Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
"There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and in great weight it lies upon man: a man to whom God giveth riches, and treasures, and honour, and he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he may wish, but God giveth him not power to have enjoyment of it, for a strange man hath the enjoyment: that is vanity and an evil disease." The author presents the result of personal observation; but inasmuch as he relates it in the second tense, he generalizes the matter, and places it scenically before the eyes of the reader. A similar introduction with ישׁ, but without the unnecessary asher, is found at Ecc 5:12; Ecc 10:5. Regarding בּה, vid., under Ecc 8:6; על does not denote the subj., as at Ecc 2:17 : it appears great to a man, but it has its nearest lying local meaning; it is a great (Ecc 2:21) evil, pressing in its greatness heavily upon man. The evil is not the man himself, but the condition in which he is placed, as when, e.g., the kingdom of heaven is compared to a merchant (Mat 13:45.), - not the merchant in himself, but his conduct and life is a figure of the kingdom of heaven.
To עשׁר וּנך, as at Ch2 1:11, וך and honour is added as a third thing. What follows we do not translate: "and there is nothing wanting ... ;" for that איננּוּ with the pleonastic suff. may mean: "there is not," is not to be proved from Gen 39:9, thus: and he spares not for his soul (lxx καὶ οὐκ κ.τ.λ) what he always desires. חסר is adj. in the sense of wanting, lacking, as at Sa1 21:1-15 :16; Kg1 11:22; Pro 12:9. לנפשׁו, "for his soul," i.e., his person, is = the synon. לעצמו found in the later usage of the language; מן (different from the min, Ecc 4:8) is, as at Gen 6:2, partitive. The נכרי, to whom this considerable estate, satisfying every wish, finally comes, is certainly not the legal heir (for that he enters into possession, in spite of the uncertainty of his moral character, Ecc 2:19, would be in itself nothing less than a misfortune, yet perfectly in order, Ecc 5:13 ), but some stranger without any just claim, not directly a foreigner (Heiligst.), but, as Burger explains: talis qui proprie nullum habet jus in bona ejus cui נכרי dicitur (cf. נכריּה of the unmarried wife in the Book of Proverbs).
That wealth without enjoyment is nothing but vanity and an evil disease, the author now shows by introducing another historical figure, and thereby showing that life without enjoyment is worse than never to have come into existence at all:
"If a man begat an hundred, and lived many years, and the amount of the days of his years was great, and his soul satisfied not itself in good, and also he had no grave, then I say: Better than he is the untimely birth." The accentuation of 3a is like that of 2a. The disjunctives follow the Athnach, as at Kg2 23:13, only that there Telisha Gedhola stands for Pazer. Hitzig finds difficulty with the clause לו ... וגם־, and regards it as a marginal gloss to 5a, taken up into the text at a wrong place. But just the unexpected form and the accidental nature, more than the inward necessity of this feature in the figure, leads us to conclude that the author here connects together historical facts, as conjecturally noted above, into one fanciful picture. מאה is obviously to be supplemented by (ובנות) בנים; the Targ. and Midrash make this man to be Cain, Ahab, Haman, and show at least in this that they extend down into the time of the Persian kingdom a spark of historical intelligence. שׁן רבּ interchanges with שׁן הר, Ecc 11:8, as at Neh 11:30. In order to designate the long life emphatically, the author expresses the years particularly in days: "and if it is much which (Heiligst.: multum est quod) the days of his years amount to;" cf. ימי ויּהיוּ, in Gen 5. With venaphsho there follows the reverse side of this long life with many children: (1) his soul satisfies not itself, i.e., has no self-satisfying enjoyment of the good (min, as at Psa 104:13, etc.), i.e., of all the good things which he possesses, - in a word, he is not happy in his life; and (2) an honourable burial is not granted to him, but קב חם, Jer 22:19, which is the contrary of a burial such as becomes a man (the body of Artaxerxes Ochus was thrown to the cats); whereupon Elster rightly remarks that in an honourable burial and an honourable remembrance, good fortune, albeit shaded with sadness, might be seen. But when now, to one so rich in children and so long-lived, neither enjoyment of his good fortune nor even this shaded glory of an honourable burial is allowed, the author cannot otherwise judge than that the untimely birth is better than he. In this section regarding the uncertainty of riches, we have already, Ecc 5:14, fallen on a reminiscence from the Book of Job; it is so much the more probable that here also Job 3:16 has an influence on the formation of the thought. נפל is the foetus which comes lifeless from the mother's womb.
