Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 3rd, 2023
the First Week of Advent
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

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

Verses 1-16


Of the relation of true wisdom in the internal and external life of man

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 12:7)

A. The unfathomable character of the universal rule of God should not frighten the wise man from an active part in life, but should cheer and encourage him thereto

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:16)

1. It cannot be denied that the providence of God in the distribution of human destiny is unfathomable and incomprehensible

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:6)

16When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:) 17Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea, further; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.

Ecclesiastes 9:1 For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love 2or hatred by all that is before them. All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good, and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, Song of Song of Solomon 3:0 is the siuner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. 4For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

2. Therefore it behooves us to enjoy this life cheerfully, and to use it in profitable avocations

(Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

7Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. 8Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. 9Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. 10Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

3. The uncertain result of human effort in this world should not deter us from zealously striving after wisdom

Ecclesiastes 9:11-16

11I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all. 12For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them. 13This wisdom have I seen also under the 14sun, and it seemed great unto me: There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it: 15Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man; 16Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

[Ecclesiastes 8:17.—בְּשֶׁל equivalent to באשר ל, “in that which to”—“in proportion to;” Vulgate well renders it quanto plus. LXX. ὅσα ἐὰν; “in proportion to that which one shall labor”—or “the more he labors.” It is found elsewhere only in Jonah 1:7, or, in composition, בְּשֶׁלְמִי and בִּשֶׁלּי. It is certainly not a Chaldaism, but it is said “to belong to the later Hebrew,” and the argument runs in this way: Koheleth must belong to the later Hebrew, because this word is elsewhere found only in Jonah; and Jonah must belong to the later Hebrew, because this word is elsewhere found only in Koheleth. It is also called a Rabbinism in Koheleth; but it is rather a Kohelethism much employed, with other Kohelethisms, by the earliest Rabbins, because that book was a great favorite with them, and regarded by them as a specimen of the more elegant and courtly, as well as the more philosophical Hebrew.—Ecclesiastes 9:1, וְלָבוּר; it has the same meaning here with ברר, Ecclesiastes 3:18, to exploreprove, by exploring—primary sense, separate, purify. It is an example of the affinity, or of the interchange of meanings, in verbs ain wau and double ain.—T. L.]


1.Vaihinger deviates from the above analysis of this section into three divisions, but only so far as to extend the first division simply to Ecclesiastes 9:3, which does not well coincide with the contents of Ecclesiastes 8:4-6, that clearly refer to what immediately precedes. Several commentators begin a new section with Ecclesiastes 9:11 [Hahn,indeed a new discourse], and deny in this way that the principal theme of the whole piece–the contrast between the inscrutability of human destinies, and the wisdom which still retains its worth, and is to be sought after as the highest good—is also treated in this last division, and that it is more closely allied with the fore going than with that which follows Ecclesiastes 8:17.—Hengstenberg also very improperly separates Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 from the four subsequent ones, with which they are most closely connected; see below at Ecclesiastes 8:13.

First Strophe, first division. Ecclesiastes 8:16-17.The universal rule of God is unfathomable.—When I applied mine heart.—Lit., “gave;” comp. Ecclesiastes 8:9, כַּאֲשֶׁר introduces the longer primary clause, to which then, in Ecclesiastes 8:17, a still longer secondary clause corresponds, introduced by וְ or וְרָאיתִי There is no closer connection with the preceding, such as is affirmed by Rosenmueller, Hitzig, hengstenberg and hahn, according to the example of most old authors. The commendation of pleasure in Ecclesiastes 8:15, like the earlier praise of cheerfulness [Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 5:20], fittingly closes the preceding, whilst this clause, as is shown by כִּי Ecclesiastes 9:1, serves as a basis and preparation for the subsequent reflections. To know wisdom, and see the business—Comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:17. The word עִנְיָן is here as there the travail caused by a zealous searching after the grounds and aims of human action, fate, and life. For also there is that neither day nor night. כִּי here gives the nature and operation of the travail; or is inferential, “so that,” as Genesis 40:15; Exodus 3:11, etc. [comp. Vaihinger]. The parenthetical interpretation of this third clause [Ewald, Elster, hahn,etc., is also unnecessary.] comp. Genesis 31:40; Proverbs 6:4; Psalms 132:4 (Lat. somnum videre).

Ecclesiastes 8:17. Then I beheld all the work of god. אֶת־כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹהִים is the accusative of relation: “I saw in relation to all the work of god”. The work that is done under the sun, that we find in the subsequent clause, is the same as the “work of god,” the universal rule of the most High; and the inability to find this work, its incomprehensibility and inscrutability [comp. Psalms 147:5; Romans 11:33] form from the beginning the principal theme of the assertion. To “find” is used in the sense of “to comprehend, to fathom;” comp. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 7:24Because though a man labour to seek it out.—That is, however much he may try, in spite of all his toil, etc. בְּשֶׁל אֲשֶׁר[1] is equivalent to—בַּאֲשֶׁר—לַאֲשֶׁר [comp. the similar crowding of relations in Jonah 1:7-8; Jonah 1:12, and also the Aramaic בְדִיל דִ], and signifies, when taken together with the following verb יַעֲמֹל “with that which is in it,” etc.; that is, “with that which there is in his labor,” or “with that zeal and talent perceptible in it.” Compare Hitzig on this passage, who correctly rejects as unnecessary Ewald’s emendation בְּכָל אֲשֶׁר in place of בְּשֶׁל אֲשֶׁר, although the 70., Vulgate, and Syriac seem to have so read it.—Yea further, though a wise man think to know it.—אִם יֹאמַר “should he presume,” “should he attempt;” comp. Exodus 2:14; 2 Samuel 21:16.

3. First strophe, second division. Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. All men, the just, as well as the unjust, are subject to the same fate, especially to the law of mortality.—For all this I considered in my heart. Namely, when I applied my heart to know wisdom, Ecclesiastes 8:16. “All this” refers to what immediately follows.—Even to declare all this. The infinitive construct with לָבוּר ׃לְ continues the finite verb, as elsewhere the infinitive absolute; comp. Isaiah 38:20; Isaiah 10:32, בּוּר equivalent to ברר (Ecclesiastes 3:18) is found only in this passage in the O. T.—That the righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God. That is, wholly dependent, on Him, not capable, in any manner, independently to shape their life; so that their best actions may be followed by the saddest fate. Comp. Hengstenberg on this passage, who correctly shows that there is affirmed an unconditional dependence, not of human action in itself, but of its results on God.—No man knoweth either love or hatred. That is, no man knoweth in advance whether God will grant him love or hatred (i.e., happiness or unhappiness); (Michaelis, Knobel, Vaihinger, and Hengstenberg are correct). Others read: “No man knoweth whether he will love or hate;” [Hitzig, Elster]. But this interpretation is not in harmony with the text, and would give a sense which is foreign alike to the passage and the book, and for which Ecclesiastes 2:5 cannot be quoted as proof, as is done by Hitzig.—By all that is before them. That is, not as affirmed by Hieronymus, Geier, and Rosenmueller,—all their destinies are clear, and as it were visible before their eyes, but the reverse: all their destinies lie in the dark uncertain future before them; they have yet everything to experience, happiness as well as unhappiness, good as well as evil. Comp. Ecclesiastes 7:14, where אַהֲרָיו “behind him” signifies just the same as here לִפְנֵיהֶם “before them.” Knobel unnecessarily insists that כּל here means: Everything is before them, everything can occur to them—even great misfortune—a sense that would need to be more clearly indicated by the context than is here the case.

Ecclesiastes 9:2.—All things come alike to all. That is, every thing happens to the wise and just as to all others; the just have no special fortune, they share the common fate of all (in this world of course). Knobel, Ewald, Heiligstedt, Umbreit, and Hengstenberg correctly take this position, whilst Hitzig and Elster include the following words מִקְרֶה אֶחָד, and so bring out this somewhat obscure and distorted thought: “All are as all, they meet one fate;” but Vaihinger takes הַכֹּל at the beginning of the verse as an elliptical repetition from Ecclesiastes 9:1 : “Yes all! Just as all have the same destiny,” etc.There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. Not that they are the offspring and the victims of one and the same blind power of chance [Hitzig], but they are subjected to one and the same divine providence as regards the issue of their life. Hengstenberg justly says: “Chance (מִקְרֶה) just as in Ecclesiastes 3:19 (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:14-15), does not form the counterpart to divine providence, but to the spontaneous activity on the part of the just.”—To the good and to the clean and to the unclean. In order that one may not take clean and unclean in the levitical or externally legal sense, but in the moral sense, the kindred thought of טוֹב (good) precedes that of טָהוֹר (pure) as explanatory.—He that sweareth as he that feareth an oath. That is, the frivolous swearer, and he that considers an oath sacred. That this is the sense is plainly seen in Ecclesiastes 8:2, from which passage it appears that, it does not enter the author’s mind to condemn the oath in general as something immoral. Vaihinger is of opinion that by him that feareth an oath, as by him that does not sacrifice, is meant an Essene, or at least a representative of growing Essenianism. But the designation is by no means clear enough for this; and the one not sacrificing seems clearly to be a wicked contemner of the levitical laws concerning the temple and sacrifices, and not an unreasonably conscientious ascetic in the sense of Essenianism.

Ecclesiastes 9:3.—This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. רַע בְּכֹל וְגו cannot mean the worst of all, etc. (Rosenmueller, Vaihinger) but in the absence of the article before רַע (comp. the Song of Solomon 1:8; Joshua 14:15, etc.), simply bad, evil among all things, or in all things; therefore an evil accompanying and dwelling in every earthly occurrence.—That there is one event unto all. Namely, that befalls all. מִקְרֶה must be taken as in verse 2, and points out, therefore, not what one meets with in life, but its issue, its end. The equal liability of all to death, even the good and the just, is designated by Koheleth as that evil, that evil thing that is mixed with every earthly occurrence; (comp. Romans 5:14; Romans 5:21; 1 Corinthians 15:55 f.; Hebrews 2:15). Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil; namely, in consequence of this their liability to the power of death, which, therefore, also in addition exerts a demoralizing effect on them; comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11.—And after that they go to the dead. The suffix to אַחֲרָיו is to be considered as neuter, (“and after this condition,” comp. Jeremiah 51:46), not masculine as if the sense were “and after it” (i.e., after this life) as in Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 10:14. The preposition of motion (אֶל in אֶל הַמֵּתִים) “indicates that the sense of ‘it goes,’ is to complete the sentence,” Hitzig.

4. First strophe, conclusion. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. In spite of the presentation just given, the condition of the living is ever to be preferred to that of the dead—For to him that is joined (Zöckler, taking the reading יְבֻחַר translates it, “who is it that is preferred?”—T.L.). Thus according to the reading יְבֻחַר, pual of בחר “to choose, prefer,” does Vaihinger more correctly give the sense: “There is no one who would be here preferred and accepted, or who would have a choice, who would be exempted from death; since dying is a common fate; each one must go to the dead; but in death there is nothing more to hope.” In the same way, substantially, does Elster translate, except that he punctuates יִבְחַר, and therefore gives it actively; “For who has any choice ?” Many later commentators adhere to the k’ri יְחֻבַּר, which the 70. read (τίς ὅς κοινωνεῖ πρὸς πάντας τοὺς ζῶντας) together with Symmachus and the Targum. They translate, therefore, with Ewald, “who is joined to the living has hope,” or, with Hitzig, interrogatively, “who is it who would be joined to all the living?” But the sense thus arising makes a very forced [2] connection; and the translation of Hahn, who takes the word חבר in the sense of “charming,” is open to very weighty linguistic objections.—To all the living there is hope. Literally, “for all living,” for all as long as they live. The grammatical expression does not accord with Hengstenberg’s interpretation: “One may trust to all living;” for אֶל is used with the verb בטח (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:7), but not with the substantive בִּטָּחוֹן for the introduction of the one in whom the confidence is placed. Comp. Job 11:18.—For a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the most contemptible and hateful thing that lives (comp. for the proverbial use of the dog in this relation, 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 9:8; Isaiah 66:3; Matthew 15:26; Revelation 22:15, etc.) is more valuable than the most majestic of all beasts if it is dead; (for the majesty and glory of the lion as the king of beasts, consult Isaiah 38:13; Hosea 13:7; Lamentations 3:10; Job 10:16). This proverb is also known to the Arabs. See Golius, Adag. Cent. 2, n. 3.

Ecclesiastes 9:5.—For the living know that they shall die. The consciousness of the necessity of death, is here presented not as the only, but yet as the characteristic superiority of the living over the dead, just as if only the necessity of death were the object of human knowledge—an individualizing statement of an ironical and yet most serious nature.—Neither have they any more reward. Not that they have had their share (Hitzig) but that God no longer exercises retributive justice towards them, because they are wanting in conscious, personal life. The fact of a retribution in a world beyond, is only apparently denied here, for the author now sees only the conditions of this world; on the subsequent fate of a spirit returned to God he is for the present entirely silent (Ecclesiastes 12:7; comp. Ecclesiastes 11:9).—For the memory of them is forgotten. So entirely do the dead remain without reward; not even the smallest thing that could profit them here below, not even the preservation of their memory with their posterity, is granted to them. Comp. Psalms 31:12; Job 14:21. It is doubtful whether זֶכֶר “memory” is intended to rhyme with the preceding שָׂכָר “reward” (as Hitzig supposes). It is more probable that such a rhyming is made in the following verse between שִׂנְאָתָם and קִנְאָתָם.

Ecclesiastes 9:6. A continued description of the sad fate of the dead; “from the very beginning with touching depth of tone, a strain of lamentation overpowering the author” (Hitzig). Also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished. That is, not that they are deprived of the objects of their love, hatred, or envy (Knobel), but these sentiments and activities themselves have ceased for them; as רפאים they are destitute of all affections, interests, and exertions, and lead rather a merely seeming life. (Rosenmueller, Hitzig). The sad existence of departed souls in Scheol, as described in Job 14:11 ff., seems here to hover before the author, just as in ver 10 below, he expressly speaks of it. It is significant that he denies them love as well as hatred, and would seem thereby to mark their condition as one extremely low.

5. Second strophe, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. On account of this superiority of life, compared with the condition of the dead, and the uncertainty of human fate in general, it behooves us to enjoy life cheerfully (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9), and to use it zealously in the activity of our vocations (Ecclesiastes 9:10).—Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. (Comp. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 5:19). This collective triad, “eat, drink, and be merry,” is here, as it were, increased to a quartette; joy being doubly designated, first as it finds its expression in cheerful adornments of the body and appropriate ornament, and then in loving unison with a wife.—Wine[3] is used as a symbol and producer of joy, and also in Ecclesiastes 10:19; Genesis 27:25; Psalms 104:15, etc. For בְּלֶב־טוֹב “of joyful heart, gay,” comp. 1 Samuel 25:38; also Ecclesiastes 7:3 of the foregoing.—For God now accepteth thy works. That is, not that God finds pleasure in just this eating, drinking, etc. (Hitzig), but, thy moral conduct and efforts have long pleased Him,[4] wherefore thou mayst hope in the future surely to receive thy reward from Him. (Hengstenberg correctly takes this position).

