Ecclesiastes 6:10
That which has been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
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(10) Of this difficult verse I prefer the translation, “What he is his name has been called long ago, and it is known that it is man; neither may he strive,” &c—i.e., the name given long ago to man (Genesis 2:7) indicates his weakness; neither can he contend with the Almighty. There may be a reference to Genesis 6:3, where a kindred word is used.

Mightier.—The word here used is found only in the Chaldee books of the Bible and in later Hebrew.

Ecclesiastes 6:10. That which hath been — Or, that which is, for the Hebrew מה שׁהיה, may be rendered either way; namely, Man, considered with all his endowments and enjoyments, whether he be wise or foolish, rich or poor; man, who is the chief of all visible and sublunary beings, for whom they all were made, is named already, namely, by God, who immediately after his creation called him Adam, (Genesis 5:2,) to signify what his nature and condition were or would be. This verse seems to be added as a further instance of the vanity of all things in this life. And it is known that it is man — This is certain and manifest, that that being, which makes all this noise in the world, however magnified by himself, and almost adored by flatterers; and however differenced from, or advanced above others, by wisdom or riches, or such like things, is but a mean, earthly, mortal, and miserable creature, as his very name signifies, which God gave him for this very end, that he might be always sensible of his vain and miserable estate in this world, and therefore never expect satisfaction or happiness from it. Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he — That is, with Almighty God, with whom men are very apt to contend upon every slight occasion; and against whom they are ready to murmur on account of this their vanity, and mortality, and misery, although they brought it upon themselves by their sins. Bishop Patrick’s interpretation of this obscure verse is very nearly to the same purpose, thus: “What if a man have already arrived at great renown, as well as riches, still it is notorious that he is but a man, made out of the dust, and therefore weak and frail, and subject to many disasters; which it is not possible for him, by his most anxious cares, to prevent, or by his power and wealth to throw off when he pleases.” “This sense,” adds he, in a note, “seems to me the most simple, and most agreeable to the whole discourse, and it is that which Melancthon hath expressed in these words, ‘Although a man grow famous, yet it is known that he is but a man; and he cannot contend with that which is stronger than himself;’ that is, he cannot govern events.”6:7-12 A little will serve to sustain us comfortably, and a great deal can do no more. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give satisfaction. The poor man has comfort as well as the richest, and is under no real disadvantage. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the resting of the soul in God; for it is better to live by faith in things to come, than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things. Our lot is appointed. We have what pleases God, and let that please us. The greatest possessions and honours cannot set us above the common events of human life. Seeing that the things men pursue on earth increase vanities, what is man the better for his worldly devices? Our life upon earth is to be reckoned by days. It is fleeting and uncertain, and with little in it to be fond of, or to be depended on. Let us return to God, trust in his mercy through Jesus Christ, and submit to his will. Then soon shall we glide through this vexatious world, and find ourselves in that happy place, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.Or, "That which has been named - i. e., events past or current, either Ecclesiastes 1:9 as they present themselves to man, or Ecclesiastes 3:15 as they are ordered by God - was long ago (i. e., was decreed, its nature and place were defined by the Almighty), and was known that it is man;" i. e., the course of events shapes the conduct and character of man, so that what he does and suffers is said to be or constitute the man. God from the beginning definitely ordained the course of events external to man, and constituted man in such a way that events materially affect his conduct and his destiny. Hence, God, by withholding from certain people the gift of contentment, and thus subjecting them to vanity, is acting according to the predetermined course of His Providence which man cannot alter (compare Romans 8:20). Others translate, "What there is, its name is named long ago and known, that it is man;" i. e., "What hath been and is, not only came into existence long ago Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 3:15, but also has been known and named, and is acknowledged that it, besides other things, is specially man; that man always remains the same, and cannot go beyond his appointed bounds."

Him that is mightier - i. e., God; compare Ecclesiastes 9:1; 1 Corinthians 10:22, and marginal references.

10. Part II begins here. Since man's toils are vain, what is the chief good? (Ec 6:12). The answer is contained in the rest of the book.

