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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 3

 

 

Verse 1

1. To every thing — Better, To every enterprise, or undertaking.

Season… time — Denoting a fixed time, an appointed season. The Great Ordainer has balanced human affairs by setting one thing over against another, and writing this law of changefulness upon the animal and vegetable kingdoms, upon the processes of inanimate nature, and upon the instincts and judgments of mankind.


Verse 2

2. A time to be born… to die — The hour of our birth is set independently of us; that of our death is reached with more complication, and our will is an element to some degree in the case; but the uniform teaching of the Old Testament is, that there is an appointed time to man upon earth, and that he accomplishes, as a hireling, his day. So in the vegetable world. A vegetable must be planted, it matures, and must then be gathered.


Verse 3

3. A time to heal — Literally, to save. These verses give opposites, and the opposite of to kill is to save, that is, to save life. The doctrine is, that the loss of life or its preservation, however accidental or otherwise it may seem, is really from the ongoing of fixed law. To this solution — the sovereign control of God — must all deaths and deliverances come at last.

Break down… build up — The vicissitudes of war illustrate this part of the verse. Fortresses are built as a defence, and then destroyed to prevent their sheltering an enemy into whose hands they are likely to fall.


Verse 4

4. Weep… laugh… mourn — The human heart must vent its emotions, and they must have appropriate expression. Tears are no more virtuous than laughter. The moral quality lies further back than the mere expression. Life is full of both. “Man, thou pendulum between a smile and tear!” To dance should be to rejoice, which is the exact opposite of to mourn. The Hebrew to dance is clearly used from its rhyming or mating the word to mourn. But even “to dance” expresses joyousness.


Verse 5

5. To cast away… gather — As when one is led to change his purpose of building, or of rendering land worthless to an enemy by covering it with stones. To embrace can refer only to the conjugal act. Even when guarded by the solemnity of a lifelong covenant, it may at times be unkind, imprudent, and immoral.


Verse 6

6. To keep… to cast away — The reference in this verse is to the change of our tastes and likings, by which we come to reject what once we sought, either carelessly losing it, or intentionally throwing it away. Koheleth regards this as not coming from mere fancy, but from law.


Verse 7

7. To rend… to sew… keep silence… speak — The rending of garments and sitting down in silence is token of great sorrow; the repairing of them and the recommencing of conversation is evidence of the relief of sorrow. These are thus properly grouped in one verse.


Verse 8

8. To love… to hate — Even the movements of human passion are recognised as subject to the inevitable order. Men now “love” and now “hate” each other.

War… peace — Nations are now at “war,” and again in “peace.” The writer does not commit himself to the approval of any of the things here named. He simply takes twenty-eight illustrations from common life to show how the course of the world goes, and urges that this course is irresistible.


Verse 9

9. What profit — Sometimes a question is a method of declaring the opposite. Thus, he who laboureth hath no advantage, that is, no abiding advantage; for what he gains must be lost in the inevitable course of events.


Verse 10

10. I have seen the travail — This verse is preliminary to the next. Koheleth states his qualification to form the judgment there given. He has carefully scanned the various employments of men, the “travail “or business which it has pleased God to assign to each for his earthly occupation.


Verse 11

11. Made every thing beautiful — Koheleth’s inference as to God’s scheme for man warms into poetic beauty. Every item of it is “beautiful” in its intended place and order. The word rendered world is the only Hebrew word for unmeasured time, that is, eternity. Many various views have been given on this word. Some excellent scholars have thought it should have been a word now found in the Arabic, elem, meaning intelligence, instead of holam. But the simplest is here the best. God has not only ordered this “world” well, but has put into man’s heart a sense and apprehension of what is beyond life and time.

So that — These words should be, but that. The English has no word conveying the idea of exclusiveness so peculiarly as the Hebrew here used; yet “but that” comes nearest. The idea is, that the harmony of the divine arrangements for man, and his relation to the unmeasured future, would be plain and practicable but that man does not take into account and study the whole plan of God from beginning to… end.


Verse 12

12. I know — Hebrew, I came to know. Koheleth continues to state the result of his inspection. In them should be for “them,” as occurs in other places in this book; that is, for the children of men. To do good, here, is not to do right, or to be beneficent, but to do well to one’s self.


Verse 13

13. Eat and drink — Nearly a repetition of the previous verse. Every form of present enjoyment is from the hand of God.


Verse 14

14. It shall be for ever — The order of nature and the scope of human life and destiny are alluded to as remaining uniform to the latest generation of men. The wants and woes, the pangs and passions, the joy and gladness, of our race are uniform. This uniformity becomes sublime and impressive when contrasted with the temporary and changeful arrangements of men. “Thou art the same.” “Thou changest not.”


Verse 15

15. Hath been is — Illustrative of this uniformity. A better rendering is, What has been was long ago — was a repetition of something still earlier — and what shall be was, also, long ago. Requireth, also, might be more plainly rendered recalleth.


Verse 16

16. The conclusion which has already been reached by a consideration of the inability of man to change the inevitable course of even the smallest events of human life, is confirmed by another observation. Man’s efforts to gain lasting good are thwarted by the injustice of those who should be the guardians of society.

The place of judgment does not mean a court or tribunal, but is merely equivalent to instead of “judgment.” So in the second clause, instead of “righteousness.”

Moreover, indicates this to be a separate and additional suggestion.


Verse 17

17. God shall judge — The thought of a final judgment is here introduced, not so much as a matter of calm belief, as the grasping of a discouraged and despairing heart snatching at what comfort the instinct of a final adjudication and settlement may give. The word there, after time, must be understood as accompanied with a gesture skyward and forward; for the allusion must be to the future general judgment.


Verse 18

18. The fact that this verse begins like the preceding indicates that it introduces an additional and independent thought. Yet or also might be inserted to make it plainer.

That God might manifest — Better, That God has made them conspicuous, even that they might see that they are like beasts. As if a beast were unconscious that he is a beast, but man, by his superior intellect, is made to see and feel this concerning himself.


Verse 19

19. That which befalleth… men befalleth beasts — Hebrew, very forcibly, Man is a chance, and a beast is a chance, and the same chance is upon them both. Both have a perishable body and a flickering breath. The identity of man and beast in their slender hold upon life, and the irreparable nature of their death, is here very strongly put.


Verse 20

20. All are of the dust — “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” The perishing and dissolution of the bodies of men and beasts are visibly similar. There can be no doubt about that. And how of the spirit?


Verse 21

21. Who knoweth, etc. — Let us bear in mind that this is the language of a distressed man, who certainly finds no comfort in what his eyes can see. Shall consolation be found in the invisible? This verse is of the nature of a challenge. Who can show that the spirit of man takes after death any course different from that taken by the spirit of a beast? Or, if we render it, as Hebrew questions are often rendered, by the opposite declaration, “No man knoweth,” etc., we need not be alarmed. At this stage of the inquiry, the affirmation of a future life would be out of place. We shall by and by see it in its place.


Verse 22

22. Wherefore — Seeing, then, that man’s hold is only upon the present, and no one can reveal to him the future, what is left but to enjoy the present, getting from it all the good which it can yield? The point of view now reached is certainly very gloomy and discouraging. It is not, be it remembered, the conclusion of the whole matter. The writer is now not far from the state of mind in which Hamlet utters his sad and beautiful soliloquy: — he discusses “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to,” “the law’s delay,” “to grunt and sweat under a weary life,” with no comfort from any thing after death, that “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns;” — only that Koheleth, instead of being goaded to desperation, takes the wiser counsel of courageous endurance, and cheerful enjoyment of what good so sad a state may yet contain.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 3:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ecclesiastes-3.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
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