Section 11 (vs. 1-3) - A little folly mars the effect of wisdom, and is sure to make
1 “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send
forth a stinking savor:” - This is a metaphorical confirmation of the truth
enunciated at the end of the last chapter, “One sinner destroyeth much
good.” It is like the apostle’s warning to his converts, “A little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump” (I Corinthians 5:6). The Hebrew expression
is literally, “flies of death,” which may mean either “dead flies,” as in our
version and the Vulgate (muses morientes), or “deadly, poisonous flies,” as
in the Septuagint μυῖαι θανατοῦσαι – muniai thanatousai – a dead fly.
The latter rendering seems preferable, if we regard the use of similar compound
phrases, e.g. “instruments of death” (Psalm 7:14); “snares of death”
(Psalm 18:5); and in New Testament Greek, ἡ πληγὴ τοῦ θανάτου - hae
Plaegae tou thanatou – blow of the death; deadly wound; the deathstroke”
(Revelation 13:3, 12). The flies meant are such as are poisonous in their bite,
or carry infection with them. Such insects corrupt anything which they touch —
food, ointment, whether they perish where they alight or not. They, as the Hebrew
says, make to stink, make to ferment, the oil of the perfumer. The singular verb
is here used with the plural subject to express the unity of the individuals, “flies”
forming one complete idea. The Septuagint rendering omits one of the verbs:
Σαμπιοῦσι σκευασίαν ἐλαίου ἡδύσματος – Sampiousi skeuasian
elaiou haedusmatos - will corrupt the preparing of a sweet oil. The point,
of course, is the comparative insignificance of the cause which spoils a costly
substance compounded with care and skill. Thus little faults mar great
characters and reputations. “A good name is better than precious ointment”
(ch.7:1), but a good name is ruined by follies, and then it stinks in men’s nostrils.
The term, “ointment of the apothecary,” is used by Moses (Exodus 30:25) in
describing the holy chrism which was reserved for special occasions – “so doth
a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.” The meaning of
the Authorized Version is tolerably correct, but the actual rendering will hardly
stand, and one wants some verb to govern “him that,” etc. The other
versions vary. Septuagint, “A little wisdom is more precious (τίμιον – timion –
precious) than great glory of folly;” Vulgate, “More precious are wisdom and glory
than small and short-lived folly;” Jerome, “Precious above wisdom and glory is
a little folly.” This last interpretation proceeds upon the idea that such “folly” is
at any rate free from pride, and has few glaring faults. But the original is best
translated thus: “More weighty than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly.” It
is a painful fact that a little folly, one foolish act, one silly peculiarity of
manner or disposition, will suffice to impair the real value of a man’s
wisdom and the estimation in which he was held. The little clement of
foolishness, like the little insect in the ointment, obscures the real excellence
of the man, and deprives him of the honor that is really his due.
And in religion we know that one fault unchecked, one secret sin
cherished, poisons the whole character, makes a man lose the grace of
God. (For the same effect from another cause, see Ezekiel 3:20;
33:13.) Jerome sees in the “dead flies” wicked thoughts put into the
Christian’s mind by Beelzebub, “the lord of flies.”
Dead Flies (v. 1)
Among the Jews oil rendered fragrant by being mixed with precious drugs
was used for many different purposes. With it priests and kings were
anointed when they entered upon their offices; guests at the tables of the
rich were treated to it as a luxury. It was used medicinally for outward
application to the bodies of the sick, and with it corpses and the clothes in
which they were wrapped were besprinkled before burial. Very great care
was needed in the preparation of the material used for such special
purposes. Elaborately confected as the ointment was, it was easily spoiled
and rendered worthless. It was, accordingly, necessary not only to take
great pains in making it, but also in preserving it from contamination when
made. If the vase or bottle in which it was put were accidentally or
carelessly left open, its contents might soon be destroyed. A dead fly would
soon corrupt the ointment, and turn it into a pestilent odor. So, says the
Preacher, a noble and attractive character may be corrupted and destroyed
by a little folly — an insignificant-looking fault or weakness may outweigh
great gifts and attainments. It is not a case of the unthinking multitude
taking advantage of a foible, or inconsistency, or little slip, to depreciate
the character of one raised far above them in wisdom and honor, in order
to bring it down to their level; of envy leading to an unjust and ungrateful
sentence being pronounced upon an almost faultless character. But the
warning is that deterioration may really set in, the precious ointment be
actually changed into a disgusting odor, the wisdom and honor be
outweighed by the little folly (“outweigh,” Revised Version). The same
teaching is given in the New Testament. In
readers that their toleration of a heinous sin in one of their members was
poisoning the whole spiritual life of the Church (I Corinthians 5.). The
fervor of their religious emotions, the hatred of sin and love of holiness
which had led them to separate themselves from heathen society, the
aspirations and endeavors after purity and righteousness which naturally
follow upon an intelligent and earnest acceptance of Christian truth, were
all being undermined by their omission of the duty that lay upon them, that
of isolating the gross offender, and of expelling him from their community
if he gave no signs of penitence and amendment. They might themselves be
orthodox in belief and unblamable in conduct, but this sin would soon, if
unchecked, lower the whole tone of the community, and nullify all the
good that had been attained to. “Know ye not,” he said, “that a little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump?” It was impossible to allow the fault to remain
and to keep the evil influence it exerted within bounds; it would spread like
infection, and be persistent until it had corrupted the whole community.
And what is true of a society is true of an individual. The fault which
shows itself in a character is not like a stain or flaw in a marble statue,
which is confined to one spot, and is no worse after the lapse of years, but
like a sore in a living body, which weakens and may destroy the whole
organism. One cause why the evil influence spreads is that we are not on
our guard against it, and it may grow to almost ungovernable strength
before we are really convinced that there is any danger. We can recognize
at once great errors and heinous vices, and the alarm and disgust they
excite, prepare us to resist them; but little follies and weaknesses often fill
us with an amused contempt for them, which blinds us to their great power
for evil. The dead body of the fly in the vase of ointment is so insignificant
a source of corruption, that it surprises us to discover that the fermentation
it has produced has tainted the whole mass. Weight for weight, there is an
enormous disproportion between the precious fluid and the wretched little
object which has corrupted it; yet there is no ignoring of the fact that the
mischief has been done. In like manner does a little folly outweigh wisdom
and honor; an uncorrected fault spreads its influence throughout a whole
character and life. How often has the lesson been brought home to us, both
in our reading of histories and biographies and in our own experience, of
the widespread mischief done by a small foible or weakness!
“The little rift within the lute
That by-and-by will make the music mute.”
So numerous are the sources from which danger arises, that a long list
might be made of the little sins by which the characters of many good men
and women are often marred:
o love of ease,
o over-sensitiveness to praise or blame,
o love of gossip,
o undue laxity,
o undue severity,
o want of sell-control over appetites and passions,
Such are some of the follies which outweigh wisdom
and honor — which stamp the character of a man as unworthy of that
respect which his gifts and graces would otherwise have secured for him.
Numerous though these follies are, they may be reduced to two great
1. faults of weakness and
2. faults of strength.
· FAULTS OF WEAKNESS. This class is that of those which are largely
negative, and consist principally in omission to give a definite and worthy
direction to the nature; e.g. want of self-control, love of ease, indolence,
procrastination, indecision, selfishness, heartlessness. That these are faults
which create widespread mischief, and excite a general contempt for the
characters of those in whom they appear, will scarcely be denied by any,
and illustrations of them are only too abundant. Want of self-control over
appetites and passions led David into the foulest crimes, which, though
sincerely and passionately repented of, were most terribly avenged, and
have for ever left a stain upon his name. Love of ease is the only fault
which is implied in the description of the rich man in the parable (Luke
16:19), a desire to be comfortable and avoid all that was disagreeable, but
it led him to such callous indifference to the miseries of his fellows as
disqualified him for happiness in the world to come. A similar fault stained
the character of that young ruler who came running to Christ and asked,
“Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” From his youth up
he had obeyed the commandments, and his ingenuous, sweet character and
disposition attracted the love of the Savior. But his love of the world made
him unwilling to practice the self-denial needed to make him perfect. He
went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions (Mark 10:17-22).
His cowardice that led him to make “the great refusal” was the dead fly
that corrupted the precious ointment. A very striking illustration of the
deterioration of a character through the sin of weakness and indecision is
to be found in the life of Eli. He was a man possessed of many beautiful
qualities of mind and spirit — gentle, unselfish, devoid of envy or jealousy,
devout and humble; but was “a wavering, feeble, powerless man, with
excellent intentions but an utter want of will.” His parental indulgence led
him to exercise no restraint over his children, and the consequence was that
when they grew up their conduct was grossly scandalous and depraved.
His authority and power as a ruler were not used to check the evils Which
in his heart he loathed, and so his folly outweighed all the wisdom and
honor he possessed. His good qualities have not preserved his memory
from contempt. (I Samuel chapters 2-4) For contempt is the feeling
instinctively excited in those who witness moral weakness and indecision.
This is the sting of the rebuke
addressed to the
thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew
thee out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). In Dante’s description of the lower world special infamy is attached to this class of offenders — that of those who have never really lived, who have never awakened to take any part either in
good or evil, to care for anything but themselves. They are unfit for
heaven, and hell scorns to receive them. “This miserable mode the dreary
souls of those sustain who lived without blame and without praise. They
were mixed with that caitiff choir of angels, who were not rebellious nor
were faithful to God, but WERE FOR THEMSELVES! Heaven chased
them forth to keep his beauty from impair; and the deep hell receives them
not, for the wicked would have some glory over them. They are unknown to
fame. Mercy and judgment disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look
· FAULTS OF STRENGTH. This class includes those faults which are
of a positive character, and consist largely in an abuse of qualities which
might have been virtues, For these are not open vices by which characters
otherwise good are depraved, but insignificant, unsuspected sources of
danger. The very strength of character by which men and women are
distinguished may lead, by over-emphasis, into very offensive deterioration.
Thus firmness may degenerate into obstinacy, frugality into parsimony,
liberality into extravagance, lightheartedness into frivolity, candor into
rudeness, and so on. And these are faults which disgust and repel, and
cause us to overlook even very great merits in a character; and not only so,
but, if unchecked, gradually nullify those merits. We may find in the
character of Christ all the virtues which go to make up holiness so
admirably balanced that no one is over-prominent, and, Therefore, no one
pushed to that excess which so often mars human excellence. Over against
the sterner and more masculine qualities of mind and spirit we find those
that are gracious and tender, and both within such limits as render His a
faultless and perfect example of goodness. His tender compassion for the
sinful did not lead Him to condone their faults or to lower the standard of
holiness for their sake. His righteous indignation against sin did not show
itself in impatience, censoriousness, or irritability, as He met it from day to
day. “His tender tone was the keen edge of His reproofs, and His
unquestionable love infused solemnity into every warning.” Two practical
lessons may be drawn from our text.
Ø The first is that all human excellence is exposed to risk. It is not
sufficient to have attained to a certain measure of righteousness;
there needs also to be care against declining from it. The
ointment carefully distilled must be guarded against corruption.
Ø And the second is that the danger often springs from insignificant and unsuspected quarters. The dead fly, carried by some stray breeze into the unguarded vial, is the center of a fermentation which in a very short time will destroy the value of all its contents.
In vs. 2-3 we have tetrastich (a poem or stanza of four lines) contrasting wisdom
2 “A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at
his left.” - There is here no reference to the classical use of right and left, as
ominous of success and disaster, which is never found in the Old
Testament. The right hand is the place of honor, the left of inferiority, as a
matter of fact, not of superstition and luck. The symbolism is intimated in
Christ’s account of the judgment (Matthew 25:31-33). But in the
present passage we should best paraphrase — The wise man’s heart, his
understanding and sentiments, lead him to what is right and proper and
straightforward; the fool’s heart leads him astray, in the wrong direction.
The former is active and skillful, the latter is slow and awkward. One, we
may say, has no left hand, the other has no right. To be at the right hand is
to be ready to help and guard. “The Lord is at thy right hand,” to protect
thee, says the psalmist (Psalm 110:5). The wise man’s mind shows him
how to escape dangers and direct his course safely; the fool’s mind helps
him not to any good purpose, causes him to err and miss his best object.
