Ecclesiastes 5
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
It is evident that the services of the pious Israelites were by no means merely sacrificial and ceremonial. There is a reflective and intellectual character attributed to the approach of the Hebrew worshippers to their God. The practical admonitions of this passage have reference, not to a formal, but to an intelligent and thoughtful worship.

I. THE HOUSE OF GOD. By this is to be understood no doubt a place, a building, probably the temple at Jerusalem. But clearly it follows from this language that in the view of the writer of Ecclesiastes the idea of the locality, the edifice, is almost lost sight of in the idea of the spiritual presence of Jehovah, and in the society and fellowship of sincere and devout worshippers. God, it was well understood, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but abideth in his people's hearts.

II. THE SACRIFICE OF FOLLY. In every large gathering of professed worshippers there is reason to fear there are those with whom worship is nothing but a form, a custom. The sacrifice of such is outward only; their postures, their words, may be unexceptionable, but the heart is absent from the service. Inattention, want of true interest, unspirituality, take the place of those penitential acknowledgments - that heavenward aspiration - which are acceptable to him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men. The sacrifice of such formal and irreverent worshippers is justly designated a sacrifice of fools. They consider not their own nature, their own needs; they consider not the attributes of him whom they profess to approach with the language of adoration, of gratitude, of petition. They are, therefore, not only irreligious; they are foolish, and they seem to say to every sensible observer that they are fools.

III. THE WORSHIP OF THE WISE. In contrast with the careless and undevout we have here depicted the spirit and the demeanor of true worshippers. They are characterized by:

1. Self-restraint. The modest repression of all that savors of self-assertion seems to be intended by the admonition, "Keep thy foot," which is as much as to say, "Take heed to thy steps, observe with care thy way, wander not from the path of sincerity, beware of indifference and of obtrusiveness.'

2. Reference. Such as becomes the creature in approaching the Creator in whose hand his breath is, and whose are all his ways; such as becomes the sinner in addressing a holy God, whose Law has been broken, whose favor has to be implored.

3. A spirit of attentive and submissive hearing. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," is language becoming to the lowly and reverent worshipper; he shall be made acquainted with God's Law, and he shall rejoice in God's promises. - T.

Although the precise meaning of the Preacher is open to some doubt, we shall not go wrong in letting these words speak to us of -


(1) the offering of sacrifice (ver. 1), and

(2) the repetition of devotional phrases.

We may find a Christian parallel in the reception of sacraments, and in the "prayers" and psalmody of the Church. We know that the purest spirituality may breathe in these, and may be nourished by these, but we know also

(1) that they may fail to express any real and pure devotion;

(2) that in this case they also fail in winning the favor of God; and

(3) that they leave the soul rather the worse than the better, for in such futile worship there is a dangerous delusiveness which is apt to lead. to a false and even fatal sense of security.

II. ACCEPTABLE SERVICE. This is threefold.

1. Reverence. This is strongly implied, especially in the second verse. Let the worshipper realize that he is in "the house of God," none other and no less than that (see Genesis 28:17). Let him realize that "God is in heaven," etc.; that he is bowing before the Infinite One himself; that he is addressing him who, in his Divine nature and in his unapproachable rank, is immeasurably removed above himself; that he is speaking to One who sees the actions of every life, and knows the secrets of all hearts, and who needs not, therefore, to be informed of what we do or what we feel. Let language be spared, let sacred thought and solemn feeling flow; let a sense of human littleness and of the Divine majesty silence all insincerity, and fill the soul with reverential awe.

2. Docility. "Be more ready ['draw nigh,' Revised Version] to hear," etc. There is much virtue in docility. Our Lord strongly commended the child-spirit as the condition of entrance into the kingdom; and was not this principally because the spirit of childhood is that of docility - eagerness to know, readiness to receive? We should draw nigh to God in his house, not that we may hear our favorite dogmas once more exalted or enforced, but that we may hear the mind and know the will of Christ better than we have done before; that we may "be filled with the knowledge of his will;" that it may become increasingly true that "we have the mind of Christ." To desire to part with our errors, our ignorance, our prejudices, our half-views, our misconceptions, and to have a closer vision of our Lord and of his Divine truth, - this is acceptable worship.

3. Obedience. "Keep thy foot; go to the house of God 'with a straight foot,' a foot trained to walk in the path of holy obedience." Go to the house of God as one that "has clean hands and a pure heart;" as one that "lifts up holy hands" unto God. To go up to "offer sacrifice," or "make long prayers," with the determination in the heart to continue a life of impurity, or intemperance, or dishonesty, or injustice, or harshness toward the weak and the dependent, - this is to mock our Maker; it is to grieve the Father of spirits, the Lord of holiness and love. But, on the other hand, to go up to his sanctuary with a pure desire and real resolve to turn from our evil way, and to strive, against all outward hostility and all inward impulses, to walk in our integrity, - this is acceptable with God. "To obey is better than sacrifice;" and it is the spirit of obedience rather than the overt act of correctness for which the righteous Lord is looking. - C.

