Ecclesiastes 8:1
Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
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(1) This verse in praise of wisdom can be connected either with what precedes or what follows. (See Hosea 14:9.)

Interpretation.—The word occurs elsewhere in the Chaldee parts of Daniel.

Boldness.—Impudence is removed from the countenance. See Proverbs 7:13; Proverbs 21:29; Ecclesiasticus 13:25.

Ecclesiastes 8:1. Who is wise? — There are few wise men in this world. Who knoweth, &c. — How few understand the reasons of things, and can rightly expound the word and works of God! A man’s wisdom makes his face, &c. — Makes a man venerable, cheerful, mild, and amiable. The face is put for the mind, because the mind discovers itself in the countenance. The boldness of his face — The roughness or fierceness of it, shall be changed — Into gentleness and humility.

8:1-5 None of the rich, the powerful, the honourable, or the accomplished of the sons of men, are so excellent, useful, or happy, as the wise man. Who else can interpret the words of God, or teach aright from his truths and dispensations? What madness must it be for weak and dependent creatures to rebel against the Almighty! What numbers form wrong judgments, and bring misery on themselves, in this life and that to come!And who - Rather, and as he who knoweth. The possessor of wisdom excels other people: it imparts serenity to his countenance, and removes the expression of gloom or fierceness (see the marginal reference). CHAPTER 8

Ec 8:1-17.

1. Praise of true wisdom continued (Ec 7:11, &c.). "Who" is to be accounted "equal to the wise man? … Who (like him) knoweth the interpretation" of God's providences (for example, Ec 7:8, 13, 14), and God's word (for example, see on [665]Ec 7:29; Pr 1:6)?

face to shine—(Ec 7:14; Ac 6:15). A sunny countenance, the reflection of a tranquil conscience and serene mind. Communion with God gives it (Ex 34:29, 30).


changed—into a benign expression by true wisdom (religion) (Jas 3:17). Maurer translates, "The shining (brightness) of his face is doubled," arguing that the Hebrew noun for "boldness" is never used in a bad sense (Pr 4:18). Or as Margin, "strength" (Ec 7:19; Isa 40:31; 2Co 3:18). But the adjective is used in a bad sense (De 28:50).Kings to be greatly respected, Ecclesiastes 8:1-5. Our times uncertain; death not to be resisted, Ecclesiastes 8:6-8. An evil magistrate buried and forgot, Ecclesiastes 8:9,10. Men hardened in sin, because not presently punished; but they shall not escape, but it shall go ill with them, Ecclesiastes 8:11-13; as it doth also sometimes with the righteous, whilst the wicked prosper, Ecclesiastes 8:14. Mirth therefore, and a contented enjoyment of God’s gifts, preferable to immoderate care and search, Ecclesiastes 8:15. God’s work herein past finding out, Ecclesiastes 8:16,17.

Who is as the wise man? who is to be compared with a wise man? He is incomparably the most excellent man in the world. Or rather, who is truly wise? the particle as being here not a note of similitude, but of reality, as it is John 1:14, and in many other places, as hath been noted. There are very few or no truly wise men in this world. This seems best to agree with the next clause, which is not, who is as he that knoweth, but who knoweth, &c.

Who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? how few are there who understand the reasons of things, and can rightly expound the word and works of God, and instruct and satisfy himself and others in all the doubtful and difficult cases of human actions!

A man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine; maketh a man illustrious and venerable, cheerful, and mild, and amiable in his carriage to others. The face is put for the mind or inward frame, because the mind discovers itself in the countenance.

The boldness of his face; the roughness or fierceness, the pride or impudence of his disposition, as this phrase is used, Deu 28:50 Proverbs 7:13 21:29 Daniel 8:23; shall be changed into gentleness and humility.

Who is as the wise man?.... Who is as the first man, that was made upright, and was a wise man? not one of his sons. Or who is as the wise man, meaning himself? no man; he was the wisest of men; and yet he could not find out wisdom, and the reason of things, and the wickedness of folly, Ecclesiastes 7:25; how therefore should any other man? what can the man do that comes after the king? Or who is like to a wise man, to he compared to him for honour and dignity? none; not those of the highest birth and blood, of the greatest wealth and riches, or in the highest places of power and authority; a wise man is above them, they being without wisdom; and especially such as are wise to salvation; these are the excellent in the earth, and the most worthy among men. Or who is a truly wise man? is there really such a person in the world, that has got to the perfection of wisdom? not one; and very few they are that can, in a true and proper sense, be called wise men. The Targum is,

"who is a wise man, that can stand against the wisdom of the Lord?''

and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? or "a word" (q)? the word of God, which is not of private interpretation? none know it rightly, but such who have the Spirit of God, the enditer of the word: Christ is the interpreter, one among a thousand; and, next to him are those who have his mind, and rightly divide the word of truth. The Targum is,

"and to know the interpretation of the words in the prophets:''

this may be understood of the solution of any difficulties in things natural or civil; and of the interpretation of any of the works of God, either in nature or providence, as well as of his word; and he is a wise man, that not only has wisdom in himself, but is able to teach others, and make them wise; can solve doubts, remove difficulties, interpret nature, the works and word of God. Aben Ezra repeats the note of similitude from the former clause, and so it may be rendered, "Who is as he that knows the interpretation of a thing", or "word?" such an one as Solomon was, Proverbs 1:6;

a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine: as Moses, when he came down from the mount, full fraught with the knowledge of the will of God, Exodus 34:29; and as Stephen, whose wisdom and spirit, by which he spoke, were irresistible, Acts 6:10; wisdom, which discovers itself in a man's words and actions, gives comeliness to his person, makes him look amiable and lovely in the eyes of others: or, it "enlightens his face" (r); by it he is able to see the difference between truth and falsehood, and what is to be done and not done; what way he should walk in, and what he should shun and avoid;

and the boldness of his face shall be changed; the ferocity and austerity of his countenance, the impudence and inhumanity that appeared in him before, through his wisdom and knowledge, are changed into meekness, gentleness, and humanity; of an impudent, fierce, and badly behaved man, he becomes meek, modest, affable, and humane; this effect natural wisdom and knowledge has on men (s); and much more spiritual and evangelical wisdom, which comes from above, and is first pure, then peaceable and gentle, James 3:17. Some read it, "the strength of his face shall be doubled", or "renewed" (t); he shall be changed into the same image, from glory to glory; his spiritual strength shall be renewed, and his light and knowledge increase yet more and more, 2 Corinthians 3:18. But Gussetius (u) renders it, his "boldness", or impudence, "shall be hated".

(q) "verbi", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus. (r) "illustrati", Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Mercerus; "illuminat", Cocceius, Gejerus, Rambachius, so Broughton. (s) "Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes, emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros", Ovid. de Ponto, l. 2. Eleg. 9. (t) "duplicatur", Junius & Tremellius, Varenius; "instauratur", Cocceius, Gejerus. (u) Ebr. Comment. p. 595. so the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions.

Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face {a} to shine, and {b} the boldness of his face shall be changed.

(a) That is, gets him favour and prosperity.

(b) While before he was proud and arrogant, he will become humble and meek.

1. Who is as the wise man?] The question comes in abruptly as from a teacher who calls the attention of his scholars to things that are φωνήεντα συνέτοισιν (“significant to those who understand”) and remind us of the “He that hath ears to hear let him hear” in our Lord’s teaching (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9; Mark 4:9). Something there was in what he is about to add, to be read between the lines. It required a á man to “know the interpretation” (the noun is Chaldaean and is found, with a slight variation, as the prominent word in Daniel 4:5; Daniel 4:7) of the “thing” or better, “of the word.” We find the probable explanation of this suggestive question in the fact that the writer veils a protest against despotism in the garb of the maxims of servility.

a man’s wisdom maketh his face to shine] Literally, illuminates his face. The word paints with a wonderful vividness the almost trans-figuring effect of the “sweetness and light” of a serene wisdom, or of the joy that brightens a man’s countenance when he utters his Eureka over the solution of a long-pondered problem.

the boldness of his face shall be changed] Literally, the strength of face, i.e. its sternness. The words have been very variously translated, (1) as in the LXX. “his shameless face shall be hated,” (2) as by Ewald “the brightness of his countenance shall be doubled.” There is no ground, however, for rejecting the Authorised Version. The “boldness of the face” is, as in the “fierce countenance” of Deuteronomy 28:50; Daniel 8:23, the “impudent face” of Proverbs 7:13, the coarse ferocity of ignorance, and this is transformed by culture. The maxim is like that of the familiar lines of Ovid,

“Adde quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes,

Emollit mores nec sinit esse feros.”

“To learn in truth the nobler arts of life,

Makes manners gentle, rescues them from strife.”

Epp. ex Ponto ii. 9. 47.

Verses 1-9. - Section 5. There is no use in repining or rebelling; true wisdom counsels obedience to the powers that be, and submission to the dispensations of Providence. However oppressive a tyrant may prove sure retribution awaits him. Verse 1. - Who is as the wise man? i.e. Who is like, equal to, the wise man? The somewhat sudden question occurs naturally after the results of the search for wisdom mentioned at the end of the last chapter. The thought is not, as in Hosea 14:9 and Jeremiah 9:12, "Who is wise?" but - No one Call be compared with a wise man; he has no compeer. And who [like him] knoweth the interpretation of a thing? Who, so well as the wise man, understands the proper relation of circumstances, sees into human affairs and God's dispensations in the case of nations and individuals? Such a one takes the right view of life. The word pesher, "interpretation," occurs (peshar) continually in Daniel, and nowhere else and is Chaldaic. The Vulgate, which connects these two clauses with Ecclesiastes 7, renders, Quis cognovit solutionem verbi? So the Septuagint. The "word" or "saying" may be the question proposed above Concerning the happy life, or the proverb that immediately follows. But dabar is better rendered "thing," as Ecclesiastes 1:8; Ecclesiastes 7:8. A man's wisdom maketh his face to shine; Septuagint, φωτιεῖ, "will enlighten, illuminate." The serene light within makes itself visible in the outward expression; the man is contented arid cheerful, and shows this in his look and bearing. This is an additional praise of wisdom. Thus Ecclus. 13:25, 26, "The heart of man changeth his countenance, whether it be for good or evil. A cheerful countenance is a token of a heart that is in prosperity." Cicero, 'De Orat.,' 3:57, "Omnes enim motus animi suum quemdam a natura habet vultum et sonum et gestum; corpusque totum homiuis et ejus omnis vultus omnesque voces, ut nervi in fidibus, ita sonant, ut motu animi quoque sunt pulsae." And the boldness of his face shall be changed. The word translated "boldness" is עֹז, which means properly "strength," and is best taken of the coarseness and impudence engendered by ignorance and want of culture. Wisdom, when it fills the heart, changes the countenance to an open genial look, which wins confidence and love. Delitzsch refers to the well-worn lines of Ovid, 'Epist.,' 2:9. 47 -

"Adde, quod ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes
Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros."
The Septuagint, "And a man shameless in countenance will be hated," shows an alteration in the text, and does not agree with the context. Vulgate, Et potentissimus faciem illius commutabit, "And the Almighty will change his face," where again the text is not accurately followed. Ecclesiastes 8:1"Who is like the wise? and who understandeth the interpretation of things? The wisdom of a man maketh his face bright, and the rudeness of his face is changed." Unlike this saying: "Who is like the wise?" are the formulas חכם מי, Hosea 14:9, Jeremiah 11:11, Psalm 107:43, which are compared by Hitzig and others. "Who is like the wise?" means: Who is equal to him? and this question, after the scheme מי־כמכה, Exodus 15:11, presents him as one who has not his like among men. Instead of כּה the word כּחכם might be used, after לחכם, Ecclesiastes 2:16, etc. The syncope is, as at Ezekiel 40:25, omitted, which frequently occurs, particularly in the more modern books, Ezekiel 47:22; 2 Chronicles 10:7; 2 Chronicles 25:10; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Nehemiah 9:19; Nehemiah 12:38. The regular giving of Dagesh to כ after מי, with Jethib, not Mahpach, is as at Ecclesiastes 8:7 after כּי; Jethib is a disjunctive. The second question is not כּיודע, but יודע וּמי, and thus does not mean: who is like the man of understanding, but: who understands, viz., as the wise man does; thus it characterizes the incomparably excellent as such. Many interpreters (Oetinger, Ewald, Hitz., Heiligst., Burg., Elst., Zckl.) persuade themselves that דּבר פּשׁר is meant of the understanding of the proverb, 8b. The absence of the art., says Hitzig, does not mislead us: of a proverb, viz., the following; but in this manner determinate ideas may be made from all indeterminate ones. Rightly, Gesenius: explicationem ullius rei; better, as at Ecclesiastes 7:8 : cujusvis rei. Ginsburg compares נבון דּבר, 1 Samuel 16:18, which, however, does not mean him who has the knowledge of things, but who is well acquainted with words. It is true that here also the chief idea פּשׁר first leads to the meaning verbum (according to which the lxx, Jer., the Targ., and Syr. translate; the Venet.: ἑρμηνείαν λόγου); but since the unfolding or explaining (pēshěr) refers to the actual contents of the thing spoken, verbi and rei coincide. The wise man knows how to explain difficult things, to unfold mysterious things; in short, he understands how to go to the foundation of things.

What now follows, Ecclesiastes 8:1, might be introduced by the confirming כי, but after the manner of synonymous parallelism it places itself in the same rank with 1a, since, that the wise man stands so high, and no one like him looks through the centre of things, is repeated in another form: "Wisdom maketh his face bright" is thus to be understood after Psalm 119:130 and Psalm 19:9, wisdom draws the veil from his countenance, and makes it clear; for wisdom is related to folly as light is to darkness, Ecclesiastes 2:13. The contrast, ישׁ ... עזו ("and the rudeness of his face is changed"), shows, however, that not merely the brightening of the countenance, but in general that intellectual and ethical transfiguration of the countenance is meant, in which at once, even though it should not in itself be beautiful, we discover the educated man rising above the common rank. To translate, with Ewald: and the brightness of his countenance is doubled, is untenable; even supposing that ישׁנּא can mean, like the Arab. yuthattay, duplicatur, still עז, in the meaning of brightness, is in itself, and especially with פּניו, impossible, along with which it is, without doubt, to be understood after az panim, Deuteronomy 28:50; Daniel 8:23, and hē'ēz panim, Proverbs 7:13, or bephanim, Proverbs 21:29, so that thus פנים עז has the same meaning as the post-bibl. פנים עזּוּת, stiffness, hardness, rudeness of countenance equals boldness, want of bashfulness, regardlessness, e.g., Shabbath 30b, where we find a prayer in these words: O keep me this day from פנים עזי and from עזות פ (that I may not incur the former or the latter). The Talm. Taanith 7b, thus explaining, says: "Every man to whom עזות פ belongs, him one may hate, as the scripture says, ישּׂנא ... ועז (do not read ישׁנּא)." The lxx translates μισητηήσεται will be hated, and thus also the Syr.; both have thus read as the Talm. has done, which, however, bears witness in favour of ישׁנּא as the traditional reading. It is not at all necessary, with Hitzig, after Zirkel, to read yshane': but boldness disfigureth his countenance; עז in itself alone, in the meaning of boldness, would, it is true, along with פניו as the obj. of the verb, be tenable; but the change is unnecessary, the passive affords a perfectly intelligible meaning: the boldness, or rudeness, of his visage is changed, viz., by wisdom (Bttch., Ginsb., Zckl.). The verb שׁנה (שנא, Lamentations 4:1) means, Malachi 3:6, merely "to change, to become different;" the Pih. שׁנּה, Jeremiah 52:33, שׁנּא, 2 Kings 25:29, denotes in these two passages a change in melius, and the proverb of the Greek, Sir. 13:24, -

Καρδία ἀντηρώπου ἀλλοιοῖ τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ

ἐάν τε εἰς ἀγαθὰ ἐάν τε εἰς κακά,

is preserved to us in its original form thus:

לב אדם ישׁנּא פניו

בּין לטוב וּבין לרע׃

so that thus שׁנּא, in the sense of being changed as to the sternness of the expression of the countenance, is as good as established. What Ovid says of science: emollit mores nec sinit esse feros, thus tolerably falls in with what is here said of wisdom: Wisdom gives bright eyes to a man, a gentle countenance, a noble expression; it refines and dignifies his external appearance and his demeanour; the hitherto rude external, and the regardless, selfish, and bold deportment, are changed into their contraries. If, now, Ecclesiastes 8:1 is not to be regarded as an independent proverb, it will bear somewhat the relation of a prologue to what follows. Luther and others regard Ecclesiastes 8:1 as of the nature of an epilogue to what goes before; parallels, such as Hosea 14:9, make that appear probable; but it cannot be yielded, because the words are not חכם מי, but מי כהח. But that which follows easily subordinates itself to Ecclesiastes 8:1, in as far as fidelity to duty and thoughtfulness amid critical social relations are proofs of that wisdom which sets a man free from impetuous rudeness, and fits him intelligently and with a clear mind to accommodate himself to the time.

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