Ecclesiastes 3:15
That which has been is now; and that which is to be has already been; and God requires that which is past.
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(15) Is now.—Rather, was long ago.

Requireth.Seeketh again: i.e., recalleth the past. The writer has not been speaking of the bringing the past into judgment, but of the immutable order of the universe, which constantly repeats itself. But it would seem that the word suggesting the thought of seeking for the purpose of judgment leads on to the next topic.

Ecclesiastes 3:15. That which hath been is now — Things past, present, and to come, are all ordered by one constant counsel, in all parts and ages of the world. There is a continual return of the same motions of the heavenly bodies, of the same seasons of the year, and a constant succession of new generations of men and beasts, but all of the same quality. God requireth — Or reneweth, as the Hebrew יבקשׁ, may be rendered; that which is past — That time and those things which are irrecoverably gone in themselves; but are, as it were, recalled, because others of the same kind arise and come in their stead.3:11-15 Every thing is as God made it; not as it appears to us. We have the world so much in our hearts, are so taken up with thoughts and cares of worldly things, that we have neither time nor spirit to see God's hand in them. The world has not only gained possession of the heart, but has formed thoughts against the beauty of God's works. We mistake if we think we were born for ourselves; no, it is our business to do good in this life, which is short and uncertain; we have but little time to be doing good, therefore we should redeem time. Satisfaction with Divine Providence, is having faith that all things work together for good to them that love him. God doeth all, that men should fear before him. The world, as it has been, is, and will be. There has no change befallen us, nor has any temptation by it taken us, but such as is common to men.Rather, What has been - what was before, and what shall be has been before. The word "is" in our the King James Version is erroneously printed in Roman letters: it does not exist in the Hebrew (it should have been italicized); and the word there translated "now" is the same which is translated as "already."

Requireth - i. e., requireth for judgment, as the word specially means in 2 Samuel 4:11; Ezekiel 3:18...It is obvious from the context of the last clause of Ecclesiastes 3:14, and Ecclesiastes 3:16-17, that this is the meaning here.

Past - literally, "put to flight."

The meaning of the verse is that there is a connection between events - past, present and future - and that this connection exists in the justice of God who controls all.

15. Resumption of Ec 1:9. Whatever changes there be, the succession of events is ordered by God's "everlasting" laws (Ec 3:14), and returns in a fixed cycle.

requireth that … past—After many changes, God's law requires the return of the same cycle of events, as in the past, literally, "that which is driven on." The Septuagint and Syriac translate: "God requireth (that is, avengeth) the persecuted man"; a transition to Ec 3:16, 17. The parallel clauses of the verse support English Version.

That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; things past, present, and to come, are all of the same nature, and all ordered in the same manner by one constant counsel and settled course in all parts and ages of the world. There is a continual return of the same motions and influences of the heavenly bodies, of the same seasons of the year, and a constant succession of new generations of men and beasts, but all of the same quality. The same thing in substance was said before, Ecclesiastes 1:9.

Requireth, i.e. reneweth, as this word is used, Job 3:4.

That which is past; that time and those things which are irrecoverably gone in themselves, but are as it were recalled, because others of the same kind arise and come in their stead. Heb. that which is driven away with a mighty, force, as time present is violently thrust away by that which comes after it. That which hath seen is now; and that which is to be hath already been,.... That which has been from the beginning now is; that which cometh, and what shall be in the end of days, has been already, as the Targum. Jarchi interprets this of God and his attributes, which are always the same; he is the "I am that I am", Exodus 3:14; the immutable and eternal Jehovah, which is, and was, and is to come, invariably the same. Or rather it designs his decrees and purposes; what has been decreed in his eternal mind is now accomplished; and what is future has been already in his decrees; nor does anything come to pass but what he has appointed. So it is interpreted, in an ancient tract (p) of the Jews, of

"what was before it came into the world, so that there is nothing new under the sun; now it is obliged to come into this world, as it is said, "before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee", Jeremiah 1:5.''

