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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

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


The author whose task it was, now in the way of consolation and then in the way of admonition, to lay before the people of God, groaning under the yoke of the Persians, that which might be for the health of their soul, here passes over to an entirely new theme. He proceeds to bring to light the evils which at that time were to be found in connection with the public worship of God. If his admonitions went to the heart their effect would be contentment with the divine arrangements. True self-knowledge throws light on the otherwise dark ways of God. When one learns to murmur against one’s own sin, one ceases to murmur against God. A superficial piety sought to put God off with sacrifices, instead of walking in the way of His commands: prayer in many cases degenerated into mere chatter: vows were lightly taken, but when it came to the fulfilment they hung back. There was lacking a true and hearty fear of God: and that was the root and spring of all these evils. This section shows that the book belongs to a time when the very hearts, which at an earlier period had openly renounced God, and given in their adherence to heathenism, were devoted to a dead orthodoxy. Such a time began shortly after the return from the exile, as soon as the first mighty stirrings of the hearts had relaxed, as soon as the first enthusiasm had vanished. How strongly disposed the people were in the time of Nehemiah to withdraw themselves from the services due to God may be seen in Nehemiah 13:10-20.

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 5:1 The words, “Keep thy feet,” show us that the going to the house of God is a serious matter, which had better be omitted if not done in a right spirit. Jerome says: “Non enim ingredi domum dei, sed sine offensione ingredi laudis est.” The essential thing is of course to preserve the heart, but the posture of the heart is represented and revealed in the manner of going. The author speaks of feet, perhaps, because through them he had often discerned the state of the heart. The Kri: רגלך , “thy foot,” probably owes its origin to a comparison of Proverbs 1:15; Proverbs 4:26-27. Psalms 119:101, where the plural is employed, might just as well have been made the subject of comparison, קרוב “so as” is stronger than the simple “when.” anp never occurs as an Infin. absol.; always only as an adjective. As such James took it in this place: see the Epistle James 1:19: ἔ?στω δὲ? πᾶ?ς ἄ?νθρωπος ταχὺ?ς εἰ?ς τὸ? ἀ?κοῦ?σαι , βραδὺ?ς εἰ?ς τὸ? λαλῆ?σαι :—the latter is an allusion to Ecclesiastes 5:1. If the word “hear” be referred to the public worship of God, we must look to the reading of the law conjoined with the singing of Psalms: (compare my work, On the Day of the Lord) and then this passage would furnish a proof that, at the time of the author, it was customary to read from the law, and probably to connect therewith expositions and applications. Taking this view the Berleburger Bible remarks: “We must not be satisfied merely with hearing: else it is merely that; and this is not all that is intended. External is external: and the true aim of the external rites of worship is to conduct to the internal.” But that the matter to be heard is much rather the voice of the Lord, and that consequently “hearing” has substantially the same force as “obeying,” is clear from 1 Samuel 15:22, when Samuel says to Saul, “hath the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in hearing the voice of the Lord? Behold, to hear (obey) is better than a good sacrifice, and to hearken better than the fat of rams.” In Jeremiah 7:33, also, to hear the voice of the Lord is set in opposition to soulless sacrifices. God, says the prophet, did not command his people concerning soulless sacrifices, but said to them: “Hear (obey) my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” Parallel also is the passage, Hosea 6:6, “for I have pleasure in love, and not in sacrifices; and in knowledge of the Lord more than in burnt offerings: see also Proverbs 21:3: “to do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice,’’ with which compare Proverbs 21:27: “the sacrifice of the wicked is abomination.” What the voice of the Lord calls for are love, righteousness, justice; whereas soulless sacrifices are not claimed by him: to bring them therefore instead of love and the like is the contrary of obedience. The voice of the Lord is known in the first instance from the “roll,” i.e., “the volume of the book,” ( Psalms 40:8), “the law of Moses,” which Malachi, the contemporary of Koheleth admonishes ( Ecclesiastes 3:22) the lovers of ceremonies to remember. At the same time, however, the voice of the Lord makes itself heard also in the hearts of the faithful: compare Psalms 85:9, and the words—“thou hast digged through my ears”—of Psalms 40:6. By a rather harsh construction, “before that, that fools should give sacrifice,” stands for “which is better than that fools should give sacrifice.” That זבח signifies here, as always, “slain sacrifices,” (not sacrifices in general), which are particularly selected from the whole number of sacrifices, is evident from a comparison of 1 Samuel 15:22, Hosea 6:6, Psalms 40:7, where “slain sacrifices” are mentioned along with “burnt sacrifices.” Not of “sacrifices “in general does Koheleth here speak, but of the sacrifices of fools, which were not an outward form expressing the worship which is in spirit and truth, but the contrary thereof, namely, an invention whose purpose was to appease God and to silence the conscience. Several commentators explain—“for they know not, in order that they,” or, “so that they do evil,” appealing to the fact that ידע is frequently used without specification of the object, which must either be supplied from the context, or be taken in the most general possible way ( Isaiah 44:5-6; Isaiah 44:9; Isaiah 44:18; Isaiah 45:20; Isaiah 16:10, Psalms 73:22). But t hat the words must rather be explained—“they know not that they do evil,” (Ewald, § 280 d), is clear from that saying of our Lord’s which refers back to this passage, πάτερ , ἄ?φες αὐ?τοῖ?ς· οὐ? γὰ?ρ οἴ?δασι τί ποιοῦ?σι ( Luke 23:34). “Without knowing it they do ev il, so that their manner of procedure is to be carefully shunned and avoided.

