Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 6:12

For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Ignorance;   Life;   Vanity;   Worldliness;   Thompson Chain Reference - Future, the;   Knowledge;   Life;   Life-Death;   Mysteries-Revelations;   Time;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Life, Natural;   Man;   Vanity;  
Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Day;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Shadow;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Ecclesiastes;  
The Jewish Encyclopedia - ;  
Every Day Light - Devotion for September 5;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life - Those things which we deem good are often evil. And those which we think evil are often good. So ignorant are we, that we run the greatest hazard in making a choice. It is better to leave ourselves and our concerns in the hands of the Lord, than to keep them in our own.

For who can tell a man what shall be after him - Futurity is with God. While he lives, man wishes to know what is before him. When he is about to die, he wishes to know what will be after him. All this is vanity; God, because he is merciful, will reveal neither.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

After him - i. e., On earth, in his own present sphere of action, after his departure hence (compare Ecclesiastes 2:19; Ecclesiastes 3:22).

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Ecclesiastes 6:12

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?
for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

The known and the unknown

I. Our life which we do know.

1. We do know something about our present life, and what we do know about it should humble us in the presence Of God, for, first, it is very short. Solomon here says nothing about the “years” of our life, he only counts it by “days.” The older a man grows, the shorter his life seems to be; and it was because Jacob was so old, and had seen so many days, that he called them “few and evil.” Children and youths appear to have lived a long while; men seem to have lived only a short time; older men an even shorter period; but the oldest man reckons his days the shortest of all. The calculations about time are very singular, for length seems to turn to shortness. Well, then, since I am such an ephemeral creature, the insect of an hour, an aphis creeping on the bay leaf of existence, how dare I think of contending with Thee, my God, who wast long before the mountains were brought forth, and who wilt be when mountains are gone for ever?

2. Our life, besides being very short, is singularly uncertain. Do not let us forget this fact, for if the thought be unpleasant to us, it is because there is something wrong within. The child of God, when he is right with his Father, forgets the uncertainty, and remembers that all things are certain in the eternal purpose of God, and that all changes are wisely ordained, and therefore the uncertainty causes him no distress. Yet should this truth make us live with much caution, and tenderness, and watchfulness.

3. Yet again, our life is not only short and uncertain, but, while we have it, it is singularly unsubstantial. Many things which we gain for ourselves with much care are very unsatisfying. Have you never heard the rich man confess that it is so? Have you never heard the scholar, who has won many degrees, and stood at the head of his profession, declare that the more he knew the less he felt that he knew? “Verily, every man at his best state is altogether vanity.” Now, look ye; it ill becomes us, whose lives are so uncertain, and whose lives at the best are so unsubstantial, to begin to contend with Him in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways. It were better far for us at once to submit ourselves to Him, and to learn that in Him we live, and move, and have our being. It were well for us also to give the Lord all this poor life, be it what it may, to be used in His service, and to be spent for His glory.

II. What is best for us is not known to us. Suppose we ask the question, “Which is the better for a man in this life--wealth or poverty?”--what will be the answer? Wealth--the eye is dazzled with it; it brings many comforts and luxuries; yet there is a passage of Scripture as true now as when the Master first uttered it, “How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God.” Who knows, then, that wealth is a good thing? Do any choose poverty? There is as much to be said concerning the evils and the disadvantages of poverty as there is to be said on the other side. He that lacks bread is often tempted to envy, and to many other sins which he might not have committed if he had not been in that state. It is not for you or for me to be able to balance the answer to this question, “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life,--wealth or poverty?” There was a wise man who said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” and he seemed to have hit the golden mean. Now, take another question,--that of health or sickness: “What is good for man in this life?” It seems at first that it must be good for a man to enjoy the best of health, and the most sprightly vigour, does it not? We all wish for it, and we are allowed to do so. Nobody thinks that sickness and disease can really be in themselves a blessing. Yet have I seen some gentle, holy, devout, matured spirits that could not have come from any garden but that which was walled around with disease, and grief, and woe. The graver’s best art has been spent upon them, the graving tool has been very sharp, and the hammer has smitten them very terribly. They had never been such marvels of the Master’s grace if it had not been for their sorrows. Yet I doubt not that there are other spirits who have been brought nearer to God in their gladsomeness, saints who, for very gratitude to God for their overflowing delights, and the mercies of this life, and the health of their bodies, have been drawn and bound more closely to their God. So is it with regard to publicity or obscurity. There are some persons whose graces are best seen in public, and they minister for the good of others; they have to be thankful that God has placed them in a position where they are seen, for it has led them to watchfulness and carefulness. The vows of God have been upon them, and they have been helped in their way to heaven by the very responsibilities of their public position. But, sometimes, I have wished that I might be a violet, that I might shed my perfume in some lowly spot hidden by leaves. Yet I do not doubt that obscurity has its ills as well, and that many a man would fain escape from it. “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?” All depends upon your being where God puts you. Any man is safe if he is where God would have him to be, and if he trembles for his own safety, and clings to the Strong for strength; but those who think that their position gives them immunity from danger are in peril already from their fancied security. I believe that the same question might be asked concerning Christian experience: “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?” It must be good to be full of high joys,--to rise to the loftiest heights of holiness and blessedness, must it not? Yes, yes, but it may be good to go down into the very deeps, and to know the plague of your own heart, and to feel the scourging of your Father’s rod. “Who knoweth what is good for man in this life?” A mixed experience may be better than one uniform level either of height or depth.

