INTRODUCTION TO Ecclesiastes 12
This chapter begins with advice to young men, which is continued from the preceding; and particularly to remember their Creator in the days of their youth; enforced from the consideration of the troubles and inconveniences of old age, Ecclesiastes 12:1; which, in an allegorical way, is beautifully described, Ecclesiastes 12:2; and from the certainty of death, when it would be too late, Ecclesiastes 12:7. And then the wise man returns to his first proposition, and which he kept in view all along, that all is vanity in youth or old age, Ecclesiastes 12:8; and recommends the reading of this book, from the diligence, pains and labour, he used in composing it; from the sententious matter in it; from the agreeable, acceptable, and well chosen words, in which he had expressed it; and from the wisdom, uprightness, truth, efficacy, and authority of the doctrines of it, Ecclesiastes 12:9; and from its preference to other books, which were wearisome both to author and reader, Ecclesiastes 12:12. And it is concluded with the scope and design, the sum and substance of the whole of it, reducible to these two heads; the fear of God, and obedience to him, Ecclesiastes 12:13; and which are urged from the consideration of a future judgment, into which all things shall be brought, Ecclesiastes 12:14.
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth,.... Or "Creators" (b); as "Makers", Job 35:10; for more than one were concerned, as in the creation of all things in general, so of man in particular, Genesis 1:26; and these are neither more nor fewer than three; and are Father, Son, Spirit; the one God that has created men, Malachi 2:10; the Father, who is the God of all flesh, and the Father of spirits; the former both of the bodies and souls of men, Jeremiah 31:27; the Son, by whom all things are created; for he that is the Redeemer and husband of his church, which are characters and relations peculiar to the Son, is the Creator, Isaiah 43:1; and the Holy Spirit not only garnished the heavens, and moved upon the face of the waters, but is the Maker of men, and gives them life, Job 33:4. Now this God, Creator, should be "remembered" by young men; they should remember there is a God, which they are apt to be forgetful of; that this God is a God of great and glorious perfections, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, holy, just, and true; who judgeth in the earth, and will judge the world in righteousness, and them also; and that he is in Christ a God gracious, merciful, and pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin: they should remember him under this character, as a "Creator", who has made them, and not they themselves; that they are made by him out of the dust of the earth, and must return to it; that he has brought them into being, and preserved them in it, and favoured them with the blessings of his providence, which are all from him that has made them: and they should remember the end for which they are made, to glorify him; and in what state man was originally made, upright, pure, and holy; but that he now is a fallen creature, and such are they, impure and unrighteous, impotent and weak, abominable in the sight of God, unworthy to live, and unfit to die; being transgressors of the laws of their Creator, which is deserving of death: they should remember what God their Creators, Father, Son, and Spirit, must have done or must do for them, if ever they are saved; the Father must have chosen them in Christ unto salvation; must have given his Son to redeem, and must send his Spirit into their hearts to create them anew; the Son must have been surety for them, assumed their nature, and died in their room and stead; and the Spirit must regenerate and make them new creatures, enlighten their minds, quicken their souls, and sanctify their hearts: they should remember the right their Creator has over them, the obligations they are under to him, and their duty to him; they should remember, with thankfulness, the favours they have received from him, and, with reverence and humility, the distance between him, as Creator, and them as creatures: they should remember to love him cordially and sincerely; to fear him with a godly fear; to worship him in a spiritual manner; to set him always before them, and never forget him. And all this they should do "in the days their youth"; which are their best and choicest day in which to serve him is most desirable by him, acceptable to him; who ordered the first of the ripe fruits and creatures of the first year to be offered to him: and then are men best able to serve him, when their bodies are healthful, strong, and vigorous; their senses quick, and the powers and faculties of their souls capable of being improved and enlarged: and to delay the service of him to old age, as it would be very ungrateful and exceeding improper, so no man can be sure of arriving to it; and if he should, yet what follows is enough to determine against such a delay;
while the evil days come not; meaning the days of old age; said to be evil, not with respect to the evil of fault or sin; so all days are evil, or sin is committed in every age, in infancy, in childhood, in youth, in manhood, as well as in old age: but with respect to the evil of affliction and trouble which attend it, as various diseases; yea, that itself is a disease, and an incurable one; much weakness of body, decay of intellects, and many other things, which render life very troublesome and uncomfortable (c), as well as unfit for religious services;
nor the years draw nigh, when thou shall say, I have no pleasure in them; that is, corporeal pleasure; no sensual pleasure; sight, taste, and hearing, being lost, or in a great measure gone; which was Barzillai's case, at eighty years of age: though some ancient persons have their senses quick and vigorous, and scarce perceive any difference between youth and age; but such instances are not common: and there are also some things that ancient persons take pleasure in, as in fields and gardens, and the culture of them, as Cicero (d) observes; and particularly learned men take as much delight in their studies in old age as in youth, and in instructing others; and, as the same writer (e) says,
"what is more pleasant than to see an old man, attended and encircled with youth, at their studies under him?''
and especially a good man, in old age, has pleasure in reflecting on a life spent in the ways, work, and worship of God; and in having had, through the grace of God, his conversation in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity; as also in present communion with God, and in the hopes and views of the glories of another world: but if not religious persons, they are strangers to spiritual pleasure, which only is to be had in wisdom's ways; such can neither look back with pleasure on a life spent in sin; nor forward with pleasure, at death and eternity, and into another world; see 2 Samuel 19:35.