Ecclesiastes 9:8. Let thy garments be always white. White garments are the expression of festive joy and pure, calm feelings in the soul, comp. Revelation 3:4 f.; Ecclesiastes 7:9 ff. Koheleth could hardly have meant a literal observance of this precept, so that the conduct of Sisinnius, Novatian bishop of Constantinople, who, with reference to this passage, always went in white garments, was very properly censured by Chrysostom as Pharisaical and proud. Hengstenberg’s view is arbitrary, and in other respects scarcely corresponds to the sense of the author: “White garments are here to be put on as an expression of the confident hope of the future glory of the people of God, as Spener had himself buried in a white coffin as a sign of his hope in a better future of the Church.”—And let thy head lack no ointment. As in 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 14:2; Isaiah 61:3; Amos 6:6; Proverbs 27:9; Psalms 45:8, so here appears the anointing oil, which keeps the hair smooth and makes the face to shine, as a symbol of festive joy, and a contrast to a sorrowing disposition. There is no reason here for supposing fragrant spikenard (Mark 14:2), because the question is mainly about producing a good appearance by means of the ointment, comp. Psalms 133:2.

Ecclesiastes 9:9.—Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest. That is, enjoy life with her, comp. Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalms 34:12; and also Ecclesiastes 7:28, above, to which expression, apparently directed against all intercourse with women, the present one serves as a corrective.—All the days of the life of thy vanity. This short repetition of the preceding (“all the days of thy vain life, which he has given thee under the sun”) is left out of the Septuagint and Chaldaic, but is produced in the Vulgate, and should be by no means wanting, because it points with emphasis[5] to the vanity of life as a principal motive to joy.—For that is thy portion in this life and in thy labor, etc. That is, for this cheerful and moderate enjoyment of life shall, according to the will of God, compensate thee for the toil and labor which this life brings with it; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:10; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18.

Ecclesiastes 9:10.—Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, The word בְּכחֲֹךָ is by the Vulgate and most modern authors joined to עֲשֵׂה, whilst according to the accents and the collocation, it belongs to what precedes. But it is a vigorous doing, nevertheless, that is here recommended; for the sense is clear: whatsoever presents itself, is to be performed with thy strength, whatsoever offers itself to thee as an object for thy exertion, that do ! For the expression, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” comp. 1 Samuel 10:7; 1 Samuel 23:8;. Judges 9:33; also Isaiah 10:13-14.—For there is no work nor device, etc., in the grave whither thou goest. comp. Ecclesiastes 9:6. As Koheleth gives a motive here in his admonition to an active life, by pointing to the lifeless and inactive condition of departed souls in the realm of death, so speaks Christ in John 9:4 : ἐμὲ δεῖ ἐργαζεσθαι ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίς. ἔρχεται νύξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐραγάζεσθαι. Since the νύξ (night) mentioned in John 9:4 and elsewhere, is clearly something else than the שְׁאוֹל of this passage, there is no definite reference to the latter, as Hengstenberg affirms, but between the two assertions there is a certain analogy.

6. Third strophe, Introduction. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12. Human actions in this world depend entirely on divine fate, and their success, therefore, is too often in no comparison with the real ability and strength of the actor.—I returned.—Comp. Ecclesiastes 4:1. For the infinitive absolute וְרָאהֹ comp. Ecclesiastes 8:9.—That the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. These remarks serve only to illustrate what follows: “Neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill.” חֵן favor, as in Exodus 3:22; Exodus 11:3; Exodus 12:36, etc.But time and chance happeneth to them all.—That is, the success of human actions depends wholly on that higher power which controls the change of seasons, and permits men to be met sometimes by this, sometimes by that (פֶּגַע) which “happens, meets;” (comp. 1 Kings 5:18). A New Testament parallel is found in Romans 9:16, where, instead of time and chance, divine mercy is called the highest power in all human affairs.

Ecclesiastes 9:12. For man also knoweth not his time. A conclusion, a majori ad minus. “Even over his time itself, over his person and his life, to say nothing of his actions (Ecclesiastes 9:11), there is a controlling power outside of him” (Hitzig). The “time” of a man is here clearly equivalent to the time of his destruction; as elsewhere the “day,” of Job 18:20; or the “hour,” Job 12:27; Mark 14:41. Comp. also Ecclesiastes 7:17 preceding.—As the fishes that are taken. For net, and noose, and trap, as symbols of the judgments overtaking men, comp. Hosea 7:12; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 32:3; Proverbs 7:23; Luke 21:35.—So are the sons of men snared. יוּקָשִׁים Part. Pual see Ew. § 169. d. The word strikingly represents the helpless condition of men in the presence of divine destiny, that can put an end to their life at any moment, as the fowler who suddenly robs† of its life the bird caught in the snare. An allusion to the catastrophe threatened to the Persian kingdom by a new universal monarchy, the Macedonian, is not found in the passage, as Hengstenberg supposes.

7. Third strophe. Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 9:13-16. In spite of that dependence of human destiny and success on a higher power, which often violently interferes with them, wisdom remains, nevertheless, a valuable possession, still able to effect great results with inconsiderable means of an external character, as is seen in the example of a poor and despised man, who, by his wisdom, became the deliverer of his native city from threatening danger of destruction. Whether this example is a purely feigned didactic story (thus think Hengstenberg, Luther, Mercerus, Starke, et at.), or whether it refers to an historical fact within the" experience of the author, must remain uncertain, on account of the general character of the description; and this so much the more so, because the only passage that could seem to refer to a definite fact from Persian history (Ecclesiastes 9:15) is of doubtful exposition.—This wisdom have I seen also under the sun. (Zöckler, this have I seen as wisdom). The words גַּם זהֹ רָאִיתִי חָכְמָה must clearly be thus translated (comp. the similar construction in Ecclesiastes 7:25), not, “thus also saw I wisdom,” etc. (thus usually), or, “this also have I seen: wisdom,”[6] etc. (as Hitzig renders it,) changing זהֹ into זה.—And it seemed great unto me, i.e., it appeared large, comp. Jonah 3:3.

Ecclesiastes 9:14.—There was a little city, and few men within it. That is, not few inhabitants in general, but few fighting men available for defence—a circumstance which shows the danger of the city to be so much greater, and the merits of its deliverer to be so much more brilliant.—And there came a great king against it. We cannot deduce from the expression that the great king was the Persian; because the predicate גָדוֹל attributed to the hostile king serves mainly to show the contrast to the smallness of the city, and the great size of the army led against it.—And built great bulwarks against it. מְצוֹדִים (from מצוד “an instrument for seizure,” hence sometimes a “net;” e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:26) is here used only in the signification of bulwarks, and must therefore not here be confounded with the more customary מְצוֹרִים Deuteronomy 20:20; Micah 4:14), as two manuscripts here read.

Ecclesiastes 9:15. Now there was found in it a poor wise man. Literal, “one found in it,” impersonal—not, “he, the king found.”—yet no man remembered that same poor man. [Zöckler renders in the pluperfect “had remembered,” etc., and then makes it the ground of the remarks that follow.—T. L.] We can neither urge against this pluperfect rendering of וְאָדָם לֹא זָכָר the circumstance that the one in question is here designated as אִישׁ מִסְכֵּן and not as חָכָם (for the predicate poor is clearly to point out why they did not remember him—), nor also the contents of the following verse. For in it the emphasis lies upon the commendation of wisdom contained in the first clause, not on the subsequent restrictive remark concerning the contempt and disregard that it often meets with. Vaihinger is correct in his deviation from Hitzig, Ewald, Elster, and most modern authors, who, like the Vulgate and Luther, translate: “no man remembered.” As certain as this sense, according to which the discussion would be concerning a deliverer of his country, rewarded with the ingratitude of his fellow-citizens, is approached neither through language nor connection, just so certainly may we not (with Ewald and some ancient authors) here find an allusion to Themistocles as deliverer of Athens from the hand of Xerxes; and this latter so much the less because Athens could scarcely have been designated by the author as עִירֹ קְטַנָּח. Hitzig is of opinion that the besieged city is the little sea-port Dora, vainly besieged by Antiochus the Great in the year 218 (Polyb. v. 66); but nothing is known of the deliverance of this city by a “poor wise man,” and for many reasons the epoch of this book cannot be brought down to so late an era as that of Antiochus Magnus. Comp. the Introduction, § 4, Obs. 3.

Ecclesiastes 9:16. The moral of the story, is given in the words of Koheleth uttered immediately after he had heard it.—Then said I, wisdom is better than strength. Comp. similar sentences in Ecclesiastes 7:19; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 16:32; Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 24:5.—Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised. These words, which again limit the praise of wisdom expressed above, depend also on the expression, “Then said I.” They refer, according to Ecclesiastes 9:15, to the fact that in the beginning no one had thought of the wisdom of that deliverer of the city—and not even of the ingratitude afterwards shown to him, or of not having followed his wise counsels (which latter view however would be in antagonism with Ecclesiastes 9:15, according to which the sorely pressed city was really delivered).


(With Homiletical Hints)

As the previous section contained a series of ethical precepts with an anthropological foundation (similar to the one preceding it) so is this one a combination of theological and ethical truths, which the author lays to the heart of his readers. And it is especially the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of the decrees and judgments of God, and of the hidden character of His universal rule that the author treats, and from which he derives the duties of a cheerful enjoyment and use of the blessings of life (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9) of an untiring activity (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and of continued striving after practical wisdom as a possession that is valuable under all circumstances. The contents arc therefore similar to those of chap. 3, only that there the principal thought is of the conditioning and restrictive character of the divine counsels and acts of universal rule; here, on the contrary, the prominent idea is their hidden and unsearchable nature (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 13:12). This section is also in close relation with chap, 6, especially in regard to its ethical and practical precepts (comp. Ecclesiastes 9:9, with Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 9:14, with Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 9:1-6, with Ecclesiastes 6:2-6, etc.), only that from the former, the conclusions drawn are mainly serious and gloomy, while from the latter they are predominantly cheerful.

Homily on the whole section. The thought of the brevity of human life, and the obscurity of that which awaits us in it, should not discourage but impel us to a ready and cheerful use of the blessings granted us hero below, as well as of the powers for a truly wise exertion; or more briefly: Of the blessing and value of reflections concerning death, as an impulse to the zealous fulfilment of the avocations of life.

homiletical hints to separate passages

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17. Hieronymus:—He shows that there are causes for all things, why each thing should thus be, and that there is righteousness in all, though they may be latent and beyond the comprehension.—Zeyss: a Christian should neither show himself negligent in investigating the works of God, nor too curious.—Hansen: God’s works that He performs among the children of men have eternity in view, and nothing short of eternity will open up to us their inner perfection, Revelation 15:3.—Berlenb. Bible :—O ye poor blind men, who think to fathom by your wisdom the cause of divine providences; ye are indeed greatly deceived! You condemn everything that surpasses our understanding, when you should rather confess that these things are so much the more divine, the more they surpass your comprehension. The more trouble you take to fathom the secrets of wisdom by your own study, so much the less do you attain your goal. The true test that a man possesses genuine wisdom, is when he is assured that he cannot comprehend the mysteries of God as He deals with souls.—Hengstenberg:—Blessed is the man who accepts without examination all that God sends him, in the firm trust that it is right, however wrong it may appear, and that to those who love God all things must be for the best.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Brenz (Ecclesiastes 9:1):—There are those whom God loves and whom He hates. For He does not cast off the whole human race, though He might justly do so; neither does He embrace all men in His favor; but to some He deigns to grant His mercy, whilst others He leaves to their own destruction. There is, however, no one who can know by any external sign, whom God receives or rejects.—(Ecclesiastes 9:2-3). Whoeverin faith looks into the word of God may easily know that, though the wicked may now seem to have the same fortune with the pious, there shall come, at last, a clear discrimination between the good and the bad, adjudging the one class to eternal punishment, the others to the happiness of everlasting life.—Geier (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3). We cannot judge of the condition of the dead after this life, by our reason, but only by its accordance with the revealed word of God.—Hansen:—Wo are to ascribe it to the peculiarities of this present life, if the just suffer with the wicked; Sir 40:1 ff.

Zeyss:—A child of God should love this life not on account of temporal prosperity, but for the honor of God, and the welfare of his neighbor. Cramer:—So long as the wicked lives, it is better for him than if he is dead, since he has yet time to repent. But when he is dead then all hope for him is lost. Starke:—Atheists live in the foolish delusion that after death all is over and that the soul ceases with the death of the body; but they will receive the most emphatic contradiction on the great day of judgment.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Luther (Ecclesiastes 9:7):—You live in a world where there is nothing but sorrow, misery, grief, and death, with much vanity: therefore use life with love, and do not make your own life sour and heavy with vain and anxious cares.—Solomon does not say this to the secure and wicked children of the world, but to those truly fearing and believing God. These latter he consoles, and desires that they may cheerfully take comfort in God. To the former He says rejoice, but does not bid those to drink wine, eat, etc., who are but too much inclined to do so, and pass their lives in idleness and voluptuousness as wicked and depraved men.

Zeyss (Ecclesiastes 9:7):—The believers have more claim to the gifts of God than the unbelievers (1 Corinthians 3:21-22), although they may enjoy them the least.—(Ecclesiastes 9:9). Marriage is a sacred and wise ordinance of God; therefore the Christian may use it with a good conscience; but it must be enjoyed in the fear of God, Ephesians 5:31. Starke (Ecclesiastes 9:8):—Arrogance, pride, and display in dress are very common vices in these latter times: the children of God find it very difficult to suppress these in themselves.—(Ecclesiastes 9:10). The obligations that you owe to the body, you owe doubly to the soul. O man neglect not the labor due to thy soul; the night of death is coming when no one can work.—Cramer (Ecclesiastes 9:10):—We should perform the work of our calling with a resolute and confident spirit, and never hesitate in our charge.—Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 9:10):—That we should do all that lies in our power is required by the facts that what we leave undone here below is never done, that the tasks placed upon us by God for this life, and which here remain unperformed, never find their performance, and that the gifts and powers conferred on us for this life must be used in this life.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12. Tübingen Bible:—Even in temporal things it does not depend upon any one’s will or movements, but only on God’s mercy. Everything is derived from God’s blessing.—Starke (Ecclesiastes 9:12) :—By his skill man can calculate the rising and setting of the sun; but human wisdom does not extend so far that one can tell when the sun of his life will rise or set.—Hengstenberg:—If it seems sad with the people of God when the world triumphs, let us reflect that such result does not depend on the might, or the weakness of men; and that a sudden catastrophe may overwhelm the highest, and cast him to the ground. Have we God for our friend? it all comes to that as the only thing that can decide.

Ecclesiastes 9:13-16. Melanchthon:—Such a poor man, in a city, was Jeremiah, as he himself writes, a man who saved the church in the midst of disorder and confusion. At the same time the precept admonishes us that good counsels are listened to by the few, whilst the worst please the many. And thus he says; The poor man’s wisdom is despised.—Cartwright:—Wisdom, however splendid, if in lowly state, is so obscured by the cloud of poverty that in a brief time it has all eyes averted, and utterly falls from the memory.

Cramer:—Thou shouldst laud no one on account of his high estate, and despise no one on account of his low estate. For the bee is a very little creature, and yet gives the sweetest fruit.—Starke:—The heart of mail is by nature so corrupt that to its own injury it is inclined to run after folly, and be disobedient to wisdom.—But true wisdom always finds those who know and love her. Though a wise man may for a time dwell in obscurity, he will nevertheless be drawn forth from it before he is aware. Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiastes 10:13-14.


