Ecclesiastes 12
Pulpit Commentary
Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;
Verse 1. - The division into chapters is unfortunate here, as this verse is closely connected with ver. 10 of the preceding chapter. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Set God always before thine eyes from thy earliest days; think who made thee, and what thou wast made for, not for self-pleasing only, not to gratify thy passions which now are strong; but that thou mightest use thy powers and energy in accordance with the laws of thy being as a creature of God's hands, responsible to him for the use of the faculties and capacities with which he has endowed thee. The word for "Creator" is the participle of the Verb barn, which is that used in Genesis 1:1, etc., describing God's work. It is plural in form, like Elohim, the plural being that of majesty or excellence (comp. Job 35:10: Isaiah 54:5). It is used here as an appellation of God, because the young have to bethink themselves that all they are and all they have come from God. Such plurals are supposed by some to be divinely intended to adumbrate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity - a dark saying containing a mystery which future revelation shoed explain. "He that made thee" is a common phrase in Ecclesiasticus (Ecclesiastes 4:6; 7:30; 39:5). It is to be noted that Gratz reads "cistern" or a fountain" in place of "Creator," and explains this term to mean "wife, as in Proverbs 5:15-18. But the alteration has nothing to support it, and is most unnecessary, though Cheyne was inclined to adopt it ('Job and Solomon,' in loc.). While the evil days come not; i.e. before they come. "Days of evil; αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς κακίας (Σεπτυγαιντ) (Matthew 6:4); tempus afflictionis (Vulgate). The phrase refers to the grievances and inconveniences of old age, which are further and graphically described in the following verses, though whether the expressions therein used regard literal anatomical facts, or are allegorical representations of the gradual decay of the faculties, has been greatly disputed. Probably both opinions contain a partial truth, as will be noted in our Exposition. Ginsburg considers that the allusion is not to the ills that in the course of time all flesh is heir to, but rather to that premature decay and suffering occasioned by the unrestrained gratification of sensual passions, such as Cicero intimates ('De Senect.,' 9:29), "Libidinosa et intemperans adulescentia effetum corpus tradit senectuti." There is nothing specially in the text to support this view, and it is most reasonable to see here generally a figurative description of decay, whatever may be the cause. I have no pleasure in them. Ere the time comes when a man shall say, "I have no pleasure in life." Thus the aged Barzillai asks," Can I discern between good and evil? Can thy servant taste what I eat, or what I drink? Can I hear any more the voice of singing-men and singing-women?" (2 Samuel 19:35).
While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:
Verse 2. - From this verse onwards there is great diversity of interpretation. While some think that the approach of death is represented under the image of a storm, others deem that what is here intended is first the debility of old age, and then, at ver. 6, death itself, which two stages are described under various metaphors and figures. While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened. Under these figures the evil days spoken of above, the advent and infirmities of old age, are represented. It would be endless and unprofitable to recount the explanations of 'the terms used in the following verses. Every commentator, ancient and modern, has exerted his ingenuity to force the poet's language into the shape which he has imagined for it. But, as we said above, there are at least two distinct lines of interpretation which have found favor with the great majority of expositors. One of these regards the imagery as applicable to the effects of a heavy storm upon a house and its inmates, explaining every detail under this notion; the other regards the terms used as referring to the man himself, adumbrating the gradual decay of old age, the various members and powers that are affected being represented under tropes and images, Both interpretations are beset with difficulties, and are only with some straining and accommodation forced into a consistent harmony. But the latter seems to us to present fewer perplexities than the other, and we have adopted it here. At the same time, we think it expedient to give the other view, together with our own, as there is much to be said in its favor, and many great writers have declared themselves on its side. Wright supposes (and makes a good case for his theory) that Koheleth is referring especially to the closing days of winter, which in Palestine are very fatal to old people. The seven last days, indeed, are noted even now as the most sickly and dangerous of all the year. The approach of this period casts a dark shadow upon all the inhabitants of the house. The theory is partly borne out by the text, but, like the other solutions, does not wholly correspond to the wording. In the present verse the approach of old age, the winter of life, is likened to the rainy season in Palestine, when the sun is obscured by clouds, and the light of heaven darkened by the withdrawal of that luminary, and neither moon nor stars appear. And the clouds return after the rain; i.e. one storm succeeds another (Job 37:6). The imagery is intended to represent the abiding and increasing inconveniences of old age. Not like the spring-time of life and season, when sunshine and storm are interchanged, winter and old age have no vicissitudes, one dreary character invests them both. The darkening of the light is a common metaphor for sorrow and sadness (see Job 30:26; Job 33:28, 30; Ezekiel 32:7, 8; Amos 8:9). The symbolism of the details in this verse has been thus elucidated: The diurnal lights appertain to the soul, the nocturnal to the body; the sun is the Divine light which illumines the soul, the moon and the stars are the body and the senses which receive their radiance from the soul's effulgence. These are all affected by the invasion of old age. Some consider that this verse depicts the changes which pass over the higher and more spiritual part of man's nature, while the succeeding imagery refers to the breaking up of the corporeal frame. We should say rather that ver. 2 conveys a general impression, and that this is then elaborated into particulars. According to the interpretation mentioned above, a gathering tempest is here depicted, the details of which are worked out in the following verses.
