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The second half of the foregoing double proverb introduces what now follows: “Poisonous flies make to stink, make to ferment the oil of the preparer of ointment; heavier than wisdom, than honour, weighs a little folly.” We do not need to change מות זבוּבי , on account of the foll. sing. of the pred., either into זבוגי ם (as possible by Hitz.) or זב ימוּתי (Luzz.); both are inadmissible, for the style of Koheleth is not adorned with archaisms such as Chirek compaginis; and also such an attrib. clause as זבוב ימות , a fly which dies,” is for him too refined; but both are also unnecessary, for a plur. of the subj., in which the plurality of the individuals comes less into view than the oneness of their character, is frequently enough followed by the sing. of the pred., e.g., Genesis 39:22; Joel 1:20; Isaiah 59:12, etc. It is a question, however, whether by זבובי מות , death-bringing, i.e., poisonous flies (lxx, Targ., Luther)
(Note: The Targ. interprets, as the Talm. and Mid. do, deadly flies as a figure of the prava concupiscentia . Similarly Wangemann: a mind buried in the world.)
or dead flies (Symm., Syr., Jerome) is meant. We decide in favour of the former; for (1) זבובי מות for זבוּבים מתים (Ecclesiastes 9:4; Isaiah 37:36), “death-flies” for “dead flies,” would be an affected poetic expression without analogy; while, on the contrary, “death-flies” for “deadly flies” is a genit. connection, such as מות כּלי instruments of death, i.e., deadly instruments and the like; Böttcher understands dung-flies; but the expression can scarcely extend to the designation of flies which are found on dead bodies. Meanwhile, it is very possible that by the expression זב ם , such flies are thought of as carry death from dead bodies to those that are living; the Assyr. syllabare show how closely the Semites distinguished manifold kinds of זבובים (Assyr. zumbi = zubbi ). (2) In favour of “dead flies,” it has been remarked that that influence on the contents of a pot of ointment is effected not merely by poison-flies, but, generally, by flies that have fallen into it.
But since the oil mixed with perfumes may also be of the kind which, instead of being changed by a dead body, much rather embalms it; so it does not surprise us that the exciter of fermentation is thus drastically described by μυῖαι θανατοῦσαι (lxx); it happens, besides, also on this account, because “a little folly” corresponds as a contrasted figure to the little destructive carcase, - wisdom בע תּח (“giveth life,” Ecclesiastes 7:2), a little folly is thus like little deadly flies. The sequence of ideas יב יבּ (maketh the ointment stink) is natural. The corrupting body communicates its foul savour to the ointment, makes it boil up, i.e., puts it into a state of fermentation, in consequence of which it foams and raises up small blisters, אבעבועות (Rashi). To the asyndeton יב יבּ , there corresponds, in 1 b, the asyndeton מח מ כּ ; the Targ., Syr., and Jerome,
(Note: The lxx entirely remodels Ecclesiastes 10:1: τίμιον κ . τ . λ (“a little wisdom is more honour than the great glory of folly”), i.e., יקר מעט חכמה סכלות רב ( כבוד in the sense of “great multitude”). Van der Palm (1784) regards this as the original form of the text.)
who translate by “and,” are therefore not witnesses for the phrase וּמך , but the Venet. ( καὶ τῆς δόχης ) had this certainly before it; it is, in relation to the other, inferior in point of evidence.
(Note: מכּבוד ; thus in the Biblia rabb. 1525, 1615, Genoa 1618, Plantin 1582, Jablonski 1699, and also v. d. Hooght and Norzi. In the Ven. 1515, 1521, 1615, וּמכּבוד is found with the copulat. vav, a form which is adopted by Michaelis. Thus also the Concord. cites, and thus, originally, it stood in J., but has been corrected to מכּבוד . F., however, has מכּבוד , with the marginal remark: מכבוד כן קבלתי מני שמשון (Simson ha-Nakdam, to whom the writer of the Frankf. Cod. 1294 here refers for the reading מך , without the copul. vav, is often called by him his voucher). This is also the correct Masoretic reading; for if וּמך were to be read, then the word would be in the catalogue of words of which three begin with their initial letter, and a fourth has introduced a vav before it (Mas. fin. f. 26, Ochla veochla, Nr. 15).)
In general, it is evident that the point of comparison is the hurtfulness, widely extending itself, of a matter which in appearance is insignificant. Therefore the meaning of Ecclesiastes 10:1 cannot be that a little folly is more weighty than wisdom, than honour, viz., in the eyes of the blinded crowd (Zöckl., Dächsel). This limitation the author ought to have expressed, for without it the sentence is an untruth. Jerome, following the Targ. and Midrash, explains: Pretiosa est super sapientiam et gloriam stultitia parva , understanding by wisdom and honour the self-elation therewith connected; besides, this thought, which Luther limits by the introduction of zuweilen [“folly is sometimes better than wisdom, etc.”], is in harmony neither with that which goes before nor with that which follows.
Luzz., as already Aben Ezra, Grotius, Geiger, Hengst., and the more recent English expositors, transfer the verbs of Ecclesiastes 10:1 zeugmatically to Ecclesiastes 10:1: similiter pretiosum nomine sapientiae et gloriae virum foetidum facit stolidtias parva . But יביע forbids this transference, and, besides, מן יקר , “honoured on account of,” is an improbable expression; also מך יקר presents a tautology, which Luzz. seeks to remove by glossing מך , as the Targ. does, by ונכסים עושר מרוב . Already Rashi has rightly explained by taking יקר (Syr. jaḳîr , Arab. waḳur , waḳûr ), in its primary meaning, as synon. of כּבד : more weighty, i.e., heavier and weighing more than wisdom, than honour, is a little folly; and he reminds us that a single foolish act can at once change into their contrary the wisdom and the honour of a man, destroying both, making it as if they had never been, cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6. The sentence is true both in an intellectual and in a moral reference. Wisdom and honour are swept away by a little quantum of folly; it places both in the shade, it outweighs them in the scale; it stamps the man, notwithstanding the wisdom and dignity which otherwise belong to him, as a fool. The expressive רקח שׁמן is purposely used here; the dealer in ointments ( pigmentarius ) can now do nothing with the corrupted perfume, - thus the wisdom which a man possesses, the honour which he has hitherto enjoyed, avail him no longer; the proportionally small portion of folly which has become an ingredient in his personality gives him the character of a fool, and operates to his dishonour. Knobel construes rightly; but his explanation (also of Heiligst., Elst., Ginsb.): “a little folly frequently shows itself more efficacious and fruitful than the wisdom of an honoured wise man,” helps itself with a “frequently” inserted, and weakens מך to a subordinated idea, and is opposed to the figure, which requires a personality.
