Ecclesiastes 6
Pulpit Commentary
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:
Verses 1-6. - Section 9. Koheleth proceeds to illustrate the fact which he stated at the end of the last chapter, viz. that the possession and enjoyment of wealth are alike the free gift of God. We may see men possessed of all the gifts of fortune, yet denied the faculty of enjoying them. Hence we again conclude that wealth cannot secure happiness. Verse 1. - There is an evil which I have seen under the sun. The writer presents his personal experience, that which has fallen under his own observation (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:13; Ecclesiastes 10:5). And it is common among men. Rab, Translated "common," like πολὺς ιν Greek, is used of number and of degree; hence there is some doubt about its meaning here. The Septuagint has πολλή, the Vulgate frequens. Taking into account the fact that the circumstance stated is not one of general experience, we must receive the adjective in its tropical signification, and render, And it is great [lies heavily] upon men. Comp. Ecclesiastes 8:6, where the same word is used, and the preposition עַל is rather "upon" than "among" (Isaiah 24:20).
A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
Verse 2. - A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honor. This is the evil to which reference is made. Two of the words here given, "riches" and "honor," are those used by God in blessing Solomon in the vision at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:13); but all three are employed in the parallel passage (2 Chronicles 1:11). So that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth. "His soul" is the man himself, his personality, as Psalm 49:19. So in the parable (Luke 12:19) the rich fool says to his soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years." In the supposed case the man is able to procure for himself everything which he wants; has no occasion to deny himself the gratification of any rising desire. All this comes from God's bounty; but something more is wanted to bring happiness. Yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof. "To eat" is used in a metaphorical sense for "to enjoy," take advantage of, make due use of (see on Ecclesiastes 2:24). The ability to enjoy all these good things is wanting, either from discontent, or moroseness, or sickness, or as a punishment for secret sin. But a stranger eateth it. The "stranger" is not the legal heir, but an alien to the possessor's blood, neither relation nor even necessarily a friend. For a childless Oriental to adopt an heir is a common custom at the present day. The wish to continue a family, to leave a name and inheritance to children's children, was very strong among the Hebrews - all the stronger as the life beyond the grave was dimly apprehended. Abraham expressed this feeling when he sadly cried, "I go childless, and he that shall be possessor of my house is Dammesek Eliezer" (Genesis 15:2). The evils are two - that this great fortune brings no happiness to its possessor, and that it passes to one who is nothing to him. An evil disease; αῥῤωστία πονηρά, Septuagint, an evil as bad as the diseases spoken of in Deuteronomy 28:27, 28.
If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
Verse 3. - If a man beget an hundred children. Another case is supposed, differing from,the preceding one, where the rich man dies childless. Septuagint, Ἐὰν γεννήσῃ ἀνὴρ, ἑκατόν. "Sons,' or "children," must be supplied (comp. 1 Samuel 2:5; Jeremiah 15:9). To have a large family was regarded as a great blessing. The "hundred" is a round number, though we read of some fathers who had nearly this number of children; thus Ahab had seventy sons (2 Kings 10:1), Rehoboam eighty-eight children (2 Chronicles 11:21). Plumptre follows some commentators in seeing here an allusion to Artaxerxes Mnemon, who is said to have had a hundred and fifteen children, and died of grief at the age of ninety-four at the suicide of one son and the murder of another. Wordsworth opines that Solomon, in the previous verse, was thinking of Jeroboam, who, it was revealed unto him, should, stranger as he was, seize and enjoy his inheritance. But these historical references are the merest guesswork, and rest upon no substantial basis. Plainly the author's statement is general, and there is no need to ransack history to find its parallel. And live many years, so that the days of his years be many; Et vixerit multos annos, et plures dies aetatis habuerit (Vulgate). These versions seem to be simply tautological. The second clause is climacteric, as Ginsburg renders, "Yea, numerous as may be the days of his years." The whole extent of years is summed up in days. So Psalm 90:10, "The days of our years are three score years and ten," etc. Long life, again, was deemed a special blessing, as we see in the commandment with promise (Exodus 20:12). And (yet if) his soul not filled with good; i.e. he does not satisfy himself with the