Ecclesiastes 7
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
B. The true Wisdom of Life consists in Contempt of the World, Patience, and Fear of God

Ecclesiastes 7:1–22

1. In contempt of the world and its foolish lusts

(ECC 7:1–7.)

1A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the 2day of one’s birth. 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 3heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. 4The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the 5 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: 6For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity. 7Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

2. In a patient, calm, and resigned spirit

(ECC 7:8–14.)

8Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. 9Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools. 10Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days 11were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. Wisdom is good with an inheritance: and by it there is profit to them that see the sun. 12For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. 13Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which He hath made crooked? 14In 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.

3. In earnest fear of God, and penitential acknowledgment of sin

(ECC 7:15–22.)

15All 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. 16Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: 18why 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. 19Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten 20mighty men which are in the city. For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. 21Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: 22For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

[Ecc 7:3. כַּעַס. The primary sense is excitement of mind, or feeling, of any kind, or from any cause. Fuerst, commotum, concitatum esse. It is like the Greek θυμὸς, or ὀργὴ, in this respect. It may he grief (sorrow), or anger. The context determines. Here, in Ecc 7:3, it evidently means the opposite of שְׁחוֹק laughter, mirth, joy. In Ecc 7:9th, on the other hand, it must have the sense of anger, though both ideas are probably combined.—T. L.]

[Ecc 7:7. עשֶׁק means the disposition or state of mind from which oppression comes (ὔβρις, insolence, pride) rather than the act. It is also to be determined from the context whether it is violence, insolence, etc., exercised upon the wise man, or by him, that is, whether it is objective, or subjective. The latter sense, here, best suits the context. Such a spirit in the wise man may make mad even him, or make him decide wrong, if we regard חָכָם here, as meaning a judge—T.L.]

[Ecc 7:12. בְּצֵל is regarded by some of the best critics as a case of beth essential, or as having an assertive force, as the Arabic, but there is no good reason for this.—T. L.]


1. This section, which describes the nature of genuine, practical wisdom, just as the preceding one presents the contrary, is clearly divided into three divisions or strophes. The first of these (Ecc 7:1–7) treats of the contempt of worldly pleasure, and the sacred earnestness of life,—the second, (Ecc 7:8–14) of a forbearing, patient, and resigned disposition,—the third, (Ecc 7:15–22) of godly demeanor, and humble self-appreciation, as conditions and essential characteristics of that wisdom. A division of characteristics of these that strophes into half strophes is superfluous (VAIHINGER); there is only observable a sharper and deeper incision in the train of thought, in the middle of the last strophe, or in the transition from the fear of God to self-appreciation, after verse 18.

2. First Strophe; Ecc 7:1–7. Of the advantage of stern contempt of the world over foolish worldly pleasure.—A good name is better than precious ointment. Comp. Prov. 22:1, where שֵׁם signifies, just as in this passage, a good name, a good reputation or fame; see also Job 30:8, and for the paronomasia in שֵׁם and שמן see Canticles 1:3. [In this place ZÖCKLER gives us specimens of play upon words in German, such, as arise from Gerücht and Wohlgeruch, etc., which are not translatable, except by a general reference to the metaphors to be found in English and other languages, wherein character, reputation, etc., is said to hare its good or evil odor. It might be compared with the opposite Hebrew word הִבְאִישׁ he stank, odiosus fuit, 1 Sam. 27:12.—T. L.—And the day of death than the day of one’s birth. For the suffix in הִוָּלְדֹו comp. 5:18; 8:16; Isa. 7:5; Jer. 11:5 and similar cases of relation of a definite suffix to an indefinite subject. The sentence is the same as Ecc 4:3; 6:3–5. It here serves as a preparation for the following sentences, whose aim is to heighten the duty of a sacred earnestness of life, just as the commendation, in the first clause, of a good name as something better than precious ointment, is to pave the way for this recommendation of a serious disposition despising the pleasures of the world. In this common relation of the two clauses to the fundamental thought of the necessity of a serious purpose, lies the inward connection, which we may no more deny [with HENGSTENBERG and many others] than erroneously assert on the basis of the false assumption that the second clause refers specially to the fool, or through any other similar subtilties. ELSTER is correct in saying: “Because a good and reputable name, which secures an ideal existence with posterity, is more valuable than all sensual pleasure, such as is obtained through precious ointments, therefore the day of death must seem to bring more happiness than the day of birth; for this ideal existence of posthumous fame does not attain its full power and purity until after death: but external pleasures and enjoyments, which we are accustomed to desire for a man on the day of his birth, pleasures which are dependent on his sensual life, prove to be more empty and vain than the joy afforded by the thought of a spiritual existence in the memory of posterity.”

Ver 2. It is better to go to a house of mourning. That is, a house wherein there is mourning for one deceased, “a house of lamentation” (LUTHER). The connection of the expression favors this sense of the significant בֵּית אֵבֶל‚ taken backwards as well as forwards; and also with Ecc 7:3 f. For the expression for בֵּית מִשְׁתֵּה “house of carousal,” of drinking (not specially a drinking resort) compare the similar expression in Esther 7:8. For the entire sentence comp. the Arabic proverb (SCHULTEN’S Anthology, p. 48, 73): “If thou nearest lamentation for the dead enter into the place; but if thou art bidden to a banquet pass not the threshold.” For that is the end of all men. “That,” (הוּא) i.e., not the mourning, but the fact that a house becomes a house of mourning. It is therefore הוּא for היא on account of the attraction of סוף as HITZIG rightly regards it.—And the living will lay it to his heart. Ecc 7:3. Sorrow is better than laughter. כַּעַס here, does not, of course, mean that passionate sorrow or anger against which we are warned as a folly in Ecc 7:9, but is essentially the same as אֵבֶל in Ecc 7:2, consequently a grief salutary, and nearest allied to that godly sorrow spoken of 2 Cor. 7:10. For שְׂחוֹק, “laughter,” boisterous, worldly merriment, comp. 2:2, and also Ecc 7:6.—For by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.רעַ פָנִים like פָנִים רָעִים, Gen. 11:7; Neh. 2:2, signifies not an evil countenance, but a sad, sorrowful one, and יִיטַב לֵב is not to be understood of the moral amendment, but of the cheering up and gladdening of the heart;[1] comp. the Latin, cor bene se habet, as also the parallels Ecc 9:9; Judges 19:6, 9; Ruth 3:7; 1 Kings 16:7. But cheerfulness and contentment of the heart, with a sad countenance, can only be imagined where its thoughts have begun to take the normal direction in a religious and moral aspect; moral amendment is therefore in any case the presupposition of הֵיטִיב לֵב, and there is, therefore, no contradiction but the clearest harmony with Prov. 16:13; 15:13; 27:22; 28:14.