(b) "Creatorum tuorum", Drusius, Gejerus, Rambachius; so Broughton. (c) Plautus in Aulular. Acts 1. Sc. 1. v. 4. Menaechm. Acts 5. Sc. 2. v. 6. calls old age, "mala aetas"; and the winter of old age, Trinummus, Acts 2. Sc. 3. v. 7. And Pindar, , Pyth. Ode 10. so Theognis, v. 272, 776, 1006. And Homer, Iliad. 10. v. 79. &. 23. v. 644. "Tristis senectus", Virgil. Aenid. 6. (d) De Seuectute, c. 14, 15. (e) Ibid. c. 8.
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened,.... The wise man proceeds to describe the infirmities of old age, and the troubles that attend it; in order to engage young men to regard God and religion, before these come upon them, which greatly unfit for his service. This the Targum and Midrash, and, after them, Jarchi, interpret of the splendour of the countenance of man, of the light of his eyes, and the beauty of his cheeks, and other parts of his face; which decrease and go off at old age, and paleness and wrinkles succeed: and others of the adversities and calamities which attend persons at such years; which are sometimes in Scripture signified by the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, Isaiah 13:10; but some choose to understand this, more literally, of the dimness of sight in old men; by whom the light of the sun, moon, and stars, is scarcely discerned: but as this infirmity is afterwards described, I rather think with others, that by the "sun", "light", and "moon", are meant the superior and inferior faculties of the soul, the understanding, mind, judgment, will, and affections; and, by the "stars", those bright notions and ideas raised in the fancy and imagination, and fixed in the memory; all which are greatly impaired or lost in old age: so Alshech interprets the sun and moon of the soul and spirit, and the stars of the senses; "light" is not in the Syriac version;
nor the clouds return after the rain; which some understand of catarrhs, defluxions, and rheums, flowing at the eyes, nose, and mouth, one after another, which frequently attend, and are very troublesome to persons in years; but may be more generally applied to the perpetual succession of evils, afflictions, and disorders, in old age; as soon as one is got over, another follows, billow after billow; or, like showers in April, as soon as one is gone, another comes. The Targum paraphrases it of the eyebrows distilling tears, like clouds after rain.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble,.... By the "house" is meant the human body; which is a house of clay, the earthly house of our tabernacle, in which the soul dwells, Job 4:19, 2 Corinthians 5:1. The Targum interprets the keepers of the house, of the knees and the trembling of them; but the Midrash and Jarchi, much better, of the ribs; man being fenced with bones and sinews, as Job says, Job 10:11; though trembling cannot be well ascribed to them, they being so fixed to the backbone: rather therefore, as Aben Ezra, the hands and arms are meant; which work for the maintenance of the body, and feed it with food, got and prepared by them; and which protect and defend it from injuries; for all which they are fitted, and made strong by the God of nature. The Arabic version renders it, "both keepers"; and, doubtless, respects both hands and arms; and which, in old age, are not only wrinkled, contracted, and stiff, but attended with numbness, pains, and tremor. Some, not amiss, take in the head; which is placed as a watchtower over the body, the seat of the senses; which overlooks, guards, and keeps it, and which often through paralytic disorders, and even the weakness of old age, is attended with a shaking;
and the strong men shall bow themselves; it is strange the Targum and Midrash should interpret this of the arms, designed in the former clause; Jarchi and Aben Ezra, more rightly, of the thighs; it takes in thighs, legs, and feet, which are the basis and support of the human body; and are strengthened for this purpose, having stronger muscles and tendons than any other parts of the body; but these, as old age comes on, are weakened and distorted, and bend under the weight of the body, not being able, without assistance, to sustain it;
and the grinders cease because they are few; the Targum is,
"the teeth of the mouth:''
all agree the teeth are meant; only the Midrash takes in the stomach also, which, like a mill, grinds the food. There are three sorts of teeth; the fore teeth, which bite the food, and are called "incisores": the eye teeth, called "canini", which bruise and break the food; and the double teeth, the hindermost, which are called "dentes molares", the grinding teeth; and which being placed in the upper and nether jaw, are like to millstones, broad and rough, and rub against each other and grind the food, and prepare it for the stomach: these, in old age, rot and drop out, and become few and straggling, one here and another there; and, not being over against each other, are of no use, but rather troublesome;
and those that look out of the windows be darkened; the eyes, as the Targum and Ben Melech; and all agree that those that look out are the eyes, or the visive rays: the "windows" they look through are not spectacles; for it is questionable whether they were in use in Solomon's time, and, however, they are not parts of the house; but either the holes in which the eyes are, and so the Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions render it, to which the Targum agrees, paraphrasing it, the strong bounds of the head; and which are no other than what oculists call the orbits of the eye: or else the eyelids, which open and shut like the casement of a window, and through which, being opened, the eyes look; or the humours of the eye, the watery, crystalline, and glassy, which are transparent, and through which the visive rays pass; or the tunics, or coats of the eye, particularly the "tunica aranea" and "cornea"; as also the optic nerves, and especially the "pupilla", or apple of the eye, which is perforated or bored for this purpose: now these, in old age, become weak, or dim, or thick, or contracted, or obstructed by some means or another by which the sight is greatly hindered, and is a very uncomfortable circumstance; this was Isaac's case, Genesis 27:1; but Moses is an exception to the common case of old men, Deuteronomy 34:7.