Ecclesiastes 1:3
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
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(3-11) Man is perpetually toiling, yet of all his toil there remains no abiding result. The natural world exhibits a spectacle of unceasing activity, with no real progress. The sun, the winds, the waters, are all in motion, yet they do but run a round, and nothing comes of it.

(3) What profit.—The Hebrew word occurs ten times in this book (Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:13; Ecclesiastes 3:9; Ecclesiastes 5:9; Ecclesiastes 5:16; Ecclesiastes 7:12; Ecclesiastes 10:10-11) and nowhere else in the Old Testament, but is common in post-Biblical Hebrew. The oft-recurring phrase “under the sun” is a peculiarity of this book. In other books we have “under heaven.”

Ecclesiastes 1:3. What profit — What real and abiding benefit? None at all. All is unprofitable as to the attainment of that happiness which all men are inquiring after. Of all his labour — Hebrew, his toilsome labour, both of body and mind, in the pursuit of riches, or pleasures, or other earthly things; under the sun — In all worldly matters, which are usually transacted in the day-time, or by the light of the sun. By this restriction he implies, that the happiness which in vain is sought for in this lower world, is really to be found in heavenly places and things.

1:1-3 Much is to be learned by comparing one part of Scripture with another. We here behold Solomon returning from the broken and empty cisterns of the world, to the Fountain of living water; recording his own folly and shame, the bitterness of his disappointment, and the lessons he had learned. Those that have taken warning to turn and live, should warn others not to go on and die. He does not merely say all things are vain, but that they are vanity. VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. This is the text of the preacher's sermon, of which in this book he never loses sight. If this world, in its present state, were all, it would not be worth living for; and the wealth and pleasure of this world, if we had ever so much, are not enough to make us happy. What profit has a man of all his labour? All he gets by it will not supply the wants of the soul, nor satisfy its desires; will not atone for the sins of the soul, nor hinder the loss of it: what profit will the wealth of the world be to the soul in death, in judgment, or in the everlasting state?What profit ... - The question often repeated is the great practical inquiry of the book; it receives its final answer in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. When this question was asked, the Lord had not yet spoken Matthew 11:28. The word "profit" (or pre-eminence) is opposed to "vanity."

Hath a man - Rather, hath man.

3. What profit … labour—that is, "What profit" as to the chief good (Mt 16:26). Labor is profitable in its proper place (Ge 2:15; 3:19; Pr 14:23).

under the sun—that is, in this life, as opposed to the future world. The phrase often recurs, but only in Ecclesiastes.

What profit? or, as others render it, What remainder? What real and abiding benefit hath a man by it? None at all. All is unprofitable, as to the attainment of that happiness which Solomon here is, and all men in the world are, inquiring after.

His labour, Heb.

his toilsome labour, both of body and mind, in the pursuit of riches, or pleasures, or other earthly things.

Which he taketh under the sun; in all sublunary or worldly matters, which are usually transacted in the day time, or by the light of the sun. By this restriction he implies that that profit and happiness which in vain is sought for in this lower world, is really and only to be found in heavenly places and things.

What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun? This is a general proof of the vanity of all things, since there is no profit arises to a man of all his labour; for, though it is put by way of question, it carries in it a strong negative. All things a man enjoys he gets by labour; for man, through sin, is doomed and born unto it, Job 5:7; he gets his bread by the sweat of his brow, which is a part of the curse for sin; and the wealth and riches got by a diligent hand, with a divine blessing, are got by labour; and so all knowledge of natural and civil things is acquired through much labour and weariness of the flesh; and these are things a man labours for "under the sun", which measures out the time of his labour: when the sun riseth, man goeth forth to his labour; and, by the light and comfortable warmth of it, he performs his work with more exactness and cheerfulness; in some climates, and in some seasons, its heat, especially at noon, makes labour burdensome, which is called, bearing "the heat and burden of the day", Matthew 20:12; and, when it sets, it closes the time of service and labour, and therefore the servant earnestly desires the evening shadow, Job 7:2. But now, of what profit and advantage is all this labour man takes under the sun, towards his happiness in the world above the sun? that glory and felicity, which lies in super celestial places in Christ Jesus? none at all. Or, "what remains of all his labour?" (p) as it may be rendered; that is, after death: so the Targum,

"what is there remains to a man after he is dead, of all his labour which he laboured under the sun in this world?''

nothing at all. He goes naked out of the world as he came into it; he can carry nothing away with him of all his wealth and substance he has acquired; nor any of his worldly glory, and grandeur, and titles of honour; these all die with him, his glory does not descend after him; wherefore it is a clear case that all these things are vanity of vanities; see Job 1:21. And, indeed, works of righteousness done by men, and trusted in, and by which they labour to establish a justifying righteousness, are of no profit and advantage to them in the business of justification and salvation; indeed, when these are done from right principles, and with right views, the labour in them shall not be in vain; God will not forget it; it shall have a reward of grace, though not of debt.

(p) "quid habet amplius homo?" V. L. "quid residui?" Vatablus, Piscator, Mercerus, Gejerus, Rambachius; "quantum enim homini reliquum est, post omnem saum laborem?" Tigurine version.