A double proverb regarding wisdom and folly in their difference: “The heart of a wise man is directed to his right hand, and the heart of the fool to his left. And also on the way where a fool goeth, there his heart faileth him, and he saith to all that he is a fool.” Most interpreters translate: The heart of the wise man is at his right hand, i.e., it is in the right place. But this designation, meant figuratively and yet sounding anatomically, would be in bad taste
(Note: Christ. Fried. Bauer (1732) explains as we do, and remarks, “If we translate: the heart of the wise is at his right hand, but the heart of the fool at his left, it appears as if the heart of the prudent and of the foolish must have a different position in the human body, thus affording to the profane ground for mockery.”)
in this distinguishing double form ( vid., on the contrary, Ecclesiastes 2:14). The ל is that of direction;
(Note: Accordingly, Ecclesiastes 10:2 has become a Jewish saying with reference to the study of a book (this thought of as Heb.): The wise always turn over the leaves backwards, repeating that which has been read; the fool forwards, superficially anticipating that which has not yet been read, and scarcely able to wait for the end.)
and that which is situated to the right of a man is figuratively a designation of the right; and that to the left, a designation of the wrong. The designation proceeds from a different idea from that at Deuteronomy 5:32, etc.; that which lies to the right, as that lying at a man's right hand, is that to which his calling and duty point him; השׂ denotes, in the later Hebrew, “to turn oneself to the wrong side.”
This proverb forms, along with the preceding, a tetrastich, for it is divided into two parts by vav. The Kerı̂ has removed the art. in כש and שה , Ecclesiastes 6:10, as incompatible with the ש . The order of the words vegam - baderek keshehsachal holek is inverted for vegam keshehsachal baderek holek , cf. Ecclesiastes 3:13, and also rav shěyihyn , Ecclesiastes 6:3; so far as this signifies, “supposing that they are many.” Plainly the author intends to give prominence to “on the way;” and why, but because the fool, the inclination of whose heart, according to 2 b, always goes to the left, is now placed in view as he presents himself in his public manner of life. Instead of לב־הוּא חסר we have here the verbal clause חסר לבּו , which is not, after Ecclesiastes 6:2, to be translated: corde suo caret (Herzf., Ginsb.), contrary to the suff. and also the order of the words, but, after Ecclesiastes 9:8: cor ejus deficit , i.e., his understanding is at fault; for לב , here and at Ecclesiastes 10:2, is thus used in a double sense, as the Greek νοῦς and the Lat. mens can also be used: there it means pure, formal, intellectual soul-life; here, pregnantly ( Psychol. p. 249), as at Ecclesiastes 7:7, cf. Hosea 4:11, the understanding or the knowledge and will of what is right. The fool takes no step without showing that his understanding is not there, - that, so to speak, he does not take it along with him, but has left it at home. He even carries his folly about publicly, and prides himself in it as if it were wisdom: he says to all that he is a fool, se esse stultum (thus, correctly, most Jewish and Christian interpreters, e.g., Rashi and Rambach). The expression follows the scheme of Ps. 9:21: May the heathen know mortales se esse ( vid., l.c.). Otherwise Luther, with Symm. and Jerome: “he takes every man as a fool;” but this thought has no support in the connection, and would undoubtedly be expressed by המּה סכלים . Still differently Knobel and Ewald: he says to all, “it is foolish;” Hitzig, on the contrary, justly remarks that סכל is not used of actions and things; this also is true of כּסיל , against himself, Ecclesiastes 5:2, where he translates qol kesil by “foolish discourses.”
This verse shows what is the wise conduct of a subject, and particularly of a servant, when the anger of the ruler breaks forth: “If the ill-humour of the ruler rise up against thee, do not leave thy post; for patience leaves out great sins.” Luther connects Ecclesiastes 10:4 and Ecclesiastes 10:3 by “therefore;” for by the potentate he understands such an one as, himself a fool, holds all who contradict him to be fools: then it is best to let his folly rage on. But the מושׁל is a different person from the סכל ; and מק אל־תּנּח does not mean, “let not yourself get into a passion,” or, as he more accurately explains in the Annotationes: “remain self-possessed” (similarly Hitzig: lose not thy mental state of composure), but, in conformity with תלך ... אל , Ecclesiastes 8:3, “forsake not the post (synon. מצּב and מעמד , Isaiah 22:19, cf. 23) which thou hast received.” The person addressed is thus represented not merely as a subject, but officially as a subordinate officer: if the ruler's displeasure ( רוּח , as at Judges 8:3; Proverbs 29:11) rises up against him ( עלה , as elsewhere; cf. אף , Psalms 73:21; or חמה , 2 Samuel 11:20), he ought not, in the consciousness that he does not merit his displeasure, hastily give up his situation which has been entrusted to him and renounce submission; for patience, gentleness (regarding מרפּא , vid., Proverbs 12:18) ' גּד ... ' ין .
