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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ecclesiastes 9

Introduction

This section falls into two parts, the temptation which assails ( Ecclesiastes 9:1-6), and the alleviation and comfort, (καὶ? ἐ?κόπασεν ὁ? ἄ?νεμος καὶ? ἐ?γένετο γαλήνη μεγάλη Mark 4:39), ( Ecclesiastes 9:7-10).

The temptation, in regard to which the author appears as the representative of the tone of mind then prevailing amongst the people, takes its rise in the same fact as that which was considered in the foregoing section, namely, in the sufferings of the people of God. Since God looks calmly on whilst the wicked swallows up him who is more righteous than himself ( Habakkuk 1:13), it seems as if there were no retribution to be found on earth, as if the righteous were deprived of their reward ( Ecclesiastes 9:1-3): furthermore, the gloom and sadness which must take possession of the soul in consequence of such thoughts are deepened by the prospect of that which awaits us after this life ( Ecclesiastes 9:4-6). Against such dark discontent, however, the spirit raises its voice in Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, and answers that God has pleasure in the works of his people, and that in good time the now failing retribution will come. In view of the glorious future the eye should be turned away from the gloomy present, and we should be joyful through hope. Above all, should we not give ourselves up to a despairing inactivity, but call forth all our powers to fulfil the task which is set us for the present life.

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 9:1. The word “for” points to the connection between this discussion and that of Ecclesiastes 8:14-17. A further confirmation is here set forth of the result there arrived at, to wit, of the unsearchableness of the ways of God. The righteous and the wise are in the hand of God, in His power, so that He does with them what He will. No one, by his own intentions and his own acts can determine his fate. That acts are not spoken of here, in themselves, as acts, as if we were compelled without any exercise of will, to do what God pleases; but with regard to their results, in so far that the saddest fate way follow on the best deed, is clear from the whole context in which only what befalls man, not what man does, is considered. Ecclesiastes 9:2 especially, which may serve as a commentary to the present one, proves this. For the same reason what is said of love, and hatred cannot be referred to human affections—as Hitzig does, when he writes, “Inasmuch as man has not his acts in his own power, he does not know whether he will love or hate,”—but only to the good and evil providential arrangements in which God’s love and hatred seem to embody themselves. J. D. Michaelis justly observes, “In this world we cannot tell by the events of life whether God loves us or hates us, because, to the righteous it happens as to the unrighteous; nor can we even know whether God means to show us love by sending prosperity, or hatred by sending adversity.” In all the last sections the historical occasion of the Author’s words was the miserable fate of the people of God at the time of his writing, We read in Malachi 1:2,—“I love you, saith the Lord, yet ye say, wherein dost thou love us?” “God loves us not, although we are worthy of His love,”—that is the reproach against God, which the Prophet exposes at the very beginning; and which we may therefore judge to have been a kind of watchword at the time. The translation of the Vulgate—“nescit homo, utrum amore an odio dignus sit,” has quite missed the right sense. Complaints were raised that he who was worthy of the divine love did not experience it in God’s leadings. Man, that is, in accordance with what precedes, more precisely, “the wise and righteous man:” a similar usage is found in Psalms 36:8, where the connection shows that by the children of men, we are to understand, the citizens of the kingdom of God. All things are before them, that is, may happen to them: the righteous man is not assured against anything. J. D. Michaelis remarks, “All things have they before them, that is, there is the same probability that a man will be loved as that he will be hated, that in prosperity he will experience proofs of God’s grace, or in adversity proofs of his disfavour, live one experience is as easy to be conceived as the other.”

