For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.
Verses 1-6. - One fate happens to all, and the dead are cut off from all the feelings and interests of life in the upper world. Verse 1. - This continues the subject treated above, confirming the conclusion arrived at in Ecclesiastes 8:17, viz. that God's government of the world is unfathomable. For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this; literally, for all this laid up in my heart, and all this I have been about (equivalent to I sought) to clear up. The reference is both to what has been said and to what is coming. The ki, "for" (which the Vulgate omits), at the beginning gives the reason for the truth of what is advanced; the writer has omitted no means of arriving at a conclusion. One great result of his consideration he proceeds to state. The Septuagint connects this clause closely with the last verse of the preceding chapter, "For I applied all this to my heart, and my heart saw all this." The righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God (Psalm 31:15; Proverbs 21:1); i.e. in his power, under his direction. Man is not independent. Even the good and wise, who might be supposed to afford the plainest evidence of the favorable side of God's moral government, are subject to the same unsearchable law. The very incomprehensibility of this principle proves that it comes from God, and men may well be content to submit themselves to it, knowing that he is as just as he is almighty. No man knoweth either love or hatred. God's favor or displeasure are meant. Vulgate, Et tamen nescit homo, utrum amore an odio dignus sit. We cannot judge from the events that befall a man what is the view which God takes of his character. We must not, like Job's friends, decide that a man is a great sinner because calamity falls upon him, nor again suppose that outward prosperity is a proof of a life righteous and well-pleasing to God. Outward circumstances are no criterion of inward disposition or of final judgment. From the troubles or the comforts which we ourselves experience or witness in others we have no right to argue God's favor or displeasure. He disposes matters as seems best to him, and we must not expect to see every one in this world treated according to what we should deem his deserts (comp. Proverbs 1:32 with Hebrews 12:6). Delitzsch and others think that the expressions "love" and "hatred" are too general to admit of being interpreted as above, and they determine the sense to be that no one can tell beforehand who will be the objects of, his love or hate, or how entirely his feelings may change in regard of persons with whom he is brought in contact. The circumstances which give rise to these sentiments are entirely beyond his control and foresight. This is true enough, but it does not seem to me to be intended. The author is concerned, not with inward sentiments, but with prosperity and adversity considered popularly as indications of God's view of things. It would be but a meager assertion to state that you cannot know whether you are to love or hate, because God ordains all such contingencies; whereas to warn against hasty and infidel judgments on the ground of our ignorance of God's mysterious ways, is sound and weighty advice, and in due harmony with what follows in the next verses. The interpretation, "No man knows whether he shall meet with the love or hatred of his fellows," has commended itself to some critics, but is as inadmissible as the one just mentioned. By all that is before them. The Hebrew is simply, "all [lies] before them." All that shall happen, all that shall shape their destiny in the future, is obscure and unknown, and beyond their control. Septuagint, Τὰ πάντα πρὸ προσώπου αὐτῶν. The Vulgate mixes this clause with the following verse, But all things are kept uncertain for the future. St. Gregory, "As thou knowest not who are converted from sin to goodness, nor who turn back from goodness to sin; so also thou dost not understand what is doing towards thyself as thy merits deserve. And as thou dost not at all comprehend another's end, so art thou also unable to foresee thine own. For thou knowest now what progress thou hast made thyself, but what I [-God] still think of thee in secret thou knowest not. Thou now thinkest on thy deeds of righteousness; but thou knowest not how strictly they are weighed by me. Woe even to the praiseworthy life of men if it be judged without mercy, because when strictly examined it is overwhelmed in the presence of the Judge by the very conduct with which it imagines that it pleases him" ('Moral.,' 29:34, Oxford transl.).
All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.
