Ecclesiastes 10


Observations on wisdom and folly, 1-3.

Concerning right conduct towards rulers, 4.

Merit depressed, and worthlessness exalted, 5-7.

Of him who digs a pit and removes a landmark, 8, 9.

The use of wisdom and experience, 10.

Of the babbler and the fool, 11-15.

The infant king, 16.

The well-regulated court, 17.

Of slothfulness, 18.

Of feasting, 19.

Speak not evil of the king, 20.


Verse 1. Dead flies] Any putrefaction spoils perfume; and so a

foolish act ruins the character of him who has the reputation of

being wise and good. Alas! alas! in an unguarded moment how many

have tarnished the reputation which they were many years in

acquiring! Hence, no man can be said to be safe, till he is taken

to the paradise of God.

Verse 2. A wise man's heart is at his right hand] As the right

hand is ordinarily the best exercised, strongest, and most ready,

and the left the contrary, they show, 1. The command which the

wise man has over his own mind, feelings, passions, &c., and the

prudence with which he acts. And, 2. The want of prudence and

management in the fool, who has no restraint on his passions, and

no rule or guard upon his tongue. The right hand and the left are

used in Scripture to express good and evil. The wise man is always

employed in doing good; the fool, in nonsense or evil.

Verse 3. When-a fool walketh by the way] In every act of life,

and in every company he frequents, the irreligious man shows what

he is. Vanity, nonsense, and wickedness are his themes: so that in

effect he saith to every one that he is a fool.

Verse 4. If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee] If the

king get incensed against thee.

Leave not thy place] Humble thyself before him, that is thy

place and duty; for yielding to him, and not standing stoutly in

thy defence, pacifieth great offenses: and then, when his anger is

appeased, he will hear any thing in thy justification, if thou

have any thing to offer. This is good advice to a child in

reference to his parents, and to an inferior of any kind in

reference to his superiors.

Several of the fathers understood this differently, If the

spirit of the ruler-the influence of Satan-hath risen up against

and prevailed over thee, to bring thee into some sin; leave not

thy place-do not despair of God's mercy; humble thyself before

him, and seek pardon through the Son of his love, and this will be

marpe, a remedy or cure even for

chataim gedolim, great errors or sins. All this is true in

itself, whether found in this text or not.

Verse 5. An error which proceedeth from the ruler] What this

error in the ruler is, the two following verses point out: it is

simply this-an injudicious distribution of offices, and raising

people to places of trust and confidence, who are destitute of

merit, are neither of name nor family to excite public

confidence, and are without property; so that they have no stake

in the country, and their only solicitude must naturally be to

enrich themselves, and provide for their poor relatives. This is

frequent in the governments of the world; and favouritism has

often brought prosperous nations to the brink of ruin. Folly was

set in dignity; the man of property, sense, and name, in a low

place. Servants-menial men, rode upon horses-carried every thing

with a high and proud hand; and princes,-the nobles of the people,

were obliged to walk by their sides, and often from the state of

things to become in effect their servants. This was often the case

in this country, during the reign of Thomas a Becket, and Cardinal

Woolsey. These insolent men lorded it over the whole nation; and

the people and their gentry were raised or depressed according as

their pride and caprice willed. And, through this kind of errors,

not only a few sovereigns have had most uncomfortable and

troublesome reigns, but some have even lost their lives.

Verse 8. Whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.]

While spoiling his neighbour's property, he himself may come to

greater mischief: while pulling out the sticks, he may be bit by a

serpent, who has his nest there. Some have supposed that

nachash here means a thorn; perhaps from the similarity of its

prick to the serpent's sting. He who forces his way through a

hedge will be pricked by the thorns.

Verse 9. Whoso removeth stones] This verse teaches care and

caution. Whoever pulls down an old building is likely to be hurt

by the stones; and in cleaving wood many accidents occur for want

of sufficient caution.

Verse 10. If the iron be blunt] If the axe have lost its edge,

and the owner do not sharpen it, he must apply the more strength

to make it cut: but the wisdom that is profitable to direct will

teach him, that he should whet his axe, and spare his strength.

Thus, without wisdom and understanding we cannot go profitably

through the meanest concerns in life.

Verse 11. The serpent will bite without enchantment]

belo lachash, without hissing. As a snake may bite before it

hiss, so also will the babbler, talkative person, or calumniator.

Without directly speaking evil, he insinuates, by innuendoes,

things injurious to the reputation of his neighbour. Gif the eddir

bite in silence, noyhing lasse than he hath that privily

backbiteth.-Old MS. Bible. "A babbler of his tongue is no better

than a serpent that styngeth without hyssynge."-COVERDALE. The

moral of this saying is simply this: A calumniator is as

dangerous as a poisonous serpent; and from the envenomed tongue of

slander and detraction no man is safe. The comparing the serpent,

nachash, to a babbler, has something singular in it. I have

already supposed that the creature mentioned, Ge 3:1, was of the

genus simia. This has been ridiculed, but not disproved.

Verse 12. The words of a wise man's mouth] Every thing that

proceeds from him is decent and orderly, creditable to himself,

and acceptable to those who hear him. But the lips of the fool,

which speak every thing at random, and have no understanding to

guide them, are not only not pleasant to others, but often

destructive to himself.

Verse 14. A man cannot tell what shall be] A foolish babbling

man will talk on every subject, though he can say as little on the

past, as he can on the future.

Verse 15. He knoweth not how to go to the city.] I suppose this

to be a proverb: "He knows nothing; he does not know his way to

the next village." He may labour; but for want of judgment he

wearies himself to no purpose.

Verse 16. Wo to thee, O land, when thy king is a child]

Minorities are, in general, very prejudicial to a state. Regents

either disagree, and foment civil wars; or oppress the people.

Various discordant interests are raised up in a state during a

minority; and the young king, having been under the tutelage of

interested men, acts partially and injuriously to the interests of

the people when he comes to the throne; and this produces popular

discontent, and a troubled reign.

Thy princes eat in the morning!] They do nothing in order; turn

night into day, and day into night; sleep when they should wake,

and wake when they should sleep; attending more to chamberings and

banquetings, than to the concerns of the state.

Verse 17. When thy king is the son of nobles] υιοςελευθερων,

the son of freemen; persons well acquainted with the principles of

civil liberty, and who rule according to them.-Septuagint. Such a

one as comes to the throne in a legitimate way, from an ancient

regal family, whose right to the throne is incontestable. It

requires such a long time to establish a regal right, that the

state is in continual danger from pretenders and usurpers, where

the king is not the son of nobles.

And thy princes eat in due season] All persons in places of

trust for the public weal, from the king to the lowest public

functionary, should know, that the public are exceedingly

scandalized at repeated accounts of entertainments, where

irregularity prevails, much money is expended, and no good done.

These things are drawn into precedent, and quoted to countenance

debauch in the inferior classes. The natural division of the day

for necessary repasts is, BREAKFAST, eight, or half after;

DINNER, one, or half after; SUPPER, eight, or half after.

And these, or even earlier hours were formerly observed in these

countries. Then we had scarcely any such thing as gout, and no

nervous disorders.

In ancient nations the custom was to eat but once; and then

about mid-day.

Verse 18. By much slothfulness] This is remarkably the case in

some countries. Houses are not repaired till they almost fall

about the ears of the inhabitants. We have an adage that applies

to all such cases: "A stitch in time saves nine."

Verse 19. A feast is made for laughter] The object of it is to

produce merriment, to banish care and concern of every kind. But

who are they who make and frequent such places? Epicures and

drunkards generally; such as those of whom Horace speaks:

Nos numerus sumus, et fruges consumere nati.

Epist. lib. i., ep. 2, ver. 27.

"Those whose names stand as indications of men, the useless many;

and who appear to be born only to consume the produce of the


But money answereth all] This saying has prevailed everywhere.

Scilicet uxorem cum dote, fidemque, et amicos,

Et genus, et formam REGINA PECUNIA donat;

Ac bene nummatum decorat Suadela, Venusque.

HOR. EP. lib. i., ep. 6, ver. 36.

"For gold, the sovereign QUEEN of all below,

Friends, honour, birth, and beauty, can bestow.

The goddess of persuasion forms her train;

And Venus decks the well-bemonied swain."


Verse 20. Curse not the king] Do not permit thyself even to think

evil of the king; lest thy tongue at some time give vent to thy

thoughts, and so thou be chargeable with treason.

For a bird of the air shall carry the voice] Does he refer here

to such fowls as the carrier pigeon, which were often used to

carry letters under their wings to a great distance, and bring

back answers? The Targum turns it curiously: "Do not speak evil of

the king in thy conscience, nor in the secret of thy heart, nor in

the most hidden place in thy house, curse not a wise man; for

Raziel calls daily from heaven upon Mount Horeb, and his voice

goes through the whole world; and Elijah, the great priest, goes,

flying through the air like a winged eagle, and publishes the

words which are spoken in secret by all the inhabitants of the


Civil government is so peculiarly of God, that he will have it

supported for the benefit of mankind; and those who attempt to

disturb it are generally marked by his strong disapprobation. And

though there have been multitudes of treasons hatched in the

deepest secrecy; yet, through the providence of God, they have

been discovered in the most singular manner. This shows God's care

for government.

Copyright information for Clarke