Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.
"For all this I brought to my consciousness, and all this I sought to make clear to me, that the righteous, and the wise, and their deeds, are in God's hands: neither love nor hatred stands in the knowledge of man, all lies before them." With ki follows the verification of what is said in Ecclesiastes 8:17, "is unable to find out," from the fact of men, even the best and the wisest of men, being on all sides conditioned. This conditioning is a fact which he layeth to his heart (Ecclesiastes 7:2), or (since he here presents himself less as a feeling than as a thinking man, and the heart as reflecting) which he has brought to his consciousness, and which he has sought to bring out into clearness. ולבוּל has here not the force of an inf. absol., so that it subordinates itself in an adverbial manner (et ventilando quidem) - for it nowhere stands in the same rank with the inf. absol.; but the inf. with ל (ל) has the force of an intentional (with a tendency) fut., since the governing הייתי, as at Ecclesiastes 3:15, היה, and at Habakkuk 1:17, יהיה, is to be supplied (vid., comm. on these passages, and under Isaiah 44:14): operam dedi ut ventilarem (excuterem), or shorter: ventilaturus fui. Regarding the form לבוּר, which is metapl. for לבר, and the double idea of sifting (particularly winnowing, ventilare) of the R. בר, vid., under Ecclesiastes 3:18. In the post-bibl. Heb. the words להעמיד על בוריו would denote the very same as is here expressed by the brief significant word לבוּר; a matter in the clearness of its actual condition is called בוריו דבר על (from לברי, after the form חלי, purity, vid., Buxtorf's Lex. Talm. col. 366). The lxx and Syr. have read ראה ולבי instead of ולבור, apparently because they could not see their way with it: "And my heart has seen all this." The expression "all this" refers both times to what follows; asher is, as at Ecclesiastes 8:12, relat. conj., in the sense of ὃτι, quod, and introduces, as at Ecclesiastes 7:29, cf. Ecclesiastes 8:14, the unfolding of the זה - an unfolding, viz., of the conditioning of man, which Ecclesiastes 8:17 declared on one side of it, and whose further verification is here placed in view with ki, Ecclesiastes 9:1. The righteous, and the wise, and their doings, are in God's hand, i.e., power (Psalm 31:16; Proverbs 21:1; Job 12:10, etc.); as well their persons as their actions, in respect of their last cause, are conditioned by God, the Governor of the world and the Former of history; also the righteous and the wise learn to feel this dependence, not only in their being and in what befalls them, but also in their conduct; also this is not fully attained, לאל ידם, they are also therein not sufficient of themselves. Regarding 'avadēhěm, corresponding to the Aram. 'ovadēhon, vid., 'avad.
The expression now following cannot mean that man does not know whether he will experience the love or hatred of God, i.e., providences of a happy nature proceeding from the love of God, or of an unhappy nature proceeding from the hatred of God (J. D. Michaelis, Knobel, Vaih., Hengst., Zckl.), for אהבה and שׂן are too general for this, - man is thus, as the expression denotes, not the obj., but the subj. to both. Rightly, Hitz., as also Ewald: "Since man has not his actions in his own power, he knows not whether he will love or hate." Certainly this sounds deterministic; but is it not true that personal sympathies and antipathies, from which love and hatred unfold themselves, come within the sphere of man, not only as to their objects, in consequence of the divine arrangement, but also in themselves anticipate the knowledge and the will of man? and is it less true that the love which he now cherishes toward another man changes itself, without his previous knowledge, by means of unexpected causes, into hatred, and, on the other hand, the hatred into love? Neither love nor hatred is the product of a man's self-determination; but self-determination, and with it the function of freedom, begins for the first time over against those already present, in their beginnings. In הכּל לף, "by all that is before him," that is brought to a general expression, in which לפני has not the ethical meaning proceeding from the local: before them, prae equals penes eos (vid., Song, under Sol 8:12), but the purely local meaning, and referred to time: love, hatred, and generally all things, stand before man; God causes them to meet him (cf. the use of הקרה); they belong to the future, which is beyond his power. Thus the Targ., Symm., and most modern interpreters; on the contrary, Luther: "neither the love nor the hatred of any one which he has for himself," which is, linguistically, purely impossible; Kleinert: "Neither the love nor the hatred of things does man see through, nor anything else which is before his eyes," for which we ought at least to have had the words לפניו גם הכל אשׁר; and Tyler: "Men discern neither love nor hatred in all that is before them," as if the text were אשׁר בכל. The future can, it is true, be designated by אחרית, and the past by לפנים, but according to the most natural way of representation (vid., Orelli's Synon. der Zeit, p. 14) the future is that which lies before a man, and the past that which is behind him. The question is of importance, which of the two words לף הכל has the accent. If the accent be on לף, then the meaning is, that all lies before men deprived of their freedom; if the accent be on הכל, then the meaning is, that all things, events of all kinds, lie before them, and that God determines which shall happen to them. The latter is more accordant with the order of words lying before us, and shows itself to be that which is intended by the further progress of the thoughts. Every possible thing may befall a man - what actually meets him is the determination and providence of God. The determination is not according to the moral condition of a man, so that the one can guide to no certain conclusion as to the other.