From secular life the Preacher turns to religious. He has sought in many quarters for peace and satisfaction, but has found none. Royal palaces, huts where poor men lie, cells of philosophers, banqueting-halls, are all alike, if not all equally, infested by vanities which poison pleasure and add to the burden of care. But surely in the house of God, where men seek to disengage their thoughts from things that are seen and temporal, and to fix them upon things that are unseen and eternal, where they endeavor to establish and maintain communion with their Creator, one may count upon finding a haven of refuge for the soul from vanity and care. But here, too, he perceives that, by thoughtlessness, formalism, and insincerity, the purpose for which worship was instituted, and the blessings it may secure, are in danger of being defeated and nullified. But a change is manifest in the tone in which he reproves these faults. He lays down the whip of the satirist, he suppresses the fierce indignation which the sight of these new follies might have excited within him, and with sober earnestness exhorts his hearers to forsake the faults which separate between them and God, and hinder the ascent of their prayers to him and. the descent of his blessings upon them. His feelings of reverence, and his conviction that in obedience to God and in communion with him peace and satisfaction may be found, forbid his saying of genuine religion that it is "vanity and vexation of spirit." So far as the spirit of his exhortation is concerned, it is applicable to all forms of worship, but we find some difficulty in ascertaining the kind of scene which was in his mind's eye when he spoke of "the house of God." If we are convinced that it is Solomon speaking in his own person, we know that he must refer to the stately building which he erected for the service of God in Jerusalem; and we understand from his words that he is not depreciating the offering of sacrifices, but is giving the admonition so often on the lips of the prophets, that the external act without accompanying devotion and love of righteousness, is in vain (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 1:8, 9; Proverbs 21:3; Isaiah 1:11-17; Jeremiah 7:22, 23; Mark 12:33). But if we have here the utterance of a later writer, may there not be a reference to the synagogue service, in which the reading of the Word of God and exposition of its meaning were the principal religious exercises employed? May not the writer be understood as affirming "that a diligent listening to the teaching imparted in the synagogue is of more real value than the 'sacrifices' offered up in the temple by 'fools'"? The answer we give is determined by the opinion we form as to the date of the book. But even if we are unable to decide this point, the exhortation before us will lose none of its significance and weight. The underlying truth is the same, whether the primary reference be to the gorgeous ritual of the temple, or to the simple, unadorned services of the synagogue, which in later times furnished the pattern for Christian worship. The first fault against which the Preacher would have his hearers be on their guard is that of thoughtlessness - entering the house of God inconsiderately (ver. 1). The form in which the admonition is expressed is probably intended to remind his readers of the Divine command to Moses in the desert when he drew near to the bush that burned with fire: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5; cf. also Joshua 5:15).

I. Our first duty in entering the house of God is, therefore, TO BE REVERENT BOTH IN MANNER AND IN SPIRIT. The outward expression of this feeling, whatever form, according to the custom of our time, or country, or Church, it may take, is to be an indication of the frame of mind in which we enter upon the service of God. It is true that there may be a reverent manner without devoutness of spirit, but it is equally true that there cannot be devoutness of spirit without reverence of manner. The true frame of mind is that which springs from a due sense of the solemnity attaching to the house of God, and of the purpose for which we assemble in it. It is not superstition, but genuine religious sentiment, that would lead us to be mindful of the fact that it is no common ground which is enclosed by the sacred walls; that it is here that we meet with him whom "the heaven of heavens cannot contain." Though we are at all times in his presence, his house is the place in which we entreat him to manifest himself to his congregated people. Yet, though we know that- the place and the purpose of our frequenting it are of the most holy and solemn nature, it is only by a strong effort that we can maintain the frame of mind we should be in when we wait upon God in his house. It is only by resolutely determining so to do that we can control our wandering thoughts, suppress frivolous and sinful imaginations, and divest ourselves of the secular cares and anxieties which occupy only too much of our attention in the world outside the sanctuary.

II. Our second great duty is THAT OF OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE LAW; "for to draw near to hearken is better than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they know not that they do evil" (Revised Version). Not only should there be reverence of manner and spirit in the presence of God, but a desire to know what he requires from us, and a disposition to render it. Love of holiness, and endeavors to exemplify it, are essential to all true service of God. By hearkening is evidently meant an attitude of mind which leads directly to obedience to the words spoken, to repentance and amendment when faults are reproved, and to a love and practice of the virtues commended. In the Epistle of James (1. 19-25) we have an inspired commentary upon this precept in the Book of 'Ecclesiastes. The Christian teacher enforces the same lesson, and depicts the contrast between the "forgetful hearer" and the'" doer of the Word." The one is like a man looking for a moment into a mirror, and going on his way, and speedily forgetting what he looked like; the other is like a man who uses the revelation the mirror gives him of himself, to correct what in him is faulty. The latter returns again and again to examine himself in the faithful glass, for the purpose of removing those stains which it may show are upon him. This reverence of manner and spirit and this love of righteousness alone give value to worship; omission of them through thoughtlessness is a positive offence against God. - J.W.

What a contrast is there between this sound and sober counsel, and the precepts and customs prevalent among the heathen! These latter have corrupted the very practice of devotion; whilst those who acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures condemn themselves if their worship is superficial, pretentious, formal, and insincere.


1. Avoid profane rashness and precipitancy. When rashness and haste are forbidden, it is not intended to condemn ejaculatory or extempore prayer. There are occasions when such prayer is the natural and appropriate expression of the deep feelings of the heart; when one cannot pause to weigh one's words, when one cannot fall back upon liturgy or litany, however scriptural and rich. What is censured is ill-considered prayer, which is not properly prayer at all, but the outpouring of ill temper and petulance. Such utterances may be profane, and are certainly unsuitable, unbecoming.

2. Avoid verbiage. When praise and prayer take shape in many words, there is danger of using "vain repetitions," against which our Lord Christ has so urgently warned his disciples. Long and diffuse devotions are probably addressed rather to men than to God. They are unnecessary and unprofitable, for God does not need them; they are irreverential, for they betoken a mind more occupied about self than about the Supreme. But this precept does not preclude urgency and even repetition when such are dictated by profound feeling and by special circumstances.


