus interpreted by these Jewish doctors, as being of the same opinion. Thus, in Ecclesiastes 3:14, he would seem to say, that there is no change out of a fixed law and fixed idea of the universe, whatever may have been his conception of the world’s extent. There is no addition, no diminution, and this would seem to exclude every thing that was not provided for in the original arrangement of forces, and in the system of causation which it embraces, with all its machinery, great and small. Now we may say that these venerable Rabbis, although sincere and devout believers in the supernatural, understood the nature of this argument as well as any of its modern, English, French and German propounders. No where has it ever been more profoundly discussed than by Levi Ben Gerson in the Sixth book of the work before referred to, where he treats of Miracles and Prophecy,—although written nearly a thousand years ago. If by the supernatural is meant any departure from the system of things which God arranged from the beginning, or any change in the great series of causes and effects, antecedents and consequents, which constitute the sum of things, including the Divine will, thought, and action, among them,—then is there no supernatural. But this would be reducing the whole great question to a trifling play upon words, If, however, by the words supernatural, or miraculous—though they do not mean exactly the same thing—there be intended the changes which God Himself may introduce into the visible nature, “according to the counsel of His own will,” but which are physically connected with no prior working of cosmical dynamical agencies, then there is a supernatural, although this supernatural belongs as much to the one great idea, or I system of things, as the most seemingly regular causation, or most familiar sequence of antecedents and consequents ever presented to our senses. Far more than this—it is not merely a part of that one great idea, but truly constitutive of it, as its very essence. The supernatural, as differing from the merely miraculous, is something eternal, lying above nature, upholding nature in its origin, regulating its creative days, sending into it new creative words to raise it to higher and still higher planes, deflecting, if need be, its general course, and, at times, interrupting its movements, thus producing what we call miracles, prodigies, signs, etc. These, however, in distinction from originating or creating acts, must be regarded as belonging to a world, or to a department of the world, where evil, or moral irregularity, predominates. We may feel warranted in saying, that in a state sinless in the beginning, if God had so willed to secure it, or which had continued sinless, if God had so willed to keep it, or in one which had reached a sinless condition, and where the moral order was unbroken, there would be no miracles, so called, no interruptions in the constant harmonious series of things and events. There would be no need of them; for nature itself would be religious, ever manifesting instead of hiding God. In such constancy of movement there would be, for holy souls, no dimming of the Divine glory, no deifying of second causes, no veiling of a personal Deity under the sheltering name of natural law. There would be sublimity, admiration, exalted contemplation, reverence never lowered, adoring study never tiring, wonder never diminished by familiarity,—all miranda, yet no miracula, as we now use the term, no prodigies, portents, σημεῖα, τέρατα, arresting signs, startling displays of power, such as may be demanded in the regulation of that lower sphere where moral and spiritual disorder have their mirrored counterpart in a dark and refracted nature. In such a fallen world, however, miracles, signs, etc., may be parts of the Divine plan, having their proper place, and to be brought in at such intervals of time”, with such intermissions, and in such ways, as the eternal wisdom may decide. They are all in the great idea, together with all such means, if need be, for their bringing out in time. If not regular, in the sense of calculable recurrence, they are all regulated. They belong to עוֹלָם, the world, or whole (Ecclesiastes 3:14), which cannot be added to nor diminished. “God hath done it that men may fear before him.” To a fallen race there is ground for fear both ways. There is something awful for them, both in the constant and in the portentous. To such a moral state there is something terrible in this fixedness of nature; it so shows us our impotence, our dependence, notwithstanding all our boasts of what our reason, or our science, are going to achieve; it gives us such just reason to fear, if we have no higher faith to allay it, lest we may perchance be crushed in some unknown and unknowable turning of its mighty wheels,—and this, too, notwithstanding the petty victories which we now and then seem to obtain over it, but which may be only a deflecting of its resistless movement, into some more destructive channel. On the other hand, there is the dread of the portentous, the “coming out from his (hiding) place” of the spiritual power that men would so gladly forget, or veil from themselves under the deification of nature and natural law.

It is thus that Rabbi Schelomo interprets the language as referring to the fear of the portentous: “The Blessed One, in the beginning of His work, had purposed how the world should be, and no change can take place in it either by way of increase or diminution. When it is changed (or appears to be changed) it is God that does it. the commands and effects the change, that men should fear before him.” That is, the belief in the supernatural, or in some higher power and will that can, and does, change the visible course of nature as presented to our sense and our experience, is, for us, the ground of all religion—that is, of all “fear of the Lord”—the term יראת יהוה being the Hebrew name for religion in its essential definition, as דרך יהוה (the way of the Lord) denotes its practical action. And then he proceeds: “Thus it was that Oceanus broke its bound in the generation of Enosh, and inundated one-third of the world; and this God did that men might fear before Him. Again, for seven days the course of the sun was changed in the generation of the flood, and this was that men might fear before Him.” After these semi-scriptural, semi-traditional instances, he mentions the turning back of the ten degrees in the days of Hezckiah. “All this was done that men might fear before Him.” And then he concludes, as the Jewish writers generally do, “that it is not good for man to engage in useless physical disputation (לעסוק), or to study any thing but the commands and ways of God, and thus to fear before Him.” See Job 28:21-28.

