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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible

Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

Verse 1

ECCLESIASTES CHAPTER 7

A good name desirable; and the house of mourning and rebuke better than songs and laughter, Ecclesiastes 7:1-6. Exhortations to patience and perseverance, Ecclesiastes 7:7-10. Wisdom and money a defence, Ecclesiastes 7:11,12. God’s providence should render its contented: our duty both in prosperity and adversity, Ecclesiastes 7:13,14. Prudence and the fear of God necessary in this world, Ecclesiastes 7:15-18. The praise of wisdom, Ecclesiastes 7:19. All men are sinners, Ecclesiastes 7:20. Other men’s opinions of thee not too much to be minded: the motive thereto, Ecclesiastes 7:21,22. The Preacher’s experience thereof, Ecclesiastes 7:23-25. An evil woman more bitter than death, Ecclesiastes 7:26-28. God created man good, Ecclesiastes 7:29.

Having largely discoursed of the vanity of all worldly things, and now said in the foregoing verse that no man knew what was best for him, he now proceeds to prescribe some remedies against these vanities, and to direct men to the right method of obtaining that felicity which is not to be expected or found in this world.

A good name; a good and well-grounded report from wise and worthy persons. Heb. a name, which is put for a good name by a synecdoche, that only being worthy to be called a name, because evil and worthless men quickly lose their name and memory. Thus a wife is put for a good wife, Proverbs 18:22, and a day for a good day, Luke 19:42,44.

Precious ointment; which was very fragrant, and acceptable, and useful, and of great price, especially in those countries. See Deuteronomy 33:24 Psalms 92:10 133:2 Isaiah 39:2.

The day of death, to wit, of a good man, or one who hath left a good name behind him, which is easily understood both from the former clause, and from the nature of the thing; for to a wicked man this day is far worse, and most terrible. Yet if this passage be delivered with respect only to this life, and abstracting from the future life, as many other passages in this book are to be understood, then this may be true in general of all men, and is the consequent of all the former discourse. Seeing this life is so full of vanity, and vexation, and misery, it is a more desirable thing for a man to go out of it, than to come into it; which is the more considerable note, because it is contrary to the opinion and practice of almost all mankind, to celebrate their own or children’s birth-days with solemn feasts and rejoicings, and their deaths with all expressions of sorrow.


Verse 2

The house of mourning; where mourners meet together to celebrate the funerals of a deceased friend. That, to wit, death, the cause of that mourning,

is the end of all men; it brings men to the serious consideration of their last end, which is their greatest wisdom and interest.

Will lay it to his heart; will be seriously affected with it, and awakened to prepare for it; whereas feasting is commonly attended with mirth, and levity, and manifold temptations, and indisposeth men’s minds to spiritual and heavenly thoughts. Hence it is evident that those passages of this book which may seem to favour a sensual and voluptuous life, are not spoken by Solomon in his own name, or as his opinion, but in the person of an epicure.


Verse 3

Sorrow; either for sin, or any outward troubles.

The sadness of the countenance; which is seated in the heart, but manifested in the countenance.

Made better; more weaned from the lusts and vanities of this world, by which most men are ensnared and destroyed, and more quickened to seek after and embrace that true and everlasting happiness which God offers to them in his word.


Verse 4

The heart of the wise is in the house of morning, even when their bodies are absent. They are constantly, or very frequently, meditating upon sad and serious firings, such as death and judgment, the vanity of this life, and the reality and eternity of the next, because they know that these thoughts, though they be not grateful to the sensual part, yet they are absolutely necessary, and highly profitable, and most comfortable in the end, which every wise man most regards.

The heart of fools is in the house of mirth; their minds and affections are wholly set upon feasting and jollity, because, like fools and brutish creatures, they regard only their present delight, and mind not how dearly they must pay for them.


Verse 5

The rebuke of the wise, though it causeth some grief, yet frequently brings great benefit, even reformation and salvation, both from temporal and from eternal destruction, both which are the portion of impenitent sinners.