1. The nature, the character of God himself. "He is in heaven." By heaven we are to understand the eternal sphere apart from and above time, earth, and sense. We are not to rank God with earthly potentates, but are to bear in mind his distinctness and superiority. As our Creator, he knows both our emotions and our wants; as our Lord and Judge, he knows our sins and frailties; as our Savior, he knows our penitence and faith. Such considerations may well preclude familiarity, rashness, verbosity, irreverence. To think rightly of God, to feel aright with regard to him, is to be preserved from such faults and errors as are here mentioned with censure.

2. The position of men. Being upon earth, men partake in the feebleness and finiteness of the created. They are suppliants; and as such they should ever approach the throne of grace with reverence and humiliation. They are sinners; and should imitate the spirit of him who, when he came up into the temple to pray, cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner! 'This was a short prayer; but he who offered it was accepted and justified. - T.

From an admonition as to the spirit in which we should enter the house of God, our author proceeds to counsel us as to the religious exercises we engage in there. Our utterances in prayer are to be calm and deliberate. A multitude of wishes may fill our hearts, and, unless we take care, find expression in a volume of ill-considered words. But we are to remember that only some of our wishes can be lawfully turned into prayers, and that an appropriate expression of the requests we feel we can offer, is due from us. The counsel here given is twofold:

(1) it relates to our words, which often outrun our thoughts, and

(2) to our hearts or minds, which are often the homes of vain imaginations and desires. Over both we must exercise control if we are to offer acceptable prayers. One great safeguard against offending in this matter is brevity in our addresses to heaven's King. In a multitude of words even the wisest are in danger of giving indications of folly. Definite petitions, duly weighed, and expressed in simple, earnest language, become us who stand at such a distance from the throne of God. Our Lord reiterates the admonition in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:7, 8): "When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him." And in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14) he contrasts the voluble utterance of the self-righteous and complacent worshipper with the brief, sincere confession and supplication of the true penitent. The greatest of all safeguards against the evil here condemned consists in our having before our minds a true idea of what prayer is. It is our offering petitions to God. as creatures who are dependent upon his goodness, as children whom he loves. If we take as our example that offered by our Savior in the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:39), we learn that the aim of prayer is not to determine the will of God. Some one thing we may ask for, but we leave it to God to grant or to deny, and seek above all that our will may be changed into his will (see Robertson of Brighton, vol. 4. serm. 3, "Prayer"). - J.W.

There are those who would disapprove of the violation of a promise given to a fellow-man, who think lightly of evading a promise solemnly volunteered to the Creator. It may be said that a fellow-man might suffer from such neglect or dereliction, but that God can suffer no loss or harm if a vow be not fulfilled. Such an extenuation or excuse for violating vows arises from the too common notion that the moral character of an action depends upon the consequences that follow it, and not upon the principles that direct it. A man's conduct may be wrong even if no one is injured by it; for he may violate both his own nature and the moral law itself.

I. THE NATURE OF THE VOW. When some signal favor has been experienced, some forbearance exercised on a man's behalf, he desires to evince his gratitude, to do something which in ordinary circumstances he would probably not have done, and he makes a vow unto God, sacredly' promising to offer some gift, to perform some service. Or even more commonly, the vow is made in hope of some benefit desired, and its fulfillment is conditional upon a petition being favorably answered, a desire being gratified.

II. THE VOLUNTARINESS OF THE VOW. It is presumed that no constraint is exercised, that the promise made to Heaven is the free and spontaneous expression of religious feeling. The language of Peter to Ananias expresses this aspect of the proceeding: "Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?"

III. THE OBLIGATION OF THE VOW. It is questionable whether vows are in all cases expedient. A vow to act sinfully is certainly not binding. And there are some vows which it is unwise in some circumstances, if not in all circumstances, to make; this is the case especially with vows which seem to make too great a demand upon human nature, which are indeed against nature; e.g. vows of celibacy, and of obedience to fellow-creatures as fallible as are those who bind themselves to obey. But if a vow be made knowingly and voluntarily, and if its fulfillment be not wrong, then the text assures us it is obligatory, and should be paid.

IV. THE FOLLY OF DEFERRING TO PAY THE VOW. There are disagreeable duties, which weak persons admit to be duties, and intend to discharge, but the discharge of which they postpone. Such duties do not become easier or more agreeable because deferred. Generally speaking, when conscience tells us that a certain thing ought to be done, the sooner we do it the better. So with the vow. "Defer not to pay it; for God hath no pleasure in fools."

V. THE SIN OF NEGLECTING AND REPUDIATING THE VOW. The vow is an evidence, it may be presumed, that there existed at the time, in the mind of him who made it, strong feelings and earnest purposes. Now, for one who has passed through such experiences so far to forget or abjure them as to act as if the vow had never been made, is a proof of religious declension and of inconsistency. How common is such "backsliding"! It is said, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay." He who vows not contracts no special obligation, whilst he who vows and withholds payment repudiates a solemn obligation which he has undertaken. A warning is thus given to which it is important for those especially to give heed who are liable to religious excitement and enthusiasm. If such characters yield as readily to evil influences as to good, their impressions may be a curse rather than a blessing, or at least may be the occasion of moral deterioration. None can feel and resolve and pray, and then afterwards act in opposition to their purest feelings, their highest resolves, their fervent prayers, without suffering serious harm, without weakening their moral power, without incurring the just displeasure of the righteous Governor and Lord of all. - T.

We may regard the subject of vows in two aspects.

I. THEIR CHARACTER. They may be of:

1. An entirely obligatory character. We may solemnly promise to God that which we may not withhold without sin. But this may be shortly summed up in one word - ourselves. We owe to him ourselves, all that we are and have, our powers and our possessions. And the first thing that becomes us all is to present ourselves before God in a most solemn act of surrender, in which we deliberately resolve and undertake to yield to him our heart and life thenceforth and for ever. In this great crisis of our spiritual history we make the one supreme vow with which all others are incomparable. It should be made in the exercise of all the powers of our nature; not under any kind of compulsion, but as freely as fully, as intelligently as heartily. It is one that is, of course, to be renewed, and this both regularly, and also on all special occasions. It is a vow to be confirmed every time we bow in the sanctuary, and every time we gather at the table of the Lord.

