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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Ecclesiastes 6

Verses 1-12


of true practical Wisdom.

Ecclesiastes 6:1 to Ecclesiastes 8:15.

A. It cannot consist in striving after earthly sources of happiness

Ecclesiastes 6:1-12.

1. Even those most richly blessed with earthly possessions do not attain to a true and lasting enjoyment of them

(Ecclesiastes 6:1-6.)

1There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: 2A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease. 3If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial;. I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. 4For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. 5Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. 6Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good:, do not., all go to one place?

2. He who strives most zealously after earthly happiness, never gets beyond the feeling of the vanity of all earthly things, and the hope of a totally obscure future

(Ecclesiastes 6:7-12.)

7All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled. 8For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before-the living? 9Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit. 10That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than Hebrews 1:0; Hebrews 1:01Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better? 12For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

[Ecclesiastes 6:3. &הַֹנָּפֶּל נֶפֶל) this peculiar word occurs Job 3:16, Psalms 58:9, as well as here; in all which places it has the same meaning of premature birth, or abortion. It comes from the Hiphil sense of the verb as used in such places as Isaiah 26:29, where it is applied to the earth as giving birth. For a similar use of the Greek πίπτω, compare Homer, Iliad, xix. 110.—T.L.]

[Ecclesiastes 6:4. כִּי; See Remarks in Introduction to Metrical Version, p. 177.—T.L.]

[Ecclesiastes 6:6. אִלִּוּ said to be a particle Sequioris Hebraismi (See Gesenius) but it is only a matter of pronunciation. It is only what אִם לוּ would be in sound if written in full—the מ in such cases, where the words are pronounced rapidly together, being elided in sound. This belongs to the Hebrew, as well as the Syriac and Arabic, and its appearance or non-appearance in writing is only a peculiarity of orthography which is not determinative of date, any more than the abbreviations of אֲשֶׁר which are found in the ancient as well as in the later Hebrew writings. It would easily come from a copyist following the sound.—T.L.]

[Ecclesiastes 6:10. אָדָם, the point intended here requires that this should be rendered as the proper name. The reference is to the naming, Genesis 2:7.—T.L.]


This section contains firstly the negative of the illustration relative to the nature of true wisdom, which forms the contents of the third discourse, or a censure of the vain and perverse efforts of those who seek that wisdom in the way of external and earthly happiness. In two clearly marked sections or strophes of equal length, the author first shows that all worldly blessings are of no avail to him who is not able to enjoy them (Ecclesiastes 6:1-6) and then that this very incapability of enjoyment depends partly on the perception of the vanity of earthly things, and partly on the necessity, affecting all men, of depending on a totally dark and uncertain future, while dissatisfied with the present (Ecclesiastes 6:7-12). The latter of these two sections (especially in its second half, Ecclesiastes 6:10-12) reminds us of previous reflections, as Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Ecclesiastes 3:1-9; and partially also of Ecclesiastes 5:12-16. But that the last named passage reappears in its principal thoughts in the present place, is an unjustified assertion of some commentators (also of Vaihinger, p. 34). For, as Hitzig properly observes, there the rich man loses his blessings without having enjoyed them; here, on the contrary, he retains them.— Ewald, Elster, Hahn, and some others, begin a new leading section with Ecclesiastes 6:10 of this chapter (Ewald, indeed, a new discourse, which he extends from Ecclesiastes 6:10; Ecclesiastes 8:16). But since Ecclesiastes 6:10-12 clearly belong to the description of the vanity of earthly happiness commenced in Ecclesiastes 6:1, whilst the admonition to walk in. the ways of true wisdom does not commence until Ecclesiastes 7:1, etc., our division, which corresponds with the division of the chapters, is to be preferred.

