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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 7

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


We have here a decalogue of instruction on the sufferings of the people of God and of consolation and admonition in regard thereto. Attention is directed, on the one hand, to the fruit of righteousness which suffering brings, to its blessed termination; and, on the other hand, Cod’s people is warned not to permit itself to be drawn aside to murmurings.

Human existence is subjected to severe sufferings ( Ecclesiastes 7:1). But these sufferings must serve the best interests of those who love God ( Ecclesiastes 7:2-4). The misery of the children of God is better than the happiness of the world, for the latter is the forerunner of impending ruin ( Ecclesiastes 7:5-7). The people of God, on the contrary, if they are only patient and content with the leadings of their God, will receive the best at the end.

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 7:1. The first clause has no internal connection whatever with the second: the means adopted to point out such a connection have been plainly artificial and farfetched. The point of comparison is simply this, that, in the first case, as well as the second, the one thing mentioned is better than the other. Just in the same way is the point of comparison external and general in Ecclesiastes 5:2. טּ?וב occurs oftener in this chapter than in any other chapter of the Old Testament. The first clause of the verse is based on Proverbs 22:1, “name is more to be preferred than great riches.” Here, however, the sentence appears to be more pointed. שמן has a sound something like שם . From the fundamental passage it is evident that good oil is considered here as something very costly and precious. That there is an internal nexus between the words “ointment” and “name,” we should be led to think by the passage in the Song of Solomon 1:3, where שמן and שם are in like manner connected: “In smell are thine ointments good, ointment poured forth is thy name.” That in the first clause the great and lovely name is represented under the image of odorous ointments, is expressly said in the second clause. With smell is connected rumour (German, Geruch, and Gerücht): “odores,” says Gesenius, appealing to Exodus 5:11, “saepe ad famam transferuntur.” The proposition which is here of primary importance is formed by the words: “and the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth.” By the day of death we are to understand the day when one dies: this explains the suff. The day of death is better than the day of birth—so speaks the author to such as mourn because of life’s lost happiness. He does not wish to persuade them to feel what they do not feel: he allows that they are right whenever they have right on their side. “The world is a vale of tears, and everywhere care, trouble, fears:”—that is an undeniable truth about which we may not dispute with sufferers, and which, above all, we must concede, if we mean really and truly to comfort them. But this assertion, though perfectly true, is only a one-sided truth, and therefore the author does not rest satisfied with it; he goes further, and in connection therewith opens up afterwards points of view which throw light on the gloom and mystery of suffering. When he lays down this proposition, he does not deny that there dwells in man a natural love of life, and that life is in itself a good thing, (compare Ecclesiastes 9:4; Ecclesiastes 11:7) he does not deny that the clear light of divine grace shines into the darkness of this earthly life (compare Ecclesiastes 9:7-8) “go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart, for God hath pleasure in thy works:” he does not deny the infinite value of suffering as a school for the spirit; he sees, on the contrary, as is plainly set forth in Ecclesiastes 7:2 ff, (“the day of death is, indeed, better than the day of birth, but yet it is better to go to the house of mourning, etc.”), that it is the most important means of purification and progress, that it is therefore disguised grace, and that it constitutes the best preparation for a future existence, for the day when the spirit shall return to God, who gave it ( Ecclesiastes 12:7). Sayings of similar import we find also in heathen writers, with this difference, however, that they possessed no key to such sufferings, that they were unable to reconcile them with the divine righteousness and love, and that they were shut out from a knowledge of, and approach to, those sources of consolation which are revealed in the Holy Scriptures. An amplification and illustration of this short saying may be found in Job 3 and Jeremiah 20. Compare especially Jeremiah 20:18—“Wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see suffering and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame? To seek happiness in this earthly existence has been considered, ever since the day spoken of in Genesis 3, as identical with gathering grapes from thorns and figs from thistles. The right sense is mistaken by those interpreters who suppose that death comes under consideration here, so far as it opens the way to eternal life, and who compare Php_1:21 ; Php_1:23 , and Revelation 14:13. Amongst them is Melancthon, who remarks: “ilia ethnica, optimum non nasci aut quam celerrime aboleri aliena a doctrina ecclesiae:” and the Berleburger Bible, where we read—“for although the day of death extinguishes the light of this life, it kindles the light of eternal life and blessedness.”

Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 7:2. That the house of mourning is one in which a dead man is being mourned, is clear from what follows. אבל , is generally used of mourning for the dead. הוא , “this” namely, that one is mourned for, that one dies. The commentary to the words—“and the living takes it to heart”—we find in Psalms 90:11-12. From the contemplation of death we recognise “the power of the anger of God,” and by this knowledge we are led to regard with due earnestness the sin which called forth such anger. The relation of this verse to the preceding is as follows: Great, in truth, are the sufferings of this life, as Israel must now, through painful experience, acknowledge, but for him who knows how rightly to use them, they will bear rich fruit. Israel was then in the house of mourning, their heathen tyrants were in the house of feasting: (compare Ecclesiastes 10:19, where a description is given of their wanton revels). But, if they only know the time of their visitation, the happiness is on their side, not on that of their oppressors. If, in their mournful circumstances, in the devastations which death had already made amongst the people of God, they see the divine anger against sin, they will gain a “wise and understanding heart” which is itself the highest blessing on earth and the condition of all other blessings. Times of misfortune are times of happiness for the church. Melancthon says—“In rebus secundis fiunt homines negligentiores, minus cogitant de ira dei et minus expectant auxilium dei, deinde fiunt et insolentiores, confidunt sua, industria, sua potentia et facile impelluntur a diabolo. Ideo ex illo fastigio postea ruunt in magnas calamitates, juxta illud: tolluntur in altum ut lapsu graviore ruunt. Et contra aerumnae sunt commonefactiones de nostra infirmitate, et de petendo auxilio dei. Et sunt frenum mul-tarum cupiditatum. Ideo ecclesia subjecta est cruci.”

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 7:3. “With regard to כעס , “anger, indignation, chagrin,” not “sorrow,” compare what is said in Psalms 6:8; Psalms 10:14. Anger is here recommended: in Ecclesiastes 7:9, it is condemned. The indignation which is usually called forth by sufferings, is at once good and evil—good when it is directed against one’s own sin; evil when it is directed against God and the instruments of His righteousness. Compare Lamentations 3:39, “Wherefore do the people murmur thus in life? Each one murmurs against his sin.” The anger which is here recommended is in substance, in essence, repentance. It leads to the confession, “We, we have sinned and been rebellious: therefore hast thou not spared,” ( Lamentations 3:42). רע פנים which signifies strictly—”the badness of the countenance”—is used in the sense of “sadness” only in one other place, namely, in Nehemiah 2:2, “Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart,” רע לב . Countenance and heart are put in contrast with each other there also, but in such a way that the condition of the latter is known from that of the former; whereas here the heart wears a different look from that of the countenance. יטב when used of the heart, means always “to be joyful, merry.” This merriness, however, is one which arises from improvement. By the contrast drawn between the countenance and the heart we are told, that sadness sits more on the surface, takes possession of the outworks, whilst on the contrary peace and joy reign within. The happiness which the world gives causes the countenance to be radiant, but leaves the heart in an evil state. True joy is only there where the heart stands in a right relation to God and His commands. Inasmuch, therefore, as suffering helps to put us into such a relation:—as the Berleburger Bible says—”God’s image is often formed in suffering”—it is a means of attaining to true joy. In consonance with this passage the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 6:10—ὡ?ς λυπούμενοι ἀ?εὶ? δὲ? χαίροντες : and further also in 2 Corinthians 7:10—ἡ? γὰ?ρ κατὰ? θεὸ?ν λύπη μετάνοιαν εἰ?ς σωτηρίαν ἀ?μεταμέλητον κατεργάζεται . If suffering works repentance it must also mak e joyful: for the heart becomes glad so soon as it is in its true and normal condition.

Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 7:4. The heart of the wise, that is, of the genuine members of the kingdom of God, is in the house of mourning, that is, the wise stay willingly, gladly, there. The willing assumption of the cross distinguishes the children of God from the world. They are able to call the cross, “dear cross!” Whereas, to the world, suffering is a horror and an abomination. Jerome institutes a comparison here with the beatitu de of the πενθοῦ?ντες in Matthew 5:4. The sorrowful, however, are such as have their hearts in the house of mourning. Others drive it out of their minds and seek relief in dissipations.

Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 7:5. Better is it to hear the rebuke of the wise, as Israel was now compelled to hear the voice of its prophets, reproaching it with its sins on the ground of its misery. The rebuking wise man is set before us for example in Malachi, whose prophecies bear the inscription, “the burden of the word of the Lord,” and further in this book also (compare Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 5:5). That the rebuke found its point of departure in the suffering of him who was its object, and that in fact the rebuke was a kind of commentary on the suffering, was perceived even by S. Schmidt, who says, “intelliguntur sermones, qui a sapiente in domo luctus habentur.” Than a man who hears the song of fools. The man must be conceived as himself also singing, as in fact, a member of a merry society of the children of this world. The Persians were at that time, the singing fools. That a distinction is to a certain extent made here between the man and the fools, would lead us to conclude that the thought is the following,—that Israel, although in suffering and compelled to submit to rebukes, is better off than if it luxuriated with the world in pleasure and mirth.

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 7:6. The words—For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools—are based on Psalms 118:12, where Israel, being under the rule of the Persians, says—“They (the heathen) compassed me about like bees, they are quenched as the fire of thorns: in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.” Between the happiness or good fortune of the heathen and the fire of thorns, the point of comparison is that both alike violently blaze up, and are quickly extinguished. In the fundamental passage just quoted we find אש קוצים . Here סירים is chosen because of the play on the word; like the play between שמן and שם in Ecclesiastes 7:1, where a passage found ready to hand in Proverbs is made somewhat more concise and pointed. More point is perhaps gained also by the description of the happiness of fools as laughter. Between crackling and giggling there is a certain similarity of sound; there is significance therefore in the designation, “the voice of thorns.” Under the pot, which J. D. Michaelis considered intolerable, serves to render the description more vivid and real, because thorn fires were usually made in such a position. See Psalms 58:9, “Before your pots can feel the thorns:” where thorns are evidently used for making a fire under the pots. And also this, namely, the laughter of fools, the happiness of the heathen, is vanity, like so much else in this world of illusions, and is consequently not a fit object of envy. Considered more carefully Israel is happier than the heathen world, “for the exultation of the wicked is short, and the joy of the impious is but for a moment. Though his greatness mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he perishes for ever like his own dung, and they which see him say—where is he?” ( Job 20:5; Job 20:7). The words, “this also is vanity,” have been historically fulfilled and confirmed in the utter and complete disappearance of the Persian monarchy, whereas Israel still blooms and nourishes on in the Christian Church. Luther remarks—“Virgilius says, fire in the stubble crackles very much hut has no force, contains no heat, and is soon extinguish. So also is the laughter and the mirth of fools: it looks as if it would last for ever, and blazes up high, but is nothing at all. One moment they have their consolation; the next comes a misfortune which casts them down to the ground: and so all the joy lies in the ashes. This, therefore, accords admirably with that which was said shortly before, “and this also is vanity.” The joy and false worldly consolation of the flesh do not last long, and all such joy ends in sadness and evil.”

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 7:7. The reason is here assigned why the happiness of fools is so short. They work their own ruin. Sin deprives them of their understanding, and when that has vanished destruction cannot be far off First the mens sana is lost, and then follows ruin. First the soul dies out, and afterwards the body is cast on the flaying ground. Parallel is Proverbs 15:27, “he that is greedy of gain destroyeth his own house, and he that hateth gifts shall live.” For oppression maketh the wise man mad. עשק , “oppression,” as exercised by the Persian tyrants ( Psalms 62:10). Oppression befools, makes mad: every tyranny has a demoralizing influence on him who wields it; it deadens all higher intelligence, and takes away consequently the preservative against destruction. “The wise man” here is not one who is still such, but who ought to be, and might be, and has in part been such. “The wise man”—so might the Persian still be designated at the time of Cyrus. And a gift destroyeth the heart. “Under oriental tyrannies everything was to be had for presents. According to the parallel “befools, makes mad,” the heart is brought under consideration as the seat of the understanding: compare Jeremiah 4:9, “and it shall come to pass at that day that the heart of the king shall perish and the heart of the princes,” that is, they shall lose their prudence, their power of reflection.

Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 7:8. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning: The thought is quite correctly presented by Melancthon, “Quamquam enim multa patienda sunt tamen vincit tandem causa honesta:” “All’s well that ends well,” and whoso laughs the last, laughs the best. This is assuredly very consolatory for the people of God, for the end belongs to them so certainly as God belongs to them. The proposition is here expressed generally, that whoso has the end of a thing in his favour, for whomsoever the end of a business turns out well, is better off than he to whom the beginning belongs. The commencement of that which is here treated of was on the side of the heathen world, for in the present Israel served, and the heathen ruled. By the end we must understand a fortunate happy end, inasmuch as a bad end cannot be called an end at all. So also on the same subject in Psalms 37:37-38, “mark the pious and behold the upright man, for a future has the man of peace. But the transgressors shall be destroyed together, the future of the wicked will be extirpated:” the meek man has an end, a future: whereas the wicked who are swept away in the half of their days, ( Psalms 55:23) are violently robbed of their end or of their future. So also Proverbs 23:17; Jeremiah 29:11,—“for I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an end and hope.” The main passage in which an end is denied to the heathen is Numbers 24:20, where it is said of Amalek,—“his end is destruction.” “Behold, the end of the heathen is a wilderness, a dry land and a desert” says Jeremiah in Jeremiah 50:12. The formula with which the prophets open their proclamations of redemption is based on the idea that only the beginning of the times belongs to the heathen world, the end on the contrary to the people of God. Better is the patient in spirit than the proud in spirit. Between ארד רוח , which occurs only in this place, and ארך אפים , βραδὺ?ς εἰ?ς ὀ?ργήν ( James 1:19), there is no difference, as is evident from the fact that its contrast in Ecclesiastes 7:9 is Anger, כעס . Accordingly, we must understand by “patience of spirit” the opposite of “passionate excitement,” which bursts forth against God in times of suffering and leads to arbitrary endeavours to help oneself. The patient in spirit is the true Israelite: the heathen is the proud in spirit. The former is better off, for the patient man has the end as his portion: pride on the contrary either comes before a fall or is unable to avert it. If Israel have the end on their side, all they can do is to wait; and he who can wait till the end must certainly attain redemption, (compare Lamentations 3:24 ff) As the heathen power has no future it can effect nothing, notwithstanding all its pride.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 7:9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. The anger or wrath is to be conceived as directed against God and the evil doers favoured by Him, that is, in this present case, against the heathen; compare Psalms 37:1-2; Psalms 37:8. For anger rests in the bosom of fools, who only look at the present and at once fall into error with regard to God and his providence if things go otherwise than in their view they ought to do. It is folly to fix the attention only on that which lies directly before our eyes, to speak wisdom in presence of the good fortune of the wicked: “as grass shall they be cut down, and as the green herb shall they wither,” and, “evil doers shall be rooted out, but they that wait on the Lord shall possess the land.” If we only do not make haste to be angry, the Lord will in his own good time remove all occasions to wrath out of the way. As the Berleburger Bible says: “blessed, on the contrary, is he who in all the events of life maintains a cairn patience, equips himself with a spirit of humble submissiveness and magnanimous contentment, accommodates himself to good and evil times alike, and ever derives strength and quickening from the petition,—“thy will be done.”

Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 7:10. Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these, meaning, “why is it so, how is such a downfall of His people consistent with the love and righteousness of God?” Luther’s remark, which starts from the view that the words were directed against the “laudatores temporis acti,”—“Say not thou, it has been better; for it has never gone right everywhere in t he world,”—overlooks the force of the expression, “what is it, that, why, is it so?” Those whom the author had in view are described in Ecclesiastes 7:16 of the Epistle of Jude, as γογγυσταὶ? μεμψίμοιροι . The contemporary Malachi introduces them in Ecclesiastes 2:17, as spea king: “Ye weary the Lord with your words, and yet ye say, wherein do we weary Him? When ye say, every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord and He delighteth in them; or, where is the God of judgment?” So also in Ecclesiastes 3:14-15, “ye say, it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we keep his ordinance and walk in filth before the Lord of Hosts. And now we call the proud happy, (that is, the heathen,) built up, (that is fortunate,) are the workers of iniquity, they tempt God and notwithstanding escape.” For with wisdom thou dost not inquire concerning this. The wise man sees in the sufferings of the people of God the deserved punishment of their sins, and says, “It is the goodness of the Lord that we are not utterly lost, but the Lord does not cast off for ever, he has compassion again according to his great kindness.” Wisdom at the same time recognises that afflictions are only temporal, and that temporal tribulations have a good foundation. Here, therefore, wisdom appears as the soul of patience.

Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 7:11. The words “wisdom is good,” take up again the מחכמה of Ecclesiastes 7:10. The mention of wisdom there occasions the writer to seek to impress the soul of Israel with the excellence of the possession, which still remains. To the word inheritance corresponds the word silver in Ecclesiastes 7:12. It is consequently the property. As regards that, the children of Israel were at a decided disadvantage compared with the world. They were bondsmen in the laud which the Lord had given them, and strangers devoured its produce; they were drained by their heathen tyrants, they were an impoverished people. For the inexperienced this must have been a source of severe temptations.[1] Against such assaults, Koheleth here offers a ground of consolation.[2] He reminds them that they still have a great advantage over others in the wisdom which is a privilege of the people of God, which can be found nowhere on earth but only in God, (Job 28; James 1:5) and in His word and law: compare Deuteronomy 4:5-6, “Behold I teach you statutes and judgments, as the Lord my God commanded me: and ye shall hold and do them, for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations:” also in Proverbs 1:7, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge :” further, Ecclesiastes 2:6, “the Lore giveth wisdom, out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding;” compare lastly, Ecclesiastes 5:18, “rejoice in the wife of thy youth,” where by the wife of youth we are to understand wisdom which had stood in the very closest relation to Israel from the first commencement of his existence, and Ecclesiastes 2:16, where folly is brought forward as the strange woman, the foreigner. We may not follow the example of the Septuagint and Vulgate, and explain—“wisdom is good united with possessions.” Such a rendering would not be consistent with the posture of affairs at this time, when Israel was destitute of possessions, and with Ecclesiastes 7:12, which represents wisdom and money as having different owners. The word עם rather expresses the idea that wisdom may enter into competition, or take rank, with property: and then with increased force יותר adds that, in fact, wisdom excels property. יותר is properly a participle, and occurs in the sense “over, remaining,” in 1 Samuel 15:16, and in Ecclesiastes 12:9 of this book. Elsewhere it is always used as an adverb, in the sense of “more, very, too, too much, besides, moreover.” So in Ecclesiastes 2:15; Ecclesiastes 6:8-11; Ecclesiastes 7:16; Ecclesiastes 12:12. יותר never signifies “advantage, gain.” The meaning “more” is required further by the argument advanced in Ecclesiastes 7:12, where the justice of its application to wisdom is more carefully pointed out. In Proverbs 3:14, also, wisdom is represented as better than silver and gold.[1] The children of men are described in Ecclesiastes 6:5; Ecclesiastes 11:8 also, as “those who see the sun.”

Verses 11-12

Koheleth proceeds now to comfort Israel, by directing their thoughts to the treasure of wisdom left to them, which was a pledge of the restoration of that which had been lost. It is impossible that a people which can claim wisdom as its own possession should be for ever subjected to death.

Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 7:12. This verse is to be explained as follows,—“for, (if one is) in the shadow of wisdom, (one is also) in the shadow of money, not less safe than when one is protected by money.” Threatening dangers may b e averted quite as often by wisdom as by property. The reason is thus given for setting wisdom on an equality with property ( Ecclesiastes 7:11). Rightly Symmachus, σκέπει σοφία ὠ?ς σκέπει τὸ? ἀ?ργύριον falsely the Vulgate, “sicut enim protegit sapientia sic protegit p ecunia.” Because shadow affords protection against heat—one of the greatest plagues of eastern countries,—it is used frequently as an image of protection in general, and with the greater fitness since all tribulations are represented under the figure of heat.—In the second clause the reason of the use of the term “more” in respect to wisdom ( Ecclesiastes 7:11) is assigned. חִ?יָ?ּ?ה does not signify “to keep in life,” a thing which would fall under the category of shadow, and which gold also in certain circumstances is capable of, but “to quicken, to call back to life.” Israel had then fallen into the hands of death, but the treasure which they still retained, that wisdom from above which still dwelt amongst them, was the pledge of a joyful resurrection. Wisdom quickens, gives life, because the grace of the living and life-giving God rests on the wise man. The principal passage on this subject is Deuteronomy 32:39, where, in regard to Israel’s restoration after severe tribulations, it is said, “I kill and I make alive, I wound and I will heal,” In the Psalms we find היה often used of the restoration to life of Israel when fallen under the power of death, as also of a merely external restoration: for example, Psalms 71:20; Psalms 80:18; Psalms 85:6; Psalms 119:25, “My soul cleaveth to the dust, quicken thou me according to thy word.” In Hosea 6:2, it is said, “he will revive us after two days: on the third he will raise us up that we may live before him.” In opposition to the fundamental and the parallel passage, as well as against usage, Knobel explains as follows,—“the advantage of wisdom consists therein, that it gives us a contented and cheerful spirit,” Elster, “an inner power, a rich and full spiritual life.” Compare besides, Proverbs 3:18—“She (namely, Wisdom) is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her, and happy is every one that retaineth her:” according to which, the life which wisdom gives, is identical with happiness.

Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 7:13. Behold the work of God; most men see it not. In adversity their minds remain fixed on the natural causes,—hence their despair, their passionate excitement, and their futile attempts to help themselves. He who sees God’s work attains at once the power of calm self-command and of quiet submission; he says, “I keep silence because thou hast done it” ( Psalms 39:9). This summons to consider the work of God is then justified and enforced by a reference to its loftiness and significance: “for who can make that straight which he hath made crooked?” (עות , “to make crooked,” Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 12:3). No one can withstand God or alter His determinations. And because no one can no one therefore should wish it. We ought to humble ourselves with joy beneath the almighty hand of God For, as the Almighty One He is the sum and substance of all wisdom, all love, all righteousness. Almighty arbitrariness is inconceivable.[1]

Verses 13-14

This also was a comfort for Israel, that in their sufferings no less than in their happiness they must recognize the arrangement of God,—one, too, proceeding from well considered counsel

Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 7:14. “On the day of good be in the good,” that is, fco inwardly in a good state when thou art outwardly prosperous, be joyful, בטוב = בלב טוב , Ecclesiastes 9:7, compare 1 Kings 8. The explanation, “be prosperous, occupy thyself with it, enjoy it,” lays too strong an emphasis on the word היה . And in the day of adversity behold, instead of, “then also be thou content, for behold.” The correspondence between the two phrases, “in the day of good,” and “in the day of evil,” plainly implies that what follows will teach, at all events, as to substance, how we ought to be in the day of adversity. This correspondence is unheeded by those who explain the Hebrew, “when misfortune befals thee, consider, weigh,” namely, what follows. The words must be punctuated thus—“In the day of adversity, behold;” not, “In the day of adversity behold”—that is, a comma should be inserted after “adversity.” Ewald also errs in the same way when he explains, “And the day of adversity look upon, consider it, calmly.” To contentment in suffering we must surely be aroused by the consideration that it comes from the same God who sends us our prosperity, as Job says—“do we accept the good from God, and shall we not also accept the evil?” The sender being the same, there must be a substantial resemblance between the various things sent, notwithstanding external dissimilarity. God, when he lays the cross upon us, still remains God, still continues to be our heavenly Father, our Saviour, who has thoughts of peace concerning us; what He does is well done, and however heavily the burden may weigh upon us, it must prove wholesome in the end. But the author is not content with merely directing the mind to the ordering of God whose name is in itself a balsam for the wounds of the heart. He hints also at the motives which dictate the infliction of sufferings. God causes evil days to alternate with good ones, to the end that man should not find anything which will come after him, that is, in order that he may not be able to fathom anything which lies behind his present condition. (After him, so also Ecc 3:23, Ecclesiastes 6:12). He is thus made thoroughly little, thoroughly submissive to God: he is thus prevented from setting his heart on transitory sources of happiness. If man cannot be certain of a single day of his life, he must surely be driven to look up to the Lord of life. על דברת which means strictly “on a matter,” occurs in the sense “by reason of,” in Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 8:2; here with a ש following it signifies “by reason that = in order that.” With precisely the same force we find על דברת די used in the Chaldee of Daniel 2:30. Out of Koheleth there is no example in Hebrew of this usage.

Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 7:15. All, is as to substance so much as “of all kinds, various.” The word implies that sometimes strange enough things, such too as one would scarcely have looked for, are true quid pro quos. Then follows a remarkable illustration of the curious things one meets with in life. In the days of my vanity: so Solomon describes the days of his life, because ever since the fall human existence has been subjected to vanity. This vanity is specially to be recognised in that which is adduced directly afterwards;—namely, that so frequently a righteousness worked out with great labour produces notwithstanding no fruit. Several interpreters have been of opinion that ב in the words בצדקו and ברעתו is the causative ב , and that, the sense consequently is, “through his righteousness, through his wickedness.” In support of their view they appeal to Ecclesiastes 7:16, where righteousness is represented as the cause of destruction—“Why wilt thou destroy thyself?” The word ברעתו , in the sense—“through his wickedness,” finds its explanation in the fact, that the Persian secured the stability of his rule by a wickedness, which esteemed all means to be good that served his ends. But that we must rather explain “in, with, along with his righteousness, or his wickedness,” ב being often used of the accompanying circumstances (Ewald, § 217, f. 3), is evident, because the writer’s intention is to advance a fact patent to the world,—“I saw”:—Such a fact was, the union of righteousness and adversity, of wickedness and prosperity; not so, however, that in righteousness lay the cause of adversity, and in wickedness, the cause of prosperity. This is decided further by paralled passages in the contemporaneous Malachi, which exhibit a remarkable agreement with this verse—passages wherein Israel complains that he is unfortunate, notwithstanding his righteousness, and that the heathen or the heathenish tyrants are prosperous notwithstanding their wickedness. Compare Ecclesiastes 2:17—“Ye weary the Lord with your words, and ye say, wherein do we weary him? When ye say: Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, where is the God of judgment?” further, also, Ecclesiastes 3:13-15, “Ye do me violence with your words saith the Lord, and ye say, what do we speak then against thee? Ye say, it is vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we keep his ordnance, and walk in filth before the Lord of Hosts.” (The righteous perisheth in his righteousness). “And now we count the proud happy, built up are the workers of iniquity, they tempt God, and notwithstanding escape:”—the זדים , “the proud,” that is, the heathen tyrants, corresponding to “the wicked,” in this place. From these parallel passages we deduce the conclusion that under “the righteous,” Israel is tacitly referred to, under “the wicked,” the heathen; and that the problem here discussed is the one so frequently and variously discussed and illustrated by Koheleth, namely, the sufferings of the people of God at the period of its oppression by the powers of the world, and specially under the yoke of the Persians. האריך signifies in 1 Kings 3:14, “to lengthen;” elsewhere it is undeniably employed in the sense of “to last long, or, to abide.” So in Deuteronomy 5:16, “in order that thy days may last long:” Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 25:15. Numbers 9:19; Numbers 9:22; and Koheleth 8:12. There is no omission of ימים in the case, for even where it occurs, it is nothing more than the so-called accused, relativ.: so in Deuteronomy 22:7, “And that thou mayest last long in respect of days.” Allusion is here made to the promise of long duration for the people of God given in the Pentateuch. That which in God’s word is spoken to His people by way of encouragement becomes, as things actually are, a ground of complaint against them with the heathen.—If the righteous man perisheth notwithstanding his righteousness, there must be a fault therein, and to point out that fault is the aim of the present section. We must not take the righteousness as merely imaginary; nor is the righteous man here spoken of one who deems himself righteous without reason. Even in Luke 5:32, where the Lord says οὐ?κ ἐ?λήλυθα καλέσαι δικαίους ἀ?λλὰ? ἁ?μαρτωλοὺ?ς εἰ?ς μετάνοιαν , the righteous are not merely such as fancy themselves to be righteous. But in the righteousness of the Pharisees, as it existed in the time of the author, there was a double fault. I. They laid a one-sided stress on the mere external accordance of their actions with the law of God, whereas the heart also was claimed and in the original record of that law, the evil word of the mouth, and the evil desire of the heart, are no less forbidden than the evil action. They failed to see that the law is spiritual ( Romans 7:14), that a man may, for example, give all his goods to the poor, and yet if he do it not from the impulse of love, he may be very far from true righteousness ( 1 Corinthians 13:3). Everything, even in the law itself, is repeatedly and expressly reduced back to love, (compare Romans 13:10). II. They laid a one-sided stress on righteousness, forgetting that all human righteousness is characterised by imperfection, that the righteous man is at the best but a poor sinner. The first fault is closely connected with the second. If we empty righteousness of all deeper significance, it is easy to come to i magine ourselves to be absolutely righteous: such a fancy, however, disappears as soon as we consider more narrowly τὰ? βαρύτερα τοῦ? νόμου ( Matthew 23:23). In relation to publicans and whores the Pharisees were really righteous; so also the Jews in relation to the heathen: but in many respects the righteous, οἵ?τινες οὐ? χρείαν ἔ?χουσιν μετανοίας ( Luke 15:7), are worse than open sinners, because they do not see the need of repentance and regeneration, because they are filled with pride and presumption and are u niversally inclined to judge others, and so forth. Those who in one sense are actually righteous, in another sense are only fanciedly righteous, reputedly righteous, righteous in their own eyes ( Job 32:1). The nature of such a false righteousness shows itself in a peculiarly mischievous manner in days of severe suffering. It is mainly at the bottom of discontent with God’s leadings, and may very easily end in fatal error with regard to God, and an utter loss of Him.[1] The world presents a very perverted appearance. But when we examine more closely into righteousness, and into the end of the wicked, astonishment vanishes and we see that all is orderly. Even Isaiah proves (Ecc 58) that a pretended righteousness cannot lay the same claims as the true, and teaches that the latter will at once be followed by deliverance.

