Ecclesiastes 8:8
There is no man that has power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither has he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
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(8) Spirit.—As has been remarked in similar cases, the translation “wind” is possible; but the rendering of the whole verse as given in our version seems to me as good as any that it has been proposed to substitute.

Discharge.—Elsewhere only (Psalm 78:49) where it is translated “sending.”

Ecclesiastes 8:8. No man hath power over the spirit — That is, over the soul of man; to retain the spirit — To keep it in the body beyond the time which God hath allotted to it. This is added as another evidence of man’s misery. Neither hath he power in the day of death — Or, against the day, that is, to avoid, or delay that day; and there is no discharge — As there is in other wars; in that war — In that fatal conflict between life and death, when a man is struggling with death, though to no purpose, for death will be always conqueror. Neither shall wickedness deliver, &c. — And although wicked men, who most fear death, use all possible means to free themselves from it, yet they shall not escape it. The most subtle wickedness cannot out-wit death, nor the most daring wickedness out-brave it.8:6-8 God has, in wisdom, kept away from us the knowledge of future events, that we may be always ready for changes. We must all die, no flight or hiding-place can save us, nor are there any weapons of effectual resistance. Ninety thousand die every day, upwards of sixty every minute, and one every moment. How solemn the thought! Oh that men were wise, that they understood these things, that they would consider their latter end! The believer alone is prepared to meet the solemn summons. Wickedness, by which men often escape human justice, cannot secure from death.Neither hath he power - Rather: "and there is no power." Compare Ecclesiastes 3:19.

No discharge ... - i. e., "No exemption from the final hour of struggle between life and death."

Wickedness - Though the life of the wicked may be prolonged Ecclesiastes 7:15, yet wickedness itself has no inherent power to prolong that life.

8. spirit—"breath of life" (Ec 3:19), as the words following require. Not "wind," as Weiss thinks (Pr 30:4). This verse naturally follows the subject of "times" and "judgment" (Ec 8:6, 7).

discharge—alluding to the liability to military service of all above twenty years old (Nu 1:3), yet many were exempted (De 20:5-8). But in that war (death) there is no exemption.

those … given to—literally, the master of it. Wickedness can get money for the sinner, but cannot deliver him from the death, temporal and eternal, which is its penalty (Isa 28:15, 18).

The spirit, i.e. the soul of man, which is oft called a spirit, as Job 7:7 10:12 Psalm 78:39 104:29, &c.

To retain the spirit; to keep it in the body beyond the time which God hath allotted to it. This is added as another evidence of man’s misery.

In the day; or, against the day, i.e. to avoid or delay that day.

There is no discharge, as there is in other wars, when soldiers either are dismissed from the service, or escape by flight or otherwise. In that war; in that fatal conflict between life and death, between nature and the disease, when a man is struggling with death, though to no purpose, for death shall always be conqueror.

Neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it; and although wicked men, who most fear death, use all possible means, whether good or bad, to free themselves from this deadly blow, yet they shall not escape it. There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit,.... Which is not to be understood of the wind, which the word used sometimes signifies, and of men's having no power to restrain that, or hinder it from blowing; for to what purpose should Solomon mention this? rather it may be considered as a check upon despotic and arbitrary princes not to stretch their power too far; since they had none over the spirits or minds of men, and could not hinder them from thinking ill of them, and wishing ill to them, nor restrain their hatred of them; whatever power they had or exercised over their bodies and estates, they had none over their spirits, or their consciences; no lawful power to restrain them from their to God, nor to oblige them to do that which he has forbidden; nor to compel them to anything against conscience; nor to bind their consciences in matters indifferent: or as an argument with subjects to obey the commands of their sovereign; since it is not in their power to restrain the spirit and wrath of princes, which is as the roaring of a lion, and as: he messengers of death, Proverbs 16:14; particularly to be careful that they do not commit any capital offence, for which sentence may be passed to take away life; when it will not be in their power to retain it; nor rescue themselves out of the hands of justice and the civil magistrate, but must submit. Or else it is to be understood of every man's spirit at the hour of death, and of the unavoidableness of it, as the next clause explains it; and by "spirit" is meant, either the sensitive soul, the same with the spirit of a beast, without which the body is dead, and is like the wind that passeth away, and ceaseth when the breath is stopped; or the rational soul, the spirit that is committed to God, and returns to him at death, Luke 23:43. This a man has not power over to dismiss or retain at pleasure; he cannot keep it one moment longer when it is called for and required by the Father of spirits, the Creator of it; he has not power "to restrain" (d) it, as in a prison, as the word signifies, as Alshech observes; whence Aben Ezra says, that the spirit or soul in the body is like a prisoner in a prison; but nothing, that attends a man in this life, or he is in possession of, can keep the soul in this prison, when the time of its departure is come; not riches, nor honours, nor wisdom and leaning, nor strength and youth, nor all the force of medicine; the time is fixed, it is the appointment of God, the bounds set by him cannot be passed, Ecclesiastes 3:2, Job 14:5. The Targum is,

