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Ecclesiastes, Part 3: The Comforter
Proceeding through our presentation of Solomon’s Ecclesiastes, it is evident that there are going to be times when we shall be compelled to repeat ourselves, because the work itself is quite repetitive in nature. We have also discussed, as our writer himself had explained, why we believe that this preacher is indeed Solomon, the ancient king of Israel. But we have called him the Preacher because that is what he had called himself as he wrote this work. As he repeats his themes, the Preacher also uses different perspectives or adds new elements to his subjects. Therefore we can see that the repetition of the work is one of its teaching methods, just as the skepticism that the Preacher often expressed is also a teaching method. Making his repetitive remarks, the Preacher expresses and addresses skeptical concerns in different ways throughout this work.
The transience, or vanity, of man, the cyclical nature of worldly existence, the fact that man ultimately dies without any apparent reward for his labors, or any ability to enjoy them once he is gone and therefore he must leave them to the enjoyment of others, these have been the primary subjects of the Preacher. And even though he laments such vanity, where he exhorts men to keep the commandments of God we realize that while all may appear to be vanity, all is vanity without God. Therefore with God, it becomes evident that all is not in vain, that there must be something greater in the end, some greater purpose underlying man’s apparent vanity. Realizing this, we must admit that for man, for the Adamic man which Yahweh created to be immortal, the skepticism of the Preacher is unwarranted because there certainly is a God.
In chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes the Preacher added to his lamentation over the vanity of man the idea that men were no different than the beasts, who also labored and died. However there the Preacher had also asserted that it was God who purposely subjected man to vanity, and that man should therefore fear God, because “God requires that which is past” and “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.” Considering this, we must conclude that man’s labors do indeed matter in the end, that man will be judged for his works, however it is also apparent that man will be judged for the works of his life apart from and beyond whatever worldly riches he was able to accumulate during that life. Later on, in the Gospel, Christ taught the same difference between the accumulation of worldly riches, and the accumulation of treasure in heaven by the good things that a man may do in this life.
Now, here in chapter 4, the Preacher continues to speak of the vanity under which man labors, however he adds to that the travail of man and the want of comfort in his labors, whether he is an oppressor or if he is one of the oppressed:
Ecclesiastes 4:1 So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.
Often in Scripture, the oppressors of the people are from the camps of the enemies of our God, and they have no comforter outside of themselves and their own devices. They have no promise of a comforter. However Adamic men, even men of the children of Israel, can also act as oppressors, and they have indeed oppressed one another throughout history. Yahweh was speaking of the children of Israel in Samaria when He said by the prophet Amos, in chapter 3 of his prophecy, “10 For they know not to do right, saith the LORD, who store up violence and robbery in their palaces.” Then in chapter 4 of Amos we read another message to those same people, which begins with the admonishment: “1 Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, which oppress the poor, which crush the needy, which say to their masters, Bring, and let us drink.” And then again, from chapter 5 of Amos: “11 Forasmuch therefore as your treading is upon the poor, and ye take from him burdens of wheat: ye have built houses of hewn stone, but ye shall not dwell in them; ye have planted pleasant vineyards, but ye shall not drink wine of them. 12 For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right.” Likewise, Yahweh was speaking of the children of Israel in Zechariah chapter 7 and said “9 Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother: 10 And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart. 11 But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear.”
So either the oppressed or the oppressors which the Preacher mentions here are not necessarily inclusive of any peoples other than his own, and he remarks that either class apparently had need of a comforter. He had already described, in chapter 3, the wickedness which he found in the place of judgement, and the iniquity which existed in the place of righteous. Then where he wrote that ultimately “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked”, it is evident that only God can judge in righteousness because men, as he then explains in that same chapter, are really no better than beasts. The oppressed certainly may require a comforter to assist them or even to deliver them from their state of oppression. However even the oppressor also may require a comforter, because in the end he should find that his oppressing was evil, and repenting, he should be vexed for what he had done to his brethren. Later on, in the opening chapter of Jeremiah’s Lamentations we read of the children of Israel, that for their sins “17 Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.” [She would be defenseless] The children of Israel were oppressed by outsiders because of the sins which they had committed against one another.