(Whether incidental or on purpose, this description of conservatism and
liberalism is true today when compare to what the Bible teaches and what
the political leanings espouse – CY – 2013)
3 “Yea, also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way,” - As
soon as ever he sets his foot outside the house, and mixes with other men,
he exhibits his folly. If he remained at home he might keep his real
ineptitude concealed; but such persons as he are unconscious of their
inanity, and take no pains to hide it; they go where, they act as, their
foolish heart prompts them. There is no metaphor here, nor any reference
to the fool being put in the right path and perversely turning away. It is
simply, as the Septuagint renders, Καί γε ἐν ὁδῷ ὅταν ἄφρων πορεύηται -
Kai ge en hodo htan aphron poreuaetai – Yes, also,
when the fool walks by the way – “his wisdom (Hebrew, heart) faileth him,” –
i.e. his understanding is at fault - “and he saith to every one that he is
a fool.” The sentence is ambiguous, and capable of two interpretations. The
Vulgate has, Cumipse insipiens sit, omnes stultos aestimat. Jerome quotes
Symmachus as rendering, “He suspects all men that they are fools.” According
to this view, the fool in his conceit thinks that every one he meets is a fool, says
this in his mind, like the sluggard in Proverbs 26:16, “Who is wiser in his own
conceit than ten men that can render a reason.” (Such the pseudo-intellectual
elite of the Northeast and West Coast [
explanation, more closely in accordance with the foregoing clauses, takes the
pronoun in “he is a fool” to refer to the man himself, se esse stultum (compare
Psalm 9:20), “Let the nations know themselves to be but men”). As soon
as he goes abroad, his words and actions display his real character; he betrays
himself; he says virtually to all with whom he has to do, “I AM A FOOL!”
(compare Proverbs 13:16; 18:2). It is hard to say to which interpretation the
Septuagint inclines, giving, Καὶ α} λογιεῖται πάντα ἀφροσύνη ἐστίν –
Kai a logieitai panta aphrosunae estin – and all which he will discern
is foolishness - all that he will think is folly).
Folly Self-Betrayed (vs. 1, 3)
To the writer of this book it seemed that the great antithesis of human life,
of human society, was pointed out by the distinction between wisdom and
folly. As by wisdom he meant not merely speculative knowledge or
profound statecraft, but, much rather, reflective habits, deliberate
judgment, and decisive action, in the practical affairs of life; so by folly he
intended exactly the opposite of such character and mental habits. A
certain contemptuous and weary abhorrence of the foolish breathes
through his language. His remarks are full of insight and justice.
· FOLLY MAY FOR A TIME BE CONCEALED. A grave countenance,
a staid demeanor, a reticent habit, may convey the impression of wisdom
which does not exist. Men are disposed to take a favorable view of those
occupying high station, and even of those possessing great estates. The
casual acquaintances of men who are slow and serious in speech, or are
exalted in rank, often credit them with wisdom, when there has been no
proof of its existence.
· FOLLY WILL CERTAINLY, SOONER OR LATER, BE
REVEALED BY CIRCUMSTANCES. A little folly is the ill savor that
mars the perfume. The understanding of the fool faileth him while he
walketh by the way. The test is sure to be applied which will prove whether
the coin is genuine or counterfeit. The hollow reputation must collapse. A
critical time comes when counsel has to be given, when action has to be
taken, and at such a time the folly of the pompous and pretentious fool is
made manifest to all. Sounding phraseology may impose upon men for a
season; but there are occasions when something more than words is
needed, and such occasions reveal the emptiness and vanity of the foolish.
Ø Pedantry is not learning,
Ø profession is not religion,
Ø pretence is not reality;
neither can the show be, for any length of time, taken for the substance.
· FOLLY, THUS EXPOSED, DESTROYS A MAN’S REPUTATION
AND INFLUENCE, The revulsion is sudden and complete, and may even
go to unreasonable lengths. It is presumed that, because the highest
expectations have been disappointed, not even the slightest respect or
confidence is justifiable. A little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
· APPLICATION. The chief lesson of this passage is the value of sincerity,
thoroughness, and genuineness of character. It is not every man who has
the knowledge, the natural insight, the large experience of life, which go to
make up wisdom. But no man need pretend to be what he is not; no man
need proclaim himself a sage or a mentor; no man need claim for himself
the deferential regard and homage of others.
He who will order his way by such light as he can gain by reflection,
by the study of the Scriptures, and by prayer, WILL NOT GO FAR
ASTRAY! Sincerity and modesty may not gain a temporary reputation
for profundity of wisdom; but they will not expose their possessor to the
humiliation and shame of him who, professing himself to be wise,
becomes manifest to all men as a fool.
Section 12 (vs. 4-7). Illustration of the conduct of wisdom under
capricious rulers, or when fools are exalted to high stations.
4 “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee,” - “Spirit” (ruach)
is here equivalent to “anger,” as Judges 8:3; Proverbs 29:11. The
idea seems to be that a statesman or councilor gives wise advice to a
monarch, which the latter takes in bad part, and shows strong resentment
against the person who offered it. Now, when a man knows himself to be
in the right, and yet finds his counsel rejected, perhaps with scorn and
reproach added, he is naturally prone to feel sore, and to show by some
overt act his sense of the ill treatment which he has received. But what says
wisdom? “leave not thy place” - (makom); i.e. position, post, office. Do not
hastily resign the situation at court to which you have been appointed.
Some, not so suitably, take the expression, “leave thy place,” figuratively,
as equivalent to “give way to anger, renounce the temper which becomes
you, lose your self-possession.” The analogous use of matstsale and maamad
in Isaiah 22:19, confirms the interpretation which we have adopted. Compare
the advice in ch. 8:3, where, however, the idea is rather of open rebellion than
of a resentment which shows itself by withdrawal - “for yielding pacifieth
great offenses,” Marpe, “yielding,” is rendered “healing”
by the versions. Thus ἴαμα - iama – cure; healing – (Septuagint); euratio
(Vulgate). But this translation is not so suitable as that of Symmachus, σωφροσύνη,-
sophrosunae – moderation. The word is used in the sense of “gentleness,”
“meekness,” in Proverbs 14:30; 15:4; and the gnome expresses the truth that a
calm, conciliating spirit, not prone to take offence, but patient under trying
circumstances, obviates great sins. The sins are those of the subject. This
quiet resignation saves him from conspiracy, rebellion, treason, etc., into
which his untempered resentment might hurry him. We may compare
Proverbs 15:1 and 25:15; and Horace, ‘Cam.,’ 3. 3, “Justum et tenacem
propositi virum,” etc.
“The man whose soul is firm and strong,
Bows not to any tyrant’s frown,
And on the rabble’s clamorous throng
In proud disdain looks coldly down.”
They who regard the “offenses” as those of the ruler explain them to mean
oppression and injustice; but it seems plain from the run of the sentence
that the minister, not the monarch, is primarily in the mind of the writer,
though, of course, it is quite true that the submission of the former might
save the ruler from the commission of some wrong.
A Pacifying Spirit (v. 4)
The circumstances which suggested this admonition were special; we seem to
be introduced to the court of a powerful and arbitrary Oriental sovereign. The
caprice and injustice of the monarch arouses the indignation of the courtier,
who is ready to rise in resentment and anger. But the counsel is given, “Leave
not thy place.” Presentment fans the flame of wrath; submission assuages it.
“Yielding allayeth great offences.” Now, the circumstances apply only to a few,
But the principle which they suggest is of wide and general application. A
submissive and pacificatory spirit promotes harmony.
ARROGANCE FROM THEIR FELLOW-MEN. Those who occupy
positions of authority expect deference from their inferiors. Birth, rank,
station, are apt to foster an arbitrary habit in their possessors. And whilst
there are many and beautiful exceptions to this rule, especially
owing to THE INFLUENCE OF CHRIST’S SPIRIT AND
EXAMPLE! It is not to be questioned that arrogance is the special
fault of the officially great.
RESENTMENT. We are so constituted that, apart from the controlling
and restraining influence of reason and religious principles, we return blow
for blow. Anger enkindles anger, as flint and steel enkindle fire. Hence
words are spoken which may never be forgotten, and may ever be
regretted; estrangements take place which may lead to bitter feuds; blows
may follow, even war.
common proverb is, “It takes two to make a quarrel.” Because offence is
given, offence need not be taken; because injury and insult are inflicted, it
does not of necessity follow that they should be avenged. Several motives
concur to restrain resentment.
Ø Self-respect. The man who loses temper and self-command, upon
subsequent reflection, feels himself so much less a man; he despises
Ø Prudence. This is the motive specially relied upon in this passage, in
dealing with “the ruler,” whose spirit rises up against him, the courtier is
reminded of the ruler’s power, and is admonished not to provoke him to
the exercise of that power, for in that case all favor may lead to disgrace
Ø Religious principle. This is the motive which, in the case of the
Christian, is most powerful. The example of the patient and meek
Redeemer, who reviled not again (I Peter 2:23), and who
besought mercy for His murderers, is never absent from the
mind of those who trust and love Him. His love constrains,
His precept controls, His example impels. And thus forbearance and
forgiveness characterize Christ’s disciples, in those circumstances
in which otherwise resentment and revenge might animate the heart.
pacifieth [allayeth] great offences.” It is not required that the injured party
should approve the action of his injurer; or affirmed that no opportunity
may occur of just and dignified rebuke. But silence, quietness of spirit, and
control of natural impulse, will in many cases produce a good result. He
who bears wrong patiently is the stronger and better for the discipline; and
his demeanor may melt the wrongdoer to contrition, and will at all events
lead him to reflection. Thus the threatened conflict may be avoided; a
lesson may be administered to the hasty and arrogant, and THE BEST
INTERESTS OF SOCIETY MAY BE PROMOTED! Thus:
Ø the Word of God is honored, and
Ø witness is given to THE POWER WHICH CHRIST
POSSESSES to subdue and govern THE UNRULY
NATURE OF MAN.
Koheleth now gives his personal experience of apparent confusion in
the ordering of state affairs.
5 “There is an evil which I have seen under the sun,” - Power gets into the
hands of an unwise man, and then errors are committed and injustice reigns -
“as an error which proceedeth from the ruler.” The K] here is cash veritatis,
which denotes not comparison, but resemblance, the idealization of the individual,
the harmony of the particular with the general idea. The evil which he noticed
appeared to be (he does not affirm that it is) a mistake caused by the ruler; it so
presented itself to his mind. The caution observed in the statement may be owing
partly to the tacit feeling that such blots occasioned difficulties in the view
taken of the moral government of the world. He does not intend to refer to
God under the appellation “ruler.” The Septuagint renders, Ὡς ἀκούσιον ἐξῆλθεν
- Hos akousion exaelthen – the sort of unwilling errors - as if it
came involuntarily; Vulgate, to much the same effect, Quasi per errorem
egrediens. The idea here is either that the evil is one not produced by any
intentional action of the ruler, but resulting from human imperfection,
or that what appears to be a mistake is not so really. But these interpretations
are unsuitable. Those who adhere to the Solomonic authorship of our book
see here a prophetic intimation of the evil of Jeroboam’s rule, which evil
proceeded from the sins of Solomon himself and his son Rehoboam.
6 “Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.”
This is an instance of the error intimated in the preceding verse. A
tyrannical ruler exalts incompetent persons, unworthy favorites,
to “great heights” (ἐν ὅψεσι μεγάλοις – en hopsesi megalois – in
great dignity - Septuagint), as it is literally — puts them into eminent positions.
“Folly” is abstract for concrete, “fools.” And the rich sit in low place. “The rich”
(ushirim) are not simply those who have wealth, however obtained, but men of
noble birth; ἀρχαιόπλουτοι – archaioploutoi - persons of ancestral wealth,
who from natural position might be looked upon as rulers of men. Such men would
seek eminent stations, not from base motives of gain, but from an honorable
ambition, and yet they are often slighted by unworthy princes and kept in
low estate (compare I Samuel 2:7-8; Proverbs 19:10). The experience mentioned
in this and the following verses could scarcely have been Solomon’s, though it has
been always common enough in the East, where the most startling changes have
been made, the lowest persons have been suddenly raised to eminence
(compare Isaiah 3:12), mistresses and favorites loaded with dignities, and
oppression of the rich has been systematically pursued. (Consider some
of the tabs being picked up by the
escapades of men functioning in prominent government position – CY – 2013)
7 “I have seen servants upon horses,” - A further description of the
effect of the tyrant’s perversion of equity. Such an allusion could not have
been made in Solomon’s reign, when the importation of horses was quite a
new thing (I Kings 10:28). Later, to ride upon horses was a distinction
of the nobility (Jeremiah 17:25). Thus Amaziah’s corpse was brought
on horses to be buried in the city of
Mordecai was honored by being taken round the city on the king’s own
steed (Esther 6:8, etc.) – “and princes walking as servants upon the earth.”
“Princes” (sarim); i.e. masters, lords. Some take the expressions here as
figurative, equivalent to “those who are worthy to be princes,” and “those
who are fit only to be slaves;” but the literal is the true interpretation.
