Ecclesiastes 12:10
The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
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12:8-14 Solomon repeats his text, VANITY OF VANITIES, ALL IS VANITY. These are the words of one that could speak by dear-bought experience of the vanity of the world, which can do nothing to ease men of the burden of sin. As he considered the worth of souls, he gave good heed to what he spake and wrote; words of truth will always be acceptable words. The truths of God are as goads to such as are dull and draw back, and nails to such as are wandering and draw aside; means to establish the heart, that we may never sit loose to our duty, nor be taken from it. The Shepherd of Israel is the Giver of inspired wisdom. Teachers and guides all receive their communications from him. The title is applied in Scripture to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The prophets sought diligently, what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To write many books was not suited to the shortness of human life, and would be weariness to the writer, and to the reader; and then was much more so to both than it is now. All things would be vanity and vexation, except they led to this conclusion, That to fear God, and keep his commandments, is the whole of man. The fear of God includes in it all the affections of the soul towards him, which are produced by the Holy Spirit. There may be terror where there is no love, nay, where there is hatred. But this is different from the gracious fear of God, as the feelings of an affectionate child. The fear of God, is often put for the whole of true religion in the heart, and includes its practical results in the life. Let us attend to the one thing needful, and now come to him as a merciful Saviour, who will soon come as an almighty Judge, when he will bring to light the things of darkness, and manifest the counsels of all hearts. Why does God record in his word, that ALL IS VANITY, but to keep us from deceiving ourselves to our ruin? He makes our duty to be our interest. May it be graven in all our hearts. Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this is all that concerns man.This passage is properly regarded as the Epilogue of the whole book; a kind of apology for the obscurity of many of its sayings. The passage serves therefore to make the book more intelligible and more acceptable.

Here, as in the beginning of the book Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, the Preacher speaks of himself Ecclesiastes 12:8-10 in the third person. He first repeats Ecclesiastes 12:8 the mournful, perplexing theme with which his musings began Ecclesiastes 1:2; and then states the encouraging practical conclusion Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 to which they have led him. It has been pointed out that the Epilogue assumes the identity of the Preacher with the writer of the Book of Proverbs.

9. gave good heed—literally, "he weighed." The "teaching the people" seems to have been oral; the "proverbs," in writing. There must then have been auditories assembled to hear the inspired wisdom of the Preacher. See the explanation of Koheleth in the [669]Introduction, and [670]chapter 1 (1Ki 4:34).

that which is written, &c.—rather, (he sought) "to write down uprightly (or, 'aright') words of truth" [Holden and Weiss]. "Acceptable" means an agreeable style; "uprightly … truth," correct sentiment.

Acceptable words, Heb. desirable or delightful, worthy of all acceptation, such as would minister comfort and profit so the hearers or readers.

Written by the preacher in this and his other books.

Upright, Heb. right or straight, agreeable to the mind or will of God, which is the rule of right, not crooked or perverse.

Words of truth; not fables cunningly devised to deceive the simple, but true and certain doctrines, which commend themselves to men’s own consciences or reasons; wholesome and edifying counsels. The preacher sought to find out acceptable words,.... Not mere words, fine and florid ones, the words which man's wisdom teacheth, an elegant style, or eloquent language; not but that it is proper for a preacher to seek out and use words suitable and apt to convey right ideas to the minds of men of what he says; but doctrines are rather here meant, "words of desire", "delight", and "pleasure" (d), as the phrase may be rendered; even of God's good will and pleasure, so Alshech; for the same word is sometimes used of God in this book and elsewhere: see Ecclesiastes 3:1; and so may take in the doctrine of God's everlasting love to his people, and his delight and pleasure in them; of his good will towards them in sending Christ to suffer and die for them, and save them; in pardoning their sins through his blood, in which he delights; in regenerating and calling them by his grace, and revealing the things of the Gospel to them, when he hides them from others, which is all of his own will and pleasure, and as it seems good in his sight: or words and doctrines, which are desirable, pleasing, and acceptable unto men; not that Solomon did, or preachers should, seek to please men, or seek to say things merely for the sake of pleasing men, for then they would not be the servants of Christ; nor are the doctrines of the Gospel pleasing to carnal men, but the reverse: they gnash their teeth at them, as Christ's hearers did at him; the preaching of a crucified Christ is foolishness, and the things of the Spirit of God are insipid things, to natural men; they are enemies to the Gospel: but to sensible sinners they are very delightful, such as peace, pardon, righteousness, and salvation, by Christ, 1 Timothy 1:15; for the worth of them, they are more desirable to them than gold and silver, and are more delightful to the ear than the best of music, and more acceptable to the taste than honey or the honeycomb, Psalm 19:10;

