Ecclesiastes 5
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
C. Means for the Advancement of Earthly Happiness

Ecclesiastes 5:1–20

1. First means: Conscientious devotion in the worship of God, in prayer and vows

(ECC 5:1–7.)

1Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools; for they consider not that they do evil. 2Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 3for a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words. 4When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; 5for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. 6Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? 7for in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

2. Second means: Abstaining from injustice, violence, and avarice

(ECC 5:8–17.)

8If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest 9regardeth; and there be higher than they. Moreover, the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field. 10He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity . 11When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? 12The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. 13There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. 14But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. 15As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 16And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that he hath laboured for the wind? 17All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

3. Third means: Temperate and contented enjoyment of the pleasures and treasures of life granted by God

(ECC 5:18–20.)

18Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion. 19Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God. 20For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.

[chap.5:1. שְׁמֹר רַגְלְיךָ in the Hebrew Bibles, the German and Dutch versions, the Vulgate, and some others, this is absurdly placed as the last verse of the 4. chapter. In the English, Tremellius, and others, it commences the 5., where it evidently belongs; although the division of chapters, as given in this book is, in any way, of little valne. The Masora has pointed רַגְלְיךָ for the singular, corresponding to LXX and vulgate, though the sense is equally good in the plural. For the connection of this part with the precending, consult Wordsworth, who sees in the train of though, in all these remarks about reshness in the divine service, and in respect to vows and rash religious speaking, smothing closely connected with the true Solomonic experience, and therefore furnising evidence of the solomonic authorship of the book. As uttered by any one else, it would seem disconnected and chaotic, just as some critics have pronounced it. For remarks on קרוב and מתת see Exeg. and Marginal Note.—T. L.]

[Ecc 5:6. לַהֲטיא for לְהַהֲטִיא, Hiph. Infinit. הַמַּלְאָךְ see Exeg. and Marginal Note.—T. L.]

[Ecc 5:7. וּדְבָרִים, the same.—T. L.]

[Ecc 5:8. חֵפֶץ, a very general and indefinite word, hero rendered, in E.G., matter (thing),LXX. πράγματι, Vulgate negotio. It never, however, loses its sense of purpose, will, etc., either as positive or permissive,—as it may be rendered here, allow ance God’s permission of such a thing: see Met. Version.—T. L.]

[Ecc 5:9. נֶעְבָד. see Exeg. and Marg. Note.—T. L.]

[Ecc 5:10. רְאית: The Keri has רְאוּת, It is one of those words in וּת that have been cited as evidence of a later language. It is, however, one of those more studied solomonic words, denoting something philosophical, ethical, or abstract, denanded by the very subject and style of his writting. They are a higher class of words than were needed by the plainer historian, or prophet. They may have been invented by solomon as to form (from old and common roots), and afterwards have become vulgarized in the latter writtings—thus giving rise to the later Aramaic forms, instead of having been derived from them: Vision of the eyes, a somewhat more polished, or loftier word, than the infinitive to see, or Sight.—T. L.]

Ecc 5:16. רָעָה חולָה: Gesenius makes חולה from חָלָה to be sick, weak, etc., but this does not seem to give a sense strong enough. Rabbi Tanchum makes it from חוּל, to be in great pain, torqueri doloribus, and compares it with the participle מִתְחוֹלֵל (Jerem. 23.19,) overwhelming, or a “storm hurled (סַעַר) on the head of the wicked”—a very sore and “overwhelming evil,” is this, if man has to return just as he came, e tenebris in tenebras, out of darkness. see TANCHUM Comm., Lam. 4:6 Same verse כָּל־עֻמַּת The grammarian, Jona Ben Gennach, in his sepher Harikma, p. 30, regards this as one word, or as an example of כ added (as it sometimes is with slight addition to the meaning) to לעמת, (as in direct contrast). עֻמַּת is cited as one of the words Sequioris Hebraismi, but the root

עמם although, only occurring as a verb, Ezek. 28:3; 31:8, is very old in the language, as appears from עָם people, the preposition עִם with, עִָמית society, companion, all denoting, radically, comparison, one thing along with, or laid by the side of another (compare the Arabic عَمَّ and many Greek words commencing with ὁμ such as ὁμός, ὅμως, ὁμῶς, ὁμοῖς, with their numerous derivatives, all implying comparison, society, likeness, etc.). This word עֻמָּה occurs in Exod. 25:27; 28:27; Ezek. 65:7.

Ecc 5:18. אָנִי: [On the effect of the accent here see Exeg. and Marg. Note. The same on זהֹ Ecc 5:19.—T. L]


Of the three divisions of this section, the first two are divided each into two strophes of about equal length, and each of the two strophes of the second division, being very full in sense and rich in clauses, is again divided into two half strophes. The third division consists of only one not very comprehensive strophe. The complete scheme of the section stands, therefore, thus:—I. Division: Of true piety; a. (1 strophe): in worship and prayer, 5:1–3; b. (2 strophe): of vowing and the fulfilment of vows: Ecc 5:4–7.—II. Division: On avoiding various vices; a, (1 half strophe): of injustice and violence: Ecc 5:8, 9; b, (3–5, half-strophe): of avarice: Ecc 5:10–17.—III, Division: Of the temperate and thankfully contented enjoyment of life: Ecc 5:18–20, strophe 5.—VAIHINGER combines Ecc 5:8-12, and then 13–20, each as a principal division or strophe, and overlooks the fact that the theme of avarice does not begin at verse 13, but at verse 10 (consequently with the first half strophe of strophe 3d, comprising Ecc 5:8–12), and that, therefore, with verse 18,’ introduced by the words הִנֵּה אֲשֶׁר רָאִיתִי, begins an entirely new series of thoughts, which bears a concluding relation to the main contents of the chapter.

