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Friday, May 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 10

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Verses 1-3

Characteristics of the Fool

The resemblance between Ecclesiastes 10:1 and the second part of the last verse of the previous chapter (Ecclesiastes 9:18) is clear. Ecclesiastes 10:1 says that as “dead flies” spoils a supply of “oil” that has been carefully composed, so a little foolishness causes so much harm, that all “wisdom [and] honor” are powerless in the face of that. The meaning is that it only takes a small thing to render unusable or even destroy a large quantity of valuable goods. It does happen that a human being just gives in to a foolish impulse with the result that much and a long-term good work is undone.

We recognize this in daily life in society, in politics, in the sports world and also in the church. During the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016 a gymnast was sent home because he broke the rules by having a night out. Gone are the years of exercise and chances to win the medal. A competent captain or pilot can lose his entre built-up reputation, including his boat or airplane with passengers, by a careless act. We see that also in the Bible. Esau sells his birth right with all the attached blessings in a moment of craving for one dish (Genesis 25:31-Nahum :). Moses loses his entrance into the land by one single act of temper (Numbers 20:12).

Wisdom and foolishness are connected to the heart in Ecclesiastes 10:2. The heart is the source where wisdom and foolishness come from. Wisdom and foolishness are shown in their origin: they are in the inside, in the inner being of man, and they are expressed in his deeds, of which the hand speaks. “The right” has a favorable and “the left” an unfavorable meaning. The right speaks of power, of exaltation and giving honor (Psalms 110:1; Psalms 110:5). The left speaks of what is hidden, ominous and sinister.

He who is wise will watch over his heart and will do that with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). His heart seeks honorable things, things that are above a degenerate, sinful way of life. It seeks the things of God, from whom he receives the strength to do what is honorable. The fool has a life without God. His heart seeks to satisfy his sinful lusts. He tries to achieve his goal with hidden, sinister means, without even thinking about others.

In the political speech the term ‘right(-wing)’ is used to indicate ‘the conservative’ and ‘left(-wing)’ to indicate the ‘progressive’. In the Bible those ideas are not related to it. ‘Right’ has to do with what is honored by God. ‘Left’ stands for a life without God, a life for oneself, materialistic and selfish. We see that in the judgment of the Lord Jesus on the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-1 Corinthians :).

It can happen that “the fool walks along the road”, meaning that he lives properly by the rules, without misbehaving (Ecclesiastes 10:3). But as proper as he may behave himself, still “his sense is lacking”. That appears from what he demonstrates. He leaves no room for being misunderstood that he is a fool, by all that he says and does.

We can apply this to someone who lives properly by the rules, but to whom it is just an empty matter to be a Christian. He calls himself ‘a Christian’ because of the profit he gains from it. However, in all his doings his sense is lacking. He has no real insight in the things of God.

Verses 4-7

The Attitude Towards a Foolish Ruler

In Ecclesiastes 10:4 man is advised not to rise up against a ruler if he raises his temper against him. It is wiser to remain submissive. One should not answer foolishness with foolishness. The best thing to do is to remain calm, for that has a calming effect on the temper, it “allays”.

A positive ‘side-effect’ of this “allayment” is that it prevents a wrong reaction, which could make the case even worse. An attitude of submission and calmness will calm down the anger (Judges 8:3; Proverbs 15:1). By a submissive attitude he will prevent committing a greater sin (Proverbs 15:1).

The Preacher has “seen an evil under the sun”, of which he says that it is “like an error” (Ecclesiastes 10:5). This error goes forth from a ruler who is a fool. This foolish ruler shows his foolishness in two ways (Ecclesiastes 10:6):
1. He promotes a person who has never achieved anything and gives him a leading position in his government.
2. He degrades people who generally are respectable, and he gives them a low position.
We often see these kind of errors in government circles. Important posts in the government are given to family members and friends who have no idea about how to rule.

