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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Ecclesiastes 5

 

 

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 5:1 Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.

Ver. 1. Keep thy foot,] q.d., Wouldst thou see more of the world’s vanity than hitherto hath been discoursed? get thee "to the sanctuary," as David did. [Psalms 73:17] For as they that walk in a mist see it not so well as those that stand on a hill; so they that have their hands elbow deep in the world cannot so easily discern what they do as those that go a little out from it. To the house of God therefore, to the temple and synagogues, to the churches and oratories steer thy course, take thy way. Only "see to thy feet," i.e., keep thy senses and affections with all manner of custody, from the mire of wicked and worldly matters. Shoes we have all upon our feet - that is, to speak in St James’s phrase, "filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" [James 1:21] in our hearts, that must be put off at God’s school door, as God taught Moses and Joshua. [Exodus 3:5 Joshua 5:15] And Pythagoras, having read Moses belike, taught his scholars as much, when he saith, ανυποδητος θυε και προσκυνει, Put off thy shoes when thou sacrificest and worshippest. His followers, the Pythagoreans, expounded his meaning, when they would not have men εν παροδω προσκυνειν, but οικοθεν παρασκευασαμενοι, worship God carelessly or by the way, but prepare themselves at home aforehand. And Numa Pompilius, one that had tasted of his learning, would not have men worship the gods εν παρεργω και αμελως, by the by, and for fashion, but χολην αγοντας απο των αλλων, at good leisure, and as making religion their business. (a) In the law of Moses, the priests were commanded to wash the inwards and the feet of the sacrifice in water. And this was done, πανυ συμβολικως, saith Philo, not without a mystery - sc., to teach us to keep our feet clean when we draw nigh to God. Antonius Margarita, in his book of the rites and ceremonies of the Jews, tells us that before their synagogues they have an iron plate, against which they wipe and make clean their shoes before they enter; and that being entered, they sit solemnly there for a season, not once opening their mouths, but considering who it is with whom they have to do. Thus it was wont to be with them; but alate though they come to their synagogues with washen hands and feet, yet for any show of devotion or elevation of spirit, they are as reverent, saith one that was an eyewitness, (b) as grammar boys are at school when their master is absent: their holiness is the mere outward work itself, being a brainless head and a soulless body. And yet upon the walls of their synagogues they write usually this sentence, by an abbreviature, "Tephillan belo cauvannah ceguph belo neshamah," i.e., A prayer without effection, is like a body without a soul. Solinus report eth of the Cretians, that they do very religiously worship Diana, and that no man may presume to come into her temple but barefooted. (c) Satan Dei aemulus, The devil is God’s ape. He led these superstitious Ethnics captive, as the Chaldeans did the Egyptians, "naked and barefoot" (d) [Isaiah 20:2; Isaiah 20:4]

When thou goest to the house of God.] Called "the gate of heaven," [Genesis 28:17] such as none but "the righteous" may "enter," [Psalms 118:20] the "beauty of holiness," the place of angels and archangels, the kingdom of God, yea, heaven itself, (e) as Chrysostom calls it. The French Protestants called their meeting house in Paris paradise. The primitive Christians (f) called such places κυριακους, whence kirks, churches, and the Lord’s houses; and basilicas, kingly palaces. Now it is held an uncivil thing to come to the palace of a king with dirty shoes, or to eat at his table with foul hands. Men wash their hands every day of course, but when to dine with a prince, they wash them with balls. So it should be here; when we come to God’s house we should come with the best preparation we can make; we should also be there with the first, and stay till the last, as doorkeepers use to do, which office in God’s house David held a high preferment. [Psalms 84:10] And while we are there, let our whole deportment be as in the presence of the great God, whom we must look full in the face, and be ready to hear, as those good souls in Acts 10:33; "Now therefore we are all here present before God," say they, "to hear all things that are commanded thee of God." Neither must we hear only with the hearing of the ear, but with the obedience of the heart and life - for so the original word here signifieth; Genesis 3:17, "Because thou hast heard," that is, obeyed, "the voice of thy wife," &c. - hearing diligently without distraction, and doing readily without sciscitation.

