Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryEcclesiastes 6
on the Whole Bible
In this chapter,
I. The royal preacher goes on further to show the vanity of worldly
wealth, when men place their happiness in it and are eager and
inordinate in laying it up. Riches, in the hands of a man that is wise
and generous, and good for something, but in the hands of a sordid,
sneaking, covetous miser, they are good for nothing.
1. He takes an account of the possessions and enjoyments which such a
man may have. He has wealth
he has children to inherit it
and lives long,
2. He describes his folly in not taking the comfort of it; he has no
power to eat of it, lets strangers devour it, is never filled with
good, and at last has no burial,
3. He condemns it as an evil, a common evil, vanity, and a disease,
4. He prefers the condition of a still-born child before the condition
of such a one,
The still-born child's infelicity is only negative
but that of the covetous worldling is positive; he lives a great while
to see himself miserable,
5. He shows the vanity of riches as pertaining only to the body, and
giving no satisfaction to the mind
and of those boundless desires with which covetous people vex
which, if they be gratified ever so fully, leave a man but a man still,
II. He concludes this discourse of the vanity of the creature with this
plain inference from the whole, That it is folly to think of making up
a happiness for ourselves in the things of this world,
Our satisfaction must be in another life, not in this.
|The Miseries of Covetousness.
1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is
common among men:
2 A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so
that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet
God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth
it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
3 If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so
that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled
with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an
untimely birth is better than he.
4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and
his name shall be covered with darkness.
5 Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing:
this hath more rest than the other.
6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath
he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
Solomon had shown, in the close of the foregoing chapter, how good it
is to make a comfortable use of the gifts of God's providence; now here
he shows the evil of the contrary, having and not using, gathering to
lay up for I know not what contingent emergencies to come, not to lay
out on the most urgent occasions present. This is an evil which
Solomon himself saw under the sun,
A great deal of evil there is under the sun. There is a world
above the sun where there is no evil, yet God causes his sun to
shine upon the evil as well as upon the good, which is an
aggravation of the evil. God has lighted up a candle for his servants
to work by, but they bury their talent as slothful and unprofitable,
and so waste the light and are unworthy of it. Solomon, as a king,
inspected the manners of his subjects, and took notice of this evil as
a prejudice to the public, who are damaged not only by men's
prodigality on the one hand, but by their penuriousness on the other.
As it is with the blood in the natural body, so it is with the wealth
of the body politic, if, instead of circulating, it stagnates, it will
be of ill consequence. Solomon as a preacher observed the evils that
were done that he might reprove them and warn people against them. This
evil was, in his days, common, and yet then there was great
plenty of silver and gold, which, one would think, should have made
people less fond of riches; the times also were peaceable, nor was
there any prospect of trouble, which to some is a temptation to hoard.
But no providence will of itself, unless the grace of God work with it,
cure the corrupt affection that is in the carnal mind to the world and
the things of it; nay, when riches increase we are most apt to
set our hearts upon them. Now concerning this miser observe,
I. The abundant reason he has to serve God with joyfulness and gladness
of heart; how well God has done for him.
1. He has given him riches, wealth, and honour,
(1.) Riches and wealth commonly gain people honour
among men. Though it be but an image, if it be a golden image,
all people, nations, and languages, will fall down and
(2.) Riches, wealth, and honour, are God's gifts, the gifts of
his providence, and not given, as his rain and sunshine, alike to all,
but to some, and not to others, as God sees fit.
(3.) Yet they are given to many that do not make a good use of them, to
many to whom God does not give wisdom and grace to take the comfort of
them and serve God with them. The gifts of common providence are
bestowed on many to whom are denied the gifts of a special grace,
without which the gifts of providence often do more hurt than good.
2. He wants nothing for his soul of all that he desires.
Providence has been so liberal to him that he has as much as heart
could wish, and more,
He does not desire grace for his soul, the better part; all he desires
is enough to gratify the sensual appetite, and that he has; his
belly is filled with these hidden treasures,
3. He is supposed to have a numerous family, to beget a hundred
children, which are the stay and strength of his house and as a
quiver full of arrows to him, which are the honour and credit of
his house, and in whom he has the prospect of having his name built up
and having all the immortality this world can give him. They are
full of children
while many of God's people are written childless and stripped of
4. To complete his happiness, he is supposed to live many years,
or rather many days, for our life is to be reckoned rather by
days than years: The days of his years are many, and so
healthful is his constitution, and so slowly does age creep upon him,
that they are likely to be many more. Nay, he is supposed to live a
thousand years (which no man, that we know of, ever did), nay, a
thousand years twice told, a small part of which time, one would
think, were enough to convince men, by their own experience, of the
folly both of those that expect to find all good in worldly wealth, and
of those that expect to find any good in it but in using it.
