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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 8

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

Verses 1-15

2. Against the temptations to disloyalty and rebellion in national and civil relations

(Ecclesiastes 8:1-8)

1Who 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 2changed. I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. 3Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him. 4Where the word of a king is there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou? 5Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment. 6Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him. 7For he knoweth not that which shall 8be: for who can tell him when it shall be ? 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.

3. Against the oppressions of tyrants and other injustices

(Ecclesiastes 8:9-15.)

9All 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. 10And 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. 11Because 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. 12Though 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: 13But 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. 14There 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. 15Then 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.

[Ecclesiastes 7:29. לְבַר is not rightly rendered only—“this only have I found.” More correctly, this by itself, or besides, as something beyond what is said before of both sexes.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 8:1. יְשֻׁנֶּא; there is no need of saying of this that it is more Chaldæo; some such interchange of א for ה is quite common in Hebrew—see the extensive list of cases given by the Jewish grammarian, Jona Ben Gannach. The 70 read שָׂנֵא to hate. So did the Syriac. עֹז פָנָיז denotes the sternness, or austerity, of the countenance. Wisdom clears it up, changes it to a bright and joyful aspect. See M. V.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 8:2 אֲנִי פּי־מֶלֶךְ, Zöckler would supply אָמַרְתִּי here. There is hardly need of that—I a kings’s mouth; supply simply the substantive verb, “I am a king’s mouth—that heed.” It is an assertion by the writer of his royal right to give such advice. See M. V.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 8:10. וּבְכֵן. See Exeget.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 8:11. פִתְגָם. See remarks on the appendix to Introduction, p.33.—T. L.]

[Ecclesiastes 8:15. וְשִׂפַהְתִּי; the conjunction ו here, has more than the mere copulative force. It denotes time, as it frequently does, and also a reason. Its mere conjunctive force is seldom alone when it connects sentences: “’Twas then I praised joy”—that is, when I took this view of things. אְַשֶׁר=not simply to ὅτι, but to ὡς ὅτι, how that there is, etc.; and that this יִלְוֶגּוּ will remain, adhere to him.—T. L.]


The subdivision of this section into three equal divisions or strophes, is indicated by the introductory remarks on the general contents, which are found in Ecclesiastes 7:23-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1; and Ecclesiastes 8:9. The divisions beginning with these passages are clearly different from each other in contents; Ecclesiastes 7:25-29 warns us against voluptuousness; Ecclesiastes 8:2-8 against rebellion towards civil authority; Ecclesiastes 8:9-15 against injustice. Since this latter theme does not close until the 14th and 15th verses, it seems quite improper to extend the third section simply to Ecclesiastes 8:10, as do Hengstenberg, Hitzig, et al., [the general introduction of the first part of Ecclesiastes 8:14 is, in comparison with Ecclesiastes 8:1; Ecclesiastes 8:9, and Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 too insignificant to be able to serve as the opening of a new division], just as we must declare the separation of Ecclesiastes 8:15 from the preceding, as the beginning of an entirely new section, (Hahn) decidedly inexpedient and destructive of the sense.

2. First Strophe. Introduction. Ecclesiastes 7:23-25. Concerning the difficulty of finding true wisdom, and Koheleth’s zealous search after it.—All this have I proved with wisdom—This, therefore, formed the means and the goal of his searching. For the expression נִכָּה בַּחָכְמָה compare on the one hand תּוּר בַּחָכְמָה Ecclesiastes 1:13, and, on the other, נִסָּה בְּשִׂמְחָה, Ecclesiastes 2:1. “All this” certainly does not refer to all the preceding from the beginning of the book, as Hengstenberg asserts, but mainly to the rules of life and practical counsels contained in Ecclesiastes 7:1-22.—But it was far from me—“It,” i.e., wisdom in the absolute sense, perfected wisdom. A partial possession of wisdom is by no means excluded by this humble confession of not having found any; see Ecclesiastes 8:5; Ecclesiastes 7:11-16; Ecclesiastes 7:19, etc. Ecclesiastes 7:24. That which is far offi.e., the real innermost essence of wisdom lies far from human comprehension; comp. Job 28:12 ff.; Sirach 24:38 ff.; Bar 3:14 ff. Rosenmueller, Herzfeld, Hahn, Elster [and, at an earlier period, also Ewald] correctly consider מָה שֶּׁהָיָה as the subject of the clause; but הָיָה cannot then be taken in the preterit sense, as is done by the three first named commentators [Herzfeld : “that remains far off which was far off;” Rosenmueller: procul abest, quod ante aderat; Hahn: “that is far off which has been”]. Knobel, Hitzig, Vaihinger, and, lately, Ewald, affirm that there is an emphatic prefixing of the-predicate “far” before the relative pronoun מָה : “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out.” But the examples quoted from Ecclesiastes 1:9; Job 23:9 scarcely justify so harsh a construction. The interpretation of Hengstenberg: “that is far off. which, has been,” i.e., the comprehension of what has been or is (τῶν ὄντων γνῶσις, Wisd. of Sol. 7:17) is opposed by the circumstance that, practical wisdom alone is here considered, and not theoretical,[1] for which reason also there can scarcely be a reference to the objective cognition of wisdom, or the knowledge of its objects. The interpretations of most of the ancients are decidedly ungrammatical, as of the Septuagint (μακρὰν ὑπὲρ ὅ ἧν), Vulgate (multo magis quam erat), Luther (“It is far off, what will it be?”); thus also is that of Köster (“It is far off, what is that”), and so many others.—And exceeding deep.—Lit., “deep, deep.” The repetition of עָמֹק expresses the superlative idea (Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 303 c). Deep signifies difficult to be fathomed, comp. Proverbs 20:5, and especially Job 11:8, where the Divine doing and the Divine government are declared to be the absolute limit of all wisdom, or as “deeper than hell;” see also Psalms 139:8; Romans 11:33.Ecclesiastes 7:25. I applied mine heart.—Lit., “I turned, I and my heart,”—a figure similar to that in Acts 15:28 : ἔδοξεν τῷ πνεύματι ἁγίω καὶ ἡμῖν; comp. also the Song of Solomon 5:2. That the heart also participated in the turning, shows it to be no thoughtless action, but one resting on deep reflection. The simple סַבּוֹתִי does not express a return from a path formerly followed, but now perceived to be an erroneous one (Hitizig’s view). It is different with וְסַבּוֹתִי, “then I turned,” Ecclesiastes 2:20, which clearly marks the entrance into a path entirely new, whilst in this passage nothing is affirmed but the transition from a superficial to a deeper and more solicitous searching after wisdom. Comp. Hengstenberg and Vaihinger on this passage, which latter correctly gives the connection thus: “Although wisdom in its fullness is unsearchable and unattainable, I did not refrain from searching after an insight into the relations of things, in order to learn the causes of the want of moral perfection; I wished, however, in learning wisdom, to learn also its counterpart, and thus to see that iniquity is every where folly.”—To know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, etc.—The two accusatives, wisdom and reason, belong only to the last of the three infinitives (בַּקֵשׁ); before which ל is left out, in order to separate it externally from the two preceding ones. חֶשְׁבּוֹן is here, as in Ecclesiastes 7:27, “reason, calculation,” a result of the activity of the judgment, in examining and judging of the relations of practical life, therefore equivalent to insight, practical sagacity and knowledge of life. Vaihinger’s interpretation of חָכְמָהּ וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן in the sense of “wisdom as calculation,” is unnecessary, and indeed in direct contradiction to the construction in the following clause. The copula also in Ecclesiastes 8:2 does not express the explanatory sense of the expression, “and indeed.”—And to know the wickedness of folly, and even of foolishness and madness.—(Zöckler: “wickedness as folly, foolishness as madness”). That this is to be thus translated is proved by the absence of the article[2] before the second accusative. Comp. for this construction Ewald, § 284 b, and for the sentence, Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12 f.; Ecclesiastes 10:13.

3. First Strophe. Continuation and Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 7:26-29. A warning concerning an unchaste woman and her seductive arts. Hengstenberg, following older writers [and thus Seb. Schmid, Michael., Lampe, J. Lange, Starke, etc.) maintains that this harlot is an ideal personage, the false wisdom of the heathen; but that she is a representative of the female sex in general in its worst aspect, appears to be incontrovertible from Ecclesiastes 7:28-29, where women in general are represented as the more corrupt portion of humanity, corresponding with Sir 25:24; 1 Timothy 2:12-15. And as parallels to this passage we find above all those warnings of the Proverbs of Solomon against the “harlot” or “strange woman,” i.e., against unchaste intercourse with, women in general; comp. Proverbs 2:16 ff; Proverbs 5:2 ff; Proverbs 7:5 ff; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:27. And quite as arbitrary as the idealizing of this lascivious woman into the abstract idea of “false wisdom,” is the view of Hitzig, namely, that therein allusion is made to a definite historical person, Agathoclea, mistress of Ptolemy Philopater.—And I find more bitter than death.—For this figure comp. 1 Samuel 15:32; Sir 28:25; Sir 41:1; also Proverbs 5:4, etc.The woman whose heart is snares and nets.—אֲשֶׁר is to be connected with the suffix in לִבָּהּ and הִיא is to be regarded as copula between subject and predicate, which here emphatically precedes. In the comparison of the heart of the harlot to “snares and nets,” and her hands to “bands,” we naturally think, in the first instance, of her words and looks (as expressions of the thoughts of her heart), and, in the second, of voluptuous embraces.—Whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her.—Lit. “He who is good in the sight of God.” Comp. Ecclesiastes 2:26. The meaning is here as there, the God-fearing and just man, the contrary of חוֹטֵא or sinner, who by her (בָּהּ) i.e., by the nets and snares of her heart, and by her loose seductive arts, is caught. Ecclesiastes 7:27. Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher.—Notwithstanding Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 12:9, where קהֶֹלֶת is without the article, we must still read here אָמַר הַקּהֶֹלֶת (comp. Ecclesiastes 12:8) and not אָמְרָה קהֶֹלֶת; for the word קהֶֹלֶת is every where else used as masculine, and the author cannot wish to express a significant contrast between the preaching wisdom and the amorous woman, since the expression, “saith the Preacher,” is here, as in those other passages, a mere introductory formula (though Hengstenberg thinks otherwise).—Counting one by one—namely, considering, reflecting. Lit., “one to the other,” i.e., adding, arranging. The words are adverbially used, as in the phrase כָּנִים אֶל כָּנִים Genesis 32:31.—To find out the account.—[חֶשְׁבּוֹן as in Ecclesiastes 7:25], giving the result of this action of arranging one after the other. This did not consist in comparison between woman and death, but in a summing up of those unfavorable observations concerning her which necessitates the final judgment, namely, that she is “more bitter than death.” The whole verse clearly refers to the foregoing, and does not, therefore, serve as an introduction to the contents of Ecclesiastes 7:28-29, as Hahn and several older authors contend, who begin a new section with this verse. There is rather a certain break immediately before Ecclesiastes 7:28, as the words אֲשֶׁר עוד בִּקְשָׁה וְגו at the beginning of this verse show. Ecclesiastes 7:28. Which yet my soul seeketh.—The soul is represented as seeking, to indicate how much this seeking was a matter of the heart to the preacher; comp. the address: “thou whom my soul loveth,” Song of Solomon 1:17; Song of Solomon 3:1 ff. The “finding not” is then again attributed to the first person : “and that which I found not.”—One man among a thousand have I foundi.e., among a thousand of the human race, I found, indeed, one righteous one, one worthy of the name of man, and corresponding to the idea of humanity. אָדָם here stands for אִישׁ as, in the Greek, ἄνθρωπος for ἀνήρ. For the expression “one among a thousand” [lit., out of a thousand] comp. Job 9:3; Job 33:23; but for the sentence, Ecclesiastes 7:20 above, and Job 14:5; Micah 7:2, etc. The hereditary corruption of the entire human race is here as much presupposed as in the parallel passages; for Koheleth will hardly recognize the one righteous man that he found among a thousand as absolutely righteous, and therefore as אָדָם in the primeval, pure and ideal sense of the first man before the fall.—But a woman among all these have I not found. That is, one worthy of the name אִשָּׁה, in the primeval ideal sense of Genesis 2:22-25, I did not find among all that thousand, which presented me at least one proper man. That he never found such a one, consequently that he considered the whole female sex as vicious and highly corrupt, cannot possibly be his opinion, as appears from Ecclesiastes 7:29, as also in Ecclesiastes 9:9. (See the praise of noble women in other documents of the Chokmah literature, as Proverbs 5:19; Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 31:10 f.; Psalms 128. ff.). But that moral excellence among women, taken as a whole, is much more rarely found than among men, that sin reigns more uncontrolled among the former than the latter, and in the form of moral weakness and proneness to temptation, as well as in the inclination to seduce, to deceive and ensnare—such is clearly the sense of this passage, a sense that harmonizes with Genesis 3:16; Sir 25:24; 2Co 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:12 ff., as also with numerous other extra-biblical passages. Comp. also these sentences from the Talmud: “It is better to follow a lion than a woman;”—“Who follows the counsel of his wife arrives at hell;”—“The mind of women is frivolous;” also the Greek maxims: θάλασσα καὶ πῦρ καὶ γυνὴ κακὰ τρία;—ὅπου γυναῖκες εἰσι πάντ̓ ἐκεῖ κακά. Compare also the following Proverb from the Arabic of Meidani; “Women are the snares of Satan,” etc. (Comp. Wohlfarth, Knobel and Vaihinger on this passage).

Ecclesiastes 7:29. Lo, this only have I found. לְבַד, “alone, only” (an adverb as in Isaiah 26:13), here serving to introduce a remark intended as a restriction of what precedes.[3] The fact of the universal sinful corruption of man, expressed indirectly in Ecclesiastes 7:28, is here to be so far restricted that this corruption is not to be considered as innate in humanity through a divine agency, but as brought into the world by man’s own guilt.—That God hath made man upright. יָשָׁר, upright, good, integer; comp. Genesis 1:26 f.; Genesis 5:1; Genesis 9:6; Wis 2:23.—But they have sought out many inventions. הִשְּׁבנֹוֹת are not “useless subtleties,” (Ewald), but, as the contrast to the idea of יָשָׁר teaches us: malæ artes, tricks, evil artifices, conceits.

4. Second strophe, Introduction, Ecclesiastes 8:1.—Of the rarity and preciousness of wisdom.—Who is as the wise man? This is no triumphant question, induced, or occasioned by that lucky finding in the last verse of the preceding chapter (Hitzig), but simply an introduction to what follows, by which true wisdom is to be declared a rare treasure of difficult attainment, just as in Ecclesiastes 7:23; Ecclesiastes 8:16 f.—In כְּהֶחָכָם, the usually contracted form כֶּחָכָם is again expanded, in accordance with a custom often occurring in later authors;[4] comp. Ezekiel 40:25; Ezekiel 47:22; 2Ch 10:7; 2 Chronicles 25:10, etc.And who knoweth the interpretation of a thing; Zöckler, “of the word,” (דָּבָר)[5] namely, of the following assertion, which emphasizes the great work of wisdom according to its influence on the physical well-being and morally just demeanor of men. פֵשֶׁר, a Chaldaic word[6] (comp. Daniel 2:4 ff., Daniel 2:24 ff.; Daniel 4:6; Daniel 4:15), holding the same relation to the synonymous פִֹתְרוֹן as יֶתֶר to יִתְרוֹן.—A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine. That is, it imparts to him a cheerful soul and this on account of the fortunate and satisfactory relations into which it places him. The same figure is found in Numbers 6:25; Psalms 4:7; Job 29:24.—And the boldness of his face shall be changed. עזֹ פָֹנָיו is to be explained without doubt according to expressions הֵעֵז פָנִים, Proverbs 7:13; 21:39; or עַז־פָנִים Deuteronomy 28:50; Daniel 8:23, and signifies, therefore, that repulsive harshness and stiffness of the features which are a necessary result of a coarse, unamiable, and selfish heart (not exactly “boldness,” as Döderlein, Dewette, and Gesenius translate, or “displeasure,” as Knobel, Grimm, and Vaihinger). It is therefore the civilizing, softening and morally refining influence of true wisdom on the soul of man, that the author has in view, and which, according to the question in the beginning of the verse, he describes as something mysterious and in need of explanation, and which he explains, partly at least, by the subsequent precepts regarding wise conduct in a civil sphere. Ewald’s comprehension of the passage is in sense not materially different from ours: “And the brightness of his countenance is doubled”—but this is in opposition to the usual signification of עזֹ as well as that of שָׁנָה, which can hardly be rendered “to double.” The explanations of the septuagint, resting on a different punctuation, יִשָּׂנֵא instead of יְשֻׁנֶּא give a widely different sense ἀναιδὴς προσώπῳ αὐτοῦ μισήθησεται, which gave rise to that of Luther: “But he who is bold, is malignant;” and Hitzig, in conjunction with Zirkel (and the Vulgate) reads יְשַׁנֶּא and thus obtains the sense, “and boldness disfigureth the countenance.” But the word עזֹ alone hardly means “boldness,” and the change adopted in the punctuation appears the more unnecessary since the sense resulting from it brings the assertion in the last clause into contrast with the one before it, which is in decided opposition to the connection.

