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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 5

 

 

Verses 1-20

EXPOSITION

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

Section 6. Man's outward and secular life being unable to secure happiness and satisfaction, can these be found in popular religion? Religious exercises need the observation of strict rules, which are far from meeting with general attention. Koheleth proceeds to give instruction, in the form of maxims, concerning public worship, prayer, and vows.

Ecclesiastes 5:1

This verse, in the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin Bibles, forms the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 4:1-16; and is taken independently; but the division in our version is more natural, and the connection of this with the following verses is obvious. Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, Some read "feet" instead of "foot," but the singular and plural numbers are both found in this signification (comp. Psalms 119:59, Psalms 119:105; Proverbs 1:15; Proverbs 4:26, Proverbs 4:27). To "keep the foot" is to be careful of the conduct, to remember what you are about, whither you are going. There is no allusion to the sacerdotal rite of washing the feet before entering the holy place (Exodus 30:18, Exodus 30:19), nor to the custom of removing the shoes on entering a consecrated building, which was a symbol of reverential awe and obedient service. The expression is simply a term connected with man's ordinary life transferred to his moral and religious life. The house of God is the temple. The tabernacle is called "the house of Jehovah" (1 Samuel 1:7; 2 Samuel 12:20), and this name is commonly applied to the temple; e.g. 1 Kings 3:1; 2 Chronicles 8:16; Ezra 3:11. But "house of God" is applied also to the temple (2 Chronicles 5:14; Ezra 5:8, Ezra 5:15, etc.), so that we need not, with Bullock, suppose that Koheleth avoids the name of the Lord of the covenant as "a natural sign of the writer's humiliation after his fall into idolatry, and an acknowledgment of his unworthiness of the privileges of a son of the covenant." It is probable that the expression here is meant to include synagogues as well as the great temple at Jerusalem, since the following clause seems to imply that exhortation would be heard there, which formed no part of the temple service. The verse has furnished a text on the subject of the reverence due to God's house and service from Chrysostom downwards. And be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools. Various are the renderings of this clause. Wright, "For to draw near to hear is (better) than the fools offering sacrifices." (So virtually Knobel, Ewald, etc.) Ginsburg, "For it is nearer to obey than to offer the sacrifice of the disobedient;" i.e. it is the straighter, truer way to take when you obey God than when you merely perform outward service. The Vulgate takes the infinitive verb as equivalent to the imperative, as the Authorized Version, Appropinqua ut audias; but it is best to regard it as pure infinitive, and to translate, "To approach in order to hear is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools." The sentiment is the same as that in 1 Samuel 15:22, 'Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." The same thought occurs in Proverbs 21:3; Psalms 50:7-15; and continually in the prophets; e.g. Isaiah 1:11; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6, etc. It is the reaction against the mere ceremonialism which marked the popular religion. Koheleth had seen and deplored this at Jerusalem and elsewhere, and he enunciates the great troth that it is more acceptable to God that one should go to his house to hear the Law read and taught and expounded, than to offer a formal sacrifice, which, as being the offering of a godless man is called in proverbial language "the sacrifice of fools" (Proverbs 21:27). The verb used here, "give" (nathan), is not the usual expression for offering sacrifice, and may possibly refer to the feast which accompanied such sacrifices, and which often degenerated into excess (Delitzsch). That the verb rendered "to hear" does not mean merely "to obey" is plain from its reference to conduct in the house of God. The reading of the Law, and probably of the prophets, formed a feature of the temple service in Koheleth's day; the expounding of the same in public was confined to the synagogues, which seem to have originated in the time of the exile, though there were doubtless before that time some regular occasions of assembling together (see 2 Kings 4:23). For they consider not that they do evil; ὅι οὐκ εἰσὶν εἰδότες τοῦ ποιῆσαι κακόν; Qui nesciunt quid faciunt mali (Vulgate); "They are without knowledge, so that they do evil" (Delitzsch, Knobel, etc.); "As they (who obey) know not to do evil" (Ginsburg). The words can scarcely mean, "They know not that they do evil;" nor, as Hitzig has, "They know not how to be sorrowful." There is much difficulty in understanding the passage according to the received reading, and Nowack, with others, deems the text corrupt. If we accept what we now find, it is best to translate, "They know not, so that they do evil;" i.e. their ignorance predisposes them to err in this matter. The persons meant are the "fools" who offer unacceptable sacrifices. These know not how to worship God heartily and properly, and, thinking to please him with their formal acts of devotion, fall into a grievous sin.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

Koheleth warns against thoughtless words or hasty professions in prayer, which formed another feature of popular religion. Be not rash with thy mouth. The warning is against hasty and thoughtless words in prayer, words that go from the lips with glib facility, but come not from the heart. Thus our Lord bids those who pray not to use vain repetitions ( μὴ βαττολογήσατε), as the heathen, who think to be heard for their much speaking (Matthew 6:7). Jesus himself used the same words in his prayer in the garden, and he continually urges the lesson of much and constant prayer—a lessen enforced by apostolic admonitions (see Luke 11:5, etc.; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17); but it is quite possible to use the same words, and yet throw the whole heart into them each time that they are repeated. Whether the repetition is vain or not depends upon the spirit of the person who prays. Let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God. We should weigh well our wishes, arrange them discreetly, ponder whether they are such as we can rightly make subjects of petition, ere we lay them in words before the Lord. "Before God" may mean in the temple, the house of God, where he is specially present, as Solomon himself testified (1 Kings 8:27, 1 Kings 8:30, 1 Kings 8:43). God is in heaven. The infinite distance between God and man, illustrated by the contrast of earth and the illimitable heaven, is the ground of the admonition to reverence and thoughtfulness (comp. Psalms 115:3, Psalms 115:16; Isaiah 4:1-6 :8, 9; Isaiah 66:1). Therefore let thy words be few, as becomes one who speaks in the awful presence of God. Ben-Sira seems to have had this passage in mind when he writes (Ecclesiasticus 7:14), "Prate not in a multitude of elders, and repeat not ( μὴ δευτερώσης) the word in prayer." We may remember the conduct of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:26). Ginsburg and Wright quote the Talmudic precept ('Beraehoth,' 68. a), "Let the words of a man always be few in the presence of God, according as it is written," and then follows the passage in our text.

Ecclesiastes 5:3

The first clause illustrates the second, the mark of comparison being simply the copula, mere juxtaposition being deemed sufficient to denote the similitude, as in Ecclesiastes 7:1; Proverbs 17:3; Proverbs 27:21. For a dream cometh through (in consequence of) the multitude of business. The verse is meant to confirm the injunction against vain babbling in prayer. Cares and anxieties in business or other matters occasion disturbed sleep, murder the dreamless repose of the healthy laborer, and produce all kinds of sick fancies and imaginations. Septuagint, "A dream cometh in abundance of trial ( πειρασμοῦ);" Vulgate, Multas curas sequuntur somnia. And a fool's voice is known by multitude of words. The verb should be supplied from the first clause, and not a new one introduced, as in the Authorized Version, "And the voice of a fool (cometh) in consequence of many words." As surely as excess of business produces fevered dreams, so excess of words, especially in addresses to God, produces a fool's voice, i.e. foolish speech. St. Gregory points out the many ways in which the mind is affected by images from dreams. "Sometimes," he says, "dreams are engendered of fullness or emptiness of the belly, sometimes of illusion, sometimes of illusion and thought combined, sometimes of revelation, while sometimes they are engendered of imagination, thought, and revelation together" ('Moral.,' 8.42).

Ecclesiastes 5:4

Koheleth passes on to give a warning concerning the making of vows, which formed a great feature in Hebrew religion, and was the occasion of much irreverence and profanity. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it. There is here plainly a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 23:21-23. Vows are not regarded as absolute duties which every one was obliged to undertake. They are of a voluntary nature, but when made are to be strictly performed. They might consist of a promise to dedicate certain things or persons to God (see Genesis 38:20; 11:30), or to abstain from doing certain things, as in the case of the Nazarites. The rabbinical injunction quoted by our Lord in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:33), "Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths," was probably levelled against profane swearing, or invoking God's Name lightly, but it may include the duty of performing vows made to or in the Name of God. Our Lord does not condemn the practice of corban, while noticing with rebuke a perversion of the custom (Mark 7:11). For he hath no pleasure in fools. The non-fulfillment of a vow would prove a man to be impious, in proverbial language "a fool," and as such God must regard him with displeasure. The clause in the Hebrew is somewhat ambiguous, being literally, There is no pleasure (chephets) in fools; i.e. no one, neither God nor man, would take pleasure in fools who make promises and never perform them. Or it may be, There is no fixed will in fools; i.e. they waver and are undecided in purpose. But this rendering of chephets appears to be very doubtful. Septuagint ὅτι οὐκ ἔστι θέλημα ἐν ἄφροσι which reproduces the vagueness of the Hebrew; Vulgate, Displicet enim ei (Deo) infidelis et stulta promissio. The meaning is well represented in the Authorized Version, and we must complete the sense by supplying in thought "on the part of God." Pay that which thou but vowed. Ben-Sira re-echoes the injunction (Ecclesiasticus 18:22, 23), "Let nothing hinder thee to pay thy vow ( εὐχὴν) in due time, and defer not until death to be justified [i.e. to fulfill the vow]. Before making a vow ( εὔξασθαι) prepare thyself; and be not as one that tempteth the Lord." The verse is cited in the Talmud; and Dukes gives a parallel, "Before thou vowest anything, consider the object of thy vow". So in Proverbs 20:25 we have, according to some translations, "It is a snare to a man rashly to say, It is holy, and after vows to make inquiry." Septuagint," Pay thou therefore whatsoever thou shalt have vowed ( ὅσα ἐάν εὔξη),

Ecclesiastes 5:5

Better is it that thou shouldest not vow. There is no harm in not vowing (Deuteronomy 23:22); but a vow once made becomes of the nature of an oath, and its non-performance is a sin and sacrilege, and incurs the punishment of false swearing. We gather from the Talmud that frivolous excuses for the evasion of vows were very common, and called for stern repression, One sees this in our Lord's references (Matthew 5:33-37; Matthew 23:16-22). St. Paul severely reprehends those women who break their vow of widowhood, "having condemnation, because they have rejected their first faith" (1 Timothy 5:12).

Ecclesiastes 5:6

Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin. "Thy flesh" is equivalent to "thyself," the whole personality, the idea of the flesh, as a distinct part of the man, sinning, being alien from Old Testament ontology. The injunction means—Do not, by uttering rash or inconsiderate vows, which you afterwards evade or cannot fulfill, bring sin upon yourself, or, as others render, bring punishment upon yourself. Septuagint, "Suffer not thy mouth to Cause thy flesh to sin ( τοῦ ὠξαμαρτῆσαι τὴν σάρκα σου);" Vulgate, Ut peccare facias carnem tuam. Another interpretation, but not so suitable, is this—Do not let thy mouth (i.e. thy appetite) lead thee to break the vow of abstinence, and indulge in meat or drink from which (as, e.g; a Nazarite) thou wast bound to abstain. Neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error. If we take "angel" (malak) in the usual sense (and there seems no very forcible reason why we should not), it must mean the angel of God in whose special charge you are placed, or the angel who was supposed to preside over the altar of worship, or that messenger of God whose duty it is to watch man's doings and to act as the minister of punishment (2 Samuel 24:16). The workings of God's providence are often attributed to angels; and sometimes the names of God and angel are interchanged (see Genesis 16:9, Genesis 16:13; Genesis 18:2, Genesis 18:3, etc.; Exodus 3:2, Exodus 3:4; Exodus 23:20, etc.). Thus the Septuagint here renders, "Say not before the face of God ( πρὸ = προσώπου τοῦ θεοῦ)." If this interpretation be allowed, we have an argument for the literal explanation of the much-disputed passage in 1 Corinthians 11:10, διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους. Thus, too, in 'The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs,' we have, "The Lord is witness, and his angels are witnesses, concerning the word of your mouth" ('Levi,' 19). But most commentators consider that the word here means "messenger" of Jehovah, in the sense of priest, the announcer of the Divine Law, as in the unique passage Malachi 2:7. Traces of a similar use of ἄγγελος may be found in the New Testament (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1, etc.). According to the first interpretation, the man comes before God with his excuse; according to the second, he comes to the priest, and confesses that he was thoughtless and overhasty in making his vow, and desires to be released from it, or, at any rate, by some means to evade its fulfillment. His excuse may possibly look to the eases mentioned in Numbers 15:22, etc; and he may wish to urge that the vow was made in ignorance, and that therefore he was not responsible for its incomplete execution. We do not know that a priest or any officer of the temple had authority to release from the obligation of a vow, so that the excuse made "before" him would seem to be objectless, while the evasion of a solemn promise made in the Name of God might well be said to be done in the presence of the observing and recording angel. The Vulgate rendering, Non eat providentia, makes the man account for his neglect by assuming that God takes no heed of such things; he deems the long-suffering of God to be indifference and disregard (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ecclesiastes 9:3). The original does not bear this interpretation. Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice—the words in which thy evasion and dishonesty are expressed—and destroy the work of thine hands? i.e. punish thee by calamity, want of success, sickness, etc; God's moral government being vindicated by earthly visitations.

