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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 1

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verse 1

XXV

AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF ECCLESIASTES


"Ecclesiastes" is derived from the Septuagint version which translates the Hebrew word, Koheleth, "Ekklesiastes." Koheleth means "master of assemblies," or one who addresses an assembly; "Ekklesiastes" means the preacher. So this book was named from this characteristic of its author, viz: master of assemblies, or the preacher.


The book of Ecclesiastes was undoubtedly written by Solomon and the proof that Solomon wrote it is that all Jewish and Christian tradition says that Solomon was the author. This was first disputed in the time of Luther. Since that time some critics have claimed that someone wrote it much later and attributed it to Solomon for the effect. But Solomon wrote it, which is shown by the following considerations:


1. The book purports to be the product of Solomon.


2. History compared with the book itself proves it. 1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 4:29-34 speaks of Solomon’s wisdom. The author claims to have the wisdom he has spoken of (Ecclesiastes 1:16). 1 Kings 4:20-28 and 1 Kings 10:23-27 tell of Solomon’s riches. Compare Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.


3. Whoever reads this book and the Song of Solomon can see clearly that the author of one of these books is the author of the other also.


4. There is no historical evidence of any Jew living in the time assigned by the radical critics that fills the place.


5. There is nothing in the style to contradict the authorship of Solomon.


The objections to the commonly accepted date and authorship urged by the radical critics are:


1. The tense of the verb in Ecclesiastes 1:12 is past and therefore could not refer to Solomon because he reigned in Jerusalem until his death. The reply to this objection is that it is in the past tense because he is now about to give his past experience during his long reign as king in Jerusalem.


2. In the same verse is a reference to Jerusalem which indicates a divided kingdom and therefore must be later than Solomon’s time. The reply to this is that Jerusalem is here specified, as opposed to David who reigned both in Hebron and Jerusalem. "King of Israel in Jerusalem" implies that he reigned over Israel and Judah combined; whereas David, at Hebron, reigned only over Judah and not until he was settled in Jerusalem, over both Israel and Judah.


3. The words used in the book belong to a later date than the time of Solomon. The reply to this is that the roots of these words have all been found in Genesis and other Hebrew writings before the time of Solomon.


4. The condition of the people was incompatible with the time of Solomon, the reply to which is, "Not so."


5. The difference in the style in this book and Proverbs and the Song of Solomon. But the difference in subject matter justifies the difference in style. Also it must be remembered that Proverbs and the Song were written while Solomon was young, and this book when he was old and wearied with life (Ecclesiastes 2:17).


So Solomon wrote this book when he was an old man, from the viewpoint of experience, old age, and penitence; it is a formal discourse, or sermon, the text of which is "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) and the object of it was to search out what good thing the sons of men should do all the days of their life (Ecclesiastes 2:3). The whole book is given to this one thought.


Some of the various ideas of the author of this book are as follows: Some say that he was an Epicurean; others that he was a dyspeptic; yet others, that he was a skeptic, a Stoic, or an atheist; but to the closer student the plan of the book becomes plain.


The book, as a philosophical treatise, contains a discussion of every perplexing question of today. This book fairly represents the struggles of every schoolboy who thinks. Its teaching is that in this life there is but one true philosophy and shows that we are living in a world which is under a curse. Compare Romans 8:20 ff.


There is one caution as to its interpretation, viz: Withhold your verdict till the evidence is all in, because in it all theories are tried and the conclusion explains these results. In connection with this book, the book of Job and Psalm 73 should be studied. The author adopts wisdom as the means to try out all the theories of life.