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 5:2 From the same want of living fear of God which was at the root of the offering of soulless sacrifices, arose also the use of many words in prayer, and the lightness and frivolity in making vows. The expression—“let thy words be few,” as compared with that of Ecclesiastes 5:7, “many words,” shows that vows are here included. Piel from בהל , in the sense of “to haste,” occurs also in Ecclesiastes 7:9. The explanation of על is, that the mouth forms, as it were, the foundation of the hasting ( Psalms 15:3). Whoever properly takes to heart that God is in heaven and we upon earth, will be sparing in his words, will say nothing which has not the fullest inward truth, which does not come from the deepest depths of the heart; will be circumspect in his vows, vowing nothing which he cannot, or does not intend to pay. The most grievous violation of the reverence we owe to God, the most guilty disregard of the fact that God is in heaven, and we on earth, that He is the rich and we the poor, that He is the Almighty and we the powerless, is not to pray at all, to remain entirely dumb towards Him in whose hand are the souls of all living. The admonition, “let thy words be few,” is not meant to set limits to the glow and fire of devotion. It is directed not against the inwardly devout, but against the superficially religious, who fancy that in the multitude of their words they have an equivalent for the devotion they lack. That the saying of our Lord’s against the Pharisees who made long prayers by way of pretext ( Mark 12:40): προσευχόμενοι δὲ? μὴ? βατταλογήσητε , etc. ( Matthew 6:7-8), contains a reference to this passage is the less to be called in question, seeing that that type of a short and good prayer which He gave his disciples immediately afterwards, begins wi th the words—“Our Father, which art in Heaven.” In the Berleburger Bible it is remarked: “What a wide application may be made of these words both to teaching and preaching, to prayer and to our ordinary life! How many sermons, hours long, would be expunged by this censorship, although never so skilfully arranged and put together according to the preaching-art. And if all sermons and other discourses concerning divine things were purged, as in truth they ought to be, from all useless, unedifying, fruitless, offensive and wrong words, how few would the censorship leave standing.—The Saviour took note of this advice, and therefore prescribed a short form of prayer, at the very commencement of which the petitioner is moved to remember the majesty of God who is in Heaven, though the majesty is tempered by the kind and lovely name of Father.”

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 5:3 Between the two clauses of this verse there is no internal connexion, except in so far as one wretched thing is compared with another. The main point is simply the relation of cause and effect. The voice of fools is the result of many words so far as by their means it is recognised or known. If we draw out the sum total of many words, the result is, the voice of the fool. In regard to ענין which is not “business” but “annoyance,” compare what is said on Ecclesiastes 1:13. In Job 7:14 also mention is made of the terrible dreams to which sufferers are exposed.

Verses 4-5

Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 These verses have special respect to vows, and refer back to Deuteronomy 23:22-23: “When thou vowest a vow to the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, and it will be sin in thee. But if thou forbearest to vow, it is no sin in thee.” That the divine names are employed not at random but according to definite principles is quite clear in this place. In this quotation, which otherwise is almost literal, the simple לאאהים stands instead of the words “Jehova thy God,” of the original passage. The Berleburger Bible says: “Many persons when they are in need or desire aught from God precipitate themselves into certain vows, and promise more than they have afterwards any desire to fulfil when avarice comes in and incites them not to perform that to which they have solemnly engaged themselves. In the hour of need many promise to God golden mountains—how thankful they will be, how they will improve themselves if they should only become again free and healthy. But alas! how soon does the deceitful heart forget all that when it is out of the strait.”

