Ecclesiastes 10



Section 11 (vs. 1-3) -  A little folly mars the effect of wisdom, and is sure to make

itself conspicuous.


1 “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send

forth a stinking savor:” -  This is a metaphorical confirmation of the truth

enunciated at the end of the last chapter, “One sinner destroyeth much

good.” It is like the apostle’s warning to his converts, “A little leaven

leaveneth the whole lump” (I Corinthians 5:6). The Hebrew expression

is literally, “flies of death,” which may mean either “dead flies,” as in our

version and the Vulgate (muses morientes), or “deadly, poisonous flies,” as

in the Septuagint (mui~ai qanatou~sai muniai thanatousai – a dead fly.

The latter rendering seems preferable, if we regard the use of similar compound

phrases, e.g. “instruments of death” (Psalm 7:14); “snares of death”

(Psalm 18:5); and in New Testament Greek, hJ plhgh< tou~ qana>tou  - hae

Plaegae tou thanatoublow of the death; deadly wound; the deathstroke

(Revelation 13:3, 12). The flies meant are such as are poisonous in their bite,

or carry infection with them. Such insects corrupt anything which they touch —

food, ointment, whether they perish where they alight or not. They, as the Hebrew

says, make to stink, make to ferment, the oil of the perfumer. The singular verb

is here used with the plural subject to express the unity of the individuals, “flies”

forming one complete idea. The Septuagint rendering omits one of the verbs:

Sampiou~si skeuasi>an ejlai>ou hJdu>smatov Sampiousi skeuasian

elaiou haedusmatos -  will corrupt the preparing of a sweet oil.  The point,

of course, is the comparative insignificance of the cause which spoils a costly

substance compounded with care and skill. Thus little faults mar great

 characters and reputations. “A good name is better than precious ointment”

(ch.7:1), but a good name is ruined by follies, and then it stinks in men’s nostrils.

The term, “ointment of the apothecary,” is used by Moses (Exodus 30:25) in

describing the holy chrism which was reserved for special occasions – “so doth

a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.” The meaning of

the Authorized Version is tolerably correct, but the actual rendering will hardly

stand, and one wants some verb to govern “him that,” etc. The other

versions vary. Septuagint, “A little wisdom is more precious (ti>mion timion

precious) than great glory of folly;” Vulgate, “More precious are wisdom and glory

than small and short-lived folly;” Jerome, “Precious above wisdom and glory is

a little folly.” This last interpretation proceeds upon the idea that such “folly” is

at any rate free from pride, and has few glaring faults. But the original is best

translated thus: “More weighty than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly.” It

is a painful fact that a little folly, one foolish act, one silly peculiarity of

manner or disposition, will suffice to impair the real value of a man’s

wisdom and the estimation in which he was held. The little clement of

foolishness, like the little insect in the ointment, obscures the real excellence

of the man, and deprives him of the honor that is really his due.

And in religion we know that one fault unchecked, one secret sin

cherished, poisons the whole character, makes a man lose the grace of

God. (For the same effect from another cause, see Ezekiel 3:20;

33:13.) Jerome sees in the “dead flies” wicked thoughts put into the

Christian’s mind by Beelzebub, “the lord of flies.”


In vs. 2-3 we have tetrastich (a poem or stanza of four lines) contrasting wisdom

and folly.


2  A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at

his left.” -  There is here no reference to the classical use of right and left, as

ominous of success and disaster, which is never found in the Old

Testament. The right hand is the place of honor, the left of inferiority, as a

matter of fact, not of superstition and luck. The symbolism is intimated in

Christ’s account of the judgment (Matthew 25:31-33). But in the

present passage we should best paraphrase — The wise man’s heart, his

understanding and sentiments, lead him to what is right and proper and

straightforward; the fool’s heart leads him astray, in the wrong direction.

The former is active and skillful, the latter is slow and awkward. One, we

may say, has no left hand, the other has no right. To be at the right hand is

to be ready to help and guard. “The Lord is at thy right hand,” to protect

thee, says the psalmist (Psalm 110:5). The wise man’s mind shows him

how to escape dangers and direct his course safely; the fool’s mind helps

him not to any good purpose, causes him to err and miss his best object.

(Whether incidental or on purpose, this description of conservatism and

liberalism is true today when compare to what the Bible teaches and what

the political bents espouse – CY – 2013)


3 “Yea, also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way,” -  As

soon as ever he sets his foot outside the house, and mixes with other men,

he exhibits his folly. If he remained at home he might keep his real

ineptitude concealed; but such persons as he are unconscious of their

inanity, and take no pains to hide it; they go where, they act as, their

foolish heart prompts them. There is no metaphor here, nor any reference

to the fool being put in the right path and perversely turning away. It is

simply, as the Septuagint renders, Kai> ge ejn oJdw~| o[tan a]frwn

poreu>htai -  Kai ge en hodo htan aphron poreuaetaiYes, also,

when the fool walks by the way – “his wisdom (Hebrew, heart) faileth him,” –

 i.e. his understanding is at fault - “and he saith to every one that he is

a fool.”  The sentence is ambiguous, and capable of two interpretations. The

Vulgate has, Cumipse insipiens sit, omnes stultos aestimat. Jerome quotes

Symmachus as rendering, “He suspects all men that they are fools.” According

to this view, the fool in his conceit thinks that every one he meets is a fool, says

this in his mind, like the sluggard in Proverbs 26:16, “Who is wiser in his own

conceit than ten men that can render a reason.” (Such the pseudo-intellectual

elite of the Northeast and West Coast [Hollywood] today – CY – 2013)  Another

explanation, more closely in accordance with the foregoing clauses, takes the

pronoun in “he is a fool” to refer to the man himself, se esse stultum (compare

Psalm 9:20), “Let the nations know themselves to be but men”). As soon

as he goes abroad, his words and actions display his real character; he betrays

himself; he says virtually to all with whom he has to do, “I AM A FOOL!”

(compare Proverbs 13:16; 18:2). It is hard to say to which interpretation the

Septuagint inclines, giving, Kai< a} logiei~tai pa>nta ajfrosu>nh ejsti>n

 Kai a logieitai panta aphrosunae estinand all which he will discern

is foolishness - all that he will think is folly).


The chief lesson of this passage is the value of sincerity, thoroughness, and

genuineness of character. It is not every man who has the knowledge, the natural

insight, the large experience of life, which go to make up wisdom. But no man need

pretend to be what he is not; no man need proclaim himself a sage or a mentor; no

man need claim for himself the deferential regard and homage of others. He who

will order his way by such light as he can gain by reflection, by the study of the

Scriptures, and by prayer, WILL NOT GO FAR ASTRAY!   Sincerity and

modesty may not gain a temporary reputation for profundity of wisdom; but they

will not expose their possessor to the humiliation and shame of him who,

professing himself to be wise, becomes manifest to all men as a fool.


Section 12 (vs. 4-7).  Illustration of the conduct of wisdom under

capricious rulers, or when fools are exalted to high stations.


