Ecclesiastes 5:11
When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?
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5:9-17 The goodness of Providence is more equally distributed than appears to a careless observer. The king needs the common things of life, and the poor share them; they relish their morsel better than he does his luxuries. There are bodily desires which silver itself will not satisfy, much less will worldly abundance satisfy spiritual desires. The more men have, the better house they must keep, the more servants they must employ, the more guests they must entertain, and the more they will have hanging on them. The sleep of the labourer is sweet, not only because he is tired, but because he has little care to break his sleep. The sleep of the diligent Christian, and his long sleep, are sweet; having spent himself and his time in the service of God, he can cheerfully repose in God as his Rest. But those who have every thing else, often fail to secure a good night's sleep; their abundance breaks their rest. Riches do hurt, and draw away the heart from God and duty. Men do hurt with their riches, not only gratifying their own lusts, but oppressing others, and dealing hardly with them. They will see that they have laboured for the wind, when, at death, they find the profit of their labour is all gone like the wind, they know not whither. How ill the covetous worldling bears the calamities of human life! He does not sorrow to repentance, but is angry at the providence of God, angry at all about him; which doubles his affliction.They ... that eat them - i. e., The laborers employed, and the household servants. 11. they … that eat them—the rich man's dependents (Ps 23:5). They are increased that eat them; they require and are more commonly attended with a numerous company of servants, and friends, and retinues to consume them; which is a great torment to a covetous man, of whom he here speaks.

What good is there to the owners thereof? what benefit hath he above others, who feed upon his provisions, and enjoy the same comforts which he doth, without his fears, and cares, and troubles about them?

The beholding of them with their eyes; either,

1. With a reflection upon his them. Or,

2. With unlimited freedom. He can go and look upon his bags or chests of silver as long and as oft as he pleaseth, whereas other men are seldom admitted to that prospect, and see only some few of the fruits or purchases of it.

When goods increase, they are increased that eat them,.... When a man's substance increases by trade, or otherwise, very often so it is that his family increases, and he has more mouths to feed, and backs to clothe; or his estate growing larger, if he lives suitably to it, he must keep more servants; and these, as they have but little work to do, are described by their eating, rather than by their working; and besides, such a growing man in the world has more friends and visitors that come about him, and eat with him, as well as the poor, which wait upon him to receive his alms: and if his farms, and his fields, and his flocks, are enlarged, he must have more husbandmen, and labourers, and shepherds to look after them, who all must be maintained. So Pheraulas in Xenophon (h) observes,

"that now he was possessed of much, that he neither ate, nor drank, nor slept the sweeter for it; what he got by his plenty was, that he had more committed to his keeping, and more to distribute to others; he had more care and more business, with trouble; for now, says he, many servants require food of me, many drink, many clothing, some need physicians, &c. it must needs be, adds he, that they that possess much must spend much on the gods, on friends, and on guests;''

and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? he can go into his grounds, his fields, and his meadows to behold his flocks and his herds, and can say, all these are mine; he can go into his chambers and open his treasures, and feed his eyes with looking upon his bags of gold and silver, his jewels, and other riches; he can behold a multitude of people at his table, eating at his expense, and more maintained at his cost: and, if a liberal man, it may be a pleasure to him; if otherwise, it will give him pain: and, excepting these, he enjoys no more than food and raiment; and often so it is, that even his very servants have in some things the advantage of him, as follows. The Targum is,

"what profit is there to the owner thereof who gathers it, unless he does good with it, that he may see the gift of the reward with his eyes in the world to come?''

Jarchi interprets it after this manner,

"when men bring many freewill offerings, the priests are increased that eat them; and what good is to the owner of them, the Lord, but the sight of his eyes, who says, and his will is done?''

(h) Cyropaedia, l. 8. c. 26.

When goods increase, they are increased that eat them: and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?
11. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them] The fact is one which has met the gaze of the moralists of all countries. A large household, numerous retainers, these are but so many elements of trouble. In the dialogue of Crœsus and Solon (Herod. i. 32), yet more closely in that of Pheraulas and Sacian (quoted by Ginsburg) in Xenophon (Cyrop. viii. 3, pp. 35–44), we have distinct parallels. The latter presents so striking a resemblance as to be worth quoting, “Do you think, Sacian, that I live with the more pleasure the more I possess.… By having this abundance, I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand of me their food, their drink, and their clothes … Whosoever, therefore, is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel much annoyed at the expenditure of them.”

saving the beholding of them with their eyes] So Horace paints the miser:

“Congestis undique saccis

Indormis inhians, et tanquam parcere sacris

Cogeris, aut pictis tanquam gaudere tabellis.”

“Sleepless thou gazest on thy heaped-up bags,

And yet art forced to hold thy hand from them,

As though they were too sacred to be touched,

Or were but painted pictures for thine eyes.”

Sat. i. 1. 66.

Verse 11. - Koheleth proceeds to notice some of the inconveniences which accompany wealth, which go far to prove that God is over all. When goods increase, they are increased that eat them. The more riches a man possesses, the greater are the claims upon him. He increases his household, retainers, and dependents, and is really none the better off for all his wealth. So Job in his prosperous days is said to have had "a very great household" (Job 1:3), and the servants and laborers employed by Solomon must have taxed to the utmost even his abnormal resources (1 Kings 5:13, etc.). Commentators from Piueda downwards have quoted the remarkable parallel in Xenoph., 'Cyropaed.,' 8:3, wherein the wealthy Persian Pheraulas, who had risen from poverty to high estate, disabuses a young Sacian friend of the idea that his riches made him happier or afforded supreme content. "Do you not know," said he," that I neither eat, nor drink, nor sleep with any more pleasure now than I did when I was poor? by having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more among others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more. For now numerous domestics demand of me food, drink, clothes; some want the doctor; one comes and brings me sheep that have been torn by wolves, or oxen killed by failing down a precipice, or tells of a murrain that has affected the cattle; so that I seem to myself to have more afflictions in my abundance than I had when I was poor,... It is obligatory on him who possesses much to expend much both on the gods and on friends and on strangers; and whosoever is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, you may be assured, be greatly annoyed at the expenditure of them." What good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes? What it is that the owners behold is doubtful. Ginsburg considers that the increased number of devourers is meant; but surely this sight could hardly be called kishron, "success, profit." So it is better to take the sight to be the amassed wealth. The contemplation of this is the only enjoyment that the possessor realizes. So the Vulgate, Et quid prodest possessori, nisi quod cernit divitias oculis suis? Septuagint, Καὶ τί ἀνδρεία τῷ παρ αὐτῆς ὅτι ἀρχὴ τοῦ ὁρᾷν ὀφθαλμοῖς αὐτοῦ," And in what does the excellence of the owner consist? except the power of seeing it with his eyes." A Lapide quotes Horace's portrait of the miser ('Sat.,' 1:1.66, sqq.)

"Populus me sibilat; ut mihi plaudo
Ipse domi, simul ac, nummos contemplor in area...
... congestis undique saccis
Indormis inhians et tanquam parcere sacris
Cogeris aut pictis tanquam gaudere tabellis."

"He, when the people hissed, would turn about,
And dryly thus accost the rabble-rout:
Hiss on; heed you not, ye saucy wags,
While self-applauses greet me o'er my bags."

O'er countless heaps in nicest order stored,
You pore agape, and gaze upon the hoard,
As relics to be laid with reverence by,
Or pictures only meant to please the eye."

(Howes.) Ecclesiastes 5:11"When property and goods increase, they become many who consume them; and what advantage hath the owner thereof but the sight of them with his eyes?" The verb רבה signifies to increase, the רבב, to be many; but also (which Bttch. denies) inchoatively: to become many, Genesis 6:1; rightly, the lxx, ἐπληθύνθησαν. The author has not a miser in view, who shuts up his money in chests, and only feeds himself in looking at it with closed doors; but a covetous man, of the sort spoken of in Psalm 49:12; Isaiah 5:8. If the hattovah, the possession of such an one, increases, in like manner the number of people whom he must maintain increases also, and thus the number of those who eat of it along with him, and at the same time also his disquiet and care, increase; and what advantage, what useful result (vid., regarding Kishron, above, p. 638, and under Ecclesiastes 2:21) has the owner of these good things from them but the beholding of them (reith; Kerı̂, reuth; cf. the reverse case, Psalm 126:4)? - the possession does not in itself bring happiness, for it is never great enough to satisfy him, but is yet great enough to fill him with great care as to whether he may be able to support the demands of so great a household: the fortune which it brings to him consists finally only in this, that he can look on all he has accumulated with proud self-complacency.
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