Ecclesiastes 9:4
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
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(4) There is a various reading here in the Hebrew. Our translators, following the older translators, adopt the reading of the margin. That of the text gives, instead of “joined,” a word signifying “chosen;” the best sense that can be given to which is to translate, “For who is excepted,” joining it with the previous verse, beginning this one, “To all the living,” &c. With regard to the statement of the following verses, comp. Psalm 6:3 and the marginal references there given. The shepherd’s dog is spoken of Job 30:1, and watchdogs Isaiah 56:10. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the dog is an unclean animal living or dead.

Ecclesiastes 9:4-6. For to him that is joined to all the living — That continues with living men; there is hope — He hath not only some comfort for the present, but also hopes of further and greater happiness in this world, which men are very prone to entertain and cherish in themselves. Yea, he may have the hopes of a better life, if he improve his opportunities. For a living dog is better than a dead lion — Much happier as to the comforts of this world. “The meanest and most contemptible person here, in this world, hath the advantage of the greatest king, when he is gone out of it.” For the living know that they shall die — Whereby they are taught to improve life while they have it. But the dead know not any thing — Of the actions and events of this world, as this is limited in the next verse. Neither have they any more a reward — In this world. The reward or fruit of their labours is utterly lost to them, and enjoyed by others. See Ecclesiastes 2:21. For otherwise, that there are future rewards after death, is asserted by Solomon elsewhere, as we have seen, and shall hereafter see. For the memory of them is forgotten — Namely, among living men, and even in those places where they had lived in great power and glory. Also their love and hatred, &c., is now perished — They neither love, nor hate, nor envy any thing in this world, but are unconcerned in what is done under the sun.

9:4-10 The most despicable living man's state, is preferable to that of the most noble who have died impenitent. Solomon exhorts the wise and pious to cheerful confidence in God, whatever their condition in life. The meanest morsel, coming from their Father's love, in answer to prayer, will have a peculiar relish. Not that we may set our hearts upon the delights of sense, but what God has given us we may use with wisdom. The joy here described, is the gladness of heart that springs from a sense of the Divine favour. This is the world of service, that to come is the world of recompence. All in their stations, may find some work to do. And above all, sinners have the salvation of their souls to seek after, believers have to prove their faith, adorn the gospel, glorify God, and serve their generation.For to him - Rather: "Yet to him." Notwithstanding evils, life has its advantage, and especially when compared with death.

Dog - To the Hebrews a type of all that was contemptible 1 Samuel 17:43.

4. For—rather, "Nevertheless." English Version rightly reads as the Margin, Hebrew, "that is joined," instead of the text, "who is to be chosen?"

hope—not of mere temporal good (Job 14:7); but of yet repenting and being saved.

dog—metaphor for the vilest persons (1Sa 24:14).

lion—the noblest of animals (Pr 30:30).

better—as to hope of salvation; the noblest who die unconverted have no hope; the vilest, so long as they have life, have hope.

That is joined to all the living; that continueth in the land and society of living men. Or, according to the reading of the Hebrew text,

that is chosen or allotted to life, whom God hath appointed yet to live in the world, when he hath appointed that many others shall die; or who are written among the living, as the phrase is, Isaiah 4:3, which is borrowed from the custom of cities, where men are first chosen, and then enrolled citizens.

There is hope; he hath not only some comfort for the present, but also hopes of further and greater happiness in this world, which men are very prone to entertain and cherish in themselves. Yea, they may have the hopes of a better life, if they improve their opportunities. But he seems to confine himself here to the present life.

Better, i.e. much happier, as to the comforts and privileges of this world, though in other respects death be better than life, as was said, Ecclesiastes 7:1.

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope,.... That is, who is among the living, is one of them, and, as long as he is, there is hope, if his circumstances are mean, and he is poor and afflicted, that it may be better with him in time; see Job 14:7; or of his being a good man, though now wicked; of his being called and converted, as some are at the eleventh hour, even on a death bed; and especially there is a hope of men, if they are under the means of grace, seeing persons have been made partakers of the grace of God after long waiting. There is here a "Keri" and a "Cetib", a marginal reading and a textual writing; the former reads, "that is joined", the latter, "that is chosen"; our version follows the marginal reading, as do the Targum, Jarchi, Aben Ezra, the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions: some, following the latter, render the words, "who is to be chosen" (y), or preferred, a living, or a dead man? not a dead but a living man: "to all the living there is hope"; of their being better; and, as Jarchi observes, there is hope, while alive, even though he is a wicked man joined to the wicked; yea, there is hope of the wicked, that he may be good before he dies;

for a living dog is better than a dead lion; a proverbial speech, showing that life is to be preferred to death; and that a mean, abject, and contemptible person, living, who for his despicable condition may be compared to a dog, is to be preferred to the most generous man, or to the greatest potentate, dead; since the one may possibly be useful in some respects or another, the other cannot: though a living sinner, who is like to a dog for his uncleanness and vileness, is not better than a dead saint or righteous man, comparable to a lion, who has hope in his death, and dies in the Lord.

(y) "quisquis eligatur", Montanus, so Gejerus.

