Surely oppression makes a wise man mad; and a gift destroys the heart.
There is some uncertainty as to the interpretation of this verse: the reference may be to the effect of injustice upon him who inflicts it; it may be to its effect upon him who suffers it. It is usual to regard the observation as descriptive of the result of oppression and bribery in the feelings of irritation and despondency they produce upon the minds of those who are wronged, and upon society generally.
I. JUSTICE IS THE ONLY SOLID FOUNDATION FOR SOCIETY. There is moral law, upon which alone civil law can be wisely and securely based. When those who are in power are guided in their administration of political affairs by a reverent regard for righteousness, tranquility, and contentment, order and harmony may be expected to prevail.
II. OPPRESSION, EXTORTION, AND VENALITY ON THE PART OF RULERS ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH JUSTICE AND WITH THE PUBLIC GOOD. Unjust rulers sometimes use the power which they have acquired, or with which they have been entrusted, for selfish ends, and in the pursuit of such ends are unscrupulous as to the means they employ. Such wrongdoing is peculiar to no form of civil government. It is to some extent checked by the prevalence of liberty and of publicity, and yet more by an elevated standard of morality, and by the influence of pure religion. But in the East corruption and bribery have been too general on the part of those in power.
III. THE SPECIAL RESULT OF CORRUPTION AND OPPRESSION IS THE FURTHERANCE AND PREVALENCE OF FOLLY AND UNREASON. To the writer of Ecclesiastes, who regarded wisdom as "the principal thing," it was natural to discern in mischievous principles of government the cause of general unwisdom and foolishness.
1. The governor himself, although he may be credited with craft and cunning, is morally injured and degraded, sinks to a lower level, loses self-respect, and forfeits the esteem of his subjects.
2. The governed are goaded to madness by the impossibility of obtaining their rights, by the curtailment of their liberties, and by the loss of their property. Hence arise murmurings, discontent, and resentment, which may, and often do, lead to conspiracy, insurrection, and revolution.
IV. THE DUTY OF ALL UPRIGHT MEN TO SET THEIR FACES AGAINST SUCH EVIL PRACTICES. A good man must not ask - Can I profit by the prevalence of injustice? Will my party or my friends be strengthened by it? He must, on the contrary, turn away from the question of consequences; he must witness against venality and oppression; he must use all lawful means to expose and to put an end to such practices. And this he is bound to do from the highest motives. Government is of Divine authority, and is to be upon Divine principles. Of God we know that "righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." They are unworthy to rule who employ their power for base and selfish ends. - T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Surely oppression maketh a wise man mad; and a gift destroyeth the heart.