and let her own words praise her in the gates; where her husband is known, in public assemblies; before angels and men, in the great day; when her works will follow her, and speak for her, and she will be publicly praised by Christ, as all the faithful and righteous will, Revelation 14:13. The Septuagint and Arabic versions render it, "let her husband be praised in the gate"; see Proverbs 31:23; so Ambrose, who interprets it of the happiness of the saints in heaven.
INTRODUCTION TO ECCLESIASTES
This book has been universally received into the canon of the Scriptures, by Jews and Christians. The former, indeed, had once some controversy (a) about it; and they thought to have hid it, or put it among the apocryphal books; because, at first sight, some things seemed contradictory to each other (b), and to incline to heresy (c), atheism, and epicurism, and to assert the eternity of the world (d): but they better considered of it; and when they observed those passages were capable of a good sense, and that the whole agreed with the law of God, they changed their minds (e). And so likewise it has been rejected by some heretical persons, of the Christian name, as Theodore and Mopsuest, and others; and by deists, and some deistically inclined. But it carries in it such internal evidences of a divine original, as cannot well be denied; it delivers out and inculcates such divine instructions, concerning the duties of men to God, and one another; concerning the contempt of the world, and the carnal pleasures of it; the fear and worship of God, and a future judgment; as none but the wisdom of God could suggest. There are various things in it which seem to be referred to by Christ and his apostles; at least there is an entire agreement between them: among the many things that might be observed, compare Ecclesiastes 11:5 with John 3:8; and Ecclesiastes 11:9 with 2 Corinthians 5:10; and Ecclesiastes 7:20 with 1 John 1:8. As to the author of it, there are evident marks of its being written by Solomon; yet, by some Jewish writers, it is ascribed to Isaiah (f), which seems exceeding strange; for though he was a great prophet, and an evangelical preacher, yet no king in Jerusalem; whatever may be said for his being of the house of David, and of the royal family, as some have thought: and, besides, there is no agreement in style between this book and the writings of Isaiah. Others of them ascribe it to Hezekiah and his men (g): Hezekiah was indeed the son of David, and David in expressly called his father; and he was a prince of great character, both with respect to religion, and to wealth and grandeur; see 2 Chronicles 29:2; which might induce them to such a conceit; though it seems to take its rise from Hezekiah's men being the copiers of some of Solomon's proverbs, Proverbs 25:1; but the proof from thence must be exceeding weak; that because they were the transcribers of some of his proverbs, therefore were the writers of this book; and especially King Hezekiah; for, whatever may be said of his character, it falls greatly short of Solomon's wisdom or riches; and such things are said, with for respect to both, in this book, as cannot agree with him: and, on the other hand, it does not appear that he was addicted to wine and women, and gave himself a loose to carnal pleasures, as the writer of this book had formerly done. Grotius thinks it was written by some persons in the times of Zerubbabel, and published under the name of Solomon, as a penitent; which is quite shocking, that an inspired writing should have a false title put to it, and be imposed upon the church of God under a wrong name: besides, the name of Solomon is never mentioned in it; though this, by the way, betrays a conviction that he is intended in the title of it: nor are many persons concerned in it; it appears throughout the whole to be the work of a single person, who often speaks as such in it. That Zerubbabel should be meant by the one shepherd, Ecclesiastes 12:11, is a mere fancy; it is better interpreted, as by many, of Jesus Christ: his chief argument for this conjecture is, because there are three or four Chaldee words in it, as he supposes; which yet does not appear, and are nowhere to be found but in Daniel, Ezra, and the Chaldee interpreter: and so there are in the book of Proverbs, Proverbs 31:2; but it does not follow, that because these words, or others, are but once used in Scripture, that they are not originally Hebrew; since the language was more extensive and better understood in Solomon's time than now, when we have only the copy of the Old Testament in which it is preserved. In short, what is said of the descent and dignity of the writer of this book, of his wisdom, wealth, riches, and grandeur, of his virtues and of his vices, agrees with none as with Solomon; to which may be added, that there is one passage in it, the same he used in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, Ecclesiastes 7:20; compared with 1 Kings 8:46. As to the time in which it was written by him, it seems to have been in his old age, as the Jewish writers observe (h); after his sin and fall, and recovery out of it, and when he was brought to true repentance for it: it was after he had made him great works, and built houses, his own house and the house of God, which were twenty years in building; it was after he had acquired not only vast riches and treasures, which must require time, but had gotten knowledge of all things in nature; and had seen all the works that are done under the sun, and had made trial of all pleasures that were to be enjoyed; see Ecclesiastes 1:1; it was after he had been ensnared by women, which he confesses and laments, Ecclesiastes 7:26; and his description of old age seems to be made, not merely upon the theory of it, but from a feeling experience of the evils and infirmities of it, Ecclesiastes 12:1. The general scope and design of it is to expose the vanity of all worldly enjoyments; to show that a man's happiness does not lie in natural wisdom and knowledge; nor in worldly wealth; nor in civil honour, power, and authority; nor in the mere externals of religion; but in the fear of God, and the worship of him. It encourages men to a free use of the good things of life in a moderate way, with thankfulness to God; to submit with cheerfulness to adverse dispensations of Providence; to fear God and honour the king; to be dutiful to civil magistrates, and kind to the poor; to expect a future state, and an awful judgment; with many other useful things.
