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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 9

 

 


Verses 1-18

EXPOSITION

Ecclesiastes 9:1-6

One fate happens to all, and the dead are cut off from all the feelings and interests of life in the upper world.

Ecclesiastes 9:1

This continues the subject treated above, confirming the conclusion arrived at in Ecclesiastes 8:17, viz. that God's government of the world is unfathomable. For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this; literally, for all this laid up in my heart, and all this I have been about (equivalent to I sought) to clear up. The reference is both to what has been said and to what is coming. The ki, "for" (which the Vulgate omits), at the beginning gives the reason for the truth of what is advanced; the writer has omitted no means of arriving at a conclusion. One great result of his consideration he proceeds to state. The Septuagint connects this clause closely with the last verse of the preceding chapter, "For I applied all this to my heart, and my heart saw all this." The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God (Psalms 31:15; Proverbs 21:1); i.e. in his power, under his direction. Man is not independent. Even the good and wise, who might be supposed to afford the plainest evidence of the favorable side of God's moral government, are subject to the same unsearchable law. The very incomprehensibility of this principle proves that it comes from God, and men may well be content to submit themselves to it, knowing that he is as just as he is almighty. No man knoweth either love or hatred. God's favor or displeasure are meant. Vulgate, Et tamen nescit homo, utrum amore an odio dignus sit. We cannot judge from the events that befall a man what is the view which God takes of his character. We must not, like Job's friends, decide that a man is a great sinner because calamity falls upon him, nor again suppose that outward prosperity is a proof of a life righteous and well-pleasing to God. Outward circumstances are no criterion of inward disposition or of final judgment. From the troubles or the comforts which we ourselves experience or witness in others we have no right to argue God's favor or displeasure. He disposes matters as seems best to him, and we must not expect to see every one in this world treated according to what we should deem his deserts (comp. Proverbs 1:1-33 :52 with Hebrews 12:6). Delitzsch and others think that the expressions "love" and "hatred" are too general to admit of being interpreted as above, and they determine the sense to be that no one can tell beforehand who will be the objects of, his love or hate, or how entirely his feelings may change in regard of persons with whom he is brought in contact. The circumstances which give rise to these sentiments are entirely beyond his control and foresight. This is true enough, but it does not seem to me to be intended. The author is concerned, not with inward sentiments, but with prosperity and adversity considered popularly as indications of God's view of things. It would be but a meager assertion to state that you cannot know whether you are to love or hate, because God ordains all such contingencies; whereas to warn against hasty and infidel judgments on the ground of our ignorance of God's mysterious ways, is sound and weighty advice, and in due harmony with what follows in the next verses. The interpretation, "No man knows whether he shall meet with the love or hatred of his fellows," has commended itself to some critics, but is as inadmissible as the one just mentioned. By all that is before them. The Hebrew is simply, "all [lies] before them." All that shall happen, all that shall shape their destiny in the future, is obscure and unknown, and beyond their control. Septuagint, τὰ πάντα πρὸ προσώπου αὐτῶν. The Vulgate mixes this clause with the following verse, But all things are kept uncertain for the future. St. Gregory, "As thou knowest not who are converted from sin to goodness, nor who turn back from goodness to sin; so also thou dost not understand what is doing towards thyself as thy merits deserve. And as thou dost not at all comprehend another's end, so art thou also unable to foresee thine own. For thou knowest now what progress thou hast made thyself, but what I [God] still think of thee in secret thou knowest not. Thou now thinkest on thy deeds of righteousness; but thou knowest not how strictly they are weighed by me. Woe even to the praiseworthy life of men if it be judged without mercy, because when strictly examined it is overwhelmed in the presence of the Judge by the very conduct with which it imagines that it pleases him" ('Moral.,' 29.34, Oxford transl.).

Ecclesiastes 9:2

All things come alike to all; literally, all things [are] like that which [happens] to all persons. There is no difference in the treatment of persons; all people of every kind meet with circumstances of every kind. Speaking generally, there is no discrimination, apparently, in the distribution of good and evil. Sun and shade, calm and storm. fruitful and unfruitful seasons, joy and sorrow, are dispensed by inscrutable laws. The Septuagint, reading differently, has, "Vanity is in all;" the Syriac unites two readings, "All before him is vanity, all as to all" (Ginsburg). There is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked. All men have the same lot, whether it be death or any other contingency, without regard to their naomi condition. The classes into which men are divided must be noted. "Righteous" and "wicked" refer to men in their conduct to others. The good. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac add, "to the evil," which is said again almost immediately. To the clean, and to the unclean. "The good" and "clean" are those who are not only ceremonially pure, but, as the epithet "good" shows, are morally undefiled. To him that sacrificeth; i.e. the man who attends to the externals of religion, offers the obligatory sacrifices, and brings his free-will offerings. The good … the sinner; in the widest senses. He that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. He who takes an oath lightly, carelessly, or falsely (comp. Zechariah 5:3), is contrasted with him who regards it as a holy thing, or shrinks in awe from invoking God's Name in such a case This last idea is regarded as a late Essenic development (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2.8. 6); though something like it is found in the sermon on the mount, "I say unto you, Swear not at all," etc. (Matthew 5:34-37). Dean Plumptre, however, throws doubt on the above interpretation, owing to the fact that in all the other groups the good side is placed first; and he suggests that "he who sweareth" may be one who does his duty in this particular religiously and well (comp. Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 65:16), and "he who fears the oath" is a man whose conscience makes him shrink from the oath of compurgation (Exodus 22:10, Exodus 22:11; Numbers 5:19-22), or who is too cowardly to give his testimony in due form. The Vulgate has, Ut perjurus, its et ille qui verum dejerat; and it seems unnecessary to present an entirely new view of the passage in slavish expectation of a concinnity which the author cannot be proved to have ever aimed at. The five contrasted pairs are the righteous and the wicked, the clean and the unclean, the sacrificer and the non-sacrificer, the good and the sinner, the profane swearer and the man who reverences an oath. The last clause is rendered by the Septuagint, "So is he who sweareth ( ὁ ὀμνύων) even as he who fears the oath," which is as ambiguous as the original. A cautious Greek gnome says—

ὅρκον δὲ φεῦγε κᾶν δικαίως ὀμνύῃς

"Avoid an oath, though justly you might swear."

Ecclesiastes 9:3

This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. The "evil" is explained in the following words, which speak of the common fate. The Vulgate (followed by Ginsburg and others) lakes the first words as equivalent to a superlative: Hoc est pessimum inter omnia, "This is the greatest evil of all that is done under the sun." But the article would have been used in this case; nor would this accurately express Koheleth's sentiments. He looks upon death only as one of the evils appertaining to men's career on earth—one of the phases of that identity of treatment so certain and so inexplicable, which leads to disastrous results (Ecclesiastes 8:11). That there is one event unto all. The "one event," as the end of the verse shows, is death. We have here the old strain repeated which is found in Ecclesiastes 2:14-16; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 5:15; Ecclesiastes 6:12; "Omnes eodem cogimur" (Horace, 'Carm.,' Ecclesiastes 2:3. 25). Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil. In consequence of this indiscriminating destiny men sin recklessly, are encouraged in their wickedness. Madness is in their heart while they live. The "madness" is conduct opposed to the dictates of wisdom and reason, as Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:2, Ecclesiastes 2:12. All their life long men follow their own lusts and passions, and care little for God's will and law, or their own best interests. This is well called "want of reason. And after that they go to the dead. The verb is omitted in the Hebrew, being implied by the preposition כִּי, "to;" the omission is very forcible. Delitzsch, Wright, and others render, "after him," i.e. after man's life is ended, which seems rather to say, "after they die, they die." The idea, however, appears to be, both good and evil go to the same place, pass away into nothingness, are known no more in this world. Here at present Koheleth leaves the question of the future life, having already intimated his belief in Ecclesiastes 3:1-22. and Ecclesiastes 8:11, etc.

Ecclesiastes 9:4

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope. As long as a man lives (is one of living beings) he has some hope, whatever it be. This feeling is inextinguishable even unto the end.

ἄελπτον οὐδέν πάντα δ ελπίζειν χρεών

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast."

Thus Bailey sings, in 'Festus'—

"All Have hopes, however wretched they may be,

Or blessed. It is hope which lifts the lark so high,

Hope of a lighter air and bluer sky;

And the poor hack which drops down on the flints,

Upon whose eye the dust is settling, he

Hopes, but to die. No being exists, of hope,

Of love, void."

This clause gives a reason for the folly of men, mentioned in Ecclesiastes 9:3. Whatever be their lot, or their way of life, they see no reason to make any change by reformation or active exertion. They go on hoping, and do nothing. Something may turn up; amid the inexplicable confusion of the ordering of events some happy contingency may arrive. The above is the reading according to the Keri. Thus the Septuagint: ὅτι τίς ὅς κοινωνεῖ; "For who is he that has fellowship with all the living?" Symmachus has, "For who is he that will always continue to live?" while the Vulgate gives, Nemo est qui semper vivat. The Khetib points differently, offering the reading, "For who is excepted?" i.e. from the common lot, the interrogation being closely connected with the preceding verse, or "Who can choose?" i.e. whether he will die or not. The sentence then proceeds, "To all the living there is hope." But the rendering of the Authorized Version has good authority, and affords the better sense. For a living dog is better than a dead lion. The dog in Palestine was not made a pet and companion, as it is among us, but was regarded as a loathsome and despicable object comp. 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 3:8); while the lion was considered as the noblest of beasts, the type of power and greatness (comp. Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 31:4). So the proverbial saying in the text means that the vilest and meanest creature possessed of life is better than the highest and mightiest which has succumbed to death. There is an apparent contradiction between this sentence and such passages as claim a preference for death over life, e.g. Ecclesiastes 4:2; Ecclesiastes 7:1; but in the latter the writer is viewing life with all its sorrows and bitter experiences, here he regards it as affording the possibility of enjoyment. In the one case he holds death as desirable, because it delivers from further sorrow and puts an end to misery; in the other, he deprecates death as cutting off from pleasure and hope. He may also have in mind that now is the time to do the work which we have to perform: "The night cometh when no man can work;" Ecclesiasticus 17:28, "Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not; the living and sound shall praise the Lord" (comp. Isaiah 38:18, Isaiah 38:19.)

Ecclesiastes 9:5

For the living know that they shall die. This is added in confirmation of the statement in Ecclesiastes 9:4. The living have at least the consciousness that they will soon have to die, and this leads them to work while it is day, to employ their faculties worthily, to make use of opportunities, to enjoy and profit by the present. They have a certain fixed event to which they must look forward; and they have not to stand idle, lamenting their fate, but their duty and their happiness is to accept the inevitable and make the best of it. But the dead know not anything. They are cut off from the active, bustling world; their work is done; they have nothing to expect, nothing to labor for. What passes upon earth affects them not; the knowledge of it reaches them no longer. Aristotle's idea was that the dead did know something, in a hazy and indistinct way, of what went on in the upper world, and were in some slight degree influenced thereby, but not to such a degree as to change happiness into misery, or vice versa ('Eth. Nicom.,' Ecclesiastes 1:10 and Ecclesiastes 1:11). Neither have they any more a reward; i.e. no fruit for labor done. There is no question here about future retribution in another world. The gloomy view of the writer at this moment precludes all idea of such an adjustment of anomalies after death. For the memory of them is forgotten. They have not even the poor reward of being remembered by loving posterity, which in the mind of an Oriental was an eminent blessing, to be much desired. There is a paronomasia in zeker, "memory," and sakar, "reward," which, as Plumptre suggests, may be approximately represented in English by the words "record" and "reward."

