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ECCLESIASTES CHAPTER 10
Observations on wisdom and folly, Ecclesiastes 10:1-3. Of rulers, Ecclesiastes 10:4-7. Of wrong and injustice, Ecclesiastes 10:8-10. Of talkativeness, imprudence, and its mischiefs, Ecclesiastes 10:11-15. Kings hurtful and desirable, Ecclesiastes 10:16,Ecclesiastes 10:17. Of sloth, Ecclesiastes 10:18. Feasts, Ecclesiastes 10:19. The king must not be cursed, Ecclesiastes 10:20.
Dead flies falling into it, and abiding and being putrefied in it, especially in those countries, where there were more filthy and venomous flies, and where the ointments were more pure, and where the air was more hot, than in these parts.
So doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour; which comes to pass, partly because all the actions, and consequently the follies, of such men are most diligently observed, and soonest discerned, and tossed about in the mouths of men, whereas fools and all their carriages are generally disregarded; and partly because of that envious and malicious disposition of men’s minds, which makes them quick-sighted to discover, and glad to hear and forward to declare, the faults of such as by their greater eminency did outshine and obscure them.
A wise man’s heart, i.e. his understanding or wisdom,
is at his right hand; is always present with him, and ready to direct him in all his actions. He manageth all his affairs prudently and piously. He mentions the right hand, because that is the chief and most common instrument of actions, which by most men are done with more strength, and expedition, and orderliness, and comeliness by their right hand than by their left.
A fool’s heart at his left; his understanding and knowledge serves him only for idle speculation and vain ostentation, but is not at all useful or effectual to govern his affections and actions. He acts preposterously and foolishly, like one without heart, as it follows.
Walketh by the way; not only in great undertakings, but in his daily conversation with men, in his looks, and gestures, and common talk.
His wisdom faileth him; or, he wants a heart; as if he had said, Did I say, his heart is at his left hand? I must recall it, for in truth he hath no heart in him.
He saith to every one that he is a fool; he publicly discovers his folly to all that meet him, or converse with him.
The spirit; the passion or wrath, as is manifest from the following words, which is oft called spirit, as Judges 8:3; 2 Chronicles 21:16; Proverbs 25:28; Ecclesiastes 7:9.
Leave not thy place, to wit, in anger or discontent. Withdraw not thyself rashly and hastily from his presence and service, according to the advice, Ecclesiastes 8:3. Continue in a diligent and faithful discharge of thy duty, as becomes a subject; do not return anger for anger, but modestly and humbly submit thyself to him.
Yielding, Heb. healing; a gentle and submissive carriage, which is of a healing nature; whereas pride and passion do exasperate and widen the breach already made. Pacifieth, Heb. maketh them to rest or cease; preventeth or removeth them.
Great offences, Heb. great sins; either,
1. Such sins as the offended ruler might commit in the prosecution of his wrath against thee. Or rather,
2. Such as possibly thou hast committed against him, for which he is incensed against thee; or the greatest offences or injuries that one man commits against another, and much more those slight miscarriages of thine towards the ruler. Let not therefore a false opinion concerning his unreconcilableness to thee make thee desperate, and draw thee into rebellion.
I have observed another great vanity and misdemeanour amongst men.
As an error which proceedeth from the ruler; so the sense is, like those errors which rulers commonly commit. Or rather, which is indeed an error proceeding from the ruler; for the following miscarriage must needs come from those who have power of conferring honour and power, &c. So the Hebrew caph is not a note of likeness, but of reality, as it is Judges 13:23; Nehemiah 7:2; Hosea 4:4; Hosea 5:10, and oft elsewhere.
Folly is set in great dignity; foolish and unworthy persons are frequently advanced by the favour or humour of princes into places of highest trust and dignity, which is a great reproach and mischief to the prince, and a sore calamity to all his people. The rich; wise and worthy men, as is evident, because these are opposed to fools in the former clause; such as are rich in endowments of mind. The ground of the expression may be this, that rich men are capable of all the advantages of men or books for the attainment of wisdom, and therefore are supposed to be wise in some measure.