In society we see that generally respected scholars proclaim the greatest follies, for example the foolish evolution theory, and are therefore set in exalted places. People in exalted places are people with influence, but they lack spiritual sources to take up their position with dignity. Rich men are people with material sources, but because of the foolish ruler they are not given the opportunity to make good use of it. Foolish men bring no order, but cause disorder. They turn all things upside down. The picture of “slaves [riding] on horses and princes walking like slaves on the land”, enlivens the teaching of the Preacher (Ecclesiastes 10:7; Proverbs 30:22; 2 Samuel 15:1; 2 Samuel 15:16-Esther :).

The Lord Jesus, the Prince, was walking on the land as Slave. He will soon come back on a white horse and will execute judgment upon all unrighteousness (Revelation 19:11).

Verses 8-11

Operate With Wisdom

The Ecclesiastes 10:8-1 Samuel : contain the warning for a wrong reaction to the follies of the ruler that we saw in the previous verses. A general application can be made with regard to all kinds of matters or persons who we do not like. Then plans can come up to eliminate those matters or persons. In the direct context it is about overthrowing a foolish prince.

The Preacher mentions four possibilities, to which he directly connects the consequence for the inventor of the coup. The evil we do will come upon ourselves like a boomerang:
1. We dig a pit and fall into it ourselves (Ecclesiastes 10:8).
2. We break through a wall and do not consider the serpent hidden in it, which we wake-up and it gets angry so it bites us (Ecclesiastes 10:8).
3. We quarry stones and get hurt, because other stones fall on us (Ecclesiastes 10:9).
4. We split logs and we do not consider the danger of circling splinters around us (Ecclesiastes 10:9).
It happens all too often that we trip over our own legs.

The four examples have in common that they destroy something: the ground to walk on, the wall that should protect, stones that form a building, wood that grows. We can draw the following lessons from these situations:

1. He who digs a pit to catch the foolish ruler, will fall into it himself. The trick that he invents to capture the ruler, will turn out that he will be captured himself and carried away.

2. The wall is to be considered a picture of the guards that surround the ruler as a protection. He who wants to break through it, will be bitten by a serpent, meaning that it will cost his life.

3. Quarrying stones from the house of a ruler happen for example when people try to find associates for the coup, among the supporters of the foolish ruler. It will not succeed, but it will turn out to suffering.

4. The splitting of logs gives the picture of sowing division between the supporters of the ruler. He who wants to cause division to cause the fall of the ruler, will fall himself by the result of it.

Living in a world fallen into sin involves dangers. Therefore we need to estimate the risks of a certain action carefully, especially in our dealings with a foolish ruler or government. We should watch out, should not take too many risks and also work carefully with good material. The use of a dull axe (Ecclesiastes 10:10) takes a lot of energy, while the desired result is delayed and may possibly never be acquired.

“Wisdom has the advantage of giving success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10), not one’s own clever ideas (Ecclesiastes 10:8-1 Samuel :) or brute force (Ecclesiastes 10:10). That means that we must consider before we start something. Then we will be successful in what we intend to do. God gives us the right material in ‘wisdom’. Wisdom makes one do the right thing in the right way, at the right time, with the right means – amongst others the use of other people’s wisdom – and the right motives. This is good for he himself and for others.

If we forget to be wise, the serpent will bite us (Ecclesiastes 10:11). Then the evil has been done and it is too late to prevent the biting. The saying ‘there is no use crying over spilled milk’ applies to this. The “charmer” cannot do anything anymore when the evil is done. He can only prevent it, but not undo it.

The tongue is as a serpent, “full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The Holy Spirit is the ‘charmer’ and can prevent the evil of the wrong use of the tongue. If the serpent has bitten, if the wrong, hurtful word has been spoken, the evil has been done and it cannot be swallowed anymore and not to be undone anymore. For the believer, fortunately, there is the possibility to confess the wrong. Then the sin will be forgiven, although the consequences cannot always be taken away.

Verses 12-15

The Words and the Toil of a Fool

The distinction between “a wise” and “a fool” appears from the words that come from the mouths of each of them (Ecclesiastes 10:12). Their words show what is in their hearts (Matthew 12:34). Here it is mainly about what the result of their words is, their effect. The words of the wise win hearts, the words of the fool cause destruction.

The words that come from the mouth of a wise man “are gracious” in its content, in its form and its speech. Those are good words about good things that benefit everyone that hears them. The fool speaks in a way that consumes him. Whatever he says does not edify anyone, but breaks everyone down and most of all himself. The fool speaks without being aware of running in a circle around himself.

As soon as the fool begins to speak, it becomes clear that he speaks nothing more than foolishness (Ecclesiastes 10:13). His entire verbiage is foolishness and results in “wicked madness”. From beginning to end he speaks foolishness, from which it also appears that he is not only stupid, but also wicked in nature.

“The fool multiplies words”, but he talks like a headless chicken (Ecclesiastes 10:14). He claims to know exactly how the future looks like. In his arrogance he shows as if he determines the future, while nobody knows “what will happen”. The meaning of the question: “Who can tell him what will come after him?” is that there is no one who can tell him, because he is not open for it. That means that he closes himself off for God, Who only knows the future.

A fool can run off his feet and become beat of it, but he has no idea what he has done it for (Ecclesiastes 10:15). The cause of it is “that he does not [even] know how to go to a city”. He who wants to go to a city will find a way. The fool has no energy to go to a city because he lacks the will to learn how to get there.

He does not even have any sense of direction because the city is not a point of orientation for him. He does not recognize the way to it, for he is blind for things that everybody knows (cf. 2 Kings 6:18). In the city you have to do with other people and he does not want that. He wants to lead his own life. In all his activities he is running aimlessly in his own circles like a zombie. He lives his life without purpose and without direction.

In a spiritual sense he is not interested in the city of God. We can think of the literal Jerusalem, the city of the great King. The city to which God’s heart goes out day and night, is meaningless to him. We can also think of the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of God in this time (Revelation 21:24-Ezekiel :).

Verses 16-20

Rulers Are a Blessing or a Curse

When God gives a lad to a land as king, it is because in that way He wants to chastise an ungrateful and wicked people (Ecclesiastes 10:16; Isaiah 3:4; Isaiah 3:12). ‘Lad’ does not necessarily refer to the age, but to slackness and much more to inability and inexperience (cf. 1 Kings 3:7). A child does not have any awareness of its own incompetence, but on the contrary thinks to be able to do anything. Such a leader of the nation is surrounded by “princes” who “feast in the morning” (cf. Isaiah 5:11) instead of obeying God’s command: “Administer justice every morning” (Jeremiah 21:12). The Preacher pronounces the “woe” over a land with such rulers.

A land with a king that is worthy to be king and to eat food at an appropriate time with princes to be able to function properly and not for the satisfaction of their needs, is a “blessed” land (Ecclesiastes 10:17). With them there is self-control with a view to a good leadership. A blessed land is certainly also the heavenly land, where the believer is allowed to be, for it is ruled by a perfect King.

When officials do not do their work properly, the government system will collapse (Ecclesiastes 10:18). There is no interrelationship. They do not stick together. If there is no maintenance on a house, there will be holes in that house, so that the world can enter in. It starts with little cracks, which, however, get bigger and bigger if nothing is done about it.

The big indolence and slackness of hands that cause the people to fragment are the result of a life in enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 10:19). The feast in the morning is intended for their own pleasure. The wine flows richly. They withdraw the money for paying these binges from the taxes that the people pay or by the bribes they gladly accept, to turn a blind eye to unfair practices. Also by falsely submitted declarations they make some money to cover the costs of their excessive lifestyle.

Ecclesiastes 10:20 exhorts us to calm down and not become angry when the government does something that does not please us. The connection with the previous verse may be that we criticize the wastefulness of the rulers. The wise man should not fall into foolish comments of displeasure. Despite all misbehaviors we must honor the government as an institution of God (Romans 13:1-Judges :). Other people’s sin does not give anyone the right to sin as well. On the contrary, we are called to pray for the government (1 Timothy 2:1-Numbers :).

The rulers are hypersensitive to murmur and rumors. They have their spies everywhere that tell them what is said about them among the population. Even for this reason it is wise not to express our displeasure loudly about the rulers of the land. We will not run that risk if even in our thoughts we do not criticize them. God also knows our thoughts about the governments that have been appointed by Him. Let us watch out that we remain to consider them in agreement with what He says to us about that in His Word.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ecclesiastes 10". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ecclesiastes-10.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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