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Trapp's Complete Commentary Trapp's Commentary
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ jtc/ ecclesiastes-8.html. 1865-1868.
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Ecc 8:1 Who [is] as the wise [man]? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
Ver. 1. Who is as the wise man? ] q.d., He is a matchless man, a peerless paragon, outshining others as much as the moon doth the lesser stars. a Plato could say that no gold or precious stone doth glister so gloriously, ωσπερ αγαθων ανδρων νοος συμφραδμων , as the prudent spirit of a good man. "Thou art a prince of God amongst us," said the Hittites to Abraham. "Can we find such a man as this Joseph, in whom the Spirit of God is?" said Pharaoh to his counsellors. Gen 41:38 "Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth?" Job 1:8 "My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all my house," and shall be of my cabinet council. Num 12:7 To him God said, Tu vero hic sta mecum, "But do thou stand here by me." Exo 34:5 Sapiens Dei comes est, saith Philo. Look how kings have their favourites, whom they call comites, their cousins and companions; so hath God. Nay, the righteous are "princes in all lands," Psa 45:16 kings in righteousness; Mat 13:17 Luk 10:24 the "excellent ones of the earth," Psa 16:3 the worthies of the world, Heb 11:5 fitter to be set as stars in heaven, and to be continually before the throne of God. Chrysostom b calls some holy men of his time, αγγελους , earthly angels; and speaking of Babylac the martyr, he saith of him, c Magnus atque admirabilis vir, He was an excellent and an admirable man, &c. And Tertullian, writing to some of the martyrs, says, Non tantus sum ut vos alloquar, I am not good enough to speak unto you. Oh that my life, and a thousand such wretches more, might go for yours! Oh, why doth God suffer me and other such caterpillars to live, saith John Careless, martyr, in a letter to that angel of God, Mr Bradford, as Dr Taylor called him, that can do nothing but consume the alms of the Church, and take away you, so worthy a workman and labourer in the Lord’s vineyard. d
And who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? ] Wise a man may be, and yet not so apt and able to wise others. Those wise ones that can wise others, so as to "turn them to righteousness, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, yea, as the stars"; Dan 12:3 they do so while upon earth. Wisdom makes their very faces to shine, as St Stephen’s did, Act 6:15 and as holy Job’s, while he was in a prosperous condition. Job 29:8-10 Jobab he was then (the same, some think, that is mentioned Gen 36:33 ), as when in distress his name was contracted into Job. And then, though himself were otherwise wise, he might want "an interpreter, one of a thousand" - for such are rare, every man cannot sell us this precious oil Mat 25:9 - "to show unto him his righteousness," - that is, the righteousness of his own experience - how himself hath been helped and comforted in like case, or, to clear up to an afflicted Job his spiritual estate, and to show him his evangelical righteousness. Oh "how beautiful are the feet" of such an interpreter! "I have seen thy face," saith the poor soul to such, "as though I had seen the face of God." Gen 33:10
A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine.] Godliness is venerable and reverend. "Holy and reverend is his name." Psa 111:9 God’s image is amiable and admirable, Natural conscience cannot but stoop and do obeisance to it, What a deal of respect did Nebuchadnezzar and Darius put upon Daniel! Alexander the Great upon Jaddus the high priest! Theodosius upon Ambrose! Constantine upon Paphnutius, kissing that eye of his that was bored out for the cause of Christ! &c. Godly men have a daunting presence, as Athanasius had, and Basil, to whom when Valens the Arian emperor came, while he was in holy exercises, it struck such a terror into him that he reeled, and had fallen had he not been upheld by those that were with him. e Henry II of France being present at the martyrdom of a certain tailor, burnt by him for religion, was so terrified by the boldness of his countenance, and the constance of his sufferings, that he swore at his going away that he would never any more be present at such a sight. f
And the boldness of his face shall be changed. ] Or, Doubled; his conscience bearing him out, and making him undaunted, as it did David, Psa 3:1-8 and the Dutch martyr Colonus, who, calling to the judge that had sentenced him to death, desired him to lay his hand upon his heart, and then asked him whose heart did most beat, his or the judge’s? By this boldness Jonathan and his armourbearer set upon the garrison of the Philistines, David upon Goliath their champion, The Black Prince was so called, not of his colour, but of his valour and dreaded acts in battle. g
a Velut inter stellas luna minores.
b Hom. 55, in Matth.
c Orat. Contra Gentiles.
d Acts and Mon., 1744
e Greg., Orat. de Laude Basilii.
f Epit. Hist. Gal, 82
g Speed, 688.
