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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 8

 

 

Verses 1-9

Ecclesiastes 8:1-9. Maxims on Wisdom and Government.

Ecclesiastes 8:1. Wisdom (like prayer and self-sacrifice; cf. Luke 9:29) transfigures the countenance, it takes the "hardness" or coarseness out of the face.

Ecclesiastes 8:2. Honour the king, remembering his Divine appointment and the oath taken at his coronation; do not rashly leave his service or rebel against him. Or we may (so LXX) connect Ecclesiastes 8:2 b with Ecclesiastes 8:3, "but where an oath of God is in question be not hasty" (i.e. in obeying the king); "go out of his presence, persist not in an evil thing, for," etc. Otherwise we must interpret "persist not in an evil thing" as "enter not into opposition to him." If Ecclesiastes 8:5, Ecclesiastes 8:6 a is Qoheleth's own counsel it refers to the king's commandment and is a maxim of prudence; the wise man will keep his head and his feet even when such commandments are grievous. It may, however, be a pious commentator's reference to the commandment of God. Ecclesiastes 8:6 b connects more closely with Ecclesiastes 8:4.

Ecclesiastes 8:7 f. One never knows what a despot will do next, and a wise man grows weary with uncertainty. Human help lessness is seen everywhere: a man has no more control over the day of his death than over the wind (mg.), nor can he escape from wickedness once he has given himself to it any more than the mercenary can obtain furlough when the war for which he is engaged is proceeding. The Persian law was stricter than the Mosaic (Deuteronomy 20:5-8).

Ecclesiastes 8:9 suggests that these observations of tyranny were taken from life, though this gives us no clue to the date. Follow mg. in the first reference; the second, which brings in the thought of retribution on the tyrant, is an open question.


Verses 10-15

Ecclesiastes 8:10-15. The One End of Righteousness and Unrighteousness.—The good are soon forgotten, the wicked enjoy honour and long life; the best thing a man can do is to enjoy life while he has it.

Ecclesiastes 8:10 is difficult, MT is probably corrupt. RV is a fair attempt; others would emend so as to read, "I saw the wicked buried, carried even from the sanctuary, and they used to go about and be praised in the city because they had done so" (i.e. used their power to hurt others; cf. Ecclesiastes 8:9). This excludes all mention of the righteous and their shameful exclusion from the holy place, which in any case cannot be interpreted as consecrated burial ground.

Ecclesiastes 8:12 f. is plainly the insertion of an orthodox annotator; Ecclesiastes 8:12 is a concession, Ecclesiastes 8:13 is the general rule as to the wicked man's long life. Ecclesiastes 8:12 b seems to hint at some compensation, possibly future, for the short-lived good man.

Ecclesiastes 8:14 f. shows us the typical mood of Qoheleth; cf. especially Ecclesiastes 3:12 f., Ecclesiastes 3:22, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 9:7-10.


Verse 16-17

Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:16. Life's Riddle Baffles the Wisest Quest.—The parenthesis in Ecclesiastes 8:16 b describes the ceaseless effort of the keen student of life, or perhaps the fate of the toiler who is too tired to sleep; with Ecclesiastes 8:17; cf. Ecclesiastes 7:24, Job 11:6-9, and from the Christian standpoint Romans 11:33, Ephesians 3:8 ("unsearchable riches"). By heart (Ecclesiastes 9:1) is meant the whole inner nature, intellectual and emotional; God is the supreme arbiter of human destiny. Whether He regards us with love or hatred we cannot tell; life is so tangled that the Divine attitude is inscrutable. Follow LXX, in adding the first word of Ecclesiastes 8:2 with a slight change to Ecclesiastes 8:1 and read, "All before them is vanity. To all alike, there is one event."

Ecclesiastes 9:2. to the good: see mg. "He that sweareth," the man who abides by his oath; "he that feareth an oath," the man who is afraid to take or carry out a vow. This interpretation is in line with the other comparisons, the good precedes the evil example; but perhaps we should take "sweareth" of profanity and "feareth an oath" of loyal obedience to a vow.

Ecclesiastes 9:3. an evil in all: a supreme evil.—full of evil: full of dissatisfaction. Life is all unrest and madness, and after that—"to the dead."

Ecclesiastes 9:4. a dog is a poor creature in the East, while the lion stands for kingly power.

Ecclesiastes 9:5. Even to know that one must die is superior to being dead. Death ends all, it extinguishes all the passions and emotions, takes a man from the only sphere of activity there is, and even blots out the remembrance of him (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:10 b). This being so, enjoy yourself while you can; God has so arranged the world that this is the only thing you can do, so it must be acceptable to Him.

Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 has a remarkably close parallel in a fragment of the Gilgamesh epic; "Since the gods created man, Death they ordained for man, Life in their hands they hold; Thou O Gilgamesh fill thy belly, Day and night be thou joyful," etc.

Ecclesiastes 9:9 is less a eulogium of quiet home life than advice to a man to enjoy any woman who appeals to him; there is no contradiction to Ecclesiastes 7:26-28.

The advice in Ecclesiastes 8:10 a must be taken as referring to any form of enjoyment; it finds its transfiguration in John 9:4.—the grave: Sheol, described in Isaiah 14:9-11*, Ezekiel 32:18-32. In Ecclesiastes 8:11 Qoheleth takes up the idea again that life's prizes are not bestowed for merit or ability; men are the creatures of time and chance, misfortune attends them till their time is up. Even that hour is unknown, they are trapped unexpectedly like the bird and the fish. The closest historical parallel to the incident pictured in Ecclesiastes 8:13-16 is the siege of Abel-beth-maacah (2 Samuel 20:15-22); Qoheleth would not scruple to change the "wise woman" into a man. Other suggestions are the siege of Dor in 218 B.C. (1 Maccabees 15) or that of Bethsura (1 Maccabees 6:31, 2 Maccabees 13:9). The point of the story is that the wise as well as the righteous are soon forgotten.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 8:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ecclesiastes-8.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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