III. The text mentions another form of our ignorance, and it is this, what shall be after us is not known to us: “for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?”

1. The question may mean, “Who can tell a man what he will yet go through in this life?” He is now well-to-do, he is prosperous, he is healthy; but who can tell him what is yet to come to him? No one; therefore, let not the rich man glory in the wealth which may take to itself wings and fly away. Let not the man who is honoured by his fellows reckon that the applause of men is any more substantial than a vapour.

2. But I think that the text has its main bearing on what will happen after death. That we must leave in the Lord’s hands; it is not for us to know what will be done when we are called away from the earth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The secret of a happy life

The question of the text has been repeated many a time since the days of Solomon, and various replies have been given by teachers who have claimed to be the leaders of men. The Stoic has replied,--“The chief good for man in this life is to take everything just as it comes, and maintain stolid indifference,--be like a cold, unmoved statue amid the storms or amid the sunshine of life.” The Epicure replies,--“Eat and drink and be merry; indulge your senses, and banish all thought and care about the future.” The Miser replies,--“Get all you can, and give as little as you can; heap up riches, and treasure up the choicest thing earth can yield--gold.” The Ascetic says,--“Treat the world with disdain and scorn, retreat from it, and trample upon all its associations and joys.” Let us answer the question of the text in the light of the New Testament, and we shall see that it is good for man in this life--

I. To experience reconciliation to God. The prodigal could not be happy while away from his father, while at variance with him; and man cannot be happy away from God, while at variance with Him. Enmity in the heart is a disturber of joy; and for a man to have enmity in his heart against God cannot be good, cannot conduce to joy. It is good for a man to surrender himself, and be on the Lord’s side; then, instead of discord, there will be harmony in his heart; instead of conflict, there will be peace in his mind.

II. To exercise resignation to God. A man cannot have a happy life who denies God, or who harbours doubt about His goodness and wisdom, whose will runs counter to the Divine will. This is the mind that was in Christ; He surrendered to the will of His Father constantly and entirely.

III. To expect restitution from God. We shall only find rest and joy by believing in the final triumph of goodness, in the ultimate reconciliation of all the apparent discrepancies of the now. These things comprise the good for man in this life, and will make human existence not only tolerable, but happy. (F. W. Brown.)

On our ignorance of good and evil in this life

Let us inquire what account can be given of our present ignorance, respecting what is good for us in this life; whether nothing be left, but only to wander in uncertainty amidst this darkness, and to lament it as the sad consequence of our fallen state; or whether such instructions may not be derived from it, as give ground for acknowledging that by this, as by all its other appointments, the wisdom of Providence brings real good out of seeming evil.

I. Illustrate the doctrine of the text. When we review the course of human affairs, one of the first objects which everywhere attracts our notice is the mistaken judgment of men concerning their own interest. The sore evil which Solomon long ago remarked with respect to riches, of their being kept by the owners thereof to their hurt, takes place equally with respect to dominion and power, and all the splendid objects and high stations of life. We every day behold men climbing, by painful steps, to that dangerous height which, in the end, renders their fall more severe, and their ruin more conspicuous. But it is not to high stations that the doctrine of the text is limited. Around us, we everywhere behold a busy multitude. Restless and uneasy in their present situation, they are incessantly employed in accomplishing a change of it; and as soon as their wish is fulfilled, we discern, by their behaviour, that they are as dissatisfied as they were before. Where they expected to have found a paradise, they find a desert. The man of business pines for leisure. The leisure for which he had longed proves an irksome gloom; and, through want of employment, he languishes, sickens, and dies. The man of retirement fancies no state to be so happy as that of active life. But he has not engaged long in the tumults and contests of the world, until he finds cause to look back with regret on the calm hours of his former privacy and retreat. Beauty, wit, eloquence, and fame, are eagerly desired by persons in every rank of life. They are the parent’s fondest wish for his child; the ambition of the young, and the admiration of the old. And yet in what numberless instances have they proved, to those who possessed them, no other than shining snares; seductions to vice, instigations to folly, and, in the end, sources of misery?

