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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 1

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


The words of the, Koheleth, the Son of David, the. King in Jerusalem. It is not a question of words in general, but of the words. There exist no other words spoken by Solomon to the generation then existing. Only in virtue of this mission did he bear the title Koheleth, (compare under Ecclesiastes 12:9). There can be no doubt whatever that Koheleth properly signifies—“The Assembler,” (in the feminine.) The Kal form of קהל does not occur otherwise. The participle in Kal must be employed here for the participle in Hiphil—a thing which might the more easily take place as it stands for the noun. The verb is always used of persons, never of things. It is the standing form employed for the calling together of the whole Israelitish community, of the entire people of God. Compare Deuteronomy 4:10, where we read—“On the day that thou stoodest before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord said unto me, gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words that they may learn to fear me:” Exodus 35:1,—“And Moses gathered together all the congregation of the children of Israel, arid said unto them, these are the words which the Lord hath commanded that ye should do them: Leviticus 8:3,—“and gather thou all the congregation together unto the door of the Tabernacle,” ( Numbers 8:9; Numbers 10:7) 1 Kings 8:1, “then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel, &c.” The fact of the person who speaks bearing the name Koheleth—which name was as to essentials correctly explained even by Jerome—indicates the ecclesiastical character of the book, and its high significance in relation to the entire church of God. In this respect it accords with the commencement of Psalms 49 : “Hear this all ye people, give ear all ye inhabitants of the world: both low and high, rich and poor together. My mouth shall speak of wisdom, and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding.” The wisdom of the Israelites was animated by a spirit moving its possessors to become witnesses of its excellence; it had a thoroughly popular character, it belonged not to the narrow limits of the school but to the spacious courts of the temple: it was a leaven intended to leaven the whole lump. Wisdom, within the Church, was to address itself not merely to a few peculiarly gifted individuals, but has something of importance to communicate to all alike. It is full of compassion like the God who is its fountain: it delights to seek out those who are lost: whereas the wisdom of this world cannot find a bridge over to the simple and ignorant, and has no disposition to interest itself in them. The tendency to association, which has its root in the wisdom coming from above, belongs only to the Church, and therefore, outside its pale, and where its path has been forsaken, we find only isolation and infatuated dissolution. The world is compelled to make the confession, “we all go astray like sheep, we turn, every one of us, to his own way.” The name Koheleth occurs three times in the first chapter, namely, in Psalms 49:1-2; Psalms 49:12, three times in the last chapter 12:9, 10: once in the middle, where it is joined with the feminine, whereas elsewhere it is joined always with the masculine. In Ecclesiastes 12:8, the article is joined with it: in the other places the word stands without article as an ideal proper name. That Solomon is intended to be designated by it is plain from the addition of the words, “Son of David, King in Jerusalem,” the purpose of which evidently is to anticipate and prevent all doubt in this respect. But in what sense is this applied to Solomon, seeing that in reality it can signify nothing more than “The Assembler” (feminine)? This is a matter of controversy; but there can be no doubt whatever that the title, an explanation of which is given in Ecclesiastes 12:9, “Moreover Koheleth was a wise man, and taught the people knowledge,” was applied to Solomon, because through him wisdom spake to the people of God, because he was regarded as wisdom personified, besides being its mouth and organ. It is precisely on this ground that his discourses have so decided a significance and importance: for this reason do they bear a canonical character; just as the words of the prophets derived their weight from the presence of the Spirit of Christ in them, ( 1 Peter 1:11) from their speaking as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, ( 2 Peter 1:21) and as the Apostles also, according to Acts 15:28, were organs of the Holy Spirit. By his employment of this title, the author indicates that Solomon is not here regarded by him in the light of a philosopher, but as the representative of a higher spirit than his own—of that mind which is alone capable of uttering such things as are of thorough and lasting importance for the people of God. For this, as the only correct explanation of the term, the passage Ecclesiastes 7:27, is plainly decisive. There, a contrast is drawn between the Koheleth and the stranger, the foreigner, i. e., philosophy and wanton seduction: and the evidently intentional construction of Koheleth with the feminine, can only be explained by its being descriptive of the wisdom which is from above. A further proof of the correctness of this view is afforded by a comparison with the first nine chapters of the Book of Proverbs, where in fact we have the true key to the designation. The writer would never have chosen this title had he not been able to calculate on readers who would look to those chapters of Proverbs for its meaning, for the solution of his enigma—for with an enigma we evidently have to do here. Those chapters form a kind of porch-way or introduction, and before an exposition was given of the particular doctrines of the wisdom which, by God’s grace, had fixed its seat in Israel, they were intended to exhibit its real nature, and to kindle a love of it in the hearts of the readers: they were further meant at the same time, to unmask and stir up hatred of its rival false wisdom, the foreigner, which, by its seductive arts, was trying to gain admittance amongst the people of God. “Wisdom is then introduced as a person, and as speaking to men. In its character as Koheleth, as the Assembler, it is clearly brought forward in Proverbs 1:20-21, “wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets. She preacheth in the chief place of concourse: she utters her words in the gates of the city:” further also in Ecclesiastes 8:1, ff. From such a personification of wisdom there is but a step to its becoming as it were personal in an individual, as in this Book of Ecclesiastes. To assume such an embodiment of wisdom in a person here is matter of less difficulty, seeing that the like thing occurs undeniably in the New Testament. A comparison of Luke 11:40; Luke 11:50, with Matthew 23:34, will leave no room to doubt that in the first passage Christ represents himself as the personal embodiment of wisdom. That there is a connection between these passages and Solomon’s appearance as Koheleth, was recognised already by Bengel in his time, and that the two stand in a certain measure on the same line. He says in his Gnomon, on Luke 11:49, ἡ? σοφία τοῦ? θεοῦ? , sapientia dei. Suave nome n. Koheleth congregatrix. Luke 13:34, ποσὰ?κις ἠ?θέλησα ἑ?πι συνάξαι τὰ? τέκνα σου . In these words from Matthew 23:37, quoted by Bengel, Christ appears to allude to himself as the true Koheleth. The objections which have been urged against the explanation now g iven of the name Koheleth, especially of the feminine form of it, are untenable. Those who affirm that the author must have expressed himself much more distinctly had he intended to apply to Solomon the title Koheleth because of his standing as the representative of wisdom, overlook the fact that this explanation is involved in the relation existing between this book and the exordium of the book of Proverbs; and further that we are driven to it by Ecclesiastes 7:27. When it is objected that a multitude of expressions do not at all correspond to what we might expect from the lips of Wisdom, as, for example, when the person speaking is represented as having contemplated, sought to obtain, and actually gained possession of, wisdom, there is an overlooking of the consideration that Koheleth is not wisdom absolutely, but only so far as it has found an embodiment in Solomon; or, in other words, that Solomon is designated Koheleth from the principle by which he was animated. We have thus also met the objection that Solomon always comes on the scene in the distinctest manner as an actual person, and not as the personification of an idea, and that accordingly reference is made to the experiences of a living person, to the fortunes of a definite individual Koheleth is not, like Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, a “personified idea,” but Solomon himself, who is regarded as the representative, or so to say, as the incarnation of wisdom. The usual course has been to assume without further proof that Koheleth is a sort of surname of Solomon’s. “He undertakes the office of a public teacher of truth, and the word Koheleth is intended to point out that he enters here on this definite vocation.” A decisive ground against this notion is, that the name is conjoined with the feminine in Ecclesiastes 7:27. The assumption that Solomon bears the title Koheleth as the representative of wisdom furnishes the only satisfactory explanation of the alternating conjunction of the word with the masculine, which plainly predominates, and with the feminine. Moreover, on the view above mentioned the feminine form cannot be satisfactorily accounted for. Some appeal to the frequent employment in titles of office, of the abstract word, for persons. “The official is totus in the business assigned to him in life, and receives its name as his title.” קהלת signifies properly “preaching” the office and business of a public speaker: it is then used also of the public speaker himself. So some argue. There are however many difficulties in the way of this position. The feminine termination does undoubtedly serve for forming abstract names (see Ewald, s. 166), but this never takes place with an active participle, and for a very simple reason. From עור “blind,” we may indeed form עורת “blindness;” from הטא “sinful,” הטאת “sin, sinfulness;” but from קהל “the assembling one,” we cannot form קהלת , in the sense of “preaching sermon.” Then, no case can be actually adduced of a concrete word being made abstract, and afterwards again employed in a personal sense. For the question, who is the author of this book, it is of no little significance that Solomon does not appear here under his own name, but under that of Koheleth. All the other publications of Solomon bear his usual name on their title-page: for example, “The Proverbs,” whose inscription runs, “The Proverbs of Solomon, the Son of David, the King of Israel;” the “Son of Songs;” Psalms 72, 127 : and it is a perfectly natural thing that he who wishes himself to be regarded as the author of any work should employ no other designation than that by which he is already known. To use enigmas, and to play at hide and seek, would be little in place in such a matter. Consequently the writer of this work, in styling Solomon Koheleth pretty clearly indicates that it is only in an ideal sense he is introduced as the author, that he was concerned with the book only as a representative of Wisdom. The very name, which is strictly an impersonal one, shows that the person to whom it is applied belongs to the region of poetry, not to that of reality. Thus we find that the only argument, with any show of reason, for Solomon’s authorship, changes sides altogether as soon as it is more carefully examined. The book of Ecclesiastes was not only not actually composed by Solomon, but does not even pretend to have been.

