The division into chapters is unfortunate here, as this verse is closely connected with Ecclesiastes 12:10 of the preceding chapter. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Set God always before thine eyes from thy earliest days; think who made thee, and what thou wast made for, not for self-pleasing only, not to gratify thy passions which now are strong; but that thou mightest use thy powers and energy in accordance with the laws of thy being as a creature of God's hands, responsible to him for the use of the faculties and capacities with which he has endowed thee. The word for "Creator" is the participle of the Verb bara, which is that used in Genesis 1:1, etc; describing God's work. It is plural in form, like Elohim, the plural being that of majesty or excellence (comp. Job 35:10 : Isaiah 54:5). It is used here as an appellation of God, because the young have to bethink themselves that all they are and all they have come from God. Such plurals are supposed by some to be divinely intended to adumbrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—a dark saying containing a mystery which future revelation shoed explain. "He that made thee" is a common phrase in Ecclesiasticus (Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 7:1-29 :30; 39:5). It is to be noted that Gratz reads "cistern" or a fountain" in place of "Creator," and explains this term to mean "wife, as in Proverbs 5:15-18. But the alteration has nothing to support it, and is most unnecessary, though Cheyne was inclined to adopt it ('Job and Solomon,' in loc.). While the evil days come not; i.e. before they come. "Days of evil; αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς κακίας ( σεπτυγαιντ) (Matthew 6:4); tempus afflictionis (Vulgate). The phrase refers to the grievances and inconveniences of old age, which are further and graphically described in the following verses, though whether the expressions therein used regard literal anatomical facts, or are allegorical representations of the gradual decay of the faculties, has been greatly disputed. Probably both opinions contain a partial truth, as will be noted in our Exposition. Ginsburg considers that the allusion is not to the ills that in the course of time all flesh is heir to, but rather to that premature decay and suffering occasioned by the unrestrained gratification of sensual passions, such as Cicero intimates ('De Senect.,' 9.29), "Libidinosa et intemperans adulescentia effetum corpus tradit senectuti." There is nothing specially in the text to support this view, and it is most reasonable to see here generally a figurative description of decay, whatever may be the cause. I have no pleasure in them. Ere the time comes when a man shall say, "I have no pleasure in life." Thus the aged Barzillai asks," Can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat, or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing-men and singing-women?" (2 Samuel 19:35).
From this verse onwards there is great diversity of interpretation. While some think that the approach of death is represented under the image of a storm, others deem that what is here intended is first the debility of old age, and then, at Ecclesiastes 12:6, death itself, which two stages are described under various metaphors and figures. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened. Under these figures the evil days spoken of above, the advent and infirmities of old age, are represented. It would be endless and unprofitable to recount the explanations of 'the terms used in the following verses. Every commentator, ancient and modern, has exerted his ingenuity to force the poet's language into the shape which he has imagined for it. But, as we said above, there are at least two distinct lines of interpretation which have found favor with the great majority of expositors. One of these regards the imagery as applicable to the effects of a heavy storm upon a house and its inmates, explaining every detail under this notion; the other regards the terms used as referring to the man himself, adumbrating the gradual decay of old age, the various members and powers that are affected being represented under tropes and images, Both interpretations are beset with difficulties, and are only with some straining and accommodation forced into a consistent harmony. But the latter seems to us to present fewer perplexities than the other, and we have adopted it here. At the same time, we think it expedient to give the other view, together with our own, as there is much to be said in its favor, and many great writers have declared themselves on its side. Wright supposes (and makes a good case for his theory) that Koheleth is referring especially to the closing days of winter, which in Palestine are very fatal to old people. The seven last days, indeed, are noted even now as the most sickly and dangerous of all the year. The approach of this period casts a dark shadow upon all the inhabitants of the house. The theory is partly borne out by the text, but, like the other solutions, does not wholly correspond to the wording. In the present verse the approach of old age, the winter of life, is likened to the rainy season in Palestine, when the sun is obscured by clouds, and the light of heaven darkened by the withdrawal of that luminary, and neither moon nor stars appear. And the clouds return after the rain; i.e. one storm succeeds another (Job 37:6). The imagery is intended to represent the abiding and increasing inconveniences of old age. Not like the spring-time of life and season, when sunshine and storm are interchanged, winter and old age have no vicissitudes, one dreary character invests them both. The darkening of the light is a common metaphor for sorrow and sadness (see Job 30:26; Job 33:28, Job 33:30; Ezekiel 32:7, Ezekiel 32:8; Amos 8:9). The symbolism of the details in this verse has been thus elucidated: The diurnal lights appertain to the soul, the nocturnal to the body; the sun is the Divine light which illumines the soul, the moon and the stars are the body and the senses which receive their radiance from the soul's effulgence. These are all affected by the invasion of old age. Some consider that this verse depicts the changes which pass over the higher and more spiritual part of man's nature, while the succeeding imagery refers to the breaking up of the corporeal frame. We should say rather that Ecclesiastes 12:2 conveys a general impression, and that this is then elaborated into particulars. According to the interpretation mentioned above, a gathering tempest is here depicted, the details of which are worked out in the following verses.
The gradual decay which creeps over the body, the habitation of the spirit, is depicted under the figure of a house and its parts (comp. Job 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13, 2 Peter 1:14). In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble; i.e. this is the case when, etc. The hands and arms are appropriately called the keepers of the house, for with them (as Volek quotes from Galen) man ὁπλίζει καὶ φρουρεῖ τὸ σῶμα παντοίως ("arms and guards his body in various ways"). The shaking and palsy of old men's limbs are thus graphically described. This would be one of the first symptoms discerned by an observer. Taking the alternative interpretation, we should see in these "keepers" the menservants who keep watch before the house. These menials are appalled by the approach of the tempest, and quake. And the strong men shall bow themselves. The "men of power" are the legs, or the bones generally, which in the young are "as pillars of marble" (So Ecclesiastes 5:15), but in the old become feeble, slack, and bent. Delitzsch quotes 3 Macc. 4:5, where we read of a multitude of old men being driven mercilessly, "stooping from age, and dragging their feet heavily along." In this clause it is this stooping and bending of the body that is noticed, when men are no longer upright in stature, "swifter than eagles," "stronger than lions" (2 Samuel 1:23; 1 Chronicles 12:8), fit for war and active employment. It is therefore less appropriate to see in the "keepers" the legs, and in the "strong men" the arms. Otherwise, the latter are the masters, the wealthy and noble, in contradistinction to the menials before mentioned: both lords and servants are equally terrified at the approach of the tempest, or, as Wright would say, at the touch of the sickly season (see on verse 2). And the grinders cease because they are few. The word for "grinders" is feminine, doubtless because grinding was especially women's business (Matthew 24:41). By them are meant the teeth, as we speak of molars, though, of course, the term here applies to all the teeth; so the Greeks used the term μύλαι for the dentes molares. These, becoming few in number and no longer continuous, cannot perform their office. Otherwise, the grinding-women leave their work or pause in their labors at the approach of the storm, though one does not quite see why they should be fewer than usual, unless the sickly season has prostrated most of their companions, or that many are too frightened to ply their task. Having, therefore, harder work than usual, they stop at times to recruit themselves. But the analogy rather breaks down here; one would be inclined to suppose that their decreased numbers would make them apply themselves more assiduously to their necessary occupation. As the "keepers" in the former part of the verse were slaves, so these grinders are slaves, such occupation being the lowest form of service (see Exodus 11:5; 16:21; Job 31:10). Those that look out of the windows be darkened. These are the eyes that look forth from the cavities in which they are sunk; they are regarded as the windows of the bodily structure, the eyelashes or eyelids possibly being deemed the lattice of the same. Plumptre cites Cicero, ' De Nat. Deer.,' 2.140: "Sensus interpretes ac nuntii return, in capite, tamquam in arce, mirifice ad usus necessaries et facti et collocati sunt. Nam oculi, tamquam speculatores, altissimum locum obtinent; ex quo plurima conspicientes, fungantur sue munere." The dimness in the eye and the failing in the powers of sight are well expressed by the terms of the text. It is noted of Moses, as something altogether abnormal, that at a hundred and twenty years of age "his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7). Taking the alternative interpretation, we must regard those that look out of the windows as the ladies of the house, who have no menial work to do, and employ their time in gazing idly from the lattices (comp. 5:28; 2 Samuel 6:16; Proverbs 7:6). These "are darkened," they are terror-stricken, their faces gather blackness (Joel 2:6), or they retire into corners in terror of the storm. These women are parallel to "the strong men" mentioned above; so that the weather affects all of every class—men-servants and maidservants, lords and ladies.
The doors shall be shut in the streets. Hitherto the symbolism has been comparatively easy to interpret. With this verse inextricable difficulties seem to arise. Of course, in one view it is natural that in the bitter weather, or on the appearance of a tempest, the doors towards the street should be closed, and none should leave the house. But what are meant by the doors in the metaphorical house, the body of the aged man? Jewish expositors understood them to be the pores, or excretive apertures of the body, which lose their activity in old age—which seems an unseemly allusion. Plumptre will have them to be the organs which carry on the processes of sensation and nutrition from the beginning to the end; but it seems a forced metaphor to call these "double-doors." More natural is it to see in the word, with its dual form, the mouth closed by the two lips. So a psalmist speaks of the mouth, the door of the lips (Psalms 141:3; comp. Micah 7:5). As it is only the external door of a house that could be employed in this metaphor, the addition, "in [or, 'towards'] the streets," is accounted for. When the sound of the grinding is low. The sound of the grinding or the mill is weak and low when the teeth have ceased to masticate, and, instead of the crunching and grinding of food, nothing is heard but a munching and sucking. The falling in of the mouth over the toothless gums is represented as the closing of doors. To take the words in their literal sense is to make the author repeat himself, reiterating what he is supposed to have said before in speaking of the grinding-women—all labor is lessened or stopped. The sound of grinding betokened cheerfulness and prosperity; its cessation would be an ominous sign (see Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22). Another interpretation considers this clause to express the imperfect vocal utterance of the old man; but it is hardly likely that the author would call speech "the voice of the grinding," or of the mill, as a metaphor for "mouth." And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird. This is a very difficult sentence, and has been very variously explained. It is usually taken to mean that the old man sleeps lightly and awakes at the chirrup of a bird. The objection to this interpretation is that it destroys the figurative character of the description, introducing suddenly the personal subject. Of course, it has another signification in the picture of the terror-stricken household; and many interpreters who thus explain the allegory translate the clause differently. Thus Ginsburg renders, "The swallow rises to shriek," referring to the habits of that bird in stormy weather. But there are grammatical objections to this translation, as there are against another suggestion, "The bird (of ill omen) raises its voice." We need not do more than refer to the mystical elucidation which detects here a reference to the resurrection, the voice of the bird being the archangel's trumpet which calls the dead from their graves. Retaining the allegory, we must translate the clause, "He [or, 'it,' i.e. the voice] rises to the bird's voice;" the old man's voice becomes a "childish treble," like the piping of a little bird. The relaxation of the muscles of the larynx and other vocal organs occasions a great difference in the pitch or power of tone (compare what Hezekiah says, Isaiah 38:14, "Like a crane or a swallow so did I chatter," though there it is the low murmur of sorrow and complaint that is meant). And all the daughters of music shall be brought low. "The daughters of song" are the organs of speech, which ere now humbled and fail, so that the man cannot sing a note. Some think that the ears are meant, as St. Jerome writes, Et obsurdescent omnes filiae carminis, which may have some such notion. Others arrive at a similar signification from manipulation of the verb, thus eliciting the sense—The sounds of singing-women or song-birds are dulled and lowered, are only heard as a faint, unmeaning murmur. This exposition rather contradicts what had preceded, viz. that the old man is awoke by the chirrup of a sparrow; for his ears must be very sensitive to be thus easily affected; unless, indeed, the "voice of the bird" is merely a note of time, equivalent to early cock-crowing. We must not omit Wright's explanation, though it does not commend itself to our mind. He makes a new stanza begin here: "When one rises at the voice of the bird," and sees here a description of the approach of spring, as if the poet said, "When the young and lusty are enjoying the return of genial weather, and the concert of birds with which no musician can compete, the aged, sick in their chambers, are beset with fears and are sinking fast." We fail altogether to read this meaning in our text, wherein we recognize only a symbolical representation of the old man's vocal powers. It is obvious to cite Juvenal's minute and painful description of old age in 'Sat.,' 10.200, etc; and Shakespeare's lines in 'As You Like It' (act 2. sc. 7), where the reference to the voice is very striking-
"His big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound."
