Ecclesiastes 10
Clarke's Commentary
Observations on wisdom and folly, Ecclesiastes 10:1-3. Concerning right conduct towards rulers, Ecclesiastes 10:4. Merit depressed, and worthlessness exalted, Ecclesiastes 10:5-7. Of him who digs a pit and removes a landmark, Ecclesiastes 10:8, Ecclesiastes 10:9. The use of wisdom and experience, Ecclesiastes 10:10. Of the babbler and the fool, Ecclesiastes 10:11-15. The infant king, Ecclesiastes 10:16. The well-regulated court, Ecclesiastes 10:17. Of slothfulness, Ecclesiastes 10:18. Of feasting, Ecclesiastes 10:19. Speak not evil of the king, Ecclesiastes 10:20.

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.
Dead flies - Any putrefaction spoils perfume; and so a foolish act ruins the character of him who has the reputation of being wise and good. Alas! alas! in an unguarded moment how many have tarnished the reputation which they were many years in acquiring! Hence, no man can be said to be safe, till he is taken to the paradise of God.

A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left.
A wise man's heart is at his right hand - As the right hand is ordinarily the best exercised, strongest, and most ready, and the left the contrary, they show,

1. The command which the wise man has over his own mind, feelings, passions, etc., and the prudence with which he acts. And,

2. The want of prudence and management in the fool, who has no restraint on his passions, and no rule or guard upon his tongue. The right hand and the left are used in Scripture to express good and evil. The wise man is always employed in doing good; the fool, in nonsense or evil.

Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.
When - a fool walketh by the way - In every act of life, and in every company he frequents, the irreligious man shows what he is. Vanity, nonsense, and wickedness are his themes: so that in effect he saith to every one that he is a fool.

If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.
If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee - If the king get incensed against thee.

Leave not thy place - Humble thyself before him, that is thy place and duty; for yielding to him, and not standing stoutly in thy defense, pacifieth great offenses: and then, when his anger is appeased, he will hear any thing in thy justification, if thou have any thing to offer. This is good advice to a child in reference to his parents, and to an inferior of any kind in reference to his superiors.

Several of the fathers understood this differently, It the spirit of the ruler - the influence of Satan - hath risen up against and prevailed over thee, to bring thee into some sin; leave not thy place - do not despair of God's mercy; humble thyself before him, and seek pardon through the Son of his love, and this will be מרפא marpe, a remedy or cure even for חטאים גדולים chataim gedolim, great errors or sins. All this is true in itself, whether found in this text or not.

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler:
An error which proceedeth from the ruler - What this error in the ruler is, the two following verses point out: it is simpiy this - an injudicious distribution of offices, and raising people to places of trust and confidence, who are destitute of merit, are neither of name nor family to excite public confidence, and are without property; so that they have no stake in the country, and their only solicitude must naturally be to enrich themselves, and provide for their poor relatives. This is frequent in the governments of the world; and favouritism has often brought prosperous nations to the brink of ruin. Folly was set in dignity; the man of property, sense, and name, in a low place. Servants - menial men, rode upon horses - carried every thing with a high and proud hand; and princes, - the nobles of the people, were obliged to walk by their sides, and often from the state of things to become in effect their servants. This was often the case in this country, during the reign of Thomas a Becket, and Cardinal Woolsey. These insolent men lorded it over the whole nation; and the people and their gentry were raised or depressed according as their pride and caprice willed. And, through this kind of errors, not only a few sovereigns have had most uncomfortable and troublesome reigns, but some have even lost their lives.

Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.
I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.
He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
Whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him - While spoiling his neighbor's property, he himself may come to greater mischief: while pulling out the sticks, he may be bit by a serpent, who has his nest there. Some have supposed that נחש nachash here means a thorn; perhaps from the similarity of its prick to the serpent's sting. He who forces his way through a hedge will be pricked by the thorns.

Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.
Whoso removeth stones - This verse teaches care and caution. Whoever pulls down an old building is likely to be hurt by the stones; and in cleaving wood many accidents occur for want of sufficient caution.

If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
If the iron be blunt - If the axe have lost its edge, and the owner do not sharpen it, he must apply the more strength to make it cut: but the wisdom that is profitable to direct will teach him, that he should whet his axe, and spare his strength. Thus, without wisdom and understanding we cannot go profitably through the meanest concerns in life.

