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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ecclesiastes 6





The vanity of riches without use; of children, and of old age without riches. The vanity of sight, and wandering desires. The conclusion of vanities.

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 6:2. A man to whom God hath given, &c.— From the 18th verse of the foregoing chapter to the present, we have the 2nd proof of the 2nd proposition, which is taken from the insufficiency of riches to give a man any real satisfaction, even though the actual possession of them should never be taken from him. It was observed before, (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22.) that the only advantage to be had from earthly acquisitions is present enjoyment. But it was remarked likewise, that this is the gift of God, and is not in any man's power, except it be given him from above. Now Solomon adds a further observation, which had been already hinted at, chap. Ecclesiastes 2:24 but not fully explained; viz. that possession and fruition are so far from being necessarily linked together, that the Supreme Dispenser of all things, as experience testifies, often grants the one without granting the other. And what is the use of riches to one who starves in the midst of plenty, but to torment him?

Thus he might have been happier and less uneasy without riches, than he is with them; chap. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20. This observation, however, is set in a very strong light, by the opposition of the case of another man, to whom God Almighty granted both wealth and enjoyment. This man, indeed, has no cause to complain, or to reckon his days as if they were burdensome to him; but as he is indebted to God's liberality, and not to his own labour and industry, for the ease and happiness that he enjoys, his case is no objection to the general observation laid down in the present proposition. That observation, on the other hand, is strongly confirmed by the instance of the unhappy rich man; viz. that every thing in this world, when considered in itself, is vain, and rather fit to torment men's minds, than to give them any real satisfaction, chap. Ecclesiastes 6:1-2.

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 6:3. If a man beget Though a man should beget an hundred children, and live many years; nay, though he should be a senator, on account of the days of his years; if should not enjoy his prosperity, nor even get a burying-place for himself, I concluded an abortive is better than he. Solomon's meaning, probably, is, that the man he speaks of, though not only a long-liver, but likewise a man of eminence on account of his age; a chief, a judge, or a senator, shall nevertheless be accounted miserable, if that be all the advantage that he gets from his long stay in this world. The word קבורה, keburah, which we render burial, occurs in thirteen places of Scripture beside the present, and in every one of them means a burying-place, and not the action of burying; nor does the notion of burial agree with the context: For Solomon speaks of a man who is alive yet; since he shall depart in darkness, (see the next verse;) and whose misfortune, of consequence, cannot be aggravated by his not being buried. To what purpose then is a burying-place mentioned? I answer, that it was customary for people in easy circumstances to provide a burying-place for themselves and their family: Therefore, as the Arabic and Chaldee have well expressed it, it must be a proof of a man's dying in narrow circumstances, and not having enjoyed his fortune long, if ever he had any, that he has not provided such a place, a house of burial. See 2 Kings 23:6 and Desvoeux.

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 6:4. For he cometh in with vanity, &c.— For it is in vain he came, and he shall depart in darkness.

Verse 5-6

Ecclesiastes 6:5-6. Nor known any thing: this hath, &c.— Nor known the difference of one thing from another: Ecclesiastes 6:6. Nay, though he had lived twice a thousand years, without enjoying happiness, do not both go to one place? Desvoeux. Houbigant renders the clause in the 16th verse, Yet hath he seen no good, by enjoying good. From the instances mentioned in the first and second proof, the sacred orator infers, from the third to the present verses, by way of corollary, that the fate of an abortive is preferable to that of many men, and especially of those whose condition he had described, and to whose case he refers again. To have come into the world in vain; that is to say, so as to have nothing remaining of what one might imagine you came for; to depart without being taken notice of; to be soon forgotten; is the common fate of the abortive, and of the man who, notwithstanding the longest life most honourably spent, does not get fortune enough to enable him to provide a sepulchre for himself. Nay, the former has the advantage of him who had the tempting knowledge of the pleasures of this world, without being allowed the fruition: If the abortive was not blessed with the enjoyment, he was not tormented with the eagerness of desires.

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 6:8. What hath the poor, &c.— What remaineth also to the very beggar, who knoweth how to walk before the living? The desire of the wise man who labours, is undoubtedly to make himself more comfortable than he could expect to be, by giving himself no manner of trouble: yet, when all is duly considered, it is plain, on the one hand, that the ultimate drift of all our occupations is, to be supplied with the necessaries of life; which is thus proverbially expressed, All the labour of man is for his mouth; and we find, on, the other hand, that all that the wisest man can consume, or really enjoy, is no more than generally falls to the lot of the most wretched among men; viz. those who are forced to beg their bread; provided they behave so as not to preclude themselves from the beneficence of other men. What remaineth to the wise more than to the ignorant? What, or that which remaineth also to the most miserable wretch, who knoweth how to walk before the living. Thus the wise really has an advantage over the ignorant or fool, who either does not get, or, after he has gotten, does not enjoy (Ecclesiastes 6:2.) the necessaries of life; but that advantage does not fill his soul, or satisfy his desires; as it does not raise him above the level of those who depend upon others for their subsistence, and who seldom fail of getting that by a proper demeanour, which the most industrious attains through his labour and application.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 6:9. Better is the sight of the eyes The third and last proof, contained in this and the two preceding verses, is taken from the insatiableness of mens' wishes, whereby they are made miserable even when they get the utmost of what they can reasonably wish for. It is a vain and foolish thing to give a loose to your desires, instead of being satisfied with what you at present enjoy; since, whatever you may wish for, it is impossible for you personally to enjoy more than what your constitution will bear; and that is very little, properly speaking, beyond the necessaries of life, which are enjoyed by every man upon earth, whether his wishes be extensive or not.

