Ecclesiastes Chapter 9




The last two verses of Chapter
VIII. connect with the opening words of this chapter. The more Ecclesiastes
applies every faculty he has to solve the riddle under the sun, robbing
himself of sleep and laboring with strong energy and will, he becomes only
the more aware that that solution is altogether impossible. The contradictions
of nature baffle the wisdom of nature. There is no assured sequence, he
reiterates, between righteousness and happiness on the one hand, and sin
and misery on the other. The whole confusion is in the sovereign hand of
God, and the righteous and the wise must just leave the matter there, for
"no man knoweth either love or hatred by all that is before them." What
discrimination is there here? Do not all things happen alike to all? Yes,
further, does not Time, unchecked by any higher power, sweep all relentlessly
to one common end? Love cannot be inferred from the "end" of the righteous,
nor hatred from the "end" of the sinner; for it is one and the same death
that stops the course of each. Oh, this is indeed an "evil under the sun."

Darker and darker the cloud
settles over his spirit; denser and still more dense the fogs of helpless
ignorance and perplexity enwrap his intelligence. For, worse still, do
men recognize, and live at all reasonably in view of, that common mortality?
Alas, madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go
to the dead; and then all hope for them, as far as can be seen, is over
forever. Dead! What does that mean? It means that every faculty, as far
as can be seen, is stilled forever. The dead lion, whose majesty and strength,
while living, would have even now struck me with awe, is less formidable
as it lies there than a living dog. So with the dead among men: their hatred
is no more to be feared, for it can harm nothing; their love is no more
to be valued, for it can profit nothing; their zeal and energy are no more
to be accounted of, for they can effect nothing; yea, all has come to an
end forever under the sun. Oh, the awfulness of this darkness! "Then I
will give," continues Ecclesiastes, "counsel for this vain life in conformity
with the dense gloom of its close. Listen! Go eat with joy thy bread, and
merrily drink thy wine; let never shade of sorrow mar thy short-lived pleasure;
let no mourning on thy dress be seen, nor to thy head be oil of gladness
lacking; merrily live with her whom thy affection has chosen as thy life-companion,
and trouble not thyself as to God's acceptance of thy works--that has been
settled long ago; nor let a sensitive conscience disturb thee: whatsoever
is in thy power to do, that do, without scruple or question;[I believe
this is distinctly the bearing of these words, and not as in our version.]
for soon, but too soon, these days of thy vanity will close, and in the
grave, whither thou surely goest, all opportunities for activity, of whatever
character, are over, and that--for ever!"

Strange counsel this, for
sober and wise Ecclesiastes to give, is it not? Much has it puzzled many
a commentator. Luther boldly says it is sober Christian advice, meant even
now to be literally accepted, "lest you become like the monks, who would
not have one look even at the sun." Hard labor indeed, however, is it to
force it thus into harmony with the general tenor of God's word.

But is not the counsel good
and reasonable enough under certain conditions? And are not those conditions
and premises clearly laid down for us in the context here? It is as if
a whirlwind of awful perplexities had swept the writer with irresistible
force away from his moorings,--a black cloud filled with the terrors of
darkness and death sweeps over his being, and out of the black and terrible
storm he speaks--"Man has but an hour to enjoy here, and I know nothing
as to what comes after, except that death, impenetrable death, ends every
generation of men, throws down to the dust the good, the righteous, the
sober, as well as the lawless, the false, and the profligate; ends in a
moment all thought, knowledge, love, and hatred;--then since I know nothing
beyond this vain life, I can only say, Have thy fling;--short, short thy
life will be, and vain thou wilt find this short life; so get thy fill
of pleasure here, for thou goest, and none can help thee, to where all
activities cease, and love and hatred end forever."

This, we may say, based on
these premises, and excluding all other, is reasonable counsel. Does not
our own apostle Paul confirm it? Does he not say, if this life be all,
this life of vanity under the sun, then let us eat and drink, for tomorrow
we die? Yea, we who have turned aside from this path of present pleasures
are of all men most miserable, if this vain life be all.

And are we to expect poor
unaided human wisdom to face these awful problems of infinite depth without
finding the strongest evidence of its utter incapacity and helplessness?
Like a feather in the blast, our kingly and wise preacher (beyond whom
none can ever go) is whirled, for the time being, from his soberness, and,
in sorrow akin to despair, gives counsel that is in itself revolting to
all soberness and wisdom. Nothing could so powerfully speak the awful chaos
of his soul; and--mark it well--in that same awful chaos would you
and I be at any moment, my reader, if we thought at all, but for one inestimably
precious fact. Black like unto the outer darkness is the storm-cloud we
are looking at, and the wild, despairing, yet sad counsel, to "live merrily"
is in strict harmony with the wild, awful darkness, like the sea-gull's
scream in the tempest.