Ecc 8:2 I [counsel thee] to keep the king’s commandment, and [that] in regard of the oath of God.
Ver. 2. To keep the king’s commandment.] Heb., Mouth - i.e., the express word of command. Go not here by guess or good intention, lest you speed as that Scotch captain did, who, not expecting orders from his superiors, took an advantage offered him of taking a fort of the enemy’s; for which good service he was knighted in the morning, but hanged in the afternoon of the same day for acting without orders. a
And that in regard of the oath of God. ] Thine oath of allegiance to thy prince. This Papists make nothing of. Pascenius scoffs King James for the invention of it. They can swear with their mouths, and keep their hearts unsworn, as she in the comedy. b Mercatorum est stare iuramentis, say they at Rome. They can assoil men of their allegiance at pleasure, and slip their solemn oaths as easily as monkeys do their collars. And I would this were the sin of Papists only, and that there were not those found even amongst us that keep no oaths further than makes for their own turn, like as the Jews keep none, unless they swear upon their own Torah, brought out of their synagogues. c
a Speed, 688.
b H γλωττ ωμομοχεν, φρην ανωμοτος μενει .
Ecc 8:3 Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Ver. 3. Be not hasty to go out of his sight. ] Turn not thy back discontentedly, fling not away in a chafe; for this will be construed for a contempt, as it was in the Earl of Essex, A.D. 1598. Dissension occuring between the queen and him about a fit man for governor of Ireland, he, forgetting himself, and neglecting his duty, uncivilly turned his back, with a scornful countenance. She waxing impatient, gave him a cuff on the ear, bidding him be gone with a vengeance. He laid his hand upon his sword; the Lord Admiral interposing himself, he swore a great oath, that he neither could nor would swallow so great an indignity, nor would have born it at King Henry VIII’s hands, and in great discontentment hasted from the court. But within a while after he became submissive, and was received again into favour by the queen, who always thought it more just to offend a man than to hate him. a The very Turks are said to receive humiliation with all sweetness, but to be remorseless to those that bear up. b
a Camden’s Elizabeth, fol. 494.
b Blunt’s Voyage, p. 97.
Ecc 8:4 Where the word of a king [is, there is] power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Ver. 4. Where the word of a king is, there is power. ] Ibi dominatio. He hath long hands, and can reach thee at a great distance, as Mithridates did when with one letter he slew eigthy thousand citizens of Rome that were scattered up and down his kingdom for trading’s sake. a So Selimus the great Turk, in revenge for the loss received at the battle of Lepanto, was once in a mind to have put to death all the Christians in his dominions, in number infinite. b Charles IX of France is reported to have been the death of thirty thousand of his Protestant subjects in one year’s time, A.D. 1572. See Daniel 5:19 .