That which hath been—man's various circumstances

is named already—not only has existed, Ec 1:9; 3:15, but has received its just name, "vanity," long ago,

and it is known that it—vanity

is man—Hebrew, "Adam," equivalent to man "of red dust," as his Creator appropriately named him from his frailty.

neither may he contend, &c.—(Ro 9:20).

This verse is added either as a proof of what he last said concerning the vanity and wandering of insatiable desires, or as a timber instance of the vanity of all things in this life.

That which hath been (or, is, for the Hebrew verb) may be rendered either way, to wit, man considered with all his endowments and enjoyments, whether he be wise or foolish, rich or poor; man, who is the chief of all visible and sublunary beings, for whom they all were made) is named already, to wit, by God, who, presently after his creation, gave him the following name, to signify what his nature and condition was or would be. Heb. What is that which hath been, or is, it is, or hath been named already. Others understand it thus, All the several conditions which men have had or shall have in the world, riches or poverty, &c., are already named, i.e. appointed or determined by God’s unchangeable counsel and invincible providence. But though this be true, it seems not to suit so well with the following clause as the other interpretation doth.

It is known that it is man; this is certain and manifest, that that being which makes all this noise and stir in the world, howsoever magnified by themselves, and sometimes adored by flatterers, and howsoever differenced from or advanced above others, by wisdom, or riches, or the like, is but a man, i.e. a mean earthly mortal and miserable creature, as his very name signifies, which God gave him for this very end, that he might be always sensible of his vain, and base, and miserable estate in this world, and therefore never expect satisfaction or happiness in it.

With him that is mightier than he, i.e. with Almighty God, with whom men are very apt to contend upon every slight occasion, and against whom they are ready to murmur for this vanity, and mortality, and misery of mankind, although they brought it upon themselves by their own sins. So this is seasonably added to prevent the abuse of the foregoing passage. That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man,.... Which may be understood of the first man Adam, who has been, has existed, was produced by the immediate power of God, creating and forming him out of the dust of the earth; was made after the image, and in the likeness of God, a wise and knowing creature, a rich and powerful one, the figure of him that was to come, being the head and representative of all his posterity; and he has been named already, he had his name from the Lord himself, suitable to his nature and formation; he called his name Adam, from "Adamah", the earth, from whence he was taken; and though he was so wise and great, and even affected deity, which was the snare laid for him by his enemy, it is well known he was but a man, of the earth, earthly, and returned to it again. Some have applied this to the second man, the Lord from heaven, as the ordinary gloss, and Jerom; and render it, "that which shall be", so the Vulgate Latin version; as yet he was not man, though he had agreed to be and was prophesied of that he should; however be was named already the seed of the woman, Shiloh, Ithiel, the Messiah, or Anointed; hence by Solomon, in allusion to this name, his "name is said to be as ointment poured forth", Sol 1:3; and as it was known that he should be man, so it is now known that he is really and truly man; though not merely so, but God as well as man; yet as to his human nature his Father is greater and mightier than he; but this sense some interpreters despise and laugh at: and indeed though the whole of it is truth, it does not seem to be the truth of the text, nor suitable to the context: rather the words are to be understood of mankind in general, of all men, not only that have been, but that are or shall be; these were all appointed to come into being by the Lord; they have been in his eternal purposes and decrees, and their names are written or not written in the Lamb's book of life; and they have all one common name, that of "man", weak, frail, mortal, wretched man; they are, as is said of the Egyptians, men and not God, Isaiah 31:3; particularly this is true of persons the most famous that have been in the world; such who have been in ages past, and their names have been called, or they have obtained a name among men, men of renown, that are on the list of fame; such who have been the most famous for wisdom, for riches, for strength, or for power and authority, and have even had deity ascribed to them, and divine worship given them; yet it has been notorious that they were but men, and not God, so Jarchi; and died as such; see Psalm 9:20. Moreover, this may be understood of all things relating to men; that all that has been, is, or shall be, has been already named of God, determined and appointed by him; so the Targum renders it,

"all is the decree of the Word of the Lord;''

all things relating to the temporal affairs of men, as to their birth and place of abode, their callings and stations of life; so to their circumstances of poverty or riches, which with all their craving desires and carking cares it is impossible for them to alter, or make them otherwise than they are; which is observed, to check the wandering and insatiable desires of men after worldly things;

neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he; the Lord of the world, as the Targum; not the angel of death, as Jarchi; the devil, which had the power of death, and is stronger than men; nor death itself, as others, against which there is no standing, Ecclesiastes 8:8, Isaiah 28:15; but God himself, who is mightier than men, and with whom a creature should not strive or contend; either about his being and the make of it, or concerning his circumstances in the world, that they are not, greater and better than they be; or about God's decrees concerning these or other things; but quietly submit to his will, and be content in whatsoever circumstances they are, considering that he is the Creator, and a sovereign Being, they are creatures, and dependent on him; and let their circumstances be what they will, wise or unwise, rich or poor, they are but men, and can never rise higher; see Job 9:3. It is observed by the Masorites that this is just the middle of the book.

That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is {h} mightier than he.

(h) Meaning, God who will make him feel that he is mortal.

10. That which hath been is named already] The maxim is enigmatic. As viewed by many commentators, it asserts that man is the creature of a destiny, which he cannot resist. Long ago, in the far eternity, his name has been written, and what he will be. He cannot plead against the Power that is mightier than himself, i.e. against God. There is nothing left but submission. So taken, the words have a parallel in all utterances in the Bible, or out of it, that assert, or seem to assert, an absolutely predestinating fatalism (Isaiah 45:9; Acts 15:18; Romans 9:20). In such a fatalism, reconciled in some way or other with man’s freedom and responsibility, both the Stoics and Pharisees believed, and so far there would be nothing strange in finding a like maxim in a book which contains so many mingled and heterogeneous elements, both Greek and Jewish, of oscillating thought. There are, however, what seem sufficient reasons for rejecting this interpretation. The word for “already,” which occurs only in this book (chs. Ecclesiastes 1:10, Ecclesiastes 2:12, Ecclesiastes 3:15), is never used of the eternity of the Divine decrees, but, as the passages referred to shew, of that which belongs essentially to human history; that for “mightier,” found in the O. T. only here and in Ezra 4:20; Daniel 2:40; Daniel 2:42; Daniel 4:3; Daniel 7:7, is not used, in any of these passages, of God. The sequence of thought leads the writer to dwell on the shortness of man’s life, rather than on its subjection to a destiny. The following explanation gives that sequence more clearly, What he is, long ago his name was called. In the last words we find a reference to Genesis 2:7, where the name of Adam (= man) is connected with Adamah (= the ground), as homo was, by older philologists, derived ex humo. The very name of man bore witness to his frailty. This being so, he cannot take his stand in the cause, which one “mightier” than himself pleads against him. Death is that mightier one, and will assert his power. So taken, the thought is continuous and harmonious throughout.Verses 10-12. - Section 11. All things are foreknown and foreordained by God; it is useless to murmur against or to discuss this great fact; and as the future is beyond our knowledge and control, it is wise to make the best of the present. Verse 10. - That which hath been is named already; better, whatsoever hath been, long ago hath its name been given. The word rendered "already," kebar (Ecclesiastes 1:10; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiastes 4:2), "long ago," though used elsewhere in this book of events in human history, may appropriately be applied to the Divine decrees which predetermine the circumstances of man's life. This is its significance in the present passage, which asserts that everything which happens has been known and fixed beforehand, and therefore that man cannot shape his own life. No attempt is here made to reconcile this doctrine with man's free-will and consequent responsibility. The idea has already been presented in Ecclesiastes 3:1, etc. It comes forth in Isaiah 45:9, "Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" (comp. Romans 9:20); Acts 15:18 (according to the Textus Receptus), "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world." The same idea is brought out more fully in the following clauses. Septuagint, "If anything ever was, already hath its name been called," which gives the correct sense of the passage. The Vulgate is not so happy, Qui futurus est, jam vocatum est nomen ejus, being rather opposed to the grammar. And it is known that it is man. What is meant by the Authorized Version is doubtful. If the first clause had been translated, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "Whatsoever he be, his name was given him long ago," the conclusion would come naturally, "and it is known that he is man" (Adam), and we should see an allusion to man's name and to the ground (adamah) from which he was taken (Genesis 2:7), as if his very name betokened his weakness. But the present version is very obscure. Cox gives, "It is very certain that even the greatest is but a man, and cannot contend with him," etc. But the Hebrew will not admit this rendering. The clause really amplifies the previous statement of man's predetermined destiny, and it should be rendered, "And it is known what a man shall be." Every individual comes under God's prescient superintendence. Septuagint, Ἐγνώσθη ὅ ἐστω ἄνθρωπος, "It is known what man is;" Vulgate, Et scitur quod homo sit. But it is not the nature of man that is in question, but his conditioned state. Neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he. The mightier One is God, in accordance with the passages quoted above from Isaiah, Acts, and Romans. Some consider that death is intended, and that the author is referring to the shortness of man's life. They say that the word taqqiph, "mighty" (which occurs only in Ezra and Daniel), is never used of God. But is it used of death? And is it not used of God in Daniel 4:3 (3:33, Hebrew), where Nebuchadnezzar says, "How mighty are his wonders"? To bring death into consideration is to introduce a new thought having no connection with the context, which is not speaking of the termination of man's life, but of its course, the circumstances of which are arranged by a higher Power. Septuagint, Καὶ οὐ δυνήσεται κριθῆναι μετὰ τοῦ ἰσχυροτέρου ὑπὲρ αὐτὸν. With this we may compare 1 Corinthians 10:22, "Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? (μὴ ἰσχυρότεροι αὐτοῦ ἐσμέν;)." The comparison of an untimely birth with such a man is in favour of the former: "For it cometh in nothingness and departeth in darkness; and with darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it hath not seen the sun, and hath not known: it is better with it than with that other." It has entered into existence, בּהבל, because it was a lifeless existence into which it entered when its independent life should have begun; and בּהשׁך, it departeth, for it is carried away in all quietness, without noise or ceremony, and "with darkness" its name is covered, for it receives no name and remains a nameless existence, and is forgotten as if it had never been. Not having entered into a living existence, it is also (gam) thus happy to have neither seen the sun nor known and named it, and thus it is spared the sight and the knowledge of all the vanities and evils, the deceptions and sorrows, that are under the sun. When we compare its fate with the long joyless life of that man, the conclusion is apparent: מ ... נחת, plus quietis est huic quam illi, which, with the generalization of the idea of rest (Job 3:13) in a wider sense, is equals melius est huic quam illi (זה ... זה, as at Ecclesiastes 3:19). The generalization of the idea proceeds yet further in the Mishn. נוח לו, e.g.: "It is better (נוח לו לאדם) for a man that he throw himself into a lime-kiln than that (ואל), etc." From this usage Symm. renders מ ... נחת as obj. to ידע לא, and translates: οὐδὲ ἐπειράθη διαφορᾶς ἑτέρου πράγματος πρὸς ἓτερον ; and Jerome: neque cognovit distantiam boni et mali, - a rendering which is to be rejected, because thus the point of the comparison in which it terminates is broken, for 5b draws the facit. It is true that this contains a thought to which it is not easy to reconcile oneself. For supposing that life were not in itself, as over against non-existence, a good, there is yet scarcely any life that is absolutely joyless; and a man who has become the father of an hundred children, has, as it appears, sought the enjoyment of life principally in sexual love, and then also has found it richly. But also, if we consider his life less as relating to sense: his children, though not all, yet partly, will have been a joy to him; and has a family life, so lengthened and rich in blessings, only thorns, and no roses at all? And, moreover, how can anything be said of the rest of an untimely birth, which has been without motion and without life, as of a rest excelling the termination of the life of him who has lived long, since rest without a subjective reflection, a rest not felt, certainly does not fall under the point of view of more or less, good or evil? The saying of the author on no side bears the probe of exact thinking. In the main he designs to say: Better, certainly, is no life than a joyless life, and, moreover, one ending dishonourably. And this is only a speciality of the general clause, Ecclesiastes 4:2., that death is better than life, and not being born is better than both. The author misunderstands the fact that the earthly life has its chief end beyond itself; and his false eudaemonism, failing to penetrate to the inward fountain of true happiness, which is independent of the outward lot, makes exaggerated and ungrateful demands on the earthly life.
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