Ecclesiastes 9:6

Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now (long ago) perished. All the feelings which are exhibited and developed in the life of the upper world are annihilated (comp. Ecclesiastes 9:10). Three are selected as the most potent passions, such as by their strength and activity might ideally be supposed to survive even the stroke of death. But all are now at an end. Neither have they any more a portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun. Between the dead and the living an impassable gulf exists. The view of death here given, intensely gloomy and hopeless as it appears to be, is in conformity with other passages of the Old Testament (see Job 14:10-14; Psalms 6:5; Psalms 30:9; Isaiah 38:10-19; Ecclesiasticus 17:27, 28; Bar. 3:16-19), and that imperfect dispensation. Koheleth and his contemporaries were of those "who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15); it was Christ who brightened the dark valley, showing the blessedness of those who die in the Lord, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Some expositors have felt the pessimistic utterances of this passage so deeply that they have endeavored to account for them by introducing an atheistic objector, or an intended opposition between flesh and spirit. But there is not a trace of any two such voices, and the suggestion is quite unnecessary. The writer, while believing in the continued existence of the soul, knows little and has little that is cheering to say about it's condition; and what he does say is not inconsistent with a judgment to come, though he has not yet arrived at the enunciation of this great solution. The Vulgate renders the last clause, Nec habent partem in hoc saeculo et in opere quod sub sole geritur. But "forever" is the correct rendering of לְעוֹלָם, and Ginsburg concludes that Jerome's translation can be traced to the Hagadistic interpretation of the verse which restricts its scope to the wicked The author of the Book of Wisdom, writing later, takes a much more hopeful view of death and the departed (see Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 2:22-24; Ecclesiastes 3:1; Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 :18; Ecclesiastes 8:17; 15:3, etc.).

Ecclesiastes 9:7-12

These verses give the application of the facts just mentioned. The inscrutability of the moral government of the world, the uncertainty of life, the condition of the dead, lead to the conclusion again that one should use one's life to the best advantage; and Koheleth repeats his caution concerning the issues and duration of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:7

Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy. This is not an injunction to lead a selfish life of Epicurean pleasure; but taking the limited view to which he here confines himself, the Preacher inculcates the practical wisdom of looking at the bright side of things; he says in effect (though he takes care afterwards to correct a wrong impression which might be given)," Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32). We have had the same counsel in Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15. Drink thy wine with a merry heart. Wine was not an accompaniment of meals usually; it -was reserved for feasts and solemn occasions. Bread and wine are here regarded as the necessary means of support and comfort (comp. Ecclesiastes 10:19; Genesis 14:18; 1 Samuel 16:20, etc.). The moderate use of wine is nowhere forbidden; there is no law in the Old Testament against the use of intoxicating drinks; the employment of such fluids as cordials, exhilarating, strengthening and comforting, is often referred to (comp. 9:13; Psalms 104:15; Proverbs 31:6, Proverbs 31:7; Ecclesiasticus 31:27, 28). Thus Koheleth's advice, taken even literally, is not contrary to the spirit of his religion. For God now (long ago) accepteth thy works. The "works" are not moral or religious doings, in reward of which God gives temporal blessings, which is plainly opposed to Koheleth's chief contention in all this passage. The works are the eating and drinking just mentioned. By the constitution of man's nature, and by the ordering of Providence, such capacity of enjoyment is allowable, and there need be no scruple in using it. Such things are God's good gifts, and to be received with reverence and thanksgiving; and he who thus employs them is well-pleasing unto the Lord (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 8:15).

Ecclesiastes 9:8

Let thy garments be always white. The Preacher brings into prominence certain particulars of enjoyment, more noticeable than mere eating and drinking. White garments in the East (as among ourselves) were symbols of joy and purity. Thus the singers in Solomon's temple were arrayed in white linen (2 Chronicles 5:12). Mordecai was thus honored by King Ahasuerus (Esther 8:15), the angels are seen similarly decked (Mark 16:5), and the glorified saints are clothed in white (Revelation 3:4, Revelation 3:5, Revelation 3:18). So in the pseudepi-graphal books the same imagery is retained. Those that "have fulfilled the Law of the Lord have received glorious garments, and are clothed in white" (2 Esdr. 2:39, 40). Among the Romans the same symbolism obtained. Horace ('Sat.,' 2.2. 60)—

"Ille repotia, natales aliosve dierum

Festes albatus celebret."

"Though he in whitened toga celebrate

His wedding, birthday, or high festival."

Let thy head lack no ointment. Oil and perfumes were used on festive occasions not only among Eastern nations, but by Greeks and Romans (see on Ecclesiastes 7:1). Thus Telemachus is anointed with fragrant oil by the fair Polykaste (Homer, 'Od,' 3.466). Sappho complains to Phaen (Ovid,' Heroid.' 15.76)—

"Non Arabs noster rore capillus olet."

"No myrrh of Araby bedews my hair."

Such allusions in Horace are frequent and commonly cited (see 'Carm.,' 1.5. 2; 2.7. 7, 8; 2.11. 15, etc.). Thus the double injunction in this verse counsels one to be always happy and cheerful. Gregory Thaumaturgus (cited by Plumptre) represents the passage as the error of "men of vanity;" and other commentators have deemed that it conveyed not the Preacher's own sentiments, but those of an atheist whom he cites. There is, as we have already seen, no need to resort to such an explanation. Doubtless the advice may readily be perverted to evil, and made to sanction sensuality and licentiousness, as-we see to have been done in Wis. 2:6-9; but Koheleth only urges the moderate use of earthly goods as consecrated by God's gift.

Ecclesiastes 9:9

Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest; literally, see life with a wife whom thou lovest. The article is omitted, as the maxim is to be taken generally. In correction of the outspoken condemnation of women in Ecclesiastes 7:26, Koheleth here recognizes the happiness of a home where is found a helpmate beloved and worthy of love (comp. Proverbs 5:18, Proverbs 5:19; Proverbs 17:22, on which our passage seems to be founded; and Ecclesiasticus 26:13-18). (For the expression, " see life," vide note on Ecclesiastes 2:1.) St. Jerome's comment is misleading, "Quacumque tibi placuerit feminarum ejus gaude complexu." Some critics translate ishshah here "woman." Thus Cox: "Enjoy thyself with any woman whom thou lovest;" but the best commentators agree that the married state is meant in the text, not mere sensual enjoyment. All the days of the life of thy vanity; i.e. throughout the time of thy quickly passing life. This is repeated after the next clause, in order to emphasize the transitoriness of the present and the consequent wisdom of enjoying it while it lasts. So Horace bids man "carpe diem" ('Carm.,' 1.11.8), "enjoy each atom of the day;'" and Martial sings ('Epigr,' 7.47. 11)—

"Vive velut rapto fugitivaque gaudia carpe."

"Live thou thy life as stolen, and enjoy

Thy quickly fading pleasures."

Which he (God) hath given thee under the sun. The relative may refer to either the "wife" or" the days of life." The Septuagint and Vulgate take it as belonging to the latter, and this seems most suitable (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:17). That is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor, etc. Such moderate enjoyment is the recompense allowed by God for the toil which accompanies a properly spent life.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. In accordance with what has been already said, and to combat the idea that, as man cannot control his fate, he should take no pains to work his work, but fold his hands in resigned inaction, Koheleth urges him not to despair, but to do his part manfully as long as life is given, and with all the energies of his soul carry out the purpose of his being. The Septuagint gives, "All things whatsoever thy hand shall find to do, do it as thy power is ( ὡς ἡ δύναμίς σου);" Vulgate, Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operate. The expression at the commencement may be illustrated by Le Ecclesiastes 12:8; 25:28; 9:33, where it implies ability to carry out some intention, and in some passages is thus rendered, "is able," etc. (comp. Proverbs 3:27). It is therefore erroneous to render it in this place, "Whatever by chance cometh to hand;" or "Let might be right." Rather it is a call to work as the prelude and accompaniment of enjoyment, anticipating St. Paul's maxim (2 Thessalonians 3:10), "If any would not work, neither should he eat." Ginsburg's interpretation is dishonoring to the Preacher and foreign to his real sentiments, "Have recourse to every source of voluptuous gratification, while thou art in thy strength." The true meaning of the verse is confirmed by such references as John 9:4, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work;" 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation;" Galatians 6:10, "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men." For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave. The departed have no more work which they can do, no plans or calculations to make; their knowledge is strictly limited, their wisdom is ended. It needs body and soul to carry on the labors and activities of this world; when these are severed, and can no longer act together, there is a complete alteration in the man's relations and capacities. "The grave," sheol (which is found nowhere else in Ecclesiastes), is the place to which go the souls of the dead—a shadowy region. Whither thou goest; to which all are bound. It is plain that the writer believes in the continued existence of the soul, as he differentiates its life in sheol from its life on earth, the energies and operations which are carried on in the one case being curtailed or eclipsed in the other. Of any repentance, or purification, or progress, in the unseen world, Koheleth knows and says nothing. He would seem to regard existence there as a sleep or a state of insensibility; at any rate, such is the natural view of the present passage.

Ecclesiastes 9:11, Ecclesiastes 9:12

Section 8. It is impossible to calculate upon the issues and duration of life.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

He reverts to the sentiment of Ecclesiastes 9:1, that we cannot calculate on the issues of life. Work as we may and must and ought, the results are uncertain and beyond our control. This he shows by his own personal experience. I returned, and saw under the sun. The expression here does not indicate a new departure, but merely a repetition and confirmation of a previous thought—the dependence and conditionality of man. It implies, too, a correction of a possible misunderstanding of the injunction to labor, as if one's own efforts were sure to secure success. The race is not to the swift. One is reminded of the fable of the hare and tortoise; but Koheleth's meaning is different. In the instances given he intimates that, though a man is well equipped for his work and uses all possible exertions, he may incur failure. So one may be a fleet runner, and yet, owing to some untoward accident or disturbing circumstance, not come in first. Thus Ahimaaz brought to David tidings of Absalom's defeat before Cushi, who had had the start of him (2 Samuel 18:27, 2 Samuel 18:31). There is no occasion to invent an allusion to the foot-race in the formal Greek games. The battle to the strong. Victory does not always accrue to mighty men, heroes. As David, himself an instance of the truth of the maxim, says (1 Samuel 17:47), "The Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's". Neither yet bread to the wise. Wisdom will not ensure competency. To do this requires other endowments. Many a man of cultivated intellect and of high mental power is left to starve. Riches to men of understanding. Aristophanes accounts for the unequal distribution of wealth thus ('Plutus,' 88), the god himself speaking-

"I threatened, when a boy,

On none but just and wise and orderly

My favors to bestow; so Zeus in jealousy

Hath made me blind, that I may none of these Distinguish."

Nor yet favor to men of skill. "Skill" hero does not mean dexterity in handicrafts or arts, but knowledge generally; and the gnome says that reputation and influence do not necessarily accompany the possession of knowledge and learning; knowledge is not a certain or indispensable means to favor. Says the Greek gnomist—

τύχης τὰ θνητῶν πράγματ οὐκ εὐβουλίας.

"Not prudence rules, but fortune, men's affairs."

That time and chance happeneth to them all. We have had the word eth, "time," all through Ecclesiastes 3:1-22. and elsewhere; but פֶגַע, rendered "chance," is uncommon, being found only in 1 Kings 5:4 (18, Hebrew). Everything has its proper season appointed by God, and man is powerless to control these arrangements. Our English word "chance" conveys an erroneous impression. What is meant is rather "incident," such as a calamity, disappointment, unforeseen occurrence. All human purposes are liable to be changed or controlled by circumstances beyond man's power, and incapable of explanation. A hand higher than man's disposes events, and success is conditioned by superior laws which work unexpected results.