And who may say unto him, What doest thou? ] viz., Without danger. What safety can there be in taking a bear by the tooth, or a lion by the beard? I dare not dispute, said the philosopher to the Emperor Adrian, with him that hath thirty legions at his command, Neque in eum scribere, qui potest proscribere, nor write against him that can as easily undo me as bid it to be done. c Howbeit Elias, Micaiah, John Baptist, and other holy prophets and ministers have dealt plainly with great princes, and God hath secured them. John, Bishop of Salisbury, reproved the Pope to his face; and yet the Canonists say, that although the Pope should draw millions of souls to hell with him, none may dare to say unto him, What doest thou? But Philip the Fair made bold with his Holiness when he began his letter to him with Sciat Fatuitas Tua, &c. So did the barons of England in King John’s days, when declaring against the Pope and his conclave, by whom they were excommunicated, they cried out thus in their remonstrance, Fie on such rascal knaves. d Adelmelect, Bishop of Sherborn, A.D. 705, reproved Pope Sergius sharply to his face for his adultery. e So did Bishop Lambert reprehend King Pepin for the same fault, A.D. 798. f And Archbishop Odo, King Edwin, burning his concubines in the forehead with a hot iron, and banishing them into Ireland. g Father Latimer dealt no less faithfully with King Henry VIII in his sermons at Court. And being asked by the king how he dared to be so bold to preach after that manner, he answered that duty to God and to his prince had enforced him to it; and now that he had discharged his conscience, his life was in his Majesty’s hands, &c. Truth must be spoken, however it be taken. If God’s messengers must be mannerly in the form, yet in the matter of their message to great ones they must be resolute. It is probable that Joseph used some kind of preface to Pharaoh’s baker in reading him that hard destiny; Gen 40:19 such, likely, as was that of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar, "My Lord, the dream be to them that hate thee," &c.; Dan 4:19 or as Philo brings him in with an utinam tale somnium non vidisses, &c. But for the matter, he gives him a sound, though sharp interpretation.
a Val. Max., lib. ix.
b Turk. Hist., fol. 885.
c Praesens praesentem Pontificem redarguit, et Polyeraticon conscripsit. Jac. Rev, 145 .
d Marcidi ribaldi.
f Epit. Hist. Gallic., p. 30.
g Godw., Catal.
Ecc 8:5 Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Ver. 5. Whoso keepeth the commandment, ] scil., The king’s commandment. He that is compliant, and goes as far as he can with a good conscience in his obedience to the commands of his superiors, "shall feel no evil," i.e., he shall lack no good encouragement. Rom 13:3-4 Or if men slight him, God will see to him, Eph 6:7-8 as he did to the poor Israelites in Egypt, and to David under Saul. Mordecai lost nothing at length by his love and loyalty to God and the king. Sir Ralph Percy, slain upon Hedgely Moor, in Northumberland, by the Lord Montacute, general for Edward IV, would noways depart the field, though defeated, but in dying, said, I have saved the bird in my breast, meaning his oath to King Henry VI, for whom he fought. a
And a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment,] scil., When and how to obey kings’ commands, the time, the means, and manner thereof, despatching them without offence to God or man. And this "a wise man’s heart discerneth," saith the Preacher; it being the opinion of the Hebrews that in the heart especially the soul did keep her court, and exercise her noble operations of the understanding, invention, judgment, &c. Aristotle saith, Sine calore cordis anima in corpore nihil efficit, Without the heat of the heart, the soul does nothing in the body. The Scripture also makes the heart the monarch of this Isle of Man.
a Speed, 869.
Ecc 8:6 Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man [is] great upon him.
Ver. 6. Because to every purpose there is time. ] Therefore the wise man seeketh after that nick of time, that punctilio of judgment, that he may do everything well, and order his affairs with discretion. A well chosen season is the greatest advantage of any action, which, as it is seldom found in haste, so it is too often lost in delay.
Therefore the misery of man is great upon him. ] Because he discerns not, apprehends not his fittest opportunity, hence he creates himself a great deal of misery. When Saul had taken upon him to sacrifice, God intimates to him by Samuel, that if he had discerned his time, he might have saved his kingdom. So might many a man his life, his livelihood - nay, his soul. "The men of Issachar" in David’s days are famous for this, that they "had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do," 1Ch 12:32 their posterity are set below stork and swallow for want of this skill, Jer 8:7 and deeply doomed. Luk 19:44
Ecc 8:7 For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
Ver. 7. For he knoweth not that which shall be. ] Man’s misery is the greater because he cannot foresee to prevent it; but he is suddenly surprised and hit many times on the blind side, as we say.
“ Nescia mens hominum fati sortisque futurae. ”
Men are in the dark in regard to future events. God only knows them, and is thereby oft in Isaiah distinguished from the dunghill deities of the heathens. In his mercy to his people he gave them prophets to tell how long, and when these failed the Church heavily bewails it. Psa 74:9 Howbeit a prudent man "foreseeth an evil, and hideth himself." Pro 22:3 See Trapp on " Pro 22:3 " By the strength of his mind, saith Ambrose, a he presageth what will follow, and can define what in such or such a case he ought to do. Sometimes he turns over two or three things in his mind together, of which conjecturing that either all may come to pass jointly, or this or that severally, or whether they fall out jointly or severally, he can by his understanding so order his actions as that they shall be profitable to him.
a Amb. De Offic., lib. i. cap. 38.