Than to give the sacrifice of fools,] i.e., The formalities and external services of profligate professors that think to set off with God for their sins by their sacrifices; for their evil deeds by their good. Hence they burden God’s altar, and even cover it with their sacrifices; sticking in the bark and gnabling upon the shell of holy services, not once piercing to the heart or tasting of the kernel thereof, and are therefore "abominable, because disobedient, and to every good work reprobate." [Titus 1:16] How many are there at this day that not only pray by tale, as Papists do by their beads, but turn over other duties of religion as a mere task, holding only a certain stint of them, as malt horses (g) do their pace, or mill horses their round, merely out of form and custom, those banes and breaknecks of due devotion! These do not only lose their labour but commit sin, [Isaiah 1:14] compass God with a lie, [Hosea 11:12] because they wash not their feet before they compass God’s altar. The heathen orator (h) can tell these fools of the people, Deum non superstitione coli velle, sed pietate, that God requires the heart in all holy duties, and must be served in spirit, [John 4:24] even toto corde, id est amore summo, more vero, ore fideli, re omni.

Hoc non fit verbis: Marce, ut ameris, ama. ” - Martial.

For they consider not that they do evil.] That they despite him with seeming honours, with displeasing service, which is double dishonour; with seeming sanctity, which is double iniquity, and deserves double damnation. This they so little consider, that they think God is greatly beholden to them, and does them no small wrong that he so little regards and rewards them. [Isaiah 58:3 Malachi 3:14] Non sic Deos coluimus ut ille nos vinceret, said that emperor, (i) going into the field against his enemy. We have not so served the gods, that they should serve us no better than to give the enemy the better of us.


Verse 2

Ecclesiastes 5:2 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter [any] thing before God: for God [is] in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.

Ver. 2. Be not rash with thy mouth.] From hearing, the Preacher proceeds to give directions for speaking, whether it be of God or to him. For the first, the very heathens could say, Non loquendum de Deo sine lumine, (a) We may not speak of God without a light - i.e., without a deliberate premeditation and well advised consideration. In speaking of God, saith one, (b) our best eloquence is our silence. And if we speak at all on this subject, saith another, (c) no words will so well become us as those, quae ignorantiam nostram praetendunt, that most discover our small knowledge of him. "How little a portion or pittance is heard of him," saith holy Job; [Job 26:14] the Hebrew word signifies a little bit or particle - nay, a little piece of a word, such as an echo resoundeth, "But the thunder of his power who can understand?" it is ineffable, because inconceivable. Here, if ever,

“Claudicat ingenium, delirat linguaque mensque.” - Lucret.

But although Jerome (d) thinks it best to understand the Preacher here of a speaking of God, yet others, and for better reason, conceive his meaning to be rather of a speaking to God by prayer, and particularly by a vow, which implies a prayer, as the Greek words ευχη and προσευχη import. Here then,

Let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything.] Heb., Let not thine heart through haste be so troubled or disturbed, as to tumble over, and throw out words without wisdom, in a confused manner, in a slubbering sort. But as there was "half an hour’s silence in heaven" when the seventh seal was opened, [Revelation 8:1] and or ever the seven trumpets sounded, so should there be a sad and serious weighing of our petitions before we utter them. Nescit poenitenda loqui, qui proferenda prius suo tradidit examini, (e) He repents not of his requests who first duly deliberates what to request. Whereas he that blurts out whatsoever lies uppermost - as some good men have done in their haste and heat of passion (as Job, Job 6:5; David, Psalms 116:11; Jeremiah, Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 15:18; Jonah, Jonah 4:1-3, who brawled with God instead of praying to him) - displeaseth God no less than the Muscovy ministers do their hearers if they mispronounce but any syllable in their whole liturgy.

For God is in heaven, and thou upon earth.] He is the "high and Holy One that inhabiteth eternity," [Isaiah 57:15] and thou art E palude sua procedens et repens vilis ranuncula, as Bernard hath it, a base toad creeping or crawling out of a ditch: there is an infinite distance and disproportion between him and thee; therefore see to it that thou come to him with all possible reverence, humility, and self-abasement. See Job 42:6, 1 Kings 18:42, Matthew 26:38. It is observable that when the great Turk comes into his mosque or temple, he lays by all his state, and hath none to attend him all the while.