Ecclesiastes 9:12

Man also knoweth not his time; Vulgate, Neseit homo finem suum, understanding "his time" to mean his death-hour; but it may include any misfortune or accident. The particle gam, "also," or "even," belongs to "his time." Not only are results out of man's control (Ecclesiastes 9:11), but his life is in higher hands, and he is never sure of a day. As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, etc. The suddenness and unforeseen nature of calamities that befall men are here expressed by two forcible similes (comp. Proverbs 7:23; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 32:3). Thus Homer ('Iliad,' 5.487)—

"Beware lest ye, as in the meshes caught

Of some wide-sweeping net, become the prey

And booty of your foes."

(Derby.)

So are the sons of men snared in an evil time. Men are suddenly overtaken by calamity, which they are totally unable to foresee or provide against. Our Lord says (Luke 21:35) that the last day shall come as a snare on all that dwell in the earth (comp. Ezekiel 7:7, Ezekiel 7:12).

Ecclesiastes 9:13-16

Section 9. That wisdom, even when it does good service, is not always rewarded, is shown by an example.

Ecclesiastes 9:13

This wisdom have I seen also under the sun; better, as the Septuagint, This also I saw to be wisdom under the sun. The experience which follows he recognized as an instance of worldly wisdom. To what special event he alludes is quite unknown. Probably the circumstance was familiar to his contemporaries. It is not to be considered as an allegory, though of course it is capable of spiritual application. The event in Bible history most like it is the preservation of Abel-Beth-maachah by the counsel of the wise woman (whose name is forgotten) narrated in 2 Samuel 20:15-22. And it seemed great unto me; Septuagint, καὶ μεγάλη ἐστι πρὸς μέ, "And it is great before me." To my mind it appeared an important example (comp. Esther 10:3). Some critics who contend for the Solomonic authorship of our book, see here an allegorical reference to the foreseen revolt of Jeroboam, whose insurrection had been opposed by certain wise statesmen, but had been carried out in opposition to their counsel. Wordsworth considers that the apologue may be illustrated by the history of Jerusalem, when great powers were arrayed against it in the time of Isaiah, and the prophet by his prayers and exhortations delivered it (2 Kings 19:2, 2 Kings 19:6, 2 Kings 19:20), but was wholly disregarded afterwards, nay, was put to death by the son of the king whom he saved. But all this is nihil ad rem. As Plautus says, "Haec quidem deliramenta loquitur."

Ecclesiastes 9:14

There was a little city. The substantive verb is, as commonly, omitted. Commentators have amused themselves with endeavoring to identify the city here mentioned. Thus some see herein Athens, saved by the counsel of Themistocles, who was afterwards driven from Athens and died in misery (Justin; 2.12); or Dora, near Mount Carmel, besieged unsuccessfully by Antiochus the Great, B.C. 218, though we know nothing of the circumstances (Polyb; 5.66); but see note on Ecclesiastes 9:13. The Septuagint takes the whole paragraph hypothetically, "Suppose there was a little city," etc. Wright well compares the historical allusions to events fresh in the minds of his hearers made by our Lord in his parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12, Luke 19:14, Luke 19:15, Luke 19:27). So we may regard the present section as a parable founded on some historical fact well known at the time when the book was written. A great king. The term points to some Persian or Assyrian potentate; or it may mean merely a powerful general (see 1 Kings 11:24; Job 29:25). Built great bulwarks against it. The Septuagint has χάρακας μεγάλους, "great palisades;" the Vulgate, Extruxitque munitiones per gyrum. What are meant are embankments or mounds raised high enough to overtop the walls of the town, and to command the positions of the besieged. For the same purpose wooden towers were also used (see Deuteronomy 20:20; 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; Jeremiah lit. 4). The Vulgate rounds off the account in the text by adding, et perfects est obsidio, " and the beleaguering was completed."

Ecclesiastes 9:15

Now there was found in it a poor wise man. The verb, regarded as impersonal, may be thus taken. Or we may continue the subject of the preceding verse and consider the king as spoken of: "He came across, met with unexpectedly, a poor man who was wise." So the Septuagint. The word for "poor" in this passage is misken, for which see note on Ecclesiastes 4:13. He by his wisdom delivered the city. When the besieged city had neither soldiers nor arms to defend itself against its mighty enemies, the man of poor estate, hitherto unknown or little regarded, came forward, and by wise counsel relieved his countrymen from their perilous situation. How this was done we are left to conjecture. It may have been by some timely concessions or negotiations; or by the surrender of a chief offender as at Abel-Beth-maachah; or by the assassination of a general, as at Bethulia (Jud. 13:8); or by the clever application of mechanical arts, as at Syracuse, under the direction of Archimedes. Yet no man remembered that same poor man. As soon as the exigence which brought him forward was past, the poor man fell back into his insignificance, and was thought of no more; he gained no personal advantage, by his wisdom; his ungrateful countrymen forgot his very existence. Thus Joseph was treated by the chief butler (Genesis 40:23). Classical readers will think of Coriolanus, Scipio Africanus, Themistocles, Miltiades, who for their services to the state were rewarded with calumny, false accusation, obloquy, and banishment. The author of the Book of Wisdom gives a different and ideal experience. "I," he says, "for the sake of wisdom shall have estimation among the multitude, and honor with the elders, though I be young …. By the means of her I shall obtain immortality, and leave behind me an everlasting memorial" (Wis. 8:10-13).

Ecclesiastes 9:16

Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength. The latter part of the verse is not a correction of the former, but the whole comes under the observation introduced by "I said." The story just related leads to this assertion, which reproduces the gnome of Ecclesiastes 7:19, wherein it is asserted that wisdom effects more than mere physical strength. There is an interpolation in .the Old Latin Version of Wis. 6. I which seems to have been compiled from this passage and Proverbs 16:13, "Melter est sapientia quam vires, et vir prudens quam fortis." Nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, etc. In the instance above mentioned the poor man's wisdom was not despised and his words were heard and attended to; but this was an abnormal case, occasioned by the extremity of the peril. Koheleth states the result which usually attends wisdom emanating from a disesteemed source. The experience of Ben-Sira pointed to the same issue (see Ecclesiasticus 13:22, 23). Horace, 'Epist.,' 1.1.57—

"Est animus tibi, sunt mores et lingua fidesque,

Sed quadringentis sex septem millia desunt;

Plebs erie."

"In wit, worth, honor, one in vain abounds;

If of the knight's estate he lack ten pounds,

He's low, quite low!"

(Howes.)

"Is not this the carpenter's Son?" asked the people who were offended at Christ.

Ecclesiastes 9:17, Ecclesiastes 9:18

Section 10. Here follow some proverbial sayings concerning wisdom and its opposite, which draw the moral from the story in the text.

Ecclesiastes 9:17

The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. This verse would be better translated, Words of the wise in quiet are heard better than the shout of a chief among fools. The Vulgate takes the tranquility to appertain to the hearers, thus: Verba sapientium audiuntur in silentio; but, as Delitzsch points out, the contrast between "quiet" and "cry" shows that it is the man, and not his auditors, who is quiet. The sentence says that a wise man's words, uttered calmly, deliberately, without pompous declamation or adventitious aids, are of more value than the blustering vociferation of an arch-fool, who seeks to force acceptance for his folly by loudness and swagger (comp. Isaiah 30:15; and see Isaiah 42:2 and Matthew 12:19, passages which speak of the peacefulness, reticence, and unobtrusiveness of true wisdom, as seen in the Son of God). The verse introduces a kind of exception to the general rejection of wisdom mentioned above. Though the multitude turn a deaf ear to a wise man's counsel, yet this tells in the long run, and there are always some teachable persons-who sit at his feet and learn from him. "He that ruleth among fools" is not one that governs a silly people, but one who is a prince of fools, who takes the highest place among such.

Ecclesiastes 9:18

Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Such is the moral which Koheleth desires to draw from the little narrative given above (see Ecclesiastes 9:14-16; and Ecclesiastes 7:19). Wisdom can do what no material force can effect, and often produces results which all the implements of war could not command. But one sinner destroyeth much good. The happy consequences which the wise man's counsel might accomplish, or has already accomplished, may be overthrown or rendered useless by the villany or perversity of a bad man. The Vulgate, reading differently, has, Qui in uno peccaverit, multa bona perdet. But this seems to be out of keeping with the context. Adam's sin infected the whole race of man; Achau's transgression caused Israel's defeat (Joshua 7:11, Joshua 7:12); Rehoboam's folly occasioned the great schism (1 Kings 12:16). The wide° reaching effects of one little error are illustrated by the proverbial saying which every one knows, and which runs in Latin thus: "Clavus unus perdit equi soleam, soles equum, equus equitem, eques castra, castro rempublicam."

HOMILETICS

Esther 9:1-6

All things alike to all.

I. ALL MEN EQUALLY IN THE HANDS OF GOD.

1. Their persons. The righteous and the wise (Esther 9:1), but not less certainly the unrighteous and the foolish. God's breath sustains all; God's providence watches over all; God's power encircles all; God's mercy encompasses all.

2. Their works. Their actions, whether good or bad, in the sense explained in the last homily, "are conditioned by God, the Governor of the world and the Former of history" (Delitzsch).

3. Their experiences. "All lies before them;" i.e. all possible experiences lie before men; which shall happen to them being reserved by God in his own power.

II. ALL MEN EQUALLY IGNORANT OF THE FUTURE. "No man knoweth either love or hatred," or "whether it be love or hatred, no man knoweth;" which may signify either that no man can tell whether "providences of a happy nature proceeding from the love of God, or of an unhappy nature proceeding from the hatred of God," are to befall him (J.W). Michaelis, Knobel, Hengstenberg, Plumptre); or that no man can predict whether he will love or hate (Hitzig, Ewald, Delitzsch). In either case the meaning is that no man can certainly predict what a day may bring forth. In so far as the future is in God's hand, man can only learn what it contains by waiting the evolution of events; in so far as it is molded by man's free determinations, no man can predict what these will be until the moment arrives for their formation.

III. ALL MEN EQUALLY SUBJECT TO DEATH. "All things come alike to all: there is one event" (Esther 9:2).

1. To the righteous and to the wicked; i.e. to the inwardly and morally good and to the inwardly and morally evil.

2. To the clean and to the unclean; i.e. to the ceremonially pure and to the ceremonially defiled.

3. To him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; i.e. to him who observes the outward forms of religion and to him who observes them not.

4. To him that sweareth and to him that feareth an oath; i.e. to the openly sinful and to the outwardly reverent and devout. "All alike go to the dead" (Esther 9:3).

IV. ALL MEN EQUALLY DEFILED BY SIN. "The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live" (Esther 9:3). From which may be learnt:

1. That sin is a kind of madness. This will not be doubted by those who consider that sin is the rebellion of a creature against the Creator, and that sinners generally hope both to escape punishment on account of their sin, and to attain felicity through their sin.

2. That the seat of this madness is in the soul. It may affect the whole personality of the man, but the perennial fountain whence it springs is the heart, in its alienation from God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7).

3. That the heart is not merely tainted with this madness, but is fall of it. In other words, it is, in its natural condition, wholly under the power of sin. The total corruption of human nature, besides being taught in Scripture (Genesis 6:5; Genesis 8:21; Job 15:14; Psalms 14:2, Psalms 14:3; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 53:6; Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-3), is abundantly confirmed by experience.

4. That, apart from Divine grace, this madness continues unchanged throughout life. There is nothing in human nature itself or in its surroundings that has power to subdue and far less to eradicate this madness. A new birth alone can rescue the soul from its dominion (John 3:3).

V. ALL MEN EQUALLY THE SUBJECTS OF HOPE.

1. Hope a universal possession. "To him that is joined to all the living there is hope" (Esther 9:4); i.e. while man lives he hopes. Dum spirat, sperat (Latin proverb). "Hope springs eternal in the human breast" (Pope). Even the most abject are never, or only seldom, abandoned by this passion. On the contrary, "the miserable hath no other medicine, but only hope" (Shakespeare). When hope expires, life dies.