II. The fact then being undoubtedly certain that it is common for men to be deceived in their prospects of happiness, let us next inquire into the causes of that deception. Let us attend to those peculiar circumstances in our state, which render us such incompetent judges of future good or evil in this life.

1. We are not sufficiently acquainted with ourselves to foresee our future feelings. Our minds, like our bodies, undergo great alteration, from the situations into which they are thrown, and the progressive stages of life through which they pass. Hence, concerning any condition which is yet untried, we conjecture with much uncertainty.

2. But next, supposing our knowledge of ourselves sufficient to direct us in the choice of happiness, yet still we are liable to err, from our ignorance of the connections which subsist between our own condition and that of others.

3. Farther, as we are ignorant of the events which will arise from the combination of our circumstances with those of others, so we are equally ignorant of the influence which the present transactions of our life may have upon those which are future.

4. Supposing every other incapacity to be removed, our ignorance of the dangers to which our spiritual state is exposed would disqualify us for judging soundly concerning our true happiness. Can you esteem him prosperous who is raised to a situation which flatters his passions, but which corrupts his principles, disorders his temper, and, finally, oversets his virtue? In the ardour of pursuit, how little are these effects foreseen! And yet how often are they accomplished by a change of condition! Latent corruptions are called forth; seeds of guilt are quickened into life; a growth of crimes arises, which, had it not been for the fatal culture of prosperity, would never have seen the light.

III. Instead of only lamenting this ignorance, let us consider how it ought to be improved; what duties it suggests, and what wise ends it was intended by Providence to promote.

1. Let this doctrine teach us to proceed with caution and circumspection through a world where evil so frequently lurks under the form of good.

2. Let our ignorance of what is good or evil correct anxiety about worldly success.

3. Let our ignorance of good and evil determine us to follow Providence, and to resign ourselves to God. Study to acquire an interest in the Divine favour; and you may safely surrender yourselves to the Divine administration.

4. Let our ignorance of what is good for us in this life prevent our taking any unlawful step in order to compass our most favourite designs.

5. Let our imperfect knowledge of what is good or evil attach us the more to those few things concerning which there can be no doubt of their being truly good.

6. Let our ignorance of what is good or evil here below lead our thoughts and desires to a better world. (H. Blair, D. D.)

Object of human life

What is the use, the meaning of my life? For what purpose was it given? To what end shall it aim? Is life an instrument ministering to some solid purpose, or a fleeting phantasmagoria, that leaves no lasting result? Such, substantially, was the inquiry of the Preacher three thousand years ago, and which demands an answer still from every new generation and living man. Have any of you been willing to go on, without settling, or even starting, this great query; willing to sail in this frail boat of our mortality down the stream of years, without knowing whither, or desiring any port? If you reflect, you cannot proceed in this ignorant and accidental way. “Commune with your own heart,” and you will not be satisfied till some object rise broad as the horizon before you, embracing all lesser occupations and pursuits in its glorious compass, and enabling you, by clear and continual reference, to shape every daily trifle and detail, otherwise worthless or perhaps unmeaning, towards its accomplishment. To this single point I would hold your attention, to decide whether such an object be yours; for in the want of it lies, if anywhere, man’s great fault, fatal error, unpardonable sin. The principle may be put into various forms of statement. You may recur to the old Preacher’s language, or you may say with the modern catechism, that the “chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him for ever.” You may speak in the phrase, rightly understood, of the philosophy of our time, “Self-culture”: or in the phrase, profoundly interpreted of the philanthropy of our time, “Reform.” All these mean essentially the same thing, requiring in the analysis the same elements. This solution of our problem carries us into no fanatical austerity, does not abolish the minor callings and aims of activity, of study, or traffic, or mechanical skill, in this world. It but leavens them with a higher spirit, and turns them to a nobler influence. It polarizes the wandering and aimless affairs of time and sense, makes all our dealings not only serve temporary purposes, but, in their effects on our hearts, point to permanent results. It puts a new question into our mouth, which the changeling slave of temporal expedients and little ends does not think to ask,--a question that rightly comes up with every transaction we engage in, every conversation we hold, every plan we form, every measure we execute,--Are we promoting here in this very thing, however great or trifling it may look, the object of life? If not promoting, but defeating this object, it bide us beware and abstain. It does not shut us up in a narrow place of hermit stiffness and seclusion, but goes with us over the broad ocean of worldly business, only asking that it may stand a Divine pilot at the helm. It lays no bar upon pleasure, tasted with an innocent moderation, but it converts pleasure itself from the foe into the friend and servant, as it well may be the true friend and faithful servant, of virtue. It does not condemn the acquisition of wealth as a means which may accomplish the very ends of religion; but it inquires with a searching whisper at the very confessional of man’s spirit, and which, beside God, only the man himself can hear, whether the heart is given to wealth, delighting in it, with supreme habitual desire; or, on the contrary, as a steward regarding it as God’s loan, as a worshipper proffering it for his sacrifice; while, on the wings of its chief and ardent aspiration, itself ever rises to him as the Infinite Good, takes the breath of His Spirit in return for the incense of its praise, and, from the elevation of its prayer, brings down the counsels of His majestic law upon its mortal conduct. (G A. Bartol.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 6:12". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?.... To be in a higher or lower station of life, to live in grandeur or meanness, to be rich or poor, learned or unlearned; since that which seems most agreeable to human nature is at, ended with so much vanity, the occasion of so much sin, and often issues in ruin and misery, that no man knows what is best for him; and therefore it is the wisest way to be content with what a man has, and enjoy it in the most comfortable manner, and use it to the best ends and purposes he can. The Targum is,

