James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
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.
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:Ecclesiastes 9:13-12:14
Some commentators make a new division here, and while others do not agree, yet there is that which suggests it, surely. The preacher here seems to have returned to the placid, philosophic mood again, in the cautious praise of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18). This praise is followed by a number of proverbs of natural wisdom and prudence (see chap. 10, especially Ecclesiastes 10:16-20).
In chapters 11 and 12 we have “the final sum and forecast,” which is, that however pleasant at times life under the sun may be, everything that is to come, like everything that has been, will contain times of darkness. The whole period of life from childhood to old age is vanity (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8).
Therefore special exhortations to childhood and youth follow (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10). Rejoice if you will, but judgment follows.
These exhortations are accompanied by warnings against the evils and miseries of old age the old age of a vainly spent life (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8). And these lead to the epilogue of the book the mournful repetition of the monotonous refrain, “vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 12:8), and the great conclusion of man under the sun, “Fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). And why? Because judgment is coming, and yet no salvation is seen!
Thus in abrupt endings and sudden returns to the one great question of the book, the preacher keeps showing man to himself. Debating between the vanities of life and the gloom of the grave; the contentment of ignorance and the worth of wisdom; the vexations of riches and the miseries of poverty; the orderly “times” of man and the “eternity” of God; the wrongs which are not righted and the dead that can no longer be oppressed; a distant God and a becoming worship; the wonder that women worth the
name are so scarce, and the reason that things are as they are; the pride and fragrant joys of family life and the event of death that comes to all; the lifelong possession of all manner of earthly good and the final lack of imposing obsequies and an honorable grave; the problem of the proper conduct of life and the mystery of the divine purpose and plan; between such, and manifold more earthly things like these, and others too high for mortal men, the preacher keeps moving on to the discouraging conclusion. — W. 5. Erdman, “Ecclesiastes”
That conclusion is the truth underlying all natural religions, the utterance of the universal conscience, namely, “Fear God; do right; thy judgment day is coming.” It is some relief, amidst the wrongs and perplexities of the world, to look for a day of judgment to righten and clear up all, but, as has been said, there is no personal salvation in it.
Where man ends, however, God begins. The book of the natural man closes that the gospel of the Son of God may open.
AN ALTERNATIVE OUTLINE
As some may find the preceding outline difficult to grasp, the following is added as suggested in part by the headings of the chapters in the Scofield Reference Bible:
1. The Theme (Ecclesiastes 1:1-3) 2. The Theme Proved (Ecclesiastes 1:4 to Ecclesiastes 3:22) a. The transitoriness of all things (Ecclesiastes 1:4-11) b. The fruitlessness of power, wisdom or knowledge, to counteract evil (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18) c. The emptiness of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3) d. The emptiness of wealth and great works (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11) e. The limitations of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26) f. The weariness of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-22) 3. The Theme Developed (Ecclesiastes 4:1 to Ecclesiastes 10:20).
a. In the light of the oppressions and iniquities of life (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16) b. In the light of riches and poverty (Ecclesiastes 5:1-20) c. In the light of man’s inevitable end (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12) d. In the light of incurable evil (Ecclesiastes 7:1-29) e. In the light of the mysteries of providence (Ecclesiastes 8:1-17) f. In the light of the world’s wrong standards of values (Ecclesiastes 9:1-18) g. In the light of the anarchy of the world (Ecclesiastes 10:1-20) 4. The Best Thing Possible to Man Apart from God (Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:12) 5. The Best Thing Possible to Man under the Law (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)