Ecclesiastes 8:8 [There is] no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither [hath he] power in the day of death: and [there is] no discharge in [that] war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
Ver. 8. There is no man that hath power, &c. ] Death man is sure to meet with, whatsoever he miss of, but when he knows not neither. Of doomsday there are signs affirmative and negative, not so of death. Every one hath his own balsam within him, say some chemists, his own bane it is sure he hath. Ipsa suis augmentis vita ad detrimenta impellitur, a Every day we yield somewhat to death. Stat sua cuique dies, b Our last day stands, the rest run. Death is this only king, against whom there is no rising up c Pro 30:31 The mortal scythe is master of the royal sceptre, and it mows down the lilies of the crown as well as the grass of the field, saith a reverend writer. d And again, death suddenly snatcheth away physicians, oft as it were in scorn and contempt of medicines when they are applying their preservatives or restoratives to others, as it is reported of Gaius Julius, a surgeon, who dressing a sore eye, as he drew the instrument over it, was struck with an instrument of death in the act and place where he did it. Besides diseases, many by mischances are taken, as a bird with a bolt while he gazeth at the bow.
There is no discharge in war. ] Heb., No sending either of forces to withstand death, or of messages to make peace with him. The world and we must part, and whether we be unstitched by parcels, or torn asunder at once, the difference is not great. Happy is he that after due preparation is passed through the gates of death ere he be aware, saith one. Whether my death be a burnt-offering of martyrdom, or a peace offering of a natural death, I desire it may be a freewill offering, a sweet sacrifice to the Lord, saith another.
Neither shall wickedness deliver. ] No; it is righteousness only that delivereth from death. The wicked may make "a covenant with death," Isa 28:15 but God will disannul it. "Shall they escape by iniquity?" saith the Psalmist. What! have they no better mediums? No; "in thine anger cast down the people, O God." Psa 56:7 Every man should die the same day that he is born; the wages of death should be paid him presently; but Christ begs their lives for a season, he is the "Saviour of all men," 1Ti 4:10 not of eternal preservation, but of temporal reservation, that his elect might lay hold on eternal life, and reprobates may have this for a bodkin at their hearts one day: I was in a fair possibility of being delivered.
a Greg., Moral.
b Virg. Aeneid.
c Nulli cedo.
d Mr Ley, his Monitor of Mortality.
Ecc 8:9 All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: [there is] a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.
Ver. 9. One man ruleth over another to his own hurt. ] Not only to the hurt of his subjects, but to his own utter ruin, though after a long run haply. Ecc 8:12-13 Ad generum Cercris, &c. What untimely ends came the kings of Israel to, and the Roman Caesars all, almost, till Constantine? Vespasianus unus accepto imperio melior factus est, Vespasian was the only one among them that became better by the office. While they were private persons there seemed to be some goodness in them, but no sooner advanced to the empire than they ran riot in wickedness; listening to flatterers, and hating reproofs, they ran headlong to hell, and drew a great number with them, by the instigation of the devil, that old man slayer, whose work it was to act and agitate them for a common mischief.
Ecc 8:10 And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this [is] also vanity.
Ver. 10. And so I saw the wicked buried. ] With pomp and great solemnity, funeral orations, statues, and epitaphs, &c., as if he had been another Josiah or Theodosius; so do men overwhelm this mouse with praises proper to the elephant, as the proverb hath it.
