Ecclesiastes 4:2

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Wherefore I praised the dead, which are already dead,.... Truly and properly so; not in a figurative sense, as dead sinners, men dead in trespasses and sins; nor carnal professors, that have a name to live, and are dead; nor in a civil sense, such as are in calamity and distress, as the Jews in captivity, or in any affliction, which is sometimes called death: but such who are dead in a literal and natural sense, really and thoroughly dead; not who may and will certainly die, but who are dead already and in their graves, and not all these; not the wicked dead, who are in hell, in everlasting torments; but the righteous dead, who are taken away from the evil to come, and are free from all the oppressions of their enemies, sin, Satan, and the world. The Targum is,

"I praised those that lie down or are asleep, who, behold, are now dead;''

a figure by which death is often expressed, both in the Old and New Testament; sleep being, as the poet {a} says, the image of death; and a great likeness there is between them; Homer {b} calls sleep and death twins. The same paraphrase adds,

"and see not the vengeance which comes upon the world after their death;''

see Isaiah 57:1. The wise man did not make panegyrics or encomiums on those persons, but he pronounced them happy; he judged them in his own mind to be so; and to be much

more happy

than the living which are yet alive: that live under the oppression of others; that live in this world in trouble until now, as the Targum; of whom it is as much as it can be said that they are alive; they are just alive, and that is all; they are as it were between life and death. This is generally understood as spoken according to human sense, and the judgment of the flesh, without any regard to the glory and happiness of the future state; that the dead must be preferred to the living, when the quiet of the one, and the misery of the other, are observed; and which sense receives confirmation from Ecclesiastes 4:3: otherwise it is a great truth, that the righteous dead, who die in Christ and are with him, are much more happy than living saints; since they are freed from sin; are out of the reach of Satan's temptations; are no more liable to darkness and desertions; are freed from all doubts and fears; cease from all their labours, toil, and trouble; and are delivered from all afflictions, persecutions, and oppressions; which is not the case of living saints: and besides, the joys which they possess, the company they are always in, and the work they are employed about, give them infinitely the preference to all on earth; see Revelation 14:13.

{a} "Stulte, quid est semnus gelidae nisi mortis imago?" Ovid. Plato in Ciceron. Tuscul. Quaest. l. 1. c. 58.
{b} Iliad. 16. v. 672, 682. Vid. Pausan. Laconica, sive l. 3. p. 195.