For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a {c} living dog is better than a dead lion.

(c) He notes the Epicurean and carnal men, who made their body their god, and had no pleasure in this life, wishing rather to be an abased and vile person in this life, then a man of authority and so to die, which is meant by the dog and lion.

4. For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope] A different and preferable punctuation gives the rendering: For who is specially chosen, i.e. who is excepted from the common lot of death. To all the living there is hope. The passage has, however, received many conflicting interpretations, of which this seems, on the whole, the best. It was quite after the tone of Greek thought to find in the inextinguishable hope which survives in most men even to the end, even though the hope does not stretch beyond the horizon of the grave, their one consolation, that which made life at least liveable, even if not worth living. So Hope was found at the bottom of Pandora’s treasure-chest of evils. So Sophocles:

ἂ γὰρ δὴ πολύπλαγκτος ἐλπὶς πολλοῖς μέν ὄνασις ἀνδρῶν.

“For unto men comes many-wandering hope,

Bringing vain joy.”

Antig. 613.

a living dog is better than a dead lion] The point of the proverb lies, of course, in the Eastern estimate of the dog as the vilest of all animals (1 Samuel 17:43; Psalm 69:6; 2 Kings 8:13; Matthew 7:6; Matthew 15:26; Revelation 22:15, et al.), while the lion, with both Jew and Greek, was, as the king of beasts (Proverbs 30:30), the natural symbol of human sovereignty. A like proverb is found in Arabic.

The pessimist view of life, co-existing with the shrinking from death, finds a parallel in Euripides (Hippol. 190–197):

πᾶς δʼ ὀδυνηρὸς βίος ἀνθρώπων,

κοὐκ ἔστι πόνων ἀνάπαυσις

ἀλλʼ ὅ τι τοῦ ζῆν φίλτερον ἄλλο

σκότος ἀμπίσχων κρύπτει νεφέλαις

δυσέρωτες δὴ φαινόμεθʼ ὄντες

τοῦ δʼ• ὅτι τοῦτο στίλβοι κατὰ γᾶν.

διʼ ἀπειροσύναν ἄλλου βιότου,

κοὐκ ἀπόδειξιν τῶν ὑπὸ γαίας.

“Yea, every life of man is full of grief,

Nor is there any respite from his toils:

But whatsoe’er is dearer than our life,

Darkness comes o’er it, covering all with clouds;

And yet of this we seem all madly fond,

For this at least is bright upon the earth,

Through utter nescience of a life elsewhere,

And the ‘no-proof’ of all beneath the earth.”

Verse 4. - For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope. As long as a man lives (is one of living beings) he has some hope, whatever it be. This feeling is inextinguishable even unto the end.

Ἄελπτον οὐδέν πάντα δ ελπίζειν χρεών

"Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Thus Bailey sings, in 'Festus' -

"All Have hopes, however wretched they may be,
Or blessed. It is hope which lifts the lark so high,
Hope of a lighter air and bluer sky

And the poor hack which drops down on the flints,
Upon whose eye the dust is settling, he
Hopes, but to die. No being exists, of hope,
Of love, void."
This clause gives a reason for the folly of men, mentioned in ver. 3. Whatever be their lot, or their way of life, they see no reason to make any change by reformation or active exertion. They go on hoping, and do nothing. Something may turn up; amid the inexplicable confusion of the ordering of events some happy contingency may arrive. The above is the reading according to the Keri. Thus the Septuagint: Ὅτι τίς ὅς κοινωνεῖ; "For who is he that has fellowship with all the living?" Symmachus has, "For who is he that will always continue to live?" while the Vulgate gives, Nemo est qui semper vivat. The Khetib points differently, offering the reading, "For who is excepted?" i.e. from the common lot, the interrogation being closely connected with the preceding verse, or "Who can choose?" i.e. whether he will die or not. The sentence then proceeds, "To all the living there is hope." But the rendering of the Authorized Version has good authority, and affords the better sense. For a living dog is better than a dead lion. The dog in Palestine was not made a pet and companion, as it is among us, but was regarded as a loathsome and despicable object comp. 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 3:8); while the lion was considered as the noblest of beasts, the type of power and greatness (comp. Proverbs 30:30; Isaiah 31:4). So the proverbial saying in the text means that the vilest and meanest creature possessed of life is better than the highest and mightiest which has succumbed to death. There is an apparent contradiction between this sentence and such passages as claim a preference for death over life, e.g. Ecclesiastes 4:2; Ecclesiastes 7:1; but in the latter the writer is viewing life with all its sorrows and bitter experiences, here he regards it as affording the possibility of enjoyment. In the one case he holds death as desirable, because it delivers from further sorrow and puts an end to misery; in the other, he deprecates death as cutting off from pleasure and hope. He may also have in mind that now is the time to do the work which we have to perform: "The night cometh when no man can work;" Ecclus. 17:28, "Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead, as from one that is not; the living and sound shall praise the Lord" (comp. Isaiah 38:18, 19.) Ecclesiastes 9:4"For (to him) who shall be always joined to all the living, there is hope: for even a living dog is better than a dead lion." The interrog. אשׁר מי, quis est qui, acquires the force of a relative, quisquis (quicunque), and may be interpreted, Exodus 32:33; 2 Samuel 20:12, just as here (cf. the simple mi, Ecclesiastes 5:9), in both ways; particularly the latter passage (2 Samuel 20:11) is also analogous to the one before us in the formation of the apodosis. The Chethı̂b יבחר does not admit of any tenable meaning. In conformity with the usus loq., Elster reads מי אשר יבחר, "who has a choice?" But this rendering has no connection with what follows; the sequence of thoughts fails. Most interpreters, in opposition to the usus loq., by pointing יבחר or יבּחר, render: Who is (more correctly: will be) excepted? or also: Who is it that is to be preferred (the living or the dead)? The verb בּחר signifies to choose, to select; and the choice may be connected with an exception, a preference; but in itself the verb means neither excipere nor praeferre.