Verses 15-18

At the time of the author bitter complaints were raised that Israel must suffer, despite his righteousness, and that the heathen had the upper hand, notwithstanding their wickedness. He therefore proves that the righteousness which complained so loudly and bitterly because of the denial of its reward, was but another form of ungodliness alongside of a life of open sin; he justifies God’s withholding of redemption, and teaches that those whose aim it is to become partakers of salvation must enter on a new way, even that of a true and genuine fear of God. Consolation and admonition here go hand in hand. There was nothing for Israel but to err with regard to his God, and thus sink into the abyss of despair, if he did not attain to a knowledge of the true nature of his fancied righteousness. If he did not learn to murmur against his own sin, he must murmur against God.

Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 7:16. One is righteous overmuch, when one forgets one’s own sinfulness, which calls for repentance, and when the prayer, ἱ?λάσθητί μοι τῷ? ἁ?μαρτωλῷ? , ( Luke 18:13) which ought to express its prevailing feeling during this earthly life, dies out in the soul. Behind the plus of such a pretended righteousness there lies concealed, a miserable minus. In Matthew 5:20, the Lord says—“unless your righteousness be better than that of the scribes and pharisees ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” To the admonition, “be not righteous overmuch,” Luke 18:11 forms the commentary: ὁ? Φαρισαῖ?ος σταθεὶ?ς πρὸ?ς ἑ?αυτὸ?ν ταῦ?τα προσηύχετο , Ὁ? θεός , εὐ?χαριστῶ? σοι ὅ?τι οὐ?κ εἰ?μὶ? ὥ?σπερ οἱ? λοιποὶ? τῶ?ν ἀ?νθρώπων , ἅ?ρπαγες , ἄ?δικοι , μοιχοί , ἢ? καὶ? ὡ?ς οὗ?τος ὁ? τελώνης : Acts 26:5, may also be compared, where Paul describes Pharisaism as the ἀ?κριβεστάτην αἵ?ρεσιν τῆ?ς ἡ?μετέρας θρησκείας . That the righteousness in which as to substance we are not to do too much, is one characterised by great defects’, that further the author has not the least intention of recommending moral laxity, is clear even from the parallel admonition—“be not wise overmuch”—that is, behave not as such, do not make a loud profession of wisdom, do not employ all means in order to be considered a wise man, like those who are said in Matthew 23:7, to love καλεῖ?σθαι ὑ?πὸ? τῶ?ν ἀ?νθρώπων , Ῥ?αββί , Ῥ?αββί . Except here, the Hithpael form of חכם , occurs only in Exodus 1:10, where it denotes “sapientem se gessit.” Elsewhere the Hithp. of שמם means always “to be alarmed, frightened, to be inwardly troubled:” here, on the contrary, it means “to be outwardly disturbed,” and “to destroy.” The signification of the mere word is the same. In Kal also are the meanings of “to be outwardly disturbed,” and “to be disturbed in spirit,” of “vastatus, desolatus est,” and “stupuit,” connected with each other. But in what sense does a one-sided handling of righteousness and wisdom produce disquiet? Had merely the words—“be not righteous overmuch,” preceded, an exaggerated asceticism might be supposed to be referred to: but this idea is prevented by the other admonition, “be not overwise.” What we must understand, therefore, is the divine curse which it draws down on itself by such perverted courses. Here we have the germ of the woe denounced by the Lord in Matthew 23 against the Pharisees, and pharisaically disposed people, and of the detailed threatenings which follow the often repeated woe! Matthew 23:38 contains words corresponding most closely to the question, “why wilt thou destroy thyself?”—namely, ἰ?δοὺ? ἀ?φίεται ὑ?μῖ?ν ὁ? οἶ?κος ὑ?μῶ?ν ἔ?ρημος .

Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 7:17. Be not overmuch wicked: a little follows, alas! of itself, in man, who is born and conceived in sin, and whose thoughts and doings are evil from his youth upwards. According to Ecclesiastes 7:20, there is not on earth a just man who doeth good and sinneth not. So much the more earnestly, therefore, should we be on our guard against crossing the border-line which separates the righteous man who is still subject to weakness and sin, from the sinner; so much the more carefully should we watch lest we get amongst the number of the ἅ?ρπαγες ἄ?δικοι , μοιχοί , lest we fall into the evil company described in Psalms 1:1; so much the more earnestly should we strive to avoid the “path of the destroyer,” ( Psalms 17:4) into which we may be so easily enticed if we do not walk with fea r and trembling. Why wilt thou die before thy time? The wicked may indeed make it long, when it is God’s will to use him as un instrument for the accomplishment of wise and holy purposes, ( Ecclesiastes 7:15) but judgment will notwithstanding come. “The fear of the Lord prolongeth days, and the years of the wicked are shortened,” ( Proverbs 10:27): ‘‘Men of blood and of deceit shall not live out half their days,” ( Psalms 55:23). The Egyptian, the Assyrian, the Chaldean, the Persian were compelled one after another to experience this.

Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 7:18. It is good that thou shouldst take hold of this, and also that from that thou shouldest not withdraw thine hand: “this,” namely, not to be a righteous man in that condemnable sense, which was the specifically Jewish disease: “that,” namely, not to lead a life of sin, which was specifically the disease of heathens; and was shared by all those who, having wandered into error concerning the God of Israel, now gave themselves up to heathen tendencies. Both alike must be caref ully avoided: both alike are robberies of our gracious God, and both involve us” in the judgments of the Righteous One. The Lord refers to these words in Matthew 23:23. And from the words employed by Him in His rebuke of the Pharisees, viz., ταῦ?τα δὲ? ἔ?δει ποιῆ?σαι κἀ?κεῖ?να μὴ? ἀ?φιέναι , we may judge that He regarded this passage as a reproof of the Pharisaic tendency then in germ. Whoso feareth God escapes alt that, that is, all these dangerous things, the destruction which threatens on all hands. יצא with the accusative signifies “to go out of, or from, anything;” for example,יצא את העיר , “to go out of the city,” then בָ?נַ?י יְ?צָ?אֻ?נִ?י , “my children leave me,” ( Jeremiah 10:20): here it is used in the sense of “escape.” By the fear of God we escape on the one hand the danger of Pharisaism, because firstly, it awakens in the heart a dread of all attempts to deceive God by the trappings of a heartless show of piety; and because further, an energetic knowledge of sin is inseparably bound up with a true fear of God, ( Isaiah 6:5): We escape, also, on the other hand, the danger of a life of sin, because we cannot really fear God without having also a keen dread of offending Him by our sins, ( Genesis 39:9) and a lively wish to walk in the ways of His commands.

Verse 19

Ecclesiastes 7:19. עזו signifies not “to strengthen,” but “to be strong.” Wisdom is strong for the wise, proves itself strong for his best interests. We must think of the mighty men as attended by their hosts. In respect of mere power heathendom had then an infinite superiority.