All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.
"All is the same which comes to all: one event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the pure and the impure; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as with the good, so is it with the sinner; with him that sweareth, as with him that feareth an oath." Hitzig translates: "All are alike, one fate comes on all," adding the remark, that to make מקרה אחד at the same time pred. to הכל and subm. to כאשר לכל was, for the punctator, too much. This translation is indeed in matter, as well as in point of syntax, difficult to be comprehended. Rather, with Ewald, translate: All is as if all had one fate (death) but why then this useless hevel haasher, only darkening the thought? But certainly, since in הכּל
(Note: The lxx, Syr., and Aq. have read together the end of Ecclesiastes 9:1 and the beginning of Ecclesiastes 9:2. Here Jerome also is dependent on this mode of reading: sed omnia in futurum servantur incerta (הבל).)
the past is again resumed, it is to be supposed that it does not mean personally, omnes, but neut., omnia; and לכּל, on the contrary, manifestly refers (as at Ecclesiastes 10:3) to persons. Herein agreeing with Ewald, and, besides, with Knobel, Zckl., and others, we accept the interpunction as it lies before us. The apparently meaningless clause, omnia sicut omnibus, gives, if we separate sicut into sic and ut, the brief but pregnant thought: All is (thus) as it happens to all, i.e., there is no distinction of their experiences nor of their persons; all of every sort happens in the same way to all men of every sort. The thought, written in cyphers in this manner, is then illustrated; the lameds following leave no doubt as to the meaning of לכל. Men are classified according to their different kinds. The good and the pure stand opposite the impure; טמא is thus the defiled, Hosea 5:3, cf. Ezekiel 36:25, in body and soul. That the author has here in his mind the precepts of the law regarding the pure and the impure, is to be concluded from the following contrast: he who offers sacrifice, and he who does not offer sacrifice, i.e., he who not only does not bring free-will offerings, but not even the sacrifices that are obligatory. Finally, he who swears, and he who is afraid of an oath, are distinguished. Thus, Zechariah 5:3, he who swears stands along with him who steals. In itself, certainly, swearing an oath is not a sin; in certain circumstances (vid., Ecclesiastes 8:2) it is a necessary solemn act (Isaiah 65:16). But here, in the passage from Zechariah, swearing of an unrighteous kind is meant, i.e., wanton swearing, a calling upon God when it is not necessary, and, it may be, even to confirm an untruth, Exodus 20:7. Compare Matthew 5:34. The order of the words יר שׁב (cf. as to the expression, the Mishnic חטא ירא) is as at Nahum 3:1; Isaiah 22:2; cf. above, Ecclesiastes 5:8. One event befalls all these men of different characters, by which here not death exclusively is meant (as at Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 2:14), but this only chiefly as the same end of these experiences which are not determined according to the moral condition of men. In the expression of the equality, there is an example of stylistic refinement in a threefold change; כּטוב כּח denotes that the experience of the good is the experience of the sinner, and may be translated, "wie der Gute so der Snder" as the good, so the sinner, as well as "so der Gute wie der Snder" so the good as the sinner (cf. Khler, under Haggai 2:3). This sameness of fate, in which we perceive the want of the inter-connection of the physical and moral order of the world, is in itself and in its influence an evil matter.
This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
"This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that one event happeneth to all: and also the heart of the children of men is full of evil; and madness possesseth their heart during their life, and after it they go to the dead." As זה, Ecclesiastes 9:1, points to the asher following, in which it unfolds itself, so here to the ki following. We do not translate: This is the worst thing (Jerome: hoc est pessimum), which, after Joshua 14:15; Judges 6:15; Sol 1:8, would have required the words בכל הרע - the author does not designate the equality of fate as the greatest evil, but as an evil mixed with all earthly events. It is an evil in itself, as being a contradiction to the moral order of the world; and it is such also on account of its demoralizing influences. The author here repeats what he had already, Ecclesiastes 8:11, said in a more special reference, that because evil is not in this world visibly punished, men become confident and bold in sinning. Vegam (referable to the whole clause, at the beginning of which it is placed) stands beside zeh ra', connecting with that which is evil in itself its evil influences. מלא might be an adj., for this (only once, Jeremiah 6:11), like the verb, is connected with the accus., e.. Deuteronomy 33:23. But, since not a statement but a factum had to be uttered, it is finite, as at Ecclesiastes 8:11. Thus Jerome, after Symm.: sed et cor filiorum hominum repletur malitia et procacitate juxta cor eorum in vita sua. Keeping out of view the false sed, this translation corresponds to the accenting which gives the conjunctive Kadma to רע. But without doubt an independent substantival clause begins with והו: and madness is in their heart (vid., Ecclesiastes 1:17) their life long; for, without taking heed to God's will and to what is pleasing to God, or seeking after instruction, they think only of the satisfaction of their inclinations and lusts.
