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A.M. 3027. B.C. 977.
Observations on wisdom and folly, Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 . On rulers, Ecclesiastes 10:4-7 . Miscellaneous observations, Ecclesiastes 10:8-11 . On governing the tongue, Ecclesiastes 10:12-14 . More miscellaneous observations, Ecclesiastes 10:15-20 .
Ecclesiastes 10:1. Dead flies, &c. Solomon seems in these words to be prosecuting what he had said in the last clause of the preceding chapter; showing how much good one foolish action may destroy, what evil may result from it, and how a man, otherwise famed for wisdom, may thereby lose his reputation. So most interpreters understand the verse. “The wiser or better,” says Bishop Patrick, “any man is, so much the more cautious ought he to be in all his words and actions, if he mean to preserve that credit, esteem, and authority in the world, which give him great advantages for doing good. For, as dead flies, though very small creatures, falling into a pot of ointment,” and abiding and being putrified in it, “corrupt that precious composition, and turn the perfume into a stink; so doth a small error or miscarriage blemish him who was highly valued for his discretion and virtue.” And this comes to pass, partly, because all the actions, and consequently the follies of such men are most diligently observed, whereas the actions and follies of persons known to be ignorant and weak are generally disregarded; and, partly, because of that envious and malicious disposition which is in the minds of too many, and makes them quick- sighted to discover, and glad to hear, and forward to declare, the faults of such as, by their greater eminence, outshone and obscured them.
Ecclesiastes 10:2-3. A wise man’s heart is at his right hand His understanding or wisdom is always present with him, and ready to direct him in all his actions. He manages all his affairs prudently and piously. He mentions the right hand because that is the common instrument of action. But a fool’s heart is at his left His understanding and knowledge serve him only for idle speculation and vain ostentation, but is not useful or effectual to govern his affections and actions. Yea also, when he walketh by the way Not only in great undertakings, but in his daily conversation; his wisdom faileth him Hebrew, לבו חסר , his heart is wanting; he acts preposterously and foolishly, as if he were without a heart. He saith, &c. He discovers his folly to all that meet him or converse with him.
Ecclesiastes 10:4. If the spirit of a ruler His passion or wrath; rise up against thee Upon some misinformation given him, or mismanagement of thine; leave not thy place In anger or discontent. Withdraw not thyself rashly and hastily from his presence and service: see on Ecclesiastes 8:3. Continue in a diligent and faithful discharge of thy duty, as becomes a subject, and modestly and humbly submit to him. For yielding pacifieth, &c. Hebrew יניח מרפא , healing maketh to cease great sins: that is, a submissive, meek deportment, which is of a healing nature, appeaseth wrath conceived for great offences.
Ecclesiastes 10:5-7. There is an evil, &c. I have observed another great vanity and misdemeanour among men; as an error which proceedeth, &c. Or rather, as the Hebrew may be translated, which is indeed an error proceeding from the ruler: for the following erroneous conduct must needs come from those who have power of conferring honour and authority. Folly is set in great dignity Foolish and unworthy persons are frequently advanced by the favour or humour of princes into places of great trust and dignity, which is at once a great reproach to the prince, and a sore calamity to his people. And the rich sit in a low place Wise and worthy men, rich in endowments of the mind, are neglected and despised, or removed from those places to which their merits had raised them. I have seen servants on horses Men of a servile condition and disposition riding in pomp and state as princes; and princes Men of noble birth and qualities, fit to rule a kingdom, walking as servants In a state of poverty and degradation, despised and disregarded.
Ecclesiastes 10:8-9. He that diggeth a pit, &c. The meaning of these verses, which may be considered as common proverbs, is, that those who are seeking and striving to injure others, often bring mischiefs thereby on their own heads; as he that digs a pit for another may, unawares, fall into it himself; and he who, in those hot countries, was pulling up a hedge, was in danger of being bit by a serpent lurking in it; and he that removes stones to undermine his neighbour’s house, may possibly be hurt, if not killed, by the upper stones falling on himself. It may be observed here, however, that Melancthon, Bishop Patrick, and many other interpreters, consider these verses as containing warnings to princes and people to take heed they do not rashly, and with violence, attempt to make changes in the established order of things in churches or states. “Let neither prince nor people,” says Henry, “violently attempt any changes, nor make a forcible entry upon a national settlement, for they will both find it of dangerous consequence. Let not princes invade the rights and liberties of their subjects; and let not subjects mutiny and rebel against their princes, but let both be content within their own bounds. God, by his ordinance, as by a hedge, hath enclosed the prerogatives and powers of princes, and their persons are under his special protection; those, therefore, that form any treasonable designs against their peace, their crown, and dignity, are but twisting halters for themselves. And those that go about to alter a well-modelled, well-settled government, under colour of redressing some grievances, and correcting some things amiss in it, will quickly perceive, not only that it is easier to find fault than to mend; to demolish that which is good, than to build up that which is better;” but that they pull a house down upon themselves, under the ruins of which they may perhaps be crushed to death. But this latter verse is thus interpreted by some, He that removeth stones That rashly attempts things too high and hard for him; shall be hurt therewith Shall suffer injury from such attempts. And he that cleaveth wood With an iron instrument; shall be endangered thereby May peradventure cut himself: that is, he that deals with men of knotty, stubborn tempers, shall have much vexation and trouble thereby, and probably shall find his character as well as peace much wounded.
