The Stench of Foolishness
As we move closer to the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, we start to receive practical teaching on the path of wisdom.
Solomon has taught us in the last three chapters to live life in the face of tragedy, to live in an unfair world, and to live life to the full.
Here in this chapter we receive many proverbs on living that life by avoiding foolish moves.
He begins the chapter with an interesting statement. He says Eccl 10:1
1 Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.Ecclesiastes 10:1 ESV
This tells us that folly is often valued above wisdom. That folly is given more weight than wisdom and it tips the scales. Folly is something that people speak on a regular basis. It comes out when we are angry, sad, worried, concerned, and frustrated.
We will put more weight on the words of folly than wisdom because folly usually is what gives us a chance of revenge or attack of another.
Well, it only takes a little folly to ruin something precious. A small fly can ruin the sweet smelling fragrance of perfume.
A little folly can ruin a life. Think if you will about the one time you get drunk then drive then get into a wreck. A little folly has now caused great grief in your life.
What this means is that only a small amount of foolishness will create great problems for all who perform it. Therefore, wise people will avoid folly because they know it wrecks life even if only a small amount of it has been done.
That is what the rest of this chapter is teaching us. This quick introduction tells us that foolishness is foul and rotten and to be avoided completely by the one who wants to be wise.
Solomon wrote Eccl. 10:2-20
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 says 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 one 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.Ecclesiastes 10:2–20 ESV
Solomon tells us many things in these verses. Many things to help us to avoid foolish mistakes and actions. Many things to help us live a life worthy of the Lord that honors Him at all turns and in all ways.
The first observation found in this text is that…
Like Oil and Water, So are Fools and the Wise
We all know that oil and water even when shaken intensely will separate. It will never stay together no matter what we do to try and make it do so.
This is what we see in verses 2-3. Each one of these tells us that there is a path that the wise will follow and one the fool will follow.
So within this observation we see that there is another observation of
The Two Paths of Life
The wise man’s inner self, his master control of his life, guides him to the right while the fool goes to the left.
Now, this is not about politics at all. I know of some who have taken this to be about that but it is not.
No in the ancient time the right side was a place of power and honor while the left was looked at as wrong. People born left handed were seen as having a birth defect that something was wrong.
So this means that the wise will be in honor because they have chosen the correct path of life while the fool will be in dishonor because they have chosen the wrong path.
Verse 3 clearly teaches us this point.
In it we see that even if the fool happens to be on the right path, he cannot help but make known he is a fool.
One who is foolish will always make himself known as a fool, he cannot hide it until his heart has been changed and his master control is under control by the Master Himself.
Without wisdom we will always follow the wrong path and we will always get into trouble and do what is wrong.
This is even true when we as fools do what is right because when fools we do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. Then we boast about it and show that the right was done for the wrong.
Where do we see this happening the most? With leaders.
Which leads to the next observation…
Having Stature Doesn’t Make One Wise
Remember back in Eccl. 9:17 where it said, “The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.”
We see the angry ruler here again. He is angry for who knows why but Solomon tells us that it is best to stay calm than insult back. When we do that calmness will lay the great offenses to rest.
It is true that people in power will insult people without power. People with perceived power do it more than any.
But the best response from us in a situation like that is to not say anything back but remain calm and act like nothing was said. The attacks will fall flat and we will come out ahead because we used wisdom rather than folly.
What this tells us about certain leaders or rulers is that they can become
Proud and Arrogant Rulers
When one is prideful and arrogant they will act in ways that are not appropriate because their pride has been damaged.
They take out their anger and embarrassment on others.
Their pride rules them rather than wisdom and they hurl insults out rather than being tactful and discerning of what to do.
They insult and attack over being mindful of their position, which is why being in a place of stature does not mean you are wise. You may have great ideas but in foolish actions you show yourself a fool.
Another way this is done by them is in them being a
We see this in verses 5-7 and the ruler placing those who should be serving others in high places and those who should be in high places as the ones serving others.
A slave on horseback and princes walking is saying exactly that.
What this says is that someone in a powerful position that is weak of mind and lacking spine will place those who are not qualified in places of position because he is a fool.
When this happens we will have corruption and major problems in an administration.
Foolish thinking places people who are unworthy in places and expects good things from them. This leads to nothing but a wreck and devastation.
Foolish advisors will always lead to foolish decisions and mistakes that will destroy rather than build up.
We can avoid this in our lives even if we are never a leader of anything other than our homes and life.
We need to find people who are mature in the faith and not afraid to examine us and what we do and tell us about it.
When we surround ourselves with people as Howard Hendricks stated it, “that are not impressed with who we are and what we have accomplished,” then we will not become arrogant.
This does not mean people will not applaud us in what we have done, but they will not become enamored with us and then allow us to become foolish and make many mistakes like the next observations show us.
Don’t be Foolish in Work
This is a different section from verses 8-11.
It seems strange that it is placed here but on closer examination it makes sense.
If we are pushed by foolish leaders we will become sloppy in work and get hurt.
We will do things that we normally wouldn’t.
Also, in verse 8 some commentators say this is about criminal activity.
They say that those who dig a pit is digging the pit to set a trap for another and the one breaking through the wall is doing so to steal. This could be the case and the ironic justice of falling in and being bit by a serpent is fitting.
We see much irony in the story of Esther. Haman hung on the gallows he built for Mordecai. Mordecai becoming the ruler next to Xerxes. The Jews conquering the Persians. Many ironic twists.
So if this is that it just further demonstrates the need for wisdom in all decisions of life.
If it is about work as verses 9-11 are, then it tells us to always use wisdom in all areas because we can be hurt in work by foolish actions.
Or we can work too hard because we are to foolish to take the time to sharpen the tool we need.
I want to look at verse 10 a minute.
