Ecclesiastes 6:3
If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
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(3) That a man should be so occupied in the pursuit of riches as never to take any enjoyment from them is a common experience enough; but that the same man should have no sepulchre to preserve his name after him need not necessarily happen, so that one is tempted to think that the Preacher has some actual occurrence in his mind.

Untimely birth.—See references. We have just had another reminiscence of the Book of Job. (See Ecclesiastes 5:15.)

Ecclesiastes 6:3-6. If a man beget a hundred children — Very many, to whom he intends to leave his estate; and live many years — Which is the chief thing that he desires, and which gives him opportunity of increasing his estate vastly; and his soul be not filled with good — If he have not a contented mind, and a comfortable enjoyment of his estate; and also have no burial — And if, after his death, he have either none, or a mean and dishonourable burial, because his sordid and covetous conduct made him hateful and contemptible to all persons, his children and heirs not excepted, so that he was by all sorts of men thought unworthy of any testimonies of honour, either in his life, or after his death: I say, an untimely birth is better than he — Which, as it never enjoyed the comforts, so it never felt the calamities of life. For, or rather, although, he — The abortive; of whom alone that clause, He hath not seen the sun, (Ecclesiastes 6:5,) is true; cometh in with vanity — Cometh into the world to no purpose, without any comfort or benefit by it, which is also, in a great measure, the case with the covetous person here mentioned; and departeth in darkness — Dieth in obscurity, without any observation or regard of men; and his name shall be covered with darkness — Shall be speedily and utterly forgotten. Moreover he hath not known any thing — Hath had no knowledge, sense, or experience of any thing, whether good or evil; this, namely, the untimely birth, hath more rest than the other — Because it is free from all those incumbrances and vexations to which the covetous man is long exposed. Yea, though he live a thousand years — Wherein he seems to have a privilege above an untimely birth; yet hath he seen no good — He hath enjoyed little or no comfort in it, and, therefore, long life is rather a curse than a blessing to him. Do not all — Whether born before their time or in due time, whether their lives be long or short; go to one place — To the grave! And so, after a little time, all are alike, as to this life, of which only he here speaks: and as to the other life, the condition of the covetous man, if he die impenitent, and therefore unpardoned and unrenewed, is infinitely worse than that of an untimely birth.6:1-6 A man often has all he needs for outward enjoyment; yet the Lord leaves him so to covetousness or evil dispositions, that he makes no good or comfortable use of what he has. By one means or other his possessions come to strangers; this is vanity, and an evil disease. A numerous family was a matter of fond desire and of high honour among the Hebrews; and long life is the desire of mankind in general. Even with these additions a man may not be able to enjoy his riches, family, and life. Such a man, in his passage through life, seems to have been born for no end or use. And he who has entered on life only for one moment, to quit it the next, has a preferable lot to him who has lived long, but only to suffer.No burial - For a corpse to lie unburied was a circumstance in itself of special ignominy and dishonor (compare the marginal references). 3. Even if a man (of this character) have very many (equivalent to "a hundred," 2Ki 10:1) children, and not have a "stranger" as his heir (Ec 6:2), and live long ("days of years" express the brevity of life at its best, Ge 47:9), yet enjoy no real "good" in life, and lie unhonored, without "burial," at death (2Ki 9:26, 35), the embryo is better than he. In the East to be without burial is the greatest degradation. "Better the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that left to hang on till rotten" [Henry]. An hundred children, i.e. very many children, to whom he intends to leave his estate.

Live many years; which is the chief thing that he desires, and which giveth him opportunity of increasing his estate vastly.

The days; he saith days, because the years of men’s life are but few.

Be not filled with good; hath not a contented mind and comfortable enjoyment of his estate whilst he lives. Have no burial; and if after his death he hath either none, or a mean and dishonourable burial, because his sordid and covetous carriage made him hateful and contemptible to all persons, his children and heirs not excepted, and he was by all sorts of men thought unworthy of any testimonies of honour, either in his life or after his death. Thus he describes a man who lives miserably, and dies ignominiously.

An untimely birth; which as it never enjoyed the comforts, so it never felt the calamities, of this life, which are far more considerable than its comforts, at least to a man that denied himself the comforts, and plunged himself into the toils and vexations, of this life. If a man beget an hundred children,.... Sons and daughters, a certain number for an uncertain. Some have had many children, and almost this number; Rehoboam had twenty eight sons and threescore daughters; and Ahab had seventy sons, how many daughters is not said, 2 Chronicles 11:21; this was reckoned a great honour and happiness to have many children; happy was the man that had his quiver full of them, Psalm 127:3; such a case is here supposed;

and live many years, so that the days of his years be many; or "sufficient", as Jarchi interprets it; he lives as long as life is desirable; lives to a good old age, to the full age of men, threescore years and ten; yea, supposing he was to live to be as old as Methuselah,

and his soul be not filled with good; does not enjoy the good things he has; has no pleasure nor satisfaction in the temporal good things of life, has not the comfort of them, and is always uneasy, because he has not more of them; and especially if his soul is not filled with spiritual good things, the grace of God, and righteousness of Christ;

And also that he have no burial; as Jezebel, Jehoiakim, and others; who is either destroyed by robbers and cutthroats, for the sake of his substance, and cast into a ditch or a river, or some place, where he is never found to be interred; or else, being of such a sordid disposition, he provides not for a decent burial, suitably to his circumstances, or forbids one; or, being despised and disesteemed by all men, his heirs and successors either neglect or refuse to give him one; see Jeremiah 22:29;

I say that an untimely birth is better than he; an abortive is to be preferred unto him; it would have been better for him if he had never been born, or had been in such a case.

If a man begetteth an hundred children, and liveth many years, so that the days of his years are many, and his soul is not {b} filled with good, and also that he hath no {c} burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.

(b) If he can never have enough.

(c) As we see often that the covetous man either falls into crimes that deserve death, or is murdered or drowned or hangs himself or such like and so lacks the honour of burial, which is the last office of humanity.

3. If a man beget an hundred children] A case is put, the very opposite of that described in the preceding verse. Instead of being childless the rich man may have children, and children’s children; may live out all his days. What then? Unless his “soul be filled with good,” unless there is the capacity for enjoyment, life is not worth living. Still, as before, “it were good never to have been born.” We may probably trace an allusive reference to Artaxerxes Mnemon, who is reported to have had 115 children, and who died of grief at the age of 94, at the suicide of one of his sons, and the murder of another, both caused by a third son, Ochus, who succeeded him (Justin, x. 1).

and also that he have no burial] The sequence of thought seems at first strange. Why should this be, from the writer’s standpoint, as the climax of sorrow? Why should he who had noted so keenly the vanities of life put seemingly so high a value on that which comes when life is over and done with? Some writers have felt this so strongly, that they have suggested the interpretation, “even if there be no grave waiting for him,” i.e. even if he were to live for ever. The natural meaning is, however, tenable enough, and we have once more an echo of Greek teaching. Solon had taught that we are not to call any man happy before his death, and by implication, in his story of the sons of Tellus, had made the prospect of posthumous honour an element of happiness (Herod. i. 30). So, in like manner, it was the direst of woes for a man to know that he “should be buried with the burial of an ass” (Jeremiah 22:19), or, in Homeric phrase, that his body should be “cast out to dogs and vultures.” How could any man, however rich and powerful, be sure that that fate might not be in store for him? On the assumption of the late date of the book, there may be a reference to the death of Artaxerxes Ochus, who was murdered by the eunuch Bagoas, and his body thrown to the cats. Possibly, Koheleth himself may have had some reason for an anxious doubt, whether the honours of sepulture would be his. If, as seems likely, he was a stranger in a strange land, alone and with no child to succeed him, perhaps with a name cast out as evil or heretical, there was small chance of his being laid to rest in the sepulchre of his fathers. See the “Ideal Biography,” Introduction, ch. iii.

an untimely birth is better than he] The thought of ch. Ecclesiastes 4:3 is reproduced, but in a somewhat less generalized form. There, never to have been born, is asserted, after the manner of the Greek maxims quoted in the notes, to be better than existence of any kind. Here the assertion is limited to the comparison with the joyless pursuit of wealth. The “untimely birth” was the natural emblem of all abortive enterprise (Job 3:16; Psalm 58:8).Verse 3. - If a man beget an hundred children. Another case is supposed, differing from,the preceding one, where the rich man dies childless. Septuagint, Ἐὰν γεννήσῃ ἀνὴρ, ἑκατόν. "Sons,' or "children," must be supplied (comp. 1 Samuel 2:5; Jeremiah 15:9). To have a large family was regarded as a great blessing. The "hundred" is a round number, though we read of some fathers who had nearly this number of children; thus Ahab had seventy sons (2 Kings 10:1), Rehoboam eighty-eight children (2 Chronicles 11:21). Plumptre follows some commentators in seeing here an allusion to Artaxerxes Mnemon, who is said to have had a hundred and fifteen children, and died of grief at the age of ninety-four at the suicide of one son and the murder of another. Wordsworth opines that Solomon, in the previous verse, was thinking of Jeroboam, who, it was revealed unto him, should, stranger as he was, seize and enjoy his inheritance. But these historical references are the merest guesswork, and rest upon no substantial basis. Plainly the author's statement is general, and there is no need to ransack history to find its parallel. And live many years, so that the days of his years be many; Et vixerit multos annos, et plures dies aetatis habuerit (Vulgate). These versions seem to be simply tautological. The second clause is climacteric, as Ginsburg renders, "Yea, numerous as may be the days of his years." The whole extent of years is summed up in days. So Psalm 90:10, "The days of our years are three score years and ten," etc. Long life, again, was deemed a special blessing, as we see in the commandment with promise (Exodus 20:12). And (yet if) his soul not filled with good; i.e. he does not satisfy himself with the enjoyment of all the good things which he possesses. Septuagint, Καὶ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ οὐ πλησθήσεται ἀπὸ τῆς ἀγαθωσύνης "And his soul shall not be satisfied with his good." And also that he have no burial. This is the climax of the evil that befalls him. Some critics, not entering into Koheleth's view of the severity of this calamity, translate, "and even if the grave did not wait for him," i.e. "if he were never to die," if he were immortal. But there is no parallel to show that the clause can have this meaning; and we know, without having recourse to Greek precedents, that the want of burial was reckoned a grievous loss and dishonor. Hence comes the common allusion to dead carcasses being left to be devoured by beasts and birds, instead of meeting with honorable burial in the ancestral graves (1 Kings 13:22; Isaiah 14:18-20). Thus David says to his giant foe, "I will give the carcasses of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth" (1 Samuel 17:46); and about Jehoiakim it was denounced that he should not be lamented when he died: "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem" (Jeremiah 22:18, 19). The lot of the rich man in question is proclaimed with ever-increasing misery. Ha cannot enjoy his possessions; he has none to whom to leave them; his memory perishes; he has no honored burial. I say, that an untimely birth is better than he (comp. Ecclesiastes 4:3). The abortion or still-born child is preferable to one whose destiny is so miserable (see Job 3:16; Psalm 58:8). It is preferable because, although it has missed all the pleasures of life, it has at least escaped all suffering. The next two verses illustrate this position. "Also all his life long he eateth in darkness and grieveth himself much, and oh for his sorrow and hatred!" We might place Ecclesiastes 5:16 under the regimen of the שׁ of שׁיע of Ecclesiastes 5:15; but the Heb. style prefers the self-dependent form of sentences to that which is governed. The expression Ecclesiastes 5:16 has something strange. This strangeness disappears if, with Ewald and Heiligst., after the lxx and Jerome, for יאכל we read ואכל: καὶ ἐν πένθει; Bttch. prefers ואפל, "and in darkness." Or also, if we read ילך for יאכל; thus the Midrash here, and several codd. by Kennicott; but the Targ., Syr., and Masora read יאכל. Hitzig gets rid of that which is strange in this passage by taking כּל־ימיו as accus. of the obj., not of the time: all his days, his whole life he consumes in darkness; but in Heb. as in Lat. we say: consumere dies vitae, Job 21:13; Job 36:11, but not comedere; and why should the expression, "to eat in darkness," not be a figurative expression for a faithless, gloomy life, as elsewhere "to sit in darkness" (Micah 7:8), and "to walk in darkness"? It is meant that all his life long he ate אונים לחם, the bread of sorrow, or לחץ לחם, prison fare; he did not allow himself pleasant table comforts in a room comfortably or splendidly lighted, for it is unnecessary to understand חשׁך subjectively and figuratively (Hitz., Zck.).

In 16b the traditional punctuation is וכעס.

(Note: Thus in correct texts, in H. with the note: כ מלרע, viz., here and at Psalm 112:10, only there ע has, according to tradition, the Kametz. Cf. Mas. fin. 52b, and Baer's Ed. of Psalter, under Psalm 112:10.)

The perf. ruled by the preceding fut. is syntactically correct, and the verb כּעס is common with the author, Ecclesiastes 7:9. Hitzig regards the text as corrupt, and reads כּחליו and כּעס, and explains: and (he consumes or swallows) much grief in his, etc.; the phrase, "to eat sorrow," may be allowed (cf. Proverbs 26:6, cf. Job 15:16); but יאכל, as the representative of two so bold and essentially different metaphors, would be in point of style in bad taste. If the text is corrupt, it may be more easily rectified by reading וק לו וחלי הרבה וכּעס: and grief in abundance, and sorrow has he, and wrath. We merely suggest this. Ewald, Burger, and Bttch. read only וכעס הרבה וחלי; but לו is not to be dispensed with, and can easily be reduced to a mere vav. Elster retains וכעס, and reads, like Hitzig, בחליו: he grieves himself much in his sorrow and wrath; but in that case the word וקצפו was to be expected; also in this way the ideas do not psychologically accord with each other. However the text is taken, we must interpret וחליו וקצף as an exclamation, like הף, Isaiah 29:16; תּף, Jeremiah 49:16; Ewald, 328a, as we have done above. That וח of itself is a subst. clause equals וחלי לו is untenable; the rendering of the noun as forming a clause, spoken of under Ecclesiastes 2:21, is of a different character.

(Note: Rashi regards וחליו as a form like חיתו. This o everywhere appears only in a gen. connection.)

He who by his labour and care aims at becoming rich, will not only lay upon himself unnecessary privations, but also have many sorrows; for many of his plans fail, and the greater success of others awakens his envy, and neither he himself nor others satisfy him; he is morbidly disposed, and as he is diseased in mind, so also in body, and his constantly increasing dissatisfaction becomes at last קצף, he grumbles at himself, at God, and all the world. From observing such persons, Paul says of them (1 Timothy 6:6.): "They have pierced themselves through (transfoderunt) with many sorrows."

In view of these great evils, with which the possession of riches also is connected: of their deceitful instability, and their merely belonging to this present life, Koheleth returns to his ceterum censeo.

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