Verses 1-18

Human life, according to the judgment pronounced on it in Genesis 3:17-19, is at its best but brilliant misery. Our first parents felt this deeply even in their day. They named one of their two sons Hebel (Abel), that is to say, Vanity. The parents of Noah also confessed this, for they spake at his birth; “this shall comfort us in our toil and work upon the earth, which the Lord hath cursed,” ( Genesis 5:29). In Genesis 47:9, Jacob says, “few and evil are the days of my life:” in Psalms 90:10, Moses says, “the days of our years are threescore and ten, and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow:” and in Psalms 39:6-7, David exclaims, “Only to utter vanity was every man ordained. Only as a vain show walketh every man: surely they disquiet themselves in vain; he heapeth up and knoweth not who shall receive it.” It is of great importance that this character of our earthly existence, depicted in so affecting a manner in the hymns, “Ah! how empty! ah! how fleeting!” and “alas! what is the life of man?” should become so distinctly a matter of consciousness, that men shall not seek to gild over their misery by vain fancies. Only thus can the vanity to which we are subjected have its right operation, answer its purpose, which is to drive us back to God whom we have forsaken, to bring us into the position of saying with entire truthfulness, “Thou alone, O Jehovah, remainest to me what thou art, in thee I put my trust.” It is one of the principal aims of the extraordinary sufferings with which God visits His children, His whole church and individuals, to impress deeply on the mind this vanity of earthly things. It is, however, a difficult process: man proves herein a hard learner. He is ever slow to reconcile himself to the emptiness of earth; he is easily brought to fancy his lot a peculiarly hard one, and he does all in his power to put an end to a condition of things which he deems exceptional. And when he finds it impossible to accomplish his design, he falls a prey to despair. This book is unintelligible except on the historical presupposition that the people of God was in a very miserable condition at the time of its composition. They were bondsmen in their own native laud: heathens ruled over them: everywhere reigned degradation and misery. When the foundation of the second temple was laid, the people were moved to bitter tears, as they contrasted the present with the past. Vanity of vanities was the universal cry: alas! on what evil days have we fallen! They said one to another, “How is it that the former days were better than these?” Ecclesiastes 7:10. In particular did they look back on Solomon and his day with the desperate yearnings of a Tantallus. And then on the ears of the people in such a condition bursts the proclamation of our author, that human life is altogether vanity. Thus on the one hand he administered the consolation lying at the basis of the words, dulce est solamen miseris socios habere malorum. The cross is much easier to bear when we see that it is the universal destiny of mankind. And on the other hand, he suggests powerful motives to a sincere return to God, whose very name Jehovah or Jahve, signifying “the One who absolutely is, Pure Being,” constitutes a perfect contrast to the vanity with which every creature separated from Him is justly chargeable.

