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Title: Expositor's Bible: The Book of Ecclesiastes
Author: Cox, Samuel
Language: English
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Text enclosed by underscores is in italics (_italics_).

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  _Editor of "The Expositor."_










  "_Omnia vanitas, præter amare Deum, et illi soli servire._"

        --ST. AUGUSTINE.



The Lectures on which this book is founded were delivered
five-and-twenty years ago, and were published in A.D. 1867.[1] For
more than twenty years the book has been out of print, a large first
edition having been speedily sold out. No other edition was issued
owing to the fact that my publisher soon passed into another
profession. I have often been asked to reprint it, but have always
felt that, before reprinting, I must rewrite it. Till of late,
however, I could not command leisure for the task. But when, at the
commencement of this year, the Editor of THE EXPOSITOR'S BIBLE did me
the honour to ask permission to reprint it, that he might include it
in this excellent series, I had leisure at command, and cheerfully
devoted it to the revision of my work. Among the more recent
commentaries I have read with this purpose in view, those which I
have found most helpful and suggestive were that of Delitzsch, that by
Dr. Wright, that of Dean Plumptre, and the fine fragment contributed
to THE EXPOSITOR by Dr. Perowne, the Dean of Peterborough. In the
preface to the former edition I dwelt on my indebtedness to the
commentary of Dr. Ginsburg, published in A.D. 1861. In my judgment it
still remains by far the best, the most thorough and the most sound.
It has but one serious defect; it is addressed to scholars, and so
abounds in learning and erudition that it can never come into popular
use. Indeed even now, although during the last twenty years there has
been an immense advance in the study and exposition of Holy Writ, and
many able and learned men have devoted themselves to the service of
the general public, I know of no commentary on this Scripture which
really meets the wants of the unlettered. I cannot but hope,
therefore, that _the Quest of the Chief Good_ may still serve a useful
purpose, and that, in its revised form, it may be found helpful to
those who most need help.

  [1] _The Quest of the Chief Good._ A Popular Commentary on the book
  ECCLESIASTES, with a New Translation. By Samuel Cox. London: Arthur

In rewriting the book I have retained as much as I could of its
earlier form, lest the vivacity of a first exposition of the Scripture
should be lost. And, indeed, the alterations I have had to make are
but slight for the most part, though I have in many places altered,
and, I hope, amended both the translation and the commentary: but
there are one or two additions--they will be found on pages 20-26,
and, again, in certain modifications of the exposition of Chapter
XII., verses 9-12, on pages 279-305; dealing mainly with the structure
of _Ecclesiastes_--which may, I trust, be found useful not to the
general reader alone. Since the original edition appeared I have had
to study the Book of Job, most of the Psalms, many of the Prophetical
writings, and some of the Proverbs; and it was inevitable that in the
course of these pleasant studies I should arrive at clearer and more
definite conceptions on the structure of Hebrew poetry. These I now
place at the service of my readers, and submit to the judgment of
scholars and critics.

Another and much more important result of these subsequent studies has
been that I can now speak with a more assured confidence of the theme
of this Scripture, and of its handling by the Author. None of the
scholars who have recently commented on the Book doubt that it _is_
the quest of the chief good which it sets forth; and though some of
them arrange and divide it differently, yet, on the whole and in the
main, they are agreed that this quest is urged in Wisdom, in
Pleasure, in Devotion to Public Affairs, in Wealth and in the Golden
Mean; and that it ends and rests in the large noble conclusion, that
only as men reverence God, and keep his commandments, and trust in his
love, do they touch their true ideal, and find a good that will
satisfy and sustain them under all changes, even to the last. The
assent to this view of the Book was by no means general a quarter of a
century ago; but it is so wide now, and is sanctioned by the authority
of so many schools of learning, that I think no reader of the
following pages need be disturbed by misgivings as to the accuracy of
the main lines of thought here set forth.

Few Scriptures of the Old Testament are so familiar to the general
reader as _Ecclesiastes_; and that mainly, I think, because it
addresses itself to a problem which is "yours, mine, every man's."
Many more quotations from it have entered into our current speech than
have been taken from _Job_, for example, although _Job_ is both a much
larger and a much finer poem than this--"the finest poem," as a great
living poet has said, "whether of the modern or of the antique world."
It is a Book which can never lose its interest for men until the last
conflict in the long strife of doubt has led in the final victory of
faith; and seems, in especial, to adapt itself to the conditions and
wants of the present age. It deals with the very questions which are
in all our minds, and offers a solution of them, and, so far as I
know, the only solution, in which those who have "eternity in their
hearts" can rest. May all who study it, with such help as the
following pages afford, find rest to their souls, and be drawn from
the heat and strife of thought into the calm and hallowed sanctuary
which it throws open to our erring feet.

  _October 1890_.



  I. THE INTRODUCTION                                       1-66

    § 1. _On the Authorship, Form, Design, and
    Contents of the Book_                                   3-32

    § 2. _On the History of the Captivity_                 32-66

    (1) The Babylonian Period                              38-43
    (2) The Persian Period                                 43-66

  II. THE TRANSLATION                                     67-110

    § 1. _The Prologue_                                    69-70

    § 2. _The First Section_: or, The Quest of
    the Chief Good in Wisdom and in
    Pleasure                                               71-76

    § 3. _The Second Section_: or, The Quest in
    Devotion to the Affairs of Business                    77-86

    § 4. _The Third Section_: or, The Quest in
    Wealth and in the Golden Mean                          87-96

    § 5. _The Fourth Section_: or, The Quest
    Achieved                                              97-108

    § 6. _The Epilogue_                                 109, 110

  III. THE EXPOSITION                                    111-335

    § 1. THE PROLOGUE                                    113-126

    § 2. THE FIRST SECTION: or, _The Quest in
    Wisdom and in Pleasure_                              127-141

    _(a) The Quest in Wisdom_                            127-133

    _(b) The Quest in Pleasure_                          133-137

    _(c) Wisdom and Pleasure Compared_                   138-140

    _(d) The Conclusion_                                140, 141

    § 3. THE SECOND SECTION: or, _The Quest in
    Devotion to the Affairs of Business_                 142-186

    (_a_) The Quest obstructed by Divine Ordinances      143-145

    (_b_) And by Human Injustice and Perversity          145-151

    (_c_) It is rendered hopeless by the base
    Origin of Human Industries                          151, 152

    (_d_) Yet these are capable of a nobler
    Motive and Mode                                      153-158

    (_e_) So also a happier and more effective
    Method of Worship is open to Man;                    158-160

    (_f_) And a more helpful and consolatory
    Trust in the Divine Providence                       161-164

    (_g_) The Conclusion                                164, 165

  APPLICATION                                            165-186

    (_a_) Devotion to Business springs from
    Jealous Competition:                                168, 169

    (_b_) It tends to form a Covetous Temper;            169-171

    (_c_) To produce a Materialistic Scepticism;         171-173

    (_d_) To make Worship Formal and Insincere;         173, 174

    (_e_) And to take from Life its Quiet and
    Innocent Enjoyments                                  175-179

    (_f_) The Correctives of this Devotion are,

    (1) A Sense of its Perils;                          179, 180

    (2) And the Conviction that it is
    opposed to the Will of God
    as expressed--

    (_a_) In the Ordinances of
    his Providence,                                          180

    (_b_) In the Wrongs which
    He permits Men to inflict
    upon us;                                                 181

    (_c_) But above all in the
    immortal Cravings which He
    has quickened in the Soul                           182, 183

    (_g_) Practical Maxims deduced from this
    View of the Business-Life                            184-186

    (1) A Maxim on Co-operation                              184

    (2) A Maxim on Worship                              184, 185

    (3) A Maxim on Trust in God                         185, 186

    § 4. THE THIRD SECTION: or, _The Quest in
    Wealth and in the Golden Mean_                       187-228

    (A) _The Quest in Wealth_                            188-193

    (_a_) The Man who makes Riches his
    Chief Good is haunted by Fears
    and Perplexities:                                    188-190

    (_b_) For God has put Eternity into his
    heart;                                              190, 191

    (_c_) And much that he gains only feeds
    Vanity;                                             191, 192

    (_d_) Neither can he tell what it will be
    Good for him to have,                                    192

    (_e_) Nor foresee what will become of his
    Gains                                               192, 193

    (B) _The Quest in the Golden Mean_                   193-209

    (_a_) The Method of the Man who seeks a
    Competence                                           195-199

    (_b_) The Perils to which it exposes him             199-207

    (1) He is likely to compromise
    Conscience:                                         200, 201

    (2) To be indifferent to Censure:                    201-203

    (3) To despise Women:                                203-205

    (4) And to be indifferent to Public
    Wrongs                                               205-207

    (_c_) The Preacher condemns this Theory
    of Human Life                                        207-209

    APPLICATION                                          209-228

    (A) _The Quest in Wealth_                            212-218

    (_a_) The Man who makes Riches his Chief
    Good is haunted by Fears and
    Perplexities                                        213, 214

    (_b_) Much that he gains only feeds Vanity          214, 215

    (_c_) He cannot tell what it will be Good
    for him to have;                                         215

    (_d_) Nor foresee what will become of his
    Gains:                                              215, 216

    (_e_) And because God has put Eternity
    into his heart, he cannot be content
    with Temporal Gains                                  216-218

    (B) _The Quest in the Golden Mean_                   218-228

    (_a_) The Method of the Man who seeks a
    Competence                                           220-222

    (_b_) The Perils to which it exposes him             222-226

    (1) He is likely to compromise Conscience:           222-224

    (2) To be indifferent to Censure:                        224

    (3) To despise Women:                                    225

    (4) And to be indifferent to Public
    Wrongs                                                   226

    (_c_) The Preacher condemns this Theory
    of Human Life                                       227, 228

    § 5. THE FOURTH SECTION: or, _The Quest
    Achieved_                                            229-275

    (_a_) The Chief Good not to be found in
    Wisdom:                                              230-234

    (_b_) Nor in Pleasure:                               234-237

    (_c_) Nor in Devotion to Affairs and its
    Rewards:                                             237-246

    (_d_) But in a wise Use and a wise Enjoyment
    of the Present Life,                                 247-256

    (_c_) Combined with a stedfast Faith in
    the Life to come                                     256-275

    § 6. THE EPILOGUE: _In which the Problem
    of the Book is conclusively Solved_                  276-335



Those who raise the question, "Is life worth living?" answer it
by--living on; for no man lives simply to proclaim what a worthless
and wretched creature he is. But for the most part the question is
mooted in a merely academical and not very sincere spirit. And to the
dainty and fastidious pessimist who goes about to imply his own
superiority by declaring that the world which contents his fellows is
not good enough for him, there still seems no better reply than the
rough but rousing and wholesome rebuke which Epictetus gave to such as
he some nineteen centuries ago, reminding them that there were many
exits from the theatre of life, and advising them, if they disliked
the "show", to retire from it by the nearest door of escape, and to
make room for spectators of a more modest and grateful spirit.

Of the pessimists of his time he demands, "Was it not God who brought
you here? And as what did He bring you? Was it not as a mortal? Was
it not as one who was to live with a little portion of flesh upon the
earth, and to witness his administration--to behold the great
spectacle around you for a little while? After you have beheld the
solemn and august spectacle as long as is permitted you, will you not
depart when He leads you out, adoring and thankful for what you have
heard and seen? For you the solemnity is over. Go away, then, like a
modest and grateful person. Make room for others."

"But why," urges the pessimist, "did He bring me into the world on
these hard terms?"

"Oh!" replies Epictetus, "if you don't like the terms, it is always in
your power to leave them. _He_ has no need of a discontented
spectator. He will not miss you much, nor we either."

But if any man lift the question into a more sincere and noble form by
asking, "_How_ may life be made worth living, or _best_ worth
living?"--in other words, "What is the true ideal, and what the chief
good, of man?"--he will find no nobler answer to it, and none more
convincingly and persuasively put, than that contained in this
Scripture, which modern pessimists are apt to quote whenever they want
to "approve" their melancholy hypothesis "with a text." From
Schopenhauer downward, this Book is constantly cited by them as if it
confirmed the conclusion for which they contend, Taubert even going
so far as to find "a catechism of pessimism" in it. Their assumption,
however, is based on a total misapprehension of the design and drift
of Ecclesiastes of which no scholar should have been guilty, and of
which it is hard to see how any scholar could have been guilty had he
studied it as a whole, instead of carrying away from it only what he
wanted. So far from lending any countenance to their conclusion of
despair, it frankly traverses it--as I hope to show, and as many have
shown before me--and lands us in its very opposite; the conclusion of
the whole matter with the Hebrew Preacher being, that whoso cultivates
the virtues of charity, diligence, and cheerfulness, because God is in
heaven and rules over all, _he_ will not only find life well worth
living, but will pursue its loftiest ideal and touch its true

When scholars and "philosophers" have fallen into a mistake so radical
and profound, it is not surprising that the unlettered should have
followed their leaders into the ditch, and taken this Scripture to be
the most melancholy in the Sacred Canon, instead of one of the most
consolatory and inspiriting, for want of apprehending its true aim.
Beyond all doubt, there is a prevailing ground-tone of sadness in the
Book; for through by far the larger part of its course it has to deal
with some of the saddest facts of human life--with the errors which
divert men from their true aim, and plunge them into a various and
growing misery. But the voice which sinks so often into this tone of
sadness is the voice of a most brave and cheerful spirit, a spirit
whose counsels can only depress us if we are seeking our chief good
where it cannot be found. For the Preacher, as we shall see, does not
condemn the wisdom or the mirth, the devotion to business or the
acquisition of wealth, in which most men find "the chief good and
market of their time," as in themselves vanities. He approves of them;
he shows us how we may so pursue and so use them as to find them very
pleasant and wholesome; how we may so dispense with them, if they
prove beyond our reach, as none the less to enjoy a very true and
abiding content. His constant and recurring moral is that we _are_ to
enjoy our brief day on earth; that God _meant_ us to enjoy it; that we
are to be up and doing, with a heart for any strife, or toil, or
pleasure; not to sit still and weep over broken illusions and defeated
hopes. Our lower aims and possessions become vanities to us only when
we seek in them that supreme satisfaction which He who has "put
eternity into our hearts" designed us to find only in Him and in
serving Him. If we love and serve Him, if we gratefully acknowledge
Him to be the Author of "every good gift and every perfect boon," if
we seek first his kingdom and righteousness; in fine, if we are
Christian in more than name, the study of this Book should not make
us sad. We should find in it a confirmation of our most intimate
convictions, and incentives to act upon them. But if we do not hold
our wisdom, our mirth, our labour, our wealth as the gifts and
ordinances of God for our good, if we permit them to usurp his seat
and become as gods to us, then indeed this Book will be sad enough for
us, but no whit sadder than our lives. It will be sad, and will make
us sad, yet only that it may lead us to repentance, and through
repentance to a true and lasting joy.

       *       *       *       *       *

It is to be feared that the popular misconception of this singular and
most instructive Scripture goes much farther than this, and extends to
questions much more superficial than that of the temper or spirit it
breathes. If, for example, the average reader of the Bible were asked,
Who wrote this Scripture? when was it written? to whom was it
addressed? what is its general scope and design? his answer, I
suppose, would be: "Solomon wrote this Book; of course, therefore, it
was written in his lifetime, and addressed to the men over whom he
ruled; and his design in writing it was to reveal his own experience
of life for their instruction." And yet in all probability no one of
these answers is true, or anywhere near the truth. According to the
most competent judges, the Book Ecclesiastes was not written by
Solomon, nor for centuries after his death; it was addressed to a
generation of feeble and oppressed captives, who had been carried away
into exile, or had lately returned from it, and not to the free
prosperous nation which rose to its highest pitch in the reign of the
Wise King. It is a dramatic representation of the experience of a
Jewish sage, who deliberately set himself to discover and pursue the
chief good of man in all the provinces and along all the avenues in
which it is commonly sought, eked out by what he supposed or tradition
reported Solomon's experience to have been; and its design was to
comfort men who were groaning under the heaviest wrongs of Time with
the bright hope of Immortality.

To scholars versed in the niceties of the Oriental languages, the most
convincing proof of the comparatively modern date and authorship of
the Book is to be found in its words, and idioms, and style. The base
forms of Hebrew and the large intermixture of foreign terms, phrases,
and turns of speech which characterize it--these, with the absence of
the nobler rhythmic forms of Hebrew poetry, are held to be a
conclusive demonstration that it was written during the Rabbinical
period, at a time long subsequent to the Augustan age in which Solomon
lived and wrote. The critics and commentators whose names stand
highest[2] tell us that it would be just as easy for them to believe
that Hooker wrote Blair's Sermons, or that Shakespeare wrote the plays
of Sheridan Knowles, as to believe that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes.
And of course on such questions as these we can only defer to the
verdict of men who have made them the study of their lives.

  [2] Rosenmüller, Ewald, Knobel, De Wette, Delitzsch, Ginsburg, with
  many other competent judges, are agreed on this point; and even those
  who in part differ from them differ only in assigning the Book to a
  date still farther removed from the time of Solomon. There are but few
  scholars who now contend for the Solomonic authorship, and hardly any
  of these are, I think, in the first rank.

But with all our deference for learning, we have so often seen the
conclusions of the ripest scholars modified or reversed by their
successors, and we all know "questions of words" to be capable of so
many different interpretations, that probably we should still hold our
judgment in suspense, were there no arguments against the traditional
hypothesis such as plain men use and can understand. There are many
such arguments, however, and arguments that seem to be of a conclusive

As, for instance, this: The whole social state described in this Book
is utterly unlike what we know to have been the condition of the
Hebrews during the reign of Solomon, but exactly accords with the
condition of the captive Israelites, who, at the disruption of the
Hebrew monarchies, were carried away into Babylonia. Under Solomon
the Hebrew State touched its highest point. His throne was surrounded
by statesmen of tried sagacity; his judges were incorrupt. Commerce
grew and prospered, till gold became as common as silver had been, and
silver as common as brass. Literature flourished, and produced its
most perfect fruits. And the people, though heavily taxed during the
later years of his reign, enjoyed a security, a freedom, an abundance
unknown whether to their fathers or to their children. "Judah and
Israel were many in number as the sands by the sea, eating, drinking,
and making merry.... And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man
under his vine and under his fig-tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all
the days of Solomon" (1 Kings iv. 20, 25). But as we read this Book we
gather from it the picture of a social state in which kings were
childish, and princes addicted to revelry and drunkenness (x. 16);
great fools were lifted to high places and rode on stately horses,
while nobles were degraded and had to tramp through the mire (x. 6,
7); the race was not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor
riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the learned (ix. 11). The
most eminent public services were suffered to pass unrewarded, and
were forgotten the moment the need for them was passed (ix. 14, 15).
Property was so insecure that to amass wealth was only to multiply
extortions, and to fall a prey to the cupidity of princes and judges,
insomuch that the sluggard who folded his hands, so long as he had
bread to eat, was esteemed wiser than the diligent merchant who
applied himself to the labours and anxieties of traffic (iv. 5, 6).
Life was as insecure as property, and stood at the caprice of men who
were slaves to their own lusts; a hasty word spoken in the divan of
any one of the satraps, or even a resentful gesture, might provoke the
most terrible outrages (viii. 3, 4; x. 4). The true relation between
the sexes was violated; the ruling classes crowded their harems with
concubines, and even the wiser sort of men took to themselves any
woman they desired; while, with cynical injustice, they first degraded
women, and then condemned them as alike and altogether bad, their
hands chains, their love a snare (vii. 26, 28; ix. 9). The oppressions
of the time were so constant, so cruel, and life grew so dark beneath
them, that those who died long ago were counted happier than those who
were still alive; while happier than either were those who had not
been born to see the intolerable evils on which the sun looked calmly
down day by day (iv. 1-3). In fine, the whole fabric of the State was
fast falling into ruin and decay, through the greed and sloth of
rulers who taxed the people to the uttermost in order to supply their
wasteful luxury (x. 18, 19); while yet, so dreadful was their tyranny
and their spies so ubiquitous, that no man dared to breathe a word
against them even to the wife of his bosom and in the secrecy of the
bed-chamber (x. 20): the only consolation of the oppressed was the
grim hope that a time of retribution would overtake their tyrants,
from which neither their power nor their craft should be able to save
them (viii. 5-8).

Nothing would be more difficult than to accept this as a picture of
the social and political features of the Hebrew commonwealth during
the reign of Solomon, or even during those later years of his reign in
which his rule grew hard and despotic. Nothing can well be more
incredible than that this should be intended as a picture of his
reign, save that it should be a picture _drawn by his own hand_! To
suppose Solomon the author of this Scripture is to suppose that the
wisest of kings and of men was base enough to pen a deliberate and
malignant libel on himself, his time, and his realm! On the other
hand, the description, dark and lurid as it is, exactly accords with
all we know of the terrible condition of the Jews who wept in
captivity by the waters of Babylon under the later Persian rule, or
were ground under the heels of the Persian satraps after their return
to the land of their fathers. In all probability, therefore, as our
most competent authorities are agreed, the Book is a poem rather than
a chronicle, written by an unknown Hebrew author, during the
Captivity or shortly after the Return, certainly not before B.C. 500,
and probably somewhat later.[3]

  [3] The _fourth_ century B.C. is, I think, its most probable date. In
  his recent exposition of Ecclesiastes, the Dean of Wells attempts to
  bring the date down to about B.C. 240. But his arguments are so
  curious and fanciful, and his conclusion is based so largely on
  conjecture, and on dubious similarities of phrase in the language of
  the Hebrew Preacher, and of some of the later philosophers of Greece,
  that I suspect very little weight will be attached to his gallant
  attempt to breathe new life into the moribund hypothesis of the
  ingenious Mr. Tyler. Delitzsch, for example, a high and recognized
  authority, declares that there is "not a trace of Greek influence" in
  this Scripture, though Dr. Plumptre finds so many. But though neither
  his hypothesis nor his confessedly conjectural biography of the
  unknown author carries the force of "sober criticism," there is much
  in his Commentary which will be found very helpful.

Nor is this inference, drawn from the style and general contents of
the Book, unsupported by verses in it which at first sight seem
altogether opposed to such an inference. All the special and direct
indications of authorship are to be found either in the first or in
the last chapter.

The very first verse runs, "The words of the Preacher, son of David,
King in Jerusalem." Now, David had only one son who was King in
Jerusalem, viz. Solomon; the verse, therefore, seems to fix the
authorship on Solomon beyond dispute. Nevertheless, the conclusion is
untenable. For (1) in his known and admitted works the Wise King
distinctly claims to be their author. The Book of Proverbs commences
with "The Proverbs of _Solomon_," and the Canticles with "The Song of
Songs, which is _Solomon's_." But the book Ecclesiastes does not once
mention his name, though it speaks of a "son of David," _i.e._ one of
David's descendants. Instead of calling this son of David Solomon, it
calls him "Coheleth," or, as we translate the word, "The Preacher."
Now, the word Coheleth[4] is not a masculine noun, as the name of a
man should be, but the feminine participle of an unused conjugation of
a Hebrew verb which means "to collect," or "to call together." It
denotes, not an actual man, but an abstraction, a personification, and
is probably intended to denote one who calls a congregation round him,
_i.e._ a preacher, _any_ preacher, preacher _in the abstract_. (2)
This "son of David," we are told, was "King _in Jerusalem_;" and the
phrase implies that the Book was written at a time when there either
were or had been kings _out of_ Jerusalem, when Jerusalem was not the
only site of a Hebrew throne, and therefore after the disruption of
Solomon's realm into the rival kingdoms of Israel and Judah. (3)
Again, we find Coheleth affirming (i. 12), "I _was_ King over Israel
in Jerusalem," and (i. 16), "I acquired greater wisdom than _all_ (all
_kings, i.e._, say the critics) who were before me in Jerusalem." But
to say nothing of the questionable modesty of the latter sentence if
it fell from the pen of Solomon, he was only the second occupant of
the throne in Jerusalem; for Jebus, or Jerusalem, was only conquered
from a Philistine clan by his father David. And if there had been only
one, how could he speak of "all" who preceded him? (4) And still
further, the tense of the verb in "I was King over Israel" can only
carry the sense "I was King, but am King no more." Yet we know that
Solomon reigned over Israel to the day of his death, that there never
was a day on which he could have strictly used such a tense as this.
So clear and undisputed is the force of this tense that the rabbis,
who held Solomon to be the author of Ecclesiastes, were obliged to
invent a fable or tradition to account for it. They said, "When King
Solomon was sitting on the throne of his kingdom, his heart was
greatly lifted up within him by his prosperity, and he transgressed
the commandments of God, gathering to him many horses, and chariots,
and riders, amassing much gold and silver, and marrying many wives of
foreign extraction. Wherefore the anger of the Lord was kindled
against him, and He sent against him Ashmodai, the ruler of the
demons; and he drave him from the throne of his kingdom, and took away
the ring from his hand (Solomon's ring is famous for its marvellous
powers in all Oriental fable), and sent him forth to wander about the
world. And he went through the villages and cities, with a staff in
his hand, weeping and lamenting, and saying, 'I am Coheleth; I was
beforetime Solomon, and reigned over Israel in Jerusalem; but now I
rule over only this staff.'" It is a pretty and pathetic fable, but it
is a fable; and though it proves nothing else, we may fairly infer
from it that, even in the judgment of the rabbis, the book
Ecclesiastes must, on its own showing, have been written after Solomon
had ceased to be King, _i.e._ after he had ceased to live.

  [4] Plumptre writes the word Koheleth, and Perowne Quoheleth. Which of
  the three initial letters should be used is of little consequence, and
  hence I retain the form in most common use. _Ecclesiastes_ is simply
  its Greek equivalent.

In the Epilogue (xii. 9-12) the Author of the Book lifts the dramatic
mask from his face, and permits us to see who he really is; a mask,
let me add, somewhat carelessly worn, since we see nothing of it in
the last ten chapters of the Book. Although he has written in a
feigned name, and, without asserting it, has so moulded his phrases,
at least in the earlier chapters of his work, as to suggest to his
readers that he is, if not Solomon himself, at least Solomon's
mouthpiece, attributing the garnered results of his experience to one
greater than himself, that they may carry the more weight--just as
Browning speaks in the name of Rabbi Ben Ezra, for instance, or Fra
Lippo Lippi, or Abt Vogler, borrowing what he can of outward
circumstance from the age and class to which they belong, and yet
really uttering his own thought and emotion through their lips--he now
confesses that he is no king of an age long past, but a rabbi, a sage,
a teacher, a master, who has both made some proverbs of his own and
collected the wise sayings of others who had gone before him, in order
that he might carry some little light and comfort to the sorely bested
men of his own generation and blood.[5] In short, he has exercised his
right as a poet, or "maker," to embody the results of his wide and
varied experience of life in a dramatic form, but is careful to let us
know, before he takes leave of us, that it is a fictitious or dramatic
Solomon, and not Solomon himself, to whom we have been listening

  [5] See the commentary on these verses for a fuller exposition of his
  real claims and position.

So that all the phrases in the Book which are indicative of its
authorship confirm the inference drawn from its style and its
historical contents; viz. that it was not written by Solomon, nor in
his reign, but by an unknown sage of a long-subsequent period, who, by
a dramatic impersonation of the characteristic experiences of the son
of David, or rather of his own experiences blended with the Solomonic
traditions and poured into their moulds, sought to console and
instruct his oppressed fellow-countrymen.

But perhaps the most convincing argument in favour of this conclusion
is that, when once we think of it, we cannot possibly accept the
Solomon set before us in Ecclesiastes as the Solomon depicted in the
historical books of Scripture. Solomon the son of David, with all his
wisdom, played the fool. The foremost man and Hebrew of his time, he
gave his heart to "strange women," and to gods whose ritual was not
only idolatrous, but cruel, dark, impure. In his pursuit of science,
unless the whole East belie him, he ran into secret magical arts,
incantations, divinations, an occult intercourse with the powers of
ill. In all ways he departed from the God who had enriched him with
the choicest gifts, and sank, through luxury, extravagance, and
excess, first into a premature old age,[6] and then into a death so
unrelieved by any sign of penitence, or any promise of amendment, that
from that day to this rabbis and divines have discussed his final
doom, many of them leaning to the darker alternative. This

      "uxorious king, whose heart, though large,
  Beguiled by fair idolatresses, fell
  To idols foul,"

is the Solomon of history. But the Solomon of Ecclesiastes is a sage
who represents himself as conducting a series of moral experiments for
the good of mankind, in order that, with all the weight of manifold
experience, he may teach men what is that good and right way which
alone leads to peace. However hardly we may think of the Wise King who
was guilty of so many follies, we can scarcely think of him as such a
fool that he did not know his sins to be sins, or as such a knave that
he deliberately endeavoured to palm them off on other ages, not as
transgressions of the Divine Law, but as a series of delicate
philosophic experiments which he was good enough to conduct for the
benefit of the race.

  [6] Solomon could not have been more than sixty years of age when he
  died, yet it was not till he was "_old_" that his wives "turned away
  his heart from the Lord his God" (1 Kings xi. 4).

On the whole, then, we conclude that in this Book Solomon is taken as
the Hebrew type of wisdom, the wisdom which is based on large and
varied experience; and that this experience is here dramatized, in so
far as the writer could conceive it, for the instruction of a race
which from first to last, from the fable of Jotham to the parables of
our Lord, were accustomed to receive instruction in fictitious and
dramatic forms. Its author was not Solomon, but one of "the wise"
whose name can no longer be recovered; it was written, not in the time
of Solomon, _i.e._ about 1000 B.C., but some five or six centuries
later: and it was addressed not to the wealthy and peaceful citizens
whose king held his court in Jerusalem, but to their degenerate and
enfeebled descendants during the period of the Persian supremacy.[7]

  [7] "It may be regarded as beyond doubt that it was written under the
  Persian domination" (Delitzsch).

       *       *       *       *       *

Doubtless many of the prevailing misapprehensions of the meaning,
authorship, and animating spirit of the Book are due, in some measure,
to the singular form into which it is thrown. It belongs to what is
known as the Chokma, _i.e._ the Gnomic school, as opposed to the
Lyrical school of Hebrew poetry. The Jewish, like Oriental literature
in general, early assumed this form, which seems to have a natural
affinity with the Eastern mind. Grave men, who made a study of life or
who devoted themselves to a life of study, were likely to be
sententious, to compress much thought into few words, especially in
the ages in which writing was a somewhat rare accomplishment, or in
which, as in the Hebrew schools, instruction was given by a living
voice. No doubt they began with coining sage or witty aphorisms,
generally lit up with a happy metaphor, each of which was complete in
itself. Such sayings, as memorable and portable, no less than as
striking for beauty and "matterful" for meditation, would commend
themselves to an age in which books were few and scarce. They are to
be found in abundance in the proverbs of all ancient races, and in the
Book of Proverbs which bears the name of Solomon, and many of the more
didactic and elaborate Psalms; while the Book of Job preserves many of
the sayings current among the Arabs and the Egyptians. But with the
Hebrews this literary mode took what is, so far as I am aware, a
singular and unparalleled development, from the time of Solomon
onwards, rising to its highest pitch in the Book of Job, and sinking
to its lowest--within the limits of the Canon at least--in the
cramping over-ingenuities of the acrostic Psalms, and in such proverbs
as those attributed to Agur the son of Jakeh.

This development has not as yet, I think, attracted the attention it
deserves; at least I have nowhere met with any formal recognition of
it. Yet, undoubtedly, while at first the Hebrew sages were content to
compress much wit or wisdom into the small compass of a _gnome_, which
they polished like a gem, leaving each to shine by its own lustre and
to make its own unaided impression, there rose in process of time men
who saw new and great capacities in this ancient literary form, and
set themselves to string their gems together, to arrange their own or
other men's proverbs so aptly and artistically that they enhanced each
other's beauty, while at the same time they compelled them to carry a
logical and continuous stream of thought, to paint an elaborate
picture, to build up a lofty yet breathing personification (that of
Wisdom, for example, in Proverbs viii.), to describe a lengthened and
varied ethical experience (as in Ecclesiastes), and even to weave them
into a large and sublime poem, like that of Job, which has never been
excelled. The reluctance with which this form lends itself to the
nobler functions of literature, the immense difficulty of the
instrument which many of the Hebrew poets wielded, will become
apparent to any one who should try the experiment. We have a goodly
collection of proverbs, drawn from many sources, foreign as well as
native, in the English tongue. Let any man endeavour so to set or
arrange them, or a selection from them, as to produce a fine poem on a
lofty theme, and he at least will not underrate the difficulty of the
task, even though we should concede to him the right to _make_
proverbs where he could not find them to his mind. Yet to many of the
finest Hebrew poets the very restrictions of this form seem to have
possessed a charm such as the far less rigid and encumbering laws of
the sonnet, or even of the triolet and other fanciful poetic wares of
modern times, have exerted on the minds of many of our own poets.[8] A
careful student of the Chokma school might even, I believe, trace the
growth of this art, from its small beginnings in the earlier gnomic
sayings of the Wise, to its culmination in the Book of Job; and, in so
doing, would confer a boon on all students of Holy Writ.[9]

  [8] The nearest analogy in English literature to this triumphant use
  of the proverb of which I can think is Pope's use of the couplet--in
  every way a much lesser feat, however; while its burlesque or
  caricature may be found in Tupper's _Proverbial Philosophy_.

  [9] In the Book of Proverbs, for instance, he would find, in addition
  to the incomparable personification of Wisdom to which I have already
  referred, many examples of the proverb proper, many detached sayings
  whose underlying thought is illustrated by a stroke of imagination;
  such as that (chap. xxv. 11) in which the enhanced beauty of an
  appropriate word when spoken at the opportune moment is compared with
  the golden fruit of the orange when set in its frame of silver blooms
  (_Expositions_, vol. iv.). He would also find some of those small
  picturesque descriptions produced by an artistic sequence of
  proverbs--the same theme being sometimes worked over by different
  artists, in different ages, one and the same moral being enforced by
  wholly different designs; as, for instance, where Solomon (chap. vi.
  6-11) enforces the duty of a forethoughtful industry by a picture of
  the ant and her prudent ways; while an unknown sage of a later date
  (chap. xxiv. 30-34) appends precisely the same moral, expressed in the
  same words, to his graphic picture of the Sluggard's garden (THE
  EXPOSITOR, _Second Series_, vol. vi.). Moreover, if he turn to chapter
  xxx. he will see how this form of art, which once soared so high, was
  capable of sinking into a kind of puerile conundrum--with its three
  too wonderful things, and its four little things which yet are
  wise--while its moral tone remained pure and high. And, finally, in
  the exposition of the Epilogue to Ecclesiastes he will find how, after
  sinking so low, it rose once more, in the hands of the later rabbis,
  into many beautiful forms of fable, and exhortation, and parable.

It is to this school that the Preacher belongs, as he himself informs
us in the Epilogue to his fine Poem. He set himself, he says, "_to
compose_, _to collect_, and _to arrange many proverbs_" (xii. 9),
rejecting any that were not "words of truth," preferring, as was
natural in a time so dark, such as were "words of comfort" (xii. 10),
and seeking his sayings both from the sages who stood by the old ways
and those who looked for the new (xii. 11). And, of course, the
arranging of his awkward and inelastic material was far more
difficult than collecting it--arranging it so as to compel it to tell
his story, and carry his argument to its lofty close. It is Story, the
sculptor and poet, I believe, who says that "the best part of every
work of art is unseen," unexpressed, inexpressible in tones, or verse,
or colours: it is that invisible something which lends it dignity,
spirit, life, that "style" which, in this case, is in very deed the
man. And the best part of Coheleth's noble work is this art of
arranging his gnomic sayings in the best order, the order in which
they illuminate each other most brightly and contribute most
effectively to the total impression. Hence, both in translating and in
endeavouring to interpret him, whenever I have had to choose between
rival renderings or meanings, I have made it a rule to prefer that
which most conduced to the logical sequence of his work or carried the
finer sense, deeming that at least so much as this was due to so great
a master, and entertaining no fear that I could invent any meaning
which would outrun his intention.

In fine, if I were to gather up into a few sentences the impression
which "much study" of this Scripture has left on my mind as to the
manner in which the author worked upon it, I should say: that
Coheleth, a man of much of Solomon's original "largeness of heart" and
a great lover of wisdom, set himself to collect the scattered sayings
of the sages who were before him. He took the traditional story of
Solomon as the ground and framework of his poem, at least at the
outset, though he seems to have soon laid it aside, and endeavoured so
to assort and arrange the proverbs he had collected that each would
lead up to the next; while each group of them would describe some of
the ways in which men commonly pursued the chief good, ways in most of
which Solomon was at least reputed to have travelled far. Finding gaps
which could not be well filled up from his large and various
collection, he bridged them over with proverbs of his own composing,
till he had got a sufficient account of each of the main adventures of
that Quest. And, then, he put adventure after adventure together in
the order in which they best led up to his great conclusion.

In all this I have said nothing, it is true, of that "inspiration of
the Almighty" which alone gives man understanding of spiritual things.
But why should not "He who worketh all," and has deigned to use every
form of literary art by which men teach their fellows, move and
inspire a lover of wisdom to collect and arrange the sayings of the
Wise, if by these he could carry truth and comfort to those who were
in sore need of both? And where, save from heaven and from Him who
rules in heaven, could Coheleth have learned the great secret--the
secret of a retributive life beyond the grave? Even the best and
wisest of the Hebrews saw that life only "as through a glass, darkly;"
and even their fitful and imperfect conception of it seems always to
have been--as in the case of David, Job, Isaiah--an immediate gift
from God, and a gift so large that even their hands of faith could
hardly grasp it. No one need doubt the inspiration of a Scripture
which affirms, not only that God is always with us, passing a present
and effective judgment on all we do, but also that, when this life is
over, He will bring every deed and every secret thing into judgment,
whether it be good or whether it be bad. That was not an everyday
thought with the Jewish mind. We find it only in men who were moved by
the Holy Ghost to accept the teaching of his providence or the
revelation of his grace.

       *       *       *       *       *

As for the design of the Book, no one now doubts that it sets before
us the search for the _summum bonum_, the quest of the Chief Good. Its
main immediate intention was to deliver the exiled Jews from the
misleading ethical theories and habits into which they had fallen,
from the sensualism and the scepticism occasioned by their imperfect
conception of the Divine ways, by showing them that the true good of
life is not to be secured by philosophy, by the pursuit of pleasure,
by devotion to traffic or public affairs, by amassing wealth; but that
it results from a temperate and thankful enjoyment of the gifts of the
Divine bounty, and a cheerful endurance of toil and calamity, combined
with a sincere service of God and a steadfast faith in that future
life in which all wrongs will be righted and all the problems which
now task and afflict us will receive a triumphant solution. Availing
himself of the historical and traditional records of Solomon's life,
he depicts, under that disguise, the moral experiments which he has
conducted; depicts himself as having put the claims of wisdom, mirth,
business, wealth, to a searching test, and found them incompetent to
satisfy the cravings of the soul; as attaining no rest nor peace until
he had learned a simple enjoyment of simple pleasures, a patient
constancy under heavy trials, heartfelt devotion to the service of
God, and an unwavering faith in the life to come.

       *       *       *       *       *

The contents of the Poem are, or may be, distributed into a Prologue,
Four Acts or Sections, and an Epilogue.

In the Prologue (chap. i., vv. 1-11), Coheleth states the Problem to
be solved.

In the First Section (chap. i., ver. 12--chap. ii., ver. 26), he
depicts the endeavour to solve it by seeking the Chief Good in Wisdom
and in Pleasure.

In the Second Section (chap. iii., ver. 1--chap. v., ver. 20), the
Quest is pursued in Traffic and Political Life.

In the Third Section (chap. vi., ver. 1--chap. viii., ver. 15), the
Quest is carried into Wealth and the Golden Mean.

In the Fourth Section (chap. viii., ver. 16--chap. xii., ver. 7), the
Quest is achieved, and the Chief Good found to consist in a tranquil
and cheerful enjoyment of the present, combined with a cordial faith
in the future, life.

And in the Epilogue (chap. xii., vv. 8-14) he summarises and
emphatically repeats this solution of the Problem.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was very natural that the Problem here discussed should fill a
large space in Hebrew thought and literature; that it should be the
theme of many of the Psalms and of many of the prophetic "burdens", as
well as of the Books Ecclesiastes and Job. For the Mosaic revelation
did teach that virtue and vice would meet suitable rewards now, in
this present time. At the giving of the Law Jehovah announced that He
would show mercy to the thousands of those who kept his commandments,
and that He would visit the iniquities of the disobedient upon them.
The Law that came by Moses is crowded with promises of temporal good
to the righteous, and with threatenings of temporal evil to the
unrighteous. The fulfilment of these threatenings and promises is
carefully marked in the Hebrew chronicles; it is the supplication
which breathes through the recorded prayers of the Hebrew race, and
the theme of their noblest songs; it is their hope and consolation
under the heaviest calamities. What, then, could be more bewildering
to a godly and reflective Jew than to discover that this fundamental
article of his faith was questionable, nay, that it was contradicted
by the commonest facts of human life as life grew more complex and
involved? When he saw the righteous driven before the blasts of
adversity like a withered leaf, while the wicked lived out all their
days in mirth and affluence; when he saw the only nation that
attempted obedience to the Law groaning under the miseries of a
captivity embittered by the cruel caprices of rulers who could not
even rule themselves, and unrelieved by any hope of deliverance, while
heathen races revelled in the lusts of sense and power unrebuked: when
_this_ seemed to be the rule of providence, the _law_ of the Divine
administration, and not that better rule revealed in his Scriptures,
is it any wonder that, forgetting all corrective and balancing facts,
he was racked with torments of perplexity; that, while some of his
fellows plunged into the base relief of sensualism, he should be
plagued with doubts and fears, and search eagerly through all avenues
of thought for some solution of the mystery?

Nor, indeed, is this problem without interest for us; for we as
persistently misinterpret the New Testament as the Hebrews did the
Old. We read that "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;"
we read that "the meek shall inherit the earth;" we read that for
every act of service done to Christ we shall receive "a hundredfold
now, in this present time;" and we are very prompt with the gross,
careless interpretation which makes such passages mean that if we are
good we shall have the good things of this life, while its evil things
shall be reserved for the evil. Indeed, we are trained--or, perhaps I
should say, until recently we _were_ trained--in this interpretation
from our earliest years. Our very spelling-books are full of it, and
are framed on the model of "Johnny was a good boy, and he got
plum-cake; but Tommy was a bad boy, and he got the stick." Nearly all
our story-books have a similar moral: it is always, or almost always,
the good young man who gets the beautiful wife and large estate, while
the bad young man comes to a bad end. Our proverbs are full of it, and
axioms such as "Honesty is the best policy," a pernicious half-truth,
are for ever on our lips. Our art, in so far as it is _ours_, is in
the same conspiracy. In Hogarth, for instance, as Thackeray has
pointed out, it is always Francis Goodchild who comes to be Lord Mayor
and poor Jem Scapegrace who comes to the gallows. And when, as life
passes on, we discover that it is the bad boy who often gets the
plum-cake, and the good boy who goes to the rod; that bad men often
have beautiful wives and large estates, while good men fail of both;
when we find the knave rising to place and authority, and honest
Goodchild in the workhouse or the _Gazette_, then there rise up in our
hearts the very doubts and perplexities and eager painful questions
which of old time troubled the Psalmist and the Prophet. We cry out
with Job--

  "It is all one--therefore will I say it,
  The guilty and the guiltless He treateth alike;
  The deceiver and the deceived both are his;"

or we say with the Preacher,--

  "This is the greatest evil of all that is done under the sun
    That there is one fate for all;
  The same fate befalleth to the righteous and to the wicked,
    To the good and pure and to the impure,
  To him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not:
    As is the good so is the sinner,
  And he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath."

And it is well for us if, like the Hebrew poet, we can resist this
cruel temptation, and hold fast the integrity of our faith; if we can
rest in the assurance that, after all and when all is done, "the
little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many
wicked;" that God has something better than wealth and lucky haps for
the good, and merciful correctives of a more sovereign potency than
penury and mishaps for the wicked. If we have this faith, our study of
Ecclesiastes can hardly fail to deepen and confirm it; if we are not
so happy as to have it, Coheleth will give us sound reasons for
embracing it.


If we may now assume the Book Ecclesiastes to have been written, not
in the time of Solomon, but during, or soon after, the Babylonian
Captivity, our next duty is to learn what we can of the social,
political, and religious conditions of the two races among whom the
Jews were thrown when they were carried away from the land of their
fathers. That they learned much, as well as suffered much, while they
sat by the waters of Babylon; that they emerged from their long exile
with a profound attachment to the Word of God, such as their fathers
had never known, and with many precious additions to that Word, is
beyond a doubt. As plants grow fastest by night, so men make their
most rapid growth in knowledge and in faith when times are dark and
troubled. And all students of this period are at one in affirming that
during the Captivity a radical and most happy change passed upon the
Hebrew mind. They came out of it with a hatred of idolatry, a faith in
the life beyond the grave, a pride in their national Law, a hope in
the advent of the great Deliverer and Redeemer, with which the elder
Psalmists and Prophets had failed to inspire them, but which
henceforth they never wholly relinquished. With the religious there
was blended an intellectual advance. Books and teachers were sought
and honoured as never heretofore. Schools and synagogues grew up in
every town and village in which they dwelt. "Of making of many books
there was no end." Education was compulsory. Study was regarded as
more meritorious than sacrifice, a scholar as greater than a prophet,
a teacher as greater than a king, if at least we may trust proverbs
which were current among them. Before the Captivity one of the least
literate of nations--noble as their national literature was, at its
close the Jews were distinguished by their zeal for culture and

To trace the progress of this marvellous revival of letters and
religion--a renaissance and a reformation in one--would be a most
welcome task, had we the materials for it and the skill to use them.
But even the scanty materials that exist lie scattered through the
historical and literary remains of many different races--in the
cylinders, sculptures, paintings, inscriptions, tombs, shrines of
Nineveh, Babylon, Behistun, and Persepolis, in the Zendavesta, in the
pages of Herodotus and the earlier Greek historians, in Josephus, in
the Apocrypha, in the Talmud, and in at least a dozen of the Old
Testament books; and some of these "sources" are very far as yet from
having been explored and mastered. Hence the history of this period
still remains to be written, and will probably be largely conjectural
whenever, if ever, it is written. Yet what period is of graver
interest to the student of the Bible? If we could recover its history,
it would throw a new and most welcome light on well-nigh one-half of
the Old Testament Scriptures, if not on all.

