Ecclesiastes 3:19
For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts; even one thing befalls them: as the one dies, so dies the other; yes, they have all one breath; so that a man has no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
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(19) That which befalleth.—The word translated “event” in Ecclesiastes 2:13 (where see Note).

Breath.—The same word as “spirit” (Ecclesiastes 3:21; Genesis 7:15; Psalm 104:30).

Ecclesiastes 3:19. For that which befalleth, &c. — They are subject to the same diseases, pains, and casualties. So dieth the other — As certainly, and no less painfully. They have all one breath — One breath of life, which is in their nostrils; by which the beasts perform the same animal functions. For he speaks not here of man’s rational and immortal spirit, nor of the future life. So that a man hath no pre-eminence, &c. — In respect of the present 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.That which befalleth the sons of men - literally, the event (happenstance) of the sons of men, i. e., what comes upon them from outside, by virtue of the ordinance of God. See the Ecclesiastes 2:14 note. Death in particular Ecclesiastes 3:2, Ecclesiastes 3:11 is a part of the "work that God doeth."19. Literally, "For the sons of men (Adam) are a mere chance, as also the beast is a mere chance." These words can only be the sentiments of the skeptical oppressors. God's delay in judgment gives scope for the "manifestation" of their infidelity (Ec 8:11; Ps 55:19; 2Pe 3:3,4). They are "brute beasts," morally (Ec 3:18; Jude 10); and they end by maintaining that man, physically, has no pre-eminence over the beast, both alike being "fortuities." Probably this was the language of Solomon himself in his apostasy. He answers it in Ec 3:21. If Ec 3:19, 20 be his words, they express only that as regards liability to death, excluding the future judgment, as the skeptic oppressors do, man is on a level with the beast. Life is "vanity," if regarded independently of religion. But Ec 3:21 points out the vast difference between them in respect to the future destiny; also (Ec 3:17) beasts have no "judgment" to come.


Befalleth beasts; they are subject to the same diseases, pains, and casualties.

So dieth the other; as certainly, and no less painfully.

One breath; one breath of life, which is in their nostrils; one and the same living soul, by which the beasts perform the same vital and animal operations. For he speaks not here of man’s rational and immortal spirit, nor of the future life.

A man hath no pre-eminence above a beast, in respect of the present life and sensible things. Nay, the beasts have quicker senses than men, and therefore enjoy more pleasure in those things, and that with less dangers and mischief, than men do. For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts,.... Aben Ezra says this verse is according to the thoughts of the children of men that are not wise; but rather the wise man says what he does according to his own thoughts, and proceeds to prove the likeness and equality of men and beasts;

even one thing befalleth them; the same events belong to one as to another; the same diseases and disasters, calamities and distresses: Noah's flood carried away one as well as another; they both perished in it; several of the plagues of Egypt were inflicted on both; and both are beholden to God for their health, preservation, and safety; see Genesis 7:21;

as the one dieth, so dieth the other; the Targum compares a wicked man and an unclean beast together, in the former clause; and paraphrases this after this manner,

"as an unclean beast dies, so dies he who is not turned to repentance before his death:''

he dies unclean in his sins, stupid, senseless; no more thoughtful of his future state, and of what will become of his precious and immortal soul, than a beast that has none; see Psalm 49:14; perhaps unjust judges, persecuting tyrants, may particularly be regarded: who, though princes, shall not only die like men, but even like beasts, Psalm 82:7;

yea, they have all one breath; the same vital breath, or breath of life, which is in the nostrils of the one as of the other; they breathe and draw in the same air, and have the same animal and vegetative life, and equally liable to lose it, Genesis 2:7;

so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: he has reason and speech, which a beast has not; which gives him a preference to them, did he make a right use of them; but, as an animal, he has no preeminence, being liable to the same accidents, and to death itself: the Targum excepts the house of the grave, man being usually buried when he dies, but a beast is not: yea, in some things a beast has the preeminence of a man; at least some have, in strength, agility, quickness of the senses, &c.

for all is vanity; all the gratifications of the senses; all riches, honours, pleasures, power, and authority, especially when abused.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing {i} befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

(i) Man is not able by his reason and judgment to put differences between man and beast, as concerning those things to which both are subject: for the eye cannot judge any otherwise of a man being dead than of a beast, which is dead: yet by the word of God and faith we easily know the diversity as in Ec 3:21.

19. that which befalleth the sons of men] More accurately, chance are the sons of men; chance is the beast; one chance is to both of them. The thought is emphasized by the threefold iteration of the depressing word. As so often throughout the book, we have an echo, almost a verbal translation, of a Greek saying. So Solon had said to Crœsus in a discourse which breathes the very spirit of Ecclesiastes (Herod. i. 32), πᾶν ἐστι ἄνθρωπος συμφορή (“man is altogether a chance”).

as the one dieth, so dieth the other] The words are not without a partial parallel in the more devotional literature of Israel. The writer of Psalms 49 had given utterance to the thought “man that is in honour … is like the beasts that perish.” With him, however, this was affirmed only of those that “trust in their wealth,” the triumphant, self-indulgent evildoers, and it was balanced by the belief that “God would redeem” his soul “from the power of the grave.” Here the same thought is generalised in the tones of a half cynical despair, all the more striking if we assume that the belief in immortality, as afterwards developed in the creed of Pharisaism, was at the time gaining a more definite form among the writer’s countrymen. It may be traceable either to the reaction against the germs of Pharisaism which was afterwards represented by the Sadducees, or, as seems more probable from the general tone and character of the book, to the influence of the Greek thought, such as was embodied in the teaching of Epicurus and Pyrrho, with which the writer had come in contact.

yea, they have all one breath] The word is the same as the “spirit” of verse Ecclesiastes 3:19, and seems deliberately chosen with reference to the record of Genesis 2:7. The writer asks, What after all was that “breath of life?” Was there not a like “breath of life” in every beast of the field? It is significant that this is the only passage in the Old Testament in which the word is used definitely for the living principle of brutes, though we find it in Genesis 6:17; Genesis 7:15; Genesis 7:22; Psalm 104:30 for the life which is common both to them and man. Commonly, as in Job 12:10; Job 32:8, it is contrasted with the “soul” which represents their lower life.

a man hath no preeminence above a beast] This then was the conclusion to which the thinker was led by the materialism which he had imbibed from his Greek or Sadducean teachers. Put aside the belief in the prolongation of existence after death, that what has been begun here may be completed, and what has gone wrong here may be set right, and man is but a more highly organised animal, the “cunningest of Nature’s clocks” (to use Huxley’s phrase), and the high words which men speak as to his greatness are found hollow. They too are “vanity.” He differs from the brutes around him only, or chiefly, in having, what they have not, the burden of unsatisfied desires, the longing after an eternity which after all is denied him.Verses 19-21 are best regarded as a parenthesis explanatory of vers. 16-18, elucidating man's impotence in the presence of the anomalies of life. The conclusion in ver. 22 is connected with vers. 16-18. We must acknowledge that there are disorders in the world which we cannot remedy, and which God allows in order to demonstrate our powerlessness; therefore the wisest course is to make the best of present cir-circumstances. Verse 19. - For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; literally, chance are the sons of men, and chance are beasts (see on Ecclesiastes 2:14); Septuagint, "Yea, and to them cometh the event (συνάντηημα) of the sons of men, and the event of the beast." Koheleth explains in what respect man is on a level with the brute creation. Neither are able to rise superior to the law that controls their natural life. So Solon says to Croesus (Herod., 1:32), Πᾶν ἐστι ἄνθρωπος συμφορή, "Man is naught but chance;" and Artabanns reminds Xerxes that chances rule men, not men chances (ibid., 7:49). Even one thing befalleth them. A third time is the ominous word repeated, "One chance is to both of them." Free-thinkers perverted this dictum into the materialistic language quoted in the Book of Wisdom (2. 2): "We are born at haphazard, by chance (αὐτοσχεδιως´); etc. But Koheleth's contention is, not that there is no law or order in what happens to man, but that neither man nor beast can dispose events at their own will and pleasure; they are conditioned by a force superior to them, which dominates their actions, sufferings, and circumstances of life. As the one dieth, so dieth the other. In the matter of succumbing to the law of death man has no superiority over other creatures. This is an inference drawn from common observation of exterior facts, and touches not any higher question (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:14, 15; Ecclesiastes 9:2, 3). Something similar is found in Psalm 49:20, "Man that is in honor, and understandeth not, is like the beasts that perish." Yea, they have all one breath (ruach). This is the word used in ver. 23 for the vital principle, "the breath of life," as it is called in Genesis 6:17, where the same word is found. In the earlier record (Genesis 2:7) the term is nishma. Life in all animals is regarded as the gift of God. Says the psalmist, "Thou sendest forth thy spirit (ruach), they are created" (Psalm 104:30). This lower principle presents the same phenomena in men and in brutes. Man hath no pre-eminence above a beast; i.e. in regard to suffering and death. This is not bare materialism, or a gloomy deduction from Greek teaching, but must be explained from the writer's standpoint, which is to emphasize the impotence of man to effect his own happiness. Taking only a limited and phenomenal view of man's circumstances and destiny, he speaks a general truth which all must acknowledge. Septuagint, "And what hath the man more than the beast? Nothing." For all is vanity. The distinction between man and beast is annulled by death; the former's boasted superiority, his power of conceiving and planning, his greatness, skill, strength. cunning, all come under the category of vanity, as they cannot ward off the inevitable blow. "But also that he should eat and drink, and see good in all his labour, is for every man a gift of God." The inverted and yet anacoluthistic formation of the sentence is quite like that at Ecclesiastes 5:18. כּל־הא signifies, properly, the totality of men equals all men, e.g., Psalm 116:11; but here and at 5:18; 12:13, the author uses the two words so that the determ. second member of the st. constr. does not determine the first (which elsewhere sometimes occurs, as bethulath Israel, a virgin of Israel, Deuteronomy 22:19): every one of men (cf. πᾶς τις βροτῶν). The subst. clause col-haadam is subject: every one of men, in this that he eats ... is dependent on God. Instead of מיּד the word מתּת (abbrev. from מתּנת) is here used, as at Ecclesiastes 5:18. The connection by vegam is related to the preceding adversat.: and ( equals but) also ( equals notwithstanding that), as at Ecclesiastes 6:7, Nehemiah 5:8, cf. Jeremiah 3:10, where gam is strengthened by becol-zoth. As for the rest, it follows from Ecclesiastes 3:13, in connection with Ecclesiastes 2:24-26, that for Koheleth εὐποΐ́α and εὐθυμία reciprocally condition each other, without, however, a conclusion following therefrom justifying the translation "to do good," Ecclesiastes 3:12. Men's being conditioned in the enjoyment of life, and, generally, their being conditioned by God the Absolute, has certainly an ethical end in view, as is expressed in the conclusion which Koheleth now reaches: -
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