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 9:2. The expression—all things as to all—presents no difficulty when it is borne in mind that in Ecclesiastes 9:1, “Man,” is used instead of, the wise and righteous, by way of intimating his absolute dependence on the heavenly powers. “All things’ (happen to the wise and righteous,) “as to all,” that is, as to the rest: they have no peculiar fate, such as was promised to Israel, who, in the Books of Moses, is represented as being put under God’s most special providence and care;—they share the universal destiny. A commentary on this intentionally short and enigmatical saying is furnished by what follows. Knobel has a specific against the temptations and difficulties which assailed the author so terribly, and with which believers of all times have to wage fierce warfare, namely, “we must distinguish between the physical and moral order of the world; physical evils are experienced by all without exception; the pious cannot evade them because of their morality, and yet they have not to endure the special punishments of immorality.” But if we make the “physical” independent of God, and thus strip God of his true Godhead, and we ourselves at the same time fall into semi-atheism, the remedy is worse than the disease. Event or accident, is not set in opposition to the divine ordainment, but to independent action, on the part of the righteous, (compare 2:14, 15; 3:19). טוב is prefixed to טהור with the design of showing that the terms “clean, unclean,” are to be taken not in the juridical or levitical sense, but in the moral sense. A sufficient evidence of this is, that elsewhere one only is set in opposition to the other: besides, טוב occurs again, to show that in the first instance it serves the purpose of explaining or defining more clearly that which follows. He that sweareth—(under certain circumstances, be it observed, a man may swear and yet not be what is meant by the designation “swearer,”) refers here to one who swears in a frivolous manner. The words stand in remarkable parallelism to Matthew 5:34. To fear an oath, is to look upon it with holy awe, so that only in cases of necessity and at the command of love can we be induced to take one upon ourselves. It is evident from Ecclesiastes 8:2, that the author has no intention whatever of rejecting oaths altogether. Cartwright says, “notandum etiam adjunctum, quo describit improbum, nempe quod jurat, id est juramentis assuetus est. Cujus igitur ori juramenta et nominis divini usurpatio familiaris et trita est, ilium improbum esse constat: contra etiam observandum est, pium non eum appellari, qui non jurat, sed qui a juramento sibi metuit.”

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 9:3. Regarding things from the point of view of natural reason and in a rough matter of fact way, judging them by the vulgar empirical method which he afterwards rejects, the author goes on to say, “that is evil;”—he thus “sins with his tongue,” as it is said in Psalms 39:2. Parallel is Psalms 73:16, where in reference to the same fact it is said—“and I considered in order to know it: a pain was it in mine eyes.” But the Psalmist speaks thus only until he comes to the sanctuary of God: then a light suddenly breaks in upon him such as the natural reason cannot supply. Cartwright compares Malachi 3:14 ff, where the Jews are introduced as complaining, that it is in vain to serve God, and as resting their charge on the fact that they who fear God are unhappy and the heathen are prosperous: his remarks are as follows—“certe, si vere judicare velimus, hac tam impia et blasphema voce Deum esse negant. Nam qui illi justitiam suam adimit, is Deum a mundo tollit, nec enim Deus est nisi justus.” The manner of the Scriptures is to let doubts and murmurings have free and full expression, and then to vanquish them in open conflict with the sword of faith. Scepticism and despair cannot possibly bring forward anything stronger than what we find in. the Holy Scriptures. And, in fact, this openness and candour in setting forth doubts is one of the best means of overcoming them. Knobel is of opinion that this verse shows “that Koheleth did not believe in immortality and in retribution after death; for had he held such a faith he might easily have taught that the recompence that was not made here would be made on the other side the grave.” He, however, who has surrendered this world, has ceased to attach much importance to the world to come: if God’s ways here cannot be justified, we shall not be able really and livingly to believe in a future retribution. The author therefore takes exactly the right course, when he, as the representative of his tried and tempted contemporaries, fights and strives above all things with the scepticism which envelopes in darkness the ways of God in the present world. This task accomplished, the future becomes plain and clear of itself. The words—amidst all that is done under the sun, point out that so far from being exceptional it is the usual course of this world that all things should come alike to all. With the expression—“the heart of the children of men is full of evil”—compare Ecclesiastes 8:11, according to which by the “children of men,” we are to understand those who up to that point had striven after better things. Parallel also is Psalms 73:10, “therefore turns he, (namely, the wicked) his people hither;” by his impunity from punishment and his prosperity he induces others to leave the right way and to come over to his manner of thinking. It is a melancholy consideration that external sufferings only too easily exert a demoralizing influence. And folly is in their heart:—their heart is filled with foolish thoughts about God’s government of the world, and with foolish proposals to help themselves by wrong, when God leaves them in the lurch. On the word אחריו compare Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 7:14: after that he, namely, the righteous, has been thus visited by evils which, though external, bring alas! moral ones also in their train; behind themselves, that is, after such a mode of existence.

