Ecclesiastes 5:16
And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit has he that has labored for the wind?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
5:9-17 The goodness of Providence is more equally distributed than appears to a careless observer. The king needs the common things of life, and the poor share them; they relish their morsel better than he does his luxuries. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy, much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires. The more men have, the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, and the more they will have hanging on them. The sleep of the labourer is sweet, not only because he is tired, but because he has little care to break his sleep. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, are sweet; having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully repose in God as his Rest. But those who have every thing else, often fail to secure a good night's sleep; their abundance breaks their rest. Riches do hurt, and draw away the heart from God and duty. Men do hurt with their riches, not only gratifying their own lusts, but oppressing others, and dealing hardly with them. They will see that they have laboured for the wind, when, at death, they find the profit of their labour is all gone like the wind, they know not whither. How ill the covetous worldling bears the calamities of human life! He does not sorrow to repentance, but is angry at the providence of God, angry at all about him; which doubles his affliction.Evil travail - Adverse accident, or unsuccessful employment (compare Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 4:8). 16. Even supposing that he loses not his wealth before death, then at least he must go stripped of it all (Ps 49:17).

laboured for the wind—(Ho 12:1; 1Co 9:26).

This also, which I have last mentioned and shall now repeat. For the wind; for riches, which are empty and unsatisfying, uncertain and transitory, fleeing away swiftly and strongly, Proverbs 23:5, which no man can hold or stay in its course, all which are the properties of the wind. Compare Proverbs 11:29 Hosea 12:1. And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came,

so shall he go,.... This seems not to be an evil or vanity, distinct from the former; but the same repeated and confirmed, and expressed, if possible, in stronger terms, that a man is in all respects alike, when he goes out of the world, as when he came in. A man's birth is signified by "coming", that is, out of his mother's womb, and into the world; and which is a description of every man born into it, John 1:9; he is of the earth, earthly; comes forth like a flower, and springs up as grass; he comes not of himself, nor casually, but by means of his parents; and according to the determinate will of God, and to answer some end or other: and his death is signified by "going": a going the way of all flesh; a going out of the world; a going to the grave, the house of all living, a man's long home; it is like going from one house to another; for death is not an annihilation of man, but a remove of him from hence elsewhere; and a man's birth and death are in all points alike. This is to be understood of natural and civil things; of riches and honours, which men cannot carry with them; and with respect to them, they are as they were born, naked and stripped of them; and with respect to the body, the parts of it then are the same, though more grown; it is as naked as it was born; and a man is as much beholden to his friends for his grave as for his swaddling clothes; it becomes what it was at first, earth and dust; and as a man comes not into the world at his own will and pleasure, so neither does he go out of it at his will, but the Lord's. The Midrash interprets it thus,

"as a man comes into the world, with crying, weeping, and sighing, and without knowledge, so he goes out.''

Likewise this is only true of natural and unregenerate men as to moral things; as they are born in sin, they die in sin; with only this difference, an addition of more sin; as they come into the world without the image of God, without a righteousness, without holiness, and without the grace of God, so they go out of it without these things: but this is not true of saints and truly gracious persons; they come into the world with sin, but go out of it without it; being washed in the blood of Christ, justified by his righteousness, and all their sins expiated and pardoned through his sacrifice: they are born without a righteousness, but do not die without one; Christ has wrought out an everlasting righteousness for them; this is imputed to them; is received by faith; given them; they are found in it, living and dying; and this introduces them into heaven and happiness: they are born without holiness, but do not live and die without it; they are regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit of God, and at the moment of death made perfectly holy. This only therefore is true of men, as natural, and with respect to natural and civil things: the Targum interprets it,

"as he comes into this world void of merit, so he shall go into that;''

and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? for riches, which are as unsatisfying as the wind; which are as shifting, and as swift to flee away, as that; and can no more be held, when it is the will of God they should go, and especially at death, than the wind is to be held in the fist of men; and which are as unprofitable as that in the hour of death. Particularly, what profit has a man of all his riches, which he has got by labour, when he neither makes use of them in life for his own good, nor the good of others; and when he comes to die, they leave him and stand him in no stead; and especially having been unconcerned about his immortal soul; and having been wholly taken up in the pursuit of such vain and transitory things? see Matthew 16:26.

And this also is a grievous evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the {m} wind?

(m) Meaning, in vain and without profit.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
16. what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?] The ever-recurring question (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:3, Ecclesiastes 2:22, Ecclesiastes 3:9) rises once again, “What profit?” In “labouring for the wind” we have a phrase almost identical with the “feeding on wind” or, as some render it, the “striving after the wind” which is the key-note of the whole book. As in Proverbs 11:29; Isaiah 26:18; Job 16:3 the “wind” is the emblem of emptiness and nothingness.Verse 16. - This also is a sore evil. The thought of ver. 15 is emphatically repeated. In all points as he came; i.e. naked, helpless. And what profit hath he that laboreth for the wind? The answer is emphatically "nothing." We have had similar questions in Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 3:9. To labor for the wind is to toil with no result, like the "feeding on wind, pursuing of vanity," which is the key-note of the book. The wind is the type of all that is empty, delusive, unsubstantial. In Proverbs 11:29 we have the phrase, "to inherit the wind." Job calls futile arguments "words of wind" (Job 16:3; Job 15:2). Thus the Greek proverb Ἀνέμους θ᾿ρᾶν ἐν δικτύος to try to catch the wind:" and the Latin, "Ventos pascere," and "Ventos colere "(see Erasmus, 'Adag.,' s.v. "Inanis opera"). Septuagint, Καὶ τίς ἡ περίσσεια αὐτοῦ η΅ι μοχθεῖ εἰς ἄνεμον; "And what is his gain for which he labors for the wind?" "He who loveth silver is not satisfied with silver; and he whose love cleaveth to abundance, hath nothing of it: also this is vain." The transition in this series of proverbs is not unmediated; for the injustice which, according to Ecclesiastes 5:7, prevails in the state as it now is becomes subservient to covetousness, in the very nature of which there lies insatiableness: semper avarus eget, hunc nulla pecunia replet. That the author speaks of the "sacra fames argenti" (not auri) arises from this, that not זהב, but כסף, is the specific word for coin.

(Note: A Jewish fancy supposes that כסף is chosen because it consists of letters rising in value (20, 60, 80); while, on the contrary, זהב consists of letters decreasing in value (7, 5, 2).)

Mendelssohn-Friedlnder also explains: "He who loveth silver is not satisfied with silver," i.e., it does not make him full; that might perhaps be linguistically possible (cf. e.g., Proverbs 12:11), although the author would in that case probably have written the words מן־הכּסף, after Ecclesiastes 6:3; but "to be not full of money" is, after Ecclesiastes 1:8, and especially Ecclesiastes 4:8, Habakkuk 2:5, cf. Proverbs 27:20 equals never to have enough of money, but always to desire more.

That which follows, Ecclesiastes 5:9, is, according to Hitz., a question: And who hath joy in abundance, which bringeth nothing in? But such questions, with the answer to be supplied, are not in Koheleth's style; and what would then be understood by capital without interest? Others, as Zφckler, supply ישׂבּע: and he that loveth abundance of possessions (is) not (full) of income; but that which is gained by these hard ellipses is only a tautology. With right, the Targ., Syr., Jerome, the Venet., and Luther take lo tevuah as the answer or conclusion; and who clings to abundance of possessions with his love? - he has no fruit thereof; or, with a weakening of the interrog. pronoun into the relative (as at Ecclesiastes 1:9; cf. under Psalm 34:13): he who ... clings has nothing of it. Hamon signifies a tumult, a noisy multitude, particularly of earthly goods, as at Psalm 37:16; 1 Chronicles 29:16; Isaiah 60:5. The connection of אהב with ב, occurring only here, follows the analogy of חפץ בּ and the like. The conclusion is synon. with levilti ho'il; e.g., Isaiah 44:10; Jeremiah 7:8. All the Codd. read לא; לו in this sense would be meaningless.

(Note: In Maccoth 10a, לו is read three times in succession; the Midrash Wajikra, c. 22, reads לא, and thus it is always found without Kerı̂ and without variation.)

The designation of advantage by tevuah, the farmer enjoys the fruit of his labour; but he who hangs his heart on the continual tumult, noise, pomp of more numerous and greater possessions is possible, to him all real profit - i.e., all pleasant, peaceful enjoyment - is lost. With the increase of the possessions there is an increase also of unrest, and the possessor has in reality nothing but the sight of them.

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