2. Optional. And of these vows which may be described as optional, there are

(1) those that are conditional; as when a man promises that if God give him wealth he will devote a large proportion of it to his direct service (see Genesis 28:22); or that if God restore his health he will consecrate an his time and all his possessions to the proclamation of his truth.

(2) Those that are unconditional; as when

(a) a man determines that thenceforth he will give a certain fixed proportion of his income to the cause of Christ; or

(b) when he pledges himself to abstain from some particular indulgence which is hurtful to himself or is a temptation to others.


1. With devout deliberation. It is a serious mistake for a man to undertake that which he fails to carry out.

(1) It is offensive to God (ver. 4).

(2) It is injurious to the man himself; he is in a distinctly worse spiritual position after failure than he would have been if he had not entered into an engagement (ver. 5). We should not promise anything in ignorance of ourselves, and then lose our self-respect by a humiliating withdrawal.

2. In a spirit of prompt and cheerful obedience. What we vow to do we should do

(1) without delay, "deferring not." There is always danger in delay. To-morrow we shall be further in time from the hour of solemn resolution, and its force will be lessened by the distance. Also

(2) cheerfully; for we may be sure that God loveth a cheerful promise-keeper - one that does what he undertook to do, although it proves to be of greater dimensions or to be attended with severer effort than he at first imagined it would.

3. With patient persistency; not allowing anything to come between himself and his honorable fulfillment.

(1) Are we fully redeeming our vows of Christian consecration in the daily life that we are living?

(2) Are we paying the vows we made in some dark hour of need (see Psalm 66:13, 14)? - C.

A vow is a promise to dedicate something to God, on certain conditions, such as his granting deliverance from death or danger, success in one's undertakings, or the like, and is one of the most ancient and widespread of religious customs. The earliest we read of is that of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-22; Genesis 31:13). The Mosaic Law regulated the practice, and the passage before us is an almost exact reproduction of the section in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 23:21-23) in which general directions are given about the discharge of such obligations. The vow consisted in the dedication of persons or possessions to sacred uses. The worshipper's self, or child, or slave, or property, might be devoted to God. Vows were entirely voluntary, but, once made, were regarded as compulsory, and evasion of performance of them was held to be highly irreligious (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4). The kind of sin referred to here is that of making a vow inconsiderately, and drawing back when the time of performance comes. No obligation to vow rested upon any man (Deuteronomy 23:22), but when the vow had once been made, no one could without dishonor refuse to fulfill it. Of course, it was to be taken for granted that the vow was such as could be fulfilled without violating any law or ordinance of God. And, accordingly, provision was made in the Mosaic Law for the canceling of any such obligation undertaken inadvertently, and found on maturer consideration to be immoral. It could be set aside, and the offence of having made it be atoned for as a sin of ignorance (Leviticus 5:4-6). But when no such obstacle stood in the way of performance, nothing but a prompt and cheerful fulfillment of the vow could be accepted as satisfactory. A twofold fault is described in the passage before us:

(1) an unseemly delay in fulfilling the vow (ver. 4) leading, perhaps, to an omission to fulfil it at all; and

(2) a deliberate evasion of it, the insincere worshipper going to the angel (priest), and saying that the vow had been made in ignorance, and should not therefore be kept literally (ver. 6). And in correspondence with the respective degrees of guilt incurred by such conduct, the Divine indignation takes a less or more intense form: ver. 4, "He hath no pleasure in fools;" ver. 6, "Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?" The idea of the former of the two statements of the Divine displeasure is far from being trivial or from being a tame anticipation of the latter. "The Lord first ceases to delight in a man, and then, after long forbearance, gives him over to destruction" (Wright). The one great source of these three forms of evil which so often vitiate religious life - thoughtlessness, rash prayers, and broken vows - is irreverence, and against it the Preacher lifts up his voice (ver. 7): "For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God." Just as occasional dreams may be coherent, so few well-considered utterances may be characterized by wisdom. But a crowd of dreams, and hasty, babbling speech, are sure to contain confused images and offensive folly. The fear of God, therefore, if it habitually influence the mind, will preserve a man from being "rash with his mouth;" it will hinder his making inconsiderate vows, and afterwards seeking excuses for not fulfilling them. - J.W.

We are not taught in this verse to disregard the wrongs of our fellow-creatures, to shut our eyes to deeds of iniquity, to close our ears against the cry of the suffering, to steel our heart against the anguish of the oppressed. But we are cautioned against drawing hasty and ill-considered conclusions from the prevalence of injustice; we are encouraged to cherish faith in the overruling and retributive providence of God.

I. THE FACT OF OPPRESSION. Such cases as are here referred to exist in every state; but in the East they have always existed in great numbers. Despotic governments are more favorable to oppression than those states where free institutions are established and where popular rights are respected. Reference is made:

1. To the maltreatment of the poor, who are powerless to defend themselves, and who have no helper.

2. To the withholding and perversion of justice.


1. To the sufferers themselves; who are in some cases deprived of liberty, in some cases robbed of their property, in other cases injured in their person.

2. The spectators of such wrongs are aroused to sympathy, pity, and indignation. No rightly constituted mind can witness injustice without resentment. Even those who themselves exercise rights and enjoy privileges lose much of the pleasure and advantage of their own position by reason of the wrongs which their neighbors endure at the hand of power and cruelty.

