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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 10

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

Dead flies - literally, flies of death.

The ointment - a costly and precious ointment. The more excellent is the ointment, the sadder it is that so little a thing as dead flies should be allowed to spoil it. Sin begins with little things. Little inconsistencies, if not checked at the beginning, undermine the whole character. Following up Ecclesiastes 9:18.

Him that is in reputation - e.g., David (2 Samuel 12:14); Solomon (1 Kings 11:1-43); Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 18:1-34; 2 Chronicles 19:2); Josiah (2 Chronicles 35:22). The more delicate the perfume, the more easily spoiled is the ointment. Common oil is not so liable to injury. So the higher a man's religious character is, the more hurt is caused by a sinful folly in him. Bad savour is endurable in oil, but not in what professes to be, and is compounded by the perfumer ("apothecary") for fragrance. "Flies," being, small in appearance, answer to "a little folly" (sin) (1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9): also "Beelzebub," the parent of sin, means prince of flies. "Ointment" answers to "reputation" (Ecclesiastes 7:1; Genesis 34:30).

To send forth a stinking savour - literally, 'cause to stink (and) to putrefy;' i:e., cause to stink through putrefaction. The verbs are singular, the noun plural, implying that each of the flies causes the stinking savour.

Verse 2

A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left.

A wise man's heart (is) at his right hand - (Ecclesiastes 2:14.) The right hand is more expert than the left. The godly wise is more on his guard than the foolish sinner, though at times he slip. Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one. His heart (the seat of the will, and so the guide of the understanding) is in the right place.

Verse 3

Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.

By the way - in his ordinary course; in his simplest acts (Proverbs 6:12-14).

He saith to every one (that) he is a fool - he "saith" virtually "that he" himself is a fool: he betrays himself as a fool. So the Chaldaic and Septuagint But the Vulgate, 'He thinks that everyone (else whom he meets, especially the godly wise) is a fool.' In his self-conceit, he thinks all fools but himself. The English version suits the context best (Proverbs 13:16).

Verse 4

If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.

If the spirit (anger) of the ruler ... - (Proverbs 15:1.) "yielding pacifieth." This explains "leave not thy place" - do not, in a resisting spirit, withdraw from thy post of duty. If this be true as to our relation to an earthly ruler, how much more so in our relation to the King of kings! (Ecclesiastes 8:3.)

Great offences. "Yielding (literally, soundness) pacifieth" the irritated ruler, so as to prevent his committing "great offences." So Jacob overcame Esau (Genesis 32:1-32; Genesis 33:1-20), and David Saul, (1 Samuel 26:1-25.)

Verse 5

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler:

There is an evil ... as [or through: since kª- is used in Psalms 10:4 ] an error which proceedeth from (literally, from the face of) the ruler. Jerome, on the authority of his Jewish assistant, explained the Ruler as God: not that God is capable of "error," but men are tempted to think so, because of the inequality of things in the present state. Those who look only on the present, and who do not by faith survey the whole, and look on to the end, fancy that God does not govern justly (Ecclesiastes 8:2-3) But Ecclesiastes 10:4 applies to the earthly ruler; therefore, so also should this verse.

Verse 6

Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.

The rich sit in low place - not in mere wealth, but in wisdom, as the antithesis to "folly" (for "foolish men") shows. [So rich, `ashiyr (H6223), is here used, as the similar Greek word in Luke 12:21; James 2:5; Revelation 2:9.] Compare, as cases in point, Mordecai and Haman (Esther 3:1-2; Esther 6:6-11). God's people Israel, who were designed to be rich (Deuteronomy 15:4-6; Deuteronomy 28:11).

Verse 7

I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Servants upon horses - the world turned upside down. the worthless exalted to dignity (Jeremiah 17:25; and vice Servants upon horses - the world turned upside down. the worthless exalted to dignity (Jeremiah 17:25; and vice versa): David fleeing on foot from Jerusalem when Absalom rebelled ('2 Samuel 15:30).

Verse 8

He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.

He that diggeth a pit ... - the wrong done to others recoils on the perpetrators themselves (Ecclesiastes 8:9); they fall into the pit which they dug for others (Esther 7:10; Psalms 7:15; Proverbs 26:27). Image from pitfalls laid for wild beasts; the maker might readily fall into his own pit, as it was covered with branches.

A serpent shall bite him - as when one is stung by a serpent lurking in the stones of his neighbour's garden or vineyard wall (Psalms 80:12), which he maliciously pulls down (Amos 5:19): cf. the prohibition (Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17).

Verse 9

Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

Whoso removeth stones - namely, of an ancient building, or his neighbour's landmarks, or from the quarry.

He that cleaveth wood shall be endangered - by the splinters, or by the head of the hatchet, flying back on himself. Pithy aphorisms are common in the East. The sense is: Deeds of violence endanger the violent themselves.

Verse 10

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.

If the lion be blunt - in 'cleaving wood' (Ecclesiastes 10:9), answering to the 'fool set in dignity' (Ecclesiastes 10:6), who wants sharpness.

