corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.16
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Ecclesiastes 10

 

 

Verses 1-20

Nor in Devotion to Affairs and its Rewards.

Ecclesiastes 9:13-18; Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

So far, then, Coheleth has been occupied in retracing the argument of the first Section of the Book. Now he returns upon the second and third Sections: he deals with the man who plunges into public affairs, who turns his wisdom to practical account and seeks to attain a competence, if not a fortune. He lingers over this stage of his argument, probably because the Jews, then as always, even in exile and under the most cruel oppression, were a remarkably energetic, practical, money-getting race, with a singular faculty of dealing with political issues or handling the market; and, as he slowly pursues it, he drops many hints of the social and political conditions of the time. Two features of it he takes much to heart: first, that wisdom, even of the most practical and sagacious sort, did not win its fair recognition and reward-a very natural complaint in so wise a man; and, secondly, that his people were under tyrants so gross, self-indulgent, indolent, and unstatesman-like as the Persians of his day-also a natural complaint in a man of so wise and patriotic spirit.

He opens with an anecdote in proof of the slight regard in which the most valuable and remunerative sagacity was held. He tells us of a poor man-and I have sometimes thought that this poor man may have been the author himself; for the military leaders of the Jews, though among the most expert strategists of that era, were often very learned and studious men-who lived in a little city, with only a few inhabitants. A great king came up against the city, besieged it, threw up the lofty military causeway, as high as the walls, from which it was the fashion of the time to deliver the assault. By his Archimedian wit the poor man hit on a stratagem which saved the city; but though his service was so signal, and the city so little that the "few men in it" must have seen him every day, "yet no one remembered that same poor man," or lent a hand to lift him from his poverty. Wise as he was, his wisdom did not bring him bread, nor riches, nor favour (Ecclesiastes 9:13-15). Therefore, concludes the Preacher, wisdom, great gift though it is, and better, as in this instance, than "an army to a beleaguered city," [Ecclesiastes 7:19] is not of itself sufficient to secure success. A poor man’s wisdom-as many an inventor has found-is despised even by those who profit by it. Although his counsel, in the day of extremity, is infinitely more valuable than the loud bluster of fools, or of a ruler among fools, nevertheless the ruler, because he is foolish, may be affronted to find one of the poorest men in the place wiser than himself; he may easily cast his "merit in the eye of scorn," and so rob him both of the honour and the reward of his achievement (Ecclesiastes 9:16-17)-an ancient saw not without modern instances. For the fool is a great power in the world, especially the fool who is wise in his own conceit. Insignificant in himself, he may nevertheless do great harm and "destroy much good." Just as a tiny fly, when it is dead, may make the sweetest ointment offensive by infusing its own evil savour, so a man, when his wit is gone, may with his little folly cause many sensible men to distrust the wisdom they should honour: [Ecclesiastes 10:1]-who has not met such a hot-headed want-wit in, for example, the lobbies of the House of Commons? To a wise man, such as Coheleth, the fool, the presumptuous conceited fool, is "rank and smells to heaven," infecting sweeter natures than his own with a most pestilent corruption. He paints us a picture of him-paints it with a keen graphic scorn which, if the eyes of the fool were in his head, [Ecclesiastes 2:14] and "what he is pleased to call his mind" could for a moment shift from his left hand to his right (Ecclesiastes 10:2), might make him nearly as contemptible to himself as he is to others. As we read Ecclesiastes 10:3, the unhappy wretch stands before us. We see him coming out of his house; he goes dawdling down the street, forever wandering from the path, attracted by the merest trifle, staring at familiar objects with eyes that have no recognition in them. knowing neither himself nor others; and, with pointed finger, chuckles after every sober citizen he meets, "There goes a fool!"

