Ecclesiastes 5:6
Suffer not your mouth to cause your flesh to sin; neither say you before the angel, that it was an error: why should God be angry at your voice, and destroy the work of your hands?
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(6) The angel.—It has been proposed to translate this word the “messenger,” or ambassador of God, and understand “the priest” (see Malachi 2:7); and it has been regarded as one of the notes of later date in this book that the word should be used in such a sense. But even in the passage of Malachi there is no trace that the word “angel” had then become an ordinary name for the priest, such as would be intelligible if used in that sense without explanation from the context. Neither, again, is there reason for supposing that the priest had power to dispense with vows alleged to have been rashly undertaken. The power given him (Leviticus 27) is of a different nature. I therefore adhere to the obvious sense, which suggests that the real vow is observed and recorded by a heavenly angel. It falls in with this view that the phrase is “before the angel.” If an excuse pleaded to a priest was intended, we should have, “Say not thou to the priest.”

Error.—The word is that which describes sins of ignorance (Numbers 15). The tacit assumption in this verse, that God interposes to punish when His name is taken in vain, clearly expresses the writer’s real conviction, and shows that such a verse as Ecclesiastes 9:2 is only the statement of a speculative difficulty.

Ecclesiastes 5:6. Suffer not thy mouth — By any rash vow, or in any other way; to cause thy flesh to sin — That is, thyself: the word flesh being often put for the whole man; neither say thou before the angel — That is, as some interpret the expression, before the blessed angels, (the singular number being put for the plural,) who are present in the public assemblies, in which these vows were generally paid, (Psalm 66:13,) where they observe men’s religious performances, (1 Corinthians 11:10,) and, as they rejoice in the conversion of a sinner, so are displeased with the sins of men. Or, 2d, Christ may be meant, the Angel of the covenant, as he is called Malachi 3:1; who, even in these ancient times, acted as God’s messenger, appearing and speaking to the patriarchs and prophets in his Father’s name; and who was, and, according to his promise, is, in an especial manner, present in all religious assemblies, observing the whole conduct of all that worship in them. Or, 3d, as many think more probable, the priest, or minister of holy things, is here intended. Such persons are often called angels, or, as the Hebrew word here used is commonly rendered, messengers. And this title may be given to the priest here, because the vow made to God was to be paid to the priest, as one standing and acting in God’s name and stead; and it belonged to him, as God’s angel or ambassador, to discharge persons from their vows when there was just occasion. It was an error — I did unadvisedly in making such a vow. Wherefore should God be angry — Why wilt thou provoke God to anger by these frivolous excuses? And destroy the work of thy hands — Blast all thy labours, and particularly that work or enterprise for the success whereof thou didst make these vows.5:4-8 When a person made engagements rashly, he suffered his mouth to cause his flesh to sin. The case supposes a man coming to the priest, and pretending that his vow was made rashly, and that it would be wrong to fulfil it. Such mockery of God would bring the Divine displeasure, which might blast what was thus unduly kept. We are to keep down the fear of man. Set God before thee; then, if thou seest the oppression of the poor, thou wilt not find fault with Divine Providence; nor think the worse of the institution of magistracy, when thou seest the ends of it thus perverted; nor of religion, when thou seest it will not secure men from suffering wrong. But though oppressors may be secure, God will reckon for all.Suffer not thy mouth ... - i. e., Do not make rash vows which may hereafter be the cause of evasion and prevarication, and remain unfulfilled.

Before the angel - The Septuagint and some other versions render "before the face of God," meaning a spiritual being representing the presence of God, a minister of divine justice Exodus 23:21, such a one as inflicted judgment upon David 2 Samuel 24:17. Others, with less probability, understand the angel to be a priest, and refer to Malachi 2:7.

6. thy flesh—Vow not with "thy mouth" a vow (for example, fasting), which the lusts of the flesh ("body," Ec 2:3, Margin) may tempt thee to break (Pr 20:25).

angel—the "messenger" of God (Job 33:23); minister (Re 1:20); that is, the priest (Mal 2:7) "before" whom a breach of a vow was to be confessed (Le 5:4, 5). We, Christians, in our vows (for example, at baptism, the Lord's Supper, &c.) vow in the presence of Jesus Christ, "the angel of the covenant" (Mal 3:1), and of ministering angels as witnesses (1Co 11:10; 1Ti 5:21). Extenuate not any breach of them as a slight error.