Sit in low place; neglected and despised, or removed from those high places to which their merits had raised them.
Servants; men of a servile condition and disposition, who are altogether unfit for places of dignity.
Upon horses; riding upon horses, as a badge of their dignity, as Esther 6:8,Esther 6:9; Jeremiah 17:25; Ezekiel 23:23.
Princes walking as servants upon the earth, which was the case of his own father, 2 Samuel 15:30.
He that diggeth a pit with this design, that another may unawares fall into it,
shall fall into it; shall through God’s just judgment be destroyed by his own wicked devices.
Breaketh an hedge; whereby another man’s fields, or vineyards, or orchards are distinguished and fenced, that he may either enter upon them, and take away their fruits, or by that means enlarge his own adjoining fields. Possibly he may have a particular respect unto magistrates or rulers, whom God hath hedged or fenced in, both with his own institution of magistracy, and with his laws, strictly requiring obedience from their subjects; and so he notes the danger of rising and rebelling against them.
A serpent, which oft lurks in hedges, and bites those who come within its reach.
Whoso removeth stones; either,
1. The stones which belong to others, and limit or distinguish their grounds, of which see Deuteronomy 27:17. Or,
2. Great stones too heavy for them; which rashly attempt things too high and hard for them; which seems better to agree with the following clause than the former interpretation doth.
Shall be hurt therewith; may easily receive hurt by the stones falling unexpectedly and violently upon him.
He that cleaveth wood, with an iron instrument, as the manner is, he being unskilful in that art. Possibly he designs a man who causeth discord and mischief among friends, or in a family, or kingdom.
Shall be endangered thereby; may peradventure cut himself.
The iron, to wit, the axe whereby he cut the wood, in the former verse, which by the danger there mentioned may be supposed to be sharp; but now, saith he, if it happen to be blunt.
Put to more strength; which is necessary to make it cut.
But wisdom is profitable to direct, Heb. and wisdom, &c. And as wisdom instructs a man in the smallest matters, as in this very matter of cutting of wood, where it teaches him in this case to use his utmost strength; so it is useful for a man’s direction in all his great and weighty affairs. And so he insensibly slides into the commendation of wisdom, and the censure of folly, which is the principal design and business of this chapter.
Without enchantment; if not seasonably prevented by the art and care of the charmer; which practice he doth not justify, but only mention by way of resemblance. See on Psalms 58:5.
A babbler, Heb. a master of the tongue; which may be understood, either,
1. Of the detractor or slanderer, who like a serpent bites secretly; who may be so called, because he takes liberty to use his tongue as he lists, without any regard either to the offence of God, or to the injury of others; like them who said, Our lips are our own; who is lord over us? But I do not see either why this phrase should be limited to the detractor, which equally belongs to all abusers of the tongue in any other way; or how this particular vice of detraction comes to be inserted here among things of a quite differing nature. Or,
2. Of an eloquent person, who may well be called a master of the tongue, or of speech, nothing being more usual in the Hebrew, than to call a man master of that which he excels in, or hath a full and free power to use. And this clause is and may be rendered thus, And there is no excellency or profit to the master of the tongue, i.e. the most eloquent person, who doth not understand and in due time use the charmer’s art, cannot by all his eloquence afterward hinder the biting of the serpent, or mischievous effects of it; and so this agrees with the principal scope of the chapter, which is to show the necessity and usefulness of wisdom, and the mischief of folly.
Gracious, Heb. grace; as profitable, so also acceptable to others, procuring him favour with those who hear him.
Will swallow up himself; his discourses are ungracious and offensive to others, and therefore pernicious to himself.
All his talk from the beginning to the end is foolish and mischievous, and the more he talks, the more doth his folly appear; he proceeds from evil to worse, and adds wilfulness to his weakness, and never desists till he hath done mischief to himself or to others.