2. Hope a potent inspiration. In ordinary life "we are kept alive by hope" (Romans 8:24). The pleasing expectation of future good enables the heart to endure present ills, and nerves the resolution to attempt further efforts. Though sometimes, when ill-grounded, "kings it makes gods, and meaner creatures kings" (Shakespeare), yet when soundly based it

"Like a cordial, innocent though strong,

Man's heart at once inspirits and serenes."

(Young.)

Especially is this the case with that good hope through grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16) which pertains to the Christian (Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 3:12; Philippians 1:20; 1 Peter 1:13).

VI. ALL MEN EQUALLY POSSESSED OF INTELLIGENCE. Not of equal intelligence, but equally intelligent. In particular:

1. All know themselves to be mortal. "The living know that they shall die" (Esther 9:5). They may frequently ignore this fact, and deliberately shut their eyes upon it, but of the fact itself they are not ignorant.

2. In this knowledge they are superior to the dead, who "know not anything, neither have they any more a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten;" who in fact, having dropped out of life, have for ever ceased to take an interest in anything that is done under the sun.

Learn:

1. The essential equality of all men.

2. The inherent dignity of life.

3. The value of the present.

Esther 9:4

A living dog better than a dead lion.

I. ANIMATED BEING BETTER THAN INANIMATE. Life a higher product than matter; and a lion without life is only matter. Life added to matter in its meanest forms imparts to it a dignity, worth, and use not possessed by matter in its most magnificent shapes where life is absent. The higher life, the nobler being.

II. COMPLETED BEING BETTER THAN INCOMPLETE. A living dog is a complete organism; a dead lion an organism defective. The living dog possesses all that is necessary to realize the idea of "dog;" the dead lion wants the more important element, life, and retains only the less important, matter. In the living dog are seen the "spirit" and "form" combined; in the dead lion only the "form" without the "spirit." If presently man is complete naturally, he is incomplete spiritually. Hereafter redeemed and renewed, man will be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing."

III. ACTIVE BEING BETTER THAN INACTIVE. The living dog, if not a person, is yet more than a thing. Along with life and an organism, it has powers and functions it can exercise; senses through which it can perceive, a measure of intelligence through which it can understand, at least rudimentary affections it can both feel and express, instincts and impulses by and under which it can act. On the other hand, the dead lion has none of these, however once it may have owned them all. It is now passive, still, inert, powerless—an emblem of the soul dead in sin, as a living dog is of the same soul energized by religion.

IV. SERVICEABLE BEING BETTER THAN UNSERVICEABLE. A living dog of some use, a dead lion of none. The gigantic powers of the forest king are by death reduced to a nullity, and can effect nothing; the feeble capacities of the yelping cur, just because it is alive, can be turned to profitable account. So magnificent powers of body and intellect without spiritual life are comparatively valueless, while smaller abilities, if inspired by grace, may accomplish important designs.

LESSONS.

1. Be thankful for life.

2. Seek that moral and spiritual completeness which is the highest glory of life.

3. Endeavor to turn the powers of life to the best account.

4. Serve him from whom life comes.

Esther 9:7-10

The picture of an ideal life.

I. A LIFE OF PERENNIAL JOY. The joy should be fourfold.

1. Material enjoyment. "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart" (Esther 9:7). The permission herein granted to make a pleasurable use of the good things of this world, of its meats and its drinks, has not been revoked by Christianity. Not only did the Son of man by his example (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34; John 2:1-11) show that religion did not require men to be ascetics or monks, Rechabites or Nazarites, but the apostolic writers have made it clear that Christianity is not meats or drinks (Romans 14:17; 1 Timothy 4:3; Hebrews 9:10), and that while no one has a right to over-indulge himself in either, thereby becoming gluttonous and a wine-bibber, on the other hand no one is warranted in the name of Christianity to impose on believers such ordinances as—"Touch not, taste not, handle not" (Colossians 2:21).

2. Domestic happiness. "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity" (Esther 9:9). Marriage is not only honorable and innocent (Hebrews 13:4) as being a Divine institution (Matthew 19:4-6), but is one of the purest sources of felicity open to man on earth, provided it be contracted in the fear of God, and cemented with mutual love. As woman was made for man (1 Corinthians 11:9), to be his helpmeet (Genesis 2:20), i.e. his counterpart and complement, companion and counsellor, equal and friend; so he that findeth a with findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the Lord (Proverbs 18:22)—findeth one in whose love he may indulge himself, in whose sympathy he may refresh himself, in whose grace he may sun himself without fear of sin. The notion that a higher phase of the religious life is attained by celibates than by married persons is against both reason and revelation, and is contradicted by the fruits which in practical experience it usually bears. 1'either the Preacher nor the great Teacher grants permission to men to live joyfully with unmarried females or with other people's wives, but only with their own partners; and neither Old Testament nor New favors the idea that men should take as wives any women but those they love, or should treat otherwise than with affection those they marry (Ephesians 5:28).

3. Religious felicity. Arising from two things.

II. A LIFE OF UNWEARIED ACTIVITY. The work of a good man ought to be:

1. Deliberately chosen. Voluntarily undertaken, not reluctantly endured; the work of one whose hands have been stretched out in search of occupation. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do."

2. Widely extended. A good man's labors should not be too restricted either as to number, character, or sphere. "This one thing I do" (Philippians 3:13) does not signify that never more than one business at a time should engage a good man's attention. The ideal good man should put his hand to every sort of good work that Providence may place in his way (Galatians 6:9, Galatians 6:10)—at least so far as time and ability allow.

3. Energetically performed. Whatsoever the hands of a good man find to do, he should do with his might. Earnestness an indispensable condition of acceptable service. Fitful and intermittent, half-hearted and indifferent, labor especially in good work, to be condemned (1 Corinthians 15:58).

4. Religiously inspired. A good man should have sufficient reasons for his constant activity. The argument to which the Preacher alludes, though not the highest, but the lowest, is nevertheless powerful, viz. that this life is the only working season a man has. "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" (Esther 9:10). The inhabitants of the under-world are forever done with the activities of earth. The good man no more than the wicked can pursue his schemes when he has vanished from this mundane scene. Hence the urgency of working while it is called today (John 9:4). Though the Christian has loftier and clearer conceptions of the after-life of the good than Old Testament saints had, the Preacher's argument is not possessed of less, but rather of more, force as an incitement to Christian work, seeing that the "now" of the present life is the only accepted time, and the only day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Learn:

1. The twofold aspect of every true life—as one of receiving and giving, of enjoying and working.

2. The essential connection between these two departments of life—the joy being a necessary condition as well as natural result of all true work, and the work being a necessary expression and invaluable sustainer of the joy.

3. The true way of redeeming life—to consecrate its days and years to serving the Lord with gladness, or to rejoicing in God and doing his will.

Esther 9:10

Words to a worker.

I. THE WORKER DESCRIBED: MAN.

1. Furnished with capacities for work. With bodily organs and mental endowments, with speech and reason.

2. Located in a sphere of work. The world a vast workshop, in which every creature is busily employed—not only the irrational animals, but even things without life.

3. Appointed to the destiny of work. As while sinless in Eden man was set to dress the garden and to keep it, and after the Fall beyond its precincts he was commanded to till the ground and to earn his bread through the sweat of his brow, so is he still charged to be a worker, a Christian apostle even saying that "if a man will not work neither shall he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

4. Impelled by a desire of work. Under the compulsion of his own nature and of the constitution of the world, man is constrained to go forth in search of work, of labor for his hands, of exercise for his mind, and generally of employment for his manhood.

II. THE WORKER COUNSELED.

1. To do the duty that lies nearest. This the obvious import of the words, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it." To men in earnest about finding their life-work, the duties that lie nearest will commonly be the most urgent; and vice versa, the duties that are most urgent will usually be found to lie nearest. Among these will stand out conspicuously

2. To do every duty with energy. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Halt: hearted labor, besides wasting time, spoils the work and demoralizes the worker. It is due to God, whose servant man is, to the importance of the work in which he is engaged, and to himself as one whose highest interests are involved in all he does, that man should labor with enthusiasm, diligence, and might.

3. To do each duty from an impulse of individual responsibility. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, that do thou!" As no man can tell what his neighbor's duty is in every instance, so can no man in any case devolve his duty on another. "To every man his work!" is God's great labor law. If other workers are unfaithful, be not thou unfaithful.

4. To do all duties under a sense of the value of time. Remembering that this life is man's only opportunity of working, that it is swiftly passing, that death is near, and that there is neither wisdom, knowledge, nor device in the grave whither man goes.

Esther 9:11, Esther 9:12

Time and chance for all.

I. AN UNDENIABLE PROPOSITION—that the issues of life are incalculable. This truth set forth in five illustrations.

1. The race not to the swift. Sometimes, perhaps often, it is, yet not always or necessarily, so that men can calculate the issue of any contest. Just as swiftness of foot is no guarantee that a runner shall be first at the goal, so in other undertakings the possession of superior ability is no proof that one shall attain pre-eminence above his fellows.

2. The battle not to the strong. By many experiences Israel had been taught that "the battle is the Lord's (1 Samuel 17:47), and that there is "no king saved by the multitude of a host" (Psalms 33:16). Neither Pharaoh (Exodus 14:27), nor Zerab the Ethiopian (2 Chronicles 14:12), nor the Moabites and Ammonites who came against Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:27), nor Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35), were the better for their innumerable armies; and though Napoleon was wont to say that God was always on the side of the strongest battalions, instances can be cited in sufficient numbers to show that it is God who giveth the victory to kings (Psalms 144:10), and that he does not always espouse the side of those who can summon the most warriors into the field.

3. Bread not to the wise. Here again the sense is that while capacity and diligence are usually rewarded, yet the exceptions to the rule are so numerous as to prove that it cannot certainly be predicted that a man of sagacity will always be able to secure for himself the means of subsistence.

4. Riches not to men of understanding. At least not always. Men of talent, and even of industry, sometimes fail in amassing riches, and when they do succeed, cannot always keep the riches they have amassed Nothing commoner than to find poor wise men (Esther 9:15) and rich fools (Luke 12:20) Though as a rule the hand of the diligent maketh rich (Proverbs 10:4), men of splendid abilities often spend their strength for naught. Riches are no sign of wisdom.

5. Favor not to men of skill. Even genius cannot always command the approbation and appreciation it deserves. The world's inventors and discoverers have seldom been rewarded according to their merits. The world has for the most part coolly accepted the productions of their genius, and remanded themselves to oblivion. The fate of the poor wise man after mentioned (Esther 9:15) has often been experienced.

II. As INCONTROVERTIBLE ARGUMENT—that death, though certain as to fact, is uncertain as to incidence.

1. The momentous truth stated. "Man knoweth not his time," i.e. of his death, which ever fails upon him suddenly, as a thief in the night. Even when death's approach is anticipated, there is no reason to suppose its actual occurrence is not always unexpected.

2. The simple illustration given. "As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare, even so are the sons of men snared in an evil time," viz. that of death, "when it falleth suddenly upon them."

3. The easy argument applied. This being so, it is obvious that no one can surely reckon upon the issues that seem naturally to belong to his several qualities or abilities, to his swiftness, or strength, or wisdom, or understanding, or skill. Death may at any moment interpose—as, for instance, before the race is finished and the goal reached, before the battle is concluded, before the wise plan has been matured or carried out; and then, of course, man's expectations are defeated.

LESSONS.

1. Diligence: let every man do his best.

2. Humility: beware of overconfidence.

3. Prudence: neglect not the possibility of failure.

4. Submission: accept with meekness the allotments of Providence.

Esther 9:13-18

The parable of the little city.

I. THE PARABLE.

1. The picture delineated. A little city threatened by a powerful assailant, deserted through fear by the main body of its inhabitants, and occupied by a small garrison of men capable of bearing arms, among them a poor wise man. Advancing against it a mighty monarch, who besieges and storms it with armies and engines, but is ultimately compelled to raise the siege by the skill of the aforesaid wise poor man.

