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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ecclesiastes 12

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 12:2. In the first half of this verse, age is brought forward as the time when sun, moon, and stars become dark. The lights of heaven really shine only for the happy. When the eye is no longer sun-like, the sun is, as it were, gone down. For this reason in Old Testament delineations of adversity we so often read of the destruction of the heavenly lights. Isaiah, for example, when describing in Isaiah 5:30, the heavy sufferings which were about to fall upon the land because of its alienation from God, says—“the light is darkened in the heavens thereof.” Jeremiah in 4:33, picturing the judgments which threatened Judah, says, “I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form and void, and the heavens they had no lights:” (compare Ezekiel 32:7-8; Amos 8:9-10; Micah 3:6; Revelation 6:12). With the sun is connected “the light,” the Scripture symbol of salvation and happiness, for the purpose of indicating why the sun, moon, and stars are introduced, and what, is their significance. In the second half of the verse, age appears as the time when clouds return after rain, that is, when one trouble succeeds to the other. Dark clouds are often used as an image of troubles: so also rain in Ezekiel 13:11-13; Ezekiel 38:22; Song of Solomon 2:11. Luther observes that, “the Holy Scriptures call consolation and prosperity, light, and troubles, darkness or night. The author means therefore to say—before the age comes when neither sun nor stars shall shine on thee, when the clouds shall return after rain, that is, when one trouble shall follow on the heels of another. For young boys, for young men, for men who are in the very prime of life, there is still a measure of joy; in their case it is still a fact that, after rain comes beautiful sunshine; that is, in other words, although they have times of trouble, they have also again days of joy and consolation. But age has no joy: clouds come after the rain: one misfortune succeeds another, one storm follows another.” The power to suffer is exhausted in old age, the heart is already broken: that is however not the only consideration here: God’s will is to melt down his own people completely before the end of life, and to give to the wicked a foretaste of hell. That which is here said of age in general, holds especially good of the age of the godless, which the author had principally in view. It did not, however, accord with his purpose, to mention, that as the lights of this world grow dark, the celestial divine light shines all the more brightly on a godly old age.”)

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 12:3. The body in which the spirit dwells is elsewhere, also, represented under the image of a house: (see Job 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1). The watchmen of the house are the arms, by which everything inimical and destructive is warded of. זוע in Kal occurs only here and in Esther 5:9: in the Chaldee it is frequently used. The strong men are the feet. These are introduced as the seat of the strength of a man, also in Psalms 147:10, “he delighteth not in the strength of a horse, he hath no pleasure in the legs of a man,”—and in their strength,—as we may add, supplementing from the first clause of the verse. The millers, (feminine) or the grinders, are the teeth. The feminine form was chosen because grinding (with the handmill) was usually an occupation of women, ( Exodus 11:5; Isaiah 47:2). The teeth make holiday or cease, that is, are no longer able to fulfil their task, because they have become few: if they are to “be properly active, their number must be full. בטל as a Hebrew word, “to cease to make holiday,” occurs only in this place: in Aramaic it is frequently found, (see for example, Ezra 4:24). The Piel of מעט is drily used here, and that with an intransitive meaning. The Piel denotes enhancement, very few. Those that look out of the windows, are the eyes. Hitzig remarks, “as at first, two masculines, which in conception belong- to each other, namely, arms and legs, are connected; so in the next place, two feminines, to wit, teeth and eyes; as also in portions of the law, ( Exodus 21:24; Deuteronomy 19:21) eyes and teeth, hands and feet, are co-ordinated with each other.”

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 12:4. By the doors in the streets, some organ must here be designated, which is the medium of intercourse with the external world,—one, too, which is divided into two parts, as is clear from the use of the dual דלתים . The mention of the eyes, which goes immediately before, would at once suggest the thought of ears: this moreover suits admirably the connection with the voice—“in that the voice of the mill becomes weak”—they are less able to hear, and to make themselves intelligible. According to others, the mouth is intended, and the dual form דלתים is chosen with reference to the two lips—a form which is used also of the jaws of the Leviathan in Job 41:6. See the Berleburger Bible, where we read—“through the mouth man’s heart goes forth and is seen and known by means of what he utters.” The image of doors is used also of the mouth in Micah 7:5, “preserve the doors of thy mouth.” On this view the words, “in that the voice of the mill becomes weak,” would assign the reason for the closing of the doors, as much as to say, “they scarcely open the mouth any more because it has become difficult for them to speak.” But it is more appropriate to apply the description being shut to that hardness of hearing, which is so characteristic of old age that it can scarcely be absent. If the teeth are the grinders, the mouth must be the mill. שְ פַ ל is Infin. nominasc. from שפל , “to be low;” signifying when used of the voice, to be, as it were, depressed, deadened, weak. The subject in יקום is “the old man,” who is spoken of in the context. He rises at the voice of the bird, so soon as the birds begin to sing, that is, very early in the morning: age has no sleep. The mention of the “voice of the bird” suggests the remark, that the old man has even lost all capacity for, and pleasure in song; a remark which coincides with 2 Samuel 19:35, where Barzillai says to David—“can thy servant still taste what I eat or drink, can I hear any more the voice of singing men and sinking women?” The term “daughter” is used to designate that which belongs to a thing: for example, the daughters of Rabbah, in Jeremiah 49:2, are the places which belong to Rabbah. Here accordingly the qualities which belong to song, the singing qualities, are personified as the daughters of song: Aquila, πάντα τὰ? τῆ?ς ῳ?δῆ?ς .

Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 12:5. Also—to mention this further characteristic of their miserable condition—they are afraid of everything which is high, and terrors are in the way. Where there is little strength every height is dreadful, and defenceless impotence sees terrors wherever it goes and stands. And the almond tree blooms. That the almond tree is here used as a symbol of that watchfulness with which old age is visited, is suggested even by the etymology. שקד , originally the name of the tree, not of the fruit, to which, strictly viewed, it is inappropriate, and can therefore be only secondarily applied, is a poetical designation of the almond: the real name in natural history is לוז . It is called properly the “waking tree,” because it first awakes from the sleep of winter. Theophrastus says in Hist. Plant. i. 15, of the alum tree, πρωὶ? βλαστάει . To this we may add that in Jeremiah 1:11, the almond tree is in like manner employed as a symbol of watching:—that passage may be regarded as commentary to the present verse. Why mention is made of blooming, Pliny teaches us in the Hist. Nat. 16, 25: according to him, the almond tree blossoms first of all trees,—“floret prima omnium amygdala mense Januario.” According to the explanation just given, which is adopted by the Septuaguit, (καὶ? ἀ?νθήσῃ? τὸ? ἀ?μύγδαλον ), by the Vulgate, ( et florebit amygdalus.) and by the Syriac, יָ נֵ אץ , is the Hiphil form, and from נוץ , which is used in the sense of “blossom,” even in the the Song of Solomon, (see Ecclesiastes 6:11; Ecclesiastes 7:13). These passages agree too closely with the present verse to permit of a separation between them. To the blossoming pomegranate trees there, corresponds the blossoming almond tree her. We need not be surprised at the א which has been interpolated: it is found elsewhere in the usage of a latter period, (see Ewald, § 83 c.) Objections which have been raised, do not touch the explanation in itself, but only the false turn given to it when the blossoming almond tree is made to represent the grey hair of old men. In such a case, there is of course the plain objection, that the blossom of the almond tree is not white. According to others, ינאץ is the Hiphil future of נאץ , “to despise:” the toothless old man despises the pleasant tasted almond. But even as regards the form, there are difficulties in the way of this explanation;—for example, the vowel point Kametz; and the Hiphil, which occurs nowhere else:—besides, the meaning of the verb נאץ does not suit, for נאץ is not a simple refusal, but one connected with scorn and contempt. To this we may add, that the thought is rather too far-fetched. And the locust shows itself troublesome. סבל , “to press heavily on any one,” in Piel, (which does not occur) “to lay a burden on any one;” (Pual is used in Psalms 144:14) and in Hithpael, “to show oneself burdensome, to be troublesome,” (compare Gesenius’ Thesaurus). Locusts must not be taken here, as Gesenius and others take them, in their proper sense, viz., in the sense of an excellent species of food, which the old man must renounce because he is no longer able to bear it. For locusts were in any circumstances but poor nutriment, taken only by those who either had no other, or wished to mortify themselves; and then the expression, “become burdensome or troublesome,” would be out of place. The locust must rather be employed figuratively, in correspondence with the predominantly symbolical character of the entire description. If this is the case, there can be no doubt as to the sense. The most prominent characteristic of locusts, is “devouring;” compare 2 Chronicles 7:13, “I command the locusts, (הגב , as here) to devour the land.” For this reason, wherever locusts are alluded to in a figurative sense in the Scriptures, they designate hostile ravages and destruction. Here accordingly we must understand by them, the forces hostile to life, which consume it especially in old age. And desire faileth: Luther gives the sense accurately as follows, “an old man has pleasure in nothing.” אביונה from אבה , “to wish, to will,” occurs nowhere else, but still the derivation is quite legitimate. To be rejected, is the limitation to one particular kind of desire. The explanation, “caper,” although widely spread, must still be characterised as without foundation. The fact that some old translations have hit upon it, (the Septuagint, for example, which was followed by the Syriac and the Vulgate,) offers no sure support for it. It has been sought, but in vain, to draw confirmations of this usage from the Talmud and the Rabbins. “Appetitus, concupiscentia,” which is the simplest explanation, suits the context admirably, and is recommended also by the parallel expression of Barzillai,—“can I still distinguish between good and evil, can I taste what I eat and drink, etc.?” The Hiphil form of פרר signifies elsewhere always “to reduce to nought, to destroy,” and must not therefore here without further reasons be rendered, “become nought.” Desire refusing its services, reduces the enjoyments to nought, which it might have afforded us. For man goeth to his eternal home; and of that all these things are forerunners—they are symptoms that life is shortly to cease.