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 5:6 According to several the meaning of the words, “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin,” is that “vows lightly taken excite the carnal mind to stronger opposition.” But in the Old Testament בשר never signifies the fleshly mind. Only one passage, namely Genesis 6:3, contains an approximation to this signification. In James 3:6, where we read of the tongue, ἡ? σπιλοῦ?σα ὅ?λον τὸ? σῶ?μα , and the dependence of which from the passage under consideration can the less be denied as the succeeding words καὶ? φλογιζομένη τὸ?ν τροχὸ?ν τῆ?ς γεέννης refer back to Ecclesiastes 12:6, and thence receive their assured explanation, בשר is rendered by σῶ?μα , and not by σάρξ . Σῶ?μα is not employed there in opposition to soul, but to desig nate the body as endued with a soul;—in short, it is a designation of the whole person from the bodily side, because, in the first instance, the tongue is a member of the body. So also here בשר signifies the entire personality. In several passages the soul appeal’s as an appurtenance of the בשר ; see Leviticus 17:11, Job 12:10. Cartwright’s remarks here are quite to the point: “Cave ne ore tuo, unico coquo perexiguo membro, reatum tibi cum corpore turn animo accersas.” ההטיא here is not “to lead into sin,” as in Exodus 22:33, but, “to set into the position of a sinner,” “to bring guilt on any one,” as in Deuteronomy 20:4, and Jeremiah 32:35. God, who will not be mocked ( Galatians 6:7), will punish the whole person for the misuse of the tongue in vowing that which one does not afterwards perform.—And say not before, the angel: (do thine office, atone for me, bring the sacrifice usual in such cases), for it is an error. מלאך is “a messenger in general,” then specially “messenger of God,” “angel.” The priestly order is described as the angel, in order to indicate its high dignity, and the heavy responsibility attaching to frivolous conduct towards it. It supplies God’s place ( 2 Corinthians 5:20). The Septuagint and the Syriac have rendered—“before God.” We may not explain the words—“before the messenger”—for it is uncertain whose is the messenger. In the term angel is implied the sending from God. There is here a remarkable coincidence with Malachi. In Ecclesiastes 2:7-8, (and except there nowhere else in the Old Testament), the priestly order is brought forward as the messenger of the Lord—“for the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law from his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord of Hosts.” The words—“for it is an error”—point back to Numbers 15:27-31. There a distinction is drawn between sins which are committed בשגגה and ביד רמה , sins of weakness, which still cleave even to such as believe and as are consequently right-minded, and wilful sins—a distinction which forms the basis of the New Testament doctrine concerning the sin against the Holy Ghost (compare Hebrews 10:26-28). The former can be atoned by sacrifices: (compare Numbers 15:28: “And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly”): the latter are on the contrary punished with destruction. One should not be too quick with one’s proposal to the priest to offer a sacrifice, fancying that in this way the whole matter is despatched. It may very easily happen that the supposed oversight has a more serious character. In such a case the sacrifice is presented in vain, and the sin remains and involves the soul in God’s judgments. It is no light thing to make a mock as it were of the Lord of Heaven and Earth by vowing to Him what we have no serious intention of performing. We meet in Malachi with the same religious superficiality which fancies that the good God will not be so particular, that he will surely be easily satisfied, especially at a time when He Himself bestows so little upon men. We read in Ecclesiastes 1:8, “When ye offer the blind for sacrifice, it is not evil: and if ye offer the lame and sick, it is not evil:—bring It now unto thy Governor, if he will be pleased with thee!” On the ground of such facts Malachi in Ecclesiastes 5:6 brings against the people the charge of contempt of the name of God.— Why should God be angry at thy voice and destroy the work of thy hands? On this the Berleburger Bible observes: “Vows were made for the most part of the fruits of the earth and of cattle; and when they were not performed the offenders were punished by a special curse on that which was vowed.”