2. The historical foundation. Probably

3. Some suggestive parallels. Incidents resembling that to which the Preacher here alludes may have happened often; as e.g. the deliverance of Athens by the counsel of Themistocles (Smith's 'History of Greece,' 19. § 5; Thucydides, 1.74), and of Syracuse by the skill of Archimedes, who for a time at least delayed the capture of the city by the wonderful machines with which he opposed the enemy's attacks (Livy, 24.34), according to some doubtful accounts, setting fire to their ships by means of mirrors.

4. Spiritual applications.

II. THE LESSONS OF THE PARABLE.

1. That wisdom and poverty are frequently allied. Not always, Solomon being witness (1 Kings 3:12, 1 Kings 3:13); but mostly, God seldom bestowing all his gifts upon one individual, but distributing them according to his good pleasure to one wealth and to another wisdom, dividing to each severally as he will (1 Corinthians 12:11). Nor is it difficult to discern in this marks of special wisdom and goodness.

2. That wisdom is superior to force. "Wisdom is better than strength," and" wisdom is better than weapons of war."

3. That wisdom mostly speaks into unwilling ears. "Nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised." Partly because of the world's want of appreciation of the intrinsic excellence of wisdom, the world usually possessing a keener relish and finer instinct for folly; and partly, perhaps chiefly, because of the wise man's poverty. At all events, it has usually been the world's way to treat its wise men with disdain. The picture of wisdom crying aloud in the street into unheeding ears (Proverbs 1:20-25) has often been reproduced, as e.g. in the persons of Jehovah's prophets (Le 26:43; 2 Chronicles 36:16; Isaiah 53:1; Matthew 21:34-36) and of Christ (John 5:40). To this day the world's treatment of Christ is not dissimilar, his words of wisdom being by men for the most part despised, and in particular the special wisdom he displayed in effecting their deliverance from sin and Satan by himself submitting to shame and death, and extending to them the offer of a full and free forgiveness, being frequently regarded with scorn and contempt.

4. That wisdom is more influential than folly. "The words of the wise," spoken "in quiet, are more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools," or that is the ringleader among fools, their very prince and chief. This assertion may seem to conflict with that of the preceding verse, but in reality it does not. The noisy demagogue who by sheer vociferation stirs the unthinking populace may appear to be more influential than the quietly speaking man of wisdom, but in the long run it is the latter that prevails. After all, it is ideas that move the world, in science, in philosophy, in religion, and these have their birth in meditative souls rather than in fiery spirits, and diffuse themselves, not amid the tempests of passion, but through the medium of calm and earnest speech. Remarkably was this exemplified in Christ—read in connection Colossians 2:3; John 7:37; Isaiah 42:3; and to this day the most powerful force operating in and on society is not that of eloquence, or of intellect, or of learning, all confessedly influential, but of goodness, which works silently and often out of sight like leaven.

5. That wisdom is commonly repaid with ingratitude. "No man remembered that same poor man." The Preacher says it with a touch of sadness, as if after all it was a strange and almost a new thing beneath the sun—which it is not. Whether the wise woman who saved the city Abel was remembered by her citizens is not recorded; but history reports that Themistocles, who delivered Athens from the Persians, was afterwards ostracized by his countrymen. Alas! ingratitude has never been an uncommon sin among men. Pharaoh's butler has had many a successor (Genesis 40:1-23 :28). The world has never been guilty of overlauding its benefactors or overloading them with gratitude. Rather the poet accurately likens Time to a sturdy beggar with a wallet on his back-

"Wherein he doth put alms for oblivion,

A great-sized monster of ingratitudes."

And goes on to add—

"Those scraps are good deeds past, which are devoured

As fast as they are made, forgot as soon As done," etc.

('Troilus and Cressida,' act 3. sc. 3.)

Nor is it merely the world of which such ingratitude can be predicted, but the Church also has been too often guilty of forgetting him to whom she owes her deliverance. How many of his words, for instance, are not heard by those who profess to have been redeemed and saved by him—words of counsel for the path of duty, words of comfort for the day of trial, words of caution for the hour of danger! And yet the remembrance of these would be the highest tribute of gratitude they could offer their Divine Redeemer.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Esther 9:1-3

The antidote to despondency.

It was said by a famous man of the world, "Life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel." The epigram is more sparkling than true; reflecting men in every age have been oppressed by the solemnity of life's facts, and the insolubility of life's problems. Some men are roused to inquiry and are beset by perplexities when trouble and adversity befall themselves; and others experience doubts and distress at the contemplation of the broad and obvious facts of human life as it unfolds before their observation. Few men who both think and feel have escaped the probation of doubt; most have striven, and many have striven in vain, to vindicate eternal Providence, and justify the ways of God to men.

I. THE FACT THAT IN THIS EARTHLY STATE THERE IS AN ABSENCE OF COMPLETE RETRIBUTION. "All things come alike to all;" "There is one event unto all." The righteous, the good, and the wise do not seem to meet with more prosperity and greater happiness than the wicked and the foolish. The man who offers due religious observance, and who reveres his oath, is subject to misfortune and calamity equally with the negligent, the impious, the false swearer. No thunderbolt of vengeance smites the sinner, no miraculous protection is round about the upright and obedient. Nay, the righteous is sometimes cut off in the prime of his manhood; the sinner's days are sometimes lengthened, and he dies in a delusive peace.

II. THE DIFFICULTY, DOUBT, AND PERPLEXITY OCCASIONED BY THE OBSERVATION OF THIS FACT. The writer of Ecclesiastes laid to heart and explored the mysteries of Providence; and in this he was not peculiar. Every observant and thoughtful person is sometimes compelled to ask himself whether or not there is a meaning in the events of life, and, if there be a meaning, what it is. Can our reason reconcile these events, as a whole, with belief in the existence, in the government, of a God at once almighty and benevolent? Are there considerations which can pacify the perturbed breast? Beneath the laws of nature is there a Divine heart? or is man alone sensitive to the inequalities of human fate, to the moral contradictions which seem to thrust themselves upon the attention?

III. THE TRUE SOLUTION OF THESE DOUBTS TO BE FOUND IN THE CONVICTION THAT ALL ARE IN THE HAND OF GOD. It is to be observed that faith in God can do what the human understanding cannot effect. Men and their affairs are not in the hand of chance or in the hand of fate, but in the hand of God. And by God is meant not merely the supreme Power of the universe, but the personal Power which is characterized by the attributes Holy Scripture assigns to the Eternal. Wisdom, righteousness, and benevolence belong to God. And by benevolence we are not to understand an intention to secure the enjoyment of men, to ward off from them every pain, all weakness, want, and woe. The purpose of the Divine mind is far higher than this—even the promotion of men's spiritual well-being, the discipline of human character, and especially the perfecting of obedience and submission. Sorrow and disappointment may be, and in the case of the pious will be, the means of bringing men into harmony with the will and character of God himself.—T.

Esther 9:4-6

Life and death.

No thoughtful reader can take these remarks upon the living and the dead as complete and satisfactory in themselves. The writer of this book, as we know from other passages, never intended them so to be taken. They are singularly partial; yet when they are seen to be so, they are also singularly just. Just one aspect of life and of mortality is here presented, and it is an aspect which a wise and reflecting reader will see to be of great importance. Life is a fragment, it is an opportunity, it is a probation. Death is an end, that is, an end of this brief existence, and of what especially belongs to it. If we thought of life and death only under these aspects, we should err; but we should err if we neglected to take these aspects into consideration.

I. THE LOSSES OF THE DEAD.

1. They part with opportunities of knowledge which they enjoyed on earth.

2. They part with passions which they experienced whilst in the bodily life.

3. They part with possessions which they acquired in this world.

4. They are soon forgotten; for those who remember them themselves depart, and a faint memory or utter forgetfulness must follow. Death is a great change, and they who undergo it leave much behind, even though they may gain immeasurably more than they lose.

II. THE PREROGATIVES OF THE LIVING.

1. They have knowledge. This is doubtless very limited, but it is very precious. Compared with the knowledge which awaits the Christian in the future state, that which is within our reach now and here is as what is seen dimly in a mirror. Yet how can men be too grateful for the faculty in virtue of which they can acquaint themselves with truth of the highest importance and value? Knowledge of self, and knowledge of the great Author of our being and salvation, is within our reach. We know the limitation of our period of earthly education and probation; we know the means by which that period may be made the occasion of our spiritual good.

2. With all the living there is hope. Time is before them with its golden opportunities; eternity, time's harvest, is before them with all its priceless recompense. Even if the past has been neglected or abused, there is the possibility that the future may be turned to good account. For the dead we know that this earthly life has nothing in store. But who can limit the possibilities which stretch before the living, the progress which may be made, the blessing that may be won?

APPLICATION. It is well to begin with the view of life and death which is presented in this passage; but it would not be well to pause here. It is true that there is loss in death; but the Christian does not forget the assertion of the apostle that "to die is gain." And whilst there are privileges and prerogatives special to this earthly life, still it is to the disciple of Christ only the introduction and preparation for a life which is life indeed—life glorious, imperishable, and Divine.—T.

Esther 9:7-9

The joy of human life.

Optimists and pessimists are both wrong, for they both proceed upon the radically false principle that life is to be valued according to the preponderance of pleasure over pain; the optimist asserting and the pessimist denying such preponderance. It is a base theory of life which represents it as to be prized as an opportunity of enjoyment. And the hedonism which is common to optimist and to pessimist is the delusive basis upon which their visionary fabrics are reared. Pleasure is neither the proper standard nor the proper motive of right conduct. Yet, as the text points out, enjoyment is a real factor in human life, not to be depreciated and despised, though not to be exaggerated and overvalued.

I. ENJOYMENT IS A DIVINELY APPOINTED ELEMENT IN OUR HUMAN EXISTENCE. Man's bodily and mental constitution, taken in connection with the circumstances of the human lot, are a sufficient proof of this. We drink by turns the sweet and the bitter cup; and the one is as real as the other, although individuals partake of the two in different proportions.

II. MANY PROVISIONS ARE MADE FOR HUMAN ENJOYMENT. Several are alluded to in this passage, more especially

III. THE RELATION OF ENJOYMENT TO LABOR. The Preacher clearly saw that those who toil are those who enjoy. It is by work that most men must win the means of bodily and physical enjoyment; and the very labor becomes a means of blessing, and sweetens the daily meals. Nay, "the labor we delight in physics pain." The primeval curse was by God's mercy transformed into a blessing.

IV. THE PARTIAL AND DISAPPOINTING VIEW OF HUMAN LIFE WHICH CONSIDERS ONLY ITS ENJOYMENTS.

1. Pain, suffering, and distress are as real as happiness, and must come, sooner or later, to all whose life is prolonged.

2. Neither pleasure nor pain is of value apart from the moral discipline both may aid in promoting, apart from the moral progress, the moral aim, towards which both may lead.

3. It is, therefore, the part of the wise to use the good things of this life as not abusing them; to be ready to part with them at the call of Heaven, and to turn them to golden profit, so that occasion may never arise to remember them with regret and remorse.—T.

Esther 9:10

Diligence.

The prospect of death may add a certain zest to life's enjoyments, but we are reminded in this passage that it is just and wise to allow it to influence the performance of life's practical duties.

I. RELIGION HAS REGARD TO MAN'S PRACTICAL NATURE. The hand is the instrument of work, and is accordingly used as the symbol of our active nature. What we do is of supreme importance, both by reason of its cause and origin in our character, and by reason of its effect upon ourselves and upon the world. Religion involves contemplation and emotion, and expresses itself in prayer and praise; but without action all is in vain.

