Ecclesiastes 3:17
I said in my heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) A time there—viz., with God. In this verse a judgment after this life is clearly spoken of, but not yet asserted as a conclusion definitely adopted, but only as a belief of the writer’s conflicting with the doubts expressed in the following verses. “1 said in mine heart,” with which Ecclesiastes 3:17-18 both begin, conveys the idea, “I thought,” and yet again I thought.” The writer returns again to speak of the punishment of the wicked in Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 11:9.

Ecclesiastes 3:17. I said in my heart — I was sorely grieved at this, but I quieted myself with this consideration. God shall judge, &c. — Absolving the just, and condemning the wicked. For there is a time there — Namely, at the judgment-seat of God; a time fixed by God’s unalterable decree. He implies, that as this life is the sinner’s time, in which he doth whatsoever seemeth good in his own eyes, so God will have his time to reckon with sinners, and rectify all these disorders; for every purpose, and for every work — For examining not only men’s actions, but all their thoughts and purposes. The design of this verse is both to strike a terror into oppressing potentates, and to satisfy the doubts and support the spirits of good men, who are oppressed in this life.3:16-22 Without the fear of the Lord, man is but vanity; set that aside, and judges will not use their power well. And there is another Judge that stands before the door. With God there is a time for the redressing of grievances, though as yet we see it not. Solomon seems to express his wish that men might perceive, that by choosing this world as their portion, they brought themselves to a level with the beasts, without being free, as they are, from present vexations and a future account. Both return to the dust from whence they were taken. What little reason have we to be proud of our bodies, or bodily accomplishments! But as none can fully comprehend, so few consider properly, the difference between the rational soul of man, and the spirit or life of the beast. The spirit of man goes upward, to be judged, and is then fixed in an unchangeable state of happiness or misery. It is as certain that the spirit of the beast goes downward to the earth; it perishes at death. Surely their case is lamentable, the height of whose hopes and wishes is, that they may die like beasts. Let our inquiry be, how an eternity of existence may be to us an eternity of enjoyment? To answer this, is the grand design of revelation. Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, and the Hope of sinners.A time there - i. e., a time with God.17. Solution of it. There is a coming judgment in which God will vindicate His righteous ways. The sinner's "time" of his unrighteous "work" is short. God also has His "time" and "work" of judgment; and, meanwhile, is overruling, for good at last, what seems now dark. Man cannot now "find out" the plan of God's ways (Ec 3:11; Ps 97:2). If judgment instantly followed every sin, there would be no scope for free will, faith, and perseverance of saints in spite of difficulties. The previous darkness will make the light at last the more glorious.

there—(Job 3:17-19) in eternity, in the presence of the Divine Judge, opposed to the "there," in the human place of judgment (Ec 3:16): so "from thence" (Ge 49:24).

I said in mine heart, mine heart was sorely grieved at this disorder, but I quieted it with this consideration,

God shall judge the righteous and the wicked; absolving and saving the just, and condemning the wicked.

A time, fixed by God’s unalterable decree. He implies, that as this life is the sinner’s time in which he doth whatsoever seemeth good in his own eyes, so God will have his time to reckon with them, and rectify all these disorders.

There; in the presence or at the judgment-seat of God; which is easily understood out of the foregoing words, the relative being put for the antecedent, as it is Numbers 7:89 Esther 9:25 Job 1:21 Psalm 14:5 114:2. Or it may be rendered then, as this particle is used, Psalm 14:5 Hosea 2:15, and as it is usual in other authors for adverbs of place to be put for adverbs of time.

For every purpose, and for every work; for the examining and judging, not only all men’s practices or open actions, but also all their secret thoughts and purposes; all the evil which they either did, or designed, or desired, or endeavoured to do. The design of this verse is partly to strike a terror into oppressing potentates, and partly to satisfy the doubts and support the spirits of good men, who are oppressed in this life. I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked,.... This he considered in his mind, and set it down for a certain truth, and which relieved him under the consideration of the sad perversion of justice; and made him easy under it, and willing to leave things to him that judgeth righteously, and wait his time when everything that was now wrong would be set right: he knew from reason, from tradition, and from the word of God, that there was a judgment to come, a general, righteous, and eternal one; that this judicial process would be carried on by God himself, who is holy, righteous, just, and true, omniscient, and omnipotent; and, being the Judge of all the earth, would do right; when he would vindicate the righteous, and clear them from all calumnies and charges; acquit and justify them, and condemn the wicked, pass a just sentence on them, and execute it;

for there is a time there for every purpose, and for every work; or "then", as Noldius; in the day of the great judgment, as the Targum adds; and which continues to paraphrase the words thus,