The comparison of an untimely birth with such a man is in favour of the former: "For it cometh in nothingness and departeth in darkness; and with darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it hath not seen the sun, and hath not known: it is better with it than with that other." It has entered into existence, בּהבל, because it was a lifeless existence into which it entered when its independent life should have begun; and בּהשׁך, it departeth, for it is carried away in all quietness, without noise or ceremony, and "with darkness" its name is covered, for it receives no name and remains a nameless existence, and is forgotten as if it had never been. Not having entered into a living existence, it is also (gam) thus happy to have neither seen the sun nor known and named it, and thus it is spared the sight and the knowledge of all the vanities and evils, the deceptions and sorrows, that are under the sun. When we compare its fate with the long joyless life of that man, the conclusion is apparent: מ ... נחת, plus quietis est huic quam illi, which, with the generalization of the idea of rest (Job 3:13) in a wider sense, is = melius est huic quam illi (זה ... זה, as at Ecc 3:19). The generalization of the idea proceeds yet further in the Mishn. נוח לו, e.g.: "It is better (נוח לו לאדם) for a man that he throw himself into a lime-kiln than that (ואל), etc." From this usage Symm. renders מ ... נחת as obj. to ידע לא, and translates: οὐδὲ ἐπειράθη διαφορᾶς ἑτέρου πράγματος πρὸς ἓτερον ; and Jerome: neque cognovit distantiam boni et mali, - a rendering which is to be rejected, because thus the point of the comparison in which it terminates is broken, for 5b draws the facit. It is true that this contains a thought to which it is not easy to reconcile oneself. For supposing that life were not in itself, as over against non-existence, a good, there is yet scarcely any life that is absolutely joyless; and a man who has become the father of an hundred children, has, as it appears, sought the enjoyment of life principally in sexual love, and then also has found it richly. But also, if we consider his life less as relating to sense: his children, though not all, yet partly, will have been a joy to him; and has a family life, so lengthened and rich in blessings, only thorns, and no roses at all? And, moreover, how can anything be said of the rest of an untimely birth, which has been without motion and without life, as of a rest excelling the termination of the life of him who has lived long, since rest without a subjective reflection, a rest not felt, certainly does not fall under the point of view of more or less, good or evil? The saying of the author on no side bears the probe of exact thinking. In the main he designs to say: Better, certainly, is no life than a joyless life, and, moreover, one ending dishonourably. And this is only a speciality of the general clause, Ecc 4:2., that death is better than life, and not being born is better than both. The author misunderstands the fact that the earthly life has its chief end beyond itself; and his false eudaemonism, failing to penetrate to the inward fountain of true happiness, which is independent of the outward lot, makes exaggerated and ungrateful demands on the earthly life.
A life extending to more than even a thousand years without enjoyment appears to him worthless: "And if he has lived twice a thousand years long, and not seen good - Do not all go hence to one place?" This long period of life, as well as the shortest, sinks into the night of Sheol, and has advantage over the shortest if it wants the ראות ט, i.e., the enjoyment of that which can make man happy. That would be correct if "good" were understood inwardly, ethically, spiritually; but although, according to Koheleth's view, the fear of God presides over the enjoyment of life, regulating and hallowing it, yet it remains unknown to him that life deepened into fellowship with God is in itself a most real and blessed, and thus the highest good. Regarding אלּוּ (here, as at Est 7:4, with perf. foll.: etsi vixisset, tamen interrogarem: nonne, etc.); it occurs also in the oldest liturgical Tefilla, as well as in the prayer Nishmath (vid., Baer's Siddur, Abodath Jisrael, p. 207). פּ ... אלף, a thousand years twice, and thus an Adam's life once and yet again. Otherwise Aben Ezra: 1000 years multiplied by itself, thus a million, like פּעמים עשׂרים, 20 x 20 = 400; cf. Targ. Isa 30:26, which translates שׁבעתים by 343 = 7 x 7 x 7. Perhaps that is right; for why was not the expression שׁנה אלפּים directly used? The "one place" is, as at Ecc 3:20, the grave and Hades, into which all the living fall. A life extending even to a million of years is worthless, for it terminates at last in nothing. Life has only as much value as it yields of enjoyment.