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 1:2. That it was the mission of this book to impress on the Church of God the vanity of all earthly things, to convince it that “the world is but a vale of tears, and that everywhere are to be found only needs, troubles, and fears,” is externally indicated with sufficient clearness by the fact that the word הבל , “vanity,” occurs in it thirty-seven times, whilst in the entire remaining portion of the Old Testament it occurs only thirty-three times. “Vanity of vanities,” according to the well known usage of speech, signifies “the utmost vanity.” The word “all” is more precisely denned afterwards as “all that is under the sun, whatever belongs to the sublunary world, to this poor earth.” It does not include the Creator, whose very name Jehovah, signifying “The self-existent One,” “pure, true, absolute being,” stands in the completest opposition to vanity: nor does it refer to union with Him and the joy which is sought in Him (compare Ecclesiastes 12:13), but to the poor creatures which since the time spoken of in Genesis 3 have been subjected to vanity ( Romans 8:20). The earth can offer nothing capable of affording true satisfaction and contentment to man. The assertion that “here at the beginning of the work its author gives strongest expression to the bitterness of his own spirit;” rests on an utter misunderstanding. If that were true in this case, it would be equally true in the case of Thomas a Kempis, who commences his “de Imitatione Christi” with the words: Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas proeter amare Deum et illi soli servire. Vanitas igitur est divitias peritaras quarere et in illis sperare. Vanitas qoque est honores ambire et in altum statum se extollere. Vanitas est carnis desideria sequi, etc. There can be no word of subjective bitterness, for the simple reason that the vanity of all the possessions of this world, and of the efforts spent upon them, is an undeniable fact. To recognize this is of the utmost importance, and whosoever helps us to gain this knowledge is an excellent preacher, for he prevents us seeking any longer happiness where it is not to be found, he moderates the pain we feel at losing and being deprived of what is in itself really worthless, and makes us intensely eager to attain to the true source of joy. Negative wisdom is the condition and groundwork of positive. We cannot really see in God the highest good unless we have first of all discerned the vanity of that pretended good which is laid before us by the world. “Soul, why weariest thuu thyself with the things of this world?”—such words constitute an admirable commencement when we wish to lead men to God. Vanity of vanities and all is vanity,—to know that is the preliminary condition of a true enjoyment of those pleasures which still spring up in. the barren wastes of life. He who has given up making undue claims on life will be able to take with a contented and thankful spirit those joys which present themselves unsought on his path, he will be able to live for the present moment, free from cares and covetousness. “I have laid my account with possessing nothing, and therefore the whole world is mine.”

Jerome asks the question how it is reconcileable with God’s having created all things good, to say that all is vanity? He did not find the proper answer to this question, nor did Luther, who supposes that the writer “does not say this against the creatures, but against the naughtiness of the human heart which will not rest, but makes for itself all kinds of sorrow and misfortune.” He does not speak of God’s works, “but of those wretched objects beneath the sun with which men are bound up as to their physical constitution, for whose sake they give themselves so much fruitless unrest, trouble and labour.” To limit his words entirely to human efforts, contradicts the subsequent carrying out of the thought. Besides, the vanity of human efforts is specially grounded in the vanity of the sphere in which they are put forth. And that vanity is predicable of the whole of that sphere in respect to which God spake the words “very good,” (Genesis 1) is evident from the sentence, “in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt die,”—die a death whose crowning point is Death personally so designated. Other evidence to the same effect is borne by Romans 8:20, according to which the irrational creation is subjected to vanity, and by James 4:14, where our life is described as ἀ?τμίς the same word as that by which Aquila has translated הבל . Not only, then, are human efforts vain, but creation also, in its merely natural aspect, may be included under the description “all is vanity.” The true solution of the problem lies here:—Between the words “and behold, everything was good,” and those of our author, “all is vanity,” the fall of man has intervened. With that, an entirely new order of things was inaugurated. To man in his degeneracy God’s creation, though good in itself, was no longer fitted. Hence the complaint, “all is vanity,” is not a charge against God, but, on the contrary, when we carefully consider the nature and constitution of man, rather a praise of God. It is just in the decreeing of punishment, and the establishment of the economy of the cross, that God specially manifests His glory and greatness. The Berleburger Bible observes: “As it was said in the beginning, everything is good, everything is very good, so also will it once again be said regarding the creature, everything is precious and new, everything is very precious, good, and glorious.” “All is vanity,”—cannot be the end of God’s ways: it can only be a point of transition. The end must correspond to the beginning. The words—“all is vanity,”—will lose the sad truth they have as respects the present course of the world, in the “regeneration” of which our Lord speaks in Matthew 19:28, in that blessed age depicted by Isaiah in Ecclesiastes 11 of his prophecies, and by Paul in Romans 8. As vanity is not the original, so can it not be the final character of the world’s constitution and course. Death, the climax of vanity, entered into the world with sin, (see Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). And therefore when sin has been completely overcome, death also will cease, ( 1 Corinthians 15:54 f.) and as it is said in Revelation 21:4, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.” All the descriptions of this future contained in the Scriptures, pre-suppose what is expressed in the words, “All is vanity,” for they are intended to give courage to those who sigh and groan under vanity, and to save them from despair. So, for example, Isaiah 25:6-8,—“And in this mountain the Lord of Hosts prepareth unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And He destroyeth in this mountain the face of the covering with which all nations are covered over :(The veil as the sign of sorrow.) He destroyeth death for ever, and the Lord God wipeth away the tears from all faces.” Further, Isaiah 35:1 ff: “The wilderness and the solitary place will be glad, and the desert will rejoice and blossom as the rose. Then will the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness will waters break out and streams in the desert. The parched ground will become a pool, and the thirsty land streams of water. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped.” But a fundamental condition of our participating in this future glory, is that we attain to a clear and deep insight into the significance of the saying, “All is vanity,” that we do not gild over our present misery. Only as this truth is distinctly understood and intensely felt, will its effect be to drive us to God, who is our everlasting dwelling-place, (Psalms 90) and to arouse us to repentance, in that we estimate the extent of our guilt by the severity of the sufferings we have to endure. Such was the feeling of Perthes when he wrote after the death of his beloved wife, “an immeasurable load of guilt must rest on us, seeing we have to suffer such a loss.” De Wette brought against St Paul the reproach, that in his writings we encounter sometimes “the discordant tone of contempt of the world.” He who with such eyes considers the words “all is vanity,” will not only retain his share of trouble,—for say what we may, the world is, and continues to be a vale of tears, notwithstanding that by our forced laughter we should fancy we have changed it into a house of gladness,—but will wantonly rob himself of the wholesome fruit of his sufferings. The bringing in of the new covenant has effected no alteration in that vanity of vanities which our author speaks of so emphatically. The blessings which already accrue to us therefrom belong to an order of things entirely different from that which is here spoken of. They spring not forth from the region beneath the sun but from the kingdom of heaven. The earth meanwhile continues its existence of vanity, and in this its character is a, powerful motive pressing men to appropriate the heavenly treasures offered by the Church.

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 1:3. In Ecclesiastes 1:3, is given the result which follows from Ecclesiastes 1:2. If “all is vanity,” what profit hath man? or strictly “the earthly one, (Geier, cum aculeo terrenoe fragilitatis) of all the labour which he taketh under the sun?” There is much ado about nothing. One who has arrived at a knowledge of the true nature of this world receives a strange, yea even a tragicomical impression when he sees men running to and fro, and seeking to snatch the prey from each other’s grasp. The results, too, are in the end of scarcely greater compass and importance than those of the movements of an anthill. And then joined with all this, the airs of importance, and the pompous phrases about progress and the like. The best commentary on this verse is furnished by the beautiful hymn of Gryphius beginning—:The glory of the earth, must at last become smoke and ashes.” Interpreting those facts according to the mind of the Preacher the practical result would be to “quit the world, and honour, fear, hope, favour and learning, and to follow only the Lord, who will ever rule, whom time cannot change, and who can confer upon us eternal blessedness.”