Then must he put to more strength - more force has then to be used in both cases; but force without judgment 'endangers' one's self. The preference of rash to judicious counselors, which entailed the pushing of matters by force, proved to be the "hurt" of Rehoboam, (1 Kings 12:1-33.) Wisdom (is) profitable to direct - to a prosperous issue. Instead of forcing matters by main "strength" to one's own hurt (Ecclesiastes 9:16; Ecclesiastes 9:18). True wisdom is the prerogative of the people of God, which will at last prevail over the brute force of their worldly oppressors.

Verse 11

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Without enchantment - if "enchantment" is not used.

And a babbler (a babbling calumniator) is no better. Therefore, as one may escape a serpent by charms (Psalms 58:4-5), so one may escape the sting of a calumniator by discretion (Ecclesiastes 10:12). (Holden.) Thus, "without enchantment" answers to "not whet the edge" (Ecclesiastes 10:10), both expressing, figuratively, want of judgment. Maurer translates, 'There is no gain to the enchanter from his enchantments, because the serpent bites before he uses them. It is no use to a subject, however expert with his tongue, afterward to try to appease the auger of his prince when he not tried to do so at first. I prefer the former view. The 'master of the tongue' is an evil speaker, whose chief possession is his tongue (Psalms 140:3; Psalms 140:11, margin, 'let not a man of tongue be established in the earth'). Since the serpent-brood of Satan and the worldly "generation of vipers" are ever ready to bite the godly, hence, the need of continual caution. Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, caution in acting; from the want of such godly caution the wicked, while breaking their neighbour's hedge, are suddenly 'bitten' by the "serpent" out of it; Ecclesiastes 10:11, and following verses, caution in speaking.

Verse 12

The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

Gracious - literally, grace itself. So the Lord Jesus (Luke 2:52). The disciple of Christ similarly by gracious speech, like "enchantment," averts the sting of the old serpent (Proverbs 22:11; Proverbs 5:11).

Lips of a fool - whereas his thought was to swallow up others with his malicious speech (Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 10:32).

Verse 13

The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.

Illustrating the folly and injuriousness of the fool's words; last clause of Ecclesiastes 10:12.

Mischievous madness - "mischievous" first to others, then to himself, in just retribution.

Verse 14

A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Full of words (Ecclesiastes 5:2) - boasting (as the context implies) of what he will do, how he will live in grandeur.

A man cannot tell what shall be - (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 8:7; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Proverbs 27:1.) If man, universally (including the wise man), cannot foresee the future, much less can the fool; his 'many words' are therefore futile.

Verse 15

The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

The labour of the foolish wearieth. They have no capacity for spiritual things; and merely earthly aims are wearying vanity (Isaiah 55:2; Habakkuk 2:13).

Knoweth not how to go to the city. Proverb for ignorance of the most ordinary matters (Ecclesiastes 10:3); spiritually, the heavenly city (Psalms 107:7; Matthew 7:13-14).

Verse 16

Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

King is a child - given to pleasures; behaves with childish levity. Not in years; because a nation may be happy under a young prince, as Josiah; but as Rehoboam, who, though forty-one years old, is called "young and tender-hearted," 2 Chronicles 13:7. Eat in the morning - the usual time for dispensing justice in the East (Jeremiah 21:12); here, given to feasting.

Verse 17

Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!

Son of nobles - not merely in blood, but in virtue, the true nobility.

In due season - not until duty has first been attended to.

For strength - to refresh the body, not for revelry (included in "drunkenness").

Verse 18

By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.

By much slothfulness - Hebrew, dual: By double slothfulness: or, sloth with both hands.

The building - literally, the joining of the rafters; namely, the kingdom, the edifice of state (Ecclesiastes 10:16; Amos 9:11).

Idleness of the hands - (Ecclesiastes 4:5; Proverbs 6:10.)

The house droppeth - by neglect to repair the roof in time, the rain gets through.

Verse 19

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.

A feast (Hebrew, bread) is made for laughter. Their meals are taken, not for strength, but for self-indulgent excess. Referring to Ecclesiastes 10:18. Instead of repairing the breaches in the commonwealth (the "building"), the princes 'make a feast for laughter' (Ecclesiastes 10:16), and wine maketh their life glad.

But money answereth all (things) - i:e., by having money they can have what they wish; all things are at the call of money, and it answers all charges; so they take bribes to support their extravagance; and hence arise the wrongs that are perpetrated (Ecclesiastes 10:5-6; Isaiah 1:23); e.g., the heavy taxes, which were the occasion of Rehoboam losing ten tribes.

Verse 20

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Thought - literally, consciousness.

Rich - the great. The language, as applied to earthly princes knowing the "thought," is figurative. But it literally holds good of the King of kings, whose consciousness of every evil thought we should ever realize.

Bed-chamber - the most secret place (2 Kings 6:12).

Bird of the air ... - proverbial (cf. Luke 19:40); in a way as marvelous and rapid as if birds, or some winged messenger, carried to the king information of the curse so uttered. In the East superhuman sagacity was attributed to birds.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/ecclesiastes-10.html. 1871-8.
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