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In the sections immediately following, the continuity of the history of the Preacher’s mental struggles is broken by the introduction of a number of proverbs, some of which have so little apparent relation to the context, that Renan even takes them to be intended as specimens of the “many words which increase vanity.” But of any work, whether actually representing or intended to represent the teaching of Solomon, proverbs might be expected to form a necessary part. And though the ingenuity may not be successful which has been employed in trying to find a strict logical sequence in this part of the work, yet the thoughts are not unconnected with each other, nor out of harmony with the whole. The question with which the preceding chapter concludes, “Who knoweth what is good for a man?” is taken up in this, Ecclesiastes 7:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:5; Ecclesiastes 7:8; Ecclesiastes 7:11, all beginning with the word “good.” This characteristic would have been better kept up in translation if the first word of all these verses had been made “better.” “Better is sorrow than laughter,” &c.
(1) There is a play on words in the original (found also in Song of Solomon 1:3), which Plumptre represents by “a good name is better than good nard.” It was probably an older proverb, which the Preacher completes by the startling addition, “and so is the day of death better than that of birth.” For the use of perfumes, see Ruth 3:3; 2 Samuel 12:20; Proverbs 7:17; Daniel 10:3.
(2) Comparing this verse with Ecclesiastes 2:24, it is plain that the Preacher does not in the latter place recommend reckless enjoyment, but enjoyment tempered by the fear of God, and looking to the end.
(3) Sadness of the countenance.—Genesis 40:7; Nehemiah 3:3. “Anger” (margin). This is the usual meaning of the word, and so in Ecclesiastes 7:9. It is accordingly adopted here by the older translators, but the rendering of our version is required by the context.
(6) There is again a play on words, which German translators represent by “the crackling of nettle under the kettle,” and Plumptre “the crackling of stubble which makes the pot bubble.” The reference plainly is to the quick blazing up and quick going out of the flame.
(7) Surely.—Rather, For. This change is required not only by literalness, but by the fact that the verse comes in a series of paragraphs, each commencing with the word “better,” as does the next verse. This verse therefore cannot introduce a new subject, but must be connected with what has gone before. But it is so hard to do this satisfactorily, that Delitzsch conjectures that a line may have dropped out, and that this verse may have begun with “Better: e.g., “Better is a little with righteousness, &c,” as in Proverbs 16:8. If this be thought too strong a remedy, we may explain the connection, that by listening to faithful rebuke rather than to the flattery of fools, a ruler may be checked in a course of oppression or corruption which threatens to undermine his understanding. As we understand the passage, he becomes mad who commits, not who suffers, the oppression.
(8) Thing.—Here, as in Ecclesiastes 6:11 and elsewhere, we may also translate “word.” Possibly the thought still is the advantage of bearing patiently “the rebuke of the wise.”
(9) Resteth.—Proverbs 14:33.
(10) Concerning.—This preposition is used after “enquire” only in later Hebrew (Nehemiah 1:2).
(11) With.—This is the ordinary meaning of the word, and accordingly is the rendering of the older translators, but the marginal “as good as,” or “equally with,” agrees so much better with the context, that the only question is whether the word will bear that meaning. And though in some places where it is translated “like,” the rendering “with” may be substituted, yet the passages in Ecclesiastes 2:16, “no resemblance to the wise equally with the foolish,” Job 9:26, “my days have passed like the swift ships,” seem to be decisive that it will.
Profit.—In defence of the marginal “yea, better,” may be pleaded that the word is translated as an adverb (Esther 6:6; and in this book (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 6:11; Ecclesiastes 7:16; Ecclesiastes 12:9; Ecclesiastes 12:12).
(12) A defence.—Literally, a shadow (Psalms 91:1; Psalms 121:5, &c). This verse harmonises with the interpretation of the preceding verse, which we prefer. “Wisdom and riches alike confer protection, but the pre-eminence of wisdom is,” &c.
(14) Ecclus. 14:14, 33. The first clause may be more closely rendered, “In the good day be of good cheer.” As a consolation in time of adversity the thought Job 2:10 is offered. The last clause connects itself with the first, the idea being that of Ecclesiastes 3:22; “take the present enjoyment which God gives, seeing that man cannot tell what shall be after him.”
(15) Days of my vanity.—Ecclesiastes 6:12.
(16) Righteous over – much.—The caution is against morbid scrupulosity and over-rigorism. We may illustrate by the case of the Jews, who refused to defend themselves against their enemies on the Sabbath day. The next verse is a necessary corrective to this: “Yet be cautious how thou disregardest the restraints of Law.”
(18) In the uncertainty or the issues of life, it is good for a man to make trial of opposite rules of conduct. provided he always restrain himself by the fear of God. (Comp. Ecclesiastes 11:6.)
(19) Mighty men.—The word is translated “governor” Genesis 42:6, and so see Ecclesiastes 10:5; see also Ecclesiastes 8:8. The preacher returns to the topic of Ecclesiastes 7:12. Of the “For” in the next verse, only forced explanations have been given; the sentiment is Solomon’s (1 Kings 8:46).
(22) Thine own heart knoweth.—Ecclesiastes 8:5; 1 Kings 2:44; Proverbs 14:10.
(23) The confession of failure to attain speculative knowledge gives energy to the preacher’s next following enunciation of the practical lesson which he has learned from his experience.
(24) Rather translate, “That which is, is far off.” The phrase, “that which is,” or “hath been,” to denote the existing constitution of the universe, occurs in Ecclesiastes 1:9, Ecclesiastes 3:15. (See Ecclesiastes 8:17.)
(25) The reason of things.—The corresponding verb “to count” is common. This noun is almost peculiar to this book, where it occurs again in Ecclesiastes 7:27; Ecclesiastes 7:29; Ecclesiastes 9:10; save that in 2 Chronicles 26:15 we have the plural in the sense of military engines.
(26) Sir. 9:3; Sir. 26:23.
Snares.—See Ecclesiastes 9:12; used for siege works, Ecclesiastes 9:14.
Nets.—Habakkuk 1:15; Ezekiel 26:5.
(28) One man among a thousand.—See Job 9:3; Job 33:23. The disparaging estimate of the female sex here expressed is common in countries where polygamy is practised. (See Sir. 25:24; Sir. 42:13.) It is credible enough that Solomon, with his thousand wives, did not find a good one among them; but see Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14; Proverbs 31:10.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/