|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:4-8 All things change, and never rest. Man, after all his labour, is no nearer finding rest than the sun, the wind, or the current of the river. His soul will find no rest, if he has it not from God. The senses are soon tired, yet still craving what is untried.
Verse 7. - All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full. Here is another instance of unvarying operation producing no tangible result. The phenomenon mentioned is often the subject of remark and speculation in classical authors. Commentators cite Aristophanes, 'Clouds,' 1293 -
Αὕτη μὲν (sc. ἡ θάλαττα) οὐδὲν γίγνεται Ἐπιῥῤεόντων τῶν ποταμῶν πλείων,
"The sea, though all the rivers flow therein,
Waxeth no greater." Lucretius attempts to account for the fact,
De Rer. Nat.,' 6:608 -
"Nunc ratio reddunda, augmen quin nesciat sequor.
Principio mare mirantur non reddere majus
Naturam, quo sit tantus decursus aquarum,
Omnia quo veniant ex omni fiumina parte." This Dr. Busby thus versifies -
"Now in due order, Muse, proceed to show
Why the deep seas no augmentation know,
In ocean that such numerous streams discharge
Their waters, yet that ocean ne'er enlarge," etc. No particular sea is intended, though some have fancied that the peculiarities of the Dead Sea gave occasion to the thought in the text. Doubtless the idea is general, and such as would strike every observer, however little he might trouble himself with the reason of the circumstance (comp. Ecclus. 40:11). Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again; rather, unto the place whither the rivers go, thither they go again. As Wright and Delitzsch observe, שָׁם after verbs of motion has often the signification of שָׁמָּה; and the idea is that the streams continue to make their way into the sea with ceaseless iteration. The other rendering, which is supported by the Vulgate undo, seems rather to favor the Epicurean poet's solution of the phenomenon. Lucretius, in the passage cited above, explains that the amount of water contributed by rivers is a mere drop in the ocean; that a vast quantity rises in exhalations and is spread far and wide over the earth; and that another large portion finds its way back through the pores of the ground to the bed of the sea. Plumptre considers that this theory was known to Koheleth, and was introduced by him here. The rendering which we have given above would make this opinion untenable; it likewise excludes the idea (though that, indeed, may have been entertained by the Hebrews, Psalm 109:10 and Proverbs 8:28) of the clouds being produced by the sea and feeding the springs. Thus Ecclus. 40:11, "All things that are of the earth do turn to the earth again; and that which is of the waters doth return into the sea."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full,.... Which flow from fountains or an formed by hasty rains; these make their way to the sea, yet the sea is not filled therewith, and made to abound and overflow the earth, as it might be expected it would. So Seneca says (z) we wonder that the accession of rivers is not perceived in the sea; and Lucretius (a) observes the same, that it is wondered at that the sea should not increase, when there is such a flow of waters to it from all quarters; besides the wandering showers and flying storms that fall into it, and yet scarce increased a drop; which he accounts for by the exhalations of the sun, by sweeping and drying winds, and by what the clouds take up. Homer (b) makes every sea, all the rivers, fountains, and wells, flow, from the main ocean. Hence Pindar (c) calls the lake or fountain Camarina the daughter of the ocean But Virgil (d) makes the rivers to flow into it, as the wise man here; with which Aristotle (e) agrees. So Lactantius (f) says, "mare quod ex fluminibus constat", the sea consists of rivers. Both may be true, for, through secret passages under ground, the waters of it are caused to pass back again to their respective places from whence they flowed, as follows;
unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again; this also illustrates the succession of men, age after age, and the revolution of things in the world, their unquiet and unsettled state; and the unsatisfying nature of all things; as the sea is never full with what comes into it, so the mind of man is never satisfied with all the riches and honour he gains, or the knowledge of natural things he acquires; and it suggests that even water, as fluctuating a body as it is, yet has the advantage of men; that though it is always flowing and reflowing, yet it returns to its original place, which man does not. And from all these instances it appears that all things are vanity, and man has no profit of all his labour under the sun.
(z) Nat. Quaest. l. 3. c. 4. (a) De Rerum Natura, l. 6. (b) Iliad. 21. v. 193, &c. (c) Olymp. Ode 5. v. 4. (d) "Omnia sub magna", &c. Georgic. l. 4. v. 366, &c. (e) Meterolog. l. 1. c. 13. (f) De Orig. Error. l. 2. c. 6.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
7. By subterraneous cavities, and by evaporation forming rain clouds, the fountains and rivers are supplied from the sea, into which they then flow back. The connection is: Individual men are continually changing, while the succession of the race continues; just as the sun, wind, and rivers are ever shifting about, while the cycle in which they move is invariable; they return to the point whence they set out. Hence is man, as in these objects of nature which are his analogue, with all the seeming changes "there is no new thing" (Ec 1:9).
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