Happily, a brief sketch of it, such as is well within any man's reach,
will suffice to show how, from their contact with the Babylonian and
Persian races, the Jews received literary and religious impulses which
go far to account for the marvellous changes which swept over them,
and enable us to read the Preacher intelligently, and see how his
social and political allusions exactly correspond with what we know
of the time.[10]

  [10] For this sketch I am largely indebted to Rawlinson's _Five Great
  Monarchies of the Ancient Eastern World_, and his commentary on

       *       *       *       *       *

About a hundred and twenty years after the destruction of the kingdom
of Israel by Shalmaneser, King of Assyria (B.C. 719), the kingdom of
Judah fell before Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (B.C. 598-596). The
city, palace, and temple of Jerusalem were levelled in a common ruin;
the nobles, priests, merchants, and skilled artisans, all the pith and
manhood of Judah, were carried away captive; only a few of the most
abject of the people were left to mourn and starve amid the ravaged
fields. Nothing could present a more striking contrast to their native
land than the region to which the Jews were deported. Instead of a
small picturesque mountain-country, with its little cities set on
hills or on the brink of precipitous ravines, they entered on a vast
plain, fertile beyond all precedent indeed, and abounding in streams,
but with nothing to break the monotony of level flats save the high
walls and lofty towers of one enormous city. For Babylonia proper was
simply an immense plain, lying between the Arabian Desert and the
Tigris, and of an extent somewhat under that of Ireland. But though
of a limited area as compared with the vast empire of which it was the
centre, by its amazing fertility it was capable of sustaining a
crowded population. It was watered not only by the great rivers Tigris
and Euphrates, but by their numerous affluents, many of which were
themselves considerable streams; it was "a land of brooks and
fountains." On this rich alluvial plain, amply supplied with water,
and under the fierce heat of the sun, wheat and barley, with all kinds
of grain, yielded a return far beyond all modern parallel. The capital
city of this fertile province was the largest and the most magnificent
of the ancient world, standing on both sides of the Euphrates, as
London stands on both sides of the Thames, and covering at least a
hundred square miles.

In this country and city (for "Babylon" stands for both in the Bible),
so unlike the sunny cliffs and scattered villages of their native
home, the Jews, who, like all hill-races, cherished a passionate
affection for the land of their fathers, spent many bitter years. On
the broad featureless plain they pined for "the mountains" of Judea
(Ezekiel xxxvi.; Psalm cxxxvii.); they sat down by the waters and wept
as they remembered "the hill of the Lord." They do not seem, however,
to have been handled with exceptional harshness by their captors. They
were treated as colonists rather than as slaves. They were allowed to
live together in considerable numbers, and to observe their own
religious rites. They took the advice of the prophet Jeremiah (xxix.
4-7), who had warned them that their exile would extend over many
years, and built houses, planted gardens, married wives, and brought
up children; they "sought the peace of the city" in which they were
captives, "and prayed for it," knowing that in its peace they would
have peace. If many of them had to labour gratuitously on the great
public works--and this labour was exacted of most of the conquered
races--many rose, by fidelity, thrift, diligence, to places of trust,
and amassed considerable wealth. Among those who filled high posts in
the household or administration of the successive monarchs of Babylon
were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah; Zerubbabel, Ezra,
Nehemiah, and Mordecai; Tobit--if indeed Tobit be a real and not a
fictitious person--and his nephew Achiacharus.

But who were the people, and what were the social and political
conditions of the people, among whom the Hebrew captives lived? The
two leading races with whom they were brought in contact were the
Babylonians--an offshoot from the ancient Chaldean stock--and the
Persians. The history of the Captivity divides itself into two main
periods, therefore, the Persian and the Babylonian, at each of which
we must glance.

1. _The Babylonian Period._--For more than fifty years after they were
carried away captive, the Jews served a Chaldean race, and were
governed by Assyrian despots, of whom Nebuchadnezzar[11] was by far
the greatest whether in peace or war. It is hardly too much to say
that but for him the Babylonians would have had no place in history. A
great soldier, a great statesman, a great builder and engineer, he
knew how to consolidate and adorn his vast empire, an empire which is
said to have "extended from the Atlantic to the Caspian, and from
Caucasus to the Great Sahara." We owe our best conception of the
personal character and public life of this great despot to the Book of
Daniel. Daniel, although a Jew and a captive, was the vizier of the
Babylonian monarch, and retained his post until the Persian conquest,
when he became the first of "the three presidents" of the new empire.
He therefore paints Nebuchadnezzar from the life. And in his Book we
see the great King at the head of a magnificent court, surrounded by
"princes, governors, and captains, judges, treasurers, councillors,
and sheriffs," waited on by "well-favoured" eunuchs, attended by a
crowd of astrologers and "wise men" who interpret to him the will of
Heaven. He wields an absolute power, and disposes with a word of the
lives and fortunes of his subjects, even the highest and most
princely. All offices are in his gift. He can raise a slave to the
second place in his kingdom (Daniel, to wit), and impose a foreigner
(again, Daniel) on the priestly college as its head. Of so enormous a
wealth that he makes an image of pure gold ninety feet high and nine
feet broad, he lavishes it on public works--on temples, gardens,
canals, fortifications--rather than on personal indulgence. Religious
after a fashion, he wavers between "the God of the Jews" and the deity
after whom he was named and whom he calls _his_ god. In temper he is
hasty and violent, but not obstinate; he suddenly repents of his
sudden resolves; he is capable of bursts of gratitude and devotion no
less than of fierce accesses of fury, and displays at times a piety
and self-abasement astonishing in an Oriental despot. His
successors--Evil-Merodach, Neriglissar, Laborosoarchod, Nabonadius,
and Belshazzar--need not detain us. Little is known of them, and, with
one exception, their reigns were very short; and their main task seems
to have been the erection of vast and sumptuous structures such as
Nebuchadnezzar had been wont to rear. Probably none of the Babylonian
monarchs save Nebuchadnezzar made any deep impression on the Hebrew

  [11] Instead of _Nebuchadnezzar_ Jeremiah and Ezekiel use the form
  _Nebuchadrezzar_, which is nearer to the original _Nabu-Kuduri-utzur_,
  _i.e._ "Nebo is the protector against misfortune."

And, indeed, the people of Babylon were much more likely than their
despots to influence the Hebrew captives; for with them they would be
brought into daily contact. Now the Babylonians were marked by a
singular intellectual ability. Keen to know, patient to observe, exact
and laborious in their researches, they could hardly fail to teach
much to subject races, and to inspire them with some desire for
knowledge. They had carried the sciences of mathematics and astronomy
to a high pitch of perfection. They are said to have determined,
within two seconds, the exact length of the solar year, and not to
have been far wrong in the distances at which they computed the sun,
moon and planets from the earth; and they compiled a serviceable
catalogue of the fixed stars. The Hebrew prophets often refer to their
"wisdom and learning." They excelled in architecture. Two of their
vast works, the walls of Babylon, and the hanging gardens, were
reckoned among "the seven wonders" of the ancient world. Their skill
in manufacturing and arranging enamelled bricks has never yet been
equalled.[12] In all mechanical arts, indeed, such as cutting stones
and gems, casting gold and silver, blowing glass, modelling vases and
ware, weaving carpets and muslins and linen, they take a very high
place among the nations of antiquity. With manufacturing and artistic
skill they combined the spirit of enterprise and adventure which leads
to commerce. They were addicted to maritime pursuits; the "cry," or
joy, "of the Chaldeans is in their ships," says Isaiah (xliii. 14);
and Ezekiel (xvii. 4) calls Babylonia "a land of traffic," and its
chief city "a city of merchants."

  [12] There is a curious allusion to these enamelled bricks, and the
  admiration the Jews conceived for them, in Ezekiel xxiii. 14-16.

But a larger, and probably the largest, class of the people must have
busied themselves with the toils of agriculture; the broad Chaldean
plain being famous, from the time of the Patriarchs to the present
day, for an amazing and almost incredible fertility. Wheat, barley,
millet, and sesame, all flourished with astonishing luxuriance, the
ground commonly yielding a hundredfold, two hundredfold, and even
ampler rewards for the toil of the husbandman.

With these abundant sources of wealth at their command, the people
naturally grew luxurious and dissolute. "The daughter of the
Chaldeans," says Isaiah (xlvii. 1-8), "is tender and delicate," given
to pleasures, apt to live carelessly; her young men, says Ezekiel
(xxiii. 15), are dandies, "exceeding in dyed attire," painting their
faces, and wearing earrings. Chastity, in our modern sense of the
term, was unknown.[13] The pleasures of the table and of the couch were
carried to excess. Yet, like many other Eastern races, the Babylonians
hid under their soft luxurious exterior a fierceness very formidable to
their foes. The Hebrew Prophets (Hab. i. 6-8; Isaiah xiv. 16) describe
them as "a bitter and hasty," a "terrible and dreadful" people, "fiercer
than the evening wolves," a people whose tramp "made the earth tremble,
and did shake kingdoms;" and all the historians of the time charge them
with a thirst for blood which often took the most savage and inhuman

[13] See _Herodotus_, book i., chap. 199; _Strabo_, xvi., p. 1058;
  and the _Book of Baruch_, vi. 43.

Of the horrible licence and cruelty of the worship of Bel, Merodach,
and Nebo, which did much to foster the fierce and cruel temper of the
people, it is not necessary, it is hardly possible, to speak. Roughly
taken, it was the service of the great forces of Nature by a wanton
indulgence of the worst passions of man. It is enough to know that in
Babylon idolatry took forms which made all forms of idolatry
henceforth intolerable to the Jews; that now, once for all, they
renounced that worship of strange gods to which they and their fathers
had always hitherto been prone. This of itself was an immense advance,
a great gain. Nor was it their only gain; for if by contact with the
idolatrous Babylonians the Jews were driven back on their own Law and
Scripture, their intercourse with a people of so active an intellect
and a learning so deep and wide led them to study the Word of Jehovah
in a new and more intelligent spirit.

Nor is it less obvious that in the social and political conditions of
the Babylonians we have a key to many of the allusions to public life
contained in Ecclesiastes. The great empire, indeed, presents
precisely those elements which, in degenerate times and under feebler
despots, must inevitably develop into the disorder, and misery, and
crime which Coheleth depicts.

       *       *       *       *       *

2. _The Persian Period._--The conquest of Babylon by the Persians, led
by the heroic Cyrus, is, thanks to Daniel, one of the most familiar
incidents of ancient history, so familiar that I need not recount it.
By this conquest Cyrus--"the Shepherd, the Messiah, of the Lord," as
Isaiah (xliv. 28; xlv. 1) terms him--became the undisputed master of
well-nigh the whole known world of the time. Nor does he seem to have
been unworthy of his extraordinary position. Of all ancient Oriental
monarchs, out of the Hebrew pale, he bears the highest repute. Even
the Greek authors, for the most part, represent him as energetic and
patient, magnanimous and modest, and of a religious mind. Æschylus
calls him "kindly" or "generous." Xenophon selected him as a model
prince for all races. Plutarch says that "in wisdom, and virtue, and
greatness of soul he appears to have been in advance of all kings."
Diodorus makes one of his speakers say that Cyrus gained his
ascendency by his self-command and good-feeling and gentleness. Simple
in his habits, brave, and of a most just, humane, and clement spirit,
he hated the cruel and lascivious idols of the East, and worshipped
one only God, "the God of heaven." There is none like him in the
antique world, none at least among the kings and princes of that
world. And when, at the conquest of Babylon, he discovered in the
captive Jews a race that also hated idols, and served one Lord, and
knew a law of life as pure as his own, or even purer, we need feel no
surprise either that he broke their bands in sunder and set them free
to return to their native land, or that they saw in this pure and
noble nature, this virtuous and religious prince, "a servant of
Jehovah," and even a partial and shadowy resemblance to that Divine
Deliverer and Redeemer for whose advent they had been taught to look.

Cyrus was sixty years of age when he took Babylon (B.C. 539), and died
ten years after his conquest. He was succeeded by men utterly unlike
himself, so unlike that the Persian nobles revolted from them, and
placed Darius Hystaspes, the heir of an ancient dynasty, on the
throne. As Cyrus was the soldier of the Persians, so Darius was their
statesman. He it was who founded the "satrapial" form of
administration; _i.e._ instead of governing the various provinces of
his empire through native princes, he placed Persian satraps over
them, these satraps being charged with the collection of the public
revenue, the maintenance of order, and the administration of justice;
in fact, he governed the whole Eastern world very much as we govern
India. The internal organization of his vast unwieldy empire was the
great work of Darius through his long reign of six-and-thirty years;
but the event by which he is best remembered, and which proved to be
fruitful in the most disastrous results to the State, was the opening
of that fatal war with Greece, which at last, and under his feeble and
degenerate successors, Xerxes, Artaxerxes, and the rest, reached its
close in the downfall of the Persian empire. We need not linger over
the details of the story. It will be enough, for our purpose, to say
that from the accession of Xerxes down to the conquest of the Persian
empire by Alexander the Great--a stretch of a hundred and fifty
years--that empire was declining to its fall. Its history towards the
end was a mere succession of intrigues and insurrections, conspiracies
and revolts. "Battle, murder, and sudden death" are its staple. The
restraints of law and order grew ever weaker. The satraps were
practically supreme in their several provinces, and used their power
to extort enormous wealth from their miserable subjects. Eunuchs and
concubines ruled in the palace. Manliness died out; the Persians were
no longer taught "to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth;"
cunning and treachery took its place. The scene grows more and more
pitiful, till at last the welcome darkness rushes down, and hides the
ignoble agony of perhaps the vastest and wealthiest empire the world
has seen.

       *       *       *       *       *

But we must turn from the despots and their adventures to form some
slight acquaintance with the people, the Persian people who, by the
conquest of Cyrus, became the ruling class in the empire, always
remembering, however, that the Babylonians must have remained by
myriads both in the capital and in the provinces, and would continue
to exert their influence on Hebrew thought and activity.

In all moral and religious qualities the Persians were far in advance
of the Chaldeans, though they were probably behind them in many
civilized arts and crafts. They were famous for their truthfulness and
valour. The Greeks[14] confessed the Persians to be their equals in
"boldness and warlike spirit"--Æschylus[15] calls them "a
valiant-minded people"--while they are lavish in praise of the Persian
veracity, a virtue in which they themselves were notably deficient. To
the Persians God was "the Father of all truth;" to lie was shameful
and irreligious. They disliked traffic because of its haggling,
equivocation, and dishonest shifts. "Their chief faults," and even
these were not developed till they became masters of the world, "were
an addiction to self-indulgence and luxury, a passionate _abandon_ to
the feeling of the hour whatever it might be, and a tameness and
subservience in all their relations toward their princes which seem to
moderns incompatible with self-respect and manliness." Patriotism came
to mean mere loyalty to the monarch; the habit of unquestioning
submission to his will, and even to his caprice, became a second
nature to them. The despotic humour natural in "a ruling person" was
thus nourished till it ran to the wildest excess. "He was their lord
and master, absolute disposer of their lives, liberties, and property,
the sole fountain of law and right, incapable himself of doing wrong,
irresponsible, irresistible--a sort of God upon earth; one whose
favour was happiness, at whose frown men trembled, before whom all
bowed themselves down with the lowest and humblest obeisance." No
subject could enter his presence save by special permission, or
without a prostration like that of worship. To come unbidden was to be
cut down by the royal guards, unless, as a sign of grace, he extended
his golden sceptre to the culprit. To tread on the king's carpet was a
grave offence; to sit, even unwittingly, on his seat a capital crime.
So slavish was the submission both of nobles and of people that we are
required on good authority to accredit such stories as these: wretches
bastinadoed by the king's order declared themselves delighted that his
majesty had condescended to remember them; a father, whose innocent
son was shot by the despot in pure wantonness, had to crush down his
natural indignation and grief, and to compliment the royal archer on
the accuracy of his aim.

  [14] _Herodotus_, ix. 62.

  [15] Æschyl., _Pers._, 94.

Despising trade and commerce as menial and degrading, the ruling caste
of a vast empire, with a monopoly of office and boundless means of
wealth at their command, accustomed to lord it over subject races, of
a high spirit and a faith comparatively pure, their very prosperity
was their ruin, as it has been that of many a great nation. In their
earlier times, they were noted for their sobriety and temperance.
Content with simple diet, their only drink was water from the pure
mountain streams; their garb was plain, their habits homely and hardy.
But their temperance soon gave place to an immoderate luxury.[16] They
acquired the Babylonian vices, and adopted at least the licence of the
Babylonian rites. They filled their harems with wives and concubines.
From the time of Xerxes onwards they grew nice and curious of
appetite, eager for pleasure, effeminate, dissolute.

  [16] "There is no nation which so readily adopts foreign customs as
  the Persians.... As soon as they hear of any luxury they instantly
  make it their own.... Each of them has several wives, and a still
  larger number of concubines."--(_Herodotus_ book i., chap. 135).

With the growth of luxury on the part of the nobles and the people,
the fear of the despot, at whose mercy all their acquisitions stood,
grew more intense, more harassing, more degrading. Xerxes and his
successors were utterly reckless in their exercise of the absolute
power conceded to them, and delegated it to favourites as reckless as
themselves. No noble however eminent, no servant of the State however
faithful or distinguished, could be sure that he might not at any
moment incur a displeasure which would strip him of all he possessed,
even if it did not also condemn him to a cruel and lingering death.
Out of mere sport and wantonness, to relieve the tedium of a weary
hour, the despot might slay him with his own hand. For the crime, or
assumed crime, of one person a whole family, or class, or race might
be cut off unheard. Of the lengths to which this cruelty and caprice
might go we have a sufficient example in the Book of Esther. The
Ahasuerus of that singular narrative was, there can hardly be any
doubt, the Xerxes of secular history--the very names, unlike as they
sound, are the same name differently pronounced by two different
races.[17] And all that the Book of Esther relates of the despot who
repudiates a wife because she will not expose herself to the drunken
admiration of a crowd of revellers, who raises a servant to the
highest honours one day and hangs him the next, who commands the
massacre of an entire race and then bids them inflict a horrible
carnage on those who execute his decree, exactly accords with the
Greek narratives which depict him as scourging the sea for having
broken down his bridge over the Hellespont, beheading the engineers
whose work was swept away by a storm, wantonly putting to death the
sons of Pythias, his oldest friend, before their father's eyes; as
first giving to his mistress the splendid robe presented to him by his
queen, and then giving up to the queen's barbarous vengeance the
mother of his mistress; as shamefully misusing the body of the heroic
Leonidas, and, after his defeat by the Greeks, giving himself up to a
criminal voluptuousness and offering a reward to the inventor of any
new pleasure.

  [17] Their common root is the Sanscrit _Kshatra_, a king; in the
  Persepolitan inscriptions this word appears as Ksérshé, and from this
  both the Hebrew _Achashuerash_ (Ahasuerus) and the Greek _Xerxes_
  would easily be formed.

       *       *       *       *       *

The Book Ecclesiastes was written certainly not before the reign of
Xerxes (B.C. 486-465), and probably many years after it, a period in
which, bad as were the conditions of his time, the times grew ever
more lawless, the despotism more intolerable, the violence and
licentiousness of the subordinate officials more unblushing. But at
whatever period within these limits we may place it, all we have
learned of the Babylonians and the Persians during the later years of
the Captivity and the earlier years of the Exile (during which the
Jews were still under the Persian rule) is in entire correspondence
with the social and political state depicted by the Preacher. The
abler and more kindly despots--as Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes--showed a
singular favour to the Jews. Cyrus published a decree authorizing them
to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, and enjoining the
officials of the empire to further them in their enterprise; Darius
confirmed that decree, despite the malignant misrepresentations of the
Samaritan colonists; Artaxerxes held Ezra and Nehemiah in high esteem,
and sent them to restore order and prosperity to the city of their
fathers and its inhabitants. But a large number, apparently even a
large majority, of the Jews, unable or disinclined to return, remained
in the various provinces of the great empire, and were of course
subject to the violence and injustice from which the Persians
themselves were not exempt. "Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities,
all is vanity!" cries the Preacher till we grow weary of the mournful
refrain. Might he not well take that tone in a time so out of joint,
so lowering, so dark?

The Book is full of allusions to the Persian luxury, to the Persian
forms of administration, above all, to the corruptions of the later
years of the Persian empire, and the miseries they bred. Coheleth's
elaborate description (ii. 4-8) of the infinite variety of means by
which he sought to allure his heart unto mirth--his palaces,
vineyards, paradises, with their reservoirs and fountains, crowds of
attendants, treasures of gold and silver, the harem full of beauties
of all races--seems taken direct from the ample state of some
luxurious Persian grandee. His picture of the public administration
(v. 8, 9), in which "superior watcheth over superior, and superiors
again watch over them," is a graphic sketch of the satrapial system,
with its official hierarchy rising grade above grade, which was the
work of Darius.[18] When the animating and controlling spirit of that
system was taken away, when weak foolish despots sat on the throne,
and despots just as foolish and weak ruled in every provincial divan,
there ensued precisely that political state to which Coheleth
perpetually refers.[19] Iniquity sat in the place of judgment, and in
the place of equity there was iniquity (iii. 16); kings grew childish,
and princes spent their days in revelry (x. 16); fools were lifted to
high place, while nobles were degraded; and slaves rode on horses,
while their quondam masters tramped through the mire (x. 6, 7). There
was no fair reward for faithful service (ix. 11). Death brooded in the
air, and might fall suddenly and unforeseen on any head, however high
(ix. 12). To correct a public abuse was like pulling down a wall: some
of the stones were sure to fall on the reformer's feet, from some
cranny a serpent was sure to start out and bite him (x. 8, 9). To
breathe a word against a ruler, even in the strictest privacy, was to
run the hazard of destruction (x. 20). A resentful gesture, much more
a rebellious word, in the divan was enough to ensure outrage. In
short, the whole political fabric was fast falling into disrepair and
decay, the rain leaking through the rotting roof, while the miserable
people were ground down with ruinous exactions, in order that their
rulers might revel on undisturbed (x. 18, 19). It is under such a
pernicious and ominous maladministration of public affairs, and the
appalling miseries it breeds, that there springs up in the hearts of
men that fatalistic and hopeless temper to which Coheleth gives
frequent expression. Better never to have been born than to live a
life so cramped and thwarted, so full of perils and fears! Better to
snatch at every pleasure, however poor and brief, than seek, by
self-denial, by virtue, by integrity, to accumulate a store which the
first petty tyrant who gets wind of it will sweep off, or a reputation
for wisdom and goodness which will be no protection from, which will
be only too likely to provoke, the despotic humours of men "dressed in
a little brief authority."

  [18] "The political condition of the people which this Book
  presupposes is that in which they are placed under satraps"

  [19] It would be possible to collect from the Psalms of this date
  materials for a description of the wrongs and miseries inflicted on
  the Jews, and of their keen sense of them, quite as graphic and
  intense as that of the Preacher. Here are a few phrases hastily culled
  from them. The oppressors of Israel are described as being "clothed
  with cruelty as with a garment," as "returning evil for good, and
  hatred for good-will."

    "Lift up thyself, thou Judge of the earth;
    Render to the proud their desert.
    They prate, they speak arrogantly;
    All the workers of iniquity boast themselves.
    They break in pieces Thy people, O Lord,
    And afflict Thine heritage.
    They slay the widow and the stranger,
    And murder the fatherless.
    And they say, The Lord shall not see,
    Neither shall the God of Jacob consider" (xciv.).

    "I am bowed down and brought very low;
    I go mourning all the day long:
    Truly I am nigh unto falling,
    And my heaviness is ever before me" (xxxviii.).

    "My days consume away like smoke,
    And my bones are burned up like as a firebrand;
    My heart is smitten down and withered like grass,
    So that I forget to eat my bread" (cii.).

    "I am helpless and poor,
    And my heart is wounded within me" (cix.).

  Most of the "imprecatory" Psalms belong to this period; and the
  terrible wrongs of the Captivity, though they may not justify, in
  large measure explain and excuse, that desire for vengeance which has
  given so much offence to some of our modern critics.

If even Shakespeare,[20] in an unrestful and despairing mood strangely
foreign to his serene temperament, beheld

          "desert a beggar born,
  And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,
  And purest faith unhappy forsworn,
  And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
  And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
  And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
  And strength by limping sway disabled,
  And art made tongue-tied by authority,
  And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
  And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
  And captive good attending captain ill;"

if, "tired with all these," he cried for "restful death," we can
hardly wonder that the Preacher, who had fallen on times so evil that,
compared with his, Shakespeare's were good, should prefer death to

  [20] Sonnets, LXVI.

       *       *       *       *       *

But there is another side to this sad story of the Captivity, another
and a nobler side. If the Jews suffered much from Persian misrule,
they learned much and gained much from the Persian faith. In its
earlier form the religious creed whose documents Zoroaster afterwards
collected and enlarged in the Zendavesta was probably the purest of
the ancient heathen world; and even when it was corrupted by the baser
additions of later times, its purer form was still preserved in songs
(Gâthâs) and traditions. There can be no reasonable doubt that it
largely affected the subsequent faith of the Hebrews, not indeed
teaching them any truth they had not been taught before, but
constraining them to recognize truths in their Scriptures which
hitherto they had passed over or neglected.

In its inception the Persian creed and practice were a revolt against
the sensuous and sensual worship of the great forces of Nature into
which most Eastern religions, often pure enough, in their primitive
forms, had degenerated, and, in especial, from the base forms into
which the Hindus had degraded that primitive faith which is still to
be recovered from the Rig-Veda. It acknowledged persons, real
spiritual intelligences, in place of mere natural powers; and it drew
moral distinctions between them, dividing these ruling intelligences
into good and bad, pure and impure, benignant and malevolent,--an
immense advance on the mere admiration of whatever was strong. Nay, in
some sense, the Persian faith affirmed monotheism against polytheism;
for it asserted that one Great Intelligence ruled over all other
intelligences, and through them over the universe. This Supreme
Intelligence, which the Persians called Ahura-mazda (Ormazd), is the
true Creator, Preserver, Governor, of all spirits, all men, all
worlds. He is "good," "holy," "pure," "true," "the Father of all
truth," "the best Being of all," "the Master of Purity," "the Source
and Fountain of all good." On the righteous He bestows "the good mind"
and everlasting happiness; while He punishes and afflicts the evil.
His worshippers were to the last degree intolerant of idolatry. They
suffered no image to profane their temples; their earliest symbol of
Deity is almost as pure and abstract as a mathematical sign, a circle
with wings; the circle to denote the eternity of God, and the wings
his omnipresence. Under this Supreme Lord, "the God of heaven," they
admitted inferior beings, angels and archangels, whose names mark them
out as personified Divine attributes, or as faithful servants who
administer some province of the Divine empire.

To win the favour of the God of heaven it was requisite to cultivate
the virtues of purity, truthfulness, industry, and a pious sense of
the Divine presence; and these virtues must spring from the heart, and
cover thought as well as word and deed. His worship consisted in the
frequent offering of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving; in the
reiteration of certain sacred hymns; in the occasional sacrifice of
animals which, after being presented before Ormazd, furnished forth a
feast for priest and worshipper; and in the performance of a mystic
ceremony (the _Soma_), the gist of which seems to have lain in a
grateful acknowledgment that the fruits of the earth, typified by the
intoxicating juice of the Homa plant, were to be received as the gift
of Heaven. A sentence or two from one of the hymns[21] of which there
are many in the Zendavesta, will show better than many words to how
high a pitch Divine worship was carried by the Persians: "We worship
Thee, Ahura-mazda, the pure, the master of purity. We praise all good
thoughts, all good words, all good deeds which are or shall be; and we
likewise keep clean and pure all that is good. O Ahura-mazda, thou
true happy Being! We strive to think, to speak, and to do only such
things as may be best fitted to promote the two lives" (_i.e._ the
life of the body and the life of the soul).

  [21] Haug's _Essays_, pp. 162-3, quoted by Rawlinson.

In this course of well-doing the faithful were animated and confirmed
by a devout belief in the immortality of the soul and a conscious
future existence. They were taught that at death the souls of men,
both good and bad, travelled along an appointed path to a narrow
bridge which led to Paradise; over this bridge only pious souls could
pass, the wicked falling from it into an awful gulf in which they
received the due reward of their deeds. The happy souls of the good
were helped across the long narrow arch by an angel,[22] and as they
entered Paradise a great archangel rose from his throne to greet each
of them with the words, "How happy art thou, who hast come to us from
mortality to immortality!"

  [22] This helpful angel is by no means peculiar to the Persian faith.
  All the imaginative races of antiquity conceived of a being more
  divine than man, though originally not equal to the gods, who guided
  the departed soul on its lonely journey through the dark interspaces
  of death. Theut conducted the released spirit of the Egyptian to the
  judgment-seat. Hermes performed the same kind office for the Greeks,
  Mercury for the Romans. Yama was the _nekropompos_ of the Hindus, and
  the Persians retained the legend. The Rig-Veda represents him as the
  first man who passed through death to immortality, and as therefore
  the best guide of other men. Nor is it doubted that the Persians
  derived their belief in a future life from the primitive Hindu creed.
  If their faith was, as I have said, a revolt from the degenerate forms
  of Hindu worship, it was also a return to its more ancient forms, as
  religious reformations are apt to be. The fathers of the Aryan stock
  had an unwavering assurance of a future life. In his Essay on the
  _Funeral Rites of the Brahmans_, Max Müller cites a sort of liturgy
  with which the ancient Hindu used to bid farewell to his deceased
  friend while the body lay on the funeral pyre, which is, surely, very
  noble and pathetic: "Depart thou, depart thou by the ancient paths, to
  the place whither our fathers have departed. Meet with the ancient
  ones (the Pitrs); meet with the Lord of Death; obtain thy desires in
  heaven. Throw off thine imperfections; go to thy home. Become united
  with a body; clothe thyself in a shining form. Go ye; depart ye;
  hasten ye from hence" (Rig-Veda x. 14).

  To which, as choral responses, might be added, "Let him depart to
  those for whom flow the rivers of nectar. Let him depart to those who
  through meditation have obtained the victory, who by fixing their
  thoughts on the unseen have gone to heaven.... Let him depart to the
  mighty in battle, to the heroes who have laid down their lives for
  others, to those who have bestowed their goods on the poor" (Rig-Veda
  x. 154).

  As the body was consumed on the pyre the friends of the dead chanted a
  hymn in which, after having bidden his body return to the various
  elements from which it sprang, they prayed, "As for his unborn part,
  do Thou, Lord (Agni), quicken it with Thy heat; let Thy flame and Thy
  brightness kindle it: convey it to the world of the righteous."

  It was from this pure and lofty source that the Persians drew their
  faith in the better life to be.

  Max Müller also quotes as the prayer of a dying Hindu woman, "Place
  me, O Pure One, in that everlasting and unchanging world where light
  and glory are found. Make me immortal in the world in which joys,
  delights, and happiness abide, where the desires are obtained"
  (Atharda Veda xii. 3, 17).

  Cremation itself bore witness to the Hindu faith in immortality, since
  they held that "the fire which set free the spiritual element from the
  superincumbent clay, completed the third or heavenly birth," the
  second birth having been achieved when men set themselves to a
  faithful discharge of their religious duties.

This wonderfully pure creed was, however, in process of time,
corrupted in many ways. First of all, "the sad antithesis of human
life," the conflict between light and darkness, good and evil--the
standing puzzle of the world--led the votaries of Ormazd to _dualism_.
Ormazd loved and created only the good. The evil in man, and in the
world, must be the work of an enemy. This enemy, Ahriman
(Augrô-maniyus), has been seeking from eternity to undo, to mar and
blast, the fair work of the God of heaven. He is the baleful author of
all evil, and under him are spirits as malignant as himself. Between
these good and evil powers there is incessant conflict, which extends
to every soul and every world. It will never cease until the great
Deliverer arise--for even of _Him_ the Persians had some dim
prevision--who shall conquer and destroy evil at its source, all
things then rounding to their final goal of good.

Another corrupting influence had its origin in a too literal
interpretation of the names given to the Divine Being, or the
qualities ascribed to Him, by the founders of the faith. Ormazd, for
example, had been described as "true, _lucid_, _shining_, the
originator of all the best things, of the spirit in nature and of the
growth in nature, _of the luminaries and of the self-shining
brightness which is in the luminaries_." From these epithets and
ascriptions there sprang in later days the worship of the sun, then of
fire, as a type of God--a worship still maintained by the disciples of
Zoroaster, the Ghebers and the Parsees. And from this point onward the
old sad story repeats itself; once more we have to trace a pure and
lofty primitive faith along the grades through which it declines to
the low, base level of a sensuous idolatry. The Magians, always the
bitter enemies of Zoroastrianism, held that the four elements--fire,
air, earth, and water--were the only proper objects of human
reverence. It was not difficult for them to persuade those who already
worshipped fire, and were beginning to forget of Whom fire was the
symbol, to include in their homage air, water, and earth. Divination,
incantations, the interpretation of dreams and omens soon followed,
with all the dark shadows which science and religion cast behind them.
And then came the lowest deep of all, that worship of the gods by
sensual indulgence to which idolatry gravitates, as by a law.

Nevertheless, we must remember that, even at their worst, the Persians
preserved the sacred records of their earlier faith, and that their
best men steadily refused to accept the base additions to it which the
Magians proposed. Corrupt as in many respects many of them became, the
conquest of Babylon was the death-blow to the sensual idol-worship
which had reigned for twenty centuries on the Chaldean plain; it never
wholly recovered from it, though it survived it for a time. From that
date it declined to its fall: "Bel bowed down; Nebo stooped; Merodach
was broken in pieces" (Isa. xlvi. 1; Jer. l. 2). The nobler monarchs
of Persia were true disciples of the primitive creed of their race. It
was similarity of creed which won their favour for the Hebrew
captives. In the decree which enfranchised them (Ezra i. 2, 3) Cyrus
expressly identifies Ormazd, "the God of heaven," with Jehovah, the
God of Israel; he says, "_The Lord God of heaven_ hath given me all
the kingdoms of the earth, and He hath charged me to build _Him_ a
house at Jerusalem." Nor was this belief in one God, whose temple was
to be defiled by no image even of Himself, the only point in common
between the better Persians, such as Cyrus and Darius, and the better
Jews. There were many such points. Both believed in an evil spirit
tempting and accusing men; in myriads of angels, all the host of
heaven, who formed the armies of God and did his pleasure; in a tree
of life and a tree of knowledge, and a serpent the enemy of man; both
shared the hope of a coming Deliverer from evil, the belief in an
immortal and retributive life beyond the grave, and a happy Paradise
in which all righteous souls would find a home and see their Father's
face. These common faiths and hopes would all be points of sympathy
and attachment between the two races; and it is to this agreement in
religious doctrine and practice that we must ascribe the striking
facts that the Persians, ordinarily the most intolerant of men, never
persecuted the Jews; and that the Jews, ordinarily so impatient of
foreign domination, never made a single attempt to cast off the
Persian yoke, but stood by the declining empire even when the Greeks
were thundering at its gates.

On one question all competent historians and commentators are agreed;
viz. that the Jews gained immensely in the clearness and compass of
their religious faith during the Captivity. That, which was the
punishment, was also the term, of their idolatry; into that sin they
never afterwards fell. Now first, too, they began to understand that
the bond of their unity was not local, not national even, but
spiritual and religious; they were spread over every province of a
foreign empire, yet they were one people, and a sacred people, in
virtue of their common service of Jehovah and their common hope of
Messiah's advent. This hope had been vaguely felt before, and just
previous to the Captivity Isaiah had arrayed it in an unrivalled
splendour of imagery; now it sank into the popular mind, which needed
it so sorely, and became a deep and ardent longing of the national
heart. From this period, moreover, the immortality of the soul and the
life beyond death entered distinctly and prominently into the Hebrew
creed. Always latent in their Scriptures, these truths disclosed
themselves to the Jews as they came into contact with the Persian
doctrines of judgment and future rewards. Hitherto they had thought
mainly, if not exclusively, of the temporal rewards and punishments by
which the Mosaic law enforced its precepts. Henceforth they saw that,
in time and on earth, human actions are not carried to their final
and due results; they looked forward to a judgment in which all wrongs
should be righted, all unpunished sins receive their recompense, and
all the sufferings of the good be transmuted into joy and peace.

Now this, as we shall see, is the very moral of the Book Ecclesiastes,
the triumphant climax to which it mounts. The endeavour of Coheleth is
to show how evil and good were blended in the human lot, evil so
largely preponderating in the lot of many of the good as to make life
a curse unless it were sustained by hope; to give hope by assuring the
Hebrew captives that "God takes cognizance of all things," and "will
bring every work to judgment," good or bad; and to urge on them, as
the conclusion of his Quest, and as the whole duty of man, to prepare
for that supreme audit by fearing God and keeping his commandments.
This was the light he was commissioned to carry into their great
darkness; and if the lamp and the oil were of God, it is hardly too
much to say that the spark which kindled the lamp was taken from the
Persian fire, since that too was of God. Or, to vary the figure, and
make it more accurate, we may say that the truths of the future life
lay hidden in the Hebrew Scriptures, and that it was by the light of
the Persian doctrine of the future that the Jews, stimulated by the
mental culture and activity acquired in Babylon, discovered them in
the Word.

It is thus, indeed, that God has taught men in all ages. The Word
remains ever the same, but our conditions change, our mental posture
varies, and with our posture the angle at which the light of Heaven
falls on the sacred page. We are brought into contact with new races,
new ideas, new forms of culture, new discoveries of science, and the
familiar Word forthwith teems with new meanings, with new adaptations
to our needs; truths unseen before, though they were always there,
come to view, deep truths rise to the surface, mysterious truths grow
simple and plain, truths that jangled on the ear melt into harmony;
our new needs stretch out lame hands of faith, and find an unexpected
but ample supply; and we are rapt in wonder and admiration as we
afresh discover the Bible to be the Book for all races and for all
ages, an inexhaustible fountain of truth and comfort and grace.




CHAP. I., vv. 1-11.

  1 The words of the Preacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem.

  2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher;
  Vanity of vanities, all is vanity,

  3 Since man hath no profit from all his labour
  Which he laboureth under the sun![23]

    [23] Just as we speak of this "sublunary world," so "under the sun" is
    the characteristic designation of the earth throughout this Book.

  4 One generation passeth, and another generation cometh;
  While the earth abideth for ever.

  5 The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down;
  And panteth toward the place at which it will rise again.

  6 The wind goeth toward the south, and veereth to the north;
  It whirleth round and round;
  And the wind returneth on its course.

  7 All the streams run into the sea, yet the sea is not full;
  To the place whence the streams came, thither they return again.

  8 All things are weary with toil. Man cannot utter it.
  The eye can never be satisfied with seeing,
  Nor the ear with hearing.

  9 What hath been will be,
  And that which is done is that which will be done;
  And there is no new thing under the sun.

  10 If there be anything of which it is said, "Behold, this is new!"
  It hath been long ago, in the ages that were before us.

  11 There is no remembrance of those who have been;
  Nor will there be any remembrance of men who are to come
  Among those that will live after them.



CHAP. I., v. 12, to CHAP. II., v. 26.

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Wisdom._ Ch. i., vv. 12-18.]

  12 I, the Preacher, was King over Israel, in Jerusalem:

  13 And I applied my heart to survey and search by wisdom
  Into all that is done under heaven:
  This sore task hath God given to the children of men,
  To exercise themselves therewith.

     VER. 13. _To survey and search into, etc._ The verbs
     indicate the broad extent which his researches covered, and
     the depth to which they penetrated.

  14 I have considered all the works that are done under the sun,
  And, behold, they are all vanity and vexation of spirit.

     VER. 14. _Vexation of spirit._ Literally, "striving after
     the wind." But the time-honoured phrase, "vexation of
     spirit," sufficiently expresses the writer's meaning; and it
     seems better to retain it than, with the Revised Version, to
     introduce the Hebrew metaphor, which has a somewhat novel
     and foreign sound.

  15 That which is crooked cannot be set straight,
  And that which is lacking cannot be made up.

  16 Therefore I spake to my heart, saying,
  Lo, I have acquired greater wisdom
  Than all who were before me in Jerusalem,
  My heart having seen much wisdom and knowledge;

  17 For I had given my heart to find knowledge and wisdom.
  I perceive that even this is vexation of spirit;

     VER. 17. _To find knowledge and wisdom._ Both the Authorized
     and Revised Versions render "to know wisdom, and to know
     _madness and folly_." The latter clause, however, violates
     both the sense and the grammatical construction. The word
     translated "to know" is not an infinitive, but a noun, and
     should be rendered "knowledge;" the word translated "folly"
     means "prudence," and the word translated "madness" hardly
     means more than "folly." The text, too, seems corrupt. The
     sense of the passage is against it, I think, as it now
     stands; for the design of the Preacher is simply to show the
     insufficiency of wisdom and knowledge, not to prove folly
     foolish. On the whole, therefore, it seems better to follow
     the high authority which arranges the text as it is here
     rendered. The Hebraist will find the question fully
     discussed in _Ginsburg_.

  18 For in much wisdom is much sadness,
  And to multiply knowledge is to multiply sorrow.

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Pleasure._ Ch ii., vv. 1-11.]

  1 Then I said to my heart,
  Go to, now let me prove thee with mirth,
  And thou shalt see pleasure:
  And, lo, this too is vanity!

  2 To mirth I said, Thou art mad!
  And to pleasure, What canst thou do?

  3 I thought in my heart to cheer my body with pleasure,
  While my spirit guided it wisely,
  And to lay hold on folly,
  Till I should see what it is good for the sons of men to do under heaven,
  Through the brief day of their life.

  4 I gave myself to great works;
  I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards;

  5 I made me gardens and parks,
  And I planted in them all manner of fruit-trees;

  6 I made me tanks of water,
  From which to water the groves:

  7 I bought me men-servants and maid-servants,
  And had servants born in my house.
  I had also many herds of oxen and sheep,
  More than all who were before me in Jerusalem:

  8 I heaped up silver and gold,
  And the treasures of kings and of kingdoms:
  I got me men-singers and women-singers;
  And took delight in many fair concubines:

  9 So that I surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem,
  My wisdom abiding with me;

  10 And nothing that my eyes desired did I withhold from them,
  I did not keep back my heart from any pleasure;
  For my heart took joy in all my toil,
  And this was my portion therefrom.

  11 But when I turned to look on all the works which my hands had wrought,
  And at the labour which it cost me to accomplish them,
  Behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit,
  And there was no profit under the sun.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _Wisdom and Pleasure compared._ Ch. ii., vv. 12-23.]

  12 Then I turned to compare wisdom with madness and folly--
  And what can he do that cometh after the king
  Whom they made king long ago?--

  13 And I saw that wisdom excelleth folly
  As far as light excelleth darkness:

  14 The wise man's eyes are in his head,
  While the fool walketh blindly.
  Nevertheless I knew that the same fate will befall both.

  15 Therefore I spake with my heart:
  "A fate like that of the fool will befall me, even me;
  To what end, then, am I wiser?"
  And I said to my heart:
  "This too is vanity,

  16 For there is no more remembrance of the wise man than of the fool;
  For both will be forgotten,
  As in time past so also in days to come:
  And, alas, the wise man dieth even as the fool!"

  17 So life became hateful to me, for a sore burden was upon me,
  Even the labour which I wrought under the sun;
  Since all is vanity and vexation of spirit:

  18 Yea, I hated all the gain which I had gained under the sun,
  Because I must leave it to the man who shall come after me,

  19 And who can tell whether he will be a wise man or a fool?
  Yet shall he have power over all my gain
  Which I have wisely gained under the sun:
  This too is vanity.

  20 Then I turned and gave my heart up to despair
  Concerning all the gain which I had gained under the sun;

  21 For here is a man who hath laboured wisely, and prudently,
        and dexterously,
  And he must leave it as a portion to one who hath not laboured therein:
  This also is vanity and a great evil;

  22 For man hath nothing of all his heavy labour,
  And the vexation of his heart under the sun,

  23 Since his task grieveth and vexeth him all his days,
  And even at night his heart hath no rest:
  This too is vanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Conclusion._ Ch. ii., vv. 24-26.]

  24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and to drink,
  And to let his soul take pleasure in his labour.
  But even this, I saw, cometh from God;

  25 For who can eat,
  And who enjoy himself, apart from Him?

  26 For to the man who is good before Him,
  He giveth wisdom and knowledge and joy;
  But to the sinner He giveth the task to gather and to heap up,
  That he may leave it to him who is good before God:
  This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.



CHAP. III., v. 1, to CHAP. V., v. 20.

[Sidenote: _The Quest obstructed by Divine Ordinances_; Ch. iii., vv.

  1 There is a time for all things,
  And a season for every undertaking under heaven:

  2 A time to be born, and a time to die;
  A time to plant, and a time to pluck up plants;

  3 A time to kill, and a time to heal;
  A time to break down, and a time to build up;

  4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
  A time to mourn, and a time to dance;

  5 A time to cast stones, and a time to gather up stones;
  A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

  6 A time to get, and a time to lose;
  A time to keep, and a time to throw away;

  7 A time to rend, and a time to sew;
  A time to be silent, and a time to speak;

  8 A time to love, and a time to hate;
  A time for war, and a time for peace:

  9 He who laboureth hath therefore no profit from his labours.

  10 I have considered the task which God hath given to the sons of men,
  To exercise themselves withal:

  11 He hath made everything beautiful in its season;
  He hath also put eternity into their heart;
  Only they understand not the work of God from beginning to end.

  12 I found that there was no good for them but to rejoice,
  And to do themselves good all their life;

  13 But also that, if a man eat and drink,
  And take pleasure in all his labour,
  It is a gift of God.

  14 I found too that whatever God hath ordained continueth for ever;
  Nothing can be added to it,
  And nothing taken from it:
  And God hath so ordered it that men may fear before Him.

  15 That which is hath been,
  And that which is to be was long ago;
  For God recalleth the past.

[Sidenote: _And by Human Injustice and Perversity._ Ch. iii., v. 16.
Ch. iv., v. 3.]

  16 Moreover, I saw under the sun
  That there was iniquity in the place of justice,
  And in the place of equity there was iniquity.

  17 I said to mine heart:
  "God will judge the righteous and the wicked,
  For there is a time for everything and for every deed with Him."

  18 Yet I said to my heart of the children of men:
  "God hath sifted them,
  To show that they, even they, are but as beasts.

  19 For a mere chance is man, and the beast a mere chance,
  And they are both subject to the same chance;
  As is the death of the one, so is the death of the other;
  And both have the same spirit:
  And the man hath no advantage over the beast,
  For both are vanity:

  20 Both go to the same place;
  Both sprang from dust, and both turn into dust:

  21 And who knoweth whether the spirit of man goeth upward,
  Or the spirit of the beast goeth downward to the earth?"

     VER. 21. The question is here, as so often in Hebrew, the
     strongest form of negative. As in ver. 19 the Preacher
     affirms of man and beast that "both have the same spirit,"
     and, in ver. 20, that "both go to the same place," so, in
     this verse, he emphatically denies that there is any
     difference in their destination at death.