Ecclesiastes 10:10. If the iron be blunt The axe wherewith a man cuts wood; he must put to more strength To make it cut: that is, if a man do not use fit and proper means to accomplish any work, it will cost him so much the more labour and pains; but wisdom is profitable to direct Both in the choice and in the use of means. In other words, As wisdom instructs a man in the smallest matters, so it is useful for a man’s direction in all weighty affairs.
Ecclesiastes 10:11. Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment Unless it be seasonably prevented by the art and care of the charmer. This is an allusion to the general opinion, then and still prevailing in the eastern countries, that serpents might be charmed so as to be prevented from biting by certain incantations, or by singing and music. See note on Psalms 58:4-5. And a babbler is no better Hebrew, בעל הלשׁון , the master of the tongue; which may be understood either of a rash, loose talker, a mere babbler, or of a backbiter and slanderer. Each of these is in the habit of using his tongue as if he were lord of it, and often does much mischief thereby, especially the latter, who, by his malicious words, bites secretly like a serpent, and gives deadly wounds to the characters of the absent.
Ecclesiastes 10:12-15. The words of a wise man are gracious Hebrew, חן , grace: as they are profitable, so they are acceptable to others, procuring him favour with those that hear him. But the lips of a fool will swallow up himself His discourses are ungracious and offensive to others, and therefore pernicious to himself. The beginning of his words is foolishness, &c. All his talk, from the beginning to the end, is foolish and sinful; the more he talks the more his folly and wickedness appear; and the end is mischievous madness He proceeds from evil to worse, and adds wilfulness to his weakness, and never desists till he hath done mischief to himself or others. A fool also is full of words Forward to promise and boast what he will do; which is the common practice of foolish men, and running on endlessly, and never knowing when to cease; for he will have the last word, though it be but the same with that which was the first. A man cannot tell what shall be What he will say next; his talk is so incoherent. And what shall be after him, who can tell? That is, what mischief his foolish talk may produce. The labour of the foolish wearieth, &c. Fools discover their folly by their wearisome and fruitless endeavours after things which are too high for them. Because he knoweth not, &c. He is ignorant of those things which are most easy, as of the way to the great city whither he is going.
Ecclesiastes 10:16-17. Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child Either in age or childish qualities; and thy princes eat in the morning Give themselves up to eating and drinking at that time of the day which is most fit for God’s service, for the despatch of weighty affairs, and for sitting in judgment. Blessed art thou when thy king is the son of the 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, for such a one is opposed to the child in the former verse; and thy princes eat in due season So as may further and not hinder their main business; for strength, and not for drunkenness To refresh and strengthen their bodies, that they may be fit to perform the duties of their station, and not to please their palates, and indulge themselves in sensuality.
Ecclesiastes 10:18. By much slothfulness, &c., the house droppeth through 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 on that luxury of which he now spoke, is most destructive to themselves and to their people.
Ecclesiastes 10:19. A feast is made for laughter, &c. Not merely for caring, but chiefly for pleasant conversation, and the society of friends; not the laughter of fools, which is madness, but that of wise men, namely, that cheerfulness by which they fit themselves for business and severe studies: and wine maketh merry Hebrew, ישׂמח חיים , maketh glad the life, exhilarates the mind; but money answereth all things Procures not only meat and drink for feasting, but all other worldly advantages. Therefore be frugal, and spend not all in luxurious eating and drinking, remembering, that money is wanted for a great many other purposes. Some refer this verse to rulers, and consider this last clause as being added to aggravate the sin and folly of luxury, to which, when princes give up themselves, they not only neglect their business, but thereby waste that money and treasure which are so highly necessary for the support and preservation of themselves and their kingdoms: and, in consequence thereof, are obliged to squeeze money out of their people by oppressive taxes, and other dishonourable and dangerous practices.
Ecclesiastes 10:20. 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 deputies and vicegerents, and that, notwithstanding their vices, as is manifest from Romans 13:1, &c.; 1 Peter 2:13. No, not in thy thought In the most secret manner, by giving way to such thoughts and affections, for these would very probably break forth into disloyal words and practices: and curse not the rich The princes or governors under the king, who are commonly rich; for a bird, &c., shall carry the voice The king will hear of it by unknown and unsuspected hands, as if a bird had heard and carried the report of it.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29