for that is his portion; what is allotted to him, and thus enjoyed, is a very good one, and for which he has reason to be thankful;
for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him? to see who shall succeed him, and what use they will make of what he leaves them; he shall never return after death to see anything of this kind, nor shall any acquaint him with it; he shall not be able to know when he is dead what shall befall his sons, whether they will prosper or rio, so Jarchi; wherefore it is best for him to enjoy his substance himself in a comfortable way, and be beneficial to others, and not oppressive to them. The Midrash illustrates it thus,
"who shall bring David to see what Solomon did? and who shall bring Solomon to see what Rehoboam did?''
INTRODUCTION TO Ecclesiastes 4
In this chapter the wise man reassumes the consideration of the case of the abuse of power, to show that there is no happiness in this world, in grandeur and authority enjoyed; since, as he had observed before, on the one hand, the oppressor shall be judged and condemned at the great day of account; so, on the other hand, the oppressed have their lives made so uncomfortable, that the dead are preferred unto them, and unborn persons to them both, Ecclesiastes 4:1; Another vanity he observes, that whereas men expect to be happy by their diligence and industry, this brings upon them the envy of others, Ecclesiastes 4:4; hence some, on the other hand, place their happiness in sloth and ease, which is another vanity, Ecclesiastes 4:5; and others again in covetousness; who are described by their unsocial life, toilsome labour, unsatisfied desires, and withholding good things from themselves, Ecclesiastes 4:7; upon which some things are said, to show the benefits of a social life, Ecclesiastes 4:9. And the chapter is concluded with exposing the vanity of the highest instance of worldly power and grandeur, royal dignity, through the folly of a king; the effects of which are mentioned, Ecclesiastes 4:13; and through the fickleness of the people, who are soon weary of a prince on the throne, and court his successor, Ecclesiastes 4:15
and behold the tears of such as were oppressed; which their eyes poured out, and which ran down their cheeks, and were all they could do, having no power to help themselves: it is in the singular number, "and behold the tear" (y); as if it was one continued stream of tears, which, like a torrent, flowed from them; or as if they had so exhausted the source of nature by weeping, that the fountain of tears was dried up, and scarce another could drop; or it was as much as could be, that another should drop from them: and this the wise man could not well behold, without weeping himself; it being the property of a good man to weep with them that weep, especially with good men oppressed;
and they had no comforter; to speak a comfortable word to them; not so much as to do that which would be some alleviation of their sorrow, much less to help them, no human comforter; and this is a very deplorable condition, Lamentations 1:2; indeed, when this is the case, good men under their oppressions have a divine Comforter; God comforts them under all their tribulations; one of the names of the Messiah is "the Consolation of Israel", Luke 2:25; and the Spirit of God is "another Comforter", John 14:16; and such are well off, when all other comforters are miserable ones, or other men have none;
and on the side of their oppressors there was power; to crush them and keep them under, or to hinder others from helping or comforting them: or there was no "power to deliver them out of the hand of their oppressors" (z); so some render and supply the words; with which sense agrees the Targum,
"and there is none to redeem them out of the hand of their oppressors, by strength of hand and by power.''
It may be rendered, "out of the hand of their oppressors comes power", or violence; such as the oppressed are not able to withstand; so the Arabic version;
but they had no comforter: which is repeated, not so much for confirmation, as to excite attention and pity, and to express the affliction of the oppressed, and the cruelty of others; and this following on the other clause, leads to observe, that the power of the oppressor is what hinders and deters others from comforting. Jarchi interprets this whole verse of the damned in hell, punished for their evil works, weeping for their souls oppressed by the destroying angels; and so, he says, it is, explained in an ancient book of theirs, called Siphri.
(x) "oppressos", Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Drusius, Schmidt, Rambachius, so Broughton; "fraudatos", Cocceius. (y) "lachryma", Montanus, Tigurine version, Cocceius, Rambachius. (z) "et quia deest facultas se vindicandi e manu opprimentium ipsos", Tigurine version; "aut evadendi e manu opprimentium se virtus", Junius & Tremellius; "nec vires ad evadendum a manu opprimentium ipsos", Piscator.