Ecclesiastes 5:7

For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities. The Hebrew is literally, For in multitude of dreams, and vanities, and many words; i.e; as Wright puts it, "In the multitude of dreams are also vanities, and (in) many words (as well)." Koheleth sums up the sense of the preceding paragraph, Ecclesiastes 5:1-6. The popular religion, which made much of dreams and verbosity and vows, is vanity, and has in it nothing substantial or comforting. The superstitious man who puts his faith in dreams is unpractical and unreal; the garrulous man who is rash in his vows, and in prayer thinks to be heard for his much speaking, displeases God and never secures his object. Ginsburg and Bullock render, "For it is (it happens) through the multitude of idle thoughts and vanities and much talking," the reference being either to the foolish speaking of Ecclesiastes 5:2 or to the wrath of God in Ecclesiastes 5:6. The Septuagint rendering is elliptical, ὅτι ἐ πλήθει ἐνυπνίων καὶ ματαιοτήτων καὶ λόγων πολλῶν ὅτι σὺ τὸν θεὸν φοβοῦ. To complete this, some supply, "Many vows are made or excused;" others, "There is evil." Vulgate, Ubi multa aunt somnia, plurimae aunt vanitates, et sermones innumeri.' The Authorized Version gives the sense of the passage. But fear thou God. In contrast with these spurious forms of religion, which the Jews were inclined to adopt, the writer recalls men to the fear of the one true God, to whom all vows should be performed, and who should be worshipped from the heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:8-17

Section 7. Perils to which one is exposed in a despotic state, and the unprofitableness of riches.

Ecclesiastes 5:8, Ecclesiastes 5:9

In political life there is little that is satisfactory; yet one must not surrender one's belief in a superintending Providence.

Ecclesiastes 5:8

If thou seest the oppression of the poor. From errors in the service of God, it is natural to turn to faults in the administration of the king (Proverbs 24:21). Koheleth has already alluded to these anomalies in Ecclesiastes 3:16 and Ecclesiastes 4:1. Violent perverting; literally, robbery; so that judgment is never rightly given, and justice is withheld from applicants. In a province (me dinah, Ecclesiastes 2:8); the district in which the person addressed dwells. It may, perhaps, to implied that {his is remote from the central authority, and therefore more liable to be injuriously dealt with by unscrupulous rulers. Marvel not at the matter (chephets, Ecclesiastes 3:1). Be not surprised or dismayed (Job 26:11) at such evil doings,, as though they were unheard of, or inexperienced, or disregarded. There is here nothing of the Greek maxim, reproduced by Horace in his "Nil admirari" ('Epist.,' 1.6. 1). It is like St. John's "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you" (1 John 3:13); or St. Peter's "Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among' you" (1 Peter 4:12). The stupid and unintelligent observation of such disorders might lead to arraignment of Providence and distrust in the moral government of God. Against such mistakes the writer guards. For he that is higher than the highest regardeth. Both the words are in the singular number. Septuagint, ὑψηλὸς ἐπάνω ὑψηλοῦ φυλάξαι. One thinks of the Persian satraps, who acted much as the Turkish pashas in later times, the petty rulers oppressing the people, and being themselves treated in the same fashion by their superiors. The whole is a system of wrong-doing, where the weaker always suffers, and the only comfort is that the oppressor himself is subject to higher supervision. The verb (shamar) translated "regardeth" means to observe in a hostile sense, to watch for occasions of reprisal, as 1 Samuel 19:11; and the idea intended is that in the province there were endless plottings and counterplottings, mutual denunciations and recriminations; that such things were only to be expected, and were no sufficient cause for infidelity or despair. "The higher one" is the monarch, the despotic king who holds the supreme power over all these maladministrators and perverters of justice. And there be higher than they. "Higher" is here plural (gebohim), the plural of majesty, as it is called (comp. Ecclesiastes 12:1), like Elohim, the word for "God," the assonance being probably here suggestive. Over the highest of earthly rulers there are other powers, angels, principalities, up to God himself, who governs the course of this world, and to whom we may leave the final adjustment. Who are meant seems purposely to be left undetermined; but the thought of the righteous Judge of all is intimated in accordance with the view of Ecclesiastes 3:17. This is a far more satisfactory explanation of the passage than that which regards as the highest of all "the court favorites, king's friends, eunuchs, chamberlains," etc. In this view Koheleth is merely asserting the general system of injustice and oppression, and neither accounting for it nor offering any comfort under the circumstances. But his object throughout is to show man's inability to secure his own happiness, and the need of submission to Divine providence. To demonstrate the anomalies in the events of the world, the circumstances of men's lives would be only one part of his task, which would not be completed without turning attention to the remedy against hasty and unfair conclusions. This remedy is the thought of the supreme Disposer of events, who holds all the strings in his hand, and will in the end bring good out of evil.

Ecclesiastes 5:9

It has been much debated whether this verse should be connected with the preceding or the following paragraph. The Vulgate takes it with the preceding verse, Et insuper universae terrae rex imperat servienti; so the Septuagint; and this seems most natural, avarice, wealth, and its evils in private life being treated of in Ecclesiastes 5:10 and many following. Moreover the profit of the earth is for all: the king himself is served by the field. The writer seems to be contrasting the misery of Oriental despotism, above spoken of, with the happiness of a country whose king was content to enrich himself, not by war, rapine, and oppression, but by the peaceful pursuits of agriculture, by cherishing the natural productions of his country, and encouraging his people in developing its resources. Such was Uzziah, who" loved husbandry" (2 Chronicles 26:10); and in Solomon's own time the arts of peace greatly flourished. There is much difficulty in interpreting the verse. The Vulgate rendering, "And moreover the King of the whole earth rules over his servant," probably means that God governs the king. But the present Hebrew text does not support this translation. The Septuagint has, καὶ περίσσεια γῆς ἑπὶ παντί ἐστὶ βασιλεὺς τοῦ ἀγροῦ εἰργασμένου, which makes more difficulties. "Also the abundance of the earth is for every one, or upon every thing; the king (is dependent on) the cultivated land, or, there is a king to the land when cultivated," i.e. the throne itself depends on the due cultivation of the country. Or, removing the comma, "The profit of the land in everything is a king of the cultivated field." The Hebrew may safely be rendered, "But the profit of a land in all things is a king devoted to the field," i.e. who loves and fosters agriculture. It is difficult to suppose that Solomon himself wrote this sentence, however we may interpret it. According to the Authorized Version, the idea is that the profit of the soil extends to every rank of life; even the king, who seems superior to all, is dependent upon the industry of the people, and the favorable produce of the land. He could not be unjust and oppressive without injuring his revenues in the end. Ben-Sira sings the praises of agriculture: "Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry; which the Most High hath ordained" (Ecclesiasticus 7:15). Agriculture held a very prominent position in the Mosaic commonwealth. The enactments concerning the firstfruits, the sabbatical year, landmarks, the non-alienation of inheritances, etc; tended to give peculiar importance to cultivation of the soil. Cicero's praise of agriculture is often quoted. Thus ('De Senect.,' 15. sqq.; 'De Off.,' 1:42): "Omninm return, ex quibus aliquid acquiritur, nihil est agricultura melius, nihil uberius, nihil dulcius, nihil heroine libero dignius."

Ecclesiastes 5:10-17

The thought of the acts of injustice and oppression noticed above, all of which spring from the craving for money, leads the bard to dwell upon the evils that accompany this pursuit and possession of wealth, which is thus seen to give no real satisfaction. Avarice has already been noticed (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12); the covetous man now reprobated is one who desires wealth only for the enjoyment he can get from it, or the display which it enables him to make, not, like the miser, who gloats over its mere possession. Various instances are given in which riches are unprofitable and vain.

Ecclesiastes 5:10

He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver. "Silver," the generic name for money, as Greek ἀργύριον and French argent. The insatiableness of the passion for money is a common theme of poets, moralists, and satirists, and is found in the proverbs of all nations. Thus Horace ('Ep.,' Ephesians 1:2. 56): "Semper avarus eget;" to which St Jerome alludes ('Epist.,' 53), "Antiquum dictum est, Avaro tam deest, quod habet, quam quod non habet." Comp. Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 14.139—

"Interea pleno quum forget sacculus ere,

Crescit amor nummi, quantum ipsa pecnnia crevit."

"For as thy strutting bags with money rise,

The love of gain is of an equal size."

(Dryden.)

There is much more of similar import in Horace. See 'Carm.,' 2.2. 13, sqq.; 3.16. 17, 28; 'Ep.,' 2.2, 147; an, 1 Ovid, Fast.,' 1.211—

"Creverunt etopes et opum furiosa cupido,

Et, quum possideant plura, plura volunt."

"As wealth increases grows the frenzied thirst

For wealth; the more they have, the more they want."

Nor he that loveth abundance with increase. The Authorized Version scarcely presents the sense of the passage, which is not tautological, but rather that given by the Vulgate, Et qui amat divitias fructum non capiet exeis, "He who loveth abundance of wealth hath no fruit therefrom;" he derives no real profit or enjoyment from the luxury which it enables him to procure; rather it brings added trouble. And so the old conclusion is again reached, this is also vanity. Hitzig takes the sentence as interrogative, "Who hath pleasure in abundance which brings nothing in?" But such questions are hardly in the style of Kohelcth, and the notion of capital without interest is not a thought which would have been then understood. The Septuagint, however, reads the clause interrogatively, καὶ τίς ἠγάπησεν ἐν πλήθει αὐτῶν ( αὐτοῦ, al.) γέννημα; "And who has loved [or, has been content with] gain in its fullness?" But מִי is not necessarily interrogative, but here indefinite, equivalent to "whosoever."

Ecclesiastes 5:11

Koheleth proceeds to notice some of the inconveniences which accompany wealth, which go far to prove that God is over all. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them. The more riches a man possesses, the greater are the claims upon him. He increases his household, retainers, and dependents, and is really none the better off for all his wealth. So Job in his prosperous days is said to have had "a very great household" (Job 1:3), and the servants and laborers employed by Solomon must have taxed to the utmost even his abnormal resources (1 Kings 5:13, etc.). Commentators from Piueda downwards have quoted the remarkable parallel in Xenoph; 'Cyropaed.,' Job 8:3, wherein the wealthy Persian Pheraulas, who had risen from poverty to high estate, disabuses a young Sacian friend of the idea that his riches made him happier or afforded supreme content. "Do you not know," said he," that I neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep with any more pleasure now than I did when I was poor? by having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more among others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more. For now numerous domestics demand of me food, drink, clothes; some want the doctor; one comes and brings me sheep that have been torn by wolves, or oxen killed by failing down a precipice, or tells of a murrain that has affected the cattle; so that I seem to myself to have more afflictions in my abundance than I had when I was poor,… It is obligatory on him who possesses much to expend much both on the gods and on friends and on strangers; and whosoever is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, you may be assured, be greatly annoyed at the expenditure of them." What good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? What it is that the owners behold is doubtful. Ginsburg considers that the increased number of devourers is meant; but surely this sight could hardly be called kishron, "success, profit." So it is better to take the sight to be the amassed wealth. The contemplation of this is the only enjoyment that the possessor realizes. So the Vulgate, Et quid prodest possessori, nisi quod cernit divitias oculis suis? Septuagint, καὶ τί ἀνδρεία τῷ παρ αὐτῆς ὅτι ἀρχὴ τοῦ ὁρᾷν ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ," And in what does the excellence of the owner consist? except the power of seeing it with his eyes." A Lapide quotes Horace's portrait of the miser ('Sat.,' 1.1.66, sqq.)

