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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ecclesiastes 6

 

 

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 6:1 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it [is] common among men:

Ver. 1. There is an evil that I have seen under the sun.] This wretched life is so pestered with evils that the Preacher could hardly cast his eye beside one or other of them. A diligent observer he was of human miseries, that he might hang loose to life and the better press upon others the vanity of doting upon it. One would wonder, surely, that our life here being so grievously afflicted, should yet be so inordinately affected; and that even by those that are "in deaths often," that have borne God’s yoke from their youth, that have suffered troubles without and terrors within, and who, if they had hope in this life only, were, by their own confession, of all men the most unhappy. [1 Corinthians 15:19] And yet so it is; God is forced to smoke us out of our clayey cottages, and to make life unto us to be nothing better than a lingering death, that we may grow weary of it, and breathe after a better, (a) where are riches without rust, pleasure without pain, youth without decay, joy without sorrow, Ubi nihil sit quod nolis, et totum sit quod velis, (b) where is all that heart can wish, &c. The skilful surgeon mortifieth with straigtht binding the member that must be cut off; so doth God fit us for our cutting off, by binding us with the cords of afflictions. "He crieth not when God bindeth him," [Job 36:13] saith Elihu of hypocrites; a generation of men, than the which nothing is more stupid and insensible; (c) till at length, God making forcible entry upon them, doth violently break that cursed covenant that they have made with death and hell, dash the very breath out of their bodies with one plague upon another, turn them out of their earthly tabernacles, with a firma eiectione, and send them packing to their place in hell, from which they would not be stopped by all those crosses that, for that purpose, he cast in their way.

And it is common among men.] Proper to men, for beasts are not subject to this evil disease, and common to all sorts of men. One evil may well be common among many, when many evils are so commonly upon one. It happened to be a part of Mithridates’ misery, that he had made himself unpoisonable. And Cato so felt this miserable life, ut causa moriendi nactum se esse gauderet, (d) that he was glad of an occasion to go out of the world.


Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 6:2 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.

Ver. 2. So that he wanteth nothing.] Nothing but everything, because he dare not make use of anything almost, but is tantalised by his own baseness. He famisheth at a full feast, he starveth at a fireside. And this is often repeated in this book, because it can never enough be observed and abhorred.

Yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof,] i.e., He withholdeth his grace from him, that he cannot use it to his comfort. Herein he is like a stag that hath great horns, but no courage to use them; or rather like an ass loaded with gold and victuals, but feeding upon thistles. Pray we, therefore, that God would together with riches, "give us all things richly to enjoy." [1 Timothy 6:17] Vel mihi da clavem, vel mihi tolle feram. Either give me the key, saith one, or take away the lock. The Greeks describe a good householder to be κτητικον, φυλακτικον, κοσμητικον των υπαρχοντων, και χρηστικον, a good husband, as in getting, keeping and setting out what he hath to the best, so in making good use of it, for his own and others’ behoof and benefit.

But a stranger eats it.] God so providing that if one will not, another shall; that if the owner will not eat, but sit piddling or sparing, a stranger, and perhaps an enemy, shall take away. That if men will not serve God with cheerfulness in the abundance of all things, they should fast another while, and be forced to serve their enemies in hunger and thirst and nakedness; and by the want of all be taught the worth of them, carendo quam fruendo [Deuteronomy 28:15-68]


Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 6:3 If a man beget an 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.

Ver. 3. If a man beget an hundred children.] As Ahab did half a hundred, after that God had threatened to cut off all his house, as it were in contempt of the divine threatening. And as Proculus Caesar got twenty maids with child in fifteen days’ space, as Pliny (a) reports. Erasmus (b) mentioneth a maid of Eubcea, called Combe, that being married to a husband, brought him a hundred children. Like enough it might be luctuosa faecunditas, as Jerome (c) saith of Laeta, who buried many children.

And live many years.] So that he be trisaeclisenex, as Nestor was of old, and Iohannes de temporibus, a Frenchman, not many ages since, to whom I may add that old, old, very old man, (d) that died of late years, having been born in Henry VII’s days, or Edward IV’s.

And his soul be not filled with good.] Though he be filled with years, and filled with children, that may survive and succeed him in his estate, yet if he be a covetous wretch, a miserable muckworm, that enjoys nothing, as in the former verse, is not master of his wealth, but is mastered by it, lives beside what he hath, and dies to save charges - as the bee in Camden’s Remains.

And also that he have no burial.] He leaves nothing to bring him honestly home, as they say; or if he do, yet his ungrateful, greedy heirs deny him that last honour, so that he is buried "with the burial of an ass," [Jeremiah 22:19] as Coniah; suffered to rot and stink above ground, as that Assyrian monarch, [Isaiah 14:19-20] and after him Alexander the Great, who lay unburied thirty days together. So Pompey the Great, of whom Claudian the poet sings thus,

Nudus pascit aves, iacet en qui possidet orbem,

Exiguae telluris inops. ” -

And a similar story about our William the Conqueror, and various other greedy engrossers of the world’s good. See here the poisonful and pernicious nature of niggardliness and covetousness, that turns long life and large issue, those sweetest blessings of God, into bitter curses. And with it take notice of the just hand of God upon covetous old men, that they should want comely burial; which is usually one of their greatest cares, as Plutarch observeth. For giving the reason why old men, that are going out of the world, should be so earnestly bent upon the world, he saith, it is out of fear that they shall not have τους θρεψοντας και τους θοψαντας, friends to keep them while they are alive, and some to bury them when they are dead.

I say that an untimely birth.] I affirm it in the word of truth, and upon mature deliberation, that an untimely birth - not only a naked young child, as aforesaid, that is carried ab utero ad urnam, from the womb to the tomb, from the birth to the burial - but an abortive, that coming too soon into the world, comes not at all; and, by having no name, finds itself a name, as Pliny speaks of the herb anonymus.


Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 6:4 For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.

Ver. 4. For he cometh in with vanity, &c.] As nothing, being senseless of good or evil. "And departeth in darkness," and is buried in hugger mugger. And his "name shall be covered," &c., that is, there is no more talk of this abortive.


Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 6:5 Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known [any thing]: this hath more rest than the other.

Ver. 5. Moreover he hath not seen the sun.] A second privilege and prerogative of the poor abortive. None are so miserable, we see, but they may be comparatively happy. It is ever best to look at those below us, and then we shall see cause to be better contented.

This hath more rest than the other.] The grain that is cropped as soon as it appeareth, or is bruised in pieces when it lies in sprout, is better than the old weed, that is hated while it standeth, and in the end is cut down for the fire.


Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 6:6 Yea, though he live a thousand years twice [told], yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?

Ver. 6. Yea, though he live a thousand years.] Which yet never any man did; Methuselah wanted thirty-two of a thousand. - The reason thereof is given by Oecolampadius; " Quia numerus iste typum habeat perfectionis, ut qui constet e centenario decies revoluto," because the number of a thousand types out perfection, as consisting of a hundred ten times told. But there is no perfection here, saith he.

Yet hath he seen no good.] For, "all the days of the afflicted are evil," saith Solomon. [Proverbs 15:15] And man’s days are "few and full of trouble," saith Job. [Job 14:1] "Few and evil are the days of my pilgrimage," saith Jacob, [Genesis 47:9] "and I have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers." For Abraham lived one hundred and seventy-five years, and Isaac one hundred and eighty - near upon forty years longer than Jacob, but to his small comfort, for he was blind all that time; yet nothing so blind as the rich wretch in the text, qui privatus interno lumine, tamen in hac vita diu vult perpeti caecitatem suam, as one speaketh, who being blind as a mole, lies rooting and poring incessantly in the bowels of the earth - as if he would that way dig himself a new and a nearer way to hell - and with his own hands addeth to the load of this miserable life. As he hath done no good, so he hath seen or enjoyed none; but goes to his place (do not all go to one place?) - the place that Adam provided for all his posterity, the house appointed for all living, as Job calls it, [Job 30:23] the congregation house, as one renders it. Heaven the apostle calls the congregation house {πανηγαριν, Hebrews 12:23} of the firstborn, whose names also are there said to be written in heaven: but covetous persons, as they are called "the inhabitants of the earth," [Revelation 12:12] in opposition to those coelicolae, citizens of heaven, the saints; so their names are "written in the earth," [Jeremiah 17:13] "because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters," and "hewed them out cisterns that can hold no water." [Jeremiah 2:13] What marvel, then, if they live long, and yet see no good? if they are driven to that doleful complaint that Saul made, "God hath forsaken me, and the Philistines are upon me," [1 Samuel 28:15] - sickness, death, hell is upon me, I am even now about to make my bed in the dark, and all the comfort I can have from God is that dismal sentence, "This shall ye have of mine hand, ye shall lie down in sorrow." [Isaiah 50:11] Lo, this is the cursed condition of the covetous churl; as he hath lived beside his goods, having jaded his body, broken his brains, and burdened his conscience, so he dies hated of God, and loathed of men; the earth groans under him, heaven is shut against him, hell gapes for him. [1 Corinthians 6:8-9 Philippians 3:18] Thus many a miser spins a fair thread to strangle himself, both temporally and eternally. Oh that they would seriously think of this before the cold grave hold their bodies, and hot hell torment their souls! before death come with a writ of Habeas corpus, Let you have the body, and the devil with a writ of Habeas animam, Let you have the soul, as once to that rich fool. [Luke 12:16-21]


Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 6:7 All the labour of man [is] for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.

Ver. 7. All the labour of man is for his mouth.] That is, For food and raiment, {as 1 Timothy 6:8} a little whereof will content nature, which hath therefore given us a little mouth and stomach, (a) to teach us moderation, as Chrysostom well observeth; to the shame of those beastly belly gods, that glut themselves, and devour the creatures, as if they were of kin to that Pope that was called Os porci, Mouth of a pig, fattening themselves like boars, till they be brawned, and having, as Eliphaz speaketh, collops in their flank. A man would think, by their greedy and great eating, that their throats were whirlpools, and their bellies bottomless; that they were like locusts, which have but one gut, the ass fish, that hath his heart in his belly, (b) or the dolphin, that hath his mouth in his maw, as Solinus saith.

And yet the appetite is not filled.] And yet what birds soever fly, what fishes soever swim, what beasts soever run about, are all buried in our bellies, saith Seneca. (c) Heliogabalus was served at one supper with seven thousand fishes and five thousand fowls. He had also six hundred harlots following him in chariots, and yet gave great rewards to him that could invent any new pleasure. His thirst was unquenchable, his appetite like the hill Aetna, ever on fire, after more. Now, as "in water face answereth to face," [Proverbs 27:19] so doth the appetite of a man to man; we are all as irregular, if God suffer us to range.


Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 6:8 For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?

Ver. 8. For what hath the wise more than the fool?] Nothing at all in this vanity of human nature, that it needeth still new supply of nourishment to preserve it. When a wise man hath eaten, is he not again hungry? and must not his hunger again be satisfied as well as a fool’s hunger? Indeed, as any man is more wise, he is more temperate: he eats to live, not lives to eat. He needs not much, nor is a slave to his appetite, or to his palate. He can feed upon gruel for a need, with Daniel; upon coleworts, with Elisha; upon a cake on the coals and a cruise of water, with Elijah; upon locusts and wild honey, with the Baptist; upon barley bread, with the disciples; upon a herring or two, as Luther, &c. This a fool can ill frame to. He eats as a beast with the old world - Tρωγοντες [Matthew 24:38] - and "feeds without fear"; [ 1:12] he "caters for the flesh" [Romans 13:14] and "overchargeth it with surfeiting and drunkenness"; [Luke 21:34] he measureth not his cheer by that which nature requireth, but that which greedy appetite desireth, as if therein consisteth his whole happiness.

What hath the poor that knoweth to walk before the living,] viz., The poor wise man that lives by his wits can "serve the time," in St Paul’s sense (if ever he meant it there, Romans 12:11), and make an honest shift to rub through the world. What hath such a one more than a simpler man in this particular? Doth not his hunger return - his stomach crave new nourishment? Animantis cuiusque vita est fuga, saith the philosopher: Were it not for the repair of nutrition, the natural life would be soon extinguished.


Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 6:9 Better [is] the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this [is] also vanity and vexation of spirit.

Ver. 9. Better is the sight of the eyes, &c., ] i.e., As some sense it, Better it is to overlook dainty dishes than to overcharge the stomach with them; to fill the eyes than the belly; to gratify that than to pamper this: though that is a vanity too in the issue, and may prove a vexation of spirit - may breed inward inquietation; the best that can come of it is repentance and self-revenge, [2 Corinthians 7:11] as in Epaminondas. Symmachus reads the words thus, Melius est providere, quam ambulare ut libet: Better it is to provide than to walk at random. The Septuagint thus, Melius est videre quod cupias, quam desiderare quod nescias: Better is it to see what thou desirest, than to desire what thou knowest not. The best expositors make it an answer to an objection: for, whereas the rich man might reply, Better see wealth than be always seeking it, better have it than hawk after it: the Preacher answers that misery may be somewhat mitigated by this means but never fully cured or cashiered.


Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 6:10 That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it [is] man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.

Ver. 10. That which hath been is named already.] Or thus, That which is the name of it, hath been named already, {viz., Ecclesiastes 1:2-3} and it is known that it is Adam, or earthly man. The very notation of his name argues him mortal and miserable; whether he be wise or foolish, rich or poor, that alters not the case: - Homo sum, said one, humanum nihil a me alienum puto: I am a man, and therefore may not think strange of misery, whereunto I am born, as the sparks fly upward; [Job 5:7] he that forgets not that he is a man, will not take it ill that evil befalls him, (a) saith another. When Francis, King of France, being held prisoner by Charles V, Emperor of Germany, saw the Emperor’s motto, Plus ultra, More yet, written on the wall of his chamber, he underwrote these words, Hodie mihi, cras tibi: Today is my turn to suffer, tomorrow thine. The Emperor observed it and wrote underneath that, Fateor me esse hominem: I confess I am a man, and therefore subject to misery. (b) Metellus was by the Romans counted and called Felix, happy; so was Sulla, (c) but he proved true that holy proverb, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning," for he died miserably of the lousy disease, that dashed all his former happiness. The Delphian oracle pronounced one Aglaus, a poor contented Arcadian, the only happy man alive. Solon preferred Tellus the Athenian, and Cleobis, and Bitus also, before rich Croesus, telling him further that he might be called rich and mighty but not blessed, till he had made a happy end; and so confuting his fond conceit of an imaginary felicity. (d) The Greeks, when they would call a man thrice miserable, they call him thrice a man. (e) The Hebrews, whereas they name a bee from the order of her working, a grasshopper from devouring, an ant from gnawing, an adamant from strokes bearing, a serpent from curious observing, a horse from neighing, &c, they give man his name Adam, from the dust whereof he was made, and Enoch, sorry-man, sick of a deadly disease, and so no way fit to "contend with God, who is much mightier than he," to require a reason of his judgments, which are sometimes secret, always just. God hath shut up all persons and things (as it were close prisoners) under vanity, by an irresistible decree. To strive against this stream, and by heaping riches, honours, pleasures, to seek to break prison and to withstand God’s will, is lost labour. Misery need not go to find such out, they run to meet their bane; which yet will - as we say of foul weather - come time enough before it is sent for.


Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 6:11 Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what [is] man the better?

Ver. 11. Seeing there be many things that increase.] Seeing it is in vain to wrestle or wrangle with God, to seek to ward off his blow, to moat up one’s self against his fire. Why should vain man contend with his Maker? Why should he beat himself to froth, as the surges of the sea do against the rock? Why should he, like the untamed heifer unaccustomed to the yoke, gall his neck by wriggling? - make his crosses heavier than God makes them, by crossness and impatience? The very heathen could tell him that,

Deus crudelius urit,

Quos videt invitos succubuisse sibi. ”

- Tibul. Eleg. 1.

God will have the better of those that contend with him: and his own reason will tell him that it is not fit that God should cast down the bucklers first: and that the deeper a man wades, the more he shall be wet.


Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 6:12 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?

Ver. 12. For who knoweth what is good for man.] He may think this and that to be good, but is, mostly, mistaken and disappointed. Ambrose hath well observed, that other creatures are led by the instinct of nature to that which is good for them. The lion, when he is sick, cures himself by devouring an ape; the bear, by devouring ants; the wounded deer, by feeding upon dittany, (a) &c.; tu ignoras, O homo, remedia tua, but thou, O man, knowest not what is good for thee. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good," saith the prophet; "and what doth the Lord require of thee, but this" - instead of raking riches together - "to do justly, and to love mercy, and" - instead of contending with him - "to humble thyself to walk with thy God." [Micah 6:8]

For who can tell a man what shall be after him?] When the worms shall be scrambling for his body, the devils, haply, for his soul, and his friends for his goods. A false Jesuit published in print, some years after Queen Elizabeth’s death, that she died despairing, and that she wished she might, after her death, hang a while in the air, to see what striving would be for her kingdom. (b) I loved the man, said Ambrose of Theodosius, for this, that when he died, he was more affected with care of the Church’s good, than of his own. (c)

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-6.html. 1865-1868.

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