Ecc 7:4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. Drawing his conclusion from Ecc 7:2 and 3, the author returns to the expression of the second sentence. Because a serious disposition is everywhere more salutary than boisterous worldly merriment, it is plain that the former will be peculiar to the wise man, as the latter to the fool. VAIHINGER observes very correctly, “that one perceives from this passage that the preacher, however often he recommends enjoyment of life, never means thereby boisterous pleasures and blind sensual enjoyment, but rather worthy and grateful enjoyment of the good and the beautiful offered by God. Such an enjoyment is not only possible with a serious course of life, but is indeed only thereby attainable.”

Ecc 7:5. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise. For גְּעָרָה, “rebuke,” censure, reproof on account of foolish or criminal behaviour, comp. Prov. 18:1. Intercourse with wise men, i.e., strictly moral and religious individuals, who can easily impart those censures, belongs to those expressions of a serious, world-contemning spirit, of which a few other examples have been cited, such as to “go into the house of mourning,” to “be of a sad countenance.”—Than for a man to hear the song of fools. Literal: “Than a man hearing the song of fools.” Flattering speeches are not specially meant here (Vulg. adulatio), but the extravagant, boisterous and immoral songs that are heard in the riotous carousals of foolish men, in the בֵּית מִשְֹׁתֶּה or “house of feasting.” Comp. Job 21:12; Amos 6:5; Isa. 5:11, 12.

Ecc 7:6. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot. The fire of dry thorns, quickly blazing up, and burning with loud crackling and snapping, and also quickly consumed (comp. Ps. 58:9; 120:4; and especially 118:12) is here chosen as the emblem of the loud, boisterous, and vacant laughter of foolish men, who are at the same time destitute of all deeper moral worth. This also is vanity; namely, all this noisy, merry, vacant and unfruitful conduct of fools.

Ecc 7:7. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart. כִּי in the beginning of this verse can neither be considered as containing a cause or a motive [this is the opinion of the most commentators, also of HITZIG, VAIHINGER, HENGSTENBERG, HAHN, etc.), nor as an adversative equivalent to “yet,” or “but” [EWALD, ELSTER]. Like the אֲשֶׁר in Ecc 6:12, it here clearly expresses an intensifying sense (comp. כִּי in Isa. 5:7; Job 6:21, etc.). The connection with the preceding is as follows: So great is the vanity of fools, and so powerfully and rapidly does it spread, like the blazing fire of thorns, that even the wise man is in danger of being infected by it; and deluded from the path of probity in consequence of brilliant positions of power, striving after riches, offers of presents or bribes, etc. עשֶׁק (for which EWALD in his Biblical Annual 1856, p. 150, unnecessarily proposed to read עשֶׁר—a conjecture abandoned by him afterwards) does not mean in a passive sense the oppression of the wise man by others, but rather the “pressure” which he is tempted to exercise, just as מַתָּנָה means a “present, or bribe which is offered to him. The wise man is regarded as a judge, who, in the exercise of his functions, needs true wisdom, so much the more because he may easily be deluded by bribery and be tempted to misuse his official power. For the expressions הוֹלֵל “to delude, to make a fool of,” and אַבֵּד לֵב “to corrupt the heart,” corumpere, comp. Isa 44:25; Jer. 4:9.[2] For the sentence see Deut. 16:19; Sirach 20:27; [but not Prov. 17:8; 18:16; 19:6, etc., where allowable giving is meant].

3. Second strophe. Ecc 7:8–14. Of the value of patience, tranquility, and resignation to the will of God. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof. The sense is not the same as in Ecc 7:1, but rather, according to the second verse, as follows: it is better quietly to await the course of an affair until its issue, and not to judge and act until then, than to proceed rashly and with passionate haste, and bring upon one’s self its bad consequences. The peculiar sense of אֶרֶךְ־רוּחַ corresponds to the calm demeanor expressed by the term “long-suffering” in the sense of the New Testament μακροθυμία (Col. 1:11; Heb. 6:12, 15; James 5:7, 8); and for the violent temper described in the second place, we have the state of mind denoted by the word גְבַהּ־רוּחַ, “haughty,” or “presumptuous.” Comp. 1 Kings 20:11.

Ecc 7:9. Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry. The word כְּעוֹס “to be morose,” sensitive [see remarks on Ecc 7:3 above], is a peculiar species of haughtiness mentioned in the previous verse, and one very frequently and easily occurring; it is not fully expressed by גְבַהּ רוּחַ, as HENGSTENBERG supposes [quite as little as גְבַהּ רוּחַ is expressed by אֶרֶךְ אַפַיִם βραδύς είς ὀργήν, James 1:19].—For anger rests in the bosom of fools; that is, a fretful, irritable disposition is mainly found in fools, is deeply rooted in their nature and has its homo there. For נוּחַ, in this sense see Prov. 16:33; Isa. 11:2; 25:11. For the sentence see Job 5:2; Prov. 12:16.

