Ecclesiastes 9:14
There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
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(14) Idle attempts have been made to find a historic reference in this passage. What is here told is so like the story (2 Samuel 20) of the deliverance of Abel-beth-Maachah by a wise woman, whose name, nevertheless, has not been preserved, that we cannot even be sure that the writer had any other real history in his mind.

9:13-18 A man may, by his wisdom, bring to pass that which he could never do by his strength. If God be for us, who can be against us, or stand before us? Solomon observes the power of wisdom, though it may labour under outward disadvantages. How forcible are right words! But wise and good men must often content themselves with the satisfaction of having done good, or, at least, endeavoured to do it, when they cannot do the good they would, nor have the praise they should. How many of the good gifts, both of nature and Providence, does one sinner destroy and make waste! He who destroys his own soul destroys much good. One sinner may draw many into his destroying ways. See who are the friends and enemies of a kingdom or a family, if one saint does much good, and one sinner destroys much good.A parable probably without foundation in fact. Critics who ascribe this book to a late age offer no better suggestion than that the "little city" may be Athens delivered 480 b.c. from the host of Xerxes through the wisdom of Themistocles, or Dora besieged 218 b.c. by Antiochus the Great.

Ecclesiastes 9:16-17 are comments on the two facts - the deliverance of the city and its forgetfulness of him who delivered it - stated in Ecclesiastes 9:15.

14, 15. (2Sa 20:16-22).

bulwarks—military works of besiegers.

It matters not whether this was a real history, or only a parable to represent the common practices of men in such cases. There was a little city, and few men within it,.... Which some take to be a piece of history, a real matter of fact; that as the city of Abel, when besieged by Joab, was delivered by the counsel of a wise woman, 2 Samuel 20:15; so there was a city, which Solomon had knowledge of, which was delivered from the siege of a powerful king, by the wise counsel of a poor wise man: though others think it is only a fiction, fable, or parable; the moral of which is, that political wisdom, even in a poor mean person, is sometimes very useful and serviceable, though it does not meet with its proper merit. Many of the Jewish writers understand the whole allegorically and figuratively; so the Targum, by "the little city", understands the body of man; by "few men in it", the little righteousness there is in the heart of man; though, according to the Midrash, Jarchi, and Alshech, they are the members of the body; by "the great king", the evil imagination, or corruption of nature, which is great to oppress, and besieges the heart to cause it to err; and by "the poor wise man", the good imagination or affection, which prevails over the other, and subdues it, and delivers the body from hell, and yet not remembered; and so the Midrash, and the ancient Jews in Aben Ezra, though he himself understands it according to its literal sense. Some Christian interpreters explain it to better purpose, concerning the church attacked by Satan, and delivered by Christ, who, notwithstanding, is unkindly and ungratefully used: the church is often compared to a city, it is the city of God, and of which saints are fellow citizens; it is but a "little" one in comparison of the world, and, in some periods and ages of the world, lesser than in others; it is little and contemptible in the eyes of the world, and the inhabitants of it are mean and low in their own eyes; they are a little flock, Luke 12:32; and "few" in number that are "within it": some are only of it, but not in it, or are external members only, which sometimes are many; or outward, not inward, court worshippers; they are few, comparatively, that belong to the invisible church, that are chosen, redeemed, called, and saved, Matthew 20:16; there are but few able men, especially such as are capable of defending the church against its enemies.

and there came a great king against it; Satan, the prince of devils and of the posse of them in the air, the god and prince of the world of the ungodly, who works in their hearts, and leads them captive at his will who may be said to be "great" with respect to the numbers under him, legions of devils, and the whole world that lies in wickedness, or "in" or "under" the wicked one: and on account of the power he exercises, by divine permission, over the bodies and minds of men; and in comparison of the little city, and few men in it, being stronger than they, Matthew 12:24; he comes from the region of the air, where his posse are; or from going to and fro in the earth; or from hell, into which he is cast down: he comes by divine permission; in the manner evil spirits do, by temptation; in a hostile way, against the church and people of God, to destroy and devour them, if possible;

and besieged it; surrounded it on all sides, as the Gog and Magog army trader him will encompass the camp of the saints, and the beloved city, Revelation 20:9;

and built great bulwarks against it; such as are called strong holds, 2 Corinthians 10:4. Satan's first attack was upon the elect of God, in Adam; when he brought them, through sin, under a sentence of condemnation and death, though then they were preserved in Christ; and ever since he has been attacking the church by persecution, in order to take it by storm; and by spreading errors and heresies, such as tend to raze the foundation, and to pull down the superstructure of grace; and by promoting schisms, and laying such large principles of church communion, as tend to take away ordinances and discipline, the fence of the city; and by throwing in hand grenades of strife and contention, to raise a civil war among the citizens themselves; and, by various temptations to sin, to gain deserters: these are some of his bulwarks, batteries, and engines.

There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it, and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it:
14. there was a little city] The city has been identified by one commentator (Hitzig) with Dora, which was besieged unsuccessfully by Antiochus the Great in b.c. 218 (Polyb. 9:66). Josephus describes it, in his narrative of its siege by Antiochus Sidetes (Ant. xiii. 7, § 2), as “a city hard to be taken,” but we know nothing of any special incidents corresponding to the allusion in this passage. The term “great king” fits in with the hypothesis, as also does the fact that the siege was raised, but that is all. The spiritualising interpretations which have found favour with Jewish and Christian commentators, in which the history represents something like the attack of Satan on the town of Mansoul (as in Bunyan’s Holy War), must be rejected as altogether arbitrary and fantastic.

and built great bulwarks against it] The “bulwarks,” as in the Old Testament generally, are the out-works of the besiegers, the banks or mounds from which missiles were thrown into the city (comp. Deuteronomy 20:20; 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Chronicles 26:15).Verse 14. - There was a little city. The substantive verb is, as commonly, omitted. Commentators have amused themselves with endeavoring to identify the city here mentioned. Thus some see herein Athens, saved by the counsel of Themistocles, who was afterwards driven from Athens and died in misery (Justin., 2:12); or Dora, near Mount Carmel, besieged unsuccessfully by Antiochus the Great, B.C. 218, though we know nothing of the circumstances (Polyb., 5:66); but see note on ver. 13. The Septuagint takes the whole paragraph hypothetically, "Suppose there was a little city," etc. Wright well compares the historical allusions to events fresh in the minds of his hearers made by our Lord in his parable of the pounds (Luke 19:12, 14, 15, 27). So we may regard the present section as a parable founded on some historical fact well known at the time when the book was written. A great king. The term points to some Persian or Assyrian potentate; or it may mean merely a powerful general (see 1 Kings 11:24; Job 29:25). Built great bulwarks against it. The Septuagint has χάρακας μεγάλους, "great palisades;" the Vulgate, Extruxitque munitiones per gyrum. What are meant are embankments or mounds raised high enough to overtop the walls of the town, and to command the positions of the besieged. For the same purpose wooden towers were also used (see Deuteronomy 20:20; 2 Samuel 20:15; 2 Kings 19:32; Jeremiah lit. 4). The Vulgate rounds off the account in the text by adding, et perfects est obsidio, " and the beleaguering was completed." The white garments, לבּנים, are in contrast to the black robes of mourning, and thus are an expression of festal joy, of a happy mood; black and white are, according to the ancients, colour-symbols, the colours respectively of sorrow and joy, to which light and darkness correspond.

(Note: Cf. Shabbath 114a: "Bury me neither in white nor in black garments: not in white, because perhaps I may not be one of the blessed, and am like a bridegroom among mourners; not in black, because perhaps I may be one of the blessed, and am like a mourner among bridegrooms." Semachoth ii.:10: Him who is outside the congregation, they do not bury with solemnity; the brothers and relatives of such must clothe and veil themselves in white; cf. Joma 39b. Elsewhere white is the colour of innocence, Shabbath 153a, Midrash under Proverbs 16:11; and black the colour of guilt, Kiddushin 40a, etc.)

Fragrant oil is also, according to Proverbs 27:9, one of the heart-refreshing things. Sorrow and anointing exclude one another, 2 Samuel 14:2; joy and oil stand in closest mutual relation, Psalm 45:8; Isaiah 61:3; oil which smooths the hair and makes the face shine (vid., under Psalm 104:15). This oil ought not to be wanting to the head, and thus the perpetuity of a happy life should suffer no interruption.

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