Ecclesiastes 9
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God: no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them.
Ecclesiastes 9:2

It is verbally true, that in the sacred Scriptures it is written: As is the good, so is the sinner, and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath. A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, drink, and be merry, etc. But he who should repeat these words, and this assurance, to an ignorant man in the hour of his temptation, lingering at the door of an ale-house, or hesitating as to the testimony required of him in the court of justice, would, spite of this verbal truth, be a liar, and the murderer of his brother's conscience.

—Coleridge, The Friend, v.

References.—IX. 3.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 64. IX. 7, 8.—J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 315. J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 334. IX. 8.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Common Life Religion, p. 117. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 226.

Ecclesiastes 9:9

Do you know what it is to love and to be loved? Do you know—not by hearsay merely, but by experience—this absorption of the life of one human being in another, the one man in the one woman, the one woman in the one man? For the time they, each to each, alike the centre and the sum, the very end and purpose of creation; the rest vague, phantasmal—they, each to each, the only abiding reality. For the time they, each through the other, possessors and interpreters of all things; this immense universe a setting merely, the sights and sounds, the glory and wonder of it, but ministers to their delight in one another. For them stare rise and set, and the wheat waves under the summer wind. For them the sea grows white westward, at evening, meeting the sky in long embrace. For them all fair pictures are painted; all songs sung; and even common things become instinct with a strange sacramental grace. For them the oracles are no longer dumb, the mysteries lie open, they walk with the gods.

This is the crown and triumph of the riddle of sex; wherein, for the time, the long torment, shame, and anguish of it is forgotten, so that man's curse becomes, for the time, his most exquisite blessing—a blessing in which body and spirit equally participate.

—Lucas Malet.

It is not by renouncing the joys which lie close to us that we shall grow wise. As we grow wise, we unconsciously abandon the joys that now are beneath us.


See also Mark Rutherford's Autobiography, p. 8 (Preface to second edition), and R. L. Stevenson's lines on 'The Celestial Surgeon' (in Underwoods). 'I shall marry Charlotte, we shall live here together all our lives and die here,' thought Barnabas, as he went up the hill. 'I shall lie in my coffin in the north room, and it will all be over.' But his heart leaped with joy. He stepped out proudly like a soldier in a battalion.'

—M. E. Wilkins in Pembroke.

The Lapse of Time

Ecclesiastes 9:10

Life is ever crumbling away under us. What should we say to a man, who was placed on some precipitous ground, which was ever crumbling under his feet, and affording less and less secure footing, yet was careless about it? Or what should we say to one who suffered some precious liquor to run from its receptacle into the thoroughfare of men, without a thought to stop it? who carelessly looked on and saw the waste of it, becoming greater and greater every minute? But what treasure can equal time? It is the seed of eternity: yet we suffer ourselves to go on, year after year, hardly using it at all in God's service, or thinking it enough to give Him at most a tithe or a seventh of it, while we strenuously and heartily sow to the flesh, that from the flesh we may reap corruption. We try how little we can safely give to religion, instead of having the grace to give abundantly.

—J. H. Newman.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

Noble, upright, self-relying Toil! who that knows thy solid worth and value, would be ashamed of thy hard hands, and thy obscure tasks, thy humble cottage, and hard couch, and homely fare! Save for thee and thy lessons, man in society would everywhere sink into a sad compound of the fiend and the wild beast; and this fallen world would be as certainly a moral as a natural wilderness. But I little thought of the excellence of thy character and of thy teachings, when, with a heavy heart, I set out on a morning of early spring, to take my first lesson from thee in a sandstone quarry.

—Hugh Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters, chap. viii.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

I lie down on my child's grave and fill my mouth with the clay, and say nothing.... But then, dear Mosley, do not think that I do not react under the stroke: I am not merely passive. This is my action. Death teaches me to Acts thus—to cling with tenfold tenacity to those that remain. A man might, indeed, argue thus. The pain of separation from those we love is so intense that I will not love, or, at least, I will withdraw myself into a delicate suspension of bias, so that when the time comes I may not feel the pang, or hardly feel it. This would be the economical view, and a sufficiently base one. But I am taught by death to run the fullest flood into my family relations. The ground is this. He is gone: I have no certain ground whatever for expecting that that relation can be renewed. Therefore, I am thankful that; I actualized it intensely, ardently, and effectually, while it existed; and now I will do the same for what is left to me; nay, I will do much more; for I did not do enough. He and I might have been intertwined a great deal more, and that we were not appears to me now a great loss. In this, as in everything else, I accept the words of the Ecclesiast—'What thine hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for'—you know the rest.

