For he knows not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Who can tell him? no wise man, no astrologer or other artist, can discover this.
for who can tell him when it shall be? or "how it shall be" (c)? how it will be with him or his; no one that pretends to judicial astrology, or to the art of divination, or any such devices, can tell him what is to come; future things are only certainly known by God; none but he can tell what will certainly come to pass; see Ecclesiastes 3:22; Jarchi interprets it of a man's not considering for what God will bring him to judgment, and that no man can tell him the vengeance and punishment that will be inflicted.For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)7. For he knoweth not that which shall be] The subject of the sentence is apparently the wicked and tyrannous ruler. He goes on with infatuated blindness to the doom that lies before him. The same thought appears in the mediæval proverb, “Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat,” or, in our modern condemnation of the rulers or the parties, who “learn nothing, and forget nothing.” The temper condemned is that (1) of the cynical egoism, which says, “Apres moi, le deluge,” (2) of those who act, because judgment is delayed, as if it would never come.Verse 7. - For he knoweth not that which shall be. The subject may be man in general, or more probably the evil tyrant. The clause contains a third reason for patience. The despot cannot foresee the future, and goes on blindly filling up the measure of his iniquity, being unable to take any precautions against his inevitable fate (Proverbs 24:22). Quem Deus vult perdere prius dementat. For who can tell him when it shall be? rather, how it shall be. The fourth portion of the argument. The infatuated man knows not the time when the blow will fall, nor, as here, the manner in which the retribution will come, the form which it will take. Septuagint," For how it shall be, who will tell him?" The Vulgate paraphrases inaccurately, Quia ignorat prae-terita, et futura nullo scire potest nuntio, "Because he knoweth not the past, and the future he can ascertain by no messenger." 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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