How often do we not take the time we need to heal or care for ourselves and our work is hurt because of that?
Wisdom tells us to stop and rest or sharpen ourselves but we continue to work, maybe because we have that unwise man in a place of stature forcing us, or because we lack the proper wisdom to rest.
Whatever it is God has given us times for rest and wants us to rest. He also says that He gives rest to his beloved in the book of Psalms.
So wisdom tells us to rest and become sharp so we can better perform our work and be safer and more productive. Be wise in all things and you will be better for it and this includes how we talk.
The next observation is…
The Way You Talk Will Demonstrate What You Are
In verse 12-15 we see the concept of our mouth getting in our way if we allow it.
Favor or Consumed
Verse twelve tells us to seek wisdom so we can have favor over condemnation.
The words of the wise win them favor but the words of a fool consume him.
This can be in how we talk and what it does for us later.
We all know those who have told lie after lie that they begin to believe them. That is foolish talk consuming you. It is no good for anyone.
In verse 13 we see that foolish talk is unreasonable.
When we speak out of anger or foolishness we are unreasonable. We will not listen and we will keep digging that hole we are about to bury ourselves in.
Not to mention when we get into foolish talking we will not listen to reason we are determined to make our statements heard and known. We are unruly and vain in these times which is why Solomon calls this evil and madness.
We become experts on everything and tell all about it, we are unreasonable and we do as verse 3 said and show all we are fools. And then we continue to argue with them until we are blue in the face. We are unreasonable and will not listen.
Then we have
Uncontrolled and Boastful Speech
Once we get going we continue to talk and talk and say nothing.
We argue and argue while we never say anything.
We become like many politicians today who say something and use a lot of words and never say anything.
We have uncontrolled foolish speech that turns to boasting and confusion because we do not even know where we are going and why we are doing it.
In the last part of verse 14 and all of 15 we see this concept.
We multiple words not knowing what is to be but we keep talking like we know exactly what we are talking about but we are going nowhere because we do not know where we are going.
We then fall into the path of others who are going the wrong way because they seem good and because we are weary and confused and lost.
When we act this way we are followers of the world over followers of the Lord.
We can become easily swayed and go into things we never would have because we have become prideful and foolish.
But we can overcome all of this.
Be on Guard
We must be on guard over many things in life. This is the application aspect of this message.
When we are looking at what is going on we will see many things but if we are looking through wisdom we will see them for what they are and we will act appropriately.
We see in this section four observations about the foolish rulers and things that wisdom can fix.
With the foolish rulers we see that an untrained and childish ruler will cause grief while a wise one will be a blessing. The wise will do things like eat and drink for strength rather than partying and drunkeness.
But we can look into this and see what it tells us for our lives too.
It tells us that we are to
Be mature and not foolish in life.
We can be mature in decisions rather than immature. Remember Paul wrote that 1 Cor. 13:11
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV
We are to be mature in all decisions and actions. We are not only men and women but if you are in Christ you are a child of God and we are to grow up into Him always.
When we behave in the right way, people are blessed by us.
When we behave in the right way, we are serving and leading as we should be.
When we behave in the right way, we are living as the Lord desires.
So be mature in life and overcome foolishness.
When we are not lazy and go and do our work as we should we are displaying wisdom.
When we know of an issue with something but never do anything until it is broken and then costs us more than if we had fixed it as soon as we saw it we are not displaying wisdom.
What it shows is a lazy attitude rather than one of wisdom.
Wisdom tells us that being lazy only causes us more work and grief.
For example, you have a leaking roof as the text says. You know a rain is coming but you put off fixing it then the rain comes and what would have been a few hundred dollars fix has now become a few thousand dollars fix.
Be productive because if we cannot be productive in these minor things like house repair, will we ever be productive as faithful followers of Christ and share salvation through Him to others?
Next we show wisdom by not having the old stoic philosophy that says “today we eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
We know we are going to die but we do not just eat and drink and be merry and seek more and more money.
We seek to focus on the future and the needs of others around us. When we are out for our own, “money answers everything,” we may become crooked and destructive.
We will desire more and more and not live as we should with and for others.
Remember Christ said “love your neighbor as yourself,” and when we are all about money and having our fun we will not do this.
Paul wrote the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil in 1 Tim. 6:10.
When we show prudence, marked by wisdom or judiciousness, we will look out for the interests of others and ourselves. We will live a life that brings glory to the Lord.
We will live a life of wisdom that demonstrates our desire for all to find Christ and live a life of joy and peace.
Fools only think of money and partying, what do you think of? What do you set your sights on everyday? What is it you think is worthy of your time and energy?
The next thing wisdom helps us with is
This last verse tells us to not gossip basically it tells us to be cautious of what we say and think.
You see when we think about something long enough that thinking will eventually come out.
We will eventually say it out loud and it may very well get us in trouble.
It may get back to someone and grief will ensue. We need to keep our minds and mouths pure.
We can do this through wisdom.
How this works is when we feel bitter toward another, give it to God.
We do not cling to bitterness and anger because all it does is trap us and cause us to fall.
We will say things we need not say and act how we should not act.
We will hurt others and ourselves by our foolish speech.
We will not act how we should because we are not acting on wisdom.
So my advice to all who are bitter or hurting and continue to think thoughts of others that are not edifying or good, is what Peter said 1 Pet. 5:6-7
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:6–7 ESV
And the psalmist said in Ps. 37:5
5 Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.Psalm 37:5 ESV
Give it all to Him and He will sustain and avenge any wrongdoing that has happened.
This will stop us from gossiping and locking ourselves into a prison we have made from our anger and frustrations. It will also stop us from speaking about things we should not talk about or that is pointless to talk about.
Trust the Lord and let Him fill you with His wisdom and you can live everyday life well.