Verse 2. - All things come alike to all; literally, all things [are] like that which [happens] to all persons. There is no difference in the treatment of persons; all people of every kind meet with circumstances of every kind. Speaking generally, there is no discrimination, apparently, in the distribution of good and evil. Sun and shade, calm and storm. fruitful and unfruitful seasons, joy and sorrow, are dispensed by inscrutable laws. The Septuagint, reading differently, has, "Vanity is in all;" the Syriac unites two readings, "All before him is vanity, all as to all" (Ginsburg). There is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked. All men have the same lot, whether it be death or any other contingency, without regard to their naomi condition. The classes into which men are divided must be noted. "Righteous" and "wicked" refer to men in their conduct to others. The good. The Septuagint, Vulgate, and Syriac add, "to the evil," which is said again almost immediately. To the clean, and to the unclean. "The good" and "clean" are those who are not only ceremonially pure, but, as the epithet "good" shows, are morally undefiled. To him that sacrificeth; i.e. the man who attends to the externals of religion, offers the obligatory sacrifices, and brings his free-will offerings. The good... the sinner; in the widest senses. He that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. He who takes an oath lightly, carelessly, or falsely (comp. Zechariah 5:3), is contrasted with him who regards it as a holy thing, or shrinks in awe from invoking God's Name in such a case This last idea is regarded as a late Essenic development (see Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:08. 6); though something like it is found in the sermon on the mount, "I say unto you, Swear not at all," etc. (Matthew 5:34-37). Dean Plumptre, however, throws doubt on the above interpretation, owing to the fact that in all the other groups the good side is placed first; and he suggests that "he who sweareth" may be one who does his duty in this particular religiously and well (comp. Deuteronomy 6:13; Isaiah 65:16), and "he who fears the oath" is a man whose conscience makes him shrink from the oath of compurgation (Exodus 22:10, 11; Numbers 5:19-22), or who is too cowardly to give his testimony in due form. The Vulgate has, Ut perjurus, its et ille qui verum dejerat; and it seems unnecessary to present an entirely new view of the passage in slavish expectation of a concinnity which the author cannot be proved to have ever aimed at. The five contrasted pairs are the righteous and the wicked, the clean and the unclean, the sacrificer and the non-sacrificer, the good and the sinner, the profane swearer and the man who reverences an oath. The last clause is rendered by the Septuagint, "So is he who sweareth (ὁ ὀμνύων) even as he who fears the oath," which is as ambiguous as the original. A cautious Greek gnome says -
Ὅρκον δὲ φεῦγε κᾶν δικαίως ὀμνύῃς
"Avoid an oath, though justly you might swear."
This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
Verse 3. - This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun. The "evil" is explained in the following words, which speak of the common fate. The Vulgate (followed by Ginsburg and others) lakes the first words as equivalent to a superlative: Hoc est pessimum inter omnia, "This is the greatest evil of all that is done under the sun." But the article would have been used in this case; nor would this accurately express Koheleth's sentiments. He looks upon death only as one of the evils appertaining to men's career on earth - one of the phases of that identity of treatment so certain and so inexplicable, which leads to disastrous results (Ecclesiastes 8:11). That there is one event unto all. The "one event," as the end of the verse shows, is death. We have here the old strain repeated which is found in Ecclesiastes 2:14-16; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 5:15; Ecclesiastes 6:12; "Omnes eodem cogimur" (Horace, 'Carm.,' 2:3. 25). Yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil. In consequence of this indiscriminating destiny men sin recklessly, are encouraged in their wickedness. Madness is in their heart while they live. The "madness" is conduct opposed to the dictates of wisdom and reason, as Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:2, 12. All their life long men follow their own lusts and passions, and care little for God's will and law, or their own best interests. This is well called "want of reason (περιφέρεια, Septuagint). And after that they go to the dead. The verb is omitted in the Hebrew, being implied by the preposition XXX, "to;" the omission is very forcible. Delitzsch, Wright, and others render, "after him," i.e. after man's life is ended, which seems rather to say, "after they die, they die." The idea, however, appears to be, both good and evil go to the same place, pass away into nothingness, are known no more in this world. Here at present Koheleth leaves the question of the future life, having already intimated his belief in Ecclesiastes 3. and Ecclesiastes 8:11, etc.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
Verse 4. - For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope. As long as a man lives (is one of living beings) he has some hope, whatever it be. This feeling is inextinguishable even unto the end.