"for who is he that knows what is good for a man in this world, but to study in the law, which is the life of the world?'

so the Midrash,

all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow? or "the number of the days of vain life, which he makes as a shadow"F4ויעשם כצל "et facit eos at umbram", Cocceius. ; that is, which God makes as a "shadow", as Cocceius observes; makes to pass away swiftly: this is a description of the vanity, brevity, and uncertainty of human life; it consists of days, rather than of months and years; and those such as are easily numbered, and which pass away suddenly and swiftly, like a shadow that has no substance and reality in it, and leaves nothing behind it; or like a bird that flies away, as Jarchi, and is seen no more; such is the life of man, a most vain life, vanity itself; so it may be rendered, "the number of the days of the life of his vanity"F5מספר ימי חיי הבלו "numero dierum vitae", ("vitarum", Montanus), "vanitatis suae", Pagninus, Rambachius. ; since therefore he has so short a time to enjoy anything in, it is hard to say what is best for him to have, and the rather since he is quite ignorant of what is to come;

for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? he does not know himself, nor can any man inform him, what will become of his wealth and riches after his death, which he has got together; who shall enjoy them, and how long and what use will be made of them, either to their own good, or the good of others.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

For who knoweth what [is] a good for man in [this] life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

(a) There is no state in which man can live to have perfect quietness in this life.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

For who knoweth, etc. — The ungodly know not what is really “good” during life, nor “what shall be after them,” that is, what will be the event of their undertakings (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:7). The godly might be tempted to “contend with God” (Ecclesiastes 6:10) as to His dispensations; but they cannot fully know the wise purposes served by them now and hereafter. Their sufferings from the oppressors are more really good for them than cloudless prosperity; sinners are being allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Retribution in part vindicates God‘s ways even now. The judgment shall make all clear. In Ecclesiastes 7:1-29, he states what is good, in answer to this verse.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Man ought to fear God, and also, without dispute and murmuring, submit to His sway: “For who knoweth what is good for man in life during the number of the days of his vain life, and which he spendeth like a shadow? No one can certainly show a man what shall be after him under the sun.” We translate אשׁר only by “ ja ” (“certainly”), because in Germ. no interrogative can follow “ dieweil ” (“because”). The clause with asher (as at Ecclesiastes 4:9; Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ecclesiastes 10:15; cf. Song, under Song of Solomon 5:2), according to its meaning not different from ki, is related in the way of proof to that beginning with ki . Man is placed in our presence. To be able to say to him what is good for him, - i.e., what position he must take in life, what direction he must give to his activity, what decision he must adopt in difficult and important cases, - we ought not only to be able to penetrate his future, but, generally, the future; but, as Tropfen drops in the stream of history, we are poor Tröpfe simpletons, who are hedged up within the present. Regarding the accus. of duration, וגו מספּר, pointing to the brevity of human life, vid ., at Ecclesiastes 2:3. With הבלו, the attribute of breath-like transitiveness is assigned to life (as at Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 9:9) (as already in the name given to Abel, the second son of Adam), which is continued by כּ ויע with the force of a relative clause, which is frequently the case after preceding part. attrib., e.g., Isaiah 5:23. We translate: which he spendeth like the (1) shadow [in the nom.] (after Ecclesiastes 8:13; Job 14:2); not: like a shadow [in the accus.]; for although the days of life are also likened to a shadow, Psalms 144:4, etc., yet this use of עשׂה does not accord therewith, which, without being a Graecism (Zirkel, Grätz), harmonises with the Greek phrase, ποιεῖν χρόνον, Acts 15:33; cf. Proverbs 13:23, lxx (also with the Lat. facere dies of Cicero, etc.). Thus also in the Syr. and Palest.-Aram. lacad is used of time, in the sense of transigere . Aharav does not mean: after his present condition (Zöckl.); but, as at Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 7:14 : after he has passed away from this scene. Luzz. explains it correctly: Whether his children will remain in life? Whether the wealth he has wearied himself in acquiring will remain and be useful to them? But these are only illustrations. The author means to say, that a man can say, neither to himself nor to another, what in definite cases is the real advantage; because, in order to say this, he must be able to look far into the future beyond the limits of the individual life of man, which is only a small member of a great whole.

