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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1


(1) In the Hebrew division this is the last verse of the preceding chapter; but clearly here a new section begins, containing proverbs in the second person singular, which has not hitherto been used. There is no obvious connection with what has gone before; possibly the precepts here introduced were traditionally known to have been part of Solomon’s teaching.

They consider not.—The most natural translation of this clause would be, “They know not how to do evil,” i.e., are incapable of doing evil. This would force us to understand the subject of the clause to be, not the fools, but those who are ready to hear. The Authorised Version exhibits one of the expedients resorted to in order to get a better meaning. Another is, “They are without knowledge, so that they do evil.”

Verse 2

(2) Few.—Sir. 7:14; Sir. 18:22.

Verse 4

(4) There is here a clear recognition of the passage in Deuteronomy. (See ref.; comp. Sir. 18:23.)

No pleasure in fools.—Comp. Isaiah 62:4.

Verse 6

(6) The angel.—It has been proposed to translate this word the “messenger,” or ambassador of God, and understand “the priest” (see Malachi 2:7); and it has been regarded as one of the notes of later date in this book that the word should be used in such a sense. But even in the passage of Malachi there is no trace that the word “angel” had then become an ordinary name for the priest, such as would be intelligible if used in that sense without explanation from the context. Neither, again, is there reason for supposing that the priest had power to dispense with vows alleged to have been rashly undertaken. The power given him (Leviticus 27:0) is of a different nature. I therefore adhere to the obvious sense, which suggests that the real vow is observed and recorded by a heavenly angel. It falls in with this view that the phrase is “before the angel.” If an excuse pleaded to a priest was intended, we should have, “Say not thou to the priest.”

Error.—The word is that which describes sins of ignorance (Numbers 15:0). The tacit assumption in this verse, that God interposes to punish when His name is taken in vain, clearly expresses the writer’s real conviction, and shows that such a verse as Ecclesiastes 9:2 is only the statement of a speculative difficulty.

Verse 7

(7) This verse presents some difficulties of translation springing from corruption of text, but not affecting the general sense; according to which the many words which belong to the dreams and vanities of heathendom are contrasted with the fear of the only God.

Verse 8

(8) The interpretation of this verse depends on the sense we give to “marvel.” There are some who take it of simple surprise. “You need not think it strange; the instances of oppression which you observe are only parts of a gigantic scheme of mutual wrong-doing, the oppressors of one being themselves oppressed in turn by their superiors.” But instead of “Do not wonder,” the meaning “be not dismayed” is preferable. (Comp. Psalms 48:5; Job 26:11; Isaiah 13:8; Jeremiah 4:9.) The verse then supplies the answer to the gloomy view of Ecclesiastes 4:4. In the view that the last clause speaks of the Divine rectification of earthly injustice, I am confirmed by observing that the author of this book delights in verbal assonances, and constantly links together words similar in sound. An English version might admit the meaning: “Over the high oppressor stands a higher, and over both, those who are higher still; “though even here there is the difficulty that the highest of all are spoken of in the plural number, of which it is a very awkward explanation that the “higher” is the king, and that the women and favourites who govern him are the “higher still.” But I cannot but think that the language of the Hebrew, that over the “gebôh” there be “gebôhim,” is intended to suggest Elohim to the reader’s mind.

On the word “province,” see Note, Ecclesiastes 2:8; and on “matter,” Ecclesiastes 3:1.

Verse 9

(9) Is served by.—Or, is servant to. Many eminent interpreters connect this verse with what precedes, and translate, “and on the whole the profit of the land is a king devoted to agriculture,” an observation which it is hard to clear of the charge of irrelevance. I prefer, as in our version, to connect with the following verses, and the best explanation I can give of the connection of the paragraph is that it contains a consideration intended to mitigate the difficulty felt at the sight of riches acquired by oppression, namely, that riches add little to the real happiness of the possessors.

Verse 13

(13) Sore evil.—Ecclesiastes 6:2; Jeremiah 14:17; Nahum 3:19.

Verse 14

(14) Evil travail.—Unsuccessful business.

Nothing in his hand.—The same words occur in a literal sense in Judges 14:6.

Verse 15

(15) There is a clear use of Job 1:21. (See also Psalms 139:15.) And this passage itself is used in Sir. 40:1.

Verse 17

(17) We pass without notice some variations of translation in this verse, which do not materially affect the sense.

Verse 18

(18) The Preacher is led back to the conclusion at which he had arrived (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22).

Verse 20

(20) “In the enjoyment of God’s gifts he does not think much of the sorrows or brevity of life.” This is the usual explanation; and though not satisfied with it, we cannot suggest a better.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1905.
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