For the fates of both men and beasts are the same: As one dies, so dies the other--they all have the same breath. Man has no advantage over the animals, since everything is futile.
The double nature of man has been recognized by every student of human nature. The sensationalist and materialist lays stress upon the physical side of our humanity, and endeavors to show that the intellect and the moral sentiments are the outgrowth of the bodily life, the nervous structure and its susceptibilities and its powers of movement. But such efforts fail to convince alike the unsophisticated and the philosophic. It is generally admitted that it would be more reasonable to resolve the physical into the psychical than the psychical into the physical. The author of Ecclesiastes was alive to the animal side of man's nature; and if some only of his expressions were considered, he might be claimed as a supporter of the baser philosophy. But he himself supplies the counteractive. The attentive reader of the book is convinced that the author traced the human spirit to its Divine original, and looked forward to its immortality.
I. THE COMMUNITY OF MEN WITH BEASTS IN THE ANIMAL NATURE AND LIFE. If we look upon one side of our humanity, it appears that we are to be reckoned among the brutes that perish. The similarity is obvious in:
1. The corporeal, fleshly constitution with which man and brute are alike endowed.
2. The brevity of the earthly life appointed for both without distinction.
3. The resolution of the body into dust.
II. THE SUPERIORITY OF MEN OVER BEASTS IN THE POSSESSION OF A SPIRITUAL AND IMPERISHABLE NATURE AND LIFE. It is difficult for us to treat this subject without; bringing to bear upon it the knowledge which we have derived from the fuller and more glorious revelation of the new covenant. "Christ has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light by the gospel." We cannot possibly think of such themes without taking to their consideration the convictions and the hopes which we have derived from the incarnate Son of God. Nor can we forget the sublime speculations of philosophers of both ancient and modern times.
1. In his spiritual nature man is akin to God. Physical life the Creator imparted to the animal Organisms with which the world was peopled. But a life of quite another order was conferred upon man, who participates in the ... Divine reason, who is able? think the thoughts of God himself, and who has intuitions of moral goodness of which the brute creation is for ever incapable. Instead of man's mind being a function of organized matter, as a base sensationalism and empiricism is wont to affirm, the truth is that it is only as an expression and vehicle of thought, of reason, that matter has a dependent existence.
2. In his consequent immortality man is distinguished from the inferior animals. The life possessed by these latter is a life of sensation and of movement; the organism is resolved into its constituents, and there is no reason to believe that the sensation and movement are perpetuated. But "the spirit of man goeth upward;" it has used its instrument, the body, and the time comes - appointed by God's inscrutable providence - when the connection, local and temporary, which the spirit has maintained with earth, is sundered. In what other scenes and pursuits the conscious being is continued, we cannot tell. But there is not the slightest reason for conceiving the spiritual life to be dependent upon the organism which it uses as its instrument. The spiritual life is the life of God; and the life of God is perishable.
"The sun is but a spark of fire,
A transient meteor in the sky;
The soul, immortal as its Sire,
Can never die.? T.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts.
It is difficult to determine the exact object of Ecclesiastes in instituting this comparison: partly because the Hebrew is capable, in one or two places, of different translations; and partly because it is possible to take very different views of the connection between the two things which Ecclesiastes had "said in his heart." One view which may be taken of this connection is that Ecclesiastes, having recorded his conviction that the righteous God will yet judge between the righteous and the wicked, goes on to record how he had speculated as to the reason why God does not always execute this judgment here and now. It had occurred to him that the reason of this might be to "prove" or "test" men, and to show them that, in and of "themselves," they were liable to degenerate into a mere animal life. There is for man both probation and self-revelation in the fact that God does not visit all wickedness with immediate and manifest punishment. If a man thrusts his hand into the fire it is at once burnt: the suffering follows immediately on the action, and the man is not likely to do the same thing again. Now, if all violations of the moral law were followed likewise by such immediate and manifest consequences, there might be a test of human prudence, but there would scarcely be any test of human virtue. If, for example, every man who should commit an act of dishonesty were — at once and without fail — to be stricken with paralysis, there would be no more virtue in honesty than there is now in keeping one's hand out of the fire. But the fact that God often postpones the manifest punishment of iniquity, and allows wicked men sometimes even to trample upon the righteous with apparent impunity, affords a test of moral character, and leaves room for the exercise of virtues which are the result, not of mere prudence, but of an actual allegiance to God and righteousness. And this kind of probation, to which men are subjected, becomes an instrument of self-revelation. Men see how much of the animal there is in their nature. The spirit of man, indeed, "goeth upward" at death; and the spirit of the beast "goeth downward to the earth": but "who knoweth" the exact difference between the two? The difference of destination does not make itself manifest to the senses. To all outward appearance the dissolution of the man and of the beast is exactly the same kind of thing; the human being does not appear to have any pre-eminence in this respect over the mere animal. Now, all these circumstances and appearances put men to the proof; they test men as to whether they will allow themselves to sink down into a mare animal, selfish life, or whether they will follow those Divine inspirations which link them to God, beckon them to righteousness, and point them to immortality. But there is another and very different view which may be taken of the passage. According to this view, Ecclesiastes is here recording a mood of materialistic scepticism through which he had passed. The two things which he had "said in his heart" were like the "two voices" of Tennyson's poem — voices conflicting with one another for the mastery, and plunging the soul for a time into doubt and perplexity (ver. 21, R.V.). Supposing this, then, to be the real drift of the passage before us, we surely need not be surprised that Ecclesiastes, in presence of the problems of life, should have passed through some such mood of materialistic scepticism. But it would seem that Ecclesiastes did not remain permanently in this sceptical attitude. We may regard him as here telling his readers what he had "said in his heart" about man and beast: he is not necessarily endorsing it at the time when he writes this book. On the contrary, it would appear from other passages that he was now clinging to the assurance that God would yet judge between righteous and wicked men, and that the spirit of man does not perish at death. Now, if Ecclesiastes could thus, with the light he had, arrive at the final conviction that the human spirit survives the dissolution of the body, surely we, in the fuller light of the Christian revelation, may well overcome the chilling doubts which may sometimes creep in upon our souls. Events, indeed, sometimes occur in the providence of God, which utterly baffle our understanding, and which seem almost to deal with men as if they were mere animals. Catastrophes happen, in which men seem to be taken as if they were "fishes of the sea." The most brilliant thinker suddenly meets with a blow on the head which robs him, for a time, of all power of thought. Such things as these may stagger us. But we recover faith when we look to Jesus Christ as the Light of the World, and the Revealer of the Father. He who gave His Son to die for us, and who has led us to trust in His own fatherly love will not let us go down into nothingness. He who "died for us and rose again" has shown Himself to be the conqueror of death; and, "because He lives, we shall live also." Glorying in His character and cross, and receiving into our hearts somewhat of His own spirit, we become conscious of thoughts, motives, and aspirations which raise us above our mere animal nature and contain within themselves the earnest of immortality.
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