The song; the flatteries, or other merry discourses, which are as pleasant to corrupt nature, as songs or music.


Verse 6

The crackling of thorns, which for a time make a great noise and blaze, but presently waste themselves, and go out without any considerable effect upon the meat in the pot.

So; so vanishing and fruitless.


Verse 7

Oppression; either,

1. Active. When a wise man falls into the practice of this sin of oppressing others, he is besotted by it, and by the vast riches which he by his great wit gets by it. Or rather,

2. Passive. When a wise man is oppressed by foolish and wicked men, it makes him fret and rage, and speak or act like a madman; for the wisest men are most sensible of indignities and injuries, whereas fools are stupid, and do not much lay them to heart.

A gift, a bribe given to a wise man,

destroyeth the heart; deprives him of the use of his understanding, which is oft called the heart, as Exodus 23:8 Deuteronomy 16:19 Hosea 4:8, or makes him mad, as was said in the former clause. So this verse discovers two ways whereby a wise man may be made mad, by suffering oppression from others, or by receiving bribes to oppress others. And this also is an argument of the vanity of worldly wisdom, that it is so easily corrupted and lost, and so it serves the main design of this book.


Verse 8

If this verse relates to that next foregoing, it is an argument to keep men’s minds from being disordered, either by oppression or bribery, because the end of those practices will show, that he who oppresseth another doth himself most hurt by it, and that he who taketh bribes is no gainer by them. But if this be independent upon the former, as divers other verses here are, it is a general and useful observation, that the good or evil of things is better known by their end than by their beginning; which is true both in evil counsels and courses, which are pleasant at first, but at last bring destruction; and in all noble enterprises, in the studies of learning, and in the practice of virtue and godliness, where the beginnings are difficult and troublesome, but in the progress and conclusion they are most easy and comfortable; and it is not sufficient to begin well, unless we persevere to the end, which crowns all.

The patient in spirit, who quietly waits for the end and issue of things, and is willing to bear hardships and inconveniences in the mean time,

is better than the proud; which he puts instead of hasty or impatient, which the opposition might seem to require, partly because pride is the chief cause of impatience, Proverbs 13:10, and makes men unable to bear any thing either from God or from men whereas humility makes men sensible of their own unworthiness, and that they deserve, at least from God, all the indignities and injuries which they suffer from men by God’s permission, and therefore patient under them; and partly to correct the vulgar error of proud men, who think highly of themselves, and trample all others, especially such as are meek and patient, under their feet.


Verse 9

Be not angry with any man without due consideration, and just and necessary cause; for otherwise anger is sometimes lawful, and sometimes a duty.

Resteth; hath its settled and quiet abode, is their constant companion, ever at hand upon all occasions, whereas wise men resist, and mortify, and banish it.

In the bosom; in the heart, the proper seat of the passions.


Verse 10

Say not thou, to wit, by way of impatient expostulation and complaint against God, either for permitting such disorders in the world, or for bringing thee into the world in such an evil time and state of things. Otherwise a man may say this by way of prudent and pious inquiry, that by searching out the cause he may, as far as it is in his power, apply remedies to make them better.

Better; either,

1. Less sinful. Or rather,

2. More quiet and comfortable. For this, and not the former, is the cause of most men’s murmurings against God’s providence. And this is an argument of a mind discontented and unthankful for the many mercies which men commonly enjoy even in evil times, and impatient under God’s hand.

Thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this; this question showeth thy great folly in contending with thy Creator, and the sovereign Lord and Governor of all things, in opposing thy shallow wit to his unsearchable wisdom, and thy will to his will.


Verse 11

Good, i.e. very good; the positive being put for the superlative, as it is frequently in the Hebrew text. When wisdom and riches meet in one man, it is a happy conjunction; for wisdom without riches is commonly contemned, Ecclesiastes 9:16, and wants opportunities and instruments of discovering itself, and of doing that good in the world which it is both able and willing to do; and riches without wisdom are like a sword in a madman’s hand, an occasion of much sin and mischief, both to himself and others.

By it there is profit; by wisdom joined with riches there comes great benefit; Heb. and it is an excellency, or privilege, or advantage.

To them that see the sun, i.e. to mortal men; not only to a man’s self, but many others who live with him in this world; whereby he intimates that riches bear no price and have no use in the other world.


Verse 12

Is a defence, Heb. is a shadow; which in Scripture use notes both protection and refreshment. And thus far wisdom and money agree. But herein knowledge or wisdom (which commonly signifies the same thing) excels riches, that whereas riches frequently expose men to death or destruction, true wisdom doth ofttimes preserve a man from temporal, and always from eternal ruin.


Verse 13

The work of God; not of creation, but of providence; his wise, and just, and powerful government of all events in the world, which is proposed as the last and best remedy against all murmurings and sinful disquietments of mind, under the sense of the great and many disorders which happen in the world, as is implied, Ecclesiastes 7:10, against which wisdom is prescribed as one remedy, Ecclesiastes 7:11,12, and now here is another.

Who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? no man can withstand, or correct, or alter any of God’s works; and therefore all self-tormenting frettings and discontents at the injuries of men, or calamities of times, are not only sinful, but also vain and fruitless. This reason implies that there is a hand or work of God in all men’s actions, either effecting them if they be good, or permitting them if they be bad, and ordering and overruling them, whether they be good or bad. And God is here said to make things crooked, as he is said to make the hearts of sinners fat or hard, Isaiah 6:10, and elsewhere, not positively, but privatively, because he denies or withdraws from men that wisdom or grace which should make them straight.


Verse 14

Be joyful; enjoy God’s favours with cheerfulness and thankfulness.

Consider, to wit, God’s work, which is easily understood out of the foregoing verse. Consider that it is God’s hand, and therefore submit to it; humble thyself under his hand, be sensible of it, and duly affected with it; consider also why God sends it, for what sins, and with what design. This is a proper season for serious consideration, whereas prosperity relaxeth the mind, and calls it forth to outward things. But this clause may be, and is by some, rendered thus, and look for a day of adversity. In prosperity rejoice with trembling, and so as to expect a change.

God also hath set the one over against the other; God hath wisely ordained these vicissitudes that prosperity and adversity should succeed one another in the course of men’s lives. After him; either,

1. After man himself, or, as it may be rendered, after it, i.e. after his present condition, whether it be prosperous or afflictive. So the sense is, that no man might be able to foresee or find out what shall certainly befall him afterwards, and therefore might live in a constant dependence upon God, and might nether despair in trouble, nor be secure or presumptuous in prosperity, because of the frequent and sudden changes from one to the other. Or,

2. After God, that no man might come after God, and review his works, and find any fault in them, or pretend that he could have managed things better, because this mixture of prosperity and adversity is most convenient both for the glory of God’s wisdom, and justice, and goodness and for the benefit of mankind, who have all absolute need of this vicissitude, lest they should be either corrupted and ruined by perpetual prosperity, as many have been, or overwhelmed with uninterrupted adversity.


Verse 15

All things; all sorts of events, both such as have been already mentioned, and such as I am about to declare. In the days my vanity; since I have come into this vain and transitory life.

In his righteousness; either,

1. Notwithstanding his righteousness; whom his righteousness doth not deliver in common calamities, Ezekiel 21:3,4 33:12. Or,

2. For his righteousness, which exposeth him to the envy, and hatred, and rage of persecutors or wicked men. In is sometimes used for for; but it is not so taken in the next clause, which answers to this, and therefore the former seems to be the truer interpretation. In his wickedness; notwithstanding all his wickedness, whereby he provokes and deserves the justice both of God and men, who yet, for many wise and just reasons, is permitted to live long unpunished and secure.


