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B. In Presence of the Insolence, Bold Assumption and Violence of Fortunate and Influential Fools, the Wise Man can only Preserve his Peace of Soul by Patience, Silence and Tranquility
Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:20
1. Of the advantage of a wise tranquility over the presumptuous insolence of fools
(Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:4)
17The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth 18 among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war: but one sinner destroyeth much good. 1Dead 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. 2A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart is at his left. 3Yea 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. 4If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.
2. Of the advantage of quiet, modest wisdom over the externally brilliant but inconstantfortune of fools
5There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth 6from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place. 7I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth. 8He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. 9Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. 10If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
3. Of the advantage of the silence and persevering industry of the wise man over the loquacityand indolence of fools
11Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better. 12The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. 13The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. 14A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him? 15The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to 16 the city. Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the 17 morning! Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy 18 princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness! By much sloth-fulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through. 19A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry : but money answereth all things. 20Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bed-chamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
*[Ecclesiastes 10:8. גוּמָּצ. A ditch, or pit, Vulg., fovea, LXX. βόθρͅον. The Syriac Version, has the same word. It is, however, no more Aramaic than Hebrew, being rare in both languages, though the verb, signifying to dig, is found in the latter. Its form is unusual in having dagesh after shurek, as is noted in the margin.—T. L.]
*[ Ecclesiastes 10:8 גוּמָּץ. A ditch, or pit, Vulg., fovea, 70 βόθρον. The Syriac Version has the same word. It is, however, no more Aramaic than Hebrew, being rare in both languages, though the verb, signifying to dig, is found in the latter. Its form is unusual in having dagesh after shurek, as is noted in the margin.—T.L.]
[Ecclesiastes 10:9. יִסָּכֵן; for יִשָׂכֵן, a denominative from שַׂכִּין, “a knife,” and, therefore, having no relation to the verb סכן as found, with quite a different meaning, Job 22:2; Job 33:3; Job 15:3; Isaiah 22:15, etc. Lit., “shall be cut,” or, “may be cut thereby.” It is another example of variant orthography, showing that the first manuscripts of this work were written from the ear. See remarks on שִׂכְלוּת and similar words, page 116.—T. L.]
[Ecclesiastes 10:10. קִלְקַל; the sense of swinging, which Zöckler, Hitzig, and Elster give to this word, is not confirmed by Ezekiel 21:26, to which they refer. Gesenius gives the sense to sharpen, polish, but derives it from the primary idea of light moving, as in the rapid motions of a whet-stone, which is very probable. The accents connect it פנים faces, edges, though the Vulgate and LXX have disregarded it.—T. L.]
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Of the three sections of this division, as we lay them down in essential conformity with Vaihinger, the first compares the entire nature of the wise man with that of the fool, whilst the second draws a parallel between the two regarding the conditions of their happiness; but the third points out the more profound causes of their opposite destinies in two special qualities of both (the loquacity and indolence of fools, and the opposite of these faults in the wise man). This train of thought is less clear on account of the peculiar form of the sentences,—nearly all being proverbs of two lines, concise in extent, and significant and aphoristic in character;—but it must not therefore be disregarded, nor displaced by the acceptance of an incongruity of plan or connection, as if it were a conglomerate of many groups of maxims or of separate proverbs with no internal connection. By an atomistic and disintegrating process, this section has been divided by Hengstenberg into five divisions, by Hahn into eight, and by Elster even into nine; (1) Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:1; (2) Ecclesiastes 10:2-3; (3) Ecclesiastes 10:4; (4) Ecclesiastes 10:5-7; (5) Ecclesiastes 10:8-10; (6) Ecclesiastes 10:11-14; (7) Ecclesiastes 10:15; (8) Ecclesiastes 10:16-19; (9) Ecclesiastes 10:20; we shall present the special refutation of this system in our illustrations of the words and sense of the individual verses.
2. First strophe. Ecclesiastes 9:17 to Ecclesiastes 10:4. Of the patient and tranquil nature of the wise man in contrast with the arrogant insolence and irascibility of the fool.—The words of wise men are heard in quiet more than the cry of him that ruleth among fools. Observe the connection with the section immediately preceding, Ecclesiastes 9:13-16, which shows the superiority of wisdom by a single example. But this verse opens a new section in so far as it begins to treat specifically of tranquility as a characteristic and cardinal virtue of the wise man. He who hears in quiet, proves himself thereby a lover of quiet and tranquility, and therefore a wise man. A quiet attention to wise words is a condition necessary to their practical obedience, and consequently to becoming wise and acting wisely. The counterpart of this is shown by the boisterous and passionate cry of the “ruler among fools,” i.e., not absolutely of the “foolish ruler” (Vaihinger, etc., referring to Psalms 54:6; Job 24:13, ff.), but of a ruler who, as he rules over fools, is foolish himself; comp. Ecclesiastes 10:16. Elster correctly observes : “Two pictures are here compared, the wise man among his scholars, who receive his teachings with collected attention, and thoughtful quiet, and a ruler wanting in wisdom to control, and who, in undignified and boisterous ostentation, issues injudicious commands to those who execute them quite as injudiciously. Comp. the mild and tranquil nature of the servant of God, with the criers in the streets: Isaiah 42:2; Matthew 12:19.
Ecclesiastes 9:18. Wisdom is better than weapons of war; i.e., it is stronger, more effective, and indomitable than the greatest physical strength and warlike preparation, קְרָב poetical, and equivalent to מִלְחָמָה comp. Psalms 55:19; Daniel 7:21; and therefore, כְּלֵי־קְרָב as elsewhere we have &כְּלֵי נִלְחַמַה not merely weapons of war (Vulgate: arma bellica; Elster, et al.), but implements of war, warlike instruments, and apparatus, war material in general (LXX σκεύη πολέμου ).—But one sinner destroyeth much good. “One sinner,” i.e., a single one of those coarse miscreants or fools, who can command physical strength, but are destitute of wisdom. There certainly can be no intention to make a special allusion to the “heathen world-monarch,” i.e., the Persian king (Hengstenberg), nor in the expression, “much good” is there any reference to the prosperity of the Persian realm. This expression טוֹבָה הַרְבֵּה can rather be only intended to show what is homogeneous with wisdom and belonging to it, consequently the salutary creations and measures of wisdom, its blessings in the various spheres of the civil, and, especially, of the moral life of men.—Nine manuscripts read וְחֵטְא instead of וְחוטֵא “and one sin destroyeth much good;” but the connection imperatively demands the retention of the Masoretic reading.—
Ecclesiastes 10:1. Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour. Literal, “flies of death,” etc. The singular יַבְאִישׁ, with the plural זְבוּבֵי, is to be taken distributively: each individual dead fly can make the ointment stink, as soon as it falls into it. For this construction comp. Hosea 4:8; Proverbs 16:2; Song of Solomon 2:9; Gesenius, Lehrgebäude, pp. 665, 713. יַבִּיעַ means literally “turns into liquid, causes to bubble up,” i.e., sets into fermentation, and in that way produces the decomposition and rottenness of the ointment. רוֹקֵחַ, dealer in spices. This addition gives us to understand that the valuable ointment of commerce is meant, and by no means a worthless article.—So doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor. [Zöckler’s comment is based upon his translation : “Weightier than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly,”  which is essentially different from our English Version.—T. L.]. יקר is here used in its original signification “heavy, weighty,” namely, in the eyes of the dazzled multitude, that is, accustomed to esteem folly, and indeed a very small amoun.t of folly, of more value than all real wisdom and honor. “Wisdom and honor” correspond in this second clause to the costly ointment of the first and the “little folly” [מְעַט] corresponds to the fly, the little dead animal, that nevertheless corrupts the whole pot of ointment; comp. 1 Corinthians 5:6.