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
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Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". 1854-1889.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

Who knoweth — No man certainly knows what is better for him here, whether to be high or low, rich or poor.

Vain life — Life itself is a vain and uncertain thing, and therefore all things which depend on it must be so too.

While — While it abides, hath nothing solid, or substantial in it, and which speedily passes away, and leaves no sign behind it.

For — And as no man can be happy with these things while he lives, so he can have no content in leaving them to others, because he knows not either who shall possess them, or how the future owners will use or abuse them.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Wesley, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ecclesiastes 6:12 For who knoweth what [is] good for man in [this] life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

Ver. 12. For who knoweth what is good for man.] He may think this and that to be good, but is, mostly, mistaken and disappointed. Ambrose hath well observed, that other creatures are led by the instinct of nature to that which is good for them. The lion, when he is sick, cures himself by devouring an ape; the bear, by devouring ants; the wounded deer, by feeding upon dittany, (a) &c.; tu ignoras, O homo, remedia tua, but thou, O man, knowest not what is good for thee. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good," saith the prophet; "and what doth the Lord require of thee, but this" - instead of raking riches together - "to do justly, and to love mercy, and" - instead of contending with him - "to humble thyself to walk with thy God." [Micah 6:8]

For who can tell a man what shall be after him?] When the worms shall be scrambling for his body, the devils, haply, for his soul, and his friends for his goods. A false Jesuit published in print, some years after Queen Elizabeth’s death, that she died despairing, and that she wished she might, after her death, hang a while in the air, to see what striving would be for her kingdom. (b) I loved the man, said Ambrose of Theodosius, for this, that when he died, he was more affected with care of the Church’s good, than of his own. (c)

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


READER! let us not turn hastily away from this chapter. There are many important improvements to be gathered from it under grace. What Solomon saw as a sore evil in his days, you and I may behold the same in our day. The instances are not a few, and in almost every rank of men, where possessions bring no comfort, no sanctification, but are kept by the owners of them to their hurt. The carnal mind indeed, is never to be satisfied in its attainments. Nothing can come up to the expectation: for where the divine blessing is not upon a man's fulness, it matters not what the surrounding circumstances then are, for there can be no enjoyment of any. It is a melancholy fact, but the experience of all ages leave no room to dispute it. What scripture hath said, all find to be true: man walketh in a vain shadow, and disquieteth himself in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.

Reader! shall we not from the conviction of this undoubted truth look up for grace, and the teachings of the Holy Spirit, that we may learn how to convert such evils into good; and since life, in all earthy pursuits is vain; seek in Jesus what cannot disappoint. Oh! for grace, to walk through a world of sin, and sorrow, and vanity, and vexation, with such wise indifference, as those who seek a better country. Is the Son of God indeed calling his people to the present and everlasting enjoyment of himself? Doth he say, come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest? Doth he graciously propose himself for our portion, our happiness, and joy? And shall we be so low minded and earthly in our affections, as to prefer those shadows; to be in love with our chains; to pursue phantoms; and reject everlasting realities! Blessed, gracious, condescending Lord! do thou not only invite, but allure us with thy grace. And since thou hast begotten us to such a lively hope by thy glorious resurrection from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away; do thou lead us by the restraining influences of thy Holy Spirit, that we may set our affections on things above, not on things of the earth.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ecclesiastes 6:12. Which he spendeth as a shadow Though he spendeth them under a shadow, in which who will shew a man what shall be after him? Desvoeux: who has shewn, that the phrase, to spend his days under a shadow, signifies, to spend them in ease and tranquillity. See p. 324. The 3rd general proposition is contained in this verse. Men know not what is, or is not, truly advantageous to them, because they are either ignorant or unmindful of that which must come to pats after they are dead. The proofs of this third proposition we here, as before, subjoin analytically: Chap. Verse. Ecclesiastes 6:12. III. Proposition. Ecclesiastes 7:1, &c. 1st Proof. Wrong estimation of things.

A digression intended (like that, chap Ecclesiastes 5:1-9.) to prevent any misconstruction of the foregoing observations, and containing several advices, together with a strong commendation of him who gives them, in order to enforce the observation of the rules laid down by him.

Ecclesiastes 5:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:1 st Advice. Not to blame Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:13. 2nd Advice. Not to judge of Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:14-15. 3rd Advice. To submit to Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:16-20. 4th Advice, To avoid excess.

Ecc 5:21, 22. 5th Advice. Not to mind idle reports. Ecclesiastes 7:23-25. Commendation of the foregoing advices from the author's application to examine every thing, and especially,

Ecclesiastes 7:26-29. 1. Wickedness and ignorance. Ecclesiastes 8:1 to Ecclesiastes 8:2. 2nd Proof. Anticipated or wrong judgments.