Ἄελπτον οὐδέν πάντα δ ελπίζειν χρεών
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Thus Bailey sings, in 'Festus' -
"All Have hopes, however wretched they may be,
Or blessed. It is hope which lifts the lark so high,
Hope of a lighter air and bluer sky;
And the poor hack which drops down on the flints,
Upon whose eye the dust is settling, he
Hopes, but to die. No being exists, of hope,
Of love, void." This clause gives a reason for the folly of men, mentioned in ver. 3. Whatever be their lot, or their way of life, they see no reason to make any change by reformation or active exertion. They go on hoping, and do nothing. Something may turn up; amid the inexplicable confusion of the ordering of events some happy contingency may arrive. The above is the reading according to the Keri. Thus the Septuagint: Ὅτι τίς ὅς κοινωνεῖ; "For who is he that has fellowship with all the living?" Symmachus has, "For who is he that will always continue to live?" while the Vulgate gives, Nemo est qui semper vivat. The Khetib points differently, offering the reading, "For who is excepted?" i.e. from the common lot, the interrogation being closely connected with the preceding verse, or "Who can choose?" i.e. whether he will die or not. The sentence then proceeds, "To all the living there is hope." But the rendering of the Authorized Version has good authority, and affords the better sense. For a living dog is better than a dead lion. The dog in Palestine was not made a pet and companion, as it is among us, but was regarded as a loathsome and despicable object comp. 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 3:8); while the lion was considered as the noblest of beasts, the type of power and greatness (comp. Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 31:4). So the proverbial saying in the text means that the vilest and meanest creature possessed of life is better than the highest and mightiest which has succumbed to death. There is an apparent contradiction between this sentence and such passages as claim a preference for death over life, e.g. Ecclesiastes 4:2; Ecclesiastes 7:1; but in the latter the writer is viewing life with all its sorrows and bitter experiences, here he regards it as affording the possibility of enjoyment. In the one case he holds death as desirable, because it delivers from further sorrow and puts an end to misery; in the other, he deprecates death as cutting off from pleasure and hope. He may also have in mind that now is the time to do the work which we have to perform: "The night cometh when no man can work;" Ecclus. 17:28, "Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not; the living and sound shall praise the Lord" (comp. Isaiah 38:18, 19.)
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Verse 5. - For the living know that they shall die. This is added in confirmation of the statement in ver. 4. The living have at least the consciousness that they will soon have to die, and this leads them to work while it is day, to employ their faculties worthily, to make use of opportunities, to enjoy and profit by the present. They have a certain fixed event to which they must look forward; and they have not to stand idle, lamenting their fate, but their duty and their happiness is to accept the inevitable and make the best of it. But the dead know not anything. They are cut off from the active, bustling world; their work is done; they have nothing to expect, nothing to labor for. What passes upon earth affects them not; the knowledge of it reaches them no longer. Aristotle's idea was that the dead did know something, in a hazy and indistinct way, of what went on in the upper world, and were in some slight degree influenced thereby, but not to such a degree as to change happiness into misery, or vice versa ('Eth. Nicom.,' 1:10 and 11). Neither have they any more a reward; i.e. no fruit for labor done. There is no question here about future retribution in another world. The gloomy view of the writer at this moment precludes all idea of such an adjustment of anomalies after death. For the memory of them is forgotten. They have not even the poor reward of being remembered by loving posterity, which in the mind of an Oriental was an eminent blessing, to be much desired. There is a paronomasia in zeker, "memory," and sakar, "reward," which, as Plumptre suggests, may be approximately represented in English by the words "record" and "reward."
Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
Verse 6. - Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now (long ago) perished. All the feelings which are exhibited and developed in the life of the upper world are annihilated (comp. ver. 10). Three are selected as the most potent passions, such as by their strength and activity might ideally be supposed to survive even the stroke of death. But all are now at an end. Neither have they any more a portion forever in any thing that is done under the sun. Between the dead and the living an impassable gulf exists. The view of death here given, intensely gloomy and hopeless as it appears to be, is in conformity with other passages of the Old Testament (see Job 14:10-14; Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Isaiah 38:10-19; Ecclus. 17:27, 28; Bar. 3:16-19), and that imperfect dispensation. Koheleth and his contemporaries were of those "who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:15); it was Christ who brightened the dark valley, showing the blessedness of those who die in the Lord, bringing life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Some expositors have felt the pessimistic utterances of this passage so deeply that they have endeavored to account for them by introducing an atheistic objector, or an intended opposition between flesh and spirit. But there is not a trace of any two such voices, and the suggestion is quite unnecessary. The writer, while believing in the continued existence of the soul, knows little and has little that is cheering to say about it's condition; and what he does say is not inconsistent with a judgment to come, though he has not yet arrived at the enunciation of this great solution. The Vulgate renders the last clause, Nec habent partem in hoc saeculo et in opere quod sub sole geritur. But "forever" is the correct rendering of לְעולָם, and Ginsburg concludes that Jerome's translation can be traced to the Hagadistic interpretation of the verse which restricts its scope to the wicked The author of the Book of Wisdom, writing later, takes a much more hopeful view of death and the departed (see Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 2:22-24; Ecclesiastes 3:1; 6:18; 8:17; 15:3, etc.).
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Verses 7-12. - These verses give the application of the facts just mentioned. The inscrutability of the moral government of the world, the uncertainty of life, the condition of the dead, lead to the conclusion again that one should use one's life to the best advantage; and Koheleth repeats his caution concerning the issues and duration of life. Verse 7. - Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy. This is not an injunction to lead a selfish life of Epicurean pleasure; but taking the limited view to which he here confines himself, the Preacher inculcates the practical wisdom of looking at the bright side of things; he says in effect (though he takes care afterwards to correct a wrong impression which might be given)," Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32). We have had the same counsel in Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15. Drink thy wine with a merry heart. Wine was not an accompaniment of meals usually; it -was reserved for feasts and solemn occasions. Bread and wine are here regarded as the necessary means of support and comfort (comp. Ecclesiastes 10:19; Genesis 14:18; 1 Samuel 16:20, etc.). The moderate use of wine is nowhere forbidden; there is no law in the Old Testament against the use of intoxicating drinks; the employment of such fluids as cordials, exhilarating, strengthening and comforting, is often referred to (comp. Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:15; Proverbs 31:6, 7; Ecclus. 31:27, 28). Thus Koheleth's advice, taken even literally, is not contrary to the spirit of his religion. For God now (long ago) accepteth thy works. The "works" are not moral or religious doings, in reward of which God gives temporal blessings, which is plainly opposed to Koheleth's chief contention in all this passage. The works are the eating and drinking just mentioned. By the constitution of man's nature, and by the ordering of Providence, such capacity of enjoyment is allowable, and there need be no scruple in using it. Such things are God's good gifts, and to be received with reverence and thanksgiving; and he who thus employs them is well-pleasing unto the Lord (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 8:15).
Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
Verse 8. - Let thy garments be always white. The Preacher brings into prominence certain particulars of enjoyment, more noticeable than mere eating and drinking. White garments in the East (as among ourselves) were symbols of joy and purity. Thus the singers in Solomon's temple were arrayed in white linen (2 Chronicles 5:12). Mordecai was thus honored by King Ahasuerus (Esther 8:15), the angels are seen similarly decked (Mark 16:5), and the glorified saints are clothed in white (Revelation 3:4, 5, 18). So in the pseudepi-graphal books the same imagery is retained. Those that "have fulfilled the Law of the Lord have received glorious garments, and are clothed in white" (2 Esdr. 2:39, 40). Among the Romans the same symbolism obtained. Horace ('Sat.,' 2:2. 60) -
"Ille repotia, natales aliosve dierum
Festes albatus celebret."
"Though he in whitened toga celebrate
His wedding, birthday, or high festival." Let thy head lack no ointment. Oil and perfumes were used on festive occasions not only among Eastern nations, but by Greeks and Romans (see on Ecclesiastes 7:1). Thus Telemachus is anointed with fragrant oil by the fair Polykaste (Homer, 'Od,' 3:466). Sappho complains to Phaen (Ovid,' Heroid.' 15:76) -
"Non Arabs noster rore capillus olet."