Who had come and gone from the place of the holy. ] That is, From the place of magistracy, seat of judicature, where the holy God himself sits as Chief President and Lord Paramount. Deuteronomy 1:17 2 Chronicles 19:6 Psa 82:1
And they were forgotten in the city where they had so done. ] A great benefit to a wicked man to have his memory die with him, which if it be preserved stinks in keeping, and remains as a curse and perpetual disgrace, as one very well senseth it. a
Ecc 8:11 Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Ver. 11. Because sentence against an evil work, &c. ] Ennarrata sententia, a published and declared sentence. So that it is only a reprieve of mercy that a wicked man hath; his preservation is but a reservation to further evil, abused mercy turning into fury. Morae dispendium faenoris duplo pensatur, saith Jerome a God’s forbearance is no quittance; he will find a time to pay wicked men for the new and the old. "The Lord is not slow, as some men count slowness." 2Pe 3:9 Or if he be slow, yet he is sure. b He hath leaden heels, but iron hands; the further he fetcheth his blow, or draweth his arrow, the deeper he will wound when he hitteth. c God’s mill may grind soft and slow, but it grinds sure and small, said one heathen. d Tarditatem supplicii gravitate compensat, he recompenseth the delay of punishment with an eternity of extremity, saith another. He hath "vials of vengeance," Rev 16:1 which are large vessels, but narrow mouthed; they pour out slowly, but drench deeply and distil effectually. Caveto igitur, saith one, e ne malam dilatura fiat duplicatum. Get quickly out of God’s debt, lest ye be forced to pay the charges of a suit to your pain, to your cost. Patientia Dei quo diuturnior, eo minacior. f God will not always serve men for a sinning stock. Poena venit gravior quo magis sera venit. Adonijah’s feast ended in horror; ever after the meal is ended comes the reckoning.
Therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set. ] Heb., Is full. So full of wickedness that there is no room for the fear of God’s wrath, till "wrath come upon them to the utmost." Intus existens prohibet alienum. God offers and affords them heart knocking time, Rev 3:20 but they ram up their hearts, dry their tears, as Saul, and are scalded in their own grease, stewed in their own broth. The sleeping of vengeance causeth the overflowing of sin, and the overflow of sin causeth the awakening of vengeance.
a Jerome in Jerem.
b Aeripedes dictae sunt Furiae.
c Aries quo altius erigittur, hoc figit fortius.
d Oφε θεων αλεουσι μυλαι, αλεουσι δε λεπτον .
e De Utroque Dionysio. Val., lib. i. cap. 2.
Ecc 8:12 Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his [days] be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:
Ver. 12. Though a sinner doth evil an hundred times. ] Commit the same sin a hundred times over, which is no small aggravation of his sin, as numbers added to numbers are first ten times more, then a hundred, then a thousand, &c. And truly a sinner left to himself would sin in infinitum, which may be one reason of the infinite torments of hell; he can set no bounds to himself, till he hecome a brat of fathomless perdition; the devil commits that sin "unto death" every day, and oft in the day. His imps also resemble him herein. Hence their sins are mortal, saith St John, 1Jn 5:17 rather immortal, as saith St Paul. Rom 2:5
And his days be prolonged. ] By the long sufferance of God, which is so great, that Jonah was displeased at it. Jon 4:1-2 Averroes turned atheist upon it. But Micah admires it, Mic 7:18 and Moses makes excellent use of it, when he prays, Exo 34:6-9 "O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go along with us, for it is a stiff-necked people." As who should say, None but a god is able to endure this perverse people; my patience and meekness is far too short; and yet Moses, by God’s own testimony, was the meekest man upon earth. That the vilest of men may live a long while is evident; but for no goodwill that God bears them, but that, heaping up sin, they may heap up wrath, and by abuse of Divine patience, be fitted for the hottest fire in hell, Rom 9:22 as stubble laid out drying, Nah 1:10 or as grapes let hang in the sunshine, till ripe for the winepress of wrath. Rev 19:15 Surely as one day of man’s life is to be preferred before the longest life of a stag or a raven; so one day spent religiously is far better than a hundred years spent wickedly. Non refert quanta sit vitae diuturnitas, sed qualis sit administratio, saith Vives. The business is not how long, but how well any man liveth. Jerome reads this verse thus, Quia peccator facit malura centies, et elongat ei Deus, ex hoc cognosco ego, &c.: Because a sinner doeth evil a hundred times, and God doth lengthen his days unto him, from hence I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, &c. And he sets this sense upon it - Inasmuch as God so long spares wretched sinners, waiting their return, he will surely be good to pious persons. Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion read it thus: Peccans enim malus mortuus est, longa aetate concessa ei, An evil man sinning is dead, a long age being granted to him: dead he is in sin, though his days be prolonged.
