The Pulpit Commentary

Ecclesiastes 12:7 (Ecclesiastes 12:7)

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was ; rather, and the dust return, etc.—the sentence begun above being still carried on to the end of the verse. Here we are told what becomes of the complex man at death, and are thus led to the explanation of the allegorical language used throughout. Without metaphor now it is stated that the material body, when life is extinct, returns to that matter out of which it was originally made ( Genesis 2:7 ; Genesis 3:19 ; comp. Job 34:15 ; Psalms 104:29 ). So Siracides calls man "dust and ashes," and asserts that all things that are of the earth turn to the earth again (Ecclesiasticus 10:9; 40:11). Soph; 'Electra,' 1158—

ἀντὶ φιλτάτης

΄ορφῆς σποδόν τε καὶ σκιὰν ἀνωφελῆ

"Instead of thy dear form,

Mere dust and idle shadow."

Corn. à Lapide quotes a remarkable parallel given by Plutarch from Epicharmus," Life is compounded and broken up, and again goes whence it came; earth indeed to earth, and the spirit to upper regions." And the spirit shall return unto God who gave it ; or, for the spirit— the clause being no longer subjunctive, but speaking indicatively of fact. In the first clause the preposition "to" is עַל , in the second אֶל , as if to mark the distinction between the downward and the upward way. The writer now rises superior to the doubts expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:21 (where see note), "Who knoweth the spirit of man, whether it goeth upward," etc.? It is not that he contradicts himself in the two passages, as some suppose, and have hence regarded Ecclesiastes 3:7 as an interpolation; but that after all discussion, after expressing the course of his perplexities, and the various phases of his thought, he comes to the conclusion that there is a future for the individual soul, and that it shall be brought into immediate connection with a personal God. There is here no thought of its being absorbed in the anima mundi, in accordance with the heathen view, which, if it believed dimly in an immortality, denied the personality of the soul. Nor have we any opinion given concerning the adverse doctrines of creationism and traducianism, though the terms used are most consistent with the former. God breathed into man's nostrils the breath of life; when this departs, he who gave receives it; God "gathereth in" man's breath ( Psalms 104:29 ). The clause, taken in this restricted sense, would say nothing about the soul, the personal "I" it would merely indicate the destination of the vital breath; and many critics are content to see nothing more in the words. But surely this would be a feeble conclusion of the author's wanderings; rather the sentence signifies that death, releasing the spirit, or soul, from the earthly tabernacle, places it in the more immediate presence of God, there, as the Targum paraphrases the passage, returning to stand in judgment before its Creator.

- The Pulpit Commentary