2. First strophe. Ecclesiastes 6:1-6. The unhappiness of not being able to enjoy present earthly blessings. There is an evil which I have seen under the sun. In words similar to Ecclesiastes 10:5; and in like manner to chap. 5. 13.—And is common among men. (Zöckler’s translation, and it bears heavily on man). Literally: “And is a great thing on man.” רַבָּה cannot here have been intended to show the frequency of the evil (Luther, “and is common among men;” Vulg. “malum frequens”), but only its extent and weight, as is shown by the expression רָעָה רַבָּה in the parallel passages Ecclesiastes 2:21; and

Ecclesiastes 8:6

Ecclesiastes 6:2. A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor. The same tuiad of sensual goods: 2 Chronicles 1:11; comp. similar combinations in Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 8:18; Proverbs 22:4. Hengstenberg is arbitrary in (he assertion, that by the rich man is meant the Persian, and by the “stranger,” named immediately afterwards, the successor of the Persian in the dominion of the world. This discourse is much too general in its character to permit us to seek in it such special historical and political allusions. For the doubtful propriety of affirming such political allusions in this book, see Introduction, § 4, Obs. 3.—So that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he„desireth. (Zöckler, “of any thing”). This is clearly the meaning of וְאֵינֶנּוּ חָסֵר לְנַפְשׁוֹ מִכֹּל as is shown partly by the suffix in אֵינֶנּוּ, and partly also by the construction of חָסֵר with מִן occurring in Ecclesiastes 4:8. Therefore not: “he wanteth for his soul nothing of all” ( Vulg., Drusius, Bauer, etc.), but “of any thing.” The Septuagint is more correct, καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν ὑστερῶν τῇ ψυχῆ αυτοῦ, also Luther and nearly all the modern commentators.—Yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof. This incapacity of enjoyment can proceed from the sickness of the wealthy possessor, or from the’ burden of heavy cares which rob him of his sleep (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:12), or from a soul made gloomy by melancholy or dejection (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:17). The author can only mean such an inability to enjoy blessings as is connected with a steady continuance of their possession, as more clearly appears in Ecclesiastes 6:3; Ecclesiastes 6:6; consequently not an inability caused by the deprivation of them, by some other misfortune, or by early death, as Ewald and Vaihinger suppose. For הִשְׁלִיט, to empower, to enable, i.e., “to allow or grant,” comp. Ecclesiastes 5:19. God’ must grant us the possession of goods, and also the power to enjoy them—the same God who in an ethical sphere provides all in all, the Posse, the Velle, and the Perficere.But a stranger eateth iti.e., not some robber of his goods, (Ewald, Vaihinger) or the successor of the Persian in the rule of the world (Hengstenberg), but the reckless heir1 of the rich man, who, during the lifetime of the latter, and when he is tortured by disease, sorrow, or foolish avarice, already begins to riot and revel with his goods, and after his death will exhaust them in feasting and merry-making. (Comp. Ecclesiastes 2:18).—This is vanity, and it is an evil disease. “Evil disease” is an expression originating perhaps in Deuteronomy 28:59, which here signifies an evil resembling a very malignant disease. The word חֳלִי however, has no sort of etymological connection with cholera (χολέρα from χολή, gall). Ecclesiastes 6:3. If a man beget a hundred children. For the high appreciation, in the old covenant, of the blessing of many children, comp. Genesis 24:60; Psalms 127:3-5; Job 27:14; and for the value attached to long life, Exodus 10:12; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 11:21; Psalms 49:9.—And live many years, so that the days of his years be many. Herein is meant the sum of all the days of which all his years consist (Psalms 90:10.) To the first clause, “and live many years,” is added the latter equivalent one, as explanatory and emphatic, without producing an absolute tautology.—And also that he have no burial, that is, an honorable burial, that testifies of the real love of his posterity, and therefore truly deserves the name of “burial.” The opposite of such an honorable burial is that found in Isaiah 53:9.—“He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death;” or in Jeremiah 22:19.—“He shall be buried with the burial of an ass;” or in the neglect of burial and the lying on the face of the earth like dung (Jeremiah 8:2; Jeremiah 9:21; Jeremiah 25:33; Isaiah 14:19-20; Psalms 79:3). The cause of such dishonorable קְבוּרה, which is not truly קְבוּרָה we are clearly to find in the absence of filial piety and esteem on the part of the posterity of the avaricious rich man, and not in the sordid meanness of the latter himself, who “ex turpi tenacitate non audeat aliquid honestie sepullurse destinare” (Schmidt, Ramb., and Vaihinger). Hengstenberg unnecessarily assumes for קְבוּרָח the signification of “grave, tomb,” a meaning elsewhere quite common. As in this passage, so also does the context in Jeremiah 22:19 rather demand the sense of exeqüise, funus. Hitzig’s position that the words: “and also that he have no burial‚” is simply a note originally written on the margin of verse 5, is pure caprice.—I say that an untimely birth is better than he;—because such a birth has enjoyed no pleasure in this life, but has also experienced no suffering; comp. Ecclesiastes 4:2 f., and especially Job 3:16. Verses 4 and 5 continue the comparison of the untimely birth.—For2 he cometh in with vanity, i.e., falls into nothingness from his mother’s womb. And his name shall be covered with darkness, i.e., he receives no name, “but is given over to absolute oblivion.” (Elster). Moreover he hath not seen the sun;—this sun which shines brightly and lovingly, but also shines on a great deal of vanity and vexation, of woe and misery; wherefore it may be considered a good fortune not to have seen it. This hath more rest than the other. “Rest,” i.e., freedom from the annoyances, toils, and troubles of this life. We are certainly not to think with Hitzig of that passive, dreamy rest so desired by the Orientals.3 For the use of the comparative מִן here, comp. Psalms 52:3; Habakkuk 2:16. Ecclesiastes 6:6. Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told; therefore twice as long as the life of the oldest patriarchs from Adam to Noah. Hieronymus is correct in saying: “et non tit Adam prope mille, sed duobus millibus vixerit annis,” “Not lived, as Adam, near a thousand, but two thousand years,”—Yet hath he seen no good. Comp. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, etc. Do not all go to one place? namely, to Scheol, in which all arrive equally poor, and where we cannot regain what we have failed to enjoy on earth; comp. Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 11:8. As an extension to the principal clause, this question might be introduced with the expression: “I ask then.”