"for a time is appointed for every business, and for every work which they do in this world they shall be judged there;''

there is a time fixed, a day appointed, for the judgment of the world; though of that day and hour knows no man; yet, it is settled, and will certainly come, Acts 17:31; and when it is come, every purpose, counsel, and thought of men's hearts, will be made manifest, as well as every work, good or bad, open or secret, yea, every idle word, and men will be judged according to these; see 1 Corinthians 4:5, Matthew 12:36.

I said in my heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time {g} there for every purpose and for every work.

(g) Meaning, with God, however man neglects his duty.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. God shall judge the righteous and the wicked] The words “I said in my heart” introduce this as the first thought that rises unbidden at the sight of the wrong-doing in the world. It was, as it were, an immediate intuitive judgment, as distinguished from those which are introduced by “I returned,” or “I considered” (chap. Ecclesiastes 4:1; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 4:7; Ecclesiastes 4:15). In the emphatic “there is a time there,” we may, perhaps, trace, as in the grand abruptness of Medea’s blessing on her children,

Εὐδαιμονοίτονἀλλʼ ἐκείτὰ δʼ ἐνθάδε

Πάτηρ ἀφείλετʼ.

“All good be with you!—but it must be there;

Here it is stolen from you by your sire.”

Eurip. Med. 1065.

or in Plato, ἡ ἐκείσε πορεία, (= “the journey thitherPhaed. p. 107 d), and in the “that world” of Luke 20:35, a passing belief in a judgment after death as redressing the wrongs of earth, soon to be, for a time, at least, traversed and overclouded by the sceptical thoughts with which the writer had come in contact. It is, however, possible that “there” may refer to the unfathomed depths of the divine Judgment which works, through long delay, at its appointed time, and in this case the thought finds a parallel in the complaint and confession of Psalm 73:17-28. The one immediate conviction is, however, balanced in the conflict of thought through which the Debater is passing, by another which seems incompatible with it.Verse 17. - I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked. In view of the injustice that prevails in earthly tribunals, Koheleth takes comfort in the thought that there is retribution in store for every man. when God shall award sentence according to deserts. God is a righteous Judge strong and patient, and his decisions are infallible. Future judgment is here plainly stated, as it is at the final conclusion (Ecclesiastes 11:14). They who refuse to credit the writer with belief in this great doctrine resort to the theory of interpolation and alteration in order to account for the language in this and analogous passages. There can be no doubt that the present text has hitherto always been regarded as genuine, and that it does clearly assert future retribution, though not so much as a conclusion firmly established, but rather as a belief which may explain anomalies and afford comfort under trying circumstances. For there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. The adverb rendered "there" (שָׁם, sham) is placed emphatically, at the end of the sentence. Thus the Septuagint, "There is a reason for every action, and for every work there (ἐκεῖ)." Many take it to mean" in the other world," and Plumptre cites Eurip., 'Med.,' 1073 -

