Ecclesiastes 10:17
Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, and your 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. The last proverb of this series presents for consideration the uselessness of him who comes too late. "If a serpent bite without enchantment, the charmer is of no use." The Talm. interprets this אם, like that of Ecclesiastes 10:10, also as interrog.: Does the serpent bite without its being whispered to, i.e., without a providential determination impelling it thereto? Jer. Peah, i. 1. But לחשׁ, except at Isaiah 26:16, where whispering prayers are meant, signifies the whispering of formulas of charming; "serpents are not to be charmed (tamed)," לחששׁ, Jeremiah 8:17. Rather for הלּ בּעל the meaning of slander is possible, which is given to it in the Haggada, Taanith 8a: All the beasts will one day all at once say to the serpent: the lion walks on the earth and eats, the wolf tears asunder and eats; but what enjoyment hast thou by thy bite? and it answers them: "Also the slanderer (לבעל הלשׁון) has certainly no profit." Accordingly the Targ., Jerome, and Luther translate; but if אם is conditional, and the vav of veēn connects the protasis and the apodosis, then ba'al hallashon must denote a man of tongue, viz., of an enchanting tongue, and thus a charmer (lxx, Syr.). This name for the charmer, one of many, is not unintentional; the tongue is an instrument, as iron is, Ecclesiastes 10:10 : the latter must be sharp, if it would not make greater effort necessary; the former, if it is to gain its object, must be used at the right time. The serpent bites בּל לח, when it bites before it has been charmed (cf. belo yomo, Job 15:32); there are also serpents which bite without letting themselves be charmed; but here this is the point, that it anticipates the enchantment, and thus that the charmer comes too late, and can make no use of his tongue for the intended purpose, and therefore has no advantage from his act. There appropriately follow here proverbs of the use of the tongue on the part of a wise man, and its misuse on the part of a fool.
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