"And after that they go to the dead" - they who had so given themselves up to evil, and revelled in fleshly lusts with security, go the way of all flesh, as do the righteous, and the wise, and just, because they know that they go beyond all restraining bounds. Most modern interpreters (Hitz., Ew., etc.) render aharav, after Jeremiah 51:46, adverbially, with the suffix understood neut.: afterwards (Jerome, post haec). but at Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 7:14, the suffix refers to man: after him, him who liveth here equals after he has laid down his life. Why should it not be thus understood also here? It is true בּחיּ precedes it; but in the reverse say, sing. and plur. also interchange in Ecclesiastes 9:1; cf. Ecclesiastes 3:12. Rightly the Targ., as with Kleinert and others, we also explain: after their (his) lifetime. A man's life finally falls into the past, it lies behind him, and he goes forth to the dead; and along with self-consciousness, all the pleasures and joy of life at the same time come to an end.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
"For (to him) who shall be always joined to all the living, there is hope: for even a living dog is better than a dead lion." The interrog. אשׁר מי, quis est qui, acquires the force of a relative, quisquis (quicunque), and may be interpreted, Exodus 32:33; 2 Samuel 20:12, just as here (cf. the simple mi, Ecclesiastes 5:9), in both ways; particularly the latter passage (2 Samuel 20:11) is also analogous to the one before us in the formation of the apodosis. The Chethı̂b יבחר does not admit of any tenable meaning. In conformity with the usus loq., Elster reads מי אשר יבחר, "who has a choice?" But this rendering has no connection with what follows; the sequence of thoughts fails. Most interpreters, in opposition to the usus loq., by pointing יבחר or יבּחר, render: Who is (more correctly: will be) excepted? or also: Who is it that is to be preferred (the living or the dead)? The verb בּחר signifies to choose, to select; and the choice may be connected with an exception, a preference; but in itself the verb means neither excipere nor praeferre.
(Note: Luther translates, "for to all the living there is that which is desired, namely, hope," as if the text were יבחר מה אשׁר.)
All the old translators, with right, follow the Kerı̂, and the Syr. renders it correctly, word for word: to every one who is joined (שותף, Aram. equals Heb. חבר) to all the living there is hope; and this translation is more probable than that on which Symm. ("who shall always continue to live?") and Jerome (nemo est qui semper vivat et qui hujus rei habeat fiduciam) proceed: Who is he that is joined to the whole? i.e., to the absolute life; or as Hitzig: Who is he who would join himself to all the living (like the saying, "The everlasting Jew")? The expression ישׁ בּטּ does not connect itself so easily and directly with these two latter renderings as with that we have adopted, in which, as also in the other two, a different accentuation of the half-verse is to be adopted as follows:
כּי מי אשׁר יחבּר אל־כּל־החיּים ישׁ בּטּחון
The accentuation lying before us in the text, which gives a great disjunctive to יבחר as well as to הח, appears to warrant the Chethı̂b (cf. Hitzig under Ezekiel 22:24), by which it is possible to interpret יב ... מי as in itself an interrog. clause. The Kerı̂ יח does not admit of this, for Dachselt's quis associabit se (sc.,, mortius? equals nemo socius mortuorum fieri vult) is a linguistic impossibility; the reflex may be used for the pass., but not the pass. for the reflex., which is also an argument against Ewald's translation: Who is joined to the living has hope. Also the Targ. and Rashi, although explaining according to the Midrash, cannot forbear connecting אל כל־חה with יח, and thus dividing the verse at חה instead of at יח. It is not, however, to be supposed that the accentuation refers to the Chethı̂b; it proceeds on some interpretation, contrary to the connection, such as this: he who is received into God's fellowship has to hope for the full life (in eternity). The true meaning, according to the connection, is this: that whoever (quicunque) is only always joined (whether by birth or the preservation of life) to all the living, i.e., to living beings, be they who they may, has full confidence, hope, and joy; for in respect to a living dog, this is even better than a dead lion. Symmachus translates: κυνὶ ζῶντι βέλτιόν ἐστιν ἤ λέοντι τεθνηκότι, which Rosenm., Herzf., and Grtz approve of. But apart from the obliquity of the comparison, that with a living dog it is better than with a dead lion, since with the latter is neither good nor evil (vid., however, Ecclesiastes 6:5), for such a meaning the words ought to have been: chělěv hai tov lo min ha'aryēh hammeth.
As the verifying clause stands before us, it is connected not with ישׁ בּטּ, but with אל כּל־ה, of that which is to be verified; the ל gives emphatic prominence (Ewald, 310b) to the subject, to which the expression refers as at Psalm 89:19; 2 Chronicles 7:21 (cf. Jeremiah 18:16), Isaiah 32:1 : A living dog is better than a dead lion, i.e., it is better to be a dog which lives, than that lion which is dead. The dog, which occurs in the Holy Scriptures only in relation to a shepherd's dog (Job 30:1), and as for the rest, appears as a voracious filthy beast, roaming about without a master, is the proverbial emblem of that which is common, or low, or contemptible, 1 Samuel 17:43; cf. "dog's head," 2 Samuel 3:8; "dead dog," 1 Samuel 24:15; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9. The lion, on the other hand, is the king, or, as Agur (Proverbs 30:30) calls it, the hero among beasts. But if it be dead, then all is over with its dignity and its strength; the existence of a living dog is to be preferred to that of the dead lion. The art. in 'הא הם is not that denoting species (Dale), which is excluded by hammēth, but it points to the carcase of a lion which is present. The author, who elsewhere prefers death and nonentity to life, Ecclesiastes 4:2., Ecclesiastes 7:1, appears to have fallen into contradiction with himself; but there he views life pessimistically in its, for the most part, unhappy experiences, while here he regards it in itself as a good affording the possibility of enjoyment. It lies, however, in the nature of his standpoint that he should not be able to find the right medium between the sorrow of the world and the pleasure of life. Although postulating a retribution in eternity, yet in his thoughts about the future he does not rise above the comfortless idea of Hades.
