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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

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

Verse 1

For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-18.-Temptation to unbelief, as the like lot happens to good and bad.-Godly wisdom the main thing.

For - connecting this chapter with Ecclesiastes 8:14-17. What follows is mentioned as an instance, to show that 'man cannot find out the work of God.'

All this - following not "for," but "I considered."

To declare all this - Hebrew [ wªlaabuwr (H952)], 'even to purge all this.' I considered all this in my heart, so as to make all this clear of the obscuring soils of my former ignorance concerning the divine government: 'so as to elucidate all this.' Hengstenberg translates, 'And (indeed) thereby I fathomed all this.'

The righteous ... , (are) in the hand of God: no man knoweth either (the) love or hatred (of God in them) (by) all (that is) before them By my exploring I find, "the righteous ... , (are) in the hand of God: no man knoweth either (the) love or hatred (of God in them) (by) all (that is) before them" - Hebrew, '(by) all (that is) before their face;' i:e., by what is outwardly seen in His present dealings (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Malachi 1:2). None can tell by external things the love or hatred of God toward himself and others. Neither outward goods are a sure sign of God's favour, nor are adverse circumstances a sure sign of His wrath (Mercer and Grotius). This gives no countenance to the Popish notion, that none can have the certainty of grace and of their salvation. However, from the sense of the same words in Ecclesiastes 9:6, 'love and hatred' may be the feelings of men toward the righteous, whereby they cause to the latter comfort or sorrow. Translate. 'Even the love and hatred (exhibited toward the righteous) are in God's hand' (Psalms 76:10; Proverbs 16:7). No man knoweth all that is before him. I prefer the former view.

Verse 2

All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.

All things come alike to all - not universally; but as to death. He repeats the sentiment already implied in Ecclesiastes 2:14; Ecclesiastes 3:20; Ecclesiastes 8:14. One event to the righteous, and to the wicked - not eternally; but death is common to all.

The good - morally.

The clean - ceremonially.

To him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not - alike to Josiah, who sacrificed to God, and to Ahab, who made sacrifice to Him cease.

He that sweareth - rashly and falsely. Frivolous using of God's holy name is a characteristic mark of the godless.

Verse 3

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

This is an evil among all things ... Not only "there is one event unto all," but "also the heart of the sons of men" makes this fact a reason for 'madly' persisting in evil "while they live, and after that (they go) to the dead." Sin is "madness."

Madness (is) in their heart - mad thoughts about God's government, because of the adversity of the godly, tempt them to take wrong courses to help. themselves (Malachi 3:13-14).

The dead - (Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 9:18.)

Verse 4

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

For to him that is joined to all the living. So the Keri, some manuscripts of Kennicott and Rossius; and Septuagint, Chaldaic, Syriac, and Vulgate read [ yªchubar (H2266)]. But the Kethibh reads [yªbuchar, 'Who is there that is chosen?' i:e., Who is there exempted, from the common lot of death? Thus, the "for" gives the reason for the previous words, "after that they go to the dead."

Hope. Join thus, "to all the living there is hope." For a living dog ... This and Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, may be the language of carnal reason, when tempted by trials to doubt God's righteousness of dealing in this world. The voice of the spiritual nature replies in Ecclesiastes 9:7. So the Psalmist was tempted by sinners' prosperity to speak as "a beast" until he went into the sanctuary. In a sense, it is true, there is hope of repentance and salvation to the living. The vilest, as long as they have life, have hope; the noblest who die unconverted have none. The state of the wicked "dead" is, in this last view, described by Solomon, Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 being the commentary on the last words of Ecclesiastes 9:3, "after that they (the evil) go to the dead."

Dog - metaphor for the vilest persons (1 Samuel 24:14).

Lion - the noblest of animals (Proverbs 30:30).

Verse 5

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.

For the living know - and may thereby be led "so to number their days that they may apply their hearts to wisdom" (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4; Psalms 90:12).

But the dead know not - i:e., so far as their bodily senses and worldly affairs are concerned (Job 14:21; Isaiah 63:16): also, they know no door of repentance open to them, such as is to all on earth.

Neither have they ... a reward - no advantage from their worldly labours (Ecclesiastes 2:18-22; Ecclesiastes 4:9).

For the memory of them is forgotten - not of the righteous (Psalms 112:6; Malachi 3:16), but the wicked, who, with all the pains to perpetuate their names (Psalms 49:11), are soon "forgotten" (Ecclesiastes 8:10).