Verses 19-20

The good still retained by Israel, namely, wisdom, which, as an inalienable possession, accompanied the people of God even into the depths of their sufferings, ( Ecclesiastes 7:11) is of greater value than the power which is on the side of the heathen world. For human sinfulness inevitably involves him in divine judgments who lacks wisdom. Wisdom, on the contrary, as was declared in Ecclesiastes 7:13, gives life to him that hath it. For a parallel see, besides Ecclesiastes 7:12-13, also Ecclesiastes 10:14-18.

Verse 20

Ecclesiastes 7:20. For there is—sinned not: hence the necessity for wisdom as a corrective. He who lacks wisdom will inevitably be guilty of that which will involve him in divine judgments. But only in the midst of Israel has it its abode: in the heathen world folly has pitched its tent, ( Deuteronomy 32:21).

In this fact is the pledge that Israel will finally be exalted to universal dominion.

Verse 21

Ecclesiastes 7:21. That this saying has a political reference is indicated by the word גם , “also.” It shows that the same subject is being handled as before, to wit, the sufferings of the people of God, only from a new point of view. In accordance with this גם the Septuagint translation runs—οὓ?ς λαλήσουσιν ἀ?σεβεῖ?ς , that is, “the godless, the heathen,” (see Isaiah 25:2; Isaiah 25:5; 1Ma_3:15 ; 1Ma_9:73 ; Suidas—a ἀ?σεβεῖ?ς οἱ? πολυθέϊαν ἤ? ἀ?θέϊαν ). The heathen tyrants moc ked the miserably reduced Israelites because of their pretensions to be the people of God; they said to them constantly—“where is now thy God?” Their hatred, moreover, was stirred up by the presumption of the Jews, seeming, as it did, to judge by results, to judge by their actual condition, to be utterly groundless and sheer impudence. The nature of their speeches we may ascertain more closely from the words, “thy servant.” The children of Israel let the heathen see that they looked upon them as, according to God and right, servants; and this provoked them. So that thou mayst not hear, as thou certainly wouldest, if thou shouldest give thine heart to it; which is as much as to say, “and avoid hearing therefore.” If we turn our heart away from that which we perceive with the outward ear, it is as if we heard and yet heard not: for what is heard only with the outward ear is as good as not heard at all. In Psalms 38:14-15, David says, when describing his patience under the assaults of his foes,—“and I as a deaf man bear not, and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. And I am as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth is no reply.” Such is the passionless calm to which every one attains, who sees in everything that befals him an appointment or a judgment of God. Thy servant when he curseth thee. The servant of Israel is the heathen, here as in Ecclesiastes 10:7,—“I saw servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.” It is implied in the idea of the people of God that it should have dominion over the world. To give up this claim, is to give up itself. A living piety which has not this thought is an impossibility. If the people of God has a low conception of itself, it has at the same time also a low view of its Lord. According to Genesis 49:10, “the obedience of the nations “is destined to the Shiloh, who should go forth from Israel. In Exodus 19:6, Israel is denominated “a kingdom of priests:” and because priests of God who made heaven and earth, they are the legitimate lords of the world. “Thou shalt reign over many nations, but they shall not reign over thee,” it is said in Deuteronomy 15:6. According to Deuteronomy 33:29, Israel is a people “before which its enemies must play the hypocrite, and which shall tread upon their high places.” In Deuteronomy 28:1, we read—“and it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all the nations of the earth:” and in Ecclesiastes 7:13, “and the Lord shall make thee the head and not the tail, and thou shalt be above and thou shalt not be beneath.” Isaiah proclaims, in Isaiah 45:14, “thus saith the Lord, the labour of Egypt, and the merchandise of Cushaea and the Sabaeans, the men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine, and shall walk after thee; in chains shall they walk and fall down before thee, and make supplication unto thee—only in thee is God, and there is no God besides.” At the commencement of his Lamentations Jeremiah complains—“she that should be queen amongst the heathen must now serve,” and in Ecclesiastes 5:8,—“Servants rule over them, and there is none that doth deliver out of their hand :” on which we have the annotat. uber., “qui nobis potius si pii fuissemus, servire debuissent.” The explanation—“that thou mayest not be compelled to hear thy servant curse thee,”—is inadmissible: we must rather render the Hebrew, “that thou mayest not hear thy servant, who curseth thee.” No longer to hear that, is the reward of turning away our heart from men, and returning to God. He who is without God in the world has the great torture of being compelled to bear the “killing in his bones” ( Psalms 42:11). We first become free from this pain when we have learnt livingly to “wait upon God.”

Verses 21-22

The point of departure here also, is the misery of the people of God. In times of severe suffering it is of great importance to recognise that affliction is punishment which sin has merited. Light is then thrown on the otherwise dark providence of God: it stills also the tumults of the soul and awakens hope. When we see the footsteps of God in our tribulations, we gain a living confidence in his compassion.

Verse 22

Ecclesiastes 7:22. If such is the voice of conscience we must recognise God’s chastising hand in that which our enemies inflict upon us. The heart then becomes tender towards those who offend, and can receive their injuries with indifference: this is the necessary and solid foundation of the love of enemies, and of prayer for those who despitefully use us and persecute us. We regard them as instruments of God, servants at once of His righteousness, and of that pitiful love which chastises at the right moment, to the end that it may not be compelled to give us up to death: we say also, “let them curse, for God has commanded it.” אשר (where it happened) that, is used here in the sense of “where, there where,” as in 2 Samuel 19:25, and Genesis 35:13; Genesis 35:15. Others, especially the heathen, whom Israel had so often wounded to the quick, by his haughty presumption and contempt of their prerogatives.

Verse 23

Ecclesiastes 7:23. Koheleth having operated a considerable time with wisdom begins now to reflect on his instrument. All this—that is, not merely what has immediately preceded, but all that has gone before from the commencement of the book—I proved by wisdom. The attempt is to be regarded as a successful one in relation to the results set forth: as an unsuccessful one in relation to the final aim, which is, absolute wisdom. In connection with all that he accomplished, there remained in the writer’s mind the humiliating consciousness that he was still far distant from his goal: ἐ?κ μέρους γὰ?ρ γινώσκομεν καὶ? ἐ?κ μέρους προφητεύομεν ( 1 Corinthians 13:9). Of all human efforts, however successful and blessed they may be, the words of Php_3:12 , always hold good—οὐ?χ ὅ?τι ἤ?δη ἔ?λαβον ἢ? ἤ?δη τετελείωμαι .

Verses 23-29

Reviewing the course which he has pursued, Koheleth finds that although in his struggle for wisdom he has made many a gain, he still despite all remains far from his goal ( Ecclesiastes 7:23-24). In his investigations concerning wisdom and folly he arrives at the result that the most dangerous enemy of the human race is false wisdom ( Ecclesiastes 7:25-26). The difficulty of attaining true wisdom may be estimated from the fact that among men very few indeed have reached it, whilst among women not a single instance is to be found ( Ecclesiastes 7:27-28). The reason whereof is, that men are no longer in their original normal condition, but have fallen under the dominion of arbitrary and lawless habits of thought ( Ecclesiastes 7:29).