[I. Koheleth’s Idea of the Dead.—Ecclesiastes 9:5 :—

The living know that they must die, the dead they nothing know;
For them there is no more reward—forgotten is their name;
Their love, their hate, their zeal, all perished now;
Whilst the world lasts, no portion more have they
In all the works performed beneath the sun.

Stuart thinks that the Preacher “claims small merit for the living, merely the knowledge that they must die.” “Is this,” he asks, “better than not knowing any thing?” He argues, besides, that there is an inconsistency in such a view, made greater by the fact that this praise of life one of the cheering passages, whereas such declarations as Ecclesiastes 7:1; Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 are from the desponding mood. Is not this, however, a mistake ? The language here is gloomy, if not wholly desponding. Koheleth is perplexed and bewildered as he contemplates the apparent state of the dead, especially as it presents itself to the sense, inactive, motionless, silent, unheeding. He turns to the living, and surveys their condition, so full of vanity, with only the superiority of a little knowledge, one important element of which, is a knowledge that this vanity must come to an end. It is just the survey that would give rise to that touching irony already spoken of, that mournful smile at human folly, in which a just contempt is blended with deepest sympathy,—an irony, not sneering, but tenderly compassionate, such as we find in some other Scriptures. As, for example, in Genesis 3:22, where God is represented as ironically repeating the wolds of Satan, but in a spirit how different from that of the fiend! Ah, poor wretch! he knows it now, the difference between good and evil! See Gen., p. 210. So here, as though he had said, “Alas, their boasted knowledge! They know that they must die,—this is the substance of it, the remotest bound to which their science reaches.” There is something of the same feeling in what is here affirmed of the state of the dead. It gloomily contemplates only the physical aspect, or the physical side of death, such as presents itself, sometimes, to the Christian, without any feeling of inconsistency, and without impairing that hope of future life which he possesses in a higher degree than Koheleth. We may even say that it is good for us, occasionally, to fix our minds on this mere physical aspect of our frail humanity.

O when shall spring visit the mouldering urn?
O when shall day dawn on the night of the grave?
It was not an infidel, but a devout believer, that wrote this. And so, too, there may be, at times, a sort of melancholy pleasure in thinking of death mainly in its aspect of repose from the toils and anxieties of the present stormy life; as in that mournful dirge so often sung at funerals—
Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb;
Take this new treasure to thy trust;
And give these sacred relics room
To slumber in the silent dust.
Nor pain, nor grief, nor anxious fear,
Invade thy bounds; no mortal woes
Can reach the peaceful sleeper, here.

We feel no inconsistency between such strains, even when they assume a more sombre aspect, and that brighter view which the Christian takes in contemplating the spiritual side of our strange human destiny, or even as it sometimes presented itself to the Old Testament believer (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 78:24). They no more jar upon our speculative theology than the language of our Saviour, John 9:4 : “The night cometh, when no man can work” [comp. Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 11:8], or that touching language of the New Testament which represents death under the soothing conception of a sleep—κοίμησις—a lying down to rest. This term is not confined to the body, as the best exegesis would show, but would seem to denote also a most blessed state of quiescence for the spirit,—a state rudimental, imperfect, unfinished, anomalous, preparatory, yet most secure,—tranquil yet not torpid—inactive, yet not inert—a holy conscious rest, a lying “under the shadow of the Almighty,”—separate from the present world, away from all its busy doings, if not from all its memories, and thus cradled again, nursed and educated, we may say, for that higher finished life, when death shall be fully conquered. He is the last and greatest enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26] who, until that time, retains some dominion over all humanity,—even over those “who sleep in Jesus,” or “through Jesus,” as it should be rendered,—the saved, or rather, the being saved [present participle, οἱ σωζόμενοι] the being healed, or made alive, as the Syriac has it, those in whom the redemptive life of Christ is overcoming death, and growing to the matured and perfect life of eternity. For it is clear, even from the New Testament, that this “state of death,” or reign of death, still continues, in a certain sense, and in a certain degree, until the resurrection. Its power is over all men, and over the whole man, soul and body, although for the Christian, whose “life is hid with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3], its sting is taken quite away. There is no mistaking the language, 1 Corinthians 15:54 : ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται�. τ. λ. It is only when this corruption puts on incorruption, and this mortal puts on immortality, that there is brought to pass the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Till then, Death and Hades go together. One is but the continuation of the other. Being in Hades is being in the kingdom of the dead. Till then, the Old Testament idea still holds of death, not as extinction, non-existence, or not being [see Genesis, Notes, pp. 273, 586], but as a state, a state of positive being, though strange and inexplicable,—a state of continued personality, real though undefined, utterly unknown as to its condition, or only conceived of negatively as something that differs, in almost every respect, from the present active, planning, toiling, pleasure-grasping, knowledge-seeking life “beneath the sun.” That there is something strange about it, something difficult to be thought, is intimated in our Saviour’s language respecting the Old Testament saints, Luke 20:38, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν, “for they all live unto Him” [unto God],—as though what was called their life was something out of them, and could only be made dimly conceivable to us by this remarkable language. Compare the Jewish expression as we find it, 1 Samuel 25:29, and as it is interpreted and often quoted by Rabbinical writers, צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים “bound up in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God,” or as the Vulgate renders it—anima custodita quasi in fasciculo viventium apud Dominum Deum tuum.

There is yet a reserve to the doctrine of the immediate after life, still a veil cast over it, we may reverently say, even in the New Testament. The most modern notions of a sudden transition to the highest Heavens, and to the perfect life, are, perhaps, as far to the one extreme, as the descriptions of mortality which Koheleth gives us, in his gloomy mood, may be in the other. This idea of the dead passing straightway into a busy active state of existence, in these respects resembling the present life, with its proud talk of progress, was unknown to the early Church, as its liturgies and funeral hymns most evidently show. See especially the earliest Syriac hymns, much of whose language the modern notions would render almost unintelligible. Christ has indeed “brought immortality to light,” but it is chiefly by the doctrine of the resurrection, that great article so clear in the New Testament, though having its shadow in the Old. But there is another doctrine there, however little it is studied. We are taught that there was a work of Christ in Hades. He descended into Hades; he makes proclamation [ἐκήρυξεν] in Hades (1 Peter 3:19) to those who are there “in ward.” He is our Christian Hermes, belonging to both worlds. He is the ψυχαγωγὸς, the conductor and guide of redeemed spirits in Hades, the “Shepherd and Bishop of souls” (1 Peter 2:15), the “Good Shepherd” (Psalms 23:0), who leads his spiritual flock beside the still waters, in the Cetzalmaveth, the “valley of the death shade,” or terra umbrarum, and, at the same time, the great High Priest above, to whom is “given all power in Heaven and in earth.” He is the מלאך הגואל the Redeeming Angel of the Old Testament, to whom the righteous committed their spirits [Psalms 31:6] and the Mediator more clearly revealed in the New.

The doctrine of the immediate after life, as we have said, has still a shadow cast upon it. We should not, therefore, wonder to find Koheleth still more under the veil. His very language implies continuance of being, in some way, although presenting a state of inactivity, and, in a word, a want of all participation in the doings and even memories of the present “life beneath the sun.” It did not fall in the way of his musing to speak of differences, in this state, between the “righteous and the wicked;” but, in other passages of the Old Testament, it appears more clear, though still barely hinted, as in Proverbs 14:32; Psalms 73:20; Psalms 49:15. It is a state in which the one is “driven away,” whilst the other “has hope.” Elsewhere, however [Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14], Koheleth affirms his strong belief that at some time, and in some way, the two classes will be judged, and the difference between them most clearly manifested.

In the rhvthmical version of Ecclesiastes 9:10, חָכְמָה is rendered philosophy, because the writer seems, in this place, to take it in its more pretentious sense, or for human wisdom in distinction from the Divine,—speculative inquiry,

Very much as Paul uses σοφία, sometimes, in the New Testament. And so, perhaps, we would come nearer to the intended force of the other word דַּעַת by rendering science, although not exactly corresponding to it in the most modern acceptation of the term. It is Paul’s γνῶσις, “curious knowledge,”—not mere knowing, as consciousness, whether Koheleth held to any such consciousness or not. Comp. it with חֶשְׁבּוֹן (plan, reckoning) in immediate connection. So, too, even when speaking of the perfect psychological state (1 Corinthians 13:8) Paul says of knowledge (γνῶσις), καταργηθήσεται—not, “it shall cease,” as rendered, but “it shall be deposed”—put one side—no longer made the highest thing, as in this fallen life, where the intellectual is placed above the moral nature. In the blessed and perfect life to come, moral or spiritual contemplation, pervaded by ἀγάπη, shall be the highest exercise of the soul. Even the intermediate state is to be regarded as superior to the present existence in ontological rank, and the terms embryotic or rudimental, if applied to it, must be taken simply as denoting a formative state of repose, preparatory to the more glorious life that follows.—T. L.]

[II. The Alleged Epicureanism of Koheleth. Note on Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, in connection with Ecclesiastes 11:9-10. These passages have given rise to much comment. Stuart, with many others, regards the first of them as expressing the real advice which Koheleth would give in regard to the conduct of life, and then says: “In all this there is nothing Epicurean.” What then is Epicureanism ? Or how shall we distinguish? It would seem to be almost too sober a word. The language here used may almost be characterized as Anacreontic: “Eat with joy thy bread, and drink with mirth thy wine,—thy garments always white, and oil ne’er lacking to thy head:”

Πίνωμεν, ὦ πίνωμεν—

Τὸ ῥόδον τὸ καλλίφυλλον
Κροτάφοισιν ἁρμόσαντες.

How, then, shall we avoid what seems to be on the very face of the passage ? It will not do to resort to any special interpretation on account of a mere exigentia loci; although it might, with perfect truth, be said, that such Anacreontic advice is not only contrary to all the more serious portions of the Scriptures, Old and New, but also to the deeply solemn views in regard to human vanities, and the great awaiting judgment, that Koheleth himself has, in other places, so clearly expressed. All this outward argument, however, would not justify us in calling it irony, unless there were some internal evidence, something in the very style of the passage which called for such a conclusion. A careful examination, made in the spirit of the whole book, shows that there are such internal grounds of criticism. It was a feeling of this that led Jerome, the most judicious of the Patristic commentators, to call it a προσωποποιί̈α, a personification, or dramatizing, more rhetorum et poetarum, or what the Jewish critics (see p. 71) called “the case speaking,” the language of human life and human actions, in view of the pure earthliness of its condition. It is the language of the author so far as he puts himself forth as the representative of such a despairing state: quasi dixerit, O homo quia ergo, post mortem nihil es, dum vivis in hac brevi vita fruere voluptate, etc.: “O man since, after death, thou art nothing, then, whilst thou livest thy short life, enjoy pleasure, indulge in feasts, drown thy cares in wine, go forth adorned in raiment ever white (a sign of perpetual joy), let fragrant odors be ever breathing from thy head; take thy joy in female loveliness (quæcunque tibi placerent feminarum, ejus gaude complexu, et vanam hanc et brevem vitam vana et brevi voluptate percurre) and in brief pleasure pass this thy brief life of vanity,” etc. He then represents Koheleth as retracting all this in the passage immediately following, where he says, “I turned again, and saw that the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor wealth to the prudent, etc.,” in other words, that thus to live in joy was not in man’s power, but that all things happened as they were disposed by God: Hæc, aliquis inquit, loquatur Epicurus et Aristippus, et ceteri pecudes philosophorum, ego autem (inquit Koheleth) mecum diligenter retractans, invenio non est velocium cursus, necfortium prælium, etc, etc.

There are two things in the passage itself that lead the serious reader to such a feeling, and such a view of its ironical, or, rather, its dramatic character. The first is the exuberance of the language, its extravagance, its Bacchanalian style, we might almost call it, inconsistent with, or certainly not demanded by, such a moderate, rational, sober view, or such a sober advice to live a contented life, as Stuart contends for, or, in other words, a judicious, virtuous Epicureanism. The joy so oft repeated, the mirth, the wine, the white raiment, the aromatic oils—what has such superlativeness of style to do with such a moderate, sober purpose ? It was no more needed than the language which Euripides (Alcestis 800) puts into the mouth of Hercules when playing the Bacchanalian, and which this Solomonic irony so closely resembles:—

Εὔφραιυε σαυτὸν, πῖνε. τὸν καθ̓ ἡμέραυ

Βίον λόγίζου σόν. τὰ δ̓ ἄλλα τῆς τύχης.

Τίμα δὲ καὶ τὴν πλεῖστον ἡδίστην θεων.

Οὔκουν, μεθ̓ ἡμῶν, τὴν λύπην ἄφεὶς, πίη,

Στεφάνοις πυκασθείς κ. τ. λ.

Make glad thy heart, drink wine, the life to-day
Regard thine own; all else belongs to chance.
In high esteem hold Love’s delightful power.
In social joy indulge—with chaplets crowned;
And drive dull care away.
Hear Koheleth:
Go then and eat with joy thy bread, and drink with mirth thy wine,
In every season be thy garments white,
And fragrant oil be never lacking to thy head;
Live joyful with the wife whom thou hast loved.

The one kind of language seems but the echo of the other. If we disregard the spirit and the design of Koheleth, there is an Epicurean zest in his description, not surpassed, to say the least, by that of Euripides. We may say, too, on the other hand, that it is not easy to distinguish his language, and the spirit of it, from that of Paul in his quotation, 1 Corinthians 15:32 : “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” If it be said that the context there makes it impossible for us to mistake the Apostle’s ironical meaning, the same may be said in respect to the writer who tells us, only a short distance back,

Better to visit sorrow’s house, than seek the banquet hall;
Better is grief than mirth;
For in the sadness of the face the heart becometh fair.
It is the very nature of rhetorical irony, especially if it be the irony of sorrowful warning, to paint the thing in higher colors, we may say, than would suit its description in a more direct and didactic admonition. Had it been a piece of Isocratean moralizing in commendation of a moderate, contented, frugal, and thankful enjoyment of life, it would naturally have been in a lower and calmer strain. The wine, the odors, the splendid raiment, would have been all wanting. They are just the points in the picture, however, to make an impression on the serious mind when it is felt to be a description of the vanity of life. We may even say that they are just the things that lead to such a feeling.
The second internal evidence showing the true character of this passage, is the feeling of sorrow, which, amidst all its apparent joyousness, the writer cannot suppress. We have called it irony, but the irony of the Bible is not only serious, but sometimes most tender. Whilst, then, the language here criticised is not the mere worldly advice that Stuart and others would represent, neither is it, on the other hand, the hard irony of sarcasm, or of unpitying satire. Koheleth’s thoughts of death, and its awful unknown, have depressed his faith, and there seems to have come over him a feeling akin to despair. His idea of God’s justice, and of some great destiny, or world, over and encompassing the present, is not lost—for it reappears strongly afterwards—but, for the moment, the thought of man, as he is seen in the earthly state, becomes predominant, and he breaks out in this strain, in which pity is a very manifest element. “Go then and enjoy thy poor life.” There is strong feeling in it, a most tender compassion, and this shows itself in that touching mention of the transient human state, and, especially, in the pathetic repetition of the words
The days of thy vain life,—that life
Which God hath given to thee beneath the sun;
Yea, all thy days of vanity.
This plaintive tone is utterly inconsistent with the Epicurean interpretation, however moral and decent we may strive to make it.

