The proverbs that follow are apparently disjointed, and yet, when closely looked at, are all connected with this subject. He shows, in effect, that, take any view of life, and practically wisdom has manifold advantages.
Ver.1. The least ingredient of folly spoils as with the corruption of death the greatest wisdom. (There is only One whose name is as ointment poured forth untainted.)
Ver.2. The wise man's heart is where it should be. He is governed by his understanding, (for the heart in the Old Testament is the seat of the thought as well as of the affections, as the same word, "lehv," translated "wisdom" in the next verse shows), a fool is all askew in his own being. His heart is at his left hand. In other words, his judgment is dethroned.
Ver.3. Nor can he hide what he really is for any length of time. "The way," with its tests, soon reveals him, and he proclaims to all his folly.
Ver.4. Yielding to the powers above rather than rebelling against them, marks the path of wisdom. This may be an example of the testing of "the way" previously spoken of, for true wisdom shines brightly out in the presence of an angry ruler. Folly leaves its place, -- a form of expression tantamount to rebelling, and may throw some light on that stupendous primal folly when angels "left their place," or, as Jude writes, "kept not their first estate, but left their habitation," and thus broke into the folly of rebelling against the Highest. For let any leave their place, and it means necessarily confusion and disorder. If all has been arranged according to the will and wisdom of the Highest, he who steps out of the place assigned him rebels, and discord takes the place of harmony. The whole of the old creation is thus in disorder and confusion. All have "left their place." For God, the Creator of all, has been dethroned. It is the blessed work of One we know, once more to unite in the bonds of love and willing obedience all things in heaven and in earth, and to bind in such way all hearts to the throne of God, that never more shall one "leave his place."
Vers.5-7. But rulers themselves under the sun are not free from folly, and this shows itself in the disorder that actually proceeds from them. Orders and ranks are not in harmony. Folly is exalted, and those with whom dignities accord are in lowly place. It is another view of the present confusion, and how fully the coming of the Highest showed it out! A stable, a manger, rejection, and the cross, were the portion under the sun of the King of kings. That fact rights everything even now, in one sense, to faith for the path closest to the King must be really necessarily the highest, though it be in the sight of man the lowest. Immanuel, the Son of David, walking as a servant up and down the land that was His own -- The Lord Jesus, The Son of Man, having less than the foxes or birds of the air, not even where to lay his head, -- Christ, the Son of God, wearied with His journey, on the well of Sychar, -- this has thrown a glory about the lowly path now, that makes all the grandeur of the great ones of the earth less than nothing. Let the light of His path shine on this scene, and no longer shall we count it an evil under the sun for folly and lawlessness to have the highest place, as men speak, but rather count it greatest honor to be worthy to suffer for His name, for we are still in the kingdom and patience of the Lord Jesus Christ, -- not the Kingdom and Glory. That shall come soon.
Vers.8-10. But then, Ecclesiastes continues, is there complete security in the humbler ranks of life? Nay, there is no occupation that has not its accompanying danger. Digging or hedging, quarrying or cleaving wood, -- all have their peculiar difficulties. Although there, too, wisdom is still evidently better than brute strength.
Vers.11 to 15 turn to the same theme of comparison of wisdom and folly, only now with regard to the use of the tongue. The most gifted charmer (lit. master of the tongue) is of no worth after the serpent has bitten. The waters that flow commend the spring whence they issue. Grace speaks for the wise: folly, from beginning to end, proclaims the fool; and nowhere is that folly more manifested than in the boastfulness of assertion as to the future.
"Predicting words he multiplies, yet man can never know "The thing that shall be; yea, what cometh after who shall tell? "Vain toil of fools! It wearieth him, -- this man who knoweth naught "That may befall his going to the city."
This seems to be exactly in line with the apostle James: "Go to now, ye that say, To-day or to-morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy, and sell, and get gain: ye who know not what shall be on the morrow."
Vers.16-18. The land is blessed or cursed according to her head. A well-marked principle in Scripture, which has evidently forced itself on the notice of human wisdom in the person of Ecclesiastes. A city flourishes under the wise diligence of her rulers, or goes to pieces under their neglect and sensual revelry. For the tendency to decay is everywhere under the sun, and no matter what the sphere, -- high or low, city or house, -- constant diligence alone offsets that tendency.
Ver.19. The whole is greater than its part. Money can procure both the feast and the wine; but these are not, even in our preacher's view, the better things, but the poorer, as chapter vii. has shown us. We, too, know that which is infinitely higher than feasts and revelry of earth, and here money avails nothing. "Wine and milk," joy and food, are here to be bought without money and without price. The currency of that sphere is not corruptible gold nor silver, but the love that gives, -- sharing all it possesses. There it is love that answereth all things: -- the more excellent way, inasmuch as it covers and is the spring of all gifts and graces. Without love, the circulating medium of that new creation, a man is poor indeed, -- is worth nothing, nay, is nothing, (1 Cor. xiii.) He may have the most attractive and showy of gifts: the lack of love makes the silver tongue naught but empty sound, -- a lack of love makes the deepest understanding naught; and whilst he may be a very model of what the world falsely calls charity, giving of his goods to feed the poor, and even his body to be burned, it is love alone that gives life and substance to it all, -- lacking love it profits nothing. He who abounds most in loving, and consequent self-emptying, is the richest there. The words of the Lord Jesus in Luke xii. confirm this: "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The two are in direct contrast. Rich here -- laying up treasure for one's self here -- is poverty there, and the love that gives is divine riches. For he who loves most has himself drunk deepest into the very nature of God, for God is Love, and his heart fully satisfied with that which alone in all the universe can ever satisfy the heart of man, filled up, -- surely, therefore, rich, -- pours forth its streams of bounty and blessing according to its ability to all about. How thoroughly the balances of the sanctuary reverse the estimation of the world.
But, then, how may we become rich in that true, real sense? To obtain the money that "answereth all things" under the sun, men toil and plan. Perhaps as the balances of the sanctuary show that selfish accumulation here is poverty there, so the means of attaining true riches may be, in some sort, the opposite to those prevailing for the false -- "quietness and confidence."
The apostle, closing his beautiful description of charity, says: "Follow after charity." Ponder its value -- meditate on its beauties -- till your heart becomes fascinated, and you press with longing toward it. But as it is difficult to be occupied with "Love" in the abstract, can we find anywhere an embodiment of love? A person who illustrates it in its perfection, in whose character every glorious mark that the apostle depicts in this 13th chapter of Corinthians is shown in perfect moral beauty -- yea, who is in himself the one complete perfect expression of love. And, God be thanked, we know One such; and, as we read the sweet and precious attributes of Love, we recognize that the Holy Spirit has pictured every lineament of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wouldst thou be rich, then, my soul? Follow after, occupy thyself with, press toward, the Lord Jesus, till His beauties so attract as to take off thy heart from every other infinitely inferior attraction, and the kindling of His love shall warm thy heart with the same holy flame, and thou shalt seek love's ease -- love's rest -- in pouring out all thou hast in a world where need of all kinds is on every side, and thus be "rich toward God." So may it be for the writer, and every reader, to the praise of His grace. Amen.
Where are we, in time, my readers? Are we left as shipwrecked sailors upon a raft, without chart or compass, and know not whether sunken wreck or cliff-bound coast shall next threaten us? No; a true divine chart and compass is in our hands, and we may place our finger upon the exact chronological latitude and longitude in which our lot is cast. Mark the long voyage of the professing Church past the quiet waters of Ephesus, where first love quickly cools and is lost; past the stormy waves of persecution which drive her onward to her desired haven, in Smyrna; caught in the dangerous eddy, and drifted to the whirlpool of the world in Pergamos, followed by the developed Papal hierarchy in Thyatira, with the false woman in full command of the ship; past Sardis, with its memories of a divine recovery in the Reformation of the sixteenth century: -- Philadelphia and Laodicea alone are left; and, with mutual contention and division largely in the place of brotherly love, who can question but that we have reached the last stage, and that there is every mark of Laodicea about us? This being so, mark the word of our Lord Jesus to the present state of the professing Church: "Thou sayest I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, but knowest not that thou art poor, and blind, and naked, and wretched, and miserable." Yes, in the light of God, in the eyes of the Lord, in the judgment of the sanctuary, we live in a day of poverty. It is this which characterizes the day in which our lot is cast, -- a lack of all true riches, whilst the air is filled with boastings of wealth and attainment.
Further, I can but believe that we whose eyes scan these lines are peculiarly in danger here. Thyatira goes on to the very end. Sardis is an offshoot from her. Sardis goes on to the end. Philadelphia is an offshoot from her. Philadelphia goes on to the end, and is thus the stock from whence the proud self-sufficiency of Laodicea springs. If we (you and I) have shared in any way in the blessings of Philadelphia, we share in the dangers of Laodicea. Yea, he who thinks he represents or has the characteristics of Philadelphia, is most open to the boast of Laodicea. Let us have to do -- have holy commerce -- with Him who speaks. Buy of Him the "gold purified by the fire." But how are we to buy? What can we give for that gold, when He says we are already poor? A poor man is a bad buyer. Yes, under the sun, where toil and self-dependency are the road to wealth; but above the sun quietness and confidence prevail, and the poor man is the best -- the only -- buyer. Look at that man in Mark's Gospel, chapter x., with every mark of Laodicea upon him. Blind, by nature; poor, for he sat and begged; naked, for he has thrown away his garment, and thus surely pitiable, miserable, now watch him buy of the Lord.
"What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?"
"Lord, that I might receive my sight."
"Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole."
And the transaction is complete; the contract is settled; the buying is over. "Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way." Yes; there is just one thing that that poor, naked, blind man has, that is of highest value even in the eyes of the Lord, and that is the quiet confidence of his poor heart. All Scripture shows that that is what God ever seeks, -- the heart of man to return and rest in Him. It is all that we can give in the purchase, but it buys all He has. "All things are possible to him that believeth." In having to do with the Lord Jesus we deal with the rich One whose very joy and rest it is to give; and it is surely easy buying from Him whose whole heart's desire is to give. Nothing is required but need and faith to complete the purchase.
"Need and Faith" are our "two mites." They are to us what the two mites were to the poor widow -- all our "living," all we have. Yet, casting them into the treasury, God counts them of far more value than all the boasted abundance of Laodicea. They are the servants, too, that open all doors to the Lord. They permit no barriers to keep Him at a distance. That gracious waiting Lord then may enter, and sweet communion follow as He sups with poor "Need and Faith" -- Himself providing all the provender for that supper-feast.