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 1:4. The subject of discourse in the context is the vanity of everything earthly, and the consequent fruitlessness of human efforts. Ecclesiastes 1:4 would not at all suit the connection in which it stands, unless the earth be regarded as the scone of vanity and misery which it really is. The generations of men are continually changing, ceaselessly do fresh ones appear on the scene, but O! misery! the earth, against which the curse recorded in Genesis 3:17-19 was pronounced, on which it is impossible to realise permanent results, or to arrive at abiding happiness, and where men rind themselves hemmed in on all hands—that remains. The new generations are compelled always to begin where the old ones ended. That old fable, the rolling of the Sisyphus-stone, is illustrated ever afresh.” לעולם does not stand in contradiction with the doctrine of the impending termination of the present phase of the earth’s existence found elsewhere in the Old Testament. As in Genesis 6:4, עולם , “Time far back beyond the memory of men,” so here it designates a future of unmeasured extent: as Rambach has it, diutissimo tempore, eujus terminus nobis occultus est.

Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 1:5. The sun here can only be employed as an image of human existence which is straitly confined within the limits of vanity. The natural event cannot, considered in itself, be treated as a subject of complaint, but only as one of joyous wonder and admiration, as is clear from Psalms 19. The mere natural rising and setting of the sun would not form a suitable step in the development of the thought, “vanity of vanities,” which is the subject of the writer’s comments on to the 11th verse, and which must consequently furnish the test of the correctness of our explanation of all that occurs up to that point. The sun eagerly running through a long course, in order at last to return to the goal from which it started is a true image of human life shut up within the impassable magic circle of vanity. The human race seems unable to move a step. A new generation always begins where the old one ended. Notwithstanding all our much vaunted progress, we continue mainly such as we were of old, “burdened with an inheritance of sin, with weakness, with want and death.” “That there is motion, cannot be denied: but it is motion in a circle, and consequently leads to no result,” (Hitzig). Following the example of the Chaldee version, of the Septuagint and of the Vulgate Luther connects ואל מקומו שואף—“And hasteth to his place that he may there rise again.” But this mode of connecting the words is contrary to the accents, according to which שואף must belong to what succeeds: and besides, without any justification from usage, it takes the word שאף in the signification of “to run, to hasten.” The usual meaning of שאף is “to snap at, to hanker after, anything;” in which sense it is employed here also—“And (comes then again) to its place where it longingly arises.” שואף corresponds to the expression found in Psalms 19:6, “He rejoices as a hero to run his course.” The first verb furnishes greater definiteness to the second; Ewald, § 285. A new generation advancing to life with fresh courage, resembles the sun in its longing, its joyousness, its eagerness. אל includes the verb.

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 1:6. In this verse “is described the vanity of the wind, which is continually moving round and round in a circle, and through its swiftness does not succeed in passing beyond this circle.” Here also it is quite plain that the author has no intention of blaming anything in the order and arrangements of nature—a thing which would have been revolting and absurd—but that the wind comes under consideration only as a symbol of human existence revolving constantly in the circle of vanity and unable to transcend its bounds however mighty may be the efforts put forth. The entire verse has reference to the wind, and it is fruitless when the Septuagint, the Syriac, Geier, and others, try to refer the first clause to the sun: “which turns not towards the North.” South and North are mentioned in the case of the wind, because East and West were used of the sun. The סביבות of the wind are the turns which it has already made.

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 1:7. As the water of brooks goes first into the sea and then returns back to the brooks, so is there in human affairs no real result, no progress, no overstepping of the limit of vanity: the old misery manifests itself ever afresh. Luther recognised the symbolical character of the verse, but did not altogether hit upon a right view of the thought contained in it. Says he, “we have in these words a subtle comparison: all men’s proposals, all their devices, efforts, care, by which they hope to help the matter, rise with the sun, and go down again; like the water, too, they flow hither and thither; that is, being mere human thoughts, without God’s work and furtherance, they remain just what they were. Let that man whose thoughts either do not, or have not come to nought, blot out what Solomon says.” That the sea never becomes full is a proof that the streams must return again to the place whence they came. We must render the words, “to the place from which the streams go out.” Luther’s translation is correct, “to the place whence they flow, they flow back again.” The Construct State which causes the whole following sentence to be treated as a noun is employed in the game manner in Psalms 104:8, “unto the place which thou hast founded for them.” As to the way and manner in which the waters return to their source commentators are not agreed. Luther thinks “the waters run without ceasing into the sea, and then by secret subterraneous passages or channels run from the sea as fountains and brooks filtering through the earth at their place, penetrating and running through mountains and rocks.” It is, however, much simpler to assume that the streams return to their sources through the medium of the clouds. Compare Genesis 2:6, “and there went up mists from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground:” Job 36:27-28, “For he draws forth the drops of water, they pour down rain from the vapour thereof. Thence run the clouds, distil much upon men.” In respect of natural processes the Scriptures do not enter upon doubtful hypotheses. They always confine themselves to that which presents itself to the eye of the general observer, to that which is undeniable. Some have deemed it possible entirely to evade the consideration of the problem here presented, and they translate, “Whither the streams go, thither go they ever again:” i.e., they pursue incessantly the same course into the sea. According to this version there would be no reference whatever to the return of the rivers to their sources. In such a case, however, it is impossible to see what purpose is served by the words, “and the sea becomes not full.”