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 9:4. For who is preferred? The reason is given for the words—“And after that to the dead:” for death is the lot of all mortals, and the righteous forms no exception to the rule: as Gesenius renders, “quis enim qui electus sit, i.e., moriendi sorte exemtus.” As the vowels belong to the marginal reading, and as the Pual does not elsewhere occur, it is better to point as for Niphal, which is frequently employed in the sense of “chosen out, preferred:” see, for example, Jeremiah 8:3. The unnecessary Masoretic conjecture offered by the marginal reading is most simply explained by Rambach and others as follows, “qui adsocietur, v. adsociari velit sub mortuis.” The words, “who is excepted” (from this sad lot?) “are dictated by the feeling that the lot of death is a sad one, and the reason for such a view is assigned by the author when he affirms that ‘in all the living one may trust.’” The verb בטח is used in conjunction with אל , to designate one in whom confidence is placed, in Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:7. בטחון is not “hope,” but “confidence, abandonment,” see Isaiah 36:4. Only the living are capable of doing anything. To be no object of confidence is a miserable condition. On the words —“for the living dog,” (or strictly, “as far as the living dog is concerned, so is he”) “better than the dead lion,” Cartwright remarks—“haec vox pecudis potius quam hominis dicenda est.” This observation agrees with Psalms 73:22, where the “writer brings against himself the charge of having behaved like the cattle, when the prosperity of the ungodly exposed him to temptation. Nor indeed can it be otherwise: when God vanishes from the present world the future is changed into a dismal night of death, by whose darkness all are alike covered.

Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 9:5. The advantage of the living over the dead consists in this, that the former have consciousness. This consciousness is here individualised, and one of the forms in which it expresses itself is used to describe the whole. The living have consciousness; they know, for example, that they shall die, which in comparison with utter unconsciousness is unquestionably a good, however sad may be the object of knowledge. Such is the language of natural reason, to whose eye all seems dark and gloomy that lies beyond the present scene, because it fails in this world to discern the traces of divine retribution. The Spirit says on the contrary: “the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Neither have they any more a reward: that God should recompense them is impossible, inasmuch as the righteous who are dead have no self-conscious personality. To what extent this is the case is indicated by the words—“for their memory is forgotten;” so little power have they to make good a position for themselves, so entirely are they deprived of all means of expressing their life, so completely have they disappeared.

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 9:6. Alongside of the hatred which is condemned, there is one that is allowed, and not only allowed, but even commanded (see Psalms 31:7 and Revelation 2:6). Hatred is indeed to be condemned, but still his condition must be regarded as a degraded one who is unable to hate.