enjoyment of all the good things which he possesses. Septuagint, Καὶ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ οὐ πλησθήσεται ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγαθωσύνης "And his soul shall not be satisfied with his good." And also that he have no burial. This is the climax of the evil that befalls him. Some critics, not entering into Koheleth's view of the severity of this calamity, translate, "and even if the grave did not wait for him," i.e. "if he were never to die," if he were immortal. But there is no parallel to show that the clause can have this meaning; and we know, without having recourse to Greek precedents, that the want of burial was reckoned a grievous loss and dishonor. Hence comes the common allusion to dead carcasses being left to be devoured by beasts and birds, instead of meeting with honorable burial in the ancestral graves (1 Kings 13:22; Isaiah 14:18-20). Thus David says to his giant foe, "I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth" (1 Samuel 17:46); and about Jehoiakim it was denounced that he should not be lamented when he died: "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, 19). The lot of the rich man in question is proclaimed with ever-increasing misery. Ha cannot enjoy his possessions; he has none to whom to leave them; his memory perishes; he has no honored burial. I say, that an untimely birth is better than he (comp. Ecclesiastes 4:3). The abortion or still-born child is preferable to one whose destiny is so miserable (see Job 3:16; Psalm 58:8). It is preferable because, although it has missed all the pleasures of life, it has at least escaped all suffering. The next two verses illustrate this position.
For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
Verse 4. - For he cometh in with vanity; rather, for it came into nothingness. The reference is to the fetus, or still-born child, not to the rich man, as is implied by the Authorized Version. This, when it appeared, had no independent life or being, was a mere nothing. And departeth in darkness; and goeth into the darkness. It is taken away and put out of sight. And his (its) name shall be covered with darkness. It is a nameless thing, unrecorded, unremembered.
Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
Verse 5. - It has seen nothing of the world, known nothing of life, its joys and its sufferings, and is speedily forgotten. To" see the sun" is a metaphor for to "live," as Ecclesiastes 7:11; Ecclesiastes 11:7; Job 3:16, and implies activity and work, the contrary of rest. This hath more rest than the other; literally, there is rest to this more than to that. The rest that belongs to the abortion is better than that which belongs to the rich man. Others take the clause to say simply, "It is better with this than the other." So the Revised Version margin and Delitzsch, the idea of "rest" being thus generalized, and taken to sights a preferable choice. Septuagint, Καὶ οὐκ ἔγνω ἀναπαύσεις τούτῳ ὑπὲρ τοῦτον, "And hath not known rest for this more than that " - which reproduces the difficulty of the Hebrew; Vulgate, Neque cognovit distantiam boni et malt, which is a paraphrase unsupported by the present accentuation of the text. Rest, in the conception of an Oriental, is the most desirable or' all things; compared with the busy, careworn life of the rich man, whose very moments of leisure and sleep are troubled and disturbed, the dreamless nothingness of the still-born child is happiness. This may be a rhetorical exaggeration, but we have its parallel in Job's lamentable cry in Ecclesiastes 3. when he "cursed his day."
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
Verse 6. - Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good. What has been said would still be true even if the man lived two thousand years. The second clause is not the apodosis (as the Authorized Version makes it), but the continuation of the protasis: if he lived the longest life, "and saw not good;" the conclusion is given in the form of a question. The "good" is the enjoyment of life spoken of in ver. 3 (see on Ecclesiastes 2:1). The specified time seems to refer to the age of the patriarchs, none of whom, from Adam to Noah, reached half the limit assigned. Do not all go to one place? viz. to Sheol, the grave (Ecclesiastes 3:20). If a long life were spent in calm enjoyment, it might be preferable to a short one; but when it is passed amid care and annoyance and discontent, it is no better than that which begins and ends in nothingness. The grave receives both, and there is nothing to choose between them, at least in this point of view. Of life as in itself a blessing, a discipline, a school, Koheleth says nothing here; he puts himself in the place of the discontented rich man, and appraises life with his eyes. On the common destiny that awaits peer and peasant, rich and poor, happy and sorrow-laden, we can all remember utterances old and new. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 2:3. 20 -