"I praised those that lie down or are asleep, who, behold, are now dead;''
a figure by which death is often expressed, both in the Old and New Testament; sleep being, as the poet (a) says, the image of death; and a great likeness there is between them; Homer (b) calls sleep and death twins. The same paraphrase adds,
"and see not the vengeance which comes upon the world after their death;''
see Isaiah 57:1. The wise man did not make panegyrics or encomiums on those persons, but he pronounced them happy; he judged them in his own mind to be so; and to be much
than the living which are yet alive: that live under the oppression of others; that live in this world in trouble until now, as the Targum; of whom it is as much as it can be said that they are alive; they are just alive, and that is all; they are as it were between life and death. This is generally understood as spoken according to human sense, and the judgment of the flesh, without any regard to the glory and happiness of the future state; that the dead must be preferred to the living, when the quiet of the one, and the misery of the other, are observed; and which sense receives confirmation from Ecclesiastes 4:3, otherwise it is a great truth, that the righteous dead, who die in Christ and are with him, are much more happy than living saints; since they are freed from sin; are out of the reach of Satan's temptations; are no more liable to darkness and desertions; are freed from all doubts and fears; cease from all their labours, toil, and trouble; and are delivered from all afflictions, persecutions, and oppressions; which is not the case of living saints: and besides, the joys which they possess, the company they are always in, and the work they are employed about, give them infinitely the preference to all on earth; see Revelation 14:13.
(a) "Stulte, quid est semnus gelidae nisi mortis imago?" Ovid. Plato in Ciceron. Tuscul. Quaest. l. 1. c. 58. (b) Iliad. 16. v. 672, 682. Vid. Pausan. Laconica, sive l. 3. p. 195.
who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun? the evil works of oppressors, and the sorrows of the oppressed.
that for this a man is envied of his neighbour; who will be sure to find fault with what he has done, speak contemptibly of him and his work, and traduce him among men. This is also true of moral works; which are right, when done from a right principle, from love to God, in faith, and with a view to the glory of God; and which when done, and ever so well done, draw upon a man the envy of the wicked, as may be observed in the case of Cain and Abel, 1 John 3:12; though some understand this, not passively, of the envy which is brought upon a man, and he endures, for the sake of the good he excels in; but actively, of the spirit of emulation with which he does it; though the work he does, as to the matter of it, is right; yet the manner of doing it, and the spirit with which he does it, are wrong; he does not do it with any good affection to the thing itself, nor with any good design, only from a spirit of emulation to outdo his neighbour: so the Targum paraphrases it,
"this is the emulation that a man emulates his neighbour, to do as he; if he emulates him to do good, the heavenly Word does good to him; but if he emulates him to do evil, the heavenly Word does evil to him;''
and to this sense Jarchi; compare with this, Philippians 1:15.
This is also vanity, and vexation of spirit; whether it be understood in the one sense or the other; how dissatisfying and vexatious is it, when a man has taken a great deal of pains to do right works for public good, instead of having thanks and praise, is reproached and calumniated for it? and if he does a right thing, and yet has not right ends and views in it, it stands for nothing; it has only the appearance of good, but is not truly so, and yields no solid peace and comfort.
"he folds his hands in summer, and will not labour;''
see Proverbs 6:10. Some persons, to escape the envy which diligence and industry bring on men, will not work at all, or do any right work, and think to sleep in a whole skin; this is great folly and madness indeed:
and eateth his own flesh; such a man is starved and famished for want of food, so that his flesh is wasted away; or he is so hungry bitten, that he is ready to eat his own flesh; or he hereby brings to ruin his family, his wife, and children, which are his own flesh, Isaiah 58:7. The Targum is,
"in winter he eats all he has, even the covering of the skin of his flesh.''
Some understand this of the envious man, who is a fool, traduces the diligent and industrious, and will not work himself; and not only whose idleness brings want and poverty on him as an armed man, but whose envy eats up his spirit, and is rottenness in his bones, Proverbs 6:11. Jarchi, out of a book of theirs called Siphri, interprets this of a wicked man in hell, when he sees the righteous in glory, and he himself judged and condemned.
than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit; than large possessions gotten with a great deal of trouble, and enjoyed with much vexation and uneasiness; in which he mistakes slothful ease for true quietness; calls honest labour and industry travail and vexation; and supposes that true contentment lies in the enjoyment of little, and cannot be had where there is much; whereas it is to be found in a good man in every state: or else these words express the true sentiments of Solomon's mind, steering between the two extremes of slothfulness, and too toilsome labour to be rich; that it is much more eligible to have a competency, though it is but small, with a good conscience, with tranquillity of mind, with the love and fear of God, and a contented heart, than to have a large estate, with great trouble and fatigue in getting and keeping it, especially with discontent and uneasiness; and this agrees with what the wise man says elsewhere, Proverbs 15:16. The Targum is,
"better to a man is a handful of food with quietness of soul, and without robbery and rapine, than two handfuls of food with robbery and rapine;''
or with what is gotten in an ill way.
"I turned from considering the words of this fool, and I saw another fool, the reverse of the former.''
yea, he hath neither child nor brother; to inherit his substance, as the Targum adds; some worldly men, whose bellies are filled with hidden treasures, having enjoyed much, when they die, leave the rest of their substance to their babes; but the man here described has no children, nor any relations to leave his wealth unto;
yet is there no end of all his labour; when he has executed one scheme to get riches, he forms another; and having finished one work, he enters upon another; he rises early and sits up late, and works and toils night and day, as if he was not worth a dollar, and had a large and numerous family to provide for; or there is no end of what he labours for, or gets by his labour; there is no end of his treasures, Isaiah 2:7; he is immensely rich, so Aben Ezra interprets it;
neither is his eye satisfied with riches: with seeing his bags of gold and silver, though he takes a great deal of sure in looking upon them too, without making use of them; yet he is not satisfied with what he has, he wants more, he enlarges his desire as hell, and like the grave never has enough; see Ecclesiastes 5:10;
neither saith he, for whom do I labour? having neither wife nor child, nor relation, nor friend, and yet so wretchedly stupid and thoughtless as never once to put this question to himself, Who am I toiling for? I am heaping up riches, and know not who shall gather them; it is a vexation to a worldly man to leave his substance behind him, and even to a man that has an heir to inherit it, when he knows not whether he will be a wise man or a fool; but for a man that has no heir at all, and yet to be toiling and labouring for the world, is gross stupidity, downright madness, and especially when he deprives himself of the comfort of what he is possessed of;
and bereave my soul of good? instead of richly enjoying what is given him, he withholds it from himself, starves his back and belly, lives in pinching want amidst the greatest plenty; has not power to eat of what he has, and his soul desireth; see Ecclesiastes 6:2.
This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail; a very vain and wicked thing; "an evil business", as it may be rendered; a very great sin and folly indeed; it is thought by some divines to be the worst species of covetousness, most cruel and unnatural.
"two righteous men in a generation are better than one;''
such may be helpful to each other in their counsels and comforts, and mutual aids and assistances in things temporal and spiritual. The Midrash interprets this of the study in the law together, and of two that trade together, which is better than studying or trading separately;
because they have a good reward for their labour; the pleasure and profit they have in each other's company and conversation; in religious societies, though there is a labour in attendance on public worship, in praying and conferring together, in serving one another in love, and bearing one another's burdens, yet they have a good reward in it all; they have the presence of Christ with them, for, where two or three are met together in his name, he is with them; and whatsoever two of them agree to ask in his name they have it; and if two of them converse together about spiritual things, it is much if he does not make a third with them; besides they have a great deal of pleasure in each other's company, and much profit in their mutual instructions, advices, and reproofs; they sharpen each other's countenances, quicken and comfort each other's souls, establish one another in divine truth, and strengthen each other's hands and hearts.
"if one of them falls upon the bed, and lies sick,''
as the Targum paraphrases it, his friend and brother in a religions community will visit him, and sympathize with him, and speak a word of comfort to him, and pray with him, which may issue in his restoration. So the Targum,
"the other will cause his friend to rise by his prayer;''
or if he fall into outward distress, poverty, and want, his spiritual friend or friends will distribute to his necessity; if he falls into errors, as a good man may, such as are of the same religious society with him will take some pains to convince him of the error of his way, and to convert him from it, and to save a soul from death, and cover a multitude of sins; and if he falls into sin, to which the best of men are liable, such as are spiritual will endeavour to restore him in a spirit of meekness;
but woe to him that is alone when he falleth! for he hath not another to help him up; no companion to raise him up when fallen; no Christian friend to visit and comfort him when sick, to relieve him under his necessities, when poor and afflicted, or to recover him from errors in judgment, or immoralities in practice; and especially if he has not Christ with him to raise him up, keep, and uphold him.
but how can one be warm alone? not soon, nor easily, in time of cold weather. This is true in a spiritual sense of persons in a Christian communion and religious society; when they are grown cold in their love, lukewarm in their affections, and backward and indifferent to spiritual exercises, yet by Christian conversation may be stirred up to love and good works: so two cold flints struck against each other, fire comes out of them; and even two cold Christians, when they come to talk with each other about spiritual things, and feel one another's spirits, they presently glow in their affections to each other, and to divine things; and especially if Christ joins them with his presence, as he did the two disciples going to Emmaus, then their hearts burn within them.
and a threefold cord is not quickly broken; or "in haste" (c); as two are better than one, so three or more united together, it is the better still; they are able to make head against an enemy; and to conquer him, "vis unita fortior est": if a family, community, city, or kingdom, are divided against themselves, they cannot stand; but, if united, in all probability nothing can hurt them. This doctrine is taught in the fable of the bundle of sticks the old man gave to his sons to break; which, while fastened together, could not be done; but, when art bound, and took out singly, were easily snapped asunder; teaching them thereby unity among themselves, as their greatest security against their common enemy. The same instruction is given by this threefold cord; while it remains twisted together, it is not easily broke, but if the threads are untwisted and unloosed, they are soon snapped asunder: so persons in religious fellowship, be they more or fewer, while they keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, they are terrible, as an army with banners, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against them. And if this is true of the united love and affections of saints, it must be much more so of the love of Father, Son, and Spirit; that threefold cord, with which the saints are drawn and held; and of which it may be said, that it not only is not quickly broken, but that it cannot be broken at all; and therefore those who are held by it are in the utmost safety. Some apply this to the three principal graces, faith, hope, and love, which are abiding ones; and, though they may sometimes be weak and low in their acts and exercise, can never be lost.
(c) "in festinatia", Montanus; "in celeritate", Vatablus; "in festinatione", Rambachius.
who will no more be admonished; or, "knows not to be admonished any more" (d): he neither knows how to give nor take advice; he is impatient of all counsel; cannot bear any admonition; is stubborn and self-willed, and resolved to take his own way. The Jews, in their Midrash, Jarchi, and others, interpret it, allegorically, of the good and evil imagination in men, the principle of grace, and the corruption of nature; the one is the new man, the other the old man; the new man is better than old Adam: the Targum applies it to Abraham and Nimrod; the former is the poor and wise child, that feared God, and worshipped him early; the latter, the old and foolish king, who was an idolater, and refused to be admonished of his idolatry; and so the Midrash.
(d) "non novit moneri adhuc", Montanus; "nescit admoneri amplius", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Rambachius.
whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor; who is born of royal parents, born to a kingdom; is by birth heir to one, has it by inheritance, and has long possessed it; and yet, by his own misconduct, or by the rebellion of his subjects, he is dethroned and banished; or by a foreign power is taken and carried captive, and reduced to the utmost poverty, as Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar, and others: or if born poor, so Gussetius; with a poor genius, not capable of ruling, and so loses his kingdom, and comes to poverty. Or it may be rendered, "although in his kingdom he is born poor" (f); that is, though the poor and wise child is born poor in the kingdom of the old and foolish king; yet, out of this low estate, in which he is by birth, he comes and enjoys the kingdom in his room to such a strange turn of affairs are the highest honours subject: or, "for in his kingdom he is born poor" (g); even the person that is born heir to a crown is born a poor man; he comes as naked out of his mother's womb as the poorest man does; the conditions of both are equal as to birth; and therefore it need not seem strange that one out of prison should come to a kingdom. But the first sense seems best.
(e) Ebr. Comment. p. 553. (f) "quamvis etiam", Gejerus. (g) "Nam etiam", Tigurine version, Cocceius; "quia etiam", Pagninus, Montanus, Schmidt, Rambachius, so Aben Ezra.
with the second child that shall stand up in his stead: the heir and successor or every prince, that shall rise up and take the throne of his father or predecessor, and reign in his stead. The wise man observed how the people commonly behaved towards him; how that they generally stood best affected to him, than to the reigning prince; worshipped the rising sun, courted his favour and friendship, soothed and flattered him; expressing their wishes to see him on the throne, and treated with neglect and contempt their lawful sovereign. Some, contrary to the accents, connect this with the word "walk" (h); that walk with the second child, join themselves to him, converse with him, and show him great respect and honour: and there are others that, by this second child, understand the poor and wise child, that succeeds the old and foolish king, whom yet, in time, the people grow weary of; such is the levity and inconstancy of people, that they are not long pleased with princes, old or young, wise or foolish. The Targum interprets this of the foresight Solomon had, by a spirit of prophecy, of those that rebelled against his son Rehoboam, and of those that cleaved unto him, who was his second, and reigned in his stead. Noldius (i) thinks Solomon refers to the history of his friend Hiram, king of Tyre, whose kingdom, in his and in his son's time, was very large, flourishing, and opulent, but in a following reign not so; and he renders and paraphrases the words thus,
""I saw all the works under the sun; with Baleazarus, the son of a friend" (Hiram, for rendered "second", is the same as "a friend"), "who shall stand" or "reign after him: there is no end of all the people",'' &c.
the kingdom in those two reigns being flourishing; yet posterity shall not rejoice in him, in Abdastratus, the grandson of Hiram, destroyed by the four sons of his nurse (k).
(h) So the Tigurine version, Vatablus, Cocceius, Gejerus. (i) Concord. Part. Ebr. No. 1023. (k) Meander apud Joseph. Contr. Apion. l. 1. s. 18.