Cox paraphrases, "The song-birds drop silently into their nests," alarmed at the tempest.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high. There is no "when" in the original, which runs, "Also, or yea, they fear on high." "They" are old men, or, like the French on, "people" indefinitely; and the clause says that they find difficulty in mounting an ascent, as the Vulgate renders, Excelsa quoque timebant. Shortness of breath, asthmatic tendencies, failure of muscular power, make such an exertion arduous and burdensome, just as in the previous verse a similar cause rendered singing impossible. The description is now arriving at the last stage, and allegorizing the closing scene. The steep ascent is the via dolorosa, the painful process of dying, from which the natural man shrinks; for as the gnome says—
τοῦ ζῇν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ
"None dotes on life more than the aged man."
The old man is going on the appointed road, and fears shall be in the way; or, all sorts of fears (plural of intensity) are in the path; as in his infirm condition tie can walk nowhere without danger of meeting with some accident, so analogously, as he contemplates his end and the road he has to travel, "fearfulness and trembling come upon him, and horror overwhelms him" (Psalms 55:5). Plumptre sees in these clauses a further adumbration of the inconveniences of old age, how that the decrepit man makes mountains of mole-hills, is full of imaginary terrors, always forecasting sad events, and so on; but this does not carry on the picture to the end which the poet has now in view, and seems tame and commonplace. The supporters of the storm-theory explain the passage as denoting the fears of the people at what is coming from on high—the gathering tempest, these fears extending to those on the highway,—which is feeble. And the almond tree shall flourish; or, is in blossom. The old man is thus figured from the observed aspect of this tree. It blossoms in winter upon a leafless stem, and its flowers, at first of a pale pink color, turn to a snowy whiteness as they fall from the branches. The tree thus becomes a fit type of the arid, torpid-looking old man with his white hair. So Wright quotes Virgil, 'AEneid,' 5.416—
"Temporibus geminis canebat sparsa senectus;"
though there the idea is rather of mingled black and grey hair than of ahead of snowy whiteness. Canon Tristram, referring to the usual version of this clause, adds, "But the better interpretation seems to be, that as the almond blossom ushers in the spring, so do the signs referred to in the context indicate the hastening (shaked, 'almond,' meaning also 'hasten') of old age and death." Plumptre adopts the notion that the name of the tree is derived from a stem meaning "to watch," and that thus it may be called the early-waking tree (see Jeremiah 1:11), the enigmatic phrase describing the wakefulness that often attends old age. But this seems a refinement by no means justified by the use of the word. Others find in the verb the signification "to disdain, loathe," and explain that the old man has lost his taste for almond nuts, which seems to be an unnecessary observation after the previous allusions to his toothless condition, the cracking and eating of such things requiring the grinders to be in perfect order. The versions are unanimous in translating the clause as the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint, ἀνθήσῃ τὸ ἀμύγδαλον: Vulgate, fiorebit amygdalus. (So Verier. and the Syriac.) Wright takes this clause and the next to indicate the opening of spring, when nature reawakens from its winter sleep, and the dying man can no longer respond to the call or enjoy the happy season. The expositors who adhere to the notion of the storm would translate, "the almond shall be rejected," alluding to fear taking away appetite; but the rendering is faulty. And the grasshopper shall he a burden. Chagab, rendered "grasshopper" here and Le 11:22; Numbers 13:33, etc; is rightly translated "locust" in 2 Chronicles 7:15. It is one of the smaller species of the insect, as is implied by its use in Isaiah 40:22, where from the height of heaven the inhabitants of earth are regarded as chagabim. The clause is usually explained to mean that the very lightest burden is troublesome to old age, or that the hopping and chirping of these insects annoy the querulous senior. But who does not see the incongruity of expressing the disinclination for labor and exertion by the figure of finding a grasshopper too heavy to carry? Who would think of carrying a grasshopper? Plumptre, who discovers Greek allusions in the most unlikely places, sees here an intimation of the writer's acquaintance with the Athenians' custom of wearing a golden grasshopper on their heads as a token that they were autochthones, "sprung from the soil." Few will be disposed to concur with this opinion. Ginsburg and others consider that Koheleth is regarding the locust as an article of food, which it was and still is in the East (Le 11:21, 22; Matthew 3:4). In some places it is esteemed a great delicacy, and is cooked and prepared in a variety of ways. So here the writer is supposed to mean that dainties shall tempt in vain; even the much-esteemed locust shall be loathed. But we cannot imagine this article of food, which indeed was neither general nor at all seasons procurable, being singled out as an appetizing esculent. The solution of the enigma must be sought elsewhere. The Septuagint gives, καὶ παχυνθῇ ἡ ἀκρίς: the Vulgate, imping, uabitur locusts, "the locust grows fat. Founded on this rendering is the opinion which considers that under this figure is depicted the corpulence or dropsical swelling that sometimes accompanies advanced life. But this morbid and abnormal condition could not be introduced into a typical description of the usual accompaniments of age, even if the verb could be rightly translated as the Greek and Latin versions give it, which is more than doubtful. Delitzsch, after some Jewish interpreters, considers that under the term "locust" is meant the loins or hips, or caput femoris, which is thus named" because it includes in itself the mechanism which the two-membered foot for springing, placed at an acute angle, presents in the locust." The poet is thought to allude to the loss of elasticity in the hips and the inability to bear any weight. We cannot agree to the propriety of this artificial explanation, which seems to have been invented to account for the expressions in the text, rather than to be founded on fact. But though we reject this elucidation of the figure, we think Delitzsch and some others are right in taking the verb in the sense of "to move heavily, to crawl along." "The locust crawls," i.e. the old man drags his limbs heavily and painfully along, like the locust just hatched in early spring, and as yet not furnished with wings, which makes it8 way clumsily and slowly. The analogy derives another feature from the fact, well attested, that the appearance of the locust was synchronous with the days considered most fatal to old people, namely, the seven at the end of January and the beginning of February. So we now have the figure of the old man with his snow-white hair, panting and gasping, creeping painfully to his grave. One more trait is added. And desire shall fail. The word rendered "desire" ( אֲבִיּוֹנָה) is found nowhere else in the Old Testament, and its meaning is disputed. The Authorized Version has adopted the rendering of some of the Jewish commentators (and that of Venet; ἡ ὔρεξις), but, according to Delitzsch, the feminine form of the noun precludes the notion of an abstract quality, and the etymology on which it rests is doubtful. Nor would it be likely that, having employed symbolism hitherto throughout his description, the writer would suddenly drop metaphor and speak in unfigurative language. We are, therefore, driven to rely for its meaning on the old versions, which would convey the traditionary idea. The Septuagint gives, ἡ κάππαρις, and so the Vulgate, capparis, by which is designated the caper tree or berry, probably the same as the hyssop, which is found throughout the East, and was extensively used as a provocative of appetite, a stimulant and restorative. Accordingly, the writer is thought here to be intimating that even stimulants, such as the caper, affect the old man no longer, cannot give zest to or make him enjoy his food. Here, again, the figurative is dropped, and a literal, unvarnished fact is stated, which mars the perfection of the picture. But the verb here used (parar) is capable of another signification, and is often found in the unmetaphorical sense of "breaking" or "bursting;" so the clause will run, "and the caper berry bursts." Septuagint, καὶ διασκεδασθῇ ἡ κάππαρις: Vulgate, dissipabitur capparis. The fruit of this plant, when overripe, bursts open and falls off—a fit image of the dissolution of the aged frame, now ripe for the tomb, and showing evident tokens of decay. By this interpretation the symbolism is maintained, which perhaps is further illustrated by the fact that the fruit hangs down and droops from the end of long stalks, as the man bows his head and stoops his back to meet the coming death. Because (ki) man goeth to his long home. This and the following clause are parenthetical, Isaiah 40:6 resuming the allegory. It is as though Koheleth said—Such is the way, such are the symptoms, when decay and death are approaching; all these things happen, all these signs meet the eye, at such & period. "His long home;" εἰς οἶκον αἰῶνος αὐτοῦ, "to the house of his eternity," "his everlasting habitation," i.e. the grave, or Hades. There is a similar expression in Tobit 3:6, εἰς τὸν αἰώνιον τόπον, which in the Hebrew editions of that book is given as, "Gather me to my father, to the house appointed for all living," with which Canon Churton (in lot.) compares Job 10:21; Job 30:23. So Psalms 49:11 (according to many versions), "Their graves are their houses for ever." The σκηναὶ αἰώνιοι of Luke 16:9 are a periphrasis for life in heaven. Diodorus Siculus notes that the Egyptians used the terms ἀίδιοι οἶκοι, and ἡ αἰώνιος οἴκσις of Hades (2. 51; 1. 93). The expression, "domus eterna," appears at Rome on tombs, as Plumptre observes, both in Christian and non-Christian inscriptions; and the Assyrians name the world or state beyond the grave "the house of eternity" ('Records of the Past,' 1.143). From the expression in the text nothing can be deduced concerning Koheleth's eschatological views. He is speaking here merely phenomenally. Men live their little span upon the earth, and then go to what in comparison of this is an eternity. Much of the difficulty about αἰώνιος, etc; would be obviated if critics would remember that the meaning of such words is conditioned by the context, that e.g. "everlasting" applied to a mountain and to God cannot be understood in the same, sense. And the mourners go about the streets. This can hardly mean that the usual funeral rites have begun; for the death is not conceived as having already taken place; this is reserved for verse. 7. Nor can it, therefore, refer to the relations and friends who are sorrowing for the departed. The persons spoken of must be the mourners who are hired to play and sing at funerals (see 2 Samuel 3:31; Jeremiah 9:17; Jeremiah 34:5; Matthew 9:23). These were getting ready to ply their trade, expecting hourly the old man's death. So the Romans had their praeficae, and persons "qui conducti plorant in funere".