The oppression which the children of Israel were to suffer was inevitable, however in the prophets there is a promise of relief. So we read in Isaiah chapter 49, in direct connection to the promise of salvation and redemption: “13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” This message continues in Isaiah chapter 52: “8 Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the LORD shall bring again Zion. 9 Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” Yahshua Christ would be that Comforter, as He attests in the Gospel. This is repeated again in Isaiah chapter 54: “7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. 8 In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. 9 For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. 10 For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee. 11 O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. 12 And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.”
Without Yahweh God, man has no comfort, and he will continue to oppress and to be oppressed. It is inevitable that such injustice prevails whenever the fear of God is absent from the life of men. So ultimately, man must learn that he can only have comfort in God. Here in Ecclesiastes, the Preacher warns that it is necessary to keep the commandments of God. This we also see in the words of Christ, in John chapter 14: “15 If ye love me, keep my commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever… 18 I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” So Christ is the Comforter who then was, and Christ is the Comforter who was to come, which is the Holy Spirit, as we learn later in that same chapter. At the time of the Preacher, the oppressed should have found comfort in the laws of Yahweh, if they were upheld. But rather, as the Preacher himself lamented, there was wickedness in the place of judgement, and iniquity in the place of righteousness.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 1 Paul of Tarsus used a word, παράκλησις, which, in the context that he uses it, may mean encouragement, consolation or comfort, among other things. There he also used the related verb, which is παρακαλέω. In that chapter, the King James Version translated these as comfort and consolation. The Christogenea New Testament translated them as encourage and encouragement. Here we shall read the passage using only the alternativee translation of comfort, because it is clear that Paul is asserting that Yahshua Christ is the fulfillment of the comfort promised in Isaiah 49:13: “3 Blessed is Yahweh, even the Father of our Prince, Yahshua Christ, the Father of compassions, Yahweh also is of all comfort. 4 He is comforting us upon every one of our afflictions, for us to be able to comfort those in every affliction, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by Yahweh. 5 Because just as the sufferings of the Anointed are abundant to us, in that manner through the Anointed our comfort also is abundant. 6 Now, whether we are afflicted on behalf of your comfort and preservation, or if we are comforted on behalf of your comfort which is being produced in the endurance of the same sufferings by which we are also affected, 7 then our hope for you is steadfast, knowing that just as you are partners of the sufferings, in that manner also of the comfort.” Christians are comforted in their sufferings, as the workld hates them, with the knowledge that Christ is true.
Without Yahweh our God and His Christ, man has no comforter, no true and lasting comfort, and must therefore realize that all is vanity – unless he chooses to fear and to submit himself to God. Later in that chapter Paul declares that “we should rely not upon ourselves, but upon Yahweh who raises the dead”. So Paul of Tarsus describes Yahshua Christ as our comforter, just as Christ had described Himself, and as such a comforter was wanting to even those under the Old Testament law and covenant.
Here the Preacher continues to lament both the oppressed and the oppressors:
2 Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. 3 Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Notice that the King James translation added the words in italics at the beginning of verse 3 which read “is he”. The King James conveys the correct meaning, but the placement of the words makes the passage difficult to read. The New American Standard Bible has a better translation: “But better off than both of them is the one who has never existed, who has never seen the evil activity that is done under the sun.” Brenton’s Septuagint agrees, as he in turn correctly rendered the Greek text to read: “Better also than both these is he who has not yet been, who has not seen all the evil work that is done under the sun.” But if, as the Preacher said elsewhere, “that which is done is that which shall be done”, then he who has not yet been shall indeed see the same oppression once he is born. Now, in reference to another sort of oppression, the Preacher continues:
4 Again, I considered all travail, and every right work, that for this a man is envied of his neighbour. This is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
The word for travail is also labor or toil, and the reference to “right work” is not to works of righteousness, but the Hebrew word kishrown (Strong’s # 3788) describes profitable, skillful or successful works. The word only appears in Ecclesiastes, and in similar contexts it is equity in 2:21 and good in 5:11. The Preacher informs us that one man is envious because his neighbor is skillful, or because he works hard to be successful or to make good things.