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;And the doors shall be shut in the streets,.... The Midrash and Jarchi interpret these of the holes of the body; in which they are followed by our learned and ingenuous countryman, Dr. Smith; who, by them, understands the inlets and outlets of the body; and, by the "streets", the ways and passages through which the food goes, and nourishment is conveyed; and which may be said to be shut, when they cease from their use: but it seems much better, with Aben Ezra and others, to interpret them of the lips; which are sometimes called the doors of the mouth, or lips, Psalm 141:3; which are opened both for speaking and eating; but, in aged persons, are much shut as to either; they do not choose to speak much, because of the disagreeableness of their voice, and difficulty of speech, through the shortness of breath, and the loss of teeth; nor do they open them much to eat, through want of appetite; and while eating, are obliged, for want of teeth, to keep their lips close, to retain their food from falling out; they mumble with their lips both in speaking and eating; and, particularly in public, aged persons care not to speak nor eat, for the reason following: though some understand it, more literally, of their having the doors of their houses shut, and keeping within, and not caring to go abroad in the streets, because of their infirmities so the Targum,
"thy feet shall be bound from going in the streets;''
when the sound of the grinding is low; which the above Jewish writers, and, after them, Dr. Smith, understand of the stomach, grinding, digesting, and concocting food, and of other parts through which it is conveyed, and the offices they perform; but sound or voice does not seem so well to agree with that; rather therefore this is to be understood, as before, of the grinding of the teeth, through the loss of which so much noise is not heard in eating as in young men, and the voice in speaking is lower; the Targum is,
"appetite of food shall depart from thee;''
and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird; that is, the aged person, the least noise awakes him out of sleep; and as he generally goes to bed soon, he rises early at cock crowing, or with the lark, as soon as the voice of that bird or any other, is heard; particularly the cock, which crows very early, and whose voice is heard the most early, and is by some writers (f) emphatically called the bird that calls men to their work;
and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; either those that make music, and are the instruments of it, as the lungs, the throat, the teeth, mouth, and lips, so the Targum and Midrash; or those that receive music, as the ears, and the several parts of them, the cavities of them, particularly the tympanum and auditory nerve; all which, through old age, are impaired, and become very unfit to be employed in making music, or in attending to it: the voice of singing men and singing women could not be heard with pleasure by old Barzillai, 2 Samuel 19:36. These clauses are expressive of the weakness which generally old age brings on men; very few instances are there to the contrary; such as of Caleb, who, at eighty five years of age, was as strong as at forty; and of Moses, whose natural force abated not at an hundred and twenty; nor indeed as of Cyrus, who, when seventy years of age, and near his death, could not perceive that he was weaker then than in his youth (g).
(f) "Inque suum miseros excitat ales opus", Ovid. Amorum, l. 1. Eleg. 6. v. 66. "Cristatus ales", ib. Fast. l. 1. v. 455. (g) Cicero in Catone Majore, sive de Senectute, c. 8.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high,.... Not of the most high God, before whose tribunal they must shortly appear, as some; but rather of high places, as high hills, mountains, towers, &c. which aged persons are afraid to go up, because of the feebleness and weakness of their limbs, their difficulty of breathing, and the dizziness of their heads;
and fears shall be in the way; they do not care: to go abroad, being afraid of every little stone that lies in the way, lest they should stumble at it, and fall: some understand this of their fears of spirits, good or bad; but the former sense is best;
and the almond tree shall flourish; which most interpret of the hoary head, which looks like an almond tree in blossom; and which, as it comes soon in the spring, whence it has its name of haste in the Hebrew language; see Jeremiah 1:11; and is a sure sign of its near approach; so gray hairs, or the hoary head, sometimes appear very soon and unexpected, and are a sure indication of the approach of old age; which Cicero (h) calls "aetas praecipitata",
"age that comes hastily on;''
though the hoary head, like the almond tree, looks very beautiful, and is venerable, especially if found in the way of righteousness, Leviticus 19:32;
and the grasshopper shall be a burden; meaning either, should a grasshopper, which is very light, leap upon an aged person, it would give him pain, the least burden being uneasy to him; or, should he eat one of these creatures, the locusts being a sort of food in Judea, it would not sit well, on his stomach: or the grasshopper, being a crumpled and lean creature, may describe an old man; his legs and arms emaciated, and his shoulders, back, and lips, crumpled up and bunching out; and the locust of this name has a bunch on its backbone, like a camel (i): Bochart (k) says, that the head of the thigh, or the hip bone, by the Arabians, is called "chagaba", the word here used for a locust or grasshopper; which part of the body is of principal use in walking, and found very troublesome and difficult to move in old men; and Aben Ezra interprets it of the thigh: the almond tree, by the Rabbins, as Jarchi says, is interpreted of the hip bone, which stands out in old age: and the Targum, of this and the preceding clause, is,
"and the top of thy backbone shall bunch out, through leanness, like the almond; and the ankles of thy feet shall be swelled.''