Or ever; i.e. before, ere (ad asher lo). The words recall us to Ecclesiastes 12:1 and Ecclesiastes 12:2, bidding the youth make the best use of his time ere old age cuts him off. In the present paragraph the final dissolution is described under two figures. The silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken. This is evidently one figure, which would be made plainer by reading "and" instead of "or," the idea being that the lamp is shattered by the snapping of the cord that suspended it from the roof. But there are some difficulties in the closer explanation of the allegory. The "bowl" (gullah) is the reservoir of oil in a lamp (see Zechariah 4:3, Zechariah 4:4), which supplies nourishment to the flame; when this is broken or damaged so as to be useless, the light, of course, is extinguished. The Septuagint calls it τὸ ἀνθέμιον τοῦ χρυσίον: the Vulgate, vitta aurea, "the golden fillet," or flower ornament on a column, which quite sinks the notion of a light being quenched. The "cord" is that by which the lamp is hung in a tent or a room. But of what in man are these symbols? Many fanciful interpretations have been given. The "silver cord" is the spine, the nerves generally, the tongue; the "golden bowl" is the head, the membrane of the brain, the stomach. But these anatomical details are not to be adopted; they have little to recommend them, and are incongruous with the rest of the parable. The general break-up of life is here delineated, not the progress of destruction in certain organs or parts of the human frame. The cord is what we should call the thread of life, on which hangs the body lit by the animating soul; when the connection between these is severed, the latter perishes, like a fallen lamp lying crushed on the ground. In this our view the cord is the living power which keeps the corporeal substance from failing to ruin; the bowl is the body itself thus upheld. The mention of gold and silver is introduced to denote the preciousness of man's life and nature. But the analogy must not be pressed in all possible details. It is like the parables, where, if defined and examined too closely, incongruities appear. We should be inclined to make more of the lamp and the light and the oil, which are barely inferred in the passage, and endeavor to explain what these images import. Koheleth is satisfied with the general figure which adumbrates the dissolution of the material fabric by the withdrawal of the principle of life. What is the immediate cause of this dissolution, injury, paralysis, etc; is not handled; only the rupture is noticed and its fatal result. Another image to the same effect, though pointing to a different process, is added Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or (and) the wheel broken at (in) the cistern. The picture here is a deep well or cistern with an apparatus for drawing water; this apparatus consists of a wheel or windlass with a rope upon it, to which is attached a bucket; the wheel fails, falls into the well, the bucket is dashed to pieces, and no water can be drawn. It is best to regard the two clauses as intended to convey one idea, as the two at the beginning of the verse were found to do. Some commentators, not so suitably, distinguish between the two, making the former clause say that the pitcher is broken on its road to or from the spring, and the latter that the draw-wheel gives way. The imagery, points to one notion which would be weakened by being divided into two. The motion of the bucket, the winding up and down, by which water is drawn from the well, is an emblem of the movements of the heart, the organs of respiration, etc. When these cease to act, life is extinct. The fraction of the cord and the demolition of the bowl denoted the separation of soul and body; the breaking of the pitcher and the destruction of the wheel signify the overthrow of the bodily organs by which vital motion is diffused and maintained, and the man lives. The expressions in the text remind one of the term, "earthen vessel," applied by St. Paul (2 Corinthians 4:7) to the human body; and "the fountain of life," "the water of life." so often mentioned in Holy Scripture as typical of the grace of God and the blessedness of life with him (see Psalms 36:9; Proverbs 13:14; John 4:10, John 4:14; Revelation 21:6).
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; rather, and the dust return, etc.—the sentence begun above being still carried on to the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body, when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally made (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; comp. Job 34:15; Psalms 104:29). So Siracides calls man "dust and ashes," and asserts that all things that are of the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclesiasticus 10:9; 40:11). Soph; 'Electra,' 1158—
΄ορφῆς σποδόν τε καὶ σκιὰν ἀνωφελῆ
"Instead of thy dear form,
Mere dust and idle shadow."
Corn. à Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch from Epicharmus," Life is compounded and broken up, and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to upper regions." And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; or, for the spirit—the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition "to" is עַל, in the second אֶל, as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:21 (where see note), "Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward," etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded Ecclesiastes 3:7 as an interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it shall be brought into immediate connection with a personal God. There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, in accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality, denied the personality of the soul. Nor have we any opinion given concerning the adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism, though the terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life; when this departs, he who gave receives it; God "gathereth in" man's breath (Psalms 104:29). The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul, the personal "I" it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath; and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this would be a feeble conclusion of the author's wanderings; rather the sentence signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle, places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum paraphrases the passage, returning to stand in judgment before its Creator.
It has been much questioned whether this verse is the conclusion of the treatise or the commencement of the epilogue. For the latter conclusion it is contended that it is only natural that the beginning of the final summing-up should start with the same words as the opening of the book (Ecclesiastes 1:2); and that thus the conjunction "and," with which Ecclesiastes 12:9 begins, is readily explained. But the treatise is more artistically completed by regarding this solemn utterance as the conclusion of the whole, ending with the same burden with which it began—the nothingness of earthly things. Koheleth has labored to show this, he has pursued the thought from beginning to end, through all circumstances and conditions, and he can only re-echo his melancholy refrain. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher. He does not follow the destiny of the immortal spirit; it is not his purpose to do so; his theme is the fragility of mortal things, their unsatisfying nature, the impossibility of their securing man's happiness: so his voyage lands him at the point whence he set forth, though he has learned and taught faith in the interval. If all is vanity, there is behind and above all a God of inflexible justice, who must do right, and to whom we may safely trust our cares and perplexities. Koheleth," Preacher," here has the article, the Koheleth, as if some special reference was made to the meaning of the name—he who has been debating, or haranguing, or gathering together, utters finally his careful verdict. This is the sentence of the ideal Solomon, who has given his experiences in the preceding pages.
THE EPILOGUE. This contains some observations commendatory of the author, explaining his standpoint and the object of the book, the great conclusion to which it leads.
Koheleth as teacher of wisdom.
And moreover; וְיֹתֵר; καὶ περισσόν; rather, with the following שֵׁ, besides that. The Preacher was wise. If we render "because the Preacher was wise," we are making an unnecessary statement, as the whole book has demonstrated this fact, which goes without saying. What the writer here asserts is that Koheleth did not merely possess wisdom, but had made good use of it for the instruction of others. The author throws aside his disguise, and speaks of his object in composing the book, with a glance at the historical Solomon whom he had personated. That he uses the third person in relation to himself is nothing uncommon in historical memoirs, etc. Thus Daniel writes; and St. John, Thucydides, Xenophon, Caesar, mask their personality by dropping their identity with the author (comp. also Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 7:27). The attestation that follows is compared with that at the end of St. John's Gospel (John 21:24), and is plainly intended to confirm the authority of the writer, and to enforce on the hearer the conviction that, though Solomon himself did not compose the work, it has every claim to receive attention, and possesses intrinsic value. He still taught the people knowledge. As well as being esteemed one of the company of sages, he further (od) took pains to instruct his contemporaries, to apply his wisdom to educational purposes. Yea, he gave good heed; literally, he weighed (like our word "ponder"); only thus used in this passage. It denotes the careful examination of every fact and argument before it was presented to the public. Sought out, and set in order many proverbs. There is no copula in the original; the weighing and the investigation issued in the composition of "proverbs," which term includes not only the wit and wisdom of past ages in the form of pithy sayings and apophthegms, but also parables, truths in metaphorical guise, riddles, instructions, allegories, etc; all those forms which are found in the canonical Book of Proverbs. The same word (mishle) is used here as in the title of that book. Koheleth, however, is not necessarily referring to that work (or to 1 Kings 4:29, etc.), or implying that he himself wrote it; he is only putting forth his claim to attention by showing his patient assiduity in the pursuit of wisdom, and how that he adopted a particular method of teaching. For the idea contained in the verb taqan, "to place or make straight" (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13), applied to literary composition, Delitzsch compares the German word for" author" (Schriftsteller). The notion of the mashal being similitude, comparison, the writer's pondering and searching were needed to discover hidden analogies, and, by means of the known and familiar, to lead up to the more obscure and abstruse. The Septuagint has a curious and somewhat unintelligible rendering, καὶ οὖς ἐξιχνιάσεται κόσμιον παραβολῶν, "And the ear will trace out the order of parables," which Schleusner translates, "elegantes parabolas."
The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words; literally, words of delight; λόγους θελήματος; verba utilia (Vulgate); so Aquila, λόγους χρείας. The word chephets, "pleasure," occurs in Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 12:1. Thus we have "stones of pleasure" (Isaiah 54:12). He added the grace of refined diction to the solid sense of his utterances. Plumptre reminds us of the "gracious words" ( λόγοις τῆς χάριτος, Luke 4:22) which proceeded from the mouth of him who, being the Incarnate Wisdom of God, was indeed greater than Solomon. On the necessity of a work being attractive as well as conforming to literary rules, Horace long ago wrote ('Ars Poet.,' 99)—
"Non satis est pulchra esse poemata; dulcia sunto,
Et quoeunque volent animum auditoris agunto."
"'Tis not enough that poems faultless be,
And fair; let them be tender too, and draw
The hearer by the cord of sympathy."
St. Augustine is copious on this subject in his treatise, 'De Doctr. Christ.;' thus (4:26): "Proinde ilia tria, ut intelligant qui audiunt, ut delectentur, ut obediant, etiam in hoc genere agendum est, ubi tenet delectatio principatum …. Sed quis movetur, si nescit quod dicitur? Ant quis tenetur ut audiat, si non delectatur?" And that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The Authorized Version, with its interpolations, does not accurately convey the sense of the original. The sentence is to be regarded as containing phrases in apposition to the "acceptable words" of the first clause; thus: "Koheleth sought to discover words of pleasure, and a writing in sincerity, words of truth. 'The Septuagint has, καὶ γεγραμμένον εὐθύτητος, "a writing of uprightness;" Vulgate, et conscripsit sermones rectissimos. The meaning is that what he wrote had two characteristics—it was sincere, that which he really thought and believed, and it was true objectively. If any reader was disposed to cavil, and to depreciate the worth of the treatise because it was not the genuine work of the celebrated Solomon, the writer claims attention to his production on the ground of its intrinsic qualities, as inspired by the same wisdom which animated his great predecessor.
The words of the wise are as goads. The connection of this verse with the preceding is maintained by the fact that the "acceptable words," etc; are words of the wise, emanate from the same persons. Herewith he proceeds to characterize them, with especial reference to his own work. The goad was a rod with an iron spike, or sharpened at the end, used in driving oxen (see 3:31; 1 Samuel 13:21; Ecclesiasticus 38:25; Acts 9:5). Words of wisdom are called goads because they rouse to exertion, promote reflection and action, restrain from error, impel to right; if they hurt and sting, the pain which they inflict is healthful, for good and not for evil. And as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. The proposition "by" is an interpolation, and the sentence should run: Ant/ like nails fastened [are] the, etc.—masmeroth, "nails," as in Isaiah 41:7. There is much difficulty in explaining the next words, בַּעַלִי אַסֻפוֹת (baale asuppoth). We have had similar expressions applied to possessors in Ecclesiastes 10:11, "lord of the tongue," and "lord of wings" (Ecclesiastes 10:20); and analogy might lead us to apply the phrase here to-persons, and not things; but in Isaiah 41:15 we find a threshing-instrument termed "lord of teeth;" and in 2 Samuel 5:20 a town is called Baal-Perazim, "Lord of breaches;" so we must be guided by other considerations in our exposition. The Septuagint, taking the whole sentence together, and regarding baals as a preposition, renders, "As nails firmly planted, ( οἳ παρᾶ τῶν συνθεμάτων ἐδόθησαν ἐκ ποιμένος ἑνός) which from the collections were given from one shepherd." Schleusher takes οἳ παρὰ τῶν συνθεμάτων to mean, "Ii quibus munus datum erat collectionem faciendi," i.e. the author, of collections. The Vulgate has, Verba … quae per magistrorum consilium data sunt a pastore uno. The "masters of assemblies" can only be the chiefs of some learned conclaves, like the great synagogue supposed to exist in the time of Ezra and later. The clause would then assert that these pundits are like fastened nails, which seems rather unmeaning. One might say that their uttered sentiments became fixed in the mind as nails firmly driven in, but one could not properly say this of the men themselves. A late editor, Gietmann, suggests that "lords of collection" may mean "brave men, heroes, gathered in line of battle," serried ranks, just as in Proverbs 22:20 the term shalishim, chariot-fighters, chieftains, is applied to choice proverbs. Thus he would say that the words of the wise are as goads because they stimulate the intellect, as nails because they readily find entrance, and like men in battle array when they are reduced to writing and marshaled in a book. This is certainly ingenious, but somewhat too artificial to be regarded as the genuine intention of the writer. It seems best to take the word translated "assemblies" as denoting collections, not of people, but of proverbs; and the compound phrase would thus mean proverbs of an excellent character, the best of their sort gathered together in writing. Such words are well compared to nails; they are no longer floating loosely about, they are fixed in the memory, they secure other knowledge, and, though they are separate utterances, they have a certain unity and purpose. Nails are often used proverbially as emblems of what is fixed and unalterable. Thus AEschyl; 'Suppl.,' 944—
τῶν δ ἐφήλωται τορῶς
γόμφος διαμπὰξ ὡς μένειν ἀραρότως
"Through them a nail is firmly fixed, that they
May rest immovable."