2. First division, first strophe: Ecc 5:1–3. Of true piety in, the worship of God, and in prayer.—Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God. The k’tib רַגְלֶיךָ is to be preferred to the keri רַגְלְף. The latter appears to be modeled according to the passages in Prov. 4:26; 25:17, and others, which present “foot ” in the singular. For “feet” in the plural in similar expressions comp. Prov. 1:16; 6:18; Ps. 119:59, etc. The sense of this exhortation is: “guard thy steps when thou goest to the house of the Lord, that thou mayest enter it with sacred composure, and carefully avoid everything that would interfere with thy devotion.” See HENGSTENBERG: “The object is to preserve the heart, but as he goes, the heart receives its impressions, and is thus affected by it. The author doubtless speak of the feet because by them has often been discovered the’ tendency of the heart.” And be more ready to hear, etc. (Ger., to approach in order to hear is better). The preposition מִן, without טוּב, may in itself express the preference of one thing over another; comp. 9:17; Isa. 10:10; Ezek. 15:2.1 קָרוֹב is not here for the imperative “be near,” (LUTHER, HENGSTENBERG, etc.), but is an actual infinitive absolute, and as such subject of the sentence; comp. Prov. 25:27; Isa. 7:15, 16. “To hear” does not mean to listen to the reading of the Thora during the service, (HITZIG) but “to obey, to regard the voice of God with the heart, to do His will;” comp. 1 Sam. 15:22; Jer. 7:23. We have here the same contrast between external sacrifice and holy intent as in Prov. 21:3, 27; Isa. 1:11 ft.; Hosea 6:6, etc.Than to give the sacrifice of fools. This sacrifice (זֶבֲח) is specially pointed out from among the number of sacrifices, as also in Ps. 40:6; Hosea 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:22. “To give the sacrifice,” does not mean to give a sacrificial feast, (HITZIG), but to offer a sacrifice to God in order to satisfy him, or in order to appease one’s conscience.—For they consider not that they do evil. Fools, whose sacrifice is an offence to God on account of their evil dispositions (comp. Prov. 21:27; and also the exegetical illustrations of this passage) do evil in sacrificing to Him, and nevertheless know it not, but rather suppose, in their folly, that their conduct is well pleasing to Him. As this thought (comp. Luke 23:34) exactly fits the passage, and there is no linguistic difficulty in the explanation (for the construction אֵינָם יוֹדְעִים לַעֲשׂוֹת רַע, “they know not that they do evil,” comp. Jer. 15:15; 1 Kings 19:4; Neh 13:27) the renderings of the passage that vary from this are to be condemned. They are such as that of HAHN, (and many older commentators): “in their ignorance they can only do evil,” or of KNOBEL and VAIHINGER: “They are not troubled about doing evil,” or of HITZIG; “For they know not how to be sorrowful” (for which sense reference is made to 2 Sam. 12:18; Isa. 56:12, etc.). The nearest to our view is that of the VULGATE, and of LUTHER: “for they know not what evil they do,” which, however, cannot be philologically justified. Ecc 5:2. Be not rash with thy mouth. This censure of outward sacrifice is immediately followed by that of thoughtless words, and empty babbling in prayer, the next important element of divine worship in the temple. “To be rash with thy mouth” is essentially the same as that βαττολόγειν against which Christ warns us, perhaps with conscious reference to this passage, Matt. 6:7, f.—And let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God. “Before God,” i.e., in the temple, in the place of the special presence of God, comp. Ps. 42:2; Isa. 1:12. This warning against rash, thoughtless, and unnecessary words in prayer, is as little in contradiction with apostolic directions as found in 1 Thes. 5:17; Col. 3:17; Phil. 4:6, as is the warning of Christ against idle words, at war with His own repeated admonitions to zealous and continuous prayer, e.g., Luke 11:5 ff.; 18:1, ff.; John 14:13; 16:23, etc.For God is in heaven, and thou upon the earth. The majesty of God, in contrast with the lowliness of men, is here made clear by the contra-position of heaven and earth, as in Ps. 115:3, 16; Isa. 55:7 ff.; 66:1; Matt 5:34, f.

Ecc 5:3. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by a multitude of words. That is, just as a too continued, exciting, and anxious occupation of the mind (עִנְיָן) produces the phenomenon of confused and uneasy dreams, by which the sleep is disturbed, so the habit of an excess of words, causes the speech to degenerate into vain and senseless twaddle. The first clause of the verse serves solely as an illustration of the second; the comparison, as in Ecc 7:1; Prov. 17:3; 27:21; Job 5:7, etc., is effected by simply placing the sentences in juxtaposition, merely putting the copulative conjunction before the second (comp. the Int. to Proverbs, § 14 p. 32). EWALD assumes a continuous train of thought, asserting that from too much annoyance come dreams, from these, all kinds of vain and superfluous words, and, finally, from these, foolish speech; but this is decidedly opposed to the fact that הַחִַלוֹם is necessarily to be understood as a designation of the actual dream, not of a dreamy, thoughtless nature, and that the derivation of a wordy nature from the latter would be in violation of all psychological experience.

3. First Division, second strophe.

Vers, 4–7. Of pious conscientiousness in vowing and the fulfilment of vows. For Ecc 5:4 and 5 see Deut. 23:22–24, whose ordinances are here almost literally repeated.—For he hath no pleasure in fools.—כּסִלִים are frivolous men, who are equally ready to make vows of every kind, but then delay their performance from indolence or selfishness. Of them it is said: אֵין חֵפֶץ בָּהֶם “there is no pleasure in them,” namely, with God; for the context obliges us thus to finish the thought,

Ecc 5:5. Better is it that thou shouldst not vow, than, etc.—.Comp. Deut. 23:22: “But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee;” also Acts 5:4. Ecc 5:6. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.—בָּשָׂר here marks the body as the seat of desire, therefore of sensuality and fleshly sense in general, as the New Testament σ̓́άρξ; Ecc 2:3 is also similar to this. The description of James, in 3:6f. of his Epistle, gives a clear testimony that the sensuality of man is sinfully excited by the sins of the tongue, or the mouth, and can be enkindled by the fire of evil passion; and Hengstenberg should not have quoted this passage as a proof of his position that “flesh” here signifies the entire personality. HITZIG translates: “Let not thy mouth bring thy body to punishment,” but fails to give the proof for the possibility of the rendering of הֶחֶטיא in the sense of “bringing to punishment, atoning for.”—Neither say thou before the angel that it was an error.—[ZÖCKLER here renders מַלְאָךְ messenger, to accommodate to his exegesis.—T. L.]. מַלְאָךְ, Messenger, i.e., Jehovah’s [Comp. Haggai 1:13; Malachi 1:3], is here the designation of the priest2 or announcer and expounder of the divine law; comp. Malachi 2:7, the only passage of the O. T. where this expression is used of the priest; and see also in the N. T. Rev. 1:20; 2:1 ff., where ἄγγελος is used essentially in the same sense. “That it was an error” [שְׁנָגָה as in Numb. 15:27 ff.] is the characteristic evasion of religious superficiality and levity, which seek to excuse unfulfilled vows by declaring the neglect of them a mere error or precipitation [an unintentional error]; cornp. Malachi 1:8; Matth 15:5, etc. HITZIG: “it was a thoughtlessness,—that is, that I made the vow at all.” But a vow solemnly declared before the priest could not thus be recalled without further ceremony by declaring that it was vowed in a, thoughtless manner. The thoughtless delinquent will wish to represent the evasion of its fulfilment as simply a sin of weakness or precipitation, whilst it is in reality a crime of a very serious character [comp. Elstee and Hengsten-beeg on this passage].—Why should God be angry at thy voice [which thou dost misuse in a vile, sophistical and God-tempting evasion] and destroy the work of thy hands—that is, punish thee, therefore, by a failure of all thy undertakings, and destruction of all treasures and goods? For the warning sense of the question with לָמָּה comp. 7:16, 17; Ps. 90:17; 2 Chron. 10:37; Ezra 4:22; 7:23. Verse 7. For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities. Just as in verse 3, dreams are here also to be taken only as examples of the vanity of making many word, and of its bad consequences. As we can reasonably conclude that one who has much to do with dreams [comp. Jer. 23:33; Zech. 10:1] is an unreliable man, little fitted for the duties and afl’airs of sober reality, therefore the wordiest babbler will inspire in us the least confidence. Ewald and HEILIGSTEDT’S view: “for in too many dreams are too many vanities and words,” is opposed by the connection, which shows that no information is to be imparted here concerning the nature and signification of dreams, and then also the circumstance that it is not very clearly to be seen in how far dreams may cause much useless prattle.—But fear thou God, so that thou dost really try to fulfill what thou hast vowed to Him. כִי, because co-ordinate with the preceding, is to bo translated by “but,” and not “thus;” for it expresses in a conclusive manner the contrast to verse 6.3