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 5:7 For where many dreams are, there are vanities and many words, with them is it even so. For fear God. כי refers to the exhortation, indirectly contained in what precedes, to avoid many words in our intercourse with God. Whoever fears God truly will speak nothing before Him that does not come from the very centre of his heart, will vow nothing which he is not resolved inviolably to perform.

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 5:8 גזל is employed with the genitive of that which is robbed in Ezekiel 18:18. The robbery is committed on judgment and justice. So certainly as the Lord hath spoken in view of the unrighteous oppression of his people by the heathens, “I hate unrighteous robbery,” ( Isaiah 61:8) so certain is it that he cannot behold such conduct unmoved. מדינה , which properly means “jurisdiction,” is the terminus technicus for the provinces of the Asiatic World-Empires, and is used especially of the provinces of the Persian Empire. The word occurs only in the post-exile Authors, (Books of Kings, The Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah,) amongst which, the use of the term shows that Koheleth must be reckoned. The province can only be the Jewish one, יהוד מדינתא ( Ezra 5:8), which comes before us just in the same manner as the Province in Ezra 5:8; Nehemiah 1:3; Nehemiah 7:6; Nehemiah 11:3. To the exhortation “not to marvel,” at the strange quid pro quo by which we may easily be led to wrong conclusions regarding God and His Kingdom, correspond the words— Ἀ?γαπητοί , μὴ? ξενίζεσθε τῇ? ἐ?ν ὑ?μῖ?ν πυρώσει , ὡ?ς ξένου ὑ?μῖ?ν συμβαίνοντος in 1 Peter 4:12. חפץ (compare on Ecclesiastes 3:1), may be referred either to the divine pleasure, or to the tel est mon plaisir of the authorities who usually introduced their edicts with the words—“it is seemly before me,” “it is good before the king,” ( Daniel 3:22; Daniel 6:2; Daniel 4:22; Ezra 5:17). The antidote to surprise is that One who is high watches over the high, one too who is able to cope with all the high, seeing that He is the Highest of All. The sense is quite mistaken by those who find here the empty consolation that—“sooner or later the higher prefect or the king will hear of it, and will interfere with his punishment.” The saying here holds true that “one crow does not peck out the other’s eyes.” A real parallel may be found in Psalms 82, the theme of which is—“God judges amongst the gods.” גבהים is used precisely in the same way as עליונים , “the Most High” in Daniel 7:18-22, and as בוראים “the Creator,” in Ecclesiastes 12:1, of this same book. For remarks on plural designations of God, which are independent of Elohim, and which owe their rise to the same source, namely, to the intention of indicating the fulness of powers in God, see my “Beiträge,” 2 P., 256, 59, 60, 309, 19. A similar plural relating to the same subject occurs also in Psalms 58:11,—“Verily God judges, שפטים , on the earth.” The suffix in עליהם has relation to the plurality which lies in the second גבה . As to thought there is a perfect agreement between this passage and Psalms 97:9,—“For thou, Lord, art Most High over all the earth.” Luther says: “This book consequently teaches thee to let thine heart have rest and peace, and not to trouble and worry thyself over much when things go wrongly, but to accustom thyself to be able to say, when the devil brings malice, injustice, violence, and burdens on the poor, ‘Such is the way of the world, but God will judge and avenge it.’ And again, when thou seest things going well, learn to say, ‘God be praised, who, after all, so rules, that we do not merely suffer evil and injustice, but receive also much good.’ Moreover, let every man, according to his rank, and God’s command, do his work with the best industry: other things let him commend to God; let him be patient and wait for Him who is able to find out and judge the ungodly and unjust. He who cannot lift a great stone, let him leave it lying and lift what he can. Wherefore, when thou seest that kings, princes and lords misuse their power, that judges and advocates take bribes and allow causes to sink or swim as they wish, being wise and sensible thou wilt think within thyself,—that I will sometime bring about a better state.’”