A complete outline of the book is as follows:


The Title (Ecclesiastes 1:1)


The Prologue (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)


(1) His text (Ecclesiastes 1:2)


(2) His introductory interrogatory (Ecclesiastes 1:3)


(3) The passing of the generations (Ecclesiastes 1:4)


(4) The material world (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7)


(5) The monotony of it all (Ecclesiastes 1:8)


(6) There is nothing new (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10)


(7) There is no remembrance (Ecclesiastes 1:11)

I. The Pursuit of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18)

II. The Pursuit of Pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3)

III. The Pursuit of Great Works (Ecclesiastes 2:4-25)

1. Great works enumerated (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11)


2. A comparison between wisdom and folly, or pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:12-17)


3. He hated his labor because he had to die and leave it to another (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23) therefore conclusion No. I (Ecclesiastes 2:24 a) but the God thought knocks it over (Ecclesiastes 2:24 b; Ecclesiastes 2:25 f)

IV. Elements that limit (Ecclesiastes 3:1-5:9)
1. Divine elements:


(1) Law of opportunes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)


(2) Eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 a)


(3) Finiteness of man’s nature limits him (Ecclesiastes 3:11 b) then conclusion No. 2 (Ecclesiastes 3:12) but the God thought knocks it over (Ecclesiastes 3:13)


(4) The laws of God are infrangible (Ecclesiastes 3:14 f)


2. Human elements:


(1) Iniquity in the place of justice (Ecclesiastes 3:16) but modified by a divine element (Ecclesiastes 3:17) and the divine purpose, since man dies like beasts (Ecclesiastes 3:18-21) therefore, conclusion No. 3 (Ecclesiastes 3:22)


(2) Oppression of the poor (Ecclesiastes 4:1) therefore the dead or unborn are better off (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3)


(3) Labor and skill actuated only by rivalry with his neighbor (Ecclesiastes 4:4) therefore the fool folds his hands (Ecclesiastes 4:5 f) and then two examples (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12; and Ecclesiastes:13-16)


(4) Elements of weakness in human worship (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)


(5) Some further observations (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9) V. Riches tried (Ecclesiastes 5:10-6:12) and found insufficient, because,


1. They cannot satisfy (Ecclesiastes 5:10)


2. Consumers of wealth increase with wealth (Ecclesiastes 5:11 a)


3. The owner can only, look at it (Ecclesiastes 5:11 b)


4. He cannot sleep as a laborer (Ecclesiastes 5:12)


5. Riches may hurt the owner (Ecclesiastes 5:13)


6. They may perish in an unlucky venture (Ecclesiastes 5:14 a)


7. The owner begets a son when he is bankrupt (Ecclesiastes 5:14 b)


8. In any event, he is stripped of all at death (Ecclesiastes 5:15)


9. He leads a worried life (Ecclesiastes 5:16 f) therefore, conclusion No. 4, (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)


10. The care of a rich man who could not enjoy it (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12) because,


(1) He cannot eat it (Ecclesiastes 6:1-6)


(2) All his labor is for his mouth (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9)


(3) The greatest is but a man and cannot contend against God (Ecclesiastes 6:10-12)

VI. The golden mean tried (Ecclesiastes 7:1-8:15)
1. Value of a good name (Ecclesiastes 7:1) 2. House of mourning better than the house of feasting (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)


3. Listen to the reproof of the wise, rather than the laughter of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:5-7)


4. Do not yield to anger (Ecclesiastes 7:8 f)


5. Do not talk of the good old days as better than these (Ecclesiastes 7:10)


6. Consider the advantage of wisdom over wealth Ecclesiastes (7:11f)


7. Don’t try to straighten all the crooked things (Ecclesiastes 7:13)


8. If prosperous, be content (Ecclesiastes 7:14 a)


9. In adversity remember it, too, comes from God (Ecclesiastes 7:14 b)


10. Since it sometimes happens that the righteous die while the wicked live, be not righteous over much, nor too wise, nor too wicked, nor too foolish; hold somewhat to both (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18) this golden mean plan is great because there is not a righteous man in the earth that sinneth not (Ecclesiastes 7:19 f)


11. Don’t try to find out all that people say about you (Ecclesiastes 7:21 f)


12. The result is unsatisfactory (Ecclesiastes 7:23-8:15) it fails because,


(1) Things are too deep for the human mind (Ecclesiastes 7:23-25)


(2) Woman is more bitter than death (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28)


(3) Man one of a thousand though fallen (Ecclesiastes 7:29)


(4) When applied to public affairs that say,


(a) Do not rebel (Ecclesiastes 8:1-2)


(b) Do not resent oppression (Ecclesiastes 8:3 f)


(c) Leave the case to God’s restitution (Ecclesiastes 8:5-7)


(d) The evil ruler will die; there is no furlough in that war (Ecclesiastes 8:8)


(5) There are rulers who rule over men to their hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9 f).


