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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

Verse 1

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-29.-Consolation to God's people under suffering.-The sorrows of the saints are better than the joys of the worldly.

(See note, Ecclesiastes 6:12.)

A good 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 and reality are one thing (Isaiah 9:6). This alone is "good," while all else is vanity," when made the chief end.

Is better than precious ointment (Proverbs 22:1) - used lavishly at costly banquets, and peculiarly refreshing in the sultry East. The Hebrew for name and for ointment have a happy paronomasia, sheem (Hebrew #8034), shemen (Hebrew #8081). So our phrase to be in good odour. Contrast Exodus 5:21. "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 forever, 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; Mark 14:3-9). Jesus Christ Himself hath such a name as the Messiah - i:e., the Anointed (Song of Solomon 1:3). The word good, better, occurs in this chapter oftener than in any chapter of the Old Testament.

And the day of death ... birth. 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 hath it. This is the consolation offered to those mourning the death of godly friends (Ecclesiastes 7:2; Isaiah 57:1-2). Their "good name" still endures, and shall be blessed on earth (Proverbs 10:7; Psalms 112:6 ). Their day of death also teaches more instructive lessons than the day of their birth. The light of life, says the Preacher, is sweet (Ecclesiastes 11:7), and we have good reason to "eat and drink with a merry heart" (Ecclesiastes 9:4; Ecclesiastes 9:7-8). But this present life is not to be our chief good: that is not to be found until we change this vale of tears for the realms of tearless joy (Revelation 14:13).


Verse 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 ... Proving that it is not a sensual enjoyment of earthly goods which is meant in Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 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 1:4-5). 'The house of feasting' often shuts out thoughts of God and eternity.

The living will lay (it) to his heart - (Psalms 90:10-12.) The sight of the dead in the "house of mourning" causes "the living" to think of their own "end."


Verse 3

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.

Sorrow - such as arises from serious thoughts of eternity. The Hebrew Kahas is translated anger in Ecclesiastes 7:9. Here it is commended; there it is condemned. The anger which is felt against our own sin (whence flows God's anger) is good, because it is substantially repentance. The anger which breaks forth against God and His dealings is evil (Lamentations 3:39-42).

Is better than laughter - reckless mirth (Ecclesiastes 2:2).

By the sadness of the countenance - (Psalms 126:5-6; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Hebrews 12:10-11.) Hengstenberg translates, 'When the countenance looks sad, the heart becomes merry.' So the Hebrew for "good" ( yiyTab (Hebrew #3190)) is translated in Ecclesiastes 9:7, "a merry heart." Sadness sits on the surface, while joy reigns within. The world's happiness makes the countenance radiant, but leaves the heart sad. True joy is only there where the heart is right; sadness often conduces to this. But the parallel clause supports the English version.


Verse 4

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 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 ... - (Psalms 141:4-5.) Godly reproof offends the flesh, but benefits the spirit. Fools' songs "in the house of mirth" please the flesh, but injure the soul.


Verse 6

For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.

As the crackling of thorns ... The "crackling" answering 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 ciyriym (Hebrew #5518) (thorns) ... ciyr (Hebrew #5518) (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 blazing fire of thorns the more graphic, as an image of the sudden end of fools (Psalms 118:12).


Verse 7

Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

Oppression maketh a wise man mad - recurring to the idea, Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 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 (i:e., 'madness') described, Ecclesiastes 7:5-6 (Psalms 73:2-3, etc.; Proverbs 23:17).

A gift destroyeth the heart - i:e., the sight of bribery in "places of judgment" (Ecclesiastes 3:16) might cause the wise to lose their wisdom ("heart") (Job 12:6). Hengstenberg explains it, not so well, oppression befools the oppressor, thought once he was wise, and a bribe destroys the understanding. Hence, the happiness of "fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:6) is so short: they work their own ruin. But Ecclesiastes 7:8, latter clause, and Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 5:8, confirm the former explanation.


Verse 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 - connected with Ecclesiastes 7:7. Let the "wise" wait for "the end" - i:e., the final issue to the righteous and the wicked respectively; and the "oppressions," which now (in "the beginning") perplex their faith, will be found by God's working to be overruled to their good.

The patient in spirit. "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 73:2-3; Psalms 73:12-14; Psalms 73:17-26; James 1:19; James 5:11).


Verse 9

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

Be not hasty - passionate with excitement, bursting out in complaints against God, and impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was (Ecclesiastes 5:2; Psalms 37:1-2; Psalms 37:8). Contrast Lamentations 3:24-27.

