Ecclesiastes 7:21
Also take no heed to all words that are spoken; lest you hear your servant curse you:
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Ecclesiastes 7:21-22. Take no heed unto all words that are spoken — Namely, concerning thee, or against thee. Do not severely observe, or strictly search into them, or listen to hear them, as many persons out of curiosity, are wont to do. Under this one kind of offences which are most frequent, namely, those of the tongue, he seems to comprehend all injuries which we suffer from others, and advises that we should not too rigidly examine them, nor too deeply resent them, but rather neglect and forget them. Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee — Which would vex and grieve thee, and might, perhaps, provoke thee to treat him with severity, if not with vengeance and cruelty. For oftentimes also thine own heart — Thy mind or conscience, knoweth — Bears thee witness; that thou thyself likewise — Either upon some great provocation, and sudden passion, or possibly upon a mere mistake, or false report, hast cursed others — Hast censured them unjustly, and spoken ill of them, if not wished ill to them. If therefore thy servant, or any other, act thus toward thee, thou art only paid in thy own coin. Observe, reader, when any affront or injury is done us, it is seasonable to examine our consciences whether we have not done the same, or as bad, to others: and if, upon reflection, we find we have, we must take that occasion to renew our repentance for it, must justify God, and make use of it to qualify our own resentments. If we be truly displeased and grieved at ourselves for censuring and backbiting others, we shall be less angry at others for censuring and backbiting us. We must show all meekness toward all men, because we ourselves were formerly foolish, Titus 3:2.7:11-22 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.Curse ... cursed - Rather, speak evil of ... spoken evil of. 21. As therefore thou being far from perfectly "just" thyself, hast much to be forgiven by God, do not take too strict account, as the self-righteous do (Ec 7:16; Lu 18:9, 11), and thereby shorten their lives (Ec 7:15, 16), of words spoken against thee by others, for example, thy servant: Thou art their "fellow servant" before God (Mt 18:32-35). Take no heed; do not severely observe nor strictly search into them, nor listen to hear them, as many persons out of curiosity use to do.

Unto all words that are spoken, to wit, concerning thee, or against thee. Under this one kind of offences of the tongue, which are most frequent, he seems to understand all injuries which we suffer from others, and adviseth us that we do not too rigidly examine them, nor too deeply resent them, but rather neglect and forget them.

Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; which will vex and grieve thee, and may provoke thee to vengeance and cruelty against him. Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken,.... Seeing so it is, that imperfection attends the best of men, no man is wise at all times, foolish words and unguarded expressions will sometimes drop from him, which it is better to take no notice of; they should not be strictly attended to, and closely examined, since they will not bear it. A man should not listen to everything that is said of himself or others; he should not curiously inquire what men say of him; and what he himself hears he should take no notice of; it is often best to let it pass, and not call it over again; to feign the hearing of a thing, or make as if you did not hear it; for oftentimes, by rehearsing a matter, or taking up words spoken, a deal of trouble and mischief follows; a man should not "give his heart" (f) to it, as it is in the Hebrew text; he should not give his mind to what is said of him, but be careless and indifferent about it; much less should he lay it up in his mind, and meditate revenge for it. The Targum, Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions, restrain it to words spoken by wicked men, whose tongues are their own, and will say what they please; among these may be ranked, more especially, detractors, whisperers, backbiters, and talebearers, who should not be listened unto and encouraged; though there is no necessity of thus limiting the sense, which is more general, and may include what is said by any man, even good men, since they have their infirmities; it seems chiefly to have respect to defamatory words, by what follows;

lest thou hear thy servant curse thee; speak slightly, scoffingly, and reproachfully of thee, as Shimei of David; which must be very disagreeable and vexatious to hear from one so mean and abject, and who is dependent on him, earns his bread of him, and gets his livelihood in his service; and to whom, perhaps, he has been kind, and so is guilty of base ingratitude, which aggravates the more; or, if not, if what he says is just, to hear it must give great uneasiness.

(f) "ne des tuum cor", Montanus.

Also take no {q} heed to all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee:

(q) Credit them not, neither care for them.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
21. Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken] The train of thought leads on to another rule of conduct. The fact that all men sin is shewn by the words with which men talk of the faults and weaknesses of their neighbours. To such words, the idle gossip of rumour, the comments on words or acts, no wise man will give heed. For him, in St Paul’s language, it will be “a very small thing to be judged of man’s judgment” (1 Corinthians 4:3). An idle curiosity to know what other people say of us will for the most part bring with it the mortification of finding that they blame rather than praise. No man is a hero to his valet, and if he is anxious to know his servant’s estimate of him, he may discover, however wise and good he strives to be, that it may find utterance in a curse and not a blessing. So, in political life, men have been known (e.g. Pompeius in the case of Sertorius) to burn the papers of their fallen foes. So in literary life some of the wise of heart have laid it down as a rule not to read reviews of their own writings. The same feeling finds an epigrammatic expression in the proud motto of a Scotch family:

“They say: What say they? Let them say!”Verse 21. - Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; literally, give not thy heart, as Ecclesiastes 1:13, etc. Here is another matter in which wisdom will lead to right conduct. You will not pay serious attention to evil reports either about yourself or others, nor regulate your views and actions according to such distortions of the truth. To be always hankering to know what people say of us is to set up a false standard, which will assuredly lead us astray; and, at the same time, we shall expose ourselves to the keen-eat mortification when we find, as we probably shall find, that they do not take us at our own valuation, but have thoroughly marked our weaknesses, and are ready enough to censure them. We have an instance of patience under unmerited reproof in the case of David when cursed by Shimei (2 Samuel 16:11), as he, or one like minded, says (Psalm 38:13), "I, as a deaf man, hear not; and I am as a dumb man that openeth not his mouth. Yea, I am as a man that heareth not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs." Corn. a Lapide comments in words to which no translation would do justice, "Verbaenim non aunt verbera; aerem feriunt non hominem, nisi qui its attendit mordetur, sauciatur." Lest thou hear thy servant curse thee. The servant is introduced as an example of a gossip or calumniator, because he, if any one, would be acquainted with his master's faults, and be most likely to disseminate his knowledge, and blame from such a quarter would be most intolerable. Commentators appositely quote Bacon's remarks on this passage in his 'Advancement of Learning,' 8:2, where he notes the prudence of Pompey, who burned all the papers of Sertorius reread, containing, as they did, information which would fatally have compromised many leading men in Rome. The first of these counsels warns against extremes, on the side of good as well as on that of evil: "All have I seen in the days of my vanity: there are righteous men who perish by their righteousness, and there are wicked men who continue long by their wickedness. Be not righteous over-much, and show not thyself wise beyond measure: why wilt thou ruin thyself? Be not wicked overmuch, and be no fool: why wilt thou die before thy time is? It is good that thou holdest thyself to the one, and also from the other withdrawest not thine hand: for he that feareth God accomplisheth it all." One of the most original English interpreters of the Book of Koheleth, T. Tyler (1874), finds in the thoughts of the book - composed, according to his view, about 200 b.c. - and in their expression, references to the post-Aristotelian philosophy, particularly to the Stoic, variously interwoven with orientalism. But here, in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, we perceive, not so much the principle of the Stoical ethics - τῇ φύσει ὁμολογουμένως ζῆν - as that of the Aristotelian, according to which virtue consists in the art μέσως ἔξηειν, the art of holding the middle between extremes.

(Note: Cf. Luthardt's Lectures on the Moral Truths of Christianity, 2nd ed. Edin., T. and T. Clark.)

Also, we do not find here a reference to the contrasts between Pharisaism and Sadduceeism (Zckl.), viz., those already in growth in the time of the author; for if it should be also true, as Tyler conjectures, that the Sadducees had such a predilection for Epicurism, - as, according to Josephus (Vit. c. 2), "the doctrine of the Pharisees is of kin to that of the Stoics," - yet צדקה and רשׁעה are not apportioned between these two parties, especially since the overstraining of conformity to the law by the Pharisees related not to the moral, but to the ceremonial law. We derive nothing for the right understanding of the passage from referring the wisdom of life here recommended to the tendencies of the time. The author proceeds from observation, over against which the O.T. saints knew not how to place any satisfying theodicee. הבלי ימי (vid., Ecclesiastes 6:12) he so designates the long, but for the most part uselessly spent life lying behind him. 'et-hakol is not "everything possible" (Zckl.), but "all, of all kinds" (Luth.), which is defined by 15b as of two kinds; for 15a is the introduction of the following experience relative to the righteous and the unrighteous, and thus to the two classes into which all men are divided. We do not translate: there are the righteous, who by their righteousness, etc. (Umbr., Hitzig, and others); for if the author should thus commence, it would appear as if he wished to give unrighteousness the preference to righteousness, which, however, was far from him. To perish in or by his righteousness, to live long in or by his wickedness (מאריך, scil. ימים, Ecclesiastes 8:13, as at Proverbs 28:2), is equals to die in spite of righteousness, to live in spite of wickedness, as e.g., Deuteronomy 1:32 : "in this thing" equals in spite of, etc. Righteousness has the promise of long life as its reward; but if this is the rule, it has yet its exceptions, and the author thence deduces the doctrine that one should not exaggerate righteousness; for if it occurs that a righteous man, in spite of his righteousness, perishes, this happens, at earliest, in the case in which, in the practice of righteousness, he goes beyond the right measure and limit. The relative conceptions הרבּה and יותר have here, since they are referred to the idea of the right measure, the meaning of nimis. חתחכּם could mean, "to play the wise man;" but that, whether more or less done, is objectionable. It means, as at Exodus 1:10, to act wisely (cf. Psalm 105:25, הת, to act cunningly). And השׁ, which is elsewhere used of being inwardly torpid, i.e., being astonished, obstupescere, has here the meaning of placing oneself in a benumbed, disordered state, or also, passively, of becoming disconcerted; not of becoming desolate or being deserted (Hitz., Ginsburg, and others), which it could only mean in highly poetic discourse (Isaiah 54:1). The form תּשּׁומם is syncop., like תּךּ, Numbers 21:27; and the question, with למּה, here and at Ecclesiastes 7:17, is of the same kind as Ecclesiastes 5:5; Luther, weakening it: "that thou mayest not destroy thyself."

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