II. RELIGION FURNISHES THE LAW TO MAN'S PRACTICAL NATURE. We are expected to put up the prayer, "What wilt thou have me to do?" in response to this prayer, precept and admonition are given; and so the "hand findeth" its work.

1. True religion prescribes the quality of our work—that actions should be just and wise, kind and compassionate.

2. And the measure of our work. "With thy might" is the Divine law. This is opposed to languor, indolence, depression, weariness. He who considers the diligence and assiduity with which the powers of evil are ever working in human society will understand the importance of this urgent admonition.

III. RELIGION SUPPLIES THE MOTIVES TO DILIGENCE IN THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE PRACTICAL NATURE.

1. There is the very general motive suggested in the context, that what is to be done for the world's good must be done during this present brief and fleeting life. There is doubtless service of such a nature that, if it be not done here and now, can never be rendered at all.

2. Christianity presents a motive of preeminent power in the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to work the work of him who sent him, who went about doing good, who found it his food to do his Father's will, whose aim it was to finish the work given him to do.

3. Christianity enforces this motive by one deeper still; the Christian is inspired with the desire to live unto the Lord who lived and died for him. Grateful love, enkindled by the Divine sacrifice, expresses itself by consecrated zeal.

APPLICATION. Let the hand first be stretched out that it may grasp the hand of the Savior, God; and then let it be employed in the service of him who proves himself first the Deliverer, and then the Lord and Helper of all those who seek him.—T.

Esther 9:10, Esther 9:11

The powerlessness of man.

The reflections contained in these verses are not peculiar to the religious. No observer of human life can fail to observe how constantly all human calculations are falsified and all human hopes disappointed. And the language of the Preacher has naturally become proverbial, and is upon the lips even of those for whom it has no spiritual significance or suggestion. Yet it is the devout and pious mind which turns such reflections to profitable uses.

I. HUMAN EXPECTATION. It is natural to look for the success and prosperity of those who are highly endowed, and who have employed and developed their native gifts. Life is a race, and we expect the swift to obtain the prize; it is a battle, and we look for victory to the strong. We think of wealth and prosperity as the guerdon due to skill and prudence; we can hardly do otherwise. When the seed is sown, we anticipate the harvest. There are qualities adapted to secure success, and observation shows us that our expectations are justified in very many cases, though not in all. When we behold a young man begin life with every advantage of health, ability, fortune, and social recommendations, we forecast for such a one a career of advancement and a position of distinction and eminence. Yet how often does such an expectation prove vain!

II. HUMAN DISAPPOINTMENT. Human endeavor is crossed and human hope is crushed. The swift runner drops upon the course, and the bold warrior is smitten upon the battle-field. As the fishes are caught in the net, and the birds in the snare, so are the young, the ardent, the gifted, and the brave cut short in the career of buoyant effort and brilliant hope. All our projects may prove futile, and all our predictions may be falsified. The ways of Providence are inscrutable to our vision. We are helpless in the hands of God, whose thoughts are not as our thoughts. "Man also knoweth not his time." Attention is called to the suddenness with which our aims may be frustrated, our anticipations clouded, and our efforts defeated. And the observation of every experienced mind confirms the warning of the text. It is often when the sun is brightest that the cloud sweeps across its disc, when the sea is calmest that the storm arises in which the barque is foundered.

III. THE RELIGIOUS LESSONS TAUGHT BY THESE OVERTURNINGS OF HUMAN ANTICIPATIONS.

1. They rebuke human pride and self-confidence. It is natural for the young, the vigorous, the prosperous, to glory in their gifts, and to indulge bright hopes of the future, based upon their consciousness of power. Yet we have this lesson which the strong and fortunate will do well to lay to heart, "Let not the strong man glory in his strength," etc.

2. They check worldliness of spirit. We are all prone to attach importance to what is seen and temporal, and to allow our heart's affections to entwine around what is fair and bright, winsome and hopeful. God would teach us the supreme importance of those qualities which are imparted by his own blessed Spirit, and which endure unto everlasting life.

3. They lead the soul to seek a higher and more enduring satisfaction than earthly prosperity can impart. When riches take to themselves wings and fly away, this may enhance the value of the true, the unsearchable riches. When a fair, bright youth is plucked like a rosebud from the stem, and beauty withers, this may lead our thoughts and our hearts' desires away from this transitory scene to that region into which sorrow and death can never enter, and where God wipes away every tear.—T.

Esther 9:13-18

The praise of wisdom.

It has been remarked that, whilst the leading idea of religion in the earliest stage of Israel's history was the Law, this idea took at a later period the form of wisdom. It is not well to discriminate too carefully between that wisdom which is shown in great works and that which is synonymous with piety. All light is from God, and there is no holier prayer than that in his light we may see light. It is a commonplace remark that men may be clever and yet not good; but every reflecting mind discovers in a character so described a lack of harmony. The philosopher, the sage, the leader in learning or science, should, beyond all men, be religious. "An undevout astronomer is mad." No more melancholy and pitiable spectacle is to be seen on earth than the able man whose self-confidence and vanity have led him into atheism. In considering the case of the truly wise man, it is well to regard him as displaying wisdom not only upon the lower but upon the higher plane.

I. WISDOM MAY BE ASSOCIATED WITH LOWLY STATION. Solomon was an example of an illustrious and splendid king who was famed for wisdom. But the instance of the text is striking; poverty and obscurity are not necessarily inconsistent with unusual insight, ability, and skill.

II. WISDOM MAY ACCOMPLISH GREAT WORKS WITH SMALL MEANS. A mighty king with a numerous and formidable army besieges a small city. How shall the besieged offer resistance to the foe? The inhabitants are few, feeble, ill-armed, half-starved; and their case seems hopeless. But a citizen hitherto unknown, with no apparent resources, arises to lead the dispirited and helpless defenders. Whether by some marvelous device, or by the magnetic power of his presence and spirit, he accomplishes a task which seemed impossible—vanquishes the besiegers and raises the siege. Such things have been, and they are a rebuke to our worldly calculations, and an inspiration to courage and to faith.

III. WISDOM MAY NEVERTHELESS IN PUBLIC BE OVERLOOKED AND DESPISED. "No man remembered that same poor man." How often does it happen that the real originator, the prime mover, gains no credit for the enterprise which he conceived, and for whose success he prepared the way; whilst praise is given to some person of social or political eminence who joined the movement when its success was assured! It is "the way of the world."

IV. YET WISDOM, UNHONORED IN PUBLIC, MAY BE ACKNOWLEDGED IN SECRET AND IN QUIETNESS. Those who look below the surface and are not dazzled by external splendor, those who listen, not merely to the earthquake, the thunder, and the tempest, but to the "still, small voice," discover the truly wise, and, in their heart of hearts, render to them sincere honor. Much more he who seeth in secret recognizes the services of his lowly, unnoticed servants who use their gifts for his glory, and work in obscurity to promote his kingdom, by whose toil and prayer cities are sanctified and saved.

V. THUS WISDOM IS SEEN TO BE THE BEST OF ALL POSSESSIONS AND QUALITIES. There is greatness which consists in outward splendor, and this may awe the vulgar, may dazzle the imagination of the unthinking. But in the sight of God and of just men, true greatness is that of the spirit; and the truly wise shine with a luster which poverty and obscurity cannot hide, and which the lapse of ages cannot dim.—T.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Esther 9:4

Life is everything.

In a world like ours, where appearance goes so far and counts for so much, there is much in form. There is much in machinery, in organization; when this is perfected, power is powerful indeed. There is much in original capacity—in that invisible, immeasurable germ out of which may grow great things in the future. But it is hardly too much to say that everything is m life. Where that is absent, nothing of any kind will avail; where that is present, all things are possible. It is better to have life even in the humblest form than to have the most perfect apparatus or the most exquisite form without it. A living dog, with its power of motion and enjoyment, is better than a dead lion, for which there is nothing but unconsciousness and corruption. Of the many illustrations of this principle, we may take the following:—

I. AN EARNEST STUDENT IS BETTER THAN A DEAD WEIGHT OF LEARNING. A man whose mind is nothing more than a storehouse of learning, who does not communicate anything to his fellows, who does not act upon them, who is no source of wisdom or of worth, is of very little account indeed; he has not what he has (see Matthew 25:29). But the earnest student, though he be but a youth or even a child, who is bent on acquiring in order that he may impart, in whom are the living springs of an honorable aspiration, is a great treasure, from whom society may look for many things.

II. AN AWAKENED CONSCIENCE IS BETTER THAN UNCONSECRATED GENIUS. Unconsecrated power may be enlisted on the side of peace and virtue. But it is a mere accident if it be so. It is quite as likely that it will be devoted to strife, and will espouse the cause of moral wrong; the history of our race has had too many painful proofs of this likelihood. But where there is an awakened conscience, and, consequently, a devotion to duty, there is ensured the faithful service of God, and an endeavor, more or less successful, to do good to the world.

III. ONE LIVING SOUL IS BETTER THAN A STAGNANT CHURCH. A Christian Church may be formed after the apostolic model, and its constitution may be irreproachably scriptural, but it may fall into spiritual apathy, and care for nothing but its own edification. A single human soul, with an ear sensitive to "the still sad music of humanity," with a heart to feel the weight of "the burden of the Lord," with courage to attempt great things for Christ and for men, with the faith that "removes mountains," may be of far more value to the world than such an apathetic and inactive Church. Similarly, we may say that—

IV. ONE LIVING CHURCH IS BETTER THAN A LARGE COMMUNITY THAT HAS LOST ITS SPIRITUAL ENERGY.—C.

Esther 9:10

The day of opportunity.

There is great force in the Preacher's words, demanding present diligence and energy in view of future silence and inaction. It may be well to consider—

I. THE TRUTH LEFT UNSTATED. There is no work in the grave; but what is there beyond it? We who have sat at the feet of Jesus Christ know well that the hour is coming in which all who are in their graves shall hear his voice, etc. (John 5:28, John 5:29). The rest which remaineth for the people of God is not the rest of unconsciousness or repose, but of untiring activity; of knowledge that will be far removed from the dim visions of the present (see 1 Corinthians 13:12); of wisdom far surpassing the sagacity to which we now attain. In that heavenly country we hope to address ourselves to nobler tasks, to work with enlarged and liberated faculties, to accomplish far greater things, to be "ministers of his that do his pleasure" in ways and spheres that are far beyond us now. But what we have first to face, and have all to face, is—

II. AS ON-COMING EXPERIENCE. "The grave, whither thou goest." Our life is, as we say, a journey from the cradle to the grave. Death is a goal which:

1. Is absolutely inevitable. We may elude many evils, but that we must all encounter.

2. We may reach soon and suddenly. It may be the very next turn of the road which will bring us to it. No man can tell what mortal blow may not be struck on the morrow, what fatal disease may not discover itself before the year is out.

3. Will certainly appear before we are expecting it. So swiftly does our life pass—so far as our consciousness is concerned—with all its pressure of business and all its growing and gathering excitements, and so pertinacious is our belief that, however it may be with others, we ourselves have some life left in us still, and some work to do yet, that when death comes to us it will surprise us. What, then, is—

III. THE CONCLUSION OF THE WISE. It is this: To do heartily and well all that lies within our power. The Master himself felt this (John 9:4). He knew that there was glorious "work" for him in the long future, even as there had been for his Father in the long past (John 5:17). But he knew also that between the hour of that utterance and the hour of his death on the cross there was that work to be done which could only be done then and there. So he girded himself to do all that had to be done, and to bear all that had to be borne, in that short and solemn interval. We should feel and act likewise. We look for a very blessed and noble sphere of heavenly activity; but between this present and that future there is work to be done which is now within our compass, but will soon be without it. There is:

1. Good work to be done in the direction of self-culture, of gaining dominion over self, in casting out evil from our own soul and our own life.