Suffer not thy mouth, by uttering any rash or foolish vow.

Thy flesh, i. e. thyself, the word flesh being oft put for the whole man, as Genesis 6:12 Isaiah 40:5 Romans 3:20, &c. And it seems to have some emphasis here, and to intimate either,

1. That such vows were made upon fleshly or carnal, and not upon spiritual and religious motives. Or rather,

2. That the flesh or corrupt nature of man, which is oft called flesh, was exceeding prone to set itself at ease and liberty from such bonds, and to neglect the chargeable duties of religion.

The angel; either,

1. The blessed angels, the singular number being put for the plural, who are present in the public assemblies in which these vows were generally paid, Psalm 66:13, where they observe both the matter and manner of men’s religious performances, as appears from 1 Corinthians 11:10, who as they rejoice in the conversion of a sinner, Luke 15:10, so are displeased with the sins of men, and especially such as are committed in or against the worship of God. Or,

2. Christ, who in the Old Testament is frequently called an angel, as hath been oft noted before, and the Angel of the covenant, Malachi 3:1 because even then he acted as God’s messenger, appearing and speaking to the patriarchs and prophets in his Father’s name, as a prosignification of his future incarnation, and who is and was in a special manner present in all religious assemblies; and being omniscient and omnipresent, exactly knew and observed all the vows which men made, and whether they did perform or violate them. Or rather,

3. The priest or minister of holy things, who was to require of the people the payment of their vows, to whom all sacrifices for sins of ignorance or errors about vows or other things were to be brought, Leviticus 5:4,5. For such persons are oft called angels, or, as this Hebrew word is commonly rendered, messengers, as Job 33:23 Malachi 2:7 Revelation 1:20. And this title seems to be given to the priest here, not without some emphasis, because the vow made to God was paid to the priest as one standing and acting in God’s name and stead, and it belonged to the priest, as God’s angel or ambassador, to discharge persons from their vows when there was just occasion so to do.

That it was an error; I did foolishly and unadvisedly in making such a vow, and therefore I hope God will excuse me, and instead of that which I had vowed, accept of a sacrifice for my ignorance, according to the law for sins of ignorance, Leviticus 4:2 5:15 Numbers 15:26.

Wherefore should God be angry, why wilt thou provoke God to anger, at thy voice? either,

1. At the vows which thou hast hastily uttered with thy mouth, as he said above. Or rather,

2. At these frivolous excuses, wherewith thou deludest thy own conscience, and vainly imaginest that thou canst deceive God himself.

Destroy the work of thine hands; blast all thy contrivances, and labours, and estate gotten by thy labours, and particularly that work or enterprise for the success whereof thou didst make these vows, which being, as thou thinkest, finished, thou refusest to pay thy vows; but know that God can quickly undo that which thou hast done, and plentifully repay thine indignities and injuries offered to him into thine own bosom. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin,.... That is, himself, who is corrupt and depraved; either by making a rash vow, which it is not in his power to keep; or such is the corruption of his nature, and the weakness of the flesh, that he cannot keep it; or by making sinful excuses after he has made the vow, and so is guilty of lying, or false swearing, or other sins of the flesh. Jarchi by "flesh" understands his children, on whom his iniquity may be visited and punished; and the Targum interprets this punishment of the judgment or condemnation of hell; see Proverbs 20:25;

neither say thou before the angel that it was an error; that it was done ignorantly and through mistake: that it was not intended, and that this was not the meaning of the vow; and therefore desires to be excused performing it, or to offer a sacrifice in lieu of it. Interpreters are divided about the angel before whom such an excuse should not be made. Some think angel is put for angels in general, in whose presence, and before whom, as witnesses, vows are made; and who were signified by the cherubim in the sanctuary, where they were to be performed, and who are present in the worshipping assemblies of saints, where these things are done, 1 Timothy 5:21; others think the guardian angel is meant, which they suppose every man has; and others that Christ, the Angel of the covenant, is designed, who is in the midst of his people, sees and knows all that is done by them, and will not admit of their excuses; but it is most probable the priest is intended, called the angel, or messenger, of the Lord of hosts, Malachi 2:7; to whom such who had made vows applied to be loosed from them, acknowledging their error in making them; or to offer sacrifice for their sin of ignorance, Leviticus 5:4;

