Sunday, May 24, 2020

Teaching Notes Book of Ecclesiastes - Chapters 5 and 6

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Teaching Notes Book of Ecclesiastes - Chapters 5 and 6

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Quarantine Day 73. Sunday. Georgia is going back to work. Some churches around the nation are open.  A nearby Baptist Church was open today.  My SS Class was still on Zoom.

Hugh C. Wood, Atlanta, Georgia

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Bible Project
Overview: Ecclesiastes

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Ecclesiastes Chapter 5

New International Version

Ecclesiastes 5 New International Version (NIV)

Fulfill Your Vow to God

5 [a]Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
    and many words mark the speech of a fool.

4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.

Riches Are Meaningless
8 If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

10 Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.

11 As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?

12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
    whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
    permits them no sleep.

13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:

wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
14     or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
    there is nothing left for them to inherit.
15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
    and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
    that they can carry in their hands.

16 This too is a grievous evil:

As everyone comes, so they depart,
    and what do they gain,
    since they toil for the wind?
17 All their days they eat in darkness,
    with great frustration, affliction and anger.

18 This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:1 In Hebrew texts 5:1 is numbered 4:17, and 5:2-20 is numbered 5:1-19.

Ecclesiastes 6

New International Version

6 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?

7 Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
    yet their appetite is never satisfied.
8 What advantage have the wise over fools?
What do the poor gain
    by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
9 Better what the eye sees
    than the roving of the appetite.
This too is meaningless,
    a chasing after the wind.

10 Whatever exists has already been named,
    and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
    with someone who is stronger.
11 The more the words,
    the less the meaning,
    and how does that profit anyone?

12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?

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Ecclesiastes 6
New International Version
6 I have seen another evil under the sun, and it weighs heavily on mankind: 2 God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil.

3 A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. 5 Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— 6 even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?

7 Everyone’s toil is for their mouth,
    yet their appetite is never satisfied.
8 What advantage have the wise over fools?
What do the poor gain
    by knowing how to conduct themselves before others?
9 Better what the eye sees
    than the roving of the appetite.
This too is meaningless,
    a chasing after the wind.

10 Whatever exists has already been named,
    and what humanity is has been known;
no one can contend
    with someone who is stronger.
11 The more the words,
    the less the meaning,
    and how does that profit anyone?

12 For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?

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Matthew Henry Commentary

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From Wiki

Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) was a nonconformist minister and author, born in Wales but spent much of his life in England. He is best known for the six-volume biblical commentary Exposition of the Old and New Testaments.


Matthew Henry was the second son born to Philip and Kathrine Henry. He was born prematurely at his mother's family estate, Broad Oak, a farmhouse on the borders of Flintshire and Shropshire.[1][2] He was baptized the next day by the local parish rector. His father, Philip Henry, a Church of England cleric, had just been ejected under the Act of Uniformity 1662. As a young child, he was frequently afflicted with fevers.[3] Unlike most of those who had been ejected, Philip Henry possessed some private means, and was able to provide his son a good education. Henry's sister was diarist Sarah Savage.[4][5]

Early life

By the age of nine, Henry was able to write Latin and read part of the Greek new testament.[6] He was tutored in grammar by William Turner in 1668 who was temporarily staying at Broad Oak.[3] His father provided much of Henry's early education at home. Henry practiced writing by copying his father's sermons and as a child he exhibited a natural public speaking ability. In 1680, at eighteen, his father sent him to a school in Islington, London to be tutored by the nonconformist minister Thomas Doolittle.[6] Henry later transferred to Gray's Inn, in the heart of the capital, to study law. While at Gray's Inn, he also studied French and literature.[6] He soon gave up his legal studies for theology.[5] Henry was invited by his friend George Illidge, to give his first sermon to a congregation at Nantwich. Having been well received he returned to speak two more times that summer.[6]


In 1686, he was offered an invitation by a local nonconformist minister to move to Chester, England and establish a congregation. He was initially hesitant to accept, not wanting to take away members from an already established minister but upon Harvey's insistence he accepted. Henry was ordained on 9 May 1687 by a group of six nonconformist ministers. He presented a paper written in Latin as part of his ordination. He then became minister of a new Presbyterian congregation at Chester.[5][6] The congregation grew under his leadership and in 1699 he oversaw the construction of a new building.[1] While in Chester, Henry founded the Presbyterian Chapel in Trinity Street.[7] After becoming established in Chester, he began to travel around to nearby cities speaking. He became a member of the local Chester union of ministers. Henry said of living in Chester "I cannot think of leaving Chester, until Chester leaves me."[6]

Matthew Henry Summer Home - Chester

After moving to Chester, he married Kathrine Hardware on 19 July 1687, after her mother initially objected to the marriage.[3] Kathrine Hardware's parents then moved to Chester and Henry and his wife lived with them. Shortly after the birth of their first child, Kathrine died of smallpox on 14 February 1689, at age 25.[1] He named the infant Kathrine after the mother, but the child died 15 months later.[8] He continued to live with the Hardwares after the death of his wife and continued his ministerial duties.[1]

He was introduced to Mary Warburton, a relative of Mrs. Hardware. On 8 July 1690 he married Mary Warburton in Chester. His second child, Elizabeth was born on 2 April 1691, and died in infancy in July 1692. A third child, born in 1693, died three weeks after birth.[1][9]

At age 26 in 1688, the amount of speaking engagements started to impact his health. He was frequently subject to fevers. A letter from his father instructed him " your earnestness [when speaking], keep the reins upon it."[10] His impassioned speaking style was well received by his listeners and contributed to his growing popularity.[11] On occasion, he could move his audience to tears.[10] He became a popular speaker and received constant invitations to speak and give lectures. He traveled almost weekly to different cities to speak.

He spent significant amounts of time studying and writing his sermons and lectures in advance. Henry preferred to use an expository speaking style. For each speaking engagement, he would employ different base texts to expand upon his general topic. His approach to teaching was "Choose for your pulpit subjects the plainest, and most needful truths; and endeavor to make them plainer."[10] When writing, he would remain close to the literal interpretation of biblical passages. These writings would later form the basis on which he developed his commentary.

Between the years of 1687–1712, Matthew Henry continued to live in Chester, England. In 1694, Esther Henry was born to Mathew Henry and his wife. Esther lived to adulthood.[9] On 24 June 1697 his daughter Ann was born. This child also died in infancy in 1698 in a local Measals outbreak. Henry was very saddened at her death. Ann was his fourth child to have died in infancy. Mathew Henry and Mary Warburton had their first son in 1700 and named him Philip and he kept his mother's name.[9] Another child, Elizabeth, was born in 1701.[9] In August 1703, he had another daughter; this one he named Sarah after his older sister.[3][9] Two more children were born who survived to adulthood: Theodosia in 1708 and Mary in 1711.[9]

Journey to London

In 1698, Henry traveled to London to speak for the first time since moving to Chester. On the trip to London, he made speaking stops in Nantwich, Newcastle, Lichfield and other towns on the way.[12] Towards the end of this time period, he was frequently invited to speak in London where he eventually moved. He traveled to London again to speak in 1704 and this time Mary accompanied him. Up until this time, his health had be quite good despite the pace at which he worked. In August 1704 he fainted while he was speaking but quickly resumed speaking. The next two days he traveled to Nantwich and then to Haslington. Upon his return to Chester, he was bed ridden with a fever for three weeks.