Verse 16

This verse and the next have a manifest reference to Ecclesiastes 7:15, being two inferences drawn from the two clauses of the observation there recorded. And this verse was delivered by Solomon, either,

1. In the name and person of an ungodly man, who taketh occasion to dissuade men from the practice of righteousness and true wisdom, because of the danger which attends it, and is expressed in the middle of the former, and the end of this verse. Therefore, saith he, it is not good to be more nice than wise, take heed of strictness, zeal, and forwardness in religion. And then the next verse contains an antidote to this poisonous suggestion; yea, rather, saith he, be not wicked or foolish over-much; for that will not preserve thee, as thou mayst imagine from the last clause of Ecclesiastes 7:15, but will occasion and hasten thy ruin. But seeing these words are very capable of another sense, and there is no proof or evidence of this sense in them, as there is in all other places where Solomon speaks in the person of an epicure, this interpretation may seem to be dangerous, and liable to misconstruction. Or,

2. In his own person. And so these words are a caution to prevent, as far as may be, that destruction which oft attends upon righteous men, as was observed, Ecclesiastes 7:15.

Be not righteous over-much; either,

1. By being too severe in observing, censuring, and punishing the faults of others beyond the rules of equity, without giving any allowance for human infirmity, extraordinary temptations, the state of times, and other circumstances. Or,

2. By being more just than God requires, either laying those yokes and burdens upon a man’s self or others which God hath not imposed upon him, and which are too heavy for him, of which see on Matthew 23:4, or condemning or avoiding those things as sinful which God hath not forbidden, which really is superstition, but is here called righteousness abusively, because it is so in appearance, and in the opinion of such persons. So he gives them the name, but by adding

over-much, denies the thing, because righteousness, as well as other virtues, avoids both the extremes, the excess as well as the deficit. Or,

3. By an imprudent and unseasonable ostentation or exercise of righteousness where it is not necessary, as if a protestant travelling in a popish country should publicly profess his religion to all whom he meets with, or when a man casts the pearl of reproof before swine, against that caution, Matthew 7:6. So this is a precept that men should manage their zeal with godly wisdom, and with condescension to others, as far as may be. But this is not to be understood, either,

1. Of such prudence as keeps a man from the practice of his duty, but only of that prudence which directs him in ordering the time, manner, and other circumstances of it. Or,

2. As if men could be too good, or too holy, since the strictest holiness which any man in this life can arrive at falls far short both of the rule of God’s word, and of those examples of God and Christ, and the holy angels, which are propounded in Scripture for our imitation.

Neither make thyself over-wise; be not wise in thine own conceit, nor above what is written, 1 Corinthians 4:6, nor above what is meet; which he here implieth to be the cause of being righteous over-much.

Why shouldest thou destroy thyself? for thereby thou wilt unnecessarily expose thyself to danger and mischief.


Verse 17

Be not over-much wicked; do not take occasion, either from the impunity of sinners, Ecclesiastes 7:15, or from the prohibition of excessive righteousness, to run into the contrary extreme, the defect of righteousness, or to give up thyself to the practice of all manner of wickedness, as the manner of many men is, Ecclesiastes 8:11. But this is not to be understood as if he allowed a lower degree of wickedness, no more than that prohibition of not letting the sun go down upon a man’s wrath, Ephesians 4:26, permits him to keep his wrath all the day long; and no more than the condemnation of excess of riot, and of abominable idolatries, 1 Peter 4:3,4, doth justify any kind of rioting or idolatry.

Neither be thou foolish; which he adds to show that such sinners, howsoever they esteem themselves wise, yet in truth are egregious fools, as the following words prove.

Die before thy time; either by the justice of the magistrate, or by the vengeance of God. For though I said that sometimes a wicked man prolongeth his days, &c., Ecclesiastes 7:15, yet commonly such persons are cut off, and thou hast sufficient reason to expect and fear it.


Verse 18

Take hold of, embrace and practise, this; this counsel last given, Ecclesiastes 7:17.

Also from this; from that foregoing advice, Ecclesiastes 7:16. It is good to avoid both those extremes.

Withdraw not thine hand from the practice of it.

He that feareth God, who ordereth his actions so as to please God, and keep his commands, and walk by the rule of his word, shall come forth of them all; shall be delivered from both these, and from all other extremes, and from all the evil consequences of them. The word all is sometimes put for both, as being used of two only, as Ecclesiastes 2:14.


Verse 19

Wisdom; true wisdom, which is always joined with the fear of God, and which teacheth a man to keep close to the rule of his duty, without turning either to the right hand or to the left.

Strengtheneth the wise; supporteth him in and secureth him against troubles and dangers.

Ten, i.e. many, uniting the forces together.


Verse 20

For; so this is a reason either,

1. Of the foregoing counsels, Ecclesiastes 7:10-18, the 19th verse being interposed only as a proof of the last clause of Ecclesiastes 7:18. Or,

2. To show the necessity and advantage of that wisdom commended Ecclesiastes 7:19, because all men are very prone to folly and sin, and therefore need that wisdom which is from above to direct and keep them from it. But this particle may be, and elsewhere is, commonly rendered yet; and so the sense is, Although wisdom doth exceedingly strengthen a man, yet it doth not so strengthen him, as if it would keep him from falling into all sin. Or, because; or, seeing that; and so this relates to the following verse, Seeing all men sin, we should be ready to pardon the offences of others against us, either by word or deed. Or, surely; and so it is an entire sentence, such as there are many in this book.

There is not a just man upon earth, whereby he manifestly implies that the just in heaven are perfect and sinless, that doeth good, and sinneth not; who is universally and perfectly good, and free from all sin.


Verse 21

Take no heed; do not severely observe nor strictly search into them, nor listen to hear them, as many persons out of curiosity use to do.

Unto all words that are spoken, to wit, concerning thee, or against thee. Under this one kind of offences of the tongue, which are most frequent, he seems to understand all injuries which we suffer from others, and adviseth us that we do not too rigidly examine them, nor too deeply resent them, but rather neglect and forget them.

Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; which will vex and grieve thee, and may provoke thee to vengeance and cruelty against him.


Verse 22

Heart; mind or conscience, as that word is frequently used.

Hast cursed others; either upon some great provocation and sudden passion, or possibly upon a mere mistake, or false report; in which case thou hast both needed and desired the forbearance and forgiveness of others, and therefore by the rules of justice, as well as of piety and clarity, thou art obliged to deal likewise with others.


Verse 23

All this, or all these things, of which I have here discoursed,

have I proved, I have diligently examined and found all this to be true, by wisdom; by the help of that singular wisdom which God had given me.

I said, I will be wise; I determined within myself that I would by all possible means seek to attain perfection of wisdom, and I persuaded myself that I should attain to it.

But it was far from me; I found myself greatly disappointed, and the more I knew, the more I saw mine own folly and misery.


Verse 24

No human wit can attain to perfect wisdom, or to the exact knowledge of God’s counsels and-works, and the reasons of them, because they are unsearchably deep, and far above our sight; some of them being long since past, and therefore, utterly unknown to us, and others yet to come, which we cannot foreknow.


Verse 25

I applied mine heart; I was not discouraged, but provoked by the difficulty of the work to undertake it; which is an argument of a great and generous soul.

To know, and to search, and to seek out; he useth three words signifying the same thing, to intimate his vehement desire and vigorous and unwearied endeavour after it.

The reason of things, both of God’s various providences, and of the differing and contrary counsels and courses of men.

To know the wickedness of folly, that I might clearly and fully understand the great evil of sin, and all that wickedness and folly or madness which is bound up in the hearts of all men by nature, and which discovers itself in the course of their lives.


Verse 26

I find, by my own sad experience; which Solomon here records, partly as an instance of that folly and madness which he expressed in general, Ecclesiastes 7:25, and partly as a testimony of his true repentance for his foul miscarriages, for which he was willing to take shame to himself, not only from the present, but from all succeeding generations.

More bitter; more vexatious and pernicious, as producing those horrors of conscience, those reproaches, and diseases, and other plagues, both temporal and spiritual, from God, which are far worse than simple death and, after all these, everlasting destruction.

