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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 10:15

The toil of a fool so wearies him that he does not even know how to go to a city.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Fool;   The Topic Concordance - Foolishness;  
Holman Bible Dictionary - Poetry;  
Every Day Light - Devotion for August 19;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Verse 15. He knoweth not how to go to the city. — I suppose this to be a proverb: "He knows nothing; he does not know his way to the next village." He may labour; but for want of judgment he wearies himself to no purpose.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Bridgeway Bible Commentary

Thoughts on wisdom and folly (9:13-10:20)

A simple story illustrates how a person may be wise and humble, but the good he does is not appreciated by those who benefit from it. Riches, status and a show of power are the things people admire. If a person lacks these, he is ignored or despised, even though his quiet words of wisdom may save a city from destruction (13-18).
One foolish act can spoil a lot of good. Stupidity leads to wrongdoing and marks a person out as a fool in the eyes of everyone (10:1-3). But when a ruler acts like a fool, the wise person will be patient and not panic. Unfortunately, fools often get into places of authority, but more capable people are not given a chance (4-7). In most activities there is some danger, so people should be careful and plan ahead; otherwise, instead of enjoying success they may meet disaster (8-11).
Fools talk without thinking of the consequences of their words and so get themselves into trouble. They waste their time with much talk about the future, even though no one can know the future. They waste their energy in useless work. They have no idea where they are going (12-15).
Immature rulers, who think only of their own comforts and ignore the needs of the people, bring hardship and discontent to the country they rule (16-17). Laziness leads to decay. If people want to enjoy the good things of life, they must work so that they can earn the money to buy them (18-19). The wise will learn how to control their thoughts and, consequently, their words and actions. In this way they will keep out of trouble (20).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Brideway Bible Commentary". 2005.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The sense is: “The fool wearies himself with ineffectual attempts, he has not sufficient knowledge for the transaction of ordinary business.”

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

Chuck Smith Bible Commentary

Chapter 10:

Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking odor: so does a little folly to him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor ( Ecclesiastes 10:1 ).

There are certain men that just should not be doing foolish things. We are reading quite a bit lately about the Bohemian Club and we are told of all the important people in the United States, men who are part of this Bohemian Club. Men who should know better, but evidently don't. And, of course, we are told that our President and Vice President and former President Richard Nixon, David Rockefeller, that elitist of the United States, members of this Bohemian Club, and they have a little retreat north of San Francisco where they go once a year for a retreat. Where they entertain themselves by putting on foolish costumes and dancing around, and going through different types of rites and so forth in this Bohemian Club. But even as dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary carried a stink, so does a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor. In other words, men who are in reputation for wisdom and honor, it's just folly and their life is out of place.

A wise man's heart is at his right hand ( Ecclesiastes 10:2 );

I only bring that up because you're going to be reading more and more about the Bohemian Club. The liberal press has decided to expose its activities because they are sort of ridiculous and, of course, they are out to get some of our leaders and to sort of demolish them as idols in our eyes. And so you're going to be reading more and more about the Bohemian Club. And so when you read about it or hear about it, you'll say, "I heard about that someplace. Where did I hear about that? Oh, yeah." But it's something that they are zeroing in on even as they've zeroed in on Nancy Reagan's fancy clothes and all. They're zeroing in on the Bohemian Club as one of the things. But you see, the problem is by belonging to it they have given them... and going along with the folly of this springtime retreat up there, they celebrate the coming of spring by putting on their little flowered tutus and dancing around and all. They're exposing themselves to this. You're really a man who is of reputation and everything else. It's just out of place. It's just like flies in the ointment of the apothecary. It's just a stinking thing. And so it's tragic that wise men can do such foolish things. Trying to somehow... it's amazing to me what dumb things wise men can do and leaders can do and all.

When we were little kids, we would make up our clubs with our secret oaths and our initiations and our passwords, and you know, the whole thing. We were... had our own little mafias and secret organizations and you know, "Blood, man," and just, we were brothers and this whole thing. Well, that's great when you're a little boy and living in a world of unreal fantasies. But when you grow up and you still get into these secret clubs and you have your secret passwords and your secret handshakes and your special little robes and clothes and hats and, you just haven't grown up and that's your problem.

Paul said, "When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, and acted as a child. But when I was old, I put away the childish things" ( 1 Corinthians 13:11 ). When you get old, it's time to put those things away. But some people just don't grow up. And thus, they are exposing themselves to ridicule and to the press which will expose them. "A wise man's heart is at his right hand."

but a fool's heart at his left ( Ecclesiastes 10:2 ).