The eternal house can only be the grave, out of which there is never a return to this earthly life: compare Job 7:10, “he will not return to his house, nor will his place know him again.” We find the same expression used of it in Tobias 3:6, also. And the mourners go about in the streets. סככו is the preter. proph. That which is impending in the immediate future is anticipated in spirit. What is said here is equivalent to, “they will soon go about in the streets.” The reference is to the mournings which took place at funerals, (compare Amos 5:16).

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 12:6. Before the silver cord be removed. The words are connected with the admonition at the commencement of the chapter, “remember thy Creator.” The cord denotes the thread of life, the continuity of existence. That the cord is of silver is a sign that life is a noble possession: compare Ecclesiastes 11:7, “sweet is the light, and pleasant is it for the eyes to see the sun.” The Niphal form of רהק “to become far” is never used. As invariably happens in such cases, the vowels belong to the marginal reading. We must read יִ רְ הק , “removed afar off, departed,” (longe recessit, discessit). The Masoretic conjecture is the less to be trusted as the meaning, “be broken,” ascribed to נרתק , is by no means certain. The verb which signifies “to bind, to enchain,” cannot, in Niphal, which otherwise never occurs, mean “to be unchained, torn loose,” as Ewald would have it. רהק , “to remove,” and רוץ “to run, to haste away,” correspond admirably to each other.—And the golden bowl haste away. Many interpreters consider that רוץ here stands for רצץ , “till the golden bowl be broken,” Septuagint, καὶ? συνθλιβῇ? ἀ?νθέμιον τοῦ? χρυσίου . Elsewhere, however, the spheres of both the verbs רצץ and רוץ remain distinct. Even in Isaiah 42:4, רצץ retains its meaning “run,” (compare my Christology on that passage). The former of the two verbs always signifies elsewhere “to break,” never “to be broken.” רוץ “to run, to escape,” forms quite a suitable parallel with pm “to become far;” so also in the second half of the verse נרץ “to be beaten to pieces” with נשבר “to be broken.” The use of נרץ immediately after shows that תרץ may not be referred back to רצץ , for the recurrence of the same verb would be awkward. גלה means properly “source,” and is equivalent to “in the Song of Solomon 4:12. It is used in the same manner in Joshua 15:19, and Judges 1:15. Then in Zechariah 4:3 it denotes the reservoir out of which the oil flows into the seven lamps of the candlestick, (the masculine form נּ ל in Ecclesiastes 4:2 is chosen only on account of the suffix.) On that passage in Zechariah, is based, as it would seem, the one now under notice. Corresponding with the “cord,” life, now, as the ground and source of all particular manifestations thereof, is represented under the image of an oil-bowl. Four figurative designations of life are connected together in this verse. In the passage adduced from Zechariah the remark was made, “that the candlesticks being entirely of the noblest metal, namely of gold, indicates the glory of the church.” Here also we are taught that the life which God has adorned with such noble gifts, and to which he has appointed such high tasks, is a noble possession, in that the oil-bowl is described as being-golden. And the pitcher is broken to pieces at the well. The pitcher is the image of individual life, the well is the image of the general life. Hitzig justly compares with this the drawing of breath, although that is not the whole, but only one single act, by which we take to ourselves something out of the great general treasure from winch all individuals are supplied with that which is necessary to their subsistence. And the wheel is broken to pieces at the cistern. The cistern, or fountain, is the world. Life is represented under the image of a wheel because of its rapid motion. In James 3:6 it is said of the tongue, ἡ? σπιλοῦ σα ὅ?λον τὸ? σῶ μα καὶ? φλογίζουσα τὸτροχὸτῆγενέσεως . The first words are based on Ecclesiastes 5:5 of this book, “Let not thy mouth make thy flesh sinful:” the second clause, referring back to the present verse, represents life under the image of a wheel, (γένεσις , Bengel, “constitutio naturalis,” i. 23 et vita, compare Jdt_12:10 ; πάσας τὰ?ς ἡ?μερας τῆγενέσεως μου , Schneckenburger on the passa ge). If the pitcher is one day inevitably to be broken at the well, and the wheel to be beaten to pieces at the cistern, it surely behoves us to seek earnestly and betimes for such a foundation of our life as shall not be subjected to such changes. The fear of death is legitimate so long as we have not readied this aim. The Berleburger Bible says, “the author having described here the accidents which precede death, and at the same time death itself: in the following verse he informs us what will become of body and soul after death.”

