Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

DEDUCTIONS FROM THE ABOVE-MENTIONED EXPERIENCES IN

THE WAY OF WARNINGS AND RULES OF LIFE.   This begins Division II

which goes through ch. 12:8.

 

Vs. 1-7.  Section 1. Though no man knows for certain what is best, yet there

are some practical rules for the conduct of life which wisdom gives. Some of

these Koheleth sets forward in the proverbial form, recommending a serious,

earnest life in preference to one of gaiety and frivolity.

 

1 “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death

than the day of one’s birth.”  A good name is better than precious ointment.

The paronomasia here is to be remarked, rob ahem mishemen tob. There is a

similar assonance in Song of Solomon 1:3, which the German translator

reproduces by the sentence, “Besser gut Gerucht als Wohlgeruch,” or,”

gute Geruche,” and which may perhaps be rendered in English, “Better is

good favor than good flavor.” It is a proverbial saying, running literally,

Better is a name than good oil. Shem, “name,” is sometimes used

unqualified to signify a celebrated name, good name, reputation (compare

Genesis 11:4; Proverbs 22:1). Septuagint, jAgaqo<n o]noma uJpe<r

e]laion ajgaqo>n - Agathon onoma huper elaion agathon – A good name

is better than fine perfume. Vulgate, Melius eat nomen bonum quam unguenta

pretiosa.  Odorous unguents were very precious in the mind of an Oriental, and

formed one of the luxuries lavished at feasts and costly entertainments, or

social visits (see ch.9:8; Ruth 3:3; Psalm 45:8; Amos 6:6; Luke 7:37, 46). It was

a man’s most cherished ambition to leave a good reputation, and to hand down

an honorable remembrance to distant posterity, and this all the more as the

hope of the life beyond the grave was dim and vague (see ch. 2:16, and compare

ch.9:5). The complaint of the sensualists in Wisdom of Solomon 2:4 is embittered

by the thought, “Our name shall be forgotten in time, and no man shall have our

works in remembrance.” We employ a metaphor like that in the clause when

we speak of a man’s reputation having a good or ill odor; and the Hebrews

said of ill fame that it stank in the nostrils (Genesis 34:30; Exodus 5:21; see,

on the opposite side, “I gave a sweet smell like cinnamon and aspalathus,

and I yielded a pleasant odor like the best myrhh, as galbanum, and onyx,

and sweet storax, and as the fume of frankincense in the tabernacle.” –

Ecclesiasticus 24:15;  For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in

them that are saved, and in them that perish.”  II Corinthians 2:15). And the

day of death than the day of one’s birth. The thought in this clause is closely

connected with the preceding. If a man’s life is such that he leaves a good

name behind him, then the day of his departure is better than that of his

birth, because in the latter he had nothing before him but labor, and

trouble, and fear, and uncertainty; and in the former all these anxieties are

past, the storms are successfully battled with, the haven is won (see on

ch.4:3). According to Solon’s well-known maxim, no one can

be called happy till he has crowned a prosperous life by a peaceful death

(Herod., 1:32; Soph., ‘Trachin.,’ 1-3; (‘Ed. Tyr.,’ 1528, sqq.); as the Greek

gnome runs —

 

Mh>pw me>gan ei]ph|v pri<n teleuth>sant i]dh|v

Maepo megan eipaes prin teleutaesant ideas

“Call no man great till thou hast seen him dead.”

 

So Ben-Sira, “Judge none blessed (mh<maka>rize mhde>na – maemakarize

maedena) before his death; for a man shall be known in his children”

(Ecclesiasticus 11:28).

 

 

Reputation (v. 1)

 

The connection between the two clauses of this verse is not at first sight

apparent. But it may well be intended to draw attention to the fact that it is

in the case of the man who has justly gained a good name that the day of

death is better than that of birth.

 

  • THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH REPUTATION AMONG MEN IS

WORTHLESS, AND IN WHICH SOLICITUDE FOR REPUTATION

IS FOLLY. If the reality of fact points one way, and the world’s opinion

points in an opposite direction, that opinion is valueless. It is better to be

good than to seem and to be deemed good; and it is worse to be bad than

unjustly to be reputed bad. Many influences affect the estimation in which a

man is held among his fellows. Through the world’s injustice and prejudice,

a good man may be evil spoken of. On the other hand, a bad man may be

reputed better than he is, when he humors the world’s caprices, and falls in

with the world’s tastes and fashions. He who aims at conforming to the

popular standard, at winning the world’s applause, will scarcely make a

straight course through life.

 

  • YET THERE IS A RIGHTEOUS REPUTATION WHICH OUGHT

NOT TO BE DESPISED. Such good qualities and habits as justice,

integrity and truthfulness as bravery sympathy, and liberality, must needs,

in the course of a lifetime, make some favorable impression upon

neighbors, and perhaps upon the public; and in many cases a man

distinguished by such virtues will have the credit of being what he is. A

good name, when deserved, and when obtained by no mean artifices, is a

thing to be desired, though not in the highest degree. It may console amidst

trials and difficulties, it is gratifying to friends, and it may serve to rouse

the young to emulation. A man who is in good repute possesses and

exercises in virtue of that very fact an extended influence for good.

 

  • IT IS ONLY WHEN LIFE IS COMPLETED THAT A

REPUTATION IS FULLY AND FINALLY MADE UP. “Call no man

happy before his death” is an ancient adage, not without its justification.

There are those who have only become famous in advanced life, and there

are those who have enjoyed a temporary celebrity which they have long

outlived, and who have died in unnoticed obscurity. It is after a man’s

career has come to an end that his character and his work are fairly

estimated; the career is considered as a whole, and then the judgment is

formed accordingly.

 

  • THE APPROVAL OF THE DIVINE JUDGE AND AWARDER IS

OF SUPREME CONSEQUENCE. A good name amongst one’s fellow-creatures, as fallible as one’s self, is of small account. Who does not admire

the noble assertion of the Apostle Paul, “It is a small thing for me to be

judged by man’s judgment”?   (I Corinthians 4:3).  They who are calumniated

for their fidelity to truth, who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, who are execrated by the unbelieving and the worldly whose vices and sins they have opposed, shall be recognized and rewarded by Him whose judgment is just,

and who suffers none of His faithful servants to be for ever unappreciated.

But they may wait for appreciation until “the day of death.” The clouds of

misrepresentation and of malice shall then be rolled away, and they shall

shine like stars in the firmament. “Then shall every man have praise of

God.”  (Ibid. v. 5)

 

 

A Good Name Better than Precious Ointment (v. 1)

 

  • MORE DIFFICULT OF ACQUISITION. Money will buy the “good

nard,” but the cost of a “good name” is beyond rubies. This which cannot

be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof,

can be secured only by LABORIOUS PERSONAL EXERCISE IN GOODNESS, always smiled on by Heaven’s favor and ASSISTED

BY HEAVEN’S GRACE.  It is the flower, fruit, and fragrance of a soul

long practiced in well-living and good-doing. If, therefore, things are

valuable in proportion to the cost of obtaining them, the above proverbial utterance bears the stamp of truth.

 

  • MORE HONORABLE IN POSSESSION. It is:

 

Ø      An article of greater value in itself. Precious ointment is, after all,

only a production of the earth; whereas a good name is a spiritual

aroma proceeding from THE SOUL!

 

Ø      An index of truer wealth. Precious ointment at the best is material

riches; a good name proclaims one possessed of riches which are

spiritual.

 

Ø      A mark of higher dignity. Costly unguent a sign of social rank

among the children of men; a good name attests that one has

qualities of soul, of mind, heart, and disposition, proclaiming him

a son of God and a peer of heaven.

 

  • MORE SATISFYING IN ENJOYMENT. Perfumed oil may yield a

pleasant fragrance which gratifies the sense of smell and revives the body’s

vigor; the spiritual aroma of a good name not only diffuses happiness

amongst those who come to hear of it, but imparts a sweet joy, holy and

refreshing, to him who bears it.

 

  • MORE DIFFUSIVE IN INFLUENCE. The odor of precious ointment

extends to those in its immediate vicinity; the savor of a good name goes

far and wide, often pervades the community in which the owner of it lives;

sometimes, as in the instance of Mary of Bethany (Mark 14:9), spreads

itself abroad throughout the whole world.

 

  • MORE ENDURING IN CONTINUANCE. The fragrance of the

unguent ultimately ceases. Becoming feebler the longer it is exposed to the

air and the wider it diffuses itself, it ultimately dies away. The savor of a

good name never perishes (Psalm 112:6). It passes on from age to age,

being handed down by affectionate tradition to succeeding, frequently to

latest, generations. Witness the names of Noah, the preacher of

righteousness; Abraham, the father of the faithful; Moses, the law-giver of

Israel; David, the sweet singer of the Hebrew Church; John, the beloved

disciple; Peter, the man of rock; Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles; with

names like those of Polycarp, Cyprian, Origen, Athanasius, Augustine,

Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Knox, etc.

 

  • MORE BLESSED IN ITS ISSUE. Precious ointment can only secure

for one entrance into earthly circles of rank and fashion; a good name will

procure for him who bears it admission into the society of Heaven’s

peerage forever.

 

Let us seek this good name.  Let us cherish it above all earthly distinctions, and

Guard it from getting tarnished by walking worthy of it!

 

The Day of Death and the Day of Birth (v. 1)

 

The day of birth begins a life at the longest brief (Psalm 90:10 – I learned in a

recent study of the Book of Judges, that it is well that a life so sinful is so brief! –

CY – 2013).  The day of death begins a life which shall never end (Luke 20:36).

 

The secret of living well is to keep an eye on the day of one’s death (Deuteronomy

32:29; Psalm 90:12).  The secret of dying happily — living in the fear of God

(Acts 13:36; Philippians 1:21).

 

2 “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house

of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it

to his heart.”  It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the

house of feasting. The thought in the last verse leads to the recollection of

the circumstances which accompany the two events therein mentioned —

birth and death, feasting and joy, in the first case; sorrow and mourning in

the second. In recommending the sober, earnest life, Koheleth teaches that

wiser, more enduring lessons are to be learned where grief reigns than in

the empty and momentary excitement of mirth and joyousness. The house

in question is mourning for a death; and what a long and harrowing business

this was is well known (Jeremiah 22:18; Matthew 9:23). Visits of condolence

and periodical pilgrimages to groves of departed relatives were considered

duties (John 11:19, 31), and conduced to the growth in the mind of

sympathy, seriousness, and the need of preparation for death. The opposite

side, the house of carousal, where all that is serious is put away, leading to

such scenes as Isaiah denounces (Isaiah 5:11), offers no wise teaching,

and produces only selfishness, heartlessness, thoughtlessness. What is said

here is no contradiction to what was said in ch.2:24, that there was nothing

better for a man than that he should eat and drink and enjoy himself. For

Koheleth was not speaking of unrestrained sensualism — the surrender of

the mind to the pleasures of the body — but of the moderate enjoyment

of the good things of life conditioned by the fear of God and love of

one’s neighbor. This statement is quite compatible with

the view that sees a higher purpose and training in the sympathy with

sorrow than in participation in reckless frivolity. For that is the end of all

men viz. that they will some day be mourned, that their house will be

turned into a house of mourning.  The living will lay it to his heart.

He who has witnessed this scene will consider it seriously (ch.9:1), and

draw from it profitable conclusions:

 

·      concerning the brevity of life and

·      the proper use to make thereof.

 

We recall the words of Christ, “Blessed are they that mourn: for

they shall be comforted;” and “Woe unto you that laugh now for ye shall

mourn and weep” (Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:25). Schultens gives an

Arab proverb which says, “Hearest thou lamentation for the dead, hasten

to the spot; art thou called to a banquet, cross not the threshold.” The

Septuagint thus translates the last clause, Kai< oJ zw~n dw>sei ajgaqo<n eijv

kardi>an aujtou~ - Kai ho zon dosei agathon eis kardian autou -The living

will put good into his heart; the Vulgate paraphrases fairly, Et vivens

cogitat quid futurum sit, “The living thinks what is to come.“So teach

us to number our days,” prays the psalmist,“that we may apply our

 hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

 

3 “Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance

the heart is made better.”  Sorrow is better than laughter. This is a further

expansion of the previous maxim, s["K" (kaas), as contrasted with qwOhc], is rightly

rendered “sorrow,” “melancholy,” or “thoughtful sadness.” The Septuagint has

qumo>v – thumos – passion; as breathing hard, the Vulgate ira; but anger is not

the feeling produced by a visit to the house of mourning. Such a scene

produces saddening reflection, which is in itself a moral training, and is

more wholesome and elevating than thoughtless mirth. For by the sadness

of the countenance the heart is made better. The feeling which shows

itself by the look of sadness (compare Genesis 40:7; Nehemiah 2:2)

has a purifying effect on the heart, gives a moral tone to the character,

i.e. sorrow beautifies the soul, producing, as it were, comeliness, spiritual

beauty, and, in the end, serener happiness. The Vulgate translates the passage

thus: Melter eat ira risu; quia per tristitia vultus corrigitur animus deliquentis,

“Better is anger than laughter, because through sadness of countenance the

mind of the offender is corrected.” The anger is that either of God or of good

men which reproves sin; the laughter is that of sinners who thus show their

connivance at or approval of evil.   There can be no doubt that this is not the

sense of the passage. For the general sentiment concerning the moral influence

of grief and suffering, we may compare the Greek sayings, (Ta< paqh>mata

maqh>mata – Ta pathaemata mathaemata – learn from affliction, and Ti> maqw>n

ti> paqw>n – Ti mathon ti pathon – learn from passion – my translation -  CY –

2013) which are almost equivalent in meaning (comp. AEschyl., ‘Again.,’ 170;

Herod., 1:207). The Latins would say, “Quaenocent, docent,” and we,

“Pain is gain.”

 

4 “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of

fools is in the house of mirth.”  The heart of the wise is in the house of

mourning. This is the natural conclusion from what was said in vs. 2-3.

The man who recognizes the serious side of life, and knows where to learn

lessons of high moral meaning, will be found conversant with scenes of

sorrow and suffering, and reflecting upon them. But the heart of fools is in

the house of mirth. The fool, who thinks of nothing but present enjoyment,

and how to make life pass pleasantly, turns away from mournful scenes, and

goes only there where he may drown care and be thoughtless and merry.

(I recommend Isaiah 1 – Spurgeon Sermon – To The Thoughtless – this

Web site – CY – 2013).

 

5 “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the

song of fools.”  It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise. Gearah, “rebuke,”

is the word used in Proverbs for the grave admonition which heals and

strengthens while it wounds (see Proverbs 13:1; 17:10). The silent

lessons which a man learns from the contemplation of others’ sorrow are

rightly supplemented by the salutary correction of the wise man’s tongue.

