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Like things happen to good and bad. There is a necessity of death unto men. Comfort is all their portion in this life. God's providence ruleth over all. Wisdom is better than strength.
Ecclesiastes 9:1. No man knoweth either love or hatred— Yet no man knoweth what he should either love or hate. This being mentioned in an inquiry concerning the choice which a man ought to make of a certain course of life preferably to another, the most obvious sense is that whereby love and hatred are supposed to be metonymically taken for the objects of either; for, in making a choice you must consider what you should love or set your affections upon. But I do not see by what figure those words can be understood of the manner in which God stands affected towards men. His attributes are sufficiently known for any body to conclude with certainty, that he loves the righteous, and hates the workers of iniquity; and, as to particular persons, every man has within himself the testimony of his own conscience, which he has a right to look upon as the evidence of God (1 John 3:21.), and whereby he may be informed whether he deserves love or hatred. But for a man who looks no further than this earthly dispensation, and whose inducement to a choice must arise from the prospect of happiness only here below, it may be a matter of doubt whether unhappy virtue deserves to be chosen before seemingly prosperous vice. All that is before him is vanity; and therefore, it is hard for him to know what he should either love or hate, as he does not find that either a virtuous or a vicious course is constantly rewarded or punished in this world. This interpretation may be confirmed from what is said of the dead, Ecc 9:6 that their love, hatred, and envy are perished; which may conveniently enough be understood of the objects of those passions. Desvoeux.
Ecclesiastes 9:3. This is an evil among all things— This is an evil in all that happeneth under the sun, that the fate of all is alike; and also that the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil. Nay, they love that while they live which hath nothing but a fair appearance, and after that they go to the dead. They love vanities; they set their heart upon that which appears to them to be love-worthy; and as they walk, according to David's phrase, Psa 39:6 in a vain show, they may be said to love that show, that appearance, that shadow of beauty, which strikes them as much as if it had the greatest solidity in it. See Desvoeux, p. 390. We have from Ecc 9:15 of the preceding chapter, to the present verse, the second instance, (see on chap. 8: Ecclesiastes 9:14.) which is that of the unjust preference generally given to this life, or rather, to the condition of those who enjoy it, above the condition of the dead. The injustice of that preference has been already proved, chap. Ecclesiastes 6:3-6. But the sacred orator here resumes the same subject, particularly to shew that our mistake on this point is not owing so much to our proceeding upon wrong principles, as to our not minding the certainty of a future state. To this effect he relates the two principal reasons which may be alleged in support of that preference, and allows both to be true in fact. In the mean time, he takes notice that in this very life which we are so fond of, we are at a loss how to place our affections; and we are so because we stop at what passes within our observation in this world, and go no farther. A strong confirmation of the main argument; and a strong presumption that we were not originally made for this world only! However, as this last observation is placed between the two reasons assigned for the preference given to life, the thread of the reasoning is thereby made more difficult to be followed, which induced me to give this previous notice. It is true, that earthly things can afford nothing better than the present fruition of what our benevolent Creator puts in our power to possess. Nay, this is so certain, that no other reason can be assigned why God Almighty should have made those things wherein we take comfort, except as the allay of all our toil during our abode in a world wherein he hath placed us, ch. Ecclesiastes 8:15. Men might be sufficiently convinced of this; yet so few act agreeably to their conviction in that respect; so few allow themselves time to rest from their labour, and to enjoy the fruit thereof, that this cannot be the only or the ultimate design of Providence. This appears farther from the seeming confusion which prevails in the world with respect to the recompensing of virtue and vice; Ecclesiastes 9:16-17. For, whereas one would expect from the hand of a righteous God, a distribution of good and evil proportionable to the conduct of every individual, we find that the fate of the virtuous man and that of the wicked is alike, to all outward appearance. Hence it is, that with respect to moral, as well as to natural things, men, in general, scarcely know what they should either love or hate, and are mostly determined by their corrupt passions with respect to the former, and by mere appearances with respect to the latter.
This is their case during their life, and death generally overtakes them before they rectify their notions, chap. Ecclesiastes 9:1-3.
Ecclesiastes 9:4. For to him that is joined to all the living, there is hope— And surely, whoever is in society, with all the living, hath hope. For a living dog hath a better chance than a dead lion. The last sentence may be literally rendered thus: Good shall rather happen to a living dog than to a dead lion; which is the foundation of hope expressed in the words immediately preceding. It is very evident, that Solomon speaks in these verses solely of a man's state with respect to this world; not denying or affirming any thing concerning his state or expectations in the next.