3. Society is in danger of corruption when the laws are overridden by selfishness, avarice, and lust; when righteousness is scoffed at, and when men's best instincts and convictions are outraged.


1. Oppression is not unnoticed. Whether the oppressor hopes to escape, or fears to be called to account, it is for the spectator of his evil deeds to remember that "One higher than the high regardeth."

2. Oppression is not unrecorded. The iniquities of the unjust judge, of the arbitrary sovereign, of the villainous workman who violently hinders his fellow-workman from earning an honest livelihood, - all are written in the book of God. Even when deeds of oppression are wrought in the sacred name of religion by the persecutor and the inquisitor, such deeds are remembered, and will in due time be brought to light.

3. Oppression will not be unavenged. Either now in this world, or hereafter in the state of retribution, the oppressor, like every other sinner, shall be brought to the bar of Divine justice. God shall bring every man into judgment. As a man soweth, so shall he also reap. The wicked shall not go unpunished. - T.

In the time and the country to which the text belongs there was a very large amount of injustice, rapacity, insecurity. Men could not count on enjoying the fruits of their labor; they were in serious danger of being wronged, or even "done to death;" there were not the constitutional guards and fences with which we are familiar now and here. The political and social conditions of the age and of the land. added much to the seriousness of the great problems of the moralist. But though he was perplexed, he was not without light and comfort. There was that -

I. AFFORDED BY REASON AND EXPERIENCE. What if it were true that oppression was often to be witnessed, and, with oppression, the suffering of the weak, yet it was to be remembered that:

1. There was often an appeal to a higher authority, and the unrighteous sentence was reversed (ver. 8).

2. There was always reason to hope that injustice and tyranny would be short-lived (ver. 9). The king was served by the field; he was by no means independent of those who lived by manual labor; he was as much their subject in fact and truth as they were his in form and in law; he could not afford to live in their disregard and disapproval.

3. Successful oppression was far from being satisfactory to those who practiced it.

(1) No avaricious man was ever satisfied with the money he made; he was always coveting more; the thirst for gold lived on, and grew by what it gained (ver. 10).

(2) The wealthy man found that he could not enjoy more than a fraction of what he acquired; he was compelled to see others partaking of that which his own toil had earned (ver. 11).

(3) The successful man was worried and burdened with his own wealth; the fear of losing balanced, if it did not more than counterbalance, the enjoyment of acquisition (ver. 12).

(4) No rich man could be sure of the disposition of his hardly won and carefully stored treasure his son might scatter it in sin and folly (vers. 13, 14).

(5) No man can take a solitary fraction of his goods beyond the boundary of life (vers. 15, 16).

4. Obscurity is not without its own advantage.

(1) It sleeps the sweet sleep of security; it has nothing to lose; it holds out no bait to the despoiler (ver. 12).

(2) It enjoys the fruit of its labor, untroubled by the ambitions, unwearied with the excessive toils, unworried by the frequent vexations of those who aim at higher posts and move in larger spheres.

II. AFFORDED BY REVELATION. The godly man, and more especially he to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, contents himself - so far as it is right and welt to be contented in the midst of confusion and perversion - with the peace-bringing considerations:

1. That Infinite Wisdom is overruling, and will direct all things to a right issue.

2. That it is not our circumstances, but our character, that should chiefly concern us. To be pure, true, loyal, helpful, Christ-like, is immeasurably more than to have and to hold any quantity of treasure, any place or rank whatsoever.

3. That we who travel to a heavenly home, who look forward to a "crown of life," can afford to wait for our heritage. - C.

From the follies only too prevalent in the religious world, the Preacher turns to the disorders of the political; and although he admonishes his readers in a later section of the book (Ecclesiastes 8:2) to be mindful of the duties to which they are pledged by their oath of allegiance, it is very evident that he felt keenly the misery and oppression caused by misgovernment. For these evils he could suggest no cure; a hopeless submission to the inevitable is his only counsel. Like Hamlet, his heart is wrung by the thought of evils against which it was almost useless to strive-

"The oppressor's wrong,
the proud man's contumely... the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes." The subordinate magistrates tyrannized over the people, those who were higher in office watched their opportunity for oppressing them. From the lowest up to the very highest rank of officials the same system of violence and jealous espionage prevailed. Those that were in the royal household and had the ear of the king, his most intimate counselors, who were in a sense higher than any of the satraps or governors he employed, were able to urge him to use his power for the destruction of any whose ill-gotten riches made him an object of envy (romp. Ecclesiastes 10:4, 7, 16, etc.). The whole system of government was rotten to the core, the same distrust and jealousy pervaded every part of it. "Marvel not," says the Preacher, "at oppression and injustice in the lower departments of official life, for those who are the superiors of the tyrannical judge or governor, and should be a check on him, are as bad as he." Such seems to be the sense of the words. At first sight, indeed, the impression left on one's mind is that the Preacher counsels his readers not to be perplexed or unduly dismayed at the wrong they are forced to witness, on the ground that over and above the highest of earthly tyrants is the power of God, and that it will in due time be manifested in the punishment of the evil-doer. As though he had said, God who is "higher than the highest regardeth," beholds the wrong-doing; and when he comes to judgment, the proudest will have to submit to his power (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:17). But this interpretation, though very ancient, is not in harmony with the general character of the utterance. The thought of God's power and justice is indeed calculated to give some consolation to the oppressed, but not to explain why they are oppressed. The latter part of the verse is assigned as a reason for not marveling at the prevalence of evil. If, therefore, reference be made to the power of God, by which the evil might be restrained or abolished, the marvel of its prevalence would only be increased. We are, therefore, to understand his words as meaning, "Do not be surprised at the corruption and baseness of the lower officials, in so much as the same corruption prevails among those in far higher positions." He is not here seeking to cheer up the sufferer by bidding him look higher; he is describing the evil state of affairs everywhere existing in the empire in his own day (Wright). There is nothing very heroic or inspiring in the counsel. It is simply an admonition, based on prudence, to escape personal danger by stolidly submitting to evils which one's own power can do nothing to abolish or alleviate. To those who under an Oriental despotism had become hopeless and dispirited, the words might seem worthy of a wise counselor; but surely there is a servile ring about them which ill harmonizes with the love of freedom and intolerance of tyranny which are native to a European mind. There is but one relieving circumstance in connection with them, and that is that submission to oppression is not commanded in them or asserted to be a duty; and therefore those in whose hearts the love of country and of justice burns brightly, and who find that a pure and devoted patriotism moves them to make many sacrifices for the good of their fellows, violate no canon of Scripture when they rise superior to the prudential considerations dwelt upon here. Granted that submission to the inevitable is the price at which material safety and happiness may be bought, it is still a question at many times whether the patriot should not hazard material safety and happiness in the attempt to win for his country and for himself a higher boon. - J.W.

