|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
7:11-22 Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, yea better. It shelters from the storms and scorching heat of trouble. Wealth will not lengthen out the natural life; but true wisdom will give spiritual life, and strengthen men for services under their sufferings. Let us look upon the disposal of our condition as the work of God, and at last all will appear to have been for the best. In acts of righteousness, be not carried into heats or passions, no, not by a zeal for God. Be not conceited of thine own abilities; nor find fault with every thing, nor busy thyself in other men's matters. Many who will not be wrought upon by the fear of God, and the dread of hell, will avoid sins which ruin their health and estate, and expose to public justice. But those that truly fear God, have but one end to serve, therefore act steadily. If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. Every true believer is ready to say, God be merciful to me a sinner. Forget not at the same time, that personal righteousness, walking in newness of life, is the only real evidence of an interest by faith in the righteousness of the Redeemer. Wisdom teaches us not to be quick in resenting affronts. Be not desirous to know what people say; if they speak well of thee, it will feed thy pride, if ill, it will stir up thy passion. See that thou approve thyself to God and thine own conscience, and then heed not what men say of thee; it is easier to pass by twenty affronts than to avenge one. When any harm is done to us, examine whether we have not done as bad to others.
Verse 16. - Be not righteous over much. The exhortation has been variously interpreted to warn against too scrupulous observance of ritual and ceremonial religion, or the mistaken piety which neglects all mundane affairs, or the Pharisaical spirit which is bitter in condemning others who fall short of one's own standard. Cox will have it that the advice signifies that a prudent man will not be very righteous, since he will gain nothing by it, nor very wicked, as he will certainly shorten his life by such conduct. But really Koheleth is condemning the tendency to immoderate asceticism which had begun to show itself in his day - a rigorous, prejudiced, indiscreet manner of life and conduct which made piety offensive, and afforded no real aid to the cause of religion. This arrogant system virtually dictated the laws by which Providence should be governed, and found fault with divinely ordered circumstances if they did not coincide with its professors' preconceived opinions. Such religionism might well be called being "righteous over much." Neither make thyself over wise; Septuagint, Μηδὲ σοφίζου περισσά; Vulgate, Neque plus sapias quam necesse est; better, show not thyself too wise; i.e. do not indulge in speculations about God's dealings, estimating them according to your own predilections, questioning the wisdom of his moral government. Against such perverse speculation St. Paul argues (Romans 9:19, etc.). "Thou wilt say unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?" A good principle carried to excess may bring evil results. Summum jus, summa injuria. The maxim, Μηδὲν ἀγάν, Ne quid nimis, "Moderation in all things," is taught here; and Aristotle's theory of virtue being the mean between the two extremes of excess and defect is adumbrated ('Ethic. Nicom.,' 2:6. 15, 16): though we do not see that the writer is "reproducing current Greek thought" (Plumptre), or that independent reflection and observation could not have landed him at the implied conclusion without plagiarism. Why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Septuagint, Μή ποτὲ ἐκπλαγῇς, "Lest perchance thou be confounded;" Vulgate, Ne obstupescas, "Lest thou be stupefied." This is the primary meaning of the special form of the verb here used (hithp. of שׁמם), and Plumptre supposes that the author intends thereby to express the spiritual pride which accompanies fancied excellence in knowledge and conduct, and by which the possessor is puffed up (1 Timothy 3:6). But plainly it is not a mental, internal effect that is contemplated, but something that affects comfort, position, or life, like the corresponding clause in the following verse. Hitzig and Ginsburg explain the word, "Make thyself forsaken," "Isolate thyself," which can scarcely be the meaning. The Authorized Version is correct. A man who professes to be wiser than others, and. indeed, wiser than Providence, incurs the envy and animosity of his fellow-men, and will certainly be punished by God for his arrogance and presumption.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Be not righteous over much,.... This is not meant of true and real righteousness, even moral righteousness, a man cannot be too holy or too righteous; but of a show and ostentation of righteousness, and of such who would be thought to be more righteous and holy than others, and therefore despise those who, as they imagine, do not come up to them; and are very rigid and censorious in their judgment of others, and very severe in their reproofs of them; and, that they may appear very righteous persons, will do more than what the law requires of them to do, even works of supererogation, as the Pharisees formerly, and Papists now, pretend, and abstain from the lawful use of things which God has given to be enjoyed; and macerate their bodies by abstinence, fastings, pilgrimages, penance, scourges, and the like, as the Eremites among the Christians, and the Turks, as Aben Ezra on the place observes; and many there be, who, by an imprudent zeal for what they judge right, and which sometimes are mere trifles, and by unseasonable reproofs for what is wrong, expose themselves to resentment and danger. Some understand this of political and punitive justice, exercising it in too strict and rigorous a manner, according to the maxim, "summum jus saepe summa injuria est" (w); and Schultens (x), from the use of the word in the Arabic language, renders it, "be not too rigid"; and others, in a contrary sense, of too much mercy and pity to offenders. So the Midrash; and Jarchi illustrates it by the case of Saul, who had mercy on the wicked, and spared Agag. The Targum is,
"be not over righteous at a time that a sinner is found guilty of slaughter in thy court of judicature, that thou shouldest spare and not kill him;''
neither make thyself over wise; above what is written, or pretend to be wiser than others. So the Arabic version, "show not too much wisdom"; do not affect, as not to be more righteous than others, so not more wise, by finding fault with present times, or with the dispensations of Providence, or with the manners and conduct of men; setting up for a critic and a censurer of men and things; or do not pry into things, and seek after a knowledge of them, which are out of your reach, and beyond your capacity;
why shouldest thou destroy thyself? either by living too strictly and abstemiously, or by studying too closely, or by behaving in such a manner to men, as that they will seek thy destruction, and bring it on thee: or "why shouldest thou", or "whereby", or "lest, thou shouldest be stupid" (y); lose thy sense and reason, as persons who study the knowledge of things they have not a capacity for: or why shouldest thou become foolish in the eyes of all men by thy conduct and behaviour? or, "why shouldest thou be desolate" (z); alone, and nobody care to have any conversation and acquaintance with thee?
(w) Terent. Heautont. Acts 4. Sc. 4. (x) De Defect. Hod. Ling. Heb. s. 230. (y) "ut quid obstupesces?" Vatablus, Amama; "cur obstupesces?" Mercerus; "cur in stuporem te dares?" Cocceius; "qua teipsum stupidum facies?" Tigurine version; "ne obstupescas", V. L. so Sept. and Syriac versions. (z) "Ne quid desolaberis?" Pagninus, Montanus; "quare desolationem tibi accerseres?" Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Gejerus.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
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