VII. Life is Short; Be Wise (Ecclesiastes 10:1–11:10)
VII. Life is Short; Be Wise (10:1–11:10)
As the author of the book of Proverbs, Solomon had vast experience in thinking about life and composing wise sayings. It’s not surprising, then, that as he moves toward his conclusion to Ecclesiastes, he includes a string of proverbial statements about life and futility, wisdom and folly.
10:1-3 What Solomon is saying in these verses is that fools make their folly known; there’s no hiding it. Just as dead flies make a perfumer’s oil ferment and stink, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor (10:1). It only takes a little foolishness, in fact, to contaminate an otherwise sweet reputation and stink it up. A wise person’s heart goes to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. Even when the fool walks along the road . . . he shows everyone he is a fool (10:2-3). This too is a way of saying that fools inevitably go public. Whichever way a wise man goes, you can count on a fool heading in the opposite direction. Although a man’s wisdom may be unseen or even forgotten by everyone but God (9:15), a fool’s actions are visible to all.
10:6-10 Wisdom is far better than foolishness. But let’s not be naïve. Wisdom doesn’t guarantee a perfect life; it doesn’t prevent accidents. Great reversals happen: The fool is appointed to great heights, but the rich remain in lowly positions (10:6). The wise person needs to know that wisdom doesn’t eliminate all negative contingencies (10:8-9); nevertheless, wisdom gives a person great advantage. It gives you an edge that you don’t want to be without (10:10).
10:12-14 The wise and the foolish are known by their words. The words from the mouth of a wise person are gracious (10:12). They’re pleasing to hear, filled with grace. But a fool’s words start with folly and end in madness (10:13). One way to know fools, in fact, is by how much they talk because the fool multiplies words (10:14). Elsewhere, Solomon reminds us, “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Prov 10:19).
10:16-17 Woe to the land that has an immature, irresponsible leader (10:16); blessed is that nation whose leader is responsible and not indulgent (10:17). The character of a nation’s rulers is crucial since its citizens will inevitably be blessed or suffer as a result of their leadership.
10:18 Because of laziness the roof caves in. This is an illustration of what scientists call the second law of thermodynamics. Things left unattended will tend toward decay, decline, and disorder. You don’t have to intentionally break something; just fail to take care of it. This can be applied to the physical realm as well as to the spiritual. Neglect your spiritual life, and it will deteriorate.
10:20 Watch the words you say. Do not curse the king—even in private. For a bird of the sky may carry the message and . . . report the matter. This advice sounds like Solomon was anticipating our age of YouTube and social media! And indeed, things said in secret often have a way of getting out. Be discerning.
11:1-6 At issue here is the need to practice fiscal responsibility. Give your investments time to grow (11:1) and diversify, for you don’t know what disaster may happen (11:2). In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Practice occupational responsibility, too. One who watches the wind will not sow (11:4), meaning that if you procrastinate because of circumstances, you won’t accomplish anything. And because you don’t know the work of God who makes everything (11:5), don’t ever put God in a box based on your limited perspective and framework of thinking (see Isa 55:9). He’ll blow up your box every time. Instead, be industrious even as you trust him. In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand rest (11:6).
11:8-10 Youth and the prime of life are fleeting (11:10). Whether you live many years or few, your life is passing away before your eyes. So rejoice in all your days and let your heart be glad (11:8-9). Maximize your life while you can because you can’t go back and do it over. Today is the tomorrow that you were looking for yesterday. But remember: For all of these things God will bring you to judgment (11:9). You and God are going to talk about your choices one day, so live with the end in view.