(a) Misn. Yadaim, c. 3. s. 5. T. Bab. Megilia, fol. 7. 1.((b) T. Bab. Sabbat, fol. 30. 2.((c) Midrash Kohelet, fol. 60. 4. Vajikra Rabba, s. 28. "in principio", fol. 168. 4. (d) Maimon. Moreh Nevochim, c. 28. p. 262. (e) T. Bab. Sabbat, ut supra. (fol. 30. 2.) (f) R. Gedaliah in Shalshelt. Hakabala, fol. 55. 1. R. Moses Kimchi & alii. (g) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 15. 1.((h) Peskita Rabbati apud Yalkut in Kohelet, l. 1. Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 3. Seder Olam Rabba, c. 15. p. 41. R. Gedaliah in Shalshelet Hakabala, fol. 8. 2.
INTRODUCTION TO Ecclesiastes 1
After the title of the book, which describes the author of it, by his office, as a preacher; by his descent, as the son of David; and by his dignity, king in Jerusalem, Ecclesiastes 1:1; the principal doctrine insisted on in it is laid down, that the world, and all things in it, are most vain things, Ecclesiastes 1:2. Which is proved in general, by the unprofitableness of all labour to attain them, be they what they will, wisdom, knowledge, riches, honours, and pleasures, Ecclesiastes 1:3; by the short continuance of men on earth, though that abides, Ecclesiastes 1:4; by the constant revolution, going and returning, of the most useful creatures, the sun, winds, and water, Ecclesiastes 1:5; by the unfruitful and unsatisfactory labour all things are full of, Ecclesiastes 1:8; by the continual repetition of the same things, and the oblivion of them, Ecclesiastes 1:9; and by Solomon's own experience in one particular thing; his search after, and acquisition of, knowledge and wisdom, which he attained a large share of; and which he found attended with labour, difficulty, and little satisfaction; nay, was vanity and vexation of spirit; for, as his knowledge increased, so did his grief and sorrow, Ecclesiastes 1:12.
"the words of the prophecy, which the preacher, who is Solomon, prophesied.''
According to which this book is prophetic; and so it interprets it, and owns it to be Solomon's. The word "Koheleth", rendered "preacher", is by some taken to be a proper name of Solomon; who, besides the name of Solomon, his parents gave him, and Jedidiah, as the Lord called him, had the name of Koheleth; nay, the Jews say (i), he had seven names, and to these three add four more, Agur, Jake, Ithiel, and Lemuel; the word by many is left untranslated (k); but it seems rather to be an appellative, and is by some rendered "gathered", or the "soul gathered" (l). Solomon had apostatized from the church and people of God, and had followed idols; but now was brought back by repentance, and was gathered into the fold, from whence he had strayed as a lost sheep; and therefore chooses to call himself by this name, when he preached his recantation sermon, as this book may be said to be. Others rather render it, "the gatherer" (m); and was so called, as the Jewish writers say (n), either because he gathered and got much wisdom, as it is certain he did; or because he gathered much people from all parts, to hear his wisdom, 1 Kings 4:34; in which he was a type of Christ, Genesis 49:10; or this discourse of his was delivered in a large congregation, got together for that purpose; as he gathered and assembled together the heads and chief of the people, at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8:1; so he might call them together to hear the retraction he made of his sins and errors, and repentance for them: and this might justly entitle him to the character of a "preacher", as we render it, an office of great honour, as well as of great importance to the souls of men; which Solomon, though a king, did not disdain to appear in; as David his father before him, and Noah before him, the father, king, and governor of the new world, Psalm 34:11. The word used is in the feminine gender, as ministers of the Gospel are sometimes expressed by a word of the like kind; and are called maidens, Psalm 68:11; to denote their virgin purity, and uncorruptness in doctrine and conversation: and here some respect may be had to Wisdom, or Christ, frequently spoken of by Solomon, as a woman, and who now spoke by him; which is a much better reason for the use of the word than his effeminacy, which his sin or his old age had brought him to. The word "soul" may be supplied, as by some, and be rendered, "the preaching soul" (o); since, no doubt, he performed his work as such with all his heart and soul. He further describes himself by his descent,
the son of David; which he mentions either as an honour to him, that he was the son of so great, so wise, so holy, and good a man; or as an aggravation of his fall, that being the descendant of such a person, and having had so religious an education, and so good an example before him, and yet should sin so foully as he had done; and it might also encourage him, that he had interest in the sure mercies of David, and in the promises made to him, that when his children sinned, they should be chastised, yet his lovingkindness and covenant should not depart from them.