2. Good service to be rendered to our kindred, to our friends, to our neighbors, whom we can touch and bless now but who will soon pass beyond our reach.

3. A good contribution, real and valuable, if not prominent, towards the establishment of the kingdom of Jesus Christ upon the earth. All, therefore, that our "hand findeth to do" because our heart is willing to do it, let us do with our might, lest we leave undone that which no future time and no other sphere will give us the opportunity to attempt.—C.

Esther 9:11, Esther 9:12

Prosperity-the rule and the exception.

We shall find our way to the true lessons of this passage if we consider—

I. THE RULE UNDER GOD'S RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT. The Preacher either did not intend his words to be taken as expressing the general rule prevailing everywhere, or else he wrote these words in one of those depressed and doubtful moods which are frequently reflected in his treatise. Certainly the rule, under the wise and righteous government of God, is that the man who labors hard and patiently' to win his goal succeeds in gaining it. It is right that he should. It is right that the race should be to the swift, for swiftness is the result of patient practice and of temperate behavior. It is right that the battle should be to the strong, for strength is the consequence of discipline and virtue. It is right that bread and riches and the favor of the strong should fall to wisdom and to skill. And so, in truth, they do where the natural order of things is not positively subverted by the folly and the guilt of men, it is the case that human industry, resting on human virtue as its base, conducts to competence, to honor, to success. It does, indeed, happen that the crown is placed on the brow of roguery and violence; yet is it not the less true that wisdom and integrity constitute the well-worn and open road to present and temporal well-being.

II. THE OBVIOUS AND SERIOUS EXCEPTION. No doubt it is frequently found that "the race is not to the swift," etc. No doubt piety, purity, and fidelity are often left behind, and do not win the battle in the world's campaign. This is due to one of two Very different and, indeed, opposite causes. It may be due to:

1. Man's interfering wrong. The human oppressor comes down upon the industrious and the frugal citizen, and sweeps off the fruit of his toil and patience. The scheming intriguer steps in, and carries off the prize which is due to the laborious and persevering worker. The seducer lays his nets and ensnares his victim. There is, indeed, a lamentable frequency in human history with which the good and true, the wise and faithful, fall short of the honorable end they seek.

2. God's intervening wisdom. It may often happen that God sees that human strength or wisdom has outlived its modesty, its beauty, and its worth, and that it needs to be checked and broken. So he sends defeat where victory has been assured, poverty where wealth has been confidently reckoned upon, discomfiture and rejection where men have been holding out their hand for favor and reward. What, then, are—

III. THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSIONS?

1. Do not count too confidently on outward good. Work for it faithfully, hope for it with a well-moderated expectation, but do not set your heart upon it as an indispensable blessing. Be prepared to do without it. Have those inner, deeper, diviner resources which will fill the heart with grace and the life with an admirable contentment, even if the goat is not gained and the prize is not secured. Be supplied with those treasures which the thief cannot steal, and which will leave the soul rich though the bank be broken and the purse be emptied.

2. Guard carefully against the worst evils. Be so fortified with Divine truth and sacred principles within, and secure so much of God's favor and protection from above, that no snares of sin will be able to mislead and to betray—that the feet will never be found entangled in the nets of the enemy.

3. Anticipate the Divine discipline. Live in such conscious and in such acknowledged dependence upon God for every stroke that is struck, for all strength and wisdom that are gained, for all bounties and all honors that are reaped, that there will be no need for the intervening hand of heaven to break your schemes or to remove your treasures.—C.

Esther 9:13-18

Wisdom and strength.

The picture which is here drawn is both picture and parable; it portrays a constantly recurring scene in human history. It speaks to us of—

I. THE RANGE OF WISDOM. Wisdom is a word that covers many things; its import varies much. It includes:

1. Knowledge; familiarity with the objects and the laws of nature, and with the ways and the history of mankind.

2. Keenness of intellect; that quickness of perception and subtlety of understanding which sees through the devices of other men, and keeps a watchful eye upon all that is passing, always ready to take advantage of another's mistake.

3. Sagacity; that nobler quality which forecasts the future; which weighs well many considerations of various kinds; which baffles the designs of the wicked; which defeats the machinations and the measures of the strong (Esther 9:14, Esther 9:15); which is worth far more than much enginery (Esther 9:18); which builds up great institutions; which goes forth on hazardous and yet admirable enterprises.

4. Wisdom itself; that which is more properly considered and called such, viz. the discernment of the true end, with the adoption of the best means of attaining it; and this applied not merely to the particulars of human life, but to human life itself; the determination to seek that good thing, as our true heritage, which is in harmony with the will of God, and to seek it in the divinely appointed way. To us who live in this Christian era, and to whom Jesus Christ is himself "the Wisdom of God," this is found in seeking and finding, in trusting and following, in loving and serving him.

II. ITS FAILURE TO BE APPRECIATED. "No man remembered that same poor man." Wisdom in each one of its particular spheres is valuable; in the larger and higher spheres it is of very great account, being far more effective than any quantity of mere material force or of worldly wealth; in the highest sphere of all it is simply invaluable. But it is liable to be disregarded, especially if it be found in the person of poverty and obscurity.

1. It is often forgotten, and thus overlooked (text).

2. It is either rejected or visited with contumely in the person of its author. "Is not this the carpenter's Son?" it is asked. "And they were offended in him," it is added. Many a man, wit h much learning in his head, much shrewdness in his speech, much weight in his counsel. much wisdom in his soul, walks, unrecognized and unhonored, along some very lowly path of life.

III. ITS REWARD.

1. It is often heeded when mere noise and station are disregarded. "The words of the wise are listened to with more pleasure than the loud behests of a foolish ruler (Esther 9:17)" (Cox). And it is a satisfaction to the wise that they do often prevail in their quietness and their obscurity when the clamorous and the consequential are dismissed as they deserve to be.

2. The time will come when they who speak the truth will gain the ear of the world; there are generations to come, and we may leave our reputation to them, as many of the wisest and worthiest of our race have done.

3. To be useful is a better reward than to be applauded or to be enriched; how much better to have "delivered the city" than to have been honored by it!

4. Our record is on high.—C.

Esther 9:18

The destructiveness of one evil life.

How much of destruction may flow from one single life may be seen if we look at the subject—

I. NEGATIVELY. We may judge of the magnitude of the evil by considering:

1. How one evil life may hinder the work of God; e.g. Achan, Sanballat, Herod, Nero. Who shall say how much of Christian influence has been arrested by one grossly inconsistent member of a Church, or by one arch-persecutor of the gospel of Christ?

2. How much a man may fail to do by refusing to spend his powers in the service of God. To a man with large means, great resources, brilliant capacities, almost anything is open in the direction of holy usefulness, of widespread and far-descending influence. All this is lost, and in a sense destroyed, by a selfish and guilty withholdment of it all from the service of God and man.

II. POSITIVELY. We may estimate the serious and lamentable mischief of an evil life if we think that a godless man may be injuring his neighbors:

1. By weakening or undermining their faith; causing them to lose their hold on Divine truth, and thus sinking into the miseries of doubt or into the darkness and despair of utter unbelief.

2. By undoing the integrity of the upright; leading them into the fatal morass of an immoral life.

3. By cooling, or even killing, the consecration of the zealous; causing them to slacken their speed or even to leave the field of noble service. One man, by his own evil example, by his words of folly and falsity, by his deeds of wrong, may enfeeble many minds, may despoil many hearts, may misguide many souls, may blight and darken many lives.—C.

HOMILIES BY J. WILLCOCK

Esther 9:1-6

Inexorable destiny.

The teaching in this section of the book is very similar to that in Ecclesiastes 6:10-12. The Preacher lays stress upon the powerlessness and short-sightedness of man with regard to the future. A higher power controls all the events of human life, and fixes the conditions in which each individual is to live—conditions which powerfully affect his character and destiny. Such a thought has been to many a source of consolation and strength. "My times," said the psalmist, "are in thy hand" (Psalms 31:15). "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things," said Jesus (Matthew 6:32), when he counseled his disciples against undue anxiety for the future. But no such comfort is drawn by the Preacher from the consideration that "the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God" (Ecclesiastes 6:1). It suggests to him rather an iron destiny, a cage against the bars of which the soul may beat its wings in vain, than a gracious Providence. The loss of freedom implied in it afflicts him—the thought that not even the feelings and emotions of the heart are under man's control. They are excited by persons and things with whom or with which he is brought in contact. A slight change of circumstances would make his love hatred, and his hatred love; and these circumstances he cannot change or modify. Events of all kinds are before us, and God arranges what is to happen to us. "Whether it be love or hatred, man knoweth it not; all is before them" (verse lb, Revised Version). "The river of life, along which his course lies, is wrapped in mist. Man's destiny is wholly dark, and is out of his own control. But it is not man's ignorance that cuts him to the heart; it is that the injustice of earthly tribunals seems to have its counterpart in g higher region. No goodness, no righteousness, will avail against the persistent injustice of the laws by which the world seems ruled. What a half-blasphemous indictment, what passionate recalcitration against the God whose fear is in his mouth, is embodied in the cold and calm despair of the words which follow in the next verse (Ecclesiastes 6:2)!" (Bradley). He names five classes or' persons, embracing all the various types el righteousness and wickedness, and affirms that one event comes to them all, that no discrimination on the part of the Divine Ruler between them appears in their earthly lot. The first group is perhaps that of those whose conduct towards their neighbors is righteous or wicked; the second that of those who are pure or impure in heart; the third that of the religious and the irreligious; the fourth perhaps that of those whose characters are in all these relations good or evil; the fifth that of the profane swearer and the man who reverences the solemn oath (Isaiah 65:16). "There is no mark at all of a moral government in this world. The providence of God is as indiscriminating as the falling tree, or the hungry tiger, or the desolating famine. If the fittest survive for a time, that fitness has nothing in common with goodness or righteousness." And one of the evil consequences of this state of matters is, as already referred to in Ecclesiastes 8:11, that those evilly disposed are subject to less restraint than they would be if Divine Providence in all cases meted out reward and punishment immediately to the righteous and the wicked. "Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead" (Ecclesiastes 8:3). The gloomy thoughts concerning death and the world beyond it which filled his mind, made the "one event" that comes to all seem all the more unjust. For some, doubtless, it is a deliverance from misery, but to others it is an escape from merited punishment. Even life with all its inequalities and wrongs is better than death, and yet the righteous are swept away from the earth indiscriminately with the wicked.

"Streams will not turn aside

The just man not to entomb,

Nor lightnings go aside

To give his virtues room;

Nor is that wind less rough

which blows a good man's barge."

That a strong faith in Divine Providence in spite of all outward appearances, and a firm grasp of the truth of immortality, were denied to the Preacher, need not surprise us, when we remember that the confidence we have in God's fatherly love, and in the eternal happiness of those who are faithful to him, is derived from the teaching of Christ, and his triumphant resurrection from the dead. The Preacher had not the consolations which the gospel affords us. To him the world beyond the grave was dreary and uncertain. He was one of those "who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15). The meanest form of life was superior to the condition of even the noblest who had passed within the grim portals of the grave. The living dog, loathed and despised, feeding on the refuse of the streets, was better than the dead lion (Ecclesiastes 8:4). Hope survives while life remains, even though it may be illusive; but with death all possible amelioration of one's lot is cut off. The bitterness of the thought is displayed in the touch of sarcasm which marks his words. "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten" (Ecclesiastes 8:5). The very consciousness of the coming doom gives a distinction to the living which is denied to the dead. The very memory of those who have passed away soon perishes. Others take their place, and carry on the business of the world. A new generation springs up, with interests and concerns and passions with which the dead have nothing to do. The strongest passions of love, hatred, and envy are quenched by the cold hand of death (Ecclesiastes 8:6), and those who may in life have been bosom friends, or mortal enemies, or jealous rivals, lie side by side in the grave, in silence and oblivion. Nothing that is done in the earth concerns them any more (cf. Isaiah 38:9-20). The view here given us of the state of the dead is gloomy in the extreme. The darkness is more intense and palpable than that with which the same subject is invested in the Book of Job, and even in some of the psalms. But we must remember that though the world beyond the grave is represented by him as dim and shadowy, he affirms at the same time that "God will bring every secret thing into judgment" in "his own time and season." "Consequently, the dead, even though regarded by him as existing in a semi-conscious state in Hades, are supposed to be still in existence, and destined at some future period to be awakened out of this dreary slumber, and. rewarded according to the merit or demerit of their actions on earth. He does not, it is true, speak of this awakening out of sleep, still less does he allude to the resurrection of the body. His book is mainly occupied with the search after man's highest good on earth, and it is only incidentally that he refers at all to the state of the dead' (Wright). The doctrine of a future judgment, in which every man will appear and receive the reward or punishment due to him, is repeatedly dwelt upon by our author; and. this of itself implies a conscious existence after death in the case of all. So far, however, as this life is concerned, the grave puts a period to all activity, extinguishes all the passions which animate the children of men. They pass into another state of existence, and. have no further concern with that which is done here on earth.—J.W.

