Ecclesiastes 12:14
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
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(14) Considering that the book is filled with complaints of the imperfection of earthly retribution, this announcement of a tribunal, at which “every work,” “every secret thing,” shall be brought into judgment, cannot be reasonably understood of anything but a judgment after this life; so that this book, after all its sceptical debatings, ends by enunciating, more distinctly than is done elsewhere in the Old Testament, the New Testament doctrine of a day when God shall judge the secrets of men (Romans 2:16), shall bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts (1Corinthians 4:5).

12:8-14 Solomon repeats his text, VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. These are the words of one that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world, which can do nothing to ease men of the burden of sin. As he considered the worth of souls, he gave good heed to what he spake and wrote; words of truth will always be acceptable words. The truths of God are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are wandering and draw aside; means to establish the heart, that we may never sit loose to our duty, nor be taken from it. The Shepherd of Israel is the Giver of inspired wisdom. Teachers and guides all receive their communications from him. The title is applied in Scripture to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The prophets sought diligently, what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To write many books was not suited to the shortness of human life, and would be weariness to the writer, and to the reader; and then was much more so to both than it is now. All things would be vanity and vexation, except they led to this conclusion, That to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole of man. The fear of God includes in it all the affections of the soul towards him, which are produced by the Holy Spirit. There may be terror where there is no love, nay, where there is hatred. But this is different from the gracious fear of God, as the feelings of an affectionate child. The fear of God, is often put for the whole of true religion in the heart, and includes its practical results in the life. Let us attend to the one thing needful, and now come to him as a merciful Saviour, who will soon come as an almighty Judge, when he will bring to light the things of darkness, and manifest the counsels of all hearts. Why does God record in his word, that ALL IS VANITY, but to keep us from deceiving ourselves to our ruin? He makes our duty to be our interest. May it be graven in all our hearts. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is all that concerns man.Judgment with - Rather, judgment (which shall be held) upon etc.: i. e., an appointed judgment which shall take place in another world, as distinct from that retribution which frequently follows man's actions in the course of this world, and which is too imperfect (compare Ecclesiastes 2:15; Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 9:2, ...) to be described by these expressions. He that is fully convinced that there is no solid happiness to be found in this world, and that there is a world to come wherein God will adjudge people to happiness or misery respectively, as they have made their choice and acted here, must necessarily subscribe to the truth of Solomon's conclusion, that true religion is the only way to true happiness.14. For God shall bring every work into judgment—The future judgment is the test of what is "vanity," what solid, as regards the chief good, the grand subject of the book. For God shall bring every work into judgment: this is added either,

1. As a reason of what he last said,

this is the whole of man, because all men must give an account to God of all their works, and this alone will enable them to do that with joy, and not with grief. Or,

2. As another argument to press the foregoing exhortation, Fear God, and keep his commandments, for you must be called to judgment about it, &c.

With every secret thing; not only outward and visible actions, but even inward and secret thoughts.

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.

For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
14. For God shall bring every work into judgment] Once again the Teacher brings into prominence what was indeed the outcome of the book; though, as history shews, the careless reader, still more the reader blinded by his passions, or prejudice, or frivolity, might easily overlook it. The object of the writer had not been to preach a self-indulgence of the lowest Epicurean type, or to deny the soul’s immortality, though for a time he had hesitated to affirm it, but much rather to enforce the truth, which involved that belief, of a righteous judgment (ch. Ecclesiastes 11:9), seen but imperfectly in this life, with its anomalous distribution of punishments and rewards, but certain to assert itself, if not before, when “the spirit shall return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). From the standpoint of the writer of the epilogue it was shewn that the teaching of Ecclesiastes was not inconsistent with the faith of Israel, that it had a right to take its place among the Sacred Books of Israel. From our standpoint we may say that it was shewn not less convincingly that the book, like all true records of the search after Truth, led men through the labyrinthine windings of doubt to the goal of duty, through the waves and winds of conflicting opinions to the unshaken rock of the Eternal Commandment.

Verse 14. - The great duty just named is here grounded upon the solemn truth of a future judgment. For God shall bring every work into judgment. It will then be seen whether this obligation has been 'attended to or not. The judgment has already been mentioned (Ecclesiastes 11:9); it is here more emphatically set forth as a certain fact and a strong motive power. The old theory of earthly retribution had been shown to break down under the experience of practical life; the anomalies which perplexed men's minds could only be solved and remedied by a future judgment under the eye of the omniscient and unerring God. With every secret thing. The Syriac adds, "and manifest thing." The Septuagint renders, "with everything that has been overlooked" - a very terrible, but true, thought. The doctrine that the most secret things shall be revealed in the dies irae is often brought forward in the New Testament, which makes plain the personal nature of this final investigation, which the earlier Scriptures invest with a more general character (see Romans 2:16; Romans 14:12; 1 Corinthians 4:5). So this wonderful book closes with the enunciation of a truth found nowhere else so clearly defined in the Old Testament, and thus opens the way to the clearer light shed upon the awful future by the revelation of the gospel.