Than for a man to hear the song of fools. Shir, “song,” is a general term

used of sacred or profane song; the connection here with the second clause

of v. 4, leads one to think of the boisterous, reckless, often immodest, singing

heard in the house of revelry, such as Amos (Amos 6:5) calls “idle songs to

the sound of the viol” Koheleth might have heard these in his own country,

without drawing his experience from the license of Greek practice or the

impurity of Greek lyrics. (So too, in America nowadays, it seems like

anything goes! – CY – 2013).  The Vulgate renders the clause, Quum stultorum adulatione decipi, “Than to be deceived by the flattery of fools.” This is a

paraphrase; the correctness is negatived by the explanation given in the

following verse.

 

6 “For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the

fool: this also is vanity.” For as the crackling of thorns under a pot. There is

a play of words in the Hebrew, “The crackling of sirim under a sir,” which

can be translated – “Like the noise of the nettles under the kettles.” In

the East, and where wood is scarce, thorns, hay, and stubble are used for

fuel (Psalm 58:9; 120:4; Matthew 6:30). Such materials are quickly

kindled, blaze up for a time with much noise, and soon die away (Psalm

118:12). So is the laughter of the fool. The point of comparison is the loud

crackling and the short duration of the fire with small results. So the fool’s

mirth is boisterous and noisy, but comes to a speedy end, and is spent

to no good purpose. So in Job (Job 20:5) we have, “The triumphing of

the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment.” All this

profitless mirth is again nothing but vanity.

 

 

The House of Mourning and the House of Feasting (vs. 2-6)

 

  • THE HOUSE OF MOURNING A DIVINE INSTITUTION; THE

HOUSE OF FEASTING AN ERECTION OF MAN.

 

Ø      The house of mourning a Divine institution. Though not true that

“man was made to mourn “(Burns) in the sense that the Creator

Originally intended human experience on the earth to be one

prolonged wail of sorrow, it is nevertheless certain that days of

mourning, equally with days of death — and, indeed, just because

of these — come to all by Heaven’s decree. As no one of woman

born can elude bereavement in some shape or form, so must every

one in turn make acquaintance with the house of mourning. Hence mourning for departed relatives (Genesis 23:2; 27:41; 50:4; Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 34:8; II Samuel 11:27) has not only been a

universal custom among mankind, but has commended itself to men’s judgments as in perfect accordance with the divinely implanted

instincts of human nature. To mourn for the dead in becoming

manner is something more than to array one’s self in “customary suits

of solemn black,” to affect the “windy suspiration of forced breath,”

with “the fruitful river in the eye,” or to put on “the dejected behavior

of the visage, together with all forms, modes, shapes of grief,” which

are at best only the outward “trappings and suits of woe’ (Shakespeare, ‘Hamlet,’ act 1. sc. 2); it is more even than to utter selfish lamentations over one’s own loss in being deprived of the society of the departed, sighing like the psalmist, “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me,

 and mine acquaintance into darkness” (Psalm 88:18); it is to bewail

their abstraction from the light of heaven and the love of friends,

saying, “Alas, my brother!” (I Kings 13:30; the grief of Constance for

her son: cf. ‘King John,’ act 3. sc. 4), though sorrow on this account is greatly tempered by the consolations of the gospel in respect of Christians (II Thessalonians 4:13); it is to express the heart’s affection

for those who have been removed from its embrace, like Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted because they were not (Matthew 2:18); it is even to pay a tribute of gratitude to God for the temporary loan of the precious gift He has withdrawn, as Job

did when he lamented his dead sons and daughters (Job 1:21) — to

record appreciation of its worth, and seek, if not its immediate return,

its safe keeping till a future day, when they who have been severed

here shall be reunited in immortal love. Hence it is easy to perceive

how the house of mourning may be fitly spoken of as a house of

Divine appointment.

 

Ø      The house of feasting a purely human institution. Not that feasting

And dancing, considered in themselves, are sinful, or that there are not times and seasons when both may be indulged in without sin. Many

Such occasions may be found in actual life, as e.g. in connection with birthdays (Genesis 40:20), marriages (Ibid. ch.29:22; John 2:1), and

funerals (Deuteronomy 26:14; Job 42:11; Jeremiah 16:7; Ezekiel 24:17; Hosea 9:4), with family rejoicings of other sorts and for other reasons.

But the “house of feasting,” contrasted with the abode of sorrow,

is the tent of carousal, in which wine and wassail, song and dance,

mirth and revelry, prevail without moderation, and with no other

end in view than the gratification of sinful appetite. Such-like

gatherings, having no sanction from Heaven, may be spoken of as instituted by man rather than as appointed by God.

 

  • THE HOUSE OF MOURNING FREQUENTED BY THE WISE;

THE HOUSE OF FEASTING ATTENDED BY FOOLS.

 

Ø      The heart of the wise in the house of mourning. The wise are the

good, serious, devout, religious, as distinguished from the wicked, frivolous, profane, and irreligious. The hearts of the wise are in the

house of mourning, even when their bodies are absent; they are

constantly or very frequently meditating upon sad and serious things.

They are much conversant with mournful subjects; and as often as occasion offers and duty calls, they repair to the scene of sorrow and

chamber of bereavement to sympathize with and comfort its inmates,

as Job’s friends did with him (Job 2:11), and Mary’s with her (John

11:19), recognizing it to be their duty to “weep with them that weep,”

as well as to “rejoice with them that do rejoice” (Romans 12:15); and

even on their own accounts to learn the wisdom which such a scene

 is fitted to impart.

 

Ø      The heart of fools in the house of mirth. To this they are attracted on

the principle that “like draws to like “ — the same principle that

constrains the wise to repair to the house of mourning, and by the gratification there found for their folly, in the laughter which there provokes their mirth, and the revelry which there slakes their longing

for self-indulgence.

 

  • THE HOUSE OF MOURNING A SCHOOL OF WISDOM; THE

HOUSE OF FEASTING A SCHOOL OF FOLLY.

 

Ø      The lessons taught by the house of mourning.

 

o       The certainty of death for the wise man himself and for all

others. What he sees in the chamber of bereavement is “THE

END OF ALL MEN,  the end to which all the bravery and

glory of all men must eventually come (II Samuel 14:14;

Psalm 89:48; Isaiah 40:7; Hebrews 9:27), the final scene

also in HIS OWN SWIFTLY FLEETING LIFE (Psalm

39:4); and so while he lives he:

 

§         lays it to heart,

§         considers his end,

§         numbers his days, and

§         applies his soul unto wisdom (Deuteronomy 32:29;

Psalm 90:12).

 

o       The vanity of all earthly things, and especially of pleasure

and frivolity.  The “song of fools,” whether:

 

§         the bacchanalian carol,

§         the obscene ballad,

§         the comic ditty, or

§         the amorous sonnet,

 

grates with harshness and pain upon his ear, while the

laughter it evokes is like the crackling of thorns

under a pot, or of nettles under kettles, noisy, short-lived, evanescent, and profitless, leaving nothing behind but:

 

§         ashes (Isaiah 44:20),

§         a bad taste in the mouth,

§         a pain in the ear,

§         a taint upon the conscience and

§         a wound in the heart.

 

o       The duty and sweetness of sympathy — duty for him and sweetness for the bereaved. Weeping with them that weep, he:

 

§         learns how to bear another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2),

§         appreciates the inward satisfaction which flows from

the exercise of sympathy (Proverbs 11:17),

§         sees the sustaining strength it yields to the weak and

disconsolate (Ibid.17:17),

 

and thus has his own soul confirmed and enlarged in goodness. 

Sorrow :

 

§         penetrates the heart,

§         draws the thought upward,

§         purifies,

§         transforms;

 

and thus, as the Preacher  observes, “by the sorrow of the

countenance the heart is made better.”

 

o       The value of serious talk. The discourse that prevails in the rebukes upon one’s spirit, these are felt to be better from a

moral and spiritual pointof view than the low and groveling, frequently prurient and obscene, songs that in the Preacher’s

day were heard, as in our day they are not unknown,

in a pothouse.  (Now it is questionable to what a pothouse then

was, and what it is today, but we know for sure that humanity

is definitely on a downhill course when marijuana is

legalized and a “pothouse” of a different kind is in vogue! –

CY – 2013)

 

Ø      The proficiency acquired in the house of feasting, by no means in

wisdom, either human or Divine. One will hardly assert that a person

will:

 

o       become shrewder in business or brighter in intelligence by indulging in chambering and wantonness;

o       it is certain he will not grow either holier or more spiritually minded.

 

Whatever apologies may be offered for frequenting carousals —

innocent feasting requires none — this cannot be urge:

 

o       that it tends to make one purer in heart or more devout

 in spirit,

o       that it incites one to holy living, or

prepares one for happy dying.

 

Rather, the instruction received in such haunts of dissipation is for

the most part INSTRUCTION IN VICE or at the best IN

FRIVOLITYa poor accomplishment for A MAN WITH A

SOUL!

 

 

Compensations of Misery (vs. 2-6)

 

Although in the Book of Ecclesiastes there is much that seems to be

contradictory of our ordinary judgments of life, much that is at first

apparently calculated to prevent our taking an interest in its business and

pleasures — which are all asserted to be vanity and vexation of spirit —

there are yet to be found in it sober and well-grounded exhortations, which

we can only neglect at our peril. Out of his large experience the writer

brings some lessons of great value. It is sometimes the case, indeed, that he

speaks in such a way that we feel it is reasonable in us to discount his

judgment pretty heavily. When he speaks as a sated voluptuary, as one who

had tried every kind of sensuous pleasure, who had gratified to the utmost

every desire, who had enjoyed all the luxuries which his great wealth could

procure, and found all his efforts to secure happiness vain — I say, when

he speaks in this way, and asks us to believe that none of these things are

worth the pains, we are not inclined to believe him implicitly. We are

inclined rather to resent being lectured in such a way by such a man. The

satiety, the weariness, the ennui, which result from over-indulgence, do not

qualify a man for setting up as a moral and spiritual guide; they rather

disqualify him for exercising such an office. In answer to the austere and

sweeping condemnation which he is inclined to pass upon the sources from

which we think may be drawn a reasonable amount of pleasure, we may

say, “Oh yes! it is all very well for you to speak in that way. You have

worn out your strength and blunted your taste by over-indulgence; and it

comes with a bad grace from you to recommend an abstentious and severe

mood of life which you have never tried yourself. The exhortations which

befit the lips of a John the Baptist, nurtured from early life in the desert,

lose their power when spoken by a jaded epicure.” The answer would be

perfectly just. And if Solomon’s reflections were all of the type described,

we should he justified in placing less value upon them than he did. It is true

that more than once he speaks with a bitterness and disgust of all the

occupations and pleasures of life, which we cannot, with our experience,

fairly endorse. But, as a rule, his moralizing is not of the ascetic type. He

recommends, on the whole, a cheerful and grateful enjoyment of all the

innocent pleasures of life, with a constant remembrance that the judgment

draws ever nearer and nearer. While he has no hesitation in declaring that

no earthly employments or pleasures can completely satisfy the soul and

give it a resting-place, he does not, like the ancient hermits, approve of

dressing in sackcloth, of feeding on bread and water only, and of retiring

altogether from the society of our fellows. His teaching, indeed, contains a

great deal more of true Christianity than has often been found in the

writings and sermons of professedly Christian moralists and preachers. All

the more weight, therefore, is to be attached to his words from this very

fact, that he does not pose as an ascetic. We could not listen to him if he

did; and accordingly we must be all the more careful not to lessen the value

and weight of the words he speaks to which we should attend, by

depreciating him as an authority. It is only of some of his judgments that

we can say they are such as a healthy mind could scarcely endorse. This, in

the passage before us, is certainly not one of them. It certainly runs counter

to our ordinary sentiments and practices, like many of the sayings of Christ,

but is not on that account to be hastily rejected; we are not justified either

in seeking to diminish its weight or explain it away. It is not, indeed, a

matter of surprise that the thoughts and feelings of beings under the

influence of sinful habits, which enslave both mind and heart, should

require to undergo a change before their teaching coincides with THE

MIND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT!   In this section of the book we have teaching

very much in the spirit of the New Testament. Compare with the second verse

the sentences spoken by Christ: “Woe unto you that are full!  for ye shall

hunger; woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep”

(Luke 6:25). And notice that the visits paid to the afflicted to console

them, from which the Preacher declares he had gained moral and spiritual

benefits, are recommended to us by the apostle as Christian duties

(James 1:27). From even the saddest experiences, therefore, a

thoughtful mind will derive some gain; some compensations there are to

the deepest miseries. The house of mourning is that in which there is

sorrow on account of death. According to Jewish customs, the expression

of grief for the dead was very much more demonstrative and elaborate than

with us. The time of mourning was for seven days (Ecclesiasticus. 22:10),

sometimes in special cases for thirty days (Numbers 20:29; Deuteronomy 24:8).

The presence of sympathizing friends (John 11:19), of hired mourners and

minstrels (Matthew 9:23; Mark 5:38), the solemn meals of the bread and

wine of affliction (Jeremiah 16:7; Hosea 9:4), made the scene very impressive.

Over against the picture he suggests of lamentation and woe, he sets that of a

house of feasting, filled with joyous guests, and he asserts that it is better to go

to the former than to the latter. He contradicts the more natural and obvious

inclination which we all have to joy rather than to sorrow. But a moment’s

consideration will convince us that he is in the right, whether we choose

the better part or not. Joy at the best is harmless — it relieves an overstrain

on the mind or spirit; but when it has passed away it leaves no positive gain

behind. Sorrow rightly borne is able to draw the thoughts upward, to

purify and transform the soul. Its office is like that attributed to tragedy by

Aristotle: “to cleanse the mind from evil passions by pity and terror — pity

at the sight of another’s misfortune, and terror at the resemblance between

the sufferer and ourselves” (‘Poetics’). Contradictory of ordinary feelings

and opinions though this teaching of Solomon’s is, there are three ways in

which a visit to the house of mourning is better than to the house of

feasting.

 

  • IT AFFORDS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR SHOWING SYMPATHY

WITH THE AFFLICTED. Among our best-spent hours are those in

which we have sought to lighten and share the burden of the bereaved and

distressed. We may not have been able to open sources of consolation

which otherwise would have remained hidden and sealed; but the mere

expression of our commiseration may be helpful and soothing. Sometimes

we may be able to suggest consolatory thoughts, to impart serviceable

advice, or to give needful relief. But in all cases we feel that we have

received more than we have given — that in seeking to comfort the

sorrowful we come into closer communion with that Savior who came

from heaven to earth to bear the burden of sin and suffering, who was

a welcome Guest on occasions of innocent festivity (John 2:2; Luke 7:36),

but whose presence was still more eagerly desired in the homes of

the afflicted (John 11:3; Mark 5:23).