Ecclesiastes 10:2. After Ecclesiastes 10:1 has explained and developed the second clause of Ecclesiastes 9:18, the author turns back to the illustration of the great advantages of wisdom over folly, that is, to the first clause of Ecclesiastes 9:18. A wise man’s heart is at his right hand. That is, it is in the right place, whilst the fool’s is really at the left, i.e., has sinister and perverse purposes. “Heart” is here equivalent to judgment, as in the subsequent verse, and in Proverbs 2:2; Proverbs 14:33; Proverbs 15:28.
Ecclesiastes 10:3. Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him. That is, when he goes out he lets people perceive his want of judgment in various ways—for which reason he would do much better to remain at home with his stupidity.—And he saith to every one that he is a fool. Namely, because he considers himself alone wise, and as a fool he can do no otherwise; for as soon as he should consider himself a fool, he would have made the beginning of his return to the path of wisdom. Knobel, Ewald, and Vaihinger render; “it is foolish.” But סָכָל stands elsewhere only for persons; for the adjective sense it would be necessary to assume the reading סֶכֶל.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 is not a specific maxim incidentally dropped, (Elster) but an admonition holding the closest connection with what precedes, and which forms the practical conclusion of the whole discussion (beginning with Ecclesiastes 9:17) concerning the relation between wise gentleness and foolish passionateness. For the ruler among fools (Ecclesiastes 9:17) here clearly appears again as “ruler;” the “great offences” point back to the “sinner” of Ecclesiastes 9:18; and thus also is there made a close connection with Ecclesiastes 10:2-3 of this chapter. Hence Luther is correct in his rendering : “Therefore, when the insolence of a mighty one,” etc. If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee. For the expression רוּחַ תַּעֲלִה עַל in which רוּהַ does not mean spirit (Sept., Vulg., Hengstenberg), but anger, comp. 2 Samuel 11:12; Psalms 78:21; Ezekiel 38:18.—Leave not thy place; i.e., do not be disconcerted, do not become dissatisfied, as this would develop itself in a changed position of thy body in a manner that would entail danger on thee. In this obvious illustration it is not necessary, with Hitzig, to explain מְקוֹמְךָ by “thy condition of soul, thy usual state of mind,”—an interpretation for which the appeal to the soul—“maintain thy place”—in the Arabian story of the “Golden Necklace,” scarcely affords a sufficient reason.—For yielding pacifieth great offences, i.e., prevents them, smothers them in the birth, and does not let them come to light. We find similar sentences in Proverbs 10:12; Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 25:15.
3. Second strophe. Ecclesiastes 10:5-10. Of the apparent but inconstant fortune of fools, and of the superiority of the modest, but effective and sterling influence of wisdom.—For Ecclesiastes 10:5, first clause, comp. Ecclesiastes 6:1.—As an error which proceedeth from the ruler. By the comparative כְּ in כִּשְׁגָגָה, the evil in the first clause is marked as one that is not simply an error of a ruler, but which only appears as such, manifests itself as such, so as to draw after it much worse evils, (Ewald is correct in translating, “apparently in error”). We can also understand this כְּ as כְּ veritatis, and either leave it untranslated (as Elster, according to Luther and many older authors) or give it through our turn : “there is an evil in respect to an error” (Hitzig); it is then indicated that the particular action in question corresponds to the general idea of an evil (רָעָה); compare 2 Samuel 9:8.—The explanations of Knobel, Vaihinger, and Hahn are censurable in making כְּ equivalent to the expressions “according to, or in consequence of which;” as are also those of Hengstenberg, who, following the example of Hieronymus and a Jewish adept in Scripture learning whom he questioned, understands the term “ruler” (הַשַּׁלִּיט) to be God, and thence thinks of an act of divine power that seems like a fault, but is none,—an interpretation which is untenable on account of the manifest identity of שַׁלִּיט with מוֹשֵׁל in Ecclesiastes 10:4.
Ecclesiastes 10:6-7 give two examples of errors of rulers.—Folly is set in great dignity; namely, by the caprice of a ruler who elevates an unworthy person to the highest honors of his realm. נִתֵּן lit., “is given, is set,” comp. Esther 6:8; Deuteronomy 17:15. The abstract הַסֶּכֶל stands for the concrete הַסָּכָל which the Septuagint, Vulgate, etc., seem to have read directly, but which is not therefore to be put in the place of the Masoretic text, because the latter gives a much stronger thought; it is not simply a fool, it is personified folly.—And the rich sit in low place, i.e., by virtue of those very despotic acts of a despotic ruler,, the rich (i.e., the noble and distinguished, whose wealth is patrimonial and just,) homines ingenuos nobiles (comp. Ecclesiastes 10:20, as also the synonym בֶן־חוֹרִים Ecclesiastes 10:17) are robbed of their possessions and driven from their high places. Hitzig says: “Sudden and immense changes of fortune proceeding from the person of the ruler are peculiar to the East, the world of despotism, where barbers become ministers, and confiscations of large fortunes and oppression of possessors are the order of the day.”
Ecclesiastes 10:7. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth. A contrast to sitting on horseback, which, among the Hebrews was considered a distinction for the upper classes. Comp. 2 Chronicles 25:28; Esther 6:8-9; Jeremiah 17:25; and to this add Justinian 41:3: “Hoc denigue discrimen inter servos liberosque est, quod servi pedibus, liberi non nisi eguis incedunt.” Here also, as in the preceding verse, the persons compared are to be considered as contrasted not merely in their external condition but also in their character; the princes are really princely, and princely-minded persons, but the servants are men with base servile feeling, which qualifies and makes it right for them to serve.
Ecclesiastes 10:8-10 show that in spite of this sudden elevation, so easily gained by unworthy and foolish persons, their lot is by no means to be envied; because their fortune is rife with dangers, because the intrigues by means of which they excluded their predecessors from their possessions, can easily overthrow them, and because the difficult tasks that devolve on them in their high offices can easily bring upon them injury and disgrace. Wherefore genuine wisdom, of internal worth and business-like capacity, is far preferable to such externally brilliant but unreliable and inconstant fortune of fools. The close connection between these verses and Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 is correctly perceived by Hitzig, Hengstenberg and Hahn, whilst Elster and Vaihinger isolate their contents too much in wishing to find nothing farther in them than a warning against rebellion, or resistance to divine command.—He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it. This is different from Psalms 7:15; Proverbs 26:27; Sir 27:26; it is not a pit for others, but simply a pit, the result of severe exertion of a dangerous character, with the implements for digging. Falling into the pit is not presented as a necessary, but only as a very possible case.—And whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him; namely, in accordance with the well-known and frequently confirmed fact, that serpents and other reptiles nest in old walls; comp. Isaiah 34:15; Amos 5:19. The breaking of this hedge appears clearly as an action by which one seeks to injure his neighbor.
Ecclesiastes 10:9. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. Hitzig, taking the futures יֵעָצֵב and יִסָּכֵן too much in the mere potential sense, says: “can injure himself.” See Ecclesiastes 10:8, second clause. For הִסִּיע, “to break loose, to tear out,” that is stones from the earth (not “to roll away,” as Knobel says), comp. 1 Kings 5:31.—יִסָּכֵן is not equivalent to “endangereth himself” (Sept., Ewald, Knobel and Vaihinger), but is to be derived from שַׂכִּין a knife (from סכה “to cut;” comp. Proverbs 23:2) and is to be translated in accordance with the vulnerabitur of the Vulgate by, “he will injure or wound himself,” (Hitzig, Elster, Hengstenberg); see Luther also.
Ecclesiastes 10:10. If the iron be blunt. (Zöckler translates: “If one has blunted the iron”). Since קֵהָה as piel of קָהָה “to be blunt,” can scarcely mean anything else than to make blunt, we must either consider the indefinite “one,” as the subject, or the wood-chopper of the previous verse. Ewald(“Authors of the O. T.”), Hengstenberg and most ancient authors (also the Vulgate and Luther) say, that קֵהָה is to be taken intransitively, and as equivalent to hebescit, retusum fuit, but this is opposed by the following הוּא before לֹא־פָּנִים, which clearly shows a change of subject, forbidding the thought that iron can be the subject of this clause. The view formerly entertained by Ewald, “one leaves the iron blunt” (Poetical Books, 1 Ed.), he afterwards discarded as incorrect.—And he do not whet the edge. Zöckler translates: “And it is without edge.” Hitzig is correct in saying that לֹא־פּנים is formed as לֹא בָנִים “childless,” 1 Chronicles 2:30; 1 Chronicles 2:32, and is equivalent to saying, “without an edge, or edgeless.” The subsequent קִלְקַל is not to be connected with these words, but with the following ones, especially as, according to the only passage in which it occurs (Ezekiel 21:26,) it does not signify to “polish, to sharpen,” but “to shake, to swing.” (Hitzig and Elster are correct, though in opposition to most modern writers, who translate: “And he has not whet the edge”). Then must he put to more strength; i.e., in splitting the wood he must swing the ax with all his strength.—But wisdom is profitable to direct. Zöckler translates : “But it is a profit wisely to handle wisdom.” Read (with Hitzig and Elster) הַכְשִׁיר instead of הַכְשֵׁיר thus making the infinitive construct, which, with its object חָכְמָה (as predicate to יִתְרוֹן) forms the subject (i.e., it is a profit, an advantage, or, it is the best; comp. the opposite וְאֵין יִתְרוֹן in Ecclesiastes 10:11 th. For the phrase הִכְשִׁיר חָכְמָה occurring only here (lit., to make wisdom straight, i.e., to direct it successfully, to handle it skillfully) comp. a similar turn הֵיטִיב חֶסֶד in Ruth 3:10. It is usual to retain the infinitive absolute הַבְשֵׁיר as a genitive dependent on ׃יִתְרוֹן “And wisdom is the profit of prosperity” (Knobel); or, “wisdom has the advantage of amendment” (Hengstenberg); or, “and wisdom is the profit of exertion” (?) Ewald); or, “wisdom gives the advantage of success” (Vaihinger). But all these renderings give a thought less clear and conformable to the text than ours. Luther is not exact: “Therefore wisdom follows diligence,” (in harmony with the Vulgate, et post, industriam sequetur sapientia). The rendering of Hahn is nearest to ours: “And the favor of wisdom is an advantage,” wherein the sense of “favor” for הכשיר does not seem quite appropriate. The entire sense of the verse is essentially correct in the following rendering of Hitzig : Whosoever would proceed securely, and not expose himself to the dangers that are inseparable, even from the application of proper means to ends, toils in vain if he undertakes the task in the wrong way (like those fools in Ecclesiastes 10:6-9); the direct, sensible way to the end is the best”—namely, that very humble, modest, but effective way of wisdom, which the author had recommended already in Ecclesiastes 9:17-18; Ecclesiastes 10:2-3, and now in Ecclesiastes 10:12 ff., farther recommends.
4. Third Strophe. Ecclesiastes 10:11-20.—Of the advantage of the silent, sober, and industrious demeanor of the wise man, over the indolent and loquacious nature of the fool.—Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment.
This sentence in close connection with verse 10 advises to a zealous and dexterous application of the remedies at the command of the wise man; but, at the same time, shows the necessity of such application by an example chosen perhaps with reference to verse 8; thus forming the transition to the warning against empty loquacity and its evil consequences contained in Ecclesiastes 10:12-14. Koheleth does not here allude to the charming of spiritual serpents, i.e., of vicious men, by importunate requests (Hengstenberg) but undoubtedly means the actual art of charming serpents; the possibility of which, or rather the actual existence of which he clearly presupposes in possession of wise and skillful persons, just as the author of the 58th Psalm (Ecclesiastes 10:4-5), indeed, as Christ himself affirms in Mark 16:18; Luke 10:19. (Comp. also Exodus 7:11, and the learned observations of Knobel on the art of charming serpents among the ancients). בְּלֹא לָחַשׁ literally, “without enchantment,” i.e., without that softly murmured magic formula, which, it was pretended, formed the principal agent in expelling poisonous reptiles, if spoken at the proper period, and thus guarded against the danger of being bitten. בַּעַל הַלָּשׁוֹן literally, the “master of the tongue,” i.e., who has the poisonous tongue of the reptile in his power, and knows how to extract the poison, or to prevent its biting; or it may also mean the “ one with a gifted tongue,” who by means of his tongue can produce extraordinary results (Hitzig, Hahn). The latter interpretation is preferable as much on account of the analogy of בַּעַל כָּנָף Proverbs 1:17, and similar expressions, as on account of the context, which clearly shows that the author has in his eye one of ready tongue not making timely use of his gift, a hero with his tongue, but without energy and promptness in action.
