Ecclesiastes 5:14
But those riches perish by evil travail: and he begets a son, and there is nothing in his hand.
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(14) Evil travail.—Unsuccessful business.

Nothing in his hand.—The same words occur in a literal sense in Judges 14:6.

5:9-17 The goodness of Providence is more equally distributed than appears to a careless observer. The king needs the common things of life, and the poor share them; they relish their morsel better than he does his luxuries. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy, much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires. The more men have, the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, and the more they will have hanging on them. The sleep of the labourer is sweet, not only because he is tired, but because he has little care to break his sleep. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, are sweet; having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully repose in God as his Rest. But those who have every thing else, often fail to secure a good night's sleep; their abundance breaks their rest. Riches do hurt, and draw away the heart from God and duty. Men do hurt with their riches, not only gratifying their own lusts, but oppressing others, and dealing hardly with them. They will see that they have laboured for the wind, when, at death, they find the profit of their labour is all gone like the wind, they know not whither. How ill the covetous worldling bears the calamities of human life! He does not sorrow to repentance, but is angry at the providence of God, angry at all about him; which doubles his affliction.Evil travail - Adverse accident, or unsuccessful employment (compare Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 4:8). 13, 14. Proofs of God's judgments even in this world (Pr 11:31). The rich oppressor's wealth provokes enemies, robbers, &c. Then, after having kept it for an expected son, he loses it beforehand by misfortune ("by evil travail"), and the son is born to be heir of poverty. Ec 2:19, 23 gives another aspect of the same subject. But, or for, or or, or moreover; for this particle is so rendered by divers others, both here and in other places of Scripture.

Those riches perish: if they be kept, it is to the owner’s hurt; and if not, they are lost to his grief.

By evil travail; by some wicked practices, either his own, or of other men; or by some secret hand of God cursing all his enterprises.

There is nothing in his hand; either,

1. In the father’s power to leave to his son, for whose sake he underwent all those hard labours; which is a great aggravation of his grief and misery. Or,

2. In the son’s possession after his father’s death. But those riches perish by evil travail,.... Or, "by an evil business or affair" (n). That is, such riches as are not well got, or are not used as they should be, these waste away and come to nothing; either by the owner's bad management, and misconduct in trade and business; or by fire, tempest, thieves, and robbers, and many other ways and means: these are very certain things; and there are various ways by which they make themselves wings and flee away, under the direction of a divine providence;

and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand; the riches he had hoarded up, he designed for his son; but being stripped of them by one means or another, when he comes to die, has nothing to leave his son: or if his riches do not perish in his own lifetime, yet they are quickly consumed by his son, who, in a short time, has nothing to live upon; and so being brought up a gentleman, and in no business, is in a worse condition than such who have been brought up to work for their living, and in no expectation of an estate after the decease of their friends. The Targum understands it in this latter sense, paraphrasing the words thus,

"and those riches, which he shall leave his son after his death, shall perish, because he hath gotten them in an evil way; and they shall not remain in the hand of the son whom he hath begotten; neither shall anything remain in his hand.''

(n) "occupatione, negotio, vel casu malo", Gejerus.

But those riches perish by evil labour: and he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his {l} hand.

(l) He does not enjoy his father's riches.

Verse 14. - Those riches perish by evil travail; thing or circumstance. There is no need to confine the cause of the loss to unsuccessful business, as many commentators do. The rich man does not seem to be a tradesman or speculator; he loses his property, like Job, by visitations for which he is in no way answerable - by storm or tempest, by robbers, by fire, by exactions, or by lawsuits. And he begetteth a son, and there is nothing in his hand. The verb rendered "begetteth" is in the past tense, and used as it were, hypothetically, equivalent to "hath he begotten a son," supposing he has a son. His misery is doubled by the reflection that he has lost all hope of securing a fortune for his children, or founding a family, or passing on an inheritance to posterity. It is doubtful to whom the pronoun "his" refers. Many consider that the father is meant, and the clause says that when he has begotten a son, he finds he has nothing to give him. But the suffix seems most naturally to refer to the son, who is thus left a pauper. Vulgate, Generavit filium qui in summa egestate erit. Having a thing in the hand moans having power over it, or possessing it. "If thou seest the oppression of the poor and the robbery of right and of justice in the state, marvel not at the matter: for one higher watches over him who is high; and others are high above both." Like rash, mishpat vatsěděq are also the gen. of the obj.; "robbery of the right and of justice" is an expression not found elsewhere, but not on that account, as Grtz supposes, impossible: mishpat is right, rectitude, and conformity to law; and ]], judicial administration, or also social deportment according to these norms; גּזל, a wicked, shameless depriving of a just claim, and withholding of the showing of right which is due. If one gets a sight of such things as these in a medinah, i.e., in a territorial district under a common government, he ought not to wonder at the matter.

תּמהּ means to be startled, astonished, and, in the sense of "to wonder," is the word commonly used in modern Heb. But חפץ has here the colourless general signification of res, according to which the Syr. translates it (vid., under Ecclesiastes 3:1); every attempt in passages such as this to retain the unweakened primary meaning of the word runs out into groundless and fruitless subtlety. Cf. Berachoth 5a, חפץ לח ... אדם, "a man who buys a thing from another." On the other hand, there is doubt about the meaning of the clause assigning the reason. It seems to be intended, that over him who is high, who oppresses those under him, there stands one who is higher, who in turn oppresses him, and thereby becomes the executor of punishment upon him; and that these, the high and the higher, have over them a Most High, viz., God, who will bring them to an account (Knobel, Ew., Elst., Vaih., Hengst., Zckl.). None of the old translators and expositors rises, it is true, to the knowledge that גּבהים may be pl. majestatis,

(Note: That is surprising, since the Talm. interpretation, Menachoth 110a, even brings it about that לב, Ecclesiastes 5:10, is to be understood of God.)

but the first גּבהּ the Targ. renders by אל אדּיר. This was natural to the Jewish usus loq., for gbwh in the post-bibl. Heb. is a favourite name for God, e.g., Beza 20b, Jebamoth 87a, Kamma 13a: "from the table of God" (משלחן גבוה), i.e., the altar (cf. Hebrews 13:10; 1 Corinthians 10:21).

(Note: חלק גבוה is also a common Rabbin. name for the tithes and offerings (cf. e.g., Nachmani under Genesis 14:20). Along with חלק הגבוה, the sacrifices are also called (in Hurwitz' work on the Heb. rites, known by the abbreviated title ש''לה) לגבוה; vid., 85b of the ed. 1764, and 23b of the Amsterdam ed. 1707 of the abridgment.)

The interpretation of גב, however, as the pl. majest., has in the Book of Koheleth itself a support in בּוראיך, Ecclesiastes 12:1; and the thought in which Ecclesiastes 5:7 climactically terminates accords essentially with Ecclesiastes 3:17. This explanation, however, of Ecclesiastes 5:7 does not stand the test. For if an unrighteous administration of justice, if violence is in vogue instead of right, that is an actual proof that over him who is high no human higher one watches who may put a check upon him, and to whom he feels that he is responsible. And that above them both one who is Most High stands, who will punish injustice and avenge it, is a consolatory argument against vexation, but is no explanatory reason of the phenomenon, such as we expect after the noli mirari; for אל־תתמה does not signify "be not offended" (John 16:1), or, "think it not strange" (1 Peter 4:12), which would be otherwise expressed (cf. under Psalm 37:1), but μή θαυμάσης (lxx). Also the contrast, Ecclesiastes 5:8, warrants the conclusion that in Ecclesiastes 5:7 the author seeks to explain the want of legal order from the constitution of a despotic state as distinguished from patriarchal government. For this reason שׁמר will not be meant of over-watching, which has its aim in the execution of legal justice and official duty, but of egoistic watching, - not, however, as Hitzig understands it: "they mutually protect each other's advantage; one crow does not peck out the eyes of another," - but, on the contrary, in the sense of hostile watching, as at 1 Samuel 19:11; 2 Samuel 11:16, as B. Bardach understands it: "he watches for the time when he may gain the advantage over him who is high, who is yet lower than himself, and may strengthen and enrich himself with his flesh or his goods." Over the one who is high, who oppresses the poor and is a robber in respect of right and justice, there stands a higher, who on his part watches how he can plunder him to his own aggrandisement; and over both there are again other high ones, who in their own interest oppress these, as these do such as are under them. This was the state of matters in the Persian Empire in the time of the author. The satrap stood at the head of state officers. In many cases he fleeced the province to fatten himself. But over the satrap stood inspectors, who often enough built up their own fortunes by fatal denunciations; and over all stood the king, or rather the court, with its rivalry of intrigues among courtiers and royal women. The cruel death-punishments to which disagreeable officials were subjected were fearful. There was a gradation of bad government and arbitrary domination from high to low and from low to high, and no word is more fitting for this state of things in Persia than שׁמר; for watching, artfully lurking as spies for an opportunity to accomplish the downfall of each other, was prevalent in the Persian Empire, especially when falling into decay.

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