 

  • IT ENABLES US TO FORM TRUER ESTIMATES OF LIFE. It

gives us a more trustworthy standard of judging the relative importance of

those things that engage our attention and employ our faculties. It checks

unworthy ambitions, flattering hopes, and sinful desires. We learn to realize

that only some of the aims we have cherished have been worthy of us, only

some of the pursuits in which we have been engaged are calculated to yield

us lasting satisfaction when we come in the light of eternity to review the

past of our lives. The sight of blighted hopes admonishes us not to run

undue risk of disappointment by neglecting to take into account the

transitory and changeful conditions in which we live. The spectacle of great

sorrows patiently borne rebukes the fretfulness and impatience which we

often manifest under the minor discomforts and troubles which we may be

called to endure.

 

  • IT REMINDS US OF THE POSSIBLE NEARNESS OF OUR OWN

END. (v. 2.) “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to

the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay

it to his heart.” Though the brevity of life is a fact with which we are all

acquainted from the very first moment when we are able to see and know

what is going on about us, it is a fact which it is very difficult for us to

realize in our own case. “We think all are mortal but ourselves.” No

feelings of astonishment are excited in us by the sight of the aged and

weakly sinking down into the grave, but we can scarcely believe that we

are to follow them. The very aged still lay their plans as though death were

far off; the dying can hardly be convinced till perhaps the very last moment

that their great change is at hand. But a visit to the house of mourning

gives us hard, palpable evidence, which must, though but for an instant,

convince us that MORTALITY IS A UNIVERSAL LAW,  that in a short

time our end will come. The effect of such a thought need not be depressing;

it need not poison all our enjoyments and paralyze all our efforts. It should

lead us to RESOLVE:

 

Ø      to make good use of every moment, since life is so brief; and

Ø      to live as they should do who know that they have to give account

of themselves to God.

 

A practical benefit is thus to be drawn from even the saddest experiences,

for by them “the heart is made better” (v. 3). The foolish will seek out

something which he calls enjoyment, in order to deliver his mind from

gloomy thoughts; but the short-lived distraction of attention which he

secures is not to be compared with the calm wisdom which piety can

extract even from sorrow (v. 4). Painful though some of the lessons taught

us may be, they wound but to impart a permanent cure; while the mirth

which drowns reflection soon passes away, and is succeeded by A

DEEPER GLOOM  (vs. 5-6). One circumstance renders the

teaching of this passage all the more impressible, and that is the absence

from it of the ascetic spirit. This perhaps is, you will think, a paradoxical

statement, when the whole tone of the utterance is of a somber, not to say

gloomy, character. But you will notice that the author does not lay a ban

upon all pleasure; he does not denounce all innocent enjoyments as wicked.

He does not say it is sinful to go to the house of feasting, to indulge in

laughter, to sing secular songs. There have been and are those who make

these sweeping statements. But he says that a wise, serious-minded man

will not find these things satisfying all his desires; that he will, on the

contrary, often find it greatly for his advantage to familiarize himself with

very different scenes and employments. In other words, there are two sides

to life — the temporal and THE ETERNAL!   The soul, like the head of

Janus, looks both on the present, with all its varied and transitory events,

and on the future, in which there are so many new and solemn experiences

in store for us. The epicurean, the worldling, looks to the present alone; the ascetic looks to the future alone. The wise have TRUE APPRECIATION

OF THEM BOTH;  know what conduct duty prescribes as appropriate in

regard to them both. The examples of Christ and His apostles show us that

we may partake both in the business and innocent pleasures of life without

being untrue to our higher calling. Christ, though “holy, harmless, undefiled,

 and SEPARATE FROM SINNERS  (Hebrews 7:26) wrought with His own hands, and thus sanctified all honest labor; He graced a marriage-feast with

His presence, and supplied by a miracle the means of convivial cheerfulness.

The sights and sounds of city and country life, the mirth of happy homes, the splendor of palaces, the pageantry of courts, the sports of children, were not frowned upon by Him as in themselves unworthy of attracting the attention of immortal natures; they were employed by Him to illustrate eternal truths. And

all through the writings and exhortations of His apostles the same spirit is manifest; the same counsel is virtually given to use the present world without abusing it — to receive with thankfulness every good creature of God. And

at the same time, no one can deny that great stress is laid. by them also upon

the things that are SPIRITUAL and ETERNAL;  greater even than on the others. For we are in greater risk of forgetting the eternal than of neglecting

the temporal.  Far too often is it true in the poet’s words —

 

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.”

 

Therefore it is all the more necessary for startling admonitions like these of

Solomon’s to be given, which recall us with a jerk TO ATTEND TO

THOSE THINGS WHICH CONCERN OUR HIGHER WELFARE.

 The fact that there are dangers against which we must guard, dangers

springing not merely from our own sinful perversity, but from the

conditions of our lives, the danger especially of being too much taken

up with THE PRESENT,  is calculated to arouse us to serious thought

and effort. Very much easier would it have been for us if a code of rules

for external conduct had been given us, so that at any time we might have

made sure about being on the right way; but very much poorer and more

barren would the life thus developed have been. We are called, as in this

passage before us, to weigh matters carefully; to make our choice of

worthy employments; to decide for ourselves:

 

Ø      when to enjoy that which is earthly and temporal, and

Ø      when to sacrifice it for the sake of that which is SPIRITUAL

and ETERNAL!

 

And we may be sure that that goodness which springs from an habitually

wise choice is infinitely preferable to the narrow, rigid formalism which

results from conformity with a Puritanic rule. It is not a sour, killjoy spirit

that should drive us to prefer the house of mourning to the house of

feasting; but the sober, intelligent conviction that at times we may find

there help to order our lives aright, and have an opportunity of lightening

by our sympathy the heavy burden of sorrow which God may see fit to

lay upon our brethren.

 

7 “Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth

the heart.”The verse begins with ki, which usually introduces a reason for

what has preceded; but the difficulty in finding the connection has led to

various explanations and evasions. The Authorized Version boldly

separates the verse from what has gone before, and makes a new paragraph

beginning with “surely:” Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad.

It is possible that something has been lost between vs. 6 and 7.  The Vulgate

leaves ki untranslated; the Septuagint has o[ti – hoti - surely.  Looking at the

various  paragraphs, all beginning with rob, rendered “better,” viz. vs. 1, 2, 3,

5, 8, we must regard the present verse as connected with what precedes, a new

subject being introduced at v. 8.  Putting v. 6 in a parenthesis as merely

presenting an illustration of the talk of fools, we may see in v. 7 a confirmation

of the first part of v. 5.  The rebuke of the wise is useful even in the case of

rulers who are tempted to excess and injustice. The “oppression” in the text is

the exercise of irresponsible power, that which a man inflicts, not what he

suffers; this makes him “mad,” even though he be in other respects and under

other circumstances wise; he ceases to be directed by reason and principle, and

needs the correction of faithful rebuke. The Septuagint and Vulgate,

rendering respectively sukofanti>a – sukophantia – extortion; and calumnia,

imply that the evil which distracts the wise man is false accusation. And a gift

 destroyeth the heart. The admission of bribery is likewise an evil that calls for

wise rebuke. So Proverbs 15:27, “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his

own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.” The phrase, “destroys the

heart,” means corrupts the understanding, deprives a man of wisdom,

makes him no better than a fool (compare Hosea 4:11, where the same

effect is attributed to whoredom and drunkenness). The Septuagint has,

ajpo>llusi th<n kardi>an eujgenei>av aujtou~ – apollusi taen kardian

eugeneias autou - destroys the heart of his nobility; the Vulgate, perdet

robur cordis illius, “will destroy the strength of his heart.” The interpretation

given above seems to be the most reasonable way of dealing with the existing

text.

 

 

 

 

The Mischief of Oppression and Bribery (v. 7)

 

There is some uncertainty as to the interpretation of this verse: the

reference may be to the effect of injustice upon him who inflicts it; it may

be to its effect upon him who suffers it. It is usual to regard the observation

as descriptive of the result of oppression and bribery in the feelings of

irritation and despondency they produce upon the minds of those who are

wronged, and upon society generally.

 

  • JUSTICE IS THE ONLY SOLID FOUNDATION FOR SOCIETY.

There is moral law, upon which alone civil law can be wisely and securely

based. When those who are in power are guided in their administration of

political affairs by a reverent regard for righteousness, tranquility, and

contentment, order and harmony may be expected to prevail.

 

  • OPPRESSION, EXTORTION, AND VENALITY ON THE PART

OF RULERS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH JUSTICE AND WITH

THE PUBLIC GOOD. Unjust rulers sometimes use the power which they

have acquired, or with which they have been entrusted, for selfish ends, and

in the pursuit of such ends are unscrupulous as to the means they employ.

Such wrongdoing is peculiar to no form of civil government. It is to some

extent checked by the prevalence of liberty and of publicity, and yet more

by an elevated standard of morality, and by the influence of pure religion.

But in the East corruption and bribery have been too general on the part of

those in power.

 

  • THE SPECIAL RESULT OF CORRUPTION AND OPPRESSION

IS THE FURTHERANCE AND PREVALENCE OF FOLLY AND

UNREASON. To the writer of Ecclesiastes, who regarded wisdom as “the

principal thing,” it was natural to discern in mischievous principles of

government the cause of general unwisdom and foolishness.

 

Ø      The governor himself, although he may be credited with craft and

cunning, is morally injured and degraded, sinks to a lower level,

loses self-respect, and forfeits the esteem of his subjects.

 

Ø      The governed are goaded to madness by the impossibility of

Obtaining their rights, by the curtailment of their liberties, and

by the loss of their property. Hence arise murmurings, discontent,

and resentment, which may, and often do, lead to conspiracy,

insurrection, and revolution.

 

Ø      THE DUTY OF ALL UPRIGHT MEN TO SET THEIR FACES

AGAINST SUCH EVIL PRACTICES. A good man must not ask — Can I profit by the prevalence of injustice? Will my party or my friends

be strengthened by it? He must, on the contrary, turn away from the question of consequences; he must witness against venality and oppression; he must use all lawful means to expose and to put an end to such practices. And this he is bound to do from the highest motives. Government is of DIVINE AUTHORITY  and is to be based upon Divine principles. Of God we know that “righteousness and

judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2).  They are

unworthy to rule who employ their power for base and selfish ends.

 

Section 2 contains vs. 8-14.  Here follow some recommendations to patience

and resignation under the ordering of Gods providence. Such conduct is

shown to be TRUE WISDOM!

 

8 “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the

patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.”  Better is the end of

a thing than the beginning thereof. This is not a repetition of the assertion

in v. 1, concealing the day of death and the day of birth, but states a truth in

a certain sense generally true. The end is better because we then can form a right judgment about a matter; we see what was its purpose; we know whether it has

been advantageous and prosperous or not. Christ’s maxim, often repeated (see

Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Romans 2:7; Hebrews 3:6), is, “He that shall endure

unto the end shall be saved.” No one living can be said to be so absolutely

safe as that he can look to the great day without trembling. Death puts the

seal to the good life, and, OBVIATES THE DANGER OF FALLING AWAY!

 Of course, if a thing is in itself evil, the gnome is not true (compare Proverbs

5:3-4; 16:25); but applied to things indifferent at the outset, it is as correct as

generalizations can be. The lesson of patience is here taught. A man should

not be precipitate in his judgments, but wait for the issue. From the ambiguity

in the expression dabar (see on ch.6:11), many render it “word “in this passage.

Thus the Vulgate, Melior est finis orationis, quam principium; and the Septuagint,

 jAgaqh< ejsca>th lo>gwn uJpe<r ajrch<n aujtou~ - Agathae eschatae logon huper

archaen autou – Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, where fwnh

phonae – the idea of disclosure; a tone (articulate, bestial or artificial); by

implication an address (for any purpose), saying or language:— noise, sound,

voice -  or some such word, must be supplied. If this interpretation be preferred,

we must either take the maxim as stating generally that few words are better

than many, and that the sooner one concludes a speech, so much the better for

speaker and hearer; or we must consider that the word intended is a well-merited

rebuke, which, however severe and at first disliked, proves in the end wholesome

and profitable.  And the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

“Patient” is literally “long of spirit,” as the phrase, “short of spirit,” is used in

Proverbs 14:29 and Job 21:4 to denote one who loses his temper and is impatient.

To wait calmly for the result of an action, not to be hasty in arraigning Providence,

is the part of a patient man; while the proud, inflated, conceited man, who thinks

all must be arranged according to his notions, is never resigned or content,

but rebels against the ordained course of events. “In your patience ye shall

 win your souls,” said Christ (Luke 21:19); and a Scotch proverb declares

wisely, “He that weel bides, weel betides.”

 

 

Patience and Pride (v. 8)

 

Patience is to be distinguished from a dull indiscriminateness and from

insensibility, to which one treatment is much the same as another; it is the

calm endurance, the quiet, hopeful waiting on the part of the intelligent and

sensitive spirit. Pride is to be distinguished from self-respect; it is an

overweening estimate indulged by a man respecting himself — of his

power, or of his position, or of his character. Thus understood, these two

qualities stand in striking contrast to one another.

 

  • PATIENCE IS A DIVINELY COMMENDED AND PRIDE A

FORBIDDEN THING.

 

Ø      Patience (Luke 21:19; II Thessalonians 1:4; Hebrews 10:36;

II Peter 1:6; James 5:7-8, 11; Revelation 2:2-3).

 

Ø      Pride (Psalm 101:5; 119:21; 138:6; Proverbs 6:17; Isaiah 2:12;

Mark 7:22; Romans 12:3; James 4:6).

 

  • PATIENCE IS THE SEAT OF SAFETY, PRIDE THE PLACE OF

PERIL. The man that is willing to wait in patience for the good which

God will grant him, accepting what He gives him with quiet contentment,

Is likely to walk in wisdom, and to abide in the fear and favor of the Lord;

But the man who over-estimates his strength is standing in a very “slippery

place — he is almost sure to fall. No words of the wise man are more

frequently fulfilled than those concerning pride and a haughty spirit

(Proverbs 16:18). The proud heart is the mark for many adversaries.

 

  • PATIENCE IS A BECOMING GRACE, PRIDE AN UGLY EVIL,

Few things are morn spiritually beautiful than patience. When under long continued bodily pain or weakness, or under grievous ill-treatment, or

through long years of deferred hope and disappointment, the chastened

spirit lives on in cheerful resignation, the Christian workman toils on in

unwavering faith, there is a spectacle which we can well believe that the

angels of God look upon with delight. Certainly it is the object of our

admiring regard. On the other hand, pride is an offensive thing in the eyes

of man, as we know it is in the sight of God (Proverbs 8:13). Whether

a man shows himself elated about his personal appearance, or his riches, or

his learning, or his strength (of any kind), we begin by being amused and

end by being annoyed and repelled; we turn away as from an ugly

picture or from an offensive odor.

