Ecclesiastes 12:12
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
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(12) Study.—The word occurs here only in the Old Testament; but is not a Talmudic word.

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.By these - i. e., "By the words of wise men."

Books - Rather, "Writings." Probably the proverbs current in the Preacher's age, including, though not especially indicating, his own.

The Preacher protests against the folly of protracted, unprofitable, meditation.

12. (See on [671]Ec 1:18).

many books—of mere human composition, opposed to "by these"; these inspired writings are the only sure source of "admonition."

(over much) study—in mere human books, wearies the body, without solidly profiting the soul.

By these; by these wise men, and their words or writings, of which he spoke in the foregoing verse.

Be admonished; take your instructions from them, for their words are right and true, as he said, Ecclesiastes 12:10, whereas the words of other men are false, or at best doubtful.

Of making many books there is no end; I could easily write many books and large volumes upon these matters, but that were an endless and needless work, seeing things necessary to be known and done lie in a little compass, as he informs us in the next verse.

Much study; the reading of many books written by learned philosophers about these things; which it is more than probable were then extant, though since lost, which also Solomon, being so curious and inquisitive a person, would in all likelihood procure anti peruse as far as he hail opportunity.

Is a weariness to the flesh; it wasteth a man’s strength and spirits, and yet (which is implied) doth not satisfy the mind, nor sufficiently recompense the trouble and inconvenience to which man is exposed by it.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished,.... Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, may be intended, for whose sake, more especially, this book might be written; though it may take in every hearer of this divine preacher, every disciple of this teacher, every subject of his kingdom, as well as every reader of this book, whom he thus addresses, and for whom he was affectionately concerned as a father for a son; that they might be enlightened with divine knowledge, warned of that which is evil, and admonished and advised to that which is good; "by these" words and writings of his own, and other wise men; and by these masters of assemblies, who, and their words, are from the one and chief Shepherd; to these they would do well to take heed, and to these only or chiefly. It may be rendered, "and what is the more excellent of these, he admonished" (k); to observe what is mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:13, and lies in a few words, "Fear God", &c. and especially Jesus Christ, the "Alpha" and "Omega", the sum and substance of the whole Bible; of what had been written in Solomon's time, and has been since: he is the most excellent part of it; or that which concerns him, in his person, offices, and grace: or thus; "and what is above", or "more than these, beware of" (l); do not trouble thyself with any other writings; these are sufficient, all that is useful and valuable is to be found in them; and as for others, if read, read them with care and caution, and only as serving to explain these, and to promote the same ends and designs, or otherwise to be rejected;

of making many books there is no end; many books, it seems, were written in Solomon's time; there was the same itch of writing as now, it may be; but what was written was not to be mentioned with the sacred writings, were comparatively useless and worthless. Or the sense is, should Solomon, or any other, write ever so many volumes, it would be quite needless; and there would be no end of writing, for these would not give satisfaction and contentment; and which yet was to be had in the word of God; and therefore that should be closely attended to: though this may be understood, not only of making or composing books, but of getting them, as Aben Ezra; of purchasing them, and so making them a man's own. A man may lay out his money, and fill his library with books, and be very little the better for them; what one writer affirms, another denies; what one seems to have proved clearly, another rises up and points out his errors and mistakes; and this occasions replies and rejoinders, so that there is no end of these things, and scarce any profit by them; which, without so much trouble, may be found in the writings of wise men, inspired by God, and in which we should rest contented;

and much study is a weariness of the flesh; the study of languages, and of each of the arts and sciences, and of various subjects in philosophy and divinity, particularly in writing books on any of these subjects; which study is as fatiguing to the body, and brings as much weariness on it, as any manual and mechanic operation; it dries up the moisture of the body, consumes the spirits, and gradually and insensibly impairs health, and brings on weakness, as well as weariness. Some render it, "much reading", as Jarchi, and so Mr. Broughton; and Aben Ezra observes, that the word in the Arabic language so signifies: the Arabic word "lahag" signifies to desire anything greedily, or to be greedily given and addicted to anything (m); and so may denote such kind of reading here, or such a person who is "helluo", a glutton at books, as Cato is said to be. And now reading books with such eagerness, and with constancy, is very wearisome, and is to little advantage; whereas reading the Scripture cheers and refreshes the mind, and is profitable and edifying. Gussetius (n) interprets it of much speaking, long orations, which make weary.

(k) "potius inquam ex istis", Junius & Tremellius; "quod potissimum ex istis", Gejerus. (l) "Et amplius his, fili mi, cave", Mercerus. (m) Vid. Castell. Lexic. col. 1874. who gives an instance of the use of this word in, the following sentence; "he that reads with mouth, but his heart is not with it"; and so Kimchi, in Sepher Shotash, fol. 74. fol. 2. explains the word here, "learning without understanding". (n) Ebr. Comment. p. 431.

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many {z} books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

(z) These things cannot be comprehended in books or learned by study, but God must instruct your heart that you may only know that wisdom is the true happiness and the way to it is to fear God.

12. And further, by these, my son, be admonished] Better, And for more than these (i.e. for all that lies beyond), be warned. The address “my son” is, as in Proverbs 1:1; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 10:15, that of the ideal teacher to his disciple. It is significant, as noted above, that this appears here for the first time in this book.

of making many books there is no end] The words, which would have been singularly inappropriate as applied to the scanty literature of the reign of the historical Solomon, manifestly point to a time when the teachers of Israel had come in contact with the literature of other countries, which overwhelmed them with its variety and copiousness, and the scholar is warned against trusting to that literature as a guide to wisdom. Of that copiousness, the Library at Alexandria with its countless volumes would be the great example, and the inscription over the portals of that at Thebes that it was the Hospital of the Soul (ἰατρεῖον ψυχῆς, Diodor. Sic. i. 49) invited men to study them as the remedy for their spiritual diseases. Conspicuous among these, as the most voluminous of all, were the writings of Demetrius Phalereus (Diog. Laert. v. 5. 9), and those of Epicurus, numbering three hundred volumes (Diog. Laert. x. 1. 17), and of his disciple Apollodorus, numbering four hundred (Diog. Laert. x. 1. 15), and these and other like writings, likely to unsettle the faith of a young Israelite, were probably in the Teacher’s thought. The teaching of the Jewish Rabbis at the time when Koheleth was written was chiefly oral, embodying itself in maxims and traditions, and the scantiness of its records must have presented a striking contrast to the abounding fulness of that of the philosophy of Greece. It was not till a much later period that these traditions of the elders were collected into the Mishna and the Gemara that make up the Talmud. Scholars sat at the feet of their teacher, and drank in his words, and handed them on to their successors. The words of the wise thus orally handed down are contrasted with the “many books.”

much study is a weariness of the flesh] The noun for “study” is not found elsewhere in the O. T., but there is no doubt as to its meaning. What men gain by the study of many books is, the writer seems to say, nothing but a headache, no guidance for conduct, no solution of the problems of the universe. They get, to use the phrase which Pliny (Epp. vii. 9) has made proverbial, “multa, non multum.” We are reminded of the saying of a higher Teacher that “one thing is needful” (Luke 10:42). The words of Marcus Aurelius, the representative of Stoicism, when he bids men to “free themselves from the thirst for books” (Medit. ii. 3), present a striking parallel. So again, “Art thou so unlettered that thou canst not read, yet canst thou abstain from wantonness, and be master of pain and pleasure (Meditt. vii. 8).

Verses 12-14. - The author warns against profitless study, and gives the final conclusion to which the whole discussion leads. Verse 12. - And further, by these, my son, be admonished; rather, and what is more than these, be warned. Besides all that has been said, take this additional and important caution, viz. what follows. The clause, however, has been differently interpreted, as if it said, "Do not attempt to go beyond the words of the sages mentioned above; or, "Be content with my counsels; they will suffice for your instruction." This seems to be the meaning of the Authorized Version. The personal address, "my son," so usual in the Book of Proverbs, is used by Koheleth in this place alone. It does not necessarily imply relationship (as if the pseudo-Solomon was appealing to Rehoboam), but rather the condition of pupil and learner, sitting at the feet of his teacher and friend. Of malting many books there is no end. This could not be said in the time of the historical Solomon, even if we reckon his own voluminous works (1 Kings 4:32, 33); for we know of no other writers of that date, and it is tolerably certain that none existed in Palestine. But we need not suppose that Koheleth is referring to extraneous heathen productions, of which, in our view, there is no evidence that he possessed any special knowledge. Doubtless many thinkers in his time had treated of the problems discussed in his volume in a far different manner from that herein employed, and it seemed good to utter a warning against the unprofitable reading of such productions. Juvenal speaks of the insatiable passion for writing in his day ('Sat.,' 7:51) -

"Tenet insanabile multos
Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senestit;"

which Dryden renders -

"The charms of poetry our souls bewitch;
The curse of writing is an endless itch."
As in taking food it is not the quantity which a man eats, but what he digests and assimilates, that nourishes him, so in reading, the rule, Non multa, sed multum, must be observed; the gorging the literary appetite on food wholesome or not impedes the healthy mental process, and produces no intellectual growth or strength. The obvious lesson drawn by spiritual writers is that Christians should make God's Word their chief study, "turning away from the profane babblings and oppositions of the knowledge which is falsely so called" (1 Timothy 6:20). For as St. Augustine says ('De Doctr. Christ.'), "Whereas in Holy Scripture you will find everything which has been profitably said elsewhere, to a far greater extent you will therein find what has been nowhere else enunciated, but which has been taught solely by the marvelous sublimity and the equally marvelous humility of the Word of God." Much study is a weariness of the flesh. The two clauses in the latter part of the verse are co-ordinate. Thus the Septuagint, Τοῦ ποιῆσαι βιβλία πολλὰ οὐκ ἔστι περασμὸς καὶ μελέτη πολλὴ κόπωσις ("weariness") σαρκός. The word for "study" (lahag) is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, nor in the Talmud, but the above meaning is sustained by its connection with an Arabic word signifying "to be eager for." The Vulgate (like the Septuagint) renders it meditatio. You may weary your brain, exhaust your strength, by protracted study or meditation on many books, but you will not necessarily thereby gain any insight into the problems of the universe or guidance for daily life. Marcus Aurelius dissuades from much reading: "Would you examine your whole composition?" he says; "pray, then let your library alone; what need you puzzle your thoughts and over-grasp yourself?" Again, "As for books, never be over-eager about them; such a fondness for reading will be apt to perplex your mind, and make you die unpleased" ('Medit.,' 2:2, 3, Collier). So Ben-Sira affirms, "The finding out of parables is a wearisome Labor of the mind" (Ecclus. 13:26). Ecclesiastes 12:12With veyother mehemmah the postscript takes a new departure, warning against too much reading, and finally pointing once more to the one thing needful: "And besides, my son, be warned: for there is no end of much book-making; and much study is a weariness of the body." With "my son," the teacher of wisdom here, as in the Book of Proverbs, addresses the disciple who places himself under his instruction. Hitzig translates, construing mehemmah with hizzaher: "And for the rest: by these (the 'words of Koheleth,' Ecclesiastes 12:10) be informed." But (1) נזהר, according to usage, does not signify in general to be taught, but to be made wiser, warned; particularly the imper. הזּהר is cogn. with השּׁמר (cf. Targ. Jer. Exo 10:28, אזדּהר לך equals השּׁמר לך), and in fact an object of the warning follows; (2) min after yothēr is naturally to be regarded as connected with it, and not with hizzaher (cf. Esther 6:6, Sota vii. 7; cf. Psalm 19:12). The punctuation of veyother and mehemmah is thus not to be interfered with. Either hēmmah points back to divre (Ecclesiastes 12:11): And as to what goes beyond these (in relation thereto) be warned (Schelling: quidquid ultra haec est, ab iis cave tibi, and thus e.g., Oehler in Herzog's R. E. vii. 248); or, which is more probable, since the divre are without a fixed beginning, and the difference between true and false "wise men" is not here expressed, hemmah refers back to all that has hitherto been said, and veyother mehemmah signifies not the result thereof (Ewald, 285e), but that which remains thereafter: and what is more than that (which has hitherto been said), i.e., what remains to be said after that hitherto said; Lat. et quod superest, quod reliquum est.

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, Hitzig also proposes a different interpunction from that which lies before us; but at the same time, in the place of the significant double sentence, he proposes a simple sentence: "to make many books, without end, and much exertion of mind (in making these), is a weariness of the body." The author thus gives the reason for his writing no more. But with Ecclesiastes 12:8 he has certainly brought his theme to a close, and he writes no further; because he does not write for hire and without an aim, but for a high end, according to a fixed plan; and whether he will leave off with this his book or not is a matter of perfect indifference to the readers of this one book; and that the writing of many books without end will exhaust a man's mind and bring down his body, is not that a flat truism? We rather prefer Herzfeld's translation, which harmonizes with Rashbam's: "But more than these (the wise men) can teach thee, my son, teach thyself: to make many books there would be no end; and much preaching is fatiguing to the body." But נזהר cannot mean to "teach oneself," and ēn qētz does not mean non esset finis, but non est finis; and for lahach the meaning "to preach" (which Luther also gives to it) is not at all shown from the Arab. lahjat, which signifies the tongue as that which is eager (to learn, etc.), and then also occurs as a choice name for tongues in general. Thus the idea of a double sentence, which is the most natural, is maintained, as the lxx has already rendered it. The n. actionis עשׂות with its object is the subject of the sentence, of which it is said een qeets, it is without end; Hitzig's opinion, that ēn qēts is a virtual adj., as ēn 'avel, Deuteronomy 33:4, and the like, and as such the pred. of the substantival sentence. Regarding להג, avidum discendi legendique studium. C. A. Bode (1777) renders well: polygraphiae nullus est finis et polymathia corpus delessat. Against this endless making of books and much study the postscript warns, for it says that this exhausts the bodily strength without (for this is the reverse side of the judgment) truly furthering the mind, which rather becomes decentralized by this polupragmosu'nee. The meaning of the warning accords with the phrase coined by Pliny (Ephesians 7.9), multum non multa. One ought to hold by the "words of the wise," to which also the "words of Koheleth," comprehended in the asuppah of the book before us, belong; for all that one can learn by hearing or by reading amounts at last, if we deduct all that is unessential and unenduring, to a unum necessarium:

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