Early travelers in the East record the fact that Europeans were not allowed by
the Turks to ride upon horses, but were compelled either to use asses or walk
on foot. In some places the privilege of riding upon horseback was permitted to
the consuls of the great powers — an honor denied to all strangers of lower
degree. Among the Greeks and Romans the possession of a horse with its
war-trappings implied a certain amount of wealth and distinction. St. Gregory,
treating of this passage (‘Moral.,’ 31:43), says, “By the name horse is understood
temporal dignity, as Solomon witnesses .... For every one who sins is the
servant of sin, and servants are upon horses, when sinner’s are elated with
the dignities of the present life. But princes walk as servants, when no
honor exalts many who are full of the dignity of virtues, but when the
greatest misfortune here presses them down, as though unworthy.”
(This reminds me in a way of the Aesop Fable of The Man, the Boy
and the Donkey – see below – CY – 2013)
A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market.
As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said:
“You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?” So the Man put the Boy
on the Donkey and they went on their way.
But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy
youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.” So the Man ordered his Boy
to get off, and got on himself.
But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other:
“Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.” Well, the Man didn’t
know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this
time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.
The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you
ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your
The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they
thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised
the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter
of all who met them till they came to
one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole.
In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied
together he was drowned “That will teach you,” said an old man who had
followed them: Please all and you will please NONE!
Social Paradoxes (vs. 5-7)
The evil which the writer of Ecclesiastes here condemns is one of which
the history of every nation affords many examples. Princes’ favorites have
too often been chosen from amongst the worthless herd who seek their
own elevation and advantage by ministering to the vices of the young,
profligate, and powerful (Giving special passes to young hoodlums;
promiscuous women through abortion; the recognition of homosexuality
as most favored life style status, politicians and judges above the law, ad
nauseum – CY – 2013) How many a reign has been marred by this
mischief! How many a king has been misled, to his own and his country’s
harm, by the folly of choosing companions and counselors not for wisdom,
sincerity, and patriotism, but because those chosen are of congenial tastes
and habits, or are FLATTERS AND PARASITES!
INJURIOUS TO THOSE SO PROMOTED, Men who might have been
respectable and useful in a lowly station are corrupted and morally debased
by their elevation to posts of undeserved dignity and emolument. Their
heads are turned by the giddy height to which they are raised.
(The Peter Principle – The rising to a level of Incompetence – CY –
INJURIOUS TO THE PRINCES WHOM THEY PROFESS TO
SERVE. What kings and rulers need is to be told the truth. It is
important that they should know the actual state and needs of the nation.
And it is important that any weakness or wrong bias, natural or acquired,
should be corrected. But the fools who are set in high places make
it their one great rule of conduct never to utter unpalatable truth.
They assume the faultlessness of their master; they paint the condition of
his subjects in glowing colors, and give the ruler all the credit for national
prosperity. Their insincerity and flattery are MORALLY
INJUROUS to the prince, who by the companionship of
the wise might have been morally benefited.
INJURIOUS TO THE COMMUNITY. The example of injustice thus
presented is discouraging to the upright and depressing to the
reflecting. (“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous
do?” – Psalm 11:3 – CY – 2013). The throne becomes unpopular, and
the people generally are demoralized. The evil is no doubt greater in
despotic than in constitutional states, for these latter afford fewer opportunities
for rapacity and oppression. Yet nothing more injuriously affects the
than the spectacle of
folly to wisdom, fashion to experience, VICE to virtue, FRIVOLITY
to piety. (I would stake my life on this being a description of THE
SUPREME COURT OF
CY – 2013)
Section 13 (vs. 8-11). Various proverbs expressing the benefit of
prudence and caution, and the danger of folly. The connection with what
has preceded is not closely marked, but is probably to be found in the
bearing of the maxims on the conduct of the wise man who has incurred
the resentment of a ruler, and might be inclined to disaffection and revolt.
They are intentionally obscure and capable of a double sense — a
necessary precaution if the writer lived under Persian despots.
8 “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it;” - This proverb occurs in
Proverbs 26:27, and, as expressive of the retribution that awaits evildoers,
finds parallels in Psalm 7:15-16; 9:15; 10:2. The “pit” (gummats, ἅπαξ
λεγόμενον – hapax legomenon) is such a one as was made to
capture wild animals, and the maker of it is supposed to approach it
incautiously, and to fall into it. But the scope of our passage is rather to
speak of what may possibly occur than to insist on the Nemesis that
inevitably overtakes transgressors. Its object is to inspire caution in the
prosecution of dangerous undertakings, whether the enterprise be the
overthrow of a tyrant, or any other action of importance, or whether, as
some suppose, the arraignment of the providential ordering of events is
intended, in which case there would be the danger of blasphemy and
impatience – “and whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.|”
The futures throughout vs. 8-9 ,are not intended to express certainty, as if
the results mentioned were inevitable, but rather possibility, and might be
rendered, with “may fall,” “may bite,” etc. The “hedge” is rather
a wall (Proverbs 24:31), in the crevices of which poisonous snakes
have made their abode, which are disturbed by its demolition (compare
Amos 5:19). Nachash, here used, is the generic name of any serpent. The
majority of the snakes found in
which are very deadly, especially the cobra and those which belong to the
viper family. There is no allusion here to the illegal removal of landmarks, a
proceeding which might be supposed to provoke retribution; the hedge or
wail is one which the demolisher is justified in removing, only in doing so
he must look out for certain contingencies, and guard against them.
Metaphorically, the pulling down a wall may refer to the removal of evil
institutions in a state, which involves the reformer in many difficulties and
Sin Suicidal (v. 8)
“He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul” (Proverbs 8:36);
he that seeks to do injury to others brings trouble upon himself; with the
measure and after the manner with which he deals will he himself be dealt
with. Evil intents, as also good ones, recoil upon their author — in the one
case in penalty, and in the other in blessing. As we observe, we see that:
· EVIL BEGETS EVIL AFTER ITS OWN KIND.
Ø Violence begets violence. “They that take the sword perish with the
sword;” not, of course, with absolute and unfailing regularity, but
generally; so commonly that the professional warrior and, still more, the
uncontrollably passionate man may expect to come to a violent end. But,
apart from fatal consequences, it is a constantly recurring fact that men
give back blow for blow, litigation for litigation, hard measure for hard
Ø Cunning begets cunning. The crafty man is the likeliest of all to be
caught with guile. Men have a peculiar pleasure and take especial pride
in outwitting the neighbor who is trying to take advantage of them. So
that he who is always laying traps for his fellows is in greatest danger
of being himself entrapped.
Ø Contempt begets aversion. There are those who from the pedestal of
(often imaginary) superiority look down upon their companions with
arrogant disregard; their attitude is one of haughtiness, their language
and conduct that of condescension. These proud ones suffer as they
deserve; they pay an appropriate penalty; their neighbors resent their
assumption; they pass them by with aversion; they speak of them with
condemnation; they leave them to loneliness and friendlessness.
Ø Slander begets reproach. Men that are unscrupulously complaining of
others, hastily or ill-naturedly ascribing to them mistakes or misdeeds, are
the men whose own shortcoming is quickly detected and unsparingly
condemned (see Matthew 7:1-2). Thus sin (or folly) smites itself; it
thinks to injure others, but it finds in the end that the stone which it threw
up into the air comes down upon its own head. On the other hand, we see:
· GOOD BEGETS GOOD AFTER ITS KIND.
Ø The man of peace is permitted to dwell in peace.
Ø Frankness, sincerity, are met with reciprocated open-mindedness and
Ø Honor rendered to worth and to our common manhood creates respect,
and calls forth the best that is in men.
Ø Generosity in judgment receives in return a kind and brotherly estimate
of its own actions and character. While he that digs a pit for others fails
into it himself, he that raises a ladder for others elevation himself rises
upon its rungs.
The Broken Hedge (v. 8)
There are many fences which we have constructed, or which the Lord of
our life has erected, and we discover that if we break them we shall find
ourselves attacked and bitten by the serpent which is within or upon the
· THE HEDGE OF SOCIAL REQUIREMENTS, There are certain
understood enactments of society which must be regarded by us. They may
have no claim to be moral laws; they may not have any place in the statutes
of the land; still they are obligatory upon us. If we are so self-willed or selfsufficient, if we are so ignorant or so careless, as to violate these, we must
pay the appropriate penalty of general disregard. Even though we be free
from all vice and all crime, we shall be numbered among transgressors of
the unwritten law of society, and our position will be lowered, our
influence will be lessened, our reputation will be reduced, our usefulness
will be impaired.
· THE HEDGE OF HUMAN LAW. Human law requires of us that we
shall pay the debts we owe, that we shall make our contribution to the
protection of the society of which we are members, that we shall respect
the rights of our neighbors. Breaking this hedge, we pay the penalty which
the law inflicts; this “serpent” may be only a small fine, or it may be loss of
liberty or even life.
· THE HEDGE OF DIVINE LIMITATION. God has set a limit to our
faculties, and thus to our enjoyment, our activity, our achievement; and if
we heedlessly or ambitiously pass this limit, we are bitten and we suffer. If
we break the hedge of:
Ø Physical appropriation, or exercise, we suffer in bodily sickness, in
nervous prostration, in premature decline.
Ø Mental activity. If we think, study, strive, labor on at our desk, beyond
the limit of our powers, we pay the penalty in irritability, in softening of the brain, in insanity.
Ø Spiritual faculty. If we attempt to enter regions that are beyond our
God-given powers, we end either in a skepticism which robs us of our
highest heritage, or in a mysticism which fascinates and misleads us.
· THE HEDGE OF CONSCIENCE. Conscience commands us, with
imperative voice, to keep well within the line of purity, of sobriety, of
truthfulness, of reverence. If we go beyond that line, we suffer. We suffer:
Ø The condemnation of God.
Ø The disapproval of the wise and good.
Ø The reproach of our own soul.
Ø The loss of self-respect and the consequent enfeeblement of our
character; and of all losses this is, perhaps, the worst, for it is one of a
series of downward steps at the foot of which is death.
1. Be right at heart with God; you will then have within you a force of
spiritual rectitude which wilt keep you in the path of wisdom and virtue.
2. Be vigilant; ever watching character and conduct, so that you are not
betrayed unawares into error and transgression.
3. Be docile; always ready to receive the counsel and heed the warning of
true and faithful friends.
4. Seek daily the guidance and guardianship of God.
9 “Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith;” - It is natural
to consider this clause as suggested by the breaking of a wall in the
preceding verse; but as this would occasion a jejune repetition, it is better
to take it of the work of the quarryman, as in I Kings 5:17, where the
same verb is used. The dangers to which such laborers are exposed are well
known. Here, again, but unsuccessfully, some have seen a reference to the
removal of landmarks, comparing II Kings 4:4, where the word is
translated “set aside.” As before said, the paragraph does not speak of
retribution, but advises caution, enforcing the lesson by certain homely,
allusions to the accidents that may occur m customary occupations –
“and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.” Cutting up logs
of wood, a man may hurt himself with axe or saw, or be injured by splinters,
etc. If we take the idea to be the felling of trees, there is the danger of
being crushed in their fall, or, according to the tenor of Deuteronomy 19:5,
of being killed inadvertently by a neighbor’s axe. Vulgate, Qui scindit
ligna vulnerabitur ab eis, which is more definite than the general term
“endangered;” but the Septuagint has, Κινδυνεύσει ἐν αὐτοῖς –
Kinduneusei en autois – be endangered thereby - as in the Authorized Version.
There could be an intimation of the danger of attacking time-honored institutions,
even when decaying and corrupt.
The Rebound of Evil (vs. 8-9)
Under these picturesque and impressive figures of speech, the Preacher
appears to set forth the important moral lesson, that they who work harm
and wrong to their fellow-men shall not themselves escape with impunity.
· THE SIGNS AND THE SIN OF MALICE. The case is one of
intentional, deliberate malevolence, working itself out in acts of mischief
and wrong. Such a spirit so expressing itself may be characterized
Ø as a perversion of natural sentiment;
Ø as a wrong to our social nature, and a violation of the conditions of our
social life; and
Ø as in flagrant contradiction to the commands of God, and the precepts
of our gracious and compassionate Savior.
· THE RETRIBUTION OF MALICE. The proverbial language of the
text is paralleled by somewhat similar proverbs in various languages,
as, for example, in the Oriental proverb, “Curses, like chickens, come home
Ø Such retribution is often wrought by the ordinary operation of natural
laws. The story of the pirate-rover who was wrecked upon the crags of
Aberbrothock, from which he himself had cut off the warning bell, is an
instance familiar to our minds from childhood.