 

  • PATIENCE CONDUCTS INTO, PRIDE EXCLUDES FROM, THE

KINGDOM OF GOD.

 

Ø      Patient inquiry will bring a man into the sunshine of full discipleship

To Jesus Christ, but pride will keep him away, and leave him to be

lighted by the poor sparks of his own wisdom.

 

Ø      Patient steadfastness in the faith will conduct to the gates of the

Celestial City.

 

Ø      Patient continuance in well-doing will end in the commendation

of Christ and in His bountiful reward.

 

9 “Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the

bosom of fools.” Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. A further warning

against the arrogance which murmurs at Providence and revolts against

the checks of the Divine arrangement. The injunction in ch.5:2

might be taken in this sense. It is not a general admonition against

unrighteous anger, but is leveled at the haughty indignation which a proud

man feels when things do not go as he wishes, and he deems that he could

have managed matters more satisfactorily. For anger resteth in the

bosom of fools. Such unreasonable displeasure is the mark of a foolish or

skeptical mind, and if it rests (Proverbs 14:33), is fostered and

cherished there, may develop into misanthropy and atheism. If we adopt

the rendering “word” in v. 8, we may see in this injunction a warning

against being quick to take offence at a rebuke, as it is only the fool who

will not look to the object of the censure and see that it ought to be

patiently submitted to. On the subject of anger St. Gregory writes, “As

often as we restrain the turbulent motions of the mind under the virtue of

mildness, we are essaying to return to the likeness of our Creator. For

when the peace of mind is lashed with anger, torn and rent, as it were, it is

THROWN INTO CONFUSION  so that it is not in harmony with itself, and

loses the force of the inward likeness. By anger wisdom is parted with, so

that we are left wholly in ignorance what to do; and it withdraws the light of

understanding, while by agitating it troubles the mind” (‘Moral.,’ 5:78).

 

 

The Folly of Pride, Hastiness, and Anger (vs. 8-9)

 

The Scriptures are more pronounced and decisive with regard to these

dispositions than for the most part are heathen moralists. Yet the student of

human character and life is at no loss to adduce facts in abundance to justify

the condemnation of habits which philosophy and religion alike condemn.

 

  • THESE DISPOSITIONS AND HABITS HAVE THEIR SOURCE IN

THE CONSTITUTION OF HUMAN NATURE.

  • CIRCUMSTANCES IN HUMAN LIFE OCCASION THEIR

EXERCISE AND GROWTH.

  • TO YIELD TO SUCH PASSIONS AND TO ALLOW THEM TO

RULE THE LIFE IS THE PART OF FOLLY.

  • THE SPIRIT AND CONDUCT OF THE DIVINE SAVIOR

EXEMPLIFY THE BEAUTY OF HUMILITY, PATIENCE, AND

MEEKNESS.

  • THE SUBJUGATION OF PASSION AND THE IMITATION OF

CHRIST CONTRIBUTE TO THE WELFARE OF THE INDIVIDUAL

AND OF SOCIETY.

  • THERE ARE MEANS BY THE CONSTANT AND PRAYERFUL

USE OF WHICH EVIL HABITS MAY BE CONQUERED, AND SELFCONTROL MAY BE ATTAINED

 

10 “Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better

than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this.”The same

 impatience leads a man to disparage the present in comparison with a past age.

What is the cause that the former days were better than these? He does not

know from any adequate information that preceding times were in any respect

superior to present, but in his moody discontent he looks on what is around

him with a jaundiced eye, and sees the past through a rose-tinted atmosphere,

as an age of heroism, faith, and righteousness. Horace finds such a character in

the morose old man, whom he describes in ‘De Arte Poet.,’ 173 —

 

“Difficilis, querulus, laudater temporis acti

Se puero, castigator censorque minornm.”

 

“Morose and querulous, praising former days

When he was boy, now ever blaming youth.”

 

And ‘Epist.,’ 2:1.22 —

 

“... et nisi quae terris semota suisque

Temporibus defuncta videt, fastidit et odit.”

 

“All that is not most distant and removed

From his own time and place, he loathes and scorns.”

 

For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. In asking such a

question you show that you have not reflected wisely on the matter. Every

age has its light and dark side; the past was not wholly light, the present is

not wholly dark. And it may well be questioned whether much of the

glamour shed over antiquity is not false and unreal. The days of “Good

Queen Bess” were anything but halcyon; the “merrie England” of old time

was full of disorder, distress, discomfort. In yearning again for the fleshpots

of Egypt, the Israelites forgot the bondage and misery which were the

accompaniments of those sensual pleasures.

 

 

Counsels for Evil Times (vs. 7-10)

 

  • THE WRONG WAY OF BEHAVIOR UNDER OPPRESSION.

 

Ø      Allowing it to unsettle ones judgment. “Surely oppression,” or

extortion, “maketh a wise man mad,” or foolish; i.e. driveth him to

foolish actions through indignation and vexation, through the misery

he endures, the hardship he suffers, the sense of injustice he feels, the rising doubts of which he is conscious. A soul thus driven to the wall

and set at bay through the woes inflicted by imperious and pitiless tyranny, is prone to be unsettled in its judgments, fierce and even

reckless in its actions. Of course, no amount of oppression or

extortion should have this effect on any; but it sometimes has.

 

Ø      Attempting to remove it by bribery. And a gift destroyeth the

understanding.” Equally of him that gives and him that receives

a bribe is the saying true, that it perverts the judgment, disturbs

the soul’s perceptions of right and wrong, and leaves a blot upon

the conscience. To seek the removal of oppression by currying favor

with the oppressor through presentation of gifts, is to seek a right

thing in a wrong way, and is to that extent to be condemned.

(There is no right way to do the wrong thing)

 

Ø      Indulging in anger on account of it. “Be not hasty in thy spirit to

be angry.” Whether this anger be directed against the oppressor or

against the oppression, or against God’s providence, who has

suffered both to come together and cooperate against the wise man,

to give way to it is to part with one’s wisdom, since “anger resteth

 in the bosom of fools” (v. 9), if it is not also (in the last case it is) to

sin against God. It is always difficult to be angry and sin not (Psalm

4:4, margin; Ephesians 4:26); hence Christians are exhorted not to be

soon angry (Titus 1:7), indeed, to put off (Colossians 3:8) and put

away (Ephesians 4:31) anger, as one of the works of the flesh

(Galatians 5:20).

 

Ø      Giving way to despair because of it. Saying in one’s heart that “the

former days were better than these,” and that all things are going

to the dogs. The Preacher pretty plainly hints that such a sentiment

is an error, and yet it is one widely entertained by the ignorant and

prone to be adopted by the unfortunate.

 

  • THE BIGHT WAY OF BEHAVING UNDER OPPRESSION.

 

Ø      Permitting the evil to avenge itself on its perpetrator. This it will

do, if the propositions be correct that oppression practiced even by

a wise man will make him mad, and that a bribe accepted by a good

man will corrupt his heart and destroy his understanding. The

oppressive exercise of power is so demoralizing that even the wise

man, skilled in statecraft, loses his wisdom. There comes upon him,

as the history of crime so often shows, something like a mania of tyrannous cruelty. And the same effect follows on the practice of corruption.

 

Ø      Reflecting that the evil will not continue forever. It will run its

course, have its day, and come to an end as other evil things have

done before it; and “better will its end be than its beginning.” In

the course of history this has often been observed, that seasons of oppression and periods of persecution have not been suffered to

continue for ever, and have often been terminated by some sudden

turn in providence, by the death of the oppressor, or by a change of purpose in the persecuted sooner than the victims expected.

 

Ø      Exercising patience while the evil day continues. “Better is the

patient in spirit than the proud in spirit,” better in respect of moral character and religious profiting. Philosophy and religion both teach

that the way to rise superior to injustice and oppression, to extract

the largest amount of profiting from it, and to bring it most speedily

to an end, is to meekly endure it. Patience disarms the oppressor of

his strongest weapon, and imparts to his victim double advantage

over his foe. Without patience tribulation cannot work out the soul’s

good (Romans 5:3; James 1:4).

 

Ø      Cherishing a hopeful spirit in the darkest times. Not despairing of the

future either for one’s self or for the world, but believing that all things

work together for good to them that love God (Romans 8:28),  and that through evil times as well as good times the world is slowly but surely moving on towards a better day.

 

 

The Good Old Days - A Popular Delusion (v. 10)

 

  • THE DELUSION STATED. “That the former days were better than these.”

The proposition may be understood as applying:

 

Ø      To individual experience, in which case it will signify that the former

days of the speaker’s life were better than those in which he then was.

Or:

 

Ø      To mundane history, in which case the sense will be that the earlier

periods of the world’s history were better than the later, or that the times

which preceded the speaker’s day were better than those in which he

was living.

 

  • THE DELUSION EXEMPLIFIED.

 

Ø      From sacred history.

 

o       As to individual experience. Job was neither the first nor the last who cried, “Oh that I were as in months past!” (Job 29:2). Probably Jacob was in a similar mood of mind when he heard of Simeon’s detention in Egypt, and of Judah’s proposal to take Benjamin “All these things are against me.” (Genesis 42:36; 43:14). The old men who wept at the foundation of the second temple certainly believed that the days when as yet the first

temple stood were incomparably more resplendent than those in which they then lived (Ezra 3:12).

 

o       As to world-epochs. To many of the Sethites, no doubt, in the

antediluvian era,” the days of old,” when man lived in innocence

in Eden, were regarded as better than those in which their lot had fallen when all flesh had corrupted its way (Genesis 6:12). To not

a few in the days of the judges and of the kings it seemed as if

“the years of ancient times,” and “of the right hand of the Most High,” when He brought forth the bondmen of Pharaoh from Egypt, were the glorious days of Israel as a nation (Psalm 77:5, 10). To the exiles who had returned from Babylon, the

golden age of their country was behind them in the days of

David and Solomon, not before them in the era of Persian domination.

 

o       From profane history. “Illustrations crowd upon one’s

memory. Greeks looking back to the age of those who fought at Marathon; Romans under the empire recalling the vanished greatness of the republic; Frenchmen mourning over the ancient regime; or Englishmen over the good old days of the Tudors, are all examples of this unwise thinking. Old men regretting the vanished days of their boyhood, or once rich but now poor

men lamenting the disappearance of wealth which was theirs, or fallen great men sighing for the times when they were called

“My lord!” are individual instances of this same delusion.

 

  • THE DELUSION EXPLAINED. Two things account for this

widespread delusion as to the relative values of the past and present.

 

Ø      An instinctive idealization of the past.

 

o       The good things of the past, which one has either never known

at all or counted only moderately good when he did know them, he now esteems as supremely excellent, on the principle that “distance lends enchantment to the view.”

 

o       The bad things of the past, which he complained of when he endured them, he has now through lapse of time largely

forgotten; while if the bad things of the past were such as he

never himself experienced but has only heard or read of, these

are not likely to press him down so heavily as the lesser

present evils under which he groans.

 

Ø      An equally instinctive depreciation of the present.

 

o       Its good things are never so sweet as some other good things which we have not, or which other people had. As the

possession of pleasure is seldom so intoxicating as its pursuit,

so is that which one has never so valuable as that which one

once had or may yet have.

 

o       Its evil things being present always appear worse, i.e. heavier, than they really are. They are felt more acutely and oppress

more severely than either the ills of other people one has never

felt, or one’s own ills in the past which have been forgotten.

 

  • THE DELUSION DISPROVED. The false judgment rests upon two

foundations.

 

Ø      A mistaken standard. If “better” only means in the case of the

Individual “more free from anxiety, pain, or difficulty,” or in the

case of communitie or nations “more free from wars, troubles,

revolutions, or social disturbances, the proposition complained

of may be easily established; but if “better” signify more

advantageous in the highest sense, i.e. more helpful to and

beneficial for moral and spiritual good it will frequently be found

that the proposition is false, and that for individuals, for instance,

times of present trouble and seasons of present affliction may be

better than past times of quiet and seasons of prosperity, and for communities and nations periods of social upheaval and foreign

war better than antecedent days of stagnation and civil death.

 

Ø      An incomplete comparison. It is commonly forgotten that each age

has a dark as well as bright side, and that in estimating the worth of

two different periods in the experience of an individual or the history

of a nation, it will not do to contrast the dark side of the present with

the bright side of the past, but the dark and bright sides of both must

be brought into view.

 

 

Patience Under Provocation (vs. 7-10)

 

In these words our author seems to commend the virtues of patience and

contentment in trying circumstances, by pointing out that certain evils

against which we may chafe bring their own punishment, and so in a

measure work their own cure, that others spring from or are largely

aggravated by faults in our own temperament, and that others exist to a

very great extent in our own imagination rather than in actual fact. And

accordingly the sequence of thought in the chapter is perfectly clear. We

have here, too, some “compensations of misery,” as in vs. 2-6. The

enumeration of the various kinds of evil that provoke our dissatisfaction

supplies us with a convenient division of the passage.

 

  • EVILS THAT BRING THEIR OWN PUNISHMENT AND WORK

THEIR OWN CURE.Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a

gift destroyeth the heart. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning

thereof (vs. 7-8a). It is the oppressor and not the oppressed who is

driven mad. The unjust use of power demoralizes its possessor, deprives

him of his wisdom, and drives him into actions of the grossest folly. The

receiver of bribes, i.e. the judge who allows gifts to warp his judgments,

loses the power of moral discernment, and BECOMES UTTERLY

DISQUALIFIED  for discharging his sacred functions. And this view

of the meaning of the words makes them an echo of those passages in the

Law of Moses which prescribe the duties of magistrates and rulers.   “Thou

shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither shalt

thou take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the

 words of the righteous” (Deuteronomy 16:19; compare Exodus 23:8). The

firm conviction which any extended experience of life is sure to confirm

abundantly, that such moral perverseness as is implied in the exercise of

tyranny, in extortion and bribery, brings with it its own punishment, is

calculated to inspire patience under the endurance of even very gross

wrongs. The tyrant may excite an indignation and detestation that will lead

to his own destruction; the clamor against an unjust judge may become so

great as to necessitate his removal from office, even if the government that

employs him be ordinarily very indifferent to moral considerations. In any

case, “the man who can quietly endure oppression is sure to come off best

in the end” (compare Matthew 5:38-41).