In rendering the 15th verse, the Vulgate presents the idea of cyclical renovation: quod factum est ipsum pcrmanct; qucefutura sintjam fuerunt, et Deus instaurat quod abit—“God renews what is past.” The LXX. seems to have in view the idea of retribution in its very literal rendering, ὁ Θεὸς ζητήσει τὸν διωκόμενον, where there would appear to be an allusion to the fleeing homicide. The Syriac: “That which was before is now, and all that is to be has been, and God seeks for the pursued that is pursued.” The tautology arose, perhaps, from some dim perception of the idea, but in the attempt to make it clear, the Syriac has only made it the more obscure.

It would seem to have been an old Rabbinical fancy to represent one world, or עולם thus following another, or one cycle of events making way for another, by the birth of Jacob with his hand upon Esau’s heel. We have this imagery of the idea in, a strange passage from the Apocryphal book of 2 Esdras Ecclesiastes 6:7 : “Then answered I and said, what shall be the parting asunder of the times; or when shall be the end of the first and the beginning of it that followeth ? And lie (the angel) said unto me, from Abraham unto Isaac, when Jacob and Esau were born of him, Jacob’s hand held fast the heel of Esau; for Esau is the end of the world [the עולם αἰών] and Jacob is the beginning of it that followed. The hand of man is betwixt the heel and the hand. Other question, Esdras, ask thou not.” The book is apocryphal, but it shows the reasoning of its day, and how some of the old language was understood.—T. L.]


(With Homiletical Hints.)

The two halves of this section, of which the one (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11) presents the reason for the temporal restriction of earthly happiness, and the other (Ecclesiastes 3:12-22) the nature of this earthly and temporal happiness, are to each other as the theoretical and practical part of a connected series of reflections on the theme of the temporal nature of all human efforts and deeds. The clause, that “to every thing there is a season,” or the theoretical principal part of the reflection, is subservient to the clause, “rejoice and do good in thy life,” as a foundation sustaining the practical. The illustrations of the immutability of the eternal decrees of God (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15), of the ever just distribution of human destinies in the next world (Ecclesiastes 3:16-17), and of the total uncertainty of the fate of the spirit of man after death (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21), are but subsequent glances from the practical to the theoretical portion, whereby is specially shown, in various ways, the necessity of a joyous and diligent use of the present, in order thus to lend more emphasis to the final exhortation to rejoice in the works of this life. The entire contents of the chapter are therefore, substantially, of an exhortatory character, a reference’to the eternal rule of the Highest, that insures to the man, who walks in His paths, happiness in the next world, if not in this, and thus encourages him to grateful and cheerful enjoyment of present blessings, and to unalloyed confidence in the benevolent and assisting hand of God. The theme of Koheleth’s present section, according to the just observation of Hengstenberg, is mainly in unison with the expression of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 10:23): “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” or, with the ground thought of the hymn of consolation in affliction,

I know, my God, that all mine acts,
And doing rest upon thy will,—
or of the verses,
Why, then, should I repine,
And on the future think?
or this,
On Heaven’s blessing, and its grace,
Is all my care reposed,
and others similar. Only in this text there is no necessity of referring the consoling tendency of the section specially to the people of Israel as an Ecclesia pressa, suffering amid stern persecutions and ill treatment on the part of external enemies. For if the chapter presents also some allusions to sufferings and wrongs as prevalent occurrences in the epoch and surroundings of the author, (Ecclesiastes 3:16-18, and comp. also for the impossibility of the origin of these descriptions from the Solomon of history: Int. p. 13) nothing at all can be discovered in illustration of these sad events, from the stand-point of the theocratic and redemptive pragmatism of the prophets. The descriptions in question maintain, rather, a very general character, and nowhere reflect on the individual position, or the redemptive calling of the people of Israel. For which reason, also, these must be condemned as forced and artificial that allegorical conception of the introductory verses 1–8, by virtue of which Hengstenberg and some predecessors would discover here special allusions to the changing destinies of the people of God, and explain “to be born,” and “to die,” in the sense of Isaiah 54:1; Habakkuk 1:12; and “to plant,” and “to pluck up,” in the sense of Psalms 80:8; Psalms 80:12; “to kill,” and “to heal,” in the sense of Hosea 6:1; “to break down” and “build up,” in the sense of Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 31:6; Jeremiah 52:10. In the practical treatment of this section, this specific redemptory reference, together with others, may certainly have its due influence, but it can lay no claim to exclusive attention.