Ø Retribution is sometimes effected by the action of the laws enforced in
all civilized communities. The lex talionis, “an eye for an eye, a tooth
for a tooth,” may be taken as an example of a principle the applications
of which are discernible in all the various states of society existing among
Ø Those who escape the penalties of nature and the indignation of their
fellow-men cannot escape the righteous judgment of God; they shall
not go unpunished.
10 “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge,” - The
illustration at the end of the last verse is continued. The “iron” is the axe
used in cutting wood; if this be blunted by the work to which it is put, and
he, the laborer, has not sharpened the edge (Hebrew, the face, as in
Ezekiel 21:2), what is the consequence? How is he to carry on his
work? - “then must he put to more strength:” - He must put more force
in his blows, he must make up for the want of edge by added power and
weight. This is the simplest explanation of the passage, which contains
many linguistic difficulties. The Septuagint is obscure, Ἐὰν ἐκπέσῃ τὸ
σιδήριον καὶ αὐτὸς πρόσωπον ἐτάραξε καὶ δυνάμεις δυναμώσει –
Ean ekpesae to sidaerion kai autos prosopon etaraxe kai dunameis
dunamosei - “If the axe should fall, then he troubles his face, and he
shall strengthen his forces (? double his strength);” Vulgate, Si
retusum fuerit ferrurn, et hoc non ut prius, sed hebetatum fuerit, multo
labore exacuetur, “If the iron shall be blunted, and it be not as before, but
have become dull, it shall be sharpened with much labor.” “but wisdom is
profitable to direct.” Rather, the advantage of setting right is (on the side
of) wisdom. Wisdom teaches how to conduct matters to a successful
termination; for instance, it prompts the worker to sharpen his tool instead
of trying to accomplish his task by an exertion of mere brute strength. The
gnome applies to all the instances which have been mentioned above.
Wisdom alone enables a man to meet and overcome the dangers and
difficulties which beset his social, common, and political life. If we apply
the whole sentence to the case of disaffection with the government or open
rebellion, the caution given would signify — See that your means are
adequate to the end, that your resources are sufficient to conduct your
enterprise to success.
The last proverb of this little series shows the necessity of
seizing the right opportunity.
Good Workmanship — Ourselves and Our Tools (vs. 9-10)
This much-debated passage may suggest to us some lessons which may not
have been in the mind of the Preacher, but which are appropriate to our
time and our circumstances. The question of how much work a man can do
is one that depends on two things — on his own strength and skill, and on
the quality of the tools he is using. A weak and untried man with poor
tools will not do half as much as a strong experienced man with good ones
in his hand.
Ø All manual labor, to which the passage more immediately applies; but:
Ø All business transactions, all household activities, all matters of
government in which men are often “the tools” with which work is done.
And it includes that to which our attention may be especially directed:
Ø All Christian work. This is a great field of its own, with a vast amount of
work demanding to be done. Here is work;
o of vast magnitude;
o of great delicacy;
o of extreme difficulty,
for it means nothing less than that change of condition which results from a
change of heart and life. In view of this particular field we regard:
Ø Good tools. Of these tools are:
o Divine truth; and to be really good for the great purpose we
have at heart we need to hold and to utter this truth in
§ its integrity, not presenting or exaggerating one or two aspects
only, but offering it in its fullness and symmetry;
§ its purity, uncorrupted by the imaginations and accretions
of our own mind;
§ its adaptation to the special spiritual needs of those to
whom we minister.
o An elastic organization; not such as will not admit of suiting the
necessities of men as they arise, but one that is flexible, and that will lend
itself to the ever-varying conditions, spiritual and temporal, in which men
are found, and in which they have to be helped and healed.
Ø Good workmen. Those that have:
o Wisdom “profitable to direct,” that have tools, skill, discretion, a sound
judgment, a comprehensive view.
o Strength; those who can use bad tools if good ones are not at hand,
who can work on with sustained energy, who can “bear the burden and
heat of the day,” who can stand criticism and censoriousness, who will not
be daunted by apparent failure or by occasional desertion, who can wait
“with long patience” for the day of harvest.
May we seek to be supplied with the most perfect tools in Christian work; for
not only will good tools do much more work than poor ones, but bad tools
will result in mischief to the workman. “He that cleaveth… is endangered.”
Half-truths, or truth unbalanced by its complement, or a badly constructed
organization, may do real and serious harm to those who preach the one or
work through the other. Let us put our whole strength — physical, mental, spiritual —
into the work of the Lord. With the very best tools we can wield, we shall wish we had
done more than we shall have accomplished, when our last blow has been struck
for the Master and for mankind.
Force and Wisdom (v. 10)
The homely adage in the first part of this verse prepares for the broad
general statement by which it is followed.
· IN MECHANICAL UNDERTAKINGS THE SUPERIORITY OF
SKILL TO BRUTE FORCE IS MOST APPARENT. This is obvious in
the superiority of the workmanship of the civilized and cultured to that of
· WISDOM HAS A VAST ADVANTAGE IN THE ORDINARY
AFFAIRS OF HUMAN LIFE. The old fairy stories usually represented the
muscular giant as a simpleton easily outwitted by the youth or the dwarf;
the lesson being that mere strength avails but little for those ends which
men most seek and prize. It is wisdom which is profitable to direct — a
truth which applies not merely to mechanics, but to the various arts which
men cultivate. What vocation is there in which thought, investigation, the
adaptation of means to ends, a calm deliberate judgment, are not
serviceable? It is the wise who reap the harvest of life, who sway the realm
· WISDOM IS PRE-EMINENTLY OF SERVICE IN ALL TRUE
RELIGIOUS LIFE AND
depreciated in some passages of Holy Writ. But careful attention will show
that it is only the lower type of wisdom which inspiration disparages. They
who have only “the wisdom of this world,” who are “wise in their own
conceit,” are indeed condemned. But, on the other hand, they are approved
who receive the wisdom of God in Christ, and who are wise unto salvation.
It is the enlightening influence of God’s Holy Spirit that leads to an
appreciation of the gospel itself, and that directs those whose endeavor and
aim it is to bring their fellow-men into the enjoyment of those blessings
which that gospel secures.
11 “Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment;” - The Authorized Version
is not quite correct. The particle אם, with which the verse begins, is here conditional,
and the rendering should be, If the serpent bite, etc.; the apodosis comes in the next
clause. The idea is taken up from v. 8. If one handles a serpent without due
precaution or without knowing the secret of charming it, one will suffer for
it. The taming and charming of poisonous snakes is still, as heretofore,
been accurately determined; whether it belongs especially to persons of a
certain idiosyncrasy, whether it is connected with certain words or
intonations of the voice or musical sounds, we do not know. Of the
existence of the power from remote antiquity there can be no question.
Allusions to it in Scripture are common enough (see Exodus 7:11;
Psalm 58:5; Jeremiah 8:17). If a serpent before it is charmed is dangerous,
what then? The Authorized Version affords no sensible apodosis: - “and a
babbler is no better.” The words rendered “babbler” (baul hallashon)
are literally “master of the tongue,” and by them is meant the ἐπαοιδός –
epaoidos - the serpent-charmer. The clause should run, Then there is no
use in the charmer. If the man is bitten before he has time to use his charm,
it is no profit to him that he has the secret, it is too late to employ it when the
mischief is done. (I would like to recommend Spurgeon Sermon – The Lifting
Up of the Brazen Serpent - # 6 – this web site – CY – 2013). This is to shut
the stable door after the steed is stolen. The maxim enforces the warning against
being too late; the greatest skill is useless unless applied at the right moment.
The Septuagint translates virtually as above, “If a serpent bites when not
charmed (ἐν οὐ ψιθυρισμῷ - en ou psithurismo), then there is no advantage
to the charmer (τῷ ἐπᾴδοντι – to epadonti). The Vulgate departs from the
context, rendering, Si mordeat serpens in silentio (i.e. probably “uncharmed”),
nihil eo minus habet qui occulte detrahit, “He is nothing better who slanders
for as the serpent stealthily infuses its poison, so the secret slanderer pours his
venom into another’s breast.
Concise Wisdom; or, A String of Double-Edged Proverbs
· DIGGING PITS AND FALLING INTO THEM. “He that diggeth a pit
shall [or, ‘may’] fall into it” (v. 8). An old proverb, borrowed from
Solomon (Proverbs 26:27), who in turn may have learnt it from David
(Psalm 7:15; 9:15; 57:6), it may point to one or other of two thoughts.
Ø The necessity of exercising caution in all works of danger. One who
hollows out a trench or pit for the purpose of snaring wild animals — a
perfectly legitimate design — may, either by standing too near the edge
and causing the treacherous earth to give way, or by stumbling on it in
the dark at an unexpected moment, fall in, in which case he will suffer
not for having done wrong, but merely for having failed to act with
circumspection and prudence (Proverbs 14:15; 22:3; 27:12).
Ø The possibility of evildoers overreaching themselves. In this case the pit
is supposed to be dug for a wicked purpose, as e.g. to ensnare another to
his ruin. In this sense the proverb has found expression in almost all
literatures. Shakespeare speaks of the engineer being “hoist with his own
petard.” Haman was hanged upon the gallows he had built for
Mordecai (Esther 7:10). “Plots and conspiracies are often as fatal to the
conspirators as to the intended victims’ (Plumptre).
· BROKEN HEDGES AND BITING SERPENTS. “Whoso breaketh
through a fence, a serpent shall bite him” (v. 8). The hedge, or rather
fence, or stone wall, was a customary haunt of serpents; so that one
engaged in breaking down such a structure had need to beware of being
bitten by the reptiles infesting it. Hence a variety of lessons according as
the words are viewed.
Ø An admonition to workers. To go cautiously about their employments, if
these are dangerous, as a person would who had to pull down or break
through an old wall in which serpents were lodged. Many accidents
occur, inflicting damage on the workers, for want of a little foresight.
Ø A warning to transgressors. That Nemesis (goddess of revenge in
literature) may overtake them in the very act of their evil doing. If they
break through a neighbor’s fence to steal his fruit, or pull down his wall
so as to injure his property, they need not be surprised if they are caught
in the act. Wickedness has a habit of avenging itself, sometimes with
great rapidity and with terrible severity, on those who perpetrate it.
This is true of all breaking down of those fences or laws with which
God has girt man. Every violation of law — physical, intellectual,
moral, social, religious — is visited with its own particular biting
serpent of penalty.
Ø A caution to reformers. If they will set themselves to pull down the old
walls of decayed and worthless institutions, or to break through the
fences of time-honored customs, they must prepare themselves for being
bitten by the serpents in the crannies — for encountering the opposition,
criticism, hate, and often persecution of those who have vested interests
in the abuses proposed to be rectified or swept away. Reformers should
count the cost before beginning their work of reformation.
· HEWING OR REMOVING STONES AND HURTING ONE’8 SELF.
“Whoso heweth out [or, ‘moveth’] stones shall be hurt therewith”
(v. 9). Again of double import, teaching:
Ø The duty of guarding one’s self against the perils that may attend a
perfectly legitimate occupation. Viewed in this light, the stone-moving
may simply mean the pulling down of a wall, which, if it be carelessly
performed, may fall and inflict a hurt upon the worker; and the stone
hewing may refer to the work of quarrying, which may be attended with
great risk from the flying about of chips.
Ø The inevitable recompense of all wrongdoing. If the stone-moving
alludes to the removing of a neighbor’s landmark, then the proverb stands
as a reminder of the curse pronounced against that ancient sin
(Deuteronomy 19:14; 27:17). The use of landmarks, at least as then
employed, has ceased; but the distinction between “mine” and “thine”
remains; and every invasion of another’s rights is a wickedness which in
course of providence will receive its just recompense of reward
· CLEAVING LOGS AND CUTTING FINGERS. “He that cleaveth
wood is endangered thereby” (v. 9). The three thoughts already
mentioned are again repeated.
Ø The need of caution. Wood-splitting being a dangerous occupation.
Ø The certainty of retribution. The cutting down of trees, especially fruit
trees, being regarded as an act of wrongful oppression, and as such
forbidden by the Law, even m a siege (Deuteronomy 20:19-20), the
hurt that might come to one in wood-cutting (Deuteronomy 19:5) may
be viewed as suggestive of the penalty of disobedience.
Ø The peril of reform. The cutting down of trees is, in this instance, taken
as symbolic of the hewing down of decayed institutions.
· BLUNT TOOLS AND HEAVY BLOWS. “If the iron be blunt, and
one do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom
is profitable to direct” (v. 10). The lessons are two.
