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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 9

 

 

Verse 1

1. For introduces this verse as a reason for the statement which concludes the previous chapter. To declare, means to prove. The righteous and wise cannot discern love or hatred — which of the two will be their next experience.

By all that is before them — The simple Hebrew is, both are before them: love and hate, good and ill.


Verse 2

2. All things come alike to all — Hebrew, Both come just so to all; to the good and to all others; that is, come from no possible foresight of any.

One event — Meaning, the solemn, universal “event” of death; the more solemn because universal and impartial. This absolute impartiality causes the groanful utterance of the following verse; the climax of complaint reaches at last its height.


Verse 3

3. An evil among all — That is, the greatest, saddest “evil.”

Also — Better, though. Even the worst — most furious — sinner, comes to simply the same event as the good man. “There are no bands in their death.” And after that, should be, get after it. It might satisfy one’s ideas of justice if there were some marked and reliable difference between the good and the bad; but none can be seen.


Verse 4

4. For to him that is joined — This is a phrase variously translated. The strictest rendering is, For who is chosen out? that is, Who is exempted? It connects with the previous verse, and then begins the distinct statement, To…

the living… is hope — “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”

Living dog… dead lion — The contrast between the dog and the lion is most forcible in the East. The Jews banished dogs from their houses and left them to wander in the streets, especially at night, subsisting on matters of scavenge. Whenever “dog” occurs in Scripture it is a term of contempt. But the “lion,” — the emblem of the royal tribe of Judah — was regarded as the king of beasts.


Verse 5

5. The living… the dead — The idea is, that though the living know that they must die, yet this very consciousness, acting in other directions, enables them to enjoy some pleasures. “Under the shadow of death they can still be merry.” The dead, sunken in unconsciousness, have no longer any faculty for enjoyment.

A reward — That is, advantage of any sort.

The memory of them — Not that they are forgotten, which would be contrary to the grammar of the clause, and to that plain, palpable look of things now under discussion, but that they forget every thing — which is the basis of the statement of the next verse. “After life’s fitful fever,” they lie down in oblivion of all things.


Verse 6

6. Their envy — Better, their zeal. Love, hatred, and zeal are the chief movers of the human breast, but now they are for ever extinguished.

“The loftiest passions and the least

Lie sleeping side by side,

And Love hath reared its staff of rest

Hard by the grave of Pride.”


Verse 7

7. Eat… drink — This verse is an inference. If death be such, then life is of the nature of a holiday. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. The sentiment is not exactly Epicurean, (let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,) but, “Our living to-day is proof of God’s merciful favour, and that he is pleased, not angry, with us.” Therefore let us enjoy the bread and wine, the good which he gives, with grateful and joyous temper.


Verse 8

8. Garments… white — White garments, grateful in hot countries, are associated with festivities and triumphs, and are the customary holiday garb.

Ointment — So, also, perfumes were gladdening and demonstrative of gladness. Although Koheleth is by no means now looking at life from a Christian and religious, but only from a moral and practical, point, yet his counsel coincides with that of the psalmist: “Serve the Lord with gladness;” and with that of the apostle, “Rejoice evermore.” Joyfulness of heart is a religious and Christian precept.


Verse 9

9. Live joyfully — Assuming the inability of man to secure abiding good, which his researches have now shown, Koheleth enforces the enjoyment of the present in all its varied resources.

All the days of… thy vanity — Better, All thy transient days. Counsel to a life of pleasure, though no real good be in it, is in perfect harmony with the stage now reached in this wonderful discussion, which fearlessly presents the philosophy of life from every point of view which it assumes. On the theory which seems to have so much solidity, that death is what the Hindoos call “Nirvana” — an absorption into eternal repose — and upon which Koheleth for the nonce is standing, this advice to make the most of the good of the hour is wise and salutary.


Verse 10

10. With thy might — Should be, While thou art strong. In the grave does not mean in the tomb, but in the general, indefinite region of the dead — the sheol of the Jews, the hades of the Greeks.


Verse 11

11. Time and chance — Better, Time of chance; that is, misfortune. Some generals, as Julius Caesar, were never vanquished in the field, but came to grief elsewhere. This chapter has thus far considered the case of the like fortune and event of the righteous and the wicked. The same thing is now noted as between the intelligent and the stupid. “When Koheleth was (probably) writing this, Socrates, at Athens, was discoursing in similar strain of this very thing, how the gods reserve to their own control the issues of human doings, so that the ablest general is not sure of victory, etc.”


Verse 12

12. Man… knoweth not his time — “His time” of danger and trial. The most notable illustration in modern times is that of Napoleon, who, at the height of his fortune, made the invasion of Russia, and, losing the finest army the world had ever seen, began his swift and utter downfall.

Also — Better, Even.

His time — Means the “time” of calamity just named. The shrewdest speculator has often made one investment too many.

Birds — This word, without any qualification, means the sparrow, the most familiar bird of Palestine, just as “the flower” means the lily.


Verse 13

13. The inability of wisdom to benefit its possessor, as regarded from the personal and egoistic point of view, is illustrated by an instance.

This wisdom — That is, this display of “wisdom,” I once saw. Under the sun, is emphatic, as meaning, with my own eyes, or in my own lifetime.


Verse 14

14. Little city… great king — It is not known of what city or of what king this is told. There were nations and cities within the limits of the Persian empire that steadily and successfully defied the king’s power. The case of a city thus hemmed in, so that, in the long run, the choice of fate would be between famine and the sword, would be very desperate.


Verse 15

15. Poor wise man, etc. — Events like this are not very rare. Cooper’s “Naval History of the United States” relates, that the sailing-master of the flagship in the battle of Plattsburg, (Lake Champlain,) quietly arranged a cable before the action, by which alone it was afterward possible to bring the ship about, so that its remaining broadside could be brought to bear. The opening of this broadside turned the battle both on lake and shore. Yet the modest and skilful hero — though thanked by his commodore — received no public reward or recognition for nearly thirty years, when his widow was granted an ample pension. “Republics,” it is said, “are ungrateful;” rather, often unmindful.


Verse 16

16. Wisdom is despised — In this instance, favour did not come to the man of skill. One can hardly avoid adding, though it is foreign to Koheleth’s present line of thought, that wisdom is largely its own conscious reward. even while it ministers, and is not ministered to.


Verse 17

17. An antithesis here begins, the concluding part of which is in the end of the next verse. The insertion of though, here, would give clearness to the thought. “Though the words of wise men,” etc.

Heard… more — Better, With more satisfaction; that is, they are sometimes so heard.

Him… that ruleth among fools — Better, A foolish ruler. As was true in the fearful peril above mentioned.


Verse 18

18. Wisdom… weapons — The antithesis is continued, Though wisdom be better. The anecdote given above illustrates this. The “poor wise man” prevaileth over the army and the bulwarks.

But — Better, yet.

One sinner One fool. Said the French king of his heir and grandson, Francis I., “This great boy will spoil all.” And so he did; and illustrations of the like are sadly frequent. A fool may mar and baffle the wisest plans of the wise.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 9:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ecclesiastes-9.html. 1874-1909.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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