This concluding clause of the verse is usually translated: “It appeaseth (pacifieth) great sins” (lxx καταπαύσει , Symm. παύσει ). The phrase ( חמה ) אף הניח is not to be compared, for it signifies quieting by an exhausting outbreak; on the contrary, יניח in the passage before us must signify quieting, as the preventing of an outbreak (cf. Proverbs 15:1). It appears more correct to render הנּיח in both cases in the sense of ἐᾶν , missum facere : to leave great sins is = not to commit them, to give up the lust thereto; for hinniahh signifies to let go, to leave off, e.g., Jeremiah 14:9; and to indulge, Esther 3:8, here as at Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 11:6, “to keep the hands from something.” The great sins cannot certainly be thought of as those of the ruler; for on his part only one comes into view, if indeed, according to the old legal conception, it could be called such, viz., cruel proceeding with reference to him who wilfully withdraws from him, and thus proves his opposition; much rather we are to think of the great sins into which he who is the object of the ruler's displeasure might fall, viz., treason (Ecclesiastes 8:2), insubordination, self-destruction, and at the same time, since he does not stand alone, or make common cause with others who are discontented, the drawing of others into inevitable ruin ( Ecclesiastes 8:3). All these sins, into which he falls who answers wrath with wrath, patience avoids, and puts a check to them. The king's anger is perhaps justified; the admonition, however, would be otherwise expressed than by 'l-tnch mq', if it were not presupposed that it was not justified; and thus without meta'basis eis a'llo ge'nos an I-section follows the reflection regarding wise deportment as over against the king's displeasure, a section which describes from experience and from personal observation the world turned upside down in the state.
“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, like an error which proceedeth from the ruler.” The introduction by the virtual relative raithi is as at Ecclesiastes 5:12; Ecclesiastes 6:1. Knobel, Hengst., and others give to the כ of כּשׁ the meaning of “according to,” or “in consequence of which,” which harmonizes neither with ra'ah nor with raithi . Also Kleinert's translation: “There is a misery - I have seen it under the sun - in respect of an error which proceedeth from the ruler,” is untenable; for by this translation ra'ah is made the pred. while it is the subj. to ישׁ , and kishgagah the unfolding of this subject. Hitzig also remarks: “as [ wie ein ] an error, instead of which we have: in respect to [ um einen ] an error;” for he confounds things incongruous. Hitz., however, rightly recognises, as also Kleinert, the כ as Caph veritatis , which measures the concrete with the idea. Isaiah 13:6, compares the individual with the general which therein comes to view, Ezekiel 26:10; Nehemiah 7:2; cf. 2 Samuel 9:8. Koheleth saw an evil under the sun; something which was like an error, appeared to him altogether like an error which proceedeth from the ruler. If we could translate שׁיּ by quod exiit , then כ would be the usual Caph similitudinis ; but since it must be translated by quod exit , וגו כשׁ places the observed fact under a comprehensive generality: it had the nature of an error proceeding from the ruler. If this is correct, it is so much the less to be assumed that by השׁלּיט God is to be understood (Daniel 5:21), as Jerome was taught by his Hebraeus: quod putent homines in hac inaequalitate rerum illum non juste et ut aequum est judicare . It is a governor in a state that is meant, by whom an error might easily be committed, and only too frequently is committed, in the promotion of degradation of persons. But since the world, with its wonderful division of high and low, appears like as it were an error proceeding from the Most High, there certainly falls a shadow on the providence of God Himself, the Governor of the world; but yet not so immediately that the subject of discourse is an “error” of God, which would be a saying more than irreverent. יּצא = יּצה is the metaplastic form for יּצאה or יּצאת (for which at Deuteronomy 28:57 incorrectly יּצת ), not an error of transcription, as Olsh. supposes; vid., to the contrary. מלּפני (Symm. ἐξ ἔμπροστηεν ) with יצא is the old usus loq. There now follows a sketch of the perverted world.
“Folly is set on great heights, and the rich must sit in lowliness. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes like servants walking on foot.” The word הסּכל (with double seghol, Aram. סכלוּ ) is used here instead of those in whom it is personified. Elsewhere a multiplicity of things great, such as עמּים , מים , and the like, is heightened by רבּים (cf. e.g., Psalms 18:17); here “great heights” are such as are of a high, or the highest degree; rabbim , instead of harabbim , is more appos. than adject. (cf. Genesis 43:14; Psalms 68:28; Psalms 143:10; Jeremiah 2:21), in the sense of “many” ( e.g., Ginsburg: “in many high positions”) it mixes with the poetry of the description dull prose.
(Note: Luzz. reads נתן : “Folly brings many into high places.” The order of the words, however, does not favour this.)
'Ashirim also is peculiarly used: divites = nobiles (cf. שׁוע , Isaiah 32:5), those to whom their family inheritance gives a claim to a high station, who possess the means of training themselves for high offices, which they regard as places of honour, not as sources of gain. Regibus multis , Grotius here remarks, quoting from Sallust and Tacitus, suspecti qui excellunt sive sapientia sive nobilitate aut opibus . Hence it appears that the relation of slaves and princes to each other is suggested; hoc discrimen , says Justin, 41:3, of the Parthians, inter servos liberosque est quod servi pedibus, liberi nonnisi equis incedunt ; this distinction is set aside, princes must walk 'al - haarěts , i.e., beregel ( beraglēhěm ), and in their stead (Jeremiah 17:25) slaves sit high on horseback, and rule over them (the princes), - an offensive spectacle, Proverbs 19:10. The eunuch Bagoas, long all-powerful at the Persian Court, is an example of the evil consequences of this reversal of the natural relations of men.
“He that diggeth a pit may fall into it; whoso breaketh down walls, a serpent may sting him. Whoso pulleth out stones may do himself hurt therewith; he who cleaveth wood may endanger himself thereby.” The futures are not the expression of that which will necessarily take place, for, thus rendered, these four statements would be contrary to experience; they are the expression of a possibility. The fut. יפּול is not here meant as predicting an event, as where the clause 8 a is a figure of self-punishment arising from the destruction prepared for others, Proverbs 26:27. Sir. 27:26. גּוּמּץ is, Proverbs 26:27, the Targum word for שׁחת , ditch, from גּמץ = שׁוּח , depressum esse . גּדר (R. גד , to cut), something cutting off, something dividing, is a wall as a boundary and means of protection drawn round a garden, vineyard, or farm-court; גּדר פּרץ is the reverse of פּרץ גּדר , Isaiah 58:12. Serpents are accustomed to nestle in the crevices and holes of walls, as well as in the earth (from a city-wall is called חומה and חל ); thus he who breaks into such a wall may expect that the serpent which is there will bite him (cf. Amos 5:19). To tear down stones, hissi'a , is synon. of hhatsav , to break stones, Isaiah 51:1; yet hhotsēv does not usually mean the stone-breaker, but the stone-cutter (stone-mason); hissi'a , from nasa' , to tear out, does not also signify, 1 Kings 5:18, “to transport,” and here, along with wood-splitting, is certainly to be thought of as a breaking loose or separating in the quarry or shaft. Ne'etsav signifies elsewhere to be afflicted; here, where the reference is not to the internal but the external feeling: to suffer pain, or reflex.: to injure oneself painfully; the derivat. 'etsev signifies also severe labour; but to find this signification in the Niph. (“he who has painful labour”) is contrary to the usu loq., and contrary to the meaning intended here, where generally actual injuries are in view. Accordingly בּם יסּכן , for which the Mishn. יסכּן בּעצמו , “he brings himself into danger,” would denote, to be placed in danger of life and limb, cf. Gittin 65 b, Chullin 37 a; and it is therefore not necessary, with Hitzig and others, to translate after the vulnerabitur of Jerome: “He may wound himself thereby;” there is not a denom. סכן , to cut, to wound, derived from סכּין ( שׂכּין ), an instrument for cutting, a knife.