Therefore let thy words be few.] But full, as the publicans were. [Luke 18:13] O quam multa quam paucis! Oh, how much in a little! said Cicero of Brutus’s Epistle. So may we say of that publican’s prayer; how much more of the Lord’s prayer, set in fiat opposition to the heathenish battologies (f) and vain repetitions usual with pagans and papagans. {See Trapp on "Matthew 6:7"} {See Trapp on "Matthew 6:8"} {See Trapp on "Matthew 6:9"} It is reported of the ancient Christians of Egypt, Quod brevissimis et raptim iaculatis orationibus uti voluerint, ne per moras evanesceret et hebetaretur intentio, (g) that they made very short prayers that their devotion might not be dulled by longer doings. Cassian also makes mention of certain religious persons in his time, Qui utilius censebant breves quidem orationes sed creberrimas fieri, &c., who thought it best that our prayers should be short, but frequent: the one, that there might be continual intercourse maintained between God and us; the other, that by shortness we might avoid the devil’s darts, which he throws especially at us, while we are praying. These are good reasons, and more may be added out of Matthew 6:5-15, as that "our heavenly Father knows what we need," &c. That which the Preacher here presseth is the transcendent excellence and surpassing majesty of almighty God. "I am a great King," saith he, [Malachi 1:14] and I look to be served like myself. Therefore "take with you words," [Hosea 14:2] neither over curious, nor over careless, but such as are humble, earnest, direct to the point, avoiding vain babblings, needless and endless repetitions, heartless digressions, tedious prolixities, wild and idle discourses of such extemporary petitioners, as not disposing their matter in due order by premeditation, and with it being word bound, are forced to go forward and backward, like hounds at a loss; and having hastily begun, they know not how handsomely to make an end.


Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 5:3 For a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice [is known] by multitude of words.

Ver. 3. For a dream cometh through the multitude of business.] When all the rest of the senses are bound up by sleep, the soul entereth into the shop of the fancy, and operates there usually according to the businesses and employments of the day past; et fieri videntur quae fieri tamen non videntur, saith Tertullian, (a) those things seem to be done in a dream, which yet are not seen to be done at all: these are but vanae iactationes negotiosae animae, the idle tossings of a busy mind. In like sort a fool, a heartless, sapless fellow, that being sensual and void of "the spirit of grace and supplications," hath neither the affections nor expressions of holy prayer, "multiplies words without knowledge," thinks to make out in words what he wants in worth, being λαλειν αριστος, λεγειν δε αδυνατωτατος, as Plutarch saith of Alcibiades, one that could talk much but speak little: "His voice is known by multitude of words." It is but a "voice" that is heard, it is but a sound that is made, like the uncertain sound of a trumpet, that none can tell what it meaneth, what to make of it. Corniculas citius in Africa, quam res rationesque solidus in Turriani scriptis reperias, saith one, (b) so here if there be any worth of matter in the fool’s words, it is but by chance, as Aristotle saith, (c) that dreams do by chance foretell those things that come to pass. Let it be our care to shun as much as may be all lavish and superfluous talkativeness and tediousness, but especially in prayer, lest we "offer the sacrifice of fools," and God be angry with us. For as it is not the loudness of a preacher’s voice, but the weight and holiness of his matter, and the spirit of the preacher, that moves a wise and intelligent hearer, so it is not the labour of the lips, but the travail of the heart that prevails with God. The Baalites’ prayer was not more tedious than Elijah’s short, yet more pithy than short. And it was Elijah that spake loud and sped in heaven. Let the fool learn, therefore, to show more wit in his discourse than words, lest being known by his voice, he meet, as the nightingale did, with some Laconian that will not let to tell him, Vox tu es, praeterea nihil, Thou art a voice, and that’s all.


Verse 4

Ecclesiastes 5:4 When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for [he hath] no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.

Ver. 4. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it.] {See Trapp on "Deuteronomy 23:22"} It is in thy power to vow or not to vow. Vovere nusquam est praeceptum, saith Bellarmine. (a) We have no command to vow. That of David, "Vow and perform to the Lord your God," is not purum praeceptum, saith Mr Cartwright, a pure precept, but like that other, "Be angry, and sin not"; where anger is not commanded, but limited. So neither are we simply commanded to vow, but having voluntarily vowed, we may not defer to pay it; delays are taken for denials, excuses for refusals.