Ø Every work has its own appropriate tools. Wood-cutting requires axes,
and not merely blunt pieces of iron; pit-digging demands spades; stone
hewing chisels. Each occupation has its own implement. This the dictate
of common sense.
Ø Every tool should be kept in a fit condition for its work. This the
teaching of wisdom. A woodman with a blunt axe must strike oftener and
heavier than he would need to do were his axe sharp. So the man who
enters on any task without the requisite sharpness of intelligence and
sagacity will find his work proportionately hindered.
· BITING SERPENTS AND TARDY CHARMERS. “If the serpent
bite before it is charmed, then is there no advantage in the charmer;” or,
“Surely the serpent will bite without, or where there is no, enchantment”
(v. 11); which again offers two thoughts.
Ø That the serpent of temptation will do its deadly work unless timorously
repressed. This may be done:
o by resisting its first approaches, if they cannot be eluded
altogether (James 4:7),
o by crushing down the rising inclination within one to yield,
o by diligently considering the sinfulness of that to which one
is solicited (Genesis 39:9),
o by calling in the help of God against the adversary
Ø That if once the serpent of temptation has done its deadly work there is
no use whatever of resorting to such means of repression. Such means
are then too late. To employ them then is much the same thing as to
shut the stable door when the horse is out!
Good Thoughts for Bad Times
Words from the Wise
· THE NECESSITY OF CAUTION. Especially in difficult and dangerous
works. He who digs a pit must be on his guard against falling into it; he
who pulls down a stone wall must look out for serpents; he who hews
stones or removes them must be careful not to hurt himself in the process;
he who cleaves or splits timber must see that he is not endangered thereby.
“The prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)
· THE RECOMPENSE OF WRONGDOING.
Ø Springing out of the wrong act. As when one, having dug a pit to
ensnare another, falls into it himself.
Ø Suddenly smiting the transgressor. As when a serpent bites him who
pulls down a wall.
Ø Swiftly following on the heels of crime. As when one who, hewing
stones, injures-himself with the chips, or, removing a neighbor’s
landmark, is punished for his offence.
Ø Certainly overtaking the evildoer, As when one cutting wood strikes
himself with the axe.
· THE PERIL OF REFORM. The propriety of counting the cost before
entering on the arduous career of a reformer. Illustrated by the two
proverbs about breaking through fences and cutting down trees. Men are
not to be deterred from attempting reforms because of difficulties and
dangers; only they should not be surprised when these are experienced.
· THE SELECTION OF INSTRUMENTS. Many enterprises fail
because the proper instruments have not been selected; or, if selected, have
not been managed with wisdom. The man who intends to cut down a tree
must first have an axe and then keep it sharp.
· THE CHOICE OF TIMES. Many good undertakings fail because not
begun at the right time. Many dangers might be avoided were precautions
against them not adopted too late. To every work there is a time. Strike
while the iron is hot. Beware of being too late.
Section 14 (vs. 12-15). The mention of “the master of the tongue” in
v. 11 leads the author to introduce some maxims concerned with the
contrast between the words and acts of the wise, and the worthless prating
and useless labors of the fool.
12 “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious;” - literally,
are grace (χάρις – charis - Septuagint); i.e. they not only are pleasing in form
and manner, but they conciliate favor, produce approbation and good will,
convince and, what is more, persuade. So of our blessed Lord it was said,
“All bare him witness, and wondered at (τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος -
tois logois taes charitos - the gracious words) which proceeded out of
His mouth” (Luke 4:22; compare Psalm 45:2). In distinction from the
unready man, who, like the snake charmer in the preceding verse, suffers
by reason of his untimely silence, the wise man uses his speech opportunely
and to good purpose. (A different result is given in ch.9:11.) – “but the lips of
a fool will swallow up himself.” This is a stronger expression than “ruin” or
“destroy.” Speaking without due forethought, he compromises himself,
says what he has shamefully to withdraw, and brings punishment on his
own head (compare Proverbs 10:8, 21; 18:7 – “A fool’s mouth is his
destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.”)
Ῥῆμα παρὰ καιρὸν ῤιφθὲν ἀνατρέπει βίον.
rhaema para kairon rhiphthen anatrepei bion.
“Untimely speech has ruined many a life.”
13 “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness:” - A
confirmation of the last clause of the preceding verse. The fool speaks
according to his nature. “As saith the proverb of the ancients, Out of the
wicked cometh forth wickedness” (I Samuel 24:13; compare Proverbs 15:2;
Isaiah 32:6). As soon as he opens his month he utters folly and silliness.
But he does not stop there - “the end of his talk is mischievous madness.”
By the time he has finished, he has committed himself to statements that are
worse than silly, that are presumptuous, frenzied, indicative of mental and moral
depravity. Intemperate language about the secrets of God’s providence and the
moral government of the world may be intended. Some think that the writer is
still alluding to dangerous talk concerning a tyrannical ruler, seditious
proposals, secret conspiracies, etc. The text itself does not confirm such
notion with any certainty.
14 “A fool also is full of words:” - The word for “fool” here is sakal
which implies a dense, confused thinker. Above the word was kesil, which
denotes rather the self-confidence of the dull and stupid man. Moreover the
fool multiplieth words. He not only speaks foolishly, but he says too much
(compare ch. 5:2). It is not mere loquacity that is here predicated
of the fool, though that is one of his characteristics, but, as the rest of the
verse shows, the prating of things about which he knows nothing.
(Compare Jude 1:10; II Peter 2:12 – “speak evil of the things that they
Understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.”
He talks as though he knew everything and there were no limitation to human
cognition - “a man cannot tell what shall be;” - And yet, or although, no man
can really predict the future. The fool speaks confidently of such things,
and thereby proves his imbecility. Instead of “what shall be,” the
Septuagint has, Τί τὸ γενόμενον καὶ τί τὸ ἐσόμενον - Ti to genomenon
Kai ti to esomenon - what has been and what shall be - the Vulgate, Quid
ante se fuerit, “What has been before him.” This reading was introduced
probably to obviate a seeming tautology in the following clause – “and what shall
be after him, who can tell him?” But this clause has a different signification
from the former, and presents a closer definition. The future intended may be the
result of the fool’s inconsiderate language, which may have fatal and lasting
consequences; or it may refer to the visitation of his sins upon his children,
in accordance with the denunciation of Deuteronomy 5:9; 29:20-22; or
it may include the life beyond the grave. The uncertainty of the future is a
constant theme; see ch.3:22; 6:11-12; 7:14; 8:17; and compare Christ’s
parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-20), and James’s warning in his Epistle
15 “The labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them,
because he knoweth not how to go to the city.” The transition from plural
to singular is here made, The work of fools wearieth him that knoweth not,
etc. “Fools’ work” signifies, perhaps, the vain speculations about
and objectless toil and trouble. Not to know the way to the city is probably
a proverbial saying expressive of GROSS IGNORANCE concerning THE
MOST OBVIOUS MATTERS! (see Romans 1:18-32). How should one,
who fails in the knowledge OPEN TO ALL EXPERIENCE, be able to
investigate and give an opinion about abstruse questions (compare Isaiah
35:8)? The lesson is not to meddle with things too high, especially when
you are ignorant of the commonest matters (John 3:3; 1:12). A little wisdom
would prevent ENDLESS and USELESS TROUBLE!
The Dispraise of Folly (vs. 1-7, 12-15)
· FOLLY MARS THE FINEST REPUTATION.
As one sinner destroyeth much good (ch. 9:18), and flies of
death, or poisonous flies, cause the ointment of the perfumer to send forth
a stinking savor, so doth a little folly outweigh wisdom and honor.
Ø It mars their beauty. As the poisonous flies so affect the perfumer’s
ointment that it begins to ferment and lose its fragrance, a little folly
mixed up with a great deal of wisdom and honor impairs these in
such a fashion and to such an extent, that they cease to attract the
good opinion of beholders, and the person possessed of them is
rather known as a fool than esteemed as a wise man.
Ø It destroys their value. As the dealer in ointments cannot sell his
corrupted pigment, so neither can the man whose wisdom and honor are
tainted with folly any longer wield that power for good he might
otherwise have done. The influence exerted by his wisdom and honor
is directly counteracted and frequently overbalanced by the influence
of his folly.
· FOLLY CONSTITUTES AN UNSAFE GUIDE. “The wise man’s
heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.” This has been
thought to mean:
Ø The fool’s heart is in the wrong place, in contrast to the wise man’s,
which is always in the right place (Hengstenberg). This sentiment is true.
The fool’s heart is not directed towards those objects upon which its
affections ought to be set, while the wise man’s is. This is enough to
make folly an unsafe conductor.
Ø The fool’s heart never acts at the right time, while the wise man’s does
(Ginsburg), because the wise man’s heart is always at his right hand, his
acting hand, his working hand; while the fool’s is always at the left hand,
the wrong hand, the hand with which a person usually finds it difficult to
act. This a second reason why no man should accept folly as a leader. It
can never seize the opportunity, never strike while the iron is hot, never do
anything at the proper moment or in an efficient manner.
Ø The fool’s heart is always unlucky in its auguries, whereas the wise
man’s heart is always lucky (Plumptre). If this were the correct
interpretation — which we think it is not — it would state what would not
be surprising, were it true, that the fool’s forecasts were usually falsified,
and would present another argument for not committing one’s self to the
directorship of folly.
Ø The fool’s heart always leads in the wrong direction, as distinguished
from the right direction in which the wise man’s heart ever goes. This,
undoubtedly, is true. The fool is a person wholly destitute of that wisdom
which is profitable to direct (v. 10), and without which no man can walk
safely (Proverbs 3:23). A final consideration against enrolling beneath
the banner of folly.
· FOLLY INVARIABLY BETRAYS ITS OWN STUPIDITY. “Yea
also, when the fool walketh by the way, his understanding faileth him, and
he saith to every one that he is a fool.” As it is certain that no man can
conceal his true character for ever, or even for long, so likewise is it certain
that a zany, a buffoon, a fool, will discover his sooner than most people.
He will proclaim himself to be a fool:
Ø By his irrational behavior. His understanding will fail him at critical
times and on important subjects. He will reveal his ignorance, want of
sense, lack of principle, emptiness of grace.
Ø In the most public manner. As he walks by the way. As not being in the
least degree ashamed of his folly, perhaps hardly conscious he is making
such an exhibition of himself.
Ø To the most unlimited extent. He will make himself known, not to his
friends in private, but to his neighbors in the street, and not to one or two
merely of these, but to every one he meets.
· FOLLY FREQUENTLY ASCRIBES ITS OWN CHARACTER TO
OTHERS. The fool saith of every one he meets, “He is a fool,” i.e. the
individual whom he meets is (Vulgate, Luther, Plumptre). Though this
translation is doubtful, it supplies a true thought; that as insane people
often count all but themselves insane, so fools — intellectual, moral, and
religious — not infrequently regard themselves as the only truly wise
persons, and look upon the rest of mankind as fools.
· FOLLY IS OFTEN GUILTY OF GREAT RASHNESS. “If the spirit
of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding allayeth
great offences” (v. 4). The folly here alluded to consists in three things.
Ø In flaming up into indignation at an unmerited accusation. Charges of
such sort were to be expected by one who served an Oriental despot, and
are not uncommon in ordinary life in the experience of subordinates who
serve irritable masters. “The spurns that patient merit of the unworthy
takes” are no doubt hard to bear; but it is not a sign of wisdom to fume
against them, and fret one’s self into anger.
Ø In hastily retiring from the post of duty. As a statesman might resign his
seals of office on being reprimanded by his sovereign, or a workman lay
down his tools on being challenged by his master, or a domestic servant
throw up her situation on being found fault with by her mistress.
Ø In failing to see the better way of meekness and submission. The
advantages of gently and patiently bearing false accusations or unjust
eruptions of temper against one are obvious. Such yielding
o usually has the effect of softening the anger and checking the
railing of the accuser (Proverbs 15:1);
o puts an end to further offences on the part of the irate superior,
whether ruler or master, who, were his rage to be increased by
resistance, might proceed to greater manifestations of his
o prevents the offended himself from rushing into more serious
transgressions, as he might do were he to give way in turn to
his angry passions.
· FOLLY SOMETIMES ATTAINS TO UNDESERVED HONOR.
“There is an evil which I have seen under the sun… folly set in great
dignity, and the rich in low place… servants upon horses, and princes
walking as servants upon the earth” (vs. 5-7).
Ø The commonness of this phenomenon. “The eunuch Bagoas long
all-powerfulat the Persian court” (Delitzsch), Louis XI. exalting the
baseborn to places of honor, and Edward II., James I. of England or
Henry III. of
cited as examples. (What about George Floyd (with a long rap
sheet becoming a hero in The United States summer of discontent
in 2020 - - 2021) Nothing more frequent in everyday life than to
see persons of small capacity and little worth promoted over the
heads of their superiors in talent and goodness.