Verse 24

Ecclesiastes 7:24. Far off is what became, or “what is.” The preterite הוה designates, a past stretching forward into the present. That wisdom cannot reach its aim—see the words, “it remained far from me,” of the preceding verse—arises from the difficulty of approaching its object, namely, that wh ich is (das Seyende). According to the Book of Wisdom, Ecclesiastes 7:17, wisdom is τῶ?ν ὄ?ντων γνῶ?σις according to Ecclesiastes 1:13 of this book, wisdom has to do with all that happens beneath the sun. If absolute being (das Seyende) is far off, difficult of attainment, una pproachable, then must wisdom also necessarily be far off. Parallel is Ecclesiastes 3:11: “Man cannot find out all the work that God doeth, neither beginning nor end:”—to the words, “all the work,” there, correspond the words, “what is,” here: compare also Ecclesiastes 8:17, “man cannot find out all the work that is done under the sun . . though a wise man should think to know it, yet he findeth it not.” Further may be compared Job 11:8, where concerning the object of wisdom, namely, the nature and work of God, it is said—“deeper than hell what canst thou know?”—and Romans 11:33, where we read, ὡ?ς ἀ?νεξεραύνητα τὰ? κρίματα αὐ?τοῦ? καὶ? ἀ?νεξιχνίαστοι αἱ? ὁ?δοὶ? αὐ?τοῦ? . מה שהיה in Ecclesiastes 1:9 signifies, as here, “that which was;” in Ecclesiastes 6:10, it denotes, “that which is.” To be rejected are the divergent explanations, first, of Luther and Stier—“it is far off, what will it be?” then of Ewald—“far off is, what it may be,” one cannot rightly see, what—; and lastly of Hitzig, “what is far off and deep,” which is inconsistent with the position of the words, and in opposition to Ecclesiastes 1:9, where, as Hitzig himself is compelled to admit, “היה is itself predicate,” whereas here he would make it out to be only copula. What man has to do, and what the Lord his God requires of him, namely, the directly practical, is “no longer far off,” since the light of divine revelation has shined into the darkness of human existence ( Deuteronomy 30:11): rather on the contrary, as Moses says to Israel in Ecclesiastes 7:14 of the same chapter, “is this word very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” Of this, however, Koheleth does not here speak, but of the knowledge of things, and, in particular, of the deeper understanding of divine providence and God’s method with His people on earth. That which in itself is clear seems in many respects dark to man because of his indwelling sin, so that he is unable fully to enjoy the gift of God.

Verse 25

Ecclesiastes 7:25. The words, I turned myself and my heart, are set in contrast to a merely superficial doing. No result is ever arrived at where ולבי cannot with truth be added. To seek out wisdom and thoughts: חשבון , “thought, musing, meditation,” (compare Ecclesiastes 9:10, where thought is connected with work, the former being the spiritual element from which the latter proceeds forth) is put in opposition to the blind impulses and passions by which the common man allows himself to be led. That we must render the Hebrew—wickedness as folly, and so forth—is clear even from the article in הסכלות . To judge from the parallel passages ( Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12-13; Ecclesiastes 10:13) רשע might stand in the place of כסל , and סכלות in place of הוללות . כסל and הסכלות too might be omitted without any material alteration of the sense—and to know wisdom and folly—in agreement with the first half of the verse, where the writer speaks merely of the knowledge of wisdom and thoughts. This verse forms merely the introduction toEcc 7:26, where the author communicates the important result at which he arrived in the course of his studies on wisdom and folly.

Verse 26

Ecclesiastes 7:26. There can be no doubt that by the woman spoken of here, we are not to understand a common prostitute, but an ideal person, to wit, false wisdom, which kept constantly undertaking excursions and sallies from her proper home, the heathen world, into the territory of the Israelites. It does little honour to the exegesis of the present day that it has so frequently mistaken this plain and evident truth. The feeling for the allegorical element in Scripture is still, alas! very little developed; and a false occidental realism largely prevails no less amongst certain orthodox, than amongst rationalistic interpreters. A woman in the common sense does not suit the connection: whereas the ideal does. Before and afterwards Koheleth speaks of the great diff iculty of attaining to true wisdom. The ground whereof is specially that alongside of the wisdom that is from above, the σοφία ἄ?νωθεν κατερχομένη , there is a fleshy wisdom, the ἐ?πίγειος , ψυχική , δαιμονιώδη ( James 3:15), which entangles men in her snares an d is the mother of the “inventions “alluded to in Ecclesiastes 7:29. Then further, it must be remembered, an ideal female person, namely, Koheleth the Assembling One, is here speaking: and if this person warns us against another female, as the most dangerous enemy of the human race, we may reasonably presume that the latter is also ideal. But what is quite decisive in favour of the view now advocated is, that it alone enables us to account for the feminine connection of the word Koheleth, which occurs nowhere else in the whole book. Everywhere else, the reference to the incarnation of the wisdom which is from above in the person of Solomon gave rise to the masculine connection; here, however, a change is made on account of the opposition in which wisdom is set to philosophy and wanton seduction. And finally there can be no doubt that the woman here is identical with the (female) “stranger,” the “foreigner,” who is introduced in Proverbs as the dangerous foe of true wisdom: this can be the less questioned, since, as has been already shown, Koheleth refers back to Proverbs.

But now there are strong grounds for thinking that the woman of the Proverbs is the personification of heathenish folly, putting on the airs of wisdom and penetrating into the territory of the Israel ites: she is no other than the φιλοσοφίας and κενῆ?ς ἀ?πάτης of Colossians 2:8, and the ψευδωνύμου γνώσις of 1 Timothy 6:20, which renewed its old attempts at invasion in the very first beginnings of the Christian Church. The key to Proverbs 2:16-17: “to de liver thee from the strange woman, the foreigner which maketh smooth her words; which forsaketh the friend of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God,”—is Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 3:20, according to which the friend of youth is no other than the Lord. This Gentile wisdom, so far as it found disciples amongst the people of God, was chargeable with forgetting the Lord. In Proverbs 5, the evil woman must needs be regarded as an ideal person because of the opposition in which she is set to the good woman, Wisdom. Chr. B. Michaelis remarks:

I. dehortatur a falsi nominis sapientia s. potius μωριᾳ? sub schemate mulieris adulterae, Ecclesiastes 7:1-14;

II. Commendat veram sapientiam sub schemate castae dulcissimaeque conjugis, Ecclesiastes 7:15-23. In fact, Ecclesiastes 7:15-16 there—“drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets,”—are without meaning on the literal view of them. Bertheau, who adopts the literal view, finds himself in such perplexity that he wishes to alter the text and interpolate a negation—“let them not flow abroad.” The cistern, the fountain, is the native Israelitish wisdom.

Out of that one ought to draw living waters and communicate thereof to the heathen world, but not busy oneself with their wisdom which, more closely inquired into, is folly. Further, if wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:4-5,—“say unto wisdom, thou art my sister, and call understanding thine acquaintance. That she may protect thee from the strange woman, the foreigner, who useth flattering words,”—is an ideal person, her opponent must be so also. In the 9th chapter again the evil woman is put in contrast with wisdom. See Ch. B. Michaelis, who says, “Paries cap. duae sunt. Describitur enim I. sapientia, missis circumquaque famulis ad epulas a se paratas invitans, Ecclesiastes 7:1-12. II. Opposita mulier stultitiae suas e contrario delicias commendans et offerens, Ecclesiastes 7:13-18.” The explanation is in fact plainly given in the words of Ecclesiastes 7:13—“there is a woman of folly, clamorous, who is simple and knows nothing.” The woman is personified wisdom. Last of all, in Proverbs 22:14, we read—“the mouth of the foreigner is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the Lord falleth therein.” That the writer treats here of doctrines, teachings, and that foreign doctrines, (seductions always came from foreign countries, as may be seen in the example of Israel in the desert, and then also in that of Solomon himself) are personified as foreigners (female) is clear from the mention of the mouth. Nahum 3:4, presents an analogous instance of such personification. There, Nineveh, the wielder of the world’s sceptre, is represented, on account of her arts of deception, as a whore, who plunges the nations into ruin by her seductions. That which is true of heathen politics, is true also of heathen wisdom, of the philosophy and hollow deceits of the world. To the woman here, corresponds in Revelation 2:20, “the woman Jesebel, which called herself a prophetess to teach and seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” Jesebel there, is a symbolical person, a personification of the erroneous doctrines of the heathen. Against strange teachings and heathenish wisdom, Koheleth warns his fellow-countrymen also in Ecclesiastes 12:12. Numerous parallels to the words, “more bitter than death,” (Cartwright—cujus nefariam consuetudinem vel morte redimere utile fuerit,”) may be found in Proverbs. See, for example, Ecclesiastes 7:26-27, where it is said of “the stranger,” “she hath cast down many wounded, and numerous are her slain. Her house are ways to hell, going down to the chambers of death:” and Ecclesiastes 9:18, “he knoweth not that the dead are there, and that her guests are in the depths of hell.” It is simplest to take לבה as an accusative—“which is nets and snares as to her heart (according to her heart).” The wisdom of the world offers peculiarly strong temptations in times when the world has the dominion; as may be seen in the example of the Maccabaean period.

