Ecclesiastes 10:1 – Like some highly concentrated chemicals polluting a water supply, a little foolishness can contaminate and permeate every part of life. Scripture speaks much about foolishness. ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” ’ (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Paul speaks about the ‘foolishness’ of the gospel, and says, ‘For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:18).
God considered the rich man who had made no provision for eternity to be a fool (Luke 12:20). Solomon had gathered many proverbs on foolishness as well as in previous chapters in Ecclesiastes. Now in this section Solomon expands on his conclusions, referring to the foolishness nine times in this section.
There are so many instances of people in high profile positions who have had stellar careers but with one act of foolishness, a career is finished or severely compromised. Solomon is demonstrating how a good name can easily be lost. ‘Dead flies’ ruin the perfume. In the same way, one act of folly will ruin a lifetime’s work. As it is with folly, so it is with all sin. The Bible uses the picture of a little leaven in bread to illustrate this (Matthew 16:6; 1 Corinthians 5:6; Galatians 5:9).
Ecclesiastes 10:2-4 Wisdom and foolishness really at it’s root depends on the direction of our heart (Ecclesiastes 10:2). The physical heart has nothing to do with wisdom or folly. Solomon is referring to the core of one’s life that guides the way we walk. The right hand was always considered to be the place of power and honor, while the left hand represented weakness and rejection (Matthew 25:33,41).
The English word “sinister” comes from a Latin word that means “on the left hand.” Since the fool doesn’t have wisdom in his heart, the natural direction is wrong (the left) and leads into trouble. When people try to correct him, he refuses to listen, and this reveals that he is a fool (vs. 3). Paul gives us this picture when he describes fallen people who, ‘although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Professing to be wise, they became fools’ (Romans 1:21-22). The fool lacks self control even with those in authority over him. The wise man keeps a cool head when all around are losing theirs. In this passage he is dealing with a situation where the king or some other official is angry with you. Foolish pride may give us courage to respond in similar ways but the wise man will do the opposite.
Instead of responding in kind or walking away, a wise man will stay and seeks to pacify his superior. It is in situation like this that a Believer has an opportunity to show the grace of God to an unbeliever (Proverbs 15:1; Colossians 3:12-15). We are commanded to submit to authority (1 Peter 2:18-25). Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the meek’ (Matthew 5:5) and we must remember that meekness is not weakness but strength under control.
Ecclesiastes 10:12 ‘You love all devouring words, you deceitful tongue’ (Psalm 52:4). A further comparison between a wise man and the fool is the words that come from his mouth. When a wise man speaks, the effect is positive, but a fool’s words lead only to harm and hurt. The words of fool hurt not only others but, in the end, they bring greater hurt to himself. I once heard a preacher precede his sermon with the prayer, ‘Lord, please make my words sweet, for I may have to eat them!’
Ecclesiastes 10:13 What begins as foolish words and foolish behavior can if unchecked by the Word of God and the Spirit of God can lead to serious damage both emotionally and physically. Depression is a good example of this. Everyone feels depressed from time to time due to our circumstances, tiredness, a feeling of helplessness can weigh us down for a season. But in time we emerge from that season and probably a lot wiser.
But for some it has become a clinical condition. When they say, ‘I am depressed’, they are not describing a feeling but a state of being that has taken over them. This was the mindset of the Israelites in the wilderness. So it is with foolishness. What can begin as a momentary act or word can end in a state of being.
Ecclesiastes 10:14-15 Further the fool thinks that many words are better than few. Yeshua said this about some people who pray in Matthew 6:7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. The fool doesn’t know the future but acts as though he does (James 4:13-17).
Solomon uses a bit of humor here. The fool boasts about his future plans with his many words, but he can’t even find the way to the city. Under the Roman road systems the roads to the cities were well-marked so that any traveler could find his way, but the fool is so busy talking about the future that he loses his way in the present.
Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 Solomon now returns to folly and focuses on four needs that will be absent when a nation is ruled by a foolish ruler. First is the need for maturity. A young leader is able to make up for his lack of experience by consulting with those who have more experience than him. We see this contrast illustrated in Rehoboam. Though age is no guarantee of maturity (1 Corinthians 3:1-4; Hebrews 5:11-14).
The Body of Messiah is instructed not to appoint immature believers into leadership (1 Timothy 3:6). If the king is immature, the people he gathers around him will reflect that immaturity and take advantage of it. Ecclesiastes 10:16 suggests that a servant became king. There are illustrations of this in Scripture of this happening with the help of his friends. When that kind of event happens the king is beholden to them in order to remain on his throne. They are then able to cause him to make poor decisions that help them but hurt the kingdom. We have this today in the form of patronage.
Ecclesiastes 10:18 – Secondly a foolish leader will get comfortable in his position without fulfilling the duties and responsibility that goes with his role. The result is that the buildings and the organization begin to fall apart and unravel. God calls leaders to diligent in all matters, especially those relating to his service of God (1 Timothy 4:15; Hebrews 6:11).
Ecclesiastes 10:19 Thirdly a foolish leader will not pay attention to what is happening distracted by his worldly pleasures that his kingship brings. The city of Bell California where robbing the city blind and it was their failure to do their jobs that caused their thievery to be discovered. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). Amos spoke out against the rulers of his day who abused their authority (Amos 2:7; 5:11-12). Be sure your sin will find you out.
Ecclesiastes 10:20 -Fourthly a foolish leader will be indiscreet. Indiscretion (Ecclesiastes 10:20). The familiar saying “A little bird told me” probably originated from this verse. One can think that the words you speak to friends are safe but Solomon counsels that discretion is wisdom. If you can’t respect the person in the office, we need to respect the office (Exodus 22:28; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).
This verse ends this section of Solomon’s overview of life. While his teachings spoke of the “the certainty of death” (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23). His conclusion is that life is indeed worth living, even though life is unpredictable (Ecclesiastes 9:11-18). His counsel is to avoid folly (Ecclesiastes 10) and live by the wisdom of God. In Ecclesiastes 11-12 he ends with a practical application. He brings together all the various truths that he has written about in his counsel to the seeker of wisdom. He will show us what God expects us to do if we are to find God’s blessings in life.