(Note: The Midrash understands the whole ethically, and illustrates it by the example of Rabsake we know now that the half-Assyr., half-Accad. word rabsak means a military chief], whom report makes a brother of Manasseh, and a renegade in the Assyrian service.)
The sum of these four clauses is certainly not merely that he who undertakes a dangerous matter exposes himself to danger; the author means to say, in this series of proverbs which treat of the distinction between wisdom and folly, that the wise man is everywhere conscious of his danger, and guards against it. These two verses (Ecclesiastes 10:8, Ecclesiastes 10:9) come under this definite point of view by the following proverb; wisdom has just this value in providing against the manifold dangers and difficulties which every undertaking brings along with it.
(Note: Thus rightly Carl Lang in his Salom. Kunst im Psalter (Marburg 1874). He sees in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10 a beautiful heptastich. But as to its contents, Ecclesiastes 10:11 also belongs to this group.)
This is illustrated by a fifth example, and then it is declared with reference to all together.
“If the iron has become blunt, and he has not whetted the face, then he must give more strength to the effort; but wisdom has the superiority in setting right.” This proverb of iron, i.e., iron instruments ( בּרזל , from בּרז , to pierce, like the Arab. name for iron, hadîd , means essentially something pointed), is one of the most difficult in the Book of Koheleth, - linguistically the most difficult, because scarcely anywhere else are so many peculiar and unexampled forms of words to be found. The old translators afford no help for the understanding of it. The advocates of the hypothesis of a Dialogue have here a support in אם , which may be rendered interrogatively; but where would we find, syntactically as well as actually, the answer? Also, the explanations which understand חילים in the sense of war-troops, armies, which is certainly its nearest-lying meaning, bring out no appropriate thought; for the thought that even blunt iron, as far as it is not externally altogether spoiled ( lo - phanim qilqal ), or: although it has not a sharpened edge (Rashi, Rashbam), might be an equipment for an army, or gain the victory, would, although it were true, not fit the context; Ginsburg explains: If the axe be blunt, and he (who goes out against the tyrant) do not sharpen it beforehand ( phanim , after Jerome, for lephanim , which is impossible, and besides leads to nothing, since lephanim means ehedem formerly, but not zuvor [ prius ], Ewald, §220 a), he (the tyrant) only increases his army; on the contrary, wisdom hath the advantage by repairing the mischief (without the war being unequal); - but the “ruler” of the foregoing group has here long ago disappeared, and it is only a bold imagination which discovers in the hu of Ecclesiastes 10:10 the person addressed in Ecclesiastes 10:4, and represents him as a rebel, and augments him into a warlike force, but recklessly going forth with unwhetted swords. The correct meaning for the whole, in general at least, is found if, after the example of Abulwalîd and Kimchi, we interpret חילים גּבּר of the increasing of strength, the augmenting of the effort of strength, not, as Aben-Ezra, of conquering, outstripping, surpassing; גּבּר means to make strong, to strengthen, Zechariah 10:6, Zechariah 10:12; and חילים , as plur. of חיל , strength, is supported by גּבּורי חילים , 1 Chronicles 7:5, 1 Chronicles 7:7, 1 Chronicles 7:11, 1 Chronicles 7:40, the plur. of חיל גבור ; the lxx renders by δυνάμεις δυναμώσει and he shall strengthen the forces, and the Peshito has חילי for δυνάμεις , Acts 8:13; Acts 19:11 (cf. Chald. Syr. אתחיּל , to strengthen oneself, to become strengthened). Thus understanding the words יג יח of intentio virium , and that not with reference to sharpening (Luth., Grotius), but to the splitting of wood, etc. (Geier, Desvoeux, Mendelss.), all modern interpreters, with the exception of a few who lose themselves on their own path, gain the thought, that in all undertakings wisdom hath the advantage in the devising of means subservient to an end. The diversities in the interpretation of details leave the essence of this thought untouched. Hitz., Böttch., Zöckl., Lange, and others make the wood-splitter, or, in general, the labourer, the subject to קהה , referring והוא to the iron, and contrary to the accents, beginning the apodosis with qilqal : “If he (one) has made the iron blunt, and it is without an edge, he swings it, and applies his strength.”
לא־פנים , “without an edge” ( lo for belo ), would be linguistically as correct as בּנים לא , “without children,” 1 Chronicles 2:30, 1 Chronicles 2:32; Ewald, §286 b; and qilqal would have a meaning in some measure supported by Ezekiel 21:26. But granting that qilqal , which there signifies “to shake,” may be used of the swinging of an axe (for which we may refer to the Aethiop. ḳualḳuala , ḳalḳala , of the swinging of a sword), yet קלקלו ( אתו קלקל ) could have been used, and, besides, פנים means, not like פי , the edge, but, as a somewhat wider idea, the front, face (Ezekiel 21:21; cf. Assyr. pan ilippi , the forepart of a ship); “it has no edge” would have been expressed by ( פּיפיּות ) פּה לא והוא , or by מלטּשׁ איננו והוא ( מוּחד , מורט ). We therefore translate: if the iron has become blunt, hebes factum sit (for the Pih. of intransitives has frequently the meaning of an inchoative or desiderative stem, like מעת , to become little, decrescere, Ecclesiastes 12:3; כּהה , hebescere, caligare, Ezekiel 21:12; Ewald, §120 c), and he (who uses it) has not polished (whetted) the face of it, he will (must) increase the force. והוּא does not refer to the iron, but, since there was no reason to emphasize the sameness of the subject (as e.g., 2 Chronicles 32:30), to the labourer, and thus makes, as with the other explanation, the change of subject noticeable (as e.g., 2 Chronicles 26:1). The order of the words קל ... וה , et ille non faciem ( ferri ) exacuit , is as at Isaiah 53:9; cf. also the position of lo in 2 Samuel 3:34; Numbers 16:29.