Again, there are two arguments against such a view that may be said to be outside of the passage itself, though one of them is derived from another place in the book. First—in Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, we have a strain so precisely similar, in style and diction, that we cannot help regarding it as possessing the same rhetorical character. It may be thus given metrically, yet most literally, and with the full force of every Hebrew word:

Rejoice O youth in childhood; let thy heart
Still cheer thee in the day when thou art strong;
Go on in every way thy will shall choose,
And alter every form thine eyes behold.
It is not easy to mistake the character of this, even if it were not followed by that most impressive warning:
But know that for all this, thy God will thee to judgment bring:
O then turn sorrow from thy soul, keep evil from thy flesh;
For childhood and the morn of life, they, too, are vanity.

Here the caution is clearly expressed, although we feel that such expression is just what the previous words, rightly comprehended in their spirit, would have led us to expect. Rhetorically regarded, such an addition would have been exactly adapted to this place (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). It would have been in harmony with the tone of what had gone before. It is, however, so suggested by the whole spirit of the passage, and especially by that irrepressible tone of commiseration that appears in the words before cited (the pathetic allusion to our poor vain life), that it may well be a question whether any such distinct warning, or any mere moralizing utterance. could have had more power than the “expressive silence” which leaves it wholly to the feeling and conscience of the reader.

The passage Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, is so important in itself, and has such a bearing on the one before us, as to justify its fuller interpretation in this place. Many modern commentators regard these verses also as a serious advice to the young man, if the term serious could, with any propriety, be applied to such an admonition. The older commentators, however, are mostly the other way. They regarded the passage as indeed most serious, but as having this character from its sharp pet mournful irony. So Geier says : “magnam interpretum partem hæc verba imperative, ironice accipere.” Among these were Kimchi, Munsterus, Mercerus, Drusius, Junius, Piscator, Cartwright, Cajetan, Vatablus, Ar. Montanus, Osorius, Mariana, Menoch, Pineda, Jac. Mathiæ, and others, among whom may be reckoned Tremellius, if we may judge from the tone and style of his Latin translation. Luther was the other way, and it may be said that he has given the tone to many that have come after him, evangelical as well as rationalist. “This is said seriously by Solomon,” he tells us, “de licita juventutis hilaritate, concerning the permitted joy fulness of youth, which ought not to be unbridled, or lascivious, but restrained within certain limits.” But what right has he to say this ? What limits are assigned ? The language seems wholly without limitations, or reserve : “Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes,” terms which every where else in the Hebrew Scriptures are used, in malam partem, to denote sensual and ungodly conduct; as in Numbers 15:39 : “Ye shall not go (roam) אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם after your own heart, and after your eyes.” Compare also the frequent phrase שְׁרִירוּת לֵב, commonly rendered “the imagination of the heart,” but really meaning the turnings (choices) of the heart,—doing as one pleases. See Deuteronomy 29:18; Psalms 71:13 where it is synonymous with יֵלְוּ בְּמוֹעֲצוֹתֵיהֶם “walking in their own counsels,” also Jeremiah 9:13, and other places. Compare especially Job 31:7, where, for “the heart to follow the eye” is placed among the grievous sins, being regarded, in fact, as the very fountain-head of sin: אִם אַחַר עֵינַי הָלַךְ לִבִּי, “if my heart hath gone after mine eyes,” the will (the conscience) after the choice, the velle after the optare, the voluntas after the voluptas. “Walk in the way of thine heart;” what an admonition this to a young man, even if such a one ever needed an exhortation to hilarity, or to the following of his own pleasure! How strange, too, as coming from one who, in other parts of this book, talks so differently : “Better the house of mourning than the house of feasting;” “I said of laughter it is mad, of mirth, 0 what availeth it!” Compare it with the repeated charge of Solomon, in the Proverbs, to restrain the young man—not to let him go after the imaginations of his heart, to put a bridle on him (חנך Proverbs 22:6), and “bow down his neck in his youth.” The language here is peculiar, and each word must be sharply looked to: “Go on ” (it is הַלֵּךְ, the piel intensive) “keep going, in the ways (all the ways, in the plural, every way) of thine heart,” וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ (the k’tib is undoubtedly right) and in (or after) the forms of thine eyes.” The word מַרְאֶה is so frequently used of female beauty (see the phrase יְפַת מַרְאֶה Genesis 12:11, and other places) that the idea is at once suggested here; and what a contrast then to our Saviour’s teaching, that even to look is sin. What a contrast, we may say, is the whole of it thus considered, to what Christ says about the broad way, and to St. John’s most emphatic language (1 Epist. Ecclesiastes 2:16) respecting “the lust of the eye,” the desire of the eye, τὴν ἐπιθυμὶαν τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν! If we give the phrase the more general rendering, “the sight of the eyes (sight objectively) it would come to the same thing. It would be a license to follow every form of beauty. There might be urged, too, the contrast between it (thus regarded as serious advice even in the most decent sense that could be given to it) and Paul’s counsel for young men, Titus 2:6, τοὺς νεωτέρους παρακάλει σωφρονεῖν, “exhort them to be sober,” temperate, sound-minded, having reason and conscience ruling over appetite and desire. How unlike, too, the Psalmist’s direction Psalms 119:9, “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way,—by taking heed thereto (לִשְׁמֹר), by watching it, according to Thy word.” How utterly opposed to this is the unlimited advice to the young man “to walk in the way of his heart,” that is, to do as he pleases. Luther feels the force of this contrast, for he says in the same comment, when he comes to speak of the words ותלך בדרכי לבך “walk in the ways of thine heart,” fecit hic locus ut totum hunc textum ironiam esse putarem, quia ferme in malum partem sonat, siquis incedat in via cordis sui: “This place would make me think that the whole text was irony, because the phrase ‘to walk in the way of one’s heart,’ is so generally taken in a bad sense.” But, after all, he goes on to say that we must abide by the general idea of the passage (as he had taken it) and suppose the necessary limitations. Very few commentators have had a clearer perception than Luther of the general sense of the Scripture, but in regard to such passages as these he is not to be implicitly trusted.

He was of a very jovial disposition; but what chiefly led him to such interpretations, here and elsewhere in this book, was his aversion to some of the more austere dogmas, as well as practices or Romanism, and especially his dislikeof asceticism, as exhibited by the Monks. Hence he allowed himself too much to be driven towards the opposite extreme. Thus in his commenting on the words במראה עיניך, “in the sight of thine eyes,” he boldly says, quod offertur oculis tuis hoc fruere, ne fias similis Monachorum, etc.: “whatever is offered to your eyes, that freely enjoy, lest you become like the monks who would not have one even look at the sun.” And so in the beginning of the passage, Ecclesiastes 9:9 : non prohibet jucunditates sive voluptates, quemadmodum stulti monachi fecerunt, etc.: “It does not prohibit delights nor pleasures, as the foolish monks have done, which is nothing else than making stocks of young men (even as Anselm says, ille monachissimus monachus, that most monkish monk), or than attempting to plant a tree in a narrow pot.” Others of the Reformers and early Protestant commentators were influenced in the same way in following Luther, and there can be no doubt that this has much affected their interpretations of Koheleth, making him talk like an Epicurean, and then denying that it was Epicureanism, or trying to throw over it a decent ethical mantle by their unwarranted hypotheses and limitations. After they have done their best, however, in this way, they make this writer of Holy Scripture to be a moralist inferior to Socrates and Seneca, who certainly never thought that a young man needed any such advice as that. The pious Geier seems to be aware of the suggestions that might arise from other parts of Scripture, and would zealously guard this virtuous Solomonic young man, who needs such a caution against excessive sobriety, from any comparison with the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:0. But what did he do, that filius perditus, that spendthrift, ille heluo, as Geier calls him, except “to walk in the ways of his heart, and in the sight of his eyes?” What is all pleasure-seeking selfishness [φιλαυτία, φιληδονία, 2 Timothy 3:2-4] but saying “give unto me my portion of goods that falleth to me,” in this world ?

It might have been thought, however, that the latter part of Ecclesiastes 9:10, following the warning of judgment, would have been treated in a different manner; but the general consistency of which Luther speaks has led some to an Epicurean interpretation even of this. We regret to find our author Zöckler following such a course in his interpretation of the words הסר כעם מלבך “turn away sorrow from thy heart.” “Here,” he says, “the positive exhortation to hilarity (Frölichsein) is followed by a dissuasion from its opposite,”—that is, the young man is told to avoid seriousness as painful and troublesome (Kummer, Unmuth,) which he gives as the interpretation of כַעַם]. It is a recommendation of hilarity, of mirth, in opposition to asceticism or undue sobriety, as though the young man’s danger in Solomon’s time, or in the days of Malachi, or at any other period in the human history, had been in that direction of gloom and monkery.

There are few interpreters more honest, or more learned, than Stuart, and yet his comment here is certainly a very strange one. “In verse 9th,” he tells us, “the command is to do something positive in the way of enjoyment; here it is to shun evil and suffering. Taking both together, the amount is, enjoy all that a rational man can enjoy in view of retribution, and avoid all the evil and suffering that can be avoided.“ Retribution here is a mere make weight. Why retribution for simply acting according to the advice? If pleasure be the good, then, as that acute moralist Socrates says, “he who gets the most of it is the ἀγαθὸς�, the good man, the best man.” “But why,” asks Stuart, “is this so strongly urged upon the young?” The question is certainly one that is very naturally suggested in view of such an interpretation, but the answer he gives is remarkable: “Plainly because that even they, although in the best estate of man, hold life by a very frail tenure. Therefore, as even youth is so frail and evanescent, make the best of it. It is almost as if he had said—Then or never.” In other words, a short life and a merry one. Anacreon could not have said it better. No exhortation to obedience to parents, to temperance, to sober-mindedness, in the style of Paul, no advice to “watch over the heart,” such as Solomon gives in the Proverbs, but a direction “to walk in the sight of the eyes,” and a caution against seriousness as inconsistent with youthful hilarity. Strange advice this under any circumstances; and still more strange from the fact that it is the only place in the book in which young men are addressed,—the first verse of chap. 12 being but a continuation of the admonition here given. Look at the argument as it thus presents itself: God will bring thee unto judgment, young man; therefore put away all serious concern from thy heart. And why? Because youth is brief and evanescent. How does it compare Scripturally with the other view as presenting the other reasoning : Know that God will bring thee into judgment for “following the ways of thine heart, and walking in the sight of thine eyes;” therefore “turn sorrow from thy heart” [thy soul], that is the feeling of remorse, the sense of the Divine displeasure, or of thine own self-accusing indignation [כַּעַם] for such an unrestrained living to thyself, and “keep off [הַעֲבֵר, avert] evil from thy flesh”—that is, the bodily ills that must come from a life of sensuality, or following” “the desire of thy heart,” and “the voluptuous sight of thine eyes.” And why? Because “childhood and youth [שַׁחֲרוּת, literally, the morn of life] are vanity;” that is, all their joys, take them at the highest, are vain and worthless in comparison with the serious evils, whether for this life or another, that such a course of free indulgence may bring upon thee.

The ironical nature of this passage is accepted by that great critic, Glassius, in the Philologia Sacra, p. 1518. It is an “apostrophe,” he says, “a concessio ironia cujus correctio, a consuetudine animi et sensuum prava revocans, statim subjungitur:” Go on,—but know. He compares it with Isaiah 2:10, “enter into the rock, and hide thyself in the dust,” but know that God will find thee. So Isaiah 8:9, “Join yourselves together, enter into council, but know that it will be all in vain.” It is equivalent to saying, “though ye do this,”—the imperative being really the statement of an hypothesis. Another passage he cites is Isaiah 21:5 : “Spread the table, set the watch, eat, drink,” etc.; though that may be taken in a different way.

A second outside proof of the true character of the language, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, is derived from a passage in the Apocryphal book entitled Wisdom of Solomon. It is evidently an imitation of these very verses, and, whether written by a Jew or a Christian, is evidence of the earliest mode of interpreting all such modes of speaking in Koheleth. It is the language of the worldly pleasure-seeker, chap. 2 Ecclesiastes 9:6-8 : “Come then, and let us enjoy the good that is before us; let us be filled with costly wine and aromatic odors; let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with roses before they be withered,” etc. The imitation is evident throughout the passage. It appears not only from the language used, but also from the fact that the writer, both by his general style and by the title he has given to his book, intended it as a more full and florid setting forth of what he deemed the pervading thought and feeling of Koheleth. Now, by placing this same style of language in the mouth of the sensualist, he makes clear that he was of like opinion with Jerome (whose views may have been derived from his Hebrew teacher representing the same view afterwards advanced by Kimchi), that as uttered by Koheleth, it was a προσωποποιί͂α, a dramatic representing of what is expressed in human action,—the sensualist’s own conduct speaking forth the view of life that would be in accordance with the idea that this is all of man, and that there is no such judgment as that on which Koheleth elsewhere so strongly insists. This is rendered still more clear from the sudden change that immediately follows in Ecclesiastes 9:11, and which Jerome justly characterizes as Koheleth retractans. He cannot let the language go without showing how full of vanity it is, viewed only in regard to the present world, and according to the known condition of human life :

I turned again to look beneath the sun.
Not to the swift the race, I saw,
nor victory to the strong, Nor to the wise secure their bread, nor to the prudent wealth.
The very uncertainty of all human efforts renders such advice utterly vain. Why say to men, be happy, eat, drink, and be merry, “let thy garments be ever white, and let aromatic oils be never lacking to thy head,” when no strength, no wisdom, can give any security for the avoidance of sorrow, much less for the attainment of such Epicurean joys. In such a connection the thought of there being, necessarily for man, a judgment and a destiny, making all such pleasures, even if innocent, mere vanity and worth lessness in the comparison, is more powerfully suggested than it would have been by the most express utterance.
There are some other things of less exegetical importance, but deserving of attention in their bearing on the real character of these important passages. Thus the words כִּי כְּבָר רָצָה הָאֱלהִֹים אֶת־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ [Ecclesiastes 9:7]are rendered in E.V.: “God now aoeepteth thy works,” indicating that He has, in some way, become gracious. The true rendering is, “God hath already,” or rather, “long ago, accepted thy works.” It is a thing of the past, settled as the Divine way in regard to man; He has never been off ended at all. It is the doctrine of Plato’s second class of atheists (as he calls them, though they claim to be theists), who believe in a Divine power, but regard Him as taking no account of men, or rather, as accepting all human works, as He accepts the operations of nature. Or it is a Hebraistic form of the Lucretian doctrine of the Divine nature:

Semota. ab nostris rebus, sejundaque longe.

That this general acceptance by Deity of human works is not the serious language of Koheleth, is evident from his so frequent insisting on judgment, either in this world or in another, as though it were his favorite doctrine, his “one idea,” we might say, in all this discourse. So Wordsworth regards the whole passage as the language of the sensualist (which is the same as Jerome’s ironical προσωποποιτα or Koheleth speaking in their person), and thus comments on the words in question: “Evil men misconstrue their prosperity into a sign that God accepts their works.” There is, however, too much inferential moralizing in such a statement. In their language, God’s “accepting their works” is rather another mode of saying that He is utterly indifferent about them, or, as they would represent in their Lucretian hyperpiety, too great, too exalted, to mind the affairs of men.

The 10th verse of Ecclesiastes 10:0 is rendered in E. V.: “Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The Vulgate favors this, but the accents forbid it. They connect בכחך with לעשות, requiring us, if we follow them, to render: “whatever thy hand findeth to do in thy strength, do it.” This puts a different aspect upon the sentence, and the accents, with their usual nice discrimination, bring it out. The other rendering would indeed suggest a similar meaning, but the accents make it clear. It becomes the maxim, τὸ κράτιστον τὸ δίκαιον, might makes right, or let might be thy law of right, or as it is rendered in the Metrical Version,—

Do, then, whate’er thy hand shall find in thy own might to do.