4. Second Division, first strophe, a: Ecc 5:8 and 9.—On avoiding injustice and violence—If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province. Comp. 3:16; 4:1, ff. (Ger., robbery of judgment and justice). This is a robbery committed against these objective and divine laws, a violation of them by exactions, and other violence. Such violations of judgment are most likely to be practiced in the provinces, far from the seat of the king and the highest courts, by governors and generals. Therefore here מְדִינָה, by which is doubtless meant the province in which the author lives, that is, Palestine. Comp. Ezr. 5:8; Neh. 1:3; 7:6; 11:3, and also the Int. § 4, Obs. 2.—Marvel not at the matter.—חֵפֶץ [Comp. 3:1], is neither absolutely the same as “cause, matter,” [HITZIG] nor does it indicate the divine pleasure, the execution of divine decrees, (as HENGSTENBERG). It is rather the violent doing of the thieving officials that is meant, the “such is my pleasure,” of rulers, “who usually commence their edicts with these words: it seems good to me, it is good in presence of the king, Dan 3:22; 6:2; 4:22; Ez. 5:17.” (HENGSTENBERG). For the exhortation not to marvel at such things, not to be surprised, comp. 1 Peter 4:12: ἀγαπητὸι μὴ ξενίζεσθε κ. τ. λ.For he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they. That is, over the lofty oppressor stands a still higher ruler, the king; and even over him, should he not aid suffering innocence in its rights, is a still higher one, the King of kings, and Supremo Judge of the world. גְבהִֹים is, as it were, a plural of majesty,4 serving for a most emphatic designation of the fulness of eternal power in the Godhead; it is the same construction as בּוֹרְאִים, “Creator,” Ecc 12:1; קְדוֹשִׁים Prov. 9:10; 30:8; Hosea 12:1. עֶלְיוֹנִים, Dan. 7:18, 22, etc. Comp. Ewald, § 178 b. We cannot let this expression refer to the king as the highest earthly judge and potentate, on account of its analogy with other plural names of Deity. It is extremely unfitting, indeed almost absurd, to refer the second high one to a supreme judge, and the גְּבהִֹים to the governor (HITZIG). For a poor consolation would be offered to the oppressed by a reference merely to these courts, as certain as “that one crow does not pick out the eyes of another,” (a very poorly sustained proverb, quoted by Hitzig himself). Ecc 5:9. Moreover, the profit of the earth is for all; the king himself is served by the field. That is, notwithstanding that God alone rules as highest judge and avenger over all the destinies of men, we are not to despise the protection and safety which an earthly authority affords, especially a strong kingly government, that can protect the fields from devastation, and their boundaries from intrusion. בְּכָל הִיא [so is it to be read, as in the K’tib, instead of בְּכָל הוּא] is of like meaning with בְּכָל זֹאת, “in all this”—or “notwithstanding all this,” as it is Isa. 9:11. The concluding words מֶלֶךְ לְשָׂדֶה נִעְבָד can neither mean: “a king honored by the land” (KNOBEL and VAIHINGER), nor: “a king honored throughout the whole land” (HAHN), nor: “a king to till the field” (LUTHER, STARKE, etc.), nor: “a king subject to the field” (HERZFELD), nor: rex agro addictus, (ROSENMUELLER, DATHE, etc.), nor: “a king to the tilled field,” namely, “a profit and advantage to it,” (HITZIG, HENGSTENBERG, comp. also the Sept.). נֶעְבָד is here used -rather in the sense of “made, installed, placed,” in accordance with the Chaldaio signification of עשׂה=עבד, Dan. 3:1, 15, 29; 7:21; Ezra 4:19, etc., and שָׂדֶה, field, is a poetical synonym of ארץ (Comp. Gen. 2:5; 4:7; Ruth 1:6), here undoubtedly chosen because agriculture, this principal occupation of the provinces (comp. 2:8) can only prosper through the protection and propitious influence of the king. Compare the very close connection in which the religion of the Chinese, Persians, Egyptians, and Romans placed the royal office with agriculture. It does not militate against the view sustained by us that there is no definite article before שדה. Comp. EWALD. § 277, b; and quite as little does this view disagree with the verbal collocation, as will be seen by comparing 9:2; Isa. 42:24; Dan. 6:8.5

5. Second Division, first strophe b, and second strophe a. b: Ecc 5:10–17. On avoiding avarice and covetousness.—As in Deut. 16:19; Amos 8:4 ff.; Prov. 15:25–27; Sirach 10:8, so we have here the condemnation of the coarser form of covetousness, which does not shun open injustice and violence, and, directly afterwards, that of the love of money and desire of gain operating with more delicate, more genteel, and apparently more just means.—He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver, i. e., not satisfied in mind, and consequently not happy. Comp. the Horatian line: Semper avarus eyet (Ep. I, 2:20); also Ovid Fast. I, 211 S.:

Creverunt et opes et opum furiosa cupido;

Et cum posideant plurima plura volunt

Nor he that loveth abundance with increase. Lit.,“loveth tumult;” הָמוֹן in other places, “noise, turmoil of a great multitude of people,” here means, as in Ps. 37:16, the multitude of possessions; and אהב בְ means as elsewhere חפץֹ ב

Ecc 5:11. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them. Lit. “their eaters, their consumers.” The meaning here is clearly the numerous servants of a rich household. Comp. Job 1:3; 1 Kings 5:2, if.—And what good is there to the owners thereof ?—כִֹּשְׁרוֹן here, “fortune, gain,” different from 2:21; 4:4. The plural בעלים has here a singular meaning, as in Ecc 5:12; 7:11; 8:8; Prov. 3:27.—Save the beholding of them with their eyes, i.e., only the empty, not really satisfying feeling of pleasure at the sight of heaped-up treasures. In place of רְאִית read רְאוּת with, the Keri.