Some, as Ben Melech observes, understand it of the genital member, and of coitus, slighted and rejected, because of the weakness of the body; all desires of that kind being gone, as follows;
and desire shall fail; the appetite, for food, for bodily pleasures, and carnal delights; and particularly for venery, all the parts of the body for such uses being weakened, The Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, render it, "the caper tree shall be dissipated", or "vanish", or "its fruit shall shrink"; so Dr. Smith, who understands it of the decrease of the fluids, as he does the former clause of the solid parts of the body; and the berries of this tree are said to excite both appetite and lust (l): and so Munster (m) interprets the word of the berries of the caper tree;
because man goeth to his long home; the grave, as the Targum, the house appointed for living, where he must lie till the resurrection morn; his eternal house, as Cicero calls it (n); and so it may be rendered here, "the house of the world", common to all the world, where all mankind go: or, "to the house of his world" (o); whether of bliss or woe, according as his state and character be, good or bad: Theognis (p) calls it the dark house of "hades", or the invisible state; and then this must be understood with respect to his separate soul, and the mansion of it; and Alshech says, every righteous man has a mansion to himself; see John 14:2;
and the mourners go about the streets; the relations of the deceased; or those that go to their houses to comfort them; or the mourning men and women, hired for that purpose.
(h) Fam. Epist. l. 11. Ephesians 58. (i) R. Sol. Urbin. Ohel Moed, fol. 83. 1.((k) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 4. c. 8. col. 494. (l) Avicenna spud Schindler. Lexic. Colossians 10. (m) Dictionar. Chaldaic. p. 13. (n) Tusculan. Quaest. l. 2. prope finem. (o) "ad domum seculi sui", Pagninus. Montanus, Vatablus, Mercerus. (p) v. 1008. vid. v. 244.
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.Or ever the silver cord be loosed,.... As the above are the symptoms and infirmities of old age; these in this verse are the immediate symptoms of death, or what attend it, or certainly issue in it. Some by "the silver cord" understand the string of the tongue; and to this purpose is the Targum,
"before thy tongue is dumb from speaking;''
and it is observed (q) in favour of this sense, that the failing of the tongue is no fallacious sign of death, of which there is no mention at all in this account, unless here; and the tongue may not unfitly be called a "cord", both from the notation of the word because it binds, and because it scourges like a cord, Job 5:21; and is compared to silver, Proverbs 10:20, and in this verse rather the head than the back is treated of. But best, the bond of union between soul and body is meant: the Midrash and Jarchi, and the Jewish writers in general, interpret it of the "spina dorsi", or backbone; or rather of the marrow of it, which descends like a cord from the brain through the neck, and down the backbone to the bottom of it; from whence spring the nerves, fibres, tendons, and filaments of the body, on which the life of it much depends: this spinal marrow may be called a "cord" for the length of it, as well as what arise from it; and a silver cord, from the colour of it (r), this being white even after death; and for the excellency of it: and this may be said to be "loosened" when there is a solution of the nerves, or marrow; upon which a paralysis, or palsy, follows, and is often the immediate forerunner of death;
or the golden bowl be broken; the Targum renders it the top of the head; and the Midrash interprets it the skull, and very rightly; or rather the inward membrane of the skull, which contains the brain, called the "pia mater", or "meninx", is intended, said to be a bowl, from the form of it; a "golden" one, because of the preciousness of it, and the excellent liquor of life it contains, as also because of its colour; now when this "runs back", as the word (s) signifies, dries, shrinks up, and breaks, it puts a stop to all animal motion, and hence death;
or the pitcher be broken at the fountain; not the gall at the liver, as the Targum, which the ancients took to be the fountain of blood; but by the "fountain" is meant the heart, the fountain of life, which has two cavities, one on the right side, the other on the left, from whence come the veins and arteries, which carry the blood through the whole body; and here particularly it signifies the right ventricle of the heart, the spring and original of the veins, which are the pitcher that receives the blood and transmits it to the several parts of the body; but when thee are broke to shivers, as the word (t) signifies, or cease from doing their office, the blood stagnates in them, and death follows;
or the wheel broken at the cistern; which is the left ventricle of the heart, which by its "diastole" receives the blood brought to it through the lungs, as a cistern receives water into it; where staying a while in its "systole", it passes it into the great artery annexed to it; which is the wheel or instrument of rotation, which, together with all the instruments of pulsation, cause the circulation of the blood, found out in the last age by our countryman Dr. Harvey; but it seems by this it was well known by Solomon; now, whenever this wheel is broken, the pulse stops, the blood ceases to circulate, and death follows. For this interpretation of the several preceding passages, as I owe much to the Jewish writers, so to Rambachius and Patrick on these passages, and to Witsius's "Miscellanies", and especially to our countryman Dr. Smith, in his "Portrait of Old Age", a book worthy to be read on this subject; and there are various observations in the Talmud (u) agreeable hereunto.