Verses 8-9

The point of departure of these verses is the heathenish tyranny under which the people of God sighed. But this should not be permitted to lead us astray: we should rather direct our eyes to the heavenly King who in His own appointed time will bring everything again into order.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 5:9 “The tilled field” of this verse denotes the earth, so far as it is cultivated and inhabited, the תבל the οἰ?κουμένη . In Genesis 2:5 also “the field,” is the broad and wide plain, the plain of the earth. The King is the Heavenly one, who has the will and the power to put an end to the oppressions of the earth at the right time, the “Father of the orphan and the Judge of the widow,” and the Saviour to whom all personoe miserabiles look up and after whom their hearts cry out. In regard to matter, Psalms 47:8. “King of the whole earth is God,” is a parallel passage. בכל may mean either “in all that, in all gloomy events and conditions” presented by the earth, or, on the whole, “in general,” like לבל in 1 Chronicles 7:5. Both come substantially to the same thing. For even on the latter view, בכל calls attention to the fact, that in such and all similar circumstances God is “the sure stronghold of persecuted souls.” Several different renderings have been given, which originate in the incapacity properly to enter into the spirit of the poetical expression—“the Uncultivated field;” for example, Luther renders “and besides that, is the King in the whole land to cultivate the field,” with the explanation that, he defends and protects his subjects against wrong, burdens and violence:—Ewald, “with all that a king is set over the country,” with the explanation, “and since with all that it remains an advantage for the country to have a king, that is, a well ordered government,” or as Elster expresses it, “the worst government is butter than unbridled anarchy.” Stier even translates—“and the profit of the earth is everywhere; he who cultivates his field is a king.” Against all these interpretations the consideration is decisive, that the Niphal of עבד occurs only in the signification “to be cultivated.” Knobel’s ingenuous observation, that, “Strictly taken, the sentence does not belong to this connection,” is exactly applicable to all these explanations. The faulty Kri הוא for תיא arose simply from exegetical perplexities.

Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 5:10 The rich man is the heathen. This is especially clear in Ecclesiastes 5:6 where the same subject is treated. But it is also evident from a comparison with Ecclesiastes 5:7, where the poor man is the Israelite. The connection with Ecclesiastes 5:7-8 is quite plain. There the minds of those who lie groaning under the oppressions of the heathen are directed to the impending judgment of God. Here the author exhibits to them the true significance of riches, and thus teaches them to regard in a different manner their own losses, and the heathen gains. Hitzig remarks, “this section consoles the poor man, or him who is poor in the way described in Ecclesiastes 5:7; the friend of money, ( Ecclesiastes 5:9), is one who from covetousness oppresses the poor, ( Ecclesiastes 5:7). In James 2:1-13; James 5:1-6, also is the rich man the heathen. He is foolish who vexes himself about a handful of vanity:”—this is proved in the first class, by the fact that riches do not satisfy the heart,—a fact which must be patent to every one who has noticed how the rich man is ever craving for more. In the second clause of the verse it is affirmed that riches afford no profit at all, that they are unfruitful. To the words here, “He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with riches,” Jerome adduces the parallel dictum from Horace, “semper avarus eget.” Luther compares Ecclesiastes 1:8, “the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing:” and remarks—“Alexander the Great had not enough in his many kingdoms, not even in a whole world. It is just so in other things also. The man who has learning, wisdom, honour, property, strength, beauty, health, and so forth, is notwithstanding not satisfied therewith. Thus the wretched poverty-stricken life of the covetous man is a good mirror for the rest of us. For as the greedy bellies and penny kissers have money and yet dare not use a farthing of it cheerfully, but are constantly looking further for money which they have not, so is our conduct m regard to all other gifts. What is a poor, troubled, uneasy heart and mind, which is always looking for that which it does not yet possess but avaricious: therefore is it vanity and vexation? Are not on the contrary those happy people who content themselves with God’s present mercies, with moderate means of life, and leave God to care for the future?” And whoso loveth riches hath no gain: Vulgate: fructum non capiet ex eis. In regard to מי אהב , which corresponds to the simple אהב previously employed, see Ewald, § 331 b. (ion never signifies directly riches, but always, noise, bustle. In Psalms 37:16, the noise of the wicked stands for their wealth, which surrounds them who scrape together, who employ cunning and force, with noise, bustle and disquiet: and so here riches are represented as tumult, noise. We are thus taught that they have much inconvenience from this wealth of nothing. Why there is no profit is further shown subsequently when the author seeks by a vivid and picturesque representation to impress their hearts with the fact that life does not consist in the multitude of our possessions. Also this is vanity; like so much besides on this poor earth which offers so many fictitious possessions.

