Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labor to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yes farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ecclesiastes 8:17. Then — Hebrew, and, or, moreover, I beheld all the work of God — I considered the counsels and ways of God, and the various methods of his providence toward good and bad men, and the reasons of them. That a man cannot find out the work, &c. — No man, though ever so wise, is able fully and perfectly to understand these things. And therefore, it is best for man not to perplex himself with endless and fruitless inquiries about those matters, but quietly to submit to God’s will and providence, and to live in the fear of God, and the comfortable enjoyment of his blessings. Ecclesiastes 8:15 with the reflection that the man who goes beyond that limited sphere within which he can labor and be contented, and investigates the whole work of God, will find that his finite intelligence cannot grasp it.Then, Heb. and, or moreover, I beheld all the work of God; I considered the counsels and ways of God, and the various methods of his providence towards good and bad men, and the reasons of them.
A man cannot find out; no man, though never so wise, and inquisitive, and studious, as it follows, is able fully and perfectly to understand these things; and therefore it is best for man not to perplex himself with endless and fruitless inquiries about these matters, but quietly to submit to God’s will and providence, and to live in the fear of God, and the comfortable enjoyment of his blessings.
that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: he can find out that it is done, but not the reason why it is done: the ways of God are in the deep, and not to be traced; they are unsearchable and past finding out; there is a a depth of wisdom and knowledge, in them, inscrutable by the wisest of men, Psalm 72:19;
because, though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; Noldius and others render it "although"; not only a man that, in a slight and negligent manner, seeks after the knowledge of the works of divine Providence, and the reasons of them; but even one that is diligent and laborious at it is not able to find them out; they being purposely concealed by the Lord, to answer some ends of his;
yea, further, though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it; a man of a great natural capacity, such an one as Solomon himself, though he proposes to himself, and determines within himself to find it out, and sets himself to the work, and uses all the means and methods he can devise, and imagines with himself he shall be able to find out the reasons of the divine procedure, in his dispensations towards the righteous and the wicked; and yet, after all, he is not able to do it. The Targum is,
"what shall be done in the end of days;''Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)17. then I beheld all the work of God] The confession is like that which we have had before in chap. Ecclesiastes 7:23-24 : perhaps, also, we may add, like that of a very different writer dealing with a very different question, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out” (Romans 11:33). The English reader may be reminded of Bishop Butler’s Sermon (xv.) on the “Ignorance of Man,” of which these verses supply the text. What is noticeable here is that the ignorance (we may use a modern term and say the Agnosticism) is not atheistic. That which the seeker contemplates he recognises as the work of God. Before that work, the wise man bows in reverence with the confession that it lies beyond him. The Finite cannot grasp the Infinite. We may compare Hooker’s noble words “Dangerous it were for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to make mention of His name; yet our soundest knowledge is to know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know Him, and our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence, when we confess without confession that His glory is inexplicable, His greatness above our capacity and reach. He is above, and we upon earth; therefore it behoveth our words to be wary and few” (Eccl. Pol. i. 2, § 3).Verse 17. - Then I beheld all the work of God. This is the apodosis to the first clause of ver. 16. "God's work" is the same as the work that is done under the sun, and means men's actions and the providential ordering thereof. This a man, with his finite understanding, cannot find out, cannot thoroughly comprehend or explain (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 7:23, 24). Because though a man labor to seek it out. The Septuagint has, Ὅσα α}ν μοχθήσῃ, "Whatsoever things a man shall labor to seek;" Vulgate, Quanto plus laboraverit ad quaerendum, tanto minus inveniat. The interpreters waver between "how much so ever," and "wherefore a man labors." The latter seems to be best. Though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it. It is the part of wisdom to determine to know all that can be known; but the resolution is baffled here (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:23). The two verses, with their repetitions and tautologous expressions, seem to denote perturbation of mind in the author and his sense of the gravity of his assertions. He is overwhelmed with the thought of the inscrutability of God's judgments, while he is forced to face the facts. An exquisite commentary on this passage is found in Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' 1:2. § 2, quoted by Plumptre; and in Bishop Butler's sermon 'On the Ignorance of Man,' where we read, "From it [the knowledge of our ignorance] we may learn with what temper of mind a man ought to inquire into the subject of religion, namely, with what expectation of finding difficulties, and with a disposition to take up and rest satisfied with any evidence whatever which is real. A man should beforehand expect things mysterious, and such as he will not be able thoroughly to comprehend or go to the bottom of.... Our ignorance is the proper answer to many things which are called objections against religion, particularly to those which arise from the appearance of evil and irregularity in the constitution of nature and the government of the world Since the constitution of nature and the methods and designs of Providence in the government of the world are above our comprehension, we should acquiesce in and rest satisfied with our ignorance, turn our thoughts from that which is above and beyond us, and apply ourselves to that which is level to our capacities, and which is our real business and concern .... Lastly, let us adore that infinite wisdom and power and goodness which is above our comprehension (Ecclus. 1:6). The conclusion is that in all lowliness of mind we set lightly by ourselves; that we form our temper to an implicit submission to the Divine Majesty, beget within ourselves an absolute resignation to all the methods of his providence in his dealings with the children of men; that in the deepest humility of our souls we prostrate ourselves before him, and join in that celestial song, 'Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy Name?' (Revelation 15:3, 4) (comp. Romans 11:33).
Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 6:12; cf. Deuteronomy 3:24); but the following clause with 'al-ken makes this clause with asher reflex. an antecedent of itself (asher equals 'al-asher) - originally it is not meant as an antecedent.פּתגם
(here to be written after נעשׂה, with פ raph., and, besides, also with ג raph.), in the post-exilian books, is the Persian paigam, Armen. patgam, which is derived from the ancient Pers. paiti-gama: "Something that has happened, tidings, news." The Heb. has adopted the word in the general sense of "sentence;" in the passage before us it signifies the saying or sentence of the judge, as the Pers. word, like the Arab. nabazn, is used principally of the sayings of a prophet (who is called peighâm-bar). Zirkel regards it as the Greek φθέγμα; but thus, also, the words אזמל, אפּריון strangely agree in sound with σμίλη φορεῖον, without being borrowed from the Greek. The long a of the word is, as Elst. shows, Ecclesiastes 1:20, invariable; also here פּתגם is the constr. To point פּתגם, with Heiligst. and Burg., is thus unwarrantable. It is more remarkable that the word is construed fem. instead of mas. For since אין is construed
(Note: Ginsburg points in favour of נעשׂה as fin. to Exodus 3:2, but there אכּל is particip.; to Jeremiah 38:5, but there יוּכל (if it is not to be read יכול) represents an attributive clause; and to Job 35:15, but there the word is rightly pointed אין, not אין; and this, like the vulg. Arab. laysa, is used as an emphatic לא.)
neither in the bibl. nor in the Mishnic style with the finite of the verb, נעשׂה is not the 3rd pret., but the particip. It is not, however, necessary, with Hitz., to read נישׂה. The foreign word, like the (Arab.) firdans, παράδεισος, admits of use in the double gend. (Ewald, 174g); but it is also possible that the fem. נעשׂה is per. attract. occasioned by הרעה, as Kimchi, Michlol 10a, supposes (cf. besides, under Ecclesiastes 10:15). מעשׂה is const. governed by phithgam, and hara'ah is thus obj. gen. The lxx, Syr., and Jerome read מעשׂי, which would be possible only if phithgam min - after the analogy of the Heb.-Aram. phrase, niphra' ('ithpera') min, to take one's due of any one, i.e., to take vengeance on him, to punish him - could mean the full execution of punishment on any one; but it means here, as Jerome rightly translates, sententia; impossible, however, with me'ose hara'ah, sententia contra malos. Hengst. supposes that not only the traditional text, but also the accentuation, is correct, for he construes: because a sentence (of the heavenly Judge) is not executed, the work of wickedness is haste, i.e., speedy. Thus also Dachselt in the Biblia accentuata. Mercerus, on the contrary, remarks that the accents are not in the first instance marks of interpunction, but of cantillation. In fact, genit. word-connections do not exclude the keeping them asunder by distinctives such as Pashta and Tiphcha, Isaiah 10:2, and also Zakeph, as e.g., Esther 1:4. The lxx well renders: "Therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully persuaded in them to do evil;" for which Jerome, freely, after Symm.: absque timore ullo filii hominum perpetrant mala. The heart of one becomes full to do anything, is equals it acquires full courage thereto (Luzzatto, 590: gli blast l'animo); cf. Esther 7:5 : "Where is he who has his heart filled to do?" (thus rightly, Keil), i.e., whom it has encourage to so bold an undertaking. בּהם in itself unnecessarily heightens the expression of the inwardness of the destructive work (vid., Psychol. p. 151f.). The sentence of punishment does not take effect mehera, hastily (adv. accus. for bimherah, Ecclesiastes 4:12), therefore men are secure, and they give themselves with full, i.e., with fearless and shameless, boldness to the practice of evil. The author confirms this further, but not without expressing his own conviction that there is a righteous requital which contradicts this appearance.
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