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 9:7. The voice of the flesh is here opposed by the voice of the spirit. It is exactly so elsewhere; as, for example, in Psalms 39, where the Psalmist first strives with God and impatiently demands of Him to know the end of his life and sufferings, but afterwards rises up and casts down discontent and doubt to the ground. Here also we might say that in Ecclesiastes 9:1-6 the author speaks as the representative of the then prevailing spirit of the people; not, however, as though he appropriated views that were utterly strange to his own mind, but such as he also himself in his hours of weakness had been compelled to sympathise with. Now, on the contrary, the writer sets himself in God to oppose the popular views and feelings. Calvin’s remarks on Psalms 42:6 hold good of this place also: “David represents himself to us as divided into two portions. So far as he rests by faith in God’s promises, he rises in arms, with a spirit of unconquerable valour, against the feelings and will of the flesh, and condemns at the same time his own weak and yielding conduct.” Here, just as there, it is the spirit which is strong in God that enters the lists against the “weaker vessel,” the timid fearful soul, which in the book of Job is introduced under the personification of Job’s wife. There is undoubtedly a reference to individual men, but still it is the “man Judah “of Isaiah 5:3, who is, in the first instance, addressed. This is evident from the entire context, of which the sufferings of the people of God form the point of departure. Eat thy bread in joy and drink thy wine with a good heart, “Joy and good heart,” stand in opposition to the gloomy discontent which led them formerly to say, “Every one that doeth evil is good in the eyes of the Lord, and he delighteth in them, or where is the God of judgment?” ( Malachi 2:17). The contrast to eating bread and drinking wine is presented in such passages as 1 Samuel 1:7, where it is said of Hannah, “she wept and ate not;” Psalms 42:4, “My tears are my meat day and night;” Psalms 80:6, “Thou feedest them with the bread of tears, and givest them tears to drink in great measure,” (“Bread of tears,” signifies bread that consists of tears), and Psalms 102:10, Job 3:24. God hath pleasure in thy works, (רצה with the accusative means, “to have pleasure in anything,”) and, therefore, in His good time thou wilt see the reward which thou now missest, and “ye shall discern again the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not,” ( Malachi 3:18). We have in this verse the distinct negation of Ecclesiastes 9:1. There, by a hasty conclusion drawn from the fact of the temporal sufferings of the righteous, it was affirmed that man does not at all know whether he has grace before God or not, whether he may or may not expect love from God. The great sting of temporal suffering is, that we very easily get to fancy that it will last for ever, and that it is apt to lead us into erroneous thoughts about God’s grace. We can only overcome this temptation by rising in faith above the present. In Psalms 73:17, “till I come to the sanctuaries of God, then will I look on their end.” The thing first mentioned stands to the second in the relation of cause to effect. Having entered into the sanctuary of God, the Psalmist sees that the prosperity of the wicked and the sufferings of the righteous are only transitory, and thus he attains to an unbounded confidence in God’s help and redemption. A real, if not a verbal, parallel to the words, “God has pleasure in thy works,” may be found in the commencement of Psalms 73 : “only good is God to Israel, to those who are of a pure heart.” God is good, and not evil as the righteous may well fancy when they are plagued continually, when they are chastened every morning, whilst the wicked live in prosperity. Luther remarks on the verse, “He means to say something like this—thou livest in the world where there is nothing without that, for there is much sorrow, heart suffering, misery, there is death and much vanity: make use then of life with love, and do not make thine own life sour and hard with anxious and fruitless cares. Solomon says what he says not to the secure and godless children of the world, but to such as truly fear God and believe. These he comforts, and would fain see them comfort themselves and rejoice in God. To them he gives the exhortation, to be glad; he does not bid those to drink wine and eat, etc., who were beforehand too secure, and being godless and lost, spent their lives in indolence and debauchery.”