  22 Wherefore I saw that there is nothing better for man
  Than to rejoice in his labours;
  For this is his portion:
  And who shall give him to see what will be after him?

[Sidenote: iv.]

  1 Then I turned to consider once more
  All the oppressions that are done under the sun:
  I beheld the tears of the oppressed,
  And they had no comforter;
  And their oppressors were violent,
  Yet had they no comforter:

  2 And I accounted the dead who died long ago
  Happier than the living who are still alive;

  3 While happier than either is he who hath not been born,
  Who hath not seen the evil which is done under the sun.

[Sidenote: _It is rendered hopeless by the base Origin of Human
Industries._ Ch. iv., vv. 4-8.]

  4 Then too I saw that all this toil,
  And all this dexterity in toil,
  Spring from man's rivalry with his neighbour:
  This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.

  5 The sluggard foldeth his hands,
  Yet he eateth his meat:

  6 Better a handful of quiet
  Than two handsful of labour with vexation of spirit.

  7 And again I turned, and saw a vanity under the sun:

  8 Here is a man who hath no one with him,
  Not even a son or a brother;
  And yet there is no end of all his labour,
  Neither are his eyes satisfied with riches:
  For whom, then, doth he labour and deny his soul any of his wealth?
  This too is vanity and an evil work.

[Sidenote: _Yet these are capable of a nobler Motive and Mode._ Ch.
iv., vv. 9-16.]

  9 Two are better than one,
  Because they have a good reward for their labour:

  10 For if one fall, the other will lift up his fellow;
  But woe to the lonely one who falleth
  And hath no fellow to lift him up!

  11 Moreover, if two sleep together, they are warm;
  But he that is alone, how can he be warm?

  12 And if an enemy assail the one, two will withstand him.
  And a threefold cord is not easily broken.

  13 Happier is a poor and wise youth
  Than an old and foolish king
  Who even yet has not learned to take warning;

  14 For he goeth forth from the prison to the throne,
  Although he was born a poor man in the kingdom.

  15 I see all the living who walk under the sun
  Flocking to the youth who stood up in his stead;

  16 There is no end to the multitude of the people over whom he ruleth:
  Nevertheless those who live after him will not rejoice in him;
  For even this is vanity and vexation of spirit.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _So also a nobler and happier Mode of Worship is open to
men:_ Ch. v., vv. 1-7.]

  1 Keep thy foot when thou goest to the House of God;
  For it is better to obey than to offer the sacrifice of fools,
  Who know not when they do evil.

  2 Do not hurry on thy mouth,
  And do not force thy heart to utter words before God;
  For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth:
  Therefore let thy words be few.

  3 For as a dream cometh through much occupation,
  So foolish talk through many words.

  4 When thou vowest a vow unto God,
  Defer not to pay it;
  For he is a fool whose will is not steadfast.
  Pay that which thou hast vowed.

  5 Better that thou shouldest not vow
  Than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

  6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin,
  And say not before the Angel, "It was an error:"
  For why should God be angry at thine idle talk
  And destroy the work of thy hands?

     VER. 6. _Before the Angel._ That is, before the Angel who,
     as the Hebrews thought, presided over the altar of worship,
     and who was present even when only two or three met for the
     study of the Law: to study the Law being in itself an act of

  7 For in many words, as in many dreams, there is vanity:
  But fear thou God.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _And a more helpful and consolatory Trust in the Divine
Providence._ Ch. v., vv. 8-17.]

  8 If thou seest the oppression of the poor,
  And the perversion of justice in the State,
  Be not dismayed thereat;
  For superior watcheth superior,
  And superiors again watch over them:

  9 And the advantage for the people is, that it extendeth to all,
  For even the king is servant to the field.

     VER. 9. Some commentators prefer another possible reading of
     this difficult verse: _But the profit of a land is every way
     a king devoted to the field, i.e._ a lover and promoter of
     good husbandry. This reading, however, does not, I think,
     harmonise so well with the context as that given above.

  10 He that loveth silver is never satisfied with silver,
  Nor he that clingeth to riches with what they yield:
  This too is vanity;

  11 For when riches increase they increase that consume them:
  What advantage then hath the owner thereof,
  Save the looking thereupon with his eyes?

  12 Sweet is the sleep of the husbandman,
  Whether he eat little or much;
  While abundance suffereth not the rich to sleep.

  13 There is a great evil which I have seen under the sun--
  Riches hoarded up by the rich
  To the hurt of the owner thereof:

  14 For the riches perish in some unlucky adventure,
  And he begetteth a son when he hath nothing in his hand:

  15 As he cometh forth from the womb of his mother,
  Even as he cometh naked,
  So also he returneth again,
  And taketh nothing from his labour
  Which he may carry away in his hand.

  16 This also is a great evil,
  That just as he came so he must go.
  For what profit hath he who laboureth for the wind?

  17 Yet all his days he eateth in darkness,
  And is much perturbed, and hath vexation and grief.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Conclusion._ Ch. v., vv. 18-20.]

  18 Behold, that which I have said holds good,--
  That it is well for man to eat and to drink
  And to enjoy the good of all his labour wherein he laboureth
        under the sun,
  Through the brief day of his life which God hath given him:
  For this is his portion.

  19 And I have also said,
  That a man to whom God hath given riches and wealth,
  If He hath also enabled him to eat thereof,
  And to take his portion and to rejoice in his labour;--
  This is a gift of God:

  20 He doth not fret because the days of his life are not many,
  For God hath sanctioned the joy of his heart.



CHAPS. VI., VER. 1, TO VIII., VER. 15.

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Wealth. He who makes Riches his Chief Good is
haunted by Fears and Perplexities_: Ch. vi., vv. 1-6.]

  1 There is another evil which I have seen under the sun,
  And it weigheth heavily upon men:

  2 Here is a man to whom God hath given riches and wealth and abundance,
  So that his soul lacketh nothing of all that it desireth;
  And God hath not given him the power to enjoy it,
  But a stranger enjoyeth it:
  This is vanity and a great evil.

  3 Though one beget a hundred children,
  And live many years,
  Yea, however many the days of his years,
  Yet if his soul be not satisfied with good,
  Even though the grave did not wait for him,
  Better is an abortion than he:

  4 For this cometh in nothingness and goeth in darkness,
  And its memory is shrouded in darkness;

  5 It doth not even see and know the sun:
  It hath more rest than he.

  6 And if he live twice a thousand years and see no good:--
  Do not both go to the same place?

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _For God has put Eternity into his Heart_; Ch. vi., vv.

  7 All the labour of this man is for his mouth;
  Therefore his soul cannot be satisfied:

  8 For what advantage hath the wise man over the fool,
  Or what the poor man over the stately magnate?

     VER. 8. _The magnate._ Literally, "he who knoweth to walk
     before the living;" some "great person," some man of eminent
     station, who is much in the eye of the public.

  9 It is better, indeed, to enjoy the good we have
  Than to crave a good beyond our reach:
  Yet even this is vanity and vexation of spirit.

     VER. 9. _To enjoy the good we have_, etc. Literally, "Better
     is that which is seen by the eyes (the present good) than
     that which is pursued by the soul (the distant and uncertain

  10 That which hath been was long since ordained;
  And it is very certain that even the greatest is but a man,
  And cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he.

[Sidenote: _And much that he gains only feeds Vanity;_]

  11 Moreover there are many things which increase vanity:
  What advantage then hath man?

[Sidenote: _Nor can he tell what will become of his Gains._]

  12 And who knoweth what is good for man in life,
  The brief day of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow?
  And who can tell what shall be after him under the sun?

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Quest in the Golden Mean. The Method of the Man who
pursues it._ Ch. vii., vv. 1-14.]

  1 A good name is better than good nard,
  And the day of death better than the day of one's birth:

  2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
  Than to the house of feasting,
  Because this is the end of every man,
  And the living should lay it to heart:

     VER. 2. "Because _this_ is the end;" _i.e._ the death
     bewailed in the house of mourning.

  3 Better is serious thought than wanton mirth,
  For by a sad countenance the heart is bettered:

  4 The heart of the wise therefore is in the house of mourning,
  But in the house of mirth is the heart of fools.

  5 It is better for a man to listen to the reproof of the wise
  Than to listen to the song of fools;

  6 For the laughter of fools is like the crackling of thorns under a pot:
  This also is vanity.

     VER. 6. _The laughter of fools_, etc. There is a play on
     words in the original which cannot be reproduced in English.
     Dean Plumptre, following the lead of Delitzsch, proposes as
     the nearest equivalents, "As crackling nettles under
     kettles," or "As crackling stubble makes the pot bubble."

  7 Wrong-doing maketh the wise man mad,
  As a bribe corrupteth the heart.

  8 The end of a reproof is better than its beginning,
  And patience is better than pride;

  9 Therefore hurry not on thy spirit to be angry:
  For anger is nursed in the bosom of fools.

  10 Say not, "How is it that former days were better than these?"
  For that is not the part of wisdom.

  11 Wisdom is as good as wealth,
  And hath an advantage over it for those who lead an active life:

     VER. 11. _Those who lead an active life._ Literally, "those
     who see the sun," _i.e._ those who are much in the sun, who
     lead a busy active life, are much occupied with traffic or
     public affairs.

  12 For wisdom is a shelter,
  And wealth is a shelter;
  But the advantage of wisdom is
  That it fortifieth the heart of them that have it.

     VER. 12. _Fortifieth the heart; i.e._ quickens life, a new
     life, a life which keeps the heart tranquil and serene under
     all chances and changes.

  13 Consider moreover the work of God,
  Since no man can straighten that which He hath made crooked.

  14 In the day of prosperity be thou content;
  And in the day of adversity
  Consider that God hath made this as well as that,
  In order that man should not be able to foresee that which is to come.

     VER. 14.: _In the day of prosperity_, etc. Literally, "in
     the day of good be in good." It may be rendered "in the good
     day be of good cheer." _This as well as that; i.e._
     adversity as well as prosperity. God sends both in order
     that, not foreseeing what will come to pass, we may live in
     a constant and humble dependence on Him.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Perils to which it exposes him._ (1) _He is likely to
compromise Conscience_: Ch. vii., vv. 15-20.]

  15 In my fleeting days I have seen
  Both the righteous die in his righteousness,
  And the wicked live long in his wickedness:

  16 Be not too righteous therefore,
  Nor make thyself too wise lest thou be abandoned;

  17 Be not very wicked, nor yet very foolish,
  Lest thou die before thy time:

  18 It is better that thou shouldest lay hold of this
  And also not let go of that;
  For whoso feareth God will take hold on both.

     VER. 18. _This ... and that._ _This__ refers to the folly
     and wickedness of ver. 17, and _that_ to the wisdom and
     righteousness of ver. 16. _Take hold on both._ Literally,
     "go along with both."

  19 This wisdom alone is greater strength to the wise
  Than an army to a beleaguered city;

     VER. 19. _This wisdom_: viz. the moderate common-sense view
     of life which has just been described. _Than an army_, etc.
     Literally, "Than _ten_ (_i.e._ many) mighty men in a city."

  20 For there is not a righteous man on earth
  Who doeth good and sinneth not.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: (2) _To be indifferent to Censure_: Ch. vii., vv. 21, 22.]

  21 Moreover seek not to know all that is said of thee,
  Lest thou hear thy servant speak evil of thee;

     VER. 21. _Seek not to know_, etc. Literally, "Give not thy
     _heart_ (even if thy ears) to all words that are uttered."

  22 For thou knowest in thine heart
  That thou also hast many times spoken evil of others.

  23 All this wisdom have I tried;
  I desired a higher wisdom, but it was far from me;

  24 That which was far off remaineth far off,
  And deep remaineth deep:
  Who can find it out?

[Sidenote: (3) _To despise Women_; Ch. vii., vv. 25-29.]

  25 Then I and my heart turned to know this wisdom
     And diligently examine it--
     To discover the cause of wickedness, vice,
     And that folly which is madness:

  26 And I found woman more bitter than death;
     She is a net;
     Her heart is a snare, and her hands are chains:
     Whoso is good before God shall escape her,
     But the sinner shall be taken by her.

  27 Behold, what I have found, saith the Preacher--
     Taking things one by one to reach the result--

  28 I have found one man among a thousand,
     But in all that number a woman have I not found:

  29 Lo, this only have I found,
     That God made man upright,
     But that they seek out many devices.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: (4) _And to be indifferent to Public Wrongs._ Ch. viii.,
vv. 1-13.]

  1 Who is like the wise man?
    And who like him that understandeth the interpretation of this saying?
    The wisdom of this man maketh his face bright,
    And his rude features are refined.

     VER. 1. _This saying_: _i.e._ that which follows. _And his
     rude features_, etc. Culture lends an air of refinement to
     the face, carriage, manners.

  2 I say then, Obey the king's commandment,
    And the rather because of the oath of fealty:

     VER. 2. _The oath of fealty._ Literally, "the oath by God."
     The Babylonian and Persian despots exacted an oath of
     loyalty from conquered races. Each had to swear by the god
     he worshipped.

  3 Do not throw off thine allegiance,
    Nor resent an evil word,
    For he can do whatsoever he please;

     VER. 3. _Do not throw off_, etc. Literally, "Do not hurry
     from his presence, or even stand up because of an evil
     word." To stand up in the divan of an Eastern despot is a
     sign of resentment; to rush from it a sign of disloyalty and

  4 For the word of a king is mighty;
    And who shall say to him, "What doest thou?"

  5 Whoso keepeth his commandment will know no evil.
    Moreover the heart of the wise man foreseeth a time of retribution--

  6 For there is a time of retribution for all things--
    When the tyranny of man is heavy upon him:

  7 Because he knoweth not what will be,
    And because no one can tell him when it will be.

     VER. 7. _Because he knoweth not_; _i.e._ the tyrant does not
     know. The sense seems to be: Retribution is all the more
     certain because, in his infatuation, the despot does not
     foresee the disastrous results of his tyranny, and because
     no one can tell him when or how they will disclose

  8 No man is ruler over his own spirit,
    To retain the spirit,
    Nor has he any power over the day of his death;
    And there is no furlough in this war,
    And no craft will save the wicked.

  9 All this have I seen,
    Having applied my heart to all that is done under the sun.

     VER. 9.: _All this have I seen; i.e._ all this retribution
     on tyrants and the consequent deliverance of the oppressed.

  10 But there is a time when a man ruleth over men to their hurt.
  Thus I have seen wicked men buried,
  And come again;
  And those who did right depart from the place of the holy,
  And be forgotten in the city:
  This also is vanity.

     VER. 10.: But the Preacher has also seen times when
     retributive justice did _not_ overtake the oppressors, when
     they _came again_ in the persons of children as wicked and
     tyrannical as themselves.

  11 Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed forthwith,
  The heart of the sons of men is set in them to do evil.

     VER. 11.: _Because sentence_, etc. "God does not always pay
     on Saturdays," says an old Italian proverb.

  12 Though a sinner do evil a hundred years,
  And groweth old therein,
  Yet I know that it shall be well with those who fear God,
  Who truly fear before Him;

  13 And it shall not be well with the wicked,
  But, like a shadow, he shall not prolong his days,
  Because he doth not fear before God.

[Sidenote: _Therefore the Preacher condemns this View of Human Life._]

  14 Nevertheless, this vanity doth happen on the earth,
  That there are righteous men who have a wage like that of the wicked,
  And there are wicked men who have a wage like that of the righteous:
  This too, I said, is vanity.

  15 And I commended mirth,
  Because there is nothing better for man under the sun
  Than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry;
  For this will go with him to his work
  Through the days of his life,
  Which God giveth him under the sun.

     VER. 15.: "And _this_ will go with him:" viz. this clear
     enjoying temper, than which, as yet, the Preacher has found
     "nothing better."




[Sidenote: _The Chief Good not to be found in Wisdom_:

Ch. viii., v. 16.-Ch. ix., v. 6.]

  16 As then I applied my heart to acquire wisdom,
  And to see the work which is done under the sun--
  And such a one seeth no sleep with his eyes by day or by night:

  17 I saw that man cannot find out all the work of God
  Which is done under the sun;
  Though man labour to discover it,
  He cannot find it out;
  And though the wise may say he understandeth it
  Nevertheless he hath not found it out.

     VER. 17.: To illustrate this verse Dean Plumptre happily
     quotes Hooker's noble and familiar words: "Dangerous it were
     for the feeble brain of man to wade far into the doings of
     the Most High; whom although to know be life, and joy to
     make mention of His name, yet our soundest knowledge is to
     know that we know Him not as indeed He is, neither can know
     Him, and our safest eloquence concerning Him is our silence,
     when we confess without confession that His glory is
     inexplicable, his greatness above our capacity and reach."

[Sidenote: ix.]

  1 For all this have I taken to heart and explored,
  That the righteous, and the wise, and their labours are in the
        hand of God:
  They know not whether they shall meet love or hatred;
  All lies before them.
  All are treated alike;

     VER. 1.: _They know not whether they shall meet love or
     hatred_ may mean that even the wisest cannot tell whether
     they shall meet (1) the love or the enmity of God, as shown
     in adverse or favourable providences; or (2) the things
     which they love or hate; or (3) the love or the hatred of
     their fellows. The last of the three seems the most likely.

     _All lies before them; i.e._ all possible chances, changes,
     events. Only God can determine or foresee what is coming to
     meet them.

  2 The same fate befalleth to the righteous and to the wicked,
  To the good and pure and to the impure,
  To him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not;
  As with the good so is it with the sinner,
  With him that sweareth as with him who feareth an oath.

  3 This is the greatest evil of all that is done under the sun,
  That there is one fate for all:
  And that, although the heart of the sons of men is full of evil,
  And madness is in their hearts through life,
  Yet, after it, they go to the dead;

     VER. 3.: The words of this verse do not, as they stand, seem
     to carry on the logical sequence of thought. The Preacher's
     complaint is that even the wise and the good are not
     exempted from the common fate, not that the foolish and
     reckless are exposed to it. The text may be corrupt; but
     Ginsburg is content with it. A good reading of it, however,
     is still wanting.

  4 For who is exempted?
  To all the living there is hope,
  For a living dog is better than a dead lion;

  5 For the living know that they shall die,
  But the dead know not anything;
  And there is no more any compensation to them,
  For the very memory of them is gone:

  6 Their love, too, no less than their hatred and rivalry, hath perished;
  And there is no part for them in ought that is done under the sun.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _Nor in Pleasure:_ Ch. ix., vv. 7-12.]

  7 Go, then, eat thy bread with gladness,
  And drink thy wine with a merry heart,
  Since God hath accepted thy works:

  8 Let thy garments be always white;
  Let no perfume be lacking to thy head:

  9 And enjoy thyself with any woman whom thou lovest
  All the days of thy life
  Which He giveth thee under the sun,
  All thy fleeting days:
  For this is thy portion in life,
  And in the labour which thou labourest under the sun.

     VER. 9.: "Enjoy thyself with _any_ woman." The word here
     rendered "woman" does not mean "wife." And as the Hebrew
     Preacher is here speaking under the mask of the lover of
     pleasure, this immoral maxim is at least consistent with the
     part he plays. More than one good critic, however, read "a
     wife" for "any woman."

  10 Whatsoever thine hand findeth to do,
  Do it whilst thou art able;
  For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in Hades,
  Whither thou goest.

  11 Then I turned and saw under the sun,
  That the race is not to the swift,
  Nor the battle to the strong;
  Nor yet bread to the wise,
  Nor riches to the intelligent,
  Nor favour to the learned;

  12 But time and chance happen to all,
  And that man doth not even know his time:
  Like fish taken in a fatal net,
  And like birds caught in a snare,
  So are the sons of men entrapped in the time of their calamity,
  When it falleth suddenly upon them.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _Nor in Devotion to Public Affairs and its Rewards_: Ch.
ix., v. 13-Ch. x. v. 20.]

  13 This wisdom also have I seen under the sun,
  And it seemed great to me--

  14 There was a little city,
  And few men in it,
  And a great king came against it and besieged it,
  And threw up a military causeway against it:

  15 Now there was found in it a poor wise man,
  And he saved that city by his wisdom;
  Yet no one remembered this same poor man.

  16 Therefore say I,
  Though wisdom is better than strength,
  Yet the wisdom of the poor is despised,
  And his words are not listened to:

  17 Though the quiet words of the wise have much advantage
  Over the vociferations of a fool of fools,
  And wisdom is better than weapons of war,
  Yet one fool destroyeth much good:

[Sidenote: x.]

  1 As a dead fly maketh sweet ointment to stink,
  So a little folly overpowereth (much) wisdom and honour.

  2 Nevertheless the mind of the wise man turns toward his right hand,
  But the mind of the fool to his left;

  3 For so soon as the fool setteth his foot in the street
  He betrayeth his lack of understanding;
  Yet he saith of every one (he meeteth), "He is a fool!"

     VER. 3.: _Setteth his foot in the street._ Literally,
     "walketh in the road." The sentence seems to be a proverb
     used to denote the extreme stupidity of the fool who, the
     very moment he leaves his house, is bewildered, cannot even
     find his way from one familiar spot to another, and sees his
     own folly in every face he meets.

  4 If the anger of thy ruler be kindled against thee,
  Resent it not:
  Patience will avert a graver wrong.

     VER. 4.: _Resent it not._ Literally, "Quit not thy
     place."--See note on chapter viii., ver. 3.

  5 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun,
  An outrage which only a ruler can commit:

  6 A great fool is lifted to high place,
  While the noble sit degraded:

  7 I have seen servants upon horses,
  And masters walking like servants on the ground.

     VER. 7.: To ride upon a horse is still a mark of distinction
     in many Eastern States. In Turkish cities, till of late, no
     Christian was permitted to ride any nobler beast than an ass
     or a mule: so neither were the Jews, in the Middle Ages, in
     any Christian city.

  8 Yet he that diggeth a pit shall fall into it;
  And whoso breaketh down a wall a serpent shall bite him;

  9 He who pulleth down stones shall be hurt therewith;
  And whoso cleaveth logs shall be cut.

  10 If the axe be blunt, and he do not whet the edge,
  He must put on more strength;
  But wisdom should teach him to sharpen it.

     VER. 10.: Ginsburg renders this difficult and much-disputed
     passage thus: "If the axe be blunt, and he do not sharpen it
     beforehand, he shall only increase the army; the advantage
     of repairing hath wisdom," and explains it as meaning: "If
     any insulted subject lift a blunt axe against the trunk of
     despotism, he will only make the tyrant increase his army,
     and thereby augment his own sufferings; but it is the
     prerogative of wisdom to repair the mischief which such
     precipitate folly occasions." I have offered what seems a
     simpler explanation in the comment on this passage, and have
     tried to give a simpler, yet not less accurate, rendering in
     the text. But there are almost as many readings of this
     difficult verse as there are critics; and it is impossible
     to do more than make a hesitating choice among them.

  11 If the serpent bite because it is not charmed,
  There is no advantage to the charmer.

     VER. 11.: _The charmer._ Literally, "the master of the
     tongue." The allusion of the phrase is of course to the
     subtle cantillations by which the charmer drew, or was
     thought to draw, serpents from their "lurk," and to render
     them harmless.

  12 The words of the wise man's mouth win him grace;
  But the lips of a fool swallow him up,

  13 For the words of his mouth are folly at the beginning,
  And end in malignant madness.

  14 The fool is full of words,
  Though no man knoweth what shall be,
  Either here or hereafter:
  And who can tell him?

  15 The work of a fool wearieth him,
  For he cannot even find his way to the city.

     VER. 15.: _He cannot even find his way to the city_; a
     proverbial saying. It denotes the fool who has not wit
     enough even to keep a high road, to walk in the beaten path
     which leads to a capital city. The thought was evidently
     familiar to Jewish literature; for Isaiah (xxxv. 8) speaks
     of the way of holiness as a highway in which "wayfaring men,
     _though fools_, shall not err."

  16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child,
  And thy princes feast in the morning!

  17 Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is noble,
  And thy princes eat at due hours,
  For strength and not for revelry!

  18 Through slothful hands the roof falleth in,
  And through lazy hands the house lets in the rain.

     VERS. 18, 19.: _And money pays for all; i.e._ the money of
     the people. The slothful prodigal rulers, under whose
     mal-administration the whole fabric of the State was fast
     falling into decay, extorted the means for their profligate
     revelry from their toil-worn and oppressed subjects. It is
     significant of the caution induced by the extreme tyranny of
     the time, that the whole description of its political
     condition is conveyed in proverbs more enigmatical than
     usual, and capable of being interpreted in more senses than

  19 They turn bread, and wine, which cheereth life, into revelry;
  And money has to pay for all.

  20 Nevertheless revile not the king even in thy thoughts,
  Nor a prince even in thy bed-chamber,
  Lest the bird of the air carry the report,
  And the winged tribes tell the story.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _But in a wise Use and a wise Enjoyment of the Present
Life_; Ch. xi., vv. 1-8.]

  1 Cast thy bread upon the waters,
  For in time thou mayest find the good of it;

  2 Give a portion to seven, and even to eight,
  For thou knowest not what calamity may come upon the earth.

  3 When the clouds are full of rain,
  They empty it upon the earth;
  And when the tree falleth, toward south or north,
  In the place where the tree falleth there will it lie.

  4 Whoso watcheth the wind shall not sow,
  And he who observeth the clouds shall not reap;

  5 As thou knowest the course of the wind
  As little as that of the embryo in the womb of the pregnant,
  So thou knowest not the work of God,
  Who worketh all things.

  6 Sow, then, thy seed in the morning,
  And slack not thy hand in the evening,
  Since thou knowest not which shall prosper, this or that,
  Or whether both shall prove good:

  7 And the light shall be sweet to thee,
  And it shall be pleasant to thine eyes to behold the sun:

  8 For even if a man should live many years,
  He ought to rejoice in them all,
  And to remember that there will be many dark days;
  Yea, that all that cometh is vanity.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _Combined with a stedfast Faith in the Life to come._ Ch.
xi., v. 9-Ch. xii., v. 7.]

  9 Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth,
  And let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth;
  And pursue the ways of thine heart,
  And that which thine eyes desire;
  And know that for all these
  God will bring thee into judgment:

  10 Banish, therefore, care from thy mind,
  And put away sadness from thy flesh,
  For youth and manhood are vanity.

[Sidenote: xii.]

  And remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,
  Before the evil days come,
  And the years approach of which thou shalt say,
  "I have no pleasure in them;"

  2 Before the sun groweth dark,
  And the light, and the moon, and the stars;
  And the clouds return after the rain:

  3 When the keepers of the house shall quake,
  And the men of power crouch down;
  When the grinding-maids shall stop because so few are left,
  And the women who look out of the lattices shall be shrouded in darkness,
  And the door shall be closed on the street:

     VER. 3.: _The women who look out of the lattices; i.e._ the
     luxurious ladies of the harem looking through their windows
     to see what is going on outside. Compare Judges v. 28; 2
     Samuel vi. 16; and 2 Kings ix. 30.

  4 When the sound of the mills shall cease,
  And the swallow fly shrieking to and fro,
  And all the song-birds drop silently into their nests.

     VER. 4.: _The swallow_, etc. Literally, "_the_ bird shall
     arise for a noise," _i.e._ the bird which flies abroad and
     makes a noise at the approach of a tempest: viz. the
     swallow. _All the songbirds._ Literally, "all the daughters
     of song," a Hebraism for birds.

  5 There shall be terror at that which cometh from the height,
  And fear shall beset the highway:
  The almond also shall be rejected,
  And the locust be loathed,
  And the caper-berry provoke no appetite;
  Because man goeth to his long home,
  And the mourners pace up and down the street;--

     VER. 5.: _From the height, i.e._ from heaven. _The locust be
     loathed._ It is commonly assumed that the locust was only
     eaten by the poor; but Aristotle (_Hist. Anim._, v. 30)
     names them as a delicacy, and Ginsburg affirms that they are
     still considered so by the cultivated and well-to-do Arabs.
     _His long home._ Literally, "his _eternal_ home," the domus
     æterna of the early Christian tombs.

  6 Before the silver cord snappeth asunder,
  And the golden bowl escapeth;
  Before the pitcher be shattered at the fountain,
  And the wheel is broken at the well;

  7 And the body is cast into the earth from which it came,
  And the spirit returneth to God who gave it.



CHAP. XII., VV. 8-14.

  8 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,
  All is vanity!

  9 And not only was the Preacher a wise man;
  He also taught the people wisdom,
  And compared, collected, and arranged many proverbs.

  10 The Preacher sought out words of comfort,
  And wrote down in uprightness words of truth.

  11 The words of the Wise are like goads,
  And those of the Masters of the Assemblies like spikes driven home,
  Given out by the same Shepherd.

  12 And of what is more than these, my son, beware;
  For of making of many books there is no end,
  And much study is a weariness to the flesh.

  13 The conclusion of the matter is this;--
  That God taketh cognisance of all things:
  Fear Him, therefore, and keep his commandments,
  For this it behoveth every man to do,

     VER. 13.: _God taketh cognisance of all things._ Literally,
     "Everything is noted" or "heard," _i.e._ by God the Judge.
     Ginsburg conjectures, not without reason, as I think, that
     the Sacred Name was omitted from this clause of the verse
     simply because the Author wished to reserve it for the more
     emphatic clause which follows it. Many good scholars,
     however, read the clause as meaning simply, "The conclusion
     of the matter, _when all has been heard," i.e._ which even
     the Sages can adduce.

  14 Since God will bring every deed to the judgment
  Appointed for every secret thing,
  Whether it be good or whether it be bad.




CHAP. I., VV. 1-11.

The search for the _summum bonum_, the quest of the Chief Good, is the
theme of the Book Ecclesiastes. Naturally we look to find this theme,
problem, this "riddle of the painful earth," distinctly stated in the
opening verses of the Book. It is stated, but not distinctly. For the
Book is an autobiographical poem, the journal of the Preacher's inward
life set forth in a dramatic form. "A man of ripe wisdom and mature
experience, he takes us into his confidence. He unclasps the secret
volume, and invites us to read it with him. He lays before us what he
has been, what he has thought and done, what he has seen and felt and
suffered; and then he asks us to listen to the judgment which he has
deliberately formed on a review of the whole."[24] But that he may the
more reservedly lay bare his heart to us, he uses the Poet's
privilege, and presents himself to us under a mask and wrapped in
Solomon's ample mantle. And a dramatic poet conveys his conceptions of
human character and circumstance and action, not by direct picturesque
descriptions, but, placing men before us "in their habit as they
lived," he makes them speak to us, and leaves us to infer their
character and condition from their words.

  [24] Dean Perowne, in _The Expositor_, First Series, vol. ix.

In accordance with the rules of his art, the dramatic Preacher brings
himself on the stage of his poem, permits us to hear his most
penetrating and characteristic utterances, confesses his own most
secret and inward experiences, and thus enables us to conceive and to
judge him. He is true to his artistic canons from the outset. His
prologue, unlike that of the Book of Job, is cast in the dramatic
form. Instead of giving us a clear statement of the moral problem he
is about to discuss, he opens with the characteristic utterances of
the man who, wearied with many futile endeavours, gathers up his
remaining strength to recount the experiments he has tried and the
conclusion he has reached. Like Browning, one of the most dramatic of
modern poets, he plunges abruptly into his theme, and speaks to us
from the first through "feigned lips." Just as in reading the
_Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister_, or the _Epistle of Karshish, the
Arab Physician_, or a score other of Browning's Poems, we have first
to glance through it in order to collect the scattered hints which
indicate the speaker and the time, and then laboriously to think
ourselves back, by their help, into the time and conditions of the
speaker, so also with this Hebrew poem. It opens abruptly with "words
of the Preacher," who is at once the author and the hero of the drama.
"Who is he," we ask, "and what?" "When did he live, and what place did
he fill?" And at present we can only reply, He is the voice of one
crying in the wilderness of Oriental antiquity, and saying, "Vanity of
vanities! _all_ is vanity!"[25] For what intent, then, does his voice
break the long silence? Of what ethical mood is this pathetic note the
expression? What prompts his despairing cry?

  [25] Compare Horace (Od. iv. 7, 9): _Pulvis et umbra sumus_.

It is the old contrast--old as literature, old as man--between the
ordered steadfastness of nature and the disorder and brevity of human
life. The Preacher gazes on the universe above and around him. The
ancient earth is firm and strong beneath his feet. The sun runs his
race with joy, sinks exhausted into its ocean bed, but rises on the
morrow, like a giant refreshed with old wine, to renew its course. The
variable and inconstant wind, which bloweth where it listeth, blows
from the same quarters, runs through the very circuit which was its
haunt in the time of the world's grey fathers. The streams which ebb
and flow, which go and come, run along time-worn beds and are fed from
their ancient source. But man, "to one point constant never," shifts
from change to change. As compared with the calm uniformity of nature,
his life is a mere phantasy, passing for ever through a tedious and
limited range of forms, each of which is as unsubstantial as the
fabric of a vision, many of which are as base and sordid as they are
unreal, and all of which, for ever in a flux, elude the grasp of those
who pursue them, or disappoint those who hold them in their hands.
"All is vanity; for man has no profit," no adequate and enduring
reward, "for all his labour;" literally, "no balance, no surplus, on
the balance-sheet of life:" less happy, because less stable, than the
earth on which he dwells, he comes and goes, while the earth goes on
for ever (vv. 2-4).

This painful contrast between the ordered stability of nature and the
changeful and profitless disorder of human life is emphasized by a
detailed reference to the large natural forces which rule the world,
and which abide unchanged, although to us they seem the very types of
change. The figure of ver. 5 is, of course, that of the racer. The sun
rises every morning to run its course, pursues it through the day,
"pants," as one well-nigh breathless, toward its goal, and sinks at
night into its subterraneous bed in the sea; but, though exhausted and
breathless at night, it rises on the morrow refreshed, and eager, like
a strong, swift man, to renew its daily race. In ver. 6 the wind is
represented as having a regular law and circuit, though it now blows
South, and now veers round to the North. The East and West are not
mentioned, probably because they are tacitly referred to in the rising
and setting sun of the previous verse: all the four quarters are
included between the two. In ver. 7 the streams are described as
returning on their sources; but there is no allusion here, as we might
suppose, to the tides,--and indeed tidal rivers are comparatively
rare,--or to the rain which brings back the water evaporated from the
surface of the streams and of the sea. The reference is, rather, to an
ancient conception of the physical order of nature held by the Hebrew
as by other races, according to which the ocean, fed by the streams,
sent back a constant supply through subterraneous passages and
channels, in which the salt was filtered out of it; through these they
supposed the rivers to return to the place whence they came. The
ruling sentiment of these verses is that, while all the natural
elements and forces, even the most variable and inconstant, renew
their strength and return upon their course, for frail man there is no
return; permanence and uniformity characterise _them_, while
transitoriness and instability mark _him_ for their own. They seem to
vanish and disappear; the sun sinks, the winds lull, the streams run
dry; but they all come back again: for him there is no coming back;
once gone, he is gone for ever.

But it is vain to talk of these or other instances of the weary yet
restless activity of the universe; "man cannot utter it." For, besides
these elemental illustrations, the world is crowded with illustrations
of incessant change, which yet move within narrow bounds and do
nothing to relieve its sameliness. So numerous are they, so
innumerable, that the curious eye and inquisitive ear of man would be
worn out before they had completed the tale of them: and if eye and
ear could never be satisfied with hearing and seeing, how much less
the slower tongue with speaking (ver. 8)? All through the universe
what hath been still is and will be; what was done is done still and
always will be done; the sun still running the same race, the winds
still blowing from the same points, the streams still flowing between
the same banks and returning by the same channels. If any man suppose
that he has discovered new phenomena, any natural fact which has not
been repeating itself from the beginning, it is only because he is
ignorant of that which has been from of old (vv. 9, 10).[26] Yet,
while in nature all things return on their course and abide for ever,
man's day is soon spent, his force soon exhausted. _He_ does not
return; nay, he is not so much as remembered by those who come after
him. Just as we have forgotten those who were before us, so those who
live after us will forget us (ver. 11). The burden of all this
unintelligible world lies heavily on the Preacher's soul. He is weary
of the world's "everlasting sameness." The miseries and confusions of
the human lot baffle and oppress his thoughts. Above all, the contrast
between Nature and Man, between its massive and stately permanence and
the frailty and brevity of our existence, breeds in him the despairing
mood of which we have the keynote in his cry, "Vanity of vanities,
vanity of vanities, all is vanity!"

  [26] So Marcus Aurelius (_Meditt._, xi. 1): "They that come after us
  will see nothing new; and they who went before saw nothing more than
  we have seen."

Yet this is not the only, not the inevitable, mood of the mind as it
ponders that great contrast. _We_ have learned to look upon it with
other, perhaps with wider, eyes. We say, How grand, how soothing, how
hopeful is the spectacle of nature's uniformity! How it lifts us above
the fluctuations of inward thought, and gladdens us with a sense of
stability and repose! As we see the ancient inviolable laws working
out into the same gracious and beautiful results day after day and
year by year, and reflect that "what has been will be," we are
redeemed from our bondage to vanity and corruption; we look up with
composed and reverent trust to Him who is our God and Father, and
onward to the stable and glorious immortality we are to spend with
Him; we argue with Habakkuk (chap. i. ver. 12), "Art not _Thou_ from
everlasting, O Lord our God, our Holy One? _We_ shall not die," but

But if we did not know the Ruler of the universe to be our God and
Father; if our thoughts had still to "jump the life to come" or to
leap at it with a mere guess; if we had to cross the gulf of death on
no more solid bridge than a Peradventure; if, in short, our life were
infinitely more troubled and uncertain than it is, and the true good
of life and its bright sustaining hope were still to seek, how would
it be with us then? Then, like the Preacher, we might feel the
steadfastness and uniformity of nature as an affront to our vanity and
weakness. In place of drinking in hope and composure from the fair
visage and unbroken order of the universe, we might deem its face to
be darkened with a frown or its eye to be glancing on us with bitter
irony. Instead of finding in its inevitable order and permanence a
hopeful prophecy of _our_ recovery into an unbroken order and an
enduring peace, we might passionately demand why, on an abiding earth
and under an unchanging heaven, we should die and be forgotten; why,
more inconstant than the variable wind, more evanescent than the
parching stream, one generation should go never to return, and another
generation come to enjoy the gains of those who were before them, and
to blot their memory from the earth.

This, indeed, _has_ been the impassioned protest and outcry of every
age. Literature is full of it. The contrast between the tranquil
unchanging sky, with its myriads of pure lustrous stars, which are
always there and always in a happy concert, and the frailty of man
rushing blindly through his brief and perturbed course has lent its
ground-tones to the poetry of every race. We meet it everywhere. It is
the oldest of old songs. In all the many languages of the divided
earth we hear how the generations of men pass swifty and stormfully
across its bosom, "searching the serene heavens with the inquest of
their beseeching looks," but winning no response; asking always, and
always in vain, "Why are we thus? why are we thus? frail as the moth,
and of few days like the flower?" It is this contrast between the
serenity and the stability of nature and the frailty and turbulence of
man which afflicts Coheleth and drives him to conclusions of despair.
Here is man, "so noble in reason, so infinite in faculty, in
apprehension so like a god," longing with an ardent intensity for the
peace which results from the equipoise and happy occupation of his
various powers; and yet his whole life is wasted in labours and
tumults, in perplexity and strife; he goes to his grave with his
cravings unsatisfied, his powers untrained, unharmonised, knowing no
rest till he lies in the narrow bed from which is no uprising! What
wonder if to such an one as he "this goodly frame, the earth, seems
but a sterile promontory" stretching out a little space into the dark,
infinite void; "this most excellent canopy, the air ... this brave
o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire,"
nothing but "a foul, pestilential congregation of vapours"? What
wonder if, for him, the very beauty of nature should turn into a
repulsive hideousness, and its steadfast, unchanging order be held a
satire on the disorder and vanity of his life?

Solomon, moreover,--and Solomon in his premature old age, sated and
weary, is the mask under which the Preacher conceals his natural
face,--had had a large experience of life, had tried its ambitions,
its lusts, its pursuits and pleasures; he had tested every promise of
good which it held forth, and found them all illusory; he had drunk of
every stream, and found no pure living water with which he could slake
his thirst. And men such as he, sated but not satisfied, jaded with
voluptuous delights and without the peace of faith, commonly look out
on the world with haggard eyes. They feed their despair on the
natural order and purity which they feel to be a rebuke to the
impurity of their own restless and perturbed hearts. Many of us have,
no doubt, stood on Richmond Hill, and looked with softening eyes on
the rich pastures dotted with cattle, and broken with clumps of trees
through which shoot up village spires, while the full, placid Thames
winds in many a curve through pasture and wood. It is not a grand or
romantic scene; but on a quiet evening, in the long level rays of the
setting sun, it is a scene to inspire content and thankful, peaceful
thoughts. Wilberforce tells us that he once stood in the balcony of a
villa looking down on this scene. Beside him stood the owner of the
villa, a duke notorious for his profligacy in a profligate age; and as
they looked across the stream, the duke cried out, "O that river!
there it runs, on and on, and I so weary of it!" And _there_ you have
the very mood of this Prologue; the mood for which the fair, smiling
heavens and the gracious, bountiful earth carry no benediction of
peace, because they are reflected from a heart all tossed into
crossing and impure waves.

All things depend on the heart we bring to them. This very contrast
between Nature and Man has no despair in it, breeds no dispeace or
anger in the heart at leisure from itself and at peace with God.
Tennyson, for instance, makes a merry musical brook sing to us on this
very theme.

  "I come from haunts of coot and hern,
    I make a sudden sally
  And sparkle out among the fern,
    To bicker down a valley.

  "I chatter over stony ways
    In little sharps and trebles,
  I bubble into eddying bays,
    I babble on the pebbles.

  "I chatter, chatter as I flow
    To join the brimming river;
  _For men may come and men may go,
    But I go on for ever_.

  "I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
    I slide by hazel covers;
  I move the sweet forget-me-nots
    That grow for happy lovers.

  "I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance
    Among my skimming swallows;
  I make the netted sunbeams dance
    Against my sanded shallows.

  "I murmur under moon and stars
    In brambly wildernesses;
  I linger by my shingly bars;
    I loiter round my cresses.

  "And out again I curve and flow
    To join the brimming river;
  _For men may come and men may go
    But I go on for ever_."

It is the very plaint of the Preacher set to sweet music. He murmurs,
"One generation passeth, and another generation cometh, but the earth
abideth for ever;" while the refrain of the Brook is,--

  "For men may come and men may go,
    But I go on for ever."

Yet we do not feel that the Song of the Brook should feed any mood of
grief and despair. The tune that it sings to the sleeping woods all
night is "a cheerful tune." By some subtle process we are made to
share us bright, tender hilarity, though we too are of the men that
come and go. Into what a fume would the Hebrew Preacher have been
thrown had any little "babbling brook" dared to sing this saucy song
_to him_. He would have felt it as an insult, and have assumed that
the merry, innocent creature was "crowing" over the swiftly passing
generations of men. But, for the Christian Poet, the Brook sings a
song whose blithe dulcet strain attunes the heart to the quiet
harmonies of peace and good-will.

Again I say all depends on the heart we turn to nature. It was because
his heart was heavy with the memory of many sins and many failures,
because too the lofty Christian hopes were beyond his reach, that this
"son of David" grew mournful and bitter in her presence.

This, then, is the mood in which the Preacher commences his quest of
the Chief Good. He is driven to it by the need of finding that in
which he can rest. As a rule, it is only on the most stringent
compulsions that we any of us undertake this high Quest. Of their
profound need of a Chief Good most men are but seldom and faintly
conscious; but to the favoured few, who are to lead and mould the
public thought, it comes with a force they cannot resist. It was thus
with Coheleth. He could not endure to think that those who have "all
things put under their feet" should lie at the mercy of accidents from
which their realm is exempt; that _they_ should be the mere fools of
change, while _that_ abides unchanged for ever. And, therefore, he set
out to discover the conditions on which they might become partakers of
the order and stability and peace of nature; the conditions on which,
raised above all the tides and storms of change, they might sit calm
and serene even though the heavens should be folded as a scroll and
the earth be shaken from its foundations. This, and only this, will he
recognise as the Chief Good, the Good appropriate to the nature of
man, because capable of satisfying all his cravings and supplying all
his wants.



CHAP. I., VER. 12, TO CHAP. II., VER. 26.

Oppressed by his profound sense of the vanity of the life which man
lives amid the play of permanent natural forces, Coheleth sets out on
the search for that true and supreme Good which it will be well for
the sons of men to pursue through their brief day; the good which will
sustain them under all their toils, and be "a portion" so large and
enduring as to satisfy even their vast desires.

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Wisdom._ Ch. i., vv. 12-18.]

1. And, as was natural in so wise a man, he turns first to _Wisdom_.
He gives himself diligently to inquire into all the actions and toils
of men. He will ascertain whether a larger acquaintance with their
conditions, a deeper insight into the facts, a more just and complete
estimate of their lot, will remove the depression which weighs upon
his heart. He devotes himself earnestly to this Quest, and acquires a
"greater wisdom than all who were before him."

This wisdom, however, is not a scientific knowledge of facts or of
social and political laws, nor is it the result of philosophical
speculations on "the first good or the first fair," or on the nature
and constitution of man. It is the wisdom that is born of wide and
varied experience, not of abstract study. He acquaints himself with
the facts of human life, with the circumstances, thoughts, feelings,
hopes, and aims of all sorts and conditions of men. He is fain to know
"all that men do under the sun," "all that is done under heaven." Like
the Arabian Caliph, "the good Haroun Alraschid," we may suppose that
Coheleth goes forth in disguise to visit all quarters of the city; to
talk with barbers, druggists, calenders, porters, with merchants and
mariners, husbandmen and tradesmen, mechanics and artizans; to try
conclusions with travellers and with the blunt wits of home-keeping
men. He will look with his own eyes and learn for himself what their
lives are like, how they conceive of the human lot, and what, if any,
are the mysteries which sadden and perplex them. He will ascertain
whether _they_ have any key that will unlock his perplexities, any
wisdom that will solve his problems or help him to bear his burden
with a more cheerful heart. Because his depression was fed by every
fresh contemplation of the order of the universe, he turns from nature
to "the proper study of mankind."

But this also he finds a heavy and disappointing task. After a wide
and dispassionate scrutiny, when he has "seen _much_ wisdom and
knowledge," he concludes that man has no fair reward "for all his
labour that he laboureth under the sun," that no wisdom avails to set
straight that which is crooked in human affairs, or to supply that
which is lacking in them. The sense of vanity bred by his
contemplation of the stedfast round of nature only grows more profound
and more painful as he reflects on the numberless and manifold
disorders which afflict humanity. And hence, before he ventures on a
new experiment, he makes a pathetic appeal to the heart which he had
so earnestly applied to the search, and in which he had stored up so
large and various a knowledge, and confesses that "even this is
vexation of spirit," that "in much wisdom is much sadness," and that
"to multiply knowledge is to multiply sorrow."

