Ecclesiastes 5:12
The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.
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Ecclesiastes 5:12. The sleep of a labouring man is sweet — Because he is free from those cares and fears wherewith the minds of rich men are often distracted, and their sleep disturbed; whether he eat little — For his weariness disposes him to sleep; or much — In which case his healthful constitution, and laborious course of life, prevent those crudities and indigestions which ofttimes break the sleep of rich men: but the abundance of the rich — Hebrew, השׂבע, the fullness, either, 1st, Of his diet, which commonly discomposes the rich man’s stomach, and hinders his rest: or, 2d, Of his wealth, which is generally attended with many perplexing cares, both by day and night. The Hebrew word is used in Scripture both ways, and probably is here intended to include both significations.

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.Labouring man - Not a slave (Septuagint), but everyone who, according to the divine direction, earns his bread in the sweat of his brow. 12. Another argument against anxiety to gain riches. "Sleep … sweet" answers to "quietness" (Ec 4:6); "not suffer … sleep," to "vexation of spirit." Fears for his wealth, and an overloaded stomach without "laboring" (compare Ec 4:5), will not suffer the rich oppressor to sleep. Is sweet; because he is free from those cares and fears, wherewith the minds of rich men are oft distracted, and their sleep disturbed.

Whether he eat little, then his weariness disposeth him to sleep, or much, in which case his healthful constitution and laborious course of life prevents those crudities and indigestions which ofttimes break the sleep of rich men.

The abundance, Heb. the fulness, either,

1. Of his diet, which commonly discomposeth their stomachs, and hinders their rest; or,

2. Of wealth, which is commonly attended with many perplexing cares, which disquiet men both by day and by night. The Hebrew word is used in Scripture both ways, and possibly it is thus generally expressed to include both significations.

The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much,.... Or "of a servant" (i), who enjoys sleep equally as a king; a tiller of the ground, as Jarchi; who also interprets it of one that serves the Lord, as likewise the Targum; a beloved one of his, to whom he gives sleep, Psalm 127:2. A refreshing sleep is always reckoned a great mercy and blessing, and which labouring men enjoy with sweetness (k); for if they have but little to eat at supper, yet coming weary from their work, sleep is easily brought on when they lie down, and sound sleep they have, and rise in the morning lively and active, and fit for business; or, if they eat more plentifully, yet through their labour they have a good digestion, and their sleep is not hindered: so that should it be answered to the above question, what has the master more than the servant, though he eats and drinks more freely, and of the best, and lives voluptuously? yet it may be replied, that, in the business of sleep, the labouring man has the preference to him; which must be owned to be a great blessing of life, and is often interrupted by excessive eating and drinking;

but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep; either the abundance of food which he eats, which loads his stomach, and fills his head with vapours, and makes him restless, so that he can get no sleep, or what he does get is very uncomfortable: or the abundance of his riches fills him with cares, what he shall do with them, and how to keep and increase them; and with fears, lest thieves should break in and take them away from him, so that he cannot sleep quietly (l). The Targum is,

"sweet is the sleep of a man that serves the Lord of the world with a perfect heart; and he shall have rest in the house of his grave, whether he lives a few years or more, &c;''

and much to the same purpose Jarchi; and who says, it is thus interpreted in an ancient book of theirs, called Tanchuma.

(i) , Sept. "servi", Arab. "i.e. agricolae", Drusius, Rambachius; "qui par regi famuloque venis", Senec. Hercul. Fur. v. 1073. (k) "Somnus agrestium lenis", &c. Horat. Carmin. l. 3. Ode 1. v. 21, 22. (l) "Ne noctu, nec diu quietus unquam eam", Plauti Aulularia, Acts 1. Sc. 1. v. 23. "Aurea rumpunt tecta quietem", Senec. Hercul. Oet. v. 646.

The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eateth little or much: but the {i} abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep.

(i) That is, his great abundance of riches, or the surfeiting, which comes by his great feeding.

12. The sleep of a labouring man is sweet] We may probably, as suggested in the “Ideal Biography” of the Introduction ch. iii., see in this reflection the reminiscence of a state with which the writer had once been familiar, and after which, now that it had passed away, he yearned regretfully. Again we get on the track of the maxims of Epicurean teachers. So Horace;

“Somnus agrestium

Lenis virorum non humiles domos

Fastidit umbrosamque ripam,

Non Zephyris agitata Tempe.”

“Gentle slumber scorneth not

The ploughman’s poor and lowly cot,

Nor yet the bank with sheltering shade,

Nor Tempe with its breezy glade.”

Od. iii. 1. 21–24.

See the passage from Virgil, Georg. iv., already quoted in the note on ch. Ecclesiastes 2:24, and

“Gives not the hawthorn-bush a sweeter shade

To shepherds looking on their silly sheep,

Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy

To kings that fear their subjects’ treachery?

O, yes, it doth; a thousand-fold it doth.

And to conclude, the shepherd’s homely curds,

His cold thin drink out of his leather bottle,

His wonted sleep under a fresh tree’s shade,

All which secure and sweetly he enjoys,

Is far beyond a prince’s delicates,

His viands sparkling in a golden cup,

His body couched in a curious bed,

When care, mistrust, and treason wait on him.”

Shakespeare, Henry VI. Act ii. Sc. 5.

Verse 12. - Another inconvenience of great wealth - it robs a man of his sleep. The sleep of a laboring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much. The laborer is the husbandman, the tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:2). The Septuagint, with a different pointing, renders δούλου, "slave," which is less appropriate, the fact being generally true of free or bond man. Whether his fare be plentiful or scanty, the honest laborer earns and enjoys his night's rest. But the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep. The allusion is not to the overloading of the stomach, which might occasion sleeplessness in the case of the poor equally with the rich man, but to the cares and anxieties which wealth brings. "Not a soft couch, nor a bedstead overlaid with silver, nor the quietness that exists throughout the house, nor any other circumstance of this nature, are so generally wont to make sleep sweet and pleasant, as that of laboring, and growing weary, and lying down with a disposition to sleep, and very greatly needing it .... Not so the rich. On the contrary, whilst lying on their beds, they are frequently without sleep through the whole night; and, though they devise many schemes, they do not obtain such pleasure" (St. Chrysostom, 'Hom. on Stat.,' 22). The contrast between the grateful sleep of the tired worker and the disturbed rest of the avaricious and moneyed and luxurious has formed a fruitful theme for poets. Thus Horace, 'Carm.,' 3:1.21 -

"Somnus agrestium
Lenis virorum non humiles domes
Fastidit umbrosamque ripam,
Non Zephyris agitata Tempe."

"Yet sleep turns never from the lowly shed
Of humbler-minded men, nor from the eaves
In Tempe's graceful vale is banished,
Where only Zephyrs stir the murmuring leaves."

(Stanley.) And the reverse, 'Sat.,' 1:1.76, sqq. -

"An vigilare metu exanimem, noctesque diesque
Formidare males fures, inccndia, serves,
Ne to compilent fugientes, hoc juvat?"

"But what are your indulgencies? All day,
All night, to watch and shudder with dismay,
Lest ruffians fire your house, or slaves by stealth
Rifle your coffers, and abstract your wealth?
If this be affluence - this her boasted fruit,
Of all such joys may I live destitute."

(Howes.) Comp. Juvenal, 'Sat.,' 10:12, sqq.; 14:304. Shakespeare, 'Henry IV.,' Pt. II., act 3. sc. 1 -

"Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,
And hush'd with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?"
Ecclesiastes 5:12He can also eat that which is good, and can eat much; but he does not on that account sleep more quietly than the labourer who lives from hand to mouth: "Sweet is the sleep of the labourer, whether he eats little or much; but, on the contrary, the abundance of the rich does not permit him to sleep." The lxx, instead of "labourer," uses the word "slave" (δούλου), as if the original were העבד. But, as a rule, sound sleep is the reward of earnest labour; and since there are idle servants as well as active masters, there is no privilege to servants. The Venet. renders rightly by "of the husbandman" (ἐργάτου), the האדמה עבד; the "labourer" in general is called עמל, Ecclesiastes 4:8 and Judges 5:26, post-bibl. פּעל. The labourer enjoys sweet, i.e., refreshing, sound sleep, whether his fare be abundant of scanty - the labour rewards him by sweet sleep, notwithstanding his poverty; while, on the contrary, the sleep of the rich is hindered and disturbed by his abundance, not: by his satiety, viz., repletion, as Jerome remarks: incocto cibo in stomachi angustiis aestuante; for the labourer also, if he eats much, eats his fill; and why should sufficiency have a different result in the one from what is has in the other? As שׂבע means satiety, not over-satiety; so, on the other hand, it means, objectively, sufficient and plentifully existing fulness to meet the wants of man, Proverbs 3:10, and the word is meant thus objectively here: the fulness of possession which the rich has at his disposal does not permit him to sleep, for all kinds of projects, cares, anxieties regarding it rise within him, which follow him into the night, and do not suffer his mind to be at rest, which is a condition of sleep. The expression השּׂ לע is the circumlocutio of the genit. relation, like לב ... חל, Ruth 2:3; נע ... אם (lxx Αμνὼν τῆσ ̓Αχινόαμ), 2 Samuel 3:2. Heiligstedt remarks that it stands for שׂבע העשׁיר; but the nouns צמא, רעב ,צמא snuon, שׂבע form no const., for which reason the circumloc. was necessary; שׂבע is the constr. of שׂבע. Falsely, Ginsburg: "aber der Ueberfluss den Reichen - er lsst ihn nicht schlafen" but superabundance the rich - it doth not suffer him to sleep; but this construction is neither in accordance with the genius of the German nor of the Heb. language. Only the subject is resumed in איננּוּ (as in Ecclesiastes 1:7); the construction of הניח is as at 1 Chronicles 16:21; cf. Psalm 105:14. Of the two Hiphil forms, the properly Heb. הניח and the Aramaizing הנּיח, the latter is used in the weakened meaning of ἐᾶν, sinere.

After showing that riches bring to their possessor no real gain, but, instead of that, dispeace, care, and unrest, the author records as a great evil the loss, sometimes suddenly, of wealth carefully amassed.

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