Ecclesiastes 10:12. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious. Such a one therefore should not be silent, as the slack serpent-charmer in Ecclesiastes 10:11, but should speak often and much, because he does nothing but good, and acquires favor everywhere with his “gracious” words (Luther). חֵן here means id quod gratiam seu favorem parit, or graciousness; comp. Proverbs 31:30; and for the sentence in general Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 15:26.—But the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. Comp. Proverbs 15:2; Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 13:16, etc. Any other reference of the suffix in the verb תְּבַלְּעֶנּוּ than to the logical subject כְּסִים is inadmissible. For the plural form שִׂפָתוֹת comp. Isaiah 59:3; Psalms 59:7.
Ecclesiastes 10:13. The beginning of the words of his mouth are foolishness; and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. That is, there is nothing discreet either in the beginning or the end of his foolish twaddle (Hitzig); he remains a fool in everything that he says; comp. Proverbs 27:22. “The end of his talk” is the end which his mouth makes of speaking, the last and most extravagant of his foolish speeches. Of this it is here affirmed that it is mischievous madness, namely, even for himself injurious and mischievous madness; comp. Proverbs 18:7; Psalms 64:8, etc.
Ecclesiastes 10:14. A fool is also full of words. To the error of his silly speech, he adds that of endless loquacity. And he is most apt to prattle gladly and much about things of which, from their nature, he can know the least, namely, about future events. And to this fact there is again reference in what is said in the second and third clauses.—A man cannot tell what shall be. מַה־שֶּׁיּהְיֶה must not be changed into מַה־שֶּׁהָיָה, according to the Septuagint, Symmachus, Vulgate, and Syriac, Vaihinger, etc.; for the subsequent clause does not form a tautology with the present one, even when retaining the Masoretic reading, because there is here denied in the first place only the knowledge concerning the future in itself, and then the actual existence of a foreteller of future events (as a reason for the ignorance of the future).—And what shall be after him who can tell him? As in אַחֲרָיו of Ecclesiastes 6:12, (but different from that in וְאַחִַרָיו of Ecclesiastes 9:3), the suffix in מֵאַהֲרָיו refers to the subject הָאָדָם, not to מַח־שֶּׁיִּהְיֶה as though there were a distinction here drawn between the near and the remote consequences of the talk of the fool (Hitzig). A restriction of the here mentioned res futuræ to the evil consequences of the thoughtless twaddle of the fool, is quite as inadmissible as defining it to consist of his lofty plans and bold projects (Hengstenberg). There is simply a general mention of coming events, precisely as in the similar passage in Ecclesiastes 6:12.
Ecclesiastes 10:15. The labor of the foolish wearieth every one. Literal, “the labor of fools:” the plural is used distributively just as in verse 1; comp. Hosea 4:8. The author here passes from the empty and annoying loquacity of the fool to his indolence, his downright inertness, and feeble slothfulness, as to qualities forming a close connection with, and mainly the foundation of, this loquacity.—Because he knoweth not how to go to the city. Hitzig less correctly says: “him who knoweth not,” and Ewald “the one who,” etc. But this second clause is rather intended to give the reason of the premature fatigue of the fool, as also of the feebleness and unprofitableness of his exertions. “Not to know how to go to the city,” is doubtless a proverbial expression allied to that in Ecclesiastes 6:8 : “to walk before the living,” denoting ignorance in respect to behaviour and general incompetency. The way to the city is here mentioned as that which is the best known, most traveled, and easiest to find (Vaihinger, Hengstenberg), not because it leads to those great lords described in Ecclesiastes 10:16-19, whom it avails to bribe [Ewald], but simply in so far as the city is the seat of the rulers, of the officers, whence oppression proceeds, and whence also may come relief for the inhabitants of the land (Hitzig, Elster) Hahn is peculiar, but hardly in accordance with the true sense of the word ׃אֲשֵׁר “The travail which foolish rulers (?) prepare for their subjects makes these latter tired and faint, brings them to despair, so that they do not know regarding their going to the city, whether, or when, or how it must take place, in order not to violate a law.”
Ecclesiastes 10:16-19 have so loose a connection with Ecclesiastes 10:15, that Hitzig seems to be right when he perceives in them the words of the prattling fool previously described (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15), instead of the actual speech of the author. The lament about the idle lavishing of time, and luxurious debauchery of a king and his counsellors in these verses, would be then given as an example of the extreme injudiciousness of a foolish man in his talk, and the following warning against such want of foresight (Ecclesiastes 10:20) would then be very fittingly annexed. The whole tendency of the section would then seem directed only against thoughtless and idle loquacity, together with its evil consequences; whilst the indolence and luxury of extravagant nobles (Ecclesiastes 10:16; Ecclesiastes 10:18-19) form no object of the attack of the author, although he may consider the complaints of the foolish talker as well grounded, and may himself have lived under an authority attended with these vices. For him who will not accept this view, for which the relation between Ecclesiastes 10:5-6 of the fourth chapter may be quoted as analogous, there is no other course than, with the great majority of commentators, to see in these verses a farther extension of the theme of indolence, business incapacity and slothfulness of fools, the treatment of which was begun in Ecclesiastes 10:15.Ecclesiastes 10:16; Ecclesiastes 10:16 would then pass from indolent fools in general to indolent, supine and inefficient rulers and nobles in particular. But there would then exist a very imperfect, if, indeed, any, connection with the final warning in Ecclesiastes 10:20; indeed the open manner in which complaints are made, in what immediately precedes, regarding the bad conduct of rulers, would seem to be in direct contradiction to this warning about uttering these complaints loudly.—Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!—That is, an inexperienced, thoughtless fool, incapable of governing; comp. 1 Kings 3:7 : Isaiah 3:4; Isaiah 3:12,—which passages also describe it as a great misfortune to be governed by a child [νήπιος]. Therefore נַעַר is not to be rendered by “servant, slave,” which latter would rather be expressed by עֶבֶד [contrary to Döderlein, Herzfeld, et al.).—And thy princes eat in the morning.—A sign of especially excessive intemperance and gluttony; see Isaiah 5:11 ff.; Acts 2:15, and compare also the classical parallels in Cicero, Phil. 2:40; Catullus, Carm. 47:5, 6; Juvenal, Sat. 2:49, 50.