3. Second strophe. Ecclesiastes 6:7-12. The cause of this inability to enjoy earthly blessings, consists in the vanity of the present and the uncertainty of the future conditions of the happiness of men. All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.—(Zöckler, “the soul.”) That is, all human life is a grasping after enjoyment, but after an enjoyment vain in itself, and affording no true satisfaction. “Mouth and soul” stand in contrast to each other as representatives of the purely sensual and therefore transitory enjoyment (comp. Job 12:1; Proverbs 16:26) as compared with the deeper, more spiritual, and, therefore, more lasting kind of joy. The clear sense of this verse, in essential harmony with Ecclesiastes 1:8, is, that the necessity of the inner man for a more substantial and lasting enjoyment is not satisfied by pleasures of that kind, namely, by eating and drinking (Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15); and therefore נֶפֶשׁ here cannot be translated by “desire, sensual desire;” and this same remark applies to Ecclesiastes 6:2, or Ecclesiastes 6:9, notwithstanding the opposite view of Hitzig, Vaihinger, Elster, etc. Luther’s translation is also unfitting; he gives “heart,” but his entire conception of the verse is grammatically inaccurate: “Labor is appointed to every man according to his strength, but the heart cannot abide by it.” Ecclesiastes 6:8. For what hath the wise more than the fool? That is, one may strive after the more earnest and real, instead of the mere sensual pleasure, and thus, by a desire for food for his soul, show himself a wise man in contrast with the fool who seeks only to satisfy his mouth: but the former has no real advantage over the latter, since neither attains to the desired “satisfaction of the soul.” This sentence clearly holds a confirming relation to the preceding, and not an opposing one, as Elster holds; he translates כִּי by “nevertheless,” as does Hitzig, who regards this verse as opposing the contents of the verse preceding. Hengstenberg affirms an extravagant comparison between the wise man and the fool, when he supposes that both are here equally accused of avarice. On the contrary, a distinction is here clearly drawn between the desire of the fool, aiming at possession and enjoyment, and the more thoughtful, more self possessed, more honorable and worthy conduct of the wise man.4 The latter is indicated in the second clause by the words: The poor that knoweth to walk before the living. Here the word poor (עָנִי humble) shows the moral condition and demeanor of the wise man, by virtue of which, with a more just conception of himself as an humble “quiet one in the land,” he leads a modest and retired life (comp. Psalms 10:2; Psalms 34:6; Psalms 37:2; Zechariah 9:9, etc.); but “knowing to walk before the living,” is understanding the correct rule of life, and the true and godly intercourse with one’s fellow—men, and is, therefore a circumlocution to express the idea of “wise” in the solemn Old Testament sense. Ewald, following the masoretic accentuation (which is here not authoritative), separates יוֹדֵע (knowing) from the following infinitive clause, and regards this as the subject: “What profits it to the patient man, to the understanding man to walk before the living (i.e., to live)?” But the adjective conception of יוֹדֵעknowing, intelligent,” is neither sustained by Proverbs 27:27, nor Ecclesiastes 9:11, and the parallel passages Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 4:17, and many others, support the direct connection with the following word לַהֲלֹךּ The explanations of Luther are ungrammatical. “Why does the poor man dare to be among the living?” and the Vulg. “Et quid pauper, nisi ut pergat iliac, ubi est vita?Ecclesiastes 6:9. Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire, (Zöckler, “of the soul”). That is, because the wise man with his strivings after higher aims, has nothing better than the pleasure-seeking fool, therefore a contented enjoyment of the present is the most desirable, more to be desired than a restless striving without satisfaction, or than the wearying one’s self with manifold designs with no hope of their success. The “sight of the eyes” is here, as in Ecclesiastes 6:11; Ecclesiastes 6:7, the pleasant enjoyment of that which is before the eyes, or of the good and the beautiful which are present. (See Luther on this passage, in the Homiletical Hints). The wandering of the soul (not of the desire, see Ecclesiastes 6:7), is the uneasy scheming of the man dissatisfied with his modest lot, the passionate ζεσθαι (Luke 12:29) or the φρόνειν τὰ ὑψηλά (Romans 12:16), consequently the same as the expression: “His soul shall not be filled” in Ecclesiastes 6:3; Ecclesiastes 6:7, only marking more clearly than this the self-caused guilt of the want of spiritual contentment. This sentence has many parallels among the classic authors; e.g., Horace, 4 Ep. I. 18, 96 ss:

Inter cuncta leges, et percontabere doctos,

Qua ratione queas traducere leniter ævum,

Ne te semper inops agitet vexetque cupido,

Ne pauor et rerum mediocriter ulilium spes.

Comp. Marcus Aurelius 3:16; 4:26; Juvenal, Sat. 14:178; Lucian, Necromant. I, 194 etc.This is also vanity and vexation o spirit; namely this maxim: “Better is the sight of the eyes,” etc., and a life and conduct in accordance with it. A partial reference of גַּם־זֶה to the “wandering of the soul” (Luther and Hengstenberg) corresponds quite as little to the sense as the extension of the thought to everything from Ecclesiastes 6:7 onward [Vaihinger and Elster]. Comp. the case precisely similar t this in Ecclesiastes 2:26. Ecclesiastes 6:10. That which hath been is named already. This remark reminding us of Ecclesiastes 1:9 f., proves the author’s way for the description of the total uncertainty and obscurity of the future of man, in so far a it points to his banishment, into the fixed circle of all creature life and action. “That which hath been is named already,” i.e., it has already been, in the past, something in its nature manifest and well-known. The exclusive reference of the clause to man, by means of which Genesis 5:2; Psalms 139:16, etc., would become parallels of this passage, is forbidden by the neuter מָה. The discourse does not make special reference to man until we reach the following clause. And it is known that it is man, [Zöckler, “the man”]. Here Ewald and Elster are correct; it is not “that he is a man” (Knobel, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg) or, “what the man is” (Rosenmueller), or, “who the man is” (Hahn), or finally, “that if one is a man he cannot contend,” etc., (Hitzig),—these are all conceptions that militate against the connection, and do not correspond to the simple expression אֲשֶׁר־הוּא אָדָם.[5] Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. That is with God, namely, with Him who is הַּקִּיף or שַׁדַּי [Job 5:17; Ruth 1:20-21, etc.], who is superior to man just because He is mightier than man [ממנו הַתַּקִּיף] or because He has ordained the whole circle of human existence with absolute creative power, so that man may neither contend with Him nor break through the limit to which he is assigned. For the word דין, “to contend with anyone,” compare נָדוֹן 2 Samuel 19:10, which there, as elsewhere, has this sense. For the sentence compare also the question (originating perhaps in this very passage): μὴ ἰσχυρότεροι αυτοῦ ἐσμέν? 1 Corinthians 10:22

Ecclesiastes 6:11. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity. That is, human life abounds in possessions, chances, vicissitudes of fortune, trials and dangers which strengthen in us the feeling of the vanity and weakness of this earthly existence, and show us that we are absolutely dependent on a higher power against which we cannot contend. The context decides against the ordinary rendering: “for there are many words which,” etc., [Sept., Vulg.,. and also Ewald, Hitzig, Elster and Hahn], for the reference to useless talk, etc., is foreign to it.[6]What is man the better? Namely, that he possesses, experiences, or enjoys these many things that simply increase vanity.