קלקל , or pointed with Pattach instead of Tsere (cf. qarqar , Numbers 24:17) in bibl. usage, from the root-meaning levem esse , signifies to move with ease, i.e., quickness (as also in the Arab. and Aethiop.), to shake (according to which the lxx and Syr. render it by ταράσσειν , דּלח , to shake, and thereby to trouble, make muddy); in the Mishn. usage, to make light, little, to bring down, to destroy; here it means to make light = even and smooth (the contrast of rugged and notched), a meaning the possibility of which is warranted by נח קלל , Ezekiel 1:7; Daniel 10:6 (which is compared by Jewish lexicographers and interpreters), which is translated by all the old translators “glittering brass,” and which, more probably than Ewald's “to steel” (temper), is derived from the root qal, to burn, glow.
(Note: Regarding the two roots, vid., Fried. Delitzsch's Indogerm.-Sem. Stud. p. 91f.)
With vahhaylim the apodosis begins; the style of Koheleth recognises this vav apod. in conditional clauses, Ecclesiastes 4:11, cf. Genesis 43:9, Ruth. Ecclesiastes 3:13; Job 7:4; Micah 5:7, and is fond of the inverted order of the words for the sake of emphasis, 11:8, cf. Jeremiah 37:10, and above, under Ecclesiastes 7:22.
In 10 b there follows the common clause containing the application. Hitzig, Elster, and Zöckl. incorrectly translate: “and it is a profit wisely to handle wisdom;” for instead of the inf. absol. הך , they unnecessarily read the inf. constr. הכשׁיר , and connect חכמה הכשׁיר , which is a phrase altogether unparalleled. Hichsir means to set in the right position ( vid., above, kaser ), and the sentence will thus mean: the advantage which the placing rightly of the means serviceable to an end affords, is wisdom - i.e., wisdom bears this advantage in itself, brings it with it, concretely: a wise man is he who reflects upon this advantage. It is certainly also possible that הכשׁ , after the manner of the Hiph. הצליח and השׂכיל , directly means “to succeed,” or causatively: “to make to succeed.” We might explain, as e.g., Knobel: the advantage of success, or of the causing of prosperity, is wisdom, i.e., it is that which secures this gain. But the meaning prevalent in post-bibl. Heb. of making fit, equipping, - a predisposition corresponding to a definite aim or result, - is much more conformable to the example from which the porisma is deduced. Buxtorf translates the Hiph. as a Mishnic word by aptare, rectificare . Tyler suggests along with “right guidance” the meaning “pre-arrangement,” which we prefer.
(Note: Also the twofold Haggadic explanation, Taanith 8 a, gives to hachshir the meaning of “to set, à priori, in the right place.” Luther translated qilqal twice correctly, but further follows the impossible rendering of Jerome: multo labore exacuetur , et post industriam sequetur sapientia .)
The last proverb of this series presents for consideration the uselessness of him who comes too late. “If a serpent bite without enchantment, the charmer is of no use.” The Talm. interprets this אם , like that of Ecclesiastes 10:10, also as interrog.: Does the serpent bite without its being whispered to, i.e., without a providential determination impelling it thereto? Jer. Peah, i. 1. But לחשׁ , except at Isaiah 26:16, where whispering prayers are meant, signifies the whispering of formulas of charming; “serpents are not to be charmed (tamed),” לחששׁ , Jeremiah 8:17. Rather for הלּ בּעל the meaning of slander is possible, which is given to it in the Haggada, Taanith 8 a: All the beasts will one day all at once say to the serpent: the lion walks on the earth and eats, the wolf tears asunder and eats; but what enjoyment hast thou by thy bite? and it answers them: “Also the slanderer ( לבעל הלשׁון ) has certainly no profit.” Accordingly the Targ., Jerome, and Luther translate; but if אם is conditional, and the vav of veēn connects the protasis and the apodosis, then ba'al hallashon must denote a man of tongue, viz., of an enchanting tongue, and thus a charmer (lxx, Syr.). This name for the charmer, one of many, is not unintentional; the tongue is an instrument, as iron is, Ecclesiastes 10:10: the latter must be sharp, if it would not make greater effort necessary; the former, if it is to gain its object, must be used at the right time. The serpent bites בּל לח , when it bites before it has been charmed (cf. belo yomo , Job 15:32); there are also serpents which bite without letting themselves be charmed; but here this is the point, that it anticipates the enchantment, and thus that the charmer comes too late, and can make no use of his tongue for the intended purpose, and therefore has no advantage from his act. There appropriately follow here proverbs of the use of the tongue on the part of a wise man, and its misuse on the part of a fool.
“The words of a wise man's mouth are grace; but the lips of a fool swallow him up.” The words from a wise man's mouth are חן , graciousness, i.e., gracious in their contents, their form and manner of utterance, and thus also they gain favour, affection, approbation, for culture (education) produces favour, Proverbs 13:15, and its lips grace (pleasantness), which has so wide an influence that he can call a king his friend, Proverbs 22:11, although, according to Ecclesiastes 9:11, that does not always so happen as is to be expected. The lips of a fool, on the contrary, swallow him, i.e., lead him to destruction. The Pih. בּלּע , which at Proverbs 19:28 means to swallow down, and at Proverbs 21:20 to swallow = to consume in luxury, to spend dissolutely, has here the metaphorical meaning of to destroy, to take out of the way (for that which is swallowed up disappears). שׂפתות is parallel form to שׂפתי , like the Aram. ספות . The construction is, as at Proverbs 14:3, “the lips of the wise תשׁם preserve them;” the idea of unity, in the conception of the lips as an instrument of speech, prevails over the idea of plurality. The words of the wise are heart-winning, and those of the fool self-destructive. This is verified in the following verse.
