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Lowell Brueckner

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Ecclesiastes 10


Chapter 10

1. Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
2. A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left.
3. Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he say to everyone that he is a fool.
4. If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest.
5. There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, as it were an error proceeding from the ruler:
6. folly is set in many high places, and the rich sit in a low place.
7. I have seen slaves on horses, and princes walking on the ground like slaves.
8. He who digs a pit will fall into it, and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
9. He who quarries stones is hurt by them, and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10. If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge, he must use more strength, but wisdom helps on to succeed.
11. If the serpent bites before it is charmed, there is no advantage to the charmer.
12. The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.
13. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14. A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him?
15. The toil of a fool wearies him, for he does not know the way to the city.
16. Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning!
17. Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility, and your princes feast at the proper time, for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18. Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through indolence the house leaks.
19. Bread is made for laughter, and wine gladdens life, and money answers everything.
20. Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king, nor in your bedroom curse the rich, for a bird of the air will carry your voice, or some winged creature tell the matter.

The consequences of errors in leadership

Here we have a list of proverbial sayings by the composer of hundreds of proverbs, these relating particularly to life under the sun. He begins with one that links to the last verse of the previous chapter: “One sinner destroys much good.” In this verse, he immediately gives us the meaning, concerning flies in the ointment: It doesn’t take much foolishness to destroy a pleasant situation (v.1). It is true in an individual life, as well as in the body of society. This world is filled with disappointment, because a person’s honor falls easily to one act of stupidity or one careless moment.

It is interesting that Solomon’s right/left comparison holds to this day. Men, dressed in nice suits, capable of convincing expression, intelligent and well-educated, can be absolutely foolish in their concept of morality and Christianity. Their heart and mentality leans heavily to the left, void of common sense (v.2). He walks on the same road as the wise, is a member of the same churches and houses of government, but every time he opens his mouth, he shows his lack of sense (v.3).

Trust in the sovereignty of God is a practical aid in the affairs of life. Because of his trust in God, someone can remain calm, when an important person rises up against him (v.4). Eventually the anger subsides and peace returns. The same situation will bring tremendous consternation to the one, who lays stock in the opinions of men. The advice is not to make a hasty move over this unpleasant situation, but calmly wait on the Lord.

The preacher continues with his observations and counsel in the temporary situations in life. He refers to mistakes made by a person in power to promote people, who are unworthy of public trust. They are devoid of common sense and use their office for personal gain. Communism did this, robbing from and humiliating the rich, placing them in the lowest places, giving their property to the poor. People, who cannot handle power are exalted to high positions, and the noblemen are made to serve them. This is a formula for the ruin of a nation (v.5-7). In the Proverbs of Agur, he states, “Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up: a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress” (Pr.30:21-23). 

Verses 8 and 9 may be consequences for the error committed by those, who have gained power. In any case, these are unfailing laws, given by the Creator to the inhabitants of earth. The one who sets a trap to harm another, will be the victim of his own plot. A perfect example is that of Haman, who built a scaffold, on which to hang Mordecai. He himself was hung there (Es.7:9-10). The one, who breaks down a neighbor’s wall, in order to steal his property, not only will not succeed, but will pay dearly for his effort. We have a biblical example in King Ahab, who took possession of the vineyard of Naboth, after his wife, Jezebel, arranged to have him killed. Elijah prophesied that Ahab’s blood would be licked by dogs in the same place, where Naboth was murdered (1 K.21:19). “They washed the chariot (in which Ahab was killed) by the pool of Samaria, and the dogs licked up his blood” (1 K.22:38).  

Then the writer gives us two examples of accidents that can take place, while someone is working. A laborer can be hurt by a piece of a stone that he is trimming or by a chunk or splinters from the log that he is splitting. Jamieson-Fausset-Brown comments: “Pithy aphorisms are common in the East. The sense is: Violations of true wisdom recoil on the perpetrators.” The next lesson teaches that using wisdom lessens the effort put into labor. Using a dull axe requires more muscle-power, whereas by having the wisdom to sharpen the axe first, effort and time are saved in the long run (v.10). Verse 11 teaches that expertise is useless, if an attempt is not timely or, there is no value in an expert, if his art is not recognized and employed in any given situation.

In verse 12, we learn that words can help or harm, depending on who is doing the talking. A wise man profits by his words, whereas a fool’s words only bring him disfavor. His introductory remarks are foolish and the content and the moral of his story come from a twisted mentality, therefore “evil madness” (v.13). It seems to abound these days. The talk is endless, but makes no sense and proves nothing. There is a speaker who tries to make up for the lack of understanding by the length of his discourse. He is promising a future, which no one can predict and he cannot be sure of his own future (v.14). 

So much for the words of a fool, now we consider his deeds. He works vigorously without direction; he builds a highway to nowhere (v.15). As we have learned from the beginning, all is vanity under the sun, and so his words and his works are vain. We are not talking about a few ignorant people here and there, we are talking about the overwhelming majority of those, who walk the face of the earth. The only wise ones are those, who understand the meaning of life and teach it to others.

We have learned something previously about appointing incapable people to high positions, now we come to know something about unwise practices. First, the king teaches about immature judgment in places of authority. We are reading about someone, who does not have the experience to know the multiple facets of government, so as to make wise decisions. When a leader is immature, the consequences are bound to be disastrous.

When leadership takes advantage of its privileged position for entertainment and lavish living, whatever the government may be that is under these leaders, it will suffer. The preacher says, “Woe to you!” (v.16). Happy is the land, whose leaders have been trained from childhood as public servants. Such were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who became leaders in Babylon, and were of the royal family and of the nobility in Israel. These are leaders, whose lifestyle is practical and not given to excesses (v.17).

We must not underestimate the harm of carelessness and indolence (laziness) (v.18). It might seem to be a minor fault in an individual, but it leads to tremendous damage and inconvenience. A roof falls in and the ceiling leaks because of the lack of maintenance. The harm is greater still in matters that concern many houses and many people. When we put this principle in the realm of spiritual things, the hurt can be eternal.

Remember, we are dealing with life under the sun, where life hinges on food and drink. A feast brings laughter, wine provides enjoyment and money buys everything (v.19). It is no wonder that Jesus came from heaven to teach on trusting in and living for money, rather than seeking the Kingdom of God. He taught that man cannot serve two masters… God and money. He must love one and hate the other. In order that a Christian might endeavor to seek God, he must fight the powerful current of the world. It is that, which controls and carries the people, according to the dictates of the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that works in the earth’s mutinous creatures.

Yet after all these lessons, Solomon drops a word of wisdom into the life of the citizen on this planet. He warns against cursing the king, even in thinking. Be careful about attacking the rich and powerful. He gives us a clever little statement about what can result: “A bird of the air shall carry the voice” (v.20). Think about what we can add to the wings of the little bird that carries the voice and tells the matter in these day of leaking to the press, of hacking into private information, of tapping communication tools, of double agents and sophisticated intelligence. We need to know the risks involved, before we dare to criticize the powers that be.

We can link these individual thoughts, from the beginning to the end of this chapter, and tell the story of a nation, its government, its leaders, and their practices. We can consider the small mistakes that brought major defamation, the errors in appointments, the decisions of the immature, and the evil intentions that turned on the ones, who planned them. We can weigh the importance of entertainment, sports and pleasure and the emphasis given to the economy over all else. We can observe the self-indulgence of the leaders, the promotion of foolish programs and projects, the lack of common sense, and negligence in fixing and maintaining the principles that protect the country and its people. The same situation can be true of smaller bodies and groups and can certainly define religious organizations, as well.


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