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ECCLESIASTES, OR THE PREACHER.
Though the Book of Ecclesiastes professes to be “the words of the son of David, the king of Jerusalem,” it has been shown to belong to a later period than the reign of Solomon.* But we do not pretend to decide whether it were written before or after the captivity, or whether it contain foreign fragmentary additions.
For the object we have in view, it is sufficient to remark, that notwithstanding the intense melancholy, and the painful scepticism which pervade it, more just and elevated notions of God are to be found in this book, than in any other, excepting Job, in the Old Testament. The narrow and selfish belief in a God who limits his benign care to a favoured few-to one spot of his creation : and the doctrine of a national God who governs the world by his angels, have no place in Ecclesiastes. We cannot but lament that the writer has not enlarged on those first principles of religion, at which he only cursorily glances. The Book is occupied with one great subject—the impossibility of comprehending the mysterious purposes of God to man---the divine awards of good and evil. The conviction that " all is vanity” is continually presenting itself to the mind of the author, and yet a deep sense of the reality of religion is discernible in the midst of his scepticism.
The writer of Ecclesiastes is a confirmed monotheist, but he has no knowledge of a state of consciousness beyond the grave. He believes that at death man returns to the dust out of which he was created, and that his breath, or lifegiving spirit returns to God who gave it. Such appears to him to be the history of man, and likewise of the beasts; one thing befalleth them both.
" I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see
* See Grotius, Jahn, van der Palm, De Wette, Knobel. - Tr.
that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalleth the
“ Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;
“Man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."-Chap. xii. 5-7.
Character and Attributes of God. The ways of God are past finding out.
“ No man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end."-Chap. iii. 11.
“When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth : (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes :) then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun : because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea, farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it."
Chap. viii. 16, 17. The arrangements of God are eternal and immutable; no man can add to them, or take from them ; He governs the world by fixed laws, and therefore that which has been, happens ever and ever again.
“ I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been ; and God requireth that which is past.”—Chap. iii, 14, 15.
See also chap. i. 9-11. God, who maketh and ruleth all things, is omnipotent. He is also omniscient.
“ For also there is, that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes.”—Chap. viii. 16. God is just : he brings every action into judgment, whe
ther it be good, or whether it be evil. The most secret things are known to him.
“ For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”—
Chap. xii. 14. It is on account of the excellence of this sentiment that Ecclesiastes has been admitted among the canonical Books, notwithstanding all the objections which have been raised against it.
Whether the judgment here spoken of, relates to the present life, or to a future state of existence, is uncertain. This can only be determined by ascertaining the date at which it was written. We think it probably refers, merely to a divine retribution in this world. If the author here speaks of a judgment after death, we must agree with those com. mentators who contend that the whole passage, as well as some other portions of Ecclesiastes, are additions, appended many years subsequent to the Babylonian exile, at that time when a belief in a retribution after death prevailed.
“ And moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked : for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.
Chap. iii. 16 and 17. See also Chap. viii. 11-13. Ecclesiastes asserts that God created man upright, but he has sought out many inventions : there is not one just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions."
Chap. vii. 20, and 29.
Providence of God. The passages already cited prove a belief in a divine, though incomprehensible, Providence. This belief is still more clearly expressed. God is the author of life and he fixes the term of its duration.
“ 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
giveth him.”—Chap. v. 18. Wisdom and knowledge, riches and happiness, the power of enjoying the fruits of man's labour, and likewise a cheerful and contented mind, are the gifts of God.
“ There is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God."
“For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God."-Chap. ii. 24 and 26.
“ 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. 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."-Chap. v. 18 and 19. God sometimes bestows riches, and wealth, and honour, on those whose covetous dispositions will not allow them to rejoice in their possessions, which therefore are enjoyed by a stranger.
“ There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men: A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it.” – Chap. vi. 1 and 2. A man should preserve a silent and reverend deportment in the house of God. He should not be rash with his mouth. But when he vows a vow, he should be exact in its payment. It were better not to vow, than to vow and not pay.
Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: 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. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. 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. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”—
Chap. v. 1-5.