"All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet his soul has never enough;" or, properly, it is not filled, so that it desires nothing further and nothing more; נמלא used as appropriately of the soul as of the ear, Ecc 1:8; for that the mouth and the soul are here placed opposite to one another as "organs of the purely sensual and therefore transitory enjoyment, and of the deeper and more spiritual and therefore more lasting kind of joys" (Zck.), is an assertion which brings out of the text what it wishes to be in it, - נפשׁ and פּה stand here so little in contrast, that, as at Pro 16:26; Isa 5:14; Isa 29:8, instead of the soul the stomach could also be named; for it is the soul longing, and that after the means from without of self-preservation, that is here meant; נפשׁ היפה, "beautiful soul," Chullin iv. 7, is an appetite which is not fastidious, but is contented. גּמו, καὶ ὃμως ὃμως δέ, as at Ecc 3:13; Psa 129:2. All labour, the author means to say, is in the service of the impulse after self-preservation; and yet, although it concentrates all its efforts after this end, it does not bring full satisfaction to the longing soul. This is grounded in the fact that, however in other respects most unlike, men are the same in their unsatisfied longing.
"For what hath the wise more than the fool; what the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?" The old translators present nothing for the interpretation, but defend the traditional text; for Jerome, like the Syr., which translates freely, follows the Midrash (fixed in the Targ.), which understands החיים, contrary to the spirit of the book, of the blessed future. The question would be easier if we could, with Bernst. and Ginsburg, introduce a comparat. min before יודע; we would then require to understand by him who knows to walk before the living, some one who acts a part in public life; but how strange a designation of distinguished persons would that be! Thus, as the text stands, יודע ,sdnat is attrib. to לעני, what preference hath the poor, such an one, viz., as understands (vid., regarding יודע instead of היודע, under Psa 143:10); not: who is intelligent (Aben Ezra); יודע is not, as at Ecc 9:11, an idea contained in itself, but by the foll. הח ... לה (cf. Ecc 4:13, Ecc 4:14; and the inf. form, Exo 3:19; Num 22:13; Job 34:23) obtains the supplement and colouring required: the sequence of the accents (Zakeph, Tifcha, Silluk, as e.g., at Gen 7:4) is not against this. How the lxx understood its πορευθῆναι κατέναντι τῆς ζωῆς, and the Venet. it's ἀπιέναι ἀντικρὺ τῆς ζωῆς, is not clear; scarcely as Grtz, with Mendelss.: who, to go against (נגד, as at Ecc 4:12) life, to fight against it, has to exercise himself in self-denial and patience; for "to fight with life" is an expression of modern coinage. הח signifies here, without doubt, not life, but the living. But we explain now, not as Ewald, who separates יודע from the foll. inf. להלך: What profit has then the wise man, the intelligent, patient man, above the fool, that he walks before the living? - by which is meant (but how does this interrog. form agree thereto?), that the wise, patient man has thereby an advantage which makes life endurable by him, in this, that he does not suffer destroying eagerness of desire so to rule over him, but is satisfied to live in quietness.Also this meaning of a quiet life does not lie in the words הח ... הלך. "To know to walk before the living" is, as is now generally acknowledged = to understand the right rule of life (Elst.), to possess the savoir vivre (Heiligst.), to be experienced in the right art of living. the question accordingly is: What advantage has the wise above the fool; and what the poor, who, although poor, yet knows how to maintain his social position? The matter treated of is the insatiable nature of sensual desire. The wise seeks to control his desire; and he who is more closely designated poor, knows how to conceal it; for he lays upon himself restraints, that he may be able to appear and make something of himself. But desire is present in both; and they have in this nothing above the fool, who follows the bent of his desire and lives for the day. He is a fool because he acts as one not free, and without consideration; but, in itself, it is and remains true, that enjoyment and satisfaction stand higher than striving and longing for a thing.
"Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the soul: also this is vain and windy effort." We see from the fin. הל־ן interchanging with מר that the latter is not meant of the object (Ecc 11:9), but of the action, viz., the "rejoicing in that which one has" (Targ.); but this does not signify grassatio,-i.e., impetus animae appetentis, ὁρμὴ τῆς ψυχῆς (cf. Marcus Aurelius, iii. 16), which Knobel, Heiligst., and Ginsburg compare (for הלך means grassari only with certain subjects, as fire, contagion, and the life; and in certain forms, as יהלך for ילך, to which הלך = לכת does not belong), - but erratio, a going out in extent, roving to a distance (cf. הלך, wanderer), ῥεμβασμὸς ἐπιθυμίας, Wisd. 4:12. - Going is the contrast of rest; the soul which does not become full or satisfied goes out, and seeks and reaches not its aim. This insatiableness, characteristic of the soul, this endless unrest, belongs also to the miseries of this present life; for to have and to enjoy is better than this constant Hungern und Lungern hungering and longing. More must not be put into 9a than already lies in it, as Elster does: "the only enduring enjoyment of life consists in the quiet contemplation of that which, as pleasant and beautiful, it affords, without this mental joy mingling with the desire for the possession of sensual enjoyment." The conception of "the sight of the eyes" is certainly very beautifully idealized, but in opposition to the text. If 9a must be a moral proverb, then Luther's rendering is the best: "It is better to enjoy the present good, than to think about other good."
"That which hath been, its name hath long ago been named; and it is determined what a man shall be: and he cannot dispute with Him who is stronger than he." According to the usage of the tense, it would be more correct to translate: That which (at any time) has made its appearance, the name of which was long ago named, i.e., of which the What? and the How? were long ago determined, and, so to speak, formulated. This שׁ ... כּבר does not stand parallel to היה כבר, Ecc 1:10; for the expression here does not refer to the sphere of that which is done, but of the predetermination. Accordingly, אדם ... ונו is also to be understood. Against the accents, inconsistently periodizing and losing sight of the comprehensiveness of אדם ... אשׁר, Hitzig renders: "and it is known that, if one is a man, he cannot contend," etc., which is impossible for this reason, that אדם הוא cannot be a conditional clause enclosed within the sentence יוכל ... אשׁר. Obviously ונודע, which in the sense of constat would be a useless waste of words, stands parallel to שׁמו נקרא, and signifies known, viz., previously known, as passive of ידע, in the sense of Zac 14:7; cf. Psa 139:1. Bullock rightly compares Act 15:18. After ידע, asher, like ki, which is more common, may signify "that," Ecc 8:12; Eze 20:26; but neither "that he is a man" (Knobel, Vaih., Luzz., Hengst., Ginsb.), nor "that he is the man" (Ewald, Elst., Zckler), affords a consistent meaning. As mah after yada' means quid, so asher after it may mean quod = that which (cf. Dan 8:19, although it does not at all stand in need of proof); and id quod homo est (we cannot render הוּא without the expression of a definite conception of time) is intended to mean that the whole being of a man, whether of this one or that one, at all times and on all sides, is previously known; cf. to this pregnant substantival sentence, Ecc 12:13. Against this formation of his nature and of his fate by a higher hand, man cannot utter a word.
The thought in 10b is the same as that at Isa 45:9; Rom 9:20. The Chethı̂b שׁהתּקּיף
(Note: With He unpointed, because it is omitted in the Kerı̂, as in like manner in כּשׁה, Ecc 10:3, שׁה, Lam 5:18. In the bibl. Rabb., the ה is noted as superfluous.)
is not inadmissible, for the stronger than man is מנּהּ ... מרי. Also התקיף might in any case be read: with one who overcomes him, has and manifests the ascendency over him. There is indeed no Hiph. הת .hpiH found in the language of the Bible (Herzf. and Frst compare הג, Psa 12:5); but in the Targ., אתקף is common; and in the school-language of the Talm., הת is used of the raising of weighty objections, e.g., Kamma 71a. The verb, however, especially in the perf., is in the passage before us less appropriate. In לא־יוּכל lie together the ideas of physical (cf. Gen 43:32; Deu 12:17; Deu 16:5, etc.) and moral inability.
"For there are many words which increase vanity: What cometh forth therefrom for man?" The dispute (objection), דּין, takes place in words; דּברים here will thus not mean "things" (Hengst., Ginsb., Zckl., Bullock, etc.), but "words." As that wrestling or contending against God's decision and providence is vain and worthless, nothing else remains for man but to be submissive, and to acknowledge his limitation by the fear of God; thus there are also many words which only increase yet more the multitude of vanities already existing in this world, for, because they are resultless, they bring no advantage for man. Rightly, Elster finds herein a hint pointing to the influence of the learning of the Jewish schools already existing in Koheleth's time. We know from Josephus that the problem of human freedom and of God's absoluteness was a point of controversy between opposing parties: the Sadducees so emphasized human freedom, that they not only excluded (Antt. xiii. 5. 9; Bell. ii. 8. 14) all divine predetermination, but also co-operation; the Pharisees, on the contrary supposed an interconnection between divine predetermination (εἱμαρμένη) and human freedom (Antt. xiii. 5. 9, xviii. 1. 3; Bell. ii. 8. 14). The Talm. affords us a glance at this controversy; but the statement in the Talm. (in Berachoth 33a, and elsewhere), which conditions all by the power of God manifesting itself in history, but defends the freedom of the religious-moral self-determination of man, may be regarded as a Pharisaic maxim. In Rom 9, Paul places himself on this side; and the author of the Book of Koheleth would subscribe this passage as his testimony, for the "fear God" is the "kern und stern" kernel and star of his pessimistic book.
Man ought to fear God, and also, without dispute and murmuring, submit to His sway: "For who knoweth what is good for man in life during the number of the days of his vain life, and which he spendeth like a shadow? No one can certainly show a man what shall be after him under the sun." We translate אשׁר only by "ja" ("certainly"), because in Germ. no interrogative can follow "dieweil" ("because"). The clause with asher (as at Ecc 4:9; Ecc 8:11; Ecc 10:15; cf. Song, under Sol 5:2), according to its meaning not different from ki, is related in the way of proof to that beginning with ki. Man is placed in our presence. To be able to say to him what is good for him, - i.e., what position he must take in life, what direction he must give to his activity, what decision he must adopt in difficult and important cases, - we ought not only to be able to penetrate his future, but, generally, the future; but, as Tropfen drops in the stream of history, we are poor Trpfe simpletons, who are hedged up within the present. Regarding the accus. of duration, וגו מספּר, pointing to the brevity of human life, vid., at Ecc 2:3. With הבלו, the attribute of breath-like transitiveness is assigned to life (as at Ecc 7:15; Ecc 9:9) (as already in the name given to Abel, the second son of Adam), which is continued by כּ ויע with the force of a relative clause, which is frequently the case after preceding part. attrib., e.g., Isa 5:23. We translate: which he spendeth like the (1) shadow [in the nom.] (after Ecc 8:13; Job 14:2); not: like a shadow [in the accus.]; for although the days of life are also likened to a shadow, Psa 144:4, etc., yet this use of עשׂה does not accord therewith, which, without being a Graecism (Zirkel, Grtz), harmonises with the Greek phrase, ποιεῖν χρόνον, Act 15:33; cf. Pro 13:23, lxx (also with the Lat. facere dies of Cicero, etc.). Thus also in the Syr. and Palest.-Aram. lacad is used of time, in the sense of transigere. Aharav does not mean: after his present condition (Zckl.); but, as at Ecc 3:22; Ecc 7:14 : after he has passed away from this scene. Luzz. explains it correctly: Whether his children will remain in life? Whether the wealth he has wearied himself in acquiring will remain and be useful to them? But these are only illustrations. The author means to say, that a man can say, neither to himself nor to another, what in definite cases is the real advantage; because, in order to say this, he must be able to look far into the future beyond the limits of the individual life of man, which is only a small member of a great whole.