He moved again in 1712 to Mare Street, Hackney after accepting an invitation to take over the ministry of the Hackney congregation. He began work there on 18 May 1712 with a congregation of less than one hundred members. He would also travel to Wapping, Rotherhithe and other surrounding areas and give evening lectures before returning to the duties of the Hackney congregation. Henry also began giving catechetical lectures in London.[1] His Expositions of the old and New Testaments was nearing the publication stage and was a contributing motive to the move to Hackney.[13] In 1713, his health began declining after a return visit to Chester.


In 1713, he began suffering from frequent attacks of nephritis. He continued to maintain his frequent speaking engagements and work on his commentary. On 21 June 1714 Henry was on a speaking tour around Chester and was returning to Hackney. While in route, he was thrown off his horse but denied injury and insisted on making it to Nantwich where he was scheduled to speak. His traveling companions noted a lack of energy. That evening he could no longer travel and stopped at the Queen's Aid House. On 22 June 1714, he died of apoplexy.[1][5][13]

Literary work

The Biblical commentaries written by Matthew Henry

Henry's well-known six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708–10) or Complete Commentary provides an exhaustive verse-by-verse study of the Bible, covering the whole of the Old Testament, and the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament. Thirteen other non-conformist ministers finished the sixth volume of Romans through Revelation after Henry's death, partly based on notes taken by Henry's hearers. The entire Commentary was re-edited by George Burder and John Hughes in 1811.[5][8]

Henry's commentaries are primarily exegetical, dealing with the scripture text as presented, with his prime intention being explanation for practical and devotional purposes.[14] Henry recommended Matthew Poole's Synopsis Criticorum for a more technical analysis.[14]

Henry's Commentary identifies the "man of sin", the focus of latter day apostasy, and the Antichrist as the papacy in his interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The commentary lists three "blasphemous titles" which it states have been attached to the "bishops of Rome."[15][16] This anti-papist passage in the Commentary was not directly authored by Henry, but occurs in the sixth volume on Romans to Revelation, completed posthumously by his 13 friends.

Famous evangelical Protestant preachers used and heartily commended the work, such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon, with Whitefield reading it through four times – the last time on his knees.[14] Spurgeon stated, "Every minister ought to read it entirely and carefully through once at least."[17] John Wesley published an abbreviated edition of the Commentary and wrote of Henry:

He is allowed by all competent judges, to have been a person of strong understanding, of various learning, of solid piety, and much experience in the ways of God. And his exposition is generally clear and intelligible, the thoughts being expressed in plain words: It is also found, agreeable to the tenor of scripture, and to the analogy of faith. It is frequently full, giving a sufficient explication of the passages which require explaining. It is in many parts deep, penetrating farther into the inspired writings than most other comments do. It does not entertain us with vain speculations, but is practical throughout: and usually spiritual too teaching us how to worship God, not in form only, but in spirit and in truth.[18]

Several abbreviated editions of the Commentary were published in the twentieth century; more recently, Martin H. Manser edited The New Matthew Henry Commentary: The Classic Work with Updated Language.


Perhaps his best-known quotation is about the relationship between men and women, from the story of the creation of Eve, in the Book of Genesis:

The woman was made of a rib out of the side of Adam; not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.[19]


Main article: Cenotaph to Matthew Henry

In 1860, a memorial was erected in Chester to commemorate Henry. This consists of an obelisk designed by Thomas Harrison that incorporates a bronze medallion by Matthew Noble. The obelisk originally stood in the churchyard of St Bridget's Church, and was moved in the 1960s to stand on a roundabout opposite the entrance to Chester Castle.[7]

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Matthew Henry Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 5 | 

Solomon, in this chapter, discourses, I. Concerning the worship of God, prescribing that as a remedy against all those vanities which he had already observed to be in wisdom, learning, pleasure, honour, power, and business. That we may not be deceived by those things, nor have our spirits vexed with the disappointments we meet with in them, let us make conscience of our duty to God and keep up our communion with him; but, withal, he gives a necessary caution against the vanities which are to often found in religious exercises, which deprive them of their excellency and render them unable to help against other vanities. If our religion be a vain religion, how great is that vanity! Let us therefore take heed of vanity, 1. In hearing the word, and offering sacrifice (v. 1). 2. In prayer (v. 2, 3). 3. In making vows (v. 4-6). 4. In pretending to divine dreams (v. 7). Now, (1.) For a remedy against those vanities, he prescribes the fear of God (v. 7). (2.) To prevent the offence that might arise from the present sufferings of good people, he directs us to look up to God (v. 8). II. Concerning the wealth of this world and the vanity and vexation that attend it. The fruits of the earth indeed are necessary to the support of life (v. 9), but as for silver, and gold, and riches, 1. They are unsatisfying (v. 10). 2. They are unprofitable (v. 11). 3. They are disquieting (v. 12). 4. They often prove hurtful and destroying (v. 13). 5. They are perishing (v. 14). 6. They must be left behind when we die (v. 15, 16). 7. If we have not a heart to make use of them, they occasion a great deal of uneasiness (v. 17). And therefore he recommends to us the comfortable use of that which God has given us, with an eye to him that is the giver, as the best way both to answer the end of our having it and to obviate the mischiefs that commonly attend great estates (v. 18-20). So that if we can but learn out of this chapter how to manage the business of religion, and the business of this world (which two take up most of our time), so that both may turn to a good account, and neither our sabbath days nor our week-days may be lost, we shall have reason to say, We have learned two good lessons. 

Verses 1-3 

Solomon's design, in driving us off from the world, by showing us its vanity, is to drive us to God and to our duty, that we may not walk in the way of the world, but by religious rules, nor depend upon the wealth of the world, but on religious advantages; and therefore, 

I. He here sends us to the house of God, to the place of public worship, to the temple, which he himself had built at a vast expense. When he reflected with regret on all his other works (ch. 2:4), he did not repent of that, but reflected on it with pleasure, yet mentions it not, lest he should seem to reflect on it with pride; but he here sends those to it that would know more of the vanity of the world and would find that happiness which is in vain sought for in the creature. David, when he was perplexed, went into the sanctuary of God, Ps. 73:17. Let our disappointments in the creature turn our eyes to the Creator; let us have recourse to the word of God's grace and consult that, to the throne of his grace and solicit that. In the word and prayer there is a balm for every wound. 

