Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Verses 1-6. - Section 16. Leaving alone unanswerable questions, man's duty and happiness are found in activity, especially in doing all the good in his power, for he knows not how soon he himself may stand in need of help. This is the first remedy for the perplexities of life. The wise man will not charge himself with results. Verse 1. - Cast thy bread upon the waters. The old interpretation of this passage, which found in it a reference to the practice in Egypt of sowing seed during the inundation of the Nile, is not admissible. The verb shalaeh is not used in the sense of sowing or scattering seed; it means "to cast or send forth." Two chief explanations have been given.
(1) As to sow on the water is equivalent to taking thankless toil (compare the Greek proverb, Σπείρειν ἐπὶ πόντῳ), the gnome may be an injunction to do good without hope of return, like the evangelical precept (Matthew 5:44-46; Luke 6:32-35).
(2) It is a commercial maxim, urging men to make ventures in trade, that they may receive a good return for their expenditure. In this case the casting seed upon the waters is a metaphorical expression for sending merchandise across the sea to distant lands. This view is supposed to be confirmed by the statement concerning the good woman in Proverbs 31:14, "She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her bread from far;" and the words of Psalm 107:23, "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do Business in great waters." But one sees no reason why Koheleth should suddenly turn to commerce and the trade of a maritime city. Such considerations have no reference to the context, nor to the general design of the book. Nothing leads to them, nothing comes of them. On the other hand, if we take the verse as urging active beneficence as the safest and best proceeding under men's present circumstances, We have a maxim in due accordance with the spirit of the rest of the work, and one which conduces to the conclusion reached at the end. So we adopt the first of the two explanations mentioned above. The bread in the East is made in the form of thin cakes, which would float for a time if thrown into a stream; and if it be objected that no one would be guilty of such an irrational action as flinging bread into the water, it may be answered that this is just the point aimed at. Do your kindnesses, exert yourself, in the most unlikely quarters, not thinking of gratitude or return, but only of duty. And yet surely a recompense will be made in some form or other. Thou shalt find it after many days. This is not to be the motive of our acts, but it will in the course of time be the result; and this thought may be an encouragement. In the Chaldee Version of parts of Ecclesiasticus there is extant a maxim identical with our verse, "Strew thy bread on the water and on the land, and thou shalt find it at the end of days" (Dukes, 'Rabb. Btumenl.,' p. 73). Parallels have been found in many quarters. Thus the Turk says, "Do good, throw it into the water; if the fish does not know it, God does." Herzfeld quotes Goethe -
"Was willst du untersuchen,
Wohin die Milde fliesst!
Ins Wasser wirf deine Kuchen;
Wer weiss wet sie geniesst?"
"Wouldst thou too narrowly inquire
Whither thy kindness goes!
Thy cake upon the water cast;
Whom it may feed who knows?" Voltaire paraphrases the passage in his 'Precis de l'Ecclesiaste' -
"Repandez vos bienfaits avec magnificence,
Meme aux moins vertueux ne les refusez pas.
Ne vous informez pas de leur reconnoissance;
Il est grand, il est beau de faire des ingrats."
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
Verse 2. - Give a portion to seven, and also to eight. This further explains, without any metaphor, the injunction of beneficence in ver. 1. Give portions of thy "bread" to any number of those who need. Delitzsch and others who interpret the passage of maritime enterprise would see in it a recommendation (like the proceeding of Jacob, Genesis 32:16, etc.) not to risk all at once, to divide one's ventures into various ships. But the expression in the text is merely a mode of enjoining unlimited benevolence. The numbers are purposely indefinite. Instances of this form of speech are common enough (see Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 30:7-9, etc.; Amos 1:3. etc.; Micah 5:5; Ecclus. 23:16 Ecclus. 26:5, 28). Wordsworth notes that the word for "portion" (chelek) is that used specially for the portion of the Levites (Numbers 18:20); and in accordance with his view of the date of the book, finds here an injunction not to confine one's offerings to the Levites of Judah, but to extend them to the refugees who come from Israel. For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. A time may come when you yourself may need help; the power of giving may no longer be yours; therefore make friends now who may be your comfort in distress. So the Lord urges, "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9). It seems a low motive on which to base charitable actions; but men act on such secondary motives every day, and the moralist cannot ignore them. In the Book of Proverbs secondary and worldly motives are largely urged as useful in the conduct of life (see the Introduction to Proverbs, pp. 8, 9.). St. Paul reminds us that we some day may need a brother's help (Galatians 6:1). The Fathers have spiritualized the passage, so as to make it of Christian application, far away indeed from Koheleth's thought. Thus St. Gregory: "By the number seven is understood the whole of this temporal condition... this is shown more plainly when the number eight is mentioned after it. For when another number besides follows after seven, it is set forth by this very addition, that this temporal state is brought to an end and closed by eternity. For by the number seven Solomon expressed the present time, which is passed by periods of seven days. But by the number eight he designated eternal life, which the Lord made known to us by his resurrection. For he rose in truth on the Lord's day, which, as following the seventh day, i.e. the sabbath, is found to be the eighth from the creation. But it is well said, 'Give portions,' etc. As if it were plainly said, 'So dispense temporal goods, as not to forget to desire those that are eternal. For thou oughtest to provide for the future by well-doing, who knowest not what tribulation succeeds from the future judgment'" ('Moral,' 35:17, Oxford transl.).