Esther 9:7-10

Enjoyment of the present.

No one who is at all familiar with the Preacher's thoughts can be surprised with the advice here given, following so closely as it does upon the gloomy reflections on death to which he has just given expression. He for the sixth time urges upon his hearers or readers the practical wisdom of enjoying the present, of cheerfully accepting the boons which God puts within our reach, and the mere thought that he is the Giver, will of itself rebuke all vicious indulgence. He permits enjoyment; nay, it is by his appointment that the means for it exist. "Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and. drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works" (Esther 9:7). That is, God approves of these works—a cheerful, thankful enjoyment of food and drink. The white garment symbolical of a glad heart, the perfume sprinkled upon the head, are not to be slighted as frivolous or as inappropriate for those who are so soon to pass from life unto death (Esther 9:8). Asceticism, self-imposed scruples, halfhearted participations in the good things that lawfully fall to us, mean loss of the present, and are not in themselves a preparation for the future. The ascetic may have his heart set upon the very pleasures he denies himself, may value them more highly, than he who takes them as they come, and exhausts them of all the satisfaction they contain. The happiness, too, which marriage yields is commended by him. He speaks elsewhere of the wretchedness and shame into which sensuality leads, and of the hateful types of womanhood with which it brings the sensualist into contact (Ecclesiastes 2:8; Ecclesiastes 7:26); but here he alludes to the cairn peacefulness of a happy home, which, though it cannot remove the sense of the vanity and transitoriness of life, at least makes it endurable (Plumptre). A happy life, a useful life, a life filled by a wholesome activity, may be lived by all or by most, and the fact that the end is near, the grave in which there is neither "work, nor device, nor wisdom," should be a stimulus to such activity (Esther 9:10). Honest, earnest labor, together with whatever enjoyments God's providence brings within our reach, and not an indifference to all sublunary concerns because of their transitoriness, is asserted to be our bounden duty. Had he recommended mere sensuous indulgence, we should turn from him contemptuously. Had he recommended an ascetic severity, we might have felt that only some could follow his advice. But as it is, his ideal is within the reach of us all, and is worthy of us all. And those who speak censoriously of the conclusion he reaches and expresses in these words, would find it a very hard task to frame a higher ideal of life. Zealous performance of practical duties, a reasonable and whole-hearted enjoyment of all innocent pleasures, and mindfulness of judgment to come, are commended to us by the Preacher, and only a stupid fanatic could object to the counsel he gives.—J.W.

Esther 9:11, Esther 9:12

Time and chance.

In the preceding passage our author has exhorted the timid and slothful to bestir themselves and put forth all their powers, since death is ever at hand, and when it comes a period will be put to all endeavors; the wisdom that guides, the hand that executes, will be silent and still in the grave. He now exhorts the wise and strong not to be too confident about success in life, to be prepared for possible failure and disappointment. So full and varied is his experience of life that he has useful counsels for all classes of men. Some need the spur and others the curb. Some would, from timidity hang back and lose the chances of usefulness which life gives; others are so self-confident and sanguine that they need to be warned of the dangers and difficulties which their wisdom and skill may not succeed in overcoming. Plans may be skillfully constructed and every effort made to carry them into effect, but some unforeseen cause may defeat them, some circumstance which could not have been provided against, may bring about failure. The Preacher records the observations he had made of instances of failure to secure success in life, and gives an explanation. of how it is that the strenuous efforts of men are so often baffled.

I. THE PHENOMENA OBSERVED. (Esther 9:11.) Five instances of failure are enumerated: the swift defeated in the race, the strong in battle, the wise unable to make a livelihood, the prudent remaining in poverty, the gifted in obscurity. In none of the cases is the fault to be traced to the want of faculties or abilities of the kind needed to secure the end in view, or to a half-hearted use of them. The runner endowed with swiftness might reasonably be expected to be first in at the goal, the strong to be victorious in fight, the wise and prudent to be successful in acquiring and amassing riches, the clever to attain to reputation and influence. It is taken for granted, too, that there is no omission of effort; for if there were, the cause of failure would easily be discovered. But the phenomena being noted as extraordinary and perplexing, we are to understand that in none of the cases observed is there anything of the kind. And it is implied that while those who fulfill all the conditions of success sometimes fail, those who do not sometimes succeed. The phenomena referred to are familiar to us all. We have known many who have begun life with the fairest promise, and who have apparently, without any fault of their own, failed to make their mark. The impression they have made upon us has convinced us that they have ability enough to win the prizes in life; but somehow or other they fail, and remain in obscurity. And, at the same time, others whose abilities are in our opinion of a commonplace order come to the front, and succeed in gaining and keeping a foremost place.

II. THE EXPLANATION OF THE MATTER. (Esther 9:11.) "Time and chance happeneth to them all." There need to be favorable circumstances as well as the possession and use of the requisite faculties, if success is to be won. The time must be propitious, and give opportunities for the exercise of gifts and abilities. "There are favorable and unfavorable times in which men's lot may be cast; and such times, too, may occur alternately in the experience of the same individual. A man of very inferior talent, should he fall on a favorable time, may succeed with comparative ease; whereas, in a time that is not propitious, abilities of the first order cannot preserve their possessor from failure and disappointment. And even the same period may be advantageous to one description of business, and miserably the reverse to another; and it may thus be productive of prosperity to men who prosecute the former, and of loss and ruin to those engaged in the Latter; although the superiority in knowledge, capacity, and prudence may be all, and even to a great degree, on the losing side" (Wardlaw). At first sight it might seem as if the explanation given of the reason why the race is not always to the swift, or the battle to the strong, were based on a denial of the Divine providence, and unworthy of a place in the Word of God. But this opinion is considerably modified, if not contradicted, if we find a reference, as we may fairly do, in the word "time" to the statements in Ecclesiastes 3:1-22; that there are" times and seasons," for all things are appointed by God himself. And so far from the conclusion here announced by our author being a solitary utterance, out of harmony with the general teaching of Scripture, we may find many parallels to it; e.g. "The Lord sayeth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord's, and he will give you into our hands" (1 Samuel 17:47). "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God" (Psalms 20:7). "There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength" (Psalms 33:16). Probably the unfavorable impression of which I have spoken arises from the ideas suggested by the word "chance" in our English Version, which does not convey exactly the meaning of the Hebrew pega'. It is a word only found twice in Scripture, here and in 1 Kings 5:4, and means a stroke. The general idea is that of adversity or disappointment inflicted by a higher power, and not merely that of something accidental or fortuitous interfering with human plans. "Chance," therefore, must here refer to the great variety of circumstances over which we have no control, but by which our schemes and endeavors are affected, which may take away success from the deserving, and in all cases render it extremely difficult to calculate beforehand the probabilities of success in an undertaking. The final result, whatever we may do is conditioned by God. Though our author does not here use these terms, yet we cannot doubt that they express his meaning. He does not say that life is a lottery, in which the swift and the slow, the strong and the weak, the wise and the simple, the industrious and the lazy, have equal chances of drawing prizes. He knew, as we all know, that success is won in most cases by those who are best qualified in ability and character for securing it; that the race is generally to the swift, and the battle to the strong. It is the exception to the rule that excites his astonishment, and leads him to the conclusion that mere human skill and power are not sufficient of themselves to carry the day. Failure and disappointment may at any moment and in any case overtake man, and these from causes which no wisdom could have foreseen or exertion have averted. Such a consideration is calculated to humble human pride, and create in the heart feelings of reverent submission to the great Disposer of events. "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy" (Romans 9:16). This thought of the limitation of man in his efforts, in spite of all his gifts and abilities, is expressed again with still greater emphasis in 1 Kings 5:12. The time when life must close is a secret hidden from each of us, and we may be arrested in the mid-course of our endeavors just when our labors are about to be crowned with success. It may come upon us so unexpectedly as to take us as fishes are taken in a net or birds in a snare. This may be the event that snatches the prize from the runner, the victory from the strong (2 Chronicles 18:33, 2 Chronicles 18:34). The arrow shot at random may strike down the brave soldier who has successfully borne the brunt of battle, and lay his pride in the dust. To those whose whole interests are centered in the business and pleasures of the world, the sudden summons of death comes in an evil time (Luke 12:19, Luke 12:20); but those who are wise are not taken by surprise—"they understand and consider their latter end."—J.W.

Esther 9:13-16

An apologue.

The truth of the aphorism, that "the battle is not to the strong … nor yet favor to men of skill" (Esther 9:11), is illustrated by the Preacher in a striking little story or apologue, taken doubtless from the history of' some campaign familiar to his readers. It represents in a vivid manner the power of wisdom, and also the ungrateful treatment which the possessor of it frequently receives from those who have found him a deliverer in time of danger. A little city, with few in it to defend it, is besieged by a great king. The place is surrounded by his army, and round about it great mounds are erected from which missiles are hurled into it. All hope seems to be gone; no material forces which the besieged can muster for their defense are at all adequate to repel the assailants. When suddenly some poor man, whose name was perhaps known to few in the city, delivers it by his wisdom. The great king and his army are compelled to retire baffled from before the walls of the city, which probably when they first beheld them moved them to scornful laughter by their apparent insignificance and weakness. The picture is not overdrawn; history affords many parallel instances. The defense of Syracuse against the Romans by Archimedes the mathematician (Livy, 24:34), of Londonderry against James II. by Walker, and in later times of Antwerp by Carnot (Alison, 'Europe,' 87.), show how inferior material is to moral force. This is the bright side of the picture. "Wisdom is better than strength" (verse 16); "wisdom is better than weapons of war" (verse 18). The dark side is that it is often rewarded by the basest ingratitude. It was the wisdom of a poor man that delivered the city in which he dwelt; but when the danger was past he sank again into obscurity. No one thought of him as he deserved to be thought of. The public attention was caught by some new figure, and the savior of the city remained as poor and unnoticed as he had been before the great crisis in which his wisdom had been of such great service. Had he been high-born and rich, his great services would have been acknowledged in some notable manner; but the meanness of his surroundings obscured his merit in the eyes of the thoughtless multitude. It was this vulgar failing which prompted some to despise wisdom itself incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, and to ask scornfully, "Is not this the carpenter?" Wisdom is unassuming, calm, and deliberate (of. Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:19), yet fall of strength and resources, and the pity is that it should so often lose its reward, and the public attention be caught by the blustering cry of fools (verse 17). It is, indeed, often a better defense than weapons of war; and therefore it is sad that it should sometimes be nullified by folly, that one perverse blunderer should sometimes be able through carelessness or passion to destroy all the defenses that wisdom has carefully erected.—J.W.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ecclesiastes-9.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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