King of Jerusalem; not of Jerusalem only, but of all Israel, for as yet no division was made; see Ecclesiastes 1:12. In Jerusalem, the city of Wisdom, as Jarchi observes, where many wise and good men dwelt, as well as it was the metropolis of the nation; and, which was more, it was the city where the temple stood, and where the worship of God was performed, and his priests ministered, and his people served him; and yet he, their king, that should have set them a better example, fell into idolatry!
(i) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 3. Midrash Kohelet, fol. 60. 3.((k) "Koheleth", Broughton, Pagninus, Montanus, Cocceius. Rambachius. (l) , "anima congregata", Cocceius, (m) "Collector", Arabic version; "congregator, q. d. sapientia congregatrix", Amama, Rambachius; "the gathering soul, either recollecting itself, or by admonitions gathering others", Lightfoot, vol. 2. p. 76. (n) Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 3. & Jarchi, Aben Ezra, & Baruch in loc. Pesikta Rabbati apud Yalkut, ut supra. (in Kohelet, l. 1.) (o) "Concionatrix anima", Vatablus, Piscator.
vanity of vanities, all is vanity; most extremely vain, exceedingly so, the height of vanity: this is repeated, both for the confirmation of it, men being hard of belief of it; and to show how much the preacher was affected with it himself, and to affect others with the same. The Targum reads, "vanity of vanities in this world"; which is right as to the sense of the passage; for though the world, and all things in it, were made by God, and are very good; yet, in comparison of him, are less than nothing, and vanity; and especially as become subject to it through sin, a curse being brought upon the earth by it; and all the creatures made for the use of men liable to be abused, and are abused, through luxury, intemperance, and cruelty; and the whole world usurped by Satan, as the god of it. Nor is there anything in it, and put it all together, that can give satisfaction and contentment; and all is fickle, fluid, transitory, and vanishing, and in a short time will come to an end: the riches of the world afford no real happiness, having no substance in them, and being of no long continuance; nor can a man procure happiness for himself or others, or avert wrath to come, and secure from it; and especially these are vanity, when compared with the true riches, the riches of grace and glory, which are solid, substantial, satisfying, and are for ever: the honours of this world are empty things, last a very short time; and are nothing in comparison of the honour that comes from God, and all the saints have, in the enjoyment of grace here, and glory hereafter: the sinful pleasures of life are imaginary things, short lived ones; and not to be mentioned with spiritual pleasures, enjoyed in the house of God, under the word and ordinances; and especially with those pleasures, for evermore, at the right hand of God. Natural wisdom and knowledge, the best thing in the world; yet much of it is only in opinion; a great deal of it false; and none saving, and of any worth, in comparison of the knowledge of Christ, and of God in Christ; all the forms of religion and external righteousness, where there is not the true fear and grace of God, are all vain and empty things. Man, the principal creature in the world, is "vain man"; that is his proper character in nature and religion, destitute of grace: every than is vain, nay, vanity itself; high and low, rich and poor, learned or unlearned; nay, man at his best estate, as worldly and natural, is so; as even Adam was in his state of innocence, being fickle and mutable, and hence he fell, Psalm 39:5; and especially his fallen posterity, whose bodies are tenements of clay; their beauty vain and deceitful; their circumstances changeable; their minds empty of all that is good; their thoughts and imaginations vain; their words, and works, and actions, and their whole life and conversation; they are not at all to be trusted in for help, by themselves or others. The Targum is,
"when Solomon, king of Israel, saw, by the spirit of prophecy, that the kingdom of Rehoboam his son would be divided with Jeroboam, the son of Nebat; and that Jerusalem, and the house of the sanctuary, would be destroyed, and the people of the children of Israel would be carried captive; he said, by his word, Vanity of vanities in this world, vanity of vanities; all that I and my father David have laboured for, all is vanity!''