Yet a fool quite as foolish and malignant as this, quite as indecent even in outward behaviour, may be lifted to high place, and has ere now sat on an imperial throne. The Preacher had seen many of them suddenly raised to power, while nobles were degraded, and high functionaries of State reduced to an abject servitude. Now if the poor wise man have to attend the durbar, or sit in the divan, of a foolish capricious despot, how should he bear himself? The Preacher counsels meekness and submission. He is to sit unruffled even though the ruler should rate him, lest by resentment he should provoke some graver outrage (Ecclesiastes 10:4-7 : compare Ecclesiastes 8:3). To strengthen him in his submission, the Preacher hints at cautions and consolations which, because free and open speech was very dangerous under the Persian despotism, he wraps up in obscure maxims capable of a double sense-nay, as the commentators have shown, capable of a good many more senses than two-to the true sense of which "a foolish ruler" was by no means likely to penetrate, even if they fell into his hands.

The first of these maxims is, "He who diggeth a pit shall fall into it" (Ecclesiastes 10:8). And the allusion is, of course, to an Eastern mode of trapping wild beasts and game. The huntsman dug a pit, covered it with twigs and sods, and strewed the surface with bait; but as he dug many such pits, and some of them were long without a tenant, he might at any inadvertent moment fall into one of them himself. The proverb is capable of at least two interpretations. It may mean that the foolish despot, plotting the ruin of his wise servant, might in his anger go too far; and, betraying his intention, provoke a retaliative anger before which he himself would fall. Or it may mean that, should the wise servant seek to undermine the throne of the despot, he might be taken in his treachery and bring on himself the whole weight of the tyrant’s wrath.

The second maxim is "Whoso breaketh down a wall, a serpent shall bite him" (Ecclesiastes 10:8); and here, of course, the allusion is to the fact that snakes infect the crannies of old walls. {compare Amos 5:19} To set about dethroning a tyrant was like pulling down such a wall; you would break up the nest of many a reptile, many a venomous hanger-on, and might only get bit or stung for your pains. Or, again, in pulling out the stones of an old wall, you might let one of them fall on your foot; and in hacking out its timbers, you might cut yourself: that is to say, even if your conspiracy did not involve you in absolute ruin, it would be only too likely to do you serious and lasting injury (Ecclesiastes 10:9).

The next adage runs (Ecclesiastes 10:10), "if the axe be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, he must put on more strength, but wisdom should teach him to sharpen it," and is, perhaps, the most difficult passage in the book. The Hebrew is read in a different way by almost every translator. As I read it, it means, in general, that it is not well to work with blunt tools when by a little labour and delay you may whet them to a keener edge. Read thus, the political rule implied in it is, "Do not attempt any great enterprise, any revolution or reform, till you have a well-considered scheme to go upon, and suitable instruments to carry it out with." But the special political import of it may be, "Your strength is nothing to that of the tyrant; do not therefore lift a blunt axe against the trunk of despotism: wait till you have put a sharp edge upon it." Or, the tyrant himself may be the blunt axe, and then the warning is, "Sharpen him up, repair him, use him and his caprices to serve your end; get your way by giving way to him, and by skilfully availing yourself of his varying moods." Which of these may be the true meaning of this obscure disputed passage, I do not undertake to say; but the latter of the two seems to be sustained by the adage which follows: "If the serpent bite because it is not charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer." For here, I think, there can be little doubt that the foolish angry ruler is the serpent, and the wise functionary the charmer who is to extract the venom of his anger. Let the foolish ruler be never so furious, the poor wise man. who is able "to cull the plots of best advantages," and to save a city, can surely devise a charm of soft submissive words which will turn away his wrath; just as the serpent charmer of the East, by song and incantation, is at least reputed to draw serpents from their lurk, that he may pluck the venom from their teeth (Ecclesiastes 10:11). For, as we are told in the very next verse, "the words of the wise man’s mouth win him grace, while the lips of the fool destroy him."

