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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This chapter resembles a portion of the Book of Proverbs, consisting entirely of rhythmical sentences giving advice, more or less direct, as to conduct. It is part of the writer's answer to the question Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 6:12 "What is good for men to do?" The thought which underlies the whole chapter is the advantage of that wisdom which includes piety and patience, as practical guidance through all the perplexities of life: various traits of wisdom are set forth in a favorable light, heightened by contrast with folly. A great part of the advice seems, in addition to its general application, to have a special reference to servants of a king.
1Dead 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.
This verse is by its meaning so closely connected with Ecclesiastes 9:18 that the selection of it for the beginning of a new chapter seems unfortunate.
Apothecary - Rather: a dealer in spices and perfumes (compare Exodus 30:25). The swarms of flies in the East very soon corrupt and destroy any moist unguent or mixture left uncovered, and pollute a dish of food in a few minutes.
So doth ... - literally, more weighty than wisdom, than honor, is a little folly.
2A wise man's heart is at his right hand; but a fool's heart at his left.
The metaphor perhaps means "A wise man's sense is in its place, ready to help and protect him; but a fool's sense is missing when it is wanted, and so is useless."
3Yea 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.
"Way" may be understood either literally (compare Ecclesiastes 10:15), or figuratively, of the course of action which he follows.
He saith ... - He exposes his folly to every one he meets.
4If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offences.
If the spirit ... - i. e., If he is angry.
Leave not thy place - i. e., Do not lose thy self-control and quit his presence. Gentleness on thy part will calm both thyself and him, and prevent great wrongs being committed by either.
5There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler:
6Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.
The "evil" of Ecclesiastes 10:5 is here specified as that caprice of a king by which an unworthy favorite of low origin is promoted to successive dignities, while a noble person is degraded or neglected.
7I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.
8He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
The figures seem to be taken from the work of building up and pulling down houses. In their general application, they recommend the man who would act wisely to be cautious when taking any step in life which involves risk.
Breaketh an hedge - Rather: "breaks through a wall."
Serpent - The habit of snakes is to nestle in a chink of a wall, or among stones (compare Amos 5:19).
9Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.
Be endangered - Rather: "cut himself."
10If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
11Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
Rather: "If a serpent without enchantment (i. e., not being enchanted) bites, then there is no advantage to the charmer": i. e., if the charmer is unwisely slack in exercising his craft, he will be bitten like other people. See Psalm 58:4 note.
12The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.
13The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.
14A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?
Full of words - Confident talking of the future is indicated rather than mere loquacity. Compare James 4:13.
15The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.
The sense is: "The fool wearies himself with ineffectual attempts, he has not sufficient knowledge for the transaction of ordinary business."
16Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!
Foolish rulers, by their weakness, self-indulgence and sloth, bring decay upon the state: nobleness and temperance insure prosperity: yet the subject must not rebel in word or thought against his king.
A child - Rather, young. The word is applied to Rehoboam 2 Chronicles 13:7 at the time of his accession to the throne, when he was 41 years old.
Eat in the morning - A sign of intemperance (compare Isaiah 5:11).
17Blessed 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!
Son of nobles - i. e., of a noble disposition.
18By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.
The "building" or "house" represents the state. Compare Isaiah 3:6; Amos 9:10.
Droppeth through - i. e., Lets the rain through the roof.
19A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
literally, For merriment they make a feast (bread), and wine gladdens the living, and money supplies all things.
20Curse 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 - Compare Ecclesiastes 7:21-22.