From the same writer, Solomon, in Proverbs chapter 14: “29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly. 30 A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones. 31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him [he that honors God] hath mercy on the poor. 32 The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death.” The sentiment expressed in that last line is also indirectly expressed here in Ecclesiastes, as man can only hope in the judgement of God, so a righteous man “has hope in his death.” Now, speaking of fools:
5 The fool foldeth his hands together, and eateth his own flesh.
Where it follows the description of the industrious man who is envied for his success, this seems to be a reference to the lazy or slothful man, who destroys himself in his own inactivity. Therefore the fool “folds his hands together”, meaning that he purposely wastes his time doing nothing. Now the Preacher continues by describing a third type:
6 Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.
The Preacher seems to be saying that the man who has less should be content with what he has, and that is better than a man who has much but who is persecuted for what he has. So evidently, this is also written in answer to the dilemma described in verse 4, where we see that the industrious man will be envied. But the man who labors moderate and does not accumulate riches for himself shall have peace. From Proverbs chapter 15 we read: “16 Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.”
In earlier chapters, the Preacher remarked that all of his own great wealth and successful works were done in vanity, because he could take none of it with him when he died, and death is something that man can not escape. Thus is the evil work under the sun, that the skillful man who is successful in his work has no reward at the end, since all of the labors of men are vanity, and evidently he will also have vexation in this life because of the oppressors who will persecute them in their envy. Yet the Preacher also advises that while the slothful man who does nothing, folding his hands together, devours his own flesh, ostensibly the man who works moderately and has a little something for himself will generally be at peace, having only a handful, but having it with quietness.
Now continuing he once again laments vanity, although here the language is quite difficult:
7 Then I returned, and I saw vanity under the sun. 8 There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he hath neither child nor brother: yet is there no end of all his labour; neither is his eye satisfied with riches; neither saith he, For whom do I labour, and bereave my soul of good? This is also vanity, yea, it is a sore travail.
As it is in the words “so I returned” at the beginning of verse 1, here the clause which begins with “then I returned” in verse 7 seems to be in regard to what follows from verse 8. The word for second in verse 8 seems to refer to a companion, as it is also used in verse 10 where the same word, which literally means second, is translated as another. The word was also translated literally in the Greek Septuagint, but it is defined here in the clause which follows where it says “yea, he hath neither child [son] nor brother”. So we would translate the beginning of verse 8 to read “There is one alone, without a companion, yeah, having neither son nor brother… “ The Preacher describes the plight of a man who labors alone for himself, seeks to accumulate riches for himself, and has nobody with whom he may share the travails of life, and even its rewards. In that same regard he continues:
9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.
The word which we would render as companion in verse 8 is in a masculine form in both Hebrew and Greek, so it is not referring to a wife, which is another matter entirely. Here the terms “son or brother” indicate the expectation that a man’s companions be of his own kin, and not mere strangers. Families and extended families should stay together, work together, and they should be stronger for it. But in a moral environment, it would not be imagined that even men sharing a bed would be immoral, so the next example is one of practicality, it is an allegory describing the mutual benefit of men working together:
11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?
We should imagine that even in ancient Palestine the nights were cold, so the example is that even brothers clinging to one another are more apt to survive in adverse conditions, and in the next example, when they are threatened by outsiders:
12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
The reference to a threefold cord is an allegory for three men working in cooperation with one another, that they would be even stronger than one or two. The Preacher seems to be telling us that men of the same family who cleave to one another, who work together and cooperate, will have less travail in their labor, and less vanity as a result of it. For this same thing Paul wrote in Romans chapter 12 that they should have for one another “9 Love without acting; abhorring wickedness, cleaving to goodness: 10 brotherly love affectioned towards one another; in honor preferring one another 11 with diligence, not hesitating; fervent in Spirit, serving the Prince.” By doing so for one another men help themselves, and their brethren as well, by which they serve Christ. We ease our own vanity and travail by seeking to serve one another and working together for the common good of each of us.
Yahshua Christ said, in Matthew chapter 11: “28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The Preacher now moves on to another subject:
13 Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. 14 For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.
Of course, this rarely happens, and is quite unlikely to happen in this world. Ostensibly, the foolish king is one who is prideful, as Solomon had written in Proverbs chapter 16, as it reads in Brenton’s Septuagint, that “18 Pride goes before destruction, and folly before a fall. 19 Better is a meek-spirited man with lowliness, than one who divides spoils with the proud.” The proud man will not be admonished, because he will not accept instruction on account of his pride. Ultimately, he shall be made poor on account of his folly. So we read in Proverbs chapter 13: “18 Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.”