And on this hint, on this casual mention of his name, the Preacher-who all this while, remember, is personating the sagacious man of the world, bent on rising to wealth, power, distinction-once more "comes down" on the fool. He speaks of him with a burning heat and contempt, as men versed in public affairs are wont to do, since they best know how much harm a voluble, impudent, self-conceited fool may do, how much good he may prevent. Here, then, is the fool of public life. He is a man always prating and predicting, although his words, only foolish at the first, swell and fret into a malignant madness before he has done, and although he of all men is least able to give good counsel, to seize occasions as they rise, or to foresee what is about to come to pass. Puffed up by the conceit of wisdom or of his own importance, he is forever intermeddling with great affairs, though he has no notion how to handle them, and is incapable of even finding his way along the beaten road which leads to the capital city, of taking and keeping the plain and obvious path which the exigencies of the time require; while (Ecclesiastes 10:3) he is forward to cry, "There goes a fool," of every man who is wiser than himself (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15). If he would only hold his tongue, he might pass muster; beguiled by his gravity and silence, men might give him credit for sagacity, and fit his foolish deeds with profound motives; but he will speak, and his words betray and "swallow him up." Of course we have no such fools, "full of words," to rise in their high place and wag their tongues to their own hurt-they are peculiar to antiquity or to the East.

But then there were so many of them, and their influence in the state was so disastrous that, as the Preacher thinks of them, he breaks into an almost dithyrambic fervour, and cries, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes feast in the morning! Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is noble, and thy princes eat at due hours, for strength and not for revelry!" Through the sloth and riot of these foolish rulers, the whole fabric of the state was fast fading into decay-the roof rotting and the rain leaking in. To support their inopportune and profligate revelry, they imposed crushing taxes on the people, which inspired in some a revolutionary discontent, and in some the apathy of despair. The wise exile foresaw that the end of a despotism so unjust and luxurious could not be far off; that when the storm rose and the wind blew, the ancient house, unrepaired in its decay, would topple on the heads of those who sat in its halls, revelling in a wicked mirth (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19). Meantime, the sagacious servant of the state, perchance too of foreign extraction, unable to arrest the progress of decay, or not caring how soon it was consummated, would make his "market of the time"; he would carry himself warily: and, because the whole land was infested with the spies bred by despotism, he would give them no hold on him, nor so much as speak the simple truth of his foolish debauched rulers in the privacy of his own bed chamber, or mutter his thoughts on the roof, lest some "bird of the air should carry the report" (Ecclesiastes 10:20).

But if this were the condition of the time, if to rise in public life involved so many mean crafts and submissions, so many deadly imminent risks from spies and from fools clad in a little brief authority, how could any man hope to find the Chief Good in it? Wisdom did not always win promotion; virtue was inimical to success. The anger of an incapable idiot, or the whisper of an envious rival, or the caprice of a merciless despot, might at any moment undo the work of years, and expose the most upright and sagacious of men to the worst extremities of misfortune. There was no tranquillity, no freedom, no security, no dignity in such a life as this. Till this were resigned and some nobler, loftier aim found, there was no chance of reaching that great satisfying Good which lifts man above all accidents, and fixes him in a happy security from which no blow of circumstance can dislodge him.


Verses 9-20

Combined with a steadfast Faith in the Life to come.

Ecclesiastes 10:9 - Ecclesiastes 12:7

But, soft; is not our man of men becoming a mere man of pleasure? No; for he recognises the claims of duty and of charity. These keep his pleasures sweet and wholesome, prevent them from usurping the whole man, and landing him in the satiety and weariness of dissipation. But lest even these safeguards should prove insufficient, he has also this: he knows that "God will bring him into judgment"; that all his works, whether of charity or duty or recreation, will be weighed in the pure and even balance of Divine Justice (Ecclesiastes 11:9). This is the secret of the pure heart-the heart that is kept pure amid all labours and cares and joys. But the intention of the Preacher in thus adverting to the Divine Judgment has been gravely misconstrued, wrested even to its very opposite. We too much forget what that judgment must have seemed to the enslaved Jews; -how weighty a consolation, how bright a hope! They were captive exiles, oppressed by profligate despotic lords. Cleaving to the Divine Law with a passionate loyalty such as they had never felt in happier days, they were nevertheless exposed to the most dire and constant misfortunes. All the blessings which the Law pronounced on the obedient seemed withheld from them, all its promises of good and peace to be falsified; the wicked triumphed over them, and prospered in their wickedness. Now to a people whose convictions and hopes had suffered this miserable defeat, what truth would be more welcome than that of a life to come, in which all wrongs should be both righted and avenged, and all the promises in which they had hoped should receive a large fulfilment that would beggar hope? what prospect could be more cheerful and consolatory than that of a day of retribution on which their oppressors would be put to shame, and they would be recompensed for their fidelity to the law of God? This hope would be sweeter to them than any pleasure; it would lend a new zest to every pleasure, and make them more zealous in good works.