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 1:8. In interpreting the first half of this verse all depends on whether we take דברים in the sense of things, in which it is employed in Ecclesiastes 6:11; Ecclesiastes 7:8, or in that of words. The former view is adopted by Luther. He translates, “All men’s doing is so full of toil, that no one can utter it.” On this view the words would be more accurately rendered—“All things are so weary, that no one can utter it,” that is, they are inexpressibly weary. “Usage does not allow of any further meaning being given to יגע than that of “weary.” Tediousness or weariness in the things correspon ds to ennui in the individual person. Nothing goes on with vigour and freshness: spur and whip are everywhere necessary: the world seems to have outlived itself, for ever since the time spoken of in Genesis 3, it has been under the δουλεία τῆ?ς φθορᾶ?ς ( Romans 8:21). From Genesis 3:17, “cursed be the ground for thy sake, with pain shalt thou eat of it-all the days of thy life.” we should judge the ground itself to be weary: it no longer hastens to give unto man its strength; all has to be pressed and wrung from it by labour. This interpretation, though in some respects very admirable, has against it the correspondence between דברים and דבר “to speak”—a correspondence which is scarcely to be denied. This would lead to the conclusion that the former word is employed here in the signification “words,” which is the original one, besides being predominant in this book. Accordingly we should find a parallel to the whole of the first half of the verse in Psalms 40:5, where it is said in respect of the wonderful works of God, “I will declare and speak of them; they are more than can be numbered.” What is unutterable, inexpressible, we are not here distinctly informed: but the context leaves us in no doubt on that matter, inasmuch as from Psalms 40:2 onwards nothing else is spoken of but human misery. Words fail to describe it, and however many we may employ, the description over falls far short of the reality. Ever since the day referred to in Genesis 3 man has been the prey of an indescribable sorrow. The words, the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, find their commentary in chapter 4:8, where “his eye is not satisfied with riches,” describes an insatiable desire for them; and further in Proverbs 27:20, where the insatiability of the eyes of men also stands for desire that con-not be satisfied; “Hell and destruction are never full, so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” That man never finds satisfaction in earthly things, but on the contrary is ever asking for yet more and more, is a sign of their emptiness. Such being their nature they can never fill the heart. It is in this respect that they come under consideration in this place, and the two halves of the verse agree therefore in the thought of the vanity of all things earthly. The first describes it as unutterable; the second appeals for proof of the assertion to their inability to appease and fill the heart of man. Luther says, “an exemplification of this may be found in that renowned king and praiseworthy hero, Alexander the Great. In a very brief space of time (for in all he did not reign more than twelve years) he subjugated to himself a large portion of the whole world: and notwithstanding, once upon a time, when he heard a philosopher arguing that there are more worlds than one, he sighed deeply, and said, ‘Alas! that I have not as yet subdued more than one world!’ So, if he had at once gained ten other worlds, his heart would not have found rest: nay more, it would not have been satisfied with a thousand, or even with countless worlds.” What we have already fails to please us, and we long for that which we have not. Knobel’s view of the passage, that “the satisfying of the eye and the filling of the ear describes the coming to a termination with the study and meditation of things,” is opposed to the parallel place, besides being contrary to the natural meaning of such modes of speech. The eye is satisfied when we have no desire to see more, the ear is tilled when we wish to hear no more. In the Berleburger Bible it is remarked, “by the entrances of the soul so many thousands of objects or things are carried into the heart, that man wearies and distracts himself with them as with an infinite sandhill. Out of these his heart forms for him innumerable images which he contemplates and inwardly busies himself with. Thence arise the manifold thoughts and distracted feelings of us miserable men. This is the cause that, through apostacy from the eternal good, from the Creator, our hearts go forth towards a multiplicity of objects, and, instead of desiring and laying hold on God alone, who would have been an eternally satisfying portion, long for and grasp at thousands of created objects, and still never realise contentment. It is indeed impossible that the immortal soul of man should rest in creatures which are vanity. It seeks ever further and desires ever more: it is like a fire which burns on without ceasing, and would fain bring all within its grasp. But now that it is faint, and out of its true element and life, which is God, behold, the soul finds itself deceived, led astray and threatened with ruin by all creatures, finds that it has wasted its time and energies on things without use, and knows not an object to which it may cling.”

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 1:9. Notwithstanding all the fancies and illusions regarding new and glorious things which men bring forward it is now as it was of old. “That which is done” is here considered in its results, and is consequently closely connected with that which is. Being (Seyn) continues ever what it was of old: consequently the results of doing, of action, cannot show any very important difference. Because the old was bad, it is a great evil that there is nothing new under the sun. There is no alternative but to recur ever to the words, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake.” Man cannot escape out of the charmed circle into which he was driven by the sentence pronounced in Genesis 3, be his exertions what they may. All progress is but vain show and loose varnish. For example, the old covenant, “thou shalt die,” still retains its force, notwithstanding all the progress that has been made in the healing art. Luther remarks, “if we understand these words of the works of God, they are not true: for God works and ever produces something new: it is only men and children of Adam who effect nothing new.” This is perfectly well grounded. We have here to do with Negative Philosophy, which searches into the nature of things apart from God. The author’s intent is to show what is the matter with earthly and human affairs considered in themselves, to tear up by the roots the countless illusions to which the natural man so readily resigns himself, and by which he frustrates the purpose of the divine judgment pronounced in Genesis 3. The vanity of earthly things can only lead men to God when it is thoroughly felt and understood. For parallels to the words, there is nothing new under the sun, reference may be made to Jeremiah 31:22, “behold I create a new thing in the land,” and to Isaiah 65:17, “behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered nor come into mind,” (compare 66:22). In Matthew 19:28, the Lord promises the regeneration or the renewal of the world. According to 2 Peter 3:13, “we look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” In the Apocalypse, chapter 21:1, John sees a “new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.” He who sits on the throne says there, in 2 Peter 3:5, “behold I make all things new.” According to chapter 21:2, “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descends from heaven.” At the bottom of all these passages lies the tacit presupposition that “there is nothing new under the sun.” The assumption from which they start is that the old earth is a scene of vanity, that all efforts to change it, originating in and depending on its own resources, are utterly fruitless, and that a true alteration cannot be effected from below, but only from above. They comfort us also in the midst of the misery which is our lot, by the assurance that a renewal from above will in fact he accomplished. The new creation will begin at the point where vanity took its rise, even with man: “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new,” ( 2 Corinthians 5:17). Thence will the renovation pass to the rest of creation. Nothing new is done under the sun—this should serve to bring down the lofty imaginations which would gather grapes from the thorns of this world, but not to discourage the friends of the kingdom of God, whose true scat is not under the sun, but above it, and whose heavenly protector, by ever creating new things, furnishes materials for new songs, ( Psalms 40:3).

Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 1:10. Many an undertaking gives promise at its commencement of passing beyond the limits fixed by the old curse-laden world. The world exultingly shouts them welcome. But very soon it becomes evident that in them also a worm is concealed, and they sink down to a level with that which our poor earth has produced in former ages. So was it with the happiness of the days of Solomon, in the background of which there lay decay and ruin, and whose end was such, that men were driven to exclaim, “Lord have mercy,” and, “Oh! that thou wouldest rend the heavens and wouldest come down!” It still remains a truth that “here is no true good to be found, and what the world holds in itself must vanish in a moment.”