 

  • EVILS THAT SPRING LARGELY FROM OUR OWN

TEMPERAMENT. “The patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of

fools(vs. 8b-9). That the disposition here reprobated is a very general

and fruitful source of misery cannot be doubted. The proud spirit that

refuses to submit to wrongs, either real or fancied, that is on the outlook

for offence, that strives to redress on the instant the injury received, is

rarely long without cause of irritation. If unprovoked by real and serious

evils, it will find abundant material for disquietude in the minor crosses and

irritations of daily life. While the patient spirit, that schools itself to

submission, and yet waits in hope that in the providence of God the cause

of pain and provocation will be removed, enjoys peace even in very trying

circumstances. It is not that our author commends insensibility of feeling,

and deprecates the sensitiveness of a generous nature, which is swift to

resent cruelty and injustice. It is rather the ill-advised and morbid state of

mind in which there is an unhealthy sensitiveness to affronts and a

fruitless chafing against them that he reproves. That anger is in some circumstances a lawful passion no reasonable person can deny; but the

Preacher points out two forms of it that are in themselves evil.

 

Ø      The first is when anger is“hasty,” not calm and deliberate, as the

lawful expression of moral indignation, but the outcome of

wounded self-love; and

Ø      the second when it is detained too long, when it “rests” in the bosom.

 

As a momentary, instinctive feeling excited by the sight of wickedness, it is lawful; but when it has a home in the heart it changes its character, and

 becomes malignant hatred or settled scornfulness. “Be ye angry, and sin

not,” says Paul; “let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (Ephesians

4:26). “Wherefore, my beloved brethren,” says James, “let every man

 be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man

worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20).

 

  • EVILS THAT ARE LARGELY IMAGINARY. “Say not thou, What

is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not

inquire wisely concerning this” (v. 10). Discontentment with the present

time and conditions is reproved in these words. It is often a weakness of

age, but it is not by any means confined to the old. There are many who cast

longing glances back upon the past, and think with admiration of the age of

heroes or of the age of faith, in comparison with which the present is

ignoble and worthless. It would be a somewhat harmless folly if it did not

lead, as it generally does, to apathetic discontent with the present and

despondency concerning the future.  Every age has its peculiar difficulties,

and a man inclined to take a dark view of things will always be able to

compare unfavorably the present with the past. But a readiness to make

comparisons of that kind is no sign of real wisdom. There is light as well as

darkness in every age. The young men that shouted for joy at the rebuilding

of the temple acted more wisely than the old men who wept with a loud

voice” (Ezra 3:12-13). And the question may still be asked — Were

the old times really better than the present? Is it not a delusion to imagine

they were? Are not we the heirs of the ages, to whom the experience of the

past and all its attainments in knowledge and all its bright examples of

virtue have descended as an endowment and an inspiration? The

disposition, therefore, that makes the best of things as they are, instead of

grumbling that they are not better, that bears patiently even with very great

annoyances, and that is characterized by self-control, is sure to escape a

great deal of the misery which falls to the lot of a passionate, irritable, and

discontented man (compare Psalm 37.). —

 

Let us exhibit wisdom by trying to make the best of the present instead of

dreaming about the past.

 

11 “Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them

that see the sun.” Such hasty judgment is incompatible with true wisdom and

sagacity. Wisdom is good with an inheritance; Septuagint, jAgaqh< sofi>a meta< klhronomi>av - Agathae sophia meta klaeronomias. Vulgate, Utilior eat

sapientia cam divitiis. The sentence thus rendered seems to mean that wealth

lends a prestige to wisdom, that the man is happy who possesses both. The

inheritance spoken of is an hereditary one; the man who is “rich with ancestral

wealth” is enabled to employ his wisdom to good purpose, his position adding

weight to his words and actions, and relieving him from the low pursuit of moneymaking. To this effect Wright quotes Menander —

 

Maka>riov o[stiv oujsi>an kai< nou~n e[cei

Crh~tai ga<r ou=tov eijv a} dei~ tau>th| kalw~v.

 

Makarios hostis ousian kai noun hechei

Chaetai gar outos) eis a dei tautae kalos

 

“Blest is the man who wealth and wisdom hath,

For he can use his riches as he ought.”

 

(Compare Proverbs 14:24.) Many commentators, thinking such a

sentiment alien from the context, render the particle μ[i not “with,” but

“as” Wisdom is [as] good as an inheritance” (see on ch. 2:16).

This is putting wisdom on rather a low platform, and one would have

expected to read some such aphorism as “Wisdom is better than rubies”

(Proverbs 8:11), if Koheleth had intended to make any such

comparison. It appears then most expedient to take im in the sense of

“moreover,” “as well as,” “and” (compare I Samuel 17:42, “ruddy, and

(ira) of a fair countenance”). “Wisdom is good, and an inheritance is good;

‘both are good, but the advantages of the former, as v. 12 intimates, far

outweigh those of the latter. And by it there is profit to them that see

the sun; rather, and an advantage for those that see the, sun. However

useful wealth may be, wisdom is that which is really beneficial to all who

live and rejoice in the light of day. In Homer the phrase, oJra~n fa>ov

hjeli>oio – horan phaos aeelioio -  to see the light of the sun (‘Iliad,’ 18:61),

signifies merely “to live;” after all, life has its bright side.

 

12 “For wisdom is a defense, and money is a defense: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”  For wisdom is

 a defense, and money is a defense; literally, in the shade is wisdom, in the

shade is money; Septuagint, [Oti ejn skia~| aujth~v hJ sofi>a wJv skia< ajrguri>ou

Hoti en skia autaes hae Sophia hos skia arguriou - For in its shadow wisdom

 is as the shadow of money  Symmachus has, Ske>pei sofi>a wJv ske>pei to<

ajrgu>rion – Skepei Sophia hos skepei to argurion - Wisdom shelters as money

shelters.” The Vulgate explains the obscure text by paraphrasing, Sieur enirn

 protegit sapientia, sic protegit petunia. Shadow, in Oriental phrase, is equivalent

to protection (see Numbers 14:9; Psalm 17:8; Lamentations 4:20). Wisdom as

well as money is a shield and defense to men. As it is said in one passage

(Proverbs 13:8) that riches are the ransom of a man’s life, so in another

(ch.9:15) we are told how wisdom delivered a city from destruction. The literal translation given above implies that he who has wisdom and he who has money

rest under a safe protection, are secure from material evil. In this respect they are

alike, and have analogous claims to man’s regard. But the excellency — profit,

or advantage — of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

“Knowledge” (daath) and “wisdom” (chokmah) are practically here

identical, the terms being varied for the sake of poetic parallelism. The

Revised Version renders, Wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it; i.e.

secures him from passions and excesses WHICH TEND TO SHORTEN

LIFE!   This seems to be scarcely an adequate ground for the noteworthy

advantage which wisdom is said to possess. The Septuagint gives, Kai<

peri>sseia gnw>sewv th~v sofi>av zwopoih>sei to>n par aujth~v - Kai

perisseia gnoseos taes sophias zoopoiaesei ton par autaes - And the

excellence of the knowledge of wisdom will quicken him that hath it.

Something more than the mere animal life is signified, a climax to the

“defense” mentioned in the preceding clause — the higher, spiritual life

which man has from God. Wisdom in the highest sense, that is, practical

piety and religion, is “a tree of life to them that lay hold of her, and happy

is every one that retaineth her” (Proverbs 3:18), where it is implied that

wisdom restores to man the gift which he lost at the Fall (compare also

Proverbs 8:35). The Septuagint expression zwopoih>sei – zoopoinaesei

 recalls the words of Christ, “As the Father raiseth the dead and quickeneth

(zwopoiei~ – zoopoiei – to make alive) them, even so the Son also quickeneth

whom He will;” “It is the Spirit that quickeneth (to< zwopoiou~n – to

zoopoioun - John 5:21; 6:63). Koheleth attributes that power to wisdom which

the more definite teaching of Christianity assigns to the influence of the

Holy Spirit. Some would explain, “fortifies or vivifies the heart,” i.e. imparts

new life and strength to meet every fortune.

 

13 “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which

He hath made crooked?” Consider the work of God. Here is another reason

Against murmuring and hasty judgment. True wisdom is shown by submission

to the inevitable. In all that happens one ought to recognize God’s work and

God’s ordering, and man’s impotence. For who can make that straight,

which He hath made crooked? The things which God hath made crooked

are the anomalies, the crosses, the difficulties, which meet us in life. Some

would include bodily deformities, which seems to be a piece of unnecessary

literalism. Thus the Septuagint, Ti>v dunh>setai kosmh~sai o{n a}n oJ Qeo<v

diastre>yh| aujto>n - Tis dunaesetai kosmaesai hon an ho Theos diastrepsae

auton - Who will be able to straighten him whom God has distorted?” and the

Vulgate, Nemo possit corrigere quem ille despexerit, “No one can amend him

whom He hath despised.” The thought goes back to what was said in ch.1:15,

“That which is crooked cannot be made straight;” and in ch. 6:10, man

“cannot contend with Him that is mightier than he.” “As for the wondrous

works of the Lord,” says Ben-Sirs,” there may be nothing taken from them,

neither may anything be put unto them, neither can the ground of them be

found out” (Ecclesiasticus. 18:6). We cannot arrange events according to our

wishes or expectations; therefore not only is placid acquiescence a necessary

duty, but the wise man will endeavor to accommodate himself to existing

circumstances.

 

14 “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider:

God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should

find nothing after him.”  In the day of prosperity be joyful; literally, in the

day of good be in good i.e. when things go well with you, be cheerful (ch. 9:7;

Esther 8:17); accept the situation and enjoy it.  The advice is the same as that

which runs through the book, viz. to make the best of the present. So Ben-Sira

says, “Defraud not thyself of the good day, and let not a share in a good desire

pass thee by” (Ecclesiasticus. 14:14). Septuagint jEn hJme>ra| ajgaqwsu>nhv zh~qi

ejn agaqw~| - En haemera agathosunaes zaethi en agatho - In a day of good

live in (an atmosphere of) good;” Vulgate, in die bona fruere bonis, “In a

good day enjoy your good things.” But in the day of adversity consider;

in the evil day look well. The writer could not conclude this clause so as to

make it parallel with the other, or he would have had to say, “In the ill day

take it ill,” which would be far from his meaning; so he introduces a

thought which may help to make one resigned to adversity. The reflection

follows. Septuagint, Kai< i]de ejn hJme>ra| kaki>av i]de - Kai ide en haemera

 kakias ide in the day of adversity consider - Vulgate, Et malam diem praecave, “Beware of the evil day.” But, doubtless, the object of the verb is the following

clause. God also hath set the one over against the other; or, God hath made the

one corresponding to the other; i.e. he hath made the day of evil as well as the

day of good. The light and shade in man’s life are equally under God’s ordering

and permission. “What?” cries Job (Job 2:10), “shall we receive good at the

hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Corn. Lapide quotes a saying of

Plutarch to this effect: the harp gives forth sounds acute and grave, and

both combine to form the melody; so in man’s life the mingling of

prosperity and adversity yields a well-adjusted harmony. God strikes all the

strings of our life’s harp, and we ought, not only patiently, but cheerfully,

to listen to the chords produced by this Divine Performer. To the end that

man should find nothing after him. This clause gives Koheleth’s view of

God’s object in the admixture of good and evil; but the reason has been

variously interpreted, the explanation depending on the sense assigned to

the term “after him” (wyr;t"a"). The Septuagint gives ojpi>sw aujtou~ – opiso

autou – after; follow him – which is vague; the Vulgate, contra eum, meaning

that man may have no occasion to complain against God. Cheyne (‘Job and

Solomon’) considers that Koheleth here implies that death closes the scene,

and that there is then nothing more to fear, rendering the clause, “On the

ground that man is to experience nothing at all hereafter.” They who believe

that the writer held the doctrine of a future life cannot acquiesce in this view.

The interpretation of Delitzsch is this — God lets man pass through the whole

discipline of good and evil, that when he dies there may be nothing which

he has not experienced. Hitzig and Nowack explain the text to mean that,

as God designs that man after his death shall have done with all things, He

sends upon him evil as well as good, that He may not have to punish him

hereafter — a doctrine opposed to the teaching of a future judgment.

Wright deems the idea to be that man may be kept in ignorance of what

shall happen to him beyond the grave, that the present life may afford no

clue to the future. One does not see why this should be a comfort, nor how

it is compatible with God’s known counsel of making the condition of the

future life dependent upon the conduct of this. Other explanations being

more or less unsatisfactory, many modem commentators see in the passage

an assertion that God intermingles good and evil in men’s lives according

to laws with which they are unacquainted, in order that they may not

disquiet themselves by forecasting the future, whether in this life or after

their death, but may be WHOLLY DEPENDENT UPON GOD casting

all their care upon Him, knowing that He careth for them (I Peter 5:7).

We may safely adopt this explanation (compare ch. 3:22; 6:12). The

paragraph then con-rains the same teaching as Horace’s oft-quoted ode-

 

 

“Prudens futuri temporis exitum,” etc.

(‘Carm.,’ 3:29. 29.)

 

Theognis’, 1075 —

 

“The issue of an action incomplete,

‘Tis hard to forecast how God may dispose it;

For it is veiled in darkest night, and man

In present hour can never comprehend

His helpless efforts.”

 

Plumptre quotes the lines in Cleanthes’s hymn to Zeus, vers. 18-21 (‘Poet.

Gnom.,’ p. 24) —

 

 “Thou alone knowest how to change the odd

To even, and to make the crooked straight;

And things discordant find accent in thee.

Thus in one whole thou blendest ill with good,

So that one law works on for evermore.”

 

Ben-Sira has evidently borrowed the idea in Ecclesiasticus. 33: (36.) 13-15

From our passage; after speaking of man being like clay under the potter’s

hand, he proceeds, “Good is set over against evil, and life over against death;

so is the godly against the sinner, and the sinner against the godly. So look

upon all the works of the Mast High: there are two and two, one against

the other.”

 

Crooked Things and Straight (vs. 13-14)

 

  • COMPOSE THE TEXTURE OF HUMAN LIFE.

 

Ø      Crooked things. Such experiences, events, and dispensations as run

counter or lie cross to the inclinations, as e.g. afflictions,

disappointments, and trials of all sorts. Few lives, if any, are exempt

from crosses; few estates are so good as to have no drawbacks.

Examples:

 

o       Abraham (Genesis 15:2-3),

o       Naaman (II Kings 5:1),

o       Haman (Esther 5:13),

o       Paul (II Corinthians 12:7).

 

Ø      Straight things. Such experiences as harmonize with the soul’s

wishes, as seasons of prosperity, dispensations of good, and enjoyments

of every kind; and, as nobody’s lot on earth is entirely straight, so on the

other hand no one’s lot is wholly crooked — there are always some

straight and even parts in it. Indeed, when men’s passions, having got up,

have cast a mist over their minds, they are ready to say all is wrong with

them and nothing right; yet is that never true in this world, since (always) it is of the Lords mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning:  great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

 

  • PROCEED FROM THE HAND OF GOD. Neither come by accident

or from second causes, but from Him “of whom, to whom, and through

whom are all things” (Romans 11:36; II Corinthians 5:18; Hebrews 2:10).