(6) The mills of the gods grind too slow for the correction of this evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13)


(7) Though ultimately it is well with the righteous and evil with the wicked, yet here and now we do see wicked men get the crown of the righteous and vice versa (Ecclesiastes 8:14) therefore, conclusion No. 5, (Ecclesiastes 8:15)

VII. The means used to solve the problem condemned (Ecclesiastes 8:16-10:20) because,


1. It is too wearisome (Ecclesiastes 8:16)


2. Finite wisdom cannot fathom it (Ecclesiastes 8:17-9:1)


3. Death comes alike to all (Ecclesiastes 9:2-6) therefore, conclusion No. 6, (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)


4. The race is not to the swift (Ecclesiastes 9:11-12) illustrated (Ecclesiastes 9:13-15)


5. One fool can destroy much good (Ecclesiastes 9:16-10:4)


6. Passive resistance to the ruler tends to promote fools (Ecclesiastes 10:5-15)


7. The king may be a child (Ecclesiastes 10:16-20)

VIII. If the means of solution be discarded, what then? (Ecclesiastes 11:1-12:14)
1. Cast thy bread upon the waters (Ecclesiastes 11:1)


2. Give a portion to all (Ecclesiastes 11:2)


3. Don’t watch the wind and the cloud (Ecclesiastes 11:3-5)


4. Work all seasons (Ecclesiastes 11:6-8)


5. Let the young in their joys remember the judgment (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10)


6. Remember God in youth (Ecclesiastes 12:1)


7. Lest death itself come (Ecclesiastes 12:2-8)


8. The real good thing to do (Ecclesiastes 12:9-13)


9. Why? The judgment is before us (Ecclesiastes 12:14)

QUESTIONS

1. What is the meaning of the title of the book of Ecclesiastes?

2. Who wrote the book?

3. What the proof is there that Solomon wrote it?

4. What are the objections to the commonly accepted date and authorship urged by the radical critics and what is the reply to each, seriatim?

5. When did Solomon write this book?

6. From what point of view?

7. What is the character of the book?

8. What was his text?

9. What was his object?

10. What are some of the various ideas of the author of this book?

11. What can you say of the book as a philosophical treatise?

12. What caution is there as to its interpretation?

13. What scriptures should be studied in connection with this book?

14. What means did the author adopt?

15. Give a complete outline of the book?

Verses 2-9


XXVI

THE PROLOGUE AND THREE METHODS APPLIED

Ecclesiastes 1:2-5:9

"Vanity of vanities" (Ecclesiastes 1:2) is a Hebraism and means the most utter vanity. Compare "Holy of holies" and "Servant of servants" (Genesis 9:25). This does not mean that all things are vanity in themselves, but that they are all vanity when put in the place of God, or made the chief end of life instead of a means to an end.


The meaning and purpose of the question in Ecclesiastes 1:3 is to inquire as to the profit of all labor and worry which we see about us as touching the chief good, but does not mean that labor is not profitable in its proper place. (Cf. Genesis 2:15; Genesis 3:19; Proverbs 14:23).


There is a beautiful parallel to Ecclesiastes 1:4 in modern literature, viz: "The Brook" by Tennyson. The stanza that sounds so much like this is as follows: And out again I curve and flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on forever.


The sun, wind, and rivers in their endless courses (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7) are illustrations of the meaning of the text from the material world. The monotony of all this is expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:8, thus: "All things are full of weariness; man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing."


The meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 is that there is no new source of happiness (the subject in question) which can be devised, the same round of pleasures, cares, business, and study being repeated over and over again; that in the nature of things, there is no new thing which might give us hope of attaining that satisfaction that hitherto things have not afforded.


