Ecclesiastes 8:1
Who is as the wise man? and who knows the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom makes his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
VIII.

(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).

boldness—austerity.

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.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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. "For that which is, is far off, and deep, - yes, deep; who can reach it?" Knobel, Hitz., Vaih., and Bullock translate: for what is remote and deep, deep, who can find it? i.e., investigate it; but mah-shehayah is everywhere an idea by itself, and means either id quod fuit, or id quod exstitit, Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 3:15; Ecclesiastes 6:10; in the former sense it is the contrast of mah-shěihyěh, Ecclesiastes 8:7; Ecclesiastes 10:14, cf. Ecclesiastes 3:22; in the latter, it is the contrast of that which does not exist, because it has not come into existence. In this way it is also not to be translated: For it is far off what it (wisdom) is (Zckl.) [ equals what wisdom is lies far off from human knowledge], or: what it is (the essence of wisdom), is far off (Elst.) - which would be expressed by the words מה־שּׁהיא. And if מה־שׁהיה is an idea complete in itself, it is evidently not that which is past that is meant (thus e.g., Rosenm. quod ante aderat), for that is a limitation of the obj. of knowledge, which is unsuitable here, but that which has come into existence. Rightly, Hengst.: that which has being, for wisdom is τῶν ὄντων γνῶσις ἀψευδής, Wisd. 7:17. He compares Judges 3:11, "the work which God does," and Ecclesiastes 8:17, "the work which is done under the sun." What Koheleth there says of the totality of the historical, he here says of the world of things: this (in its essence and its grounds) remains far off from man; it is for him, and also in itself and for all creatures, far too deep (עמק עמק, the ancient expression for the superlative): Who can intelligibly reach (ימץ, from מצא, assequi, in an intellectual sense, as at Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17; cf. Job 11:7) it (this all of being)? The author appears in the book as a teacher of wisdom, and emphatically here makes confession of the limitation of his wisdom; for the consciousness of this limitation comes over him in the midst of his teaching.
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