Letters of T. E. Brown, vol. I. pp. 88, 89.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

His career was one of unbroken shame. He did not drink, he was exactly honest, he was never rude to his employers, yet he was everywhere discharged. Bringing no interest to his duties, he brought no attention; his day was a tissue of things neglected and things done amiss; and from place to place and from town to town he carried the character of one thoroughly incompetent.

—R. L. Stevenson, The Ebb Tide, I.

See Ruskin's Lectures on Art, p. 86.

Here on earth we are as soldiers, fighting in a foreign land, that understand not the plan of the campaign, and have no need to understand it; seeing well what is at our hand to be done. Let us do it like soldiers, with submission, with courage, with a heroic joy. Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.


References.—IX. 10.—Penny Pulpit, No. 1605, p. 239. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 155. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 398. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. vii. p. 1. C. Bosanquet, Blossoms for the King's Garden, p. 125. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 259. Ibid. vol. xix. No. 1119. IX. 10, 11.—J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 35.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

Between unarmed men the battle is to the strong, where the strong is no blunderer.

—George Eliot.

Borrow, writing in Lavengro of his father's abilities and misfortunes, declares that, 'with far inferior qualifications many a man has become a field-marshal or general... but the race is not always for the swift, nor the battle for the strong; indeed, I ought rather to say very seldom; certain it is that my father, with all his high military qualifications, never became emperor, field-marshal, or even general'. See Jowett's College Sermons, pp. 244 f.

The Race Not to the Swift

Ecclesiastes 9:11

I. One of the favourite words of Dr. John Brown—the gentle author of Rab and His Friends—one of the words that was often on his lips was the word unexpectedness. And as we look on the men whom we have known since childhood, and whose lives we have watched unrolling in the years, there are very few of us who cannot discern that unexpected element

a.  We may trace our text through all kinds of achievement. You have but to think of the books by which we live, or of those lives of thought or action which are our richest heritage, to be face to face with the incalculable element which lies in the Divine method of surprise. There is a hand at work we cannot stay, and it hath exalted those of low degree.

b.  Our text has singular significance in that universal search, the search for happiness. It is not those who have most to make them happy who always prove themselves the happy people.

And this is conspicuously true of Jesus Christ, the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief. I like sometimes to contrast the Man of Nazareth with the Emperor who was reigning then, Tiberius.

c.  Our text applies to the spiritual life, for not many wise, not many mighty are called. God hath chosen the weak things of the world to bring to naught those that are strong in battle. I know no sphere in human life where the element of unexpectedness so largely enters as in the sphere that we call spiritual, and in the movements and changes of the soul.

II. Let me suggest to you some of the moral values of this truth: (1) It is mighty to keep us from discouragement, and to cheer us when the lights are burning dim. It gives a chance to mediocre people, to commonplace and undistinguished thousands, when above all might and brilliance is a power that has a way of working to unexpected ends. (2) It is meant to wean us from all pride, and to keep us watchful, humble, and dependent (3) It clears the ground for God, and leaves a space to recognize Him in. If the strongest were sure of triumph in every battle there would be little room on the field for the Divine. Just because He reigns, the battle is not always to the strong.

—G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 66.

References.—IX. 11-18.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 213. R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes; its Meaning and Lessons, p. 344. IX. 12.—S. A. Brooke, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 178.

Ecclesiastes 9:14-15

Here the corruption of states is set forth, that esteem not virtue or merit longer than they have use of it.


See Spenser's Ruines of Time, p. 422 f. Also Addison in The Spectator (No. 464).

Schopenhauer somewhere observes that 'people in general have eyes and ears, but not much else—little judgment and even little memory. There are many services to the State quite beyond the range of their understanding.'

References.—IX. 14, 15.—J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 97. S. Baring-Gould, One Hundred Sermon-Sketches, p. 96. X. 1.—Ibid. p. 10. X. 7.—Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, p. 140.

All things come alike to all: there is one event to the righteous, and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth, and to him that sacrificeth not: as is the good, so is the sinner; and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath.
This is an evil among all things that are done under the sun, that there is one event unto all: yea, also the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.
Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.
Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
For man also knoweth not his time: as the fishes that are taken in an evil net, and as the birds that are caught in the snare; so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:
There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.
Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.
The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.
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