5. Second strophe. Continuation. Ecclesiastes 8:2-4. A proper demeanor towards kings the first means of realizing true wisdom.—I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment. To אֲנִי supply אָמַרְתִּי or אמֵֹר, a somewhat harsh ellipse,[7] for which however we may quote parallels in Isaiah 5:9; Jeremiah 20:10, and elsewhere. Therefore it is unnecessary, with Hitzig, to punctuate שֹׁמֵר “I keep the king’s commandment” (thus the Vulgate). That שׁוֹמֵר stands in Ecclesiastes 8:5 below in scriptio plena would form no valid objection against the allowableness of this change of the imperative into the participle; for שֹׁמֵר is also found in Ecclesiastes 11:4. But, as Elster correctly observes: “it would be surprising if Koheleth did not appear here in his usual manner as a teacher who admonishes others, but only as announcing what he has laid down as a principle to himself.” “To regard the mouth of the king” means of course, to render obedience to his commands; comp. Genesis 45:21; Exodus 17:1; Job 39:27, etc.And that in regard of the oath of God, which thou hast vowed to him, the King. The duty of obedience to worldly authority is here insisted on with reference to loyalty towards God, the heavenly witness to the vow made to the king; comp. Matthew 22:21; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17. These New Testament parallels should have prevented Hengstenberg from endeavoring to cause the “king” to mean the heavenly King Jehovah, because nominally, “the obedience to the heathen lords of the O. T. in general was not enjoined as a religious duty,”—a remark that is in direct contradiction with passages like Proverbs 16:10-15; Isaiah 45:1 ff.; Jeremiah 27:12-13; Jeremiah 29:5-7; Ezekiel 17:12 ff. The conjunction וְ in וְעַל is not “and indeed,” but “also,” adding the remembrance of the assumed oath as an additional motive to the one already contained in the precept. The “oath of God” is an oath made with an appeal to God as witness (Exodus 22:10; 2 Samuel 21:7; 1 Kings 2:43), and here especially such an oath of fidelity to the sovereign, sworn in the presence of God (comp. 2 Kings 11:17; Ezekiel 17:12 ff.).

Ecclesiastes 8:3. Be not hasty to go out of his sight. The first verb only serves to express an adverbial qualification of the second. The hasty going out from the king is not to indicate an apostacy from him, or a share in rebellious movements (Knobel, Vaihinger), but simply the timid or unsatisfactory withdrawal from his presence, in case he is unfavorably inclined; it is directly the opposite of the “standing” forbidden in the subsequent clause. Hitzig’s opinion, that the king is considered as an unclean heathen, and that the aim of the entire admonition is to counsel against the too strict observance of the Levitical laws of cleanliness in presence of heathen princes, has too little connection with the context, and is in every respect too artificial.—Stand not in an evil thing, (Ger., “evil word”); i.e., when the king speaks an angry word (דָּבָר רַע) do not excite his anger still more by foolishly standing still, as if thou couldst by obstinately remaining in thy place compel his favor. Ewald and Elster correctly give the general sense of the admonition as follows: In presence of a king, it is proper to appear modest and yet firm, to show ourselves neither over timid nor obstinate towards him. The Vulgate, Luther, Starke, etc., are less consistent: “Stand not in an evil thing,” i.e., remain not in evil designs against the king, if you have become involved in such;—Hengstenberg gives the same. Vaihinger: “Do not appear in an evil thing.” And thus finally Hitzig: “Stand not at an evil command” [i.e., even though the king should command an evil thing, thou must do it, as Doeg, 1 Samuel 22:18], a translation which rests on the erroneous supposition that the author presents as speaking, in Ecclesiastes 8:2-4, an opponent of his teachings, a defender of a base worldly expediency and a false servility.—For he doeth whatever pleaseth him. This formula serves in other places to show the uncontrolled power of God as ruler of the world (Jonah 1:14; Job 23:13) but must here be necessarily accepted in a relative sense, as an emphatic warning against the fearful wrath of a monarch who is all-powerful, at least in his own realm; comp. Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2.

Ecclesiastes 8:4 completes the last clause of Ecclesiastes 8:3.—Where the word of a king is there is power. שִׁלְטוֹן here, and in Ecclesiastes 8:8, need not be considered as an adjective; it can quite as easily express the substantive sense of “ruler, commander,” as in Daniel 3:2-3 (Chaldaic).—And who may say to him, What doest thou ? That is, who can utter an objection to his ordinances and commands ? An expression like that at the close of the preceding verse, which is elsewhere only used in glorification of divine power (Job 9:12; Isaiah 45:9; Daniel 4:32; Wis 12:12), but which therefore justifies neither Hengstenberg’s nor Hahn’s reference of the passage to God as the heavenly King, according to Hitzig’s assertion: “We have here the servility of an opponent of the king, introduced by the author as speaking in a style which usually indicates the omnipotence of God.”

6. Second Strophe. Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 8:5-8. Admonition to submit to the existing arrangements of this life, all of which have God as their final author.—Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing.—מִצְוָה “the commandment,” is undoubtedly the same as דְּבַר־מֶלֶך, Ecclesiastes 8:4, therefore not the Divine law (Vaihinger, Hahn, Hengstenberg, etc.), but the law of earthly authority as the Divine representative. The feeling no evil thing (לא ידע דבר רע) most probably signifies the remaining distant from evil counsels, taking no part in rebellious enterprises (Knobel, Vaihinger, etc.), so that, therefore, דבר רע here expresses a sense different from that in verse 3 above. Yet another explanation of the language, and one consistent with the context, is as follows: “He experiences no misfortune, remains protected from the punishment of transgressing the laws” (Elster, Hengstenberg). But Heiligstedt, on the contrary, is wrong (comp. Ewald): “he pays no attention to the evil that is done to him, and does not grieve about the injustice that he suffers, but bears it with equanimity;” and also Hitzig: “the keeper of the commandment (the servile slave of tyrants) does not first consider an evil command of his superior, in so far as it is morally evil, but executes it blindly, and thus commits a sin at the bidding of a higher power; the wise man, on the contrary, etc.”—a declaration which stands and falls with the previously quoted artificial understanding of Ecclesiastes 8:2-4 as antagonistic in speech.[8]And a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.—That is, the wise man knows that for every cvil attempt there comes a time of judgment; see Ecclesiastes 8:6. This explanation alone, which is that of the Septuagint [καὶ καιρὸν κρισέως γινώσκει καρδία σοφοῦ] is in accordance with the text; one needs think as little of the judgment which awaits all men, especially wicked princes and tyrants, as of the appointed time of existence of all civil ordinances [Elster], or of the proper time and authority to do any thing, or not (Hahn). Ecclesiastes 8:6. For the first clause compare Ecclesiastes 3:17.—Therefore the misery of man is great upon him.—That is, on him who unwisely disregards the important truth that there is a time and judgment for every purpose, and therefore takes part in rebellious undertakings against the king; a heavy misfortune visits him as a well-deserved punishment, and he falls a victim of his foolish effort to struggle against the Divinely sanctioned ordinances of this world.[9] Ecclesiastes 8:7. For he knoweth not that which shall be.— He knows not the issue of the undertakings in which he has thoughtlessly allowed himself to be involved; and because the future is veiled to us men, he cannot see what consequences they may have, and how weighty may be the destinies that it entails upon him.—For who can tell him when it shall be ?—(Ger., “how it shall be”).—Therefore he is not only ignorant of future destinies in themselves, but does not even know their “how,” the manner of their entrance. Herzfeld and Hitzig say: “When it shen it shall bem,” etc. But כַּאְַשֶׁר no where else in this book signifies “when,” not even in Ecc 4:17; Ecclesiastes 5:4, where it is to be taken as conditional; and the idea of time is by no means in harmony with the passage. Ecclesiastes 8:8. There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit.—רוּחַ here is different from that in Ecclesiastes 11:4-5,[10] where it clearly signifies “wind” (comp. Proverbs 30:4); it must here be taken in a sense very usual in the O. T., that of “breath of life,” “spirit;” comp. Ecclesiastes 3:19-21. [11] The meaning of the following clause is most nearly allied to this, and that we find בָּרוּחַ and not in בְּרוֹּחוֹ proves nothing in favor of the contrary acceptation of Hitzig, Hahn, etc.; for the author denies the ability of men to control the breath of life, and purposely in the most general way, in order to show, in the strongest manner, his unconditional dependence on God [just as in the following clause he has the very general בְּיוֹם הַמָּוֶת and not בְּיוֹם מוֹתוֹ—-And there is no discharge in that war.—That is, as little as the law of war, with its inexorable severity, grants a furlough to the soldier before the battle, just so little can a man escape the law of death which weighs on all, and just so unconditionally must he follow when God calls him hence by death.—Neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.—Lit., “its possessors;” comp. Ecclesiastes 7:12; and for the sentence, Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4, etc. This clause clearly contains the principal thought of the verse, as prepared by the three preceding clauses, and which here makes an impressive conclusion of the whole admonition begun in verse 2 concerning disobedience and disloyalty towards authority.

Ecclesiastes 8:7. Third Strophe. First half. Ecclesiastes 8:9-13. The many iniquities, oppressions and injustices that occur among men, often remain a long time unpunished, but find, at last, their proper reward, as a proof that God rules and judges justly.—All this have I seen.—A transition formula, serving as an introduction to what follows, as in Ecclesiastes 7:23. “To see ” is here equivalent to observing through experience, and “all this” refers, in the first place, to Ecclesiastes 8:5-8, and then to every thing from Ecclesiastes 7:23 onward.—And applied my heart unto every work.—For נָתַן אֶת־לֵב comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13.—The infinitive absolute with copula prefixed indicates an action contemporaneous with the main verb. For what follows comp. Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 4:3, etc.There is a time when one man rules over another to his own hurt.—These words clearly form an explanation to what precedes: “every work that is done under the sun;” and they therefore more closely designate the object of the author’s observation to be a whole epoch or series of oppressions of men by tyrants.—The words are usually regarded as an independent sentence: “There is a time wherein,” etc.; or, “sometimes,” or, “at times,” “a man rules,” etc. (Vulgate, Luther, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg, etc.). But the word עֵת alone is not equivalent to “there is a time,” or “sometimes;” and to refer the pronoun in לוֹ to the first אָדָם (to his own hurt,” i.e., to the hurt of the tyrant) is not in harmony with what follows. Also Knobel’s explanation: “truly I have also seen tyrants who practiced evil unpunished through whole eras,” seems quite unfitting, because it anticipates Ecclesiastes 8:10, and introduces into the text the word “truly” that is in no wise indicated.

Ecclesiastes 8:10. And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone (to rest).—וּבְכֵן lit.: and under such circumstances,[12] comp. Esther 4:16. The wicked, of whom it is here affirmed that they were buried and went to rest, i.e., they received a distinguished and honorable burial [comp. Isa. 4:19; Jeremiah 22:19; and also Eccles. Ecclesiastes 6:3] are the same as those named in Ecclesiastes 8:9, who rule over others to their hurt, and are therefore tyrannical oppressors and violent rulers. בָּאוּ lit.: “they entered in,” namely, to rest, an abbreviation of the full form which is found in Isaiah 57:2.—Gone from the place of the holy.—[Zöcklek : But went far from the place of the holy.]—The wicked are clearly here no longer the subject, but as in the following clause, “those who did righteously,” whose undeservedly sad fate the author well depicts in contrast with that of the former. Therefore the “place of the holy” from which they wandered afar [מִן, as in Isaiah 26:14; Zephaniah 3:18; Job 28:4] is the grave, the honorable burial place which these just ones must fail to obtain; to refer this expression to Jerusalem (Hitzig), or to the sacred courts of the leaders of the people (Knobel), or to the community of the saints (Hengstenberg), is all arbitrary, and opposed to the context. יְהַלְּכוּ, “they wandered, they went,” does not, of course, mean a wandering of the souls of the unburied after death, but simply [in contrast to that word בָּאוּ] the wandering or being carried to another resting place than that holy place,” the burial in a grave neither sacred nor honorable. Hitzig’s emendation,יַהֲלֹכוּ “they pass away,” is as unnecessary as the view of Ewald, Elster, Vaihinger, etc., that the Piel הִלֵּךְ is here synonymous with the Hiphil הוֹלִיךְ as though the sense were “I saw them driven away, castout from the holy place.”[13]And they were forgotten in the city where they had so done (Zöckler: “who there justly acted).—For עָשָׂה כֵּן “to do right,” to act uprightly, comp. 2 Kings 7:9 : for “being forgotten in the city,” i.e., in their own place of residence [not in Jerusalem, as Hitzig declares], Comp. Ecclesiastes 6:4; Proverbs 10:7; Psalms 73:19-20. Instead of וַיִשְׁתָּכְּחוּ the Septuagint, Vulgate, and twenty-three manuscripts had וַיְשֻׁבְּחוּ “and they were praised;” but this reading appears clearly to be an emendation, and would render necessary this grammatically inadmissible translation: “and they were Praised in the city, as if they had acted justly.”—This is also vanity.—That is, also this unequal distribution of destiny in human life, is an example of the vanity pervading man controlling all earthly relations; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:14; Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 7:6, etc.

Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.—Because speedy justice is not executed—a very common reason for the increase crime and wickedness. פִתְגָם [14] originally a Persian word [ancient Persian, patigama, modern Per. paigam, Armenian patkam]; lit., “something that has happened or taken place,” and, therefore, command, edict, sentence; comp. Esther 1:20. Since in this passage, as in the Chaldaic sections of Ezra and Daniel (e.g., Ezekiel 4:17; Daniel 3:16; Daniel 4:14), the word is always treated a masculine, we should have expected נַעֲשָׂה instead of נַעֲשֶׂה But comp. the examples of the masculine quoted by Ewald, § 74, gr., which, in later authors, are used as feminine.—Therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in him to do evil.—Therefore they venture on evil without any hesitation; comp. Ecclesiastes 9:3; Esther 7:5; Matthew 15:19.