"No myrrh of Araby bedews my hair." Such allusions in Horace are frequent and commonly cited (see 'Carm.,' 1:5. 2; 2:7. 7, 8; 2:11. 15, etc.). Thus the double injunction in this verse counsels one to be always happy and cheerful. Gregory Thaumaturgus (cited by Plumptre) represents the passage as the error of "men of vanity;" and other commentators have deemed that it conveyed not the Preacher's own sentiments, but those of an atheist whom he cites. There is, as we have already seen, no need to resort to such an explanation. Doubtless the advice may readily be perverted to evil, and made to sanction sensuality and licentiousness, as-we see to have been done in Wisd. 2:6-9; but Koheleth only urges the moderate use of earthly goods as consecrated by God's gift.
Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
Verse 9. - Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest; literally, see life with a wife whom thou lovest. The article is omitted, as the maxim is to be taken generally. In correction of the outspoken condemnation of women in Ecclesiastes 7:26, Koheleth here recognizes the happiness of a home where is found a helpmate beloved and worthy of love (comp. Proverbs 5:18, 19; Proverbs 17:22, on which our passage seems to be founded; and Ecclus. 26:13-18). (For the expression, " see life," vide note on Ecclesiastes 2:1.) St. Jerome's comment is misleading, "Quacumque tibi placuerit feminarum ejus gaude complexu." Some critics translate ishshah here "woman." Thus Cox: "Enjoy thyself with any woman whom thou lovest;" but the best commentators agree that the married state is meant in the text, not mere sensual enjoyment. All the days of the life of thy vanity; i.e. throughout the time of thy quickly passing life. This is repeated after the next clause (though there omitted by the Septuagint and Syriac), in order to emphasize the transitoriness of the present and the consequent wisdom of enjoying it while it lasts. So Horace bids man "carpe diem" ('Carm.,' 1:11.8), "enjoy each atom of the day;'" and Martial sings ('Epigr,' 7:47. 11) -
"Vive velut rapto fugitivaque gaudia carpe."
"Live thou thy life as stolen, and enjoy
Thy quickly fading pleasures." Which he (God) hath given thee under the sun. The relative may refer to either the "wife" or" the days of life." The Septuagint and Vulgate take it as belonging to the latter, and this seems most suitable (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:17). That is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor, etc. Such moderate enjoyment is the recompense allowed by God for the toil which accompanies a properly spent life.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Verse 10. - Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might. In accordance with what has been already said, and to combat the idea that, as man cannot control his fate, he should take no pains to work his work, but fold his hands in resigned inaction, Koheleth urges him not to despair, but to do his part manfully as long as life is given, and with all the energies of his soul carry out the purpose of his being. The Septuagint gives, "All things whatsoever thy hand shall find to do, do it as thy power is (ὡς ἡ δύναμίς σου);" Vulgate, Quodcumque facere potest manus tua, instanter operate. The expression at the commencement may be illustrated by Leviticus 12:8; Leviticus 25:28; Judges 9:33, where it implies ability to carry out some intention, and in some passages is thus rendered, "is able," etc. (comp. Proverbs 3:27). It is therefore erroneous to render it in this place, "Whatever by chance cometh to hand;" or "Let might be right." Rather it is a call to work as the prelude and accompaniment of enjoyment, anticipating St. Paul's maxim (2 Thessalonians 3:10), "If any would not work, neither should he eat." Ginsburg's interpretation is dishonoring to the Preacher and foreign to his real sentiments, "Have recourse to every source of voluptuous gratification, while thou art in thy strength." The true meaning of the verse is confirmed by such references as John 9:4, "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work;" 2 Corinthians 6:2, "Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation;" Galatians 6:10, "As we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men." For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave. The departed have no more work which they can do, no plans or calculations to make; their knowledge is strictly limited, their wisdom is ended. It needs body and soul to carry on the labors and activities of this world; when these are severed, and can no longer act together, there is a complete alteration in the man's relations and capacities. "The grave," sheol (which is found nowhere else in Ecclesiastes), is the place to which go the souls of the dead - a shadowy region. Whither thou goest; to which all are bound. It is plain that the writer believes in the continued existence of the soul, as he differentiates its life in sheol from its life on earth, the energies and operations which are carried on in the one case being curtailed or eclipsed in the other. Of any repentance, or purification, or progress, in the unseen world, Koheleth knows and says nothing. He would seem to regard existence there as a sleep or a state of insensibility; at any rate, such is the natural view of the present passage.