In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
Verse 3. - The gradual decay which creeps over the body, the habitation of the spirit, is depicted under the figure of a house and its parts (comp. Job 4:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:13, 14). In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble; i.e. this is the case when, etc. The hands and arms are appropriately called the keepers of the house, for with them (as Volek quotes from Galen) man ὁπλίζει καὶ φρουρεῖ τὸ σῶμα παντοίως ("arms and guards his body in various ways"). The shaking and palsy of old men's limbs are thus graphically described. This would be one of the first symptoms discerned by an observer. Taking the alternative interpretation, we should see in these "keepers" the menservants who keep watch before the house. These menials are appalled by the approach of the tempest, and quake. And the strong men shall bow themselves. The "men of power" are the legs, or the bones generally, which in the young are "as pillars of marble" (Song of Solomon 5:15), but in the old become feeble, slack, and bent. Delitzsch quotes 3Macc. 4:5, where we read of a multitude of old men being driven mercilessly, "stooping from age, and dragging their feet heavily along." In this clause it is this stooping and bending of the body that is noticed, when men are no longer upright in stature, "swifter than eagles," "stronger than lions" (2 Samuel 1:23; 1 Chronicles 12:8), fit for war and active employment. It is therefore less appropriate to see in the "keepers" the legs, and in the "strong men" the arms. Otherwise, the latter are the masters, the wealthy and noble, in contradistinction to the menials before mentioned: both lords and servants are equally terrified at the approach of the tempest, or, as Wright would say, at the touch of the sickly season (see on ver. 2). And the grinders cease because they are few. The word for "grinders" is feminine (αἱ ἀλήθουσαι, "the grinding-women," Septuagint), doubtless because grinding was especially women's business (Matthew 24:41). By them are meant the teeth, as we speak of molars, though, of course, the term here applies to all the teeth; so the Greeks used the term μύλαι for the denies molares. These, becoming few in number and no longer continuous, cannot perform their office. Otherwise, the grinding-women leave their work or pause in their labors at the approach of the storm, though one does not quite see why they should be fewer than usual, unless the sickly season has prostrated most of their companions, or that many are too frightened to ply their task. Having, therefore, harder work than usual, they stop at times to recruit themselves. But the analogy rather breaks down here; one would be inclined to suppose that their decreased numbers would make them apply themselves more assiduously to their necessary occupation. As the "keepers" in the former part of the verse were slaves, so these grinders are slaves, such occupation being the lowest form of service (see Exodus 11:5; Judges 16:21; Job 31:10). Those that look out of the windows be darkened. These are the eyes that look forth from the cavities in which they are sunk; they are regarded as the windows of the bodily structure, the eyelashes or eyelids possibly being deemed the lattice of the same. Plumptre cites Cicero, ' De Nat. Deer.,' 2:140: "Sensus interpretes ac nuntii return, in capite, tamquam in arce, mirifice ad usus necessaries et facti et collocati sunt. Nam oculi, tamquam speculatores, altissimum locum obtinent; ex quo plurima conspicientes, fungantur sue munere." The dimness in the eye and the failing in the powers of sight are well expressed by the terms of the text. It is noted of Moses, as something altogether abnormal, that at a hundred and twenty years of age "his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated" (Deuteronomy 34:7). Taking the alternative interpretation, we must regard those that look out of the windows as the ladies of the house, who have no menial work to do, and employ their time in gazing idly from the lattices (comp. Judges 5:28; 2 Samuel 6:16; Proverbs 7:6). These "are darkened," they are terror-stricken, their faces gather blackness (Joel 2:6), or they retire into corners in terror of the storm. These women are parallel to "the strong men" mentioned above; so that the weather affects all of every class - men-servants and maidservants, lords and ladies.
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;
Verse 4. - The doors shall be shut in the streets. Hitherto the symbolism has been comparatively easy to interpret. With this verse inextricable difficulties seem to arise. Of course, in one view it is natural that in the bitter weather, or on the appearance of a tempest, the doors towards the street should be closed, and none should leave the house. But what are meant by the doors in the metaphorical house, the body of the aged man? Jewish expositors understood them to be the pores, or excretive apertures of the body, which lose their activity in old age - which seems an unseemly allusion. Plumptre will have them to be the organs which carry on the processes of sensation and nutrition from the beginning to the end; but it seems a forced metaphor to call these "double-doors." More natural is it to see in the word, with its dual form, the mouth closed by the two lips. So a psalmist speaks of the mouth, the door of the lips (Psalm 141:3; comp. Micah 7:5). As it is only the external door of a house that could be employed in this metaphor, the addition, "in [or, 'towards'] the streets," is accounted for. When the sound of the grinding is low. The sound of the grinding or the mill is weak and low when the teeth have ceased to masticate, and, instead of the crunching and grinding of food, nothing is heard but a munching and sucking. The falling in of the mouth over the toothless gums is represented as the closing of doors. To take the words in their literal sense is to make the author repeat himself, reiterating what he is supposed to have said before in speaking of the grinding-women - all labor is lessened or stopped. The sound of grinding betokened cheerfulness and prosperity; its cessation would be an ominous sign (see Jeremiah 25:10; Revelation 18:22). Another interpretation considers this clause to express the imperfect vocal utterance of the old man; but it is hardly likely that the author would call speech "the voice of the grinding," or of the mill, as a metaphor for "mouth." And he shall rise up at the voice of the bird. This is a very difficult sentence, and has been very variously explained. It is usually taken to mean that the old man sleeps lightly and awakes (for "rises up" may mean no more than that) at the chirrup of a bird. The objection to this interpretation is that it destroys the figurative character of the description, introducing suddenly the personal subject. Of course, it has another signification in the picture of the terror-stricken household; and many interpreters who thus explain the allegory translate the clause differently. Thus Ginsburg renders, "The swallow