II. He charges us to behave ourselves well there, that we may not miss of our end in coming thither. Religious exercises are not vain things, but, if we mismanage them, they become vain to us. And therefore, 

1. We must address ourselves to them with all possible seriousness and care: "Keep thy foot, not keep it back from the house of God (as Prov. 25:17), nor go slowly thither, as one unwilling to draw nigh to God, but look well to thy goings, ponder the path of thy feet, lest thou take a false step. Address thyself to the worship of God with a solemn pause, and take time to compose thyself for it, not going about it with precipitation, which is called hasting with the feet, Prov. 19:2. Keep thy thoughts from roving and wandering from the work; keep thy affections from running out towards wrong objects, for in the business of God's house there is work enough for the whole man, and all too little to be employed." Some think it alludes to the charge given to Moses and Joshua to put off their shoes (Ex. 3:5, Jos. 5:15,) in token of subjection and reverence. Keep thy feet clean, Ex. 30:19. 

2. We must take heed that the sacrifice we bring be not the sacrifice of fools (of wicked men), for they are fools and their sacrifice is an abomination to the Lord, Prov. 15:8), that we bring not the torn, and the lame, and the sick for sacrifice, for we are plainly told that it will not be accepted, and therefore it is folly to bring it,—that we rest not in the sign and ceremony, and the outside of the performance, without regarding the sense and meaning of it, for that is the sacrifice of fools. Bodily exercise, if that be all, is a jest; none but fools will think thus to please him who is a Spirit and requires the heart, and they will see their folly when they find what a great deal of pains they have taken to no purpose for want of sincerity. They are fools, for they consider not that they do evil; they think they are doing God and themselves good service when really they are putting a great affront upon God and a great cheat upon their own souls by their hypocritical devotions. Men may be doing evil even when they profess to be doing good, and even when they do not know it, when they do not consider it. They know not but to do evil, so some read it. Wicked minds cannot choose but sin, even in the acts of devotion. Or, They consider not that they do evil; they act at a venture, right or wrong, pleasing to God or not, it is all one to them. 

3. That we may not bring the sacrifice of fools, we must come to God's house with hearts disposed to know and do our duty. We must be ready to hear, that is, (1.) We must diligently attend to the word of God read and preached. "Be swift to hear the exposition which the priests give of the sacrifices, declaring the intent and meaning of them, and do not think it enough to gaze upon what they do, for it must be a reasonable service, otherwise it is the sacrifice of fools." (2.) We must resolve to comply with the will of God as it is made known to us. Hearing is often put for obeying, and that is it that is better than sacrifice, 1 Sa. 15:22; Isa. 1:15, 16. We come in a right frame to holy duties when we come with this upon our heart, Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears. Let the word of the Lord come (said a good man), and if I had 600 necks I would bow them all to the authority of it. 

4. We must be very cautious and considerate in all our approaches and addresses to God (v. 2): Be not rash with thy mouth, in making prayers, or protestations, or promises; let not thy heart be hasty to utter any thing before God. Note, (1.) When we are in the house of God, in solemn assemblies for religious worship, we are in a special manner before God and in his presence, there where he has promised to meet his people, where his eye is upon us and ours ought to be unto him. (2.) We have something to say, something to utter before God, when we draw nigh to him in holy duties; he is one with whom we have to do, with whom we have business of vast importance. If we come without an errand, we shall go away without any advantage. (3.) What we utter before God must come from the heart, and therefore we must not be rash with our mouth, never let our tongue outrun our thoughts in our devotions; the words of our mouth, must always be the product of the meditation of our hearts. Thoughts are words to God, and words are but wind if they be not copied from the thoughts. Lip-labour, though ever so well laboured, if that be all, is but lost labour in religion, Mt. 15:8, 9. (4.) It is not enough that what we say comes from the heart, but it must come from a composed heart, and not from a sudden heat or passion. As the mouth must not be rash, so the heart must not be hasty; we must not only think, but think twice, before we speak, when we are to speak either from God in preaching or to God in prayer, and not utter any thing indecent and undigested, 1 Co. 14:15. 

5. We must be sparing of our words in the presence of God, that is, we must be reverent and deliberate, not talk to God as boldly and carelessly as we do to one another, not speak what comes uppermost, not repeat things over and over, as we do to one another, that what we say may be understood and remembered and may make impression; no, when we speak to God we must consider, (1.) That between him and us there is an infinite distance: God is in heaven, where he reigns in glory over us and all the children of men, where he is attended with an innumerable company of holy angels and is far exalted above all our blessing and praise. We are on earth, the footstool of his throne; we are mean and vile, unlike God, and utterly unworthy to receive any favour from him or to have any communion with him. Therefore we must be very grave, humble, and serious, and be reverent in speaking to him, as we are when we speak to a great man that is much our superior; and, in token of this, let our words be few, that they may be well chosen, Job 9:14. This does not condemn all long prayers; were they not good, the Pharisees would not have used them for a pretence; Christ prayed all night; and we are directed to continue in prayer. But it condemns careless heartless praying, vain repetitions (Mt. 6:7), repeating Pater-nosters by tale. Let us speak to God, and of him, in his own words, words which the scripture teaches; and let our words, words of our own invention, be few, lest, not speaking by rule, we speak amiss. (2.) That the multiplying of words in our devotions will make them the sacrifices of fools, v. 3. As confused dreams, frightful and perplexed, and such as disturb the sleep, are an evidence of a hurry of business which fills our head, so many words and hasty ones, used in prayer, are an evidence of folly reigning in the heart, ignorance of and unacquaintedness with both God and ourselves, low thoughts of God, and careless thoughts of our own souls. Even in common conversation a fool is known by the multitude of words; those that know least talk most (ch. 10:11), particularly in devotion; there, no doubt, a prating fool shall fall (Prov. 10:8, 10), shall fall short of acceptance. Those are fools indeed who think they shall be heard, in prayer, for their much speaking. 

Verses 4-8 

Four things we are exhorted to in these verses:— 

I. To be conscientious in paying our vows. 

1. A vow is a bond upon the soul (Num. 30:2), by which we solemnly oblige ourselves, not only, in general, to do that which we are already bound to do, but, in some particular instances, to do that to do which we were not under any antecedent obligation, whether it respects honouring God or serving the interests of his kingdom among men. When, under the sense of some affliction (Ps. 66:14), or in the pursuit of some mercy (1 Sa. 1:11), thou hast vowed such a vow as this unto God, know that thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord and thou canst not go back; therefore, (1.) Pay it; perform what thou hast promised; bring to God what thou hast dedicated and devoted to him: Pay that which thou hast vowed; pay it in full and keep not back any part of the price; pay it in kind, do not alter it or change it, so the law was, Lev. 27:10. Have we vowed to give our own selves unto the Lord? Let us then be as good as our word, act in his service, to his glory, and not sacrilegiously alienate ourselves. (2.) Defer not to pay it. If it be in the power of thy hands to pay it to-day, leave it not till to-morrow; do not beg a day, nor put it off to a more convenient season. By delay the sense of the obligation slackens and cools, and is in danger of wearing off; we thereby discover a loathness and backwardness to perform our vow; and qui non est hodie cras minus aptus erit—he who is not inclined to-day will be averse to-morrow. The longer it is put off the more difficult it will be to bring ourselves to it; death may not only prevent the payment, but fetch thee to judgment, under the guilt of a broken vow, Ps. 76:11. 

