Ecclesiastes 10:17
Blessed 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!
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10:16-20 The happiness of a land depends on the character of its rulers. The people cannot be happy when their princes are childish, and lovers of pleasure. Slothfulness is of ill consequence both to private and public affairs. Money, of itself, will neither feed nor clothe, though it answers the occasions of this present life, as what is to be had, may generally be had for money. But the soul, as it is not redeemed, so it is not maintained with corruptible things, as silver and gold. God sees what men do, and hears what they say in secret; and, when he pleases, brings it to light by strange and unsuspected ways. If there be hazard in secret thoughts and whispers against earthly rulers, what must be the peril from every deed, word, or thought of rebellion against the King of kings, and Lord of lords! He seeth in secret. His ear is ever open. Sinner! curse not THIS KING in thy inmost thought. Your curses cannot affect Him; but his curse, coming down upon you, will sink you to the lowest hell.Son of nobles - i. e., of a noble disposition.17. son of nobles—not merely in blood, but in virtue, the true nobility (So 7:1; Isa 32:5, 8).

in due season—(Ec 3:1), not until duty has first been attended to.

for strength—to refresh the body, not for revelry (included in "drunkenness").

The son of nobles; not so much by birth, as even the worst of kings commonly are, and have been, as by their noble and worthy dispositions, and endowments, and carriages; for such a one is opposed to the child in the former verse. Sons of nobles are put for noble persons, as the sons of men for men, and the sons of physicians for physicians.

Eat in due season; so as may further, and not hinder, their main business.

For strength; to refresh and strengthen their natures, that they may be fit for action and business.

Not for drunkenness; not only nor chiefly to please their palates, and indulge themselves in sensuality.

Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles,.... Or "heroes" (z), called "Hhorim" in the Hebrew, which signifies "white"; either from the white garment they wore, or rather from the purity and ingenuity of their minds and manners; being illustrious persons, not only by birth and education, but in their lives and actions. Now a land is happy when it is governed by a king that is not only descended from a race of heroes and illustrious men, and has a princely and liberal education; but that imitates his ancestors, and treads in their steps, and is famous himself for wisdom, virtue, and real piety, in which true nobility consists; and so the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "whose king is noble"; who is of an ingenuous mind, has princely virtues and qualifications; who is wise and prudent, skilful in the affairs of government, and assiduous and industrious therein; for as, on the one hand, kings may, as they commonly do, descend from illustrious progenitors, and yet be base and wicked, ignoble and infamous, in their administration; and, on the other hand, persons may be raised from a low estate to royal dignity, as David and others, and yet behave with great prudence and ingenuity. The Targum applies this to the land of Israel also, and instances in Hezekiah, a man mighty in the law;

and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness; that is, eat their meals at proper times, and that after they have been at business; to refresh nature, and recruit their strength, that they may be fit for further service; and do not indulge themselves, and spend their time, in rioting and drunkenness; which would render them very unfit for public business, to sit in council, or in any court of judicature: according to the Targum, the time was four o'clock, that is, ten o'clock in the morning. Or, "not unto drinking" or "drunkenness" (a); they do not eat so as to cause an appetite, or eager desire for drinking to excess: or, not "with drinking" (b); their eating is not attended with excessive drinking; they eat and drink moderately. The Egyptians had a law, which fixed such a measure of wine to be allowed their kings daily, and no more (c); and it was Solon's law, given to the Athenians, that if a prince was found drunk, death was his punishment (d); and, with the Indians, if a woman killed a drunken king, her reward was to marry his successor (e): all which show how odious drunkenness was with the Heathens, and especially in their kings and princes; see Proverbs 31:4. So Plato observes (f), that

"drunkenness ought to be abstained from; and rather it should be allowed to any than to a keeper, (that is, of a city and its laws, a Civil magistrate), for it would be ridiculous for a keeper to need a keeper.''

Jerom, as before observed, interprets this figuratively, "blessed is the land", of the church; whose "King" is Christ, the son of nobles, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and whose "princes" are the apostles, who seek not pleasure in this world, but shall eat in the world to come.

