Matthew Poole's Commentary
There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:The vanity of riches without use, Ecclesiastes 6:1,2. Of children and old age without competent wealth; their obscurity is worse than not to have been, Ecclesiastes 6:3-6. All labour is for necessaries of life, which one getteth as well as another, Ecclesiastes 6:7,8. It is good for us to enjoy what we have, and not to desire what we have not; for our portion is appointed its; and we ourselves are vain; and other things do but increase our vanity, Ecclesiastes 6:9-12.
No text from Poole on this verse.
A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.Wealth; all sorts of riches, as gold and silver, cattle and lands, &c.
Of all that he desireth; which he doth or can reasonably desire.
Giveth him not power to eat; either because they are suddenly taken away from him by the hand and curse of God, and given to others; or because God gives him up to a base and covetous mind, which is both a sin and a place. Thereof, i.e. any considerable part of it; whereas the stranger eateth not thereof, but it, i.e. all of it; devoureth it all in an instant.
If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.An hundred children, i.e. very many children, to whom he intends to leave his estate.
Live many years; which is the chief thing that he desires, and which giveth him opportunity of increasing his estate vastly.
The days; he saith days, because the years of men’s life are but few.
Be not filled with good; hath not a contented mind and comfortable enjoyment of his estate whilst he lives. Have no burial; and if after his death he hath either none, or a mean and dishonourable burial, because his sordid and covetous carriage made him hateful and contemptible to all persons, his children and heirs not excepted, and he was by all sorts of men thought unworthy of any testimonies of honour, either in his life or after his death. Thus he describes a man who lives miserably, and dies ignominiously.
An untimely birth; which as it never enjoyed the comforts, so it never felt the calamities, of this life, which are far more considerable than its comforts, at least to a man that denied himself the comforts, and plunged himself into the toils and vexations, of this life.
For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.For; or rather, although, as this particle is frequently rendered. For this verse seems to contain not so much a reason of what he last said, that an untimely birth is better than he, as an answer to an exception which might be made against it. Although all that is here said be true of the abortive, yet it is better than he. He; either,
1. The covetous man. Or rather,
2. The abortive; of whom alone, and not of the former, that passage is true, he hath not seen the sun, Ecclesiastes 6:5. Cometh in; into the world, this word being oft put for a man’s being born, as Job 1:21 Ecclesiastes 5:15. With vanity; or, in vain, to no purpose; without any comfort or benefit by it, which also is in a great measure the case of the covetous wretch.
Departeth in darkness; dieth obscurely, without any observation or regard of men.
Shall be covered with darkness; shall be speedily and utterly forgotten; whereas the name of such wicked men shall rot, and be remembered to their shame.
Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.He hath not seen the sun; he never beheld the light, and therefore it is not grievous to him to want it; whereas the covetous man saw that light was very pleasant, and therefore the loss of it was irksome to him.
Nor known any thing; hath had no knowledge, sense, or experience of any thing, whether good or evil.
Hath more rest, because he is perfectly free from all those encumbrances and vexatious to which the covetous man is long exposed.
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?Live a thousand years twice told; wherein he seems to have a privilege above an untimely birth. Hath he seen no good; he hath enjoyed little or no comfort in it, and therefore long life is rather a curse and mischief than a blessing or advantage to him.
Do not all, whether born out of and before their time, or in due time, whether their lives be long or short,
go to one place; to the grave. And so after a little time all are alike as to this life, of which he here speaks; and as to the other life, his condition is infinitely worse than that of an untimely birth.
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.For his mouth; for meat to put into his mouth, that he may get food; and as bread is oft put for all food, so food is put for all necessary provisions for this life, as Proverbs 30:8, and elsewhere; whereof this is the chief, for which a man will sell his house and lands, yea, the very garments upon his back.
Is not filled: although all that a man can go: by his labours is but necessary food, which the meanest sort of men commonly enjoy, as is observed in the next verse; yet such is the vanity of this world, and the folly of mankind, that men are insatiable in their desires, and restless in their endeavours, after more and more, and never say they have enough.