And whether we consider the nature of the case or the conditions of
the time in which this Book was written, we shall not be surprised at
the mournful conclusion to which he comes. For the time was full of
cruel oppressions and wrongs. Life was insecure. To acquire property
was to court extortion. The Hebrews, and even the conquering race
which ruled them, were slaves to the caprice of satraps and
magistrates whose days were wasted in revelry and in the unbridled
indulgence of their lusts. And to go among the various conditions of
men groaning under a despotism like that of the Turk, whose foot
strikes with barrenness every spot on which it treads; to see all the
fair rewards of honest toil withheld, the noble degraded and the
foolish exalted, the righteous trodden down by the feet of the wicked;
all this was not likely to quicken cheerful thoughts in a wise man's
heart: instead of solving, it could but complicate and darken the
problems over which he was already brooding in despair.

And, apart from the special wrongs and oppressions of the time, it is
inevitable that the thoughtful student of men and manners should
become a sadder as he becomes a wiser man. To multiply knowledge, at
least of this kind, _is_ to multiply sorrow. We need not be cynics and
leave our tub only to reflect on the dishonesty of our neighbours, we
need only go through the world with open and observant eyes in order
to learn that "in much wisdom is much sadness." Recall the wisest of
modern times, those who have had the most intimate acquaintance with
man and men, Goethe and Carlyle for example; are they not all touched
with a profound sadness?[27] Do they not look with some scorn on the
common life of the mass of men, with its base passions and pleasures,
struggles and rewards? and, in proportion as they have the spirit of
Christ, is not their very scorn kindly, springing from a pity which
lies deeper than itself? Did not even the Master Himself, though full
of ruth and grace, share their feeling as He saw publicans growing
rich by extortion, hypocrites mounting to Moses' chair, subtle, cruel
foxes couched on thrones, scribes hiding the key of knowledge, and the
blind multitude following their blind leaders into the ditch?

  [27] Père Lacordaire has a fine passage on this theme. "Weak and
  little minds find here below a nourishment which suffices for their
  intellect and satisfies their love. They do not discover the emptiness
  of visible things because they are incapable of sounding them to the
  bottom. But a soul which God has drawn nearer to the Infinite very
  soon feels the narrow limits within which it is pent; it experiences
  moments of inexpressible sadness, the cause of which for a long time
  remains a mystery; it even seems as though some strange concurrence of
  events must have chanced in order thus to disturb its life; and all
  the while the trouble comes from a higher source. In reading the lives
  of the Saints, we find that nearly all of them have felt that sweet
  melancholy of which the ancients said _that there was no genius
  without it_. In fact, melancholy is inseparable from every mind that
  looks below the surface and every heart that feels profoundly. Not
  that we should take complacency in it, for it is a malady that
  enervates when we do not shake it off; and it has but two
  remedies--_Death or God_." Elsewhere, still quite in the spirit of the
  Preacher, he says: "Every day I feel more and more that all is vanity.
  _I cannot leave my heart in this heap of mud._"

Nay, if we look out on the world of to-day, can we say that even the
majority of men are wise and pure? Is it always the swift who win the
race, and the strong who carry off the honours of the battle? Do none
of our "intelligent lack bread," nor any of the learned favour? Are
there no fools lifted to high places to show with how little wisdom
the world is governed, and no brave and noble breasts dinted by the
blows of hostile circumstances or wounded by "the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune"? Are all our workmen diligent and all our masters
fair? Are no false measures and balances known in our markets, and no
frauds on our exchanges? Are none of our homes dungeons, with fathers
and husbands for jailors? Do we never hear, as we stand without, the
sound of cruel blows and the shrieks of tortured captives? Are there
no hypocrites in our Churches "that with devotion's visage sugar o'er"
a corrupt heart? And do the best men always gain the highest place and
honour? Are there none in our midst who have to bear--

                "The whips and scorns of time,
  The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
  The pangs of despised love, the laws delay.
  The insolence of office, and the spurns
  That patient merit of the unworthy takes"?

Alas, if we think to find the true Good in a wide and varied knowledge
of the conditions of men, their hopes and fears, their struggles and
successes, their loves and hates, their rights and wrongs, their
pleasures and their pains, we shall but share the defeat of the
Preacher, and repeat his bitter cry, "Vanity of vanities, vanity of
vanities, all is vanity!" For, as he himself implies at the very
outset (ver. 13), "this sore task," this eternal quest of a wisdom
which will solve the problems and remove the inequalities of human
life, is God's _gift_ to the children of men,--this search for a
solution they never reach. Age after age, unwarned by the failure of
those who took this road before them, they renew the hopeless quest.

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Pleasure._ Ch. ii., vv. 1-11.]

2. But if we cannot reach the object of our Quest in Wisdom, we may,
perchance, find it in Pleasure. This experiment also the Preacher has
tried, tried on the largest scale and under the most auspicious
conditions. Wisdom failing to satisfy the large desires of his soul,
or even to lift it from its depression, he turns to mirth.[28] Once
more, as he forthwith announces, he is disappointed in the result. He
pronounces mirth a brief madness; in itself, like wisdom, a good, it
is not the Chief Good; to make it supreme is to rob it of its natural

  [28] So Goethe's _Faust_, after having failed to solve the insoluble
  problems of life by study and research, "plunges deep in pleasure,"
  that he "may thus still the burning thirst of passionate desire."

Not content with this general verdict, however, he recounts the
details of his experiment, that he may deter us from repeating it.
Speaking in the person of Solomon and utilising the facts of _his_
experience, Coheleth claims to have started in the quest with the
greatest advantages; for "what can he do who cometh after the king
whom they made king long ago?" He surrounded himself with all the
luxuries of an Oriental prince, not out of any vulgar love of show and
ostentation, nor out of any strong sensual addictions, but that he
might discover wherein the secret and fascination of pleasure lay, and
what it could do for a man who pursued it wisely. He built himself
new, costly palaces, as the Sultan of Turkey used to do almost every
year. He laid out paradises, planted them with vines and fruit-trees
of every sort, and large shady groves to screen off and attemper the
heat of the sun.[29] He dug great tanks and reservoirs of water, and
cut channels which carried the cool vital stream through the gardens
and to the roots of the trees. He bought men and maids, and surrounded
himself with the retinue of servants and slaves requisite to keep his
palaces and paradises in order, to serve his sumptuous tables, to
swell his pomp: _i.e._ he gathered together such a train of ministers,
attendants, domestics, indoor and outdoor slaves, as is still thought
necessary to the dignity of an Oriental "lord." His herds of flocks, a
main source of Oriental wealth, were of finer strain and larger in
number than had been known before. He amassed enormous treasures of
silver and gold, the common Oriental hoard. He collected the peculiar
treasures "of kings and of the kingdoms;" whatever special commodity
was yielded by any foreign land was caught up for his use by his
officers or presented to him by his allies.[30] He hired famous
musicians and singers, and gave himself to those delights of harmony
which have had a peculiar charm for the Hebrews of all ages. He
crowded his harem with the beauties both of his own and of foreign
lands. He withheld nothing from them that his eyes desired, and kept
not his heart from any pleasure. He set himself seriously and
intelligently to make happiness his portion; and, while cherishing or
cheering his body with pleasures, he did not rush into them with the
blind eagerness "whose violent property foredoes itself" and defeats
its own ends. His "mind guided him wisely" amid his delights; his
"wisdom helped him" to select, and combine, and vary them, to enhance
and prolong their sweetness by a certain art and temperance in me
enjoyment of them.

  [29] "One such pleasaunce as this there was at Etam, Solomon's
  Belvedere, as Josephus informs us (_Antiq._, VIII. 7, 3). Thither it
  was the custom of the king, he says, to resort when he made his
  morning excursions from the city, clad in a white garment, and driving
  his chariot, surrounded by his body-guard of young men in the flower
  of their age, clad in Tyrian purple, and with gold dust strewed upon
  their hair, so that their whole head sparkled when the sun shone upon
  it, and mounted upon horses from the royal stables, famed for their
  beauty and fleetness."--Dr. Perowne, _The Expositor_, First Series,
  vol. x.

  [30] In speaking of the Persian revenue, Rawlinson says that besides a
  definite money payment, "a payment, the nature and amount of which
  were also fixed, had to be made in kind, each province being required
  to furnish that commodity, or those commodities, for which it was most
  celebrated,"--as, for example, grain, sheep, cattle, mules, fine
  breeds of horses, beautiful slaves. _The Five Great Monarchies_, vol.
  iv., chap. vii., p. 421.

  "He built his soul a lordly pleasure-house,
    Wherein at ease for aye to dwell;
  He said, 'Oh Soul, make merry and carouse,
    Dear Soul, for all is well!'"

Alas, all was _not_ well, though he took much pains to make and think
it well. Even his choice delights soon palled upon his taste, and
brought on conclusions of disgust. Even in his lordly pleasure-house
he was haunted by the grim, menacing spectres which troubled him
before it was built. In the harem, in the paradise he had planted,
under the groves, beside the fountains, at the sumptuous banquet,--a
bursting bubble, a falling leaf, an empty wine cup, a passing blush,
sufficed to bring back the thought of the brevity and the emptiness of
life. When he had run the full career of pleasure, and turned to
contemplate his delights and the labour they had cost him, he found
that these also were vanity and vexation of spirit, that there was no
"profit" in them, that they could not satisfy the deep, incessant
craving of the soul for a true and lasting Good.

Is not his sad verdict as true as it is sad? We have not his wealth of
resources. Nevertheless there may have been a time when our hearts
were as intent on pleasure as was his. We may have pursued whatever
sensuous, intellectual, or aesthetic excitements were open to us with
a growing eagerness till we have lived in a whirl of craving and
stimulating desire and indulgence, in which the claims of duty have
been neglected and the rebukes of conscience unheeded. And if we
_have_ passed through this experience, if we have been carried for a
time into this giddying round, have we not come out of it jaded,
exhausted, despising ourselves for our folly, disgusted with what once
seemed the very top and crown of delight? Do we not mourn, our after
life through, over energies wasted and opportunities lost? Are we not
sadder, if wiser, men for our brief frenzy? As we return to the sober
duties and simple joys of life, do not _we_ say to Mirth, "Thou art
mad!" and to Pleasure, "What canst thou do for us?" Yes, our verdict
is that of the Preacher, "Lo, this too is vanity!" _Non enim
hilaritate, nec lascivia, nec visu, aut joco, comite levitatis, sed
sæpe etiam tristes firmitate, et constantia sunt beati._[31]

  [31] Cicero, _De Fin._, Lib. II., Cap. 20.

[Sidenote: _Wisdom and Mirth compared._ Ch. ii., vv. 12-23.]

It is characteristic of the philosophic temper of our Author, I think,
that, after pronouncing Wisdom and Mirth vanities in which the true
Good is not to be found, he does not at once proceed to try a new
experiment, but pauses to compare these two "vanities," and to reason
out his preference of one over the other. _His_ vanity is wisdom. For
it is only in one respect that he puts mirth and wisdom on an
equality, viz. that they neither of them are, or lead up to, the
supreme Good. In all other respects he affirms wisdom to be as much
better than pleasure as light is better than darkness, as much better
as it is to have eyes that see the light than to be blind and walk in
a constant gloom (VV. 12-14). It is because wisdom is a light and
enables men to see that he accords it his preference. It is by the
light of wisdom that he has learned the vanity of mirth, nay, the
insufficiency of wisdom itself. But for that light he might still be
pursuing pleasures which could not satisfy, or laboriously acquiring a
knowledge which would only deepen his sadness. Wisdom had opened his
eyes to see that he must seek the Good which gives rest and peace in
other regions. He no longer goes on his Quest in utter blindness, with
all the world before him where to choose, but with no indication of
the course he should, or should not, take. He has already learned that
two large provinces of human life will not yield him what he seeks,
that he must expend no more of his brief day and failing energies on

Therefore wisdom is better than mirth. Nevertheless it is not best,
nor can it remove the dejections of a thoughtful heart. Somewhere
there is, there must be, that which is better still. For wisdom cannot
explain to him why the same fate should befall both the sage and the
fool (ver. 15), nor can it abate the anger that burns within him
against an injustice so obvious and flagrant. Wisdom cannot even
explain why, even if the sage must die no less than the fool, both
must be forgotten wellnigh as soon as they are gone (vv. 16, 17); nor
can it soften the hatred of life and its labours which this lesser yet
patent injustice has kindled in his heart. Nay, wisdom, for all so
brightly as it shines, throws no light on an injustice which, if of
lower degree, frets and perplexes his mind,--why a man who has
laboured prudently and dexterously and has acquired great gains
should, when he dies, leave all to one who has not laboured therein,
without even the poor consolation of knowing whether he will be a wise
man or an idiot (vv. 19-21). In short, the whole skein of life is in a
dismal tangle which wisdom itself, dearly as he loves it, cannot
unravel; and the tangle is that man has no fair "profit" from his
labours, "since his task grieveth and vexeth him all his days, and
even at night his heart hath no rest;" and when he dies he loses all
his gains, such as they are, for ever, and cannot so much as be sure
that his heir will be any the better for them. "This also is vanity"
(vv. 22, 23).

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Conclusion._ Ch. ii. vv. 24-26.]

And yet, good things are surely good, and there is a wise and gracious
enjoyment of earthly delights. It is right that a man should eat and
drink, and take a natural pleasure in his toils and gains. Who,
indeed, has a stronger claim than the labourer himself to eat and
enjoy the fruit of his labours? Still, even this natural enjoyment is
the gift of God; apart from his blessing the heaviest toils will
produce but a scanty harvest, and the faculty of enjoying that harvest
may be lacking. It _is_ lacking to the sinner; _his_ task is to heap
up gains which the good will inherit. But he that is good before God
will have the gains of the sinner added to his own, with wisdom to
enjoy both.[32] This, whatever appearances may sometimes suggest, is
the law of God's giving: that the good shall have abundance, while
the bad lack; that more shall be given to him who has wisdom to use
what he has aright, while from him who is destitute of this wisdom,
even that which he hath shall be taken away. Nevertheless even this
wise use and enjoyment of temporal good does not and cannot satisfy
the craving heart of man; even this, when it is made the ruling aim
and chief good of life, is vexation of spirit.

  [32] This affirmation, so surprising at first sight, is also made by
  Job (chap. xxvii., vv. 15, 16), "This is the doom of the wicked man
  from God.... Though he heap up silver like dust, and gather robes as
  mire, that which he hath gathered shall the righteous wear, and the
  innocent shall divide his silver."

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus the First Act of the Drama closes with a negative. The moral
problem is as far from being solved as at the outset. All we have
learned is that one or two avenues along which we urge the Quest will
not lead us to the end we seek. As yet the Preacher has only the _ad
interim_ conclusion to offer us, that both Wisdom and Mirth are good,
though neither, nor both combined, is the supreme Good; that we are
therefore to acquire wisdom and knowledge, and to blend pleasure with
our toils; that we are to believe pleasure and wisdom to be the gifts
of God, to believe also that they are bestowed, not in caprice, but
according to a law which deals out good to the good and evil to the
evil. We shall have other opportunities of weighing and appraising his
counsel--it is often repeated--and of seeing how it works into and
forms part of Coheleth's final solution of the painful riddle of the
earth, the baffling mystery of life.



CHAP. III., VER. 1, TO CHAP. V., VER. 20.

I. If the true Good is not to be found in the School where Wisdom
utters her voice, nor in the Garden in which Pleasure spreads her
lures: may it not be found in the Market, in devotion to Business and
Public Affairs? The Preacher will try this experiment also. He gives
himself to study and consider it. But at the very outset he discovers
that he is in the iron grip of immutable Divine ordinances, by which
"seasons" are appointed for every undertaking under heaven (ver. 1),
ordinances which derange man's best-laid schemes, and "shape his ends,
rough-hew them how he will," that no one can do anything to purpose
"apart from God," except by conforming to the ordinances, or laws, in
which He has expressed His will (comp. chap, ii., vv. 24-26).

[Sidenote: _The Quest obstructed by Divine Ordinances_; Ch. iii., vv.

The time of birth, for instance, and the time of death, are ordained
by a Power over which men have no control; they begin to be, and they
cease to be, at hours whose stroke they can neither hasten nor
retard. The season for sowing and the season for reaping are fixed
without any reference to their wish; they must plant and gather in
when the unchangeable laws of nature will permit (ver. 2). Even those
violent deaths, and those narrow escapes from death, which seem most
purely fortuitous, are predetermined; as are also the accidents which
befall our abodes (ver. 3). So, again, if only because determined by
these accidents, are the feelings with which we regard them, our
weeping and our laughter, our mourning and our rejoicing (ver. 4). If
we only clear a plot of ground from stones in order that we may
cultivate it, or that we may fence it in with a wall; or if an enemy
cast stones over our arable land to unfit it for uses of husbandry--a
malignant act frequent in the East--and we have painfully to gather
them out again: even this, which seems so purely within the scope of
human free-will, is also within the scope of the Divine decrees--as
are the very embraces we bestow on those dear to us, or withhold from
them (ver. 5). The varying and unstable desires which prompt us to
seek this object or that as earnestly as we afterwards carelessly cast
it away, and the passions which impel us to rend our garments over our
losses, and by-and-bye to sew up the rents not without some little
wonder that we should ever have been so deeply moved by that which
now sits so lightly on us; these passions and desires, which at one
time strike us dumb with grief and so soon after make us voluble with
joy, with all our fleeting and easily-moved hates and loves, strifes
and reconciliations, move within the circle of law, although they wear
so lawless a look, and are obsequious to the fixed canons of Heaven
(vv. 6-8). They travel their cycles; they return in their appointed
order. The uniformity of nature is reproduced in the uniform
recurrence of the chances and changes of human life; for in this, as
in that, God repeats Himself, recalling the past (ver. 15). The thing
that is is that which hath been, and that which will be. Social laws
are as constant and as inflexible as natural laws. The social
generalisations of modern science--as given, for instance, in Buckle's
_History_--are but a methodical elaboration of the conclusion at which
the Preacher here arrives.

Of what use, then, was it for men to "kick against the goads," to
attempt to modify immutable ordinances? "Whatever God hath ordained
continueth for ever; nothing can be added to it, and nothing can be
taken from it" (ver. 14). Nay, why should we care to alter or modify
the social order? Everything is beautiful and appropriate in its
season, from birth to death, from war to peace (ver. 11). If we cannot
find the satisfying Good in the events and affairs of life, that is
not because we could devise a happier order for them, but because "God
hath put _eternity_ into our hearts" as well as time, and did not
intend that we should be satisfied till we attain an eternal good. If
only we "understood" that, if only we recognised Gods design for us
"from beginning to end," and suffered eternity no less than time to
have its due of us, we should not fret ourselves in vain endeavours to
change the unchangeable, or to find an enduring good in that which is
fugitive and perishable. We should rejoice and do ourselves good all
our brief life (Ver. 12); we should eat and drink and take pleasure in
our labours (ver. 13); we should feel that this faculty for innocently
enjoying simple pleasures and wholesome toils is "a gift of God:" we
should conclude that God had ordained that regular cycle and order of
events which so often forestalls the wish and endeavour of the moment,
in order that we should fear Him in place of relying on ourselves
(ver. 14), and trust our future to Him who so wisely and graciously
recalls the past.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _And by Human Injustice and Perversity._ Ch. iii., v.
16.-Ch. iv., v. 3.]

But not only are our endeavours to find the "good" of our labours
thwarted by the gracious, inflexible laws of the just God; they are
often baffled by the injustice of ungracious men. In the days of
Coheleth, Iniquity sat in the seat of justice, wresting all rules of
equity to its base private ends (ver. 16). Unjust judges and
rapacious satraps put the fair rewards of labour and skill and
integrity in jeopardy, insomuch that if a man by industry and thrift,
by a wise observance of Divine laws and by taking occasions as they
rose, had acquired affluence, he was too often, in the expressive
Eastern phrase, but as a sponge which any petty despot might squeeze.
The frightful oppressions of the time were a heavy burden to the
Hebrew Preacher. He brooded over them, seeking for aids to faith and
comfortable words wherewith to solace the oppressed. For a moment he
thought he had lit on the true comfort, "Well, well," he said within
himself, "_God_ will judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is
a time for everything and for every deed with Him" (ver. 17). Could he
have rested in this thought, it would have been "a sovereign balm" to
him, or indeed to any other Hebrew; although to us, who have learned
to desire the redemption rather than the punishment of the wicked,
their redemption _through_ their inevitable punishments, the true
comfort would still have been wanting. But he could not rest in it,
could not hold it fast, and confesses that he could not. He lays his
heart bare before us. We are permitted to trace the fluctuating
thoughts and emotions which swept across it. No sooner has he
whispered to his heart that God, who is at leisure from Himself and
has endless time at his command, will visit the oppressors and avenge
the oppressed, than his thoughts take a new turn, and he adds: "And
yet God _may_ have sifted the children of men only to shew them that
they are no better than the beasts" (ver. 18): _this_ may be his aim
in all the wrongs by which they are tried. Repugnant as the thought
is, it nevertheless fascinates him for the instant, and he yields to
its wasting and degrading magic. He not only fears, suspects, thinks
that man is no better than a beast; he is quite sure of it, and
proceeds to argue it out. His argument is very sweeping, very sombre.
"A mere chance is man, and the beast a mere chance." Both spring from
a mere accident, no one can tell how, and have a blind hazard for a
creator; and "both are subject to the same chance," or mischance,
throughout their lives, all the decisions of their intelligence and
will being overruled by the decrees of an inscrutable fate. Both
perish under the same power of death, suffer the same pangs of
dissolution, are taken at unawares by the same invisible yet
resistless force. The bodies of both spring from the same dust, and
moulder back into dust. Nay, "both have the same spirit;" and though
vain man sometimes boasts that at death his spirit goeth upward, while
that of the beast goeth downward, yet who can prove it? For himself,
and in his present mood, Coheleth doubts, and even denies it. He is
absolutely convinced that in origin and life and death, in body and
spirit and final fate, man is as the beast is, and hath no advantage
over the beast (vv. 19-21). And therefore he falls back on his old
conclusion, though now with a sadder heart than ever, that man will do
wisely, that, being so blind and having so dark a prospect, he cannot
do more wisely than to take what pleasure and enjoy what good he can
amid his labours. _If_ he is a beast, _as_ he is a beast, let him at
least learn of the beasts that simple, tranquil enjoyment of the good
of the passing moment, untroubled by any vexing presage of what is to
come, in which it must be allowed that they are greater proficients
than he (ver. 22).

Thus, after rising in the first fifteen verses of this Third Chapter,
to an almost Christian height of patience, and resignation, and holy
trust in the providence of God, Coheleth is smitten by the injustice
and oppressions of man into the depths of a pessimistic materialism.

       *       *       *       *       *

But now a new question arises. The Preacher's survey of human life has
shaken his faith even in the conclusion which he has announced from
the first, viz., that there is nothing better for a man than a quiet
content, a busy cheerfulness, a tranquil enjoyment of the fruit of his
toils. _This_ at least he has supposed to be possible: but is it? All
the activities, industries, tranquillities of life are jeopardised,
now by the inflexible ordinances of Heaven, and again by the
capricious tyranny of man. To this tyranny his fellow-countrymen are
now exposed. They groan under its heaviest oppressions. As he turns
and once more reflects (chap. iv., ver. 1) on their unalleviated and
unfriended misery, he doubts whether content, or even resignation, can
be expected of them. With a tender sympathy that lingers on the
details of their unhappy lot, and deepens into a passionate and
despairing melancholy, he witnesses their sufferings and "counts the
tears" of the oppressed. With the emphasis of a Hebrew and an
Oriental, he marks and emphasises the fact that "they had no
comforter," that though "their oppressors were violent, yet they had
no comforter." For throughout the East, and among the Jews to this
day, the manifestation of sympathy with those who suffer is far more
common and ceremonious than it is with us. Neighbours and
acquaintances are expected to pay long visits of condolence; friends
and kinsfolk will travel long distances to pay them. Their respective
places and duties in the house of mourning, their dress, words,
bearing, precedence, are regulated by an ancient and elaborate
etiquette. And, strange as it may seem to us, these visits are
regarded not only as gratifying tokens of respect to the dead, but as
a singular relief and comfort to the living. To the Preacher and his
fellow-captives, therefore, it would be a bitter aggravation of their
grief that, while suffering under the most cruel oppressions of
misfortune, they were compelled to forego the solace of these
customary tokens of respect and sympathy. As he pondered their sad and
unfriended condition, Coheleth--like Job, when his comforters failed
him--is moved to curse his day. The dead, he affirms, are happier than
the living,[33]--even the dead who died so long ago that the fate most
dreaded in the East had befallen them, and the very memory of them
had perished from the earth: while happier than either the dead, who
have had to suffer in their time, or than the living, whose doom had
still to be borne, were those who had never seen the light, never been
born into a world all disordered and out of course (vv. 2, 3).[34]

  [33] Xerxes, in his invasion of Greece, conceived the wish "to look
  upon all his host." A throne was erected for him on a hill near
  Abydos, sitting on which he looked down and saw the Hellespont covered
  with his ships, and the vast plain swarming with his troops. As he
  looked, he wept; and when his uncle Artabanus asked him the cause of
  his tears, he replied: "There came upon me a sudden pity when I
  thought of the shortness of man's life, and considered that of all
  this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred
  years are gone by." This is one of the most striking and best known
  incidents in the life of the Persian despot; but the rejoinder of
  Artabanus, though in a far higher strain, is less generally known. I
  quote it here as an illustration of the Preacher's mood. Said
  Artabanus: "And yet there are sadder things in life than that. Short
  as our time is, there is no man, whether it be here among this
  multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy as not to have felt the
  wish--I will not say once, but full many a time--that he were dead
  rather than alive. Calamities fall on us, sicknesses vex and harass
  us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. _So death,
  through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our
  race._"--_Herodotus_, Book VII., c. 46.

  [34] So in Sophocles (_Oed. Col._, 1225) we read--I quote from Dean
  Plumptre's translation:

    "Never to be at all
    Excels all fame;
    Quickly, next best, to pass
    From whence we came."

[Sidenote: _It is rendered hopeless by the base origin of Human
Industries._ Ch. iv., vv. 4-8.]

This stinging sense of the miserable estate of his race has, however,
diverted the Preacher from the conduct of the main argument he had in
hand: to that he now returns (ver. 4). And now he argues: You cannot
hope get good fruit from a bad root. But the several industries in
which you are tempted to seek "the chief good and market of your time"
have a most base and evil origin; they "spring from man's jealous
rivalry with his neighbour." Every man tries to outdo and to outsell
his neighbours; to secure a larger business, to surround himself with
a more profuse luxury, or to amass an ampler hoard of gold. This
business life of yours is utterly selfish, and therefore utterly base.
You are not content with a sufficient provision for simple wants. You
do not seek your neighbour's good. You have no noble or patriotic aim.
Your ruling intention is to enrich yourselves at the expense of
neighbours who, in their turn, are _your_ rivals rather than your
neighbours, and who try to get the better of you just as you try to
get the better of them. Can you hope to find the true Good in a life
whose aims are so sordid, whose motives so selfish? The very sluggard
who folds his hands in indolence so long as he has bread to eat is a
wiser man than you; for he has at least his "handful of quiet," and
knows some little enjoyment of life; while you, driven on by jealous
competition and the eager cravings of insatiable desire, have neither
leisure nor appetite for enjoyment: both your hands are full, indeed,
but there is no quiet in them, only labour, labour, labour, with
vexation of spirit (vv. 5, 6).

So intense and selfish was this rivalry, increase of appetite growing
by what it fed upon, so keen grew the desire to amass, that the
Preacher paints a portrait, for which no doubt many _a Hebrew_ might
have sat, of a man--nay, rather, of a miser--who, though solitary and
kinless, with not even a son or a brother to inherit his wealth,
nevertheless hoards up riches to the close of his life; there is no
end to his labours; he never can be rich enough to allow himself any
enjoyment of his gains (vv. 7, 8).

[Sidenote: _Yet these are capable of a nobler Motive and Mode._ Ch.
iv., vv. 9-16.]

Now a jealous rivalry culminating in mere avarice,--that surely is not
the wisest or noblest spirit of which those are capable who devote
themselves to affairs. Even "the idols of the market" may have a purer
cult. Business, like Wisdom or Mirth, may neither be, nor contain, the
supreme Good: still, like them, it is not in itself and of necessity
an evil. There must be a better mode of devotion to it than this
selfish and greedy one; and such a mode Coheleth, before he pursues
his argument to a close, pauses to point out. As if anticipating a
modern theory which grows in favour with the wiser sort of mercantile
men, he suggests that co-operation--of course I use the word in its
etymological rather than in its technical sense--should be substituted
for competition. "Two are better than one," he argues; "union is
better than isolation; conjoint labour brings the larger reward" (ver.
9). To bring his suggestion home to the business bosom of men, he uses
five illustrations, four of which have a strong Oriental colouring.

The first is that of two pedestrians (ver. 10); if one should
fall--and such an accident, owing to the bad roads and long cumbrous
robes common in the East, was by no means infrequent--the other is
ready to set him on his feet; while, if he is alone, the least that
can befall him is that his robe will be trampled and bemired before
he can gather himself up again. In the second illustration (ver. 11),
our two travellers, wearied by their journey, sleep together at
its close. Now in Syria the nights are often keen and frosty, and
the heat of the day makes men more susceptible to the cold. The
sleeping-chambers, moreover, have only unglazed lattices which let in
the frosty air as well as the welcome light; the bed is commonly a
simple mat, the bedclothes only the garments worn through the day. And
therefore the natives huddle together for the sake of warmth. To lie
alone was to lie shivering in the chill night air. The third
illustration (ver. 12) is also taken from the East. Our two
travellers, lying snug and warm on their common mat, buried in
slumber, that "dear repose for limbs with travel tired," were very
likely to be disturbed by thieves who had dug a hole through the clay
walls of the house, or crept under the tent, to carry off what they
could. These thieves, always on the alert for travellers, are
marvellously supple, rapid, and silent in their movements; but as the
traveller, aware of his danger, commonly puts his "bag of needments"
or valuables under his head, it does sometimes happen that the deftest
thief will rouse him by withdrawing it. If one of our two wayfarers
was thus aroused, he would call on his comrade for help, and between
them the thief would stand a poor chance; but the solitary traveller,
suddenly roused from sleep, with no helper at hand, might very easily
stand a worse chance than the thief. The fourth illustration (ver. 12)
is that of the threefold cord--three strands twisted into one, which,
as we all know, English no less than Hebrew, is much more than three
times as strong as any one of the separate strands.

But in the fifth and most elaborate illustration (vv. 13, 14), we are
once more carried back to the East. The slightest acquaintance with
Oriental history will teach us how uncertain is the tenure of royal
power; how often it has happened that a prisoner has been led from a
dungeon to a throne, and a prince suddenly deposed and reduced to
impotence and penury. Coheleth supposes such a case. On the one hand,
we have a king old, but not venerable, since, long as he has lived, he
has not "even yet learned to accept admonition;" he has led a
solitary, selfish, suspicious life, secluded himself in his harem,
surrounded himself with a troop of flattering courtiers and slaves. On
the other hand, we have the poor but wise young man, "the affable
youth," who has lived with all sorts and conditions of men, acquainted
himself with their habits and wants and desires, and conciliated their
regard. His growing popularity alarms the old despot and his minions.
He is cast into prison. His wrongs and sufferings endear him to the
wronged and suffering people. By a sudden outbreak of popular wrath,
by a revolution such as often sweeps through Eastern states, he is set
free, and led from the prison to the throne, although he was once so
poor that none would do him reverence. This is the picture in the
mind's eye of the Preacher; and, as he contemplates it, he rises into
a kind of prophetic rapture, and cries, "I see--I see all the living
who walk under the sun flocking to the youth who stands up in the old
king's stead; there is no end to the multitude of the people over whom
he ruleth!" (ver. 15).

By these graphic illustrations Coheleth sets forth the superiority of
the sociable over the solitary and selfish temper, of union over
isolation, of the neighbourly goodwill which leads men to combine for
common ends over the jealous rivalry which prompts them to take
advantage of each other, and to labour each for himself alone.

But even as he urges this better, happier temper on men occupied with
business and public affairs, even as he contemplates its brightest
illustration in the youthful prisoner whose winning and sociable
qualities have lifted him to a throne, the old mood of melancholy
comes back on him; there is the familiar pathetic break in his voice
as he concludes (ver. 16), that even this wise youth, who wins all
hearts for a time, will soon be forgotten; that "even this," for all
so hopeful as it looks, "is vanity and vexation of spirit."

       *       *       *       *       *

A profound gloom rests on the second act of this Drama. It has already
taught us that we are helpless in the grip of laws which we had no
voice in making; that we often lie at the mercy of men whose mercy is
but a caprice; that in our origin and end, in body and spirit, in
faculty and prospect, in our lives and pleasures, we are no better
than the beasts which perish: that the avocations into which we
plunge, and amid which we seek to forget our sad estate, spring from
our jealousy the one of the other, and tend to a lonely miserliness
without use or charm. The Preacher's familiar conclusion--"Be
tranquil, be content, enjoy as much as you can"--has grown doubtful to
him. He has seen the brightest promise come to nought. In a new and
profounder sense, "all is vanity and vexation of spirit."

But, though passing through a great darkness, he sees, and reflects,
some little light. Even when facts seem to contradict it, he holds
fast to the conclusion that wisdom is better than folly, and kindness
better than selfishness, and to do good even though you lose by it
better than to do evil and gain by it. His faith wavers only for a
moment; it never wholly loosens its hold. And, in the fifth chapter,
the light grows, though even here the darkness does not altogether
disappear. We are sensible that the twilight in which we stand is not
that of evening, which will deepen into night, but that of morning,
which will shine more and more until the day dawn, and the daystar
arise in the calm heaven of patient tranquil hearts.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _So also a happier and more effective Method of Worship is
open to Men_; Ch. v., vv. 1-7.]

The men of affairs are led from the vocations of the Market and the
intrigues of the Divan into the House of God. Our first glance at the
worshippers is not hopeful or inspiriting. For here are men who offer
sacrifices in lieu of obedience; and here are men whose prayers are a
voluble repetition of phrases which run far in advance of their
limping thoughts and desires: and there are men quick to make vows in
moments of peril, but slow to redeem them when the peril is past. At
first the House of God looks very like a House of Merchandise, in
which brokers and traders drive a traffic as dishonest as any that
disgraces the Exchange. But while the merchants and politicians stand
criticising the conduct of the worshippers, the Preacher turns upon
them and shows them that _they_ are the worshippers whom they
criticise; that he has held up a glass in which they see themselves as
others see them; that it is _they_ who vow and do not pay, _they_ who
hurry on their mouths to utter words which their hearts do not prompt,
_they_ who take the roundabout course of sinning and sacrificing for
sin instead of that plain road of obedience which leads straight to

But what comfort for them is there in that? How should it help them,
to be beguiled into condemning themselves? Truly there would not be
much comfort in it did not the compassionate Preacher forthwith
disclose the secret of this dishonest worship, and give them counsels
of amendment. He discloses the secret in two verses (vv. 3 and 7),
which have much perplexed the readers of this Book. He there explains
that just as a mind harassed by much occupation and the many cares it
breeds cannot rest even at nights, but busies itself in framing wild
disturbing dreams, so also is it with the foolish worshipper who, for
want of thought and reverence, pours out before God a multitude of
unsifted and unconsidered wishes in a multitude of words. In effect he
says to them: "You men of affairs often get little help or comfort
from the worship of God because you come to it with preoccupied
hearts, just as a man gets little comfort from his bed because his
brain, jaded and yet excited by many cares, will not suffer him to
rest. Hence it is that you promise more than you perform, and utter
prayers more devout than any honest expression of your desires would
warrant, and offer sacrifices to avoid the charge and trouble of
obedience to the Divine laws. And as I have shown you a more excellent
way of transacting business than the selfish grasping mode to which
you are addicted, so also I will show you a more excellent style of
worship. Go to the House of God 'with a straight foot,' a foot trained
to walk in the path of obedience. Keep your heart, set a watch over
it, lest it should be diverted from the simple and devout homage it
should pay. Do not urge and press it to a false emotion, to a strained
and insincere mood. Let your words be few and reverent when you speak
to the Great King. Do not vow except under the compulsion of stedfast
resolves, and pay your vows even to your own hurt when once they are
made. Do not anger God, or the angel of God who, as you believe,
presides over the altar, with idle unreal talk and idle half-meant
resolves, making vows of which you afterwards repent and do not keep,
pleading that you made them in error or infirmity. But in all the
exercises of your worship show a holy fear of the Almighty; and then,
under the worst oppressions of fortune and the heaviest calamities of
time, you shall find the House of God _a Sanctuary_, and his worship a
strength, a consolation, and a delight." This, surely, was very
wholesome counsel for men of business in hard times.

[Sidenote: _And a more helpful and consolatory Trust in the Divine
Providence._ Ch. v., vv. 8-17.]

Not content with this, however, the Preacher goes on to show how, when
they returned from the House of God to the common round of life, and
were once more exposed to its miseries and distractions, there were
certain comfortable and sustaining thoughts on which they might stay
their spirits. To the worship of the Sanctuary he would have them add
a strengthening trust in the Providence of God. That Providence was
expressed, as in other ordinances, so also in these two:--

First; whatever oppressions and perversions of justice and equity
there were in the land (ver. 8), still the judges and satraps who
oppressed them were not supreme; there was an official hierarchy in
which superior watched over superior, and if justice were not to be
had of the one, it might be had of another who was above him; if it
were not to be had of any, no, not even of the king himself, there was
this reassuring conviction that, in the last resort, even the king was
"the servant of the field" (ver. 9), _i.e._, was dependent on the
wealth and produce of the land, and could not, therefore, be unjust
with impunity, or push his oppressions too far lest he should decrease
his revenue or depopulate his realm. This was "the advantage" the
people had; and if it were in itself but a slight advantage to this
man or that, clearly it was a great advantage to the body politic;
while as an indication of the Providence of God, of the care with
which He had arranged for the general well-being, it was full of

The second fact, or class of facts, in which they might recognise the
gracious care of God was this,--That the unjust judges and wealthy
rapacious "lords" who oppressed them had very much less satisfaction
in their fraudulent gains than they might suppose. God had so made men
that injustice and selfishness defeated their own ends, and those who
lived for wealth, and would do evil to acquire it, made but a poor
bargain after all. "He that _loveth_ silver is never satisfied with
silver, nor he that _clings_ to wealth with what it yields" (ver. 10).
"When riches increase, they increase that consume them"--dependents,
parasites, slaves, flock around the man who rises to wealth and place.
He cannot eat and drink more, or enjoy more, than when he was a man
simply well-to-do in the world; the only advantage he has is that he
sees others consume what he has acquired at so great a cost (ver.
11).[35] He cannot know the sweet refreshing sleep of husbandmen
weary with toil (ver. 12), for his heart is full of care and
apprehension. Robbers may drive off his flocks, or "lift" his cattle;
his investments may fail, or his secret hoard be plundered; he must
trust much to servants, and they may be unfaithful to their trust; his
official superiors may ruin him with the bribes they extort, or the
prince himself may want a sponge to squeeze. If none of these evils
befall him, he may apprehend, and have cause to apprehend, that his
heir longs for his death, and will prove little better than a fool,
wasting in wanton riot what _he_ has amassed with much painful toil
(vv. 13, 14). And, in any event, he cannot take his wealth with him on
his last journey (vv. 15, 16). So that, naturally enough, he is much
perturbed, and "hath great vexation and grief" (ver. 17), cannot sleep
for his apprehensive care for his "abundance;" and at last must go out
of the world as bare and unprovided as he came into it.[36] He
"labours for the wind," and reaps what he has sown. Was such a life,
mounting to such a close, a thing to long for and toil for? Was it
worth while to hurl oneself against the adamantine laws of Heaven and
risk the oppressions of earth, to injure one's neighbours, to sink
into an insincere and distracted worship and a weakening distrust of
the providence of God, in order to spend anxious toilsome days and
sleepless nights, and at last to go out of the world naked of all but
guilt, and rich in nothing but the memory of frauds and wrongs? Might
not even a captive or a slave, whose sleep was sweetened by toil, and
who, from his trust in God and the sacred delights of honest worship,
gathered strength to endure all the oppressions of the time, and to
enjoy whatever alleviations and innocent pleasures were vouchsafed
him--might not even he be a wiser, happier man than the despot at
whose caprice he stood?

  [35] Ginsburg quotes a capital illustration of this verse from the
  dialogue of Pheraulas and Sacian (Xenophon, _Cyrop._, viii. 3); "Do
  you think, Sacian, that I live with more pleasure the more I
  possess?... By having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have
  to guard more, to distribute to others, and have the trouble of taking
  care of more; for a great many attendants now demand of me their food,
  their drink, and their clothes. Whosoever, therefore, is greatly
  pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel much
  annoyed at the expenditure of them."

  [36] Compare Psalm xlix., vv. 16, 17:

          Be not afraid though one be made rich,
          Or if the glory of his house be increased;
    _For he shall carry away nothing with him when he dieth
          Neither shall his pomp follow him_.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Conclusion._ Ch. v., vv. 18-20.]

For himself Coheleth has a very decided opinion on this point. He is
quite sure that his first conclusion is sound, though for a moment he
had questioned its soundness, and that a quiet, cheerful, and obedient
heart is greater riches than the wealthiest estate. With all the
emphasis of renewed and now immovable conviction he declares,

Behold, that which I have said holds good; it is well for a man to
eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labours through the
brief day of his life. And I have also said--and this too is
true--that a man to whom God hath given riches and wealth--for even a
rich man may be a good man and use his wealth wisely--if He hath also
enabled him to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in
his labour--this too is a most Divine gift. He does not fret over the
brevity of his life; it is not much, or often, or sadly in his
thoughts: for he knows that the joy his heart takes in the toils and
pleasures of life is approved by God, or even, as the phrase seems to
mean, corresponds in some measure with the joy of God Himself; that
his tranquil enjoyment is a reflection of the Divine peace.

       *       *       *       *       *

II.[37] There are not many Englishmen who devote themselves solely or
mainly to the acquisition of Wisdom, and who, that they may teach the
children of men that which is good, live laborious days, withdrawing
from the general pursuit of wealth and scorning the lures of ease and
self-indulgence; such men, indeed, are but a small minority in any age
or land. Nor do those who give themselves exclusively to the pursuit
of Pleasure constitute more than a small and miserable class, though
most of us have wasted on it days that we could ill spare. But when
the Hebrew Preacher, having followed his quest of the supreme Good in
Pleasure and Wisdom, turns to the affairs of Business--and I use that
term as including both commerce and politics--he enters a field of
action and inquiry with which we are nearly all familiar, and can
hardly fail to speak words which will touch us close home. For,
whatever else we may or may not be, we are most of us among the
worshippers of the great god Traffic--a god whose wholesome, benignant
face too often lowers and darkens, or ever we are aware, into the
sordid and malignant features of Mammon.

  [37] In commenting on Sections II. and III. of this Book I found that
  both the exposition of the sacred text and the application of its
  lessons to the details of modern life would gain in force by being
  handled separately. The second part of each of these chapters consists
  mainly, therefore, of an exhortation based on the previous exposition,
  the marginal notes indicating the passages of Holy Writ on which these
  exhortations are based.

Now in dealing with this broad and momentous province of human life
the Preacher exhibits the candour and the temperance which marked his
treatment of Wisdom and Mirth. Just as he would not suffer us to think
of Wisdom as in itself an evil, nor of Pleasure as an evil, so neither
will he allow us to think of Business as essentially and of necessity
an evil. This, like those, may be abused to our hurt; but none the
less they may all be used, and were meant to be used, for our own and
our neighbours' good. Pursued in the right method, from the right
motive, with the due moderation and reserve, Business, as he is
careful to point out, besides bringing other great advantages, may be
a new bond of union and brotherhood: it develops intercourse among men
and races of men, and should develop sympathy, goodwill, and a mutual
helpfulness. Nevertheless, thrift may degenerate into miserliness, and
the honest industry of content into a dishonest eagerness for undue
gains, and a wise attention to business into an excessive devotion to
it. These degenerate tendencies had struck their roots deep into the
Hebrew mind of his day, and brought forth many bitter fruits. The
Preacher describes and denounces them; he lays an axe to the very
roots of these evil growths: but it is only that he may clear a space
for the fairer and more wholesome growths which sprang beside them,
and of which they were the wild bastard offshoots.

Throughout this second section of the Book, his subject is excessive
devotion to Business, and the correctives to it which his experience
enables him to suggest.

1. His handling of the subject is very thorough and complete. Men of
business might do worse than get the lessons he here teaches by heart.
According to him, their excessive devotion to affairs springs from a
"jealous rivalry"; it tends to form in them a grasping covetous
temper which can never be satisfied, to produce a materialistic
scepticism of all that is noble, spiritual, aspiring in thought and
action, to render their worship formal and insincere, and, in general,
to incapacitate them for any quiet happy enjoyment of their life. This
is his diagnosis of their disease, or of that diseased tendency which,
if it be for the most part latent in them, always threatens to become
pronounced and to infect all healthy conditions of the soul.

[Sidenote: _Devotion to Business springs from Jealous Competition_:
Ch. iv., v. 4.[38]]

  [38] Coheleth's description is so true and pertinent, it hits so many
  of our modern faults and sins, that I am obliged to cite my authority
  for every paragraph lest I should be suspected of putting a private
  and personal interpretation on these ancient words.

(_a_) Let us glance once more at the several symptoms we have already
heard him discuss, and consider whether or not they accord with the
results of our own observation and experience. Is it true, then--or,
rather, is it not true--that our devotion to business is becoming
excessive and exhausting, and that this devotion springs mainly from
our jealous rivalry and competition with each other? If, some two or
three and twenty centuries ago, the Jews were bent every man on
outdoing and outselling his neighbour; if his main ambition was to
amass greater wealth or to secure a larger business than his
competitors, or to make a handsomer show before the world; if in the
urgent pursuit of this ambition he held his neighbours not as
neighbours, but as unscrupulous rivals, keen for gain at his expense
and to rise by his fall; if, to reach his end, he was willing to get
up early and go late to rest, to force all his energies into an
injurious activity and strain them close to the snapping-point: if
this were what a Jew of that time was like, might you not easily take
it for a portrait of many an English merchant, manufacturer, lawyer,
or politician? Is it not as accurate a delineation of our life as it
could be of any ancient form of life? If it be, as I think it is, we
have grave need to take the Preacher's warning. We gravely need to
remember that the stream cannot rise above its source, nor the fruit
be better than the root from which it grows; that the business ardour
which has its origin in a base and selfish motive can only be a base
and selfish ardour. When men gather grapes from thorns and figs from
thistles, then, but not before, we may look to find a satisfying good
in "all the toil and all the dexterity in toil" which spring from this
"jealous rivalry of the one with the other."