Ecclesiastes 10:17. Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles.—(בֶּן־חוֹרִים compare בַּת־נָדִיב Song of Solomon 7:2; Isaiah 32:8); a noble not merely by birth, but also in disposition, vere nobilis, generosus.—And thy princes eat in due season, for strength and not for drunkenness.—Therefore make that proper use of wine treated of in Psalms 104:15; 1 Timothy 5:23; not that perverted use against which we are warned in Proverbs 31:4. כִּגִבוּרָה is not “in strength” (Hahn), or “in virtue” (Ewald), but “for strength,” for obtaining strength. The prep. בּ relates to the object on whose account the action occurs, just as in בּאדם Ecclesiastes 2:24 (comp. בּם Ecclesiastes 3:12).
Ecclesiastes 10:18. By much slothfulness the building decayeth.—That is, the edifice of state, that is here compared to a house that is tottering and threatening to fall (comp. Isaiah 3:6; Amos 9:11). The intent here is to point out the bad effects of the rioting idleness of the great ones who are called to govern a state. עֲצַלְתַּיִם literally: “the two idle” [hands]; comp. Ewald, § 180 a, 187 c. The expression is stronger than the simple form עַצְלָה or עַצְלוּת (Proverbs 19:15; Proverbs 31:27); “double idleness,” i.e., “great idleness.”—And through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.—That is, the rain penetrating through the leaky roof. The words שִׁפְלוּת יָדַים are used as elsewhere רִפְיוֹן־יָדָים “idleness of the hands,” Isaiah 47:3; comp. Proverbs 10:4.
Ecclesiastes 10:19. A feast is made for laughter.—A return to the description of riotous and ruinous conduct as given in verse 16. לִשְׂחוֹק “for laughter,” as elsewhere בִּשְׂחוֹק with laughter; comp. for this use of לְ 2 Chronicles 20:21; Psalms 102:5.—-עשֹׁים לֶחֶם literally, “they make bread;” i.e., they give banquets, have riotous feasts. עָשָׂה לֶחֶם is therefore used here in a sense different from that in Ezekiel 4:15, where it signifies “to prepare bread, to bake bread;” comp. עָשָׂה in Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 6:12.—And wine maketh merry.—The suffix is wanting just as in עֹשִׂים the הֵם was left out. Comp. moreover, Psalms 104:15, where an innocent and reasonable enjoyment of wine is meant whilst here the allusion is to a perverted and debauching use of it, as in Ecclesiastes 7:2 ff.—But money answereth all things.—That is, to these luxurious rioters, who, counting on their wealth, declare in drunken arrogance that “money rules the world,” “for money one can have every thing that the heart desires, wine, delicacies,” etc., etc. For this Epicurean rule of life see Horace, Epis. I., 6, 36–38. עָנָה literally, “to answer, to listen to” (Ecclesiastes 5:10), but is here equivalent to “to afford, to grant;” comp. Hosea 2:23. Hitzig unnecessarily considers יַעֲנֶה as Hiphil (“makes to hear”).
Ecclesiastes 10:20. Concerning the probable connection with the preceding, consult Ecclesiastes 10:16-19 above.—Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought.—מַדָּע elsewhere “knowledge,” here “thought,” Sept. συνείδησις. The signification, “study chamber,” given by Hengstenberg, lacks philological authority. For the sentence comp. 2 Kings 6:12. Hengstenberg is correct in saying; “We have here a pure rule of prudence (not a formal precept of duty), a tenet that may be simply summed up in the expression of the Lord : γίνεσθε φρόνιμοι ὡς οἱ ὅφεις.”—And curse not the rich in thy bed chamber.—The rich here represents the noble, the prince, or the counsellor of the king (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:16).—For a bird of the air shall carry the voice.—That is, in an inconceivable manner, which no one would consider possible, will that he betrayed which thou hast said. See the proverb: “The walls have ears;” also Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:14.—And that which hath wings shall tell the matter.—בַּעַל הַכְּנָפִים equivalent to בַּעַל־כָּנָף Proverbs 1:17. The K’ri would unnecessarily here strike out the article before כְּנָפִים.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
(With Homiletical Hints)
Although the conclusion of the chapter—the warning against injudicious speeches assailing the respect due to kings in Ecclesiastes 10:20—may have been written with conscious reference to the relation of Israel to its Persian rulers, the section, taken as a whole, is simply an unambiguous illustration of the relation between wise men and fools. The allegorical conception of Hengstenberg, by virtue of which he sees in Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 the idea that the people of God, groaning under the tyranny of the world, will be sustained by reference to the fact that the hostile world, i.e., the Persian world, is given over to folly, and that thus its destruction cannot be far off,—this conception, we say, finds no sufficient support in the text; it is, rather, very decidedly opposed by the exceeding general character of the morally descriptive as well as of the admonitory parts. The contents and the tendency of the section form an eloquent, figurative, vivid and popular illustration of the superiority of wisdom over folly. The theme here treated is that favorite one of the Proverbs—the parallels between wisdom and folly [Proverbs 1:20 ff; Proverbs 9:1 ff; Proverbs 10:1 ff; Proverbs 14:1 ff; Proverbs 24:1 ff.]; and simply with the difference that here are more emphatically and accurately described the insolence and haughtiness of fools, as well as their loquacity and indolent levity, in contrast to the corresponding virtues of the wise. See exegetical illustrations above, No. 1. A Homily on the entire Chapter: Of a few dominant qualities and principal characteristics of wisdom and folly.—Or, of genuine wisdom as the only remedy against the vices of pride, levity and arrogance, together with their evil consequences.—Comp. Starke: Three moral precepts: 1. Esteem genuine wisdom (Ecclesiastes 10:1-15). 2. Avoid indolence and debauchery (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19). 3. Curse not the king (ver.20).
homiletical hints on separate passages
Ecclesiastes 9:17; Ecclesiastes 10:4. Melanchthon (Ecclesiastes 9:17): The words of the wise are heard by the silent—that is, by those who are not carried away by raging lusts, but who seek for things true and salutary. (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Good counsels, sound teaching, well ordered methods, are constantly marred and rendered unavailing by trifling meddlers, who are more readily heard, both in courts and by the people, than the more modest and poor, who give right instruction and salutary advice. Lange (Ecclesiastes 9:18). He who has learned any thing thoroughly can effect much good thereby, but also much evil, if he wickedly uses what he has learned against the great purposes of God. Cartwright:—Such patient submission calms the most violent tempests of the soul; it makes tranquil the most swollen waves of passion; it turns the lion into a lamb. Let us strive then to be imbued with this virtue by which we may please God as well as men, even those who are the farthest removed from piety and humanity. Starke (Ecclesiastes 10:3):—It is difficult to expel folly and instil wisdom; but it becomes still more difficult when man in his folly considers himself wise (Romans 1:22).—(Ecclesiastes 10:4). To suffer and patiently commend one’s innocence to God is the best remedy against misused power and the wrong that we have endured, Jeremiah 11:20.