Ecclesiastes 6:12. For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?—Namely, what of earthly things, whether happiness or unhappiness, wealth or poverty, the fulfilment of his desires or their disappointment. The concealed nature of man’s own future is expressed by this question.—All the days of his vain life. Literally: “the number of the days,” etc. מִסְפָר (Com. Ecclesiastes 5:18) is the accusative of measure or duration.—Which he spendeth as a shadow. Literal: “and he passeth them,” etc. Because ימי (days of) is separated from יַעֲשֵׂם כַּצֵּל by a compound genitive, the copula is placed before this clause which is to be considered as relative (Hitzig). With עָשָׂה יְמֵי חַיִּים compare χρόνον ποιεῖν Acts 15:33, dies facere, Cicero ad Attic. v. 20.—For who can tell a man?, אֲשֶׁר‚ here, is not equivalent to “so that,” but is substantially synonymous with כִּי “for,” (comp. Deuteronomy 3:24; Daniel 1:10), expressing an affirmative and intensified sense. Comp. Psalms 10:6; Job 5:5; Job 9:15; Job 19:27. In the present clause the effort is certainly to intensify the truth that man is not permitted to look into the future of his earthly existence.—What shall be after him under the sun. “After him,” i.e., after his present condition, not after his death; comp. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:14; and see the exegetical illustrations to the former passage.


(With Homiletical Hints.)

The theme of this section is too narrowly drawn, if, with Starke, we find only therein depicted “the extremely unhappy nature of the miser,” or, with Hengstenberg, “the vanity of wealth,” [and indeed, as Hengstenberg supposes, illustrated by the example of the rich Persians[7] and the poor Israelites]. That which in the present chapter is discountenanced, and presented as incompatible with true wisdom, is not merely the striving after money and possessions, but also the desire for honor, long life, many children (Ecclesiastes 6:2-3; Ecclesiastes 6:6), and, in short, the struggle for earthly happiness in general. And firstly, in Ecclesiastes 6:1-6, wealth without a cheerful and contented feeling in the heart, then in Ecclesiastes 6:7-9 sensual enjoyment without satisfaction of soul, and finally in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12, a happy present with an obscure and uncertain future, are named as those things which must bring men to the consciousness of the vanity of all earthly goods and pleasures, and forbid them to strive after them. All the conditions and circumstances named, belong to those “many things that increase vanity,” as found in Ecclesiastes 6:11, and which, according to Ecclesiastes 6:3-6, permit the longest life, and the one most richly blessed with posterity, to seem scarcely any better than the lot of an untimely birth that has not even seen the light of this world. It is a bitter and cutting thought, which, like the similar one in Ecclesiastes 4:2, f., is only softened and, as it were, excused by the admonition to a contented, resigned and grateful enjoyment and use of life, which clearly forms its background [distinctly visible in Ecclesiastes 6:9], and again practically takes away the one-sided character of the apparent accusation of the Creator and Ruler of the world. Only the insatiable, ever-dissatisfied chasing after earthly means of happiness is thereby forbidden, as in opposition to the divinely-appointed task of human life. A temperate and modest striving after a cheerful and useful course of life, (which verse 8 expressly praises as the characteristic of the wise man) is emphatically recommended, not only in the preceding Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, but in those immediately following [especially in Ecclesiastes 7:11 ff.] It is the cheerful and noble form of σωφροσύνη, that cardinal virtue, not merely of the ancient classical but also of biblical ethics, which forms the framework of this mainly gloomy and admonishing picture, and presents a corrective to contents so apparently dubious, and easily misunderstood.

The principal thought of this chapter might be well represented by the following quotations: “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth;” or, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth,” etc.; or, “And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abidelh forever.” (Colossians 3:2; Matthew 6:19; 1 John 2:17).

