This is Ecclesiastes 10
1 Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savor: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honor.
This is an important lesson, not talked about by many. Therefore many of the people that want to serve God, do it but not completely. They want God to approve of their lives, but still they continue to do bad things, sometimes on purpose. So in their lives, they try to combine good actions with evil actions.
But the result is not good. God insists that his people must serve him only (Deuteronomy 5:7-9). “7 Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
8 Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:
9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,”
Jesus said that it is impossible for anyone to serve both God and mammon (material possessions) (Matthew 6:24). “24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
Keep in mind that if a person does not obey just one of God’s commands that person has offended against the whole of God’s law (James 2:10-11). “10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.”
Perfume (or ointment) is oil that has a sweet smell. It is useful only when its smell is pleasant. For that reason, its maker must be careful to keep it completely clean. A little fly may seem too small to matter. But it will spoil the entire jar of perfume. As the dead fly goes bad, it will cause the rest of the contents of the jar to go bad, too. And when the buyer opens the jar, it will all smell awful.
In comparison the Bible considers it wise to serve God. And it declares that it is foolish not to serve God. A wise person gives his life completely to God (Acts 3:19). “19 Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
So, a wise person does not join in any sinful activity (Psalm 1:1). “1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”
Of course, people who serve God sometimes do wrong things. But they consider that a very serious matter (1 John 2:1). “1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:”
We confess our sins to God, because we want God to forgive us (1 John 1:9). “9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
And God can forgive those sins because of Christ’s death (1 John 2:2). “2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
2 A wise man’s heart is at his right hand; but a fool’s heart at his left.
3 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.
What is wise or foolish is not just a matter of someone’s opinions. There is a real difference between wise and foolish behavior. In fact, they are complete opposites.
Many people imagine themselves to be much wiser than other people are. That is why they argue so much. They insist that their opinion is right. But if those people really cared about wisdom, they would want to learn, not to argue (Proverbs 9:9). “9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning.”
A foolish argument does not prove anything, because wisdom is completely different from foolish behavior.
King Solomon uses a word-picture to explain. The wise man and the fool are like people who walk along a road together. But as they do that, the fool constantly wants to go in some other direction. The two men cannot walk together, because every decision leads the fool away from the wise man. They cannot agree because their desires are completely different. The wise man wants to do the right thing. But the fool does not even care whether his decisions are right or not. The fool just wants to satisfy his own desires.
Someone who wanted to be wise would walk with the wise man. He would listen to his wise words and he would imitate his wise behavior. That is how one person can learn from another person.
Real wisdom is not just careful thoughts and sensible decisions. The most important lesson about wisdom is that people must respect God (Ecclesiastes 12:13); “13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”
(Proverbs 9:10). “10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding.”
That is not a matter of anyone’s opinion. It is the right thing to do, and it is completely opposite from foolish behavior. Besides it is also Gods word.
4 If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place; for yielding pacifieth great offenses.
Here is some advice for the official who must deal with an angry ruler. Perhaps the official deserves that angry reaction because he has done something wrong. Or perhaps the official has done nothing wrong, but the ruler is still angry.
In such situations, the official will feel the strongest emotions. Perhaps he too feels anger, and he would like to argue back. But that would not be wise. It is foolish to allow your emotions to control your behavior.
So a wise official would behave in a calm manner. He would continue loyally to carry out his duty. And he would still give honor to his ruler.
By such wise behavior, many officials have avoided a terrible punishment. Sometimes they have even avoided punishment when they are guilty of a very serious crime. But there is also another reason why God’s people should behave in that manner.
Although God’s people may work for a ruler in this world, their real master is God. They give honor to those rulers because God’s servants should respect the rulers of this world (Romans 13:1-7). “1 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom hononr.”
And they obey their rulers as if they were obeying Christ Ephesians 6:5-8.
God’s people realize that they cannot always expect rulers in this world to be kind to them. Often, such rulers will not even give them the rewards that they rightly deserve. But God’s people should not care too much about the rewards that people get in this world. The rewards that come from God, in heaven, are much more important.
5 There is an evil which I have seen under the sun, as an error which proceedeth from the ruler:
6 Folly is set in great dignity, and the rich sit in low place.
7 I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.
A good ruler chooses his important officials carefully. He gives authority to people who are loyal, honest and capable. His desire is that they will govern the country well.