rises to shriek," referring to the habits of that bird in stormy weather. But there are grammatical objections to this translation, as there are against another suggestion, "The bird (of ill omen) raises its voice." We need not do more than refer to the mystical elucidation which detects here a reference to the resurrection, the voice of the bird being the archangel's trumpet which calls the dead from their graves. Retaining the allegory, we must translate the clause, "He [or, 'it,' i.e. the voice] rises to the bird's voice;" the old man's voice becomes a "childish treble," like the piping of a little bird. The relaxation of the muscles of the larynx and other vocal organs occasions a great difference in the pitch or power of tone (compare what Hezekiah says, Isaiah 38:14, "Like a crane or a swallow so did I chatter," though there it is the low murmur of sorrow and complaint that is meant). And all the daughters of music shall be brought low. "The daughters of song" are the organs of speech, which ere now humbled and fail, so that the man cannot sing a note. Some think that the ears are meant, as St. Jerome writes, Et obsurdescent omnes filiae carminis, which may have some such notion. Others arrive at a similar signification from manipulation of the verb, thus eliciting the sense - The sounds of singing-women or song-birds are dulled and lowered, are only heard as a faint, unmeaning murmur. This exposition rather contradicts what had preceded, viz. that the old man is awoke by the chirrup of a sparrow; for his ears must be very sensitive to be thus easily affected; unless, indeed, the "voice of the bird" is merely a note of time, equivalent to early cock-crowing. We must not omit Wright's explanation, though it does not commend itself to our mind. He makes a new stanza begin here: "When one rises at the voice of the bird," and sees here a description of the approach of spring, as if the poet said, "When the young and lusty are enjoying the return of genial weather, and the concert of birds with which no musician can compete, the aged, sick in their chambers, are beset with fears and are sinking fast." We fail altogether to read this meaning in our text, wherein we recognize only a symbolical representation of the old man's vocal powers. It is obvious to cite Juvenal's minute and painful description of old age in 'Sat.,' 10:200, etc., and Shakespeare's lines in 'As You Like It' (act 2. sc. 7), where the reference to the voice is very striking-

"His big, manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound."
Cox paraphrases, "The song-birds drop silently into their nests," alarmed at the tempest.
Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:
Verse 5. - Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high. There is no "when" in the original, which runs, "Also, or yea, they fear on high." "They" are old men, or, like the French on, "people" indefinitely; and the clause says that they find difficulty in mounting an ascent, as the Vulgate renders, Excelsa quoque timebant. Shortness of breath, asthmatic tendencies, failure of muscular power, make such an exertion arduous and burdensome, just as in the previous verse a similar cause rendered singing impossible. The description is now arriving at the last stage, and allegorizing the closing scene. The steep ascent is the via dolorosa, the painful process of dying, from which the natural man shrinks; for as the gnome says -

Τοῦ ζῇν γὰρ οὐδεὶς ὡς ὁ γηράσκων ἐρᾷ
"None dotes on life more than the aged man." The old man is going on the appointed road, and fears shall be in the way; or, all sorts of fears (plural of intensity) are in the path; as in his infirm condition he can walk nowhere without danger of meeting with some accident, so analogously, as he contemplates his end and the road he has to travel, "fearfulness and trembling come upon him, and horror overwhelms him" (Psalm 55:5). Plumptre sees in these clauses a further adumbration of the inconveniences of old age, how that the decrepit man makes mountains of mole-hills, is full of imaginary terrors, always forecasting sad events, and so on; but this does not carry on the picture to the end which the poet has now in view, and seems tame and commonplace. The supporters of the storm-theory explain the passage as denoting the fears of the people at what is coming from on high - the gathering tempest, these fears extending to those on the highway, - which is feeble. And the almond tree shall flourish; or, is in blossom. The old man is thus figured from the observed aspect of this tree. It blossoms in winter upon a leafless stem, and its flowers, at first of a pale pink color, turn to a snowy whiteness as they fall from the branches. The tree thus becomes a fit type of the arid, torpid-looking old man with his white hair. So Wright quotes Virgil, 'AEneid,' 5:416 -

"Temporibus geminis canebat sparsa senectus;ETT*>

though there the idea is rather of mingled black and grey hair than of ahead of snowy whiteness. Canon Tristram ('Nat. Hist. of the Bible,' p. 332), referring to the usual version of this clause, adds, "But the better interpretation seems to be, that as the almond blossom ushers in the spring, so do the signs referred to in the context indicate the hastening (shaked, 'almond,' meaning also 'hasten') of old age and death." Plumptre adopts the notion that the name of the tree is derived from a stem meaning "to watch," and that thus it may be called the early-waking tree (see Jeremiah 1:11), the enigmatic phrase describing the wakefulness that often attends old age. But this seems a refinement by no means justified by the use of the word. Others find in the verb the signification "to disdain, loathe," and explain that the old man has lost his taste for almond nuts, which seems to be an unnecessary observation after the previous allusions to his toothless condition, the cracking and eating of such things requiring the grinders to be in perfect order. The versions are unanimous in translating the clause as the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint, ἀνθήσῃ τὸ ἀμύγδαλον: Vulgate, fiorebit amygdalus. (So Verier. and the Syriac.) Wright takes this clause and the next to indicate the opening of spring, when nature reawakens from its winter sleep, and the dying man can no longer respond to the call or enjoy the happy season. The expositors who adhere to the notion of the storm would translate, "the almond shall be rejected," alluding to fear taking away appetite; but the rendering is faulty. And the grasshopper shall he a burden. Chagab, rendered "grasshopper" here and Leviticus 11:22; Numbers 13:33, etc., is rightly translated "locust" in 2 Chronicles 7:15. It is one of the smaller species of the insect, as is implied by its use in Isaiah 40:22, where from the height of heaven the inhabitants of earth are regarded as chagabim. The clause is usually explained to mean that the very lightest burden is troublesome to old age, or that the hopping and chirping of these insects annoy the querulous senior. But who does not see the incongruity of expressing the disinclination for