In the practical and homiletical treatment of this chapter, we are to give special care to the consideration of the very characteristic assertions regarding the world that is set in the hearts of men, (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and the equality of the final destiny of men and beasts in death (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21). On the basis of the former passage we should develop the elements of the doctrine of the knowledge of God, to be derived from nature, and the eternal nature and calling of man, (comp. Fabri, “Time and Eternity,” already quoted,, especially pp. 60 ff.). In connection with the second part, on the contrary, we demonstrate that double character of human nature, belonging in the body to time, but in the Spirit to God and eternity, and point out the practical consequences resulting therefrom for the feelings and the conduct of the children of God. In addition to the homiletical hints quoted below from Tauler, Melanohthon, etc., comp. especially Kleinert, on the Old Testament doctrine of the Spirit of God (Annual for German Theology, 1807, No. 1, p. 13): The enlivening and elevating truth, that our flesh lives through the Spirit of God. (Genesis 2:7), becomes in Koheleth a two-edged sword, that turns against its own rejoicing; since all life is from God, that of man as of beast, (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20); our life is that of something foreign to us, and belongs not to us (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:8), but must again give up its substance at another’s behest, to become what it was—dust, (Ecclesiastes 3:20; Ecclesiastes 12:7).

To treat the unity of thought in a comprehensive and homiletical style, one might most fittingly take up Ecclesiastes 3:11-12, and make a formula of them, something in tire following manner: “As a citizen of the world, and an heir of eternity, man should thankfully enjoy the pleasures of this life, and by a conscientious performance of its duties gather fruits propitious for eternity.” Or, “Live nobly in time, and eternity will crown thee.” Or, “Seek in time to live thy eternal life; then will it, in the future, certainly be thine.” Comp. also these lines of Böhme:

From conflict ever freed is he,
To whom the eternal is as time,
And time is as eternity.


Ecclesiastes 3:1. Brenz: Solomon condemns in the beginning of this chapter all anxious reflection and care concerning earthly things, above all, useless worldly anxiety. For this is so deeply rooted in the minds of many, indeed of most men, that it can scarcely be eradicated. This is a torment not only of a very painful, but of an entirely useless character. Nearly all other trials and troubles can be easily borne, and oppress only the body; but anxiety ruins both body and soul.—Therefore Solomon here says: Act ever so justly or unjustly, and torture thyself with care till death, thou wilt travail in vain before the completion of the time fixed by God. For, everything occurs according to His divine arrangement, in His own time, without our intervention.

Luther: That nothing occurs before the hour arrives which has been determined by God, Solomon proves by examples drawn from all human affairs, and says: There is a time to build up and a tune to break down, etc., and concludes therefrom that all human resolve in thought, reverie, or effort, is simply a phantom, a shadow, an illusion, unless it be first resolved in heaven. Kings, princes, lords, may hold their councils and resolve what they will; the thing whose hour has come, will occur; the others stand still and hinder and impede each other. And although it may seem that the hour is now come, nothing will take place till the hour does come, although all men on earth should tear themselves to pieces. God permits neither kings, princes, lords, nor wise men on earth to set the dial for Him. He will set it; and we are not to tell Him what it has struck. He will tell us. Christ says in the gospel: My hour is not yet come, etc.—Hamann: We find here a series of contradictory things and actions which occur in human life, but which cannot possibly exist together, and hence each has its special time. That moment is fixed for everything which is the best and the most fitting for it. The beauty of things consists in this moment of their maturity which God awaits. He who would eat the blossom of the cherry to taste the fruit, would form a faulty judgment regarding it; he who would judge of the cool shade of the trees from the temperature of winter, and their form in this season, would judge blindly. And we make just such conclusions regarding God’s government and its purpose !

Ecclesiastes 3:2-8. Geier (Ecclesiastes 3:2): Plants and trees are set and tended on account of their fruits, and the unfruitful are rooted up. Art thou then, O man, planted in the garden of the Lord, but unfruitful, beware, and reform, else wilt thou also be rooted up? Luke 13:6 ff.

Starke (Ecclesiastes 3:3; Ecclesiastes 3:1 st clause): God is so gracious that He wounds and lacerates the hearts of men for their own good, but heals them again by the assurance of His grace, and the pardon of sins, Hosea 6:1.

Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 3:3, second clause): The people of God have the advantage therein that the destructive activity is ever a means and a preparation for the constructive, and that the final purpose of God is ever directed to the latter. Therefore one can tie cheerful and consoled in the kingdom of God, during the momentary activity of destruction.—(Ecclesiastes 3:8): The epoch in which this book was written, was mainly a “period of hatred,” as the faithful learned it by daily and painful experience. But they were assured by the word of God that, in some future time, a “period of love would come, such as they had not seen” (Isa. 59:23; Isaiah 60:16; Isaiah 66:12), and while hoping for this it was more easy for them to accept the seeming hatred from the same dear hand that would dispense the love..... The whole finds its end in the sweet name of peace, which is so engraven on the heart of the church militant. Peace, peace, to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord, Isa. 56:19.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-10. Luther: Before the hour comes, thought and labor are lost. But we are, nevertheless, to labor, each in his sphere and with diligence. God commands this; if we hit the hour, things prosper; if we do not, nothing comes of it, and thus no human thought avails. They, therefore, who would anticipate God’s hour, struggle, and have nothing but care and sorrow.

