WISDOM TO LIVE BY

Ecclesiastes 10:1-20

We have already defined wisdom as the "skill of living." Living well takes skill. It involves the development of positive habit patterns and it involves making the right decisions. And it involves doing the right thing when you find the you have made the wrong decision.

 

PROVERBS ON WISDOM & FOOLISHNESS

1. The Weightiness of Foolishness.

Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.(Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The first couplet is linked to the last verse of the previous chapter.

Ecclesiastes 9:18

Ecclesiastes 10:1

Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.

Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.

As good as wisdom is, it can all be destroyed by a little sin.

As good as wisdom is, it can all be destroyed by a little foolishness.

This same principle is taught in the New Testament. A little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6).

Very few people are completely foolish in everything they do. But it only takes a little foolishness to make your life stink. In Ecclesiastes 7:1 the Preacher told us that "a good name is better than a good ointment." But just as it doesnít take much to ruin a good ointment, so also it doesnít take much to ruin a good name.

The idea of "weightiness" points to the importance of a thing. A little foolishness has more impact than a lot of wisdom and honor.

2. Wise and Foolish Choices.

A wise man's heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man's heart directs him toward the left. (Ecclesiastes 10:2).

Iíve read more than a few commentators who attempted to read something of politics into the "right" and "left." This kind of treatment of Scripture is always unfortunate at best. When we interpret Scripture, we must always look to the cultural context of THAT day in which it was written for our undestanding of various idioms.

In ancient cultures, the right hand was the hand of honor while the left hand was the hand of dishonor. This was due to the fact that the right hand was used to eat while the left hand was used for matters of personal hygiene. For this reason, those who were left-handed were looked upon with a certain measure of disdain.

A Wise Manís Heart

A Foolish Manís Heart

Directs him toward the right.

Directs him toward the left.

Takes him to a place of honor.

Take him to a place of dishonor.

Notice that we are speaking of a manís HEART - not merely a spur of the moment, one-time decision, but the very core of a personís being.

3. The Fool is Self-Evident.

Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

The fool doesnít have to do a lot to demonstrate his foolishness. It is easily manifested. Youíve heard the proverb that it is better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think that you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. But the fool does not even have to open his mouth to remove all doubt. All he has to do is to walk along the road. You can see that he is a fool by the way he LIVES.

 

THE QUALITY OF COMPOSURE

If the ruler's temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses. (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

This is good advice on how to handle a hot-headed boss. The situation is described in which one in authority over you loses his temper. The Hebrew says, "rising, his spirit rises." The double use of the word is given to intensify the meaning of the word ("it soars").

How do you handle it when the one who is in authority over you becomes angry at you through no fault of your own? The wise man keeps his cool. He calmly stands his ground and keeps his composure. He doesnít retaliate. He doesnít respond in anger. He maintains his composure. And in doing so, he gains a hearing.

 

PRINCES & PEONS

There is an evil I have seen under the sun, like an error which goes forth from the ruler -- 6 folly is set in many exalted places while rich men sit in humble places. 7 I have seen slaves riding on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land. (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7).

This is related to the previous section in that they both deal with rulers. The Preacher makes the observation that it is not always the smartest or the wisest or the richest or the most noble who get the credit. Notice the series of contrasts.

An error ® Goes forth from the ruler

Folly ® Set in many exalted places

Rich men ® Sit in humble places

Slaves ® Riding on horses

Princes ® Walking like slaves on the land

Do you remember the honor bestowed upon Mordecai in the days of Esther? It was to ride into the city on the kingís horse. It was considered to be a great honor to ride on a horse.

The Preacher notes that such honors are not reserved for those who are deserving. He has seen instances when those who are mere slaves have acted the part of princes and, correspondingly, he has seen princes walk as though they were mere slaves.

We tend to expect that people in authority know more than we do and that the higher the authority, the more wisdom that person has. But this isnít always the case. Sometimes it is the foolish which is exalted. Those in the very highest positions sometimes step into grievous error.

 

DANGERS ALONG THE WAY

He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. 9 He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. (Ecclesiastes 10:8-9).

There are certain actions taken which can bring disastrous consequences. Notice the list:

Action

Consequence

Digs a pit

Falls into it

Breaks through a wall

A serpent bites him

Removes stones (Heb)

Is hurt by them

Splits logs

Is endangered by them

These actions do not seem on the surface to be of a violent nature. The person who was digging the pit was not necessarily doing it from evil motives. He wasnít necessarily digging so that someone would fall into his pit. He was merely digging. As was the man who was breaking through a wall. Or the stone mover. Or the log splitter.

And yet, each of these activities CAN be undertaken to someoneís hurt. Most instances in which the Bible describes the digging of a pit, it was so that someone else might be thrown into it. The breaking of walls and the removal of stones could involve the moving of property lines.

Here is the point. You will sow what you reap. Your actions will come back to haunt you. What you DO brings results and those results are often not the ones on which you had planned.

The wise man is one who has learned this lesson. And he guides his actions accordingly, determining what will be their outcome.

 

THE DANGER OF FOLLY

While there can be dangers in any pursuit, there are some special dangers when you walk the way of folly. Or to put it another way, life is hazardous enough without bringing stupidity into the equation.

1. Folly in the Use of Wisdom.

If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success. 11 If the serpent bites before being charmed, there is no profit for the charmer. (Ecclesiastes 10:10-11).

The Preacher now gives two illustrations concerning wisdom and folly. They both are lessons on the utilization of wisdom.

Illustration #1

Illustration #2

The axes is dull and goes unsharpened

Wisdom would have given success

The serpent bites before being charmed

The worker must exert more strength

It does not help the charmer

The first illustration is of an axe. A dull axe means that you have to work harder in cutting wood. Youíve heard the story of the lumberjack who came into the hardware store and the sales clerk exclaimed, "I have a real deal for you! We have this brand new power saw that will be a lot more effecient than the axe you presently use." The lumberjack bought the power saw but was back the next day. "It didnít work very well. I was only able to cut down two trees all day." The saleman took the saw into the back room, replaced the blade, oiled all the working parts and brought it back out. "Try it again." The lumberjack was back again the next day. "I did a little better and managed to cut down three trees." The sales clerk was puzzled. "I donít understand," he said, "It should have been a lot more efficient than that." Taking the saw, he pulled the cord and the saw started with a roar. Startled, the lumberjack asked, "Whatís that noise?" Wisdom teaches us to work smarter, not harder.

But wisdom only works if it is utilized. And it only works in any given situation when it is utilized at the onset of that situation. That is the lesson of the second illustration. It is of a snake. It does not help to charm a snake after it has already bitten someone. We have a similar saying: "It does not do any good to lock the barn door after the horse has been stolen."

2. Folly in Words.

Words from the mouth of a wise man are gracious, while the lips of a fool consume him; 13 the beginning of his talking is folly and the end of it is wicked madness. 14 Yet the fool multiplies words. No man knows what will happen, and who can tell him what will come after him? (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14).

The Preacher has already spoken about the words of a wise man. In the last chapter, he pointed out that "the words of the wise heard in quietness are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools" (9:17). Just as a wise manís words are quiet, so they are also gracious. This is seen in contrast to the words of the fool.

a. His lips consume him.

He is like a self-devouring cannibal who gobbles himself up. He chews himself up and then spits himself out. No wonder that he is such a mess!

b. His sayings run the gamut from folly to wicked madness.

Everything produces after its kind. That is a product of creation. And so it is with the fool - a foolish man produces foolish talk.

It is not merely that his words are empty. If they were really empty, they could do little harm. Instead, they are full of deadly poison (James 3:8).

c. He multiplies his words.

There is often an inverse corollary between a personís verbosity with their level of wisdom. There are more printed words today than ever before in history. But this explosive rate of communication has not made men any more wise.

3. The Wearisome Life of a Fool.

The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city. (Ecclesiastes 10:15).

Have you ever known someone who could take a job and make it harder? The fool makes a wearisome ordeal of the simplest task. He doesnít even make it to first base in the game of life. He canít even make it to town. This is a Hebraic proverb which describes the ability to accomplish the simplest of tasks.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF LEADERSHIP

Woe to you, O land, whose king is a lad and whose princes feast in the morning.

Blessed are you, O land, whose king is of nobility and whose princes eat at the appropriate time -- for strength and not for drunkenness. (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17).

We are given a series of contrasts. These contrasts are made up of two lands, two kings and two sets of princes.

Woe to the Land

Blessed is the Land

King is a lad

King is of nobility

Princes feast in the morning

Princes eat at the appropriate time.

What happens when a child comes to the throne of a kingdom? He has neither the strength nor the wisdom to rule and so a regent must be appointed who will rule until the child is grown.

The word for "lad" refers to a young man. It can be a young man who is still pre-adolescent - it is used of the child Moses as he was found by the Pharaohís daughter (Exodus 2:6). Or it can be a young man who is an adult - it is used of the men of Abrahamís war party (Genesis 14:24), of the spies who entered Jericho (Joshua 6:23), and of Solomon himself after he had become king (1 Kings 3:7).

The point is not the age of the king. The point is whether or not he is a mature person - not merely in physical age, but in his level of wisdom and in his possession of a noble character. Does he "act his age"?

It is a tragedy when the leaders of a nation lack the wisdom and maturity to lead that nation - when they give themselves over to selfish pleasures rather than to discipline and self-control.

 

THE DANGER OF SLOTHFULNESS

Through indolence the rafters sag, and through slackness the house leaks.

Men prepare a meal for enjoyment, and wine makes life merry, and money is the answer to everything. (Ecclesiastes 10:18-19).

Verse 18 is an example of Hebrew parallelism. The thought given in the first line is repeated in the second line.

Through indolence....

...the rafters sag.

Through slackness...

...the house leaks.

Both parts of this parallel are describing the quality of slothfulness. The term translated "slackness" is literally "in lowered hands." What happens when you develop a leaky roof? If you do not repair it, then the damage becomes more extensive. What could originally be repaired at a relatively low cost later must be completely replaced.

Verse 19 should not be taken out of context. It is still speaking of the characteristics of slothfulness. The actions and attitudes portrayed are the actions and the attitudes of the slothful. It is the attitude of eat, drink and be merry. It is the attitude which finds all the answers in outward pleasures. It is the attitude of foolishness.

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF CIRCUMSPECTION

Furthermore, in your bedchamber do not curse a king, and in your sleeping rooms do not curse a rich man, for a bird of the heavens will carry the sound and the winged creature will make the matter known. (Ecclesiastes 10:20).

In verse 16 we saw the king who was immature. But now we see that even a poor king is still a king and ought to be treated like one. After all, he is still in authority and has power over you. If you think that it is hard living under a king who is an immature fool, then wait until he finds out that you have been talking about him! Again, this comes in the form of Hebrew parallelism.

In your bedchamber...

Do not curse...

A King

In your sleeping rooms...

A Rich Man

Why? Because that which you say might reach the ears of the one against whom you speak. Again this is in the form of a parallel.

A bird of the heavens...

Will carry the sound

The winged creature...

Will make the matter known

We have a similar expression in English: "A little birdie told me..." The truth is that the things we say even in private have a way of becoming known as though some winged creature were carrying them with the speed of flight. Here is the principle. Never say anything that you do not want repeated from the rooftops because it just might be.


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