This will also hold true of natural things, and of the identity of them; of some individuals, as the sun, moon, and stars, which are as they always were, and will be; the sun rises and sets as it used to do; and the moon increases and decreases, as it always has done; and the stars keep the same station or course, and so they ever will, as they have: the same seasons are now in their turn as heretofore, and such as will be have been already; as summer, winter, spring, autumn, seedtime, harvest, cold, heat, night, and day: the same kinds and species of creatures, that have been, are; and what will be have been already; so that there is no new thing under the sun; the same thing is here expressed as in Ecclesiastes 1:9;

and God requireth that which is past; his decrees and purposes to be fulfilled, which are past in his mind; the same seasons to return which have been; and the same kinds and species of creatures to exist which have already. The words may be rendered, "and God seeketh that which is pursued", or "persecuted" (q): and accordingly the whole will bear a different sense; and the preacher may be thought to have entered upon a new subject, which he continues in some following verses, the abuse of power and authority: and the meaning then is, the same acts of injustice, violence, and persecution, have been done formerly as now, and now as formerly; and what hereafter of this kind may be, will be no other than what has been; from the beginning persecution was; Cain hated and slew his brother, because of his superior goodness; and so it always has been, is, and will be, that such who are after the flesh persecute those who are after the spirit; but God will make inquisition for blood, and require it at the hands of those that shed it; he will seek out the persecuted, and vindicate him, and, avenge his persecutor. This way the Midrash, Jarchi, and Alshech, and the Septuagint version, render the words; and so the Syriac version, "God seeketh him that is afflicted, who is driven away"; and to this agrees the Targum,

"and in the great day which shall be, the Lord will require the mean and poor man of the hands of the wicked that persecute him.''

And what follows seems to confirm this sense.

(p) Tikkune Zohar Correct. 69. fol. 104. 2.((q) "Deus quaerit propulsum, seu quod persecutionem veluti passum est", Gejerus, Schmidt.

That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God {f} requireth that which is past.

(f) God only causes what which is past, to return.

15. God requireth that which is past] Better, seeks after that which is put to flight. The old thought of the uniformity of sequence in nature and in history which had before seemed oppressive in its monotony, has been balanced by the thought of God’s perfection and the beauty of His order, and by the “fear” which grows out of it. It is followed up by a new aspect of the same truth. The past is thought of as vanishing, “put to flight,” receding into the dim distance. It might seem to be passing into the abyss of oblivion, but God recalls it (this is obviously the meaning of “require” as used by the translators of the A. V. in its strict etymological sense), brings back the same order, or an analogous order of events, and so history repeats itself. The strange rendering adopted by the Targum and some modern interpreters, “God seeks the persecuted,” i.e. visits and protects them, though tenable as a translation, introduces an idea quite foreign to the train of thought.Verse 15. - That which hath been is now; so Septuagint; "That which hath been made, the same remaineth" (Vulgate); better, that which hath been, long ago it is; i.e. was in existence long before. The thought is much the same as in Ecclesiastes 1:9, only here it is adduced not to prove the vanity and endless sameness of circumstances, but the orderly and appointed succession of events under the controlling providence of God. That which is to be hath already been. The future will be a reproduction of the past. The laws which regulate things change not; the moral government is exercised by him who "is, and was, and is to come" (Revelation 1:8), and therefore in effect history repeats itself; the same causes produce the same phenomena. God requireth that which is past; literally, God seeketh after that which hath been chased away; Septuagint, "God will seek him who is pursued (τὸν διωκόμενον);" Vulgate, "God reneweth that which is passed (instaurat quod abiit)." The meaning is - God brings back to view, recalls again into being, that which was past and had vanished out of sight and mind. The sentence is an explanation of the preceding clauses, and has nothing to do with the inquisition at the day of judgment. Hengstenberg has followed the Septuagint, Syriac, and Targum, in translating, "God seeks the persecuted," and seeing herein an allusion to the punishment of the Egyptians for pursuing the Israelites to the Red Sea, or a general statement that God succors the oppressed. But this idea is quite alien to the intention of the passage, and injures the coherence. Since, then, everything has its time depending not on human influence, but on the determination and providence of God, the question arises: "What gain hath he that worketh in that wherewith he wearieth himself?" It is the complaint of Ecclesiastes 1:3 which is here repeated. From all the labour there comes forth nothing which carries in it the security of its continuance; but in all he does man is conditioned by the change of times and circumstances and relations over which he has no control. And the converse of this his weakness is short-sightedness.
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