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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Ecclesiastes 10

 

 

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 10:1 Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: [so doth] a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom [and] honour.

Ver. 1. Dead flies cause the ointment, &c.] The Preacher had said that "one sinner destroys much good"; [Ecclesiastes 9:18] here he affirms the same of "one sin"; be it but a small sin, a peccadillo, no bigger than a few "dead flies" fallen into a pot of sweet odours, it is of that stinking nature, that it stains a good man’s esteem, and blows his reputation. A great many flies may fall into a tarbox, and no hurt done. A small spot is soon seen in a swan, not so in a swine. Fine lawn is sooner and deeper stained than coarse canvas. A city upon a hill cannot be hid; the least eclipse or aberration in the heavenly bodies is quickly noted and noticed. If Jacob, a plain man, (a) deal deceitfully, the banks of blasphemy will be broken down in a profane Esau thereby. If his unruly sons falsify with the Shechemites, he shall have cause to complain, "Ye have made me to stink among the inhabitants of the land." [Genesis 34:30] If Moses marry an Ethiopian woman, it shall be laid in his dish by his dearest friends. [Numbers 12:1] If Samson go down to Timnah, the Philistines will soon have it by the end, "told" it will be "in Gath, published in the streets of Askelon." If David do otherwise than well at home, the name of God will soon stink abroad, [2 Samuel 12:14] if Josiah go up unadvisedly against Pharaohnecho, and fall by his own folly, this "shall be his derision in the land of Egypt." [Hosea 7:16] The enemies of God will soon compose comedies out of the Church’s tragedies, and make themselves merry in her misery. She is said to be "fair as the moon," [Song of Solomon 6:10] which, though it be a beautiful creature and full of light, yet is she not without her black spots and blemishes; (Galileo used his telescope to discover mountains on her). These the Church malignant is ever eyeing and aggravating, passing by or depraving the better practices of God’s people. As vultures they hunt after carcases, (b) as swine they musk in the muck hill, as beetles they would live and die in horse dung. It must be our care as much as may be to maintain our reputation, to cut off all occasion of obloquy, to be "blameless and harmless," [Philippians 2:15] fair to the eye and sweet to the taste as that tree in paradise; without blemish from head to foot, as Absalom was; Non aliunde noscibiles quam de emendatione vitiorum pristinorum, (c) as Tertullian saith of the Christians of his time, known from all others by their innocence and patience. That was a good choice, for this purpose, that he himself made, Malo miserandum quam erubescendum, (d) I had rather be pitied than justly reproached. Strive we should to be as Paul was, a "good savour," [2 Corinthians 2:14] and not to go out, as they say the devil doth, in a stench.


Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 10:2 A wise man’s heart [is] at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.

Ver. 2. A wise man’s heart is at his right hand.] He doth his business discreetly and dexterously, he is handy and happy at it. And as he "ordereth his affairs with discretion," [Psalms 112:5] so he doth his affections too, reining them in with his right hand, and not suffering them to run riot, as the fool doth oft to his utter ruin. As the wise man’s "eyes are in his head," [Ecclesiastes 2:14] so his "heart is at his right hand"; he hath it at command, to think of what he will when he will; it is as a hawk brought to the falconer’s lure; or as a horse that is taught his postures. Hence he keeps his credit untainted, he retains the reputation of a wise man, he rightly owns that honour that the Italians arrogate to themselves, in that proverbial speech of theirs; Italus sapit ante factum, Hispanus in facto, Germanus post factum - i.e., The Italian is well advised before the deed done, the Spaniard in, the German after it.

But a fool’s heart at his left.] At his left side, so it may be rendered, where nature placed it; he never yet sorrowed as those Corinthians did, [2 Corinthians 7:9] to a transmentation, (a) to a thorough change both of mind and manners; his heart is yet still in the old place, he follows the course of depraved nature, he is a perfect stranger to the life of God.