wherefore should God be angry at thy voice; either in making a rash and sinful vow, or in excusing that which was made;

and destroy the work of thine hands? wrought with success, for which the vow was made; and so, instead of its succeeding, is destroyed, and comes to nothing. Vows made by the Jews were chiefly about their houses, or fields, or cattle; see Leviticus 27:28; and so the destruction suggested may signify the curse that God would bring upon any of these, for excusing or not performing the vow made.

Allow not thy mouth to cause thy {d} flesh to sin; neither say thou before the {e} angel, that it was an error: why should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thy hands?

(d) Do not cause yourself to sin by vowing rashly as they do who make a vow to live unmarried and such like.

(e) That is, before God's messenger when he will examine your doing, as though your ignorance should be a just excuse.

6. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin] The “mouth” may refer either to the thoughtless utterance of the rash vow, such as that of Jephthah (Jdg 11:30) or Saul (1 Samuel 14:24), or to the appetite which leads the man who has made a vow, say of the Nazarite type, to indulge in the drink or food which he had bound himself to renounce. The former meaning seems more in harmony with the context. The latter clause is translated by many Commentators to bring punishment (the expiation for sin) upon thy flesh, but the A.V. is probably correct. The “flesh” stands as in Genesis 6:3; Psalm 78:39, and in New Testament language (Romans 7:18; Romans 7:25), for the corrupt sensuous element in man’s nature. The context forbids the extension of the precept to sins of speech in general, as in the wider teaching of James 3:1-12.

neither say thou before the angel] The words have been taken by most Jewish and some Christian interpreters as referring to the “angel” in the strict sense of the term, who was believed in Rabbinic traditions to preside over the Temple or the altar, and who, it is assumed, would punish the evasion of the vow on the frivolous excuse that it had been spoken inconsiderately. 1 Corinthians 11:13 and 1 Timothy 5:21 are referred to as illustrations of the same thought. This interpretation, however, seems scarcely in harmony with the generally Hellenised tone of the book, and in Haggai 1:13 and Malachi 2:7 we have distinct evidence that the term had come to be applied to prophets and priests, as in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Revelation 1:20 it is used of ministers in the Christian Church, and this, it is obvious, gives a tenable, and, on the whole, a preferable meaning. The man comes to the priest with an offering less in value than he had vowed, or postpones the fulfilment of his vow indefinitely, and using the technical language of Numbers 15:25, explains that the vow had been made in ignorance, and therefore that he was not bound to fulfil it to the letter. Other commentators again (Grätz) look on the word as describing a subordinate officer of the Temple.

wherefore should God be angry at thy voice] The question is in form like those of Ezra 4:22; Ezra 7:23, and is rhetorically more emphatic than a direct assertion. The words are a more distinct assertion of a Divine Government seen in earthly rewards and punishments than the book has as yet presented. The vow made, as was common, to secure safety or prosperity, could have no other result than loss and, it might be, ruin, if it were vitiated from the first by a rashness which took refuge in dishonesty.Verse 6. - Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin. "Thy flesh" is equivalent to "thyself," the whole personality, the idea of the flesh, as a distinct part of the man, sinning, being alien from Old Testament ontology. The injunction means - Do not, by uttering rash or inconsiderate vows, which you afterwards evade or cannot fulfill, bring sin upon yourself, or, as others render, bring punishment upon yourself. Septuagint, "Suffer not thy mouth to Cause thy flesh to sin(τοῦ ὠξαμαρτῆσαι τὴν σάρκα σου);" Vulgate, Ut peccare facias carnem tuam. Another interpretation, but not so suitable, is this - Do not let thy mouth (i.e. thy appetite) lead thee to break the vow of abstinence, and indulge in meat or drink from which (as, e.g., a Nazarite) thou wast bound to abstain. Neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error. If we take "angel" (malak) in the usual sense (and there seems no very forcible reason why we should not), it must mean the angel of God in whose special charge you are placed, or the angel who was supposed to preside over the altar of worship, or that messenger of God whose duty it is to watch man's doings and to act as the minister of punishment (2 Samuel 24:16). The workings of God's providence are often attributed to angels; and sometimes the names of God and angel are interchanged (see Genesis 16:9, 13; Genesis 18:2, 3, etc.; Exodus 3:2, 4; Exodus 23:20, etc.). Thus the Septuagint here renders, "Say not before the face of God (πρὸ = προσώπου τοῦ Θεοῦ)." If this interpretation be allowed, we have an argument for the literal explanation of the much-disputed passage in 1 Corinthians 11:10, διὰ τοὺς ἀγγέλους. Thus, too, in 'The Testaments of the XII. Patriarchs,' we have, "The Lord is witness, and his angels are witnesses, concerning the word of your mouth" ('Levi,' 19). But most commentators consider that the word here means "messenger" of Jehovah, in the sense of priest, the announcer of the Divine Law, as in the unique passage Malachi 2:7. Traces of a similar use of ἄγγελος may be found in the New Testament (Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1, etc.). According to the first interpretation, the man comes before God with his excuse; according to the second, he comes to the priest, and confesses that he was thoughtless and overhasty in making his vow, and desires to be released from it, or, at any rate, by some means to evade its fulfillment. His excuse may possibly look to the cases mentioned in Numbers 15:22, etc., and he may wish to urge that the vow was made in ignorance (Septuagint, Ὅτι ἄγνοιά ἐστι, "It is an ignorance"), and that therefore he was not responsible for its incomplete execution. We do not know that a priest or any officer of the temple had authority to release from the obligation of a Tow, so that the excuse made "before" him would seem to be objectless, while the evasion of a solemn promise made in the Name of God might well be said to be done in the presence of the observing and recording angel. The Vulgate rendering, Non eat providentia, makes the man account for his neglect by assuming that God takes no heed of such things; he deems the long-suffering of God to be indifference and disregard (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Ecclesiastes 9:3). The original does not bear this interpretation. Wherefore should God be angry at thy voice - the words in which thy evasion and dishonesty are expressed - and destroy the work of thine hands? i.e. punish thee by calamity, want of success, sickness, etc., God's moral government being vindicated by earthly visitations. "I saw all the living which walk under the sun on the side of the youth, the second who shall enter upon the place of the former: no end of all the people, all those at whose head he stands." The author, by the expression "I saw," places himself back in the time of the change of government. If we suppose that he represents this to himself in a lively manner, then the words are to be translated: of the second who shall be his successor; but if we suppose that he seeks to express from the standpoint of the past that which, lying farther back in the past, was now for the first time future, then the future represents the time to come in the past, as at 2 Kings 3:27; Psalm 78:6; Job 15:28 (Hitz.): of the second who should enter on his place (עמד, to step to, to step forth, of the new king, Daniel 8:23; Daniel 11:2.; cf. קוּם, 1 Kings 8:20). The designation of the crowd which, as the pregnant עם expresses, gathered by the side of the young successor to the old king, by "all the living, those walking under the sun (המה, perhaps intentionally the pathetic word for הלכים, Isaiah 42; 5)," would remain a hyperbole, even although the throne of the Asiatic world-ruler had been intended; still the expression, so absolute in its universality, would in that case be more natural (vid., the conjectural reference to Cyrus and Astygates). השּׁני, Ewald refers to the successor to the king, the second after the king, and translates: "to the second man who should reign in his stead;" but the second man in this sense has certainly never been the child of fortune; one must then think of Joseph, who, however, remains the second man. Hitzig rightly: "The youth is the second שׁני, not אחר, in contrast to the king, who, as his predecessor, is the first." "Yet," he continues, "הילד should be the appos. and השׁני the principal word," i.e., instead of: with the second youth, was to be expected: with the second, the youth. It is true, we may either translate: with the second youth, or: with the second, the youth - the_ form of expression has in its something incorrect, for it has the appearance as if it treated of two youths. But similar are the expressions, Matthew 8:21, ἓτερος κ.τ.λ., "another, and that, too, one of His disciples;" and Luke 23:32, ἤγοντο κ.τ.λ All the world ranks itself by the side (thus we may also express it) of the second youthful king, so that he comes to stand at the head of an endless multitude. The lxx, Jerome, and the Venet. render incorrectly the all (the multitude) as the subject of the relative clause, which Luther, after the Syr., corrects by reading לפניו for לפניהם: of the people that went for him there was no end. Rightly the Targ.: at whose head ( equals בּרישׁיהון) he had the direction, לפני, as with יצא ובא, 1 Samuel 18:16; 2 Chronicles 1:10; Psalm 68:8, etc. All the world congregates about him, follows his leadership; but his history thus splendidly begun, viewed backwards, is a history of hopes falsified.

"And yet they who come after do not rejoice in him: for that also is vain, and a grasping after the wind." For all that, and in spite of that (gam has here this meaning, as at Ecclesiastes 6:7; Jeremiah 6:15; Psalm 129:2; Ewald, 354a), posterity (הא, as at Ecclesiastes 1:11; cf. Isaiah 41:4) has no joy in this king, - the hopes which his contemporaries placed in the young king, who had seized the throne and conquered their hearts, afterwards proved to be delusions; and also this history, at first so beautiful, and afterwards so hateful, contributed finally to the confirmation of the truth, that all under the sun is vain. As to the historical reminiscence from the time of the Ptolemies, in conformity with which Hitzig (in his Comm.) thinks this figure is constructed; Grtz here, as always, rocks himself in Herodian dreams. In his Comm., Hitz. guesses first of Jeroboam, along with Rehoboam the שׁני ילד, who rebelled against King Solomon, who in his old age had become foolish. In an essay, "Zur Exeg. u. Kritik des B. Koheleth," in Hilgenfeld's Zeitschr. XIV 566ff., Saul, on the contrary, appears to him to be the old and foolish king, and David the poor wise youth who rose to the throne, and took possession of the whole kingdom, but in his latter days experienced desertion and adversities; for those who came after (the younger men) had no delight in him, but rebelled against him. But in relation to Saul, who came from the plough to be king, David, who was called from being a shepherd, is not נולד רשׁ; and to Jewish history this Saul, whose nobler self is darkened by melancholy, but again brightens forth, and who to his death maintained the dignity of a king of Israel, never at any time appears as וכסיל ... מלך. Moreover, by both combinations of that which is related with the הסורים בּית (for which הסּ is written) of the history of the old Israelitish kings, a meaning contrary to the usage of the language must be extracted. It is true that סוּר, as the so-called particip. perfecti, may mean "gone aside (to a distance)," Isaiah 49:21; Jeremiah 17:13; and we may, at any rate, by סורים, think on that poor rabble which at first gathered around David, 1 Samuel 22:2, regarded as outcasts from honourable society. But בית will not accord therewith. That David came forth from the house (home) of the estranged or separated, is and remains historically an awkward expression, linguistically obscure, and not in accordance with the style of Koheleth. In order to avoid this incongruity, Bttcher regards Antiochus the Great as the original of the ילד. He was the second son of his father, who died 225. When a hopeful youth of fifteen years of age, he was recalled to the throne from a voluntary banishment into Farther Asia, very soon gained against his old cousin and rival Achaeus, who was supported by Egypt, a large party, and remained for several years esteemed as a prince and captain; he disappointed, however, at a later time, the confidence which was reposed in him. But granting that the voluntary exile of Antiochus might be designated as האס בית, he was yet not a poor man, born poor, but was the son of King Seleucus Callincus; and his older relative and rival Achaeus wished indeed to become king, but never attained unto it. Hence השׁני is not the youth as second son of his father, but as second on the throne, in relation to the dethroned king reckoned as the first. Thus, far from making it probable that the Book of Koheleth originated in the time of the Diadochs, this combination of Bttcher's also stands on a feeble foundation, and falls in ruins when assailed.

The section Ecclesiastes 1:12-4:16, to which we have prefixed the superscription, "Koheleth's Experiences and their Results," has now reached its termination, and here for the first time we meet with a characteristic peculiarity in the composition of the book: the narrative sections, in which Koheleth, on the ground of his own experiences and observations, registers the vanities of earthly life, terminate in series of proverbs in which the I of the preacher retires behind the objectivity of the exhortations, rules, and principles obtained from experience, here recorded. The first of these series of proverbs which here follows is the briefest, but also the most complete in internal connection.

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