"Populus me sibilat; ut mihi plaudo

Ipse domi, simul ac, nummos contemplor in area

... congestis undique saccis

Indormis inhians et tanquam parcere sacris

Cogeris aut pictis tanquam gaudere tabellis."

"He, when the people hissed, would turn about,

And dryly thus accost the rabble-rout:

'Hiss on; heed you not, ye saucy wags,

While self-applauses greet me o'er my bags. …'

O'er countless heaps in nicest order stored,

You pore agape, and gaze upon the hoard,

As relics to be laid with reverence by,

Or pictures only meant to please the eye."

(Howes.)

Ecclesiastes 5:12

Another inconvenience of great wealth—it robs a man of his sleep. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. The laborer is the husbandman, the tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:2). The Septuagint, with a different pointing, renders δούλου, "slave," which is less appropriate, the fact being generally true of free or bond man. Whether his fare be plentiful or scanty, the honest laborer earns and enjoys his night's rest. But the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. The allusion is not to the overloading of the stomach, which might occasion sleeplessness in the case of the poor equally with the rich man, but to the cares and anxieties which wealth brings. "Not a soft couch, nor a bedstead overlaid with silver, nor the quietness that exists throughout the house, nor any other circumstance of this nature, are so generally wont to make sleep sweet and pleasant, as that of laboring, and growing weary, and lying down with a disposition to sleep, and very greatly needing it …. Not so the rich. On the contrary, whilst lying on their beds, they are frequently without sleep through the whole night; and, though they devise many schemes, they do not obtain such pleasure" (St. Chrysostom, 'Hom. on Stat.,' 22). The contrast between the grateful sleep of the tired worker and the disturbed rest of the avaricious and moneyed and luxurious has formed a fruitful theme for poets. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 3.1.21—

"Somnus agrestium

Lenis virorum non humiles domes

Fastidit umbrosamque ripam,

Non Zephyris agitata Tempe."

"Yet sleep turns never from the lowly shed

Of humbler-minded men, nor from the eaves

In Tempe's graceful vale is banished,

Where only Zephyrs stir the murmuring leaves."

(Stanley.)

And the reverse, 'Sat.,' 1.1.76, sqq.

"An vigilare metu exanimem, noctesque diesque

Formidare males fures, inccndia, serves,

Ne to compilent fugientes, hoc juvat?"

"But what are your indulgencies? All day,

All night, to watch and shudder with dismay,

Lest ruffians fire your house, or slaves by stealth

Rifle your coffers, and abstract your wealth?

If this be affluence—this her boasted fruit,

Of all such joys may I live destitute."

(Howes.)

Comp. Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 10.12, sqq.; 14.304. Shakespeare, 'Henry IV.,' Pt. II; act 3. sc. 1—

"Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,

Under the canopies of costly state,

And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?"

Ecclesiastes 5:13-17

Another view of the evils attendant upon riches is here presented: the owner may lose them at a stroke, and leave nothing for his children. This thought is presented in different lights.

Ecclesiastes 5:13

There is also a sore evil which I have seen under the sun (so Ecclesiastes 5:16). The fact that follows is, of course, not universally true, but occasionally seen, and is a very bitter evil. The Septuagint calls it ἀῤῥωστία; the Vulgate, infirmitas. Riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt; rather, preserved by the possessor, hoarded and guarded, only to bring their lord added grief when by some reverse of fortune he loses them, as explained in what follows.

Ecclesiastes 5:14

Those riches perish by evil travail; thing or circumstance. There is no need to confine the cause of the loss to unsuccessful business, as many commentators do. The rich man does not seem to be a tradesman or speculator; he loses his property, like Job, by visitations for which he is in no way answerable—by storm or tempest, by robbers, by fire, by exactions, or by lawsuits. And he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. The verb rendered "begetteth" is in the past tense, and used as it were, hypothetically, equivalent to "hath he begotten a son," supposing he has a son. His misery is doubled by the reflection that he has lost all hope of securing a fortune for his children, or founding a family, or passing on an inheritance to posterity. It is doubtful to whom the pronoun "his" refers. Many consider that the father is meant, and the clause says that when he has begotten a son, he finds he has nothing to give him. But the suffix seems most naturally to refer to the son, who is thus left a pauper. Vulgate, Generavit filium qui in summa egestate erit. Having a thing in the hand moans having power over it, or possessing it.

Ecclesiastes 5:15

The case of the rich man who has lost his property is here generalized. What is true of him is, in a measure, true of every one, so far as he can carry nothing away with him when he dies (Psalms 49:17). As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came. There is a plain reference to Job 1:21, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither." The mother is the earth, human beings being regarded as her offspring. So the psalmist says, "My frame was curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth" (Psalms 139:15). And Ben-Sira, "Great trouble is created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother's womb till the day that they return to the mother of all things." 1 Timothy 6:7, "We brought nothing into the world, neither can we carry anything out." Thus Propertius, 'Eleg.,' 3.5. 13—

"Hand ullas portabis opes Acherontis ad undas,

Nudus ab inferna, stulte, vehere rate."

"No wealth thou'lt take to Acheron's dark shore,

Naked, th' infernal bark will bear thee o'er."

Shall take nothing of his labor; rather, for his labor, the preposition being בְּ of price. He gets nothing by his long toil in amassing wealth. Which he may carry away in his hand, as his own possession. The ruined Dives points a moral for all men.

Ecclesiastes 5:16

This also is a sore evil. The thought of Ecclesiastes 5:15 is emphatically repeated. In all points as he came; i.e. naked, helpless. And what profit hath he that laboreth for the wind? The answer is emphatically "nothing." We have had similar questions in Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 3:9. To labor for the wind is to toil with no result, like the "feeding on wind, pursuing of vanity," which is the key-note of the book. The wind is the type of all that is empty, delusive, unsubstantial. In Proverbs 11:29 we have the phrase, "to inherit the wind." Job calls futile arguments "words of wind" (Job 16:3; Job 15:2). Thus the Greek proverb ἀνέμους θρᾶν ἐν δικτύος to try to catch the wind:" and the Latin, "Ventos pascere," and "Ventos colere "(see Erasmus, 'Adag.,' s.v. "Inanis opera"). Septuagint, καὶ τίς ἡ περίσσεια αὐτοῦ ᾖ μοχθεῖ εἰς ἄνεμον; "And what is his gain for which he labors for the wind?"

Ecclesiastes 5:17

The misery that accompanies the rich man's whole life is summed up here, where one has to think chiefly of his distress after his loss of fortune. All his days also he eateth in darkness; i.e. passes his life in gloom and cheerlessness. כָּל־יָמָיו, "all his days," is the accusative of time, not the object of the verb. To eat in darkness is not a common metaphor for spending a gloomy life, but it is a very natural one, and has analogies in this book (e.g. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:13, etc.), and in such phrases as to "sit in darkness" (Micah 7:8), and to "walk in darkness" (Isaiah 1:10). The Septuagint, reading differently, translates, καί γε πᾶσαι αἱ ἡμέραι αὐτοῦ ἐν σκότει ἐν πένθει, "Yea, and all his days are in darkness and in mourning." But the other versions reject this alteration, and few modern commentators adopt it. And he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness; literally, and much vexation, and sickness, and wrath; Revised Version, he is sore vexed, and hath sickness and wrath. Delitzsch takes the last words as an exclamation, "And oh for his sorrow and hatred!" The man experiences all kinds of vexation when his plans fail or involve him in trouble and privation; or he is morbid and diseased in mind and body; or he is angry and envious when others succeed better than himself. The sentiment is expressed by St. Paul (1 Timothy 6:9), "They that desire ( βουλόμενοι) to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men ( βυθίουσι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους) in destruction and perdition." "For," he proceeds, "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through ( ἑαυτοὺς περιέπειραν) with many sorrows." The Septuagint continues its version, "And in much passion ( θυμῷ) and in infirmity and wrath." The anger may be directed against himself, as he thinks of his folly in taking all this trouble for nothing.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Section 8. The inconveniences of wealth lead the writer back to his old conclusion, that man should make the best of life, and enjoy all the good that God gives with moderation and contentment.

Ecclesiastes 5:18

Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely, etc. The accentuation is against this rendering, which, however, has the support of the Syriac and the Targum. The Septuagint gives, ἰδοὺ εἶδον ἐγὼ ἀγαθὸν ὅ ἐστι καλόν, "Behold, I have seen a good which is comely;" and it is best to translate, with Delitzsch and others, "Behold, what I have seen as good, what as beautiful, is this." My conclusion holds good. They who seek for traces of Greek influence in Koheleth find Epicureanism in the sentiment, and the familiar combination, καλὸν κἀγαθὸν, in the language. Both ideas are baseless. (For supposed Epicureanism, see on Ecclesiastes 2:24 and Ecclesiastes 3:12.) And the juxtaposition of καλὸς and ἀγαθὸς is only a fortuitous rendering of the Hebrew, upon which no argument for Grecism can be founded. To eat and to drink, etc.; i.e. to use the common blessings which God bestows with thankfulness and contentment. As St. Paul says, "Having food and covering, we shall he therewith content" (1 Timothy 6:8). Which God giveth him. This is the point so often insisted upon. These temporal blessings are God's gifts, and are not to be considered as the natural and assured result of man's own exertions. Man, indeed, must labor, but God giveth the increase. For it is his portion (Ecclesiastes 3:22). This calm enjoyment is allotted to man by God, and nothing more must be expected. Ben-Sira gives similar advice, "Defraud not thyself of a good day, and let not the share in a right pleasure pass by thee Give, and take, and beguile thy soul; for there is no seeking of dainties in Hades" (Ecclesiasticus 14:14. etc.).

Ecclesiastes 5:19

Every man also. The sentence is anacoluthic, like Ecclesiastes 3:13, and may best be rendered, Also for every man to whom … this is a gift of God. Ginsburg connects the verse closely with the preceding one, supplying, "I have also seen that a man," etc. Whichever way we take the sentence, it comes to the same tiling, implying man's absolute dependence upon God's bounty. To whom God hath given riches and wealth. Before he can enjoy his possessions a man must first receive them from God's hands. The two terms here used are not quite synonymous. While the former word, osher; is used for wealth of any kind whatever, the latter, nekasim, means properly "wealth in cattle," like the Latin pecunia, and thence used generally for riches (volek). Hath given him power to eat thereof. Abundance is useless without the power to enjoy it. This is the gift of God, a great and special bounty from a loving and gracious God. Thus Horace, 'Epist.,' 1.4. 7—

"Di tibi divitias dederunt artemque fruendi."

"The gods have given you wealth, and (what is more)

Have given you wisdom to enjoy your store."

(Howes.)

Ecclesiastes 5:20

For he shall not much remember the days of his life. The man who has learned the lesson of calm enjoyment does not much concern himself with the shortness, uncertainty, or possible trouble of life. He carries out the counsel of Christ, "Be not anxious for the morrow, for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34). Ginsburg gives an entirely opposite rendering to the clause, "He should remember that the days of his life are not many;" i.e. the thought of the shortness of life should urge us to enjoy it while it lasts. But the Authorized Version is supported by the Septuagint and Vulgate and most modern commentators, and seems most appropriate to the context. The marginal rendering, "Though he give not much, yet he remembereth," etc; which Ginsburg calls a literary curiosity, must have been derived from the version of Junius, which gives, "Quod si non multum (supple, est illud quod dederit Deus, ex versu praec.)," etc. Because God answereth him in the joy of his heart. The man passes a calm and contented life, because God shows that he is pleased with him by the tranquil joy shed over his heart. The verb מַעֲנֶה (the hiph. participle of עָנָה) is variously rendered. The Septuagint gives, ὁ θεὸς περισπᾷ αὐτὸν ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ καρδίας αὐτοῦ, "God distracts him in the mirth of his heart;" Vulgate, Eo quod Deus occupet deliciis cot ejus; Ginsburg, "God causeth him to work for the enjoyment of his heart," i.e. God assigns him work that he may thence derive enjoyment; Koster," God makes him sing in the joy of his heart;" Delitzsch, Wright, and Plumptre, "God answers (corresponds with) the joy of his heart," which the latter explains to mean "is felt to approve it as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness, the tranquility of the wise man mirroring the tranquility of God." But this modified Epicureanism is alien from the teaching of Koheleth. Rather the idea is that God answers him with, imparts to him, joy of heart, makes him sensible of his favorable regard by this inward feeling of satisfaction and content.