4 “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee,” -  Spirit” (ruach)

is here equivalent to “anger,” as Judges 8:3; Proverbs 29:11. The

idea seems to be that a statesman or councilor gives wise advice to a

monarch, which the latter takes in bad part, and shows strong resentment

against the person who offered it. Now, when a man knows himself to be

in the right, and yet finds his counsel rejected, perhaps with scorn and

reproach added, he is naturally prone to feel sore, and to show by some

overt act his sense of the ill treatment which he has received. But what says

wisdom?  leave not thy place” -  (makom); i.e. position, post, office. Do not

hastily resign the situation at court to which you have been appointed.

Some, not so suitably, take the expression, “leave thy place,” figuratively,

as equivalent to “give way to anger, renounce the temper which becomes

you, lose your self-possession.”  The analogous use of matstsale and maamad

 in Isaiah 22:19, confirms the interpretation which we have adopted. Compare

the advice in ch. 8:3, where, however, the idea is rather of open rebellion than

of a resentment which shows itself by withdrawal  - “for yielding pacifieth

great offenses,”  Marpe, “yielding,” is rendered “healing”

by the versions. Thus i]ama -  iamacure; healing – (Septuagint); euratio

(Vulgate). But this translation is not so suitable as that of Symmachus, swfrosu>nh  -

sophrosunae moderation.The word is used in the sense of “gentleness,”

meekness,” in Proverbs 14:30; 15:4; and the gnome expresses the truth that a

calm, conciliating spirit, not prone to take offence, but patient under trying

circumstances, obviates great sins. The sins are those of the subject. This

quiet resignation saves him from conspiracy, rebellion, treason, etc., into

which his untempered resentment might hurry him. We may compare

Proverbs 15:1 and 25:15; and Horace, ‘Cam.,’ 3. 3, “Justum et tenacem

propositi virum,” etc.


“The man whose soul is firm and strong,

Bows not to any tyrant’s frown,

And on the rabble’s clamorous throng

In proud disdain looks coldly down.”



They who regard the “offenses” as those of the ruler explain them to mean

oppression and injustice; but it seems plain from the run of the sentence

that the minister, not the monarch, is primarily in the mind of the writer,

though, of course, it is quite true that the submission of the former might

save the ruler from the commission of some wrong.



A Pacifying Spirit (v. 4)


The circumstances which suggested this admonition were special; we seem to

be introduced to the court of a powerful and arbitrary Oriental sovereign. The

caprice and injustice of the monarch arouses the indignation of the courtier,

who is ready to rise in resentment and anger. But the counsel is given, “Leave

 not thy place.”  Presentment fans the flame of wrath; submission assuages it.

“Yielding allayeth great offences.” Now, the circumstances apply only to a few,

But the principle which they suggest is of wide and general application. A

submissive and pacificatory spirit promotes harmony.




positions of authority expect deference from their inferiors. Birth, rank,

station, are apt to foster an arbitrary habit in their possessors. And whilst

there are many and beautiful exceptions to this rule, especially


EXAMPLE!  It is not to be questioned that arrogance is the special

fault of the officially great.



RESENTMENT. We are so constituted that, apart from the controlling

and restraining influence of reason and religious principles, we return blow

for blow. Anger enkindles anger, as flint and steel enkindle fire. Hence

words are spoken which may never be forgotten, and may ever be

regretted; estrangements take place which may lead to bitter feuds; blows

may follow, even war.



common proverb is, “It takes two to make a quarrel.” Because offence is

given, offence need not be taken; because injury and insult are inflicted, it

does not of necessity follow that they should be avenged. Several motives

concur to restrain resentment.


Ø      Self-respect. The man who loses temper and self-command, upon

subsequent reflection, feels himself so much less a man; he despises



Ø      Prudence. This is the motive specially relied upon in this passage, in

dealing with “the ruler,” whose spirit rises up against him, the courtier is

reminded of the ruler’s power, and is admonished not to provoke him to

the exercise of that power, for in that case all favor may lead to disgrace

and degradation.


Ø      Religious principle. This is the motive which, in the case of the

Christian, is most powerful. The example of the patient and meek

Redeemer, who reviled not again (I Peter 2:23),  and who

 besought mercy for  His murderers, is never absent from the

mind of those who trust and love Him. His love constrains,

His precept controls, His example impels. And thus forbearance and

forgiveness characterize Christ’s disciples, in those circumstances

in which otherwise resentment and revenge might animate the heart.



pacifieth [allayeth] great offences.” It is not required that the injured party

should approve the action of his injurer; or affirmed that no opportunity

may occur of just and dignified rebuke. But silence, quietness of spirit, and

control of natural impulse, will in many cases produce a good result. He

who bears wrong patiently is the stronger and better for the discipline; and

his demeanor may melt the wrongdoer to contrition, and will at all events

lead him to reflection. Thus the threatened conflict may be avoided; a

lesson may be administered to the hasty and arrogant, and THE BEST



Ø      the Word of God is honored, and

Ø      witness is given to THE POWER WHICH CHRIST

POSSESSES to subdue and govern THE UNRULY



Koheleth now gives his personal experience of apparent confusion in

the ordering of state affairs.


5 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun,” - Power gets into the

hands of an unwise man, and then errors are committed and injustice reigns -

as an error which proceedeth from the ruler.”  The K] here is cash veritatis,

which denotes not comparison, but resemblance, the idealization of the individual,

the harmony of the particular with the general idea. The evil which he noticed

appeared to be (he does not affirm that it is) a mistake caused by the ruler; it so

presented itself to his mind. The caution observed in the statement may be owing

partly to the tacit feeling that such blots occasioned difficulties in the view

taken of the moral government of the world. He does not intend to refer to

God under the appellation “ruler.” The Septuagint renders, JWv ajkou>sion

ejxh~lqen  - Hos akousion exaelthenthe sort of unwilling errors - as if it

came involuntarily; Vulgate, to much the same effect, Quasi per errorem

egrediens. The idea here is either that the evil is one not produced by any

intentional action of the ruler, but resulting from human imperfection,

or that what appears to be a mistake is not so really.  But these interpretations

are unsuitable. Those who adhere to the Solomonic authorship of our book

see here a prophetic intimation of the evil of Jeroboam’s rule, which evil

proceeded from the sins of Solomon himself and his son Rehoboam.


6 “Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.”

This is an instance of the error intimated in the preceding verse. A

tyrannical ruler exalts incompetent persons, unworthy favorites,

to “great heights” (ejn o[yesi mega>loiven hopsesi megaloisin

great dignity - Septuagint), as it is literally — puts them into eminent positions.

