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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 11

 

 

Verses 1-10

Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:8. Closing Counsels.—It is well to do and to get all one can, in the way of industry and pleasure, before old age draws on. Ecclesiastes 11:1 and Ecclesiastes 11:2 are best taken as referring either to merchandise or generosity, though "bread" has also been interpreted as seed sown on irrigated land (cf. Ecclesiastes 11:4 and Ecclesiastes 11:6) or even as human semen, and Ecclesiastes 11:2 and Ecclesiastes 11:6 forced into line. The trader's venture is to be divided between several ships, for it is unsafe to put all one's eggs in one basket; similarly it is well to make friends with as many folk as possible as insurance against a day of disaster (cf. Luke 16:9). Man is the child of circumstances, he can no more control his fate than the weather (Ecclesiastes 11:3); for tree perhaps read "stick," and see a reference to divination by throwing a wand into the air and determining one's action by the direction in which it comes to rest (cf. Hosea 4:12). The wise farmer (Ecclesiastes 11:4) knows that his varied operations must be performed at the proper time whatever the weather threatens; he who waits the more convenient season and ideal conditions gets nothing done. Rain in harvest-time was rare in Palestine but not impossible (1 Samuel 12:17, Proverbs 26:1). Man, knowing not the way of the wind (John 3:8) nor the mystery of embryology (Psalms 139:13-16), cannot hope to understand the operations of Providence in these matters and in all else; all perhaps = "both" (Ecclesiastes 11:5). All he can do (Ecclesiastes 11:6) is to peg away at his work from morn till eve, perhaps from youth till age, bearing gains and losses philosophically. Light and life are good, but even while we enjoy them comes the thought of their brevity, and the certainty of Sheol, the underworld of shadows, a future that is unsubstantial reality, vanity, and emptiness indeed. So (Ecclesiastes 11:9) make the most of youth, gratify your desires, carpe diem, gaudeamus dum iwvenes sumus (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, 1 Corinthians 15:32). Whether we regard Ecclesiastes 11:7 to Ecclesiastes 12:7 as due to a reviser or not, we must almost certainly see an interpolation in Ecclesiastes 11:9 b, but know thou . . . Put away (Ecclesiastes 11:10) brooding and melancholy and asceticism ("evil"), the heyday of life is soon over ("vanity"), so make the most of it, for the dull days are hastening on (Ecclesiastes 12:1 b).

Ecclesiastes 12:1 a is also an interpolation, unless with a slight emendation of the Heb. we read, "remember thy well," or cistern, i.e. thy wife (Proverbs 5:18). Yet the injunction in its familiar form is one that we rightly prize; fellowship with God in the early years of life is the safeguard both of youth and age.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 b "or ever," etc., thus connects with Ecclesiastes 11:10; age is drawing on with its lack of zest and of joie de vivre. The allegory of senility in Ecclesiastes 12:2-6 is not to be forced into any single line of interpretation, whether anatomical or atmospherical (the approach of night or a storm or winter). "The metaphors change and intermingle in accord with the richness of an Oriental imagination" (Barton). "Make the most of youth," says Qoheleth, "while the sun is not darkened . . ." (Ecclesiastes 12:2); life as it advances loses its brightness and that increasingly—sun, moon, stars all fail, and after rain there is no season of clear shining but only the return of the clouds.—Arms ("keepers"), and legs ("strong men") grow weak and weary; teeth ("grinders," lit. "grinding women") and eyes (the "women that look through the windows") are alike faint (Ecclesiastes 12:3). This verse suggests the inmates of a house—two sets of men, and two of women, menial and gentle. "Because they are few," better, "though they are few." The lips ("doors" Psalms 141:3), or perhaps the less honourable parts of the body, are closed, the feeble gums make a poor attempt at mastication; sleep is short, for the old man wakes with the early twitter of the birds (possibly "he shall approach to the voice of the bird," i.e. "his voice becomes a childish treble"); singers, or perhaps their musical notes ("daughters of song") are all alike low to him in his deafness; cf. 2 Samuel 19:35 (Ecclesiastes 12:4). A hill terrifies him and indeed any journey, for his breath is scant and his limbs stiff; his whitened hair is like the almond blossom (possibly "the almond is rejected," i.e. "appetite fails even when coaxed"). The smallest thing (Isaiah 40:22) is a burden, though perhaps the reference of the "grasshopper" is to the bent and halting gait of old age, or even to sexual intercourse, an interpretation which gains some support from the use of the "caper-berry" as an aphrodisiac. The explanation which connects the word for caper-berry with a root meaning "poor," and renders "the chrysalis (grasshopper) lies inert till the soul emerges" (for "fails" read "bursts," mg.) is rather far-fetched. The "long home" is, of course the grave. For mourners cf. Jeremiah 9:17 f., Mark 5:38 (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Enjoy youth, for the time comes when the golden lamp bowl (Zechariah 4:2 f.) falls with a crash because the silver cord that suspends it is snapped, or in homelier metaphor, the pitcher is smashed at the well, or the water-wheel is broken. There is no need to bring in skull, spinal column, or heart; the picture is clearly one of death, especially sudden death. The light goes out, the water is spilt; the long comradeship of body and soul is dissolved.—With Ecclesiastes 11:7 cf. Genesis 2:7; the contrast with Ecclesiastes 3:19 f. only illustrates the variety of Qoheleth's human moods. His reflections end as they began: Ecclesiastes 12:8 is identical with Ecclesiastes 1:2.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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