I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Vexation.—The word occurs only in this book (Ecclesiastes 2:11; Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Ecclesiastes 6:9). The A. V. translation, “vexation of spirit,” is difficult to justify. Very nearly the same phrase occurs in Hosea 12:1, and is there translated “feeding on wind,” for in Hebrew, as in some other languages, the name for “spirit” primarily denotes breath or wind. Accordingly many interpreters understand the phrase of the text “feeding on wind” (see Isaiah 44:20). The same root, however, which means to “feast on a thing,” has the secondary meaning to “delight in a thing,” and so the corresponding noun in Chaldee comes to mean “pleasure” or “will.” (Comp. Ezra 5:17; Ezra 7:18.) Accordingly the LXX. and many modern interpreters understand the phrase of the text “effort after wind.”Ecclesiastes 1:14-15. I have seen all the works, &c. — Diligently observed, and, in a great measure, understood them; and behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit — Not only unsatisfying, but also an affliction or breaking to a man’s spirit. That which is crooked, &c. — All our knowledge serves only to discover our miseries, but is utterly insufficient to remove them; it cannot rectify those disorders which are either in our own hearts and lives, or in the men and things of the world. That which is wanting — In our knowledge, and in order to man’s complete satisfaction and happiness; cannot be numbered — Or, counted out to us from the treasures of human learning, but what is wanting will be so still; all our enjoyments here, when we have done our utmost to bring them to perfection, are still defective: and that which is wanting in our own knowledge is so much, that it cannot be numbered. The more we know, the more we see of our own ignorance.
(1) "striving after wind," or "windy effort;" adopted by the Septuagint and the majority of modern interpreters; or
vexation of—"a preying upon"
the Spirit—Maurer translates; "the pursuit of wind," as in Ec 5:16; Ho 12:1, "Ephraim feedeth on wind." But old versions support the English Version.I have seen, i.e. diligently observed, and in great measure understood.
Behold; for it was a great surprise to me, and therefore may seem strange to you.
All is vanity and vexation of spirit; and not only unsatisfying, but also troublesome, and an affliction or breaking to a man’s spirit or mind. Or, as others, both ancient and modern translators, render it, a feeding upon wind, as these very words, save only that there is the verb from which this noun seems most probably deduced, are rendered, Hosea 12:1, where also it signifies a fruitless or lost labour, and a disappointment of their hopes and desires of satisfaction. And so this is a repetition of the same thing in other words, according to the manner of these books. 1 Kings 4:33; and all that were done by men, by their head, or by their hands; all that were written or wrought by them; all their philosophical works and experiments, and all their mechanic operations; as well as all their good and bad works, in a moral sense; so the Targum,
"I saw all the deeds of the children of men, which are done under the sun in this world;''
and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit; not only the things known, but the knowledge of them; it is mere vanity, there is nothing solid and substantial in it, or that can make a man happy; yea, on the contrary, it is vexatious and distressing; it is not only a weariness to the flesh to obtain it, but, in the reflection of it, gives pain and uneasiness to the mind: it is a "breaking of the spirit" (n) of the man, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Alshech, interpret the phrase; it wastes and consumes his spirit, as well as his time, and all to no purpose; it is, as some ancient Greek versions and others render it, and not amiss, a "feeding on wind" (o); what is useless and unprofitable, and like labouring for that; see Hosea 12:1, Ecclesiastes 5:16; and so Aben Ezra.I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)14. all is vanity and vexation of spirit] The familiar words, though they fall in with the Debater’s tone and have the support of the Vulg. “afflictio spiritus,” hardly express the meaning of the Hebrew and we must read “vanity and feeding upon wind.” The phrase has its parallel in Hosea 12:2 (“Ephraim feedeth on wind”) and Isaiah 44:20 (“feedeth on ashes”) and expresses, with a bold vividness, the sense of emptiness which accompanies unsatisfied desire. Most commentators, however, prefer the rendering “striving after the wind” or “windy effort,” but “feeding” expresses, it is believed, the meaning of the Hebrew more closely. The LXX. gives προαίρεσις πνεύματος (= resolve of wind, i.e. fleeting and unsubstantial). Symmachus gives βόσκησις and Aquila νομή (= feeding). The word in question occurs seven times in Ecclesiastes but is not found elsewhere. The rendering “vexation” rests apparently on a false etymology.Verse 14. - Here is the result of this examination of human actions. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun. In his varied experience nothing had escaped his notice. And behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit; reuth ruach; afflictio spiritus (Vulgate); προαίρεσις πνεύματος, "choice of spirit," or, "wind" (Septuagint); νομὴ ἀνέμου (Aquila and Theodotion); βοσκήσις ἀνέμου, "feeding on wind" (Symmachus). This last translation, or "striving after wind," seems to be most agreeable to the etymology of the word רְעוּת, which, except in this book (Ecclesiastes 2:11, 17, 26, etc.), occurs elsewhere only in the Chaldee portion of Ezra (Ezra 5:17; Ezra 7:18). Whichever sense is taken, the import is much the same. What is implied is the unsubstantial and unsatisfying nature of human labors and endeavors. Many compare Hosea 12:2, "Ephraim feedeth on wind," and Isaiah 44:20, "He feedeth on ashes." In contrast, perhaps, to this constantly recurring complaint, the author of the Book of Wisdom teaches that murmuring is unprofitable and blasphemous (Wisd. 1:11). Bailey, in 'Festus,' sings -
"Of all life's aims, what's worth the thought we waste on't?
How mean, how miserable, seems every care!
How doubtful, too, the system of the mind!
And then the ceaseless, changeless, hopeless round
Of weariness, and heartlessness, and woe,
And vice, and vanity! Yet these make life -
The life, at least, I witness, if not feel
No matter, we are immortal." Deuteronomy 25:18; 2 Samuel 7:2); and to refer the affection, instead of to the narrator, to that which is to be narrated, would be even for a poet too affected a quid pro quo. Rosenmller essentially correctly: omnes res fatigantur h. e. in perpetua versantur vicissitudine, qua fatigantur quasi. But יגעים is not appropriately rendered by fatigantur; the word means, becoming wearied, or perfectly feeble, or also: wearying oneself (cf. Ecclesiastes 10:15; Ecclesiastes 12:12), working with a strain on one's strength, fatiguing oneself (cf.יגיע, that which is gained by labour, work). This is just what these four examples are meant to show, viz., that a restless activity reaching no visible conclusion and end, always beginning again anew, pervades the whole world-all things, he says, summarizing, are in labour, i.e., are restless, hastening on, giving the impression of fatigue.
Thus also in strict sequence of thought that which follows: this unrest in the outer world reflects itself in man, when he contemplates that which is done around him; human language cannot exhaust this coming and going, this growth and decay in constant circle, and the quodlibet is so great, that the eye cannot be satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing; to the unrest of things without corresponds the unrest of the mind, which through this course, in these ever repeated variations, always bringing back the old again to view, is kept in ceaseless activity. The object to dǎbbēr is the totality of things. No words can comprehend this, no sensible perception exhaust it. That which is properly aimed at here is not the unsatisfiedness of the eyes (Proverbs 27:20), and generally of the mind, thus not the ever-new attractive power which appertains to the eye and the ear of him who observes, but the force with which the restless activity which surrounds us lays hold of and communicates itself to us, so that we also find no rest and contentment. With שׂבע, to be satisfied, of the eye, there is appropriately interchanged נמלא, used of the funnel-shaped ear, to be filled, i.e., to be satisfied (as at Ecclesiastes 6:7). The min connected with this latter word is explained by Zck. after Hitz., "away from hearing," i.e., so that it may hear no more. This is not necessary. As saava' with its min may signify to be satisfied with anything, e.g., Ecclesiastes 6:3, Job 19:22; Psalm 104:13; cf. Kal, Isaiah 2:6, Pih. Jeremiah 51:34; Psalm 127:5. Thus mishshemoa' is understood by all the old translators (e.g., Targ. מלּמשׁמע), and thus also, perhaps, the author meant it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, and the ear is not filled (satisfied) with hearing; or yet more in accordance with the Heb. expression: there is not an eye, i.e., no eye is satisfied, etc., restlessly hastening, giving him who looks no rest, the world goes on in its circling course without revealing anything that is in reality new.
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