Ecclesiastes 8:2
I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
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(2) The unconnected “I” with which this verse begins, indicates that some word has early dropped out of the text. The italics with which our translators fill the gap no doubt give the right sense. It may be mentioned that Ecclesiastes is characterised by a superfluous use of the pronoun “I” after the verb, just as if in Latin we constantly had, instead of “dixi,” “dixi ego.” The counsels given here and Ecclesiastes 10:4 are not what we should expect from Solomon, but rather from one who had himself lived under a despotism.

In regard of.—The words so translated are found again Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 7:14; see also Psalm 45:5; Psalm 79:9; Psalm 110:4.

The oath of God.—Unsuccessful attempts have been made to find in these words a definite historic reference. It is idle to quote the fact recorded by Josephus that Ptolemy Lagus secured the allegiance of his Jewish subjects by exacting an oath from them. This book has no connection with Egypt, and we need not look beyond the Bible for proof that an oath of vassalage was imposed on the Jews by their foreign masters, and that the breach of such an oath was regarded by the prophets as sin (2Chronicles 36:13; Ezekiel 17:13; Ezekiel 17:16; Ezekiel 17:18). And there is reason to think that similar pledges had been given to native kings (1Samuel 10:3; 1Chronicles 29:24; 2Chronicles 23:3).

Of God.—2Samuel 21:7; 1Kings 2:43.

Ecclesiastes 8:2-4. I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment — All his commands which are not contrary to the will of God, who must be obeyed rather than any man, even rather than a king. In regard of the oath of God — Because of that oath which thou hast taken to keep all God’s laws, whereof this of obedience to superiors is one. Be not hasty to go out of his sight — Hebrew, to go from his face or presence, namely, in dislike or discontent to withdraw thyself from the king’s service, or from obedience to him: stand not in an evil thing — If thou hast offended him, persist not to do so but humbly acknowledge thine offence, and beg his pardon; for he doth whatsoever pleaseth him — His power is uncontrollable. Where the word of a king is, there is power — Whatsoever he commands he wants not power nor instruments to execute, and therefore can easily punish thee as he pleases. And who may say unto him — Hebrew, who shall say? who will presume, or dare to say so? He does not affirm that it is unlawful to say so; for Samuel spoke in that manner to Saul, and Nathan to David, and several other prophets to the kings of Judah and Israel; but only that it is difficult and dangerous.

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!Oath - A reference to the oath of allegiance taken to Solomon at his accession to the throne (the margin of 1 Chronicles 29:24). 2. the king's—Jehovah, peculiarly the king of Israel in the theocracy; Ec 8:3, 4, prove it is not the earthly king who is meant.

the oath of God—the covenant which God made with Abraham and renewed with David; Solomon remembered Ps 89:35, "I have sworn," &c. (Ps 89:36), and the penalties if David's children should forsake it (Ps 89:30-32); inflicted on Solomon himself; yet God not "utterly" forsaking him (Ps 89:33, 34).

I counsel thee; which verb is necessarily understood to make the sense full and complete. See the like defects of speech, Psalm 120:7 Isaiah 5:9, &c.

To keep the king’s commandment; observe and obey all his commands; which is not to be understood universally, as if the king should have commanded them to deny or blaspheme God, or to worship idols, in which case every Christian man who reads and believes the Bible must needs confess that the Israelites especially were obliged to obey God rather than man, but only of such commands as are not contrary to the will of God.

In regard of the oath of God; either,

1. Because of that oath which thou hast taken to keep all God’s laws, whereof this of obedience to superiors is one; or,

2. Because of that covenant or oath of fealty and allegiance whereby thou hast engaged thyself to him, of which see 1 Chronicles 11:3 29:24 Ezekiel 17:16,18. Though this may also be understood, and is by some learned interpreters taken, as a limitation of their obedience to kings, the words being thus rendered, as the Hebrew will very well bear, but according to the word of the oath of God; obey the king’s commands, with this caution, that they be agreeable and not contrary to the laws of God, which thou art obliged by thy own and by thy parents’ oaths oft renewed to observe in the first place.

I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment,.... Or, "to observe the mouth of the king" (w); what he says, and do according to it when it is agreeably to the law of God, and according to the laws of the kingdom, by which he is to govern; for kings are to be honoured, obeyed, and submitted to, in the lawful discharge of their office: and such counsel and advice as this is wholesome; and, being taken, contributes much, as to the honour of kings, so to the good of kingdoms and states, and to a man's own peace and comfort. Aben Ezra supplies it,

"I command thee, or I admonish thee;''

for it may be either a charge, or art advice, respecting this and what follows. Jarchi supplies and paraphrases it thus,

"I have need, and am prepared, to observe the mouth (or keep the commandment) of the King of the world;''

and so Alshech,

"observe that which goes out of the mouth of the King of the world.''

And indeed, to understand it, not of an earthly king, but of the King of kings, as it is understood by other interpreters also, suits better with what is said of this King in the following verses; whose commandments, which are not grievous, but to be loved above fine gold, should be kept from a principle of love, without mercenary and selfish views, as they are delivered out by him, and to his glory; and such a charge as this should be attended to, and such counsel be received;

and that in regard of the oath of God; who has swore, that if his children forsake his law, and walk not in his statutes, he will visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquities with stripes; and therefore should be careful to keep his commandments, Psalm 89:30. Those who interpret this of an earthly king, by the oath of God understand the oath of allegiance and fidelity to him, taken in the name and presence of God, and therefore for conscience's sake should obey him: or render it, "but so that thou observest the manner of the oath of God" (x); or takest care to obey him; or do nothing in obedience to kings, which is contrary to the will of God; for God is to be obeyed rather than men, Acts 4:19; especially, and above all things, that is to be regarded.

(w) "os regis observes", Tigurine version, Pagninus, Mercerus; "observa", Montanus, Vatablus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius, Gejerus, Rambachius. (x) "sed, ita quod ad Deum attinent, observes rationem juramenti Dei", Varenius; "attamen, supra serve verbum juramenti Dei", Gussetius, p. 605.

I counsel thee to keep the king's {c} commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.

(c) That is, that you obey the king and keep the oath that you have made for the same cause.

2. I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment] The words in Italics “counsel thee,” have nothing answering to them in the Hebrew, and the grammar of the sentence does not allow us to translate with the Vulgate, “I keep the king’s commandment.” The pronoun on the other hand is emphatic and it introduces a series of precepts. We have therefore to supply a verb, I, for my part, say, which is practically equivalent to the English Version. The reference to the king is not without its bearing on the political surroundings of the writer and therefore on the date of the book. It is a natural inference from it that the writer, whether living in Palestine or elsewhere, was actually under a kingly government and not under that of a Satrap or Governor under the Persian King, and that the book must therefore have been written after the Persian rule had become a thing of the past. On this view Ptolemy Philopator has been suggested by one writer (Hitzig); Herod the Great by another (Grätz). See Introduction, ch. ii. The interpretation which explains the word as referring to the Divine King must be rejected as allegorising and unreal. The whole tone of the passage, it may be added, is against the Solomonic authorship of the book. The writer speaks as an observer studying the life of courts from without, not as a king asserting his own prerogative. Even on the assumption that Proverbs 25:2-6 came from the lips of Solomon, they are pitched in a very different key from that which we find here.

and that in regard of the oath of God] It is not without significance as bearing on the question of the date and authorship of the book, that Josephus relates (Ant. xii. 1) that Ptolemy Soter, the Son of Lagus, carried into Egypt a large number of captives from Judæa and Samaria, and settled them at Alexandria, and knowing their scrupulous reverence for oaths, bound them by a solemn covenant to obey him and his successors. Such an oath the Debater bids men observe, as St Paul bade Christians obey the Emperor, “not only for wrath but also for conscience’ sake” (Romans 13:5). Submission was the part of a wise man seeking for tranquillity, however bad the government might be. Of such covenants between a people and their king we have an example in 1 Chronicles 29:24.

Verse 2. - I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment. The pronoun I stands in the Hebrew without a verb (the Vulgate, Ego os regis observo, is not warranted by the grammar of the clause), and some take it as the answer to the question in ver. 1, "Who is like the wise man?" I, who am now teaching you. But it is better to regard the pronoun as emphasizing the following rule, supplying some verb (which may possibly have dropped out of the text), as, "Say, advise - I, for my part, whatever others may do or advise, I counsel thee;" the injunction being given in the imperative mood. The Septuagint and Syriac omit the pronoun altogether. The warning implies that the writer was living under kingly, and indeed despotic, government, and it was the part of a wise man to exhibit cheerful obedience. Ben-Sira observes that wise men teach us how to serve great men (Ecclus. 8:8). Such conduct is not only prudent, but really a religious- duty, even as the prophets counsel submission to Assyrian and Chaldean rulers (see Jeremiah 27:12; Jeremiah 29:7; Ezekiel 17:15). The liege lord, being God's vicegerent, must be reverenced and obeyed. St. Paul, though he does not quote Ecclesiastes, may have had this passage in mind when he wrote (Romans 13:1), "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God," etc.; and (ver. 5), "Ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake." The "king" in the text is understood by some to mean God, but the following clause renders this improbable, and it is wisdom in its political aspect that is here regarded. And that in regard of the oath of God. The ray is explicative; "in regard of," or "because of," as Ecclesiastes 3:18. "The oath of God" is the oath of allegiance to the king, taken in the name of God, under his invocation (comp. Exodus 22:11; 1 Kings 2:43). So we read (2 Kings 11:17) of a covenant between king and people, and people and king, in the time of Jehoiada; Nebuchadnezzar made Zedekiah swear by God to be his vassal (2 Chronicles 36:13); and Josephus ('Ant.,' 12:1; 11:8. 3) relates that Ptolemy Soter, son of Lagus (following herein the example of Darius), exacted an oath from the Jews in Egypt to be true to him and his successors. We know that both Babylonian and Persian monarchs exacted an oath of fealty from conquered nations, making them swear by the gods whom they worshipped, the selection of deities being left to them, Ecclesiastes 8:2The faithfulness of subjects, Koheleth says, is a religious duty: "I say: Observe well the kings' command, and that because of the oath of God." The author cannot have written Ecclesiastes 8:2 as it here stands; אני hovers in the air. Hitzig reads, with Jerome, שׁמר, and hears in Ecclesiastes 8:2-4 a servile person speaking who veils himself in the cloak of religion; in Ecclesiastes 8:5-8 follows the censura of this corrupt theory. but we have already remarked that Ecclesiastes 8:2 accords with Romans 13:5, and is thus not a corrupt theory; besides, this distribution of the expressions of the Book of Koheleth between different speakers is throughout an expedient resting on a delusion. Luther translates: I keep the word of the king, and thus reads אשׁרּ; as also does the Jer. Sanhedrin 21b, and Koheleth rabba, under this passage: I observe the command of the king, of the queen. In any case, it is not God who is meant here by "the king;" the words: "and that because of the oath of God," render this impossible, although Hengst. regards it as possible; for (1) "the oath of God" he understands, against all usage, of the oath which is taken to God; and (2) he maintains that in the O.T. scarcely any passage is to be found where obedience to a heathen master is set forth as a religious duty. But the prophets show themselves as morally great men, without a stain, just in this, that they decidedly condemn and unhesitatingly chastise any breach of faith committed against the Assyrian or Chaldean oppressor, e.g., Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 30:1; Ezekiel 17:15; cf. Jeremiah 27:12. However, although we understand mělěk not of the heavenly, but of an earthly king, yet אשׁמר does not recommend itself, for Koheleth records his experience, and derives therefrom warnings and admonitions; but he never in this manner presents himself as an example of virtue. The paraenetic imper. שׁמר is thus not to be touched. Can we then use ani elliptically, as equivalent to "I say as follows"? Passages such as Jeremiah 20:10 (Elst.), where לאמר is omitted, are not at all the same. Also Ezekiel 34:11, where הנני is strengthened by ani, and the expression is not elliptical, is not in point here. And Isaiah 5:9 also does not apply to the case of the supposed ellipsis here. In an ingenious bold manner the Midrash helps itself in Leviticus 18 and Numbers 14, for with reference to the self-introduction of royal words like פרעה אני it explains: "Observe the I from the mouth of the king." This explanation is worthy of mention, but it has little need of refutation; it is also contrary to the accentuation, which gives Pashta to ani, as to ראה, Ecclesiastes 7:27, and לבד, Ecclesiastes 7:29, and thus places it by itself. Now, since this elliptical I, after which we would place a colon, is insufferably harsh, and since also it does not recommend itself to omit it, as is done by the lxx, the Targ., and Syr., - for the words must then have a different order, המלך פי שׁמר, - it is most advisable to supply אמרתּי, and to write אם אני or אני אם, after Ecclesiastes 2:1; Ecclesiastes 3:17-18. We find ourselves here, besides, within an I section, consisting of sentences interwoven in a Mashal form. The admonition is solemnly introduced, since Koheleth, himself a king, and a wise man in addition, gives it the support of the authority of his person, in which it is to be observed that the religious motive introduced by ו explic. (vid., Ewald, 340b) is not merely an appendix, but the very point of the admonition. Kleinert, incorrectly: "Direct thyself according to the mouth of the king, and that, too, as according to an oath of God." Were this the meaning, then we might certainly wish that it were a servile Alexandrian court-Jew who said it. But why should that be the meaning? The meaning "wegen" because of, which is usually attributed to the word-connection עלדברת here and at Ecclesiastes 3:18; Ecclesiastes 7:14, Kleinert maintains to be an arbitrary invention. But it alone fits these three passages, and why an arbitrary invention? If על־דּבר, Psalm 45:5; Psalm 79:9, etc., means "von wegen" on account of, then also על־דברת will signify "propter rationem, naturam," as well as (Psalm 110:4) ad rationem. שׁב אל is, as elsewhere שׁב יה, e.g., Exodus 22:10, a promise given under an appeal to God, a declaration or promise strengthened by an oath. Here it is the oath of obedience which is meant, which the covenant between a king and his people includes, though it is not expressly entered into by individuals. The king is designated neither as belonging to the nation, nor as a foreigner; that which is said is valid also in the case of the latter. Daniel, Nehemiah, Mordecai, etc., acted in conformity with the words of Koheleth, and the oath of vassalage which the kings of Israel and Judah swore to the kings of Assyria and of Babylon is regarded by the prophets of both kingdoms as binding on king and people.
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