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
Verse 3. - If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth. This verse is closely connected with the preceding paragraph. The misfortune there intimated may fall at any moment; this is as certain as the laws of nature, unforeseen, uncontrollable. When the clouds are overcharged with moisture, they deliver their burden upon the earth, according to laws which man cannot alter; these are of irresistible necessity, and must be expected and endured. And if the tree fall toward the, south, etc.; or, it may be, in the south; i.e. let it fall where it will; the particular position is of no importance. When the tempest overthrows it, it lies where it has fallen. When the evil day comes, we must bend to the blow, we are powerless to avert it; the future can be neither calculated nor controlled. The next verse tells how the wise man acts under such circumstances. Christian commentators have argued from this clause concerning the unchangeable state of the departed - that there is no repentance in the grave; that what death leaves them judgment shall find them. Of course, no such thought was in Koheleth's mind; nor do we think that the inspiring Spirit intended such meaning to be wrung from the passage. Indeed, it may be said that, as it stands, the clause does not bear this interpretation. The fallen or felled tree is not at once fit for the master's use; it has to be exposed to atmospheric influences seasoned, tried. It is not left in the place where it lay, nor in the condition in which it was; so that, if we reason from this analogy, we must conceive that there is some ripening, purifying process in the intermediate state. St. Gregory speaks thus: "For when, at the moment of the falling of the human being, either the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit receives the soul departed from the chambers of the flesh, he will keel, it with him for ever without change, so that neither, once exalted, shall it be precipitated into woe, nor, once plunged into eternal woes, any further arise to take the means of escape" ('Moral.,' 8:30).
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
Verse 4. - He that observeth the wind shall not sow. The fact of the uncertainty and immutability of the future ought not to make us supine or to crush out all diligence and activity. He who wants to anticipate results, to foresee and provide against all contingencies, to be his own providence, is like a farmer who is always looking to wind and weather, and misses the time for sowing in this needless caution. The quarter from which the wind blows regulates the downfall of rain (comp. Proverbs 25:23). In Palestine the west and north-west winds usually brought rain. He that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. For the purpose of softening the ground to receive the seed, rain was advantageous; but storms in harvest, of course, were pernicious (see 1 Samuel 12:17, etc.; Proverbs 26:1); and he who was anxiously fearing every indication of such weather, and altering his plans at every phase of the sky, might easily put off reaping his fields till either the crops were spoiled or the rainy season had set in. A familiar proverb says," A watched pot never boils." Some risks must always be run if we are to do our work in the world; we cannot make a certainty of anything; probability in the guide of life. We cannot secure ourselves from failure; we can but do our best, and uncertainty of result must not paralyze exertion. "It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy" (Romans 9:16). St. Gregory deduces a lesson from this verse: "He calls the unclean spirit wind, but men who are subjected to him clouds; whom he impels backwards and forwards, hither and thither, as often as his temptations alternate in their hearts from the blasts of suggestions. He therefore who observes the wind does not sow, since he who dreads coming temptations does not direct his heart to doing good. And he who regards the clouds does not reap, since he who trembles from the dread of human fickleness deprives himself of the recompense of an eternal reward" ('Moral.,' 27:14).