“Folly” is abstract for concrete, “fools.” And the rich sit in low place. “The rich”

(ushirim) are not simply those who have wealth, however obtained, but men of

noble birth; ajrcaio>ploutoiarchaioploutoi - persons of ancestral wealth,

who from natural position might be looked upon as rulers of men. Such men would

seek eminent stations, not from base motives of gain, but from an honorable

ambition, and yet they are often slighted by unworthy princes and kept in

low estate (compare I Samuel 2:7-8; Proverbs 19:10). The experience mentioned

in this and the following verses could scarcely have been Solomon’s, though it has

been always common enough in the East, where the most startling changes have

been made, the lowest persons have been suddenly raised to eminence

(compare Isaiah 3:12), mistresses and favorites loaded with dignities, and

oppression of the rich has been systematically pursued.  (Consider some

of the tabs being picked up by the United States government for sexual

escapades of men functioning in prominent government position – CY – 2013)


7 “I have seen servants upon horses,” -  A further description of the

effect of the tyrant’s perversion of equity. Such an allusion could not have

been made in Solomon’s reign, when the importation of horses was quite a

new thing (I Kings 10:28). Later, to ride upon horses was a distinction

of the nobility (Jeremiah 17:25). Thus Amaziah’s corpse was brought

on horses to be buried in the city of David (II Chronicles 25:28):

Mordecai was honored by being taken round the city on the king’s own

steed (Esther 6:8, etc.) – “and princes walking as servants upon the earth.”

“Princes” (sarim); i.e. masters, lords. Some take the expressions here as

figurative, equivalent to “those who are worthy to be princes,” and “those

who are fit only to be slaves;” but the literal is the true interpretation.

Early travelers in the East record the fact that Europeans were not allowed by

the Turks to ride upon horses, but were compelled either to use asses or walk

on foot. In some places the privilege of riding upon horseback was permitted to

the consuls of the great powers — an honor denied to all strangers of lower

degree. Among the Greeks and Romans the possession of a horse with its

war-trappings implied a certain amount of wealth and distinction. St. Gregory,

treating of this passage (‘Moral.,’ 31:43), says, “By the name horse is understood

temporal dignity, as Solomon witnesses .... For every one who sins is the

servant of sin, and servants are upon horses, when sinner’s are elated with

the dignities of the present life. But princes walk as servants, when no

honor exalts many who are full of the dignity of virtues, but when the

greatest misfortune here presses them down, as though unworthy.”

(This reminds me in a way of the Aesop Fable of The Man, the Boy

and the Donkey – see below – CY – 2013)


A MAN and his son were once going with their Donkey to market.

As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said:

“You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?” So the Man put the Boy

on the Donkey and they went on their way.


But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy

youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.” So the Man ordered his Boy

to get off, and got on himself.


But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other:

“Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”    Well, the Man didn’t

know what to do, but at last he took his Boy up before him on the Donkey. By this

time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.

The Man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: “Aren’t you

ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor Donkey of yours—you and your

hulking son?”


The Man and Boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they

thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the Donkey’s feet to it, and raised

the pole and the Donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter

of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the Donkey, getting

one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the Boy to drop his end of the pole.

In the struggle the Donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied

together he was drowned “That will teach you,” said an old man who had

followed them:  Please all and you will please NONE!



Social Paradoxes (vs. 5-7)


The evil which the writer of Ecclesiastes here condemns is one of which

the history of every nation affords many examples. Princes’ favorites have

too often been chosen from amongst the worthless herd who seek their

own elevation and advantage by ministering to the vices of the young,

profligate, and powerful (Giving special passes to young hoodlums;

promiscuous women through abortion; the recognition of homosexuality

as most favored life style status, politicians and judges above the law, ad

nauseum – CY – 2013)   How many a reign has been marred by this

mischief! How many a king has been misled, to his own and his country’s

harm, by the folly of choosing companions and counselors not for wisdom,

sincerity, and patriotism, but because those chosen are of congenial tastes

and habits, or are FLATTERS AND PARASITES!



INJURIOUS TO THOSE SO PROMOTED, Men who might have been

respectable and useful in a lowly station are corrupted and morally debased

by their elevation to posts of undeserved dignity and emolument. Their

heads are turned by the giddy height to which they are raised.

(The Peter Principle – The rising to a level of Incompetence – CY – 





SERVE. What kings and rulers need is to be told the truth. It is

important that they should know the actual state and needs of the nation.

And it is important that any weakness or wrong bias, natural or acquired,

should be corrected. But the fools who are set in high places make

 it their one great rule of conduct never to utter unpalatable truth.

They assume the faultlessness of their master; they paint the condition of

his subjects in glowing colors, and give the ruler all the credit for national

prosperity. Their insincerity and flattery are MORALLY

INJUROUS  to the prince, who by the companionship of

the wise might have been morally benefited.



INJURIOUS TO THE COMMUNITY. The example of injustice thus

presented is discouraging to the upright and depressing to the

reflecting.  (“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous

do?” – Psalm 11:3 – CY – 2013).  The throne becomes unpopular, and

the people generally are demoralized.  The evil is no doubt greater in

despotic than in constitutional states, for these latter afford fewer opportunities

for rapacity and oppression. Yet nothing more injuriously affects the

community generally than the spectacle of A COURT  which prefers

folly to wisdom, fashion to experience, VICE to virtue, FRIVOLITY

to piety.  (I would stake my life on this being a description of THE


CY – 2013)


Section 13 (vs. 8-11).  Various proverbs expressing the benefit of

prudence and caution, and the danger of folly. The connection with what

has preceded is not closely marked, but is probably to be found in the

bearing of the maxims on the conduct of the wise man who has incurred

the resentment of a ruler, and might be inclined to disaffection and revolt.

They are intentionally obscure and capable of a double sense — a

necessary precaution if the writer lived under Persian despots.


8 “He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it;” - This proverb occurs in

Proverbs 26:27, and, as expressive of the retribution that awaits evildoers,

finds parallels in Psalm 7:15-16; 9:15; 10:2. The “pit” (gummats, a[pax

lego>menon hapax legomenon) is such a one as was made to

capture wild animals, and the maker of it is supposed to approach it

incautiously, and to fall into it. But the scope of our passage is rather to

speak of what may possibly occur than to insist on the Nemesis that

inevitably overtakes transgressors. Its object is to inspire caution in the

prosecution of dangerous undertakings, whether the enterprise be the

overthrow of a tyrant, or any other action of importance, or whether, as

some suppose, the arraignment of the providential ordering of events is

intended, in which case there would be the danger of blasphemy and

impatience“and whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.|”

The futures throughout vs. 8-9 ,are not intended to express certainty, as if

the results mentioned were inevitable, but rather possibility, and might be

rendered, with “may fall,” “may bite,” etc. The “hedge” is rather

a wall (Proverbs 24:31), in the crevices of which poisonous snakes

have made their abode, which are disturbed by its demolition (compare

Amos 5:19). Nachash, here used, is the generic name of any serpent. The

majority of the snakes found in Palestine are harmless; but there are some

which are very deadly, especially the cobra and those which belong to the

viper family. There is no allusion here to the illegal removal of landmarks, a

proceeding which might be supposed to provoke retribution; the hedge or

wail is one which the demolisher is justified in removing, only in doing so

he must look out for certain contingencies, and guard against them.

Metaphorically, the pulling down a wall may refer to the removal of evil

institutions in a state, which involves the reformer in many difficulties and



9 “Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith;” -  It is natural

to consider this clause as suggested by the breaking of a wall in the

preceding verse; but as this would occasion a jejune repetition, it is better

to take it of the work of the quarryman, as in I Kings 5:17, where the

same verb is used. The dangers to which such laborers are exposed are well

known. Here, again, but unsuccessfully, some have seen a reference to the

removal of landmarks, comparing II Kings 4:4, where the word is

translated “set aside.” As before said, the paragraph does not speak of

retribution, but advises caution, enforcing the lesson by certain homely,

allusions to the accidents that may occur m customary occupations –

and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.”  Cutting up logs

of wood, a man may hurt himself with axe or saw, or be injured by splinters,

etc. If we take the idea to be the felling of trees, there is the danger of

being crushed in their fall, or, according to the tenor of Deuteronomy 19:5,

of being killed inadvertently by a neighbor’s axe. Vulgate, Qui scindit

ligna vulnerabitur ab eis, which is more definite than the general term

endangered;” but the Septuagint has, Kinduneu>sei ejn aujtoi~v

Kinduneusei en autoisbe endangered thereby -  as in the Authorized Version.

There could be an intimation of the danger of attacking time-honored institutions,

even when decaying and corrupt.


10 “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge,” -  The

illustration at the end of the last verse is continued. The “iron” is the axe

used in cutting wood; if this be blunted by the work to which it is put, and

he, the laborer, has not sharpened the edge (Hebrew, the face, as in

Ezekiel 21:2), what is the consequence? How is he to carry on his

work? -  then must he put to more strength:” -  He must put more force

in his blows, he must make up for the want of edge by added power and

weight. This is the simplest explanation of the passage, which contains

many linguistic difficulties. The Septuagint is obscure, jEa<n ejkpe>sh| to<

sidh>rion kai< aujto<v pro>swpon ejta>raxe kai< duna>meiv dunamw>sei

Ean ekpesae to sidaerion kai autos prosopon etaraxe kai dunameis

dunamosei -  “If the axe should fall, then he troubles his face, and he

 shall strengthen his forces (? double his strength);” Vulgate, Si

retusum fuerit ferrurn, et hoc non ut prius, sed hebetatum fuerit, multo

labore exacuetur, “If the iron shall be blunted, and it be not as before, but

have become dull, it shall be sharpened with much labor.”  but wisdom is

profitable to direct.” Rather, the advantage of setting right is (on the side

of) wisdom. Wisdom teaches how to conduct matters to a successful

termination; for instance, it prompts the worker to sharpen his tool instead

of trying to accomplish his task by an exertion of mere brute strength. The

gnome applies to all the instances which have been mentioned above.

Wisdom alone enables a man to meet and overcome the dangers and

difficulties which beset his social, common, and political life. If we apply

the whole sentence to the case of disaffection with the government or open

rebellion, the caution given would signify — See that your means are

adequate to the end, that your resources are sufficient to conduct your

enterprise to success.


The last proverb of this little series shows the necessity of

seizing the right opportunity.



Good Workmanship — Ourselves and Our Tools (vs. 9-10)


This much-debated passage may suggest to us some lessons which may not

have been in the mind of the Preacher, but which are appropriate to our

time and our circumstances. The question of how much work a man can do

is one that depends on two things — on his own strength and skill, and on

the quality of the tools he is using. A weak and untried man with poor

tools will not do half as much as a strong experienced man with good ones

in his hand.


  • THE FIELD OF WORK. This is very broad; it includes not only:


Ø      All manual labor, to which the passage more immediately applies; but:

Ø      All business transactions, all household activities, all matters of

government in which men are often “the tools” with which work is done.

And it includes that to which our attention may be especially directed:

Ø      All Christian work. This is a great field of its own, with a vast amount of

work demanding to be done. Here is work;


o       of vast magnitude;

o       of great delicacy;

o       of extreme difficulty,


for it means nothing less than that change of condition which results from a

change of heart and life. In view of this particular field we regard:




Ø      Good tools. Of these tools are:


o       Divine truth; and to be really good for the great purpose we

have at heart we need to hold and to utter this truth in


§         its integrity, not presenting or exaggerating one or two aspects

only, but offering it in its fullness and symmetry;

§         its purity, uncorrupted by the imaginations and accretions

of our own mind;

§         its adaptation to the special spiritual needs of those to

whom we minister.


o       An elastic organization; not such as will not admit of suiting the

necessities of men as they arise, but one that is flexible, and that will lend

itself to the ever-varying conditions, spiritual and temporal, in which men

are found, and in which they have to be helped and healed.


Ø      Good workmen. Those that have:


o       Wisdom “profitable to direct,” that have tools, skill, discretion, a sound

judgment, a comprehensive view.

o       Strength; those who can use bad tools if good ones are not at hand,

who can work on with sustained energy, who can “bear the burden and

heat of the day,” who can stand criticism and censoriousness, who will not

be daunted by apparent failure or by occasional desertion, who can wait

with long patience” for the day of harvest.


May we seek to be supplied with the most perfect tools in Christian work; for

not only will good tools do much more work than poor ones, but bad tools

will result in mischief to the workman. “He that cleaveth… is endangered.”

Half-truths, or truth unbalanced by its complement, or a badly constructed

organization, may do real and serious harm to those who preach the one or

work through the other.  Let us put our whole strength — physical, mental, spiritual —

into the work of the Lord. With the very best tools we can wield, we shall wish we had

done more than we shall have accomplished, when our last blow has been struck

 for the Master and for mankind.


11 “Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment;” -  The Authorized Version

is not quite correct. The particle μa, with which the verse begins, is here conditional,

and the rendering should be, If the serpent bite, etc.; the apodosis comes in the next

clause. The idea is taken up from v. 8. If one handles a serpent without due

precaution or without knowing the secret of charming it, one will suffer for

it. The taming and charming of poisonous snakes is still, as heretofore,

practiced in Egypt and the East. What the secret of this power is has not

been accurately determined; whether it belongs especially to persons of a

certain idiosyncrasy, whether it is connected with certain words or

intonations of the voice or musical sounds, we do not know. Of the

existence of the power from remote antiquity there can be no question.

Allusions to it in Scripture are common enough (see Exodus 7:11;

Psalm 58:5; Jeremiah 8:17). If a serpent before it is charmed is dangerous,

what then? The Authorized Version affords no sensible apodosis: - “and a

babbler is no better.”  The words rendered “babbler” (baul hallashon)

are literally “master of the tongue,” and by them is meant the ejpaoido>v

epaoidos - the serpent-charmer. The clause should run, Then there is no

use in the charmer. If the man is bitten before he has time to use his charm,

it is no profit to him that he has the secret, it is too late to employ it when the

mischief is done. (I would like to recommend Spurgeon Sermon – The Lifting

Up of the Brazen Serpent - # 6 – this web site – CY – 2013).  This is to shut

the stable door after the steed is stolen. The maxim enforces the warning against

being too late; the greatest skill is useless unless applied at the right moment.

The Septuagint translates virtually as above, “If a serpent bites when not

charmed (ejn ouj yiqurismw~| - en ou psithurismo), then there is no advantage

 to the charmer (tw~| ejpa>|dontito epadonti).  The Vulgate departs from the

context, rendering, Si mordeat serpens in silentio (i.e. probably uncharmed),

nihil eo minus habet qui occulte detrahit, He is nothing better who slanders

secretly,” which St. Jerome thus explains: the serpent and the slanderer are alike,

for as the serpent stealthily infuses its poison, so the secret slanderer pours his

venom into another’s breast.