Let us review a little the
path of reasoning that has led our author to where he is; only we will
walk it joyfully in the light of God.

"No man knoweth love or hatred
by all that is before him." We have looked upon a scene where a holy Victim--infinitely
holy--bowed His head under the weight of a judgment that could not be measured.
It was but a little while, and the very heavens could not contain themselves
with delight at His perfect beauty, His perfect obedience; but again, and
yet again, were they opened to express the pleasure of the Highest in this
lowly Man. Now, not only are they closed in silence, but a horror seems
to enwrap all creation. The sun, obscured by no earth-born cloud, gives
out no spark nor ray of light; and in that solemn darkness every voice
is strangely hushed. From nine till noon the air was filled with revilings
and reproaches--all leveled at the one sinless Sufferer; but now, for three
hours, these have been absolutely silent, till at last one cry of agony
breaks the stillness; and it is from Him who "was oppressed and afflicted,
yet opened not His mouth; was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as
a sheep before her shearer is dumb, so opened He not His mouth: "Eli, Eli,
lama sabachthani"--"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me!"

There, my beloved readers,
look there! Let that cross be before us, and then say, "No man knoweth
love or hatred by all that is before them." Are not both revealed there
as never before? Hatred! What caused the blessed God thus to change His
attitude towards the One who so delighted Him that the heavens burst open,
as it were, under the weight of that delight? There is but one answer to
that question. Sin. Sin was there on that holiest Sufferer--mine,
yours, my reader. And God's great hatred of sin is fully revealed there.
I know "hatred" when I see God looking at my sin on His infinitely holy,
infinitely precious, infinitely beloved Son.

Let us meditate upon, without
multiplying words over this solemn theme, and turn to the Love that burns,
too, so brightly there. Who can measure the infinity of love to us when,
in order that that love might have its way unhindered, God forsakes the
One who, for all the countless ages of the eternal past, had afforded Him
perfect "daily" delight, was ever in His bosom--the only one in that wide
creation who could satisfy or respond, in the communion of equality, to
His affections--and turns away from Him; nay, "it pleased the Lord to bruise
Him"; "He hath put Him to grief." Ponder these words; and in view of who
that crucified Victim was, and His relationship with God, measure, if you
can, the love displayed there, the love in that one short word "so"--"God
the world that He gave His only begotten Son";--then, whilst viewing the
cross, hear, coming down to us from the lips of the wise king, "No man
knoweth love or hatred." Hush! Ecclesiastes, hush! Breathe no such word
in such a scene as this. Pardonable it were in that day, when you looked
only at the disjointed chaos and tangle under the sun; but looking at that
cross, it were the most heinous sin, the most unpardonable disloyalty and
treason, to say now, "No man knoweth love." Rather, adoringly, will we
say, "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God
sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His
Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And we have known and believed
the love that God has to us."

Yea, now let "all things
come alike to all":--that tender Love shall shed its light over this stormy
scene, and enable the one that keeps it before him to walk the troubled
waters of this life in quiet assurance and safety. Death still may play
sad havoc with the most sensitive of affections; but that Love shall, as
we have before seen, permit us to weep tears; but not bitter despairing
tears. Further, it sheds over the spirit the glorious light of a coming
Day, and we look forward, not to an awful impending gloom, but to a pathway
of real light, that pierces into eternity. The Day! We are of the Day!
The darkness passes, the true light already shines! Then listen, my fellow-pilgrims,
to the Spirit's counsel: "But ye, brethren, are not in darkness,
that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of
light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Therefore, let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and
be sober. For they that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunken,
are drunken in the night. But let us who are of the Day be sober, putting
on the breastplate of faith and love, and for an helmet the hope of salvation."

Our poor preacher, in the
darkness of the cloud of death, counsels, "merrily drink thy wine." And
not amiss, with such an outlook, is such advice. In the perfect Light of
Revelation, lighting up present and a future eternity, well may we expect
counsel as differing from this as the light in which it is given differs
from the darkness. "The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let
us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor
light. Let us walk honestly, as in the Day; not in rioting and drunkenness,
not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envy. But put on the
Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the
lusts thereof." Amen and Amen.

But once again our Preacher
turns; and now he sees that it is not assuredly possible for the advice
he has given to be followed, and that even in this life neither work, device,
knowledge, nor wisdom, are effective in obtaining good or in shielding
their possessor from life's vicissitudes. The swift--does he always win
the race? Are there no contingencies that more than counterbalance his
swiftness? A slip, a fall, a turned muscle, and--the race is not to the
swift. The strong--is he necessarily conqueror in the fight? Many an unforeseen
and uncontrollable event has turned the tide of battle and surprised the
world, till the "fortune of war" has passed into a proverb. The skillful
may not be able at all times to secure even the necessaries of life; nor
does abundance invariably accompany greater wisdom, whilst no amount of
intelligence can secure constant and abiding good. [There seems to be an
intensive force to these words, constantly and in each phase becoming stronger,
in evident antithesis to the "work, device, knowledge, and wisdom," that
Ecclesiastes had just counseled to use to the utmost in order to obtain
"good" in this life.]