"no man has power over the spirit of the soul to restrain the soul of life, that it might not cease from the body of man;''

and to the same sense Jarchi,

"to restrain the spirit in his body, that the angel of death should not take him;''

neither hath he power in the day of death; or "dominion" (e); death strips a man of all power and authority, the power that the husband has over the wife, or parents over their children, or the master over his servant, or the king over his subjects; death puts down all power and authority: it is an observation of Jarchi's, that David after he came to the throne is everywhere called King David, but, when he came to die, only David, 1 Kings 2:1; no king nor ruler can stand against death any more than a beggar; up man is lord of death any more than of life, but death is lord of all; all must and do submit to it, high and low, rich and poor; there is a day fixed for it, and that day can never be adjourned, or put off to another; and as man has not power to deliver himself in the day of death, so neither his friend, as the Targum, nor any relation whatever;

and there is no discharge in that war; death is a warfare as well as life, with which nature struggles, but in vain; it is an enemy, and the last that shall be destroyed; it is a king, and a very powerful one; there is no withstanding him, he is always victorious; and there is no escaping the battle with him, or fleeing from him; a discharge of soldiers in other wars is sometimes obtained by interest, by the entreaty of friends, or by money; but here all cries and entreaties signify nothing; nor does he value riches, gold, or all the forces of strength; see 2 Samuel 12:18; under the old law, if a person had built a new house, or married a wife, or was faint hearted, he was excused and dismissed; but none of these things are of any avail in this war, Deuteronomy 20:5; captives taken in war are sometimes dismissed by their conquerors, or they find ways and means to make their escape; but nothing of this kind can be done when death has seized on the persons of men. Some render it, there is "no sending to" or "in that war" (f); there is no sending forces against death to withstand him, it is to no purpose; there is no sending a message to him to sue for a peace, truce, or reprieve; he will hearken to nothing; there is no sending one in the room of another, as Jarchi observes,

"a man cannot say, I will send my son, or my servant;''

no surrogation is allowed of in this case, as David wished for, 2 Samuel 18:33. Aben Ezra interprets it, no armour, and so many interpreters; and so the Targum;

"nor do instruments of armour help in war;''

in this war: in other wars a man may put on a helmet of brass and a coat of mail, to protect and defend him, or throw darts and arrows; but these signify nothing when death makes his approach and attack;

neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it; or "the masters of it" (g); that is, from death; neither Satan the wicked one, as Jerom, who is wickedness itself, and with whom wicked men are confederate, can deliver them from death; nor sinners the most abandoned deliver themselves, who have made a covenant with it, and an agreement with hell, Isaiah 28:15; such who are masters of the greatest wicked craft and cunning, and who devise many ways to escape other things, can contrive none to escape death; nor will riches gotten by wickedness deliver the owners of them from death; see Proverbs 10:2; This sense is mentioned by Aben Ezra, and not to be despised.

(d) "ut coerceat", Piscator; "ad coercendum", Cocceius. (e) "dominatio", Junius & Tremellius, Vatablus; "dominium", Rambachius. (f) "non est missio ad illud praelium", Varenius apud Gejerum. (g) "dominos suos", Drusius.

There is no man that hath power {g} over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

(g) Man has no power to save his own life and therefore must not rashly cast himself into danger.

8. There is no man that hath power over the spirit] The word for “spirit,” may mean either “the wind” or the “spirit,” the “breath of life” in man, and each sense has been adopted by many commentators. Taking the former, which seems preferable, the latter involving a repetition of the same thought in the two clauses of the verse, we have a parallel in Proverbs 30:4, perhaps also in John 3:8. Man is powerless to control the course of the wind, so also is he powerless (the words, though general in form, point especially to the tyrannous oppressor,) to control the drift of things, that is bearing him on to his inevitable doom. The worst despotism is, as Talleyrand said of Russia, “tempered by assassination.”

neither hath he power in the day of death] Better, over the day of death. The analogy of the previous clause, as to man’s impotence to control or direct the wind, suggests that which is its counterpart. When “the day of death” comes, whether by the hand of the assassin, or by disease and decay, man (in this case again the generalized thought applies especially to the oppressor) has no power, by any exercise of will, to avert the end. The word for “power” in the second clause is, as in Daniel 3:3, the concrete of the abstract form in the first, There is no ruler in the day of death.