Cicero, 'Verr.,' 2.5.21, "Ut hoc beneficium, quemadmodum dicitur, trabali clave figeret;" i.e. to make it sure and steadfast (comp. Horace, 'Carm.,' 1.35. 17, et seq.). Which are given from one shepherd. All these words of the wise, collections, etc; proceed from one source, or are set forth by one authority. Who is] this shepherd? Some say that he is the archisynagogus, the president of the assemblies of wise men, to whose authority all these public utterances are subjected. But we do not know that such supervision existed or was exercised at the time when Koheleth wrote; and, as we saw above, there is probably no reference to any such assemblies in the passage. The "one shepherd" is doubtless Jehovah, who is called the Shepherd of Israel, who feeds his people like a flock, etc. (see Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24; Psalms 23:1; Psalms 80:1, etc.). The appellation is here used as concinnous with the thought of the ox-goad, intimating that God watches and leads his people like a tender shepherd and a skilful farmer. This is an important claim to inspiration. All these varied utterances, whatever form they take, whether his own or his predecessor's, are outcomes of wisdom, and proceed from him who is only wise, Almighty God. It is no disparagement of this work to imply that it is not the production of the true Solomon; Koheleth is ready to avow himself the writer, and yet claims a hearing as being equally moved by heavenly influence. It is like St. Paul's assertion (1 Corinthians 7:40), "I think that I also have the Spirit of God."
The author warns against profitless study, and gives the final conclusion to which the whole discussion leads.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished; rather, and what is more than these, be warned. Besides all that has been said, take this additional and important caution, viz. what follows. The clause, however, has been differently interpreted, as if it said, "Do not attempt to go beyond the words of the sages mentioned above; or, "Be content with my counsels; they will suffice for your instruction." This seems to be the meaning of the Authorized Version. The personal address, "my son," so usual in the Book of Proverbs, is used by Koheleth in this place alone. It does not necessarily imply relationship (as if the pseudo-Solomon was appealing to Rehoboam), but rather the condition of pupil and learner, sitting at the feet of his teacher and friend. Of malting many books there is no end. This could not be said in the time of the historical Solomon, even if we reckon his own voluminous works (1 Kings 4:32, 1 Kings 4:33); for we know of no other writers of that date, and it is tolerably certain that none existed in Palestine. But we need not suppose that Koheleth is referring to extraneous heathen productions, of which, in our view, there is no evidence that he possessed any special knowledge. Doubtless many thinkers in his time had treated of the problems discussed in his volume in a far different manner from that herein employed, and it seemed good to utter a warning against the unprofitable reading of such productions. Juvenal speaks of the insatiable passion for writing in his day ('Sat.,' 7.51)—
"Tenet insanabile multos
Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senestit;"
which Dryden renders—
"The charms of poetry our souls bewitch;
The curse of writing is an endless itch."
As in taking food it is not the quantity which a man eats, but what he digests and assimilates, that nourishes him, so in reading, the rule, Non multa, sed multum, must be observed; the gorging the literary appetite on food wholesome or not impedes the healthy mental process, and produces no intellectual growth or strength. The obvious lesson drawn by spiritual writers is that Christians should make God's Word their chief study, "turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). For as St. Augustine says ('De Doctr. Christ.'), "Whereas in Holy Scripture you will find everything which has been profitably said elsewhere, to a far greater extent you will therein find what has been nowhere else enunciated, but which has been taught solely by the marvelous sublimity and the equally marvelous humility of the Word of God." Much study is a weariness of the flesh. The two clauses in the latter part of the verse are co-ordinate. Thus the Septuagint, τοῦ ποιῆσαι βιβλία πολλὰ οὐκ ἔστι περασμὸς καὶ μελέτη πολλὴ κόπωσις ("weariness") σαρκός. The word for "study" (lahag) is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, nor in the Talmud, but the above meaning is sustained by its connection with an Arabic word signifying "to be eager for." The Vulgate renders it meditatio. You may weary your brain, exhaust your strength, by protracted study or meditation on many books, but you will not necessarily thereby gain any insight into the problems of the universe or guidance for daily life. Marcus Aurelius dissuades from much reading: "Would you examine your whole composition?" he says; "pray, then let your library alone; what need you puzzle your thoughts and over-grasp yourself?" Again, "As for books, never be over-eager about them; such a fondness for reading will be apt to perplex your mind, and make you die unpleased" ('Medit.,' 2.2, 3, Collier). So Ben-Sira affirms, "The finding out of parables is a wearisome Labor of the mind" (Ecclesiasticus 13:26).
The teaching of the whole book is now gathered up in two weighty sentences. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The Revised Version gives, This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard. The Septuagint has, τέλος λόγου τὸ πᾶν ἄκουε, "The end of the matter, the sum, hear thou;" Vulgate, Finem loquendi pariter omnes audiamus. Another rendering is suggested, "The conclusion of the matter is this, that [God] taketh knowledge of all things;" literally, "everything is heard." Perhaps the passage is best translated, The end of the matter, when all is heard, is this. The first word of this verse, soph, "end," is printed in the Hebrew text in large characters, in order to draw attention to the importance of what is coming. And its significance is rightly estimated. These two verses guard against very possible misconception, and give the author's real and mature conclusion. When this is received, all that need be said has been uttered. Fear God (ha-Elohim), and keep his commandments. This injunction is the practical result of the whole discussion. Amid the difficulties of the moral government of the world, amid the complications of society, varying and opposing interests and claims, one duty remained plain and unchanging—the duty of piety and obedience. For this is the whole duty of man. The Hebrew is literally, "This is every man," which is explained to mean, "This is every man's duty." Septuagint, ὅτι τοῦτο πᾶς ὁ ἄνθρωπος: Vulgate, Hoc est enim omnis homo. For this man was made and placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good which he has to seek, and which alone will secure contentment and happiness. The obligation is put in the most general terms as applicable to the whole human family; for God is not the God of the Jews only, but of Gentiles also (Romans 3:29).
The great duty just named is here grounded upon the solemn truth of a future judgment. For God shall bring every work into judgment. It will then be seen whether this obligation has been 'attended to or not. The judgment has already been mentioned (Ecclesiastes 11:9); it is here more emphatically set forth as a certain fact and a strong motive power. The old theory of earthly retribution had been shown to break down under the experience of practical life; the anomalies which perplexed men's minds could only be solved and remedied by a future judgment under the eye of the omniscient and unerring God. With every secret thing. The Syriac adds, "and manifest thing." The Septuagint renders, "with everything that has been overlooked"—a very terrible, but true, thought. The doctrine that the most secret things shall be revealed in the dies irae is often brought forward in the New Testament, which makes plain the personal nature of this final investigation, which the earlier Scriptures invest with a more general character (see Romans 2:16; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5). So this wonderful book closes with the enunciation of a truth found nowhere else so clearly defined in the Old Testament, and thus opens the way to the clearer light shed upon the awful future by the revelation of the gospel.
Remember thy Creator.
I. REMEMBER: WHOM? "Thy Creator." The language implies:
1. That man has a Creator. It would certainly be strange if he had not, seeing that all things else have. And that Creator is not himself, since he is at best a dependent creature (Genesis 3:19); or an inferior divinity, since there is none such (2 Samuel 7:22; Isaiah 44:6); but
2. That man originally knows God. That even in his fallen condition he is not entirely destitute of a knowledge of God—not, perhaps, a knowledge clear and full, but still real and true—appears to be the teaching of Scripture (Romans 1:21, Romans 1:28) as well as of experience, no man ever requiring to argue himself into a belief in God's existence, though many try to reason themselves out of it.
3. That man may forget God. Moses was afraid lest Israel should be guilty of so doing (Deuteronomy 6:12), in which case they would be no better than the heathen peoples around them (Psalms 9:17). Practically this is the world's sin today (1 John 4:8), and the sin against which Christians have to guard (Hebrews 3:12). It is specially the sin against which young persons should be warned, that of allowing the thought of God to slip out of their minds.
II. REMEMBER: HOW?
1. By thinking of his Person. A characteristic of the wicked is that God is not in all their thoughts (Psalms 10:4); whereas a good man remembers God upon his bed, and meditates upon him in the night watches (Psalms 60:3).
2. By reflecting on his character. The Creator being neither an abstract conception nor an inanimate force, but a living and personal Intelligence, he is also possessed of attributes, the sum of which compose his character or name; and one who would properly remember him must frequently permit his thoughts to dwell on these (Psalms 20:7), as David (Psalms 60:3) and Asaph (Psalms 77:3) did—on his holiness, his loving-kindness, his faithfulness, his truth, his wisdom, his justice, all of which have been revealed in Jesus Christ, and so made much more easily the subjects of study.
3. By acknowledging his goodness. God's bounties in providence and mercies in grace must be equally recalled and thankfully retained before the mind, as David aptly said to himself (Psalms 103:1, Psalms 103:2) and protested before God (Psalms 42:6). One who simply accepts God's daily benefits as the lower animals do, for consumption but not for consideration, is guilty of forgetting God; who knows about, but never pauses to thank God for his unspeakable grace in Christ, comes far short of what is meant by remembering his Creator.
4. By meditating in his Word. Those who lovingly remember God will not forget that he has written to them in the Scriptures words of grace and truth, and will, like the good man of the Hebrew Psalter (Psalms 1:2), meditate therein day and night. Where God's Law, with its wise and holy precepts, is counted as a strange thing (Hosea 8:12), no further proof is needed that God himself is forgotten. The surest evidence that "no man remembered the poor wise man" was found in this, that his wisdom was despised, and his words were not heard (Ecclesiastes 9:16).
5. By keeping his commandments. As Joseph's recollection of Jehovah helped him to resist temptation and avoid sin (Genesis 39:9), so a sincere and loving remembrance of God will show itself in doing those things that are pleasing in his sight. When Christ asked his disciples to remember him, he meant them to do so, not simply by thinking of and speaking about him, or even by celebrating in his honor a memorial feast (Luke 22:19), but also by doing whatsoever he had commanded them (John 15:14).
