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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Ecclesiastes 7

 

 

Verses 1-29

Ecclesiastes 7:1-22. Proverbs and Reflections.—After asking, "What is good for man in life?" (Ecclesiastes 6:12), Qoheleth gives us advice as to what a man may do by way of mitigating his worries. First of all it is advisable for him to cultivate seriousness rather than levity (Ecclesiastes 7:1-7). The curious remark that "a (good) name is better than precious ointment" (cf. Ca. Ecclesiastes 1:3*) is in the Heb. a play on the words shem and shemen; ointment is highly esteemed in the East.

Ecclesiastes 7:1 b reminds us of the Thracian tribe mentioned by Herodotus (Ecclesiastes 7:4) who at the birth of a child bewailed its entry on life's trials, and celebrated death as a joyful release (cf. also Ecclesiastes 6:4-6).

Ecclesiastes 7:2. Jewish mournings lasted a week or even a month, and would teach the visitor to number his days and get a heart of wisdom (Psalms 90:12).

Ecclesiastes 7:3. the heart is made glad: better, "it is well with the heart," "to suffer is to learn," "pain is gain."

Ecclesiastes 7:4. Like draws to like.

Ecclesiastes 7:5. the rebuke of the wise (cf. Proverbs 13:1) . . . songs of fools: licentious and vulgar tavern songs (cf. Amos 6:5, Ephesians 5:4).—In Ecclesiastes 7:6 there is another play on words (sirim = thorns, sir = pot), which we may reproduce in English by nettles and kettles, or stubble and bubble. Thorns as fuel produce more noise than heat. The words "this also is vanity" may be omitted as a gloss.

Ecclesiastes 7:7. Surely is an attempt to get over the real meaning of the Heb. word, which means "for." To give sense we must suppose that some sentence like that in Proverbs 16:8 has dropped out, or perhaps the whole verse is an insertion. The despotic use of power ("extortion") unbalances even a wise man, and bribes ruin the moral nature.

Ecclesiastes 7:8. thing perhaps = "word" (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:11); the verse is then a caution against uncontrolled speech as Ecclesiastes 7:9 is a caution against its source, hasty anger.

Ecclesiastes 7:10. The aged and the pessimist are alike unwisely prone to praise the "good old times" at the expense of the present and the future.

Ecclesiastes 7:11 f. is a gloss; mg. is preferable. It is good to have wisdom if one has nothing else, but if one has something else so much the better; "them that see the sun" means the living. Wisdom has this advantage over money, that it is not only a defence (lit. "shade") but a quickener and stimulus of life.

Ecclesiastes 7:13 connects with Ecclesiastes 7:10.—With Ecclesiastes 7:13 b cf. Ecclesiastes 1:15.

Ecclesiastes 7:14. God has so balanced and mingled prosperity and adversity that man cannot foretell the future. Plumptre quotes a striking parallel to Ecclesiastes 7:13 f. from the Stoic hymn of Cleanthes to Zeus (Ecclesiastes 7:18):

"Things discordant find accord in Thee,

And in one whole Thou blendest ill with good,

So that one law works on for evermore."

—Qoheleth now goes on to advocate the golden mean.

Ecclesiastes 7:15 controverts the old idea that righteousness and wickedness mean respectively a long and short life.

Ecclesiastes 7:16 is aimed at the extreme pietism of the Hasidim (Psalms 4:3*), the early Pharisees whose strict legalism was a menace to the tranquillity of the nation (2 Maccabees 14:6); like an excess of "wisdom" it meant self-inflation and collapse. Yet there is greater danger in extreme wickedness and folly (Ecclesiastes 7:17); debauchery means death. Lay firm hold of both these cautions, medio tutissimus ibis; he that fears God "shall be quit in regard to both" (Barton). Both Ecclesiastes 7:18 b and Ecclesiastes 7:19 seem to have been inserted by later and different hands.—ten rulers reminds us of the Athenian archons (and the Venetian Council of Ten), but is simply a round number. The usual number of elders who act as a council in an Oriental village is five. Wisdom is the individual's borough or city council.

Ecclesiastes 7:20. Cf. 1 Kings 8:46; for "surely" read "because," and so connect with Ecclesiastes 7:21. There is so much folly spoken that it is waste of time to listen to every conversation; besides, listeners hear no good of themselves (Ecclesiastes 7:21 f.).


Verses 23-29

Ecclesiastes 7:23-29. In Dispraise of Women.—All the foregoing maxims have been tested, yet Qoheleth has not attained wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:23); the true inwardness of things, the ultimate reality, is beyond his efforts (Ecclesiastes 7:24; cf. Job 28:12-28, also Ec. If.). Yet he has learned that "wickedness is folly and folly is madness," and has made the further discovery of something more bitter than death, a seductive woman (cf. Proverbs 5, 7). His investigation has been painstaking and thorough (Ecclesiastes 7:27), and with heart as well as head (Ecclesiastes 7:28), and his conclusion is that while perfect men are very scarce, perfect women are still scarcer. Whether Qoheleth has suffered some bitter personal experience or has in mind the intrigues of the harem in Persian and Greek life we cannot say. He (or more likely a glossator) however, acquits God of responsibility for human wrong-doing; it is man's inventive faculty that has too often taken the wrong course.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 7:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/ecclesiastes-7.html. 1919.

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