Starke (Ecclesiastes 3:10): Sin causes man to have many cares, dangers, and vexations in the employments of life, Genesis 3:17. It is not the active but the permissive will of God, that permits sinful men to experience these various evil results of their sins.

Ecclesiastes 3:11. Brenz:—Although God has created all things in the best and wisest way, and fitted them to our needs, our own will, and our shortsighted earthly wisdom nevertheless prevent us from deriving the profit and enjoyment therefrom which the beasts find in the works of God.

Geier:—In searching out the works and ways of God be careful not curiously to seek things hidden of God, and on the contrary to neglect His revealed will to the injury of our souls.

Starke:—The indwelling desire of the human soul to live eternally is a remnant of the divine image. O that we would endeavor to calm this feeling in the right manner, how happy then would we be!

Elster:—The ability of man to reflect in himself the harmony of the world ( ? more correctly, the eternal power and divinity of the Most High mirrored in the things of the world) is indeed a power in whose perfect exercise the individual is impeded by individual weakness. Because the original, pure harmony of the spirit, is obscured in the inner man, he cannot comprehend that which exists without him in its full purity and truth; and that which is highest he is only able to comprehend imperfectly, namely, the eternal, divine, creative thoughts which form, the innermost essence of things.

Ecclesiastes 3:12-15. Melanchthon (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13):—These words are not intended satirically to illustrate the principles of a man of Epicurean enjoyment, but to express the seriously meant doctrine that the things of this world are to be used and enjoyed according to divine intent and command, and also to impart directions for the happy and temperate enjoyment of them. We must, therefore, look in faith to God, perform the works of our calling, implore and await God’s help and blessing, bear patiently the toils and burdens that He sends, and then certainly know that, so far as our labor is crowned with success, this comes from the guidance and protection of God.

Luther:—Because so many obstacles and misfortunes meet those who are diligent and mean to be faithful and upright, and because there is so much unhappiness in the world, there is nothing better than cheerfully to employ the present that God gives to our hand, and not to worry and grieve with cares and thoughts about the future. But the skill lies in being able to do it; that is the gift of God.

Osiander, (Ecclesiastes 3:14-15): God acts immutably that we may therein perceive His majesty and power, fear Him, and serve Him with piety and highest reverence. However God deals with us, we must accept it, and consider it good, Job 2:10.

Berleburg Bible:—You must not hesitate and let yourself for that reason (by sorrows and tribulations) be drawn away from the highest good. For God will not let the injustice and violence that are done to the pious, go unpunished.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-17. Hansen:—As there is here a certain period When men follow their inclinations, so there is, beyond, a fixed time when they will be summoned before a tribunal.

Hengstenberg:—The sentence on the wicked may be expected with so much the more confidence, when they have assumed the place of judgment and justice, and from thence practised their iniquity, thus abusing magisterial power.

Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. Tauler:—Man is composed from time and eternity; from time as regards the body, from eternity as regards the spirit. Now everything inclines towards its origin. Because the body is composed from earth and time, it inclines to temporal things, and finds its pleasure therein. Because the spirit came from God, and is composed from eternity, it inclines therefore to God and eternity. When man turns from time and creatures to eternity and God, he has an in working in God and eternity, and thus makes eternity from time, and from the creature God in the godly man.

Melanchthon:—Solomon speaks thus of external appearances. If one questioned only the eyes and the judgment, without listening to the word of God, human life would appear to be governed by mere chance, to such an extent that men would seem to be, as it were, like a great ant-hill, and like ants to be crushed. But the revelation of the divine word must be placed in contrast with this appearance.

Starke:—As thou desirest, after death, a better state than that of beasts, see to it, then, that in life thou dost distinguish thyself from the beasts by a reasonable, Christian demeanor, Psalms 32:9.

Ecclesiastes 3:22. Wohlfarth:—Only the moment that we live in life, is our possession. Every hour lived sinks irrevocably into the sea of the past: the future is uncertain: therefore is he a fool who lets the present slip by unused, wastes it in vain amusement, or grieves with useless lamentations.

Hengstenberg:—See the exegetical remarks on this passage.


[1][Zöckler renders “its time to burn and its time to die,” making it all dependent (this and the following verses) on the first. “every thing has its time.” On זְמָן see Text notes.—T. L.]

[2]The root, though not frequent, is common enough in Hebrew for this purpose; why go to the Chaldaic?

[3][All such infinitives as rekodh and sephodh have a like rhyming. The fact that accounts for the choice here is rather the similarity of primary sense which is found in verbs of daucing and mourning. All passions in early times were expressed by a violence of outward action, such as beating the breast rending the garments, rolling on the earth, etc., that in these colder days of the world’s old age would be deemed utterly extravagant. Thus. in the Greek κόπτεσθαι mentioned by Zöckler. Homer’s προπροκυλίνδεσθαι, Iliad XXII. 221, Hebrew ספוֹד primarily to smite the breast. We still find traces of it in modern words, though almost worn out. Thus our word plaint is but a feeble echo of the Latin plangere. In the Syriac this same root, here rendered to dance, is used in the Aphel conjugation for mourning Thus in that children’s ditly, or play upon words, recited by our Saviour, Matthew 11:17, the word, in the Peschito Version, for mourning is אַרְקֵד, for dancing רַקִד, in Roman letters, arked, raked. A play upon words of this kind is proof that the gospel (of Matthew at least) in its oral form before any writing. was Arama’c, and that our Saviour spoke it. Such children’s ditties are very tenacious, and it must have been of long standing. The play upon words that it gives could not have been original in the Greek, though afterwards early translated.—T. L.J