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 12:7. The dust, that is, as the Berleburger Bible remarks, “this earthly body, which is so called in order to show partly its origin, and partly also its weakness and littleness.” Allusion is made to Genesis 3:19, “till thou return to the earth, for from it wast thou taken, for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” This passage contains only part of the truth. Its design was to humble man to the dust, who wished to be equal with God: hence, of the two sides of which his nature is constituted, only the one, the earthly side, is specially mentioned. According to Genesis 2:7, there is in man a divine element, a breath from God, alongside of the earthy. Genesis 1:26 teaches that man is created in God’s image, in distinction from all the rest of creation. In this aspect of his being he cannot be subjected to destruction, he must participate in the imperishableness of God. When the author says, that the spirit returns to God who gave it, he advances nothing new, he does but complement Genesis 3:19 from the two passages just adduced. That the spirit of man does not perish with the body is here, in agreement with Ecclesiastes 3:2, (compare also Ecclesiastes 3:11) most decidedly taught. Conscious, however, of the boundary lines separating the productions of “wisdom” from the outpourings of prophecy, he does not enter further on the question. An earnest mode of looking at sin and guilt, such as is characteristic of the entire Old Testament, and especially of this present book, does not tolerate the notion of a pantheistic diffusion and absorption of the soul, which rationalistic interpreters find in this passage. Such foolish thoughts can only be cherished by those who think lightly of sin. Those terrible words in Deuteronomy 27:26, “cursed be he that keepeth not all the words of this law to do them,” should effectually prevent them rising within us. The doctrine of the Old Testament is that righteousness and sin stamp an indelible character on the soul. It is impossible that the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, so emphatically insisted on, should at once be reduced to nought in the moment of death.

Against such a view is decisive, moreover, the piercing seriousness with which the future judgment is announced everywhere, and especially in this book. On all these grounds, and on the ground, finally, of the emphasis laid on that retributive work of God with whose mention in Deuteronomy 27:14 the whole book terminates, the return of the soul to God can only be such an one as that of which the apostle speaks in 2 Corinthians 5:10, “for we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done whether it be good or bad;” compare Romans 14:10, “for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ;” and Hebrews 9:27, “it is appointed unto men once to die, arid after death the judgment.” After its departure the soul must present itself before Him from whom it had its origin, to receive from him its judgment. The Chaldee paraphrases the Hebrew as follows, “et spiritus animae redibit, ut stet in judicio coram deo, qui dedit ilium tibi.” That is the Israelitish view. The other is a Japhetism of Bunsen’s. Only on the view adopted by the Church, not on that of the Rationalists, has the passage the significance which is called for by the context. No other meaning than this, “that the soul must one day return to God as its judge,” is fitted to prepare the way for the admonition, “remember thy Creator,” which is the main feature of this entire section. Remember thy Creator, in order that thou mayest not have to bewail a misspent earthly existence when it is too late for remedy, and then after death come into judgment. The Burleburger Bible says, “precisely for this reason should a man consider well how he lives and acts here, seeing that, do what he will, he cannot avoid appearing before God. Souls come out of eternity into this world as on to a theatre. There they exhibit their persons, their affections, their passions, that which there is of evil and good in them. When they have as it were acted out their parts, they are forced to retire, to lay off the person in which they presented themselves, and to go naked, just as they are, before God for judgment. All men are convinced enough in their conscience that they cannot remain thus in their own nature, and that they cannot escape from, or pass by, God when they die, as the ungodly would fain do, being anxious even for the mountains and hills to cover them, if they can but remain without God. But, willing or unwilling, we shall all infallibly fall into the bands of our Creator. And one may see clearly that the greatest labour and anxiety of dying men arises from their feeling that they are on the way to God.

How the whole man trembles and shakes! Especially when he dare not comfort himself with the hope of a reconciled approach! There is no exception to the declaration, that all men must return to God, but still there is a great distinction amongst them. Most men return to God as to their insulted Lord: some, however, as to a gracious and compassionate friend and father. Inasmuch, then, as our coming to God is certain and unavoidable, we should make it our first, as it is our most needed care, to see to it every moment that we be able to come unto God m a right manner.” Much importance has been attached to this verse in connection with disputes concerning the origin of the soul. If the soul returns to God, such was the conclusion drawn by the advocates of Creationism, it must owe its origin to God and not to its human parents. The defenders of Traducianism answer, that the return of the soul to God has relation to the creation of the first man. This reply, however, can scarcely be regarded as satisfactory. The return of the individual soul to God is only satisfactorily accounted for on the view of Creationism, that it owes its origin directly to God. As far then as this passage is concerned, Creationism is in the right, although, an examination of the weighty reasons advanced in favour of Traducianism must convince us that it only gives a part of the truth. The right course is to combine and reconcile the two apparently opposed theories.

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 12:8. The correspondence between this verse and the commencement of the book ( Ecclesiastes 1:2) shows that it is not to be connected with the preceding section, but is to be set at the head of the conclusion. There is, however, of course a certain connection between it and the close of the preceding section. If our earthly existence comes to the end described in Ecclesiastes 12:7 it is vanity, and true good may not be sought in it. This one sentence does not give us the quintessence of the entire book, for it contains many things which cannot be classed under such a head, and Knobel is quite wrong in saying that “the theme of the whole book is the assertion of the vanity of human life and struggles.” What we have here is a single thought of prominent importance, which, as being such, it is the purpose of this concluding repetition to bring to notice. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14, which are expressly announced as the true summary of the book, form the complement to Ecclesiastes 12:8. What is said in the latter leads and prepares the way for that which is said in the former. The knowledge of the vanity of earthly things conducts to the fear of God afterwards recommended. Since all things are vain, man, who is subject to vanity, should do all in his power to enter into a living relation to Him who is the true absolute Being, and through fellowship with him to participate, himself, in a true eternal being. All being vanity, man should not further vex himself about a “handful of vanity,”—he should not care much whether he have to suffer a Little more or a little less, but attach importance alone to that which either hinders or favours his fellowship with Him who is the true absolute, personal, Being.

