The benefit of a good name; of death above life; of sorrow above vain mirth. (1-6) Concerning oppression, anger, and discontent. (7-10) Advantages of wisdom. (11-22) Experience of the evil of sin. (23-29)
Verses 1-6 Reputation for piety and honesty is more desirable than all the wealth and pleasure in this world. It will do more good to go to a funeral than to a feast. We may lawfully go to both, as there is occasion; our Saviour both feasted at the wedding of his friend in Cana, and wept at the grave of his friend in Bethany. But, considering how apt we are to be vain and indulge the flesh, it is best to go to the house of mourning, to learn the end of man as to this world. Seriousness is better than mirth and jollity. That is best for us which is best for our souls, though it be unpleasing to sense. It is better to have our corruptions mortified by the rebuke of the wise, than to have them gratified by the song of fools. The laughter of a fool is soon gone, the end of his mirth is heaviness.
Verses 7-10 The event of our trials and difficulties is often better than at first we thought. Surely it is better to be patient in spirit, than to be proud and hasty. Be not soon angry, nor quick in resenting an affront. Be not long angry; though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it passes through it as a way-faring man; it dwells only in the bosom of fools. It is folly to cry out upon the badness of our times, when we have more reason to cry out for the badness of our own hearts; and even in these times we enjoy many mercies. It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times; as if former ages had not the like things to complain of that we have: this arises from discontent, and aptness to quarrel with God himself.
Verses 11-22 Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, yea better. It shelters from the storms and scorching heat of trouble. Wealth will not lengthen out the natural life; but true wisdom will give spiritual life, and strengthen men for services under their sufferings. Let us look upon the disposal of our condition as the work of God, and at last all will appear to have been for the best. In acts of righteousness, be not carried into heats or passions, no, not by a zeal for God. Be not conceited of thine own abilities; nor find fault with every thing, nor busy thyself in other men's matters. Many who will not be wrought upon by the fear of God, and the dread of hell, will avoid sins which ruin their health and estate, and expose to public justice. But those that truly fear God, have but one end to serve, therefore act steadily. If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. Every true believer is ready to say, God be merciful to me a sinner. Forget not at the same time, that personal righteousness, walking in newness of life, is the only real evidence of an interest by faith in the righteousness of the Redeemer. Wisdom teaches us not to be quick in resenting affronts. Be not desirous to know what people say; if they speak well of thee, it will feed thy pride, if ill, it will stir up thy passion. See that thou approve thyself to God and thine own conscience, and then heed not what men say of thee; it is easier to pass by twenty affronts than to avenge one. When any harm is done to us, examine whether we have not done as bad to others.
Verses 23-29 Solomon, in his search into the nature and reason of things, had been miserably deluded. But he here speaks with godly sorrow. He alone who constantly aims to please God, can expect to escape; the careless sinner probably will fall to rise no more. He now discovered more than ever the evil of the great sin of which he had been guilty, the loving many strange women, ( 1 Kings ) found. How was he likely to find such a one among those he had collected? If any of them had been well disposed, their situation would tend to render them all nearly of the same character. He here warns others against the sins into which he had been betrayed. Many a godly man can with thankfulness acknowledge that he has found a prudent, virtuous woman in the wife of his bosom; but those men who have gone in Solomon's track, cannot expect to find one. He traces up all the streams of actual transgression to the fountain. It is clear that man is corrupted and revolted, and not as he was made. It is lamentable that man, whom God made upright, has found out so many ways to render himself wicked and miserable. Let us bless Him for Jesus Christ, and seek his grace, that we may be numbered with his chosen people.