(q) Vid. Castel. Lexic. Hept. col. 3662. (r) Vid. Waser. de Num. Heb. l. 1. c. 13. (s) "recurrat", V. L. "excurrit", Junius & Tremellius. (t) (u) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 151. 2. & 152. 1.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,.... The body, which is made of dust, and is no other in its present state than dust refined and enlivened; and when the above things take place, mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:6, or at death, it returns to its original earth; it becomes immediately a clod of earth, a lifeless lump of clay, and is then buried in the earth, where it rots, corrupts, and turns into it; which shows the frailty of man, and may serve to humble his pride, as well as proves that death is not an annihilation even of the body; see Genesis 3:19;
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; from whom it is, by whom it is created, who puts it into the bodies of men, as a deposit urn they are entrusted with, and are accountable for, and should be concerned for the safety and salvation of it; this was originally breathed into man at his first creation, and is now formed within him by the Lord; hence he is called the God of the spirits of all flesh; see Genesis 2:4. Now at death the soul, or spirit of man, returns to God; which if understood of the souls of men in general, it means that at death they return to God the Judge of all, who passes sentence on them, and orders those that are good to the mansions of bliss and happiness, and those that are evil to hell and destruction. So the Targum adds,
"that it may stand in judgment before the Lord;''
or if only of the souls of good men, the sense is, that they then return to God, not only as their Creator, but as their covenant God and Father, to enjoy his presence evermore; and to Christ their Redeemer, to be for ever with him, than which nothing is better and more desirable; this shows that the soul is immortal, and dies not with the body, nor sleeps in the grave with it, but is immediately with God. Agreeably to all this Aristotle (w) says, the mind, or soul, alone enters from without, (from heaven, from God there,) and only is divine; and to the same purpose are the words of Phocylides (x),
"the body we have of the earth, and we all being resolved into it become dust, but the air or heaven receives the spirit.''
And still more agreeably to the sentiment of the wise man here, another Heathen (y) writer observes, that the ancients were of opinion that souls are given of God, and are again returned unto him after death.
(w) De Generat. Animal. l. 2. c. 3.((x) , &c. Poem. Admon. v. 102, 103. So Lucretius l. 2. "cedit item retro de terra", &c. (y) Macrob. Saturnal. l. I. c. 10.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher,.... The wise man, or preacher, set out in the beginning of the book with this doctrine, or proposition, which he undertook to prove; and now having proved it by an induction of particulars, instanced in the wisdom, wealth, honours, pleasures, and profit of men, and shown the vanity of them, and that the happiness of men lies not in these things, but in the knowledge and fear of God; he repeats it, and most strongly asserts it, as an undoubted truth beyond all dispute and contradiction, that all things under the sun are not only vain, but vanity itself, extremely vain, vain in the superlative degree;
all is vanity; all things in the world are vain; all creatures are subject to vanity; man in every state, and in his best estate, is altogether vanity: this the wise man might with great confidence affirm, after he had shown that not only childhood and youth are vanity, but even old age; the infirmities, sorrows, and distresses of which he had just exposed, and observed that all issue in death, the last end of man, when his body returns to the earth, and his soul to God the giver of it.
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.And moreover,.... Or "besides" (z) what has been said; or "as to what remains" (a); or "but what is better", or "more excellent" (b), is to "hear the conclusion of the whole matter", the sum and substance of the whole book in a few words, Ecclesiastes 12:13; to which Ecclesiastes 12:9; are a preface; and in which the wise man recommends the reading of this book, and other writings of his, and of other wise men inspired of God; and his own he particularly recommends, from his character as wise and industrious, in this verse; and from the subject matter of them, their nature, use, and excellency, and their efficacy and authority, in the two next;
because the preacher was wise; he was a "preacher", a royal one, an extraordinary preacher, and to be regarded; he urges not his title as a king, but his character as a preacher, to recommend what he had written: every good preacher should be regarded; not such who are ignorant preachers of the law, but faithful ministers of the Gospel, who are sent of God, and have felt and experienced what they deliver to others; and especially who are wise as well as faithful, as Solomon was; he had much wisdom given him at first, 1 Kings 3:12; and in which he improved; and though he turned to folly in his old age, he recovered from that, and gained more wisdom through his fall, and to which he here seems to have reference; for "Koheleth", which some render the "gatherer", because he gathered much wisdom, and much people to hear it; others render "gathered", that is, into the flock and fold again, the church of God, from which he had strayed; See Gill on Ecclesiastes 1:1; and having seen through the follies and vanities of life, and being recovered and restored, was a fitter person to teach and instruct others; see Psalm 51:12;
he still taught the people knowledge; or "again", as the Targum; after his fall and recovery he was communicative of his knowledge; he did not hide his talent in the earth, nor in a napkin; but having freely received he freely gave, and kept back nothing from his people, the people of the house of Israel, as the Targum, that might be profitable to them; he taught them the knowledge of themselves, as fallen men, impure, impotent, and unrighteous; the knowledge of the creatures, and the vanity of them, of riches, honours, and pleasures; and of works of righteousness to save men; the knowledge of Christ the Wisdom of God, the antiquity of his person, his glories, excellencies, and beauties, as in the books of Proverbs and Canticles; the knowledge of God, his fear and worship, mind and will; and the knowledge of a future state, and of the general judgment, as in this book; and in proportion to his own knowledge so he taught: for thus the words with the preceding may be rendered, that "the more that the preacher was wise, the more he taught the people knowledge" (c); he taught according to the abilities he had received, as preachers should; the more he grew in grace and knowledge, the more largely be shared with others; and this he did "daily", as Aben Ezra renders the words, constantly, continually, incessantly, in season and out of season, as faithful Gospel ministers do;
yea, he gave good heed; to what he heard and to what be read, to which the apostle's advice agrees, 1 Timothy 4:13; or he caused others to hear, and give good heed to what is said, as Aben Ezra; he engaged their attention by his enlivening discourses; or, as Kimchi, he weighed things in his own mind, and in the balance of the sanctuary; and thoroughly considered and digested them before he delivered them to others;
and sought out; was very diligent in investigating truth, he searched into the mines of knowledge for it, the sacred writings, as one would for gold and silver, and as he himself directs, Proverbs 2:4;
and set in order many proverbs; three thousand of them, 1 Kings 4:32; particularly those which are in the book of that name, penned by him; he selected the most choice, pithy, and sententious sayings, of his own and others; and these he huddled not up, or threw them together in a disorderly and confused manner; but put them together in proper order and method, under proper heads, as well as in a correct style, that they might be more received, and more easily retained. The Targum is,
"he attended to the voice of the wise men, and searched the books of wisdom; and by a spirit of prophecy from the Lord composed books of wisdom, and very many proverbs of understanding.''