"what is there remains to a man after he is dead, of all his labour which he laboured under the sun in this world?''
nothing at all. He goes naked out of the world as he came into it; he can carry nothing away with him of all his wealth and substance he has acquired; nor any of his worldly glory, and grandeur, and titles of honour; these all die with him, his glory does not descend after him; wherefore it is a clear case that all these things are vanity of vanities; see Job 1:21. And, indeed, works of righteousness done by men, and trusted in, and by which they labour to establish a justifying righteousness, are of no profit and advantage to them in the business of justification and salvation; indeed, when these are done from right principles, and with right views, the labour in them shall not be in vain; God will not forget it; it shall have a reward of grace, though not of debt.
(p) "quid habet amplius homo?" V. L. "quid residui?" Vatablus, Piscator, Mercerus, Gejerus, Rambachius; "quantum enim homini reliquum est, post omnem saum laborem?" Tigurine version.
but the earth abideth for ever; for a long time, until the dissolution of all things; and then, though that and all in it will be burnt up, yet it will rather be changed than destroyed; the form of it will be altered, when the substance of it will continue; it will not be annihilated, but renewed and refined. This is mentioned to show that the earth, which was made for man, of which he is the inhabitant and proprietor, is more stable than he himself; he soon passes off from it, but that continues; he returns to the earth, from whence he came, but that remains as it did; he dies, and leaves the earth behind him, and all his acquisitions in it; and therefore what profit has he of all his labours on it? Besides, that remains to have the same things transacted on it, over and over again, as has been already; God, that made it for men to dwell in, has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of men's habitations in it; he has appointed who shall dwell on it, and where, in successive generations; and till all these men are born and gone off, age after age, the earth shall continue, and then pass through its last change. The Targum is,
"the earth stands for ever, to bear the vengeance that is to come upon the world for the sins of the children of men.''
The Midrash Tanchuma, as Jarchi observes, interprets it of all the righteous of Israel, called the earth; and he himself, of the meek that shall inherit the earth: says R. Isaac (s),
"one kingdom comes, and another goes, but Israel abideth for ever.''
(q) "Nihil enim semper floret, aetas succedit aetati", Cicero. Orat. Philip. 11. (r) Iliad. 6. v. 146, &c. So Musaeus apud Clement. Stromat. l. 6. p 649. "Ut silvae foliis", &c. Horat. de Arte Poctica, v. 60. (s) Apud R. Joseph. Titatzak in loc.
(t) "anhelus", Montanus, Tigurine version; "anhelat", Drusius, Piscator, Cocceius, Amama; "anhelaus est", Rambachius; "doth he breathe", Broughton. (u) "Placebits anhelat", Claudian. Epigrarm. "Equis oriens afflavit anhelis", Virgil. Georgic. l. 1. v. 250. Aeneid, l. 5. (w) Apud R. Joseph. Titatzak in loc. Midrash Kohelet in loc.
"it goes all the side of the south in the daytime, and goes round to the side of the north in the night, by the way of the abyss; it goes its circuit, and comes to the wind of the south corner in the revolution of Nisan and Tammuz; and by its circuit it returns to the wind of the north corner in the revolution of Tisri and Tebet; it goes out of the confines of the east in the morning, and goes into the confines of the west in the evening.''
But Aben Ezra understands the whole of the wind, as our version and others do, which is sometimes in the south point of the heavens, and is presently in the north;
it whirleth about continually; and the wind returneth again according to his circuits; which may be meant of the circuits of the sun, which has a great influence on the wind, often raising it in a morning and laying it at night; but it is the wind itself which whirls and shifts about all the points of the compass, and returns from whence it came, where the treasures of it are. Agreeably to Solomon's account of the wind is Plato's definition of it,
"the wind is the motion of the air round about the earth (y).''