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
He sarcastically verifies his comparison in favour of a living dog. "For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not anything, and have no more a reward; for their memory is forgotten. Their love, as well as their hatred and their envy, has long ago perished, and they have part no more for ever in all that is done under the sun." The description of the condition of death begins sarcastically and then becomes elegiac. "They have no reward further," viz., in this upper world, since there it is only too soon forgotten that they once existed, and that they did anything worthy of being remembered; Koheleth might here indeed, with his view shrouded in dark clouds, even suppose that God also forgot them, Job 14:13. The suff. of אהב, etc., present themselves was subjective, and there is no reason, with Knobel and Ginsburg, to render them objectively: not merely the objects of their love, and hatred, and envy, are lost to them, but these their affections and strivings themselves have ceased (Rosenm., Hitzig, Zckl., and others), they lie (Kevar 'avadah) far behind them as absolutely gone; for the dead have no part more in the history which is unfolding itself amid the light of the upper world, and they can have no more any part therein, for the dead as not living are not only without knowledge, but also without feeling and desire. The representation of the state after death is here more comfortless than anywhere else. For elsewhere we read that those who have been living here spend in Sheol, i.e., in the deep (R. של, to be loose, to hang down, to go downwards) realm of the dead, as rephaim (Isaiah 14:9, etc.), lying beneath the upper world, far from the love and the praise of God (Psalm 6:3; Psalm 30:10), a prospectless (Job 7:7., Job 14:6-12; Job 18:11-13), dark, shadowy existence; the soul in Hades, though neither annihilated nor sleeping, finds itself in a state of death no less than does the body in the grave. But here the state of death is not even set forth over against the idea of the dissolution of life, the complete annihilation of individuality, much less that a retribution in eternity, i.e., a retribution executed, if not here, yet at some time, postulated elsewhere by the author, throws a ray of light into the night of death. The apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Solomon, which distinguishes between a state of blessedness and a state of misery measured out to men in the future following death, has in this surpassed the canonical Book of Koheleth. In vain do the Targ., Midrash, and the older Christian interpreters refer that which is said to the wicked dead; others regard Koheleth as introducing here the discourse of atheists (e.g., Oetinger), and interpret, under the influence of monstrous self-deception, Ecclesiastes 9:7 as the voice of the spirit (Hengst.) opposing the voice of the flesh. But that which Koheleth expresses here only in a particularly rugged way is the view of Hades predominating in the O.T. It is the consequence of viewing death from the side of its anger. Revelation intentionally permits this manner of viewing it to remain; but from premises which the revelation sets forth, the religious consciousness in the course of time draws always more decidedly the conclusion, that the man who is united to God will fully reach through death that which since the entrance of sin into the world cannot be reached without the loss of this present life, i.e., without death, viz., a more perfect life in fellowship with God. Yet the confusion of the O.T. representation of Hades remains; in the Book of Sirach it also still throws its deep shadows (17:22f.) into the contemplation of the future; for the first time the N.T. solution actually removes the confusion, and turns the scale in favour of the view of death on its side of light. In this history of the ideas of eternity moving forward amid many fluctuations to the N.T. goal, a significant place belongs to the Book of Koheleth; certainly the Christian interpreter ought not to have an interest in explaining away and concealing the imperfections of knowledge which made it impossible for the author spiritually to rise above his pessimism. He does not rise, in contrast to his pessimism, above an eudaemonism which is earthly, which, without knowing of a future life (not like the modern pessimism, without wishing to know of a future life), recommends a pleasant enjoyment of the present life, so far as that is morally allowable:
Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
"Go, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for long ago hath God accepted thy work. Let thy garments be always white; and let not oil be wanting to thy head. Enjoy life with a wife whom thou lovest through all the days of thy vain life, which He hath given thee under the sun - through all thy vain days: for that is thy portion in life, and in thy labour wherewith thou weariest thyself under the sun. All that thy hand may find to do with thy might, that do; for there is not work, and calculation, and knowledge, and wisdom, in the under world, whither thou shalt go." Hengstenberg perceives here the counterpart of the spirit; on the contrary, Oetinger, Mendelssohn, and others, discover also here, and here for the first time rightly, the utterance of an epicurean thought. But, in fact, this לך down to שׁ הולך is the most distinct personal utterance of the author, his ceterum censeo which pervades the whole book, and here forms a particularly copious conclusion of a long series of thoughts. We recapitulate this series of thoughts: One fate, at last the same final event, happens to all men, without making any distinction according to their moral condition, - an evil matter, so much the more evil, as it encourages to wickedness and light-mindedness; the way of man, without exception, leads to the dead, and all further prospect is cut off; for only he who belongs to the class of living beings has a joyful spirit, has a spirit of enterprise: even the lowest being, if it live, stands higher in worth, and is better, than the highest if it be dead; for death is the end of all knowledge and feeling, the being cut off from the living under the sun. From this, that