Ecclesiastes 8:12-13. In spite of the universal and ever-increasing prevalence of evil over justice and righteousness, hitherto depicted, the wicked at last find their deserved reward, and oppressed innocence does not perish.—Though a sinner do evil a hundred times.—אֲשֶׁר does not here signify “because” (Hitzig), but “although,” “considering that,” as כִּי does sometimes (Lat. quod si). Comp. Leviticus 4:22; Deuteronomy 11:27; Deuteronomy 18:22; Ewald, § 362, b. Before מְאַת supply פְּעָמִים—And his days be prolonged—namely, in sinning. לוֹ with מַאֲרִיךְ shows that this verb is not to be supplemented by יָמִים, as in the following verse.—Yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.—כִּי גם, “yet,” makes here a strong contrast. Koheleth represents the idea of just retribution as something certain and lasting, although experience seems so strongly to teach the contrary, and consequently as a conviction that does not rest on empirical observation, but on direct religious faith. “There is not expressed in this verse, as some commentators suppose, the thought of a retribution in after life, but it must be confessed that the standpoint of observation on which Koheleth here places himself could easily lead to this conclusion, although it is not here drawn (Elster).—Which fear before him.—Not, “because they fear before him;” אֲשֶׁר is here really a relative pronoun, pointing out the conformity of the conduct of the God-fearing to their designation as such. Comp. 1 Timothy 5:3 : χήρας τίμα τὰς ὄντως χήρσς.—But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days.—This denial of long life to the wicked does not contradict what is said in Ecclesiastes 8:12; for there the question was not of long life, but of prolonged sinning.—Which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.—[Zöckler: He is as a shadow who feareth not before God.] We have had the same figure in Ecclesiastes 6:12. The Vulgate, as well as most modern commentators, are correct in not joining כַּצֵּל, with the Masoretic accentuation, to what precedes [thus also Luther, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg; “and as a shadow will not live long”], but to what follows [Vulg. “transeunt”].

8. Third Strophe. Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 8:14-15. Since the unequal distribution of human destiny points to the futile character of all earthly occurrences and conditions, we must so much the more enjoy present happiness, and profit by it with a contented mind.—There is a vanity which is done upon the earth.—See Ecclesiastes 8:10 and Ecclesiastes 3:16. That the lots of the just and the wicked are frequently commingled and interchanged in this world, seems to the Preacher as vanity, i.e., as belonging to the evil consequences of the human fall; but it does not, therefore, make on him an especially “bitter and gloomy” impression, as Elster supposes. Comp. Hengstenberg: “If there were righteous men such as there should be, wholly righteous, then the experience here given would certainly be in a high degree alarming. But since sin is also indwelling in the just, since they deserve punishment and need watchful care, since they can so easily slide into by-paths and fall into a mercenary worldliness, the shock must disappear for those who really dwell in righteousness. These latter are often severely disturbed by the fact here presented to view, but it is for them only a disturbance. The definitive complaint regarding this comes only from those who without claim or right count themselves among the just. And it is clear that the equality of result for the evil and just is only an external and partial one. To those whom God loves, every thing must be for the best, and the final issue separates the evil from the good.”

Ecclesiastes 8:15. Then I commended mirth, etc.[15]—Comp. the exegetical remarks on Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:19.—For that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life.—Lit., “That clings to him,” etc., i.e., that and that only becomes truly his; comp. in Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:19, which is synonymous in sense. The optative meaning of יִלְוֶנּוּ (Hitzig: “that may cling to him;” Herzfeld: “that may accompany him,” etc.), is unnecessary and runs counter to the analogy of those earlier parallels.


(With Homiletical Hints)

The warnings against seduction through the snares and amorous arts of women, concerning rebellion against authority, and wicked oppression and violence, are quite dissimilar in their nature, and hang but loosely together. For in the first of these warnings the attention of the author is principally directed to the depraved nature of woman as the originator and principal representative of the ruin of man through sin; in the second, it is less the Divine necessity that is made especially emphatic, than the human utility and profitableness in the obedience to be rendered to kings; and in the third, the principal object of attention is not the wicked conduct of sinners in itself, but the fixed, certain, and just retribution of God for this conduct, together with the useful lesson which the good man is to draw therefrom. The questions concerning the origin, goal, and remedy of human depravity, [the most important problems in anthropology], are in this way touched, but by no means exhaustively treated; and the indicated solutions reveal a certain one-sidedness on account of the brevity of the illustration. It appears, at least, in Ecclesiastes 7:28, as if the female sex were thoroughly and without exception evil, and the first woman was represented as the sole originator of the sin of humanity; and just so it seems as if the remedy against sin and its bad effects were mainly (Ecclesiastes 8:2 ff.) unconditional obedience to earthly authority; and then, again, it would appear (Ecclesiastes 8:15) that a frivolous and thoughtless joyousness were recommended. But that this is mere appearance, is proved by the connection of each of the respective passages. As in Ecclesiastes 7:29, not women alone, but sinning humanity as a whole, are presented as the destroyers of the originally upright, pure, and God-like nature [corresponding to the words of Paul, ἐφ̓ ῳπάντες ἥμαρτον Romans 5:12]; not less in Ecclesiastes 8:2 ff. is the duty of obedience to authority to be, from the beginning, Divinely influenced, and therefore subordinated to the higher duty of obedience towards God [corresponding with Acts 4:19]. And finally, the joy recommended in Ecclesiastes 8:15 appears clearly as the joy of one fearing God [comp. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13], and consequently it no more forms an exclusive contrast to the rejoicing with trembling of Psalms 2:11 than it contradicts the Apostolic admonition: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). In short, it is every where the conduct of the truly wise man, who, as such, is also the God-fearing man, to which the Preacher directs us, and in which he gets a view of the true ideal in the sphere of ethical anthropology (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:23-25; Ecclesiastes 8:1; Ecclesiastes 8:5). Thence is drawn for a collective homiletical treatment of this section the following theme : the truly wise man fears God, and guards himself as well against unchastity as against the disloyalty and injustice of this world. Or, the truly wise man in conflict with the enticements of this world, as he meets them first in the cunning of women, secondly, in the desire of rebellion, and thirdly, in the wickedness and arrogant violence of tyrants.

homiletical hints on separate passages

Ecclesiastes 7:23-25. Geier:—Our knowledge is fragmentary: the more we learn, the more we perceive how far we are removed from true wisdom, Sir 51:21 f.; 1 Corinthians 13:9.—Hansen:—No one on earth has the ability and skill to acquire a perfect knowledge of the works of God. They remain unfathomably deep and hidden from our eyes.—We must exert all the powers of our soul to discover the difference between wisdom and folly.—Starke:—Depend not on your own strength in Christianity. You imagine that you make progress, but in reality you retrograde, and lose, in your spiritual arrogance, that which you had already acquired (2 John 1:8).—The best teachers are those who teach to others what they themselves have learned by experience.

Tübingen Bible:—Man was created in innocence, justice and holiness, and this is the image of God, that he lost after the fall, but after which he should again strive with all earnestness.—Hengstenberg:—After the fall, man forgot to remain in a receptive relation, which, in respect to the ἄνωθεν σοφία is the only proper position; he chases after schemes of his presumptuous thoughts. The only means of becoming free from so dire a disease, and of being delivered from the bonds of his own thoughts and phantoms, is again to return to Divine subjection, and renouncing all his own knowledge, to permit himself to be taught of God.

Ecclesiastes 8:1. Zeyss :—Impenetrable as is the human heart in itself, it is nevertheless often betrayed by the countenance.—Starke:—The innocent man looks happy and secure. He who cherishes injustice in the heart looks at no one cheerfully nor rightly.—Hengstenberg:—When, by the transforming power of wisdom, the heart of flesh has taken the place of the heart of stone, and inward flexibility and obedience that of terror in presence of God and His commandments, it becomes also evident in the countenance.

Ecclesiastes 8:2; Ecclesiastes 8:6. Luther:—It is enough for you to do so in the state, that you should obey the king’s commands, and listen to him who is ordained of God. Here you see how civil obedience is comprehended in obedience to God. So Paul would have servants obey their masters, not as submitting to men, but as to God.—Melanchthon:—Thus is obedience ordained. Obey the Divine voice first; then the king commanding things not repugnant to the Divine law.—This will be in conformity with the rule given Acts 4:19.—Starke (Ecclesiastes 8:3):—The powerful ones of this world have among men no higher one over them, to whom they must give an account, but in heaven there is One higher than the highest. Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiastes 6:2-4.—(Ecclesiastes 8:5): He who keeps the commandments of God will, for the sake of God and his conscience, also obey the salutary commands of authority, Colossians 3:23.—Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 8:5):—The wise heart knows well that as certainly as God will judge justly in His own time, so certainly also can he not be really and lastingly unhappy who keeps the commandments, and therefore has God on his side.—(Ecclesiastes 8:6): With all his power, man is nevertheless not independent, but is subjected to the heavy blows of human destiny. Thus all men will be unable to place any impediment to the execution of the justice of God for the good of His children.

Ecclesiastes 8:7-8. Hieronymus (Ecclesiastes 8:8): We are not to mourn, though often oppressed by the unjust and powerful; since all these things come to an end in death, and the proud potentate himself, after all his tyrannical cruelties, cannot retain the soul when taken away by death.—Cramer (Ecclesiastes 8:7):—It is vain that we anxiously trouble ourselves about the progress and issue of things to come; therefore we should abandon our prying desire. Psalms 37:5.—Geier:—The last conflict and struggle is the hardest and most dangerous; but a pious Christian should not be terrified at it; for the conquest of Jesus over death will become his own through faith; temporal death is for him only a dissolution, a passing away in peace.

Melanchthon:—This question tortures all minds; so that many who see the prosperity of the wicked, and the misfortunes of the just, begin to think there is no Providence. It is the excelling strength of faith, that it is not broken by such spectacles, but retains the true cognition of God, and waits patiently for the judgment.—Osiander:—It does not become us to dictate to God how He shall rule the world. Let it satisfy us that God rules, and will finally bring to light the justice of His judgment.—Because God delays a while in the punishment of sin, men falsely convince themselves that their wickedness will go wholly unpunished, Sir 5:4-5.—J. Lange:—The children of God consider the patience of the Lord their salvation [2 Peter 3:15]; whilst the wicked consider this patience as a privilege to sin the more boldly (Romans 6:1). But however happy they may esteem themselves, they nevertheless die unblessed, and their happiness is changed into eternal shame.

Ecclesiastes 8:14]. and 15. Berleb. Bible: Joy is a godly cheerfulness and serenity of soul; since the just man, though he may suffer from the vanities of this world, which are common to all, keeps his soul free from vain cares, calm through faith in God, and hence cheerful and ready in the performance of its duties; so that he eats, drinks and rejoices, i.e., enjoys what God gives him, in a calm, cheerful, and fitting manner.—Hengstenberg:—[See previous exegetical illustrations to Ecclesiastes 8:14.]


[1] [The confusion arises here from disregarding the meditative, soliloquizing, exclamatory style of this book,—in a word, its poetical character. These divisions into the practical and theoretical regard it too much as an abstract ethical or didactic treatise, with its logical and rhetorical arrangement. This is at war with its subjective, emotional aspect, and hence much forced and false interpretations. See the remarks p. 172 in the Introduction to the rhythmical version. The most literal rendering is the best, since it preserves this broken, interjectional, ejaculatory style, in which the writer is giving vent to his emotions at the thought of the great past, and how small human knowledge is in respect to it. He expresses it as he feels it, in fragmentary sighs, and repetitions, or as one who says it over and over to himself without thinking of others, or of any didactic use, and yet in this very way, making the most vivid and practical impression.

O that I might be wise, I said; but it was far from me; Far off! The past, what is it? Deep—a deep—O who can find?
There is strong emotion in the paragogic or optative form of אֶחְכָמָה. It expresses the most intense and longing desire, but with little hope of knowing the great secret of the long past, much less of the far stretching future. The interjections used in rendering really inhere in the style. What should we think of an attempt to lay off Young’s Night Thoughts in ‘strophes of the practical and the theoretical?’ And yet it is fully as capable of such divisions as this most emotional poem of Koheleth. In the Hebrew, רָחוֹק is accentually joined with מַה שֶּׁהָיָה, but it is rhythmical rather than logical, and would not prevent מַה from being an interrogative pronoun: מַה אשר היה, “what—that which was?” or, “that which was, what is it?” As though he had been going to say merely, “far off the past,” but the emotion throws it into the more broken or exclamatory utterance, and then he adds: “and deep—deep—who can find it?” The מִי as personal interrogative, corresponds to the general interrogative מה.

In the expression, “O let me be wise,” we have at once suggested to us the passage 1 Kings 3:5-12, Solomon’s dream at Gibeon, the Lord’s appearing unto him, and his earnest prayer for a לֵב הָכָם “a wise and understanding heart.” With all his errors the love of wisdom (φιλοσοφία and θεοσοφία) had been a passion from his earliest youth,—wisdom speculative as well as practical,—wisdom not only “to govern so great a people,” and to “discern,” ethically, “between good and evil,” but to understand, if it were possible, the ways of God, and the great problem of humanity. Rightly considered, this strong desire, thus expressed, is a special mark of the Solomonic authorship. “O let me be wise, I said.” He said it in his dream at Gibeon.

“Deep—deep—O who shall find it!” Like other passages of Scripture, this is capable of an ever expanding sense. We may think of the earthly past, so much of it historically unknown; but the style of thought in Koheleth carries the mind still farther back to the great past “before the earth was” (Proverbs 8:23),—to the עולמי עלמים πρὸ τῶν αἰώνων, 1 Corinthians 2:7, “before the ages of ages,” or worlds of worlds. There are two views here that may be pronounced exceeding narrow. The one is that of the Scriptural interpreter who recognizes no higher chronology to the whole universe than a few thousand of our sun-measured years. To this he adds six solar days, and then slides off into a blank antepast eternity, a chronological nothingness, we may say, where Deity dwelt, had ever dwelt, ἄχρονος, without time, without creative manifestation—all worlds, whether of space or time, and all ranks of existence below the Divine, having had their origination in this single week (as measured by earthly revolutions) that he assigns to them. The other view, still more narrow—for if is an infinite narrowness—is the one held by some modern thinkers of high repute. It is that of an eternal physical development, or evolution, carried on through an infinite past of duration, ever evolving progressively, and yet with nothing more or higher evolved, ever evolved, than the very finite and imperfect state of things we now behold,—man the highest product of this eternal evolution that has ever been reached in any part of the universe,—man as yet the “etre supreme”—man, too, lately evolved, or within a few thousand years, from some of the animal classes just below him. All before is a descending inclined plane, with an uninterrupted evenness, and an infinitesimal angle, falling away lower and still lower forever-more, in the infinite retrocession from the present advanced state of things!!

In contradistinction to the meagre poverty of both these views stands the Scriptural malkuth kol olamim (Psalms 145:13) βασιλεία τῶν αἰώνων (1 Timothy 1:17)—a kingdom of all eternities, with its ages of ages, its worlds of worlds, its ascending orders of being, its mighty dispensations embracing all grades of evolution in the physical, and an unimaginable variety in the holy administrations of Him who styles Himself Jehovah tsebaoth, the Lord of hosts. This alone leaves the mind free in its speculative roamings, allowing it to compete with any philosophy in this respect, whilst binding it ever to an adoring recognition of the one absolute and infinite personality, “according to whose will all things are, and were, created.”

The Targum explains מה שהיה here of the great unknown past, regarding it as equally mysterious with the secrets of the unknown future: “It is too far off for the sons of men to know that which was from the days of eternity.” Rashi and Aben Ezra give substantially the same interpretation, with a like reference to the creation and the creative times: “What is above, what is below, what is before, what is after,—it is deep, deep, too deep for our power to think.” The impassioned impressiveness of Koheleth’s language amply justifies such a style of interpretation.—T. L.]

[2] [Zöckler’s rendering, “wickedness as folly, foolishness as madness,” weakens the sense. It is more impassioned without the conjunctions, or any other particles to break its earnest and hurried style: “wickedness, presumption [stubbornness, as כֶּסֶל may mean], yea, stupidity, madness,” all given in a running list:

To seek out wisdom, reason,—sin to know—
Presumption, folly, vain impiety.—T. L.]

[3][See text note on לְבַד.—T. L.]

[4][This is undoubtedly meant as proof of the late authorship of Koheleth, but it amounts to no more than this, namely, that the old manuscript of Ecclesiastes, whose copies have come down to us, was made by a scribe writing from the ear as another read aloud, in consequence of which he has sometimes given in full a letter known to exist etymologically, though lost in sound, as in this case; whilst, on the other hand, and more frequently, he has given it as abbreviated is sound, like שֶּׁ for אֲשֻׂר, or אִלּוּ for אִם לוּ, though generally written in the full old etymological form; and again, in other cases, he has written a like sounding letter in place of the true one, as שׂכלות for סכלות, and other similar cases. The same remark is applicable to Ezekiel, and the very instances that Zöcklerquotes. They are evidences of late chirography in manuscripts, but are little to be relied on as proofs, or disproofs, of original authorship.—T. L.]

[5][This would require the article, or the demonstrative pronoun, or both: הדבר הזה.—T. L.]

[6][No more Chaldaic than it is Hebrew. It is merely a variation of orthography for the like sounding word פתר, Genesis 40:8. Who knows how early the change to the sibilant took place? as there are no other examples of either form between Moses and Solomon, or between Solomon and Daniel?—T. L.]

[7][See text note.—T. L.]

[8][Among all these conflicting interpretations, it may be suggested that the best way is to take Ecclesiastes 8:5 as a qualification of the positiveness and strictness of the previous precepts: the ordinary man who simply yields literal and passive obedience, will be safe in so doing; but the wise man will use his wisdom in judging as to the manner of doing the command, or of modifying, avoiding, or, it may be, of resisting, as Daniel did. This mode of qualifying, or partially retracting, a precept that seems general and exclusive, is not uncommon with Koheleth. Comp. Ecclesiastes 9:11 and al. Such is in general the idea of Stuart, especially as to the last clause, though he interprets לא ידע in the first, as meaning, “he (who obeys) will have no concern about the evil command;” that is, will not trouble himself about its rectitude.—T. L.]

[9][We cannot help regarding this as a forcing the text into the support of the extreme monarchical doctrine of passive obedience, notwithstanding the qualification adverted to in the previous note. There is, too, an omission, unusual for Zöckler, of all comment on the first part of Ecclesiastes 8:6, which contains not only the connection with what precedes, but furnishes the key to what follows. “The heart of the wise man will acknowledge time and reason” (Ecclesiastes 8:5): “for there is time and reason to every thing, although the misery of man (the oppression, the evil rule, under which he suffers) be so great upon him” [עָלָיו implying something laid upon him like a heavy burden). It is all made clear by rendering the second כּי although, as adversative to the first—a frequent sense of the particle in this book, as is generally shown by the context. It is a strong and passionate assertion: The world is not all confusion; there is time and reason; they will appear at last, though misery so abounds; therefore be patient; watch and wait. Obedience is indeed inculcated to lawful (not merely monarchical) authority, but it is also intimated that it is not to be wholly passive, unreasoning, and blind.—T. L.]

[10][There is precisely the same argument for rendering it spirit in chap.Ecclesiastes 11:5 (the way of the spirit), as exists for it here. See excursus on that passage, p. 147.—T. L.]

[11][Perhaps there is nothing, that shows the unspirituality of some commentators more than their obstinate determination to render רוח wind, and often in utter defiance of the context, as in Genesis 1:2, and in such places as these.—T. L.]

[12] [וּבְכֵן is the particle of illustration: “and in such a case,” or, taken in the connection: “and so it was.” See the Metrical Version—

’Twas when I saw the wicked dead interred.—T. L.]

[13][Zöckler’s version here, which is substantially that of Hitzig, and even of Geier, seems very forced. How is he to get the sense of “wandering far,” or of “being driven away,” from יְהַלֵּכוּ? Then, again, the rendering אֲשֶׁר כֵּן עָשׂוּ “they who had done rightly,” and making it the subject of יְהַלֵּכוּ, are both unwarranted. Stuart well says that the makkeph in כֵּן־עָשׂוּ shows that the Masorites regarded כֵּן as the usual adverb so, and therefore joined it closely to the verb as simply qualifying. The references of Zöckler and Hitzig do not bear them out, and there cannot be found a clear case in the Bible where כֵּן is used absolutely for justice. There are two objections to the finding in this phrase the subject of יְהַלֵּכוּ; one is the separation it makes between it and וָבָאוּ; the second is its coming so late after its verb, making a very unusual Hebrew construction in keeping the sense so long suspended. It seems quite clear that יְהַלֵּכוּ and וָבָאוּ have the same subject—not that a sudden change is unexampled in Hebrew, but because these two verbs so uniformly go together in similar expressions; as in Ecclesiastes 1:4 דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ ,דּוֹר בָּא “generation goes, and generation comes;” also Ecclesiastes 6:4, בַּחשֶׁךְ יֵלֵךְ ,בַּהֶבֶל בָּא “comes in vanity, goes away in darkness.” So here there must be for both the same subject; but is it the wicked, mentioned above, or men generally, not personally or pronominally expressed, because it so readily suggests itself from the mention of burial,—they, the mourners, real or pretended,—they who form the procession (יְהַלֵּכוּ; see remarks on this word in piel, p. 85), who go about the streets, Ecclesiastes 12:5, where סָבְבוּ includes both going to and coming from. According to this, there is, indeed, a change of subject from that of the previous clause, but this is far from being unexampled in Hebrew, even without notice; as in Psalms 49:19 : “For he blesses himself in life, and they will praise [וְיוֹדֻךָ] thee,”— that is, men will praise thee, when thou doest well to thyself. Here, however, the personal subject is so familiar that it is easily understood, and its omission is on that very account all the more impressive: I saw the wicked buried, and from (or to and from) the holy place [the place of burial],—they came and went [men came and went]; then straight were they forgotten, that is, the wicked rulers were forgotten. The coming back to these as the old subject, after the mention of the funeral procession, seems very natural. The crowd disperses, the hired mourners “go about the streets;” it is all over; and soon are they “forgotten in the city where they thus had done,”—where they had ruled to their own dishonor, only to be hated, and at last, after an empty funeral pomp, to be consigned to oblivion. In the description of a scene so well understood, the formal insertion of the logical subject would have made it much less graphic. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[14][On this word see remarks in the note appended to Zöckler’s Introduction, p. 33.—T. L.]

[15] [“It was then I commended mirth,” etc.; that is, under such a view of mankind and their destiny. See the text note. The conjunction ו in וְשִׁבַּחְתִּי connects by showing the time and reason. It is very important as showing that the Epicurean aspect Koheleth sometimes exhibits was in connection with, and conditioned upon, such discouraging and gloomy views of human destiny as those just mentioned. And this explains the אֲשֶׁר, in what follows, as the matter or language of the false commendation (quod, ὅτι), “that there was no other good to man,”—or then “I praised mirth,” etc. (saying), “that there was no good to man,” etc.; and so of what follows: “and that this only remains to him,” etc. It is all dependent on שִׁבַּחְתִּי, as the subject matter of the Epicurean commendation. Zöckler omits all remarks on אֲשֶׁר here, and the connection of וְשִבַּחְתִּי, although it is so important.

’Twas then that pleasure I extolled:

How that there was no good to man beneath the sun,

Except to eat and drink, and [here] his joy to find,
And this alone attends him in his toil,
During all the days, etc.

Compare the Arabic الَبِقيَّة res residua, as used in the Koran to denote the portion either of the pious in the life to comes, or of the wicked pleasure-seekers in this world.—T. L.]

Verses 16-17


Of the relation of true wisdom in the internal and external life of man

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 12:7)

A. The unfathomable character of the universal rule of God should not frighten the wise man from an active part in life, but should cheer and encourage him thereto

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:16)

1. It cannot be denied that the providence of God in the distribution of human destiny is unfathomable and incomprehensible

(Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:6)

16When 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:) 17Then 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.

Ecclesiastes 9:1 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 2or hatred by all that is before them. 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, Song of Song of Solomon 3:0 is the siuner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. 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. 4For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5For 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. 6Also 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.

2. Therefore it behooves us to enjoy this life cheerfully, and to use it in profitable avocations

(Ecclesiastes 9:7-10)

7Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. 8Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment. 9Live 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. 10Whatsoever 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.

3. The uncertain result of human effort in this world should not deter us from zealously striving after wisdom

Ecclesiastes 9:11-16

11I 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. 12For 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. 13This wisdom have I seen also under the 14sun, and it seemed great unto me: 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: 15Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man; 16Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

[Ecclesiastes 8:17.—בְּשֶׁל equivalent to באשר ל, “in that which to”—“in proportion to;” Vulgate well renders it quanto plus. LXX. ὅσα ἐὰν; “in proportion to that which one shall labor”—or “the more he labors.” It is found elsewhere only in Jonah 1:7, or, in composition, בְּשֶׁלְמִי and בִּשֶׁלּי. It is certainly not a Chaldaism, but it is said “to belong to the later Hebrew,” and the argument runs in this way: Koheleth must belong to the later Hebrew, because this word is elsewhere found only in Jonah; and Jonah must belong to the later Hebrew, because this word is elsewhere found only in Koheleth. It is also called a Rabbinism in Koheleth; but it is rather a Kohelethism much employed, with other Kohelethisms, by the earliest Rabbins, because that book was a great favorite with them, and regarded by them as a specimen of the more elegant and courtly, as well as the more philosophical Hebrew.—Ecclesiastes 9:1, וְלָבוּר; it has the same meaning here with ברר, Ecclesiastes 3:18, to exploreprove, by exploring—primary sense, separate, purify. It is an example of the affinity, or of the interchange of meanings, in verbs ain wau and double ain.—T. L.]


1.Vaihinger deviates from the above analysis of this section into three divisions, but only so far as to extend the first division simply to Ecclesiastes 9:3, which does not well coincide with the contents of Ecclesiastes 8:4-6, that clearly refer to what immediately precedes. Several commentators begin a new section with Ecclesiastes 9:11 [Hahn,indeed a new discourse], and deny in this way that the principal theme of the whole piece–the contrast between the inscrutability of human destinies, and the wisdom which still retains its worth, and is to be sought after as the highest good—is also treated in this last division, and that it is more closely allied with the fore going than with that which follows Ecclesiastes 8:17.—Hengstenberg also very improperly separates Ecclesiastes 8:11-12 from the four subsequent ones, with which they are most closely connected; see below at Ecclesiastes 8:13.

First Strophe, first division. Ecclesiastes 8:16-17.The universal rule of God is unfathomable.—When I applied mine heart.—Lit., “gave;” comp. Ecclesiastes 8:9, כַּאֲשֶׁר introduces the longer primary clause, to which then, in Ecclesiastes 8:17, a still longer secondary clause corresponds, introduced by וְ or וְרָאיתִי There is no closer connection with the preceding, such as is affirmed by Rosenmueller, Hitzig, hengstenberg and hahn, according to the example of most old authors. The commendation of pleasure in Ecclesiastes 8:15, like the earlier praise of cheerfulness [Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 5:20], fittingly closes the preceding, whilst this clause, as is shown by כִּי Ecclesiastes 9:1, serves as a basis and preparation for the subsequent reflections. To know wisdom, and see the business—Comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 1:17. The word עִנְיָן is here as there the travail caused by a zealous searching after the grounds and aims of human action, fate, and life. For also there is that neither day nor night. כִּי here gives the nature and operation of the travail; or is inferential, “so that,” as Genesis 40:15; Exodus 3:11, etc. [comp. Vaihinger]. The parenthetical interpretation of this third clause [Ewald, Elster, hahn,etc., is also unnecessary.] comp. Genesis 31:40; Proverbs 6:4; Psalms 132:4 (Lat. somnum videre).

Ecclesiastes 8:17. Then I beheld all the work of god. אֶת־כָּל־מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלֹהִים is the accusative of relation: “I saw in relation to all the work of god”. The work that is done under the sun, that we find in the subsequent clause, is the same as the “work of god,” the universal rule of the most High; and the inability to find this work, its incomprehensibility and inscrutability [comp. Psalms 147:5; Romans 11:33] form from the beginning the principal theme of the assertion. To “find” is used in the sense of “to comprehend, to fathom;” comp. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 7:24Because though a man labour to seek it out.—That is, however much he may try, in spite of all his toil, etc. בְּשֶׁל אֲשֶׁר[1] is equivalent to—בַּאֲשֶׁר—לַאֲשֶׁר [comp. the similar crowding of relations in Jonah 1:7-8; Jonah 1:12, and also the Aramaic בְדִיל דִ], and signifies, when taken together with the following verb יַעֲמֹל “with that which is in it,” etc.; that is, “with that which there is in his labor,” or “with that zeal and talent perceptible in it.” Compare Hitzig on this passage, who correctly rejects as unnecessary Ewald’s emendation בְּכָל אֲשֶׁר in place of בְּשֶׁל אֲשֶׁר, although the 70., Vulgate, and Syriac seem to have so read it.—Yea further, though a wise man think to know it.—אִם יֹאמַר “should he presume,” “should he attempt;” comp. Exodus 2:14; 2 Samuel 21:16.

3. First strophe, second division. Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. All men, the just, as well as the unjust, are subject to the same fate, especially to the law of mortality.—For all this I considered in my heart. Namely, when I applied my heart to know wisdom, Ecclesiastes 8:16. “All this” refers to what immediately follows.—Even to declare all this. The infinitive construct with לָבוּר ׃לְ continues the finite verb, as elsewhere the infinitive absolute; comp. Isaiah 38:20; Isaiah 10:32, בּוּר equivalent to ברר (Ecclesiastes 3:18) is found only in this passage in the O. T.—That the righteous and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God. That is, wholly dependent, on Him, not capable, in any manner, independently to shape their life; so that their best actions may be followed by the saddest fate. Comp. Hengstenberg on this passage, who correctly shows that there is affirmed an unconditional dependence, not of human action in itself, but of its results on God.—No man knoweth either love or hatred. That is, no man knoweth in advance whether God will grant him love or hatred (i.e., happiness or unhappiness); (Michaelis, Knobel, Vaihinger, and Hengstenberg are correct). Others read: “No man knoweth whether he will love or hate;” [Hitzig, Elster]. But this interpretation is not in harmony with the text, and would give a sense which is foreign alike to the passage and the book, and for which Ecclesiastes 2:5 cannot be quoted as proof, as is done by Hitzig.—By all that is before them. That is, not as affirmed by Hieronymus, Geier, and Rosenmueller,—all their destinies are clear, and as it were visible before their eyes, but the reverse: all their destinies lie in the dark uncertain future before them; they have yet everything to experience, happiness as well as unhappiness, good as well as evil. Comp. Ecclesiastes 7:14, where אַהֲרָיו “behind him” signifies just the same as here לִפְנֵיהֶם “before them.” Knobel unnecessarily insists that כּל here means: Everything is before them, everything can occur to them—even great misfortune—a sense that would need to be more clearly indicated by the context than is here the case.