Or his heart is at his left hand,] i.e., He rashly rusheth upon business without due deliberation, and doth it awkwardly, as with the left hand, and like a bungler, invita Minerva, et collachrymantibus Musis, he brings it to no good upshot. See an instance of this in Hanun and his counsellors; [2 Samuel 10:2-4] Ahab and his clawbacks; [1 Kings 22:6] Antichrist and his adherers. Bellarmine bewails it in these words: Ab eo tempore, quo per vos Papa Antichristus esse coepit, non modo non crevit eius imperium, sed semper magis ae magis decrevit (Lib. iii. de Pap. Rom.

c. 2,3): Ever since you Protestants have made the Pope to be Antichrist, his authority hath not only not increased, but still more and more decreased. Or thus, His "heart is at his left hand"; that is, he puts away reason and wisdom from himself - as, for the most part, those things which men dislike are put away with the left hand. (b) Thus Junius expounds it.


Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 10:3 Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth [him], and he saith to every one [that] he [is] a fool.

Ver. 3. Yea, also when he that is a fool walketh, &c.] In his very gait, gestures, looks, laughings, &c., he bewrays his witlessness, as Jehu did his furiousness, by the manner of his marches. [2 Kings 9:20] "He winketh with his eyes, speaketh with his feet, teacheth with his fingers, frowardness is in his heart," &c. [Proverbs 6:13-14] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 6:13"} {See Trapp on "Proverbs 6:14"} Such a froward fool was Julian the apostate, as Nazianzen describes him, with his colli crebrae conversiones, oculi vagi, pedes instabiles, &c., frequent turning of his neck, tossing up his head, wild eyes, wandering feet, &c. And such were those "haughty daughters of Sion, that walked with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, mincing and making a tinkling as they went"; [Isaiah 3:16] their haughtiness and hauntiness spake them little better than harlots.

And he saith to every one that he is a fool.] Upon the matter he saith it, though he say nothing. It is said that a fool, while he holds his tongue is held a wise man; [Proverbs 17:28] that is, if neither by his tongue nor any other part of his body he discover himself: but that can hardly be, since folly flows from man as excrements do from sick folk, and they feel it not, will hardly be persuaded of it. Symmachus, Jerome, and others, refer the last he in this sentence not to the fool himself, but to every one else whom he looks upon as so many fools like himself; (a) ex suo ingenio universos iudicans, judging of others according to his own disposition. For as the philosopher saith, Qualis quisque est tales existimat alios (b) such as any one is, the same he thinks others to be, and as men muse so they use, whether it be for the better or the worse. Jacob could not imagine that his sons were so base as to make away their brother Joseph, but said, "Surely some evil beast hath devoured him." [Genesis 37:32] Joshua never suspected the false Gibeonites, nor the rest of the disciples Judas, when our Saviour said, "What thou dost, do quickly"; and again when he said, "One of you shall betray me." On the other side, fools conceit the whole world to be made up of folly; as the Lacedemonians once, neminem bonum fieri publicis literis columna incisis sanxerunt, (c) scored it upon their public posts that there was none good, no, not one; as Claudius and Caligula, being themselves notorious whoremongers, would not be persuaded that there was any chaste person upon earth; (d) as the devil charged God with envy, which is his own proper disease. [Genesis 3:5] The old proverb saith, The mother seeks the daughter in the oven, as having been there some time herself. I daresay, quoth Bonner, that Cranmer would recant if he might have his living, (e) so judging of another by himself.


Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 10:4 If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.

Ver. 4. If the spirit of thy ruler rise up, &c., leave not thy place.] Thine office, duty, and obedience; a metaphor from military matters. A soldier must not start from his station, but keep to the place assigned him by his captain; (a) so here,

Perdidit arma, locum virtutis descruit, &c. ” - Horat.

Others render it, "Do not persist in thy place," do not stand to affront anger, but go aside a little out of sight, as Jonathan, when his father had thrown a javelin at him, went forth shooting. {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 8:3"} {See Trapp on "Proverbs 15:1"}

For yielding pacifieth great offences.] Thus by yielding David pacified Saul; Abigail, David. See Proverbs 25:15. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 25:15"} Salve the wound and save thyself. The weak reed, by bending in a rough wind, receiveth no hurt, when the sturdy oak is turned up by the roots.


Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 10:5 There is an evil [which] I have seen under the sun, as an error [which] proceedeth from the ruler:

Ver. 5. As an error which proceedeth from the ruler.] Or, An ignorance, as Jerome renders it; ως ακουσιον - so the Septuagint - as a thing unwillingly done. An error, an infirmity it must be called, because committed by great ones; but in true account it is a gross evil, the very pest of virtue and cause of confusion - viz., the advancement of most unworthy and incapable persons, and that for the prince’s pleasure sake, because he will seem absolute. An earl of Kildare was complained of to our Henry VIII, and when his adversary concluded his invective with, Finally, all Ireland cannot rule this earl, the king replied, Then shall this earl rule all Ireland; and so, for his jest sake, made him deputy. (a)


Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 10:6 Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.