there is only one life, one life on this side of eternity, he deduces the exhortation to enjoy the one as much as possible; God Himself, to whom we owe it, will have it so that we enjoy it, within the moral limits prescribed by Himself indeed, for this limitation is certainly given with His approbation. Incorrectly, the Targ., Rashi, Hengst. Ginsb., and Zckl. explain: For thy moral conduct and effort have pleased Him long ago - the person addressed is some one, not a definite person, who could be thus set forth as such a witness to be commended. Rather with Grotius and others: Quia Deus favet laboribus tuis h. e. eos ita prosperavit, ut cuncta quae vitam delectant abunde tibi suppetant. The thought is wholly in the spirit of the Book of Koheleth; for the fruit of labour and the enjoyment of this fruit of labour, as at Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13, etc., is a gift from above; and besides, this may be said to the person addressed, since 7a presupposes that he has at his disposal heart-strengthening bread and heart-refreshing wine. But in these two explanations the meaning of כּבר is not comprehended. It was left untranslated by the old translators, from their not understanding it. Rightly, Aben Ezra: For God wills that thou shouldst thus to [indulge in these enjoyments]; more correctly, Hitzig: Long ago God has beforehand permitted this thy conduct, so that thou hast no room for scruples about it. How significant כבר is for the thought, is indicated by the accentuation which gives to it Zakef: from aforetime God has impressed the seal of His approbation on this thy eating with joy, this thy drinking with a merry heart. - The assigning of the reason gives courage to the enjoyment, but at the same time gives to it a consecration; for it is the will of God that we should enjoy life, thus it is self-evident that we have to enjoy it as He wills it to be enjoyed.
Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
The white garments, לבּנים, are in contrast to the black robes of mourning, and thus are an expression of festal joy, of a happy mood; black and white are, according to the ancients, colour-symbols, the colours respectively of sorrow and joy, to which light and darkness correspond.
(Note: Cf. Shabbath 114a: "Bury me neither in white nor in black garments: not in white, because perhaps I may not be one of the blessed, and am like a bridegroom among mourners; not in black, because perhaps I may be one of the blessed, and am like a mourner among bridegrooms." Semachoth ii.:10: Him who is outside the congregation, they do not bury with solemnity; the brothers and relatives of such must clothe and veil themselves in white; cf. Joma 39b. Elsewhere white is the colour of innocence, Shabbath 153a, Midrash under Proverbs 16:11; and black the colour of guilt, Kiddushin 40a, etc.)
Fragrant oil is also, according to Proverbs 27:9, one of the heart-refreshing things. Sorrow and anointing exclude one another, 2 Samuel 14:2; joy and oil stand in closest mutual relation, Psalm 45:8; Isaiah 61:3; oil which smooths the hair and makes the face shine (vid., under Psalm 104:15). This oil ought not to be wanting to the head, and thus the perpetuity of a happy life should suffer no interruption.
Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
In Ecclesiastes 9:9 most translators render: Enjoy life with the wife whom thou lovest; but the author purposely does not use the word האשּׁה, but אשּׁה; and also that he uses חיּים, and not החיּים, is not without significance. He means: Bring into experience what life, what happiness, is (cf. the indetermin. ideas, Psalm 34:13) with a wife whom thou hast loved (Jerome: quaecunque tibi placuerit feminarum), in which there lies indirectly the call to choose such an one; whereby the pessimistic criticism of the female sex, Ecclesiastes 7:26-28, so far as the author is concerned, falls into the background, since eudaemonism, the other side of his view of the world, predominates. The accus. designation of time, "through all the days of the life of thy vanity (i.e., of thy transient vain life)," is like Ecclesiastes 6:12, cf. Ecclesiastes 7:15. It is repeated in "all the days of thy vanity;" the repetition is heavy and unnecessary (therefore omitted by the lxx, Targ., and Syr.); probably like והדרך, Psalm 45:5, a ditto; Hitzig, however, finds also here great emphasis. The relative clause standing after the first designation of time refers to "the days which He (האלהים, Ecclesiastes 9:7) has granted under the sun." Hu in Ecclesiastes 9:9 refers attractionally to חלקך (Jerome: haec est enim parts), as at Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:17, cf. Ecclesiastes 7:2; היא of the Babyl. is therefore to be rejected; this enjoyment, particularly of marriage joys, is thy part in life, and in thy work which thou accomplishest under the sun, i.e., the real portion of gain allotted to thee which thou mayest and oughtest to enjoy here below.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
The author, however, recommends no continual dolce far niente, no idle, useless sluggard-life devoted to pleasure, but he gives to his exhortation to joy the converse side: "All that thy hand may reach (i.e., what thou canst accomplish and is possible to thee, 1 Samuel 10:7; Leviticus 12:8) to accomplish it with thy might, that do." The accentuation is ingenious. If the author meant: That do with all might (Jerome: instanter operare), then he would have said bechol-kohhacha (Genesis 31:6). As the words lie before us, they call on him who is addressed to come not short in his work of any possibility according to the measure of his strength, thus to a work straining his capacity to the uttermost. The reason for the call, 10b, turns back to the clause from which it was inferred: in Hades, whither thou must go (iturus es), there is no work, and reckoning (vid., Ecclesiastes 7:25), and knowledge (דּעתו)
(Note: Not ודעת, because the word has the conjunctive, not the disjunctive accent, vid., under Psalm 55:10. The punctuation, as we have already several times remarked, is not consistent in this; cf. דּעתו, Ecclesiastes 2:26, and וערב, Psalm 65:9, both of which are contrary to the rule (vid., Baer in Abulwald's Rikma, p. 119, note 2).)