Whatever obscurity may attach to the interpretation of this verse, in any case it represents the dependence of the inhabitants of earth upon the produce of the soil.


1. Man's body is fashioned out of its dust. Whatever may have been the process by which the animal nature of man was prepared as the lodging and the vehicle of the immortal spirit, there is no question as to the fact that the human body is a part of nature, that it is composed of elements of a nature similar to those existing around, that it is subject to physical law. All this seems implied in the statement that the human frame was formed of the dust of the ground.

2. Man's body is supported by its produce. Directly or indirectly, man's corporeal nature is nourished by the material substances which exist in various forms upon the surface of the earth. The vegetable and animal creation minister to man's needs and growth.

3. Man's body is resolved into its substance. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The earth provides man with his food, his raiment, his dwelling, and his grave.


1. The least is not overlooked, the poorest is cared for, fed, and sheltered.

2. The greatest is not independent. All men share the same nature, and sit at the same table: "The king himself is served by the field."


1. We have to learn our dependence upon what is lower than ourselves. Whilst we are in this earth, whilst we share this corporeal nature, the material ministers to bodily needs, and must not be disdained or despised.

2. We should rise to an apprehension of our real dependence upon Divine providence. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." It is ordered by God's wisdom that the earth should be the instrument of good to all his creatures, even to the highest. And the enlightened and thoughtful will not fail to ascend from the instrument to him that fashioned it, from the abode to him that built it, from the means of well-being to him who appointed and provided them all, and who intended the earth and all that is in it to teach his intelligent creatures something of his glorious character and gracious purposes. - T.

In contrast with the evils produced by an administration in which all the officials, from the lowest to the highest, seek to enrich themselves, our author now sets the picture of a well-governed community, in which the efficient cultivation of the land is a matter of the first consideration, and all classes of the population, up to the king himself, share in the consequent prosperity. (The verse has been differently rendered, but the translation of both our Revised and Authorized Versions is probably the best reproduction of the original words.) From the kings who wasted the resources of the lands over which they ruled in carrying on bloody wars, and in the indulgence of their capricious tastes, he turns to those who, like Uzziah, encouraged agriculture, and under whose beneficent rule Judah enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity (2 Chronicles 26:10). "The profit of the earth is for all." All are dependent upon the labors of the husbandman for the supply of the necessaries of life. By the judicious cultivation of the soil wealth is accumulated, by which comforts and luxuries are to be procured, so that even "the king himself is served by the field." The king, indeed, is more dependent upon the husbandman than the husbandman upon the king; without his labors there would be no bread for the royal palace, and no luxuries could make up for the absence of this necessary of life. We have, surely, in this consideration a strong proof of the dignity and value of the humblest labor, and in the fact of the mutual dependence of all classes upon each other an argument for the necessity of mutual forbearance and co-operation. A very striking illustration of the teaching here given is afforded in an incident which took place at Heidelberg in the reign of Frederic I. (1152-1190). "This prince invited to a banquet all the factious barons whom he had vanquished at Seekingen, and who had previously ravaged and laid waste great part of the palatinate. Among them were the Bishop of Mentz and the Margrave of Baden. The repast was plentiful and luxurious, but there was no bread. The warrior-guests looked round with surprise and inquiry. 'Do you ask for bread?' said Frederic, sternly; 'you who have wasted the fruits of the earth, and destroyed those whose industry cultivates it? There is no bread. Eat, and be satisfied; and learn henceforth mercy to those who put the bread into your mouths'" (quoted in 'Sketches of Germany,' by Mrs. Jameson). - J.W.

To love wealth for its own sake is ridiculous. To desire it for the sake of the advantages it may secure is natural, and (within limits) is not blamable. To set the heart upon it for such purposes, to long for it above higher good, to be absorbed in its quest, is sinful. The wise man points out the insufficiency of material possessions to satisfy the nature of man. The reflections here recorded are the result of wide observation and of personal experience.

I. RICHES CANNOT AFFORD SATISFACTION TO THOSE WHO SET THEIR AFFECTION UPON THEM. A man who uses his property for lawful ends, and regards it in the true light as a provision made by God's wisdom and bounty for his wants, need know nothing of the experience recorded in ver. 10. But he who loves - i.e., desires with ardent desire, and as the chief good of life - silver and abundance, shall not be satisfied with wealth when it is attained. It is not in the nature of earthly good to quench the deep desires of man's immoral spirit.