III. REMEMBER: WHEN? "In the days of thy youth."
1. Not then only. The remembrance of God is a duty which extends along the whole course of life. No age can be exempted from it, as none is unsuitable for it. The notion that religion, while proper enough for childhood or youth, is neither demanded by nor becoming in manhood, is a delusion. The heart-worship and life-service of God and Jesus Christ are incumbent upon, needed by, and honorable to, old as well as young.
2. But then firstly. The reasons will be furnished below; meantime it may be noticed that Scripture writers may be said to be unanimous in recommending early piety; in teaching that youth, above all other periods, is the season for seeking God. Moses (Deuteronomy 31:13), David (Psalms 34:11), Solomon (Proverbs 3:1, Proverbs 3:2), and Jesus (Matthew 6:33) combine to set forth the advantage as well as duty of giving one's early years to God and religion.
IV. REMEMBER: WHY?
1. Why remember one's Creator?
2. Why remember him in the way above specified?
3. Why remember him in youth?
1. The real essence of religion—fellowship with God.
2. The dignity of man—that he is capable of such fellowship.
3. The responsibility of youth—for shaping all one's after-life.
4. The evanescence of earthly joys—all doomed to be eclipsed by the darkness of evil days.
The last scene of all; or, man goeth to his long home.
I. THE APPROACH OF DEATH.
1. The decay of man's higher faculties. "Or ever the sun, and the light, and the moon, and the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after the rain" (verse 2). Accepting the guidance of the best interpreters (Delitzsch, Plumptre—for other interpretations consult the Exposition), we may see:
2. The failure of man's bodily powers. Picturing man's corporeal frame as a house, the Preacher depicts its ruinous condition as old age approaches.
II. THE DISSOLUTION OF THE SOUL AND BODY.
1. The loosening of the silver cord, and the breaking of the golden bowl.
2. The breaking of the pitcher at the fountain, and of the wheel at the cistern.
III. THE DESTINATION OF THE SEVERED PARTS.
1. Of the body. "The dust returns to the earth as it was" (verse 7). As the body came forth from the soil, so to the soil it reverts (Genesis ill 19).
2. Of the soul. "The spirit returns unto God who gave it." Whatever may have been the Preacher's opinion at an earlier period (Ecclesiastes 3:21), he was now decided as to three things:
IV. THE LAST TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION. "The mourners go about the streets" (verse 5).
1. Sorrowing for the departed. Probably the Preacher describes either the professional mourners who go about the streets, in anticipation of the dying man's departure, ready to offer their services the moment he expires (Delitzsch), or the actual procession of such mourners following the dead man's funeral to its place of sepulture (Plumptre). Still, it is permissible to think of the deceased's relatives, who, like Abraham mourning for Sarah (Genesis 23:2), and Martha and Mary for Lazarus (John 11:31), give expression to their sadness by going about the streets in the garb of sorrow.
2. Exciting the sympathy of the living. This is one reason why private griefs are paraded in public. The heart in times of weakness, such as those occasioned by bereavement, instinctively craves the compassion of others, to whom, accordingly, it appeals by the visible cerements of woe.
1. The mercy of God as seen in the gradual approach of death.
2. The wisdom of improving the seasons of youth and manhood.
3. The solemn mystery of death.
4. The duty of preparing for a life beyond the grave.
5. The lawfulness of Christian mourning.
Verses 9, 10
A model preacher.
I. A WISE MAN.
1. Possessed of secular knowledge. Gathered as precious spoil from all departments of human learning and experience. As much of this sort of wisdom as possible; the more of it the better. All knowledge can be rendered subservient to the preacher's art, and may be utilized by him for the instruction of his hearers.
2. Endowed with heavenly wisdom. If that, much more this, is indispensable to an ideal preacher. The wisdom that cometh from above as much superior to that which springeth from below as heaven is higher than earth, and eternity longer than time. A preacher without the former wisdom may be rude; without the latter he must be ineffective.
II. A DILIGENT STUDENT. Like Koheleth, he must ponder, seek out, and set in order the truth he desires to communicate to others; like Timothy, he must give attendance to reading (1 Timothy 4:13). In particular, he should be a student:
1. Of the sacred Scriptures. These divinely inspired writings, being the principal source of heavenly wisdom accessible to man (2 Timothy 3:16), should be the preacher's vade mecum, or constant companion.
2. Of human nature. Having to deal directly with this, in the way of bringing to bear upon it the teachings of Scripture, he ought to acquaint himself accurately with it, by a close and patient study of it in himself and others. Much of a preacher's efficiency is derived from his knowledge of the audience to which he speaks.
3. Of the material creation. Like Job (Job 37:14), David (Psalms 8:3; Psalms 143:5), and Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 7:13), he should consider the works of God. Besides having much to tell him of God's glory (Psalms 8:1; Romans 1:20), the physical universe can impart to him valuable counsel of a moral kind concerning man and his duties (Job 12:7; Proverbs 6:6; Matthew 5:26).
III. A SKILLFUL TEACHER. AS Koheleth taught the people knowledge, as Ezra caused the people to understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:8), as Christ according to his Word taught such as listened to him (Hark Ezra 10:1), as the apostles taught the things of the Lord to their hearers (Acts 4:2; Acts 11:26; Acts 18:25), so must a model preacher be an instructor (1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 4:11; 1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 2:2). To be this successfully, in addition to the wisdom and study above described, he will need four kinds of words.
1. Words of truth. These must constitute the burden of his discourse, whether oral or written. What he publishes to others must be objectively true, and no mere guesswork or speculation. Such a word of truth was the Law of God in the Hebrew Scriptures (Psalms 119:43), and is the gospel or the doctrine of Christ in the New Testament (Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18).
2. Words of uprightness. Whether he writes or speaks, he must do so sincerely, with perfect integrity of heart, "not handling the Word of God deceitfully" (2 Corinthians 4:2), but teaching out of honest personal conviction, saying, "We believe, therefore do we speak" (2 Corinthians 4:13).
3. Words of delight. Selected and intended, not to gratify the heater's corrupt inclinations and perverted tastes, or minister to that love of novelty and sensation which is the peculiar characteristic of itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3), but to set forth the truth in such a way as to win for it entrance into the bearer's heart and mind. For this purpose the preacher's words should be such as to interest and sway the listener, arresting his attention, exciting his imagination, instructing his understanding, moving his affections, quickening, his conscience, and impelling his will. Dullness, darkness, dryness, deadness, are inexcusable faults in a preacher.
Verses 11, 12
Reading, writing, speaking.
I. "READING MAKES A FULL MAN."
1. Pushed to excess, it becomes hurtful to the body. "Much study is a weariness to the flesh," and as a consequence, reflexively, injurious to the mind.
2. Pursued in moderation, it first enlightens the understanding, next quickens the whole spiritual nature, and finally tends to stimulate the health of the body. "A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine" (Ecclesiastes 8:1).
II. "WRITING MAKES A CORRECT MAN." If professional authorship in the Preacher's day was a nuisance, much more is it so in ours. Yet in book-writing lie advantages as well as disadvantages. If, on the one band, the multiplication of books often signifies nothing more than an accumulation of literary rubbish, and a terrible infliction to those who must read them, on the other hand it secures the preservation and distribution of much valuable knowledge; while if the knowledge is not valuable, the formal deposition of it in a book, which may be quietly consigned to a library, secures that it shall not roam at large, to the disquieting of peace-loving minds. But, apart from the multiplication of volumes, the habit of setting down one's thoughts in writing is attended by distinct advantages. It promotes:
1. Clearness of thought. One who intends to write, more especially for the information of his fellows, must know what he purposes to say. The effort of putting one's ideas on paper imparts to them a definiteness of outline they might not otherwise possess.
2. Order in arrangement. No writer will, voluntarily, fling his thoughts together into a confused heap, but will strive to render them as lucid and luminous as possible. If for no other reason than this, the practice of preparing for public speech by means of writing is to be commended.
3. Brevity in expression. If brevity is the soul of wit, and loquacity the garment of dullness, then the sure way of attaining to the former, and avoiding the latter, is to write.
III. "SPEAKING MAKES A READY MAZE." "The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails." Though designed to apply to the wise man's "written words," the clause may be accepted as correct also with reference to his "spoken words." Like the former, the latter are as goads and nails.
1. They stimulate. The words of a practiced speaker, always supposing him to be a wise man, incite the minds and quicken the hearts of his hearer. The true preacher should be progressive, not only in his own discovery of truth, but in conducting his hearers into fresh fields of instruction, leading them out into "regions beyond," causing them to "forget the things that are behind, and reach forward unto those things that are before," persuading them to "leave the first principles of Christ, and to go on unto perfection."
2. They abide. They lodge themselves in the understanding and affections so firmly that they cannot be removed. Facility in arousing and fixing conviction can only be attained by diligent and wise cultivation of the art of speech.
Verses 13, 14
The conclusion of the whole matter; or, the whole duty of man.
I. THE ESSENCE OF IT.
1. The fear of God. Not servile or guilty, but
2. The service of God. Not that merely of external worship (Deuteronomy 6:11; Psalms 96:9; Hebrews 10:25), but that of inward devotion (John 4:24), which expresses itself in the homage of the heart and life, or in the keeping of God's commandments—in particular of the three named by the Preacher, charity, industry, hilarity (Cox).
II. THE REASON OF IT. The certainty of judgment.
1. By God. He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25); the Judge of all (Hebrews 12:28), who will yet judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31).
2. In the future. Not merely here upon the earth, but also hereafter in the world to come (Daniel 7:10; Matthew 11:22; Matthew 16:27; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 4:1).
3. Of works, Not of nations or communities, but of individuals (Mark 8:38; Romans 2:5, Romans 2:6); not of open actions merely, but of secret things as well (Luke 12:2; Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5); not of good deeds only, but also of evil (2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Peter 2:9).
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The Preacher spoke from a heart taught by long experience. Himself advanced in years, having enjoyed and suffered much, having long observed the growth of human character under diverse principles and influences, he was able to offer to the young counsel based upon extensive knowledge and deliberate reflection.
I. THE DESCRIPTION HERE GIVEN OF THE RELIGIOUS LIFE. Amplifying this terse and impressive language, we may hear the wise man addressing the youthful, and saying, "Remember that thou hast a Creator; that thy Creator ever remembers thee; that he not only deserves, but desires, thy remembrance; that his character should be remembered with reverence, his bounty with gratitude, his Law with obedience and submission, his love with faith and gladness, his promises with prayerfulness and with hope."
II. THE PERIOD HERE RECOMMENDED FOR THE RELIGIOUS LIFE. Religion is indeed adapted to the whole of our existence; and what applies to every age of life, applies with especial force to childhood and youth.
1. Youth has peculiar susceptibilities of feeling, and religion appeals to them.
2. Youth has especially opportunities of acquiring knowledge and undergoing discipline, and religion helps us to use them.
3. Youth has abounding energy, and religion assists us to employ this energy aright.
4. Youth is a time of great and varied temptations, and religion will enable us to overcome them.
5. Youth is introductory to manhood and to age; religion helps us so to live when young that we may be the better fitted for the subsequent stages of life's journey.
6. Youth may be all of life appointed for us; in that case, religion can hallow those few years which constitute the earthly training and probation.
III. THE SPECIAL REASONS FOR ATTENDING TO THIS ADMONITION.
1. It is a tendency of human nature to be so absorbed in what is present to the senses as to overlook unseen and eternal realities.