Ecclesiastes 7:1-29 . name
--character; a godly mind and life; not mere reputation with man, but what a man is
in the eyes of God, with whom the name
are one thing ( Isaiah 9:6
). This alone is "good," while all else is "vanity" when made the chief end. ointment
--used lavishly at costly banquets and peculiarly refreshing in the sultry East. The Hebrew
for "name" and for "ointment," have a happy paronomasia, Sheem
"Ointment" is fragrant only in the place where the person is whose head and garment are scented, and only for a time. The "name" given by God to His child ( Revelation 3:12
) is for ever and in all lands. So in the case of the woman who received an everlasting name from Jesus Christ, in reward for her precious ointment ( Isaiah 56:5
). Jesus Christ Himself hath such a name, as the Messiah, equivalent to Anointed ( Solomon 1:3
). and the day of
&c.--not a general censure upon God for creating man; but, connected with the previous clause, death is to him, who hath a godly name, "better" than the day of his birth; "far better," as Philippians 1:23
2. Proving that it is not a sensual enjoyment of earthly goods which is meant in Ecclesiastes 3:13 , 5:18 . A thankful use of these is right, but frequent feasting Solomon had found dangerous to piety in his own case. So Job's fear ( Ecclesiastes 1:4 Ecclesiastes 1:5 ). The house of feasting often shuts out thoughts of God and eternity. The sight of the dead in the "house of mourning" causes "the living" to think of their own "end."
3. Sorrow--such as arises from serious thoughts of eternity.
laughter--reckless mirth ( Ecclesiastes 2:2 ).
by the sadness . . . better--( Psalms 126:5 Psalms 126:6 , 2 Corinthians 4:17 , Hebrews 12:10 Hebrews 12:11 ). MAURER translates: "In sadness of countenance there is (may be) a good (cheerful) heart." So Hebrew, for "good," equivalent to "cheerful" ( Ecclesiastes 9:7 ); but the parallel clause supports English Version.
5. ( Psalms 141:4 Psalms 141:5 ). Godly reproof offends the flesh, but benefits the spirit. Fools' songs in the house of mirth please the flesh, but injure the soul.
6. crackling--answers to the loud merriment of fools. It is the very fire consuming them which produces the seeming merry noise ( Joel 2:5 ). Their light soon goes out in the black darkness. There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew, Sirim ("thorns"), Sir ("pot"). The wicked are often compared to "thorns" ( 2 Samuel 23:6 , Nahum 1:10 ). Dried cow-dung was the common fuel in Palestine; its slowness in burning makes the quickness of a fire of thorns the more graphic, as an image of the sudden end of fools ( Psalms 118:12 ).
7. oppression--recurring to the idea ( Ecclesiastes 3:16 , 5:8 ). Its connection with Ecclesiastes 7:4-6 is, the sight of "oppression" perpetrated by "fools" might tempt the "wise" to call in question God's dispensations, and imitate the folly (equivalent to "madness") described ( Ecclesiastes 7:5:6 ). WEISS, for "oppression," translates, "distraction," produced by merriment. But Ecclesiastes 5:8 favors English Version.
a gift--that is, the sight of bribery in "places of judgment" ( Ecclesiastes 3:16 ) might cause the wise to lose their wisdom (equivalent to "heart"), ( Job 12:6 , Job 21:6 Job 21:7 , 24:1 , &c.). This suits the parallelism better than "a heart of gifts"; a benevolent heart, as WEISS.
8. connected with Ecclesiastes 7:7 . Let the "wise" wait for "the end," and the "oppressions" which now (in "the beginning") perplex their faith, will be found by God's working to be overruled to their good. "Tribulation worketh patience" ( Romans 5:3 ), which is infinitely better than "the proud spirit" that prosperity might have generated in them, as it has in fools ( Psalms 73:2 Psalms 73:3 Psalms 73:12-14 Psalms 73:17-26 , 5:11 ).
9. angry--impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was ( Ecclesiastes 5:2 , Proverbs 12:16 ).
10. Do not call in question God's ways in making thy former days better than thy present, as Job did ( Job 29:2-5 ). The very putting of the question argues that heavenly "wisdom" (Margin) is not as much as it ought made the chief good with thee.
11. Rather, "Wisdom, as compared with an inheritance, is good," that is, is as good as an inheritance; "yea, better (literally, and a profit) to them that see the sun" (that is, the living, Ecclesiastes 11:7 , Job 3:16 , Psalms 49:19 ).
12. Literally, (To be) in (that is, under) the shadow ( Isaiah 30:2 ) of wisdom (is the same as to be) in (under) the shadow of money; wisdom no less shields one from the ills of life than money does.
is, that--rather, "the excellency of the knowledge of wisdom giveth life," that is, life in the highest sense, here and hereafter ( Proverbs 3:18 , John 17:3 , 2 Peter 1:3 ). Wisdom (religion) cannot be lost as money can. It shields one in adversity, as well as prosperity; money, only in prosperity. The question in Ecclesiastes 7:10 implies a want of it.
13. Consider as to God's work, that it is impossible to alter His dispensations; for who can, &c.
straight . . . crooked--Man cannot amend what God wills to be "wanting" and "adverse" ( Ecclesiastes 1:15 , Job 12:14 ).
14. consider--resumed from Ecclesiastes 7:13 . "Consider," that is, regard it as "the work of God"; for "God has made (Hebrew, for 'set') this (adversity) also as well as the other (prosperity)." "Adversity" is one of the things which "God has made crooked," and which man cannot "make straight." He ought therefore to be "patient" ( Ecclesiastes 7:8 ).
after him--equivalent to "that man may not find anything (to blame) after God" (that is, after "considering God's work," Ecclesiastes 7:13 ). Vulgate and Syriac, "against Him" (compare Ecclesiastes 7:10 , Romans 3:4 ).
15. An objection entertained by Solomon
in the days of his vanity--his apostasy ( Ecclesiastes 8:14 , Job 21:7 ).
just . . . perisheth--( 1 Kings 21:13 ). Temporal not eternal death ( John 10:28 ). But "just" is probably a self-justiciary.
wicked . . . prolongeth--See the antidote to the abuse of this statement in Ecclesiastes 8:12 .
16. HOLDEN makes Ecclesiastes 7:16 the scoffing inference of the objector, and Ecclesiastes 7:17 the answer of Solomon, now repentant. So ( 1 Corinthians 15:32 ) the skeptic's objection; ( 1 Corinthians 15:33 ) the answer. However, "Be not righteous over much," may be taken as Solomon's words, forbidding a self-made righteousness of outward performances, which would wrest salvation from God, instead of receiving it as the gift of His grace. It is a fanatical, pharisaical righteousness, separated from God; for the "fear of God" is in antithesis to it ( Ecclesiastes 7:18 , Ecclesiastes 5:3 Ecclesiastes 5:7 , Matthew 6:1-7 , 9:14 , Matthew 23:23 Matthew 23:24 , Romans 10:3 , 1 Timothy 4:3 ).
over wise--( Job 11:12 , Romans 12:3 Romans 12:16 ), presumptuously self-sufficient, as if acquainted with the whole of divine truth.
destroy thyself--expose thyself to needless persecution, austerities and the wrath of God; hence to an untimely death. "Destroy thyself" answers to "perisheth" ( Ecclesiastes 7:15 ); "righteous over much," to "a just man." Therefore in Ecclesiastes 7:15 it is self-justiciary, not a truly righteous man, that is meant.
17. over much wicked--so worded, to answer to "righteous over much." For if not taken thus, it would seem to imply that we may be wicked a little. "Wicked" refers to "wicked man" ( Ecclesiastes 7:15 ); "die before thy time," to "prolongeth his life," antithetically. There may be a wicked man spared to "live long," owing to his avoiding gross excesses ( Ecclesiastes 7:15 ). Solomon says, therefore, Be not so foolish (answering antithetically to "over wise," Ecclesiastes 7:16 ), as to run to such excess of riot, that God will be provoked to cut off prematurely thy day of grace ( Romans 2:5 ). The precept is addressed to a sinner. Beware of aggravating thy sin, so as to make thy case desperate. It refers to the days of Solomon's "vanity" (apostasy, Ecclesiastes 7:15 ), when only such a precept would be applicable. By litotes it includes, "Be not wicked at all."
18. this . . . this--the two opposite excesses ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 Ecclesiastes 7:17 ), fanatical, self-wise righteousness, and presumptuous, foolhardy wickedness.
he that feareth God shall come forth of them all--shall escape all such extremes ( Proverbs 3:7 ).