Verses 8-14

We have here the Epilogue of the book. At the commencement ( Ecclesiastes 12:8), and at the close ( Ecclesiastes 12:13-14) the sum and substance of the book is set before us in a very condensed and vigorous form. This epitome serves at the same time as a standard and test for the interpretation of the previous portions. In the middle a recommendation is given of the book as containing wisdom offered by God to the Church, and as sharing, along with the other sacred writings, that all-pervading power which proceeds from inspiration ( Ecclesiastes 12:9; Ecclesiastes 12:11); then we find an admonition to the faithful use of those edifying truths and considerations which are set before men in this and the other sacred writings, together with a warning against a too deep study of worldly literature ( Ecclesiastes 12:12).

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 12:9. יותר signifies generally “more” ( Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 6:11; Ecclesiastes 7:11), here it means “remaining,” as in 1 Samuel 15:15.

Rambach says, “Patet igitur ex haetenus dictia atque imprimis etiam ex vita hominis naturali tam brevi et misera, quod recte ab initio adfirmaverim, omnia quae soli subjecta sunt, vana, misera et caduca esse.” “There remains,” that is, “it remains yet to be said.” Luther, who renders, “This same preacher was not only wise, but he also taught,” and others, take יותר in the sense of “besides;” compare יותר ממני “besides me,” in Esther 6:6. The title Koheleth did not belong to Solomon as such, but as Salomo redivivus as the ideal author of this book. (Compare what has already been said on this matter in Ecclesiastes 1:1). This is evident from this verse alone. Of Solomon himself it was superfluous to say that he was a wise man, and taught the people wisdom. After what had been said about Solomon’s wisdom in 1 Kings 5:9-11, such praise would sound rather cold. A wise man, of the kingdom of God; not in the sense of the world, not of his own making, but of God’s, (compare 1 Kings 5:11): this passage consequently does not contradict Proverbs 27:2, “let another praise thee and not t hine own mouth, a stranger and not thine own lips.” He was an organ of that heavenly wisdom, of which it is said in the Book of Wis_7:27 , κατὰ? γενεὰεἰψυχὰ?ς ὁ?σίας μεταβαίνουσα φίλους θεοῦ? καὶ? προφήτας κατασκευάζει . Koheleth did not limit himself to b eing wise for himself, but he further (אזן ) taught the people wisdom. The title Koheleth of itself indicates this practical popular tendency. On the side of the readers there was the corresponding duty, to hear and to take to heart what was taught. The Piel of אזן , which only occurs here, is most simply explained by “listen, hearken,” after the example of Aquila, the Syriac and the Chaldee. The comparison of the Hiphil form is less remote than that of the noun מאזנים , “scales,” from which several have been disposed to derive the meaning, “to weigh, to consider.” To attain to the truth of things we must listen; especially shall we succeed in this pursuit if we possess a hearing ear for God and his revelations: compare Psalms 49:5, “I will incline mine ear to the parable.” תקי is separated from אזן and חקר by the accentuation and by the want of the copula. The two latter verbs designate the means by which the תקן comes to pass. The verb, which occurs in Ecclesiastes 7:13, in the sense of “to make straight,” describes here not merely “the making complete,” but at the same time also the skill or ability of the work.—If Koheleth is Solomon only in so far as he is the speaker in this book, then the “many parables,” or proverbs, cannot be those mentioned in 1 Kings 5:12, of which a great part is contained in the Book of Proverbs, but must be those contained in the present book, which it is the aim to recommend. The book contains two hundred and twenty-two verses, which may be regarded as so many משלים . There is of course a reference to 1 Kings 5:12: the ideal Solomon follows in the footsteps of the historical.

Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 12:10. Koheleth strove to find out acceptable words:—naturally not for the earthly, but for the heavenly minded; words which should go to the hearts of the true members of the Church of God. Schmidt remarks: “Quae jure meritoque desiderari et placere debent, tanquam divinae virtutis et certitudinis.” Cartwright says, “Verbi Dei encomium celebratur ab adjuncta dulcedine s. delectatione. Sunt etenim homini pio melle dulciora, Psalms 19, ut cibus famelico ut potus sitienti.” And uprightness was written, words of truth. The relation of the two halves of the verse to each other is wrongly estimated by Elster, who says, “his representation unites therefore artistic gra ce of form with inner truth of thought.” Words are rather acceptable, because they are upright and true, as in Luke 2:52, χάρις is a consequence of Wisdom. ישר , “uprightness,” denotes everywhere that character or condition which is adequate to the idea or standard. Wherein this consists is more carefully described by the addition, “words of truth.” Truth is the quality which perfectly corresponds to the norm. The adverbal view of ישר (Luther, “and wrote rightly the words of truth”) can scarcely be justified. The fundamental passage in this connection is Proverbs 8:6-10, where wisdom says, “hear, for I speak noble things, and the opening of my lips is uprightness. For my mouth speaketh truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness, and there is nothing twisted or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and upright to them that find knowledge.” That which is said there in regard to the Proverbs holds good also of this book, inasmuch as it is a production of the same “wisdom from above,’ and not of weak, erring natural reason.