Geier (Ecclesiastes 10:5) :—Lofty positions and great power have not the privilege of infallibility. Therefore, the higher one stands, the more careful let him be, entreating God that he may not fall into error and vice.—Hansen (Ecclesiastes 10:6-7) :—The want of foresight in rulers ever exerts evil influences in the world. The unworthy are thereby preferred to the worthy, and everything takes a wrong course.—(Ecclesiastes 10:10):—It depends more on wisdom and foresight than on physical strength, to carry on the occupations of men with success.—Hengstenberg (Ecclesiastes 10:9): He who proceeds with violence in the moral sphere, and thus performs actions that, in respect to this quality, are similar to the breaking of stone or the splitting of wood, will suffer inevitable injury.—(Ecclesiastes 10:10). He who in wisdom possesses the corrective whereby he can sharpen the blunt iron of his understanding, must rise, however deep he may be sunken. He who does not possess it must go to ruin, however high he may have risen.
Ecclesiastes 10:11-15. Brenz:—There is nothing in man which contributes more to bring him into sin than his tongue. Truth is satisfied with the fewest and simplest words, and the wiser the man, or the more attached to truth, the more sparing is he in his speech. (Ecclesiastes 10:15). This teaches that no labor, no diligence, will produce fruit, if one knows not the legitimate use of labor. As the unskilled steward has much toil, with little or no result, if he knows not how to put to use the goods acquired in the proper manner, or does not carry them to market in the city.—Cramer:—The unprofitable babblers prattle about things of no import; but the wise weigh their words with a golden balance, Sir 21:27.—Starke:
Ecclesiastes 10:15. That men must painfully toil is a thing of universal necessity since the fall; but to toil in profitless and sinful things is double folly and sin, Isaiah 57:10.—Zeyss [Ecclesiastes 10:15] :—Remember the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22) and learn the right way thither, which is indeed narrow and not easy to find (Luke 13:24).—Geier (Ecclesiastes 10:16):—In judging a wise man we are not to regard his years, but the power of his mind, and what they manifest, 1 Samuel 16:17; 1 Timothy 4:12.—[Ecclesiastes 10:17]. A pious and virtuous magistracy we should gratefully recognize as an inestimable gift of God, and heartily pray to him for their preservation.—Zeyss (Ecclesiastes 10:18-19):—Beware, above all things, that the house of thy soul be not ruined by neglect, whilst thou art yielding to the flesh and its sinful desires.—Tub. Bib.:—Observe this rule of wisdom: speak no evil of thy ruler, nor of any one else, James 4:11.—[Matthew Henry] (Ecclesiastes 10:14):—A fool also is fond of words, a passionate fool especially, that runs on endlessly, and never knows when to take up; it is all the same, over and over; he will have the last word, though it be but the same with that which was the first. What is wanting in the strength of his words he endeavors in vain to make up in their number. The words that follow may be taken either (1) as checking him for his vain-glorious boasting in the multitude of his words (in respect to the future), namely, what he will do, and what he will have, not considering what every body knows, that a man cannot tell what shall be in his own time while he lives (Proverbs 27:1), much less can one tell what shall be after him, when he is dead and gone. Or (2) as mocking him for his tautologies; he is full of words, for if he do but speak the most trite and common thing, such as a man cannot tell what shall be, then, because he loves to hear himself talk, he will say it over again, what shall be after him, who can tell him? like Battus in Ovid:
Montibus (inquit) erant, et erant sub montibus illis. Whence vain repetitions are called Battologies (Matthew 4:7).—[Ecclesiastes 10:15. The foolish tire themselves in endless pursuit’s, because they know not how to go to the city, because they have not capacity to apprehend the plainest thing, such as the entrance to a great city. But it is the excellency on the way to the heavenly city, that it is “a highway” in which “the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err” (Isaiah 35:8); yet sinful folly makes men miss that way.—T. L.]
[The objections to the rendering of Zöckler, Hitzig, Stuart, and others, are 1st: the unusual meaning “heavier” which it gives to יָקָר, a sense existing primarily in the root, and appearing in the Syriac and the Arabic, but having no other example in the Hebrew; 2d, the filling up, or supposed ellipsis (“in the eyes of the ignorant and foolish”), which is required if we give it the more common Hebrew significance of “precious, honorable;” 3d, and chiefly, the singular incongruity that; by either of these authors, is introduced into the comparison: “as the dead fly taints the precious ointment, so a little folly outweighs wisdom,” etc., or, is more precious in the vulgar opinion. It is evidently a comparison in either rendering, though the particle of comparison is omitted, as in many other cases, especially of the concise sententious kind [see the long list in the Grammar of Jona Ben Gannach]. The objection to the common English rendering (which is also that of Geier, Tremellius, and the great critic Glassius) is that it requires a repetition of יבאיש in the second member; but for such ellipsis, especially in proverbial expressions, and when the context evidently favors it, there is good and clear authority. Comp. Proverbs 13:2; “From the fruit of his mouth a man shall eat good, but the soul of the wicked—folly;” that is, shall eat folly [with ellipsis of תּאֹכַל]. Comp. Proverbs 26:9; Jeremiah 17:11. A still stronger case is found, Job 24:19, where there is, in fact, a double ellipsis, and yet the comparison and the meaning are both quite clear: “Heat carries off the snow waters, Sheol—have sinned;” that is, so “sheol (carries off those that) have sinned”—שאול חטאו. There is an ellipsis both of the governing verb, and of the relative pronoun. “The dead fly taints the fragrant ointment, so a little folly [taints] one honorable for wisdom,” etc. Nothing could be more apt, or true. This rendering preserves also the analogy between a good name and precious odors, a metaphor common in all languages, and so strikingly introduced Ecclesiastes 7:1, and Song of Solomon 1:3 : Dead flies spoil the fragrant ointment, a little folly the good name. This is in accordance, too, with a common usage in Hebrew, by which the sense of הבאיש is transferred from the literal ill savor to odiousness of character. The preposition מ with the sense of propter, on account of, is also well established: יָקָר מֵחָכְמָה מִכָּבוֹד, “precious,” that is, held in esteem “for wisdom and honor.” The two verbs יביע and יבאיש are to be taken together, or the one as qualifying the other: “make corrupt, make ferment,” or froth, that is, corrupt by fermentation— “with frothy taint.” See Metrical Version.—T. L.]
[The meaning given to יסָּכֵן is probably the correct one (see text note), as derived from the noun שַׂכִּין “a knife” (Arabic سكين); but שׂכה סכה, means to see, and is only rendered to cut from its supposed affinity to the Latin seco, and to accommodate it to this word. The sense of סכן “to become poor,” as in Isaiah 41:20 (pual), and in the Arabic, might perhaps answer here, but it would mar the parallelism.—T.L.]