But a ruler who becomes too powerful does not always act in a sensible manner. Often such a ruler gives important jobs to his friends whether they are capable or not. If the ruler is foolish enough to do that, his friends are probably fools too (Ecclesiastes 10:16-17). “16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!
17 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!”
In the Bible, a ‘fool’ means someone who cares only about his own pleasure. He does not serve God and he does not care about other people.
When a ruler gives authority to fools, better people lose their important jobs. Ecclesiastes 10:6 refers to ‘rich’ people. In Ecclesiastes 10:20, that word describes people who are almost as great as the king himself. But this foolish ruler takes away their wealth, authority and importance.
Perhaps the ruler does these things merely to prove how powerful he is. It is hard to imagine any other reason for his actions in Ecclesiastes 10:7. The word ‘princes’ there does not merely mean members of the royal family. The word means the most important officials, including judges and the leaders of the military. But these great men now work as slaves. And they must give honor to men who formerly were themselves slaves.
But no human ruler has complete authority, even in this world. God has authority over every ruler. He gives honor to humble people, and he takes away the authority of proud people (Luke 1:51-53). “51 He hath showed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”
He has to do that. Powerful rulers in this world have given authority and responsibility to the wrong people (Mark 10:42). “42 But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them.”
But when God rules, he will correct all these things (Revelation 20:4). “4 And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
8 He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
9 Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.
There are 4 similar statements here. Each statement mentions an activity and a danger. The similar form of all the statements causes us to think that they all teach the same lesson. But Solomon does not tell us what that lesson is. Perhaps he believes that we will be able to work it out.
Firstly, we can see that Solomon is giving practical advice. Every activity has its own particular dangers. A person cannot work safely unless he knows about the dangers of his work. People need to be aware of a danger in order to protect themselves from it.
Next, we can see that Solomon is warning people. They must not be too confident about their future. Whatever people do, there is still a constant danger of death. People cannot protect themselves from every danger, however hard they may try. Our lives are short, so we must prepare for our own deaths. We must have a right relationship with God because, one day, he will be our judge Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.
Lastly, there is a lesson here about ambition. In each of the 4 statements, a person hoped to gain a benefit from his work. But the person obtained no benefit, because an accident happened. Perhaps the work was necessary; if so, it was impossible to avoid the danger. But often people carry out tasks that are not necessary. They do those tasks because of ambition or greed. They want to make money that they do not need. And so they put themselves in danger when it is really not necessary Ecclesiastes 10:11.
10 If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
An axe is an iron tool that is especially dangerous. Its purpose is to cut down trees or to cut through large pieces of wood. When the wood is very hard, the worker needs great strength to use the axe successfully.
So, of course, the axe must always be very sharp. When the axe becomes blunt, the worker needs even more strength to cut the wood. But the worker should not continue if his axe is blunt. A blunt axe, like a blunt knife, is more dangerous. If the axe slips, injuries are likely to happen.
We all know that a ruler and his advisers should have wisdom. But wisdom is not just for important people. The common workman who uses an axe needs wisdom, too. He must be wise enough to stop his work and to make his axe sharp again. Otherwise, he wastes his strength and he puts himself in danger. He gains no benefit whatever if he is too lazy or too stupid to make his axe sharp.
Very many people learn how to carry out a task, but they never learn to do it well. They are like workmen who use blunt axes. Perhaps they must work too hard because of their lack of wisdom. Perhaps they put themselves in danger. They do not even realize the benefits that wisdom would give to them.
The Bible teaches that wisdom is a wonderful quality (Proverbs 8:1-21). “1 Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice?
2 She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.
3 She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.
4 Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man.
5 O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart.
6 Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.
7 For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8 All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.
9 They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge.
10 Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold.
11 For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
12 I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions.
13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.
14 Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.
15 By me kings reign, and princes decree justice.
16 By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
17 I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.
18 Riches and honor are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness.
19 My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver.
20 I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment:
21 That I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.”
It teaches people how they should live. It shows them how to have a right relationship with God (Proverbs 9:10). “10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”
It is an essential quality for every person (Matthew 7:24-25). “24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”
11 Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.