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 12:11. From the praise of his own book, the author passes to the praise of the great whole, of which his work was destined to form a part, to wit, of the canonical books of the Old Testament The words of the wise, of the organs of the ἄ?νωθεν σοφία , of the authors of the sacred books: to the number thereof the author of this book must be reckone d according to what has preceded. The Berleburger Bible says, “in Ecclesiastes 12:11 the reason is given for that which had been first affirmed: because, namely, he is one of the wise who are driven by the Spirit of God ( 2 Peter 1:21), whose words, therefore, have a deep meaning and importance.” Hitzig observes, “an external connection is established between Ecclesiastes 11:10-10, by the fact that the words of truth in Ecclesiastes 11:10 proceed from one of the ( Ecclesiastes 12:9 a). Hence, such words of the wise.” Are as goads. דרבון , from דרב in the Arabic “to be pointed,” denotes goad in general, and not specially “ox-goad.” The point of comparison is only the power of piercing, penetrating deep: Gesenius; “aculeorum instar alte descendunt in pectora homi-num iisque manent infixa.” We should be led to this view also by the parallel comparison of Nails. Knobel says, quite incorrectly, “just as the ox-goad teaches the ox manners, and causes it to go rightly.” And like nails driven in are the participators in the collection. נטע means strictly “to plant;” it is used in Daniel 11:45, in the sense “to drive in.” The plural משמרות is here treated as a masculine: for remarks on feminines in ת which are changed into masculines, see Ewald, 174 g.

The plural מסמרים occurs in Isaiah 41:7, with which compare 1 Chronicles 22:3. The expression בעלי אספות has been most variously explained It is therefore of the more importance to renounce all attempts at guessing, and to seek a solid groundwork. The form, אספות , does not elsewhere occur, but the masculine form, אספים , does: this latter, therefore, must be our guide, more especially as it is in use amongst the writers of the post-exile period, to whose usage that of Koheleth everywhere bears resemblance. אספים , “that which is collected, collectae, collectanea,” is used in 1 Chronicles 26:15; 1 Chronicles 26:17, and Nehemiah 12:25, of the stores of the sanctuary, in reference to which it is said, in 2 Chronicles 25:24, “silver and gold and all the vessels which were found in the house of God.” Now אספות here has quite the same meaning as this אספים :—both signify, “collected things,” “that which is collected.” The sphere to which what is collected belongs, the nature of that which is collected, is more precisely denned by the foregoing expression, “the words of the wise,” to which בעלי אספות corresponds. Accordingly, the reference can only be to the national library: and the Baale or Associates of that which is collected can only be those who have taken part in the contents of the collection, to wit, the authors of the individual books contained therein. בעל is any one who takes part in a matter: thus בעלי ברית are the associates of the covenant, ( Genesis 14:13); בעלי רשע are those who are participators in wickedness (compare Ecclesiastes 7:12); בעלי עיר are the associates of a city, that is, the inhabitants: בעלי תלמוד , are the authors of the Talmud. The two clauses correspond exactly to each other: to the “words of the wise,” correspond the “associates of the collection,” and to the goads, the nails driven in. Only in the second clause is the position of the words an inverted one, and the object of the inversion is to connect נתנו immediately with בעלי אספות . All explanations different from the one given by us split on the meaning of אספות just established. So for example that by which even Luther rendered the two difficult words—“as nails fastened in are the ‘masters of assemblies,’ “namely, the teachers who preside over the assemblies of the people, or that of Gesenius—“the associates of the (learned) assemblies.”

Apart from the fact that this meaning is unsuitable—teachers or learned men are quite out of place here— אספות does not signify “assemblies.” In the opinion of others בעלי אספות is not the subject, but is put in opposition, and describes nails more particularly: “qui ipsi clavi sunt domini collectionum, i.e., instrumenta v. media firmiter res combinantia” (Geier). This is thought to suit the expression, “the words of the wise,” very well: since they not only enable the wise to collect their distracted minds, but also keep a whole Church together,” (Berleb. Bible). But even on this view a doubtful meaning is thrust on the word אספות ; the thought drags, and the impression of the simple image of goads and nails, which was meant only to represent the piercing, deeply penetrating power, is destroyed, or else the nails are without reason separated from the goads; and finally the correspondence between the sentences, which requires that בעלי אספות , corresponding as it does to דברי הכמים , must be the subject, is overthrown. Hitzig prefers the term, “the collected ones,” to “collected proverbs or sayings.” In that case, however, בעלי is unsuitable; besides, the parallel expression, בעלי אספות , has a wider signification; and further, this book does not at all contain a “collection of sayings.”