Ecclesiastes 9:6. Also their love, &c.— We have from Ecc 9:4 to the present, the second reason. It is certain, that the dead are excluded from any participation, not only of the pleasure of this world, but likewise of all affairs belonging to it. The most unfortunate in the world may hope to see a happy change in their circumstances; at least they know that death shall put an end to all their troubles: but the dead have no sort of knowledge of what passes in this world; their expectations with respect to it are buried with them; and there is neither reward for, nor scarce a remembrance of their actions. No regard is paid to what they loved, or hated, or envied. The influence of their passions and affections over human affairs is at an end, Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. Upon this double ground, viz. the consideration of earthly enjoyments, and the impossibility that the dead should partake of them, is grounded the preference expressed in the vulgar saying, a living dog hath better hopes, or a better chance, than a dead lion. Our author, who has always an eye to useful conclusions, cannot resolve to part with the above-mentioned facts, without suggesting two right inferences which men ought to draw from them. See on Ecclesiastes 9:9-10.
Ecclesiastes 9:9. For that is thy portion— For she is thy portion, &c. From the 7th to this verse we have the first inference. We must not reject the use of what God has given us for our portion in this world. The usefulness of earthly things would not cease with this short life, if it had not been our bounteous Maker's will that we should use them while they are within our reach. Their being given in common to the good and to the wicked, must not make us imagine that we should become less acceptable to him by using them. A due sense of God's always approving our conduct: when it is agreeable to Scripture and reason, must be a sufficient preservative against such notions.
Ecclesiastes 9:10. In the grave whither thou goest— In the abode of the dead whither thou goest. See Peters on Job, p. 324. We have here the second inference. Whatever may be the use of other faculties to be acquired in another state, since those we now have are talents entrusted with us only for a time, it becomes us to avail ourselves of the present opportunity, and to use them to the best purposes that we can before we are divested of them.
Ecclesiastes 9:11. I returned, and saw under the sun— I considered again, and I observed under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 9:12. When it falleth suddenly upon them— By sudden accidents. The third proof, in support of the third proposition, is taken from those wrong judgments which are known to be such only by the event; but which must have appeared very probable before. These are brought under two heads. I. In Ecc 9:11-12 it is highly probable that the end will be attained by using such means as are the best adapted to it. Yet experience testifies that this is not always the case: success generally depends upon a certain concourse of circumstances, which it is not in the power of man to procure, or upon seizing an opportunity, which he is so far from knowing, that, like the fishes and birds, he is apt to mistake that for a favourable one which proves most dangerous to him. Thus he often runs to his utter destruction, at the very time when he imagines himself in a successful and most infallible pursuit of happiness.
Ecclesiastes 9:15. There was found in it a poor wise man— An experienced wise man; and so at the end of the verse. II. We have the second head in Ecclesiastes 9:13-15. Our expectations are not less liable to disappointment with respect to those advantages which are considered as infallible consequences of certain actions, without being directly intended by the person concerned, who may be supposed to have a nobler motive in his eye. This our author proves by a single instance, propounded in the form of a parable. A wise experienced man found means to deliver his country from impending ruin. Who would not imagine that immortal praise would have been this man's reward? Yet the contrary happened; and the danger was no sooner over than the deliverer was forgotten. This serves for a transition to the author's fourth and last proof, which is taken from the little regard that is generally paid to wisdom, notwithstanding its acknowledged excellency. He alleges three instances of that ill-judged disregard. See on the following verses.
Ecclesiastes 9:16. Then said I, Wisdom is better, &c.— Then said I, Wisdom is preferable to power: Yet the wisdom of this experienced man is despised, and his deeds are not mentioned. We have here the first instance. Though wisdom is, in its own nature, much superior to strength and power, (as plainly appears from the foregoing example, wherein strength was wanting, and yet a wonderful deliverance wrought by wisdom alone) yet it is not minded, when the possessor of it has nothing to recommend him besides his abilities and services, and his best actions are soon forgotten.