Ecc 7:10. Say not what is the cause, etc. Finding fault with the present, and a one-sided praise of past times, is a well-known characteristic of peevish and fretful dispositions, and of those surly carpers at fate of Ecc 7:16, and those difficiles, queruli, laudatores temporis acti of the Horatian epistola ad Pisones, (line 173). For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this. That is, not so that thy question is made on the basis of wise reflection, and therefore proceeds from this source. Comp. the similar use of the preposition מִן, Ecc 2:10; Ps. 28:7.

Ecc 7:11 and 12. The praise of wisdom, in so far as it is in harmony with a thoughtful, patient, and even soul.—Wisdom is good with an inheritance. [ZÖCKLER: as an inheritance]. עִם נַחֲלָה does not mean “with an inheritance or fortune,” as if the sense were the same as that in Ecc 5:18 (Sept., Vulg., LUTHER). The connection decides against this, as well as against the view of EWALD: “in comparison with an inheritance,” and against the still more unfitting view of HAHN: “wisdom is good against destiny.” (!) עִם is undoubtedly used in the same sense as in Ecc 2:16; Gen. 18:23; Ps. 73:5; Job 9:26.[3]And by it there is profit to them that see the sun; i.e., for the living (comp. 6:5; and the Homeric ὁραν φάος ἠελίο̣ιο, also the Latin, diem videre). HERZFELD, HITZIG, and HENOSTENBERG unnecessarily take יֹתֵר in the adverbial sense of “more, better still,” in order to let the second clause appear as an intensification of the first. The adjective or rather the substantive sense, corresponds better to the poetical character of the passage, and is equivalent to יִתְרוֹן; in support of which Ecc 6:8 may be quoted, and in which the second clause becomes the exact parallel of the first.

Ecc 7:12. For wisdom is a defence, and moneys is a defence. (Lit. Ger., in the shadow of wisdom, in the shadow of money). That is, he who dwells in the shadow of wisdom is just as much protected as he who passes his life in the protection of much money; therefore an exact, parallel in sense with Ecc 7:11, first clause. SYMMACHUS is correct: σκέπει σοφια ὡς σκέπει τὸ ἀργύριον; but the Vulgate is not wholly so: “Sicut enimprolegit sapientia, sic protegit pecunia.KNOBEL and HITZIG are too artificial in saying that בְּ here is the beth essentiæ, which would be therefore translated: “Wisdom is a shadow, (that is a defence) and money is a shadow.” בְּצֵל is rather to be taken here as in Ps. 91:1, where it is parallel with בְּסֵתֶר. The shadow is here used as a symbol of protection, with the subordinate idea of the agreeable, as also in Ps. 121:4; Isa. 32:2, 3; 32:2; Lamentations 4:20, etc.But the excellence of knowledge is; i.e., the advantage that knowledge (דַּעַת comp. 1:16) has over money, that which makes it more valuable than money. דַּעַת here alternates with חָכְמָה simply on account of the poetical parallelism.—Wisdom giveth life to them that have it; lit., “it animates him” (תְּחַיֶה). חִיָה is not “to keep in life” (HITZIG), but “to grant life,” i.e., to bestow a genuine happy life. Comp. Job 36:6; Ps. 16:11; 38:9; Prov. 3:18; especially the last passage, which may be quoted as most decisive for our meaning. HENGSTENBERG lays too much stress on תְּחַיֶה in claiming for it the sense of reanimating, of the resurrection of that which was spiritually dead (according to Hosea 6:2; Luke 15:32, etc.); and KNOBEL too little, when he declares: “wisdom affords a calm and contented spirit.”[4]

Ecc 7:13. Consider the work of God; for who can make that straight which He hath made crooked? A return to the exhortations to a calm, patient spirit (Ecc 7:9 and 10), with reference to God’s wise and unchangeable counsel and will, to which we must yield in order to learn true patience and tranquility. The connection between the first and second clauses is as follows: In observing the works of God thou wilt find that His influence is eternal and immutable; for who can make that straight which He hath made crooked, i.e., harmonize the defects and imperfections of human life decreed by Him; comp. 1:15; 6:10; Job 12:14; Rom. 9:9. As this connection of thought is evident enough, one need not, with HITZIG and others, take כִי in the sense of “that,” to which indeed the interrogative form of the second clause would be unfitting.

Ecc 7:14. In the day of prosperity be joyful.בְּטוֹב is equivalent to בְּלֶב־טוֹב. Comp. Ecc 9:7; 1 Kings 8:66; Sir. 14:14.—But in the day of adversity consider. “Behold, look at, observe” [namely the following truth]; comp. רָאָה in Ecc 7:13. EWALD is harsh and artificial in his rendering: “and bear the day of misfortune,” taking רָאָה בְּ in a sense that he claims is sustained by Gen. 21:16.—God also hath set the one over against the other. This is the substance of that which one must consider in adversity, fully corresponding with what Job says in 2:10.—To the end that man should find nothing after him; i.e., in order that he may fathom nothing that lies beyond his present condition (אַחֲרָיו as in 3:22; 6:12), or in order that the future that lies behind him, or, according to our more usual expression, that lies before him, remain hidden and concealed from him, and that he may, in no wise, count on it, but rather remain in all things unconditionally dependent on God, and His grace (ELSTER, VAIHINGER and HENGSTENBERG are correct on this point). עַל דִֹּבְרַת שֶׁלֹּא lit.: “on account of that, that not” (comp. עַל דִּבְרַת, “on account of,” Ecc 3:18; 8:2) is not equivalent to “so that not,” [LUTHER in his Commentary], or, “therefore, because not” [HITZIG and HAHN], but clearly introduces the divine dispensation in assigning sometimes good and sometimes evil days; therefore it should be rendered “to the end that.”