Ecc 5:12. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much; i. e., whether he enjoys a generous food, or must be satisfied with a scanty nourishment.—עבֵֹד “laborer” is different from עֶבֶד “slave,” and also from מַס עבֵֹד “serf;” it means in general every one, who according to divine direction in Gen. 3:19; Ex. 20:9, must earn his bread in the sweat of his brow, be he vassal or freeman.—But the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. HIERONYMUS justly says: incocto cibo in stomachi augustiis æestuante.הַשָׂבָע לֶעָשִׁיר, a paraphrase for the genitive like הַצּוֹפִים לְשָׁאוּל 1 Sam. 14:18, etc.; comp. EWALD, § 292, a.—For this sentence comp. HORACE, Sat. I., 1, 76 ss.; JUVENAL, Sat. X., 12 s.; XIV., 304; also PUBL. SYRUS: “Avarum irritat non satiat pecunia.”

Ecc 5:13–17. Second strophe: The annoying and inconstant nature of wealth. There is a sore evil; lit., “a painful evil;” חוֹלָה equivalent to the participle Neph נַחְלָה6 Jer. 14:17; Nah. 3:19.—Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt. Carefully guarded wealth proves a misfortune to the possessor when the latter loses this transitory and unreliable possession, and becomes, thereby, more unhappy than if he had never possessed it. The only correct illustration of this thought is afforded by Ecc 5:14. Ecc 5:14. But these riches perish by evil travail.—עִנְיָן, lit., “annoyance, hardship,” as in 1:13; 4:8, does not here mean the unprofitable business, the unfortunate administration of the affairs of the rich, but any misfortune, an evil occurrence of the nature of those in Job 1:14–19, caused by robbers, tempests, storms, etc.7And he begetteth a son, and there, is nothing in his hand. וְהוֹלִיד is correctly taken as a preterit in the Sept., Vulg., and Syriac; for after the failure of his means, he who was rich leaves off begetting sons.

Ecc 5:15. As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came.—יָשׁוּב לָלֶכֶת, lit., “he repeats his going,” i.e., he goes away again, namely out of this life. We find the same reflection concerning the inexorable operation of death in Job 1:21; Ps. 49:10; 1 Tim. 6:7, and also in the classics, e.g., PROPERT, Carm. III., 3, 35 s.:

Haud ullas portabis opes Acherontis ad undas;

Nudus ad inferna stulte, vehere rate!

Comp. P. GERHARD in the hymn: “Why should I then grieve ?”

Naked lay I on the earth,

When I came, when I drew

At first my breath.

Naked shall I pass away,

When from earth again I flee,

Like a shadow.

And shall take nothing of his labor. Lit., “does he lift up through his labor;” יִשָׂא as in Ps. 24:4.—Which he may carry away in his hand. יֹלֵךְ is optative Hophil [יוֹלִיךְ=, Mich. 3:4; 6:13, etc.], and need not be changed into יֵלֵךְ, as HITZIG does in accordance with the Sept. and Symmachus. For the thought that a rich man at his death can take none of his treasures with him, is extremely fitting here, in case one does not think of the rich man described in Ecc 5:14, who, previously to his death, was bereft of all his possessions by misfortune. And this is so much the less necessary, since before this verse death has not been considered the final end of all wealth and desire of acquiring it.

Ecc 5:16 emphatically repeats the thought of the preceding verse, in order to show more strongly the entire fruitlessness and folly of toiling after earthly wealth, and to prepare for the closing description in Ecc 5:17 of the tortured existence of a rich miser.—And this is also a sore evil, namely, not simply that named in Ecc 5:13, but also that added in Ecc 5:15; consequently not merely the πλούτου ἀδηλότης there described (1 Tim. 6:17), but also death, that places an unconditional limit to all wealth, and toiling after riches. The views of HENGSTENBERG, VAIHINGER, etc., are correct, whilst HITZIG wrongfully supposed that the second: “sore evil” is not named until the last clause of this verse, and that it consists in the miserable existence of the miser, full of vexation and profitless. This “having no profit,” and “laboring for the wind,” coincides rather (like the contents of Ecc 5:17) with the vanity of this world, and its inconstancy and hardship, as described in Ecc 5:13 and 14, so that the reflection at its end again leads back to its beginning. Ecc 5:17. All his days also he eateth in darkness, that is, in a gloomy, peevish state of mind, in subjective darkness as described in Matt. 6:23; John 11:10. כָּל־יָמָיו can be very easily taken as the object of יאֹכֵל, although the phrase “eateth his days” does not appear again,8 and therefore the meaning of “all his days” seems the more likely to be merely used as defining the time; but comp. for this view the instances at least approximately analogous in Job 21:13; 36:11. The Sept. seems to have read וָאֵכֶל instead of יֹאכֵל and so in the following clause, instead of וְכָעַם they must have read וְכַעַם, and for וְחָלְיוֹ they must have read וָחֳלִי; for they translate: καίγε πᾶσαι ἁι ἡμέραι αὐτοῦ ἐν σκότει καὶ έν πένθει κὰι θυμῷ πολλῷ κὰι ἀῥῤηστίᾳ κὰι χόλῳ. EWALD and some other moderns follow it herein; but certainly with regard to the change of יֹאכֵל, at least without sufficient reason; comp. HITZIG and ELSTER on this passage. But nothing obliges us, in the second clause,, to deviate from the Masoretic text, as HENGSTENBERG has correctly shown in opposition to the authors last named. For כָּעַם as 3d, præterite, suits the adverb הַרְבֵּה better than does the substantive כַּעַם; but the closing words וְחָלְיוֹ וָקָצֶף give an excellent sense as an independent animated exclamation: “and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness!” What is meant is the sickness of soul produced by the annoyance and dissatisfaction felt as against those things that oppose his striving after riches, [in substance the same as that darkness in the preceding line] a sickness which can eventually extend to his body and then torment him only the more severely.9

6. Third Division: Ecc 5:18–20. Concerning a moderate and gratefully contented enjoyment of life, as the only true and wise conduct for the poor and for the rich; comp. the exactly similar closing sentence of the first discourse, Ecc 2:24–26, and also the close of the first part of the second discourse, Ecc 3:22.—Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely, etc. HITZIG and HAHN say: “What I have found good, and what beautiful;” HENGSTENBERG: behold what I have seen, that it is good and handsome, etc. This latter translation is the only one that corresponds exactly to the accentuation,10 which (by a rebia over אני) strongly separates the טוֹב from what precedes, but scarcely expresses the sense originally intended by the author himself. Our own view corresponds rather to this original sense, which alone is rightly in accordance with the position of אֲשֶׁר before יָפֶה.—To eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor. The suffix in עֲמָלוֹ belongs to the previously unexpressed subject of the infinitive clauses לֶאֱכֹל etc.; comp. 7:1; Ps. 4:9; 65:9, etc. The eating, and drinking, and enjoying the good [lit., “seeing the good,” comp. 2:24) is as little meant in an Epicurean sense here as in similar earlier passages; it expresses simply the normal contrast to the grasping avarice previously censured.—For it is his portion, [כִּיִ הוּא חֶלְקוֹ: ,“that it should be his portion;” כִּי denoting end, purpose, or, as it is rendered in the Metrical Version, “to be his portion here,”—so as not to interrupt the flow of the sentence.—T. L.] It is his lot divinely appointed unto him for this life, that he cannot take with him into the world beyond (Ecc 5:15) and which he must consequently properly profit by here below (comp. 3:22).

