Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.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.
I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.(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.
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).
Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.(3) I believe the rendering of our version to be correct, though some have taken it, “Be not hasty: go out of his eight.” The best commentary on this verse is Ecclesiastes 10:4, which gives the meaning, “When censured by the king, do not abandon the hope of retaining his favour, nor obstinately persist in what he condemns.” I do not find adequate proof of the assertion of some commentators, that “go out of his sight” can mean “withdraw allegiance from him,” and so that the “evil thing” means a rebellious conspiracy. The advice, “Be not hasty” to rebel, instead of “do not rebel,” is inconsistent with the context.
Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?(4) Power.—The word used here and Ecclesiastes 5:8, only occurs again in the Chaldee part of Daniel. In the latter part of the Hebrew verse is one of the many reminiscences of the work of Job (Job 9:12; see also Wisdom Of Solomon 12:12).
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.(6) The connecting particles here present difficulties which have not been satisfactorily solved; and it has even been conjectured that some words may have dropped out of the text. The first half of the verse repeats Ecclesiastes 3:1; the second almost verbally Ecclesiastes 6:1; on this account our translation “misery” is to be preferred to “wickedness” as some render it.
There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.(8) Spirit.—As has been remarked in similar cases, the translation “wind” is possible; but the rendering of the whole verse as given in our version seems to me as good as any that it has been proposed to substitute.
Discharge.—Elsewhere only (Psalm 78:49) where it is translated “sending.”
All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.(9) Own hurt.—The Hebrew is ambiguous. We might omit “own,” and understand the verse of the misery inflicted by a tyrant on his subject, not on himself. But the context speaks of the small gain from his oppressions to the tyrant himself.
And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.(10) They had so done.—An ambiguity in translation of this verse arises from the fact that the word translated “so” is rendered “well” (2Kings 7:9 and elsewhere). Consequently some understand the verse, “The wicked receive an honourable burial, while those who have acted well are driven away from the holy place (viz. Jerusalem, Isaiah 48:2; Neh. xi, 1, 18) and forgotten.” But we prefer to translate the word “so” the second time, as well as the first, where it occurs in the verse; and to take the meaning to be that the oppressor’s prosperity is but temporary, for soon comes death, burial, and forgetfulness of his honour.
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.(11) Sentence.—This is a Persian word only found in Esther 1:20, and in Chaldee parts of Ezra and Daniel.
Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:(12) Though.—Better, Because; the first part of this verse being in continuation of the preceding. The latter part of the verse states the faith which the writer holds in spite of apparent contrary experience.
But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.(13) As a shadow.—Ecclesiastes 6:12; Wisdom Of Solomon 2:5; see also Wisdom Of Solomon 4:8.
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.(14) Happeneth.—The word is used in this sense only in Esther 9:26.
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.(15) The writer returns to the sentiment expressed already (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:17).
Eat, and to drink, and to be merry.—The three words occur together 1Kings 4:20.
When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)(16) It would have been better if the new chapter had been made to begin here. The sentiment is that already expressed in Ecclesiastes 3:11.