Ecclesiastes 10. Wise and Foolish People.
Key Notes: Small blemishes ruin big projects. Inclined to the left or right? Dealing with your supervisor. Fools of all kinds.
So far in Ecclesiastes we have seen that work, wealth and wisdom count for nothing in the long run. They are vanity—elusive and transient—like our lives. Pride, optimism and personal certainty are no basis for making decisions. We cannot know the future, on which our decisions rest. But we are not left in limbo. We do have to live the lives God has given us.
As the book progresses, we see less and less emphasis on what does not work. Two thirds of the references to the word “vanity” occur in the first half of the book. As the writer proceeds, he gives more and more attention to practical wisdom of everyday living. Chapter 10 is full of practical observations and advice. In it we will see different kinds of fools, at least four of the five seen in Proverbs. (See notes on Proverbs.) We shall see if we can stand away and see ourselves as different.
10:1 As a dead fly spoils the perfume, so a little folly over-balances wisdom and honor. The end of chapter 9 (9:15) says it slightly differently: “one sinner destroys much good.”
There are many examples.
One missed note spoils the concerto.
One hair ruins the meat loaf.
One bad wheel-bearing disables the car.
One bad word pollutes the sermon.
One hole sinks the boat.
“For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the message was lost.
For want of the message the battle was lost.
For want of the battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the loss of a nail.”
“See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble and by it the many become defiled.” Heb.12:15
10:2 “A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right; the fool’s heart toward the left”.
That is politically incorrect! The words stir thought because of their modern use in “Right Wing” and “Leftist” politics. But the significance of right and left is deep in folk-lore as well as Biblical use.
“Right” is “dextra” in Latin, (dexterous); “droit” in French (adroit),
“Left” is “sinistra” in Latin, (sinister); “gauche “ in French.
'Adroit" is skillful, clever. “Sinister” connotes disadvantageous, evil, underhanded. In primitive society, the right hand is clean and used for eating; the left hand is dirty and used for personal hygiene. Right-handed people (80+% of the population) are considered more able than the left-handed. Nevertheless ”Among all these (Benjaminites) were seven hundred picked men that were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss.“ Judg.20:16
The right hand was used for blessing the preferred child. “And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it upon the head of Ephraim, who was the younger, and his left hand upon the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands, for Manasseh was the first-born.” This led an argument between grandfather Jacob and father Joseph because his younger son was going to receive the blessing of the first-born. (Gen.48:13–22)
Jesus is at the Father’s right hand. Matt.26:64; Heb.1:3
On the right hand are those who go to eternal life; on the left hand, those to eternal punishment. Matt.25:33-
So the wise man’s heart turns to the correct, the pure, and the God-approved. The fool turns to the sinful, and impure.
10;3 Even the way a fool walks shows people that he is a fool. Is he staggering or dancing or walking?
10:4 If you are disapproved by your supervisor, do not run away. Apologize.
If you run away, it will probably go worse for you. It is easier to distrust people you do not see. If you leave the meeting because you cannot prevail, you lose your voice in the argument.
10:5 “Slaves on Horseback”. To give high office to inadequate and unskilled people is an error in leadership.
“It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury, much less for a slave to rule over princes.” Prov.19:10.
Why are such bad choices made? After Hurricane Katrina, why was the FEMA program given to a political hack? Personal loyalties and obligations – and sometimes ignorance-- prevail over the public good.
It was said of Felix the Governor (Acts 20) that “He was a master of cruelty and lust. He exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave. “ –Tacitus. He was a slave on horseback.
Another problem in leadership—alcoholism--is spelled out in 10:16–17.
10:8–11 These verses give us six examples of occupational hazards.
The excavator may have the dirt cave in on him.
A remodeler has to think of creatures in the wall he is repairing. Bees--and cobras--live in walls.
A stone-cutter is vulnerable to a rolling rock.
A logger can be crushed by the falling tree.
A carpenter is fatigued by dull tools.
The snake charmer is in danger of being bitten by the cobra.
A parallel word in Prov.26:27 teaches that evil tends to back-fire. I do not get that sense here. Rather, I think that the Teacher wants us to think about the hazards of our work before we begin. Motorcycles, chain-saws and hand-guns are notoriously dangerous.
10:10:12–15. The wise give good advice. The fool starts fast and ends talking wickedly. (See page 2 of the daily newspaper. ) He predicts the future (!) but can’t find his way home.
10:16–17 You know a country is in trouble when its leaders are immature and the officers are drunk before noon. Scripture has several examples of drunken royal parties.
Belshazzar’s Feast. Dan.5
Xerxes’ six-month party. Esther 1:1–10
Israel’s princes on the day of the coronation of a king. Hos.7:5–7
Herod’s birthday. Matt.14
Even ordinary people were drunk in the morning in Isaiah’s time. Isa. 5:11
10:18 The leaky roof is a typical example of folly.
It leaks when there is rain but then the owner cannot get on the roof.
When there is no rain (and rain is uncommon), there is no leak.
Therefore the roof is never fixed.
10:19 Bread and wine are enjoyable, but money is the answer to everything. We instinctively recoil, but there is not doubt that money is the medium of exchange, the basis of our existence and our place in society.
"The protection of wisdom is like the protection of money.” Eccl.7:12
”A gift opens doors; it gives access to the great." Prov.18:16
The next chapter will give us advice on what to do with our money.
10:20 Do no think evil about your superiors. It shows on your face and escapes in your speech. “A little bird told me”.
Examples of the Fool from Eccl. 10.
The generic fool announces his folly by the way he walks. 10:3
The simple fool is weary from work and cannot find the way home. 10:15
The arrogant fool ends his talk with wicked madness. 10:13
The drunken fool ruins the government. 10:17
The lazy fool doesn’t fix the roof. 10:18
The Proverbs also describes five kinds of fools. (See notes on Proverbs.)
The generic fool does his own thing, ignoring advice.
The arrogant fool imposes his foolishness on others.
The simple fool is gullible and goes wherever anyone leads.
The drunken fool loses his reason to drugs.
The lazy fool can’t get the job done.
But we are none of these. We are therefore wise. But even “a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” One dead fly will do it. And thereon hangs the tale.
Lord, Help me not to be a fool today.