2. Two reasons are here given why we should speedily and cheerfully pay our vows:—(1.) Because otherwise we affront God; we play the fool with him, as if we designed to put a trick upon him; and God has no pleasure in fools. More is implied than is expressed; the meaning is, He greatly abhors such fools and such foolish dealings. Has he need of fools? No; Be not deceived, God is not mocked, but will surely and severely reckon with those that thus play fast and loose with him. (2.) Because otherwise we wrong ourselves, we lose the benefit of the making of the vow, nay, we incur the penalty for the breach of it; so that it would have been better a great deal not to have vowed, more safe and more to our advantage, than to vow and not to pay. Not to have vowed would have been but an omission, but to vow and not pay incurs the guilt of treachery and perjury; it is lying to God, Acts 5:4. 

II. To be cautious in making our vows. This is necessary in order to our being conscientious in performing them, v. 6. 1. We must take heed that we never vow anything that is sinful, or that may be an occasion of sin, for such a vow is ill-made and must be broken. Suffer not thy mouth, by such a vow, to cause thy flesh to sin, as Herod's rash promise caused him to cut off the head of John the Baptist. 2. We must not vow that which, through the frailty of the flesh, we have reason to fear we shall not be able to perform, as those that vow a single life and yet know not how to keep their vow. Hereby, (1.) They shame themselves; for they are forced to say before the angel, It was an error, that either they did not mean or did not consider what they said; and, take it which way you will, it is bad enough. "When thou hast made a vow, do not seek to evade it, nor find excuses to get clear of the obligation of it; say not before the priest, who is called the angel or messenger of the Lord of hosts, that, upon second thoughts, thou hast changed thy mind, and desirest to be absolved from the obligation of thy vow; but stick to it, and do not seek a hole to creep out at." Some by the angel understand the guardian angel which they suppose to attend every man and to inspect what he does. Others understand it of Christ, the Angel of the covenant, who is present with his people in their assemblies, who searches the heart, and cannot be imposed upon; provoke him not, for God's name is in him, and he is represented as strict and jealous, Ex. 23:20, 21. (2.) They expose themselves to the wrath of God, for he is angry at the voice of those that thus lie unto him with their mouth and flatter him with their tongue, and is displeased at their dissimulation, and destroys the works of their hands, that is, blasts their enterprises, and defeats those purposes which, when they made these vows, they were seeking to God for the success of. If we treacherously cancel the words of our mouths, and revoke our vows, God will justly overthrow our projects, and walk contrary, and at all adventures, with those that thus walk contrary, and at all adventures with him. It is a snare to a man, after vows, to make enquiry. 

III. To keep up the fear of God, v. 7. Many, of old, pretended to know the mind of God by dreams, and were so full of them that they almost made God's people forget his name by their dreams (Jer. 23:25, 26); and many now perplex themselves with their frightful or odd dreams, or with other people's dreams, as if they foreboded this or the other disaster. Those that heed dreams shall have a multitude of them to fill their heads with; but in them all there are divers vanities, as there are in many words, and the more if we regard them. "They are but like the idle impertinent chat of children and fools, and therefore never heed them; forget them; instead of repeating them lay no stress upon them, draw no disquieting conclusions from them, but fear thou God; have an eye to his sovereign dominion, set him before thee, keep thyself in his love, and be afraid of offending him, and then thou wilt not disturb thyself with foolish dreams." The way not to be dismayed at the signs of heaven, nor afraid of the idols of the heathen, is to fear God as King of nations, Jer. 10:2, 5, 7. 

IV. With that to keep down the fear of man, v. 8. "Set God before thee, and then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not marvel at the matter, nor find fault with divine Providence, nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted, nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong." Observe here, 1. A melancholy sight on earth, and such as cannot but trouble every good man that has a sense of justice and a concern for mankind, to see the oppression of the poor because they are poor and cannot defend themselves, and the violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, oppression under colour of law and backed with power. The kingdom in general may have a good government, and yet it may so happen that a particular province may be committed to a bad man, by whose mal-administration justice may be perverted; so hard it is for the wisest of kings, in giving preferments, to be sure of their men; they can but redress the grievance when it appears. 2. A comfortable sight in heaven. When things look thus dismal we may satisfy ourselves with this, (1.) That, though oppressors be high, God is above them, and in that very thing wherein they deal proudly, Ex. 18:11. God is higher than the highest of creatures, than the highest of princes, than the king that is higher than Agag (Num. 24:7), than the highest angels, the thrones and dominions of the upper world. God is the Most High over all the earth, and his glory is above the heavens; before him princes are worms, the brightest but glow-worms. (2.) That, though oppressors be secure, God has his eye upon them, takes notice of, and will reckon for, all their violent perverting of judgment; he regards, not only sees it but observes it, and keeps it on record, to be called over again; his eyes are upon their ways. See Job 24:23. (3.) That there is a world of angels, for there are higher than they, who are employed by the divine justice for protecting the injured and punishing the injurious. Sennacherib valued himself highly upon his potent army, but one angel proved too hard for him and all his forces. Some, by those that are higher than they understand the great council of the nation, the presidents to whom the princes of the provinces are accountable (Dan. 6:2), the senate that receive complaints against the proconsuls, the courts above to which appeals are made from the inferior courts, which are necessary to the good government of a kingdom. Let it be a check to oppressors that perhaps their superiors on earth may call them to an account; however, God the Supreme in heaven will. 

Verses 9-17 

Solomon had shown the vanity of pleasure, gaiety, and fine works, of honour, power, and royal dignity; and there is many a covetous worldling that will agree with him, and speak as slightly as he does of these things; but money, he thinks, is a substantial thing, and if he can but have enough of that he is happy. This is the mistake which Solomon attacks, and attempts to rectify, in these verses; he shows that there is as much vanity in great riches, and the lust of the eye about them, as there is in the lusts of the flesh and the pride of life, and a man can make himself no more happy by hoarding an estate than by spending it. 

I. He grants that the products of the earth, for the support and comfort of human life, are valuable things (v. 9): The profit of the earth is for all. Man's body, being made of the earth, thence has its maintenance (Job 28:5); and that it has so, and that a barren land is not made his dwelling (as he has deserved for being rebellious, Ps. 68:6), is an instance of God's great bounty to him. There is profit to be got out of the earth, and it is for all; all need it; it is appointed for all; there is enough for all. It is not only for all men, but for all the inferior creatures; the same ground brings grass for the cattle that brings herbs for the service of men. Israel had bread from heaven, angels' food, but (which is a humbling consideration) the earth is our storehouse and the beasts are fellow-commoners with us. The king himself is served of the field, and would be ill served, would be quite starved, without its products. This puts a great honour upon the husbandman's calling, that it is the most necessary of all to the support of man's life. The many have the benefit of it; the mighty cannot live without it; it is for all; it is for the king himself. Those that have an abundance of the fruits of the earth must remember they are for all, and therefore must look upon themselves but as stewards of their abundance, out of which they must give to those that need. Dainty meats and soft clothing are only for some, but the fruit of the earth is for all. And even those that suck the abundance of the seas (Deu. 33:19) cannot be without the fruit of the earth, while those that have a competency of the fruit of the earth may despise the abundance of the seas. 

