Solomon was himself a king, and therefore may be allowed to speak more freely than another concerning the vanity of kingly state and dignity, which he shows here to be an uncertain thing; he had before said so (Prov. 27:24; The crown doth not endure to every generation), and his son found it so. Nothing is more slippery than the highest post of honour without wisdom and the people’s love.
I. A king is not happy unless he have wisdom, Eccl. 4:13, 14. He that is truly wise, prudent, and pious, though he be poor in the world, and very young, and upon both accounts despised and little taken notice of, is better, more truly valuable and worthy of respect, is likely to do better for himself and to be a greater blessing to his generation, than a king, than an old king, and therefore venerable both for his gravity and for his dignity, if he be foolish, and knows not how to manage public affairs himself nor will be admonished and advised by others—who knows not to be admonished, that is, will not suffer any counsel or admonition to be given him (no one about him dares contradict him) or will not hearken to the counsel and admonition that are given him. It is so far from being any part of the honour of kings that it is the greatest dishonour to them that can be not to be admonished. Folly and wilfulness commonly go together, and those that most need admonition can worst bear it; but neither age nor titles will secure men respect if they have not true wisdom and virtue to recommend them; while wisdom and virtue will gain men honour even under the disadvantages of youth and poverty. To prove the wise child better than the foolish king he shows what each of them comes to, Eccl. 4:14. 1. A poor man by his wisdom comes to be preferred, as Joseph, who, when he was but young, was brought out of prison to be the second man in the kingdom, to which story Solomon seems here to refer. Providence sometimes raises the poor out of the dust, to set them among princes, Ps. 113:7, 8. Wisdom has wrought not only the liberty of men, but their dignity, raised them from the dunghill, from the dungeon, to the throne. 2. A king by his folly and wilfulness comes to be impoverished. Though he was born in his kingdom, came to it by inheritance, though he has lived to be old in it and has had time to fill his treasures, yet if he take ill courses, and will no more be admonished as he has been, thinking, because he is old, he is past it, he becomes poor; his treasure is exhausted, and perhaps he is forced to resign his crown and retire into privacy.
II. A king is not likely to continue if he have not a confirmed interest in the affections of the people; this is intimated, but somewhat obscurely, in the last Eccl. 4:15, 16. 1. He that is king must have a successor, a second, a child that shall stand up in his stead, his own, suppose, or perhaps that poor and wise child spoken of, Eccl. 4:12. Kings, when they grow old, must have the mortification of seeing those that are to jostle them out and stand up in their stead. 2. It is common with the people to adore the rising sun: All the living who walk under the sun are with the second child, are in his interests, are conversant with him, and make their court to him more than to the father, whom they look upon as going off, and despise because his best days are past. Solomon considered this; he saw this to be the disposition of his own people, which appeared immediately after his death, in their complaints of his government and their affectation of a change. 3. People are never long easy and satisfied: There is no end, no rest, of all the people; they are continually fond of changes, and know not what they would have. 4. This is no new thing, but it has been the way of all that have been before them; there have been instances of this in every age: even Samuel and David could not always please. 5. As it has been, so it is likely to be still: Those that come after will be of the same spirit, and shall not long rejoice in him whom at first they seemed extremely fond of. To-day, Hosanna—tomorrow, Crucify. 6. It cannot but be a great grief to princes to see themselves thus slighted by those they have studied to oblige and have depended upon; there is no faith in man, no stedfastness. This is vanity and vexation of spirit.