Ecclesiastes 6:8
For what hath the wise more than the fool? what hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?
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(8) That knoweth to walk.—Understands how to conduct himself. But why this should be limited to the poor is not obvious.

6:7-12 A little will serve to sustain us comfortably, and a great deal can do no more. The desires of the soul find nothing in the wealth of the world to give satisfaction. The poor man has comfort as well as the richest, and is under no real disadvantage. We cannot say, Better is the sight of the eyes than the resting of the soul in God; for it is better to live by faith in things to come, than to live by sense, which dwells only upon present things. Our lot is appointed. We have what pleases God, and let that please us. The greatest possessions and honours cannot set us above the common events of human life. Seeing that the things men pursue on earth increase vanities, what is man the better for his worldly devices? Our life upon earth is to be reckoned by days. It is fleeting and uncertain, and with little in it to be fond of, or to be depended on. Let us return to God, trust in his mercy through Jesus Christ, and submit to his will. Then soon shall we glide through this vexatious world, and find ourselves in that happy place, where there is fulness of joy and pleasures for evermore.What - literally, what profit (as in Ecclesiastes 1:3).

Knoweth ... living - i. e., "Knows how to conduct himself rightly among his contemporaries."

8. For—"However" [Maurer]. The "for" means (in contrast to the insatiability of the miser), For what else is the advantage which the wise man hath above the fool?"

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.

For what hath the wise more than the fool,.... More delight and pleasure, in gratifying his senses, by eating and drinking: the wise man enjoys no more than the fool; the fool finds as much pleasure in the labour of his hands, which is for his mouth, as the wise man does; and the wise man can get no more satisfaction to his mind, from these outward gratifications, than the fool;

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?
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). Ecclesiastes 6:8"For what hath the wise more than the fool; what the poor who knoweth to walk before the living?" The old translators present nothing for the interpretation, but defend the traditional text; for Jerome, like the Syr., which translates freely, follows the Midrash (fixed in the Targ.), which understands החיים, contrary to the spirit of the book, of the blessed future. The question would be easier if we could, with Bernst. and Ginsburg, introduce a comparat. min before יודע; we would then require to understand by him who knows to walk before the living, some one who acts a part in public life; but how strange a designation of distinguished persons would that be! Thus, as the text stands, יודע ,sdnat is attrib. to לעני, what preference hath the poor, such an one, viz., as understands (vid., regarding יודע instead of היודע, under Psalm 143:10); not: who is intelligent (Aben Ezra); יודע is not, as at Ecclesiastes 9:11, an idea contained in itself, but by the foll. הח ... לה (cf. Ecclesiastes 4:13, Ecclesiastes 4:14; and the inf. form, Exodus 3:19; Numbers 22:13; Job 34:23) obtains the supplement and colouring required: the sequence of the accents (Zakeph, Tifcha, Silluk, as e.g., at Genesis 7:4) is not against this. How the lxx understood its πορευθῆναι κατέναντι τῆς ζωῆς, and the Venet. it's ἀπιέναι ἀντικρὺ τῆς ζωῆς, is not clear; scarcely as Grtz, with Mendelss.: who, to go against (נגד, as at Ecclesiastes 4:12) life, to fight against it, has to exercise himself in self-denial and patience; for "to fight with life" is an expression of modern coinage. הח signifies here, without doubt, not life, but the living. But we explain now, not as Ewald, who separates יודע from the foll. inf. להלך: What profit has then the wise man, the intelligent, patient man, above the fool, that he walks before the living? - by which is meant (but how does this interrog. form agree thereto?), that the wise, patient man has thereby an advantage which makes life endurable by him, in this, that he does not suffer destroying eagerness of desire so to rule over him, but is satisfied to live in quietness.Also this meaning of a quiet life does not lie in the words הח ... הלך. "To know to walk before the living" is, as is now generally acknowledged equals to understand the right rule of life (Elst.), to possess the savoir vivre (Heiligst.), to be experienced in the right art of living. the question accordingly is: What advantage has the wise above the fool; and what the poor, who, although poor, yet knows how to maintain his social position? The matter treated of is the insatiable nature of sensual desire. The wise seeks to control his desire; and he who is more closely designated poor, knows how to conceal it; for he lays upon himself restraints, that he may be able to appear and make something of himself. But desire is present in both; and they have in this nothing above the fool, who follows the bent of his desire and lives for the day. He is a fool because he acts as one not free, and without consideration; but, in itself, it is and remains true, that enjoyment and satisfaction stand higher than striving and longing for a thing.
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