II. He maintains that the riches that are more than these, that are for hoarding, not for use, are vain things, and will not make a man easy or happy. That which our Saviour has said (Lu. 12:15), that a man's life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses, is what Solomon here undertakes to prove by various arguments. 

1. The more men have the more they would have, v. 10. A man may have but a little silver and be satisfied with it, may know when he has enough and covet no more. Godliness, with contentment, is great gain. I have enough, says Jacob; I have all, and abound, says St. Paul: but, (1.) He that loves silver, and sets his heart upon it, will never think he has enough, but enlarges his desire as hell (Hab. 2:5), lays house to house and field to field (Isa. 5:8), and, like the daughters of the horse-leech, still cries, Give, give. Natural desires are at rest when that which is desired is obtained, but corrupt desires are insatiable. Nature is content with little, grace with less, but lust with nothing. (2.) He that has silver in abundance, and has it increasing ever so fast upon him, yet does not find that it yields any solid satisfaction to his soul. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy; if a man be hungry, ingots of silver will do no more to satisfy his hunger than clods of clay. Much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires; he that has ever so much silver covets more, not only of that, but of something else, something of another nature. Those that make themselves drudges to the world are spending their labour for that which satisfies not (Isa. 55:2), which fills the belly, but will never fill the soul, Eze. 7:19. 

2. The more men have the more occasion they have for it, and the more they have to do with it, so that it is as broad as it is long: When goods increase, they are increased that eat them, v. 11. The more meat the more mouths. Does the estate thrive? And does not the family at the same time grow more numerous and the children grow up to need more? The more men have the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, the more they must give to the poor, and the more they will have hanging on them, for where the carcase is the eagles will be. What we have more than food and raiment we have for others; and then what good is there to the owners themselves, but the pleasure of beholding it with their eyes? And a poor pleasure it is. An empty speculation is all the difference between the owners and the sharers; the owner sees that as his own which those about him enjoy as much of the real benefit of as he; only he has the satisfaction of doing good to others, which indeed is a satisfaction to one who believes what Christ said, that it is more blessed to give than to receive; but to a covetous man, who thinks all lost that goes beside himself, it is a constant vexation to see others eat of his increase. 

3. The more men have the more care they have about it, which perplexes them and disturbs their repose, v. 12. Refreshing sleep is as much the support and comfort of this life as food is. Now, (1.) Those commonly sleep best that work hard and have but what they work for: The sleep of the labouring man is sweet, not only because he has tired himself with his labour, which makes his sleep the more welcome to him and makes him sleep soundly, but because he has little to fill his head with care about and so break his sleep. His sleep is sweet, though he eat but little and have but little to eat, for his weariness rocks him asleep; and, though he eat much, yet he can sleep well, for his labour gets him a good digestion. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, is sweet; for, having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully return to God and repose in him as his rest. (2.) Those that have every thing else often fail to secure a good night's sleep. Either their eyes are held waking or their sleeps are unquiet and do not refresh them; and it is their abundance that breaks their sleep and disturbs it, both the abundance of their care (as the rich man's who, when his ground brought forth plentifully, thought within himself, What shall I do? Lu. 12:17) and the abundance of what they eat and drink which overcharges the heart, makes them sick, and so hinders their repose. Ahasuerus, after a banquet of wine, could not sleep; and perhaps consciousness of guilt, both in getting and using what they have, breaks their sleep as much as any thing. But God gives his beloved sleep. 

4. The more men have the more danger they are in both of doing mischief and of having mischief done them (v. 13): There is an evil, a sore evil, which Solomon himself had seen under the sun, in this lower world, this theatre of sin and woe—riches left for the owners thereof (who have been industrious to hoard them and keep them safely) to their hurt; they would have been better without them. (1.) Their riches do them hurt, make them proud, secure, and in love with the world, draw away their hearts from God and duty, and make it very difficult for them to enter into the kingdom of heaven, nay, help to shut them out of it. (2.) They do hurt with their riches, which not only put them into a capacity of gratifying their own lusts and living luxuriously, but give them an opportunity of oppressing others and dealing hardly with them. (3.) Often they sustain hurt by their riches. They would not be envied, would not be robbed, if they were not rich. It is the fat beast that is led first to the slaughter. A very rich man (as one observes) has sometimes been excepted out of a general pardon, both as to life and estate, merely on account of his vast and overgrown estate; so riches often take away the life of the owners thereof, Prov. 1:19. 

5. The more men have the more they have to lose, and perhaps they may lose it all, v. 14. Those riches that have been laid up with a great deal of pains, and kept with a great deal of care, perish by evil travail, by the very pains and care which they take to secure and increase them. Many a one has ruined his estate by being over-solicitous to advance it and make it more, and has lost all by catching at all. Riches are perishing things, and all our care about them cannot make them otherwise; they make themselves wings and fly away. He that thought he should have made his son a gentleman leaves him a beggar; he begets a son, and brings him up in the prospect of an estate, but, when he dies, leaves it under a charge of debt as much as it is worth, so that there is nothing in his hand. This is a common case; estates that made a great show do not prove what they seemed, but cheat the heir. 

6. How much soever men have when they die, they must leave it all behind them (v. 15, 16): As he came forth of his mother's womb naked, so shall he return; only as his friends, when he came naked into the world, in pity to him, helped him with swaddling-clothes, so, when he goes out, they help him with grave-clothes, and that is all. See Job 1:21; Ps. 49:17. This is urged as a reason why we should be content with such things as we have, 1 Tim. 6:7. In respect of the body we must go as we came; the dust shall return to the earth as it was. But sad is our case if the soul return as it came, for we were born in sin, and if we die in sin, unsanctified, we had better never have been born; and that seems to be the case of the worldling here spoken of, for he is said to return in all points as he came, as sinful, as miserable, and much more so. This is a sore evil; he thinks it so whose heart is glued to the world, that he shall take nothing of his labour which he may carry away in his hand; his riches will not go with him into another world nor stand him in any stead there. If we labour in religion, the grace and comfort we get by that labour we may carry away in our hearts, and shall be the better for it to eternity; that is meat that endures. But if we labour only for the world, to fill our hands with that, we cannot take that away with us; we are born with our hands griping, but we die with them extended, letting go what we held fast. So that, upon the whole matter, he may well ask, What profit has he that has laboured for the wind? Note, Those that labour for the world labour for the wind, for that which has more sound than substance, which is uncertain, and always shifting its point, unsatisfying, and often hurtful, which we cannot hold fast, and which, if we take up with it as our portion, will no more feed us than the wind, Hos. 12:1. Men will see that they have laboured for the wind when at death they find the profit of their labour is all gone, gone like the wind, they know not whither. 

