Verse 11. Whether men admit or deny that God knows, one thing is here declared, namely, that
The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. Not their words alone are heard, and their works seen, but he reads the secret motions of their minds, for men themselves are not hard to be discerned of him, before his glance they themselves are but vanity. It is in the Lord's esteem no great matter to know the thoughts of such transparent pieces of vanity as mankind are, he sums them up in a moment as poor vain things. This is the sense of the original, but that given in the authorised version is also true -- the thoughts, the best part, the most spiritual portion of man's nature, even these are vanity itself, and nothing better. Poor man! And yet such a creature as this boasts, plays at monarch, tyrannises over his fellow worms, and defies his God! Madness is mingled with human vanity, like smoke with the fog, to make it fouler but not more substantial than it would have been alone.
How foolish are those who think that God does not know their actions, when the truth is that their vain thoughts are all perceived by him! How absurd to make nothing of God when in fact we ourselves are as nothing in his sight.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 11. The LORD knoweth the thoughts. The thoughts of man's heart -- what millions are there of them in a day! The twinkling of the eye is not so sudden a thing as the twinkling of a thought; yet those thousands and thousands of thoughts which pass from thee, that thou canst not reckon, they are all known to God. Anthony Burgess.
Verse 11. The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. What a humbling thought is here suggested to us! Let us examine it.
- If vanity had been ascribed to the meaner parts of the creation -- if all inanimate and irrational beings, whose days are as a shadow, and who know not whence they came nor whither they go, had thus been characterized -- it had little more than accorded with our own ideas. But the humiliating truth belongs to man, the lord of the lower creation -- to man, that distinguished link in the chain of being which unites in his person mortality and immortality, heaven and earth. "The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity."
- Had vanity been ascribed only to the exercise of our sensual or mortal part, or of that which we possess in common with other animals, it had been less humiliating. But the charge is pointed at that which is the peculiar glory of man the intellectual part, his thoughts. It is here, if anywhere, that we excel the creatures which are placed around us. We can contemplate our own existence, dive into the past and the future, and understand whence we came and whither we go. Yet in this tender part; we are touched. Even the "thoughts" of man are vanity.
- If vanity had been ascribed merely to those loose and trifling excursions of the imagination which fall not under the influence of choice, a kind of comers and goers, which are ever floating in the mind, like insects in the air on a summer's evening, it had been less affecting. The soul of man seems to be necessarily active. Everything we see, hear, taste, feel, or perceive, has some influence upon thought, which is moved by it as leaves on the trees are moved by every breeze of wind. But "thoughts" here include those exercises of the mind in which it is voluntarily or intensely engaged, and in which we are in earnest; even all our schemes, contrivances, and purposes. One would think, if there were anything in man to be accounted of, it should be those exercises in which his intellectual faculty is seriously and intensely employed. Yet the Lord knoweth that even these are vanity.
- If during our state of childhood and youth only vanity had been ascribed to our thoughts, it would have been less surprising. This is a truth of which numberless parents have painful proof; yea, and of which children themselves, as they grow up to maturity, are generally conscious. Vanity at this period, however, admits of some apology. The obstinacy and folly of some young people, while they provoke disgust, often excite a tear of pity. But the charge is exhibited against man. "Man at his best estate is altogether vanity."
- The decision proceeds from a quarter from which there can be no appeal. "The LORD knoweth" it. Opinions dishonourable to our species may sometimes arise from ignorance, sometimes from spleen and disappointment, and sometimes from a gloomy turn of mind, which views mankind through a distorted medium. But the judgment given in this passage is the decision of Him who cannot err; a decision therefore to which, if we had no other proof, it becomes us to accede. Andrew Fuller.
Verse 11. They are vanity. The Syriac version is, For they are a vapour. Compare James 4:14 . John Gill.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
- With respect to the present world, consider what multitudes of thoughts are employed in vain.
- In seeking satisfaction where it is not to be found.
- In poring on events which cannot be recalled.
- In anticipating evils which never befall us.
- To these may be added the valuing ourselves on things of little or no account.
- In laying plans which must be disconcerted.
- Let us see what are man's thoughts with regard to religion, and the concerns of a future life.
- What are the thoughts of the heathen world about religion?
- What are all the thoughts of the Christian world, where God's thoughts are neglected?
- What is all that practical atheism which induces multitudes to act as if there were no God?
- What are all the unbelieving, self flattering imaginations of wicked men, as though God were not in earnest in his declarations and threatenings?
- What are the conceits of the self righteous, by which they buoy up their minds with vain hopes, and refuse to submit to the righteousness of God? Andrew Fuller.
Verse 11. God's intimate knowledge of man. A startling truth. A humiliating truth.