All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ecclesiastes 1:8-9. All things — Not only the sun, and winds, and rivers, but all other creatures; are full of labour — They are in continual restlessness and change, never abiding in the same state. The eye is not satisfied — As there are many things in the world vexatious to men, so even those things which are comfortable are not satisfactory, but men are constantly desiring some longer continuance or fuller enjoyment of them, or variety in them. The eye and ear are here put for all the senses, because these are most spiritual and refined, most curious and inquisitive, most capable of receiving satisfaction, and exercised with more ease and pleasure than the other senses. The thing that hath been, &c. — There is nothing in the world but a continued and tiresome repetition of the same things. The nature and course of the beings and affairs of the world, and the tempers of men, are the same that they ever were, and shall ever be; and therefore, because no man ever yet received satisfaction from worldly things, it is vain for any person hereafter to expect it. And there is no new thing — In the nature of things, which might give us hopes of attaining that satisfaction which hitherto things have not afforded.All things, not only the sun, and winds, and rivers, which I have mentioned, but all other creatures, are full of labour; both subjectively, as they are in continual restlessness and change, never abiding in the same state or place; and efficiently, as they cause great and sore labour to men, in getting, and keeping, and enjoying of them, yea, even in the study of them, as is noted hereafter.
Man cannot utter it; the labour is inexpressibly and unconceivably great.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing; as there are many things in the world troublesome and vexatious to men’s senses and minds, so even those things which are comfortable and acceptable to them are not satisfactory, but men are constantly desiring some longer continuance or fuller enjoyment of them, or variety in them, and they never say, It is enough, I desire no more. The eye and ear are here synecdochically put for all the senses, because these are most spiritual and refined, most curious and inquisitive, most capable of receiving satisfaction, because they are exercised with more ease and pleasure than the other senses, whose satisfactions are oft attended with greater weariness and manifold dangers and inconveniences.
man cannot utter it; or declare all the things that are laborious and fatiguing, nor all the labour they are full of; time would fail, and words be wanting to express the whole; all the vanity, unprofitableness, and unsatisfying nature of all things below the sun; particularly
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing; both one and the other require new objects continually; the pleasure of these senses is blunted by the same objects constantly presented; men are always seeking new ones, and when they have got them they want others; whatever curious thing is to be seen the eye craves it; and, after it has dwelt on it a while, it grows tired of it, and wants something else to divert it; and so the ear is delighted with musical sounds, but in time loses the taste of them, and seeks for others; and in discourse and conversation never easy, unless, like the Athenians, it hears some new things, and which quickly grow stale, and then wants fresh ones still: and indeed the spiritual eye and ear will never be satisfied in this life, until the soul comes into the perfect state of blessedness, and beholds the face of God, and sees him as he is; and sees and hears what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard below. The Targum is,
"all the words that shall be in the world, the ancient prophets were weary in them, and they could not find out the ends of them; yea, a man has no power to say what shall be after him; and the eye cannot see all that shall be in the world, and the ear cannot be filled with hearing all the words of all the inhabitants of the world.''All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)8. All things are full of labour] The Hebrew dabar may mean either “word” or “thing,” and so the sentence admits equally of this or the nearly equivalent rendering, All things are weary with toil and All words are feeble, and each gives, it is obvious, a fairly tenable meaning. The first generalizes as by an induction from the previous instances, that all things (especially, i. e. all human affairs) are alike “stale, flat and unprofitable.” The latter stops in the induction to say that all speech is feeble, that time and strength would fail to go through the catalogue. On the whole, looking to the fact that the verb “utter” is cognate in form with the word translated “things,” the latter seems more closely in harmony with the context. We might fairly express the force of the Hebrew by saying All speech fails; man cannot speak it. The seeming tautology gives the sentence the emphasis of iteration. So the LXX. and the Targum.