II. RICHES ARE CONSUMED BY THOSE WHO ARE DEPENDENT UPON THEM. A large family, a circle of dependents, needy relatives, are the cause of the disappearance even of large revenues. This is no trouble to a man who judges justly; but to a foolish man whose one desire is to accumulate, it is a distress to witness the necessary expenditure involved in family and social claims.

III. RICHES ARE a SOURCE OF ANXIETY TO THE POSSESSOR. The laboring man, who earns and eats his daily bread, and depends for to-morrow's supply upon to-morrow's toil, sleeps sweetly; whilst the capitalist and investor are wakeful by reason of many anxieties. A ship richly freighted may be wrecked, and the cargo lost; a company in which large sums have been invested may fail; a mine of precious metal upon which money has been spent, and from which much is hoped, may cease to be productive. An estate may no longer be profitable; thieves may break through and steal jewels and bullion. As surely as a man owns more than is needed for the supply of his daily wants, so surely is he liable to solicitude and care.

IV. RICHES MAY EVEN PROVE INJURIOUS TO THEIR OWNER. In some states of society the possession of wealth is likely to bring down upon the rich the envy and cupidity of a despotic ruler, who ill treats the wealthy in order to secure his riches for himself. And in all states of society there is danger lest wealth should be the occasion of moral injury, by enkindling evil passions, envy on the part of the poor, and in return hatred and suspicion on the part of the wealthy; or by leading to flattery, which in turn produces vanity and contemptuousness.

V. RICHES ARE OF NO AVAIL BEYOND THIS LIFE. They thus add, in the case of the avaricious, another sting to death; for clutch and grasp them as he may, they must be left behind. A man spends his whole life, and exhausts all his energies, in gathering together a "fortune;" no sooner has he succeeded than he is summoned to return naked to the earth, carrying nothing in his hand, poor as he came into the scene of his toils, his success, his disappointments. The king of terrors cannot be bribed. A mine of wealth cannot buy a day of life.

VI. RICHES MAY BE WASTED BY THE RICH MAN'S HEIRS. This was a misfortune of which the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to have been well aware from his prolonged observation of human life. One may gather; but who shall scatter? He to whom wealth is everything has no security that his property shall not, after his death, come into the hands of those who shall squander it in dissipation, or waste it in reckless speculations. This also is vanity.

APPLICATION. These things being so, the moral is obvious. The poor man may rest contented with his lot, for he knows not whether increase of possessions would bring him increase of happiness. The prosperous man may well give heed to the admonition, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." - T.

The series of aphorisms which begins in ver. 10 is not unconnected with what precedes it. It is for wealth generally that the unjust judge and oppressive ruler barters his peace of mind, sells his very soul. As the means for procuring sensual gratification, for surrounding one's self with ostentatious luxury, and for carrying out ambitious schemes, riches have great fascination. The Preacher, however, records at length the drawbacks connected with them, which are calculated to diminish the envy with which the poor very often regard those who possess them. Probably the bulk of mankind would say that they are willing to put up with the drawbacks if only they could possess the riches. But surely those who read the Word of God reverently and with a docile spirit are disposed to profit by the wise counsels and warning it contains. The gross and presumptuous frame of mind, which would lead any to laugh at the drawbacks upon wealth as imaginary, when compared with the happiness they think it must secure, deserves severe censure. Both rich and poor may draw appropriate lessons from the Preacher's words: the rich may learn humility; the poor, contentment.

I. INSATIABLENESS OF AVARICE. (Ver. 10.) Those who begin to amass money cultivate an appetite which can never be satisfied, which only grows in fierceness as it is supplied with food. Those who love silver will never count themselves rich enough; they will always hunger for more, and the amount that would once have seemed abundance to them will be spurned as paltry, as their ideas and desires are enlarged. Dissatisfaction with what they have, and greed to acquire more, poison their pleasure in all that they have accumulated. Happy are those who have learned to be content with little, whose wants are few and moderate, who, having food and raiment, desire no more - they are really rich.

II. Another thought calculated to diminish envy of the rich is that, AS WEALTH INCREASES, THOSE THAT CONSUME IT INCREASE ALSO. (Ver. 11.) Along with the more abundant possessions, there is generally a larger retinue of servants and dependants. So that, with more to provide for, the wealthy man may be poorer than he was in earlier days when his means were smaller. Fresh demands are made upon him; the outward display he is forced to make becomes a daily increasing burden; he has to labor for the supply of others rather than for himself. A striking passage in Xenophon - quoted by Plumptre - expresses the same thought. "Do you think that I live with more pleasure the more I possess? By having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand of me their food, their drink, and their clothes .... Whosoever, therefore, is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel much annoyed at the expenditure of them" ('Cyrop.,' 8:3). The only compensation that the rich man may have is that of being able to look on his treasures and say, "These are mine." Is it, after all, a sufficient reward for his toils and cares?

III. Another boon which the poor may always enjoy, but which the rich may often sigh for in vain, is SWEET SLEEP. (Ver. 12.) The laborer enjoys refreshing sleep, whether his food be abundant or not; the toils of the day ensure sound slumber at night. While the very abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep; all kinds of cares, projects, and anxieties rise within his mind, and will not suffer him to be at rest. The dread of losing his riches may make him wakeful, feverish excitement may result from his luxurious mode of living, and rob him of the power to compose himself to slumber, and, like the ambitious king, he may envy the ship-boy rocked and lulled by the tossing of "the rude, imperious surge" (Shakespeare, 'Henry IV.,' Part II., act 3. sc. 1).

IV. RICHES MAY INJURE ITS POSSESSOR. (Ver. 13.) It may mark him out as a suitable victim for spoliation by a lawless tyrant or a revolutionary mob. Or it may furnish him with the means of indulging vicious appetites, and increase greatly the risks and temptations that make it difficult to live a sober, righteous, and godly life, and ruin him body and soul. As says the apostle, "They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9, 10).