II. The little heart he has to use this which God gives him, for the
ends and purposes for which it was given him. This is his fault and
folly that he renders not again according to the benefit done unto
him, and serves not the Lord God his benefactor, with
joyfulness and gladness of heart, in the abundance of all things.
In the day of prosperity he is not joyful. Tristis es, et felix?--Art
thou happy, yet sad? See his folly:
1. He cannot find in his heart to take the comfort of what he has
himself. He has meat before him; he has wherewith to maintain himself
and his family comfortably, but he has not power to eat thereof.
His sordid niggardly temper will not suffer him to lay it out, no, not
upon himself, no, not upon that which is most necessary for himself. He
has not power to reason himself out of this absurdity, to conquer his
covetous humour. He is weak indeed, who has not power to use what God
gives him, for God gives him not that power, but
withholds it from him, to punish him for his other abuses of his
wealth. Because he has not the will to serve God with it, God denies
him the power to serve himself with it.
2. He suffers those to prey upon him that he is under no obligation to:
A stranger eateth it. This is the common fate of misers; they
will not trust their own children perhaps, but retainers and
hangers-on, that have the art of wheedling, insinuate themselves into
them, and find ways of devouring what they have, or getting it to be
left to them by their wills. God orders it so that a stranger eats
it. Strangers devour his strength,
This may be well called vanity, and an evil disease. What we
have we have in vain if we do not use it; and that temper of mind is
certainly a most wretched distemper which keeps us from using it. Our
worst diseases are those that arise from the corruption of our own
3. He deprives himself of the good that he might have had of his
worldly possessions, not only forfeits it, but robs himself of it and
throws it from him: His soul is not filled with good,
He is still unsatisfied and uneasy. His hands are filled with riches,
his barns filled, and his bags filled, but his soul is not filled
with good, no, not with that good, for it is still craving more.
he has not seen good; he cannot so much as please his eye, for
that is still looking further and looking with envy on those that have
more. He has not even the sensible good of an estate. Though he looks
not beyond the things that are seen, yet he looks not with any true
pleasure even on them.
4. He has no burial, none agreeable to his rank, no decent
burial, but the burial of an ass. Through the sordidness of his
temper he will not allow himself a fashionable burial, but forbids it,
or the strangers that have eaten him up leave him so poor, at last,
that he has not wherewithal, or those to whom he leaves what he has
have so little esteem for his memory, and are so greedy of what they
are to have from him, that they will not be at the charges of burying
him handsomely, which his own children, if he had left it to them,
would not have grudged him.
III. The preference which the preacher gives to an untimely birth
before him: An untimely birth, a child that is carried from the
womb to the grave, is better than he. Better is the fruit that
drops from the tree before it is ripe than that which is left to hang
on till it is rotten. Job, in his passion, thinks the condition of
an untimely birth better than his when he was in adversity
but Solomon here pronounces it better than the condition of a worldling
in his greatest prosperity, when the world smiles upon him.
1. He grants the condition of an untimely birth, upon many
accounts, to be very sad
He comes in with vanity (for, as to this world, he that is born
and dies immediately was born in vain), and he departs in
darkness; little or no notice is taken of him; being an abortive,
he has no name, or, if he had, it would soon be forgotten and
buried in oblivion; it would be covered with darkness, as the
body is with the earth. Nay
he has not seen the sun, but from the darkness of the womb he is
hurried immediately to that of the grave, and, which is worse than not
being known to any, he has not known any thing, and therefore
has come short of that which is the greatest pleasure and honour of
man. Those that live in wilful ignorance, and know nothing to purpose,
are no better than an untimely birth that has not seen the
sun nor known any thing.
2. Yet he prefers it before that of a covetous miser. This
untimely birth has more rest than the other, for this has
some rest, but the other has none; this has no trouble
and disquiet, but the other is in perpetual agitation, and has
nothing but trouble, trouble of his own making. The shorter the life is
the longer the rest; and the fewer the days, and the less we have to do
with this troublesome world, the less trouble we know.
|'Tis better die a child at four,
Than live, and die so at fourscore.
The reason he gives why this has more rest is because all go
to one place to rest in, and this is sooner at his rest,
He that lives a thousand years goes to the same place with the
child that does not live an hour,
The grave is the place we shall all meet in. Whatever differences there
may be in men's condition in this world, they must all die, are all
under the same sentence, and, to outward appearance, their deaths are
alike. The grave is to one, as well as another, a land of silence, of
darkness, of separation from the living, and a sleeping-place. It is
the common rendezvous of rich and poor, honourable and mean, learned
and unlearned; the short-lived and long-lived meet in the grave, only
one rides post thither, the other goes by a slower conveyance; the dust
of both mingles, and lies undistinguished.
|The Insatiableness of Desire.
7 All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the
appetite is not filled.
8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the
poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the
desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that
it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier
The preacher here further shows the vanity and folly of heaping up
worldly wealth and expecting happiness in it.
I. How much soever we toil about the world, and get out of it, we can
have for ourselves no more than a maintenance
All the labour of man is for his mouth, which craves it of
it is but food and raiment; what is more others have, not we; it
is all for the mouth. Meats are but for the belly and the
belly for meats; there is nothing for the head and heart, nothing
to nourish or enrich the soul. A little will serve to sustain us
comfortably and a great deal can do no more.
II. Those that have ever so much are still craving; let a man labour
ever so much for his mouth, yet the appetite is not filled.
1. Natural desires are still returning, still pressing; a man may be
feasted to-day and yet hungry to-morrow.
2. Worldly sinful desires are insatiable,
Wealth to a worldling is like drink to one in a dropsy, which does but
increase the thirst. Some read the whole verse thus: Though all a
man's labour fall out to his own mind (ori ejus obveniat--so as to
correspond with his views, Juv.), just as himself would have it,
yet his desire is not satisfied, still he has a mind to
3. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to
give them any satisfaction. The soul is not filled, so the word
is. When God gave Israel their request he sent
leanness into their souls,
He was a fool who, when his barns were full, said, Soul, take thine
III. A fool may have as much worldly wealth, and may enjoy as much of
the pleasure of it, as a wise man; nay, and perhaps not be so sensible
of the vexation of it: What has the wise more than the fool?
Perhaps he has not so good an estate, so good a trade, nor such good
preferment as the fool has. Nay, suppose them to be equal in their
possessions, what can a wise man, a scholar, a wit, a politician,
squeeze out of his estate more than needful supplies? and a half-witted
man may do this. A fool can fare as well and relish it, can dress as
well, and make as good a figure in any public appearance, as a wise
man; so that if there were not pleasures and honour peculiar to the
mind, which the wise man has more than the fool, as to this
world they would be upon a level.
IV. Even a poor man, who has business, and is discreet, diligent, and
dexterous, in the management of it, may get as comfortably through this
world as he that is loaded with an overgrown estate. Consider what
the poor has less than the rich, if he but knows to walk before
the living, knows how to conduct himself decently, and do his duty
to all, how to get an honest livelihood by his labour, how to spend his
time well and improve his opportunities. What has he? Why, he is
better beloved and more respected among his neighbours, and has a
better interest than many a rich man that is griping and haughty.
What has he? Why he has as much of the comfort of this life, has
food and raiment, and is therewith content, and so is as
truly rich as he that has abundance.
V. The enjoyment of what we have cannot but be acknowledged more
rational than a greedy grasping at more
Better is the sight of the eyes, making the best of that which
is present, than the wandering of the desire, the uneasy walking
of the soul after things at a distance, and the affecting of a variety
of imaginary satisfactions. He is much happier that is always content,
though he has ever so little, than he that is always coveting, though
he has ever so much. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes
than the fixing of the desire upon God, and the resting of
the soul in him; it is better to live by faith in things to come than
to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things; but better
is the sight of the eyes than the roving of the desire after
the world, and the things of it, than which nothing is more uncertain
nor more unsatisfying at the best. This wandering of the desire is
vanity and vexation of spirit. It is vanity at the best; if
what is desired, be obtained, it proves not what we promised ourselves
from it, but commonly the wandering desire is crossed and
disappointed, and then it turns to vexation of spirit.
VI. Our lot, whatever it is, is that which is appointed us by the
counsel of God, which cannot be altered, and it is therefore our wisdom
to reconcile ourselves to it and cheerfully to acquiesce in it
That which has been, or (as some read it) that which is,
and so likewise that which shall be, is named already; it is
already determined in the divine foreknowledge, and all our care and
pains cannot make it otherwise than as it is fixed. Jacta est
alea--The die is cast. It is therefore folly to quarrel with that
which will be as it is, and wisdom to make a virtue of necessity. We
shall have what pleases God, and let that please us.
VII. Whatever we attain to in this world, still we are but men, and the
greatest possessions and preferments cannot set us above the common
accidents of human life: That which has been, and is, that busy
animal that makes such a stir and such a noise in the world, is
named already. He that made him gave him his name, and it is
known that it is man; that is his name by which he must know
himself, and it is a humbling name,
He called their name Adam; and all theirs have the same
character, red earth. Though a man could make himself master of
all the treasures of kings and provinces, yet he is a man still, mean,
mutable, and mortal, and may at any time be involved in the calamities
that are common to men. It is good for rich and great men to
know and consider that they are but men,
It is known that they are but men; let them put what face they
will upon it, and, like the king of Tyre, set their heart as the
heart of God, yet the Egyptians are men, and not gods, and it is
known that they are so.
VIII. How far soever our desires wander, and how closely soever our
endeavours keep pace with them, we cannot strive with the divine
Providence, but must submit to the disposals of it, whether we will or
no. If it is man, he may not contend with him that is mightier than
he. It is presumption to arraign God's proceedings, and to charge
him with folly or iniquity; nor is it to any purpose to complain of
him, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Elihu pacifies
Job with this incontest able principle, That God is greater than
and therefore man may not contend with him, nor resist his
judgments, when they come with commission. A man cannot with the
greatest riches make his part good against the arrests of sickness or
death, but must yield to his fate.
|The Insatiableness of Desire.
11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is
man the better?
12 For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all
the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who
can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
1. Solomon lays down his conclusion which he had undertaken to prove,
as that which was fully confirmed by the foregoing discourse: There
be many things that increase vanity; the life of man is vain, at
the best, and there are abundance of accidents that concur to make it
more so; even that which pretends to increase the vanity and make it
2. He draws some inferences from it, which serve further to evince the
truth of it.
(1.) That a man is never the nearer to true happiness for the abundance
that he has in this world: What is man the better for his wealth
and pleasure, his honour and preferment? What remains to man? What
residuum has he, what overplus, what real advantage, when he comes to
balance his accounts? Nothing that will do him any good or turn to
(2.) That we do not know what to wish for, because that which we
promise ourselves most satisfaction in often proves most vexatious to
us: Who knows what is good for a man in this life, where every
thing is vanity, and any thing, even that which we most covet, may
prove a calamity to us? Thoughtful people are in care to do every
thing for the best, if they knew it; but as it is an instance of the
corruption of our hearts that we are apt to desire that as good for us
which is really hurtful, as children that cry for knives to cut their
fingers with, so is it an instance of the vanity of this world that
what, according to all probable conjectures, seems to be for the best,
often proves otherwise; such is our shortsightedness concerning the
issues and events of things, and such broken reeds are all our
creature-confidences. We know not how to advise others for the best,
nor how to act ourselves, because that which we apprehend likely to be
for our welfare may become a trap.
(3.) That therefore our life upon earth is what we have no reason to
take any great complacency in, or to be confident of the continuance
of. It is to be reckoned by days; it is but a vain life,
and we spend it as a shadow, so little is there in it
substantial, so fleeting, so uncertain, so transitory is it, and so
little in it to be fond of or to be depended on. If all the comforts of
life be vanity, life itself can have no great reality in it to
constitute a happiness for us.
(4.) That our expectations from this world are as uncertain and
deceitful as our enjoyments are. Since every thing is vanity, Who
can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? He can no
more please himself with the hopes of what shall be after him,
to his children and family, than with the relish of what is with him,
since he can neither foresee himself, nor can any one else foretel to
him, what shall be after him. Nor shall he have any intelligence
sent him of it when he is gone. His sons come to honour, and he
knows it not. So that, look which way we will, Vanity of vanity,
all is vanity.