Time and doom hap alike to
all, irrespective of man's purposes or proposings, and no man knows what
his hap shall be, since no skill of any kind can avail to guide through
the voyage of life without encountering its storms. From the unlooked-for
quarter, too, do those storms burst on us. As the fishes suspect no danger
till in the net they are taken, and as the birds fear nothing till ensnared,
so we poor children of Adam, when our "evil time" comes round, are snared
without warning.

Absolutely true this is,
if life be regarded solely by such light as human wisdom gives: "Time and
doom happen alike to all." The whole scene is like one vast, confused machine,
amongst whose intricate wheels, that revolve with an irregularity that
defies foresight, poor man is cast at his birth; and ever and anon, when
he least expects it, he comes between these wheels; and then he is crushed
by some "evil," which may make an end of him altogether or leave him for
further sorrows. All things seem to work confusedly for evil, and this
caps the climax of Ecclesiastes' misery.

Here is the sequence of his

Firstly, There is no righteous
allotment upon earth; the righteous suffer here, whilst the unjust escape.

Secondly, There is an absolute
lack of all discrimination in the death that ends all; and,

Thirdly, So complete is that
end, bringing all so exactly to one dead level, without the slightest difference;
and so impenetrable is the tomb to which all go, that I counsel, in my
despair, "Eat, drink, and be merry, irrespective of any future."

Fourthly, But, alas! that,
too, is impossible; for no "work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom,"
can assure freedom from the evil doom that haps, soon or late, to all."

Intensified misery! awful
darkness indeed! And our own souls tremble as we stand with Ecclesiastes
under its shadow and respond to his groanings. For the same scene still
spreads itself before us as before him. Mixed with the mad laughter and
song of fools is the continued groan of sorrow, pain, and suffering, that
still tells of "time and doom."

A striking instance of this
comes to my hand even as I write; and since its pathetic sadness makes
it stand out even from the sorrows of this sad world, I would take it as
a direct illustration of Ecclesiastes' groan. At Nyack on the Hudson a
Christian family retires to rest after the happy services of last Lord's
Day, the 21st of October--an unbroken circle of seven children, with their
parents. Early on the following morning, before it is light, a fire is
raging in the house, and four of the little children are consumed in the
conflagration. The account concludes: "The funeral took place at eleven
o'clock today." That is, in a little more than twelve hours after retiring
to sleep, four of the members of that family circle were in their graves!
Here is an "evil time" that has fallen suddenly indeed; and the sad and
awful incident enables us to realize just what our writer felt as he penned
the words. With one stroke, in one moment, four children, who have had
for years their parents' daily thought and care, meet an awful doom, and
all that those parents themselves have believed receives a blow whose force
it is hard to measure. Now listen, as the heathen cry, "Where is now their
God?" Why was not His shield thrown about them? Had he not the power to
warn the sleeping household of the impending danger? Is He so bound by
some law of His own making as to forbid his interfering with its working?
Worse still, was He indifferent to the awful catastrophe that was about
to crush the joy out of that family circle? If His was the power, was His
love lacking?

Oh, awful questions when
no answer can be given to them;--and nature gives no answer. She is absolutely
silent. No human wisdom, even though it be his who was gifted "with a wise
and understanding heart, so that none was like him before him, neither
after him should any arise like unto him," could give any answer to questions
like these. And think you, my reader, that nature does not cry out for
comfort, and feel about for light at such a time? Nor that the enemy of
our souls is not quick in his malignant activity to suggest all kinds of
awful doubt? Every form of darkness and unbelief is alive to seize such
incidents, and make them the texts on which they may level their attacks
against the Christian's God.

But is there really no eye
to pity?--no heart to love?--no arm to save? Are men really subject to
blind law--"time and doom"?