HOMILETICS

Esther 5:1-7

Vanities in worship.

I. IRREVERENCE. Specially exhibited in entering upon Divine service. Discommended and rebuked as:

1. Inconsistent with the sanctity of the place of worship—the house of God. Wherever men convene to offer homage to the Divine Being, in a magnificent cathedral or in a humble upper room, upon hillsides and moors, or in dens and caves of the earth, there is a dwelling-place of Jehovah no less than in the temple (Solomonic or post-exilic) or in the synagogue, of both which the Preacher probably thought. What lends sanctity to the spot in which worshippers assemble is not its material surroundings, artificial or natural (architectural elegance or cosmical beauty); it is not even the convening there of the worshippers themselves, however exalted their rank or sacred the character of the acts in which they engage. It is the unseen and spiritual, but real and supernatural, presence of God in the midst of his assembled saints (Exodus 20:24; Psalms 46:4-7; Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20); and the simple consideration of this fact, much more the realization of that nearness of God to which it points, should awaken in the breast of every one proceeding towards and crossing the threshold of a Christian sanctuary the feeling of awe which inspired Jacob on the heights of Bethel (Genesis 28:17), Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalms 89:7), and Isaiah in the temple. (Isaiah 6:1). The thought of God's immediate neighborhood and of all that it implies, his observance of both the persons of his worshippers (Genesis 16:16), and the secrets of their hearts (Psalms 139:1), should put a hush on every spirit (Habakkuk 2:20; Zechariah 2:13), and dispose each one to "keep his foot," metaphorically, to "put off his shoe," as Moses did at the bush (Exodus 3:5), and Joshua in presence of the Captain of Jehovah's host (Joshua 5:15).

2. Opposed to the true character of Divine worship. When congregations assemble in the house of God to do homage to him whose presence fills the house, this end cannot be attained by offering the sacrifice of fools, i.e. by rendering such service as proceeds from unbelieving, disobedient, and hypocritical hearts (Proverbs 21:27), but only by assuming the attitude of one willing to hear (1 Samuel 3:10; Psalms 85:8) and to obey not man but God (Psalms 40:5). If unaccompanied by a disposition to do God's will, mere external performances are of no value whatever, however imposing their magnificence or costly their production. What God desires in his servants is not the outward offering of sacrifices or celebration of ceremonies, but the inward devotion of the spirit (1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 51:16, Psalms 51:17; Jeremiah 7:21-23; Hosea 6:6). The highest form of worship is not speaking of or giving to God, but hearing and receiving from God.

3. Proceeding from ignorance both of the sanctity of the place and of the spirituality of its worship. However the final clause may be rendered (see Exposition), its sense is that irreverence springs from ignorance—from failing properly to understand the character either of that God they pretend to worship, or of that worship they affect to render. Ignorance of God, of his nature as spiritual, of his character as holy, of his presence as near, of his knowledge as all-observant, of his majesty as awe-inspiring, of his power as irresistible, is the prime root of all wrong worship, as Christ said of the Samaritans (John 4:22), and as Paul told the Athenians (Acts 17:23).

II. FORMALITY. Manifested when engaged in Divine service and more particularly in prayer. Two phases of this evil commented on.

1. Rashness in prayer. (Verse 2.) Hasty utterance of whatever comes uppermost, as if any jangle of words might suffice for devotion—a manner of prayer totally inconsistent with the thought that one is standing in the Divine presence. If a petitioner would hardly venture to lay his requests before an earthly sovereign, how much less should a suppliant draw near to Heaven's throne without calm forethought and deliberation? Moreover, it is inconsistent with the real nature of prayer, which is a making known to God of the soul's needs with thankful acknowledgment of the Divine mercies; and how can one either state his own wants or record God's mercies who has never taken time to investigate the one or count up the other?

2. Prolixity in prayer. Much speaking, endless and unmeaning repetitions—a characteristic of Pharisaic devotions adverted to by Christ (Matthew 6:7), and difficult to harmonize either with a due regard to the majesty of God or with the possession of that inward calm which is a necessary condition of all true prayer. As a dreamer's eloquence, usually turgid and magniloquent, proceeds from an unquiet state of the brain, which during day has been unduly excited by a rush of business or by the worries of waking hours, so the multitude of words emitted by a "fool's 'voice is occasioned by the inward disquiet of a mind and heart that have not attained to rest in God. At the same time, "the admonition, 'let thy words be few,' is not meant to set limits to the fire of devotion, being directed, not against the inwardly devout, but against the superficially religious, who fancy that in the multitude of their words they have an equivalent for the devotion they lack" (Hengstenberg).

III. INSINCERITY. Displayed after leaving Divine service, more especially in the non-fulfillment of vows voluntarily taken while engaged in worship. Against this wickedness the preacher inveighs.

1. Because such conduct cannot be other than displeasing to God. "When thou vowest a vow, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed." As the Almighty himself is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," "without variableness or shadow of turning," and "changeth not," so he desires in all his worshippers the reflection at least of this perfection, and cannot regard with favor one who plays fast and loose with his promises to men, and far less with his vows to God.

2. Because such conduct is in no sense unavoidable. A worshipper is under no obligation to vow anything to Jehovah. Whatever is done in this direction must proceed from the clearest free-will. Hence, to escape the sin of breaking one's vows, one is at liberty not to vow (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). Hence also should one cautiously guard against the utterance of rash and sinful vows like those of Jephthah ( 11:30) and of Saul (1 Samuel 14:24), lest through fulfilling (no less than through breaking) them one should incur sin. Similarly, "we must not vow that which through the frailty of the flesh we have reason to fear we shall not be able to perform, as those that vow a single life and yet know not how to keep their vow" (Matthew Henry). The same remark applies to taking vows of total abstinence from meats and drinks.

3. Because such conduct cannot escape the just judgment of God. The rashly uttered vow, afterwards left unfulfilled, sets the speaker of it in the place of a sinner, upon whom as guilty God will inflict punishment. Thus through his mouth, his "flesh," or his body, i.e. his whole personality, of which the flesh or body is the outer covering, is caused to suffer. Being just and holy, God can by no means clear the guilty (Exodus 34:7), although he can justify the ungodly (Romans 4:5). Hence the vow-breaker cannot hope to elude the due reward of his infidelity.

4. Because such conduct is practically indefensible. To say before the angel or presiding minister in the temple or synagogue in whose hearing the vow haft been registered that the registration of it had been an error, was, in the judgment of the Preacher, no excuse, but rather an aggravation of the original offence, and a sure means of drawing down upon the offender the anger of God, and of causing God to effectually thwart and utterly destroy the designs his pretended worshipper had, first in making his vows and afterwards in breaking them; and so, when one retreats from protestations and promises made to God, it is no justification of his conduct in the eyes of others who may have listened to or become aware of his votive engagements, to aver that he had made them in error. Nor is it sufficient to excuse one in God's sight to say that one was mistaken in having promised to do so-and-so. Hence, if one vows before God with regard to matters left in his option, it is his duty to fulfill these vows, even should it be to his hurt. But in all respects it is wiser and better not to vow except in such things as are already enjoined upon one by God; and should it be said that no possible need can arise for taking upon one's self by voluntary obligation what already lies upon one by Divine prescription, this will not be denied. Yet one may vow to do what God has commanded in the sense of resolving to do it—always in dependence on promised grace; and with regard to this no better counsel can be offered than that given by Harvey—

"Call to thy God for grace to keep

Thy vows; and if thou break them, weep.

Weep for thy broken vows, and vow again:

Vows made with tears cannot be still in vain."

LESSONS.

1. The condescension of God in accepting human worship.

2. The dignity of man that he can render such worship as God can accept.

3. The spirituality of all sincere worship of God.

4. The displeasure of God against all worship that is merely external.

Esther 5:8, Esther 5:9

The picture of an ideal state.

I. THE SOIL WELL CULTIVATED. As the land of a country is its principal source of wealth, where this is left untilled only destitution to the people upon it can ensue. Access to the broad acres of earth, to extract therefrom by means of labor the treasures therein deposited, constitutes an indispensable prerequisite to the material prosperity of any province or empire. Hence the Preacher depicts, or enables us to depict, a state or condition of things in which this is realized—the common people spread abroad upon the soil and engaged in its cultivation; the upper classes or feudal lords deriving their support from the same soil in the shape of rents, and even the king receiving from it in the form of taxes his imperial revenues.

II. THE LAW EQUALLY ADMINISTERED. The opposite of this is the picture sketched by the Preacher, who probably transferred to his pages a spectacle often witnessed in Palestine during the years of Persian domination—"the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province;" the laboring classes despoiled of their scanty savings, and even denied their fair share in the fruits of their own industry, ground down and oppressed by the tyranny and avarice of their social and political superiors, the satraps and other officers who ruled them, and these again preyed on by fiercer harpies above them, and so on, up through each ascending rank of dignitaries, till the last and highest was reached. Reverse the state of matters thus described, and imagine all classes in the community dwelling together in harmony, and conspiring to advance each other's comfort and happiness—the toiling millions cheerfully, honestly, and diligently cultivating the soil, and manufacturing its products into higher forms of wealth and beauty, the upper classes jealously guarding the rights and furthering the welfare of these industrious artisans, and each regarding the other with confidence and esteem—the poet's dream of Utopia, in which "all men's good" should be "each man's rule," would then be realized:

III. THE SOVEREIGN BENEFICENTLY ENTERPRISING. Not in pushing forward his own personal aggrandizement, which in ancient Oriental countries was often done at the expense of his subjects, as by Pharaoh of Egypt (Exodus 1:11) and Solomon of Israel and Judah (1 Kings 12:4), but by devoting his energies to further the material (.and intellectual) advancement of his people. "But the profit of a land every way is a king that maketh himself servant to the field," or "is a king over the cultivated field", or is a king devoted to agriculture (Rosenmüller, Delitzsch, Wright), like Uzziah of Judah, who "loved husbandry" (2 Chronicles 26:10). It is only amplifying this thought to represent the ideal state as one in which the king or emperor consecrates his life and powers to the honorable and laborious task of promoting the material prosperity and temporal happiness of his subjects by removing the yoke from agriculture, fostering trade and commerce, encouraging manufactures and inventions aiding science and art, diffusing education, and stimulating his people upward in every possible way towards the ideal of all free peoples, viz. self-government.

IV. THE DEITY APPROVING. Here again the Preacher's picture must be changed. What he beheld was wholesale oppression and robbery practiced by the upper and powerful classes against the under and powerless classes, or in modern phrase, "the masses; and God over both looking on in calm silence (Psalms 50:21), but by no means unperturbed indifference (Zephaniah 1:12), accurately noting all the wickedness going on beneath the sun (Psalms 33:13-15), and quietly waiting his own time to call it to account (Ecclesiastes 3:15, Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14). What must be substituted is a state of matters in which over the well-organized, industrious, peaceful, co-operating community the almighty Disposer of events, the King of nations and King of kings, presides, beaming on them with his gracious smile (Numbers 6:24-26) and establishing the work of their hands upon them (Psalms 90:17).

Learn:

1. The duty of the state to seek the welfare of all.

2. The duty of each to promote the welfare of the state.

Esther 5:8 -17

A sermon on the vanity of riches.

I. FREQUENTLY ACQUIRED BY WRONG. AS, for instance, by oppression and robbery (Esther 5:8). That honest labor sometimes leads to affluence cannot be denied (Proverbs 10:4); more often, however, it is the ungodly who increase in riches (Psalms 73:12), and that, too, by means of their ungodliness (Proverbs 1:19; Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 28:20; Habakkuk 2:6, Habakkuk 2:9; 1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10). Hence the question arises whether, if riches cannot be obtained without plunging into all sorts of wickedness, they are worth seeking to obtain at all; whether, if to secure them a man must not only practice dishonesty, theft, oppression, and perhaps worse, but convert his soul into a harbor of divers pernicious lusts, such as avarice, covetousness, and envy, it is really a good bargain to secure them at such a cost. Christ's question, "What shall it profit a man," etc.? (Matthew 16:26) has a bearing on this.

II. ALWAYS INCAPABLE OF YIELDING SATISFACTION. "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase" (Esther 5:10). In addition to the well-known fact that material wealth has no power to impart solid satisfaction to the better instincts of the soul (Luke 12:15)—a fact eloquently commented on by Burns ('Epistle to Davie')—

"It's no in titles nor in rank,

It's no in wealth like Lou'on Bank,

To purchase peace and rest," etc.

—the appetite for wealth grows by what it feeds on. The rich are ever craving for more. "The avaricious man is always wanting," said Horace ('Epist.,' 1.2. 26); while Ovid wrote of rich men, "Both their wealth and a furious lust of wealth increase, and when they possess the most they seek for more." Hence, to use another rendering, "He whose love cleaveth to abundance hath nothing of it" (Delitzsch). "He who hangs his heart on the continual tumult, noise, pomp, of more numerous and greater possessions if possible, to all real profit—i.e; all pleasant, peaceful enjoyment is lost" (ibid.).

III. OFTEN MULTIPLY THEIR OWNER'S CARES.

1. Numerous dependents. Unless he is a miser, "who shuts up his money in chests and only feeds himself in looking at it with closed doors" (Delitzsch), the rich man, like Job (Job 1:3) and Solomon (1 Kings 4:2, etc.), will maintain a large and expensive household, which will eat up his substance, so that, notwithstanding all his wealth, he shall have little more for his portion in the same than the satisfaction of seeing it pass through his hands (verse 11). As Pheraulas the Persian observed to a Sacian youth, who congratulated him on being rich, "Do you think, Sacian, that I live with more pleasure the more I possess? Do you not know that I neither eat nor drink nor sleep with a particle more pleasure now than when I was poor? But by having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand of me their food, their drink, and their clothes Whosoever, therefore, is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel annoyed at the expenditure of them" (Xenophon, 'Cyropaedia,' Job 8:3, 39-44).

2. Increased anxieties. The rich man, through the abundance of his riches, is worried with cares, which pursue him into the night, and will not suffer hint to sleep (verse 12), for thinking of how he shall protect his wealth against the midnight prowler, of how he shall increase it by successful trade and profitable investment, of how he shall employ it so as to extract from it the largest quantity of enjoyment; whereas the laboring man, whether he eats little or much, drops into refreshing slumber the moment he lays his head upon his pillow, untroubled by anxious thoughts as to how he shall dispose of his wealth, which consists chiefly in the fewness of his wants. So sang Horace long ago of "gentle sleep," which "scorns not the humble abodes of ploughmen" ('Odes,' Job 3:1.21-23), and Virgil of the tillers of the soil, who "want not slumber sweet beneath the trees" ('Georg.,' 2:469); so wrote Shakespeare of the "honey-heavy dew of slumber" ('Julius Caesar,' act it. sc. 1), describing it as

"Sore labor's bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast;"

('Macbeth,' act 2. sc. 2.)

representing it as lying rather—

"In smoky cribs

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great:"

('Henry IV.,' Part II; act 3. sc. 1.)

and depicting the shepherd's "wonted sleep under a fresh tree's shade" as "far beyond a prince's delicates" ('Henry VI.,' act it. sc. 5).

IV. NOT SELDOM DISAPPOINT THE HOPES THEY HAVE RAISED.

1. The hope of never-failing happiness. The rich man hopes that in future years his wealth will be to him a source of comfort (Luke 12:19). As the years go by he discovers they have only been kept to his hurt (verse 13)—if not physically or mentally, at least morally and spiritually (1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Timothy 6:17); and the fact is often so, whether he discovers it or not.

2. The hope of never knowing waist. The rich man expects that, having safely locked them up in a prudent speculation, he will keep them at least during his lifetime; but alas! the speculation turns out "an evil adventure," and his much-prized riches perish (verse 14).

3. The hope of perpetuating his name. Once more the rich man pleases himself with the prospect of founding a family by leaving his son the fortune he has heaped up by toil, thrift, and profitable speculation. By the time he comes to die he has nothing in his hand to bequeath, and so is forced to bid farewell to his hopes and leave his son a pauper.

V. MUST EVENTUALLY BE LEFT BY ALL.

1. Absolutely. However rich a man may grow in his lifetime, of all he has amassed he must divest himself at the grave's mouth, as Claudio in the prison is reminded by the duke-

"If thou art rich, thou art poor;

For, like an ass whose back with ingots bows,

Thou bent'st thy riches but a journey,

And death unloads thee."

('Measure for Measure,' act 3. se. 1.)

"As he came forth of his mother's womb, naked shall he return to go as he came, and shall take nothing of his labor, which he may carry away in his hand" (verse 15; cf. Job 1:21); for as "we brought nothing into this world," so it is "certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Timothy 6:7).

2. Without compensation. "What profit," then, the Preacher asks, has the rich man who has labored all his days to amass wealth? The answer is, "Nothing! he has simply labored for the wind." Igor is this the worst. To have had a pleasant time of it before being obliged to part with his wealth would have been a compensation, however slight, to the rich man; but for the most part even this is denied him. In order to amass his riches he has commonly been found to play the part of a miser, "eating in the dark to save candle-light, or working all day and waiting till nightfall before he sits down to a meal" (Plumptre); or, if the words "eating in darkness" be taken metaphorically, while gathering gold he has passed his existence in gloom and sadness, having no light in his heart (Hengstenberg), he has fallen into sore vexation at the failure of many of his plans, become morbidly disposed, "diseased in mind and body," and even waxed wrathful at God, himself, and all the world.

LESSONS.

1. The duty of moderating one's pursuit of earthly fiches.

2. The wisdom of laying up for one's self treasures in heaven.

3. The happiness enjoyed by the poor.

Verses 18-20

The picture of a "good and comely" life.

I. THE LABOR OF THE HANDS REWARDED. The toiler spends not his strength for naught and in vain (Isaiah 49:4), but with the sweat of his brow earns for himself bread to eat, water to drink, and raiment to put on (Genesis 28:20). Work and food the two first requisites of a good and comely life.

II. THE GOOD THINGS OF LIFE ENJOYED. Not only has the toiler the pleasant satisfaction of being able to earn through his personal exertions something, yea, enough, to eat and drink and to clothe himself withal, but over and above he can eat and drink and wear that which he has earned, and generally rejoice in that which his hands have won. Health and cheerfulness the next two requisites of a good and comely life.

III. THE ILLS OF EXISTENCE FORGOTTEN. If not entirely exempt from ills, since there is no man born of woman who is not heir to trouble (Job 5:7; Job 14:1), yet these affect him so slightly and leave so small impression on his soul, that the even tenor of his life flows on, and he hardly remembers the days as they pass. Equanimity and hopefulness a third pair of requisites for a good and comely life.

IV. THE GOODNESS OF HEAVEN RECOGNIZED. A "good and comely" life differs from mere animal existence in this, that it acknowledges all it receives and enjoys as a portion marked out for it by the sovereign appointment, and bestowed upon it by the gracious bounty of God (James 1:17). Gratitude and religion a fourth pair of requisites for a good and comely life.

V. THE APPROBATION OF GOD EXPERIENCED. The joy of such a life, being more than mere sensuous gratification, and springing up within the deep recesses of the soul, being in fact pure heart-joy, is not displeasing to God, but, on the contrary, is by him observed, answered, and confirmed. Peace and joy the last and highest pair of requisites for a good and comely life.

Learn:

1. The propriety of striving after an ideal life.

2. The necessity of aiming at improved surroundings of existence.

3. The impossibility of reaching Utopia either for the state or the individual without religion.

HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS

Esther 5:1

The temple and the worshippers.

It is evident that the services of the pious Israelites were by no means merely sacrificial and ceremonial. There is a reflective and intellectual character attributed to the approach of the Hebrew worshippers to their God. The practical admonitions of this passage have reference, not to a formal, but to an intelligent and thoughtful worship.

I. THE HOUSE OF GOD. By this is to be understood no doubt a place, a building, probably the temple at Jerusalem. But clearly it follows from this language that in the view of the writer of Ecclesiastes the idea of the locality, the edifice, is almost lost sight of in the idea of the spiritual presence of Jehovah, and in the society and fellowship of sincere and devout worshippers. God, it was well understood, dwelleth not in temples made with hands, but abideth in his people's hearts.

II. THE SACRIFICE OF FOLLY. In every large gathering of professed worshippers there is reason to fear there are those with whom worship is nothing but a form, a custom. The sacrifice of such is outward only; their postures, their words, may be unexceptionable, but the heart is absent from the service. Inattention, want of true interest, unspirituality, take the place of those penitential acknowledgments—that heavenward aspiration—which are acceptable to him who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men. The sacrifice of such formal and irreverent worshippers is justly designated a sacrifice of fools. They consider not their own nature, their own needs; they consider not the attributes of him whom they profess to approach with the language of adoration, of gratitude, of petition. They are, therefore, not only irreligious; they are foolish, and they seem to say to every sensible observer that they are fools.

III. THE WORSHIP OF THE WISE. In contrast with the careless and undevout we have here depicted the spirit and the demeanor of true worshippers. They are characterized by:

1. Self-restraint. The modest repression of all that savors of self-assertion seems to be intended by the admonition, "Keep thy foot," which is as much as to say, "Take heed to thy steps, observe with care thy way, wander not from the path of sincerity, beware of indifference and of obtrusiveness.'

2. Reference. Such as becomes the creature in approaching the Creator in whose hand his breath is, and whose are all his ways; such as becomes the sinner in addressing a holy God, whose Law has been broken, whose favor has to be implored.

3. A spirit of attentive and submissive hearing. "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth," is language becoming to the lowly and reverent worshipper; he shall be made acquainted with God's Law, and he shall rejoice in God's promises.—T.

Esther 5:2

Reverence, reticence, and brevity in devotion.

What a contrast is there between this sound and sober counsel, and the precepts and customs prevalent among the heathen! These latter have corrupted the very practice of devotion; whilst those who acknowledge the authority of the Scriptures condemn themselves if their worship is superficial, pretentious, formal, and insincere.

I. THE RULES OF DEVOTION.

1. Avoid profane rashness and precipitancy. When rashness and haste are forbidden, it is not intended to condemn ejaculatory or extempore prayer. There are occasions when such prayer is the natural and appropriate expression of the deep feelings of the heart; when one cannot pause to weigh one's words, when one cannot fall back upon liturgy or litany, however scriptural and rich. What is censured is ill-considered prayer, which is not properly prayer at all, but the outpouring of ill temper and petulance. Such utterances may be profane, and are certainly unsuitable, unbecoming.

2. Avoid verbiage. When praise and prayer take shape in many words, there is danger of using "vain repetitions," against which our Lord Christ has so urgently warned his disciples. Long and diffuse devotions are probably addressed rather to men than to God. They are unnecessary and unprofitable, for God does not need them; they are irreverential, for they betoken a mind more occupied about self than about the Supreme. But this precept does not preclude urgency and even repetition when such are dictated by profound feeling and by special circumstances.

II. THE REASON OF THESE RULES.

1. The nature, the character of God himself. "He is in heaven." By heaven we are to understand the eternal sphere apart from and above time, earth, and sense. We are not to rank God with earthly potentates, but are to bear in mind his distinctness and superiority. As our Creator, he knows both our emotions and our wants; as our Lord and Judge, he knows our sins and frailties; as our Savior, he knows our penitence and faith. Such considerations may well preclude familiarity, rashness, verbosity, irreverence. To think rightly of God, to feel aright with regard to him, is to be preserved from such faults and errors as are here mentioned with censure.

2. The position of men. Being upon earth, men partake in the feebleness and finiteness of the created. They are suppliants; and as such they should ever approach the throne of grace with reverence and humiliation. They are sinners; and should imitate the spirit of him who, when he came up into the temple to pray, cried, "God be merciful to me a sinner! 'This was a short prayer; but he who offered it was accepted and justified.—T.

Esther 5:4, Esther 5:5

The law of the vow.

There are those who would disapprove of the violation of a promise given to a fellow-man, who think lightly of evading a promise solemnly volunteered to the Creator. It may be said that a fellow-man might suffer from such neglect or dereliction, but that God can suffer no loss or harm if a vow be not fulfilled. Such an extenuation or excuse for violating vows arises from the too common notion that the moral character of an action depends upon the consequences that follow it, and not upon the principles that direct it. A man's conduct may be wrong even if no one is injured by it; for he may violate both his own nature and the moral law itself.

I. THE NATURE OF THE VOW. When some signal favor has been experienced, some forbearance exercised on a man's behalf, he desires to evince his gratitude, to do something which in ordinary circumstances he would probably not have done, and he makes a vow unto God, sacredly' promising to offer some gift, to perform some service. Or even more commonly, the vow is made in hope of some benefit desired, and its fulfillment is conditional upon a petition being favorably answered, a desire being gratified.

II. THE VOLUNTARINESS OF THE VOW. It is presumed that no constraint is exercised, that the promise made to Heaven is the free and spontaneous expression of religious feeling. The language of Peter to Ananias expresses this aspect of the proceeding: "Whiles it remained, did it not remain thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thy power?"

III. THE OBLIGATION OF THE VOW. It is questionable whether vows are in all cases expedient. A vow to act sinfully is certainly not binding. And there are some vows which it is unwise in some circumstances, if not in all circumstances, to make; this is the case especially with vows which seem to make too great a demand upon human nature, which are indeed against nature; e.g. vows of celibacy, and of obedience to fellow-creatures as fallible as are those who bind themselves to obey. But if a vow be made knowingly and voluntarily, and if its fulfillment be not wrong, then the text assures us it is obligatory, and should be paid.

IV. THE FOLLY OF DEFERRING TO PAY THE VOW. There are disagreeable duties, which weak persons admit to be duties, and intend to discharge, but the discharge of which they postpone. Such duties do not become easier or more agreeable because deferred. Generally speaking, when conscience tells us that a certain thing ought to be done, the sooner we do it the better. So with the vow. "Defer not to pay it; for God hath no pleasure in fools."

V. THE SIN OF NEGLECTING AND REPUDIATING THE VOW. The vow is an evidence, it may be presumed, that there existed at the time, in the mind of him who made it, strong feelings and earnest purposes. Now, for one who has passed through such experiences so far to forget or abjure them as to act as if the vow had never been made, is a proof of religious declension and of inconsistency. How common is such "backsliding"! It is said, "Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay." He who vows not contracts no special obligation, whilst he who vows and withholds payment repudiates a solemn obligation which he has undertaken. A warning is thus given to which it is important for those especially to give heed who are liable to religious excitement and enthusiasm. If such characters yield as readily to evil influences as to good, their impressions may be a curse rather than a blessing, or at least may be the occasion of moral deterioration. None can feel and resolve and pray, and then afterwards act in opposition to their purest feelings, their highest resolves, their fervent prayers, without suffering serious harm, without weakening their moral power, without incurring the just displeasure of the righteous Governor and Lord of all.—T.

Esther 5:8

The oppressor's accountability.

We are not taught in this verse to disregard the wrongs of our fellow-creatures, to shut our eyes to deeds of iniquity, to close our ears against the cry of the suffering, to steel our heart against the anguish of the oppressed. But we are cautioned against drawing hasty and ill-considered conclusions from the prevalence of injustice; we are encouraged to cherish faith in the overruling and retributive providence of God.

I. THE FACT OF OPPRESSION. Such cases as are here referred to exist in every state; but in the East they have always existed in great numbers. Despotic governments are more favorable to oppression than those states where free institutions are established and where popular rights are respected. Reference is made:

1. To the maltreatment of the poor, who are powerless to defend themselves, and who have no helper.

2. To the withholding and perversion of justice.

II. THE DISTRESS AND PERPLEXITY NATURALLY OCCASIONED BY THE EXISTENCE OF OPPRESSION.

1. To the sufferers themselves; who are in some cases deprived of liberty, in some cases robbed of their property, in other cases injured in their person.

2. The spectators of such wrongs are aroused to sympathy, pity, and indignation. No rightly constituted mind can witness injustice without resentment. Even those who themselves exercise rights and enjoy privileges lose much of the pleasure and advantage of their own position by reason of the wrongs which their neighbors endure at the hand of power and cruelty.

3. Society is in danger of corruption when the laws are overridden by selfishness, avarice, and lust; when righteousness is scoffed at, and when men's best instincts and convictions are outraged.

III. THE REDRESS FOR WRONG IN THE UNIVERSAL GOVERNMENT OF GOD.

1. Oppression is not unnoticed. Whether the oppressor hopes to escape, or fears to be called to account, it is for the spectator of his evil deeds to remember that "One higher than the high regardeth."

2. Oppression is not unrecorded. The iniquities of the unjust judge, of the arbitrary sovereign, of the villainous workman who violently hinders his fellow-workman from earning an honest livelihood,—all are written in the book of God. Even when deeds of oppression are wrought in the sacred name of religion by the persecutor and the inquisitor, such deeds are remembered, and will in due time be brought to light.

3. Oppression will not be unavenged. Either now in this world, or hereafter in the state of retribution, the oppressor, like every other sinner, shall be brought to the bar of Divine justice. God shall bring every man into judgment. As a man soweth, so shall he also reap. The wicked shall not go unpunished.—T.

Esther 5:9

The earth and man.

Whatever obscurity may attach to the interpretation of this verse, in any case it represents the dependence of the inhabitants of earth upon the produce of the soil.

I. THE FACT OF THE BOUNTEOUSNESS OF THE FRUITFUL EARTH.

1. Man's body is fashioned out of its dust. Whatever may have been the process by which the animal nature of man was prepared as the lodging and the vehicle of the immortal spirit, there is no question as to the fact that the human body is a part of nature, that it is composed of elements of a nature similar to those existing around, that it is subject to physical law. All this seems implied in the statement that the human frame was formed of the dust of the ground.

2. Man's body is supported by its produce. Directly or indirectly, man's corporeal nature is nourished by the material substances which exist in various forms upon the surface of the earth. The vegetable and animal creation minister to man's needs and growth.

3. Man's body is resolved into its substance. "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." The earth provides man with his food, his raiment, his dwelling, and his grave.

II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE BOUNTEOUSNESS OF THE EARTH.

1. The least is not overlooked, the poorest is cared for, fed, and sheltered.

2. The greatest is not independent. All men share the same nature, and sit at the same table: "The king himself is served by the field."

LESSONS.

1. We have to learn our dependence upon what is lower than ourselves. Whilst we are in this earth, whilst we share this corporeal nature, the material ministers to bodily needs, and must not be disdained or despised.

2. We should rise to an apprehension of our real dependence upon Divine providence. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof." It is ordered by God's wisdom that the earth should be the instrument of good to all his creatures, even to the highest. And the enlightened and thoughtful will not fail to ascend from the instrument to him that fashioned it, from the abode to him that built it, from the means of well-being to him who appointed and provided them all, and who intended the earth and all that is in it to teach his intelligent creatures something of his glorious character and gracious purposes.—T.

Esther 5:10 -17

The unsatisfying nature of riches.

To love wealth for its own sake is ridiculous. To desire it for the sake of the advantages it may secure is natural, and (within limits) is not blamable. To set the heart upon it for such purposes, to long for it above higher good, to be absorbed in its quest, is sinful. The wise man points out the insufficiency of material possessions to satisfy the nature of man. The reflections here recorded are the result of wide observation and of personal experience.

I. RICHES CANNOT AFFORD SATISFACTION TO THOSE WHO SET THEIR AFFECTION UPON THEM. A man who uses his property for lawful ends, and regards it in the true light as a provision made by God's wisdom and bounty for his wants, need know nothing of the experience recorded in Esther 5:10. But he who loves—i.e; desires with ardent desire, and as the chief good of life—silver and abundance, shall not be satisfied with wealth when it is attained. It is not in the nature of earthly good to quench the deep desires of man's immoral spirit.

II. RICHES ARE CONSUMED BY THOSE WHO ARE DEPENDENT UPON THEM. A large family, a circle of dependents, needy relatives, are the cause of the disappearance even of large revenues. This is no trouble to a man who judges justly; but to a foolish man whose one desire is to accumulate, it is a distress to witness the necessary expenditure involved in family and social claims.

III. RICHES ARE a SOURCE OF ANXIETY TO THE POSSESSOR. The laboring man, who earns and eats his daily bread, and depends for to-morrow's supply upon to-morrow's toil, sleeps sweetly; whilst the capitalist and investor are wakeful by reason of many anxieties. A ship richly freighted may be wrecked, and the cargo lost; a company in which large sums have been invested may fail; a mine of precious metal upon which money has been spent, and from which much is hoped, may cease to be productive. An estate may no longer be profitable; thieves may break through and steal jewels and bullion. As surely as a man owns more than is needed for the supply of his daily wants, so surely is he liable to solicitude and care.

IV. RICHES MAY EVEN PROVE INJURIOUS TO THEIR OWNER. In some states of society the possession of wealth is likely to bring down upon the rich the envy and cupidity of a despotic ruler, who ill treats the wealthy in order to secure his riches for himself. And in all states of society there is danger lest wealth should be the occasion of moral injury, by enkindling evil passions, envy on the part of the poor, and in return hatred and suspicion on the part of the wealthy; or by leading to flattery, which in turn produces vanity and contemptuousness.

V. RICHES ARE OF NO AVAIL BEYOND THIS LIFE. They thus add, in the case of the avaricious, another sting to death; for clutch and grasp them as he may, they must be left behind. A man spends his whole life, and exhausts all his energies, in gathering together a "fortune;" no sooner has he succeeded than he is summoned to return naked to the earth, carrying nothing in his hand, poor as he came into the scene of his toils, his success, his disappointments. The king of terrors cannot be bribed. A mine of wealth cannot buy a day of life.

VI. RICHES MAY BE WASTED BY THE RICH MAN'S HEIRS. This was a misfortune of which the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to have been well aware from his prolonged observation of human life. One may gather; but who shall scatter? He to whom wealth is everything has no security that his property shall not, after his death, come into the hands of those who shall squander it in dissipation, or waste it in reckless speculations. This also is vanity.

APPLICATION. These things being so, the moral is obvious. The poor man may rest contented with his lot, for he knows not whether increase of possessions would bring him increase of happiness. The prosperous man may well give heed to the admonition, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them."—T.

Verses 18-20

The good things appointed for man by God.

Some detect in these verses the ring of Epicurean morals. But the difference is vast between desiring and rejoicing in the things of this world as mere means of pleasure, and accepting them with gratitude and using them with moderation and prudence, as the gifts of a Father's bounty and the expression of a Father's love.

I. THE GOOD THINGS OF THIS WORLD COME FROM GOD. It is God's earth which provides our sustenance; it is God's creative wisdom that provides our companionships; it is God who gives us power to acquire, to use, and to enjoy his gifts. All is from God.

II. THE ENJOYMENT OF THINGS IN THEMSELVES GOOD IS INTENDED, AND APPOINTED BY DIVINE WISDOM AND GOODNESS. They were mot given to tempt or to curse man, but to gladden his heart and to enrich his life. Benevolence is the impulse of the Divine nature. God is "good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works."

III. THE ENJOYMENT OF THESE GOOD THINGS MAY BE RENDERED THE OCCASION OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD AND THANKSGIVING TO GOD. Thus even the common things of earth may be glorified and made beautiful by their devotion to the highest of all purposes. Through them the Giver of all may be praised, and the heart of the grateful recipient may be raised to fellowship with "the Father of the spirits of all flesh."

IV. THE ABUSE OF GOD'S GOOD GIFTS IS OWING TO HUMAN ERROR AND SIN. They are so often abused that it is not to be wondered at that men come to think them evil in themselves. But in such cases, the blame lies not with the Giver, but with the recipient, who turns the very honey into gall.—T.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Esther 5:1, Esther 5:2

Acceptable service.

Although the precise meaning of the Preacher is open to some doubt, we shall not go wrong in letting these words speak to us of—

I. THE FUTILITY OF FORMAL WORSHIP. Reference is made to

We may find a Christian parallel in the reception of sacraments, and in the "prayers" and psalmody of the Church. We know that the purest spirituality may breathe in these, and may be nourished by these, but we know also

II. ACCEPTABLE SERVICE. This is threefold.

1. Reverence. This is strongly implied, especially in the second verse. Let the worshipper realize that he is in "the house of God," none other and no less than that (see Genesis 28:17). Let him realize that "God is in heaven," etc.; that he is bowing before the Infinite One himself; that he is addressing him who, in his Divine nature and in his unapproachable rank, is immeasurably removed above himself; that he is speaking to One who sees the actions of every life, and knows the secrets of all hearts, and who needs not, therefore, to be informed of what we do or what we feel. Let language be spared, let sacred thought and solemn feeling flow; let a sense of human littleness and of the Divine majesty silence all insincerity, and fill the soul with reverential awe.

2. Docility. "Be more ready ['draw nigh,' Revised Version] to hear," etc. There is much virtue in docility. Our Lord strongly commended the child-spirit as the condition of entrance into the kingdom; and was not this principally because the spirit of childhood is that of docility—eagerness to know, readiness to receive? We should draw nigh to God in his house, not that we may hear our favorite dogmas once more exalted or enforced, but that we may hear the mind and know the will of Christ better than we have done before; that we may "be filled with the knowledge of his will;" that it may become increasingly true that "we have the mind of Christ." To desire to part with our errors, our ignorance, our prejudices, our half-views, our misconceptions, and to have a closer vision of our Lord and of his Divine truth,—this is acceptable worship.

3. Obedience. "Keep thy foot; go to the house of God 'with a straight foot,' a foot trained to walk in the path of holy obedience." Go to the house of God as one that "has clean hands and a pure heart;" as one that "lifts up holy hands" unto God. To go up to "offer sacrifice," or "make long prayers," with the determination in the heart to continue a life of impurity, or intemperance, or dishonesty, or injustice, or harshness toward the weak and the dependent,—this is to mock our Maker; it is to grieve the Father of spirits, the Lord of holiness and love. But, on the other hand, to go up to his sanctuary with a pure desire and real resolve to turn from our evil way, and to strive, against all outward hostility and all inward impulses, to walk in our integrity,—this is acceptable with God. "To obey is better than sacrifice;" and it is the spirit of obedience rather than the overt act of correctness for which the righteous Lord is looking.—C.

Esther 5:4-6

Vowing and paying.

We may regard the subject of vows in two aspects.

I. THEIR CHARACTER. They may be of:

1. An entirely obligatory character. We may solemnly promise to God that which we may not withhold without sin. But this may be shortly summed up in one word—ourselves. We owe to him ourselves, all that we are and have, our powers and our possessions. And the first thing that becomes us all is to present ourselves before God in a most solemn act of surrender, in which we deliberately resolve and undertake to yield to him our heart and life thenceforth and for ever. In this great crisis of our spiritual history we make the one supreme vow with which all others are incomparable. It should be made in the exercise of all the powers of our nature; not under any kind of compulsion, but as freely as fully, as intelligently as heartily. It is one that is, of course, to be renewed, and this both regularly, and also on all special occasions. It is a vow to be confirmed every time we bow in the sanctuary, and every time we gather at the table of the Lord.

2. Optional. And of these vows which may be described as optional, there are

(a) a man determines that thenceforth he will give a certain fixed proportion of his income to the cause of Christ; or

(b) when he pledges himself to abstain from some particular indulgence which is hurtful to himself or is a temptation to others.

II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THEY SHOULD BE MADE AND FULFILLED.

1. With devout deliberation. It is a serious mistake for a man to undertake that which he fails to carry out.

2. In a spirit of prompt and cheerful obedience. What we vow to do we should do

3. With patient persistency; not allowing anything to come between himself and his honorable fulfillment.

Esther 5:8 -16

Comfort in confusion.

In the time and the country to which the text belongs there was a very large amount of injustice, rapacity, insecurity. Men could not count on enjoying the fruits of their labor; they were in serious danger of being wronged, or even "done to death;" there were not the constitutional guards and fences with which we are familiar now and here. The political and social conditions of the age and of the land. added much to the seriousness of the great problems of the moralist. But though he was perplexed, he was not without light and comfort. There was that—

I. AFFORDED BY REASON AND EXPERIENCE. What if it were true that oppression was often to be witnessed, and, with oppression, the suffering of the weak, yet it was to be remembered that:

1. There was often an appeal to a higher authority, and the unrighteous sentence was reversed (Esther 5:8).

2. There was always reason to hope that injustice and tyranny would be short-lived (Esther 5:9). The king was served by the field; he was by no means independent of those who lived by manual labor; he was as much their subject in fact and truth as they were his in form and in law; he could not afford to live in their disregard and disapproval.

3. Successful oppression was far from being satisfactory to those who practiced it.

(3) The successful man was worried and burdened with his own wealth; the fear of losing balanced, if it did not more than counterbalance, the enjoyment of acquisition (Esther 5:12).

4. Obscurity is not without its own advantage.

II. AFFORDED BY REVELATION. The godly man, and more especially he to whom Jesus Christ has spoken, contents himself—so far as it is right and welt to be contented in the midst of confusion and perversion—with the peace-bringing considerations:

1. That Infinite Wisdom is overruling, and will direct all things to a right issue.

2. That it is not our circumstances, but our character, that should chiefly concern us. To be pure, true, loyal, helpful, Christ-like, is immeasurably more than to have and to hold any quantity of treasure, any place or rank whatsoeverse

3. That we who travel to a heavenly home, who look forward to a "crown of life," can afford to wait for our heritage.—C.

Verses 15, 16

The difference at death.

Even when we have been long looking for the departure of one whose powers as well as his days are spent, his death, when it does come, makes a great difference to us. Between life at its lowest and death there is a great and felt interval. How much more must this be the case to the departed himself! What a difference to him between this life and that to which he goes! Perhaps less than we imagine, yet doubtless very great. The text suggests to us—

I. WHAT WE MUST LEAVE BEHIND US AT DEATH.

1. Our worldly goods. This is an obvious fact, which painfully impressed the Preacher (text), and which comforted the psalmist (Psalms 49:16, Psalms 49:17). It is a fact that should make the wise less careful to acquire and to save.

2. Our reputation. The reputation for wisdom or folly, for integrity or dishonesty, for kindness or severity, which our life has been building up, death cannot destroy, through whatever experiences we may then pass. We must be content to leave that behind to be associated with our name in the memories of men, for their benediction or for their reproach.

3. The influence for good or evil we have exerted on human souls. These we cannot remove, nor can we stay to deepen or to counteract them; they are our most important legacies.

II. WHAT WE MAY LEAVE BEHIND US.

1. A wise disposition of our property. A sagacious statesman once said that he never quite made up his mind about his neighbor's character until he had seen his will. What disposition we make of that we leave behind is a very serious act of our life; there are very few single acts so serious.

2. Wise counsels to those who will heed them. There are usually those who will pay Meat regard to the wishes of the dying, apart from any "legal instructions." We may leave with those we love such recommendations as shall save them from grave mistakes, and guide them to good and happy courses.

3. A valued testimony to the power and preciousness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

III. WHAT WE MAY TAKE WITH US.

1. Our faith in Jesus Christ; that settled attitude of the soul toward him which is one of trustfulness and love, which determines our place in the kingdom of God (John 3:15, John 3:16, John 3:18, John 3:36).

2. Our Christian life—its record in the heavenly chronicles; that Christian service which, in its faithfulness-or its imperfection, will gain for us the larger or the smaller measure of our Lord's approval (Luke 19:16-19).

3. Qualification, gained by steadfastness, patience, zeal, for the sphere which "the righteous Judge" will award us and will have ready for us.—C.

HOMILIES BY J. WILLCOCK

Esther 5:1

Vanity in religion: 1. Thoughtlessness.

From secular life the Preacher turns to religious. He has sought in many quarters for peace and satisfaction, but has found none. Royal palaces, huts where poor men lie, cells of philosophers, banqueting-halls, are all alike, if not all equally, infested by vanities which poison pleasure and add to the burden of care. But surely in the house of God, where men seek to disengage their thoughts from things that are seen and temporal, and to fix them upon things that are unseen and eternal, where they endeavor to establish and maintain communion with their Creator, one may count upon finding a haven of refuge for the soul from vanity and care. But here, too, he perceives that, by thoughtlessness, formalism, and insincerity, the purpose for which worship was instituted, and the blessings it may secure, are in danger of being defeated and nullified. But a change is manifest in the tone in which he reproves these faults. He lays down the whip of the satirist, he suppresses the fierce indignation which the sight of these new follies might have excited within him, and with sober earnestness exhorts his hearers to forsake the faults which separate between them and God, and hinder the ascent of their prayers to him and. the descent of his blessings upon them. His feelings of reverence, and his conviction that in obedience to God and in communion with him peace and satisfaction may be found, forbid his saying of genuine religion that it is "vanity and vexation of spirit." So far as the spirit of his exhortation is concerned, it is applicable to all forms of worship, but we find some difficulty in ascertaining the kind of scene which was in his mind's eye when he spoke of "the house of God." If we are convinced that it is Solomon speaking in his own person, we know that he must refer to the stately building which he erected for the service of God in Jerusalem; and we understand from his words that he is not depreciating the offering of sacrifices, but is giving the admonition so often on the lips of the prophets, that the external act without accompanying devotion and love of righteousness, is in vain. But if we have here the utterance of a later writer, may there not be a reference to the synagogue service, in which the reading of the Word of God and exposition of its meaning were the principal religious exercises employed? May not the writer be understood as affirming "that a diligent listening to the teaching imparted in the synagogue is of more real value than the 'sacrifices' offered up in the temple by 'fools'"? The answer we give is determined by the opinion we form as to the date of the book. But even if we are unable to decide this point, the exhortation before us will lose none of its significance and weight. The underlying truth is the same, whether the primary reference be to the gorgeous ritual of the temple, or to the simple, unadorned services of the synagogue, which in later times furnished the pattern for Christian worship. The first fault against which the Preacher would have his hearers be on their guard is that of thoughtlessness—entering the house of God inconsiderately (Esther 5:1). The form in which the admonition is expressed is probably intended to remind his readers of the Divine command to Moses in the desert when he drew near to the bush that burned with fire: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5; cf. also Joshua 5:15).

I. Our first duty in entering the house of God is, therefore, TO BE REVERENT BOTH IN MANNER AND IN SPIRIT. The outward expression of this feeling, whatever form, according to the custom of our time, or country, or Church, it may take, is to be an indication of the frame of mind in which we enter upon the service of God. It is true that there may be a reverent manner without devoutness of spirit, but it is equally true that there cannot be devoutness of spirit without reverence of manner. The true frame of mind is that which springs from a due sense of the solemnity attaching to the house of God, and of the purpose for which we assemble in it. It is not superstition, but genuine religious sentiment, that would lead us to be mindful of the fact that it is no common ground which is enclosed by the sacred walls; that it is here that we meet with him whom "the heaven of heavens cannot contain." Though we are at all times in his presence, his house is the place in which we entreat him to manifest himself to his congregated people. Yet, though we know that- the place and the purpose of our frequenting it are of the most holy and solemn nature, it is only by a strong effort that we can maintain the frame of mind we should be in when we wait upon God in his house. It is only by resolutely determining so to do that we can control our wandering thoughts, suppress frivolous and sinful imaginations, and divest ourselves of the secular cares and anxieties which occupy only too much of our attention in the world outside the sanctuary.

II. Our second great duty is THAT OF OBEDIENCE TO THE DIVINE LAW; "for to draw near to hearken is better than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they know not that they do evil" (Revised Version). Not only should there be reverence of manner and spirit in the presence of God, but a desire to know what he requires from us, and a disposition to render it. Love of holiness, and endeavors to exemplify it, are essential to all true service of God. By hearkening is evidently meant an attitude of mind which leads directly to obedience to the words spoken, to repentance and amendment when faults are reproved, and to a love and practice of the virtues commended. In the Epistle of James (1. 19-25) we have an inspired commentary upon this precept in the Book of 'Ecclesiastes. The Christian teacher enforces the same lesson, and depicts the contrast between the "forgetful hearer" and the'" doer of the Word." The one is like a man looking for a moment into a mirror, and going on his way, and speedily forgetting what he looked like; the other is like a man who uses the revelation the mirror gives him of himself, to correct what in him is faulty. The latter returns again and again to examine himself in the faithful glass, for the purpose of removing those stains which it may show are upon him. This reverence of manner and spirit and this love of righteousness alone give value to worship; omission of them through thoughtlessness is a positive offence against God.—J.W.

Esther 5:2, Esther 5:3

Vanity in religion: 2. Rash prayers.

From an admonition as to the spirit in which we should enter the house of God, our author proceeds to counsel us as to the religious exercises we engage in there. Our utterances in prayer are to be calm and deliberate. A multitude of wishes may fill our hearts, and, unless we take care, find expression in a volume of ill-considered words. But we are to remember that only some of our wishes can be lawfully turned into prayers, and that an appropriate expression of the requests we feel we can offer, is due from us. The counsel here given is twofold:

Esther 5:4-7

Vanity in religion: 3. Broken vows.

A vow is a promise to dedicate something to God, on certain conditions, such as his granting deliverance from death or danger, success in one's undertakings, or the like, and is one of the most ancient and widespread of religious customs. The earliest we read of is that of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:18-22; Genesis 31:13). The Mosaic Law regulated the practice, and the passage before us is an almost exact reproduction of the section in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 23:21-23) in which general directions are given about the discharge of such obligations. The vow consisted in the dedication of persons or possessions to sacred uses. The worshipper's self, or child, or slave, or property, might be devoted to God. Vows were entirely voluntary, but, once made, were regarded as compulsory, and evasion of performance of them was held to be highly irreligious (Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; Ecclesiastes 5:4). The kind of sin referred to here is that of making a vow inconsiderately, and drawing back when the time of performance comes. No obligation to vow rested upon any man (Deuteronomy 23:22), but when the vow had once been made, no one could without dishonor refuse to fulfill it. Of course, it was to be taken for granted that the vow was such as could be fulfilled without violating any law or ordinance of God. And, accordingly, provision was made in the Mosaic Law for the canceling of any such obligation undertaken inadvertently, and found on maturer consideration to be immoral. It could be set aside, and the offence of having made it be atoned for as a sin of ignorance (Le Deuteronomy 5:4-6). But when no such obstacle stood in the way of performance, nothing but a prompt and cheerful fulfillment of the vow could be accepted as satisfactory. A twofold fault is described in the passage before us:

Esther 5:8

A misgoverned state.

From the follies only too prevalent in the religious world, the Preacher turns to the disorders of the political; and although he admonishes his readers in a later section of the book (Ec very evident that he felt keenly the misery and oppression caused by misgovernment. For these evils he could suggest no cure; a hopeless submission to the inevitable is his only counsel. Like Hamlet, his heart is wrung by the thought of evils against which it was almost useless to strive—

"The oppressor's wrong,

the proud man's contumely … the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes."

The subordinate magistrates tyrannized over the people, those who were higher in office watched their opportunity for oppressing them. From the lowest up to the very highest rank of officials the same system of violence and jealous espionage prevailed. Those that were in the royal household and had the ear of the king, his most intimate counselors, who were in a sense higher than any of the satraps or governors he employed, were able to urge him to use his power for the destruction of any whose ill-gotten riches made him an object of envy (romp. Ecclesiastes 10:4, Ecclesiastes 10:7, Ecclesiastes 10:16, etc.). The whole system of government was rotten to the core, the same distrust and jealousy pervaded every part of it. "Marvel not," says the Preacher, "at oppression and injustice in the lower departments of official life, for those who are the superiors of the tyrannical judge or governor, and should be a check on him, are as bad as he." Such seems to be the sense of the words. At first sight, indeed, the impression left on one's mind is that the Preacher counsels his readers not to be perplexed or unduly dismayed at the wrong they are forced to witness, on the ground that over and above the highest of earthly tyrants is the power of God, and that it will in due time be manifested in the punishment of the evil-doer. As though he had said, God who is "higher than the highest regardeth," beholds the wrong-doing; and when he comes to judgment, the proudest will have to submit to his power (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:17). But this interpretation, though very ancient, is not in harmony with the general character of the utterance. The thought of God's power and justice is indeed calculated to give some consolation to the oppressed, but not to explain why they are oppressed. The latter part of the verse is assigned as a reason for not marveling at the prevalence of evil. If, therefore, reference be made to the power of God, by which the evil might be restrained or abolished, the marvel of its prevalence would only be increased. We are, therefore, to understand his words as meaning, "Do not be surprised at the corruption and baseness of the lower officials, in so much as the same corruption prevails among those in far higher positions." He is not here seeking to cheer up the sufferer by bidding him look higher; he is describing the evil state of affairs everywhere existing in the empire in his own day (Wright). There is nothing very heroic or inspiring in the counsel. It is simply an admonition, based on prudence, to escape personal danger by stolidly submitting to evils which one's own power can do nothing to abolish or alleviate. To those who under an Oriental despotism had become hopeless and dispirited, the words might seem worthy of a wise counselor; but surely there is a servile ring about them which ill harmonizes with the love of freedom and intolerance of tyranny which are native to a European mind. There is but one relieving circumstance in connection with them, and that is that submission to oppression is not commanded in them or asserted to be a duty; and therefore those in whose hearts the love of country and of justice burns brightly, and who find that a pure and devoted patriotism moves them to make many sacrifices for the good of their fellows, violate no canon of Scripture when they rise superior to the prudential considerations dwelt upon here. Granted that submission to the inevitable is the price at which material safety and happiness may be bought, it is still a question at many times whether the patriot should not hazard material safety and happiness in the attempt to win for his country and for himself a higher boon.—J.W.

Esther 5:9

A well-ordered state.

In contrast with the evils produced by an administration in which all the officials, from the lowest to the highest, seek to enrich themselves, our author now sets the picture of a well-governed community, in which the efficient cultivation of the land is a matter of the first consideration, and all classes of the population, up to the king himself, share in the consequent prosperity. (The verse has been differently rendered, but the translation of both our Revised and Authorized Versions is probably the best reproduction of the original words.) From the kings who wasted the resources of the lands over which they ruled in carrying on bloody wars, and in the indulgence of their capricious tastes, he turns to those who, like Uzziah, encouraged agriculture, and under whose beneficent rule Judah enjoyed the blessings of peace and prosperity (2 Chronicles 26:10). "The profit of the earth is for all." All are dependent upon the labors of the husbandman for the supply of the necessaries of life. By the judicious cultivation of the soil wealth is accumulated, by which comforts and luxuries are to be procured, so that even "the king himself is served by the field." The king, indeed, is more dependent upon the husbandman than the husbandman upon the king; without his labors there would be no bread for the royal palace, and no luxuries could make up for the absence of this necessary of life. We have, surely, in this consideration a strong proof of the dignity and value of the humblest labor, and in the fact of the mutual dependence of all classes upon each other an argument for the necessity of mutual forbearance and co-operation. A very striking illustration of the teaching here given is afforded in an incident which took place at Heidelberg in the reign of Frederic I.. "This prince invited to a banquet all the factious barons whom he had vanquished at Seekingen, and who had previously ravaged and laid waste great part of the palatinate. Among them were the Bishop of Mentz and the Margrave of Baden. The repast was plentiful and luxurious, but there was no bread. The warrior-guests looked round with surprise and inquiry. 'Do you ask for bread?' said Frederic, sternly; 'you who have wasted the fruits of the earth, and destroyed those whose industry cultivates it? There is no bread. Eat, and be satisfied; and learn henceforth mercy to those who put the bread into your mouths'" (quoted in 'Sketches of Germany,' by Mrs. Jameson).—J.W.

Esther 5:10 -20

The drawbacks upon wealth.

The series of aphorisms which begins in Esther 5:10 is not unconnected with what precedes it. It is for wealth generally that the unjust judge and oppressive ruler barters his peace of mind, sells his very soul. As the means for procuring sensual gratification, for surrounding one's self with ostentatious luxury, and for carrying out ambitious schemes, riches have great fascination. The Preacher, however, records at length the drawbacks connected with them, which are calculated to diminish the envy with which the poor very often regard those who possess them. Probably the bulk of mankind would say that they are willing to put up with the drawbacks if only they could possess the riches. But surely those who read the Word of God reverently and with a docile spirit are disposed to profit by the wise counsels and warning it contains. The gross and presumptuous frame of mind, which would lead any to laugh at the drawbacks upon wealth as imaginary, when compared with the happiness they think it must secure, deserves severe censure. Both rich and poor may draw appropriate lessons from the Preacher's words: the rich may learn humility; the poor, contentment.

I. INSATIABLENESS OF AVARICE. (Esther 5:10.) Those who begin to amass money cultivate an appetite which can never be satisfied, which only grows in fierceness as it is supplied with food. Those who love silver will never count themselves rich enough; they will always hunger for more, and the amount that would once have seemed abundance to them will be spurned as paltry, as their ideas and desires are enlarged. Dissatisfaction with what they have, and greed to acquire more, poison their pleasure in all that they have accumulated. Happy are those who have learned to be content with little, whose wants are few and moderate, who, having food and raiment, desire no more—they are really rich.

II. Another thought calculated to diminish envy of the rich is that, AS WEALTH INCREASES, THOSE THAT CONSUME IT INCREASE ALSO. (Esther 5:11.) Along with the more abundant possessions, there is generally a larger retinue of servants and dependants. So that, with more to provide for, the wealthy man may be poorer than he was in earlier days when his means were smaller. Fresh demands are made upon him; the outward display he is forced to make becomes a daily increasing burden; he has to labor for the supply of others rather than for himself. A striking passage in Xenophon—quoted by Plumptre—expresses the same thought. "Do you think that I live with more pleasure the more I possess? By having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand of me their food, their drink, and their clothes …. Whosoever, therefore, is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel much annoyed at the expenditure of them" ('Cyrop.,' Esther 8:3). The only compensation that the rich man may have is that of being able to look on his treasures and say, "These are mine." Is it, after all, a sufficient reward for his toils and cares?

III. Another boon which the poor may always enjoy, but which the rich may often sigh for in vain, is SWEET SLEEP. (Esther 5:12.) The laborer enjoys refreshing sleep, whether his food be abundant or not; the toils of the day ensure sound slumber at night. While the very abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep; all kinds of cares, projects, and anxieties rise within his mind, and will not suffer him to be at rest. The dread of losing his riches may make him wakeful, feverish excitement may result from his luxurious mode of living, and rob him of the power to compose himself to slumber, and, like the ambitious king, he may envy the ship-boy rocked and lulled by the tossing of "the rude, imperious surge" (Shakespeare, 'Henry IV.,' Part II; act 3. sc. 1).

IV. RICHES MAY INJURE ITS POSSESSOR. (Esther 5:13.) It may mark him out as a suitable victim for spoliation by a lawless tyrant or a revolutionary mob. Or it may furnish him with the means of indulging vicious appetites, and increase greatly the risks and temptations that make it difficult to live a sober, righteous, and godly life, and ruin him body and soul. As says the apostle, "They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10).

V. Another evil attendant on wealth is THE DANGER OF SUDDEN AND IRRETRIEVABLE LOSS. (Esther 5:14.) "Not only do riches fail to give any satisfying joy, but the man who reckoned on founding a family, and leaving his heaped-up treasures to his son, gains nothing but anxieties and cares, he may lose his wealth by some unfortunate chance, and leave his son a pauper." The case of Job would seem to be in the writer's mind as an example of this sudden downfall from prosperity and wealth. In any case, death robs the rich man of all his possessions; in the twinkling of an eye he is stripped of his wealth, as a traveler who has fallen in with a troop of banditti, and is forced to depart from life as poor in goals as when he entered it (verses 15, 16).

VI. Lastly, come THE INFIRMITY AND PEEVISHNESS WHICH ARE OFTEN THE COMPANIONS OF WEALTH. (Verse: 17.) Riches cannot cure disease, or ward off the day of death, or compensate for the sorrows and disappointments of life, and may only tend to aggravate them; a deeper dissatisfaction with self, and with the providential government of the world, a more intense feeling of misanthropy and embitterment are likely to be the portion of the godless rich than of those who have had all through life to labor for their bread, and have never risen much above the position in which they first found themselves. As a practical conclusion, the Preacher reiterates for the fourth time his old advice (verses 18-20): "It' you have little, be content with it. If you have much, enjoy it without excess, and without seeking more. God gives life and earthly blessings, and the power to enjoy them." And in words that are less clear than we could wish, he seems to intimate that in this pious disposition of mind and heart will be found the secret of a serene and happy life, which no changes or disappointments will be able wholly to overcast. "For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart "—words which seem to imply, "The man who has learned the secret of enjoyment is not anxious about the days of his life; does not brood even over its transitoriness, but takes each day tranquilly as it comes, as God's gift to him; and God himself corresponds to his joy, is felt to approve it, as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness. The tranquility of the wise man mirrors the tranquility of God" (Plumptre).—J.W.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ecclesiastes-5.html. 1897.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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