the eye is not satisfied with seeing] The thought is limited by the context. It is not that the Debater speaks of the cravings of sight and hearing for ever-new objects, true as that might be; but that wherever the eye or the ear turn, the same sad tale meets them, the same paradox of an unvarying record of endless yet monotonous version. The state which Lucretius (ii. 1037) describes, probably as echoing Epicurus, that of one “fessus satiate videndi,” presents a parallelism too striking to be passed over.Verse 8. - All things are full of labor. Taking the word dabar in the sense of "ward" (compare the Greek ῤῆμα), the LXX. translates, "All words are wearisome;" i.e. to go through the whole catalogue of such things as those mentioned in the preceding verses would be a laborious and unprofitable task. The Targum and many modern expositors approve this rendering. But besides that, the word yaged implies suffering, not causing, weariness (Deuteronomy 25:18; Job 3:17); the run of the sentence is unnecessarily interrupted by such an assertion, when one is expecting a conclusion from the instances given above. The Vulgate has, cunetse res difficiles. The idea, as Motais has seen, is this - Man's life is constrained by the same law as his surroundings; he goes on his course subject to influences which he cannot control; in spite of his efforts, he can never be independent. This conclusion is developed in succeeding verses. In the present verse the proposition with which it starts is explained by what follows. All things have been the object of much labor; men have elaborately examined everything; yet the result is most unsatisfactory, the end is not reached; words cannot express it, neither eye nor ear can apprehend it. This is the view of St. Jerome, who writes, "Non solum do physicis, sed de ethicis quoque scirc difficile est. Nec sermo valet explicare causas natu-rasque rerum, nec oculus, ut rei poscit dignitas, intueri, nec auris, instituente doctore, ad summam scientiam pervenirc. Si enim nunc 'per speculum videmus in aenigmate; et ex parte cognoscimus, et ex parte prophetamus,' consequenter nec sermo potest explicate quod nescit; nec oculus in quo caecutit, aspiecre; nec auris, de quo dubitat, impleri." Delitzsch, Nowack, Wright, and others render, "All things are in restless activity;" i.e. constant movement pervades the whole world, and yet no visible conclusion is attained. This, however true, does not seem to be the point insisted on by the author, whose intention is, as we have said, to show that man, like nature, is confined to a circle from which he cannot free himself; and though he uses all the powers with, which he is endowed to penetrate the enigma of life and to rise superior to his environments, he is wholly unable to effect anything in these matters. Man cannot utter it. He cannot explain all things. Koheleth does not affirm that man can know nothing, that he can attain to no certitude, that reason will not teach him to apprehend any truth; his contention is that the inner cause and meaning elude his faculties, that his knowledge is concerned only with accidents and externals, and that there is still some depth which his powers cannot fathom. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. Use his eight as he may, listen to the sounds around him, attend to the instructions of professed teachers, man makes no real advance in knowledge of the mysteries in which he is involved; the paradox is inexplicable. We have, in Proverbs 27:20, "Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied; and the eyes of man are never satisfied." Plumptre quotes Lucretins's expression (2. 1038)," Fessus satiate videndi." "Remember," says Thomas a Kempis ('De Imitat.,' 1:1.5), "the proverb, that the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing. Eudeavour, therefore, to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things, and to transfer thyself to the invisible. For they that follow their sensuality do stain their conscience and lose the grace of God." Ecclesiastes 1:2, which commences this section, "O vanity of vanities, saith Koheleth, O vanity of vanities! All is vain." As at Isaiah 40:1 (vid., l.c.) it is a question whether by "saith" is meant a future or a present utterance of God, so here and at Ecclesiastes 12:8 whether "saith" designates the expression of Koheleth as belonging to history or as presently given forth. The language admits both interpretations, as e.g., "saith," with God as the subject, 2 Samuel 23:3, is meant historically, and in Isaiah 49:5 of the present time. We understand "saith" here, as e.g., Isaiah 36:4, "Thus saith ... the king of Assyria," of something said now, not of something said previously, since it is those presently living to whom the Solomon redivivus, and through him the author of this book, preaches the vanity of all earthly things. The old translators take "vanity of vanities" in the nominative, as if it were the predicate; but the repetition of the expression shows that it is an exclamation equals O vanitatem vanitatum. The abbreviated connecting form of הבל is here not punctuated הבל, after the form חדר (חדר) and the like, but הבל, after the manner of the Aram. ground-form עבד; cf. Ewald, 32b. Jerome read differently: In Hebraeo pro vanitate vanitatum ABAL ABALIM scriptum est, quod exceptis lxx interpretibus omnes similiter transtulerunt ἀτμὸς ἀτμἰδων sive ἀτμῶν. Hěvěl primarily signifies a breath, and still bears this meaning in post-bibl. Heb., e.g., Schabbath 119b: "The world exists merely for the sake of the breath of school-children" (who are the hope of the future). Breath, as the contrast of that which is firm and enduring, is the figure of that which has no support, no continuance. Regarding the superlative expression, "Vanity of vanities," vid., the Sol 1:1. "Vanity of vanities" is the non plus ultra of vanity, - vanity in the highest degree. The double exclamation is followed by a statement which shows it to be the result of experience. "All is vain" - the whole (of the things, namely, which present themselves to us here below for our consideration and use) is vanity.
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