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
Verse 5. - As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit. In this verse are presented one or two examples of man's ignorance of natural facts and processes as analogous to the mysteries of God's moral government. The word translated "spirit" (ruach) may mean also "wind," and is so taken here by many commentators (see Ecclesiastes 1:6; Ecclesiastes 8:8; and comp. John 3:8). In this view there would be two instances given, viz. the wind and the embryo. Certainly, the mention of the wind seems to come naturally after what has preceded; and man's ignorance of its way, and powerlessness to control it, are emblematic of his attitude towards Divine providence. The versions, however, seem to support the rendering of the Authorized Version. Thus the Septuagint (which connects the clause with ver. 4), ἐν οῖς ("among whom," i.e. those who watch the weather), "There is none that knoweth what is the way of the spirit (τοῦ πνεύματος);" Vulgate. Quomodo ignoras quae sit via spiritus. If we take this view, we have only one idea in the verse, and that is the infusion of the breath of life in the embryo, and its growth in its mother's womb. Nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child. Our version, by its insertions, has made two facts out of the statement in the Hebrew, which is literally, holy the bones (are) in the womb of a pregnant woman. Septuagint, "As (ὡς) bones are in the womb," etc.; Vulgate, Et qua ratione compingantur ossa in ventre praegnantis, " And in what way the bones are framed in the womb of the pregnant." The formation and quickening of the foetus were always regarded as mysterious and inscrutable (comp. Job 10:8, 9; Psalm 139:15; Wisd. 7:1, etc.). Wright compares M. Aurelius, 10:26, "The first principles of life are extremely slender and mysterious; and yet nature works them up into a strange increase of bulk, diversity, and proportion." Controversies concerning the origin of the soul have been rife from early times, some holding what is called Traducianism, i.e. that soul and body are both derived by propagation from earthly parents; others supporting Creationism, i.e. that the soul, created specially by God, is infused into the child before birth. St. Augustine confesses ('Op. Imperf.,' 4:104) that he is unable to determine the truth of either opinion. And, indeed, this is one of those secret things which Holy Scripture has not decided for us, and about which no authoritative sentence has been given. The term "bones" is used for the whole conformation of the body (comp. Proverbs 15:30; Proverbs 16:24); meleah, "pregnant," means literally, "full," and is used like the Latin plena can here and nowhere else in the Old Testament, though common in later Hebrew. Thus Ovid, 'Metam.,' 10:469 -
"Plena patris thalamis excedit, et impia dire
Semina fert utero." And 'Fast.,' 4:633 -
"Nunc gravidum pecus est; gravidae sunt semine terrae
Telluri plenae victima plena datur." Even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. Equally mysterious in its general scope and in its details is the working of God's providence. And as everything lies in God's hands, it must needs be secret and beyond human ken. This is why to "the works of God" (Ecclesiastes 7:13) is added, "who maketh all." The God of nature is Lord of the future (comp. Amos 3:6; Ecclus. 18:6); man must not disquiet himself about this.
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Verse 6. - In the morning sow thy seed. Do not let your ignorance of the future and the inscrutability of God's dealings lead you to indolence and apathy; do your appointed work; be active and diligent in your calling. The labor of the farmer is taken as a type of business generally, and was especially appropriate to the class of persons whom Koheleth is instructing. The injunction occurs naturally after ver. 4. And in the evening withhold not thine hand. Labor on untiredly from morn till evening. It is not an advice to rest during midday, as that was too hot a time to work (Stuart), but a call to spend the entire day in active employment, the two extremities being mentioned in order to include the whole. Work undertaken in a right spirit is a blessing, not a curse, shuts out many temptations, encourages many virtues. Some see here a special reference to the maxim at the beginning of the chapter, as though the author meant, "Exercise thy charity at all times, early and late," the metaphor being similar 'to that in 2 Corinthians 9:6, "He which soweth sparingly," etc. Others find a figure of the ages of, man in the "morning and evening," thus, "From earliest youth practice piety and purity, and continue such conduct to its close." This leads naturally to the subject of the following section; but it may be doubted whether this thought was in the author's mind. It seems best to take the paragraph merely as commending activity, whether in business or in benevolence, without anxious regard to results which are in higher hands. "Withhold not thy hand," i.e. from sowing; Μὴ ἀφέτω ἡ χείρ σου (Septuagint). For thou knowest not whether shall prosper, which of the two sewings, either this or that, the morning or evening sowing. It is a chance, and a man must risk something; if one fails, the other may succeed. Or whether they both shall be alike good. The uncertainty rouses to exertion; labor may at any rate secure half the crop, or even give a double produce, if both sewings succeed. So in religion and morality, the good seed sown early and late may bear fruit early or late, or may have blessed results all along. The Vulgate is less correct, Et si utrumque simul, melius or, "And if both together, it will be better."