7. Those that have much, if they set their hearts upon it, have not only uncomfortable deaths, but uncomfortable lives too, v. 17. This covetous worldling, that is so bent upon raising an estate, all his days eats in darkness and much sorrow, and it is his sickness and wrath; he has not only no pleasure of his estate, nor any enjoyment of it himself, for he eats the bread of sorrow (Ps. 127:2), but a great deal of vexation to see others eat of it. His necessary expenses make him sick, make him fret, and he seems as if he were angry that himself and those about him cannot live without meat. As we read the last clause, it intimates how ill this covetous worldling can bear the common and unavoidable calamities of human life. When he is in health he eats in darkness, always dull with care and fear about what he has; but, if he be sick, he has much sorrow and wrath with his sickness; he is vexed that his sickness takes him off from his business and hinders him in his pursuits of the world, vexed that all his wealth will not give him any ease or relief, but especially terrified with the apprehensions of death (which his diseases are the harbingers of), of leaving this world and the things of it behind him, which he has set his affections upon, and removing to a world he has made no preparation for. He has not any sorrow after a godly sort, does not sorrow to repentance, but he has sorrow and wrath, is angry at the providence of God, angry at his sickness, angry at all about him, fretful and peevish, which doubles his affliction, which a good man lessens and lightens by patience and joy in his sickness. 

Verses 18-20 Solomon, from the vanity of riches hoarded up, here infers that the best course we can take is to use well what we have, to serve God with it, to do good with it, and take the comfort of it to ourselves and our families; this he had pressed before, ch. 2:24; 3:22. Observe, 1. What it is that is here recommended to us, not to indulge the appetites of the flesh, or to take up with present pleasures or profits for our portion, but soberly and moderately to make use of what Providence has allotted for our comfortable passage through this world. We must not starve ourselves through covetousness, because we cannot afford ourselves food convenient, nor through eagerness in our worldly pursuits, nor through excessive care and grief, but eat and drink what is fit for us to keep our bodies in good plight for the serving of our souls in God's service. We must not kill ourselves with labour, and then leave others to enjoy the good of it, but take the comfort of that which our hands have laboured for, and that not now and then, but all the days of our life which God gives us. Life is God's gift, and he has appointed us the number of the days of our life (Job 14:5); let us therefore spend those days in serving the Lord our God with joyfulness and gladness of heart. We must not do the business of our calling as a drudgery, and make ourselves slaves to it, but we must rejoice in our labour, not grasp at more business than we can go through without perplexity and disquiet, but take a pleasure in the calling wherein God has put us, and go on in the business of it with cheerfulness. This it to rejoice in our labour, whatever it is, as Zebulun in his going out and Issachar in his tents. 2. What is urged to recommend it to us. (1.) That it is good and comely to do this. It is well, and it looks well. Those that cheerfully use what God has given them thereby honour the giver, answer the intention of the gift, act rationally and generously, do good in the world, and make what they have turn to the best account, and this is both their credit and their comfort; it is good and comely; there is duty and decency in it. (2.) That it is all the good we can have out of the things of this world: It is our portion, and in doing thus we take our portion, and make the best of bad. This is our part of our worldly possession. God must have his part, the poor theirs, and our families theirs, but this is ours; it is all that falls to our lot out of them. (3.) That a heart to do thus is such a gift of God's grace as crowns all the gifts of his providence. If God has given a man riches and wealth, he completes the favour, and makes that a blessing indeed, if withal he gives him power to eat thereof, wisdom and grace to take the good of it and to do good with it. If this is God's gift, we must covet it earnestly as the best gift relating to our enjoyments in this world. (4.) That this is the way to make our own lives easy and to relieve ourselves against the many toils and troubles which our lives on earth are incident to (v. 20): He shall not much remember the days of his life, the days of his sorrow and sore travail, his working days, his weeping days. He shall either forget them or remember them as waters that pass away; he shall not much lay to heart his crosses, nor long retain the bitter relish of them, because God answers him in the joy of his heart, balances all the grievances of his labour with the joy of it and recompenses him for it by giving him to eat the labour of his hands. If he does not answer all his desires and expectations, in the letter of them, yet he answers them with that which is more than equivalent, in the joy of his heart. A cheerful spirit is a great blessing; it makes the yoke of our employments easy and the burden of our afflictions light.

& & &

Matthew Henry Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 6 

In this chapter, I. The royal preacher goes on further to show the vanity of worldly wealth, when men place their happiness in it and are eager and inordinate in laying it up. Riches, in the hands of a man that is wise and generous, and good for something, but in the hands of a sordid, sneaking, covetous miser, they are good for nothing. 1. He takes an account of the possessions and enjoyments which such a man may have. He has wealth (v. 2), he has children to inherit it (v. 3), and lives long (v. 3, 6). 2. He describes his folly in not taking the comfort of it; he has no power to eat of it, lets strangers devour it, is never filled with good, and at last has no burial (v. 2, 3). 3. He condemns it as an evil, a common evil, vanity, and a disease (v. 1, 2). 4. He prefers the condition of a still-born child before the condition of such a one (v. 3). The still-born child's infelicity is only negative (v. 4, 5), but that of the covetous worldling is positive; he lives a great while to see himself miserable (v. 6). 5. He shows the vanity of riches as pertaining only to the body, and giving no satisfaction to the mind (v. 7, 8), and of those boundless desires with which covetous people vex themselves (v. 9), which, if they be gratified ever so fully, leave a man but a man still (v. 10). II. He concludes this discourse of the vanity of the creature with this plain inference from the whole, That it is folly to think of making up a happiness for ourselves in the things of this world (v. 11, 12). Our satisfaction must be in another life, not in this. 

Verses 1-6 

Solomon had shown, in the close of the foregoing chapter, how good it is to make a comfortable use of the gifts of God's providence; now here he shows the evil of the contrary, having and not using, gathering to lay up for I know not what contingent emergencies to come, not to lay out on the most urgent occasions present. This is an evil which Solomon himself saw under the sun, v. 1. A great deal of evil there is under the sun. There is a world above the sun where there is no evil, yet God causes his sun to shine upon the evil as well as upon the good, which is an aggravation of the evil. God has lighted up a candle for his servants to work by, but they bury their talent as slothful and unprofitable, and so waste the light and are unworthy of it. Solomon, as a king, inspected the manners of his subjects, and took notice of this evil as a prejudice to the public, who are damaged not only by men's prodigality on the one hand, but by their penuriousness on the other. As it is with the blood in the natural body, so it is with the wealth of the body politic, if, instead of circulating, it stagnates, it will be of ill consequence. Solomon as a preacher observed the evils that were done that he might reprove them and warn people against them. This evil was, in his days, common, and yet then there was great plenty of silver and gold, which, one would think, should have made people less fond of riches; the times also were peaceable, nor was there any prospect of trouble, which to some is a temptation to hoard. But no providence will of itself, unless the grace of God work with it, cure the corrupt affection that is in the carnal mind to the world and the things of it; nay, when riches increase we are most apt to set our hearts upon them. Now concerning this miser observe, 

I. The abundant reason he has to serve God with joyfulness and gladness of heart; how well God has done for him. 

1. He has given him riches, wealth, and honour, v. 2. Note, (1.) Riches and wealth commonly gain people honour among men. Though it be but an image, if it be a golden image, all people, nations, and languages, will fall down and worship it. (2.) Riches, wealth, and honour, are God's gifts, the gifts of his providence, and not given, as his rain and sunshine, alike to all, but to some, and not to others, as God sees fit. (3.) Yet they are given to many that do not make a good use of them, to many to whom God does not give wisdom and grace to take the comfort of them and serve God with them. The gifts of common providence are bestowed on many to whom are denied the gifts of a special grace, without which the gifts of providence often do more hurt than good. 