For he hath no pleasure in fools.] He "needs" them as little as King Achish did; [1 Samuel 21:15] he "abhors" them [Psalms 5:5] as deceitful workers, as mockers of God. Jephthah in vovendo fuit stultus, inpraestando impius: (b) Jephthah was a fool invowing, and wicked in performing. But he that vows a thing lawful and possible, and yet defers to perform it, or seeks an evasion, is two fools for failing; since -


Verse 5

Ecclesiastes 5:5 Better [is it] that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Ver. 5. Better it is that thou shouldest not vow,] q.d., Who bade thee be so forward? Why wouldst thou become a voluntary votary, and so rashly engage to the loss of thy liberty and the offence of thy God, who expected thou shouldst have kept touch, and not have dealt thus slipperily with him? (a) "Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." [Acts 5:4] "As the truth of Christ is in me," saith Paul; [2 Corinthians 11:10] so he binds himself by an oath, as the learned have observed. And "as God is true, our word toward you was not yea and nay; for the Son of God who was preached among you by me was not yea and nay; but in him all the promises of God are yea and amen." [2 Corinthians 1:19-20] Why, what of that? some might say; and what is all this to the purpose? Very much, for it implieth that what a Christian doth promise to men (how much more to God?) he is bound by the earnest penny of God’s Spirit to perform. He dares no more alter or falsify his word than the Spirit of God can lie. And as he looks that God’s promises should be made good to him, so is he careful to pay what he hath vowed to God, since his is a covenant of mercy, ours of obedience; and if he shall be all-sufficient to us, we must be altogether his. [Song of Solomon 2:16]


Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 5:6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it [was] an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

Ver. 6. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin.] Heb., Nec des, Give not liberty to thy mouth, which of itself is so apt to overflow and run riot in sinful and superfluous language. Rein it in therefore, and lay laws upon it, lest it "cause thy flesh to sin," thyself to become a sinner against thine own soul. Say to it in this case, as Christ did to those Pharisees in the gospel, "Why temptest thou me, thou hypocrite?" or as the witch said to Saul, that sought to her, "Wherefore layest thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die?" [1 Samuel 28:9] Shall my prayer become sin, and my religious vows, through non-payment, a cause of a curse? [Psalms 109:7] When thou art making such an ill bargain, say to thy mouth, as Boaz said to his kinsman, "At what time thou buyest it, thou must have Ruth with it"; [Ruth 4:5] so thou must have God’s curse with it - for that is the just hire of the least sin, [Romans 6:23] how much more of thy crimson crime! And let thy mouth answer, No, I may not do it; I shall mar and spoil a better inheritance; I shall anger the angel of the covenant, who, if his wrath be kindled, yea, but a little, "he will not pardon my transgression, for God’s name is in him," [Exodus 23:21] who, as he is pater miserationum, "the Father of mercies," so he is Deus ultionum, "the God of recompenses." [Psalms 94:1] True it is that anger is not properly in God; "Fury is not in me"; [Isaiah 27:4] but because he chides and smites for sin, as angry men use to do, therefore is anger here and elsewhere attributed to him, that men may stand in awe and not sin, since sin and punishment are linked together with chains of adamant.


Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 5:7 For in the multitude of dreams and many words [there are] also [divers] vanities: but fear thou God.

Ver. 7. For in the multitude af dreams, and in many words,] i.e., As in the multitude of dreams, so in many words, &c. There may be some matter in some of either; but neither of them wants their vanities. Dreams are of various sorts. {See Trapp on "Genesis 20:3"} Epicurus judged them all vain. The Telmisenses nulla somnia evacuabant, saith Tertullian, (a) made no dreams to be vain. But that some dreams are divine, some diabolical, and some natural, Peculiare solarium naturalis oraculi, as one speaketh, good symptoms and indications of the natural constitution, no wise man ever doubted. That of the philosopher (b) hath a truth in it, Iustum ab iniusto non somno, sed somnio discerni, that a good man may be distinguished from a bad, though not by his sleep, yet by his dreams in his sleep.

But fear thou God.] And so eschew this evil of fond babbling (in God’s service especially), which is no less a vanity than plain doting, and procures Divine displeasure. Deum siquis parum metuit, valde contemnit. (c) He that fears not God’s wrath is sure to feel it. [Psalms 90:11]


Verse 8

Ecclesiastes 5:8 If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for [he that is] higher than the highest regardeth; and [there be] higher than they.

Ver. 8. If thou seest the oppression of the poor.] And so mayest be drawn to doubt of Divine providence, and to withdraw thine awful regard to the divine Majesty, to forego godliness, and to turn fiat atheist, as Diagoras and Averroes did.

