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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 1

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.

The Preacher - and Convener of assemblies for the purpose. See my Preface. Qohelet (H6953) in Hebrew. It is the standing form for calling or gatherings together the people of God (Deuteronomy 4:10; Exodus 35:1; Leviticus 8:3): a symbolical name for Solomon, and of Heavenly Wisdom speaking through and identified with him. Compare 1 Kings 8:1, "Solomon assembled the elders of Israel." Wisdom in the Church, unlike the wisdom of worldly philosophy, addressed itself not merely to the privileged few, but to the whole assembly. It pities and seeks the good of all, instead of the glorification of self. There is thus. a coincidence with Solomon's words, Proverbs 1:20-21; Proverbs 8:3, "Wisdom crieth without" - "She crieth at the gates;" i:e., the place of public concourse. Wisdom is embodied in Christ, of whom Solomon was the type, and who would have gathered together the children of Jerusalem, as the true Koheleth, if they had been willing to permit Him (Luke 11:49-50; Luke 13:34; Matthew 23:34; Matthew 23:37). The feminine form of Koheleth, and the feminine verb, in Ecclesiastes 7:27, shows that Solomon is but the representative of Heavenly Wisdom. Ecclesiastes 1:12 shows that "king of Jerusalem" is in apposition, not with "David," but "Preacher."

Of Jerusalem - rather in [bª-] Jerusalem, because it was merely his metropolis, not his whole kingdom.

Verse 2

Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

The theme proposed of the first part of his discourse.

Vanity of vanities - Hebraism for the most utter vanity. So "holy of holies," Exodus 26:33-34; "servant of servants,'' Genesis 9:25. The repetition increases the force. Compare Jacob's testimony, Genesis 47:9; Moses' Psalms 90:10; David's, Psalms 39:4-6. In grand contrast to "vanity" stands the name "Yahweh," or Jahve, the self-existing, unchanging God, with whom frail man may have a sure refuge.

All - Hebrew, 'the all,' all without exception; namely, earthly things.

Vanity - not in themselves, because God maketh nothing in vain (1 Timothy 4:4-5), but vain when put in the place of God, and made the end instead of the means (Psalms 39:5-6; Psalms 62:9), when made the 'first' object, instead of the secondary. (Matthew 6:33); vain, also, because of the "vanity" to which they are 'subjected' by the fall (Romans 8:20). The word vanity [ hªbeel (H1892)] occurs in Ecclesiastes 37 times, and in all the rest of Scripture only 33 times, which shows that one great end of the book is to teach the unsatisfactoriness of all earthly things, and that on all sides here there abound wants, sorrows, and fears, that so we may learn to make the all-satisfying God our portion and so have the true enjoyment even of the goods of the present life (cf. James 4:14).

Verse 3

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?

What proof hath a man of all his labour - i:e., "What profit" as to the chief good? (Matthew 16:26.) Labour is profitable in its proper place (Genesis 2:15; Genesis 3:19; Proverbs 14:23). "An man" - Hebrew, laadam; literally, 'the earthly one,' implying man's earthly frailty.

Under the sun? - i:e., in this life, as opposed to the future world. The phrase often recurs, but only in Ecclesiates.

Verse 4

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.

(One) generation passeth away, and (another) generation cometh: but the earth abideth forever. While the earth remains the same, the generations of men are ever changing. What lasting profit, then, can there be from the toils of one whose sojourn on earth, as an individual, is so brief? The "forever" is comparative, not absolute (Psalms 102:26), a future of unmeasured length, whose limit we know not. The contrast between the permanence of the earth, which, while doomed to the curse, precludes a better state of things, and the non-permanence of man aggravates the sadness of the present state of things (Genesis 3:17-19). Like the fabled Sisyphus, man is ever wearily labouring, and then having his labour undone in a moment.

Verse 5

The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

The sun. ... hasteth to his place where he arose - (Psalms 19:5-6.) Panting is the Hebrew for "hasteth:" metaphor

from a runner (Psalms 19:5); rejoiceth as a strong man in a "race." It applies rather to the rising sun, which seems laboriously and eagerly to mount up to the meridian, than to the setting sun; the accents, too, favour Maurer-`And (that too, returning) to his place, where panting (Hebrew, show'eep (H7602)) he riseth.' The sun running through a long course only to return at last to the goal from which it started, and thence, with fresh eagerness, to start again on the same course, is one image of life. With all our boasts of progress, we have not, by mere earthly toils, reached any solid or abiding good. There is motion, but it is motion in a circle. Each new generation advances to life with fresh eagerness, like the sun at its rising.

Verse 6

The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.