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 9:8. Let thy garments be always white. White is in Scripture the colour of serene splendour symbolically shadowing forth glory: (compare my Commentary on Revelation 4:4). The Angel of Mark 16:5 appears in white clothes, as a sign that the rank of the angels is the same as that of the “saints,” who are the glorious. The clothes of Christ became white in His transfiguration, ( Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29). White clothes are borne by the glorified in Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 7:9, as a symbol of glory. In this place white clothes were to be put on to express the confident hope of the future glory of the people of God. Spener, in testimony of his hope of a better future for the Church, caused himself to be buried in a white coffin. The adoption of white clothes signifies here the anticipation of the future victory of the people of God. Analogous is Revelation 6:11, where in answer to their prayer, which could not yet be perfectly fulfilled, each of the slaughtered receives provisionally a white garment. There also the white garment has an anticipatory significance. Hand in hand with the white garment goes the oil on the head. This oil is the “oil of joy” mentioned in Psalms 45:8, and in Isaiah 61:3. In joyful circumstances, on festive occasions men were accustomed to anoint themselves: such oil was an embodiment of festive joy, on which account the oil of gladness is opposed to sadness in Isaiah 61:3. The true members of the people of God ought always to be in a festive, joyous mood, inasmuch as they rise by faith above the gloomy present to the glorious future awaiting them.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 9:9. Rejoice O young man in thy youth: and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know that for all this God will briny thee into judgment. Ecclesiastes 9:10. And remove discontent from, thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. Ecclesiastes 12:1. And remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, of which thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them. Ecclesiastes 12:2. Before the sun be darkened, and the light, and the moon, and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain. Ecclesiastes 12:3. In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are become few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened. Ecclesiastes 12:4. And the doors are shut in the streets, in that the sound of the grinding is low, and he riseth up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of song are bent down. Ecclesiastes 12:5. Also they are afraid of that which is high, and terrors, (are for them,) in the way, and the almond tree flourisheth, and the locust becometh burdensome, and desire faileth, because man goeth to his everlasting home, and the mourners go about in the street. Ecclesiastes 12:6. Before then the silver cord be removed, and the golden bowl haste away, and the pitcher be broken at the fountain, and the wheel be dashed to pieces at the cistern. Ecclesiastes 12:7. And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth, to God who gave it.

Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 9:10. Despair carries with it the danger of a sluggish inactivity. Against this, men are here warned. Luther remarks, “an admonition to the lazy. For when they see that so much pains and toil are lost, they are minded to do nothing but to let everything stand quite still.” As to substance, Hebrews 12:12 presents a parallel, whe re to the severely tried and tempted it is said, διὸ? τὰπαρειμένας χεῖ ρας καὶ? τὰ? παραλελυμένα γόνατα ἀ?νορθώσατε . “Sluggish hands” are ascribed to the suffering even in Job 4:3, and Isaiah 35:3. The saying, “my hand finds something,” signifies, “I am capab le of something,” “I am in a position for something,” “I have opportunity for something:” (compare Judges 9:33, 1 Samuel 10:7; 1 Samuel 15:8). According to the accents, and the sense, בכהך belongs not to עשה , but to what goes before. The duty of doing all that it is in any way possible to do is based, in the second part of the verse, on the consideration that what is here left undone never is done, that the tasks appointed by God for this life which are here unaccomplished remain unaccomplished, and that the gifts and powers lent for this life should be used in this life. For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the hell whither thou goest:—it is not so in the intermediate kingdom, nor is it so in the kingdom of glory, ( 1 Corinthians 13:8). There are forms of knowledge and work which belong only to the present life, and he who does not employ them, has buried his talent in the earth, and thus committed a heavy sin,—a sin, the consequences of which will stretch into eternity. Even Jerome compares the saying of our Lord in John 9:4, ἐ?με δεῖ? ἐ?ργάζεσθαι τὰ? ἔ?ργα τοῦ? πέμψαντός με ἕ?ως ἡ?μέρα ἐ?στίν· ἔ?ρχεται νὺ?ξ ὅ?τε οὐ δεὶδύναται ἐ?ργάζεσθαι . That there is a reference to the verse now under notice, can scarcely be called in question. It begins at once with the words “for no work.” Even Lücke, although this passage was not in his mind, felt that the Lord made partial use of an already existing expression, “Day and night mark the fixed and bounded time of the earthly career of the earthly activity of our Lord” Feeling that death shortly awaited Him, Christ says, “there comes for me the night, when, as it is said, no man can work.” What Jesus spake, alluding to the present verse, holds good for all believers.