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
The serpent will bite without enchantment - בלא לחש belo lachash, without hissing. As a snake may bite before it hiss, so also will the babbler, talkative person, or calumniator. Without directly speaking evil, he insinuates, by innuendoes, things injurious to the reputation of his neighbor. Gif the eddir bite in silence, noyhing lasse than he hath that privily backbiteth - Old MS. Bible. "A babbler of his tongue is no better than a serpent that styngeth without hyssynge." - Coverdale. The moral of this saying is simply this: A calumniator is as dangerous as a poisonous serpent; and from the envenomed tongue of slander and detraction no man is safe. The comparing the serpent, נחש nachash, to a babbler, has something singular in it. I have already supposed that the creature mentioned, Genesis 3:1, was of the genus simia. This has been ridiculed, but not disproved.

The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
The words of a wise man's mouth - Every thing that proceeds from him is decent and orderly, creditable to himself, and acceptable to those who hear him. But the lips of the fool, which speak every thing at random, and have no understanding to guide them, are not only not pleasant to others, but often destructive to himself.

The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.
A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?
A man cannot tell what shall be - A foolish babbling man will talk on every subject, though he can say as little on the past, as he can on the future.

The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.
He knoweth not how to go to the city - I suppose this to be a proverb: "He knows nothing; he does not know his way to the next village." He may labor; but for want of judgment he wearies himself to no purpose.

Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!
Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child - Minorities are, in general, very prejudicial to a state. Regents either disagree, and foment civil wars; or oppress the people. Various discordant interests are raised up in a state during a minority; and the young king, having been under the tutelage of interested men, acts partially and injuriously to the interests of the people when he comes to the throne; and this produces popular discontent, and a troubled reign.

Thy princes eat in the morning! - They do nothing in order; turn night into day, and day into night; sleep when they should wake, and wake when they should sleep; attending more to chamberings and banquetings, than to the concerns of the state.

Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
When thy king is the son of nobles - uiov eleuyerwn, the son of freemen; persons well acquainted with the principles of civil liberty, and who rule according to them - Septuagint. Such a one as comes to the throne in a legitimate way, from an ancient regal family, whose right to the throne is incontestable. It requires such a long time to establish a regal right, that the state is in continual danger from pretenders and usurpers, where the king is not the son of nobles.

And thy princes eat in due season - All persons in places of trust for the public weal, from the king to the lowest public functionary, should know, that the public are exceedingly scandalized at repeated accounts of entertainments, where irregularity prevails, much money is expended, and no good done. These things are drawn into precedent, and quoted to countenance debauch in the inferior classes. The natural division of the day for necessary repasts is, Breakfast, eight, or half after; Dinner, one, or half after; Supper, eight, or half after. And these, or even earliers hours were formerly observed in these countries. Then we had scarcely any such thing as gout, and no nervous disorders.

In ancient nations the custom was to eat but once, and then about mid-day.

By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.
By much slothfulness - This is remarkably the case in some countries. Houses are not repaired till they almost fall about the ears of the inhabitants. We have an adage that applies to all such cases: "A stitch in time saves nine."

A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
A feast is made for laughter - The object of it is to produce merriment, to banish care and concern of every kind. But who are they who make and frequent such places? Epicures and drunkards generally; such as those of whom Horace speaks:

Nos numerus sumus, et fruges consumere nati.

Epist. lib. i., Ephesians 2, ver. 27.

"Those whose names stand as indications of men, the useless many; and who appear to be born only to consume the produce of the soil."

But money answereth all - This saying has prevailed everywhere.

Scilicet uxorem cum dote, fidemque, et amicos,

Et genus, et formam Regina Pecunia donat;

Ac bene nummatum decorat Suadela, Venusque.

Hor. Ep. lib. i., Ephesians 6, ver. 36.

"For gold, the sovereign Queen of all below,

Friends, honor, birth, and beauty, can bestow.

The goddess of persuasion forms her train;

And Venus decks the well-bemonied swain."


Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
Curse not the king - Do not permit thyself even to think evil of the king; lest thy tongue at some time give vent to thy thoughts, and so thou be chargeable with treason.

For a bird of the air shall carry the voice - Does he refer here to such fowls as the carrier pigeon, which were often used to carry letters under their wings to a great distance, and bring back answers? The Targum turns it curiously: "Do not speak evil of the king in thy conscience, nor in the secret of thy heart, nor in the most hidden place in thy house, curse not a wise man; for Raziel calls daily from heaven upon Mount Horeb, and his voice goes through the whole world; and Elijah, the great priest, goes, flying through the air like a winged eagle, and publishes the words which are spoken in secret by all the inhabitants of the earth."

Civil government is so peculiarly of God, that he will have it supported for the benefit of mankind; and those who attempt to disturb it are generally marked by his strong disapprobation. And though there have been multitudes of treasons hatched in the deepest secrecy; yet, through the providence of God, they have been discovered in the most singular manner. This shows God's care for government.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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