19. Hebrew, "The wisdom," that is, the true wisdom, religion ( 2 Timothy 3:15 ).
than ten mighty--that is, able and valiant generals ( Ecclesiastes 7:12 , 9:13-18 , Proverbs 21:22 , 24:5 ). These "watchmen wake in vain, except the Lord keep the city" ( Psalms 127:1 ).
20. Referring to Ecclesiastes 7:16 . Be not "self-righteous," seek not to make thyself "just" before God by a superabundance of self-imposed performances; "for true 'wisdom, or 'righteousness,' shows that there is not a just man," &c.
21. As therefore thou being far from perfectly "just" thyself, hast much to be forgiven by God, do not take too strict account, as the self-righteous do ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 , Luke 18:9 Luke 18:11 ), and thereby shorten their lives ( Ecclesiastes 7:15 Ecclesiastes 7:16 ), of words spoken against thee by others, for example, thy servant: Thou art their "fellow servant" before God ( Matthew 18:32-35 ).
22. ( 1 Kings 2:44 ).
23. All this--resuming the "all" in Ecclesiastes 7:15 , Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 is therefore the fruit of his dearly bought experience in the days of his "vanity."
I will be wise--I tried to "be wise," independently of God. But true wisdom was then "far from him," in spite of his human wisdom, which he retained by God's gift. So "over wise" ( Ecclesiastes 7:16 ).
24. That . . . far off . . . deep--True wisdom is so when sought independently of "fear of God" ( Ecclesiastes 7:18 , Deuteronomy 30:12 Deuteronomy 30:13 , Job 11:7 Job 11:8 , Job 28:12-20 Job 28:28 , Psalms 64:6 , Romans 10:6 Romans 10:7 ).
25. Literally, "I turned myself and mine heart to." A phrase peculiar to Ecclesiastes, and appropriate to the penitent turning back to commune with his heart on his past life.
wickedness of folly--He is now a step further on the path of penitence than in Ecclesiastes 1:17 , 2:12 , where "folly" is put without "wickedness" prefixed.
reason--rather, "the right estimation" of things. HOLDEN translates also "foolishness (that is, sinful folly, answering to 'wickedness' in the parallel) of madness" (that is, of man's mad pursuits).
26. "I find" that, of all my sinful follies, none has been so ruinous a snare in seducing me from God as idolatrous women ( 1 Kings 11:3 1 Kings 11:4 , Proverbs 5:3 Proverbs 5:4 , 22:14 ). As "God's favor is better than life," she who seduces from God is "more bitter than death."
whoso pleaseth God--as Joseph ( Genesis 39:2 Genesis 39:3 Genesis 39:9 ). It is God's grace alone that keeps any from falling.
27. this--namely, what follows in Ecclesiastes 7:28 .
counting one by one--by comparing one thing with another [HOLDEN and MAURER].
account--a right estimate. But Ecclesiastes 7:28 more favors GESENIUS. "Considering women one by one."
28. Rather, referring to his past experience, "Which my soul sought further, but I found not."
one man--that is, worthy of the name, "man," "upright"; not more than one in a thousand of my courtiers ( Job 33:23 , Psalms 12:1 ). Jesus Christ alone of men fully realizes the perfect ideal of "man." "Chiefest among ten thousand" ( Solomon 5:10 ). No perfect "woman has ever existed, not even the Virgin Mary. Solomon, in the word "thousand," alludes to his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. Among these it was not likely that he should find the fidelity which one true wife pays to one husband. Connected with Ecclesiastes 7:26 , not an unqualified condemnation of the sex, as Proverbs 12:4 , 31:10 , &c., prove.
29. The "only" way of accounting for the scarcity of even comparatively upright men and women is that, whereas God made man upright, they (men) have, &c. The only account to be "found" of the origin of evil, the great mystery of theology, is that given in Holy Writ (Genesis 2:1-3:24'). Among man's "inventions" was the one especially referred to in Ecclesiastes 7:26 , the bitter fruits of which Solomon experienced, the breaking of God's primeval marriage law, joining one man to "one" woman ( Matthew 19:4 Matthew 19:5 Matthew 19:6 ). "Man" is singular, namely, Adam; "they," plural, Adam, Eve, and their posterity.