Homiletical hints on separate passages

Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. Brenz: The scheming and striving of our old Adam is of such a nature, that it measures the happiness of this life solely according to the abundance of treasures and riches. Let this old Adam go, for it is of no use! Dost thou think that nothing would be wanting to a happy life if thou only hadst an abundance of riches and honors ? The matter is very different, as daily experience teaches.—Weimar Bible: The lamentations of the miser are not removed by excess of riches, by the number of children, or by long life; they are rather increased by these things (1 Timothy 6:10).—Lange: The desire for temporal things clings to us all, and when we cease to watch and pray, we can soon be put to sleep, and charmed to our ruin, by such earthly love.

Ecclesiastes 6:3-6. Geier: A long life without rest and peace in God, is nothing but a long martyrdom.—Starke: To have many children is a special blessing of God (Psalms 127:3; Psalms 128:3, f.); but apart from the enjoyment of divine favor, this also is vanity.—Lange: What the untimely birth loses of natural life without any fault of its own, that the miser wantonly robs himself of in spiritual life. … Because his soul has no firm foundation in communion with the good God, it goes to ruin, (Galatians 6:8).

Ecclesiastes 6:7-8. Tubingen Bible: Above all things let us strive that our immortal spirit be filled with heavenly treasures, which alone can truly satisfy it.—Lange: He who cares not to appease and satisfy his soul, finds his proper place among fools, Luke 12:19 f.—Hengstenberg: That the soul of man is never satisfied, notwithstanding his narrow capacity for enjoyment, is very strange, and a mighty proof of the degree to which our race, since Genesis 1:3, has yielded to sin and folly, producing “many foolish and hurtful lusts,” (1 Timothy 6:9).

Ecclesiastes 6:9. Luther: It is better that we use what is before our eyes, than that the soul should thus wander to and fro. Solomon means that we use the present and thank God for it, and not think of other things, like the dog in the fable that seizes the shadow and drops the meat. And he therefore says: what God has placed before thine eyes (the present) that use contentedly, and follow not thy soul which does not become filled.—Therefore let every Christian and believer rest with what he has, and be satisfied with what God has given him in the present! But the ungodly are not thus; all that they see is a torture to them; for they use not the present, their soul is never filled, and it wanders hither and thither. He who has immense sums of money has not enough; he does not use it but desires more; if he has one wife he is not satisfied but wants another; if he has a whole realm, he is not contented; as Alexander the Great could not be satisfied with one world.—Cramer: Be contented with what thou hast; this is better than in greed to be ever desiring other things.—Berleb. Bible: This is the wandering of the soul, that rung about among creatures, and, like Esau, on the field of this world, chases after a palatable food, which wisdom finds only at home, and in the repose of contentment.—Hengstenberg: is better to rejoice in that which is before our eyes, however humble it may be, since man really needs so little, than to yield to the caprices of one’s lusts, and to torture one’s self with plans and hopes that so easily deceive us, or, if they are fulfilled, afford so little happiness.

Ecclesiastes 6:10-11. Cramer: That man should leave a pleasant name and memory behind is not unchristian; but the highest good does not consist therein. For as time discovereth all things, so it covereth all things up. (Psalms 31:13; Exodus 1:8).—Hansen: All human things are subjected to God. He often deposes the highest from the throne of their glory where they least expect it, Daniel 4:27-30.—Hengstenberg: If man is in a state of unconditional dependence on God, he should not permit to himself many vagaries, and should not torture himself with schemes and stratagems; because he cannot protect what he has acquired, and is not for a moment certain that he may not hear the cry: “thou fool, this night thy soul will be demanded of thee;” therefore it is foolish to envy the heathen because of their wealth, which can so soon wither away, like the flower of the field, James 1:10-11.—The rich man has, in truth, no more than the poor one; what the former seems to have over the latter, proves, on closer inspection, to be but show and vanity. It disappears as soon as the judgments of God pass over the world.

Ecclesiastes 6:12. Luther: Men’s hearts strive after all sorts of things: one seeks power, another wealth, and they know not that they will acquire them; thus they use not their present blessings, and their hearts ever aspire to that which they have not yet, and see not yet.—Why do we thus annoy and torture ourselves with our thoughts, when future things are not for a moment in our power? Therefore we should be contented with the present that God gives us now, and should commit all to God, who alone knows and rules both the present and the future.—Rambach: From all which it appears, that there is nothing better than to proscribe base avarice, be content with the present, and enjoy it with a pious cheerfulness.—Zeyss: Although a Christian may not know how it may be with the things of this world after his death, yet he can be assured by faith that he, after death, will be with Christ in heaven.—Hengstenberg: One would only be justified in esteeming wealth in case he knew the future, and had it in his power. The merest chance can suddenly rob one of all that has been gathered with pain and toil. A great catastrophe may come and sweep everything away as a flood. The practical result therefore is that one should strive after the true riches. As P. Gerard says; “Earthly treasures dissolve and disappear, but the treasures of the soul never vanish.