Verse 27

Ecclesiastes 7:27. This found I, namely, that which has been set forth in the previous part of the book ( Ecclesiastes 7:23). One for one, which is as much as. “one by one, one after the other,” so that on each occasion he only undertook one subject, and thoroughly investigated that. Compare אחד לאחד , “one after the other “( Isaiah 27:12) and, εἷ?ς καθεῖ?ς ( John 8:9). In this way alone can anything be effected in the struggle for knowledge. As the Berleburger Bible remarks—“knowledge grows by slow degrees.” Finding thoughts:—in the later usage the inf initive with ל is frequently employed to describe a condition, a state, in this respect resembling the participle, (see Ewald, § 237 c. 280 d).

Verse 28

Ecclesiastes 7:28. The word אשר standing at the commencement indicates that the searching and not finding refer to the matter mentioned in the previous verse, namely, wisdom, speculation. In regard to the word, see Ewald, § 181 b. There is the same correspondence between the words, “my soul still seeketh and I have not found it,” and the words in Ecclesiastes 7:23,—“I said I will be wise and it was far from me:” as between Ecclesiastes 7:27 and the first part of Ecclesiastes 7:23. Compare further Ecclesiastes 8:17. Many a result has been arrived at, but the full possession of wisdom has not been gained. How difficult that is of attainment is proved by the fact that amongst men only an extremely small number has succeeded, and among women not a single one. The phrase, “one of a thousand,” is borrowed from Job 33:23. Elihu says there that a man who can enlighten his brother on God’s ways, one therefore who is in full possession of divine wisdom, is very seldom to be found, is “one among a thousand.” The select few of this class consist of such men as Moses, David, Isaiah, the same that the author of the Greek “Wisdom of Solomon,” had in view, when in 2:27, he says of wisdom, κατὰ? γενεὰ?ς εἰ?ς ψυχὰ?ς ὀ?σίας μεταβαίνουσα φίλους Θεοῦ? καὶ? προφήτας κατασκευάζει . Himself the author does not reckon amongst these chosen few, without thereby giving up the claim to canonical authority which he expressly makes at the close of the book. In connection with the declaration—“one woman have I not found under all these,” that is, amongst the possessors of wisdom, the fact must be taken into consideration, that no writing by a woman is to be found in the entire Old and New Testaments. That which was vouchsafed only to the chosen few amongst men,—and be it remarked that we do not here speak of that general participation in wisdom to which the entire people of God, as “the wise nation,” ( Deuteronomy 4:6), was called, but of an independent, pioneering, and productive possession thereof,—we should not at all expect to be conferred on woman, who is the “weaker vessel,” ( 1 Peter 3:7). It lies beyond the degree of woman, whose characteristic is in these respects predominantly receptive, not productive, and whose real sphere of independent action is quite another. Luther says—“Women are created by God for their own kind of work, namely, for the management of the house, and the bringing up of children; and each one of us accomplishes that best to which God has created and called him. A woman lays hold of a child better with her little finger than a man with his two fists. Therefore let each one stick to the work to which he has been called and appointed by God.” Nothing but a complete misapprehension, confounding the woman here with the one in Ecclesiastes 7:26, when they have nothing whatever to do with each other, could have given rise to such explanations as that of Hitzig—“among a thousand men I found an, upright man, but not one good woman.” “Uprightness,” in Hitzig’s sense, is not once treated of in this entire connection. What is discussed is wisdom, the fathoming of the nature of things, of the depths of the Godhead. The author only denies to women, what he does not attribute to himself. But undoubtedly it is not his intention to renounce all claim to the honour of being an “upright,” “good” man. Whoever has made himself acquainted with the general features of the Scripture mode of viewing things will at once acknowledge that Hitzig’s view is an impossible one. Luther observes, “amongst the heathen there was a saying—tria mala, mala pessima, ignis, aqua, femina, that is, there can be nothing worse than what these three can do, to wit, fire, water, woman. But these and many of the like sayings against the female sex have been vomited forth by the devil out of pure hatred and venom towards God and His work, meaning in this way to disgust every man with the married state, and with God’s word.” The practical point of view has been well hit upon and described by Cartwright,—“Quod foeminas admoneat, ut modeste se gerant, et consciae imbecillitatis suae caveant, ne sibi et suo ingenio confidant, sed se suis quibus subsunt gubernatoribus regendas et moderandas tradant, et ante omnia Deum sollicite precentur, ut suae imbecillitatis misertus viribus illos accingat, quibus in offcio contineantur.”

Verse 29

Ecclesiastes 7:29. But whence does it arise that wisdom is so difficult for man to reach? The fault lies not in God, but hi man, whose original nature has degenerated. God made man upright: ישר means “upright,” (not “sincere,” as Luther translates,) and designates the normal state, the state which is in adequate correspondence with the divine standard. Were man still in the condition in which he was created, wisdom would be easy of approach to him, for the possession of wisdom is part of the normal condition and character of man. But they sought out many inventions, (arts). הִ?שָ?ּ?בוֹ?ן occurs only here and in 2 Chronicles 26:15. There it is used of artfully devised war machines:[1] and by way of explanation there is added מחשבת השב that is “devised by the meditative.” The word designates here, properly, that which is “thought out,” “excogitated,” “subtilty,” not malas artes, such as, “intrigues,” “machinations,” as Hitzig would explain it. The question in hand relates not to practice but theory, not to evil doing but to perverse thinking. The word describes rather those so often plausible and brilliant reasonings of the natural understanding, which perplex the heart a nd lead away from the wisdom that is from above, those speculations of a heart turned away from God, which are perpetually penetrating into the Church from the world, those βεβήλους κενοφωνίας καὶ? ἀ?ντιθέσεις τῆ?ς ψευδωνύμου γνώσεως , against which the Apostl e utters his warning in 1 Timothy 6:20. Since the fall man has forgotten that he should in the first instance take up a receptive position, in relation to the ἄ?νωθεν σοφία and that such a position is the only right one; but instead of that, he goes hunting after his own phantastic and high-flown thoughts. The only way of throwing off this severe disease, and of escaping from the bonds of one’s own thoughts and imaginations, is to unlearn the serpent’s lesson—“ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil,”—to return to our dependence on God, to renounce all self-acquired knowledge, and, “leaving all our own fancies and conclusions to sink in Lethe’s stream,” to accept the divine teachings alone, according to our Lord’s saying in Matthew 11:25,— “I thank thee, O Father, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ecclesiastes-7.html.
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