This also exemplifies the rotation of men and things, the instability, inconstancy, and restless state of all sublunary enjoyments; the unprofitableness of men's labours, who, while they labour for riches and honour, and natural knowledge, labour for the wind, and fill their belly with east wind, which cannot satisfy, Ecclesiastes 5:16; as well as the frailty of human life, which is like the wind that passes away and comes not again; and in this respect, like the rest of the instances, exceed man, which returns to its place, but man does not, Job 7:7.
(x) Jarchi, Alshech, and Titatzak, interpret it of the sun; so Mercerus, Varenius, Gejerus; accordingly Mr. Broughton renders it "he walketh to the south." (y) Definition. p. 1337. Ed. Ficin.
unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again; this also illustrates the succession of men, age after age, and the revolution of things in the world, their unquiet and unsettled state; and the unsatisfying nature of all things; as the sea is never full with what comes into it, so the mind of man is never satisfied with all the riches and honour he gains, or the knowledge of natural things he acquires; and it suggests that even water, as fluctuating a body as it is, yet has the advantage of men; that though it is always flowing and reflowing, yet it returns to its original place, which man does not. And from all these instances it appears that all things are vanity, and man has no profit of all his labour under the sun.
(z) Nat. Quaest. l. 3. c. 4. (a) De Rerum Natura, l. 6. (b) Iliad. 21. v. 193, &c. (c) Olymp. Ode 5. v. 4. (d) "Omnia sub magna", &c. Georgic. l. 4. v. 366, &c. (e) Meterolog. l. 1. c. 13. (f) De Orig. Error. l. 2. c. 6.
man cannot utter it; or declare all the things that are laborious and fatiguing, nor all the labour they are full of; time would fail, and words be wanting to express the whole; all the vanity, unprofitableness, and unsatisfying nature of all things below the sun; particularly
the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing; both one and the other require new objects continually; the pleasure of these senses is blunted by the same objects constantly presented; men are always seeking new ones, and when they have got them they want others; whatever curious thing is to be seen the eye craves it; and, after it has dwelt on it a while, it grows tired of it, and wants something else to divert it; and so the ear is delighted with musical sounds, but in time loses the taste of them, and seeks for others; and in discourse and conversation never easy, unless, like the Athenians, it hears some new things, and which quickly grow stale, and then wants fresh ones still: and indeed the spiritual eye and ear will never be satisfied in this life, until the soul comes into the perfect state of blessedness, and beholds the face of God, and sees him as he is; and sees and hears what eye hath not seen, nor ear heard below. The Targum is,
"all the words that shall be in the world, the ancient prophets were weary in them, and they could not find out the ends of them; yea, a man has no power to say what shall be after him; and the eye cannot see all that shall be in the world, and the ear cannot be filled with hearing all the words of all the inhabitants of the world.''
(g) "laboriosae", Pagninus, Vatablus, Mercerus, Gejerus, Schmidt.
and that which is done, is that which shall be done; what is done in the present age, nay, in this year, month, or day, shall be done over again in the next;
and there is no new thing under the sun; which is to be understood of things natural, as the works of creation, which were finished from the beginning of the world, and continue as they were ever since, Hebrews 4:3; the various seasons of day and night, of summer and winter, of spring and autumn, of heat and cold, of seed time and harvest, come in course, as they always did; these ordinances never fail, Genesis 8:22. The things before mentioned, the constant succession of men on earth, who are born into the world and die out of it, just as they always did; the sun rises and sets at its appointed time, as it did almost six thousand years ago; the winds whirl about all the points of the compass now as formerly; the rivers have the same course and recourse, and the sea its ebbing and flowing, they ever had; the same arts and sciences, trades and manufactures, obtained formerly as now, though in some circumstances there may be an improvement, and in others they grow worse; see Genesis 4:2, Exodus 31:3; and even such things as are thought of new invention, it may be only owing to the ignorance of former times, history failing to give us an account of them; thus the art of printing, the making of gunpowder, and the use of guns and bombs, and of the lodestone and mariner's compass, were thought to be of no long standing; and yet, according to the Chinese histories, that people were in possession of these things hundreds of years before; the circulation of the blood, supposed to be first found out by a countryman of ours in the last century, was known by Solomon, and is thought to be designed by him in Ecclesiastes 12:6; and the like may be observed of other things. The emperor Mark Antonine (f) has the very phrase , "nothing new": so Seneca (g),
"nothing new I see, nothing new I do.''
This will likewise hold good in moral things; the same vices and virtues are now as ever, and ever were as they are; men in every age were born in sin, and were transgressors from the womb; from their infancy corrupt, and in all the stages of life; there were the same luxury and intemperance, and unnatural lusts, rapine and violence, in the days of Noah and Lot, as now; in Sodom and Gomorrah, and in the old world, as in the present age; and there were some few then, as now, that were men of sobriety, honesty, truth, and righteousness. There is nothing to be excepted but preternatural things, miraculous events, which may be called new, unheard of, and wonderful ones; such as the earth's opening and swallowing men alive at once; the standing still of the sun and moon for a considerable time; the miracles wrought by the prophets of the Old and the apostles of the New Testament, and especially by Christ; and particularly the incarnation of Christ, or his birth of a virgin, that new thing made in the earth; these and such like things are made by the power of, he divine Being, who dwells above the sun, and is not bound by the laws of nature. Spiritual things may also be excepted, which are the effects of divine favour, or the produce of efficacious grace; and yet these things, though in some sense new, are also old; or there have been the same things for substance in former ages, and from the beginning, as now; such as the new covenant of grace; the new and living way to God; new creatures in Christ; a new name; the New Testament, and the doctrines of it; new ordinances, and the new commandment of love; and yet these, in some sense, are all old things, and indeed are the same in substance: there is nothing new but what is above the sun, and to be enjoyed in the realms of bliss to all eternity; and there are some things new (h), new wine in Christ's Father's kingdom, new glories, joys, and pleasures, that will never end.
(f) De Orig. Error. l. 2. c. 6. (g) "laboriosae", Pagninus, Vatablus, Mercerus, Gejerus, Schmidt. (h) Vid. R. Alshech in loc.
it hath been already of old time which was before us; what things are reckoned new are not so; they were known and in use in ages past, long before we had a being. R. Alshech takes the words to be an assertion, and not an interrogation, and interprets it of a spiritual temple in time to come, which yet was created before the world was.
(i) "Nullum est jam dictum, quod non dictum sit prius", Terent Prolog. Eunuch. v. 41. (k) "est quidpiam", Pagninus, Mercerus, Gejerus; "est res", Drusius, Cocceius, Rambachius.
neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after; this will be the case of things present and future, that they will be buried in oblivion, and lie unknown to posterity that shall come after the things that are done; and if any person or persons should rise up and do the same things, they may be called new, though they are in fact old, for want of knowing that they were before. The Targum is,
"there is no remembrance of former generations; and even of later ones, that shall be, there will be no remembrance of them, with the generations of them that shall be in the days of the King Messiah.''
R. Alshech interprets it of the resurrection of the dead.
concerning all things that are done under heaven; into the nature of all things, animate and inanimate; trees, herbs, plants, fossils, minerals, and metals; beasts, birds, fish, and all creeping things; see 1 Kings 4:33; with everything else in nature: he sought to make himself master of all arts and sciences; to get knowledge of all trades and manufactures; to understand everything in politics, relating to kingdoms and states, and the government of them; to observe all the actions of men, wise and foolish, that he might know the difference, and be a judge of what was right and wrong. And his observation upon the whole is,
this sore travail hath God given to the sons of men, to be exercised therewith: he found by experience it was a heavy task, which God had put upon the children of men, to get wisdom and knowledge in the way it was to be gotten; which was very burdensome and wearisome to the flesh; nay, he found it was an (l) "evil business", as it may be rendered; or there was something sinful and criminal, which God suffered men in their pursuit after knowledge to fall into, and which their studies exposed them to; as to indulge a vain and sinful curiosity, to pry into things unlawful, and to be wise above what is written; or to be too anxious in attaining natural knowledge, to the neglect of things of great importance; or to abuse or trust in knowledge attained unto, or be vainly elated and puffed up with it. Or this may be understood of the evil of punishment, which God inflicts on men for the sin of eating of the tree of knowledge; and that as he is doomed to get his bread, so his knowledge, with the sweat of his brow, that is, with great pains and labour; which otherwise would have been more easily obtained: but this God has done to "afflict" or "humble" (m) men, as the word may be rendered; to afflict or punish them for sin; and to humble them by showing them how weak are the powers and faculties of their minds, that so much pains must be taken to get a small share of knowledge. The Targum is,
"and I saw all the works of the children of men obnoxious to an evil business; the Lord gave to the children of men, to be afflicted with it.''
(l) "occupationem malam", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Amama, Gejerus. (m) "ad affligendum", Montanus, Gejerus; "ut affligent se in ea", Vatablus, Rambachius; "ut ea humlies redderet", Tigurine version.
"I saw all the deeds of the children of men, which are done under the sun in this world;''
and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit; not only the things known, but the knowledge of them; it is mere vanity, there is nothing solid and substantial in it, or that can make a man happy; yea, on the contrary, it is vexatious and distressing; it is not only a weariness to the flesh to obtain it, but, in the reflection of it, gives pain and uneasiness to the mind: it is a "breaking of the spirit" (n) of the man, as the Targum, Jarchi, and Alshech, interpret the phrase; it wastes and consumes his spirit, as well as his time, and all to no purpose; it is, as some ancient Greek versions and others render it, and not amiss, a "feeding on wind" (o); what is useless and unprofitable, and like labouring for that; see Hosea 12:1, Ecclesiastes 5:16; and so Aben Ezra.
(n) "affiictio spiritus", V. L. Junius & Tremellius; "contritio spiritus", so some in Vatablus. (o) , Aquila; "pastio venti", Mercerus, Piscator, Gejerus, Amama.
and that which is wanting cannot be numbered; the deficiencies in human science are so many, that they cannot be reckoned up; and the defects in human nature can never be supplied or made up by natural knowledge and wisdom; and which are so numerous, as that they cannot be understood and counted. The Targum is,
"a man whose ways are perverse in this world, and dies in them, and does not return by repentance, he has no power of correcting himself after his death; and a man that fails from the law and the precepts in his life, after his death hath no power to be numbered with the righteous in paradise:''
to the same sense Jarchi's note and the Midrash.
saying, lo, I am come to great estate; or become a great man; famous for wisdom, arrived to a very great pitch of it; greatly increased in it, through a diligent application to it;
and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem; or, "that before me were over Jerusalem" (p); governors of it, or in it; not only than the Jebusites, but than Saul, the first king of Israel, or than even his father David; or, as Gussetius (q), than any princes, rulers, and civil magistrates in Jerusalem, in his own days or in the days of his father; and also than all the priests and prophets, as well as princes, that ever had been there: and indeed he was wiser than all men, 1 Kings 4:30; and even than any that had been in Jerusalem, or any where else, or that should be hereafter, excepting the Messiah; see 1 Kings 3:12. And seeing this is said of him by others, and even by the Lord himself, it might not only be said with truth by himself, but without ostentation; seeing it was necessary it should be said to answer his purpose, which was to show the vanity of human wisdom in its highest pitch; and it was nowhere to be found higher than in himself;
yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge; or, "saw much wisdom and knowledge" (r); he thoroughly understood it, he was a complete master of it; it was not a superficial knowledge he had attained unto, or a few lessons of it he had committed to memory; some slight notions in his head, or scraps of things he had collected together, in an undigested manner; but he had made himself thoroughly acquainted with everything worthy to be known, and had digested it in his mind.
(p) "super Jerusalaim", Montanus, Cocceius, Schmidt; "qui praefueriut ante me Jeruscthalamis", Junius & Tremellius. (q) Comment. Heb. p. 604. (r) "vidit multum sapientiae et scientiae", Montanus, Amama; "vidit plurimam sapientiam et scientiam", Tigurine version.
and to know madness and folly: that he might the better know wisdom, and learn the difference between the one and the other, since opposites illustrate each other; and that he might shun madness and folly, and the ways thereof, and expose the actions of mad and foolish men: so Plato (s) says, ignorance is a disease, of which there are two kinds, madness and folly. The Targum, Septuagint, and all the Oriental versions, interpret the last word, translated "folly", by understanding, knowledge, and prudence; which seems to be right, since Solomon speaks of nothing afterwards, as vexation and grief to him, but wisdom and knowledge: and I would therefore read the clause in connection with the preceding, thus, "and the knowledge of things boasted of", vain glorious knowledge; "and prudence", or what may be called craftiness and cunning; or what the apostle calls "science falsely so called", 1 Timothy 6:20; see Proverbs 12:8;
I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit; See Gill on Ecclesiastes 1:14; the reason follows.
(s) In Timaeo, p. 1084.