Ecclesiastes 9:17. The words of wise men are heard in quiet— The words of wise men are more minded among people of a sedate disposition, than the cry of war raised by a man in authority among the inconstant multitude. By this translation, the opposition designed by the author is preserved, as well as the allusion to the condition of a small town mentioned in the preceding parable. See Desvoeux, p. 420.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Solomon had been applying his mind with the greatest diligence to the study of wisdom; he had deliberately weighed and considered the particulars mentioned in the foregoing chapters, and the end that he proposed was, to declare all this for the edification of others. One difficulty in the ways of Providence he had observed, respecting the distribution of afflictions and prosperity to the righteous and the wicked; they who deserve least possessing often the greatest affluence; and they who are the excellent of the earth pining under sickness, distress, and indigence. Now, though he could not fully resolve this work of God, the method of divine procedure, yet the following observations may serve to give much satisfaction to the children of God.
1. That the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; he has a peculiar regard to them, and all their affairs; he knows their works, and approves them.
2. That no man knoweth either love or hatred, by all that is before them; the different outward circumstances of men, which occur in the course of divine providence, are no proofs either of God's love or hatred: or, neither love nor hatred man knows, so deceitful are appearances; the professions of love are often insincere, and there is hatred sometimes entertained where we expected the warmest regard; but all things are before them, known to the Eternal Three, from whom nothing is hid, nothing is secret.
3. That all things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; yet are their characters widely different: those are good, renewed by divine grace; clean, as washed in the Blood of sprinkling, devout in their services, and fearing an oath, cautious how they swear, and seriously and religiously observant of their engagements: these are unclean, their nature impure, and their iniquities not washed away by the atoning Blood; profane, living in the habitual neglect of the ordinances of God; sinners, openly violating the laws of God and man; swearers, rash, blaspheming, perjured. Now, that so little difference should be put between persons of such opposite characters, may seem an evil among all things that are done under the sun: and that there is one event unto all, is enough to harden the wicked into atheism, and may shake the confidence of the just: but, though the dispensations of God's providence be the same, the design of them is vastly different; the same event is made a savour of life unto life to the one, and a savour of death unto death to the other; so that God will at last appear just, and all will be made to own the righteousness of his government.
4. The wicked, notwithstanding any prosperity which they may enjoy, are miserable both in life and death. The heart of the sons of men is full of evil; observing this similarity of events to all, they infer that God hath forsaken the earth, and therefore give an unrestrained indulgence to every appetite: and madness is in their heart while they live; their delights are but a madman's dreams; they are insensible of their real wretched state, and know not the eternal ruin to which they are hastening: and after that they go to the dead; death closes the scene, their pomp cannot descend with them into the grave; they are numbered with the transgressors, and perish without hope eternally.
2nd, The advantages of life are set forth: happy they who improve them!
1. While there is life, there is hope. Whatever be a man's condition, either temporal or spiritual, however deplorable and unhappy, it may change or improve. The chief of sinners may, through grace, quickly become the chief of saints, and a living dog is better than a dead lion; the meanest beggar alive may be made useful, and enjoy comforts of which the mightiest monarch dead is incapable.
2. The certainty of approaching death is a warning to prepare for it: now is the moment of opportunity; and the living, who know that they shall die, are called upon continually to be ready. It will be too late shortly, for as the tree falleth it must lie.
3. After death, this world is no more to us. The dead know not any thing, nothing that passes here below, or how it is with those whom they have left behind; neither have they any more a reward, cannot enjoy any longer the fruit of their labours upon earth; for the memory of them is forgotten among the living; in a few years, their very memorial sinks into utter oblivion, and it is not known that they have ever been. Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy is now perished, death causes every endeared relation to cease, and terminates all quarrels; when we are removed from the world, neither the persons nor transactions in it any more affect us: neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun, the worldling's portion ends with his expiring breath; he can carry nothing away with him: and the gracious soul, however rich his portion in heaven, then quits whatever was near or dear to him on earth.
4. The inference that he would draw from hence is this; to make use of the moment which is allotted us, to enjoy with thankfulness the blessings that God bestows; and in our place and station give all diligence to glorify God, and make our calling and election sure. The temperate use and enjoyment of the good creatures of God are so far from being criminal, that they are enjoined us, as our portion under the sun, Ecclesiastes 9:9. And since all our days here are but vanity, the greater need have we to make the best of them: to eat and drink temperately, but with gladness of heart; to be sordid neither in diet nor apparel, but to live according to our station and circumstances, and enjoy the relations of life with which the Lord has blessed us. And God, far from forbidding us these comforts, accepteth thy works; a thankful heart in the use of the blessings that he bestows, is a daily sacrifice. Only amid our enjoyments, we must not forget the occupations which call for our diligence and labour. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, the duties of our station, and especially the great concern of religion, do it with thy might, with zeal and vigour, in opposition to every difficulty and discouragement; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest; it will be too late there to discover the error of our ways, and impossible to amend them. To-day, therefore, whilst it is called to-day, up and be doing; the night cometh, when no man can work.