Nay, we know, from the Psalms composed during the Captivity, that the judgment of God was an incentive to hope and joy; that, instead of fearing it, the pious Jews looked forward to. it with rapture and exultation. What, for example, can be more riant and joyful than the concluding strophe of Psalms 96:1-13?

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad:

Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof:

Let the field exult and all that therein is:

And let all the trees of the wood sing for joy

Before Jehovah: for He cometh,

For He cometh to judge the earth,

To judge the world with righteousness

And the peoples with his truth:

or than the third strophe of Psalms 98:1-9?

Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof:

The world, and they that dwell therein:

Let the floods clap their hands,

And let the hills sing for joy together

Before Jehovah: for he cometh to judge the earth:

With righteousness shall he judge the world,

And the peoples with equity.

It is impossible to read these verses, and such verses as these, without feeling that the Jews of the captivity anticipated the divine judgment, not with fear and dread, but with a hope and joy so deep and keen as that they summoned the whole round of nature to share it and reflect it.

If we remembered this, we should not so readily agree with the Preachers and Commentators who assume Coheleth to be speaking ironically in this verse, and as though he would defy his readers to enjoy their pleasures with the thought of God and his judgment of them in their minds. We should rather understand that he was making life more cheerful to them; that he was removing the blight of despair which had fallen on it; that he was kindling in their dreary prospect a light which would shine even into their darkened present with gracious and healing rays. All wrongs would be easier to bear, all duties would be faced with better heart, all alleviating pleasures would grow more welcome, if once they were fully persuaded that there was a life beyond death, a life in which the good would be "comforted" and the evil "tormented." It is on the express ground that there is a judgment that the Preacher, in the last verse of this chapter, bids them banish "care" and "sadness," or, as the words perhaps mean, "moroseness" and "trouble"; though he also adds another reason which no longer afflicts him much, viz., that "youth and manhood are vanity," soon gone, never to be recalled, and never enjoyed if the brief occasion is suffered to pass.

Mark how quickly the force of this great hope has reversed his position. Only in Ecclesiastes 11:8, the very instant before he discloses his hope, he urges men to enjoy the present "because all that is coming is vanity," because there were so many dark days, days of infirm querulous age and silent dreary death before them. But here, in Ecclesiastes 11:10, the very moment he has disclosed his hope, he urges them to enjoy the present, not because the future is vanity, but because the present is vanity, because youth and manhood soon pass and the pleasures proper to them will be out of reach. Why should they any longer be fretted with care and anxiety when the lamp of revelation shone so brightly on the future? Why should they not be cheerful when so happy a prospect lay before them? Why should they sit brooding over their wrongs when their wrongs were so soon to be righted, and they were to enter on so ample a recompense of reward? Why should they not travel toward a future so welcome and inviting with hearts attuned to mirth and responsive to every touch of pleasure?

But is the thought of judgment to be no check on our pleasures? Well, it is certainly used here as an incentive to pleasure, to cheerfulness. We are to be happy because we are to stand at the bar of God, because in the judgment He will adjust and compensate all the wrongs and afflictions of time. But it is not every one who can take to himself the full comfort of this argument. Only he can do that who makes it his ruling aim to do his duty and help his neighbour. And no doubt even he will find the hope of judgment-for with him it is a hope rather than a fear-a valuable check, not on his pleasures, but on those base counterfeits which often pass for pleasures, and which betray men, through voluptuousness, into satiety, disgust, remorse. Because he hopes to meet God, and has to give account of himself to God, he will resist the evil lusts which pollute and degrade the soul: and thus the prospect of Judgment will become a safeguard and a defence.