Ecclesiastes 9:2.—All things come alike to all. That is, every thing happens to the wise and just as to all others; the just have no special fortune, they share the common fate of all (in this world of course). Knobel, Ewald, Heiligstedt, Umbreit, and Hengstenberg correctly take this position, whilst Hitzig and Elster include the following words מִקְרֶה אֶחָד, and so bring out this somewhat obscure and distorted thought: “All are as all, they meet one fate;” but Vaihinger takes הַכֹּל at the beginning of the verse as an elliptical repetition from Ecclesiastes 9:1 : “Yes all! Just as all have the same destiny,” etc.There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked. Not that they are the offspring and the victims of one and the same blind power of chance [Hitzig], but they are subjected to one and the same divine providence as regards the issue of their life. Hengstenberg justly says: “Chance (מִקְרֶה) just as in Ecclesiastes 3:19 (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:14-15), does not form the counterpart to divine providence, but to the spontaneous activity on the part of the just.”—To the good and to the clean and to the unclean. In order that one may not take clean and unclean in the levitical or externally legal sense, but in the moral sense, the kindred thought of טוֹב (good) precedes that of טָהוֹר (pure) as explanatory.—He that sweareth as he that feareth an oath. That is, the frivolous swearer, and he that considers an oath sacred. That this is the sense is plainly seen in Ecclesiastes 8:2, from which passage it appears that, it does not enter the author’s mind to condemn the oath in general as something immoral. Vaihinger is of opinion that by him that feareth an oath, as by him that does not sacrifice, is meant an Essene, or at least a representative of growing Essenianism. But the designation is by no means clear enough for this; and the one not sacrificing seems clearly to be a wicked contemner of the levitical laws concerning the temple and sacrifices, and not an unreasonably conscientious ascetic in the sense of Essenianism.

Ecclesiastes 9:3.—This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. רַע בְּכֹל וְגו cannot mean the worst of all, etc. (Rosenmueller, Vaihinger) but in the absence of the article before רַע (comp. the Song of Solomon 1:8; Joshua 14:15, etc.), simply bad, evil among all things, or in all things; therefore an evil accompanying and dwelling in every earthly occurrence.—That there is one event unto all. Namely, that befalls all. מִקְרֶה must be taken as in verse 2, and points out, therefore, not what one meets with in life, but its issue, its end. The equal liability of all to death, even the good and the just, is designated by Koheleth as that evil, that evil thing that is mixed with every earthly occurrence; (comp. Romans 5:14; Romans 5:21; 1 Corinthians 15:55 f.; Hebrews 2:15). Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil; namely, in consequence of this their liability to the power of death, which, therefore, also in addition exerts a demoralizing effect on them; comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11.—And after that they go to the dead. The suffix to אַחֲרָיו is to be considered as neuter, (“and after this condition,” comp. Jeremiah 51:46), not masculine as if the sense were “and after it” (i.e., after this life) as in Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 10:14. The preposition of motion (אֶל in אֶל הַמֵּתִים) “indicates that the sense of ‘it goes,’ is to complete the sentence,” Hitzig.

4. First strophe, conclusion. Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. In spite of the presentation just given, the condition of the living is ever to be preferred to that of the dead—For to him that is joined (Zöckler, taking the reading יְבֻחַר translates it, “who is it that is preferred?”—T.L.). Thus according to the reading יְבֻחַר, pual of בחר “to choose, prefer,” does Vaihinger more correctly give the sense: “There is no one who would be here preferred and accepted, or who would have a choice, who would be exempted from death; since dying is a common fate; each one must go to the dead; but in death there is nothing more to hope.” In the same way, substantially, does Elster translate, except that he punctuates יִבְחַר, and therefore gives it actively; “For who has any choice ?” Many later commentators adhere to the k’ri יְחֻבַּר, which the 70. read (τίς ὅς κοινωνεῖ πρὸς πάντας τοὺς ζῶντας) together with Symmachus and the Targum. They translate, therefore, with Ewald, “who is joined to the living has hope,” or, with Hitzig, interrogatively, “who is it who would be joined to all the living?” But the sense thus arising makes a very forced [2] connection; and the translation of Hahn, who takes the word חבר in the sense of “charming,” is open to very weighty linguistic objections.—To all the living there is hope. Literally, “for all living,” for all as long as they live. The grammatical expression does not accord with Hengstenberg’s interpretation: “One may trust to all living;” for אֶל is used with the verb בטח (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 31:7), but not with the substantive בִּטָּחוֹן for the introduction of the one in whom the confidence is placed. Comp. Job 11:18.—For a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the most contemptible and hateful thing that lives (comp. for the proverbial use of the dog in this relation, 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 9:8; Isaiah 66:3; Matthew 15:26; Revelation 22:15, etc.) is more valuable than the most majestic of all beasts if it is dead; (for the majesty and glory of the lion as the king of beasts, consult Isaiah 38:13; Hosea 13:7; Lamentations 3:10; Job 10:16). This proverb is also known to the Arabs. See Golius, Adag. Cent. 2, n. 3.

Ecclesiastes 9:5.—For the living know that they shall die. The consciousness of the necessity of death, is here presented not as the only, but yet as the characteristic superiority of the living over the dead, just as if only the necessity of death were the object of human knowledge—an individualizing statement of an ironical and yet most serious nature.—Neither have they any more reward. Not that they have had their share (Hitzig) but that God no longer exercises retributive justice towards them, because they are wanting in conscious, personal life. The fact of a retribution in a world beyond, is only apparently denied here, for the author now sees only the conditions of this world; on the subsequent fate of a spirit returned to God he is for the present entirely silent (Ecclesiastes 12:7; comp. Ecclesiastes 11:9).—For the memory of them is forgotten. So entirely do the dead remain without reward; not even the smallest thing that could profit them here below, not even the preservation of their memory with their posterity, is granted to them. Comp. Psalms 31:12; Job 14:21. It is doubtful whether זֶכֶר “memory” is intended to rhyme with the preceding שָׂכָר “reward” (as Hitzig supposes). It is more probable that such a rhyming is made in the following verse between שִׂנְאָתָם and קִנְאָתָם.

Ecclesiastes 9:6. A continued description of the sad fate of the dead; “from the very beginning with touching depth of tone, a strain of lamentation overpowering the author” (Hitzig). Also their love and their hatred and their envy is now perished. That is, not that they are deprived of the objects of their love, hatred, or envy (Knobel), but these sentiments and activities themselves have ceased for them; as רפאים they are destitute of all affections, interests, and exertions, and lead rather a merely seeming life. (Rosenmueller, Hitzig). The sad existence of departed souls in Scheol, as described in Job 14:11 ff., seems here to hover before the author, just as in ver 10 below, he expressly speaks of it. It is significant that he denies them love as well as hatred, and would seem thereby to mark their condition as one extremely low.

5. Second strophe, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. On account of this superiority of life, compared with the condition of the dead, and the uncertainty of human fate in general, it behooves us to enjoy life cheerfully (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9), and to use it zealously in the activity of our vocations (Ecclesiastes 9:10).—Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. (Comp. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 5:19). This collective triad, “eat, drink, and be merry,” is here, as it were, increased to a quartette; joy being doubly designated, first as it finds its expression in cheerful adornments of the body and appropriate ornament, and then in loving unison with a wife.—Wine[3] is used as a symbol and producer of joy, and also in Ecclesiastes 10:19; Genesis 27:25; Psalms 104:15, etc. For בְּלֶב־טוֹב “of joyful heart, gay,” comp. 1 Samuel 25:38; also Ecclesiastes 7:3 of the foregoing.—For God now accepteth thy works. That is, not that God finds pleasure in just this eating, drinking, etc. (Hitzig), but, thy moral conduct and efforts have long pleased Him,[4] wherefore thou mayst hope in the future surely to receive thy reward from Him. (Hengstenberg correctly takes this position).

Ecclesiastes 9:8. Let thy garments be always white. White garments are the expression of festive joy and pure, calm feelings in the soul, comp. Revelation 3:4 f.; Ecclesiastes 7:9 ff. Koheleth could hardly have meant a literal observance of this precept, so that the conduct of Sisinnius, Novatian bishop of Constantinople, who, with reference to this passage, always went in white garments, was very properly censured by Chrysostom as Pharisaical and proud. Hengstenberg’s view is arbitrary, and in other respects scarcely corresponds to the sense of the author: “White garments are here to be put on as an expression of the confident hope of the future glory of the people of God, as Spener had himself buried in a white coffin as a sign of his hope in a better future of the Church.”—And let thy head lack no ointment. As in 2 Samuel 12:20; 2 Samuel 14:2; Isaiah 61:3; Amos 6:6; Proverbs 27:9; Psalms 45:8, so here appears the anointing oil, which keeps the hair smooth and makes the face to shine, as a symbol of festive joy, and a contrast to a sorrowing disposition. There is no reason here for supposing fragrant spikenard (Mark 14:2), because the question is mainly about producing a good appearance by means of the ointment, comp. Psalms 133:2.

Ecclesiastes 9:9.—Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest. That is, enjoy life with her, comp. Ecclesiastes 3:1; Psalms 34:12; and also Ecclesiastes 7:28, above, to which expression, apparently directed against all intercourse with women, the present one serves as a corrective.—All the days of the life of thy vanity. This short repetition of the preceding (“all the days of thy vain life, which he has given thee under the sun”) is left out of the Septuagint and Chaldaic, but is produced in the Vulgate, and should be by no means wanting, because it points with emphasis[5] to the vanity of life as a principal motive to joy.—For that is thy portion in this life and in thy labor, etc. That is, for this cheerful and moderate enjoyment of life shall, according to the will of God, compensate thee for the toil and labor which this life brings with it; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:10; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18.

Ecclesiastes 9:10.—Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might, The word בְּכחֲֹךָ is by the Vulgate and most modern authors joined to עֲשֵׂה, whilst according to the accents and the collocation, it belongs to what precedes. But it is a vigorous doing, nevertheless, that is here recommended; for the sense is clear: whatsoever presents itself, is to be performed with thy strength, whatsoever offers itself to thee as an object for thy exertion, that do ! For the expression, “whatsoever thy hand findeth to do,” comp. 1 Samuel 10:7; 1 Samuel 23:8;. Judges 9:33; also Isaiah 10:13-14.—For there is no work nor device, etc., in the grave whither thou goest. comp. Ecclesiastes 9:6. As Koheleth gives a motive here in his admonition to an active life, by pointing to the lifeless and inactive condition of departed souls in the realm of death, so speaks Christ in John 9:4 : ἐμὲ δεῖ ἐργαζεσθαι ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίς. ἔρχεται νύξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐραγάζεσθαι. Since the νύξ (night) mentioned in John 9:4 and elsewhere, is clearly something else than the שְׁאוֹל of this passage, there is no definite reference to the latter, as Hengstenberg affirms, but between the two assertions there is a certain analogy.

6. Third strophe, Introduction. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12. Human actions in this world depend entirely on divine fate, and their success, therefore, is too often in no comparison with the real ability and strength of the actor.—I returned.—Comp. Ecclesiastes 4:1. For the infinitive absolute וְרָאהֹ comp. Ecclesiastes 8:9.—That the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. These remarks serve only to illustrate what follows: “Neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill.” חֵן favor, as in Exodus 3:22; Exodus 11:3; Exodus 12:36, etc.But time and chance happeneth to them all.—That is, the success of human actions depends wholly on that higher power which controls the change of seasons, and permits men to be met sometimes by this, sometimes by that (פֶּגַע) which “happens, meets;” (comp. 1 Kings 5:18). A New Testament parallel is found in Romans 9:16, where, instead of time and chance, divine mercy is called the highest power in all human affairs.

Ecclesiastes 9:12. For man also knoweth not his time. A conclusion, a majori ad minus. “Even over his time itself, over his person and his life, to say nothing of his actions (Ecclesiastes 9:11), there is a controlling power outside of him” (Hitzig). The “time” of a man is here clearly equivalent to the time of his destruction; as elsewhere the “day,” of Job 18:20; or the “hour,” Job 12:27; Mark 14:41. Comp. also Ecclesiastes 7:17 preceding.—As the fishes that are taken. For net, and noose, and trap, as symbols of the judgments overtaking men, comp. Hosea 7:12; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 32:3; Proverbs 7:23; Luke 21:35.—So are the sons of men snared. יוּקָשִׁים Part. Pual see Ew. § 169. d. The word strikingly represents the helpless condition of men in the presence of divine destiny, that can put an end to their life at any moment, as the fowler who suddenly robs† of its life the bird caught in the snare. An allusion to the catastrophe threatened to the Persian kingdom by a new universal monarchy, the Macedonian, is not found in the passage, as Hengstenberg supposes.

7. Third strophe. Conclusion. Ecclesiastes 9:13-16. In spite of that dependence of human destiny and success on a higher power, which often violently interferes with them, wisdom remains, nevertheless, a valuable possession, still able to effect great results with inconsiderable means of an external character, as is seen in the example of a poor and despised man, who, by his wisdom, became the deliverer of his native city from threatening danger of destruction. Whether this example is a purely feigned didactic story (thus think Hengstenberg, Luther, Mercerus, Starke, et at.), or whether it refers to an historical fact within the" experience of the author, must remain uncertain, on account of the general character of the description; and this so much the more so, because the only passage that could seem to refer to a definite fact from Persian history (Ecclesiastes 9:15) is of doubtful exposition.—This wisdom have I seen also under the sun. (Zöckler, this have I seen as wisdom). The words גַּם זהֹ רָאִיתִי חָכְמָה must clearly be thus translated (comp. the similar construction in Ecclesiastes 7:25), not, “thus also saw I wisdom,” etc. (thus usually), or, “this also have I seen: wisdom,”[6] etc. (as Hitzig renders it,) changing זהֹ into זה.—And it seemed great unto me, i.e., it appeared large, comp. Jonah 3:3.

Ecclesiastes 9:14.—There was a little city, and few men within it. That is, not few inhabitants in general, but few fighting men available for defence—a circumstance which shows the danger of the city to be so much greater, and the merits of its deliverer to be so much more brilliant.—And there came a great king against it. We cannot deduce from the expression that the great king was the Persian; because the predicate גָדוֹל attributed to the hostile king serves mainly to show the contrast to the smallness of the city, and the great size of the army led against it.—And built great bulwarks against it. מְצוֹדִים (from מצוד “an instrument for seizure,” hence sometimes a “net;” e.g. Ecclesiastes 7:26) is here used only in the signification of bulwarks, and must therefore not here be confounded with the more customary מְצוֹרִים Deuteronomy 20:20; Micah 4:14), as two manuscripts here read.

Ecclesiastes 9:15. Now there was found in it a poor wise man. Literal, “one found in it,” impersonal—not, “he, the king found.”—yet no man remembered that same poor man. [Zöckler renders in the pluperfect “had remembered,” etc., and then makes it the ground of the remarks that follow.—T. L.] We can neither urge against this pluperfect rendering of וְאָדָם לֹא זָכָר the circumstance that the one in question is here designated as אִישׁ מִסְכֵּן and not as חָכָם (for the predicate poor is clearly to point out why they did not remember him—), nor also the contents of the following verse. For in it the emphasis lies upon the commendation of wisdom contained in the first clause, not on the subsequent restrictive remark concerning the contempt and disregard that it often meets with. Vaihinger is correct in his deviation from Hitzig, Ewald, Elster, and most modern authors, who, like the Vulgate and Luther, translate: “no man remembered.” As certain as this sense, according to which the discussion would be concerning a deliverer of his country, rewarded with the ingratitude of his fellow-citizens, is approached neither through language nor connection, just so certainly may we not (with Ewald and some ancient authors) here find an allusion to Themistocles as deliverer of Athens from the hand of Xerxes; and this latter so much the less because Athens could scarcely have been designated by the author as עִירֹ קְטַנָּח. Hitzig is of opinion that the besieged city is the little sea-port Dora, vainly besieged by Antiochus the Great in the year 218 (Polyb. v. 66); but nothing is known of the deliverance of this city by a “poor wise man,” and for many reasons the epoch of this book cannot be brought down to so late an era as that of Antiochus Magnus. Comp. the Introduction, § 4, Obs. 3.