2. Our own age is peculiarly tempted to forget God, by reason of the prevalence of atheism, agnosticism, and positivism.
3. Youth is especially in danger of forgetting the Divine Creator, because the opening intelligence is naturally interested in the world of outward things, which presents so much to excite attention and to engage inquiry.
IV. THE ADDITIONAL FORCE WHICH CHRISTIANITY IMPARTS TO THIS ADMONITION. The figure of our blessed Lord himself appears to the imagination, and we seem to hear his winning but authoritative voice pleading with the young, and employing the very language of the text. He who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," he who, beholding the young inquirer, loved him, draws near to every youthful nature, and commands and beseeches that reverent attention, that willing faith, that affectionate attachment, which shall lead to a life of piety, and to an immortality of blessedness.—T.
Old age and death.
By a natural transition, a striking antithesis, youth suggests to the mind of the Preacher the condition and the solemn lessons of old age. How appropriately does a treatise, dealing so fully with the occupations, the illusions, the trials, and the moral significance of human life, draw to a close by referring expressly to the earlier and the later periods by which that life is bounded!
I. THE BODILY SYMPTOMS OF AGE. These are, indeed, familiar to every observer, and are described with a picturesqueness and poetical beauty which must appeal to every reader of this passage. It is enough to remark that the decay of bodily power, and the gradual enfeeblement of the several senses, are among the usual accompaniments of advancing years.
II. THE MENTAL SYMPTOMS OF AGE. Reference is naturally made especially to the effect of bodily enfeeblement and infirmity upon the human emotions.
1. The emotions of desire and aspiration are dulled.
2. The emotions of apprehension, self-distrust, and fear increase.
III. THE NATURAL TERMINATION OF OLD AGE. There is no doubt that there are old persons of a sanguine temperament who seem unable to realize the fact that they are approaching the end of their earthly course. Yet it does not admit of doubt that the several indications of senility described in these verses are reminders of the end, are premonitions of the dissolution of the body, and of the entering upon a new and altogether different state of being.
IV. THE OPPORTUNITIES AND SERVICES OF AGE.
1. There is scope for the exercise of patience under growing infirmities.
2. There is a call to the acquisition and display of that wisdom which the experience of long years is particularly fitted to cultivate.
3. The aged are especially bound to offer to the young an example of cheerful obedience, and to encourage them to a life of piety and usefulness.
V. THE CONSOLATIONS OF AGE. Cicero, in a well-known treatise of great beauty, has set forth the peculiar advantages and pleasures which belong to the latest stage of human life. The Christian is at liberty to comfort himself by meditating upon such natural blessings as "accompany old age," but he has far fuller and richer sources of consolation open to him.
1. There is the happy retrospect of a life filled with instances of God's compassion, forbearance, and loving-kindness.
2. And there is the bright anticipation of eternal blessedness. This is his peculiar prerogative. As the outer man perisheth, the inner man is renewed day by day. The earthly tent is gradually but surely taken down, and this process suggests that he should look forward with calm confidence and hope to his speedy occupation of the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."—T.
The religious thinker and teacher.
The author of this book was himself a profound thinker and an earnest teacher, and it is evident that his great aim was to use his gifts of observation, meditation, and discourse for the enlightenment and the spiritual profit of all whom his words might reach. Taught in the quiet of his heart by the Spirit of the Eternal, he labored, by the presentation of truth and the inculcation of piety, to promote the religious life among his fellow-men. His aim as he himself conceived it, his methods as practiced by him in his literary productions, are deserving of the attentive consideration and the diligent imitation of those who are called upon to use thought and speech for the spiritual good of their fellow-creatures. Words are the utterance of the convictions and the desires of the inner nature, and when spoken deliberately and in public they involve a peculiar responsibility.
I. THE WORDS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER SHOULD BE THE EXPRESSION OF WISDOM. They should not be thrown off carelessly, but should be the fruit of deep study and meditation. For the most part, they should embody either original thought, or thought which the teacher should have assimilated and made part of his own nature, and tested in his own individual experience. They should be the utterance of knowledge rather than of opinion; and they should be set forth in the order which comes from reflection, and not in an incoherent, desultory, and unconnected form.
II. THE WORDS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER SHOULD BE WORDS OF UPRIGHTNESS. In order to this they must be the utterance of sincere conviction; they must harmonize with moral intuitions; they must be such as consequently appeal to the same conscience in the hearer or reader, which approves them in the speaker or writer. Crafty arguments, specious and sophistical appeals, sentimental absurdities, do not fulfill these conditions, and for them there is no place in the Christian preacher's discourses, in the volumes of the Christian author.
III. THE WORDS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER SHOULD BE WORDS OF PERSUASIVENESS. The author of Ecclesiastes commends "proverbs" and "words of delight." Harshness, coldness, contemptuousness, severity, are unbecoming to the expositor of a religion of compassion and love. A winning manner; a sympathizing spirit, language and illustrations adapted to the intelligence, the habits, the circumstances of auditors, go far to open up a way to their hearts. No doubt there is a side of danger to this requirement; the pleasing word may be the substitute for the truth instead of its vehicle, and the preacher may simply be as one that playeth upon a very pleasant instrument. But the example of our Lord Jesus, "the great Teacher," abundantly shows how winning, gracious, condescending, and touching language is divinely adapted to reach the hearts of men.
IV. THE WORDS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER SHOULD BE CONVINCING AND EFFECTIVE. The goads that pierce, the nails that penetrate and bind, are images of the language of him who beateth not the air. Let the aim be kept steadily before the eye, and the mark will not be missed. Let the blow be delivered strongly and decisively, and the work will be well done. The understanding has to be convinced, the conscience awakened, the heart touched, the evil passions stilled, the endeavor and determination aroused; and the Word is, by the accompanying energy of the Spirit of God, able to effect all this. "Who is sufficient for these things?"
V. THE WORDS OF THE RELIGIOUS TEACHER MAY BE THE MEANS OF RELIGIOUS, SPIRITUAL, IMPERISHABLE BLESSING. If his word be the Word of God, who commissions and strengthens every faithful herald and ambassador, then he may comfort himself with the promise, "My Word shall not return unto me void; it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it."—T.
The scholar's sorrow.
In these closing paragraphs of his treatise the writer reveals his own feelings, and draws upon his own experience. It is interesting to observe how largely study was pursued and literature cultivated at the remote period when this book was written; and it is obvious to remark how far more strikingly these reflections apply to an age like our own, and to a state of society such as that in which we live. The diffusion of education tends to the multiplication of books and to the increase of the learned professions; whilst growing civilization fosters the habit of introspection, and consequently of that melancholy whose earlier and simpler symptoms are observable in the language of this touching passage.
I. STUDY AND LITERATURE ARE A NECESSITY OF EDUCATED HUMAN NATURE. As soon as men begin to reflect, they begin to embody their reflections in a literary form, whether of poetry or of prose. A native impulse to verbal expression of thought and feeling, or the desire of sympathy and applause, or the calculating regard for maintenance, leads to the devotion of ever-growing bodies of men to the literary life. Literature is an unmistakable "note" of human culture.
II. STUDY AND LITERATURE ARE, BROADLY SPEAKING, PROMOTIVE OF THE GENERAL GOOD. The few toil that the many may profit. Knowledge, thought, art, right feeling, liberty, and peace, are all indebted to the great thinkers and authors whose names are held in honor among men. Doubtless there are those who misuse their gifts, who by their writings pander to vice, incite to crime, and encourage irreligion. But the bulk of literature, proceeding from the better class of minds, is rather contributive to the furtherance of goodness and of the best interests of men. Books are among the greatest of human blessings.
III. STUDY AND LITERATURE HAVE BEEN CONSECRATED TO THE SERVICE OF RELIGION. We have but to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures themselves in proof of this. There is nothing more marvelous in history than the production of the Books of Moses, the Psalms, and the prophetic writings, at the epochs from which they date. Lawgivers, seers, psalmists, and sages live yet in their peerless writings; some of them inimitable in literary form, all of them instinct with moral power. The New Testament furnishes a yet more marvelous illustration of the place which literature holds in the religious life of humanity. Men have sneered at the supposition that a book revelation could be possible; but their sneers are answered by the facts. Whatever view we take of inspiration, we are constrained to allow for human gifts of authorship. To make up the sacred volume there are "many books," and every one of them is the fruit of "much study."
IV. STUDY AND LITERATURE ARE CULTIVATED AT THE EXPENSE OF THE EXHAUSTION AND SORROW OF THE PRODUCER AND STUDENT.
1. There is weariness of the flesh arising from the close connection between body and mind. The brain, being the central physical organ of language, is, in a sense, the instrument of thought; and, consequently, brain-weariness, nerve-exhaustion, are familiar symptoms among the ardent students to whom we are all indebted for the discovery, the formulation, and the communication of truth and knowledge.
2. But there is a mental sorrow and distress which deeper thinkers cannot always escape, and by which some among them are oppressed. The vast range of what in itself can be known is such as to strike the mind with dismay. Science, history, philosophy, etc; have made progress so marvelous, that no single finite mind can embrace, in the course of a life of study, however assiduous, more than a minute department, so as to know all of it that may be known; and a highly educated man Is content "to know something of everything, and every thing of-something.
3. Then beyond the realm accessible to human inquiry lies the vaster realm of what cannot be known—what is altogether outside our ken.
4. It must be borne in mind, further, that, whilst man's intellect is limited, his spiritual yearnings are insatiable: no bounds can be set to his aspirations; his nature is akin to that of God himself, Thus it is that sorrow often shades the scholar's brow, and that to the weariness of the flesh there is added the sadness of the spirit, that finds, in the memorable language of Pascal, the larger the circle of the known, the vaster is the circumference of the unknown that stretches beyond.—T.
Verses 13, 14
Religion, righteousness, and retribution.
After all the questionings and discussions, the doubts and perplexities, the counsels and precepts, of this treatise, the author winds up by restating the first, the most elementary, and the most important, principles of true religion. There are, he felt, in this world many things which we cannot fathom, many things which we cannot reconcile with our convictions and hopes; but there are some things concerning which we have no doubts, and these are the things which most nearly concern us personally and practically. Thoughtful men may weary and distress themselves with pondering the great problems of existence; but, after all, they, in common with the plainest and most illiterate, must come back to the essentials of the religious life.
I. THE GREAT SPRING AND CENTER OF RELIGION. This is the fear of God, reverence for the Divine character and attributes, the habit of mind which views everything in relation to him who is eternally holy, wise, just, and good. This Book of Ecclesiastes is, upon this point, at one with the whole of the Bible and with all deeply based religion. We cannot begin with man; we must find an all-sufficient foundation for the religious life in God himself, his nature, and his Law.
II. THE GREAT EXPRESSION OF RELIGION. This is obedience to the Divine commandments.' Our convictions and emotions find their scope when directed towards a holy and merciful God; our will must bend to the moral authority of the eternal Lord. Feelings and professions are in vain unless they are supported by corresponding actions. It is true that mere external compliance is valueless; acts must be the manifestation of spiritual loyalty and love. But, on the other hand, sentiment that evaporates in words, that does not issue in deeds, is disregarded in the court of heaven. Where God is honored, and his will is cheerfully performed, there the whole duty of the Christian man is fulfilled. It is the work of the mediation of the Divine Savior, of the operations of the Divine Spirit, to bring about such a religious and moral life.