Full of words; either,
1. Talkative. Or,
2. Forward to promise and brag what he will do, which is the common practice of foolish men; he is a man of words, as we use to say. Who can tell him? these words contain either,
1. A inimical representation of his folly in using vain repetitions of the same words, such as those,
a man cannot tell, & c., and who can tell, &c. Or,
2. A confutation of folly in promising or boasting of things which are wholly out of his power; for what shall be no man can either himself foreknow, or learn it from others.
Fools discover their folly, as by their words, of which he hath hitherto spoken, so also by their actions, and by their endless and fruitless endeavours after things which are too high and hard for them. For he is ignorant of those things which are most easy and most necessary for him, as of the way to the great city whither he is going, or obliged by his business to go, which being a great and beaten road, is known even to children and natural fools.
A child; either,
1. In age. Or,
2. (which is more agreeable to the following clause) In childish qualities, as ignorance, inexperience, injudiciousness, rashness, frowardness, fickleness, or wilfulness, and the like, in which sense this word is used, 2 Chronicles 13:7, compared with 1 Kings 14:21; Isaiah 3:4,Isaiah 3:12; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Ephesians 4:14.
Thy princes eat; give up themselves to eating and drinking excessively and intemperately, as it is explained in the next verse. In the morning; the fittest time for God’s service, and for the despatch of weighty affairs, and for sitting in judgment, Psalms 101:8; Jeremiah 21:12. Which circumstance is added as a plain evidence of men that wholly devote themselves to vanity and luxury; which must needs occasion gross neglect of the great concerns of the kingdom, the oppression of the people to support such extravagancies, and a woeful and general corruption of the people by their example, and otherwise; which makes him say, Woe to that people!
The son of nobles; not so much by birth, as even the worst of kings commonly are, and have been, as by their noble and worthy dispositions, and endowments, and carriages; for such a one is opposed to the child in the former verse. Sons of nobles are put for noble persons, as the sons of men for men, and the sons of physicians for physicians.
Eat in due season; so as may further, and not hinder, their main business.
For strength; to refresh and strengthen their natures, that they may be fit for action and business.
Not for drunkenness; not only nor chiefly to please their palates, and indulge themselves in sensuality.
That house which is neglected by its owner, and not repaired, must needs come to ruin; whereby he intimates that the sloth and carelessness of princes in the management of public affairs, which is a usual attendant upon that luxury of which he hath now discoursed, is most destructive, both to themselves and to their people.
The design and effect of feasting and drinking wine is, that men may exhilarate their minds with the society of their friends, and with the use of the creatures.
Money answereth all things; it procures not only meat and drink for feasting, but for all other things; as the heavens are said to answer the earth, when they give it those showers which it desires and needs to make it fruitful, Hosea 2:21. And this clause seems to be added as an aggravation of the sin and folly of luxury, because princes do thereby waste that money and treasure which is so highly necessary for the support and preservation of themselves, and of their kingdoms, and are forced to squeeze money out of their people by oppressive, and dishonourable, and dangerous practices, that they may have more to spend in riotous courses.
Curse not the king. Having spoken of the miscarriages of kings, he now gives a caution to their subjects, that they should not thence take occasion to speak irreverently or contemptuously of them, or wish or design any evil against their persons or government; for though vices may be condemned, wheresoever they are, yet both reverence and obedience are due to magistrates, as they are God’s vicegerents and ordinances, notwithstanding their vices, as is manifest from Romans 13:1, &c.; 1 Peter 2:13, &c.
In thy thought; in the most secret manner, by giving way to such thoughts or affections; for these will very probably break forth into such words and practices. Curse not the rich; the princes or governors under the king, who are commonly rich; or any other rich men, who can oppress or punish thee by their wealth, as well as kings can do it by their power.
In thy bed-chamber, where thy wife or servant may hear thee, and afterwards through folly or passion discover it to thy ruin.
A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter; the king will hear of it by unknown and unsuspected hands, as if a bird had chanted to be at the window when thou didst speak the words, and did hear them, and carry the report of it unto the king. It is a proverbial expression, as when we say, Hedges have ears, and, The walls will speak. Hence kings are said to have long ears.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29