Then in the Gospel, Yahshua Christ has promised that “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven”, in Matthew chapter 18, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” in Matthew chapter 23. These sayings seem to be exemplary of this poor and wise child.
So perhaps the prison that the Preacher mentions here is an allegory for the vanity to which Yahweh God had committed men, as he had described in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, since men also await deliverance “from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”, as it is described by Paul in Romans chapter 8. All of the children of Israel today are in an allegorical prison. But we may also read in this respect a prophecy of Mary concerning the Christ child, speaking as if it were already fulfilled where it is recorded in Luke chapter 1: “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.” This we read also in James chapter 1, where it says: “9 Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: 10 But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away.”
Where the Preacher continues, the language of the King James Version is once again difficult to understand:
15 I considered all the living which walk under the sun, with the second child that shall stand up in his stead.
Many other translations come much closer to the meaning of this passage, which we would have read to say “I saw all the living who walk under the sun, with the child, the other who stood in his place”, which refers to the wise child who would replace the foolish king. The Preacher continues by describing what may happen when the wise child succeeds the foolish king:
16 There is no end of all the people, even of all that have been before them: they also that come after shall not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and vexation of spirit.
The language here is also quite difficult. Reading the Hebrew for ourselves, we would render the verse thusly: “There is no end to the people, of all that were before him”, where it is described that there was a huge multitude of people standing before this wise child. Then we read “and those following him did not rejoice in him, since even this is vanity and vexation of spirit.” The Preacher seems to be telling us that he considered and envisioned a wise child who succeeded a foolish old king, and the people who were subject to him would not even be happy with him. So this is also vanity and vexes the spirit of men.
Even if a wise child was born who would become the king, the people would nevertheless fail to rejoice in him. We see the fulfillment of that in Yahshua Christ Himself, who also came out of a metaphorical prison [Isaiah 53:8], and we have our Christian doctrines, but the world has not followed them, nor has it rejoiced in them, although it pretends to be Christian. So perhaps this example in Ecclesiastes is in that manner prophetic. Christ should have been king rather than the insolent Herod, and the people sought to enthrone Him but He resisted, because it was not his time. However on a greater scale, Christ ultimately supplants the old order of world empires as King of Kings. So he is the wise child who has replaced the arrogant and foolish old king. However our first interpretation of verse 13 by itself, we also still consider to be valid. Each of the obedient sons of Israel is ultimately a king and priest over his own house, a promise which even Peter repeats in part in the second chapter of his first epistle where he spoke of a “royal priesthood”. It seems to us that the wisdom of the Preacher forms for us instructional allegories having multiple layers and aspects.
With this we shall commence with Ecclesiastes chapter 5:
Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.
Evidently, the temple had been already built, and we know that Solomon did not write these things in his youth. We have already explained why he must have written Ecclesiastes later in life, long after he had surrendered himself to licentiousness.
We see the phrase “keep thy foot” in another context in Proverbs chapter 3: “25 Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. 26 For the LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken.” Likewise, speaking of Yahweh once again in the 121st Psalm: “3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.” Then once again, in Proverbs chapter 1 in reference to the enticements of sinners: “15 My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: 16 For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.” Therefore the phrase “keep thy foot” seems to be an admonishment to stay on the course of righteousness. In contrast, the sacrifice of fools is also vanity, so it is more important to keep the commandments of God.
And be more ready to hear than to speak: the apostle James exhorts his readers in chapter 1 of his epistle: “19 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: 20 For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” We have already cited Proverbs chapter 14 where it says “29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” Likewise we read in Proverbs chapter 12: “22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight. 23 A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.” And again in chapter 15: “14 The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.”
Those who judge wisely being prudent and slow to make conclusions, the Preacher further exhorts:
2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
In Proverbs chapter 13 we read: “ 16 Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly.” Then in chapter 14: “8 The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit” and “15 The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going”, and again: “18 The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.” The man who is slow to hear, and quick to speak, is rash with his mouth and does not seek knowledge before he passes judgment.
3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.
A busy mind produces dreams which are not visions from God. The corresponding passage in Brenton’s Septuagint reads: “For through the multitude of trial a dream comes; and a fool's voice is with a multitude of words.” However that word trial is from the Greek word περισπασμός, a word which means distraction, and we shall discuss it again with its related verb in verse 20 of this chapter. We would read the Greek to say, in part: “through the multitude of distractions a dream comes”. The Hebrew word here, ‘inyan (Strong’s # 6045) denotes a task or occupation, employment or affair. A man’s mind, if he is occupied in worldly ventures, produces dreams which are not from God.