Marvel not at the matter.] Nil admirari prope res est una Numici. (a) A wise man wonders at nothing; he knows there is good cause why God should allow it so to be, and gives him his glory. Opera Dei sunt in mediis contrariis, saith Luther: (b) God’s works are effected usually by contraries. And this he doth ινα και μαλλον θαυμαζηται, that he may be the more marvelled at, saith Nazianzen. Hence he commonly goes a way by himself, drawing light out of darkness, good out of evil, heaven out of hell, that his people may feelingly say, "Who is like unto thee, O Lord, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders." [Exodus 15:11] "Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth." [Psalms 58:11]

For he that is higher than the highest regardeth.] And "wherein they deal proudly, he is above them," [Exodus 18:11] and overtops them; [Psalms 2:4] sets a day for them, and "sees that their day is coming." [Psalms 37:13] "The Most High cuts off the spirit of princes" [Psalms 76:12] - he slips them off, as one should slip off a flower between his fingers; or he cuts them off, as grapegatherers do the clusters off the vines; such a metaphor there is in the original - "He is terrible to all the kings of the earth," those dread sovereigns, those hammers of the earth and scourges of the world, (c) as Atillas styled himself; such as Sennacherib, whom God so subdued and mastered, that the Egyptians, in memory of it, set up his statue in the temple of Vulcan, with this inscription, Eμε τις ορεων ευσεβης εστο: (d) Let all that behold me learn to fear God. It was therefore excellent counsel that Jehoshaphat gave his judges: "Take heed what you do, for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgment. Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord our God be upon you; take heed and do it." [2 Chronicles 19:6] Look upon him that overlooks all your doings, saith he, and then learn to sit upon the tribunal, in as great though not in so slavish a fear of doing wrong, as Olanes in the history did upon the flayed skin of his father Sisannus, nailed by Cambyses on the judgment seat; or as a Russian judge that fears the boiling caldron or open battocking; or the Turkish senate, when they think the great Turk to stand behind the arras (e) at the dangerous door. In fine, let the grandees and potentates of the earth know and acknowledge with Constantine, Valentinian, and Theodosius, three great emperors, as Socrates reports of them, that they are but Christi vasalli, Christ’s vassals; and that as he is Excelsus super excelsos, high above all, even the highest, so he hath other high ones at hand - viz., the holy angels, who can "resist the King of Persia," as Michael the prince did; [Daniel 10:13] fright the Syrians with a panic terror; [2 Kings 7:6] smite the Assyrians with an utter destruction; [Isaiah 37:36] deliver Peter from the hand of Herod, and from the expectation of the Jews. [Acts 12:11] What a wonderful difference in the slaughter of the firstborn of Egypt! [Exodus 12:23-32] Tyrants shall be sure, sooner or later, to meet with their match. Look what a hand the Ephori had over the King of Sparta; the tribunes had over the Roman consuls; and the Prince Palgrave of Rhine ought, by the ancient orders, to have over the Emperor of Germany ( Palatino haec dignitatis praerogativa est, ut ipsum Caesarem iudicare et damnare possit, quoties scilicet lis ei ab aliquo ordinum imperii movetur; { f} the Palgrave hath power to judge and pass sentence upon the emperor himself, when any of the states of Germany do sue him at the law); the same and more hath God and his angels over the mightiest magnificoes in the world. "Lebanon shall fail by a mighty one," [Isaiah 10:34] i.e., by an angel, as some interpret it.


Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 5:9 Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king [himself] is served by the field.

Ver. 9. Moreover, the profit of the earth is for all,] viz., For all sorts of men, and for all kind of uses. Alma mater, terra ferax. "Then shall the earth yield her increase; and (therein) God, even our own God, shall bless us." [Psalms 67:6] "Can any of the vanities of the heathens give rain," or grain? No, neither. [Jeremiah 14:22] Can the earth bring forth fruit of herself? (a) So, indeed, our Saviour seems to say, "First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear"; [Mark 4:28] but then it is after the good husbandman hath sowed it, and God by his blessing given the increase. The drift of the Preacher here is to set forth the excellence of tillage first, and then to show the vanity of it. Tillage is the life and blood of a commonwealth; it is beyond all pecuniary possessions. Jacob had money and other fruits of the earth, and yet if Egypt, the world’s granary, as one calls it, had not supplied them with grain, he and his might have perished. [Genesis 43:1-2]

The king himself is served by the field.] Not the lion, dragon, unicorn, &c. But the plough aud the ship are the supporters of a crown. Some read it thus: Rex agro servit, The king is a servant to the field. (b) It concerns him to have care of tillage, plantation of fruits, breeding of cattle, &c., or else all will soon run to wrack and ruin. King Uzziah loved husbandry, and used it much. [2 Chronicles 26:10] In Amos 7:1, we read of "the king’s mowings." And Pliny hath observed that grain was never so plentiful, good and cheap at Rome as when the same men tilled the land that ruled the commonwealth, Quasi gauderet terra laureato vomere scilicet et aratore triumphali.


