Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:
1. common—or else more literally,—"great upon man," falls heavily upon man.
A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
2. for his soul—that is, his enjoyment.
God giveth him not power to eat—This distinguishes him from the "rich" man in Ec 5:19. "God hath given" distinguishes him also from the man who got his wealth by "oppression" (Ec 5:8, 10).
stranger—those not akin, nay, even hostile to him (Jer 51:51; La 5:2; Ho 7:9). He seems to have it in his "power" to do as he will with his wealth, but an unseen power gives him up to his own avarice: God wills that he should toil for "a stranger" (Ec 2:26), who has found favor in God's sight.
If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
3. Even if a man (of this character) have very many (equivalent to "a hundred," 2Ki 10:1) children, and not have a "stranger" as his heir (Ec 6:2), and live long ("days of years" express the brevity of life at its best, Ge 47:9), yet enjoy no real "good" in life, and lie unhonored, without "burial," at death (2Ki 9:26, 35), the embryo is better than he. In the East to be without burial is the greatest degradation. "Better the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that left to hang on till rotten" [Henry].
For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
4. he—rather "it," "the untimely birth." So "its," not "his name."
with vanity—to no purpose; a type of the driftless existence of him who makes riches the chief good.
darkness—of the abortive; a type of the unhonored death and dark future beyond the grave of the avaricious.
Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
5. this—yet "it has more rest than" the toiling, gloomy miser.
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
6. If the miser's length of "life" be thought to raise him above the abortive, Solomon answers that long life, without enjoying real good, is but lengthened misery, and riches cannot exempt him from going whither "all go." He is fit neither for life, nor death, nor eternity.
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.
7. man—rather, "the man," namely, the miser (Ec 6:3-6). For not all men labor for the mouth, that is, for selfish gratification.
appetite—Hebrew, "the soul." The insatiability of the desire prevents that which is the only end proposed in toils, namely, self-gratification; "the man" thus gets no "good" out of his wealth (Ec 6:3).
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
8. For—"However" [Maurer]. The "for" means (in contrast to the insatiability of the miser), For what else is the advantage which the wise man hath above the fool?"
What—advantage, that is, superiority, above him who knows not how to walk uprightly
hath the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?—that is, to use and enjoy life aright (Ec 5:18, 19), a cheerful, thankful, godly "walk" (Ps 116:9).
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
9. Answer to the question in Ec 6:8. This is the advantage:
Better is the sight of the eyes—the wise man's godly enjoyment of present seen blessings
than the (fool's) wandering—literally, walking (Ps 73:9), of the desire, that is, vague, insatiable desires for what he has not (Ec 6:7; Heb 13:5).
this—restless wandering of desire, and not enjoying contentedly the present (1Ti 6:6, 8).
That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
10. Part II begins here. Since man's toils are vain, what is the chief good? (Ec 6:12). The answer is contained in the rest of the book.
That which hath been—man's various circumstances
is named already—not only has existed, Ec 1:9; 3:15, but has received its just name, "vanity," long ago,
and it is known that it—vanity
is man—Hebrew, "Adam," equivalent to man "of red dust," as his Creator appropriately named him from his frailty.
neither may he contend, &c.—(Ro 9:20).
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?
11. "Seeing" that man cannot escape from the "vanity," which by God's "mighty" will is inherent in earthly things, and cannot call in question God's wisdom in these dispensations (equivalent to "contend," &c.),
what is man the better—of these vain things as regards the chief good? None whatever.
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?
12. For who knoweth, &c.—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 (Ec 3:22; 8:7). The godly might be tempted to "contend with God" (Ec 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 Ec 7:1-29, he states what is good, in answer to this verse.