A ‘get-rich-quick scheme’ is a plan to earn money without much effort. Such plans almost always fail; most people must work hard for their money. As Ecclesiastes 10:11 shows, there is nothing new about such ideas.
Ecclesiastes 10:11 describes an ancient type of ‘get-rich-quick scheme’. The idea is, simply, that a man can charm (control) a snake.
(1) Perhaps the man teaches the snake to dance as he plays a musical instrument. Then, he can do it in public and a crowd will pay to watch. In some countries, people still do entertain in this manner.
(2) Or perhaps the man learns that skill in order to get snakes out of houses. People will pay him to do that.
The problem is that snakes are dangerous animals. The bite of many snakes will kill a man. If a snake is very dangerous, people will pay the man well. But that fact causes a terrible risk for the man who works with snakes. If he can control snakes successfully, he can earn a lot of money. But a snake may bite him at any moment, and then he will lose everything. Money has no value for a dead man. And money gives no comfort to a very ill man.
It is easy to imagine the profits that our plans may achieve. But even the best plans only succeed after a lot of hard work. First, the person must learn the skills that he will need. He must understand the risks and he must think about the dangers. Then he must carry out the work well. And he must continue until he has completed the entire task: Ecclesiastes 7:8. Even then, his plans may still not succeed: Ecclesiastes 9:11.
But someone who is really wise does not make his own plans. Instead, he asks God to direct his life. And he trusts God completely (Proverbs 3:5-6). “5 Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
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 labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city.
A wise person knows that he is responsible to God for all his words and actions (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). “13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
Because he respects God, that person is careful and sensible. That fact is clear from the wise person’s words, which are full of kindness and goodness.But the words of a foolish person have a completely different character. Ecclesiastes 10:12 uses a strange and terrible word-picture: the fool’s own mouth eats him up. In other words, the words from his own mouth are like a wild animal that attacks him fiercely. The foolish things that he says ruin his own life. They are the cause of his troubles. They are the reason for his punishment.In the Bible, a fool means someone who refuses to respect God. Such a person cares only to satisfy his own desires. When he begins to speak, his words may only express his silly thoughts. Such words are without any real meaning. But as he continues to speak, his true character becomes clear. And in the end, his words are completely wicked.The foolish person adds more foolish words as he prepares his evil plans for the future. But he knows nothing about the future! In the future, God will be his judge. And that will be the end of all those wicked plans.A fool does not work as other people do. His work is to say and to do evil things. But those efforts still make him tired. In Ecclesiastes 10:15, he seems even more tired than the honest workman. After all his hard work, the honest man still manages to get back to his home in the town. But this fool does not. Perhaps he has become a drunk:Ecclesiastes 10:16-17. He will have to sleep outside the town. His foolish desires have ruined his life.
16 Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!
17 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!
The subjects of Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 may be kings and princes, but the lesson is for everyone. It is a lesson about greedy behavior and the dangers of alcohol. And it is a lesson about how wrong desires can ruin people’s lives.
In Ecclesiastes 10:16, the king acts like a child, that is, without responsibility. He cares only to satisfy his own desires. He likes friends, parties, food and wine.
As king, he can do what he wants. So he appoints his friends to be the important officials (princes) in his country. And they eat and drink together all day.
The result, of course, is that the whole country suffers. Nobody can tell those rulers to be sensible. They do not even know what it means to be sensible. Nobody can get a right judgement. All the judges have become drunks. The army cannot defend the country. The military officers go to parties when they should be leading the army.
The country in Ecclesiastes 10:17 is very different. There, the king shows his noble and honorable origin by the way that he rules. The army officers are strong and the judges are sensible. The result is that the whole country is successful. Everyone in the country benefits from the rule of the wise king and his wise princes. Here, the rulers are not greedy and they do not drink too much alcohol. They care about their country, and not just about themselves.
What is true about rulers is also true about other people. If a person allows wrong desires to control his life, he cannot govern his family well. In fact, such a person cannot even govern his own life properly.
18 By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth through.
The Bible often warns people not to be lazy. God has given them work to do (Psalm 104:23); “23 Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labor until the evening.”