Wordsworth takes the same view: “Do all that thy hand findeth to do by thy power” [see Hengstenberg, Ewald]; that is, “let might be right with thee; care nothing for God or man, but use thy strength according to thy will.” Surely this is not the serious language of the serious Koheleth, the earnest teacher of judgment, who speaks so solemnly of “the fear of God, and who says, only two verses from this : “Then I turned again to look beneath the sun, and saw that the race was not to the swift nor the victory to the strong.”

The language following: “For there is no knowledge,” etc., even Stuart regards as that of the objector, though replying to the serious advice given above, as though he had said in addition: enjoy thyself, etc., for there is no after state to give thee uneasiness. “But we have seen,” says Stuart, “that the settled opinion of Koheleth himself [Ecclesiastes 8:12-13] was something quite different from this.” It is not easy to understand the remark. It would have furnished Stuart a much more consistent ground of reasoning, had he regarded the whole passage as irony or personification. He says, at the close of his comment on the verses: “The positive passages which show Koheleth’s view of judgment, and of retribution, are too strong to justify us in yielding to suggestions of this nature”—that is, the supposition of his denial of all future accountability. This rule of criticism, had they consistently followed it, would have made Koheleth all clear in many places where the opposite method produces inextricable confusion and contradiction.

Such remarks as Zöckler and Stuart sometimes make in deprecation of’ Epicureanism [Hitzig, in general, gives himself no concern about it] show the pressure upon evangelical commentators (and even upon all who may in a true sense be styled rational), when they adopt what may be termed the half-way Lutheran mode. The doctrine of Epicurus, even in its most decent form, is so inconsistent with any devout fear of God, and this again is so utterly alien to any philosophic or scientific theism that maintains a Deity indifferent to human conduct, one who cannot be prayed to, ἀνευκταῖος, and without any judgment either in this world or another; for in respect to the true nature of Koheleth’s exhortation, either idea presents a conclusive argument. His doctrine must be somehow connected with all that system of truth, with all that “wisdom, of which the fear of the Lord is the beginning.” To a mind deeply meditative. like that of Koheleth, the thought of there being no judgment, no hereafter (should such a belief be ever forced upon it), would not be ground of joy, much less of an exhortation to joy, as addressed to others. He would not, even in that, case, adopt the Epicurean maxim: Let us eat and drink,—rather let us fast, let us mourn, in view of an existence so brief, so full of vanity, so soon to go out in darkness all the more dense, a despair all the more painful, in consequence of the transient light of reason with which we are so strangely and irrationally endowed—e tenebris in tenebras—like the bubble on the wave in a stormy night, reflecting for a moment all the starry host above, and then going out forever. There is no religion, no superstition, no creed so awfully serious, as that of human extinction, and of a godless world. Place the two exhortations side by side: Live in the fear of God, for thou must come to judgment: Live joyful, for soon thou wilt be no more; in either alternative, the present value of the present being, considered for its own sake dwindles in a rational estimate. As connected with a greater life to come, though made important ant by such connection, yet how comparatively poor! regarded as the whole of our existence, how absolutely vain! In the first aspect, it is vanitas; in the second, it is vanitas vanitatum, utterly vain, a “vanity of vanities.” The Epicurean idea and the Epicurean call to mirth are as inconsistent. with the one as with the other.—T. L.]


[1][see the text note on this world, and the simple translation of the Vulgate and LXX., which came from the text as it is.—T.L.]

[2][It may well be said, on the other hand, that the exceedingly forced rendering of Zöckler and Vaihinger show that the common translation “joined, associated,” and the reading יחְֻבַּר on which it is grounded, are correct—T. L.]

[3][“And merrily drink thy wine.” No where do we find more of the Bacchanalian expression, and yet Zöckler would regard it here as the “innocent and normal use of wine.” (See his comment on Ecclesiastes 10:19): whilst elsewhere, with no difference of language, it denotes, he says, the “corrupting and licentious use.” The irony of the passage is shown at once by comparing it with Ecclesiastes 7:2 and Ecclesiastes 2:2.—T. L.]

[4][As there is nothing said about moral conduct in the text, or any other conduct except unrestrained eating and drinking, this remark of Zöckler’s is perfectly gratuitous. If it is to be taken as serious advice of Koheleth, then Hitzig’s view is far more logical: “It is just this eating, drinking, etc., that God approves beforehand, so that you can indulge, without any scruple to disturb your sensual joy.” How contrary this is to other declarations of Koheleth we have elsewhere shown. How utterly opposed it is to other numerous passages of Scripture need not be pointed out. It is equivalent to saying God will never “bring thee into judgment” for it, or that He is utterly indifferent. See the Appendix to this Division, p. 134.—T. L.]

[5] [Ecclesiastes 9:9. “The days of thy vain life,” or, more literally, “all the days of the life of thy vanity.” The 70 left out this second mention because they regarded it as a mere repetition. Martin Geier would connect it, not with the former, which he says would be odiosa repetitio, but specially with what is said about the wife, as indicating that the conjugal relation continues through life, as also the idea, Luke 26:36, that there is no marriage in the other world. Other commentators have, in like manner, been disturbed by it, but it only shows that no amount of piety, or of learning, will fit a man to be a true interpreter of this book without something of the poetic spirit by which it is pervaded. It is not emphasis merely, much less an enforced motive to joy, that this repetition gives us, as Hitzig and Zöckler maintain, but a most exquisite pathos in view of the transitoriness and poverty of life. The style of diction reveals the style of thought, showing how far it is from the Epicurean sentiment of any kind, whether gross or moderate. It is the language of one musing, soliloquizing, full of some touching thought that causes him to linger over his words, and keep their sad music in his ear. There are examples of it in the Greek poets, especially in Homer, which have led the ancient writers on rhetoric to give it a technical name. Thus Plutarch calls it ἐπαναφορά, and so also the later writer Macrobius, Saturnal. Lib. iv. 6, more particularly describes it: Nascitur pathos et de repetitione quam Græci ἐπαναφορὰν vocant, cum sententiæ ab iisdem nominibus incipiunt: “Pathos also comes from repetition, which the Greeks call epanaphora, when sentences begin from the same words.” It receives some of its best illustrations from passages in the Iliad, such as 20:371, 23:641, and especially 22:126, which, though very different from this, in other respects, has this same kind of pathetic repetition. It is Hector soliloquizing in the time of his awful danger from the near approach of Achilles—

οὐ μέν πως νῦν ἐστὶν�̓ ἀπὸ πέτρης,

τῷ ὀαριζέμεναι, ἅτε παρθένος ἠΐθεος τε,

παρθένος—ἡΐθεος τ̓ ὀαρίζετον�.

No time for such a friendly parley now,
As when from oak and rock, The youth and maid,

the youth and maid, hold parlance sweet together.

Very different is the sentence of Solomon in its subject matter, but like it in pathos, in the peculiar repetitive diction to which it gives rise, and the musing state of soul from which it flows:
Go then, with gladness eat thy bread, and merrily drink thy wine,
Thy garments ever white, thy head with fragrant oil adorned;
Enjoy with her whom thou dost love, the days of thy vain life,—

The days of thy vain life, the all, that God has given to thee Beneath the sun.

It is indeed irony, but not that of scorning sarcasm, nor of heartless satire. It is the irony of Scripture, full of a mournful tenderness, taking this as its most impressive form of serious admonition. Interpreted in its spirit, and even by what is rhetorically revealed upon its face, there is no contradiction between it and Ecclesiastes 7:2-3; Ecclesiastes 2:2; and other passages in this book that represent sobriety, and even sadness, as morally and spiritually better for man than mirth. We have dwelt more fully on these topics, and at the hazard of some repetition, in the extended excursus on the alleged Epicureanism of Koheleth, p.131. It has been done, because no ideas suggested by the book seemed more important in their bearing upon its thorough interpretation,—T. L.]

[6][A much clearer sense, and better adapted to the whole spirit of the passage, is obtained by taking חָכְמָה in the concrete, like the Greek τὸ σοφόν, for a wise thing, a problem, a mystery, something tl at requires wisdom to explain it. Such use of it, though not found elsewhere in the Hebrew, is justified by the perfectly parallel Greek idiom, and by what is demanded to represent the peculiar thinking of this book. The mystery, puzzle, τὸ σοφόν, φιλοσόφημα, ζήτημα, inquiry, is the curious case which he is going to state. The use of חָכְמָה, Ecclesiastes 7:25, is quite dissimilar. This view is confirmed by what follows: “and it seemed great to me.”—T. L.]

Verses 17-18

B. In Presence of the Insolence, Bold Assumption and Violence of Fortunate and Influential Fools, the Wise Man can only Preserve his Peace of Soul by Patience, Silence and Tranquility

Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:20

1. Of the advantage of a wise tranquility over the presumptuous insolence of fools

(Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:4)

17The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth 18 among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. 1Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour. 2A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart is at his left. 3Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool. 4If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.

2. Of the advantage of quiet, modest wisdom over the externally brilliant but inconstantfortune of fools

(Ecclesiastes 10:5-10)

5There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth 6from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. 7I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth. 8He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. 9Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. 10If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.

3. Of the advantage of the silence and persevering industry of the wise man over the loquacityand indolence of fools

(Ecclesiastes 10:11-20)

11Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better. 12The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. 13The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. 14A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him? 15The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to 16 the city. Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the 17 morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy 18 princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness! By much sloth-fulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through. 19A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry : but money answereth all things. 20Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bed-chamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

*[Ecclesiastes 10:8. גוּמָּצ. A ditch, or pit, Vulg., fovea, LXX. βόθρͅον. The Syriac Version, has the same word. It is, however, no more Aramaic than Hebrew, being rare in both languages, though the verb, signifying to dig, is found in the latter. Its form is unusual in having dagesh after shurek, as is noted in the margin.—T. L.]

*[ Ecclesiastes 10:8 גוּמָּץ. A ditch, or pit, Vulg., fovea, 70 βόθρον. The Syriac Version has the same word. It is, however, no more Aramaic than Hebrew, being rare in both languages, though the verb, signifying to dig, is found in the latter. Its form is unusual in having dagesh after shurek, as is noted in the margin.—T.L.]

[Ecclesiastes 10:9. יִסָּכֵן; for יִשָׂכֵן, a denominative from שַׂכִּין, “a knife,” and, therefore, having no relation to the verb סכן as found, with quite a different meaning, Job 22:2; Job 33:3; Job 15:3; Isaiah 22:15, etc. Lit., “shall be cut,” or, “may be cut thereby.” It is another example of variant orthography, showing that the first manuscripts of this work were written from the ear. See remarks on שִׂכְלוּת and similar words, page 116.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 10:10. קִלְקַל; the sense of swinging, which Zöckler, Hitzig, and Elster give to this word, is not confirmed by Ezekiel 21:26, to which they refer. Gesenius gives the sense to sharpen, polish, but derives it from the primary idea of light moving, as in the rapid motions of a whet-stone, which is very probable. The accents connect it פנים faces, edges, though the Vulgate and LXX have disregarded it.—T. L.]


Of the three sections of this division, as we lay them down in essential conformity with Vaihinger, the first compares the entire nature of the wise man with that of the fool, whilst the second draws a parallel between the two regarding the conditions of their happiness; but the third points out the more profound[8] causes of their opposite destinies in two special qualities of both (the loquacity and indolence of fools, and the opposite of these faults in the wise man). This train of thought is less clear on account of the peculiar form of the sentences,—nearly all being proverbs of two lines, concise in extent, and significant and aphoristic in character;—but it must not therefore be disregarded, nor displaced by the acceptance of an incongruity of plan or connection, as if it were a conglomerate of many groups of maxims or of separate proverbs with no internal connection. By an atomistic and disintegrating process, this section has been divided by Hengstenberg into five divisions, by Hahn into eight, and by Elster even into nine; (1) Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:1; (2) Ecclesiastes 10:2-3; (3) Ecclesiastes 10:4; (4) Ecclesiastes 10:5-7; (5) Ecclesiastes 10:8-10; (6) Ecclesiastes 10:11-14; (7) Ecclesiastes 10:15; (8) Ecclesiastes 10:16-19; (9) Ecclesiastes 10:20; we shall present the special refutation of this system in our illustrations of the words and sense of the individual verses.

2. First strophe. Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:4. Of the patient and tranquil nature of the wise man in contrast with the arrogant insolence and irascibility of the fool.—The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Observe the connection with the section immediately preceding, Ecclesiastes 9:13-16, which shows the superiority of wisdom by a single example. But this verse opens a new section in so far as it begins to treat specifically of tranquility as a characteristic and cardinal virtue of the wise man. He who hears in quiet, proves himself thereby a lover of quiet and tranquility, and therefore a wise man. A quiet attention to wise words is a condition necessary to their practical obedience, and consequently to becoming wise and acting wisely. The counterpart of this is shown by the boisterous and passionate cry of the “ruler among fools,” i.e., not absolutely of the “foolish ruler” (Vaihinger, etc., referring to Psalms 54:6; Job 24:13, ff.), but of a ruler who, as he rules over fools, is foolish himself; comp. Ecclesiastes 10:16. Elster correctly observes : “Two pictures are here compared, the wise man among his scholars, who receive his teachings with collected attention, and thoughtful quiet, and a ruler wanting in wisdom to control, and who, in undignified and boisterous ostentation, issues injudicious commands to those who execute them quite as injudiciously. Comp. the mild and tranquil nature of the servant of God, with the criers in the streets: Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:19.

Ecclesiastes 9:18. Wisdom is better than weapons of war; i.e., it is stronger, more effective, and indomitable than the greatest physical strength and warlike preparation, קְרָב poetical, and equivalent to מִלְחָמָה comp. Psalms 55:19; Daniel 7:21; and therefore, כְּלֵי־קְרָב as elsewhere we have כְּלֵי ,נִלְחַמַה not merely weapons of war (Vulgate: arma bellica; Elster, et al.), but implements of war, warlike instruments, and apparatus, war material in general (LXX σκεύη πολέμου ).—But one sinner destroyeth much good. “One sinner,” i.e., a single one of those coarse miscreants or fools, who can command physical strength, but are destitute of wisdom. There certainly can be no intention to make a special allusion to the “heathen world-monarch,” i.e., the Persian king (Hengstenberg), nor in the expression, “much good” is there any reference to the prosperity of the Persian realm. This expression טוֹבָה הַרְבֵּה can rather be only intended to show what is homogeneous with wisdom and belonging to it, consequently the salutary creations and measures of wisdom, its blessings in the various spheres of the civil, and, especially, of the moral life of men.—Nine manuscripts read וְחֵטְא instead of וְחוטֵא “and one sin destroyeth much good;” but the connection imperatively demands the retention of the Masoretic reading.—

Ecclesiastes 10:1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour. Literal, “flies of death,” etc. The singular יַבְאִישׁ, with the plural זְבוּבֵי, is to be taken distributively: each individual dead fly can make the ointment stink, as soon as it falls into it. For this construction comp. Hosea 4:8; Proverbs 16:2; Song of Solomon 2:9; Gesenius, Lehrgebäude, pp. 665, 713. יַבִּיעַ means literally “turns into liquid, causes to bubble up,” i.e., sets into fermentation, and in that way produces the decomposition and rottenness of the ointment. רוֹקֵחַ, dealer in spices. This addition gives us to understand that the valuable ointment of commerce is meant, and by no means a worthless article.—So doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor. [Zöckler’s comment is based upon his translation : “Weightier than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly,” [1] which is essentially different from our English Version.—T. L.]. יקר is here used in its original signification “heavy, weighty,” namely, in the eyes of the dazzled multitude, that is, accustomed to esteem folly, and indeed a very small amoun.t of folly, of more value than all real wisdom and honor. “Wisdom and honor” correspond in this second clause to the costly ointment of the first and the “little folly” [מְעַט] corresponds to the fly, the little dead animal, that nevertheless corrupts the whole pot of ointment; comp. 1 Corinthians 5:6.