III. THE GREAT TEST OF RELIGION. For this we are bidden to look forward to the future. Many things, which are significant as to the religious state of a man, are now hidden. They must be brought to light; secret deeds, alike of holiness and of iniquity, must be made manifest before the throne of judgment. Here, in this world, where men judge by appearances, the wicked sometimes get credit for goodness which does not really belong to them, and the good are often maligned and misunderstood. But, in the general judgment hereafter, the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and men shall be judged, not according to what they seem to be, but according to what they actually are. With this solemn warning the Preacher closes his book. And there is no person, in whatsoever state of life, to whom this warning does not apply. Well will it be for us if this earthly life be passed under the perpetual influence of this expectation; if the prospect of the future judgment inspire us to watchfulness, to diligence, and to prayer.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Verse 1 (with Ecclesiastes 11:10, latter part)
The vanity and glory of youth.
I. THE VANITY OF YOUTH. There is an aspect in which it is true that "childhood and youth are vanity."
1. Its thoughts are very simple; they are upon the surface, and there is no depth of truth or wisdom in them.
2. Its judgments are very mixed with error; it has to unlearn a great deal of what it learns; the young will have to find, later on, that the men of whom and the things of which they have made up their minds are different from what they think now; their after-days will bring with them much disillusion, if not serious disappointment. Much that they see is magnified to their view, and the colors, as they see them today, will look otherwise to-morrow.
3. Itself is constantly disappearing. Few things are more constantly disturbing, if not distressing, us than the rapid passage of childhood and youth. Sometimes the young life is taken away altogether—the flower is nipped in the bud. But where life is spared, the peculiar beauty of childhood or of youth—its simplicity, its trustfulness, its docility, its eagerness, its ardor of affection, its unreserved delights, this is perpetually passing and "fading into the light of common day." Yet is there—and it is the truer and deeper thought—
II. THE GLORY OF YOUTH. Whatever may be said of youth in the way of qualification, there is one thing that may be said for it which greatly exalts it—it may be wise with a profound and heavenly wisdom, for it may be spent in the fear and in the love of God (see Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28). To "remember its Creator," and to order its life according to that remembrance, is the height and the depth of human wisdom. Knowledge, learning, cunning, brilliancy, genius itself, is not so desirable nor so admirable a thing as is this holy and heavenly wisdom. To know God (Jeremiah 9:24), to reverence him in the innermost soul, to love him with all the heart (Mark 12:33), to be obedient to his commandments, to be patiently and cheerfully submissive to his will, to be honoring and serving him continually, to be attaining to his own likeness in spirit and character,—surely this is the glory of the highest created intelligence of the noblest rank in heaven, and surely this is the glory of our human nature in all its ranks. It is the glory of our manhood, and it is the glory of youth. Far more than any order of strength (Proverbs 20:29), or than any kind of beauty (2 Samuel 14:25), or than any measure of acquisition, does the abiding and practical remembrance of its Creator and Savior glorify our youth. That makes it pure, worthy, admirable, inherently excellent, full of hope and promise. We may add, for it belongs to the text as well as to the subject—
III. THE WISDOM OF YOUTH. "While the evil days come not," etc. Let the young live before God while they are young; for:
1. It is a poor and sorry thing to offer to God, to a Divine Redeemer, the dregs of our days. To him who gave himself for us it becomes us to give, not our wasted and worn-out, but our best, our freest and freshest, our purest and strongest self.
2. To leave the consecration of ourselves to Christ to the time when faculty has faded, when the power of discernment and appreciation has declined, when sensitiveness has been dulled with long disuse, when the heavenly voices fall with less charm and interest on the ear of the soul,—this is a most perilous thing. To hearken and to heed, to recognize and to obey, in the days of youth is the one wise thing.—C.
Death, its meaning and its moral.
Whatever be the true interpretation of the three preceding verses, there is no doubt at all as to the Preacher's meaning in the text; he has death in his view, and he suggests to us—
I. ITS CERTAINTY. Childhood must pass into youth, and youth into prime, and prime into old age—into the days which are bereaved of pleasure (verse 1); and old age must end in death. Of all the tableaux which human life presents to us, the last one is that of "the mourners going about the streets." Other evils may be shunned by sedulous care and unusual sagacity, but death is the evil which no man may avoid.
II. ITS MEANING. What does death mean when it comes?
1. It means a shock to those that are left behind. The mourners in the street express in their way the sadness which is afflicting the hearts of those who weep within the walls. Here and there a death occurs which disturbs no peace and troubles no heart. But almost always it comes with a shock and an inward inexpressible pain to those who are bereaved. Even in old age the hearts of near kindred and dear friends are troubled with a keen and real distress.
2. It means separation. Man "goes to his long home." They who are left go to their darkened home, and he who is taken goes to his long home, to dwell apart and alone, to revisit no more the familiar places, and look no more into the faces of his friends. They and he henceforth must dwell apart; the grave is always a very long distance from the old home.
3. It means loss. The loss of the beautiful or the useful, or of both together. "Our life may have been like a golden lamp suspended by silver chains, fit for the palace of a king, and- may have shed a welcome and a cheerful light on every side; but even the durable costly chain will be snapped at last, and the beautiful 'bowl be broken.' Our life may have been like 'the bucket' dropped by village maidens into the village fountain, or like the ' wheel' by which water is drawn from the village well,—it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to many lips; but the day must come when the bucket will be shattered on the marble edge of the fountain, and the timeworn wheel drop into the well" (Cox). The most beautiful life vanishes from our sight; the most useful life is taken away.
4. It means dissolution. "The dust shall return to the earth as it was." Our body, however fair and strong it may be, however trained, clothed, adorned, admired, must return to "dust and ashes," must be resolved into the elements from which it was constructed.
5. It means departure. "The spirit shall return unto God who gave it." This is by far the most solemn view of death. At death we "return to God" (see Psalms 90:3). Not, indeed, that we are ever far from him (see Acts 17:27; Psalms 139:3-5). We stand and live in his very near presence. Yet does there come an hour—the hour of death—when we shall consciously stand before our Divine Judge, and when we shall learn from him "our high estate" or our lasting doom (2 Corinthians 5:10). Death means departure from the sphere of the visible and tangible into the close and conscious presence of the eternal God.
III. ITS MORAL. The one great lesson which stands out from this eloquent description is this: Be the servant of God always; take care to know him and to serve him at the end, by learning of him at the beginning, and serving him throughout your life. Remember your Creater in youth, and he will acknowledge you when old age is lost in death, and death has introduced you to the judgment-scene. Happy is that human soul that has drawn into itself Divine truth with its earliest intelligence, and that has ordered its life by the Divine will from first to last; for then shall the end of earth be full of peace and hope, and the beginning of eternity be full of joy and of glory.—C.
The function of the teacher.
1. The wise man, because he is wise (verse 9), teaches. There is no better, no other thing that he can do, both for his own sake and for the sake of his fellow-men. To know and not to speak is a sin and a cruelty, when men are "perishing for lack of knowledge." To know and to speak is an elevated joy and a sacred duty; we cannot but speak the things we have learned of God, the truth as it is in Jesus.
2. The wise man also takes what measures he can to perpetuate the truth he knows; he wants to preserve it, to hand it down to another time; he therefore "writes down the words with truth and uprightness" (verse 10); or, if he cannot do this, be labors to put his thought into those parabolic or proverbial forms which will not only be preserved in the memory of those to whom he utters them, but can be readily repeated, and will become embedded in the traditions and, ultimately, into the literature of his country (verse 9).
3. The wise man restrains his literary ardor within due bounds (verse 12). Otherwise he not only causes a drug in the market, but seriously injures his own health. He knows it is better to do a little and do that thoroughly, than to do much and do it hastily and imperfectly. But what is the teacher's function, his sacred duty, as related to the people of his charge or his acquaintance?
I. To SEARCH DILIGENTLY FOR THE TRUTH. It is for him "to ponder and seek out," or to "compose with care and thought" (Cox's transl.). Divine truth, in its various aspects and applications, is manifold and profound; it demands our most patient study, our most reverent inquiry; we should gain help from all possible sources, more particularly should we seek it from the Spirit and from the Word of God.
II. TO INTEREST AND TO CONSOLE. The Preacher sought to find out "acceptable" or "comfortable" words—"words of delight" (literally). This is not the main duty of the teacher, but it is one to which he should seriously address himself.
1. A teacher may be speaking in the highest strain, and may be uttering the deepest wisdom, but if his words are unintelligible and, therefore, unacceptable, he will make no way and do no good. We must speak in the language of those whom we address. Our thoughts may be far higher than theirs, but our language must be on their level—at any rate, on the level of their understanding.
2. The teacher will do wisely to spend much time and strength in consoling; for in this world of trouble and sorrow no words are more often or more urgently needed than "comfortable words."
III. TO RETAIN. "The words of the 'masters of assemblies' are like stakes (nails) which the shepherds drive into the ground when they pitch their tents;" i.e. they are instruments of fastening or of securing; they act as things which keep the cords in their place, and keep the roof over the head of the traveler. It is one function of the Christian teacher—and a most valuable one—so to speak that men shall retain their hold on the great verities of the faith, on the true and real Fatherhood of God, on the atonement of Jesus Christ, on the openness of the kingdom of heaven to every seeking soul, on the blessedness of self-forgetful love, on the offer of eternal life to all who believe, etc.
IV. TO INSPIRE. At other times the Preacher's words are "as goads" that urge the cattle to other fields. To comfort and to secure is much, but it is not all that they who speak for Christ have to do. They have to illumine and to enlarge men's views, to shed fresh light on the sacred page, to invite those that hear them to accompany them to fields of thought hitherto untrodden, to induce them to think and study for themselves, to unveil the beauties and glories of the wisdom "that remains to be revealed," to inspire them with a yearning desire and with a full purpose of heart to enter upon works of helpfulness and usefulness; he has to "provoke them to love and to good works."—C.
Verses 13, 14
Divine requirement and human response.
What is the conclusion of this inquiry? What result may be gained from these inconsistencies of thought and variations of feeling? Deeper down than anything else is the fact that there are—
I. TWO GREAT DIVINE REQUIREMENTS. God demands of us:
1. Reverence. We are to "fear God." That is certain. But let us not mistake this "fear" for a very different thing with which it may be confounded. It is not a servile dread, such as that which is entertained by ignorant devotees of their deities. Only too often worship rises no higher than that; it is an abject dread of the malignant spiritual power. This is both a falsity and an injury. It is founded on a complete misconception of the Divine, and it reacts most hurtfully upon the mind of the worshipper, demoralizing and degrading. What God asks of us is a well-grounded, holy reverence; the honor which weakness pays to power, which he who receives everything pays to him who gives everything, which intelligence pays to wisdom, which a moral and spiritual nature pays to rectitude, to goodness, to love, to absolute and unspotted worth.