Now I don't know that there's any scientific. I don't know what he's saying. Help! I think I'm getting a heartbeat.

Yea also, when he that is a fool walketh by the way, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool ( Ecclesiastes 10:3 ).

I mean, you're, when you're a fool you just, it's obvious. You express it.

If the spirit of the ruler rises up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding will pacify great offenses ( Ecclesiastes 10:4 ).

Oh, how much better it is to yield a point than to hang on. And if we would only learn just to yield a point. It can pacify great offenses. It can stop big arguments. It can actually save your life at times. There's some really nuts out there in the world. And a lot of people have been killed by insisting on their right of ways. "It's my right of way." And you can insist on your right of way but get wiped out. So, "Yielding can pacify great offenses." Give in to the point. What difference does it make? Whether there were five or six fish in that basket. You know, you can get in the biggest arguments over some stupid thing like that. Get angry. Get where you don't speak for a day or two because, "There's five." "No, there's six." "No, five." Maybe there were five. Yield it. Why argue? It's dumb to just argue over things like that. Yielding can pacify great offenses. Good advice.

There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceeds from the ruler: Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in a low place. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the eaRuth ( Ecclesiastes 10:5-7 ).

There seems to be oftentimes inconsistency.

He that digs a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaks a hedge, a serpent shall bite him ( Ecclesiastes 10:8 ).

They used a hedge about to keep the serpents out. You break the hedge; the serpent will bite you. You dig a pit; you'll fall into it. These are just sort of proverbs.

Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. If the iron be blunt, and he do not sharpen the edge, then must he put in more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct ( Ecclesiastes 10:9-10 ).

So figure it out, man. If you're trying to chop wood with a dull iron, dull hatchet or dull ax, it's going to take more strength. Sharpen it, takes less strength. Makes sense.

Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better ( Ecclesiastes 10:11 ).

He'll bite, too.

The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness. A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him? ( Ecclesiastes 10:12-14 )

We don't know the future. People talk so confidently of the future and all. You don't know what's going to be out there, you don't know what the future holds.

The labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knows not how to go to the city. Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning! ( Ecclesiastes 10:15-16 )

That means they were drunk all night so they eat in the morning.

Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness! By much slothfulness the building decayeth ( Ecclesiastes 10:17-18 );

Now you that are managers of buildings and so forth, you might choose that to put above the time clocks for the maintenance men.

and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through. A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answers all things ( Ecclesiastes 10:18-19 ).

Now my wife believes that this is a scriptural truth. But I was trying to tell you, this is Solomon and he's talking about worldly wisdom. And it's amazing how that the world thinks that money is a cure-all. Money will answer everything.

Curse not the king, no not even in your thoughts; and curse not the rich in your bedroom: for a little bird of the air will carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter ( Ecclesiastes 10:20 ).

It's amazing how you say something about someone to a person in confidence thinking that that won't go any further, but it's amazing how many times it will get right back to the person. And then you have the phone call and say, "Did you say... ?" And, "What did you mean when you said... " Oh, so better not to tell little birds. That's where they got the phrase, "A little bird told me." Came from this. "

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Chuck Smith Bible Commentary". 2014.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

These proverbs deal with the wise and unwise use of the tongue. Generally, wise people speak graciously, but fools destroy themselves by the way they speak. The fool continues to talk even though neither he nor anyone else can tell what the future holds. The picture here seems to be of the fool making dogmatic statements about the future. The fool also does not even perceive what is most obvious. He is so shortsighted that he sees no value in his work (Ecclesiastes 10:15 a). "How to go to a city" is a figure of speech such as "when to come in out of the rain" (Ecclesiastes 10:15 b). The point is that the fool is a jerk.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

3. The folly of criticism in view of the uncertain future 10:12-20

Since we do not know what our earthly future holds (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15): even though governmental officials may prove reprehensible (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19), it is not wise to criticize them (Ecclesiastes 10:20).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

The labour of the foolish wearieth everyone of them,.... The labour of fools, both in speaking and doing, weary those who have any concern with them, and themselves likewise, since all their labour is vain and fruitless;

because he knoweth not how to go to the city; to any city, the road to which is usually broad, and plain and easy to be found, and yet cannot be found by the foolish man; showing, that he that talks of abstruse things, things too high and wonderful for him, which he affects to know, must needs be a stranger to them, since things the most easy to be understood he is ignorant of, and wearies himself to find; or he does not know how to behave himself in a city, among citizens, in a civil and polite manner. The Targum is,

"he learns not to go to the city, where wise men dwell, to learn instruction from it.''