Ecclesiastes 9:16. The moral of the story, is given in the words of Koheleth uttered immediately after he had heard it.—Then said I, wisdom is better than strength. Comp. similar sentences in Ecclesiastes 7:19; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 16:32; Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 24:5.—Nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised. These words, which again limit the praise of wisdom expressed above, depend also on the expression, “Then said I.” They refer, according to Ecclesiastes 9:15, to the fact that in the beginning no one had thought of the wisdom of that deliverer of the city—and not even of the ingratitude afterwards shown to him, or of not having followed his wise counsels (which latter view however would be in antagonism with Ecclesiastes 9:15, according to which the sorely pressed city was really delivered).


(With Homiletical Hints)

As the previous section contained a series of ethical precepts with an anthropological foundation (similar to the one preceding it) so is this one a combination of theological and ethical truths, which the author lays to the heart of his readers. And it is especially the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of the decrees and judgments of God, and of the hidden character of His universal rule that the author treats, and from which he derives the duties of a cheerful enjoyment and use of the blessings of life (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9) of an untiring activity (Ecclesiastes 9:10) and of continued striving after practical wisdom as a possession that is valuable under all circumstances. The contents arc therefore similar to those of chap. 3, only that there the principal thought is of the conditioning and restrictive character of the divine counsels and acts of universal rule; here, on the contrary, the prominent idea is their hidden and unsearchable nature (Romans 9:33; 1 Corinthians 13:12). This section is also in close relation with chap, 6, especially in regard to its ethical and practical precepts (comp. Ecclesiastes 9:9, with Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 9:14, with Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 9:1-6, with Ecclesiastes 6:2-6, etc.), only that from the former, the conclusions drawn are mainly serious and gloomy, while from the latter they are predominantly cheerful.

Homily on the whole section. The thought of the brevity of human life, and the obscurity of that which awaits us in it, should not discourage but impel us to a ready and cheerful use of the blessings granted us hero below, as well as of the powers for a truly wise exertion; or more briefly: Of the blessing and value of reflections concerning death, as an impulse to the zealous fulfilment of the avocations of life.

homiletical hints to separate passages

Ecclesiastes 8:16-17. Hieronymus:—He shows that there are causes for all things, why each thing should thus be, and that there is righteousness in all, though they may be latent and beyond the comprehension.—Zeyss: a Christian should neither show himself negligent in investigating the works of God, nor too curious.—Hansen: God’s works that He performs among the children of men have eternity in view, and nothing short of eternity will open up to us their inner perfection, Revelation 15:3.—Berlenb. Bible :—O ye poor blind men, who think to fathom by your wisdom the cause of divine providences; ye are indeed greatly deceived! You condemn everything that surpasses our understanding, when you should rather confess that these things are so much the more divine, the more they surpass your comprehension. The more trouble you take to fathom the secrets of wisdom by your own study, so much the less do you attain your goal. The true test that a man possesses genuine wisdom, is when he is assured that he cannot comprehend the mysteries of God as He deals with souls.—Hengstenberg:—Blessed is the man who accepts without examination all that God sends him, in the firm trust that it is right, however wrong it may appear, and that to those who love God all things must be for the best.

Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Brenz (Ecclesiastes 9:1):—There are those whom God loves and whom He hates. For He does not cast off the whole human race, though He might justly do so; neither does He embrace all men in His favor; but to some He deigns to grant His mercy, whilst others He leaves to their own destruction. There is, however, no one who can know by any external sign, whom God receives or rejects.—(Ecclesiastes 9:2-3). Whoeverin faith looks into the word of God may easily know that, though the wicked may now seem to have the same fortune with the pious, there shall come, at last, a clear discrimination between the good and the bad, adjudging the one class to eternal punishment, the others to the happiness of everlasting life.—Geier (Ecclesiastes 9:2-3). We cannot judge of the condition of the dead after this life, by our reason, but only by its accordance with the revealed word of God.—Hansen:—Wo are to ascribe it to the peculiarities of this present life, if the just suffer with the wicked; Sir 40:1 ff.

Zeyss:—A child of God should love this life not on account of temporal prosperity, but for the honor of God, and the welfare of his neighbor. Cramer:—So long as the wicked lives, it is better for him than if he is dead, since he has yet time to repent. But when he is dead then all hope for him is lost. Starke:—Atheists live in the foolish delusion that after death all is over and that the soul ceases with the death of the body; but they will receive the most emphatic contradiction on the great day of judgment.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-10. Luther (Ecclesiastes 9:7):—You live in a world where there is nothing but sorrow, misery, grief, and death, with much vanity: therefore use life with love, and do not make your own life sour and heavy with vain and anxious cares.—Solomon does not say this to the secure and wicked children of the world, but to those truly fearing and believing God. These latter he consoles, and desires that they may cheerfully take comfort in God. To the former He says rejoice, but does not bid those to drink wine, eat, etc., who are but too much inclined to do so, and pass their lives in idleness and voluptuousness as wicked and depraved men.

Zeyss (Ecclesiastes 9:7):—The believers have more claim to the gifts of God than the unbelievers (1 Corinthians 3:21-22), although they may enjoy them the least.—(Ecclesiastes 9:9). Marriage is a sacred and wise ordinance of God; therefore the Christian may use it with a good conscience; but it must be enjoyed in the fear of God, Ephesians 5:31. Starke (Ecclesiastes 9:8):—Arrogance, pride, and display in dress are very common vices in these latter times: the children of God find it very difficult to suppress these in themselves.—(Ecclesiastes 9:10). The obligations that you owe to the body, you owe doubly to the soul. O man neglect not the labor due to thy soul; the night of death is coming when no one can work.—Cramer (Ecclesiastes 9:10):—We should perform the work of our calling with a resolute and confident spirit, and never hesitate in our charge.—Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 9:10):—That we should do all that lies in our power is required by the facts that what we leave undone here below is never done, that the tasks placed upon us by God for this life, and which here remain unperformed, never find their performance, and that the gifts and powers conferred on us for this life must be used in this life.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-12. Tübingen Bible:—Even in temporal things it does not depend upon any one’s will or movements, but only on God’s mercy. Everything is derived from God’s blessing.—Starke (Ecclesiastes 9:12) :—By his skill man can calculate the rising and setting of the sun; but human wisdom does not extend so far that one can tell when the sun of his life will rise or set.—Hengstenberg:—If it seems sad with the people of God when the world triumphs, let us reflect that such result does not depend on the might, or the weakness of men; and that a sudden catastrophe may overwhelm the highest, and cast him to the ground. Have we God for our friend? it all comes to that as the only thing that can decide.

Ecclesiastes 9:13-16. Melanchthon:—Such a poor man, in a city, was Jeremiah, as he himself writes, a man who saved the church in the midst of disorder and confusion. At the same time the precept admonishes us that good counsels are listened to by the few, whilst the worst please the many. And thus he says; The poor man’s wisdom is despised.—Cartwright:—Wisdom, however splendid, if in lowly state, is so obscured by the cloud of poverty that in a brief time it has all eyes averted, and utterly falls from the memory.

Cramer:—Thou shouldst laud no one on account of his high estate, and despise no one on account of his low estate. For the bee is a very little creature, and yet gives the sweetest fruit.—Starke:—The heart of mail is by nature so corrupt that to its own injury it is inclined to run after folly, and be disobedient to wisdom.—But true wisdom always finds those who know and love her. Though a wise man may for a time dwell in obscurity, he will nevertheless be drawn forth from it before he is aware. Wisdom of Solomon Ecclesiastes 10:13-14.


[I. Koheleth’s Idea of the Dead.—Ecclesiastes 9:5 :—

The living know that they must die, the dead they nothing know;
For them there is no more reward—forgotten is their name;
Their love, their hate, their zeal, all perished now;
Whilst the world lasts, no portion more have they
In all the works performed beneath the sun.

Stuart thinks that the Preacher “claims small merit for the living, merely the knowledge that they must die.” “Is this,” he asks, “better than not knowing any thing?” He argues, besides, that there is an inconsistency in such a view, made greater by the fact that this praise of life one of the cheering passages, whereas such declarations as Ecclesiastes 7:1; Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 are from the desponding mood. Is not this, however, a mistake ? The language here is gloomy, if not wholly desponding. Koheleth is perplexed and bewildered as he contemplates the apparent state of the dead, especially as it presents itself to the sense, inactive, motionless, silent, unheeding. He turns to the living, and surveys their condition, so full of vanity, with only the superiority of a little knowledge, one important element of which, is a knowledge that this vanity must come to an end. It is just the survey that would give rise to that touching irony already spoken of, that mournful smile at human folly, in which a just contempt is blended with deepest sympathy,—an irony, not sneering, but tenderly compassionate, such as we find in some other Scriptures. As, for example, in Genesis 3:22, where God is represented as ironically repeating the wolds of Satan, but in a spirit how different from that of the fiend! Ah, poor wretch! he knows it now, the difference between good and evil! See Gen., p. 210. So here, as though he had said, “Alas, their boasted knowledge! They know that they must die,—this is the substance of it, the remotest bound to which their science reaches.” There is something of the same feeling in what is here affirmed of the state of the dead. It gloomily contemplates only the physical aspect, or the physical side of death, such as presents itself, sometimes, to the Christian, without any feeling of inconsistency, and without impairing that hope of future life which he possesses in a higher degree than Koheleth. We may even say that it is good for us, occasionally, to fix our minds on this mere physical aspect of our frail humanity.

O when shall spring visit the mouldering urn?
O when shall day dawn on the night of the grave?
It was not an infidel, but a devout believer, that wrote this. And so, too, there may be, at times, a sort of melancholy pleasure in thinking of death mainly in its aspect of repose from the toils and anxieties of the present stormy life; as in that mournful dirge so often sung at funerals—
Unveil thy bosom, faithful tomb;
Take this new treasure to thy trust;
And give these sacred relics room
To slumber in the silent dust.
Nor pain, nor grief, nor anxious fear,
Invade thy bounds; no mortal woes
Can reach the peaceful sleeper, here.

We feel no inconsistency between such strains, even when they assume a more sombre aspect, and that brighter view which the Christian takes in contemplating the spiritual side of our strange human destiny, or even as it sometimes presented itself to the Old Testament believer (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 78:24). They no more jar upon our speculative theology than the language of our Saviour, John 9:4 : “The night cometh, when no man can work” [comp. Ecclesiastes 9:10; Ecclesiastes 11:8], or that touching language of the New Testament which represents death under the soothing conception of a sleep—κοίμησις—a lying down to rest. This term is not confined to the body, as the best exegesis would show, but would seem to denote also a most blessed state of quiescence for the spirit,—a state rudimental, imperfect, unfinished, anomalous, preparatory, yet most secure,—tranquil yet not torpid—inactive, yet not inert—a holy conscious rest, a lying “under the shadow of the Almighty,”—separate from the present world, away from all its busy doings, if not from all its memories, and thus cradled again, nursed and educated, we may say, for that higher finished life, when death shall be fully conquered. He is the last and greatest enemy [1 Corinthians 15:26] who, until that time, retains some dominion over all humanity,—even over those “who sleep in Jesus,” or “through Jesus,” as it should be rendered,—the saved, or rather, the being saved [present participle, οἱ σωζόμενοι] the being healed, or made alive, as the Syriac has it, those in whom the redemptive life of Christ is overcoming death, and growing to the matured and perfect life of eternity. For it is clear, even from the New Testament, that this “state of death,” or reign of death, still continues, in a certain sense, and in a certain degree, until the resurrection. Its power is over all men, and over the whole man, soul and body, although for the Christian, whose “life is hid with Christ in God” [Colossians 3:3], its sting is taken quite away. There is no mistaking the language, 1 Corinthians 15:54 : ὅταν δὲ τὸ φθαρτὸν τοῦτο ἐνδύσηται�. τ. λ. It is only when this corruption puts on incorruption, and this mortal puts on immortality, that there is brought to pass the saying, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” Till then, Death and Hades go together. One is but the continuation of the other. Being in Hades is being in the kingdom of the dead. Till then, the Old Testament idea still holds of death, not as extinction, non-existence, or not being [see Genesis, Notes, pp. 273, 586], but as a state, a state of positive being, though strange and inexplicable,—a state of continued personality, real though undefined, utterly unknown as to its condition, or only conceived of negatively as something that differs, in almost every respect, from the present active, planning, toiling, pleasure-grasping, knowledge-seeking life “beneath the sun.” That there is something strange about it, something difficult to be thought, is intimated in our Saviour’s language respecting the Old Testament saints, Luke 20:38, πάντες γὰρ αὐτῷ ζῶσιν, “for they all live unto Him” [unto God],—as though what was called their life was something out of them, and could only be made dimly conceivable to us by this remarkable language. Compare the Jewish expression as we find it, 1 Samuel 25:29, and as it is interpreted and often quoted by Rabbinical writers, צְרוּרָה בִּצְרוֹר הַחַיִּים “bound up in the bundle of life with Jehovah thy God,” or as the Vulgate renders it—anima custodita quasi in fasciculo viventium apud Dominum Deum tuum.

There is yet a reserve to the doctrine of the immediate after life, still a veil cast over it, we may reverently say, even in the New Testament. The most modern notions of a sudden transition to the highest Heavens, and to the perfect life, are, perhaps, as far to the one extreme, as the descriptions of mortality which Koheleth gives us, in his gloomy mood, may be in the other. This idea of the dead passing straightway into a busy active state of existence, in these respects resembling the present life, with its proud talk of progress, was unknown to the early Church, as its liturgies and funeral hymns most evidently show. See especially the earliest Syriac hymns, much of whose language the modern notions would render almost unintelligible. Christ has indeed “brought immortality to light,” but it is chiefly by the doctrine of the resurrection, that great article so clear in the New Testament, though having its shadow in the Old. But there is another doctrine there, however little it is studied. We are taught that there was a work of Christ in Hades. He descended into Hades; he makes proclamation [ἐκήρυξεν] in Hades (1 Peter 3:19) to those who are there “in ward.” He is our Christian Hermes, belonging to both worlds. He is the ψυχαγωγὸς, the conductor and guide of redeemed spirits in Hades, the “Shepherd and Bishop of souls” (1 Peter 2:15), the “Good Shepherd” (Psalms 23:0), who leads his spiritual flock beside the still waters, in the Cetzalmaveth, the “valley of the death shade,” or terra umbrarum, and, at the same time, the great High Priest above, to whom is “given all power in Heaven and in earth.” He is the מלאך הגואל the Redeeming Angel of the Old Testament, to whom the righteous committed their spirits [Psalms 31:6] and the Mediator more clearly revealed in the New.

The doctrine of the immediate after life, as we have said, has still a shadow cast upon it. We should not, therefore, wonder to find Koheleth still more under the veil. His very language implies continuance of being, in some way, although presenting a state of inactivity, and, in a word, a want of all participation in the doings and even memories of the present “life beneath the sun.” It did not fall in the way of his musing to speak of differences, in this state, between the “righteous and the wicked;” but, in other passages of the Old Testament, it appears more clear, though still barely hinted, as in Proverbs 14:32; Psalms 73:20; Psalms 49:15. It is a state in which the one is “driven away,” whilst the other “has hope.” Elsewhere, however [Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14], Koheleth affirms his strong belief that at some time, and in some way, the two classes will be judged, and the difference between them most clearly manifested.

In the rhvthmical version of Ecclesiastes 9:10, חָכְמָה is rendered philosophy, because the writer seems, in this place, to take it in its more pretentious sense, or for human wisdom in distinction from the Divine,—speculative inquiry,

Very much as Paul uses σοφία, sometimes, in the New Testament. And so, perhaps, we would come nearer to the intended force of the other word דַּעַת by rendering science, although not exactly corresponding to it in the most modern acceptation of the term. It is Paul’s γνῶσις, “curious knowledge,”—not mere knowing, as consciousness, whether Koheleth held to any such consciousness or not. Comp. it with חֶשְׁבּוֹן (plan, reckoning) in immediate connection. So, too, even when speaking of the perfect psychological state (1 Corinthians 13:8) Paul says of knowledge (γνῶσις), καταργηθήσεται—not, “it shall cease,” as rendered, but “it shall be deposed”—put one side—no longer made the highest thing, as in this fallen life, where the intellectual is placed above the moral nature. In the blessed and perfect life to come, moral or spiritual contemplation, pervaded by ἀγάπη, shall be the highest exercise of the soul. Even the intermediate state is to be regarded as superior to the present existence in ontological rank, and the terms embryotic or rudimental, if applied to it, must be taken simply as denoting a formative state of repose, preparatory to the more glorious life that follows.—T. L.]