(z) "praeterea", Tigurine version, Vatablus, Schmidt. (a) "Quod reliquum est", Piscator, Gejerus, Amama. (b) "Quamobrem potius", Junius & Tremeillius; "and this is a matter of excellency", Broughton, (c) Mercerus and Cocceius.
The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.The preacher sought to find out acceptable words,.... Not mere words, fine and florid ones, the words which man's wisdom teacheth, an elegant style, or eloquent language; not but that it is proper for a preacher to seek out and use words suitable and apt to convey right ideas to the minds of men of what he says; but doctrines are rather here meant, "words of desire", "delight", and "pleasure" (d), as the phrase may be rendered; even of God's good will and pleasure, so Alshech; for the same word is sometimes used of God in this book and elsewhere: see Ecclesiastes 3:1; and so may take in the doctrine of God's everlasting love to his people, and his delight and pleasure in them; of his good will towards them in sending Christ to suffer and die for them, and save them; in pardoning their sins through his blood, in which he delights; in regenerating and calling them by his grace, and revealing the things of the Gospel to them, when he hides them from others, which is all of his own will and pleasure, and as it seems good in his sight: or words and doctrines, which are desirable, pleasing, and acceptable unto men; not that Solomon did, or preachers should, seek to please men, or seek to say things merely for the sake of pleasing men, for then they would not be the servants of Christ; nor are the doctrines of the Gospel pleasing to carnal men, but the reverse: they gnash their teeth at them, as Christ's hearers did at him; the preaching of a crucified Christ is foolishness, and the things of the Spirit of God are insipid things, to natural men; they are enemies to the Gospel: but to sensible sinners they are very delightful, such as peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation, by Christ, 1 Timothy 1:15; for the worth of them, they are more desirable to them than gold and silver, and are more delightful to the ear than the best of music, and more acceptable to the taste than honey or the honeycomb, Psalm 19:10;
and that which was written was upright; meaning what was written in this book, or in any other parts of Scripture, which the preacher sought out and inculcated; it was according to the mind and will of God, and to the rest of the sacred word; it was sincere, unmixed, and unadulterated with the doctrines and inventions of men; it showed that man had lost his uprightness, had none of himself, and where it was to be had, even in Christ; and was a means of making men sound, sincere, and upright at heart; and of directing them to walk uprightly, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the world;
even words of truth; which come from the God of truth, that cannot lie, as all Scripture does; of which Christ, who is the truth, is the sum and substance; and which are inspired by the Spirit of truth, and led into by him, and made effectual to saving purposes; and which holds good of the whole Scripture, called the Scripture of truth, Daniel 10:1; and of the Gospel, which is the word of truth, and of every doctrine of it, John 17:17.
(d) "verba complacentiae vel beneplaciti", Vatablus; "verba desiderii", Amama, Rambachius; "verba delectabilia", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Mercerus, Gejerus; so Broughton; "verba voluptatis", Cocceius.