Section 14 (vs. 12-15).  The mention of “the master of the tongue” in

v. 11 leads the author to introduce some maxims concerned with the

contrast between the words and acts of the wise, and the worthless prating

and useless labors of the fool.


12 “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious;” -  literally,

are grace (ca>riv charis -  Septuagint); i.e. they not only are pleasing in form

and manner, but they conciliate favor, produce approbation and good will,

convince and, what is more, persuade. So of our blessed Lord it was said,

“All bare him witness, and wondered at (toi~v lo>goiv th~v ca>ritov -  

tois logois taes charitos  - the gracious words) which proceeded out of

 His mouth” (Luke 4:22; compare  Psalm 45:2). In distinction from the

unready man, who, like the snake charmer in the preceding verse, suffers

by reason of his untimely silence, the wise man uses his speech opportunely

and to good purpose. (A different result is given in ch.9:11.) – “but the lips of

a fool will swallow up himself.”  This is a stronger expression than “ruin” or

destroy.” Speaking without due forethought, he compromises himself,

says what he has shamefully to withdraw, and brings punishment on his

own head (compare Proverbs 10:8, 21; 18:7 – “A fool’s mouth is his

destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul.”)


Rh~ma para< kairo<n rJifqe<n ajnatre>pei bi>on.

rhaema para kairon rhiphthen anatrepei bion.

“Untimely speech has ruined many a life.”


13 “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness:” -  A

confirmation of the last clause of the preceding verse. The fool speaks

according to his nature. “As saith the proverb of the ancients, Out of the

wicked cometh forth wickedness” (I Samuel 24:13; compare Proverbs 15:2;

Isaiah 32:6). As soon as he opens his month he utters folly and silliness.

But he does not stop there -  the end of his talk is mischievous madness.”

By the time he has finished, he has committed himself to statements that are

worse than silly, that are presumptuous, frenzied, indicative of mental and moral

depravity.  Intemperate language about the secrets of God’s providence and the

moral government of the world may be intended. Some think that the writer is

still alluding to dangerous talk concerning a tyrannical ruler, seditious

proposals, secret conspiracies, etc. The text itself does not confirm such

notion with any certainty.


14 “A fool also is full of words:” -  The word for “fool” here is sakal

which implies a dense, confused thinker. Above the word was kesil, which

denotes rather the self-confidence of the dull and stupid man. Moreover the

fool multiplieth words. He not only speaks foolishly, but he says too much

(compare ch. 5:2). It is not mere loquacity that is here predicated

of the fool, though that is one of his characteristics, but, as the rest of the

verse shows, the prating of things about which he knows nothing.

(Compare Jude 1:10;  II Peter 2:12 – “speak evil of the things that they

Understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.” 

He talks as though he knew everything and there were no limitation to human

cognition  - “a man cannot tell what shall be;” -  And yet, or although, no man

can really predict the future. The fool speaks confidently of such things,

and thereby proves his imbecility. Instead of “what shall be,” the

Septuagint has, Ti> to< geno>menon kai< ti> to< ejso>menon -  Ti to genomenon

Kai ti to esomenon - what has been and what shall be -  the Vulgate, Quid

 ante se fuerit, “What has been before him.” This reading was introduced

probably to obviate a seeming tautology in the following clause – “and what shall

be after him, who can tell him?”  But this clause has a different signification

from the former, and presents a closer definition. The future intended may be the

result of the fool’s inconsiderate language, which may have fatal and lasting

consequences; or it may refer to the visitation of his sins upon his children,

in accordance with the denunciation of Deuteronomy 5:9; 29:20-22; or

it may include the life beyond the grave. The uncertainty of the future is a

constant theme; see ch.3:22; 6:11-12; 7:14; 8:17; and compare Christ’s

parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-20), and James’s warning in his Epistle

(James 4:13-16).


15 “The labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them,

because he knoweth not how to go to the city.”  The transition from plural

to singular is here made, The work of fools wearieth him that knoweth not,

etc. “Fools’ work” signifies, perhaps, the vain speculations about

Providence which Koheleth constantly condemns; or at any rate, all vain

and objectless toil and trouble. Not to know the way to the city is probably

a proverbial saying expressive of GROSS IGNORANCE  concerning THE

MOST OBVIOUS MATTERS!  (see Romans 1:18-32).   How should one,

who fails in the knowledge OPEN TO ALL EXPERIENCE,  be able to

investigate and  give an opinion about abstruse questions (compare Isaiah

35:8)?  The lesson is not to meddle with things too high, especially when

you are ignorant of the commonest matters (John 3:3; 1:12).  A little wisdom

 would prevent ENDLESS and USELESS TROUBLE!


Section 15 (vs. 16-20).   Koheleth returns to the theme mentioned in

vs. 4-7. and speaks of folly in one who holds the position of king, and

the need of wisdom and prudence in the subjects of an UNWORTHY



16 “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child!”(Compare

Isaiah 3:12- CY – 2013) “Child” is naar, which term included any age up

to manhood. Some interpret the word here, as pai~v -  pais  - in Greek, in

the sense of “slave,” contrasting it with “the son of nobles” in the following verse.

But it can hardly signify more than servitor, attendant; and in v. 7 the antithesis to

prince is ebed, not naar. The child in the present case is a youthful,

 inexperienced ruler, who does not realize his responsibilities, and is

THE TOOL OF EVIL ADVISERS!  (Sound familiar with contemporary

United States history? – CY – 2013)  What particular instance, if any, Koheleth

had in view it is impossible to say. Of course, many expositors see a reference to

Rehoboam. whom, at forty years of age, his own son Abijah calls naar

(II Chronicles 13:7), and who was certainly childish in his conduct

(I Kings 12:1-14).  It is best to take the gnome as a general expression, like

that in Isaiah 3:12, “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and

women rule over them”“and thy princes eat in the morning.”  Eating

here implies feasting and banqueting, beginning the day with sensual enjoyment

instead of such honest work as attending to state matters, administering

 justice, etc., as becomes good rulers. None but profligates would thus spend the

early morning. “These are not drunken, as ye suppose; seeing it is but the third

hour  of the day,” says Peter, repudiating the charge of intoxication (Acts 2:15).

“Woe unto them,” cries Isaiah (Isaiah 5:11), “that rise up early in the

morning, that they may follow strong drink!” Even the heathen censured

such debauchery.