Ver. 6. Folly is set in great dignity.] Sedes prima et vita ima, (a) these suit not. Dignitas in indigno est ornamentum in luto. Royalty itself, without righteousness, is but eminent dishonour. When a fool is set in dignity, it is, saith one, (b) as when a handful of hay is set up to give light, which with smoke and smell offendeth all that are near. When as the worthy sit in low place, it is as when a goodly candle (that on a table would give a comfortable and comely light) is put under a bushel.

And the rich in low place,] i.e., The wise, as appears by the opposition, who, in true account, are the only rich, [James 2:5] "rich in faith," [1 Timothy 6:18] "rich in good works," [Luke 12:21] rich to Godward, who hath highly honoured and advanced them, though vilipended and underrated by men; digni etiam qui ditentur, worthy they are also to be set in highest places, as being drained from the dregs, and sifted from the brans of the common sort of people. Dignity should wait upon desert, as it did here in England, in King Edward VI’s days, that aureum saeculum, in quo honores melioribus dabantur, as Seneca (c) hath it, that golden age in which honours were bestowed on those that best deserved them. But in case it prove otherwise, as it often doth - the golden bishopric of Carthage fell to the lot of leaden Aurelius, and little Hippo to great St Augustine; Damasus, the scholar, was advanced to the see of Rome when Jerome, his master, ended his days in his cell at Bethlehem - yet virtue is its own competent encouragement, and will rather choose to lie in the dust than to rise by wickedness. Cato said he had rather men should question why he had no statue or monument erected in honour of him, than why he had. The wise historian observed that the statues of Brutus and Cassius, eo praefulgebant quod non visebantur, (d) were the more glorious and illustrious, because they were not brought out with other images in a solemn procession at the funeral of Germanicus. God pleaseth himself, saith Basil, in beholding a hidden pearl in a disrespected body. (e) A rich stone is of no less worth when locked up in a wicker casket, than when it is set in a royal diadem.


Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 10:7 I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Ver. 7. I have seen servants upon horses,] i.e., Servile souls, base spirited abjects, slaves to their lusts, homines ad servitutem paratos, as Tiberius said of his Romans, natural slaves born to be so, as the Cappadocians, (a) "brute beasts made and taken to be destroyed." [2 Peter 2:12] Hi perfricant frontem et digniores se dicunt quam Catonem, qui praetores fierent, as Vatinius did. These set a good face upon it many times, and leap into the saddle of authority, ride on strong and shining palfreys, (b) ride without reins in the prosecution of their ambitious ends, till, unhorsed, with Haman, they that were erst a terror become a scorn. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 30:22"}

And princes walking as servants upon the earth.] In Persia at this day the difference between the gentleman and the slave is, that the slave never rides, the gentleman never goes on foot; they buy, sell, confer, fight, do all on horseback. When Doeg, Saul’s herdsman, the Edomite, and Tobiah, the servant, the Ammonite, were got on cock horse, there was no ho! with them, but they would needs ride to the devil. When Justinian II was emperor, Stephen the Persian being made Lord High Chamberlain, grew to that height of insolence that he presumed to chastise with rods the emperor’s own mother, as if she had been some base slave. In the year of grace 1522 the boors of Germany rose up against their rulers, and would lay all level, that servants might ride cheek by joul, as they say, with princes. (c) Sed miserabilis et lamentabilistandem huius stultitice exitus fuit, (d) saith Lavater: But these fools paid dear for their proud attempt; and after a miserable slaughter of many thousands of them, were sent home by the weeping cross, ad beatos rastros, benedictum aratrum, sanctamque stivam, (e) as Bucholcerus phraseth it, to handle again (instead of guns and swords) their blessed rakes, plough staves, and horse whips. Their general, Muncer, was tortured to death, being so mated and amazed that he was not able to repeat his creed, &c.


Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 10:8 He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.

