|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
4:1-3 It grieved Solomon to see might prevail against right. Wherever we turn, we see melancholy proofs of the wickedness and misery of mankind, who try to create trouble to themselves and to each other. Being thus hardly used, men are tempted to hate and despise life. But a good man, though badly off while in this world, cannot have cause to wish he had never been born, since he is glorifying the Lord, even in the fires, and will be happy at last, for ever happy. Ungodly men have most cause to wish the continuance of life with all its vexations, as a far more miserable condition awaits them if they die in their sins. If human and worldly things were our chief good, not to exist would be preferable to life, considering the various oppressions here below.
Verse 2. - In view of these patent wrongs Koheleth loses all enjoyment of life. Wherefore (and) I praised the dead which are already dead; or, who died long ago, and thus have escaped the miseries which they would have had to endure. It must, indeed, have been a bitter experience which elicited such an avowal. To die and be forgotten an Oriental would look upon as the most calamitous of destinies. More than the living which are yet alive. For these have before them the prospect of a long endurance of oppression and suffering (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:1; Job 3:13, etc.). The Greek gnome says -
Κρεῖσσον τὸ μὴ ζῇν ἐστὶν η} ζῇν ἀθλίως
"Better to die than lead a wretched life." The Septuagint version is scarcely a rendering of our present text: "Above the living, as many as are living until now."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Wherefore I praised the dead, which are already dead,.... Truly and properly so; not in a figurative sense, as dead sinners, men dead in trespasses and sins; nor carnal professors, that have a name to live, and are dead; nor in a civil sense, such as are in calamity and distress, as the Jews in captivity, or in any affliction, which is sometimes called death: but such who are dead in a literal and natural sense, really and thoroughly dead; not who may and will certainly die, but who are dead already and in their graves, and not all these; not the wicked dead, who are in hell, in everlasting torments; but the righteous dead, who are taken away from the evil to come, and are free from all the oppressions of their enemies, sin, Satan, and the world. The Targum is,
"I praised those that lie down or are asleep, who, behold, are now dead;''
a figure by which death is often expressed, both in the Old and New Testament; sleep being, as the poet (a) says, the image of death; and a great likeness there is between them; Homer (b) calls sleep and death twins. The same paraphrase adds,
"and see not the vengeance which comes upon the world after their death;''
see Isaiah 57:1. The wise man did not make panegyrics or encomiums on those persons, but he pronounced them happy; he judged them in his own mind to be so; and to be much
than the living which are yet alive: that live under the oppression of others; that live in this world in trouble until now, as the Targum; of whom it is as much as it can be said that they are alive; they are just alive, and that is all; they are as it were between life and death. This is generally understood as spoken according to human sense, and the judgment of the flesh, without any regard to the glory and happiness of the future state; that the dead must be preferred to the living, when the quiet of the one, and the misery of the other, are observed; and which sense receives confirmation from Ecclesiastes 4:3, otherwise it is a great truth, that the righteous dead, who die in Christ and are with him, are much more happy than living saints; since they are freed from sin; are out of the reach of Satan's temptations; are no more liable to darkness and desertions; are freed from all doubts and fears; cease from all their labours, toil, and trouble; and are delivered from all afflictions, persecutions, and oppressions; which is not the case of living saints: and besides, the joys which they possess, the company they are always in, and the work they are employed about, give them infinitely the preference to all on earth; see Revelation 14:13.
(a) "Stulte, quid est semnus gelidae nisi mortis imago?" Ovid. Plato in Ciceron. Tuscul. Quaest. l. 1. c. 58. (b) Iliad. 16. v. 672, 682. Vid. Pausan. Laconica, sive l. 3. p. 195.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2. A profane sentiment if severed from its connection; but just in its bearing on Solomon's scope. If religion were not taken into account (Ec 3:17, 19), to die as soon as possible would be desirable, so as not to suffer or witness "oppressions"; and still more so, not to be born at all (Ec 7:1). Job (Job 3:12; 21:7), David (Ps 73:3, &c.), Jeremiah (Jer 12:1), Habakkuk (Hab 1:13), all passed through the same perplexity, until they went into the sanctuary, and looked beyond the present to the "judgment" (Ps 73:17; Hab 2:20; 3:17, 18). Then they saw the need of delay, before completely punishing the wicked, to give space for repentance, or else for accumulation of wrath (Ro 2:15); and before completely rewarding the godly, to give room for faith and perseverance in tribulation (Ps 92:7-12). Earnests, however, are often even now given, by partial judgments of the future, to assure us, in spite of difficulties, that God governs the earth.
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