[1][The phrase אִישׁ נָכְרִי, “a stranger man,” cannot possibly mean here an heir, or one of kin, either near or remote. Besides the context, and especially the mention of his having no funeral, shows an utter dispossession, in whatever way it may be supposed to have taken place. He, and his hundred sons, are all reduced to poverty, and there is none to do him the honor of such a funeral as his estate might have demanded. This is the soreness of it.—T. L.]

[2][It should be rendered “though it cometh in with vanity,” etc. See the remarks on כּי, as denoting a reason notwithstanding, as well as a reason for, Introd. to Metrical Version p. 177. The rendering for completely changes the sense, and makes the reader think of the rich man, until the context forces to the other conception. The same effect is produced in our E. V. by the rendering he instead of it, which is more properly applicable to the abortion, conceived of as impersonal. See Met. Ver.—T. L.]

[3][The word נַחַת does not primarily mean rest, repose, in either sense, but simply a lying down. It refers to the state or condition taken as a whole. So מְנוּחָה, from the same root, means a place of rest, rather than rest itself, as in Psalms 23:2, מְי מְנוּחוֹת means not “the still waters,” but the streams by which the sheep lie down to rest. It does not refer to the quality of rest, much less to its quantity as our E. V. would make it: “More rest than the other;” but is simply an affirming that the state or condition, on the whole, of the vainly born is better, more desirable, than that of the man who vainly lived. The one is better off than the other.—T. L.]