labor and exertion by the figure of finding a grasshopper too heavy to carry? Who would think of carrying a grasshopper? Plumptre, who discovers Greek allusions in the most unlikely places, sees here an intimation of the writer's acquaintance with the Athenians' custom of wearing a golden grasshopper on their heads as a token that they were autochthones, "sprung from the soil." Few will be disposed to concur with this opinion. Ginsburg and others consider that Koheleth is regarding the locust as an article of food, which it was and still is in the East (Leviticus 11:21, 22; Matthew 3:4). In some places it is esteemed a great delicacy, and is cooked and prepared in a variety of ways. So here the writer is supposed to mean that dainties shall tempt in vain; even the much-esteemed locust shall be loathed. But we cannot imagine this article of food, which indeed was neither general nor at all seasons procurable, being singled out as an appetizing esculent. The solution of the enigma must be sought elsewhere. The Septuagint gives, καὶ παχυνθῇ ἡ ἀκρίς: the Vulgate, imping, uabitur locusts, "the locust grows fat. Founded on this rendering is the opinion which considers that under this figure is depicted the corpulence or dropsical swelling that sometimes accompanies advanced life. But this morbid and abnormal condition could not be introduced into a typical description of the usual accompaniments of age, even if the verb could be rightly translated as the Greek and Latin versions give it, which is more than doubtful. Delitzsch, after some Jewish interpreters, considers that under the term "locust" is meant the loins or hips, or caput femoris, which is thus named" because it includes in itself the mechanism which the two-membered foot for springing, placed at an acute angle, presents in the locust." The poet is thought to allude to the loss of elasticity in the hips and the inability to bear any weight. We cannot agree to the propriety of this artificial explanation, which seems to have been invented to account for the expressions in the text, rather than to be founded on fact. But though we reject this elucidation of the figure, we think Delitzsch and some others are right in taking the verb in the sense of "to move heavily, to crawl along." "The locust crawls," i.e. the old man drags his limbs heavily and painfully along, like the locust just hatched in early spring, and as yet not furnished with wings, which makes it8 way clumsily and slowly. The analogy derives another feature from the fact, well attested, that the appearance of the locust was synchronous with the days considered most fatal to old people, namely, the seven at the end of January and the beginning of February. So we now have the figure of the old man with his snow-white hair, panting and gasping, creeping painfully to his grave. One more trait is added. And desire shall fail. The word rendered "desire" (אֲבִיּונָה) is found nowhere else in the Old Testament, and its meaning is disputed. The Authorized Version has adopted the rendering of some of the Jewish commentators (and that of Venet., ἡ ὔρεξις), but, according to Delitzsch, the feminine form of the noun precludes the notion of an abstract quality, and the etymology on which it rests is doubtful. Nor would it be likely that, having employed symbolism hitherto throughout his description, the writer would suddenly drop metaphor and speak in unfigurative language. We are, therefore, driven to rely for its meaning on the old versions, which would convey the traditionary idea. The Septuagint gives, ἡ κάππαρις, and so the Vulgate, capparis, by which is designated the caper tree or berry, probably the same as the hyssop, which is found throughout the East, and was extensively used as a provocative of appetite, a stimulant and restorative. Accordingly, the writer is thought here to be intimating that even stimulants, such as the caper, affect the old man no longer, cannot give zest to or make him enjoy his food. Here, again, the figurative is dropped, and a literal, unvarnished fact is stated, which mars the perfection of the picture. But the verb here used (parar) is capable of another signification, and is often found in the unmetaphorical sense of "breaking" or "bursting;" so the clause will run, "and the caper berry bursts." Septuagint, καὶ διασκεδασθῇ ἡ κάππαρις: Vulgate, dissipabitur capparis. The fruit of this plant, when overripe, bursts open and falls off - a fit image of the dissolution of the aged frame, now ripe for the tomb, and showing evident tokens of decay. By this interpretation the symbolism is maintained, which perhaps is further illustrated by the fact that the fruit hangs down and droops from the end of long stalks, as the man bows his head and stoops his back to meet the coming death. Because (ki) man goeth to his long home. This and the following clause are parenthetical, ver. 6 resuming the allegory. It is as though Koheleth said - Such is the way, such are the symptoms, when decay and death are approaching; all these things happen, all these signs meet the eye, at such & period. "His long home;" εἰς οϊκον αἰῶνος αὐτοῦ (Septuagint), "to the house of his eternity," "his everlasting habitation," i.e. the grave, or Hades. There is a similar expression in Tobit 3:6, εἰς τὸν αἰώνιον τόπον, which in the Hebrew editions of that book is given as, "Gather me to my father, to the house appointed for all living," with which Canon Churton (in lot.) compares Job 10:21; Job 30:23. So Psalm 49:11 (according to many versions), "Their graves are their houses for ever." The σκηναὶ αἰώνιοι of Luke 16:9 are a periphrasis for life in heaven. Diodorus Siculus notes that the Egyptians used the terms ἀίδιοι οϊκοι, and ἡ αἰώνιος οἴκσις of Hades (2. 51; 1. 93). The expression, "domus eterna," appears at Rome on tombs, as Plumptre observes, both in Christian and non-Christian inscriptions; and the Assyrians name the world or state beyond the grave "the house of eternity" ('Records of the Past,' 1:143). From the expression in the text nothing can be deduced concerning Koheleth's eschatological views. He is speaking here merely phenomenally. Men live their little span upon the earth, and then go to what in comparison of this is an eternity. Much of the difficulty about αἰώνιος, etc., would be obviated if critics would remember that the meaning of such words is conditioned by the context, that e.g. "everlasting" applied to a mountain and to God cannot be understood in the same, sense. And the mourners go about the streets. This can hardly mean that the usual funeral rites have begun; for the death is not conceived as having already taken place; this is reserved for ver. 7. Nor can it, therefore, refer to the relations and friends who are sorrowing for the departed. The persons spoken of must be the mourners who are hired to play and sing at funerals (see 2 Samuel 3:31; Jeremiah 9:17; Jeremiah 34:5; Matthew 9:23). These were getting ready to ply their trade, expecting hourly the old man's death. So the Romans had their praeficae, and persons "qui conducti plorant in funere" (Horace, 'Ars Poet.,' 431).
Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Verse 6. - Or ever; i.e. before, ere (ad asher lo). The words recall us to vers. 1 and 2, bidding the youth make the best use of his time ere old age cuts him off. In the present paragraph the final dissolution is described under two figures. The silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken. This is evidently one figure, which would be made plainer by reading "and" instead of "or," the idea being that the lamp is shattered by the snapping of the cord that suspended it from the roof. But there are some difficulties in the closer explanation of the allegory. The "bowl" (gullah) is the reservoir of oil in a lamp (see Zechariah 4:3, 4), which supplies nourishment to the flame; when this is broken or damaged so as to be useless, the light, of course, is extinguished. The Septuagint calls it τὸ ἀνθέμιον τοῦ χρυσίον: the Vulgate, vitta aurea, "the golden fillet," or flower ornament on a column, which quite sinks the notion of a light being quenched. The "cord" is that by which the lamp is hung in a tent or a room. But of what in man are these symbols? Many fanciful interpretations have been given. The "silver cord" is the spine, the nerves generally, the tongue; the "golden bowl" is the head, the membrane of the brain, the stomach. But these anatomical details are not to be adopted; they have little to recommend them, and are incongruous with the rest of the parable. The general break-up of life is here delineated, not the progress of destruction in certain organs or parts of the human frame. The cord is what we should call the thread of life, on which hangs the body lit by the animating soul; when the connection between these is severed, the latter perishes, like a fallen lamp lying crushed on the ground. In this our view the cord is the living power which keeps the corporeal substance from failing to ruin; the bowl is the body itself thus upheld. The mention of gold and silver is introduced to denote the preciousness of man's life and nature. But the analogy must not be pressed in all possible details. It is like the parables, where, if defined and examined too closely, incongruities appear. We should be inclined to make more of the lamp and the light and the oil, which are barely inferred in the passage, and endeavor to explain what these images import. Koheleth is satisfied with the general figure which adumbrates the dissolution of the material fabric by the withdrawal of the principle of life. What is the immediate cause of this dissolution, injury, paralysis, etc., is not handled; only the rupture is noticed and its fatal result. Another image to the same effect, though pointing to a different process, is added Or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or (and) the wheel broken at (in) the cistern. The picture here is a deep well or cistern with an apparatus for drawing water; this apparatus consists of a wheel or windlass with a rope upon it, to which is attached a bucket; the wheel fails, falls into the well, the bucket is dashed to pieces, and no water can be drawn. It is best to regard the two clauses as intended to convey one idea, as the two at the beginning of the verse were found to do. Some commentators, not so suitably, distinguish between the two, making the former clause say that the pitcher is broken on its road to or from the spring, and the latter that the draw-wheel gives way. The imagery, points to one notion which would be weakened by being divided into two. The motion of the bucket, the winding up and down, by which water is drawn from the well, is an emblem of the movements of the heart, the organs of respiration, etc. When these cease to act, life is extinct. The fraction of the cord and the demolition of the bowl denoted the separation of soul and body; the breaking of the pitcher and the destruction of the wheel signify the overthrow of the bodily organs by which vital motion is diffused and maintained, and the man lives. The expressions in the text remind one of the term, "earthen vessel," applied by St. Paul (2 Corinthians 4:7) to the human body; and "the fountain of life," "the water of life." so often mentioned in Holy Scripture as typical of the grace of God and the blessedness of life with him (see Psalm 36:9; Proverbs 13:14; John 4:10, 14; Revelation 21:6).
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.
Verse 7. - Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; rather, and the dust return, etc. - the sentence begun above being still carried on to the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body, when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally made (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; comp. Job 34:15; Psalm 104:29). So Siracides calls man "dust and ashes," and asserts that all things that are of the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclus. 10:9 Ecclus. 40:11). Soph., 'Electra,' 1158 -

Ἀντὶ φιλτάτης`ΝΛ´Μορφῆς σποδόν τε καὶ σκιὰν ἀνωφελῆ

"Instead of thy dear form,
Mere dust and idle shadow."
Corn. a Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch ('Apol. ad Apollon.,' 110) from Epicharmus," Life is compounded and broken up, and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to upper regions." And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; or, for the spirit - the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition "to" is עַל, in the second אֶל, as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:21 (where see note), "Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward," etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded ver. 7 as an interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it shall be brought into immediate connection with a personal God. There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, in accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality, denied the personality of the soul (see Eurip., ' Suppl.,' 529-534; Lucret., 2. 998, sqq.; 3:455, sqq.). Nor have we any opinion given concerning the adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism, though the terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life; when this departs, he who gave receives it; God "gathereth in" man's breath (Psalm 104:29). The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul, the personal "I;" it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath; and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this would be a feeble conclusion of the author's wanderings; rather the sentence signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle, places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum paraphrases the passage, returning to stand in judgment before its Creator.
Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity.
Verse 8. - It has been much questioned whether this verse is the conclusion of the treatise or the commencement of the epilogue. For the latter conclusion it is contended that it is only natural that the beginning of the final summing-up should start with the same words as the opening of the book (Ecclesiastes 1:2); and that thus the conjunction "and," with which ver. 9 begins, is readily explained. But the treatise is more artistically completed by regarding this solemn utterance as the conclusion of the whole, ending with the same burden with which it began - the nothingness of earthly things. Koheleth has labored to show this, he has pursued the thought from beginning to end, through all circumstances and conditions, and he can only re-echo his melancholy refrain. Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher. He does not follow the destiny of the immortal spirit; it is not his purpose to do so; his theme is the fragility of mortal things, their unsatisfying nature, the impossibility of their securing man's happiness: so his voyage lands him at the point whence he set forth, though he has learned and taught faith in the interval. If all is vanity, there is behind and above all a God of inflexible justice, who must do right, and to whom we may safely trust our cares and perplexities. Koheleth," Preacher," here has the article, the Koheleth, as if some special reference was made to the meaning of the name - he who has been debating, or haranguing, or gathering together, utters finally his careful verdict. This is the sentence of the ideal Solomon, who has given his experiences in the preceding pages.
And moreover, because the preacher was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he gave good heed, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
Verses 9-14. - THE EPILOGUE. This contains some observations commendatory of the author, explaining his standpoint and the object of the book, the great conclusion to which it leads. Verses 9-11. - Koheleth as teacher of wisdom. Verse 9. - And moreover; וְיֹתֵר; καὶ περισσόν (Septuagint); rather, with the following שֵׁ besides that. The Preacher was wise. If we render "because the Preacher was wise," we are making an unnecessary statement, as the whole book has demonstrated this fact, which goes without saying. What the writer here asserts is that Koheleth did not merely possess wisdom, but had made good use of it for the instruction of others. The author throws aside his disguise, and speaks of his object in composing the book, with a glance at the historical Solomon whom he had personated. That he uses the third person in relation to himself is nothing uncommon in historical memoirs, etc. Thus Daniel writes; and St. John, Thucydides, Xenophon, Caesar, mask their personality by dropping their identity with the author (comp. also Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 7:27). The attestation that follows is compared with that at the end of St. John's Gospel (John 21:24), and is plainly intended to confirm the authority of the writer, and to enforce on the hearer the conviction that, though Solomon himself did not compose the work, it has every claim to receive attention, and possesses intrinsic value. He still taught the people knowledge. As well as being esteemed one of the company of sages, he further (od) took pains to instruct his contemporaries (τὸν ἄνθρωπον, Septuagint), to apply his wisdom to educational purposes. Yea, he gave good heed; literally, he weighed (like our word "ponder"); only thus used in this passage. It denotes the careful examination of every fact and argument before it was presented to the public. Sought out, and set in order many proverbs. There is no copula in the original; the weighing and the investigation issued in the composition of "proverbs," which term includes not only the wit and wisdom of past ages in the form of pithy sayings and apophthegms, but also parables, truths in metaphorical guise, riddles, instructions, allegories, etc., all those forms which are found in the canonical Book of Proverbs. The same word (mishle) is used here as in the title of that book. Koheleth, however, is not necessarily referring to that work (or to 1 Kings 4:29, etc.), or implying that he himself wrote it; he is only putting forth his claim to attention by showing his patient assiduity in the pursuit of wisdom, and how that he adopted a particular method of teaching. For the idea contained in the verb taqan, "to place or make straight" (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13), applied to literary composition, Delitzsch compares the German word for" author" (Schriftsteller). The notion of the mashal being similitude, comparison, the writer's pondering and searching were needed to discover hidden analogies, and, by means of the known and familiar, to lead up to the more obscure and abstruse. The Septuagint has a curious and somewhat unintelligible rendering, Καὶ οϋς ἐξιχνιάσεται κόσμιον παραβολῶν, "And the ear will trace out the order of parables," which Schleusner translates, "elegantes parabolas."
The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
Verse 10. - The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words; literally, words of delight; λόγους θελήματος (Septuagint); verba utilia (Vulgate); so Aquila, λόγους χρείας. The word chephets, "pleasure," occurs in Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 12:1. Thus we have "stones of pleasure" (Isaiah 54:12). He added the grace of refined diction to the solid sense of his utterances. Plumptre reminds us of the "gracious words" (λόγοις τῆς χάριτος, Luke 4:22) which proceeded from the mouth of him who, being the Incarnate Wisdom of God, was indeed greater than Solomon. On the necessity of a work being attractive as well as conforming to literary rules, Horace long ago wrote ('Ars Poet.,' 99) -

"Non satis est pulchra esse poemata; dulcia sunto,
Et quoeunque volent animum auditoris agunto."