Ecclesiastes 8:9-14. 1. That sin shall go unpunished, because it is so in this world. Ecclesiastes 9:15-16. 2. That life is preferable to death.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 to Ecc_9:1 st Corollary. Earthly comforts are not of a criminal nature.

Ecclesiastes 9:10. 2nd Corollary. A proper use must be made of our faculties.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-15. 3rd Proof. Judegments which are seemingly right, yet truely false.

Ecclesiastes 9:16, &c. 4th Proof. Little regard paid to wisdom.

Ecclesiastes 9:16. 1. Past services are forgotten. Ecclesiastes 9:10 to Ecclesiastes 10:17. 2. The least fault is taken notice of.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-19. 3. Favour gets what is due to worth.

Ecclesiastes 10:20. A Caution to prevent the abuse of the foregoing remarks.

PRACTICAL INFERENCES. Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 4:1. From the first proposition. We must give to earthly goods that stability only of which they are capable.

5, 6. 2. From the first and second propositions: We must, in our conduct, conform to the design of Providence towards us, and leave the success to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7; Ecclesiastes 8:3. From the three propositions; but especially from the third: We must seek for happiness beyond the grave.

9.-12. Commendation of the work, from several considerations.

13, 14. Conclusion of the whole.

This proposition, then, is supported by four proofs: But it must be observed, that though the special reason which is here annexed to the proposition, viz. that men do not mind futurity, is the principal to evince the main point; yet the author does not confine himself so closely to that reason, as to mention nothing in the course of the argument but what relates to it. He keeps close to the proposition, but allows himself the liberty of bringing in several particulars to make out his proofs, which have no regard to that special reason. The first proof is taken from the ill-judged preference given by men to certain things above others, either through prejudice, or through depravity. Here our author uses a very remarkable art in pointing out the particulars whereof his proof is to consist. For, instead of explicitly mentioning these false opinions, he contents himself with shewing that they are false. To this effect, he alleges the judgment of the wise upon several subjects, concerning which the sentiments of the ignorant are too well known to stand in need of being expressly described: For the bare mention of the subject is sufficient to remind us of what the generality of men think of it. Thus, to have Solomon's arguments at full length, we must supply upon every article that which is known to be the prevailing opinion among such as know not what is good for man among the living all the days of his vain life, whenever the author does not mention it in express words. See on Ecclesiastes 6:8.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The evil remarked in the beginning of the chapter is not peculiar to one place or age; it is still common under the sun, and a grief to every attentive observer. Blessed be God that in heaven there is no evil, and therefore no cause for lamentation!

1. The person described is a rich, covetous man. God hath given him riches, wealth; all which come from him, and are often the portion of the most unworthy; yet these bring honour and respect; for, to Mammon men generally bow. Add to this; a numerous family, to perpetuate his name; and long life, in which he might enjoy his abundance. In short, heart could not wish for more outward advantages than God hath bestowed upon him: but, notwithstanding, it appears evident in that man's life, that the comfort of it consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. For,

2. He has no heart to taste the mercies bestowed upon him; and then they are all empty and vain. He hath not power to eat thereof; his covetous temper will not allow himself or his family necessaries; and, withholding from the poor their portion, God punishes him, by suffering him to pine in the midst of plenty. He cannot trust his nearest relations, or his own children; but a stranger, who has wormed himself into favour, eateth it, preying upon him, and after his decease possessing his fortune. A vanity this, and amazing folly; an evil disease; a madness seldom cured, and fatal both to body and soul. His soul is not filled with good; his purse is filled with gold, his warehouses with stores, but his soul is still empty and uneasy; there is an aching void within, which none of these things can fill. Nay, he hath seen no good; through all his days, insensible to the mercies around him, and unable to relish any of the comforts which he possesses. And, as his life is without joy, his death is without honour; he hath no burial, or none suitable to his rank: the sordidness of his temper makes him a niggard even to his corpse, and to forbid it in his will a becoming interment; or his heirs have so little esteem for him, that if they huddle him into a grave, they care not how meanly it is done.

3. Better it is to have been carried from the womb to the grave, than thus to have lived and died. For he cometh in with vanity, the abortive birth, and departeth in, or into, darkness unnoticed; he is laid in the dust, and his name shall be covered with darkness, forgotten and unknown: moreover, he hath not seen the sun, nor the miseries that are under it, nor known any thing of the troubles of this disordered world: this hath more rest than the other, having never groaned under the toils of labour, the evil of covetousness, or the misery of departing. They go to one place, the common bed of dust, where no distinction marks the putrid clay.

2nd, How vain are the toils of anxiety!