V. Another evil attendant on wealth is THE DANGER OF SUDDEN AND IRRETRIEVABLE LOSS. (Ver. 14.) "Not only do riches fail to give any satisfying joy, but the man who reckoned on founding a family, and leaving his heaped-up treasures to his son, gains nothing but anxieties and cares, he may lose his wealth by some unfortunate chance, and leave his son a pauper." The case of Job would seem to be in the writer's mind as an example of this sudden downfall from prosperity and wealth. In any case, death robs the rich man of all his possessions; in the twinkling of an eye he is stripped of his wealth, as a traveler who has fallen in with a troop of banditti, and is forced to depart from life as poor in goals as when he entered it (vers. 15, 16).

VI. Lastly, come THE INFIRMITY AND PEEVISHNESS WHICH ARE OFTEN THE COMPANIONS OF WEALTH. (Ver: 17.) Riches cannot cure disease, or ward off the day of death, or compensate for the sorrows and disappointments of life, and may only tend to aggravate them; a deeper dissatisfaction with self, and with the providential government of the world, a more intense feeling of misanthropy and embitterment are likely to be the portion of the godless rich than of those who have had all through life to labor for their bread, and have never risen much above the position in which they first found themselves. As a practical conclusion, the Preacher reiterates for the fourth time his old advice (vers. 18-20): "It' you have little, be content with it. If you have much, enjoy it without excess, and without seeking more. God gives life and earthly blessings, and the power to enjoy them." And in words that are less clear than we could wish, he seems to intimate that in this pious disposition of mind and heart will be found the secret of a serene and happy life, which no changes or disappointments will be able wholly to overcast. "For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart " - words which seem to imply, "The man who has learned the secret of enjoyment is not anxious about the days of his life; does not brood even over its transitoriness, but takes each day tranquilly as it comes, as God's gift to him; and God himself corresponds to his joy, is felt to approve it, as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness. The tranquility of the wise man mirrors the tranquility of God" (Plumptre). - J.W.

Even when we have been long looking for the departure of one whose powers as well as his days are spent, his death, when it does come, makes a great difference to us. Between life at its lowest and death there is a great and felt interval. How much more must this be the case to the departed himself! What a difference to him between this life and that to which he goes! Perhaps less than we imagine, yet doubtless very great. The text suggests to us -


1. Our worldly goods. This is an obvious fact, which painfully impressed the Preacher (text), and which comforted the psalmist (Psalm 49:16, 17). It is a fact that should make the wise less careful to acquire and to save.

2. Our reputation. The reputation for wisdom or folly, for integrity or dishonesty, for kindness or severity, which our life has been building up, death cannot destroy, through whatever experiences we may then pass. We must be content to leave that behind to be associated with our name in the memories of men, for their benediction or for their reproach.

3. The influence for good or evil we have exerted on human souls. These we cannot remove, nor can we stay to deepen or to counteract them; they are our most important legacies.


1. A wise disposition of our property. A sagacious statesman once said that he never quite made up his mind about his neighbor's character until he had seen his will. What disposition we make of that we leave behind is a very serious act of our life; there are very few single acts so serious.

(1) It is usually a good thing for a man to dispose of a large proportion of all that he has earned during his life when he is here to superintend it.

(2) It is criminally careless to cause additional sorrow at death by negligence in the matter of disposition of means.

(3) The kindest thing we can do for our relatives is not to provide absolutely for their wants, but to facilitate their own self-support.

2. Wise counsels to those who will heed them. There are usually those who will pay Meat regard to the wishes of the dying, apart from any "legal instructions." We may leave with those we love such recommendations as shall save them from grave mistakes, and guide them to good and happy courses.

3. A valued testimony to the power and preciousness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


1. Our faith in Jesus Christ; that settled attitude of the soul toward him which is one of trustfulness and love, which determines our place in the kingdom of God (John 3:15, 16, 18, 36).

2. Our Christian life - its record in the heavenly chronicles; that Christian service which, in its faithfulness-or its imperfection, will gain for us the larger or the smaller measure of our Lord's approval (Luke 19:16-19).

3. Qualification, gained by steadfastness, patience, zeal, for the sphere which "the righteous Judge" will award us and will have ready for us. - C.

Some detect in these verses the ring of Epicurean morals. But the difference is vast between desiring and rejoicing in the things of this world as mere means of pleasure, and accepting them with gratitude and using them with moderation and prudence, as the gifts of a Father's bounty and the expression of a Father's love.

I. THE GOOD THINGS OF THIS WORLD COME FROM GOD. It is God's earth which provides our sustenance; it is God's creative wisdom that provides our companionships; it is God who gives us power to acquire, to use, and to enjoy his gifts. All is from God.

II. THE ENJOYMENT OF THINGS IN THEMSELVES GOOD IS INTENDED, AND APPOINTED BY DIVINE WISDOM AND GOODNESS. They were mot given to tempt or to curse man, but to gladden his heart and to enrich his life. Benevolence is the impulse of the Divine nature. God is "good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works."

III. THE ENJOYMENT OF THESE GOOD THINGS MAY BE RENDERED THE OCCASION OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD. Thus even the common things of earth may be glorified and made beautiful by their devotion to the highest of all purposes. Through them the Giver of all may be praised, and the heart of the grateful recipient may be raised to fellowship with "the Father of the spirits of all flesh."

IV. THE ABUSE OF GOD'S GOOD GIFTS IS OWING TO HUMAN ERROR AND SIN. They are so often abused that it is not to be wondered at that men come to think them evil in themselves. But in such cases, the blame lies not with the Giver, but with the recipient, who turns the very honey into gall. - T.

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