Ecclesiastes 7:3
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
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(3) Sadness of the countenance.—Genesis 40:7; Nehemiah 3:3. “Anger” (margin). This is the usual meaning of the word, and so in Ecclesiastes 7:9. It is accordingly adopted here by the older translators, but the rendering of our version is required by the context.

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.7:1-6 Reputation for piety and honesty is more desirable than all the wealth and pleasure in this world. It will do more good to go to a funeral than to a feast. We may lawfully go to both, as there is occasion; our Saviour both feasted at the wedding of his friend in Cana, and wept at the grave of his friend in Bethany. But, considering how apt we are to be vain and indulge the flesh, it is best to go to the house of mourning, to learn the end of man as to this world. Seriousness is better than mirth and jollity. That is best for us which is best for our souls, though it be unpleasing to sense. It is better to have our corruptions mortified by the rebuke of the wise, than to have them gratified by the song of fools. The laughter of a fool is soon gone, the end of his mirth is heaviness.Sorrow - Rather, Seriousness.

The heart is made better - i. e., is made bright and joyful (compare 2 Corinthians 6:10). The mind which bears itself equally in human concerns, whether they be pleasant or sorrowful, must always be glad, free, and at peace.

3. Sorrow—such as arises from serious thoughts of eternity.

laughter—reckless mirth (Ec 2:2).

by the sadness … better—(Ps 126:5, 6; 2Co 4:17; Heb 12:10, 11). Maurer translates: "In sadness of countenance there is (may be) a good (cheerful) heart." So Hebrew, for "good," equivalent to "cheerful" (Ec 11:9); but the parallel clause supports English Version.

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. Sorrow is better than laughter,.... Sorrow, expressed in the house of mourning, is better, more useful and commendable, than that foolish laughter, and those airs of levity, expressed in the house of feasting; or sorrow on account of affliction and troubles, even adversity itself, is oftentimes much more profitable, and conduces more to the good of men, than prosperity; or sorrow for sin, a godly sorrow, a sorrow after a godly sort, which works repentance unto salvation, that needeth not to be repented of, is to be preferred to all carnal mirth and jollity. It may be rendered, "anger is better than laughter" (h); which the Jews understand of the anger of God in correcting men for sin; which is much better than when he takes no notice of them, but suffers them to go on in sin, as if he was pleased with them; the Midrash gives instances of it in the generation of the flood and the Sodomites: and the Targum inclines to this sense,

"better is the anger, with which the Lord of that world is angry against the righteous in this world, than the laughter with which he derides the ungodly.''

Though it may be better, with others, to understand it of anger in them expressed against sin, in faithful though sharp rebukes for it; which, in the issue, is more beneficial than the flattery of such who encourage in it; see Proverbs 27:5;

for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better: when the sadness is not hypocritical, as in the Scribes and Pharisees, but serious and real, arising from proper reflections on things in the mind; whereby the heart is drawn off from vain, carnal, and sensual things; and is engaged in the contemplation of spiritual and heavenly ones, which is of great advantage to it: or by the severity of the countenance of a faithful friend, in correcting for faults, the heart is made better, which receives those corrections in love, and confesses its fault, and amends.

(h) "melior est ira risu", Pagninus, Mercerus; "melior est indigatio risu", Tigurine version, Junius & Tremellius.

Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
3. Sorrow is better than laughter] The thought is essentially the same as that of the preceding verse, but is somewhat more generalized. We are reminded of the Greek axiom, παθεῖν, μαθεῖν (“Pain is gain”), of the teaching of Æschylus.


τὸν φρονεῖν βροτοὺς ὁδώ-

σαντα, τὸν πάθει μάθος

θέντα κυρίως ἔχειν.

“Yea, Zeus, who leadeth men in wisdom’s way

And fixeth fast the law

That pain is gain.”

Agam. 170.

There is a moral improvement rising out of sorrow which is not gained from enjoyment however blameless. The “Penseroso” is after all a character of nobler stamp than the “Allegro.”Verse 3. - Sorrow is better than laughter. This is a further expansion of the previous maxim, כַּעַס (kaas), as contrasted with שְׂהוק, is rightly rendered "sorrow," "melancholy," or, as Ginsburg contends, "thoughtful sadness." The Septuagint has θυμός, the Vulgate ira; but auger is not the feeling produced by a visit to the house of mourning. Such a scene produces saddening reflection, which is in itself a moral training, and is more wholesome and elevating than thoughtless mirth. For by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The feeling which shows itself by the look of sadness (comp. Genesis 40:7; Nehemiah 2:2) has a purifying effect on the heart, gives a moral tone to the character. Professor Tayler Lewis renders the clause, "For in the sad. ness of the face the heart becometh fair;" i.e. sorrow beautifies the soul, producing, as it were, comeliness, spiritual beauty, and, in the end, serener happiness. The Vulgate translates the passage thus: Melter eat ira risu; quia per tristitiam vultus corrigitur animus deliquentis, "Better is anger than laughter, because through sadness of countenance the mind of the offender is corrected." The anger is that either of God or of good men which reproves sin; the laughter is that of sinners who thus show their connivance at or approval of evil. There can be no doubt that this is not the sense of the passage. For the general sentiment concerning the moral influence of grief and suffering, we may compare the Greek sayings, Τὰ παθήματα μαθήματα, and Τί μαθών τί παθών; which are almost equivalent in meaning (comp. AEschyl., 'Again.,' 170; Herod., 1:207). The Latins would say, "Quaenocent, docent," and we, "Pain is gain." "Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the soul: also this is vain and windy effort." We see from the fin. הל־ן interchanging with מר that the latter is not meant of the object (Ecclesiastes 11:9), but of the action, viz., the "rejoicing in that which one has" (Targ.); but this does not signify grassatio,-i.e., impetus animae appetentis, ὁρμὴ τῆς ψυχῆς (cf. Marcus Aurelius, iii. 16), which Knobel, Heiligst., and Ginsburg compare (for הלך means grassari only with certain subjects, as fire, contagion, and the life; and in certain forms, as יהלך for ילך, to which הלך equals לכת does not belong), - but erratio, a going out in extent, roving to a distance (cf. הלך, wanderer), ῥεμβασμὸς ἐπιθυμίας, Wisd. 4:12. - Going is the contrast of rest; the soul which does not become full or satisfied goes out, and seeks and reaches not its aim. This insatiableness, characteristic of the soul, this endless unrest, belongs also to the miseries of this present life; for to have and to enjoy is better than this constant Hungern und Lungern hungering and longing. More must not be put into 9a than already lies in it, as Elster does: "the only enduring enjoyment of life consists in the quiet contemplation of that which, as pleasant and beautiful, it affords, without this mental joy mingling with the desire for the possession of sensual enjoyment." The conception of "the sight of the eyes" is certainly very beautifully idealized, but in opposition to the text. If 9a must be a moral proverb, then Luther's rendering is the best: "It is better to enjoy the present good, than to think about other good."
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