Likewise, while prudent men who seek knowledge are slow to speak, “a fool's voice is known by multitude of words.” As we have already elucidated elsewhere, the wise man sought that none of his words would ever fail. For that reason the blessings of the patriarchs became prophecies, because Yahweh God upheld their words. For that reason we see it written of the prophet Samuel, in 1 Samuel chapter 3: “19 And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground.” A fool, uttering a multitude of words, ostensibly many of those words do fall to the ground: they are vanity, nothing becomes of them, and in essence for that reason a fool speaks many lies. Now the Preacher considers the promises, or vows, of men:
4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5 Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.
In the 14th Psalm, among some of the righteous acts of men David extols “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.” In other words, once a man makes a vow, he should keep it even if it is to his own disadvantage. But to make oaths in the first place is not advantageous nor should it be deemed necessary for Christians. Christ Himself said in Matthew chapter 5: “ 33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” Paul’s attitude concerning the Christian reliance on keeping one’s word, which reflects the teaching of Christ, is expressed in 2 Corinthians chapter 1. Then James also warns in chapter 5 of his epistle: “12 But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” A man exposes himself to judgment by the making of promises which he cannot keep, so it is better not to make promises.
Men have no control of their futures, and must consign them to God in humility. In this regard the apostle James speaks in chapter 4 of his epistle: “13 Come on, those now saying ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into this here city and we shall spend a year there and trade and make profit’, 14 those who do not know what condition your life is in tomorrow! For you are as vapor appearing for a short time, and then disappearing. 15 Instead of which you are to say ‘If the Prince desires and we shall live, then we shall do this or that.’ 16 But now you boast in your pretenses. Any such reason to boast as this is wicked!” So the Preacher continues:
6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
The apostle James said in chapter 3 of his epistle: “5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” The fulfillment of an errant vow may indeed cause a man to sin, whereby having to account for his errors he can only witness that his own works shall be destroyed, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 that “15 If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.” Returning to dreams, the Preacher now says:
7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
We would instead read the Hebrew to say “Because there is an abundance of dreams and vanities and many words, then you must fear God.” These dreams, or aspirations, are much like those vain plans made by men which we have just seen portrayed and criticized by the apostle James. Here we see that the dreams of men are counted for vanity, just as the apostle James described where he spoke of the plans of men who did not consign their lives to God. Sadly, there are those today even in Christian Identity who teach that the imaginations and desires of men should prevail, but the Scripture teaches that the exact opposite is true, that men should seek to conform their desires and imaginations to God.
Not all dreams are from God, and not all dreams are good. We read in Jeremiah chapter 23: “23 Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off? 24 Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD. 25 I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. 26 How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart…” Neither is God a mere vibration or a feeling, as some who have been given over to Jewish fables suppose, but an omnipotent supernatural being with His Own sovereignty and will for the lives of men.
Now the Preacher changes to speak of judgement:
8 If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they.
The 72nd Psalm is also attributed to Solomon, where we read: “Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son. 2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. 3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. 4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.” These are the same sympathies described here, that Yahweh will judge the people with righteousness, and He will judge those who oppress them with perverse judgement. As the Scripture says, vengeance belongs to God. The mountains and hills in the Psalm represent men and authorities great and small.
9 Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field.
No man can keep or use the gains of all the earth to himself. Even the king, being served by the field, must be equitable in the distribution of its fruits. He would not be able to enjoy its fruits if he took them all to himself. So we see next that:
10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity. 11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?