4. Third strophe. Ecc 7:15–22. Of the value of the fear of God and humble self-appreciation. All things have I seen, etc. “All,” i.e., not all kinds [LUTHER, VAIHINGER, HENGSTENBERG], but everything possible, everything that can come into consideration, everything to whose consideration I could be directed (according to Ecc 7:13 and 14). In the days of my vanity. i.e., since I belong to this vain, empty life of earth. There is no indication that these vain days passed completely by during the life of the speaker,[5] and this passage cannot, therefore, be used as a proof that Solomon, who became repentant in his old age, is the speaker.—There is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness.—יֵשׁ, “there is,” does not belong to אבֵֹד, but to צַדִּיק, therefore the meaning is not “the just man perisheth.” בְּצִדְקוֹ is not “through his righteousness” (UMBREIT, VAIHINGER, HITZIG); but in it; comp. EWALD, Lehrbuch, § 217, 3, f. The intention here is to announce something which Koheleth saw, an evident fact; but this is only the external connection, the association of righteousness and misfortune; not, on the contrary, the misfortune effected through righteousness. The same thing occurs in the following clause, where בְּרָעָתוֹ is not to be understood as “through” but in, that is, in spite of his wickedness. But the author desires by no means to present that righteousness in which one perisheth as blameless, but has doubtless here in view, as in the subsequent verse, that self-righteousness, that apparent outward righteousness which our Lord so often had to censure in the Pharisees (Matt. 5:20; Luke 5:32; 15:7, etc.) and which appeared quite early in Old Testament history as a religiously moral tendency, comp. Int. § 4, Obs. 3.—And there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. מַאֲרִיךְ with יָמָיו understood, comp. 8:12, 13; Deut. 22:7; Prov. 28:2, 16, etc.

Ecc 7:16. Be not righteous overmuch neither make thyself overwise. Clearly a warning against that strictly exact, but hypocritical and external righteousness of those predecessors of the Pharisees to whom the preceding verse referred. הִתְחַכֵּם (Reflexive of חִכֵּם “to make wise”) can scarcely here signify anything else than as in Ex. 1:10; therefore sapientem se gessit, not sapientem se putavit. This expression “make thyself not over wise,” is consequently not a warning against vainly imagining that one is wise, but against the effort to appear eminently wise, and against, a pretentious assumption of the character of a teacher of wisdom, in short, against that Pharisaical error[6] which Christ ensures in Matt. 23:6, 7 : φιλοῦσινκαλεῖσθαι ὑπὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ῤαββί, ῤαββί. Why shouldst thou destroy thyself? Namely by the curse which God has put upon the vices of arrogance, and hypocrisy; Comp. Christ’s expressions of woe unto you Pharisees ! in Matt. 23. HITZIG says: “Why wilt thou isolate thyself?” This is a useless enfeebling of the sense; foreEcc 7:15, as well as Ecc 7:17 and 18 show that the warning of the author is meant in all seriousness, and that he refers to divine and not merely human punishment. Comp. also the sentence of Ezekiel 33:11, so closely allied with this present one: “Why will ye die; O house of Israel?” and also Eccles. 4:5. Ecc 7:17. Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish. Koheleth does not recommend a certain moderation in wickedness as though he considered it allowable, but simply and alone because he recognizes the fact as generally acknowledged and certain that in some respects at least, every man is somewhat wicked by nature; see Ecc 7:20–22. He who is “over much wicked” is the maliciously wicked or downright ungodly one (הָרָשָׁע), who sins not merely from weakness, but with consciousness of evil (comp. Lev. 42:27; Numb. 15:27; Eccles. 5:6). Such a one is eo ipso “foolish” (סָכָל) μαινόμενος οῇ ἀδικία, that is, a fool in the sense of Ps. 14:1; 53:1.—Why shouldst thou die before thy time? That is, before the time assigned thee by God. For this thought of the shortening of the days of the wicked through divine justice,[7] comp. Prov. 10:27; Ps.55:23; Job 15:32; 22:16.

Ecc 7:18. It is good that thou shouldst take hold of this; yea, from this also withdraw not thine hand. A recommendation to avoid the two extremes of false righteousness and bold wickedness (of the Pharisees and Sadducees) harmonizing with the thought of HORACE: “Medium tenuere beati; medio tutissimus ibis:” and this is not meant in the superficial sense of the ethical eclecticism of the later Greeks and Romans, but in that stern religious sense, which the Lord expresses when, in Matt. 23:23, in words most nearly allied to these, (ταῦτα δὲ ἔδει ποσῆσαι κἀκεῖνα μὴ ἄφιεναι) He demands the most conscientious connection between the outer and the inner fulfilment of the law.For he who feareth God shall come forth of them all. Namely from the bad consequences of false righteousness and those of indecent contempt of the law, and bold immorality. יָצָא with the accusative, signifies here as in Jer. 10:20, (בָּנַי יְצָאֻנִי, “my children desert me”), Gen. 44:4 (יָצְאוּ אֶת־הָעִיר “they went out of the city”), Amos 4:3, etc.: “to go from something, to escape a thing,” (comp. also 1 Sam. 14:41). HITZIG’S view gives a somewhat different sense: “He who feareth God goes with both,” i.e., does not strive to exceed the just medium; this is similar to the Vulgate (nihil negligit) and to the Syriac (utrique inhæret). But the usus loquendi is rather more in favor of the former meaning. Ecc 7:19. Wisdom strengtheneth the wise. Lit., “proves itself strong to him (תָּעֹז לֶחָכָם) more than,” etc., i.e., it protects him better, defends him more effectually. More than ten mighty men which are in the city; than ten heroes which are at the head of the troops, than ten commanders surrounded by their forces, to whom the defence of the besieged city is entrusted. For the sentence comp. Prov. 10:15, (where קִרְיַת עֹז reminds of עָזַז לְ) 21:22; 24:5. The wisdom whose mightily protecting and strengthening influence is here lauded, is of course, that genuine wisdom which is in harmony with the fear of God; it is that disposition and demeanor which hold the true evangelical mean between the extremes of false righteousness and lawlessness, which forms the necessary contrast and the corrective to “the being over wise” censured in Ecc 7:16.

