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I. At the end of chap. viii. and the beginning of chap. ix., Koheleth points out that it is impossible for us to construct a satisfactory policy of life. "The work of God," or, as we say, the ways of Providence, cannot be fathomed. To the wisest man, labour as he may, the drift of the Maker is dark. The enjoyment of life, he says, is your portion; that is, your destiny, your duty, your end. Therefore, whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. The only thing in the universe we can be sure about is pleasure. Therefore let us get pleasure while we may.
II. He has shown us the uncertainty and consequent uselessness of piety. He has shown us that good men and bad men experience joy and sadness indiscriminately, and at last meet with the same fate of death. He now proceeds to poi;t out (Ecclesiastes 9:11 ) the uselessness of "wisdom and skill," of what we should call ability. Misfortunes come upon the most deserving, and they cannot be foreseen. And besides the thwarting of Providence, able men have to suffer from the ingratitude of their fellows. The world is slow to reward the ability to which it owes so much. Sometimes it does happen that the advice of a wise man is taken in spite of his being poor. But one fool (not sinner) destroyeth much good. The fool is a great power in the world, especially the conceited fool. His self-assurance is mistaken for knowledge, while the modesty of the wise man is thought to be ignorance.
III. It may strike you as strange that among the various aims in life which Koheleth discusses he never mentions character. And yet it would have been stranger if he had. For what is the good of character to a being who may at any moment be turned into clay? Convince me that I must be extinguished some day, and that I may be extinguished any day, and I, too, should agree with Koheleth that my only rational course was to enjoy to the utmost the few moments that might be vouchsafed to me. Let me feel, on the other hand, that I carry latent within me "the power of an endless life," and that some day in the great hereafter it is possible I may find myself "perfect even as God is perfect," and then I can despise pleasure; I can see beauty in pain; I can gather up the energies of my being and consecrate them to righteousness and to God with enthusiastic and unwavering devotion.
A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 252.
I. The Preacher commences this section by carefully defining his position and equipment as he starts on his last course. (1) His first conclusion is that wisdom, which of all temporal goods still stands foremost with him, is incapable of yielding a true content. Much as it can do for man, it cannot solve the moral problems which daily task and afflict his heart, the problems which he must solve before he can be at peace (8:16-9:6). (2) He reviews the pretensions of Wisdom and mirth (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10 ). To the baffled and hopeless devotee of wisdom he says, "Go, then, eat thy bread with gladness, and drink thy wine with a cheerful heart. Whatever you can get, get; whatever you can do, do. You are on your road to the dark, dismal grave, where there is no work nor device; there is the more reason therefore why your journey should be a merry one." (3) He shows that the true good is not to be found in devotion to affairs and its rewards (9:13-10:20).
II. What the good is, and where it may be found, the Preacher now proceeds to show. (1) The first characteristic of the man who is likely to achieve the quest of the chief good is the charity which prompts him to be gracious, and show kindness, and do good, even to the thankless and ungracious. (2) The second characteristic is the steadfast industry which turns all seasons to account. Diligent and undismayed, he goes on his way, giving himself heartily to the present duty, "sowing his seed, morning and evening, although he cannot tell which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both shall prove good." (3) This man has learned one or two of the profoundest secrets of wisdom. He has learned that giving, we gain; and spending, thrive. He has also learned that a man's true care is himself; that his true business in the world is to cultivate a strong, dutiful character which shall prepare him for any world or any fate. He recognises the claims of duty and of charity, and does not reject these for pleasure. These keep his pleasures sweet and wholesome, prevent them from usurping the whole man and landing him in the weariness and satiety of disappointment. But lest even these safeguards should prove insufficient, he has also this: he knows that "God will bring him into judgment;" that all his work, whether of charity, or duty, or recreation, will be weighed in the balance of Divine justice (Ecclesiastes 9:9 ). This is the simple secret of the pure heart the heart that is kept pure amid all labours, and cares, and joys.
S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 221.
Reference: 8:16-10:20. G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 108.
I. In chap. xi. Koheleth urges upon us the necessity of diligence. He has come to the conclusion that it is not worth while to have a nicely calculated scheme of life, because at every turn our calculations may be upset by the interference of an arbitrary Providence. But, on the other hand, as he now points out, we must do something, or we shall have no enjoyment at all. We shall never reap if we do not sow. We must be ready even to throw away our labour, to "cast our bread upon the waters."
II. In the third and following verses, he warns us against being misled by a doctrine on which he has previously much insisted; the doctrine, viz., that we never know what God is going to do with us. We must do what we have to do in spite of our short-sightedness. It is worth while to be diligent on the chance that our diligence may be rewarded. Young man, says Koheleth, enjoy yourself in your youth. Make the most of that golden season. "Walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes." Only you must remember not to overdo it. God always punishes excess. In old age you will reap what you have previously sown. Remember, therefore, thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Bethink you, before it is too late, of those natural laws which cannot be broken with impunity.
III. Notice the contrast between this worldly philosophy of Koheleth's and the Jewish religion at its best. The precept which he here enunciates is distinctly contrary to one which we find in the Pentateuch (Numbers 15:39 ). There we read, "Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes; but remember to do all the commandments of the Lord and be holy unto your God." According to Judaism, God, righteousness, holiness, character, stand first; and to them our personal inclinations must be altogether subordinated. According to Koheleth, pleasure stands first. God is introduced only as an after-thought or a check. Communion with God was felt by the really pious Jew to be the supreme happiness of life; but according to Koheleth, God is to be obeyed merely because He will punish disobedience. True morality is devotion of the soul to goodness; true religion is the devotion of the soul to God devotion that is not increased by the hope of profit nor diminished by the certainty of loss. If we would be true to the manhood with which we have been endowed, we too must cultivate this spirit of self-abandoning devotion to goodness and to God.
A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 266.
References: Ecclesiastes 10:16 . S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 123. 10 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 234; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 227.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29