The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.The words of the wise are as goads,.... As the goad teacheth the ox; so the Targum. Not the words of the wise philosophers of that age, or of ages before, or since; but of the inspired penmen of the Scriptures, as Moses, David, Solomon, and of others since; and of all good men, whose doctrines are agreeably to them; these are like "goads" or "pricks", sharp pointed sticks or staves, with which men push and prick their cattle, when driving them from place to place, or ploughing with them: and of a similar use are the doctrines of the word, when attended with a divine efficacy; these are a means of pricking sinners to the heart; and of laying open their vileness and sinfulness to them; and of repentance and contrition; and of awakening them from a sleep in sin to a sense of their danger; and even of killing them, as to their own sense and apprehension of things, and, with respect to their hopes of life, by their own works; as the Philistines were slain by Shamgar with an ox goad, Judges 3:31; see Acts 2:37; and these are also of use to the saints, as goads, to stir them up, when slothful, to the discharge of duty; and to awaken them, when drowsy, out of their carnal security; and to correct them for their faults, by sharp reproofs and rebukes; as well as to excite them to go on to perfection, who are apt to sit still and lie down; and to direct them to walk straight on, without turning to the right hand or left;
and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies; like these are the truths and doctrines of the word, when they have a place in the heart, and become the "ingrafted word" there; when they are "planted" (e) in the soul, as the word signifies; when they are fixed in the mind and memory, and dwell and abide there: and when as nails, driven into anything, fasten what they are drove into; so these are the means of fastening souls; of causing them to cleave to God and Christ; to the church, and his people, and to one another; and to the Gospel, and their profession of it; hence they are not like children, tossed to and fro, wavering and unstable: of all which "the masters of the assemblies" are the instruments; that is, ministers and pastors of churches. As there were assemblies for religious worship under the law, in which the prophets, priests, and Levites, assisted; so there are assemblies or churches under the Gospel dispensation, which are gathered and meet together for the service of God, and over these the ministers of the word preside; these are set over the churches in the Lord, and have the rule of them; though they are not to lord it over God's heritage, or have the dominion over their faith; but are helpers of their joy, and useful in the above things, through their ministry. Some choose to render "masters of collections", or "gatherings" (f); and think it may respect their gathering truths out of the sacred writings, as the bee gathers honey out of the flowers; in allusion to those that gathered together the choice and pithy sentences and sayings of others, like the men of Hezekiah, Proverbs 25:1; or to undershepherds, gathering the sheep into the fold (g), by the order of the principal one; who made use of goads, to drive away thieves or wild beasts; and nails, to preserve the sheepfold whole. And others think that not the words, but the of the assemblies themselves, are compared to "nails", and read them, "and the masters of the assemblies are as nails fastened" (h); are well established, firm and sure; see Isaiah 22:23; and others take it to be no other than an epithet of the nails themselves, and render it, "as nails fixed, which are binders"; that is, great binding nails, which, being fixed in boards, bind, compact, and hold them together; to which the words of the wise may be compared, being the means of compacting and holding together the church of God, comparable to a sheepfold; hence mention is made of the shepherd in the next clause: or of fixing the attention of the minds of men unto them, and of retaining them in memory, and to which they speak of as first principles, and never swerve from them (i); but, that not ministers, the instruments, but the principal and efficient cause, may have the glory, is added,
which are given from one Shepherd; not Zerubbabel, as Grotius; nor Moses, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Alshech; but Christ, the one Shepherd, set over the flock; and under whom the masters of assemblies, or pastors of churches, are, Ezekiel 37:23; from whom they have their gifts and qualifications, their mission and commissions; and are given to the churches, as pastors and teachers, to feed them, Ephesians 4:10; and from whom they have their food, the Gospel and the doctrines of it, to feed the flocks with, assigned to their care, John 17:8; though this is to be understood not to the exclusion of God, the Father of Christ, by whom all Scripture is inspired; nor of the Spirit, by whom holy men of God spake as they were moved, 2 Timothy 3:16.
(e) "plantati", Pagninus, Montanus, Tigurine version, Rambachius. (f) "auctores, vel dominos collectionum", Montanus, Vatablus, Mercerus, Gejerus. (g) Vid. Lightfoot, vol. 2. p. 575. (h) "Veluti clavi. infixi sunt domini, vel magistri congregationum", Schmidt. (i) Vid. De Dieu & Cocceium in loc. & Vitringam de Synag. Vet. l. 1. par 2. c. 8. p. 377. & Hyde Not. in Peritzol. Itinera Mundi, p. 94.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.And further, by these, my son, be admonished,.... Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, may be intended, for whose sake, more especially, this book might be written; though it may take in every hearer of this divine preacher, every disciple of this teacher, every subject of his kingdom, as well as every reader of this book, whom he thus addresses, and for whom he was affectionately concerned as a father for a son; that they might be enlightened with divine knowledge, warned of that which is evil, and admonished and advised to that which is good; "by these" words and writings of his own, and other wise men; and by these masters of assemblies, who, and their words, are from the one and chief Shepherd; to these they would do well to take heed, and to these only or chiefly. It may be rendered, "and what is the more excellent of these, he admonished" (k); to observe what is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:13, and lies in a few words, "Fear God", &c. and especially Jesus Christ, the "Alpha" and "Omega", the sum and substance of the whole Bible; of what had been written in Solomon's time, and has been since: he is the most excellent part of it; or that which concerns him, in his person, offices, and grace: or thus; "and what is above", or "more than these, beware of" (l); do not trouble thyself with any other writings; these are sufficient, all that is useful and valuable is to be found in them; and as for others, if read, read them with care and caution, and only as serving to explain these, and to promote the same ends and designs, or otherwise to be rejected;
of making many books there is no end; many books, it seems, were written in Solomon's time; there was the same itch of writing as now, it may be; but what was written was not to be mentioned with the sacred writings, were comparatively useless and worthless. Or the sense is, should Solomon, or any other, write ever so many volumes, it would be quite needless; and there would be no end of writing, for these would not give satisfaction and contentment; and which yet was to be had in the word of God; and therefore that should be closely attended to: though this may be understood, not only of making or composing books, but of getting them, as Aben Ezra; of purchasing them, and so making them a man's own. A man may lay out his money, and fill his library with books, and be very little the better for them; what one writer affirms, another denies; what one seems to have proved clearly, another rises up and points out his errors and mistakes; and this occasions replies and rejoinders, so that there is no end of these things, and scarce any profit by them; which, without so much trouble, may be found in the writings of wise men, inspired by God, and in which we should rest contented;
and much study is a weariness of the flesh; the study of languages, and of each of the arts and sciences, and of various subjects in philosophy and divinity, particularly in writing books on any of these subjects; which study is as fatiguing to the body, and brings as much weariness on it, as any manual and mechanic operation; it dries up the moisture of the body, consumes the spirits, and gradually and insensibly impairs health, and brings on weakness, as well as weariness. Some render it, "much reading", as Jarchi, and so Mr. Broughton; and Aben Ezra observes, that the word in the Arabic language so signifies: the Arabic word "lahag" signifies to desire anything greedily, or to be greedily given and addicted to anything (m); and so may denote such kind of reading here, or such a person who is "helluo", a glutton at books, as Cato is said to be. And now reading books with such eagerness, and with constancy, is very wearisome, and is to little advantage; whereas reading the Scripture cheers and refreshes the mind, and is profitable and edifying. Gussetius (n) interprets it of much speaking, long orations, which make weary.