there is no discharge in that war] The word for “discharge” occurs elsewhere only in Psalm 78:49, where it is rendered “sending,” and as the marginal reading (“no casting of weapons”) shews has been variously interpreted. That reading suggests the meaning that “in that war (against death), there is no weapon that will avail.” The victorious leader of armies must at last succumb to a conqueror mightier than himself. The text of the English version is probably, however, correct as a whole, and the interpolated “that,” though not wanted, is perhaps excusable. The reference is to the law (Deuteronomy 20:5-8) which allowed a furlough, or release from military duty, in certain cases, and which the writer contrasts with the inexorable sternness which summons men to their battle with the king of terrors, and that a battle with a foregone and inevitable conclusion. Here the strict rigour of Persian rule under Darius and Xerxes, which permitted no exemption from service in time of war, was the true parallel (Herod. iv. 84, vii. 38).

neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it] Better, neither shall wickedness deliver its lord. The last word is the same as Baal, in the sense of a “lord” or “possessor,” and is joined with words expressing qualities to denote that they are possessed in the highest degree. Thus “a lord of tongue” is a “babbler” (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:11), “lord of hair” is “a hairy man” (2 Kings 1:8), and so on. Here, therefore, it means those who are specially conspicuous for their wickedness. The thought is as before, that a time comes at last, when all the schemes and plans of the oppressor fail to avert his punishment, as surely as all efforts to prolong life fail at last to avert death.Verse 8. - This verse gives the conclusion of the line of argument which confirms the last clause of ver. 5. There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit. If we take "spirit" in the sense of "the breath of life," explaining the clause to mean that the mightiest despot has no power to retain life when his call comes, we have the same thought repeated virtually in the next clause. It is therefore bettor to take ruach in the sense of "wind" (Genesis 8:1). No one can control the course of the wind or know its way (comp. Ecclesiastes 11:5, where the same ambiguity exists; Proverbs 30:4). Koheleth gives here four impossibilities which point to the conclusion already given. The first is man's inability to check the viewless wind or to know whence it comes or whither it goes (John 3:8). Equally impotent is the tyrant to influence the drift of events that is bearing him on to his end. God's judgments are often likened to a wind (see Isaiah 41:16; Wisd. 4:4 Wisd. 5:23). Neither hath he power in the day of death; rather, over the day of death. The second impossibility concerns the averting the hour of death. Whether it comes by sickness, or accident, or design, the despot must succumb; he can neither foresee nor ward it off (1 Samuel 26:10, "The Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall go down into battle, and perish;" Ecclus. 14:12, "Remember that death will not be long in coming, and that the covenant of the grave is not showed unto thee"). And there is no discharge in that war. The word rendered "discharge" (mishlachath) is found elsewhere only in Psalm 78:49, where it is translated "sending," "mission," or "band." The Septuagint here has ἀποατολή; the Vulgate Nec sinitur quiescere ingruente bello. The Authorized Version is doubtless correct, though there is no need to insert the pronoun "that." The severity of the law of military service is considered analogously with the inexorable law of death. The Hebrew enactment (Deuteronomy 20:5-8) allowed exemption in certain cases; but the Persian rule was inflexibly rigid, permitting no furlough or evasion during an expedition. Thus we read that when (Eobazus, the father of three sons, petitioned Darius to leave him one at home, the tyrant replied that he would leave him all three, and had them put to death. Again, Pythius, a Lydian, asking Xerxes to exempt his eldest son from accompanying the army to Greece, was reviled by the monarch in unmeasured terms, and was punished for his presumption by seeing his son slain before his eyes, the body divided into two pieces, and placed on either side of the road by which the army passed, that all might be warned of the fate awaiting any attempt to evade military service (Herod., 4:84; 7:35). The passage in the text has a bearing on the authorship and date of our book, is as seems most probable, the reference is to the cruel discipline of Persia. This is the third impossibility; the fourth follows. Neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it; its lord and master. Septuagint, τὸν παρ αὐτῆς, "its votary." Ginsburg translates resha "cunning;" but this seems foreign to the sentiment, which is concerned with the despot's impiety, injustice, and general wickedness, not with the means by which he endeavors to escape the reward of his deeds. The fact is, no evil despot, however reckless and imperious, can go long unpunished. He may say in his heart, "There is no God," or, "God hideth his face, and sees him not," but certain retribution awaits him, and may not be avoided. Says the gnome -

Ἄγει τὸ θεῖον τοὺς κακοὺς πρὸς τὴν δίκνη.