[4] [Ecclesiastes 3:11. The strong objection to the interpretation of Gesenius, De Wette, and Knobel, is that the New Testament use of the word world for worldliness, love of the world, is unknown to the Hebrew Scriptures. Equally unwarranted are Hitzig and Stuart in first transforming עוֹלָם into עֶלֶם (not found in Hebrew in any such sense, but supposed to be equivalent to the Arabic (عِلم and then rendering it “Knowledge, without,” etc. The Arabic sense of the verb علم to know, is later than the primary Hebrew, to be hidden or obscure, though coming from it by a seeming law of contraries peculiar to the Shemitic tongues; it is Knowledge as discovery, or science strictly, or the hidden found. It is only in the Arabic عنالَم mundus, equal to עוֹלָם, that the old Hebrew primary appears. Besides, this view of Hitzig and Stuart is at war with the מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר which they have no right to render without which. The proper way of expressing that, in Hebrew, would be by placing אֲשֶׁר first, and following it with the personal suffix and a different particle, אֲשֶׁר מִבַּלְעָדָיו (which without it they cannot, etc,). A plansible rendering is, “he hath put obscurity in their hearts;” but this, though agreeing with the primary sense of the verb, never occurs as a sense of the noun. The view of Zöckler, substantially agreeing with one given by Geier, that עוֹלָם here, or eternity regarded as in the heart of man, refers to the natural human recognition of the eternal power and Godhead, as spoken of by Paul, Romans 1:20, presents an admirable meaning if it can be sustained. It may be said that it is giving עולם too much of an abstract sense, but it is certain that the writer intends here no common thought, and, therefore, the word employed may be fairly extended, philologically, to its utmost limits. It can hardly be reconciled, however, with the מִבְּלִי אֲשֶׁר which Zöckler, without any other warrant than his own assertion, makes equivalent to אפּם כּי and then renders it nur dass nicht, only that not, thus turing it into a mere exceptive limitation, as is also done by Tremellius and Grotius: excepto quod non. There are no Scriptual examples of such use of מבלי or מבלי אשר, and this would be enough, even if every reader did not feel that there is something in it at war with the whole spirit of this profound declaration. In this compound particle מבלי the מ is negative, implying hinderance, and intensifying the negation in the other part. The LXX. have, therefore, properly rendered it ὅπως μὴ. that not, or rather, in such a way that not (ὅπως, in distinction from ἵνα, referring to the manner of accomplishing, rather than to the purpose itself). “He hath so presented it to their minds, that they cannot, etc. So the Targum דלא the Syriac איך דלא, Rashi כדי שלא, Aquila ωςοὐχ, Vulgate, Pagnin. Drus. Merc. ut non.

That other idea, however, of the word as world, worldtime, world plan (see Ecclesiastes 3:14), which has been so fully dwelt upon in the Excursus on the Olamic Words, p. 40, harmonizes perfectly with the immediate context, and the whole tenor of the deeper reflections contained in this book: The world-problem hath God so put into their hearts (literally, given in their heart, נתן בלבם)—presented to their minds,—or, as the Vulgate well expresses it, tradidit disputationi eorum, that, etc. Whether we take it in the cosmical or olamic sense, what a comment upon this is furnished by the ancient schools, Greek, Egyptian, Persian, or Oriental generally, in their endless cosmogonical disputations on the world, its first matter, its first moving principles, its origin,—on the question of its duration, whether it had a beginning or would ever have an end, whether it had any thing immutable (τὸ ὄντως ὄν) or was ever phenomenal and flowing,—whether there were more worlds than one, either in time or space—in short, whence it came, how it existed, and what was it all for, or what did it truly mean. These disputations were much older than Thales, and Solomon must have heard of them, at least, even if unacquainted particularly with all, or any, of the theories held. Let any one see, especially, how these disputations of the early ante-Socratic Greek schools are summed up by Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.Ecc 14: τῶν τε περὶ τῆς τῶν πάντων φύσεως μεριμνώντων κ. τ. λ., and he will well appreciate the force of the strong language: “so that they cannot find it out to the end from the beginning,”—especially as confirmed by the still more striking declaration, Ecclesiastes 8:17 : “yea, though a wise man (a philosopher) say that he knows it, yet shall he not be able to find it out.” In the time sense, or the olamic sense of the word world, it is still more clear, especially when regarded as the great olam, or world period, or world idea (Ecclesiastes 3:14), compared with that list of brief passing times mentioned before as belonging to “things beneath the sun.” The writer had presented special seasons belonging to the chief occupations and events of human life—a time to plant, a time to love, a time to hate, to mourn, to rejoice, etc. The fitness of these man could study and perceive, but the great all-containing time, the encircling eternity or world time, who could understand.—God had so presented this to the human thought, the human mind, that though it could reason well of passing events, it “could not find out the end from the beginning.” It could not discover the world idea (Ecclesiastes 3:14), that higher wisdom than the natural from which it all depended, nor that deeper wisdom than nature to which it was all as a means to an end. Even in its highest state, taking the form of the most lauded science, it was only the study of links (see remarks, Int., Met. Ver.), of adaptations to adaptations, among which it could never find beginnings nor ends. Something greater might be divined by faith, but otherwise, it was as unsearchable as the wisdom so anxiously inquired after, Job 28:0.: “The deep saith it is not in me,” etc. It was true even of physical knowledge, that it could not find out its own limits, when taken comparatively. The individual man occupies but a point in the great world cycle. As things go round, he sees, or may see, “how they are all fair in their season,” each fitting to the one next, and so on, as far as he may carry his researches; but what it is all about, or what it all means, that no science of nature can reveal to him. His angle of vision, even with the mightiest aid it has ever had, or may expect to have, is too small to take in more than a very few degrees, or a very few seconds of a degree, in the mighty arc we are traversing, or have passed during the longest known times that either history, or the observation of nature, has revealed to us. The thought is not beyond what may be ascribed to Koheleth, with his grand cyclical ideas, and nothing could be in better harmony with the contexts, or the peculiar particles by which they are united. There are some rich homiletical thoughts arising from such a view of verses 11th, 14th, and 15th, but they belong in another place.—T. L.]