(k) "potius inquam ex istis", Junius & Tremellius; "quod potissimum ex istis", Gejerus. (l) "Et amplius his, fili mi, cave", Mercerus. (m) Vid. Castell. Lexic. col. 1874. who gives an instance of the use of this word in, the following sentence; "he that reads with mouth, but his heart is not with it"; and so Kimchi, in Sepher Shotash, fol. 74. fol. 2. explains the word here, "learning without understanding". (n) Ebr. Comment. p. 431.
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter,.... Or "the end" (o) of it. The sum and substance of it, what it all tends to and issues in; even the whole of what is contained in this book, and in all offer divinely inspired writings of Solomon or others; of all that were now written, or before, or since: this the preacher calls upon himself, as well as his hearers, to attend unto. Or it may be rendered, "the end of the whole matter is heard" (p); here ends this book; and you have heard the whole of what deserves regard, and it lies in these few words,
fear God, and keep his commandments: "the fear of God" includes the whole of internal religion, or powerful godliness; all the graces of the Spirit, and the exercise of them; reverence of God, love to him, faith in him, and in his Son Jesus Christ; hope of eternal life from him; humility of soul, patience and submission to his will, with every other grace; so the Heathens call religion "metum Deorum" (q), the fear of God: and "keeping of the commandments", or obedience to the whole will of God, is the fruit, effect, and evidence of the former; and takes in all the commands of God, moral and positive, whether under the former or present dispensation; and an observance of them in faith, from a principle of love, and with a view to the glory of God;
for this is the whole duty of man; or, "this is the whole man" (r); and makes a man a whole man, perfect, entire, and wanting nothing; whereas, without this, he is nothing, let him have ever so much of the wisdom, wealth, honour, and profits of this world. Or, "this is the whole of every man" (s); either, as we supply it, the duty, work, and business of every man, of every son of Adam, be he what he will, high or low, rich or poor, of every age, sex, and condition; or this is the happiness of every man, or that leads to it; this is the whole of it; this is the "summum bonum", or chief happiness of men: Lactantius (t) says, the "summum bonum" of a man lies in religion only; it lies in this, and not in any outward thing, as is abundantly proved in this book: and this should be the concern of everyone, this being the chief end of man, and what, as Jarchi says, he is born unto; or, as the Targum, such should be the life of every man. The Masoretes begin this verse with a larger letter than usual, and repeat it at the end of the book, though not accentuated, to raise the attention of the reader (u); that he may make a particular observation of what is said in it, as being of the greatest moment and importance.
(o) "finis verbi omnis", Pagninus, Montanus, Mercerus; "finis universi negotii", Tigurine version, so Vatablus. (p) "auditus est", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Tigurine version, Mercerus. (q) Horat. Carmin. l. 1. Ode 35. v. 36. (r) "hoc (est) omnis homo", Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Mercerus; "omnium hominum perfectio", Tigurine version; "hoc est totus homo", Cocceius; "this is all the man", Broughton. (s) "Hoc est omnium hominum", Piscator, Gejerus; "hoc est totum hominis", Junius & Tremellius. (t) De Fals. Sap. l. 3, c. 10. (u) Vid. Buxtorf. Tiberius, c. 14. p. 38.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.For God shall bring every work into judgment,.... Not in this life, but in the day of the great judgment, as the Targum explains it; that is, whatever has been done by men, from the beginning of the world, or will be to the end; all being observed and taken notice of by the omniscient God, who has registered them in the book of his remembrance, and, being Judge, will be able to bring them all into account at that awful day: which is here given as a reason why men should fear God, and keep his commandments;
with every secret thing; that has been committed in secret by men, and is unknown to others, even every secret thought of the heart; see 1 Corinthians 4:5; or, "with every secret" or "hidden man" (w); whose works are hidden from men, and are not known to be what, they are, and who thought to hide themselves from, God; but these, with their works, shall be brought into open court in judgment;
whether it be good, or whether it be evil: it shall then be examined according to the rule of the word, and be judged, and declared to be what it truly is, good or evil; and so be either rewarded in a way of grace, or punished: or, "whether the man, the hidden man, be good or evil" (x), so Alshech; all mankind, everyone, will he bring into judgment, whether he be good or evil. This is the last end of all things, and in which every man will be concerned. This shows, as well as many other things in this book. Solomon's belief of a future state and judgment; and that there is nothing in it to encourage the epicure and atheist: which being observed by the ancient Jews, they readily admitted it into the canon of Scripture.
(w) "super omnem occultum, sc. hominem", Schmidt. (x) "Sive bonus fuerit, sive malus", Schmidt.