Ø The cause of this phenomenon. In one sense the wisdom of God, the
chief Ruler of men and things (Hengstenberg), but in another sense, and
that the one here intended, the arbitrary power of men “dressed in a little
Ø The evil of this phenomenon. It discourages merit, and inflates folly with
pride; rewards incapacity, and despises real ability; places influence in
wrong hands, and weakens the power of good men to benefit their age.
· FOLLY SELDOM KNOWS WHEN TO HOLD ITS TONGUE.
“The lips of a fool will swallow up himself,” etc. (vs. 12-14).
Ø The wise man’s words are few, the fool’s endless. The former is “swift
to hear, but slow to speak” (James 1:19); the latter hears nothing,
learns less, and chatters incessantly. The former is known by his silence
(Proverbs 17:28; 29:11); the latter, by the multitude of his words (v. 3).
Ø The wise man’s words are gracious, the fool’s ruinous. The lips of the
wise are a tree of life (Proverbs 11:30; 15:4), and disperse knowledge
amongst their fellows (ibid. v. 7), whilst they preserve themselves
(ibid. ch. 14:3); but a fool’s mouth is his own destruction ( ibid. 17:7),
and the complete beggarment of all that listen to him (ibid. 14:23; 17:7).
Ø The wise man’s words improve as they proceed, the fool’s deteriorate
as they flow. The former carry with them the ripe fruits of thought and
experience, growing richer and weightier as they move slowly on; the
latter progress from bad to worse, beginning with foolishness and
ending with mischievous madness.
· FOLLY IS FREQUENTLY UNABLE TO DO THE SIMPLEST
THINGS. “The labor of fools wearieth every one of them, for he knoweth
not how to go to the city” (v. 15).
Ø The fool’s ignorance is dense. So simple a matter as finding his way
along a country road to the city is beyond his comprehension. Plumptre
cites in illustration the proverbs, “None but a fool is lost on a straight
road,” and “The ‘why’ is plain as way to parish church.”
Ø The fool’s presumption is immense. He who cannot do so small a matter
as find his way to the city proposes to “enlighten the world and make it
happy” through his words or his works. So people who know nothing
about a subject often imagine themselves qualified to teach it to others,
and persons of no capacity put themselves forward to attempt under-
takings of greatest difficulty.
Ø The fool’s labor is vast. Having neither knowledge nor ability, he labors
with “great travail” to expound what he does not understand, and
perform what he has neither brains nor hands to execute.
1. Forsake the foolish and live (Proverbs 9:6).
2. Get wisdom; get understanding (ch. 4:5).
From the second verse of this chapter to the fifteenth we
have a series of proverbs loosely strung together, but all bearing upon
The wholesome influence of wisdom and the baneful effects of folly
in the varying circumstances of daily life. It would be waste of ingenuity to
try to show any logical connection between the proverbs that are thus
crowded together in a small space. And we must content ourselves with a
few elucidatory remarks upon them in the order in which they come.
· A DOUBLE PROVERB ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN
WISDOM AND FOLLY. (v 2-3) “The wise man’s heart is at his right
hand; but a fool’s at his left;” better, “inclines towards his right, towards
his left.” The heart of the wise man leads him in the proper direction, that
of the fool leads him astray. It would be absurd to speak of their hearts as
differently situated. The ל is that of direction; and that which is at the right
hand means the duty and work which belong to us, that at the left what
concerns us less. The wise man recognizes the path of duty, the fool
wanders aimlessly away from it. Others give a slightly different turn to the
thought. “The one with his heart, i.e. his mind, ready, at his right side, as
he walks along the track that images human life, ready to sustain and guide
him; the other, the fool with his wits at the left side, not available when
needed to lean upon” (Bradley). The fool proclaims his folly to all (v. 3);
every step he takes reveals his deficiency, but, so far from being ashamed
of himself, he displays his absurdity as though it were something to be
· WISDOM IS A PROTECTION IN TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES.
(vs. 4-7.) The first picture (v. 4) is that of the court of a despotic king,
where an orificial has either deservedly or undeservedly incurred the anger
of the sovereign (“spirit” equivalent to “anger,” as in Judges 8:3;
Proverbs 29:11). The natural feeling of indignation or resentment
would prompt such a one to throw up the office entrusted to him, and by
so doing probably draw down on himself a still greater storm of anger. The
wise courtier will yield to the blast and not answer wrath with wrath, and
either pacify the anger he has deservedly incurred, or, if he be innocent, by
his patience under injury, avoid giving real cause for offence. We must
remember that it is of an Eastern court our author is speaking, in which the
Divine right of kings, and the duty of passive obedience on the part of
subjects, are doctrines which it would be thought impious to deny. Similar
advice is given in Proverbs 15:1. It is not to be supposed, however, that
the Preacher regarded all existing governments as commanding respect,
and taught only servile maxims. In vs. 5-7 he speaks of grievous
inequalities in the state; faults of rulers, the frequent exaltation of the base
and the depression of the worthy. His words are studiously cautious, but
yet they describe the evil in sufficiently clear terms. It may often be prudent
to bow to the wrath of rulers, but rulers are not always in the right. One
class of evils he had seen arising from “something like an error” (so
cautious is he of speaking evil of dignities), which proceedeth from the
ruler — the selection of unworthy men for high positions in the state.
“Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.” By the rich he
means the nobles — those endowed with ample inheritances received from
a line of ancestors who have had the leisure, and opportunities and means
for training themselves for serving the state, and from whom a wise king
would naturally choose counselors and magistrates. But in Oriental courts,
where “the eunuch and the barber held the reins of power,” men of no
reputation or character had a chance of promotion. And even in Western
courts and more modern times the same kind of evils has been only too
common, as the history of the reigns of Edward II. and, James I. of
The reason for making favorites of low-born and unprincipled adventurers
is not far to seek; they have ever been ready tools for accomplishing the
designs of unscrupulous princes, for doing services from which men who
valued their station and reputation in society would shrink. “Regibus
multi,” says Grotius, “suspecti qui excellunt sire sapientia sire nobilitate aut
opibus.” Even the Preacher’s self-control is insufficient to suppress the
indignation and contempt which any generous mind must feel at such a
state of matters, and he concentrates his scorn in the stinging sentence, “I
have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the
earth” (v. 7). Among the Persians only those of noble birth were
permitted to ride on horseback. Thus one of the circumstances of the
special honor bestowed on Mordecai was his riding on horseback through
the streets of the city (Esther 5:8-9). But this distinction the Preacher
had seen set aside; his eyes had been offended by the spectacle of princes
walking on foot like common people, and slaves mounted on horses and
clothed with authority (Proverbs 19:10).
· WISDOM SHOWN IN PROVIDING AGAINST POSSIBLE
DANGERS. (vs. 8-9.) We need spend no time in the fruitless endeavor
to connect vs. 8,-11 with those that have gone before. The writer seems
to consider wisdom in another of its aspects. He has just spoken of it as
prompting one who is under its influence to be patient and resigned in the
presence of eradicable evils; he now speaks of it as giving foresight and
caution in the accomplishment of difficult and perhaps even dangerous
tasks. He mentions four undertakings in which there may be danger to life
Ø He that digs a pit may accidentally fall into it;
Ø he that removes a crumbling wall may be bitten by a serpent that has sheltered itself in one of its crannies;
Ø the quarryman may be crushed. by one of the stones he has dislodged; and
Ø the woodcutter may maim himself with his own axe.
Whether underneath this imagery he refers to the risks attending all
attempts to disturb the existing order of things and to overthrow the
powers that be, one cannot say. “The sum of these four classes is certainly
not merely that he who undertakes a dangerous matter exposes himself to
danger; the author means to say in this series of proverbs which treat of the
distinction between wisdom and folly, that the wise man is everywhere
conscious of his danger, and guards against it. Wisdom has just this value in
providing against the manifold dangers and difficulties which every
undertaking brings with it” (Delitzsch).
· THE WISDOM OF ADAPTING MEANS TO ENDS. (v. 10.)
Such, we think, is the general meaning of the words, which are perhaps
more difficult to interpret than any others in the whole Book of
Ecclesiastes. “If the iron be blunt,” if it will not readily tend itself to the
work of felling a tree, more strength must be put forth, the stroke must be
heavier to penetrate the wood. If there be little sagacity and preparation
before entering on an enterprise, greater force will be needed to carry it
out. The foresight which leads to sharpening the axe will make the labor in
which it is used muck easier. “But wisdom is profitable to direct” (v. 10b);
it suggests means serviceable for the end in view. It will save a
useless expenditure of time and strength.
· THE FOLLY OF TAKING PRECAUTIONS AFTER THE EVIL HAS
BEEN DONE. (v. 11,) “If the serpent bite before it be charmed, then is
there no advantage in the charmer” (Revised Version). The picture is that
of a serpent biting before the charmer has had time to make use of his skill
in charming; and the point of the aphorism is that no skill or wisdom is of
any avail if made use of too late. “It is too late to lock the stable door when
the steed is stolen” (Wright).
· WISDOM AND FOLLY IN HUMAN SPEECH. The winning
character of the wise man’s words, the mischievous and tedious prating of
fools (vs. 12-15). The tongue has just been spoken of (v. 11) as the
instrument used by the charmer for taming serpents, and there follows in
these verses a reference to wisdom and folly displayed in the words of the
wise man and of the fool. “The words of the wise man are gracious”
(compare Luke 4:22), they win favor for him; both the subject-matter and the
manner of his speech gain for him the good will of those that hear him. The
words of the fool are self-destructive; they ruin any chance he had of
influencing those who were prepared to be persuaded by him, whom he
meets for the first time, and who were therefore not biased against him by
previous knowledge of his fatuity. He goes from bad to worse (v. 13).
“The words point with a profound insight into human nature to the
progress from bad to worse in one who has the gift of speech without
discretion. He begins with what is simply folly, unwise but harmless, but
vires acquirit eundo (we gather strength as we go), he is borne along on the swelling floods of his own declamatory fluency, and ends in what is
‘mischievous madness’”(Plumptre). Especially is this the case when his talk is
on subjects as to which even the wisest are forced to confess their ignorance
(v. 14) He speaks voluminously, as though he knew all things past and to
come, as though all the mysteries of life and death were an open book to
him. And he wearies out every one who hears him or has to do with him-
His crass ignorance in all matters of common life forbids any trust being
placed in his speculations and vaticinafions (foretelling the future) as to things that are more complicated. The well-known beaten road that leads to the city
(v. 15) he does not know. What kind of a guide would he be in less-frequented paths? In these various ways, therefore, the contrast is drawn between:
Ø wisdom which leads men in the right way, which directs, their course through the difficulties and dangers that often beset them, and enables them to make the best use of their resources, and
Ø that folly which, if it is the ruling element in a character, no art or skill can conceal, which so often renders those in whom it appears both mischievous and offensive to all who have anything to do with them.
The Obtrusiveness and the Condemnation of Folly
Although some of the language employed in this passage is unquestionably
obscure, the general tenor of it is clear enough. The contrast which is
drawn between wisdom and folly is what we meet with, under other forms,
in other portions of the book, and the exposure and censure of the
thoughts and the ways of the fool are fitted to warn the young against
forsaking the rough but safe paths of true wisdom.
· FOLLY IS SHOWN IN THE UNNECESSARY MULTIPLICATION
OF WORDS. Fools speak when there is no occasion, when they have
nothing to say, or when they have already said all that was needful.
· FOLLY REVEALS ITSELF, THOUGH WITHOUT
PROVOCATION. It cannot be concealed; it is obtrusive and glaring. The
fool is his own enemy: “his lips will swallow up himself.”
· FOLLY IS DISPLAYED IN DOGMATIC UTTERANCES UPON
MATTERS WHICH ARE BEYOND HUMAN KNOWLEDGE. There are
many subjects upon which modesty and reticence are required by wisdom.
Especially is this the case with regard to the future. But it is presumed in
this passage that the fool will not restrain himself from pronouncing upon
what is beyond human knowledge or human vision.
· FOLLY IS WEARISOME TO THOSE WHO WITNESS THE
WORKS AND WHO LISTEN TO THE WORDS BY WHICH IT
· FOLLY IS MANIFESTED IN INCOMPETENCY FOR THE
MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, The fool “knoweth not how to
go to the city,” i.e. how to transact public business, and to give advice
regarding civic action.
· FOLLY IS SURE TO ISSUE IN MISCHIEF AND DISASTER. It is
sometimes represented that fools can do no harm; that real mischief is
wrought by malice, by criminal designs and actions. But a careful inquiry
into the facts would show that very much of the evil that afflicts society is
brought to pass by mere folly. The Hebrews and the Greeks were agreed in
representing wisdom as a cardinal virtue. It is men’s duty to cultivate
wisdom. If they neglect to do so, it matters not that they have no criminal
intentions; the absence of wisdom must needs lead to conduct which will
involve themselves and others in much suffering, and even in terrible
Section 15 (vs. 16-20). Koheleth returns to the theme mentioned in
vs. 4-7. and speaks of folly in one who holds the position of king, and
the need of wisdom and prudence in the subjects of an UNWORTHY
16 “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!” – (Compare
Isaiah 3:12- CY – 2013) “Child” is naar, which term included any age up
to manhood. Some interpret the word here, as παῖς - pais - in Greek, in
the sense of “slave,” contrasting it with “the son of nobles” in the following verse.
But it can hardly signify more than servitor, attendant; and in v. 7 the antithesis to
“prince” is ebed, not naar. The child in the present case is a youthful,
inexperienced ruler, who does not realize his responsibilities, and is
THE TOOL OF EVIL ADVISERS! (Sound familiar with contemporary
had in view it is impossible to say. Of course, many expositors see a reference to
Rehoboam. whom, at forty years of age, his own son Abijah calls naar
(II Chronicles 13:7), and who was certainly childish in his conduct
(I Kings 12:1-14). It is best to take the gnome as a general expression, like
that in Isaiah 3:12, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and
women rule over them” – “and thy princes eat in the morning.” Eating
here implies feasting and banqueting, beginning the day with sensual enjoyment
instead of such honest work as attending to state matters, administering
justice, etc., as becomes good rulers. None but profligates would thus spend the
early morning. “These are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third
hour of the day,” says Peter, repudiating the charge of intoxication (Acts 2:15).
“Woe unto them,” cries Isaiah (Isaiah 5:11), “that rise up early in the
morning, that they may follow strong drink!” Even the heathen censured
17 “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles,” -
cujus rex nobilis est (Vulgate), υἱὸς ἐλευθέρων – huios eleutheron - son of
free men (Septuagint). Some would regard “son of nobles” as a periphrasis
expressive of character, equivalent to the Latin generous, as “son of
strength,” equivalent to “strong man;” “son of wickedness,” equivalent to
“wicked man;” but the phrase may well be taken literally. Koheleth (v. 7)
has expressed his disgust at the exaltation of unworthy slaves to high
positions; he here intimates his adherence to the idea that those who
descend from noble ancestors, and have been educated in the higher ranks
of society, are more likely to prove a blessing to their land than UPSTARTS
who have been placed by CAPRICE or FAVORTISM in situations of trust
and eminence. Of course, it is not universally true that men of high birth make
good rulers; but proverbs of general tenor must not be pressed in
particulars, and the author must be understood to affirm that the fact of
having distinguished ancestors is an incentive to right action, stirs a worthy
emulation in a man, gives him a motive which is wanting in the LOWBORN
parvenu (a relative newcomer to a socio-econmic class). The feeling, noblesse oblige
(literally – nobility obliges - Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the
responsibility of persons of high birth or rank) has preserved many from baseness
(compare John 8:39) – “and thy princes eat in due season,” - not like those
mentioned in v. 16, but in tempore, πρὸς καιρόν – pros kairon - at the right
time, the season - which appertains to all mundane things (ch.3:1-8) -
“for strength, and not for drunkenness.” The preposition here is taken as
expressing the object — they eat to gain strength, not to indulge sensuality;
but it is more in accordance with usage to translate “in,” or “with, manly
strength,” i.e. as man’s strength demands, and not degenerating into a
Statesmanship (vs. 16-17)
It is sometimes assumed that moral qualities are unimportant in relation to
political affairs. If a king be brave in his warlike expeditions, splendid in his
court, and affable in his demeanor; if a statesman be sagacious in counsel
and determined in action, it is too generally assumed that nothing further is
wanting to secure national greatness and prosperity (Modern thinking in
CY – 2013). However, the writer of Ecclesiastes looked far deeper,
and saw the necessity of a self-denying and laborious character in
order to TRUE KINGLY AND STATESMANLIKE SERVICE.
OCCUPY HIGH PLACES ARE A CURSE TO A NATION. Men who are
flung into power by the wave of royal favoritism, or by popular caprice and
applause, are apt to use their exalted station as a means to personal
enjoyment and to THE GRATIFICATION OF VANITY! Statesmen
(a misnomer – CY – 2013) who pass their time in luxury and social ostentation
will certainly neglect the public interests. They account their power
and rank as their possession, and not as a sacred trust. Their example
tends to debase the national morals, and to lower the standard of
public life. They surround themselves with flatterers, and they
neglect their proper duty, until they awake to find their country
plunged into calamity or (how ironical – CY – 2013) threatened
enslavement. (Compare the
QUALITIES WHICH ENSURE TRUE STATESMANSHIP. In despotic
governments it is obvious that the national prosperity depends very largely
upon the patriotism and justice, the assiduity and unwearied devotion to
duty, of those in high station. The conditions of national life under a
constitutional government are different. Yet there is no political community
in which unselfishness, temperance, and diligent application to the public
service are not valuable qualities on the part of these who deliberate and
decide upon great public questions, and of those who administer a nation’s
In modern states, where the representative principle so largely obtains, great power
is placed in the hands of THE CITIZENS and SUBJECTS. With them
accordingly rests much of the responsibility for the righteous government and
the true prosperity
of the nation. (In the
by the people and for the people – all is TO PROMOTE THE GENERAL
WELFARE – and this is not necessarily being done! THEREFORE,
MUCH THAT IS BEING DONE IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL SINCE
IT IS NOT IN THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE FIFTY STATES –
CY – 2013) It behooves Christian men to beware of being misled by party spirit,
and so of overlooking the grave moral faults of those who solicit their
confidence. It is IN THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE to raise to positions
of eminence and authority men whose aim is not personal aggrandizement
and enjoyment, BUT THE PUBLIC GOOD! If this power be wisely and
among the nations of the earth.
Then the spectator will be inspired to utter the exclamation, “Happy art thou,
O land!” “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 33:12)
(Up until the last fifty years, the citizens of Untied States lived and believed
this! If put to a vote, much more recent than this, was believed! Now the
American Civil Liberties Union, in their undermining of all that is holy, is
Attempting to spawn a nation that knows not God, much like after the time
Joseph.”- Exodus 1:8 – CY – 2013)
18 “By much slothfulness the building decayeth,” - The subject is
still the state. Under the image of a house which falls into ruin for lack of
needful repairs, is signified the decay that surely overtakes a kingdom
whose rulers are given up to indolence and debauchery, and neglect to
attend to the affairs which require prompt care (compare Amos 9:11).
Such were they whom Amos (Ibid. 6:6) denounced, “That drink wine
in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not
grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” “Much slothfulness” is expressed in
the original by a dual form, which gives an intensive signification.
The rest of this clause is more accurately rendered, the rafters sink, i.e. the
timber framework, whether of roof or wall, gives way. This may possibly
not be noticed at once, but it makes itself known unmistakably ere long -
“and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.” - Rather,
the house leaketh, the roof lets in the rain. Septuagint, Ἐν ἀρχία χειρῶν στάξει
ἡ οἰκία - En archia cheiron staxei hae oikia - Through laziness
of hands the house will drip. The very imperfect construction of the flat roofs
of Eastern houses demanded continual attention. Such common and annoying
occurrences as a leaky roof are mentioned in Proverbs 19:13; 27:15). Plautus, ‘
Mostell.,’ 1:2.28 —
“Ventat imber, lavit parietes; perpluunt
Tigna; putrefacit aer operam fabri.”
“The rain comes down, and washes all the walls,
The roof is leaky, and the weather rough
Loosens the architect’s most skilful work.”
Ruin — Its Forms and Its Sources (vs. 17-18)
A material “ruin” may be a very picturesque and even pleasant sight, when
that which has answered its end loses its form and does well to disappear.
But otherwise a ruin is a pitiable spectacle.
Ø Health. When a man should be in his prime, with all his physical and
mental forces at their best; when he should be able to work effectively
and continuously, and should be the stay of his home and a strength to his
Church and to his friends; and when, instead of this, he is worn, feeble,
incapable, obviously declining, and clearly drawing towards the end, —
we have a melancholy ruin. (Such as a result of licentiousness;
drug abuse; alcohol abuse, homosexuality; etc. – “Lest thou give
thine honor unto others, and thy years unto the cruel:
Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labors be
in the house of a stranger; And thou mourn at last, when
thy flesh and thy body are consumed.” – Proverbs 5:9-11;
“…..even their women did change the natural use into that
Which is against nature: And likewise also the men,
leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in
their lust toward one toward another; men with men
working that which is unseemly, and receiving in
themselves that recompence of their error which was
meet.” Romans 1:26-27 – CY – 2013)
Ø Circumstance. The once wealthy merchant, or the once powerful
family, or THE ONCE STRONG AND POWERFUL STATE,
is brought down to poverty, helplessness, and general disregard;
this also is a pitiful sight. (Rest assured that the reasons for and
the instigators of decline in
unfolds, but the worst of all will be reserved for publication in
the Great Judgment Day prior to us slipping out into eternity! –
Jesus said, “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be
revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” – Luke 12:2 –
CY – 2013).
Ø Character. When a man once upright, pure, godly, respecting himself
and living in the enjoyment of general esteem, is brought down to moral
ruin and becomes a human wreck, then we see the saddest sight beneath
the sun. What was once the fairest and noblest thing in the world — a
sound, strong, beautiful human character — has lost all its excellency and
become foul and ugly. How does this happen? Here are;
Ø Self-indulgence. To “eat for strength and not for revelry” (drunkenness)
is the right and the becoming thing; “to eat (feast) in the, morning,” when
the precious hours should be given to duty, — this is a shameful and a fatal
thing. Self-indulgence, (especially sensual indulgence) which constantly
tends to become greater and grosser, leads down fast:
o to feebleness,
o to poverty,
o to demoralization,
o to shame, and finally,
o to DEATH!
Ø Idleness, or carelessness.
o The man who does not think it worth his while to study
the laws of health, and to take pains to keep them, need
not wonder if he becomes weak and sickly, if his life is
o The man who pursues his pleasure when he should be
doing his work will certainly find:
§ his business “decaying,”
§ his credit falling,
§ his prospects of success “dropping through.”
§ the housewife,
§ the student,
§ the minister,
§ the secretary and,
§ the statesman.
o The man who treats his own spirit as something of secondary
§ does not read that he may be enlightened,
§ does not worship that he may be edified,
§ does not pray that he may be guarded and sustained,
§ does not seek the companionship of the good and
fellowship with Christ,
who leaves his spiritual nature at the mercy of all the
adverse forces that are circling round him and acting
on him, may expect that:
§ his soul will be impaired,
§ his character will decay, and
that the most precious “house” which man can build will fall,
AND GREAT AND SAD WILL BE THE FALL OF IT!
The Curse of Sloth (v. 18)
Religious teachers are sometimes unwilling to touch upon common faults,
such as are noticeable by every observer as prevailing too generally in the
everyday life of their fellow-men. The Scriptures give no countenance to
SUCH NEGLIGENCE, but, on the contrary, deal faithfully with those
errors and evil habits which are alien from the Christian character, and
which are injurious to: human society.
the people find they can vote themselves
that will herald the end of the republic.
Slothfulness was peculiarly hateful to the writer of this book, who inculcated
diligence as a religious duty, and exhibited in homely but effective ways the
results of its prevalence.
will admit; but it may be left to others, or it may be put off to a more
convenient season. Work need not be done, others will declare; much may
be left undone which some people think of importance, but which is not
really so. Upon the plea of ill health, or mental inability, or preoccupation,
multitudes, in this world where there is so much to be done, sink into
slothful, indolent habits and a useless life. (i.e. the contempary
Welfare State in
an omen of what is to come to the
Ø The slothful man is his own enemy. Had he exerted himself and
exercised his powers, he would have grown an abler and a better man.
Who does not know persons with undeniable gifts who have
“wrapped their talent in a napkin” (Luke 19:20), and who
have morally deteriorated, until they have become worthless
members of society? (What are the effects on one’s self-esteem? –
no self-respect translates into no respect for others! – CY – 2013)
Ø The slothful man wrongs society. Every man is born into this world
to do a work for the general good. To live in idleness and comfort
upon the produce of others’ toil is to inflict A POSITIVE
INJURY! . Others have to labor in order that the idle may be fed.