[See Text Note and Metrical Version.—T.L.]
 [יַרְבֶּה דְּבָרִים. It is not mere “loquacity” that is here intended. The best explanation is that of Aben Ezra, who refers it to vain predictions, [see note on דברים Ecclesiastes 5:5, Eng. Ecclesiastes 5:7, p. 91], or rather, boasting assertions in respect to the future: “I will eat and drink, says the fool, but he knows not what shall be in his life or in his death; as is said in another place [Ecclesiastes 5:7, Ecclesiastes 6:12], there are many words that increase vanity, yet who knoweth what is good for man etc.” So also Rashi: “In his simpleness, the fool is full of words, deciding confidently and saying, ‘to-morrow I will do so and so, when he knoweth not what shall be on the morrow,—or when he would undertake a journey for gain,’ and knoweth not that he may fall by the sword.” Comp. Luke 12:20, James 4:13. This is also the interpretation of Martin Geier, at least in relation to the 14th verse. It is strongly confirmed by the immediately following context. In such a rendering ו in וסּכל, has an adversative force: “Though the fool multiply words, yet man knows net, etc.” “For who shall tell him what shall be after him?’ This does not mean the remote future, nor even the future generally, as would be expressed by אחרין, but the near, the immediate, which is the sense given by the preposition in the compound מֵאַהֲרָיו, “from after”—that which comes from, out of or directly after the present,—or, “on the morrow,” according to the language of these Jewish interpreters, and that of St. James. Comp. Fuerst’s derivation of מָחָר (to-morrow), which he regards, not as an independent root, but as a contraction of מַאֲחַר, as he makes it, or מֵאַחַר or מָה־אַחַר (see Marg. Note to Ecclesiastes 10:7, p. 91). This shows, too, the direct connection with the verse that follows, and furnishes a key to that obscure expression on which there is so much comment to so little purpose. Our English Version: “The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city,” is hardly intelligible in any sense that can be put upon it. The same may be said of Hitzig’s and Zöckler’s attempts to explain it. The expression, עמל הכסילים is a collective one, “the toil of fools,” equivalent to “a foolish toil,” to be taken as a nominative independent, or what De Sacy styles, in his Arabic Grammar, Vinchoatif, or detached subject. Its separation from the verb following is shown by the change of gender,—the feminine prefix in תְּיַגְעֶנּוּ being used to show that the immediate grammatical subject is the neuter, or indefinite, fact: “Vain toil of fools! it only wearieth him;” the singular objective pronoun in תְּיַגְעֶנּוּ referring, not to כסילים taken distributively, but to the vain predicter in Ecclesiastes 10:14, and who is kept in view throughout. “It wearieth him,”—is too much for him—surpasses his knowledge. Then אֲשֶׁר gives the reason: “One who knoweth not ללכת אל עיר, the going to the city”—so plain a fact as that—or “that he shall go to the city;” even this comes not within his knowledge of the future. “How to go,” says our E. V., and that is the idea conveyed by most others; but there is a great difficulty in making any sense out of it, and the grammatical construction does not require it. In the small number of cases in Hebrew where we find ידע followed by the infinitive (whether with or without ל) it is to be determined by the context whether it means a knowing how to do a thing, or a knowledge of the doing, as a fact or event. Thus in Ecclesiastes 4:13, it cannot mean, “knows not how to be admonished,” which makes a very poor sense, but, “no longer knows (that is, heeds or recognizes) admonition,” or the being admonished. In Exodus 36:1, 2 Chronicles 2:13; 1 Kings 3:7; Isaiah 7:16; Amos 3:10; the context favors the sense of “knowing how.” In Isaiah 47:0 it is decidedly the other way: ידע שכול does not mean “know how to be bereaved,” but, “know bereavement.” Still more clear, and precisely parallel to this case, is Ecclesiastes 4:17 (Eng. Bib. Ecclesiastes 5:1) where אינם יודעים לעשות רע can only mean the fact: “They know not that they are doing evil” in their sacrifices. So Ewald renders it. Hitzig and Stuart find there too the sense of knowing how: “They know not how to do evil,” or, according to the turn they give it, “how to be sad;” a meaning which we do not hesitate to pronounce absurd in itself, and also altogether unsupported by 2 Samuel 12:18, to which they refer. According to the view we have taken, the whole passage (Ecclesiastes 10:14-15) may be thus rendered:—
Predicting words he multiplies, yet man can never know
The thing that shall be; yea, what cometh after who shall tell?
Vain toil of fools! it wearieth him,—this man who knoweth not
What may befall his going to the city.
It is no paraphrase, but only so expressed as to give the spirit of the Hebrew as shown by the general connection, and by the evident reference of the ידע in Ecclesiastes 10:15, to the לא ידע האדם in Ecclesiastes 10:14. The difference between ידע לכת, and ידע ללכת, is very slight, but the ל makes it correspond more nearly to our English genitive phrase, “to know of a thing,”—that is, as an event or fact. The relative אשר here, has an inferential sense, just as ὅς, sometimes, in Greek and the Latin qui when equivalent to quia: “who knoweth not”=to “seeing he knoweth not,” or (quod) “because he knoweth not.” Such a mention of “going to the city,” as one of the most common and familiar illustrations of human ignorance of the future, suggests immediately James 4:13 : “Go to ye who say to-day, or tomorrow, we will go to a certain city, etc., ye who know not (ὅιτινες used exactly as אשר is here) what shall be on the morrow, etc.” It may have been this very passage, thus understood, that suggested the illustration to the Apostle; since his language is almost identical with the very words of Rashi’s interpretation. The great difficulties under which Hitzig and Zöckler labor, and their far-fetched reasons, warrant the offering of the above explanation, as one that deserves attention, to say the least, in clearing up this obscure passage.
We may arrive at the same general idea, even if we render לא ידע ללכת “knows not how to go, etc.;” and such is substantially the conclusion of Aben Ezra in another comment on the 15th verse: “The fool is like one who would pry into things too high or too wonderful for him, when he knows not the things that are visible and familiar, or like a man who purposes to go to a city when he knoweth not the way, and so he gets weary, and fails in his design.” It is the same general lesson, the folly of confident assertions or confident plans respecting the future. Taken in either of these ways, it avoids the exceedingly forced explanations which Zöckler here, and Hitzig in his commentary, give of the passage.