1. There is no satisfaction in them. All the labour of man is for his mouth, what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and yet the appetite is not filled; avarice is insatiable, hunger continually returning, and pampered appetite ever craving; or the soul is not satisfied; it can relish nothing of these sensual indulgences.

2. In the enjoyments of this world, there is not that difference which appears between the wise and the fool, the rich and the poor. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what greater comfort in his possessions, or fruit of his labour? respecting the gratification of sensual appetite they are on a level: and what hath the poor that knoweth to walk before the living? If he be industrious, and dexterous in his business, he provides a livelihood for himself and family; and in his sphere enjoys his little, and tastes as much satisfaction therein as the rich in all their abundance.

3. Contentment with what we have is a far greater comfort, than to be always coveting more. Better is the sight of the eyes, the present portion before us, when enjoyed, than the wandering of the desire, still craving and insatiate; for this is also vanity: if the objects that we covet were given us, they would be still unsatisfactory; and the disappointments that we must meet with in the pursuit of them will be a vexation of our spirit.

4. After all our labours, we must remain merely human, with all the infirmities of man; and though we could attain all the riches of the east, or the empire of the world, it is, and must be known and acknowledged, that it is a man, a poor dying worm, still lighter in the balances than vanity itself.

5. There is no contending against God; he is mightier than we: it were presumption to question his wisdom or goodness, and madness to oppose his Omnipotence. His will is law, to which, willing or unwilling, even the great, the wealthy, the mighty, must submit; and sickness and death, at farthest, will convince them that they are but men.

3rdly, Hear, then, the conclusion of the matter:

1. Man's pursuits after creature-good do but the more perplex and trouble him. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity; knowledge, wealth, power, pleasure; what is man the better? Nay, is he not rather the worse? These things which promised him happiness, inordinately sought, prove a plague and a snare to him.

2. Man is a poor blind creature, and knoweth not what is for his own good; for who knoweth what is good for man in this life? None but God alone, who will do what is best; and our happiness is contentment in his dispensations.

3. Man's life is short, transitory, and vain. Years, nay, months, are too much to compute it by; it is reckoned by days, days of vanity, empty of all good, as a shadow wherein there is nothing substantial, and swiftly hurrying to their end.

4. He hath no foresight of what will happen when he is gone; what will be the condition of his posterity, and how his substance will be disposed of; so that his prospects in futurity afford him no more happiness than his present possessions.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Who knoweth what is good for man? no man certainly knows what is best for him here, whether to be high or low, rich or poor, because those great things which men generally desire and pursue are very frequently the occasions of men’s utter ruin, as hath been noted again and again in this book.

Vain life; life itself, which is the foundation of all men’s comforts and enjoyments here, is a vain, and uncertain, and transitory thing, and therefore all things which depend. upon it must needs be so too.

A shadow; which, whilst it abides, hath nothing real, and solid, or substantial in it, and doth speedily pass away, and leaves no sign behind it. And as no man can be happy with these things whilst he liveth and enjoyeth them, so he can have no content in leaving them to others, because he knoweth not either who shall possess them, or how the future owners will use or abuse them, or what mischief they may do by them, either to others, or even to themselves.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

12.All the days — That is, the fixed number of his days. The shadow is a frequent illustration in oriental poetry. Sometimes it adorns some sentiment of shelter and refreshment, as is natural in lands where the sun is hot and trees are few. At others, as here, it enforces the idea of swift passage, as when a cloud is driven by the wind across the face of the sun, and its shadow flies along the field. If man knows not what is good for him in this brief life, how can he know what will be [so] after him? Therefore — such is the sentiment — let us limit our inquiry, and ask what a brief, plain, every-day prudence can do for us.




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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

"For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun?"

"For who knows"-of course, the answer to both questions is that God knows! But remove God and His will from the picture, and you have a picture of hopelessness and confusion It is a double bewilderment, for without God, man is left with no absolute values to live for ("what is good?"), and not even any practical certainties ("what will be after him?"). "Secular man, heading for death, and swept along by change, can only echo, "Who knows what is good…..? Who can tell man what will be after him….?"" (Kidner p. 62).

Points To Note:

1. Despite all his boastful and arrogant claims, man is completely unable to determine what is "good"-apart from divine revelation. 2. The Bible often makes the point that even a long lifetime is fleeting compared to eternity (1 Chron. ; Psalm 102:11; 144:4; James 4:13ff). 3. Here we see the folly of worshipping human wisdom, since human wisdom is so limited that it can"t even predict what will happen tomorrow, not to mention years from now (1 Corinthians 1:21). 4. "The wise, rich, but yet unhappy man has concerned himself with many problems that pertain to tomorrow: Who will come after him? To whom will he really leave all that he has collected and gathered? What if he has no son to carry on? Will he receive a proper burial? What will people think of him when he has died? These and many other questions continually trouble his mind" (Kidwell p. 151).