[Sidenote: _It tends to form a Covetous Temper_: Ch. iv., v. 8.]

(_b_) Nor, in the face of facts patent to the most cursory observer,
can we deny that this eager and excessive devotion to the successful
conduct of business tends to produce a grasping, covetous temper
which, however much it has gained, is for ever seeking more. It is not
only true that the stream cannot rise above its source; it is also
true that the stream _will_ run downward, and must inevitably contract
many pollutions from the lower levels on which it declines. The ardour
which impels men to devote themselves with eager intensity to the
labours of the Market may often have an origin as pure as that of the
stream which bubbles up on the hills, amid grass and ferns, and runs
tinkling along its clear rocky channels, setting its labour to a happy
music, singing its low sweet song to the sweet listening air. But as
it runs on, if it swell in volume and power, it also _sinks_ and grows
foul. Bent at first on acquiring the means to support a widowed
mother, or to justify him in taking a wife, or to provide for his
children, or to win an honourable place in his neighbours' eyes, or to
achieve the chance of self-culture and self-development, or to serve
some public and worthy end, the man of business and affairs too often
suffers himself to become more and more absorbed in his pursuits. He
conceives larger schemes, is drawn into more perilous enterprises, and
advances through these to fresh openings and opportunities, until at
last, long after his original ends are compassed and forgotten, he
finds himself possessed by the mere craving to extend his labours,
resources, influence, if not by the mere craving to amass--a craving
which often "teareth" and "tormenteth" him, but which can only be
exorcised by an exertion of spiritual force which would leave him
half dead. "He has no one with him, not even a son or a brother;" the
dear mother or wife is long since dead; his children, to use his own
detestable phrase, are "off his hands"; the public good has slipped
from his memory and aims: but still "there is no end to all his
labours, neither are his eyes satisfied with riches." Coheleth speaks
of one such man: alas, of how many such might we speak!

[Sidenote: _To produce a Materialistic Scepticism_; Ch. iii., vv.

(_c_) The "speculation" in the eye of business men is not commonly of
a philosophic cast, and therefore we do not look to find them
_arguing_ themselves into the materialism which infected the Hebrew
Preacher as he contemplated them and their blind devotion to their
idol. They are far, perhaps very far, from thinking that in body and
spirit, in origin and end, man is no better than the beast, a creature
of the same accident and subject to "the same chance." But though they
do not reason out a conclusion so sombre and depressing, do they not
practically acquiesce in it? If it is far from their thoughts, do they
not _live_ in its close neighbourhood? Their mind, like the dyer's
hand, is subdued to that it works in. Accustomed to think mainly of
material interests, their character is materialised. They are disposed
to weigh all things--truth, righteousness, the motives and aims of
nobler men--in the scales of the market, and can very hardly believe
that they should attach any grave value to ought which will not lend
itself to their coarse handling. In their judgment, mental culture, or
the graces of moral character, or single-hearted devotion to lofty
ends, are not worthy to be compared with a full purse or large
possessions. They regard as little better than a fool, of whom it is
very kind of them to take a little care, the man who has thrown away
what they call "his chances," in order that he may learn wisdom or do
good. Giving, perhaps, a cheerful and unforced accord to the current
moral maxims and popular creed, they permit neither to rule their
conduct. If they do not say, "Man is no better than a beast," they
carry themselves as if he were no better, as though he had no
instincts or interests above those of the thrifty ant, or the cunning
beaver, or the military locust, or insatiable leech--although they are
both surprised and affronted when one is at the pains to translate
their deeds into words. Judged by their deeds, they _are_ sceptics and
materialists, since they have no vital faith in that which is
spiritual and unseen. They have found "the life of their hands," and
they are content with it. Give them whatever furnishes the senses,
whatever in them holds by sense, and they will cheerfully let all else
go. But such a materialism as this is far more injurious, far more
likely to be fatal, than that which reflects, and argues, and utters
itself in words, and refutes itself by the very powers which it
employs. With them the malady has struck inward, and is beyond the
reach of cure save by the most searching and drastic remedies.

[Sidenote: _To make Worship Formal and Insincere_; Ch. v., vv. 1-7.]

(_d_) But now if, like Coheleth, we follow these men to the Temple,
what is the scene that meets our eye? In the English Temple, I fear,
that which would first strike an unaccustomed observer would be the
fact that very few men of business are there. They are "conspicuous by
their absence," or, at best, noted for an only occasional attendance.
The Hebrew Temple was crowded with men; in the English Temple it is
the other sex which predominates. But glance at the men who are there?
Do you detect no signs of weariness and perfunctoriness? Do you hear
no vows which will never be paid, and which they do not intend to pay
even when they make them? no prayers which go beyond any honest and
candid expression of their desires? Do you not feel and know that many
of them are making an unwilling sacrifice to the decencies and the
proprieties, instead of worshipping God the Spirit in spirit and
nerving themselves for the difficulties of obedience to the Divine
law? Listen: they are saying, "Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we
bless Thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of
this life; but _above all_ for Thine inestimable love in the
redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of
grace, and for the hope of glory." But _are_ these ineffable spiritual
benefits "above all" else to them? Do they care for "the means of
grace" as much even as for the state of the market, or for "the hope
of glory" as much as for success or promotion? Which is most in their
thoughts, their lives, their aspirations, for which will they take
most pains and make most sacrifices--for what _they_ mean by the
beautiful phrase "all the blessings of this life," or for that sacred
and crowning act of the Divine Mercy, "the redemption," in which God
has once for all revealed his fatherly forgiving love?

What is it that makes their worship formal and insincere? It is the
very cause which, as the Preacher tells us, produced the like evil
effect upon the Jews. They come into the Temple with pre-occupied
hearts. Their thoughts are distracted by the cares of life even as
they bend in worship. And hence even the most sacred words turn to
"idle talk" on their lips, as remote from the true feeling of the
moment as "the multitude of dreams" which haunt the night; they utter
fervent prayers without any due sense of their meaning, or any hearty
wish to have them granted.

[Sidenote: _And to take from Life its Quiet and Innocent Enjoyments._
Ch. v., vv. 10-17.]

(_e_) Now surely a life so thick with perils, so beset with
temptations, should have a very large and certain reward to offer. But
has it? For one, Coheleth thinks it has not. In his judgment,
according to his experience, instead of making a man happier even in
this present time, to which it limits his thoughts and aims, it robs
him of all quiet and happy enjoyment of his life. And, mark, it is not
the unsuccessful man of business, who might naturally feel sore and
aggrieved, but the successful man, the man who has made a fortune and
prospered in his schemes, whom the Preacher describes as having lost
all faculty of enjoying his gains. Even the man who has wealth and
abundance, so that his soul lacketh nothing of all that he desireth,
is placed before us as the slave of unsatisfied desire and constant
apprehension. Both his hands are so full of labour that he cannot lay
hold on quiet. Though he loves silver so well, and has so much of it,
he is not satisfied therewith; his riches yield him no certain and
abiding delight. And how can he be in "happy plight" who is

                "debarred the benefit of rest?
  When day's oppression is not eased by night,
  But day by night, and night by day, oppress'd?
  And each, though enemies to either's reign,
  Do in consent shake hands to torture him."

The sound sleep of humble contented labour is denied him. He is
haunted by perpetual apprehensions that "there is some ill a-brewing
to his rest," that evil in some dreaded shape will befall him. He
doubts "the filching age will steal his treasure." He knows that when
he is called hence he can carry away nothing in his hand; all his
gains must be left to his heir, who may either turn out a wanton fool
or be crushed and degraded by the burden and temptations of a wealth
for which he has not laboured. And hence, amid all his toils and
gains, even the most prosperous and successful man suspects that he
has been "labouring for the wind" and may reap the whirlwind: "he is
much perturbed, and hath vexation and grief."

_Is_ the picture overdrawn? Is not the description as true to modern
experience as to that of "the antique world"? Shakespeare, who is our
great English authority on the facts of human experience, thought it
quite as true. His Merchant of Venice has argosies on every sea; and
two of his friends, hearing him confess that sadness makes such a
want-wit of him that he has much ado to know himself, tell him that
his "mind is tossing on the ocean" with his ships. They proceed to
discuss the natural effects of having so many enterprises on hand. One

    "Believe me, Sir, had I such venture forth,
  The better part of my affections would
  Be with my hopes abroad. I should be still
  Plucking the grass, to know where sits the wind;
  Peering in maps for ports, and piers, and roads;
  And every object that might make me fear
  Misfortune to my ventures, out of doubt
  Would make me sad."

And the other adds--

              "My wind, cooling my broth,
  Would blow me to an ague, when I thought
  What harm a wind too great at sea might do.
  I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,
  But I should think of shallows and of flats,
  And see my wealthy Andrew, dock'd in sand,
  Vailing her high-top lower than her ribs
  To kiss her burial. Should I go to church
  And see the holy edifice of stone,
  And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks,
  Which, touching but my gentle vessel's side,
  Would scatter all her spices in the stream;
  Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks:
  And, in a word, but even now worth this,
  And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought
  To think on this; and shall I lack the thought
  That such a thing bechanced would make me sad?"

"Abundance suffereth not the rich to sleep;" the thought that his
"riches may perish in some unlucky adventure" rings a perpetual alarum
in his ears: "all his days he eateth in darkness, and is much
perturbed, and hath vexation and grief." These are the words of the
Hebrew Preacher: are not our own great poet's words an expressive
commentary on them, an absolute confirmation of them, covering them
point by point? And shall we envy the wealthy merchant whose two hands
are thus "full of labour and vexation of spirit"? Is not "the
husbandman whose sleep is sweet, whether he eat little or much,"
better off than he? Nay, has not even the sluggard who, so long as he
hath meat, foldeth his hands in quiet, a truer enjoyment of his life?

Of course Coheleth does not mean to imply that every man of business
degenerates into a miserly sceptic, whose worship is a formulated
hypocrisy and whose life is haunted with saddening apprehensions of
misfortune. No doubt there were then, as there are now, many men of
business who were wise enough to "take pleasure in all their labours,"
to cast their burden of care on Him in whose care stand both to-morrow
and to-day; men to whom worship was a calming and strengthening
communion with the Father of their spirits, and who advanced, through
toil, to worthy or even noble ends. He means simply that these are the
perils to which all men of business are exposed, and into which they
fall so soon as their devotion to its affairs grows excessive. "Make
business, and success in business, your chief good, your ruling aim,
and you will come to think of your neighbours as selfish rivals; you
will begin to look askance on the lofty spiritual qualities which
refuse to bow to the yoke of Mammon; your worship will sink into an
insincere formalism; your life will be vexed and saddened with fears
which will strangle the very faculty of tranquil enjoyment:" this is
the warning of the Preacher; a warning of which our generation, in
such urgent sinful haste to be rich, stands in very special need.

2. But what checks, what correctives, what remedies, would the
Preacher have us apply to the diseased tendencies of the time? How
shall men of business save themselves from being absorbed in its
interests and affairs?

[Sidenote: _The Correctives of this Devotion are a Sense of its
Perils_; Ch. v., vv. 10-17.]

(_a_) Well, the very sense of the danger to which they are exposed--a
danger so insidious, so profound, so fatal--should surely induce
caution and a wary self-control. The symptoms of the disease are
described that we may judge whether or not we are infected by it; its
dreadful issues that, if infected, we may study a cure. The man who
loves riches is placed before us that we may learn what he is really
like--that he is not the careless happy being we often assume him to
be. We see him decline on the low bare levels of covetousness and
materialism, hypocrisy and fear; and, as we look, the Preacher turns
upon us with, "There, _that_ is the slave of Mammon in his habit as he
lives. Do you care to be like that? Will you break your heart unless
you are allowed to assume his heavy and degrading burden?"

[Sidenote: _And the Conviction that it is opposed to the Will of God
as expressed in the Ordinances of his Providence_, Ch. iii., vv. 1-8.]

This is one help to a wise content with our lot; but he has many more
at our service, and notably this,--that an undue devotion to the toils
of business is contrary to the will, the design, the providence of
God. God, he argues, has fixed a time for every undertaking under
heaven, and has made each of them beautiful in its season, but only
then. By his wise kindly ordinances He has sought to divert us from an
injurious excess in toil. Our sowing and our reaping, our time of rest
and our time for work, the time to save and the time to spend, the
time to gain and the time to lose,--all these, with all the
fluctuating feelings they excite in us: in short, our whole life, from
the cradle to the grave, is under, or should be under, law to Him. It
is only when we violate his gracious ordinances,--working when we
should be at rest, waking when we should sleep, saving when we should
spend, weeping over losses which are real gains, or laughing over
gains which will prove to be losses--that we run into excess, and
break up the peaceful order and tranquil flow of the life which He
designed for us.

[Sidenote: _In the Wrongs which He permits Men to inflict upon us_;
Ch. iii., v. 16-Ch. iv., v. 3.]

Because we will not be obsequious to the ordinances of his wisdom, He
permits us to meet a new check in the caprice and injustice of
man--making even these to praise Him by subserving our good. If we do
not suffer the violent oppressions which drew tears from the
Preacher's fellow-captives, we nevertheless stand very much at the
mercy of our neighbours in so far as our outward haps are concerned.
Unwise human laws or an unjust administration of them, or the selfish
rapacity of individual men--brokers who rig the market; bankers whose
long prayers are a pretence under cloak of which they rob widows and
orphans, and sometimes _make_ them; bankrupts for whose wounds the
Gazette has a singular power of healing, since they come out of it
"sounder" men than they went in: these are only some of the
instruments by which the labours of the diligent are shorn of their
due reward. And we are to take these checks as correctives, to find in
the losses which men inflict the gifts of a gracious God. He permits
us to suffer these and the like disasters lest our hearts should be
overmuch set on getting gain. He graciously permits us to suffer them
that, seeing how often the wicked thrive (in a way and for a time) on
the decay of the upright, we may learn that there is something better
than wealth, more enduring, more satisfying, and may seek that higher

[Sidenote: _But above all, in the immortal Cravings which He has
quickened in the Soul._ Ch. iii., v. 11.]

Nay, going to the very root of the matter and expounding its whole
philosophy, the Preacher teaches us that wealth, however great and
greatly used, _cannot_ satisfy men, since God has "_put eternity into
their hearts_" as well as time: and how should all the kingdoms of a
world that must soon pass content those who are to live for ever?[39]
This saying, "God has put _eternity_ into their hearts," is one of the
most profound in the whole Book, and one of the most beautiful and
suggestive. What it means is that, even if a man would confine his
aims and desires within "the bounds and coasts of Time," he cannot do
it. The very structure of his nature forbids it. For time, with all
that it inherits, sweeps by him like a torrent, so that, if he would
secure any lasting good, he _must_ lay hold of that which is eternal.
We may well call this world, for all so solid as it looks, "a
perishing world;" for, like our own bodies, it is in a perpetual flux,
perishing every moment that it may live a little longer, and must
soon come to an end. But we, in our true selves, we who dwell inside
the body and use its members as the workman uses his tools, how can we
find a satisfying good whether in the body or in the world which is
akin to it? _We_ want a good as lasting as ourselves. Nothing short of
that can be our chief good, or inspire us with a true content.

  [39] M. de Lamennais--the founder of the most religious school of
  thinkers in modern France, from whom such men as Count Montalembert,
  Père Lacordaire, and Maurice Guérin, drew their earliest
  inspiration--asks, "Do you know what it is that makes man the most
  suffering of all creatures?" and replies, "It is that _he has one foot
  in the finite and the other in the infinite, and that he is torn
  asunder_, not by four horses, as in the horrible old times, but
  _between two worlds_."

  "Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
    So do our minutes hasten to their end;
  Each changing place with that which goes before,
    In sequent toil all forwards do contend:"

and we might as well think to build a stable habitation on the waves
which break upon the pebbled shore as to find an enduring good in the
sequent minutes which carry us down the stream of time. It is only
because we do not understand this "work of God" in putting eternity
into our hearts and therefore making it impossible for us to be
content with anything less than an eternal good; it is because,
plunged in the flesh and its cares and delights, we forget the
grandeur of our nature, and are tempted to sell our immortal
birthright for a mess of pottage which, however much we enjoy it
to-day, will leave us hungry to-morrow: it is only, I say, because we
fail to understand this work of God "from beginning to end," that we
ever delude ourselves with the hope of finding in ought the earth
yields a good in which we can rest.

[Sidenote: _Practical Maxims deduced from this View of the

(_b_) A noble philosophy this, and pregnant with practical counsels of
great value. For if, as we close our study of this Section of the
Book, we ask, "What good advice does the Preacher offer that we can
take and act upon?" we shall find that he gives us at least three
serviceable maxims.

[Sidenote: _A Maxim on Co-operation._ Ch. iv., vv. 9-16.]

To all men of business conscious of their special dangers and anxious
to avoid them, he says, first: Replace the competition which springs
from your jealous and selfish rivalry, with the co-operation which is
born of sympathy and breeds goodwill. "Two are better than one. Union
is better than isolation. Conjoint labour has the greater reward."
Instead of seeking to take advantage of your neighbours, try to help
them. Instead of standing alone, associate with your fellows. Instead
of aiming at purely selfish ends, pursue your ends in common. Indeed
the wise Hebrew Preacher anticipates the golden rule to a remarkable
extent, and, in effect, bids us love our neighbour as ourself, look on
his things as well as our own, and do to all men as we would that they
should do to us.

[Sidenote: _A Maxim on Worship._ Ch. v., vv. 1-7.]

His second maxim is: Replace the formality of your worship with a
reverent and steadfast sincerity. Keep your foot when you go to the
House of God. Put obedience before sacrifice. Do not hurry on your
mouth to the utterance of words which transcend the desires of your
heart. Be not of those who

                "words for virtue take,
  As though mere wood a shrine would make."[40]

  [40] Horace, _Ep._ 6, Lib. I:

            "Virtutem verba putant, ut
    Lucum ligna."

Do not come into the Temple with a pre-occupied spirit, a spirit
distracted with thoughts that travel different ways. Realise the
presence of the Great King, and speak to Him with the reverence due to
a King. Keep the vows you have made in his House after you have left
it. Seek and serve Him with all your hearts, and ye shall find rest to
your souls.

[Sidenote: _A Maxim on Trust in God._ Ch. v., vv. 8-17.]

And his last maxim is: Replace your grasping self-sufficiency with a
constant trust in the fatherly providence of God. If you see
oppression or suffer wrong, if your schemes are thwarted and your
enterprises fail, you need not therefore lose the quiet repose and
settled peace which spring from a sense of duty discharged and the
undisturbed possession of the main good of life. God is over all, and
rules all the undertakings of man, giving each its season and place,
and causing all to work together for the good of the loving and
trustful heart. Trust in Him, and you shall feel, even though you
cannot prove,

  "That every cloud that spreads above,
  And veileth love, itself is love."

Trust in Him, and you shall find that

  "The slow sweet hours that bring us all things good,
  The slow sad hours that bring us all things ill
  And all good things from evil,"

as they strike on the great horologe of Time, are set to a growing
music by the hand of God; a music which rises and falls as we listen,
but which nevertheless swells through all its saddest cadences and
dying falls toward that harmonious close, that "undisturbed concent,"
in which all discords will be drowned.



CHAPS. VI., VII., AND VIII., VV. 1-15.

In the foregoing Section Coheleth has shown that the Chief Good is not
to be found in that Devotion to the affairs of Business which was, and
still is, characteristic of the Hebrew race. This devotion is commonly
inspired either by the desire to amass great wealth, for the sake of
the status, influence, and means of lavish enjoyment it is assumed to
confer; or by the more modest desire to secure a competence, to stand
in that golden mean of comfort which is darkened by no harassing fears
of future penury or need. By a logical sequence of thought, therefore,
he advances from his discussion on Devotion to Business, to consider
the leading motives by which it is inspired. The questions he now asks
and answers are, in effect, (1) Will Wealth confer the good, the
tranquil and enduring satisfaction which men seek? And if not, (2)
Will that moderate provision for the present and for the future to
which the more prudent restrict their aim?

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Wealth._ Ch. vi.]

His discussion of the first of these questions, although very
matterful, is comparatively brief; in part, perhaps, because in the
previous Section he has already dwelt on many of the drawbacks which
accompany wealth; and still more, probably, because, while there are
but few men in any age to whom great wealth is possible, there would
be unusually few in the company of poor men for whose instruction he
wrote. Brief and simple as the discussion is, however, we shall
misapprehend it unless we bear in mind that Coheleth is arguing, not
against wealth, but against mistaking wealth for the Chief Good.

[Sidenote: _The Man who makes Riches his Chief Good is haunted by
Fears and Perplexities_: Ch. vi., vv. 1-6.]

Let us observe, then, that throughout this sixth Chapter the Preacher
is dealing with the _lover_ of riches, not with the rich man; that he
is speaking, not against wealth, but against mistaking wealth for the
Chief Good. The man who _trusts_ in riches is placed before us; and,
that we may see him at his best, he has the riches in which he trusts.
God has given him "his good things," given him them to the full. He
lacks nothing that he desireth--nothing at least that wealth can
command. Yet, because he does not accept his abundance as the gift of
God, and hold the Giver better than the gift, he cannot enjoy it. But
how do we know that he has suffered his riches to take an undue place
in his regard? We know it by this sure token--that he cannot leave God
to take care of them, and of him. He frets about them, and about what
will become of them when he is gone. He has no son, perchance, to
inherit them, no child, only some "stranger" whom he has adopted (ver.
2)--and almost all childless Orientals adopt strangers to this day, as
we have found, to our cost, in India. A profound horror at the thought
of being dead to name and fame and use through lack of heirs was, and
is, very prevalent in the East. Even faithful Abraham, when God had
promised him the supreme good, broke out with the remonstrance, "What
canst Thou give me when I am going off childless, and have no heir but
my body-servant, Eliezer of Damascus?" Because this feeling lay close
to the Oriental heart, the Preacher is at some pains to show what a
"vanity" it is. He argues: "Even if you should beget a hundred
children, instead of being childless; even though you should live a
thousand years, and the grave did not wait for you instead of lying
close before you: yet, so long as you were not content to leave your
riches in the hands of God, you would fret and perplex yourself with
fears. An abortion would be better off than you, although it cometh in
nothingness and goeth in darkness; for it would know a rest denied to
you, and sink without apprehension into the 'place' from which all
your apprehensions cannot save you (vv. 3-6). Foolish man! it is not
because you lack an heir that you are perturbed in spirit. If you had
one, you would find some other cause for care; you would be none the
less fretted and perturbed; for you would still be thinking of your
riches rather than of the God who gave them, and still dread the
moment in which you must part with them, in order to return to Him."

[Sidenote: _For God has put Eternity into his Heart_; Ch. vi., vv.

From this plain practical argument Coheleth passes to an argument of
more philosophic reach. "All the labour of this man is _for his
mouth_:" that is to say, his wealth, with all that it commands,
appeals only to sense and appetite; it feeds "the lust of the eye, or
the lust of the flesh, or the pride of life," and therefore "his
_soul_ cannot be satisfied therewith" (ver. 7). _That_ craves a higher
nutriment, a more enduring good. God has put eternity into it: and how
can that which is immortal be contented with the lucky haps and
comfortable conditions of time? Unless some immortal provision be made
for the immortal spirit, it will pine, and protest, and crave, till
all power of happily enjoying outward good be lost. Nay, if the spirit
in man be craving and unfed, whatever his outward conditions, or his
faculty for enjoying them, he cannot be at rest. The wise man may be
able to extract from the gains of time a pleasure denied to the fool;
and the poor man, his penury preventing him from indulging passion
and appetite to satiety, may have a keener enjoyment of them than the
magnate who has tried them to the full and has grown weary of them. In
a certain sense, as compared the one with the other, the poor man may
have an "advantage" over the rich, and the wise man over the fool; for
"it is better to enjoy the good we have than to crave a good beyond
our reach;" and this much the wise man, or even the poor man, may
achieve. Yet, after all, what advantage have they? The thirst of the
soul is still unslaked; no sensual or sensuous enjoyment can satisfy
that. All human action and enjoyment is under law to God. No one is so
wise, or so strong, as to contend successfully against Him or his
ordinances. And it is He who has given men an immortal nature, with
cravings that wander through eternity; it is He who has ordained that
they shall know no rest until they rest in Him (vv. 8-10).

[Sidenote: _And much that he gains only feeds Vanity_; Ch. vi., v.

Look once more at your means and possessions. Multiply them as you
will. Still there are many reasons why if you seek your chief good in
them, they should prove vanity and breed vexation of spirit. One is,
that beyond a certain point you can neither use nor enjoy them. They
add to your pomp. They enable you to fill a larger place in the
world's eye. They swell and magnify the vain show in which you walk.
But, after all, they add to your discomfort rather than your comfort.
You have so much the more to manage, and look after, and take care of:
but you yourself, instead of being better off than you were, have only
taken a heavier task on your hands. And what advantage is there in

[Sidenote: _Neither can he tell what it will be good for him to have_,
Ch. vi., v. 12.]

Another reason is, that it is hard, so hard as to be impossible, for
you to know "what it is good" for you to have. That on which you have
set your heart may prove to be an evil rather than a good when at last
you get it. The fair fruit, so pleasant and desirable to the eye that,
to posses it, you were content to labour and deny yourself for years,
may turn to an apple of Sodom in your mouth, and yield you, in place
of sweet pulp and juice, only the bitter ashes of disappointment.

[Sidenote: _Nor foresee what will become of his Gains._ Ch. vi., v.

And a third reason is, that the more you acquire the more you must
dispose of when you are called away from this life: and who can tell
what shall be after him? How are you so to dispose of your gains as to
be sure that they will do good and not harm, and carry comfort to the
hearts of those whom you love, and not breed envy, alienation, and

These are the Preacher's arguments against an undue love of riches,
against making them so dear a good that we can neither enjoy them
while we have them, nor trust them to the disposal of God when we must
leave them behind us. Are they not sound arguments? Should we be
saddened by them, or comforted? We can only be saddened by them if we
love wealth, or long for it, with an inordinate desire. If we can
trust in God to give us all that it will be really good for us to have
in return for our honest toil, the arguments of the Preacher are full
of comfort and hope for us, whether we be rich or whether we be poor.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Quest in the Golden Mean._ Ch. vii., viii., vv. 1-15.]

There be many that say, "Who will show us any gold?" mistaking gold
for their god or good. For though there can be few in any age to whom
great wealth is possible, there are many who crave it and believe that
to have it is to possess the supreme felicity. It is not only the rich
who "_trust_ in riches." As a rule, perhaps, they trust in them less
than the poor, since they have tried them, and know pretty exactly
both how much, and how little, they can do. It is those who have not
tried them, and to whom poverty brings many undeniable hardships, who
are most sorely tempted to trust in them as the sovereign remedy for
the ills of life. So that the counsels of the sixth chapter may have a
wider scope than we sometimes think they have. But, whether they
apply to many or to few, there can be no doubt that the counsels of
the seventh and eighth chapters are applicable to the vast majority of
men. For here the Preacher discusses the Golden Mean in which most of
us would like to stand. Many of us dare not ask for great wealth lest
it should prove a burden we could very hardly bear; but we have no
scruple in adopting Agur's prayer, "Give me neither poverty nor
riches; Feed me with food proportioned to my need: Let me have a
comfortable competence in which I shall be at an equal remove from the
temptations whether of extreme wealth or of extreme penury."

Now the endeavour to secure a competence may be, not lawful only, but
most laudable; since God means us to make the best of the capacities
He has given us and the opportunities He sends us. Nevertheless, we
may pursue this right end from a wrong motive, in a wrong spirit. Both
spirit and motive are wrong if we pursue our competence as if it were
a good so great that we can know no content unless we attain it. For
what is it that animates such a pursuit save distrust in the
providence of God? Left in his hands, we do not feel that we should be
safe; whereas if we had our fortune in our own hands, and were secured
against chances and changes by a few comfortable securities, we should
feel safe enough. This feeling is, surely, very general: we are all
of us in danger of slipping into this form of unquiet distrust in the
fatherly providence of God.

[Sidenote: _The Method of the Man who seeks a Competence._ Ch. vii.,
vv. 1-14.]

Because the feeling is both general and strong, the Hebrew Preacher
addresses himself to it at some length. His object now is to place
before us a man who does not aim at great affluence, but, guided by
prudence and common sense, makes it his ruling aim to stand well with
his neighbours and to lay by a moderate provision for future wants.
The Preacher opens the discussion by stating the maxims or rules of
conduct by which such an one would be apt to guide himself. One of his
first aims would be to secure "a good name," since that would
prepossess men in his favour, and open before him many avenues which
would otherwise be closed.[41] Just as one entering a crowded Oriental
room with some choice fragrance exhaling from person and apparel would
find bright faces turned toward him, and a ready way opened for his
approach, so the bearer of a good name would find many willing to meet
him, and traffic with him, and heed him. As the years passed, his good
name, if he kept it, would diffuse itself over a wider area with a
more pungent effect, so that the day of his death would be better than
the his birth--to leave a good name being so much more honourable than
to inherit one (chap. vii., ver. 1).

  [41] "There are three crowns; of the law, the priesthood, and the
  kingship: but the crown of a good name is greater than them

But how would he go about to acquire his good name? Again the answer
carries us back to the East. Nothing is more striking to a Western
traveller than the dignified gravity of the superior Oriental races.
In public they rarely smile, almost never laugh, and hardly ever
express surprise. Cool, courteous, self-possessed, they bear good news
or bad, prosperous or adverse fortune, with a proud equanimity. This
equal mind, expressing itself in a grave dignified bearing, is, with
them, well-nigh indispensable to success in public life. And,
therefore, our friend in quest of a good name betakes himself to the
house of mourning rather than to the house of feasting; he holds that
serious thought on the end of all men is better than the wanton
foolish mirth which crackles like thorns under a kettle, making a
great sputter, but soon going out; and would rather have his heart
bettered by the reproof of the wise than listen to the song of fools
over the wine-cup (vv. 2-6). Knowing that he cannot be much with fools
without sharing their folly, fearing that they may lead him into those
excesses in which the wisest mind is infatuated and the kindest heart
hardened and corrupted (ver. 7), he elects rather to walk with a sad
countenance, among the wise, to the house of mourning and meditation,
than to hurry with fools to the banquet in which wine and song and
laughter drown serious reflection, and leave the heart worse than they
found it. What though the wise reprove him when he errs? What though,
as he listens to their reproof, his heart at times grows hot within
him? The end of their reproof is better than the beginning (ver. 8);
as he reflects upon it, he learns from it, profits by it, and by
patient endurance of it wins a good from it which haughty resentment
would have cast away. Unlike the fools, therefore, whose wanton mirth
turns into bitter anger at the mere sound of reproof, he will not
suffer his spirit to be hurried into a hot resentment, but will compel
that which injures them to do him good (ver. 9). Nor will he rail even
at the fools who fleet the passing hour, or account that, because they
are so many and so bold, "the time is out of joint." He will show
himself not only wiser than the foolish, but wiser than many of the
wise; for while they--and here surely the Preacher hits a very common
habit of the studious life--are disposed to look fondly back on some
past age as greater or happier than that in which they live, and ask,
"How is it that former days were better than these?" he will conclude
that the question springs rather from their querulousness than from
their wisdom, and make the best of the time, and of the conditions of
the time, in which it has pleased God to place him (ver. 10).

But if any ask, "Why has he renounced the pursuit of that wealth on
which many are bent who are less capable of using it than he?" the
answer comes that he has discovered Wisdom to be as good as Wealth,
and even better. Not only is Wisdom as secure a defence against the
ills of life as Wealth, but it has this great advantage--that "it
fortifies or vivifies the heart," while wealth often burdens and
enfeebles it. Wisdom quickens and braces the spirit for any fortune,
gives it new life or new strength, inspires an inward serenity which
does not lie at the mercy of outward accidents (vv. 11, 12). It
teaches a man to regard all the conditions of life as ordained and
shaped by God, and weans him from the vain endeavour, on which many
exhaust their strength, to straighten that which God has made crooked,
that which crosses and thwarts his inclinations (ver. 13); once let
him see that the thing is crooked, and was meant to be crooked, and he
will accept and adapt himself to it, instead of wearying himself in
futile attempts to make, or to think, it straight.

And there is one very good reason why God should permit many crooks in
our lot, very good reason therefore why a wise man should look on them
with an equal mind. For God sends the crooked as well as the
straight, adversity as well as prosperity, in order that we should
know that He has "made _this_ as well as _that_," and accept both from
his benign hand. He interlaces his providences, and veils his
providences, in order that, unable to foresee the future, we may learn
to put our trust in Him rather than in any earthly good (ver. 14). It
therefore behoves a man whose heart has been bettered by much
meditation, and by the reproofs of the wise, to take both crooked and
straight, both evil and good, from the hand of God, and to trust in
Him whatever may befall.[42]

  [42] So in the hymn of Cleanthes to Zeus, as rendered by the Dean of

    "Thou alone knowest how to change the odd
    To even, and to make the crooked straight;
    And things discordant find accord in Thee.
    Thus in one whole Thou blendest ill with good,
    So that one law works on for evermore."

[Sidenote: _The Perils to which it exposes him._ Ch. vii., v. 15-Ch.
viii., v. 13.]

So far, I think, we shall follow and assent to this theory of human
life; our sympathies will go with the man who seeks to acquire a good
name, to grow wise, to stand in the Golden Mean. But when he proceeds
to apply his theory, to deduce practical rules from it, we can only
give him a qualified assent, nay, must often altogether withhold our
assent. The main conclusion he draws is, indeed, quite unobjectionable:
it is, that in action, as well as in opinion, we should avoid excess,
that we should keep the happy mean between intemperance and indifference.

[Sidenote: _He is likely to compromise Conscience_: Ch. vii., vv.

But the very first moral he infers from this conclusion is open to the
most serious objection. He has seen both the righteous die in his
righteousness without receiving any reward from it, and the wicked
live long in his wickedness to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. And from
these two mysterious facts, which much exercised many of the Prophets
and Psalmists of Israel, he infers that a prudent man will neither be
very righteous, since he will gain nothing by it, and may lose the
friendship of those who are content with the current morality; nor
very wicked, since, though he may lose little by this so long as he
lives, he will very surely hasten his death (vv. 16, 17). It is the
part of prudence to lay hold on both; to permit a temperate indulgence
both in virtue and in vice, carrying neither to excess (ver. 18)--a
doctrine still very dear to the mere man of the world. In this
temperance there lies a strength greater than that of an army in a
beleaguered city; for no righteous man is wholly righteous (vv. 19,
20): to aim at so lofty and ideal will be to attempt "to wind
ourselves too high for mortal man below the sky;" we shall only fail
if we make the attempt; we shall be grievously disappointed if we
expect other men to succeed where we have failed; we shall lose faith
in them, and in ourselves; we shall suffer many pangs of shame,
remorse, and defeated hope: and, therefore, it is well at once to make
up our minds that we are, and need be, no better than our neighbours,
that we are not to blame ourselves for customary and occasional slips;
that, if we are but moderate, we may lay one hand on righteousness and
another on wickedness without taking much harm. A most immoral moral,
though it is as popular to-day as it ever was.

[Sidenote: _To be indifferent to Censure_: Ch. vii., vv. 21, 22.]

The second rule which this temperate Monitor infers from his general
theory is, That we are not to be overmuch troubled by what people say
about us. Servants are adduced as an illustration, partly, no doubt,
because they are commonly acquainted with their masters' faults, and
partly because they do sometimes speak about them, and even exaggerate
them. "Let them speak," is his counsel, "and don't be too curious to
know what they say; you may be sure that they will say pretty much
what you often say of your neighbours or superiors; if they depreciate
you, you depreciate others, and you can hardly expect a more generous
treatment than you accord." Now if this moral stood alone, it would be
both shrewd and wholesome. But it does not stand alone; and in its
connection it means, I fear, that if we take the moderate course
prescribed by worldly prudence; if we are righteous without being too
righteous, and wicked without being too wicked, and our neighbours
should begin to say, "He is hardly so good as he seems," or "I could
tell a tale of him an if I would," we are not to be greatly moved by
"any such ambiguous givings out;" we are not to be overmuch concerned
that our neighbours have discovered our secret slips, since we have
often discovered the like slips in them, and know very well that
"there is not on earth a righteous man who doeth good and sinneth
not." In short, as we are not to be too hard on ourselves for an
occasional and decorous indulgence in vice, so neither are we to be
very much vexed by the censures which neighbours as guilty as
ourselves pass on our conduct. Taken in this its connected sense, the
moral is as immoral as that which preceded it.

Here, indeed, our prudent Monitor drops a hint that he himself is not
content with a theory which leads to such results. He has tried this
"wisdom," but he is not satisfied with it. He desired a higher wisdom,
suspecting that there must be a nobler theory of life than this; but
it was too far away for him to reach, too deep for him to fathom.
After all his researches that which was far off remained far off, deep
remained deep: he could not attain the higher wisdom he sought (vv.
23, 24). And so he falls back on the wisdom he had tried, and draws a
third moral from it which is somewhat difficult to handle.

[Sidenote: _To despise Women_: Ch. vii., vv. 25-29.]

It is said of an English satirist that when any friend confessed
himself in trouble and asked his advice, his first question was, "Who
is she?"--taking it for granted that a woman must be at the bottom of
the mischief. And the Hebrew cynic appears to have been of his mind.
He cannot but see that the best of men sin sometimes, that even the
most temperate are hurried into excesses which their prudence
condemns. And when he turns to discover what it is that bewitches
them, he finds no other solution of the mystery than--Woman. Sweet and
pleasant as she seems, she is "more bitter than death," her heart is a
snare, her hands are chains. He whom God loves will escape from her
net after brief captivity; only the fool and the sinner are held fast
in it (vv. 25, 26). Nor is this a hasty conclusion. Our Hebrew cynic
has deliberately gone out, with the lantern of his wisdom in his hand,
to search for an honest man and an honest woman. He has been
scrupulously careful in his search, "taking things," i.e. indications
of character, "one by one;" but though he has found one honest man in
a thousand, he has never lit on an honest and good woman (vv. 27, 28).
Was not the fault in the eyes of the seeker rather than in the faces
into which he peered? Perhaps it was. It would be to-day and here; but
was it there and on that far-distant yesterday? The Orientals would
still say "No." All through the East, from the hour in which Adam cast
the blame of his disobedience on Eve to the present hour, men have
followed the example of their first father. Even St. Chrysostom, who
should have known better, affirms that when the devil took from Job
all he had, he did not take his wife, "because he thought she would
greatly help him to conquer that saint of God." Mohammed sings in the
same key with the Christian Father: he affirms that since the creation
of the world there have been only four perfect women, though it a
little redeems the cynicism of his speech to learn that, of these four
perfect women, one was his wife and another his daughter; for the good
man may have meant a compliment to them rather than an insult to the
sex. But if there be any truth in this estimate, if in the East the
women were, and are, worse than the men, it is the men who have made
them what they are.[43] Robbed of their natural dignity and use as
helpmeets, condemned to be mere toys, trained only to minister to
sense, what wonder if they have fallen below their due place and
honour? Of all cowardly cynicisms that surely is the meanest which,
denying women any chance of being good, condemns them for being bad.
Our Hebrew cynic seems to have had some faint sense of his unfairness;
for he concludes his tirade against the sex with the admission that
"God made man upright"--the word "man" here, as in Genesis, standing
for the whole race, male and female--and that if all women, and nine
hundred and ninety-nine men out of every thousand, have become bad, it
is because they have degraded themselves and one another by the evil
"devices" they have sought out (ver. 29).

  [43] Not, however, that the sentiment was confined to the East. The
  Greek poets have many such sayings as, "A woman is a burden full of
  ills;" and, "Where women are, all evils there are found."

[Sidenote: _And to be indifferent to Public Wrongs._ Ch. viii., vv.

The fourth and last rule inferred from this prudent moderate view of
life is, That we are to submit with hopeful resignation to the wrongs
which spring from human tyranny and injustice. Unclouded by gusts of
passion, the wise temperate Oriental carries a "bright countenance" to
the king's divan. Though the king should rate him with "evil words,"
he will remember his "oath of fealty," and not rise up in resentment,
still less rush out in open revolt. He knows that the word of a king
is potent; that it will be of no use to show a hot mutinous temper;
that by a meek endurance of wrath he may allay or avert it. He knows,
too, that obedience and submission are not likely to provoke insult
and contumely; and that if now and then he is exposed to an
undeserved insult, any defence, and especially an angry defence, will
but damage his cause (chap. viii., vv. 1-5). Moreover, a man who keeps
himself cool and will not permit anger to blind him may, in the worst
event, foresee that a time of retribution will surely come on the
king, or the satrap, who is habitually unjust; that the people will
revolt from him and exact heavy penalties for the wrongs they have
endured; that death, "that fell arrest without all bail," will carry
him away. _He_ can see that time of retribution drawing nigh, although
the tyrant, fooled by impunity, is not aware of its approach; he can
also see that when it comes it will be as a war in which no furlough
is granted, and whose disastrous close no craft can evade. All this
execution of long-delayed justice he has seen again and again; and
therefore he will not suffer his resentment to hurry him into
dangerous courses, but will calmly await the action of those social
laws which compel every man to reap the due reward of his deeds (vv.

Nevertheless he has also seen times in which retribution did not
overtake oppressors; times even when, in the person of children as
wicked and tyrannical as themselves, they "came again" to renew their
injustice, and to blot out the memory of the righteous from the earth
(ver. 10). And such times have no more disastrous result than this,
that they undermine faith and subvert morality. Men see that no
immediate sentence is pronounced against the wicked, that they live
long in their wickedness and beget children to perpetuate it; and the
faith of the good in the overruling providence of God is shaken and
strained, while the vast majority of men set themselves to do the evil
which flaunts its triumphs before their eyes (ver. 11). None the less
the Preacher is quite sure that it is the part of wisdom to trust in
the laws and look for the judgments of God: he is quite sure that the
triumph of the wicked will soon pass, while that of the good will
endure (vv. 12, 13); and therefore, as a man of prudent and
forecasting spirit, he will submit to injustice, but not inflict it,
or at least not carry it to any dangerous excess.

[Sidenote: _The Preacher condemns this Theory of Human Life, and
declares the Quest to be still unattained._ Ch. viii., vv. 14, 15.]

This is by no means a noble or lofty view of human life; the line of
conduct it prescribes is often as immoral as it is ignoble; and we may
feel some natural surprise at hearing counsels so base from the lips
of the inspired Hebrew Preacher. But we ought to know him, and his
method of instruction, well enough by this time to be sure that he is
at least as sensible of their baseness as we can be; that he is here
speaking to us, not in his own person, but dramatically, and from the
lips of the man who, that he may secure a good name and an easy
position in the world, is disposed to accommodate himself to the
current maxims of his time and company. If we ever had any doubt on
this point, it is set at rest by the closing verses of the Section
before us. For in these verses the Preacher lowers his mask, and tells
us plainly that we cannot and must not attempt to rest in the theory
he has just put before us, that to follow out its practical
corollaries will lead us away from the Chief Good, not toward it. More
than once he has already hinted to us that this "wisdom" is not the
highest wisdom; and now he frankly avows that he is as unsatisfied as
ever, as far as ever from ending his Quest; that his last key will not
unlock those mysteries of life which have baffled him from the first.
He still holds, indeed, that it is better to be righteous than to be
wicked, though he now sees that even the prudently righteous often
have a wage like that of the wicked, and that the prudently wicked
often have a wage like that of the righteous (ver. 14). This new
theory of life, therefore, he confesses to be "a vanity" as great and
deceptive as any of those he has hitherto tried. And as even yet it
does not suit him to give us his true theory and announce his final
conclusion, he falls back on the conclusion we have so often heard,
that the best thing a man can do is to eat and to drink, and to carry
a clear enjoying temper through all the days, and all the tasks, which
God giveth him under the sun (ver. 15). How this familiar conclusion
fits into his final conclusion, and is part of it, though not the
whole, we shall see in our study of the next and last section of the

II.--If, as Milton sings,

                    "To know
  That which before us lies in daily life
  Is the prime wisdom,"

we are surely much indebted to the Hebrew Preacher. _He_ does not "sit
on a hill apart" discussing fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute, or
any lofty abstruse theme. He walks with us, in the common round, to
the daily task, and talks to us of that which lies before and around
us in our daily life. Nor does he speak as one raised high above the
folly and weakness by which we are constantly betrayed. He has trodden
the very paths we tread. He shares our craving and has pursued our
quest after "that which is good." He has been misled by the illusions
by which we are beguiled. And his aim is to save us from fruitless
researches and defeated hopes by placing his experience at our
command. He speaks, therefore, to our real need, and speaks with a
cordial sympathy which renders his counsel very welcome.

We are so made that we can find no rest until we find a supreme Good,
a Good which will satisfy all our faculties, passions, aspirations.
For _this_ we search with ardour; but our ardour is not always under
law to wisdom. We often assume that we have reached our chief Good
while it is still far off, or that we are at least looking for it in
the right direction when in truth we have turned our back upon it.
Sometimes we seek for it in the pursuit of knowledge, sometimes in
pleasure and self-indulgence, sometimes in fervent devotion to secular
affairs; sometimes in love, sometimes in wealth, and sometimes in a
modest yet competent provision for our future wants. And if, when we
have acquired the special good we seek, we find that our hearts are
still craving and restless, still hungering for a larger good, we are
apt to think that if we had a little more of that which so far has
disappointed us; if we were somewhat wiser, or if our pleasures were
more varied; if we had a little more love or a larger estate, all
would be well with us, and we should be at peace. Perhaps in time we
get our "little more," but still our hearts do not cry, "Hold,
enough!"--enough being always a little more than we have; till at
last, weary and disappointed in our quest, we begin to despair of
ourselves and to distrust the goodness of God. "If God be good," we
ask, "why has He made us thus--always seeking yet never finding, urged
on by imperious appetites which are never satisfied, impelled by
hopes which for ever elude our grasp?" And because we cannot answer
the question, we cry out, "Vanity of vanities! all is vanity and
vexation of spirit!"