The expression יוֹדֵעַ לַהֲלֹךְ Ecclesiastes 4:8, may, perhaps, be cited as a parallel case to ידע לרכת. An answer might be found in the different form of the infinitive לכת, which is used more like a substantive denoting the event, or fact, as the object of knowledge. This reference, however, is at once disposed of by a consideration of the accents, which, in Ecclesiastes 6:8, separate the two words, and require the rendering: “What to the poor man who knows,”—or “what to the intelligent poor man, to walk,”—or “that he should walk before the living.” In other words: What profit is his intelligence in his walking before the living? Thus it becomes, according to the usual law of parallelism, an amplification of the thought just above it: “What profit to the wise?” It is another example of the spiritual and critical acuteness that dictated the Masoretic accentuation (see 2d Marginal Note, p. 94). Zöckler thinks the accents here of no authority; but that great critic Ewald holds himself governed by them. The assertion, moreover, that יודֵעַ never has the adjective sense intelligens, is refuted by simply looking into a concordance, and noting the places where it is joined with the participle מבין having a like adjective force. With this view agrees also Aben Ezra, the prince of Jewish critics. It is fortified, too, by the difficulty which all commentators have felt in making any clear sense out of the language: “Who knows how to walk before the living?” The references given by Hitzig, Genesis 17:1, and 2 Kings 4:13, are not parallel; since the preposition, on which the meaning of the phrase so much depends, is entirely different.—T. L.]
[This most absurd and far-fetched view of Hitzig only shows how a false critical theory of division may turn one of the most impressive passages of the book into a fool’s gabble. It all comes from looking for logical connections where they do not exist, and from overlooking the poetical subjective character of the work as a series of meditations, each one prompting the other, but by associations discerned by the feeling rather than the ethical reason. It is the free discursive view of human folly, and of the inefficiency of man’s best wisdom, that brings out the exclamation: O ill-governed land with its weak king and drunken nobles, where folly so abounds; and then this calls up the picture of the higher and purer ideal. He may have thought of the weak son to whom his kingdom was soon to be committed; it may have been a humbling thought of himself and of his own misgovernment, although there is in the way of this that Solomon’s youth was the best part of his life; or it may have been prompted by his general historical experience. View it any way, it is far more expressive in this exclamatory and discursive aspect, than though it were bound together by the closest syllogistic ties. And this appears in what follows. In perfect poetical harmony does this free, contemplative style of thought turn again from the political to the common life—from the revelry and misgovernment of kings and nobles to the slothfulness, luxury, and mercenary spirit that are found in the lower plane. Yet “revile not the ruler,”—that is the next thought that arises. Obedience and reverence are still due to authority, since evils abound in all ranks. Things are described as they are, and to find here an authority for wine drinking is about as rational as to seek an excuse for sloth and shiftlessness.—T. L.]
[As drunkenness is condemned here, or, rather, excess of any kind, revelling, or high banqueting, which is the predominant meaning of שְׁתִי [comp. מִשְׁתֶּה convivium], whilst not a word is said about any moderate drinking, this remark must be regarded as rather gratuitous. What makes it more than gratuitous is the fact that in Proverbs 31:4, instead of a mere warning against perverted use,” there is enjoined upon “kings and princes” total abstinence from “all wine and strong drink,” as something only fit to be given to persons in extremis, in great pain or debility [the perishing, the מָרֵי נֶפֶש or “bitter in soul”], and therefore unfit for those in health, and especially for all who have responsible duties to perform.—T. L.]
[In Psalms 104:15 a certain effect of wine is mentioned; nothing is said about either its innocent or its immoral use. All such remarks are gratuitous.—T. L.]
[These ethical and logical divisions are not easy to trace. The different methods adopted by different commentators, warrant a strong suspicion of their reality. There is, doubtless, a connection in the thought, but it is poetical rather than logical, suggestive rather than formally didactic. In the Metrical Version there is an attempt to group into separate cantos the thoughts that seemed to have the nearest relation to each other; but these might, perhaps, be differently arranged, and with equal effect. The mind of the author may be regarded under different aspects. And so, too, of the reader, it may be said, that the division for him may depend very much on his own spiritual state; for it is the very nature of all such musing, emotional writing, to suggest more to one mind than to another. It may even give a wider and higher train of thought to the reader than the writer himself possessed; and that too legitimately, or without any violence to the text; for there is a spirit in words witnessing with our spirits, and, under favorable spiritual circumstances, there may be seen a light in our author's language which he did not see, or but dimly saw, himself. And this we may suppose to have been the very design of the higher or divine author, in giving such a dramatic or representative work a place in His holy written revelation. The whole book is a meditation, or a series of meditations. The thoughts do not, indeed, follow each other arbitrarily; but, like our best thinking, are connected more by emotional than by logical bands. Place ourselves in the same subjective state—read it as poetry, not as a formal didactic ethical treatise—and we shall readily see what there is in each part, in each verse, in a single word sometimes, that makes the writer think of what follows, though all logical, or even rhetorical criticism might fail to find it. (See remarks p.176). Take, for example, these verses of the 9 and 10 chapters, as apparently the most disconnected of any in the whole poem. The ever-recurring, or underlying thought is wisdon in its two apparently contradictory aspects of preciousness and vanity—wisdom, of such inestimable value in itself as compared with folly, and yet, through folly, rendered so unavailing. The episodalmention of “the poor wise man” leads on the general train of thought, but it immediately (ver.7) how one sinner (one fool) may destroy its effect upon a community. This prompts the parallel thought, how, in the individual, too, a little folly taints all his better acquisitions,—the mode of expressing this being, doubtless, a favorite proverbial form commending itself less for its nicety than for its exquisite appositeness. This again makes him think how readily the fool exposes his folly: as the most striking example of which there occurs to the mind the rashness with which such bring upon themselves the displeasure of the ruler. Then comes readily up the folly of rulers themselves,—then examples of it in subverting the proper relations of life. A pause, perhaps, occurs: some links pass silently through the mind, but the chain of thought still shows itself. It is transferred from the higher to the more ordinary avocations of life. It is still the unavailingness of human wisdom. With all our care, and all our skill, there is danger everywhere, liability to mistakes and mishaps in every business, and in evey act. Another pause; it is the same thought but it takes a different form—the unavailingness of eloquence, or the gift of speech (that splendid evil, ὁ κόσμος τῆς , James 3:6, or “ornament of unrighteousness”). Here, too, there is to be traced the influence of the proverbial association: “the serpent bites without enchantment;” so is the gift of speech to its possessor when misemployed in vain babbling or in slander. In such a tracking of ideas and emotions, the transitions may seem slight and even fanciful; but they are more natural, more sober, more impressive, we may say, in their moral and didactic effect, than those formal, logical divisions which commentators so confidently propose, and in which they so greatly differ. Other readers may be differently affected, so that they discover in it other associations of thought [for there are various ways, lying below the soul's direct consciousness, in which our spiritual movements link themselves together] but such diversity of view, it may be said, arises from the very nature of this kind of subjective writing, and is evidence of excellency in it rather than of a defect. It comes from its very suggestiveness, and shows the rich fertility inherent in its germs of thought.—T.L.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30