Ecclesiastes 8:11
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
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(11) Sentence.—This is a Persian word only found in Esther 1:20, and in Chaldee parts of Ezra and Daniel.



Ecclesiastes 8:11

When the Pharaoh of the Exodus saw there was respite, he hardened his heart. Abject in his fear before Moses, he was ready to promise anything; insolent in his pride, he swallows down his promises as soon as fear is eased, his repentance and his retractation of it combined to add new weights about his neck. He was but a conspicuous example of a universal fault. Every nation, I suppose, has its proverb scoffing at the contrast between the sick man’s vow and the recovered man’s sins. The bitter moralist of the Old Testament was sure not to let such an instance of man’s inconceivable levity pass unnoticed. His settled habit of dragging to light the seamy side of human nature was sure to fall on this illustration of it as congenial food. He has wrapped up here in these curt, bitter words a whole theory of man’s condition, of God’s providence, of its abuse, and of the end to which it all tends.

I. Note the delay in executing sentence.

Every ‘evil work’ is already sentenced. ‘He that believeth not,’ said Christ, ‘is condemned already’; and that is one case of a general truth. The text writes the sentence as passed, though the execution is for a time suspended. What is the underlying fact expressed by this metaphor? God’s thorough knowledge of, and displeasure at, every evil. When one sees vile things done on earth, and no bolt coming out of the clear sky, it is not easy to believe that all the foulness is known to God; but His eye reaches further than He wills to stretch His arm. He sits a silent Onlooker and beholds; the silence does not argue indifference. The sentence is pronounced, but the execution is delayed. It is not wholly delayed, for there are consequences which immediately dog our evil deeds, and are, as it were, premonitions of a yet more complete penalty. But in the present order of things the connection between a man’s evil-doing and suffering is, on the whole, slight, obscure, and partial. Evil triumphs; goodness not seldom suffers. If one thinks for a moment of the manifold evils of the world, which swathe it, as it were, in an atmosphere of woe-the wars, the slavery, the oppressions, the private sorrows-and then thinks that there is a God who lets all these go on from generation to generation, we seem to be in the presence of a mystery of mysteries. The Psalmist of old exclaimed in adoring wonder, ‘Thy judgments are a great deep’; but the absence of His judgments seems to open a profounder abyss into which even the great mountains of His righteousness appear in danger of falling.

II. The reasons for this delay.

It is not only a mystery, but it is a ‘mystery of love.’ We can see but a little way into it, but we can see so far as to be sure that the apparent passivity of God, which looks like leaving evil to work its unhindered will, is the silence of a God who ‘doth not willingly afflict,’ and is ‘slow to anger,’ because He is perfect love.

The ground of necessity for the delay in executing the sentence lies, partly, in the probationary character of this present life. If evil-doing was always followed by swift retribution, obedience would be only the obedience of fear, and God does not desire such obedience. It would be impossible that testing could go on at all if at every instant the whole of the consequences of our actions were being realised. Such a condition of things is unthinkable, and would be as confusing, in the moral sphere, as if harvest weather and spring weather were going on together. Again, the great reason why sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily lies in God’s own heart, and His desire to win us to Himself by benefits. He does not seek enforced obedience; He neither desires our being wedded to evil, nor our being weighed upon by the consequences of our sin, and so He holds back His hand. It is to be remembered that He not merely does thus restrain the forthcoming of His hand of judgment, but, instead of it, puts forth a hand of blessing. He moves around us wooing us to Himself, and, in patience possessing His spirit, marks all our sins, but loves and blesses still. He gives us the vineyard, though we do not give Him the fruit. Still He is not angry, but sends His messengers, and we stone them. Still He waits: we go on heaping year upon year of rebellious forgetfulness, and no lightning flashes from His eye, no exclamation of wearied-out patience, comes from His lips, no rush of the sudden arrow from His long-stretched bow. The endless patience of God has no explanation but only this, that He loves us too well to leave any means untried to bring us to Him, and that He lingers round us to win our hearts. O rare and unspeakable love, the patient love of the patient God!