"Ah, no," replies the kindly Preacher who has himself known this
despairing mood and surmounted it; "no, _all_ is not vanity. There is
a chief Good, a satisfying Good, although you have not found it yet;
and you have not found it because you have not looked for it where
alone it can be found. Once take the right path, follow the right
clue, and you will find a Good which will make all else good to you, a
Good which will lend a new sweetness to your wisdom and your mirth,
your labour and your gain." But men are very slow to believe that they
have wasted their time and strength, that they have wholly mistaken
their path; they are reluctant to believe that a little more of that
of which they have already acquired so much, and which they have
always held to be best, will not yield them the satisfaction they
seek. And therefore the wise Preacher, instead of telling us at once
where the true Good is to be found, takes much pains to convince us
that it is not to be found where we have been wont to seek it. He
places before us a man of the largest wisdom, whose pleasures were
exquisitely varied and combined, a man whose devotion to affairs was
the most perfect and successful, a man of imperial nature and wealth,
and whose heart had glowed with all the fervours of love: and this
man--_himself_ under a thin disguise--so rarely gifted and of such
ample conditions, confesses that he could not find the Chief Good in
any one of the directions in which we commonly seek it, although he
had travelled farther in every direction than we can hope to go. If we
are of a rational temper, if we are open to argument and persuasion,
if we are not resolved to buy our own experience at a heavy, perhaps a
ruinous, cost, how can we but accept the wise Hebrew's counsel, and
cease to look for the satisfying Good in quarters in which he assures
us it is not to be found?

We have already considered his argument as it bore on the men of his
own time; we have now to make its application to our own age. As his
custom is, the Preacher does not develop his argument in open logical
sequence; he does not write a moral essay, but paints us a dramatic

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Quest in Wealth._ Ch. vi.]

He depicts a man who trusts in riches, who honestly believes that
wealth is the chief Good, or, at lowest, the way to it. This man has
laboured diligently and dexterously to acquire affluence, and he _has_
acquired it. Like the rich man of the Parable, he has much goods, and
barns that grow fuller as they grow bigger. "God has given him riches
and wealth and abundance, so that his soul"--not having learned how to
look for anything higher--"lacks nothing of all that it desireth."

[Sidenote: _The Man who makes Riches his Chief Good is haunted by
Fears and Perplexities._ Ch. vi., vv. 1-6.]

He has reached his aim, then, acquired what he holds to be good. Can
he not be content with it? No; for though he bids his soul make merry
and be glad, it obstinately refuses to obey. It is darkened with
perplexities, haunted by vague longings, fretted and stung with
perpetual care. Now that he has his riches, he goes in dread lest he
should lose them; he is unable to decide how he may best employ them,
or how to dispose of them when he must leave them behind him. God has
given them to him; but he is not at all sure that God will show an
equal wisdom in giving them to some one else when he is gone. And so
the poor rich man sits steeped in wealth up to his chin--up to his
chin, but not up to his lips, for he has no "power to enjoy" it.
Burdened with jealous care, he grudges that others should share what
he cannot enjoy, grudges above all that, when he is dead, another
should possess what has been of so little comfort to him. "If thou art
rich," says Shakespeare,

                      "thou art poor;
  For like an ass whose back with ingots bows,
  Thou bearest thy heavy riches but a journey,
  And Death unloads thee."

But our rich man is not only like an ass; he is even more stupid: for
the ass would not have his back bent even with golden ingots if he
could help it, and is only too thankful when the burden is lifted from
his back; while the rich man not only _will_ plod on beneath his heavy
load, but, in his dread of being unladen at his journey's end, imposes
on himself a burden heavier than all his ingots, _and will bear that_
as well as his gold. He creeps along beneath his double load, and
brays quite pitifully if you so much as put out a hand to ease him.

[Sidenote: _Much that he gains only feeds Vanity._ Chap. vi., v. 11.]

[Sidenote: _He cannot tell what it will be good for him to have_;
Chap. vi., v. 12.]

[Sidenote: _Nor foresee what will become of his Gains_: Chap. vi., v.

It is not of much use, perhaps, to argue with one so besotted; but
lest we should slip into his degraded estate, the Preacher points out
for our instruction the source of his disquiet, and shows why it is
impossible in the very nature of things that he should know content.
Among other sources of disquiet he notes these three. (1) That "there
are many things which increase vanity:" that is to say, many of the
acquisitions of the rich man only augment his outward pomp and state.
Beyond a certain point he cannot possibly enjoy the good things he
possesses; he cannot, for instance, live in all his costly mansions at
once, nor eat and drink all the sumptuous fare set on his table, nor
carry his whole wardrobe on his back. He is hampered with
superfluities which breed care, but yield him no comfort. And, as he
grudges that others should enjoy them, all this abundance, all that
goes beyond his personal gratification, so far from being an
"advantage" to him, is only a burden and a torment. (2) Another source
of disquiet is, that no man, not even he, "can tell what is good for
man in life," what will be really helpful and pleasant to him. Many
things which attract desire pall upon the taste. And as "the day of
our vain life is brief," gone "like a shadow," he may flit away before
he has had a chance of using much that he has laboriously acquired.
(3) And a third source of disquiet is, that the more a man has the
more he must leave: and this is a fact which cuts him two ways, with a
keen double edge. For the more he has the less he likes leaving it;
and the more he has the more is he puzzled how to leave it. He cannot
tell "what shall be after him," and so he makes one will to-day and
another to-morrow, and very likely dies intestate after all.

Is not that a true picture, a picture true to life? Bulwer Lytton
tells us how one of our wealthiest peers once complained to him that
he was never so happy and well-served as when he was a bachelor in
chambers; that his splendid mansion was a dreary solitude to him, and
the long train of domestics his masters rather than his servants. And
more than once he depicts, as in _The Caxtons_, a man of immense
fortune and estate as so occupied in learning and discharging the
heavy duties of property, so tied and hampered by the thought of what
was expected of him, as to fret under a constant weight of care and to
lose all the sweet uses of life. And have not we ourselves known men
who have grown more penurious as they have grown richer, men unable to
decide what it would be really good or even pleasant for them to do,
more and more anxious as to how they should devise their abundance? "I
am a poor rich man, burdened with money; but I have nothing else," was
the saying of a notorious millionaire, who died while he was signing a
cheque for £10,000, some twenty years ago.

[Sidenote: _And because God has put Eternity into his Heart, He cannot
be content with Temporal Good._ Ch. vi., vv. 7-10.]

But the Hebrew Preacher is not content to paint a picture of the Rich
Man and his perplexities--a picture as true to the life now as it was
then. He also points out _how_ it is that the lover of riches came to
be the man he is, and why he can never lay hold on the supreme Good.
"All the labour of this man is for his mouth," for the senses and
whatever gratifies sense; and therefore, however prosperous he may be,
"yet his soul cannot be satisfied." For the soul is not fed by that
which feeds the senses. God has "put eternity" into it. It craves an
eternal sustenance. It cannot rest till it gains access to "the
living water," and "the meat which endureth," and the good "wine of
the kingdom." A beast--if indeed beasts have no souls, which I neither
deny nor admit--may be content if only he be placed in comfortable
outward conditions; but a man, simply because he is a man, must have a
wholesome and happy inward life before he can be content. His hunger
and thirst after righteousness must be satisfied. He must know that,
when flesh and heart fail him, he will be received into an eternal
habitation. He must have a treasure which the moth cannot corrupt, nor
the thief filch from him. We cannot escape our nature any more than we
can jump off our shadow; and our very nature cries out for an immortal
good. Hence it is that the rich man who trusts in his riches, and not
in the God who gave them to him, carries within him a hungry craving
soul. Hence it is that _all_ who trust in riches, and hold them to be
the Chief Good, are restless and unsatisfied. For, as the Preacher
reminds us, it is very true both that the rich man may not be a fool,
and that the poor man may trust in the riches he has not won. By
virtue of his wisdom, the wise rich man may so vary and combine the
good things of this life as to win from them a gratification denied to
the sot whose sordid heart is set on gold; and the poor man, because
he has so few of the enjoyments which wealth can buy, may snatch at
the few that come his way with the violent delight which has violent
ends. Both may "enjoy the good they have" rather than "crave a good
beyond their (present) reach:" but if they mistake that good for the
Supreme Good, neither their poverty nor their wisdom will save them
from the misery of a fatal mistake. For they too have souls, _are_
souls; and the soul is not to be satisfied with that which goes in at
the mouth. Wise or foolish, rich or poor, whosoever _trusts_ in riches
is either like the ass whose back is bent with a weight of gold, or he
is worse than the ass, and _longs_ to take a burden on his back of
which only Death can unlade him.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _The Quest in the Golden Mean._ Ch. vii., v. 1-Ch. viii.,
v. 15.]

2. But now, to come closer home, to draw nearer to that prime wisdom
which consists in knowing that which lies before us in our daily life,
let us glance at the Man who aims to stand in the Golden Mean; the man
who does not aspire to heap up a great fortune, but is anxious to
secure a modest competence. He is more on our own level; for _our_
trust in riches is, for the most part, qualified by other trusts. If
we believe in Gold, we also believe in Wisdom and in Mirth; if we
labour to provide for the future, we also wish to use and enjoy the
present. We think it well that we should know something of the world
about us, and take some pleasure in our life. We think that to put
money in our purse should not be our only aim, though it should be a
leading aim. We admit that "the love of money is a root of all
evil"--one of the roots from which all forms and kinds of evil may
spring; and, to save ourselves from falling into that base lust, we
limit our desires. We shall be content if we can put by a moderate
sum, and we flatter ourselves that we desire even so much as that, not
for its own sake, but for the means of knowledge, or of usefulness, or
of innocent enjoyment with which it will furnish us. "Nothing I should
like better," says many a man, "than to retire from business as soon
as I have enough to live upon, and to devote myself to this branch of
study or that province of art, or to take my share of public duties,
or to give myself to a cheerful domestic life." It speaks well for our
time, I think, that while in a few large cities there are still many
in haste to be rich and very rich, in the country and in hundreds of
provincial towns there are thousands of men who know that wealth is
not the Chief Good, and who do not care to don the livery of Mammon.
Nevertheless, though their aim be "most sweet and commendable," it has
perils of its own, imminent and deadly perils, which few of us
altogether escape. And these perils are clearly set before us in the
sketch of the Hebrew Preacher. As I reproduce that sketch, suffer me,
for the sake of brevity, while carefully retaining the antique
outlines, to fill in with modern details.

[Sidenote: _The Method of the Man who seeks a Competence._ Ch. viii.,
vv. 1-14.]

Suppose a young man to start in life with this theory, this plan, this
aim, distinctly before him:--he is to be ruled by prudence and plain
common sense: he will try to stand well with the world, and to make a
moderate provision for future wants. This aim will beget a certain
temperance of thought and action. He will permit himself no
extravagances--no wandering out of bounds, and perhaps no enthusiasms,
for he wants to establish "a good name," a good reputation, which
shall go before him like "a sweet perfume" and dispose men's hearts
toward him. And, therefore, he carries a sober face, frequents the
company of older, wiser men, is grateful for any hints their
experience may furnish, and takes even their "reproof" with a good
grace. He walks in the beaten paths, knowing the world to be impatient
of novelties. The wanton mirth and crackling laughter of fools in the
house of feasting are not for him. He is not to be seduced from the
plain prudent course which he has marked out for himself whether by
inward provocation or outward allurements. If he is a young lawyer, he
will write no poetry, attorneys holding literary men in suspicion. If
he is a young doctor, homoeopathy, hydropathy, and all new-fangled
schemes of medicine will disclose their charms to him in vain. If he
is a young clergyman, he will be conspicuous for his orthodoxy, and
for his emphatic assent to all that the leaders of opinion in the
Church think or may think. If he is a young manufacturer or merchant,
he will be no breeder of costly patents and inventions, but will be
among the first to profit by them whenever they are found to pay.
Whatever he may be, he will not be of those who try to make crooked
things straight and rough places plain. He wants to get on; and the
best way to get on is to keep the beaten path and push forward in
that. And he will be patient--not throwing up the game because for a
time the chances go against him, but waiting till the times mend and
his chances improve, so far as he can, he will keep the middle of the
stream that, when the tide which leads on to fortune sets in, he may
be of the best to take it at the flood and sail easily on to his
desired haven.

In all this there may be no conscious insincerity, and not much
perhaps that calls for censure. For all young men are not wise with
the highest wisdom, nor original, nor brave with the courage which
follows Truth in scorn of consequence. And our young man may not be
dowered with the love of loves, the hate of hates, the scorn of
scorns. He may be of a nature essentially prudent and commonplace, or
training and habit may have superinduced a second nature. To him a
primrose may be a primrose and nothing more; his instinctive thought,
as he looks at it, may be how he can reproduce its colour in some of
his textures or extract a saleable perfume from its nectared cup. He
may even think that primroses are a mistake, and that 'tis pity they
were not pot-herbs; or he may assume that he shall have plenty of time
to gather primroses by-and-bye, but that for the present he must be
content to pick pot-herbs for the market. In his way, he may even be a
religious man; he may admit that both prosperity and adversity are of
God, that we must take patiently whatever He may send; and he may
heartily desire to be on good terms with Him who alone "can order all
things as He please."

[Sidenote: _The Perils to which it exposes him._ Ch. vii., v. 15-Ch.
viii., v. 13.]

[Sidenote: _He is likely to compromise Conscience_; Ch. vii., vv.

But here we light on his first grave peril; for he will carry his
temperance into his religion, and he may subordinate even that to his
desire to get on. Looking on men in their religious aspect, he sees
that they are divided into two classes, the righteous and the wicked.
As he considers them, he concludes that on the whole the righteous
have the best of it, that godliness is real gain. But he soon
discovers that this first rough conclusion needs to be carefully
qualified. For, as he studies men more closely, he perceives that at
times the righteous die in their righteousness without being the
better for it, and the wicked live on in their wickedness without
being the worse for it. He perceives that while the very wicked die
before their time, the very righteous, those who are always reaching
forth to that which is before them and rising to new heights of
insight and obedience, are "forsaken," that they are left alone in the
thinly-peopled solitude to which they have climbed, losing the
sympathy even of those who once walked with them. Now, these are
facts; and a prudent sensible man tries to accept facts, and to adjust
himself to them, even when they are adverse to his wishes and
conclusions. _He_ does not want to be left alone, nor to die before
his time. And therefore, taking these new facts into account, he
infers that it will be best to be good without being too good, and to
indulge himself with an occasional lapse into some general and
customary wickedness without being too wicked. Nay, he is disposed to
believe that "whoso feareth God," studying the facts of his providence
and drawing logical inferences from them, "will lay hold of both"
wickedness and righteousness, and will blend them in that proportion
which the facts seem to favour. But here Conscience protests, urging
that to do evil can never be good. To pacify it, he adduces the
notorious fact that "there is not a righteous man on earth who doeth
good, and sinneth not." "Conscience," he says, "you are really too
strict and straitlaced, too hard on one who wants to do as well as he
can. You go quite too far. How can you expect me to be better than
great saints and men after God's own heart?" And so, with a wronged
and pious air, he turns to lay one hand on wickedness and another on
righteousness, quite content to be no better than his neighbours and
to let Conscience sulk herself into a sweeter mood.

[Sidenote: _To be indifferent to Censure_; Ch. vii., vv. 21, 22.]

Conscience being silenced, Prudence steps in. And Prudence says,
"People will talk. They will take note of your slips, and tattle about
them. Unless you are very very careful, you will damage your
reputation; and if you do that, how can you hope to get on?" Now as
the man is specially devoted to Prudence, and has found her kind
mistress and useful monitress in one, he is at first a little
staggered to find her taking part against him. But he soon recovers
himself, and replies: "Dear Prudence, you know as well as I do that
people don't like a man to be better than themselves. Of course they
will talk if they catch me tripping; but I don't mean to do more than
trip, and a man who trips gains ground in recovering himself, and goes
all the faster for a while. Besides we all trip; some fall even. And I
talk of my neighbours just as they talk of me; and we all like each
other the better for being birds of one feather."

[Sidenote: _To despise Women_; Ch. vii., vv. 25-29.]

At this Prudence smiles and stops her mouth. But being very willing to
assist so quick-witted a disciple, she presently returns and says:
"Are you not rather a long while in securing your little Competence?
Is there no short cut to it? Why not take a wife with a small fortune
of her own, or with connexions who could help you on?" Now the man,
not being a bad man, but one who would fain be good so far as he knows
goodness, is somewhat taken aback by such a suggestion as this. He
thinks Prudence must be growing very worldly and mercenary. He says
within himself, "Surely _love_ should be sacred! A man should not
prostitute _that_ in order to get on! If I marry a woman simply or
mainly for her money, what worse degradation can I inflict on her or
on myself? how shall I be better than those old Hebrews and Orientals
who held women to be only a toy or a convenience? To do that, would be
to make a snare and a net of her indeed, to degrade her from her true
place and function, and possibly would lead me to think of her as even
worse than I had made her." Nevertheless, his heart being very much
set on securing a Competence, and an accident of the sort which he
calls "providences" putting a foolish woman with a pocketful of money
in his way, he takes both the counsel of Prudence and a wife to

[Sidenote: _And to be indifferent to Public Wrongs._ Ch. viii., vv.

The world, we may be sure, thinks none the worse of him for that. Once
more he has proved himself a man whose eye is stedfastly bent on "the
main chance," and who knows how to seize occasions as they rise. But
he, who has thus profaned the inner sanctuary of his own soul, is not
likely to be sensitive to the large claims of public duty. If he sees
oppression, if the tyranny of a man or a class mounts to a height
which calls for rebuke and opposition, _he_ is not likely to sacrifice
comfort and risk either property or popularity that he may assail
iniquity in her strong places. It is not such men as he who, when the
times are out of joint, feel that they are born to set them right.
Prudence is still his guide, and Prudence says, "Let things alone;
they will right themselves in time. The social laws will avenge
themselves on the head of the oppressor, and deliver the oppressed.
You can do little to hasten their action. Why, to gain so little,
should you risk so much?" And the man is content to sit still with
folded hands when every hand that can strike a blow for right is
wanted in the strife, and can even quote texts of Scripture to prove
that in "quietness, and confidence" in the action of Divine Laws, is
the true strength.

[Sidenote: _The Preacher condemns this Theory, and declares the Quest
to be still unattained._ Ch. vii., vv. 14, 15.]

Now I make my appeal to those who daily enter the world of
business--is not this the tone of that world? are not these the very
perils to which you lie open? How often have you heard men recount the
slips of the righteous in order to justify themselves for not assuming
to be righteous overmuch! How often have you heard them vindicate
their own occasional errors by citing the errors of those who give
greater heed to religion than they do, or make a louder profession of
it! How often have you heard them congratulate a neighbour on his good
luck in carrying off an heiress, or speak of wedded love itself as a
mere help to worldly advancement! How often have you heard them sneer
at the nonsensical enthusiasm which has led certain men to "throw away
their chances in life" in order to devote themselves to the service of
truth, or to forfeit popularity that they might lead a forlorn hope
against customary wrongs, and thank God that no such maggot ever bit
their brains! If during the years which have lapsed since I too "went
on 'Change," the general tone has not risen a whole heaven--and I have
heard of no such miracle--I know that you must daily hear such things
as these, and worse than these; and that not only from irreligious men
of bad character, but from men who take a fair place in our Christian
congregations. From the time of the wise Preacher to the present hour,
this sort of talk has been going on, and the scheme of life from
which it springs has been stoutly held. There is the more need,
therefore, for you to listen to and weigh the Preacher's conclusion.
For his conclusion is, that this scheme of life is wholly and
irredeemably wrong, that it tends to make a man a coward and a slave,
that it cannot satisfy the large desires of the soul, and that it
cheats him of the Chief Good. His conclusion is, that the man who so
sets his heart on acquiring even a Competence that he cannot be
content without it, has no genuine trust in God, since he is willing
to give in to immoral maxims and customs in order to secure that
which, as he thinks, will make him largely independent of the Divine

The Preacher speaks as to wise men, to men of some experience of the
world. Judge you what he says.




At last we approach the end of our Quest. The Preacher has found the
Chief Good, and will show us where to find it. But are we even yet
prepared to welcome it and to lay hold of it? Apparently he thinks we
are not. For, though he has already warned us that it is not to be
found in Wealth or Industry, in Pleasure or Wisdom, he repeats his
warning in this last Section of his Book, as if he still suspected us
of hankering after our old errors. Not till he has again assured us
that we shall miss our mark if we seek the supreme Good in any of the
directions in which it is commonly sought, does he direct us to the
sole path in which we shall not seek in vain. Once more, therefore, we
must gird up the loins of our mind to follow him along his several
lines of thought, encouraged by the assurance that the end of our
journey is not now far off.

[Sidenote: _The Chief Good not to be found in Wisdom_: Ch. viii., v.
16-Ch. ix., v. 6.]

1. The Preacher commences this Section by carefully defining his
position and equipment as he starts on his final course. As yet he
carries no lamp of Revelation in his hand, although he will not
venture beyond a certain point without it. For the present he will
trust to Reason and Experience, and mark the conclusions to which
these conduct when unaided by any direct light from Heaven. His first
conclusion is that Wisdom, which of all temporal goods still stands
foremost with him, is incapable of yielding a true content. Much as it
can do for man, it cannot solve the moral problems which task and
afflict his heart, the problems which he _must_ solve before he can be
at peace. He may be so bent on solving these by Wisdom as to see "no
sleep with his eyes by day or night;" he may rely on Wisdom with a
confidence so genuine as to suppose at times that by its help he has
"found out all the work of God"--really solved all the mysteries of
the Divine Providence; but nevertheless "he has not found it out;" the
illusion will soon pass, and the unsolved mysteries reappear dark and
sombre as of old (chap. viii., vv. 16, 17). And the proof that he has
failed is, first, that he is as incompetent to foresee the future as
those who are not so wise as he. With all his sagacity, he cannot tell
whether he shall meet "the love or the hatred" of his fellows. His lot
is as closely hidden in "the hand of God" as theirs, although he may
be as much better as he is wiser than they (chap. ix., ver. 1). A
second proof is that "the same fate" overtakes both the wise and the
foolish, the righteous and the wicked, and he is as unable to escape
it as any of his neighbours. All die; and to men ignorant of the
heavenly hope of the Gospel the indiscrimination of Death seems the
most cruel and hopeless of wrongs. The Preacher, indeed, is not
ignorant of that bright hope; but as yet he has not taken the lamp of
Revelation into his hand: he is simply speaking the thought of those
who have no higher guide than Reason, no brighter light than
Reflection. And to these, their wisdom having taught them that to do
right is infinitely better than to do wrong, no fact was so monstrous
and inscrutable as that their lives should run to the same disastrous
close with the lives of evil and violent men, that all alike should
fall into the hands of "that churl, Death." As they revolved this
fact, their hearts grew hot with a fierce resentment as natural as it
was impotent, a resentment all the hotter because they knew how
impotent it was. Therefore the Preacher dwells on this fact, lingers
over his description of it, adding touch to touch. "One fate comes to
all," he says, "to the righteous and to the wicked, to the pure and to
the impure, to the religious and to the irreligious, to the profane
and to the reverent." If death be a good, the maddest fool and the
vilest reprobate share it with the sage and the saint. If death be an
evil, it is inflicted on the good as well as on the bad. None is
exempt. Of all wrongs this is the greatest; of all problems this is
the most insoluble. Nor is there any doubt as to the nature of death.
To him for whom there shines no light of hope behind the darkness of
the grave, death is the supreme evil. For to the living, however
deject and wretched, there is still some hope that times may mend:
even though in outward condition despicable as that unclean outcast, a
dog--the homeless and masterless scavenger of Eastern cities--he has
some advantage over the royal lion who, once couched on a throne, now
lies in the dust rotting to dust. The living know at least that they
must die; but the dead know not anything. The living can recall the
past, and their memory harps fondly on notes which were once most
sweet; but the very memory of the dead has perished, no music of the
happy past can revive on their dulled sense, nor will any recall their
names. The heavens are fair; the earth is beautiful and generous; the
works of men are many and diverse and great; but they have "no more
any portion for ever in ought that is done under the sun" (vv. 2-6).

This is the Preacher's description of the hapless estate of the dead.
His words would go straight home to the hearts of the men for whom he
wrote, with a force even beyond that which they would have for heathen
races. In their Captivity, they had renounced the worship of idols.
They had renewed their covenant with Jehovah. Many of them were
devoutly attached to the ordinances and commandments which they and
their fathers had neglected in happier and more prosperous years. Yet
their lives were made bitter to them with cruel bondage, and they had
as little hope in their death as the Persians who embittered their
lives, and probably even less. It was in this sore strait, and under
the strong compulsions of this dreadful extremity, that the more
studious and pious of their rabbis, like the Preacher himself, drew
into an expressive context the passages scattered through their Sacred
Books which hinted at a retributive life beyond the tomb, and settled
into that firm persuasion of the immortality of the soul which, as a
rule, they never henceforth altogether let go. But when the Preacher
wrote, this settled and general conviction had not been reached. There
were many among them who, as their thoughts circled round the mystery
of death, could only cry, "Is this _the end_? is _this_ the end?" To
the great majority of them it seemed the end. And even the few, who
sought an answer to the question by blending the Greek and Oriental
with the Hebrew Wisdom, attained no clear answer to it. To mere human
wisdom, Life remained a mystery, and Death a mystery still more cruel
and impenetrable. Only those who listened to the Preachers and
Prophets taught of God beheld the dawn which already began to glimmer
on the darkness in which men sat.

[Sidenote: _Nor in Pleasure_: Ch. ix., vv. 7-12.]

Imagine, then, a Jew brought to the bitter pass which Coheleth has
described. He has acquainted himself with Wisdom, native and foreign;
and wisdom has led him to conclusions of virtue. Nor is he of those
who love virtue as they love music--without practising it. Believing
that a righteous and religious carriage of himself will ensure
happiness and equip him to encounter the problems of life, he has
striven to be good and pure, to offer his sacrifices and pay his vows.
But he has found that, despite his best endeavours, his life is not
tranquil, that the very calamities which overtake the wicked overtake
him, that that wise carriage of himself by which he thought to win
love has provoked hatred, that death remains a frowning and
inhospitable mystery. He hates death, and has no great love for the
life which has brought him only labour and disappointment. Where is he
likely to turn next? Wisdom having failed him, to what will he apply?
At what conclusion will he arrive? Will not his conclusion be that
standing conclusion of the baffled and the hapless, "Let us eat and
drink for to-morrow we die"? Will he not say, "Why should I weary
myself any more with studies which yield no certain science, and
self-denials which meet with no reward? If a wise and pure conduct
cannot secure me from the evils I dread, let me at least try to forget
them and to grasp such poor delights as are still within my reach?"
This, at all events, _is_ the conclusion in which the Preacher lands
him; and hence he takes occasion to review the pretensions of Pleasure
or Mirth. To the baffled and hopeless devotee of Wisdom he says, "Go,
then, eat thy bread with gladness, and drink thy wine with a merry
heart. Cease to trouble yourself about God and His judgments. He, as
you have seen, does not mete out rewards and punishments according to
our merit or demerit; and as He does not punish the wicked after their
deserts, you may be sure that He has long since accepted your wise
virtuous endeavours, and will keep no score against you. Deck yourself
in white festive garments; let no perfume be lacking to your head; add
to your harem any woman who charms your eye: and, as the day of your
life is brief at the best, let no hour of it slip by unenjoyed. As you
have chosen Mirth for your portion, be as merry as you may. Whatever
you can get, get; whatever you can do, do. You are on the road to the
dark dismal grave where there is no work nor device; there is,
therefore, the more reason why your journey should be a merry one"
(vv. 7-10).

Thus the Preacher describes the Man of Pleasure, and the maxims by
which he rules his life. How true the description is I need not tarry
to prove; 'tis a point every man can judge for himself. Judge also
whether the warning which the Preacher subjoins be not equally true to
experience (vv. 11, 12). For, after having depicted, or personated,
the Man who trusts in Wisdom, and the Man who devotes himself to
Pleasure, he proceeds to show that even the Man who blends mirth with
study, whose wisdom preserves him from the disgusts of satiety and
vulgar lust, is nevertheless--to say nothing of the Chief Good--very
far from having reached a certain good. _Then_, at least, "the race
was not (always) to the swift, nor the battle to the strong; neither
was bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to
the learned." Those who had the fairest chances had not always the
happiest success; nor did those who bent themselves most strongly to
their ends always reach their ends. Those who were wanton as birds, or
heedless as fish, were often taken in the snare of calamity or swept
up by the net of misfortune. At any moment a killing frost might
blight all the growths of Wisdom and destroy all the sweet fruits of
Pleasure: and if they had only these, what could they do but starve
when they were gone? The good which was at the mercy of accident,
which might vanish before the instant touch of disease or loss or
pain, was not worthy to be, or to be compared with, the Chief Good,
which is a good for all times, in all accidents and conditions, and
renders him who has it equal to all events.

[Sidenote: _Nor in Devotion to Affairs and its Rewards._ Ch. ix., v.
13-Ch. x., v. 20.]

So far, then, Coheleth has been occupied in retracing the argument of
the first Section of the Book. Now he returns upon the second and
third Sections: he deals with the man who plunges into public affairs,
who turns his wisdom to practical account, and seeks to attain a
competence, if not a fortune. He lingers over this stage of his
argument, probably because the Jews, then as always, even in exile and
under the most cruel oppression, were a remarkably energetic,
practical, money-getting race, with a singular faculty of dealing with
political issues or handling the market; and, as he slowly pursues it,
he drops many hints of the social and political conditions of the
time. Two features of it he takes much to heart: first, that wisdom,
even of the most practical and sagacious sort, did not win its fair
recognition and reward--a very natural complaint in so wise a man;
and, secondly, that his people were under tyrants so gross,
self-indulgent, indolent, and unstatesman-like as the Persians of his
day--also a natural complaint in a man of so wise and patriotic a

He opens with an anecdote in proof of the slight regard in which the
most valuable and remunerative sagacity was held. He tells us of a
poor man--and I have sometimes thought that this poor man may have
been the Author himself; for the military leaders of the Jews, though
among the most expert strategists of that era, were often very learned
and studious men--who lived in a little city, with only a few
inhabitants. A great king came up against the city, besieged it, threw
up the lofty military causeway, as high as the walls, from which it
was the fashion of the time to deliver the assault. By his Archimedian
wit the poor man hit on a stratagem which saved the city; but though
his service was so signal, and the city so little that the "few men in
it" must have seen him every day, "yet no one remembered that same
poor man," or lent a hand to lift him from his poverty. Wise as he
was, his wisdom did not bring him bread, nor riches, nor favour (vv.
13-15). Therefore, concludes the Preacher, wisdom, great gift though
it is, and better, as in this instance, than "an army to a beleaguered
city" (chap, vii., ver. 19), is not of itself sufficient to secure
success. A poor man's wisdom--as many an inventor has found--is
despised even by those who profit by it. Although his counsel, in the
day of extremity, is infinitely more valuable than the loud bluster
of fools, or of a ruler among fools, nevertheless the ruler, because
he is foolish, may be affronted to find one of the poorest men in the
place wiser than himself; he may easily cast his "merit in the eye of
scorn," and so rob him both of the honour and the reward of his
achievement (vv. 16, 17)--an ancient saw not without modern instances.
For the fool is a greater power in the world, especially the fool who
is wise in his own conceit. Insignificant in himself, he may
nevertheless do great harm and "destroy much good." Just as a tiny
fly, when it is dead, may make the sweetest ointment offensive by
infusing its own evil savour, so a man, when his wit is gone, may with
his little folly cause many sensible men to distrust the wisdom they
should honour (chap. x., ver. 1):--who has not met such a hot-headed
want-wit in, for example, the lobbies of the House of Commons? To a
wise man, such as Coheleth, the fool, the presumptuous conceited fool,
is "rank and smells to heaven," infesting sweeter natures than his own
with a most pestilent corruption. He paints us a picture of
him--paints it with a keen graphic scorn which, if the eyes of the
fool were in his head (chap. ii., ver. 14), and "what he is pleased to
call his mind" could for a moment shift from his left hand to his
right (ver. 2), might make him nearly as contemptible to himself as he
is to others. As we read ver. 3 the unhappy wretch stands before us.
We see him coming out of his house; he goes dawdling down the street,
for ever wandering from the path, attracted by the merest trifle,
staring at familiar objects with eyes that have no recognition in
them, knowing neither himself nor others; and, with pointed finger,
chuckles after every sober citizen he meets, "There goes a fool!"

Yet a fool quite as foolish and malignant as this, quite as indecent
even in outward behaviour, may be lifted to high place, and has ere
now sat on an imperial throne.[44] The Preacher had seen many of them
suddenly raised to power, while nobles were depraved, and high
functionaries of State reduced to an abject servitude. Now if the poor
wise man have to attend the durbar, or sit in the divan, of a foolish
capricious despot, how should he bear himself? The Preacher counsels
meekness and submission. He is to sit unruffled even though the ruler
should rate him, lest by resentment he should provoke some graver
outrage (vv. 4-7: comp. chap. viii., ver. 3). To strengthen him in
his submission, the Preacher hints at cautions and consolations which,
because free and open speech was very dangerous under the Persian
despotism, he wraps up in obscure maxims capable of a double
sense--nay, as the commentators have shown, capable of a good many
more senses than two--to the true sense of which "a foolish ruler" was
by no means likely to penetrate, even if they fell into his hands.

  [44] To cite only one instance out of many--other instances may be
  found in the Introduction--let the reader recall the Emperor Caligula,
  and refer, for example, to his reception of the Alexandrian Jews, as
  recorded by Philo, _Legat ad Caium_, cc. 44, 45; or by Merivale, in
  his _History of the Romans_, chap. xlvii., pp. 47-50; or by Milman, in
  his _History of the Jews_, Book xii., pp. 141-45. He will then know,
  to quote the phrase of Apollonius of Tyana, what "the kind of beast
  called a tyrant" is or may be.

The first of these maxims is, "He who diggeth a pit shall fall into
it" (ver. 8). And the allusion is, of course, to an Eastern mode of
trapping wild beasts and game. The huntsman dug a pit, covered it with
twigs and sods, and strewed the surface with bait; but as he dug many
such pits, and some of them were long without a tenant, he might at
any inadvertent moment fall into one of them himself. The proverb is
capable of at least two interpretations. It may mean that the foolish
despot, plotting the ruin of his wise servant, might in his anger go
too far; and, betraying his intention, provoke a retaliative anger
before which he himself would fall. Or it may mean that, should the
wise servant seek to undermine the throne of the despot, he might be
taken in his treachery and bring on himself the whole weight of the
tyrant's wrath.

The second maxim is, "Whoso breaketh down a wall, a serpent shall bite
him" (ver. 8); and here, of course, the allusion is to the fact that
snakes infect the crannies of old walls (comp. Amos v. 19). To set
about dethroning a tyrant was like pulling down such a wall; you would
break up the nest of many a reptile, many a venomous hanger-on, and
might only get bit or stung for your pains. Or, again, in pulling out
the stones of an old wall, you might let one of them fall on your
foot; and in hacking out its timbers, you might cut yourself: that is
to say, even if your conspiracy did not involve you in absolute ruin,
it would be only too likely to do you serious and lasting injury (ver.

The next adage runs (ver. 10), "If the axe be blunt, and he do not
whet the edge, he must put on more strength, but wisdom should teach
him to sharpen it," and is, perhaps, the most difficult passage in the
Book. The Hebrew is read in a different way by almost every
translator. As I read it, it means, in general, that it is not well to
work with blunt tools when by a little labour and delay you may whet
them to a keener edge. Read thus, the political rule implied in it is,
"Do not attempt any great enterprise, any revolution or reform, till
you have a well-considered scheme to go upon, and suitable instruments
to carry it out with." But the special political import of it may be,
"Your strength is nothing to that of the tyrant; do not therefore lift
a blunt axe against the trunk of despotism: wait till you have put a
sharp edge upon it." Or, the tyrant himself may be the blunt axe, and
then the warning is, "Sharpen _him_ up, repair him, use him and his
caprices to serve your end; get your way by giving way to him, and by
skilfully availing yourself of his varying moods." Which of these may
be the true meaning of this obscure disputed passage, I do not
undertake to say; but the latter of the two seems to be sustained by
the adage which follows: "If the serpent bite because it is not
charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer." For here, I think,
there can be little doubt that the foolish angry ruler is the serpent,
and the wise functionary the charmer who is to extract the venom of
his anger. Let the foolish ruler be never so furious, the poor wise
man, who is able "to cull the plots of best advantages," and to save a
city, can surely devise a charm of soft submissive words which will
turn away his wrath; just as the serpent-charmer of the East, by song
and incantation, is at least reputed to draw serpents from their lurk,
that he may pluck the venom from their teeth (ver. 11). For, as we are
told in the very next verse, "the words of the wise man's mouth win
him grace, while the lips of the fool destroy him."

And on this hint, on this casual mention of his name, the
Preacher--who all this while, remember, is personating the sagacious
man of the world, bent on rising to wealth, power, distinction--once
more "comes down" on the fool. He speaks of him with a burning heat
and contempt, as men versed in public affairs are wont to do, since
they best know how much harm a voluble, impudent, self-conceited fool
may do, how much good he may prevent. Here, then, is the fool of
public life. He is a man always prating and predicting, although his
words, only foolish at the first, swell and fret into a malignant
madness before he has done, and although he of all men is least able
to give good counsel, to seize occasions as they rise, or to foresee
what is about to come to pass. Puffed up by the conceit of wisdom or
of his own importance, he is for ever intermeddling with great
affairs, though he has no notion how to handle them, and is incapable
of even finding his way along the beaten road which leads to the
capital city, of taking and keeping the plain and obvious path which
the exigencies of the time require; while (ver. 3) he is forward to
cry, "There goes a fool," of every man who is wiser than himself (vv.
12-15). If he would only hold his tongue, he might pass muster;
beguiled by his gravity and silence, men might give him credit for
sagacity, and fit his foolish deeds with profound motives; but he
_will_ speak, and his words betray and "swallow him up." Of course
_we_ have no such fools, "full of words," to rise in their high place
and wag their tongues to their own hurt; they are peculiar to
Antiquity or to the East.

But _then_ there were so many of them, and their influence in the
State was so disastrous that, as the Preacher thinks of them, he
breaks into an almost dithyrambic fervour, and cries, "Woe to thee, O
land, when thy king is a child,[45] and thy princes feast in the
morning! Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is noble, and thy
princes eat at due hours, for strength and not for revelry!" Through
the sloth and riot of these foolish rulers, the whole fabric of the
State was fast fading into decay--the roof rotting and the rain
leaking in. To support their inopportune and profligate revelry, they
imposed crushing taxes on the people, which inspired in some a
revolutionary discontent, and in some the apathy of despair. The Wise
Exile foresaw that the end of a despotism so unjust and luxurious
could not be far off; that when the storm rose and the wind blew, the
ancient House, unrepaired in its decay, would topple on the heads of
those who sat in its halls, revelling in a wicked mirth (vv. 16-19).
Meantime, the sagacious servant of the State, perchance too of foreign
extraction, unable to arrest the progress of decay, or not caring how
soon it was consummated, would make his "market of the time;" he would
carry himself warily: and, because the whole land was infested with
the spies bred by despotism, he would give them no hold on him, nor so
much as speak the simple truth of his foolish debauched rulers in the
privacy of his own bed-chamber, or mutter his thoughts on the roof,
lest some "bird of the air should carry the report" (ver. 20).

  [45] What Coheleth means by the king being "a child" is best explained
  by Isa. iii. 12: "As for my people, their ruler is a wilful child, and
  women rule over him."

But if this were the condition of the time, if to rise in public life
involved so many mean crafts and submissions, so many deadly imminent
risks from spies and from fools clad in a little brief authority, how
could any man hope to find the Chief Good in it? Wisdom did not always
win promotion; virtue was inimical to success. The anger of an
incapable idiot, or the whisper of an envious rival, or the caprice of
a merciless despot, might at any moment undo the work of years, and
expose the most upright and sagacious of men to the worst extremities
of misfortune. There was no tranquillity, no freedom, no security, no
dignity in such a life as this. Till this were resigned and some
nobler, loftier aim found, there was no chance of reaching that great
satisfying Good which lifts man above all accidents, and fixes him in
a happy security from which no blow of Circumstance can dislodge him.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Sidenote: _But in a wise Use and a wise Enjoyment of the Present
Life_, Ch. xi., vv. 1-8.]

What that Good is, and where it may be found, the Preacher now
proceeds to show. But, as his manner is, he does not say in so many
words, "This is the Chief Good of man," or "You will find it yonder;"
but he places before us the man who is walking in the right path and
drawing closer and closer to it. Even of him the preacher does not
give us any formal description; but, following what we have seen to be
his favourite method, he gives us a string of maxims and counsels from
which we are to infer what manner of man he is who happily achieves
this great Quest.

And, at the very outset, we learn that this happy person is of a
noble, unselfish, generous temper. Unlike the man who simply wants to
get on and make a fortune, he grudges no man his gains; he looks on
his neighbours' interests as well as his own, and does good even to
the evil and the unthankful.[46] He is one who "casts his bread upon
the waters" (ch. xi., ver. 1), and who "gives a portion thereof to
seven, and even to eight" (ver. 2). The familiar proverb of the first
verse has long been read as an allusion to the sowing of rice and
other grain from a boat, during the periodical inundation of certain
Eastern rivers, especially the Nile. We have been taught to regard the
husbandman pushing from the embanked village in his frail bark, to
cast the grain he would gladly eat on the surface of the flood, as a
type of Christian labour and charity. He denies himself; so also must
we if we would do good. He has faith in the Divine laws, and trusts to
receive his own again with usury, to reap a larger crop the longer he
waits for it; and, in like manner, we are to trust in the Divine laws
which bring us a hundredfold for every act of self-denying service,
and bless our "long patience" with the ampler harvest. But it is
doubtful whether the Hebrew _usus loquendi_ admits of this
interpretation. It probably suggests another which, if unfamiliar to
us, has a beauty of its own. In the East bread is commonly made in
thin flat cakes, something like Passover cakes; and one of these
cakes flung on the stream, though it would float with the current for
a time, would soon sink; and once sunk would, unlike the grain cast
from the boat, yield no return. And our charity should be like that.
We should do good, "hoping for nothing again." We should show
kindnesses which will soon be forgotten, never be returned, and be
undismayed by the thanklessness of the task. It is not so thankless as
it seems. For, first, we shall "find the good of it" in the loftier,
more generous temper which the habit of doing good breeds and
confirms. If no one else be the better for our kindness, we shall be
the better, because the more kindly, for it. The quality of charity,
like that of mercy, is twice blessed;

  "It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

  [46] One of the most elaborate proverbs in the Talmud is on
  Charity:--"Iron breaks the stone, fire melts iron, water extinguishes
  fire, the clouds drink up the water, a storm drives away the clouds,
  man withstands the storm, fear unmans man, wine dispels fear, sleep
  drives away wine, and death sweeps all away--even sleep. But Solomon
  the Wise says, Charity saves from death." And there is hardly a finer
  passage in Shakespeare's Sonnets than that (CXVI.) in which he sings
  the disinterestedness of Love, and its superiority to all change:

                        "Love is not love
    Which alters when it alteration finds,
    Or bends with the remover to remove.

      *    *    *    *    *    *

    Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
    Within his bending sickle's compass come;
    Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
    But bears it out even to the edge of doom."

And, again, the task is not so thankless as it sometimes seems; for
though many of our kind deeds may quicken no kindness in "him that
takes," yet some of them will; and the more we help and succour the
more likely are we to light upon at least a few who, when our need
comes, will succour and console us. Even the most hardened have a
certain tenderness for those who help them, if only the help meet a
real need, and be given with grace. And, therefore, we may be very
sure that if we give a portion of our bread to seven and even to
eight, especially if they know that we ourselves have stomach for it
all, at least one or two of them will share with us when we need

But is not this, after all, only a refined selfishness? If we give
because we do not know how soon we may need a gift, and in order that
we may by-and-bye "find the good of it," do not even the heathen and
the publicans the same? Well, not many of them, I think. I have not
observed that it is their habit to cast their bread on thankless
waters. If they forbode calamity and loss, they provide against them,
not by giving, but by hoarding; and even they themselves would hardly
accept as a model of charity a man who buttoned up his pocket against
every appeal, lest he should be yielding to a selfish motive, or be
suspected of it. The refined selfishness of showing kindness and doing
good even to the evil and the unthankful because we hope to find the
good of it is by no means too common yet; we need not go in dread of
it. Nor is it an altogether unworthy motive. St. Paul urges us to help
a fallen brother on the express ground that we may need similar help
some day (Gal. vi. 1); and _he_ was not in the habit of appealing to
base motives. Nay, the very Golden Rule itself, which all men admire
even if they do not walk by it, touches this spring of action; for
among other meanings it surely has this, that we are to do to others
as we would that they should do to us, in the hope that they will do
to us as we have done to them. There are other higher meanings in the
Rule of course, as there are other and purer motives for Charity; but
I do not know that we are any of us of so lofty a virtue that we need
fear to show kindness in order to win kindness, or to give help that
we may get help when we need it. Possibly, to act on this motive may
be the best and nearest way of rising to such higher motives as we can

The first characteristic, then, of the man who is likely to achieve
the Quest of the Chief Good is the Charity which prompts him to be
gracious, and to show kindness, and to do good, even to the thankless
and ungracious. And his second characteristic is the stedfast Industry
which turns all seasons to account. The man of affairs, who wants to
rise, waits on occasion; he is on the watch to avail himself of the
moods and caprices of men and bend them to his interest. But he who
has learned to value things at their true worth, and whose heart is
fixed on the acquisition of the highest good, does not want to get on
so much as to do his duty under all the variable conditions of life.
Just as he will not withhold his hand from giving, lest some of the
recipients of his charity should prove unworthy, so also he will not
withdraw his hand from the labour appointed him, because this or that
endeavour may be unproductive, or lest it should be thwarted by the
ordinances of Heaven. He knows that the laws of Nature will hold on
their way, often causing individual loss to promote the general good.
He knows, for instance, that when the clouds are full of rain they
_will_ empty themselves upon the earth, even though they put his
harvest in peril; and that when the wind is fierce it will blow down
trees, even though it should also scatter the seed which he is sowing.
But he does not therefore wait upon the wind till it is too late to
sow, nor upon the clouds till his ungathered crops rot in the fields.
He is conscious that, though he knows much, he knows little of these
as of other works of God: he cannot tell whether this or that tree
will be blown down; almost all he can be certain of is that, when the
tree is down, it will lie where it has fallen, lifting its bleeding
roots in dumb protest against the wind which has brought it low. But
_this_ too he knows, that it is "God who worketh all;" that _he_ is
not responsible for events beyond his control: that what he is
responsible for is that he do the duty of the moment whatever wind may
blow, and calmly leave the issue in the hand of God. And so he is not
"over exquisite to cast the fashion of uncertain evils;" diligent and
undismayed, he goes on his way, giving himself heartily to the present
duty, "sowing his seed morning and evening, although he cannot tell
which shall prosper, this or that, or whether both shall prove good"
(vv. 3-6). Windy March cannot blow him from his constant purpose,
though it may blow the seed out of his hand; nor a rainy August melt
him to despairing tears, though it may damage his harvest. He has done
his duty, discharged his responsibility: let God see to the rest;
whatever pleases God will content him.