(Exodus 20:9). “9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work”
Paul told Christians that they had a duty to work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-13). “6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
7 For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you;
8 Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you:
9 Not because we have not power, but to make ourselves an example unto you to follow us.
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.
11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.
12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.”
There are many reasons why some people do not want to do their work. Perhaps they have no strength because they are greedy, or drunks, Ecclesiastes 10:17. Perhaps they imagine that they know an easier way to get their money. That idea is often a wicked scheme Ecclesiastes 10:12-13.
Or perhaps the lazy person’s work just does not interest him. He prefers to do something else; or he prefers to do nothing whatever.
Whatever the reasons may be, the results are the same.First, the lazy person himself suffers. If a man does not repair his roof, then his own roof leaks – not someone else’s roof.Then, his family suffers. When the roof leaks, it is a problem for everyone in the house.Then, his possessions suffer damage. When a house is wet, the water ruins everything.But the lazy man’s troubles do not end there. Now he really must repair his roof. And he has given himself more work than he had at the beginning. He did not want to do a small repair, so now he must carry out a major repair.
If the man continues to be lazy, he will lose his house. That may seem an extreme example, but many people really have lost their homes because of lazy attitudes. And even worse things can happen too. Rulers have lost their countries because of lazy, greedy attitudes.
19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.
The real subject of Ecclesiastes 10:19 seems to be the rulers from Ecclesiastes 10:16. They have prepared everything for their own pleasure. They have ordered the food for their party. It will be plentiful so that they will really enjoy themselves.
There will be plenty of wine, too. These important people consider it a terrible thing to run out of wine. They must drink until the alcohol controls them completely. In their opinion, that is essential for a good party.
They also think that money will provide everything that they want in order to make themselves happy. For a poor man, it can be difficult to afford a good party. The whole wealth of the country is for these important people to enjoy. They can afford everything that they want, they know it’s not their money. There seems no limit to their supply of money. So they spend it for their own pleasure.Such attitudes are lazy, greedy and evil. If a poor man behaved like that, he would ruin his home, Ecclesiastes 10:18. When rulers do such things, they ruin their country.The people in the country are angry, but they are afraid, Ecclesiastes 10:20. It is clear to them that great troubles must soon happen in their country, Ecclesiastes 11:2. Their situation is desperate, but they can do nothing about it, Ecclesiastes 11:3-4.
The Bible has several accounts of rulers who have behaved in this manner. Isaiah warned about such behavior in (Isaiah 5:9-13). “9 In mine ears said the Lord of hosts, Of a truth many houses shall be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.
10 Yea, ten acres of vineyard shall yield one bath, and the seed of an homer shall yield an ephah.
11 Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!
12 And the harp, and the viol, the tabret, and pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of his hands.
13 Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge: and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst.”
Even Babylon, the richest city in the world, lost its power in this manner (Daniel chapter 5).
20 Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.
It is easy to feel angry about the rulers of your country. But it is not always sensible, even if they are doing many wrong things. Because they are rich and powerful, they can use that power against you. They have the right to give orders, and other people will obey them. It is not a good idea to have powerful enemies.
Perhaps you are careful about your words in public. But you say whatever you want in private. That too can be unwise. You never know who may be listening. You may never know who informed your rich enemies about your words. It would be better never to say those words. In fact, it would be wiser not even to think those thoughts. If your king is cruel and powerful, you do not want him to oppose you.
Your secret thoughts cannot change the king’s attitudes. Even if you decide to oppose him publicly, your actions are unlikely to have any effect. When rulers are very wicked, political action usually achieves nothing. A very evil person hates good advice (Proverbs 15:12). “12 A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise.”
A wise person needs to understand when he should remain silent: Ecclesiastes 3:7.
The birds in Ecclesiastes 10:20 are just a word-picture. The idea is that someone may be listening to you at all times. You can never really be sure when you are alone. Your private words matter, even as your public words matter. Even your thoughts can be dangerous.
I will be posting the 12 chapters of the Book of Ecclesiastes one chapter at a time on my blog. Look on the blog for new postings of new chapters as I post them. I am using bold text for the Word of God from the King James Version Bible as it is written. I will use italic for my commentary below the chapters and verses from the book of Ecclesiastes, This commentary is how I help people understand what is written in the Bible.
All glory to God
His humble servant Lee M Buchanan