“The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness; and the end of his mouth is mischievous madness.” From folly (absurdity) the words which are heard from a fool's mouth rise to madness, which is compounded of presumption, wantonness, and frenzy, and which, in itself a symptom of mental and moral depravity, brings as its consequence destruction on himself (Proverbs 18:17). The adjective רעה is as in רע חלי , which interchanges with רעה חו Ecclesiastes 6:2; Ecclesiastes 5:12, etc. The end of his mouth, viz., of his speaking, is = the end of the words of his mouth, viz., the end which they at last reach. Instead of holeloth , there is here, with the adj. following, holeluth , with the usual ending of abstracta . The following proverb says how the words of the fool move between these two poles of folly and wicked madness: he speaks much, and as if he knew all things.
“And the fool maketh many words: while a man yet doth not know that which shall be; and what shall be when he is no more, who can show him that?” The vav at the beginning of this verse corresponds to the Lat. accedit quod . That he who in Ecclesiastes 10:12 was named kesil is now named hassachal , arises from this, that meanwhile sichluth has been predicated of him. The relation of Ecclesiastes 10:14 to Ecclesiastes 10:14, Geier has rightly defined: Probatur absurditas multiloquii a communi ignorantia ac imbecillitate humana, quae tamen praecipue dominatur apud ignaros stultos . We miss before lo - yeda' an “although” ( gam, Nehemiah 6:1, or ki gam, Ecclesiastes 8:12); the clause is, after the manner of a clause denoting state or condition, subordinated to the principal clause, as at Psalms 5:10: “an open grave is their throat יח לשׁ , although they smooth their tongue, i.e., speak flatteringly.” The lxx, Syr., Symm., and Jerome seek to rectify the tautology id quod futurum est et quod futurum est (cf. on the other hand, Ecclesiastes 8:7), for they read יה ... מה שהיה . But the second quod futurum certainly preserves by מאץ its distinguishing nearer definition. Hitzig explains: “What is done, and what after this (that is done) is done.” Scarcely correctly: aharav of the parallel passage, Ecclesiastes 6:12, cf. Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 9:3, requires for the suffix a personal reference, so that thus meaharav , as at Deuteronomy 29:21, means “from his death and onwards.” Thus, first, the knowledge of the future is denied to man; then the knowledge of what will be done after his death; and generally, of what will then be done. The fool, without any consciousness of human ignorance, acts as if he knew all, and utters about all and everything a multitude of words; for he uselessly fatigues himself with his ignorance, which remains far behind the knowledge that is possible for man.
“The labour of the foolish wearieth him who knoweth not how to go to the city.” If we do not seek to explain: labour such as fools have wearies him (the fool), then we have here such a synallage numeri as at Isaiah 2:8; Hosea 4:8, for from the plur. a transition is made to the distributive or individualizing sing. A greater anomaly is the treatment of the noun עמל as fem. (greater even than the same of the noun pithgam , Ecclesiastes 8:11, which admitted of attractional explanation, and, besides, in a foreign word was not strange). Kimchi, Michlol 10 a, supposes that עמל is thought of in the sense of עמל יגיעת ; impossible, for one does not use such an expression. Hitzig, and with him Hengst., sees the occasion for the synallage in the discordance of the masc. ייגּענּוּ ; but without hesitation we use the expressions ייחל , Micah 5:6, ייסּ , Joshua 6:26, and the like. 'Amal also cannot be here fem. unitatis (Böttch. §657. 4), for it denotes the wearisome striving of fools as a whole and individually. We have thus to suppose that the author has taken the liberty of using 'amal once as fem. ( vid., on the contrary, Ecclesiastes 2:18, Ecclesiastes 2:20), as the poet, Proverbs 4:13, in the introduction of the Book of Proverbs uses musar once as fem., and as the similarly formed צבא is used in two genders. The fool kindles himself up and perplexes himself, as if he could enlighten the world and make it happy, - he who does not even know how to go to the city. Ewald remarks: “Apparently proverbial, viz., to bribe the great lords in the city.” For us who, notwithstanding Ecclesiastes 10:16, do not trouble ourselves any more with the tyrants of Ecclesiastes 10:4, such thoughts, which do violence to the connection, are unnecessary. Hitzig also, and with him Elst. and Zöckl., thinks of the city as the residence of the rulers from whom oppression proceeds, but from whom also help against oppression is to be sought. All this is to be rejected. Not to know how to go to the city, is = not to be able to find the open public street, and, like the Syrians, 2 Kings 6:18., to be smitten with blindness. The way to the city is via notissima et tritissima . Rightly Grotius, like Aben Ezra: Multi quaestionibus arduis se faitgant, cum ne obvia quidem norint, quale est iter ad urbem . אל־עיר is vulgar for אל־העיר . In the Greek language also the word πόλις has a definite signification, and Athens is called ἄστυ , mostly without the art. But Stamboul, the name of which may seem as an illustration of the proverbial phrase, “not to know how to go to the city,” is = εἰς τὴν πόλιν . Grätz finds here an allusion to the Essenes, who avoided the city - habeat sibi !
“Woe to thee, O land, whose king is a child, and whose princes sit at table in the early morning! Happy art thou, O land, whose king is a noble, and whose princes sit at table at the right time, in manly strength, and not in drunkenness!” Regarding אי . Instead of שׁם ן , the older language would rather use the phrase מלכּו נער אשׁר ; and instead of na'ar , we might correctly use, after Proverbs 30:22, 'ěvěd ; but not as Grätz thinks, who from this verse deduces the reference of the book of Herod (the “slave of the Hasmonean house,” as the Talm. names him), in the same meaning. For na'ar , it is true, sometimes means - e.g., as Ziba's by-name (2 Samuel 19:18 ) - a servant, but never a slave as such, so that here, in the latter sense, it might be the contrast of בּן־חורים ; it is to be understood after Isaiah 3:12; and Solomon, Bishop of Constance, understood this woe rightly, for he found it fulfilled at the time of the last German Karolingian Ludwig III.