Yet surely I know that it shall be well, ] q.d., This shall not stagger me, or shake mine assurance of the Divine providence; for I know well that "yet God is good to Israel, to the pure in heart." Psa 73:1 And although they die young - as ωκυμοροι οι θεοφιλεις , those whom God loves he soon takes to himself - yet it may be said of them, as Ambrose saith of Abraham, Mortuus est in bona senectute, eo quod in bonitate propositi permansit, He died in a good old age, because he died in a good sound mind. Or as Jerome saith of a godly young man of his time, that in brevi vitae spacio tempora virtutum multa replevit, a he lived long in a little time; for some men live more in a month than others do in many years. They that die soon, but in God’s fear and favour, though as grapes they be gathered before they are ripe, and as lambs slain before they be grown, yet, besides the happiness of heaven, they have this benefit, they are freed from the violence of the winepress that others fall into, and escape many storms that others live to taste of. A good man, saith a late divine, b prolongs his days though he die young, because he is ripe before taken from the tree: he even falls into the hand of God that gathers him.
a Jer., Epist.
b Dr Preston.
Ecc 8:13 But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong [his] days, [which are] as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
Ver. 13. But it shall not be well with the wicked. ] (1.) Not always well, Isa 3:12 for "sin will be sure to find him out," Num 32:23 and he that hath guilt in his bosom hath vengeance at his back. a Where iniquity breaks fast, calamity will be sure to dine, and to sup where it dines, and to lodge where it sups. When iniquity is once ripe in the field, God will not let it shed to grow again, but cuts it up by a just and seasonable vengeance. (2.) Not at all well; since prosperity slayeth these fools, and as sunshine ripens their sin, and so fits them for ruin. Hence Bernard calls it, Misericordiam omni indignatione crudeliorem. Poison in wine works more furiously. The fatter the ox, the sooner to the slaughter.
Neither shall he prolong his days. ] See Psa 55:23 Jeremiah 17:11 . He dies tempore non suo Ecc 7:17 though he lives long; he dies before he desires, and when it were better for him to do anything than to die; since he hath "walked in a vain show, disquieting himself in vain," Psa 39:6 tumbling his tub to no purpose, lengthening out "his days as a shadow": the longer the shade, the nearer the sun is to setting. His sun also sets in the burning lake, and it hasteneth to the descent: "An end is come, is come, is come." Eze 7:6-7
Because he feareth not before God. ] But in hypocrisy before men, whose laces he feareth, and would be much ashamed that they should see what he doth in secret. Eph 5:12 But what saith the honest heathen? Si scirem homines ignoraturos et deos ignoscituros, tamen propter peccati turpitudinem, peccare non vellem. A good resolution surely, if as well put in execution. Sed libertas affuit scribent; non viventi, saith Augustine b of this author: He was a better speaker than liver. That of David was spoken from his heart, "I foresee the Lord always before my face; I set him at my right hand," &c. Psa 16:8 Act 2:25 "Be thou in the fear of the Lord all day long." Pro 23:17
a Oυδεις ανθρωπων αδικων τισιν ουκ αποτισει . Nemo culpam gerit in pectore qui non idem Nemesin in tergo.
b Aug. De Civ. Dei, lib. vi. c. 10.
Ecc 8:14 There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just [men], unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked [men], to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also [is] vanity.
Ver. 14. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth. ] Symmachus reads it thus: Est difficile cognitu quod sit super terram, There is that done upon the earth that is hard to be understood. It hath gravelled great divines - as David, Jeremiah, Habakkuk Psa 73:3-9 Jer 12:1-2 Hab 2:4-5 Lam 3:33 - to see good men suffer, bad men prosper. But it is but upon the earth that this befalls: here God must meet with his people, or nowhere, and it is non nisi coactus, as that emperor said of himself, that he doth anything to their grief:
“ Ille dolet quoties cogitur esse ferox. ”
An unruly patient makes a cruel physician. a And as for the wicked, it is but "upon earth" that they live in pleasure, and lie melting in sensual and sinful delights, "nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter." Jam 5:5 Once they shall hear with horror, "Son, remember that thou in thy life time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented." Luk 16:25 The meditation of eternity would much mitigate this vanity. What is that to the infinite? said the old Lord Brook to a friend of his, discoursing of an incident matter very considerable, but was taken off with this quick interrogation of that wise and noble person. b
a Crudelem medicum intemperans aeger facit. - Mimus.
b Dr Hall’s Remedy of Profaneness, p. 114.
