A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.Ecclesiastes 7:1. A good name — A good and well grounded report from wise and worthy persons; a name for wisdom and goodness with those that are wise and good; is better than precious ointment — Which was very fragrant, acceptable, and useful, and of great price in those countries. And the day of death, than the day of one’s birth — Namely, the death of a good man, or of one who hath left a good name behind him; for to a wicked man, the day of death is far worse, and most terrible. Or, if this clause be considered as spoken of this life only, abstracted from the future life, as many passages in this book are to be understood, then it may be true of all men, and is a consequence of all the former discourse. As if he had said, Seeing this life is so full of vanity and misery, it is a more desirable thing for a man to go out of it than to come into it: an observation that is the more worthy of regard, because it is contrary to the opinion and practice of almost all man kind, who celebrate their own, and their children’s birth-days, with solemn feasts and rejoicings, and their deaths with all expressions of sorrow.
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.Ecclesiastes 7:2. It is better to go to the house of mourning — Where mourners meet together to celebrate the funerals of deceased friends; than to the house of feasting — Where people meet to indulge their appetites in eating and drinking, in which they frequently go to excess. For that — Namely, death, the cause of that mourning; is the end of all men — Is a lot that awaits all mankind, and to see instances of it tends to bring them to the serious consideration of their own last end, which is their greatest wisdom and interest; and the living will lay it to his heart — Will be seriously affected with it, and awakened to prepare for it: whereas feasting is commonly attended with levity and manifold temptations, and renders men’s minds indisposed for spiritual and heavenly thoughts. Hence it is evident, those passages of this book, which seem to favour a sensual and voluptuous life, were not spoken by Solomon in his own name, or as his opinion, but in the person of an epicure.
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.Ecclesiastes 7:3-4. Sorrow is better than laughter — Either sorrow for sin, or even sorrow on other accounts; for by the sadness of the countenance — Sadness seated in the heart, but manifested in the countenance; the heart is made better — Is 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. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning — Even when their bodies are absent. They are constantly, or very frequently, meditating upon serious things, 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 man’s carnal mind, yet are absolutely necessary and highly profitable, and productive of great comfort in the end, which every wise man most regards. But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth — Their minds and affections are wholly set upon feasting, jollity, and merriment, because, like fools and irrational animals, they regard only their present delight, and mind not how dearly they must pay for it.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.Ecclesiastes 7:5-6. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise — Which, though it cause some grief, yet frequently brings great benefit, even reformation, and salvation both from temporal and from eternal destruction; than the song of fools — Their flatteries, or merry discourses, which are as pleasant to corrupt nature as songs or music. For as the crackling of thorns — Which, for a time, make a great noise and blaze, but presently go out; so is the laughter of a fool — So vanishing and fruitless.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.Ecclesiastes 7:7. Oppression maketh a wise man mad — Either, 1st, When a wise man falls into the sin of oppressing others, he is infatuated by it, and by the riches which he gains in this way: or, rather, 2d, When a man is oppressed by wicked men, it often makes him fret and vex himself, and speak or act unadvisedly and foolishly. And a gift destroyeth the heart — A bribe given to a wise man deprives him of the use of his understanding. 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 is so easily corrupted and lost; and so it serves the main design of this book.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.Ecclesiastes 7:8-9. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning — The good or evil of things is better known by their end than by their beginning; which is true, not only respecting evil counsels and practices, which perhaps seem pleasant at first, but, at last, bring destruction; but also concerning all noble enterprises, the studies of learning, and the practice of virtue and godliness, in which 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; and the patient in spirit — Who quietly waits for the issue of things, and is willing to bear hardships and inconveniences in the mean time; is better than the proud in spirit — Which he puts instead of hasty or impatient, because pride is the chief cause of impatience. Be not hasty in thy spirit, &c. — Be not angry with any man without due consideration, and just and necessary cause: see on Mark 3:5. For anger resteth in the bosom of fools —
That is, sinful anger, implying not only displeasure at the sin or folly of another, which is lawful and proper, but ill-will and a desire of revenge, hath its quiet abode in the heart of fools: is ever at hand upon all occasions, whereas wise men resist, mortify, and banish it.
