The vanity of riches. Also of long life and flourishing families. (1-6) The little advantage any one has in outward things. (7-12)
Verses 1-6 A man often has all he needs for outward enjoyment; yet the Lord leaves him so to covetousness or evil dispositions, that he makes no good or comfortable use of what he has. By one means or other his possessions come to strangers; this is vanity, and an evil disease. A numerous family was a matter of fond desire and of high honour among the Hebrews; and long life is the desire of mankind in general. Even with these additions a man may not be able to enjoy his riches, family, and life. Such a man, in his passage through life, seems to have been born for no end or use. And he who has entered on life only for one moment, to quit it the next, has a preferable lot to him who has lived long, but only to suffer.
Verses 7-12 A little will serve to sustain us comfortably, and a great deal can do no more. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give satisfaction. The poor man has comfort as well as the richest, and is under no real disadvantage. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the resting of the soul in God; for it is better to live by faith in things to come, than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things. Our lot is appointed. We have what pleases God, and let that please us. The greatest possessions and honours cannot set us above the common events of human life. Seeing that the things men pursue on earth increase vanities, what is man the better for his worldly devices? Our life upon earth is to be reckoned by days. It is fleeting and uncertain, and with little in it to be fond of, or to be depended on. Let us return to God, trust in his mercy through Jesus Christ, and submit to his will. Then soon shall we glide through this vexatious world, and find ourselves in that happy place, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.
Ecclesiastes 6:1-12 .
1. common--or else more literally,--"great upon man," falls heavily upon man.
2. for his soul--that is, his enjoyment.
God giveth him not power to eat--This distinguishes him from the "rich" man in Ecclesiastes 5:19 . "God hath given" distinguishes him also from the man who got his wealth by "oppression" ( Ecclesiastes 5:8 Ecclesiastes 5:10 ).
stranger--those not akin, nay, even hostile to him ( Jeremiah 51:51 , Lamentations 5:2 , Hosea 7:9 ). He seems to have it in his "power" to do as he will with his wealth, but an unseen power gives him up to his own avarice: God wills that he should toil for "a stranger" ( Ecclesiastes 2:26 ), who has found favor in God's sight.
3. Even if a man (of this character) have very many (equivalent to "a hundred," 2 Kings 10:1 ) children, and not have a "stranger" as his heir ( Ecclesiastes 6:2 ), and live long ("days of years" express the brevity of life at its best, Genesis 47:9 ), yet enjoy no real "good" in life, and lie unhonored, without "burial," at death ( 2 Kings 9:26 2 Kings 9:35 ), the embryo is better than he. In the East to be without burial is the greatest degradation. "Better the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that left to hang on till rotten" [HENRY].
4. he--rather "it," "the untimely birth." So "its," not "his name."
with vanity--to no purpose; a type of the driftless existence of him who makes riches the chief good.
darkness--of the abortive; a type of the unhonored death and dark future beyond the grave of the avaricious.
5. this--yet "it has more rest than" the toiling, gloomy miser.
6. If the miser's length of "life" be thought to raise him above the abortive, Solomon answers that long life, without enjoying real good, is but lengthened misery, and riches cannot exempt him from going whither "all go." He is fit neither for life, nor death, nor eternity.
7. man--rather, "the man," namely, the miser ( Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 ). For not all men labor for the mouth, that is, for selfish gratification.
appetite--Hebrew, "the soul." The insatiability of the desire prevents that which is the only end proposed in toils, namely, self-gratification; "the man" thus gets no "good" out of his wealth ( Ecclesiastes 6:3 ).
8. For--"However" [MAURER]. The "for" means (in contrast to the insatiability of the miser), For what else is the advantage which the wise man hath above the fool?"
What--advantage, that is, superiority, above him who knows not how to walk uprightly
hath the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?--that is, to use and enjoy life aright ( Ecclesiastes 5:18 Ecclesiastes 5:19 ), a cheerful, thankful, godly "walk" ( Psalms 116:9 ).
9. Answer to the question in Ecclesiastes 6:8 . This is the advantage:
Better is the sight of the eyes--the wise man's godly enjoyment of present seen blessings
than the (fool's) wandering--literally, walking ( Psalms 73:9 ), of the desire, that is, vague, insatiable desires for what he has not ( Ecclesiastes 6:7 , Hebrews 13:5 ).
this--restless wandering of desire, and not enjoying contentedly the present ( 1 Timothy 6:6 1 Timothy 6:8 ).
10. Part II begins here. Since man's toils are vain, what is the chief good? ( Ecclesiastes 6:12 ). The answer is contained in the rest of the book.
That which hath been--man's various circumstances
is named already--not only has existed, Ecclesiastes 1:9 , 3:15 , but has received its just name, "vanity," long ago,
and it is known that it--vanity
is man--Hebrew, "Adam," equivalent to man "of red dust," as his Creator appropriately named him from his frailty.
neither may he contend, &c.--( Romans 9:20 ).
11. "Seeing" that man cannot escape from the "vanity," which by God's "mighty" will is inherent in earthly things, and cannot call in question God's wisdom in these dispensations (equivalent to "contend," &c.),
what is man the better--of these vain things as regards the chief good? None whatever.
12. For who knoweth, &c.--The ungodly know not what is really "good" during life, nor "what shall be after them," that is, what will be the event of their undertakings ( Ecclesiastes 3:22 , 8:7 ). The godly might be tempted to "contend with God" ( Ecclesiastes 6:10 ) as to His dispensations; but they cannot fully know the wise purposes served by them now and hereafter. Their sufferings from the oppressors are more really good for them than cloudless prosperity; sinners are being allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Retribution in part vindicates God's ways even now. The judgment shall make all clear. In Ecclesiastes 7:1-29 , he states what is good, in answer to this verse.