Verse 6

Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.

Their love ... hatred ... envy, is now perished - referring to Ecclesiastes 9:1, where see the note. Not that these cease in a future world absolutely (Ezekiel 32:27; Revelation 22:11); but, as the end of this verse shows, relatively to persons and things in this world. Man's love and hatred can no longer be exercised for good or evil in the same way as here; but the fruits of them remain. What he is found at death, he remains forever. "Envy," too, marks the wicked, as referred to, since it was therewith that they assailed the righteous (Ecclesiastes 9:1, note). Neither have they anymore a portion. Their "portion" was "in this life" (Psalms 17:14); that they now 'cannot have anymore.' The whole (Ecclesiastes 9:4-6) may, however, not be restricted to the wicked, but may be the language of carnal reason as to all the good and the bad alike (note, Ecclesiastes 9:4).

Verse 7

Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.

Eat thy bread with joy. Here the voice of the Spirit rebuts the voice of the flesh. Addressed to the "righteous wise" spoken of in Ecclesiastes 9:1.

Now accepteth thy works Being "in the hand of God," who "now accepteth thy works" in His service, as He has previously accepted thy person (Genesis 4:4), thou mayest 'eat etc., with a cheerful (not sensually "merry") heart' (Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Acts 2:46). Instead of giving way to gloomy discontent, as if God made no difference between the good and the bad in His dealings (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Malachi 2:17). God accepteth-literally, hath pleasure in ( raatsaah (H7521)) - thy works, and therefore will in due time let thee see the difference which He makes (in spite of present appearances to the contrary) between the righteous and the wicked (Malachi 3:18); parallel is Psalms 73:1 - Hebrew, 'God is only good (not also evil, as carnal reason would suggest) to Israel even to such as are of a clean heart,' in spite of all appearances to the contrary.

Verse 8

Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.

Let thy garments be always white - in token of joy (Isaiah 61:3). Solomon was clad in achite (Josephus' 'Antiquities' 8: 7, 3); hence, his attire is compared to the "lilies" (Matthew 6:29), typical of the spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ, which the redeemed shall wear (Revelation 6:11; Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 3:18; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14). As angels, the fellow-servants of the saints, appear in white (Mark 16:5); and Jesus' own garment at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2; Luke 9:29) was white; so the white garments here express the continual and confident anticipation of glory which the people of God have. The gloomy present should never be let rob them of the festive joyousness of spirit which faith gives.

Let thy head lack no ointment (Psalms 23:5) - opposed to a gloomy exterior (2 Samuel 14:2; Psalms 14:7; Matthew 6:17); typical also (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Song of Solomon 1:3).

Verse 9

Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.

Live joyfully (literally, see or enjoy life) with the wife whom thou lovest - godly and true love, opposed to the "snares" of the "thousand" concubines (Ecclesiastes 7:26; Ecclesiastes 7:28), "among" whom Solomon could not find the true love which joins one man to one woman (Proverbs 5:15; Proverbs 5:18-19; Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14). The wife here is regarded not so much as the source, as the companion of the godly joy of the husband. Turn away thine eye from present vexations, and fix upon the glorious future, and meanwhile enjoy cheerfully the little joys which God giveth thee in the midst of this vain life.

All the days of thy vanity. This phrase is twice repeated, to imply that we ought not to seal up the sources of enjoyment which God still opens as to us in a life which is attended with so much of vanity and sorrow by reason of the fall.

Verse 10

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Whatsoever (namely, in the service of God) thy hand findeth to do. This qualities Ecclesiastes 9:7-9. Earthly enjoyments are to be secondary and subsidiary to the work of God, which, if not done now, can never be done.

Hand ... - (margin, 1 Samuel 10:7.)

With thy might - diligence (Deuteronomy 6:5; margin, Jeremiah 48:10). The accents require us to translate 'Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do with thy might, do.' There are opportunities for work now given which if not used here can never recur in the world to come.

No work ... in the grave. Jesus refers to this, John 9:4; Revelation 14:13. 'The souls play-day is Satan's work-day; the idler the man the busier the tempter.' (South).

Verse 11

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

The race (is) not to the swift (for they may be hindered by a slight obstacle). (See 2 Samuel 18:22-23; John 20:4-6; Jeremiah 46:6; spiritually, Zephaniah 3:19; Romans 9:16.)