"Heaven drives the evil always unto judgment" The faithfulness of subjects, Koheleth says, is a religious duty: "I say: Observe well the kings' command, and that because of the oath of God." The author cannot have written Ecclesiastes 8:2 as it here stands; אני hovers in the air. Hitzig reads, with Jerome, שׁמר, and hears in Ecclesiastes 8:2-4 a servile person speaking who veils himself in the cloak of religion; in Ecclesiastes 8:5-8 follows the censura of this corrupt theory. but we have already remarked that Ecclesiastes 8:2 accords with Romans 13:5, and is thus not a corrupt theory; besides, this distribution of the expressions of the Book of Koheleth between different speakers is throughout an expedient resting on a delusion. Luther translates: I keep the word of the king, and thus reads אשׁרּ; as also does the Jer. Sanhedrin 21b, and Koheleth rabba, under this passage: I observe the command of the king, of the queen. In any case, it is not God who is meant here by "the king;" the words: "and that because of the oath of God," render this impossible, although Hengst. regards it as possible; for (1) "the oath of God" he understands, against all usage, of the oath which is taken to God; and (2) he maintains that in the O.T. scarcely any passage is to be found where obedience to a heathen master is set forth as a religious duty. But the prophets show themselves as morally great men, without a stain, just in this, that they decidedly condemn and unhesitatingly chastise any breach of faith committed against the Assyrian or Chaldean oppressor, e.g., Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Ezekiel 17:15; cf. Jeremiah 27:12. However, although we understand mělěk not of the heavenly, but of an earthly king, yet אשׁמר does not recommend itself, for Koheleth records his experience, and derives therefrom warnings and admonitions; but he never in this manner presents himself as an example of virtue. The paraenetic imper. שׁמר is thus not to be touched. Can we then use ani elliptically, as equivalent to "I say as follows"? Passages such as Jeremiah 20:10 (Elst.), where לאמר is omitted, are not at all the same. Also Ezekiel 34:11, where הנני is strengthened by ani, and the expression is not elliptical, is not in point here. And Isaiah 5:9 also does not apply to the case of the supposed ellipsis here. In an ingenious bold manner the Midrash helps itself in Leviticus 18 and Numbers 14, for with reference to the self-introduction of royal words like פרעה אני it explains: "Observe the I from the mouth of the king." This explanation is worthy of mention, but it has little need of refutation; it is also contrary to the accentuation, which gives Pashta to ani, as to ראה, Ecclesiastes 7:27, and לבד, Ecclesiastes 7:29, and thus places it by itself. Now, since this elliptical I, after which we would place a colon, is insufferably harsh, and since also it does not recommend itself to omit it, as is done by the lxx, the Targ., and Syr., - for the words must then have a different order, המלך פי שׁמר, - it is most advisable to supply אמרתּי, and to write אם אני or אני אם, after Ecclesiastes 2:1; Ecclesiastes 3:17-18. We find ourselves here, besides, within an I section, consisting of sentences interwoven in a Mashal form. The admonition is solemnly introduced, since Koheleth, himself a king, and a wise man in addition, gives it the support of the authority of his person, in which it is to be observed that the religious motive introduced by ו explic. (vid., Ewald, 340b) is not merely an appendix, but the very point of the admonition. Kleinert, incorrectly: "Direct thyself according to the mouth of the king, and that, too, as according to an oath of God." Were this the meaning, then we might certainly wish that it were a servile Alexandrian court-Jew who said it. But why should that be the meaning? The meaning "wegen" because of, which is usually attributed to the word-connection עלדברת here and at Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 7:14, Kleinert maintains to be an arbitrary invention. But it alone fits these three passages, and why an arbitrary invention? If על־דּבר, Psalm 45:5; Psalm 79:9, etc., means "von wegen" on account of, then also על־דברת will signify "propter rationem, naturam," as well as (Psalm 110:4) ad rationem. שׁב אל is, as elsewhere שׁב יה, e.g., Exodus 22:10, a promise given under an appeal to God, a declaration or promise strengthened by an oath. Here it is the oath of obedience which is meant, which the covenant between a king and his people includes, though it is not expressly entered into by individuals. The king is designated neither as belonging to the nation, nor as a foreigner; that which is said is valid also in the case of the latter. Daniel, Nehemiah, Mordecai, etc., acted in conformity with the words of Koheleth, and the oath of vassalage which the kings of Israel and Judah swore to the kings of Assyria and of Babylon is regarded by the prophets of both kingdoms as binding on king and people.
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