Verse 10

Ecclesiastes 5:10 He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this [is] also vanity.

Ver. 10. He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver.] As he cannot fill his belly, nor clothe his back with it, so neither can he satisfy his inordinate appetite and desire after it, though he had heaped and hoarded it up, as the great Caliph of Babylon had - that covetous wretch, starved to death by Haalon, brother to Mango, the great Cham of Cataia, in the midst of his gold, silver, and precious stones, whereof, till then, he could never have enough. (a) Auri nempe fames parto fit maior ab auro, (b) A man may as soon fill a chest with grace as a heart with wealth. As a circle cannot fill a triangle, so neither can the whole world, if it could be compassed, possibly fill the heart of man. Anima rationalis caeteris omnibus occupari potest, impleri non potest: (c) The reasonable soul may be busied about other things, but it cannot be filled with them. Non plus satiatur cor auro, quam corpus aura, As air fills not the body, so neither doth money the mind. It cannot, therefore, be man’s chiefest good, as mammonists make it, since it doth not terminate his appetite, but that although he hath never so much of it, yet is he as hungry after more as if he were not worth a halfpenny. Theoeritus brings in the covetous person first wishing -

Mille meis errent in montibus agni;

that he had a thousand sheep in his flock. And this when he had gotten, then, Pauperis est namerare pecus. He would have cattle without number. The Greeks derive their word for desire (d) from a root that signifieth to burn, Now, if one should heap never so much fuel upon a fire, it would not quench it, but kindle it the more. So here. Surely, as a ship may be overladen with silver, even unto sinking, and yet have compass and sides enough to hold ten times more, so a covetous wretch, though he hath enough to sink him, yet never hath he enough to satisfy him. Cataline was ever alieni appetens, sui profusus, (e) not more prodigal of his own than desirous after other men’s estates.


Verse 11

Ecclesiastes 5:11 When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good [is there] to the owners thereof, saving the beholding [of them] with their eyes?

Ver. 11. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them.] Servants, friends, flatterers, trencher men, pensioners, and other hangerons that will flock to a rich man, as crows do to a dead carcase, not to defend, but to devour it. Caesar perished in the midst of his friends, whose boundless hopes and expectations he was not able to satisfy. The King of Spain, were it not for the West India fleet, were never able to subsist, though he be by far the greatest prince in Christendom, gives for his motto, Totus non sufficit orbis, and hath his empire so far extended that he may truly say, Sol mihi semper lucet, The sun ever shines upon my dominions. (a) The Duke of Bavaria’s house is so pestered with friars and Jesuits that, notwithstanding the greatness of his revenue, he is very poor, as spending all his estate on those Popish flesh flies, those inutiles et ribaldi (Lyra’s words upon this text), useless, needless, ribaldry fellows. (b)

Saving the beholding of them with his eyes.] To such a large retinue, such a numerous family; as Job, who had a very great household, [Job 1:3] and Abraham, who had a trained hand in his family, but especially as Solomon, who had thousands of servants and work folk. Whereunto I may add Cardinal Wolsey’s pompous family, consisting of one earl, nine barons, knights and esquires very many, chaplains and other servants, besides retainers, at bed and board, no fewer than four hundred. Or, to see so much wealth, and to tumble in it; as Caligula the emperor was wont to do, contrectandae pecuniae cupidine incensus, loving to handle his money, to walk upon it with his bare feet, and to roll among it with his whole body, as Suetonins relateth. (c) The like is reported of Heliogabalus, who also, besides what he did eat, is said to have provided himself, in case he should be in danger to be surprised by his enemies, silken halters to hang himself with, ponds of sweet water to drown himself, gilded poisons to poison himself with, &c.


Verse 12

Ecclesiastes 5:12 The sleep of a labouring man [is] sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.