Nor the battle to the strong - reverting to the sentiment. Ecclesiastes 8:17; we ought, therefore, not only to work God's work 'with might' (Ecclesiastes 9:10) but also with the feeling that the event is wholly 'in God's hand' (Ecclesiastes 9:1). (See 1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 14:9; 2 Chronicles 14:11; 2 Chronicles 14:15; 2 Chronicles 20:15; Proverbs 21:30-31; Psalms 33:16.)

Bread - livelihood.

Nor yet favour - of the great: or popularity.

Chance - seemingly, really Providence. But as man cannot 'find it out' (Ecclesiastes 3:11), he needs 'with all might' to use opportunities. Duties are ours; events, God's (Psalms 31:15, "My times are in thy hand") Chance is not a power independent of God; but is that which happens to man independently of his control. If God be our friend, the powers arrayed against us, however formidable they look, cannot destroy us. If it depended on human strength, the people of God could not withstand their foes.

Verse 12

For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.

Knoweth not his times - namely, of death (Isaiah 13:22). Hence, the danger of delay in 'doing the work of God,' as one knows not when his opportunity will end (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Evil net - fatal to them. The unexpected suddenness of the capture is the point of comparison. So the second coming of Jesus Christ, "as a snare" (Luke 21:35).

Evil time - as an "evil net," fatal to them. This comforts God's people when afflicted by enemies. These foes, strong as they seem now, shall suddenly be caught in the meshes of destruction.

Verse 13

This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me: This wisdom have I seen - I have seen wisdom exhibited in the way described in what follows.

It (seemed) great unto me - inasmuch as it sufficed to deliver a little city with few men in it from the "great king" who "built great bulwarks against it." The parable here represents the Israel of God, poor indeed in worldly goods, but rich in heavenly wisdom and might (Revelation 2:9). Though despised now, the true Church has in it Christ (once Himself poor) as her wisdom, and therefore the earnest of her final triumph and glory.

Verses 14-15

There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:

A little city ... So Abel, which the wisdom of one woman saved from destruction by Joab, who cast up a bank against it, when the rebel Sheba was in it (2 Samuel 20:15-22).

Bulwarks - military works of besiegers.

Verse 15. A poor wise man. As to the temporal advantages of true wisdom, though it often saves others, it receives little reward from the world, which admires none except the rich and great.

No man remembered ... - (Genesis 40:23.)

Verse 16

Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

Wisdom is better than strength - resuming the sentiment in Ecclesiastes 7:19.

The poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard - permanently: though forced by necessity to hearken to him for a time, they soon forgot him. His poverty soon acted as a cloud, blinding the world to his merits. So Paul (Acts 27:11).

Verse 17

The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.

The words of wise (men are) heard in quiet. So the Lord Jesus did "not cry, nor lift, up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street" (Isaiah 42:2). Unlike the world's monarchs, who bluster when ought opposes their will. The "still small voice" of God is best heard in stillness and quiet. Compare Psalms 23:2, margin. If the poor believer is to "cry," let it be unto the Lord (Psalms 34:6), so shall he be delivered. Though generally the poor wise man is not heard (Ecclesiastes 9:16), yet 'the words of wise men, when heard in quiet (when calmly given heed to, as in Ecclesiastes 9:15), are more serviceable than,' etc.

More than the cry of him that ... Compare Naaman's bluster and his servants' words heard in quiet (2 Kings 5:11-13).

Ruleth among fools - as the "great king" (Ecclesiastes 9:14). Solomon reverts to 'the rulers to their own hurt' (Ecclesiastes 8:9).

Verse 18

Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.

One sinner ... - as Achan (Joshua 7:1; Joshua 7:11-12). Though wisdom excels folly, and strengthens more than weapons of war (Ecclesiastes 9:16; Ecclesiastes 7:19), yet a 'little folly (equivalent to sin) can destroy much good,' both of the soul and of the outward condition; both in himself (Ecclesiastes 10:1; James 2:10) and in others. He hereby warns the people of God not to divest themselves of that which is their strength against their seemingly more powerful worldly foes, by allowing any sinner among them. In Ecclesiastes 10:1, also he shows how a little sin can mar great good. "Wisdom" must, from the antithesis to "sinner," mean religion. Thus, typically, the "little city" may be applied to the Church (Luke 12:32; Hebrews 12:22); the great king to Satan, "the prince of this world" (John 12:31); the despised poor but wise man, Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:2-3; Mark 6:3; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Ephesians 1:7-8; Colossians 2:3).

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-9.html. 1871-8.
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