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 9:11. The words, I returned and saw under the sun, indicate that the writer takes up again the consideration of sublunary things, which had been interrupted, and turns his attention to a new subject. Compare 4:1, 7. In the two passages just quoted ואראה is used; here we find the Infinitive, which is more accurately defined by the verb. finit. which precedes. After the words, under the sun, we must mentally add, “and indeed I saw.” The point of departure here, also, is the tribulation of the people of God, but considered from a new point of view. The race is not to the swift, for they may be hindered by something or other,—sometimes even by the very slightest obstacle, so that the less swift shall arrive sooner than they. Nor the battle to the heroes. This same view, which Rationalism looks upon as “fatalistic,” (Knobel) David gave utterance to in the presence of Goliath, himself furnishing a living illustration of the affirmation of the text. See 1 Samuel 17:47, “the battle is the Lord’s, and he gives you into our hands:” further also, Psalms 33:16-17, “the king is not saved by his great hosts, a hero is not delivered by much strength. A horse is a vain thing for safety, neither doth he deliver by his great strength.” Jahaziel the Prophet says in 2 Chronicles 20:15, “Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s.” The point of view in these passages, (compare besides Jeremiah 46:6, where speaking against Egypt the Prophet says—“the swift will not escape, nor the hero be delivered:” Proverbs 21:30-31), as well as in the one we are now illustrating is that of consolation: if it depended on human strength the people of God must succumb. “Favour” means much the same as “preference, popularity.” In connection with the words, for time and chance happeneth to them all, whose import is, “they all are subject to the influence of time and chance,” compare Psalms 31:16, “my times are in thy hand, deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from my persecutors.” That the fates of the Psalmist, as indeed of all men, are in God’s hand, is represented there as the ground of their hope of deliverance, as the light in the dark night of adversity. Chance here is not to be regarded as a power alongside of and opposed to God: chance is that which happens to man without his co-operation, and the idea of the verse is that of Romans 9:16—ἄ?ρα οὖοὐ? τοῦ? θέλοντος οὐ δὲ? τοῦ? τρέχοντος ἀ?λλὰ? τοῦ? ἐ?λεῶ ντος θεοῦ? . If everything depends on time and chance, we ought not to despair in view of the seeming omnipotence of the world, supposing God to be our friend. For to the friends of God belongs the future. All things human, let them be as proud and splendid as they may, let them boast and be puffed up as they may, are but loose chaff, which the wind of divine judgments will sweep away.

Verses 11-12

When the position of the people of God is a sad one, whilst on the contrary, the world triumphs, what we should do is to bear in mind that the destinies of men are decided in heaven, that their fortunes are not determined according to might, or according to weakness, and that a sudden catastrophe often lays low that which was highly exalted To have God as our friend is the main thing; all depends at last on that; and that alone decides.

Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 9:12. The general assertion, that everything mighty and distinguished is subject to chance, is grounded on the particular fact which is here brought specially under notice, the fact, namely, that no man is able to escape a catastrophe coming over him. In the background stands the thought—the Persian also in his time will fall under such a catastrophe, and in fact the powers of this world generally: their apparent omnipotence will not deliver them. When Alexander came, the seal of divine confirmation was set to this declaration. According to the context, the “time” of man must mean here, the time of his downfal: elsewhere “day” is used in the same sense ( Job 18:20). Man’s ignorance of his time is brought here under consideration so far as it is determined by a power standing absolutely above him. Trap or snare is quite a common image of the divine judgments: Net is used for this purpose in Hosea 7:12, “I will spread out my net over them;” in Ezekiel 12:13, “and I spread out my net over him, and he is taken in my snare;” Ezekiel 32:3, “and I spread over thee (Pharoah) my net in the assembly of many peoples, and they draw thee up with my snare.” With regard to יוקש the part. Pual compare Ewald, § 169 d.

Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 9:13. Even Luther and Mercerus saw that in Ecclesiastes 9:13-15 a parable is presented to us, and not an historical occurrence. The poor man with his delivering wisdom is an image of Israel. The words, “this also saw I,” as well as those just noticed, “I returned and saw;” ( Ecclesiastes 9:11) introduce a new subject of consideration. It is not allowable to explain the words, “this also,” as if they signified, “along with other evidences of wisdom which occur in the world,” for no allusion has been previously made to such exhibitions of wisdom. Nor may we adopt the rendering—“this also saw I, (namely) wisdom under the sun;” for the closing words describe the sphere of vision generally. The best explanation is rather the one given in the text, namely, “this also saw I as wisdom.” חכמה thus defines more closely the quality of that which, along with other things, he saw; and the meaning would be, “this also saw I under the sun,—a wisdom which seemed to me great.” Luther remarks, “he calls it here a great wisdom, for it is in truth a great wisdom, to deliver a little and poor city possessed of few resources from great and powerful enemies.”

Verses 13-18

In the midst of all their misery one high prerogative has remained to the people of God, to wit, wisdom, which is a nobler possession than the strength in which the world temporarily rejoices. That this wisdom is despised because it is in the form of a servant, detracts nothing at all from its worth. Were its voice only heard it would exert a wholesome and preservative influence even on the heathen world; it would become a salt to it; whereas now the heathen states being under the rule and direction of folly hurry unrestrainably to ruin. In the background, however, stands the conviction that the nation which possesses wisdom must of necessity in due season rise again to supremacy. In Ecclesiastes 9:13-15 a parable is set before us: in Ecclesiastes 9:16 we have its interpretation. In Ecclesiastes 9:17-18 the thought is carried out into further detail.

Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 9:14. מָ צוֹ ר from צור signifies in Ecclesiastes 7:26, (מצורה in Ecclesiastes 9:12) “the implement of hunting, of snaring, the net;” here it is used of “siege-works.”

Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 9:15. The subject of מצא is, the Great King: Eambach remarks, “contra omnem opinionem expertus est.”

Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 9:16. This verse contains the practical application of the parable. On the words, And his words are not heard, Hitzig remarks, “In this particular case they had, it is true, not despised his wisdom, and they had listened to his words. But it was an exceptional case, necessity drove them thereto, and afterwards they forgot him.” Cartwright says, “viri humilis conditionis sapientia, tametsi splendeat maxime, tamen paupertate tanquam nube interjecta ita obfuscatur, ut levi temporis momento omnium oculos a se aversos habens mem-oria excidat.”

Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 9:17. Attention is called, on the very face, to the close connection between this verse and the last, by the catchword נשמעים . The author’s great aim throughout this whole connection being to console, he could not possibly rest satisfied with the little consolatory matter advanced in Ecclesiastes 9:16. Moreover, the close connection referred to is required by the parallel passages, which allude to wisdom as the jewel still remaining to the people of God, and as the pledge of a joyful termination of their present experiences. Heard in quiet:—that is the condition of their wholesome influence. Israel would have proved a salt to the heathen world if ear bad only been given to the voice of wisdom dwelling in his midst. Hitzig; remarks justly, that “the quiet hearing of words, promises their fulfilment, a thing which is here implied.” In opposition to the passive state of quietly listening to the words of wisdom is set the activity developed in our own crying. He that ruleth among fools, namely, the world-monarch, is himself to be conceived as a fool. This is shown by his conduct in vehemently crying instead of calmly listening. Compare Isaiah 42:2, where it is said of the servant of God, “he shall not cry, nor call, nor cause his voice to be heard in the streets,” in contrast to the clamorous and passionate conduct of a worldly conqueror, who thinks of nothing but carrying through his own will, and who blusters and rages when he meets with opposition.

Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 9:18. That wisdom is better than weapons of war, would show itself in the example of the powers of the world if they only lent an ear to its voice, and it will one day be proved in the experience of the nation whose privilege it is to possess wisdom, in that day when, notwithstanding its defenceless impotence, it is raised to universal dominion. One sinner, for example, the heathen world-monarch, destroyeth much good; טובה is not good in the moral sense, but “possession, property, prosperity,” as in Ecclesiastes 5:10-17; Ecclesiastes 6:6. The truth of this assertion was first made clear in the wretched decline and sudden downfal of the Persian Empire.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ecclesiastes-9.html.