2. Obedience. We must "keep his commandments;" i.e. not only
II. THE TWO GREAT REASONS FOR OUR RESPONSE. One is that such reverent obedience is:
1. Our supreme obligation. "This is the whole duty of man," or, rather, "This it behooveth all men to do." This is what all men are in sacred duty bound to do. There is no other obligation which is not slight and small in comparison with this. The child owes much to his father, the pupil to his teacher, the beneficiary to his benefactor, the one who has been rescued to his deliverer; but not one of these obligations, nor all added together, expresses anything that approaches the indebtedness under which we rest to God. To him from whom we came, and "in whom we live and move and have our being," who is the one ultimate Source of all our blessings and of all our powers, who has poured out upon us an immeasurable wealth of pure and patient love; to the gracious Father of our spirit; to the gracious Lord of our life; to the holy and the benignant One,—to him it does indeed become all men to render a reverent obedience. The other reason why we should respond is found in:
2. Our supreme wisdom. "For God will bring," etc. God is now bringing all that we are and do under his own 'Divine judgment, and is now approving or disapproving. He is also so governing the world that our thoughts and actions are practically judged, and either rewarded or punished, before we pass the border-line of death. But while this is true, and while there is much more of truth in it than is often supposed, yet much is left to the future in this great matter of judgment. There are "secret things" to be exposed; there are undiscovered crimes to be made known; there are iniquities that have escaped even the eye of the perpetrators, who "knew not what they did," to be revealed. There is a great account to be settled. And because it is true that "we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one of us may receive the things done in his body," because "God will judge the secrets of all hearts," because sin in every shape moves toward exposure and penalty, while righteousness in all its forms travels toward its recognition and reward, therefore let the spirit be reverent in presence of its Maker, let the life be filled with purity and worth, with integrity and goodness, let man be the dutiful child of his Father who is in heaven.—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WILLCOCK
The sentence, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!" with which the Book of Ecclesiastes opened, is found here at its close. And doubtless to many .it will seem disappointing that it should follow so hard upon the expression of belief in immortality. Surely we might say that the nobler view of life reached by the Preacher should have precluded his return to the pessimistic opinions and feelings which we can scarcely avoid associating with the words, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!" But on second thoughts the words are not contradictory of the hope for the future which verse 7 expresses. The fact that Christians can use the words as descriptive of the worthlessness of things that are seen and temporal, as compared with those that are unseen and eternal, forbids our concluding that they are necessarily the utterance of a despairing pessimism. A great deal depends upon the tone in which the words are uttered; and the pious tone of the writer's mind, as revealed in the concluding passages of his book, would incline us to believe that the sentence, "all is vanity," is equivalent to that in the Gospel, "What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" No one can deny that the 'De Imitatione Christi' is a noble expression of certain aspects of Christian teaching with regard to life. And yet in the very first chapter of it we have these words of Solomon's quoted and expanded. "Vanity of vanities; and all is vanity beside loving God and serving him alone. It is vanity, therefore, to seek after fiches which must perish, and to trust in them. It is vanity also to lay one's self out for honors, and to raise one's self to a high station. It is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh, and to covet that for which we must afterwards be grievously punished. It is vanity to wish for long life, and to take little care of leading a good life. It is vanity to mind only this present life, and not to look forward to those things which are to come. It is vanity to love that which passes with all speed, and not to hasten thither where ever lasting joy abides." In the opinion of many eminent critics the eighth verse contains the concluding words of the Preacher, and those which follow are an epilogue, consisting of a "commendatory attestation" (verses 9-12), and a summary of the teaching of the book (verses 13, 14), which justifies its place in the sacred canon. On the whole, this seems to be the most reasonable explanation of the passage. It seems more likely that the glowing eulogy upon the author was written by some one else than that it came from his own pen; and a somewhat analogous postscript is found in another book of Holy Scripture, the Gospel of St. John (John 21:24). Those who collected the Jewish Scriptures into one, and drew the line between canonical and non-canonical literature, may have considered it advisable to append this paragraph as a testimony in favor of a book which contained so much that was perplexing, and to give a summary (in verses 13, 14) of what seemed to them its general teaching. The Preacher, they say, was gifted with wisdom over and above his fellows, and taught the people knowledge; and for this pondered and investigated and set in order many proverbs or parables (verse 9). Like the scribe, "who had been made a disciple to the kingdom of heaven," "he brought forth out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52). Knowledge of the wisdom of the past, ability to recognize in it what was most valuable, and to cast it into new forms and zeal in the discharge of his sacred office, were all found in him. He sought to attract men to wisdom by displaying it in its gracious aspect (cf. Luke 4:22), and to influence them by the sincerity of his purpose, and by the actual truth he brought to light (verse 10). "He aimed to speak at once words that would please and words which were true—words which would be at once goads to the intellect, and yet stakes that would uphold and stay the soul of man, beta coming alike from one shepherd" (verse 11, Bradley). Some of his sayings were calculated to stimulate men into fresh fields of thought and new paths of duty, others to confirm them in the possession of truths of eternal value and significance. Like the apostle, he was anxious that his readers should no longer be like "children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error" (Ephesians 4:14); but should "prove all things, and hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). How much better to study in the school of such a teacher than to weary and perplex one's self with" science falsely so called;" than to be versed in multitudinous literature, which dissipates mental energy, and in which the soul can find no sure resting-place (verse 12)! All who set themselves, or who have been called, to be teachers of men, may find in the example of the Preacher guidance as to the motives and aims which will alone give them success in their work.—J.W.
Verses 13, 14
The last word.
In the passage with which the Book of Ecclesiastes concludes, the clue is found which leads the speaker out of the labyrinth of skepticism in which for a time he had gone astray. He at last emerges from the dark forest in which he had long wandered, and finds himself under the stars of heaven, and sees in the eastern sky the promise of the coming day. It is true that from time to time in his earlier meditations he had retained, even if it were with but a faltering grasp, the truth which he now announces confidently and triumphantly. "It had mitigated his pessimism and hallowed his eudemonism" (Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12; Ecclesiastes 11:9). And it must be taken as canceling much of what he had said about the vanity of human life. Over against his somber thoughts about one fate awaiting both the righteous and the wicked, the wise and the foolish (Ecclesiastes 9:2), and the leveling power of death, that makes no distinction between man and the brute (Ecclesiastes 3:18-22), and shakes one's faith in the dignity and worth of our nature, is set his final verdict. God does distinguish, not only between men and the brutes, but between good men and bad. The efforts we make to obey him, or the indifference towards the claims of righteousness we may have manifested, are not fruitless; they result in the formation of a character that merits and will receive his favor, or of one that will draw down his displeasure. The nearness of God to the individual soul is the great truth upon which our author rests at last, and in his statement of it we have a positive advance upon previous revelations, and an anticipation of the fuller light of the New Testament teaching. God, he would have us believe, does not deal with men as nations or classes, but as individuals. He treats them, whatever may have been their surroundings or national connections, as personally accountable for the disposition and character they have cultivated. His judgment of them lies in the future, and all, without distinction of persons, will be subject to it. In these points, therefore, the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes transcends the teaching of the Old Testament, and approximates to that of Christ and the apostles. The present life, with all its inequalities, the adversity which often besets the righteous, and the prosperity which the wicked often enjoy, is not the whole of existence, but there is a world to come in which the righteous will openly receive the Divine favor, and the wicked the due reward of their deeds. The blessings which were promised to the nation that was faithful to the Divine Law will be enjoyed by each individual who has had the fear of God before his eyes. Judgment will go by character, and not by outward name or profession (Matthew 7:21-23; Revelation 20:12). We have, therefore, here a great exhortation founded on truths which cannot be shaken, and calculated to guide each one who obeys it to that goal of happiness which all desire to reach. "Fear God, and keep his commandments." Both the inward disposition and the outward conduct are covered by the exhortation.
I. In the first place, then, THE PRINCIPLE BY WHICH WE SHOULD BE GOVERNED IS THE "FEAR OF GOD." This is the root from which the goodly leaves and choice fruit of a religious life will spring. If the word "fear" had been used in this passage only, and we had not been at liberty to understand it in any other than its ordinary sense, one would be forced to admit that such a low motive could not be the mainspring of a vigorous and healthy religious life. But all through the Scriptures the phrase, "fear of God," is used as synonymous with a genuine, heartfelt service of him, and as rather indicating a careful observance of the obligations we as creatures owe to him, than a mere dread of his anger at disobedience. It is not to be denied that fear, in the ordinary sense of the word, is reasonably a motive by which sin may be restrained, but it is no stimulus to that kind of service which we owe to God. "I thank God, and with joy I mention it," says Sir Thomas Browne, "I was never afraid of hell, nor ever grew pale at the description of that place. I have so fixed my contemplations on heaven, that I have almost forgot the idea of hell; and am afraid rather to lose the joys of one than endure the misery of the other. To be deprived of them is a perfect hell, and needs methinks no addition to complete our afflictions. That terrible term hath never detained me from sin, nor do I owe any good action to the name thereof. I fear God, yet am not afraid of him; his mercies make me ashamed of my sins, before his judgments afraid thereof. These are the forced and secondary methods of his wisdom, which he useth but as the last remedy, and upon provocation—a course rather to deter the wicked than incite the virtuous to his worship. I can hardly think there was ever any scared into heaven: they go the fairest way to heaven that would serve God without a hell. Other mercenaries, that crouch unto him in fear of hell, though they term themselves the servants, are indeed but the slaves, of the Almighty" ('Rel. Med.,' 1:52). Plainly, therefore, when the fear of God is made equivalent to true religion, it must include many other feelings than that dread which sinners experience at the thought of the laws they have broken, and which may consist with hatred of God and of righteousness. It must be a summary of all the emotions which belong to a religions life—reverence at the thought of God's infinite majesty, holiness, and justice, gratitude for his loving-kindness and tender mercy, confidence in his wisdom, power, and faithfulness, submission to his will, and delight in communion with him. If fear is to be taken as a prominent emotion in such a life, we are not to understand by it the terror of a slave, who would willingly, if he could, break away from his owner, but the loving reverence of a child, who is anxious to avoid everything that would grieve his father's heart. The one kind of fear is the mark of an imperfect obedience (1 John 4:18); the other is the proof of a disposition which calls forth God's favor and blessing (Psalms 103:13).
II. In the second place, THE CONDUCT WE SHOULD MANIFEST IS DESCRIBED: "KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS." This is the outward manifestation of the disposition of the heart, and supplies a test by which the genuineness of a religious profession may be tried. These two elements are needed to constitute holiness—a God-fearing spirit and a blameless life. If either be wanting the nature is out of balance, and very grave defects will soon appear, by which all of positive good that has been attained will be either overshadowed or nullified. If there be not devotion of the heart to God, no zeal and fidelity in discharging the ordinary duties of life will make up for the loss. The reverence due to him as our Creator—gratitude for his benefits, penitent confession of sins and shortcomings, and faith in his mercy—cannot be willfully omitted by us without a depravation of our whole character. And, on the other side, an acknowledgment of him that does not lead us to "keep his commandments" is equally fatal (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:25-27).
The Preacher appends two weighty considerations to induce us to attend to his exhortation to "fear God, and keep his commandments." The first is that this is the source of true happiness. So would we interpret his words, "For this is the whole of man." The word "duty" is suggested by our translators to complete the sense, but it is not comprehensive enough. "To fear God and keep his commandments is not only the whole duty, but the whole honor and interest and happiness of man" (Wardlaw). The quest with which the book has been largely concerned is that for happiness, for the summum bonum, in which alone the soul can find satisfaction, and here it comes to an end. The discovery is made of that which has been so long and so painfully sought after. In a pious and holy life and conversation rest is found; all else is but vanity and vexation of spirit. The second motive to obedience is the certainty of a future judgment (verse 14). "For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Nothing will be omitted or forgotten. The Judge will be One who is absolutely just and wise, who will be free from all partiality; and his sentence will be final. If, therefore, we have no such regard for our own happiness in the present life as would move us to secure it by love and service of God, we may still find a check upon self-will and self-indulgence in the thought that we shall have to give an account of our thoughts, words, and deeds to One from whose sentence there is no appeal.—J.W.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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