Work is left undone for which the indolent possess, it may be,
some peculiar gift. For the life of the slothful THE WORLD
IS NONE THE BETTER!
The Book of Proverbs contains some very striking reflections and
statements upon this point. And for the Christian it is enough to consider
the example of the Lord Jesus, who with all His consecrated energy
devoted Himself to HIS FATHER’S WILL AND WORK! (John 9:4)
Jesus is our example: “For I came down from heaven, not to do
mine own will, but the will of Him who sent me.” (John 6:38).
How alien from the Master’s spirit is the habit of the indolent! We cannot
lose sight of the fact that, IN THE LAST JUDGMENT, , the “wicked and
slothful servant” must hear words of condemnation. (Matthew 25:26)
PROVISIONS OF GOD’S GRACE.
Ø Prayer prompts to watchfulness and toil.
Ø Attention to the counsels and admonitions of God’s Word
cannot fail to be serviceable in delivering us from temptations
Ø Meditation upon the example of our Savior and Lord will stimulate to
diligence and zeal. They who by the indwelling of His Spirit are ONE
WITH HIM and:
o will share His devotion to the Father’s will, and
o will share His consecration to THE WELFARE OF
19 “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry:” - Here
is a cause of the decay spoken of above. The rulers spend in revelry and
debauchery the time and energy which they ought to give to affairs of state.
More literally, for merriment they make bread, and wine [that] cheereth
life; i.e. they use God’s good gifts of bread and wine as means of
intemperance and thoughtless pleasure. So a psalmist speaks of wine as
making glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:15); and Ben-Sira says,
“Wine is as good as life to a man, if it be drunk moderately: what life is
there to a man that is without wine? for it was created to make men glad.
Wine measurably drunk and in season bringeth gladness of the .heart, and
cheer fullness of the mind” (Ecclesiasticus. 31. [34.] 27, 28) - “but money
answereth all things.” - i.e. grants all that such persons want. It requires
money to provide rich food and costly wines; this they possess, and they
are thus able to indulge their appetites to the utmost. It concerns them not
how such resources are obtained — won by extortion from a starving
people, exacted in exorbitant taxation, pillaged by unscrupulous
instruments; they want gold to expend on their lusts, and they get it somehow,
and with it all that in their view makes life worth living.
Commentators alto Horace, ‘ Ep.,’ 1:6.36, “Scilicet uxorem,” etc.
“For why — a portioned wife, fair fame, and friends,
Beauty and birth on sovereign Wealth attends.
Blest is her votary throned his bags among!
Persuasion’s self sits perched upon his tongue;
Love beams in every feature of his face,
And every gesture beams celestial grace.”
Corn. a Lapide appositely quotes —
“…quidquid nummis praesentibus opta,
Et veniet; clausum possidet arca Jovem.”
“If thou hast gold, then wish for anything,
And it will surely come; the money-box
Hath in it a most potent deity.”
20 “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought;” - Under the above
Mentioned circumstances, a man might be tempted to abuse and curse these
ill-conditioned rulers. Koheleth warns against this error; it is dangerous to
give way to it (compare Exodus 22:28). In ch.8:2 the motive
for submission to the king is placed on religious grounds; in the present
passage the ground is prudence, regard for personal safety, which might be
compromised by plain speaking, especially when one has to do with such
depraved and unscrupulous persons. We may compare David’s generous
conduct to his cruel persecutor Saul, whom he spared because he was the
Lord’s anointed (I Samuel 24:6, l0; 26:9; II Samuel 1:14). Madda, “thought,”
“consciousness,” is rare, and is supposed to belong to late Hebrew (see
II Chronicles 1:10-12; Daniel 1:4, 17). The Septuagint translates it
συνείδησις – suneidaesis - consciousness - Vulgate, cogitatio. To encourage
such thoughts in the mind is to run the risk of openly expressing them at
some unguarded moment; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth
speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34) - “curse not the rich in thy bedchamber:” -
In ability to injure, the rich stand in the same category as the king. You are not safe
ἐν τανιείοις κοιτώνων σου – en tanieiois koitonon sou - in your very
bedchamber - where, if anywhere, you would fancy yourself free from espionage.
But “walls have ears,” says the proverb (compare Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40);
and the King of Syria is warned, “Elisha, the prophet that is in
“That which ye have spoken in the ear in closets (ἐν τοῖς ταμιείοις –
en tois tamieiois – in closets; in the storerooms) shall be proclaimed upon
the housetops” (Luke 12:3 - “for a bird of the air shall carry the voice,” –
A proverbial saying, common to all languages (a little birdie told me – CY –
2013), In Koheleth’s day informers evidently plied their trade
industriously, and here meet, not only with notice, but ironically with
reprobation. On the general sentiment of the verse, we may quote Juvenal,
‘Sat.,’ 9:102, “O Corydon, Corydon,” thus versified in Ginsburg’s
“And dost thou seriously believe, fond swain,
The actions of the great unknown remain?
Poor Corydon! even beasts would silence break,
And stocks and stones, if servants did not, speak.
Bolt every door, stop every cranny tight,
Close every window, put out every light;
Let not a whisper reach the listening ear,
No noise, no motion; let no soul be near;
Yet all that passed at the cock’s second crow,
The neighboring vintner shall, ere day-break, know.”
“and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” (compare Latin ales);
the possessor (baal) of a pair of wings, a periphrasis for “a bird,” as in Proverbs
1:17. We had “master of the tongue,” v. 11; so in Daniel 8:6, 20, “having
horns,” is “master (baal) of horns.”
The Picture of a Happy Land (vs. 16-20)
· A NOBLE KING.
Ø Of royal blood. “Happy art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of
nobles” — like Horace’s “Macenas atavis edite regibus,” descended from
a long line of crowned heads. If countries are to have kings, then
decidedly the scion of kingly (more especially if also honorable and
good) ancestors is better than the upstart who was yesterday a
gentleman of the pavement, but is today the occupant of a throne
Ø Of mature manhood, “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child.”
The experiment of boy-kings has seldom proved successful. Witness the
case of Joash (II Chronicles 24:1), who made a tolerable sovereign only
so long as Jehoiada lived. When the king is a minor there is too much
scope for ambition on the part of the regent and of the nobles, who
would like to be regents or even kings.
Ø Of princely intellect. The man who is to rule others should be every inch
a king, not in bodily appearance only, but in mental capacity as well. No
greater calamity can befall a country than to have its throne filled by a
fool or an intellectual baby. In this sense, to be ruled by a “child” is
surely the last indignity that can be offered to reasoning and reasonable
Ø Of large experience. Unlike a child, or a boy, or a youth, whose
knowledge of men and things must at the best be limited, the ideal
sovereign should be one whose accumulated stores of wisdom, gathered
in many ways and from many lands, may be used for promoting the
welfare of his people.
· A TEMPERATE ARISTOCRACY.
Ø Dissipation, shameful in all, is specially so in princes. Noblesse oblige
(the obligation of honorable, generous, and responsible behavior
associated with high rank or birth). The higher one’s rank, the more
incumbent on one is virtue. Hence for princes to eat in the morning,
or to be addicted to gluttony and other bodily gratifications, to be so
intent upon them as not merely to sit up late indulging them, but to
rise up early for the purpose of renewing them, is to degrade their
dignity, and trail their honor in the mire, besides shaming
virtue and outraging decency.
Ø Moderation, dutiful in all, is specially promotive of health. Those who
live to eat and drink seldom live so long as they might, but by
indulgence, setting up disease in their bodies, often shorten their
days and die before their time. Those who eat and drink to live,
and therefore eat in due season and in due measure, which is what
is meant by temperance, take the best means of maintaining themselves
in health and strength.
· A Virtuous People.
Ø Industrious. “By slothfulness the roof sinketh in; and through idleness of
the hands the house leaketh” (v. 18). What is true of a material edifice is
also true of the body politic. As the timbers or rafters of a private dwelling
will decay unless watched over and from time to time repaired by its
inmate, so the fabric of the state will go to ruin unless it be surveyed by
vigilant eyes and upheld by untiring hands.
Ø Joyous. Not only is there nothing sinful in feasting and wine-drinking
when these are kept in virtuous moderation, but the absence of gladness
from the face of any people is a bad omen. Gloom on the countenance and
wretchedness in the heart mean that social disorder and perhaps revolution
are at hand. Everything that contributes to the happiness and contentment
of a people is a distinct contribution to THE STABILITY OF A
Ø Moneyed. A people without money or money’s worth is a people on the
verge of starvation; and no state can stand long whose population consists
of paupers. Money there must be, or its equivalent in material goods, and
this not concentrated in a few hands, but distributed as widely as possible.
The main problem of statesmen should be to secure a population, not only
industrious and happy, but well paid, and therefore well fed, well clothed,
and well housed.
Ø Loyal. A people given to treasonable practices cannot be either
prosperous or happy. Hence the Preacher dissuades all good subjects from
cursing the king even in their thoughts. The impossibility of escaping
detection under the all-pervading espionage of an Oriental despotism
rendered it unsafe in the times of the Preacher; but, even in times when the
liberty of the subject is respected, it is not always prudent to be hatching
conspiracies against the crown, however secret these may be; and
certainly it is not conducive to the welfare of a people that such
should be common in the land.
Ø Law-abiding. As little given to curse the rich as to plot against the king.
Not communistic, socialistic, or revolutionary in the bad sense of these
expressions; since a people may be all of these in a good sense without
losing its character for virtue.
Duties of Rulers and Subjects (vs. 16-20)
Some of the evils of life arise from errors and follies which may be
corrected by diligence and prudence, and among them are:
o the caprices of unworthy princes,
o the vices of courtiers, and
o the disloyalty of subjects.
Both kings and those over whom they rule have duties towards each other,
the violation of which bring many mischiefs; both need to have before their
minds the ideal of righteousness belonging to their respective stations.
king is a child in years or in heedlessness, whose princes begin the days
with revels instead of attending to the management of affairs of state and
the administration of justice. The incapacity of the prince leads to the
appointment of unworthy ministers, and prevents a proper check
being put upon their profligacy and neglect. The result is soon seen
in the disorders of the state. “Through the slothfulness of rulers,” he
goes on to hint, “the fabric of thy state decays; the neglected roof
lets the water through. And meantime there is high revelry within the
palace walls; and gold and silver supply all their needs” (Vs. 18-19).
Illustrations of such an unhappy state of matters recur only too readily
to the student of history.
land is happy, governed by a king of undisputed title (v. 17), who sets an
example of integrity, and not by some upstart adventurer. He derives his
title from his noble descent, but he may establish his power on a firmer
foundation if the excellences of his ancestors are reproduced in him; he will
secure a large measure of prosperity for his people if he choose for his
officers men of simple tastes, who think more of discharging their
duties than of self-indulgence.
Even if the sovereign is personally unworthy of respect, the office he
holds should be honored; he is still the servant of God, even if he is grossly
neglectful of his duties. There is a worse evil than misgovernment, and
that is ANARCHY! “Curse not the king” — he may not deserve it;
there may be reasons of state to explain what seems to be capricious or unjust
in his conduct; yield him reverence for conscience sake, because it is right to do
so. And even if he be in the wrong, it is prudent to abstain from words of
blame, since he has the power to punish those that speak against him, and
may hear in unexpected ways what has been said about him in secrecy.
Such counsels are of a kindred character with those which the apostles
have given (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-18). At first it might seem
as if they commended the cultivation of a slavish spirit on the part of
subjects towards their rulers, and it is well known that many have deduced
from them the preposterous doctrine of “passive obedience.” But it must
be kept in mind that while these portions of Scripture prescribe the duties
of subjects, they prescribe also the duties of kings; and that it is no slavish
doctrine to hold that those who rule in equity have an absolute right to the
devotion and loyalty of their subjects. When they depart from equity their
claim to implicit obedience is proportionately diminished. The prudential
maxim of v. 20 warns men to count the cost before they assail the power
of even a bad king — to beware of provoking his wrath by heedless
conduct — but does not command passive obedience to him.
Misgovernment may reach such a pitch as to make it a duty for subjects to
brave the wrath of kings, and to attempt to put a check upon their folly.
We have not here a mean-spirited and time-serving piece of advice, suitable
only for those who languish under the tyranny of Eastern despots, but a
warning against rashness which is not inapplicable to the most public spirited
citizen of the freest state. The examples of:
o Isaiah under Ahaz,
o Jeremiah under Zedekiah, and
o Paul under Nero,
show that it is possible to have a love of righteousness and hatred of
iniquity, and yet not be wanting in respect to a bad leader.
"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.
Materials are reproduced by permission."
This material can be found at:
If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.