The woman, the strange woman, of whom he speaks so much in the Proverbs,

whose heart is snares and nets; who being subtle of heart, Proverbs 7:10, is full of crafty devices to ensnare men; and her hands, either by gifts, or rather by lascivious actions, as bands; wherewith she holds them fast in cruel bondage; so that they have neither power nor will to forsake her, notwithstanding all the dangers and mischiefs which they know do attend upon such practices.

Whoso pleaseth God, Heb. he that is good before God; either,

1. Whom God loves and favours. Or rather,

2. Who is good sincerely, or in the judgment of God, who cannot be deceived, whereas hypocrites are frequently good in the eyes or opinions of men; which sense seems to be confirmed from the opposition of

the sinner to him, both here and Ecclesiastes 2:26. Hereby he intimates that neither a good temper of mind, nor great discretion, nor good education and instruction, nor any other thing, except God’s grace, is a sufficient preservative from the dominion of this lust.

Shall escape from her; shall be prevented from falling into that sin; or if by surprisal or strong temptation he be drawn to it, he shall be recovered out of it by true repentance. The sinner; the wilful and obstinate sinner, who gives himself up to the common practice of this or other sins; he who is a sinner before the Lord, as the Sodomites are called, Genesis 13:13, who is fitly opposed to him that is good before God; he in whom there is not a dram of true goodness; for otherwise all men are sinners, as was said, Ecclesiastes 7:20.

Shall be taken by her; shall be entangled and kept fast in her chains, as is implied, because this is opposed to escaping from her.


Verse 27

Behold; it is a strange thing, and worthy of your serious observation.

The preacher; or, the penitent, who speaks what he hath learned, both by deep, study and costly experience.

Counting one by one; considering things or persons very exactly and distinctly, one after another; and not only in general and confusedly, in which case a man may very easily be mistaken; and comparing them together, whereby I was enabled to make the truer judgment of them.

To find out the account, that I might make a true and just estimate in this matter. Or, as it is in the margin:, and was rendered Ecclesiastes 7:25, the reason, to wit, of that which I am about to say. I considered the persons severally and critically, that from thence I might understand the reason of the thing.


Verse 28

My soul seeketh; it seemed so wonderful to me, that I suspected I had not made a sufficient inquiry, and therefore I returned to search again with more earnestness and accurateness.

I find not; that it was so he found out, as he now said, Ecclesiastes 7:27 but the whole truth and reason of the thing he could not find out.

One man; one worthy of the name of a man; a wise and virtuous man. Man is put for a worthy or good man, as name is put for a good name, above, Ecclesiastes 7:1, and wife for a good wife, as was noted before.

Among a thousand, with whom I have conversed. He is supposed to mention this number in allusion to his thousand wives and concubines, as they are numbered by parcels, 1 Kings 11:3.

A woman; one worthy of that name; one who is not a dishonour to her kind and sex, who is not brutish in her disposition and conversation.

Among all those in that thousand whom I have taken into intimate society with myself; whereby he also passeth a severe censure upon himself that he had associated himself with such persons, and not with the virtuous women, which doubtless there were in his time, as appears from Pr 31. It is not Solomon’s design to disparage this sex, nor to make a general comparison between men and women in all places and ages, but only to suggest his own experience concerning it.


Verse 29

This only have I found; though I could not find out all the streams of wickedness, and their infinite windings and turnings in the world, yet I have discovered the fountain of it, to wit, original sin, and the corruption of nature, which is both in men and women.

God hath made man, God made our first parents, Adam and Eve, upright, Heb. right, without any imperfection or corruption, conformable to his nature and will, which is the rule of right, after his own likeness, understanding, and holy, and every way good.

They, our first parents, and after them their posterity treading in their steps,

have sought out many inventions; were not contented with their present state, but aimed at higher things, and studied new ways of making themselves more wise and happy than God had made them, and readily hearkened to the suggestions of the devil to that end. And we their sinful and wretched children, after their example, are still prone to forsake the certain rule of God’s word, and the true way to happiness, and to seek new methods and inventions of attaining to it, even such as Solomon hath discoursed of in this book.

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1685.

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