Ecclesiastes 7:17
Be not over much wicked, neither be you foolish: why should you die before your time?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
7:11-22 Wisdom is as good as an inheritance, yea better. It shelters from the storms and scorching heat of trouble. Wealth will not lengthen out the natural life; but true wisdom will give spiritual life, and strengthen men for services under their sufferings. Let us look upon the disposal of our condition as the work of God, and at last all will appear to have been for the best. In acts of righteousness, be not carried into heats or passions, no, not by a zeal for God. Be not conceited of thine own abilities; nor find fault with every thing, nor busy thyself in other men's matters. Many who will not be wrought upon by the fear of God, and the dread of hell, will avoid sins which ruin their health and estate, and expose to public justice. But those that truly fear God, have but one end to serve, therefore act steadily. If we say we have not sinned, we deceive ourselves. Every true believer is ready to say, God be merciful to me a sinner. Forget not at the same time, that personal righteousness, walking in newness of life, is the only real evidence of an interest by faith in the righteousness of the Redeemer. Wisdom teaches us not to be quick in resenting affronts. Be not desirous to know what people say; if they speak well of thee, it will feed thy pride, if ill, it will stir up thy passion. See that thou approve thyself to God and thine own conscience, and then heed not what men say of thee; it is easier to pass by twenty affronts than to avenge one. When any harm is done to us, examine whether we have not done as bad to others.Destroy thyself - The Septuagint and Vulgate render it: "be amazed." Compare "marvel not" Ecclesiastes 5:8. 17. over much wicked—so worded, to answer to "righteous over much." For if not taken thus, it would seem to imply that we may be wicked a little. "Wicked" refers to "wicked man" (Ec 7:15); "die before thy time," to "prolongeth his life," antithetically. There may be a wicked man spared to "live long," owing to his avoiding gross excesses (Ec 7:15). Solomon says, therefore, Be not so foolish (answering antithetically to "over wise," Ec 7:16), as to run to such excess of riot, that God will be provoked to cut off prematurely thy day of grace (Ro 2:5). The precept is addressed to a sinner. Beware of aggravating thy sin, so as to make thy case desperate. It refers to the days of Solomon's "vanity" (apostasy, Ec 7:15), when only such a precept would be applicable. By litotes it includes, "Be not wicked at all." Be not over-much wicked; do not take occasion, either from the impunity of sinners, Ecclesiastes 7:15, or from the prohibition of excessive righteousness, to run into the contrary extreme, the defect of righteousness, or to give up thyself to the practice of all manner of wickedness, as the manner of many men is, Ecclesiastes 8:11. But this is not to be understood as if he allowed a lower degree of wickedness, no more than that prohibition of not letting the sun go down upon a man’s wrath, Ephesians 4:26, permits him to keep his wrath all the day long; and no more than the condemnation of excess of riot, and of abominable idolatries, 1 Peter 4:3,4, doth justify any kind of rioting or idolatry.

Neither be thou foolish; which he adds to show that such sinners, howsoever they esteem themselves wise, yet in truth are egregious fools, as the following words prove.

Die before thy time; either by the justice of the magistrate, or by the vengeance of God. For though I said that sometimes a wicked man prolongeth his days, &c., Ecclesiastes 7:15, yet commonly such persons are cut off, and thou hast sufficient reason to expect and fear it. Be not over much wicked,.... Not that a man should be wicked at all; but some, observing that wicked men prolong their days in wickedness, are encouraged to go into greater lengths in sin than they have yet done, and give up themselves to all iniquity; and run into excess of not, into the grossest and most scandalous enormities. Some render it, "do not disturb" or "frighten thyself" (a), distress and distract thyself with the business of life, bustling and stirring, restless and uneasy, to get wealth and riches; but be easy and satisfied with what is enjoyed, or comes without so much stir and trouble; this is the original sense of the word. The meaning seems to be, either do not multiply sin, add unto it, and continue in it; or do not aggravate it, making sins to be greater and more heinous than they are, and a man's case worse than it is, and so sink into despair; and thus it stands opposed to an ostentatious show of righteousness;

neither be thou foolish; or give up thyself to a profligate life, to go on in a course of sin, which will issue in the ruin of body and soul; or in aggravating it in an excessive manner;

why shouldest thou die before thy time? bring diseases on thy body by a wicked course of living, which will issue in death; or fall into the hands of the civil magistrate, for capital offences, for which sentence of death must pass and be executed, before a man comes to the common term of human life; see Psalm 55:23; or, as Mr. Broughton renders it, "before thy ordinary time"; not before the appointed time (b). The Targum is,

"be the cause of death to thy soul;''

or through despair commit suicide.