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?The fool, to wit, in these matters. Both are equally subject to the same calamities, and partakers of the same comforts of this life.
Before the living, to wit, before the poor, that doth not know this; which words are easily understood by comparing this clause with the former. And such defects are usual, both in Scripture and other authors, as hath been formerly noted, by a figure which the learned call anantapodoton. And by this phrase, that knoweth, &c., he means such a poor man who is ingenious and industrious; who is fit for service and business, and knows how to carry himself towards rich men, so as to deserve and gain their favour, and to procure a livelihood.
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.The sight of the eyes, i.e. the comfortable enjoyment of what a man hath; for seeing is oft put for enjoying, as Psalm 34:12 Ecclesiastes 2:1 3:13, &c.
The wandering of the desire; restless and insatiable desires of what a man hath not, wherewith covetous rich men are perpetually haunted and tormented.
This, this wandering of the desire wherein most men indulge themselves,
is also vanity and vexation of spirit; is not the way to satisfaction, as they imagine, but to vexation.
That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.This verse is added either as a proof of what he last said concerning the vanity and wandering of insatiable desires, or as a timber instance of the vanity of all things in this life.
That which hath been (or, is, for the Hebrew verb) may be rendered either way, to wit, man considered with all his endowments and enjoyments, whether he be wise or foolish, rich or poor; man, who is the chief of all visible and sublunary beings, for whom they all were made) is named already, to wit, by God, who, presently after his creation, gave him the following name, to signify what his nature and condition was or would be. Heb. What is that which hath been, or is, it is, or hath been named already. Others understand it thus, All the several conditions which men have had or shall have in the world, riches or poverty, &c., are already named, i.e. appointed or determined by God’s unchangeable counsel and invincible providence. But though this be true, it seems not to suit so well with the following clause as the other interpretation doth.
It is known that it is man; this is certain and manifest, that that being which makes all this noise and stir in the world, howsoever magnified by themselves, and sometimes adored by flatterers, and howsoever differenced from or advanced above others, by wisdom, or riches, or the like, is but a man, i.e. a mean earthly mortal and miserable creature, as his very name signifies, which God gave him for this very end, that he might be always sensible of his vain, and base, and miserable estate in this world, and therefore never expect satisfaction or happiness in it.
With him that is mightier than he, i.e. with Almighty God, with whom men are very apt to contend upon every slight occasion, and against whom they are ready to murmur for this vanity, and mortality, and misery of mankind, although they brought it upon themselves by their own sins. So this is seasonably added to prevent the abuse of the foregoing passage.
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?This seems to be added as a conclusion of the disputation managed in all the foregoing chapters,
Seeing not only man is a vain creature in himself, as hath been now said, but there are also many other things in the world, which instead of removing or diminishing, as might be expected, do but increase this vanity, as wisdom, pleasure, power, wealth, and the like, the vanity of all which hath been fully and particularly declared. Seeing even the good things of this life bring so much toil, and cares, and fears, &c. with them.
What is man the better, to wit, by all that he can either desire or enjoy here? Hence it is evident that all these things cannot make him happy, but that he must seek for happiness elsewhere.
For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?Who knoweth what is good for man? no man certainly knows what is best for him here, whether to be high or low, rich or poor, because those great things which men generally desire and pursue are very frequently the occasions of men’s utter ruin, as hath been noted again and again in this book.
Vain life; life itself, which is the foundation of all men’s comforts and enjoyments here, is a vain, and uncertain, and transitory thing, and therefore all things which depend. upon it must needs be so too.
A shadow; which, whilst it abides, hath nothing real, and solid, or substantial in it, and doth speedily pass away, and leaves no sign behind it. And as no man can be happy with these things whilst he liveth and enjoyeth them, so he can have no content in leaving them to others, because he knoweth not either who shall possess them, or how the future owners will use or abuse them, or what mischief they may do by them, either to others, or even to themselves.