3rdly, Though diligence is our duty, yet the issue of all events is in the hands of God, and things often turn out strangely contrary to appearances. This the preacher had observed, and warns us of, that we may not be too sanguine and confident.
1. The strongest presumptions often disappoint us. The race is not to the swift; they stumble in their course, or, too secure of success, loiter, and are distanced: nor the battle to the strong; the most formidable armies have been often defeated by a handful of men; and the mightiest champions, as Goliath, have fallen before the arm of a stripling: neither yet bread to the wise, who frequently want, while fools wallow in affluence; nor yet riches to men of understanding, who, though ingenious in their professions, and most likely to succeed in the world, are strangely neglected, and others of no abilities preserved before them; nor yet favour to men of skill, whose parts and genius, instead of engaging the esteem of others, sometimes provoke their envy; and many, instead of exalting them, seek to depress and disgrace them: but time and chance happeneth to them all, far different is the event from human probability.
2. We are frequently unable to guard against misfortunes. Man knoweth not his time, what calamities are before him, when his day of evil shall come, or how to avoid it; but like the fishes taken in an evil net, and as birds caught in the snare, so unexpectedly do we often find a snare in what promised the greatest satisfaction, and see ourselves suddenly involved in trouble, where we least suspected danger. We need be ready for every event, prepare for changes, expect disappointments, die daily, and then the day of evil shall never surprise us unawares.
4thly, Though the wise are not always successful, yet usually they are so; and wisdom is most necessary to the management of our affairs, notwithstanding the disappointments from which the most prudent are not exempted.
1. Solomon gives an instance of the advantages of wisdom; and the story might have been a real matter of fact which fell under his observation; or it may be a parable, intended to set the subject he treated of in a more striking light. There was a little city, and few men within it, consequently less able to sustain the attacks of a besieger; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it; so that the ruin of it seemed inevitable, and resistance vain: now there was found in it a poor wise man, who, though so deserving of honour and advancement, had been neglected; yet, like a true patriot, in time of danger, he stepped forth a volunteer in the service of his ungrateful countrymen, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet, highly as he had merited, he found no recompence, no man remembered that same poor man, so ill are kindnesses, done to men, often requited: God will not be so unmindful of the works of faith and labours of love. Some explain this mystically of Christ, and, no doubt, the application is beautifully apposite: The little city is the church of God, separated by walls of salvation from the world around it; the members of it are few in number, and utterly unable to defend themselves against their spiritual enemies. The great king who besieges it, is Satan, the prince of the power of the air, under whom the armies of earth and hell are leagued against God's people; by open attacks (of temptation and persecution), and by secret sap (of errors and delusions), he seeks to open a way into the fortress. The poor man, who, in this desperate case, steps forth, is Christ, filled with all the treasures of divine wisdom; and by his counsel the devices of Satan are disappointed, the souls of men rescued from ruin, and the faithful saved with an everlasting salvation: yet those who saw him in the flesh never thought him capable of such a transaction, and rejected him; and even after what he has done, the most of those who are in the pale of his church by profession, give him not the glory of his work, and ascribe no praise to this great Deliverer, but live and die in an ungrateful neglect of their great Benefactor.
2. The inferences which the wise man draws from hence are, that wisdom is better than strength, and able to extricate us from difficulties, baffling superior force, and foiling the weapons of war. Nevertheless, we may still observe in general, that the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard; such are the prejudices of the world against the poor, that many a bright genius lives and dies in obscurity. Some few, indeed, may overcome the common prepossession, and learn to value merit, however depressed in station: by them the words of wise men are heard in quiet; they attend silently their sage instructions: or the humble, modest, and diffident manner in which the wise deliver their opinion, weighs more with them, than the cry of him that ruleth among fools, whose pride on his station makes him noisy and blustering; but the thoughtful hearer prefers the force of the poor man's reasoning to all the pomp of sounding words displayed by the other.
3. As much good as one poor wise man doth, so much evil proceeds from one sinner; he destroyeth much good: all the gifts which by nature he possesses, and the abundance bestowed on him by Providence, are vilely perverted and abused; he is the plague of his family, his city, his country; his ill example is contagious; and his study is, to counteract the influence of good laws, or good advice: and through the corruption of the human heart, ever prone to evil, his endeavours are but too frequently successful.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany