Ecclesiastes 8:14
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14) Happeneth.—The word is used in this sense only in Esther 9:26.

Ecclesiastes 8:14-15. There is a vanity which is done upon the earth — Either by wicked potentates, who do commonly advance unworthy men, and oppress persons of the greatest virtue and merit: or, by God’s providence, who sees it fit for many weighty reasons so to manage the affairs of the present world. To whom it happeneth, &c. — Who meet with such usage as the worst of men deserve. There be wicked men to whom it happeneth — Who, instead of those punishments which they deserve, receive those rewards which are due to virtuous men. This also is vanity — This is a very unreasonable thing, if it be considered without respect unto another life, as it is here, where Solomon is discoursing of the vanity of the present life, and of the impossibility of finding satisfaction and happiness in it. Then I commended mirth — Hebrew, השׂמחה, joy or gladness. Upon these considerations I concluded, that it was most advisable for a man not to perplex and torment himself with the thoughts of the seeming inequality of the dispensations of Divine Providence, and of the great disorders which are in the world, or with cares and fears about future temporal events, or with insatiable desires of worldly things, but quietly, cheerfully, and thankfully to enjoy the comforts which God gives him. See notes on Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; for that shall abide with him of his labour, &c. — This is the best advantage which he can make of this world’s goods, as to the present life.

8:14-17 Faith alone can establish the heart in this mixed scene, where the righteous often suffer, and the wicked prosper. Solomon commended joy, and holy security of mind, arising from confidence in God, because a man has no better thing under the sun, though a good man has much better things above the sun, than soberly and thankfully to use the things of this life according to his rank. He would not have us try to give a reason for what God does. But, leaving the Lord to clear up all difficulties in his own time, we may cheerfully enjoy the comforts, and bear up under the trials of life; while peace of conscience and joy in the Holy Ghost will abide in us through all outward changes, and when flesh and heart shall fail.Which is done upon the earth - The instance of vanity, to which these words are applied, is the seeming inequality of God's justice; but if they are considered in connection with the profession of personal faith in God's absolute justice Ecclesiastes 8:12, the conclusion is irresistible, that, whatever reason the Preacher had for reserve in declaring his belief, he certainly looked forward to final judgment in a future state of existence (compare Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 12:14). 14. An objection is here started (entertained by Solomon in his apostasy), as in Ec 3:16; 7:15, to the truth of retributive justice, from the fact of the just and the wicked not now receiving always according to their respective deserts; a cavil, which would seem the more weighty to men living under the Mosaic covenant of temporal sanctions. The objector adds, as Solomon had said, that the worldling's pursuits are "vanity" (Ec 8:10), "I say (not 'said') this also is vanity. Then I commend mirth," &c. [Holden]. Ec 8:14, 15 may, however, be explained as teaching a cheerful, thankful use of God's gifts "under the sun," that is, not making them the chief good, as sensualists do, which Ec 2:2; 7:2, forbid; but in "the fear of God," as Ec 3:12; 5:18; 7:18; 9:7, opposed to the abstinence of the self-righteous ascetic (Ec 7:16), and of the miser (Ec 5:17). Which is done; either by wicked potentates, who do commonly advance unworthy men, and oppress persons of greatest virtue and merit; or by God’s providence, who sees it fit for many weighty reasons so to manage the affairs of the present world.

Unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked, i.e. the merit of their work; the work being oft put for the recompence given or belonging to it, as Leviticus 19:13 Job 7:2 Psalm 109:20. The sense is, who meets with such hard usage as the worst of men deserve.

To whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous; who, instead of those just and dreadful punishments which they deserve by the laws of God and men, receive those encouragements and rewards which are due to virtuous and worthy men.

This also is vanity; this is a very unreasonable and foolish thing, if it be considered without respect unto another life, as it is here, where Solomon is discoursing of the vanity of the present life, and of the impossibility of finding satisfaction and happiness in it.

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth,.... Transacted in this lower world under the sun, through the permission and direction of divine Providence; not that it is a vanity on the part of God, who has wise ends to answer by it, for the good of his people, the trial of their graces, &c. or to bring sinners to repentance, or harden them in sin; but this shows the vanity and uncertainty of all worldly things, and that there is no happiness to be had in them;

that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked: to whom evil comes, as the Targum and Jarchi; who are treated as if they were wicked men, and dealt with in providence as sinners would be, if they had the just desert of their wicked works; being attended with poverty, sickness, and disgrace, and other calamities of life, as Job, Asaph, Lazarus, and others, and yet truly righteous and good men;

again, there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous; to whom good things come, as the Targum and Jarchi; who have an affluence of good things, all the outward blessings of life, as health, wealth, honour, long life, &c. as if they had lived the best of lives, and were the most righteous persons upon earth; see Job 21:7;

I said, that this also is vanity; this is said, as some think, according to the judgment of corrupt nature; or as it is apprehended by such who do not rightly consider the judgments of God and the wisdom of Providence in the ordering of things to answer good purposes; or rather the sense is, this is one of the miseries and infelicities of this life, and which demonstrates the emptiness of all things here below, and that the chief good and supreme happiness is not to be had here; but there is and must be a future state, when all things will be set right, and everyone will have and enjoy his proper portion.

There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there are just men, to whom it happeneth according to the {m} work of the wicked; again, there are wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.

(m) Who are punished as though they were wicked, as in Ec 7:17

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14. There is a vanity] There is something almost painful in the iteration of the ever-recurring thought that after all there are disorders in the world. A modern writer, we feel, would have pruned, condensed, and avoided such a repetition of himself. We are dealing, however, with “Thoughts” like Pascal’s Pensées, rather than with a treatise, jotted down, it may be, day by day, as has been said before, on his tablets or his papyrus, and there is, as has been said before, something significant in the fact that, wherever the thinker turns, the same anomalies stare him in the face.

Verse 14. - There is a vanity which is done upon the earth. The vanity is named in what follows, viz. the seeming injustice it, the distribution of good and evil. There be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked (comp. ver. 10; Ecclesiastes 3:16). The melancholy fact is noted that the righteous often experience that fate with which the wicked are threatened, which their conduct might be expected to bring upon them. The verb translated "happeneth" (nags), with el, "to come to," "strike against," is thus used only in later Hebrew, e.g., Esther 9:26. According to the work of the righteous. The wicked meet with that outward prosperity and success which were thought to be the special reward of those who served God. The Vulgate is explanatory, "There are just men whom evils befall as if they did the works of the wicked; and there are wicked men who are as free from care as if they had the deeds of the just." Commenting on Job 34:10, 11, St. Gregory writes, "It is by no means always the case in this life that God renders to each man according to his work and according to his own ways. For both many who commit unlawful and wicked deeds he prevents of his free grace, and converts to works of holiness; and some who are devoted to good deeds he reproves by means of the scourge, and so afflicts those who please him, as though they were displeasing to him.... God doubtless so ordains it of his inestimable mercy, that both scourges should torture the just, lest their doings should elate them, and that the unjust should pass this life at least without punishment, because by their evil doings they are hastening onwards to those torments which are without end. For that the just are sometimes scourged in no way according to their deserts is shown by this history of Job. Elihu, therefore, would speak more truly if he had said that there is not unmercifulness and iniquity in God, even when he seems not to render to men according to their ways. For even that which we do not understand is brought forth from the righteous balance of secret judgment" ('Moral.,' 24:44). Koheleth ends by repeating his melancholy refrain, I said that this also (indeed) is vanity. This conclusion, however, does not lead to despair or infidelity. Ecclesiastes 8:14"There is a vanity which is done on the earth; that there be just men, to whom it happeneth according to the conduct of the wicked; and that there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the conduct of the righteous - I said, that also this is vain." The limiting clause with ki gam, Ecclesiastes 8:12, Ecclesiastes 8:13, is subordinated to the observation specified in Ecclesiastes 8:10-12, and the confirmation of it is continued here in Ecclesiastes 8:14. Regarding הגּיע, to happen, vid., above, p. 639, under נגע. Jerome translates כּם הר by quasi opera egerint impiorum, and כם הץ by quasi justorum facta habeant; instar operis ... would be better, such as is conformable to the mode of acting of the one and of the other; for כ is in the Semitic style of speech a nomen, which annexes to itself the word that follows it in the genitive, and runs through all the relations of case. This contradictory distribution of destiny deceives, misleads, and causes to err; it belongs to the illusory shadowy side of this present life, it is a hevel. The concluding clause of this verse: "I said, that also this is vain," begins to draw the facit from the observation, and is continued in the verse following.
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