Ecc 7:20. For there is not a just man upon earth who doeth good and sinneth not. Therefore (this is the unexpressed conclusion), every one needs this true wisdom for his protection against the justice of God; no one can dispense with this only reliable guide in the way of truth. This sentence confirms the 19th verse in the first place, and then the whole preceding warning against the extremes of hypocrisy and impenitence. Comp. the similar confessions of the universal sinfulness of our race in Ps. 130:3; 143:2; Job 9:2; 14:3; Prov. 20:9; 1 Kings 8:46.

Ecc 7:21 and 22 are not simply connected with Ecc 7:20, as KNOBEL supposes, (who brings out the sequence of thought by means of the idea that as sinners we fall short of our duty, and cause adverse judgments against ourselves) but is also connected with all the preceding verses from the 15th on, so that the connection of ideas is as follows:[8] You will certainly receive the manifold censure of men for living according to the doctrines of this wisdom (you will be considered hypocritical, excessively austere, eccentric, etc.,); but do not be led astray by this, and do not listen to it; and this out of humility, because you must ever be conseious of your faults, and therefore know sufficiently well what is true in the evil reports of men, and what is not.—Also take no heed unto all the words that are spoken. That is, do not cast all to the wind that thou hearest, but only, do not be over anxious about their evil reports concerning thee; do not be curious to hear how they judge thee. We are therefore warned against idle curiosity and latent desire of praise, and reminded of the very significant circumstance that one’s own servant may accord to the vain listener disgrace and imprecation, instead of the desired honor.

Ecc 7:22. For ofttimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others. The expression, “thine own heart,” is clearly equivalent to the guilty conscience that accuses man of his former sins, especially of his unkindness to his neighbor, and his violations of the eighth commandment, and thereby demands of him a more humble self-appreciation, and a wiser restraint in intercourse with others. פְעָמִים רַבּות may be considered either as the accusative of time—“many times”—or the objective accusative—“many cases”—but belongs in either case closely to יָדַע, not to קִלַּלְתָּ. The first גַם is, in strictness, superfluous. אֲשֶׁר at the beginning of the second clause, is not “so that” (ELSTER), but “there where” (“where it happened that,” etc.); comp. Gen. 35:13–15; 2 Sam. 19:25.


(With Homiletical Hints.)

This section has three divisions describing the nature of genuine wisdom in three principal phases;—as an earnestness of life, despising the world, as patience, resigned to God, and as an humble penitent fear of God. Of these, the third affords a rich harvest in the dogmatic field, and mainly by emphasizing one of the most important anthropological truths of the entire Old Testament revelation, namely, the universal sinfulness of the human race (see especially Ecc 7:20, and also the parallel passages there quoted from Psalms, Job and the Proverbs). This truth appears here in a connection which is the more significant because it forms the background, and the deepest motive, to all the preceding admonitions. It explains not only the preceding warning against the two extremes of hypocritical and false righteousness and bold lawlessness, (the cardinal vice of Jew and Gentile before Christ, or the fundamental error of Pharisees and Sadducees among the later Jews); but it also finally serves as a basis and impulse (in the first two strophes) to the admonitions to holy earnestness, and to a calm and resigned state of soul. In the admonition to a stern contempt of the world and its pleasures, this is especially clear; for this admonition closes in verse 7 with the highly impressive reference to the fact, that even wise men are exposed to the seduction of vices and follies of divers kinds, whence directly springs the duty of turning from the busy tumult of the world, and of anxious zeal for one’s own salvation in fear and trembling. But the second division (Ecc 7:8–14) also presupposes the fact that men, without exception, lie under the burden of sin; as it declares wisdom [which is unconditional resignation to the divine will] to be the only dispenser of true life (Ecc 7:12) and describes, as the salutary fruit of such wisdom, the patient endurance of the evil as well as the good days which God sends. It needs no further illustration to prove that this significant attention to the principal anthropological truth of the Old Testament gives to this chapter a peculiarly evangelical character,—especially with the quite numerous parallels in New Testament history. (Comp. Matt. 5:4; Luke 6:25; James 5:9, etc., with Ecc 7:3, 4, 6; and 2 Cor. 7:10 with Ecc 7:3; James 5:7, 8 with Ecc 7:8; James 1:19 with Ecc 7:9; Matt. 23:5 ff. with Ecc 7:16 ff.; Matt. 23:23 with Ecc 7:18; Rom. 3:23 with Ecc 7:20).

We may regard the following as the leading proposition of the entire section : The universality of human sin and the only true remedy for it. Or, God withstands the arrogant and grants His favor to the humble; or, “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted; Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth; Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness : for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:4–6, three beatitudes of the sermon on the mount, corresponding to the three divisions of this chapter).—Comp. also STARKE. Two rules for Christian conduct: 1. Be ever mindful of death (1–7); 2. Be patient and contented (8–29).


Ver. I. CRAMER:—Faith, a good conscience, and a good name, are three precious jewels; we can get nothing better than these from this world.—STARKE :—The death of the saints is the completion of their struggle against sin, the devil and the world; it is to them a door of life, an entrance into eternal rest and perfect security.—HENGSTENBERG:—The difference between the proposition in the latter clause of the first verse, and similar expressions in the Gentile world, is that the Gentiles did not possess the key to explanation of human sorrows on earth, and did not understand how to bring them into harmony with divine justice and love.

Ecc 7:2. MELANCHTHON:—In prosperity, men become reckless; they think less of God’s wrath, and less expect His aid. Thus they become more and more presumptuous; they trust to their own industry, their own power, and are thus easily driven on by the devil.—TÜBINGEN BIBLE: Joy in the world is the mark of a man drowned in vanity. It is much better to mourn over sin, and, in reflecting on this vanity, to seek a higher joy that is in God.—STARKE:—Although not all cheerfulness is forbidden to the Christian (Phil. 4:4), it is always safer to think with sorrow of one’s sin, guilt, and liability to punishment, than to assume a false gladsotmeness.—HENGSTENBERG:—Periods of sorrow are always periods of blessings for the Church.—DEICHERT: [Sermon on Ecc 7:3–9, in the collection of Old Testament sermons: “The Star out of Jacob, Stuttgard, 1867, p. 208:]” The house of lamentation is a school of humility. 1. In the house of mourning proud thoughts are abased; 2. There, especially, is the vain pleasure of the world recognized in its emptiness; 3. There, also, we learn to prize the end of a thing more highly than its beginning.

Ecc 7:6 and 7. LUTHER:—The joy of fools seems as if it would last forever, and does indeed blaze up, but it is nothing. They have their consolation for a moment, then comes misfortune, that casts them down: then all their joy lies in the ashes..... Pleasure, and vain consolation of the flesh, do not last long, and all such pleasures turn into sorrow, and have an evil end.—STARKE:—(Ecc 7:7), Even a wise and God-fearing man is in danger of being turned from the good way (1 Cor. 10:12); therefore watchfulness and prayer are necessary that we may not be carried back again to our evil nature (1 Pet. 5:8).

Ecc 7:8. MELANCHTHON:—.In this saying he demands perseverance in good counsels (Matt. 10:12); for the good cause appears better in the event. Though much that is adverse is to be borne, nevertheless the right and true triumph in the end.—LANGE:—The beginning and the continuance of Christianity are connected with sorrows; but these sorrows are followed by a glorious and blissful end (2 Cor. 4:17.—BERLEB. BIBLE:—Blessed is he who under all circumstances behaves with quiet patience, arms himself with humble resignation and great cheerfulness, adapts himself to good and evil times, and ever finds strength and pleasure in the words: “Thy will be done!”—HENGSTENBERG:—It is folly to stop at what lies immediately before our eyes; it is wisdom, on the contrary, in the face of the fortune of the wicked, to say: “For they shall soon be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb.” Ps. 37:2; 92:7; 129:6). If we only do not hasten in anger, God in His own time will remove the inducement to anger from our path.

CRAMER:—It proceeds from men alone that time is better at one period than at another; on their account also time must be subjected to vanity.—GEIER:—The best remedy against evil times is to pray zealously, penitently to acknowledge the deserved punishment of sin, patiently to bear it and heartily to trust in God.—WOHLFARTH:—Let us hear the voice of truth! In its light, impartially comparing the present and the past, we shall arrive at the conviction that every period has its peculiar advantages and defects, and that with all the unpleasant features that rest upon our time it nevertheless presents a greater measure of happiness than any former one. Instead, therefore, of embittering the advantages of our epoch by foolish complaints, making its burdens heavier, and weakening our own courage, we should seek rather to become wisely familiar with it, and to remove its defects or make them less perceptible.

Ecc 7:11–14. STARKE: (Ecc 7:11 and 12):—If you are to have but one of two things, you should much rather dispense with all riches than with heavenly wisdom, that after this life you may have eternal blessedness (Wisdom 7:8–10).—CARTWRIGHT (Ecc 7:13):—When a bird is caught in a net, the more he struggles the more tightly is he held. So if a man is taken in the net of Providence, the safest course for him, is to yield himself wholly to the divine will as that which, with the highest good, does nothing unwise or unjust (Job 34:12).—HENGSTENBERG:—We must be led to contentment in sorrow, by the reflection that it comes from the same God that sends us happiness (Job 2:10). If the sender is the same, there must be in the sending, in spite of all external inequality, an essential equality. God, even when He imposes a cross, is still God, our heavenly Father, our Saviour, who has thoughts of peace regarding us.

Ecc 7:15–18. LUTHER:—The substance is this: Summum jus summa injuria. He who would most rigidly regulate and rectify everything, whether in the State-or in the household, will have much labor, little or no fruit. On the other hand, there is one who would do nothing, and who contemns the enforcement of justice. Neither is right. As you would not be over-righteous, see to it that you be not over-wicked,—that is, that you do not contemn and neglect all government committed to you, thus letting everything fall into evil. It may be well to overlook some things, but not to neglect everything. If wisdom does not succeed, you are not, therefore, to get mad with rage and vengeance. Mind that you be just, and others with you, enforce piety, firmly persevere, however it may turn out. You must fear lest He come as suddenly and call you to judgment, as he took away the soul of the rich man in the night he thought not of.—CRAMER, (Ecc 7:16) :—Those rulers are over-just who search everything too closely; and the theologians are over-wise who, in matters of faith, wish to direct everything according to their own reason.—ZEYSS, (Ecc 7:17):—Wickedness itself is already a road to ruin; but where foolish arrogance joins it, so that one boldly sins, divine punishment and vengeance are thereby hastened (Sirach 5:4 ff.).—HENGSTENBERG:—Godly fear escapes the danger of Phariseeism by awakening in the heart an antipathy against deceiving God by the tricks of a heartless and false righteousness; but it also escapes the danger of a life of sin, because the power arising from the confession of sin is inseparably connected with it (Isa. 6:5); for with the fear of God is connected a tender aversion to offending God by sin (Gen. 39:9) as also the lively desire to walk in the way of His commandments (Ps. 119:16.)

Ecc 7:19–22. ZEYSS, (Ecc 7:19 and 20):—The universal ruin produced by sin must lead every one to heartfelt penitence and humility (Ezra 9:6.)—STARKE, (Ecc 7:21 and 22):—The wisdom of the Creator has given us two ears and only one tongue, in order to teach us that we must hear twice before we speak once (James 1:19). If anything grieves thee, examine thyself to learn whether thou hast not deserved it by evil conduct; humble thyself concerning it before God, suffer patiently, and do it no more!—HENGSTENBERG:—In times of severe sorrow it is important that, in the suffering, we recognize the deserved punishment for our sins. That brings light into the otherwise obscure providence of God, a light that stills the rising of the soul, that animates the hope. If we recognize the footsteps of God in the deserved sorrow, the confidence in His mercy soon becomes strong.

C. True Wisdom must be Energetically Maintained and Preserved in Presence of all the Attractions, Oppressions, and other Hostilities on the part of this World

Ecclesiastes 7:23–8:15

1. Against the enticements of this world, and especially unchastity

(ECC 7:23–29)

23All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from 24me. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out ? 25I 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: 26And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands : whoso pleases God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. 27Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: 28Which 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. 29Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.


[1][See Metrical Version, and the remarks on this passage Introd. to Met. Vers. page 179.—T. L.]

[2][The common view of this passage as given in E. V., which makes the wise man the object of oppression, is unquestionably wrong, though so often quoted and used as historical illustration. It does not agree with הוֹלֵל, which does not mean the madness of frenzy caused by a sense of wrong, but vain glory, extravagance, inflation, coming from inward wrong-feeling. ZÖCKLER is doubtless right in saying that it does not denote passively the oppression which the wise man suffers from others; but his rendering “pressure” seems forced and far from being clear. עשֶׁק may denote a state of soul leading to wrong and oppression, as well as the outward act itself; as in Ps. 73: 8, וִידַבְּרוּ עשֶׁק is parallel to מִמָּרוֹם יְבֵּרוּ, “they speak lofty,” arrogantly. Compare also Isaiah 59:13, where it is joined with סָרָה “perverseness,” and falsehood. See also Ps. 62:11. The connection, then, is with Ecc 7:5: “To hear the reproving of the wise is better than to listen to the song of fools.” Ecc 7:6 is simply an illustration of what is meant by the song of fools, and then follows the brief clause, “this too is vanity,” which, although connected by the accents with Ecc 7:6, must refer to the whole context that precedes; since it would seem superfluous thus to characterize simply the empty talk of fools. It is frequently the case in Koheleth that an admonition, or serious maxim, given in one sentence, is afterwards qualified, if not wholly modified or retracted, in another; as though there were some vanity even in the gravest of human words or acts. גַּס־זֶה הָבֶל, “this too may be vanity.” that is, “the reproof of the wise,” or of the judge, (as ZÖCKLER, from the context, correctly regards him); for his own arrogance, or perverseness of temper, may lead him astray, or a bribe may corrupt his heart. And thus there is brought out, what seems evidently intended, a contrast between the inward and outward deranging power. —T. L.]

[3][There seems no good reason for departing here from the usual sense of עִם with, in connection with. The other passages referred to explain themselves. The word נַחֲלָה, as used in many places, does not mean inheritance generally, like יְרֵשָׁה but a rich and ample possession, in a most favorable sense, as one given by the Lord, or inherited from one’s father, an estate, or property. The sense is obvious: Wisdom is a good alone, but when joined with an ample estate, as a means of doing good, then is it especially an advantage to the sons of men. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

[4][Ecc 7:12. הַחָכְמָה תְּהַיֶּה, rendered “wisdom giveth life.” We cannot help thinking that Koheleth means more here than ZÖCKLER‘S interpretation would give, or any of the others he mentions. There is a contrast, too, giving the connection of thought, which they all fail to bring out. “In the shade of wisdom, as in the shade of wealth;” that is, in both is there a defence. Defence of what? Of life evidently. In this they both agree; but knowledge, wisdom (variety of expression for the same thing), does more than this. Its great pre-eminence is, that it giveth life to its possessors (תְּחַיֶּה makes them alive). This means something more than mere animating, in the ordinary sense of cheering, enlivening, or making happy, etc. Knowledge is life. Vivere est cogitare. It is, in a high sense, the soul’s being. It is true of mere human knowledge, science, philosophy, intuition. Much more may it be said of divine or spiritual knowledge. “Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life,” John 6:63. It is not merely spiritual, that is, moral reanimation, as HENGSTENBERG would have it, but the very life of the soul. It is a sufficient argument against the other interpretations given, that in falling short of this they lose the contrast, and fail to exhibit that connection to which the antithetical nicety of the proverbial diction evidently points.—T. L.]