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 6:11. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity For there are many arguments to shew the multitude of vanities which prevail on the earth. Desvoeux: who concludes the verse here, and begins the 12th thus, Now what remaineth to man? for who, &c. Solomon, in the 10th and 11th verses, thought proper to draw a general conclusion from the two former propositions, which were hitherto fully established, after a full inquiry into men's occupations and schemes of happiness: It appears that the name of vapour, or vanity, which was given them in the beginning, is a very fit one. Nay, it is a name as properly to be given to man, as to any thing else; for man can never be able to withstand the appointment of God, who sufficiently testified his will by the ways of his providence.

Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 6:12. Which he spendeth as a shadow Though he spendeth them under a shadow, in which who will shew a man what shall be after him? Desvoeux: who has shewn, that the phrase, to spend his days under a shadow, signifies, to spend them in ease and tranquillity. See p. 324. The 3rd general proposition is contained in this verse. Men know not what is, or is not, truly advantageous to them, because they are either ignorant or unmindful of that which must come to pats after they are dead. The proofs of this third proposition we here, as before, subjoin analytically: Chap. Verse. Ecclesiastes 6:12. III. Proposition. Ecclesiastes 7:1, &c. 1st Proof. Wrong estimation of things.

A digression intended (like that, chap Ecclesiastes 5:1-9.) to prevent any misconstruction of the foregoing observations, and containing several advices, together with a strong commendation of him who gives them, in order to enforce the observation of the rules laid down by him.

Ecclesiastes 5:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:1 st Advice. Not to blame Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:13. 2nd Advice. Not to judge of Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:14-15. 3rd Advice. To submit to Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:16-20. 4th Advice, To avoid excess.

Ecc 5:21, 22. 5th Advice. Not to mind idle reports. Ecclesiastes 7:23-25. Commendation of the foregoing advices from the author's application to examine every thing, and especially,

Ecclesiastes 7:26-29. 1. Wickedness and ignorance. Ecclesiastes 8:1 to Ecclesiastes 8:2. 2nd Proof. Anticipated or wrong judgments.

Ecclesiastes 8:9-14. 1. That sin shall go unpunished, because it is so in this world. Ecclesiastes 9:15-16. 2. That life is preferable to death.

Ecclesiastes 9:7 to Ecc_9:1 st Corollary. Earthly comforts are not of a criminal nature.

Ecclesiastes 9:10. 2nd Corollary. A proper use must be made of our faculties.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-15. 3rd Proof. Judegments which are seemingly right, yet truely false.

Ecclesiastes 9:16, &c. 4th Proof. Little regard paid to wisdom.

Ecclesiastes 9:16. 1. Past services are forgotten. Ecclesiastes 9:10 to Ecclesiastes 10:17. 2. The least fault is taken notice of.

Ecclesiastes 10:5-19. 3. Favour gets what is due to worth.

Ecclesiastes 10:20. A Caution to prevent the abuse of the foregoing remarks.

PRACTICAL INFERENCES. Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 4:1. From the first proposition. We must give to earthly goods that stability only of which they are capable.

5, 6. 2. From the first and second propositions: We must, in our conduct, conform to the design of Providence towards us, and leave the success to God. Ecclesiastes 12:7; Ecclesiastes 8:3. From the three propositions; but especially from the third: We must seek for happiness beyond the grave.

9.-12. Commendation of the work, from several considerations.

13, 14. Conclusion of the whole.

This proposition, then, is supported by four proofs: But it must be observed, that though the special reason which is here annexed to the proposition, viz. that men do not mind futurity, is the principal to evince the main point; yet the author does not confine himself so closely to that reason, as to mention nothing in the course of the argument but what relates to it. He keeps close to the proposition, but allows himself the liberty of bringing in several particulars to make out his proofs, which have no regard to that special reason. The first proof is taken from the ill-judged preference given by men to certain things above others, either through prejudice, or through depravity. Here our author uses a very remarkable art in pointing out the particulars whereof his proof is to consist. For, instead of explicitly mentioning these false opinions, he contents himself with shewing that they are false. To this effect, he alleges the judgment of the wise upon several subjects, concerning which the sentiments of the ignorant are too well known to stand in need of being expressly described: For the bare mention of the subject is sufficient to remind us of what the generality of men think of it. Thus, to have Solomon's arguments at full length, we must supply upon every article that which is known to be the prevailing opinion among such as know not what is good for man among the living all the days of his vain life, whenever the author does not mention it in express words. See on Ecclesiastes 6:8.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, The evil remarked in the beginning of the chapter is not peculiar to one place or age; it is still common under the sun, and a grief to every attentive observer. Blessed be God that in heaven there is no evil, and therefore no cause for lamentation!

1. The person described is a rich, covetous man. God hath given him riches, wealth; all which come from him, and are often the portion of the most unworthy; yet these bring honour and respect; for, to Mammon men generally bow. Add to this; a numerous family, to perpetuate his name; and long life, in which he might enjoy his abundance. In short, heart could not wish for more outward advantages than God hath bestowed upon him: but, notwithstanding, it appears evident in that man's life, that the comfort of it consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. For,

2. He has no heart to taste the mercies bestowed upon him; and then they are all empty and vain. He hath not power to eat thereof; his covetous temper will not allow himself or his family necessaries; and, withholding from the poor their portion, God punishes him, by suffering him to pine in the midst of plenty. He cannot trust his nearest relations, or his own children; but a stranger, who has wormed himself into favour, eateth it, preying upon him, and after his decease possessing his fortune. A vanity this, and amazing folly; an evil disease; a madness seldom cured, and fatal both to body and soul. His soul is not filled with good; his purse is filled with gold, his warehouses with stores, but his soul is still empty and uneasy; there is an aching void within, which none of these things can fill. Nay, he hath seen no good; through all his days, insensible to the mercies around him, and unable to relish any of the comforts which he possesses. And, as his life is without joy, his death is without honour; he hath no burial, or none suitable to his rank: the sordidness of his temper makes him a niggard even to his corpse, and to forbid it in his will a becoming interment; or his heirs have so little esteem for him, that if they huddle him into a grave, they care not how meanly it is done.

3. Better it is to have been carried from the womb to the grave, than thus to have lived and died. For he cometh in with vanity, the abortive birth, and departeth in, or into, darkness unnoticed; he is laid in the dust, and his name shall be covered with darkness, forgotten and unknown: moreover, he hath not seen the sun, nor the miseries that are under it, nor known any thing of the troubles of this disordered world: this hath more rest than the other, having never groaned under the toils of labour, the evil of covetousness, or the misery of departing. They go to one place, the common bed of dust, where no distinction marks the putrid clay.

2nd, How vain are the toils of anxiety!

1. There is no satisfaction in them. All the labour of man is for his mouth, what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and yet the appetite is not filled; avarice is insatiable, hunger continually returning, and pampered appetite ever craving; or the soul is not satisfied; it can relish nothing of these sensual indulgences.

2. In the enjoyments of this world, there is not that difference which appears between the wise and the fool, the rich and the poor. For what hath the wise more than the fool? what greater comfort in his possessions, or fruit of his labour? respecting the gratification of sensual appetite they are on a level: and what hath the poor that knoweth to walk before the living? If he be industrious, and dexterous in his business, he provides a livelihood for himself and family; and in his sphere enjoys his little, and tastes as much satisfaction therein as the rich in all their abundance.

3. Contentment with what we have is a far greater comfort, than to be always coveting more. Better is the sight of the eyes, the present portion before us, when enjoyed, than the wandering of the desire, still craving and insatiate; for this is also vanity: if the objects that we covet were given us, they would be still unsatisfactory; and the disappointments that we must meet with in the pursuit of them will be a vexation of our spirit.

4. After all our labours, we must remain merely human, with all the infirmities of man; and though we could attain all the riches of the east, or the empire of the world, it is, and must be known and acknowledged, that it is a man, a poor dying worm, still lighter in the balances than vanity itself.

5. There is no contending against God; he is mightier than we: it were presumption to question his wisdom or goodness, and madness to oppose his Omnipotence. His will is law, to which, willing or unwilling, even the great, the wealthy, the mighty, must submit; and sickness and death, at farthest, will convince them that they are but men.

3rdly, Hear, then, the conclusion of the matter:

1. Man's pursuits after creature-good do but the more perplex and trouble him. Seeing there be many things that increase vanity; knowledge, wealth, power, pleasure; what is man the better? Nay, is he not rather the worse? These things which promised him happiness, inordinately sought, prove a plague and a snare to him.

2. Man is a poor blind creature, and knoweth not what is for his own good; for who knoweth what is good for man in this life? None but God alone, who will do what is best; and our happiness is contentment in his dispensations.

3. Man's life is short, transitory, and vain. Years, nay, months, are too much to compute it by; it is reckoned by days, days of vanity, empty of all good, as a shadow wherein there is nothing substantial, and swiftly hurrying to their end.

4. He hath no foresight of what will happen when he is gone; what will be the condition of his posterity, and how his substance will be disposed of; so that his prospects in futurity afford him no more happiness than his present possessions.


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 6:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

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