"'Tis not enough that poems faultless be,
And fair; let them be tender too, and draw
The hearer by the cord of sympathy."
St. Augustine is copious on this subject in his treatise, 'De Doctr. Christ.;' thus (4:26): "Proinde ilia tria, ut intelligant qui audiunt, ut delectentur, ut obediant, etiam in hoc genere agendum est, ubi tenet delectatio principatum .... Sed quis movetur, si nescit quod dicitur? Ant quis tenetur ut audiat, si non delectatur?" And that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The Authorized Version, with its interpolations, does not accurately convey the sense of the original. The sentence is to be regarded as containing phrases in apposition to the "acceptable words" of the first clause; thus: "Koheleth sought to discover words of pleasure, and a writing in sincerity, words of truth. 'The Septuagint has, καὶ γεγραμμένον εὐθύτητος, "a writing of uprightness;" Vulgate, et conscripsit sermones rectissimos. The meaning is that what he wrote had two characteristics - it was sincere, that which he really thought and believed, and it was true objectively. If any reader was disposed to cavil, and to depreciate the worth of the treatise because it was not the genuine work of the celebrated Solomon, the writer claims attention to his production on the ground of its intrinsic qualities, as inspired by the same wisdom which animated his great predecessor.
The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.
Verse 11. - The words of the wise are as goads. The connection of this verse with the preceding is maintained by the fact that the "acceptable words," etc., are words of the wise, emanate from the same persons. Herewith he proceeds to characterize them, with especial reference to his own work. The goad was a rod with an iron spike, or sharpened at the end, used in driving oxen (see Judges 3:31; 1 Samuel 13:21; Ecclus. 38:25; Acts 9:5). Words of wisdom are called goads because they rouse to exertion, promote reflection and action, restrain from error, impel to right; if they hurt and sting, the pain which they inflict is healthful, for good and not for evil. And as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies. The proposition "by" is an interpolation, and the sentence should run: Ant/ like nails fastened [are] the, etc. - masmeroth, "nails," as in Isaiah 41:7. There is much difficulty in explaining the next words, בַּעַלִי אַסֻפות (baale asuppoth). We have had similar expressions applied to possessors in Ecclesiastes 10:11, "lord of the tongue," and "lord of wings" (Ecclesiastes 10:20); and analogy might lead us to apply the phrase here to-persons, and not things; but in Isaiah 41:15 we find a threshing-instrument termed "lord of teeth;" and in 2 Samuel 5:20 a town is called Baal-Perazim, "Lord of breaches;" so we must be guided by other considerations in our exposition. The Septuagint, taking the whole sentence together, and regarding baals as a preposition, renders, "As nails firmly planted, (οι{ παρᾶ τῶν συνθεμάτων ἐδόθησαν ἐκ ποιμένος ἑνός) which from the collections were given from one shepherd." Schleus-her takes οι{ παρὰ τῶν συνθεμάτων to mean, "Ii quibus munus datum erat collectionem faciendi," i.e. the author, of collections. The Vulgate has, Verba... quae per magistrorum consilium data sunt a pastore uno. The "masters of assemblies" can only be the chiefs of some learned conclaves, like the great synagogue supposed to exist in the time of Ezra and later. The clause would then assert that these pundits are like fastened nails, which seems rather unmeaning. One might say that their uttered sentiments became fixed in the mind as nails firmly driven in, but one could not properly say this of the men themselves. A late editor, Gietmann, suggests that "lords of collection" may mean "brave men, heroes, gathered in line of battle," serried ranks, just as in Proverbs 22:20 the term shalishim, chariot-fighters, chieftains, is applied to choice proverbs. Thus he would say that the words of the wise are as goads because they stimulate the intellect, as nails because they readily find entrance, and like men in battle array when they are reduced to writing and marshaled in a book. This is certainly ingenious, but somewhat too artificial to be regarded as the genuine intention of the writer. It seems best to take the word translated "assemblies" as denoting collections, not of people, but of proverbs; and the compound phrase would thus mean proverbs of an excellent character, the best of their sort gathered together in writing. Such words are well compared to nails; they are no longer floating loosely about, they are fixed in the memory, they secure other knowledge, and, though they are separate utterances, they have a certain unity and purpose. Nails are often used proverbially as emblems of what is fixed and unalterable. Thus AEschyl., 'Suppl.,' 944 -

Τῶν δ ἐφήλωται τορῶς`ΝΛ´Γόμφος διαμπὰξ ὡς μένειν ἀραρότως

"Through them a nail is firmly fixed, that they
May rest immovable."