 

Ø      True of straight things.Every good gift and every perfect is from

above” (James 1:17). Saint and sinner alike depend on the

providential bounty of God (Psalm 136:25), who appointeth to all

men the bounds of their habitation (Acts 17:26) and measureth out

their lots (Isaiah 34:17; Jeremiah 13:25). So elementary is this truth

that it needs no demonstration; yet is it so familiar as to be

frequently forgotten.

 

Ø      No less correct of crooked things. These also are from God

(II Kings 6:33; Amos 3:6; Micah 1:12). It is he who lays affliction

on the loins of men (Psalm 66:11), distributes sorrows in His anger

(Job 21:17), shows great and sore troubles (Psalm 71:20), lifts up

and casts down (Ibid. ch.102:10), wounds and heals, kills and makes

alive (Deuteronomy 32:39). The Preacher recognizes God’s hand in

introducing crooked things into men’s lots; in this all should follow

his example.

 

  • DEMAND DIVERSE TREATMENT FROM THE INDIVIDUAL.

 

Ø      Straight things call for cheerfulness.In the day of prosperity be

joyful,” “be in good spirits,” be thankfully happy and happily

thankful.

 

o       Gratitude, an element in that treatment God’s goodness

calls for (Psalm 103:1-2). Every creature of God is good

if it be received with thanksgiving (I Timothy 4:4).

 

o       Use, another ingredient in a proper return for God’s gifts.

These are not to be despised and shunned, but valued and

enjoyed. Asceticism, or voluntary abstinence from meats and drinks, as if these were sinful, harmonizes not with the spirit

of either the Old (ch.9:7) or the New Testament (Colossians

2:20-23) religion. If permissible under the latter as a means of spiritual discipline (I Corinthians 9:27), or as an expedient for preventing sin in others (Romans 14:21), it should not be

forgotten that God “giveth us all things richly to enjoy

(I Timothy 6:17).

 

Ø      Crooked things demand consideration. “In the day of adversity

consider:”  (v. 14)

 

o       Whence adversity comes, viz. from God (Lamentations 3:32;

Job 2:10). Hence should it be accepted with submission

(I Samuel 3:18; Job 2:10; Psalm 39:9).

 

o       How adversity comes. Not as a strange thing, i.e. allotted

in an exceptional way to the individual (I Peter 4:12), but

rather as an experience common among men (I Corinthians

10:13; I Peter 5:9).  Not as an isolated thing, unmixed with

good or untempered with mercy (Psalm 101:1). Not as a

constant thing, as if life were a perpetual calamity (Job 22:18).

Not as an arbitrary thing, as if the sovereign Disposer of events acted without reason in sending troubles upon men

(Lamentations 3:33; Hebrews 12:10). Certainly not as a

Malignant thing, as if the Almighty took pleasure in the

sufferings and miseries of his creatures.

 

o       Why adversity comes; because of man’s sinfulness, though

not always in each instance connected with some particular offence.

 

o       Wherefore adversity comes; to fulfill the Divine purpose concerning man, which is not one but manifold (Job 33:29).

 

  • COMBINE TO SERVE A LOFTY PURPOSE. “God hath even made

the one side by side with the other, to the end that man should not find

out anything that shall be after him.” The Almighty’s design variously

explained.

 

Ø      Unlikely interpretations.

 

o       That God, willing man to be rid of all things at death instead

Of punishing him hereafter, puts evil into his existence here,

and allows it to alternate with good (Hitzig). This does not harmonize with the Preacher’s doctrine of a future judgment

(ch.9:9; 12:14), and is ruled out of court by the general scope

of the New Testament.

 

o       That man might find nothing which he, dying, might take with

him into the unseen world (Ewald). But this end is secured by death (ch. 5:15), and if more were needed would have been

more effectually attained by making man’s lot on earth all adversity and no prosperity, rather than a commingling of the

two; while if the proposed interpretation explains the presence

of evil alongside of good, it leaves unaccounted for the

existence of good alongside of evil in man’s lot.

 

o       That man might pass through the whole school of life, so that

On departing from this scene nothing might remain outstanding

(in arrears) which he had not experienced (Delitzsch). This

seems equivalent to saying that God commingles joy and sorrow

in man’s experience that man might have a taste of both — which sounds like a truism — or that his discipline might be complete by being subjected to both, so that nothing more should be possible to or required by him in a future state to render him responsible

— which, though true, indicates a clearness and fullness of theological conception manifestly beyond the Preacher.

 

o       That no one coming after God by way of review should be able to find anything of blame to cast on his procedure (Mercator, Poole, Fausset); which, though undeniable, is not warranted by a just translation of the Hebrew.

 

Ø      Likely interpretations.

 

o       That the alternation of prosperous and adverse dispensations

Was designed to prevent man from finding out the course of

future events; in other words, that man should never be able certainly to predict his own future, or even what should be on

the morrow (Zockler, Hengstenberg), and therefore should be disposed to trust in God and calmly wait the development of events; with which teaching may be compared Christ’s

about taking no thought for the morrow (Matthew 6:34),

and that of Horace (‘Odes,’ 3:29. 29-38).

 

“God in his wisdom hides from sight,

Yelled in impenetrable night,

The future chance and change;

And smiles when mortals’ anxious fears,

Forecasting ills of coming years,

Beyond their limit range.”

(Plumptre, in loco.)

 

The continuity of human experience is not so unbroken that

mortal sagacity, at its highest, can forecast the incidents of

even the nearest day.

 

o       That no man should be able to tell precisely what might come

to pass on earth after he had left it (Plumptre), a thought

already expressed (ch.6:12), of which the practical outcome is

the same as that just stated, viz. that as the Divine Being desired

to keep the times and seasons in His own hand (Acts 1:7), He mingled crooked things and straight in man’s experience, that

man should not be able to guess with certainty at what was

coming, and might accordingly be impelled to lead a life of sobriety and watchfulness (Proverbs 4:23, 25-27; Matthew

25:13; Luke 12:15, 35-40).

 

o       That man might not be able by all his cogitations on the

present scene o find out the lot either of himself or of mankind generally in a future state (Wright); and unquestionably this is

true that without the gospel the whole subject of a future state

for man would be, if not an insoluble enigma, at least a darkly veiled mystery. A consideration of man’s experiences on

earth would so little guide to accurate knowledge of what his experiences beyond the grave should be, that to thoughtful

minds they might rather seem to have been constructed for

the very purpose of baffling curiosity on that alluring theme.

 

 

Resignation to Providence.

 

Already in the tenth verse the Preacher has counseled his readers not to

chafe against the conditions in which they find themselves. “Say not thou,

What is the cause that the former days were better than these?” It is part of

the true wisdom which he has praised “to consider the work of God,” to

accept the outward events of life, and believe that, whether they be

pleasant or the contrary, they are determined by a will or power which we

cannot control or change. It is wise to submit. The crooked we cannot

make straight (ch.1:15); the cross which is laid upon us we cannot shake off,

and had best bear without repining (compare Job 8:3; 34:12; Psalm 146:9).

A mingled draught is in the cup of life — prosperity and adversity, the sweet and

the bitter. Remember that it is commended to your lips by a higher hand, which

it is folly to resist; accept the portion which may be assigned to you. In the time of prosperity be in good spirits (v. 14), let not forebodings of future evil damp the

present enjoyment; in the time of adversity consider that it is God who has

appointed the evil day as well as the good. The thought is the same as that

in the Book of Job, “What? shall we receive good at the hands of God, and

shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). The reason why both good and

evil are appointed us is given by the Preacher, though his words are

somewhat obscure: “God also hath even made the one side by side with the

other, to the end that man should not find out anything that shall be after

him” (v. 14b, Revised Version). The obscurity is in the thought rather

than in the phrases used. The commonest explanation of the words is that

they simply assert that to know the future is forbidden us. But the phrase,

after him,” is always used to mean that which follows upon the present

world (ch.3:22; 6:12;  Job 21:21).  What is meant is much rather this, that

God causes man to experience good and evil, that he may pass through the

whole school of life, and when he departs hence that nothing may be

outstanding which he has not experienced.  This interpretation of the

various events of life, joyous and somber, as forming a complete

disciplinary course, through which it is an advantage for us to pass, is the

most worthy of the explanations of the words that they have received. And

if we accept it as truly representing the author’s thoughts, we may say that

our author’s researches were not so fruitless as he himself seems

sometimes to assert. This recognition of a Divine purpose running through

all the events of life is calculated to sanctify our enjoyment of the blessings

we receive, and to comfort and sustain us in the day of sorrow and adversity.

 

In vs. 15-22 we have arnings against excesses, and praise of the

golden mean, which is practical wisdom and the art of living happily.

 

15 “All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man

that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that

prolongeth his life in his wickedness.” All things have I seen in the days of

my vanity. Koheleth gives his own experience of an anomalous condition which

often occurs in human affairs. “All,” being here defined by the article, must refer

to the cases which he has mentioned or proceeds to mention. “The days of

vanity” mean merely “fleeting, vain days” (compare ch.6:12).  The expression

denotes the writer’s view of the emptiness and transitoriness of life (ch.1:2),

and it may also have special reference to his own vain efforts to solve the

 problems of existence. There is a just (righteous) man that perisheth in his righteousness. Here is a difficulty about the dispensation of good and evil,

which has always perplexed the thoughtful. It finds expression in Psalm 73.,

though the singer propounds a solution “Until I went into the sanctuary

of God; then I understood their end.” (v. 17) which Koheleth misses. The

meaning of the preposition (B]) before “righteousness” is disputed.  Some

take it as equivalent to “in spite of,” as in Deuteronomy 1:32, where

“in this thing” means “notwithstanding,” “for all this thing.” Righteousness

has the promise of long life and prosperity; it is an anomaly that it should

meet with disaster and early death. We cannot argue from this that the author

did not believe in temporal rewards and punishments; he states merely

certain of his own experiences, which may be abnormal and capable of

explanation. For his special purpose this was sufficient. Others take the

preposition to mean “through,” “in consequence of.” Good men have always

been persecuted for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 5:10-11; John 17:14;

II  Timothy 3:12), and so far the interpretation is quite admissible, and is

perhaps supported by v. 16, which makes a certain sort of righteousness

the cause of disaster. But looking to the second clause of the present verse,

where we can hardly suppose that the wicked man is said to attain to long

life in consequence of his wickedness, we are safe in adopting the

rendering, “in spite of.” There is a wicked man that prolongeth his life

in (in spite of) his wickedness. The verb arak, “to make long,” “to

prolong,” is used both with and without the accusative “days” (see ch.8:12-13; Deuteronomy 5:33; Proverbs 28:2). Septuagint, jEsti<n ajsebh~v me>nwn ejn

kaki>a| aujtou~ - Estin asebaes menon en kakia autou There is an ungodly

man remaining in his wickedness,  which does not convey the sense of the

original. According to the moral government of God experienced by the

Hebrews in their history, the sinner was to suffer calamity and to be cut off

prematurely. This is the contention of Job’s friends, against which he

argues so warmly. The writer of the Book of Wisdom has learned to look

for the correction of such anomalies in another life. He sees that length of

days is not always a blessing, and that retribution awaits the evil beyond

the grave (Wisdom of Solomon -  1:9; 3:4, 10; 4:8, 19, etc.). Abel perished

in early youth; Cain had his days prolonged. This apparent inversion of moral

order leads to another reflection concerning the danger of exaggerations.

 

 

The Perplexities of Life (vs. 13-15)

 

The Book of Ecclesiastes raises questions which it very inadequately

answers, and problems which it scarcely attempts to solve. Some of the

difficulties observable in this world, in human society, and in individual

experience appear to be insoluble by reason, though to some extent they

may be overcome by faith. And certainly the fuller revelation which we

enjoy as Christians is capable of assisting us in our endeavor not to be

overborne by the forces of doubt and perplexity of which every thoughtful

man is in some measure conscious.

 

  • A SPECULATIVE DIFFICULTY: THE COEXISTENCE OF

CROOKED THINGS WITH STRAIGHT. The philosophical student

encounters this difficulty in a more definite form than ordinary thinkers,

and is best acquainted with the apparent anomalies of existence. It may

suffice to refer to the coexistence of sense and spirit, nature and reason,

law and freedom, good and evil, death and immortality.

 

  • A PRACTICAL DIFFICULTY; THE JUXTAPOSITION AND

INTERCHANGE OF PROSPERITY AND ADVERSITY. “God hath

even made the one side by side with the other.” The inequality of the

human lot has, from the time of Job, been the occasion of much

questioning, dissatisfaction, and skepticism. Opinions differ as to the effect

upon this inequality of the advance of civilization. Riches and poverty,

splendor and squalor, refinement and brutishness, exist side by side. And

the observation of every one has remarked the startling transitions in the

condition and fortunes alike of the wealthy and the poor; these are exalted,

and those depressed. At first sight all this seems inconsistent with the sway

of a just and benignant Providence.

 

  • A MORAL DIFFICULTY: THE EVIDENT ABSENCE OF A JUST

AND PERFECT RETRIBUTION N THIS LIFE. The righteous perish,

and the wicked live on in their evil-doing unchecked and unpunished.

There are those who would acquiesce in inequality of condition, were such

inequality proportioned to disparities of moral character, but who are

dismayed by the spectacle of prosperous crime and triumphant vice, side by

side with integrity and benevolence doomed to want and suffering.

 

  • THE DUTY OF CONSIDERATION AND PATIENCE IN THE

PRESENCE OF SUCH PERPLEXING ANOMALIES. The first and

most obvious attitude of the wise man, when encountering difficulties such

as those described in this passage, is to avoid hasty conclusions and immature,

unconsidered, and partial judgments. It is plain that we are confronted with

what we cannot comprehend. Our observation is limited; our penetration is

at fault; our reason is baffled. We are not, therefore, to shut our eyes to the

facts of life, or to deny what our intelligence forces upon us. But we must

think, and WE MUST WAIT!

 

  • THE PURPOSE OF SUCH DIFFICULTIES, AS FAR AS WE ARE

CONCERNED, IS TO TEST AND TO ELICIT FAITH IN GOD.

There is sufficient reason for every thoughtful man to believe in the wisdom

and righteousness of THE ETERNAL RULER. And the Christian has

special grounds for his assurance that all things are ordained by his Father

and Redeemer, and that the Judge of all the earth will do right. (Genesis

18:25).