Ecclesiastes 1:11 is an explanation of Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 and means that some things are thought to be new which are not really so because of the imperfect records of the past. This seems to hedge against the objection that there are many inventions and discoveries unknown to former ages by showing that the records do not preserve all these inventions for the present generation and therefore they are only thought to be new. The methods applied in this search for the chief good are wisdom, pleasure, great works, riches, and a golden mean. The author claims for himself in Ecclesiastes 1:12-17 that he was king over Israel in Jerusalem and that he had applied himself in search of all that was done under heaven, to find that it was a sore travail which God had permitted the sons of men to be exercised with; that he had seen all the works done under the sun and found them all vanity and a striving after wind; that he had found many crooked things and many things wanting; that he had attained to greater wisdom than all others before him in Jerusalem and had applied it to know madness and folly, to find this, too, to be a striving after wind. The final result of it all is given in Ecclesiastes 1:18, thus: "For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."


The experiment described in Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 is the test of worldly pleasure, with the result that it, too, was vanity. Then in Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 he gives his experience in the pursuit of great works; he built houses, planted vineyards) made gardens and parks, planted trees, made pools of water, bought servants of all kinds, gathered silver and gold, provided a great orchestra for his entertainment, in fact, had everything his eyes desired and tried to find in them joy and comfort, but upon due reflection, he found this, too, a striving after the wind and to no profit under the sun.


In Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 we have his comparison between wisdom and folly, with the result that wisdom far excels folly or pleasure, yet the same thing happens to the fool and to the wise man, viz: both die and are forgotten. So he was made to hate life because his work was grievous and a striving after wind. There is ground for the hatred of labor because he must die and leave it to another (Ecclesiastes 2:18-23). The reference in Ecclesiastes 2:19 is to Rehoboam; Solomon evidently suspected his course. Therefore, the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 2:24 is that there is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink) and to make his soul enjoy his labor, but the thought (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 f) that it is all from God and that it is all subject to God’s disposal, knocks it over.


In Ecclesiastes 3:1-5:9 we have the elements that limit:

I. The Divine Elements are,


1. The law of opportunes (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)


2. The eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 a)


3. The finiteness of man’s nature (Ecclesiastes 3:11 b)


4. The laws of God are infrangible (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

II. The Human Elements are,


1. Iniquity in the place of justice (Ecclesiastes 3:16)


2. The oppression of the poor (Ecclesiastes 4:1)


3. Labor and skill actuated only by rivalry with the neighbor (Ecclesiastes 4:4)


4. The elements of weakness in human worship (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)


On the law of opportunes, will say that we have to work under this law all the days of our lives. Things must be done in their time or they are a failure.


"God hath put eternity in our hearts" (Ecclesiastes 3:11) is a great text. This means -that money and worldly things cannot satisfy the yearning of the human heart, which is for eternal things. Therefore, the conclusion in Ecclesiastes 3:12 is the same as in Ecclesiastes 2:24, but the God thought knocks it over (Ecclesiastes 3:13): "Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness."


Ecclesiastes 3:14-15 mean that the laws of God are infrangible, i.e., cannot be broken with impunity, and that whoever breaks the laws of the divine limitations him will God break.


It is an awful observation the author cites in Ecclesiastes 3:16. The observation is that iniquity was in the place of justice; that unjust men in court block the way of the righteous if they appeal to them. This is like the parable of the widow and unjust judge. A modification of this thought is found in the divine element, that God will judge the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:17).


A serious question arises in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. This is not a proposition but a heart question: Is there a distinction between man and beast? Bunyan represents Pilgrim in this condition when he had advanced far into his pilgrimage: a darkness on either side of the road; here evil spirits would whisper to him and so impress him that he would question as to whether he did not originate the thought himself. Spurgeon found himself in this condition once. The sin of Solomon doubtless was the cause of his questioning; even so it is with us. The conclusion of Ecclesiastes 3:22 is a most natural one. If man dies like a beast and that is the end of all for him, then he can do no better than to make the most of this life.


The author records an observation in Ecclesiastes 4:1 and a question which arose therefrom. The oppression of the poor and the question arising was a temporary one, as to whether it would not be better to be dead or never to have been born (Ecclesiastes 4:2-3). following that is an observation with respect to labor and a question which arose from it. The observation was that a man’s labor and skill were actuated only by rivalry with hia neighbor (Ecclesiastes 4:4) and the question arising from it is this: Is it not better then, just to be a sluggard? (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6).