Ecc 5:19. Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth. HITZIG unnecessarily renders אֲשֶׁד נָתַן לוֹ “that God gives him,” (or “if”) etc. The anakolouthon between the nominative absolute “every man” and the final clause: “that is the gift of God,” cannot be thus removed.—And hath given him power to eat thereof, etc. For הִשְׁלִיט “to cause to rule, to empower any one,” comp. Ps. 119:133; Dan. 2:28, 48. That is the gift of God. The emphasis does not rest on אֱלהִֹים, as in the similar thought in Ecc 2:24, but on מַתַּת, which here therefore means a noble gift (δόσις ἀγαθή, δώρημα τέλειον, Jas. 1:17) a gracious present, as the following verse teaches. Comp. also Horace, Epis. I., 4, 6;

Dî tibi divitias dederunt, arlemque fruendi.

Ecc 5:20. For he shall not much remember the days of his life. That is not as EWALD says: “Memory and enjoyment of this life do not last long,” which would clearly give a totally foreign thought, but he now forgets all toil and vexation of his former life,11 and learns, in consequence of the divine beneficence which he gratefully and contentedly enjoys, to forget the “miserable life” (LUTHER) that he previously led, and cares no more concerning the rapid flight and short duration of his earthly days, (comp. 6:12). Because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. The second בִּי is subjoined to the first one in the commencement of the clause, and is therefore better translated with “because” or “since” than with “for.” מַעֲנֶה בְּ lit. “he answers him with,” i.e., he hears him by vouchsafing, etc.; for this signification of the Hiph, of ענה comp. 1 Kings 8:35; 2 Chron. 6:26; Hos. 2:23. All other meanings are contrary to the language and connection, e.g. HITZIG: “he makes him ready to serve;” KÖSTER: “he makes him sing with the joy of his heart;” VAIHINGER (according to the Sept. and Vulg.): “he occupies him with the joy of his heart,” etc.


(With Homiletical Hints,)

The threefold means given in this chapter for obtaining and advancing earthly happiness, are the fulfilment of duty towards God, our neighbors, and ourselves; or the three virtues corresponding to these three kinds of duties—εὐσέβεια, δικαιοσύνη and σωφροσύνη (Tit. 2:12; Matth. 22:37–39). Among the duties to God, special attention is directed to proper demeanor in regard to prayer and vows; among the duties to our neighbor, the avoiding of injustice and covetousness, and as duties to ourselves, temperance and serene cheerfulness in the enjoyment of the pleasures of this life. Each of these special directions regarding moral demeanor is so presented that its relation to the happiness and peace of men’s souls clearly appears. And thus, especially, in the sphere of religious duties, the necessity of pure truthfulness, sacred earnestness, and careful bridling of the tongue (in prayer as in vows), or, in a word, the just fear of God is insisted on as the essence of all those conditions on which depends the preservation of the Divine favor (Ecc 5:4), and thus the foundation of all internal and external happiness. In the obligations of justice and unselfishness towards our neighbor (Ecc 5:8–17) special reference is made to the certainty of judicial visitation on the part of God or the King (Ecc 5:8 and 9), to the freedom from stinging avarice and torturing care (Ecc 5:10 to 17), and to the superiority of heavenly treasures, which one is not obliged to leave here and sacrifice at death, as is the case with earthly treasures (Ecc 5:13–16); and these are represented as just so many sources of real inward happiness and peace. With regard to the serenity of life recommended at the close as a means of properly fulfilling the duties to one’s self (Ecc 5:18–20), sensual enjoyment in itself is not so much praised as a principal means of happiness, as is the grateful consciousness that all joys and blessings of this life come from God, together with the diligence and zealous activity in vocation that truly give flavor to the enjoyment of these pleasures (“to enjoy the good of all his labor,” Ecc 5:18; “to rejoice in his labor,” Ecc 5:19); and just in this manner is demonstrated the way of acquiring genuine and lasting happiness, in contradistinction to Epicureanism and all that philosophy which declares pleasure to be the chief good. In a comprehensive homiletical treatment of the section, the theme might be presented as follows: “Of a godly, just, and chaste life in this world, as the foundation of all genuine happiness in this world and the next;” or: “Of a right truthfulness, in prayer before God, in administration of earthly goods before men, and in the wise enjoyment of the pleasures of life in presence of one’s own conscience;” or also (with special reference to contents of verses 8 and 9): “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17).


Ecc 5:1. HIERONYMUS: Non ingredi domum Dei, sed sine offensione ingredi, laudis est.

MELANCTHON:—Solomon declares that the principal and best worship of God is to listen to His word and faithfully follow it. But it has always been the case that men have invented a multitude of sacrifices, and various ceremonies; thus the heathen, the Pharisees and the monks have falsified the proper way of reverencing God. This audacity of man is here condemned as a deep sin, however much its originators may defend it and praise their superstition as a glorious virtue.

STARKE:—We must visit the church as creatures who humble themselves before their Creator, as subjects doing homage to their Lord, as paupers begging for spiritual gifts, as sick men imploring aid, as Christians ready to serve Him with willing and pure heart.

BERLEBURG BIBLE:—One must not be satisfied with simple hearing, else it is this and nothing else, and this was not meant. The outward is simply outward; the true object of external worship must only be to lead to the internal.

Ecc 5:2, 3. BRENZ:—Because God alone dwells in heaven, i.e., is alone true, wise and just, and we live on the earth, and are, therefore, liars, fools, and sinners, it in no manner becomes us with our human wisdom, which in God’s eyes is folly, to judge of divine and heavenly things, and to indulge in many words with God concerning our worldly affairs, experiences and knowledge. But we must listen to God; leave to Him every decision, and silently obey His word as the only true wisdom.

GEIER:—Think at all times in thy prayer of the majesty of God with whom thou speakest, and of thine own unworthiness, this will then strongly move thy heart in pious devotion.

BERLEB. BIBLE:—“Let thy words be few;”—how far-reaching is this precept, in teaching, in preaching, in prayer, and in ordinary life! How many a long sermon would be condemned by this censorship, although it might fulfil all the requirements of the preacher’s art! And how few spiritual things would be found in many discourses, if they were purified of all useless, unedifying, vain, annoying, and improper words, as they indeed should be !—The Saviour has regarded this counsel, and hence has given a very short formula of prayer, in the very beginning of which He impresses on the suppliant the majesty of God who is in heaven, but tempers it with the loving name of father, etc.

Ecc 5:4–7. BRENZ:—Vows, which proceed from unbelief, or violate the precepts of brotherly love, the Christian should neither make nor fulfil if he has made them. But if the vow proceeds from faith and love, and accords with their commands, then it must be kept: else God will judge thee as the fool, i.e., as the ungodly.