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

all the days of his vain life = the numbered days of his vain life.

for = as to which.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?

Who knoweth what is good? ... The ungodly know not what is really "good" during life, nor "what shall be after them," i:e., what will be the event of their undertakings; or what will be their state and their circumstances (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:7), not merely after their death, but an hour, a day, a year after the present. The godly might be tempted to 'contend with God' (Ecclesiastes 6:10) as to His dispensations; but they cannot fully know the wise purposes served by them now and hereafter. Their sufferings are more really good for them than cloudless prosperity: sinners are being allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Retribution in part vindicates God's ways even now. The judgment shall make all clear. In Ecclesiastes 7:1-29 he states what is good, in answer to this verse. The only true good is "the true riches" (Luke 16:11).

All the days - Hebrew, 'the number of the days of the life of his vanity.' The fact that his days can be numbered implies their fewness. The shorter and the more shadowy (1 Chronicles 29:15) our life is, the more important it is that we should not hunt after shadowy vanities. Who can toil? If we could foresee that riches would always abide with us, we might have an excuse in making them our chief aim. But we know not how soon they and we shall part; therefore seek the true riches, and enjoy whatever present earthly good God gives.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(12) As a shadow.—Ecclesiastes 8:13; Job 14:2.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
who knoweth
2:3; 12:13; Psalms 4:6; 16:5; 17:15; 47:4; Lamentations 3:24-27; Micah 6:8
the days of his vain life
Heb. the number of the days of the life of his vanity.
8:13; 9:6; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Job 8:9; 14:2; Psalms 39:5,6; 89:47; 90:10-12; Psalms 102:11; 109:23; 144:4; James 4:14
for who can
3:22; 8:7; Job 14:21 Reciprocal: Job 7:16 - my days;  Job 17:7 - shadow;  Ecclesiastes 1:3 - under;  Ecclesiastes 1:4 - One generation;  Ecclesiastes 7:15 - have I;  Ecclesiastes 9:9 - all the days of the life;  Ecclesiastes 10:14 - a man;  Ecclesiastes 12:8 - GeneralLuke 8:42 - and she;  1 Corinthians 7:29 - the time

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ecclesiastes 6:12. The question—For who knoweth what is good for man in life?—refers not only to earthly goods, but to eternal, to the true and real goods, (Luke 16:11) whose possession is in all circumstances desirable. This is clear from the connection with the foregoing enquiry—"what more has man?" (of these things?) For who knows what? The words—for the number of the days of his vain life, which he spends like a shadow—( מספר must be supplied with ב from בחיים; that the days can be counted, is a sign of the shortness of the duration of life; compare Ecclesiastes 5:17), are meant to teach us that the shorter our life the more important is it that we should not feed ourselves with wind and ashes. In this shadowy existence we should not hunt after unsubstantial shadows. The fleeting, quickly vanishing shadow is an image of the transitoriness and short-livedness of man. Büchner remarks—"a shadow may stretch itself out as long as it can, but when the sun goes down it vanishes and leaves nothing behind it." Compare Ecclesiastes 8:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15,—"like the shadow are our days upon earth." Psalms 103:15,—"man is in his life like grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth." Psalms 144:4, "man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away." The words, "for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?" contain the reason for the affirmation that riches are not to be regarded as a true good. Only on one condition should we be justified in treating them as important, namely, that we knew the future, and had it in our power. Some accident or other may suddenly rob us of what we have gathered with so much toil. Nay more, there may come a great catastrophe which, like the flood, will sweep everything away. After him, that is, after his present condition (compare Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 7:14). Several have falsely explained—"after his death." The practical conclusion is, that we should strive after true possessions: and then that we should be free from cares, covetousness and envy, content with what we have, however little it may be: ἀρκεῖσθε τοῖς ὀψωνίοις ὑμῶν (Luke 3:14). Rambach observes: "Ex quibus omnibus apparet, nihil melius esse quam proscripta turpi avaritia praesentibus contentum esse, iisque cum pia et licita hilaritate frui." Luther remarks "the hearts of men strive after various kinds of things: one seeks power, another riches: but still they know not whether they shall obtain them. Nor do they make use of God's present gifts, but their heart hankers alone and always after that which they have not, and cannot yet see. He does not speak of that which will come after this life, but means to say, that no man knows what will happen to him after an hour, after a day, or after a year. Julius Caesar having put down the rest, thought that then he had the game all in his own hands, and meant to set the Roman Empire in fine order: but at the very moment when he was revolving his plans, he was killed in the council at Rome. Why then do we vex and torment ourselves with our own thoughts, when future things are not a single moment in our power? We ought consequently to be content with that which God gives us each moment, and commit all to Him who alone is acquainted with, and is able to regulate both present and future."

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:12". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.