2. He wants nothing for his soul of all that he desires. Providence has been so liberal to him that he has as much as heart could wish, and more, Ps. 73:7. He does not desire grace for his soul, the better part; all he desires is enough to gratify the sensual appetite, and that he has; his belly is filled with these hidden treasures, Ps. 17:14. 

3. He is supposed to have a numerous family, to beget a hundred children, which are the stay and strength of his house and as a quiver full of arrows to him, which are the honour and credit of his house, and in whom he has the prospect of having his name built up and having all the immortality this world can give him. They are full of children (Ps. 17:14), while many of God's people are written childless and stripped of all. 

4. To complete his happiness, he is supposed to live many years, or rather many days, for our life is to be reckoned rather by days than years: The days of his years are many, and so healthful is his constitution, and so slowly does age creep upon him, that they are likely to be many more. Nay, he is supposed to live a thousand years (which no man, that we know of, ever did), nay, a thousand years twice told, a small part of which time, one would think, were enough to convince men, by their own experience, of the folly both of those that expect to find all good in worldly wealth, and of those that expect to find any good in it but in using it. 

II. The little heart he has to use this which God gives him, for the ends and purposes for which it was given him. This is his fault and folly that he renders not again according to the benefit done unto him, and serves not the Lord God his benefactor, with joyfulness and gladness of heart, in the abundance of all things. In the day of prosperity he is not joyful. Tristis es, et felix?—Art thou happy, yet sad? See his folly: 1. He cannot find in his heart to take the comfort of what he has himself. He has meat before him; he has wherewith to maintain himself and his family comfortably, but he has not power to eat thereof. His sordid niggardly temper will not suffer him to lay it out, no, not upon himself, no, not upon that which is most necessary for himself. He has not power to reason himself out of this absurdity, to conquer his covetous humour. He is weak indeed, who has not power to use what God gives him, for God gives him not that power, but withholds it from him, to punish him for his other abuses of his wealth. Because he has not the will to serve God with it, God denies him the power to serve himself with it. 2. He suffers those to prey upon him that he is under no obligation to: A stranger eateth it. This is the common fate of misers; they will not trust their own children perhaps, but retainers and hangers-on, that have the art of wheedling, insinuate themselves into them, and find ways of devouring what they have, or getting it to be left to them by their wills. God orders it so that a stranger eats it. Strangers devour his strength, Hos. 7:9; Prov. 5:10. This may be well called vanity, and an evil disease. What we have we have in vain if we do not use it; and that temper of mind is certainly a most wretched distemper which keeps us from using it. Our worst diseases are those that arise from the corruption of our own hearts. 3. He deprives himself of the good that he might have had of his worldly possessions, not only forfeits it, but robs himself of it and throws it from him: His soul is not filled with good, v. 3. He is still unsatisfied and uneasy. His hands are filled with riches, his barns filled, and his bags filled, but his soul is not filled with good, no, not with that good, for it is still craving more. Nay (v. 6), he has not seen good; he cannot so much as please his eye, for that is still looking further and looking with envy on those that have more. He has not even the sensible good of an estate. Though he looks not beyond the things that are seen, yet he looks not with any true pleasure even on them. 4. He has no burial, none agreeable to his rank, no decent burial, but the burial of an ass. Through the sordidness of his temper he will not allow himself a fashionable burial, but forbids it, or the strangers that have eaten him up leave him so poor, at last, that he has not wherewithal, or those to whom he leaves what he has have so little esteem for his memory, and are so greedy of what they are to have from him, that they will not be at the charges of burying him handsomely, which his own children, if he had left it to them, would not have grudged him. 

III. The preference which the preacher gives to an untimely birth before him: An untimely birth, a child that is carried from the womb to the grave, is better than he. Better is the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe than that which is left to hang on till it is rotten. Job, in his passion, thinks the condition of an untimely birth better than his when he was in adversity (Job 3:16); but Solomon here pronounces it better than the condition of a worldling in his greatest prosperity, when the world smiles upon him. 1. He grants the condition of an untimely birth, upon many accounts, to be very sad (v. 4, 5): He comes in with vanity (for, as to this world, he that is born and dies immediately was born in vain), and he departs in darkness; little or no notice is taken of him; being an abortive, he has no name, or, if he had, it would soon be forgotten and buried in oblivion; it would be covered with darkness, as the body is with the earth. Nay (v. 5), he has not seen the sun, but from the darkness of the womb he is hurried immediately to that of the grave, and, which is worse than not being known to any, he has not known any thing, and therefore has come short of that which is the greatest pleasure and honour of man. Those that live in wilful ignorance, and know nothing to purpose, are no better than an untimely birth that has not seen the sun nor known any thing. 2. Yet he prefers it before that of a covetous miser. This untimely birth has more rest than the other, for this has some rest, but the other has none; this has no trouble and disquiet, but the other is in perpetual agitation, and has nothing but trouble, trouble of his own making. The shorter the life is the longer the rest; and the fewer the days, and the less we have to do with this troublesome world, the less trouble we know. 

     'Tis better die a child at four, 
     Than live, and die so at fourscore. 

The reason he gives why this has more rest is because all go to one place to rest in, and this is sooner at his rest, v. 6. He that lives a thousand years goes to the same place with the child that does not live an hour, ch. 3:20. The grave is the place we shall all meet in. Whatever differences there may be in men's condition in this world, they must all die, are all under the same sentence, and, to outward appearance, their deaths are alike. The grave is to one, as well as another, a land of silence, of darkness, of separation from the living, and a sleeping-place. It is the common rendezvous of rich and poor, honourable and mean, learned and unlearned; the short-lived and long-lived meet in the grave, only one rides post thither, the other goes by a slower conveyance; the dust of both mingles, and lies undistinguished. 

Verses 7-10 

The preacher here further shows the vanity and folly of heaping up worldly wealth and expecting happiness in it. 

I. How much soever we toil about the world, and get out of it, we can have for ourselves no more than a maintenance (v. 7): All the labour of man is for his mouth, which craves it of him (Prov. 16:26); it is but food and raiment; what is more others have, not we; it is all for the mouth. Meats are but for the belly and the belly for meats; there is nothing for the head and heart, nothing to nourish or enrich the soul. A little will serve to sustain us comfortably and a great deal can do no more. 