Ecclesiastes 12:14As we render zeh kol-haadam as expressive of the same obligation lying on all men without exception, this verse appropriately follows: "For God shall bring every work into the judgment upon all that is concealed, whether it be good or bad." To bring into judgment is, as at Ecclesiastes 11:9 equals to bring to an account. There the punctuation is בּמּשׁ, here בּמשׁ, as, according to rule, the art. is omitted where the idea is determined by a relative clause or an added description; for bemishpat 'al kol-ne'llam are taken together: in the judgment upon all that is concealed (cf. Romans 2:16; 1 Corinthians 4:5, τὰ κρυπτά). Hitzig, however, punctuates here בּמשׁ, and explains על as of the same meaning as the distributive ל, e.g., Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:10; but in this sense על never interchanges with ל. And wherefore this subtlety? The judgment upon all that is concealed is a judgment from the cognition of which nothing, not even the most secret, can escape; and that על משׁפט is not a Germanism, is shown from Ecclesiastes 11:9; to execute judgment on (Germ. an) any one is expressed by ב, Psalm 119:84, Wisd. 6:6; judgment upon (ber) any one may be expressed by the genit. of him whom it concerns, Jeremiah 51:9; but judgment upon anything (Symm. περὶ παντὸς παροραθέντος) cannot otherwise be expressed than by על. Rather על may be rendered as a connecting particle: "together with all that is concealed" (Vaih., Hahn); but כל־מעשׂה certainly comprehends all, and with כל־נעלם this comprehensive idea is only deepened. The accent dividing the verse stands rightly under נעלּם;

(Note: Thus rightly pointed in F. with Dagesh in lamed, to make distinct the ע as quiescent (cf. 1 Kings 10:3; and, on the other hand, Nehemiah 3:11; Psalm 26:4). Cf. תּחשּׁ with Dagesh in shin, on account of the preceding quiescent guttural, like יח, Ecclesiastes 9:8; התּ, Leviticus 11:16; נח, Numbers 1:7, etc.; cf. Luth. Zeitsch. 1863, p. 413.)

for sive bonum sive malum (as at Ecclesiastes 5:11) is not related to ne'llam as disjoining, but to kol̇ma'aseh.

This certainty of a final judgment of personal character is the Ariadne-thread by which Koheleth at last brings himself safely out of the labyrinth of his scepticism. The prospect of a general judgment upon the nations prevailing in the O.T., cannot sufficiently set at rest the faith (vid., e.g., Psalm 73; Jeremiah 12:1-3) which is tried by the unequal distributions of present destiny. Certainly the natural, and particularly the national connection in which men stand to one another, is not without an influence on their moral condition; but this influence does not remove accountability, - the individuum is at the same time a person; the object of the final judgment will not be societies as such, but only persons, although not without regard to their circle of life. This personal view of the final judgment does not yet in the O.T. receive a preponderance over the national view; such figures of an universal and individualizing personal judgment as Matthew 7:21-23; Revelation 20:12, are nowhere found in it; the object of the final judgment are nations, kingdoms, cities, and conditions of men. But here, with Koheleth, a beginning is made in the direction of regarding the final judgment as the final judgment of men, and as lying in the future, beyond the present time. What Job 19:25-27 postulates in the absence of a present judgment of his cause, and the Apocalyptic Daniel 12:2 saw as a dualistic issue of the history of his people, comes out here for the first time in the form of doctrine into that universally-human expression which is continued in the announcements of Jesus and the apostles. Kleinert sees here the morning-dawn of a new revelation breaking forth; and Himpel says, in view of this conclusion, that Koheleth is a precious link in the chain of the preparation for the gospel; and rightly. In the Book of Koheleth the O.T. religion sings its funeral song, but not without finally breaking the ban of nationality and of bondage to this present life, which made it unable to solve the mysteries of life, and thus not without prophesying its resurrection in an expanded glorified form as the religion of humanity.

The synagogal lesson repeats the 13th verse after the 14th, to gain thereby a conclusion of a pleasing sound. The Masoretic Siman (vox memorialis) of those four books, in which, after the last verse, on account of its severe contents, the verse going before is repeated in reading, is קק''ית. The י refers to ישׁעיה (Isaiah), ת to תריסר (the Book of the Twelve Prophets), the first ק to קהלת, the second ק to קינות (Lamentations). The Lamentations and Koheleth always stand together. But there are two different arrangements of the five Megilloth, viz., that of the calendar of festivals which has passed into our printed editions: the Song, Ruth, Lamentations, Koheleth, and Esther; and the Masoretic arrangement, according to the history of their origin: Ruth, the Song, Koheleth, Lamentations, and Esther.

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