But he has a safeguard of even a more sovereign potency than this. For he not only looks forward to a future judgment, he is conscious of a present and constant judgment. God is with him wherever he goes. From "the days of his youth he has remembered his Creator". [Ecclesiastes 12:1] He has remembered Him and given to the poor and needy. He has remembered Him, and doing all things as to Him, duty has grown light. He has remembered Him, and his pleasures have grown the sweeter because they were gifts from heaven, and because he has taken them, in a thankful spirit, for a temperate enjoyment. Of all safeguards to a life of virtue, this is the noblest and the best. We can afford, indeed, to part with none of them, for we are strangely weak, often where we least suspect it, and need all the helps we can get: but least of all can we afford to part with this. We need to remember that every sin is punished here and now, inwardly if not outwardly, and that these inward punishments are the most severe. We need to remember that we must all appear before the judgment seat of God. to render an account of the deeds done in the body. But above all-if love, and not fear, is to be the animating motive of our life-we need to remember that God is always with us, observing what we do; and that, not that He may spy upon us and accumulate heavy charges against us, but that He may help us to do well; not to frown upon our pleasures, but to hallow, deepen, and prolong them, and to be Himself our Chief Good and our Supreme Delight.

"‘Live while you live,’ the Epicure would say,

‘And seize the pleasure of the present day.’

‘Live while you live,’ the Sacred Preacher cries,

‘And give to God each moment as it flies.’

Lord, in nay view let both united be:

I live in pleasure while l live in Thee."

Finally, the Preacher enforces this early and habitual reference of the soul to the Divine Presence and Will by a brief allusion to the impotence and weariness of a godless old age, and by a very striking description of the terrors of the death in which it culminates.

While "the dew of youth" is still fresh upon us we are to "remember our Creator" and his constant judgment of us lest, forgetting Him, we should waste our powers in sensual excess; lest temperate mirth should degenerate into an extravagant and wanton devotion to pleasure; lest the lust of mere physical enjoyment should outlive the power to enjoy, and, groaning under the penalties our unbridled indulgence has provoked, we should find "days of evil" rise on us in long succession, and draw out into "years" of fruitless desire, self-disgust, and despair (Ecclesiastes 12:1). "Before the evil days come," and that they may not come; before "the years arrive of which we shall say, I have no pleasure in them," and that they may not arrive, we are to bethink us of the Pure and Awful Presence in which we daily stand. God is with us that we may not sin; with us in youth, that "the angel of his Presence" may save us from the sins to which youth is prone; with us, to save us from "the noted slips of youth and liberty," that our closing years may have the cheerful serenity of a happy old age.

To this admonition drawn from the miseries of godless age, the Preacher appends a description of the terrors of approaching death (Ecclesiastes 12:2-5), -description which has suffered many strange torments at the hands of critics and commentators. It has commonly been read as an allegorical, but singularly accurate, diagnosis of "the disease men call death," as setting forth in graphic figures the gradual decay of sense after sense, faculty after faculty. Learned physicians have written treatises upon it, and have been lost in admiration of the force and beauty of the metaphors in which it conveys the results of their special science, although they differ in their interpretation of almost every sentence, and are driven at times to the most gross and absurd conjectures in order to sustain their several theories. I need not give any detailed account of these speculations, for the simple reason that they are based, as I believe, on an entire misconception of the Sacred Text. Instead of being, as has been assumed, a figurative description of the dissolution of the body, it sets forth the threatening approach of death under the image of a tempest which, gathering over an Eastern city during the day, breaks upon it toward evening: so, at least, I, with many more, take it. And I do not know how we can better arrive at it than by considering what would be the incidents which would strike us if we were to stroll through the narrow tortuous streets of such a city as the day was closing in.