Then in Ecclesiastes 4:8 we have an illustration of a miserly bachelor who is never satisfied with -his acquired wealth, notwithstanding that there is no one to whom he might leave his wealth at death. I once knew a man in Austin who had no relatives and owned a great deal of Austin, yet he would go across the street to his neighbor’s to warm rather than buy coal. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is a contrast with the condition of the bachelor and is a wonderful gem of literature, expressing the advantages of co-operation. Two are better than one because they can be mutually helpful to each other. This is the foundation principle of all partnerships, whether for business, war or the home. "A threefold cord is not quickly broken." In Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 we have an illustration of the same principle in the vanity of kings in acquiring great dominion to be turned over to an ungrateful son. There is doubtless a reference here to Solomon himself and his son, Rehoboam. Solomon foresaw the coming of Rehoboam and his people who would not rejoice in their heritage.


The elements of weakness in human worship as noted in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 are lack of due consideration which results in the sacrifice of fools and rash vowing and then not paying the pledge. Here I give an observation: often let their mouths go off half-cocked and then when settlement day comes say before the messenger, "It was an error." This principle applies in all our general work. For many years I was an agent for different phases of denominational work and handled thousands of dollars for the kingdom enterprises. On many occasions in our conventions pledges were made for some kingdom interest and when I took the matter up with the different ones for collection many of them would not even answer my letters. Then these same ones would come into the convention again and make another pledge and refuse again to pay it. This led me to go through my list of pledges when they were first made and write after each one of these the German word, nix. One would be astonished to go over these lists because of the great number on the list with nix after the name and also because certain ones are in the list whom a credulous person would not suspect. This experience of mine led me to emphasize very strongly this passage in later years: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God."


Another observation is recorded in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9. This relates to the matter of injustice so often wrought in governmental affairs, but we are admonished to remember that the One who is over all regards, and that his purpose in human government is to secure equal rights to all, since the earth is for all, and all, including the king, must be fed from the field.

QUESTIONS

1. What is the meaning of "Vanity of vanities," in Ecclesiastes 1:2?

2. What is the meaning and purpose of the question in Ecclesiastes 1:3?

3. What is parallel to Ecclesiastes 1:4 in modern literature, and what stanza especially fits the teaching here?

4. What are the illustrations of the meaning of the text from the material world?

5. How is the monotony of all this expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:8?

6. What is the meaning of Ecclesiastes 1:9-10?

7. What is the meaning of "no remembrance" in Ecclesiastes 1:11?

8. What are the methods applied in this search for the chief good?

9. What claims does the author make for himself in Ecclesiastes 1:12-17 and what is the result as expressed in Ecclesiastes 1:18?

10. What experiment described in Ecclesiastes 2:1-3 and what is the result?

11. What experiments described in Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 and what is the result?

12. What comparison is in Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 and what are the results?

13. What is his reasoning in Ecclesiastes 2:18-23 and to whom does the author refer in Ecclesiastes 2:19?

14. What is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 2:24 and what is the knock over in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26?

15. In Ecclesiastes 3:1-5:9 we have the elements that limit. What are they?

16. What can you say of the law of opportunes?

17. What great text is here and what its meaning?

18. What is the conclusion in Ecclesiastes 3:12 and what the knock over in Ecclesiastes 3:13?

19. What is the meaning and application of Ecclesiastes 3:14-15?

20. What awful observation does the author cite in Ecclesiastes 3:16 and what is the modification in Ecclesiastes 3:17?

21. What question arises in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21, what parallels to this in modern times, and what is the real cause of this questioning by Solomon?

22. What is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 3:22?

23. What is the observation in Ecclesiastes 4:1 and what question arose there from?

24. What is the observation with respect to labor and what question arose from it?

25. What is the illustration given in Ecclesiastes 4:8, what is the author’s observation illustrating this verse and what is the author’s reasoning of Ecclesiastes 4:9-12?

26. What is the illustration of Ecclesiastes 4:13-16 and who the persons primarily referred to?

27. What are the elements of weakness in human worship and what is the applicant?

28. What is the observation in Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 and what is the divine element that helps again?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/ecclesiastes-1.html.
 
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