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
Verses 11, 12. - Section 8. It is impossible to calculate upon the issues and duration of life. Verse 11. - He reverts to the sentiment of ver. 1, that we cannot calculate on the issues of life. Work as we may and must and ought, the results are uncertain and beyond our control. This he shows by his own personal experience. I returned, and saw under the sun. The expression here does not indicate a new departure, but merely a repetition and confirmation of a previous thought - the dependence and conditionality of man. It implies, too, a correction of a possible misunderstanding of the injunction to labor, as if one's own efforts were sure to secure success. The race is not to the swift. One is reminded of the fable of the hare and tortoise; but Koheleth's meaning is different. In the instances given he intimates that, though a man is well equipped for his work and uses all possible exertions, he may incur failure. So one may be a fleet runner, and yet, owing to some untoward accident or disturbing circumstance, not come in first. Thus Ahimaaz brought to David tidings of Absalom's defeat before Cushi, who had had the start of him (2 Samuel 18:27, 31). There is no occasion to invent an allusion to the foot-race in the formal Greek games. The battle to the strong. Victory does not always accrue to mighty men, heroes. As David, himself an instance of the truth of the maxim, says (1 Samuel 17:47), "The Lord saveth not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord's" (comp. 2 Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 33:16). Neither yet bread to the wise. Wisdom will not ensure competency. To do this requires other endowments. Many a man of cultivated intellect and of high mental power is left to starve. Riches to men of understanding. Aristophanes accounts for the unequal distribution of wealth thus ('Plutus,' 88), the god himself speaking-
"I threatened, when a boy,
On none but just and wise and orderly
My favors to bestow; so Zeus in jealousy
Hath made me blind, that I may none of these Distinguish." Nor yet favor to men of skill. "Skill" here does not mean dexterity in handicrafts or arts, but knowledge generally; and the gnome says that reputation and influence do not necessarily accompany the possession of knowledge and learning; knowledge is not a certain or indispensable means to favor. Says the Greek gnomist -
Τύχης τὰ θνητῶν πράγματ οὐκ εὐβουλίας.
"Not prudence rules, but fortune, men's affairs." That time and chance happeneth to them all. We have had the word eth, "time," all through Ecclesiastes 3. and elsewhere; but פֶגַע, rendered "chance," is uncommon, being found only in 1 Kings 5:4 (18, Hebrew). Everything has its proper season appointed by God, and man is powerless to control these arrangements. Our English word "chance" conveys an erroneous impression. What is meant is rather "incident," such as a calamity, disappointment, unforeseen occurrence. All human purposes are liable to be changed or controlled by circumstances beyond man's power, and incapable of explanation. A hand higher than man's disposes events, and success is conditioned by superior laws which work unexpected results.
For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
Verse 12. - Man also knoweth not his time; Vulgate, Neseit homo finem suum, understanding "his time" to mean his death-hour; but it may include any misfortune or accident. The particle gain, "also," or "even," belongs to "his time." Not only are results out of man's control (ver. 11), but his life is in higher hands, and he is never sure of a day. As the fishes that are taken in an evil net, etc. The suddenness and unforeseen nature of calamities that befall men are here expressed by two forcible similes (comp. Proverbs 7:23; Ezekiel 12:13; Ezekiel 32:3). Thus Homer ('Iliad,' 5:487) -
"Beware lest ye, as in the meshes caught
Of some wide-sweeping net, become the prey
And booty of your foes."
