Ecclesiastes 5:20
For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answers him in the joy of his heart.
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(20) “In the enjoyment of God’s gifts he does not think much of the sorrows or brevity of life.” This is the usual explanation; and though not satisfied with it, we cannot suggest a better.

5:18-20 Life is God's gift. We must not view our calling as a drudgery, but take pleasure in the calling where God puts us. A cheerful spirit is a great blessing; it makes employments easy, and afflictions light. Having made a proper use of riches, a man will remember the days of his past life with pleasure. The manner in which Solomon refers to God as the Giver, both of life and its enjoyments, shows they ought to be received and to be used, consistently with his will, and to his glory. Let this passage recommend to all the kind words of the merciful Redeemer, Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life. Christ is the Bread of life, the only food of the soul. All are invited to partake of this heavenly provision.The days will pass smoothly and pleasantly, while he lives in the consciousness of God's favor.

Answereth him - i. e., grants his prayers.

20. He will not remember much, looking back with disappointment, as the ungodly do (Ec 2:11), on the days of his life.

answereth … in the joy—God answers his prayers in giving him "power" to enjoy his blessings. Gesenius and Vulgate translate, "For God (so) occupies him with joy," &c., that he thinks not much of the shortness and sorrows of life. Holden, "Though God gives not much (as to real enjoyment), yet he remembers (with thankfulness) the days; for (he knows) God exercises him by the joy," &c. (tries him by prosperity), so Margin, but English Version is simplest.

He shall not much remember; so as to disquiet or vex himself therewith.

The days; either,

1. The troubles; days being here put for evil or sad days, by a usual synecdoche, as Job 18:20 Psalm 137:7 Ob 12 Mic 7:4. Or,

2. The time in general; which is irksome and tedious to men oppressed with discontent or misery, who usually reckon every hour or minute that passeth, and have their minds and thoughts constantly fixed upon the vanity and uncertainty of this life, upon the afflictions which they have already endured and may further expect; whereas to men of contented and cheerful minds the time is short and sweet, and passeth over them before they are aware of it, and they enjoy their present comforts without perplexing themselves about former or future events.

Answereth him; answereth, either,

1. His labours with success, as money is said to answer all things, Ecclesiastes 10:19, because it is equivalent to all, and able to purchase all things. Or,

2. His desires. In the joy of his heart; in giving him that solid joy and comfort of his labours which his heart expected and desired. For he shall not much remember the days of his life,.... Be they more or fewer, as Jarchi: he will not think life long and tedious; nor dwell upon, and distress himself with, the troubles he has met with, or is likely to meet with; but, being content with the good things God has given him, and freely and cheerfully enjoying them, he passes away his time delightfully and pleasantly. Some, as Aben Ezra observes, and which he approves of, and is agreeably to the accents, render the words, "if he has not much, he remembers the days of his life" (t); if he has but little of the good things of this life, he remembers how few his days are he has to live; and doubts not he shall have enough to carry him to the end of his days, and therefore is quite easy and content; he calls to mind how he has been supplied all his days hitherto, and is persuaded that that God, who has provided for him, will continue his goodness to him, and that he shall not want any good thing; and therefore does not distress himself with what is to come;

because God answereth him in the joy of his heart; he calls upon God for a blessing on his labours, asks of him his daily food, and desires what may be proper and sufficient for him, or what he judges is necessary and convenient; and God answers his prayers and petitions, and good wishes, by filling his heart with food and gladness; and giving him that cheerfulness of spirit, and thankfulness of heart, in the enjoyment of every blessing; and especially if along with it he lifts up the light of his countenance, and grants him joy in the Holy Ghost; he will go on so pleasantly and comfortably as to forget all his former troubles; and it will dissipate his doubts and fears about how he shall live for the future.

(t) "quod si non multum recordabitur dierum vitae suae", Junius & Tremellius.

For he shall not much remember the days of his {p} life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

(p) He will take no great thought for the pains that he has endured in times past.

20. he shall not much remember the days of his life] This follows the order of the Hebrew and gives a satisfying meaning: The man who has learnt the secret of enjoyment is not anxious about the days of his life, does not brood even over its transitoriness, but takes each day tranquilly, as it comes, as God’s gift to him. By some commentators, however, the sentence is construed so as to give just the opposite sense, “He remembereth (or should remember) that the days of his life are not many,” i.e. never loses sight of the shortness of human life. It is difficult to see how the translators of the A. V. could have been led to their marginal reading “Though he give not much, yet he remembereth the days of his life.”

because God answereth him in the joy of his heart] The verb has been very variously rendered, (1) “God occupies him with the joy …,” or (2) “God makes him sing with the joy …,” or (3) “God causeth him to work for the enjoyment …,” or (4) “God makes all answer (i.e. correspond with) his wishes,” or (5) “God himself corresponds to his joy,” i.e. is felt to approve it as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with His own blessedness. The last is, perhaps, that which has most to commend it. So taken, the words find a parallel in the teaching of Epicurus, “The Blessed and the Immortal neither knows trouble of its own nor causeth it to others. Wherefore it is not influenced either by wrath or favour,” (Diog. Laert. x. 1. 139). The tranquillity of the wise man mirrors, the Teacher implies, the tranquillity of God. So Lucretius;

“Omnis enim per se divum natura necessest,

Immortali ævo summâ cum pace fruatur,

Semota ab nostris rebus sejunctaque longe;

Nam privata dolore omni, privata periclis,

Ipsa suis pollens opibus, nil indiga nostri,

Nec bene promeritis capitur neque tangitur ira.”