LANGE:—Dear man, seek to maintain thy baptismal vows, therein hast thou vows enough.

HANSEN (Ecc 5:6):—The mouth causeth the flesh to sin when it promises what the flesh neither can nor will perform.

STARKE (Ecc 5:7):—The fear of the Lord is the essence of all true virtue, and it also teaches how one should wisely use his tongue (James 1:26).

HENGSTENBERG:—He who really fears God will say nothing concerning Him but that which proceeds from his inmost heart, and vow nothing but that which he is resolved inviolably to keep.

Ecc 5:8 and 9. LUTHER:—This book teaches thee to give thy heart to rest, and not to fret and pine too much when things go wrong, but, when the devil engages in malice, violence, injustice and oppression of the poor, to be able to say; “this is the course of the world; God will judge and avenge it.” Let each one, therefore, in his sphere do his work with best diligence, according to the command of God: the rest he may commit to God and suffer. Let him await then what the godless and unjust men may do!—

The stone thon canst not lift, let lie;

Thy strength upon some other try.

MELANCTHON (Ecc 5:8):—Observe here the difference between a king and a tyrant. A tyrant devastates and destroys; a good ruler cherishes his country, protects and furthers the interests of agriculture, the prosperity of the Church, the arts and industries, and all good things.

STARKE:—God is the ruler of all nations (Ps. 82:8). The loftiest noble and the meanest peasant must alike humbly acknowledge Him a3 his Lord, and reverence and obey Him.

WOHLFARTH:—What Solomon says we see yet to-day. Although Church and State make every effort to advance the cause of righteousness and retard that of sin, the realm of evil is nevertheless wide-spread, and covetousness, pride, envy, deceit, voluptuousness, every where raise in oppression their repulsive heads. But let us remember that the earth is ever a land of imperfection; then this will not surprise us; but we shall rather be inclined to find in the contrast in which the reality stands with the belief in Divine justice, a reason for our hope of immortality and final reward, and, while we seek according to our strength to prevent evil, we will ourselves shun every sin, that we may hereafter stand rejoicing before God’s throne.

Ecc 5:10 ff. LUTHER:—What is a miser but a poor, tortured, uneasy soul and heart, that is always looking after that which it does not possess; it is therefore vanity and wretchedness. Are not those happy people who are satisfied with the present favors of God, and comfortable nourishment for the body, and who leave it to God to care for the future ?—If now God gives thee riches, use thy share as thou usest thy share of water, and let the rest flow by thee; if thou dost not do so, thy gathering will be all in vain.

GEIER:—The best inheritance that a rich man can leave to his children is Christian instruction in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, and thorough education in the arts and sciences.

ZELTNER:—How happy are hearts that are heavenly inclined, that are contented with what the beneficent hand of God has bestowed on them, and enjoy it with His blessing in gratitude.

WOHLFARTH:—How foolishly do those act who live solely for their earthly existence.

Ecc 5:18–20. LUTHER:—To “eat in darkness” is nought else than to pass one’s life in melancholy. All avaricious and troublesome people find something that does not please them, where they can fret and scold. For they are full of care, vexation, and anxiety; they cannot joyfully eat, nor joyfully drink, but always find something that annoys and offends them.

LANGE:—A true Christian uses the nourishment and needful supplies of his body, to the especial end that he may recognize the goodness of God in all his labor under the sun.

HANSEN:—In order to enjoy the good that there is in the riches of this world, it is necessary that one have a perfect rule over them, i.e., that in the use of them he may at all times act in accordance with the Divine purpose, Ps. 62:10.

BERLEB. BIBLE:—As “to the pure every thing is pure” (Tit. 1:15), so also wealth may be used by such a one in purity, and it will therefore depend mainly on each one’s own heart how it stands in the presence of God. But if one does not remain contented and quiet when house and home burn up, or some other injury happens to his possessions, then is he not yet rightly placid and tranquil; this is the proof of it.


[1][The example that Zöckler gives of מ comparative, without any comparative word before it, will not bear him out. In Ecc 9:17, it is dependent on נִשְׁמָעִים; in the other cases cited ם is either partitive, or has its usual proposition sense. If any comparative word might be thus omitted it might be the familiar word טוֹב, but there are other ways of explaining the apparent grammatical anomaly without any such harshness, which would be like leaving out, in English, any comparative word before than—to hear than to give. If we regard קָרוֹב as an adjective it may have the sense of fit, suitable, appropriate, coming very easily from its primary and usual sense of nearness: to hear is more appropriate than to give; it is nearer in the sense of better. That such a connection of senses is natural, is shown from the Latin prope propior, as HORACE, Sat. 4,42, sermoni propiora, better for prose; Terent. Heant: nulla alia delectation quce propior esset; Ovid. Mel., cura propior luctusqe. It might be proved still more clearly from the Arabic use of a comparative from this very root اقْرَبُ)=אַקְרַב) in the sense of better- that which is nigher, more appropriate. Of this there are frequent examples in the Koran, as in Surah. 2:238, اقْرَب للتَقْوَى better for piety, more pious; so 18:80, اقْنرَب رحغا better for compassion, more compassionate. See also Surah 3:160; 4:12; 5:11; 16:79; 20:13. Thus in Hebrew, קָרוֹב —מִתֵּת, nearer, more appropriate, more acceptable (a better קָרְבָּן or offering) than to give, etc.,—audire propius esset quam dare etc. It may be objected to this that such an infinitive with ל as לִשְׁמֹעַ, is not used subjectively, or very rarely. It, however, comes very much to the same thing, if we take קָרוֹב directly as an infinitive, or as used for an imperative: be nigher to hear, that is, more ready, more prompt(propior facilior) to hear, than fools are to offer sacrifice (taking כסילים as the subject of תֵּת). Or the comparative מ may depend on שְׁמרֹ in the first clause, the influence of which may be regarded as extending to the second: be more careful (שְׁמרֹ —מ) to hear, or to draw nigh to hear, etc. In such case, we get a governing word for the infinitive קָרוֹּב. If it be said that it is implied or understood; that is always the case where the infinitive seems thus used for the imperative. Some familiar word of admoninon, or warning, is ever implied (look out, take care, etc.).as sometimes in the animated language of the prophets, and as is frequently the case in Greek and Latin.—T. L.]

[2][This is another case where those who maintain the late date of the book give a word an unusual sense, and then build an argument upon it. There is no reason why מַלְאָךְ should not be taken in its usual meaning, as an angel of God, visible or invisible, supposed sometimes to appear in terror, the avenging angel, as 2 Sam. 24:16, who came to punish Israel and their king for his rash words. There may be an express reference here by Solomon to his father’s fatal error; and the words וְאַל תֹּאמַר may be rendered very easily as a caution, that thou mayest not have to confess thine error, as David did (2 Sam.24:17). It must have made a deep impression on the young mind of the Prince. It is perfectly in accordance, too, with the belief and the recorded facts of the Solomonic times; and this would be the case even if we regard the מַלְאָךְ, mentioned in Ecclesiastes, as being Gad, the messenger sent to David. Or it may refer to the belief in the presence of angels as invisible witnesses to our sins and our improprieties—a belief belonging not only to the Old Testament, but also to the New, as appears from 1 Cor. 11:10,διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους. “because of the angles” (invisible), indecencies in the Church were to be avoided.—T. L.]

