Ecclesiastes 11:8
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that comes is vanity.
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(8) Days of darkness.Psalm 88:12; Psalm 143:3; Job 10:21. (Comp. also Psalm 56:13; Job 33:30.)

11:7-10 Life is sweet to bad men, because they have their portion in this life; it is sweet to good men, because it is the time of preparation for a better; it is sweet to all. Here is a caution to think of death, even when life is most sweet. Solomon makes an effecting address to young persons. They would desire opportunity to pursue every pleasure. Then follow your desires, but be assured that God will call you into judgment. How many give loose to every appetite, and rush into every vicious pleasure! But God registers every one of their sinful thoughts and desires, their idle words and wicked words. If they would avoid remorse and terror, if they would have hope and comfort on a dying bed, if they would escape misery here and hereafter, let them remember the vanity of youthful pleasures. That Solomon means to condemn the pleasures of sin is evident. His object is to draw the young to purer and more lasting joys. This is not the language of one grudging youthful pleasures, because he can no longer partake of them; but of one who has, by a miracle of mercy, been brought back in safety. He would persuade the young from trying a course whence so few return. If the young would live a life of true happiness, if they would secure happiness hereafter, let them remember their Creator in the days of their youth.Days of darkness - The time of old age, and perhaps any time of sorrow or misfortune. Compare Ecclesiastes 12:2.

All that cometh - i. e., "The future," which must not be reckoned on by the active man, as if his present state of healthy energy were to continue.

8. But while man thankfully enjoys life, "let him remember" it will not last for ever. The "many days of darkness," that is, the unseen world (Job 10:21, 22; Ps 88:12), also days of "evil" in this world (Ec 11:2), are coming; therefore sow the good seed while life and good days last, which are not too long for accomplishing life's duties.

All that cometh—that is, All that followeth in the evil and dark days is vain, as far as work for God is concerned (Ec 9:10).

Live many years; which is a privilege granted but to few persons comparatively.

And rejoice in them all; and suppose he enjoy all the comforts, and escape all the embitterments, of human life, all his days; which also is a great rarity.

Let him remember, it is his duty and interest seriously to consider, the days of darkness; of death, or of the state of the dead, which is oft expressed by darkness, as Job 10:21 Psalm 88:12, &c., and here is opposed to the foregoing light.

They shall be many, i.e. far more than the days of this short life, especially if to the time of lying in the grave be added that greater and utter darkness which is reserved for impenitent sinners, and which is everlasting, Matthew 22:13 25:30 2 Peter 2:17 Judges 1:13. And this is added for the caution of mankind, that they may not rejoice excessively in, nor content themselves with, the happiness of the present life, but may seek for something more durable, and more satisfactory.

All that cometh; all things which befall any man belonging only to this life, whether they be comfortable or vexatious, they are but vain and inconsiderable, because they are short and transitory. But if a man live many years,.... Enjoying light and life, and beholding the sun with much delight and pleasure. The days of men on earth, or under the sun, are but few at most; but some live many days, in comparison of others; they come to a good old age, as Abraham did; and to their graves like a shock of corn fully ripe; and arrive to, or beyond, the common term of human life;

and rejoice in them all; in and throughout the many years he lives, even all his days; that is, is blessed with a plentiful portion of the good things of life, and enjoys them in a free and comfortable manner, with moderation and thankfulness; partakes of the good of his labour, and rejoices in his works, in the fruit and effects of them, through the blessing of divine Providence; not only is blessed with many days, but those days good ones, days of prosperity: such a man is in a happy case; and especially if he is possessed of spiritual joy, of joy in the Holy Ghost; if he rejoices in Christ, and in what he is to him, and has done for him; and having professed him, and submitted to his ordinances, goes on his way, rejoicing. Some render it, "let him rejoice in them all" (w); a good man has reason to rejoice always, throughout the whole course of his life; because of the goodness of divine Providence to him; because of the blessings of grace bestowed on him; and because of his good hope of eternal glory and happiness. The Targum is,

"in all these it becomes him to rejoice, and to study in the law of the Lord;''

yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many; or, "they may be" (x); meaning either, that though persons may live long, and enjoy much health and prosperity; yet, in the midst of all, they should consider, that it is possible that days of adversity and distress may come upon them, and continue; and therefore should not please themselves, as Job did, that they shall die in their nest in the height their prosperity, since they know not what days of evil may come, and how long they will last; or, however, they should remember the night of death, that is hastening, the land of darkness, and the shadow of death, they are going to; the dark grave, they will soon be laid in, where they will remain many days; many more than those in which they have lived, enjoying the light of the sun, even till the heavens shall be no more; though these days will not be infinite, they will have an end, and there will be a resurrection from the dead: and particularly if a man is a wicked man, that has lived a long and prosperous life, he should not only remember the above things; but also that outer darkness, that blackness of darkness reserved for him, the darkness of eternal death, which will be his portion for evermore. The Targum is,

"he shall remember the days of the darkness of death, and shall not sin; for many are the days that he shall lie dead in the house of the grave.''

All that cometh is vanity; Aben Ezra interprets this of every man that comes into the world, as in Ecclesiastes 1:2; whether high or low, rich or poor, in prosperity or adversity; man, at his best estate, is vanity: let a man therefore be in what circumstances he will, he should not take up his rest here; all that comes to him, everything that befalls him, is vanity. The wise man keeps in view the main thing he proposed, to prove that is vanity, all in this life; for what is to come hereafter, in a future state of happiness, cannot come under this name and character.

(w) "in eis omnibus laetetur", Junius & Tremellius, Mercerus, Cocceius, Gejerus. (x) "quia multi sint", Amama, so some in Drusius; "quod multi futuri sint", Piscator, Gejerus, Rambachius.

But if a man shall live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of {g} darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.

(g) That is, of affliction and trouble.

8. But if a man live many years …] Better, For if a man … The relation is one of connexion rather than contrast. In the calm, enjoyable because beneficent, life which the thinker now contemplates as within his reach, the remembrance of the darkness which lies beyond is to be a motive, not for a fretful pessimism, but for a deliberate effort to enjoy rightly. The figure of a corpse which was carried about in the banquets of the Egyptians was intended not to destroy or damp the joy, but to make it more lasting by making it more controlled (Herod. ii. 78). The teaching now is something more than the “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die” of the sensualist (Wis 2:1-6; 1 Corinthians 15:32). “Respice finem; Memento mori,” these rules teach us to use life wisely and therefore well.

let him remember the days of darkness] These are clearly not the days of sorrow or adversity (though the phrase as such might admit that meaning), but those of the darkness which is contrasted with the light of the sun, with the light of life, the land that lies behind the veil, in the unseen world of Hades or of Sheol, the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death. As the Greeks spoke of the dead as οἱ πλείονες “the many,” so does the writer speak of the days after death as “many.” The night will be long and dreary, therefore it is well to make the most of the day. The teaching of the whole verse finds, as might be expected, an echo in that of the Epicurean poet, when he greets his friend on the return of spring, but the echo is in a lower key.

Nunc decet aut viridi nitidum caput impedire myrto

Aut flore, terræ quem ferunt solutæ,

Pallida Mors æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas

Regumque turres. O beate Sexti,

Vitæ summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam,

Jam te premet nox, fabulæque Manes

Et domus exilis Plutonia.

“Now is it meet to crown bright brow

With wreaths of fresh green myrtle; now.

With flowers that owe their timely birth

To spring’s soft influence o’er the earth.

With equal foot the pauper’s cell

Death visits, and where emperors dwell,

Wherefore my Sextus, good and dear,

Life’s little span forbids us here

To start, if we indeed are wise,

On some far-reaching enterprise:

Soon Night and fabled forms of dread,

Where Pluto lords it o’er the dead,

Shall meet thee in thy narrow bed.”

Hor. Od. i. 4.