Ver. 12. The sleep of a labouring man is sweet.] Sleep is the nurse of nature, the wages that she pays the poor man for his incessant pains. His fare is not so high, his care is not so great, but that without distemper or distraction he can hug his rest most sweetly, and feel no disturbance, until the due time of rising awakeneth him. (a) These labouring men are as sound as a rock, as hungry as hunters, as weary as ever was dog of day, as they say, and therefore no sooner laid in their beds but fast asleep, their hard labour causing easy digestion, and uninterrupted rest. Whereas the restless spirit of the rich wretch rides his body day and night; care of getting, fear of keeping, grief of losing, these three vultures feed upon him continually. He rolls a Sisyphus’ stone; his abundance, like a lump of lead, lies heavy upon his heart, and breaks his sleep. Much like the disease called the nightmare, or ephialtes, in which men in their slumber think they feel a thing as large as a mountain lying upon their breasts, which they can no way remove. His evil conscience soon lasheth and lanceth him, as it did our Richard III, after the murder of his two innocent nephews, and Charles IX of France, after the bloody massacre. God also terrifies him with dreams, throws handfuls of hell fire in his face, interpellat cogitantem, excitat dormientem, as Ambrose hath it, interrupts him while he is thinking, awakeneth him while he is sleeping, rings that doleful peal in his ears, that makes him start and stare, "Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be taken from thee." Veni miser in iudicium, Come, thou wretch, receive thy judgment.


Verse 13

Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a sore evil [which] I have seen under the sun, [namely], riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.

Ver. 13. There is a sore evil.] Or, An evil disease, (a) such as breaks the sleep, hinc pallor et genae pendulae, item furiales somni et inquies nocturna, (b) causing paleness, leanness, restlessness by night. This disease is the dropsy or bulimy of covetousness, as seldom cured as heresy, frenzy, jealousy, which three are held incurable maladies.

Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.] Worldlings sit abrood upon their wealth, and hatch to their hurt, as the silly bird doth the eggs of the cockatrice. Riches are called "goods," but it hath been well observed that he that first called them so was a better husband [husbandman] than divine. Such a husband was he in the gospel, who reckoned upon "much goods laid up for many years." But how come these "goods" to prove evil to the owners but by the evil usage of them? Riches in themselves are of an indifferent nature, and it is through men’s corruption, ut magna sit cognatio et nominis et rei divitiis et vitiis, that riches are weapons of wickedness - engines of evil. "He that getteth riches, and not by right, shall die a poor fool." [Jeremiah 17:11]

Dum peritura parat, per male parts perit.

He that keepeth his riches - having no quick silver, no current money - when God calls him to part with them for pious and charitable uses, keepeth them to his own greatest hurt. For the rust of his canker eaten gold shall rise up in judgment against him at that great day. [James 5:3]

Sic plates nimia congesta pecunia cura

Strangulat ” - Juvenal, sat. 10.

{See Trapp on "Proverbs 1:19"}


Verse 14

Ecclesiastes 5:14 But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begetteth a son, and [there is] nothing in his hand.

Ver. 14. But those riches perish by evil travail,] i.e., By evil trading, trafficking, or other cross event and accident. They waste and wither either by vanity or violence. They slip out of the hand, as the punting bird or wriggling eel. There is no hold to be taken of them - no trust to be put in them. They were never true to those that trusted in them. {See Trapp on "Proverbs 23:5"}


Verse 15

Ecclesiastes 5:15 As he came forth of his mother’s womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labour, which he may carry away in his hand.

Ver. 15. As he came forth of his mother’s womb,] q.d., If riches leave not us while we live, yet we are sure to leave them when we die. (a) Look how a false harlot leaves her lover when arrested for debt, and follows other customers; so is it here. And as dogs, though they go along with us in company, yet at parting they run every one to his own master. So do these to the world, when we come to leave the world. Death, as a porter, stands at the gate, and strips us of all our thick clay wherewith we are laden. {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 2:22"}

To go as he came.] Like an unwelcome guest, or an unprofitable servant, a cipher, and excrement. Oh live, live, live, saith a reverend man, (b) quickly, much, long; so you are welcome to the world: else you are but hissed and kicked off this stage of the world, as Phocas was by Heraclius; nay, many {as Job 27:23} who were buried before half dead, &c.

And shall take nothing of hls labour.] Ne obolum quo naulum Charonti solvant. Some have had great store of gold and silver buried with them, and others would needs be buried in a monk’s cowl, out of a superstitious conceit of speeding the better in another world; but it hath profited them nothing at all. [Ecclesiastes 9:10]


Verse 16

Ecclesiastes 5:16 And this also [is] a sore evil, [that] in all points as he came, so shall he go: and what profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?