[II. The Alleged Epicureanism of Koheleth. Note on Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, in connection with Ecclesiastes 11:9-10. These passages have given rise to much comment. Stuart, with many others, regards the first of them as expressing the real advice which Koheleth would give in regard to the conduct of life, and then says: “In all this there is nothing Epicurean.” What then is Epicureanism ? Or how shall we distinguish? It would seem to be almost too sober a word. The language here used may almost be characterized as Anacreontic: “Eat with joy thy bread, and drink with mirth thy wine,—thy garments always white, and oil ne’er lacking to thy head:”

Πίνωμεν, ὦ πίνωμεν—

Τὸ ῥόδον τὸ καλλίφυλλον
Κροτάφοισιν ἁρμόσαντες.

How, then, shall we avoid what seems to be on the very face of the passage ? It will not do to resort to any special interpretation on account of a mere exigentia loci; although it might, with perfect truth, be said, that such Anacreontic advice is not only contrary to all the more serious portions of the Scriptures, Old and New, but also to the deeply solemn views in regard to human vanities, and the great awaiting judgment, that Koheleth himself has, in other places, so clearly expressed. All this outward argument, however, would not justify us in calling it irony, unless there were some internal evidence, something in the very style of the passage which called for such a conclusion. A careful examination, made in the spirit of the whole book, shows that there are such internal grounds of criticism. It was a feeling of this that led Jerome, the most judicious of the Patristic commentators, to call it a προσωποποιί̈α, a personification, or dramatizing, more rhetorum et poetarum, or what the Jewish critics (see p. 71) called “the case speaking,” the language of human life and human actions, in view of the pure earthliness of its condition. It is the language of the author so far as he puts himself forth as the representative of such a despairing state: quasi dixerit, O homo quia ergo, post mortem nihil es, dum vivis in hac brevi vita fruere voluptate, etc.: “O man since, after death, thou art nothing, then, whilst thou livest thy short life, enjoy pleasure, indulge in feasts, drown thy cares in wine, go forth adorned in raiment ever white (a sign of perpetual joy), let fragrant odors be ever breathing from thy head; take thy joy in female loveliness (quæcunque tibi placerent feminarum, ejus gaude complexu, et vanam hanc et brevem vitam vana et brevi voluptate percurre) and in brief pleasure pass this thy brief life of vanity,” etc. He then represents Koheleth as retracting all this in the passage immediately following, where he says, “I turned again, and saw that the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor wealth to the prudent, etc.,” in other words, that thus to live in joy was not in man’s power, but that all things happened as they were disposed by God: Hæc, aliquis inquit, loquatur Epicurus et Aristippus, et ceteri pecudes philosophorum, ego autem (inquit Koheleth) mecum diligenter retractans, invenio non est velocium cursus, necfortium prælium, etc, etc.

There are two things in the passage itself that lead the serious reader to such a feeling, and such a view of its ironical, or, rather, its dramatic character. The first is the exuberance of the language, its extravagance, its Bacchanalian style, we might almost call it, inconsistent with, or certainly not demanded by, such a moderate, rational, sober view, or such a sober advice to live a contented life, as Stuart contends for, or, in other words, a judicious, virtuous Epicureanism. The joy so oft repeated, the mirth, the wine, the white raiment, the aromatic oils—what has such superlativeness of style to do with such a moderate, sober purpose ? It was no more needed than the language which Euripides (Alcestis 800) puts into the mouth of Hercules when playing the Bacchanalian, and which this Solomonic irony so closely resembles:—

Εὔφραιυε σαυτὸν, πῖνε. τὸν καθ̓ ἡμέραυ

Βίον λόγίζου σόν. τὰ δ̓ ἄλλα τῆς τύχης.

Τίμα δὲ καὶ τὴν πλεῖστον ἡδίστην θεων.

Οὔκουν, μεθ̓ ἡμῶν, τὴν λύπην ἄφεὶς, πίη,

Στεφάνοις πυκασθείς κ. τ. λ.

Make glad thy heart, drink wine, the life to-day
Regard thine own; all else belongs to chance.
In high esteem hold Love’s delightful power.
In social joy indulge—with chaplets crowned;
And drive dull care away.
Hear Koheleth:
Go then and eat with joy thy bread, and drink with mirth thy wine,
In every season be thy garments white,
And fragrant oil be never lacking to thy head;
Live joyful with the wife whom thou hast loved.

The one kind of language seems but the echo of the other. If we disregard the spirit and the design of Koheleth, there is an Epicurean zest in his description, not surpassed, to say the least, by that of Euripides. We may say, too, on the other hand, that it is not easy to distinguish his language, and the spirit of it, from that of Paul in his quotation, 1 Corinthians 15:32 : “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” If it be said that the context there makes it impossible for us to mistake the Apostle’s ironical meaning, the same may be said in respect to the writer who tells us, only a short distance back,

Better to visit sorrow’s house, than seek the banquet hall;
Better is grief than mirth;
For in the sadness of the face the heart becometh fair.
It is the very nature of rhetorical irony, especially if it be the irony of sorrowful warning, to paint the thing in higher colors, we may say, than would suit its description in a more direct and didactic admonition. Had it been a piece of Isocratean moralizing in commendation of a moderate, contented, frugal, and thankful enjoyment of life, it would naturally have been in a lower and calmer strain. The wine, the odors, the splendid raiment, would have been all wanting. They are just the points in the picture, however, to make an impression on the serious mind when it is felt to be a description of the vanity of life. We may even say that they are just the things that lead to such a feeling.
The second internal evidence showing the true character of this passage, is the feeling of sorrow, which, amidst all its apparent joyousness, the writer cannot suppress. We have called it irony, but the irony of the Bible is not only serious, but sometimes most tender. Whilst, then, the language here criticised is not the mere worldly advice that Stuart and others would represent, neither is it, on the other hand, the hard irony of sarcasm, or of unpitying satire. Koheleth’s thoughts of death, and its awful unknown, have depressed his faith, and there seems to have come over him a feeling akin to despair. His idea of God’s justice, and of some great destiny, or world, over and encompassing the present, is not lost—for it reappears strongly afterwards—but, for the moment, the thought of man, as he is seen in the earthly state, becomes predominant, and he breaks out in this strain, in which pity is a very manifest element. “Go then and enjoy thy poor life.” There is strong feeling in it, a most tender compassion, and this shows itself in that touching mention of the transient human state, and, especially, in the pathetic repetition of the words
The days of thy vain life,—that life
Which God hath given to thee beneath the sun;
Yea, all thy days of vanity.
This plaintive tone is utterly inconsistent with the Epicurean interpretation, however moral and decent we may strive to make it.

Again, there are two arguments against such a view that may be said to be outside of the passage itself, though one of them is derived from another place in the book. First—in Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, we have a strain so precisely similar, in style and diction, that we cannot help regarding it as possessing the same rhetorical character. It may be thus given metrically, yet most literally, and with the full force of every Hebrew word:

Rejoice O youth in childhood; let thy heart
Still cheer thee in the day when thou art strong;
Go on in every way thy will shall choose,
And alter every form thine eyes behold.
It is not easy to mistake the character of this, even if it were not followed by that most impressive warning:
But know that for all this, thy God will thee to judgment bring:
O then turn sorrow from thy soul, keep evil from thy flesh;
For childhood and the morn of life, they, too, are vanity.

Here the caution is clearly expressed, although we feel that such expression is just what the previous words, rightly comprehended in their spirit, would have led us to expect. Rhetorically regarded, such an addition would have been exactly adapted to this place (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). It would have been in harmony with the tone of what had gone before. It is, however, so suggested by the whole spirit of the passage, and especially by that irrepressible tone of commiseration that appears in the words before cited (the pathetic allusion to our poor vain life), that it may well be a question whether any such distinct warning, or any mere moralizing utterance. could have had more power than the “expressive silence” which leaves it wholly to the feeling and conscience of the reader.

The passage Ecclesiastes 11:9-10, is so important in itself, and has such a bearing on the one before us, as to justify its fuller interpretation in this place. Many modern commentators regard these verses also as a serious advice to the young man, if the term serious could, with any propriety, be applied to such an admonition. The older commentators, however, are mostly the other way. They regarded the passage as indeed most serious, but as having this character from its sharp pet mournful irony. So Geier says : “magnam interpretum partem hæc verba imperative, ironice accipere.” Among these were Kimchi, Munsterus, Mercerus, Drusius, Junius, Piscator, Cartwright, Cajetan, Vatablus, Ar. Montanus, Osorius, Mariana, Menoch, Pineda, Jac. Mathiæ, and others, among whom may be reckoned Tremellius, if we may judge from the tone and style of his Latin translation. Luther was the other way, and it may be said that he has given the tone to many that have come after him, evangelical as well as rationalist. “This is said seriously by Solomon,” he tells us, “de licita juventutis hilaritate, concerning the permitted joy fulness of youth, which ought not to be unbridled, or lascivious, but restrained within certain limits.” But what right has he to say this ? What limits are assigned ? The language seems wholly without limitations, or reserve : “Walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes,” terms which every where else in the Hebrew Scriptures are used, in malam partem, to denote sensual and ungodly conduct; as in Numbers 15:39 : “Ye shall not go (roam) אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם after your own heart, and after your eyes.” Compare also the frequent phrase שְׁרִירוּת לֵב, commonly rendered “the imagination of the heart,” but really meaning the turnings (choices) of the heart,—doing as one pleases. See Deuteronomy 29:18; Psalms 71:13 where it is synonymous with יֵלְוּ בְּמוֹעֲצוֹתֵיהֶם “walking in their own counsels,” also Jeremiah 9:13, and other places. Compare especially Job 31:7, where, for “the heart to follow the eye” is placed among the grievous sins, being regarded, in fact, as the very fountain-head of sin: אִם אַחַר עֵינַי הָלַךְ לִבִּי, “if my heart hath gone after mine eyes,” the will (the conscience) after the choice, the velle after the optare, the voluntas after the voluptas. “Walk in the way of thine heart;” what an admonition this to a young man, even if such a one ever needed an exhortation to hilarity, or to the following of his own pleasure! How strange, too, as coming from one who, in other parts of this book, talks so differently : “Better the house of mourning than the house of feasting;” “I said of laughter it is mad, of mirth, 0 what availeth it!” Compare it with the repeated charge of Solomon, in the Proverbs, to restrain the young man—not to let him go after the imaginations of his heart, to put a bridle on him (חנך Proverbs 22:6), and “bow down his neck in his youth.” The language here is peculiar, and each word must be sharply looked to: “Go on ” (it is הַלֵּךְ, the piel intensive) “keep going, in the ways (all the ways, in the plural, every way) of thine heart,” וּבְמַרְאֵי עֵינֶיךָ (the k’tib is undoubtedly right) and in (or after) the forms of thine eyes.” The word מַרְאֶה is so frequently used of female beauty (see the phrase יְפַת מַרְאֶה Genesis 12:11, and other places) that the idea is at once suggested here; and what a contrast then to our Saviour’s teaching, that even to look is sin. What a contrast, we may say, is the whole of it thus considered, to what Christ says about the broad way, and to St. John’s most emphatic language (1 Epist. Ecclesiastes 2:16) respecting “the lust of the eye,” the desire of the eye, τὴν ἐπιθυμὶαν τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν! If we give the phrase the more general rendering, “the sight of the eyes (sight objectively) it would come to the same thing. It would be a license to follow every form of beauty. There might be urged, too, the contrast between it (thus regarded as serious advice even in the most decent sense that could be given to it) and Paul’s counsel for young men, Titus 2:6, τοὺς νεωτέρους παρακάλει σωφρονεῖν, “exhort them to be sober,” temperate, sound-minded, having reason and conscience ruling over appetite and desire. How unlike, too, the Psalmist’s direction Psalms 119:9, “Wherewith shall a young man cleanse his way,—by taking heed thereto (לִשְׁמֹר), by watching it, according to Thy word.” How utterly opposed to this is the unlimited advice to the young man “to walk in the way of his heart,” that is, to do as he pleases. Luther feels the force of this contrast, for he says in the same comment, when he comes to speak of the words ותלך בדרכי לבך “walk in the ways of thine heart,” fecit hic locus ut totum hunc textum ironiam esse putarem, quia ferme in malum partem sonat, siquis incedat in via cordis sui: “This place would make me think that the whole text was irony, because the phrase ‘to walk in the way of one’s heart,’ is so generally taken in a bad sense.” But, after all, he goes on to say that we must abide by the general idea of the passage (as he had taken it) and suppose the necessary limitations. Very few commentators have had a clearer perception than Luther of the general sense of the Scripture, but in regard to such passages as these he is not to be implicitly trusted.

He was of a very jovial disposition; but what chiefly led him to such interpretations, here and elsewhere in this book, was his aversion to some of the more austere dogmas, as well as practices or Romanism, and especially his dislikeof asceticism, as exhibited by the Monks. Hence he allowed himself too much to be driven towards the opposite extreme. Thus in his commenting on the words במראה עיניך, “in the sight of thine eyes,” he boldly says, quod offertur oculis tuis hoc fruere, ne fias similis Monachorum, etc.: “whatever is offered to your eyes, that freely enjoy, lest you become like the monks who would not have one even look at the sun.” And so in the beginning of the passage, Ecclesiastes 9:9 : non prohibet jucunditates sive voluptates, quemadmodum stulti monachi fecerunt, etc.: “It does not prohibit delights nor pleasures, as the foolish monks have done, which is nothing else than making stocks of young men (even as Anselm says, ille monachissimus monachus, that most monkish monk), or than attempting to plant a tree in a narrow pot.” Others of the Reformers and early Protestant commentators were influenced in the same way in following Luther, and there can be no doubt that this has much affected their interpretations of Koheleth, making him talk like an Epicurean, and then denying that it was Epicureanism, or trying to throw over it a decent ethical mantle by their unwarranted hypotheses and limitations. After they have done their best, however, in this way, they make this writer of Holy Scripture to be a moralist inferior to Socrates and Seneca, who certainly never thought that a young man needed any such advice as that. The pious Geier seems to be aware of the suggestions that might arise from other parts of Scripture, and would zealously guard this virtuous Solomonic young man, who needs such a caution against excessive sobriety, from any comparison with the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:0. But what did he do, that filius perditus, that spendthrift, ille heluo, as Geier calls him, except “to walk in the ways of his heart, and in the sight of his eyes?” What is all pleasure-seeking selfishness [φιλαυτία, φιληδονία, 2 Timothy 3:2-4] but saying “give unto me my portion of goods that falleth to me,” in this world ?

It might have been thought, however, that the latter part of Ecclesiastes 9:10, following the warning of judgment, would have been treated in a different manner; but the general consistency of which Luther speaks has led some to an Epicurean interpretation even of this. We regret to find our author Zöckler following such a course in his interpretation of the words הסר כעם מלבך “turn away sorrow from thy heart.” “Here,” he says, “the positive exhortation to hilarity (Frölichsein) is followed by a dissuasion from its opposite,”—that is, the young man is told to avoid seriousness as painful and troublesome (Kummer, Unmuth,) which he gives as the interpretation of כַעַם]. It is a recommendation of hilarity, of mirth, in opposition to asceticism or undue sobriety, as though the young man’s danger in Solomon’s time, or in the days of Malachi, or at any other period in the human history, had been in that direction of gloom and monkery.