 

16 “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why

shouldest thou destroy thyself?” Be not righteous over much. The exhortation

has been variously interpreted to warn against too scrupulous observance of ritual

and ceremonial religion, or the mistaken piety which neglects all mundane

affairs, or the Pharisaical spirit which is bitter in condemning others who

fall short of one’s own standard.  Koheleth is condemning the tendency to

immoderate asceticism which had begun to show itself in his day — a rigorous, prejudiced, indiscreet manner of life and conduct which made piety offensive,

and afforded no real aid to the cause of religion. This arrogant system virtually

dictated the laws by which Providence should be governed, and found fault

with divinely ordered circumstances if they did not coincide with its

professors’ preconceived opinions. Such religionism might well be called

being “righteous over much.” Neither make thyself over wise;

Septuagint, Mh< sofi>zou perissa> - mae sophizou perissa; Vulgate, Neque

plus sapias quam necesse est; better, show not thyself too wise; i.e. do not

indulge in speculations about God’s dealings, estimating them according to

your own predilections, questioning the wisdom of His moral government.

Against such perverse speculation Paul argues (Romans 9:19-21). “Thou

wilt say unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his

will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the

thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?” A

good principle carried to excess may bring evil results. Summum jus,

summa injuria. The maxim, Mhde<n ajga>n – Maeden agan, Ne quid nimis,

“Moderation in all things,” is taught here; and Aristotle’s theory of virtue

being the mean between the two extremes of excess and defect is adumbrated

(‘Ethic. Nicom.,’ 2:6. 15, 16): though we do not see that the writer is reproducing

current Greek thought, or that independent reflection and observation could not

have landed him at the implied conclusion without plagiarism. Why shouldest

 thou destroy thyself? Septuagint, Mh> pote< ejkplagh~|v – Mae pote ekplagaes,

Lest perchance thou be confounded; Vulgate, Ne obstupescas, “Lest thou be

stupefied.” This is the primary meaning of the special form of the verb here

used (hithp. of μmv).  It is not a mental, internal effect that is contemplated, but something that affects comfort, position, or life, like the corresponding clause

in the following verse. The Authorized Version is correct. A man who professes

to be wiser than others, and. indeed, wiser than Providence, incurs the envy and animosity of his fellowmen, and will certainly be punished by God for his

arrogance and presumption.

 

17 “Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest

thou die before thy time?” Be not over much wicked neither be thou foolish.

These two injunctions are parallel and correlative to those in v. 16 concerning

over-righteousness and over-wisdom. But the present verse cannot be

meant, as at first sight it seems to do, to sanction a certain amount of

wickedness provided it does not exceed due measure. To surmount this

difficulty some have undefined to modify the term “wicked” (rasha), taking

it to mean “engaged in worldly matters,” or “not subject to rule,” “lax,” or

again “restless,” as some translate the word in Job 3:17. But the word

seems not to be used in any such senses, and bears uniformly the

uncompromising signification assigned to it, “to be wicked, unrighteous,

guilty.” The difficulty is not overcome by Plumptre’s suggestion of the

introduction of a little “playful irony learned from Greek teachers,” as if

Koheleth meant, “I have warned you, my friends, against overrighteousness,

but do not jump at the conclusion that license is allowable.

That was very far from my meaning.” The connection of thought is this: in

the previous verse Koheleth had denounced the Pharisaical spirit which

virtually condemned the Divine ordering of circumstances, because vice

was not at once and visibly punished, and virtue at once rewarded; and

now he proceeds to warn against the deliberate and abominable wickedness

which infers from God’s long-suffering his absolute neglect and non-

interference in mortal matters, and on this view plunges audaciously into

vice and immorality, saying to itself, “God hath forgotten: he hideth his

face; he will never see it” (Psalm 10:11). Such conduct may well be

called “foolish;” it is that of “the fool who says in his heart, There is no

God” (Psalm 14:1). The actual wording of the injunction sounds to us

somewhat strange; but its form is determined by the requirements of

parallelism, and the aphorism must not be pressed beyond its general

intention, “Be not righteous nor wise to excess; be not wicked nor foolish

to excess.” Septuagint, “Be not very wicked, and be not stubborn

(sklhro>v - sklaeros).” Why shouldest thou die before thy time? literally,

not in thy time; prematurely, tempting God to punish thee by retributive

judgment, or shortening thy days by vicious excesses. (For the former, see

Job 22:16; Psalm 55:23; Proverbs 10:27; and compare I Samuel 2:31, 33;

and for the latter, Proverbs 5:23; 7:23-27; 10:21.) The Syriac

contains a clause not given in any other version, “that thou mayest not be

hated.” As is often the case, both in this book and in Proverbs, a general

statement in one place is reduced by a contrariant or modified opinion in

another. Thus the prolongation of the life of the wicked, noticed in v. 15,

is here shown to be abnormal, impiety in the usual course of events having

a tendency to shorten life. In this way hasty generalization is corrected, and

the Divine arrangement is vindicated.

 

18 “It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also from this

withdraw not thine hand: for he that feareth God shall come forth

of them all.”  It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this; yea, also

from this withdraw not thine hand. The pronouns refer to the two

warnings in vs. 16 and 17 against over-righteousness and over-wickedness.

Koheleth does not advise a man to make trial of opposite lines of

conduct, to taste the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that

from a wide experience he may, like a man of the world, pursue a safe

course; this would be poor morality, and unmeet for the stage at which his

argument has arrived. Rather he advises him to lay to heart the cautions

above given, and learn from them to avoid all extremes. As Horace says

(‘Epist.,’ 1:18. 9) —

 

“Virtus est medium vitiorum et utrinque reductum.”

 

Folly, as usual, in extremes is seen,

While virtue nicely hits the happy mean.”

(Howes.)

 

The Vulgate has interpolated a word, and taken the pronoun as masculine,

to the sacrifice of the sense and connection: Bonum est te sustentare

justum, sed el ab illo ne subtrahas manum tuam, “It is good that thou

shouldst support the just man, nay, from him withdraw not thy hand.” For

he that feareth God shall come forth of them all; shall escape both

extremes together with their evil results. The fear of God will keep a man

from all excesses. The intransitive verb yatsa, “to go forth,” is here used

with an accusative (compare Genesis 44:4, which, however, is not quite

analogous. 

 

19 “Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which

are in the city.”  Wisdom strengtheneth the wise. The moderation enjoined is

the only true wisdom, which, indeed, is the most powerful incentive and

support. “Wisdom proves itself stronger” (as the verb is put intransitively)

to the wise man.” Septuagint, bohqh>sei – bonthaesei - will help; Vulgate,

confortuvit, “hath strengthened.” The spiritual and moral force of the

wisdom grounded upon the fear of God is here signified, and is all the more

insisted upon to counteract any erroneous impression conveyed by the

caution against over-wisdom in v. 16 (see note on v. 17, at the end).

More than ten mighty men which are in the city. The number ten

indicates completeness, containing in itself the whole arithmetical system,

and used representatively for an indefinite multitude. Thus Job (19:3)

complains that his friends have reproached him ten times, and Elkanah asks

his murmuring wife, “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?” (I Samuel

1:8). The sentence may be compared with Proverbs 10:15; 21:22; 24:5.

The word rendered “mighty men” (shallitim) is not necessarily a military

designation; it is translated “ruler” in ch. 10:5, and “governor” in

Genesis 42:6. The Septuagint here has jExousia>zontav tou<v o]ntav

ejn th~| po>lei – Exousiazontas tous ontas en tae polei – more than ten

rulers who are in the city; the Vulgate, principes civitatis. The persons

intended are not primarily men of valor in war, like David’s heroes, but

rulers of sagacity, prudent statesmen, whose moral force is far greater and

more efficacious than any merely physical excellence (compare ch.9:16).

 

20 “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth

not.”  The wisdom above signified is, indeed, absolutely necessary, if

one would escape the consequences of that frailty of nature which leads to

transgression. Wisdom shows the sinner a way out of the evil course in

which he is walking, and puts him back in THAT FEAR OF GOD WHICH

IS HIS ONLY SAFETY!   For there is not a just man upon earth. The verse

confirms v. 19. Even the just man sinneth, and therefore needs wisdom. That

doeth good, and sinneth not. This reminds us of the words in Solomon’s

prayer (I Kings 8:46; Proverbs 20:9). So James (James 3:2) says, “In many

 things we all offend all;” and John, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive

 ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I John 1:8).  And Paul, “All have

sinned and come short of the glory of God”  (Romans 3:23).   A Greek

gnome runs — JAmarta>nei ti kai< sofou~ sofw>terov - Amartanei ti kai

sophou sophoteros . “Erreth at times the very wisest man.”

 

21 “Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy

servant curse thee:”  Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken;

literally, give not thy heart, as ch.1:13, etc. Here is another matter in

which wisdom will lead to right conduct. You will not pay serious

attention to evil reports either about yourself or others, nor regulate your

views and actions according to such distortions of the truth. To be always

hankering to know what people say of us is to set up a false standard,

which will assuredly lead us astray; and, at the same time, we shall expose

ourselves to the keenest mortification when we find, as we probably shall

find, that they do not take us at our own valuation, but have thoroughly

marked our weaknesses, and are ready enough to censure them. We have

an instance of patience under unmerited reproof in the case of David when

cursed by Shimei (II Samuel 16:11), as he, or one like minded, says

(Psalm 38:13), “I, as a deaf man, hear not; and I am as a dumb man

that openeth not his mouth. Yea, I am as a man that heareth not, and in

whose mouth are no reproofs.” Corn. a Lapide comments in words to

which no translation would do justice, “Verbaenim non aunt verbera;

aerem feriunt non hominem, nisi qui its attendit mordetur, sauciatur.” Lest

thou hear thy servant curse thee. The servant is introduced as an

example of a gossip or calumniator, because he, if any one, would be

acquainted with his master’s faults, and be most likely to disseminate his

knowledge, and blame from such a quarter would be most intolerable.

Commentators appositely quote Bacon’s remarks on this passage in his

‘Advancement of Learning,’ 8:2, where he notes the prudence of Pompey,

who burned all the papers of Sertorius reread, containing, as they did,

information which would fatally have compromised many leading men in

Rome.

 

22 “Oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself

likewise hast cursed others.” The appeal to a man’s own conscience

follows. The fact that we often speak ill of others should make us less open

to take offence at what is said of ourselves, and prepared to expect

unfavorable comments. The Lord has said, “Judge not, that ye be not

judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what

measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you” (Matthew 7:1-2).

This is a universal law. “Who is he,” asks Ben-Sira, “that hath not offended

with his tongue?” (Ecclesiasticus. 19:16). Septuagint, [Oti pleista>kiv

ponhreu>setai> se kai< kaqo>douv polla<v kakw>sei kardi>an sou o]ti

wJv kai>ge su<kathra>sw eJte>rouv - Hoti pleistakis ponaereusetai se kai

 kathodous pollas kakosei kardian sou oti hos kaige sukataeraso heterous

For many times he [thy servant] shall act ill to thee, and in many ways shall

 afflict thine heart, for even thou also hast cursed others. This seems to be

a combination of two renderings of the passage. “It is the praise of perfect

greatness to meet hostile treatment, without bravely and within mercifully

some things are more quickly dismissed from our hearts if we know our own misdemeanors against our neighbors. For whilst we reflect what we have been

towards others, we are the less concerned that others should have proved such

persons towards ourselves, be cause the injustice of another avenges in us

what our conscience justly accuses in itself” (St. Gregory, ‘Moral.,’ 22:26).

 

In vs. 23-29, though further insight into essential wisdom was not

obtainable; Koheleth learned some other practical lessons, viz. that

wickedness was folly and madness; that woman was the most evil thing in

the world; that man had perverted his nature, which was made originally

good.

 

23 “All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was

far from me.”  All this have I proved by wisdom; i.e. wisdom was the

means by which he arrived at the practical conclusions given above (vs.1-22).

Would wisdom solve deeper questions? And if so, could he ever

hope to attain it? I said, I will be wise. This was his strong resolve. He

desired to grow in wisdom, to use it in order to unfold mysteries and

explain anomalies. Hitherto he had been content to watch the course of

men’s lives, and find by experience what was good and what was evil for

them; now he craves for an insight into the secret laws that regulate those

external circumstances: he wants a philosophy or theosophy. His desire is

expressed by his imitator in the Book of Wisdom of Solomon (9.), “O God

 of my fathers,… give me Wisdom, that sitteth by thy throne.... O send her

out of thy holy heavens, and from the throne of thy glory, that being present

she may labor with me.” But it was far from me. It remained in the far

distance, out of reach. Job’s experience ( ch.28.) was his. Practical rules of life

he might gain, and had mastered, but essential, absolute wisdom was

beyond mortal grasp. Man’s knowledge and capacity are limited.

 

24 “That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?”

The broken, interjectional style of the original in this passage is better brought

out by translating, “Far off is that which is, and deep, deep: who can find it out?” Professor Lewis renders, “Far off! the past, what is it? Deep — a deep — oh,

who can find?” and explains “the past” to mean, not merely the earthly past

historically unknown, but the great past before the creation of the universe,

the kingdom of all eternities with its ages of ages, its worlds of worlds, its

mighty evolutions, its infinite variety. We prefer to retain the rendering,

“that which is,” and to refer the expression to the phenomenal world. It is

not the essence of wisdom that is spoken of, but the facts of man’s life and

the circumstances in which he finds himself, the course of the world, the

phenomena of nature, etc. These things — their causes, connection,

interdependence — we cannot explain satisfactorily (compare ch.3:11; 8:17).

In the Book of Wisdom of Solomon (7:17-21) Solomon is supposed to have

arrived at this abstruse knowledge, “for,” he says, “God hath given me certain

knowledge of the things that are (tw~n o]ntwn gnw~sin ajyeudh - ton onton

gnosin apseudae),” and he proceeds to enumerate the various departments which

this “universitas literarum” has opened to him. The Septuagint (and virtually the

Vulgate) connects this verse with the preceding, thus: ‘I said, I will be wise,

and it (au]th – autae that which)  was far from me, far beyond what was

 (makra<n uJpe<r o{ h+n – makran huper ho aen – was far away), and deep depth:

 who shall find it out?” (For the epithet “deep” applied to what is recondite

or what is beyond human comprehension, compare Proverbs 20:5; Job 11:8)

 

25 “I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out

wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of

folly, even of foolishness and madness:” I applied mine heart to know;

more literally, I turned myself, and my heart was [set] to know. We have the

expression, “tamed myself,” referring to a new investigation in ch.2:20 and

elsewhere; but the distinguishing the heart or soul from the man himself is

not common in Scripture (see on ch.11:9), though the soul is sometimes

apostrophized, as in Luke 12:19 (compare Psalm 103:1; 146:1). The writer

here implies that he gave up himself with all earnestness to the investigation.

Unsatisfactory as his quest had been hitherto, he did not relinquish the

pursuit, but rather turned it in another direction, where he could hope to

meet with useful results. The Septuagint has, “I and my heart traveled

round (ejku>klwsa – ekuklosa) to know;” the Vulgate, Lustravi universa

animo meo ut scirem. And to search, and to seek out wisdom. The accumulation

of synonymous verbs is meant to emphasize the author’s devotion to his self-

imposed task and his return from profitless theoretical investigation to

practical inquiry. And the reason of things. Cheshbon (v. 27; ch.9:10) is

rather “account,” “reckoning,” than “reason “ — the summing-up of all

the facts and circumstances rather than the elucidation of their causes.

Vulgate, rationem; Septuagint, yh~fon – psaephon – to compute.  The

next clause ought to be rendered, And to know wickedness as (or, to be)

folly, and foolishness as (to be) madness. His investigation led him to this

conclusion, that all infringement of God’s laws is A MISJUDGING

ABERRATION — a willful desertion of the requirements of right reason

and that mental and moral obtuseness is a physical malady which may be

called MADNESS!  (compare ch.1:17; 2:12; 10:13).

 

26 “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares

and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape

from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”  One practical result of his

quest Koheleth cannot avoid mentioning, though it comes with a suddenness

which is somewhat startling. And I find more bitter than death the woman.

Tracing men’s folly and madness to their source, he finds that they arise

generally from the seductions of the female sex. Beginning with Adam,

woman has continued to work mischief in the world. “Of the woman came the

beginning of sin, and through her we all die” (Ecclesiasticus. 25:24); it was

owing to her that the punishment of death was inflicted on the human race.

If Solomon himself were speaking, he had indeed a bitter experience of the

sin and misery into which women lead their victims (see I Kings 11:1, 4, 11).

It may be thought that Koheleth refers here especially to “the strange woman”

of Proverbs 2:16, etc.; 5:3, etc.; but in v. 28 he speaks of the whole sex without qualification; so that we must conclude that he had a very low opinion of them.

It is no ideal personage whom he is introducing; it is not a personification

of vice or folly; but woman in her totality, such as he knew her to be in

Oriental courts and homes, denied her proper position, degraded, uneducated,

 all natural affections crushed or undeveloped, the plaything of her lord, to be

 flung aside at any moment. It is not surprising that Koheleth’s impression of

the female sex should be unfavorable. He is not singular in such an opinion.

One might fill a large page with proverbs and gnomes uttered in

disparagement of woman by men of all ages and countries. (We hear a lot

of Macho-men, and they/we will have to stand in judgment, but let not

the modern woman of the National Organization of Women, refuse to

take her place, as a woman of collective and cumulative history – CY –

2013)  Men, having the making of such apothegms, have used their license

unmercifully; if the maligned sex had equal liberty, the tables might have

been reversed. But, really, in this as in other cases the mean is the safest;

and practically those who have given the darkest picture of women have not

been slow to recognize her brighter side. If, for instance, the Book of Proverbs

paints the adulteress and the harlot in the soberest, most appalling colors, the

same book affords us such a sketch of the virtuous matron as is unequalled

for vigor, truth, and high appreciation (Proverbs 31:10-31).  And if, as in our

present chapter, Koheleth shows a bitter feeling against the evil side of woman’s

nature,  he knows how to value the comfort of married life (ch.4:8), and

to look upon a good wife as one who makes a man’s home happy

(Ibid. ch. 9:9). Since the incarnation of our blessed Lord Jesus

Christ, “the Seed of the woman,” we have learned to regard woman in her

true light, and to assign her that position to which she is entitled, giving

honor unto her as the weaker vessel, and, at the same time, heir with us of

the glorious hope and destiny of our renewed nature (I Peter 3:7 – one of

my favorite scriptures in all the Bible – CY – 2013).  Whose heart is snares

 and nets; more accurately, who is snares, and nets in her heart; Septuagint,

“The woman who is a snare, and her heart nets;”  Vulgate, Quae laqueus

venatorum est, et sagena cot ejus. The imagery is obvious (compare Proverbs 5:4,

7:22; 22:14; Habakkuk 1:15); the thoughts of the evil woman’s heart are nets,

occupied in meditating how she may entrap and retain victims; and her outward

look and words are snares that captivate the foolish, Mh<uJpa>nta gunaiki<

eJtairizome>nh - Maeupanta gunaiki etairizomenae - Lest thou fall into her

snares. (Ecclesiasticus  9:3).

 

Plautus, ‘Asin.,’ 1:3. 67 —

 

“Auceps sum ego;

Esca est meretrix; lectus illex est; amatores aves.

 

The fowler I;

My bait the courtesan; her bed the lure;

The birds the lovers.”

 

So ancient critics, stronger m morals than in etymology, derive Venus from

venari, “to hunt,” and mulier Item mollire, “to soften,” or malleus, “a

hammer,” because the devil uses women to mold and fashion men to his

will.  And her hands as bands, Asurim, “bands” or “fetters,” is found in

Judges 15:14, where it is used of the chains with which the men of

Judah bound Samson; it refers here to the wicked woman’s voluptuous

embraces. Whoso pleaseth God (more literally, he who is good before

God) shall escape from her. He whom God regards as good

(ch. 2:26, where see note) shall have grace to avoid these seductions.

But the sinner shall be taken by her; HB;, “in her,” in the snare which is

herself. In some manuscripts of Ecclesiasticus (26:23) are these words;

“A wicked woman is given as a portion to a wicked man; but

a godly woman is given to him that feareth the Lord.”

 

27 “Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one,

to find out the account:” Behold, this have I found. The result of his search,

thus forcibly introduced, follows in v. 28. He has carefully examined the

character and conduct of both sexes, and he is constrained to make the

unsatisfactory remark which he there puts forth. Saith the preacher.

Koheleth is here treated as a feminine noun, being joined with the feminine

form of the verb, though elsewhere it is grammatically regarded as

masculine (see on ch. 1:1). Many have thought that, after speaking so

disparagingly of woman, it would be singularly inappropriate to introduce

the official preacher as a female; they have therefore adopted a slight

alteration in the text, viz. tl,j,Qoj" rm"a; instead of tl,h,qo hr;m]a;,

which is simply the transference of he from the end of one word to the

beginning of the next, thus adding the article, as in ch.12:8,

and making the term accord with the Syriac and Arabic, and the

Septuagint, ei+pen oJ jEkklhsiasth>v - eipen ho Ekklaesiastaes – says

the Preacher.  The writer here introduces his own designation in order

to call special attention to what is coming. Counting one by one. The phrase

is elliptical, and signifies, adding one thing to another, or weighing one

thing after another, putting together various facts or marks. To find out

 the account; to arrive at the reckoning, the desired result.

 

28 “Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a

thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not

found.”  Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not; or, which my

soul hath still sought, but I have not found. The conclusion at which he did

arrive was something utterly different from what he had hoped to achieve.

The soul and the ego are separately regarded (compare  v. 25); the whole

intellectual faculties were absorbed in the search, and the composite

individual gives his consequent experience. One man (Adam) among a

thousand have I found. He found only one man among a thousand that

reached his standard of excellence — the ideal that he had formed for

himself, who could be rightly called by the noble name of man. The phrase,

“one of a thousand,” occurs in Job 9:3; 33:23; Ecclesiasticus 6:6 (ei+v ajpo<

cili>wn - eis apo chilion – one in a thousand, as in the Septuagint here). Adam,

the generic term, is used here instead of ish, the individual, to emphasize the

antithetical ishah, “woman,” in the following clause, or to lead the thought

to the original perfection of man’s nature. So in Greek a]nqrwpov – anthropos

man -  is sometimes used for ajnh>r – anaer – fellow; man; husband; sir -, though

generally the distinction between the two is sufficiently marked.  But a woman

among all those have I not found; i.e. not one woman in a thousand who was

what a woman ought to be. Says the Son of Sirach, “All wickedness is but little

to the wickedness of a woman; let the portion of a sinner fall upon her”

(Ecclesiasticus. 25:19). So the Greek gnome —

 

Qa>lassa kai< pu~r kai< gunh< kaka< tri>a.

                        Thalassa kai pur kai guaen kaka tria

“Three evils are there — sea, fire, and woman.”

 

Solomon had a thousand wives and concubines, and his experience might

well have been that mentioned in this passage.

 

 

Bad Women a Curse to Society (vs. 25-28)

 

It is generally considered that in this language we have the conclusion

reached by Solomon, and that his polygamy was largely the explanation of

the very unfavorable opinion which he formed of the other sex. A monarch

who takes to himself hundreds of wives and concubines is scarcely likely to

see much of the best side of woman’s nature and life. And if marriage is

divinely intended to draw out the unselfish, affectionate, and devoted

qualities of feminine nature, such a purpose could not be more effectually

frustrated than by an arrangement which assigns to a so-called wife an

infinitesimal portion of a husband’s time, attention, interest, and love. For

this reason it is not fair to take the sweeping statement of this passage as

expressing a universal and unquestionable truth. What is said of the

bitterness of the wicked woman, and of the mischief she does in society,

remains for ever true; but there are states of society in which good women

are as numerous as are good men, and in which their influence is equally

beneficial.

 

  • THE INJURIOUSNESS OF BAD WOMEN EXEMPLIFIES THE

PRINCIPLE THAT THE ABUSE AND CORRUPTION OF GOOD

THINGS IS OFTEN THE CAUSE OF THE WORST OF ILLS.

 

  • THE WICKEDNESS OF BAD WOMEN DISPLAYS ITSELF IN

THEIR HABIT OF ENSNARING THE FOOLISH; FOR THEY WILL

NOT AND CANNOT SIN ALONE.

 

  • THE PRESENCE OF BAD WOMEN IN SOCIETY IS THE GREAT

TEMPTATION TO WHICH MEN ARE LIABLE, AND THE GREAT

TEST BY WHICH THEY ARE TRIED.

 

  • THE BITTERNESS OF BAD WOMEN MAY BY CONTRAST

SUGGEST THE EXCELLENCE OF THE VIRTUOUS AND THE

PIOUS, AND MAY PROMPT TO A GRATEFUL RECOGNITION OF

THE INDEBTEDNESS OF SOCIETY TO HOLY AND KINDLY

FEMININE INFLUENCES.

 

 

Degradation and Elevation (vs. 23-28)

 

The words of the Preacher painfully remind us of the familiar story of

Diogenes and his lantern.  (Diogenes is depicted in art carryhing a lantern

with which he is said to have vainly hunted by daylight for an honest man.)

Whether we are to ascribe this pitiful conclusion respecting woman to his own

infirmity or to the actual condition of Oriental society, we do not know. But

there was, no doubt, so much of realism about the picture that we may learn a

very practical lesson. It is twofold.

 

  • THE AWFUL POSSIBILITIES OF DEGRADATION. That woman,

created by God to be a helpmeet for man, and so admirably fitted, as she

is at her best, to comfort his heart and to enrich and bless his life — that

woman should be spoken of in such terms as these, is sad and strange

indeed. It would be unaccountable but for one thing. The explanation is

that man, in his physical strength and in his spiritual weakness, has

systematically degraded woman; has made a mere tool and instrument of

her whom he should have treated as his trusted companion and truest

friend. And if you once degrade any being (or any animal) from his or her

true and right position, you send that being down an incline, you open the

gates to a long and sad descent. You take away self-respect, and in so

doing you undermine the foundation of all virtue, of all moral worth.

Dishonor any one, man or woman, lad or child, in his (her) own eyes, and

you inflict a deadly injury. A very vile woman is probably worse than a

very bad man, more inherently foul and more lamentably mischievous; it is

the miserable consequence of man’s folly in wishing to displace her from

the position God meant her to hold, and in making her take a far lower

position than she has the faculty to fill. To degrade is to ruin, and to ruin

utterly.

 

  • THE NOBLE POSSIBILITIES OF ELEVATION. How excellent is

the impossibility of seriously writing such a sentence as that contained in

the twenty-eighth verse, in this age and in this land of ours! Now and here

it certainly is not more difficult to find a woman worthy of our admiration

than to find such a man. In the Churches of Jesus Christ, in the homes of

our country, are women, young and old and in the prime of their powers,

whose character is sound to the center, whose spirit is gracious, whose

lives are lovely, whose influence is wholly beneficent, who are the

sweetness and strength of the present generation, as they are the hope and

promise of the next. And this elevation of woman all comes of treating her

as that which God meant her to be giving to her her rightful position,

inviting and enabling her to fill her sphere, to cultivate her powers, to do

her work, to take her heritage.

 

Ø      It is easy as it is foolish and sinful to degrade; assume the absence of

what God has given and deny the opportunity which should be

offered, and the work is speedily done.

 

Ø      It is quite possible as it is most blessed to elevate; treat men and

women, wherever found and at whatever stage in worth or

unworthiness they may be taken, as those God meant to be His

children, and they will rise to the dignity and partake the inheritance

of “the sons and daughters of the living God” (II Corinthians 6:18).

 

29 “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright;

but they have sought out many inventions.”  Lo, this only (or, only see! this)

have I found. UNIVERSAL CORRUPTION was that which met his wide investigations, but of one thing he was sure, which he proceeds to specify —

he has learned to trace the degradation to its source, not in God’s agency,

but in man’s PERVERSE WILL! That God hath made man upright. Koheleth

believes that man’s original constitution was yasbar, “straight,” “right,”

“morally good,” and possessed of ability to choose and follow what was just

and right (Genesis 1:26, etc.). Thus in the Book of Wisdom of Solomon 2:23

we read, “God created man to be immortal, and made him an image of His

own nature”  Nevertheless, through envy of the devil, came death into the world,

and they that are his portion tempt it.” But they (men) have sought out many

inventions (chishshebonoth); II Chronicles 26:15, where the term

implies works of invention, and is translated “engines,” i.e. devices, ways

of going astray and deviating from original righteousness. Man has thus

abased his free-will, and employed the inventive faculty with which he was

endowed in excoriating evil (Genesis 6:5). How this state of things

came about, how the originally good man became thus wicked, the writer

does not tell. He knows from revelation that God made him upright; he

knows from experience that he is now evil; and he leaves the matter there.

Plumptre quotes, as illustrating our text, a passage from the ‘Antigone’ of

Sophocles, vers. 332, 365, 366, which he renders-

 

“Many the things that strange and wondrous are,

None stranger and mere wonderful than man....

And lo, with all this skill,

Wise and inventive still,

Beyond hope’s dream,

He now to good inclines,

And now to ill.”

 

We may add AEschylus, ‘Choeph.,’ vers. 585, etc. —

 

 “Many fearful plagues

Earth nourishes…

But man’s audacious spirit

Who can tell?”

 

Horace, ‘Carm.,’ 1:3. 25 —

 

Audax omnia perpeti

Gens humans ruit per vetitum nefas.”

 

“The race of man, bold all things to endure,

Hurries undaunted to forbidden crime.”

 

Vulgate, Et ipse se infinitis miscuerit quaestionibus, “And he entangled

himself in multitudinous questions.” This refers to unhallowed curiosity and

speculation; but, as we have seen, the passage is concerned with man’s

moral declension, declaring how his “devices” lead him away from

“uprightness.”

 

 

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