Ecclesiastes 10 Study Notes


10:2-3 Folly is usually self-evident. The word right in the ancient world meant skillful, and the word left connoted ineptness and clumsiness. Ancient society made no special provision for left-handers; all soldiers, for example, held their shields in their left hands and their swords in their right hands.

10:4 A person must maintain tact and self-control, showing wisdom, when dealing with the anger of a superior.

10:5-7 Even though folly is usually self-evident (v. 3), sometimes kings and other rulers appoint inept people to high offices but let the competent languish in lowly positions. In this context, slaves refers to people whose skill and wisdom are so limited they ought to be restricted to doing simple manual labor.

10:8-9 These verses contain two pairs of proverbs that are juxtaposed against each other. Verse 8 describes criminal activity: digging a pit refers to setting a trap in order to rob or murder someone, and breaking through a wall refers to breaking into a house to plunder it. Traditional wisdom teaches that people who engage in such criminal action inevitably destroy themselves (Ps 7:15; 9:15; Pr 26:27). On the other hand, Ec 10:9 teaches that even honest labor, such as quarrying stones or splitting logs, can result in severe injury. That is, criminal activity can destroy you, but so can honest work. The Teacher did not intend to discourage honesty but to say we have no guarantee of safety in this life. Even wise behavior can end in disaster. Ultimately, we must trust not in wisdom or in ethical behavior but in God for our security.

10:10-11 Wisdom can make success easier to accomplish, but wisdom must be applied in a timely manner or it will do no good.

10:12-15 The primary service of a counselor was giving advice to a king, and the quality of his advice marked the counselor as either a sage or a fool. The mark of a foolish counselor is that he says far more than he knows. Since no one knows what will happen, the wise counselor limits the amount of advice he gives. It is impossible to speak of the future with any certainty. By contrast, the foolish counselor tries to cover for his lack of knowledge by speaking on and on. This is well illustrated by the verbose but confusing directions fools give to someone who does not know the way to a location (v. 15 could be translated, “The effort of fools wearies him who does not know the way to the city”).

10:16-17 Ultimately, the success or failure of a political entity (or of a business) depends on the quality of its leaders. These verses conclude the general discussion of 9:13-10:17 on wisdom in the political world with the remark that few things matter so much in this area as leadership.


Hebrew pronunciation [sah KAHL]
CSB translation fool
Uses in Ecclesiastes 5
Uses in the OT 7
Focus passage Ecclesiastes 10:3,14

Like kesiyl and ’ewiyl, sakal denotes fool. A related Akkadian adjective describes a simpleminded, clumsy, or foolish person so intellectually weak that he cannot evaluate his actions. An Arabic cognate means “doubtful.” The sakal doesn’t recognize when something is absurd (Jr 5:21), lacks understanding, and knows to do evil but not good (Jr 4:22). Contrasted with a wise man, he displays folly, multiplies words, and dies prematurely (Ec 2:19; 7:17; 10:3,14). The verb sakal (8x) is be foolish in the passive-reflexive (2Sm 24:10), act foolishly (Gn 31:28) or be a fool (1Sm 26:21) in the causative, and turn into foolishness in the intensive (2Sm 15:31). Siklut, or folly (7x), appears only in Ecclesiastes. It includes drunken behavior (Ec 2:3) and is contrasted with wisdom as a kind of madness leading to evil madness (Ec 2:13; 10:1,13). Sekel means folly, specifically, a fool (Ec 10:6).

10:18-20 These verses contain a series of three proverbs on what makes a safe, pleasant life. First, we must do the work needed to insure that we have the basic comforts that all people desire. Second, we must have some money and pleasure in order to enjoy a good life. In isolation from the rest of the book, this seems to recommend pure hedonism and greed, but this misreads the verse. There are things, such as a good meal, that almost all people enjoy. Money helps us to deal with all kinds of problems (money does not literally solve everything, but in fact many of our ordinary problems are financial in nature). Third, we should be careful in dealing with authorities in order to stay out of trouble.