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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 8

Verses 1-15

Ecclesiastes 7:0 and Ecclesiastes 8:1-15

I. The endeavour to secure a competence may be not lawful only, but most laudable, since God means us to make the best of the capacities He has given us and the opportunities He sends us. Nevertheless we may pursue this right end from a wrong motive, in a wrong spirit. Both spirit and motive are wrong if we pursue our competence as though it were a good so great that we can know no happy content and rest unless we attain it. For what is it that animates such a pursuit save distrust in the providence of God? Left in His hands, we do not feel that we should be safe; whereas if we had our fortune in our own hands, and were secured against chances and changes by a comfortable investment or two, we should feel safe enough.

II. Our sympathies go with the man who seeks to acquire a good name, to grow wise, to live in the golden mean. But when he proceeds to apply his theory, to deduce practical rules from it, we can only give him a qualified assent, nay must often altogether withhold our assent. The prudent man is likely: (1) to compromise conscience (Ecclesiastes 7:15-20 ); (2) to be indifferent to censure (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 ); (3) to despise women (Ecclesiastes 7:25-29 ); (4) to be indifferent to public wrong (Ecclesiastes 8:1-13 ).

III. In the closing verses of the third section of the book, the Preacher lowers his mask, and tells us plainly that we cannot, and must not, rest in the theory he has just expounded; that to follow its counsels will lead us away from the chief good, not towards it. This new theory of life he confesses to be a "vanity" as great and deceptive as any of those he has hitherto tried.

S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 188.

References: Ecclesiastes 8:1 . T. Hammond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 333.Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 281.Ecclesiastes 8:4 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1697, and My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 201 Ecclesiastes 8:8 . U. R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 38; A. Mursell, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 297.

Verses 1-15

Ecclesiastes 7:0 and Ecclesiastes 8:1-15

I. The endeavour to secure a competence may be not lawful only, but most laudable, since God means us to make the best of the capacities He has given us and the opportunities He sends us. Nevertheless we may pursue this right end from a wrong motive, in a wrong spirit. Both spirit and motive are wrong if we pursue our competence as though it were a good so great that we can know no happy content and rest unless we attain it. For what is it that animates such a pursuit save distrust in the providence of God? Left in His hands, we do not feel that we should be safe; whereas if we had our fortune in our own hands, and were secured against chances and changes by a comfortable investment or two, we should feel safe enough.

II. Our sympathies go with the man who seeks to acquire a good name, to grow wise, to live in the golden mean. But when he proceeds to apply his theory, to deduce practical rules from it, we can only give him a qualified assent, nay must often altogether withhold our assent. The prudent man is likely: (1) to compromise conscience (Ecclesiastes 7:15-20 ); (2) to be indifferent to censure (Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 ); (3) to despise women (Ecclesiastes 7:25-29 ); (4) to be indifferent to public wrong (Ecclesiastes 8:1-13 ).

III. In the closing verses of the third section of the book, the Preacher lowers his mask, and tells us plainly that we cannot, and must not, rest in the theory he has just expounded; that to follow its counsels will lead us away from the chief good, not towards it. This new theory of life he confesses to be a "vanity" as great and deceptive as any of those he has hitherto tried.

S. Cox, The Quest of the Chief Good, p. 188.

References: Ecclesiastes 8:1 . T. Hammond, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 333.Ecclesiastes 8:1-8 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 281.Ecclesiastes 8:4 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii., No. 1697, and My Sermon Notes: Ecclesiastes to Malachi, p. 201 Ecclesiastes 8:8 . U. R. Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiii., p. 38; A. Mursell, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 297.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 8:9

The writer of these words means by "applying his heart" the exercise of his attention and his judgment. He was a general observer, with an exercise of his judgment. The Holy Scriptures plainly encourage an exercise of thoughtful attention on the actions and characters of men, and the course of the world's events. But now comes the question as to the proper manner of doing this, so that it may really be beneficial.

I. If this attention to the actions and events of the world be employed merely in the way of amusement, there will be little good.

II. It is necessary to have just principles or rules to be applied in our observation of the world. And in this matter the most fatal error is to take from the world itself our principles for judging the world. They must be taken absolutely from the Divine authority, and always kept true to the dictates of that.

III. Notice two or three points of view or general references in which we should exercise this attention and judgment. (1) The grand primary reference with which we survey the world of human action should be to God. (2) Our observation should have reference to the object of forming a true estimate of human nature. (3) It should have reference to the illustration and confirmation of religious truths. (4) A faithful corrective reference to ourselves in our observation of others is a point of duty almost too plain to need mentioning. (5) Our exercise of attention and judgment on "every work that is done under the sun "should be under the habitual recollection that soon we shall cease to look on them; and that instead we shall be witnessing their consequences, and in a mighty experience also ourselves of consequences.

J. Foster, Lectures, 2nd series, p. 16.

References: Ecclesiastes 8:9-17 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 303.Ecclesiastes 8:10 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., p. 200. Ecclesiastes 8:11 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol. v., p. 313; C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 128; G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 184; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 259. Ecclesiastes 8:12 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii., No. 148.

Verses 16-17

Ecclesiastes 8:16-12:7

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.

Verses 16-17

Ecclesiastes 8:16-12:7

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.

Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 8:17

One of the most curious things to think of in the world is the inconceivable number of secrets which lie around us in nature, in humanity, in the lives and characters of those whom we know or those we love. It is even more curious to think how much of the interest of human life, of its work, its thoughts, of its affections, dwells in the fact of these secrets. The sting of our ignorance is the spur of life; and the consciousness of a secret to discover is the flavour of happiness, though the flavour is sometimes too bitter.

I. In nature we meet a secret to which we know we have no key. The feeling of that secret has been universal in man. It lies at the root of half of the religion and mythology of the world. It is the solution of that secret which we seek through life, which all art has sought incessantly. But we get no reply, except a reply half of pity, half of mockery. There is no face so full of the wild satire of secrecy as the face of nature.

II. Still more profound, still more mocking, though never so delightful, is the secret of humanity. There is a tragedy in it which is not in the secret of nature, and which makes our interest in it more passionate, more dreadful, more bitter, more absorbing. The existence of the secret precludes dull repose. It kindles an insatiable and noble curiosity; and wherever its pursuit is hottest, there is man most noble. When its excitement lessens or nearly dies, then we get what we call the dark ages, and man is base. But that never can last long; the secret of humanity springs up again to lure us after it: and the mark of all times when man has awakened into a new resurrection has been this, and this more than all things else: deep and wonderful interest in mankind, pursuit of the secrets of humanity.

III. What use is there in the secret? How can we retain its charm, and get its good, and purify ourselves from the fear, and anger, and sloth, and despair we know it creates in many? (1) Its use may lie in this: in the education which the excitement it creates gives to all our nature; in the way it awakens all our passions, all our intellect, all our spirit, and leads them through a tempest in which they are purified from their evil, in which, their excess being exhausted, calm and the tempered balance of them become possible. (2) The answer to the second question is to do as the religious Greek did who threw himself on the eternal justice of God: to throw ourselves on the eternal love of a Father. To do that is to know that there must be a Divine and good end to all; to know that all which we see, however dark it be, is education; to know the victory of goodness, justice, and truth, and knowing it, to throw ourselves on that side, and to feel that in doing so we are chiming in with God and yielding our lives and will into His hand.

S. A. Brooke, Sermons, 2nd series, p. 161.

References: 8 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 182; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 187.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/ecclesiastes-8.html.