For what has the wise more than the fool? what has the poor, that knows to walk before the living?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)That knoweth to walk.—Understands how to conduct himself. But why this should be limited to the poor is not obvious.Ecclesiastes 1:3).
What—advantage, that is, superiority, above him who knows not how to walk uprightly
hath the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?—that is, to use and enjoy life aright (Ec 5:18, 19), a cheerful, thankful, godly "walk" (Ps 116:9).The fool, to wit, in these matters. Both are equally subject to the same calamities, and partakers of the same comforts of this life.
Before the living, to wit, before the poor, that doth not know this; which words are easily understood by comparing this clause with the former. And such defects are usual, both in Scripture and other authors, as hath been formerly noted, by a figure which the learned call anantapodoton. And by this phrase, that knoweth, &c., he means such a poor man who is ingenious and industrious; who is fit for service and business, and knows how to carry himself towards rich men, so as to deserve and gain their favour, and to procure a livelihood.
what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? either, what does the poor man want more than the rich man, that knows how to get his bread, and is diligent and industrious among men to live, and does get a livelihood for himself and family; he enjoys all the sweets and comforts of life, as well as the rich man: or what hath the poor knowing man? as Aben Ezra interprets it, according to the accents; what has he more or does he enjoy more, than the poor foolish man, provided he has but sense enough to behave himself among men, so as to have bread to eat, and clothes to wear; which is as much as any man can enjoy, be he ever so rich or so wise?For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)8. For what hath wise more than the fool?] The question so far is easy. In this matter, the gifts of intellect make no difference. The wise, no less than the fool, is subject to the pressure of bodily necessities, and has to labour for them. The second clause is somewhat less clear. Of the many interpretations that have been given, two have most to commend them, (1) supplying the subject of comparison from the first clause, what advantage hath the poor that knows to walk before the living (i.e. that has learnt the art to live) over the fool (who is the mere slave of appetite)? what does wisdom and self-control and freedom from the snares of wealth really profit him? and (2), treating the sentence as elliptical, What advantage hath the poor over him who knows how to walk before the living (i.e. the man of high birth or station, who lives in public, with the eyes of men on him)? The latter explanation has the merit of giving a more balanced symmetry to the two clauses. The question, with its implied answer, seems at first at variance with the praise of the lot of the labouring poor in ch. Ecclesiastes 5:12, “Don’t trust,” the writer seems to say in his half-cynical, half-ironical mood, “even to poverty, as a condition of happiness. The poor man is as open to cares and anxieties as the man of culture and refinement. After all, poor and rich stand on nearly the same level.”Verse 8. - For what hath the wise more fire than the fool? i.e. What advantage hath the wise man over the fool? This verse confirms the previous one by an interrogative argument. The same labor for support, the same unsatisfied desires, belong to all, wise or foolish; in this respect intellectual gifts have no superiority. (For a similar interrogation implying an emphatic denial, see Ecclesiastes 1:30) What hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living? The Septuagint gives the verse thus: Ὅτι τίς περίσσεια (A, C, א) τῷ σοφῷ ὑπὲρ τὸν ἄφρονα; διότι ὁ πένης οἰδε πορευθῆναι κατέναντι τῆς ζωῆς, "For what advantage hath the wise man over the fool? since the poor man knows how to walk before life?" Vulgate, Quid habet amplius sapiens a stulto? et quid pauper, nisi ut pergat illuc, ubi est vita? "And what hath the poor man except that he go thither where is life?" Both these versions regard הַחַיִּים as used in the sense of "life," and that the life beyond the grave; but this idea is foreign to the context; and the expression must be rendered, as in the Authorized Version, "the living." The interpretation of the clause has much exercised critics. Plumptre adheres to that of Bernstein and others, "What advantage hath the poor over him who knows how to walk before the living?' (i.e. the man of high birth or station, who lives in public, with the eyes of men upon him). The poor has his cares and unsatisfied desires as much as the man of culture and position. Poverty offers no protection against such assaults, But the expression, to know how to walk before the living, means to understand and to follow the correct path of life; to know how to behave properly and uprightly in the intercourse with one's fellow-men; to have what the French call savoir vivre. (So Volok.) The question must be completed thus: "What advantage has the discreet and properly conducted poor man over the fool?" None, at least in this respect. The poor man, even though he be well vetoed in the rule of life, has insatiable desires which he has to check or conceal, and so is no better off than the fool, who equally is unable to gratify them. The two 'extremities of the social scale are taken - the rich wise man, and the prudent poor man - and both are shown to fail in enjoying life; and what is true of these must be also true of all that come between these two limits, "the appetite is not filled" (ver. 7). 2 Chronicles 1:11, וך and honour is added as a third thing. What follows we do not translate: "and there is nothing wanting ... ;" for that איננּוּ with the pleonastic suff. may mean: "there is not," is not to be proved from Genesis 39:9, thus: and he spares not for his soul (lxx καὶ οὐκ κ.τ.λ) what he always desires. חסר is adj. in the sense of wanting, lacking, as at 1 Samuel 21:1-15 :16; 1 Kings 11:22; Proverbs 12:9. לנפשׁו, "for his soul," i.e., his person, is equals the synon. לעצמו found in the later usage of the language; מן (different from the min, Ecclesiastes 4:8) is, as at Genesis 6:2, partitive. The נכרי, to whom this considerable estate, satisfying every wish, finally comes, is certainly not the legal heir (for that he enters into possession, in spite of the uncertainty of his moral character, Ecclesiastes 2:19, would be in itself nothing less than a misfortune, yet perfectly in order, Ecclesiastes 5:13 ), but some stranger without any just claim, not directly a foreigner (Heiligst.), but, as Burger explains: talis qui proprie nullum habet jus in bona ejus cui נכרי dicitur (cf. נכריּה of the unmarried wife in the Book of Proverbs).
That wealth without enjoyment is nothing but vanity and an evil disease, the author now shows by introducing another historical figure, and thereby showing that life without enjoyment is worse than never to have come into existence at all:
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