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.Ecclesiastes 7:10. Say not thou — Namely, 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 the times better; What is the cause that the former days were better? — More quiet and comfortable. For this is an argument of a mind unthankful for the many mercies which men enjoy even in evil times. And thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this — This question shows thy folly in contending with thy Lord and Governor, and opposing thy shallow wit to his unsearchable wisdom.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.Ecclesiastes 7:11-12. Wisdom is good — That is, very good; the positive being put for the superlative, as it frequently is in the Hebrew text; with an inheritance — When wisdom and riches meet in one man, it is a happy conjunction, for wisdom without riches wants opportunities and instruments of doing that good in the world which it is willing and desirous of doing; and riches without wisdom are like a sword in a madman’s hand, and an occasion of much sin and mischief both to himself and others. And by it there is profit — By wisdom joined with riches there comes great benefit to them that see the sun — That is, to mortal men; not only to a man’s self, but many others who live with him in this world. For wisdom is a defence — Hebrew, is a shadow; which in Scripture signifies both protection and refreshment; and money is a defence — Thus far wisdom and money agree; but the excellency of knowledge — But herein knowledge or wisdom excels riches, that whereas riches frequently expose men to destruction, true wisdom doth often preserve a man from temporal, and always from eternal ruin.
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.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?Ecclesiastes 7:13. Consider the work of God — Not of creation, but of providence; his wise, and just, and powerful government of all events, which is proposed as the last and best remedy against all murmurings. For who can make that straight, &c. — No man can correct or alter any of God’s works; and therefore all frettings at the injuries of men, or calamities of the times, are not only sinful, but also vain and fruitless. This implies that there is a hand 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.
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.Ecclesiastes 7:14. In the day of prosperity be joyful — Enjoy God’s favours with thankfulness. In the day of adversity consider — Namely, God’s work, that it is his hand, and therefore submit to it: consider also why he sends it: for what sins, and with what design? God also hath set the one against the other — Hath wisely ordained, that prosperity and adversity should succeed one another; that man should find nothing after him — Or, rather, after it, as it may be rendered; that is, after his present condition, whether it be prosperous or afflictive: that no man might be able to foresee what shall befall him afterward; and therefore might live in a constant dependance upon God, and neither despair in trouble, nor be secure or presumptuous in prosperity.
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.Ecclesiastes 7:15. All things have I seen — All sort’s of events, both such as have been already mentioned, and such as I am about to declare. In the days of my vanity — Since I have come into this vain life. A just man perisheth in his righteousness — Notwithstanding his righteousness; whom his righteousness does not deliver in common calamities, or, for his righteousness, which exposes him to the envy, anger, or hatred of wicked men. And a wicked man prolongeth his life, &c. — Not withstanding all his wickedness, whereby he provokes and deserves the justice and wrath both of God and men; and yet for many wise and just reasons he is permitted to live long unpunished and secure.
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not righteous overmuch — 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. Solomon may here be considered as speaking in the person of an ungodly man, who takes occasion to dissuade men from righteousness, because of the danger which attends it. Therefore, saith he, take heed of strictness, zeal, and forwardness in religion. And in consistency with this the next verse may be viewed as containing an antidote to this suggestion; “Yea, rather,” saith he, “be not wicked or foolish overmuch; for that will not preserve thee, as thou mayest imagine, but will occasion and hasten thy ruin.” It must, however, be acknowledged, “there are many parts or appearances of religion which may be carried to an extreme. A man may be over tenacious of insignificant forms or human inventions: he may pretend to kinds and degrees of righteousness which the Scriptures do not require. His conscientiousness may degenerate into superstition and scrupulousness; his benevolence into indiscretion, and his candour and good nature into folly: and in affecting to be acquainted with the whole of divine truth, he may become presumptuously curious, and intrude into unrevealed things. Thus many run into extremes, and expose themselves to needless persecution.” — Scott. Dr. Waterland renders it, Do not exercise justice too rigorously, according to the interpretation which Bishop Hall gives of it, namely, “Be not too rigorous in exacting the extremity of justice upon every occasion; neither do thou affect too much semblance and ostentation of more justice than thou hast. Neither do thou arrogate more wisdom to thyself than is in thee.” Others again expound this and the next verse of the public administration of justice, which ought to be neither too rigid nor too remiss and negligent. “Non dubium est, &c. There is no doubt,” says Melancthon, “but he speaks of political justice, which governs the things of this life; and consists of a mean between cruelty and negligence. Too much severity becomes cruelty: and too much indulgence confirms men in wickedness. A good governor takes a middle course. The like admonition,” adds he, “is subjoined about wisdom; for, as too much severity becomes cruelty, so too much wisdom, that is, subtlety, becomes caviling, sophistry, and cheating.” Dr. Hammond, however, understands these verses according to the interpretation first given, considering Ecclesiastes 7:16, Be not righteous overmuch, as the objection of a carnal, worldly man, or of a lukewarm professor;
“who takes that, for an excess of duty which brings any damage, or worldly loss, upon him, which objection is answered,” says he, “in Ecclesiastes 7:17, Be not wicked overmuch, &c., that is, the fears, and, from thence, the prudential, but oftentimes very impious practices of the worldling, are the more probable path to the most hasty ruin.” — See Bishop Patrick. This interpretation certainly appears the most probable, and most consistent with the context.
Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
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.Ecclesiastes 7:18-20. It is good that thou shouldest take hold of this — Embrace and practise this counsel last given. Also from this withdraw not thy hand — From the practice of the preceding advice: for he that feareth God — Who orders his actions so as to please God, and keep his commandments, walking by the rule of his word; shall come forth of them all — Shall be delivered from all extremes, and from all the evil consequences of them. This verse seems more exactly rendered by a late writer thus: “The good which thou shouldest take hold of consists in this, (nay, thou shouldest never withdraw thine hand from it,) that he who feareth God shall avoid all these inconveniences.” Wisdom strengtheneth the wise — Hebrew, החכמה תעז, that wisdom, will strengthen the wise, namely, that fear of God, mentioned above, which is the true wisdom, and will teach a man to keep close to the rule of his duty, without turning either to the right hand or to the left; more than ten mighty men which are in the city — It will support him better in troubles, and secure him more effectually against dangers, than many men uniting their forces to assist and protect him. Or, he shall be better enabled to go through this world, than any town can be to stand the attacks of her enemies, though ten powerful princes should unite in her favour, and join their forces to defend her bulwarks. This is a support which can never fail; whereas, that of a man’s own righteousness and strength cannot but be weak and precarious. For, (Ecclesiastes 7:20,) there is not a just man upon earth — Rather, a righteous man, as אדם צדיקproperly signifies, and is generally rendered, namely, one that is, and always has been righteous, according to God’s law, the rule of righteousness, which is holy, just, and good, and by which shall no flesh living be justified, Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16. Thus St. Paul, quoting the words of David, testifies, There is none righteous, no not one. Solomon adds, that doeth good, and sinneth not — Who is universally and perfectly good and holy, and free from sin, in thought, word, and deed.
Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:Ecclesiastes 7:21-22. Take no heed unto all words that are spoken — Namely, concerning thee, or against thee. Do not severely observe, or strictly search into them, or listen to hear them, as many persons out of curiosity, are wont to do. Under this one kind of offences which are most frequent, namely, those of the tongue, he seems to comprehend all injuries which we suffer from others, and advises that we should not too rigidly examine them, nor too deeply resent them, but rather neglect and forget them. Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee — Which would vex and grieve thee, and might, perhaps, provoke thee to treat him with severity, if not with vengeance and cruelty. For oftentimes also thine own heart — Thy mind or conscience, knoweth — Bears thee witness; that thou thyself likewise — Either upon some great provocation, and sudden passion, or possibly upon a mere mistake, or false report, hast cursed others — Hast censured them unjustly, and spoken ill of them, if not wished ill to them. If therefore thy servant, or any other, act thus toward thee, thou art only paid in thy own coin. Observe, reader, when any affront or injury is done us, it is seasonable to examine our consciences whether we have not done the same, or as bad, to others: and if, upon reflection, we find we have, we must take that occasion to renew our repentance for it, must justify God, and make use of it to qualify our own resentments. If we be truly displeased and grieved at ourselves for censuring and backbiting others, we shall be less angry at others for censuring and backbiting us. We must show all meekness toward all men, because we ourselves were formerly foolish, Titus 3:2.
For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.Ecclesiastes 7:23-24. All this have I proved — All these things, of which I have here discoursed, I have diligently examined and found 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 that I would, by all possible means, seek to attain perfection of wisdom, and I persuaded myself that I should attain it; but it was far from me — I found myself greatly disappointed, and the more I knew the more I saw mine own folly. That which, is far off, &c. — No human understanding 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 out of our sight; some of them being long since past, and therefore utterly unknown to us, and others yet to come, which we cannot foreknow.
That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
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:Ecclesiastes 7:25. I applied my heart to know — I was not discouraged, but provoked, by the difficulty of the work, to undertake it. To know, search, and seek out wisdom — He useth three words signifying the same thing, to intimate his vehement desire, and vigorous and unwearied endeavours after it. And the reason of things — Both of God’s various providences, and of the counsels and courses of men. To know the wickedness, &c — Clearly and fully to understand the great evil of sin.
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.Ecclesiastes 7:26. And I find — By my own sad experience, which Solomon here records 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 than death is the woman — The strange woman, of whom he speaks so much in the Proverbs; more vexatious and pernicious, as producing those horrors of conscience, those reproaches, diseases, and other plagues, both temporal and spiritual, from God, which are far worse than the mere death of the body, and, after all these, everlasting destruction; whose heart is snares and nets — Who is full of crafty devices to ensnare men; and her hands — By gifts, or lascivious actions, as bands — Wherewith she holds them in cruel bondage, so that they have neither power nor will to forsake her, notwithstanding all the dangers and mischiefs which they know attend upon such practices. Whoso pleaseth God — Hebrew, he that is good before God, who is sincerely, and in the judgment of God, truly pious; shall escape her — Shall be preserved from falling into her hands. Hereby he intimates, that neither a good temper of mind, nor great discretion, nor a good education, nor any other thing, except God’s grace, is a sufficient preservative from the dominion of fleshy lusts; but the sinner — Who rests satisfied without the saving grace of God and true piety, and therefore lives in known and wilful sin; shall be taken by her — Shall be entangled and held in her chains.
Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:Ecclesiastes 7:27-28. Behold, saith the preacher — Or, the penitent, who speaks what he hath learned, both by deep study and costly experience; this have I found — And it is a strange thing, and worthy of your serious observation; counting one by one — Considering things or persons, very exactly and distinctly, one after another; to find out the account — That I might make a true and just estimate in this matter; or, as it is in the margin, to find out the reason. Which yet my soul seeketh — It seems so wonderful to me, that I suspected that I had not made a sufficient inquiry, and therefore I returned and searched again, with more earnestness; but I find not — That it was so he found, but the reason of the thing he could not find out. One man — A wise and virtuous man; among a thousand — With whom I have conversed; have I found — He is supposed to mention this number in allusion to his thousand wives and concubines, as they are numbered, 1 Kings 11:3; but a woman — One worthy of that name, one who is not a dishonour to her sex; among all those, have I not found — In that thousand whom I have taken into intimate society with myself. It is justly observed by different commentators here, that “we are not hence to infer, that Solomon thought there were fewer good women than men: but that he knew he had not gone the right way to find the virtuous woman, when he deviated so widely from the original law of marriage; and instead of seeking one rational companion, the sole object of his endeared affections, he had collected a vast multitude for magnificence and indulgence. The more valuable part of the sex would not willingly form one in such a group; and, if any of them were previously well disposed, the jealousies, party interests, contests, and artifices which take place in such situations, would tend exceedingly to corrupt them, and render them all nearly of the same character. Solomon therefore here speaks the language of a penitent, warning others against the sins into which he had been betrayed; and not that of a waspish satirist, lashing indiscriminately one half of the human species.” — Scott.
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.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.Ecclesiastes 7:29. Lo, this only have I found — Though I could not find out all the streams of wickedness, and their infinite windings and turnings, yet I have discovered the fountain of it, original sin, and the corruption of nature, which is both in men and women; that God made our first parents, Adam and Eve, upright — Hebrew, right: without any imperfection or corruption, conformable to his nature and will, after his own likeness: but they — Our first parents, and after them their posterity; have sought out many inventions — Were not contented with their present state, but studied new ways of making themselves more wise and happy than God had made them. And we, their wretched children, are still prone to forsake the certain rule of God’s word, and the true way to happiness, and to seek new methods of attaining it.