Ver. 16. And this also is a sore evil.] Malum dolorificum, so it will prove; a singular vexation, a sharp corrosive, when Balaam and his bribes, Laban and his bags, Nabal and his flocks, Achan and his wedge, Belshazzar and his bulls, Herod and his harlots, Dives and his dishes, &c., shall part asunder for ever, when they shall look from their death beds, and see that terrible spectacle, death, judgment, hell, and all to be passed through by their poor souls! Oh, what a dreadful shriek gives the guilty soul at death, to see itself launching into an ocean of scalding lead, and must swim naked in it for ever! Who, therefore, unless he had rather burn with Dives than reign with Lazarus, will henceforth reach out his hand to bribery, usury, robbery, deceit, sacrilege, or any such like wickedness or worldliness, which "drown men’s souls in perdition and destruction?" [1 Timothy 6:9] If rich men could stave off death, or stop its mouth with a bag of gold, it were somewhat like. But that cannot be, as Henry Beaufort, that rich and wretched cardinal found by experience; as the King of Persia told Constance the Emperor, who had showed him all the glory and bravery of Rome; Mira quidem haec, said he, sed ut video, sicut in Persia, sic Romoe heroines moriuntur, (a) - i.e., These be brave things, but yet I see that as in Persia, so at Rome also, the owners of these things must needs die. Agreeable whereunto was that speech of Nugas, the Scythian monarch, to whom, when Michael Paleologus, the emperor, sent certain rich robes for a present, he asked, Nunquid calamitates, morbos, mortem depellere possent? - whether they could drive away calamities, sickness, death? - for if they could not do so they were not much to be regarded, (b)

What profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?] i.e., For just nothing. See Hosea 12:1, Jeremiah 22:22. The Greeks expressed the same by hunting after and ‘husbanding the wind.’ (c) The apostle speaks of "beating the air," [1 Corinthians 9:26] as he doth that fights with his own shadow - that disquiets himself in vain. The four monarchies are called the "four winds of heaven." [Zechariah 6:3-4] And at the Pope’s enthronisation a wad of straw is set on fire before him, and one appointed to say, Sic transit gloria mundi, - The glory of this world is but a blaze or blast.


Verse 17

Ecclesiastes 5:17 All his days also he eateth in darkness, and [he hath] much sorrow and wrath with his sickness.

Ver. 17. All his days also he eats in darkness,] i.e., He lives besides that he hath, and cannot so much as be merry at meat. Hence is much sorrow, wrath, and sickness, especially if spoiled of his goods, which he made his god; he is no less troubled than Laban was for his teraphim, or Micah for his idol. [ 17:3] He is mad almost, and ready to hang himself for woe, having much fretting, foaming, fuming, anger, languor, ready to flee at God and men.


Verse 18

Ecclesiastes 5:18 Behold [that] which I have seen: [it is] good and comely [for one] to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it [is] his portion.

Ver. 18. It is good and comely for one to eat, &c.] Niggardice and baseness is an ugly evil, making a man, though never so rich, to be vilipended and despised of all. Nabal shall not be called Nadib - the vile person liberal, the churl bountiful. [Isaiah 32:5] {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 2:24"} {See Trapp on "Ecclesiastes 3:12"}


Verse 19

Ecclesiastes 5:19 Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth, and hath given him power to eat thereof, and to take his portion, and to rejoice in his labour; this [is] the gift of God.

Ver. 19. This is the gift of God.] A gift of his right hand, donum throni, non scabelli, - Godliness only hath contentedness. [1 Timothy 6:6] The comfort of wealth comes in by no other door than by the assurance of God’s love in bestowing it, and of his grace in sanctifying it. "God give thee the dew of heaven." [Genesis 27:28] Esau likewise had the like, but not with a "God give thee." A carnal heart cares not how, so he may have it; hence his so little comfort and enjoyment. A godly man will have God with it, or else he is all amort. Moses would not be put off with an angel to go along with them. Luther protested, when great gifts were offered him, that he would not be satisfied or quieted with those rattles. (a)


Verse 20

Ecclesiastes 5:20 For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth [him] in the joy of his heart.

Ver. 20. For he shall not much remember, &c.] He vexeth not at the brevity or misery of his life, but looketh upon himself as a stranger here, and therefore if he can have a better condition, he "useth it rather," [1 Corinthians 7:21] as if a traveller can get a better room in an inn, he will; if not, he can be content, for, saith he, it is but for a night.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1865-1868.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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