II. Those that have ever so much are still craving; let a man labour ever so much for his mouth, yet the appetite is not filled. 1. Natural desires are still returning, still pressing; a man may be feasted to-day and yet hungry to-morrow. 2. Worldly sinful desires are insatiable, ch. 5:10. Wealth to a worldling is like drink to one in a dropsy, which does but increase the thirst. Some read the whole verse thus: Though all a man's labour fall out to his own mind (ori ejus obveniat—so as to correspond with his views, Juv.), just as himself would have it, yet his desire is not satisfied, still he has a mind to something more. 3. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give them any satisfaction. The soul is not filled, so the word is. When God gave Israel their request he sent leanness into their souls, Ps. 106:15. He was a fool who, when his barns were full, said, Soul, take thine ease. 

III. A fool may have as much worldly wealth, and may enjoy as much of the pleasure of it, as a wise man; nay, and perhaps not be so sensible of the vexation of it: What has the wise more than the fool? v. 8. Perhaps he has not so good an estate, so good a trade, nor such good preferment as the fool has. Nay, suppose them to be equal in their possessions, what can a wise man, a scholar, a wit, a politician, squeeze out of his estate more than needful supplies? and a half-witted man may do this. A fool can fare as well and relish it, can dress as well, and make as good a figure in any public appearance, as a wise man; so that if there were not pleasures and honour peculiar to the mind, which the wise man has more than the fool, as to this world they would be upon a level. 

IV. Even a poor man, who has business, and is discreet, diligent, and dexterous, in the management of it, may get as comfortably through this world as he that is loaded with an overgrown estate. Consider what the poor has less than the rich, if he but knows to walk before the living, knows how to conduct himself decently, and do his duty to all, how to get an honest livelihood by his labour, how to spend his time well and improve his opportunities. What has he? Why, he is better beloved and more respected among his neighbours, and has a better interest than many a rich man that is griping and haughty. What has he? Why he has as much of the comfort of this life, has food and raiment, and is therewith content, and so is as truly rich as he that has abundance. 

V. The enjoyment of what we have cannot but be acknowledged more rational than a greedy grasping at more (v. 9): Better is the sight of the eyes, making the best of that which is present, than the wandering of the desire, the uneasy walking of the soul after things at a distance, and the affecting of a variety of imaginary satisfactions. He is much happier that is always content, though he has ever so little, than he that is always coveting, though he has ever so much. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the fixing of the desire upon God, and the resting of the soul in him; it is better to live by faith in things to come than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things; but better is the sight of the eyes than the roving of the desire after the world, and the things of it, than which nothing is more uncertain nor more unsatisfying at the best. This wandering of the desire is vanity and vexation of spirit. It is vanity at the best; if what is desired, be obtained, it proves not what we promised ourselves from it, but commonly the wandering desire is crossed and disappointed, and then it turns to vexation of spirit. 

VI. Our lot, whatever it is, is that which is appointed us by the counsel of God, which cannot be altered, and it is therefore our wisdom to reconcile ourselves to it and cheerfully to acquiesce in it (v. 10): That which has been, or (as some read it) that which is, and so likewise that which shall be, is named already; it is already determined in the divine foreknowledge, and all our care and pains cannot make it otherwise than as it is fixed. Jacta est alea—The die is cast. It is therefore folly to quarrel with that which will be as it is, and wisdom to make a virtue of necessity. We shall have what pleases God, and let that please us. 

VII. Whatever we attain to in this world, still we are but men, and the greatest possessions and preferments cannot set us above the common accidents of human life: That which has been, and is, that busy animal that makes such a stir and such a noise in the world, is named already. He that made him gave him his name, and it is known that it is man; that is his name by which he must know himself, and it is a humbling name, Gen. 5:2. He called their name Adam; and all theirs have the same character, red earth. Though a man could make himself master of all the treasures of kings and provinces, yet he is a man still, mean, mutable, and mortal, and may at any time be involved in the calamities that are common to men. It is good for rich and great men to know and consider that they are but men, Ps. 9:20. It is known that they are but men; let them put what face they will upon it, and, like the king of Tyre, set their heart as the heart of God, yet the Egyptians are men, and not gods, and it is known that they are so. 

VIII. How far soever our desires wander, and how closely soever our endeavours keep pace with them, we cannot strive with the divine Providence, but must submit to the disposals of it, whether we will or no. If it is man, he may not contend with him that is mightier than he. It is presumption to arraign God's proceedings, and to charge him with folly or iniquity; nor is it to any purpose to complain of him, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Elihu pacifies Job with this incontestable principle, That God is greater than man (Job 33:12) and therefore man may not contend with him, nor resist his judgments, when they come with commission. A man cannot with the greatest riches make his part good against the arrests of sickness or death, but must yield to his fate. 

Verses 11-12 Here, 1. Solomon lays down his conclusion which he had undertaken to prove, as that which was fully confirmed by the foregoing discourse: There be many things that increase vanity; the life of man is vain, at the best, and there are abundance of accidents that concur to make it more so; even that which pretends to increase the vanity and make it more vexatious. 2. He draws some inferences from it, which serve further to evince the truth of it. (1.) That a man is never the nearer to true happiness for the abundance that he has in this world: What is man the better for his wealth and pleasure, his honour and preferment? What remains to man? What residuum has he, what overplus, what real advantage, when he comes to balance his accounts? Nothing that will do him any good or turn to account. (2.) That we do not know what to wish for, because that which we promise ourselves most satisfaction in often proves most vexatious to us: Who knows what is good for a man in this life, where every thing is vanity, and any thing, even that which we most covet, may prove a calamity to us? Thoughtful people are in care to do every thing for the best, if they knew it; but as it is an instance of the corruption of our hearts that we are apt to desire that as good for us which is really hurtful, as children that cry for knives to cut their fingers with, so is it an instance of the vanity of this world that what, according to all probable conjectures, seems to be for the best, often proves otherwise; such is our shortsightedness concerning the issues and events of things, and such broken reeds are all our creature-confidences. We know not how to advise others for the best, nor how to act ourselves, because that which we apprehend likely to be for our welfare may become a trap. (3.) That therefore our life upon earth is what we have no reason to take any great complacency in, or to be confident of the continuance of. It is to be reckoned by days; it is but a vain life, and we spend it as a shadow, so little is there in it substantial, so fleeting, so uncertain, so transitory is it, and so little in it to be fond of or to be depended on. If all the comforts of life be vanity, life itself can have no great reality in it to constitute a happiness for us. (4.) That our expectations from this world are as uncertain and deceitful as our enjoyments are. Since every thing is vanity, Who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun? He can no more please himself with the hopes of what shall be after him, to his children and family, than with the relish of what is with him, since he can neither foresee himself, nor can any one else foretel to him, what shall be after him. Nor shall he have any intelligence sent him of it when he is gone. His sons come to honour, and he knows it not. So that, look which way we will, Vanity of vanity, all is vanity.

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Hugh C. Wood, Atlanta, Georgia

New International Version (NIV)

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Matthew Henry Commentary 1708-1710. Public Domain.

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"Hugh C. Wood", "Hugh Wood", Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, Peachtree Church, Matthew Henry Commentary, Vanity, Meaningless, Fulfill Your Vow to God, Ecclesiastes 5, Ecclesiastes 6,

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