Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
1. (See on Ec 6:12).
name—character; a godly mind and life; not mere reputation with man, but what a man is in the eyes of God, with whom the name and reality are one thing (Isa 9:6). This alone is "good," while all else is "vanity" when made the chief end.
ointment—used lavishly at costly banquets and peculiarly refreshing in the sultry East. The Hebrew for "name" and for "ointment," have a happy paronomasia, Sheem and Shemen. "Ointment" is fragrant only in the place where the person is whose head and garment are scented, and only for a time. The "name" given by God to His child (Re 3:12) is for ever and in all lands. So in the case of the woman who received an everlasting name from Jesus Christ, in reward for her precious ointment (Isa 56:5; Mr 14:3-9). Jesus Christ Himself hath such a name, as the Messiah, equivalent to Anointed (So 1:3).
and the day of [his] death, &c.—not a general censure upon God for creating man; but, connected with the previous clause, death is to him, who hath a godly name, "better" than the day of his birth; "far better," as Php 1:23 has it.
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.
2. Proving that it is not a sensual enjoyment of earthly goods which is meant in Ec 3:13; 5:18. A thankful use of these is right, but frequent feasting Solomon had found dangerous to piety in his own case. So Job's fear (Ec 1:4, 5). The house of feasting often shuts out thoughts of God and eternity. The sight of the dead in the "house of mourning" causes "the living" to think of their own "end."
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
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.
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.
5. (Ps 141:4, 5). Godly reproof offends the flesh, but benefits the spirit. Fools' songs in the house of mirth please the flesh, but injure the soul.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
6. crackling—answers to the loud merriment of fools. It is the very fire consuming them which produces the seeming merry noise (Joe 2:5). Their light soon goes out in the black darkness. There is a paronomasia in the Hebrew, Sirim ("thorns"), Sir ("pot"). The wicked are often compared to "thorns" (2Sa 23:6; Na 1:10). Dried cow-dung was the common fuel in Palestine; its slowness in burning makes the quickness of a fire of thorns the more graphic, as an image of the sudden end of fools (Ps 118:12).
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
7. oppression—recurring to the idea (Ec 3:16; 5:8). Its connection with Ec 7:4-6 is, the sight of "oppression" perpetrated by "fools" might tempt the "wise" to call in question God's dispensations, and imitate the folly (equivalent to "madness") described (Ec 7:5,6). Weiss, for "oppression," translates, "distraction," produced by merriment. But Ec 5:8 favors English Version.
a gift—that is, the sight of bribery in "places of judgment" (Ec 3:16) might cause the wise to lose their wisdom (equivalent to "heart"), (Job 12:6; 21:6, 7; 24:1, &c.). This suits the parallelism better than "a heart of gifts"; a benevolent heart, as Weiss.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
8. connected with Ec 7:7. Let the "wise" wait for "the end," and the "oppressions" which now (in "the beginning") perplex their faith, will be found by God's working to be overruled to their good. "Tribulation worketh patience" (Ro 5:3), which is infinitely better than "the proud spirit" that prosperity might have generated in them, as it has in fools (Ps 73:2, 3, 12-14, 17-26; Jas 5:11).
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
9. angry—impatient at adversity befalling thee, as Job was (Ec 5:2; Pr 12:16).
Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.
10. Do not call in question God's ways in making thy former days better than thy present, as Job did (Job 29:2-5). The very putting of the question argues that heavenly "wisdom" (Margin) is not as much as it ought made the chief good with thee.
Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun.
11. Rather, "Wisdom, as compared with an inheritance, is good," that is, is as good as an inheritance; "yea, better (literally, and a profit) to them that see the sun" (that is, the living, Ec 11:7; Job 3:16; Ps 49:19).
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.
12. Literally, (To be) in (that is, under) the shadow (Isa 30:2) of wisdom (is the same as to be) in (under) the shadow of money; wisdom no less shields one from the ills of life than money does.
is, that—rather, "the excellency of the knowledge of wisdom giveth life," that is, life in the highest sense, here and hereafter (Pr 3:18; Joh 17:3; 2Pe 1:3). Wisdom (religion) cannot be lost as money can. It shields one in adversity, as well as prosperity; money, only in prosperity. The question in Ec 7:10 implies a want of it.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
13. Consider as to God's work, that it is impossible to alter His dispensations; for who can, &c.
straight … crooked—Man cannot amend what God wills to be "wanting" and "adverse" (Ec 1:15; Job 12:14).
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.
14. consider—resumed from Ec 7:13. "Consider," that is, regard it as "the work of God"; for "God has made (Hebrew, for 'set') this (adversity) also as well as the other (prosperity)." "Adversity" is one of the things which "God has made crooked," and which man cannot "make straight." He ought therefore to be "patient" (Ec 7:8).
after him—equivalent to "that man may not find anything (to blame) after God" (that is, after "considering God's work," Ec 7:13). Vulgate and Syriac, "against Him" (compare Ec 7:10; Ro 3:4).
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.
15. An objection entertained by Solomon
in the days of his vanity—his apostasy (Ec 8:14; Job 21:7).
just … perisheth—(1Ki 21:13). Temporal not eternal death (Joh 10:28). But see on Ec 7:16; "just" is probably a self-justiciary.
wicked … prolongeth—See the antidote to the abuse of this statement in Ec 8:12.