According to (Hebrew, upon) his circuits - i:e., it returns afresh to its former circuits, however many be its previous veerings about. The north and south winds are the two prevailing winds in Palestine and Egypt. The circuits of the winds are here made the symbol of man's existence ever revolving in the circle of vanity, and unable to move forward beyond it. As cast and west are noticed us to the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:5), so north and south as to the wind.

Verse 7

All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

All the rivers run into the sea ... unto the place from whence the rivers come there they return - as is proved by the fast that --

The sea is not full. They return to their sources through the medium of the clouds (Genesis 2:6). By subterraneous cavities, and by evaporation forming rain clouds, the fountains and rivers are supplied from the sea, into which they then flow back. The sun lifts out of the sea as much water as flows into it, which the winds carry as vapour to the dry land, where the hills, with their cold summits, condense it into rain, which having watered the earth, the surplus finds its way to the rivers, and thence into the sea again. The connection is: just as the sun, wind, and rivers are ever shifting about, while the cycle in which they move is invariable, they return to the point whence they set out; so man moves in the same circle, never moving forward beyond vanity; his old misery ever recurs (cf. "there is no new thing," Ecclesiastes 1:9).

Verse 8

All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. All things (are) full of labour; man cannot utter (it) - rather, All words are wearied out i:e., are inadequate, as also, 'man cannot express by words' the misery of human vanity in this ceaseless, changeless cycle of labour for that which satisfieth not. "No new" good can accrue from it (Ecclesiastes 1:9); for as the sun, etc., so man's labrious works move in a changeless cycle. The 'eye' and 'ear' are two of the taskmasters for which man toils. But these are never 'satisfied' (Ecclesiastes 4:8; Ecclesiastes 6:7; Proverbs 27:20). Nor can they be so hereafter, because there will be nothing 'new.' Not so the chief good, Jesus Christ (John 4:13-14; Revelation 21:5). As the first clause describes the vanity of earthly things as unutterable, so the second proves the assertion by their palpable inability to satisfy the soul. Dªbaariym (H1697)

... dabeer (H1696) could hardly be used in different senses in the same sentence, as in the English version. As it means 'utter in words' in the verb, it must mean 'words' (the original and predominant sense in this book) in the case of the noun, not 'things.'

Verse 9

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

That which is done - accomplished. The results of doing are now what they shall be in the present order of things.

No new (thing) - (Hebrew, 'no new thing at all,' as Numbers 11:6.) This is not meant in a general sense; but there is no new source of happiness (the subject in question) which can be devised: the same round of petty pleasures, cares, business, study, wars, etc., being repeated over and over again (Holden). Since the old has been unsatisfactory, it is a great evil that there is nothing new. 'Man cannot escape out of the charmed circle into which he was driven by the curse (Genesis 3:1-24), be his exertions what they may (Hengstenberg). With all the progress in the healing art, the doom, "Thou shalt die" still holds good. These words are not true of the works of God, for God ever produces something new; it is only children of Adam who effect nothing new' (Luther).

Verse 10

Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

Old time (Hebrew, ages), which was. The Hebrew plural cannot be joined to the verb singular. Therefore translate, 'It hath been in the ages before; certainly it hath been before us' (Holden). Or, as Maurer, 'That which has been (done) before us (in our presence, 1 Chronicles 16:33), has been (done) already in the old times.'

Verse 11

There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

(There is) no remembrance of former (things) or persons. The reason why some things are thought "new," which are not really so, is the imperfect record that exists of preceding ages among their successors.

Neither shall there be (any) remembrance of (things) (rather, of the persons) that are to come with (those) that shall come after - i:e., with these that live still later than, the 'things (rather, the persons or 'generations,' Ecclesiastes 1:4, with which this verse is connected, the six intermediate verses being merely illustrations of Ecclesiastes 1:4, Weiss) that are to come' (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 9:5).

Verse 12

I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

Resumption of Ecclesiastes 1:1, the intermediate verses being the introductory statement of his thesis. Therefore, the Preacher ( Qohelet (H6953)) is repeated. From this verse to Ecclesiastes 2:26, the Preacher shows the vanity of earthly things from his own experience.

I the Preacher was king - instead of 'am,' because he is about to give the results of his past experience during his long reign.

In Jerusalem - specified as opposed to David, who reigned both in Hebron and Jerusalem; whereas Solomon reigned only in Jerusalem. "King of Israel in Jerusalem" implies that he reigned over Israel and Judah combined, whereas David, at Hebron, reigned only over Judah, and not, until he was settled in Jerusalem, over both Israel and Judah. If ever man had the opportunity of testing whether earthly things can afford solid satisfaction, it was Solomon-a king, and therefore having immense means at his command; and in Jerusalem the center of a then wide and highly favoured kingdom, furnishing a most ample field of philosophical observation, (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:1, etc.) The Preacher begins with human wisdom, for which he was famed even among pagan nations (1 Kings 10:8; Matthew 12:42).