17 Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles,” -  

cujus rex nobilis est (Vulgate), uiJo<v ejleuqe>rwn huios eleutheron - son of

 free men (Septuagint). Some would regard “son of nobles” as a periphrasis

expressive of character, equivalent to the Latin generous, as “son of

strength,” equivalent to “strong man;” “son of wickedness,” equivalent to

wicked man;” but the phrase may well be taken literally. Koheleth (v. 7)

has expressed his disgust at the exaltation of unworthy slaves to high

positions; he here intimates his adherence to the idea that those who

descend from noble ancestors, and have been educated in the higher ranks

of society, are more likely to prove a blessing to their land than UPSTARTS

who have been placed by CAPRICE or FAVORTISM  in situations of trust

and eminence. Of course, it is not universally true that men of high birth make

good rulers; but proverbs of general tenor must not be pressed in

particulars, and the author must be understood to affirm that the fact of

having distinguished ancestors is an incentive to right action, stirs a worthy

emulation in a man, gives him a motive which is wanting in the LOWBORN

parvenu  (a relative newcomer to a socio-econmic class).  The feeling, noblesse oblige

(literally – nobility obliges - Benevolent, honorable behavior considered to be the

responsibility of persons of high birth or rank)  has preserved many from baseness

(compare John 8:39) – “and thy princes eat in due season,” -  not like those

mentioned in v. 16, but in tempore, pro<v kairo>npros kairon - at the right

 time, the season - which appertains to all mundane things (ch.3:1-8) -

for strength, and not for drunkenness.”  The preposition here is taken as

expressing the object — they eat to gain strength, not to indulge sensuality;

but it is more in accordance with usage to translate “in,” or “with, manly

strength,” i.e. as man’s strength demands, and not degenerating into a





Statesmanship (vs. 16-17)


It is sometimes assumed that moral qualities are unimportant in relation to

political affairs. If a king be brave in his warlike expeditions, splendid in his

court, and affable in his demeanor; if a statesman be sagacious in counsel

and determined in action, it is too generally assumed that nothing further is

wanting to secure national greatness and prosperity (Modern thinking in

the United States is that the private lives of the leader does not matter –

CY – 2013).  However, the writer of Ecclesiastes looked far deeper,

and saw the necessity of a self-denying and laborious character in





flung into power by the wave of royal favoritism, or by popular caprice and

applause, are apt to use their exalted station as a means to personal

enjoyment and to THE GRATIFICATION OF VANITY!   Statesmen

(a misnomer – CY – 2013) who pass their time in luxury and social ostentation

will certainly neglect the public interests.  They account their power

and rank  as their possession, and not as a sacred trust. Their example

tends to debase the national morals, and to lower the standard of

public life. They surround themselves with flatterers, and they

neglect their proper duty, until they awake to find their country

 plunged into calamity or (how ironical – CY – 2013)  threatened

with enslavement.  (Compare the bankruptcy of Detroit – CY – 2013)




governments it is obvious that the national prosperity depends very largely

upon the patriotism and justice, the assiduity and unwearied devotion to

duty, of those in high station. The conditions of national life under a

constitutional government are different. Yet there is no political community

in which unselfishness, temperance, and diligent application to the public

service are not valuable qualities on the part of these who deliberate and

decide upon great public questions, and of those who administer a nation’s



In modern states, where the representative principle so largely obtains, great power

is placed in the hands of THE CITIZENS and SUBJECTS.   With them

accordingly rests much of the responsibility for the righteous government and

 the true prosperity of the nation. (In the USA, we live in a society of government,

by the people and for the people – all is TO PROMOTE THE GENERAL

WELFARE – and this is not necessarily being done!  THEREFORE,



CY – 2013)  It behooves Christian men to beware of being misled by party spirit,

and so of overlooking the grave moral faults of those who solicit their

confidence. It is IN THE POWER OF THE PEOPLE  to raise to positions

of eminence and authority men whose aim is not personal aggrandizement

 and  enjoyment, BUT THE PUBLIC GOOD!   If this power be wisely and

firmly exercised:


  • vice and crime will be repressed,
  • order and liberty will be maintained, and
  • the nation will maintain a high position and exercise a noble influence

among the nations of the earth.


Then the spectator will be inspired to utter the exclamation, “Happy art thou,

O land!”  “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 33:12)

(Up until the last fifty years, the citizens of Untied States lived and believed

this!  If put to a vote, much more recent than this, was believed!    Now the

American Civil Liberties Union, in their undermining of all that is holy, is

Attempting to spawn a nation that knows not God, much like after the time

of Joseph in Egypt, there came “a new king over Egypt, which knew not

Joseph.”- Exodus 1:8 – CY – 2013)


18 “By much slothfulness the building decayeth,” -  The subject is

still the state. Under the image of a house which falls into ruin for lack of

needful repairs, is signified the decay that surely overtakes a kingdom

whose rulers are given up to indolence and debauchery, and neglect to

attend to the affairs which require prompt care (compare Amos 9:11).

Such were they whom Amos (Ibid. 6:6) denounced, “That drink wine

in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments; but they are not

grieved for the affliction of Joseph.” “Much slothfulness” is expressed in

the original by a dual form, which gives an intensive signification.

The rest of this clause is more accurately rendered, the rafters sink, i.e. the

timber framework, whether of roof or wall, gives way. This may possibly

not be noticed at once, but it makes itself known unmistakably ere long -

and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.” - Rather,

the house leaketh, the roof lets in the rain. Septuagint, jEn ajrci>a ceirw~n

sta>xei hJ oijki>a  - En archia cheiron staxei hae oikia - Through laziness

of hands the house will drip.  The very imperfect construction of the flat roofs

of Eastern houses demanded continual attention. Such common and annoying

occurrences as a leaky roof are mentioned in Proverbs 19:13; 27:15). Plautus, ‘

Mostell.,’ 1:2.28 —


Ventat imber, lavit parietes; perpluunt

Tigna; putrefacit aer operam fabri.”

“The rain comes down, and washes all the walls,

The roof is leaky, and the weather rough

Loosens the architect’s most skilful work.”



Ruin — Its Forms and Its Sources (vs. 17-18)


A material “ruin” may be a very picturesque and even pleasant sight, when

that which has answered its end loses its form and does well to disappear.

But otherwise a ruin is a pitiable spectacle.




Ø      Health. When a man should be in his prime, with all his physical and

mental forces at their best; when he should be able to work effectively and

continuously, and should be the stay of his home and a strength to his

Church and to his friends; and when, instead of this, he is worn, feeble,

incapable, obviously declining, and clearly drawing towards the end, —

we have a melancholy ruin. (Such as a result of licentiousness;

drug abuse; alcohol abuse, homosexuality; etc. – “Lest thou give

 thine honor unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: 

Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labors be

in the house of a stranger; And thou mourn at last, when

 thy flesh and thy body are consumed.”Proverbs 5:9-11;  

“…..even their women did change the natural use into that

Which is against nature:  And likewise also the men,

 leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in

their lust toward one toward another; men with men

working that which is unseemly, and receiving in

themselves that recompence of their error which was

 meet.” Romans 1:26-27 – CY – 2013)


Ø      Circumstance. The once wealthy merchant, or the once powerful


 is brought down to poverty, helplessness, and general disregard;

this also is a pitiful sight. (Rest assured that the reasons for and

the instigators of decline in America will be known as history

unfolds, but the worst of all will be reserved for publication in

the Great Judgment Day prior to us slipping out into eternity! –

Jesus said, “For there is nothing covered, that shall not be

 revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” – Luke 12:2 –

 CY – 2013).


Ø      Character. When a man once upright, pure, godly, respecting himself

and living in the enjoyment of general esteem, is brought down to moral

ruin and becomes a human wreck, then we see the saddest sight beneath

the sun. What was once the fairest and noblest thing in the world — a

sound, strong, beautiful human character — has lost all its excellency and

become foul and ugly. How does this happen? Here are;





Ø      Self-indulgence. To “eat for strength and not for revelry” (drunkenness)

is the right and the becoming thing; “to eat (feast) in the, morning,” when

the precious hours should be given to duty, — this is a shameful and a fatal

thing. Self-indulgence, (especially sensual indulgence) which constantly

tends to become greater and grosser, leads down fast:


o       to feebleness,

o       to poverty,

o       to demoralization,

o       to shame, and finally,

o        to DEATH!


Ø      Idleness, or carelessness.


o       The man who does not think it worth his while to study

the laws of health, and to take pains to keep them, need

not wonder if he becomes weak and sickly, if his life is



o       The man who pursues his pleasure when he should be

doing his work will certainly find:


§         his business “decaying,”

§         his credit falling,

§         his prospects of success “dropping through.”


So also:


§         the housewife,

§         the student,

§         the minister,

§         the secretary and,

§         the statesman.


o       The man who treats his own spirit as something of secondary

importance, who:


§         does not read that he may be enlightened,

§         does not worship that he may be edified,

§         does not pray that he may be guarded and sustained,

§         does not seek the companionship of the good and

fellowship with Christ,


who leaves his spiritual nature at the mercy of all the

adverse forces that are circling round him and acting

 on him, may expect that:


§         his soul will be impaired,

§         his character will decay, and


that the most precious “house” which man can build will fall,


 (Matthew 7:27).




The Curse of Sloth (v. 18)


Religious teachers are sometimes unwilling to touch upon common faults,

such as are noticeable by every observer as prevailing too generally in the

everyday life of their fellow-men. The Scriptures give no countenance to

SUCH NEGLIGENCE,  but, on the contrary, deal faithfully with those

errors and evil habits which are alien from the Christian character, and

which are injurious to: human society.


When the people find they can  vote themselves money,
that will herald the end of the republic.

(Benjamin Franklin)


Slothfulness was peculiarly hateful to the writer of this book, who inculcated

diligence as a religious duty, and exhibited in homely but effective ways the

results of its prevalence.


  • TEMPTATIONS TO SLOTH ARE MANY. Work must be done, some

will admit; but it may be left to others, or it may be put off to a more

convenient season. Work need not be done, others will declare; much may

be left undone which some people think of importance, but which is not

really so. Upon the plea of ill health, or mental inability, or preoccupation,

multitudes, in this world where there is so much to be done, sink into

slothful, indolent habits and a useless life.  (i.e. the contempary

Welfare State in America Is the bankruptcy this week, of Detroit,

an omen of what is to come to the United States as a whole? CY – 2013)




Ø      The slothful man is his own enemy. Had he exerted himself and

exercised his powers, he would have grown an abler and a better man.

Who does not know persons with undeniable gifts who have

wrapped their talent in a napkin” (Luke 19:20), and who

have morally deteriorated, until they have become worthless

 members of society? (What are the effects on one’s self-esteem? –

no self-respect translates into no respect for others! – CY – 2013)


Ø      The slothful man wrongs society. Every man is born into this world

to do a work for the general good. To live in idleness and comfort

upon  the produce of others’ toil is to inflict A POSITIVE

INJURY!  . Others have to labor in order that the idle may be fed.

Work is left undone for which the indolent possess, it may be,

some peculiar gift. For the life of the slothful THE WORLD




The Book of Proverbs contains some very striking reflections and

statements upon this point. And for the Christian it is enough to consider

the example of the Lord Jesus, who with all His consecrated energy

devoted Himself to HIS FATHER’S WILL AND WORK!  (John 9:4)

Jesus is our example:  “For I came down from heaven, not to do

mine own will, but the will of Him who sent me.”  (John 6:38).

 How alien from the Master’s spirit is the habit of the indolent! We cannot

lose sight of the fact that, IN THE LAST JUDGMENT, , the “wicked and

 slothful servant” must hear words of condemnation.  (Matthew 25:26)





Ø      Prayer prompts to watchfulness and toil.

Ø      Attention to the counsels and admonitions of God’s Word

cannot fail to be serviceable in delivering us from temptations

to slothfulness.

Ø      Meditation upon the example of our Savior and Lord will stimulate to

diligence and zeal. They who by the indwelling of His Spirit are ONE



o       will share His devotion to the Father’s will, and

o       will share His consecration to THE WELFARE OF



19 “A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry:” -  Here

is a cause of the decay spoken of above. The rulers spend in revelry and

debauchery the time and energy which they ought to give to affairs of state.

More literally, for merriment they make bread, and wine [that] cheereth

life; i.e. they use God’s good gifts of bread and wine as means of

intemperance and thoughtless pleasure. So a psalmist speaks of wine as

making glad the heart of man (Psalm 104:15); and Ben-Sira says,

“Wine is as good as life to a man, if it be drunk moderately: what life is

there to a man that is without wine? for it was created to make men glad.

Wine measurably drunk and in season bringeth gladness of the .heart, and

cheer fullness of the mind” (Ecclesiasticus. 31. [34.] 27, 28) -  but money

answereth all things.” -  i.e. grants all that such persons want. It requires

money to provide rich food and costly wines; this they possess, and they

are thus able to indulge their appetites to the utmost. It concerns them not

how such resources are obtained — won by extortion from a starving

people, exacted in exorbitant taxation, pillaged by unscrupulous

instruments; they want gold to expend on their lusts, and they get it somehow,

and with it all that in their view makes life worth living.

Commentators alto Horace, ‘ Ep.,’ 1:6.36, “Scilicet uxorem,” etc.


“For why — a portioned wife, fair fame, and friends,

Beauty and birth on sovereign Wealth attends.

Blest is her votary throned his bags among!

Persuasion’s self sits perched upon his tongue;

Love beams in every feature of his face,

And every gesture beams celestial grace.”



Corn. a Lapide appositely quotes —


“…quidquid nummis praesentibus opta,

Et veniet; clausum possidet arca Jovem.”

“If thou hast gold, then wish for anything,

And it will surely come; the money-box

Hath in it a most potent deity.”


20 “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought;” -  Under the above

Mentioned circumstances, a man might be tempted to abuse and curse these

ill-conditioned rulers. Koheleth warns against this error; it is dangerous to

give way to it (compare Exodus 22:28). In ch.8:2 the motive

for submission to the king is placed on religious grounds; in the present

passage the ground is prudence, regard for personal safety, which might be

compromised by plain speaking, especially when one has to do with such

depraved and unscrupulous persons. We may compare David’s generous

conduct to his cruel persecutor Saul, whom he spared because he was the

Lord’s anointed (I Samuel 24:6, l0; 26:9; II Samuel 1:14). Madda, “thought,”

consciousness,” is rare, and is supposed to belong to late Hebrew (see

II Chronicles 1:10-12; Daniel 1:4, 17). The Septuagint translates it sunei>dhsiv

suneidaesis -  consciousness - Vulgate, cogitatio. To encourage

such thoughts in the mind is to run the risk of openly expressing them at

some unguarded moment; for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth

speaketh.” (Matthew 12:34) -  curse not the rich in thy bedchamber:” -  

In ability to injure, the rich stand in the same category as the king. You are not safe

ejn taniei>oiv koitw>nwn souen tanieiois koitonon sou - in your very

 bedchamber -  where, if anywhere, you would fancy yourself free from espionage.