As we passed along we should find small rows of houses and shops, broken here and there by a wide stretch of blank wall, behind which were the mansions, harems, courtyards of its wealthier inhabitants. Round and within the low marrow gates which gave access to these mansions, we should see armed men lounging whose duty it is to guard the premises against robbers and intruders; these are "the keepers of the house," over whom, as over the whole household, are placed superior officials-members of the family often-or "men of power." Going through the gates and glancing up at the latticed windows, we might catch glimpses of the veiled faces of the ladies of the house who, not being permitted to stir abroad except on rare occasions and under jealous guardianship, are accustomed to amuse their dreary leisure, and to learn a little of what is going on around them, by "looking out of the windows." Within the house, the gentlemen of the family would be enjoying the chief meal of the day, provoking appetite with delicacies such as "the locust," or condiments such as "the caperberry," or with choice fruit such as "the almond." Above all the shrill cries and noises of the city you would hear a loud humming sound rising on every side, for which you would be sorely puzzled to account if you were a stranger to Eastern habits. It is the sound of the cornmills which, towards evening, are at work in every house. A cornmill was indispensable to every Eastern family, since there were no public mills or bakers except the King’s. The heat of the climate makes it necessary that corn should be ground and baked every day. And as the task of grinding at the mill was very irksome, only the most menial class of women, often slaves or captives, were employed upon it. Of course the noise caused by the revolution of the upper upon the nether millstone was very great when the mills were simultaneously at work in, every house in the city. No sound is more familiar in the East; and, if it were suddenly stopped, the effect would be as striking as the sudden stoppage of all the wheels of traffic in an English town. So familiar was the sound, indeed, and of such good omen, that in Holy Writ it is used as a symbol of a happy, active, well-provided people; while the cessation of it is employed to denote want, and desolation, and despair. To an Oriental ear no threat would be more doleful and pathetic than that in Jeremiah 25:10, "I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle."

Now suppose the day on which we rambled through the city had been boisterous and lowering; that heavy rain had fallen, obscuring all the lights of heaven; and that, as the evening drew on, the thick clouds, instead of dispersing, had "returned after the rain," so that setting sun and rising moon, and the growing light of stars, were all blotted from view. [Ecclesiastes 12:2] The tempest, long in gathering, breaks on the city; the lightnings flash through the darkness, making it more hideous; the thunder crashes and rolls above the roofs; the tearing rain beats at all lattices and floods all roads. If we cared to abide the pelting of the storm, we should have before us the very scene which the Preacher depicts. "The keepers of the house," the guards and porters would quake. "The men of power," the lords or owners of the house, or the officials who most closely attended on them, would crouch and tremble with apprehension. The maids at the mill would "stop" because one or other of the two women-two at least-whom it took to work the heavy millstone had been frightened from her task by the gleaming lightning and the pealing thunder. The ladies, looking out of their lattices, would be driven back into the darkest corners of the inner rooms of the harem. Every door would be closed and barred lest robbers, availing themselves of the darkness and its terrors, should creep in. [Ecclesiastes 12:3] "The noise of the mills" would grow faint or utterly cease, because the threatening tumult had terrified many, if not all, the grinding maids from their work. The strong-winged "swallow," lover of wind and tempest, would flit to and fro with shrieks of joy; while the delicate "songbirds" would drop, silent and alarmed, into their nests. The gentlemen of the house would soon loose all gust for their delicate cates and fruits; "the almond" would be pushed aside, "the locust loathed," and even the stimulating "caperberry provoke no appetite," fear being a singularly unwelcome and disappetising guest at a feast. In short, the whole people, stunned and confused by the awful and stupendous majesty of a tropical storm, would be affrighted at the terrors which come flaming; from "the height" of heaven, to confront them on every highway (Ecclesiastes 12:4-5).