and no wisdom. Practice and theory have then an end. Thus: Enjoy, but not without working, ere the night cometh when no man can work. Thus spake Jesus (John 9:4), but in a different sense indeed from Koheleth. The night which He meant is the termination of this present life, which for Him, as for every man, has its particular work, which is either accomplished within the limits of this life, or is not accomplished at all.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
"Further, I came to see under the sun, that the race belongs not to the swift, and the war not to the heroes, and also not bread to the wise man, and not riches to the prudent, and not favour to men of knowledge; for time and chance happeneth to them all." The nearest preceding רא, to which this ורב ורא suitably connects itself, is at Ecclesiastes 8:17. Instead of redii et videndo quidem equals rursus vidi (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:9 and under Ecclesiastes 9:1), we had at Ecclesiastes 4:1 the simpler expression, redii et vidi. The five times repeated ל is that of property, of that, viz., by virtue of which one is master of that which is named, has power over it, disposes of it freely. The race belongs not to the swift (מרוץ, masc. to מרוּצה, only here), i.e., their fleetness is yet no guarantee that on account of it they will reach the goal. Luther freely: "To be fleet does not help in running," i.e., running to an object or goal. "The war belongs not to the heroes," means that much rather it belongs to the Lord, 1 Samuel 17:47. - God alone gives the victory (Psalm 33:16). Even so the gaining of bread, riches, favour (i.e., influence, reputation), does not lie in wisdom, prudence, knowledge of themselves, as an indispensable means thereto; but the obtaining of them, or the not obtaining of them, depends on times and circumstances which lie beyond the control of man, and is thus, in the final result, conditioned by God (cf. Romans 9:16);
(Note: But not Jeremiah 9:22; this passage, referred to by Bernstein, is of a different nature.)
time and fate happen to all whose ability appears to warrant the issue, they both time and fate encounter them and bar to them the way; they are in an inexplicable manner dependent on both, and helplessly subject to them. As the idea of spiritual superiority is here expressed in a threefold manner by הח (whence לה of the plur., also with the art. Ecclesiastes 9:1; Exodus 36:4; Esther 1:13), 'הן, and היּ, so at Isaiah 11:2, the gifts of "wisdom," "counsel," and "knowledge" follow each other. 'Eth is here "time" with its special circumstances (conjunctures), and pega', "accident," particularly as an adversity, disappointment of the word is used also without any addition (1 Kings 5:18) of misfortune (cf. שיר פגעים, Psalm 3:1-8; 91). The masc. יק is regulated after וף; 'eth can, however, be used in the masc., Sol 2:12; Bttch. 648, viz., "with the misapprehension of its origin" (v. Orelli).
This limitation of man in his efforts, in spite of all his capacity, has its reason in this, that he is on the whole not master of his own life:
For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
"For man also knoweth not his time: like the fishes which are caught in an evil net, and like the birds which are caught in the snare - like them are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it suddenly breaks in upon them." The particles גּם כּי are here not so clearly connected as at Ecclesiastes 8:12; Ecclesiastes 4:14, where, more correctly, the pointing should be גּם כּי (ki with the conjunct. accent); ki rules the sentence; and gam, as to its meaning, belongs to etḣ'itto. The particular has its reason from the general: man is not master of his own time, his own person, and his own life, and thus not of the fruits of his capabilities and his actions, in spite of the previously favourable conditions which appear to place the result beyond a doubt; for ere the result is reached of which he appears to be able to entertain a certainty, suddenly his time may expire, and his term of life be exhausted. Jerome translate 'itto (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:17) rightly by finem suum; עת, with the gen. following, frequently (vid., under Job 24:1) means the point of time when the fate of any one is decided, - the terminus where a reckoning is made; here, directly, the terminus ad quem. The suddenness with which men are frequently overtaken with the catastrophe which puts an end to their life, is seen by comparison with the fishes which are suddenly caught in the net, and the birds which are suddenly caught in the snare. With שׁן (that are caught) there is interchanged, in two variations of expression, האחזות, which is incorrectly written, by v. d. Hooght, Norzi, and others, האחזּ.