According to the well-founded interpretation advanced above, the sense of the two clauses is the following—that the sacred writings of Israel are endowed with a deeply penetrating power, in distinction from all worldly literature, which can only produce a superficial impression, and is incapable of stirring the deepest depths of the mind and heart. A parallel passage is Revelation 1:16, which represents a sharp and two-edged sword as going out of the mouth of Christ. By this we are to understand in the first instance, not the power which the word has of penetrating to, and healing the heart, but rather the destructive power it derives from the omnipotence which is its source. This is clear even from Revelation 2:12, as compared with Revelation 2:16, where the two-edged sword is said to be directed against the false seed which is in the Church; and from Revelation 19:21, where it is said to bring down ruin on the anti-Christian power of the heathen. But the power of the word to destroy, and its power to penetrate the heart with salvation, have one root. That root is the energetic life it draws from God, who is the fount of all life and of all strength. We may say the same thing of the second parallel passage from the New Testament, Hebrews 4:12: “for the word is living and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” There also, “the living energy of the word from which it is impossible to escape,” (Delitzsch), is directed in the first instance against its enemies and despisers, as is evident from the warning reference made to facts of the time of Moses, when disobedience to the word was followed by death. Hand in hand, however, with this aspect of the energy of the word goes the healing and redemptive one specially mentioned in the passage now under notice.

A canon whereby to judge sermons has been justly drawn from this verse. They ought to have the characteristics of the Scriptures themselves: they are worth nothing if they cannot stand the comparison with goads and nails. Here also have we a rule for the conduct of hearers towards sermons:—“they must not feel vexed if they leave their sting in the soul.” The words, “they were given by one shepherd,” give the reason why such qualities are ascribed to the “words of the wise,” and of the “associates of the col lection;”—it is as if the writer said—“and indeed they are such because they were given.” Analogous is 2 Timothy 3:16, πᾶ σα γραφὴ? θεόπνευστος καὶ? ὠ?φέλιμος πρὸδιδασκαλίαν , πρὸ?ς ἐ?λεγμόν , etc., where the deeply penetrative influence of the Scriptures is tra ced to their divine inspiration. The subject of נחנו is firstly, “the words of the wise,” and then “the associates of the collection:” in regard to the latter, compare Ephesians 4:11—“and he gave some apostles, etc.” (see Stier on the passage). The “Shepherd” can only be the Lord. God is first designated the Shepherd of Israel in Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24: in the last quoted place He is limply called “the Shepherd.” Further in Psalms 23:1, where not the individual believer but entire Israel says, “the Lord is my Shepherd:” (see also Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; Ezekiel 34:11-12). Israel the flock, the Lord the shepherd—this is a common image, especially in the post-exile writings. On any other mode of explanation we lose ourselves in a region of guesses. As a shepherd, as the loving support of his Church, God has given it the Holy Scriptures. In contrast to the plurality of the writers, which gave occasion to the words, “the associates of the collection,” emphasis is laid on the oneness of the primal source of the Sacred Scriptures.

Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 12:12. And for the rest. The offer is complete; it now only remains that what has been offered be appropriated. My son: “dear reader, whoever thou art, whom I have sought to admonish as a father,” (Berleburger Bible). Take instruction from, them. מהמה refers to the preceding verse in which the entire scriptures are spoken of Elster’s view consequently is incorrect; “in Ecclesiastes 12:12 Koheleth advises his readers to be content with the simple truth contained in his own book.” His own book is mentioned only as part of a comprehensive whole, נזהר was used in the sense of “to let oneself be admonished” in Ecclesiastes 4:13. We find it employed with the same force—“to let oneself be admonished by the Word of God,” in Ezekiel 3:21; Ezekiel 33:4-6. In Psalms 19:12, to which there appears here to be a very distinct allusion, it is said of the revealed commands of God, “moreover, by them is thy servant warned.” Luther translates, “guard thyself, my son, against others more:” and this explanation was approved by Gesenius. For the understanding of יותר מן appeal may be made to Esther 6:6; for the meaning of the verb, to the Chaldee. But it is simplest to understand יותר as in Esther 6:9; and the parallel passages are too decidedly in favour of the meaning assigned above to נותר . The meaning, “to guard oneself,” does not occur in Hebrew usage. After the exhortation to the right use of the sacred Scriptures, follows a warning against the study of the literature of the world. Of making many books there is no end. It is the nature of the wisdom of this world never to arrive at a conclusion concerning the very highest questions, with which we have alone here to do; never to come to certain results, never to get rest. It is ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth. There is consequently no consolation for him who devotes himself to this literature with the expectation of finding in it the solution to the enigma of this earthly life: and much desire is a weariness to the flesh. להג occurs only here. The verb signifies in Arabic “to be desirous.” The reference to the thirst for knowledge lies not in the word but in the context: “much desire for that multitude of heathen books.” It is not in the interest of laziness that this warning against “weariness of the flesh” is uttered. One may meditate day and night on the law of God (Psalms 1) without experiencing this “weariness of the flesh.” But one should subject oneself to such weariness only when some positive actual result is likely to be gained. In connexion with the literature of heathendom there was weariness of the flesh and nothing else; it was a mere Sisyphus labour; it brought no true gain to the God-descended spirit. Some have maintained that the words, “of making many books, etc.,” imply “that at this time the simplicity of the wisdom revealed by God had already begun to be spoiled by an unfruitful and prolix school-learning.” But that the writer’s attack is not directed against the native Hebrew literature, is evident from the fact that for centuries long the dogmatical wisdom of the Rabbins was handed down solely by oral tradition; and it is quite certain that at the date of this book, however late we set its origin, there existed no extended Rabbinical literature. From Ecclesiastes 7:26, as well as from the contrast drawn between Israelitish and heathenish wisdom even in the Book of Proverbs, it is evident that the author’s polemic is with that false wisdom which was threatening to pass from the heathen world to the Jews. Others, who rightly refer the words to heathen literature, draw from them the conclusion that the book was not composed till the time of the Persian dominion. But it is impossible to prove that the heathen were more addicted to writing many books at the end, than at the middle, of this per iod. Recent investigations have put beyond doubt that, in earlier times. Egyptian literature was both comprehensive and vain and unfruitful. According to Diodorus, i. 49, over the sacred library at Thebes was the inscription, “pharmacy of the soul,” ψυχῆ?ς ἰ?ατρεῖ ον .

Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 12:13. The saying here, corresponds to the commencement of the Epilogue in Ecclesiastes 12:8. There, all things earthly are represented as vain: here, our connection with God is set forth as the great essential. “the conclusion of the discourse, the whole, let us hear.” The word, סוף is never used by the writers of the pre-exile period, and indeed, as a Hebrew word, never occurs except in this book, in Joel, and in 2 Chronicles 20:16: it frequently occurs in the Chaldee portion of Daniel. Its meaning is not “the sum,” but, “the whole.” At the same time, only a thought of thorough importance is put at the end when expressly described as the end; and we are afterwards distinctly told that the end is also the sum. דבר is undoubtedly the particular discourse set before us in this book. The article may be omitted, whenever “the context may be presumed to define more precisely what is meant, and when therefore, the article is considered superfluous,” (Ewald) כל being strictly a noun, it should not be rendered, “of the whole discourse:” הכל is rather set in opposition, and informs us that in the termination of the discourse the whole is included;—it expressly specifies that the closing thought is the main, the fundamental thought. We may also regard the oft-repeated exhortation addressed to murmurers, to enjoy life, as comprehended under the last admonition—“fear God.” For what is it but fear of God, willingly to bear what God has laid upon us, to rise above our trials with the exclamation, “the Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away,” to live in freedom from care and fear to the present moment, and cheerfully to enjoy what He offers. All murmuring is godlessness. נשמע is the pause form of the first plural future; compare Joshua 24:22; Jeremiah 42:6. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is (the duty of) all men. Many commentators explain, “for that is the whole man.” Ewald says,—“for therein consists the whole man, or that, which is truly simple, which is sufficient for the entire man, and in which everything else that is human is comprised.” Elster says, “therein lies man’s whole nature, thereon depends his whole fate.” However attractive this explanation may be, we must still abide by Luther’s translation, “For that belongs to all men.” The phrases כל אדם and כל האדם very often, occur and invariably signify—“all men;” never “the whole man.” Against this consideration the harshness of the ellipsis, “that (should) all men,” is not at all worthy of mention. Such harsh modes of expression occur not unfrequently in the later form of the language, in which this book is written. To fear God and keep His commandments is the duty of all men, because all bear His image, and can have no true life or growth except in connection with the primal source of their existence: they must also be punished with destruction if they criminally and violently break this connection. This latter consideration is expressly and emphatically alluded to in Ecclesiastes 12:14, where the motive of the admonition is given. “Into the judgment on every secret thing.” על is very frequently used of the substratum or object: hence “on” is equivalent to “concerning, in respect of.” That the judgment here is principally the future one, is clear from the corresponding Ecclesiastes 12:7, where the appearance of the spirit separated from the body before God, in order to receive recompence for its works, was spoken of: (compare 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Acts 17:31). Still there is no reason for confining our thoughts entirely to the future judgment: we should rather think of judgment in its widest compass, as it is begun in time and perfected in eternity. The mere mention of “secret things” does not compel us to limit the words to the future judgment. For in Psalms 90:8, it said of the judgment which is pronounced and executed by history—“thou settest our iniquities before thee, our secret sin in the light of thy countenance.” Even Luther saw how comprehensive was the application of the expression: he remarks, “the author does not speak here only of the judgment at the last day, but, according to Scripture usage, of judgment in general. There is a judgment and an hour for everything with God, and no one can escape. Wherefore Arius and all heretics are already judged. But at the last day it will be made still clearer in the presence of all creatures, angels and men, that even now in the day of visitation, God the Lord has laid bare their sin and disgrace, that in a word, there is no more concealment.”

“O how exceeding necessary is it that our light and thoughtless nature should at all times remember, and be reminded of, the strict and unavoidable account awaiting us, so that we may never forget it! How easily one or another may be called upon to render his account ere he is ready! Should we not therefore be ever preparing, if we do not desire to be put to confusion, but to receive such a sentence as we desire and can count blessed.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ecclesiastes-12.html.