There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:Ecclesiastes 6:1-2. There is an evil which I have seen, &c. — A most wretched, miserable disposition reigning among mankind: A man to whom God hath given riches, &c. — When a man is blessed by God with all sorts of riches, as gold and silver, cattle and lands, &c. So that he wanteth nothing that he desireth — Which he does or can reasonably desire; yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof — Either because his riches are unexpectedly taken away from him by the hand of God, or rather, because, as a punishment of his ingratitude to God, and uncharitableness to men, or of his inattention to, and neglect of, spiritual and eternal things, God gives him up to a base and covetous mind; but a stranger eateth it — Not his children, not any relation, however distant; not a friend, nor even an acquaintance; but, it may be, an entire stranger enjoys all the good things which he has saved: this is vanity, and an evil disease — For surely what we possess we possess in vain, if we do not use it; and that temper of mind is certainly a most wretched distemper which prevents our using it.
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.
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.Ecclesiastes 6:3-6. If a man beget a hundred children — Very many, to whom he intends to leave his estate; and live many years — Which is the chief thing that he desires, and which gives him opportunity of increasing his estate vastly; and his soul be not filled with good — If he have not a contented mind, and a comfortable enjoyment of his estate; and also have no burial — And if, after his death, he have either none, or a mean and dishonourable burial, because his sordid and covetous conduct made him hateful and contemptible to all persons, his children and heirs not excepted, so that he was by all sorts of men thought unworthy of any testimonies of honour, either in his life, or after his death: I say, an untimely birth is better than he — Which, as it never enjoyed the comforts, so it never felt the calamities of life. For, or rather, although, he — The abortive; of whom alone that clause, He hath not seen the sun, (Ecclesiastes 6:5,) is true; cometh in with vanity — Cometh into the world to no purpose, without any comfort or benefit by it, which is also, in a great measure, the case with the covetous person here mentioned; and departeth in darkness — Dieth in obscurity, without any observation or regard of men; and his name shall be covered with darkness — Shall be speedily and utterly forgotten. Moreover he hath not known any thing — Hath had no knowledge, sense, or experience of any thing, whether good or evil; this, namely, the untimely birth, hath more rest than the other — Because it is free from all those incumbrances and vexations to which the covetous man is long exposed. Yea, though he live a thousand years — Wherein he seems to have a privilege above an untimely birth; yet hath he seen no good — He hath enjoyed little or no comfort in it, and, therefore, long life is rather a curse than a blessing to him. Do not all — Whether born before their time or in due time, whether their lives be long or short; go to one place — To the grave! And so, after a little time, all are alike, as to this life, of which only he here speaks: and as to the other life, the condition of the covetous man, if he die impenitent, and therefore unpardoned and unrenewed, is infinitely worse than that of an untimely birth.
For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.Ecclesiastes 6:7-8. All the labour of man is for his mouth — For meat and other necessary provisions of this life; and yet the appetite is not filled — Although all that a man can obtain by his labours is but a provision for his bodily wants, which the meanest sort of men commonly enjoy, yet such is the vanity of the world, and the folly of mankind, that men are insatiable in their desires, and restless in their endeavours after more and more, and never say they have enough. What hath the wise more than the fool — Namely, in these matters? Both are subject to the same calamities, and partakers of the same comforts of this life. What hath the poor — Especially? What advantage in this respect? That knoweth — Even though he knoweth; to walk before the living? — Though he be ingenious and industrious; that is, fit for service and business, and knows how to conduct himself toward his superiors so as to deserve and gain their favour, and to procure a livelihood; what more hath he than the poor that do not know this? The verse is obscure, and some think it should be rendered, For what hath the wise more than the fool? And what than the poor, who knoweth how to walk before the living? That is, who knows how to act prudently: and they think the meaning is, that the wise and the fool, and even the poor, if they be industrious, and know how to behave themselves properly, all enjoy the necessaries of life, food and raiment. The only objection to this interpretation is, that though it seems to improve the sense, it is not consistent with the Hebrew text, מה לעני, signifying literally, not than the poor, but, What is there to the poor? or, what hath the poor? The Hebrew, however, may be rendered, What excellence hath the wise man more than the fool? What excellence, especially, hath the poor that knoweth, that is, although he knoweth, &c.
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.Ecclesiastes 6:9. Better is the sight of the eyes — That is, The comfortable enjoyment of what a man hath, seeing being often put for enjoying; than the wandering of the desire — Than restless and insatiable desires of what a man hath not. This is also vanity — This wandering of the desire, wherein many indulge themselves; and vexation of spirit — It is not the way to satisfaction, as they imagine, but to vexation.
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.Ecclesiastes 6:10. That which hath been — Or, that which is, for the Hebrew מה שׁהיה, may be rendered either way; namely, Man, considered with all his endowments and enjoyments, whether he be wise or foolish, rich or poor; man, who is the chief of all visible and sublunary beings, for whom they all were made, is named already, namely, by God, who immediately after his creation called him Adam, (Genesis 5:2,) to signify what his nature and condition were or would be. This verse seems to be added as a further instance of the vanity of all things in this life. And it is known that it is man — This is certain and manifest, that that being, which makes all this noise in the world, however magnified by himself, and almost adored by flatterers; and however differenced from, or advanced above others, by wisdom or riches, or such like things, is but a mean, earthly, mortal, and miserable creature, as his very name signifies, which God gave him for this very end, that he might be always sensible of his vain and miserable estate in this world, and therefore never expect satisfaction or happiness from it. Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he — That is, with Almighty God, with whom men are very apt to contend upon every slight occasion; and against whom they are ready to murmur on account of this their vanity, and mortality, and misery, although they brought it upon themselves by their sins. Bishop Patrick’s interpretation of this obscure verse is very nearly to the same purpose, thus: “What if a man have already arrived at great renown, as well as riches, still it is notorious that he is but a man, made out of the dust, and therefore weak and frail, and subject to many disasters; which it is not possible for him, by his most anxious cares, to prevent, or by his power and wealth to throw off when he pleases.” “This sense,” adds he, in a note, “seems to me the most simple, and most agreeable to the whole discourse, and it is that which Melancthon hath expressed in these words, ‘Although a man grow famous, yet it is known that he is but a man; and he cannot contend with that which is stronger than himself;’ that is, he cannot govern events.”
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?Ecclesiastes 6:11-12. Seeing there be many things which increase vanity — This seems to be added as a conclusion from all the foregoing chapters; seeing not only man is a vain creature in himself, but there are also many other things, which, instead of diminishing, do but increase this vanity, as wisdom, pleasure, power, wealth; seeing even the good things of this life bring so much toil, and cares, and fears with them; what is man the better — By all that he can either desire or enjoy here? For who knoweth what is good for a man — No man certainly knows what is best for him here, whether to be high or low, rich or poor, because those things which men generally desire and pursue, are very frequently the occasions of their utter ruin, as has been observed again and again in this book; all the days of his vain life — Life itself, which is the foundation of all men’s comforts and enjoyments here, is a vain, uncertain, and transitory thing, and therefore all things that depend upon it must needs be so too; which he spendeth as a shadow — Which, while it abides, hath nothing solid or substantial in it, and which speedily passes away, and leaves no sign behind it; for who can tell a man, &c. — And as no man can be happy with these things while he lives, so he can have no satisfaction in leaving them to others, because he knows not either who shall possess them, or how the future owners will use or abuse them, or what mischief they may do by them, either to others, or even to themselves.
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?