III. The abuse of this delay.

We have the knack of turning God’s pure gifts into poison, and practise a devilish chemistry by which we distil venom from the flowers of Eden and the roses of the garden of God. I don’t suppose that to many men the respite which marks God’s dealing with them actually tends to doubts of His righteousness, or of His power, or of His being. We have evidence enough of these; and the apparently counter evidence, arising from the impunity of evil-doers, is fairly enough laid aside by our moral instincts and consciousness, and by the consideration that the mighty sweep of God’s providence is too great for us to decide on the whole circle by the small portion of the circumference which we have seen. But what most men do is simply that they permit impunity to deaden their sense of right and wrong, and go on in their course without any serious thought of God’s blessings, to jostle Him out of their mind; they ‘despise the riches of His long-suffering goodness,’ and never suffer it to ‘lead them to repentance.’ To the unthinking minds of most of us, the long continuance of impunity lulls us into a dream of its perpetuity. Man’s godless ingratitude is as deep a mystery as is God’s loving patience. It is strange that, with such constant failure of His love to win, God should still persevere in it. For more than seventy times seven He persists in forgiving the rebellious child who sins against Him, and for more than seventy times seven the child persists in the abuse of the Father’s love, which still remains-an abuse of sin above all sins.

IV. The end of the delay.

The sentence is passed. It is impossible that it should not be executed. When God has done all, and sees that the point of hopelessness is reached, or when the time has for other reasons come, then He lets the sentence take effect. He kept back the destroying angels from Sodom, but He sent them forth at last. There is a point in the history of nations and of men when iniquity is ‘full,’ and when God sees that it is best, on world-wide grounds or personal ones, to end it. So there come for nations and for individuals crises; and the law for the divine working is, ‘A short work will the Lord make on the earth.’ For long years Noah was building the ark, and exposed to the scoffs of a generation whose sentence had been pronounced and not yet executed; but the day came when he entered into its covert, and ‘the flood came and destroyed them all.’ For generations He would fain have gathered the people of Jerusalem to His bosom ‘as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and they would not’; but the day came when the Roman soldiers cast their torches into the beautiful house where their fathers had praised Him, and sinned against Him, and it was left unto them desolate. Let us not be high-minded nor victims of our levity and inconsiderateness, but fear.

Let us remember too that the intensity of the execution is aggravated by all the sins committed during the delay. By them we ‘treasure wrath against the day of wrath.’ He says to His angels at last ‘Now,’ and the sword falls, and justice is done. ‘The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small.’ The sum of the whole matter is, every evil of ours is sentenced already; the punishment is delayed for our sins, and because Christ has died. God is wooing our hearts, and trying to win us to love Him by the holding back of the sentence which we are daily abusing. Shall we not accept His forbearance and take His gifts as tokens of the patient tenderness of His heart? Or are we to be like ‘the brutes that perish,’ knowing neither the hand that feeds them, nor the hand that kills them. The delay in rendering ‘the just recompence of reward’ only aggravates its weight when it falls. As in some levers, the slower the motion, the greater the force of the lift.

Ecclesiastes 8:11. Because sentence against an evil work — God’s determinate counsel for the punishment of all evil doers; is not executed speedily

But is oftentimes delayed for some time, to give them space for repentance; therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them — Hebrew, מלא לב, their heart is filled, or, as the LXX, render it επληροφορηθη καρδια is carried on with full sail, like a ship with a strong and violent wind; or, is bold, or presumptuous, as the same phrase is used elsewhere.

8:9-13 Solomon observed, that many a time one man rules over another to his hurt, and that prosperity hardens them in their wickedness. Sinners herein deceive themselves. Vengeance comes slowly, but it comes surely. A good man's days have some substance; he lives to a good purpose: a wicked man's days are all as a shadow, empty and worthless. Let us pray that we may view eternal things as near, real, and all-important.i. e., "I saw wicked (rulers) buried, who came into the world and went from the Holy place (the seat of authority and justice, Deuteronomy 19:17; 2 Chronicles 19:6), and they were forgotten in the city where they had so ruled to the hurt of their subjects: this - their death and oblivion - shews their lot also to be vanity." Others interpret the verse: "I have seen wicked men buried; and (others) came into the world, and from the Holy place they went out of the world, and were forgotten in the city where they had done rightly" (compare 2 Kings 7:9). 11. The reason why the wicked persevere in sin: God's delay in judgment (Mt 24:48-51; 2Pe 3:8, 9). "They see not the smoke of the pit, therefore they dread not the fire" [South], (Ps 55:19). Joab's escape from the punishment of his murder of Abner, so far from "leading him to repentance," as it ought (Ro 2:4), led him to the additional murder of Amasa. Sentence against an evil work; or, the decree, &c. God’s determinate counsel or sentence for the punishment of tyrants and all evil-doers.

