Ecclesiastes 10:20
Curse not the king, no not in your thought; and curse not the rich in your bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which has wings shall tell the matter.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(20) Thought.—A word of later Hebrew, found only in Daniel and Chronicles.

That which hath wings.—Literally, master of wings; and so also Proverbs 1:17. (Comp. “master of the tongue,” Ecclesiastes 10:11.)

Ecclesiastes 10:20. Curse not the king — Having spoken of the miscarriages of kings, he now gives a caution to their subjects, that they should not thence take occasion to speak irreverently or contemptuously of them, or wish or design any evil against their persons or government. For though vices may be condemned wheresoever they are, yet both reverence and obedience are due to magistrates, as they are God’s deputies and vicegerents, and that, notwithstanding their vices, as is manifest from Romans 13:1, &c.; 1 Peter 2:13. No, not in thy thought — In the most secret manner, by giving way to such thoughts and affections, for these would very probably break forth into disloyal words and practices: and curse not the rich — The princes or governors under the king, who are commonly rich; for a bird, &c., shall carry the voice — The king will hear of it by unknown and unsuspected hands, as if a bird had heard and carried the report of it. 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.Curse - Compare Ecclesiastes 7:21-22. 20. thought—literally, "consciousness."

rich—the great. The language, as applied to earthly princes knowing the "thought," is figurative. But it literally holds good of the King of kings (Ps 139:1-24), whose consciousness of every evil thought we should ever realize.

bed-chamber—the most secret place (2Ki 6:12).

bird of the air, &c.—proverbial (compare Hab 2:11; Lu 19:40); in a way as marvellous and rapid, as if birds or some winged messenger carried to the king information of the curse so uttered. In the East superhuman sagacity was attributed to birds (see on [668]Job 28:21; hence the proverb).

Curse not the king. Having spoken of the miscarriages of kings, he now gives a caution to their subjects, that they should not thence take occasion to speak irreverently or contemptuously of them, or wish or design any evil against their persons or government; for though vices may be condemned, wheresoever they are, yet both reverence and obedience are due to magistrates, as they are God’s vicegerents and ordinances, notwithstanding their vices, as is manifest from Romans 13:1, &c.; 1 Peter 2:13, &c.

In thy thought; in the most secret manner, by giving way to such thoughts or affections; for these will very probably break forth into such words and practices. Curse not the rich; the princes or governors under the king, who are commonly rich; or any other rich men, who can oppress or punish thee by their wealth, as well as kings can do it by their power.

In thy bed-chamber, where thy wife or servant may hear thee, and afterwards through folly or passion discover it to thy ruin.

A bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter; the king will hear of it by unknown and unsuspected hands, as if a bird had chanted to be at the window when thou didst speak the words, and did hear them, and carry the report of it unto the king. It is a proverbial expression, as when we say, Hedges have ears, and, The walls will speak. Hence kings are said to have long ears. Curse not the king; no, not in thy thought,.... Though he is a child, and unskilful in government, gives himself to his passions and pleasures, and neglects the affairs of the kingdom; yet be so far from rebelling against him, and doing him any injury, or speaking ill of him, as not even to wish him any ill; or, within thine own breast, imprecate any evil upon him, but rather pray for him, wish him well, and do everything to promote the welfare of his person and government, and this both for the Lord's sake, and for conscience's sake; and therefore curse him not "in thy conscience" (m), as some render it. Jarchi interprets this of God the King of the world; see Job 2:9; and Jerom of Christ; who should not be blasphemed, lest the angels, that go about the earth, should carry it to heaven;

and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber; subordinate rulers and magistrates, the king's ministers and counsellors, who are commonly rich; even those luxurious princes, before described, who give up themselves to eating and drinking, and spend the public money in profuse feasts and entertainments: yet a man should be careful how he speaks against them; and not only be cautious of what he says about them, in a vilifying way, in companies and clubs where disaffected persons speak their minds freely; but even in his own house, where his servants may hear him; nay, even in his bedchamber where only his wife and children are;

for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter; an hyperbolical expression; showing that, by some strange and unthought of ways and means, treason, though so very secret, should be brought to the knowledge of the king and his ministers; as if a bird, sitting at the window, or flying by at the same time, should hear and carry it to them: sometimes this is by means of spies and informers, that kings have in all places, to bring them news of the behaviour and sentiments of men, of whom such understand the passage; or by means of such, that bear an ill will to them, or are faithful subjects to the king. With the Persians were certain officers, called the king's ears, and the emperor's eyes; by means of whom the king was believed to be a god, since, by the ears and eyes of others, through those spies, he knew all that was done everywhere (n). Some interpret it of angels, good or bad: Jarchi, of the soul of man, which at last flies to heaven, which he thinks is the bird of the air; and of an angel that is associated to him, his guardian angel; meant, as he supposes, by that which hath wings, or "the master of wings" (o).

(m) , Sept. "in conscientia tua", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Cocceius, Gejerus. (n) Apuleius de Mundo. (o) "dominus alarum", Piscator.

Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a {l} bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

(l) You cannot work evil so secretly that it will not be known.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
20. Curse not the king, no not in thy thought] The words paint, as from a painful experience, the all-pervading espionage, which, as in the delatores of the Roman Empire, associates itself naturally with the police of a despotic government. The wise man must recognise that espionage as a fact and gives his counsel accordingly, but it is not the less clear that the counsel itself conveys, in its grave irony, a condemnation of the practice. It may be noted that the addition of “curse not the rich” makes the irony clearer, and takes the maxim out of the hands of those who would read in it the serious condemnation of all independence of thought and speech in face of the “right divine of kings to govern wrong.” For the purposes of the teacher, in the maxims in which the irony of indignation veils itself in the garb of a servile prudence, the rich man and the king stand on the same level.

in thy bedchamber] This is, as in 2 Kings 6:12, like the “closet” of Matthew 6:6, proverbial for the extremest retirement.

a bird of the air shall carry the voice] The figure is so natural, answering to the “walls have ears” of the Rabbinic, German, English proverbs, that any more special reference scarcely need to be sought for, but it is interesting to note the close parallel presented by the familiar Greek proverb of “the cranes of Ibycos.” For the reader who does not know the story it may be well to tell it. Ibycos was a lyric poet of Rhegium, circ. b.c. 540. He was murdered by robbers near Corinth and, as he died, called on a flock of cranes that chanced to fly over him, to avenge his death. His murderers went with their plunder to Corinth, and mingled with the crowd in the theatre. It chanced that the cranes appeared and hovered over the heads of the spectators, and one of the murderers betrayed himself by the terror-stricken cry “Behold the avengers of Ibycos!” (Suidas Ἴβυκος. Apollon. Sidon in the Anthol. Graec. B. vii. 745, ed. Tauchnitz). Suggestive parallels are also found in Greek comedy.

οὐδεὶς οἰδεν τὸν θησαυρὸν τὸν ἐμὸν

πλὴν εἴ τις ἄρʼ ὄρνις.

“No one knows of my treasure, save, it may be, a bird.”

Aristoph. Birds, 575.

ἡ κορώνη μοὶ πάλαι

ἄνω τι φράζει.

“Long since the raven tells me from on high.”

Aristoph. Birds, 50.

Possibly, however, the words may refer to the employment of carrier pigeons in the police espionage of despots. Their use goes back to a remote antiquity and is at least as old as Anacreon’s “Ode to a pigeon.”

The pigeon speaks:

Ἐγὼ δʼ Ανακρέοντι

Διακονῶ τοσαῦτα,

Καὶ νῦν ὁρᾶς ἐκείνου

Ἐπιστολὰς κομίζω.

“Now I render service due

To Anacreon, Master true,

And I bear his billets-doux.”

Frequently they were employed to keep up communication between generals, as in the case of Brutus and Hirtius at the battle of Mutina. “What availed it,” says Pliny, in words that coincide almost verbally with the text (Hist. Nat. x. 37), “that nets were stretched across the river while the messenger was cleaving the air” (“per cœlum eunte nuntio”).Verse 20. - Curse not the king, no not in thy thought. Under the above-mentioned circumstances, a man might be tempted to abuse and curse these ill-conditioned rulers. Koheleth warns against this error; it is dangerous to give way to it (comp. Exodus 22:28). In Ecclesiastes 8:2 the motive for submission to the king is placed on religious grounds; in the present passage the ground is prudence, regard for personal safety, which might be compromised by plain speaking, especially when one has to do with such depraved and unscrupulous persons. We may compare David's generous conduct to his cruel persecutor Saul, whom he spared because he was the Lord's anointed (1 Samuel 24:6, l0; 26:9, etc.; 2 Samuel 1:14). Madda, "thought," "consciousness," is rare, and is supposed to belong to late Hebrew (see 2 Chronicles 1:10, 11, 12; Daniel 1:4, 17). The Septuagint translates it συνείδησις: Vulgate, cogitatio. To encourage such thoughts in the mind is to run the risk of openly expressing them at some unguarded moment; for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Curse not the rich in thy bedchamber. In ability to injure, the rich stand in the same category as the king. You are not safe ἐν τανιείοις κοιτώνων σου, "in your very bedchamber," where, if anywhere, you would fancy yourself free from espionage. But "walls have ears," says the proverb (comp. Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40); and the King of Syria is warned, "Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the King of Israel the words thou speakest in thy bedchamber" (2 Kings 6:12). "That which ye have spoken in the ear in closets (ἐν τοῖς ταμιείοις) shall be proclaimed upon the housetops" (Luke 12:3). For a bird of the air shall carry the voice. A proverbial saying, common to all languages, and not to be referred especially to the story of the cranes of Ibycus (see Erasmus,' Adag.,' s.v. "Ultio malefacti") or to the employment of carrier pigeons. We say of secret information, "a little bird told me." Plumptre quotes Aristophanes, 'Aves,' 575 -

 Οὐδείς οϊδεν τὸν θησαυρὸν τὸν ἐμὸν πλὴν εἴ τις ἄρ ὄρνις

"No one knows of my treasure, save, it may be, a bird." On which the Scholiast notes, "There is a proverb extant, ' No one observes me but the passing bird'" (comp. Erasmus, ' Adag.,' s.v. "Occulta"). In Koheleth's day informers evidently plied their trade industriously, and here meet, not only with notice, but ironically with reprobation. On the general sentiment of the verse, we may quote Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 9:102, "O Corydon, Corydon," thus versified in Ginsburg's commentary -

"And dost thou seriously believe, fond swain,
The actions of the great unknown remain?
Poor Corydon! even beasts would silence break,
And stocks and stones, if servants did not, speak.
Bolt every door, stop every cranny tight,
Close every window, put out every light;
Let not a whisper reach the listening ear,
No noise, no motion; let no soul be near;
Yet all that passed at the cock's second crow,
The neighboring vintner shall, ere day-break, know."
That which hath wings (compare Latin ales); the possessor (haul) of a pair of wings, a periphrasis for "a bird," as in Proverbs 1:17. We had "master of the tongue," ver. 11; so in Daniel 8:6, 20, "having horns," is "master (haul) of horns."



"And the fool maketh many words: while a man yet doth not know that which shall be; and what shall be when he is no more, who can show him that?" The vav at the beginning of this verse corresponds to the Lat. accedit quod. That he who in Ecclesiastes 10:12 was named kesil is now named hassachal, arises from this, that meanwhile sichluth has been predicated of him. The relation of Ecclesiastes 10:14 to Ecclesiastes 10:14, Geier has rightly defined: Probatur absurditas multiloquii a communi ignorantia ac imbecillitate humana, quae tamen praecipue dominatur apud ignaros stultos. We miss before lo-yeda' an "although" (gam, Nehemiah 6:1, or ki gam, Ecclesiastes 8:12); the clause is, after the manner of a clause denoting state or condition, subordinated to the principal clause, as at Psalm 5:10 : "an open grave is their throat יח לשׁ, although they smooth their tongue, i.e., speak flatteringly." The lxx, Syr., Symm., and Jerome seek to rectify the tautology id quod futurum est et quod futurum est (cf. on the other hand, Ecclesiastes 8:7), for they read יה ... מה שהיה. But the second quod futurum certainly preserves by מאץ its distinguishing nearer definition. Hitzig explains: "What is done, and what after this (that is done) is done." Scarcely correctly: aharav of the parallel passage, Ecclesiastes 6:12, cf. Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 9:3, requires for the suffix a personal reference, so that thus meaharav, as at Deuteronomy 29:21, means "from his death and onwards." Thus, first, the knowledge of the future is denied to man; then the knowledge of what will be done after his death; and generally, of what will then be done. The fool, without any consciousness of human ignorance, acts as if he knew all, and utters about all and everything a multitude of words; for he uselessly fatigues himself with his ignorance, which remains far behind the knowledge that is possible for man.
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