Commentary Critical and Explanatory
on the Whole Bible
1. the Preacher--and Convener of assemblies for the
purpose. See my
Koheleth in Hebrew, a symbolical name for Solomon,
and of Heavenly Wisdom speaking through and identified with him.
shows that "king of Jerusalem" is in apposition, not with "David," but
of Jerusalem--rather, "in Jerusalem," for it was merely his
metropolis, not his whole kingdom.
2. The theme proposed of the first part of his discourse.
Vanity of vanities--Hebraism for the most utter vanity. So "holy of
"servant of servants"
The repetition increases the force.
all--Hebrew, "the all"; all without exception, namely, earthly
vanity--not in themselves, for God maketh nothing in vain
(1Ti 4:4, 5),
but vain when put in the place of God and made the end, instead
of the means
(Ps 39:5, 6; 62:9;
vain, also, because of the "vanity" to which they are "subjected" by
3. What profit . . . labour--that is, "What profit" as to the chief
Labor is profitable in its proper place
(Ge 2:15; 3:19;
under the sun--that is, in this life, as opposed to the future
world. The phrase often recurs, but only in Ecclesiastes.
4. earth . . . for ever--
While the earth remains the same, the generations of men
are ever changing; what lasting profit, then, can there be from the
toils of one whose sojourn on earth, as an individual, is so brief? The
"for ever" is comparative, not absolute
(Ps 19:5, 6).
"Panting" as the Hebrew for "hasteth"; metaphor, from a runner
"a strong man") in a "race." It applies rather to the rising
sun, which seems laboriously to mount up to the meridian, than
to the setting sun; the accents too favor MAURER,
"And (that too, returning) to his place, where panting he riseth."
6. according to his circuits--that is, it returns afresh to its former
circuits, however many be its previous veerings about. The north and
south winds are the two prevailing winds in Palestine and Egypt.
7. By subterraneous cavities, and by evaporation forming rain clouds,
the fountains and rivers are supplied from the sea, into which they then
flow back. The connection is: Individual men are continually
changing, while the succession of the race continues; just as the
sun, wind, and rivers are ever shifting about, while the cycle in which
they move is invariable; they return to the point whence they set out.
Hence is man, as in these objects of nature which are his analogue, with
all the seeming changes "there is no new thing"
8. MAURER translates, "All words are wearied out," that is, are
inadequate, as also, "man cannot express" all the things in the world
which undergo this ceaseless, changeless cycle of vicissitudes: "The eye
is not satisfied with seeing them," &c. But it is plainly a return to
as to man's "labor," which is only wearisome and profitless; "no
new" good can accrue from it
for as the sun, &c., so man's laborious works move in a changeless
cycle. The eye and ear are two of the taskmasters for
which man toils. But these are never "satisfied"
Nor can they be so hereafter, for there will be nothing "new." Not so
the chief good, Jesus Christ
(Joh 4:13, 14;
9. Rather, "no new thing at all"; as in
This is not meant in a general sense; but there is no new source of
happiness (the subject in question) which can be devised; the same
round of petty pleasures, cares, business, study, wars, &c., being
repeated over and over again [HOLDEN].
10. old time--Hebrew, "ages."
which was--The Hebrew plural cannot be joined to the verb
singular. Therefore translate: "It hath been in the ages before;
certainly it hath been before us" [HOLDEN].
Or, as MAURER: "That which
has been (done) before us (in our presence,
has been (done) already in the old times."
11. The reason why some things are thought "new," which are not
really so, is the imperfect record that exists of preceding ages among
those that . . . come after--that is, those that live still later than the "things, rather the persons or generations,
with which this verse is connected, the six intermediate verses being
merely illustrations of
[WEISS], that are to come"
(Ec 2:16; 9:5).
12. Resumption of
the intermediate verses being the introductory statement of his thesis.
Therefore, "the Preacher" (Koheleth) is repeated.
was king--instead of "am," because he is about to give the results
of his past experience during his long reign.
in Jerusalem--specified, as opposed to David, who reigned both in
Hebron and Jerusalem; whereas Solomon reigned only in Jerusalem. "King
of Israel in Jerusalem," implies that he reigned over
Israel and Judah combined; whereas David, at Hebron, reigned only
over Judah, and not, until he was settled in Jerusalem, over both
Israel and Judah.
13. this sore travail--namely, that of "searching out all things
done under heaven." Not human wisdom in general, which comes afterwards
&c.), but laborious enquiries into, and speculations about, the works
of men; for example, political science. As man is doomed to get his
bread, so his knowledge, by the sweat of his brow
exercised--that is, disciplined; literally, "that they may thereby
chastise, or humble themselves."
14. The reason is here given why investigation into man's "works" is
only "sore travail"
namely, because all man's ways are vain
and cannot be mended
vexation of--"a preying upon"
the Spirit--MAURER translates;
"the pursuit of wind," as in
"Ephraim feedeth on wind." But old versions support the English
into human ways is vain labor, for they are hopelessly "crooked" and
"cannot be made straight" by it
God, the chief good, alone can do this
(Isa 40:4; 45:2).
numbered--so as to make a complete number; so equivalent to "supplied"
Or, rather, man's state is utterly wanting; and that which
is wholly defective cannot be numbered or calculated. The investigator
thinks he can draw up, in accurate numbers, statistics of man's wants;
but these, including the defects in the investigator's labor, are not
partial, but total.
16. communed with . . . heart--
come to great estate--Rather, "I have magnified and gotten"
(literally, "added," increased), &c.
all . . . before me in Jerusalem--namely, the priests, judges, and
two kings that preceded Solomon. His wisdom exceeded that of all before
Jesus Christ, the antitypical Koheleth, or "Gatherer of men,"
and "Wisdom" incarnate
(Mt 11:19; 12:42).
had . . . experience--literally, "had seen"
Contrast with this glorying in worldly wisdom
(Jer 9:23, 24).
17. wisdom . . . madness--that is, their effects, the works of human
wisdom and folly respectively. "Madness," literally, "vaunting
Ec 2:12; 7:25,
&c., support English Version rather than DATHE, "splendid matters." "Folly" is read by English
Version with some manuscripts, instead of the present Hebrew
text, "prudence." If Hebrew be retained, understand "prudence,"
falsely so called
18. wisdom . . . knowledge--not in general, for wisdom, &c., are
most excellent in their place; but speculative knowledge of man's ways
(Ec 1:13, 17),
which, the farther it goes, gives one the more pain to find how
"crooked" and "wanting" they are
(Ec 1:15; 12:12).