Such and so terrible is the tempest that at times sweeps over an Eastern city. Such and so terrible, adds the Preacher, is death to the godless and sensual. They are carried away as by a storm; the wind riseth and snatcheth them out of their place. For if we ask, "Why, O Preacher, has your pencil laboured to depict the terrors of a tempest?" he replies, "Because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners pace up and down the street" (Ecclesiastes 12:5). He leaves us in no doubt as to the moral of the fable, the theme and motive of his picture. While painting it, while adding touch to touch, he has been thinking of "the long home"-or, as the Hebrew has it, "the house of eternity"; a phrase still used by the Jews as a synonym for "the grave"-which is appointed for all living, and of the mercenary professional mourners who loiter under the windows of the dying man in the hope that they may be hired to lament him. To the expiring sinner death is simply dreadful. It puts an end to all his activities and enjoyments, just as the tempest brings all the labours and recreations of a city to a pause. He has nothing before him but the grave, and none to mourn him but the harpies who already pace the street, longing for the moment when he will be gone, and who value their fee far above his life. If we would have death shorn of its terrors for us, we must "remember our Creator" before death comes; we must seek by charity, by a faithful discharge of duty, by a wise use and a wise enjoyment of the life that now is, to prepare ourselves for the life which is to come.

Death itself, as Coheleth proceeds to remind us (Ecclesiastes 12:6), cannot be escaped. Some day the cord will break and the lamp fall; some day the jar or pitcher must be broken, and the wheel, shattered, fall into the well. Death is the common event. It befalls not only the sinful and injurious, but also the useful and the good. Our life may have been like a "golden" lamp suspended by a silver chain, fit for the palace of a king, and may have shed a welcome and cheerful light on every side and held out every promise of endurance; but, none the less, the costly durable chain will be snapped at last, and the fair costly bowl be broken. Or our life may have been like the "pitcher" dipped, by village maidens, into the village fountain; or, again, like "the wheel" by which water is drawn, by a thousand hands, from the city well: it may have conveyed a vital refreshment to the few or to the many around us: but, none the less, the day must come when the pitcher will be shattered on the edge of the fountain, and the time-worn wheel fall from its rotten supports. There is no escape from death. And, therefore, as we must all die, let us all live as cheerfully and helpfully as we can; let us all prepare for the better life beyond the grave, by serving our Creator before "the body is cast into the earth from whence it came, and the spirit returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

This, then, according to the Hebrew Preacher, is the ideal man, the man who achieves the quest of the Chief Good:-charitable, dutiful, cheerful, he prepares for death by a useful and happy life, for future judgment by a constant reference to the present judgment, for meeting God hereafter by walking with Him here.

Has he not achieved the quest? Can we hope to find a more solid and enduring good? What to him are the shocks of change, the blows of circumstance, the mutations of time, the fluctuations of fortune? These cannot touch the good which he holds to be chief. If they bring trouble, he can bear trouble and profit by it: if they bring prosperity, success, mirth, he can bear even these, and neither value them beyond their worth nor abuse them to his hurt; for his good, and therefore his peace and blessedness, are founded on a rock over which the changeful waves may wash, but against which they cannot prevail. Let the sun shine never so hotly, let the storm beat never so furiously, the rock stands firm, and the house which he has built for himself upon the rock. Whatever may befall, he can be doing his main work, enjoying his supreme satisfaction, since he can meet all changes with a dutiful and loving heart; since, through all, he may be forming a noble character and helping his neighbours to form a character as noble as his own. Because he has a gracious God always with him, and because a bright future stretches before him in endless and widening vistas of hope, he can carry to all the wrongs and afflictions of time a cheerful spirit which shines through them with transfiguring rays, -a spirit before which even the thick darkness of death will grow light, and the solemnities of the Judgment be turned into holiday festivity and triumph. Ah, foolish and miserable that we are who, with so noble a life, and so bright a prospect, and a good so enduring open to us-and with such helps to them in the gospel of Christ as Coheleth could not know-nevertheless creep about the earth the slaves of every accident, the very fools of time!

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/ecclesiastes-10.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology