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Anger resteth in the bosom of fools - A wise man, off his guard, may feel it for a moment: but in him it cannot rest: it is a fire which he immediately casts out of his breast. But the fool - the man who is under the dominion of his own tempers, harbors and fosters it, till it takes the form of malice, and then excites him to seek full revenge on those whom he deems enemies. Hence that class of dangerous and empty fools called duellists.
These files are public domain.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1832.
Proverbs about life and death (7:1-14)
The writer now faces up to the fact that people have to make their way through life in spite of its various misfortunes. Through a collection of proverbs he points out that whatever circumstances they find themselves in, they should use them to the best advantage.
To begin with, people should desire a good reputation. If they live worthwhile lives, the day of their death will be more important than the day of their birth. It will be the climax that confirms their good reputation for ever (7:1). In view of this, they should always bear in mind the certainty of death, and not waste their lives on empty pleasures (2-4).
People who understand life will prefer the sincere rebuke of a wise person to the empty praise of a fool (5-6). They will avoid the temptation to get rich through oppression and bribery, knowing that these ruin a person's character (7). They will not be impatient or hot-tempered, and will not try to escape present troubles by wishing to be back in the past (8-10). They will recognize that wisdom and money, when used together, can improve the quality of life, but they will also accept the various circumstances they meet as being God's will for them. They cannot change what God has determined, but they can enjoy whatever good they meet (11-14).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2005.
- Title: MORE BETTER (1-14)
- What’s your view on suffering, pain, sorrow, adversity, or hardships?
- Some seek to escape it, others to despise it...we need to find the value of it.
- Do you learn more about God during difficult times or during happy times?
- Do you try to avoid sorrow & suffering at all costs?
- Suffering & adversity are not necessarily signs of Gods disfavor. In fact, adversity is often a greater good than that of prosperity.
- Eccl. 6:12 asked, What is good for man in life?
- It is a hook on which a string of Proverbs are hung. Kaiser
- Note: Good (1,11,18,20) and better (1,2,3,5,8,10).
- Let’s remember, the better life involves some bitter things. But…The bitter things can make life better.
- Solomon uses various proverbs w/similar sounding words (Hebrew).
- A figure of speech called paronomasia (pun/play on words).
- (vs.1) Name = shem. Perfume = shemen
- (vs.5,6) Song = shir. Pot = sir. Thorns = sirim [eg, as the noise of nettles under the kettles]
- A Good Reputation is better than Expensive Perfume (1a)
- A good name (reputation) is a fragrance that reaches far beyond its owner.
- Actually precious ointment was olive oil or good oil.
- In the ancient world, an abundance of oil was a sign of wealth.
- After the American Civil War the managers of the infamous Louisiana Lottery approached Robert E. Lee and asked if he’d let them use his name in their scheme. They promised that if he did he would become rich. Astounded, Lee straightened up, buttoned his gray coat, and shouted,“Gentlemen, I lost my home in the war. I lost my fortune in the war. I lost everything except my name. My name is not for sale, and if you fellows don’t get out of here, I’ll break this crutch over your heads.”
- Your Death-day is better than Your Birthday (1b)
- Solomon was not contrasting birth & death because you can’t die unless you had been born.
- He was contrasting 2 significant days in human experience. The day you receive your name and the day you show up in the obituary column.
- The life lived between those two events will determine whether that name leaves behind a lovely fragrance or a foul stench.
- How do you smell today?
- Every man has 3 names: one his father and mother gave him, one what others call him, and one he acquires himself.
- Prov.10:7 The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot
- Mary of Bethany anointed the Lord Jesus with expensive perfume & its fragrance filled the house. Jesus told her that her name would be honored throughout the world, and it is. Warren Wiersbe
- Judas Iscariot sold the Lord Jesus into the hands of the enemy, And his name is generally despised. Judas was born and given the good name Judah which means praise. By the time Jesus died, he turned that honorable name into something shameful.
- We will all have on our headstone 2 dates & a dash in between...and it’s the dash that matters. Recognize your mortality.
- What does your name mean? Are you living up to its meaning?
- Bummer for Mahlon & Chilion = Sickly & Pining.
- Solomon was not contrasting birth & death because you can’t die unless you had been born.
- Funerals are better than Feasts (2)
- Solomon isn’t getting morbid on us, he’s not saying let’s go hang out at a funeral home or at Murrieta cemetery.
- He answers why he makes this statement, after the word for.
- The most positive side of doing memorial services is that I believe God gets most everyone’s undivided attention regarding life & death.
- Most people don’t even think about their death.
- But it is helpful…why? It reminds us there is still time to change, time to examine, time to confess, time to forgive, & time to plan ahead.
- Jesus said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
- Solomon isn’t getting morbid on us, he’s not saying let’s go hang out at a funeral home or at Murrieta cemetery.
- Sorrow is better than Laughter (3,4)
- Sorrow can teach us lessons that will not be learned any other way.
- The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz says to the Tin Man, "Hearts will never be practical until they are made unbreakable."
- We know that quite the opposite is true. The hearts that are fragile is what makes them practical.
- In sorrow, remember 2 things:  There is a lesson to be learned.  There is a work to be accomplished.
- Ask: What might be some of those lessons to be learned? (patience, long suffering)
- Being Criticized by a Wise Person is better than being Praised by a Fool (5,6)
- Don’t you hate when you know when someone is simply trying to flatter you & you know they don’t mean it?
- Would you rather feel good or know the truth?
- Prv.27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful
- (6) Sound/crackling of thorns - Just as thorns burn quickly and provide little heat, foolish laughter is short-lived and accomplishes little.
- Produces a lot of noise, draws attention, bursts quickly into flame, however it gives off no lasting heat.
- Don’t you hate when you know when someone is simply trying to flatter you & you know they don’t mean it?
- Easy Routes become Expensive detours (7)
- Bribery appears to be a quick way to get things done, but it only turns a wise man into a fool & encourages the corruption already in the heart. Far better that we wait patiently (8) & humbly (8) for God to work out His will, than that we get angry and demand our own way (9).
- Joseph began as a slave but ended up a sovereign.
- God saves the best wine for last. Satan usually starts with the best as bait, then pretty soon has his victim caught in his snare.
- They say money talks. How much can you be bought for?
- Bribes are given to hurt those who tell the truth & help those who oppose it.
- Some say everyone has a price, but those who are truly wise cannot be bought at any price.
- Bribery appears to be a quick way to get things done, but it only turns a wise man into a fool & encourages the corruption already in the heart. Far better that we wait patiently (8) & humbly (8) for God to work out His will, than that we get angry and demand our own way (9).
- Finishing is better than Starting (8a) Working out :)
- By faith see what the end will be, and with patience expect it.
- Better was the end of Moses’s treaty with Pharaoh, when Israel was brought forth with triumph, than the beginning of it, when the trial of bricks was doubled and every thing looked discouraging.
- By faith see what the end will be, and with patience expect it.
- Patience is better than Pride (8b)
- Hudson Taylor said, As a rule, prayer is answered and funds come in, but if we are kept waiting, the spiritual blessing that is the outcome is far more precious than exemption from the trial.
- Story: I was once given some weed killer to spray on my back hill. I thought, more was better & faster (if a little weed killer killed the weeds in about a week I thought more weed killer would kill them in a couple days). Well it killed them really quick…but only on the surface (It only burnt the top & didn’t drink it down to the roots).
- Moral of the story: No patience, worked into waiting about a month for them to all grow back, to be able to spray again & do it the right way.
- Living for Today is better than Living in the Past (10)
- Oh the good ol days - It has been said, The good old days are the combination of a bad memory & a good imagination.
- Don’t live in the past, decide to live for today.
- The Roman poet Horace said, carpe diem, seize the day!
- This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or prepare for the future.
- It means that we must live today in the will of God and not be paralyzed by yesterday or hypnotized by tomorrow.
- Joseph Hilaire Belloc (Victorian Essayist) said, while you were dreaming of the future or regretting the past, the present, which is all you have, slips from you and is gone.
- Oh the good ol days - It has been said, The good old days are the combination of a bad memory & a good imagination.
- Wisdom is better than Wealth (11,12)
- Wisdom is good with (or added to) a generous inheritance.
- Money can lose its value, true wisdom keeps its value.
- Example: A person who has money with no wisdom will only waste his fortune. The person who has wisdom will know how to get & use money.
- Wisdom is like a defense/shelter (a protective shade). It gives greater protection than money.
- Wisdom is good with (or added to) a generous inheritance.
- When Crooked is better than Straight (13)
- This echoes the earlier proclamation that God makes everything good or appropriate in its time. (see 3:14)
- An ol’ preacher said, Learn to cooperate with the inevitable.
- Notice the way God does things; then fall into line. Even when His way looks twisted & ugly?…even then.
- Read Job’s response to Zophar. Job 12:13-25
- Adversity and Prosperity, are Appointed by God (14)
- When prospering be thankful & rejoice. When in adversity consider the goodness of God & the comprehensiveness of His plan for you.
- He knows exactly how much & how long is best. [His hand is on the thermostat...His eye is on the thermometer]
- Paul learned, I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Phil.4:12
- We need to learn how to profit from both pain & pleasure.
- Paul learned, I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Phil.4:12
- Man can find out nothing that will come after him - God’s work is ultimately unknowable.
- What’s your view on suffering, pain, sorrow, adversity, or hardships?
These files are the property of Brian Bell.
Text Courtesy of Calvary Chapel of Murrieta. Used by Permission.
Bell, Brian. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Brian Bell Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cbb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2017.
Tonight we want to return again to the book of Ecclesiastes beginning with chapter7. And as we return to the book of Ecclesiastes, again, it is important that we make note of the fact that the book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his later years. After he had assiduously pursued to find the purpose and meaning of life in so many different things: in wisdom, in wealth, in fame, in building, in pleasures. And after his pursuit, which carried him into every area and experience of life, he came up with the conclusion that life is empty and frustrating. Solomon made the mistake of searching for purpose in life under the sun. And if your purpose is limited to under the sun, chances are you will come up, as Solomon, with the conclusion that life is a mistake. That it is not worthwhile. That everything is only filled with emptiness and frustration.
But God did not intend for you to live a life under the sun. God intended that you should experience real life in the Son. In First John we read, "And this is the record, that God has given unto us, even eternal life, and this life is in the Son. And he who has the Son has life" ( 1 John 5:11-12 ). There is real life. There is real meaning and purpose to life. When you find the life in Jesus Christ.
The life apart from Him, apart from the spiritual dimension, living a life on the animal plane of a body-conscious experience and a body-conscious level will lead a person to despair even as the philosophies of today have concluded. That man will be led by reason to despair. Life is hopeless. Thus, man must take a leap into the upper story of experience and man must have some kind of a non-reasoned religious experience to save him from the despair of reality. And so the philosophy led man to the point of despair by reason. And then his only suggestion for man is jump out of reason. Become unreasonable. Take a leap of faith into a non-reasoned religious experience in order that you might not despair because life is hopeless. This is the conclusion that Solomon drew after trying everything.
Now as we read the book of Ecclesiastes, it is a book of despair. "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity and vexation of spirit" ( Ecclesiastes 1:14 ). The conclusions that Solomon came to are conclusions of natural, human reasoning apart from God. Therefore, they are not to be taken as doctrinal truths. You are dealing with a man searching for life apart from God and his conclusions are not doctrinal truths. Except that they do bring to you the end result of natural reasoning, but not divine wisdom. So they show you man apart from God and the despair and hopelessness of man apart from God. And the conclusions that are drawn are in that kind of a background. They"re not doctrinal truths, because if you take the step into the spiritual level, you"ll come to a far different conclusion of life.
Back in the book of Deuteronomy when God was giving the law to Moses, and because God could foresee down through time to that particular time in the history of the nation of Israel when they would demand a king, and because God knew that one day they would no longer be satisfied with Him being king over them and would want a king, God incorporated even into the law of Moses400 years before they ever had a king, God incorporated laws for the kings. Because God knew that400 years down the line the people were going to come to Samuel and say, "We want a king like the other nations around us. And because God knew they were going to say that, He incorporated into the law in the book of Deuteronomy laws for kings.
Now it is interesting as we look at the seventeenth chapter of Deuteronomy, as God is setting up the laws for the king, beginning with verse Ecclesiastes 7:14 of the seventeenth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy, the Lord said, "When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, "I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me."" And that"s exactly what they said to Samuel, "Set us up a king over us that we might be like the other nations."
Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose. One from among your brothers shalt thou set king over thee. Thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses. Forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away. Neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn the fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them. That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left. To the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel ( Deuteronomy 17:14-20 ).
But verse Ecclesiastes 7:17, "Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away."
It seems prosaic to declare God understands human nature. And God"s laws are written for our admonition, and they weren"t written in vain. "When you set up a king, one thing a king isn"t to do, he"s not to multiply wives lest they turn his heart away."
Now let"s turn to First Kings, chapter10. As we are reading of Solomon, remember he wasn"t to multiply gold unto himself or silver or horses, but as we read in verse Ecclesiastes 7:14,
Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents. He had traffic of spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia. He made two hundred targets of beaten gold; six hundred shekels of gold went to one target. And he made three hundred shields of beaten gold; three pounds of gold went into one shield. And the king put them in the house of the forest of Lebanon. Moreover, he made a great throne of ivory, who overlaid it with the best gold. [Down in verse Ecclesiastes 7:21,] All of the drinking vessels were of gold, the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold. None were of silver, for silver was counted as nothing in the days of Solomon. [Verse Ecclesiastes 7:27,] And the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones, and cedars to be as the sycamore trees in the valley, for the abundance. And Solomon had brought horses out of Egypt ( 1 Kings 10:14-19, 1 Kings 10:21, 1 Kings 10:27, 1 Kings 10:28 ).
He"s not to multiply horses, not to go back to Egypt. Solomon"s so far getting an F for the course.
And as we get into chapter11,
But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites, and of the nations concerning which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, [He"s not to multiply wives, oh. Flunk him.] three hundred concubines: [And what does it say?] and his wives turned away his heart ( 1 Kings 11:1-3 ).
Four hundred years earlier God had warned about this very thing. God had forbidden this very thing with the warning, lest they turn his heart away. Solomon thought he could beat God. He thought he knew better than God. He thought he knew better than the law of God. But you don"t.
God knows your human nature better than you know it yourself. And God has given laws to protect you. For God knows what the consequence of the violation of these laws will be.
For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after [the pagan gods of] Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, the Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem ( 1 Kings 11:4-7 ).
Actually it"s on the, if you"ve been over to Jerusalem that hill that goes on up to the Mount of Olives down at the area of Gihon Springs. That is the hill where he built all of these and it"s in the sight of all Jerusalem. It"s right across the valley. It"s in the sight of all Jerusalem. He began to build these pagan temples, a place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. "And also likewise did he for all his strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto their gods" ( 1 Kings 11:8 ).
So every time he married a wife from some different area, he"d build a temple for her so she could go over and burn incense to her god right across the hill where all of Israel could see.
So Solomon had turned his heart away from God, and in turning his heart away from God, he lost the meaning of life and the purpose of life. And now he is an old man and he is writing of his experience. The consciousness of the greatness of Jehovah, God of Israel, has passed from his mind. And he"s trying to find life apart from God. And he finds that life apart from God is nothing but emptiness. Therefore, you cannot take as scriptural doctrine the conclusions that Solomon came to in regards to life and death, because he is reasoning, this is the reasoning of man apart from God and you need to look at the book of Ecclesiastes as that.
Human wisdom, perhaps in its highest expression, yet apart from God is foolish. As God said in Romans, chapter1, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" ( Romans 1:22 ). And any time you in your human wisdom seek to find a purpose of life apart from God, it"s foolish. Your wisdom has led you to foolishness.
Now chapter7 of Ecclesiastes is a series of proverbs and, of course, Solomon was filled with proverbs. We just have completed the book of Proverbs of which the majority were written by Solomon, and in chapter7 he does go into another series of proverbs, sort of unrelated again to each other, but just little sayings of human wisdom.
A good name is better than precious ointment ( Ecclesiastes 7:1 );
Better to have a good name than to have good perfume.
and the day of death than the day of one"s biRuth ( Ecclesiastes 7:1 ).
Now that sounds pretty much in despair, doesn"t it? "Oh, the day of a person"s death is better than the day of his birth." That"s one who has become cynical because he has sought to find life apart from Jesus Christ. And in that case, it may be true. But living with Christ is a glorious life.
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of merriment ( Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ).
So he has taken a very jaundice view of life, a very jaundice view of pleasure, of joy, because apart from the Lord it is all emptiness. It is all a sham. And because he was seeking it apart from God, he experienced the emptiness of it, and thus, he became a bitter old man. Bitter with life.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: it"s just emptiness. Surely oppression makes a wise man mad; and a gift destroys the heart. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger rests in the bosom of fools. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this ( Ecclesiastes 7:5-10 ).
You always hear them talk about the good old days. They say that"s not always so true. The good old days when we didn"t, when you women didn"t have automatic dishwashers and vacuum cleaners, and wall-to-wall carpeting in your house, supermarkets down the block. You all grew your own gardens. Ground your own flour. Used the scrub board. Oh, the good old days. No, we have it pretty nice. We always look back, though, and we think about the days of our youth when Orange County wasn"t crowded, when it was full of orange trees instead of subdivisions. But there are advantages both ways.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom gives life to those that have it ( Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 ).
Money"s good, but wisdom will give life to those that have wisdom.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? ( Ecclesiastes 7:13 )
Who can actually do anything against the work of God? We"re powerless and helpless against the work of God.
In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that a man should find nothing after him. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongs his life in his wickedness ( Ecclesiastes 7:14-15 ).
I"ve observed this. There have been good men who perished, died young in their righteousness. There were wicked men who lived many years. Therefore, his conclusion. Now it"s not scriptural, it"s not biblical. I mean, it"s not in the sense, it"s not godly. Human looking at life. Seeing that righteous man died young and a sinner lived to be a D.O.M., became a dirty old man, he came to this conclusion. Truly just pure human wisdom.
Don"t be overly righteous ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 );
Don"t get too involved in righteousness.
neither make thyself over wise: why should you destroy yourself? ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 )
Now it"s a wrong conclusion. The righteous don"t always die young. There are some beautiful old saints of God. But don"t be overly righteous. Why should you kick off soon? Also,
Don"t be overly wicked ( Ecclesiastes 7:17 ),
Be moderately wicked.
neither be thou foolish: why should you die before your time? ( Ecclesiastes 7:17 )
So purely human type of reasoning of life.
It is good that you should take hold of this; yes, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all. Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city. For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not ( Ecclesiastes 7:18-20 ).
Now, in this he was correct. The Bible said, "There is none righteous, no, not one" ( Romans 3:10 ). The Bible says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" ( Romans 3:23 ). A human observation that is correct.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear your servant curse thee ( Ecclesiastes 7:21 ):
They say that an eavesdropper rarely hears anything good about himself. You know, you"re that kind of person that"s always trying to eavesdrop on other"s conversations. And so he"s sort of warning you against that. Don"t take heed; don"t try to listen to what they say. You"re going to find out they"re cursing you.
For [you know how that] oftentimes in your own heart that you have likewise cursed others. All this have I proved by wisdom ( Ecclesiastes 7:22, Ecclesiastes 7:23 ):
Not by God, I proved it by wisdom. But the wisdom of man, the scriptures said, is "foolishness with God" ( 1 Corinthians 3:19 ).
I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me. That which is afar off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? I applied my heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even the foolishness and madness: And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleases God shall escape from her; but the sinner will be caught by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher ( Ecclesiastes 7:23-27 ).
Or the debater, or the word... it was translated into the Septuagint ecclesia, the assembler.
one by one, to find out the account; Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found ( Ecclesiastes 7:27-28 ).
So in all his thousand wives he did not find a decent one. Now, he did find one man out of a thousand. So men have a little better record as far as Solomon is concerned. But you might, of course, also observe he didn"t marry any men and you don"t really know a person till you marry them. But if he was, you know... people, it"s interesting people seem to repeat mistakes, and you find a person who has been married five, six, seven times. It really can"t be that the other person was wrong all the time. You say, "Well, it might be. It might be the person is just a, who has been married that many times is just a poor judge of character." And they"re following a pattern because we often do. We married the same kind of person. And always you think, "Oh, the second time around, you know, I"ll be wiser, make better choices and all." But we are bound by certain patterns and if, of course, you get a godly, righteous woman, her price is "far above rubies" ( Proverbs 31:10 ). And you"ll find one in a thousand every time. You find one who loves the Lord. How glorious it is, how beautiful it is to have a wife who loves God, who calls upon the Lord. What a blessing, what an asset they are to our lives.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions ( Ecclesiastes 7:29 ).
God made us straight, but boy, how we have searched otherwise. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2014.
1-6. Things useful to remember in life. The writer has just warned as that we cannot rely on either the present or the future. We can, however, guide ourselves in the conduct of life by bearing in mind useful truths. These he now proceeds to give.
1. Precious ointment] This was a much-prized luxury in the East (cp. Psalms 45:8; Amos 6:6; Matthew 26:7; Luke 7:37), but to be held in esteem is still better. There is a play on words in the Heb. (Shem, 'a name,' and Shemen, 'ointment'), which can scarcely be reproduced in English. Plumptre suggests, 'A good name is better than good nard.' The day of death] Even in this respect, however, a man's life cannot be judged happy till its end is reached.
2. The living will lay it to his heart] Oriental mourning is elaborate and prolonged. Hence there is abundant opportunity for those who take life in earnest to obtain a hearing for their counsels.
6. As the crackling of thorns] Frivolity is like the fire which the wayfarer lights from the thorns that he has gathered, and which goes out as suddenly as it has sprung up, leaving only dead ashes: cp. Psalms 58:9.
7-14. Ill-treatment may well provoke anger, yet pause and exercise control. Accept the present, with submission. Wisdom and money are both valuable, but wisdom is the better of the two. All things are in the hands of God.
7. Oppression] RV 'extortion': sufferings inflicted on the weak by the strong. Mad] RV 'foolish.' The heart] RV 'the understanding.' To be condemned by one whose decision is detennined by a bribe causes a man to lose all power of calm judgment.
8. Better is the end] The connexion seems to be this: the danger of being warped in our view by outward circumstances is such a real one that we cannot pronounce an unqualified judgment upon anything till the end is reached.
10. Thou dost not enquire wisely] We have not the materials for a just comparison.
11, 12. Some men through the attainment of wisdom or wealth have reached a vantage ground in the battle of life. Of the two wisdom is to be preferred, as possessed of a quickening power which money cannot bestow.
11. Them that see the sun] i.e. the living.
12. A defence] lit. a shadow: cp. Isaiah 30:2-3; Isaiah 32:2.
13. Who can make that straight, etc.] If trouble be God's will for us, we cannot change it.
14. Consider] Ask yourself what you may learn from it. Over against] RV 'side by side with.' Both run through the course of human life. To the end, etc.] So that we cannot forecast the part which the one and the other will play in the future.
15. The anomalies of life.
15. A just man that perisheth, etc.] It was perplexing enough that there should be but one end to the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:19). It is more so when we see the just man cut off by an untimely death and the evil-doer enjoying a green old age.
16-18. Extremes, whether of asceticism or of excess, are bad.
17. Over much wicked] The expression seems strange, as though moderate wickedness were allowable. But the sense is probably as follows: the author had just said, 'Be not righteous over much,' perhaps alluding to the over-scrupulousness of the Jews in observing ceremonies, etc.: cp. Matthew 23. He may now be meeting the thought of those who would reply, 'There is no fear that we shall exceed in that direction,' and he warns them that there is an opposite kind of excess to which they are more prone. Excess in either direction, and folly, tend to disturb and shorten life.
18. From this] RV 'from that.' Whatever the nature of the experience to which God subjects you, take cognisance of the evil as well as of the good. That in using such language he is not condoning sin is clear from the last part of the v. If only he fear God, he shall come forth unscathed.
19-22. Be wise enough not to be over sensitive to criticism, since you also indulge in it.
19. Wisdom strengthened] There is a power greater than brute force.
23-28. Wisdom eludes the grasp. Sweeping condemnation of the female sex.
24. That which is far off] RV 'That which is is far off.' 'That which is,' viz. God's world-plan, all the phenomena of the world and of human life, can only be realised by us in fragmentary form.
25. Madness] As in Ecclesiastes 2:12, wickedness and madness are closely connected.
26-28. The writer gives us the general result of his experience of human character. Among men he has found but one true friend. The other sex he condemns without exception. We cannot tell why, ignorant as we are of the circumstances of his life. We must, however, remember that the position of women in the East has always been favourable to the growth of habits of frivolity, cunning, and licentiousness; also that elsewhere (Ecclesiastes 9 : cp. perhaps also Ecclesiastes 4:8) he modifies this judgment. It remained for Christianity to bring woman back to her rightful position as a helpmeet for man.
29. Many inventions] From the Fall in Eden there has been a continued display of manifold ingenuity to thwart God's benevolent purposes for man.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1909.
1. Adversity and prosperity7:1-14
He began by exposing our ignorance of the significance of adversity and prosperity ( Ecclesiastes 7:1-14; cf. Job). Both of these conditions, he noted, can have good and bad effects-depending on how a person responds to them. Prosperity is not always or necessarily good (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:1-12), and adversity, or affliction, is not always or necessarily evil (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:1-15). Actually, adversity is often a greater good than prosperity. [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., pp80, 82.]
"With his sure touch the author now brings in a stimulating change of style and approach. Instead of reflecting and arguing, he will bombard us with Proverbs, with their strong impact and varied angles of attack." [Note: Kidner, p64.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2012.
B. God"s Inscrutable Plan chs7-8
Solomon proceeded in this section to focus on the comprehensive plan of God: His decree. His point was that we cannot fathom it completely.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2012.
Both adversity and prosperity tempt people to abandon a wise lifestyle for one of folly. The wise man"s prosperity might tempt him to accept a bribe, or his adversity might tempt him to oppress others ( Ecclesiastes 7:7).
". . . even a wise person can be made a fool when money becomes involved." [Note: Longman, p185.]
Impatience and pride ( Ecclesiastes 7:8), anger ( Ecclesiastes 7:9), and dissatisfaction ( Ecclesiastes 7:10) might also lure him from the submissive attitude that is part of the way of wisdom.
"It has been said that "the good old days" are the combination of a bad memory and a good imagination, and often this is true." [Note: Wiersbe, p514.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2012.
"Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools."
"eager in your heart"-quick to be angry. The idea is that of hastening, in a hurry to be angry. When our attitude isn"t right many of us are simply looking for an excuse to get angry, like someone who is just itching for a fight.
Points To Note:
1 Consider the close connection between pride and anger. Humility and patience is a great check against selfish and sinful anger. This should make us seriously reevaluate our own anger. Often what triggers an angry response isn"t righteous indignation, rather it is when our pride has been seriously humbled or put in its place. 2. The fool is a person who cherishes and nourishes such anger. "A quick temper in company with frustration is the earmark of the fool. Another mark of the fool is to welcome, harbor and entertain anger" (Kidwell p. 164). James ; Proverbs 25:28.
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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1999-2014.
(9) Resteth.—Proverbs 14:33.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1905.
We are apt to blame society for being constrained and artificial, but its conventionalities are only the result of the limitations of man"s own nature. How much, for instance, of what is called "reserve" belongs to this life, and passes away with its waning, and the waxing of the new life! We can say to the dying, and hear from them things that, in the fullness of health and vigour, could not be imparted without violence to some inward instinct. And this is one reason, among many others, why it is so good to be in the house of mourning, the chamber of death. It is there more easy to be natural,—to be true, I mean, to that which is deepest within us. Is there not something in the daily familiar course of life, which seems in a strange way to veil its true aspect? It is not Death, but Life, which wraps us about with shroud and cerement.
—Dora Greenwell, Two Friends, pp38, 39.
Compare Sterne"s famous sermon on this text:—"So strange and unaccountable a creature is man! He is so framed that he cannot but pursue happiness, and yet, unless he is made sometimes miserable, how apt he is to mistake the way which can only lead him to the accomplishment of his own wishes," etc.
Every one observes how temperate and reasonable men are when humbled and brought low by afflictions, in comparison of what they are in high prosperity. By this voluntary resort unto the house of mourning, which is here recommended, we might learn all these useful instructions which calamities teach, without undergoing them ourselves, and grow wiser and better at a more easy rate than men commonly do.... This would correct the florid and gaudy prospects and expectations which we are too apt to indulge, teach us to lower our notions of happiness and enjoyment, bring them down to the reality of things, to what is attainable.
Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approximation to the highest good. Our sympathy in tragic fiction depends on this principle; tragedy delights by affording a shadow of the pleasure which exists in pain. This is the source also of the melancholy which is inseparable from the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is in sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself. And hence the saying, It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of mirth.
It is the sinful unhappiness of some men"s minds that they usually disaffect those that cross them in their corrupt proceedings, and plainly tell them of their faults. They are ready to judge of the reprover"s spirit by their own, and to think that all such sharp reproofs proceed from some disaffection to their persons, or partial opposition to the opinions which they hold. But plain dealers are always approved in the end, and the time is at hand when you shall confess these were your truest friends.
—Richard Baxter, Preface to the Reformed Pastor.
A truth told us is harder to bear than a hundred which we tell ourselves.
Nothing serves better to illustrate a man"s character than what he finds ridiculous.
"During that time" (his agitation on behalf of Calas" descendants) "not a smile escaped me without my reproaching myself for it, as for a crime."
"Froude," said Keble once to Hurrell Froude," you said you thought Law"s Serious Call was a clever book; it seemed to me as if you had said the Day of Judgment will be a pretty sight."
There is not a greater foe to spirituality than wrath; and wrath even in a righteous cause distempers the heart.
Reference.—VII:8.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture— Ecclesiastes, p363.
Past and Present
The actual connexion of these words of the text is quite in keeping with the tone and temper of the writer of this book. He does not mean, at least as the chief purpose of this rebuke, to glorify the present with its opportunities and possibilities at the expense of the past. It would hardly be in accordance with the prevailing pessimism of the writer to strike here a hopeful and inspiring note. The whole trend of his teaching is that life is illusive, and a man should not build his hopes too high, and look for permanence in any source of joy. Moderation is the great secret.
I. It is a common infirmity of old age, but it is not confined to age, to disparage the present and to glorify the past. It is a merciful provision of our nature which makes us forget the pains and sorrows of the past, and when we do remember them sets them in a soft and tender light, letting us see some of the good which has come from them. And as the sorrows of the past seem diminished by distance, by a strange reversion the joys loom larger and finer. To a reflective mind the pleasures of memory are sweeter than the pleasures of possession or even the pleasures of anticipation. And this tendency seen in our everyday life is also reflected on a larger scale in history. All old institutions gain allies for their existence in sentiment and respect for what has displayed the quality of permanence. We judge of the past by what has come down to us of the past, and make unfavourable comparison of the present with it. We forget among other things the greatly extended sphere for human activity now; and we forget that with the treasures of the past which we possess time has weeded out much that was inferior.
II. It is a natural bias of the mind, and in many respects a very beautiful thing, to glorify the past. The danger of it comes in when it makes light of the present, and destroys the healthful faith that would save the present from despair. We must not let the past sit on us like an old man of the sea, choking us and fettering our movements. It is for this stupid purpose that the past is generally used by the ordinary laudator temporis acti. The underlying idea is that anything that now can be done must be feeble and not worth doing. Such an idea kills effort and robs life of dignity. It paralyses the present and mutilates the future. On the one hand we have ever with us the man whose attitude to life is summed up in the dictum, "Whatever Isaiah, is right," who opposes change of all sorts, and is quite content with the actual state of affairs. On the other hand, some adopt the opposite, and equally false, statement as a motto, "Whatever Isaiah, is wrong". Strange though it may appear, the two positions may be the fruit of the selfsame spirit, and have their origin in the same point of view. In their essence they have both their cause in want of faith. The man who is content with the present does not see that it exists to be carried forward into a nobler future; and the man who disparages the present and glorifies the past does not see that the very same causes are at work, that the present is really the outcome and fruition of the past which he praises, and if he be right the poverty of the present stultifies the past he loves. And both attitudes, that of the unreasoning conservative who will not look forward, and that of the sentimental medivalist who will only look back, deprive us of the hope and vigour to make our days true and noble.
III. To have the manly, hopeful attitude instead of the despairing one of our text, we do not need to believe in the perfectibility of the race; we only need to believe in its improvability under the right conditions. Our days are better than former days in this. But we have greater opportunities, to us have come the wisdom of the ancients, the ripe fruit of experience, advantages of knowledge, wider outlets for every gift All this will be of none avail if we love not faith. Without faith we have no sure guarantee that will make effort purposeful, and we will sigh for a mythical golden age lying behind us as a race. The golden age is before us if God leads us on. With such faith we need not look back upon former days longingly, upheld in our own day by the thought of God"s presence.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p293.
References.—VII:10.—C. Kingsley, The Water of Life. VII:11-29.—Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p260.
The best gift that history can give us is the enthusiasm it arouses.
Both in politics and in art Plato seems to have seen no way of bringing order out of disorder, except by taking a step backwards. Antiquity, compared with the world in which he lived, had a sacredness and authority for him; the men of a former age were supposed by him to have had a sense of reverence which was wanting among his contemporaries.
An obsolete discipline may be a present heresy.
See also Ben Jonson"s Discoveries, secs. xxi. cxxiii.
"Carlyle," said Maurice, "believes in a God who lived till the death of Oliver Cromwell."
The Goodness of Gladness
I. Well that, you say, we can very easily do. Our difficulty up to the present time has not been to be joyful when prosperity has smiled upon us, but to find that prosperity which should bring us joy. Is that true? Or is it not rather true, as Bishop Butler has told us in his solemn way, that "Prosperity itself, while anything supposed desirable is not ours, begets extravagant and unbounded thoughts," and that prosperity itself is a real and lasting source of danger. Is it not a matter of common observation that the danger which prosperity sets up is precisely this, the danger of discontent
II. But literally this advice Isaiah, In the day of good be good! And perhaps that brings out the meaning to us better than a better reading would. If God gives you happiness, be happy in it; if light, walk in the light; if joy, enjoy it! We are sharers of the glorious Gospel of the happy God. People are too often afraid of happiness. And they are afraid of admitting that they have reason to be happy.
III. It would be nice to think that this only pointed to a modesty which was unable to boast of anything, even to God"s good gifts. But it points to nothing of the kind. If we could trace it back we should find that it points away to the old notion about jealous Gods, and to the superstition that they were always waiting to pounce down upon you if things were going too well. God, the God of Love, Whom Jesus taught us to call Father, jealous of the deepest, highest virtue of our souls which makes us likest Him!
—C. F. Aked, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii, 1907, p110.
The Equipoise of God
The thought which occupies the writer"s mind here is that of the compensations of experience. He has lit on the great truth that human life is very subtly and finely equalized. He is not preaching the doctrine of equality, as if there were no difference between man and man. He is too honest to assert, as Pope asserted, that whatever Isaiah, is right. But he is preaching that in individual lives, there is such an exquisite balancing of things, that a man has little cause for discontent or for murmuring at the providence of God.
I. The Balancing of Our Gifts.—Think, for example, of the gift of genius. Genius is one of the most godlike gifts that has ever been granted to the human family. It is more than ability. It is more than talent. Genius is talent with the lamp lit. Genius is insight—enthusiastic insight, that sees, and seeing loves, and loving, speaks. And yet this genius, so choice and rare a gift that there is never an ardent youth but covets it, wears a crown of thorns upon its head. Do not be envious of the man of genius. The; man of genius is the man of sorrows. There are joys for you, there are quiet and happy blessings, to which the genius shall always be a stranger. He has his work to do, and he must do it, and the world will bo nearer God because of Him; but God has set one thing over against the other.
II. The Balancing of Our Powers.—Take for example the power of an iron will. An iron will always commands respect. There is something in it we cannot help admiring. It is a gallant thing, that high persistence, which nothing can daunt or baffle or depress. And every valley is exalted for it, and every mountain is brought low before it, and it will cleave its path through thickest forest, and find a ford across the swiftest river. There is something godlike in that spectacle. It is a power that is largely coveted. And yet how often the man of iron will misses the best that life has got to offer! He misses all its sweetness and its kindness, and the love that lingers in the sunny meadow, and he is lonely when other hearts are glad, and pitiless where other hearts are pitiful. It is not all gain, that iron will. There is often a certain loss with all the gain. There is a loss of sympathy, of happy brotherhood, of the kindliness which makes us glad tonight Therefore do not be angry with your Maker if you can never be a determined person. He hath set one thing over against the other.
Or shall we take the power of imagination? That is one of the most blessed of our powers. It is a shelter when the blast is on the wall.
III. The Balance of Experience.—Consider the experience of prosperity. It seems so easy to be good when one is prosperous. It seems such a pleasant thing to be alive. It is so different from battling with adversity, and living always on the brink of failure. And yet I question if these battling people are not as a rule far happier than the rich. I question if they are not generally more contented than the man who has everything the world can offer. There are boys who were in school with me who have been so prosperous that I never meet them without saying, "God pity you!" Everything fine and delicate and generous seems to have dried up and worn away. Prosperity does not always mean contentment. It does not always mean the singing heart. Without the leaven of the grace of God, it very generally means the opposite. And therefore the wise man does not fret himself over him who prospereth in his way. He knows that God sets one thing over against the other.
—G. H. Morrison, The Return of the Angels, p87.
References.—VII:14.—J. Bowstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p142. W. L. Alexander, Sermons, p215. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (8th Series), pp68, 74.
The two main qualities for a long life are a good body and a bad heart.
Compare M. Arnold"s Mycerinus.
Reference.—VII:15-18.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p165.
The words, righteous over much, are apt to be a good deal in the mouths of sinners when they are pressed by their own consciences, or their spiritual guides and advisers, to practise some unpleasant duty or reform some pleasant vice.
I. How far is this manner of speaking justifiable in the persons who use it? The text is oftener quoted in a mood half-sportive, and as a short way of silencing unpleasant discussion, than as a serious ground of argument But the misery of it Isaiah, that men act on it quite in earnest They cannot themselves believe that it will bear the weight they lay upon it, and yet they are not afraid to conduct themselves as if it were the only commandment God had ever given.
II. How far is it warranted by the generel tenor of Scripture?
a. This action of over-righteousness cannot stand with that precious corner-stone of our faith, the Doctrine of the Atonement.
b. Another test is the doctrine of sanctification.
c. Another great doctrine, which is utterly inconsistent with the vulgar use of the text, is the inequality of the future remarks of the blessed in heaven.
d. When the analogy of faith, and the clear words of our Saviour, and the lives and deaths of all the Saints are against a doctrine, it is quite certain that any single expression which may seem to assert it must be wrongly interpreted.
III. The text was intended as a warning against the very error which it is so often and so unfortunately used to encourage. Nothing could be further from the Wise Man"s intentions than that construction which the too subtle apologists of lukewarmness in religion are so ready to fasten on the text
—John Keble, Sermons Occasional and Parochial, p1.
The book has been said, and with justice, to breathe resignation at the grave of Israel.... Attempts at a philosophic indifference appear, at a sceptical suspension of judgment, at an easy ne quid nimis (). Vain attempts, even at a moment which favoured them! shows of scepticism, vanishing as soon as uttered before the intractable conscientiousness of Israel.
—Literature and Dogma, II.
Let not the frailty of man go on thus inventing needless troubles to itself, to groan under the false imagination of a strictness never imposed from above; enjoining that for duty which is an impossible and vain supererogating. Be not righteous over much, is the counsel of Ecclesiastes; why shouldest thou destroy thyself? let us not be thus overanxious to strain at atoms, and yet to stop every vent and cranny of permissive liberty, lest nature, wanting these needful pores and breathing places, which God hath not debarred our weakness, either suddenly burst out into some wide rupture of open vice or frantic heresy, or else fester with repressing and blasphemous thoughts, under an unreasonable and fruitless rigour of unwarranted law.
Man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that whoever would play the angel plays the brute.
As an aged man of the world, whose recollections went back into the last century, is reported to have said: "When I was young, nobody was religious; now that I am old, everybody is religious, and they are both wrong".
No man undertakes to do a thing for God, and lays it aside because he finds perseverance in it too much for him, without his soul being seriously damaged by it He has taken up a disadvantageous position. This is not a reason for not trying, but it is a reason for trying soberly, discreetly, and with deliberation.
—F. W. Faber.
Almost everybody you see in Oxford believes either too much or too little.
Righteous Over Much
Our text is characteristic of one of the lines of thought which run through this strange book. The book is autobiographical in the true sense, that it gives a record of personal thought and experience. The book is the fruit of the contact of a Jew with alien philosophy and civilization, the author had seen the world and had tried the different ways of life which have ever been possible to men. The book is full of world-weariness. The satiety which comes from such a life seems at first to have destroyed all serious earnest purpose; and he pronounced upon all things the verdict of vanity, that everything was equally worthless, and nothing counted much anyway. The withered world-weary life, so frankly revealed in this autobiography, is itself the most terrible sermon that could be preached from the book, of the vanity of a life lived apart from God.
I. The words of our text with their doctrine of moderation suggest a common thought in Greek philosophy. It might be called the very central thought of Aristotle"s Ethics that virtue is moderation, not of course meaning moderation in indulging in anything wrong, but that wrong itself means either excess or deficiency. He defines virtue as a habit or trained faculty of choice, the characteristic of which lies in observing the mean. "And it is a moderation firstly, inasmuch as it comes in the middle or mean between two vices, one on the side of excess, the other on the side of defect; and secondly, inasmuch as, while these vices fall short of, or exceed, the due measures in feeling and in action, it finds and chooses the mean or moderate amount."
II. There is much to be said for this doctrine of moderation even in what is called righteousness, at a time like that in which the writer lived, when righteousness was looked on by most as external ceremonies and keeping of endless rules, rather than as spiritual passion. There is often much justification for the sneer at overmuch righteousness at all times, when the soul has died out of religion and the punctilious keeper of the law becomes self-complacent and censorious of others. It Isaiah, however, only in a very limited degree, and only when the true meaning of righteousness is obscured, that there is any truth in the cynical counsel. If righteousness is inward conformity to the holy will of God, then there can be no limitations set to the standard of righteousness. From this point of view the prudential policy of our text is really a terrible moral degradation. Our Lord pronounces this ineffable blessing upon the very men whom this worldly wisdom sneers at. "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness." They may not have the success and popularity which the prudent trimmer achieves. They have not the pleasant satisfaction and easy contentment which come to the dulled soul. They are weighted by the consciousness of sin and are driven by a sense of spiritual want They are tormented by a passion for purity, and they pine after holiness, and nothing but God can fill the aching void of heart But how can there be blessing along with pining, with want, with hunger and thirst, with unappeased desire? Wherein are they blessed? In this way, that desire is ever a note of life. When life begins, need begins. Life is a bundle of want And the higher the desire, the higher the life. The mind hungers and thirsts for knowledge; and when desire stops, mental development stops. The work of spiritual life is spiritual desire, a moral longing for conformity to the will of God.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p20.
Wise Over Much
Here the doctrine of moderation is extended to the intellectual sphere, that the safest course is to avoid extremes and to do nothing in excess. The truth of this advice is seen more clearly if we translate the word "destroy" a little more fully. The primary idea of the word is that of silence, being put to silence, and thus it came to mean to be laid waste or destroyed. But the root meaning is to be made desolate, solitary, and was sometimes used of a lonely solitary way. So that the question of the writer might be put, Why make thyself solitary? Why isolate thyself? The exceptional always isolates. The ordinary man of the street cannot see your faraway visions of truth or beauty or holiness. The thinker is lonely.
I. How pitifully true this is can be seen in the whole history of human thoughts. In loneliness, in sickness of heart, in despair of the unknown, has every inch of ground been gained for the mind of man. Further there is justification for it even from a moral point of view. As the temptation of the over-righteous is censoriousness and self-satisfaction, so the temptation of the overwise is what St. Paul calls the vainly puffed-up mind, a besotted conceit and pride, as if wisdom will die with them, and which looks down with contempt on the vulgar, unlettered throng.
II. But as censoriousness came not from too much righteousness, but from too little, so contemptuous pride is the failing not of real but of spurious wisdom when wisdom is supposed to be information. Knowledge of facts, knowledge of books, it lends itself to the puffed-up mind. But these things, scientific facts, literature, are not wisdom; they are only the implements of Wisdom of Solomon, the material with which wisdom works—wisdom is always humble, for if, knows how little it knows. Quite apart, however, from the possibility of this mistake which gives a, kind of colour to his sneer, the advice of Ecclesiastes appeals to us Today because it fits in with our modern temper. Ours is a time when the supremacy of the practical over the speculative is complete. In politics) we say that we do not want theories, and ideal reforms, and Utopian schemes; we want the practical, the thing that is expedient at the moment. In religion we are told that theology, opinions, beliefs, convictions do not count, but only the plain duties of life, the practical virtues, kindness, tolerance and such like. Even in science the speculative is ruled out, or must take a back seat.
III. It is true that in all these regions, in politics, and religion, and science, the test of the tree must be its fruit. But we are inclined to take too narrow a view of what the fruits are, and we can easily overreach ourselves by our exclusive standard of what is practical. These practical things on which we lay so much stress do not arrive ready-made but are the results from a hidden source In politics will the fruit of expediency not wither when the root principle is cut away from it? In religion will the plain moral duties remain when faith is dead? In science even the practical man can only apply the discoveries and ascertained truths acquired by the natural philosophers. In all branches of life, though it may not pay to be overwise, and though the secret of success may be to confine yourself to the narrow limits of practical things, yet the progress of the world has been due, and must always be due, to these very same eager, strenuous searchers after truth, to those who sought for knowledge as for hid treasure, to those finely tuned spirits who have followed truth though it led them into the wilderness.
—Hugh Black, University Sermons, p32.
References.—VII:16.—J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii. p327. VII:17.—J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life, p110.
Of little threads our life is spun, and he spins ill who misses one.
Reference.—VII:18.—T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p175.
Here is commended the provident stay of inquiry of that which we would be loth to find: as it was judged great wisdom in Pompeius Magnus that he burned Sertorius" papers unperused.
The Law of Equivalents
The meaning would seem to be: Take no heed of tale-bearing; do not attach too much importance to words that are spoken in secret and not intended for thine own ear. Do not listen to servants talking about thee in the kitchen; do not be distressed by what men say about thee in the streets; do not judge thyself too much by thy nickname: "for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise——"
I. This is the law of equivalents. Men hear what they have spoken. If you have sowed the air with pearly words, you will reap a pearly harvest "Be not deceived, God is not mocked; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Do not play the eavesdropper. Otherwise thou shalt hear no good of thyself. If thy servants curse thee, or speak unkindly of thee, think, for oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed them.
II. Now there is another application, and it Isaiah, that what we ourselves have done we should not condemn in others. Christianity is in this section of the Scriptures very practical. There is no hymn-singing down these dales, it is a cruel east wind that blows in our face.
Is there a Spirit in the air, in the speaking heavens, that takes record and note of what we are about? I believe there Isaiah, I am sure there is. Is there a Spirit that deals out a series of equivalents—as thou, so he; as Hebrews, so thou? Yes, we are not so ill-treated as we first thought; we did intend to get up a case against this Prayer of Manasseh, a case of libel, and we, the plaintiff, may be the greater libellist of the two.
There is a great deal of negative ill. We do not tell lies, we act them. How awful a thing living is! Do not make remarks upon some other Prayer of Manasseh, but scrutinize and sit in judgment upon thyself; be jealous about thine own integrity, and thou wilt be merciful to other men"s infirmities. But where would be conversation? There would be none, until men learned to speak about great subjects, the very speaking about them cleansing the mouth and purifying the heart, the very eloquence of the tongue being as a baptism of the heavens. Let us get into great themes, noble contemplations, then we shall be advancing towards the pure heavens, with all their untold star jewels.
III. Every man sins according to his own peculiar infirmity, and every man cultivates some specific and favourite virtue What we have to aim at is wholeness of character. We have a very imperfect vocabulary; but we are going to learn the vocabulary of God, and then we shall be able to say what our new feelings are like. I cannot see much now, but I believe it is there to be seen. That is the great faith that comforts and inspires us.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple. Pulpit, vol. vi. p238.
Perhaps the best part of old age is its sense of proportion which enables us to estimate misfortunes, or what seem to be such, at their true proportions.
—James Payn in Nineteenth Century, September, 1897.
The Reason of Things
"I applied mine heart to seek out the reason" is enough; "of things" is a phrase put in by men who, with mistaken generousness, desire to assist inspiration. I. He is a very foolish man who wants to pry too much into the reason of things. A good many things in life have to be taken just as they are and just as they come, and the Lord permits a ready simple reading of many things which might be so taken as to perplex faith and bewilder imagination. Men are in some instances made to pry; they cannot be content with what is known and visible and accessible; some men cannot live on the commonplace, some dainty souls could never live upon simple mother-made bread, they must have other things to eat, and they cannot get them, and in a vain futile endeavour to get these other things their souls wither and perish and pass away. Do not be too wise; be not righteous over much, neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? These are the inquiries of the wise man himself.
II. We cannot, however, all avoid looking round and wondering at the marvellous structure" and economy and intermixture and dramatic interplay of things. It is a right wonderful universe so far as we can see it, and that is a very little way and a very little portion; still, if things be so mysterious, at once so august and so abject within the little sphere that is visible or accessible, what may they be, what must they be, on the wider lines, on the complete outline, as God has figured and controlled it? For my own part, and this is a matter upon which personal testimony must be taken for what it is worth, I have come to the conclusion that there is no explanation of life, nature, and all things under the sun and above the sun that we have heard anything about that is so simple, so complete, and so satisfactory as that they were all made and are all under the gentle and mighty control of a living personal God.
Some of the reasons of things may be discovered almost immediately by a test which we call by the Latin word conduct The reason is written upon the very face of the situation. That is very good up to a given point; that did not escape the keen eyes of Song of Solomon, and he therefore says, "There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in wickedness". That is the side that must be taken in if we would institute a complete and just purview of the conditions and issues of human life so far as they are known to us.
III. The religious explanation is to my own mind the largest and truest that has as yet been suggested. Certainly it leaves mysteries, but it also interposes this consideration, You are finite, God is infinite, you can see but a very small portion of any case or situation just now; by and by the clouds will be dispersed and God will accompany you over the whole line of His providence so far as you are concerned, and He will give you the explanation, the answer shall follow the enigma, the solution shall quickly ensue upon the problem, and one day you will be able to see and to say that God has even in the night-time been working for the culture and the final sanctification and uttermost benediction of human nature.
1. The religious conception of all these things is ennobling, it enables the soul to say, It is the Lord, let Him do what seemeth good in His sight; it is the Lord, let Him turn my tears into telescopes through which I can see the farthest stars in His empire; it is the Lord, let Him tear me to pieces that He may build me up again a stronger, truer, and manlier man. These are the teachings of the Christian religion.
2. The Christian conception is not only ennobling, it is tranquillizing; one of the special miracles of the Gospel of Christ is that it works peace in the heart.
3. The religious conception is inspiring. Watchman, what of the night? He says, I see a quivering as of an awakening star. Again we ask, and he says, The dawn is already on the hilltop. Again, and he says, Awake and rise, for the sun is here, and to feel it claims your service and promises you a great reward.
—Joseph Parker City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p89.
There are only two good men: one is not born yet, and the other is dead.
I began to... get an especial scorn for that scorn of mankind which is a transmuted disappointment of preposterous claims.
See Lowell"s Sonnets, Iv.
Charles Kingsley objects to Fénelon"s Télémaque, that "no woman in it exercises influence over Prayer of Manasseh, except for evil.... Woman—as the old monk held, who derived femina from fe—faith, and minus—less, because women have less faith than men—is in Télé-maque, whenever she thinks or Acts, the temptress, the enchantress.
"I wish," writes Maeterlinck in The Treasure of the Humble, "that all who have suffered at woman"s hands and found them evil, would loudly proclaim it and give us their reasons; and if those reasons be well founded, we shall indeed be surprised.... It is women who preserve here below the pure fragrance of our soul, like some jewel from heaven, which none knows how to use; and were they to depart, the spirit would reign alone in a desert. Those who complain of them know not the heights whereon the true kisses are found, and verily I do pity them."
You have had false prophets among you—for centuries you have had them—solemnly warned against them though you were; false prophets, who have told you that all men are nothing but fiends and wolves, half beast, half devil. Believe that, and indeed you may sink to that. But refuse that, and have faith that God "made you upright," though you have sought out many inventions; Song of Solomon, you will strive daily to become more what your Maker meant and means you to be, and daily gives you also the grace to be.
—Ruskin, Crown of Wild Olive, Lect. III.
"Every one," says Cervantes, "is as God made him, and often a great deal worse."
The State of Innocence
Adam and Eve were placed in a garden to cultivate it; how much is implied even in this! "The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden, to dress it and to keep it." If there was a mode of life free from tumult, anxiety, excitement, and fever of mind, it was the care of a garden. Adam was a hermit, whether he would or no. True; but does not this very circumstance that God made him such point out to us what is our true happiness, if we were given it, which we are not? At least we see in type what our perfection Isaiah, in these first specimens of our nature, which need not, unless God had so willed, have been created in this solitary state, but might have bean myriads at once, as the angels were created. And let it be noted, that, when the Second Adam came, He returned, nay, more than returned to that life which the first had originally been allotted. He too was alone, and lived alone, the immaculate Son of a Virgin Mother; and He chose the mountain summit or the garden as His home. Save always, that in His case sorrow and pain went with His loneliness; not, like Adam, eating freely of all trees but one, but fasting in the wilderness for forty days—not tempted to eat of that one through wantonness, but urged in utter destitution of food to provide Himself with some necessary bread,—not as a king giving names to fawning brutes, but one among the wild beasts,—not granted a helpmeet for His support, but praying alone in the dark morning,—not dressing the herbs and flowers, but dropping blood upon the ground in agony,—not falling into a deep sleep in His garden, but buried there after His passion; yet still like the first Adam, solitary,—like the first Adam, living with His God and Holy Angels.
—J. H. Newman.
Reference.—VIII:4.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No1697.
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Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/edt/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1910.
PART II. CHAPTERS 7-12
1. The Good Advice of the Natural Man, Discouragement and Failure
1. The better things (Ecclesiastes 7:1-14)
2. The anomalies (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)
3. The strength of wisdom, yet none perfect (Ecclesiastes 7:19-22)
4. The worst thing he found (Ecclesiastes 7:23-29)
Ecclesiastes 7:1-14. All had been tested by the royal searcher; all was found out to be vanity and vexation of spirit. Darkness, discouragement, uncertainty and despair were the results. The good, that which is right and comely for men, supposedly, found had also turned unto vapor, empty and hollow like the rest. He starts now in a new direction; he turns moralist and philosophizeth on the better things. He climbs high with his reason and deductions. He had come to the conclusion that life is not worth living. Having riches, possession of everything, were found out nothing but vanity. Perhaps being good, having the better things morally, and doing good, will satisfy the heart in “which is set eternity,” the soul of man, And so he makes his observations in seven comparisons.
A good name better than precious ointment;
the day of death better than the day of birth;
the house of mourning is better than the house of feasting;
sorrow is better than laughter,
the rebuke of the wise better than the songs of fools;
the end of a thing better than the beginning;
the patient in spirit better than the proud in spirit.
He has used his highest power of reasoning in reaching these conclusions, similar to the conclusion of other wise men, moralists and philosophers among the pagans. The different “sacred writings” of other nations, the Greek, Roman, Persian, Hindu, Chinese, etc., poetry and ethics as well as philosophies of all these nations give a definite proof that Ecclesiastes is the book of the natural man, that reason speaks and not revelation. For these “sacred writings” and philosophies are on the same line as our book. But does this satisfy? Can man thereby attain perfection? His heart has passions which man cannot control. Oppression makes a wise man mad (Ecclesiastes 7:7); anger is in his bosom (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Again he mentions wisdom. It is a good thing, just as good as an inheritance; it profits to see the sun, but not above the sun. Wisdom and wealth are both good as a defense; both give life, animate the person who possesses them, give a certain amount of enjoyment. But can both wisdom and wealth give a solution to man’s problem? Who can make that straight which God hath made crooked? His ways are mysterious, unsolvable as far as man is concerned; man cannot solve the providential dealings of God. Prosperity is followed by adversity and adversity by prosperity; He sets one over against the other. But who by his reason, by his wisdom, can find out what God will do in the future, what His dealings will be? In the very reading of all these statements one feels like walking in a dense fog. Some statements are beclouded so that it is difficult to ascertain the correct meaning that the searcher is really aiming at. Perhaps this is the case to teach the lesson how man, with his finite reason searching for light, apart from revelation, wanders in darkness and ends in confusion.
Ecclesiastes 7:15-18. Prosperity and adversity, controlled by a higher power; how are they meted out? No one knows when they come; they come to the righteous and to the wicked. He has seen the righteous perish in his righteousness and the wicked prolongs his days in his wickedness. How does the natural man, the philosopher, meet this difficulty? He answereth it by what is called “common sense.” “Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise; why should thou destroy thyself?” Do not overdo it, strike a happy medium; avoid any kind of excess; be not too self-righteous for you might become puffed up and then you destroy yourself. Here is more “common sense” of the natural man. Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish; why shouldst thou die before thy time? Enjoy yourself, but avoid too much wickedness; have a good time but avoid excesses. Not too much righteousness and not too much wickedness; just a happy middle way; such a way, thinks the natural man, is not compatible with the fear of God.
Ecclesiastes 7:19-22. Wisdom is strength. He had tried wisdom; he tells us what he proved by wisdom. But the wise man makes a wise confession: “I said I will be wise; but it was far from me.” He owns his ignorance. Everything has left him unsatisfied. He cannot find out by wisdom that which is far off and exceeding deep. All is imperfection. “There is not a just man on the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
Ecclesiastes 7:23-29. Again he applies his heart to know, to search and to go to the root of the matter--to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. And what does he find? “I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands.” He speaks here as a Hebrew with the knowledge at least of what happened to man. God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions. And woman was deceived by the serpent and her heart is often a snare and a net and her hands drag down into the vile things of the flesh. Here, at least, is an acknowledgement that sin is in the world and has corrupted the old creation, but what about the remedy? He knows nothing of that, for the new creation which lifts man out of the condition where sin has put him is the subject of the revelation of God.
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Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gab/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1913-1922.
The preacher now proceeded to the inculcation of indifference toward all the facts of life as the only attitude which is in the least likely to be satisfactory. This he did, first, by a series of maxims. In all of these there is an element of truth, and yet here they express the gravest pessimism, the bitterest disappointment. "A good name is better than precious ointment," and yet "the day of death is better than the day of . . . birth"; and if these two statements are connected, it is easy to see the despair of the preacher, who evidently meant to imply that birth was an opportunity for losing the good name, while death closed such opportunity. He continued by declaring that mourning and sorrow are better than feasting and mirth, because they serve to keep the heart steady or wise, while the latter make it excited and foolish. For the same reason rebuke is better than laughter. The issue of all this is that the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit, which, in this connection, simply means that the man who can be stoical and indifferent is better than he who attempts to rise and rule. Therefore the preacher urged suppression of the passion of anger, and that there should be no wasted lament over former days.
Wisdom, that is, the power of being indifferent and cautious, is good. He finally calls on men to consider the work of God, who has placed prosperity and adversity side by side with the deliberate intention of hiding from man the issues of his own life. Therefore, take things as they come. In prosperity be joyful, and in adversity be thoughtful.
All this general inculcation of indifference is now emphasized by particular illustration. Righteousness does not always pay. Wickedness sometimes does. Therefore morality is to be a thing of calculation. Men are urged to walk the middle way. "Be not righteous overmuch . . . be not overmuch wicked." Overmuch righteousness may end in destruction. Overmuch wickedness cuts short the days. It is the calm, calculating, self-centered morality of the materialist. Moreover, if men are to find any satisfaction they are to remember that there are no righteous men and to turn a deaf ear to tales. A word of personal testimony urges still further the value of this attitude of indifference. The preacher had tried other ways. He had determined to be wise, but had failed. He had turned to find out by personal experience that wickedness is folly, and in one graphic and startling picture revealing the depths to which he had sunk, he gives the issue. He had found something more bitter than death, the evil woman. After all the excesses of material life, therefore, his final conclusion about humanity is that only one man in a thousand can be found, but that not one woman in a thousand can be found. It is a word full of cynicism, but it is the word of a man who has lived the life which according to his own philosophy is the life of the beast.
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Morgan, G. Campbell. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "G. Campbell Morgan Exposition on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/gcm/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1857-84.
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry,.... With men, for every word that is said, or action done, that is not agreeable; encourage not, but repress, sudden angry emotions of the mind; be not quick of resentment, and at once express anger and displeasure; but be slow to wrath, for such a man is better than the mighty, James 1:19, Proverbs 16:32; or with God, for his corrections and chastisements; so the Targum,
"in the time that correction from heaven comes upon thee, do not hasten in thy soul to be hot (or angry) to say words of rebellion (or stubbornness) against heaven;'
that advice is good,
"do nothing in anger
for anger resteth in the bosom of fools; where it riseth quick, and continues long; here it soon betrays itself, and finds easy admittance, and a resting dwelling place; it easily gets in, but it is difficult to get it out of the heart of a fool; both which are proofs of his folly, Proverbs 12:16; see Ephesians 4:26; the bosom, or breast, is commonly represented as the seat of anger by other writers
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1999.
Ecclesiastes 7:7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 — Wisdom Seen in Patience - Ecclesiastes 7:8-9 places emphasis upon the virtue of patience.
Ecclesiastes 7:8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 — "for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" - Word Study for "resteth" - Strong says the Hebrew word "resteth" "nooakh" ( נוּחַ) (H 5117) means, "to rest, settle down," and carries a wide variety of applications, "dwell, stay, let fall, place, let alone, withdraw, give comfort, etc."
Comments- This verb implies that a fool will allow anger to settle down and remain in his heart. He allows carnal thoughts to keep this anger kindles. He is not able to lay aside an issue and forget it. Everyone feels angry, but a righteous man will soon lay aside his anger. It is a fool who will cling to his anger.
Illustration - I was getting ready to enter a courtroom one day to deal with a business lawsuit and the Lord quickened to me Ecclesiastes 7:9 (June 15, 2001). I knew that I was in court because the opposing party lacked control over his anger.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
— Wisdom's Ability to Protect - Ecclesiastes 7:11-12 places emphasis upon wisdom's ability to protect those who live by its rules.
— Wisdom Found in Recognizing God's Hand in Daily Life - Ecclesiastes 7:13-14 places emphasis upon the wisdom that one finds in recognizing God's hand at work in our daily lives.
— Wisdom Found in Moderation - Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 places emphasis upon the wisdom that is found in living a life of moderation.
— Wisdom Found in Ignoring What Others Say About You - Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 places emphasis upon the found in being able to ignore those who are speaking negative words around us.
— The Preacher's Pursuit of Wisdom - In Ecclesiastes 7:23-25 we are given a description of the Preacher's pursuit of wisdom. Although he found Wisdom of Solomon, he also discovered the difficulty of applying it to his life. This reveals man's sinful nature in this life, and reflects the Preacher's cry for redemption from his own vanity.
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Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghe/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2013.
Speech. Hebrew, "thing." The best projects often are seen to fail. --- Beginning, as the auditor is on longer kept in suspense. --- Presumptuous. Rashness must not be confounded with courage. (Calmet) --- Hasty and immoderate anger is hurtful. (Worthington)
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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1859.
Ecclesiastes 7:9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. The anger or wrath is to be conceived as directed against God and the evil doers favoured by Him, that is, in this present case, against the heathen; compare Psalms 37:1-2; Psalms 37:8. For anger rests in the bosom of fools, who only look at the present and at once fall into error with regard to God and his providence if things go otherwise than in their view they ought to do. It is folly to fix the attention only on that which lies directly before our eyes, to speak wisdom in presence of the good fortune of the wicked: "as grass shall they be cut down, and as the green herb shall they wither," and, "evil doers shall be rooted out, but they that wait on the Lord shall possess the land." If we only do not make haste to be angry, the Lord will in his own good time remove all occasions to wrath out of the way. As the Berleburger Bible says: "blessed, on the contrary, is he who in all the events of life maintains a cairn patience, equips himself with a spirit of humble submissiveness and magnanimous contentment, accommodates himself to good and evil times alike, and ever derives strength and quickening from the petition,—"thy will be done."
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/ecclesiastes-7.html.
angry — impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was (Ecclesiastes 5:2; Proverbs 12:16).
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This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1871-8.
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Be not hasty - passionate with excitement, bursting out in complaints against God, and impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was (Ecclesiastes 5:2; Psalms 37:1-2; Psalms 37:8). Contrast Lamentations 3:24-27.
Anger resteth in the bosom of fools. It is fools who give way to anger or impatience and fretfulness at the sight of the prosperity of the ungodly (Psalms 37:1; Psalms 37:8).
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1871-8.
Some Striking Views of Human Nature
We are still in Coheleth"s memorandum-book. There is little or no connection between these scattered sentences. To read them is like stepping upon stones that have been laid in a brook, rather than crossing a well-built bridge.
There is a mournful tone in this seventh chapter. It is full of dyspeptic and disagreeable remarks. Cypress shadows lie over it, with hardly a breeze to disturb them and to let the light twinkle and sparkle between the dark bars. Coheleth is in a bilious mood to-day; his curtains are drawn, his lamp is lit early, all relish has gone out of his mouth, and he listens with a kind of grim joy, as if he heard Death clambering up the stair with a Fieri-facias in his hand from the court of Fate. No young heart can read this chapter with any sympathy. It is sprinkled thickly with sentences that an exhausted rou might have written in a mood of semi-bilious penitence. Death is better than birth; mourning is better than feasting; sorrow is better than laughter; the end is better than the beginning; and things generally are odd and stiff, with plenty of disappointment and mockery in them.
It ought not to be true that death is better than life, and that sorrow is better than laughter. This is unnatural, unreasonable, and discreditable. It is like saying that failure is better than success. The purpose of God certainly went out in the direction of joy, light, satisfaction, and rest, when he made man in his own image and likeness. As he himself is God blessed for evermore, so he would that all his loving ones should be as he Isaiah, full of joy and full of peace. God has no delight in tears, and a moan is a poor substitute for a hymn. If you set real sorrow against real joy I do not hesitate to teach that joy is better; the fact that sorrow is often far more real than joy, and by its very genuineness it is so much better, is because it moves the very springs of life, it stirs and rouses the soul, it makes men think deeply and long. But what is joy as popularly understood? It is not joy at all; it is a momentary titillation of the nerves; it is a movement of the facial muscles; it is a weird grin—a flash—a bubble—a dream—a lie!
For this reason, too, it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. In the house of mourning our best faculties are touched and our deepest sympathies are called into activity, and we get a truer measure of the scope of life. Feasting is physical; it perishes in the using, and the finest wine is ruined by exposure to the air. If the feast were a feast of reason, and of the fat things set upon the table of God, Coheleth would be wrong; it is but a banquet of froth, spread on a table of cloud, and anything that touches the quick of the heart is better than the moth-like wit that scorches and kills itself in the flame of inordinate wine. We ought to see quite as far through the medium of joy as through the medium of sorrow. The look of joy is through the windows of morning, through the gates of the rosy dawn, or through the arch of the perfect noon. The look of sorrow is through the avenues of the clouds, with a star here and there feebly struggling with the blackness of night. Sorrow is a look through tears; joy is a great glad expectancy. Sorrow goes out towards rest, quietness, peace, cessation of trouble; joy goes out on strong and flashing pinions towards higher gladness, purer light, vaster love. It ought not, then, to be true that sorrow is better than laughter.
Yet there is a sense in which Christianity will say that the day of one"s death is better than the day of one"s birth. We are born into the temporary, the disciplinary, the imperfect, but if we are in Christ we die into the eternal, the completed, the restful. Many of the Old Testament expressions have to be completed by New Testament interpretations. When the worldling says the day of one"s death is better than the day of one"s birth, he utters the moan of disappointment and bitterness of soul; but when the Christian uses the selfsame words he seems to open a great golden gate, which swings back upon the infinite land of liberty and summer—the glorious heaven of God. A very needful thing it is to remember that the same words have different meanings as used by different men. It is the part of Christianity to take up the mottoes and the maxims of the world, and to set them in a right relation to things eternal; a setting which will sometimes destroy them, and at other times lift them up into new and glowing significance.
A thing wonderful beyond all others is this death-birth. The moment after death! When absent from the body are we present with the Lord? Do we at once throw off all weakness, and stand amongst the angels, strong as they, beautiful in holiness, and complete in satisfaction? Do we bid an eternal farewell to pain—the pain which has haunted us like a cruel ghost through the hours of childhood? Do we for ever cease to blunder and stumble? and do our feet take fast hold of the golden streets, never to totter or slip any more? Is the last tear gone, the last sigh spent, the last sin shut out from the purified and ennobled heart? If it be Song of Solomon, who can wonder that the day of death is better than the day of birth, and that the greatest of secrets will reveal the greatest of joys?
So far this chapter has been dark enough. We have walked through it up to this point as through a dark and gruesome night. But the chapter is not all gloom. We get glints of spring light even here, and above all this cold night wind we may hear a note or two of bands and choristers far away, yet quite accessible. As water is valued more in the desert than in the land of pools and streams, so we may set higher store on what we find here in the way of sure and immediate joy than if we had found it in any one of David"s triumphant psalms. "In the day of prosperity be joyful.... God also hath set the one over against the other.... He that feareth God shall come forth of them all.... The excellency of knowledge Isaiah, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it." It seems needless to say that we are to rejoice in the day of prosperity; yet it is not needless: we are not to take our prosperity as we would take medicine; we are not to issue our wedding invitations on black-edged paper. There is little enough true prosperity in life; therefore make the most of it. Men are not to take their brief holidays in a serious light. Sometimes pleasures are very leaden-footed; they are owls that like the night, rather than larks that hail the day with early gladness. Then to help us to make the best of life Coheleth says God hath set the one over against the other. A wonderful piece of mosaic is life! the lights and shadows are marvellously distributed. If your tiled hearth was laid by a cunning hand, was the mosaic of life arranged by chance? You are poor in money, but how rich you are in health! Or you are feeble in health, but how comfortable in circumstances! Or you are poor both in health and circumstance, but see what marvellous spirits you have! You live in a small house, then you have few anxieties; your pleasures are limited, then your account is proportionately small. Truly God hath set the one over against the other. If we take the bright side there is always something to make us humble, and keep us within proper limits. You have magnificent health, but you may suffer from depression of spirits; you have a well-laden table, but you have no appetite; you have boundless information, but no gift of expression: so God hath set the one over against the other. There is a rent in every panoply. There is a crook in every lot. Why? Coheleth answers, "To the end that man should find nothing after him;" literally, to the end that man should have no power over the future. God will not entrust the future with any man. The future is so near, yet so far! What we would give if we knew exactly what would happen to-morrow, or what would be the detailed result of our schemes, or what would be the answer to letters involving our peace, fortune, joy! The future is the very next thing we shall come upon, and yet it spreads out over all the spaces of eternity; it is an hour, yet it is an everlasting duration; it is measurable as a human span, yet it is as illimitable as infinitude! The future is the riddle which vexes us beyond all others, because we feel as if we ought to know an answer which must be simple and easy. Yet how much we owe, both in the way of stimulus and in the way of education, to the mysteriousness of the future! What poetry is there in a straight line? What enjoyment is there on a road which is never bent into curves or broken into undulations? It is expectancy—call it hope or fear—that gives life a rare interest; hope itself sometimes brings with it a sting of pain, and fear now and again brings with it even something of a weird pleasure. Hope turns the future into a banqueting-house. Ambition forecasts the future with great plans of attack and defence. Fear anticipates the future so as to get from the outlook restraint and discipline. Life that has no future would be but a flat surface, a stiff, awkward monotony, a world without a firmament, a boundless cemetery; but with a future it is a hope, an inspiration, a sweet, gracious promise; it Isaiah, too, a terror, for we know not what is behind the cloud, nor can we say what foe or friend will face us at the next corner. We live a good deal in our to-morrows, and thus we spend money which does not fairly belong to us; yet how poor should we be if we could not turn our imagination to some account, and mint our fancies into some little gold to chink in our hands, that we may scare our immediate poverty away! What beautiful drives we have had in the carriage which we are going to buy in a year or two! How often we have laid out the garden which is going to be ours in years to come! We once set up fine houses with broken earthenware, and before we outgrew our jackets and pinafores we had made eternal friendships, and set our proud feet on a conquered and humbled world! And yet the future is always in front of us, a shy but persistent coquette, vouchsafing a smile, but throwing a frown over it; telling us to come on, yet leaving us to topple over an unseen stone, and to fall into an invisible pit, which we could never have discovered had it not first thrown us! The past has become a confused, dull, troubled noise, as of people hastening to and fro in the night-time; but the future is a still small voice, having marvellous whispering power, with a strange mastery over the will, soothing us like a benediction, and anon chilling us like a sigh in a graveyard. The past is a worn road; the future is a world in which all the ways have yet to be made. I would bind you, then, to a high general estimate of the future, as being by the very fact of its being future a high educational influence; an influence that holds you back like a bit in your foaming lips; an influence that sends you forward with the hunger of a great hope, relieved by satisfactions which do but whet the desire they cannot appease. Thank God that there is a future; that there are days far off; that there are clouds floating in the distance, beautiful enough to be the vesture of angels, yet solemn enough to be the sheaths of lightning. So again we come upon Christian interpretations of non-spiritual words. Whilst Coheleth, for the moment representing the thoughtless crowd, dreads the future, and flees away from it as from an enemy, the Christian looks forward to it with a high expectation, and longs for the disclosure of all its beneficent mysteries.
In these chapters Coheleth gives striking views of human nature. He does not speak merely about a man here and there, but about all men. It will be interesting, therefore, to know how so shrewd and frank a man regarded human nature from his standpoint. Some of his sentences sound like divine judgments. Take chapter Ecclesiastes 7:20—
"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not."
There is a black thread in the whitest soul. How far does this judgment agree with what we know about ourselves? Are we all gold through and through without one speck of alloy? Are we pure like snow newly fallen on untrodden mountain-tops? We have not been slow to say that there is undoubtedly a great deal of good in man. We are very possibly generous, hopeful, pleasant, neighbourly, well-disposed, but what is there under all that—a long way under it? Go into the solemn place where motives are—that far-in engine-house, where the subtle power is that moves the whole life, and say whether the devil is not often in that house, stirring up the fire and setting the wheels in motion. Let the holiest man amongst us force this inquiry to decisive issue. You, for example, are a minister of Jesus Christ, and by your very profession you are not unnaturally assumed to be a peculiarly holy man; at least in all your uppermost wishes you cannot but be pure and noble. Now consider that immediately in your neighbourhood there is a rival minister who is supposed to be more popular than you are, to attract a larger share of public attention, and to be carried onward as by a breeze of popular favour to high and substantial success. Now in the sight and fear of God how do you regard such a man? Do you in your very soul rejoice in his honour, and pray secretly that it may be continued and increased? and are you the more prayerful in this direction, and the more earnest in proportion as your own popularity suffers by the fame of your neighbour? Can you bear to see the public turning away from your own church and hastening towards his as if he rather than yourself had a direct message from heaven? Is there no disposition, hardly known to yourself, to mitigate somewhat the blaze of his renown, to suggest that though he is showy he is weak; to point out that although undoubtedly he has some talents he is lamentably deficient in others? These are questions which pierce us all like sharp swords, and they are not to be turned aside as if they were flippant and useless in a great spiritual inquiry. Coheleth allows that there are just men, but he says there is not a single just man that sinneth not; that is to say, his justice is impaired by certain flaws and drawbacks; it is by no means a complete justice; it is a broken, infirm thing, which draws upon itself disapproving criticism, and exposes itself sometimes even to contempt. Now what is it that can reach down to that far depth of evil? It is at this point that we need a voice other than our own, and a revelation which human genius would never have conceived or projected. It is when we are in hell that we most feel our need of heaven. Listen not to the superficial moralists who will tell you that character is an affair of rearrangement, colour, and attitude; but listen with profoundest interest to the evangelical preacher, who assures you that you must be born again, otherwise the kingdom of heaven is an impossibility in your experience.
Here we have another view of human nature:—
"Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" ( Ecclesiastes 7:29).
That is to say, man has lost his perpendicularity, and he has taken out many patents for its restoration. You have seen a wall falling out of square, and have observed how carefully the wall has been shored up lest it should quite fall down. If we could only see the great human heart as God sees it we should see that it has lost its uprightness, and that it is being shored up by inventors and schemers of every name and kind to prevent an utter and final collapse. Human life is a struggle to get back to the moral square, and truly there are many inventions. One form of religion says: Trust everything to me: I will do everything for you: I am the priest of heaven, and in my hands are the keys of the kingdom: confess your sins to me, put yourselves absolutely under my control, do not attempt to form any judgments of your own, and I will see to it that you are properly prepared for heaven. Another form of religion says: Distrust the speaker who has just delivered himself: he is a papist and an impostor, antichrist, the man of sin, the very emissary of Babylon; he seeks men"s souls to destroy them; he would extinguish the right of private judgment, he would depose individual conscience, and substitute priestly counsel and direction: the right way is for every man to think for himself, to make debate a religion, and to fight his way to sound intellectual convictions. Another invention says: Never mind any of the religious speakers who address you: they are all the victims of ghostly superstition; they are wanting in practical sagacity and in thorough grasp of time and space and the whole world of sense: look carefully about you and see how things lie; turn all circumstances to your own advantage as far as you possibly can; cultivate a masterful spirit, overrule and overdrive everything, let the weakest go to the wall, and in all circumstances, night and day, summer and winter, do the best for yourself: that is my common-sense religion, that is my practical philosophy: I am no ghost or spectre, or foolish chattering voice in the dark: I claim to be a messenger of practical common sense, and I tell you to find in the earth all the heaven any man can need. Then what social schemes we have for the amelioration of human affairs: what a tax upon sanitary arrangements, physical conditions; what endeavours to instruct the ignorant, rearrange the relations of capital and labour; and what efforts there are to turn political economy into a species of religion! What is the meaning of all this but an attempt to get back to the moral square? Many inventions! clever enough, cheap enough, dear enough, plentiful enough, but Failure written upon every one of them, for they that use them are as a bowing wall and a tottering fence. No happier term could be applied to them than the term "inventions," clever little schemes, pet little notions, patents newly turned out, small mechanisms, anything that indicates a debased ingenuity, a paltry and self-defeating cleverness.
But with all his inventions and scheming there are two things which man cannot do. First, he cannot tell what shall be:—
"For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?" ( Ecclesiastes 8:7).
Here the pride of man comes under daily rebuke. Though he may be able to see many years behind him, he cannot see one hour in front of him. When he vapours about his power, and sends forth his ambition on its broadest wings, he cannot tell but what in the evening he may be dead and almost forgotten. When he lifts his puny fist in the air he knows not whether he may ever bring it down. Be careful, O loud boaster and flippant swaggerer! That gabbling tongue of thine talks riotously without sense or dignity, and it will bring thee into peril and misery and sharp pain! You have invented a field-glass, a telescope, a microscope; you can see fifty yards ahead, or can get a view of shining points far away, or catch some little traveller trotting in vast excursions over the unexplored Africa of a grass blade. Now invent a glass that will look into Tomorrow, or even a glass that will look farther than we can now see—where is the prodigal that ran away a year ago, and of whom his mother has never heard; or the ship that ought to have been in port a month since; or the explorer in the wild forest? tell us these things, and then we shall know something of human might and grandeur. "He knoweth not that which shall be!" Yet such is the fascination of the future that man is always thinking about it. The very fact that he does not know what it will be seems to awaken within him a speculative genius, a spirit that will make all his calculations turn upon the possibilities of Tomorrow; mathematics will be made into an instrument of speculation; the most careful reckoning will be gone through in order if possible to anticipate the shape and tone and manner of the future. Yet there lies the dead secret; nothing can charm it into speech, the cleverest man cannot tempt it to give up its mystery. Man may look far behind him, and study the fully-written page of history, but he cannot turn over the leaves of the Future; those leaves can only be turned over by the invisible hand of God.
The next thing man cannot do is to retain the spirit in the day of death:—
"There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war" ( Ecclesiastes 8:8).
Man has fought some little battles and won some little victories, but here is a fight in which his banners must be dragged in the dust, and he himself must fall. His brazen shield is of no use. He knows not where the enemy may strike—in the spine, in the forehead, in the heart, in the foot, in the lungs, but when he does strike he cleaves right through to the startled and quivering life. Oh, poor are our barricades against this great foe! We have gone into the chamber where the battle has been fought and lost, and with a grim and mournful humour have set in array the weapons of the poor human fighter—the mixture, the pills, the thirsty leech, the sharp blister, the instrument keenly edged; the appointed hours for attention to medical direction, the cooling draughts, the soothing appliances, the narcotics, the stimulants, all the various instruments and weapons of medical skill—there—all there—waiting to be used, willing to conquer, anxious to succeed. Look at them! Laugh at them! Black Death was too cunning and mighty for all their subtlety and strength. So he has borne away his prey, and none can recall him, and make him deliver that which he has wrested from the hand of love.
Now all this being the case, we want a higher power than man"s to trust in. We have had enough of human invention, human consolation, and human flattery; all these have but vexed and mortified us; we trusted in them, and they brought us nothing but disappointment; we cannot in justice to our own spiritual dignity listen to them any longer. Oh that we knew the place of the Eternal! Oh that we could find the living One, and plead our cause before him, asking him to pity our infirmity, and to make our very littleness and weakness the ground of his coming to us, in all the pathos and helpfulness of his condescending love. Whilst we are uttering these aspirations, and are thus sighing away our little strength, we are told that there is One who has come who is mighty to save—none other than the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, the Son of God, to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, who will answer our questions, soothe our agitations, wash away our sins, sanctify us wholly by the mighty power of his Spirit. The answer of the Gospel to human necessity is a grand answer, and by so much as it is notable for moral sublimity it should be considered as the most probable of all the solutions which have ever been offered to the problem of human life and the mystery of human destiny.
"And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity" ( Ecclesiastes 8:10).
A very graphic and truthful picture. The wicked buried and forgotten. The candle of the wicked shall be put out. The name of the wicked shall rot. The wicked man may have a very boisterous day, and may create great uneasiness by his violence, but he will go out like a dying candle, and no man will mourn his loss. "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." No wonder that the wicked man dreads the Bible, as the leper might fear the mirror which reveals to him all his loathsomeness, for the Bible haunts him, smites him, and visits him with the most appalling humiliations. "The triumphing of the wicked is short." "Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; yet he shall perish for ever like his own dung." They who have seen him shall say, Where is he? He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found; yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night. To see the rage of the wicked, and hear their oaths and asseverations, one would say, Surely they will pluck up the foundations and overthrow the throne, and they will carry out their will to its uttermost purpose and desire. Yet, lo, they are covered with darkness, and their boasting tongues are sealed in silence everlasting. They hold up their heads as if the sky were too low a roof for their proud stature, and, lo! they stumble into a pit, and no hand plants a sweet flower on their grave. They sleep on an unblessed pillow, and rot away in a prison whose doors open only towards penalty and shame. "My Song of Solomon, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not," for their way is towards darkness, and their victories are full of stings and pains.
"Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" ( Ecclesiastes 8:11).
Thus the patience of God is misunderstood and abused. We are all tempted to wonder why God should allow the wicked to live even for a day. There is one world amid the stars which reeks with foulness and corruption; up from that unholy place there goes a continual smoke of abomination; it fills the air with pestilence, and its voices of sinful utterance almost throw into discord the sweet harmonies of the upper spheres. Why does the Almighty allow that mean world to smoulder, and to fill the higher air with vapours offensive and deadly? Why not crush it, and destroy it, and cause its name to be blotted out from the list of fair stars that have never sinned? These are questions which philosophy may ask, but which philosophy can never answer. Let the parent reply who spends many a sleepless night over the prodigal whose name he can never forget! It is only love that can make any answer amid these solemn moral mysteries. See how the divine patience is misunderstood and abused! Imagine another system of discipline: God standing over us with a rod of iron, and instantly that any man sinned that man should be struck dead! Such is not God"s government. He is longsuffering and pitiful and kind and hopeful. But it is exactly this which is misunderstood. Because he does not do it men think he cannot do it. Who can understand patience? We admire violence, we call it high spirit; we applaud instancy of penal visitation, thinking that it shows how just we are; but who can understand mercy, or see in forbearance the highest aspect of righteousness? "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" God does not shut the door hastily; he comes out and watches, and hopes and waits. He is determined not to begin the festival until the very last guest has at least had an opportunity of arriving. He would seem to be more deeply moved by the absence of some than by the presence of many. Who can understand the heartache of God"s love? He does not hesitate to describe himself as grieved and disappointed, as sorrowful and as full of pain, because the children whom he has nourished and brought up have rebelled against him. But let us clearly understand that though God is forbearing, there will come a time when even He will no longer strive with men. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." At the same time he has said, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." " Hebrews, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
"Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God" ( ).
The forbearance that is shown to the wicked is not shown at the expense of the righteous; that is to say, it is not something subtracted from the heritage of the good man. Nor is it a sign of forgetfulness on the part of God as to the deserts of the wicked. God will not hastily strike the ground from under the feet of the bad man; rather he allows that ground to crumble away little by little, showing him the consequences of what he is doing, and calling him all the while to the rock everlasting. The bad man seems to have a long lease, but what is it but a shadow? The time is only long in appearance whilst it lasts, but as soon as it has fled away how poor a thing it seems to be! Where are now the men who have lifted their mouths against the heavens, and sent forth their defiances as against the eternal arm? what is the life of man but a handful of years at the most? and if he has made no provision for a blissful eternity he has been dying whilst he lived.
Divine forbearance has always been more or less misunderstood. This is made clear by Ecclesiastes 8:14 :—
"There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity."
This was the impression produced on the public mind by the apparent good fortune of the wicked. "Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts?" And they called the proud happy, and set up them that worked wickedness—"They say unto God, depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him?" It was questioning and rebellion like this that led the Almighty to reply: "I will search Jerusalem with candles, and punish the men that are settled on their lees: that say in their heart, The Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil." Let us allow that appearances are sometimes in favour of this theory. It does appear as if the wicked had in many instances a lot preferable to that of the righteous, at all events quite equal to it. But consider the duration of the lot of the wicked: " Song of Solomon, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things." Then consider the compensation which righteousness never fails to realise in an approving conscience and in a bright hope concerning the future of retribution and adjustment; add to this the consideration that the Christian has a sure and certain hope of a glorious immortality. He says, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." His words are full of triumph: "We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." The apostle was not slow to confess that if in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable. Asaph confessed that the wicked were "not in trouble as other men; their eyes stand out with fatness: they have more than heart could wish." The apostle makes out a list of his personal sufferings, and whilst we read it we wonder that God should have dealt out such severity towards those who are uppermost and foremost in his holy service. But the apostle himself gave the right interpretation of all sorrows, losses, distresses; he says,"Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." The point of view has been changed. The standard of valuation has been altered. Looked at within the limits of time, religion as Christians understand it may seem to be followed by many a disaster; but looked at in the light of eternity, Christians are enabled to "glory in tribulations also," and to be exceeding joyful, even in the midst of multiplied distresses. This is a miracle which cannot be explained in words. It is the living and perpetual miracle of Christian experience.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1885-95.
Ecclesiastes 7:1. A good name is better than precious ointment. Shem, a name; shemen, ointment. The reference is to the embalming of bodies with ointment. See Genesis 48. Wisdom and virtue outlive the apothecary’s arts.
Ecclesiastes 7:2. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting. Both families and nations have, by affliction, come to their right mind, like the Prodigal.
Ecclesiastes 7:8. Better is the end of a thing, or of a beclouded providence, than the beginning. So it proved in Job’s affliction, and in a thousand cases in which afflictions work for the good of man.
Ecclesiastes 7:12. Wisdom giveth life to them that have it. Yea, long life, as everywhere promised to the faithful. Proverbs 3:16. This is the crown of temperance, and of a contented mind.
Ecclesiastes 7:15. There is a just man that perisheth, as king Josiah did, in fighting with Pharaoh.— There is a wicked man that prolongeth his life; a Voltaire, and others, covered with silver hairs. So then providence is beclouded; and in such cases, philosophy is irrelevant; the veil of futurity must be removed before we can judge of the inscrutable paths of providence. God’s ways are in the great deep, and are past finding out. The case of the rich man and Lazarus requires a future state, to manifest the wisdom and the righteousness of God. Now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not righteous overmuch. The Hebrew word designates alms; as when Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, Break off thine iniquities by righteousness. So our Saviour, in the old reading of Matthew 6:21, Do not your alms (your righteousness) before men. Others turn it to excess of fasting, and severity of bodily exercises.
Ecclesiastes 7:20. There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not,—and may not sin. Solomon repeats here his own words at the dedication of the temple. 1 Kings 8. Let men therefore take heed, not to do an action that would occasion another to curse their memory.
Ecclesiastes 7:26. I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets. Solomon, with his many queens, had his hands full, and his heart wrung. He found among men, but one of a thousand upright; among women he found none. He was himself a faithless husband; his wives therefore had just cause to reproach him. No doubt he had sometimes, Jezebels and Astarbas, shedding plenty of tears.
God indeed made man upright, but by following the propensities to pride, luxury and dissipation, he is enslaved by the inventions of vanity. How needful then to renounce the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and to return to God with humility of heart. All happiness dwells with him, and he alone can satisfy the vast capacity of the soul. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. Solomon in old age seemed to delight in humiliating reflections on life; and indeed there is no purer, no more sanctifying wisdom, than frequent reflection on the mortality of man. No doubt when he condescended to attend the funeral of friends and princes, he had meditations which left profitable sentiments in his heart, and helped him to place his hopes in a better world.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1835.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Ver. 9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry.] The hasty man, we say, never wants woe. For wrath is an evil counsellor, and enwrappeth a man in manifold troubles, mischiefs, and miseries. It makes man like the bee, that vindictive creature, which, to be revenged, loseth her sting, and becomes a drone; or, like Tamar, who, to be even with her father-in-law, defiled him and herself with incest. "Cease, therefore, from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in anywise to do evil." [Psalms 37:8] Athenodorus counselled Augustus to determine nothing rashly, when he was angry, till he had repeated the Greek alphabet. Ambrose taught Theodosius, in that case, to repeat the Lord’s Prayer. What a shame it is to see a Christian act like Hercules furens, or like Solomon’s fool, that casts firebrands, or as that demoniac, [Mark 2:3] out of measure fierce! That demoniac was "among the tombs," but these are among the living, and molest those most that are nearest to them.
For anger resteth in the bosom of fools.] Rush it may into a wise man’s bosom, but not rest there, lodge there, dwell there; and only where it dwells it domineers, and that is only where a fool is master of the family. Thunder, hail, tempest, neither trouble nor hurt celestial bodies. See that the sun go not down upon this evil guest: see that the soul be not soured or impured with it, for anger corrupts the heart, as leaven doth the lump, or vinegar the vessel wherein it doth continue. (a)
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1865-1868.
In this verse the author warns against this pride which, when everything does not go according to its mind, falls into passionate excitement, and thoughtlessly judges, or with a violent rude hand anticipates the end. אל־תּב : do not overturn, hasten not, rush not, as at Ecclesiastes 5:1. Why the word בּרוּחך, and not בנפשך or בלבך, is used, vid ., Psychol . pp. 197-199: passionate excitements overcome a man according to the biblical representation of his spirit, Proverbs 25:28, and in the proving of the spirit that which is in the heart comes forth in the mood and disposition, Proverbs 15:13. כּעוס is an infin., like ישׁון, Ecclesiastes 5:11. The warning has its reason in this, that anger or ( כעס, taken more potentially than actually) fretfulness rests in the bosom of fools, i.e., is cherished and nourished, and thus is at home, and, as it were (thought of personally, as if it were a wicked demon), feels itself at home ( ינוּח, as at Proverbs 14:33). The haughty impetuous person, and one speaking out rashly, thus acts like a fool. In fact, it is folly to let oneself be impelled by contradictions to anger, which disturbs the brightness of the soul, takes away the considerateness of judgment, and undermines the health, instead of maintaining oneself with equanimity, i.e., without stormy excitement, and losing the equilibrium of the soul under every opposition to our wish.
From this point the proverb loses the form “better than,” but tov still remains the catchword of the following proverbs. The proverb here first following is so far cogn., as it is directed against a particular kind of ka'as (anger), viz., discontentment with the present.
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1854-1889.
Consider the End of a Matter
In Ecc 7:7 the teaching about judging what really gives meaning to life continues. The word "for" seems to indicate that. The aspect of misuse of power is added to the previously mentioned. A wise man who exercises power by oppressing someone else for personal gain becomes a fool or a madman. He loses sight of reality and is only concerned with life here and now. He does not think about the future and certainly not about death.
Besides oppression, accepting or giving a bribe is also a tried and tested means of favoring oneself. The heart of the wise who lowers himself to such a practice is corrupt. His heart is not in the house of mourning, but in the house feasting. The wise who misuses his power or allows himself to be bribed, or bribes others, acts like a wicked (Pro 17:23). He judges the present value of mortal goods in a way that leads him to use even injustice to gain possession of them. For that he sacrifices his good name as a wise man.
At the "beginning" of a matter it is not clear how it will develop (Ecc 7:8). Only at "the end of a matter" it can be determined what its usefulness and value have been. It is therefore important to wait with the judgment of a matter until the end is known, because then the value can be determined.
"Patience of spirit" will wait and see how a matter develops, while "haughtiness of spirit" full of swagger claims to know its exact course. The haughty one forgets the end and claims to know everything. The one is characterized by patience, the other by impatience. Patience is an aspect of humility; impatience indicates the proud anger about the ways of God with man.
In connection with Ecc 7:7 we can say that those who are patient will wait patiently for the end or outcome of a trial. He will not seize forward by oppression or by using a bribe gift.
The end of life only provides reliable information about the value of life. If the end of life is good, the whole life is good, even if it was not a 'beautiful' life. If the end is bad, even the most successful life has become bad.
Ecc 7:9 connects directly to Ecc 7:8. The Preacher warns against anger about the course of a matter. Patience can be tested and then there is the danger of anger in the heart. This happens when we blame human factors for the delay in the development of a matter. If we are oppressed unjustly or feel that we are being tried unjustly, anger can arise in our minds. Maybe we do not even express it, but in our inner being we are eaten away by anger.
The Preacher says that the bosom of fools is the residence of anger. He who allows anger to take residence in his inner man, making it to be part of his personality, becomes a fool. Anger can also arise when we receive undeserved treatment or are victims of misplaced behavior. In this context it is about unjust oppression or a test.
In Ecc 7:9 a person is angry because he is not patient and also not satisfied with his circumstances. The question that he asks in Ecc 7:10, does not arise out of curiosity, but out of frustration. With him it is about making a comparison of his days, the circumstances in which he finds himself, with those of the former days, wondering why the former days were better. In fact he is calling God to account, he is demanding an explanation of His dealings with him. Such people are the "grumblers, finding fault, following after their own lusts" (Jd 1:16).
It does not testify of wisdom to ask such questions; it shows ignorance about the past and about man, who was as sinful then as he is now. The Preacher already said in the beginning of this book that which has been is that which will be, so there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). The days have always been evil because of sin by man (Eph 5:16). Therefore it is pointless to go deeper into it either. The Israelites desired to go back to Egypt out of dissatisfaction with their stay in the wilderness. They preferred their stay in slavery in Egypt above their stay in the wilderness with God. This was because they assumed that God wanted them to perish.
Whoever asks the question "why is it that" overlooks the fact that evil used to be there too, albeit in other manifestations. The glorification of the past is foolishness, for then it is also overlooked that God does not change (Mal 3:6), and that the support of the Lord remains available to the believer at all times (Heb 13:8). Paul forgot what lied behind him and reached forward to what lied ahead because Christ filled his field of vision (Phil 3:13). It is about the present and listening to the voice of the Lord.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kng/ecclesiastes-7.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
Contempt of the World and the Spirit Of Calm Resignation
v. 1. A good name, an excellent reputation before men and a high regard in the sight of God, is better than precious ointment, which was highly valued in the Orient for its refreshing odor; and the day of death than the day of one's birth, for at birth a person's fate is as yet unknown, while on the day of death life with all its vanities lies behind. To the believer particularly death means a deliverance from all evil, Php_1:23.
v. 2. It is better to go to the house of mourning, where people, lamenting for some deceased relative or friend, meditate upon the vanity of life, than to go to the house of feasting, where banqueting and carousing is indulged in and the serious side of life is ignored; for that, the fact that every house eventually becomes a house of mourning, is the end of all men, wherefore all men should keep it in mind; and the living will lay it to his heart.
v. 3. Sorrow, a proper, mournful regard of the vanity of this world, is better than laughter, that is, worldly and boisterous merriment, which deliberately ignores the serious side of life; for by the sadness of the countenance, by a proper, serious contemplation of the vanities of life, the heart is made better, it will then observe a cheerfulness based upon understanding and not upon frivolousness.
v. 4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, that is, with all outward cheerfulness he never forgets the sober aide of life and its problems; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth, given to senseless merriment, which ignores the true conditions.
v. 5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, whereby some foolish behavior is censured, than for a man to hear the song of fools, the boisterous and suggestive, coarse and ribald songs which thoughtless and wicked people love, by which they attempt to forget the facts of life.
v. 6. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, where they are nevertheless consumed by the fire, so is the laughter of the fool, it agrees well with the apparent merriment of the thorns as they feed the fire; this, the senseless, boisterous merriment of fools, also is vanity.
v. 7. Surely oppression, various forms of tyranny practiced by fools in high and low places, maketh a wise man mad, either by making him call in question the wisdom of God's providence or by leading him into some transgression by which he seeks revenge; and a gift, a bribe offered to the wise man, destroyeth the heart, so that even he yields to corruption.
v. 8. Better is the end of a thing, when a person knows just how he will succeed or has succeeded, than the beginning thereof, when one does not yet know how an affair will turn out; and the patient in spirit, long-suffering both in enduring wrong and in awaiting the outcome of some incident, is better than the proud in spirit, in whose case haughtiness is combined with a violent temper.
v. 9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry, easily insulted, holding a grudge for a long time, impatient in adversity; for anger resteth in the bosom of fools, with them only is an irritable disposition found.
v. 10. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? the reference being to such as criticize and carp without attempting to improve present conditions. For thou dost not enquire wisely, literally, "on the basis of wisdom," concerning this, for the truly wise will try to improve conditions as he finds them.
v. 11. Wisdom is good with an inheritance, that is, if compared with earthly possessions, or when joined with an ample estate, for the wise man, if wealthy, will use his wealth in accordance with the will of God, especially for the advantage of such as are in need; and by it there is profit to them that see the sun, wisdom combined with wealth will result in various benefits for the living.
v. 12. For wisdom is a defense, literally, "a shadow," and money is a defense, both of them serve for protection in adversity; but the excellence of knowledge is that wisdom giveth life to them that have it, it is the more precious of the two blessings.
v. 13. Consider the work of God, with the proper calmness of spirit; for who can make that straight which He hath made crooked? A man's impatience will not straighten out what to him seems foolish and adverse in human destiny.
v. 14. In the day of prosperity be joyful, enjoying God's blessings with due thankfulness, but in the day of adversity consider, regard most carefully, let your thoughts run along these lines; God also hath set the one over against the other, He sends evil days as well as good, to the end that man should find nothing after him, in order that the future be hidden and remain hidden from man, for if the veil were lifted which hides the future, men would consider themselves independent of the divine dispensation.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kpc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1921-23.
B. The true Wisdom of Life consists in Contempt of the World, Patience, and Fear of God
1. In contempt of the world and its foolish lusts
( Ecclesiastes 7:1-7.)
1A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the 2 day of ones birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his 3 heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better 4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the5 heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools: 6For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity 7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
2. In a patient, calm, and resigned spirit
( Ecclesiastes 7:8-14.)
8Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit 9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools 10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days 11 were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun 12 For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it 13 Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked? 14In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.
3. In earnest fear of God, and penitential acknowledgment of sin
( Ecclesiastes 7:15-22.)
15All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness 16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: 18why shouldest thou die before thy time? It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all 19 Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten 20 mighty men which are in the city. For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not 21 Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
[ Ecclesiastes 7:3. כַּעַס. The primary sense is excitement of mind, or feeling, of any kind, or from any cause. Fuerst, commotum, concitatum esse. It is like the Greek θυμὸς, or ὀργὴ, in this respect. It may he grief (sorrow), or anger. The context determines. Here, in Ecclesiastes 7:3, it evidently means the opposite of שְׁחוֹק laughter, mirth, joy. In Ecclesiastes 7:9 th, on the other hand, it must have the sense of anger, though both ideas are probably combined.T. L.]
[ Ecclesiastes 7:7. עשֶׁק means the disposition or state of mind from which oppression comes (ὔβρις, insolence, pride) rather than the act. It is also to be determined from the context whether it is violence, insolence, etc., exercised upon the wise Prayer of Manasseh, or by him, that Isaiah, whether it is objective, or subjective. The latter sense, here, best suits the context. Such a spirit in the wise man may make mad even him, or make him decide wrong, if we regard חָכָם here, as meaning a judgeT.L.]
[ Ecclesiastes 7:12. בְּצֵל is regarded by some of the best critics as a case of beth essential, or as having an assertive force, as the Arabic, but there is no good reason for this.T. L.]
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
1. This section, which describes the nature of genuine, practical Wisdom of Solomon, just as the preceding one presents the contrary, is clearly divided into three divisions or strophes. The first of these ( Ecclesiastes 7:1-7) treats of the contempt of worldly pleasure, and the sacred earnestness of life,the second, ( Ecclesiastes 7:8-14) of a forbearing, patient, and resigned disposition,the third, ( Ecclesiastes 7:15-22) of godly demeanor, and humble self-appreciation, as conditions and essential characteristics of that wisdom. A division of characteristics of these that strophes into half strophes is superfluous (Vaihinger); there is only observable a sharper and deeper incision in the train of thought, in the middle of the last strophe, or in the transition from the fear of God to self-appreciation, after verse18.
2. First Strophe; [In this place Zöckler gives us specimens of play upon words in German, such, as arise from Gerücht and Wohlgeruch, etc., which are not translatable, except by a general reference to the metaphors to be found in English and other languages, wherein character, reputation, etc., is said to hare its good or evil odor. It might be compared with the opposite Hebrew word הִבְאִישׁ he stank, odiosus fuit, 1 Samuel 27:12.T. L.And the day of death than the day of ones birth. For the suffix in הִוָּלְדֹו comp. Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:16; Isaiah 7:5; Jeremiah 11:5 and similar cases of relation of a definite suffix to an indefinite subject. The sentence is the same as Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 6:3-5. It here serves as a preparation for the following sentences, whose aim is to heighten the duty of a sacred earnestness of life, just as the commendation, in the first clause, of a good name as something better than precious ointment, is to pave the way for this recommendation of a serious disposition despising the pleasures of the world. In this common relation of the two clauses to the fundamental thought of the necessity of a serious purpose, lies the inward connection, which we may no more deny [with Hengstenberg and many others] than erroneously assert on the basis of the false assumption that the second clause refers specially to the fool, or through any other similar subtilties. Elster is correct in saying: Because a good and reputable name, which secures an ideal existence with posterity, is more valuable than all sensual pleasure, such as is obtained through precious ointments, therefore the day of death must seem to bring more happiness than the day of birth; for this ideal existence of posthumous fame does not attain its full power and purity until after death: but external pleasures and enjoyments, which we are accustomed to desire for a man on the day of his birth, pleasures which are dependent on his sensual life, prove to be more empty and vain than the joy afforded by the thought of a spiritual existence in the memory of posterity.
Ver2. It is better to go to a house of mourning. That Isaiah, a house wherein there is mourning for one deceased, a house of lamentation (Luther). The connection of the expression favors this sense of the significant בֵּית אֵבֶל taken backwards as well as forwards; and also with Ecclesiastes 7:3 f. For the expression for בֵּית מִשְׁתֵּה house of carousal, of drinking (not specially a drinking resort) compare the similar expression in Esther 7:8. For the entire sentence comp. the Arabic proverb (Schultens Anthology, p48, 73): If thou nearest lamentation for the dead enter into the place; but if thou art bidden to a banquet pass not the threshold. For that is the end of all men. That, (הוּא) i.e., not the mourning, but the fact that a house becomes a house of mourning. It is therefore הוּא for היא on account of the attraction of סוף as Hitzig rightly regards it.And the living will lay it to his heart. Ecclesiastes 7:3. Sorrow is better than laughter. כַּעַס here, does not, of course, mean that passionate sorrow or anger against which we are warned as a folly in Ecclesiastes 7:9, but is essentially the same as אֵבֶל in Ecclesiastes 7:2, consequently a grief salutary, and nearest allied to that godly sorrow spoken of 2 Corinthians 7:10. For שְׂחוֹק, laughter, boisterous, worldly merriment, comp. Ecclesiastes 2:2, and also Ecclesiastes 7:6.For by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.רעַ פָנִים like פָנִים רָעִים, Genesis 11:7; Nehemiah 2:2, signifies not an evil countenance, but a sad, sorrowful one, and יִיטַב לֵב is not to be understood of the moral amendment, but of the cheering up and gladdening of the heart; 1] comp. the Latin, cor bene se habet, as also the parallels Ecclesiastes 9:9; Judges 19:6; Judges 19:9; Ruth 3:7; 1 Kings 16:7. But cheerfulness and contentment of the heart, with a sad countenance, can only be imagined where its thoughts have begun to take the normal direction in a religious and moral aspect; moral amendment is therefore in any case the presupposition of הֵיטִיב לֵב, and there Isaiah, therefore, no contradiction but the clearest harmony with Proverbs 16:13; Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 27:22; Proverbs 28:14.
Ecclesiastes 7:4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. Drawing his conclusion from Ecclesiastes 7:2-3, the author returns to the expression of the second sentence. Because a serious disposition is everywhere more salutary than boisterous worldly merriment, it is plain that the former will be peculiar to the wise Prayer of Manasseh, as the latter to the fool. Vaihinger observes very correctly, that one perceives from this passage that the preacher, however often he recommends enjoyment of life, never means thereby boisterous pleasures and blind sensual enjoyment, but rather worthy and grateful enjoyment of the good and the beautiful offered by God. Such an enjoyment is not only possible with a serious course of life, but is indeed only thereby attainable.
Ecclesiastes 7:5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise. For גְּעָרָה, rebuke, censure, reproof on account of foolish or criminal behaviour, comp. Proverbs 18:1. Intercourse with wise men, i.e., strictly moral and religious individuals, who can easily impart those censures, belongs to those expressions of a serious, world-contemning spirit, of which a few other examples have been cited, such as to go into the house of mourning, to be of a sad countenance.Than for a man to hear the song of fools. Literal: Than a man hearing the song of fools. Flattering speeches are not specially meant here (Vulg. adulatio), but the extravagant, boisterous and immoral songs that are heard in the riotous carousals of foolish men, in the בֵּית מִשְֹׁתֶּה or house of feasting. Comp. Job 21:12; Amos 6:5; Isaiah 5:11-12.
Ecclesiastes 7:6. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot. The fire of dry thorns, quickly blazing up, and burning with loud crackling and snapping, and also quickly consumed (comp. Psalm 58:9; Psalm 120:4; and especially Psalm 118:12) is here chosen as the emblem of the loud, boisterous, and vacant laughter of foolish men, who are at the same time destitute of all deeper moral worth. This also is vanity; namely, all this noisy, merry, vacant and unfruitful conduct of fools.
Ecclesiastes 7:7. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. כִּי in the beginning of this verse can neither be considered as containing a cause or a motive [this is the opinion of the most commentators, also of Hitzig, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg, Hahn, etc.), nor as an adversative equivalent to yet, or but [Ewald, Elster]. Like the אֲשֶׁר in Ecclesiastes 6:12, it here clearly expresses an intensifying sense (comp. כִּי in Isaiah 5:7; Job 6:21, etc.). The connection with the preceding is as follows: So great is the vanity of fools, and so powerfully and rapidly does it spread, like the blazing fire of thorns, that even the wise man is in danger of being infected by it; and deluded from the path of probity in consequence of brilliant positions of power, striving after riches, offers of presents or bribes, etc. עשֶׁק (for which Ewald in his Biblical Annual 1856, p150, unnecessarily proposed to read עשֶׁרa conjecture abandoned by him afterwards) does not mean in a passive sense the oppression of the wise man by others, but rather the pressure which he is tempted to exercise, just as מַתָּנָה means a present, or bribe which is offered to him. The wise man is regarded as a Judges, who, in the exercise of his functions, needs true Wisdom of Solomon, so much the more because he may easily be deluded by bribery and be tempted to misuse his official power. For the expressions הוֹלֵל to delude, to make a fool of, and אַבֵּד לֵב to corrupt the heart, corumpere, comp. Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 4:9. 2] For the sentence see Deuteronomy 16:19; Sirach 20:27; [but not Proverbs 17:8; Proverbs 18:16; Proverbs 19:6, etc., where allowable giving is meant].
3. Second strophe. Ecclesiastes 7:8-14. Of the value of patience, tranquility, and resignation to the will of God. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. The sense is not the same as in Ecclesiastes 7:1, but rather, according to the second verse, as follows: it is better quietly to await the course of an affair until its issue, and not to judge and act until then, than to proceed rashly and with passionate haste, and bring upon ones self its bad consequences. The peculiar sense of אֶרֶךְ־רוּחַ corresponds to the calm demeanor expressed by the term long-suffering in the sense of the New Testament μακροθυμία ( Colossians 1:11; Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 6:15; James 5:7-8); and for the violent temper described in the second place, we have the state of mind denoted by the word גְבַהּ־רוּחַ, haughty, or presumptuous. Comp. 1 Kings 20:11.
Ecclesiastes 7:9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. The word כְּעוֹס to be morose, sensitive [see remarks on Ecclesiastes 7:3 above], is a peculiar species of haughtiness mentioned in the previous verse, and one very frequently and easily occurring; it is not fully expressed by גְבַהּ רוּחַ, as Hengstenberg supposes [quite as little as גְבַהּ רוּחַ is expressed by אֶרֶךְ אַפַיִם βραδύς είς ὀργήν, James 1:19].For anger rests in the bosom of fools; that Isaiah, a fretful, irritable disposition is mainly found in fools, is deeply rooted in their nature and has its homo there. For נוּחַ, in this sense see Proverbs 16:33; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 25:11. For the sentence see Job 5:2; Proverbs 12:16.
Ecclesiastes 7:10. Say not what is the cause, etc. Finding fault with the present, and a one-sided praise of past times, is a well-known characteristic of peevish and fretful dispositions, and of those surly carpers at fate of Ecclesiastes 7:16, and those difficiles, queruli, laudatores temporis acti of the Horatian epistola ad Pisones, (line173). For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. That Isaiah, not so that thy question is made on the basis of wise reflection, and therefore proceeds from this source. Comp. the similar use of the preposition מִן, Ecclesiastes 2:10; Psalm 28:7.
Ecclesiastes 7:11-12. The praise of Wisdom of Solomon, in so far as it is in harmony with a thoughtful, patient, and even soul.Wisdom is good with an inheritance. [Zöckler: as an inheritance]. עִם נַחֲלָה does not mean with an inheritance or fortune, as if the sense were the same as that in Ecclesiastes 5:18 (Sept, Vulg, Luther). The connection decides against this, as well as against the view of Ewald: in comparison with an inheritance, and against the still more unfitting view of Hahn: wisdom is good against destiny. (!) עִם is undoubtedly used in the same sense as in Ecclesiastes 2:16; Genesis 18:23; Psalm 73:5; Job 9:26. 3]And by it there is profit to them that see the sun; i.e., for the living (comp. Ecclesiastes 6:5; and the Homeric ὁραν φάος ἠελίο̣ιο, also the Latin, diem videre). Herzfeld, Hitzig, and Henostenberg unnecessarily take יֹתֵר in the adverbial sense of more, better still, in order to let the second clause appear as an intensification of the first. The adjective or rather the substantive sense, corresponds better to the poetical character of the passage, and is equivalent to יִתְרוֹן; in support of which Ecclesiastes 6:8 may be quoted, and in which the second clause becomes the exact parallel of the first.
Ecclesiastes 7:12. For wisdom is a defence, and moneys is a defence. (Lit. Ger, in the shadow of Wisdom of Solomon, in the shadow of money). That Isaiah, he who dwells in the shadow of wisdom is just as much protected as he who passes his life in the protection of much money; therefore an exact, parallel in sense with Ecclesiastes 7:11, first clause. Symmachus is correct: σκέπει σοφια ὡς σκέπει τὸ ἀργύριον; but the Vulgate is not wholly so: Sicut enimprolegit sapientia, sic protegit pecunia. Knobel and Hitzig are too artificial in saying that בְּ here is the beth essentiæ, which would be therefore translated: Wisdom is a shadow, (that is a defence) and money is a shadow. בְּצֵל is rather to be taken here as in Psalm 91:1, where it is parallel with בְּסֵתֶר. The shadow is here used as a symbol of protection, with the subordinate idea of the agreeable, as also in Psalm 121:4; Isaiah 32:2-3; Isaiah 32:2; Lamentations 4:20, etc.But the excellence of knowledge is; i.e., the advantage that knowledge (דַּעַת comp. Ecclesiastes 1:16) has over money, that which makes it more valuable than money. דַּעַת here alternates with חָכְמָה simply on account of the poetical parallelism.Wisdom giveth life to them that have it; lit, it animates him (תְּחַיֶה). חִיָה is not to keep in life (Hitzig), but to grant life, i.e., to bestow a genuine happy life. Comp. Job 36:6; Psalm 16:11; Psalm 38:9; Proverbs 3:18; especially the last passage, which may be quoted as most decisive for our meaning. Hengstenberg lays too much stress on תְּחַיֶה in claiming for it the sense of reanimating, of the resurrection of that which was spiritually dead (according to Hosea 6:2; Luke 15:32, etc.); and Knobel too little, when he declares: wisdom affords a calm and contented spirit. 4]
Ecclesiastes 7:13. Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight which He hath made crooked? A return to the exhortations to a calm, patient spirit ( Ecclesiastes 7:9-10), with reference to Gods wise and unchangeable counsel and will, to which we must yield in order to learn true patience and tranquility. The connection between the first and second clauses is as follows: In observing the works of God thou wilt find that His influence is eternal and immutable; for who can make that straight which He hath made crooked, i.e., harmonize the defects and imperfections of human life decreed by Him; comp. Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 6:10; Job 12:14; Romans 9:9. As this connection of thought is evident enough, one need not, with Hitzig and others, take כִי in the sense of that, to which indeed the interrogative form of the second clause would be unfitting.
Ecclesiastes 7:14. In the day of prosperity be joyful.בְּטוֹב is equivalent to בְּלֶב־טוֹב. Comp. Ecclesiastes 9:7; 1 Kings 8:66; Sirach 14:14.But in the day of adversity consider. Behold, look at, observe [namely the following truth]; comp. רָאָה in Ecclesiastes 7:13. Ewald is harsh and artificial in his rendering: and bear the day of misfortune, taking רָאָה בְּ in a sense that he claims is sustained by Genesis 21:16.God also hath set the one over against the other. This is the substance of that which one must consider in adversity, fully corresponding with what Job says in Ecclesiastes 2:10.To the end that man should find nothing after him; i.e., in order that he may fathom nothing that lies beyond his present condition (אַחֲרָיו as in Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12), or in order that the future that lies behind him, or, according to our more usual expression, that lies before him, remain hidden and concealed from him, and that he may, in no wise, count on it, but rather remain in all things unconditionally dependent on God, and His grace (Elster, Vaihinger and Hengstenberg are correct on this point). עַל דִֹּבְרַת שֶׁלֹּא lit.: on account of that, that not (comp. עַל דִּבְרַת, on account of, Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 8:2) is not equivalent to so that not, [Luther in his Commentary], or, therefore, because not [Hitzig and Hahn], but clearly introduces the divine dispensation in assigning sometimes good and sometimes evil days; therefore it should be rendered to the end that.
4. Third strophe. Ecclesiastes 7:15-22. Of the value of the fear of God and humble self-appreciation. All things have I seen, etc. All, i.e., not all kinds [Luther, Vaihinger, Hengstenberg], but everything possible, everything that can come into consideration, everything to whose consideration I could be directed (according to Ecclesiastes 7:13-14). In the days of my vanity. i.e., since I belong to this vain, empty life of earth. There is no indication that these vain days passed completely by during the life of the speaker, 5] and this passage cannot, therefore, be used as a proof that Song of Solomon, who became repentant in his old age, is the speaker.There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness.יֵשׁ, there Isaiah, does not belong to אבֵֹד, but to צַדִּיק, therefore the meaning is not the just man perisheth. בְּצִדְקוֹ is not through his righteousness (Umbreit, Vaihinger, Hitzig); but in it; comp. Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 217, 3, f. The intention here is to announce something which Koheleth saw, an evident fact; but this is only the external connection, the association of righteousness and misfortune; not, on the contrary, the misfortune effected through righteousness. The same thing occurs in the following clause, where בְּרָעָתוֹ is not to be understood as through but in, that Isaiah, in spite of his wickedness. But the author desires by no means to present that righteousness in which one perisheth as blameless, but has doubtless here in view, as in the subsequent verse, that self-righteousness, that apparent outward righteousness which our Lord so often had to censure in the Pharisees ( Matthew 5:20; Luke 5:32; Luke 15:7, etc.) and which appeared quite early in Old Testament history as a religiously moral tendency, comp. Int. § 4, Obs3.And there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. מַאֲרִיךְ with יָמָיו understood, comp. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13; Deuteronomy 22:7; Proverbs 28:2; Proverbs 28:16, etc.
Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not righteous overmuch neither make thyself overwise. Clearly a warning against that strictly exact, but hypocritical and external righteousness of those predecessors of the Pharisees to whom the preceding verse referred. הִתְחַכֵּם (Reflexive of חִכֵּם to make wise) can scarcely here signify anything else than as in Exodus 1:10; therefore sapientem se gessit, not sapientem se putavit. This expression make thyself not over wise, is consequently not a warning against vainly imagining that one is wise, but against the effort to appear eminently wise, and against, a pretentious assumption of the character of a teacher of Wisdom of Solomon, in short, against that Pharisaical error 6] which Christ ensures in Matthew 23:6-7 : φιλοῦσινκαλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ῤαββί, ῤαββί. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself? Namely by the curse which God has put upon the vices of arrogance, and hypocrisy; Comp. Christs expressions of woe unto you Pharisees ! in Matthew 23. Hitzig says: Why wilt thou isolate thyself? This is a useless enfeebling of the sense; foreEcc Ecclesiastes 7:15, as well as Ecclesiastes 7:17-18 show that the warning of the author is meant in all seriousness, and that he refers to divine and not merely human punishment. Comp. also the sentence of Ezekiel 33:11, so closely allied with this present one: Why will ye die; O house of Israel? and also Ecclesiastes 4:5. Ecclesiastes 7:17. Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish. Koheleth does not recommend a certain moderation in wickedness as though he considered it allowable, but simply and alone because he recognizes the fact as generally acknowledged and certain that in some respects at least, every man is somewhat wicked by nature; see Ecclesiastes 7:20-22. He who is over much wicked is the maliciously wicked or downright ungodly one (הָרָשָׁע), who sins not merely from weakness, but with consciousness of evil (comp. Leviticus 42:27; Numbers 15:27; Ecclesiastes 5:6). Such a one is eo ipso foolish (סָכָל) μαινόμενος οῇ ἀδικία, that Isaiah, a fool in the sense of Psalm 14:1; Psalm 53:1.Why shouldst thou die before thy time? That Isaiah, before the time assigned thee by God. For this thought of the shortening of the days of the wicked through divine justice, 7] comp. Proverbs 10:27; Psalm 55:23; Job 15:32; Job 22:16.
Ecclesiastes 7:18. It is good that thou shouldst take hold of this; yea, from this also withdraw not thine hand. A recommendation to avoid the two extremes of false righteousness and bold wickedness (of the Pharisees and Sadducees) harmonizing with the thought of Horace: Medium tenuere beati; medio tutissimus ibis: and this is not meant in the superficial sense of the ethical eclecticism of the later Greeks and Romans, but in that stern religious sense, which the Lord expresses when, in Matthew 23:23, in words most nearly allied to these, (ταῦτα δὲ ἔδει ποσῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἄφιεναι) He demands the most conscientious connection between the outer and the inner fulfilment of the law.For he who feareth God shall come forth of them all. Namely from the bad consequences of false righteousness and those of indecent contempt of the law, and bold immorality. יָצָא with the accusative, signifies here as in Jeremiah 10:20, (בָּנַי יְצָאֻנִי, my children desert me), Genesis 44:4 (יָצְאוּ אֶת־הָעִיר they went out of the city), Amos 4:3, etc.: to go from something, to escape a thing, (comp. also 1 Samuel 14:41). Hitzigs view gives a somewhat different sense: He who feareth God goes with both, i.e., does not strive to exceed the just medium; this is similar to the Vulgate (nihil negligit) and to the Syriac (utrique inhæret). But the usus loquendi is rather more in favor of the former meaning. Ecclesiastes 7:19. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise. Lit, proves itself strong to him (תָּעֹז לֶחָכָם) more than, etc, i.e., it protects him better, defends him more effectually. More than ten mighty men which are in the city; than ten heroes which are at the head of the troops, than ten commanders surrounded by their forces, to whom the defence of the besieged city is entrusted. For the sentence comp. Proverbs 10:15, (where קִרְיַת עֹז reminds of עָזַז לְ) Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 24:5. The wisdom whose mightily protecting and strengthening influence is here lauded, is of course, that genuine wisdom which is in harmony with the fear of God; it is that disposition and demeanor which hold the true evangelical mean between the extremes of false righteousness and lawlessness, which forms the necessary contrast and the corrective to the being over wise censured in Ecclesiastes 7:16.
Ecclesiastes 7:20. For there is not a just man upon earth who doeth good and sinneth not. Therefore (this is the unexpressed conclusion), every one needs this true wisdom for his protection against the justice of God; no one can dispense with this only reliable guide in the way of truth. This sentence confirms the 19 th verse in the first place, and then the whole preceding warning against the extremes of hypocrisy and impenitence. Comp. the similar confessions of the universal sinfulness of our race in Psalm 130:3; Psalm 143:2; Job 9:2; Job 14:3; Proverbs 20:9; 1 Kings 8:46.
Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 are not simply connected with Ecclesiastes 7:20, as Knobel supposes, (who brings out the sequence of thought by means of the idea that as sinners we fall short of our duty, and cause adverse judgments against ourselves) but is also connected with all the preceding verses from the 15 th on, so that the connection of ideas is as follows: 8] You will certainly receive the manifold censure of men for living according to the doctrines of this wisdom (you will be considered hypocritical, excessively austere, eccentric, etc.,); but do not be led astray by this, and do not listen to it; and this out of humility, because you must ever be conseious of your faults, and therefore know sufficiently well what is true in the evil reports of men, and what is not.Also take no heed unto all the words that are spoken. That Isaiah, do not cast all to the wind that thou hearest, but only, do not be over anxious about their evil reports concerning thee; do not be curious to hear how they judge thee. We are therefore warned against idle curiosity and latent desire of praise, and reminded of the very significant circumstance that ones own servant may accord to the vain listener disgrace and imprecation, instead of the desired honor.
Ecclesiastes 7:22. For ofttimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. The expression, thine own heart, is clearly equivalent to the guilty conscience that accuses man of his former sins, especially of his unkindness to his neighbor, and his violations of the eighth commandment, and thereby demands of him a more humble self-appreciation, and a wiser restraint in intercourse with others. פְעָמִים רַבּות may be considered either as the accusative of timemany timesor the objective accusativemany casesbut belongs in either case closely to יָדַע, not to קִלַּלְתָּ. The first גַם, Isaiah, in strictness, superfluous. אֲשֶׁר at the beginning of the second clause, is not so that (Elster), but there where (where it happened that, etc.); comp. Genesis 35:13-15; 2 Samuel 19:25.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
(With Homiletical Hints.)
This section has three divisions describing the nature of genuine wisdom in three principal phases;as an earnestness of life, despising the world, as patience, resigned to God, and as an humble penitent fear of God. Of these, the third affords a rich harvest in the dogmatic field, and mainly by emphasizing one of the most important anthropological truths of the entire Old Testament Revelation, namely, the universal sinfulness of the human race (see especially Ecclesiastes 7:20, and also the parallel passages there quoted from Psalm, Job and the Proverbs). This truth appears here in a connection which is the more significant because it forms the background, and the deepest motive, to all the preceding admonitions. It explains not only the preceding warning against the two extremes of hypocritical and false righteousness and bold lawlessness, (the cardinal vice of Jew and Gentile before Christ, or the fundamental error of Pharisees and Sadducees among the later Jews); but it also finally serves as a basis and impulse (in the first two strophes) to the admonitions to holy earnestness, and to a calm and resigned state of soul. In the admonition to a stern contempt of the world and its pleasures, this is especially clear; for this admonition closes in verse7 with the highly impressive reference to the fact, that even wise men are exposed to the seduction of vices and follies of divers kinds, whence directly springs the duty of turning from the busy tumult of the world, and of anxious zeal for ones own salvation in fear and trembling. But the second division ( Ecclesiastes 7:8-14) also presupposes the fact that men, without exception, lie under the burden of sin; as it declares wisdom [which is unconditional resignation to the divine will] to be the only dispenser of true life ( Ecclesiastes 7:12) and describes, as the salutary fruit of such Wisdom of Solomon, the patient endurance of the evil as well as the good days which God sends. It needs no further illustration to prove that this significant attention to the principal anthropological truth of the Old Testament gives to this chapter a peculiarly evangelical character,especially with the quite numerous parallels in New Testament history. (Comp. Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:25; James 5:9, etc., with Ecclesiastes 7:3-4; Ecclesiastes 7:6; and 2 Corinthians 7:10 with Ecclesiastes 7:3; James 5:7-8 with Ecclesiastes 7:8; James 1:19 with Ecclesiastes 7:9; Matthew 23:5 ff. with Ecclesiastes 7:16 ff.; Matthew 23:23 with Ecclesiastes 7:18; Romans 3:23 with Ecclesiastes 7:20).
We may regard the following as the leading proposition of the entire section : The universality of human sin and the only true remedy for it. Or, God withstands the arrogant and grants His favor to the humble; or, Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted; Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth; Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness : for they shall be filled ( Matthew 5:4-6, three beatitudes of the sermon on the mount, corresponding to the three divisions of this chapter).Comp. also Starke. Two rules for Christian conduct: 1. Be ever mindful of death (17); 2. Be patient and contented (829).
homiletical hints on separate passages
Ver. I. Cramer:Faith, a good conscience, and a good name, are three precious jewels; we can get nothing better than these from this world.Starke :The death of the saints is the completion of their struggle against sin, the devil and the world; it is to them a door of life, an entrance into eternal rest and perfect security.Hengstenberg:The difference between the proposition in the latter clause of the first verse, and similar expressions in the Gentile world, is that the Gentiles did not possess the key to explanation of human sorrows on earth, and did not understand how to bring them into harmony with divine justice and love.
Ecclesiastes 7:2. Melanchthon:In prosperity, men become reckless; they think less of Gods wrath, and less expect His aid. Thus they become more and more presumptuous; they trust to their own industry, their own power, and are thus easily driven on by the devil.Tübingen Bible: Joy in the world is the mark of a man drowned in vanity. It is much better to mourn over sin, and, in reflecting on this vanity, to seek a higher joy that is in God.Starke:Although not all cheerfulness is forbidden to the Christian ( Philippians 4:4), it is always safer to think with sorrow of ones sin, guilt, and liability to punishment, than to assume a false gladsotmeness.Hengstenberg:Periods of sorrow are always periods of blessings for the Church.Deichert: [Sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:3-9, in the collection of Old Testament sermons: The Star out of Jacob, Stuttgard, 1867, p. Ecclesiastes 208:] The house of lamentation is a school of humility1. In the house of mourning proud thoughts are abased; 2. There, especially, is the vain pleasure of the world recognized in its emptiness; 3. There, also, we learn to prize the end of a thing more highly than its beginning.
Ecclesiastes 7:6-7. Luther:The joy of fools seems as if it would last forever, and does indeed blaze up, but it is nothing. They have their consolation for a moment, then comes misfortune, that casts them down: then all their joy lies in the ashes..... Pleasure, and vain consolation of the flesh, do not last long, and all such pleasures turn into sorrow, and have an evil end.Starke:( Ecclesiastes 7:7), Even a wise and God-fearing man is in danger of being turned from the good way ( 1 Corinthians 10:12); therefore watchfulness and prayer are necessary that we may not be carried back again to our evil nature ( 1 Peter 5:8).
Ecclesiastes 7:8. Melanchthon:.In this saying he demands perseverance in good counsels ( Matthew 10:12); for the good cause appears better in the event. Though much that is adverse is to be borne, nevertheless the right and true triumph in the end.Lange:The beginning and the continuance of Christianity are connected with sorrows; but these sorrows are followed by a glorious and blissful end ( 2 Corinthians 4:17.Berleb. Bible:Blessed is he who under all circumstances behaves with quiet patience, arms himself with humble resignation and great cheerfulness, adapts himself to good and evil times, and ever finds strength and pleasure in the words: Thy will be done!Hengstenberg:It is folly to stop at what lies immediately before our eyes; it is Wisdom of Solomon, on the contrary, in the face of the fortune of the wicked, to say: For they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb. Psalm 37:2; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 129:6). If we only do not hasten in anger, God in His own time will remove the inducement to anger from our path.
Cramer:It proceeds from men alone that time is better at one period than at another; on their account also time must be subjected to vanity.Geier:The best remedy against evil times is to pray zealously, penitently to acknowledge the deserved punishment of sin, patiently to bear it and heartily to trust in God.Wohlfarth:Let us hear the voice of truth! In its light, impartially comparing the present and the past, we shall arrive at the conviction that every period has its peculiar advantages and defects, and that with all the unpleasant features that rest upon our time it nevertheless presents a greater measure of happiness than any former one. Instead, therefore, of embittering the advantages of our epoch by foolish complaints, making its burdens heavier, and weakening our own courage, we should seek rather to become wisely familiar with it, and to remove its defects or make them less perceptible.
Ecclesiastes 7:11-14. Starke: ( Ecclesiastes 7:11-12):If you are to have but one of two things, you should much rather dispense with all riches than with heavenly Wisdom of Solomon, that after this life you may have eternal blessedness ( Wisdom of Solomon 7:8-10).Cartwright ( Ecclesiastes 7:13):When a bird is caught in a net, the more he struggles the more tightly is he held. So if a man is taken in the net of Providence, the safest course for him, is to yield himself wholly to the divine will as that which, with the highest good, does nothing unwise or unjust ( Job 34:12).Hengstenberg:We must be led to contentment in sorrow, by the reflection that it comes from the same God that sends us happiness ( Job 2:10). If the sender is the same, there must be in the sending, in spite of all external inequality, an essential equality. God, even when He imposes a cross, is still God, our heavenly Father, our Saviour, who has thoughts of peace regarding us.
Ecclesiastes 7:15-18. Luther:The substance is this: Summum jus summa injuria. He who would most rigidly regulate and rectify everything, whether in the State-or in the household, will have much labor, little or no fruit. On the other hand, there is one who would do nothing, and who contemns the enforcement of justice. Neither is right. As you would not be over-righteous, see to it that you be not over-wicked,that Isaiah, that you do not contemn and neglect all government committed to you, thus letting everything fall into evil. It may be well to overlook some things, but not to neglect everything. If wisdom does not succeed, you are not, therefore, to get mad with rage and vengeance. Mind that you be just, and others with you, enforce piety, firmly persevere, however it may turn out. You must fear lest He come as suddenly and call you to judgment, as he took away the soul of the rich man in the night he thought not of.Cramer, ( Ecclesiastes 7:16) :Those rulers are over-just who search everything too closely; and the theologians are over-wise who, in matters of faith, wish to direct everything according to their own reason.Zeyss, ( Ecclesiastes 7:17):Wickedness itself is already a road to ruin; but where foolish arrogance joins it, so that one boldly sins, divine punishment and vengeance are thereby hastened ( Sirach 5:4 ff.).Hengstenberg:Godly fear escapes the danger of Phariseeism by awakening in the heart an antipathy against deceiving God by the tricks of a heartless and false righteousness; but it also escapes the danger of a life of sin, because the power arising from the confession of sin is inseparably connected with it ( Isaiah 6:5); for with the fear of God is connected a tender aversion to offending God by sin ( Genesis 39:9) as also the lively desire to walk in the way of His commandments ( Psalm 119:16.)
Ecclesiastes 7:19-22. Zeyss, ( Ecclesiastes 7:19-20):The universal ruin produced by sin must lead every one to heartfelt penitence and humility ( Ezra 9:6.)Starke, ( Ecclesiastes 7:21-22):The wisdom of the Creator has given us two ears and only one tongue, in order to teach us that we must hear twice before we speak once ( James 1:19). If anything grieves thee, examine thyself to learn whether thou hast not deserved it by evil conduct; humble thyself concerning it before God, suffer patiently, and do it no more!Hengstenberg:In times of severe sorrow it is important that, in the suffering, we recognize the deserved punishment for our sins. That brings light into the otherwise obscure providence of God, a light that stills the rising of the soul, that animates the hope. If we recognize the footsteps of God in the deserved sorrow, the confidence in His mercy soon becomes strong.
C. True Wisdom must be Energetically Maintained and Preserved in Presence of all the Attractions, Oppressions, and other Hostilities on the part of this World
Ecclesiastes 7:23 to Ecclesiastes 8:15
1. Against the enticements of this world, and especially unchastity
( Ecclesiastes 7:23-29)
23All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from 24 me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out ? 25I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out Wisdom of Solomon, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness: 26And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands : whoso pleases God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her 27 Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: 28Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found 29 Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
FN#1 - See Metrical Version, and the remarks on this passage Introd. to Met. Vers. page179.T. L.]
FN#2 - The common view of this passage as given in E. V, which makes the wise man the object of oppression, is unquestionably wrong, though so often quoted and used as historical illustration. It does not agree with הוֹלֵל, which does not mean the madness of frenzy caused by a sense of wrong, but vain glory, extravagance, inflation, coming from inward wrong-feeling. Zöckler is doubtless right in saying that it does not denote passively the oppression which the wise man suffers from others; but his rendering pressure seems forced and far from being clear. עשֶׁק may denote a state of soul leading to wrong and oppression, as well as the outward act itself; as in Psalm 73:8, וִידַבְּרוּ עשֶׁק is parallel to מִמָּרוֹם יְבֵּרוּ, they speak lofty, arrogantly. Compare also Isaiah 59:13, where it is joined with סָרָה perverseness, and falsehood. See also Psalm 62:11. The connection, then, is with Ecclesiastes 7:5 : To hear the reproving of the wise is better than to listen to the song of fools. Ecclesiastes 7:6 is simply an illustration of what is meant by the song of fools, and then follows the brief clause, this too is vanity, which, although connected by the accents with Ecclesiastes 7:6, must refer to the whole context that precedes; since it would seem superfluous thus to characterize simply the empty talk of fools. It is frequently the case in Koheleth that an admonition, or serious maxim, given in one sentence, is afterwards qualified, if not wholly modified or retracted, in another; as though there were some vanity even in the gravest of human words or acts. גַּס־זֶה הָבֶל, this too may be vanity. that Isaiah, the reproof of the wise, or of the judge, (as Zöckler, from the context, correctly regards him); for his own arrogance, or perverseness of temper, may lead him astray, or a bribe may corrupt his heart. And thus there is brought out, what seems evidently intended, a contrast between the inward and outward deranging power. T. L.]
FN#3 - There seems no good reason for departing here from the usual sense of עִם with, in connection with. The other passages referred to explain themselves. The word נַחֲלָה, as used in many places, does not mean inheritance generally, like יְרֵשָׁה but a rich and ample possession, in a most favorable sense, as one given by the Lord, or inherited from ones father, an estate, or property. The sense is obvious: Wisdom is a good alone, but when joined with an ample estate, as a means of doing good, then is it especially an advantage to the sons of men. See Metrical Version.T. L.]
FN#4 - Ecclesiastes 7:12. הַחָכְמָה תְּהַיֶּה, rendered wisdom giveth life. We cannot help thinking that Koheleth means more here than Zöcklers interpretation would give, or any of the others he mentions. There is a contrast, too, giving the connection of thought, which they all fail to bring out. In the shade of Wisdom of Solomon, as in the shade of wealth; that Isaiah, in both is there a defence. Defence of what? Of life evidently. In this they both agree; but knowledge, wisdom (variety of expression for the same thing), does more than this. Its great pre-eminence Isaiah, that it giveth life to its possessors (תְּחַיֶּה makes them alive). This means something more than mere animating, in the ordinary sense of cheering, enlivening, or making happy, etc. Knowledge is life. Vivere est cogitare. It Isaiah, in a high sense, the souls being. It is true of mere human knowledge, science, philosophy, intuition. Much more may it be said of divine or spiritual knowledge. Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4. The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life, John 6:63. It is not merely spiritual, that Isaiah, moral reanimation, as Hengstenberg would have it, but the very life of the soul. It is a sufficient argument against the other interpretations given, that in falling short of this they lose the contrast, and fail to exhibit that connection to which the antithetical nicety of the proverbial diction evidently points.T. L.]
FN#5 - Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not over-righteous, etc. There is no reason for regarding צַדִּיק, in the 15 th verse, as having any other than its ordinary sense, or the truly righteous man. It is the same experience that Koheleth presents elsewhere, the just man in this world having the same lot as the wicked, and sometimes suffering when the wicked seems to escape with impunity,like the experience of the Psalmist, Psalm 73:4-5. The צַדִּיק, in the 16 th verse, Isaiah, doubtless, suggested by that in the preceding, but such a fact would not necessitate their having precisely the same meaning; since the connection may be poetical, or suggestive, rather than logical. Zöcklers idea, therefore, of its meaning here the self-righteous, or Pharisaical, might be sustained, perhaps, without carrying the idea into the preceding verse. His view of the צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה, the over-righteous, is very similar to that of Jerome, who interprets the passage as a condemnation of one who over- Judges, rigidum et trucem ad omnia fratrum peccata,the worthy father, perhaps, little thinking how distinctly he was giving a feature of his own character. Do not, he says, in this respect, be too just (that Isaiah, too rigid), because an unjust weight, be it too great or too small, is an abomination to the Lord. And then he cites our Lords precept, Matthew 7, Judge not, etc. The being over-wise he refers to proud or curious inquiring into the hidden works and ways of God, such as Paul condemns, Romans 9:20, and the confounding to the effect produced by Gods rebuke, or such an answer as the Apostle gives: Nay, who art thou, O man? Stuart renders it, do not overdo. Rabbi Schelomo, following the Targum and Jewish authorities so early as to be referred to by Jerome, regards צַדִּיק as meaning kind or merciful, and alleges the example of Saul, who through mistaken clemency, spared the life of Agag. Others refer it to a too strict judging of the ways of Providence, or the arraigning them for what seems to us unjust; as when we see the righteous perish and the wicked man living on in his wickedness. An argument for this interpretation is the support it seems to have from Ecclesiastes 7:15. Another interpretation regards it as a caution against asceticism and moroseness, in denying ones self innocent pleasures for fear of finding sin in them. This is the view of Maimonides in the yad Hachazakah, Part I, Lib4, Sec. III, 3, 4. Akin to this is the view, stated by him, which regards it as rebuking works of supererogation, as when a man attempts to do more than the law requires.
If we keep in view, however, the general scope of this musing, meditative, book, it will be found, we think, that the two members here mean very much the same thing: Do not view the world, or the ways of God, too narrowly, as though we, from our exceedingly limited position, could determine what it would be just or unjust for God to do, or permit. This is in harmony with the preceding verse. It furnishes us with a key to the transition in the train of thought: When you see the righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper, do not let the thought, or even feeling, arise in your mind that you could, or would, be more equitable, if you had the management of the world. This is agreeable to the general style of Koheleth,one thought correcting what seems too strongly stated, or which may be liable to misunderstanding, in another. It is also in perfect harmony with what follows: Be not overwise; that is do not speculate too much, or theorize too much, אַל תִּתְחַכַּם, do not play the philosopher too much; you know too little; your Baconianism (as he might have said had he lived in these our boasting times) has too small an area of inductive facts from which to construct systems of the universe (especially in its moral and spiritual aspects) out of nebular hypotheses. This corresponds with what is said Ecclesiastes 3:11, about the world so given to the minds of men that they cannot find out the work that God worketh, the end from the beginning. It is the same idea that we have Ecclesiastes 8:17 : Man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun, and even if a wise man (a philosopher) say that he knows it, he shall not be able to discover it. The Vulgate renders it, neque plus sapias quam necesse est. Jerome, in his Latin Version, ne quæras amplius, LXX μὴ σοφίζου. The whole precept, then, may be taken as a condemnation of that spirit which would be more just and wise than God. No man professes this, or would oven admit that he thus feels, yet it is realized when any one, in any way, finds fault with, or even doubts, or has difficulty with, the ways of God in the world. Such a temper is also condemned Ecclesiastes 5:8 : If thou seest oppression of the poor, etc., be not astonished concerning such a matter, for He who is high above all is watching them. Compare also Job 4:7, where the Spirit-voice says to Eliphaz הַאֱנוֹשּׁ מֵאֱלוֹהַּ יִצְדָּק, shall a man (βροτὸς, mortalis) be more just than God? This is being צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה. So also Psalm 37:1 : Fret not thyself against the evil doers. The Hithpahel form, תִּתְחַכַּם, would authorize us to understand it of a seeming or affected Wisdom of Solomon, but it more properly means here a prying into the divine mysteries, whether of Revelation, or of the supernatural, or an arrogant denial of both, grounded on the comparative infinitesimality of our knowledge.
לָמָּה תִּשּׁוֹמֵם (for the fuller Hithpahel תִּשְׁתּוֹמֵם) ne obstupescas (Jerome); rather why shouldst thou be desolate, or make thyself desolate, which would correspond to the first interpretation of תתחכם, alone in thy wisdom; or why shouldst thou be confounded. He who presumes to settle matters too high for him, will surely, in some way, be taught his ignorance and his folly.T. L.
FN#6 - There is no indication to the contrary, it should rather be said. The Hebrew is remarkably plain, and there is no way of making it mean since I belong to this vain empty life. This is too much practised by those who deny the Solomonic origin of the book, thus to take away the force of certain passages that plainly speak for it, and then to reason on their own false hypothesis. Had this expression not occurred at all, the whole hook furnishes evidence that it was written by one who had an unusual experience of the vanities and vicissitudes of life. A mere personator could never have expressed it so feelingly.T. L.]
FN#7 - The Syriac has something here which is not in the Hebrew, nor in any other version, דלא תסתנא that thou mayest not be hated.T. L.]
FN#8 - This seems exceedingly forced and far-fetched. Knobels view is more so. The simple order of thought may be stated thus: Wise men are scarce, being to the strong men, the שליטים, captains, or principal men in a city, about as one to ten; but one, a truly righteous, or perfectly righteous Prayer of Manasseh, is not found on earth, etc. The wise man of Ecclesiastes 7:19, is not the pious man necessarily, or the one who fears God, though that may be included, but wise, simply, in distinction from men of power or political eminence, or wise like the one described Ecclesiastes 9:15, who saved the city. Such may be found, but the perfectly righteous is a character that does not exist upon earth. The particle כִּי here is emphatic, calling attention to the fact regarded as strange, and yet well known. See Metrical Version.T. L.]
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1857-84.
|Scenes of Mourning and of Joy.|
7 Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad and a gift destroyeth the heart. 8 Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9 Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. 10 Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
Solomon had often complained before of the oppressions which he saw under the sun, which gave occasion for many melancholy speculations and were a great discouragement to virtue and piety. Now here,
I. He grants the temptation to be strong (Ecclesiastes 7:7): Surely it is often too true that oppression makes a wise man mad. If a wise man be much and long oppressed, he is very apt to speak and act unlike himself, to lay the reins on the neck of his passions, and break out into indecent complaints against God and man, or to make use of unlawful dishonourable means of relieving himself. The righteous, when the rod of the wicked rests long on their lot, are in danger of putting forth their hands to iniquity, Psalm 125:3. When even wise men have unreasonable hardships put upon them they have much ado to keep their temper and to keep their place. It destroys the heart of a gift (so the latter clause may be read) even the generous heart that is ready to give gifts, and a gracious heart that is endowed with many excellent gifts, is destroyed by being oppressed. We should therefore make great allowances to those that are abused and ill-dealt with, and not be severe in our censures of them, though they do not act so discreetly as they should we know not what we should do if it were our own case.
II. He argues against it. Let us not fret at the power and success of oppressors, nor be envious at them, for, 1. The character of oppressors is very bad, so some understand Ecclesiastes 7:7. If he that had the reputation of a wise man becomes an oppressor, he becomes a madman his reason has departed from him he is no better than a roaring lion and a ranging bear, and the gifts, the bribes, he takes, the gains he seems to reap by his oppressions, do but destroy his heart and quite extinguish the poor remains of sense and virtue in him, and therefore he is rather to be pitied than envied let him alone, and he will act so foolishly, and drive so furiously, that in a little time he will ruin himself. 2. The issue, at length, will be good: Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. By faith see what the end will be, and with patience expect it. When proud men begin to oppress their poor honest neighbours they think their power will bear them out in it they doubt not but to carry the day, and gain the point. But it will prove better in the end than it seemed at the beginning their power will be broken, their wealth gotten by oppression will be wasted and gone, they will be humbled and brought down, and reckoned with for their injustice, and oppressed innocency will be both relieved and recompensed. Better was the end of Moses's treaty with Pharaoh, that proud oppressor, when Israel was brought forth with triumph, than the beginning of it, when the tale of bricks was doubled, and every thing looked discouraging.
III. He arms us against it with some necessary directions. If we would not be driven mad by oppression, but preserve the possession of our own souls,
1. We must be clothed with humility for the proud in spirit are those that cannot bear to be trampled upon, but grow outrageous, and fret themselves, when they are hardly bestead. That will break a proud man's heart, which will not break a humble man's sleep. Mortify pride, therefore, and a lowly spirit will easily be reconciled to a low condition.
2. We must put on patience, bearing patience, to submit to the will of God in the affliction, and waiting patience, to expect the issue in God's due time. The patient in spirit are here opposed to the proud in spirit, for where there is humility there will be patience. Those will be thankful for any thing who own they deserve nothing at God's hand, and the patient are said to be better than the proud they are more easy to themselves, more acceptable to others, and more likely to see a good issue of their troubles.
3. We must govern our passion with wisdom and grace (Ecclesiastes 7:9): Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry those that are hasty in their expectations, and cannot brook delays, are apt to be angry if they be not immediately gratified. "Be not angry at proud oppressors, or any that are the instruments of your trouble." (1.) "Be not soon angry, not quick in apprehending an affront and resenting it, nor forward to express your resentments of it." (2.) "Be not long angry " for though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, and pass through it as a wayfaring man, it rests only in the bosom of fools there it resides, there it remains, there it has the innermost and uppermost place, there it is hugged as that which is dear, and laid in the bosom, and not easily parted with. He therefore that would approve himself so wise as not to give place to the devil, must not let the sun go down upon his wrath, Ephesians 4:26,27.
4. We must make the best of that which is (Ecclesiastes 7:10): "Take it not for granted that the former days were better than these, nor enquire what is the cause that they were so, for therein thou dost not enquire wisely, since thou enquirest into the reason of the thing before thou art sure that the thing itself is true and, besides, thou art so much a stranger to the times past, and such an incompetent judge even of the present times, that thou canst not expect a satisfactory answer to the enquiry, and therefore thou dost not enquire wisely nay, the supposition is a foolish reflection upon the providence of God in the government of the world." Note, (1.) It is folly to complain of the badness of our own times when we have more reason to complain of the badness of our own hearts (if men's hearts were better, the times would mend) and when we have more reason to be thankful that they are not worse, but that even in the worst of times we enjoy many mercies, which help to make them not only tolerable, but comfortable. (2.) It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times, so as to derogate from the mercy of God to us in our own times as if former ages had not the same things to complain of that we have, or if perhaps, in some respects, they had not, yet as if God had been unjust and unkind to us in casting our lot in an iron age, compared with the golden ages that went before us this arises from nothing but fretfulness and discontent, and an aptness to pick quarrels with God himself. We are not to think there is any universal decay in nature, or degeneracy in morals. God has been always good, and men always bad and if, in some respects, the times are now worse than they have been, perhaps in other respects they are better.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1706.
The event of our trials and difficulties is often better than at first we thought. Surely it is better to be patient in spirit, than to be proud and hasty. Be not soon angry, nor quick in resenting an affront. Be not long angry; though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it passes through it as a way-faring man; it dwells only in the bosom of fools. It is folly to cry out upon the badness of our times, when we have more reason to cry out for the badness of our own hearts; and even in these times we enjoy many mercies. It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times; as if former ages had not the like things to complain of that we have: this arises from discontent, and aptness to quarrel with God himself.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary
on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1706.
Be not angry with any man without due consideration, and just and necessary cause; for otherwise anger is sometimes lawful, and sometimes a duty.
Resteth; hath its settled and quiet abode, is their constant companion, ever at hand upon all occasions, whereas wise men resist, and mortify, and banish it.
In the bosom; in the heart, the proper seat of the passions.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1685.
Chapter 7 It Is Good To Be Aware of Death, To Listen To Rebuke, To Behave Wisely, Even Though Life Is Unfair. But The World Is Full of Wickedness.
The emphasis of the book from now on includes the thought of living wisely and of man considering his ways and being wise. It is as though having convinced himself of the purposelessness and transience of things (which he will still on the whole maintains) he wants to make men behave with wisdom. The thought of the vanity of life is not to be allowed to result in folly. His position as a wisdom teacher comes to the fore.
The chapter commences with a return to full pessimism. Life is so meaningless that death is to be welcomed. Meanwhile man should be wise and recognise that he can learn more from mourning than from jollity. It is the fool who makes merry all the time, for life is sombre, and needs to be considered seriously, keeping in mind the brevity of life.
This seems to contrast Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 where the godly find joy in their labour because God responds to them by giving them joy. But it is not a contradiction. He is not suggesting that men should be mourning all the time. He just wants them to remember that they should live their lives keeping in mind its brevity. Then indeed they will be better placed to joy in God.
He then continues to deal with the things that can make a man foolish and advises him to follow practical wisdom. Man should hold on to wisdom so that he is not led astray, and indeed so that he might not die prematurely. And above all he must not think that he can fathom God or alter His ways. He must accept what comes from the hand of God.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2013.
It Is Important To Be Thoughtful. If A Man Is Not Careful There Are Things That Can Make Him Behave Foolishly (Ecclesiastes 7:5-10).
Further wise sayings about our approach to life. The sensible man is ever ready to listen to admonishment from the wise, rather than to listen to fools (Ecclesiastes 7:5). There are always those who will seek to influence him, either through oppression or bribery (Ecclesiastes 7:7). And impatience and pride (Ecclesiastes 7:8), anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9), and dissatisfaction (Ecclesiastes 7:10) might also lure him from the submissive attitude that is part of the way of wisdom. Thus the sensible man treads carefully.
‘It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise,
Than for a man to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
So is the laughter of the fool.
This also is vanity.’
A quiet listening to the wise, and learning from their rebuke (Proverbs 13:1), is better than continually joining in with mindless and raucous singing, and hearing just frivolity (Amos 6:4-6). For the laughter of the foolish is like the sound of cooking a pot on thorns. It makes a lot of noise but does not achieve any purpose. It is meaningless to cook on thorns, for thorns crackle but do not make good firewood.
‘This also is vanity.’ He is referring to the behaviour of the foolish and those who cling to them. Spending life only in seeking enjoyment is to live a meaningless and empty life.
‘Surely oppression makes a wise man praise,
And a gift destroys the understanding.
Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Do not be hasty in your spirit to be vexed,
For vexation rests in the bosom of fools.
Do not say, ‘Why were the former days better than these?
For you do not enquire wisely about this.
Oppression makes a wise man praise. This may be because he is turned in his extremity to God, or because he knows that through it he will learn valuable lessons, or alternatively because he deems it wise to treat the oppressors carefully, giving them the flattery that they desire. He is sensible. He gives them the praise they seek so as to prevent trouble and so as to avoid worse oppression. But he bides his time (compare Ecclesiastes 3:16-17; Ecclesiastes 5:8-9). His praise is not to be taken at face value.
The ‘gift that destroys the understanding’ refers to a bribe. Once someone receives a bribe the way he looks at things and deals with things is very much affected.
So both oppression and bribes make people behave differently from their norm, but in neither case are the people involved to be trusted once the pressure is off. Oppression and bribes do not produce reliable allies. They are a part of the meaninglessness of life (some would attach ‘this also is vanity’ to this verse, but the phrase usually comes at the end of a section (compare Ecclesiastes 2:1; Ecclesiastes 2:15; Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Ecclesiastes 4:16; Ecclesiastes 8:14).
‘Better is the end of a thing (or ‘a word’) than its beginning. The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.’ The thought here is that patience is better than pride when dealing with things, and produces better results in the end. Thus at the beginning of something there may be conflicting emotions, and careless words, as pride rules, but it is better when patience has prevailed in the end, so that, through patience, the right end has been achieved. Indeed patience is always to be recommended. It is the attitude of the wise. For someone quickly vexed can behave like a fool, especially if he allows the vexation to simmer on.
And finally it is not wise to look back and think that things were better in the old days. It is unwise, for it is rarely true and produces wrong attitudes of heart. It is a negative way of thinking, and produces negative results.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ecclesiastes-7.html. 2013.
. Proverbs and Reflections.—After asking, "What is good for man in life?" (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Qoheleth gives us advice as to what a man may do by way of mitigating his worries. First of all it is advisable for him to cultivate seriousness rather than levity (Ecclesiastes 7:1-7). The curious remark that "a (good) name is better than precious ointment" (cf. Ca. Ecclesiastes 1:3*) is in the Heb. a play on the words shem and shemen; ointment is highly esteemed in the East.
Ecclesiastes 7:1 b reminds us of the Thracian tribe mentioned by Herodotus (Ecclesiastes 7:4) who at the birth of a child bewailed its entry on life's trials, and celebrated death as a joyful release (cf. also Ecclesiastes 6:4-6).
Ecclesiastes 7:2. Jewish mournings lasted a week or even a month, and would teach the visitor to number his days and get a heart of wisdom (Psalms 90:12).
Ecclesiastes 7:3. the heart is made glad: better, "it is well with the heart," "to suffer is to learn," "pain is gain."
Ecclesiastes 7:4. Like draws to like.
Ecclesiastes 7:5. the rebuke of the wise (cf. Proverbs 13:1) . . . songs of fools: licentious and vulgar tavern songs (cf. Amos 6:5, Ephesians 5:4).—In Ecclesiastes 7:6 there is another play on words (sirim = thorns, sir = pot), which we may reproduce in English by nettles and kettles, or stubble and bubble. Thorns as fuel produce more noise than heat. The words "this also is vanity" may be omitted as a gloss.
Ecclesiastes 7:7. Surely is an attempt to get over the real meaning of the Heb. word, which means "for." To give sense we must suppose that some sentence like that in Proverbs 16:8 has dropped out, or perhaps the whole verse is an insertion. The despotic use of power ("extortion") unbalances even a wise man, and bribes ruin the moral nature.
Ecclesiastes 7:8. thing perhaps = "word" (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:11); the verse is then a caution against uncontrolled speech as Ecclesiastes 7:9 is a caution against its source, hasty anger.
Ecclesiastes 7:10. The aged and the pessimist are alike unwisely prone to praise the "good old times" at the expense of the present and the future.
Ecclesiastes 7:11 f. is a gloss; mg. is preferable. It is good to have wisdom if one has nothing else, but if one has something else so much the better; "them that see the sun" means the living. Wisdom has this advantage over money, that it is not only a defence (lit. "shade") but a quickener and stimulus of life.
Ecclesiastes 7:13 connects with Ecclesiastes 7:10.—With Ecclesiastes 7:13 b cf. Ecclesiastes 1:15.
Ecclesiastes 7:14. God has so balanced and mingled prosperity and adversity that man cannot foretell the future. Plumptre quotes a striking parallel to Ecclesiastes 7:13 f. from the Stoic hymn of Cleanthes to Zeus (Ecclesiastes 7:18):
"Things discordant find accord in Thee,
And in one whole Thou blendest ill with good,
So that one law works on for evermore."
—Qoheleth now goes on to advocate the golden mean.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 controverts the old idea that righteousness and wickedness mean respectively a long and short life.
Ecclesiastes 7:16 is aimed at the extreme pietism of the Hasidim (Psalms 4:3*), the early Pharisees whose strict legalism was a menace to the tranquillity of the nation (2 Maccabees 14:6); like an excess of "wisdom" it meant self-inflation and collapse. Yet there is greater danger in extreme wickedness and folly (Ecclesiastes 7:17); debauchery means death. Lay firm hold of both these cautions, medio tutissimus ibis; he that fears God "shall be quit in regard to both" (Barton). Both Ecclesiastes 7:18 b and Ecclesiastes 7:19 seem to have been inserted by later and different hands.—ten rulers reminds us of the Athenian archons (and the Venetian Council of Ten), but is simply a round number. The usual number of elders who act as a council in an Oriental village is five. Wisdom is the individual's borough or city council.
Ecclesiastes 7:20. Cf. 1 Kings 8:46; for "surely" read "because," and so connect with Ecclesiastes 7:21. There is so much folly spoken that it is waste of time to listen to every conversation; besides, listeners hear no good of themselves (Ecclesiastes 7:21 f.).
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Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1919.
Ecc . Wisdom is good with an inheritance] Wisdom, though good in itself, yet when joined with ample means imparts a power of doing good to others.
Ecc . Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence] Lit., in the shadow of wisdom, etc. In countries where the heat was oppressive, a shadow would be the natural symbol of protection. The excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it] Both wisdom and money give a man superior advantage in the battle of life. But wisdom is life itself—the principle of the soul's animation and vigour.
Ecc . In the day of adversity consider] The last word belongs to the next statement, as if the Preacher said—Consider the adaptation of one part to another in the system of Divine Providence. God also hath set the one over against the other] Even things evil in themselves are employed to bring about the purposes of God. The consideration of this is a source of comfort in adversity. To the end that a man should find nothing after him] God so acts in His government of the world that man cannot fathom the future.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Ecc
THE COUNSELS OF A RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHER
Human life, duty, and destiny are here contemplated from their philosophic side. We have moral and prudential maxims from one whose philosophy does not lose itself in vain speculations, but mixes with men, and exerts itself in the humbler but more useful task of contributing towards right practice. Counsels such as these tend to mitigate the evils of our condition, and to inspire us with a better hope.
I. Be Patient under Trial. (Ecc .) The patient man is he who meekly endures, who bears present evils and troubles with resignation, and who is free from that unreasoning and passionate haste which is the bane of impetuous natures. He is here contrasted with the "proud in spirit," because that blindness to reality, that wilfulness, that fierce vindication of self-love, all of which are pressed into the service of pride, are alien to that patience which sees clearly our true position, accepts the will of the Highest, and refuses the aid of passion to support a fictitious glory. Pride and patience are mutually exclusive. The patient man is superior to the proud, because,
1. He recognises the uses of discipline, and a purpose wider than himself. However dark and perplexing his present trial, he knows that God has some worthy end in view, that His will is being accomplished in the improvement and perfection of all who piously and meekly endure. He is satisfied that the righteous are safe, though they pass through much tribulation into the kingdom of God. He whose character is stamped with such convictions, bears the imprint of such lofty thoughts and purposes, has a wider horizon and a sublimer idea of life than the wretch who is concentred all in self. Breadth of view, that nobility of mind which despises the mean, and small, and selfish, is the mark and quality of true greatness.
2. He is more easily moulded for goodness. Wilfulness lies at the root of pride. He whose aim is to glorify himself scorns the yoke of obedience. There is a kind of rigidity in such which refuses to be shaped into the form and excellence of goodness. They refuse the dictation and control of the will of the Highest, setting themselves against it in stubbornness and rebellion. But the will of the patient man is tamed and subdued; he learns easily the lessons of duty—of faith and hope. He resigns himself into the hands of that Divine Artificer who can mould him into His own image. Our steps cannot be directed in the paths of peace and goodness unless we "acknowledge Him in all our ways." But this involves the forsaking of our own will, and of that pride which refuses to submit.
3. He is content to wait for the end. Patience signifies something more than meek endurance. It is often opposed to that disposition which cannot wait. The proud man is in haste to secure the short-lived triumphs of the hour. He rushes on to his purpose, not heeding, not caring, what human and Divine rights he may trample upon. He is completely under the tyranny of the present. This contracts his view, and seals up his affections within himself, so that he wildly reaches out to the glittering things that lie near, unmindful of the holy and the high. But the patient man feels that, though the present trial may be grievous, and the way dark, the "end" will be "better than the beginning," and so he waits in hope. To be able thus to take in a large view imparts nobility to the character.
II. Subdue the Violence of Passion. (Ecc .) A wise man learns to control passion, to keep it from bursting out into the intemperate heats of anger. It is the triumph of religion thus to subdue the wildness of nature, and so to tame the passions that they easily submit to the yoke, and thus become the servants of virtue. Anger rests only "in the bosom of fools," i.e., with the irreligious. Of such passions it may be affirmed—
1. That they indicate a nature uninfluenced by great moral convictions. The practice of goodness in the quiet paths of duty, and constant meditation on those great truths which concern our relations to God and eternity, tend to keep down the violence and fury of the passions. Righteousness (which is the result of great moral convictions) brings peace, and peace finds a congenial home with contemplative souls. Anger is the vice of the thoughtless, but it is far from minds accustomed to regard the solemn aspects of life, duty, and destiny.
2. They indicate a mischievous employment of useful powers. It is not the purpose of religion to destroy the passions of human nature, but rather to give them a right direction. No original endowment of our nature is either mischievous or useless. Nothing is made in vain, either in the material or moral world. The organs of the body, though they may become the seat of disease, yet in their healthy state serve beneficial ends. There is a pious use of anger. When it is directed against sin, oppression, and wrong, it strengthens the just in their righteous cause. Those noble champions who have sought to redeem their fellow-men from the tyranny of ages, have found their weakness turned into strength and impenetrable defence by the stimulus of a holy indignation. When anger is kindled upon the altar of God, it is just and good; but as an unreasoning passion, raised suddenly upon the slightest provocation, in our daily intercourse with men, it is but the offering of a "strange fire." That anger which is quite disproportioned to the offence, and fails to weigh the circumstances of it with accuracy, is a weakness and baseness of nature—an abuse of powers capable of nobler employment.
3. They are hurtful to others. Anger has been a fruitful source of oppression and wrong. The history of religious persecution bears ample testimony to the sad fact that the innocent and the meek have suffered from the fury and rage of this base passion. Even in the narrower circle of domestic life, how much evil arises from hence—what deep and lasting wounds! Anger may proceed no further than words; yet even these become sharp instruments of torture, and memory renews the pain. When passion slips from the control of reason and righteousness, it can only spread disaster and misery. Anger is native to the bosom of fools, who are naturally careless, and serve their own selfish ends at any cost to the feelings and rights of others.
III. Do not Magnify the Past at the Expense of the Present. (Ecc .) It is a common fault with men of peevish and fretful dispositions to praise past ages, and to mourn over the degeneracy of the times in which they have the misfortune to live. This is often the vice of age; for the old man is proverbially a praiser of the times when he was a boy, and a severe censor of youth—of all that is new and fresh. This disposition to magnify the past can also be observed in some of those arguments brought from antiquity, wherein the authority that is hoary with time is made to overrule the most convincing evidence. In the history of human thought, there have been times of intellectual tyranny when it was treason to teach contrary to the doctrines of Aristotle. This tendency to the undue glorification of past times can only be corrected by study and reflection, by the cultivation of a contented mind, and by that sobriety of judgment which frees a man from the slavery of the unreal. This disposition arises—
1. From dissatisfaction with the present. Men despise all what is near and about them as things common and familiar. That which is hidden from their observation is invested with peculiar sanctity. The past possesses a vague sublimity which often serves to charm away the fancied evils of the hour.
2. From the illusion of distance. As distance in space tempts the imagination to indulge in gay fancies which lend enchantment to the view, so distance in time entertains the mind with a pleasing illusion. Antiquity, instead of being rated by the sober judgment of historical facts, becomes a mere sentiment. Poetry is made to take the place of logic. To act thus is not to "enquire wisely" concerning these things. It is not the part of the religious philosopher to forsake the sure ground of facts in order to follow fancies. There must be something faulty in our moral nature as well, when we fail gratefully to acknowledge the good that marks our own times, and seek an ineffectual relief in the fictitious glory of the past. This fault is the indication of a nature dissatisfied with itself, and spreading the gloom of its own discontent upon all around. It is a revelation of moral character.
IV. Consider wherein Man's Real Strength lies. (Ecc .) Wisdom—that intellectual and moral sagacity which imparts sobriety to the judgment, and steadiness to the walk in the paths of duty, has also this excellence, that it is the defence—yea, the highest defence of man. A feeble image of its power to protect, and to give assurance, may be seen in the social estimate of the potency of riches. They, too, in their way, are a defence; they give a sense of security, ward off many evils, and endow men with power and influence. These properties raise the consciousness of strength. They are regarded as a material defence against calamity, and in unspiritual minds the protection they afford is sufficiently magnified. So far, the analogy between wisdom and money, as a source of defence, holds good. But beyond this point they part company, diverging into widely different issues. Wisdom has this superiority, that it "giveth life to them that have it." Consider how wisdom contributes to this result, and affords the only reliable protection against real evils.
1. There are some evils from which neither wisdom nor money can save us. Our sagacity and prudence sometimes fail to ensure what is called success in life. The highest qualities of goodness do not suffice to ward off disaster. They grant no title of exemption from taking our sorrowful portion in the community of suffering and woe. In this regard, wisdom stands on a level with riches, as a defence. Riches cannot prevent the invasion of sickness, calamity, and death. And wisdom is equally powerless to deliver us from these evils.
2. Wisdom has superior consolations. In the great troubles of life, the comfort gained by wealth is but limited and insufficient. When man is fairly within the grasp of the last enemy, his wealth can give him no assurance or joy. But to the good man, journeying through the dreariest desert of life, wisdom is a spring to refresh him, a tree to give him shade. And when time is setting with him, and the last struggle approaches, conscience gives him strength and assurance. In the kindly light of faith and hope, he humbly awaits what God has laid up for him.
3. Wisdom is the only essential and permanent defence. All other defences are temporary, quite unavailing in the severest trials, and the greatness of man can afford to dispense with them. Wisdom gives life, and from hence springs the consciousness of strength, that robust courage, which is confident of victory. Life is the sphere wherein man's highest hope rests and expatiates. To him who is assured of life, what is death itself but the dark and painful struggle into his second birth? Life, in its deep spiritual significance, is perpetual existence under the smile of God. This is the greatest power—the strongest defence of man. All else are shadows; this the only enduring substance.
V. Be Resigned to the Established Order of Providence. (Ecc .) Resignation—that habit of humble submission to the Divine will—is man's true wisdom, the garment and proper adornments of piety. Hereby is patience kept alive, and grows strong for her perfect work. There are two considerations which should prevent men from murmuring at the established order of Providence.
1. Such conduct is useless in itself. We cannot withstand God, or alter His determination. We are able to collect the facts and discern the laws of Providence, as we do those of the solar system, but we are powerless to effect any change in either of these spheres of the Divine operation. God has not taken us into His counsel. His wisdom is not so weak and fallible that it should call to us for aid. In the laws of Nature and Providence, there is no help nor happiness for us but by submission. It is vain to contend with infinite wisdom and power. For man, in his ignorance and bold defiance, to lay his puny hand upon the revolving wheel of nature is destruction.
2. Such conduct is impious towards God. Most men in the time of adversity fail rightly to "consider the work of God." If we see no presiding will behind the present system of things, we become fretful, disobedient, full of despair; and in the vain attempt to help ourselves, find only bitter disappointment. But if we see God in all these things, we learn self-control, and submit with pious resignation. "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because Thou didst it," says the Psalmist (Psa ). Ours should not be the submission of despair, or of sad reconcilement to the inevitable, but rather that joyful submission which has all to hope for from a Father's hand. As God is wise, and good, and loving, He can do nothing arbitrary. If we are good and true, we can afford to wait, even through present obscurity and discomfort, till God shall manifest Himself, and bring with Him full reward and consolation.
VI. Do not Force the Spirit into Unnatural Moods. (Ecc .) A wise man is marked by that simplicity of character which avoids all affectation and insincerity. In the various moods of feeling through which he is called to pass, he is (in the best sense of the word) natural. We should use no devices to disguise or falsify our feelings, but let them have full expression and fitting exercise, according to their nature.
1. Give proper expression to joyful feelings. Prosperity comes from God, and should be a cause for devout thankfulness and joy. Love to Him who sends the blessing should dispose us to this; for what is joy, but the recreation of love? It is love taking exercise, casting off for a while the weight of care and sorrow, and sporting itself in the sunshine of prosperity. "Is any merry? let him sing psalms," (Jas ). We should allow our feelings to flow in their proper channels and not repress them by an unnatural asceticism. We have this element in the Book of Psalms, wherein the most lofty expressions of joy are used, and nature herself is made responsive to the gladness of the soul.
1. Give proper expression to the feelings of sadness and gloom. While adversity should not drive us to despair, to doubt the goodness of God, or to insane endeavours to extricate ourselves; yet, at the same time, it should not tempt us to assume a stoical indifference. Not to feel the rod of the cross, the chastisement of God, is a great evil. The Prophet complains, "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved." (Jer .) Job refused this wretched consolation of hardness of feeling, and scorn of affliction's rod. "Is my strength the strength of stones? or is my flesh of brass?" (Job 6:12.)
3. Learn the lessons both of prosperity and adversity. In prosperity we should learn gratitude, a sense of our unworthiness, and discern herein a prophecy of a better and more enduring world. In adversity, we are told to "consider" the moral aspects of the affliction. These duties are not rigidly exclusive. We are not taught that prosperity should be thoughtless, and adversity joyless. But the consideration of the solemn facts of our moral probation is specially appropriate to the season of adversity.
(1) Consider that the same God appoints both conditions. In our human view, they are very diverse; but in the Divine idea and purpose of them, they are but alternations of treatment necessary to our soul's health. They both come from His hand whose will is that the end should be blessed, though we proceed through part of our journey in pain.
(2) Consider that human helplessness and ignorance are a necessary discipline. The purpose of these diverse ways of Providence is, that "man should find nothing after him." He is thus rendered incapable of piercing into the future, and, therefore, of managing it to serve his own purposes. Convinced thus of his own helplessness and ignorance, he is cast upon God that he may learn the lessons of humble dependence and of faith.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Ecc . This is a strange statement, and thoroughly false when applied to some things.
1. It is false when applied to sin. Sin to man, in its first stage, is a comparatively pleasant thing. The fruit to Eve was delicious; the thirty pieces of silver in the hands of Judas, at first, were prized; but the end—how sad! Sin begins in pleasure, but ends in pain; begins in music, but ends in groans.
2. It is false when applied to unwise enterprises. The first stages of a mercantile or a national enterprise, to the projector, are pleasant. But if the methods of action are unwise, the enterprise will soon prove to be a house built upon the sand.
3. It will not apply to partial reformations. When reformation has not been effected on right principles, there comes an apostacy. Certain devils, in the form of habits, have been expelled, but the mind is left empty. The evil spirit at length returns, bringing with him seven more devils; "and the last state of that man is worse than the first." But there are some things to which these words will apply.
1. They will apply to an honest and persevering search after truth. At the outset of all investigations, the mind is often harassed with doubt, and perplexed with difficulties; but as it proceeds, things appear more reasonable, obstacles are removed, and the mist gradually rolls off the scene.
2. They will apply to the history of Christianity. It came from despised Nazareth, its founder was the son of a carpenter, who died a malefactor. Systems, institutions, kings, and peoples were against it. But its end will be better. It is fast moving on to universal dominion.
3. They will apply to true friendships. Most true friendships at their outset have trials. But as it proceeds, mutual knowledge, mutual excellence, mutual love increase, and the twain become one.
4. They will apply to the life of a good man. This may be illustrated by three remarks:—
I. At the End of his Life he is Introduced into a Better State.
1. He begins his life amidst impurity. Tainted with sin, at the beginning; but at the end, he is introduced to purity—saints—angels—Christ—God!
2. He begins his life on trial. It is a moral battle; shall he conquer? It is a voyage; shall he reach the haven? The end determines all.
3. He begins his life amidst suffering. "In this tabernacle we groan, earnestly," &c.
II. At the End of his Life he is Introduced into Better Occupations. Our occupations here are threefold—physical, intellectual, moral. All these are of a painful kind. Toiling for bread—grappling in the dark with the mere rudiments of knowledge—mortifying the flesh. But death introduces us to those which will be congenial to the tastes, and honouring to God.
III. At the End of his Life he is Introduced into Better Society. Society here is frequently insincere, non-intelligent, unaffectionate. But how delightful the society into which death will introduce us! We shall mingle with enlightened, genuine, warm-hearted souls, rising grade above grade up to the Eternal God Himself [Homilist].
However severe the afflictions of the righteous may be, the end is always in their favour. The end is their proper inheritance, of which no calamity can deprive them.
The end, for the righteous, will be the verification of those great truths which are here but dimly seen by faith.
If we are faithful, the darkest events of Providence will approve themselves to us in the end, which will be a revelation of the righteous ways of God.
It is only at the end that we can sum up fairly, and weigh the value of all things.
A patient spirit comes in aid of the decisions which wisdom is disposed to pronounce. It takes time to reflect, instead of giving way to the first headlong impulse. Pride lends fuel to feed the flame of passion and violence. Patience keeps down the fire and quells the tumult, and thus secures for wisdom the leisure and the calmness which, in such circumstances, it so especially needs, in order to judge righteous judgment [Buchanan].
Pride has a short-lived triumph, patience an eternal reward.
The gate is low through which we pass into the distinctions and honours of the kingdom of God.
Ecc . Righteous anger, which alone is lawful for us, is slowly raised; is conformable to the measures of reason and truth, and endures no longer than justice requires. It expires with the reformation of the offender. It is rounded by pity and love, which, like a circle of fire, increases towards the central space until the anger itself is consumed.
Frail man, who has so many faults of his own, and stands in need, on every side, of favourable interpretation, should be very cautious how he indulges himself in the dangerous passion of anger. A wise man herein will observe a legal calmness and sobriety.
Cases are not only supposable, but of no unfrequent occurrence, in which the emotions of anger may be fairly justified. Yet it is one of those passions for which a person feels afraid to plead, because it requires, instead of encouragement and fostering, constant and careful restraint; and the propensity in every bosom to its indulgence is ever ready to avail itself of an argument for its abstract lawfulness, to justify what all but the subject of it will condemn, as its careless exercise, or its criminal excess.… To retain and foster it is a mark of a weak mind, as well as of an unsanctified heart [Wardlaw].
It is one of the gracious and encouraging testimonies which Scripture has given us concerning God, that "He is slow to anger" (Neh ), and that "Neither will He keep His anger for ever (Psa 103:9). And yet what infinitely greater cause God has for being angry, and for retaining His anger against us, than we can ever have in the case even of our most offending fellow-men! Did His wrath burn and break forth against the sinner as suddenly and vehemently as does the sinner's wrath against his offending brother, there is not a day nor an hour in which the sinner might not be consumed [Buchanan].
With the wise man, anger is a strange and suspicious guest, ready to be cast out upon the first confirmation of his evil intent. But with the fool anger has a congenial home.
Where anger is indulged it will lead all the other passions to mutiny, and render any wise self-government impossible.
Ecc . The dreamy admiration of antiquity is the refuge of weak minds, the futile justification of their discontent. They despise actual life around them and the ways of duty as too prosaic, thus injuring their moral force by the excesses of the imagination.
If we follow the fancied superiority of past ages with a sober and impartial eye, we shall find that it retires into the region of mist and fable.
Some Christians mourn over the lack of spirituality and earnest purpose in the Church of the present. They sigh for the ideal perfection which marked primitive times. But a closer examination would soon dispel this illusion. Even in the times of the Apostles, the passions of human nature, and the infirmities of the human mind, both disfigured the life of the Church, and corrupted the truth.
The golden age for our race lies in front of us, and not behind. Humanity is ever toiling up the heights of progress—from evil to greater good.
Those who unduly praise past ages, fix their attention upon a few illustrious names, and challenge the present times for the production of their like. They forget that those famous men do not represent the average of their contemporaries, but stood at their head and top. Those moral heroes are but brilliant points of light scattered sparingly through the long dark vista of the past.
"Thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this."
1. Thou art inquiring for the cause of what thou shouldst first ascertain with certainty to be a fact; of what possibly has no existence but in thine own distempered imagination, or partially unformed judgment. There has been no golden age in this world but the short period of paradisaical innocence and bliss enjoyed by the first progenitors of our since accursed race.
2. Consider that thou knowest the evils of former times only by report; whereas of present ills thou thyself feelest the pressure. By this feeling thy judgment is liable to be perverted. The sight of the eye is more impressive than the hearing of the ear.
3. In uttering thy complaints, thou art unwise: for thou arraignest in so doing the All-wise Providence of the Most High, who assigns to every successive age its portion of evil and of good. The complaints of a petted spirit are ungodly; and the inquiries of such a spirit are equally unwise in their principle, and delusive in their results [Wardlaw].
Ecc . Wisdom can stand upon its own merits, and derives no additional glory from wealth. Yet by means of wealth, wisdom is commended to the minds of many.
Wisdom can do without wealth better than wealth can do without wisdom.
Ample possessions do but minister to the lusts of their foolish owner, and feed his self-importance.
Wisdom, as far as it can make use of wealth, is a "profit to them that see the sun," i.e., to those who are free, and have the power to enjoy. But when the darkness of adversity comes, wisdom has reserves of strength, and riches of consolation hidden till then.
In the vocabulary of a very large class of men, wealth and wisdom mean pretty nearly the same thing. The wise man who knows everything but the art of making money they regard as a fool; while the millionaire who, with a lamentable deficiency of higher gifts, has continued to amass a fortune, receives all the deference due to the man who is pre-eminently wise. It can need no argument to prove that Solomon could never mean to lend any countenance to so gross a method of estimating the worth of things [Buchanan].
Ecc . Wisdom is so conscious of her superior dignity and worth that she can afford to estimate, at their full value, all beneath her.
Wealth affords but a mechanical defence against adversity, giving way under the pressure of the greatest calamities. But wisdom changes the nature of the afflictions themselves, and altogether neutralises them.
Wisdom is a wall of defence, and money is a hedge. The thorns in the Gospel, which sprang up and choked the good seed, are by our Saviour expounded of the deceitfulness of riches; but that is when the thorns do grow among the corn, when the love of riches hath placed them in the heart, where the seed of spiritual grace ought to grow. Let them be kept out of the heart, be esteemed of as they are, outward things; then they are, as it were, a fence, a hedge unto a man whereby he is preserved from hurt. So they were to Job, by God's Providence over them (Job ) [Jermin].
True spiritual wisdom not only ministers to the comfort and dignity of life; it is life itself. That which is true in a lower sense of human knowledge has its highest illustration in that knowledge which is eternal life (1Jn ).
Of what avail are the splendours of wealth when the soul passes, bereft of all, into eternity? The riches a man leaves behind him raise the admiration of others; but the deep, solemn, essential question is, did they give him life? If not, they cannot be placed in comparison with the unfailing virtues of heavenly wisdom.
Money may defend its owner from a certain class of physical evils, but it can do nothing to shield him from those far more formidable moral evils, which bring ruin upon the immortal soul. It cannot protect him from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life.… But heavenly wisdom arms him against all these foes, and teaches him, as its first great lesson, what he must do to be saved; and it disposes him to choose that good part which shall not be taken away; and in so doing it enables him, humbly and calmly, to bid defiance to the devil, the flesh, and the world. In acquainting him with God, it gives him a peace which the world's greatest prosperity cannot confer, and of which its direst adversity cannot deprive him [Buchanan].
Ecc . The conviction that the work is God's is enough for the pious soul.
The spiritual instincts of the righteous discern behind the dread forces of nature not only a personal will, but also a heart. He feels this, and is satisfied.
Our wisdom is baffled by the system of Providence, as well as our power. As we cannot resist the decrees of it, so we can find no principle to harmonise its apparent discrepancies. Our safety lies not in rebellion, but in patience, faith, and hope.
So terrible are the restrictions of human destiny, that man can have no perfect liberty here. The seeming disorders of life sorely chafe him. We must be born into another life before we can have complete emancipation and "glorious liberty" (Rom ).
Solomon does not mean, in so saying, to teach or countenance the revolting doctrine of fatalism; he does not mean that we are to regard ourselves as being in the iron grasp of a remorseless power, in regard to which we have no resources but passively to leave ourselves in its hands.… It is His will—the will of the only Wise, Just, and Holy Jehovah, and not that of His ignorant, erring, and fallen creature, that is to decide what shall be. Let man, therefore, humbly and reverently acquiesce in what the Lord is pleased to ordain as to his earthly estate. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" [Buchanan].
When we are at home with God, in the "secret place of the Most High," our painful perplexity subsides in the presence of His love and comfort. The darkness of our sojourn here is but the shadow of His wings.
Ecc . Our joy in prosperity should not be the selfish glorying in success, or the transports of gratified ambition. It should be an act of worship, a glad recompense paid to heaven.
It is wisest, as well as most natural, to allow our feelings full play while they last. We cannot take in the idea of life as a whole; else the burden of duty and suffering would appal us.
1. The Author of your trials. Whatever be their nature, and whatever the instrument of their infliction, they are the appointment of Providence; they come from the hand of a wise and merciful God—who, in all His ways, is entitled to your thoughtful regard. "Consider"
2. The cause of all suffering. Sin is the bitter fountain of every bitter stream that flows in this wilderness. "Consider"
3. The great general design of adversity; excite to self-examination, repentance of sin, and renewed vigilance, to promote the increase of faith, love, and hope, and spirituality of mind, and general holiness of heart and life [Wardlaw].
The alternation of joys and sorrows in human life is necessary to our soul's health. Our nature is too weak to bear an unvarying experience without being hardened or corrupted. We need to be startled into sudden surprises in order to keep our attention awake.
God so tempers His dealings with us as to make our probation a stern and serious thing. He thus keeps men in His own hands, so that they can find nothing where He has not willed it, or where His light does not show the way.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/ecclesiastes-7.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. (8) Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. (9) Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. (10) Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.
If we read these verses by the gospel standard, their beauty will then appear to be full. The Apostle James gives the sweetest comment to them, when speaking of the oppressions which the faithful suffer from the ungodly, when he saith, Do not they oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by which ye are called? James 2:6-7. And what doth the Apostle say by way of consolation? Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord: behold, the Judge standeth before the door. James 5:7-11.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pmc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1828.
Ecclesiastes 7:8-9. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning — The good or evil of things is better known by their end than by their beginning; which is true, not only respecting evil counsels and practices, which perhaps seem pleasant at first, but, at last, bring destruction; but also concerning all noble enterprises, the studies of learning, and the practice of virtue and godliness, in which the beginnings are difficult and troublesome, but in the progress and conclusion they are most easy and comfortable; and it is not sufficient to begin well unless we persevere to the end, which crowns all; and the patient in spirit — Who quietly waits for the issue of things, and is willing to bear hardships and inconveniences in the mean time; is better than the proud in spirit — Which he puts instead of hasty or impatient, because pride is the chief cause of impatience. Be not hasty in thy spirit, &c. — Be not angry with any man without due consideration, and just and necessary cause: see on Mark 3:5. For anger resteth in the bosom of fools —
That is, sinful anger, implying not only displeasure at the sin or folly of another, which is lawful and proper, but ill-will and a desire of revenge, hath its quiet abode in the heart of fools: is ever at hand upon all occasions, whereas wise men resist, mortify, and banish it.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1857.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 7:9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Ecclesiastes 7:9. To be angry;—for anger— To grieve; for grief, &c.] So our translators have rendered the original word, chap. Ecclesiastes 2:23. See also chap. Ecclesiastes 5:17 and Ecclesiastes 11:10; and, thus rendered, it answers Solomon's purpose much better than anger.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1801-1803.
; Ecclesiastes 8:1-17
The Quest in the Golden Mean.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1-15
There be many that say, "Who will show us any gold?" mistaking gold for their god or good. For though there can be few in any age to whom great wealth is possible, there are many who crave it and believe that to have it is to possess the supreme felicity. It is not only the rich who "trust in riches." As a rule, perhaps, they trust in them less than the poor, since they have tried them, and know pretty exactly both how much, and how little, they can do. It is those who have not tried them, and to whom poverty brings many undeniable hardships, who are most sorely tempted to trust in them as the sovereign remedy for the ills of life. So that the counsels of the sixth chapter may have a wider scope than we sometimes think they have. But, whether they apply to many or to few, there can be no doubt that the counsels of the seventh and eighth chapters are applicable to the vast majority of men. For here the Preacher discusses the Golden Mean in which most of us would like to stand. Many of us dare not ask for great wealth lest it should prove a burden we could very hardly bear; but we have no scruple in adopting Agur’s prayer, "Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with food proportioned to my need: Let me have a comfortable competence in which I shall be at an equal remove from the temptations whether of extreme wealth or of extreme penury."
Now the endeavour to secure a competence may be, not lawful only, but most laudable; since God means us to make the best of the capacities He has given us and the opportunities He sends us. Nevertheless, we may pursue this right end from a wrong motive, in a wrong spirit. Both spirit and motive are wrong if we pursue our competence as if it were a good so great that we can know no content unless we attain it. For what is it that animates such a pursuit save distrust in the providence of God? Left in his hands, we do not feel that we should be safe; whereas if we had our fortune in our own hands, and were secured against chances and changes by a few comfortable securities, we should feel safe enough. This feeling is, surely, very general: we are all of us in danger of slipping into this form of unquiet distrust in the fatherly providence of God.
The Method of the Man who seeks a Competence. Ecclesiastes 7:1-14
Because the feeling is both general and strong, the Hebrew Preacher addresses himself to it at some length. His object now is to place before us a man who does not aim at great affluence, but, guided by prudence and common sense, makes it his ruling aim to stand well with his neighbours and to lay by a moderate provision for future wants. The Preacher opens the discussion by stating the maxims or rules of conduct by which such a one would be apt to guide himself. One of his first aims would be to secure "a good name," since that would prepossess men in his favour, and open before him many avenues which would otherwise be closed. Just as one entering a crowded Oriental room with some choice fragrance exhaling from person and apparel would find bright faces turned toward him, and a ready way opened for his approach, so the bearer of a good name would find many willing to meet him, and traffic with him, and heed him. As the years passed, his good name, if he kept it, would diffuse itself over a wider area with a more pungent effect, so that the day of his death would be better than the day of his birth-to leave a good name being so much more honourable than to inherit one (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
But how would he go about to acquire his good name? Again the answer carries us back to the East. Nothing is more striking to a Western traveller than the dignified gravity of the superior Oriental races. In public they rarely smile, almost never laugh, and hardly ever express surprise. Cool, courteous, self-possessed, they bear good news or bad, prosperous or adverse fortune, with a proud equanimity. This equal mind, expressing itself in a grave dignified bearing, is, with them, well-nigh indispensable to success in, public life. And, therefore, our friend in quest of a good name betakes himself to the house of mourning rather than to the house of feasting; he holds that serious thought on the end of all men is better than the wanton foolish mirth which crackles like thorns under a kettle, making a great sputter, but soon going out; and would rather have his heart bettered by the reproof of the wise than listen to the song of fools over the wine cup (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). Knowing that he cannot be much with fools without sharing their folly, fearing that they may lead him into those excesses in which the wisest mind is infatuated and the kindest heart hardened and corrupted (Ecclesiastes 7:7), he elects rather to walk with a sad countenance, among the wise, to the house of mourning and meditation, than to hurry with fools to the banquet in which wine and song and laughter drown serious reflection, and leave the heart worse than they found it. What though the wise reprove him when he errs? What though, as he listens to their reproof, his heart at times grows hot within him? The end of their reproof is better than the beginning (Ecclesiastes 7:8); as he reflects upon it, he learns from it, profits by it, and by patient endurance of it wins a good from it which haughty resentment would have cast away. Unlike the fools, therefore, whose wanton mirth turns into bitter anger at the mere sound of reproof, he will not suffer his spirit to be hurried into a hot resentment, but will compel that which injures them to do him good (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Nor will he rail even at the fools who fleet the passing hour, or account that, because they are so many and so bold, "the time is out of joint." He will show himself not only wiser than the foolish, but wiser than many of the wise; for while they-and here surely the Preacher hits a very common habit of the studious life-are disposed to look fondly back on some past age as greater or happier than that in which they live, and ask, "How is it that former days were better than these?" he will conclude that the question springs rather from their querulousness than from their wisdom, and make the best of the time, and of the conditions of the time, in which it has pleased God to place him (Ecclesiastes 7:10).
But if any ask, "Why has he renounced the pursuit of that wealth on which many are bent who are less capable of using it than he?" the answer comes that he has discovered Wisdom to be as good as Wealth, and even better. Not only is Wisdom as secure a defence against the ills of life as Wealth, but it has this great advantage-that "it fortifies or vivifies the heart," while wealth often burdens and enfeebles it. Wisdom quickens and braces the spirit for any fortune, gives it new life or new strength, inspires an inward serenity which does not lie at the mercy of outward accidents (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12). It teaches a man to regard all the conditions of life as ordained and shaped by God, and weans him from the vain endeavour, on which many exhaust their strength, to straighten that which God has made crooked, that which crosses and thwarts his inclinations (Ecclesiastes 7:13); once let him see that the thing is crooked, and was meant to be crooked, and he will accept and adapt himself to it, instead of wearying himself in futile attempts to make, or to think, it straight.
And there is one very good reason why God should permit many crooks in our lot, very good reason therefore why a wise man should look on them with an equal mind. For God sends the crooked as well as the straight, adversity as well as prosperity, in order that we should know that He has "made this as well as that, " and accept both from his benign hand. He interlaces his providences, and veils his providences, in order that, unable to foresee the future, we may learn to put our trust in Him rather than in any earthly good (Ecclesiastes 7:14). It therefore behoves a man whose heart has been bettered by much meditation, and by the reproofs of the wise, to take both crooked and straight, both evil and good, from the hand of God, and to trust in Him whatever may befall. The Quest in the Golden Mean. Ecclesiastes 7:1-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1-13
2. But now, to come closer home, to draw nearer to that prime wisdom which consists in knowing that which lies before us in our daily life, let us glance at the Man who aims to stand in the Golden Mean; the man who does not aspire to heap up a great fortune, but is anxious to secure a modest competence. He is more on our own level; for our trust in riches is, for the most part, qualified by other trusts. If we believe in Gold, we also believe in Wisdom and in Mirth; if we labour to provide for the future, we also wish to use and enjoy the present. We think it well that we should know something of the world about us, and take some pleasure in our life. We think that to put money in our purse should not be our only aim, though it should be a leading aim. We admit that "the love of money is a root of all evil"-one of the roots from which all forms and kinds of evil may spring; and, to save ourselves from falling into that base lust, we limit our desires. We shall be content if we can put by a moderate sum, and we flatter ourself that we desire even so much as that, not for its own sake, but for the means of knowledge, or of usefulness, or of innocent enjoyment with which it will furnish us. "Nothing I should like better," says many a man, "than to retire from business as soon as I have enough to live upon, and to devote myself to this branch of study or that province of art, or to take my share of public duties, or to give myself to a cheerful domestic life." It speaks well for our time, I think, that while in a few large cities there are still many in haste to be rich and very rich, in the country and in hundreds of provincial towns there are thousands of men who know that wealth is not the Chief Good, and who do not care to don the livery of Mammon. Nevertheless, though their aim be "most sweet and commendable," it has perils of its own, imminent and deadly perils, which few of us altogether escape. And these perils are clearly set before us in the sketch of the Hebrew Preacher. As I reproduce that sketch, suffer me, for the sake of brevity, while carefully retaining the antique outlines, to fill in with modern details.
The Preacher condemns this Theory, and declares the Quest to be still unattained. Ecclesiastes 7:14-15
Now I make my appeal to those who daily enter the world of business-is not this the tone of that world? are not these the very perils to which you lie open? How often have you heard men recount the slips of the righteous in order to justify themselves for not assuming to be righteous overmuch! How often have you heard them vindicate their own occasional errors by citing the errors of those who give greater heed to religion than they do, or make a louder profession of it! How often have you heard them congratulate a neighbour on his good luck in carrying off an heiress, or speak of wedded love itself as a mere help to worldly advancement! How often have you heard them sneer at the nonsensical enthusiasm which has led certain men to "throw away their chances in life" in order to devote themselves to the service of truth, or to forfeit popularity that they might lead a forlorn hope against customary wrongs, and thank God that no such maggot ever bit their brains! If during the years which have elapsed since I too "went on Change," the general tone has not risen a whole heaven-and I have heard of no such miracle-I know that you must daily hear such things as these, and worse than these; and that not only from irreligious men of bad character, but from men who take a fair place in our Christian congregations. From the time of the wise Preacher to the present hour this sort of talk has been going on, and the scheme of life from which it springs has been stoutly held. There is the more need, therefore, for you to listen to and weigh the Preacher’s conclusion. For his conclusion is, that this scheme of life is wholly and irredeemably wrong, that it tends to make a man a coward and a slave, that it cannot satisfy the large desires of the soul, and that it cheats him of the Chief Good. His conclusion is, that the man who so sets his heart on acquiring even a Competence that he cannot be content without it, has no genuine trust in God, since he is willing to give in to immoral maxims and customs in order to secure that which, as he thinks, will make him largely independent of the Divine Providence.
The Preacher speaks as to wise men, to men of some experience of the world. Judge you what he says.
The Perils to which it exposes him. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1-17
So far, I think, we shall follow and assent to this theory of human life; our sympathies will go with the man who seeks to acquire a good name, to grow wise, to stand in the Golden Mean. But when he proceeds to apply his theory, to deduce practical rules from it, we can only give him a qualified assent, nay, must often altogether withhold our assent. The main conclusion he draws is, in deed, quite unobjectionable: it is, that in action, as well as in opinion, we should avoid excess, that we should keep the happy mean between intemperance and indifference.
He is likely to compromise Conscience: Ecclesiastes 7:15-20
But the very first moral he infers from this conclusion is open to the most serious objection. He has seen both the righteous die in his righteousness without receiving any reward from it, and the wicked live long in his wickedness to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. And from these two mysterious facts, which much exercised many of the Prophets and Psalmists of Israel, he infers that a prudent man will neither be very righteous, since he will gain nothing by it, and may lose the friendship of those who are content with the current morality; nor very wicked, since, though he may lose little by this so long as he lives, he will very surely hasten his death (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17). It is the part of prudence to lay hold on both; to permit a temperate indulgence both in virtue and in vice, carrying neither to excess (Ecclesiastes 7:18)-a doctrine still very dear to the mere man of the world. In this temperance there lies a strength greater than that of an army in a beleaguered city; for no righteous man is wholly righteous (Ecclesiastes 7:19-20): to aim at so lofty an ideal will be to attempt "to wind ourselves too high for mortal man below the sky"; we shall only fail if we make the attempt; we shall be grievously disappointed if we expect other men to succeed where we have failed; we shall lose faith in them, and in ourselves; we shall suffer many pangs of shame, remorse, and defeated hope: and, therefore, it is well at once to make up our minds that we are, and need be, no better than our neighbours, that we are not to blame ourselves for customary and occasional slips; that, if we are but moderate, we may lay one hand on righteousness and another on wickedness without taking much harm. A most immoral moral, though it is as popular today as it ever was. The Perils to which it exposes him. Ecclesiastes 7:15-29; Ecclesiastes 8:1-13
But here we light on his first grave peril; for he will carry his temperance into his religion, and he may subordinate even that to his desire to get on. Looking on men in their religious aspect, he sees that they are divided into two classes, the righteous and the wicked. As he considers them, he concludes that on the whole the righteous have the best of it, that godliness is real gain.
He is likely to compromise Conscience; Ecclesiastes 7:15-20
But he soon discovers that this first rough conclusion needs to be carefully qualified. For, as he studies men more closely, he perceives that at times the righteous die in their righteousness without being the better for it, and the wicked live on in their wickedness without being the worse for it. He perceives that while the very wicked die before their time, the very righteous, those who are always reaching forth to that which is before them and rising to new heights of insight and obedience, are "forsaken," that they are left alone in the thinly-peopled solitude to which they have climbed, losing the sympathy even of those who once walked with them, Now, these are facts; and a prudent sensible man tries to accept facts, and to adjust himself to them, even when they are adverse to his wishes and conclusions. He does not want to be left alone, nor to die before his time. And therefore, taking these new facts into account, he infers that it will be best to be good without being too good, and to indulge himself with an occasional lapse into some general and customary wickedness without being too wicked. Nay, he is disposed to believe that "whoso feareth God," studying the facts of his providence and drawing logical inferences from them, "will lay hold of both" wickedness and righteousness, and will blend them in that proportion which the facts seem to favour. But here Conscience protests, urging that to do evil can never be good. To pacify it, he adduces the notorious fact that "there is not a righteous man on earth who doeth good, and sinneth not." "Conscience," he says, "you are really too strict and straitlaced, too hard on one who wants to do as well as he can. You go quite too far. How can you expect me to be better than great saints and men after God’s own heart?" And so, with a wronged and pious air, he turns to lay one hand on wickedness and another on righteousness, quite content to be no better than his neighbours and to let Conscience sulk herself into a sweeter mood.
To be indifferent to Censure: Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
The second rule which this temperate Monitor infers from his general theory is, That we are not to be overmuch troubled by what people say about us. Servants are adduced as an illustration, partly, no doubt, because they are commonly acquainted with their masters’ faults, and partly because they do sometimes speak about them, and even exaggerate them. "Let them speak," is his counsel, "and don’t be too curious to know what they say; you may be sure that they will say pretty much what you often say of your neighbours or superiors; if they depreciate you, you depreciate others, and you can hardly expect a more generous treatment than you accord." Now if this moral stood alone, it would be both shrewd and wholesome. But it does not stand alone; and in its connection it means, I fear, that if we take the moderate course prescribed by worldly prudence; if we are righteous without being too righteous, and wicked without being too wicked, and our neighbours should begin to say, "He is hardly so good as he seems," or "I could tell a tale of him an if I would," we are not to be greatly moved by "any such ambiguous givings out"; we are not to be overmuch concerned that our neighbours have discovered our secret slips, since we have often discovered the like slips in them, and know very well that "there is not on earth a righteous man who doeth good and sinneth not." In short, as we are not to be too hard on ourselves for an occasional and decorous indulgence in vice, so neither are we to be very much vexed by the censures which neighbours as guilty as ourselves pass on our conduct. Taken in this its connected sense, the moral is as immoral as that which preceded it.
Here, indeed, our prudent Monitor drops a hint that he himself is not content with a theory which leads to such results. He has tried this "wisdom," but he is not satisfied with it. He desired a higher wisdom, suspecting that there must be a nobler theory of life than this; but it was too far away for him to reach, too deep for him to fathom. After all his researches that which was far off remained far off, too deep remained deep: he could not attain the higher wisdom he sought (Ecclesiastes 7:23-24). And so he falls back on the wisdom he had tried, and draws a third moral from it which is somewhat difficult to handle. To be indifferent to Censure: Ecclesiastes 7:21-22
Conscience being silenced, Prudence steps in. And Prudence says, "People will talk. They will take note of your slips, and tattle about them. Unless you are very, very careful, you will damage your reputation; and if you do that, how can you hope to get on?" Now as the man is specially devoted to Prudence, and has found her kind mistress and useful monitress in one, he is at first a little staggered to find her taking part against him. But he soon recovers himself, and replies: "Dear Prudence, you know as well as I do that people don’t like a man to be better than themselves. Of course they will talk if they catch me tripping; but I don’t mean to do more than trip, and a man who trips gains ground in recovering himself, and goes all the faster for a while. Besides, we all trip; some fall, even. And I talk of my neighbours just as they talk of me; and we all like each other the better for being birds of one feather."
To despise Women: Ecclesiastes 7:25-29
It is said of an English satirist that when any friend confessed himself in trouble and asked his advice, his first question was, "Who is she?"-taking it for granted that a woman must be at the bottom of the mischief. And the Hebrew cynic appears to have been of his mind. He cannot but see that the best of men sin sometimes, that even the most temperate are hurried into excesses which their prudence condemns. And when he turns to discover what it is that bewitches them, he finds no other solution of the mystery than-Woman. Sweet and pleasant as she seems, she is "more bitter than death," her heart is a snare, her hands are chains. He whom God loves will escape from her net after brief captivity; only the fool and the sinner are held fast in it (Ecclesiastes 7:25-26). Nor is this a hasty conclusion. Our Hebrew cynic has deliberately gone out, with the lantern of his wisdom in his hand, to search for an honest man and an honest woman. He has been scrupulously careful in his search, "taking things," i.e., indications of character, "one by one"; but though he has found one honest man in a thousand, he has never lit on an honest and good woman (Ecclesiastes 7:27-28). Was not the fault in the eyes of the seeker rather than in the faces into which he peered? Perhaps it was. It would be today and here; but was it there and on that far-distant yesterday? The Orientals would still say "No." All through the East, from the hour in which Adam cast the blame of his disobedience on Eve to the present hour, men have followed the example of their first father. Even St. Chrysostom, who should have known better, affirms that when the devil took from Job all he had, he did not take his wife, "because he thought she would greatly help him to conquer that saint of God." Mohammed sings in the same key with the Christian Father: he affirms that since the creation of the world there have been only four perfect women, though it a little redeems the cynicism of his speech to learn that, of these four perfect women, one was his wife and another his daughter; for the good man may have meant a compliment to them rather than an insult to the sex. But if there be any truth in this estimate, if in the East the women were, and are, worse than the men, it is the men who have made them what they are. Robbed of their natural dignity and use as helpmeets, condemned to be mere toys, trained only to minister to sense, what wonder if they have fallen below their due place and honour? Of all cowardly cynicisms that surely is the meanest which, denying women any chance of being good, condemns them for being bad. Our Hebrew cynic seems to have had some faint sense of his unfairness; for he concludes his tirade against the sex with the admission that "God made man upright"-the word "man" here, as in Genesis, standing for the whole race, male and female-and that if all women, and nine hundred and ninety-nine men out of every thousand, have become bad, it is because they have degraded themselves and one another by the evil "devices" they have sought out (Ecclesiastes 7:29).
To despise Women; Ecclesiastes 7:25-29
At this Prudence smiles and stops her mouth. But being very willing to assist so quick-witted a disciple, she presently returns and says: "Are you not rather a long while in securing your little Competence? Is there no short cut to it? Why not take a wife with a small fortune of her own, or with connexions who could help you on?" Now the man, not being a bad man, but one who would fain be good so far as he knows goodness, is somewhat taken aback by such a suggestion as this. He thinks Prudence must be growing very worldly and mercenary. He says within himself, "Surely love should be sacred! A man should not prostitute that in order to get on! If I marry a woman simply or mainly for her money, what worse degradation can I inflict on her or on my self? how shall I be better than those old Hebrews and Orientals who held women to be only a toy or a convenience? To do that, would be to make a snare and a net of her indeed, to degrade her from her true place and function, and possibly would lead me to think of her as even worse than I had made her." Nevertheless, his heart being very much set on securing a Competence, and an accident of the sort which he calls "providences" putting a foolish woman with a pocketful of money in his way, he takes both the counsel of Prudence and a wife to match.
And to be in different, to Public Wrongs. Ecclesiastes 8:1-13
The fourth and last rule inferred from this prudent moderate view of life is, That we are to submit with hopeful resignation to the wrongs which spring from human tyranny and injustice. Unclouded by gusts of passion, the wise temperate Oriental carries a "bright countenance" to the king’s divan. Though the king should rate him with "evil words," he will remember his "oath of fealty," and not rise up in resentment, still less rush out in open revolt. He knows that the word of a king is potent; that it will be of no use to show a hot mutinous temper; that by a meek endurance of wrath he may allay or avert it. He knows, too that obedience and submission are not likely to provoke insult and contumely; and that if now and then he is exposed to an undeserved insult, any defence, and especially an angry defence, will but damage his cause. [Ecclesiastes 8:1-5] Moreover, a man who keeps himself cool and will not permit anger to blind him may, in the worst event, foresee that a time of retribution will surely come on the king, or the satrap, who is habitually unjust; that the people will revolt from him and exact heavy penalties for the wrongs they have endured: that death, "that fell arrest without all bail," will carry him away. He can see that time of retribution drawing nigh, although the tyrant, fooled by impunity, is not aware of its approach; he can also see that when it comes it will be as a war in which no furlough is granted, and whose disastrous close no craft can evade. All this execution of long-delayed justice he has seen again and again; and therefore he will not suffer his resentment to hurry him into dangerous courses, but will calmly await the action of those social laws which compel every man to reap the due reward of his deeds (Ecclesiastes 8:5-9).
Nevertheless he has also seen times in which retribution did not overtake oppressors; times even when, in the person of children as wicked and tyrannical as themselves, they "came again" to renew their injustice, and to blot out the memory of the righteous from the earth (Ecclesiastes 8:10). And such times have no more disastrous result than this, that they undermine faith and subvert morality. Men see that no immediate sentence is pronounced against the Wicked, that they live long in their wickedness and beget children to perpetuate it; and the faith of the good in the overruling providence of God is shaken and strained, while the vast majority of men set themselves to do the evil which flaunts its triumphs before their eyes (Ecclesiastes 8:11). None the less the Preacher is quite sure that it is the part of wisdom to trust in the laws and look for the judgments of God: he is quite sure that the triumph of the wicked will soon pass, while that of the good will endure (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13); and therefore, as a man of prudent and forecasting spirit, he will submit to injustice, but not inflict it, or at least not carry it to any dangerous excess.
The Method of the Man who seeks a Competence. Ecclesiastes 8:1-14
Suppose a young man to start in life with this theory, this plan, this aim, distinctly before him:-he is to be ruled by prudence and plain common sense: he will try to stand well with the world, and to make a moderate provision for future wants. This aim will beget a certain temperance of thought and action. He will permit himself no extravagances-no wandering out of bounds, and perhaps no enthusiasms, for he wants to establish "a good name," a good reputation, which shall go before him like "a sweet perfume" and dispose men’s hearts toward him. And, therefore, he carries a sober face, frequents the company of older, wiser men, is grateful for any hints their experience may furnish, and takes even their "reproof" with a good grace. He walks in the beaten paths, knowing the world to be impatient of novelties. The wanton mirth and crackling laughter of fools in the house of feasting are not for him. He is not to be seduced from the plain prudent course which he has marked out for himself, whether by inward provocation or outward allurements. If he is a young lawyer, he will write no poetry, attorneys holding literary men in suspicion. If he is a young doctor, homeopathy, hydropathy, and all newfangled schemes of medicine will disclose their charms to him in vain. If he is a young clergyman, he will be conspicuous for his orthodoxy, and for his emphatic assent to all that the leaders of opinion in the Church think or may think. If he is a young manufacturer or merchant, he will be no breeder of costly patents and inventions, but will be among the first to profit by them whenever they are found to pay. Whatever he may be, he will not be of those who try to make crooked things straight and rough places plain. He wants to get on; and the best way to get on is to keep the beaten path and push forward in that. And he will be patient-not throwing up the game because for a time the chances go against him, but waiting till the times mend and his chances improve. So far as he can, he will keep the middle of the stream that, when the tide which leads on to fortune sets in, he may be of the first to take it at the flood and sail easily on to his desired haven.
In all this there may be no conscious insincerity, and not much perhaps that calls for censure. For all young men are not wise with the highest wisdom, nor original, nor brave with the courage which follows Truth in scorn of consequence. And our young man may not be dowered with the love of loves, the hate of hates, the scorn of scorns. He may be of a nature essentially prudent and commonplace, or training and habit may have superinduced a second nature. To him a primrose may be a primrose and nothing more; his instinctive thought, as he looks at it, may be how he can reproduce its colour in some of his textures or extract a saleable perfume from its nectared cup. He may even think that primroses are a mistake, and that ‘tis pity they were not pot herbs; or he may assume that he shall have plenty of time to gather primroses by and by, but that for the present he must be content to pick pot herbs for the market. In his way, he may even be a religious man; he may admit that both prosperity and adversity are of God, that we must take patiently whatever He may send; and he may heartily desire to be on good terms with Him who alone "can order all things as He please."
And to be indifferent to Public Wrongs. Ecclesiastes 8:1-13
The world, we may be sure, thinks none the worse of him for that. Once more he has proved himself a man whose eye is steadfastly bent on "the main chance," and who knows how to seize occasions as they rise. But he, who has thus profaned the inner sanctuary of his own soul, is not likely to be sensitive to the large claims of public duty. If he sees oppression, if the tyranny of a man or a class mounts to a height which calls for rebuke and opposition, he is not likely to sacrifice comfort and risk either property or popularity that he may assail iniquity in her strong places. It is not such men as he who, when the times are out of joint, feel that they are born to set them right. Prudence is still his guide, and Prudence says, "Let things alone; they will right themselves in time. The social laws will avenge themselves on the head of the oppressor, and deliver the oppressed. You can do little to hasten their action. Why, to gain so little, should you risk so much?" And the man is content to sit still with folded hands when every hand that can strike a blow for right is wanted in the strife, and can even quote texts of Scripture to prove that in "quietness, and confidence" in the action of Divine Laws, is the true strength.
The Preacher condemns this Theory of Human Life, and declares the Quest to be still unattained. Ecclesiastes 8:14-15
This is by no means a noble or lofty view of human life; the line of conduct it prescribes is often as immoral as it is ignoble; and we may feel some natural surprise at hearing counsels so base from the lips of the inspired Hebrew Preacher. But we ought to know him, and his method of instruction, well enough by this time to be sure that he is at least as sensible of their baseness as we can be; that he is here speaking to us, not in his own person, but dramatically, and from the lips of the man who, that he may secure a good name and an easy position in the world, is disposed to accommodate himself to the current maxims of his time and company. If we ever had any doubt on this point, it is set at rest by the closing verses of the Section before us. For in these verses the Preacher lowers his mask, and tells us plainly that we cannot and must not attempt to rest in the theory he has just put before us, that to follow out its practical corollaries will lead us away from the Chief Good, not toward it. More than once he has already hinted to us that this "wisdom" is not the highest wisdom: and now he frankly avows that he is as unsatisfied as ever, as far as ever from ending his Quest; that his last key will not unlock those mysteries of life which have baffled him from the first. He still holds, indeed, that it is better to be righteous than to be wicked, though he now sees that even the prudently righteous often have a wage like that of the wicked, and that the prudently wicked often have a wage like that of the righteous (Ecclesiastes 8:14). This new theory of life, therefore, he confesses to be "a vanity" as great and deceptive as any of those he has hitherto tried. And as even yet it does not suit him to give us his true theory and announce his final conclusion, he falls back on the conclusion we have so often heard, that the best thing a man can do is to eat and to drink, and to carry a clear enjoying temper through all the days, and all the tasks, which God giveth him under the sun (Ecclesiastes 8:15). How this familiar conclusion fits into his final conclusion, and is part of it, though not the whole, we shall see in our study of the next and last section of the Book.
If, as Milton sings,
"To know That which before us lies in daily life is the prime wisdom,"
we are surely much indebted to the Hebrew Preacher. He does not "sit on a hill apart" discussing fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute, or any lofty abstruse theme. He walks with us, in the common round, to the daily task, and talks to us of that which lies before and around us in our daily life. Nor does he speak as one raised high above the folly and weakness by which we are constantly betrayed. He has trodden the very paths we tread. He shares our craving and has pursued our quest after "that which is good." He has been misled by the illusions by which we are beguiled. And his aim is to save us from fruitless researches and defeated hopes by placing his experience at our command. He speaks, therefore, to our real need, and speaks with a cordial sympathy which renders his counsel very welcome.
We are so made that we can find no rest until we find a supreme Good, a Good which will satisfy all our faculties, passions, aspirations. For this we search with ardour; but our ardour is not always under law to wisdom. We often assume that we have reached our chief Good while it is still far off, or that we are at least looking for it in the right direction when in truth we have turned our back upon it. Sometimes we seek for it in the pursuit of knowledge, sometimes in pleasure and self-indulgence, sometimes in fervent devotion to secular affairs; sometimes in love, sometimes in wealth, and sometimes in a modest yet competent provision for our future wants. And if, when we have acquired the special good we seek, we find that our hearts are still craving and restless, still hungering for a larger good, we are apt to think that if we had a little more of that which so far has disappointed us; if we were somewhat wiser, or if our pleasures were more varied; if we had a little more love or a larger estate, all would be well with us, and we should be at peace. Perhaps in time we get our "little more," but still our hearts do not cry, "Hold, enough!"-enough being always a little more than we have; till at last, weary and disappointed in our quest, we begin to despair of ourselves and to distrust the goodness of God. "If God be good," we ask, "why has He made us thus-always seeking yet never finding, urged on by imperious appetites which are never satisfied, impelled by hopes which forever elude our grasp?" And because we cannot answer the question, we cry out, "Vanity of vanities! all is vanity and vexation of spirit!"
"Ah, no," replies the kindly Preacher who has himself known this despairing mood and surmounted it; "no, all is not vanity. There is a chief Good, a satisfying Good, although you have not found it yet; and you have not found it because you have not looked for it where alone it can be found. Once take the right path, follow the right clue, and you will find a Good which will make all else good to you, a Good which will lend a new sweetness to your wisdom and your mirth, your labour and your gain." But men are very slow to believe that they have wasted their time and strength, that they have wholly mistaken their path; they are reluctant to believe that a little more of that of which they have already acquired so much, and which they have always held to be best, will not yield them the satisfaction they seek. And therefore the wise Preacher, instead of telling us at once where the true Good is to be found, takes much pains to convince us that it is not to be found where we have been wont to seek it. He places before us a man of the largest wisdom, whose pleasures were exquisitely varied and combined, a man whose devotion to affairs was the most perfect and successful, a man of imperial nature and wealth, and whose heart had glowed with all the fervours of love: and this man-himself under a thin disguise-so rarely gifted and of such ample conditions, confesses that he could not find the Chief Good in any one of the directions in which we commonly seek it, although he had travelled farther in every direction than we can hope to go. If we are of a rational temper, if we are open to argument and persuasion, if we are not resolved to buy our own experience at a heavy, perhaps a ruinous, cost, how can we but accept the wise Hebrew’s counsel, and cease to look for the satisfying Good in quarters in which he assures us it is not to be found?
We have already considered his argument as it bore on the men of his own time; we have now to make its application to our own age. As his custom is, the Preacher does not develop his argument in open logical sequence; he does not write a moral essay, but paints us a dramatic picture.
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/ecclesiastes-7.html.
Ecclesiastes 12:8.—Division II. DEDUCTIONS FROM THE ABOVE-MENTIONED EXPERIENCES IN THE WAY OF WARNINGS AND RULES OF LIFE.
Section 1. Though no man knows for certain what is best, yet there are some practical rules for the conduct of life which wisdom gives. Some of these Koheleth sets forward in the proverbial form, recommending a serious, earnest life in preference to one of gaiety and frivolity.
A good name is better than precious ointment. The paronomasia here is to be remarked, tob ahem mishemen tob. There is a similar assonance in So Ecclesiastes 1:3, which the German translator reproduces by the sentence, "Besser gut Gerucht als Wohlgeruch," or," gute Geruche," and which may perhaps be rendered in English, "Better is good favor than good flavor." It is a proverbial saying, running literally, Better is a name than good oil. Shem, "name," is sometimes used unqualified to signify a celebrated name, good name, reputation (comp. Genesis 11:4; Proverbs 22:1). Septuagint, ἀγαθὸν ὄνομα ὑπὲρ ἔλαιον ἀγαθόν. Vulgate, Melius eat nomen bonum quam unguenta pretiosa. Odorous unguents were very precious in the mind of an Oriental, and formed one of the luxuries lavished at feasts and costly entertainments, or social visits (see Ecclesiastes 9:8; Ruth 3:3; Psalms 45:8; Amos 6:6; Wis. 2:7; Luke 7:37, Luke 7:46). It was a man's most cherished ambition to leave a good reputation, and to hand down an honorable remembrance to distant posterity, and this all the more as the hope of the life beyond the grave was dim and vague (see on Ecclesiastes 2:16, and comp. Ecclesiastes 9:5). The complaint of the sensualists in Wis. 2:4 is embittered by the thought," Our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our works in remembrance." We employ a metaphor like that in the clause when we speak of a man's reputation having a good or ill odor; and the Hebrews said of ill fame that it stank in the nostrils (Genesis 34:30; Exodus 5:21; see, on the opposite side, Ecclesiasticus 24:15; 2 Corinthians 2:15). And the day of death than the day of one's birth. The thought in this clause is closely connected with the preceding. If a man's life is such that he leaves a good name behind him, then the day of his departure is better than that of his birth, because in the latter he had nothing before him but labor, and trouble, and fear, and uncertainty; and in the former all these anxieties are past, the storms are successfully battled with, the haven is won (see on Ecclesiastes 4:3). According to Solon's well-known maxim, no one can be called happy till he has crowned a prosperous life by a peaceful death; as the Greek gnome runs—
΄ήπω μέγαν εἴπῃς πρὶν τελευτήσαντ ἴδῃς
"Call no man great till thou hast seen him dead."
So Ben-Sira, "Judge none blessed ( μὴ μακάριζε μηδένα) before his death; for a man shall be known in his children" (Ecclesiasticus 11:28).
It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting. The thought in the last verse leads to the recollection of the circumstances which accompany the two events therein mentioned—birth and death, feasting and joy, in the first case; sorrow and mourning in the second. In recommending the sober, earnest life, Koheleth teaches that wiser, more enduring lessons are to be learned where grief reigns than in the empty and momentary excitement of mirth and joyousness. The house in question is mourning for a death; and what a long and harrowing business this was is well known (see Deuteronomy 24:8; Ecclesiasticus 22:10; Jeremiah 22:18; Matthew 9:23, etc.). Visits of condolence and periodical pilgrimages to groves of departed relatives were considered duties (John 11:19, John 11:31), and conduced to the growth in the mind of sympathy, seriousness, and the need of preparation for death. The opposite side, the house of carousal, where all that is serious is put away, leading to such scenes as Isaiah denounces (Isaiah 5:11), offers no wise teaching, and produces only selfishness, heartlessness, thoughtlessness. What is said here is no contradiction to what was said in Ecclesiastes 2:24, that there was nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink and enjoy himself. For Koheleth was not speaking of unrestrained sensualism—the surrender of the mind to the pleasures of the body—but of the moderate enjoyment of the good things of life conditioned by the fear of God and love of one's neighbor. This statement is quite compatible with the view that sees a higher purpose and training in the sympathy with sorrow than in participation in reckless frivolity. For that is the end of all men viz. that they will some day be mourned, that their house will be turned into a house of mourning. Vulgate, In illa (dome) enim finis cunctorum admonetur hominum, which is not the sense of the Hebrew. The living will lay it to his heart. He who has witnessed this scene will consider it seriously (Ecclesiastes 9:1), and draw from it profitable conclusions concerning the brevity of life and the proper use to make thereof. We recall the words of Christ, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted;" and "Woe unto you that laugh now for ye shall mourn and weep" (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:25). Schultens gives an Arab proverb which says, "Hearest thou lamentation for the dead, hasten to the spot; art thou called to a banquet, cross not the threshold." The Septuagint thus translates the last clause, καὶ ὁ ζῶν δώσει ἀγαθὸν εἰς καρδίαν αὐτοῦ "The living will put good into his heart;" the Vulgate paraphrases fairly, Et vivens cogitat quid futurum sit," The living thinks what is to come." "So teach us to number our days," prays the psalmist, "that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalms 90:12).
Sorrow is better than laughter. This is a further expansion of the previous maxim, כַּעַס (kaas), as contrasted with שְׂהוֹק, is rightly rendered "sorrow," "melancholy," or, as Ginsburg contends, "thoughtful sadness." The Septuagint has θυμός, the Vulgate ira; but auger is not the feeling produced by a visit to the house of mourning. Such a scene produces saddening reflection, which is in itself a moral training, and is more wholesome and elevating than thoughtless mirth. For by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The feeling which shows itself by the look of sadness (comp. Genesis 40:7; Nehemiah 2:2) has a purifying effect on the heart, gives a moral tone to the character. Professor Tayler Lewis renders the clause, "For in the sad. ness of the face the heart becometh fair;" i.e. sorrow beautifies the soul, producing, as it were, comeliness, spiritual beauty, and, in the end, serener happiness. The Vulgate translates the passage thus: Melter eat ira risu; quia per tristitiam vultus corrigitur animus deliquentis, "Better is anger than laughter, because through sadness of countenance the mind of the offender is corrected." The anger is that either of God or of good men which reproves sin; the laughter is that of sinners who thus show their connivance at or approval of evil. There can be no doubt that this is not the sense of the passage. For the general sentiment concerning the moral influence of grief and suffering, we may compare the Greek sayings, τὰ παθήματα μαθήματα, and τί μαθών τί παθών; which are almost equivalent in meaning. The Latins would say, "Quaenocent, docent," and we, "Pain is gain."
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. This is the natural conclusion from what was said in Ecclesiastes 7:2, Ecclesiastes 7:3. The man who recognizes the serious side of life, and knows where to learn lessons of high moral meaning, will be found conversant with scenes of sorrow and suffering, and reflecting upon them. But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. The fool, who thinks of nothing but present enjoyment, and how to make life pass pleasantly, turns away from mournful scenes, and goes only there where he may drown care and be thoughtless and merry.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise. Gearah, "rebuke," is the word used in Proverbs for the grave admonition which heals and strengthens while it wounds (see Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 17:10). The silent lessons which a man learns from the contemplation of others' sorrow are rightly supplemented by the salutary correction of the wise man's tongue. Than for a man to hear the song of fools. Shir, "song," is a general term used of sacred or profane song; the connection here with the second clause of verse 4, etc; leads one to think of the hoister-cue, reckless, often immodest, singing heard in the house of revelry, such as Amos (Amos 6:5) calls "idle songs to the sound of the viol" Koheleth might have heard these in his own country, without drawing his experience from the license of Greek practice or the impurity of Greek lyrics. The Vulgate renders the clause, Quum stultorum adulatione decipi, Than to be deceived by the flattery of tools." This is a paraphrase; the correctness is negatived by the explanation given in the following verse.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot. There is a play of words in the Hebrew, "The crackling of sirim under a sir," which Wright expresses by translating, "Like the noise of the nettles under the kettles." In the East, and where wood is scarce, thorns, hay, and stubble are used for fuel (Psalms 58:9; Psalms 120:4; Matthew 6:30). Such materials are quickly kindled, blaze up for a time with much noise, and soon die away (Psalms 118:12). So is the laughter of the fool. The point of comparison is the loud crackling and the short duration of the fire with small results. So the fool's mirth is boisterous and noisy, but comes to a speedy end, and is spent to no good purpose. So in Job (Job 20:5) we have, "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment." All this profitless mirth is again nothing but vanity.
The verse begins with ki, which usually introduces a reason for what has preceded; but the difficulty in finding the connection has led to various explanations and evasions. The Authorized Version boldly separates the verse from what has gone before, and makes a new paragraph beginning with "surely:" Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad. Delitzsch supposes that something has been lost between Ecclesiastes 7:6 and Ecclesiastes 7:7, and he supplies the gap by a clause borrowed from Proverbs 16:8, "Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right;" and then the sentence proceeds naturally, "For oppression," etc. But this is scarcely satisfactory, as it is mere conjecture wholly unsupported by external evidence. The Vulgate leaves ki untranslated; the Septuagint has ὅτι. Looking at the various paragraphs, all beginning with tob, rendered "better," viz. Proverbs 16:1, Proverbs 16:2, Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 16:5, Proverbs 16:8, we must regard the present verse as connected with what precedes, a new subject being introduced at Proverbs 16:8. Putting Proverbs 16:6 in a parenthesis as merely presenting an illustration of the talk of fools, we may see in Proverbs 16:7 a confirmation of the first part of Proverbs 16:5. The rebuke of the wise is useful even in the case of rulers who are tempted -to excess and injustice. The "oppression" in the text is the exercise of irresponsible power, that which a man inflicts, not what he suffers; this makes him "mad," even though he be in other respects and under other circumstances wise; he ceases to be directed by reason and principle, and needs the correction of faithful rebuke. The Septuagint and Vulgate, rendering respectively συκοφαντία and calumnia, imply that the evil which distracts the wise man is false accusation. And a gift destroyeth the heart. The admission of bribery is likewise an evil that calls for wise rebuke. So Proverbs 15:27, "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live." The phrase, "destroys the heart," means corrupts the understanding, deprives a man of wisdom, makes him no better than a fool (comp. Hosea 4:11, where the same effect is attributed to whoredom and drunkenness). The Septuagint has, ἀπόλλυσι τὴν καρδίαν εὐγενείας αὐτοῦ, "destroys the heart of his nobility;" the Vulgate, perdet robur cordis illius, "will destroy the strength of his heart." The interpretation given above seems to be the most reasonable way of dealing with the existing text; but Nowack and Volck adopt Delitzsch's emendation.
Section 2. Here follow some recommendations to patience and resignation under the ordering of God's providence. Such conduct is shown to be true wisdom.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. This is not a repetition of the assertion in verse. I concealing the day of death and the day of birth, but states a truth in a certain sense generally true. The end is better because we then can form a right judgment about a matter; we see what was its purpose; we know whether it has been advantageous and prosperous or not. Christ's maxim, often repeated (see Matthew 10:22; Matthew 24:13; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 3:6, etc.), is, "He that shall endure unto the end shall be saved." No one living can be said to be so absolutely safe as that he can look to the great day without trembling. Death puts the seal to the good life, and, obviates the danger of falling away. Of course, if a thing is in itself evil, the gnome is not true (comp. Proverbs 5:3, Proverbs 5:4; Proverbs 16:25, etc.); but applied to things indifferent at the outset, it is as correct as generalizations can be. The lesson of patience is here taught. A man should not be precipitate in his judgments, but wait for the issue. From the ambiguity in the expression dabar (see on Ecclesiastes 6:11), many render it "word "in this passage. Thus the Vulgate, Melior est finis orationis, quam principium; and the Septuagint, ἀγαθὴ ἐσχάτη λόγων ὑπὲρ ἀρχὴν αὐτοῦ, where φωνή, or some such word, must be supplied. If this interpretation be preferred, we must either take the maxim as stating generally that few words are better than many, and that the sooner one concludes a speech, so much the better for speaker and hearer; or we must consider that the word intended is a well-merited rebuke, which, however severe and at first disliked, proves in the end wholesome and profitable. And the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. "Patient" is literally "long of spirit," as the phrase, "short of spirit," is used in Proverbs 14:29 and Job 21:4 to denote one who loses his temper and is impatient. To wait calmly for the result of an action, not to be hasty in arraigning Providence, is the part of a patient man; while the proud, inflated, conceited man, who thinks all must be arranged according to his notions, is never resigned or content, but rebels against the ordained course of events. "In your patience ye shall win your souls," said Christ (Luke 21:19); and a Scotch proverb declares wisely, "He that weel bides, weel betides."
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. A further warning against the arrogance which murmurs at Providence and revolts against the checks of the Divine arrangement. The injunction in Ecclesiastes 5:2 might be taken in this sense. It is not a general admonition against unrighteous anger, but is leveled at the haughty indignation which a proud man feels when things do not go as he wishes, and he deems that he could have managed matters more satisfactorily. For anger resteth in the bosom of fools. Such unreasonable displeasure is the mark of a foolish or skeptical mind, and if it rests (Proverbs 14:33), is fostered and cherished there, may develop into misanthropy and atheism. If we adopt the rendering" word" in Ecclesiastes 5:8, we may see in this injunction a warning against being quick to take offence at a rebuke, as it is only the fool who will not look to the object of the censure and see that it ought to be patiently submitted to. On the subject of anger St. Gregory writes, "As often as we restrain the turbulent motions of the mind under the virtue of mildness, we are essaying to return to the likeness of our Creator. For when the peace of mind is lashed with anger, torn and rent, as it were, it is thrown into confusion, so that it is not in harmony with itself, and loses the force of the inward likeness. By anger wisdom is parted with, so that we are left wholly in ignorance what to do; as it is written, 'Anger resteth in the bosom of a fool,' in this way, that it withdraws the light of understanding, while by agitating it troubles the mind" ('Moral.,' 5.78).
The same impatience leads a man to disparage the present in comparison with a past age. What is the cause that the former days were better than these? He does not know from any adequate information that preceding times were in any respect superior to present, but in his moody discontent he looks on what is around him with a jaundiced eye, and sees the past through a rose-tinted atmosphere, as an age of heroism, faith, and righteousness. Horace finds such a character in the morose old man, whom he describes in 'De Arte Poet.,' 173—
"Difficilis, querulus, laudater temporis acti
Se puero, castigator censorque minornm."
"Morose and querulous, praising former days
When he was boy, now ever blaming youth."
And 'Epist.,' 2.1.22—
"... et nisi quae terris semota suisque
Temporibus defuncta videt, fastidit et odit."
"All that is not most distant and removed
From his own time and place, he loathes and scorns."
For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. In asking such a question you show that you have not reflected wisely on the matter. Every age has its light and dark side; the past was not wholly light, the present is not wholly dark. And it may well be questioned whether much of the glamour shed over antiquity is not false and unreal. The days of "Good Queen Bess" were anything but halcyon; the "merrie England" of old time was full of disorder, distress, discomfort. In yearning again for the flesh-pots of Egypt, the Israelites forgot the bondage and misery which were the accompaniments of those sensual pleasures.
Such hasty judgment is incompatible with true wisdom and sagacity. Wisdom is good with an inheritance; Septuagint, ἀγαθὴ σοφία μετὰ κληρονομίας. Vulgate, Utilior eat sapientia cam divitiis. The sentence thus rendered seems to mean that wealth lends a prestige to wisdom, that the man is happy who possesses both. The inheritance spoken of is an hereditary one; the man who is "rich with ancestral wealth" is enabled to employ his wisdom to good purpose, his position adding weight to his words and actions, and relieving him from the low pursuit of money-making. To this effect Wright quotes Menander—
΄ακάριος ὅστις οὐσίαν καὶ νοῦν ἕχει
χρῆται γὰρ οὗτος εἰς ἂ δεῖ ταύτῃ καλῶς.
"Blest is the man who wealth and wisdom hath,
For he can use his riches as he ought."
(Comp. Proverbs 14:24.) Many commentators, thinking such a sentiment alien front the context, render the particle עִם not "with," but "as" Wisdom is [as] good as an inheritance" (see on Ecclesiastes 2:16). This is putting wisdom on rather a low platform, and one would have expected to read some such aphorism as "Wisdom is better than rubies" (Proverbs 8:11), if Koheleth had intended to make any such comparison. It appears then most expedient to take im in the sense of "moreover," "as well as," "and" of a fair countenance"). "Wisdom is good, and an inheritance is good; 'both are good, but the advantages of the former, as 1 Samuel 17:12 intimates, far outweigh those of the latter. And by it there is profit to them that see the sun; rather, and an advantage for those that see the, sun. However useful wealth may be, wisdom is that which is really beneficial to all who live and rejoice in the light of day. In Homer the phrase, ὁρᾶν φάος ἠελίοιο, "to see the light of the sun" ('Iliad,' 18.61), signifies merely "to live;" Plumptre considers it to be used here and in Ecclesiastes 19:7 in order to convey the thought that, after all, life has its bright side. Cox would take it to mean to live much in the sun, i.e. to lead an active life—which is an imported modern notion.
For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense; literally, in the shade is wisdom, in the shade is money; Septuagint, ὅτι ἐν σκιᾷ αὐτῆς ἡ σοφία ὡς σκιὰ ἀργυρίου, "For in its shadow wisdom is as the shadow of money." Symmachus has, σκέπει σοφία ὡς σκέπει τὸ ἀργύριον, "Wisdom shelters as money shelters." The Vulgate explains the obscure text by paraphrasing, Sieur enirn protegit sapientia, sic protegit petunia. Shadow, in Oriental phrase, is equivalent to protection (see Numbers 14:9; Psalms 17:5; Lamentations 4:20). Wisdom as well as money is a shield and defense to men. As it is said in one passage (Proverbs 13:8) that riches are the ransom of a man's life, so in another (Ecclesiastes 9:15) we are told how wisdom delivered a city from destruction. The literal translation given above implies that he who has wisdom and he who has money rest under a safe protection, are secure from material evil. In this respect they are alike, and have analogous claims to man's regard. But the excellency—profit, or advantage—of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. "Knowledge" (daath) and "wisdom" (chokmah) are practically here identical, the terms being varied for the sake of poetic parallelism. The Revised Version, following Delitzsch and others, renders, Wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it; i.e. secures him from passions and excesses which tend to shorten life. This seems to be scarcely an adequate ground for the noteworthy advantage which wisdom is said to possess. The Septuagint gives, καὶ περίσσεια γνώσεως τῆς σοφίας ζωοποιήσει τόν παρ αὐτῆς "And the excellence of the knowledge of wisdom will quicken him that hath it." Something more than the mere animal life is signified, a climax to the "defense" mentioned in the preceding clause—the higher, spiritual life which man has from God. Wisdom in the highest sense, that is, practical piety and religion, is "a tree of life to them that lay hold of her, and happy is every one that retaineth her" (Proverbs 3:18), where it is implied that wisdom restores to man the gift which he lost at the Fall (camp. also Proverbs 8:35). The Septuagint expression ζωοποιήσει recalls the words of Christ, "As the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth ( ζωοποιεῖ) them, even so the Son also quickeneth whom he will;" "It is the Spirit that quickeneth ( τὸ ζωοποιοῦν)" (John 5:21; John 6:63). Koheleth attributes that power to wisdom which the more definite teaching of Christianity assigns to the influence of the Holy Spirit. Some would explain, "fortifies or vivifies the heart," i.e. imparts new life and strength to meet every fortune. The Vulgate rendering is far astray from the text, and does not accurately convey the sense of the passage, running thus: Hoe autem plus habet eruditio et sapientia: quod vitam tribuunt possessori sue, "But this more have learning and wisdom, that they give life to the possessor of them."
Consider the work of God. Here is another reason against murmuring and hasty judgment. True wisdom is shown by submission to the inevitable. In all that happens one ought to recognize God's work and God's ordering, and man's impotence. For who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? The things which God hath made crooked are the anomalies, the crosses, the difficulties, which meet us in life. Some would include bodily deformities, which seems to be a piece of unnecessary literalism. Thus the Septuagint, τίς δυνήσεται κοσμῆσαι ὃν ἂν ὁ θεὸς διαστρέψῃ αὐτόν; "Who will be able to straighten him whom God has distorted?" and the Vulgate, Nemo possit corrigere quem ille despexerit, "No one can amend him whom he hath despised." The thought goes back to what was said in Ecclesiastes 1:15, "That which is crooked cannot be made straight;" and in Ecclesiastes 6:10, man "cannot contend with him that is mightier than he." "As for the wondrous works of the Lord," says Ben-Sira," there may be nothing taken from them, neither may anything be put unto them, neither can the ground of them be found out" (Ecclesiasticus 18:6). We cannot arrange events according to our wishes or expectations; therefore not only is placid acquiescence a necessary duty, but the wise man will endeavor to accommodate himself to existing circumstances
In the day of prosperity be joyful; literally, in the day of good be in good i.e. when things go well with you, be cheerful (Ecclesiastes 9:7; Esther 8:17); accept the situation and enjoy it. The advice is the same as that which runs through the book, viz. to make the best of the present. So Ben-Sira says, "Defraud not thyself of the good day, and let not a share in a good desire pass thee by" (Ecclesiasticus 14:14). Septuagint ἐν ἡμέρᾳ ἀγαθωσύνης ζῆθι ἐν αγαθῷ, "In a day of good live in (an atmosphere of) good;" Vulgate, in die bona fruere bonis, "In a good day enjoy your good things." But in the day of adversity consider; in the evil day look well. The writer could not conclude this clause so as to make it parallel with the other, or he would have had to say, "In the ill day take it ill," which would be far from his meaning; so he introduces a thought which may help to make one resigned to adversity. The reflection follows. Septuagint, καὶ ἴδε ἐν ἡμέρᾳ κακίας ἴδε κ. τ. λ..; Vulgate, Et malam diem praecave, "Beware of the evil day." But, doubtless, the object of the verb is the following clause. God also hath set the one over against the other; or, God hath made the one corresponding to the other; i.e. he hath made the day of evil as well as the day of good. The light and shade in man's life are equally under God's ordering and permission. "What?" cries Job (Job 2:10), "shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Corn. Lapide quotes a saying of Plutarch to this effect: the harp gives forth sounds acute and grave, and both combine to form the melody; so in man's life the mingling of prosperity and adversity yields a well-adjusted harmony. God strikes all the strings of our life's harp, and we ought, not only patiently, but cheerfully, to listen to the chords produced by this Divine Performer. To the end that man should find nothing after him. This clause gives Koheleth's view of God's object in the admixture of good and evil; but the reason has been variously interpreted, the explanation depending on the sense assigned to the term "after him" ( אַתַרָיו). The Septuagint gives ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ, which is vague; the Vulgate, contra eum, meaning that man may have no occasion to complain against God. Cheyne ('Job and Solomon') considers that Koheleth here implies that death closes the scene, and that there is then nothing more to fear, rendering the clause, "On the ground that man is to experience nothing at all hereafter." They who believe that the writer held the doctrine of a future life cannot acquiesce in this view. The interpretation of Delitzsch is this—God lets man pass through the whole discipline of good and evil, that when lie dies there may be nothing which he has not experienced. Hitzig and Nowack explain the text to mean that, as God designs that man after his death shall have done with all things, he sends upon him evil as well as good, that he may not have to punish him hereafter—a doctrine opposed to the teaching of a future judgment. Wright deems the idea to be that man may be kept in ignorance of what shall happen to him beyond the grave, that the present life may afford no clue to the future. One does not see why this should be a comfort, nor how it is compatible with God's known counsel of making the condition of the future life dependent upon the conduct of this. Other explanations being more or less unsatisfactory, many modem commentators see in the passage an assertion that God intermingle8 good and evil in men's lives according to laws with which they are unacquainted, in order that they may not disquiet themselves by forecasting the future, whether in this life or after their death, but may be wholly dependent upon God, casting all their care upon him, knowing that he careth for them (1 Peter 5:7). We may safely adopt this explanation (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12). The paragraph then con-rains the same teaching as Horace's oft-quoted ode-
"Prudens futuri temporis exitum," etc.
('Carm.,' 3.29. 29.)
πρήγματος ἀπρήκτου χαλεπώτατόν ἐστι τελεντὴν
γνῶναι ὅπως μέλλει τοῦτο θεὸς τελέσαι
ορφνη γὰρ τέταται πρὸ δὲ τοῦ μέλλοντος ἔσεσθαι
οὐ ξυνετὰ θνητοῖς πείρατ ἀμηχανίης,
"The issue of an action incomplete,
'Tis hard to forecast how God may dispose it;
For it is veiled in darkest night, and man
In present hour can never comprehend
His helpless efforts."
Plumptre quotes the lines in Cleanthes's hymn to Zeus, verses 18-21—
ἀλλὰ σὺ καὶ τὰ περισσά κ. τ. λ..
"Thou alone knowest how to change the odd
To even, and to make the crooked straight;
And things discordant find accent in thee.
Thus in one whole thou blendest ill with good,
So that one law works on for evermore."
Ben-Sira has evidently borrowed the idea in Ecclesiasticus 33:13-15 (36.) from our passage; after speaking of man being like clay under the potter's hand, he proceeds, "Good is set over against evil, and life over against death; so is the godly against the sinner, and the sinner against the godly. So look upon all the works of the Mast High: there are two and two, one against the ether."
Section 3. Warnings against excesses, and praise of the golden mean, which is practical wisdom and the art of living happily.
All things have I seen in the days of my vanity. Koheleth gives his own experience of an anomalous condition which often obtains in human affairs. "All," being here defined by the article, must refer to the cases which he has mentioned or proceeds to mention. "The days of vanity" mean merely "fleeting, vain days" (comp. Ecclesiastes 6:12). The expression denotes the writer's view of the emptiness and transitoriness of life (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and it may also have special reference to his own vain efforts to solve the problems of existence. There is a just (righteous) man that perisheth in his righteousness. Here is a difficulty about the dispensation of good and evil, which has always perplexed the thoughtful. It finds expression in Psalms 73:1-28; though the singer propounds a solution (Psalms 73:17) which Koheleth misses. The meaning of the preposition ( בְּ) before "righteousness" is disputed. Delitzsch, Wright, and others take it as equivalent to "in spite of," as in Deuteronomy 1:32, where "in this thing" means "notwithstanding," "for all this thing." Righteousness has the promise of long life and prosperity; it is an anomaly that it should meet with disaster and early death. We cannot argue from this that the author did not believe in temporal rewards and punishments; he states merely certain of his own experiences, which may be abnormal and capable of explanation. For his special purpose this was sufficient. Others take the preposition to mean "through," "in consequence of." Good men have always been persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matthew 5:10, Matthew 5:11; John 17:14; 2 Timothy 3:12), and so far the interpretation is quite admissible, and is perhaps supported by Deuteronomy 1:16, which makes a certain sort of righteousness the cause of disaster. But looking to the second clause of the present verse, where we can hardly suppose that the wicked man is said to attain to long life in consequence of his wickedness, we are safe in adopting the rendering, "in spite of." There is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in (in spite of) his wickedness. The verb arak, "to make long," "to prolong," is used both with and without the accusative "days" (see Ecclesiastes 8:12, Ecclesiastes 8:13; Deuteronomy 5:33; Proverbs 28:2). Septuagint, ἐστὶν ἀσεβῆς μένων ἐν κακίᾳ αὐτοῦ, There is an ungodly man remaining in his wickedness," which does not convey the sense of the original. According to the moral government of God experienced by the Hebrews in their history, the sinner was to suffer calamity and to be cut off prematurely. This is the contention of Job's friends, against which he argues so warmly. The writer of the Book of Wisdom has learned to look for the correction of such anomalies in another life. He sees that length of days is not always a blessing, and that retribution awaits the evil beyond the grave (Wis. 1:9; 3:4, 10; 4:8, 19, etc.). Abel perished in early youth; Cain had his days prolonged. This apparent inversion of moral order leads to another reflection concerning the danger of exaggerations.
Be not righteous over much. The exhortation has been variously interpreted to warn against too scrupulous observance of ritual and ceremonial religion, or the mistaken piety which neglects all mundane affairs, or the Pharisaical spirit which is bitter in condemning others who fall short of one's own standard. Cox will have it that the advice signifies that a prudent man will not be very righteous, since he will gain nothing by it, nor very wicked, as he will certainly shorten his life by such conduct. But really Koheleth is condemning the tendency to immoderate asceticism which had begun to show itself in his day—a rigorous, prejudiced, indiscreet manner of life and conduct which made piety offensive, and afforded no real aid to the cause of religion. This arrogant system virtually dictated the laws by which Providence should be governed, and found fault with divinely ordered circumstances if they did not coincide with its professors' preconceived opinions. Such religionism might well be called being "righteous over much." Neither make thyself over wise; Septuagint, ΄ηδὲ σοφίζου περισσά; Vulgate, Neque plus sapias quam necesse est; better, show not thyself too wise; i.e. do not indulge in speculations about God's dealings, estimating them according to your own predilections, questioning the wisdom of his moral government. Against such perverse speculation St. Paul argues (Romans 9:19, etc.). "Thou wilt say unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?" A good principle carried to excess may bring evil results. Summum jus, summa injuria. The maxim, ΄ηδὲν ἀγάν, Ne quid nimis, "Moderation in all things," is taught here; and Aristotle's theory of virtue being the mean between the two extremes of excess and defect is adumbrated ('Ethic. Nicom.,' 2.6. 15, 16): though we do not see that the writer is "reproducing current Greek thought" (Plumptre), or that independent reflection and observation could not have landed him at the implied conclusion without plagiarism. Why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Septuagint, ΄ή ποτὲ ἐκπλαγῇς, "Lest perchance thou be confounded;" Vulgate, Ne obstupescas, "Lest thou be stupefied." This is the primary meaning of the special form of the verb here used (hithp. of שׁמם), and Plumptre supposes that the author intends thereby to express the spiritual pride which accompanies fancied excellence in knowledge and conduct, and by which the possessor is puffed up (1 Timothy 3:6). But plainly it is not a mental, internal effect that is contemplated, but something that affects comfort, position, or life, like the corresponding clause in the following verse. Hitzig and Ginsburg explain the word, "Make thyself forsaken," "Isolate thyself," which can scarcely be the meaning. The Authorized Version is correct. A man who professes to be wiser than others, and. indeed, wiser than Providence, incurs the envy and animosity of his fellow-men, and will certainly be punished by God for his arrogance and presumption.
Be not over much wicked neither be thou foolish. These two injunctions are parallel and correlative to those in Ecclesiastes 7:16 concerning over-righteousness and over-wisdom. But the present verse cannot be meant, as at first sight it seems to do, to sanction a certain amount of wickedness provided it does not exceed due measure. To surmount this difficulty some have undefined to modify the term "wicked" (rasha), taking it to mean "engaged in worldly matters," or "not subject to rule," "lax," or again "restless," as some translate the word in Job 3:17. But the word seems not to be used in any such senses, and bears uniformly the uncompromising signification assigned to it, "to be wicked, unrighteous, guilty." The difficulty is not overcome by Plumptre's suggestion of the introduction of a little "playful irony learned from Greek teachers," as if Koheleth meant, "I have warned you, my friends, against over-righteousness, but do not jump at the conclusion that license is allowable. That was very far from my meaning." The connection of thought is this: in the previous verse Koheleth had denounced the Pharisaical spirit which virtually condemned the Divine ordering of circumstances, because vice was not at once and visibly punished, and virtue at once rewarded; and now he proceeds to warn against the deliberate and abominable wickedness which infers from God's long-suffering his absolute neglect and non-interference in mortal matters, and on this view plunges audaciously into vice and immorality, saying to itself, "God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it" (Psalms 10:11). Such conduct may well be called "foolish;" it is that of "the food who says in his heart, There is no God" (Psalms 14:1). The actual wording of the injunction sounds to us somewhat strange; but its form is determined by the requirements of parallelism, and the aphorism must not be pressed beyond its general intention, "Be not righteous nor wise to excess; be not wicked nor foolish to excess." Septuagint, "Be not very wicked, and be not stubborn ( σκληρός)." Why shouldest thou die before thy time? literally, not in thy time; prematurely, tempting God to punish thee by retributive judgment, or shortening thy days by vicious excesses. The Syriac contains a clause not given in any other version, "that thou mayest not be hated." As is often the case, both in this book and in Proverbs, a general statement in one place is reduced by a contrariant or modified opinion in another. Thus the prolongation of the life of the wicked, noticed in verse 15, is here shown to be abnormal, impiety in the usual course of events having a tendency to shorten life. In this way hasty generalization is corrected, and the Divine arrangement is vindicated.
It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand. The pronouns refer to the two warnings in Ecclesiastes 7:16 and Ecclesiastes 7:17 against over-righteousness and over-wickedness. Koheleth does not advise a man to make trial of opposite lines of conduct, to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that from a wide experience lie may, like a man of the world, pursue a safe course; this would be poor morality, and unmeet for the stage at which his argument has arrived. Rather he advises him to lay to heart fire cautions above given, and learn from them to avoid all extremes. As Horace says ('Epist.,' 1.18. 9)—
"Virtus est medium vitiorum et utrinque reductum."
"Folly, as usual, in extremes is seen,
While virtue nicely hits the happy mean."
The Vulgate has interpolated a word, and taken the pronoun as masculine, to the sacrifice of the sense and connection: Bonum est te sustentare justum, sed el ab illo ne subtrahas manum tuam, "It is good that thou shouldst support the just man, nay, from him withdraw not thy hand." For he that feareth God shall come forth of them all; shall escape both extremes together with their evil re-suits. The fear of God will keep a man from all excesses. The intransitive verb yatsa, "to go forth," is here used with an accusative (comp. Genesis 44:4, which, however, is not quite analogous), as in Latin ingrediurbem (Livy, 1:29). Vulgate, Qui timet Deum nihil negligit. So Hitzig and Ginsburg, "Goes, makes his way with both," knows how to avail himself of piety and wickedness, which, as we have seen, is not the meaning. St. Gregory, indeed, who uses the Latin Version, notes that to fear God is never to pass over any good thing that ought to be aerie ('Moral.,' 1.3); but he is not professing to comment on the whole passage. Wright, after Delitzsch, takes the term "come out of" as equivalent to "fulfill," so that the meaning would be, "He who fears God performs all the duties mentioned above, and avoids extremes," as Matthew 23:23, "These ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone." But this is confessedly a Talmudic use of the verb; and the Authorized Version may be safely adopted. The Septuagint gives, "For to them that fear God all things shall come forth well."
Wisdom strengtheneth the wise. The moderation enjoined is the only true wisdom, which, indeed, is the most powerful incentive and support. "Wisdom proves itself stronger" (as the verb is put intransitively) "to the wise man." Septuagint, βοηθήσει," will help;" Vulgate, confortuvit, "hath strengthened." The spiritual and moral force of the wisdom grounded upon the fear of God is here signified, and is all the more insisted upon to counteract any erroneous impression conveyed by the caution against over-wisdom in Ecclesiastes 7:16 (see note on Ecclesiastes 7:17, at the end). More than ten mighty men which are in the city. The number ten indicates completeness, containing in itself the whole arithmetical system, and used representatively for an indefinite multitude. Thus Job (Job 19:3) complains that his friends have reproached him ten times, and Elkanah asks his murmuring wife, "Am I not better to thee than ten sons?" (1 Samuel 1:8). Delitzsch thinks that some definite political arrangement is referred to, e.g. the dynasties placed by Persian kings over conquered countries; and Tyler notes that in the Mishna a city is defined to be a place containing ten men of leisure; and we know that ten men were required for the establishment of a synagogue in any locality. The same idea was present in the Angle-Saxon arrangement of tything and hundred. The number, however, is probably used indefinitely here as seven in the parallel passage of Ecclesiasticus (37:14), "A man's mind is sometime wont to tell him more than seven watchmen that sit above in a high tower." The sentence may be compared with Proverbs 10:15; Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 24:5. The word rendered "mighty men" (shallitim) is not necessarily a military designation; it is translated "ruler" in Ecclesiastes 10:5, and "governor" in Genesis 42:6. The Septuagint here has ἐξουσιάζοντας τοὺς ὄντας ἐν τῇ πόλει; the Vulgate, principes civitatis. The persons intended are not primarily men of valor in war, like David's heroes, but rulers of sagacity, prudent statesmen, whose moral force is far greater and more efficacious than any merely physical excellence (comp. Ecclesiastes 9:16).
The wisdom above signified is, indeed, absolutely necessary, if one would escape the consequences of that frailty of nature which leads to transgression. Wisdom shows the sinner a way out of the evil course in which he is walking, and puts him back in that fear of God which is his only safety. For there is not a just man upon earth. The verse confirms Ecclesiastes 7:19. Even the just man sinneth, and therefore needs wisdom. That doeth good, and sinneth not. This reminds us of the words in Solomon's prayer (1 Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9). So St. James (James 3:2) says, "In many things we all offend;" and St. John, "It' we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). A Greek gnome runs— ἁμαρτάνει τι καὶ σοφοῦ σοφώτερος. "Erreth at times the very wisest man."
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; literally, give not thy heart, as Ecclesiastes 1:13, etc. Here is another matter in which .wisdom will lead to right conduct. You will not pay serious attention to evil reports either about yourself or others, nor regulate your views and actions according to such distortions of the truth. To be always hankering to know what people say of us is to set up a false standard, which will assuredly lead us astray; and, at the same time, we shall expose ourselves to the keen-eat mortification when we find, as we probably shall find, that they do not take us at our own valuation, but have thoroughly marked our weaknesses, and are ready enough to censure them. We have an instance of patience under unmerited reproof in the case of David when cursed by Shimei (2 Samuel 16:11), as he, or one like minded, says (Psalms 38:13), "I, as a deaf man, hear not; and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Yea, I am as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs." Corn. a Lapide comments in words to which no translation would do justice, "Verbaenim non aunt verbera; aerem feriunt non hominem, nisi qui its attendit mordetur, sauciatur." Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee. The servant is introduced as an example of a gossip or calumniator, because he, if any one, would be acquainted with his master's faults, and be most likely to disseminate his knowledge, and blame from such a quarter would be most intolerable. Commentators appositely quote Bacon's remarks on this passage in his 'Advancement of Learning,' 8.2, where he notes the prudence of Pompey, who burned all the papers of Sertorius reread, containing, as they did, information which would fatally have compromised many leading men in Rome.
Oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. The appeal to a man's own conscience follows. The fact that we often speak ill of others should make us less open to take offence at what is said of ourselves, and prepared to expect unfavorable comments. The Lord has said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you" (Matthew 7:1, Matthew 7:2). This is a universal law. "Who is he," asks Ben-Sira, "that hath not offended with his tongue?" (Ecclesiasticus 19:16). Septuagint, ὅτι πλειστάκις πονηρεύσεταί σε καὶ καθόδους πολλὰς κακώσει καρδίαν σου ὄτι ὡς καίγε σὺ κατηράσω ἑτέρους, "For many times he [thy servant] shall act ill to thee, and in many ways shall afflict thine heart, for even thou also hast cursed others." This seems to be a combination of two renderings of the passage. "It is the praise of perfect greatness to meet hostile treatment, without bravely and within mercifully some things are more quickly dismissed from our hearts if we know our own misdemeanors against our neighbors. For whilst we reflect what we have been towards others, we are the less concerned that others should have proved such persons towards ourselves, be cause the injustice of another avenges in us what our conscience justly accuses in itself" (St. Gregory, 'Moral.,' 22.26).
Section 4. Further in sight into essential wisdom was not obtain able; but Koheleth learned some other practical lessons, viz. that wickedness was folly and madness; that woman was the most evil thing in the world; that man had perverted his nature, which was made originally good.
All this have I proved by wisdom; i.e. wisdom was the means by which he arrived at the practical conclusions given above (Ecclesiastes 7:1-22). Would wisdom solve deeper questions? And if so, could he ever hope to attain it? I said, I will be wise. This was his strong resolve. He desired to grow in wisdom, to use it in order to unfold mysteries and explain anomalies. Hitherto he had been content to watch the course of men's lives, and find by experience what was good and what was evil for them; now he craves for an insight into the secret laws that regulate those external circumstances: he wants a philosophy or theosophy. His desire is expressed by his imitator in the Book of Wisdom (9.), "O God of my fathers,… give me Wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne …. O send her out of thy holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory, that being present she may labor with me." But it was far from me. It remained in the far distance, out of reach. Job's experience (28.) was his. Practical rules of life he might gain, and had mastered, but essential, absolute wisdom was beyond mortal grasp. Man's knowledge and capacity are limited.
That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? The broken, interjectional style of the original in this passage, as Professor Taylor Lewis terms it, is better brought out by translating, "Far off is that which is, and deep, deep: who can find it out?" Professor Lewis renders, "Far off! the past, what is it? Deep—a deep—oh, who can find?" and explains "the past" to mean, not merely the earthly past historically unknown, but the great past before the creation of the universe, the kingdom of all eternities with its ages of ages, its worlds of worlds, its mighty evolutions, its infinite variety. We prefer to retain the rendering, "that which is," and to refer the expression to the phenomenal world. It is not the essence of wisdom that is spoken of, but the facts of man's life and the circumstances in which he finds himself, the course of the world, the phenomena of nature, etc. These things—their causes, connection, interdependence—we cannot explain satisfactorily (comp. Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17). In the Book of Wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:17-21) Solomon is supposed to have arrived at this abstruse knowledge, "for," he says, "God hath given me certain knowledge of the things that are ( τῶν ὄντων γνῶσιν ἀψευδῆ)," and he proceeds to enumerate the various departments which this "universitas literarum" has opened to him. The Septuagint (and virtually the Vulgate) connects this verse with the preceding, thus: . 'I said, I will be wise, and it ( αὔτη) was far from me, far beyond what was ( μακρὰν ὑπὲρ ὃ ἦν), and deep depth: who shall find it out?" (For the epithet "deep" applied to what is recondite or what is beyond human comprehension, comp. Proverbs 20:5; Job 11:8.)
I applied mine heart to know; more literally, I turned myself, and my heart was [set] to know. We have the expression, "tamed myself," referring to a new investigation in Ecclesiastes 2:20 and elsewhere; but the distinguishing the heart or soul from the man himself is not common in Scripture (see on Ecclesiastes 11:9), though the soul is sometimes apostrophized, as in Luke 12:19 (comp. Psalms 103:1; Psalms 146:1). The writer here implies that he gave up himself with all earnestness to the investigation. Unsatisfactory as his quest had been hitherto. He did not relinquish the pursuit, but rather turned it in another direction, where he could hope to meet with useful results. The Septuagint has, "I and my heart traveled round ( ἐκύκλωσα) to know;" the Vulgate, Lustravi universa animo meo ut scirem. And to search, and to seek out wisdom. The accumulation of synonymous verbs is meant to emphasize the author's devotion to his self-imposed task and his return from profitless theoretical investigation to practical inquiry. And the reason of things. Cheshbon (Luke 12:27; Ecclesiastes 9:10) is rather "account," "reckoning," than "reason "—the summing-up of all the facts and circumstances rather than the elucidation of their causes. Vulgate, rationem; Septuagint, ψῆφον. The next clause ought to be rendered, And to know wickedness as (or, to be) folly, and foolishness as (to be) madness. His investigation led him to this conclusion, that all infringement of God's laws is a misjudging aberration—a willful desertion of the requirements of right reason—and that mental and moral obtuseness is a physical malady which may be called madness (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 10:13).
One practical result of his quest Koheleth cannot avoid mentioning, though it comes with a suddenness which is somewhat startling. And I find more bitter than death the woman. Tracing men's folly and madness to their source, he finds that they arise generally from the seductions of the female sex. Beginning with Adam, woman has continued to work mischief in the world. "Of the woman came the beginning of sin," says Siracides, "and through her we all die" (Ecclesiasticus 25:24); it was owing to her that the punishment of death was inflicted on the human race. If Solomon himself were speaking, he had indeed a bitter experience of the sin and misery into which women lead their victims (see 1 Kings 11:1, 1 Kings 11:4, 1 Kings 11:11). It may be thought that Koheleth refers here especially to "the strange woman" of Proverbs 2:16, etc.; Proverbs 5:3, etc.; but in verse 28 he speaks of the whole sex without qualification; so that we must conclude that he had a very low opinion of them. It is no ideal personage whom he is introducing; it is not a personification of vice or folly; but woman in her totality, such as he knew her to be in Oriental courts and homes, denied her proper position, degraded, uneducated, all natural affections crushed or undeveloped, the plaything of her lord, to be flung aside at any moment. It is not surprising that Koheleth's impression of the female sex should be unfavorable. He is not singular in such an opinion. One might fill a large page with proverbs and gnomes uttered in disparagement of woman by men of all ages and countries. Men, having the making of such apothegms, have used their license unmercifully; if the maligned sex had equal liberty, the tables might have been reversed. But, really, in this as in other cases the mean is the safest; and practically those who have given the darkest picture of women have not been slow to recognize the brighter side. If. for instance, the Book of Proverbs paints the adulteress and the harlot in the soberest, most appalling colors, the same book affords us such a sketch of the virtuous matron as is unequalled for vigor, truth, and high appreciation. And if, as in our present chapter, Koheleth shows a bitter feeling against the evil side of woman's nature, he knows how to value the comfort of married life (Ecclesiastes 4:8), and to look upon a good wife as one who makes a man's home happy (Ecclesiastes 9:9). Since the incarnation of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, "the Seed of the woman," we have learned to regard woman in her true light, and to assign her that position to which she is entitled, giving honor unto her as the weaker vessel, and, at the same time, heir with us of the glorious hope and destiny of our renewed nature (1 Peter 3:7). Whose heart is snares and nets; more accurately, who is snares, and nets in her heart; Septuagint, "The woman who is a snare, and her heart nets;" Vulgate, Quae laqueus venatorum est, et sagena cot ejus. The imagery is obvious (comp. Proverbs 5:4, Proverbs 5:22 : Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 22:14; Habakkuk 1:15); the thoughts of the evil woman's heart are nets, occupied in meditating how she may entrap and retain victims; and her outward look and words are snares that captivate the foolish, ΄ὴ ὑπάντα γυναικὶ ἑταιριζομένη, says the Son of Sirach, "Lest thou fall 'into her snares" (Ecclesiasticus 9:3). Plautus, 'Asin.,' 1.3. 67—
"Auceps sum ego;
Esca est meretrix; lectus illex est; amatores aves.
"The fowler I
My bait the courtesan; her bed the lure;
The birds the lovers."
So ancient critics, stronger m morals than in etymology, derive Venus from venari, "to hunt," and mulier from mollire, "to soften," or malleus, "a hammer," because the devil uses women to mould and fashion men to his will. And her hands as bands, Asurim, "bands" or "fetters," is found in 15:14, where it is used of the chains with which the men of Judah bound Samson; it refers here to the wicked woman's voluptuous embraces. Whoso pleaseth God (more literally, he who is good before God) shall escape from her. He whom God regards as good (Ecclesiastes 2:26, where see note) shall have grace to avoid these seductions. But the sinner shall be taken by her; בָּהּ, "in her," in the snare which is herself. In some manuscripts of Ecclesiasticus (26:23) are these words; "A wicked woman is given as a portion to a wicked man; but a godly woman is given to him that feareth the Lord."
Behold, this have I found. The result of his search, thus forcibly introduced, follows in Ecclesiastes 7:28. He has carefully examined the character and conduct of both sexes, and he is constrained to make the unsatisfactory remark which he there puts forth. Saith the preacher. Koheleth is here treated as a feminine noun, being joined with the feminine form of the verb, though elsewhere it is grammatically regarded as masculine (see on Ecclesiastes 1:1). Many have thought that, after speaking so disparagingly of woman, it would be singularly inappropriate to introduce the official preacher as a female; they have therefore adopted a slight alteration in the text, viz. אָמַר חַקֹּחֶלֶת instead of אָמְרָה קֹהֶלֶת, which is simply the transference of he from the end of one word to the beginning of the next, thus adding the article, as in Ecclesiastes 12:8, and making the term accord with the Syriac and Arabic, and the Septuagint, εἶπεν ὁ ἐκκλησιαστής. The writer here introduces his own designation in order to call special attention to what is coming. Counting one by one. The phrase is elliptical, and signifies, adding one thing to another, or weighing one thing after another, putting together various facts or marks. To find out the account; to arrive at the reckoning, the desired result.
Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not; or, which my soul hath still sought, but I have not found. The conclusion at which he did arrive was something utterly different from what he had hoped to achieve. The soul and the ego are separately regarded (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:25); the whole intellectual faculties were absorbed in the search, and the composite individual gives his consequent experience. One man (Adam) among a thousand have I found. He found only one man among a thousand that reached his standard of excellence—the ideal that he had formed for himself, who could be rightly called by the noble name of man. The phrase, "one of a thousand," occurs in Job 9:3; Job 33:23; Ecclesiasticus 6:6. Adam, the generic term, is used here instead of ish, the individual, to emphasize the antithetical ishah, "woman," in the following clause, or to lead the thought to the original perfection of man's nature. So in Greek ἄνθρωπος is sometimes used for ἀνήρ, though generally the distinction between the two is sufficiently marked, as we find in Herodotus, 7:210, ὅτι πολλοὶ μὲν ἄνθρωποι εἶεν ὀλίγοι δὲ ἄνδρες. But a woman among all those have I not found; i.e. not one woman in a thousand who was what a woman ought to be. Says the Son of Sirach, "All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman; let the portion of a sinner fall upon her" (Ecclesiasticus 25:19). So the Greek gnome—
θάλασσα καὶ πῦρ καὶ γυνὴ κακὰ τρία.
"Three evils are there—sea, fire, and woman."
Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines, and his experience might well have been that mentioned in this passage.
Lo, this only (or, only see! this) have I found. Universal corruption was that which met his wide investigations, but of one thing he was sure, which he proceeds to specify—he has learned to trace the degradation to its source, not in God's agency, but in man's perverse will. That God hath made man upright. Koheleth believes that man's original constitution was yasbar, "straight," "right," "morally good," and possessed of ability to choose and follow what was just and right (Genesis 1:26, etc.). Thus in the Book of Wisdom (Wis. 2:23) we read, "God created man to be immortal, and made him an imago of his own nature ( ἰιότητος). Nevertheless, through envy of the devil, came death into the world, and they that are his portion tempt it." But they (men) have sought out many inventions (chishshebonoth); 2 Chronicles 26:15, where the term implies works of invention, and is translated "engines," i.e. devices, ways of going astray and deviating from original righteousness. Man has thus abased his free-will, and employed the inventive faculty with which he was endowed in excoriating evil (Genesis 6:5). How this state of things came about, how the originally good man became thus wicked, the writer does not tell. He knows from revelation that God made him upright; he knows from experience that he is now evil; and he leaves the matter there. Plumptre quotes, as illustrating our text, a passage from the 'Antigone' of Sophocles, verses 332, 365, 366, which he renders—
"Many the things that strange and wondrous are,
None stranger and mere wonderful than man …
And lo, with all this skill,
Wise and inventive still,
Beyond hope's dream,
He now to good inclines,
And now to ill."
We may add AEschylus, 'Choeph.,' verses 585, etc.—
πολλὰ μέν γᾶ τρέφει
δεινὰ δειμάτων ἄχη …
ἀνδρὸς φόνημα τίς λέγοι;
"Many fearful plagues
Earth nourishes …
But man's audacious spirit
Who can tell?"
Horace, 'Carm.,' 1.3. 25—
"Audax omnia perpeti
Gens humans ruit per vetitum nefas."
"The race of man, bold all things to endure,
Hurries undaunted to forbidden crime."
Vulgate, Et ipse se infinitis miscuerit quaestionibus, "And he entangled himself in multitudinous questions." This refers to unhallowed curiosity and speculation; but, as we have seen, the passage is concerned with man's moral declension, declaring how his "devices" lead him away from "uprightness."
A good name better than precious ointment.
I. MORE DIFFICULT OF ACQUISITION. Money will buy the "good nard," but the cost of a "good name" is beyond rubies. This which cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof, can be secured only by laborious personal exercise in goodness, always smiled on by Heaven's favor and assisted by Heaven's grace. It is the flower, fruit, and fragrance of a soul long practiced in well-living and good-doing. If, therefore, things are valuable in proportion to the cost of obtaining them, the above proverbial utterance bears the stamp of truth.
II. MORE HONORABLE IN POSSESSION. It is:
1. An article of greater value in itself. Precious ointment is, after all, only a production of the earth; whereas a good name is a spiritual aroma proceeding from the soul.
2. An index of truer wealth. Precious ointment at the best is material riches; a good name proclaims one possessed of fiches which are spiritual.
3. A mark of higher dignity. Costly unguent a sign of social rank among the children of men; a good name attests that one has qualities of soul, of mind, heart, and disposition, proclaiming him a son of God and a peer of heaven.
III. MORE SATISFYING IN ENJOYMENT. Perfumed oil may yield a pleasant fragrance which gratifies the sense of smell and revives the body's vigor; the spiritual aroma of a good name not only diffuses happiness amongst those who come to hear of it, but imparts a sweet joy, holy and refreshing, to him who bears it.
IV. MORE DIFFUSIVE IN INFLUENCE. The odor of precious ointment extends to those in its immediate vicinity; the savor of a good name goes far and wide, often pervades the community in which the owner of it lives; sometimes, as in the instance of Mary of Bethany (Mark 14:9), spreads itself abroad through the whole world.
V. MORE ENDURING IN CONTINUANCE. The fragrance of the unguent ultimately ceases. Becoming feebler the longer it is exposed to the air and the wider it diffuses itself, it ultimately dies away. The savor of a good name never perishes (Psalms 112:6). It passes on from age to age, being handed down by affectionate tradition to succeeding, frequently to latest, generations. Witness the names of Noah, the preacher of righteousness; Abraham, the father of the faithful; Moses, the law-giver of Israel; David, the sweet singer of the Hebrew Church; John, the beloved disciple; Peter, the man of rock; Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles; with names like those of Polycarp, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc.
VI. MORE BLESSED IN ITS ISSUE. Precious ointment can only secure for one entrance into earthly circles of rank and fashion; a good name will procure for him who bears it admission into the society of Heaven's peerage.
1. Seek this good name.
2. Cherish it above all earthly distinctions.
3. Guard it from getting tarnished.
4. Walk worthy of it.
The day of death and the day of birth.
I. The latter begins a life at the longest brief (Psalms 90:10); the former a life which shall never end (Luke 20:36).
II. The latter ushers into a field of toil (Psalms 104:23); the former into a home of rest (Revelation 14:13).
III. The latter admits into a scene of suffering (Job 5:7; Job 14:1); the former into a realm of felicity (Revelation 7:16).
IV. The latter introduces a life of sin (Genesis 8:21; Job 14:4; Psalm It. 5; Psalms 58:3; Romans 5:12); the former an existence of holiness (Jude 1:24; Revelation 21:27).
V. The latter opens a state of condemnation (Romans 5:18); the former a state of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
1. The secret of living well—keeping an eye on the day of one's death (Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalms 90:12).
2. The secret of dying happily—living in the fear of God (Acts 13:36; Philippians 1:21).
The house of mourning and the house of feasting.
I. THE HOUSE OF MOURNING A DIVINE INSTITUTION; THE HOUSE OF FEASTING AN ERECTION OF MAN.
1. The house of mourning a Divine institution. Though not true that "man was made to mourn "(Burns) in the sense that the Creator originally intended human experience on the earth to be one prolonged wail of sorrow, it is nevertheless certain that days of mourning, equally with days of death—and, indeed, just because of these—come to all by Heaven's decree. As no one of woman born can elude bereavement in some shape or form, so must every one in turn make acquaintance with the house of mourning. Hence mourning for departed relatives (Genesis 23:2; Genesis 27:41; Genesis 50:4; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8; 2 Samuel 11:27) has not only been a universal custom among mankind, but has commended itself to men's judgments as in perfect accordance with the divinely implanted instincts of human nature. To mourn for the dead in becoming manner is something more than to array one's self in "customary suits of solemn black," to affect the "windy suspiration of forced breath," with "the fruitful river in the eye," or to lout on "the dejected behavior of the visage, together with all forms, modes, shapes of grief," which are at best only the outward "trappings and suits of woe' (Shakespeare, 'Hamlet,' act 1. sc. 2); it is more even than to utter selfish lamentations over one's own loss in being deprived of the society of the departed, sighing like the psalmist, "Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness" (Psalms 88:18); it is to bewail their abstraction from the light of heaven and the love of friends, saying, "Alas, my brother!" (1 Kings 13:30; the grief of Constance for her son: cf. 'King John,' act 3. sc. 4), though sorrow on this account is greatly tempered by the consolations of the gospel in respect of Christians (2 Thessalonians 4:13); it is to express the heart's affection for those who have been removed from its embrace, like Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted because they were not (Matthew 2:18); it is even to pay a tribute of gratitude to God for the temporary loan of the precious gift he has withdrawn, as Job did when he lamented his dead sons and daughters (Job 1:21)—to record appreciation of its worth, and seek, if not its immediate return, its safe keeping till a future day, when they who have been severed here shall be reunited in immortal love. Hence it is easy to perceive how the house of mourning may be fitly spoken of as a house of Divine appointment.
2. The house of feasting a purely human institution. Not that feasting and dancing, considered in themselves, are sinful, or that there are not times and seasons when both may be indulged in without sin. Many such occasions may be found in actual life, as e.g. in connection with birthdays (Genesis 40:20), marriages (Genesis 29:22; John 2:1), and funerals (Deuteronomy 26:14; Job 42:11; Jeremiah 16:7; Ezekiel 24:17; Hosea 9:4), with family rejoicings of other sorts and for other reasons. But the "house of feasting," contrasted with the abode of sorrow, is the tent of carousal, in which wine and wassail, song and dance, mirth and revelry, prevail without moderation, and with no other end in view than the gratification of sinful appetite. Such-like gatherings, having no sanction from Heaven, may be spoken of as instituted by man rather than as appointed by God.
II. THE HOUSE OF MOURNING FREQUENTED BY THE WISE; THE HOUSE OF FEASTING ATTENDED BY FOOLS.
1. The heart of the wise in the house of mourning. The wise are the good, serious, devout, religious, as distinguished from the wicked, frivolous, profane, and irreligious. The hearts of the wise are in the house of mourning, "even when their bodies are absent;" "they are constantly or very frequently meditating upon sad and serious things' (Poole); ". they are much conversant with mournful subjects" (Henry); and as often as occasion offers and duty calls, they repair to the scene of sorrow and chamber of bereavement to sympathize with and comfort its inmates, as Job's friends did with him (Job 2:11), and Mary's with her (John 11:19), recognizing it to be their duty to "weep with them that weep," as well as to "rejoice with them that do rejoice" (Romans 12:15); and even on their own accounts to learn the wisdom which such a scene is fitted to impart.
2. The heart of fools in the house of mirth. To this they are attracted on the principle that "like draws to like "—the same principle that constrains the wise to repair to the house of mourning, and by the gratification there found for their folly, in the laughter which there provokes their mirth, and the revelry which there slakes their longing for self-indulgence.
III. THE HOUSE OF MOURNING A SCHOOL OF WISDOM; THE HOUSE OF FEASTING A SCHOOL OF FOLLY.
1. The lessons taught by the house of mourning.
2. The proficiency acquired in the house of feasting. By no means in wisdom, either human or Divine. One will hardly assert that a person will become shrewder in business or brighter in intelligence by indulging in chambering and wantonness; it is certain he will not grow either holier or more spiritually minded. Whatever apologies may be offered for frequenting carousals—innocent feasting requires none—this cannot be urged, that it tends to make one purer in heart or devouter in spirit, incites one to holy living, or prepares one for happy dying. Rather, the instruction received in such haunts of dissipation is for the most part instruction in vice, or at the best in frivolity—a poor accomplishment for a man with a soul.
Counsels for evil times.
I. THE WRONG WAY OF BEHAVIOR UNDER OPPRESSION.
1. Allowing it to unsettle one's judgment. "Surely oppression," or extortion, "maketh a wise man mad," or foolish; i.e. driveth him to foolish actions through indignation and vexation, through the misery he endures, the hardship he suffers, the sense of injustice he feels, the rising doubts of which he is conscious. A soul thus driven to the wall and set at bay through the woes inflicted by imperious and pitiless tyranny, is prone to be unsettled in its judgments, fierce and even reckless in its actions. Of course, no amount of oppression or extortion should have this effect on any; but it sometimes has.
2. Attempting to remove it by bribery. "And a gift destroyeth the understanding." Equally of him that gives and him that receives a bribe is the saying true, that it perverts the judgment, disturbs the soul's perceptions of right and wrong, and leaves a blot upon the conscience. To seek the removal of oppression by currying favor with the oppressor through presentation of gifts, is to seek a right thing in a wrong way, and is to that extent to be condemned.
3. Indulging in anger on account of it. "Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry." Whether this anger be directed against the oppressor or against the oppression, or against God's providence, who has suffered both to come together and co-operate against the wise man, to give way to it is to part with one's wisdom, since "anger resteth in the bosom of fools," if it is not also (in the last case it is) to sin against God. It is always difficult to be angry and sin not; hence Christians are exhorted not to be soon angry (Titus 1:7), indeed, to put off (Colossians 3:8) and put away (Ephesians 4:31) anger, as one of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:20).
4. Giving way to despair because of it. Saying in one's heart that "the former days were better than these," and that all things are going to the bad. The Preacher pretty plainly hints that such a sentiment is an error, and yet it is one widely entertained by the ignorant and prone to be adopted by the unfortunate.
II. THE BIGHT WAY OF BEHAVING UNDER OPPRESSION.
1. Permitting the evil to avenge itself on its perpetrator. This it will do, if the propositions be correct that oppression practiced even by a wise man will make him mad, and that a bribe accepted by a good man will corrupt his heart and destroy his understanding. "The oppressive exercise of power is so demoralizing that even the wise man, skilled in statecraft, loses his wisdom. There comes upon him, as the history of crime so often shows, something like a mania of tyrannous cruelty. And the same effect follows on the practice of corruption" (Plumptre).
2. Reflecting that the evil will not continue forever. It will run its course, have its day, and come to an end as other evil things have done before it; and "better will its end be than its beginning." In the course of history this has often been observed, that seasons of oppression and periods of persecution have not been suffered to continue for ever, and have often been terminated by some sudden turn in providence, by the death of the oppressor, or by a change of purpose in the persecuted sooner than the victims expected.
3. Exercising patience while the evil day continues. "Better is the patient in spirit than the proud in spirit," better in respect of moral character and religious profiting. Philosophy and religion both teach that the way to rise superior to injustice and oppression, to extract the largest amount of profiting from it, and to bring it most speedily to an end, is to meekly endure it. Patience disarms the oppressor of his strongest weapon, and imparts to his victim double advantage over his foe. Without patience tribulation cannot work out the soul's good (Romans 5:3; James 1:4).
4. Cherishing a hopeful spirit in the darkest times. Not despairing of the future either for one's self or for the world, but believing that all things work together for good to them that love God, and that through evil times as welt as good times the world is slowly but surely moving on towards a better day.
1. Never oppress.
2. Cultivate meekness.
3. Be hopeful.
The end better than the beginning.
I. THE IMPORT OF THE PROVERB STATED. Not always true that the end of a thing is better than the beginning. Whether it is so depends largely on what the thing is, upon the character of its beginning and the nature of its end.
1. Cases in which the maxim will not apply.
2. Cases in which the maxim will apply.
II. THE TRUTH OF THE PROVERB JUSTIFIED. Of things to which the maxim will apply.
1. The beginnings are attended with anxieties and fears as to ultimate success; while from all such the endings are delivered. As no man can foretell what a day may bring forth, or provide against all possible contingencies, no one can calculate with absolute certainty that any scheme of his contriving will attain to success. Man proposes, but God disposes. When, however, success has been attained there is manifestly no further ground or room for apprehension.
2. The beginnings have periods of labor before them; while the endings have all such periods behind them. Not that labor is a bad thing, but that labor accomplished is better to contemplate than labor not yet attempted. In the former case failure is impossible; in the latter case it is still possible. In the latter, energy, thought, care, have still to be expended; in the former these are no more demanded. Instead of toil, there is repose; instead of peril, safety; instead of anxiety, peace.
3. The beginnings are times of preparation, of effort, and of laying out, while the endings are seasons of fulfillment, of reward, and of gathering in. Examples will be found in the reaping of a harvest in autumn as contrasted with its sowing in spring, the completion of a house as distinguished from its foundation-laying, the collection of profits from a fortunate speculation or investment in business, the gaining of distinction in learning after a long course of diligent study, the attainment of the "exceeding, even an eternal, weight of glory" at the close of a life of faith.
1. A stimulus to diligence.
2. An argument for patience.
3. A caution against rashness.
The good old times-a popular delusion.
I. THE DELUSION STATED. "That the former days were better than these." The proposition may be understood as applying:
1. To individual experience, in which case it will signify that the former days of the speaker's life were better than those in which he then was. Or:
2. To mundane history, in which case the sense will be that the earlier periods of the world's history were better than the later, or that the times which preceded the speaker's day were better than those in which he was living.
II. THE DELUSION EXEMPLIFIED.
1. From sacred history.
2. From profane history. "Illustrations crowd upon one's memory. Greeks looking back to the age of those who fought at Marathon; Romans under the empire recalling the vanished greatness of the republic; Frenchmen mourning over the ancient regime; or Englishmen over the good old days of the Tudors, are all examples of this unwisdom" (Plumptre). Old men regretting the vanished days of their boyhood, or once rich but now poor men lamenting the disappearance of wealth which was theirs, or fallen great men sighing for the times when they were called "My lord!" are individual instances of this same delusion.
III. THE DELUSION EXPLAINED. Two things account for this widespread delusion as to the relative values of the past and present.
1. An instinctive idealization of the past.
2. An equally instinctive depreciation of the present.
IV. THE DELUSION DISPROVED. The false judgment rests upon two foundations.
1. A mistaken standard. If "better" only means in the case of the individual "more free from anxiety, pain, or difficulty," or in the case of communities or nations "more free from wars, troubles, revolutions, or social disturbances, the proposition complained of may be easily established; but if "better" signify more advantageous m the highest sense, i.e. more helpful to and beneficial for moral and spiritual good it will frequently be found that the proposition is false, and that for individuals, for instance, times of present trouble and seasons of present affliction may be better than past times of quiet and seasons of prosperity, and for communities and nations periods of social upheaval and foreign war better than antecedent days of stagnation and civil death.
2. An incomplete comparison. It is commonly forgotten that each age has a dark as well as bright side, and that in estimating the worth of two different periods in the experience of an individual or the history of a nation, it will not do to contrast the dark side of the present with the bright side of the past, but the dark and bright sides of both must be brought into view.
1. The duty of man in evil times, submission rather than complaining.
2. The wisdom of trying to make the best of the present instead of dreaming about the past.
3. The certainty that the most careful calculations concerning the relative values of past and present are tainted with error.
Verses 11, 12
Wisdom and wealth.
I. THE GREAT POWER OF WEALTH.
1. What it cannot do.
2. What it can do.
II. THE GREATER POWER OF WISDOM.
1. It can do things that wealth can. Nay, without it wealth can effect little.
It—in its highest form, the fear of the Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:13; Psalms 111:10; Job 28:28), the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 2:7), the wisdom which is from above (James 3:17), the wisdom which consists in believing on Christ, loving God, living in the Spirit, walking in love, and following holiness—can "preserve the life of him that hath it:"
1. The superiority of wisdom.
2. The duty of preferring it to wealth.
Verses 13, 14
Crooked things and straight.
I. COMPOSE THE TEXTURE OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. Crooked things. Such experiences, events, and dispensations as run counter or lie cross to the inclinations, as e.g. afflictions, disappointments, and trials of all sorts. Few lives, if any, are exempt from crosses; few estates are so good as to have no drawbacks. Examples: Abraham (Genesis 15:2, Genesis 15:3), Naaman (2 Kings 5:1), Haman (Esther 5:13), Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7).
2. Straight things. Such experiences as harmonize with the soul's wishes, as e.g. seasons of prosperity, dispensations of good, and enjoyments of every kind; and, as nobody's lot on earth is entirely straight, so on the other hand no one's lot is wholly crooked—"there are always some straight and even parts in it." "Indeed, when men's passions, having got up, have cast a mist over their minds, they are ready to say all is wrong with them and nothing right; yet is that never true in this world, since (always) it is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22)" (Boston).
II. PROCEED FROM THE HAND OF GOD. Neither come by accident or from second causes, but from him "of whom, to whom, and through whom are all things" (Romans 11:36; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Hebrews 2:10).
1. True of straight things. "Every good gift and every perfect is from above" (James 1:17). Saint and sinner alike depend on the providential bounty of God (Psalms 136:25), who appointeth to all men the bounds of their habitation (Acts 17:26) and measureth out their lots (Isaiah 34:17; Jeremiah 13:25). So elementary is this truth that it needs no demonstration; yet is it so familiar as to be frequently forgotten.
2. No less correct of crooked things. These also are from God (2 Kings 6:33; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12). It is he who lays affliction on the loins of men (Psalms 66:11), distributes sorrows in his anger (Job 21:17), shows great and sore troubles (Psalms 71:20), lifts up and casts down (Psalms 102:10), wounds and heals, kills and makes alive '(Deuteronomy 32:39). The Preacher recognizes God's hand in introducing crooked things into men's lots; in this all should follow his example.
III. DEMAND DIVERSE TREATMENT FROM THE INDIVIDUAL.
1. Straight things call for cheerfulness. "In the day of prosperity be joyful," "be in good spirits," be thankfully happy and happily thankful.
2. Crooked things demand consideration. "In the day of adversity consider:"
IV. COMBINE TO SERVE A LOFTY PURPOSE. "God hath even made the one side by side with the other, to the end that man should not find out anything that shall be after him." The Almighty's design variously explained.
1. Unlikely interpretations.
2. Likely interpretations.
"God in his wisdom hides from sight,
Yelled in impenetrable night,
The future chance and change;
And smiles when mortals' anxious fears,
Forecasting ills of coming years,
Beyond their limit range."
(Plumptre, in loco.)
The continuity of human experience is not so unbroken that mortal sagacity, at its highest, can forecast the incidents of even the nearest day.
1. That crooked things may sometimes be better than straight.
2. That men should not always ask the crooked things in their lot to be straightened.
3. That straight things alone might often prove hurtful.
Nothing in excess; or, a caution against extremes.
I. IN INTERPRETING THE WAYS OF PROVIDENCE.
1. As to the perishing of a just man in his righteousness. Because, though it may sometimes happen that a just or good man loses his life in his righteousness, it does not follow
2. As to the prolonging of a wicked man's life in (or in spite of) his evil doing. From this it must not be inferred either
II. IN REGULATING THE CONDUCT OF LIFE.
1. In respect of righteousness. "Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise" (verse 16).
2. In respect of wickedness. "Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish" (verse 17). Here, again, it cannot be supposed the Preacher teaches the permissibility, of a moderate indulgence in sin, but merely that if excessive righteousness is no sign of superior wisdom or perfect guarantee of attaining to felicity, but rather an evidence of mistaken judgment and a precursor of inward moral and spiritual deterioration, much more is excessive wickedness a proof of absolute and unredeemed folly, and a sure as well as short road to ruin (1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Peter 2:12).
1. Fear God instead of murmuring at his dark providences.
2. Serve God with intelligent reason and prudence instead of rushing into extravagances either on one side or on another.
3. Perish in righteousness rather than prosper in wickedness.
The dangers and defenses of a city.
I. A CITY'S DANGERS.
1. Either external or internal. Either attacking it from without or assailing it from within.
2. Either personal or impersonal. Arising from individuals, as e.g. from embattled hosts marching against the city, or from designing traitors proving unfaithful to the city; or proceeding from material causes, as e.g. from such physical conditions and surroundings as endanger the city's safety or the health of its inhabitants.
3. Either temporal or spiritual. Such as threaten its prosperity in trade and commerce, or such as menace its civil order, social well-being, and political stability.
4. Either few or many. Either one or two of the above-named perils happening at one time, or all of them together confronting the city.
II. A CITY'S DEFENSES.
1. The prowess of its soldiers. The ten mighty men or rulers may be regarded as chiefs or generals, or viewed as civil governors like the Roman decemvirs, or perhaps taken simply as persons of wealth and influence, like the ten men of leisure whom the Mishna ('Megillah' 1.3) declares to have been necessary to constitute a great city with a synagogue. Either way, they may represent the first or outer line of defense to which a city usually resorts in times of danger, viz. that of physical force, expressed for the most part in armies and garrisons. The Preacher says not that such wall of defense is worthless, but merely that there are defenses better and more efficient than it. And though battalions and bullets, regiments and fleets, constitute not the highest instruments of safety to which a city or a nation can trust, yet they have their uses in averting, as well as their dangers in inviting, war (Luke 11:21).
2. The wisdom of its rulers. These the wise men are now supposed to be; and the meaning is that a city's safety depends more upon the mental sagacity of those who guide its affairs than upon the extent and depth of its material resources; that "wise statesmen," for instance, "may do more" for it "than able generals" (Plumptre), and skilful inventors than Herculean laborers (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:16, Ecclesiastes 9:18); and if more upon the mental sagacity of its governors, much more upon their moral earnestness. The wisdom to which the Preacher alludes is unquestionably that which fears God, keeps his commandments, and gives life to all that have it. Hence even more indispensable for a city's safety is it that her dignitaries should be good than that they should be great.
3. The piety of its people. This a legitimate deduction from the statement that "there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (verse 20). In introducing this sentiment, suggested probably by the utterance of Solomon (2 Kings 8:1-29 :46), the Preacher may have wished to call up the thought that once upon a time ten righteous men, could they only have been found (which they were not), would have saved a city (Genesis 18:32), and to point to the fact that no such expectation as that of saving a city by means of its righteous men need be cherished now as a reason for resorting to the next best defense—that of moral wisdom instead of brute force. Yet the truth remains that righteousness, holiness, piety, could it only be attained, would be a far more endurable and impregnable wall of protection to a people than either mighty armies or wise statesmen.
1. Righteousness or wisdom the highest civil good.
2. The permanence of a state determined by the number of its good men.
3. The power of moral goodness in both individuals and empires.
4. The universal corruption of mankind.
A great quest, and its sorrowful result.
I. THE GREAT QUEST.
1. The person of the seeker. The Preacher (see on Ecclesiastes 1:1). The frequency with which he draws attention to himself shows that he regarded himself as one possessed of ample and perhaps well-known qualifications for the search upon which he had engaged.
2. The object of his search. To be wise—to know and to search out and to seek wisdom and the reason of things; and in particular to know the wickedness of folly, and that foolishness is madness. In other words, he desired to reach that wisdom in its fullness which would enable him to solve the problem of the universe.
3. The spirit in which he entered on his quest.
II. THE SORROWFUL FINDING.
1. Concerning the strange woman. Not "heathenish folly" (Hengstenberg), but the flesh-and-blood harlot of Proverbs (Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3-13). With respect to her the Preacher calls attention—speaking, no doubt, from personal experience, and recording the results of his own observation—to:
2. Concerning womankind.
3. Concerning the human race.
1. The value of wisdom as a human pursuit.
2. The worth of experience as a teacher.
3. The danger of sensuality.
4. The excellence of piety as a protection against impurity.
5. The inestimable worth of a good woman.
6. The rarity of noble men.
7. The certainty that man is not what God made him.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
The connection between the two clauses of this verse is not at first sight apparent. But it may well be intended to draw attention to the fact that it is in the case of the man who has justly gained a good name that the day of death is better than that of birth.
I. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH REPUTATION AMONG MEN IS WORTHLESS, AND IN WHICH SOLICITUDE FOR REPUTATION IS FOLLY. If the reality of fact points one way, and the world's opinion points in an opposite direction, that opinion is valueless. It is better to be good than to seem and to be deemed good; and it is worse to be bad than unjustly to be reputed bad. Many influences affect the estimation in which a man is held among his fellows. Through the world's injustice and prejudice, a good man may be evil spoken of. On the other hand, a bad man may be reputed better than he is, when he humors the world's caprices, and falls in with the world's tastes and fashions. He who aims at conforming to the popular standard, at winning the world's applause, will scarcely make a straight course through life.
II. YET THERE IS A RIGHTEOUS REPUTATION WHICH OUGHT NOT TO BE DESPISED. Such good qualities and habits as justice, integrity and truthfulness as bravery sympathy, and liberality, must needs, in the course of a lifetime, make some favorable impression upon neighbors, and perhaps upon the public; and in many cases a man distinguished by such virtues will have the credit of being what he is. A good name, when deserved, and when obtained by no mean artifices, is a thing to be desired, though not in the highest degree. It may console amidst trials and difficulties, it is gratifying to friends, and it may serve to rouse the young to emulation. A man who is in good repute possesses and exercises in virtue of that very fact an extended influence for good.
III. IT IS ONLY WHEN LIFE IS COMPLETED THAT A REPUTATION IS FULLY AND FINALLY MADE UP. "Call no man happy before his death" is an ancient adage, not without its justification. There are those who have only become famous in advanced life, and there are those who have enjoyed a temporary celebrity which they have long outlived, and who have died in unnoticed obscurity. It is after a man's career has come to an end that his character and his work are fairly estimated; the career is considered as a whole, and then the judgment is formed accordingly.
IV. THE APPROVAL OF THE DIVINE JUDGE AND AWARDER IS OF SUPREME CONSEQUENCE. A good name amongst one's fellow-creatures, as fallible as one's self, is of small account. Who does not admire the noble assertion of the Apostle Paul, "It is a small thing for me to be judged by man's judgment"? They who are calumniated for their fidelity to truth, who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, who are execrated by the unbelieving and the worldly whose vices and sins they have opposed, shall be recognized and rewarded by him whose judgment is just, and who suffers none of his faithful servants to be for ever unappreciated. But they may wait for appreciation until "the day of death." The clouds of misrepresentation and of malice shall then be rolled away, and they shall shine like stars in the firmament. "Then shall every man have praise of God."—T.
A Divine paradox.
To many readers these statements appear startling and incredible. The young are scarcely likely to receive them with favor, and to the pleasure-seeking and the frivolous they are naturally repugnant. Yet they are the embodiment of true wisdom; and are in harmony with the experience of the thoughtful and benevolent.
I. FEASTING, LAUGHTER AND MIRTH ARE TOO GENERALLY REGARDED BY THE FOOLISH AS THE BEST PORTION AND THE ONLY JOY OF HUMAN LIFE.
1. It is not denied that there is a side of human nature to which merriment and festivity are congenial, or that there are occasions when they may be lawfully, innocently, and suitably indulged in.
2. But these experiences are not to be regarded by reasonable and immortal beings as the choicest and most desirable experiences of life.
3. If they are unduly prized and sought, they will certainly bring disappointment, and involve regret and distress of mind.
4. Constant indulgence of the kind described will tend to the deterioration of the character, and to unfitness for the serious and weighty business of human existence.
II. INTERCOURSE WITH THE SORROWFUL AND THE BEREAVED YIELDS MORE TRUE PROFIT THAN SELFISH AND FRIVOLOUS INDULGENCE.
1. Such familiarity with the house of mourning reminds of the common lot of men, which is also our own. In a career of amusement and dissipation there is much which is altogether artificial. The gay and dissolute endeavor, and often for a time with success, to lose sight of some of the greatest and most solemn realities of this earthly existence. Pain, weakness, and sorrow come, sooner or later, to every member of the human race, and it is inexcusable folly to ignore that with which every reflective mind must be familiar.
2. The house of mourning is peculiarly fitted to furnish themes of most profitable meditation. The uncertainty of prosperity, the brevity of life, the rapid approach of death, the urgency of sacred duties, the responsibility of enjoying advantages and opportunities only to be used aright during health and activity,—such are some of the lessons which are too often unheeded by the frivolous. Yet not to have learned these lessons is to have lived in vain.
3. The house of mourning is fitted to bring home to the mind the preciousness of true religion. Whilst Christianity is concerned with all the scenes and circumstances of our existence, and is as able to hallow our joys as to relieve our sorrows, it is evident that, inasmuch as it deals with us as immortal beings, it has a special service to render to those who realize that this earthly life is but a portion of our existence, and that it is a discipline and preparation for the life to come. Many have been indebted, under God, to impressions received in times of bereavement for the impulse which has animated them to seek a heavenly portion and inheritance.
4. Familiarity with scenes of sorrow, and with the sources of consolation which religion opens up to the afflicted, tends to promote serenity and purity of disposition. The restlessness and superficiality which are distinctive of the worldly and pleasure-seeking may, through the influences here described, be exchanged for the calm confidence, the acquiescence in the Divine will, the cheerful hope, which are the precious possession of the true children of God, who know whom they have believed, and are persuaded that he is able to keep that which they have committed to him against that day.—T.
The mischief of oppression and bribery.
There is some uncertainty as to the interpretation of this verse: the reference may be to the effect of injustice upon him who inflicts it; it may be to its effect upon him who suffers it. It is usual to regard the observation as descriptive of the result of oppression and bribery in the feelings of irritation and despondency they produce upon the minds of those who are wronged, and upon society generally.
I. JUSTICE IS THE ONLY SOLID FOUNDATION FOR SOCIETY. There is moral law, upon which alone civil law can be wisely and securely based. When those who are in power are guided in their administration of political affairs by a reverent regard for righteousness, tranquility, and contentment, order and harmony may be expected to prevail.
II. OPPRESSION, EXTORTION, AND VENALITY ON THE PART OF RULERS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH JUSTICE AND WITH THE PUBLIC GOOD. Unjust rulers sometimes use the power which they have acquired, or with which they have been entrusted, for selfish ends, and in the pursuit of such ends are unscrupulous as to the means they employ. Such wrongdoing is peculiar to no form of civil government. It is to some extent checked by the prevalence of liberty and of publicity, and yet more by an elevated standard of morality, and by the influence of pure religion. But in the East corruption and bribery have been too general on the part of those in power.
III. THE SPECIAL RESULT OF CORRUPTION AND OPPRESSION IS THE FURTHERANCE AND PREVALENCE OF FOLLY AND UNREASON. To the writer of Ecclesiastes, who regarded wisdom as "the principal thing," it was natural to discern in mischievous principles of government the cause of general unwisdom and foolishness.
1. The governor himself, although he may be credited with craft and cunning, is morally injured and degraded, sinks to a lower level, loses self-respect, and forfeits the esteem of his subjects.
2. The governed are goaded to madness by the impossibility of obtaining their rights, by the curtailment of their liberties, and by the loss of their property. Hence arise murmurings, discontent, and resentment, which may, and often do, lead to conspiracy, insurrection, and revolution.
IV. THE DUTY OF ALL UPRIGHT MEN TO SET THEIR FACES AGAINST SUCH EVIL PRACTICES. A good man must not ask—Can I profit by the prevalence of injustice? Will my party or my friends be strengthened by it? He must, on the contrary, turn away from the question of consequences; he must witness against venality and oppression; he must use all lawful means to expose and to put an end to such practices. And this he is bound to do from the highest motives. Government is of Divine authority, and is to be upon Divine principles. Of God we know that "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." They are unworthy to rule who employ their power for base and selfish ends.—T.
The end better than the beginning.
There are many persons, especially among the young and ardent, who adopt and act upon a principle diametrically opposed to this. Every beginning has for them the charm of novelty; when this charm lades, the work, the enterprise, the relationship, have no longer any interest, and they turn away with disgust from the end as from something "weary, stale, fiat, and unprofitable." But the language of this verse embodies the conviction of the wise and reflecting observer of human affairs.
I. THE REASON OF THIS PRINCIPLE. The beginning is undertaken with a view to the end, and apart from that it would not be. The end is the completion and justification of the beginning. The time-order of events is the expression of their rational order; thus we speak of means and end. Aristotle commences his great work on 'Ethics' by showing that the end is naturally superior to the means, and that the highest end must be that which is not a means to anything beyond itself.
II. THE APPLICATION OF THIS PRINCIPLE.
1. To human works. It is well that the foundation of a house should be laid, but it is better that the top-stone should be placed with rejoicing. So with seed-time and harvest; with a journey and its destination; with a road and its completion, etc.
2. To human life. The beginning may, in the view of men, be neutral; but, in the view of the religious man, the birth of a child is an occasion for gratitude. Yet, if that progress be made which corresponds with the Divine ideal of humanity, if character be matured, and a good life-work be wrought, then the day of death, the end, is better than the day of birth, in which this earthly existence commenced.
3. To the Christian calling. The history of the individual Christian is a progressive history; knowledge, virtue, piety, usefulness, are all developed by degrees, and are brought to perfection by the discipline and culture of the Holy Spirit. The end must therefore be better than the beginning, as the fruit excels the blossoms of the spring.
4. To the Church of Christ. As recorded in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, the beginning of the Church was beautiful, marked by power and promise. But the kingdom of God, the dispensation of the Spirit, has a purpose—high, holy, and glorious. When ignorance, error, and superstition, vice, crime, and sin, are vanquished by the Divine energy accompanying the Church of the living God—when the end cometh, and the kingdom shall be delivered unto the Father—it will be seen that the end is better than the beginning, that the Church was not born in vain, was not launched in vain upon the stormy waters of time.
III. THE LESSONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE.
1. When at the beginning of a good work, look on to the end, that hope may animate and inspire endeavor.
2. During the course of a good work look behind and before; for it is not possible to judge aright without taking a comprehensive and consistent view of things. We may trace the hand of God, and find reason alike for thanksgiving and for trust.
3. Seek that a Divine unity may characterize your work on earth and your life itself. If the end crown not the beginning, then it were better that the beginning had never been made.—T.
Esther 7:8, Esther 7:9
The folly of pride, hastiness, and anger.
The Scriptures are more pronounced and decisive with regard to these dispositions than for the most part are heathen moralists. Yet the student of human character and life is at no loss to adduce facts in abundance to justify the condemnation of habits which philosophy and religion alike condemn.
I. THESE DISPOSITIONS AND HABITS HAVE THEIR SOURCE IN THE CONSTITUTION OF HUMAN NATURE.
II. CIRCUMSTANCES IN HUMAN LIFE OCCASION THEIR EXERCISE AND GROWTH.
III. TO YIELD TO SUCH PASSIONS AND TO ALLOW THEM TO RULE THE LIFE IS THE PART OF FOLLY.
IV. THE SPIRIT AND CONDUCT OF THE DIVINE SAVIOR EXEMPLIFY THE BEAUTY OF HUMILITY, PATIENCE, AND MEEKNESS.
V. THE SUBJUGATION OF PASSION AND THE IMITATION OF CHRIST CONTRIBUTE TO THE WELFARE OF THE INDIVIDUAL AND OF SOCIETY.
VI. THERE ARE MEANS BY THE CONSTANT AND PRAYERFUL USE OF WHICH EVIL HABITS MAY BE CONQUERED, AND SELF-CONTROL MAY BE ATTAINED.—T.
Laudator temporis acti.
It appears from this passage that a tendency of mind with which we are familiar—a tendency to paint the past in glowing colors—is of ancient date, and indeed it is probably a consequence of human nature itself.
I. THE QUESTIONABLE ASSERTION. We often heat' it affirmed, as the author of this book had heard it affirmed, that the former days were better than these. There are politicians in whose opinion the country was formerly more happy and prosperous than now; farmers who fancy that crops were larger, and merchants who believe that trade was more profitable, in former days; students who prefer ancient literature to modern; Christian men who place the age of faith and piety in some bygone period of history. It has ever been so, and is likely to be so in the future. Others who will come after us will regard our age as we regard the ages that have passed away.
II. THE GROUND UPON WHICH THE QUESTIONABLE ASSERTION IS MADE.
1. Dissatisfaction with the present. It is in times of pain, loss, adversity, disappointment, that men are most given to extol the past, and to forget its disadvantages as well as the privileges and immunities of the present.
2. The illusiveness of the imagination. The aged are not only conscious of their feebleness and their pains; they recall the days of their youth, and paint the scenes and experiences of bygone times in colors supplied by a fond, deceptive fancy. The imaginative represent to themselves a state of the world, a condition of society, a phase of the Church, which never had real existence. By feigning all prosperity and happiness to have belonged to a past age, they remove their fancies from the range of contradiction. All things to their vision become lustrous and fair with "the light that never was on land or sea."
III. THE UNWISDOM OF INQUIRING FOE AN EXPLANATION OF A BELIEF WHICH IS PROBABLY UNFOUNDED. Experience teaches us that, before asking for the cause, it is well to assure ourselves of the fact. Why a thing is presumes that the thing is. Now, in the case before us, the fact is so questionable, and certainty with regard to it is so difficult, if not unattainable, that it would be a waste of time to enter upon the inquiry here supposed.
APPLICATION. Vain regrets as to the past are as unprofitable as are complaints as to the present. What concerns us is the right use of circumstances appointed for us by a wise Providence. Whether or not the former times were better than these, the times upon which we have fallen are good enough for us to use to our own moral and spiritual improvement, and at the same time they are bad enough to call for all our consecrated powers to do what in us lies—little as that may be—to mend them.—T.
The perplexities of life.
The Book of Ecclesiastes raises questions which it very inadequately answers, and problems which it scarcely attempts to solve. Some of the difficulties observable in this world, in human society, and in individual experience appear to be insoluble by reason, though to some extent they may be overcome by faith. And certainly the fuller revelation which we enjoy as Christians is capable of assisting us in our endeavor not to be overborne by the forces of doubt and perplexity of which every thoughtful man is in some measure conscious.
I. A SPECULATIVE DIFFICULTY: THE COEXISTENCE OF CROOKED THINGS WITH STRAIGHT. The philosophical student encounters this difficulty in a more definite form than ordinary thinkers, and is best acquainted with the apparent anomalies of existence. It may suffice to refer to the coexistence of sense and spirit, nature and reason, law and freedom, good and evil, death and immortality.
II. A PRACTICAL DIFFICULTY; THE JUXTAPOSITION AND INTERCHANGE OF PROSPERITY AND ADVERSITY. "God hath even made the one side by side with the other." The inequality of the human lot has, from the time of Job, been the occasion of much questioning, dissatisfaction, and skepticism. Opinions differ as to the effect upon this inequality of the advance of civilization. Riches and poverty, splendor and squalor, refinement and brutishness, exist side by side. And the observation of every one has remarked the startling transitions in the condition and fortunes alike of the wealthy and the poor; these are exalted, and those depressed. At first sight all this seems inconsistent with the sway of a just and benignant Providence.
III. A MORAL DIFFICULTY: THE EVIDENT ABSENCE OF A JUST AND PERFECT RETRIBUTION N THIS LIFE. The righteous perish, and the wicked live on in their evil-doing unchecked and unpunished. There are those who would acquiesce in inequality of condition, were such inequality proportioned to disparities of moral character, but who are dismayed by the spectacle of prosperous crime and triumphant vice, side by side with integrity and benevolence doomed to want and suffering.
IV. THE DUTY OF CONSIDERATION AND PATIENCE IN THE PRESENCE OF SUCH PERPLEXING ANOMALIES. The first and most obvious attitude of the wise man, when encountering difficulties such as those described in this passage, is to avoid hasty conclusions and immature, unconsidered, and partial judgments. It is plain that we are confronted with what we cannot comprehend. Our observation is limited; our penetration is at fault; our reason is baffled. We are not, therefore, to shut our eyes to the facts of life, or to deny what our intelligence forces upon us. But we must think, and we must wait.
V. THE PURPOSE OF SUCH DIFFICULTIES, AS FAR AS WE ARE CONCERNED, IS TO TEST AND TO ELICIT FAITH IN GOD. There is sufficient reason for every thoughtful man to believe in the wisdom and righteousness of the eternal Ruler. And the Christian has special grounds for his assurance that all things are ordained by his Father and Redeemer, and that the Judge of all the earth will do right.—T.
Verses 16, 17
This language must be interpreted in accordance with the rules of rhetoric; it is intended to convey a certain impression, to produce a certain effect; and this it doer The Preacher aims at inculcating moderation, at cautioning the reader against what a modern poet has termed "the falsehood of extremes." In interpreting this very effective language we must not analyze it as a scientific statement, but receive the impression which it was designed to convey.
I. HUMAN NATURE IS PRONE TO EXTREMES. In how many instances may it be observed that a person is no sooner convinced that a certain object is desirable, a certain course is to be approved, than he will hear and think of nothing else! Is liberty good? Then away with all restraints! Is self-denial good? Then away with all pleasures! Is the Bible the best of books? Then let no other volume be opened! Is our own country to be preferred to all beside? Then let no credit be allowed to foreigners for anything they may do!
II. THIS TENDENCY TO EXTREMES IS OWING TO THE DOMINANCE OF FEELING. Calm reason would check such a tendency; but the voice of reason is silenced by passion or prejudice. Impulsive natures are hurried into unreasoning and extravagant opinions and habits of conduct. The momentum of a powerful emotion is very great; it may urge men onwards to an extent unexpected and dangerous. Whilst under the guidance of sober reason, feeling may be the motive power to virtue and usefulness; but when uncontrolled it may hurry into folly and disaster.
III. YIELDING TO THIS TENDENCY OCCASIONS THE LOSS OF SELF-RESPECT AND OF SOCIAL INFLUENCE. The man of extremes must, in his cooler moments of reflection, admit to himself that he has acted the part of an irrational being. And he certainly gains among his acquaintances the reputation of a fanatic; and even when he has sound and sober counsel to give, little heed is taken of his judgment.
IV. MODERATION IS USUALLY THE WISEST AND JUSTEST PRINCIPLE OF HUMAN CONDUCT. A great moralist taught the ancient Greeks that the ethical virtues lie between extremes, and adduced many very striking instances of his law. Bravery lies between foolhardiness and cowardice; liberality between profusion and niggardliness, etc. That a very insufficient theory of morals was provided by this doctrine of "the mean" would universally be admitted. Yet no account of virtue can be satisfactory which does not point out the importance of guarding against those extremes of conduct into which men are liable to be hurried by the gusts of passion that sweep over their nature. Who has not learned by experience that broad, unqualified assertions are usually false, and that violent, one-sided courses of action are in most cases harmful and regrettable? There is wisdom in the old adage which boys learn in their Latin grammar, In medio tutissimus ibis.—T.
Verses 20, 29
Perfection is not on earth.
It would be a mistake to attribute these statements to anything peculiar in the experience and circumstances of the author of this book. The most attentive and candid observers of human nature will attest the truth of these very decided judgments. Christians are sometimes accused of exaggerating human sinfulness, in order to prepare for the reception of the special doctrines of Christianity; but they are not so accused by observers whose opportunities have been wide and varied, and who have the sagacity to interpret human conduct.
I. THE NATURE OF SIN. It is deflection from a Divine standard, departure from the Divine way, abuse of Divine provision, renunciation of Divine purpose.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF SIN. This is both the teaching of Scripture and the lesson of all experience in every land and in every age.
III. THE EXCEPTION TO SIN. The Divine Man, Jesus Christ, alone among the sons of men, was faultless and perfect.
IV. THE SPIRITUAL LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE PREVALENCE OF SIN.
1. The duty of humility, contrition, and repentance.
2. The value of the redemption and salvation which in the gospel Divine wisdom and compassion have provided as the one universal remedy for the one universal evil that afflicts mankind.—T.
Bad women a curse to society.
It is generally considered that in this language we have the conclusion reached by Solomon, End that his polygamy was largely the explanation of the very unfavorable opinion which he formed of the other sex. A monarch who takes to himself hundreds of wives and concubines is scarcely likely to see much of the best side of woman's nature and life. And if marriage is divinely intended to draw out the unselfish, affectionate, and devoted qualities of feminine nature, such a purpose could not be more effectually frustrated than by an arrangement which assigns to a so-called wife an infinitesimal portion of a husband's time, attention, interest, and love. For this reason it is not fair to take the sweeping statement of this passage as expressing a universal End unquestionable truth. What is said of the bitterness of the wicked woman, and of the mischief she does in society, remains for ever true; but there are states of society in which good women are as numerous as are good men, and in which their influence is equally beneficial.
I. THE INJURIOUSNESS OF BAD WOMEN EXEMPLIFIES THE PRINCIPLE THAT THE ABUSE AND CORRUPTION OF GOOD THINGS IS OFTEN THE CAUSE OF THE WORST OF ILLS.
II. THE WICKEDNESS OF BAD WOMEN DISPLAYS ITSELF IN THEIR HABIT OF ENSNARING THE FOOLISH; FOR THEY WILL NOT AND CANNOT SIN ALONE.
III. THE PRESENCE OF BAD WOMEN IN SOCIETY IS THE GREAT TEMPTATION TO WHICH MEN ARE LIABLE, AND THE GREAT TEST BY WHICH THEY ARE TRIED.
IV. THE BITTERNESS OF BAD WOMEN MAY BY CONTRAST SUGGEST THE EXCELLENCE OF THE VIRTUOUS AND THE PIOUS, AND MAY PROMPT TO A GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF THE INDEBTEDNESS OF SOCIETY TO HOLY AND KINDLY FEMININE INFLUENCES.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
There is much both of exalted enjoyment and of valuable influence in a man's reputation. It is said of the great explorer and philanthropist, David Livingstone, that he used to live in a village in Africa until his "good name" for benevolence had been established and had gone on before him: following his reputation, he was perfectly safe. A good reputation is—
I. THE AROMA WHICH OUR LIFE SHEDS AROUND US. We are always judging one another; every act of every kind is appraised, though often quite unconsciously, and we stand better or worse in the estimation of our neighbors for all we do and are. Our professions, our principles, our deeds, our words, even our manners and methods,—all these leave impressions on the mind concerning ourselves. What men think of us is the sum-total of these impressions, 'and constitutes our "name," our reputation. The character of a good man is constantly creating an atmosphere about him in which he will be able to walk freely and happily. It is indeed true that some good men seriously injure their reputation by some follies, or even foibles, which might easily be corrected and which ought to be avoided; but, as a rule, the life of the pure and holy, of the just and kind, is surrounded by a radiance of good estimation, as advantageous to himself as it is valuable to his neighbors.
II. THE BEST LEGACY WE LEAVE BEHIND US. At "the day of one's birth" there is rejoicing, because "a man is born into the world." And what may he not become? what may he not achieve? what may he not enjoy? But that is a question indeed. That infant may become a reprobate, an outcast; he may do incalculable, deplorable mischief in the world; he may grow up to suffer the worst things in body or in mind. None but the Omniscient can tell that. But when a good man dies, having lived an honorable and useful life, and having built up a noble and steadfast character, he has won his victory, he has gained his crown; and he leaves behind him memories, pure and sweet, that will live in many hearts and hallow them, that will shine on many lives and brighten them. At birth there is a possibility of good, at death there is a certainty of blessedness and blessing.
1. Reputation is not the very best thing of all. Character stands first. It is of vital consequence that we be right in the sight of God, and tried by Divine wisdom. The first and best thing is not to seem but to be right and wise. But then:
2. Reputation is of very great value.
The evil, the unprofitable, and the blessed flying.
I. THE POSITIVELY EVIL THING. "The laughter of fools," or "the song of fools," may be pleasant enough at the moment, but it is evil; for
1. The irreverent or the impure jest or song.
2. The immoderate feast—particularly indulgence in the tempting cup.
3. The society of the ungodly, sought in the way of friendship and enjoyment, as distinguished from the way of duty or of benevolence.
4. The voice of flattery.
II. THE COMPARATIVELY UNPROFITABLE THING. TWO things are mentioned in Scripture as being lawful, but as being of comparatively slight value—bodily indulgence and bodily exercise (see 1 Corinthians 6:13; 1 Timothy 4:8). "The house of feasting" (Esther 7:2) is a right place to be found in, as is also the gymnasium, or the recreation-ground, or the place of entertainment. But it is very easy to think of some place that is worthier. As those that desire to attain to heavenly wisdom, to a Christ-like character, to the approval of God, let us see that we only indulge in the comparatively unprofitable within the limits that become us. To go beyond the bound of moderation is to err, and even to sin. Fun may grow into folly, pleasure pass into dissipation, the training of the body become an extravagant athleticism, in the midst of which the culture of the spirit is neglected, and the service of Christ forsaken. It behooves us to "keep under" that which is secondary, to forbid it the first place or the front rank, whether in our esteem or in our practice.
III. THE DISGUISED BLESSING. It is not difficult to reach the heart of these paradoxes (Esther 7:2-5). There is pain of heart in visiting the house where death has come to the door, as there is in receiving the rebuke of a true friend; but what are the issues of it? What is to be gained thereby? What hidden blessing does it not contain? How true it is that it is
"Better to have a quiet grief
Than a tumultuous joy"!
That the hollow laughter of folly is a very poor and sorry thing indeed compared with the wisdom-laden sorrow, when all things are weighed in the balances. To have a chastened spirit, to have the heart which has been taught of God great spiritual realities, to have had an enlarging and elevating vision of the things which are unseen and eternal, to have been impressed with the transiency of earthly good and with the excellency of "the consolations which are in Christ Jesus," to be lifted up, if but one degree, toward the spirit and character of the self-sacrificing Lord we serve, to have had some fellowship with the sufferings of Christ,—surely this is incomparably preferable to the most delicious feast or the most hilarious laughter. To go down to the home that is darkened by bereavement or saddened by some crushing disappointment, and to pour upon the troubled hearts there the oil of true and genuine sympathy, to bring such spirits up from the depths of utter hopelessness or overwhelming grief into the light of Divine truth and heavenly promise,—thus "to do good and to communicate" is not only to offer acceptable sacrifice unto God, but it is also to be truly enriched in our own soul.—C.
Patience and pride.
Patience is to be distinguished from a dull indiscriminateness and from insensibility, to which one treatment is much the same as another; it is the calm endurance, the quiet, hopeful waiting on the part of the intelligent and sensitive spirit. Pride is to be distinguished from self-respect; it is an overweening estimate indulged by a man respecting himself—of his power, or of his position, or of his character. Thus understood, these two qualities stand in striking contrast to one another.
I. PATIENCE IS A DIVINELY COMMENDED AND PRIDE A FORBIDDEN THING.
Patience (Luke 21:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 10:36; 2 Peter 1:6; James 5:7, James 5:8, James 5:11; Revelation 2:2).
II. PATIENCE IS THE SEAT OF SAFETY, PRIDE THE PLACE OF PERIL. The man that is willing to wait in patience for the good which God will grant him, accepting what he gives him with quiet contentment, is likely to walk in wisdom, and to abide in the fear and favor of the Lord; but the man who over-estimates his strength is standing in a very "slippery place"—he is almost sure to fall. No words of the wise man are more frequently fulfilled than those concerning pride and a haughty spirit (Proverbs 16:18). The proud heart is the mark for many adversaries.
III. PATIENCE IS A BECOMING GRACE, PRIDE AN UGLY EVIL, Few things are morn spiritually beautiful than patience. When under long-continued bodily pain or weakness, or under grievous ill-treatment, or through long years of deferred hope and disappointment, the chastened spirit lives on in cheerful resignation, the Christian workman toils on in unwavering faith, there is a spectacle which we can well believe that the angels of God look upon with delight. Certainly it is the object of our admiring regard. On the other hand, pride is an offensive thing in the eyes of man, as we know it is in the sight of God (Proverbs 8:13). Whether a man shows himself elated about his personal appearance, or his riches, or his learning, or his strength (of any kind), we begin by being amused and end by being annoyed and repelled; we turn away as from an ugly picture or from an offensive odor.
IV. PATIENCE CONDUCTS INTO, PRIDE EXCLUDES FROM, THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
1. Patient inquiry will bring a man into the sunshine of full discipleship to Jesus Christ, but pride will keep him away, and leave him to be lighted by the poor sparks of his own wisdom.
2. Patient steadfastness in the faith will conduct to the gates of the celestial city.
3. Patient continuance in well-doing will end in the commendation of Christ and in his bountiful reward.—C.
Foolish comparison and complaint.
This querulous comparison, preferring former days to present ones, is unwise, inasmuch as it is—
I. BASED UPON IGNORANCE. We know but little of the actual conditions of things in past times. Chroniclers usually tell little more than what was upon the surface. We probably exaggerate and overlook to a very large extent. The good that is gone from us was probably attended with evils of which we have no idea; while the evils that remain we magnify because we experience them in our own person and suffer from them.
II. MARKED BY FORGETFULNESS. Often, though not always so. Often the change for the worse is not in a man's surroundings, but in himself. Leaving his youth and his prime behind him, he has left his vigor, his buoyancy, his power of mastery and of enjoyment. The "times" are well enough, but he himself is failing, and he sees everything through eyes that are dim with years.
III. INDICATIVE OF A SPIRIT OF DISCONTENT. It is the querulous spirit that thinks ill of his companions and his circumstances. He would come to the same conclusion if these were much better than they are. A sense of our own unworthiness and a consciousness of God's patience with us and goodness toward us, filling our souls with humility and gratitude, would dissipate these clouds and put another song into our mouth.
IV. WANTING IN MANLY RESOLUTENESS. If we are possessed of a right spirit, instead of sitting down and lamenting the inferiority of present things we shall gird ourselves to do what has to be done, to improve that which is capable of reform, to abolish that which should disappear, to plant that which should be thriving.
V. LACKING IN TRUSTFULNESS AND HOPEFULNESS. What if things are not all they should be with us; what if we ourselves are going down the hill and shall soon be at the bottom;—is there not a God above us? and is there not a future before us? Let us look up and let us look on. Above us is a Power that can regenerate and transform; before us is a period, an age, nay, an eternity, wherein all lost joys and honors will be "swallowed up of life."—C.
Verses 13, 14
Before we apply the main principle of the text, we may gather two lessons by the way.
I. THE WISDOM OF APPROPRIATING—of appropriating to ourselves and enjoying what God gives us without hesitation. In the day of our prosperity let us be joyful. We need not be draping our path with gloomy thoughts; we need not send the skeleton round at the feast; we should, indeed, partake moderately of everything, and in everything give thanks, showing gratitude to the Divine Giver; and we should also have the open heart which does not fail to show liberality to those in need. If our success be hallowed by these three virtues, it will be well with us.
II. THE RIGHTNESS OF RECTIFYING—of making straight all the crooked things which can be straightened. We are not to give up great moral problems as insoluble until we are absolutely convinced that they are beyond our reach. Poverty, ignorance, intemperance, irreligion,—these are very "crooked" things; but God did not make them what they are. Man has done that. His sin is the great and sad perverting force in the world, bending all things out of their course and turning them in wrong directions. And though they may seem to be too rigid and fixed to be amenable to our treatment, yet, hoping in God and seeking his aid, we must address ourselves courageously and intelligently to these crooked things until they are made straight. There is nothing that so strongly appeals to, and that will so richly reward, our aspiration, our ingenuity, our energy, our patience.
III. THE DUTY OF SUBMITTING. There are some things in regard to which we have to acknowledge that the evil thing is a "work of God," something he has "made crooked." This is to be accepted as the ordering of his holy will, as something that is balanced and overbalanced by the good things which are on the other side. It may be slenderness of means, lowliness of position, feebleness of intelligence, exclusion from society in which we should like to mingle, incapacity to visit scenes we long to look upon, the inaccessibility of a sphere for which we think ourselves peculiarly fitted, the advance of fatal disease, the reduction of resources or the decline of power, the breaking up of the old home and the scattering of near relatives, the loosening of old ties with the formation of new ones, etc. Such things as these are to be calmly and contentedly accepted.
1. To strive against the inevitable or irremediable is
2. To submit to the will of God, after considering his work, is
The lower and the higher standard.
The Preacher is not now in his noblest mood; he offers us a morality to which he himself at other times rises superior, and which cannot be pronounced worthy by those who have heard the great Teacher and learnt of him. We will look at—
I. THE LOWER STANDARD HERE HELD UP.
1. His view of sin. And here we find three things with which we are dissatisfied.
2. His view of righteousness. The Preacher sees two unsatisfactory features in righteousness.
II. THE HIGHER STANDARD. Taught of Jesus Christ, we:
1. Have a truer view of sin. We regard it as a thing which is only and utterly evil, offensive to God, constantly and profoundly injurious to ourselves, to be hated and shunned in every sphere, to be cleansed from heart and life.
2. Have a truer conception of righteousness. We look upon it as
Degradation and elevation.
The words of the Preacher painfully remind us of the familiar story of Diogenes and his lantern. Whether we are to ascribe this pitiful conclusion respecting woman to his own infirmity or to the actual condition of Oriental society, we do not know. But there was, no doubt, so much of realism about the picture that we may learn a very practical lesson therefrom. It is twofold.
I. THE AWFUL POSSIBILITIES OF DEGRADATION. That woman, created by God to be a helpmeet for man, and so admirably fitted, as she is at her best, to comfort his heart and to enrich and bless his life—that woman should be spoken of in such terms as these, is sad and strange indeed. It would be unaccountable but for one thing. The explanation is that man, in his physical strength and in his spiritual weakness, has systematically degraded woman; has made a mere tool and instrument of her whom he should have treated as his trusted companion and truest friend. And if you once degrade any being (or any animal) from his or her true and right position, you send that being down an incline, you open the gates to a long and sad descent. You take away self-respect, and in so doing you undermine the foundation of all virtue, of all moral worth. Dishonor any one, man or woman, lad or child, in his (her) own eyes, and you inflict a deadly injury. A very vile woman is probably worse than a very bad man, more inherently foul and more lamentably mischievous; it is the miserable consequence of man's folly in wishing to displace her from the position God meant her to hold, and in making her take a far lower position than she has the faculty to fill. To degrade is to ruin, and to ruin utterly.
II. THE NOBLE POSSIBILITIES OF ELEVATION. How excellent is the impossibility of seriously writing such a sentence as that contained in the twenty-eighth verse, in this age and in this land of ours! Now and here it certainly is not more difficult to find a woman worthy of our admiration than to find such a man. In the Churches of Jesus Christ, in the homes of our country, are women, young and old and in the prime of Their powers, whose character is sound to the center, whose spirit is gracious, whose lives are lovely, whose influence is wholly beneficent, who are the sweetness and strength of the present generation, as they are the hope and promise of the next. And this elevation of woman all comes of treating her as that which God meant her to be—giving to her her rightful position, inviting and enabling her to fill her sphere, to cultivate her powers, to do her work, to take her heritage.
1. It is easy as it is foolish and sinful to degrade; assume the absence of what God has given and deny the opportunity which should be offered, and the work is speedily done.
2. It is quite possible as it is most blessed to elevate; treat men and women, wherever found and at whatever stage in worth or unworthiness they may be taken, as those God meant to be his children, and they will rise to the dignity and partake the inheritance of "the sons and daughters of the living God."—C.
HOMILIES BY J. WILLCOCK
The charm of goodness.
When our author wrote these words he had, for a time at any rate, passed into a purer atmosphere; some gleams of light, if not the full dawn of day, had begun to shine upon him. Up to this he has been analyzing the evil conditions of human life, and has depicted all the moods of depression and sorrow and indignation they excited in him. Now he tells us of some things which he had found good, and which had cheered and strengthened him in his long agony. They were not, indeed, efficient to remove all his distress or to outweigh all the evils he had encountered in his protracted examination of the phenomena of human life; but to a certain extent they had great value and power. The first of these compensations of human misery is the beauty and attractiveness and lasting worth of a good character. The name won by one of honorable and unblemished character, who has striven against vice and followed after virtue, who has been pure and unselfish and zealous in the service of God and man, "is better than precious ointment." It is not unwarrantable thus-to expand the sentence; for though the epithet "good" is not in the original, but supplied by our translators (Revised Version), it is undoubtedly understood, and also it is taken for granted that the renown so highly praised is fully deserved by its possessor. "Dear," he says, "to the human senses "—speaking, remember, to an Eastern world—"is the odor of costly unguents, of sweet frankincense and fragrant spikenard; but dearer still, more precious still, an honored name, whose odor attracts the love, and penetrates and fills for a while the whole heart and memory of our friends" (Bradley). There is in the original a play upon words (shem, a name; shemen, ointment) which harmonizes with the brightness of the thought, and, gives a touch of gaiety to the sentence so strangely concluded with the reflection that for the owner of the good name the day of his death is better than the day of his birth. An exquisite illustration of the justness of our author's admiration for a good name is to be found in that incident in the Gospels of the deed of devotion to Christ, on the part of the woman who poured upon his head the precious ointment. Her name, Mary of Bethany (John 12:3), is now known throughout the whole world, and is associated with the ideas of pure affection and generous self-sacrifice. The second part of the verse, which at first sounds so out of harmony with what precedes it, is yet closely connected with it. The good name is thought of as not finally secured until death has removed the possibility of failure and shame. So many begin well and attain high fame in their earlier life which is sadly belied by their conduct and fate in the close. The words recall those of Solon to Croesus, if indeed they are not a reminiscence of them, "Call no man happy until he has closed his life happily" (Herod; 1:32); and are to the same effect as those in Esther 7:8, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof." It is not to be denied that there is, however, more in the words than a prudential warning against prematurely counting upon having secured the "good name" which is better than ointment. They betray an almost heathenish distaste for life, which is utterly out of harmony with the revelation both of the Old Testament and of the New; and are more appropriate in the mouth of one of that Thracian tribe mentioned by Herodotus, who actually celebrated their birthdays as days of sadness, and the day of death as a day of rejoicing, than of one who had any faith in God. The only parallel to them in Scripture is what is said of Judas by our Lord, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). Ingenuity may devise explanations of the sentiment which bring it into harmony with religious sentiments. Thus it may be said, at death the box of precious ointment is broken and its odors spread abroad; prejudices that assailed the man of noble character during his lifetime are mitigated, envy and jealousy and detraction are subdued, and his title to fair fame acknowledged on all hands. It may be said life is a state of probation, death the beginning of a higher and happier existence. Life is a struggle, a contest, a voyage, a pilgrimage; and when victory has been won, the goal reached, the reward of labor is attained. We may borrow the words and. infuse a brighter significance into them; but no trace of any such inspiring, cheering thoughts are in the page before us. "The angel of death is there; no angel of resurrection sits within the sepulcher."—J.W.
Compensations of misery.
Although in the Book of Ecclesiastes there is much that seems to be contradictory of our ordinary judgments of life, much that is at first apparently calculated to prevent our taking an interest in its business and pleasures—which are all asserted to be vanity and vexation of spirit—there are yet to be found in it sober and well-grounded exhortations, which we can only neglect at our peril. Out of his large experience the writer brings some lessons of great value. It is sometimes the case, indeed, that he speaks in such a way that we feel it is reasonable in us to discount his judgment pretty heavily. When he speaks as a sated voluptuary, as one who had tried every kind of sensuous pleasure, who had gratified to the utmost every desire, who had enjoyed all the luxuries which his great wealth could procure, and found all his efforts to secure happiness vain—I say, when he speaks in this way, and asks us to believe that none of these things are worth the pains, we are not inclined to believe him implicitly. We are inclined rather to resent being lectured in such a way by such a man. The satiety, the weariness, the ennui, which result from over-indulgence, do not qualify a man for setting up as a moral and spiritual guide; they rather disqualify him for exercising such an office. In answer to the austere and sweeping condemnation which he is inclined to pass upon the sources from which we think may be drawn a reasonable amount of pleasure, we may say, "Oh yes! it is all very well for you to speak in that way. You have worn out your strength and blunted your taste by over-indulgence; and it comes with a bad grace from you to recommend an abstentious and severe mood of life which you have never tried yourself. The exhortations which befit the lips of a John the Baptist, nurtured from early life in the desert, lose their power when spoken by a jaded epicure." The answer would be perfectly just. And if Solomon's reflections were all of the type described, we should he justified in placing less value upon them than he did. It is true that more than once he speaks with a bitterness and disgust of all the occupations and pleasures of life, which we cannot, with our experience, fairly endorse. But, as a rule, his moralizing is not of the ascetic type. He recommends, on the whole, a cheerful and grateful enjoyment of all the innocent pleasures of life, with a constant remembrance that the judgment draws ever nearer and nearer. While he has no hesitation in declaring that no earthly employments or pleasures can completely satisfy the soul and give it a resting-place, he does not, like the ancient hermits, approve of dressing in sackcloth, of feeding on bread and water only, and of retiring altogether from the society of our fellows. His teaching, indeed, contains a great deal more of true Christianity than has often been found in the writings and sermons of professedly Christian moralists and preachers. All the more weight, therefore, is to be attached to his words from this very fact, that he does not pose as an ascetic. We could not listen to him if he did; and accordingly we must be all the more careful not to lessen the value and weight of the words he speaks to which we should attend, by depreciating him as an authority. It is only of some of his judgments that we can say they are such as a healthy mind could scarcely endorse. This, in the passage before us, is certainly not one of them. It certainly runs counter to our ordinary sentiments and practices, like many of the sayings of Christ, but is not on that account to be hastily rejected; we are not justified either in seeking to diminish its weight or explain it away. It is not, indeed, a matter of surprise that the thoughts and feelings of beings under the influence of sinful habits, which enslave both mind and heart, should require to undergo a change before their teaching coincides with the mind of the Holy Spirit. In this section of the book we have teaching very much in the spirit of the New Testament. Compare with the second verse the sentences spoken by Christ: "Woe unto you that are full] for ye shall hunger; woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep" (Luke 6:25). And notice that the visits paid to the afflicted to console them, from which the Preacher declares he had gained moral and spiritual benefits, are recommended to us by the apostle as Christian duties (James 1:27). From even the saddest experiences, therefore, a thoughtful mind will derive some gain; some compensations there are to the deepest miseries. The house of mourning is that in which there is sorrow on account of death. According to Jewish customs, the expression of grief for the dead was very much more demonstrative and elaborate than with us. The time of mourning was for seven days (Ecclesiasticus 22:10), sometimes in special cases for thirty days (Numbers 9:1-23 :29; Deuteronomy 24:8). The presence of sympathizing friends (John 11:19), of hired mourners and minstrels, the solemn meals of the bread and wine of affliction (Jeremiah 16:7; Hosea 9:4), made the scene very impressive. Over against the picture he suggests of lamentation and woe, he sets that of a house of feasting, filled with joyous guests, and he asserts that it is better to go to the former than to the latter. He contradicts the more natural and obvious inclination which we all have to joy rather than to sorrow. But a moment's consideration will convince us that he is in the right, whether we choose the better part or not. Joy at the best is harmless—it relieves an overstrain on the mind or spirit; but when it has passed away it leaves no positive gain behind. Sorrow rightly borne is able to draw the thoughts upward, to purify and transform the soul. Its office is like that attributed to tragedy by Aristotle: "to cleanse the mind from evil passions by pity and terror—pity at the sight of another's misfortune, and terror at the resemblance between the sufferer and ourselves" ('Poetics'). Contradictory of ordinary feelings and opinions though this teaching of Solomon's is, there are three ways in which a visit to the house of mourning is better than to the house of feasting.
I. IT AFFORDS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SHOWING SYMPATHY WITH THE AFFLICTED. Among our best-spent hours are those in which we have sought to lighten and share the burden of the bereaved and distressed. We may not have been able to open sources of consolation which otherwise would have remained hidden and sealed; but the mere expression of our commiseration may be helpful and soothing. Sometimes we may be able to suggest consolatory thoughts, to impart serviceable advice, or to give needful relief. But in all cases we feel that we have received more than we have given—that in seeking to comfort the sorrowful we come into closer communion with that Savior who came from heaven to earth to bear the burden of sin and suffering, who was a welcome Guest on occasions of innocent festivity (John 2:2; Luke 7:36), but whose presence was still more eagerly desired in the homes of the afflicted.
II. IT ENABLES US TO FORM TRUER ESTIMATES OF LIFE. It gives us a more trustworthy standard of judging the relative importance of those things that engage our attention and employ our faculties. It checks unworthy ambitions, flattering hopes, and sinful desires. We learn to realize that only some of the aims we have cherished have been worthy of us, only some of the pursuits in which we have been engaged are calculated to yield us lasting satisfaction when we come in the light of eternity to review the past of our lives. The sight of blighted hopes admonishes us not to run undue risk of disappointment by neglecting to take into account the transitory and changeful conditions in which we live. The spectacle of great sorrows patiently borne rebukes the fretfulness and impatience which we often manifest under the minor discomforts and troubles which we may be called to endure.
III. IT REMINDS US OF THE POSSIBLE NEARNESS OF OUR OWN END. (Verse 2.) "It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart." Though the brevity of life is a fact with which we are all acquainted from the very first moment when we are able to see and know what is going on about us, it is a fact which it is very difficult for us to realize in our own case. "We think all are mortal but ourselves." No feelings of astonishment are excited in us by the sight of the aged and weakly sinking down into the grave, but we can scarcely believe that we are to follow them. The very aged still lay their plans as though death were far off; the dying can hardly be convinced till perhaps the very last moment that their great change is at hand. But a visit to the house of mourning gives us hard, palpable evidence, which must, though but for an instant, convince us that mortality is a universal law; that in a short time our end will come. The effect of such a thought need not be depressing; it need not poison all our enjoyments and paralyze all our efforts. It should lead us to resolve
"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers."
Therefore it is all the more necessary for startling admonitions like these of Solomon's to be given, which recall us with a jerk to attend to things that concern our higher welfare. The fact that there are dangers against which we must guard, dangers springing not merely from our own sinful perversity, but from the conditions of our lives, the danger especially of being too much taken up with the present, is calculated to arouse us to serious thought and effort. Very much easier would it have been for us if a code of rules for external conduct had been given us, so that at any time we might have made sure about being on the right way; but very much poorer and more barren would the life thus developed have been. We are called, as in this passage before us, to weigh matters carefully; to make our choice of worthy employments; to decide for ourselves when to enjoy that which is earthly and temporal, and when to sacrifice it for the sake of that which is spiritual and eternal. And we may be sure that that goodness which springs from an habitually wise choice is infinitely preferable to the narrow, rigid formalism which results from conformity with a Puritanic rule. It is not a sour, killjoy spirit that should drive us to prefer the house of mourning to the house of feasting; but the sober, intelligent conviction that at times we may find there help to order our lives aright, and have an opportunity of lightening by our sympathy the heavy burden of sorrow which God may see fit to lay upon our brethren.—J.W.
Patience under provocation.
In these words our author seems to commend the virtues of patience and contentment in trying circumstances, by pointing out that certain evils against which we may chafe bring their own punishment, and so in a measure work their own cure, that others spring from or are largely aggravated by faults in our own temperament, and that others exist to a very great extent in our own imagination rather than in actual fact. And accordingly the sequence of thought in the chapter is perfectly clear. We have here, too, some "compensations of misery," as in Esther 7:2-6. The enumeration of the various kinds of evil that provoke our dissatisfaction supplies us with a convenient division of the passage.
I. EVILS THAT BRING THEIR OWN PUNISHMENT AND WORK THEIR OWN CURE. "Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof" (Esther 7:7, Esther 7:8). It is the oppressor and not the oppressed who is driven mad. The unjust use of power demoralizes its possessor, deprives him of his wisdom, and drives him into actions of the grossest folly. The receiver of bribes, i.e. the judge who allows gifts to warp his judgments, loses the power of moral discernment, and becomes utterly disqualified for discharging his sacred functions. And this view of the meaning of the words makes them an echo of those passages in the Law of Moses which prescribe the duties of magistrates and rulers. "Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither shalt thou take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous" (Deuteronomy 16:19; cf. Exodus 23:8). The firm conviction which any extended experience of life is sure to confirm abundantly, that such moral perverseness as is implied in the exercise of tyranny, in extortion and bribery, brings with it its own punishment, is calculated to inspire patience under the endurance of even very gross wrongs. The tyrant may excite an indignation and detestation that will lead to his own destruction; the clamor against an unjust judge may become so great as to necessitate his removal from office, even if the government that employs him be ordinarily very indifferent to moral considerations. In any case, "the man who can quietly endure oppression is sure to come off best in the end" (cf. Matthew 5:38-41).
II. EVILS THAT SPRING LARGELY FROM OUR OWN TEMPERAMENT. "The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools" (Esther 7:8, Esther 7:9). That the disposition here reprobated is a very general and fruitful source of misery cannot be doubted. The proud spirit that refuses to submit to wrongs, either real or fancied, that is on the outlook for offence, that strives to redress on the instant the injury received, is rarely long without cause of irritation. If unprovoked by real and serious evils, it will find abundant material for disquietude in the minor crosses and irritations of daily life. While the patient spirit, that schools itself to submission, and yet waits in hope that in the providence of God the cause of pain and provocation will be removed, enjoys peace even in very trying circumstances. It is not that our author commends insensibility of feeling, and deprecates the sensitiveness of a generous nature, which is swift to resent cruelty and injustice. It is rather the ill-advised and morbid state of mind in which there is an unhealthy sensitiveness to affronts and a fruitless chafing against them that he reproves. That anger is in some circumstances a lawful passion no reasonable person can deny; but the Preacher points out two forms of it that are in themselves evil. The first is when anger is "hasty," not calm and deliberate, as the lawful expression of moral indignation, but the outcome of wounded self-love; and the second when it is detained too long, when it "rests" in the besom. As a momentary, instinctive feeling excited by the sight of wickedness, it is lawful; but when it has a home in the heart it changes its character, and becomes malignant hatred or settled scornfulness. "Be ye angry, and sin not," says St. Paul; "let not the sun go down upon your wrath" (Ephesians 4:26, Ephesians 4:27). "Wherefore, my beloved brethren," says St. James, "let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:19, James 1:20).
III. EVILS THAT ARE LARGELY IMAGINARY. "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this" (verse 10). Discontentment with the present time and conditions is reproved in these words. It is often a weakness of age, as Horace has described it—
"Difficilis, querulus, laudator temporis acti
Se puero, censor castigatorque minorum."
But it is not by any means confined to the old. There are many who cast longing glances back upon the past, and think with admiration of the age of heroes or of the age of faith, in comparison with which the present is ignoble and worthless. It would be a somewhat harmless folly if it did not lead, as it generally does, to apathetic discontent with the present and despondency concerning the future. "Every age has its peculiar difficulties, and a man inclined to take a dark view of things will always be able to compare unfavorably the present with the past. But a readiness to make comparisons of that kind is no sign of real wisdom. There is light as well as darkness in every age. The young men that shouted for joy at the rebuilding of the temple acted more wisely than the old men who wept with a loud voice" (Ezra 3:12, Ezra 3:13). And the question may still be asked—Were the old times really better than the present? Is it not a delusion to imagine they were? Are not we the heirs of the ages, to whom the experience of the past and all its attainments in knowledge and all its bright examples of virtue have descended as an endowment and an inspiration? The disposition, therefore, that makes the best of things as they are, instead of grumbling that they are not better, that bears patiently even with very great annoyances, and that is characterized by self-control, is sure to escape a great deal of the misery which falls to the lot of a passionate, irritable, and discontented man (cf. Psalms 37:1-40.).—J.W.
Verses 11, 12
Wisdom and riches.
The precise meaning of verse 11 is rather difficult to catch. The Hebrew words can be translated either as, "Wisdom is good with an inheritance" (Authorized Version), or, "Wisdom is good as an inheritance" (Revised Version); and it is instructive to notice that the earlier English version has in the margin the translation which the Revisers have put in the text, and that the Revisers have put in the margin the earlier rendering, as possibly correct. Both companies of translators are equally in doubt in the matter. It is a case, therefore, in which one must use one's individual judgment, and decide as to which rendering is to be preferred from the general sense of the whole passage. Our author, then, is speaking of two things which are profitable in life—"for them that see the sun" (verse 11)—wisdom and riches; and as he gives the preference to the former in verse 12—"the excellency of knowledge is that wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it"—we are inclined to think that that is his view all through. And, therefore, though in themselves the translations given of the first clause in the passage are about equally balanced, this consideration is in our opinion weighty enough to turn the scale in favor of that in the Revised Version. Two things, therefore, there are which in different ways provide means of security against some of the ills of life, which afford some "compensation for the misery" of our condition—wisdom and riches. By wisdom a man may to some extent forecast the future, anticipate the coming storm, and take measures for shielding himself against some or all of the evils it brings in its train. Like the unjust steward who acted "wisely," he can win friends who will receive him in the hour of need. By riches, too, he can stave off many of the hardships which the poor man is compelled to endure; he can secure many benefits which will alleviate the sufferings he cannot avert. But of the two wisdom is the more excellent; "it giveth life" (or "bestoweth life," Revised Version) "to them that have it." "It can quicken a life within; it can give salt and savor to that which wealth may only deaden and make insipid" (Bradley). And surely by "wisdom" here we are not to understand mere prudence, but rather that Heaven-born faculty, that control of man's spirit by a higher power, which leads him to make the fear of God the guide of his conduct. And in order to understand wherein it consists, and what are the benefits it secures, we may identify the quality here praised with "that wisdom that cometh from above," which all through the Word of God is described as the source of all excellence, the fountain of all happiness (Proverbs 3:13-18; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 8:32-36; John 6:63; John 17:3; 2 Corinthians 3:6).—J.W.
Verses 13, 14
Resignation to Providence.
Already in the tenth verse the Preacher has counseled his readers not to chafe against the conditions in which they find themselves. "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these?" It is part of the true wisdom which he has praised "to consider the work of God," to accept the outward events of life, and believe that, whether they be pleasant or the contrary, they are determined by a will or power which we cannot control or change. It is wise to submit. The crooked we cannot make straight (Ecclesiastes 1:15); the cross which is laid upon us we cannot shake off, and had best bear without repining (cf. Job 8:3; Job 34:12; Psalms 146:9). A mingled draught is in the cup of life—prosperity and adversity, the sweet and the bitter. Remember that it is commended to your lips by a higher hand, which it is folly to resist; accept the portion which may be assigned to you. In the time of prosperity be in good spirits (verse 14), let not forebodings of future evil damp the present enjoyment; in the time of adversity consider that it is God who has appointed the evil day as well as the good. The thought is the same as that in the Book of Job, "What? shall we receive good at the hands of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10). The reason why both good and evil are appointed us is given by the Preacher, though his words are somewhat obscure: "God also hath even made the one side by side with the other, to the end that man should not find out anything that shall be after him" (verse 14b, Revised Version). The obscurity is in the thought rather than in the phrases used. The commonest explanation of the words is that they simply assert that to know the future is forbidden us. But the phrase, "after him," is always used to mean that which follows upon the present world (Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12; Job 21:21). Hitzig explains the words as implying, "that because God wills it that man shall be rid of all things after his death, he puts evil into the period of his life, and lets it alternate with good, instead of visiting him therewith after his death,' This explanation would make the passage equivalent to, Idcirco ut non inveniat homo post se quidquam, sell. quod non expertus est. But probably the best explanation of these words is that given by Delitzsch, who accepts this of Hitzig's with some modification: "What is meant is much rather this, that God causes man to experience good and evil, that he may pass through the whole school of life, and when he departs hence that nothing may be outstanding which he has not experienced." This interpretation of the various events of life, joyous and somber, as forming a complete disciplinary course, through which it is an advantage for us to pass, is the most worthy of the explanations of the words that they have received. And if we accept it as truly representing the author's thoughts, we may say that our author's researches were not so fruitless as he himself seems sometimes to assert. This recognition of a Divine purpose running through all the events of life is calculated to sanctify our enjoyment of the blessings we receive, and to comfort and sustain us in the day of sorrow and adversity.—J.W.
Righteousness and wickedness.
This section is one of the most difficult in the whole Book of Ecclesiastes, though there are no various readings in it to perplex us, and no difficulty in translating it. Neither the Authorized Version nor the Revised Version has alternative renderings of any part of it in the margin. The difficulty lies in the uncertainty in which we are as to the writer's standpoint in making out what form of religious life or what phase of thought or conduct he refers to when he says, "Be not righteous overmuch." It is equally humiliating to attempt to explain his words away—to read into them a higher meaning than they evidently bear, or to confess regretfully that we have here a cynical and low-toned depreciation of that which is in itself holy and good. Both courses have been followed by commentators, and both do dishonor to the sacred text.
I. In the first place, the Preacher states in plain terms THE GREAT AND PERPLEXING PROBLEM WHICH SO OFTEN TROUBLED THE HEBREW MIND—that of the adversity of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked. In his experience of life, in the days of his vanity, in the course or' his troubled pilgrimage, he had seen this sight: "There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness"—in spite of his righteousness; "and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness"—in spite of his wickedness (verse 15). It is the same problem of which varying solutions are attempted in the Book of Job and in the thirty-seventh and seventy-third psalms. The old theory, that the good find their reward and the wicked their punishment in this life, was not borne out by his experience, tie had seen it violated so often that he could not hold it as even an approximate statement of the facts of the ease. What, then, is his inference from his own experience? Does he say, "Cleave to righteousness in spite of the misfortunes which often attend it?" or, "Believe that somehow and somewhere the apparent inequalities of the present will ultimately be redressed, and both righteousness and wickedness will meet with the rewards and punishments they merit"? No; whether he might acquiesce in one or other of these inferences or not, we cannot tell. Other thoughts are in his mind. A third inference he draws, which would not naturally have occurred to us, but which is as legitimate as ours.
II. FROM HIS EXPERIENCE HE DEDUCES THE LESSON; "Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not overmuch wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?" Neither the righteous nor the wicked being able to count upon reward for goodness or punishment for evil in this life as certain, both are exposed to certain risks—the one is tempted to adopt an exaggerated and feverish form of religious life, the other to enter on a course of unbridled wickedness. That there is a tendency to exaggeration in matters of religion is abundantly proved by the history of asceticism, which has made its appearance in every religion, true or spurious. The ascetic is the man who is "righteous overmuch." He denies himself all pleasures through the fear of sin; he separates himself, not merely from vicious indulgences, but from occupations and amusements which he admits are innocent enough and lawful enough for those who have not, the end in view he has set before himself. He is not content with the good works commanded by the Law of God; he must have his works of supererogation. The Pharisee in the parable (Luke 18:9-14) is a typical person of this class. He claimed merit for going beyond the requirements of the Law. Moses appointed but one fast-day in the year, the great Day of Atonement; he boasted that he fasted twice in the week. The Law commanded only to tithe the fruits of the fiend and increase of the cattle; but he no doubt tithed mint and cummin, all that came into his possession, down to the veriest trifles. And the aim is in all cases the same—the accumulation of a store of merit which will compel a reward if God is not to show himself unjust; an attempt to force from his hand a benediction which others cannot claim who have not adopted the same course. The folly and impiety of such conduct must be apparent to any well-balanced mind. The blessing of Heaven is not to be extorted by any attempt we may make; it may, so far at any rate as outward appearances go, be bestowed capriciously: "The just man may perish in his righteousness, the wicked man may prolong his life in his wickedness." On the other hand, the fact that punishment for sin is not inevitably and invariably visited immediately upon the evil-doer is undoubtedly the source of danger to those who are inclined to vice. The fact that justice is slow and lame tempts the sinner to an unbridled course of evil; it removes one great restraint upon his conduct. He trusts to the lightness of his heels to escape from punishment until he runs into the arms of death. Some have been as shocked at the counsel, "Be not overmuch wicked," as at that "Be not righteous overmuch," as though the writer allowed that a certain moderate degree of wickedness were permissible. They should, if they are logical, be equally horrified at the admonition of St. James, "Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness" (James 1:21). It is in both cases a prohibition of a headlong pursuit of sin, without regard to the fearful consequences it entails. The Preacher has in view the consequences in the present life of being "righteous overmuch." The result in both instances is pretty much the same. To the one he says, "Why shouldest thou destroy thyself?"—to the other, "Why shouldest thou die before thy time?" Both classes lose the pleasure of living, the bright, innocent joys which spring from a grateful acceptance and temperate use of the blessings which God bestows upon men. The ascetic who makes it his aim to torture himself to the very limit of human endurance, and the debauchee who gives himself up to self-indulgence without restraint, each receive, though in different ways, the penalty due for violating the conditions of life in which God has set us. Another warning is given in the same passage against intellectual errors. "Neither make thyself overwise; neither be thou foolish." Wisdom, too, has limits within which it should be confined. There is a region of the unknowable into which it is presumptuous for it to attempt to intrude. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
III. The Preacher, in conclusion, points out that A MIDDLE COURSE IS THAT OF DUTY AND OF SAFETY. There are dangers on the right hand and on the left, of over-rigorous austerity and of undue laxity. But the God-fearing are able to walk in the narrow path, and emerge at last unscathed from all the temptations with which life is surrounded. "It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from that withdraw not thine hand, for he that feareth God shall come forth of them all." The words "this" and. "that" refer to the two different precepts he has given. "Lay thine hand it is good to do so," he says, "on the one precept, 'Be not righteous overmuch; 'but do not lose sight of the other, 'Be not overmuch wicked.' I is he that feareth God that shall steer his way between both."
Without, therefore, distorting the words of the Preacher to give them a more spiritual meaning or higher tone than they actually possess, we find in them teaching which is worthy of him and of the Word of God. It is remarkable indeed, how, even in his most desponding moods, the fear of God bulks largely in his thoughts as incumbent on men, and as opening up the path of duty, however much else remains dark and unknown. "In his coldest, grayest hour this sense of the fear of God still smolders, as it were, within his soul; not, indeed, the quickening love of God, but something that inspires reverence; something that saves him from utter shipwreck amidst the crossing and. eddying currents of the sunless sea of hopeless pessimism" (Bradley).—J.W.
Wisdom a protection.
The connection between these words and those that precede them seems somewhat loose. But the Preacher has just been speaking of "the fear of God," and some one of those passages of Scripture, which assert that in it is true wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; Psalms 111:10; Job 28:28), may have been in his mind. He now speaks of the protection and strength which wisdom gives, and of the sort of conduct becoming those who possess it (verse 19). "Wisdom strengtheneth the wise man more than ten mighty men which are in the city." Why ten mighty men are spoken of is a question difficult to answer. It may be that "ten" is meant to suggest "a full number" (cf. Genesis 31:7; Job 19:3), or perhaps we have here an allusion to some political or other arrangements of the time now unknown to us. But the evident meaning of the verse is that the wisdom that fears God is better than material force, that in it there is a ground of confidence better than weapons of war (cf. Proverbs 24:5, "A wise man is strong"). In the words that follow we have man's fallibility strongly insisted on in words quoted from the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:46), "For there is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not," and the inference seems to be that "the wisest at times commit mistakes, but their wisdom enables them to get the better of their mistakes, and protects them against the evil consequences which happen in such cases to the unwise." This thought leads on to the teaching of verses 21, 22. The wise man who remembers his own mistakes and offences will judge leniently of others, and not punish them as offenders for their occasional hasty words. Indifference to idle praise or idle blame becomes the possessor of true wisdom. For him, to use St. Paul's words, "It is a very small thing to be judged of man's judgment" (1 Corinthians 4:3). An idle curiosity to know what others think of us or say of us is the source of constant mortification. We expect praise, and forget that others are as frivolous and hasty in their criticism of us as we have been in our criticism of them. The servant who waits on us, and from whom we expect special reverence, would probably, if we could hear him without his knowledge, say much about us that would surprise and mortify us. Let us therefore not be too eager to hear our character analyzed and discussed.
"Where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise."
Some excuse may be found for the motto of the old Scottish family which expresses this indifference to the opinion of others in the most pointed form: "They say. What say they? Let them say."—J.W.
The limitations of human knowledge are nowhere more plainly indicated than in the opening verse of the present section. The Preacher points out that after his utmost endeavors to obtain wisdom with the view of solving the perplexing questions connected with mankind, their actions and their relation to God, he found all such knowledge to be far beyond mortal ken (Wright). "For that which is," that which exists, the world of things in its essence and with its causes, "is far off," far removed from the sight of man, "and it is deep, deep; who can discover it?" (verses 23, 24). Essential wisdom appeared to him as to Job (28.), quite out of reach. But all his efforts after it had not been in vain. In the course of his researches he had discovered some truth of great value. Though the problems of the universe proved to be insoluble, some lessons had been learned of practical value in the conduct of life. Some rules for present guidance he had discovered, though much remained hidden from him. So is it in every age. The sagest philosophers, the profoundest thinkers, are baffled in their endeavors to explain the mysteries of life, but are able to lay down rules for present conduct which approve themselves to the consciences of all. And happy is it for us that it should be so; that while clouds hang over many regions into which the intellect of man would fain penetrate, the way of duty is plain for all. One great truth he learned, that wickedness was folly, that foolishness was madness, that men who lived in the pursuit of folly were beside themselves and were mad (verse 25). This thought is very closely akin to the teaching of the Stoics, that the wickedness of men is a kind of mental aberration, and that knowledge is but another name for righteousness. One great source of wickedness he introduces in verse 26—the fatal fascination of so many by scheming and voluptuous women. The picture he draws is like those in Proverbs 2:1-22. and 7; and, but for the more sweeping condemnation in the verses that follow, might be thought to express reprobation of a certain degraded class rather than a cynical estimate of the whole of womankind. One man, he says, he had found among a thousand, one only what a man ought to be; but not one woman among the same number who corresponded to the ideal of womanhood, who reminded him of the innocence and goodness of Eve as God created her (verse 29). The race, both men and women, had been created upright, but had become almost utterly corrupt by the devices they had invented by which to gratify their inclinations toward evil. What are we to make of his words? Is the case really as bad as be represents it? The answer to the question is not far to seek. The Preacher is recording his own experience, and if we take his words as a truthful report, we can only say that he was specially unfortunate in his experience. There is no doubt that in some countries and in some ages of the world, corruption is very widespread and deep, and in the land and time in which our author lived matters may have been as bad as he represents them. But the experience of a single life does not afford sufficient ground for broad generalizations concerning human nature. The words may be an expression of that terrible feeling of satiety and loathing which is the curse following upon gross sensuality such as that of the historical Solomon, with his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. No sensible person would take the moralizings of the satiated debauchee without very considerable deductions. Those of a chaste, temperate, God-fearing man are much more likely to hit the truth. We may grant that search had been made, and not one woman among the thousand whose dispositions and characters had been passed in review approved herself worthy of praise as like what a true woman should be, and still doubt whether the thousand were fair representatives of their sex. Did he search in the right quarter? or were the women the population of his seraglio? If they were, we cannot wonder that, in an institution which is itself an outrage upon human nature, all its inhabitants were found corrupt. For a very different estimate of the female character as exemplified in some of its representatives, we have only to read the praises of the Shulamite in the Song of Songs, and of the virtuous women described in Proverbs 5:18, Proverbs 5:19; Proverbs 31:10-31. And Scripture itself is rich in the histories of good women. There are those of patriarchal times whose tender grace gives such an idyllic charm to so many incidents of that early age. The names of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel call up ideas of purity, innocence, piety, and steadfast love, as a rich inheritance they have left to the race. Miriam, Hannah, Ruth, and Esther, too, suggest a world of goodness and holiness which was quite unknown to the experience of the writer of these dark and somber words in Ecclesiastes. Then in the New Testament we have the luminous figures of the Virgin-mother, the Prophetess Anna, the devout women who ministered to Christ and stood by his cross, and were early in the morning at his sepulcher, and were the first to believe in him as their risen Lord. There are those in the long list recorded in the Epistles of St. Paul, who were zealous fellow-laborers with him in all good works, who, by their deeds of hospitality, their kindly ministrations to the poor and sick and. bereaved, reproved the wickedness of the world in which they lived, and gave promise of the rich harvest of goodness which would spring from the holy teaching and example of the Redeemer. And in no Christian country have abundant examples been wanting of the pure and devoted love by which mothers and wives and sisters have enriched and blessed the lives of those connected with them, and redeemed their sex from the stigma cast upon it by gross-minded and corrupt men. No persecutions have ever wasted any section of the Christian Church without finding among women as true and steadfast witnesses for the cause of Christ as among men.
"A noble army—men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior's throne rejoice,
In robes of light array'd.
They climb'd the steep ascent of heaven
Through peril, toil, and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train!"
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1897.
- 1 Samuel 25:21,22; 2 Samuel 19:43; Esther 3:5,6; Proverbs 14:17; 16:32; Jonah 4:9; Ephesians 4:26,27; James 1:19
- Genesis 4:5,6,8; 34:7,8,25,26,30,31; 2 Samuel 13:22,28,32; Proverbs 26:23-26; Mark 6:19,24
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/ecclesiastes-7.html.
9.Be not hasty’ angry — This exhortation comes as an inference from the foregoing remarks. Even an enemy may tell us some things good for us to know, much more, then, should we welcome the “faithful wounds” — the honest rebukes — of a friend. Only a fool would be angry at wholesome reproof. But how natural it is to be in this more or less foolish!
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:9". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1874-1909.
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