Ecclesiastes 12:7
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.
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(7) The preacher has risen above the doubts of Ecclesiastes 3:21. (See also Genesis 3:19.)

Ecclesiastes 12:7. Then shall the dust — The body, called dust, both on account of its original, which was from the dust, and to signify its vile and corruptible nature. As it was — Whence it was first taken. He alludes to Genesis 3:19. And the spirit — The soul of man, so called, because of its spiritual or immaterial nature; shall return unto God — Into his presence, and before his tribunal, that it may there be sentenced to its everlasting habitation, either to abide with God forever, if approved by him, or otherwise, to be eternally shut out from his presence and favour. Who gave it — Namely, in a peculiar manner; by his creating power: whence he is called, the Father of spirits, Hebrews 12:9.12:1-7 We should remember our sins against our Creator, repent, and seek forgiveness. We should remember our duties, and set about them, looking to him for grace and strength. This should be done early, while the body is strong, and the spirits active. When a man has the pain of reviewing a misspent life, his not having given up sin and worldly vanities till he is forced to say, I have no pleasure in them, renders his sincerity very questionable. Then follows a figurative description of old age and its infirmities, which has some difficulties; but the meaning is plain, to show how uncomfortable, generally, the days of old age are. As the four verses, 2-5, are a figurative description of the infirmities that usually accompany old age, ver. 6 notices the circumstances which take place in the hour of death. If sin had not entered into the world, these infirmities would not have been known. Surely then the aged should reflect on the evil of sin.The spirit - i. e., The spirit separated unto God from the body at death. No more is said here of its future destiny. To return to God, who is the fountain Psalm 36:9 of Life, certainly means to continue to live. The doctrine of life after death is implied here as in Exodus 3:6 (compare Mark 12:26), Psalm 17:15 (see the note), and in many other passages of Scripture earlier than the age of Solomon. The inference that the soul loses its personality and is absorbed into something else has no warrant in this or any other statement in this book, and would be inconsistent with the announcement of a judgment after death Ecclesiastes 12:14. 7. dust—the dust-formed body.

spirit—surviving the body; implying its immortality (Ec 3:11).

The dust; the body, called dust, both for its original, which was from the dust, and to signify its vile and corruptible nature, Job 4:19 30:19 Psalm 103:14.

Return to the earth as it was; whence it was first taken. He alludes to that passage, Genesis 3:19. The spirit; the soul of man, frequently so called, as Genesis 2:7 Psalm 31:5, &c., because it is of a spiritual or immaterial nature.

Return unto God; into his presence, and before his tribunal, that there it may be sentenced to its everlasting habitations, either to abide with God for ever, if it be approved by him, or otherwise to be eternally shut out from his presence and favour.

Who gave it, to wit, in a peculiar manner, by his creating power: for in a general sense God giveth to every seed his own belly, 1 Corinthians 15:38; hence he is called the Father of spirits, Hebrews 12:9. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was,.... The body, which is made of dust, and is no other in its present state than dust refined and enlivened; and when the above things take place, mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:6, or at death, it returns to its original earth; it becomes immediately a clod of earth, a lifeless lump of clay, and is then buried in the earth, where it rots, corrupts, and turns into it; which shows the frailty of man, and may serve to humble his pride, as well as proves that death is not an annihilation even of the body; see Genesis 3:19;

and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; from whom it is, by whom it is created, who puts it into the bodies of men, as a deposit urn they are entrusted with, and are accountable for, and should be concerned for the safety and salvation of it; this was originally breathed into man at his first creation, and is now formed within him by the Lord; hence he is called the God of the spirits of all flesh; see Genesis 2:4. Now at death the soul, or spirit of man, returns to God; which if understood of the souls of men in general, it means that at death they return to God the Judge of all, who passes sentence on them, and orders those that are good to the mansions of bliss and happiness, and those that are evil to hell and destruction. So the Targum adds,

"that it may stand in judgment before the Lord;''

or if only of the souls of good men, the sense is, that they then return to God, not only as their Creator, but as their covenant God and Father, to enjoy his presence evermore; and to Christ their Redeemer, to be for ever with him, than which nothing is better and more desirable; this shows that the soul is immortal, and dies not with the body, nor sleeps in the grave with it, but is immediately with God. Agreeably to all this Aristotle (w) says, the mind, or soul, alone enters from without, (from heaven, from God there,) and only is divine; and to the same purpose are the words of Phocylides (x),

"the body we have of the earth, and we all being resolved into it become dust, but the air or heaven receives the spirit.''

And still more agreeably to the sentiment of the wise man here, another Heathen (y) writer observes, that the ancients were of opinion that souls are given of God, and are again returned unto him after death.

(w) De Generat. Animal. l. 2. c. 3.((x) , &c. Poem. Admon. v. 102, 103. So Lucretius l. 2. "cedit item retro de terra", &c. (y) Macrob. Saturnal. l. I. c. 10.

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the {u} spirit shall return to God who gave it.

(u) The soul unconsciously goes either to joy or torment, and sleeps not as the wicked imagine.

7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was] The reference to the history of man’s creation in Genesis 2:7 is unmistakeable, and finds an echo in the familiar words of our Burial Service, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” So Epicharmus, quoted by Plutarch, Consol. ad Apoll. p. 110, “Life was compound, and is broken up, and returns thither whence it came, earth to earth and the spirit on high.” So the Epicurean poet sang,

“Pulvis et umbra sumus.”

“Dust and shadows are we all.”

Hor. Od. iv. 7. 16—

echoing the like utterance of Anacreon,

ὀλίγη κόνις κεισόμεθα.

“We shall lie down, a little dust, no more”—

echoed in its turn by Shakespeare (Cymbeline, iv. 2),

“Golden lads and lasses must,

Like chimney sweepers, turn to dust.”

the spirit shall return unto God who gave it] We note, in the contrast between this and the “Who knoweth …?” of ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21, what it is not too much to call, though the familiar words speak of a higher triumph than is found here, the Victory of Faith. If the Debater had rested in his scepticism, it would not have been difficult to find parallels in the language of Greek and Roman writers who had abandoned the hope of immortality. So Euripides had sung

Ἐάσατʼ ἤδη γῇ καλυφθῆναι νεκρούς,

Ὅθεν δʼ ἕκαστον ἐς τὸ φῶς ἀφίκετο,

Ἐνταῦθʼ ἀπελθεῖν, πνεῦμα μὲν πρὸς αἰθέρα,

Τὸ σῶμα δʼ ἐς γῆν.

“Let then the dead be buried in the earth,

And whence each element first came to light

Thither return, the spirit to the air,

The body to the earth.”

Eurip. Suppl. 529—

or as Lucretius at a later date,

“Cedit item retro, de terra quod fuit ante,

In terras, et quod missum ’st ex ætheris oris,

Id rursum cœli rellatum templa receptant.”

“That also which from earth first came, to earth

Returns, and that which from the ether’s coasts

Was sent, the vast wide regions of the sky

Receive again, returning to its home.”

De Rer. Nat. ii. 998.

Or again,

“Ergo dissolvi quoque convenit omnem animal

Naturam, ceu fumus, in altas aëris auras.”

“So must it be that, like the circling smoke,

The being of the soul should be dissolved,

And mingle with the breezes of the air.”

Lucret. De Rer. Nat. iii. 455.

Or Virgil, with a closer approximation to the teaching of the Debater,

“Deum namque ire per omnes

Terrasque tractusque maris, cœlumque profundum;

Hinc pecudes, armenta, viros, genus omne ferarum,

Quemque sibi tenues nascentem arcessere vitas;

Scilicet huc reddi deinde, ac resoluta referri

Omnia; nec morti esse locum; sed viva volare

Sideris in numerum, atque alto succedere cœlo.”

“[They teach] that God pervades the world,

The earth and ocean’s tracts and loftiest heaven,

That hence the flocks and herds, and creatures wild,

Each, at their birth, draw in their fragile life;

That thither also all things tend at last,

And broken-up return, that place for death

Is none, but all things, yet instinct with life,

Soar to the stars and take their place on high.”

Virg. Georg. iv. 220–227.

We cannot ignore the fact that to many interpreters (including Warburton) the words before us have seemed to convey no higher meaning than the extracts just quoted. They see in that return to God, nothing more than the absorption of the human spirit into the Anima Mundi, the great World-Soul, which the Pantheist identified with God.

It is believed, however, that the thoughts in which the Debater at last found anchorage were other than these. The contrast between the sceptical “Who knoweth the spirit of man that it goeth upward?” (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21) and this return to God, “who gave it,” shews that the latter meant more than the former. The faith of the Israelite, embodied in the Shemà or Creed which the writer must have learnt in childhood, was not extinguished. The “fear of God” is with him a real feeling of awe before One who lives and wills (ch. Ecclesiastes 8:8; Ecclesiastes 8:12). The hand of God is a might that orders all things (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:1). It is God that judges the righteous and the wicked (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:17). Rightly, from this point of view, has the Targum paraphrased the words “The Spirit will return to stand in judgment before God, who gave it thee.” The long wandering to and fro in many paths of thoughts ends not in the denial, but the affirmation, of a personal God and therefore a personal immortality.Verse 7. - Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; rather, and the dust return, etc. - the sentence begun above being still carried on to the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body, when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally made (Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; comp. Job 34:15; Psalm 104:29). So Siracides calls man "dust and ashes," and asserts that all things that are of the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclus. 10:9 Ecclus. 40:11). Soph., 'Electra,' 1158 -

Ἀντὶ φιλτάτης`ΝΛ´Μορφῆς σποδόν τε καὶ σκιὰν ἀνωφελῆ

"Instead of thy dear form,
Mere dust and idle shadow."
Corn. a Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch ('Apol. ad Apollon.,' 110) from Epicharmus," Life is compounded and broken up, and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to upper regions." And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it; or, for the spirit - the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition "to" is עַל, in the second אֶל, as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:21 (where see note), "Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward," etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded ver. 7 as an interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it shall be brought into immediate connection with a personal God. There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, in accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality, denied the personality of the soul (see Eurip., ' Suppl.,' 529-534; Lucret., 2. 998, sqq.; 3:455, sqq.). Nor have we any opinion given concerning the adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism, though the terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life; when this departs, he who gave receives it; God "gathereth in" man's breath (Psalm 104:29). The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul, the personal "I;" it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath; and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this would be a feeble conclusion of the author's wanderings; rather the sentence signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle, places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum paraphrases the passage, returning to stand in judgment before its Creator. With Ecclesiastes 12:1 (where, inappropriately, a new chapter begins, instead of beginning with Ecclesiastes 11:9) the call takes a new course, resting its argument on the transitoriness of youth: "And remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth, ere the days of evil come, and the years draw nigh, of which thou shalt say: I have no pleasure in them." The plur. majest. בּוראיך equals עשׂים as a designation of the Creator, Job 35:10; Isaiah 54:5; Psalm 149:2; in so recent a book it cannot surprise us, since it is also not altogether foreign to the post-bibl. language. The expression is warranted, and the Midrash ingeniously interprets the combination of its letters.

(Note: It finds these things expressed in it, partly directly and partly indirectly: remember בארך, thy fountain (origin); בורך, thy grave; and בוראיך, thy Creator. Thus, Jer. Sota ii. 3, and Midrash under Ecclesiastes 12:1.)

Regarding the words 'ad asher lo, commonly used in the Mishna (e.g., Horajoth iii. 3; Nedarim x. 4), or 'ad shello (Targ. 'ad delo), antequam. The days of evil (viz., at least, first, of bodily evil, cf. κακία, Matthew 6:34) are those of feeble, helpless old age, perceptibly marking the failure of bodily and mental strength; parallel to these are the years of which (asher, as at Ecclesiastes 1:10) one has to say: I have no pleasure in them (bahěm for bahěn, as at Ecclesiastes 2:6, mehěm for mehěn). These evil days, adverse years, are now described symptomatically, and that in an allegorical manner, for the "ere" of Ecclesiastes 12:1 is brought to a grand unfolding.

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