There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, and it is common among men:
An evil ... common among men - or else, more literally, great upon man, falls heavily upon man. Wealth, which seems, on a superficial look, so great a good, often is found, on closer examination, to be a great evil.
A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.
He wanteth nothing for his soul - i:e., for his enjoyment.
Yet God giveth him not power to eat - through the avarice which enthrals him. This distinguishes him from the "rich" man in Ecclesiastes 5:19. "God hath given" distinguishes him also from the man who got his wealth by "oppression" (Ecclesiastes 5:8).
But a stranger eateth it - those not akin, nay, even hostile to him (Lamentations 5:2). He seems to have it in his "power" to do as he will with his wealth, but an unseen power gives him up to his own avarice. God wills that he should toil for "a stranger" (Ecclesiastes 2:26), who has found favour in God's sight.
An evil disease - as fatal to happiness of the soul as a severe sickness is to the ease of the body (Deuteronomy 28:59).
If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.
Beget an hundred (i:e., very many) children (thus not having a "stranger" as his heir, Ecclesiastes 6:2),
And live many years, so that the days of his years be many (the phrase hints that at best man's years are but days, short and soon gone, Genesis 47:9),
... untimely birth (an embryo) (is) better than he - for, though it enjoys no good, it suffers no evil (Ecclesiastes 6:4-5). In the East, to be without burial is the greatest degradation. 'Better the fruit that drops from the tree before it is ripe, than that left to hang on until rotten' (Henry).
For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness.
For he - rather, it, the "untimely birth."
Cometh in with vanity - to no purpose; a type of the driftless existence of him who maketh riches the chief good.
And his name shall be covered with darkness - the name of the untimely embryo. Translate, 'its name;' of the abortive: a type of the unhonoured death and dark future beyond the grave, of the avaricious.
Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other.
This - yet it.
Hath more rest than the other - than the toiling, gloomy miser. The more unenviable is the state of the embryo, the worse is the misery of the covetous rich man. It has "rest" from suffering: he has no rest. He is to be pitied, not envied.
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?
Yea, though he live a thousand years twice (i:e., not only almost a thousand years, like Methuselah, but twice a thousand),
Yet hath he seen no good. If the miser's length of "life" be thought to raise him above the abortive, Solomon answers, Long life, without enjoying real good, is but lengthened misery.
Do not all go to one place? Riches cannot exempt him from going where "all go." He must go there, where all arrive alike stripped of earthly goods (1 Timothy 6:7). He has no good either in life, or death, or eternity.
All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.
All the labour of man (is) for his mouth - rather, 'of the man,' namely, the miser (Ecclesiastes 6:3-6). For not all men labour for the mouth, i:e., for selfish gratification. So the Hebrew, haa'aadaam (H120).
The appetite - Hebrew, the soul. The insatiability of the desire prevents that which is the only end proposed in toils, namely, self- gratification. The "man" thus gets no "good" out of his wealth (Ecclesiastes 6:3). The marvel is that we should 'so much harass ourselves for so small a thing, and one so easily procured. Since all that one gains by ceaseless toil has reference to food and raiment, and since nature is content with little, this insatiable desire of getting is mad and monstrous. God has made our mouth very small; yet the desire of gain is as vast as if our mouth was as large as a whirlpool, and able to swallow the Jordan at a draught; or as if we had the mouth of Leviathan' (Cartwright). (1 Timothy 6:9.)
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
For what hath the wise more than the fool? The "for" means (in contrast to the insatiability of the miser), For what else but this, namely, that 'his appetite is satisfied,' is the advantage which the wise man hath above the fool? What (other advantage but this, i:e., what superiority, above him who knows not how to walk upright) hath the godly poor who knoweth to walk before the living? i:e., to use and enjoy life aright among and in the presence of the living (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19), with a cheerful, thankful, godly "walk" (Psalms 116:9).
Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the desire: this is also vanity and vexation of spirit.
Better is the sight of the eyes ... Answer to Ecclesiastes 6:8, "What hath the wise more than the fool?" This is the advantage, "Better is the sight of the eyes (the wise man's godly enjoyment of present seen blessings) than the (fool's) wandering (literally, walking, Psalms 73:9) of the desire;" i:e., vague, insatiable desires for what he has not (Ecclesiastes 6:7; Hebrews 13:5). It is better to make the best of what we have before our eyes, however small and humble it seem, than to wander into the clouds with our desires (Luke 12:29).
That which hath been is named already, and it is known that it is man: neither may he contend with him that is mightier than he.
Part II. here begins. Since man's toils are vain, what is the chief good? (Ecclesiastes 6:12.) The answer is contained in the rest of the book.
That which hath been (man's various plans for happiness in earthly things apart from God). Is named already - not only has existed, (Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 3:15), but has received its just name, "vanity," long ago.
Neither may he contend. Romans 9:20; 1 Corinthians 10:22 alludes to this passage: "Are we stronger than he?" Instead of restlessly contending with our lot here, which is His appointment, and insatiably seeking riches, let us thankfully enjoy His mercies, and learn the lesson of discipline and purification designed in our present trials (Ecclesiastes 3:18).
Seeing there be many things that increase vanity, what is man the better?
Many things that increase vanity. The more wealth the more vanity.
What (is) man the better? "Seeing" that man cannot escape from the vanity," which by God's "mighty" will is inherent in earthly things, and cannot call in question God's wisdom in these dispensations ("cannot contend with Him that is mightier than he") "what is man the better" of these vain things, as regards the chief good? None whatever. The seeming advantage of the rich over the poor vanishes on a closer examination.
For who knoweth what is good for man in this life, all the days of his vain life which he spendeth as a shadow? for who can tell a man what shall be after him under the sun?
Who knoweth what is good? ... The ungodly know not what is really "good" during life, nor "what shall be after them," i:e., what will be the event of their undertakings; or what will be their state and their circumstances (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:7), not merely after their death, but an hour, a day, a year after the present. The godly might be tempted to 'contend with God' (Ecclesiastes 6:10) as to His dispensations; but they cannot fully know the wise purposes served by them now and hereafter. Their sufferings are more really good for them than cloudless prosperity: sinners are being allowed to fill up their measure of guilt. Retribution in part vindicates God's ways even now. The judgment shall make all clear. In Ecclesiastes 7:1-29 he states what is good, in answer to this verse. The only true good is "the true riches" (Luke 16:11).
All the days - Hebrew, 'the number of the days of the life of his vanity.' The fact that his days can be numbered implies their fewness. The shorter and the more shadowy (1 Chronicles 29:15) our life is, the more important it is that we should not hunt after shadowy vanities. Who can toil? If we could foresee that riches would always abide with us, we might have an excuse in making them our chief aim. But we know not how soon they and we shall part; therefore seek the true riches, and enjoy whatever present earthly good God gives.