Ecc 8:15 Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
Ver. 15. Then I commended mirth. ] A lawful lightsomeness and cheerfulness of heart, which maketh comforts to be much more comfortable, and troubles to be far less troublesome. Besides, acceptior est Deo grata laetitia quam diuturna quasi querula tristitia. a Cheerfulness is better pleasing to God than sourness and sullenness: this provokes him to anger, Deu 28:47 as that which puts a man under the reign of continual unthankfulness - "Is any man merry? let him sing" Jam 5:13 - makes him exceeding liable to temptations and perplexities, disableth him to make benefit of ordinances, indisposeth and unfitteth him for duties of active or passive obedience, takes off the wheels of the soul, and makes it as awkward as a limb out of joint, that can do nothing without deformity and pain.
Than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry. ] Although it be the bread of sorrow that thou eatest, and the cup of affliction that thou drinkest, eat it, and drink it merrily. The Epicures held that a man might be cheerful amidst the most exquisite torments; (1.) In consideration of his honesty and fidelity, that he suffered for; (2.) In consideration of those pleasures and delights that formerly he had enjoyed, and now cheered up himself with the remembrance of. How much better may Christians do it in consideration of those unutterable joys and delights that they expect and hope for! Mendicato pane hic vivamus, &c., saith Luther. We may well be content, nay merry, though we should beg our bread here, to think that we shall one day feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Ecc 8:16 When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also [there is that] neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)
Ver. 16. When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, ] i.e., The wisdom and other excellencies of God shining plainly and plentifully in ruling the affairs, and ordering the disorders of the world to his own glory.
For also there is that neither day nor night seeth, &c., ] i.e., Perdius et pernox, by day and by night I busied myself in this search, so that a little sleep served my turn all the while. Nullus mihi per otium exiit dies, partem etiam noctium studiis vindico, saith Seneca; I studied day and night, and followed it with all possible eagerness. Thuanus tells of a countryman of his, whom he called Franciscus Vieta Fontenejus, a very learned man, that he was so set upon his study, that for three days together sometimes he would sit close at it, sine cibo et somno, nisi quem cubito innixus, nec se loco movens, capiebat, without meat or sleep, more than what for mere necessity of nature he took leaning upon his elbow. Solomon seems by this text to have been as sharp set for the finding out of the way of divine administration, and the true reason of divine dispensations. But he got little further than to see that it far exceeded all human capacity and apprehension. Maiores maiora noverunt, et Deus det vobis plus sapere quam dico, saith a father, when he said what he could to some one of God’s works of wonder - i.e., They who are more learned know, and God grant you may understand more than I say.
Ecc 8:17 Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek [it] out, yet he shall not find [it]; yea further; though a wise [man] think to know [it], yet shall he not be able to find [it].
Ver. 17. That a man cannot find out the work. ] No, not the wisest that is; the very best empiric in this kind cannot. Let him labour never so much to find it, he shall but be tossed in a labyrinth, or as a wayfaring man in a desert. If a man cannot define anything because the forms of things are unknown, if he know not the creatures themselves, ab imo ad summum, from the lowest to the highest, neither shall he know the reasons and manner of them. a As a man may look on a trade, and never see the mystery of it; he may look on artificial things, pictures, watches, &c., and yet not see the art whereby they are made; as a man may look on the letter, and never understand the sense; so it is here, and we must content ourselves with a learned ignorance. Si nos non intelligimus quid quare fiat, debeamus hoc providentiae quod non fiat sine causa: b If we understand not why anything is done, let us owe this duty to Providence, to be assured that it is not done without cause.
b Aug. in Psalm cxlviii.