(Note: Luther translates, "for to all the living there is that which is desired, namely, hope," as if the text were יבחר מה אשׁר.)

All the old translators, with right, follow the Kerı̂, and the Syr. renders it correctly, word for word: to every one who is joined (שותף, Aram. equals Heb. חבר) to all the living there is hope; and this translation is more probable than that on which Symm. ("who shall always continue to live?") and Jerome (nemo est qui semper vivat et qui hujus rei habeat fiduciam) proceed: Who is he that is joined to the whole? i.e., to the absolute life; or as Hitzig: Who is he who would join himself to all the living (like the saying, "The everlasting Jew")? The expression ישׁ בּטּ does not connect itself so easily and directly with these two latter renderings as with that we have adopted, in which, as also in the other two, a different accentuation of the half-verse is to be adopted as follows:

כּי מי אשׁר יחבּר אל־כּל־החיּים ישׁ בּטּחון

The accentuation lying before us in the text, which gives a great disjunctive to יבחר as well as to הח, appears to warrant the Chethı̂b (cf. Hitzig under Ezekiel 22:24), by which it is possible to interpret יב ... מי as in itself an interrog. clause. The Kerı̂ יח does not admit of this, for Dachselt's quis associabit se (sc.,, mortius? equals nemo socius mortuorum fieri vult) is a linguistic impossibility; the reflex may be used for the pass., but not the pass. for the reflex., which is also an argument against Ewald's translation: Who is joined to the living has hope. Also the Targ. and Rashi, although explaining according to the Midrash, cannot forbear connecting אל כל־חה with יח, and thus dividing the verse at חה instead of at יח. It is not, however, to be supposed that the accentuation refers to the Chethı̂b; it proceeds on some interpretation, contrary to the connection, such as this: he who is received into God's fellowship has to hope for the full life (in eternity). The true meaning, according to the connection, is this: that whoever (quicunque) is only always joined (whether by birth or the preservation of life) to all the living, i.e., to living beings, be they who they may, has full confidence, hope, and joy; for in respect to a living dog, this is even better than a dead lion. Symmachus translates: κυνὶ ζῶντι βέλτιόν ἐστιν ἤ λέοντι τεθνηκότι, which Rosenm., Herzf., and Grtz approve of. But apart from the obliquity of the comparison, that with a living dog it is better than with a dead lion, since with the latter is neither good nor evil (vid., however, Ecclesiastes 6:5), for such a meaning the words ought to have been: chělěv hai tov lo min ha'aryēh hammeth.

As the verifying clause stands before us, it is connected not with ישׁ בּטּ, but with אל כּל־ה, of that which is to be verified; the ל gives emphatic prominence (Ewald, 310b) to the subject, to which the expression refers as at Psalm 89:19; 2 Chronicles 7:21 (cf. Jeremiah 18:16), Isaiah 32:1 : A living dog is better than a dead lion, i.e., it is better to be a dog which lives, than that lion which is dead. The dog, which occurs in the Holy Scriptures only in relation to a shepherd's dog (Job 30:1), and as for the rest, appears as a voracious filthy beast, roaming about without a master, is the proverbial emblem of that which is common, or low, or contemptible, 1 Samuel 17:43; cf. "dog's head," 2 Samuel 3:8; "dead dog," 1 Samuel 24:15; 2 Samuel 9:8; 2 Samuel 16:9. The lion, on the other hand, is the king, or, as Agur (Proverbs 30:30) calls it, the hero among beasts. But if it be dead, then all is over with its dignity and its strength; the existence of a living dog is to be preferred to that of the dead lion. The art. in 'הא הם is not that denoting species (Dale), which is excluded by hammēth, but it points to the carcase of a lion which is present. The author, who elsewhere prefers death and nonentity to life, Ecclesiastes 4:2., Ecclesiastes 7:1, appears to have fallen into contradiction with himself; but there he views life pessimistically in its, for the most part, unhappy experiences, while here he regards it in itself as a good affording the possibility of enjoyment. It lies, however, in the nature of his standpoint that he should not be able to find the right medium between the sorrow of the world and the pleasure of life. Although postulating a retribution in eternity, yet in his thoughts about the future he does not rise above the comfortless idea of Hades.

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