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:
Verses 7-9. - Section 17. The second remedy for the perplexities of the present life is cheerfulness - the spirit that enjoys the present, with a chastened regard to the future. Verse 7. - Truly the light is sweet. The verse begins with the copula ray, "and," which here notes merely transition, as Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 12:9. Do not be perplexed, or despondent, or paralyzed in your work, by the difficulties that meet you. Confront them with a cheerful mien, and enjoy life while it lasts. "The light" may be taken literally, or as equivalent to life. The very light, with all that it unfolds, all that it beautifies, all that it quickens, is a pleasure; life is worth living, and affords high and merited enjoyment to the faithful worker. The commentators quote parallels Thus Euripides, 'Iph. in Aul.,' 1219 -
Μή μ ἀπολέσῃς ἄωρον ἡδύ γὰρ τὸ φῶς
Λεύσσειν τὰ δ ὐπὸ γῆν μή μ ἰδεῖν ἀναγκάσῃς
"O slay me not untimely; for to see
The light is sweet; and force me not to view
The secrets of the nether world." Plumptre cites Theognis -
Κείσομαι ὤστε λίθος
Αφθογγος λείψω δ ἐρατὸν φάος ἠελίοιο
"Then shall I lie, as voiceless as a stone,
And see no more the loved light of the sun." A pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. To behold the sun is to enjoy life; for light, which is life, is derived from the sun. Virgil speaks of "coeli spirabile lumen" ('AEn.,' 3:600). Thus Homer, 'Od.,' 20:207 -
Αἴ που ἔπι ζώει καὶ ὁρᾷ φάος ἠελίοιο
Αἰ δ ἤδη τέθνηκε καὶ εἰν Αι'´δαο δόμοισιν.
"If still he live and see the sun's fair light,
Or dead, be dwelling in the realms of Hades."
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.
Verse 8. - But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all. The conjunction ki at the commencement of the verse is causal rather than adversative, and should be rendered "for." The insertion of "and" before "rejoice" mars the sentence. The apodosis begins with "rejoice," and the translation is, For if a man live many years, he ought to rejoice in them all. Koheleth has said (ver. 7) that life is sweet and precious; now he adds that it is therefore man's duty to enjoy it; God has ordained that he should do so, whether his days on earth be many or few. Yet let him remember the days of darkness. The apodosis is continued, and the clause should run, And remember, etc. "The days of darkness ' do not mean times of calamity as contrasted with the light of prosperity, as though the writer were bidding one to be mindful of the prospect of disastrous change in the midst of happiness; nor, again, the period of old age distinguished from the glowing light of youth (Virgil, 'AEneid,' L 590, 591). The days of darkness signify the life in Hades, far from the light of the sun, gloomy, uncheered. The thought of this state should not make us hopeless and reckless, like the sensualists whose creed is to "eat and drink, for to-morrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:82; Wisd. 2:1, etc.), but rouse us to make the best of life, to be contented and cheerful, doing our daily duties with the consciousness that this is our day of labor and joy, and that "the night cometh when no man can work ' (John 9:4). Wisely says Beu-Sira, "Whatsoever thou takest in hand, remember the end, and thou shalt never do amiss" (Ecclus. 7:36). We are reminded of the Egyptian custom, mentioned by Herodotus (2. 78), of carrying a figure of a corpse among the guests at a banquet, not in order to damp pleasure, but to give zest to the enjoyment of the present and to keep it under proper control. "Look on this!" it was cried; "drink, and enjoy thyself; for when thou diest thou shalt he such." The Roman poet has many a passage like this, though, of course, of lower tendency. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 2:3 -
"Preserve, O my Dellius, whatever thy fortunes,
A mind undisturbed, 'midst life's changes and ills;
Not cast down by its sorrows, nor too much elated
If sudden good fortune thy cup overfills," etc.
(Stanley.) (See also 'Carm.,' 1:4.) For they shall be many; rather, that they shall be many. This is one of the things to remember. The time in Sheol will be long. How to be passed - when, if ever, to end - he says not; he looks forward to a dreary protracted period, when joy shall be unattainable, and therefore he bids men to use the present, which is all they can claim. All that cometh is vanity. All that comes after this life is ended, the great future, is nothingness; shadow, not substance; a state from which is absent all that made life, and over which we have no control. Koheleth had passed the sentence of vanity on all the pursuits of the living man; now he gives the same verdict upon the unknown condition of the departed soul (comp, Ecclesiastes 9:5). Till the gospel had brought life and immortality to light, the view of the future was dark and gloomy. So we read in Job (Job 10:21, 22), "I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and of the shadow of death; a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness." The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the clause, rendering, Meminisse debet tenebrosi temporis, et dierum multorum; qui cum venerint, vanitatis arguentur praeterita, "He ought to remember... the many days; and when these have come, things passed shall be charged with vanity" - which implies, in accordance with an haggadic interpretation of the passage, that the sinner shall suffer for his transgressions, and shall then learn to acknowledge his folly in the past. It is unnecessary to say that the present text is at variance with this rendering.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
Verse 9. - Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth. Koheleth continues to inculcate the duty of rational enjoyment. "In youth" is during youth; not in the exercise of, or by reason of, thy fresh, unimpaired powers. The author urges his hearers to begin betimes to enjoy the blessing with which God surrounds them. Youth is the season of innocent, unalloyed pleasure; then, if ever, casting aside all tormenting anxiety concerning an unknown future, one may, as it is called, enjoy life. Let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth. Let the lightness of thy heart show itself in thy bearing and manner, even as it is said in Proverbs (Proverbs 15:13), "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance." Walk in the ways of thine heart (comp. Isaiah 57:17). Where the impulses and thoughts of thy heart lead thee. The wording looks as if the personal identity, the "I," and the thought were distinct. We have a similar severance in Ecclesiastes 7:25, only there the personality directs the thought, not the thought the "I," And in the sight of thine eyes. Follow after that on which thy eyes fix their regard (Ecclesiastes 2:10); for, as Job says (Job 31:7), "The heart walketh after the eyes." The Septuagint, in deference to the supposed requirements of strict morality, has (at least according to the text of some manuscripts) modified the received reading, translating the passage thus: Καὶ περιπάτει ἐν ὁδοῖς καρδίας σου ἄμωμος καὶ μὴ ἐν ὁράσει ὀφθαλμῶν, "And walk in the ways of thine heart blameless, and not in the sight of thine eyes." But μὴ is omitted by A, C, S. Others besides the Seventy have felt doubts about the bearing of the passage, as though it recommended either unbridled license in youth, or at any rate an unhallowed Epicureanism. To counteract the supposed evil teaching, some have credited Koheleth with stern irony. He is not recommending pleasure, say they, but warning against it. "Go on your way," he cries, "do as you list, sow your wild oats, live dissolutely, but remember that retribution will some day overtake you." But the counsel is seriously intended, and is quite consistent with many other passages which teach the duty of enjoying life as man's lot and part (see Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13, 22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15, etc.). The seeming opposition between the recommendation here and in Numbers 15:39 is easily reconciled. The injunction in the Pentateuch, which was connected with a ceremonial observance, ran thus: "Remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye go not about after your own heart, and your own eyes, after which ye used to go a-whoring." Here unlawful pleasures, contrary to the commandments, are forbidden; Ecclesiastes urges the pursuit of innocent pleasures, such as will stand scrutiny. Hoelemann, quoted by Wright, observes that this verse is the origin of a famous student-song of Germany, a stanza or two of which we may cite -
"Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus;
Post exactam juventutem, post melestam senectutem,
Nos habebit humus ....
"Vita nostra brevis est, brevi finietur,
Venit mors velociter, rapit nes atrociter,
Nemini parcotur." It is not Epicureanism, even in a modified form, that is here encouraged. For moderate and lawful pleasure Koheleth has always uttered his sanction, but the pleasure is to be such as God allows. This is to be accepted with all gratitude in the present, as the future is wholly beyond our ken and our control; it is all that is placed in our power, and it is enough to make life more than endurable. And then to temper unmixed joy, to prove that he is not recommending mere sensuality, to correct any wrong impression which the previous utterances may have conveyed, the writer adds another thought, a somber reflection which shows the religious conclusion to which he is working up. But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (mishpat). It has been doubted what is meant by "judgment," whether present or future, men's or God's. It has been taken to mean - God will make thy excesses prove scourges, by bringing on thee sickness, poverty, a miserable old age; or these distresses come as the natural consequences of youthful sins; or obloquy shall follow thee, and thou shall meet with deserved censure from thy fellow-men. But every one must feel that the solemn ending of this paragraph points to something more grave and important than any such results as those mentioned above, something that is concerned with that indefinable future which is ever looming in the dim horizon. Nothing satisfies the expected conclusion but a reference to the eternal judgment in the world beyond the grave. Shadowy and incomplete as was Koheleth's view of this great assize, his sense of God's justice in the face of the anomalies of human life was so strong that he can unhesitatingly appeal to the conviction of a coming inquisition, as a motive for the guidance of action and conduct. That in other passages he constantly apprehends earthly retribution, as the Pentateuch taught, and as his countrymen had learned to expect (see Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 7:17, 18), is no argument that he is not here rising to a higher view. Rather, the fact that the doctrine of temporal reward and punishment is found by experience to fail in many cases (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:14) has forced him to state his conclusion that this life is not the end of-everything, and that there is another existence in which actions shall be tried, justice done, retribution awarded. The statement is brief, for he knew nothing more than the fact, and could add nothing to it. His conception of the soul's condition in Sheol (see Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6, 10) seems to point to some other state or period for this final judgment; but whether a resurrection is to precede this awful trial is left in uncertainty here, as elsewhere in the Old Testament. Cheyne and some other critics consider this last clause to be an interpolation, because it appears to militate against previous utterances; but this argument is unreasonable, as the paragraph comes in quite naturally as the needed conclusion, and without it the section would halt and be incomplete. A similar allusion is contained in the epilogue (Ecclesiastes 12:14). A correcter, who desired to remove all seeming contradictions and discrepancies from the work, would not have been satisfied with inserting this gloss, but would have displayed his remedial measures in other places. Of this proceeding, however, no traces are discernible by an unprejudiced eye.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
Verse 10 - Ecclesiastes 12:7. - Section 18. The third remedy is piety, and this ought to be practiced from one's earliest days; life should be so guided as not to offend the laws of the Creator and Judge, and virtue should not be postponed till the failure of faculties makes pleasure unattainable, and death closes the scene. The last days of the old man are beautifully described under certain images, metaphors, and analogies. Verse 10. - Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart. The writer reiterates his advice concerning cheerfulness, and then proceeds to inculcate early piety. Kaas, rendered "sorrow," has been variously understood. The Septuagint has θυμόν, the Vulgate gram; so the margin of the Authorized Version gives "anger," and that of the Revised Version "vexation," or "provocation." Wordsworth adopts this last meaning (relating to 1 Kings 15:30; 1 Kings 21:22; 2 Kings 23:26, etc., where, however, the signification is modified by the connection in which the word stands), and paraphrases, "Take heed lest you provoke God by the thoughts of your heart." Jerome affirms that in the term "anger" all perturbations of the mind are included - which seems rather forced. The word is better rendered, low spirits, moroseness, discontent. These feelings are to be put away from the mind by a deliberate act. Put away evil from thy flesh. Many commentators consider that the evil here named is physical, not moral, the author enjoining his young disciple to take proper care of his body, not to weaken it on the one hand by asceticism, nor on the other by indulgence in youthful lusts. In this case the two clauses would urge the removal of what respectively affects the mind and body, the inner and outer man. But the ancient versions are unanimous in regarding the "evil" spoken of as moral. Thus the Septuagint gives πονηρίαν, "wickedness;" the Vulgate, malitiam. Similarly the Syriac and Targum. And according to our interpretation of the passage, such is the meaning here. It is a call to early piety and virtue, like that of St. Paul (2 Corinthians 7:1), "Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." Do not, says Koheleth, defile thy body by carnal sins (1 Corinthians 6:18), which bring decay and sickness, and arouse the wrath of God against thee. For childhood and youth are vanity. This time of youth soon passes away; the capacity for enjoyment is soon circumscribed; therefore use thy opportunities aright, remembering the end. The word for "youth" (shacharuth) occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament, and is probably connected with shachon, "black," used of hair in Leviticus 13:31. Hence it means the time of black hair, in contradistinction to the time when the hair has become grey. The explanation which refers it to the time of dawn (Psalm 110:8) seems to be erroneous, as it would then be identical with" childhood." The Septuagint renders it ἄνοια, "folly;" the Vulgate, voluptas, "pleasure;" the Syriac, "and not knowledge, but the word cannot be rightly thus translated. The two terms are childhood and manhood, the period during which the capacity for pleasure is fresh and strong. Its vanity is soon brought home; it is evanescent; it brings punishment. Thus Bailey, 'Festus' -
"I cast mine eyes around, and feel
There is a blessing wanting;
Too soon our hearts the truth reveal,
That joy is disenchanting." And again -
"When amid the world's delights,
How warm soe'er we feel a moment among them -
We find ourselves, when the hot blast hath blown,
Prostrate, and weak, and wretched."