(Note: Vid., Ed. Knig, Gedanke, Laut u. Accent (1874), p. 72.)
מצו, a net, - of which the plur. form Ecclesiastes 7:26 is used, - goes back, as does the similar designation of a bulwark (Ecclesiastes 9:14), to the root-conception of searching (hunting), and receives here the epithet "evil." Birds, צפּרים (from a ground-form with a short terminal vowel; cf. Assyr. itṣtṣur, from itṣpur), are, on account of their weakness, as at Isaiah 31:5, as a figure of tender love, represented in the fem.
The second half of the verse, in conformity with its structure, begins with כּהם (which more frequently occurs as כּמוהם). יוּק .)כּ is part. Pu. for מיקּשׁים (Ewald, 170d); the particip. מ is rejected, and ק is treated altogether as a guttural, the impracticable doubling of which is compensated for by the lengthening of the vowel. The use of the part. is here stranger than e.g., at Proverbs 11:13; Proverbs 15:32; the fact repeating itself is here treated as a property. Like the fish and the birds are they, such as are caught, etc. Otherwise Hitz.: Like these are they caught, during the continuance of their life in the evil time ... ; but the being snared does not, however, according to the double figure, precede the catastrophe, but is its consequence. Rightly, Ginsb.: "Like these are the sons of men ensnared in the time of misfortune." רעה might be adj., as at Amos 5:13; Micah 2:3; but since it lies nearer to refer כּשׁתּ to ra'ah than to 'eth, thus ra'ah, like the frequently occurring yom ra'ah (Ecclesiastes 7:14; cf. Jeremiah 17:17 with Jeremiah 15:11), may be thought of as genit. An example of that which is here said is found in the fatal wounding of Ahab by means of an arrow which was not aimed at him, so that he died "at the time of the going down of the sun," 2 Chronicles 18:33-34.
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:
"Also this have I come to see as wisdom under the sun, and it appears great to me." The Venet. construes falsely: "This also have I:seen: wisdom under the sun;" as also Hitzig, who reads זה (neut. as at Ecclesiastes 7:27). There is no reason thus to break up the sentence which introduces the following experience. Zoh is connected with hhochmah, but not as Luther renders it: "I have also seen this wisdom," which would have required the words הח זאת, but, as Jerome does: Hanc quoque sub sole vidi sapeintiam; this, however, since ־מג, as at Ecclesiastes 5:15, cf. Ecclesiastes 9:18, is attractionally related to hhochmah as its pred., is equals "also in this I saw wisdom," as the lxx translates, or as Zckl.: "also this have I seen - come to find out as wisdom," - also this, viz., the following incident narrated, in which wisdom of exceeding greatness presented itself to me. As Mordecai is called "great among the Jews," Esther 10:3, so here Koheleth says that the wisdom which came to light therein appeared to him great (אלי, as elsewhere בּעיני or לפני).
Now follows an experience, which, however, has not merely a light side, but also a dark side; for wisdom, which accomplished so great a matter, reaped only ingratitude:
There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
"A little city, and men therein only a few, - to which a great king came near, and he besieged it, and erected against it high bulwarks. And he met therein a poor wise man, and who saved the city by his wisdom; and no man thought of that poor man." What may be said as to the hist. reference of these words has already been noticed. The "great king" is probably an Asiatic monarch, and that the Persian; Jerome translates verbally: Civitas parva et pauci in ea viri, venit contra eam - the former is the subj., and the latter its pred.; the object stands first, plastically rigid, and there then follows what happened to it; the structure of the sentence is fundamentally the same as Psalm 104:25. The expression אל בּוא, which may be used of any kind of coming to anything, is here, as at Genesis 32:9, meant of a hostile approach. The object of a siege and a hostile attack is usually denoted by על, 2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 7:1. Two Codd. of de Rossi's have the word מצורים, but that is an error of transcription; the plur. of מצור is fem., Isaiah 29:4. מצודים is, as at Ecclesiastes 7:26, plur. of מצוד (from צוּד, to lie in wait); here, as elsewhere, בּחן and דּיק is the siege-tower erected on the ground or on the rampart, from which to spy out the weak points of the beleaguered place so as to assail it.