Hark, my reader, and turn
once more to that sweetest music that ever broke on distracted reason's
ear. It comes not to charm with a false hope, but with the full authority
of God. None but His Son who had lain so long in His Father's bosom that
He knew its blessed heart-beats thoroughly, could speak such words--"Are
not five sparrows sold for two farthings." Here are poor worthless things
indeed that may be truly called creatures of chance. "Time and doom" must
surely "hap" to these. Indeed no; "not one of them is forgotten before
God." Ponder every precious word in simple faith. God's memory bears
upon it the lot of every worthless sparrow; it may "fall to the ground,"
but not without Him. He controls their destiny and is interested in their
very flight. If it be so with the sparrow, that may be bought for a single
mite, shall the saint, who has been bought at a price infinitely
beyond all the treasures of silver and gold in the universe, even at the
cost of the precious blood of His dear Son,--shall he be subject
to "time and doom"? Shall his lot not be shaped by infinite love and wisdom?
Yes, verily. Even the very hairs of his head are all numbered. No joy,
no happiness, no disappointment, no perplexity, no sorrow, so infinitesimally
small (let alone the greatest) but that the One who controls all worlds
takes the closest interest therein, and turns, in His love, everything
to blessing, forcing "all to work together for good," and making
the very storms of life obedient servants to speed His children to their

Faith alone triumphs
here; but faith triumphs; and apart from such tests and trials,
what opportunity would there be for faith to triumph? May we not
bless God, then, (humbly enough, for we know how quickly we fail under
trial,) that He does leave opportunity for faith to be in exercise
and to get victories?

God first reveals Himself,
and then says, as it were, "Now let Me see if you have so learned what
am as to trust Me against all circumstances, against all that
you see, feel, or suffer." And what virtue there must be in the Light of
God, when so little of it is needed to sustain His child! Even in the dim
early twilight of the dawning of divine revelation, Job, suffering under
a very similar and fully equal "evil time," could say, "The Lord gave,
and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord": accents
sweet and refreshing to Him who values at an unknown price the confidence
of this poor heart of man. And yet what did Job know of God? He had not
seen the cross. He had not had anything of the display of tenderest
unspeakable love that have we. It was but the dawn,
as we may say,
of revelation; but it was enough to enable that poor grief-wrung heart
to cry, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Shall we, who enjoy
the very meridian of revelation light;--shall we, who have seen Him
slain for us,
say less? Nay, look at the wondrous possibilities
our calling, my reader,--a song, nothing but a song will do now. Not quiet
resignation only; but "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious
power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness,"--and
that means a song.

How rich, how very rich,
is our portion! A goodly heritage is ours. For see what our considerations
have brought out: a deep need universally felt; for none escape
the sorrows, trials, and afflictions, that belong, in greater or less degree,
to this life.

The highest, truest, human
wisdom can only recognize the need with a groan, for it finds no remedy
for it--time and doom hap alike to all.

God shows Himself a little,
and, lo! quiet, patience, and resignation take the place of groaning. The
need is met.

God reveals His whole heart
fully, and no wave of sorrow, no billow of suffering, can extinguish the
joy of His child who walks with Him. Nay, as thousands upon thousands could
testify, the darkest hour of trial is made the sweetest with the sense
of His love, and tears with song are mingled.

Oh, for grace to enjoy our
rich portion more.

But to return to our book.
Its author rarely proceeds far along any one line without meeting with
that which compels him to return. So here; for he adds, in verses 13 to
the end of the chapter, "And yet I have seen the very reverse of all this,
when apparently an inevitable doom, an 'evil time,' was hanging over a
small community, whose resources were altogether inadequate to meet the
crisis--when no way of escape from the impending destruction seemed possible--then,
at the moment of despair, a 'poor wise man' steps to the front (such the
quality there is in wisdom), delivers the city, comes forth from his obscurity,
shines for a moment, and, lo! the danger past, is again forgotten, and
sinks to the silence whence he came. But this the incident proved
to me, that where strength is vain, there wisdom shows its excellence,
even though men as a whole appreciate it so little as to call upon it only
as a last resource. For let the fools finish their babbling, and their
chief get to the end of his talking; then, in the silence that tells the
limit of their powers, the quiet voice of wisdom is heard again, and that
to effect. Thus is wisdom better even than weapons of war, although, sensitive
quality that it is, a little folly easily taints it."

Can we, my readers, fail
to set our seal to the truth of all this? We, too, have known something
much akin to that "little city with few men," and one Poor Man, the very
embodiment of purest, perfect wisdom, who wrought alone a full deliverance
in the crisis--a deliverance in which wisdom shone divinely bright; and
yet the mass of men remember Him not. A few, whose hearts grace has touched,
may count Him the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely; but
the world, though it may call itself by His name, counts other objects
more worthy of its attention, and the poor wise man is forgotten "under
the sun."

Not so above the sun. There
we see the Poor One, the Carpenter's Son, the Nazarene, the Reviled, the
Smitten, the Spit-upon, the Crucified, seated, crowned with glory and honor,
at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens; and there, to a feeble
few on earth, He sums up all wisdom and all worth, and they journey on
in the one hope of seeing Him soon face to face, and being with Him and
like Him forever