[3][Ecc 5:7. The simplest and most literal rendering here would seem to be the best, taking the conjunction ו, in each case, as it stands, and in the usual way. The copulative ו has, indeed sometimes, an assertive force, but then the context will always clearly demand it. Here there is no need of it: “Though in multitude of dreams,” or “though dreams abound, and vanities, and words innumerable, yet (כִּי) fear thou God.” The first כִּי may be rendered for, and regarded as connecting, causally, this verse with what precedes, or they may both be regarded as adversative, giving the reason against, or notwithstanding. See explanation of כִּי Int. to Metrical Version, p 176. The word דְּבָרִים we have rendered, in the Metrical Version, presagings (idle predictions, fortune tellings, such as go with dreams). דָּבָר is used, Numb. 23:5, 16, for oraculum. It is the oracle given to Balaam, and though, there, a divine message given to a bad man, yet there is nothing in the word itself to prevent its denoting a false, as well as a true prediction. If the view taken be correct, there must be meant, here, false or superstitious presagings, like the Greek βάξις, which is used by Aristophanes for the false predictions of the oracle-mongers, by whom Greece was infested. דָּבָר is used in the same manner, Eccles.10:14, where the context shows that it means either pretended oracular words, or fortune-tellings, or some such rash sayings about the future as are condemned James 4:13. The other rendering: “in multitude of dreams and vanities there are also words,” besides having seemingly but little meaning, puts its main assertion in the first clause, and thus makes the second: “fear thou God,” a merely incidental or rhetorical addition, though really the important thought: “notwithstanding the abounding of (all these superstitions) dreams, vanities and fortune-tellings without number, yet fear thou God. In the other rendering, too, besides being less simple and facile, there is lost, or obscured, the contrast evidently intended between δεισιδαιμονια, in the bad sense, or superstition, and ἐυσέβεια, true religion, reverence, יראת יהוה, “the fear of the Lord.” For an illustration. see the picture of the superstitious man (δεισιδαίμων) as given by THEOPHRASTUS in his CHARACTERS, sec.16.—T. L.]

[4] [The plural intensive undoubtedly exists in Hebrew, but a great deal that is said about the pluralis majestaticus is very questionable. The best Jewish commentators deny its existence. The plural גְּבהִֹים, here, may easily be taken as a sort of summing up, denoting all the powers that stand above the petty oppressor, from the earthly king, through “principalities in the Heavens” up to God Himself. Our English Version gives it well, “and there be higher than they,” leaving the application indefinite. STUART regards ו as intensive: “Yea there be higher than they,”—the petty oppressors. Or it may be an assertion that there is a vast series of ascending powers in the olam, or world, regarded in its rank, rather than its time or space aspect. See note on Olamic Words, p. 51. The reader may imagine the gradation of ranks for himself. Of course, God is at the highest, however great it may be. This would accord with the simplest rendering of the words:

Height over height are keeping watch,

and higher still than they.

These vile oppressors, with all their boasts of rank, are away down in the lowest parts of the scale.—T. L.]

[5] [Ecc 5:9. The interpretations of ZÖCKLER, HITZIG, STUART, etc., though differing from each other, seem forced. They all destroy the parallelism, making only one proposition of what evidently contains two clauses, one an illustration of the other. Their rendering of בכל היא, as though it were equivalent to בכל זאת, Isaiah 9:11, 20, cannot be supported. הִיא is a feminine used for the neuter, and may have, in such case, an antecedent masculine in form, if it expresses what is inanimate or impersonal. “The profit of the soil, in everything is it”,—like,שגגה היא, “an error is it,” Just above. “It is in all,” in everything, in every rank of life. The word נֶעְבָד has more of a deponent than of a passive sense. In other cases, Deut. 21:4; Ezek. 36:9, 34, it is applied to the field that is made use of, worked, in distinction from the barren. This is the only case in which it is applied to persons, and according to the same analogy, it does not mean served as a master, which would be the direct passive of the Kal, but subservient to, or made to serve, coming near to the Kal sense, or the sense of the noun: made useful, or devoted to use. The connection, then, is very clear. The oppressor is reproved, not by extolling the king as the guardian of justice, and patron of agriculture, but by setting forth the value of the lowly, the cultivators of the soil, to whom the highest ranks, and, ultimately, the king himself, are subservient,—on whom they are dependent, and to whom they may be said, in the last resort, to owe homage. This more Republican idea, and so much more in harmony with the whole spirit of the passage, is sustained by WORDSWORTH. The resort to the

Chaldaic signification of עָבַד = to the Hebrew עשה, is wholly needless and unsatisfactory. If the monarchical interpretation, as we may call it, fails, then also falls to the ground what is said about the Persians, and “the king’s protection of agriculture in the provinces,” together with the inference that would then be drawn in respect to the date of the book. Such a dependence of the king upon the field is just n truth which would be perceived by the wise Solomon, but would be unheeded by a Persian monarch, or any writer who would wish to extol him. HERZFELD’S interpretation is very nigh this. Our English Version. “the king is served by the field,” or from the field, would require a different preposition.—T. L.]

[6][See the explanation in the text note.—T. L.]

[7] [בענין רע may mean here the labor and travail expended in acquiring the riches. “That wealth perishes with all the labor,” etc., it took to get it. Such is the more literal sense of ב, as well as the more expressive. He has lost all his labor and travail as well as his wealth. Compare the Metrical Version.

With the sore travail [it had cost] that wealth departs. T. L.]

[8][We have the similar phrase in English—“consumeth his days”—but it is questionable whether אכל is ever thus used in Hebrew. In Job 21:13; 36:11, the verb is different.—T. L.]