Ver. 8. He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it.] As heedless huntsmen do. He that being of base beginning, and unmeet for government, seeks to set up himself upon better men’s ruins, and where he finds not a way to make it, shall fall from his high hopes into remediless misery; as he hath made a match with mischief, so he shall have his belly full of it. As he hath conceived with guile, so (though he grow never so big) he shall bring forth nothing but vanity, and worse. [Job 15:35]

And whoso breaketh an hedge.] The hedge of God’s commandments, as our first parents did, to come to the forbidden fruit. A serpent bites such, [Proverbs 23:32] and the poison cannot be gotten out. Others sense it thus (and I rather incline): He that seeks to overthrow the fundamental laws and established government of a commonwealth, and to break down the fences and mounds of sovereignty and subjection, shall no less (but much more) imperil himself than he that pulls up an old hedge, wherein serpents, snakes, and adders do usually lurk and lie in wait to do mischief. Wat Tyler the rebel dared to say that all the laws of England should come out of his mouth. (a) Stratford uttered somewhat to the like sense in Ireland. Our good laws are our hedges; so our oaths - ορκος quasi ερκος. Let us look to both, or we are lost people. Det Deus ut admonitio haec adeo sit nobis omnibus commoda quam sit accommoda.


Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 10:9 Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; [and] he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

Ver. 9. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith.] So he that attempteth to loose and remove the joints and pieces of a settled government, there is danger that, like Samson, he will be crushed in the ruin. So one (a) gives the sense of it: He that goeth about to remove a ruler out of his place, and to divide a settled government that is at unity in itself, undertaketh a dangerous piece of business. As he undertaketh a desperate work, such shall his reward be. It is evil meddling with edged tools, &c., saith another interpreter. (b) Some by "stones" here understand landmarks, which to remove was counted sacrilege among the Romans, and worthy of death. (c) What are they guilty and worthy of, then, that abrogate the good old laws of a land, or the good old ways of God, that have given rest to so many souls? [Jeremiah 6:16] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 26:27"}

And he that cleaveth wood shall be in danger thereby,] viz., Of breaking his tools, if not his shins, especially if he be a bungler at it. This is to the same sense with the three former similitudes. Cyprian makes use of this text against schismatics, reading it thus: Scindens ligna periclitabitur in eo si exciderit ferrum, (d) He that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby, if that the iron fall off. Jerome by "wood" here understands heretics, as being unfruitful and unfit for God’s building, and makes this note upon it, Quamvis sit prudens et doctus vir, (e) &c. Although he be a wise and a learned man, who with the sword of his discourse cutteth this knotty wood, he will be endangered by it, unless he be very careful.


Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 10:10 If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom [is] profitable to direct.

Ver. 10. If the iron be blunt.] Pliny (a) calls iron the best and worst instrument of man’s life, and shows the many uses of it, as in ploughing, planting, pruning, planing, &c., but abominates the use of it in war and murdering weapons. Porsena enjoined the Romans, Ne ferro nisi in agricultura uterentur, saith he, that they should not use iron but only about their husbandry. The Philistines took the like order with the disarmed Israelites, [1 Samuel 13:19] among whom swords and spears were geasen; shares and coulters they allowed them, but so as that they must go down to the Philistines for sharpening. Gregory compares the devil to these Philistines, blinding and blunting men’s wits and understandings, "lest the light of saving truth should shine unto them." [2 Corinthians 4:4] These edge tools, therefore, must be whetted by the use of holy ordinances, and much strength put to, great pains taken, virtutibus corroborabitur (so the old translation hath it). But when all is done, he must needs be obtuse acutus, which seeth not that wisdom is profitable to direct; that is, that (whether the iron be blunt or sharp, whetted or not whetted, more strength added or not added) it is wisdom that rectifies all, or the benefit of rectifying is wisdom. "There is none to that," as David said of Goliath’s sword.


Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 10:11 Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Ver. 11. Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment.] It is for want of wisdom that the babbler, or tongue master (as the original hath it), is nothing better than the most poisonous serpent; nay, in some respects, worse; for one serpent stings not another, as backbiters do their best friends. And whereas serpents may be charmed, or their poison kept from the vitals, contra sycophantae morsum non est remedium, as the proverb hath it, there is no help to be had for the biting of a sycophant: his tongue is "full of deadly poison," saith St James. [James 3:8] Again, serpents usually hiss and give warning (though the Septuagint here read non in sibilo, the Vulgate, in silentio, in silence and without hissing, for without enchantment), so doth not the slanderer and detractor. He is a silent serpent, and like the dogs of Congo, which bite, but bark not. (a) And therefore, as all men hate a serpent and flee from the sight of it, so will wise men shun the society of a slanderer. And as any one abhors to be like to that old serpent the devil, so let him eschew this evil.


Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 10:12 The words of a wise man’s mouth [are] gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.

Ver. 12. The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious.] Heb., Are grace; they are nothing but grace, so the French translator hath it; (a) such as render him gracious with God and men, so Lyra glosseth it, as being usually "seasoned with salt, and ministering grace to the hearers." [Colossians 4:6]

But the lips of a fool swallow up himself.] Suddenly, utterly, unavoidably, as the whale did Jonah, as the devouring sword doth those that fall under it, as the grave doth all the living. How many of all sorts in all ages have perished by their unruly tongues, blabbing or belching out words Quae reditura per iugulum, as Pliny phraseth it that were driven down their throats again by the wronged and aggrieved parties! Take heed, saith the Arabic proverb, lest thy tongue cut thy throat; it is compared to "a sharp razor working deceitfully," [Psalms 52:3] which, instead of cutting the hair, cuts the throat. (b)


Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 10:13 The beginning of the words of his mouth [is] foolishness: and the end of his talk [is] mischievous madness.

Ver. 13. The beginning o f his words are folly.] He is an inconsiderate idiot, utters incoherences, pours forth a flood of follies, his whole discourse is frivolous, futilous. To begin foolishly may befall a wise man: but when he sees it, or hath it showen unto him, he will not persist: "Once have I spoken," saith holy Job, "but I will not answer again: yea, twice, but I will proceed no further." [Job 40:4-5] Much otherwise the fool, and because he will be dicti sui dominus {as Ecclesiastes 10:11} having lashed out at first, he launcheth further out into the deep, as it were, of idle and evil prattle. And if you offer to interrupt or admonish him, the end of his talk is mischievous madness, he blusters and lets fly on all hands, laying about him like a madman. And so we have here, as one (a) saith, the serpent, the babbler (spoken of in the eleventh verse), wreathed into a circle, his two ends, head and tail, meeting together. And as at the one end he is a serpent, having his sting in his head; so at the other end he is a scorpion, having his sting in his tail.


Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 10:14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?

Ver. 14. A fool also is full of words.] A very wordy man he is, and a great deal of small talk he has: Voces susque deque effutit inanes, as Thuanus hath it, he lays on more words than the matter will well bear. (a) And this custom of his is graphically expressed by an imitation of his vain tautologies. "A man cannot tell," saith he, "what shall be after him; and what shall be after him, who can tell?" He hath got this sentence (that may well become a wise man, Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 8:7) by the end, and he wears it threadbare; he hath never done with it, misapplying and abusing it to the defence of his wilful and witless enterprises. Thus the ass in the fable would needs imitate the dog, leaping and fawning in like manner on his master, but with ill success. "The lip of excellence becomes not a fool" [Proverbs 17:7] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 17:7"} [Proverbs 10:19; Proverbs 17:27 Ecclesiastes 5:3; Ecclesiastes 5:7] {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 5:3"} {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 5:7"} But empty casks, we know, sound loudest, and baser metals ring shrillest; things of little worth are ever most plentiful. History and experience tell us that some kind of mouse breedeth one hundred and twenty young ones in one nest, αλλα λεοντα, whereas the lion and elephant bears but one at once; so the least wit yields the most words, and as any one is more wise, he is more sparing of his speeches. Hesiod saith that words, as a precious treasure, should be thriftily husbanded, and warily wasted. Christians know, that for every wasted word account must be given at the great day. [Matthew 12:37] {See Trapp on "Matthew 12:37}


Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 10:15 The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