Ecclesiastes 10:2. After Ecclesiastes 10:1 has explained and developed the second clause of Ecclesiastes 9:18, the author turns back to the illustration of the great advantages of wisdom over folly, that is, to the first clause of Ecclesiastes 9:18. A wise man’s heart is at his right hand. That is, it is in the right place, whilst the fool’s is really at the left, i.e., has sinister and perverse purposes. “Heart” is here equivalent to judgment, as in the subsequent verse, and in Proverbs 2:2; Proverbs 14:33; Proverbs 15:28.

Ecclesiastes 10:3. Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him. That is, when he goes out he lets people perceive his want of judgment in various ways—for which reason he would do much better to remain at home with his stupidity.—And he saith to every one that he is a fool. Namely, because he considers himself alone wise, and as a fool he can do no otherwise; for as soon as he should consider himself a fool, he would have made the beginning of his return to the path of wisdom. Knobel, Ewald, and Vaihinger render; “it is foolish.” But סָכָל stands elsewhere only for persons; for the adjective sense it would be necessary to assume the reading סֶכֶל.

Ecclesiastes 10:4 is not a specific maxim incidentally dropped, (Elster) but an admonition holding the closest connection with what precedes, and which forms the practical conclusion of the whole discussion (beginning with Ecclesiastes 9:17) concerning the relation between wise gentleness and foolish passionateness. For the ruler among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17) here clearly appears again as “ruler;” the “great offences” point back to the “sinner” of Ecclesiastes 9:18; and thus also is there made a close connection with Ecclesiastes 10:2-3 of this chapter. Hence Luther is correct in his rendering : “Therefore, when the insolence of a mighty one,” etc. If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee. For the expression רוּחַ תַּעֲלִה עַל in which רוּהַ does not mean spirit (Sept., Vulg., Hengstenberg), but anger, comp. 2 Samuel 11:12; Psalms 78:21; Ezekiel 38:18.—Leave not thy place; i.e., do not be disconcerted, do not become dissatisfied, as this would develop itself in a changed position of thy body in a manner that would entail danger on thee. In this obvious illustration it is not necessary, with Hitzig, to explain מְקוֹמְךָ by “thy condition of soul, thy usual state of mind,”—an interpretation for which the appeal to the soul—“maintain thy place”—in the Arabian story of the “Golden Necklace,” scarcely affords a sufficient reason.—For yielding pacifieth great offences, i.e., prevents them, smothers them in the birth, and does not let them come to light. We find similar sentences in Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 25:15.

3. Second strophe. Ecclesiastes 10:5-10. Of the apparent but inconstant fortune of fools, and of the superiority of the modest, but effective and sterling influence of wisdom.—For Ecclesiastes 10:5, first clause, comp. Ecclesiastes 6:1.—As an error which proceedeth from the ruler. By the comparative כְּ in כִּשְׁגָגָה, the evil in the first clause is marked as one that is not simply an error of a ruler, but which only appears as such, manifests itself as such, so as to draw after it much worse evils, (Ewald is correct in translating, “apparently in error”). We can also understand this כְּ as כְּ veritatis, and either leave it untranslated (as Elster, according to Luther and many older authors) or give it through our turn : “there is an evil in respect to an error” (Hitzig); it is then indicated that the particular action in question corresponds to the general idea of an evil (רָעָה); compare 2 Samuel 9:8.—The explanations of Knobel, Vaihinger, and Hahn are censurable in making כְּ equivalent to the expressions “according to, or in consequence of which;” as are also those of Hengstenberg, who, following the example of Hieronymus and a Jewish adept in Scripture learning whom he questioned, understands the term “ruler” (הַשַּׁלִּיט) to be God, and thence thinks of an act of divine power that seems like a fault, but is none,—an interpretation which is untenable on account of the manifest identity of שַׁלִּיט with מוֹשֵׁל in Ecclesiastes 10:4.

Ecclesiastes 10:6-7 give two examples of errors of rulers.—Folly is set in great dignity; namely, by the caprice of a ruler who elevates an unworthy person to the highest honors of his realm. נִתֵּן lit., “is given, is set,” comp. Esther 6:8; Deuteronomy 17:15. The abstract הַסֶּכֶל stands for the concrete הַסָּכָל which the Septuagint, Vulgate, etc., seem to have read directly, but which is not therefore to be put in the place of the Masoretic text, because the latter gives a much stronger thought; it is not simply a fool, it is personified folly.—And the rich sit in low place, i.e., by virtue of those very despotic acts of a despotic ruler,, the rich (i.e., the noble and distinguished, whose wealth is patrimonial and just,) homines ingenuos nobiles (comp. Ecclesiastes 10:20, as also the synonym בֶן־חוֹרִים Ecclesiastes 10:17) are robbed of their possessions and driven from their high places. Hitzig says: “Sudden and immense changes of fortune proceeding from the person of the ruler are peculiar to the East, the world of despotism, where barbers become ministers, and confiscations of large fortunes and oppression of possessors are the order of the day.”

Ecclesiastes 10:7. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth. A contrast to sitting on horseback, which, among the Hebrews was considered a distinction for the upper classes. Comp. 2 Chronicles 25:28; Esther 6:8-9; Jeremiah 17:25; and to this add Justinian 41:3: “Hoc denigue discrimen inter servos liberosque est, quod servi pedibus, liberi non nisi eguis incedunt.” Here also, as in the preceding verse, the persons compared are to be considered as contrasted not merely in their external condition but also in their character; the princes are really princely, and princely-minded persons, but the servants are men with base servile feeling, which qualifies and makes it right for them to serve.

Ecclesiastes 10:8-10 show that in spite of this sudden elevation, so easily gained by unworthy and foolish persons, their lot is by no means to be envied; because their fortune is rife with dangers, because the intrigues by means of which they excluded their predecessors from their possessions, can easily overthrow them, and because the difficult tasks that devolve on them in their high offices can easily bring upon them injury and disgrace. Wherefore genuine wisdom, of internal worth and business-like capacity, is far preferable to such externally brilliant but unreliable and inconstant fortune of fools. The close connection between these verses and Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 is correctly perceived by Hitzig, Hengstenberg and Hahn, whilst Elster and Vaihinger isolate their contents too much in wishing to find nothing farther in them than a warning against rebellion, or resistance to divine command.—He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it. This is different from Psalms 7:15; Proverbs 26:27; Sir 27:26; it is not a pit for others, but simply a pit, the result of severe exertion of a dangerous character, with the implements for digging. Falling into the pit is not presented as a necessary, but only as a very possible case.—And whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him; namely, in accordance with the well-known and frequently confirmed fact, that serpents and other reptiles nest in old walls; comp. Isaiah 34:15; Amos 5:19. The breaking of this hedge appears clearly as an action by which one seeks to injure his neighbor.

Ecclesiastes 10:9. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. Hitzig, taking the futures יֵעָצֵב and יִסָּכֵן too much in the mere potential sense, says: “can injure himself.” See Ecclesiastes 10:8, second clause. For הִסִּיע, “to break loose, to tear out,” that is stones from the earth (not “to roll away,” as Knobel says), comp. 1 Kings 5:31.—יִסָּכֵן is not equivalent to “endangereth himself” (Sept., Ewald, Knobel and Vaihinger), but is to be derived from שַׂכִּין a knife (from סכה “to cut;”[2] comp. Proverbs 23:2) and is to be translated in accordance with the vulnerabitur of the Vulgate by, “he will injure or wound himself,” (Hitzig, Elster, Hengstenberg); see Luther also.

Ecclesiastes 10:10. If the iron be blunt. (Zöckler translates: “If one has blunted the iron”). Since קֵהָה as piel of קָהָה “to be blunt,” can scarcely mean anything else than to make blunt, we must either consider the indefinite “one,” as the subject, or the wood-chopper of the previous verse. Ewald(“Authors of the O. T.”), Hengstenberg and most ancient authors (also the Vulgate and Luther) say, that קֵהָה is to be taken intransitively, and as equivalent to hebescit, retusum fuit, but this is opposed by the following הוּא before לֹא־פָּנִים, which clearly shows a change of subject, forbidding the thought that iron can be the subject of this clause. The view formerly entertained by Ewald, “one leaves the iron blunt” (Poetical Books, 1 Ed.), he afterwards discarded as incorrect.—And he do not whet the edge. Zöckler translates: “And it is without edge.” Hitzig is correct in saying that לֹא־פּנים is formed as לֹא בָנִים “childless,” 1 Chronicles 2:30; 1 Chronicles 2:32, and is equivalent to saying, “without an edge, or edgeless.” The subsequent קִלְקַל is not to be connected with these words, but with the following ones, especially as, according to the only passage in which it occurs (Ezekiel 21:26,) it does not signify to “polish, to sharpen,” but “to shake, to swing.” (Hitzig and Elster are correct, though in opposition to most modern writers, who translate: “And he has not whet the edge”). Then must he put to more strength; i.e., in splitting the wood he must swing[3] the ax with all his strength.—But wisdom is profitable to direct. Zöckler translates : “But it is a profit wisely to handle wisdom.” Read (with Hitzig and Elster) הַכְשִׁיר instead of הַכְשֵׁיר thus making the infinitive construct, which, with its object חָכְמָה (as predicate to יִתְרוֹן) forms the subject (i.e., it is a profit, an advantage, or, it is the best; comp. the opposite וְאֵין יִתְרוֹן in Ecclesiastes 10:11 th. For the phrase הִכְשִׁיר חָכְמָה occurring only here (lit., to make wisdom straight, i.e., to direct it successfully, to handle it skillfully) comp. a similar turn הֵיטִיב חֶסֶד in Ruth 3:10. It is usual to retain the infinitive absolute הַבְשֵׁיר as a genitive dependent on ׃יִתְרוֹן “And wisdom is the profit of prosperity” (Knobel); or, “wisdom has the advantage of amendment” (Hengstenberg); or, “and wisdom is the profit of exertion” (?) Ewald); or, “wisdom gives the advantage of success” (Vaihinger). But all these renderings give a thought less clear and conformable to the text than ours. Luther is not exact: “Therefore wisdom follows diligence,” (in harmony with the Vulgate, et post, industriam sequetur sapientia). The rendering of Hahn is nearest to ours: “And the favor of wisdom is an advantage,” wherein the sense of “favor” for הכשיר does not seem quite appropriate. The entire sense of the verse is essentially correct in the following rendering of Hitzig : Whosoever would proceed securely, and not expose himself to the dangers that are inseparable, even from the application of proper means to ends, toils in vain if he undertakes the task in the wrong way (like those fools in Ecclesiastes 10:6-9); the direct, sensible way to the end is the best”—namely, that very humble, modest, but effective way of wisdom, which the author had recommended already in Ecclesiastes 9:17-18; Ecclesiastes 10:2-3, and now in Ecclesiastes 10:12 ff., farther recommends.

4. Third Strophe. Ecclesiastes 10:11-20.—Of the advantage of the silent, sober, and industrious demeanor of the wise man, over the indolent and loquacious nature of the fool.—Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment.

This sentence in close connection with verse 10 advises to a zealous and dexterous application of the remedies at the command of the wise man; but, at the same time, shows the necessity of such application by an example chosen perhaps with reference to verse 8; thus forming the transition to the warning against empty loquacity and its evil consequences contained in Ecclesiastes 10:12-14. Koheleth does not here allude to the charming of spiritual serpents, i.e., of vicious men, by importunate requests (Hengstenberg) but undoubtedly means the actual art of charming serpents; the possibility of which, or rather the actual existence of which he clearly presupposes in possession of wise and skillful persons, just as the author of the 58th Psalm (Ecclesiastes 10:4-5), indeed, as Christ himself affirms in Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19. (Comp. also Exodus 7:11, and the learned observations of Knobel on the art of charming serpents among the ancients). בְּלֹא לָחַשׁ literally, “without enchantment,” i.e., without that softly murmured magic formula, which, it was pretended, formed the principal agent in expelling poisonous reptiles, if spoken at the proper period, and thus guarded against the danger of being bitten. בַּעַל הַלָּשׁוֹן literally, the “master of the tongue,” i.e., who has the poisonous tongue of the reptile in his power, and knows how to extract the poison, or to prevent its biting; or it may also mean the “ one with a gifted tongue,” who by means of his tongue can produce extraordinary results (Hitzig, Hahn). The latter interpretation is preferable as much on account of the analogy of בַּעַל כָּנָף Proverbs 1:17, and similar expressions, as on account of the context, which clearly shows that the author has in his eye one of ready tongue not making timely use of his gift, a hero with his tongue, but without energy and promptness in action.

Ecclesiastes 10:12. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious. Such a one therefore should not be silent, as the slack serpent-charmer in Ecclesiastes 10:11, but should speak often and much, because he does nothing but good, and acquires favor everywhere with his “gracious” words (Luther). חֵן here means id quod gratiam seu favorem parit, or graciousness; comp. Proverbs 31:30; and for the sentence in general Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 15:26.—But the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. Comp. Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 13:16, etc. Any other reference of the suffix in the verb תְּבַלְּעֶנּוּ than to the logical subject כְּסִים is inadmissible. For the plural form שִׂפָתוֹת comp. Isaiah 59:3; Psalms 59:7.

Ecclesiastes 10:13. The beginning of the words of his mouth are foolishness; and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. That is, there is nothing discreet either in the beginning or the end of his foolish twaddle (Hitzig); he remains a fool in everything that he says; comp. Proverbs 27:22. “The end of his talk” is the end which his mouth makes of speaking, the last and most extravagant of his foolish speeches. Of this it is here affirmed that it is mischievous madness, namely, even for himself injurious and mischievous madness; comp. Proverbs 18:7; Psalms 64:8, etc.

Ecclesiastes 10:14. A fool is also full of words. To the error of his silly speech, he adds that of endless loquacity.[4] And he is most apt to prattle gladly and much about things of which, from their nature, he can know the least, namely, about future events. And to this fact there is again reference in what is said in the second and third clauses.—A man cannot tell what shall be. מַה־שֶּׁיּהְיֶה must not be changed into מַה־שֶּׁהָיָה, according to the Septuagint, Symmachus, Vulgate, and Syriac, Vaihinger, etc.; for the subsequent clause does not form a tautology with the present one, even when retaining the Masoretic reading, because there is here denied in the first place only the knowledge concerning the future in itself, and then the actual existence of a foreteller of future events (as a reason for the ignorance of the future).—And what shall be after him who can tell him? As in אַחֲרָיו of Ecclesiastes 6:12, (but different from that in וְאַחִַרָיו of Ecclesiastes 9:3), the suffix in מֵאַהֲרָיו refers to the subject הָאָדָם, not to מַח־שֶּׁיִּהְיֶה as though there were a distinction here drawn between the near and the remote consequences of the talk of the fool (Hitzig). A restriction of the here mentioned res futuræ to the evil consequences of the thoughtless twaddle of the fool, is quite as inadmissible as defining it to consist of his lofty plans and bold projects (Hengstenberg). There is simply a general mention of coming events, precisely as in the similar passage in Ecclesiastes 6:12.