and that which was written was upright; meaning what was written in this book, or in any other parts of Scripture, which the preacher sought out and inculcated; it was according to the mind and will of God, and to the rest of the sacred word; it was sincere, unmixed, and unadulterated with the doctrines and inventions of men; it showed that man had lost his uprightness, had none of himself, and where it was to be had, even in Christ; and was a means of making men sound, sincere, and upright at heart; and of directing them to walk uprightly, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in the world;

even words of truth; which come from the God of truth, that cannot lie, as all Scripture does; of which Christ, who is the truth, is the sum and substance; and which are inspired by the Spirit of truth, and led into by him, and made effectual to saving purposes; and which holds good of the whole Scripture, called the Scripture of truth, Daniel 10:1; and of the Gospel, which is the word of truth, and of every doctrine of it, John 17:17.

(d) "verba complacentiae vel beneplaciti", Vatablus; "verba desiderii", Amama, Rambachius; "verba delectabilia", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Mercerus, Gejerus; so Broughton; "verba voluptatis", Cocceius.

The preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.
10. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words] Literally, words of delight, or pleasure, as in chs. Ecclesiastes 5:4, Ecclesiastes 12:1. The phrase reminds us of “the words of grace” (Luke 4:22) which came from the lips of Him, who, as the Incarnate Wisdom of God, was, in very deed, greater than Solomon. The fact is stated as by way of apologia for the character of the book. The object of the teacher was to attract men by meeting, or seeming to meet, their inclinations, by falling in with the results of their own experience. We are reminded so far of the words of Lucretius:

“Nam veluti pueris absinthia tetra medentes,

Cum dare conantur, prius oras pocula circum

Contingunt mellis dulci, flavoque liquore,

Ut puerorum ætas improvida ludificetur

Labrorum tenus, interea perpotet amarum

Absinthî laticem, deceptaque non capiatur,

Sed potius tali pacto recreata valescat.”

“As those who heal the body, when they seek

To give to children wormwood’s nauseous juice,

First smear the cup’s rim with sweet golden honey,

That infant’s thoughtless age may be beguiled

Just to the margin’s edge, and so may drink

The wormwood’s bitter draught, beguiled, not tricked,

But rather gain thereby in strength and health.”

De Rer. Nat. iv. 11–17.

and that which was written was upright] The italics shew that the sentence is somewhat elliptical, and it is better to take the two sets of phrases in apposition with the “acceptable words” that precede them, even a writing of uprightness (i.e. of subjective sincerity), words of truth (in its objective sense). The words are, thus understood, a full testimony to the character of the book thus commended to the reader’s attention.Verse 10. - The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words; literally, words of delight; λόγους θελήματος (Septuagint); verba utilia (Vulgate); so Aquila, λόγους χρείας. The word chephets, "pleasure," occurs in Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 12:1. Thus we have "stones of pleasure" (Isaiah 54:12). He added the grace of refined diction to the solid sense of his utterances. Plumptre reminds us of the "gracious words" (λόγοις τῆς χάριτος, Luke 4:22) which proceeded from the mouth of him who, being the Incarnate Wisdom of God, was indeed greater than Solomon. On the necessity of a work being attractive as well as conforming to literary rules, Horace long ago wrote ('Ars Poet.,' 99) -

"Non satis est pulchra esse poemata; dulcia sunto,
Et quoeunque volent animum auditoris agunto."

"'Tis not enough that poems faultless be,
And fair; let them be tender too, and draw
The hearer by the cord of sympathy."
St. Augustine is copious on this subject in his treatise, 'De Doctr. Christ.;' thus (4:26): "Proinde ilia tria, ut intelligant qui audiunt, ut delectentur, ut obediant, etiam in hoc genere agendum est, ubi tenet delectatio principatum .... Sed quis movetur, si nescit quod dicitur? Ant quis tenetur ut audiat, si non delectatur?" And that which was written was upright, even words of truth. The Authorized Version, with its interpolations, does not accurately convey the sense of the original. The sentence is to be regarded as containing phrases in apposition to the "acceptable words" of the first clause; thus: "Koheleth sought to discover words of pleasure, and a writing in sincerity, words of truth. 'The Septuagint has, καὶ γεγραμμένον εὐθύτητος, "a writing of uprightness;" Vulgate, et conscripsit sermones rectissimos. The meaning is that what he wrote had two characteristics - it was sincere, that which he really thought and believed, and it was true objectively. If any reader was disposed to cavil, and to depreciate the worth of the treatise because it was not the genuine work of the celebrated Solomon, the writer claims attention to his production on the ground of its intrinsic qualities, as inspired by the same wisdom which animated his great predecessor. From the eyes the allegory proceeds to the mouth, and the repugnance of the old man to every noise disturbing his rest: "And the doors to the street are closed, when the mill sounds low; and he rises up at the voice of a bird; and all the daughters of song must lower themselves." By the door toward the street the Talm. and Midrash understand the pores or the emptying members of the body, - a meaning so far from being ignoble, that even in the Jewish morning prayer a Beracha is found in these words: "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who hast wisely formed man, and made for him manifold apertures and cavities. It is manifest and well known before the throne of Thy Majesty, that if one of these cavities is opened, or one of these apertures closed, it is impossible for him to exist and to stand before Thee; blessed art Thou, O Lord, the Physician of the body, and who doest wondrous words!" The words which follow הטּ ... בּשׁ are accordingly to be regarded as assigning a reason for this closing: the non-appearance of excretion has its reason in defective digestion in this, that the stomach does not grind (Talm.: וגו בשרקבן

(Note: Cf. Berachoth 61b: The stomach (קורקבן) grinds. As hamses is properly the caul of the ruminant, so this word קוּרקבן is the crop (bibl. מראה) of the bird.)

בשביל). But the dual דּלתים suggests a pair of similar and related members, and בּשּׁוּק a pair of members open before the eyes, and not such as modesty requires to be veiled. The Targum therefore understands the shutting of the doors properly; but the mills, after the indication lying in הטּ grinding maids, it understands of the organs of eating and tasting, for it translates: "thy feet will be fettered, so that thou canst not go out into the street; and appetite will fail thee." But that is an awkward amalgamation of the literal with the allegorical, which condemns itself by this, that it separates the close connection of the two expressions required by בּשׁפל, which also may be said of the reference of dlt' to the ears, into which no sound, even from the noisy market, penetrates (Gurlitt, Grtz). We have for דלתים a key, already found by Aben Ezra, in Job 41:2, where the jaws of the leviathan are called פּניו דּלתי; and as Herzf. and Hitz. explain, so Samuel Aripol in his Commentary, which appeared in Constantinople, 1855, rightly: "He calls the jaws דלתים, to denote that not two דלתות in two places, but in one place, are meant, after the manner of a door opening out to the street, which is large, and consists of two folds or wings, דלתות, which, like the lips (השׂפתים, better: the jaws), form a whole in two parts; and the meaning is, that at the time of old age the lips are closed and drawn in, because the teeth have disappeared, or, as the text says, because the noise of the mill is low, just because he has no teeth to grind with." The connection of סגּרוּ and בּשׁפל is, however, closer still: the jaws of an old man are closed externally, for the sound of the mill is low; i.e., since, when one masticates his food with the jaws of a toothless mouth, there is heard only a dull sound of this chewing (Mumpfelns, vid., Wiegand's Deut. W.B.), i.e., laborious masticating. He cannot any more crack or crunch and break his food, one hears only a dull munching and sucking. - The voice of the mouth (Bauer, Hitz., Gurlitt, Zckl.) cannot be the meaning of קול הט; the set of teeth (Gurlitt indeed substitutes, Ecclesiastes 12:3, the cavity of the mouth) is not the organ of voice, although it contributes to the formation of certain sounds of words, and is of importance for the full sound of the voice.

בּשּׁוּק, "to the street," is here equals on the street side; שׁפל is, as at Proverbs 16:19, infin. (Symmachus: ἀχρειωθείσης τῆς φωνῆς; the Venet.: ἐν τῷ ταπεινῶσθαι τὴν φωνήν), and is to be understood after Isaiah 29:4; טחנה stands for רחים, as the vulgar Arab. tahûn and matḥana instead of the antiquated raḥâ. Winzer now supposes that the picture of the night is continued in 4b: et subsistit (vox molae) ad cantum galli, et submissius canunt cantatrices (viz., molitrices). Elster, with Umbreit, supposes the description of a storm continued: the sparrow rises up to cry, and all the singing birds sink down (flutter restlessly on the ground). And Taylor supposes the lament for the dead continued, paraphrasing: But the bird of evil omen [owl, or raven] raises his dirge, and the merry voice of the singing girls is silent.

These three pictures, however, are mere fancies, and are also evidently here forced upon the text; for יקוט קול cannot mean subsistit vox, but, on the contrary (cf. Hosea 10:14), surgit (tollitur) vox; and יקום לקול cannot mean: it (the bird) raises itself to cry, which would have required יקום לתת קולו, or at least לקּול, after למלחמה קום, etc.; besides, it is to be presumed that צפור is genit., like קול עוגב and the like, not nom. of the subj. It is natural, with Hitz., Ewald, Heiligst., Zck., to refer qol tsippor to the peeping, whispering voice ("Childish treble" of Shakespeare) of the old man (cf. stiphtseph, Isaiah 29:4; Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 10:14; Isaiah 8:19). But the translation: "And it (the voice) approaches a sparrow's voice," is inadmissible, since for ל קום the meaning, "to pass from one state to another," cannot be proved from 1 Samuel 22:13; Micah 2:8; קום signifies there always "to rise up," and besides, qol tahhanah is not the voice of the mouth supplied with teeth, but the sound of the chewing of a toothless mouth. If leqol is connected with a verb of external movement, or of that of the soul, it always denotes the occasion of this movement, Numbers 16:34; Ezekiel 27:28; Job 21:12; Habakkuk 3:16. Influenced by this inalienable sense of the language, the Talm. explains צף ... ויקום by "even a bird awakes him." Thus also literally the Midrash, and accordingly the Targ. paraphrasing: "thou shalt awaken out of thy sleep for a bird, as for thieves breaking in at night." That is correct, only it is unnecessary to limit ויקוּם (or rather ויקום,

(Note: Vav with Cholem in H. F. Thus rightly, according to the Masora, which places it in the catalogue of those words which occur once with a higher (יקום) and once with a lower vowel (yקוּם), Mas. fin. 2a b, Ochlaweochla, No. 5; cf. also Aben Ezra's Comm. under Psalm 80:19; Zachoth 23a, Safa berura 21b (where Lipmann is uncertain as to the meaning).)

which accords with the still continued subordination of Ecclesiastes 12:4 to the eo die quo of Ecclesiastes 12:3) to rising up from sleep, as if it were synonymous with ויעור: the old man is weak (nervously weak) and easily frightened, and on account of the deadening of his senses (after the figure of Ecclesiastes 12:2, the darkening of the five stars) is so liable to mistake, that if even a bird chirps, he is frightened by it out of his rest (cf. hēkim, Isaiah 14:9).

Also in the interpretation of the clause haשׁיר ... וישּׁחוּ, the ancients are in the right track. The Talm. explains: even all music and song appear to him like common chattering (שׂוּחה or, according to other readings, שׂיחה); the proper meaning of ychsw is thus Haggad. twisted. Less correctly the Midrash: בנות השיר are his lips, or they are the reins which think, and the heart decides (on this curious psychol. conception, cf. Chullin 11a, and particularly Berachoth 61a, together with my Psychol. p. 269). The reference to the internal organs if priori improbable throughout; the Targ. with the right tact decides in favour of the lips: "And thy lips are untuned, so that they can no more say (sing) songs." In this translation of the Talm. there are compounded, as frequently, two different interpretations, viz., that interpretation of בן השׁ, which is proved by the כל going before to be incorrect, because impossible; and the interpretation of these "daughters of song" of "songs," as if these were synonymous designations, as when in Arab. misfortunes are called banatu binasan, and the like (vid., Lane's Lex. I p. ; בּת קול, which in Mish. denotes a separate voice (the voice of heaven), but in Syr. the separate word, may be compared. But ישׁחוּ (fut. Niph. of שׁחח) will not accord with this interpretation. For that בן השׁ denotes songs (Hitz., Heiligst.), or the sound of singing (Bttch.), or the words (Ewald) of the old man himself, which are now softened down so as to be scarcely audible, is yet too improbable; it is an insipid idea that the old man gives forth these feeble "daughters of song" from his mouth. We explain ישׁחו of a being bowed down, which is external to the old man, and accordingly understand benoth hashshir not of pieces of music (Aq. πάντα τὰ τῆς ᾠδῆς) which must be lowered to pianissimo, but according to the parallel already rightly acknowledge by Desvoeux, 2 Samuel 19:36, where the aged Barzillai says that he has now no longer an ear for the voice of singing men and singing women, of singing birds (cf. בּר זמירא of a singing bird in the Syrian fables of Sophos, and banoth of the branches of a fruit tree, Genesis 49:22), and, indeed, so that these are a figure of all creatures skilled in singing, and taking pleasure in it: all beings that are fond of singing, and to which it has become as a second nature, must lower themselves, viz., the voice of their song (Isaiah 29:4) (cf. the Kal, Psalm 35:14, and to the modal sense of the fut. Ecclesiastes 10:10, יגּבּר, and Ecclesiastes 10:19, ישׂמּח), i.e., must timidly retire, they dare not make themselves heard, because the old man, who is terrified by the twittering of a little bird, cannot bear it.

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