As Paul had warned, the love of money is the root of all evil. Men who love money never have enough of it. The apostle James warned in chapter 5 of his epistle “1 Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” In many cases the treasure heaped up by men cannot possibly be used by them, and serve them good for nothing other than to serve as idols to be admired. In contrast:
12 The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.
A man who makes an honest living sleeps in the comfort of knowing that for his lack of wealth, it is highly unlikely that his house will be broken into by thieves. Paul of Tarsus attests to his own honesty in Acts chapter 20 and says “I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel.” The wealthy man must always be on guard, that his riches are not stolen one way or another. In Matthew chapter 6 Yahshua Christ exhorts His followers and says “19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Now continuing to speak of the wealthy, the Preacher says:
13 There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.
In the very next verse of the passage where he condemns those who hoard silver and gold, James went on to say “ 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. 5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. 6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” As James describes, the withholding of just wages to their employees was one way that the men he criticizes had accumulated wealth for themselves. But not doing God’s will with the wealth they are given, as it is described in the law in Deuteronomy chapter 8, there is no assurance they will be able to maintain it, as the Preacher now suggests:
14 But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand.
The man who accumulates unjust riches and amasses wealth for himself may very easily lose them, and leave his son with no inheritance at all. We read in Zephaniah chapter 1, from the Septuagint: “11 Lament, ye that inhabit the city that has been broken down, for all the people has become like Chanaan; and all that were exalted by silver have been utterly destroyed. 12 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will search Jerusalem with a candle, and will take vengeance on the men that despise the things committed to them; but they say in their hearts, The Lord will not do any good, neither will he do any evil. 13 And their power shall be for a spoil, and their houses for utter desolation; and they shall build houses, but shall not dwell in them; and they shall plant vineyards, but shall not drink the wine of them. 14 For the great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and very speedy; the sound of the day of the Lord is made bitter and harsh.”
Continuing to speak of the rich man whose wealth is taken from him:
15 As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand. 16 And this also is a sore evil, that in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?
And here the Preacher has returned to his first subject, where he said in chapter 1 of Ecclesiastes where he began by declaring that all is vanity and asking “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?” Then he boasted of his own accumulation of wealth and works and said “10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. 11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.” So with this the Christian should realize that it is far more important to store up treasure in heaven, than to accumulate treasure on the earth. For none of us could be as wealthy as Solomon, and if he realized that it was vanity, how could our own experience be any better than the son of David?
There is a greater treasure than silver or gold, and as we have already seen the Preacher explain that man cannot make the crooked things straight, and therefore only God can be his comforter, we read in Isaiah chapter 45 where the Word of Yahweh says that “2 I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: 3 And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.”
The Preacher continues speaking of the rich man who laboured in vanity and says:
17 All his days also he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.
The 127th Psalm, which is also attributed to Solomon, seems to be speaking to those who would stay busy accumulating riches, rather than raising children. There we read “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. 2 It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep. 3 Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward.”
So the Preacher once again makes the same conclusion he had come to earlier, in Ecclesiastes 2:24, and in 3:13 where he said “13 And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.” So here he says:
18 Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion.
As we had also explained, from the blessings of obedience and curses of disobedience found in Deuteronomy chapter 28, that if a man can enjoy the fruits of his labor and the works of his own hands, that is a blessing from God. When a man loses those things to others, it is a curse from God for his sin. Now the Preacher talks about the blessing of wealth given by God:
19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this is the gift of God.
This is the gift of God, but the gift of wealth is also a trial, as Yahweh warned in Deuteronomy chapter 8 that wealthy men should not imagine that they acquired the wealth of themselves, “18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.” A wealthy man must be a good steward, and seek to use his wealth towards the edification of the Kingdom of God. This is also the attitude which we had seen expressed in the epistle of James.
In reference to the wealthy man who had such wealth as a blessing from God, the Preacher concludes:
20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart.
Brenton’s Septuagint has the same passage to read: “For he shall not much remember the days of his life; for God troubles him in the mirth of his heart.” However the word for troubles, from the verb περισπάομαι, is literally to draw away, or distract, but here in a positive sense we would write that “God occupies him in the mirth of his heart.” This verb is related to the noun περισπασμός which we saw in verse 3 of this chapter, which we would render as distraction. That is also the basic meaning of the corresponding Hebrew word ‘anah (Strong’s # 6031). So we see again that the New American Standard Bible does well to render this passage “For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart.” A wealthy man would have many amusements in which to occupy his time, and if he can enjoy them, we see that the Preacher also considered that to be a gift from God.
Without God, man has no comfort, no rest from his labors, and no assurance that he will enjoy the fruits of his labors. So if there is no God, man is doomed, since man himself is only vanity. But if there is a God, man should seek to conform himself to God, to keep his commandments and to love and to work together with his fellow man, as the Preacher also described here, because his true life is elsewhere and what he does in this life certainly matters after he departs from this world.