This man, then, has learned one or two of the profoundest secrets of
Wisdom, plain as they look. He has learned that, giving, we gain; and,
spending, thrive. He has also learned that a man's true care is
himself; that all that pertains to the body, to the issues of labour,
to the chances of fortune, is external to himself; that whatever form
these may take, he may learn from them, and profit by them, and be
content in them: that his true business in the world is to cultivate a
strong and dutiful character which shall prepare him for any world or
any fate; and that so long as he can do this, his main duty will be
done, his ruling object attained. _Totum in co est, ut tibi

  [47] Cicero, _Tusc._, lib. II., cap. 22.

Is not this true wisdom? is it not an abiding good? Pleasures may
bloom and fade. Speculations may shift and change. Riches may come and
go--what else have they wings for? The body may sicken or strengthen.
The favour of men may be conferred and withdrawn. There is no
stability in these; and if we are dependent on them, we shall be
variable and inconstant as they are. But if we make it our chief aim
to do our duty whatever it may be, and to love and serve our neighbour
whatever the attitude he may assume to us, we have an aim always
within our reach, a duty we may always be doing, a good as enduring as
ourselves, and therefore a good we may enjoy for ever. Standing on
this rock, from which no wave of change can sweep us, "the light will
be sweet to us, and it shall be pleasant to our eyes to behold the
sun," whatever the day, or the world, on which he may rise (ver. 7).

But is all our life to be taken up in meeting the claims of Duty and
of Charity? Are we never to relax into mirth, never to look forward to
a time in which reward will be more exactly adjusted to service? Yes,
we are to do both this and that. It is very true that he who makes it
his ruling aim to do the present duty, and to leave the future with
God, will have a happy because a useful life. He that walks this path
of duty

                      "only thirsting
  For the right, and learns to deaden
  Love of self, before his journey closes,
  He shall find the stubborn thistle bursting
  Into glossy purples, which outredden
  All voluptuous garden roses."

The path may often be steep and difficult; it may be overhung with
threatening rocks and strewn with "stones of offence;" but he who
pursues it, still pressing on "through the long gorge" and winning
his way upward,

  "Shall find the toppling crags of Duty scaled,
  Are close upon the shining table-lands
  To which our God Himself is sun and moon."

Nevertheless, if his life is to be full and complete, he must be able
to pluck whatever bright flowers of joy spring beside his path, to
find "laughing waters" in the crags he climbs, and to rejoice not only
in "the glossy purples" of the armed and stubborn thistle, but in the
delicate beauty of the ferns, the pure grace of the cyclamens, and the
sweet breath of the fragrant grasses and flowers which haunt those
severe heights. If he is to be a Man, rather than a Stoic or an
Anchorite, he must add to his sense of duty a keen delight in all
beauty, all grace, all innocent and noble pleasure. For the sake of
others, too, as well as for his own sake, he must carry with him "the
merry heart which doeth good like a medicine," since, lacking that, he
will neither do all the good he might, nor himself become perfect and
complete. And it is proof, I think, of the good divinity, no less than
of the broad humanity, of the Preacher that he lays much stress on
this point. He not only bids us enjoy life, but gives us cogent
reasons for enjoying it. "Even," he says, "if a man should live many
years, he ought to enjoy them all." But why? "Because there will be
many dark days," days of old age and growing infirmity in which
pleasures will lose their charm; days of death through which he will
sleep quietly in the dark stillness of the grave, beyond the touch of
any happy excitement (ver. 8). Therefore the man who attains the Chief
Good will not only do the duty of the moment; he will also enjoy the
pleasure of the moment. _He_ will not toil through the long day of
life till, spent and weary, he has no power to enjoy his "much goods,"
or no time for his soul to "make merry the glad." While he is "a young
man," he will "rejoice in his youth, and let his heart cheer him," and
go after the pleasures which attract youth (ver. 9). While his heart
is still fresh, when pleasures are most innocent and healthful,
easiest of attainment and unalloyed by anxiety and care, he will
cultivate that cheerful temper which is a prime safeguard against
vice, discontent, and the morose fretfulness of a selfish old age.

[Sidenote: _Combined with a stedfast Faith in the Life to come._ Ch.
x., v. 9-Ch. xii, v. 7.]

But, soft; is not our man of men becoming a mere man of pleasure? No;
for he recognises the claims of Duty and of Charity. These keep his
pleasures sweet and wholesome, prevent them from usurping the whole
man, and landing him in the satiety and weariness of dissipation. But
lest even these safeguards should prove insufficient, he has also
this: he knows that "God will bring him into judgment;" that all his
works, whether of charity or duty or recreation, will be weighed in
the pure and even balance of Divine Justice (ver. 9). _This_ is the
secret of the pure heart--the heart that is kept pure amid all labours
and cares and joys. But the intention of the Preacher in thus
adverting to the Divine Judgment has been gravely misconstrued,
wrested even to its very opposite. We too much forget what that
Judgment must have seemed to the enslaved Jews;--how weighty a
consolation, how bright a hope! They were captive exiles, oppressed by
profligate despotic lords. Cleaving to the Divine Law with a
passionate loyalty such as they had never felt in happier days, they
were nevertheless exposed to the most dire and constant misfortunes.
All the blessings which the Law pronounced on the obedient seemed
withheld from them, all its promises of good and peace to be
falsified; the wicked triumphed over them, and prospered in their
wickedness. Now to a people whose convictions and hopes had suffered
this miserable defeat, what truth would be more welcome than that of a
life to come, in which all wrongs should be both righted and avenged,
and all the promises in which they had hoped should receive a large
fulfilment that would beggar hope? what prospect could be more
cheerful and consolatory than that of a day of retribution on which
their oppressors would be put to shame, and _they_ would be
recompensed for their fidelity to the law of God? This hope would be
sweeter to them than any pleasure; it would lend a new zest to every
pleasure, and make them more zealous in good works.

Nay, we know, from the Psalms composed during the Captivity, that the
judgment of God _was_ an incentive to hope and joy; that, instead of
fearing it, the pious Jews looked forward to it with rapture and
exultation. What, for example, can be more riant and joyful than the
concluding strophe of Psalm xcvi.?

  Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
  Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
  Let the field exult and all that therein is;
  And let all the trees of the wood sing for joy
  Before Jehovah: for He cometh,
  For He cometh _to judge the earth,
  To judge the world with righteousness,
  And the peoples with his truth_;

or than the third strophe of Psalm xcviii.?

  Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof;
  The world, and they that dwell therein;
  Let the floods clap their hands,
  And let the hills sing for joy together
  Before Jehovah: _for He cometh to judge the earth;
  With righteousness shall He judge the world,
  And the peoples with equity_.

It is impossible to read these verses, and such verses as these,
without feeling that the Jews of the Captivity anticipated the Divine
Judgment, not with fear and dread, but with a hope and joy so deep
and keen as that they summoned the whole round of Nature to share in
it and reflect it.

If we remembered this, we should not so readily agree with the
Preachers and Commentators who assume Coheleth to be speaking
ironically in this verse, and as though he would defy his readers to
enjoy their pleasures with the thought of God and his judgment of them
in their minds. We should rather understand that he was making life
more cheerful to them; that he was removing the blight of despair
which had fallen on it; that he was kindling in their dreary prospect
a light which would shine even into their darkened present with
gracious and healing rays. All wrongs would be easier to bear, all
duties would be faced with better heart, all alleviating pleasures
would grow more welcome, if once they were fully persuaded that there
was a life beyond death, a life in which the good would be "comforted"
and the evil "tormented." It is on the express ground that there is a
Judgment that the Preacher, in the last verse of this chapter, bids
them banish "care" and "sadness," or, as the words perhaps mean,
"moroseness" and "trouble;" though he also adds another reason which
no longer afflicts him much, viz., that "youth and manhood are
vanity," soon gone, never to be recalled, and never enjoyed if the
brief occasion is suffered to pass.

Mark how quickly the force of this great hope has reversed his
position. Only in ver. 8, the very instant before he discloses his
hope, he urges men to enjoy the present "because all that is coming is
vanity," because there were so many dark days, days of infirm
querulous age and silent dreary death before them. But here, in ver.
10, the very moment he has disclosed his hope, he urges them to enjoy
the present, not because _the future_ is vanity, but because _the
present_ is vanity, because youth and manhood soon pass and the
pleasures proper to them will be out of reach. Why should they any
longer be fretted with care and anxiety when the lamp of Revelation
shone so brightly on the future? Why should they not be cheerful when
so happy a prospect lay before them? Why should they sit brooding over
their wrongs when their wrongs were so soon to be righted, and they
were to enter on so ample a recompense of reward? Why should they not
travel toward a future so welcome and inviting with hearts attuned to
mirth and responsive to every touch of pleasure?

But is the thought of Judgment to be no check on our pleasures? Well,
it is certainly used here as an incentive to pleasure, to
cheerfulness. We are to be happy _because_ we are to stand at the bar
of God, because in the Judgment He will adjust and compensate all the
wrongs and afflictions of time. But it is not every one who can take
to himself the full comfort of this argument. Only he can do that who
makes it his ruling aim to do his duty and help his neighbour. And no
doubt even he will find the hope of judgment--for with him it is a
hope rather than a fear--a valuable check, not on his pleasures, but
on those base counterfeits which often pass for pleasures, and which
betray men, through voluptuousness, into satiety, disgust, remorse.
Because he hopes to meet God, and has to give account of himself to
God, he will resist the evil lusts which pollute and degrade the soul:
and thus the prospect of Judgment will become a safeguard and a

But he has a safeguard of even a more sovereign potency than this. For
he not only looks forward to a future judgment, he is conscious of a
present and constant judgment. God is with him wherever he goes. From
"the days of his youth" he has "remembered his Creator" (chap. xii.,
ver. 1). He has remembered _Him_, and given to the poor and needy. He
has remembered Him and, doing all things as to Him, duty has grown
light. He has remembered Him, and his pleasures have grown the sweeter
because they were gifts from Heaven, and because he has taken them, in
a thankful spirit, for a temperate enjoyment. Of all safeguards to a
life of virtue, this is the noblest and the best. We can afford,
indeed, to part with none of them, for we are strangely weak, often
where we least suspect it, and need all the helps we can get: but
least of all can we afford to part with this. We need to remember that
every sin is punished here and now, inwardly if not outwardly, and
that these inward punishments are the most severe. We need to remember
that we must all appear before the judgment-seat of God, to render an
account of the deeds done in the body. But above all--if love, and not
fear, is to be the animating motive of our life--we need to remember
that God is always with us, observing what we do; and that, not that
He may spy upon us and accumulate heavy charges against us, but that
He may help us to do well; not to frown upon our pleasures, but to
hallow, deepen, and prolong them, and to be Himself our Chief Good and
our Supreme Delight.

  "'Live while you live,' the Epicure would say,
  'And seize the pleasure of the present day.'
  'Live while you live,' the Sacred Preacher cries,
  'And give to God each moment as it flies.'
  Lord, in my view let both united be:
  I live in pleasure while I live in Thee."[48]

  [48] _Dum vivimus vivamus._--Doddridge.

Finally, the Preacher enforces this early and habitual reference of
the soul to the Divine Presence and Will by a brief allusion to the
impotence and weariness of a godless old age, and by a very striking
description of the terrors of the death in which it culminates.

While "the dew of youth" is still fresh upon us we are to "remember
our Creator" and his constant judgment of us lest, forgetting Him, we
should waste our powers in sensual excess; lest temperate mirth should
degenerate into an extravagant and wanton devotion to pleasure; lest
the lust of mere physical enjoyment should outlive the power to enjoy,
and, groaning under the penalties our unbridled indulgence has
provoked, we should find "days of evil" rise on us in long succession,
and draw out into "years" of fruitless desire, self-disgust, and
despair (ver. 1). "Before the evil days come," and that they may not
come; before "the years arrive of which we shall say, I have no
pleasure in them," and that they may not arrive, we are to bethink us
of the Pure and Awful Presence in which we daily stand. God is with us
that we may not sin; with us in youth, that "the angel of his
Presence" may save us from the sins to which youth is prone; with us,
to save us from "the noted slips of youth and liberty," that our
closing years may have the cheerful serenity of a happy old age.

To this admonition drawn from the miseries of godless age, the
Preacher appends a description of the terrors of approaching death
(vv. 2-5),--a description which has suffered many strange torments at
the hands of critics and commentators. It has commonly been read as an
allegorical, but singularly accurate, diagnosis of "the disease men
call death," as setting forth in graphic figures the gradual decay of
sense after sense, faculty after faculty.[49] Learned physicians have
written treatises upon it, and have been lost in admiration of the
force and beauty of the metaphors in which it conveys the results of
their special science, although they differ in their interpretation of
almost every sentence, and are driven at times to the most gross and
absurd conjectures in order to sustain their several theories. I need
not give any detailed account of these speculations, for the simple
reason that they are based, as I believe, on an entire misconception
of the Sacred Text. Instead of being, as has been assumed, a
figurative description of the dissolution of the body, it sets forth
the threatening approach of death under the image of a tempest which,
gathering over an Eastern city during the day, breaks upon it toward
evening: so, at least, I, with many more, take it. And I do not know
how we can better arrive at it than by considering what would be the
incidents which would strike us if we were to stroll through the
narrow tortuous streets of such a city as the day was closing in.

  [49] It may be worth while to specify some of the gross and absurd
  conjectures, some also of the strange differences, into which what may
  be called the _medical_ reading of this passage has betrayed its
  advocates. Ginsburg has a marvellous collection of them in his "notes"
  to these verses. I select and combine only a few of them. The
  darkening of the light, the sun, the moon, and the stars (ver. 2) is
  taken by one great authority (the Talmud) to mean the darkening _of
  the forehead_, _the nose_, _the soul_, _and the teeth_; by another
  (the Chaldee Paraphrast), the obscuring of _the face_, _the eyes_,
  _the cheeks_, _and the apples of the eyes_; by a third (Dr. Smith, in
  his "Portraiture of Old Age"), _for the decay of all the mental
  faculties_. That "the clouds return after the rain" signifies,
  according to Ibn Ezra, _the constant dimness of the eyes_; according
  to Le Clerc, _a bad influenza, accompanied with unceasing snuffling_.
  "The keepers of the house" (ver. 3) are _the ribs and the loins_
  (Talmud), _the knees_ (Chaldee), and _the hands and arms_ (Ibn Ezra).
  "The men of power" are _the thighs_ (Talmud) and _the arms_ (Chaldee).
  "The grinding maids" are _the teeth_, and "the ladies who look out of
  the lattices" are _the eyes_, by general consent. "The door closed on
  the street" is _the pores of the skin_ (Dr. Smith), _the lips_ (Ibn
  Ezra), and _the eyes_ (Henstenberg). That "the noise of the mills
  ceases" or "grows faint" (ver. 4) means that _the mastication of food_
  becomes imperfect (Dr. Smith), that _the appetite_ fails (Chaldee),
  that _the voice_ grows feeble (Grotius). That "the songbirds descend
  to their nests" signifies that _music and songs are a bore_ to the
  aged man (Talmud), that he is _no longer able to sing_ (Chaldee), that
  _his ears are heavy_ (Grotius). The allusion to "the almond" (ver. 5)
  denotes that _the haunch-bone shall come out from leanness_ (Talmud),
  or (Reynolds) it denotes _the hoary hair which comes quickly on a man_
  just as the almond-tree thrusts out her blossoms before any other
  tree; while at least half-a-dozen scholars and physicians take it as
  pointing to _membrum genitale_ or _glans virilis_. That "the locust
  becomes a burden" means that _the ankles swell_ (Chaldee), _gout in
  the feet_ (Jerome), _a projecting stomach_ (Le Clerc), _the dry
  shrivelled frame of an old man_ (Dr. Smith). Almost all modern
  commentators take the reference to "the caper-berry" as marking the
  fact that condiments lose their power to provoke appetite with the
  aged, while many of the ancients took it as marking the failure of
  sexual desire. The "silver cord" and "golden bowl" of ver. 6 are _the
  tongue and the skull_ (Chaldee), _backbone and brain_ (Dr. Smith),
  _urine and bladder_ (Gasper Sanctius); while the "bucket" is either
  _the gall_ or _the right ventricle of the heart_, and "the wheel" that
  draws the water stands for _the air-inspiring lungs_.

  Now of course it would not be just to condemn any interpretation
  simply because it is weighted with absurdities and contradictions such
  as these, though it surely requires a very strong reading to carry
  them. But when an interpretation is so obviously forced and fanciful,
  when it is so remarkably ingenious and leaves to ingenuity so wide and
  lawless a scope, we shall do well to hesitate before accepting it. And
  if another interpretation be offered us, as in the text, which gives a
  literal rendering to every phrase instead of a figurative one, which
  bases itself on the common household facts of Eastern experience
  instead of on the technicalities of Western science, which instead of
  being so indeterminate and fanciful as at times to be
  self-contradictory and grotesque, is coherent and impressive, we
  really have no alternative before us. We cannot but choose the one and
  reject the other.

As we passed along we should find small rows of houses and shops,
broken here and there by a wide stretch of blank wall, behind which
were the mansions, harems, courtyards of its wealthier inhabitants.
Round and within the low narrow gates which gave access to these
mansions, we should see armed men lounging whose duty it is to guard
the premises against robbers and intruders; these are "the keepers of
the house," over whom, as over the whole household, are placed
superior officials--members of the family often--or "men of power."
Going through the gates and glancing up at the latticed windows, we
might catch glimpses of the veiled faces of the ladies of the house
who, not being permitted to stir abroad except on rare occasions and
under jealous guardianship, are accustomed to amuse their dreary
leisure, and to learn a little of what is going on around them, by
"looking out of the windows." Within the house, the gentlemen of the
family would be enjoying the chief meal of the day, provoking appetite
with delicacies such as "the locust,"[50] or condiments such as "the
caper-berry,"[51] or with choice fruit such as "the almond."[52]
Above all the shrill cries and noises of the city you would hear a
loud humming sound rising on every side, for which you would be sorely
puzzled to account if you were a stranger to Eastern habits. It is the
sound of the cornmills which, towards evening, are at work in every
house. A cornmill was indispensable to every Eastern family, since
there were no public mills or bakers except the King's. The heat of
the climate makes it necessary that corn should be ground and bread
baked every day. And as the task of grinding at the mill was very
irksome, only the most menial class of women, often slaves or
captives, were employed upon it. Of course the noise caused by the
revolution of the upper upon the nether millstone was very great when
the mills were simultaneously at work in every house in the city. No
sound is more familiar in the East; and, if it were suddenly stopped,
the effect would be as striking as the sudden stoppage of all the
wheels of traffic in an English town. So familiar was the sound,
indeed, and of such good omen, that in Holy Writ it is used as a
symbol of a happy, active, well-provided people; while the cessation
of it is employed to denote want, and desolation, and despair. To an
Oriental ear no threat would be more doleful and pathetic than that in
Jeremiah (xxv. 10), "I will take from them the voice of mirth and the
voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the
bride, _the sound of the millstones_, and the light of the candle."

  [50] This locust (_châgâb_) is one of the four kinds which the Law of
  Moses marked out as fit for human food. To this day several kinds of
  locust are held to be an agreeable and nutritious diet. There are many
  ways of preparing them for the table. They may be pounded with flour
  and water, and made into cakes. They may be smoked, boiled, roasted,
  stewed, and fried in butter. They may be salted with salt; and thus
  treated are eaten by the Arabs as a great delicacy. Or they may be
  dried in the sun, and then steeped in wine: baskets of them, prepared
  in this way, are to be commonly seen in Eastern markets. Dr. Kitto,
  who often ate them, says that they taste like shrimps; Dr. Shaw says
  that they are quite as good as our freshwater crayfish.

  [51] The caper-plant grows abundantly in Asia, as it does also in
  Africa and Southern Europe. It commonly springs in the crevices of
  walls, on heaps of ruins, or on barren wastes, and forms a diffuse
  many-branched shrub. Its flowers are large and showy: the four petals
  are white, but the long numerous stamens have their filaments tinged
  with purple, and terminate in yellow anthers. As the ovary ripens it
  droops and forms a pear-shaped berry, which holds in its pulp many
  small seeds. Almost every part of the shrub has been used as a
  condiment by the ancients. The stalk and seed were salted, or
  preserved in vinegar or wine. Its buds are still held to be an
  agreeable sauce--we eat them with boiled mutton. And the berries
  possess irritant properties which win them high esteem among the
  Orientals as a provocative to appetite.

  [52] The fruit of the almond-tree is still reckoned one of the most
  delicate and delicious fruits in the East. We may fancy that we are
  acquainted with it, that we know "almonds" at least as well as we know
  "raisins." But, I believe, that the almond we eat is only the kernel
  of the stone in the true almond; the fruit itself is of the same order
  with apricots, peaches, plums.

Now suppose the day on which we rambled through the city had been
boisterous and lowering; that heavy rain had fallen, obscuring all the
lights of heaven; and as the evening drew on, the thick clouds,
instead of dispersing, had "returned after the rain," so that setting
sun and rising moon, and the growing light of stars, were all blotted
from view (ver. 2). The tempest, long in gathering, breaks on the
city; the lightnings flash through the darkness, making it more
hideous; the thunder crashes and rolls above the roofs; the tearing
rain beats at all lattices and floods all roads. If we cared to abide
the pelting of the storm, we should have before us the very scene
which the Preacher depicts. "The keepers of the house," the guards and
porters, would quake. "The men of power," the lords or owners of the
house, or the officials who most closely attended on them, would
crouch and tremble with apprehension. The maids at the mill would
"stop" because one or other of the two women--two at least--whom it
took to work the heavy millstone had been frightened from her task by
the gleaming lightning and the pealing thunder. The ladies, looking
out of their lattices, would be driven back into the darkest corners
of the inner rooms of the harem. Every door would be closed and barred
lest robbers, availing themselves of the darkness and its terrors,
should creep in (ver. 3). "The noise of the mills" would grow faint or
utterly cease, because the threatening tumult had terrified many, if
not all, the grinding-maids from their work. The strong-winged
"swallow," lover of wind and tempest, would flit to and fro with
shrieks of joy; while the delicate "song-birds" would drop, silent and
alarmed, into their nests. The gentlemen of the house would soon lose
all gust for their delicate cates[53] and fruits; "the almond" would
be pushed aside, "the locust loathed," and even the stimulating
"caper-berry provoke no appetite," fear being a singularly unwelcome
and disappetising guest at a feast. In short, the whole people,
stunned and confused by the awful and stupendous majesty of a tropical
storm, would be affrighted at the terrors which come flaming from "the
height" of heaven, to confront them on every highway (vv. 4, 5).

  [53] Sir Henry Rawlinson says: "At the present day, among the _bons
  vivants_ of Persia, it is usual to sit down for hours before dinner,
  drinking wine, and eating dried fruits, such as filberts, almonds,
  pistachio-nuts, melon-seeds, etc. A party, indeed, often sits down at
  seven o'clock, and the dinner is not brought in till eleven. The
  dessert dishes, intermingled as they are with highly seasoned
  delicacies, are supposed to have the effect of stimulating the
  appetite."--Notes to Rawlinson's _Herodotus_, vol. i., p. 274.

  Such and so terrible is the tempest that at times sweeps over an
  Eastern city.[54] Such and so terrible, adds the Preacher, is death to
  the godless and sensual. They are carried away as by a storm; the wind
  riseth and snatcheth them out of their place. For if we ask, "Why, O
  Preacher, has your pencil laboured to depict the terrors of a
  tempest?" he replies, "Because man goeth to his long home, and the
  mourners pace up and down the street" (ver. 5). He leaves us in no
  doubt as to the moral of the fable, the theme and motive of his
  picture. While painting it, while adding touch to touch, he has been
  thinking of "the long home"--or, as the Hebrew has it, "the house of
  eternity;" a phrase still used by the Jews as a synonym for "the
  grave"--which is appointed for all living, and of the mercenary
  professional mourners who loiter under the windows of the dying man in
  the hope that they may be hired to lament him. To the expiring sinner
  death is simply dreadful. It puts an end to all his activities and
  enjoyments, just as the tempest brings all the labours and recreations
  of the city to a pause. He has nothing before him but the grave, and
  none to mourn him but the harpies who already pace the street, longing
  for the moment when he will be gone, and who value their fee far above
  his life. If we would have death shorn of its terrors for us, we must
  "remember our Creator" before death comes; we must seek by charity, by
  a faithful discharge of duty, by a wise use and a wise enjoyment of
  the life that now is, to prepare ourselves for the life which is to

  [54] It should be borne in mind that the comparative rarity of
  thunderstorms in Syria and the adjacent lands makes them much more
  dreadful to the inhabitants of those countries. Throughout the Old
  Testament, and especially in the Psalms, we find many traces of the
  dread which such storms inspired--a dread almost unaccountable to our
  accustomed nerves.

Death itself, as Coheleth proceeds to remind us (ver. 6), cannot be
escaped. Some day the cord _will_ break and the lamp fall; some day
the jar or pitcher must be broken, and the wheel, shattered, fall into
the well. Death is the common event. It befalls not only the sinful
and injurious, but also the useful and the good. Our life may have
been like a "golden" lamp suspended by a silver chain, fit for the
palace of a king, and may have shed a welcome and cheerful light on
every side and held out every promise of endurance but, none the less,
the costly durable chain will be snapped at last, and the fair costly
bowl be broken. Or our life may have been like the "pitcher" dipped,
by village maidens, into the village fountain; or, again, like "the
wheel" by which water is drawn, by a thousand hands, from the city
well; it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to the few or to the
many around us: but, none the less, the day must come when the pitcher
will be shattered on the edge of the fountain, and the time-worn wheel
fall from its rotten supports. There is no escape from death. And,
therefore, as we must all die, let us all live as cheerfully and
helpfully as we can; let us all prepare for the better life beyond the
grave, by serving our Creator before "the body is cast into the earth
from which it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (ver.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, then, according to the Hebrew Preacher, is the ideal man, the
man who achieves the Quest of the Chief Good:--Charitable, dutiful,
cheerful, he prepares for death by a useful and happy life, for future
judgment by a constant reference to the present judgment, for meeting
God hereafter by walking with Him here.

Has he not achieved the Quest? Can we hope to find a more solid and
enduring Good? What to him are the shocks of Change, the blows of
Circumstance, the mutations of Time, the fluctuations of Fortune?
These cannot touch the Good which he holds to be Chief. If they bring
trouble, he can bear trouble and profit by it: if they bring
prosperity, success, mirth, he can bear even these, and neither value
them beyond their worth nor abuse them to his hurt; for his Good, and
therefore his peace and blessedness, are founded on a Rock over which
the changeful waves may wash, but against which they cannot prevail.
Let the sun shine never so hotly, let the storm beat never so
furiously, the Rock stands firm, and the house which he has built for
himself upon the Rock. Whatever may befall, he can be doing his main
work, enjoying his supreme satisfaction, since he can meet all changes
with a dutiful and loving heart; since, through all, he may be forming
a noble character and helping his neighbours to form a character as
noble as his own. Because he has a gracious God always with him, and
because a bright future stretches before him in endless and widening
vistas of hope, he can carry to all the wrongs and afflictions of time
a cheerful spirit which shines through them with transfiguring
rays,--a spirit before which even the thick darkness of death will
grow light, and the solemnities of the Judgment be turned into
holiday festivity and a triumph. Ah, foolish and miserable that we are
who, with so noble a life, and so bright a prospect, and a Good so
enduring open to us--and with such helps to them in the Gospel of
Christ as Coheleth could not know--nevertheless creep about the earth
the slaves of every accident, the very fools of Time!



CHAP. XII., VERS. 8-14.

"Students," says the Talmud, "are of four kinds; they are like a
sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sieve: like a sponge that sucketh
all up; like a funnel which receiveth at one end and dischargeth at
the other; like a strainer which letteth the wine pass but retaineth
the lees; and like a sieve which dischargeth the bran but retaineth
the corn." Coheleth is like the sieve. He is the good student who has
sifted all the schemes and ways and aims of men, separating the wheat
from the bran, teaching us to know the bran as bran, the wheat as
wheat. It is a true "corn of heaven" which he offers us, and not any
of the husks to obtain which reckless and prodigal man has often
wasted his whole living--husks which, though they have the form and
hue of wheat, have not its nutriment, and cannot therefore satisfy the
keen hunger of the soul.

We have now followed the sifting process to its close; much bran lies
about our feet, but a little corn is in our hands, and from this
little there may grow "a harvest unto life." Starting in quest of that
Chief Good in which, when once it is attained, we can rest with an
unbroken and measureless content, we have learned that it is not to be
found in Wisdom, in Pleasure, in Devotion to Business or Public
Affairs, in a modest Competence or in boundless Wealth. We have
learned that only he achieves this supreme Quest who is "charitable,
dutiful, cheerful;" only he who "by a wise use and a wise enjoyment of
the present life prepares himself for the life which is to come." We
have learned that the best incentive to this life of virtue, and its
best safeguards, are a constant remembrance of our Creator and of his
perpetual presence with us, and a constant hope of that future
judgment in which all the wrongs of time are to be redressed. And here
we might think our task was ended. We might suppose that the Preacher
would dismiss us from the School in which he has so long held us by
his sage maxims, his vivid illustrations, his gracious warnings and
encouragements. But even yet he will not suffer us to depart. He has
still "words to utter for God," words which it will be well for us to
ponder. As in the Prologue he had stated the problem he was about to
take in hand, so now he subjoins an Epilogue in which he re-states
the solution of it at which he has arrived. His last words are, as we
should expect them to be, heavily weighted with thought. So closely
packed are his thoughts and allusions, indeed, as to give a
disconnected and illogical tone to his words. Every saying seems to
stand alone, complete in itself; and hence our main difficulty in
dealing with this Epilogue is to trace the links of sequence which
bind saying to saying and thought to thought, and so to get "the best
part" of his work. Every verse supplies a text for patient meditation,
or a theme which needs to be illustrated by historic facts that lie
beyond the general reach; and the danger is lest, while dwelling on
these separate themes and texts, we should fail to collect their
connected meaning, and to grasp the large conclusion to which they all

  [55] As the main ethical, literary, and historical interest of the
  whole Book is gathered up into this brief Epilogue, I offer no apology
  for the comparative length of my treatment of it.

Coheleth commences (ver. 8) by once more striking the keynote to which
all his work is set: "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, all is
vanity!" We are not, however, to take these words as announcing his
deliberate verdict on the sum of human endeavours and affairs; for he
has now discovered the true abiding Good which underlies all the
vanities of earth and time. His repetition of this familiar phrase is
simply a touch of art by which the Poet reminds us of what the main
theme of his Poem has been, of the pain and weariness and
disappointment which have attended his long Quest. As it falls once
more, and for the last time, on our ear, we cannot but remember how
often, and in what connections, we have heard it before. Memory and
imagination are set to work. The whole course of the sacred drama
passes swiftly before us, with its mournful pauses of defeated hope,
as we listen to this echo of the despair with which the baffled
Preacher has so often returned from seeking the true Good in this or
that province of human life in which it was not to be found.

Having thus reminded us of the several stages of his Quest, and of the
verdict which he had been compelled to pronounce at the close of each
but the last, Coheleth proceeds (ver. 9) to set forth his
qualifications for undertaking this sore task: "Not only was the
Preacher a wise man, he also taught the people wisdom, and composed,
collected, and arranged many proverbs" or parables, the proverb being
a condensed parable and the parable an expanded proverb. His claims
are that he is a sage, and a public teacher, who has both made many
proverbs of his own, collected the wise sayings of other sages, and
has so arranged them as to convey a connected and definite teaching to
his disciples; and his motive in setting forth these claims is, no
doubt, that he may the more deeply impress upon us the conclusion to
which he has come, and which it has cost him so much to reach.

Now during the Captivity there was a singular outbreak of literary
activity in the Hebrew race. Even yet this crisis in their history is
little studied and understood; but we shall only follow the Preacher's
meaning through vv. 9-12 as we read them in the light of this striking
event. That a change of the most radical and extraordinary kind passed
upon the Hebrews of this period, that they were by some means drawn to
a study of their Sacred Writings much more thorough and intense than
any which went before it, we know; but of the causes of this change we
are not so well informed.[56] A great, and perhaps the greatest,
authority[57] on this subject writes: "One of the most mysterious and
momentous periods in the history of humanity is that brief space of
the Exile. What were the influences brought to bear on the captives
during that time, we know not. But this we know, that from a reckless,
lawless, godless populace, they returned transformed into a band of
Puritans. The religion of Zerdusht (Zoroaster), though it has left its
traces in Judaism, fails to account for that change.... Yet the change
is there, palpable, unmistakable--a change which we may regard as
almost miraculous. Scarcely aware before of their glorious national
literature, the people now began to press round these brands plucked
from the fire--the scanty records of their faith and history--with a
fierce and passionate love, a love stronger even than that of wife and
child. These same documents, as they were gradually formed into a
canon, became the immediate centre of their lives, their actions,
their thoughts, their very dreams. From that time forth, with scarcely
any intermission, the keenest as well as the most poetical minds of
the nation remained fixed upon them."

  [56] In the Introduction, however, I have tried to give what _is_
  known of the history of this period. Roughly speaking, I believe the
  Jews owed their literary advance mainly to contact with the
  inquisitive and learned Babylonians, and their religious advance
  mainly to the sorrows of the Captivity and their contact with the pure
  faith of the primitive Persians.

  [57] Emmanuel Deutsch, whose premature death is still lamented by many
  as an irreparable loss. The passage will be found in his celebrated
  article on _The Talmud_ in _The Quarterly_ of October 1867. "The Quest
  of the Chief Good" was published at the close of that year. And at
  this point in it, while Deutsch was still alive, but before I knew him
  personally, I gently complained of the loss he had unwittingly
  inflicted on me. I had for ten years been collecting the gnomic
  sayings of the Talmud from any quarter open to one to whom the Talmud
  itself was a sealed book, and had indeed printed some two score of
  them in the _Christian Spectator_ for 1866. And here came one who "out
  of his profuse wealth carelessly flung down most of _my_ special
  treasures." Only half-a-dozen of the sayings I had collected now had
  any stamp of novelty on them to the thousands who had revelled in the
  wit and learning of that famous article in _The Quarterly_. And of
  these I ventured to call special attention to four which seemed to me
  of special value and beauty; viz., those on the four kinds of
  students, on new and old flasks, on not serving God for the sake of
  reward, and on doing God's will as if it were our will: they will all
  be found in this Section. But if I lost something, I also gained much
  by the appearance of that article, as those who read what follows will
  discover, although it only came into my hands as I was correcting the
  proofs of the final pages in my Book.

The more we think of this change, the more the wonder grows. Good
kings and inspired prophets had desired to see the nation devoted to
the Word of the Lord, had spent their lives in vain endeavours to
recall the thought and affection of their race to the Sacred Records
in which the will of God was revealed. But what they failed to do was
done when the inspiration of the Almighty was withdrawn and the voice
of Prophecy had grown mute. In their Captivity, under the strange
wrongs and miseries of their exile, the Jews remembered God their
Maker, Giver of songs in the night. They betook themselves to the
study of the Sacred Oracles. They began to acquaint themselves with
all wisdom that they might define and illustrate whatever was obscure
in the Scriptures of their fathers. They commenced that elaborate
systematic commentary of which many noble fragments are still extant.
They drew new truths from the old letter, or from the collocation of
scattered passages,--as, for instance, the truths of the immortality
of the soul and of the resurrection of the body. They laid the hidden
foundations of the Synagogues and Schools which afterwards covered the
land. Ezra and Nehemiah, who, by grace of the Persian conquerors, led
them back from Babylonia to Jerusalem, are still claimed as the
founders of the Great Synagogue, _i.e._ as the leaders of that great
race of jurists, sages, authors, whose utterances are still a law in
Israel, and of whom the lawyers and the scribes of the New Testament
were the modern successors. Before the Captivity there was not a term
for "school" in their language; there were at least a dozen in common
use within two or three centuries after the accession of Cyrus.
Education had become compulsory. Its immense value in the popular
estimation is marked in innumerable sayings such as these: "Jerusalem
was destroyed because the education of the young was neglected;" "Even
for the rebuilding of the Temple the schools must not be interrupted;"
"Study is more meritorious than sacrifice;" "A scholar is greater than
a prophet;" "You should revere the teacher even more than your father;
the latter only brought you into this world, the former shews you the
way into the next." To meet the national craving indicated in these
and similar proverbs, innumerable copies of the Sacred Books, of
commentaries, traditions, and the gnomic utterances of the Wise, were
written and circulated, of which, in the Canon, in some of the
Apocryphal Scriptures, in the works of Philo, and in the legal and
legendary sections of the Talmud, many specimens have come down to us.
In fine, whatever was the cause of this marvellous outburst, there can
be no doubt that the whole Rabbinical period was characterised by
devotion to learning, a mental and literary activity, much more
general and vital than it is easy for us to conceive.

In such an age the words of a professed and acknowledged Sage would
carry great weight. If, besides being "a wise man," he was a
recognised "teacher," a man whose wisdom was stamped by public and
official approval, whatever fell from his lips would command public
attention: for these teachers, or rabbis, were the real rulers of the
time, and not the pharisees or the priests, or even the politicians.
They might be, they often were, "tent-makers, sandal-makers, weavers,
carpenters, tanners, bakers, cooks"; for it is among their highest
claims to our respect that these learned rabbis reverenced labour,
however menial or toilsome, that they held mere scholarship and piety
of little worth unless conjoined with regular and healthy physical
exertion. But, however toilsome their lives or humble their
circumstances, these wise men were "masters of the law." It was their
special function to interpret the Law of Moses--which, remember, was
the law of the land--to explain its bearing on this case or that, if
not, as many modern critics maintain, to add to its precepts and
codes; and, as members of the local courts or the metropolitan
Sanhedrin, to administer the law they expounded. An immense power,
therefore, was in their hands. To obey the Law was to be at once loyal
and religious, happy here and hereafter. Hence the rabbis, whose
business it was to apply the law to all the details of life, and whose
decisions were authoritative and final, could not fail to command
universal deference and respect. They were lawyers, judges,
schoolmasters, heads of colleges, public orators and lecturers,
statesmen and preachers, all in one or all in turn, and therefore
concentrated in themselves the esteem which we distribute on many
offices and many men.

Such a rabbi was Coheleth. He was of "the Wise"; he was a "master of
the law." And, in addition to these claims, he was also a teacher and
an author who, besides "composing," had "collected and arranged many
proverbs." Than this latter he could hardly have any higher claim to
the regard, and even to the affection, of the Hebrew public. The
passionate fondness of Oriental races for proverbs, fables, stories of
any kind, is well known. And the Jews for whom Coheleth wrote took, as
was natural at such a time, an extraordinary delight, extraordinary
even for the East, in listening to and repeating the wise or witty
sayings, the parables and poems, of their national authors. Some of
these are still in our hands: as we read them, we cease to wonder at
the intense enjoyment with which they were welcomed by a generation
not cloyed, as we are, with books. They are not only charming as works
of art: they have also this charm, that they convey lofty ethical
instruction. Take a few of these pictorial proverbs, not included in
the Canonical Scriptures. "The house that does not open to the poor
will open to the physician." "Commit a sin twice, and you will begin
to think it quite allowable." "The reward of good works is like
dates--sweet, but ripening late." "Even when the gates of prayer are
shut in heaven, the gate of tears is open." "When the righteous dies,
it is the earth that loses; the lost jewel is still a jewel, but he
who has lost it--well may he weep." "Who is wise? He who is willing to
learn from all men. Who is strong? He who subdues his passions. Who is
rich? He that is satisfied with his lot." These are surely happy
expressions of profound moral truths. But the rabbis are capable of
putting a keener edge on their words; they can utter witty epigrams as
incisive as those of any of our modern satirists, and yet use their
wit in the service of good sense and morality. It would not be easy to
match, it would be very hard to beat, such sayings as these:--"The sun
will go down without _your_ help." "When the ox is _down_, many are
the butchers." "The soldiers fight, and kings are the heroes." "The
camel wanted horns, and they took away his ears." "The cock and the
owl both wait for morning: the light brings joy to me, says the cock,
but what are _you_ waiting for?" "When the pitcher falls on the stone,
woe to the pitcher; when the stone falls on the pitcher, woe to the
pitcher: whatever happens, woe to the pitcher." "Look not at the
flask, but at that which is in it: for there are new flasks full of
old wine, and old flasks which have not even new wine in them:" ah, of
how many of those "old flasks" have some of us had to drink, or seem
to drink! When the rabbis draw out their moral at greater length, when
they tell a story, their skill does not desert them. Here is one of
the briefest, which can hardly fail to remind us of more than one of
the parables uttered by the Great Teacher Himself. "There was once a
king who bade all his servants to a great repast, but did not name the
hour. Some went home, and put on their best garments, and came and
stood at the door of the palace. Others said, 'There is time enough,
the king will let us know beforehand.' But the king summoned them of a
sudden; and those that came in their best garments were well received,
but the foolish ones, who came in their slovenliness, were turned away
in disgrace. _Repent ye to-day, lest ye be summoned to-morrow._"

Is it any wonder that the Jews, even in the sorrows of their
Captivity, liked to hear such proverbs and parables as these? that
they had an immense and grateful admiration for the men who spent much
thought and care on the composition and arrangement of these wise,
beautiful sayings? Should not we ourselves be thankful to hear them
when the day's work was done, or even while it was doing? If, then,
such an one as Coheleth--a sage, a rabbi, a composer and collector of
proverbs and parables--came to them and said, "My children, I have
sought what you are all seeking; I have been in quest of that Chief
Good which you still pursue; and I will tell you the story of the
Quest in the parables and proverbs which you are so fond of
hearing:"--we can surely understand that they would be charmed to
listen, that they would hang upon his words, that they would be
predisposed to accept his conclusions. As they listened, and found
that he was telling them their own story no less than his, that he was
trying to lead them away from the vanities which they themselves felt
to be vanities, toward an abiding Good in which he had found rest; as
they heard him enforce the duties of charity, industry,
hilarity--duties which all their rabbis urged upon them, and invite
them to that wise use and wise enjoyment of the present life which
their own consciences approved: above all, as he unfolded before them
the bright hope of a future judgment in which all wrongs would be
redressed and all acts of duty receive a great recompense of
reward,--would they not hail him as the wisest of their teachers, as
the great rabbi who had achieved the supreme Quest? Assuredly few
books were, or are, more popular than the book Ecclesiastes. Its
presence and influence may be traced on every subsequent age and
department of Hebrew literature; it has entered into our English
literature hardly less deeply. Many of its verses are familiar to us
as household words, _are_ household words. Brief as the Book is, I am
disposed to think it is better known among us than any other of the
Old Testament Books except Genesis, the Psalter, and the prophecies of
Isaiah. Job is an incomparably finer, as it is a much longer poem; but
I doubt whether most of us could not quote at least two verses from
the shorter for every one that we could repeat from the longer
Scripture. We can very easily understand, therefore, that the Wise
Preacher, as he himself assures us (ver. 10), bestowed on this work
much care and thought; that he had made diligent search for "words of
comfort" by which he might solace and strengthen the hearts of his
oppressed brethren; and that, having found words of comfort and of
truth, he wrote them down with a frank sincerity and uprightness.

From this description of the motives which had impelled him to
publish the results of his thought and experience, and of the spirit
in which he had composed his work, Coheleth passes, in ver. 11, to a
description of the twofold function of the Teacher which is really a
marvellous little poem in itself, a pastoral cut on a gem. That
function is, on the one hand, _progressive_, and, on the other hand,
_conservative_. At times the Teacher's words are like "goads" with
which the herdsmen prick on their cattle to new pastures, correcting
them when they loiter or stray; at other times they are like the
"spikes" which the shepherds drive into the ground when they pitch
their tents on pastures where they intend to linger: "The words of
_the Wise_ are like goads," he says; and "the Wise" was a technical
term for the sages who interpreted and administered the law; while
"those of _the Masters of the Assemblies_ are like spikes driven
home," "Masters of Assemblies" being a technical name for the heads of
the colleges and schools which, during the Rabbinical period, were to
be found in every town, and almost in every hamlet, of Judea. The same
man might, and commonly did, wear both titles; and, probably, Coheleth
was himself both a Wise Man and a Master. So much as this, indeed,
seems implied in the very name by which he introduces himself in the
Prologue. For Coheleth means, as we have seen, "one who calls an
assembly together and addresses them," _i.e._ precisely such a wise
man as was reckoned the "master of an assembly" among the Jews.

What did these Masters teach? Everything almost--at least everything
then known. It is true that their main function was to interpret and
enforce the law of Moses; but this function demanded all science for
its adequate fulfilment. Take a simple illustration. The Law said,
"Thou shalt not kill." Here, if ever, is a plain and simple statute,
with no ambiguities, no qualifications, capable neither of
misconstruction nor evasion. Anybody may remember it, and know what it
means. _May_ they? I am not so sure of that. The Law says I am not to
kill. What, not in self-defence! not to save honour from outrage! not
in a patriotic war! not to save my homestead from the freebooter or my
house from the midnight thief! not when my kinsman is slain before my
eyes and in my defence! Many similar cases might be mooted, and were
mooted, by the Jews. The Master had to consider such cases as these,
to study the recorded and traditional verdicts of previous judges, the
glosses and comments of other Masters; he had to lay down rules and to
apply rules to particular and exceptional cases, just as our English
Judges have to define the Common Law or to interpret a Parliamentary
Statute. The growing wants of the Commonwealth, the increasing
complexity of the relations of life as the people of Israel came into
contact with foreign races, or were carried into captivity in strange
lands, necessitated new laws, new rules of conduct. And as there was
no recognised authority to issue a decree, no Parliament to pass an
Act, the wise Masters, learned in the law of God, were compelled to
lay down these rules, to extend and qualify the ancient statutes till
they covered modern cases and wants. Thus in this very Book, Coheleth
gives the rules which should govern a wise and pious Jew in the new
relations of Traffic (ch. iv., vv. 4-16), and in the service of
foreign despots (ch. x., vv. 1-20). For such contingencies as these
the Law made no provision; and hence the rabbis, who sat in Moses'
chair, made provision for them by legislating in the spirit of the

Even in the application of known and definite laws there was need for
care, and science, and thought. "The Mosaic code," says Deutsch, "has
injunctions about the Sabbatical journey; the distance had to be
measured and calculated, and mathematics were called into play. Seeds,
plants, and animals had to be studied in connection with many precepts
regarding them, and natural history had to be appealed to. Then there
were the purely hygienic paragraphs, which necessitated for their
precision a knowledge of all the medical science of the time. The
seasons and the feast-days were regulated by the phases of the moon;
and astronomy, if only in its elements, had to be studied." As the
Hebrews came successively into contact with Babylonians, Persians,
Greeks, Romans, the political and religious systems of these foreign
races could not fail to leave some impressions on their minds, and
that these impressions might not be erroneous and misleading, it
became the Master to acquaint himself with the results of foreign
thought. Nay, "not only was science, in its widest sense, required of
him, but even an acquaintance with its fantastic shadows, such as
astrology, magic, and the rest, in order that, both as lawgiver and
judge, he might be able to enter into the popular feeling about these
'arts,'" and wisely control it.