Anger resteth in the bosom of fools. It is fools who give way to anger or impatience and fretfulness at the sight of the prosperity of the ungodly (Psalms 37:1; Psalms 37:8).


Verse 10

Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.

The former days were better than these. Do not call in question God's ways in making thy former days better than thy present, as Job did (Eccl. ); and the former days of the nation better than the present state. Compare Jude 1:16, "murmerers, complainers" (Malachi 2:17; Malachi 3:14-15).

Thou dost not inquire wisely - Hebrew, with wisdom. Wisdom would teach thee that the sufferings of God's people are designed to humble them in remembrance of sin, and that these sufferings are disciplinary and only for a time, and will eventuate in eternal glory to those who are exercised thereby. The very putting of the question argues that heavenly "wisdom" (margin) is not, as much as it ought, made the chief good with thee.


Verse 11

Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.

Wisdom (is) good ... Rather, 'Wisdom, as compared with an inheritance, is good' - i:e., is as good as an inheritance.

And (by it there is) profit. 'Yea, (it is) better (more excellent than an inheritance, Proverbs 3:14 : so Hebrew, yotheer, means in Ecclesiastes 6:8; Ecclesiastes 6:11).

To them that see the sun - i:e., the living (Ecclesiastes 11:7; Job 3:16; Psalms 49:19).


Verse 12

For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.

Wisdom (is) a defense - literally, (To be) in (i:e., under) the shadow (Isaiah 30:2) of wisdom (is the same as to be) in (under) the shadow of money; i:e., wisdom no less shields one from the ills of life than money does. As heat is the great plague in the East, so it expresses tribulation; and shadow expresses shelter from tribulation.

The excellency of knowledge (is, that) wisdom giveth life to them that have it. Or, as the Chaldaic, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic, 'the excellency of the knowledge of wisdom giveth life' - i:e., life in the highest sense, here and hereafter (Proverbs 3:18; John 17:3; 2 Peter 1:3). But the Hebrew accent supports the English version. 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.


Verse 13

Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

Consider the work of God - consider that it is impossible to alter His dispensations.

For who can make (that) straight? Man cannot amend what God wills to be "wanting" and "adverse" (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Job 12:14). Since no one can, no one should wish to alter what God ordains. If men in adversity would "consider" it as "the work of God," they would meekly, yea, thankfully, submit, in the spirit of Psalms 39:9 ; Leviticus 10:3.


Verse 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 (literally, good) be joyful - literally, be in good.

In the day of adversity consider. Resumed from Ecclesiastes 7:13. "Consider," i:e., regard it as "the work of God;"

God also hath set the one over against the other - `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). 'A bird caught in a snare, the more it struggles to get free, the more tightly it is bound. So, if one be held by God in the bonds of affliction, there is nothing safer for him than that he gives himself up wholly to the will of God, (Cartwright).

To the end that man ... Holden explains 'that man may not find anything (to blame) after God' (i:e., after 'considering God's work,' Ecclesiastes 7:13). The Vulgate and Syriac, 'against Him' (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:10; Romans 3:4). Hengstenberg explains, God causes evil days to alternate with good ones, to the end that man should not find anything which will come after him - i:e., in order that he may not be able to fathom anything which lies beyond his present condition. So "after him," Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12. These passages favour this latter explanation. Unable to discover ought beyond his present state, man is stripped of pride, and is driven humbly to look up to God and 'consider His work' (Ecclesiastes 7:13-14).


Verse 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 ... - I have seen strange things of all kinds. An objection entertained by Solomon "in the days of his vanity" (apostasy) (Ecclesiastes 8:14; Job 21:7).

There is a just (man) that perisheth. Temporal, not eternal death (John 10:28). See note, Ecclesiastes 7:16; "just" is probably a self-justiciary.

Wicked ... prolongeth his life. See the antidote to the abuse of this statement in Ecclesiastes 8:12. So Israel complained of her adversity notwithstanding her righteousness in Mal. 2:17; 12:13-15 .


Verse 16

Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?

Be not righteous over much - forbidding a self-made righteousness of outward performances, in which man knows not his sinfulness, and which would wrest salvation from God, instead of receiving it as the gift of His grace. It is a fanatical, proud, unloving (Isaiah 58:2-3), Pharisaical righteousness, void of humble faith toward God; because the "fear of God" is in antithesis to it (Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 5:3; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Matthew 6:1-7). Even the godly (Job 32:1) need affliction to teach them to unlearn it. There cannot be over much of the righteousness which is by faith. But there is over much of the righteousness that consists in punctiliousness as to external ordinances, when these are substituted for "the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, faith, and the love of God" (Matthew 23:23; Luke 11:42); and when they blind a man to his utter guiltiness.

Neither make thyself over wise (Job 11:12; Romans 12:3; Romans 12:16) - presumptuously self-sufficient, as if acquainted with the whole of the divine counsels.

Destroy thyself - expose thyself to the wrath of God by thy self- conceited wisdom; hence, to an untimely death. The Pharisees in Christ's days brought on themselves the destruction of their nation and the temple by their self-seeking righteousness and pretentious wisdom (cf. Matthew 23:16). "Destroy thyself" answers to "perisheth" (Ecclesiastes 7:15), "righteous over much," to "a just man." Therefore, in Ecclesiastes 7:15, it is a self-justiciary, not a truly righteous man, that "perisheth in his righteousness."


Verse 17

Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

Over much wicked - so worded to answer to "righteous over much." It does not 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" (Ecclesiastes 7:15), when God chooses to use him as an instrument to execute unconsciously God's purposes: but judgment will come at last (Ecclesiastes 8:12-13); and generally soon: 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 addresses to a sinner. Beware of aggravating thy sin, so as to make thy case desperate (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:20). "There is not a just man upon earth, that sinneth not." While avoiding a self-sufficient righteousness, which often brings down God's judgments (Ecclesiastes 7:15-16), beware of the opposite extreme of utter laxity in practice. It is true all are sinful (which the self-justiciaries do not realize, else they would not complain in affliction as if they were unjustly treated by God): but beware of crossing the line which separates the truly righteous, though subject to infirmity, from the wicked.

Die before thy time? - prematurely, because of wickedness.


Verse 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.

Take hold of this; yea, also from this withdraw not thine hand - the two opposite excesses (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17), fanatical selfwise righteousness and presumptuous foolhardy wickedness. Matthew 23:23 alludes to this.

He that feareth God shall come forth of them all - shall escape all such extremes (Proverbs 3:7).


Verse 19

Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.

Wisdom - Hebrew, "The wisdom," i:e., the true wisdom, religion (2 Timothy 3:15).

Strengtheneth the wise ... - i:e., able and valiant generals (Ecclesiastes 7:12; Ecclesiastes 9:13-18; Proverbs 21:22; Proverbs 24:5). These "watchmen wake in vain except the Lord keep the city" (Psalms 127:1). This verse returns to the idea in Ecclesiastes 7:11. True wisdom is not only better than wealth, but also than physical strength. A consolation to sufferers.


Verse 20

For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.

Not a just man upon earth ... - referring to Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not self-righteous, "just" before God, because of thy self-imposed performances; because true "wisdom," or 'righteousness,' shows that there is not a just man, etc. Also connected with Ecclesiastes 7:19. Since there is none so just as to be free from sin, the "wisdom" from on high is needed to deliver us from sinning on either side (Ecclesiastes 7:16-17), and so incurring the destroying judgments of God.


Verse 21

Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:

Take no heed unto all words. Since therefore thou, being far from perfectly "just" thyself, hast much to be Take no heed unto all words. Since 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, of words spoken against thee by others-e.g., thy servant: thou art their "fellow-servant" before God (Matthew 18:32-35).

Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee - as Solomon's father, David, heard Shimei curse him, but yet did not in his affliction take strict account of it, but committed himself to God, the truest "wisdom" in affliction when enemies mock us (2 Samuel 16:5-13; Psalms 38:13-15.) Translate for "lest," 'that thou mayest not hear thy servant who curseth thee,' The Preacher requires the greatest proof of forbearance-namely, to hear one's own servant cursing one without desiring vengeance.


Verse 22

For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Thou thyself likewise hast cursed others - (1 Kings 2:44.) Conscience reminds the believer of the sins of which his sufferings are designed as the chastisement. Therefore, instead of cherishing a bitter feeling against the agents who cause our sufferings, we ought to regard them as the instruments in the hands of the loving Father who corrects us; then it becomes, by God's Spirit, easy to us to love them and pray for them while they despitefully use us.


Verse 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 - 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).