There are few interpreters more honest, or more learned, than Stuart, and yet his comment here is certainly a very strange one. “In verse 9th,” he tells us, “the command is to do something positive in the way of enjoyment; here it is to shun evil and suffering. Taking both together, the amount is, enjoy all that a rational man can enjoy in view of retribution, and avoid all the evil and suffering that can be avoided.“ Retribution here is a mere make weight. Why retribution for simply acting according to the advice? If pleasure be the good, then, as that acute moralist Socrates says, “he who gets the most of it is the ἀγαθὸς�, the good man, the best man.” “But why,” asks Stuart, “is this so strongly urged upon the young?” The question is certainly one that is very naturally suggested in view of such an interpretation, but the answer he gives is remarkable: “Plainly because that even they, although in the best estate of man, hold life by a very frail tenure. Therefore, as even youth is so frail and evanescent, make the best of it. It is almost as if he had said—Then or never.” In other words, a short life and a merry one. Anacreon could not have said it better. No exhortation to obedience to parents, to temperance, to sober-mindedness, in the style of Paul, no advice to “watch over the heart,” such as Solomon gives in the Proverbs, but a direction “to walk in the sight of the eyes,” and a caution against seriousness as inconsistent with youthful hilarity. Strange advice this under any circumstances; and still more strange from the fact that it is the only place in the book in which young men are addressed,—the first verse of chap. 12 being but a continuation of the admonition here given. Look at the argument as it thus presents itself: God will bring thee unto judgment, young man; therefore put away all serious concern from thy heart. And why? Because youth is brief and evanescent. How does it compare Scripturally with the other view as presenting the other reasoning : Know that God will bring thee into judgment for “following the ways of thine heart, and walking in the sight of thine eyes;” therefore “turn sorrow from thy heart” [thy soul], that is the feeling of remorse, the sense of the Divine displeasure, or of thine own self-accusing indignation [כַּעַם] for such an unrestrained living to thyself, and “keep off [הַעֲבֵר, avert] evil from thy flesh”—that is, the bodily ills that must come from a life of sensuality, or following” “the desire of thy heart,” and “the voluptuous sight of thine eyes.” And why? Because “childhood and youth [שַׁחֲרוּת, literally, the morn of life] are vanity;” that is, all their joys, take them at the highest, are vain and worthless in comparison with the serious evils, whether for this life or another, that such a course of free indulgence may bring upon thee.

The ironical nature of this passage is accepted by that great critic, Glassius, in the Philologia Sacra, p. 1518. It is an “apostrophe,” he says, “a concessio ironia cujus correctio, a consuetudine animi et sensuum prava revocans, statim subjungitur:” Go on,—but know. He compares it with Isaiah 2:10, “enter into the rock, and hide thyself in the dust,” but know that God will find thee. So Isaiah 8:9, “Join yourselves together, enter into council, but know that it will be all in vain.” It is equivalent to saying, “though ye do this,”—the imperative being really the statement of an hypothesis. Another passage he cites is Isaiah 21:5 : “Spread the table, set the watch, eat, drink,” etc.; though that may be taken in a different way.

A second outside proof of the true character of the language, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, is derived from a passage in the Apocryphal book entitled Wisdom of Solomon. It is evidently an imitation of these very verses, and, whether written by a Jew or a Christian, is evidence of the earliest mode of interpreting all such modes of speaking in Koheleth. It is the language of the worldly pleasure-seeker, chap. 2 Ecclesiastes 9:6-8 : “Come then, and let us enjoy the good that is before us; let us be filled with costly wine and aromatic odors; let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with roses before they be withered,” etc. The imitation is evident throughout the passage. It appears not only from the language used, but also from the fact that the writer, both by his general style and by the title he has given to his book, intended it as a more full and florid setting forth of what he deemed the pervading thought and feeling of Koheleth. Now, by placing this same style of language in the mouth of the sensualist, he makes clear that he was of like opinion with Jerome (whose views may have been derived from his Hebrew teacher representing the same view afterwards advanced by Kimchi), that as uttered by Koheleth, it was a προσωποποιί͂α, a dramatic representing of what is expressed in human action,—the sensualist’s own conduct speaking forth the view of life that would be in accordance with the idea that this is all of man, and that there is no such judgment as that on which Koheleth elsewhere so strongly insists. This is rendered still more clear from the sudden change that immediately follows in Ecclesiastes 9:11, and which Jerome justly characterizes as Koheleth retractans. He cannot let the language go without showing how full of vanity it is, viewed only in regard to the present world, and according to the known condition of human life :

I turned again to look beneath the sun.
Not to the swift the race, I saw,
nor victory to the strong, Nor to the wise secure their bread, nor to the prudent wealth.
The very uncertainty of all human efforts renders such advice utterly vain. Why say to men, be happy, eat, drink, and be merry, “let thy garments be ever white, and let aromatic oils be never lacking to thy head,” when no strength, no wisdom, can give any security for the avoidance of sorrow, much less for the attainment of such Epicurean joys. In such a connection the thought of there being, necessarily for man, a judgment and a destiny, making all such pleasures, even if innocent, mere vanity and worth lessness in the comparison, is more powerfully suggested than it would have been by the most express utterance.
There are some other things of less exegetical importance, but deserving of attention in their bearing on the real character of these important passages. Thus the words כִּי כְּבָר רָצָה הָאֱלהִֹים אֶת־מַעֲשֶׂיךָ [Ecclesiastes 9:7]are rendered in E.V.: “God now aoeepteth thy works,” indicating that He has, in some way, become gracious. The true rendering is, “God hath already,” or rather, “long ago, accepted thy works.” It is a thing of the past, settled as the Divine way in regard to man; He has never been off ended at all. It is the doctrine of Plato’s second class of atheists (as he calls them, though they claim to be theists), who believe in a Divine power, but regard Him as taking no account of men, or rather, as accepting all human works, as He accepts the operations of nature. Or it is a Hebraistic form of the Lucretian doctrine of the Divine nature:

Semota. ab nostris rebus, sejundaque longe.

That this general acceptance by Deity of human works is not the serious language of Koheleth, is evident from his so frequent insisting on judgment, either in this world or in another, as though it were his favorite doctrine, his “one idea,” we might say, in all this discourse. So Wordsworth regards the whole passage as the language of the sensualist (which is the same as Jerome’s ironical προσωποποιτα or Koheleth speaking in their person), and thus comments on the words in question: “Evil men misconstrue their prosperity into a sign that God accepts their works.” There is, however, too much inferential moralizing in such a statement. In their language, God’s “accepting their works” is rather another mode of saying that He is utterly indifferent about them, or, as they would represent in their Lucretian hyperpiety, too great, too exalted, to mind the affairs of men.

The 10th verse of Ecclesiastes 10:0 is rendered in E. V.: “Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might.” The Vulgate favors this, but the accents forbid it. They connect בכחך with לעשות, requiring us, if we follow them, to render: “whatever thy hand findeth to do in thy strength, do it.” This puts a different aspect upon the sentence, and the accents, with their usual nice discrimination, bring it out. The other rendering would indeed suggest a similar meaning, but the accents make it clear. It becomes the maxim, τὸ κράτιστον τὸ δίκαιον, might makes right, or let might be thy law of right, or as it is rendered in the Metrical Version,—

Do, then, whate’er thy hand shall find in thy own might to do.

Wordsworth takes the same view: “Do all that thy hand findeth to do by thy power” [see Hengstenberg, Ewald]; that is, “let might be right with thee; care nothing for God or man, but use thy strength according to thy will.” Surely this is not the serious language of the serious Koheleth, the earnest teacher of judgment, who speaks so solemnly of “the fear of God, and who says, only two verses from this : “Then I turned again to look beneath the sun, and saw that the race was not to the swift nor the victory to the strong.”

The language following: “For there is no knowledge,” etc., even Stuart regards as that of the objector, though replying to the serious advice given above, as though he had said in addition: enjoy thyself, etc., for there is no after state to give thee uneasiness. “But we have seen,” says Stuart, “that the settled opinion of Koheleth himself [Ecclesiastes 8:12-13] was something quite different from this.” It is not easy to understand the remark. It would have furnished Stuart a much more consistent ground of reasoning, had he regarded the whole passage as irony or personification. He says, at the close of his comment on the verses: “The positive passages which show Koheleth’s view of judgment, and of retribution, are too strong to justify us in yielding to suggestions of this nature”—that is, the supposition of his denial of all future accountability. This rule of criticism, had they consistently followed it, would have made Koheleth all clear in many places where the opposite method produces inextricable confusion and contradiction.

Such remarks as Zöckler and Stuart sometimes make in deprecation of’ Epicureanism [Hitzig, in general, gives himself no concern about it] show the pressure upon evangelical commentators (and even upon all who may in a true sense be styled rational), when they adopt what may be termed the half-way Lutheran mode. The doctrine of Epicurus, even in its most decent form, is so inconsistent with any devout fear of God, and this again is so utterly alien to any philosophic or scientific theism that maintains a Deity indifferent to human conduct, one who cannot be prayed to, ἀνευκταῖος, and without any judgment either in this world or another; for in respect to the true nature of Koheleth’s exhortation, either idea presents a conclusive argument. His doctrine must be somehow connected with all that system of truth, with all that “wisdom, of which the fear of the Lord is the beginning.” To a mind deeply meditative. like that of Koheleth, the thought of there being no judgment, no hereafter (should such a belief be ever forced upon it), would not be ground of joy, much less of an exhortation to joy, as addressed to others. He would not, even in that, case, adopt the Epicurean maxim: Let us eat and drink,—rather let us fast, let us mourn, in view of an existence so brief, so full of vanity, so soon to go out in darkness all the more dense, a despair all the more painful, in consequence of the transient light of reason with which we are so strangely and irrationally endowed—e tenebris in tenebras—like the bubble on the wave in a stormy night, reflecting for a moment all the starry host above, and then going out forever. There is no religion, no superstition, no creed so awfully serious, as that of human extinction, and of a godless world. Place the two exhortations side by side: Live in the fear of God, for thou must come to judgment: Live joyful, for soon thou wilt be no more; in either alternative, the present value of the present being, considered for its own sake dwindles in a rational estimate. As connected with a greater life to come, though made important ant by such connection, yet how comparatively poor! regarded as the whole of our existence, how absolutely vain! In the first aspect, it is vanitas; in the second, it is vanitas vanitatum, utterly vain, a “vanity of vanities.” The Epicurean idea and the Epicurean call to mirth are as inconsistent. with the one as with the other.—T. L.]


[1][see the text note on this world, and the simple translation of the Vulgate and LXX., which came from the text as it is.—T.L.]

[2][It may well be said, on the other hand, that the exceedingly forced rendering of Zöckler and Vaihinger show that the common translation “joined, associated,” and the reading יחְֻבַּר on which it is grounded, are correct—T. L.]

[3][“And merrily drink thy wine.” No where do we find more of the Bacchanalian expression, and yet Zöckler would regard it here as the “innocent and normal use of wine.” (See his comment on Ecclesiastes 10:19): whilst elsewhere, with no difference of language, it denotes, he says, the “corrupting and licentious use.” The irony of the passage is shown at once by comparing it with Ecclesiastes 7:2 and Ecclesiastes 2:2.—T. L.]

[4][As there is nothing said about moral conduct in the text, or any other conduct except unrestrained eating and drinking, this remark of Zöckler’s is perfectly gratuitous. If it is to be taken as serious advice of Koheleth, then Hitzig’s view is far more logical: “It is just this eating, drinking, etc., that God approves beforehand, so that you can indulge, without any scruple to disturb your sensual joy.” How contrary this is to other declarations of Koheleth we have elsewhere shown. How utterly opposed it is to other numerous passages of Scripture need not be pointed out. It is equivalent to saying God will never “bring thee into judgment” for it, or that He is utterly indifferent. See the Appendix to this Division, p. 134.—T. L.]

[5] [Ecclesiastes 9:9. “The days of thy vain life,” or, more literally, “all the days of the life of thy vanity.” The 70 left out this second mention because they regarded it as a mere repetition. Martin Geier would connect it, not with the former, which he says would be odiosa repetitio, but specially with what is said about the wife, as indicating that the conjugal relation continues through life, as also the idea, Luke 26:36, that there is no marriage in the other world. Other commentators have, in like manner, been disturbed by it, but it only shows that no amount of piety, or of learning, will fit a man to be a true interpreter of this book without something of the poetic spirit by which it is pervaded. It is not emphasis merely, much less an enforced motive to joy, that this repetition gives us, as Hitzig and Zöckler maintain, but a most exquisite pathos in view of the transitoriness and poverty of life. The style of diction reveals the style of thought, showing how far it is from the Epicurean sentiment of any kind, whether gross or moderate. It is the language of one musing, soliloquizing, full of some touching thought that causes him to linger over his words, and keep their sad music in his ear. There are examples of it in the Greek poets, especially in Homer, which have led the ancient writers on rhetoric to give it a technical name. Thus Plutarch calls it ἐπαναφορά, and so also the later writer Macrobius, Saturnal. Lib. iv. 6, more particularly describes it: Nascitur pathos et de repetitione quam Græci ἐπαναφορὰν vocant, cum sententiæ ab iisdem nominibus incipiunt: “Pathos also comes from repetition, which the Greeks call epanaphora, when sentences begin from the same words.” It receives some of its best illustrations from passages in the Iliad, such as 20:371, 23:641, and especially 22:126, which, though very different from this, in other respects, has this same kind of pathetic repetition. It is Hector soliloquizing in the time of his awful danger from the near approach of Achilles—

οὐ μέν πως νῦν ἐστὶν�̓ ἀπὸ πέτρης,

τῷ ὀαριζέμεναι, ἅτε παρθένος ἠΐθεος τε,

παρθένος—ἡΐθεος τ̓ ὀαρίζετον�.

No time for such a friendly parley now,
As when from oak and rock, The youth and maid,

the youth and maid, hold parlance sweet together.

Very different is the sentence of Solomon in its subject matter, but like it in pathos, in the peculiar repetitive diction to which it gives rise, and the musing state of soul from which it flows:
Go then, with gladness eat thy bread, and merrily drink thy wine,
Thy garments ever white, thy head with fragrant oil adorned;
Enjoy with her whom thou dost love, the days of thy vain life,—

The days of thy vain life, the all, that God has given to thee Beneath the sun.

It is indeed irony, but not that of scorning sarcasm, nor of heartless satire. It is the irony of Scripture, full of a mournful tenderness, taking this as its most impressive form of serious admonition. Interpreted in its spirit, and even by what is rhetorically revealed upon its face, there is no contradiction between it and Ecclesiastes 7:2-3; Ecclesiastes 2:2; and other passages in this book that represent sobriety, and even sadness, as morally and spiritually better for man than mirth. We have dwelt more fully on these topics, and at the hazard of some repetition, in the extended excursus on the alleged Epicureanism of Koheleth, p.131. It has been done, because no ideas suggested by the book seemed more important in their bearing upon its thorough interpretation,—T. L.]

[6][A much clearer sense, and better adapted to the whole spirit of the passage, is obtained by taking חָכְמָה in the concrete, like the Greek τὸ σοφόν, for a wise thing, a problem, a mystery, something tl at requires wisdom to explain it. Such use of it, though not found elsewhere in the Hebrew, is justified by the perfectly parallel Greek idiom, and by what is demanded to represent the peculiar thinking of this book. The mystery, puzzle, τὸ σοφόν, φιλοσόφημα, ζήτημα, inquiry, is the curious case which he is going to state. The use of חָכְמָה, Ecclesiastes 7:25, is quite dissimilar. This view is confirmed by what follows: “and it seemed great to me.”—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/ecclesiastes-8.html. 1857-84.
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