Verse 13

And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man to be exercised therewith. I gave my heart to ... search out by wisdom concerning all (things) that are done under heaven. "Search" implies a deals investigation into the results gained by all the labours done under the sun.

This sore travail hath God given - i:e., sore vexation, namely, the wisdom which consists in testing thoroughly, etc.; that of 'searching out all things done under heaven.' Wisdom busied about merely earthly things brings only pain.

To be exercised therewith - i:e., disciplined; literally, 'that they may thereby chastise or humble themselves.

Verse 14

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.

I have seen all the works (the actions and businesses of men) that are done under the sun; and, behold, all (is) vanity. The reason is here given why wise investigation into man's "works" is only "sore travail" (Ecclesiastes 1:13) - namely, because all man's ways are vain (Ecclesiastes 1:18), and cannot be mended. (Ecclesiastes 1:15).

Vexation of (a preying upon the) spirit, [ rª`uwt (H7469) ruwach (H7307)]. Hengstenberg translates [from raa`aah (H7462), to feed; to busy one's self about], 'the pursuit of wind,' as Ecclesiastes 5:16; Hosea 12:1, "Ephraim feedeth on wind;" Isaiah 44:20; Proverbs 15:14. So the Septuagint [proaireris pneumatos] 'a purpose of wind;' an empty striving. But the Vulgate, Chaldaic, and Syriac support the English version.

Verse 15

That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.

(That which is) crooked cannot be made straight - `be brought into position' (Hengstengberg). The imperfection in the arrangements of the world result from the fall. All attempts to rectify this imperfection without recognition of the fall of man are vain. The dislocated state of all creaturely things, subject as they are to vanity, is designed to bring us, in despair of bettering them, to take refuge in God.

And that which is wanting (Daniel 5:27 ) cannot be numbered - so as to take a complete number: so equivalent to cannot be supplied (Maurer). Or rather, man's state is utterly wanting; and that which is wholly defective cannot be numbered or calculated. 'Where nothing is, nothing can be counted; human life consists entirely of nulls' (Hengstenberg).

Verse 16

I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.

I command with mine own heart - (Genesis 24:45 .) Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom - rather, 'I have magnified and gotten' (literally, added, increased), etc.

Than all (they) that have been before me in Jerusalem - namely, the priests, judges, and two kings that preceded Solomon. Melchisedec was one of the kings of the ancient dynasty who is included in the words, "all that have been before me." His earthly wisdom exceeded that of all before Jesus Christ, the antitypical Koheleth, or 'Gatherer of men' (Luke 13:34), and "Wisdom" incarnate (Matthew 11:19; Matthew 12:42; 1 Kings 3:12; 1 Kings 4:29-34; 1 Kings 10:23-24). The wisdom in which Solomon excelled all, by the gift of God was concerning earthly things (Ecclesiastes 1:13). It is of this earthly wisdom and acuteness, viewed by itself that Solomon pronounces that its result is only "sore travail." Brilliant as it was, so that it attracted the notice of the pagan world, it yet is classed only with the possession of worldly goods. In the wisdom that is heavenly Solomon was certainly not above Moses (Numbers 12:3; Numbers 12:6-8; Deuteronomy 34:10-12; James 1:5; James 3:17).

Had ... experience - literally, had seen (Jeremiah 2:31). Contrast with this glowing in worldly wisdom, Jeremiah 9:23-24.

Verse 17

And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

I gave my heart to know wisdom ... madness and folly - i:e., their effects, the works of human wisdom and folly respectively. As things are best understood by comparison with their contraries, so Solomon tested the worth of wisdom by comparing its results with those of folly. "Madness" - literally, vaunting extravagance, (Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 7:25, etc.) (Holden.) "Folly" is read by the English version, with some manuscripts, instead of the present Hebrew text, 'prudence' [cikluwt, for sikluwt (H5531): but the Hebrew letter sin (s) and the Hebrew letter camek (c) are often interchanged]. The same Hebrew is used for the world's 'CRAFT,' falsely called prudence in Daniel 8:25: it may mean so here. But I prefer the English version.

Verse 18

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

In much wisdom (is) much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow - not in general; for wisdom, etc., are most excellent in their place; but speculative knowledge of man's ways (Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:17), which, the further it goes, gives one, the more pain to find how "crooked" and "wanting" they are (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 12:12).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-1.html. 1871-8.
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