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 1:11. A fond dream of this world is to possess the immortality of renown. Even this barren consolation is here taken away, and so a conclusion is made, to the development of the thought contained in Ecclesiastes 1:3, that man has no profit of all the labour which he taketh under the sun, In accordance with the sentiment of this verse is the hymn by Joh. Pappus, “I have committed my cause to God;” and another by Andreas Gryphius, of which verses are quoted below. Contrary to the divergent explanations of these verses, it is to be observed that ראשנים and אהרנים are always “the earlier’’ and “the later.” See Leviticus 26:45; Deuteronomy 19:14; Psalms 79:8; Isaiah 61:4; Isaiah 41:4; Ecclesiastes 4:16. “The earlier,” (neuter gender) is ראשנות in Isaiah 42:9. The parallel passages also in Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 9:5, serve to put aside every other explanation.

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:26, Koheleth demonstrates the vanity of earthly things, from his own example—from his own personal experience. He begins in Ecclesiastes 1:12-18, with Wisdom. This was one of the brilliant possessions of the age of Solomon, as may be seen from 1 Kings 10:8, where the Queen of Sheba says, “Happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee and behold thy wisdom,” (compare Matthew 12:42) and back to it the after-world looked, with all the more astonished admiration and painful longing, because even the heathen nations, under whose scorn and contempt they sighed, were struck by it with amazement. In the delineation of the glory of Solomon given in 1 Kings 10, wisdom occupies the first place: then follows riches. Hitzig’s account of the contents and connection of 1 Kings 10:12-18 is as follows: “the speaker tells who he is and how he has come thus to express himself. He has maturely reflected on thy works and ways of men, and found that they are feeble and foolish, 1 Kings 10:12-15. Moreover, according to his experience, the wisdom which one may gain is not to be regarded as a good.” The subject of the entire section is rather wisdom, and the vanity of earthly things and of human efforts comes under consideration only so far as it conditions the vanity of wisdom. In 1 Kings 10:13, the assertion is made, the thesis is maintained, that “wisdom is not a good but a plague.” The following is the proof. Earthly things which are the object of wisdom are vanity, and the more deeply we search, the more distinctly is their vanity seen. Wisdom destroys illusions. The possession of wisdom, therefore, can only bring distress and pain. The wiser a man is, the more unhappy. If the world is nothing and vanity, the wisdom, the science of this world cannot be of much value.

Failing to see that this section has exclusive reference to wisdom, we shall also mistake the entire course of thought. In the following verses, there is a continuation of the proof of the vanity of earthly things from Solomon’s own personal experience. Here wisdom is the subject: before, it was the possession and enjoyment of the good things of this world.

Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 1:12. Koheleth refers first of all to his royal position. For the matter in hand this is of no small importance. If the life of earth could offer genuine good it must undoubtedly have been at the command of the king. Even in regard to wisdom his position has its advantages. He has a wide and extensive view of all that is done under heaven ( Ecclesiastes 1:13). The whole region of human life lies spread out before him. His position is much more favourable than that of the man who philosophizes in a narrow corner. He is still more favoured as regards those regions which are spoken of in Ecclesiastes 2:1 ff. Koheleth says—I was king. According to Ewald, Elster, and others, the preterite employed here is intended to indicate the historical point of view of the author, for which Solomon’s life was so completely a something past and gone, that he involuntarily represents Solomon as speaking of his own life in the preterite. In point of fact, however, the use of the preterite is no argument against Solomon’s being the author of the book. Nor, if the composition is assigned to a later period, is it a proof of its fictitious character that the writer in this place forgets himself. The preterite is very frequently employed in descriptions of a past which stretches forward into the present, and therefore is it remarked, with perfect justice, in the Berleburger Bible—“I the preacher have been king thus far, and am one still: to him therefore there has been no lack of opportunity of trying experiments and of getting experience.” The words, In Jerusalem, need not, as has been affirmed, be supposed to refer to another kingship which had not its seat in Jerusalem. They are meant to remind us that Koheleth had gone through the experiences of which he speaks in that very place whose complainings and sighings gave rise to the composition of this work.

Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 1:13. Koheleth informs us that his efforts to search out the nature of things had yielded wretched results. Concerning the relation to each other of the two verbs דרש and תור Hitzig remarks—“That which withdrew itself from the gaze of the דורש , that which lay deeper, that which was secret he sought to explore.” But תור is not “search after, spy out,” but “try thoroughly, test,” (see Deuteronomy 1:33, Numbers 10:33, Ezekiel 20:6); taken strictly it signifies “to follow the trace of things,” as opposed to a decision which is arrived at from preconceived opinions. Hitzig says further—“It is not meant that he set himself to collect facts: he did not need to inquire what it is that takes place, but what is the nature of that which takes place.” To this view we are directed not only by the word תור , here rightly explained, but further also by the construction with על . Investigations are set on foot in respect of material lying ready to hand. The Vulgate translates בהכמה by sapienter; Luther by “wisely.” But this rather dissipates the force of the word. It is wisdom that is the catchword. Nor is it without good reason that the word is pointed with the article. “Wisdom is the instrument employed in carrying out the investigation. The object of the investigation is all that is done or happens under the sun. We are not to suppose, however, that it refers predominantly, much less exclusively, to the moral aspects of human action, but rather, as appears from a comparison of Ecclesiastes 1:15 with Ecclesiastes 7:13, mainly to the results thereof. All that takes place beneath the sun belongs to the sphere which had its origin in the fall of man, is tainted with sin, and is attended by sin’s fell train of suffering and punishment. Everywhere the earth shows itself to be a scene of vanity. “All! how vain, how fleeting, are the days of man! Like a stream that begins its now and never stays in its course, so hurries our time away. Ah! how vain, how fleeting are the joys of men! As the hours and seasons, as light and darkness, as peace and conflict, so change our pleasures.” The business of searching more deeply into earthly things by means of wisdom is described as a vexing misfortune which God has apportioned to the sons of men that they may vex themselves with it. Following in the steps of the LXX. several commentators explain the words as follow—“that is an evil business which God has appointed to the children of men, that they may busy themselves with it.” But ענה elsewhere occurs only in the signification of “to suffer;” for this reason therefore the word עִ?נְ?יָ?ן , which is never met with out of this book, and which here stands in the Stat. constr., can only signify “suffering, vexation.” It has the same meaning also in. Ecclesiastes 5:2, and in all other places. In Ecclesiastes 1:18 chagrin and pain correspond. Hitzig wishes to refer the words— This is a sore travail which God has given to the sons of men that they may exercise themselves therewith—to that which happens, which is done. It is quite clear, however, that they refer to the search instituted by means of wisdom. The assertion that in this way Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 are anticipated rests on a mistaken view of the connection between the verses of this section. The words at the close—I recognised also that this is empty effort—manifestly take up again the theme of the commencement after proof has been advanced. To our mind Ecclesiastes 1:17-18 render it impossible to understand by the “sore travail” any thing but wisdom in search of truth. The affliction does not consist, as Clericus conceived, merely in the misuse of the gift, but in the gift itself. More deeply examined, however, it is a wholesome affliction. That which is bitter to the mouth is healthy for the heart. That deeper view of the vanity of earthly things which wisdom affords drives us nearer to God. Thus we see that wisdom is a part of the great apparatus by which God humbles fallen man and prepares the way for his redemption. Wisdom presents other aspects also for consideration besides that which has here been noted. And even if that which has been here especially under view is but one side of the truth, it is still the most important side. Thus much may be regarded as settled—that inasmuch as wisdom yields so melancholy a result, it cannot be the highest good, it cannot be that good which will satisfy the wretched heart of man. Earthly things must be far other than they are, before wisdom can quicken and refresh the soul. Some have thought that the author’s reason for calling the efforts put forth in search of wisdom a sore travail was, “that they do not afford distinct information relative to the cause and connection of the processes of human life.” This is however a mere guess. Koheleth informs us afterwards why he deems wisdom a sore travail. The only ground assigned by him is, that that which has only the effect of placing in a clearer light the vanity under which men groan, must itself also be vanity: that is, considered simply in itself and apart from the service it renders as a means to another end, wisdom is not a good but a sorrow, is not at all a thing for whose sake Solomon and his age should be envied, for whose loss we should vex ourselves. It is thoroughly true, as has been said, that “a man is foolish who vexes himself about a handful of vanity when God presents him with treasures which ever abide. If thy gains are counted by thousands why trouble thyself about a mite!”

Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 1:14. As part of the proof of his thesis—this is a sore travail, the author now asserts the vanity of the object with which wisdom is occupied. Ewald translates—“all the deeds which take place under the sun:” but מעשח does not signify “deed” but “matter of fact.” Of course “the ways of men” are referred to, but specially in respect to their consequences, to such facts as those which gave rise to the heathenish saying, “the Gods are envious,” and which the Poet had in his eye when he wrote, “He who had shown himself as a Lion, who had wrestled with the Giant, was overcome by a little straw.” The words רעות and ר׃יון are peculiar to Koheleth. The usage of speech in Chaldee from which they are evidently borrowed, decides their meaning. In Ezra 5:17, we find רעות used in the sense of “will:” in Daniel several times in the sense of “thought.” The derivation of the words is consequently sought in רעה , “to feed,’’ then “to feed oneself on anything,” “to bus y oneself with anything;” see Hosea 12:1, “Ephrairn feedeth on the wind, and hunteth after the East wind;” Isaiah 44:20; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 15:14. An “empty striving, “(LXX. προαίρεσις πνεύματος ,) is a striving without result, such a striving as brings no tru e genuine good to realization.

Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 1:15. That which is crooked cannot be brought into position; תקן does not signify “straight,” but “to be in position,” to “come into position,” in Syriac, “to be arranged, to be ordered;” LXX. διεστραμμένον οὐ? δυνήσεται τοῦ? ἐ?πικοσμηθῆ?ναι . From the parallel passage, Ecclesiastes 7:13, it is evident that the writer speaks of imperfections, not only as seen in human ways, but also in the arrangement of the world, i.e. of those things in the order of the world which wear an a ppearance of imperfection as long as the fall of man is foolishly ignored. Hitzig gives the meaning therefore correctly as follows,—“Man cannot alter that which is unjust in the divine arrangement of the world; he cannot bring it from a state of imperfection to one of perfection.” Knobel thinks that the writer here “betrays his fatalistic view of the world, according to which everything pursues so firm and unalterable a course that no modification whatever thereof is possible.” The question here however is not one of opinion, but of undeniable facts. The world is actually a vale of tears, everywhere are wants, trouble, fears: and on this rock break all the attempts made to establish what men deem the best system of things. For the rest, the author is not discoursing of the “fixed and unalterable course” of things in particular, but only of the general character of human affairs and of earthly relations, which must necessarily, are by God intended to, reduce to despair those who seek their satisfaction in them:—“man is not to that end here that he may possess earth.” That which is wanting cannot be reckoned, which is as much as to say that, where nothing is nothing can be counted, human life consists entirely of nulls. In opposition to usage, several translate, “that which is wanting cannot be supplied.” מנה signifies only “to reckon, to count.” Luther has several excellent remarks on this verse of which we must make mention. “Cicero writing from his own experience says, “Alas! how constantly it happens that as sure as anything has been devised and planned for the best, and with the greatest industry, it turns out so badly and so strangely!” God however herein does well, that He blows away and brings to nought whatever man meditates and undertakes. For as soon as any plan of us men succeeds a little, from that hour we begin to take the honour to ourselves. Forthwith ambition begins to stir within us, and we think to ourselves, this have I done, for this are my country and fellow men indebted to me; and we grasp at the honour which belongs alone and entirely to God. Wherefore, if God is to continue Lord, and to assert and maintain His first commandment, He must only suffer the lesser part of our thoughts to turn out well, and both in the courts and councils of kings and princes, and in all other affairs, so soon as, and whenever anything has been deliberated and determined, show that the words “if God wills it” still retain their full force. Heathen and ungodly men, who alike fancy that it is enough if they themselves have resolved, must in this wise learn that there has been One absent from their counsels, who baa a clear right to a voice therein, and His name is God. Therefore is it the best course and the highest wisdom, to leave and commend all to God, not to plague and worry ourselves too much with our own thoughts, but to follow the wise man who at last, after great experience declared—“Let things go as they go, for do what we may they will go as they go.” And how frequently do we see that cunning and prudent rulers, and people who in other respects are exalted and wise, do the greatest mischief, whilst setting themselves with all earnestness, with great restlessness, labour and industry to make all things good. For on earth, under the sun, there never can be established a state of things so good that all will move on evenly, that there will not be still many imperfections, many faults. Wherefore, the best thing of all, is to build and confide heartily on God, to commit the ordering of all to Him, to let Him rule, to pray as the Lord taught us—“thy kingdom come”—and meanwhile patiently to bear and suffer all manner of wrong from the ungodly and wicked, leaving our case in the hands of the great Judge.—When, then, although thou art wise and holy, and pious, and remarkest that many things go wrong, thou hast notwithstanding no power to make all straight that is crooked, do the work with which thou art entrusted, apply thyself with all industry to thy calling: all else that refuses to be rectified, leave to Him who is stronger and wiser than thou, to the good God in Heaven who can rule churches, country, people, princes, house, estate, wife and children better than thou.”

Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 1:16. The character of earthly things being such as is described in Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:15, that wisdom which busies itself with the understanding of their nature, cannot, as the author now shows, have the significance of the highest good, it cannot truly satisfy the soul, but must rather increase its pains. Koheleth says here that in respect of wisdom he surpassed all who came before him in Jerusalem. Gousset, Rambach, and others explain these words to be—“all the great in Jerusalem,” of whom there were many in the days of Solomon and David. But it is clear from Ecclesiastes 2:7, that kings only are referred to. Jerusalem was the seat of a very ancient monarchy, a noble representative of which meets us even in the time of the Patriarchs. The title borne by these kings, namely, King or Lord of Righteousness, Melchizedek, Adonizedek, leads to the conclusion that they were animated by higher purposes and aims than many around them. Hitzig is of opinion that, “if the author does allude to the old heathen kings, there is something incongruous in it, and in this turn given to the thought, a later writer, one moreover not particularly well versed in history, (!) seems to betray himself, to whose mind was present the series of kings who had reigned since Solomon.” But if we attentively examine the passages in the “Books of the Kings,” on which the author takes his stand, this comparison with heathen kings will no longer be found incongruous. In 1 Kings 3:12, the Lord says to Solomon, “Lo! I give thee a wise and an understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee.” Here the prerogative of wisdom is ascribed to Solomon, not merely amongst the kings of Israel, as Clericus and others conceived, but amongst kings in general. Examples occurring in heathen countries are also included in the comparison. More distinctly still is the same thing seen from 1 Kings 4:29, “and God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding, exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the sea-shore:” 1 Kings 1:30, “and Solomon’s wisdom excelled all the wisdom of the children of the East country, and all the wisdom of Egypt:” 1 Kings 1:31, “and he became wiser than all men: and his fame was in all the nations round about:” 1 Kings 1:34, “and there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth which had heard of his wisdom.” Then again in 1 Kings 10:23-24, “So king Solomon exceeded all the kings of the earth for riches and wisdom; and all the earth sought the face of Solomon, to hear his wisdom which God had put in his heart.” That there was in Solomon’s wisdom an element, by virtue of which it might justly be compared with analogous phenomena of the heathen world, is plain even from the visit of the Queen of Sheba, as well as from the sphere within which, as we learn from 1 Kings 4:33, it moved. His thoughts ran on natural things, on that which was under the sun. Koheleth’s comparison of himself with heathen kings in regard to wisdom is an important item in the determination of the true idea of this wisdom: whence also we shall more clearly understand both the depreciatory judgment he pronounces upon it and the presupposition with which he starts, viz., that the people of God were at that time destitute of the wisdom. His intention was thus to comfort them on account of their loss, and to teach them not to see too high a value on the possession. A wisdom in respect of which it may be said that Solomon only had more than heathen kings could not be the wisdom which is from above, which had established its seat in the midst of the covenanted people, and the possession of which was inseparable from their existence: it could not be the wisdom which coincides with true piety, which affords true knowledge of God, and which in His light enables us to understand man arid earthly things. No! a wisdom which can bear such a comparison must be earthly, of this world. With this agrees what is said in 1 Kings 4:13 respecting the sphere of this wisdom. Its efforts are only directed to search out and fathom what takes place under heaven: the wisdom “which cometh from above strives, above all things, to penetrate into the depths of the Godhead. That the wisdom of Solomon does not coincide with that which is described in James 1:5, that on the contrary it has a common basis with the wisdom of the heathens, being only distinguished therefrom by the illumination which it receives from the light of revelation and of the Spirit of God, might be judged even from 1 Kings 3:12. When it is in that place said,—“Lo! I give thee a wise and understanding heart, so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee shall any arise like unto thee,”—there is certainly no intention of setting Solomon above Moses, in contradiction to Numbers 12 and Deuteronomy 34, nor even above David: the words rather imply that his wisdom was considered as essentially different from that possessed by men of God properly so called, and not to be brought into comparison with it. In this wisdom, so brilliant and splendid as even to attract the attention of Gentiles, but which, according to what follows, stood on a like level with the possession and enjoyment of this world’s goods, Solomon held the first place. The present, so poor in every respect, had no alternative but to look up to him. But that that true wisdom which even children may possess, yet remained, is manifoldly and expressly asserted afterwards (compare Ecclesiastes 7:12-13; Ecclesiastes 7:20-21; Ecclesiastes 10:14-18).

Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 1:17. Having attained to the highest pinnacle of wisdom, and having by its aid searched into earthly things, Solomon now proceeds to investigate the instrument itself employed in his researches, and arrives here at a humiliating result. The course pursued by Solomon, of inquiring into folly along with wisdom has its ground in the fact that his aim was to determine the worth of wisdom in relation to folly. Besides, as a general truth, contraries explain each other, as Hieronymus says contrariis contraria intelliguntur: for which reason also at the commencement of the Book of Proverbs, wisdom and folly are constantly contrasted with each other.

Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 1:18. According to what has hitherto been advanced, the reason of the pain and discomfort which result from the possession of wisdom must be found in the fact that it lays bare the vanity of earthly things. When wisdom is looked upon as a means to higher ends, this is an advantage. To recognise the true character of earthly things can be wholesome only when we are thereby driven to lay hold on the one real Being, on God, who is an everlasting refuge in the midst of the vanities of earth. It shows, however, that wisdom, considered in itself, in isolation from other and higher things, is but a comfortless sort of good. Luther saw the true reason of the discomfort and pain. His words are, “Great people who have a great understanding, and see farther than others, who have had much experience, cannot help frequently being angry with themselves and thinking in great disgust, how wicked and scandalous is the course of things in this world! But whence does it arise that such persons are so impatient, and become so angry? The answer is: where there is much understanding and wisdom, there is much discontent! For such people see and think much, and consequently find in the world all manner of crimes, wickednesses, falseness, unfairness, which others never see nor dream of: and that gives pain. Others who do not see so far, nor think so much, do not take it to heart: therefore also it causes them little trouble or pain. Whosoever, then, desires to be a good Christian and to lead a godly life, let him learn to endure patiently, and commit the ordering of things to God, let him learn to pray heartily the petition taught us by Christ, ‘thy will be done;’ otherwise he will only plague himself in vain, make his own life hateful to himself, and lose besides time and everything.” We must interpret—Whoso increases knowledge increases sorrow, יוסיף is, as a participial form, without example. In Isaiah 29:14; Isaiah 38:5, also it is Fut Hiphil

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ecclesiastes-1.html.
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