Ecclesiastes 10:15. The labor of the foolish wearieth every one. Literal, “the labor of fools:” the plural is used distributively just as in verse 1; comp. Hosea 4:8. The author here passes from the empty and annoying loquacity of the fool to his indolence, his downright inertness, and feeble slothfulness, as to qualities forming a close connection with, and mainly the foundation of, this loquacity.—Because he knoweth not how to go to the city. Hitzig less correctly says: “him who knoweth not,” and Ewald “the one who,” etc. But this second clause is rather intended to give the reason of the premature fatigue of the fool, as also of the feebleness and unprofitableness of his exertions. “Not to know how to go to the city,” is doubtless a proverbial expression allied to that in Ecclesiastes 6:8 : “to walk before the living,” denoting ignorance in respect to behaviour and general incompetency. The way to the city is here mentioned as that which is the best known, most traveled, and easiest to find (Vaihinger, Hengstenberg), not because it leads to those great lords described in Ecclesiastes 10:16-19, whom it avails to bribe [Ewald], but simply in so far as the city is the seat of the rulers, of the officers, whence oppression proceeds, and whence also may come relief for the inhabitants of the land (Hitzig, Elster) Hahn is peculiar, but hardly in accordance with the true sense of the word ׃אֲשֵׁר “The travail which foolish rulers (?) prepare for their subjects makes these latter tired and faint, brings them to despair, so that they do not know regarding their going to the city, whether, or when, or how it must take place, in order not to violate a law.”

Ecclesiastes 10:16-19 have so loose a connection with Ecclesiastes 10:15, that Hitzig seems to be right when he perceives in them the words of the prattling fool previously described (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15), instead of the actual speech of the author. The lament about the idle lavishing of time, and luxurious debauchery of a king and his counsellors in these verses, would be then given as an example of the extreme injudiciousness of a foolish man in his talk, and the following warning against such want of foresight (Ecclesiastes 10:20) would then be very fittingly annexed. The whole tendency of the section would then seem directed only against thoughtless and idle loquacity, together with its evil consequences; whilst the indolence and luxury of extravagant nobles (Ecclesiastes 10:16; Ecclesiastes 10:18-19) form no object of the attack of the author, although he may consider the complaints of the foolish talker as well grounded, and may himself have lived under an authority attended with these vices.[5] For him who will not accept this view, for which the relation between Ecclesiastes 10:5-6 of the fourth chapter may be quoted as analogous, there is no other course than, with the great majority of commentators, to see in these verses a farther extension of the theme of indolence, business incapacity and slothfulness of fools, the treatment of which was begun in Ecclesiastes 10:15.Ecclesiastes 10:16; Ecclesiastes 10:16 would then pass from indolent fools in general to indolent, supine and inefficient rulers and nobles in particular. But there would then exist a very imperfect, if, indeed, any, connection with the final warning in Ecclesiastes 10:20; indeed the open manner in which complaints are made, in what immediately precedes, regarding the bad conduct of rulers, would seem to be in direct contradiction to this warning about uttering these complaints loudly.—Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!—That is, an inexperienced, thoughtless fool, incapable of governing; comp. 1 Kings 3:7 : Isaiah 3:4; Isaiah 3:12,—which passages also describe it as a great misfortune to be governed by a child [νήπιος]. Therefore נַעַר is not to be rendered by “servant, slave,” which latter would rather be expressed by עֶבֶד [contrary to Döderlein, Herzfeld, et al.).—And thy princes eat in the morning.—A sign of especially excessive intemperance and gluttony; see Isaiah 5:11 ff.; Acts 2:15, and compare also the classical parallels in Cicero, Phil. 2:40; Catullus, Carm. 47:5, 6; Juvenal, Sat. 2:49, 50.

Ecclesiastes 10:17. Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles.—(בֶּן־חוֹרִים compare בַּת־נָדִיב Song of Solomon 7:2; Isaiah 32:8); a noble not merely by birth, but also in disposition, vere nobilis, generosus.And thy princes eat in due season, for strength and not for drunkenness.—Therefore make that proper use of wine treated of in Psalms 104:15; 1 Timothy 5:23; not that perverted use against which we are warned[6] in Proverbs 31:4. כִּגִבוּרָה is not “in strength” (Hahn), or “in virtue” (Ewald), but “for strength,” for obtaining strength. The prep. בּ relates to the object on whose account the action occurs, just as in בּאדם Ecclesiastes 2:24 (comp. בּם Ecclesiastes 3:12).

Ecclesiastes 10:18. By much slothfulness the building decayeth.—That is, the edifice of state, that is here compared to a house that is tottering and threatening to fall (comp. Isaiah 3:6; Amos 9:11). The intent here is to point out the bad effects of the rioting idleness of the great ones who are called to govern a state. עֲצַלְתַּיִם literally: “the two idle” [hands]; comp. Ewald, § 180 a, 187 c. The expression is stronger than the simple form עַצְלָה or עַצְלוּת (Proverbs 19:15; Proverbs 31:27); “double idleness,” i.e., “great idleness.”—And through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.—That is, the rain penetrating through the leaky roof. The words שִׁפְלוּת יָדַים are used as elsewhere רִפְיוֹן־יָדָים “idleness of the hands,” Isaiah 47:3; comp. Proverbs 10:4.

Ecclesiastes 10:19. A feast is made for laughter.—A return to the description of riotous and ruinous conduct as given in verse 16. לִשְׂחוֹק “for laughter,” as elsewhere בִּשְׂחוֹק with laughter; comp. for this use of לְ 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalms 102:5.—-עשֹׁים לֶחֶם literally, “they make bread;” i.e., they give banquets, have riotous feasts. עָשָׂה לֶחֶם is therefore used here in a sense different from that in Ezekiel 4:15, where it signifies “to prepare bread, to bake bread;” comp. עָשָׂה in Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 6:12.—And wine maketh merry.—The suffix is wanting just as in עֹשִׂים the הֵם was left out. Comp. moreover, Psalms 104:15, where an innocent and reasonable enjoyment of wine is meant[7] whilst here the allusion is to a perverted and debauching use of it, as in Ecclesiastes 7:2 ff.—But money answereth all things.—That is, to these luxurious rioters, who, counting on their wealth, declare in drunken arrogance that “money rules the world,” “for money one can have every thing that the heart desires, wine, delicacies,” etc., etc. For this Epicurean rule of life see Horace, Epis. I., 6, 36–38. עָנָה literally, “to answer, to listen to” (Ecclesiastes 5:10), but is here equivalent to “to afford, to grant;” comp. Hosea 2:23. Hitzig unnecessarily considers יַעֲנֶה as Hiphil (“makes to hear”).

Ecclesiastes 10:20. Concerning the probable connection with the preceding, consult Ecclesiastes 10:16-19 above.—Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought.—מַדָּע elsewhere “knowledge,” here “thought,” Sept. συνείδησις. The signification, “study chamber,” given by Hengstenberg, lacks philological authority. For the sentence comp. 2 Kings 6:12. Hengstenberg is correct in saying; “We have here a pure rule of prudence (not a formal precept of duty), a tenet that may be simply summed up in the expression of the Lord : γίνεσθε φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὅφεις.”—And curse not the rich in thy bed chamber.—The rich here represents the noble, the prince, or the counsellor of the king (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:16).—For a bird of the air shall carry the voice.—That is, in an inconceivable manner, which no one would consider possible, will that he betrayed which thou hast said. See the proverb: “The walls have ears;” also Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:14.—And that which hath wings shall tell the matter.—בַּעַל הַכְּנָפִים equivalent to בַּעַל־כָּנָף Proverbs 1:17. The K’ri would unnecessarily here strike out the article before כְּנָפִים.


(With Homiletical Hints)

Although the conclusion of the chapter—the warning against injudicious speeches assailing the respect due to kings in Ecclesiastes 10:20—may have been written with conscious reference to the relation of Israel to its Persian rulers, the section, taken as a whole, is simply an unambiguous illustration of the relation between wise men and fools. The allegorical conception of Hengstenberg, by virtue of which he sees in Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 the idea that the people of God, groaning under the tyranny of the world, will be sustained by reference to the fact that the hostile world, i.e., the Persian world, is given over to folly, and that thus its destruction cannot be far off,—this conception, we say, finds no sufficient support in the text; it is, rather, very decidedly opposed by the exceeding general character of the morally descriptive as well as of the admonitory parts. The contents and the tendency of the section form an eloquent, figurative, vivid and popular illustration of the superiority of wisdom over folly. The theme here treated is that favorite one of the Proverbs—the parallels between wisdom and folly [Proverbs 1:20 ff; Proverbs 9:1 ff; Proverbs 10:1 ff; Proverbs 14:1 ff; Proverbs 24:1 ff.]; and simply with the difference that here are more emphatically and accurately described the insolence and haughtiness of fools, as well as their loquacity and indolent levity, in contrast to the corresponding virtues of the wise. See exegetical illustrations above, No. 1. A Homily on the entire Chapter: Of a few dominant qualities and principal characteristics of wisdom and folly.—Or, of genuine wisdom as the only remedy against the vices of pride, levity and arrogance, together with their evil consequences.—Comp. Starke: Three moral precepts: 1. Esteem genuine wisdom (Ecclesiastes 10:1-15). 2. Avoid indolence and debauchery (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19). 3. Curse not the king (ver.20).

homiletical hints on separate passages

Ecclesiastes 9:17; Ecclesiastes 10:4. Melanchthon (Ecclesiastes 9:17): The words of the wise are heard by the silent—that is, by those who are not carried away by raging lusts, but who seek for things true and salutary. (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Good counsels, sound teaching, well ordered methods, are constantly marred and rendered unavailing by trifling meddlers, who are more readily heard, both in courts and by the people, than the more modest and poor, who give right instruction and salutary advice. Lange (Ecclesiastes 9:18). He who has learned any thing thoroughly can effect much good thereby, but also much evil, if he wickedly uses what he has learned against the great purposes of God. Cartwright:—Such patient submission calms the most violent tempests of the soul; it makes tranquil the most swollen waves of passion; it turns the lion into a lamb. Let us strive then to be imbued with this virtue by which we may please God as well as men, even those who are the farthest removed from piety and humanity. Starke (Ecclesiastes 10:3):—It is difficult to expel folly and instil wisdom; but it becomes still more difficult when man in his folly considers himself wise (Romans 1:22).—(Ecclesiastes 10:4). To suffer and patiently commend one’s innocence to God is the best remedy against misused power and the wrong that we have endured, Jeremiah 11:20.

Geier (Ecclesiastes 10:5) :—Lofty positions and great power have not the privilege of infallibility. Therefore, the higher one stands, the more careful let him be, entreating God that he may not fall into error and vice.—Hansen (Ecclesiastes 10:6-7) :—The want of foresight in rulers ever exerts evil influences in the world. The unworthy are thereby preferred to the worthy, and everything takes a wrong course.—(Ecclesiastes 10:10):—It depends more on wisdom and foresight than on physical strength, to carry on the occupations of men with success.—Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 10:9): He who proceeds with violence in the moral sphere, and thus performs actions that, in respect to this quality, are similar to the breaking of stone or the splitting of wood, will suffer inevitable injury.—(Ecclesiastes 10:10). He who in wisdom possesses the corrective whereby he can sharpen the blunt iron of his understanding, must rise, however deep he may be sunken. He who does not possess it must go to ruin, however high he may have risen.

Ecclesiastes 10:11-15. Brenz:—There is nothing in man which contributes more to bring him into sin than his tongue. Truth is satisfied with the fewest and simplest words, and the wiser the man, or the more attached to truth, the more sparing is he in his speech. (Ecclesiastes 10:15). This teaches that no labor, no diligence, will produce fruit, if one knows not the legitimate use of labor. As the unskilled steward has much toil, with little or no result, if he knows not how to put to use the goods acquired in the proper manner, or does not carry them to market in the city.—Cramer:—The unprofitable babblers prattle about things of no import; but the wise weigh their words with a golden balance, Sir 21:27.—Starke:

Ecclesiastes 10:15. That men must painfully toil is a thing of universal necessity since the fall; but to toil in profitless and sinful things is double folly and sin, Isaiah 57:10.—Zeyss [Ecclesiastes 10:15] :—Remember the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22) and learn the right way thither, which is indeed narrow and not easy to find (Luke 13:24).—Geier (Ecclesiastes 10:16):—In judging a wise man we are not to regard his years, but the power of his mind, and what they manifest, 1 Samuel 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:12.—[Ecclesiastes 10:17]. A pious and virtuous magistracy we should gratefully recognize as an inestimable gift of God, and heartily pray to him for their preservation.—Zeyss (Ecclesiastes 10:18-19):—Beware, above all things, that the house of thy soul be not ruined by neglect, whilst thou art yielding to the flesh and its sinful desires.—Tub. Bib.:—Observe this rule of wisdom: speak no evil of thy ruler, nor of any one else, James 4:11.—[Matthew Henry] (Ecclesiastes 10:14):—A fool also is fond of words, a passionate fool especially, that runs on endlessly, and never knows when to take up; it is all the same, over and over; he will have the last word, though it be but the same with that which was the first. What is wanting in the strength of his words he endeavors in vain to make up in their number. The words that follow may be taken either (1) as checking him for his vain-glorious boasting in the multitude of his words (in respect to the future), namely, what he will do, and what he will have, not considering what every body knows, that a man cannot tell what shall be in his own time while he lives (Proverbs 27:1), much less can one tell what shall be after him, when he is dead and gone. Or (2) as mocking him for his tautologies; he is full of words, for if he do but speak the most trite and common thing, such as a man cannot tell what shall be, then, because he loves to hear himself talk, he will say it over again, what shall be after him, who can tell him? like Battus in Ovid:

Sub illis

Montibus (inquit) erant, et erant sub montibus illis. Whence vain repetitions are called Battologies (Matthew 4:7).—[Ecclesiastes 10:15. The foolish tire themselves in endless pursuit’s, because they know not how to go to the city, because they have not capacity to apprehend the plainest thing, such as the entrance to a great city. But it is the excellency on the way to the heavenly city, that it is “a highway” in which “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err” (Isaiah 35:8); yet sinful folly makes men miss that way.—T. L.]


