The Practical Ideal. Acceptance of the Universal Scheme
1-15. God is a God of order. The problem which the writer has set himself is not yet solved. He has found that wisdom, culture, pleasure, are all good, though, even if we combine them, there is still something lacking, and they will not explain the mystery of existence. In continuing to seek for a rule of life that shall lead him to the highest good, he reminds himself that God is a God of order, and wisdom lies in adapting ourselves to that order. It is at a time appointed by the Creator that the individual life begins and ends, and the same is true for all the events intermediate between birth and death which make up the sum of human existence. All our undertakings are thus subject to His unchangeable decrees.
2. To plant.. to pluck up] i.e. to begin and end a career.
3. To kill] perhaps, to make war or peace. To break down] e.g. to make a way for what shall better meet the needs, secular or spiritual, of a new generation.
5. To cast away stones] Probably the whole v. means peace and war, the former expressed by leisure to clear away stones from a vineyard (cp. Isaiah 5:2), and to indulge in family joys, the latter by the action of a hostile force spreading stones over fertile lands (cp. 2 Kings 3:19), and by the claims of military service.
6. To get.. to lose] to add to, and to forego gains.
7. To rend.. to sew] to act in a way that involves the sundering of friendship.. to knit hearts together again.
9-14. Man's work, ignorant though he be, is fulfilling God's design. Let him aim at pleasure and uprightness, while the whole scheme of things from first to last is in the hands of God.
9. What profit] how can he be sure that he has found the right season?
11. The world] rather, as RM, 'eternity.' Though man's powers are bounded, he is capable of recognising the grand and immeasurable scope of God's ordering of all things. His mind reflects the universe. This is better than, taking AV, to explain it as referring to man's natural love of living in the world. So that] RV 'yet.. so that.'
12. No good.. a man] RV 'nothing better for them than.'
14. That men should fear] God's unchanging ordinances are for the purpose of calling forth man's reverence. We must trust Him with our future.
15. Requireth] RV 'seeketh again,' bringeth back in an unchanging sequence: cp. Ecclesiastes 1:9.
16-22. M en wrest judgment; but God shall right all wrongs, though how, is beyond our ken.
16, 17. The judges of his time troubled the writer. Yet in God's purposes, either here or in the future, unrighteous decisions shall be reversed.
18. Manifest] RV 'prove,' i.e. sift or test whether they will be upright, in spite of the knowledge that death comes to them no less than to the beasts. Beasts] RV 'but as beasts.'
19. That which befalleth.. them] RM 'The sons of men are a chance, and the beasts are a chance.' They are the sport of hazard alike in birth and in death.
20. All are of.. again] 'Nature the womb and tomb of all' (Lucretius).
21. That goeth] RV 'whether it goeth upward.. downward,' thus neither denying nor affirming that there is an intrinsic difference in the soul of man. Christ had not yet come to bring 'life and immortality to light.' Yet contrast the brighter hope of Ecclesiastes 12:7.
22. There is nothing better] If man is no better off than a beast, let him at least learn, like them, to enjoy the present. Bring him] RV 'bring him back,' to see the results of his work.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter