Ecclesiastes 1:4

4 A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.

Ecclesiastes 1:4 Meaning and Commentary

Ecclesiastes 1:4

[One] generation passeth away, and [another] generation
This shows that a man can have no profit of all his labour under the sun, because of his short continuance; as soon almost as he has got anything by his labour, he must leave it: not only particular persons, but families, nations, and kingdoms; even all the inhabitants of the world, that are contemporaries, live together in the same age, in a certain period of time; these gradually go off by death, till the whole generation is consumed, as the generation of the Israelites in the wilderness were. Death is meant by passing away; it is a going out of time into eternity; a departure out of this world to another; a quitting of the earthly house of this tabernacle for the grave, the house appointed for all living; it is man's going to his long home: and this is going the way of all the earth; in a short time a whole race or generation of men go off the stage of the world, and then another succeeds F17; they come in by birth; and men are described from their birth by such as "come into the world"; for which there is a set time, as well as for going out, ( John 1:9 ) ( Ecclesiastes 3:2 ) ; and these having been a while in the world, go off to make room for another generation; and so things have been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end of it. Homer F18 illustrates this by the succession of leaves of trees; as is the generation of trees, he says, such is that of men; some leaves, the wind sheds them on the ground; others the budding forest puts forth, and they grow in their room in the springtime; so is the generation of men; one is born, and another ceases. Now death puts an end to all a man's enjoyments got by labour, his riches, honour, and natural knowledge; these all cease with him, and therefore he has no profit of all his labour under the sun; but the earth abideth for ever;
for a long time, until the dissolution of all things; and then, though that and all in it will be burnt up, yet it will rather be changed than destroyed; the form of it will be altered, when the substance of it will continue; it will not be annihilated, but renewed and refined. This is mentioned to show that the earth, which was made for man, of which he is the inhabitant and proprietor, is more stable than he himself; he soon passes off from it, but that continues; he returns to the earth, from whence he came, but that remains as it did; he dies, and leaves the earth behind him, and all his acquisitions in it; and therefore what profit has he of all his labours on it? Besides, that remains to have the same things transacted on it, over and over again, as has been already; God, that made it for men to dwell in, has determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of men's habitations in it; he has appointed who shall dwell on it, and where, in successive generations; and till all these men are born and gone off, age after age, the earth shall continue, and then pass through its last change. The Targum is,

``the earth stands for ever, to bear the vengeance that is to come upon the world for the sins of the children of men.''
The Midrash Tanchuma, as Jarchi observes, interprets it of all the righteous of Israel, called the earth; and he himself, of the meek that shall inherit the earth: says R. Isaac F19,
``one kingdom comes, and another goes, but Israel abideth for ever.''


F17 "Nihil enim semper floret, aetas succedit aetati", Cicero. Orat. Philip. 11.
F18 Iliad. 6. v. 146 So Musaeus apud Clement. Stromat. l. 6. p 649. "Ut silvae foliis" Horat. de Arte Poctica, v. 60.
F19 Apud R. Joseph. Titatzak in loc.

Ecclesiastes 1:4 In-Context

2 "Absolute futility," says the Teacher. "Absolute futility. Everything is futile."
3 What does a man gain for all his efforts he labors at under the sun?
4 A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises and the sun sets; panting, [it returns] to its place where it rises.
6 Gusting to the south, turning to the north, turning, turning, goes the wind, and the wind returns in its cycles.