Ver. 15. The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them.] While he laboureth in vain, and maketh much ado to little purpose. He meddleth in many things, and so createth himself many crosses; he will needs be full of business, and so must needs be full of trouble, since he wants wit to manage the one and improve the other. "Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way." [Isaiah 57:10] And again, "Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels," [Isaiah 47:13] saith God to such as had "wearied him also with their iniquities, and made him to serve with their sins." [Isaiah 43:24] Yea, even then, when they think they have done him very good service. Thus Paul, before his conversion, persecuted the saints so eagerly, and was so mad upon it, as himself speaketh, [Acts 26:11] that, like a tired wolf, wearied in worrying the flock, he lay panting as it were for breath; and when he could do no more, yet "breathed out threatenings." [Acts 9:1] Thus Bonner would work himself windless almost in buffeting the martyrs, and whipping them with rods, as he did Mr Bartlet Green, Mr Rough, and many others. (a) So the philosophers wearied themselves and their followers in their wild disquisitions after, and discourses of tile chief happiness; which, because it lay not in their walk, therefore ab itinere regio deviantes ad illam metropolim non potuerunt pervenire, saith Cassian; wandering from the King of heaven’s highway, they could never be able to get to that metropolitan city, called Jehovahshammah, or "the Lord is there." [Ezekiel 48:35] "They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in." [Psalms 107:4] Fools many times beat their, wings much, as if they would fly far and high, but with the bustard, (b) they cannot rise above the earth; or if they do, they are soon pulled down again by the devil to feed upon the worst of excrements, as the lapwing doth, though it hath a coronet on the head, and is therefore fifty made a hieroglyphic of infelicity. (c)


Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 10:16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king [is] a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!

Ver. 16. Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child,] s.c., In understanding, though not in years, such as was Shechem, [Genesis 34:19, Neque distulit puer} and Rehoboam. {1 Kings 14:21 2 Chronicles 13:7] Solomon was a child king; so was Josiah, Uzziah, our Edward VI and yet it was well with the land in their days.

Hic regum decus et iuvenum flos, spesque honorum,

Deliciae saecli, et gloria gentis erat. ”

As Cardan sings of King Edward in his epitaph, {a} As he was the highest, so I verily believe he was the holiest in the whole kingdom, saith Mr Ridley, martyr. And whilst things were carried on by himself, in his health time, all went very well here; and si per leges fas illi fuisset omnia proprio nutu et voluntate regere, if by the laws of the land he might have done all himself without officers, all should have been far better done, saith Mr Cartwright upon this text. By "child" is here therefore meant a weak or wicked king, that lets loose the golden reins of government, is carried by his passions, lieth heavy upon his subjects. See Isaiah 3:6, compared with Ecclesiastes 10:13. Such princes are threatened as a plague to a people, [Leviticus 26:17] and they prove no less. This childhood of theirs is the maturity of their subjects’ misery; the land itself is woe, and woe itself the land, as one expositor observed from the word, אי, here used, which signifieth both woe and land. See Job 34:30.

And the princes eat in the morning.] As children use to call for food as soon as they have rubbed sleep out of their eyes. If the king is a child, the state officers will be loose and luxurious; yea, like morning wolves, will devour the prey, and "nourish themselves as in a day of slaughter." [James 5:5] The morning is a time to seek God, and search for wisdom, [Proverbs 8:17] to sit in counsel, and despatch business, as was the manner of Moses, [Exodus 18:13] and of the ancient Romans. Scipio Africanus was wont before day to go iuto the capitol, in cellam Iovis into Jupiter’s chapel, and there to stay a great while quasi consultans de republica cum Iove , saith Gellius, (b) as if he were consulting with Jupiter, concerning the public welfare; whence his deeds were pleraque admiranda admirable for the most part, saith that heathen author.


Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 10:17 Blessed [art] thou, O land, when thy king [is] the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!

Ver. 17. Blessed art thou, O land, &c.] Ita nati estis ut bona malaque vestra ad Remp. pertineant. You governors are of such condition as that your good or evil deeds are of public concernment, saith he in Tacitus. (a) It is either wealth or woe with the land, as it is well or ill governed.

When thy king is the son of nobles.] Well born and yet better bred; for else they will be noti magis quam nobiles, notable or notorious, but not noble (b) Our Henry I (surnamed Beauclerc) was often heard to say that an unlearned king was no better than a crowned ass. (c) Sure it is that royalty without righteousness is but eminent dishonour, gilded rottenness, golden damnation. Godly men are the excellent ones of the earth, [Psalms 16:1-11] the Beraeans were more noble, (d) or better gentlemen, than those of Thessalonica, non per civilem dignitatem, sed per spiritualem dignationem, not by civil, but by spiritual dignity; without which riches, revenue, retinue, high birth, &c., are but shadows and shapes of nobleness. "Since thou hast been precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable," saith God, [Isaiah 43:4] who is the top of good men’s kin, as religion is the root. But for want of this it was that Jehoiakim, though royally descended, is likened to an ass; [Jeremiah 22:19] and Antiochus, though a mighty monarch, is called a "vile person." [Daniel 11:21]

And thy princes eat in due season for strength, &c.] Being modest and moderate, not diffluent and debauched. Great men should not "cater for the flesh," [Romans 13:11-14] but so serve the body that the body politic may be served by it, and the Lord by both. Did ever any one see King Dejotarus dancing or drunken? saith Cicero, (e) and this he holds to be a singular commendation. See Proverbs 31:3-4. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 31:3"} {See Trapp on "Proverbs 31:3"} See my Common Place of Abstinence.


Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 10:18 By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.

Ver. 18. By much slothfulness the building decayeth.] So doth the commonwealth not sheltered with good government; for, as the householder is in his house, so is the magistrate in the city, and the king in his dominions. In his palace he may see a pattern of his kingdom, a draught of his city. Especially if it be, as George Prince of Anhalt’s was, ecclesia, academia, curia, a church, a university, and a court. For the better despatch of civil businesses, there was daily praying, reading, writing, yea, and preaching too, as Melanchthon and Scultetus report. (a) Here was no place for sloth and sluggishness within this most pious prince’s territories. His house was built of cedar beams, [Song of Solomon 1:17] of living stones; [1 Peter 2:5] his polity a theocracy, as Josephus saith of the Jewish Government; and of his people it might be said, as Polydor Virgil saith of the English, Regnum Anglicae regnum Dei. Oh, the blessednesses of such a country!

And through idleness of the hands the house droppeth, &c.] Stillicldia praecedunt ruinam, de poenas gravissimas, leviores, saith Jerome. If course be not timely taken, the house will run to ruiu for want of people or reparation; so will that person that takes not warning by lighter punishments. Surely, as one cloud follows another, till the sun disperseth them, so do judgments - greater succeed lesser, till men, meeting God by repentance, disarm his wrath.


Verse 19

Ecclesiastes 10:19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all [things].

Ver. 19. A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry.] Slothful governors, Regni dilapidatores (so our Henry III was called for his pride and prodigality), (a) are all for feasting and frolicking. See Proverbs 31:4, Daniel 5:3-4. This cannot be maintained without money, for the getting and gathering in whereof the poor people are peeled and polled, and rich men’s gifts are received, to the perverting of justice by those corrupt rulers, qui vili precio nihil non humile et vile parati sunt facere, as Gregory Thaumaturgus speaketh in his note upon this verse.

But money answereth all things.] It gives a satisfactory answer to whatsoever is desired or demanded. Seneca saith, circa pecuniam multum vociferationis est, that about money there is much noise, great crying; but though never so nmch, never so great, money answereth all - it effects all. (b) What great designs did Philip bring to pass in Greece by his golds the very oracles were said, ψιλιππιξειν, to say as Philip would have them: Antipater non tenuis fuit pecuniae, et ideo praevalidae potentiae, saith Egesippus; (c) he was a well moneyed man, and therefore a very mighty man. The Hebrew, or rather Chaldee, word (d) used for money [1 Chronicles 29:7 Ezra 8:27] signifies to do some great work, because money is the monarch of the world, and therein bears most mastery. Among suitors (in love and in law especially) money drives the bargain and business to an upshot.


Verse 20

Ecclesiastes 10:20 Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Ver. 20. Curse not the king, no not in thy thought.] Or, In thy conscience; but in this or any other kind,

“Turpe quid acturus, te sine teste time.” - Auson.

The present government is ever grievous, and nothing more usual than to grudge against it; (a) but take heed of wishing hurt to rulers (thought is not free), much more of uttering it, though in hugger mugger. Kings have long ears, heavy hands; walls also and hedges have ears. Some may overhear thee, as Mordecai did the two traitors, [Esther 2:22] or thou mayest unwittingly and unwillingly betray thyself, as our gunpowder plotters.

That which hath wing, &c.] It was a quill, a piece of a wing, that discovered that hellish plot. Wilful murder and treason will out by one means or other. Those two traitors sent by Mohammed to kill Scanderbeg, falling out between themselves, let fall something that brought all to light and themselves to punishment. (b) The like befell that gentleman of Normandy that confessed to a priest his intent to have killed King Francis. (c)

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-10.html. 1865-1868.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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