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a Bible passage
Reflections of a Royal Philosopher
The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What do people gain from all the toil
at which they toil under the sun?
A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
and goes around to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they continue to flow.
All things are wearisome;
more than one can express;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
or the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has already been,
in the ages before us.
The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.
The Futility of Seeking Wisdom
12 I, the Teacher, when king over Israel in Jerusalem, 13applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with. 14I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.
What is crooked cannot be made straight,
and what is lacking cannot be counted.
16 I said to myself, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.” 17And I applied my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a chasing after wind.
For in much wisdom is much vexation,
and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.
Ec 1:1-18. Introduction.
1. the Preacher—and Convener of assemblies for the purpose. See my Preface. Koheleth in Hebrew, a symbolical name for Solomon, and of Heavenly Wisdom speaking through and identified with him. Ec 1:12 shows that "king of Jerusalem" is in apposition, not with "David," but "Preacher."
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.
all—Hebrew, "the all"; all without exception, namely, earthly things.
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; Mt 6:33); vain, also, because of the "vanity" to which they are "subjected" by the fall (Ro 8:20).
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—(Ps 104:5). 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 102:26).
5. (Ps 19:5, 6). "Panting" as the Hebrew for "hasteth"; metaphor, from a runner (Ps 19:5, "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" (Ec 1:9).
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 the idea (Ec 1:3) as to man's "labor," which is only wearisome and profitless; "no new" good can accrue from it (Ec 1:9); 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" (Ec 6:7; Pr 27:20). Nor can they be so hereafter, for there will be nothing "new." Not so the chief good, Jesus Christ (Joh 4:13, 14; Re 21:5).
9. Rather, "no new thing at all"; as in Nu 11:6. 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, 1Ch 16:33), 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 their successors.
those that … come after—that is, those that live still later than the "things, rather the persons or generations, Ec 1:4, with which this verse is connected, the six intermediate verses being merely illustrations of Ec 1:4 [Weiss], that are to come" (Ec 2:16; 9:5).
12. Resumption of Ec 1:1, 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 (Ec 2:12, &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 (Ge 3:19) [Gill].
exercised—that is, disciplined; literally, "that they may thereby chastise, or humble themselves."
vexation of—"a preying upon"
numbered—so as to make a complete number; so equivalent to "supplied" [Maurer]. 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—(Ge 24:45).
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," (Lu 13:34), and "Wisdom" incarnate (Mt 11:19; 12:42).
17. wisdom … madness—that is, their effects, the works of human wisdom and folly respectively. "Madness," literally, "vaunting extravagance"; 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 (1Ti 6:20), "craft" (Da 8:25).
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).