“The nature of the Gods must need enjoy

Life everlasting in supreme repose,

Far from our poor concerns and separate:

For from all pain exempt, exempt from risks,

Rich in its own wealth, needing nought of ours,

’Tis neither soothed by gifts nor stirred by wrath.”

De Rer. Nat. ii. 646–651.Verse 20. - For he shall not much remember the days of his life. The man who has learned the lesson of calm enjoyment does not much concern himself with the shortness, uncertainty, or possible trouble of life. He carries out the counsel of Christ, "Be not anxious for the morrow, for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34). Ginsburg gives an entirely opposite rendering to the clause, "He should remember that the days of his life are not many;" i.e. the thought of the shortness of life should urge us to enjoy it while it lasts. But the Authorized Version is supported by the Septuagint and Vulgate and most modern commentators, and seems most appropriate to the context. The marginal rendering, "Though he give not much, yet he remembereth," etc., which Ginsburg calls a literary curiosity, must have been derived from the version of Junius, which gives, "Quod si non multum (supple, est illud quod dederit Deus, ex versu praec.)," etc. Because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. The man passes a calm and contented life, because God shows that he is pleased with him by the tranquil joy shed over his heart. The verb מַעֲנֶה (the hiph. participle of עָנָה) is variously rendered. The Septuagint gives, Ὁ Θεὸς περισπᾷ αὐτὸν ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ καρδίας αὐτοῦ, "God distracts him in the mirth of his heart;" Vulgate, Eo quod Deus occupet deliciis cot ejus; Ginsburg, "God causeth him to work for the enjoyment of his heart," i.e. God assigns him work that he may thence derive enjoyment; Koster," God makes him sing in the joy of his heart;" Delitzsch, Wright, and Plumptre, "God answers (corresponds with) the joy of his heart," which the latter explains to mean "is felt to approve it as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness, the tranquility of the wise man mirroring the tranquility of God." But this modified Epicureanism is alien from the teaching of Koheleth. Rather the idea is that God answers him with, imparts to him, joy of heart, makes him sensible of his favorable regard by this inward feeling of satisfaction and content.

"There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, riches kept by their possessor to his hurt: the same riches perish by an evil event; and he hath begotten a son, thus this one hath nothing in his hand." There is a gradation of evils. חולה רעה (cf. רע חלי ר, Ecclesiastes 6:2) is not an ordinary, but a morbid evil, i.e., a deep hurtful evil; as a wound, not a common one, but one particularly severe and scarcely curable, is called נחלה, e.g., Nahum 3:19. השׁ ... רא is, as at Ecclesiastes 10:5, an ellipt. relat. clause; cf. on the other hand, Ecclesiastes 6:1; the author elsewhere uses the scheme of the relat. clause without relat. pron. (vid., under Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 3:16); the old language would use ראיתיה, instead of ראיתי, with the reflex. pron. The great evil consists in this, that riches are not seldom kept by their owner to his own hurt. Certainly שׁמוּר ל can also mean that which is kept for another, 1 Samuel 9:24; but how involved and constrained is Ginsburg's explanation: "hoarded up (by the rich man) for their (future) owner," viz., the heir to whom he intends to leave them! That ל can be used with the passive as a designation of the subj., vid., Ewald, 295c; certainly it corresponds as little as מן, with the Greek ὑπό, but in Greek we say also πλοῦτος φυλαχθεὶς τῷ κεκτημένῳ, vid., Rost's Syntax, 112. 4. The suff. of lera'atho refers to be'alav, the plur. form of which can so far remain out of view, that we even say adonim qosheh, Isaiah 19:4, etc. "To his hurt," i.e., at the last suddenly to lose that which has been carefully guarded. The narrative explanation of this, "to his hurt," begins with vav explic. Regarding 'inyan ra'. It is a casus adversus that is meant, such a stroke upon stroke as destroyed Job's possessions. The perf. והו supposes the case that the man thus suddenly made poor is the father of a son; the clause is logically related to that which follows as hypothet. antecedent, after the scheme. Genesis 33:13. The loss of riches would of itself make one who is alone unhappy, for the misfortune to be poor is less than the misfortunes to be rich and then to become poor; but still more unfortunate is the father who thought that by well-guarded wealth he had secured the future of his son, and who now leaves him with an empty hand.

What now follows is true of this rich man, but is generalized into a reference to every rich man, and then is recorded as a second great evil. As a man comes naked into the world, so also he departs from it again without being able to take with him any of the earthly wealth he has acquired.

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