A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.
Name ... ointment - The likeness between reputation and odor supplies a common metaphor: the contrast is between reputation, as an honorable attainment which only wise people win, and fragrant odor, as a gratification of the senses which all people enjoy.
The connection of this verse with the preceding verses is this: the man, who wants to know what is profitable for man and good in this life, is here told to act in such a way as ordinarily secures a good reputation (i. e., to act like a wise man), and to teach himself this hard lesson - to regard the day of death as preferable to the day of birth. Though Solomon seems in some places to feel strongly (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 ff) that natural fear of death which is, in a great measure, mistrust founded on the ignorance which Christ dispelled; yet he states the advantage of death over life in respect of its freedom from toil, oppression, restlessness Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 4:2; Ecclesiastes 6:5, and in respect of its implying an immediate and a nearer approach to God Ecclesiastes 3:21; Ecclesiastes 12:7. While Solomon preferred the day of death, he might still (with Luther here) have regarded birth as a good thing, and as having its place in the creation of God.
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.
That - Namely, what is seen in the house of mourning.
Lay it to his heart - Consider it attentively.
Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.
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.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
House of mourning ... house of mirth - These phrases acquire a forcible significance from the Eastern custom of prolonging both festive and mournful celebrations through several days. See Genesis 50:10; Judges 14:17. This verse indicates that a life of enjoyment, does not mean the abandonment of ourselves to pleasures, but the thankful and sober use of the beautiful things which God gives us.
It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.
As the crackling of thorns - Noisy while it lasts, and quickly extinguished. See Psalm 58:9 note.
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
Rather, oppression (or extortions) maketh a wise man foolish; and a bribe etc. If a wise man, being in a high position, exercises oppression (see Psalm 62:10), or practices extortion, he becomes a fool in so doing. This verse is a warning against impatience in the exercise of power or the acquisition of riches.
Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof: and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Better - Inasmuch as something certain is attained, man contemplates the end throughout an entire course of action, and does not rest upon the beginning.
Patient ... proud - literally, "Long," long-suffering ..."high," in the sense of impatient.
Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were 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.
And by it there is profit ... - literally, And is profitable to the living. The same word as in Ecclesiastes 6:11, to the question in which it looks like an answer.
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.
Wisdom is a defense ... - See the margin and Psalm 121:5, i. e., He who is defended from adversity by his wisdom is in as good a position as he who is defended by his riches.
Excellency - literally, Profit.
Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?
The work of God - The scheme of Divine Providence, the course of events which God orders and controls (compare Ecclesiastes 3:11). It comprises both events which are "straight," i. e., in accordance with our expectation, and events which are "crooked," i. e., which by their seeming inequality baffle our comprehension.
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.
Good and prosperous days are in God's design special times of comfort and rejoicing: the days of affliction and trouble, are in God's design the proper seasons of recollection and serious consideration. The Providence of God hath so contrived it, that our good and evil days should be intermingled each with the other. This mixture of good and evil days is by the Divine Providence so proportioned, that it sufficiently justifies the dealings of God toward the sons of men, and obviates all their discontent and complaints against Him.
Set the one over against the other - Rather, made this as well as that, i. e., the day of adversity, as well as the day of prosperity. The seeming imitation of this passage in Ecclesiasticus (Ecclesiasticus 36:13-15) affords a strong presumption that this book was written before the days of the son of Sirach.
To the end ... - God hath constituted the vicissitude of prosperity and adversity in such a way that no man can forecast the events that shall follow when he is removed from his present state. Compare the Ecclesiastes 6:12 note.
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.
The days of my vanity - This does not imply that those days of vanity were ended (see Ecclesiastes 1:12 note).
The meaning may be best explained by a paraphrase. Solomon states how the wise man should regard the "crooked Ecclesiastes 7:13 work of God" when it bears upon him. He says in effect, "Do not think that thou couldest alter the two instances (described in Ecclesiastes 7:15) of such crooked work so as to make it straight, that thou art more righteous or more wise than He is Who ordained these events. To set up thy judgment in opposition to His would imply an excess of wickedness and folly, deserving the punishment of premature death. But rather it is good for thee to grasp these seeming anomalies; if thou ponder them they will tend to impress on thee that fear of God which is a part of wisdom, and will guide thee safely through all the perplexities of this life" (compare Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). The suggestion that these verses are intended to advocate a middle course between sin and virtue is at variance with the whole tenor of the book.
Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?
Destroy thyself - The Septuagint and Vulgate render it: "be amazed." Compare "marvel not" Ecclesiastes 5:8.
Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why 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.
Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty men which are in the city.
For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.
The connection of this verse with Ecclesiastes 7:18-19 becomes clearer if it is borne in mind that the fear of God, wisdom, and justice, are merely different sides of one and the same character, the formation of which is the aim of all the precepts in this chapter. The words "just" Ecclesiastes 7:15, Ecclesiastes 7:20 and "righteous" Ecclesiastes 7:16 are exactly the same in Hebrew.
Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:
Curse ... cursed - Rather, speak evil of ... spoken evil of.
For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.
All this have I proved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise; but it was far from me.
I will be - Or, I am. There was a time when Solomon thought himself wise enough to comprehend the work of God, and therefore needed for himself the self-humbling conviction declared in this verse.
It - i. e. Wisdom. Compare Ecclesiastes 8:17.
That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?
literally, Far off is that which hath been i. e., events as they have occurred in the order of Divine Providence), and deep, deep, who can find it out?
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:
Reason - The same word is translated "account" Ecclesiastes 7:27, "invention" Ecclesiastes 7:29, and "device" Ecclesiastes 9:10 : it is derived from a root signifying "to count."
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.
Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account:
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.
One man - One whose good qualities quite satisfy our expectation. Compare the expression "one among a thousand" (marginal reference).
A woman - The number of Solomon's wives and concubines 1 Kings 11:3 was a thousand.
Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.
God hath made - Rather, God made. A definite allusion to the original state of man: in which he was exempt from vanity.