[4][Stuart’s view here is worthy of consideration. “It is the כִּי apodictic,” he says, “i. e., such as is employed in sentences of this nature: If—so and so; then (כִי) this or that consequence.” He takes it as an objector’s language, or the author personifying an objector, thus: “The appetite is not satisfied;then (asks the inquirer) how do the wise have any advantage, etc.?” Stuart says “the question is not answered here;” “but it may be regarded as having a suggested, if not a direct response in the verse following: better the sight of the eyes, that is, the contented enjoyment of the wise, than the fool’s ever roving desire. This is the view adopted and (expressed in the Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[5][Ecclesiastes 6:10. “That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man.” This rendering of our English Version seems to have little or no meaning, and points to no connection with the following verse. Stuart’s is little better. Zöckler sheds no light upon it. He has no right to regard so distinct and emphatic a phrase as נקרא שמו, as meaning simply a known existence in the past. The other interpretations, of Ewald, Elster, Knobel, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg, Rösenmueller, Hahn, fail to satisfy. Their very discrepancies as to the rendering of so simple a phrase as אשר הוא אדם, show that they have missed some fundamental idea which would at once take away from it all uncertainty. Hitzig’s is the most unmeaning of them all. The older commentators, such as Munsterus, Mercerus, Tirinus, Pineda, Ar. Montanus, Geier, and even Grotius (see Pole’s Synopsis) saw in it an allusion to the narrative, Genesis 2:19, of Adam’s giving names to things (nomen inditum conveniens rei cujusque naturæ) and to the name of Adam itself, as derived from Genesis 2:7 and Ecclesiastes 6:2. They fail however to bring it clearly out. Among the moderns, Wordsworth distinctly favors this view. See also the remarks of the spiritually minded Matthew Henry. The key of the passage would seem to be given in the words כבר נקרא שמו (comp. Genesis 2:19 הוא שמו), “its name was named of old.” There is no need of departing here from the most close and literal rendering, or for seeking any foreign idea in the word naming, as though it were a mere expression for existence (Stuart and Zöckler) or for being well-known. The reference is to the supposed fact, or idea, that names denote (as the best philology shows they were originally intended to denote) the nature of the thing named,—an idea which certainly seems to be implied in the account Genesis 2:19. Keeping this in view, we get a clear meaning from the most literal rendering: מה שהיהwhat a thing is” (מה here used indefinitely like the Greek τι, Latin quid, aliquid, see Job 13:13; Proverbs 9:13; 2 Samuel 18:27; Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ecclesiastes 8:7; Ecclesiastes 10:14; or, with אֲשֶׁר or שֶׁ, illud quod), “what each thing is,” or, “each thing, what it is, its name was named of old,”—that is, it was named according to what it is (comp. Aristotle’s peculiar expression for the idea, or individuality, of a thing, its τὸ τί ἦν εἶναι, its being what it is, or its being something). And then what follows is stated by way of example; the conjunction ו being used comparatively as it often is: וְנוֹדָע, “and so, known what he is (אשר הוא), is man,” or rather “ Adam” (keeping the proper name in translation as the only way of giving force to the play upon the name. Thus known for what he is (by his name), or thus made known (denoted what he is) is Adam (man from earth). Then there is seen immediately the connection with the next verse, expressing his weakness as well as earthliness. The whole, then, may be thus paraphrased: ‘Names of old were given to things, to each thing, according to their nature; so man was denoted, made known, or simply, known, from what he is, his earthliness and frailty.’ The objection of Zöckler in respect to the gender of מה has no weight. It is taken indefinitely, and so what (that which) was used instead of who. Compare Psalms 8:5 מָה אֱנוֹשׁ, Psalms 144:3 מָה אָדָם, “what is man?” The Metrical Version follows a close literality at the expense of smoothness,—the words in brackets not at all adding to the sense, but necessary to give the English reader the play upon the name. It is as though there had been used the word mortal, which is taken in English for a name or epithet of man, or the Greek βροτὸς, which is so much used in Homer for the same purpose. There is probably some allusion to the peculiar language of this passage in the Midrash Rabba (on Numbers 19:0) where we have the following account: “When the Holy One had created Adam, He brought before him the animals, and said of each, see this (מה זה what is this), what is its name (מה שמו)? Adam said, this is שׁוֹר, shor, (ox)—this is חַמוֹר, chamor, (ass)—this is סוּם sus (horse), and so on. And thou—what is thy name? He answered, I should be called אָדָם, (Adam) because I was taken from adamah. And I,—what is my name? Thou shouldst be called אֲדנָֹי, Adonai, for Thou art Adon (אדון לכל בריותיך), the Lord of all Thy creatures.” There can be good reasons given for Koheleth's philology here, but its correctness or incorrectness is of no account in reference to the allusion, or the idea of humanity which it conveys. See Genesis, p. 203, marginal note.—T.L.]

[6][On the contrary the contrast seems clearly to point to the rendering words, although Zöckler agrees here with our English Version, and with that of Luther. It is confirmed by What follows: “who knows”—“who can tell.” It indicates the disputations which had commenced in the speculative or philosophical world, and which Solomon had doubtless heard of, although perhaps not familiar with them. His intercourse with the Egyptians, Phœnicians, Sabæans, and Arabians (perhaps with some of the more eastern people to whom his ships had gone), was sufficient for this purpose. The speculative mind began very early to inquire concerning the design and end of human life, de finibus bonorum et malorum. Philosophy was then rising in Greece; though, at this early time, its schools bad not yet assumed shape. “Many were saying (רַבּים אֹמְרִים, Psalms 4:7) who will show us the good.” We have seen how the Psalmist answers the questions there (Marg. note p. 95) by directing lo the real good, אוֹר פָּנֶיךָ, the true εὐδαιμονία, the favor of God, or blessedness in distinction from mere happiness,—“the light of thy countenance.” Koheleth here regards as vanity all merely human disquisitions of this kind. They only “increase vanity” (see 1 Corinthians 7:1, ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ. “knowledge puffeth up,” bloweth up), or as it may be read, taking הֶבֶל adverbially, they multiply in vain” What is man the better for all this talk? Who knows what is good for him? Who can tell him what shall be after him? By way of contrast compare Psalms 119:129-130 : “Thy testimonies are wonderful; the entrance of THY words giveth light; they give understanding to the simple.”—T. L.]

[7][A false historical hypothesis, especially if it be in the face of the claim made by the writing itself, produces great mischief in continually warping exegesis. Nothing shows this more than Hengstenberg’s continually turning the most general remarks into something about the Persians and the Persian times.—T. L ]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.