(Derby.) So are the sons of men snared in an evil time. Men are suddenly overtaken by calamity, which they are totally unable to foresee or provide against. Our Lord says (Luke 21:35) that the last day shall come as a snare on all that dwell in the earth (comp. Ezekiel 7:7, 12).
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:
Verses 13-16. - Section 9. That wisdom, even when it does good service, is not always rewarded, is shown by an example. Verse 13. - This wisdom have I seen also under the sun; better, as the Septuagint, This also I saw to be wisdom under the sun. The experience which follows he recognized as an instance of worldly wisdom. To what special event he alludes is quite unknown. Probably the circumstance was familiar to his contemporaries. It is not to be considered as an allegory, though of course it is capable of spiritual application. The event in Bible history most like it is the preservation of Abel-Beth-maachah by the counsel of the wise woman (whose name is forgotten) narrated in 2 Samuel 20:15-22. And it seemed great unto me; Septuagint, Καὶ μεγάλη ἐστι πρὸς μέ, "And it is great before me." To my mind it appeared an important example (comp. Esther 10:3). Some critics who contend for the Solomonic authorship of our book, see here an allegorical reference to the foreseen revolt of Jeroboam, whose insurrection had been opposed by certain wise statesmen, but had been carried out in opposition to their counsel. Wordsworth considers that the apologue may be illustrated by the history of Jerusalem, when great powers were arrayed against it in the time of Isaiah, and the prophet by his prayers and exhortations delivered it (2 Kings 19:2, 6, 20), but was wholly disregarded afterwards, nay, was put to death by the son of the king whom he saved. But all this is nihil ad rem. As Plautus says, "Haec quidem deliramenta loquitur."
There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
Verse 14. - There was a little city. The substantive verb is, as commonly, omitted. Commentators have amused themselves with endeavoring to identify the city here mentioned. Thus some see herein Athens, saved by the counsel of Themistocles, who was afterwards driven from Athens and died in misery (Justin., 2:12); or Dora, near Mount Carmel, besieged unsuccessfully by Antiochus the Great, B.C. 218, though we know nothing of the circumstances (Polyb., 5:66); but see note on ver. 13. The Septuagint takes the whole paragraph hypothetically, "Suppose there was a little city," etc. Wright well compares the historical allusions to events fresh in the minds of his hearers made by our Lord in his parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12, 14, 15, 27). So we may regard the present section as a parable founded on some historical fact well known at the time when the book was written. A great king. The term points to some Persian or Assyrian potentate; or it may mean merely a powerful general (see 1 Kings 11:24; Job 29:25). Built great bulwarks against it. The Septuagint has χάρακας μεγάλους, "great palisades;" the Vulgate, Extruxitque munitiones per gyrum. What are meant are embankments or mounds raised high enough to overtop the walls of the town, and to command the positions of the besieged. For the same purpose wooden towers were also used (see Deuteronomy 20:20; 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; Jeremiah lit. 4). The Vulgate rounds off the account in the text by adding, et perfects est obsidio, " and the beleaguering was completed."
Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Verse 15. - Now there was found in it a poor wise man. The verb, regarded as impersonal, may be thus taken. Or we may continue the subject of the preceding verse and consider the king as spoken of: "He came across, met with unexpectedly, a poor man who was wise." So the Septuagint. The word for "poor" in this passage is misken, for which see note on Ecclesiastes 4:13. He by his wisdom delivered the city. When the besieged city had neither soldiers nor arms to defend itself against its mighty enemies, the man of poor estate, hitherto unknown or little regarded, came forward, and by wise counsel relieved his countrymen from their perilous situation. How this was done we are left to conjecture. It may have been by some timely concessions or negotiations; or by the surrender of a chief offender as at Abel-Beth-maachah; or by the assassination of a general, as at Bethulia (Jud. 13:8); or by the clever application of mechanical arts, as at Syracuse, under the direction of Archimedes (Livy, 24:34; Plutarch, 'Marcell.,' 15-18.). Yet no man remembered that same poor man. As soon as the exigence which brought him forward was past, the poor man fell back into his insignificance, and was thought of no more; he gained no personal advantage, by his wisdom; his ungrateful countrymen forgot his very existence. Thus Joseph was treated by the chief butler (Genesis 40:23). Classical readers will think of Coriolanus, Scipio Africanus, Themistocles, Miltiades, who for their services to the state were rewarded with calumny, false accusation, obloquy, and banishment. The author of the Book of Wisdom gives a different and ideal experience. "I," he says, "for the sake of wisdom shall have estimation among the multitude, and honor with the elders, though I be young.... By the means of her I shall obtain immortality, and leave behind me an everlasting memorial" (Wisd. 8:10-13).
Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
Verse 16. - Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength. The latter part of the verse is not a correction of the former, but the whole comes under the observation introduced by "I said." The story just related leads to this assertion, which reproduces the gnome of Ecclesiastes 7:19, wherein it is asserted that wisdom effects more than mere physical strength. There is an interpolation in the Old Latin Version of Wisd. 6. I which seems to have been compiled from this passage and Proverbs 16:13, "Melter est sapientia quam vires, et vir prudens quam fortis." Nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, etc. In the instance above mentioned the poor man's wisdom was not despised and his words were heard and attended to; but this was an abnormal case, occasioned by the extremity of the peril. Koheleth states the result which usually attends wisdom emanating from a disesteemed source. The experience of Ben-Sire pointed to the same issue (see Ecclus. 13:22, 23). Horace, 'Epist.,' 1:1.57 -
"Est animus tibi, sunt mores et lingua fidesque,
Sed quadringentis sex septem millia desunt;
"In wit, worth, honor, one in vain abounds;
If of the knight's estate he lack ten pounds,
He's low, quite low!"
(Howes.) Is not this the carpenter's Son? asked the people who were offended at Christ (Mark 6:2, 3).
The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
Verses 17, 18. - Section 10. Here follow some proverbial sayings concerning wisdom and its opposite, which draw the moral from the story in the text. Verse 17. - The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. This verse would be better translated, Words of the wise in quiet are heard better than the shout of a chief among fools. The Vulgate takes the tranquility to appertain to the hearers, thus: Verbs sapientium audiuntur in silentio; but, as Delitzsch points out, the contrast between "quiet" and "cry" shows that it is the man, and not his auditors, who is quiet. The sentence says that a wise man's words, uttered calmly, deliberately, without pompous declamation or adventitious aids, are of more value than the blustering vociferation of an arch-fool, who seeks to force acceptance for his folly by loudness and swagger (comp. Isaiah 30:15; and see Isaiah 42:2 and Matthew 12:19, passages which speak of the peacefulness, reticence, and unobtrusiveness of true wisdom, as seen in the Son of God). The verse introduces a kind of exception to the general rejection of wisdom mentioned above. Though the multitude turn a deaf ear to a wise man's counsel, yet this tells in the long run, and there are always some teachable persons-who sit at his feet and learn from him. "He that ruleth among fools" is not one that governs a silly people, but one who is a prince of fools, who takes the highest place among such.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
Verse 18. - Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Such is the moral which Koheleth desires to draw from the little narrative given above (see vers. 14-16; and Ecclesiastes 7:19). Wisdom can do what no material force can effect, and often produces results which all the implements of war could not command. But one sinner destroyeth much good. The happy consequences which the wise man's counsel might accomplish, or has already accomplished, may be overthrown or rendered useless by the villany or perversity of a bad man. The Vulgate, reading differently, has, Qui in uno peccaverit, multa bona perdet. But this seems to be out of keeping with the context. Adam's sin infected the whole race of man; Achau's transgression caused Israel's defeat (Joshua 7:11, 12); Rehoboam's folly occasioned the great schism (1 Kings 12:16). The wide° reaching effects of one little error are illustrated by the proverbial saying which every one knows, and which runs in Latin thus: "Clavus unus perdit equi soleam, soles equum, equus equitem, eques castra, castro rempublicam."