[9] [HITZIG regards the text here as corrupt, and proposes to read בְּהָלְיוֹ and כַּעַם. There is no serious difficulty in taking כָּעַם as a noun [the first patach lengthened, as JONA BEN GANNACH shows may be done]. The other correction, and HITZIG’S charge of corruption, only show that a very acute critic, not having much imagination, may not sympathize with the poetical style, or the emotional earnestness of such a writer as Koheleth, and must therefore, often fail in interpreting him. The apparent irregularity of the sentence shows a vehement utterance, the thoughts crowding together, coming in, some of them out of their order, as though anticipated, or in danger of being forgotten. The most literal, therefore, is the rendering which is most true to this subjective emotional state: “great grief, sickness his, and wrath;” or to give it something of its rythmical order:

Yea, all his days, doth he in darkness eat;

Abundant sorrow, sickness too is his, and chafing wrath.T. L]

[10][Those noble scholars, the BUXTORFS, and the learned as well as devout BOSTON, were not altogether without reason in their belief that the Hebrew system of accents, as found in our Hebrew Bibles, partook, in some degree, of the biblical inspiration. There is a critical acuteness, a spiritual-mindedness, we may say, manifested by those early accentuators. from whom came the traditional masora, that is truly wonderful. There are many examples in the Psalms. There is an instance of it, we think, in this passage, vers.18 and 19. They have place a rebia, a disjunctive accent, over אָֹנִי ver.18 thereby separating it from טוֹב that follows. This our English translators have observed, as also HAHN, HENGSTENBERG and others, who, after all, do not make the right use of it. ZÖCKLER acknowledging though disregarding the accents, renders: “behold what I have seen as good, that it is fair to eat,” etc.,—making אֲשֶׁר, a conjunction. To follow the accentuation, however, is the only way to bring out the sense in all its force and clearness. The other method makes טוֹכ and יָפֶה synonymous, and represents eating and drinking as the good per se, without qualification; the assertion afterwards made, about its being the gift of god, having no effect in changing, or modifying this positive declaration. On the contrary, the accentual rendering, makes the perception and the consciousness of this [הַטּוֹב לִרְאוֹת טוֹב], the very thing that constitutes the “good which is fair” [טוֹב אֲשֶׁר יָפֶה], in distinction from the mere pleasure which he epicurean would call good. Thus it reads, according to the accents: “good that is fair, to eat and drink, etc.,(that is, in eating and drinking), and to see the good,” etc.,—intimating that there is a good, or seeming good, that is not fair, or beautiful a טוֹב that is not יָפֶּה. To make אֲשֶׁר thus as a relative pronoun, is the only way to avoid a tautology; for the other rendering makes no distinction between טוֹב and יָפֶה, or rather regards the one as but a repetition of the other. It is true that, in such use of אֲשֶׁר, the personal pronoun generally follows [טוֹב אֲשֶׁר יָפֶה הוּא] but not always, as Gen. 7:8, הָעוֹף וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר רֹמֵשׂ, and similar cases, especially Hosea 12:8, “they shall not find in me, עָוֹן אֲשֶׁר חֵטְא, iniquity that is sin,” — meaning by חֵטְא a qualification of the general term עָוֹן, or a known and wilful sin, one deserving of punishment, as both KIMCHI and ABEN EZRA explain it. Grammatically and logically it is precisely similar to this case. It is not easy to resist the conclusion that a logical differentia, some qualifying of טוֹב, was hero intended. It is, in fact, that same distinction which is made by the ordinary mind, if devout, and which we find in Plato, the mystical, as some style him, but who is, in reality, the clearest, and in the truest sense of the term, the most common-sense of all the philosophers. It is the ἀγαθὸν that is καλὸν (since the sensualist also has his ἀγαθόν, so called, which is not καλὸν, but only ἡδὺ) the βέλτιστον, or to use similar language of CICERO, the bonum that is pulchrum, the dulce that is honestum. It is the word, used Ecc 3:11 to denote the beauty of everything in its season, as God made it, אֶת־הַכִֹל עָשָׂה יָפֶה בְּעִתּוֹ, or as the world was pronounced all good, all fair, at creation, whilst still in unison with the divine name and presence. The טוֹב that is יָפֶה, the GOOD that is FAIR, must have some other element in it than mere sense-enjoyment, or voluptas (velle quod optat). This appears by another accentual mark. The same acute critics have place a zakeph gadhol, another strong disjunctive accent, upon the demonstrative pronoun ז֕הׄ in ver.19, thereby making it more emphatic, by separating it from the adjoining words, thus constituting it a clause by itself, as it were, to which special attention is called. By being thus separated from what is near, it goes back to the טוֹב mentioned some ways above. or to the idea contained, and carries it through all the clauses: “good that is fair, to eat and drink, and see the good,” etc., (through all that follow in the long recital) “this” —this (good) I say — is God’s own gift.” The meaning is, that the recognition and the consciousness of this are necessary to make it good, or the good emphatically — “the good that is fair”—and that, without this it would not be יָשֶׂה καλόν, honestum, etc., but sheer sensualism, which in itself, he so often pronounces worthlessness and vanity. The whole passage, 18–20, has the air of a solemn recapitulation, in which the writer means to express his deepest and truest feeling: “and now, behold what I have seen: good that is fair,” etc.; all such good is from above, and there is really no other that deserves to be so called. It is imbued throughout with the name of God, as though His name were inseparable from any true idea of the good. Taking the accents in their intended form, the passage has a most eloquent fulness; disregarding them, we have sheer Epicureanism, expressed in what seems a verbose style, tautological, unmeaning, and, withal, out of harmony with the general scope of the book. The earnestness of the writer in his desire of fully setting out the thought, is shown by the repetition in the beginning of the 19th verse: גם כל האדם, “yea every man, as God has given him wealth, aid power to eat thereof, and bear his portion,” etc., and then the strong accented זהֹ making the peroration of the whole; so that the Epicurean or sensualist could claim no fragment of it as, in the least, favoring the godless philosophy. See the Metrical Version. It is all idle to put the most naked Epicureanism in the mouth of the writer, as ZÖCKLER and STUART do, and then deny it is such, or attempt to weave for it some possible evangelical robe.—T. L ]

[11] [EWALD’S view is to be preferred, though with a modification. In the recognition of the higher good (see marginal note, p. 94), or the gift and blessing of God, the mere sensual pleasure, the mere living, as an enjoyment, is not much remembered, nor the time it lasts. The higher aspect makes the lower seem less, though not undervalued.

Not life itself, with all its joys,

Could my best passions move,

Or raise so high my cheerful voice,

As Thine endearing love.

Compare it with Psalm 4:5: “Thou hast put joy in my heart more than [the joy of] the time [מֵעֵת], when their corn and their wine increase;” and especially with the verse preceding (Ps. 4:7) “Many are Buying” (it is the great inquiry among men) “who will show us good” (the good, the summum bonum, the טוֹב אֲשֶׁר יָפֶה, the good that is beautiful), and then how full of light, and power, and meaning, is the answer: “Lift Thou upon us the light of Thy countenance, Jehovah.” That was the good which philosophy, whether Epicurean or Stoical, could never find: “The Light of Thy countenance,” or of Thy presence! We have become so familiar with this precious Hebraism, that we lose sight of its glorious beauty. In what other language, or literature, can we find anything like it? With the sentiment of Koheleth that it is the thought of God’s grace that makes the good, compare also the language, Ps. 30:5: “In His favor is life,” and Ps. 63:4; “Thy loving-kindness is better than life”—טוֹב חַסְדְּךָ מֵחַיִּים—a good that is more than life. It is the same idea, though the language of Koheleth is more calm, more philosophic, we may say, than the impassioned diction of the Psalmist, made more striking and emotional by the use of the second person.—T. L.]

Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Ecclesiastes 4
Top of Page
Top of Page