Some interpret it of the city of Jerusalem, where were the temple, sanhedrim, synagogues, schools, c. but it may be better applied to the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, which fools or wicked men know not the way unto, nor do they seek after it see Psalms 107:7; so Alshech interprets it of heaven.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

The Contemptibleness of Folly.

      12 The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious; but the lips of a fool will swallow up himself.   13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.   14 A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?   15 The labour of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.

      Solomon, having shown the benefit of wisdom, and of what great advantage it is to us in the management of our affairs, here shows the mischief of folly and how it exposes men, which perhaps comes in as a reflection upon those rulers who set folly in great dignity.

      I. Fools talk a great deal to no purpose, and they show their folly as much by the multitude, impertinence, and mischievousness of their words, as by any thing; whereas the words of a wise man's mouth are gracious, are grace, manifest grace in his heart and minister grace to the hearers, are good, and such as become him, and do good to all about him, the lips of a fool not only expose him to reproach and make him ridiculous, but will swallow up himself and bring him to ruin, by provoking the government to take cognizance of his seditious talk and call him to an account for it. Adonijah foolishly spoke against his own life,1 Kings 2:23. Many a man has been sunk by having his own tongue fall upon him,Psalms 64:8. See what a fool's talk is. 1. It takes rise from his own weakness and wickedness: The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, the foolishness bound up in his heart, that is the corrupt spring out of which all these polluted streams flow, the evil treasure out of which evil things are brought. As soon as he begins to speak you may perceive his folly; at the very first he talks idly, and passionately, and like himself. 2. It rises up to fury, and tends to the hurt and injury of others: The end of his talk, the end it comes to, is madness. He will presently talk himself into an indecent heat, and break out into the wild extravagancies of a distracted man. The end he aims at is mischief; as, at first, he appeared to have little government of himself, so, at last, it appears he has a great deal of malice to his neighbours; that root of bitterness bears gall and wormwood. Note, It is not strange if those that begin foolishly end madly; for an ungoverned tongue, the more liberty is allowed, grows the more violent. 3. It is all the same over and over (Ecclesiastes 10:14; Ecclesiastes 10:14): A fool also is full of words, a passionate fool especially, that runs on endlessly and never knows when to leave off. He will have the last word, though it be but the same with that which was the first. What is wanting in the weight and strength of his words he endeavours in vain to make up in the number of them; and they must be repeated, because otherwise there is nothing in them to make them regarded. Note, Many who are empty of sense are full of words; and the least solid are the most noisy. The following words may be taken either, (1.) As checking him for his vainglorious boasting in the multitude of his words, what he will do and what he will have, not considering that which every body knows that a man cannot tell what shall be in his own time, while he lives (Proverbs 27:1), much less can one tell what shall be after him, when he is dead and gone. Would we duly consider our own ignorance of, and uncertainty about, future events, it would cut off a great many of the idle words we foolishly multiply. Or, (2.) As mocking him for his tautologies. He is full of words, for if he do but speak the most trite and common thing, a man cannot tell what shall be, because he loves to hear himself talk, he will say it again, what shall be after him who can tell him? like Battus in Ovid:

------------Sub illis Montibus (inquit) erant, et erant sub montibus illis--

Under those mountains were they, They were under those mountains, I say--

whence vain repetitions are called Battologies,Matthew 6:7.

      II. Fools toil a great deal to no purpose (Ecclesiastes 10:15; Ecclesiastes 10:15); The labour of the foolish, to accomplish their designs, wearies every one of them. 1. They weary themselves in that labour which is very foolish and absurd. All their labour is for the world and the body, and the meat that perishes, and in this labour they spend their strength, and exhaust their spirits, and weary themselves for very vanity,Habakkuk 2:13; Isaiah 55:2. They choose that service which is perfect drudgery rather than that which is perfect liberty. 2. That labour which is necessary, and would be profitable, and might be gone through with ease, wearies them, because they go about it awkwardly and foolishly, and so make their business a toil to them, which, if they applied themselves to it prudently, would be a pleasure to them. Many complain of the labours of religion as grievous, which they would have no reason to complain of if the exercises of Christian piety were always under the direction of Christian prudence. The foolish tire themselves in endless pursuits, and never bring any thing to pass, because they know not how to go to the city, that is, because they have not capacity to apprehend the plainest thing, such as the entrance into a great city is, where one would think it were impossible for a man to miss his road. Men's imprudent management of their business robs them both of the comfort and of the benefit of it. But it is the excellency of the way to the heavenly city that it is a high-way, in which the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err (Isaiah 35:8); yet sinful folly makes men miss that way.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Bibliographical Information
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Ecclesiastes 10:15". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.