Verse 24

That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out? That which is far off ... Hengstenberg translates, 'Far off is that which is;' i:e., wisdom's aim, absolute being. Wisdom is "exceeding deep" when sought independently of 'fear of God' (Ecclesiastes 7:18; Deuteronomy 30:12-13; Job 11:7-8; Job 28:12-20; Romans 10:6-7). Hengstenberg compares in his view Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Job 11:8; Romans 11:33. The position of the Hebrew words is against the English version. Practical wisdom, or what man has to do, is no longer far off (Deuteronomy 30:11; Deuteronomy 30:14). But the deeper understanding of God's providence and dealings on earth is dark, through our indwelling sin.


Verse 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 ... - literally, I turned myself and mine heart to. A phrase special to Ecclesiastes, and appropriate to the penitent turning back to commune with his heart on his past life. Or else, in Hengstenberg's view, in contrast to a superficial search into wisdom.

The reason (of things) , [ cheshbown (Hebrew #2808)] - literally, the calculation or right estimation of things: philosophy; ratiocination [ logismos (Greek #3053)].

The wickedness of folly. He is now a step further on the path of penitence than Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12, where "folly" is put without "wickedness" prefixed.

Even of foolishness (and) madness - rather, 'and the foolishness (i:e., the sinful folly, answering to the wickedness in the parallel) of madness, i:e., of man's mad pursuits. Or else, as Hengstenberg translates, 'To know wickedness as folly, and foolishness as madness.'


Verse 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.

And I find more bitter than death - (Proverbs 7:26-27; Proverbs 9:18.) "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 11:3-4; Proverbs 5:3-4). Since "God's favour is better than life," she who seduces from God is "more bitter than death." Hengstenberg allegorizes "the woman" as an ideal personage, representing 'earthly, sensual, devilish wisdom,' in contrast to 'the wisdom from above' (James 3:15; James 3:17), answering to Koheleth, the Assembling one, an ideal Female. Hence, here only in the book Qoheleth is connected with the feminine verb (Ecclesiastes 7:27). Everywhere else the Assembling one is incarnate in the person of Solomon in the masculine. The strange woman answers to "philosophy and vain deceit after the tradition of men" (Colossians 2:8; cf. 1 Timothy 6:20; contrast Proverbs 2:16-17 with Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 3:20). I prefer the literal sense primarily; secondarily, the literal harlot is in the wider application designed by the Spirit to be representative of all that seduce from God, the true Husband of the Church, whether worldly gain, pleasure, or wisdom so called. Compare Revelation 2:20, the symbolical Jezebel.

Whoso pleaseth God - as Joseph (Genesis 39:2-3; Genesis 39:9). It is God's grace alone that keeps any from falling.


Verse 27

Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:

This have I found - namely, what is stated in the previous part of the book (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:23, "All this"), and summed up in Ecclesiastes 7:29, "Lo, this only have I found"

(Counting) one by one - by comparing one thing with another; literally, '(putting) one thing to another' (Maurer). Or else, 'one by one: one after the other,' To investigate a subject thoroughly we should, like Solomon, take up only one part of it at a time and thoroughly sift it, and then similarly take up another part, and so consecutively until we have thoroughly examined the whole.

Account - a right estimate


Verse 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.

My soul seeketh - rather, referring to his past experience, 'Which my soul sought further, but I found not,' answering to "I said I will be wise, but it was far from me" (Ecclesiastes 7:23).

One Prayer of Manasseh 1:-1 :e., 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" (Song of Solomon 5:10). No perfect 'woman' has ever existed, not even the Virgin Mary. Solomon, in the word "thousand," alludes to his 300 wives and 700 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Among these it was not likely that he should find the fidelity which one true wife pays to one husband. This verse is connected with Ecclesiastes 7:26, which condemns the seducing woman, and is not therefore to be taken as an universal and unqualified condemnation of the sex, as Proverbs 12:4, etc., prove. But the thing which Solomon here speaks of his seeking in vain is WISDOM - i:e., the full knowledge of the deep ways of God by investigation. Woman, as "the weaker vessel," is receptive, rather than originating in respect to wisdom. Woman's high province is the family (1 Timothy 2:11-15); not independent research in the depths of the divine ways. No sacred writing by a woman is found in the whole Bible. Let woman, conscious of her weakness, learn modesty and submission to her spiritual teachers, and those above her, and chiefly seek strength for her duty from God. Spiritual uprightness is an indispensable qualification for a right research after the wisdom in question. Solonion disqualified himself for it so long as he sinned with the strange women (Ecclesiastes 7:26).


Verse 29

Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.

Summary of his investigations.

They have sought out many inventions. Theoretical "inventions" [ chish

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1871-8.

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