[5] [Ecc 7:16. “Be not over-righteous,” etc. There is no reason for regarding צַדִּיק, in the 15th verse, as having any other than its ordinary sense, or the truly righteous man. It is the same experience that Koheleth presents elsewhere, the just man in this world having the same lot as the wicked, and sometimes suffering when the wicked seems to escape with impunity,—like the experience of the Psalmist, Ps. 73:4, 5. The צַדִּיק, in the 16th verse, is, doubtless, suggested by that in the preceding, but such a fact would not necessitate their having precisely the same meaning; since the connection may be poetical, or suggestive, rather than logical. ZÖCKLER’S idea, therefore, of its meaning here the self-righteous, or Pharisaical, might be sustained, perhaps, without carrying the idea into the preceding verse. His view of the צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה, the over-righteous, is very similar to that of JEROME, who interprets the passage as a condemnation of one who over-judges, rigidum et trucem ad omnia fratrum peccata,—the worthy father, perhaps, little thinking how distinctly he was giving a feature of his own character. “Do not,” he says, “in this respect, be too just (that is, too rigid), because ‘an unjust weight,’ be it too great or too small, ‘is an abomination to the Lord.’ ” And then he cites our Lord’s precept, Matt. 7, Judge not, etc. The being over-wise he refers to proud or curious inquiring into the hidden works and ways of God, such as Paul condemns, Rom. 9:20, and the confounding to the effect produced by God’s rebuke, or such an answer as the Apostle gives: “Nay, who art thou, O man?” STUART renders it, “do not overdo.” RABBI SCHELOMO, following the Targum and Jewish authorities so early as to be referred to by JEROME, regards צַדִּיק as meaning kind or merciful, and alleges the example of Saul, who through mistaken clemency, spared the life of Agag. Others refer it to a too strict judging of the ways of Providence, or the arraigning them for what seems to us unjust; as when we see the righteous perish and the wicked man living on in his wickedness. An argument for this interpretation is the support it seems to have from Ecc 7:15. Another interpretation regards it as a caution against asceticism and moroseness, in denying one’s self innocent pleasures for fear of finding sin in them. This is the view of MAIMONIDES in the yad Hachazakah, Part I., Lib. 4., Sec. III., 3, 4. Akin to this is the view, stated by him, which regards it as rebuking works of supererogation, —as when a man attempts to do more than the law requires.

If we keep in view, however, the general scope of this musing, meditative, book, it will be found, we think, that the two members here mean very much the same thing: Do not view the world, or the ways of God, too narrowly, as though we, from our exceedingly limited position, could determine what it would be just or unjust for God to do, or permit. This is in harmony with the preceding verse. It furnishes us with a key to the transition in the train of thought: When you see the righteous suffer, and the wicked prosper, do not let the thought, or even feeling, arise in your mind that you could, or would, be more equitable, if you had the management of the world. This is agreeable to the general style of Koheleth,—one thought correcting what seems too strongly stated, or which may be liable to misunderstanding, in another. It is also in perfect harmony with what follows: “Be not overwise;” that is do not speculate too much, or theorize too much, אַל תִּתְחַכַּם, do not play the philosopher too much; you know too little; your Baconianism (as he might have said had he lived in these our boasting times) has too small an area of inductive facts from which to construct systems of the universe (especially in its moral and spiritual aspects) out of nebular hypotheses. This corresponds with what is said Ecc 3:11, about “the world so given to the minds of men that they cannot find out the work that God worketh, the end from the beginning.” It is the same idea that we have Ecc 8:17: “Man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun, and even if a wise man (a philosopher) say that he knows it, he shall not be able to discover it.” The Vulgate renders it, neque plus sapias quam necesse est. JEROME, in his Latin Version, ne quæras amplius, LXX μὴ σοφίζου. The whole precept, then, may be taken as a condemnation of that spirit which would be more just and wise than God. No man professes this, or would oven admit that he thus feels, yet it is realized when any one, in any way, finds fault with, or even doubts, or has difficulty with, the ways of God in the world. Such a temper is also condemned Eccles. 5:8: “If thou seest oppression of the poor, etc., be not astonished concerning such a matter, for He who is high above all is watching them.” Compare also Job 4:7, where the Spirit-voice says to Eliphaz הַאֱנוֹשּׁ מֵאֱלוֹהַּ יִצְדָּק, “shall a man (βροτὸς, mortalis) be more just than God?” This is being צַדִּיק הַרְבֵּה. So also Ps. 37:1: “Fret not thyself against the evil doers.” The Hithpahel form, תִּתְחַכַּם, would authorize us to understand it of a seeming or affected wisdom, but it more properly means here a prying into the divine mysteries, whether of revelation, or of the supernatural, or an arrogant denial of both, grounded on the comparative infinitesimality of our knowledge.

לָמָּה תִּשּׁוֹמֵם (for the fuller Hithpahel תִּשְׁתּוֹמֵם) ne obstupescas (JEROME); rather “why shouldst thou be desolate,” or “make thyself desolate,” which would correspond to the first interpretation of תתחכם, “alone in thy wisdom;” or “why shouldst thou be confounded.” He who presumes to settle matters too high for him, will surely, in some way, be taught his ignorance and his folly.—T. L.

[6][There is no indication to the contrary, it should rather be said. The Hebrew is remarkably plain, and there is no way of making it mean “since I belong to this vain empty life.” This is too much practised by those who deny the Solomonic origin of the book, thus to take away the force of certain passages that plainly speak for it, and then to reason on their own false hypothesis. Had this expression not occurred at all, the whole hook furnishes evidence that it was written by one who had an unusual experience of the vanities and vicissitudes of life. A mere personator could never have expressed it so feelingly.—T. L.]

[7]The Syriac has something here which is not in the Hebrew, nor in any other version, דלא תסתנא “that thou mayest not be hated.”—T. L.]

[8][This seems exceedingly forced and far-fetched. KNOBEL’S view is more so. The simple order of thought may be stated thus: Wise men are scarce, being to the strong men, the שליטים, captains, or principal men in a city, about as one to ten; but one, a truly righteous, or perfectly righteous man, is not found on earth, etc. The wise man of Ecc 7:19, is not the pious man necessarily, or the one who fears God, though that may be included, but wise, simply, in distinction from men of power or political eminence, or wise like the one described Ecc 9:15, “who saved the city.” Such may be found, but the perfectly righteous is a character that does not exist upon earth. The particle כִּי here is emphatic, calling attention to the fact regarded as strange, and yet well known. See Metrical Version.—T. L.]

A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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