(Note: Cf. Büchmann's Feglügelte Worte, p. 178, 5th ed. (1868).)
Na'ar is a very extensively applicable word in regard to the age of a person. King Solomon and the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah show that na'ar may be used with reference to one in a high office; but here it is one of few years of age who is meant, who is incapable of ruling, and shows himself as childish in this, that he lets himself be led by bad guides in accordance with their pleasure. In 16 b, the author perhaps thinks of the heads of the aristocracy who have the phantom-king in their power: intending to fatten themselves, they begin their feasting with the break of day. If we translate yochēēlu by “they eat,” 16 b sounds as if to breakfast were a sin, - with us such an abbreviation of the thought so open to misconception would be a fault in style, but not so with a Hebrew.
(Note: Vid., Gesch. d. jüd. Poesie, p. 188.f.)
אכל (for לחם אכל , Psalms 14:4) is here eating for eating's sake, eating as its own object, eating which, in the morning, comes in the place of fresh activity in one's calling, consecrated by prayer. Instead of אשׁ , Ecclesiastes 10:17, there ought properly to have been אשׁריך ; but (1) אשׁרי has this peculiarity, to be explained from its interjectional usage, that with the suff. added it remains in the form of the st. constr., for we say e.g., אשׁריך for אשׁריך ; (2) the sing. form אשׁר , inflected אשׁרי , so substitutes itself that אשׁריך , or, more correctly, אשׁרך , and אשׁרהוּ , Proverbs 29:19, the latter for אשׁריו , are used ( vid., under Song of Solomon 2:14).
Regarding běn - hhorim , the root-word signifies to be white ( vid., under Genesis 40:16). A noble is called hhor , Isaiah 34:12; and one noble by birth, more closely, or also merely descriptively (Gesen. Lehrgeb. p. 649), běn - hhorim , from his purer complexion, by which persons of rank were distinguished from the common people (Lamentations 4:7). In the passage before us, běn - hhorim is an ethical conception, as e.g., also generosus becomes such, for it connects with the idea of noble by birth that of noble in disposition, and the latter predominates (cf. Song of Solomon 7:2, nadiv ): it is well with a land whose king is of noble mind, is a man of noble character, or, if we give to běn - hhorim the Mishnic meaning, is truly a free man (cf. John 8:36). Of princes after the pattern of such a king, the contrary of what is said 16b is true: they do not eat early in the morning, but ba'et , “at the right time;” everywhere else this is expressed by be'itto (Ecclesiastes 3:11); here the expression - corresponding to the Greek ἐν καιρῷ , the Lat. in tempore - is perhaps occasioned by the contrast baboqěr , “in the morning.” Eating at the right time is more closely characterized by bighvurah velo vashshethi . Jerome, whom Luther follows, translates: ad reficiendum et non ad luxuriam . Hitz., Ginsb., and Zöckl., “for strengthening” (obtaining strength), not: “for feasting;” but that beth might introduce the object aimed at (after Hitz., proceeding from the beth of exchange), we have already considered under Ecclesiastes 2:4. The author, wishing to say this, ought to have written lshty wl' lgbwrh. Better, Hahn: “in strength, but not in drunkenness,” - as heroes, but not as drunkards (Isaiah 5:22). Ewald's “in virtue, and not in debauchery,” is also thus meant. But what is that: to eat in virtue, i.e., the dignity of a man? The author much rather represents them as eating in manly strength, i.e., as this requires it (cf. the plur. Psalms 71:16 and Psalms 90:10), only not bashti (“in drunkenness - excess”), so that eating and drinking become objects in themselves. Kleinert, well: as men, and not as gluttons. The Masora makes, under bashti ,' the note לית , i.e., שׁתי has here a meaning which it has not elsewhere, it signifies drunkenness; elsewhere it means the weft of a web. The Targ. gives the word the meaning of weakness ( חלּשׁוּת ), after the Midrash, which explains it by בּתשׁישׁוּ (in weakness); Menahem b. Saruk takes along with it in this sense נשׁתה , Jeremiah 51:30. The Talm. Shabbath 10 a, however, explains it rightly by בּשׁתיּה שׁל־יין .
Since, now, Ecclesiastes 10:19 has only to do with princes, the following proverb of the consequences of sloth receives a particular reference in the frame of this mirror for princes: “Through being idle the roof falleth; and through laziness of the hands the house leaketh.” Ewald, Redslob, Olsh., Hitz., and Frst, as already Aben Ezra, understand the dual עצל of the two idle hands, but a similar attribut. adject.-dual is not found in Heb.; on the contrary, ephraim , merathaim Jeremiah 50:21, rish'athaim , and, in a certain measure, also riqmathaim , speak in favour of the intensification of the dual; 'atsaltaim is related to 'atslah , as Faulenzen being idle, living in idleness to Faulheit laziness, it means doubled, i.e., great, constant laziness (Gesen. H. Wört., and Böttch. in the N. Aehrenl., under this passage). If 'atsaltaim were an attribut. designation of the hands, then shiphluth hadaim would be lowness, i.e., the hanging down of the hands languidly by the side; the former would agree better with the second than with the first passage. Regarding the difference between hammeqareh (the beams and joists of a house) and hamqareh ( contignans), vid., note below.
(Note: המּקרה , with mem Dageshed (Masora: לית דגש ); in Psalms 104:3, on the contrary, the mem has Raphe, for there it is particip. ( Michlol 46 a; Parchon's Lex. f. 3, col. 1).)
Since exceeding laziness leaves alone everything that could support the house, the beams fall ( ימּך , Niph. מכך ), and the house drops, i.e., lets the rain through ( ידלף , with o, in spite of the intrans. signification); cf. the Arab. proverb of the three things which make a house insufferable, under Proverbs 19:13. Also the community, whom the king and the nobles represent, is a בּית , as e.g., Israel is called the house of Jacob. If the rulers neglect their duty, abusing their high position in obeying their own lusts, then the kingdom (state) becomes as a dilapidated house, affording no longer any protection, and at last a machshelah , a ruined building, Isaiah 3:6. It becomes so by slothfulness, and the prodigal love of pleasure associated therewith.
