Ecclesiastes 6:12 MEANING

Ecclesiastes 6:12
(12) As a shadow.--Ecclesiastes 8:13; Job 14:2.

Verse 12. - This verse in the Greek and Latin versions, as in some copies of the Hebrew, is divorced from its natural place, as the conclusion of the paragraph, vers. 10, 11, and is arranged as the commencement of Ecclesiastes 7. Plainly, the Divine prescience of vers. 10, 11 is closely connected with the question of man's ultimate good and his ignorance of the future, enunciated in this verse. For who knoweth what is good for man in this life? Such discussions are profitless, for man knows not what is his real good - whether pleasure, apathy, or virtue, as philosophers would put it. To decide such questions he must be able to foresee results, which is denied him. The interrogative "Who knows?" is equivalent to an emphatic negative, as Ecclesiastes 3:21, and is a common rhetorical form which surely need not be attributed to Pyrrhonism (Plumptre). All the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow. These words amplify and explain the term "in life" of the preceding clause. They may be rendered literally, During the number of the days of the life (Ecclesiastes 5:18) of his vanity, and he passeth them as a shadow. A life of vanity is one that yields no good result, full of empty aims, unsatisfied wishes, unfulfilled purposes. It is the man who is here compared to the shadow, not his life. So Job 14:2, "He fleeth as a shadow, and continueth not," He soon passes away, and leaves no trace behind him. The thought is common. "Ye [Revised Version] are a vapor," says St. James (James 4:14), "that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." Plumptre well quotes Soph., 'Ajax,' 125 -

 ῾ορῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν
Αἴδωλ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν η} κούφην σκιάν

"In this I see that we, all we that live,
Are but vain shadows, unsubstantial dreams."
To which we may add Pind., 'Pyth.,' 8:95 -

Ἐπάμεροι τί δέ τις τίδ οὔ τις σκιᾶς ὄναρ Ἄνθρωπος.

"Ye creatures of a day!
What is the great man what the poor?
Naught but a shadowy dream."
The comparison of man's life to a shadow or vapor is equally general (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:13; 1 Chronicles 29:15; Psalm 102:11; Psalm 144:4; Wisd. 2:5; James 4:14). The verb used for "spendeth" is asah, "to do or make," which recalls the Greek phrase, χρόνον ποιεῖν (Acts 15:33, etc.; Demosth., 'De Fals. Leg.,' p. 392, 17), and the Latin, dies facere (Cic., 'Ad Attic.,' 5:20. 1); but we need not trace Greek influence in the employment of the expression here. For who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? This does not refer to the life beyond the grave, but to the future in the present world, as the words, "under the sun," imply (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 7:14). To know what is best for him, to arrange his present life according to his own wishes and plans, to be able to depend upon his own counsel for all the actions and designs which he undertakes, man should know what is to be after him, what result his labors will have, who and what kind of heir will inherit his property, whether he will leave children to carry on his name, and other facts of the like nature; but as this is all hidden from him, his duty and his happiness is to acquiesce in the Divine government, to enjoy with moderation the goods of life, and to be content with the modified satisfaction which is accorded to him by Divine beneficence.

6:7-12 A little will serve to sustain us comfortably, and a great deal can do no more. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give satisfaction. The poor man has comfort as well as the richest, and is under no real disadvantage. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the resting of the soul in God; for it is better to live by faith in things to come, than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things. Our lot is appointed. We have what pleases God, and let that please us. The greatest possessions and honours cannot set us above the common events of human life. Seeing that the things men pursue on earth increase vanities, what is man the better for his worldly devices? Our life upon earth is to be reckoned by days. It is fleeting and uncertain, and with little in it to be fond of, or to be depended on. Let us return to God, trust in his mercy through Jesus Christ, and submit to his will. Then soon shall we glide through this vexatious world, and find ourselves in that happy place, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.For who knoweth what is good for man in this life?.... To be in a higher or lower station of life, to live in grandeur or meanness, to be rich or poor, learned or unlearned; since that which seems most agreeable to human nature is at, ended with so much vanity, the occasion of so much sin, and often issues in ruin and misery, that no man knows what is best for him; and therefore it is the wisest way to be content with what a man has, and enjoy it in the most comfortable manner, and use it to the best ends and purposes he can. The Targum is,

"for who is he that knows what is good for a man in this world, but to study in the law, which is the life of the world?''

so the Midrash,

all the days of his vain life, which he spendeth as a shadow? or "the number of the days of vain life, which he makes as a shadow" (d); that is, which God makes as a "shadow", as Cocceius observes; makes to pass away swiftly: this is a description of the vanity, brevity, and uncertainty of human life; it consists of days, rather than of months and years; and those such as are easily numbered, and which pass away suddenly and swiftly, like a shadow that has no substance and reality in it, and leaves nothing behind it; or like a bird that flies away, as Jarchi, and is seen no more; such is the life of man, a most vain life, vanity itself; so it may be rendered, "the number of the days of the life of his vanity" (e); since therefore he has so short a time to enjoy anything in, it is hard to say what is best for him to have, and the rather since he is quite ignorant of what is to come;

for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? he does not know himself, nor can any man inform him, what will become of his wealth and riches after his death, which he has got together; who shall enjoy them, and how long and what use will be made of them, either to their own good, or the good of others.

(d) "et facit eos at umbram", Cocceius. (e) "numero dierum vitae", ("vitarum", Montanus), "vanitatis suae", Pagninus, Rambachius.

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