(z) "heroum", Montanus. (a) non "autem ad compotationem", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Gejerus, Rambachius; so Broughton. (b) "Non cum ingurgitatione", Cocceius; "non eum compotatione", Schmidt. (c) Plutarch. de Iside & Osir. "in principio". Vid. Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 3. c. 11. (d) Laert. Vit. Solon. p. 38. (e) Strabo. Geograph. l. 15. p. 488. (f) De Republic. l. 3. p. 621.

Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son {k} of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!

(k) Meaning, when he is noble for virtue and wisdom and with the gifts of God.

17. Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles] The epithet has been taken as instance of the Hebrew of expressing character by the phrase “the son of …,” and hence as having a meaning here like that of the Latin generosus. Probably, however, the maxim reflects the thought of Greek political writers that they “are truly noble who can point to ancestors distinguished for both excellence and wealth” (Aristot. Polit. Ecclesiastes 10:17) that if there were any one family with an hereditary character for excellence, it was just that it should be recognised as kingly, and that the king should be chosen from it (Ibid. iii. 16). Such, the writer may have meant covertly to imply, ought a true descendant of the Ptolemies to have been instead of sinking into a degenerate profligacy.

thy princes eat in due season] The word “season” reminds us of the sense in which in chap. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 it is said that every thing, feasting included, has its proper “time.” In the case supposed the character of the king is reflected in the princes that rule under him. The words “for strength” may, perhaps, mean “in strength,” i.e. with the self-control of temperance, the ἐγκρατεία of Greek ethics, and not in the drunkenness which accompanies the morning revels.

Verse 17. - Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles! cujus rex nobilis est (Vulgate), υἱὸς ἐλευθέρων, "son of free men" (Septuagint). Some would regard "son of nobles" as a periphrasis expressive of character, equivalent to the Latin generous, as "son of strength," equivalent to "strong man;" "son of wickedness," equivalent to "wicked man;" but the phrase may well be taken literally. Koheleth (ver. 7) has expressed his disgust at the exaltation of unworthy slaves to high positions; he here intimates his adherence to the idea that those who descend from noble ancestors, and have been educated in the higher ranks of society, are more likely to prove a blessing to their land than upstarts who have been placed by caprice or favoritism in situations of trust and eminence. Of course, it is not universally true that men of high birth make good rulers; but proverbs of general tenor must not be pressed in particulars, and the author must be understood to affirm that the fact of having distinguished ancestors is an incentive to right action, stirs a worthy emulation in a man, gives him a motive which is wanting in the lowborn parvenu. The feeling, noblesse oblige, has preserved many from baseness (comp. John 8:39). Thy princes eat in due season; not like those mentioned in ver. 16, but in tempore, πρὸς καιρόν, at the right time, the "season" which appertains to all mundane things (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). For strength, and net for drunkenness. The preposition here is taken as expressing the object - they eat to gain strength, not to indulge sensuality; but it is more in accordance with usage to translate "in, or with, manly strength," i.e. as man's strength demands, and not degenerating into a carouse. If it is thought incongruous, as Ginsburg deems, to say, "princes eat for drunkenness," we may take drunkenness as denoting excess of any kind The word in the form here used occurs nowhere else. The Septuagint, regarding rather the consequences of intoxication than the actual word in the text, renders, Καὶ οὐκ αἰσχυνθήσονται, "And they shall not be ashamed." Thus, too, St. Jerome, Et non in confusione. St. Augustine ('De Civit.,' 17:20) deduces from this passage that there are two kingdoms - that of Christ and that of the devil, and he explains the allegory at some length, going into details which are of homiletic utility. Another interpretation is given by St. Jerome, quoted at length by Corn. a Lapide, in his copious commentary. Ecclesiastes 10:17"Woe to thee, O land, whose king is a child, and whose princes sit at table in the early morning! Happy art thou, O land, whose king is a noble, and whose princes sit at table at the right time, in manly strength, and not in drunkenness!" Regarding אי. Instead of שׁם ן, the older language would rather use the phrase מלכּו נער אשׁר; and instead of na'ar, we might correctly use, after Proverbs 30:22, 'ěvěd; but not as Grtz thinks, who from this verse deduces the reference of the book of Herod (the "slave of the Hasmonean house," as the Talm. names him), in the same meaning. For na'ar, it is true, sometimes means - e.g., as Ziba's by-name (2 Samuel 19:18 [17]) - a servant, but never a slave as such, so that here, in the latter sense, it might be the contrast of בּן־חורים; it is to be understood after Isaiah 3:12; and Solomon, Bishop of Constance, understood this woe rightly, for he found it fulfilled at the time of the last German Karolingian Ludwig III.

(Note: Cf. Bchmann's Feglgelte Worte, p. 178, 5th ed. (1868).)

Na'ar is a very extensively applicable word in regard to the age of a person. King Solomon and the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah show that na'ar may be used with reference to one in a high office; but here it is one of few years of age who is meant, who is incapable of ruling, and shows himself as childish in this, that he lets himself be led by bad guides in accordance with their pleasure. In 16b, the author perhaps thinks of the heads of the aristocracy who have the phantom-king in their power: intending to fatten themselves, they begin their feasting with the break of day. If we translate yochēēlu by "they eat," 16b sounds as if to breakfast were a sin, - with us such an abbreviation of the thought so open to misconception would be a fault in style, but not so with a Hebrew.

(Note: Vid., Gesch. d. jd. Poesie, p. 188.f.)

אכל (for לחם אכל, Psalm 14:4) is here eating for eating's sake, eating as its own object, eating which, in the morning, comes in the place of fresh activity in one's calling, consecrated by prayer. Instead of אשׁ, Ecclesiastes 10:17, there ought properly to have been אשׁריך; but (1) אשׁרי has this peculiarity, to be explained from its interjectional usage, that with the suff. added it remains in the form of the st. constr., for we say e.g., אשׁריך for אשׁריך; (2) the sing. form אשׁר, inflected אשׁרי, so substitutes itself that אשׁריך, or, more correctly, אשׁרך, and אשׁרהוּ, Proverbs 29:19, the latter for אשׁריו, are used (vid., under Sol 2:14).

Regarding běn-hhorim, the root-word signifies to be white (vid., under Genesis 40:16). A noble is called hhor, Isaiah 34:12; and one noble by birth, more closely, or also merely descriptively (Gesen. Lehrgeb. p. 649), běn-hhorim, from his purer complexion, by which persons of rank were distinguished from the common people (Lamentations 4:7). In the passage before us, běn-hhorim is an ethical conception, as e.g., also generosus becomes such, for it connects with the idea of noble by birth that of noble in disposition, and the latter predominates (cf. Sol 7:2, nadiv): it is well with a land whose king is of noble mind, is a man of noble character, or, if we give to běn-hhorim the Mishnic meaning, is truly a free man (cf. John 8:36). Of princes after the pattern of such a king, the contrary of what is said 16b is true: they do not eat early in the morning, but ba'et, "at the right time;" everywhere else this is expressed by be'itto (Ecclesiastes 3:11); here the expression - corresponding to the Greek ἐν καιρῷ, the Lat. in tempore - is perhaps occasioned by the contrast baboqěr, "in the morning." Eating at the right time is more closely characterized by bighvurah velo vashshethi. Jerome, whom Luther follows, translates: ad reficiendum et non ad luxuriam. Hitz., Ginsb., and Zckl., "for strengthening" (obtaining strength), not: "for feasting;" but that beth might introduce the object aimed at (after Hitz., proceeding from the beth of exchange), we have already considered under Ecclesiastes 2:4. The author, wishing to say this, ought to have written lshty wl' lgbwrh. Better, Hahn: "in strength, but not in drunkenness," - as heroes, but not as drunkards (Isaiah 5:22). Ewald's "in virtue, and not in debauchery," is also thus meant. But what is that: to eat in virtue, i.e., the dignity of a man? The author much rather represents them as eating in manly strength, i.e., as this requires it (cf. the plur. Psalm 71:16 and Psalm 90:10), only not bashti ("in drunkenness - excess"), so that eating and drinking become objects in themselves. Kleinert, well: as men, and not as gluttons. The Masora makes, under bashti,' the note לית, i.e., שׁתי has here a meaning which it has not elsewhere, it signifies drunkenness; elsewhere it means the weft of a web. The Targ. gives the word the meaning of weakness (חלּשׁוּת), after the Midrash, which explains it by בּתשׁישׁוּ (in weakness); Menahem b. Saruk takes along with it in this sense נשׁתה, Jeremiah 51:30. The Talm. Shabbath 10a, however, explains it rightly by בּשׁתיּה שׁל־יין.

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