All that cometh is vanity] There is a significance in the new form of the burden of the Debater’s song. The sentence of “vanity,” i.e. of shadowy transitoriness, is passed not only on the years in which he is, in a measure, capable of enjoyment, and on the days of darkness, but even on that which lies beyond them. The unknown future—the undiscovered country—it was, from the point of view from which, for the time, he looked at it, “vanity” to build too much even on that. Men speculated much and knew but little, and there was an unreality in sacrificing the present to that undefined future. What has been called “other-worldliness,” involving the contempt at once of the duties and enjoyments of this world, was but a form of unwisdom. Asceticism, looking to that other world, needed to be balanced by the better form of Epicureanism.Verse 8. - But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all. The conjunction ki at the commencement of the verse is causal rather than adversative, and should be rendered "for." The insertion of "and" before "rejoice" mars the sentence. The apodosis begins with "rejoice," and the translation is, For if a man live many years, he ought to rejoice in them all. Koheleth has said (ver. 7) that life is sweet and precious; now he adds that it is therefore man's duty to enjoy it; God has ordained that he should do so, whether his days on earth be many or few. Yet let him remember the days of darkness. The apodosis is continued, and the clause should run, And remember, etc. "The days of darkness ' do not mean times of calamity as contrasted with the light of prosperity, as though the writer were bidding one to be mindful of the prospect of disastrous change in the midst of happiness; nor, again, the period of old age distinguished from the glowing light of youth (Virgil, 'AEneid,' L 590, 591). The days of darkness signify the life in Hades, far from the light of the sun, gloomy, uncheered. The thought of this state should not make us hopeless and reckless, like the sensualists whose creed is to "eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:82; Wisd. 2:1, etc.), but rouse us to make the best of life, to be contented and cheerful, doing our daily duties with the consciousness that this is our day of labor and joy, and that "the night cometh when no man can work ' (John 9:4). Wisely says Beu-Sira, "Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss" (Ecclus. 7:36). We are reminded of the Egyptian custom, mentioned by Herodotus (2. 78), of carrying a figure of a corpse among the guests at a banquet, not in order to damp pleasure, but to give zest to the enjoyment of the present and to keep it under proper control. "Look on this!" it was cried; "drink, and enjoy thyself; for when thou diest thou shalt he such." The Roman poet has many a passage like this, though, of course, of lower tendency. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 2:3 -

"Preserve, O my Dellius, whatever thy fortunes,
A mind undisturbed, 'midst life's changes and ills;
Not cast down by its sorrows, nor too much elated
If sudden good fortune thy cup overfills,"

(Stanley.) (See also 'Carm.,' 1:4.) For they shall be many; rather, that they shall be many. This is one of the things to remember. The time in Sheol will be long. How to be passed - when, if ever, to end - he says not; he looks forward to a dreary protracted period, when joy shall be unattainable, and therefore he bids men to use the present, which is all they can claim. All that cometh is vanity. All that comes after this life is ended, the great future, is nothingness; shadow, not substance; a state from which is absent all that made life, and over which we have no control. Koheleth had passed the sentence of vanity on all the pursuits of the living man; now he gives the same verdict upon the unknown condition of the departed soul (comp, Ecclesiastes 9:5). Till the gospel had brought life and immortality to light, the view of the future was dark and gloomy. So we read in Job (Job 10:21, 22), "I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and of the shadow of death; a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the clause, rendering, Meminisse debet tenebrosi temporis, et dierum multorum; qui cum venerint, vanitatis arguentur praeterita, "He ought to remember... the many days; and when these have come, things passed shall be charged with vanity" - which implies, in accordance with an haggadic interpretation of the passage, that the sinner shall suffer for his transgressions, and shall then learn to acknowledge his folly in the past. It is unnecessary to say that the present text is at variance with this rendering. "Divide the portion into seven, yea, eight (parts); for thou knowest not what evil shall happen on the earth." With that other interpretation, עליך was to be expected instead of 'al-haarets; for an evil spreading abroad over the earth, a calamity to the land, does not yet fall on every one without exception; and why was not the רעה designated directly as personal? The impression of the words לשׁם ... תּן־, established in this general manner, is certainly this, that on the supposition of the possibility of a universal catastrophe breaking in, they advise a division of our property, so that if we are involved in it, our all may not at once be lost, but only this or that part of it, as Jacob, Genesis 32:9, says. With reference to 1a, it is most natural to suppose that one is counselled not to venture his all in one expedition, so that if this is lost in a storm, all might not at once be lost (Mendelss., Preston, Hitz., Stuart); with the same right, since 1a is only an example, the counsel may be regarded as denoting that one must not commit all to one caravan; or, since in Ecclesiastes 11:2 לחמך is to be represented not merely as a means of obtaining gain, that one ought not to lay up all he has gathered in one place, Judges 6:11; Jeremiah 41:8 (Nachtigal); in short, that one ought not to put all into one business, or, as we say literally, venture all on one card. חלק is either the portion which one possesses, i.e., the measure of the possession that has fallen to him (Psalm 16:5), or חלק נתן means to make portions, to undertake a division. In the first case, the expression ל ... נתן follows the scheme of Genesis 17:20 : make the part into seven, yea, into eight (parts); in the second case, the scheme of Joshua 18:5 : make division into seven, etc. We prefer the former, because otherwise that which is to be divided remains unknown; חלק is the part now in possession: make the much or the little that thou hast into seven or yet more parts. The rising from seven to eight is as at Job 5:19, and like the expression ter quaterque, etc. The same inverted order of words as in Ecclesiastes 11:2 is found in Esther 6:3; 2 Kings 8:12.
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