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Bible Commentaries

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

Introduction

Ecclesiastes 7 and Ecclesiastes 10 show a striking resemblance to the style of the writer of the Book of Proverbs. Hereto the principal object has been to state the vanity of the conditions of human life: henceforth, the principal object will be to direct man how to conduct himself under those conditions.

The general drift of the writer‘s counsels throughout the last six chapters, and particularly in Ecclesiastes 7:1-22, points to wisdom united with the fear of God as the “good for man in this life.” It is illustrated by frequent reference to, and contrast with, that evil which consists of folly allied with wickedness.


Verse 1

Name … ointment - The likeness between reputation and odor supplies a common metaphor: the contrast is between reputation, as an honorable attainment which only wise people win, and fragrant odor, as a gratification of the senses which all people enjoy.

The connection of this verse with the preceding verses is this: the man, who wants to know what is profitable for man and good in this life, is here told to act in such a way as ordinarily secures a good reputation (i. e., to act like a wise man), and to teach himself this hard lesson - to regard the day of death as preferable to the day of birth. Though Solomon seems in some places to feel strongly (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 ff) that natural fear of death which is, in a great measure, mistrust founded on the ignorance which Christ dispelled; yet he states the advantage of death over life in respect of its freedom from toil, oppression, restlessness Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 4:2; Ecclesiastes 6:5, and in respect of its implying an immediate and a nearer approach to God Ecclesiastes 3:21; Ecclesiastes 12:7. While Solomon preferred the day of death, he might still (with Luther here) have regarded birth as a good thing, and as having its place in the creation of God.


Verse 2

That - Namely, what is seen in the house of mourning.

Lay it to his heart - Consider it attentively.


Verse 3

Sorrow - Rather, Seriousness.

The heart is made better - i. e., is made bright and joyful (compare 2 Corinthians 6:10). The mind which bears itself equally in human concerns, whether they be pleasant or sorrowful, must always be glad, free, and at peace.


Verse 4

House of mourning … house of mirth - These phrases acquire a forcible significance from the Eastern custom of prolonging both festive and mournful celebrations through several days. See Genesis 50:10; Judges 14:17. This verse indicates that a life of enjoyment, does not mean the abandonment of ourselves to pleasures, but the thankful and sober use of the beautiful things which God gives us.


Verse 6

As the crackling of thorns - Noisy while it lasts, and quickly extinguished. See Psalm 58:9 note.


Verse 7

Rather, oppression (or extortions) maketh a wise man foolish; and a bribe etc. If a wise man, being in a high position, exercises oppression (see Psalm 62:10), or practices extortion, he becomes a fool in so doing. This verse is a warning against impatience in the exercise of power or the acquisition of riches.


Verse 8

Better - Inasmuch as something certain is attained, man contemplates the end throughout an entire course of action, and does not rest upon the beginning.

Patient … proud - literally, “Long,” long-suffering … “high,” in the sense of impatient.


Verse 11

And by it there is profit … - literally, And is profitable to the living. The same word as in Ecclesiastes 6:11, to the question in which it looks like an answer.


Verse 12

Wisdom is a defense … - See the margin and Psalm 121:5, i. e., He who is defended from adversity by his wisdom is in as good a position as he who is defended by his riches.

Excellency - literally, Profit.

Giveth life to - literally, “Causes to live,” “makes alive” Proverbs 3:18; the deeper meaning of which is elicited by comparing these words with John 6:63; Matthew 4:4.


Verse 13

The work of God - The scheme of Divine Providence, the course of events which God orders and controls (compare Ecclesiastes 3:11). It comprises both events which are “straight,” i. e., in accordance with our expectation, and events which are “crooked,” i. e., which by their seeming inequality baffle our comprehension.


Verse 14

Good and prosperous days are in God‘s design special times of comfort and rejoicing: the days of affliction and trouble, are in God‘s design the proper seasons of recollection and serious consideration. The Providence of God hath so contrived it, that our good and evil days should be intermingled each with the other. This mixture of good and evil days is by the Divine Providence so proportioned, that it sufficiently justifies the dealings of God toward the sons of men, and obviates all their discontent and complaints against Him.

Set the one over against the other - Rather, made this as well as that, i. e., the day of adversity, as well as the day of prosperity. The seeming imitation of this passage in Ecclesiasticus (Ecclesiastes 6:12 note.


Verses 15-17

The days of my vanity - This does not imply that those days of vanity were ended (see Ecclesiastes 1:12 note).

The meaning may be best explained by a paraphrase. Solomon states how the wise man should regard the “crooked Ecclesiastes 7:13 work of God” when it bears upon him. He says in effect, “Do not think that thou couldest alter the two instances (described in Ecclesiastes 7:15) of such crooked work so as to make it straight, that thou art more righteous or more wise than He is Who ordained these events. To set up thy judgment in opposition to His would imply an excess of wickedness and folly, deserving the punishment of premature death. But rather it is good for thee to grasp these seeming anomalies; if thou ponder them they will tend to impress on thee that fear of God which is a part of wisdom, and will guide thee safely through all the perplexities of this life” (compare Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). The suggestion that these verses are intended to advocate a middle course between sin and virtue is at variance with the whole tenor of the book.

Ecclesiastes 7:16

Destroy thyself - The Septuagint and Vulgate render it: “be amazed.” Compare “marvel not” Ecclesiastes 5:8.


Verse 20

The connection of this verse with Ecclesiastes 7:18-19 becomes clearer if it is borne in mind that the fear of God, wisdom, and justice, are merely different sides of one and the same character, the formation of which is the aim of all the precepts in this chapter. The words “just” Ecclesiastes 7:15, Ecclesiastes 7:20 and “righteous” Ecclesiastes 7:16 are exactly the same in Hebrew.


Verse 21-22

Curse … cursed - Rather, speak evil of … spoken evil of.


Verse 23

I will be - Or, I am. There was a time when Solomon thought himself wise enough to comprehend the work of God, and therefore needed for himself the self-humbling conviction declared in this verse.

It - i. e. Wisdom. Compare Ecclesiastes 8:17.


Verse 24

literally, Far off is that which hath been i. e., events as they have occurred in the order of Divine Providence), and deep, deep, who can find it out?


Verse 25

Reason - The same word is translated “account” Ecclesiastes 7:27, “invention” Ecclesiastes 7:29, and “device” Ecclesiastes 9:10: it is derived from a root signifying “to count.”


Verse 26

Compare the account of Solomon‘s wives 1 Kings 11:1-8: see also Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3


Verse 28

One man - One whose good qualities quite satisfy our expectation. Compare the expression “one among a thousand” (marginal reference).

A woman - The number of Solomon‘s wives and concubines 1 Kings 11:3 was a thousand.


Verse 29

God hath made - Rather, God made. A definite allusion to the original state of man: in which he was exempt from vanity.

 


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Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1870.

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