But “walls have ears,” says the proverb (compare Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40);

and the King of Syria is warned, “Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the

King of Israel the words thou speakest in thy bedchamber” (II Kings 6:12).

“That which ye have spoken in the ear in closets (ejn toi~v tamiei>oiv

en tois tamieiois in closets; in the storerooms) shall be proclaimed upon

the housetops” (Luke 12:3 -  “for a bird of the air shall carry the voice,” –

 A proverbial saying, common to all languages (a little birdie told me – CY –

2013), In Koheleth’s day informers evidently plied their trade

industriously, and here meet, not only with notice, but ironically with

reprobation. On the general sentiment of the verse, we may quote Juvenal,

‘Sat.,’ 9:102, “O Corydon, Corydon,” thus versified in Ginsburg’s



“And dost thou seriously believe, fond swain,

The actions of the great unknown remain?

Poor Corydon! even beasts would silence break,

And stocks and stones, if servants did not, speak.

Bolt every door, stop every cranny tight,

Close every window, put out every light;

Let not a whisper reach the listening ear,

No noise, no motion; let no soul be near;

Yet all that passed at the cock’s second crow,

The neighboring vintner shall, ere day-break, know.”


and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.”  (compare Latin ales);

the possessor (baal) of a pair of wings, a periphrasis for “a bird,” as in Proverbs

1:17. We had “master of the tongue,” v. 11; so in Daniel 8:6, 20, “having

horns,” is “master (baal) of horns.”



A Virtuous People (vs. 16-20)


  • Industrious. “By slothfulness the roof sinketh in; and through idleness of

the hands the house leaketh (v. 18). What is true of a material edifice is

also true of the body politic. As the timbers or rafters of a private dwelling

will decay unless watched over and from time to time repaired by its

inmate, so the fabric of the state will go to ruin unless it be surveyed by

vigilant eyes and upheld by untiring hands.


  • Joyous. Not only is there nothing sinful in feasting and wine-drinking

when these are kept in virtuous moderation, but the absence of gladness

from the face of any people is a bad omen. Gloom on the countenance and

wretchedness in the heart mean that social disorder and perhaps revolution

are at hand. Everything that contributes to the happiness and contentment

of a people is a distinct contribution to THE STABILITY OF A



  • Moneyed. A people without money or money’s worth is a people on the

verge of starvation; and no state can stand long whose population consists

of paupers. Money there must be, or its equivalent in material goods, and

this not concentrated in a few hands, but distributed as widely as possible.

The main problem of statesmen should be to secure a population, not only

industrious and happy, but well paid, and therefore well fed, well clothed,

and well housed.


  • Loyal. A people given to treasonable practices cannot be either

prosperous or happy. Hence the Preacher dissuades all good subjects from

cursing the king even in their thoughts. The impossibility of escaping

detection under the all-pervading espionage of an Oriental despotism

rendered it unsafe in the times of the Preacher; but, even in times when the

liberty of the subject is respected, it is not always prudent to be hatching

conspiracies against the crown, however secret these may be; and

certainly it is not conducive to the welfare of a people that such

should be common in the land.


  • Law-abiding. As little given to curse the rich as to plot against the king.

Not communistic, socialistic, or revolutionary in the bad sense of these

expressions; since a people may be all of these in a good sense without

losing its character for virtue.



Duties of Rulers and Subjects (vs. 16-20)


Some of the evils of life arise from errors and follies which may be

corrected by diligence and prudence, and among them are:


o       the caprices of unworthy princes,

o       the vices of courtiers, and

o       the disloyalty of subjects.


Both kings and those over whom they rule have duties towards each other,

the violation of which bring many mischiefs; both need to have before their

minds the ideal of righteousness belonging to their respective stations.


  • THE EVILS OF MISGOVERNMENT. The land is miserable whose

king is a child in years or in heedlessness, whose princes begin the days

with revels instead of attending to the management of affairs of state and

the administration of justice. The incapacity of the prince leads to the

appointment of unworthy ministers, and prevents a proper check

being put upon their profligacy and neglect. The result is soon seen

in the disorders of the state. “Through the slothfulness of rulers,” he

goes on to hint, “the fabric of thy state decays; the neglected roof

lets the water through. And meantime there is high revelry within the

palace walls; and gold and silver supply all their needs” (Vs. 18-19).

Illustrations of such an unhappy state of matters recur only too readily

to the student of history.



land is happy, governed by a king of undisputed title (v. 17), who sets an

example of integrity, and not by some upstart adventurer. He derives his

title from his noble descent, but he may establish his power on a firmer

foundation if the excellences of his ancestors are reproduced in him; he will

secure a large measure of prosperity for his people if he choose for his

officers men of simple tastes, who think more of discharging their

duties than of self-indulgence.



Even if the sovereign is personally unworthy of respect, the office he

holds should be honored; he is still the servant of God, even if he is grossly

neglectful of his duties. There is a worse evil than misgovernment, and

 that is ANARCHY!  “Curse not the king” — he may not deserve it;

there may be reasons of state to explain what seems to be capricious or unjust

in his conduct; yield him reverence for conscience sake, because it is right to do

so. And even if he be in the wrong, it is prudent to abstain from words of

blame, since he has the power to punish those that speak against him, and

may hear in unexpected ways what has been said about him in secrecy.

Such counsels are of a kindred character with those which the apostles

have given (Romans 13:1-7; I  Peter 2:13-18). At first it might seem

as if they commended the cultivation of a slavish spirit on the part of

subjects towards their rulers, and it is well known that many have deduced

from them the preposterous doctrine of “passive obedience.” But it must

be kept in mind that while these portions of Scripture prescribe the duties

of subjects, they prescribe also the duties of kings; and that it is no slavish

doctrine to hold that those who rule in equity have an absolute right to the

devotion and loyalty of their subjects. When they depart from equity their

claim to implicit obedience is proportionately diminished. The prudential

maxim of v. 20 warns men to count the cost before they assail the power

of even a bad king — to beware of provoking his wrath by heedless

conduct — but does not command passive obedience to him.

Misgovernment may reach such a pitch as to make it a duty for subjects to

brave the wrath of kings, and to attempt to put a check upon their folly.

We have not here a mean-spirited and time-serving piece of advice, suitable

only for those who languish under the tyranny of Eastern despots, but a

warning against rashness which is not inapplicable to the most public spirited

citizen of the freest state. The examples of:


o       Isaiah under Ahaz,

o       Jeremiah under Zedekiah, and

o       Paul under Nero,


show that it is possible to have a love of righteousness and hatred of

 iniquity, and yet not be wanting in respect to a bad leader.


"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."


This material can be found at:


If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.