[5][It is by no means clear that the the pronoun in בָּם refers to persons. The most natural connection would be with the things mentioned above, and all summed up in the אֶת הַכֹּל of Ecclesiastes 3:11 : “No good in these things except to rejoice, etc.” The מ in בְּלִבָּם would not, grammatically, server this, since it does not belong to the main assertion.—T. L.

[6] · ,עֲשׂות טוב has not here, as zöckler well says, the sense of “being merry;” neither can it be taken as denoting beneficence; or even good conduct (doing the divine commands), in a general moral sense. It strictly means to do well, in the sense of prosperity, to have success—corresponding to the Greek εὖ πράττειν, rather than to εὖ ποίειν, or εὖ πασχειν—T. L.]

[7] [שָׁם, ver.17, there. This little word coming in such connection is most suggestive. The thought presented through so unobtrusively expressed, is, in reality, one of the modulating key notes of this singular book. The connection between this verse, 17th, and the commencement of the chapter is unmistakable. In contrast with the particular times and occasions there mentioned, there is here placed the great time, the great olam, to which all the particular times have reference, and in which they are all to be judged. For there, too, unto every purpose, and for every work, לִכָל־חֵפֶּץ וְעַל מַעֲשֶׂה there is an עֵת, a time appointed. It immediately leads the mind away from this subsolar state (תַּחַת הַשֶּׁמִש) to that higher world that more remote state, or world beyond (Jenseits) to which all has reference and which seems to be constantly in the writer’s mind as an idea, but without locality, or specific manner, or any assigned or assignable chronology,—as though it were something he firmly believed, but could not define, or even distinctly conceive. It is the basis of all his contemplation, the ground on which he so firmly rests in the concluding declaration of the book. שָׁם may mean any great occasion, crisis, or eventuality, as well as place. Comp. Genesis 9:9; Psalms 133:3. As used here, it strongly calls to mind the Greek ἐκεῖ, and the manner in which the poets employ it to express a similar indefinite contrast with the present state or world in like characteristic manner styled ἐνθὰδε, here, Diesseits (this side of time). Thus Medea (1069) says to her children, ἐυδαιμονοῖτον, as though giving them the usual maternal blessing, and then suddenly checks herself with the thought of what is coming—

αλλ· ἘΚΕΙ· τα δ’ ΕʼΝθΑʼ ΔΕ


“but there: all here your Father’s hand has taken quite away.” There in that other world, or time, or state. The expression seems to have little or no direct, connection with their mythology, or the fabled regions of Hades, but rather to have come from this innate idea of the human soul, or the moral necessity that gives birth to the thought of some other world and time than this, but without known chronology or locality. Things must be balanced; somehow, and somewhere, and at sometime, the equation must be completed. For a similar use of ἐκεῖ and ἐνθάδε, compare Æschylus Iketides 230, Pindar Olymp. II:105, and especially, Plato Repub., 330 D., where both terms are used, with my thological reference indeed, but carrying the same general and most impressive thought of an after world, or time of judgement, as a correspondence to this; οἱ τὲ γὰρ λεγόμενοι μῦθοι περὶ τῶν ἐν Ἅιδου, ὡς τὸν ἘΝΘΑ′ΔΕ�. τ. λ. :“For the myths that are told us respecting Hades (or the unseen), how that the wrong doer here must make compensation there,—myths once derided,—now disturb the soul with fear lest they be true.” This striking passage, taken in its remarkable connection, shows that there was, in the old Greek mind, the same fear of “a judgment to come,” of something awful after this world, that is now felt by the common modern mind. It was before Christianity. It created myths, and was not created by them.—It is the voice of conscience, independent of all mythologies, but showing itself in all their varied forms, as though, without some such idea, religion would have no existence.—T. L.]

[8] [The key to the right interpretation of the whole passage, Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, together with a complete defence to the charge of materialism which knobel brings against Koheleth, is found in the phrases לברם ,על דברת, and המה להם, in verse 18 above. The first is rendered in our version, “on account of;” Vulgate has simply de (de filiis hominum); 70. περὶ λαλιᾶς υἰὠν τοῦ� (“concerning the talk of men”); So the Syriac על ממללא (“according to the speech of the sons of men”)—that is “speaking after the manner of men,” speaking humanly, or more humano. The other rendering, “on account of,” or “by reason of” (which is nearer to the sense of the phrase elsewhere, comes to very much the same thing, or expresses the same general idea. See Psalms 110:4, where it is rendered “after the manner of.” It is an intimation that the language of the following verses is hypothetical, or adapted to a supposed state of things, such as Koheleth had called up before his own mind, that is, “said in his heart.” It is the language of human action. The Arabian rhetoricians and critics have a peculiar phrase for it. لسان اعال “the tongue of the condition,” or “the case speaking.” See Rabbi Tanchum, Arabic Commentary on Lamentations, Lamentations 3:36; also marg. note Genesis, p. 361. This they get from the Rabbinical grammarians and interpreters who have a similar Hebrew phrase, לשִון הדבר, for such cases as this. All the language following, which seems to represent man as having no supremacy over the beast, is affected by this hypothetical impression. It is man’s judgment upon himself, as pronounced by his own conduct. The writer, in this “talking to his heart,” takes men as they are, as they appear, fallen, worldly, sensual, animal. It is the language of their lives. It is all that could be gathered by one who confined himself to this view, or who had nothing to go by but the observation of the general human conduct,—the way of the world. Such an interpretation is fortified by what follows in the same verse: “that God might prove them,” לברם האלהים, “make it clear to them” by their own experience, their own ways, how much like beasts they are, or rather, how much like beasts they live and die, though He had created them in His own image. It calls up Psalms 49:12, 29: “Man that is in honor, and understandeth it not, is like the beasts that perish.” In both cases it may be said: “this their way is their folly,” and we have no more right to charge Epicureanism, or materialism, on the one passage than on the other. The same impression of hypothetical speaking is produced, and, perhaps, still more strongly, by the pronouns המה להם, at the close of that verse. Zöckler’s opinion that this is simply an intensive phrase equivalent to ipsissimi is not satisfactory. The Rationalist Hitzig comes nearer to the true view of these pronouns. He connects them with ברם, to prove them,’ to “try” (or test them), to let them see (zur Einsicht zu bringen) how like beasts they are. So Stuart: “That they might see for themselves” As is often the case, however, in Hebrew, the sense is best brought out by the most literal interpretation the words will bear: “Themselves to themselves,” or, “to let them see that they are beasts, themselves to themselves;” not in their treatment of one another, as Geier and some others take it (homo lupus homini), but rather “in their own estimation” (see Metrical Version), as they are, or as they must appear, to themselves, in the light of their own general conduct,—the speaking of their own lives. This view at once clears Koheleth himself from Knobel’s charge of materialism; though we see not how, in any other way, it can be denied. It is so far from materialism that, to the devout reader, it immediately raises the opposite thought. What Koheleth “says in his heart,” throughout this passage, is a mournful rebuke (we will not call it by the heartless name of satire) of the worldly, sensual, beastlike life of man; whilst, by this very aspect of it he points to a higher destiny which the animal life of mere sense so directly contradicts: “Who knows it,” who thinks of it (see the next marginal note) ? and yet the bare thought of such super-solar destiny, though carrying with it no knowledge of condition, lifts man above the earth and the beasts who descend wholly into it. There is, also an evident paronomasia, here, of המה להם with the two words שהם בהמה, just preceding; and this also furnishes some reason for the peculiar style of expression, making it all the more forcible to the Hebrew ears addressed.

Thus also must we render Ecclesiastes 3:22, by giving ראיתּי, the sense of judgment (as in many other places) instead of sight as a fact. It is the same hypothetical judgement, founded on human action, or what one must conclude as to “the supposed good,” and the human destiny, if determined from such a standpoint of human conduct.—T. L.]

[9] [Ecclesiastes 3:21. מִי יודֵע, “who knows,” etc. Zöckler disposes of this important passage too easily. From the Hebrew text as it stands there can be made no other translation than that given in our English Version. The ה in הָעֹלָה and in הַיֹּרֶדֶת [that goeth up, that goeth down] is the article. This cannot be overthrown, as Stuart and others attempted to do, by examples of ה interrogative having patach with dagesh, every one of which, if not wholly anomalous, depends on peculiar conditions that do not here exist. The old Jewish grammarians, who have never been surpassed in their thorough knowledge of these minutiæ of their language, have reduced the matter to rules by an exhaustive induction that leaves no doubt. One of these rules is, that every הקמוצ ה or he kamezatus, to use their technics [or ה with ָ] before ע, is every where the article of specification [ה ידיעה], never the interrogative. It might have been so said in respect to the gutturals generally, with a very few exceptions having their peculiar reasons not here found. But in the case of ע there are not exceptions. This settles the question for the word הָעֹלָה even if it had stood alone. But there is the participle הַיוֹרֶדֶת presenting a still stronger case for the article. Here ה cannot be interrogative. The attempt to make it so would only interfere with another rule which is settled without exception, namely, that ה interrogative may cause dagesh in a radical following if it has schewa [שוויה], but never without it, so that the ה in הַירֶֹדֶת [the radical י having its vowel cholem] must be the pronominal article (that which goeth down). This is confirmed by Aben-Ezra, Rabbi Schelomo, Ben Melech, Kimchi, and others. In fact, the best Jewish authorities are here all one way. But then, it is gratuitously said, the authors of the Masora changed the punctuation. There is neither reason nor authority for such an assertion. The LXX. indeed has εἰ αναβαίνει (if it ascends), but this Version was made from unpointed Hebrew, and, on such a question, settles nothing against the better understanding of the Masorites. The Vulgate follows the 70. [si ascendat], and the Syriac has every appearance of having been here conformed to the Greek, as in many other places. Besides the 70 and Vulgate rendering would not correspond to the ה interrogative, but rather to the particle אם (if), which would be the best word in Hebrew if such a doubt were to be expressed: מִי יוֹדֵעַ הָרוּחַ אִם עֹלָה הִיא וְאִם ירֹדֶתֶ.

If we look at the internal evidence, the case for the article will be found still stronger. Taking the passage as Stuart does and Hitzig; or as it is somewhat qualified by Zöckler, we find ourselves involved in terrible difficulties. We cannot rest with ascribing to Koheleth merely ignorance, or non-recognition, of the doctrine of the soul’s survival. That might, with some reason, be said of an Old Testament writer generally, namely, that he says nothing about it, and seems to have no knowledge of it. This is not, however, the case with Koheleth. He had doubtless heard an echo of the old belief, held, beyond all doubt, by nations cotemporary, and so curtly expressed in the Grecian Drama, as something that had come down from ancient days:—

πνεῦμα μὲν πρὸς αἰθέρα,

τὸ σῶμα δ εἰς γῆν.

He shows his knowledge of the dogma, as a belief existing, and then denies its truth, or attempts to throw doubt upon it. This is certainly strange, unexampled, we may say, in the Old Testament. Worse than all, he not only denies it, but scoffingly denies it, as though it were an absurd thought, should it even chance to occur to one of these poor creatures whose vain condition he is so graphically describing—a foolish hope, itself a vanitas vanitatum. He sneers at it as something which might be vainly held by a few—some early Essene dreamers perhaps—but was wholly contrary to sense and experience. No one knows any thing about it. It would be something like the sneer that used to be heard from the coarser kind of infidels—who ever saw a soul? This cannot be the serious Koheleth, the man, too, who so expressly, so solemnly says, Ecclesiastes 12:7, “that the spirit does go up to God who gave it.”

How then shall we take the question מִי יודֵעַ? There is but one way, and that seems conclusive of the view presented in the note page 71. It does not express the disbelief even doubt of Koheleth, but is, in fact, his reproof of men in general, as he sees them living and acting in his day. Their lives are a denial of any essential difference between man and the brute. Who among them knows—who recognizes—this great difference? Moreover, the expression מִי יוֹדֵעַ must be taken as an universal or a partial negation, according to the ideas that necessarily enter into the context; as in Ecclesiastes 2:19, it is equivalent to no one knows. So in Psalms 90:11, “who knoweth the power of thine anger,”—a thing most real, yet hard to be appreciated. Compare also Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9, מִי־וֹדֵעַ יָשׁוּב וְנִחַם where it expresses a hope, “who knows but he may turn and repent.” In Isaiah 53:1, a precisely similar expression, “who hath believed our report,” denotes what is most rare. So in Psalms 94:16, “who hath known the mind of the Lord,” Romans 11:34 (τίς γὰρ ἔγνω, cognovit recognovit). This, says S, Basil, significat non quod absurdum est, sed quod rarum. So here: How few, if any, recognize the great truth, the great difference between man and beast? The context, the general aspect of the passage, together with what the writer most seriously affirms in other places, must all be considered; and it would show, we think, that in uttering this complaining query, he was only the most strongly expressing his individual opinion, or feeling rather, of the mighty, yet unheeded difference. There must surely be for man something better than all this dying vanity, if he would only recognize it. That ידע may have this sense, is shown by the use of the verb in many places, and especially by the infinitive noun דעת, which often means belief, opinion, tenet, etc. Zöckler’s reference to John 1:18 : “No man hath seen God at any time,” we cannot help regarding as containing a fallacy of interpretation, and as being, in reference to this passage, quite irrelevant.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1857-84.
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