Matthew Poole's 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.All things in the hand of God: his love or hatred not visible in them; but the like happeneth to good and bad in this life, and in death they know nothing hereof, and are themselves forgotten, Ecclesiastes 9:1-6. It is best therefore for a man to enjoy the gifts of God with cheerfulness, Ecclesiastes 9:7-9; to be diligent in his calling, Ecclesiastes 9:10, and leave the issue to God, Ecclesiastes 9:11,12. The praise of wisdom, Ecclesiastes 9:13-18.
For; or, therefore, as the seventy interpreters render it.
All this; all that I have said concerning the methods of Divine Providence towards good and bad men.
To declare all this; to make this evident, first to myself, and then to others, as occasion required.
The righteous and the wise; whom he mentions not exclusively, as if wicked men were not in God’s hand, for the next clause relates both to good and bad men; but eminently, because by the course of God’s providence towards them they might seem to be quite neglected and forsaken by God.
Their works; either efficiently, all their actions and employments; or objectively, all things done to them, all events which befall them.
Are in the hand of God; are subject to his power, and governed by his providence, as this phrase is used Proverbs 21:1 John 3:35, compared with Matthew 28:18. And therefore although we cannot fully understand the reasons of all God’s works, as he now said, Ecclesiastes 8:17, yet because they are done by his unerring hand, we may be assured that they are done both righteously and justly, and that no man hath cause to murmur at the prosperity of the wicked, or at the calamities of good men.
No man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them; no man can judge by their present and outward conditions or dispensations of God’s providence whether God loves or hates them, for whom he loves he chastens, and permitteth those whom he hates to prosper in the world. And this translation and interpretation agreeth well with the following verse. But I must confess it differs from almost all other, both ancient and modern, translations. And these words with the foregoing clause are translated otherwise, and that word for word according to the Hebrew, the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; also love and hatred (understand out of the foregoing clause, are in God’s hand. And this may be meant either,
1. Of God’s love and hatred, which he disposeth when, and to whom, and in what manner he pleaseth. Or,
2. Of, men’s love and hatred, also their love and their hatred, the pronoun their being repeated out of the former clause, as is frequent in Scripture. And so the sense is, that not only men’s works, as he now said, but even their inward passions or affections, which seem to be most in their own power, are as much in God’s disposal as their outward actions. Then follows the last clause in the same order in which the words lie in the Hebrew text): no man knoweth all, or any thing, which is before him. Which I thus understand, whereas all men, and all their affections, and actions, and the events of them, are perfectly known to God, and disposed by him, men know nothing, no, not such things as are most plain, and easy, and familiar to them, and can neither foresee the plainest things, nor dispose of the smallest things as they please; but all things are wholly ordered and overruled by God’s providence, not as men imagine or desire, but as he sees fit.
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.All things come alike to all; the good and evil things of this world do equally happen to good and bad men.
The clean; either,
1. Morally clean or holy men. Or,
2. Legally, who made conscience of keeping himself pure from all legal defilements, according to the law then in force, and consequently from all other sins upon the same ground.
That sacrificeth; that worshippeth God sincerely, though it be to his cost. As is the good, so is the sinner, as to all outward things.
That sweareth, to wit, customarily, unnecessarily, rashly, without due consideration and reverence, or falsely and wickedly. For otherwise that some swearing was then allowed, and in some cases required, none do or can deny.
That feareth an oath; who is afraid of offending God, or abusing his name, by vain, or rash, or false oaths.
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.An evil; a great trouble and temptation to a considerate and good man.
The heart of the sons of men, of wicked men, such as the generality of mankind are,
is full of evil; either,
1. Of grief upon this occasion. Or rather,
2. Of wickedness, as appears from the next clause, and by comparing this place with Ecclesiastes 8:11.
Madness is in their heart; upon this account they go on madly and desperately in evil courses, without any fear of an after-reckoning.
After that the go to the dead; after all their mad and wicked pranks in the whole course of their life, they die in the same manner as the best men do. So hitherto there is no difference. For Solomon here forbears the consideration of the future life. Only he seems to intimate, that as the madness, so the happiness of the wicked is ended by death, which is more fully expressed in the following words.
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.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 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.The living know that they shall die; whereby they are taught to improve life, whilst they have it, to their greatest comfort and advantage.
The dead know not anything, to wit, of the actions and events in this world, as this is limited in the end of the next verse. Compare Job 14:21 Isaiah 13:16.
A reward; the reward or fruit of their labours in this world, which is utterly lost as 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.
Is forgotten, to wit, amongst living men, and even in those places where they had lived in great power and glory; as was noted, Ecclesiastes 8:10.
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.They neither love, nor hate, nor envy any person or thing in this world, but are now altogether unconcerned in all things done under the sun.
In any thing that is done under the sun; in any worldly thing; by which limitation he sufficiently insinuates his belief of their portion in the other world.
Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works.Go thy way, make this use of what I have said,
eat thy bread; thine own, the fruit of thy own labours, not what thou takest unjustly from others. Bread; necessary and convenient food; by which he excludes excess.
With a merry heart; cheerfully and thankfully enjoy thy comforts, avoiding all distracting care and grief for the occurrences of this world.
God now accepteth thy works; is gracious to thee, hath blessed thy labours with success, and alloweth thee a comfortable enjoyment of his blessings.
Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.Always; in all convenient times and circumstances; for there are times of mourning, Ecclesiastes 3:4 7:2: compare Proverbs 5:19.
White; decent, and splendid, as far as is suitable to the condition. The Eastern people of the best sort used white garments, especially in times of rejoicing, as Esther 8:15: compare Revelation 3:4,5 6:11. But by this whiteness of garments, he understands a pleasant and cheerful conversation.
Let thy head lack no ointment; which upon joyful occasions was poured upon men’s heads, Amos 6:6 Luke 7:46 John 12:3.
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.Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest; so he limits him to lawful delights; whereby it is evident that Solomon doth not speak this in the person of an epicure, as some understand it.
Of the life of thy vanity; of this vain and frail life; which expression he industriously useth to moderate men’s affections even towards lawful pleasures, and to mind them of their duty and interest in making sure of a better life, and more solid comforts.
Thy portion, allowed to thee by God, and the best part of worldly enjoyments, in this life; by which addition he is again admonishing him of seeking another portion in the future life.
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.Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, what thou hast opportunity and ability to do in the duties of thy calling, and in order to thy comfort and benefit,
do it with thy might; with unwearied diligence, and vigour, and expedition; whereby he again discovers that he doth not persuade men to an idle and sensual life, but only to a sober enjoyment of his comforts in God’s fear, and with an industrious prosecution of his vocation.
There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave; thou canst neither design nor act any thing there tending to thy own comfort or advantage; therefore slip not thine only season.
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.I returned, and saw: this may have some respect to the foregoing verse; for having pressed men to labour with all their might, he now adds, by way of caution, that yet they must not be confident of their own strength, as if they were sure of success by it, but in all, above all, to look up to God for his blessing, without which all their endeavours will be in vain. But it seems chiefly to be added, either,
1. As another instance of the liberty and power of God’s providence in the disposal of human affairs, of which he spoke above, Ecclesiastes 9:1-3. Or,
2. As another of the vanities of this present life.
The race; either ability to run, or success and victory in running.
The battle; the victory in battle.
Men of understanding; who yet are most likely to get and to keep riches.
Favour; good acceptance and love from men.
Men of skill; who know how to manage themselves and all affairs, whereby they are necessary and serviceable to others, and therefore most likely to find favour in their eyes.
Time and chance happeneth to them all; there are some times or seasons unknown and casual to men, but certain and determined by God, in which alone he will give men success.
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.His time, to wit, the time of his death, or of some other sore distress which God is bringing upon him; which is opposed to the time of success mentioned in the foregoing verse, and man is said to be ignorant both of the one and of the other.
That are taken in an evil net; that whilst they are sporting and feeding themselves, are suddenly and unexpectedly ensnared to their ruin.
When it falleth suddenly upon them; when they are most careless and secure.
This wisdom have I seen also under the sun, and it seemed great unto me:This wisdom have I seen; I have observed this among many other instances and effects of wisdom; which he seems to add for the commendation of wisdom, notwithstanding its insufficiency for man’s safety and happiness without God’s blessing.
It seemed great unto me; I judged it very praiseworthy, though others despised it, as it follows.
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:It matters not whether this was a real history, or only a parable to represent the common practices of men in such cases.
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.He was soon neglected, and his great service so far from being recompensed according to its merit, that both it and he were quite forgotten; which may be noted as another great vanity.
Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength: nevertheless the poor man's wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.Wisdom is better than strength, as was manifest in the foregoing instance.
The poor man’s wisdom is despised, because men are generally vain and foolish, and have a greater value for outward ornaments than for true worth.
The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools.Wise men, though poor, as may be gathered both from the foregoing relation, and because he is opposed to the ruling fool in the next clause, are heard, to wit, by wise men; or should be heard, as such words are oft taken, as Malachi 1:6, and elsewhere; for that they were not always actually heard, he declared in the last words of the foregoing verse.
In quiet; uttered with a modest and low voice, to which the following cry is opposed.
The cry, the clamorous and senseless discourses, of him that ruleth among fools; of a rich and potent, but foolish man, who hath some influence upon fools, like himself, but is justly neglected, and his words disregarded, by wise men.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good.Than weapons of war; than armed power.
Sinner; a wicked fool; by which expression and opposition of a sinner to a wise man he gives us a key to understand his meaning in divers places of his books, that by wisdom he means true piety, and by folly wickedness; and withal, showeth that sin, as it is the greatest folly, so it is more pernicious to men than mere folly properly so called.
Destroyeth much good; by his wicked counsels and courses brings much damage and mischief, both to himself and others.