Therefore; because God’s forbearance makes them presumptuous and secure, and confident of impunity.

Is fully set, Heb. is filled, is carried on with full sail, as the LXX. understand it, like a ship with a strong and violent wind; or, is bold or presumptuous, as the same phrase is understood, Esther 7:5 Acts 5:3.

Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily,.... Any evil work done by magistrates, or others, against which the wrath of God is revealed from heaven, and is threatened with his vengeance; the decree is gone forth, the sentence is passed, God is determined upon punishment; but there is a delay of it, he exercises patience and longsuffering to answer some end of his, both towards his own people and the wicked; as well as to display some of his own perfections; but because so it is, the judgment comes not at once;

therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil; or their "heart is full to do evil" (n); they have not only a fulness of sin in them naturally as is in every man's heart; but they are filled with resolution, boldness, and courage, to commit sin, promising themselves impurity from the seeming delay of justice; such an abuse do they make of the patience and forbearance of God; they become more and more hardened in sin and bent upon the commission of it.

(n) "plenum ad faciendum malum", Pagninus, Montanus; "praegnano ad faciendum malum", Gussetius, p. 469.

Because sentence against an evil work is not {l} executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.

(l) Where justice is delayed, there sin reigns.

11. Because sentence against an evil work] The word for “sentence” is only found here and in Esther 1:20, where it is translated “decree” and is probably of Persian origin. Its primary meaning seems to be “a thing sent” and so the king’s missive or edict. The point of the reflection is that the anomaly noted in the previous verse was not only evil in itself, but the cause of further evil by leading men to think they could go on transgressing with impunity.

is fully set in them to do evil] Literally, their heart is full in them.

Verse 11. - The verse states one of the results of God's forbearance in punishing the evil. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily. The verse begins with asher," because," as in Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 6:12, which connects the sentence with the allegation of vanity just preceding, as well as with what follows. Pithgam, "sentence," "edict," is a foreign word of Persian origin, found in Esther 1:20 and in Chaldee portions of Ezra (Ezra 4:17) and Daniel (Daniel 4:14, etc.). God seems to us to delay in punishing the guilty because we behold only one little portion of the course of his providence; could we take a more comprehensive view, anomalies would disappear, and we should see the end of these men (Psalm 73:17). But a contracted, skeptical view leads to two evils - first, a weakening of faith in God's moral government; and second, a miserable fatalism which denies man's responsibility and saps his energy. Of the former of these results Koheleth here treats. Therefore the heart of the sons of men. The heart is named as the seat of thought and the prime mover of action (comp. Ecclesiastes 9:3; Esther 7:5; Matthew 15:18, 19). Is fully set in them to do evil; literally, is full in them; i.e. their heart becomes filled with thoughts which are directed to evil, or full of courage, hence "emboldened" (Revised Version margin) to do evil. Vulgate, absque timore ullo filii hominum perpetrant mala; Septuagint, "Because there is no contradiction (ἀντίῥῤησις) made on the part of (ἀπὸ) those who do evil speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully persuaded (ἐπληροφορήθη) in them to do evil." The long-suffering of God, instead of leading such men to repentance, hardens them in their infidelity (Psalm 73:11). Primarily, the reference is still to tyrannical despots, who, in their seeming impunity, are em-boldened to pursue their evil course. But the statement is true generally. As Cicero says, "Quis ignorat maximam illecebram esse peccandi impunitatis spem?" ('Pro Milone,' 16.). Ecclesiastes 8:11"Because judgment against the work of the wicked man is not speedily executed, for this reason the heart of the children of men is full within them, to this, that they do evil." The clause with asher is connected first with the foregoing ־מג havel: thus vain, after the nature of a perverted world (inversus ordo) events go on, because ... (asher, as at Ecclesiastes 4:3; Ecclesiastes 6:12; cf. Deuteronomy 3:24); but the following clause with 'al-ken makes this clause with asher reflex. an antecedent of itself (asher equals 'al-asher) - originally it is not meant as an antecedent.פּתגם

(Note: With ג raph. in H. P. and the older edd., as also Esther 1:20; Daniel 3:16. Thus also the punctuator Jekuthil in his En hakore to Esther 1:20.)

(here to be written after נעשׂה, with פ raph., and, besides, also with ג raph.), in the post-exilian books, is the Persian paigam, Armen. patgam, which is derived from the ancient Pers. paiti-gama: "Something that has happened, tidings, news." The Heb. has adopted the word in the general sense of "sentence;" in the passage before us it signifies the saying or sentence of the judge, as the Pers. word, like the Arab. nabazn, is used principally of the sayings of a prophet (who is called peighâm-bar). Zirkel regards it as the Greek φθέγμα; but thus, also, the words אזמל, אפּריון strangely agree in sound with σμίλη φορεῖον, without being borrowed from the Greek. The long a of the word is, as Elst. shows, Ecclesiastes 1:20, invariable; also here פּתגם is the constr. To point פּתגם, with Heiligst. and Burg., is thus unwarrantable. It is more remarkable that the word is construed fem. instead of mas. For since אין is construed

(Note: Ginsburg points in favour of נעשׂה as fin. to Exodus 3:2, but there אכּל is particip.; to Jeremiah 38:5, but there יוּכל (if it is not to be read יכול) represents an attributive clause; and to Job 35:15, but there the word is rightly pointed אין, not אין; and this, like the vulg. Arab. laysa, is used as an emphatic לא.)

neither in the bibl. nor in the Mishnic style with the finite of the verb, נעשׂה is not the 3rd pret., but the particip. It is not, however, necessary, with Hitz., to read נישׂה. The foreign word, like the (Arab.) firdans, παράδεισος, admits of use in the double gend. (Ewald, 174g); but it is also possible that the fem. נעשׂה is per. attract. occasioned by הרעה, as Kimchi, Michlol 10a, supposes (cf. besides, under Ecclesiastes 10:15). מעשׂה is const. governed by phithgam, and hara'ah is thus obj. gen. The lxx, Syr., and Jerome read מעשׂי, which would be possible only if phithgam min - after the analogy of the Heb.-Aram. phrase, niphra' ('ithpera') min, to take one's due of any one, i.e., to take vengeance on him, to punish him - could mean the full execution of punishment on any one; but it means here, as Jerome rightly translates, sententia; impossible, however, with me'ose hara'ah, sententia contra malos. Hengst. supposes that not only the traditional text, but also the accentuation, is correct, for he construes: because a sentence (of the heavenly Judge) is not executed, the work of wickedness is haste, i.e., speedy. Thus also Dachselt in the Biblia accentuata. Mercerus, on the contrary, remarks that the accents are not in the first instance marks of interpunction, but of cantillation. In fact, genit. word-connections do not exclude the keeping them asunder by distinctives such as Pashta and Tiphcha, Isaiah 10:2, and also Zakeph, as e.g., Esther 1:4. The lxx well renders: "Therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully persuaded in them to do evil;" for which Jerome, freely, after Symm.: absque timore ullo filii hominum perpetrant mala. The heart of one becomes full to do anything, is equals it acquires full courage thereto (Luzzatto, 590: gli blast l'animo); cf. Esther 7:5 : "Where is he who has his heart filled to do?" (thus rightly, Keil), i.e., whom it has encourage to so bold an undertaking. בּהם in itself unnecessarily heightens the expression of the inwardness of the destructive work (vid., Psychol. p. 151f.). The sentence of punishment does not take effect mehera, hastily (adv. accus. for bimherah, Ecclesiastes 4:12), therefore men are secure, and they give themselves with full, i.e., with fearless and shameless, boldness to the practice of evil. The author confirms this further, but not without expressing his own conviction that there is a righteous requital which contradicts this appearance.

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