[1][The objections to the rendering of Zöckler, Hitzig, Stuart, and others, are 1st: the unusual meaning “heavier” which it gives to יָקָר, a sense existing primarily in the root, and appearing in the Syriac and the Arabic, but having no other example in the Hebrew; 2d, the filling up, or supposed ellipsis (“in the eyes of the ignorant and foolish”), which is required if we give it the more common Hebrew significance of “precious, honorable;” 3d, and chiefly, the singular incongruity that; by either of these authors, is introduced into the comparison: “as the dead fly taints the precious ointment, so a little folly outweighs wisdom,” etc., or, is more precious in the vulgar opinion. It is evidently a comparison in either rendering, though the particle of comparison is omitted, as in many other cases, especially of the concise sententious kind [see the long list in the Grammar of Jona Ben Gannach]. The objection to the common English rendering (which is also that of Geier, Tremellius, and the great critic Glassius) is that it requires a repetition of יבאיש in the second member; but for such ellipsis, especially in proverbial expressions, and when the context evidently favors it, there is good and clear authority. Comp. Proverbs 13:2; “From the fruit of his mouth a man shall eat good, but the soul of the wicked—folly;” that is, shall eat folly [with ellipsis of תּאֹכַל]. Comp. Proverbs 26:9; Jeremiah 17:11. A still stronger case is found, Job 24:19, where there is, in fact, a double ellipsis, and yet the comparison and the meaning are both quite clear: “Heat carries off the snow waters, Sheol—have sinned;” that is, so “sheol (carries off those that) have sinned”—שאול חטאו. There is an ellipsis both of the governing verb, and of the relative pronoun. “The dead fly taints the fragrant ointment, so a little folly [taints] one honorable for wisdom,” etc. Nothing could be more apt, or true. This rendering preserves also the analogy between a good name and precious odors, a metaphor common in all languages, and so strikingly introduced Ecclesiastes 7:1, and Song of Solomon 1:3 : Dead flies spoil the fragrant ointment, a little folly the good name. This is in accordance, too, with a common usage in Hebrew, by which the sense of הבאיש is transferred from the literal ill savor to odiousness of character. The preposition מ with the sense of propter, on account of, is also well established: יָקָר מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד, “precious,” that is, held in esteem “for wisdom and honor.” The two verbs יביע and יבאיש are to be taken together, or the one as qualifying the other: “make corrupt, make ferment,” or froth, that is, corrupt by fermentation— “with frothy taint.” See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[2][The meaning given to יסָּכֵן is probably the correct one (see text note), as derived from the noun שַׂכִּין “a knife” (Arabic سكين); but שׂכה = סכה, means to see, and is only rendered to cut from its supposed affinity to the Latin seco, and to accommodate it to this word. The sense of סכן “to become poor,” as in Isaiah 41:20 (pual), and in the Arabic, might perhaps answer here, but it would mar the parallelism.—T.L.]

[3][See Text Note and Metrical Version.—T.L.]

[4] [יַרְבֶּה דְּבָרִים. It is not mere “loquacity” that is here intended. The best explanation is that of Aben Ezra, who refers it to vain predictions, [see note on דברים Ecclesiastes 5:5, Eng. Ecclesiastes 5:7, p. 91], or rather, boasting assertions in respect to the future: “I will eat and drink, says the fool, but he knows not what shall be in his life or in his death; as is said in another place [Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 6:12], there are many words that increase vanity, yet who knoweth what is good for man etc.” So also Rashi: “In his simpleness, the fool is full of words, deciding confidently and saying, ‘to-morrow I will do so and so, when he knoweth not what shall be on the morrow,—or when he would undertake a journey for gain,’ and knoweth not that he may fall by the sword.” Comp. Luke 12:20, James 4:13. This is also the interpretation of Martin Geier, at least in relation to the 14th verse. It is strongly confirmed by the immediately following context. In such a rendering ו in וסּכל, has an adversative force: “Though the fool multiply words, yet man knows net, etc.” “For who shall tell him what shall be after him?’ This does not mean the remote future, nor even the future generally, as would be expressed by אחרין, but the near, the immediate, which is the sense given by the preposition in the compound מֵאַהֲרָיו, “from after”—that which comes from, out of or directly after the present,—or, “on the morrow,” according to the language of these Jewish interpreters, and that of St. James. Comp. Fuerst’s derivation of מָחָר (to-morrow), which he regards, not as an independent root, but as a contraction of מַאֲחַר, as he makes it, or מֵאַחַר or מָה־אַחַר (see Marg. Note to Ecclesiastes 10:7, p. 91). This shows, too, the direct connection with the verse that follows, and furnishes a key to that obscure expression on which there is so much comment to so little purpose. Our English Version: “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city,” is hardly intelligible in any sense that can be put upon it. The same may be said of Hitzig’s and Zöckler’s attempts to explain it. The expression, עמל הכסילים is a collective one, “the toil of fools,” equivalent to “a foolish toil,” to be taken as a nominative independent, or what De Sacy styles, in his Arabic Grammar, Vinchoatif, or detached subject. Its separation from the verb following is shown by the change of gender,—the feminine prefix in תְּיַגְעֶנּוּ being used to show that the immediate grammatical subject is the neuter, or indefinite, fact: “Vain toil of fools! it only wearieth him;” the singular objective pronoun in תְּיַגְעֶנּוּ referring, not to כסילים taken distributively, but to the vain predicter in Ecclesiastes 10:14, and who is kept in view throughout. “It wearieth him,”—is too much for him—surpasses his knowledge. Then אֲשֶׁר gives the reason: “One who knoweth not ללכת אל עיר, the going to the city”—so plain a fact as that—or “that he shall go to the city;” even this comes not within his knowledge of the future. “How to go,” says our E. V., and that is the idea conveyed by most others; but there is a great difficulty in making any sense out of it, and the grammatical construction does not require it. In the small number of cases in Hebrew where we find ידע followed by the infinitive (whether with or without ל) it is to be determined by the context whether it means a knowing how to do a thing, or a knowledge of the doing, as a fact or event. Thus in Ecclesiastes 4:13, it cannot mean, “knows not how to be admonished,” which makes a very poor sense, but, “no longer knows (that is, heeds or recognizes) admonition,” or the being admonished. In Exodus 36:1, 2 Chronicles 2:13; 1 Kings 3:7; Isaiah 7:16; Amos 3:10; the context favors the sense of “knowing how.” In Isaiah 47:0 it is decidedly the other way: ידע שכול does not mean “know how to be bereaved,” but, “know bereavement.” Still more clear, and precisely parallel to this case, is Ecclesiastes 4:17 (Eng. Bib. Ecclesiastes 5:1) where אינם יודעים לעשות רע can only mean the fact: “They know not that they are doing evil” in their sacrifices. So Ewald renders it. Hitzig and Stuart find there too the sense of knowing how: “They know not how to do evil,” or, according to the turn they give it, “how to be sad;” a meaning which we do not hesitate to pronounce absurd in itself, and also altogether unsupported by 2 Samuel 12:18, to which they refer. According to the view we have taken, the whole passage (Ecclesiastes 10:14-15) may be thus rendered:—

Predicting words he multiplies, yet man can never know
The thing that shall be; yea, what cometh after who shall tell?
Vain toil of fools! it wearieth him,—this man who knoweth not
What may befall his going to the city.
It is no paraphrase, but only so expressed as to give the spirit of the Hebrew as shown by the general connection, and by the evident reference of the ידע in Ecclesiastes 10:15, to the לא ידע האדם in Ecclesiastes 10:14. The difference between ידע לכת, and ידע ללכת, is very slight, but the ל makes it correspond more nearly to our English genitive phrase, “to know of a thing,”—that is, as an event or fact. The relative אשר here, has an inferential sense, just as ὅς, sometimes, in Greek and the Latin qui when equivalent to quia: “who knoweth not”=to “seeing he knoweth not,” or (quod) “because he knoweth not.” Such a mention of “going to the city,” as one of the most common and familiar illustrations of human ignorance of the future, suggests immediately James 4:13 : “Go to ye who say to-day, or tomorrow, we will go to a certain city, etc., ye who know not (ὅιτινες used exactly as אשר is here) what shall be on the morrow, etc.” It may have been this very passage, thus understood, that suggested the illustration to the Apostle; since his language is almost identical with the very words of Rashi’s interpretation. The great difficulties under which Hitzig and Zöckler labor, and their far-fetched reasons, warrant the offering of the above explanation, as one that deserves attention, to say the least, in clearing up this obscure passage.

We may arrive at the same general idea, even if we render לא ידע ללכת “knows not how to go, etc.;” and such is substantially the conclusion of Aben Ezra in another comment on the 15th verse: “The fool is like one who would pry into things too high or too wonderful for him, when he knows not the things that are visible and familiar, or like a man who purposes to go to a city when he knoweth not the way, and so he gets weary, and fails in his design.” It is the same general lesson, the folly of confident assertions or confident plans respecting the future. Taken in either of these ways, it avoids the exceedingly forced explanations which Zöckler here, and Hitzig in his commentary, give of the passage.

The expression יוֹדֵעַ לַהֲלֹךְ Ecclesiastes 4:8, may, perhaps, be cited as a parallel case to ידע לרכת. An answer might be found in the different form of the infinitive לכת, which is used more like a substantive denoting the event, or fact, as the object of knowledge. This reference, however, is at once disposed of by a consideration of the accents, which, in Ecclesiastes 6:8, separate the two words, and require the rendering: “What to the poor man who knows,”—or “what to the intelligent poor man, to walk,”—or “that he should walk before the living.” In other words: What profit is his intelligence in his walking before the living? Thus it becomes, according to the usual law of parallelism, an amplification of the thought just above it: “What profit to the wise?” It is another example of the spiritual and critical acuteness that dictated the Masoretic accentuation (see 2d Marginal Note, p. 94). Zöckler thinks the accents here of no authority; but that great critic Ewald holds himself governed by them. The assertion, moreover, that יודֵעַ never has the adjective sense intelligens, is refuted by simply looking into a concordance, and noting the places where it is joined with the participle מבין having a like adjective force. With this view agrees also Aben Ezra, the prince of Jewish critics. It is fortified, too, by the difficulty which all commentators have felt in making any clear sense out of the language: “Who knows how to walk before the living?” The references given by Hitzig, Genesis 17:1, and 2 Kings 4:13, are not parallel; since the preposition, on which the meaning of the phrase so much depends, is entirely different.—T. L.]

[5][This most absurd and far-fetched view of Hitzig only shows how a false critical theory of division may turn one of the most impressive passages of the book into a fool’s gabble. It all comes from looking for logical connections where they do not exist, and from overlooking the poetical subjective character of the work as a series of meditations, each one prompting the other, but by associations discerned by the feeling rather than the ethical reason. It is the free discursive view of human folly, and of the inefficiency of man’s best wisdom, that brings out the exclamation: O ill-governed land with its weak king and drunken nobles, where folly so abounds; and then this calls up the picture of the higher and purer ideal. He may have thought of the weak son to whom his kingdom was soon to be committed; it may have been a humbling thought of himself and of his own misgovernment, although there is in the way of this that Solomon’s youth was the best part of his life; or it may have been prompted by his general historical experience. View it any way, it is far more expressive in this exclamatory and discursive aspect, than though it were bound together by the closest syllogistic ties. And this appears in what follows. In perfect poetical harmony does this free, contemplative style of thought turn again from the political to the common life—from the revelry and misgovernment of kings and nobles to the slothfulness, luxury, and mercenary spirit that are found in the lower plane. Yet “revile not the ruler,”—that is the next thought that arises. Obedience and reverence are still due to authority, since evils abound in all ranks. Things are described as they are, and to find here an authority for wine drinking is about as rational as to seek an excuse for sloth and shiftlessness.—T. L.]

[6][As drunkenness is condemned here, or, rather, excess of any kind, revelling, or high banqueting, which is the predominant meaning of שְׁתִי [comp. מִשְׁתֶּה convivium], whilst not a word is said about any moderate drinking, this remark must be regarded as rather gratuitous. What makes it more than gratuitous is the fact that in Proverbs 31:4, instead of a mere warning against perverted use,” there is enjoined upon “kings and princes” total abstinence from “all wine and strong drink,” as something only fit to be given to persons in extremis, in great pain or debility [the perishing, the מָרֵי נֶפֶש or “bitter in soul”], and therefore unfit for those in health, and especially for all who have responsible duties to perform.—T. L.]

[7][In Psalms 104:15 a certain effect of wine is mentioned; nothing is said about either its innocent or its immoral use. All such remarks are gratuitous.—T. L.]

[8][These ethical and logical divisions are not easy to trace. The different methods adopted by different commentators, warrant a strong suspicion of their reality. There is, doubtless, a connection in the thought, but it is poetical rather than logical, suggestive rather than formally didactic. In the Metrical Version there is an attempt to group into separate cantos the thoughts that seemed to have the nearest relation to each other; but these might, perhaps, be differently arranged, and with equal effect. The mind of the author may be regarded under different aspects. And so, too, of the reader, it may be said, that the division for him may depend very much on his own spiritual state; for it is the very nature of all such musing, emotional writing, to suggest more to one mind than to another. It may even give a wider and higher train of thought to the reader than the writer himself possessed; and that too legitimately, or without any violence to the text; for there is a spirit in words witnessing with our spirits, and, under favorable spiritual circumstances, there may be seen a light in our author's language which he did not see, or but dimly saw, himself. And this we may suppose to have been the very design of the higher or divine author, in giving such a dramatic or representative work a place in His holy written revelation. The whole book is a meditation, or a series of meditations. The thoughts do not, indeed, follow each other arbitrarily; but, like our best thinking, are connected more by emotional than by logical bands. Place ourselves in the same subjective state—read it as poetry, not as a formal didactic ethical treatise—and we shall readily see what there is in each part, in each verse, in a single word sometimes, that makes the writer think of what follows, though all logical, or even rhetorical criticism might fail to find it. (See remarks p.176). Take, for example, these verses of the 9 and 10 chapters, as apparently the most disconnected of any in the whole poem. The ever-recurring, or underlying thought is wisdon in its two apparently contradictory aspects of preciousness and vanity—wisdom, of such inestimable value in itself as compared with folly, and yet, through folly, rendered so unavailing. The episodalmention of “the poor wise man” leads on the general train of thought, but it immediately (ver.7) how one sinner (one fool) may destroy its effect upon a community. This prompts the parallel thought, how, in the individual, too, a little folly taints all his better acquisitions,—the mode of expressing this being, doubtless, a favorite proverbial form commending itself less for its nicety than for its exquisite appositeness. This again makes him think how readily the fool exposes his folly: as the most striking example of which there occurs to the mind the rashness with which such bring upon themselves the displeasure of the ruler. Then comes readily up the folly of rulers themselves,—then examples of it in subverting the proper relations of life. A pause, perhaps, occurs: some links pass silently through the mind, but the chain of thought still shows itself. It is transferred from the higher to the more ordinary avocations of life. It is still the unavailingness of human wisdom. With all our care, and all our skill, there is danger everywhere, liability to mistakes and mishaps in every business, and in evey act. Another pause; it is the same thought but it takes a different form—the unavailingness of eloquence, or the gift of speech (that splendid evil, ὁ κόσμος τῆς�, James 3:6, or “ornament of unrighteousness”). Here, too, there is to be traced the influence of the proverbial association: “the serpent bites without enchantment;” so is the gift of speech to its possessor when misemployed in vain babbling or in slander. In such a tracking of ideas and emotions, the transitions may seem slight and even fanciful; but they are more natural, more sober, more impressive, we may say, in their moral and didactic effect, than those formal, logical divisions which commentators so confidently propose, and in which they so greatly differ. Other readers may be differently affected, so that they discover in it other associations of thought [for there are various ways, lying below the soul's direct consciousness, in which our spiritual movements link themselves together] but such diversity of view, it may be said, arises from the very nature of this kind of subjective writing, and is evidence of excellency in it rather than of a defect. It comes from its very suggestiveness, and shows the rich fertility inherent in its germs of thought.—T.L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/ecclesiastes-9.html. 1857-84.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile