Ecclesiastes 5:12
The sleep of a laboring 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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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
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.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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?"
"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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