"Divesne prisco natus ab Inacho,
Nil interest, an pauper et infima
De gente sub dive moreris,
Victima nil miserantis Orci.
"Omnes eodem cogimur."
Ovid, 'Met.,' 10:33 -

"Omnia debentur vobis, paullumque morati
Serius aut citius sedem properamus ad unam.
Tendimus huc omnes, haec est domus ultima."

"Fate is the lord of all things; soon or late
To one abode we speed, thither we all
Pursue our way, this is our final home."
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.
Verses 7-9. - Section 10. Desire is insatiable; men are always striving after enjoyment, but they never gain their wish completely - which fortifies the old conclusion that man's happiness is not in his own power. Verse 7. - All the labor of man is for his mouth; i.e. for self-preservation and enjoyment, eating and drinking being taken as a type of the proper use of earthly blessings (comp; Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13, etc.; Psalm 128:2). The sentiment is general, and does not refer specially to the particular person described above, though it carries on the idea of the unsatisfactory result of wealth. Luther translates strangely and erroneously, "To every man is work allotted according to his measure. Such an idea is entirely foreign to the context. And yet the appetite is not filled. The word rendered "appetite" is nephesh, "soul," and Zockler contends that "' mouth 'and 'soul' stand in contrast to each other as representatives of the purely sensual and therefore transitory enjoyment (comp. Job 12:11; Proverbs 16:26) as compared with the deeper, more spiritual, and therefore more lasting kind of joy." But no such contrast is intended; the writer would never have uttered such a truism as that deep, spiritual joy is not to be obtained by sensual pleasure; and, as Delitzsch points out, in some passages (e.g., Proverbs 16:26; Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 29:8) "mouth" in one sentence corresponds to "soul" in another. The soul is considered as the seat of the appetitive faculty - emotions, desires, etc. This is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8) with what it has, but is always craving for more. So Horace affirms that a man rightly obtains the appellation of king, "avidum domando spiritum," by subduing his spirit's cravings ('Carm.,' 2:2. 9).
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
Verse 8. - For what hath the wise more fire than the fool? i.e. What advantage hath the wise man over the fool? This verse confirms the previous one by an interrogative argument. The same labor for support, the same unsatisfied desires, belong to all, wise or foolish; in this respect intellectual gifts have no superiority. (For a similar interrogation implying an emphatic denial, see Ecclesiastes 1:30) What hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? The Septuagint gives the verse thus: Ὅτι τίς περίσσεια (A, C, א) τῷ σοφῷ ὑπὲρ τὸν ἄφρονα; διότι ὁ πένης οἰδε πορευθῆναι κατέναντι τῆς ζωῆς, "For what advantage hath the wise man over the fool? since the poor man knows how to walk before life?" Vulgate, Quid habet amplius sapiens a stulto? et quid pauper, nisi ut pergat illuc, ubi est vita? "And what hath the poor man except that he go thither where is life?" Both these versions regard הַחַיִּים as used in the sense of "life," and that the life beyond the grave; but this idea is foreign to the context; and the expression must be rendered, as in the Authorized Version, "the living." The interpretation of the clause has much exercised critics. Plumptre adheres to that of Bernstein and others, "What advantage hath the poor over him who knows how to walk before the living?' (i.e. the man of high birth or station, who lives in public, with the eyes of men upon him). The poor has his cares and unsatisfied desires as much as the man of culture and position. Poverty offers no protection against such assaults, But the expression, to know how to walk before the living, means to understand and to follow the correct path of life; to know how to behave properly and uprightly in the intercourse with one's fellow-men; to have what the French call savoir vivre. (So Volok.) The question must be completed thus: "What advantage has the discreet and properly conducted poor man over the fool?" None, at least in this respect. The poor man, even though he be well vetoed in the rule of life, has insatiable desires which he has to check or conceal, and so is no better off than the fool, who equally is unable to gratify them. The two 'extremities of the social scale are taken - the rich wise man, and the prudent poor man - and both are shown to fail in enjoying life; and what is true of these must be also true of all that come between these two limits, "the appetite is not filled" (ver. 7).
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Verse 9. - Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire (nephesh, "the soul," ver. 7). This is a further confirmation of the misery and unrest that accompany immoderate desires. "The sight of the eyes" means the enjoyment of the present, that which lies before one, in contrast to the restless craving for what is distant, uncertain, and out of reach. The lesson taught is to make the best of existing circumstances, to enjoy the present, to control the roaming of fancy, and to narrow the vast field of appetency. We have a striking expression in Wisd. 4:12, ῤεμβασμὸς ἐπιθυμίας by which is denoted the giddiness, the reeling intoxication, caused by unrestrained passion. The Roman satirist lashed the sin of unscrupulous greed-

"Seal quae reverentia legum,
Quis rectus aut pudor eat unquam properantis avari?"

(Juven., 'Sat.,' 14:177.)

"Nor law, nor checks of conscience will he hear,
When in hot scent of gain and full career."