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
16. Holden makes Ec 7:16 the scoffing inference of the objector, and Ec 7:17 the answer of Solomon, now repentant. So (1Co 15:32) the skeptic's objection; (1Co 15:33) the answer. However, "Be not righteous over much," may be taken as Solomon's words, forbidding a self-made righteousness of outward performances, which would wrest salvation from God, instead of receiving it as the gift of His grace. It is a fanatical, pharisaical righteousness, separated from God; for the "fear of God" is in antithesis to it (Ec 7:18; 5:3, 7; Mt 6:1-7; 9:14; 23:23, 24; Ro 10:3; 1Ti 4:3).
over wise—(Job 11:12; Ro 12:3, 16), presumptuously self-sufficient, as if acquainted with the whole of divine truth.
destroy thyself—expose thyself to needless persecution, austerities and the wrath of God; hence to an untimely death. "Destroy thyself" answers to "perisheth" (Ec 7:15); "righteous over much," to "a just man." Therefore in Ec 7:15 it is self-justiciary, not a truly righteous man, that is meant.
Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
17. over much wicked—so worded, to answer to "righteous over much." For if not taken thus, it would seem to imply that we may be wicked a little. "Wicked" refers to "wicked man" (Ec 7:15); "die before thy time," to "prolongeth his life," antithetically. There may be a wicked man spared to "live long," owing to his avoiding gross excesses (Ec 7:15). Solomon says, therefore, Be not so foolish (answering antithetically to "over wise," Ec 7:16), as to run to such excess of riot, that God will be provoked to cut off prematurely thy day of grace (Ro 2:5). The precept is addressed to a sinner. Beware of aggravating thy sin, so as to make thy case desperate. It refers to the days of Solomon's "vanity" (apostasy, Ec 7:15), when only such a precept would be applicable. By litotes it includes, "Be not wicked at all."
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.
18. this … this—the two opposite excesses (Ec 7:16, 17), fanatical, self-wise righteousness, and presumptuous, foolhardy wickedness.
he that feareth God shall come forth of them all—shall escape all such extremes (Pr 3:7).
Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
19. Hebrew, "The wisdom," that is, the true wisdom, religion (2Ti 3:15).
than ten mighty—that is, able and valiant generals (Ec 7:12; 9:13-18; Pr 21:22; 24:5). These "watchmen wake in vain, except the Lord keep the city" (Ps 127:1).
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
20. Referring to Ec 7:16. Be not "self-righteous," seek not to make thyself "just" before God by a superabundance of self-imposed performances; "for true 'wisdom,' or 'righteousness,' shows that there is not a just man," &c.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
21. As therefore thou being far from perfectly "just" thyself, hast much to be forgiven by God, do not take too strict account, as the self-righteous do (Ec 7:16; Lu 18:9, 11), and thereby shorten their lives (Ec 7:15, 16), of words spoken against thee by others, for example, thy servant: Thou art their "fellow servant" before God (Mt 18:32-35).
For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
22. (1Ki 2:44).
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
23. All this—resuming the "all" in Ec 7:15; Ec 7:15-22 is therefore the fruit of his dearly bought experience in the days of his "vanity."
I will be wise—I tried to "be wise," independently of God. But true wisdom was then "far from him," in spite of his human wisdom, which he retained by God's gift. So "over wise" (Ec 7:16).
That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
24. That … far off … deep—True wisdom is so when sought independently of "fear of God" (Ec 7:18; De 30:12, 13; Job 11:7, 8; 28:12-20, 28; Ps 64:6; Ro 10:6, 7).
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:
25. Literally, "I turned myself and mine heart to." A phrase peculiar to Ecclesiastes, and appropriate to the penitent turning back to commune with his heart on his past life.
wickedness of folly—He is now a step further on the path of penitence than in Ec 1:17; 2:12, where "folly" is put without "wickedness" prefixed.
reason—rather, "the right estimation" of things. Holden translates also "foolishness (that is, sinful folly, answering to 'wickedness' in the parallel) of madness" (that is, of man's mad pursuits).
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.
26. "I find" that, of all my sinful follies, none has been so ruinous a snare in seducing me from God as idolatrous women (1Ki 11:3, 4; Pr 5:3, 4; 22:14). As "God's favor is better than life," she who seduces from God is "more bitter than death."
whoso pleaseth God—as Joseph (Ge 39:2, 3, 9). It is God's grace alone that keeps any from falling.
Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
27. this—namely, what follows in Ec 7:28.
counting one by one—by comparing one thing with another [Holden and Maurer].
account—a right estimate. But Ec 7:28 more favors Gesenius. "Considering women one by one."
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.
28. Rather, referring to his past experience, "Which my soul sought further, but I found not."
one man—that is, worthy of the name, "man," "upright"; not more than one in a thousand of my courtiers (Job 33:23; Ps 12:1). Jesus Christ alone of men fully realizes the perfect ideal of "man." "Chiefest among ten thousand" (So 5:10). No perfect "woman" has ever existed, not even the Virgin Mary. Solomon, in the word "thousand," alludes to his three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. Among these it was not likely that he should find the fidelity which one true wife pays to one husband. Connected with Ec 7:26, not an unqualified condemnation of the sex, as Pr 12:4; 31:10, &c., prove.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
29. The "only" way of accounting for the scarcity of even comparatively upright men and women is that, whereas God made man upright, they (men) have, &c. The only account to be "found" of the origin of evil, the great mystery of theology, is that given in Holy Writ (Ge 2:1-3:24). Among man's "inventions" was the one especially referred to in Ec 7:26, the bitter fruits of which Solomon experienced, the breaking of God's primeval marriage law, joining one man to "one" woman (Mt 19:4, 5, 6). "Man" is singular, namely, Adam; "they," plural, Adam, Eve, and their posterity.