Ecclesiastes 7:7
Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.
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(7) Surely.—Rather, For. This change is required not only by literalness, but by the fact that the verse comes in a series of paragraphs, each commencing with the word “better,” as does the next verse. This verse therefore cannot introduce a new subject, but must be connected with what has gone before. But it is so hard to do this satisfactorily, that Delitzsch conjectures that a line may have dropped out, and that this verse may have begun with “Better: e.g., “Better is a little with righteousness, &c,” as in Proverbs 16:8. If this be thought too strong a remedy, we may explain the connection, that by listening to faithful rebuke rather than to the flattery of fools, a ruler may be checked in a course of oppression or corruption which threatens to undermine his understanding. As we understand the passage, he becomes mad who commits, not who suffers, the oppression.

Ecclesiastes 7:7. Oppression maketh a wise man mad — Either, 1st, When a wise man falls into the sin of oppressing others, he is infatuated by it, and by the riches which he gains in this way: or, rather, 2d, When a man is oppressed by wicked men, it often makes him fret and vex himself, and speak or act unadvisedly and foolishly. And a gift destroyeth the heart — A bribe given to a wise man deprives him of the use of his understanding. So this verse discovers two ways whereby a wise man may be made mad, by suffering oppression from others, or by receiving bribes to oppress others. And this also is an argument of the vanity of worldly wisdom, that is so easily corrupted and lost; and so it serves the main design of this book.

7:7-10 The event of our trials and difficulties is often better than at first we thought. Surely it is better to be patient in spirit, than to be proud and hasty. Be not soon angry, nor quick in resenting an affront. Be not long angry; though anger may come into the bosom of a wise man, it passes through it as a way-faring man; it dwells only in the bosom of fools. It is folly to cry out upon the badness of our times, when we have more reason to cry out for the badness of our own hearts; and even in these times we enjoy many mercies. It is folly to cry up the goodness of former times; as if former ages had not the like things to complain of that we have: this arises from discontent, and aptness to quarrel with God himself.Rather, oppression (or extortions) maketh a wise man foolish; and a bribe etc. If a wise man, being in a high position, exercises oppression (see Psalm 62:10), or practices extortion, he becomes a fool in so doing. This verse is a warning against impatience in the exercise of power or the acquisition of riches. 7. oppression—recurring to the idea (Ec 3:16; 5:8). Its connection with Ec 7:4-6 is, the sight of "oppression" perpetrated by "fools" might tempt the "wise" to call in question God's dispensations, and imitate the folly (equivalent to "madness") described (Ec 7:5,6). Weiss, for "oppression," translates, "distraction," produced by merriment. But Ec 5:8 favors English Version.

a gift—that is, the sight of bribery in "places of judgment" (Ec 3:16) might cause the wise to lose their wisdom (equivalent to "heart"), (Job 12:6; 21:6, 7; 24:1, &c.). This suits the parallelism better than "a heart of gifts"; a benevolent heart, as Weiss.

Oppression; either,

1. Active. When a wise man falls into the practice of this sin of oppressing others, he is besotted by it, and by the vast riches which he by his great wit gets by it. Or rather,

2. Passive. When a wise man is oppressed by foolish and wicked men, it makes him fret and rage, and speak or act like a madman; for the wisest men are most sensible of indignities and injuries, whereas fools are stupid, and do not much lay them to heart.

A gift, a bribe given to a wise man,

destroyeth the heart; deprives him of the use of his understanding, which is oft called the heart, as Exodus 23:8 Deu 16:19 Hosea 4:8, or makes him mad, as was said in the former clause. So this verse discovers two ways whereby a wise man may be made mad, by suffering oppression from others, or by receiving bribes to oppress others. And this also is an argument of the vanity of worldly wisdom, that it is so easily corrupted and lost, and so it serves the main design of this book.

Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad,.... Which is to be understood either passively, when he is oppressed by others, or sees others oppressed; it raises indignation in him, disturbs his mind, and he is ready to pass a wrong judgment on the dispensations of Providence, and to say rash and unadvised things concerning them, Psalm 73:2; or actively, of oppression with which he oppresses others; when he gives into such measures, his wisdom departs from him, his mind is besotted, he acts the part of a madman, and pierces himself through with many sorrows. Some understand this of wealth got in an ill way; or of gifts given to bribe men to do injury to others; and which the following clause is thought to explain;

and a gift destroyeth the heart; blinds the eyes of judges other ways wise; perverts their judgment, and causes them to pass a wrong sentence, as well as perverts justice: or, "and destroys the heart of gifts" (k); a heart that is possessed of the gifts of wisdom and knowledge; or a munificent heart, a heart disposed to give bountifully and liberally, that oppression destroys and renders useless.

(k) "et frangit cor dotibus praeclaris ornatum", Tigurine version; so some Jewish writers in Mercerus.

Surely oppression maketh a wise man {e} mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.

(e) A man that is esteemed wise, when he falls to oppression, becomes like a beast.

7. Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad] Literally, For oppression … The sequence of thought is obscure and the English rendering is an attempt to evade the difficulty by making what follows the beginning of a new section. One commentator (Delitzsch) cuts the knot by supposing the first half of the verse to have been lost, and supplies it conjecturally from Prov. 37:16 or Proverbs 16:8, “Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right,” after which the conjunction “for” comes in natural order. Taking the text as it stands we may yet trace a latent connexion. The ‘song’ and ‘laughter’ of fools, i.e. of evil-doers, like those of Proverbs 1:10-18; Wis 2:1-20, leads to selfish luxury, and therefore to all forms of unjust gain. The mirth of fools, i.e. of the godless, is vanity, for it issues in oppression and in bribery. It is a question whether the “wise man” who is thus maddened by oppression is the oppressor or the oppressed. The balance seems to turn in favour of the former. The oppressive exercise of power is so demoralising that even the wise man, skilled in state-craft, loses his wisdom. There comes upon him, as the history of crime so often shews, something like a mania of tyrannous cruelty. And the same effect follows on the practice of corruption. It is true of the giver as well as the receiver of a bribe, that he loses his “heart,” i.e. his power of moral discernment.

Verse 7. - The verse begins with ki, which usually introduces a reason for what has preceded; but the difficulty in finding the connection has led to various explanations and evasions. The Authorized Version boldly separates the verse from what has gone before, and makes a new paragraph beginning with "surely:" Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad. Delitzsch supposes that something has been lost between vers. 6 and 7, and he supplies the gap by a clause borrowed from Proverbs 16:8, "Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right;" and then the sentence proceeds naturally, "For oppression," etc. But this is scarcely satisfactory, as it is mere conjecture wholly unsupported by external evidence. The Vulgate leaves ki untranslated; the Septuagint has ὅτι. Looking at the various paragraphs, all beginning with rob, rendered "better," viz. vers. 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, we must regard the present verse as connected with what precedes, a new subject being introduced at ver. 8. Putting ver. 6 in a parenthesis as merely presenting an illustration of the talk of fools, we may see in ver. 7 a confirmation of the first part of ver. 5. The rebuke of the wise is useful even in the case of rulers who are tempted -to excess and injustice. The "oppression" in the text is the exercise of irresponsible power, that which a man inflicts, not what he suffers; this makes him "mad," even though he be in other respects and under other circumstances wise; he ceases to be directed by reason and principle, and needs the correction of faithful rebuke. The Septuagint and Vulgate, rendering respectively συκοφαντία and calumnia, imply that the evil which distracts the wise man is false accusation. And a gift destroyeth the heart. The admission of bribery is likewise an evil that calls for wise rebuke. So Proverbs 15:27, "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live." The phrase, "destroys the heart," means corrupts the understanding, deprives a man of wisdom, makes him no better than a fool (comp. Hosea 4:11, where the same effect is attributed to whoredom and drunkenness). The Septuagint has, ἀπόλλυσι τὴν καρδίαν εὐγενείας αὐτοῦ, "destroys the heart of his nobility;" the Vulgate, perdet robur cordis illius, "will destroy the strength of his heart." The interpretation given above seems to be the most reasonable way of dealing with the existing text; but Nowack and Volck adopt Delitzsch's emendation. Ecclesiastes 7:7Without further trying to explain the mystery of the כי, we translate this verse: "... For oppression maketh wise men mad, and corruption destroyeth the understanding." From the lost first half of the verse, it appears that the subject here treated of is the duties of a judge, including those of a ruler into whose hands his subjects, with their property and life, are given. The second half is like an echo of Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19. That which שׁחד there means is here, as at Proverbs 15:27, denoted by מתּנה; and עשׁק is accordingly oppression as it is exercised by one who constrains others who need legal aid and help generally to purchase it by means of presents. Such oppression for the sake of gain, even if it does not proceed to the perversion of justice, but only aims at courting and paying for favour, makes a wise man mad (הולל, as at Job 12:17; Isaiah 44:25), i.e., it hurries him forth, since the greed of gold increases more and more, to the most blinding immorality and regardlessness; and such presents for the purpose of swaying the judgment, and of bribery, destroys the heart, i.e., the understanding (cf. Hosea 4:11, Bereschith rabba, chap. lvi.), for they obscure the judgment, blunt the conscience, and make a man the slave of his passion. The conjecture העשׁר (riches) instead of the word העשׁק (Burger, as earlier Ewald) is accordingly unnecessary; it has the parallelism against it, and thus generally used gives an untrue thought. The word הולל does not mean "gives lustre" (Desvoeux), or "makes shine forth equals makes manifest" (Tyler); thus also nothing is gained for a better connection of Ecclesiastes 7:7 and Ecclesiastes 7:6. The Venet. excellently: ἐκστήσει. Aben Ezra supposes that מתנה is here equals דּבר מת; Mendelssohn repeats it, although otherwise the consciousness of the syntactical rule, Gesen. 147a, does not fail him.
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