(Dryden.) Zockler quotes Horace, 'Epist.,' 1:18. 96, sqq -

"Inter cuncta leges et percontabere doctos,
Qua ratione queas traducere leniter aevum;
Num te semper inops agitet vexetque cupido,
Num paver et return mediocriter utilium spes."

"To sum up all -
Consult and con the wise
In what the art of true contentment lies:
How fear and hope, that rack the human will,
Are but vain dreams of things nor good nor ill."

(Howes.) Marc. Aurel., 'Meditat.,' 4:26, Has any advantage happened to you? It is the bounty of fate. It was all preordained you by the universal cause. Upon the whole, life is but short, therefore be just and prudent, and make your most of it; and when you divert yourself, be always on your guard' (J. Collier). Well is it added that this insatiability of the soul, which never leads to contentment, is vanity and vexation of spirit, a feeding on wind, empty, unsatisfying. Commentators refer in illustration to the fable of the dog and the shadow, and the proverb, A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
Verses 10-12. - Section 11. All things are foreknown and foreordained by God; it is useless to murmur against or to discuss this great fact; and as the future is beyond our knowledge and control, it is wise to make the best of the present. Verse 10. - That which hath been is named already; better, whatsoever hath been, long ago hath its name been given. The word rendered "already," kebar (Ecclesiastes 1:10; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiastes 4:2), "long ago," though used elsewhere in this book of events in human history, may appropriately be applied to the Divine decrees which predetermine the circumstances of man's life. This is its significance in the present passage, which asserts that everything which happens has been known and fixed beforehand, and therefore that man cannot shape his own life. No attempt is here made to reconcile this doctrine with man's free-will and consequent responsibility. The idea has already been presented in Ecclesiastes 3:1, etc. It comes forth in Isaiah 45:9, "Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" (comp. Romans 9:20); Acts 15:18 (according to the Textus Receptus), "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." The same idea is brought out more fully in the following clauses. Septuagint, "If anything ever was, already hath its name been called," which gives the correct sense of the passage. The Vulgate is not so happy, Qui futurus est, jam vocatum est nomen ejus, being rather opposed to the grammar. And it is known that it is man. What is meant by the Authorized Version is doubtful. If the first clause had been translated, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "Whatsoever he be, his name was given him long ago," the conclusion would come naturally, "and it is known that he is man" (Adam), and we should see an allusion to man's name and to the ground (adamah) from which he was taken (Genesis 2:7), as if his very name betokened his weakness. But the present version is very obscure. Cox gives, "It is very certain that even the greatest is but a man, and cannot contend with him," etc. But the Hebrew will not admit this rendering. The clause really amplifies the previous statement of man's predetermined destiny, and it should be rendered, "And it is known what a man shall be." Every individual comes under God's prescient superintendence. Septuagint, Ἐγνώσθη ὅ ἐστω ἄνθρωπος, "It is known what man is;" Vulgate, Et scitur quod homo sit. But it is not the nature of man that is in question, but his conditioned state. Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. The mightier One is God, in accordance with the passages quoted above from Isaiah, Acts, and Romans. Some consider that death is intended, and that the author is referring to the shortness of man's life. They say that the word taqqiph, "mighty" (which occurs only in Ezra and Daniel), is never used of God. But is it used of death? And is it not used of God in Daniel 4:3 (3:33, Hebrew), where Nebuchadnezzar says, "How mighty are his wonders"? To bring death into consideration is to introduce a new thought having no connection with the context, which is not speaking of the termination of man's life, but of its course, the circumstances of which are arranged by a higher Power. Septuagint, Καὶ οὐ δυνήσεται κριθῆναι μετὰ τοῦ ἰσχυροτέρου ὑπὲρ αὐτὸν. With this we may compare 1 Corinthians 10:22, "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (μὴ ἰσχυρότεροι αὐτοῦ ἐσμέν;)."
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?
Verse 11. - Seeing there be many things that increase vanity. The noun rendered"things" (dabar) may equally mean "words;" and it is a question which signification is most appropriate here. The Septuagint has λόγοι πολλοί, "many words." So the Vulgate, verba sunt plurima. If we take the rendering of the Authorized Version, we must understand the passage to mean that the distractions of business, the cares of life, the constant disappointments, make men feel the hollowness and unsatisfactory nature of labor and wealth and earthly goods, and their absolute dependence upon Providence. But in view of the previous context, and especially of ver. 10, which speaks of contending (din) with God, it is most suitable to translate debarim "words," and to understand them of the expressions of impatience, doubt, and unbelief to which men give utterance when arraigning the acts or endeavoring to explain the decrees of God. Such profitless words only increase the perplexity in which men are involved. It is very possible that reference is here made to the discussions on the chief good, free-will, predestination, and the like subjects, which, as we know from Josephus, had begun to be mooted in Jewish schools, as they had long been rife in those of Greece. In these disputes Pharisees and Sadducees took opposite sides. The former maintained that some things, but not all, were the subject of fate (τῆς εἱμαρμένης), and that certain things were in our own power to do or not to do; that is, while they attribute all that happens to fate, or God's decree, they hold that man has the power of assent, supposing that God tempers all in such sort, that by his ordinance and man's will all things are performed, good or evil. The Sadducees eliminated fate altogether from human actions, and asserted that men are in all things governed, not by any external force, but by their own will alone; that their success and happiness depended upon themselves, and that ill fortune was the consequence of their own folly or stupidity. A third school, the Essenes, held that fate was supreme, and that nothing could happen to mankind beyond or in contravention of its decree ('Joseph. Ant.,' 13:5. 9; 18:1:3, 4; 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:08. 14). Such speculative discussions may have been in Koheleth's mind when he wrote this sentence. Whatever may be the difficulties of the position, we Christians know and feel that in matters of religion and morality we are absolutely free, have an unfettered choice, and that from this fact arises our responsibility. What is man the better? What profit has man from such speculations or words of skepticism?
For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
Verse 12. - This verse in the Greek and Latin versions, as in some copies of the Hebrew, is divorced from its natural place, as the conclusion of the paragraph, vers. 10, 11, and is arranged as the commencement of Ecclesiastes 7. Plainly, the Divine prescience of vers. 10, 11 is closely connected with the question of man's ultimate good and his ignorance of the future, enunciated in this verse. For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? Such discussions are profitless, for man knows not what is his real good - whether pleasure, apathy, or virtue, as philosophers would put it. To decide such questions he must be able to foresee results, which is denied him. The interrogative "Who knows?" is equivalent to an emphatic negative, as Ecclesiastes 3:21, and is a common rhetorical form which surely need not be attributed to Pyrrhonism (Plumptre). All the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow. These words amplify and explain the term "in life" of the preceding clause. They may be rendered literally, During the number of the days of the life (Ecclesiastes 5:18) of his vanity, and he passeth them as a shadow. A life of vanity is one that yields no good result, full of empty aims, unsatisfied wishes, unfulfilled purposes. It is the man who is here compared to the shadow, not his life. So Job 14:2, "He fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not," He soon passes away, and leaves no trace behind him. The thought is common. "Ye [Revised Version] are a vapor," says St. James (James 4:14), "that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Plumptre well quotes Soph., 'Ajax,' 125 -