Ἐνδαιμονοῖτον ἀλλ ἐκεῖ τὰ δ ἐνθάδε
Πατὴρ ἀφείλετ

"All good be with you! but it must be there;
Here it is stolen from you by your sire."
But it is unexampled to find the elliptical "there," when no place has been mentioned in the context, and when we are precluded from interpreting the dark word by a significant gesture, as Medea may have pointed downwards in her histrionic despair. Where the words, "that day," are used in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 10:12; 2 Timothy 1:18, etc.), the context shows plainly to what they refer. Some take the adverb here in the sense of "then." Thus the Vulgate, Justum et impium iudicabit Deus, et tempus omnis rei tunc erit." But really no time has been mentioned, unless we conceive the writer to have been guilty of a clumsy tautology, expressing by "then" the same idea as "a time for every purpose," etc. Ewald would understand it of the past; but this is quite arbitrary, and limits the signification of the sentence unnecessarily. It is best, with many modern commentators, to refer the adverb to God, who has just been spoken of in the preceding clause. A similar use is found in Genesis 49:24. With God, spud Deum, in his counsels, there is a time or judgment and retribution for every act of man, when anomalies which have obtained on earth shall be rectified, injustice shall be punished, virtue rewarded. There is no need, with some commentators, to read up, "he appointed;" the usual reading gives a satisfactory sense. "I saw the travail, which God gave to the children of men to fatigue themselves with it - : He hath well arranged everything beautiful in its appointed time; He hath also put eternity in their heart, so that man cannot indeed wholly search through from beginning to end the work which God accomplisheth." As at Ecclesiastes 1:14, ראיתי is here seeing in the way of research, as elsewhere, e.g., at Ecclesiastes 2:24, it is as the result of research. In Ecclesiastes 3:10 the author says that he closely considered the labour of men, and in Ecclesiastes 3:11 he states the result. It is impossible to render the word ענין everywhere by the same German (or English) word: Ecclesiastes 1:13, wearisome trouble; Ecclesiastes 2:26, business; here: Geschftigkeit, the idea is in all the three places the same, viz., an occupation which causes trouble, costs effort. What presented itself to the beholder was (1) that He (viz., God, cf. Ecclesiastes 3:10 and Ecclesiastes 3:11) has made everything beautiful in its time. The author uses יפה as synon. of טוב (Ecclesiastes 3:17); also in other languages the idea of the beautiful is gradually more and more generalized. The suffix in בּעתּו does not refer to God, but to that which is in the time; this word is equals ἐν καιρῷ ιδίῳ (Symm.), at its proper time (vid., Psalm 1:3; Psalm 104:27; Jeremiah 5:24, etc.), since, as with יחדּו (together with) and כּלּו (every one), the suffix is no longer thought of as such. Like יפה, בעתו as pred. conception belongs to the verb: He has made everything beautiful; He has made everything (falling out) at its appointed time. - The beauty consists in this, that what is done is not done sooner or later than it ought to be, so as to connect itself as a constituent part to the whole of God's work. The pret. עשׂה is to be also interpreted as such: He "has made," viz., in His world-plan, all things beautiful, falling out at the appointed time; for that which acquires an actual form in the course of history has a previous ideal existence in the knowledge and will of God (vid., under Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26).

That which presented itself to the beholder was - (2) the fact that He (God) had put את־העלם in their hearts (i.e., the hearts of men). Gaab and Spohn interpret 'olam in the sense of the Arab. 'ilam, knowledge, understanding; and Hitz., pointing the word accordingly עלם, translates: "He has also placed understanding in their heart, without which man," etc. The translation of אשׁר אשׁלי is not to be objected to; מבּ is, however, only seldom a conjunction, and is then to be translated by eo quod, Exodus 14:11; 2 Kings 1:3, 2 Kings 1:6, 2 Kings 1:16, which is not appropriate here; it will thus be here also a prep., and with asher following may mean "without which," as well as "without this, that" equals "besides that" (Venet. ἄνευ τοῦ ὃτι, "except that"), as frequently כּי אפס, e.g., at Amos 9:8. But that Arab. 'ilam is quite foreign to the Heb., which has no word עלם in the sense of "to rise up, to be visible, knowable," which is now also referred

(Note: Vid., Fried. Delitzsch's Assyr. Stud. (1874), p. 39. Otherwise Fleischer, who connects 'alima, "to know," with 'alam, "to conceal," so that to know equals to be concealed, sunk deep, initiated in something (with ba of the obj., as sh'ar, whence shâ'ir, the poet as "one who marks").)

to for the Assyr. as the stem-word of עילם equals highland. It is true Hitzig believes that he has found the Heb. עלם equals wisdom, in Sir. 6:21, where there is a play on the word with נעלם, "concealed:" σοφία γὰρ κατὰ τὸ ὄνομα αὐτῆς ἐστί, καὶοὐ πολλοῖς ἐστὶ φανερά. Drusius and Eichhorn have here already taken notice of the Arab. 'ilam; but Fritzsche with right asks, "Shall this word as Heb. be regarded as traceable only here and falsely pointed only at Ecclesiastes 3:11, and shall no trace of it whatever be found in the Chald., Syr., and Rabbin.?" We have also no need of it. That Ben-Sira has etymologically investigated the word חכמה as going back to חכם, R. chap, "to be firm, shut up, dark" (vid., at Psalm 10:8), is certainly very improbable, but so much the more probable (as already suggested by Drusius) that he has introduced

(Note: Grtz translates eth-ha'olam by "ignorance" (vid., Orelli, p. 83). R. Achwa in the Midrash has added here the scriptio defectiva with the remark, שהועלם וגו, "for the mysterious name of God is concealed from them.")

into חכמה, after the Aram. אכם, nigrescere, the idea of making dark. Does eth-ha'olam in this passage before us then mean "the world" (Jerome, Luther, Ewald), or "desire after the knowledge of the world" (Rashi), or "worldly-mindedness" (Gesen., Knobel)? The answer to this has been already given in my Psychol. p. 406 (2nd:ed.): "In post-bibl. Heb. 'olam denotes not only 'eternity' backwards and forwards as infinite duration, but also 'the world' as that which endures for ever (αἰών, seculum); the world in this latter sense is, however, not yet known

(Note: In the Phoen. also, 'olam, down to a late period, denotes not the world, but eternity: melek 'olam, βασιλεὺς αἰώνος (αἰώνιος), seculo frugifero on a coin equals the fruit-bringing 'olam (Αἰών).)

to the bibl. language, and we will thus not be able to interpret the words of Koheleth of the impulse of man to reflect on the whole world." In itself, the thought that God has placed the whole world in man's heart is not untrue: man is, indeed, a micro-cosmos, in which the macrocosmos mirrors itself (Elster), but the connection does not favour it; for the discussion does not proceed from this, that man is only a member in the great universe, and that God has given to each being its appointed place, but that in all his experience he is conditioned by time, and that in the course of history all that comes to him, according to God's world-plan, happens at its appointed time. But the idea by which that of time, את (זמן), is surpassed is not the world, but eternity, to which time is related as part is to the whole (Cicero, Inv. i. 26. 39, tempus est pars quaedam aeternitatis). The Mishna language contains, along with the meaning of world, also this older meaning of 'olam, and has formed from it an adv. עולמית, aeterne. The author means to say that God has not only assigned to each individually his appointed place in history, thereby bringing to the consciousness of man the fact of his being conditioned, but that He has also established in man an impulse leading him beyond that which is temporal toward the eternal: it lies in his nature not to be contented with the temporal, but to break through the limits which it draws around him, to escape from the bondage and the disquietude within which he is held, and amid the ceaseless changes of time to console himself by directing his thoughts to eternity.

This saying regarding the desiderium aeternitatis being planted in the heart of man, is one of the profoundest utterances of Koheleth. In fact, the impulse of man shows that his innermost wants cannot be satisfied by that which is temporal. He is a being limited by time, but as to his innermost nature he is related to eternity. That which is transient yields him no support, it carries him on like a rushing stream, and constrains him to save himself by laying hold on eternity. But it is not so much the practical as the intellectual side of this endowment and this peculiar dignity of human nature which Koheleth brings her to view.

It is not enough for man to know that everything that happens has its divinely-ordained time. There is an instinct peculiar to his nature impelling him to pass beyond this fragmentary knowledge and to comprehend eternity; but his effort is in vain, for (3) "man is unable to reach unto the work which God accomplisheth from the beginning to the end." The work of God is that which is completing itself in the history of the world, of which the life of individual men is a fragment. Of this work he says, that God has wrought it עשׂה; because, before it is wrought out in its separate "time," it is already completed in God's plan. Eternity and this work are related to each other as the accomplished and the being accomplished, they are interchangeably the πλήρωμα to each other. ימצא is potential, and the same in conception as at Ecclesiastes 8:17; Job 11:7; Job 37:23; a knowledge is meant which reaches to the object, and lays hold of it. A laying hold of this work is an impossibility, because eternity, as its name 'olam denotes, is the concealed, i.e., is both forwards and backwards immeasurable. The desiderium aeternitatis inherent in man thus remains under the sun unappeased. He would raise himself above the limits within which he is confined, and instead of being under the necessity of limiting his attention to isolated matters, gain a view of the whole of God's work which becomes manifest in time; but this all-embracing view is for him unattainable.

If Koheleth had known of a future life - which proves that as no instinct in the natural world is an allusion, so also the impulse toward the eternal, which is natural to man, is no illusion-he would have reached a better ultimatum than the following: -

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