What profit hath a man of all his {c} labour which he taketh under the sun?

(c) Solomon does not condemn man's labour or diligence, but shows that there is no full contentment in anything under the heavens, nor in any creature, as all things are transitory.

3. What profit hath a man] The question is, it is obvious, as in the analogous question of Matthew 16:26, the most emphatic form of a negation. For “all his labour which he taketh” read all his toil which he toileth, the Hebrew giving the emphasis of the combination of the verb with its cognate substantive. The Debater sums up his experience of life in this, “There is toil, and the toil is profitless.” The word for “profit,” not meeting us elsewhere in the Hebrew of the O. T., occurs ten times in Ecclesiastes. Its strict meaning is “that which remains,”—the surplus, if any, of the balance-sheet of life. It was, probably, one of the words which the commerce of the Jews, after the Captivity, had brought into common use. The question is in substance, almost in form, identical with that of our times “Is life worth living?”

under the sun] The phrase thus used, occurring 29 times in Ecclesiastes, has nothing like it in the language of other books of the Old Testament. It is essentially Greek in character. Thus we have in Euripides, Hippol. 1220,

ὅσα τε γᾶ τρέφει

τὰν Ἅλιος αἰθομέναν δέρκεται

ἄνδρας τε.

“All creatures that the wide earth nourisheth

Which the sun looks on radiant, and mankind.”

And Theognis, 168,

τὸ δʼ ἀτρεκές, ὄλβιος αὐδεὶς

ἀνθρώπων, ὁπόσους ἤελιος καθορᾷ.

“One thing is certain, none of all mankind,

On whom the sun looks down, gains happiness.”

Our English “sublunary” may be noted as conveying an analogous idea.

Verse 3. - What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? Here begins the elucidation of the fruitlessness of man's ceaseless activity. The word rendered "profit" (yithron) is found only in this book, where it occurs frequently. It means "that which remains over, advantage," περισσεία, as the LXX. translates it. As the verb and the substantive are cognate in the following words, they are better rendered, in all his labor wherein he laboreth. So Euripides ('Androm,' 134) has, Τί μόχον μοχθεῖς, and ('And. Fragm.,' 7:4), Τοῖς μοχθοῦσι μόχθους εὐτυχῶς συνεκπόνει. Man is Adam, the natural man, unenlightened by the grace of God. Under the sun is an expression peculiar to this book (comp. vers. 9, 14; Ecclesiastes 2:11, 17, etc.), but is not intended to contrast this present with a future life; it merely refers to what we call sublunary matters. The phrase is often tact with in the Greek poets. Eurip., 'Alcest.,' 151 -

Γυνή τ ἀρίστη τῶν ὑφ ἡλίῳ μακρῷ
"By far the best of all beneath the sun." Homer, 'Iliad,' 4:44 -

Αι{ γὰρ ὑπ ἠελίῳ τε καὶ οὐρανῷ ἀστερόεντι
Ναιετάουσι πόληες ἐπιχθονίων ἀνθρώπων.
"Of all the cities occupied by man
Beneath the sun and starry cope of heaven."

(Cowper.) Theognis, 'Parcem.,' 167 -

Ὄλβιος οὐδεὶς
Ἀνθρώπων ὁπόσους ἠέλιος καθορᾷ
"No mortal man
On whom the sun looks down is wholly blest."
In an analogous sense we find in other passages of Scripture the terms "under heaven" (ver. 13; Ecclesiastes 2:3; Exodus 17:14; Luke 17:24) and "upon the earth" (Ecclesiastes 8:14, 16; Genesis 8:17). The interrogative form of the verse conveys a strong negative (comp. Ecclesiastes 6:8), like the Lord's word in Matthew 16:26, "What shall a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?" The epilogue (Ecclesiastes 12:13) furnishes a reply to the desponding inquiry. Ecclesiastes 1:3With this verse commences the proof for this exclamation and statement: "What profit hath a man of all his labour which he laboureth in under the sun?!" An interrogative exclamation, which leads to the conclusion that never anything right, i.e., real, enduring, satisfying, comes of it.יתרון, profit, synon. with Mothar, Ecclesiastes 3:19, is peculiar to this book ( equals Aram. יוּתרן). A primary form, יתרון, is unknown. The punctator Simson (Cod. 102a of the Leipzig University Lib.f. 5a) rightly blames those who use ויתּרון, in a liturgical hymn, of the Day of Atonement. The word signifies that which remains over, either, as here, clear gain, profit, or that which has the pre-eminence, i.e., superiority, precedence, or is the foremost. "Under the sun" is the designation of the earth peculiar to this book, - the world of men, which we are wont to call the sublunary world. שׁ has not the force of an accusative of manner, but of the obj. The author uses the expression, "Labour wherein I have laboured," Ecclesiastes 2:19-20; Ecclesiastes 5:17, as Euripides, similarly, μοχθεῖν μόχθον. He now proceeds to justify the negative contained in the question, "What profit?"
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