The proofs that this varied knowledge was acquired and patiently
applied to the study of the Law by these "masters in Israel" are still
with us in many learned sayings and essays of that period; and in all
these the _conservative_ element or temper is sufficiently prominent.
Their leading aim was, obviously, to honour the law of Moses; to
preserve its spirit even in the new rules or codes which the changed
circumstances of the time imperatively required; to fix their stakes
and pitch their tents in the old fields of thought. So obvious is this
aim, even in the familiar pages of the New Testament, that I need not
illustrate it.

But, on the other hand, the signs of _progress_ are no less decisive,
though we may be less familiar with them. Through all this mass of
learned and deferential comment on the Mosaic Code, there perpetually
crop up sayings which savour of the Gospel rather than of the
Law--sayings that denote a great advance in thought. "_Study is better
than sacrifice_," for example, must have been a very surprising
proverb to the backward-looking Jew. It is only one of many Rabbinical
sayings conceived in the same spirit: but would not the whole
Levitical family listen to it with the wry, clouded face of grave
suspicion? So, when Rabbi Hillel, anticipating the golden rule, said,
"_Do not unto another what thou wouldest not have another do unto
thee; this is the whole law, the rest is mere commentary_," the
lawyers, with all who had trusted in ordinances and observances, could
hardly fail to be shocked and alarmed. So, too, when Rabbi Antigonous
said, "_Be not as men who serve their master for the sake of reward,
but be like men who serve not looking for reward_;" or when Rabbi
Gamaliel said, "_Do God's will as if it were thy will, that He may
accomplish thy will as if it were his_," there would be many, no
doubt, who would feel that these venerable rabbis were bringing in
very novel, and possibly very dangerous, doctrine. Nor could they fail
to see what new fields of thought were being thrown open to them when
Coheleth affirmed the future judgment and the future life of men. Such
"words" as these were in very deed "goads," correcting the errors of
previous thought, and urging men on to new pastures of truth and

Sometimes, as I have said, the progressive Sage and the conservative
Master would be united in the same person; for there are those, though
there are not too many of them, who can "stand on the old ways" and
yet "look for the new." But, often, no doubt, the two would be divided
and opposed, then as now. For in thought, as in politics, there are
always two great parties; the one, looking back with affectionate
reverence and regret on the past, and set to "keep invention in a
_noted_ weed;" the other, looking forward with eager hope and desire
to the future, and attached to "new-found methods and to compounds
strange;" the one, bent on conserving as much as possible of the large
heritage which our fathers have bequeathed us; the other, bent on
leaving a larger and less encumbered inheritance to those that shall
be after them. The danger of the conservative thinker is that he may
hold _the debts_ on the estate as part of the estate, that he may set
himself against all liquidations, all better methods of management,
against improvement in every form. The danger of the progressive
thinker is that, in his generous ambition to improve and enlarge the
estate, he may break violently from the past, and cast away many
heirlooms and hoarded treasures that would add largely to our wealth.
The one is too apt to pitch his tents in familiar fields long after
they are barren; the other is too apt to drive men on from old
pastures to new before the old are exhausted or the new ripe. And,
surely, there never was a larger or a more tolerant heart than that of
the Preacher who has taught us that both these classes of men and
teachers, both the conservative thinker and the progressive thinker,
are of God and have each a useful function to discharge; that both the
shepherd who loves his tent and the herdsman who wields the goad, both
the sage who urges us forward and the sage who holds us back, are
servants of the one Great Pastor, and owe whether goad or tent-spike
to Him. Simply to entertain the conception widens and raises our
minds; to have conceived it and thrown it into this perfect form
proves the Sacred Preacher to have been all he claims and more--not
only Sage, Teacher, Master, Author, but also a true Poet and a true
man of God.

It is to be observed, however, that our accomplished Sage limits the
field of mental activity on either hand (ver. 12). His children, his
disciples--"my son" was the rabbi's customary term for his pupils, as
"rabbi," _i.e._ "my father," was the title by which the pupil
addressed his master--are to beware both of the "many books" of the
making of which there was even then "no end," and of that
over-addiction to study which was a "weariness to the flesh." The
latter caution, the warning against "_much_ study," was a logical
result of that sense of the sanitary value of physical labour by
which, as we have seen, the masters in Israel were profoundly
impressed. They held bodily exercise to be good for the soul as well
as for the body, a safeguard against the dreamy abstract moods and the
vague fruitless reveries which relax rather than brace the
intellectual fibre, and which tend to a moral languor all the more
perilous because its approaches are masked under the semblance of
mental occupation. They knew that those who attempt or affect to be
"creatures too bright and good for human nature's daily food" are apt
to sink below the common level rather than to rise above it. They did
not want their disciples to resemble many of the young men who lounged
through the philosophical schools of Greece and Rome, and who, though
always ready to discuss the "first true, first perfect, first fair,"
did nothing to raise the tone of common life whether by their example
or their words; young men, as Epictetus bitterly remarked of some of
his disciples, whose philosophy lay in their cloaks and their beards
rather than in any wise conduct of their daily lives or any endeavour
to better the world. It was their aim to develop the whole man--body,
soul, and spirit; to train up useful citizens as well as accomplished
scholars, to spread the love and pursuit of wisdom through the whole
nation rather than to produce a separate and learned class. And, in
the prosecution of this aim, they enjoined neither the exercises of
the ancient palæstra, nor athletic sports like those in vogue at our
English seats of learning, which are often a mere waste of good
muscle, but useful and productive toils. With Ruskin, they believed,
not in "the gospel of the cricket-bat" or of the gymnasium, but in the
gospel of the plough and the spade, the saw and the axe, the hammer
and the trowel; and saved their disciples from the weariness of
overtaxed brains by requiring them to become skilled artisans, and to
labour heartily in their vocations.

Nor is the caution against "many books," at which some critics have
taken grave offence, the illiberal sentiment it has often been
pronounced. For, no doubt, Coheleth, like other wise Hebrews, was
fully prepared to study whatever science would throw light on the
Divine Law, or teach men how to live. Mathematics, astronomy, natural
history, medicine, casuistry, the ethical and religious systems of the
East and the West,--some knowledge of all these various branches of
learning was necessary, as has been shown, to those who had to
interpret and administer the statutes of the Mosaic code, and to
supplement them with rules appropriate to the new conditions of the
time. In these and kindred studies the rabbis were "masters"; and
what they knew they taught. That which distinguished them from other
men of equal learning was that they did not "love knowledge for its
own sake" merely, but for its bearing on practice, on conduct. Like
Socrates, they were not content with a purely intellectual culture,
but sought a wisdom that would mingle with the blood of men and mend
their ways, a wisdom that would hold their baser passions in check,
infuse new energy into the higher moods and aptitudes of the soul, and
make duty their supreme aim and delight. To secure this great end,
they knew no method so likely to prove effectual as an earnest, or
even an exclusive, study of the Sacred Scriptures in which they
thought they had "eternal life," _i.e._ the true life of man, the life
which is independent of the chances and changes of time. Whatever
studies would illuminate and illustrate these Scriptures they pursued
and encouraged; whatever might divert attention from them, they
discouraged and condemned. Many of them, as we learn from the Talmud,
refused to write down the discourses they delivered in School or
Synagogue lest, by making books of their own, they should withdraw
attention from the Inspired Writings. It was better they thought to
read the Scriptures than any commentary on the Scriptures, and hence
they confined themselves to oral instruction: even their profoundest
and most characteristic sayings would have perished if "fond
tradition" had not "babbled" of them for many an age to come.

If the sentiment which dictated this course was in part a mistaken
sentiment, it sprang from a noble motive. For no ordinance could be
more self-denying to a learned and literary class than one which
forbade them to put on record the results of their researches, the
conclusions of their wisdom, and thus to win name and fame and use in
after generations. But was their course, after all, one which calls
for censure? Has the world ever produced a literature so noble, so
pure, so lofty and heroic in its animating spirit, as that of the
Hebrew historians and poets? "The world is forwarded by having its
attention fixed on the best things," says Matthew Arnold in his
Preface to his selection of Wordsworth's poems, and proceeds to define
the best things as those works of the great masters of song which have
won the approval "of the whole group of civilised nations." But even
those whom the civilised world has acclaimed as its highest and best
have confessed that in the Bible, viewed simply as literature, their
noblest work is far excelled: and what sane man will deny that
"Faust," for example, would cut a sorry figure if compared with "Job,"
which our own greatest living poet has pronounced "the finest poem
whether of ancient or of modern times," or Wordsworth himself if
placed side by side with Isaiah? Who can doubt, then, that the world
would have been "forwarded" if its attention had been fixed on this
"best"? Who can doubt that it would be infinitely sweeter and better
than it is if these ancient Scriptures had been studied before and
above all other writings, if they had been brooded over and wrought
into the minds of men till "the life" in them had been assimilated and
reproduced? The man who has had a classical or scientific education,
and profited by it, must be an ingrate indeed, unless he be the slave
of some dominant crotchet, if he do not hold in grateful reverence the
great masters at whose feet he has sat; but the man who has really
found "life" in the Scriptures must be worse than an ingrate if he
does not feel that a merely mental culture is a small good when
compared with the treasures of an eternal life, if he does not admit
that the main object of all education should be to conduct men through
a course of intellectual training which shall culminate in a moral and
spiritual discipline. To be wise is much; but how much more is it to
be good! Better be a child _in_ the kingdom of heaven than a
philosopher or a poet hanging vaguely about its outskirts.

If any of us still suspect the Preacher's words of illiberality, and
say, "There was no need to oppose the one Book to the many, and to
depreciate these in order to magnify that," we have only to consider
the historical circumstances in which he wrote in order to acquit him
of the charge. For generations the Holy Scriptures had been neglected
by the Jews; copies had grown scarce, and were hidden away in obscure
nooks in which they were hard to find; some of the inspired writings
had been lost, and have not been recovered to this day. The people
were ignorant of their own history, and law, and hope. Suddenly they
were awaked from the slumber of indifference, to find themselves in a
night of ignorance. During the miseries of the Captivity a longing for
the Divine Word was quickened within them. They were eager to acquaint
themselves with the Revelation which they had neglected and forgotten.
And their teachers, the few men who knew and loved the Word, set
themselves to deepen and to satisfy the craving. They multiplied
copies of the Scriptures, circulated them, explained them in the
Schools, exhorted from them in the Synagogues. And, till the people
were familiar with the Scriptures, the wiser rabbis would not write
books of their own, and looked with a jealous eye on the "many books"
bred by the literary activity of the time. It was the very feeling
which preceded and accompanied the English Reformation. _Then_ the
newly-discovered Bible threw all other books into the shade. The
people thirsted for the pure Word of God; and the leaders of the
Reformation were very well content that they should read nothing else
till they had read _that_; that they should leave all other fountains
to drink of "the river of life." The translation and circulation of
the Scriptures was the one work, almost the exclusive work, to which
they bent their energies. Like the Jewish rabbis, Tyndale and his
fellow-labourers did not care to write books themselves, nor wish the
people to read the books they were compelled to write in self-defence.
There is a remarkable passage in Fryth's _Scripture Doctrine of the
Sacrament_, in which, replying to Sir Thomas More, the Reformer says:
"This hath been offered you, is offered, and shall be offered. Grant
that the Word of God, I mean the text of Scripture, may go abroad in
our English tongue ... and my brother Tyndale and I have done, and
will promise you to write no more. If you will not grant this
condition, then will we be doing while we have breath, and show in few
words that the Scripture doth in many, and so at the least save some."
The Hebrew Reformers of the school of Coheleth were animated by
precisely the same lofty and generous spirit. They were content to be
nothing, that the Word of God might be all in all. "The Bible, and the
Bible only," they conceived to be the want of their age and race; and
hence they were content to forego the honours of authorship, and the
study of many branches of learning which under other conditions they
would have been glad to pursue, and besought their disciples to
concentrate all their thoughts on the one Book which was able to make
them wise unto salvation. Learned themselves, and often profoundly
learned, it was no contempt for learning which actuated them, but a
devout godliness and the fervours of a most self-denying piety.

So far the Epilogue may seem a mere digression, not without interest
and value indeed, but having no vital connection with the main theme
of the Poem. It tells us that the Preacher was a sage, a recognised
official teacher, the master of an assembly, a doctor of laws, an
author who had expended much labour on many proverbs, a conservative
shepherd pitching his tent on familiar fields of thought, a
progressive herdsman goading men on to new pastures--_not_ Solomon
therefore, by the way, for who would have described _him_ in such
terms as these? If we are glad to know so much of him, we cannot but
ask, What has all this to do with the quest of the Chief Good? It has
this to do with it. Coheleth has achieved the quest; he has solved his
problem, and has given us his solution of it. He is about to repeat
that solution. To give emphasis and force to the repetition, that he
may carry his readers more fully with him, he dwells on his claims to
their respect, their confidence, their affection. He is all that they
most admire; he carries the very authority to which they most
willingly defer. If they know this--and, scattered as they were
through many cities and provinces, how should they know it unless he
told them?--they cannot refuse him a hearing; they will be predisposed
to accept his conclusion; they will be sure not to reject it without
consideration. It is out of any personal conceit, therefore, nor any
pride of learning, nor even that he may grant himself the relief of
lifting his mask from his face for a moment, that he recounts his
titles to their regard. He is simply gathering force from the willing
respect and deference of his readers in order that he may plant his
final conclusion more strongly and more deeply in their hearts.

And what is the conclusion which he is at such pains to enforce? "_The
conclusion of the matter is this; that God taketh cognizance of all
things: fear Him, therefore, and keep his commandments, for this it
behoveth every man to do; since God will bring every deed to the
judgment appointed for every secret thing, whether it be good or
whether it be bad_" (vv. 13, 14).

Now that this "conclusion" is simply a repetition, in part expanded
and in part condensed, of that with which the Preacher closes the
previous Section, is obvious. _There_ he incites men to a life of
virtue with two leading motives: first, by the fact of the present
constant judgment of God; and, secondly, by the prospect of a future,
a more searching and decisive, judgment. _Here_ he appeals to
precisely the same motives, though now, instead of implying a present
judgment under the injunction "Remember thy Creator," he broadly
affirms that "God takes note of all things;" and, instead of simply
reminding the young that God will bring "the ways of their heart" into
judgment, he defines that future judgment at once more largely and
more exactly as "appointed for every secret thing" and extending to
"every deed," both good and bad. In dealing with the motives of a
virtuous life, therefore, he goes a little beyond his former lines of
thought, gives them a wider scope, makes them more sharp and definite.
On the other hand, in speaking of the forms which the virtuous or
ideal life assumes, he is very curt and brief. All he has to say on
that point now is, "Fear God and keep his commandments;" whereas, in
his previous treatment of it, he had much to say, bidding us for
instance, "cast our bread upon the waters," and "give a portion to
seven, and even to eight;" bidding us "sow our seed morning and
evening," though "the clouds" should be "full of rain," and whatever
"the course of the wind;" bidding us "rejoice" in all our labours, and
carry to all our self-denials the merry heart that physics pain. As we
studied the meaning of the beautiful metaphors of chapter xi., sought
to gather up their several meanings into an orderly connection, and to
express them in a more literal logical form--to translate them, in
short, from the Eastern to the Western mode--we found that the main
virtues enjoined by the Preacher were charity, industry, cheerfulness;
the charity which does good hoping for nothing again, the industry
which bends itself to the present duty in scorn of omen or
consequence; and the cheerfulness which springs from a consciousness
of the Divine presence, from the conviction that, however men may
misjudge us, God knows us altogether and will do us justice. This was
our summary of the Preacher's argument, of his solution of the supreme
moral problem of human life. Here, in the Epilogue, he gives us his
own summary in the words, "Fear God, and keep his commandments."

If we compare these two summaries, there seems at first rather
difference than resemblance between them: the one appears, if more
indefinite, much more comprehensive, than the other. Yet there is one
point of resemblance which soon strikes us. For we know by this time
that on the Preacher's lips "Fear God" does not mean "Be afraid of
God;" that it indicates and demands just that reverent sense of the
Divine Presence, that strong inward conviction of the constant
judgment He passes on all our ways and motives and thoughts, which
Coheleth has already affirmed to be a prime safeguard of virtue. It is
the phrase "and keep his commandments" that sounds so much larger
than anything we have heard from him before, so much more
comprehensive. For the commandments of God are many and very broad. He
reveals his will in the natural universe and the laws which govern it;
laws which, as we are part of the universe, we need to know and to
obey. He reveals his will in the social and political forces which
govern the history and development of the various races of mankind,
which therefore meet and affect us at every turn. He reveals his will
in the ethical intuitions and codes which govern the formation of
character, which enter into and give shape to all in us that is most
spiritual, profound, and enduring. To keep all the commandments
revealed in these immense fields of Divine activity with an
intelligent and invariable obedience is simply impossible to us; it is
the perfection which flows round our imperfection, and towards which
it is our one great task to be ever reaching forth. Is it as inciting
us to this impossible perfection that the Preacher bids us "fear God
and keep his commandments"?

Yes and No. It is not as having this large perfect ideal distinctly
before his mind that he utters the injunction, although in the course
of this Book he has glanced at every element of it; nor even as having
so much of it in his mind as is expressed in the law that came by
Moses, although that too includes precepts for the physical and the
political as well as for the moral and religious provinces of human
life. What he meant by bidding us "keep the commandments" was, I
apprehend, that we should take the counsels he has already given us,
and follow after charity, industry, cheerfulness. Every other phrase
in this final "conclusion" is, as we have seen, a repetition of the
truths announced at the close of the previous Section, and therefore
we may fairly assume this phrase to contain a truth--the truth of
Duty--which he there illustrates. Throughout the whole Book there is
not a single technical allusion, no allusion to the Temple, to the
feasts, to the sacrifices, rites, ceremonies of the Law; and therefore
we can hardly take this reference to the "commandments" as an allusion
to the Mosaic table. By the rules of fair interpretation we are bound
to take these commandments as previously defined by the Preacher
himself, to understand him as once more enforcing the virtues which,
for him, comprised the whole duty of man.

Do we thus limit and degrade the moral ideal, or represent him as
degrading and limiting it? By no means: for to love our neighbour, to
discharge the present duty whatever rain may fall and whatever storm
may blow, to carry a bright hopeful spirit through all our toils and
charities; to do this in the fear of God, as in his Presence, because
He is judging and will judge us--this, surely, includes all that is
essential even in the loftiest ideal of moral duty and perfection. For
how are we to be cheerful and dutiful and kind except as we obey the
commandments of God in whatever form they may have been revealed? The
diseases which result from a violation of sanitary laws, as also the
ignorance or the wilfulness or the impotence which lead us to violate
social or ethical laws, of necessity and by natural consequence impair
our cheerfulness, our strength for laborious duties, our neighbourly
serviceableness and good-will. To live the life which the Preacher
enjoins, on the inspiration of the motives which he supplies, is
therefore, in the largest and broadest sense, to keep the commandments
of God.

What advantage, then, is there in saying, "Be kind, be dutiful, be
cheerful," over saying, "Obey the laws of God"? There is this great
practical advantage that, while in the last resort the one rule of
life is as comprehensive as the other, and just as difficult, it is
more definite, more portable, and does not sound so difficult. It is
the very advantage which our Lord's memorable summary, "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as
thyself," has over the Law and the Prophets. Bid a man keep the whole
Mosaic code as interpreted by the prophets of a thousand years, and
you set him a task so heavy, so hopeless, that he may well decline it;
only to understand the bearing and harmony of the Mosaic statutes,
and to gather the sense in which the prophets--to say nothing of the
rabbis--interpreted them, is the labour of a lifetime, a labour for
which even the whole life of a trained scholar is insufficient. But
bid him "love God and man," and you give him a principle which his own
conscience at once accepts and confirms, a golden rule or principle
which if he be of a good heart and a willing mind, he will be able to
apply to the details and problems of life as they arise. In like
manner if you say: "The true ideal of life is to be reached only by
the man who comprehends and obeys all the laws of God revealed in the
physical universe, in the history of humanity, in the moral intuitions
and discoveries of the race," you set men a task so stupendous as that
no man ever has or will be able to accomplish it. Say, on the other
hand, "Do the duty of every hour as it passes, without fretting about
future issues; help your neighbour to do his duty or to bear his
burden, even though he may never have helped you; be blithe and
cheerful even when your work is hard and your neighbour is ungrateful
or unkind," and you speak straight to a man's heart, to his sense of
what is right and good; you summon every noble and generous instinct
of his nature to his aid. He can begin to practise this rule of life
without preliminary and exhausting study of its meaning; and if he
finds it _work_, as assuredly he will, he will be encouraged to make
it _his_ rule. He will soon discover, indeed, that it means more than
he thought, that it is not so easy to apply to the complexities of
human affairs, that it is very much harder to keep than he supposed:
but its depth and difficulty will open on him gradually, as he is able
to bear them. If his heart now and then faint, if hand and foot
falter, still God is with him, with him to help and reward as well as
to judge; and _that_ conviction once in his mind is there for ever, a
constant spur to thought, to obedience, to patience.

In nothing, indeed, does the wisdom of the Hebrew sages show its
superiority over that of the other sages of antiquity more decisively
than in its adaptation to the practical needs of men busied in the
common affairs of life, and with no learning and no leisure for the
study of large intricate problems. It comes straight down into the
beaten ways of men. If you read Confucius, for example, and still more
if you read Plato, you cannot fail to be struck with their immense
grasp of thought, or their profound learning, or even their moral
enthusiasm; as you read, you will often meet with wise rules of life
expressed in beautiful forms. And yet your main feeling will be that
they give you, and men like you, if at least you be of the common
build, as most of us are, little help; that unless you had their rare
endowments, or could give yourself largely and long to the study of
their works, you could hardly hope to learn what they have to teach,
or order your life by their plan. And that this feeling is just is
proved by the histories of China and Greece, different as they are. In
China only students, only literati, are so much as supposed to
understand the Confucian system of thought and ethics; the great bulk
of the people have to be content with a few rules and forms and rites
which are imposed on them by authority. In ancient Greece, the wisdom
to which her great masters attained was only taught in the Schools to
men addicted to philosophical studies; even the natural and moral
truths on which the popular mythology was based were hidden in
"mysteries" open only to the initiated few; while the great mass of
the people were amused with fables which they misapprehended, and with
rites which they soon degraded into licentious orgies. No man cared
for _their_ souls; their errors were not corrected, their license was
not rebuked. Their wise men made no effort to lift them to a height
from which they might see that the whole of morality lay in the love
of God and man, in charity, diligent devotion to duty, cheerfulness.
But it was far otherwise with the Hebrews and their sages. Men such as
the Preacher confined themselves to no school or class, but carried
their wisdom to the synagogue, to the market-place, to the popular
assemblies. They invented no "mysteries," but brought down the
mysteries of Heaven to the understanding of the simple. Instead of
engaging in lofty abstract speculations in which only the learned
could follow them, they compressed the loftiest wisdom into plain
moral rules which the unlettered could apprehend, and urged them to
obedience by motives and promises which went home to the popular
heart. And they had their reward. The truths they taught became
familiar to all sorts and conditions of Hebrew men; they became a
factor, and the most influential factor, in the national life.
Fishermen, carpenters, tent-makers, sandal-makers, shepherds,
husbandmen, grew studious of the Divine Will and learned the secrets
of righteousness and peace. During the wonderful revival of literary
and religious activity which followed the exile in Babylon--a revival
mainly owing to these Sages--every child was compelled to attend a
common school in which the sacred Scriptures were taught by the ablest
and most learned rabbis; in which, as we learn from the Talmud, the
duty of leading a religious life in all outward conditions, even to
the poorest, was impressed upon them, and the virtues of charity,
industry, and cheerfulness were enforced as the very soul of religion.
Here, for example, is a legend from the Talmud, and it is only one of
many, which illustrates and confirms all that has just been said.--"A
sage, while walking in a crowded market-place suddenly encountered
the prophet Elijah, and asked him who, out of that vast multitude,
would be saved. Whereupon the Prophet first pointed out a
weird-looking creature, a turnkey, 'because he was merciful to his
prisoners,' and next two common-looking tradesmen who were walking
through the crowd, pleasantly chatting together. The sage instantly
rushed after them, and asked them what were their saving works. But
they, much puzzled, replied: 'We are but poor working-men who live by
our trade. All that can be said for us is that we are always cheerful
and good-natured. When we meet anybody who seems sad, we join him, and
we talk to him and cheer him up, that he may forget his grief. And if
we know of two people who have quarrelled, we talk to them, and
persuade them till we have made them friends again. This is our whole
life.'" It is impossible that such a legend should have sprung up on
any but Hebrew soil. Had Confucius been asked to point out the man
whom Heaven most approved, he would probably have replied, "The
superior man is catholic, not sectarian; he is observant of the rules
of propriety and decorum; and he does not do to others what he would
not have done to himself:"[58] and he would certainly have looked for
him in some state official distinguished by his wise administration.
Had any of the Greek sages been asked the same question, they would
have found their perfect man in the philosopher who, raised above the
common passions and aims of men, gave himself to the pursuit of an
abstract and speculative wisdom. Only a Hebrew would have looked for
him in that low estate in which the one truly Perfect Man dwelt among
us. And yet how that Hebrew legend charms and touches and satisfies
us! What a hope for humanity there is in the thought that the poor
weird-looking jailer who was merciful to his prisoners, and the
kindly, industrious, cheerful working-men, living by their craft, and
incapable of regarding their diligence and good-nature as "saving
works," stood higher than priest or rabbi, ruler or philosopher! How
welcome and ennobling is the conviction that there are last who yet
are first--last with men, first with God; that turnkeys and artisans,
publicans and sinners even, may draw nearer to Heaven than sophist or
flamen, sage or prince! Who so poor but that he has a little "bread"
to cast on the thankless unreturning waters? who so faint of heart
but that he may sow a little "seed" even when the winds rave and the
sky is full of clouds? who so solitary and forlorn but that he may say
a word of comfort to a weeping neighbour, or seek to make "two people
who have quarrelled friends again"? And this is all that the Preacher,
all that God through the Preacher, asks of us.

  [58] This partial anticipation of the Golden Rule will be found in the
  Confucian _Analects_, book xv., chap. xxiii. "Tsze-kung asked, saying,
  'Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's
  life?' The Master said, 'Is not _reciprocity_ such a word? What you do
  not want done to yourself, do not do to others.'" The same rule is
  given in another form in book v., chap. i of the _Analects_. The other
  phrases put into the sage's mouth are quoted from Dr. Legge's
  translation of this work.

_All_--yet even this is much; even for this we shall need the pressure
of constant and weighty motives: for it is not only occasional acts
which are required of us, but settled tempers and habits of goodwill,
industry, and cheerfulness; and to love all men, to rejoice alway, to
do our duty in all weathers and all moods, is very hard work to our
feeble, selfish, and easily-dejected natures. Does the Preacher supply
us with such motives as we need? He offers us two motives; one in the
present judgment, another in the future judgment of God. "God is with
you," he says, "taking cognizance of all you do; and you will soon be
with God, to give Him an account of every secret and every deed." But
that is an appeal to fear--is it not? It is, rather, an appeal to love
and hope. He has no thought of frightening us into obedience--for the
obedience of fear is not worth having, is _not_ obedience in the true
sense; but he _is_ trying to win and allure us to obedience. For
whatever terrors God's judgment or the future world may have for us,
it is very certain that these terrors were in large measure unknown to
the Jews. The Talmud knows nothing of "hell," nothing of an
everlasting torture. Even the "Sheol" of the Old Testament is simply
the "under-world" in which the Jews believed the spirits of both good
men and bad to be gathered after death. And, to the Jews for whom
Coheleth wrote, the judgment of God, whether here or hereafter, would
have singular and powerful attractions. They were in captivity to
merciless and capricious despots who took no pains to understand their
character or to deal with them according to their works, who had no
sense of justice, no kindness, no ruth for slaves. For men thus
oppressed and hopeless there would be an infinite comfort in the
thought that God, the Great Ruler and Disposer, knew them altogether,
saw all their struggles to maintain his worship and to acquaint
themselves with his will, took note of every wrong they suffered, "was
afflicted in all their afflictions," and would one day call both them
and their oppressors to the bar at which all wrongs are at once
righted and avenged. Would it affright _them_ to hear that "God taketh
cognizance of all things," and has "appointed a judgment for every
secret and every deed"? Would not this be, rather, their strongest
consolation, their brightest hope? Would they not do their duty with
better heart if they knew that God saw how hard it was to do? Would
they not show a more constant kindness to their neighbours, if they
knew that God would openly reward every alms done in secret? Would
they not carry a blither and more patient spirit to all their labours
and afflictions if they knew that a day of recompenses was at hand?
The Preacher thought they would; and hence he bids them "rejoice,"
bids them "banish care and sadness," _because_ God will bring them
into judgment, and incites them to "keep the commandments" _because_
God's eye is upon them, and because, in the judgment, He will not
forget the work of their obedience, the labour of their love.

This, to some of us, may be a novel view whether of the present or of
the future judgment of God. For the most part, I fear, we speak of the
Divine judgments as terrible and well-nigh unendurable. We would
escape them even here, if we could; but, above all, we dread them when
we shall stand before the bar at which the secrets of all hearts will
be disclosed. Now we need not, and we must not, lose ought of the awe
and reverence for Him who is our God and Father which, so far from
impairing, deepens our love. But we need to remember that fear is
base, that it is the enemy of love; that so long as we anticipate the
Divine judgments only or mainly with dread, we are far from the love
which gives value and charm to obedience; and that, if we are to be
good and at peace, we must "shut out fear with all the strength of
hope." What is it that we fear? Suffering! But why should we fear
that, if it will make us perfect? Death! But why should we fear that,
if it will take us home to our Father? God's anger! But God is not
angry with us if we love Him and try to do his will; He loves us even
when we sin against Him, and shows his love in making the way of sin
so hard to us that we are constrained to leave it. Ought we, then, to
dread, ought we not rather to desire, the judgments by which we are
corrected, purified, saved?

"But the future judgment--that is so dreadful!" _Is_ it? God knows us
as we are already: is it so very much worse that we should know
ourselves, and that our neighbours should know us? If among our
"secrets" there be many things evil, are there not at least some that
are good? Do we not find ourselves perpetually thwarted or hindered in
our endeavours to give form and scope to our purest emotions, our
tenderest sympathies, our loftiest resolves? Do we not perpetually
complain that, when we would do good, even if evil is not present to
overcome the good, it is present to mar it, to make our goodness poor,
scanty, ungraceful? Well, these obstructed purposes and intentions and
resolves, all the good in us that has been frustrated or deformed, or
limited, by our social conditions, by our lack of power, culture,
expression, by the clogging flesh or the flagging brain,--all these
are among "the secret things" which God will bring to light; and we
may be sure that He will not think less of these, his own work in us,
than of the manifold sins by which we have marred his work. We are in
some danger of regarding "the judgment" as a revelation of our
trespasses only, instead of every deed, and every secret, whether good
or bad. Once conceive of it aright, as the revelation of the whole
man, as the unveiling of _all_ that is in us, and mere honesty might
lead us to desire rather than to dread it. One of the finest and most
devout spirits of modern France[59] has said: "It seems to me
intolerable to appear to men other than we appear to God. My worst
torture at this moment is the over-estimate which generous friends
form of me. We are told that at the last judgment the secret of all
consciences will be laid bare to the universe: _would that mine were
so this day, and that every passer-by could read me as I am!_" To seem
what we are, to be known for what we are, to be treated as we are,
this is the judgment of God. And, though this judgment must bring even
the best of us much shame and much sorrow, who that sincerely loves
God and truth will not rejoice to have done at last with all masks and
veils, to wear his natural colours, and to take his true place, even
though it be the lowest?

  [59] Maurice de Guérin in his _Journal_.

  "In the corrupted currents of this world
  Offence's gilded hand may shove by justice,
  And oft 'tis seen the wicked prize itself
  Buys out the law: but 'tis not so above;
  _There_ is no shuffling, there the action lies
  In its true nature, and we ourselves compell'd
  Even to the teeth and forehead of our faults
  To give in evidence."

To have got out of "the corrupted currents" of which audacious and
strong injustice so often avails itself to our hurt; to be quit of all
the shuffling equivocations by which we often pervert the true
character of our actions, and persuade ourselves that we are other and
better than we are; to be compelled to look our faults straight and
fairly in the face; to have all the latent goodness of our natures
developed, and their fettered and obstructed virtue liberated from
every bond; to see our every "secret" good as well as bad, and our
every "deed" good as well as bad, exposed in their true colours: is
there no hope, no comfort for us, in such a prospect as this? It is a
prospect full of comfort, full of hope, if at least we have any real
trust in the grace and goodness of God; and if, through his grace, we
have set ourselves to do our duty, to love our neighbour, and to bear
the changes and burdens of life with a patient cheerful heart.

Now that we have once more heard the Preacher's final conclusion, we
shall have no difficulty in fitting into its place, or valuing at its
worth, the partial and provisional conclusion to which he rises at the
close of the previous Sections of the Book. In the First Section he
describes his quest of the Chief Good in Wisdom and in Mirth; he
declares that, though both wisdom and mirth are good, neither of them
is the supreme good of life, nor both combined; and, in despair of
reaching any higher mark, he closes with the admission (ch. ii., vv.
24-26) that even for the man who is both wise and good "there is
nothing better than to eat and to drink, and to let his soul take
pleasure in all his labour." In the Second Section he pursues his
quest in Devotion to Business and to Public Affairs, only to find his
former conclusion confirmed (ch. v., vv. 18-20): "Behold, that which I
have said holds good; it _is_ well for a man to eat and to drink, and
to enjoy all the good of his labour through the brief day of his life;
this is his portion; and he should take his portion and rejoice in his
labour, remembering that the days of his life are not many, and that
God meant him to work for the enjoyment of his heart." In the Third
Section, his quest in Wealth and in the Golden Mean conducts him by
another road to the same bright resting-place which, however, for all
so bright as it looks, he seems to enter every time with a more rueful
and dejected gait (ch. viii., ver. 15): more and more sadly he
"commends mirth, because there is nothing better for man than to eat
and to drink and to rejoice, and because _this_ will go with him to
his work through the days of his life which God giveth him under the
sun." To my mind there is a strange pathos in the mournful tones in
which the Preacher commends mirth, in the plaintive minors of a voice
from which we should naturally expect the clear ringing majors of joy.
As we listen to these recurring notes, we feel that he has been
baffled in his Quest; that, starting every day in a fresh direction
and travelling till he is weary and spent, he finds himself night
after night at the very spot he had left in the morning, and can only
alleviate the unwelcome surprise of finding himself no farther and no
higher by muttering, "As well here perhaps as elsewhere!" No votary of
mirth and jollity surely ever wore so woebegone a countenance, or sang
their praises with more trembling and uncertain lips. What can be more
hopeless than his "_there is nothing better_, so you must even be
content with this," or than the way in which he harps on the brevity
of life! You feel that the man has been passionately seeking for
something better, for a good which would be a good not only through
the brief hours of time but for ever; that it is with a heart saddened
by the sense of wasted endeavour and cravings unsatisfied that he
falls back on pleasures as brief as his day, as wearisome as his
toils. Yet all the while he feels, and makes you feel, that there is a
certain measure of truth in his conclusion; that mirth is a great
good, though not the greatest; that if he could but find that
"something better" of which he is in quest, he would learn the secret
of a deeper mirth than that which springs from eating and drinking and
sensuous delights, a mirth which would not set with the setting sun of
his brief day.

This feeling is justified by the issue. Now that the Preacher has
completed his circle of thought, we can see that it _is_ well for a
man to rejoice and take pleasure in his labours, that God did mean him
to work for the enjoyment of his heart, that there is a mirth purer
and more enduring than that which springs from knowledge, or from the
gratification of the senses, or from success in affairs, or from the
possession of much goods,--a mirth for this life which expands and
deepens into an everlasting joy. Throughout his Quest he has held fast
to the conviction that "it is a comely fashion to be glad," though he
could allege no better reason for his conviction than the
transitoriness of life and the impossibility of reaching any higher
good. Before he could justify this conviction, he must achieve his
Quest. It is only when he has learned to regard our life--

                            "as a harp,
  A gracious instrument on whose fair strings
  We learn those airs we shall be set to play
  When mortal hours are ended,"

that his plaintive minors pass into the frank, jocund tones
appropriate to a sincere and well-grounded mirth. _Now_ he can cease
to "trouble heaven with his bootless cries" on the indiscrimination of
death and the vanity of life. He can now say to his soul,

  "What hast thou to do with sorrow
  Or the injuries of to-morrow?"

for he has discovered that no morrow can any more injure him, no
sorrow rob him of his true joy. God is with him, observing all the
postures and moods of his soul, and adapting all his circumstances to
the correction of what is evil in him or the cultivation of what is
good. There is no dark impassable gulf between this world and the
next; life does not cease at death, but grows more intense and full;
death is but a second birth into a second and better life, a life of
ampler and happier conditions, and yet a life which is the
continuation and consummation of that we now live in the flesh. All
that he has to do, therefore, is to "fear God and keep his
commandments," leaving the issues of his labour in the Hands which
bend all things to a final goal of good. What though the clouds drop
rain or the winds blew bitterly, what though his diligence a charity
meet no present recognition or reward? All that is no business of his.
He has only to do the duty of the passing hour, and to help his
neighbours do their duty. So long as he can do this, why should he not
be bright and gay? In this lies his Chief Good: why should he not
enjoy _that_, even though other and lesser goods be taken from him for
a time--be lent to the Lord that they may hereafter be repaid with
usury? He is no longer "a pipe for fortune's finger to sound what stop
she please:" he has a tune of his own, "a cheerful tune," to play, and
_will_ play it, let fortune be in what mood she please. He is not
"passion's slave," but the servant and friend of God; and because God
is with him and for him, and because he will soon be with God, he is

  "As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,"

and can take "fortune's buffets and rewards with equal thanks." His
cheerful content does not lie at the mercy of accident; the winds and
waves of vicissitude cannot prevail against it: for it has two broad
and solid foundations; one on earth, and the other in heaven. On the
one hand, it springs from a faithful discharge of personal duty and
the neighbourly charity which hopeth all things and endureth all
things; on the other hand, it springs from the conviction that God
takes note of all things, and will bring every secret and every deed
into a judgment perfectly just and perfectly kind. The fair structure
which rises on these sure foundations is not to be shaken by ought
that does not sap the foundations on which it rests. Convince him that
God is not with him, or that God does not so care for him as to judge
and correct him; or convict him of gross and constant failures in duty
and in charity; and then, indeed, you touch, you endanger, his peace.
But no external loss, no breath of change, no cloud in the sky of his
fortunes, no loss, no infirmity that does not impede him in the
discharge of duty, can do more than cast a passing shadow on his
heart. Whatever happens, into whatever new conditions or new worlds he
may pass, his chief good and therefore his supreme joy is with him.

  "This man is freed from servile bands
    Of hope to rise or fear to fall:
  Lord of himself, though not of lands,
    And, having nothing, yet hath all."

Now, too, without fear or favour, without any prejudice for or against
his conclusion because we find it in Holy Writ, we may ask ourselves,
Has the Preacher satisfactorily solved the problem which he took in
hand? has he really achieved his Quest and attained the Chief Good?
One thing is quite clear; he has not lost himself in speculations
foreign to our experience and remote from it; he has dealt with the
common facts of life such as they were in his time, such as they
remain in ours: for now, as then, men are restless and craving, and
seek the satisfactions of rest in science or in pleasure, in
successful public careers or in the fortunate conduct of affairs, by
securing wealth or by laying up a modest provision for present and
future wants. Now, as then,

  "The common problem, yours, mine, everyone's,
  Is not to fancy what were fair in life
  Providing it could be,--but, finding first
  What may be, then find how to make it fair
  Up to our means--a very different thing."

That the Preacher should have attacked this common problem, and should
have handled it with the practical good sense which characterises his
Poem, is a point, and a large point, in his favour.

Nor is the conclusion at which he arrives, in its substance, peculiar
to him, or even to the Scriptures. He says: The perfect man, the ideal
man, is he who addresses himself to the present duty untroubled by
adverse clouds and currents, who so loves his neighbour that he can do
good even to the evil and the unthankful, and who carries a brave
cheerful temper to the unrewarded toils and sacrifices of his life,
because God is with him, taking note of all he does, and because there
is a future life for which this course of duty, charity, and
magnanimity, is the best preparative. He affirms that the man who has
risen to the discovery and practice of this ideal has attained the
Chief Good, that he has found a duty from which no accident can divert
him, a pure and tranquil joy which will sustain him under all change
and loss. And, on his behalf, I am bold to assert that, allowing for
inevitable differences of conception and utterance, his conclusion is
the conclusion of all the great teachers of morality. Take any of the
ancient systems of morality and religion--Hindu, Egyptian, Persian,
Chinese, Greek, or Latin; select those elements of it in virtue of
which it has lived and ruled over myriads of men; reduce those
elements to their simplest forms, express them in the plainest words;
and, as I believe, you will find that in every case they are only
different and modified versions of the final conclusion of the
Preacher. "Do your duty patiently; Be kind and helpful one to another;
Shew a cheerful content with your lot; Heaven is with you and will
judge you:"--these brief maxims seem to be the ethical epitome of all
the creeds and systems that have had their day, as also of those which
have not ceased to be. It is very true that the motive to obedience
which Coheleth draws from the future life of man has been of a varying
force and influence, rising perhaps to its greatest clearness among
the Egyptians and the Persians, sinking to its dimmest among the
Greeks and the Romans, although we cannot say it did not shine even
upon these; for, though the secret of their "mysteries" has been kept
with a rare fidelity, yet the general impression of Antiquity
concerning them was that, besides disclosing to the initiated the
natural and moral truths on which the popular mythology was based,
they "opened to man a comforting prospect of a future state." I am not
careful to show how the Word of Inspiration surpasses all other
"scriptures" in the precision with which it enunciates the elementary
truths of all morality, in its freedom from admixture with baser
matter, in its application of those truths to all sorts and conditions
of men, and the power of the motives by which it enforces them. That
is no part of my present duty. The one point to which I ask attention
is this: With what an enormous weight of authority, drawn from all
creeds and systems, from the whole ethical experience of humanity, the
conclusion of the Preacher is clothed; how we stand rebuked by the
wisdom of all past ages if, after duly testing it, we have not adopted
his solution of the master-problem of life, and are not working it
out. Out of every land, in all the different languages of the divided
earth, from the lips of all the ancient sages whom we reverence for
their excellence or for their wisdom, no less than from the mouths of
prophet and psalmist, preacher and apostle, there come to us voices
which with one consent bid us "fear God and keep his commandments;"--a
sacred chorus which paces down the long-drawn aisles of Time, chanting
the praise of the man who does his duty even though he lose by it, who
loves his neighbour even though he win no love in return, who breasts
the blows of circumstance with a tranquil heart, who by a wise use and
a wise enjoyment of the life that now is qualifies himself for the
better life to be.

       *       *       *       *       *

This, then, is the Hebrew solution of "the common problem." It is also
the Christian solution. For when "the Fellow of the Lord of hosts,"
instead of "clutching at his equality with God," humbled Himself and
took on Him the form of a servant, the very ideal of perfect manhood
became incarnate in this "man from heaven." Does the Hebrew Preacher,
backed by the consentient voices of the great sages of Antiquity,
demand that the ideal man, moved thereto by his sense of a constant
Divine Presence and the hope of God's future judgment, should cast the
bread of his charity on the thankless waters of neighbourly
ingratitude, give himself with all diligence to the discharge of duty
whatever clouds may darken his sky, whatever unkindly wind may nip his
harvest, and maintain a calm and cheerful temper in all weathers, and
through all the changing scenes and seasons of life? His demand is
met, and surpassed, by the Man Christ Jesus. _He_ loved all men with a
love which the many waters of their hostility and unthankfulness could
not quench. Always about his Father's business, when He laid aside the
glory He had with the Father before the world was, He put off the
robes of a king to don the weeds of the husbandman, and went forth to
sow in all weathers, beside all waters, undaunted by any wind of
opposition or any threatening cloud. In all the shock of hostile
circumstance, in the abiding agony and passion of a life "short in
years indeed, but in sorrows above all measure long," He carried
Himself with a cheerful patience and serenity which never wavered, for
the joy set before Him enduring, and even despising, the bitter cross.
In fine, the very virtues inculcated by the Preacher were the very
substance of "the highest, holiest manhood." And if we ask, What were
the motives which inspired this life of consummate and unparalleled
excellence? we find among them the very motives suggested by Coheleth.
The strong Son of Man and of God was never alone, because the Father
was with Him, as truly with Him while He was on earth as when He was
in the heaven from which He "came down." He never bated heart nor hope
because He knew that He would soon be with God once more, to be judged
of Him and recompensed according to the deeds done in the body of his
humiliation. Men might misjudge Him, but the Judge of all the earth
would do Him right. Men might award Him only a crown of thorns; but
God would touch the thorns and, at his quickening touch, they would
flower into a garland of immortal beauty and honour.

Nor did the Lord Jesus help us in our quest of the Chief Good only by
becoming a Pattern of all virtue and excellence. The work of his
Redemption is a still more sovereign help. By the sacrifice of the
Cross He took away the sins which had rendered the pursuit of
excellence a wellnigh hopeless task. By the impartation of his Spirit,
no less than by the inspiration of his Example, He seeks to win us to
the love of our neighbour, to fidelity in the discharge of our daily
duty, and to that cheerful and constant trust in the providence of God
by which we are redeemed from the bondage of care and fear. He, the
Immanuel, by taking our flesh and dwelling among us, has _proved_ that
"God is with us," that He will in very deed dwell with men upon the
earth. He, the Victor over death, by his resurrection from the grave,
has _proved_ the truth of a future life and a future judgment with
arguments of a force and quality unknown to our Hebrew fathers.

So that now as of old, now even more demonstrably than of old, the
conclusion of the whole matter is that we "fear God and keep his
commandments." This is still the one solution of "the common problem"
and "the whole duty of man." He who accepts this solution and
discharges this duty has achieved the Supreme Quest; to him it has
been given to find the Chief Good.

_Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors and inconsistencies have been silently
normalized. Archaic and variable spellings and hyphenation have been

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