Verses 10-20

In Ecclesiastes 6:8-9, Koheleth comforted the poor who lay groaning tinder the oppressions and exactions of the heathen authorities, by directing their minds to the heavenly Ruler and Judge; and thus he put into their mouth and heart such words as, “to thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that sittest in the heavens,” and, “we raise our heart and hands towards the day of redemption.” In these verses now before us, he socks to raise them up to the right point of view for the consideration and estimate of those earthly possessions at whose loss they were so grieved: “What is the wealth of this life? It is but a handful of sand, and uneasiness for the heart.” His first purpose is to counteract the pain felt because of their loss. At the same time, however, he has the further aim of opposing avarice, which, in times of distress, so easily lays hold on men’s hearts. Avarice and envy have the same root, namely, the false estimate of earthly possessions. The intention of the author to warn his fellow-countrymen against avarice is pretty plainly shown in Ecclesiastes 5:17-19).

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 5:11 When goods increase they are increased that eat them. Eaters come from all sides, for the rich are always subject to claims proportionate to their wealth. Luther says: “this is a weighty and glorious saying. An avaricious man is never contented; he is always scraping and collecting. And for whom does he gather? For, whatever he may fancy, it is as the proverb says,—‘A niggard will have his spender.’ So warns the Scripture, and such is the lesson of experience from the beginning of the world, that all hoarded-up treasures, especially such as are due to injustice, find their distributors and devourers either during the life, or after the death of the avaricious collectors, who themselves get nothing but the toil and labour. King Solomon was also a rich king. Who made use of his great possessions? His royal household. Who uses, who eats and drinks up the wealth of princes? All manner of attendants, troopers, servants, waiters, officials and innumerable other fellows who do not in the least deserve it. Whoso then gathers riches, gathers devourers. Therefore, why plague thyself to collect much and to increase thy treasure? However many possessions thou hast thou canst not do more than fill thy belly and clothe thy poor body. If God gives thee riches use thy share as thou usest thy share of water, and let the rest flow on: and if thou doest it not, thy gathering will still be in vain.” The plural בעלים is used for the abstract “lordship.”

Verse 12

Sweet is the sleep of the labouring man, of him who is compelled to act according to the instruction given in Exodus 20:9, “six days shalt thou labour,” and to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, as was the lot of Israel at that time

Ecclesiastes 5:12 Sweet is the sleep of the labouring man, of him who is compelled to act according to the instruction given in Exodus 20:9, “six days shalt thou labour,” and to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, as was the lot of Israel at that time. And the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep: Jerome says, “incocto cibo in stomachi angustiis aestuante.” According to the general usage of Scripture, a “rich man” is not always one who has much wealth, but also one who acts contrary to the admonition of the Psalmist in Psalms 62:11, and whose heart cleaves to riches. In Mark 10:23-25, the “rich man,” and the man who trusts to his riches, seem to be used interchangeably. He to whom riches are a secondary matter, who does not set his heart upon them, will not be so designated. Amongst the heathen it was one and the same thing to have possessions externally, and to be internally possessed by riches, to be worshippers of mammon. For they were destitute of that saving liberating power which springs from a connection with the living God: Mammon must necessarily be their God, because they did not know the true God, or rather, were not known of him.

Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 5:13 A sore evil: properly, a painful evil, חלה = נחלה , Nahum 3:19: Jeremiah 14:17: compare in my Christology the remarks on Isaiah 53:10. Riches kept by the owner thereof to his hurt, inasmuch as he loses them, ( Ecclesiastes 5:14) and becomes so much more unhappy than if he had never possessed them. This is true of individuals: this holds good also of entire peoples. How miserable were the Egyptians after they were cast down from the height of their power and wealth. So also the Persians, whom the writer immediately refers to in this place. The fact that “riches attract murderers and moreover often lead to eternal damnation,” does not here come into consideration. The author himself gives an explanation of the words—“to his hurt or misfortune,”—in the 13th verse, and beyond that we may not attempt to go. In this way all random guessing is prevented.

Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 5:14 By a sore evil; (compare 1:13, 4:8).

Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 5:15 And, the author proceeds to say in this verse, apart from such catastrophes, death puts an end utterly to the possession of wealth. In death the rich and the poor are alike. What ceases with death cannot make us truly happy, even while we have it. That that which is here spoken of is something common to men as men, to men in general, is evident from the fundamental passage in Job 1:21, and the parallel passage, 1 Timothy 6:7, where the vanity of riches and the advisableness of contentedness are grounded on the fact that, as we brought nothing with us into the world, so we can take nothing with us out of it. Notwithstanding his labour: which consequently he has employed in vain arid for nought.

Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 5:16 The thought contained in Ecclesiastes 5:15 is here repeated with emphasis, in order to point out its weight and to set the folly of envy in its true light. This also, no less than the sore evil of Ecclesiastes 5:13. There it was the πλούτου ἀ?δηλότης ( 1 Timothy 6:17), the vicissitudes to which riches are exposed ( Matthew 6:19-20): here it is death that puts an end to all possessions.

Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 5:17. And what must a man not endure for the sake of such an empty and vain good. He eateth in darkness, even though he may be seated in a well lighted hall. For he has no light in his heart: there all is gloom and sadness. In 1 Timothy 6:10, it is said of those who seek to become rich, ἑ?αυτοὺ?ς περιέπειραν ὀ?δύναις πολλαῖ?ς , “they pierce themselves through with many sorrows.” Whoso is visited by such pains, for him external lights are kindle d in vain. Analogous is the frequent employment in the Old Testament of the darkenings of the sun and moon as an image of hard and gloomy times: see Jeremiah 4:23, Amos 8:9-10, Micah 3:6, and Ecclesiastes 12:2 of this book. The sun shines truly only for the happy. אכל is used in its strict and proper meaning, as is evident from Ecclesiastes 5:18. Luther remarks: “To eat in darkness is nothing else than to pass one’s life in sadness and melancholy. Avaricious and uneasy people always find something which does not please them, which causes them to murmur and scold. For they are full of cares, griefs, and anxieties: they can neither eat nor drink cheerfully: they are always meeting with something that frets and annoys them.” כעס is the third preterite. And then his sickness and wrath. The origin of the sickness is clear from the preceding כעס and the following קצף : he becomes sick with vexation and wrath at those who touch the mammon on which his heart is fixed. Cartwright says—“nihil ut illi ex omni labore et fatigatione emolumenti supersit, non magis quam si leves quasdam et nullius ponderis glumas s. pulverem coacervasset, quem ventus uno flatu subito dispelleret.”

Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 5:18 That after אני we must mentally set a colon: “Behold, what I have seen: that it is, etc.” is evident from the separating accent at the word אני and from the pointing אָ?ני and not אֲ?ני . “We may take either טוב or יפה as an adverb, or even explain—“that it is good, comely.” To eat, to drink, to see good ( Ecclesiastes 2:24) forms the contrast to scraping avarice. To the securing of that which the writer has recognised as good there needs no heaping up of treasures. The words—“the number of the days of his life,” are meant to remind us that the shorter man’s life is, so much the more ought we to be on our guard against seeking happiness where it is not to be found.

Verse 19

Ecclesiastes 5:19 Also: that is, to say further this also, Ewald, 352 b. God gives him power, in that He frees him by His Spirit from the bonds of avarice. This takes place, however, only in connection with the divinely appointed means, only within the bounds of God’s heritage. The heathen must serve mammon; they are sold under his dominion, and for this reason their riches are not to be counted as good fortune. השליט always signifies “to make to rule,” ( Psalms 119:133; Daniel 2:38-48). The object of the rule is either one’s own heart, which the natural man, separated from God, has not in his own power: or riches, which without this action of God that makes free, are not a good, but a torment. The Berleburger Bible remarks: “made him Lord over it, that is, along with possessions has bestowed on him also a free and generous soul, so that he may not be a slave of mammon, but understand how to use it freely and rightly.” In the clause, “that is a gift of God,” the emphasis does not lie on אלהים but on מתת , as is clear from the word כי at the commencement of Ecclesiastes 5:19—“it is a noble gift, for.” The divine causality was prominently brought forward previously.

Verse 20

Ecclesiastes 5:20 He thinks not much of the days of his life, that is, they pass smoothly on. 1 Kings 8:35, and 2 Chronicles 6:26, furnish a sufficient warrant for the meaning “answer “given to the Hiph. of ענה . All other meanings are incapable of proof. Berleburger Bible: “To the pure all things are pure ( Titus 1:15), and so a pure man may undoubtedly use riches with purity; and it will, therefore, chiefly depend on each one’s own heart, on how it stands before God. But if any person is unable to remain just as contented and calm, when house and home are burnt down, or when some other damage is done to his property, he proves himself to be not yet truly composed and satisfied: that is the test thereof.”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ecclesiastes-5.html.
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