(a) "ne paveas", Pagninus; "ne te occupes multum, aut distrahas te, sive inquietes", some in Vatablus; so Aben Ezra and Ben Melech. (b) "Ante diem", Virgil. Aeneid. 4. prope finem. Vid. Servium in ib. Ovid. Metamorph. l. 1. Fab. 4.

Be not {n} over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

(n) Do not tarry long when you are admonished to come out of the way of wickedness.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. Be not over much wicked] There seems something like a paradox in the counsel. Surely, we think, the teacher is carrying his doctrine of the mean too far when he gives a precept, which, by forbidding excess, seems to sanction a moderate amount of wickedness. Various attempts have been made to tone down the precept by taking “wicked” as = not subject to rule, or = engaged in worldly affairs (the “mammon of unrighteousness”) that so often lead to wickedness. The difficulty vanishes, however, if we will but admit that the writer might have learnt the art of a playful irony from his Greek teachers. He has uttered the precept, “Be not righteous over-much.” That most men would receive as a true application of the doctrine of “Nothing in excess,” or, in the phrase we owe to Talleyrand, “Surtout, point de zêle.” He mentally sees, as it were, the complacent smile of those who were in no danger of that fault and who think that the precept gives them just the license they want, and he meets the feeling it expresses by another maxim. “Yes, my friends,” he seems to say, “but there is another ‘over-much,’ against which you need a warning, and its results are even more fatal than those of the other.” In avoiding one extreme men might fall easily into the other.

why shouldest thou die before thy time?] Literally, Not in thy time. The form of the warning is singularly appropriate. The vices thought of and the end to which they lead are clearly those of the sensual license described in Proverbs 7. Death is the issue here, as the loss of spiritual discernment was of the Pharisaic or the over-philosophizing temper described in the preceding verse. In both precepts we may trace Koheleth’s personal experience. Ch. 2 traces the history of one who in his life experiments had been both “over much wise,” and, it must be feared, “over much wicked.”Verse 17. - Be not over much wicked neither be thou foolish. These two injunctions are parallel and correlative to those in ver. 16 concerning over-righteousness and over-wisdom. But the present verse cannot be meant, as at first sight it seems to do, to sanction a certain amount of wickedness provided it does not exceed due measure. To surmount this difficulty some have undeavored to modify the term "wicked" (rasha), taking it to mean "engaged in worldly matters," or "not subject to rule," "lax," or again "restless," as some translate the word in Job 3:17. But the word seems not to be used in any such senses, and bears uniformly the uncompromising signification assigned to it, "to be wicked, unrighteous, guilty." The difficulty is not overcome by Plumptre's suggestion of the introduction of a little "playful irony learned from Greek teachers," as if Koheleth meant, "I have warned you, my friends, against over-righteousness, but do not jump at the conclusion that license is allowable. That was very far from my meaning." The connection of thought is this: in the previous verse Koheleth had denounced the Pharisaical spirit which virtually condemned the Divine ordering of circumstances, because vice was not at once and visibly punished, and virtue at once rewarded; and now he proceeds to warn against the deliberate and abominable wickedness which infers from God's long-suffering his absolute neglect and non- interference in mortal matters, and on this view plunges audaciously into vice and immorality, saying to itself, "God hath forgotten: he hideth his face; he will never see it" (Psalm 10:11). Such conduct may well be called "foolish;" it is that of "the fool who says in his heart, There is no God" (Psalm 14:1). The actual wording of the injunction sounds to us somewhat strange; but its form is determined by the requirements of parallelism, and the aphorism must not be pressed beyond its general intention, "Be not righteous nor wise to excess; be not wicked nor foolish to excess." Septuagint, "Be not very wicked, and be not stubborn (σκληρός)." Why shouldest thou die before thy time? literally, not in thy time; prematurely, tempting God to punish thee by retributive judgment, or shortening thy days by vicious excesses. (For the former, see Job 22:16; Psalm 55:23; Proverbs 10:27; and comp. 1 Samuel 2:31, 33; and for the latter, Proverbs 5:23; Proverbs 7:23-27; Proverbs 10:21.) The Syriac contains a clause not given in any other version, "that thou mayest not be hated." As is often the case, both in this book and in Proverbs, a general statement in one place is reduced by a contrariant or modified opinion in another. Thus the prolongation of the life of the wicked, noticed in ver. 15, is here shown to be abnormal, impiety in the usual course of events having a tendency to shorten life. In this way hasty generalization is corrected, and the Divine arrangement is vindicated. Externally connecting itself with "from wisdom," there now follows another proverb, which declares that wisdom along with an inheritance is good, but that wisdom is nevertheless of itself better than money and possessions: "Wisdom is good with family possessions, and an advantage for those who see the sun. For wisdom affordeth a shadow, money affordeth a shadow; yet the advantage of knowledge is this, that wisdom preserveth life to its possessor." Most of the English interpreters, from Desvoeux to Tyler, translate: "Wisdom is as good as an inheritance;" and Bullock, who translates: "with an inheritance," says of this and the other translations: "The difference is not material." But the thought is different, and thus the distinction is not merely a formal one. Zckl. explains it as undoubted that עם here, as at Ecclesiastes 2:16 (vid., l.c.), means aeque ac; (but (1) that aeque ac has occurred to no ancient translator, till the Venet. and Luther, nor to the Syr., which translates: "better is wisdom than weapons (מאנא זינא)," in a singular way making Ecclesiastes 7:11 a duplette of Ecclesiastes 9:18; (2) instead of "wisdom is better than wealth," as e.g., Proverbs 8:11; (3) the proverb is formed like Aboth ii. 2, "good is study connected with a citizen-like occupation," and similar proverbs; (4) one may indeed say: "the wise man dieth with (together with) the fool" equals just as well as the fool; but "good is wisdom with wealth" can neither be equivalent to "as well as wealth," nor: "in comparison with wealth" (Ewald, Elster), but only: "in connection with wealth (possessions);" aeque ac may be translated for una cum where the subject is common action and suffering, but not in a substantival clause consisting of a subst. as subject and an adj. as pred., having the form of a categorical judgment. נחלה denotes a possession inherited and hereditary (cf. Proverbs 20:21); and this is evidence in favour of the view that עם is meant not of comparison, but of connection; the expression would otherwise be עם־עשׁר. ויתר is now also explained. It is not to be rendered: "and better still" (than wealth), as Herzf., Hitz., and Hengst. render it; but in spite of Hengst., who decides in his own way, "יותר never means advantage, gain," it denotes a prevailing good, avantage; and it is explained also why men are here named "those who see the sun" - certainly not merely thus describing them poetically, as in Homer ζώειν is described and coloured by ὁρᾶν φάος ἠελίοιο. To see the sun, is equals to have entered upon this earthly life, in which along with wisdom, also no inheritance is to be despised. For wisdom affords protection as well as money, but the former still more than the latter. So far, the general meaning of Ecclesiastes 7:12 is undisputed. Buthow is Ecclesiastes 7:12 to be construed? Knobel, Hitz., and others regard ב as the so-called beth essentiae: a shadow (protection) is wisdom, a shadow is money, - very expressive, yet out of harmony, if not with the language of that period, yet with the style of Koheleth; and how useless and misleading would this doubled בּ be here! Hengstenberg translates: in the shadow of wisdom, at least according to our understanding of Ecclesiastes 7:11, is not likened to the shadow of silver; but in conformity with that עם, it must be said that wisdom, and also that money, affords a shadow; (2) but that interpretation goes quite beyond the limits of gnomic brachyology. We explain: for in the shadow (בּצל, like בּצּל, Jonah 4:5) is wisdom, in the shadow, money; by which, without any particularly bold poetic licence, is meant that he who possesses wisdom, he who possesses money, finds himself in a shadow, i.e., of pleasant security; to be in the shadow, spoken of wisdom and money, is equals to sit in the shadow of the persons who possess both.

12b. The exposition of this clause is agreed upon. It is to be construed according to the accentuation: and the advantage of knowledge is this, that "wisdom preserveth life to its possessors." The Targ. regards דעת החכמה as connected genit.; that might be possible (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 8:16), but yet is improbable. Wherever the author uses דעת as subst., it is an independent conception placed beside חך, Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:26, etc. We now translate, not: wisdom gives life (lxx, Jerome, Venet., Luther) to its possessors; for חיּה always means only either to revive (thus Hengst., after Psalm 119:25; cf. Psalm 71:20) or to keep in life; and this latter meaning is more appropriate to this book than the former, - thus (cf. Proverbs 3:18): wisdom preserves in life, - since, after Hitzig, it accomplishes this, not by rash utterances of denunciation, - a thought lying far behind Ecclesiastes 7:10, and altogether too mean, - but since it secures it against self-destruction by vice and passions and emotions, e.g., anger (Ecclesiastes 7:9), which consume life. The shadow in which wisdom (the wise man) sits keeps it fresh and sound, - a result which the shadow in which money (the capitalist) sits does not afford: it has frequently the directly contrary effect.

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