The words following בהּ וּמצא are rendered by the Targ., Syr., Jerome, Arab., and Luther: "and there was found in it;" most interpreters explain accordingly, as they point to Ecclesiastes 1:10, יאמר, dicat aliquis. But that מץ taht in this sequence of thought is equals ונמצא (Job 42:15), is only to be supposed if it were impossible to regard the king as the subject, which Ewald with the lxx and the Venet. does in spite of 294b. It is true it would not be possible if, as Vaih. remarks, the finding presupposed a searching; but cf. on the contrary, e.g., Deuteronomy 24:1; Psalm 116:3. We also say of one whom, contrary to expectation, a superior meets with, that he has found his match, that he has found his man. Thus it is here said of the great king, he found in the city a poor wise man - met therein with such an one, against whom his plan was shattered. חכם is the adjective of the person of the poor man designated by ish miskēn (cf. 2 Chronicles 2:13); the accents correctly indicate this relation. Instead of וּמלּט־הוּא, the older language would use וימלּט; it does not, like the author here, use pure perfects, but makes the chief factum prominent by the fut. consec. The ē of millēt is that of limmēd before Makkeph, referred back to the original a. The making prominent of the subject contained in millat by means of hu is favourable to the supposition that umatsa' has the king as its subject; while even where no opposition (as e.g., at Jeremiah 17:18) lies before us this pleonasm belongs to the stylistic peculiarities of the book. Instead of adam lo, the older form is ish lo; perhaps the author here wishes to avoid the repetition of ish, but at Ecclesiastes 7:20 he also uses adam instead of ish, where no such reason existed.
Threatened by a powerful assailant, with whom it could not enter into battle, the little city, deserted by its men to a small remainder capable of bearing arms (this idea one appears to be under the necessity of connecting with מעט ... ואן), found itself in the greatest straits; but when all had been given up as lost, it was saved by the wisdom of the poor man (perhaps in the same way as Abel-beth-maacha, 2 Samuel 20, by the wisdom of a woman). But after this was done, the wise poor man quickly again fell into the background; no man thought of him, as he deserved to have been thought of, as the saviour of the city; he was still poor, and remained so, and pauper homo raro vifit cum nomine claro. The poor man with his wisdom, Hengst. remarks, is Israel. And Wangemann (1856), generalizing the parable: "The beleaguered city is the life of the individual; the great king who lays siege to it is death and the judgment of the Lord." But sounder and more appropriate is the remark of Luther: Est exemplum generale, cujus in multis historiis simile reperitur; and: Sic Themistocles multa bona fecit suis civibus, sed expertus summam intratitudinem. The author narrates an actual history, in which, on the one hand, he had seen what great things wisdom can do; and from which, on the other hand, he has drawn the following lesson:
Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
"And I:said: Better is wisdom than strength; but the wisdom of the poor is despised, and his words are not heard." With the words, "I saw," the author introduces his observations, and with "I said" his reflections. Wisdom is better than strength, since it does more for the wise man, and through him for others, than physical force, - more, as expressed in Ecclesiastes 7:19, than ten mighty men. But the respect which wisdom otherwise secures for a man, if it is the wisdom of a poor man, sinks into despect, to which his poverty exposes him, - if necessity arises, his service, as the above history shows, is valued; but as a rule his words are unheeded, for the crowd estimate the worth of him whom they willingly hear according to the outward respect in which he is held.
To the lessons gathered from experience, are now added instructive proverbs of kindred contents.
The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
"The words of the wise, heard in quiet, have the superiority above the cry of a ruler among fools." Instead of tovim min, there stands here the simple min, prae, as at Ecclesiastes 5:1, to express the superiority of the one to the other. Hitzig finds in this proverb the meaning that, as that history has shown, the words of the wise, heard with tranquillity, gain the victory over the cry of a ruler over fools. But (1) the contrast of נחת and זעקת require us to attribute the tranquillity to the wise man himself, and not to his hearers; (2) מו בּךּ is not a ruler over fools, by which it would remain questionable whether he himself was not a fool (cf. Job 41:26), but a ruler among fools (cf. 2 Samuel 23:3, מו בּ, "a ruler among men;" and Proverbs 30:30, גּבּ בּ, "the hero among beasts"), i.e., one who among fools takes the place of chief. The words of the poor wise man pass by unheeded, they are not listened to, because he does not possess an imposing splendid outward appearance, in accordance with which the crowd estimate the value of a man's words; the wise man does not seek to gain esteem by means of a pompous violent deportment; his words נשׁ בּ are heard, let themselves be heard, are to be heard (cf. e.g., Sol 2:12) in quiet (Isaiah 30:15); for, trusting to their own inward power of conviction, and committing the result to God, he despises vociferous pomp, and the external force of earthly expedients (cf. Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:19); but the words of the wise, which are to be heard in unassuming, passionless quietness, are of more value than the vociferation with which a king among fools, an arch-fool, a non plus ultra among fools, trumpets forth his pretended wisdom and constrains his hearers.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
The following proverb also leans on the history above narrated: "Better is wisdom than weapons of war; and one sinner destroyeth much good." The above history has shown by way of example that wisdom accomplishes more than implements of war, כּלי ק equals כּלי מל (Assyr. unut tahazi)
(Note: Vid., Fried. Delitzsch's Assyr. Stud. p. 129.)
i.e., than all the apparatus belonging to preparation for war. But the much good which a wise man is accomplishing or has accomplished, one sinner (חוטא)
(Note: The Syr. (not the Targ.) had חטא before it, and thus realized it, which appears to correspond better with the parall. חכמה.)
by treachery or calumny may render vain, or may even destroy, through mere malicious pleasure in evil. This is a synthetic distich whose two parts may be interpreted independently. As wisdom accomplishes something great, so a single villain may have a far-reaching influence, viz., such as destroys much good.