“Meals they make into a pleasure, and wine cheereth the life, and money maketh everything serviceable.” By עשׂים , wicked princes are without doubt thought of-but not immediately, since Ecclesiastes 10:16 is too remote to give the subject to Ecclesiastes 10:19. The subject which 'osim bears in itself (= 'osim hēm ) might be syntactically definite, as e.g., Psalms 33:5, אהב , He, Jahve, loves, thus: those princes, or, from Ecclesiastes 10:18: such slothful men; but 'osim is better rendered, like e.g., omrim , Exodus 5:16 (Ewald, §200 a), and as in the Mishna we read קורין and the like with gramm. indefin. subj.: they make, but so that by it the slothful just designated, and those of a princely rank are meant (cf. a similar use of the inf. abs., as here of the part. in the historical style, Isaiah 22:13). Ginsburg's rendering is altogether at fault: “They turn bread and wine which cheereth life into revelry.” If עשׁה and לחם as its object stand together, the meaning is, “to prepare a feast,” Ezekiel 4:15; cf. 'avad lehēm , Daniel 5:1. Here, as there, 'osim lěhěm signifies coenam faciunt ( parant ). The ל of לשׂ is not the sign of the factitive obj. (as leēl , Isaiah 44:17), and thus not, as Hitz. supposes, the conditioning ל with which adv. conceptions are formed, - e.g., Lamentations 4:5, האך למע , where Jerome rightly translates, voluptuose ( vid., E. Gerlach, l.c.), - but, which is most natural and is very appropriate, it is the ל of the aim or purpose: non ad debitam corporis refectionem, sed ad hera ludicra et stulta gaudia (Geier). שׂחוק is laughter, as that to which he utters the sentence (Ecclesiastes 2:2): Thou art mad. It is incorrect, moreover, to take lěhěm veyaim together, and to render yesammahh hayaim as an attribut. clause to yain : this epitheton ornans of wine would here be a most unsuitable weakening of the figure intended. It is only an apparent reason for this, that what Psalms 104:15 says in praise of wine the author cannot here turn into a denunciatory reproach. Wine is certainly fitted to make glad the heart of a man; but here the subject of discourse is duty-forgetting idlers, to whom chiefly wine must be brought (Isaiah 5:12) to cheer their life (this sluggard-life spent in feasting and revelry). The fut. ישׂמּח is meant in the same modal sense as יגבּר , Ecclesiastes 10:10: wine must accomplish that for them. And they can feast and drink, for they have money, and money ־הכּל ... יע . Luther hits the meaning: “Money must procure everything for them;” but the clause is too general; and better thus, after Jerome, the Zürich Bible: “unto money are all things obedient.” The old Jewish interpreters compare Hosea 2:23., where ענה , with accus. petentis, signifies, “to answer a request, to gratify a desire.” But in the passage before us הכּל is not the obj. accus. of petentis, but petiti; for 'anah is connected with the accus. of that to which one answers as well as of that which one answers, e.g., Job 40:2, cf. Ecclesiastes 9:3. It is unnecessary, with Hitzig, to interpret יענה as Hiph.: Money makes all to hear (him who has the money), - makes it that nothing is refused to his wish. It is the Kal: Money answers to every demand, hears every wish, grants whatever one longs for, helps to all; as Menander says: “Silver and gold, - these are, according to my opinion, the most useful gods; if these have a place in the house, wish what thou wilt ( εὖξαι τί βούλει ), all will be thine;” and Horace, Epod. i. 6. 36 s.:
“Scilicet uxorem cum dote fidemque et amicos
Et genus et formam regina pecunia donat.”
The author has now described the king who is a misfortune and him who is a blessing to the land, and princes as they ought to be and as they ought not to be, but particularly luxurious idle courtiers; there is now a warning given which has for its motive not only prudence, but also, according to Ecclesiastes 8:2, religiousness.
“Curse not the king even in thy thought; and in thy bed-chamber curse not the rich; for the birds of the air carry away the sound, and the winged creature telleth the matter.” In the Books of Daniel and Chronicles, מדּע , in the sense of γνῶσις , is a synon. of השׂכּל and חכמה ; here it is rightly translated by the lxx by συνείδησις ; it does not correspond with the moral-religious idea of conscience, but yet it touches it, for it designates the quiet, inner consciousness ( Psychol. p. 134) which judges according to moral criteria: even ( gam, as e.g., Deuteronomy 23:3) in the inner region of his thoughts
(Note: Hengst., not finding the transition from scientia to conscientia natural, gives, after Hartmann, the meaning of “study-chamber” to the word מדּע ; but neither the Heb. nor the Aram. has this meaning, although Psalms 68:13 Targ. touches it.)
one must not curse the king (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:4.) nor the rich (which here, as at 6b, without distinction of the aristocracy of wealth and of birth, signifies those who are placed in a high princely position, and have wealth, the nervus rerum , at their disposal) in his bed-chamber, the innermost room of the house, where one thinks himself free from treachery, and thus may utter whatever he thinks without concealment (2 Kings 6:12): for the birds of the air may carry forth or bring out (Lat. deferrent , whence delator ) that which is rumoured, and the possessor of a pair of wings (cf. Proverbs 1:17), after the Chethı̂b (whose ה of the art. is unnecessarily erased by the Kerı̂ ,
(Note: הכּן with unpointed He, because it is not read in the Kerı̂ ; similarly החנית (1 Samuel 26:22). Cf. Mas. fin. f. 22, and Ochla veochla, No. 166.)
as at Ecclesiastes 3:6, Ecclesiastes 3:10): the possessor of wings (double-winged), shall further tell the matter. As to its meaning, it is the same as the proverb quoted by the Midrash: “walls have ears.”
(Note: Vid., Tendlau's Sprichwörter, No. 861.)
Geier thinks of the swallows which helped to the discovery of Bessus, the murderer of his father, and the cranes which betrayed the murderer of Ibycus, as comparisons approaching that which is here said. There would certainly be no hyperbole if the author thought of carrier-pigeons (Paxton, Kitto) in the service of espionage. But the reason for the warning is hyperbolical, like an hundred others in all languages:
“Aures fert paries, oculos nemus: ergo cavere
Debet qui loquitur, ne possint verba nocere.”
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany