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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 10

Mylne's Commentary on EcclesiastesMylne on Ecclesiastes

Verses 1-20

"As dead flies cause the ointment of the perfumer to putrefy and send forth a stench — so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor. Ecclesiastes 10:1

Flies are but little things — and yet they do a world of mischief. Themselves corruptible, they breed corruption, as the Preacher’s figure shows. Often is the odor of good name turned to "stench," because the flies of inconsistency have festered in it.

Flies are but flitting things; they are now on me, and now on you. Scare them — they are quickly gone — and as quickly they return. Let them but settle for a while — they will sip and sip again — until drowsy with their feast, they die — then follows putrefaction, and your sweets are spoiled, and whom have you to thank? None but yourself. Had you but been sure that the lid was on — no thief had stolen, no spoiler tainted, them. The fault was, then, your own.

Thus inconsistencies are flitting things. At first a single act which hardly settles — then hums its flight away. Act follows act, at short, and shorter intervals. Then acts are turned to habits — and habits nestle in the soul, and poison it. Had you but checked the act — the habit would never have come. Be wary, then, and scare the "flies" away. Tease you they may, but cannot settle long without your permission.

And what are Satan’s flies — temptations by the score — when met by grace? Resist them, and they soon will fly away. (James 4:7.)

What a fair thing the Christian’s reputation — his good report with others! How hard it is earned! How easily it is spoiled! How delicate its substance! The faintest breath is seen upon its mirrored face. The smallest "fly" is enough to taint it.

Guard well your character, my brother! Keep it from taint, not for your own, but for your Master’s sake. A trifling act — a thoughtless word — how soon it brings you down, and makes your ointment to send forth a stench! Years of piety will be spoiled through one "unsavory" act!


"A wise man’s heart is at his right hand, but a fool’s heart is at his left." Ecclesiastes 10:2

A Christian’s heart is the treasury of grace. The heart is thus the center of affection — the seat of knowledge — the source of purpose and emotion — the very soul of spiritual life. It is with the heart we feel and think Christianly. It is from the treasure of the "heart" we bring all practical experience — all spiritual fruit — all holy feelings — -all edifying speech, and all consistency of life. The heart is the abode of memory, and holy recollections. In fine, the heart contains all the resources of the child of God, drawn from the fountain of God’s grace and truth.

To keep the heart with all diligence — to use its powers of thought, and means of action — to exercise our graces with discretion — to have our knowledge at our fingers ends, our feelings in control — to keep our sensibilities awake, and thus to draw them forth when needed — this is the part of wisdom; this is what the Preacher means.

A workman knows the difference between his "right hand," and his left — and seeks to have his implements at hand, that he at once may grasp, and handle them, with all dexterity. It is thus the Christian is called to use his powers — to have them at the right hand of his energy.

It is humbling to meet the enemy, unarmed and unprepared; to lose the victory for lack of grace; to have known the art to conquer — and yet, from carelessness, to lose it; to hear, what might edify — and be no better for it; to have occasion to speak a word — and yet find nothing to say; to try to mention what we have heard — and find it gone from mind — and why?

Our heart is at our left hand, not our right — and hence our failure. The Spirit’ s sword not kept within our reach; our knowledge was allowed to escape, for lack of practice; the grace of hearing, feeling, speaking, are not to be found — since not in exercise. All this is clumsy workmanship, and bespeaks a badly kept heart. We seek our weapons, and, when the time is gone by, perhaps we find them, too late to use them, but not too late to cause the blush of shame.

A friend says "Pray for me!" Your heart gives no response — no prayer is found! How chilling to the soul! How humbling! To have your sympathy desired, and find no feeling there, as though you had no heart to beat within you! To have to weep with those who weep, and find no tears to weep with, as though the very fount were dried and gone! Oh, if we lived more prayerfully, and sat more constantly at Jesus’ feet, would it be thus? Would it be thus so often? My soul, be careful. Let your heart at your right hand be ever found!

"Yielding pacifies great offences." Ecclesiastes 10:4

Yielding makes peace with God. Man’s heart is proud, and therefore man is lost. "Hide pride from man," and man is saved. (Job 33:17.) Then to God’s righteousness he stoops, and God is pacified. (Romans 10:3.) Only acknowledge that your sin is great — that under every tree you have sought idols — and God is pacified. (Jeremiah 3:13.)

"How does yielding do this? Is not Christ our peace? (Ephesians 2:14.) His blood alone can pacify, and reconcile to God."

It is true, my friend. Christ does it all. The work is His — not yours. But are you willing to accept His work? That is the question. Pride stumbles at the cross. It does not stoop to a bleeding Savior, more than it stoops to a sovereign God. Human pride overtops the highest angels. The angels hide their faces — human pride turns its back on God Himself!

Yes; "yielding pacifies;" but even this is not your doing. It is not man that yields; man does not give way, and never will. It is grace that does it — man’s heart made willing in the day of God’s power. (Psalms 90:3.) To grace, man is a debtor still.

Even Christians find it difficult to yield. To say, "I am sorry!" To own that I am wrong! This is very difficult for you. You try again, "Is there no other way? Can I not keep my pride, and be at peace with others?" You try to pray. You cannot. Why? You have not owned your fault. Pride still is there. Go, say, "I am wrong! I am sorry!" Go pacify your friend — and be at peace with God.

Who can explain the twofold nature of the saint — that mystery of good and evil! Now sin is uppermost — and now grace. The old man, and the new — are ever at deadly strife. Grace gains the day — but how? The heart proudly held out, and refused to yield. What brought it to an end? But hush, my soul! You cannot solve such mysteries as these. Enough to know yourself is a miracle of grace. Be it your part to follow Jesus — to learn of Him, to yield to God, and man — and be at peace.

Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them; whoever splits logs may be endangered by them. If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed; but wisdom will bring success." Ecclesiastes 10:9-10

Is God concerned about quarrying stones or splitting logs? Is it not written for our sakes (1 Corinthians 9:9-10); that each might know his calling, and learn to fill it with propriety — that all might strive to be expert in what they have to do? God’s name is honored when we thus adorn His doctrine, and show that Christian men can work expertly. How fitting, then, to know our calling! First, to discover what we are called to do; and then, to do it with all our might.

Some call themselves to preach the Gospel — but Christ called them not. It is proved, both by their preaching, and their lives. None but the Spirit "calls" in truth — and when He calls, He gives the wisdom needful success. How can a man direct his ways? How can a man walk in holiness and divine strength? How can a man wield the Gospel weapons, or use the Gospel tools? How can a man lead the sinner in the paths of peace — if wisdom guides him not?

It is the same in other walks of life — in law, and medicine, or philosophy; with merchants, tradesmen, or mechanics; with laborers, or household servants. It is right that all should know their work, and do it well. All are not equally expert — but all may work with diligence; and, if they are the Lord’s, may ask for grace to sanctify their abilities, and thus enable them to use them well. Such shall have "a good reputation with outsiders." (1 Timothy 3:7.) Men honors those who do their best. Men know the difference between those who waste their powers, and those who make the most of what they have.

It was said by one well known for piety, that if a saint were but a "shoeblack," his shoes should be the brightest in the town. And this should be the rule with all, whether to plane a board — or scrub a floor; to steer a vessel — or to plough a field. Whatever the labor of the head or hand — all should try to do their labor well.

The household seamstress! Now-a-days, what endless handiworks! What divers forms, materials, and hues! What shall we say? How hard at times to draw the line between usefulness — and fashion; between what is solid — and what is vain! This we may say (gravely, yet courteously) — all that you do — do well; but still be careful what you do — lest Jesus say, "You worked for fashion, to deck the chamber, or to please the eye — you did not work for Me."

"A babbler is no better." Ecclesiastes 10:11

Oh what a comfort to have a friend, a confidant — a man who knows how to keep a secret — whose ear is ready to receive, whose heart is able to retain, whatever may be told him — a man, who can resist the charm of telling others what he knows, and keeps it within the bolts and bars of secrecy! It is a foul blot upon one’s honor, to tell a secret; to bring another into trouble, because you could not hold your tongue. How base it makes one feel, to have it said, "Why did you tell my secret?"

Nor is it merely when it is told to you as a secret. Your friend has spoken in your presence of things which touch his honor, or the fame of others. He said not, "Do not mention it!" He rested on your character. He thought, "He will not repeat it. I know I am safe. He is not given to gossip." He gave you credit for discretion, and found himself mistaken!

Oh, who can tell the harm that is done by breach of confidence! Who can follow, in its course, a secret thus let loose! One tells it to another, and thus it goes from mouth to mouth — from ear to ear — depositing in many hearts what never should be known; gathering, as it flies, untold excess of scandal! If itching ears are bad — surely itching lips are worse — far more hurtful in the end.

And yet it is sweet to fallen nature, to be the first to know — the first to tell! It is a strange pleasure, after all — a sorry way of feeding self-importance — that for a time (oh, short-lived pleasure!) you are admired as the mouth-piece of "intelligence! " It is nothing but vanity. I beg you, mortify the taste — and renounce the habit. Even where the matter is harmless, never tell the tale!

Oh, it is a sign that grace is low, when pleasure such as this is coveted, and souls are taken with the charm of "telling the faults of others."

Where another’s character is at stake, and what you hear concerns the faults of others — it is well to bury it at once in secrecy — and never repeat it to a living soul. Practice the habit; in the end you will find it pleasant; and then, it will cost you more to tell it out, than to suppress it.

Of all the things we hear, how few are worth repeating! Weigh it before you mention it. You will mostly find it is not worth the breath expended on it; far less will it repay the risk of injuring yourself or others. Shun, then, the approach of evil — and keep your lips from learning babblers’ ways.

"The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, but the lips of a fool shall swallow him up." Ecclesiastes 10:12

A world of evil is in the tongue. Though but a little member, yet it boasts great things. It sets on fire the course of nature. No wonder — itself is set on fire by Hell. (James 3:5-6.) By words we are justified, and by our words condemned. The idle words will do it, without the actions. The idle words will seal the sinner’s doom. (Matthew 12:36-37.) Words of impatience, violence, and wrath — words of disdainful tempers — expose a man to Hell, (Matthew 5:21-22.)

Our words testify of our whole character — the entire man — as plainly as weathercocks declare the wind that blows. Out of the abundance of the heart, the lips will speak.

Some lips speak nothing but vanity. The wanton oath — the ribald jest — the idle scoff — these savor of the "pit" too plainly. And then, the empty talk — the giggling words — vain exclamations — breath wasted on unmeaning nothings! God is not in all their words, because He is not in all their thoughts.

Oh, what a reckoning with idle lips at last! To have talked of everything but God — of all but Jesus! If ever those names were uttered, it was in lightness, or in cursing. Say, is not this enough to seal our condemnation?

How many a man seems to have wisdom — until he speaks! His looks are pleasant, his manners good — but his speech proclaims him to be a fool! His lips have consumed himself! What silence did — his words have now undone.

How much a Christian reputation depends on what is spoken! How often a word in private has undone the effect of public teaching — or a moment’s vanity destroyed the work of years! How often the profit of a conversation been lost through lack of gravity! Say, Reader, have your lips never consumed you, nor marred your influence, through some unguarded word! It is bitter thus to eat the bread of self-humiliation, and see how vain, how foolish, we are! Then pray the Lord to set a guard over your mouth; to keep watch over the door of your lips; lest, otherwise, they become a sepulcher, to "consume" yourself and others too.

"Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips!" Psalms 141:3

"He does not even know how to go to the city!" Ecclesiastes 10:15

Most men would seek "the city" — the City of the Lord, the New Jerusalem. Few like to say they seek it not — for this were to confess they are on their way to Hell.

Some do not trouble themselves to find it. They think they are sure to reach it — though they know not how. "God is merciful!" they say; and there the matter ends. "How barbarous to think it otherwise!" They think that all men fall asleep on earth, and wake up in Heaven. How many such there are!

Others make much ado. Much pains they take to seek "the city." Pity they know not how to find it! They fast; they say many prayers; early and late you see them at the shrine of vain religious observances. Their dress, their hair, their whole appearance, show that they are eaten up with "religious forms," which loudly say, "We seek the city" — but which as clearly prove they know not how to find it.

Some take the Pharisee’s road, and think it leads to Heaven. They pride themselves upon their works, and strict integrity of life. Alas! when death removes the blinders from their eyes, they will find they are in Samaria’s midst, and not in Zion, as they thought! (1 Kings 6:20.)

Others say plainly that they cannot find "the city." They ask the way from everyone they meet, "Say, friend, will faith, or works, lead me to Zion’s hill?" This path they tread, now that path — taking each byway, as it comes; but still with importunity they cry, "We have not found the road!"

Some, strange to say — walk backwards to "the city," or, at least, they try to walk. They say they seek it, but their face is turned the other way; they have the present world in view. Say, can they find the city thus?

But some there are, who walk the narrow road — the only road that leads to Zion. Once they were wanderers too. But Jesus met them as they strayed. "I am the way," He said, "and I alone. None comes to the City but by Me." (John 14:6.) And now, through grace, they follow Jesus. Both road, and guide, He is. His work is the only causeway for their feet; His footprints are ever telling that He is in the way, going before them to Jerusalem — not, as He did before, to death and shame; but, through His finished work, leading them to glory, even to "the City" now prepared for His redeemed people. (Mark 10:32; Hebrews 11:16.)

Blessed are those who do His will, and have a right to enter through the gates into the New Jerusalem. There shall they see His face — there shall they serve Him. "The city" needs no sun nor moon to light it. This is the name by which it is called, "The Lord is there!" (Revelation 22; Ezekiel 48:35.)

"Because of laziness, the building decays; and through idleness of hands, the house leaks." Ecclesiastes 10:18

Beware of idleness — and, most of all, avoid the thief, procrastination, and his counterpart, "tomorrow." Look sharply — or else they are sure to pilfer your time, your substance, and your character!

Why should you say, "tomorrow," when "today" is better? The torn fabric is seen — or the missing brick is acknowledged; you mean to have it done. "It is but a stitch," you say; "only a brick is gone!" Yes, friend, it was but one — but now it is three or four; and will be twenty, if you mend it not! The less the pains required — the less should be the excuse.

It is morning now; "you will do it in the afternoon." Night, in its darkness, sees it is not done — so apparent is your negligence! The morrow comes; another and another. Friend, say not that word "I’ll do it later" again.

How hard it is to be consistent! to carry out one’s principles; to work them out in trifles — in things of every day’s occurrence! Yet character is made up of this, and that — small things of character, as well as great.

And what, I ask you, is consistency, but to do all things in time, in order, and in place! Bad habits are always worth correcting. Things outwardly in disorder, speak of that disorder within. If you neglect to stop a gap, or mend a hole — most probably you do the same with your personal faults and failings. The principle is the same in either case. The eye that scans the one — discerns the other. One mind affords the energy — one heart supplies the courage — to correct the fault. It is the same face which ought to blush for slovenly delay. Then strive to be exact, for conscience’ sake.

Someone says, "What is the need of being so particular?" Because the matter is great — character is at stake! Beware of small delays. Don’t you know that the little foxes spoil the vines; and the vines have tender grapes? (Song of Solomon 2:15.)

Young lions have great teeth. Then break them out at once. They will be greater by and by, and do a world of injury! (Psalms 58:6.)

One fault allowed — one evil way unchecked — one sinful passion indulged in — one bad temper not subdued; oh, who can tell what trouble they will cause you afterwards! If duly checked at the first assault, the garrison will soon give in. The more delay — the harder it will be to take the fortress.

Rust is a little thing at first — but how corroding — and how easily contracted! A slight exposure does it. Thus slothfulness creeps on by small degrees, and soon corrodes the vitals of one’s character!

"Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom — because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say." Ecclesiastes 10:20

It is dangerous to speak, where secrecy is required. The thought is your own, while you keep it to yourself. But once the cage is opened, and the bird let loose — who knows how far its flight may bear it! At first you think to tie it by the foot — that is, you tell your secret to a single friend. He tells it to another, who mentions it but to a chosen few! The cord is loosened — and your bird has gone! Your "bird" no more will roost in secrecy.

What makes you tell your secret? The itch of telling. And can you wonder that others feel the like, and love to gratify the taste, which you could not restrain? Then learn to keep your secret to yourself.

It is good to know the "bird" is in the cage, securely fastened. And, though it flutters against the bars, desiring its liberty — still keep the cage closed. It will do no harm, while there. What mischief it might do, if let loose — you cannot imagine. If you think evil of a man, what need to mention it to another? His faults are known to you, but why repeat them? Who has a right to ask it? God allowed you to his fault, that you might pray for him — and not to harm yourself and others, by spreading his dishonor.

It is dangerous even to think! Thought oozes out at tiny openings! A look betrays it. A word in sleep may speak it; unguarded speech may unfold it.

It is dangerous to think! Thoughts have their way, if once you harbor them — and do their best to to be spoken. What is wrong to speak — it is often as wrong to think. Who made you the judge of your brother’s character? Who gave his failings to your care, or bid you ponder them in your mind? Pray for him, if you will; the more, the better. Think what God’s grace may do for him. Think of his turning to the Lord. Think of his sitting at the feet of Jesus. Such thoughts are safe; they will do no injury either to him, or you.

But, if you harbor bad thoughts against the man, and not against the sin, most probably the thought will work its way out to the tongue, and injure you.

To keep a thought at bay — how curiously deep — how deeply curious, the exercise! To treat your thoughts as though they never belonged to you; to give them strangers’ fare, and keep them at respectful distance! All this is possible. It is often done by those whose sense is exercised to discern good from evil. My soul, may this exercise be yours — that your thoughts be led captive, and Jesus rule your tongue. Then nothing shall escape you, that you should retain; nor others’ character be injured at your hand.



Bibliographical Information
Mylne, George. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10". Mylne's Commentary on Ecclesiastes. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mce/ecclesiastes-10.html. 1858.
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