Cicero, 'Verr.,' 2:5.21, "Ut hoc beneficium, quemadmodum dicitur, trabali clave figeret;" i.e. to make it sure and steadfast (comp. Horace, 'Carm.,' 1:35. 17, et seq.). Which are given from one shepherd. All these words of the wise, collections, etc., proceed from one source, or are set forth by one authority. Who is] this shepherd? Some say that he is the archisynagogus, the president of the assemblies of wise men, to whose authority all these public utterances are subjected. But we do not know that such supervision existed or was exercised at the time when Koheleth wrote; and, as we saw above, there is probably no reference to any such assemblies in the passage. The "one shepherd" is doubtless Jehovah, who is called the Shepherd of Israel, who feeds his people like a flock, etc. (see Genesis 48:15; Genesis 49:24; Psalm 23:1; Psalm 80:1, etc.). The appellation is here used as concinnous with the thought of the ox-goad, intimating that God watches and leads his people like a tender shepherd and a skilful farmer. This is an important claim to inspiration. All these varied utterances, whatever form they take, whether his own or his predecessor's, are outcomes of wisdom, and proceed from him who is only wise, Almighty God. It is no disparagement of this work to imply that it is not the production of the true Solomon; Koheleth is ready to avow himself the writer, and yet claims a hearing as being equally moved by heavenly influence. It is like St. Paul's assertion (1 Corinthians 7:40), "I think that I also have the Spirit of God."
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
Verses 12-14. - The author warns against profitless study, and gives the final conclusion to which the whole discussion leads. Verse 12. - And further, by these, my son, be admonished; rather, and what is more than these, be warned. Besides all that has been said, take this additional and important caution, viz. what follows. The clause, however, has been differently interpreted, as if it said, "Do not attempt to go beyond the words of the sages mentioned above; or, "Be content with my counsels; they will suffice for your instruction." This seems to be the meaning of the Authorized Version. The personal address, "my son," so usual in the Book of Proverbs, is used by Koheleth in this place alone. It does not necessarily imply relationship (as if the pseudo-Solomon was appealing to Rehoboam), but rather the condition of pupil and learner, sitting at the feet of his teacher and friend. Of malting many books there is no end. This could not be said in the time of the historical Solomon, even if we reckon his own voluminous works (1 Kings 4:32, 33); for we know of no other writers of that date, and it is tolerably certain that none existed in Palestine. But we need not suppose that Koheleth is referring to extraneous heathen productions, of which, in our view, there is no evidence that he possessed any special knowledge. Doubtless many thinkers in his time had treated of the problems discussed in his volume in a far different manner from that herein employed, and it seemed good to utter a warning against the unprofitable reading of such productions. Juvenal speaks of the insatiable passion for writing in his day ('Sat.,' 7:51) -

"Tenet insanabile multos
Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senestit;"

which Dryden renders -

"The charms of poetry our souls bewitch;
The curse of writing is an endless itch."
As in taking food it is not the quantity which a man eats, but what he digests and assimilates, that nourishes him, so in reading, the rule, Non multa, sed multum, must be observed; the gorging the literary appetite on food wholesome or not impedes the healthy mental process, and produces no intellectual growth or strength. The obvious lesson drawn by spiritual writers is that Christians should make God's Word their chief study, "turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). For as St. Augustine says ('De Doctr. Christ.'), "Whereas in Holy Scripture you will find everything which has been profitably said elsewhere, to a far greater extent you will therein find what has been nowhere else enunciated, but which has been taught solely by the marvelous sublimity and the equally marvelous humility of the Word of God." Much study is a weariness of the flesh. The two clauses in the latter part of the verse are co-ordinate. Thus the Septuagint, Τοῦ ποιῆσαι βιβλία πολλὰ οὐκ ἔστι περασμὸς καὶ μελέτη πολλὴ κόπωσις ("weariness") σαρκός. The word for "study" (lahag) is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, nor in the Talmud, but the above meaning is sustained by its connection with an Arabic word signifying "to be eager for." The Vulgate (like the Septuagint) renders it meditatio. You may weary your brain, exhaust your strength, by protracted study or meditation on many books, but you will not necessarily thereby gain any insight into the problems of the universe or guidance for daily life. Marcus Aurelius dissuades from much reading: "Would you examine your whole composition?" he says; "pray, then let your library alone; what need you puzzle your thoughts and over-grasp yourself?" Again, "As for books, never be over-eager about them; such a fondness for reading will be apt to perplex your mind, and make you die unpleased" ('Medit.,' 2:2, 3, Collier). So Ben-Sira affirms, "The finding out of parables is a wearisome Labor of the mind" (Ecclus. 13:26).
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Verse 13. - The teaching of the whole book is now gathered up in two weighty sentences. Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The Revised Version gives, This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard. The Septuagint has, Τέλος λόγου τὸ πᾶν ἄκουε, "The end of the matter, the sum, hear thou;" Vulgate, Finem loquendi pariter omnes audiamus. Another rendering is suggested, "The conclusion of the matter is this, that [God] taketh knowledge of all things;" literally, "everything is heard." Perhaps the passage is best translated, The end of the matter, when all is heard, is this. The first word of this verse, soph, "end," is printed in the Hebrew text in large characters, in order to draw attention to the importance of what is coming. And its significance is rightly estimated. These two verses guard against very possible misconception, and give the author's real and mature conclusion. When this is received, all that need be said has been uttered. Fear God (ha-Elohim), and keep his commandments. This injunction is the practical result of the whole discussion. Amid the difficulties of the moral government of the world, amid the complications of society, varying and opposing interests and claims, one duty remained plain and unchanging - the duty of piety and obedience. For this is the whole duty of man. The Hebrew is literally, "This is every man," which is explained to mean, "This is every man's duty." Septuagint, Ὅτι τοῦτο πᾶς ὁ ἄνθρωπος: Vulgate, Hoc est enim omnis homo. For this man was made and placed in the world; this is his real object, the chief good which he has to seek, and which alone will secure contentment and happiness. The obligation is put in the most general terms as applicable to the whole human family; for God is not the God of the Jews only, but of Gentiles also (Romans 3:29).
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.
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.

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