 ῾ορῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν
Αἴδωλ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν η} κούφην σκιάν

"In this I see that we, all we that live,
Are but vain shadows, unsubstantial dreams."
To which we may add Pind., 'Pyth.,' 8:95 -

Ἐπάμεροι τί δέ τις τίδ οὔ τις σκιᾶς ὄναρ Ἄνθρωπος.

"Ye creatures of a day!
What is the great man what the poor?
Naught but a shadowy dream."
The comparison of man's life to a shadow or vapor is equally general (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 102:11; Psalm 144:4; Wisd. 2:5; James 4:14). The verb used for "spendeth" is asah, "to do or make," which recalls the Greek phrase, χρόνον ποιεῖν (Acts 15:33, etc.; Demosth., 'De Fals. Leg.,' p. 392, 17), and the Latin, dies facere (Cic., 'Ad Attic.,' 5:20. 1); but we need not trace Greek influence in the employment of the expression here. For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? This does not refer to the life beyond the grave, but to the future in the present world, as the words, "under the sun," imply (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 7:14). To know what is best for him, to arrange his present life according to his own wishes and plans, to be able to depend upon his own counsel for all the actions and designs which he undertakes, man should know what is to be after him, what result his labors will have, who and what kind of heir will inherit his property, whether he will leave children to carry on his name, and other facts of the like nature; but as this is all hidden from him, his duty and his happiness is to acquiesce in the Divine government, to enjoy with moderation the goods of life, and to be content with the modified satisfaction which is accorded to him by Divine beneficence.

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