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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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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 propriety.in 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?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.) "When thou hast made a vow to God, delay not to fulfil it; for there is no pleasure in fools: that which thou hast vowed fulfil. Better that thou vowest not, than that thou vowest and fulfillest not. Let not thy mouth bring thy body into punishment; and say not before the messenger of God that it was precipitation: why shall God be angry at thy talk, and destroy the work of thy hands? For in many dreams and words there are also many vanities: much rather fear God!" If they abstained, after Shabbath 30b, from treating the Book of Koheleth as apocryphal, because it begins with תורה דברי (cf. at Ecclesiastes 1:3) and closes in the same way, and hence warrants the conclusion that that which lies between will also be תורה דברי, this is in a special manner true of the passage before us regarding the vow which, in thought and expression, is the echo of Deuteronomy 23:22-24. Instead of kaashěr tiddor, we find there the words ki tiddor; instead of lelohim ( equals lěělohim, always only of the one true God), there we have lahovah ělohěcha; and instead of al-teahher, there lo teahher. There the reason is: "for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee;" here: for there is no pleasure in fools, i.e., it is not possible that any one, not to speak of God, could have a particular inclination toward fools, who speak in vain, and make promises in which their heart is not, and which they do not keep. Whatever thou vowest, continues Koheleth, fulfil it; it is better (Ewald, 336a) that thou vowest not, than to vow and not to pay; for which the Tra says: "If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee" (Deuteronomy 23:22). נדר, which, according to the stem-word, denotes first the vow of consecration of setting apart (cogn. Arab. nadar, to separate, נזר, whence נזיר), the so-called אסר [vid. Numbers 30:3], is here a vow in its widest sense; the author, however, may have had, as there, the law (cf. Ecclesiastes 5:2-4), especially shalme něděr, in view, i.e., such peace-offerings as the law does not enjoin, but which the offerer promises (cogn. with the shalme nedavah, i.e., such as rest on free-will, but not on any obligation arising from a previous promise) from his own inclination, for the event that God may do this or that for him. The verb שׁלּם is not, however, related to this name for sacrifices, as חטּא is to חטּאת, but denotes the fulfilling or discharge as a performance fully accordant with duty. To the expression חטא ... היה (twice occurring in the passage of Deut. referred to above) there is added the warning: let not thy mouth bring thy body into sin. The verb nathan, with Lamed and the inf. following, signifies to allow, to permit, Genesis 20:6; Judges 1:34; Job 31:30. The inf. is with equal right translated: not to bring into punishment; for חטא - the syncop. Hiph. of which, according to an old, and, in the Pentateuch, favourite form, is לחטיא - signifies to sin, and also (e.g., Genesis 39:9; cf. the play on the word, Hosea 8:11) to expiate sin; sin-burdened and guilty, or liable to punishment, mean the same thing. Incorrectly, Ginsburg, Zck., and others: "Do not suffer thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin;" for (1) the formula: "the flesh sins," is not in accordance with the formation of O.T. ideas; the N.T., it is true, uses the expression σὰρξ ἁμαρτίας, Romans 8:3, but not ἁμαρτάνουσα, that which sins is not the flesh, but the will determined by the flesh, or by fleshly lust; (2) the mouth here is not merely that which leads to sin, but the person who sins through thoughtless haste, - who, by his haste, brings sin upon his flesh, for this suffers, for the breach of vow, by penalties inflicted by God; the mouth is, like the eye and the hand, a member of the ὃλον τὸ σῶμα (Matthew 5:24.), which is here called בשׂר; the whole man in its sensitive nature (opp. לב, Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 11:10; Proverbs 14:30) has to suffer chastisement on account of that which the mouth hath spoken. Gesen. compares this passage, correctly, with Deuteronomy 24:4, for the meaning peccati reum facere; Isaiah 29:21 is also similar.

The further warning refers to the lessening of the sin of a rash vow unfulfilled as an unintentional, easily expiable offence: "and say not before the messenger of God that it was a שׁגגה, a sin of weakness." Without doubt hammǎlāch is an official byname of a priest, and that such as was in common use at the time of the author. But as for the rest, it is not easy to make the matter of the warning clear. That it is not easy, may be concluded from this, that with Jewish interpreters it lies remote to think of a priest in the word hammǎlāch. By this word the Targ. understands the angel to whom the execution of the sentence of punishment shall be committed on the day of judgment; Aben Ezra: the angel who writes down all the words of a man; similarly Jerome, after his Jewish teacher. Under this passage Ginsburg has an entire excursus regarding the angels. The lxx and Syr. translate "before God," as if the words of the text were אל נגד, Psalm 138:1, or as if hammalach could of itself mean God, as presenting Himself in history. Supposing that hammalach is the official name of a man, and that of a priest, we appear to be under the necessity of imagining that he who is charged with the obligation of a vow turns to the priest with the desire that he would release him from it, and thus dissolve (bibl. הפיר, Mishnic התּיר) the vow. But there is no evidence that the priests had the power of releasing from vows. Individual cases in which a husband can dissolve the vow of his wife, and a father the vow of his daughter, are enumerated in Numbers 30; besides, in the traditional law, we find the sentence: "A vow, which one who makes it repents of, can be dissolved by a learned man (חכם), or, where none is present, by three laymen," Bechoroth 36b; the matter cannot be settled by any middle person (שׁליח), but he who has taken the vow (הנודר) must appear personally, Jore deah c. 228, 16. Of the priest as such nothing is said here. Therefore the passage cannot at all be traditionally understood of an official dissolution of an oath. Where the Talm. applies it juristically, Shabbath 32b, etc., Rashi explains hammalach by gizbar shěl-haqdesh, i.e., treasurer of the revenues of the sanctuary; and in the Comm. to Koheleth he supposes that some one has publicly resolved on an act of charity (צדקה), i.e., has determined it with himself, and that now the representative of the congregation (שׁליח) comes to demand it. But that is altogether fanciful. If we proceed on the idea that liphne hammalach is of the same meaning as liphne hakkohen, Leviticus 27:8, Leviticus 27:11; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 27:2, etc., we have then to derive the figure from such passages relating to the law of sacrifice as Numbers 15:22-26, from which the words ki shegagah hi (Numbers 15:25) originate. We have to suppose that he who has made a vow, and has not kept it, comes to terms with God with an easier and less costly offering, since in the confession (ודּוּי) which he makes before the priest he explains that the vow was a shegagah, a declaration that inconsiderately escaped him. The author, in giving it to be understood that under these circumstances the offering of the sacrifice is just the direct contrary of a good work, calls to the conscience of the inconsiderate נודר: why should God be angry on account of thy voice with which thou dost excuse thy sins of omission, and destroy (vid., regarding חבּל under Isaiah 10:27) the work of thy hands (vid., under Psalm 90:17), for He destroys what thou hast done, and causes to fail what thou purposest? The question with lammah resembles those in Ezra 4:22; Ezra 7:23, and is of the same kind as at Ecclesiastes 7:16.; it leads us to consider what a mad self-destruction that would be (Jeremiah 44:7, cf. under Isaiah 1:5).

The reason for the foregoing admonition now following places the inconsiderate vow under the general rubric of inconsiderate words. We cannot succeed in interpreting Ecclesiastes 5:6 [7] (in so far as we do not supply, after the lxx and Syr. with the Targ.: ne credas; or better, with Ginsburg, היא equals it is) without taking one of the vavs in the sense of "also." That the Heb. vav, like the Greek καί, the Lat. et, may have this comparative or intensifying sense rising above that which is purely copulative, is seen from e.g., Numbers 9:14, cf. also Joshua 14:11. In many cases, it is true, we are not under the necessity of translating vav by "also;" but since the "and" here does not merely externally connect, but expresses correlation of things homogeneous, an "also" or a similar particle involuntarily substitutes itself for the "and," e.g., Genesis 17:20 (Jerome): super Ismael quoque; Exodus 29:8 : filios quoque; Deuteronomy 1:32 : et nec sic quidem credidistis; Deuteronomy 9:8 : nam et in Horeb; cf. Joshua 15:19; 1 Samuel 25:43; 2 Samuel 19:25; 1 Kings 2:22; 1 Kings 11:26; Isaiah 49:6, "I have also given to thee." But there are also passages in which it cannot be otherwise translated than by "also." We do not reckon among these Psalm 31:12, where we do not translate "also my neighbours," and Amos 4:10, where the words are to be translated, "and that in your nostrils." On the contrary, Isaiah 32:7 is scarcely otherwise to be translated than "also when the poor maketh good his right," like 2 Samuel 1:23, "also in their death they are not divided." In 2 Chronicles 27:5, in like manner, the two vavs are scarcely correlative, but we have, with Keil, to translate, "also in the second and third year." And in Hosea 8:6, והוּא, at least according to the punctuation, signifies "also it," as Jerome translates: ex Israele et ipse est. According to the interpunction of the passage before us, וּד הר is the pred., and thus, with the Venet., is to be translated: "For in many dreams and vanities there are also many words." We could at all events render the vav, as also at Ecclesiastes 10:11; Exodus 16:6, as vav apod.; but וגו בּרב has not the character of a virtual antecedent, - the meaning of the expression remains as for the rest the same; but Hitzig's objection is of force against it (as also against Ewald's disposition of the words, like the of Symmachus, Jerome, and Luther: "for where there are many dreams, there are also vanities, and many words"), that it does not accord with the connection, which certainly in the first place requires a reason referable to inconsiderate talk, and that the second half is, in fact, erroneous, for between dreams and many words there exists no necessary inward mutual relation. Hitzig, as Knobel before him, seeks to help this, for he explains: "for in many dreams are also vanities, i.e., things from which nothing comes, and (the like) in many words." But not only is this assumed carrying forward of the ב doubtful, but the principal thing would be made a secondary matter, and would drag heavily. The relation in _Ecc 5:2 is different where vav is that of comparison, and that which is compared follows the comparison. Apparently the text (although the lxx had it before them, as it is before us) has undergone dislocation, and is thus to be arranged: כי ברב חלמת ודברים הרבה והבלים: for in many dreams and many words there are also vanities, i.e., illusions by which one deceives himself and others. Thus also Bullock renders, but without assigning a reason for it. That dreams are named first, arises from a reference back to Ecclesiastes 5:2, according to which they are the images of what a man is externally and mentally busied and engaged with. But the principal stress lies on ודברים הרבה, to which also the too rash, inconsiderate vows belong. The pred. והבלים, however, connects itself with "vanity of vanities," which is Koheleth's final judgment regarding all that is earthly. The כי following connects itself with the thought lying in 6a, that much talk, like being much given to dreams, ought to be avoided: it ought not to be; much rather (imo, Symm. ἀλλά) fear God, Him before whom one should say nothing, but that which contains in it the whole heart.

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